DECADE FIVE: 1983-1993
I credit (blame) my brother’s wife for everything that follows.
She hooks me up with the corporate world,
and after eighteen years bouncing around the world
(the army, Paris, grad school, teaching, playing),
we move to Charlotte, buy a house, begin a whole new life.
In high school I precociously dub this big small town
“The City Without a Soul.”
Much, much bigger now, and growing much too fast,
with big banks and NASCAR (Panthers, Hornets, Checkers, Knights),
alas, there’s no professional theatre.
World Class, My Ass!
Charlotte’s first streetcar suburb,
“the most magnificent spot of its kind in the South”
(a hundred years ago)
is a mixed-race urban slum when we move in,
just ripe for the gentrification that evolves over the years,
first into a haven for liberal activists, then hordes of yuppie bankers,
now a neighborhood of huge McMansions.
Settling down means owning a home,
so we rent a year, then buy, enlarge, and renovate
the oldest house in the historic ghetto
and settle down among octogenarian widows,
a preponderance of the city’s wretched mixed-race poor,
and a sprinkling of former hippies with an eye to the future.
This is where the kids grow up and (probably) where we pass away.
For seven biblical years we live high on the hog
while I slave 7-to-3 in my gray cubicle
translating Geek to User-Friendly User Guides.
I’m very good at what I do, and soon become a Senior Analyst,
but my smoking becomes an issue, so before they lay me off, I volunteer.
(An irony: within three months, all but four of 30 writers lose their jobs.)
From Day One, auditioning for JTA—
and landing the occasional plum
(Folger Buick, Bilo)—I’m the office celebrity.
Now and then, and with increasing frequency, for fun (or token pay)
I play a role, direct, build sets, first with the Golden Circle,
then with Sandra and the kids at Children’s Theatre.
By the time I volunteer for layoff, I’m nearly always
acting, directing, designing, building, teaching somewhere.
I go to church for fellowship (contacts),
volunteering time and effort to curry favor,
and coming out to the congregation as a Thespian.
The response is barely cordial, politely tolerant.
If there’s one thing I can’t tolerate…
Just before my severance pay runs out,
the local Mental Health Association hires me part time
to coach and front the People First Players,
a Stigma Buster improv troupe composed exclusively of
depressed, bi-polar, and/or schizophrenic actors,
most of whom have never been on stage.
The story that unfolds over the next two years belongs on the
Hallmark Hall of Fame.