Can You Hear Me Now?

Fair warning:  This is another posting about audiobooks.  I think it’s pretty interesting (and you may, too), but if you don’t like the subject matter, I encourage you to plow ahead anyway because…

…Bigfoot & Frankenstein await you at the end.  Promise.

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I have a ritual that I perform every morning that sets the tone for the entire day.

Even before the coffee is ready, I stagger over to my computer, flip it on, dial up ACX.com and, with great trepidation and anxiety…

Nervous at Computer…I look up my audiobook sales from the previous day.

Depending on what I see, the number that pops up on the screen either puts me in an excellent mood or, sadly, Milo has to walk to school because I’m going back to bed with this bottle of whiskey, dammit.

Happily – most days anyway – the numbers look okay and Milo gets a ride to school.

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When I first started out doing audiobook work back in March of this year, I was willing to do almost any kind of book just to build up my resume.

Well…almost.

Growl4Me

Yeah.  Like that.

As I’ve made clear in previous posts, there is a great deal (more than you might think) of gay erotic fiction available for the willing narrator to tackle but….I just can’t. I’m no prude but…

…well, no.  Maybe I am a little prudish. Anyway, I just can’t bring myself to do the hardcore gay fiction audiobook thing. Judge me as you will.

But apart from that self-imposed prohibition, when I first started out I desperately needed credits.  I  was, therefore, open to just about any type of book in order to get them. And very soon after setting up my home studio and embarking on my aspiring career as an audiobook narrator, I got educated.  Fast.

ACX LogoMy first surprise was getting paid work right away.  In the early days of looking for books to record, I got five offers right off the bat – five, boom – that actually paid me an hourly rate for my work. True, it was only $100 per finished hour but…it was cash money for talking to myself in my basement so, hey, sign me up.

I recorded them, zapped them off the authors, got my payment and- almost as good- had my first few professional credits.  But those paid-by-the-hour gigs have gotten harder and harder to get.  (I have a theory as to why, but I’m saving it for later.)

However, if you’re willing to do audiobook work for a share of the royalties instead, the authors will fairly beat a path to your door.

50-50 split with corners(To be clear- and for those with no experience in this new industry- if you record a book for what they call a “Royalty Share,” you are agreeing to record and produce the book for free, after which you literally split, 50/50, all of the royalties with the author for any audiobooks that sell on Audible for the next seven years.  Keep that in mind, as it becomes important later.)

Now, if you try and compare the success rate in getting booked to do an audiobook with, say, the chance of booking a voice-over commercial…well, there’s just no comparison. The odds of getting a VO job is roughly 100 to 1. (At least in my experience. Some do far better than that, of course.)

Full InboxBut with audiobook work?  For a while there, I was averaging one or two offers for every five auditions I submitted.  It was astonishing.  I’d take an hour or so to sit in my basement and record some audition pieces, I’d then load them up to ACX and walk away.

Then, an hour or so later….blam, blam.  A couple of emails would arrive:

“Congratulations, Kevin!  You’ve received an offer to produce the audiobook ‘The Life and Times of Chris Farley’ or ‘Macrame: It Isn’t Just for Lonely  Women in the 70’s Anymore!”

And I would happily accept the offer, take the time to record the book, shoot it off into the ether and hope that it would sell.

True, I wasn’t being very selective about what I auditioned for back then, but it still struck me as incredible that I could get so many offers from so few auditions.

cobweb-books (1)I quickly discovered why:  Because the books I was recording weren’t already selling on Amazon as actual books, thus there was an equal chance that they would sell equally poorly as audiobooks no matter what I did with them.  (This soon proved – not always, but usually- to be the case.)

The other audiobook narrators clearly knew what I did not.  So, they being educated and me being ignorant, not a lot of people were auditioning for them other than yours truly.

pensar-tons-of-emailsThus, my success rate.

To give you evidence of my early, take-what-I’m-offered strategy, have a look at my listings on Audible.com (here is your link). You will quickly see that, despite a smattering of fiction work, most of the books that I’ve recorded have been of the how-to variety.  A couple of cookbooks, a handful of gardening books, some biographies (because who doesn’t want a middle-aged white guy narrating the life stories of Muhammad Ali and Oprah Winfrey?) and a few “summary” books as well.

Summary Book

An actual book of mine

[Side note:  I’ve done a few of these “summary” books and, frankly, I can’t believe they are sold legally.  They are, essentially, Cliff’s Notes versions of popular books. So rather than pay for a full-sized copy of “The Devil in the White City,” for example, you can listen to my positively awful boiled-down summary of the book instead for just a couple of bucks and get all of the knowledge without any of the joy of reading! Side side note:  These books tend to sell pretty well, actually.  Go figure.]

But here’s the thing:  You never know what is going to sell.  I did a few “Minecraft” books, for instance, that I thought might be popular.  They’re selling zip-ah-dee-do-dah. I thought the books on Parenting I recorded might sell well, too.  They sold bupkis.  Ditto the cookbooks I laid down.  Nobody buys them.

BlockchainOn the other hand, one of the worst books I worked on – and I mean this was a real turdball, folks- is an audiobook called “Blockchain – The Simple Guide to Everything You Need to Know.”

Let me save you some time.  Here is what you need to know:

Do not listen to this audiobook.  It is just terrible.

But it has sold hundreds of copies.  I’ve made more money off this dumb piece of garbage than almost all of the other books I’ve recorded put together.  I cannot begin to fathom why.

Similarly, the gardening books sell reasonably well.  And the books on haunted places in America (I’ve recorded two of those), also move at a pretty good clip, too.

NarcissismI take particular pleasure in the fact that- thanks to the current Republican nominee for President- my audiobooks on narcissism and sociopathy are selling really well.  (Thanks, Donald!)

So…you never know.  You record them, you put them on the market…and you hope.

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At the beginning of this month, I passed a personal milestone:  I hit 1,000 in audiobook sales.  By the end of this month, I should hit 1,500.  For the past two months in a row, I’ve sold over 500 books a month, which is very nice indeed.

blue-growth-chartIn April, I had one book for sale under the Royalty Share contract.  By the end of May, I had twenty.  I added twenty more in June and another twenty in July.  By the end of this month, I should have roughly 80 books for sale, and hope to hit a hundred or more by the end of September.

Most of them- except for the real duds- will continue to generate money for months and months after I’ve finished recording them. Personally, I think of each of them as little commercials spitting back tiny residuals for me every month.

And remember, my contract with each author is for seven years.  So, how should that work out?

******WARNING:  NUMBERS ARE ABOUT TO HAPPEN*******
But remember: Bigfoot and Frankenstein await you
at the end of it.  Not much further.

Okay: let’s say I record a book that is one hour long.  To record it and prepare it takes me about two hours, all told  (including recording it, editing it, cleaning it up, adding the titles and the music, and loading it up to the site.  Assuming there are no corrections, of course).

money piling upSo…in order for it to be worth my while, I’d need to make…what?  Forty bucks for every hour I spent on it?  So that’s about $80 worth of sales I need to generate for that one book. Over seven years.

If I get a about a buck for every book sold (it’s actually slightly less than that) and I sell only one book a month over the next seven years, then I’ll make my eighty bucks for this particular tome, but not a dime more (and that would be a pretty pathetic seller, admittedly).

But the truth is:

The books are averaging sales, each of them, of about 8 books a month.  And if I can get the number of books sending money my way to…100?  150?  More?

money dripThen we’re talking about an actual income.  Not “retire to the Caribbean and buy your own island” kind of money, but exactly the kind of monthly stipend that every working actor needs.

My first month, I made around $140.  The month after that, it was about $280.  Last month, it was about $375. This month?  Who knows?  As the number of books climb, the residuals, if you will, should follow apace.

Which means that, while I wait for my Hollywood ship to come in (still waiting for TV audition #2, folks!), I’ll be in safely ensconced in Ft. Raphael all day laying down digital tracks.

Which brings me to my latest project.  And your reward for digesting all these numbers.

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Earlier this week, scanning the ACX audition page, I saw a title fairly jump out at me:

“Bigfoot & Frankenstein.”

Bigfoot Steve AustinReally.  You don’t say.  Tell me more.

The description:  “Bigfoot and Frankenstein team up to terrorize the Wild West.”

Well of course they do.

I did not, of course, automatically audition for this book because…well, I mean come on. Would you?  (I don’t know.  Maybe you would.)Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)

But I did post the fact that it was available for auditions on my Facebook page, with the snide comment that I was sorely tempted to audition for it.

After which, the majority of my friends who responded on the post basically double-dared me to audition for it.

Now I am a grown-up, mature human being who does not succumb to peer pressure and so, naturally, I auditioned immediately because mine, mine, mine, MINE, MINE!!!

Buddy ChristAnd, of course, because God is hilarious, I got it.

Well.

I have spent the last two days working almost solely on this book.  I have put more time and effort into this audio production than I have into almost anything else I have ever done.

And it is an eighteen minute book.  I should have been able to complete it in about a half an hour.  Instead, I have slaved away on it for two days.

COATNo kidding:  The audiobook I recorded for my own novel, “Confessions of a Transylvanian” (which I assume you all have downloaded, yes?), at eleven-and-a-half hours, got slightly more attention than this one, but only slightly.

Why?

Because I have already decided that “Bigfoot & Frankenstein” is going to be my masterpiece.  My Mona Lisa.  My Sistine Chapel.

When I die, I want the headline of my obituary to read:  “Narrator of Beloved Audiobook ‘Bigfoot & Frankenstein’ Dies Peacefully at 120.”

Boris Karloff Bride of Frankenstein

“What did he say?”

At the conclusion of this project, I will have created (and I am being completely and totally serious about this):

The Greatest Audiobook Ever Recorded.

Which will be, let me reiterate, the audiobook version of Jeffrey Dale Jeschke’s epic tale of the Wild West:

“Bigfoot & Frankenstein.”

And you can take that, my friends, to the bank.

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The “B” Word

So it turns out that acting work – real, bona fide work for performers – can be found in Los Angeles.

Trouble is, you’ve got to book it in Chicago.

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About two months ago, suffering through one of the worst droughts of my voice-over career, I got a call from one my my agents in Chicago, the legendary Linda Jack:

Phone ringing“Kevin, they want to check your availability for an Alka Seltzer spot this Friday.”

This is always a lovely surprise.  As I’ve said in a previous post, the goal for every actor immediately following an audition should be to immediately forget that the audition ever took place.

That way, if you don’t get the job, you’re not too disappointed that you were rejected. (“What audition? I didn’t read for that. Never happened.”)  On the other hand, if you actually do get hired, the job becomes like a little, unexpected present that drops, magically, out of the sky. (“I auditioned for that?  And now they want me?  Well boy howdy!”)

Thankfully, in this instance, I had followed my own advice and was entirely unaware that I had submitted an audition for this particular spot, and so now…I was happily surprised.

“Totally available, Linda,” I said to her. “Just tell me where to be and I’m there.”

“I’ll let you know when I know,” Linda responded. “Talk soon.”

time passesThis was two months ago.  In Chicago.

And clearly I wouldn’t be relating this story to you now if I had recorded the spot back then. Instead, sadly, Linda called me the next day and told me the news that the Alka Seltzer folks (actually the BBDO advertising agency) decided to kick the spot down the road and I was, once again, without work.

Only this time, I was acutely aware of having lost the job, having been reminded not only that I had auditioned, but that they had actually liked me enough to potentially hire me.

But, my non-actor friends, (just in case you were wondering) the story I just related was not Kevin-getting-a-job-and-then-losing-a-job.  Because, in truth, I never really had the job in the first place.

See in this ridiculous business in which I work, you usually go through a set of stages before you get hired for a commercial job. I had only been through stage one before the plug was pulled.

Stages two through four?  Those would show up again…two months down the road.

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Guaranteed, if you want your phone to ring with news about a job, turn the blasted thing off for a while. Walk away from your email and your telephone and you can bet that the universe will choose that moment not only to reach out to you, but to reach out to you urgently.

exploding phoneSure enough, having shut off my phone for a meeting at Milo’s school last week, I walked outside afterwards, turned on the phone…and the damn thing practically exploded.

Email, two missed calls and a voice mail from my agency in Chicago. What the…?

“Kevin,” said Linda’s voice in my ear, “Remember the Alka Seltzer spot in Chicago a while back?  Well, BBDO wants you to submit another audition this week for it. And they want to know if you can be available to record it in L.A. by the end of the week.  Please get back to me as soon as you can.”

The email, naturally, had the identical message.

“Hmmm.  That’s cool,” I said to Milo. “Might have a job.”

Might have a job?” Milo said. “What do you mean? Is it a job or not?”

Ah, I realized, I had not yet schooled the lad in the vagaries of life as an actor and the strange, twisting road that we sometimes take towards nailing down work.

checklist“Well, let me put it this way:  They liked me before. And they might like me again. But they want to hear me one last time to make sure I sound the same today as I did two months ago. And then, and only then, they might hire me.”

I was happy to be able to make things so clear and understandable to the boy.

“So this is your second audition.”

“Right.”

“For the same commercial.”

“Exactly.”

“But if they like you this time, they’ll hire you.”

“Maybe.”  I went on to tell Milo what would likely happen.  

Check AvailOnce I submitted the new audition, I told him, they would listen to my submission and then, presuming they liked it, they would then call me with what is called a “check avail.”  This is a loathsome term that simply means they are checking to make sure you are available to record something during the time frame they require.

“And then after that, they hire you?”

“Not necessarily. But we’ll see.”

So I went back to the house, recorded a new version of the spot and sent it off into the ether.  Sure enough, the next day, I got my second call.

Phone ringing 2“Okay, Kevin,” said Linda. “You’re on a check avail for Thursday and Friday.”

“Wonderful, Linda.  Please tell the powers that be that I am wide open for those dates.”

It never even occurred to me to mention that Thursday was Milo’s first day of school, the day he was supposed to show up and actually register for classes.  But we’ll get to that later.

“So now what happens?” Milo asked.

“Well, one of two things.  They can go ahead and hire me, which would be nice, or they can place me on ‘hold’ for those dates.”

“Which means what?”

on-hold1“Nothing.  I’ve already told them I’m available for Thursday and Friday, so placing me on ‘hold’ means, basically, nothing.”

“When do they actually hire you?”

“Aha! Excellent question.  Here’s your answer: When I hear the ‘B word,’ I’m hired.  And not one second before then.  When Linda says the magic word.  When I hear, ‘They’ve booked you,’ then I’ve got the job.”

Milo looked dubious of the whole business.  As well he should have been.

Dateline: Tuesday afternoon.  “You’re on hold for Thursday.”

“Great news, Linda.  Thanks!”

Milo says, “So now what?”

phone ringing 3“Now we wait some more. But basically, that’s the last step. After this, I should- if all goes well- hear the ‘b’ word and we’ll be golden. Presumably.”

Milo ran over the lesson:  “So it goes ‘audition, check avail, hold, booking.'”

“Right. If you’re lucky, you go through all four.  We’re in step three. Keep your fingers crossed.”

Late Tuesday, the phone rings.  It’s Linda.  Here we go.

“Kevin,” she says, “They’ve got you on a first refusal for Thursday.”

Oh, for the love of… I forgot a step.FirstRefusal

“So there are five steps?” Milo asks.

“Sometimes. Yes. Shut up. Leave me alone.”

This truly is a loony business.

Finally, Wednesday.  I hear the magic word.

Booked“You’re booked for tomorrow,” Linda says, clearly as relieved as I am. “Nine o’clock at DG Entertainment.  I’ll send you the details.”

Which is exactly the moment – too late, of course – that it occurs to me that Milo has his first day of school on Thursday and I have to be there to help him register for classes at 8:00 in the morning. An hour before my booking.

If I’d mentioned this to Linda before now, she could have solved the issue, no problem. She would have told them that I was not “avail” for that time slot.  But of course, I didn’t mention it.  And now that the “b word” has been uttered, I was locked in.

This, I think, is going to be tight.overbooked

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The next morning, Milo and I decide to get up ridiculously early and get to the school a good half-hour before his registration time to make sure that he’s first in line.  That way, when the doors open at 8:00, we can rush in the door, sign him up and get him to class in plenty of time for me to be on my way to the VO gig.

So, naturally, by the time we arrive, we are thirtieth in line.

Voters in precinct 6 ward 9

“Go,” Milo says. “I can get myself registered. Don’t worry about it.”

I look at the line. It is almost all students.  I am one of the only parents there. 

“Will you go?” he says. “I’ll be fine.”

And he probably will be.  But I keep imagining scenarios wherein they demand proof of residency or DNA samples or a retinal scan or something and instead of being there to do my parental duty as I should be, I am instead in some booth in Studio City blabbering about the wonders of Alka Seltzer. 

But, having little choice, I reluctantly leave Milo alone in line at the school, get in the car and zip down to Lankershim Boulevard to record my gig.

Father of the Year here, folks.

*************************

When I get to the address provided, I can see that DG Entertainment has an entire building to themselves.  It is a huge looking, glass-fronted gleaming thing that looms darkly over Studio City with a shiny “DG” at the top.  Very impressive.

DG EntertainmentI’m about five minutes early, but I eat up that time looking for parking, which I finally locate about a half a block away.  The meter is only good for an hour though.

“No problem,” I think.

I go inside and check in at the front desk and, sure enough, they are all set to go.  They whisk me up to a beautifully appointed studio, pop me into a booth with my script and introduce me to Leo, the sound technician who will be recording the spot.  The clients, from BBDO, will be phoning in and giving me direction from afar.  I will not see them physically, only hear them in my headphones.

VO StuiodThis is not unusual.  In the world of VO, actually, this is very common.  I’ve done gigs where I have been in one studio, my scene partner was in another studio, the director was in a third studio and the client was calling in from their office located in an entirely different city than the rest of us.

Truly, as long as we can all hear each other (and lay down a decent track), it doesn’t matter where we are.

After a few technical glitches involving the phone patch, we’re off to the races.

My job is to narrate the Adventures of Alka Seltzer Man or something.  I probably shouldn’t describe the spot beyond that because “trade secrets,” etc.  But I’ve been asked to do my Super Hero voice and I’m only too happy to comply.

speedyI basically have two lines and the client, Sharon, asks me to give them a read.  I do so.  They have a little conversation on their end and then Sharon gets back on the phone.

“Can you do it a little faster?” she asks.

“Sure,” I say.  “How fast do you want it?”

“Well,” she says, “That was about six seconds long.  Can you do it in three?”

Gulp.

cheetah“You bet!” I say.  Leo, the sound guy, gives me a look like “Really?”  I shrug.  You can only do what you can do.

I read the line again, blowing through it as quickly as I can.

Sharon says, “How long was that?”

Leo looks at the timer.  “Four seconds.”

“Can you shave a second off that, Kevin?” Sharon asks.

I have already zipped through the lines at what I consider to be my top speed but…what the client says, goes.

bolt“Let’s give it a shot,” I say.  We set up again.  I stare intently at the copy.  I take a deep breath.  And then, like the Usain Bolt of voice-over performers, I blow through the lines at the speed of light.  There’s a chance I might have sprained my tongue.

Leo looks up.  “Three point two seconds,” he says.  And gives me the thumbs up.

“We’re going to need a few minutes on this end,” Sharon says.  “We want to plug it into the spot here and see it in real time.”  They clearly have an animated mock-up demo of the spot that they want to put my lines into to check the timing.  This is also very common.

“We’ll be here,” Leo says.  Once the client is off the line, I signal Leo.

“Listen, I parked just down the road and my meter is almost up.  Do you think I have time to throw some more time on it?”

“No problem,” says Leo.  “But why don’t you just pull the car into the building lot in the basement?  We have free parking for the talent.”

Great.  I think.  Now you tell me.

speed of light“Will do.  Be right back.”

I dash out of the building and down the street.  I gun the motor and race the car back to the building.  I pull into the lot where a friendly guard directs me to a parking slot.  I run back to the elevator and I’m tear-assing back to the studio when I run into Leo in the hallway.

“Hey,” he says.  “Looks like you got an easy morning.  You’re done.”

I’m done?

“They gave it a listen and said it was perfect.  You’re free to go.”

And that was that.  Forty-five minutes from beginning to end and my day’s work is complete.

phone ringing 4I thank Leo and, heading for the door, start texting Milo.

“How’s it going on your end?  Any problems?”

“All set.” he texts back. “I’m in.”

Boom, I think.

Booked it.

Movin’ on Up

As plans go, it was a pretty good one.  And in the end, it worked just as successfully as we possibly could have hoped.

PlanAllow me to s-plain:

When we signed the lease on our little place up in Northridge, Milo and I knew we would be hard pressed to get the place cleaned up and furnished in time for us to move in right away.

Not that the place was filthy or anything, but they had just completed a refurbishment of the unit and for anyone who has dealt with fresh drywall, you can almost always expect a layer of dust to be on just about everything when drywall dustthey’re done.

Plus, our little room was completely empty.  No bed, no dresser, no nothing.

We had a lot to do.

In order to accomplish everything we needed to take care of (plus get Milo in to school and kick start my soon-to-be burgeoning career out here), we decided, as you might remember, to accept an offer (arranged by my friend Renee) to house-sit for a family in Santa Monica who was traveling to Central America for a couple of weeks.

beach-style-exteriorThus, we briefly inherited an entire house all to ourselves just minutes from the beach and, in the bargain, took charge of Barnaby.

The Dog With a Cone on His Head.

Happily, despite his initial disdain and antipathy, Barnaby warmed up to us fairly quickly. Especially once he discovered that we could, whenever the mood struck us, remove the cone and free him from his canine neck-prison (all the while keeping an eye on him so he didn’t worry the rather nasty sore on his back).

Adoring DogOnce he realized we possessed the magical power of cone removal, we were as gods to him.

[I feel the need to point out, by the way, to anyone who may not have noticed, that Milo and I went pretty quickly from having no houses, to having one too many houses.  Which is, from my perspective, fairly impressive.]

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Our housing cup thus running over, we took advantage of the time we had and started fixing up the place on Zelzah. (For those of you who want specifics, we are at 9610 Zelzah Avenue, #111, Northridge, CA 91325. You can make your hate mail and/or care packages out to: The Theis Boys.)

never-paint-a-couchNaturally, when you’re looking for affordable furniture, you really only have two choices: thrift stores and IKEA.  So we walked into a couple of thrifts stores, walked right out again and went straight to IKEA. (The thrift stores looked like they’d just gotten a huge donation from the Manson ranch.  Seriously.  They didn’t say “BEDBUGS” on them…but they might as well have.  Sorry.  Not for my kid.)

IKEASo we picked up everything we needed from the big yellow and blue store instead.  And while we were moving our beds, dressers and little table into the Zelzah pad over the past week, I turned to Milo at one point and said, “I feel like I’m going back to college.”

To which Milo replied. “Pfft.  I’m going to have better furniture than this crap when I go to school.”

He probably will, too.

PixilatedOur roommates (we currently have three- a single guy as well as a couple- with room for one or two more), seem perfectly fine and, thankfully, harmless.  I won’t give you their real names or dwell on describing them, as they, unlike my friends that I discuss regularly on this blog, did not choose to be a part of my life.  Milo and I were, like greatness, thrust upon them.  (My friends, at this point, are saying to themselves: “Wait…there was a choice?  When did that happen?”)

I’ll simply say this about them and then leave them alone:  They are very young, pretty much leave us to ourselves and are decidedly puzzled about the old actor and his kid who just moved into the master suite.

Let ’em wonder, sez I.

Once we got the room furnished, Milo and I only had two more tasks on our to-do list: find a local gym and…set up the sound studio.

crunch-fitness-stanhope-njNow, the building itself does offer a workout facility, but it is a “gym” in name only. The equipment looks kinda tired and there aren’t any free weights or modern equipment.  So Milo and I did some research and paid a visit to a couple of places before finally signing up at the nearby Crunch Gym on Reseda. It offered us the best price, has a giant facility and- bonus- they’re open 24 hours a day (because who doesn’t like doing a few inclined bench press reps at three in the morning?).
Walk in

As for the sound studio, I was in for a bit of luck.  In between our bedroom and our private bathroom down the hall, our landlord has provided us with a large, walk-in closet. What’s more, the closet makes a convenient little left turn at the back, providing the perfect little nook for me to set up a table, a chair and a microphone and just chatter away to my heart’s content.

The only trouble, as my audiobook friends doubtless know, is that a closet can be an awfully lively place to work.  Meaning that your voice, in a big, empty closet, will simply bounce off all the walls, echo like crazy and make everything the microphone picks up sound like you’re standing at the bottom of a canyon.

What I needed was…insulation.

InsulationNow, sound insulation comes in many forms. You can pick up some rockwool or acoustical panels, if you like. You can purchase sound blankets (those are a real thing). You can, perhaps, buy lots and lots and lots of foam. You can even go out and get real, housing insulation, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Or, you can do what I did:  You can build a fort.

*************************

Remember when you were a kid and you would take your sheets and blankets, build a fort with them and then…you know…hang out in your fort?

blanket fortWell, that’s just what I did in our little closet.  Milo and I went down to the Goodwill, picked up some big blankets and comforters for about ten bucks, dragged them back to the apartment and, quite literally, built a fort in the closet for me to do my recordings.

I feel it important to mention at this point, that one of the blankets I purchased and with which I constructed my sound fort is…

…a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle themed blanket.

TMNTAnd I will not kid you by saying that this was not a selling point of the blanket. It totally, totally was.

So:

Does it look like a professional sound studio?  No, it looks like what it is: a 21st century blanket fort.

That’s not the question.  The question is:  Does it work?

And the answer is:  It works spectacularly.  When I close myself in there and climb into my studio-fort (which I have named “Fort Raphael”), you can’t hear a thing going on outside. And we live near a college.

Plus the blankets in Fort Raphael drink up sound like a thirsty Dubliner. So the quality of the recordings is amazing.  Better than what I record at home, actually.

Final question: Do I feel silly climbing into Fort Raphael to do my recordings every day?

Ft. Raphael

Not Ft. Raphael.  But close.

Answer:  Don’t be ridiculous.  After all, do you have a blanket fort in your house?  No?

Well I do. And it’s awesome.

[If you’re wondering if it has occurred to me that, since coming to California (and, indeed, during the course of this one post), I have regressed from middle age, to college student, to fort-building man-child…yes.  It has occurred to me. And I’m planning to do exactly bupkis about it.]

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A final note on the Zelzah apartment:  When we moved in permanently this week (bidding Barnaby a tearful goodbye), Milo immediately started putting band posters that he had brought from Chicago up on the wall. (And thank goodness he did, otherwise the room would look like a prison cell.)

Fall Out BoyAs for me, I brought a poster from home, too.  Just one.

It is an old print that my father gave me years ago. It used to be in a nice frame, but the glass broke during a move.  I kept the print, though, because it’s so beautiful and because something about it speaks to me.

And when I was preparing to come out to California, this was the only poster I wanted to bring with me.  It seemed appropriate for some reason, though I can’t quite figure out why. Maybe it symbolized something?  I couldn’t be sure.

I don’t know.  Maybe its just my imagination.

You be the judge.

Don Quixote

 

 

 

Poolside: Hollywood, U.S.A.

I don’t know a lot of famous people.  But I know a few. And I find it absolutely fascinating to run into them- years after these people hit it big-  just to see how (or if) fame has changed them.

FameOne guy (who I will not name), completely disappeared from his old life in Chicago once he moved West and became a zillionaire. One minute he was an obscure, completely unknown actor in Chicago and the next…he was simply rolling in dough and everyone in the country knew his face.

But after this thunderbolt from heaven struck him and turned him (albeit briefly) into a television deity…that was about the last we saw of him back in Chicago.

Famous StarThose of us who knew him back home never- or rarely – heard from him again and to this day, I haven’t seen him since he moved to California at all except for brief glimpses on the tube (and even then, not for years).

He had moved on from being an unknown in his home town to life among the privileged few in Hollywood and he never, ever looked back.

Fame is a bizarre thing. It can really warp you. Change you into someone unrecognizable from your former self. And not in a good way.  (See Jackson, Michael or Lohan, Lindsey).

tabloidsConversely, fame can also help to bring out your true self in a positive way. Give rise to your better angels and allow you the freedom to become the selfless, altruistic person your meager circumstances might have prevented you from being before. (See Lawrence, Jennifer or Jackman, Hugh.)

Sometimes, being famous can turn you off of the acting business entirely. The superficiality and self-obsession inherent in the business can be pretty distasteful, after all, and you are often surrounded by people who don’t truly care about you, but make their livings from what you- as the center of their financial world – can provide to them.

Paparazzi-Stock-15-1200x800Fame creates drug addicts and philanthropists. Lunatics and humanitarians.  Plastic surgery junkies, anorexics, egomaniacal divas and…perfectly sane, devoted artisans.

You just never know until fame knocks on your door.  Then you find out your true mettle.

Which is why is was so interesting to visit with my old friend Jim O’Heir here in L.A. this past week and discover that fame- when it came knocking on his door- had taken hold of him and warped poor Jim into…

…the exact same old dirty-minded, generous, hilarious S.O.B. I knew back in Chicago.

Oh, fame, you fickle bitch-goddess. How could you? How could you?

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Those of you who may have been reading this blog during my first visit to L.A. earlier this year may recall that I ran into Jim twice on that trip; once for lunch and once when he Night Out with Jiminvited me out on a wonderful night of comedy in Pasadena. (Both times, Jim reached for the check at the end of the night and both times…I did nothing to stop him. I just hate arguing with people about money, don’t you?)

Since then, I saw Jim exactly once, in Chicago, when he kindly invited me, Sara and the kids to a screening of his new film, “Middle Man” back in June. (More on the movie later.) We had a terrific time- the movie is just incredible – and, at the end of the evening, Sara and I finally got to introduce Jim to our young ‘uns.  It was a grand night all around.

Well, when Milo and I arrived in L.A. last month, the last thing I wanted to do was to bug Jim about getting together. He’s an incredibly busy guy- always jetting off to exotic locales to film something, promote something or to see his family (to whom he is devoted)- and I didn’t want to be that guy who shows up in town and immediately starts contacting his friends from TV asking for favors.

Jim as Jerry

“Shhh!  Kevin’s on the phone!”

Turned out, I didn’t need to.  After what seemed like minutes after our arrival, Jim reached out to me. He wanted to know if Milo and I had time to stop by his house for dinner one night this week and, hey, bring a bathing suit if you like because the swimming pool is open for business, too.

Yeah, I know. It sounded pretty awful to me but…these are the sacrifices we make for our old friends.

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A bit of history:

I met Jim in Chicago about twenty-something years ago through our mutual buddy, Ted Koch. In no time at all, we absorbed Jim into our New Paltz/Chicago enclave and had become fast friends. At the time, Jim was a member of an performance group called “White Noise,” which enjoyed a brief spurt of popularity in the early nineties in Chicago before they broke up, but not before moving their biggest hit, “Stumpy’s Gang,” to L.A. and launching Jim’s West Coast career.

Stumpy's GangSide Note:  “Stumpy’s Gang” is one of the most original, hilarious shows I’ve seen in my many years in Chicago.  It was a horror parody of the old humans-and-puppets kid shows from the 50’s and 60’s (a la “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” and “Howdy Doody”), only in this iteration, Jim played Frank, a janitor in a genetics lab who keeps the “mistakes” from upstairs locked in a closet in the basement where he would make his little mutated friends perform a gruesome – often bloody- Saturday morning show for his amusement.  It had to be seen to be believed. (And Sara was in the original production!)

During his time in Chicago, we saw Jim a lot.  For years, we would go out and meet him for drinks on most nights (back when that was what we did most nights), see each others’ shows at whatever theatre we happened to be working and, at least a dozen times, we all

Captain jim

Captain Jim!

drove up to his parents’ lake house in Michigan for a weekend of carousing, swimming and grilling.

Those were the days.

When Jim left for L.A., we thought that he stood a better chance than most at making it out here (given his made-for-TV mug and his comedy chops), but you never know. This town chews up funny character actors and spits them violently out all the time.

But no, Jim managed- over the years- to work his way up from bit player, to guest star, to featured player until, finally, to the series that made him a household name, playing Jerry on “Parks and Recreation” for all of the show’s seven seasons.

Jim Star Trek

Jim on “Star Trek: Voyager” looking…alien.

As a result both of his fame and, not incidentally, his abilities, Jim enjoys the kind of career most people dream about. Shoot, have a look at his IMDB page.  They guy does not stop working.

So naturally, when you’re doing that well, the last thing you want to do is to stop working and disappear for a month or so into the desert to work on a pet project with an old friend that pays you practically nothing, right?

Except that’s exactly what Jim did last year when he took off a huge chunk of time, dropped everything and helped to fulfill the lifelong dream of his old “White Noise” cohort Ned Crowley by raising money for and shooting the truly original independent

Jim and Ned

Ned and Jim

movie “Middle Man” (soon to be seen, we can only hope, in a theatre near you), a film conceived of, written and directed by Mr. Crowley himself. (As I said earlier, I’ve seen the finished product and it is truly magnificent.)

So that’s Jim.  Famous, sure.  Successful?  Undoubtedly.  But still the same guy he was back in the day.

Hell, he’s still even got a full head of hair, the bastard.

Sheesh, some people.

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Jim’s house, at first glance, is a little misleading. It looks like a tiny place, mostly because you approach it from the side. He has this driveway that gently slopes up from the street toward the narrowest corner of the house and all you can really see, as you come up to the place, is the front door and a few windows.  You’d never guess what awaits you inside.

pool deckBecause once you’re in the door, you are treated to this positively gorgeous place that seems to go on forever in both directions. It’s all one level and there must be a dozen or so rooms in the joint, each of which is as beautifully designed as the last. (Jim humbly confessed that he had nothing to do with the decorating beyond pointing to colors and saying “I like the brown.” But he has excellent taste in interior decorators, that’s for damn sure.)

Another thing about Jim: he hates to disappoint people.  In fact, despite the fact that he was hosting us both for dinner in his fabulous home, he kept apologizing to Milo and I because he hadn’t had time to make dinner himself on the grill and had, instead (if you can believe this), picked up dinner from a restaurant.

RibsAnd yes, while it was a sumptuous dinner of falling-off-the-bone barbecued ribs, baked beans, cole slaw, brownies and ice cream – along with all the beer you could possibly want…well, since he hadn’t grilled it himself, Milo and I turned around and marched right out of there. We know when we’re being insulted.

In actuality, of course, we hung out for the entire night on Jim’s jaw-dropping pool deck, went for a lovely late-evening dip, destroyed the Sambergplatter of ribs he set before us and bored Milo senseless with old Chicago acting stories. (Though Milo perked right up when Jim mentioned that just finished working on Andy Samberg’s new show.  Milo is a huge fan of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”)

Jim- unlike most of the performers I know- is not really big on talking about himself or his career but, after persistent prodding, we managed to drag some hilarious “Parks and Recreation” stories out of him and, when I asked about upcoming projects, learned the happy news that he had just been cast in (and will spend three weeks this fall in Atlanta shooting) the new Steven Soderbergh film “Logan Lucky” with none other than Daniel Craig, Channing Tatum and Katherine Heigl.Craig-Heigl

I asked him if anybody cool was in it, but apparently it’s just those three.

After dessert around Jim’s roaring fire pit (yes, the evening kept getting worse and worse) and simply hours of enjoying his wonderful company, we finally called it a night, thanked Jim for his hospitality and hit the road.

And I’ll tell you:

DinnerI didn’t know, upon receiving Jim’s invitation, what kind of night to expect for Milo and I. It could have been a perfunctory, here’s-your-meatloaf-what’s-your-hurry dinner with a busy man with little time to waste.  Or, it could have been a night filled with awkward silences, two guys who knew each other from back in the day now sitting across the table from each other with nothing in common to discuss anymore.

Or, worse, he could have served fish.

dessert

Dessert could have gone better.

Instead, we spent the night laughing, reminiscing, talking about our families, remembering friends and stories from long ago and, generally, enjoying one of the most fun, enjoyable and relaxing evenings that I could possibly have imagined.

Jeez, maybe next time we can get the selfish reprobate to open up the damn grill.

I don’t know why I put up with this kind of treatment.

I really, really don’t.

Middle Man

Too Legit to Give Up

It was a simple rule:

“No sushi until we get you enrolled in school.”

No SushiSimple.  Easy to follow.  We’d abstain from going out for sushi in L.A. for as long as it took for us to get Milo signed up for 11th grade and then, after what we figured would be a couple of days abstention, we would wrap up the enrollment process and be off to the races, raw fish-wise.

Turns out, the aquatic life of Southern California had nothing to worry about from the Theis boys.

Not for a long, long time.

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The scoop:

Granada Hills High School is a ridiculously popular school.  It’s easy to see why.  Just read their literature:

Business Insider ranked Granada Hills Charter the top high school in California and number ten in the nation.”

ghchs-highlander-logo-url-358x139Well, lah-dee-frickin’-dah.

Still, pretty happy that Milo would (we presumed) eventually go there. That’s a pretty sweet endorsement, right?

But…there’s the kicker: while every kid who lives in the school district (i.e. Milo) is allowed, by law, to enroll there, not everyone who attempts to enroll there is acting strictly According to Hoyle.

3cardmonte2Milo and I learned almost right away that, given the popularity of the school, people go to enormous lengths to bamboozle, defraud and otherwise flim-flam the fine, upstanding administrators of Granada Hills in order to get their kids in the door.  As a result, matriculating your young one- even if you’re totally legit- is no small task.

I had signed up for Milo’s enrollment online at the Granada Hills website and…it seemed just a little too easy.  We were to be there, Thursday the 4th of August, at 9:00 AM, where Milo would be registered for classes.  Just like that!

Mmmm-hmmm.

lineThursday the 4th, we arrived forty-five minutes early and joined the long line of students staking their way through the gym. I knew we were in trouble when I saw that each of them had a brown, manila envelope in their hands.

We did not.

“We’re in trouble,” I astutely advised Milo.

His look said, “No kidding.”

Sure enough, when we got to the head of the line, we were told, “Oh, no. You’re in the wrong place, you need to go to the Attendance Office and get enrolled there.  Then you can register.”

And so began the odyssey.

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Which I won’t describe to you in detail because (a) I care for each of you dearly and (b) I can imagine that the only thing worse than navigating a bureaucratic nightmare is to have it described to you afterwards.

skepticalSuffice it to say that when they saw me and by big, fat Illinois driver’s license and my complete lack of anything proving my residency in Northridge besides a copy of my lease (which, I was assured, anyone could create out of thin air), they were…let’s say…skeptical.

They told me the various steps to take to prove my residency, one of which included getting neighbors of mine in the building to sign an affidavit swearing that I lived there.

So imagine me, if you would, sitting in the lobby of my new building an hour later and stopping people as they leave their apartments to ask them if they would be willing to sign a form attesting to the fact that I – a complete stranger – am their new, trusted next-door neighbor.

How long do you suppose that took?

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Actually, it took about five minutes.  I have that kind of face.

In truth, I think that’s what helped us over the various barriers that stood in our way this entire week. My big, sweet, Irish kisser.

trust meSee, I don’t have all the talents in the world, but I’ve got this one:  People almost instantly trust me. It’s the oddest thing, but I can get people that normally wouldn’t help anyone at all to give me a hand, just by giving them a dopey grin and saying, “Hey, could you do me a favor and help me out for a second?”

This gift was especially helpful in high school when I would meet my girlfriend’s parents. What they saw was a sweet, innocent, likable kid. Exactly the kind of boy you’d want your daughter to go to the school dance with.  Mr. Trustworthy.

Hoo boy.

hoopsAnyway, that’s how it went all week long.  I’d jump through some administrative hoop or other and the school would say, “Nice! Now, here’s another hoop, only we’re going to set this one on fire.”

And I’d reach out to someone or other (my real estate broker, the owner of the building, one of my new roommates) and I’d say, sweetly, “Help a fella through a burning hoop?” And the assistance, remarkably, would be there.

bridge of deathFinally, two days ago, it seemed that we had finally completed all of the tasks, answered the questions three and were ready to cross the Bridge of Death.

We showed up at the Admissions Office with our stack of documents and kindly requested that they accept Milo as the newest Highlander and…

…what do you know?  They said yes.

So early this morning, we got up bright and early, hiked up to the school, got Milo in the line for late registration, to take care of his school ID and arrange for his school pictures.

Oh, and last night?

The raw tuna stocks in Southern California took a huge hit.

And the salmon isn’t doing very well either.

tuna

 

Getting to Know You

The last time I was in L.A., I spent a lot of time by myself.

Going to WorkEven when I had roommates (first Paul and Monica in February, then Ed in March), it turned out that- for hours and hours every day- they would disappear and go to these things called “jobs” where they would “work” and make something called “money.” (I looked into it. It’s just about as awful as it sounds.)

So, as I generally found myself with a lot of time on my hands and not much to do with it except stare hopefully at the phone, willing it to ring, I decided to try and get to know the city of Los welcome-to-la-stan-stokes-rusted-metal-sign-pst-1812--10096-pAngeles as well as I could, traveling to both the well-known tourist sites and, when possible, to the lesser known haunts as well.

Still, I usually wound up going to these places all by my lonesome and, I’ll tell ya, you get just a little bit tired of saying “Wow, that’s really cool” to yourself over and over again. Don’t get me wrong; I like to think I’m excellent company but…it is possible to have too much of a good thing, you know?

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This time around, however, I have my sixteen-year-old son Milo in tow and, before school starts this week, I’ve been doing everything I can to introduce him to the wonders of L.A.

Welcome to Los Angeles

Every day (when we’re not preparing the apartment for the big moving day next week), I try to give him a sense of how they city is laid out, spending our afternoons seeing some of the more significant or culturally relevant areas of town and revisiting a few of my favorite places from the first visit.

Thus, last week, we found ourselves strolling along the Santa Monica Pier. If you’ve never been, you’re really missing out. It is this massive pier that features- among many other things- a number of restaurants, souvenir shops and street buskers showing off their talents (just as you’d expect to see on any similar attraction in any other town).

santa monica pier sign

But on the Santa Monica Pier (the last stop on Route 66, by the way), you can also ride the carousel, watch a trapeze demonstration, hop on the Ferris Wheel or, if you’re so inclined, get on the roller coaster.

Yes, there is a dang roller coaster on the pier.

Also- despite its slight resemblance to Navy Pier in Chicago- it has a ring of authenticity and grittiness that Navy Pier absolutely lacks. (Which is the polite way of saying…it’s kind of dirty.  But in a good way.)  The restaurants – Bubba Gump Shrimp being the exception- aren’t of any recognizable chain; they are originals of the pier. Even the vendors offer unique wares, including the one-and-only “Japadog” (the Japadogfamous Japanese hot dog stand).

Plus, if you want your name etched onto a single grain of rice- as three of the street vendors on the pier offer – then this is your place.

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A day later, with a couple of hours to kill in Hollywood, we stopped off at the “Hollywood Forever Cemetery.”  And about five minutes into the visit, I realized- to my chagrin- that you really need to be of a certain age for that place to have any true meaning for you.hollywood-forever-cemetery_s345x230

That is to say: I raised my kids right, in that they know and adore the Marx Brothers, can pick Jimmy Stewart out of a lineup and (I’m proud to say) would never mistake Grace Kelly for Ingrid Bergman. These are culturally educated children, I think.

But Milo wasn’t exactly knocked out to behold the final resting places of Darrin McGavin, Mr. Blackwell and Mickey Rooney.  And who can blame him?  (Though he did appreciate seeing Johnny Ramone’s outrageous tombstone, tipped a hat to the great Fay Wray and Ramonewas suitably impressed to see that Mel Blanc was there.)

The only disconcerting thing was his failure to recognize John Huston, either by his name or his tombstone, which is an egregious gap in Milo’s cinematic education that will be filled as swiftly as possible.

“Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “Chinatown,” anyone?

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Next on the list was one of my favorite places in the city, the wondrous and spectacular Getty Center.

GettyCenter1I’ve written about the Getty before and will not bother to repeat myself here, only to say that: to impress a teenager is not an easy thing to do and Milo was bowled over by the beauty and architectural majesty that is the one-and-only Getty Center.

Plus, the view from the Getty balcony is not merely mind-boggling; it also gives you- with it’s panoramic sweep from Malibu all the way down to Orange County in the distance- a true sense of how the metro L.A. area is laid out.

Honestly, were it not for the cost to park there on a daily basis, I would be up at the Getty every afternoon.

It’s a shame that Getty himself was such a rotten S.O.B.

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Then, since we’re only a couple of miles away from the place here in our Santa Monica abode (at least for the next few days), we decided to drop by Venice Beach and soak up the pure, human drama.

VeniceAnd, as always, Venice did not disappoint.

Venice Beach is one of the saddest, most beautiful, most heartbreaking places I’ve ever visited.  On the one hand, Venice clearly has a culture and a community all its own. The homeless people living up and down the beachfront number in the hundreds and, from the looks of it, they appear to be doing their best to watch out for each other as they meander their way through life.

But the denizens of Venice – the poor, the confused, the lost and the destitute – are a truly depressing and disheartening bunch. You cannot help but wonder both how they got there and where, if anywhere, they will end up in the next year, two years, five years.

Venice HomelessFor now, they wander up and down the beach, some rattling cups for change, some busking for dollars and even a few dozen setting up small stands to hawk their wares (art pieces, the chance to hold a live snake or, for a dollar or two, the opportunity for tourists to snap a picture with a bizarre-looking but harmless homeless guy.  No kidding- picture taking with the homeless is a going concern down there).

I’ve been to Venice twice on this trip- once with Milo and once on a morning run.  Both times, I saw things I could hardly believe.  I saw a man sitting at a grand piano – a full sized grand piano on the beach – banging out a series of disjointed melodies and waiting for people to drop a few bucks into his jar.  (“Man, what are you doing here,” indeed.)

Venice VendorsI saw another guy who appeared to be levitating on his back four feet off the ground (his means of elevation carefully disguised) just over a sign that implored picture takers to leave a buck or two before walking away.  A few even looked like they complied with this request

And, most indelibly, I saw a man waking up the other morning on Venice Beach, still swaddled in his blanket in the sand, who had fashioned a rudimentary pipe of sorts out of a Dr. Pepper can and was starting his day by sitting up in his sandy bed and sparking up a tasty bud.Can Pipe

One would be tempted to judge such a fellow for his choice of early morning stimulation, but then…I don’t exactly feel that I am in a position to be pointing fingers about being responsible with your life choices these days, if you want the truth.

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Finally, on Saturday night, I had the chance to give Milo a little taste of Life in Hollywood.

SAG AwardsYou see, earlier this year, I got word that I had been randomly chosen to serve as a member of the Screen Actors Guild Nominating Committee. What this means is that I will be issued occasional invitations to free screenings of films here in L.A. that the studios have arranged just for SAG NomComm members. These screenings are organized, naturally, to encourage members like me to give these films consideration when the time comes to offer our nominations for the SAG awards.

This is a step up from my annual receipt – as a voting SAG member- of first-run movies arriving at my house in DVD format in time for the SAG voting process. No, this is much more fun.

movie ticketsThis time, I’ll see the movies before they go into wide release and will, as we did this past week, be able to attend these special screenings and see the stars and creative team behind the movies at Q&A sessions afterwards, again courtesy of the studio.

The first movie to offer such a screening this season was Paramount Pictures’ “Florence Foster Jenkins,” which Milo and I viewed at the fabulously appointed Westwood Village Theatre on Saturday night…complete with free parking and complimentary popcorn, of course.  (Boy, these guys really know how to bribe a guy.)

Florence_Foster_Jenkins_(film)And, as a treat to all present, the director and stars of the film came out afterwards to be interviewed.  Meaning that Milo and I got to see, in the flesh, Stephen Frears, Simon Helberg (of “Big Bang Theory” fame), Hugh Grant and…the Greatest Living Actress on the Planet™, Meryl Streep.

The movie itself was great fun, telling the true story of society maven and absolutely terrible classical singer Florence Foster Jenkins who pursued a quixotic and legendary career as an amateur soprano in the 30’s and 40’s in New York.Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 12.00.21 PM

Streep was her usual astonishing self, of course, and Grant was terrific, too.  But the real headline (I thought) was the fact that Simon Helberg, playing Cosmé McMoon (Ms. Jenkins’ real-life accompanist) personally played each classical opera piece live during the course of filming of the movie. That alone should get the guy an Oscar nomination, in my book.

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Sorry to say, this sort of thing – attending a star studded movie screening- just doesn’t happen in Chicago.  It was an absolute blast being treated to a night out- on the studio’s dime- viewing a new film and having the performers from said film trotted dutifully out for our benefit.

So…nicely done, SAG Nominating Committee.  Nicely done.

Now….what else ya got?

Leave It in the Lobby

Whenever I talk to young actors in a classroom setting- especially those that are entirely new to the business and have very little audition experience under their belts- I always start off by asking them what they think their job is when they step into a room to audition.

actorIt might seem like a straightforward question, right? After all, the job of an actor is “to act,” isn’t it?  It’s right there in the name of the occupation.

But the real job of an actor is both more complex and vastly more simple than that, actually. And this becomes apparent almost immediately after I put this question to any group of young performers.

When I say, “What’s your job?” I’ll usually get answers like “To get the part” or “To show the director what I can do” or “To interpret the text clearly and creatively” or a hundred other responses, none of which are strictly accurate.

CranstonThe real answer, which was so clearly and brilliantly elucidated by the great Bryan Cranston recently, is simply this:

Your job, as an actor, is:

To play the character.

That’s it. Walk in the room, create a believable and realistic portrayal of the person on the page that you’ve been given to play, finish up…and then walk out of the room.

The rest is up to the director and the folks in the casting department.  Nothing you can do about that.  Once you’ve finished with the character- interpreting him or her to the best of your ability- you’re done. There’s nothing more you can do or should have done.

auditionYou cannot, and should not, attempt to display the vast depth and breadth of your training. You need not show off your brilliance or your charisma. And you don’t need to preen or walk about like a show pony.  None of that is really necessary.

Walk in the room. Create the character.  Then get out.

That’s your job. Period.

As Mr. Cranston put it so well, this is incredibly empowering. It removes an enormous burden from the performer; the burden of having to get that part and being pressured to impress that casting agent and feeling the need to display your amazing abilities.

Don’t bother.  Just prepare properly, do the pre-audition work you have been (hopefully) trained to do and then…go in there and play the character.

Then leave.

walking-out-door(I cannot stress the “leaving” part enough, by the way. So often, when I hold auditions, actors will finish up a monologue or a scene and then…not leave. You can say “Thanks, that was great” all day, but the just won’t head for the door until you finally say “We’ll let you know.  Bye-bye now.”  Then, sometimes, they take the hint.  But not always.  So, a little acting tip: When you’re done?  Leave.  If we like you, we’ll be in touch.  Promise.)

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Another thing about auditions:  The people in the room? The casting agent/director watching your audition? You don’t need to be intimidated by them. At all.

KCC-theatre-auditions.jpgWhy?  Simple:  They want you to be good. They’re not sitting there hoping for you to suck, looking for flaws and picking apart your performance. (Or, at least, they shouldn’t be.)

See, they have a problem. They have parts to cast. And they desperately need good performers to fill those parts. And right now, they don’t have those good performers. So they are looking to you to help them solve this terrible, terrible problem.

How do I know they are so desperately searching for good actors? Well, a big hint is: They’re holding auditions.  If they knew already who they were going to use, they wouldn’t bother sitting through hours of monologues and callbacks and cold readings. Trust me. Auditions are torturous things to experience. If you can avoid them, you do.

Auditions 2So if they are actually calling people in to read and you, as the performer, are given a chance to show them what you can do with the character you’ve been given, enjoy it. Don’t fret and worry about what the odds are of your getting cast.  Or how good looking the guy who went in before you was.  Or twist yourself into knots over your choice of shirt.  Don’t bother with any of that nonsense.

Just go in the room, create your version of the character they’ve asked you to read, finish up and then get out.

That’s your job. That’s it. That’s all.

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Okay, one more thing.

Another thing that you should do, the very moment you walk out the door is…

…forget about it.  Immediately.  Do everything you can to wipe the audition from your mind and pretend that it never happened at all.forget

Don’t wait by the phone, or obsessively check your email or jump out of your skin at every text. Just get on with your life, behave as if the audition didn’t even occur and you will save yourself a world of worry and disappointment.

Plus, if you actually do get the part, it comes as a thrilling and completely unexpected surprise.  (“I got what?  Really?  I don’t even remember auditioning for that.  Weird.”)

So those are your Audition Tips from Ol’ Man Theis:

Play the character. Don’t be intimidated. Get out of there as quickly as you can and then…

…forget about it.

Trust me.  Follow those simple steps and you can’t go wrong.

 

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The reason I bring all this up is because this week, thanks to the diligent and tireless work of my wonderful agent Orion Barnes, I finally had my first, bona fide television audition here in Hollywood, U.S.A.

Rogers Orion

Rogers Orion Agency: Representing Theises for Over Six Months!

To be clear, I’ve auditioned for lots of TV shows in Chicago (and appeared on a few, in fact), but- despite my having spent three months here earlier this year- I had not yet experienced my first, bona fide L.A. television audition.

Until this week.

Here’s the story:

Coming back from Santa Monica on Sunday, having been shown around the new house and meeting Barnaby: The Dog With a Cone One His Head (BTDWACOHH), my cell phone rang in the car. Not wanting to wrap the vehicle around a telephone pole, I had Milo answer it and put it on speaker.

“This is Kevin.”

“Kevin!  It’s Orion calling.”

Phone CarImmediately, the adrenalin starts pumping.  What could this be?

“Hey, Orion! Great to hear from you.  What’s up?”

“Got an audition for you tomorrow at 3:30. A new TV show.  Guest spot. Are you available?”

Am I available?  Does the Pope dislike jokes that infer that he defecates in the wilderness?

“Absolutely! Where do you need me to be?”

“I’ll email you the details. It’s at Sara Isaacson’s casting agency. The show is called ‘Famous In Love.’ You’ll be reading for a pawn broker.”

pawn brokerOooooh.  Pawn broker.  Sounds like a real scumbag.  Right in my wheelhouse.

“Fantastic, Orion.  I’ll keep an eye out for the email.  Thanks a million!”

“You bet. Have a great one, Kevin.”

And that, as they say, was that.

By the way, I was especially excited to hear that I’d be auditioning at Sara Isaacson‘s agency as I had actually met Sara earlier this year.  Sara is a Chicago veteran (now full time casting director here in Los Angeles) who I was introduced to via Facebook back in February by my friend Amy Ludwig.

SaraAnd, as we Chicago folk tend to stick together, Sara agreed to meet with me to get acquainted and we wound up spending a lovely morning over coffee at this cool little cafe called Aroma in Studio City back in January.

Simply put:  Nothing about this phone call wasn’t good news.

So there I am, excitedly bouncing up and down in the car while Milo stares at me like I’m a lunatic.

“First audition!” I keep crowing, and Milo’s response was a cool, collected “That’s really great.”

Happy Driver.jpgI tried to get him to catch a contact high from my enthusiasm, but he was just saying no.

Then, I kid you not, less than two miles later, Milo was even more excited than I was.

“OH MY GOD!” he suddenly yelled at me, jarring me out of my first-audition-in-L.A. reverie. “Do you know who that was walking down the street just now?!?!”

“What? Who? You scared the hell out of me!” I said.

“That was Jack Barakat!”

“What,” I said, “or rather who is Jack Barakat?”

“He’s the lead guitarist for ‘All Time Low’! And that was him! Just walking down the street!”

Jack BarakatNow, I may not be able to rattle off the individual band members from “All Time Low,” but I do happen to know this band very well.  The reason?  I am a sentient being who has been living in my house in Oak Park for the past couple of years and you cannot live there and not know about the band “All Time Low.” (Seriously, my dog Dodger has a favorite “All Time Low” song.)

Milo went on to explain, his eyes wild in disbelief, that Barakat was easy to recognize for several reasons as (a) he is very tall, (b) he has a very distinctive hairstyle (dyed bright red), (c) Milo has seen him in concert in Chicago (and has his face on a T-shirt, no less) and, finally, (d) he was walking down the sidewalk carrying a guitar. (This is clearly not a guy worried about being recognized and accosted on the street.)

So there we were, father and son, zipping along, both extremely pumped up and excited for entirely different reasons.

Three day drive to California?  Totally worth it.

********************

Now, I wish I had a really cool “This-is-how-the-audition-went” story to relate but, really, my first shot at a TV show in L.A. was about as exciting and eventful as a trip to the dentist.

I arrived good and early at the agency (as every good actor should), signed in and…before I really had a chance to get my bearings, I was in the room, performing the scene.

charlie-chaplin-pawnbroker_890(By the way, Dennis the Pawn Broker, it turned out, was actually a nice guy. So, you know…a stretch for me.)

Following my own advice, I left my nervousness in the lobby (where it would be waiting when I got back, I had no doubt) and simply went in, stood in front of the camera, played the character and…walked out.

No flop sweat, no drama, no histrionics.  I did my job and I split.

And that was it. First TV audition in L.A. and it could not have gone more smoothly.

Daffy-Duck-Is-a-Nervous-Wreck-Waiting-For-Bad-Things-To-Happen-On-Looney-Tunes

Not me.

Of course, had it been an audition for, say, the new “Avengers” movie, my “Just go in and do your job and don’t make a big deal out of it” advice would have gone right out the window and I would have been sitting there, crapping myself all over the nice waiting room chairs but…not an issue this time around.

And the minute I left, I promptly forgot all about it.  And haven’t thought of it since.

I didn’t obsessively check my email or wait by the phone or jump at every text for the past three days, thinking of how cool it would be to get cast in my very first audition in California.

No I didn’t.  Shut up! I always look at my phone a lot! That doesn’t mean anything!

guy-checking-cell-in-bed.jpgAnd the volume on the phone is, like, super loud!  Anyone would jump like that, getting a text.  Jeez!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check my email just one last time.

What’s that?

No.  No reason.

No reason at all.

P.S. – I Despise You

In all the frenzied tearing around town this past week trying to find accommodations for the boyo and I, it is hardly surprising that I’ve accomplished just north of bupkis when it comes to pursuing any acting work.

Orion at Work

My sainted agent

Not that things have been entirely dormant, either.  My agent- the wonderful and talented Orion Barnes- has been sending me out for consideration by casting agents for a couple of weeks now (even before I arrived) to try to get me seen by anyone and everyone.  And its wonderful to know that you’ve got a guy like that in your corner.

But as far as submitting myself through Actor’s Access or auditioning for audiobooks or actually recording anything, I’ve been pretty much AWOL, trying to find out if it was even possible to get a roof over our heads that wasn’t automotive.

Chasing TailHowever, two unexpected events happened during the whole harum-scarum of the housing crisis this week and now that the lease has been signed and we’re assured of a warm room for a few months, I can finally take a breath and relate them to you.

Plus, as a bonus, you’ll get to hear the story of “Barnaby: The Dog With a Cone On His Head” and how Milo and I came to care for him.

But no skipping ahead.  That story is the dessert.  First, you’ve got to eat your vegetables.

*****************

When I left Chicago- in spite of my efforts to leave nothing unfinished – I found that when the time came to leave, I still had two audiobooks to finish up: a short history book on the most significant events that shaped America and a Sherlock Holmes novella.  But upon arriving in L.A., I had no suitable place to record them.Rescue.jpg

As he is wont to do, my dear friend Chuck Constant flew to the rescue and kindly offered me his place in which to record (as he did back in March when I had a similar, urgent need).  Even better, Chuck had a nice surprise for me:  Since my trip to California earlier this year, he had arranged to have built- smack dab in the middle of his kitchen no less- a full-sized, insulated recording booth.

Home BoothAnd he named it, as you would expect, John Wilkes.

Oh, we have a dark sense of humor, we audiobook types.

Finding that he had a commitment that kept him away from home for a few hours this past Thursday, Chuck offered me the use of his place, if I was interested. I naturally jumped at the chance to have a some time in a booth to get some work done.

Sadly, Chuck’s cats (and Milo’s allergies to said felines) meant that my son had to spend those hours all by his lonesome in a coffeeshop down on Franklin.  I say “sadly,” knowing full well that Milo being shut up in a coffeeshop with his computer is the equivalent of Brer Rabbit getting tossed head-first into a briar patch.  Still- you hate to strand your kid alone while you work.

Nicholson

Actual picture of me

A couple of hours later, I emerged from the hotbox that was John Wilkes looking like Col. Nicholson from “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” but I had my recordings, by God, and could actually claim to have done some work since arriving in town.

That’s when Chuck, kind fellow, invited me once again to an audiobook industry event to be held this weekend.  And, as the last one had been, it was to be held at one of the top audiobook producer’s headquarters, the home and studio of Deyan Audio hosted by the proprietress herself, Deb Deyan.

Wedding CrashersNow, you may recall, dear reader, that I had visited Ms. Deyan’s home and studio once before, related in the blog posting “Tell Me a Story.” To refresh your memory, Chuck had invited me to a party at Ms. Deyan’s house but neglected to inform me that it was actually her wedding reception.  When I discovered this, it was all I could do not to respond by pushing my dear friend Chuck into Ms. Deyan’s pool.

So this time, like Charlie Brown eyeing Lucy with a football, I was wary.  What was this so-called “industry event”?  Any…special occasion I should know about?  Some kind of “Eyes Eyes Wide ShutWide Shut” scenario, perhaps, involving masked nude models and randy billionaires?  What, I wanted to know, was I getting myself into?

Turned out that, actually, it was a fundraiser Deb was hosting to support research into Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS or, more commonly, as Lou Gehrig’s disease).  You ALS fundraisersee, a couple of years ago, Deb’s first husband Bob was diagnosed with ALS and had a very swift decline that put him in a persistent vegetative state and ultimately resulted in his untimely death at 56.

After that, in addition to carrying on the work of producing audiobooks, Deb had regularly sponsored and hosted events to raise money to fight the disease.

And this one, to make it a little more fun for all involved, was going to be….

….a karaoke night.

Well, color me paranoid, but I overdressed for the event anyway.  Once bitten, dontcha know.  But when I arrived, it turned out to be exactly as advertised: a lighthearted event for friends and narrators who loved and worked with Bob and Deb over the years, a table where you could make your donations and, for the guests to enjoy: a big buffet, open bar and…right there on the pool deck…a karaoke machine.

KaraokeWell, it didn’t take too long for the actors to get oiled up enough to find their courage and take to the microphone.  (Imagine that- actors edging toward the spotlight.)

And before you can say “Look at meeeee!”, we were lined up three people deep to get up there and belt out a tune.  I myself butchered “Honky Tonk Woman” and was dragged back up by some other performers to join them in singing a whole raft of songs that ranged from “Whiter Shade of Pale” to “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.” (If that counts as a “range.”)

Deb DeyanBest of all, I actually got to talk to Deb Deyan who, the last time I saw her, was in a whirl of post-nuptial chaos and would not have remembered me if I had upchucked in the punch bowl.

This time, Deb was in full-on hostess mode, greeting everyone, chatting with each of us and- the wedding now far in the rear view- actually able to hold focused conversations. She came up and introduced herself to me and I related how we had actually met during her reception, commenting that I seriously doubted that she could possibly remember.

Deb laughed and confirmed my suspicion that the previous party had all been a blur for her (as most wedding receptions seem to be for the bride) and we then had a long chat

Deb and Bob Deyan

Deb and Bob

about the audiobook industry, her husband’s battle with ALS (a heartbreaking story) and my newly launched adventures in Hollywood with Milo.  She was very sweet, encouraging of my efforts and simply could not have been more charming. It was great to finally get to know her.

After that- and a last crack at “I Saw Her Standing There”- Chuck and I called it a night and headed home.

Hollywood Party #1 since the Big Return.  Check.

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Don’t worry.  I’m getting to Barnaby.  Be patient.

*****************

The day we went to sign the lease (and bamboozle the realtor with tales of our riches), Milo and I were greeted with the unpleasant news that the apartment (which was being newly renovated) would not actually be ready on the first of the month. As the place was newly Drywall Messgutted, drywalled, painted and spiffed up, the dusty carpeting would have to be replaced and the whole suite made suitable for human habitation, which could take some days.

We could take possession, we were told, on the 3rd of August, but not before.  But our AirBnB temporary lodgings were up the following day, the 1st of August. Which left us…well, I’m not going to say “homeless” because that upsets people, but let’s just say “in need of a place.”

This dilemma was quickly averted when my dear friends James Sie and Doug Wood kindly offered to put Milo and I up in their absolutely gorgeous Hollywood Hills home until our new place became available two days hence.  In fact, James said, they were having a pool party that very afternoon and would we like to come by after the lease signing to unwind by the Drinks by Poolpool and have some watermelon margaritas?

Why yes.  Yes we would.

New lease in hand, Milo and I zipped down to Hollywood and arrived to find their party in full swing. A small band of old friends were in attendance including- surprise! – actor Denis O’Hare.  Denis, you may remember, was also present the last time I was at James and Doug’s house only on that occasion, he was showing off his newly manicured and freshly painted finger- and toenails in preparation Denisfor the Golden Globes.  (It’s a long, very strange story.  You can read about it here.)

Milo and I had a terrific time getting to know everyone, talking politics, the acting business, and all the other things you kick around at a poolside L.A. party. Finally we took off, vowing to return the next day to temporarily move in with James and Doug until our new place was ready.

But then…along came Barnaby.  The Dog With a Cone On His Head.  And everything changed.

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What happened was this:

When word went out to the social media world at large that Milo and I were desperate for housing, a lot of people rushed to help.  They sent out tweets, posted on Facebook and generally send up signal flares indicating that someone was in trouble and needed help. George BaileyTruly, I felt like the George Bailey of L.A., so many people were trying to do what they could for us.

And the day after we signed our lease- while we were packing up at the AirBnB to move over to James and Doug’s place- we got a text from my old college chum Renee Sicignano asking if we still needed a roof over our heads.  If we did, Renee said, there was a family in Santa Monica who needed a house/dog sitter for ten days while they jetted off to Costa Rica and would we be interested in moving there temporarily?

Now at first blush, you might think our response would be “Thanks, but no thanks. We’ve now got a place and don’t need another” but, instead, I immediately said yes, we’ll take it. Why?  Several reasons.

HousesittingFirst, the apartment we are moving into up in Northridge is completely unfurnished. (Or, rather, our room is.)  Before we can move in permanently, I need to put my hands on at least a couple of beds, a small dresser, some linens, that sort of thing.  Wouldn’t it be better- I thought- to have a week to put all that together?  In the meantime, Milo and I could enjoy a few days down by the beach, hanging out with the dog and enjoy ourselves.

Plus, we would only have to impose ourselves on James and Doug for one night instead of two.

Also, Milo loves dogs.

In other words: we had lots of reasons to jump at this opportunity.

So I immediately agreed to the housesitting gig and, by doing so, took possession of the house, the grounds and…Barnaby.

The Dog With a Cone On His Head.

********************

Sorry.  Not quite ready for dessert yet.  One more bit of narrative and we’ll get to the full Barnaby story, I swear.

********************

Our one night at the Sie/Wood house could not have been more perfect.  Not only did they ArcLight Hollywood Entranceescort us to the latest Star Trek movie at the fabulously appointed Arclight Theatre, they first insisted on treating Milo and I out to dinner at this fabulous little bistro called “Tender Greens” on Sunset Boulevard.

We then returned to their lovely little castle on the hill and retired at the end of a truly unforgettable day.

Needless to say, James and Doug are the best.  

********************

Okay, time for dessert.

Renee’s friend in need of the house/dog sitter, a lovely lady named Leesa, invited us over to Santa Monica to pick up the keys, have a look around the place and meet our new charge, Barnaby.

Frowning DogBarnaby, however, was none too pleased to see us.  We didn’t take it personally, however, because Barnaby is none too pleased with life right now.

See, poor Barnaby has a sore on his back that the poor fellow can’t leave alone.  As a result, he has to wear a cone on his head, all day, 24/7 and he is absolutely seething about this development.

Seriously, when we walked into the room to see him for the first time, Barnaby looked up at us, gazed fixedly at us out of his conical prison and shot us a look that said, clearly- “What do you two assholes want?”

Not Barnaby

Not Barnaby, but close

This has pretty much been the routine since we moved in.

We will come home and immediately launch into that high-pitched, dog-greeting voice that people use:  “Barnaby!  Where’s the good boy?  Where is he?  Where is the good boy?”

And Barnaby will not rush to the door to greet us.  In fact, he will not even bother to move from wherever he has placed himself in the house to sulk.  We will search for him and, when we find him, curled into a miserable ball of acrimony, he will glare at us, saying with his little hate-filled eyes, “Hello assholes.  Did you have a nice day, walking around without cones on your heads? Really?  Then fuuuuuuuck you.”

Every once in a while, just to relieve him of his obviously miserable condition, we will remove the cone, monitoring him carefully to be sure he does not mess with the sore on his back, and he will revert to a natural, friendly, dog-like state.

But sooner or later, the time comes to replace the cone and…

Angry Dog…oh, does he despise us.  His tiny eyes fill with indignation and resentment and he fairly screams “How dare you?  How DARE YOU you shitty monster-people!” as we confine him once again to his plastic torture chamber.

This will be our life for the next seven days.  Living with a furry ball of rage and animosity.

Who wants us to die.

***********************

Sneak preview:  Next episode- Kevin has his first Hollywood audition for a real, live TV show and Milo loses his mind when he sees one of his favorite rock stars walking down the street. Just like he was just a regular person. 

The Panic Button

I’ve really got to be careful about how I describe the current situation that Milo and I are facing out here.  Words matter and, when you’re reporting to the folks at home from a far-flung, remote area of the country (as I am) and things aren’t looking particularly rosy, it is best to be- if you can- jus a little moderate and temperate in your language, lest you cause your friends and family back at the homestead too much anxiety.

Specifically:  I’ve really got to stop scaring my Dad.

Homeless Definition

See, when you use words like “homeless” (as I did in my last post), that exactly the kind of expression that is going to send your loving, caring parent into a paroxysm of wailing and gnashing of teeth.  And with good reason.

After all, if you learned that your child and grandchild could potentially wind up sleeping in their car (actually in your car)spending their days peddling for change on the street and holding up signs reading “Will Perform Audiobooks for Food” on Venice Beach…that’s the kind of horrifying scenario that would upset you, right?

Homeless

Well, after this week’s posting on our dire housing situation, I got a predictable earful from my father, who (I really must remember) is a regular reader of this blog. (Hi, Dad!).

He very kindly encouraged me (a better word might be implored) to reconsider the terrible decision that I had made to come out here, swallow my pride, pack up the car again and head straight home before I put my son and I into an even more dire and dangerous situation than I already had.

And let’s be clear:  He was absolutely right to do so.

See, the point of this whole venture is not merely to spend another few months in L.A. looking for acting work in the film and TV industry. That might be the by product of this trip, but when it comes to my personal responsibilities out here, they really do begin and end with Milo.

must get him into school and must put a roof over his head.  (And, for Pete’s sake, if the place we move into doesn’t have Wi-Fi, then we might as well give up and head back to Oak Park because, really, why would you want to live in a hellscape like that anyway?)

911 call

So what I did when he called me with this urgent request was this:

First, I assured my father that I would never dream of imperiling our well-being by staying out here for a minute longer than we feasibly could and that I would, if necessary, consume the bitter pill of defeat and come trudging home if I could not find a good place for us to live (one with a good high school nearby that would accept Milo, of course, and, naturally, not in a scummy part of town).

After all, I said to my Dad on the phone, I’ve only been here for about 48 hours. Give me a little bit of time.

Well.

time-passing-blueIt’s now been four days. And I have spent virtually every waking hour scouring the housing websites for leads, visiting new or possibly available apartments to view our options, chatting online with potential subletters and generally doing everything I could to locate suitable lodgings for the two of us.  No stone was unturned, no option untested, no lead un-followed.

What’s more, since sending out my “we-might-be-in-trouble” missive earlier this week, I’ve had an army of friends – saints, all – putting the word out that there were two miscreants in the greater L.A. area desperately looking for digs and could you please, please help them out?questions

So…what’s the big finish?  Does this story have a happy ending? Or do our heroes throw their junk back into the trunk and trundle back to Chicago from whence they came?

Or what?

***************************

Here’s the story, dear readers:

As of this morning, we had two real possibilities staring us in the face.  The first was an actual lease, for six months (a true rarity in these parts, as I’ve learned), in an excellent, safe building that is literally across the street from a public high school, way up in Northridge.  We would have our own room and private bath, with shared facilities for the kitchen and living room with some young students from CSUN.

tough-choiceThe other option was really just a stopgap measure.  A place available for almost twice our budget and open to us living there….for one month.  That’s it. One and done.

Now, the positive aspect of this place was that it would give us an additional 31 days to get situated and allow us more time to find a place to live in through the end of the year (though it was certainly a long shot to hope for a four month lease after that).

But the real negative about this place was:  I wouldn’t be able to put Milo into school. Without a lease through the end of the year, I couldn’t establish residency, which is the first domino you’ve got to knock over in order to get your kid signed up at the local public school.NO-School

So what did we do with our apartment conundrum?  Easy:  We applied for both.

Here was the thinking:  If they both worked out, great.  We’d have a choice.

If they both fell through, okay. We’d go home. Chalk it up as a harsh (and expensive) lesson learned, drive the three days back to Chicago feeling ridiculous and naive but…wiser than when we came, no doubt about it.

And if only one of the two choices worked out, we could decide for ourselves whether or not we were willing to sign on for either one or six months and take it from there.

If the one month place was chosen- I told Milo- this is what we’ll do:  We’ll live out here like a couple of bachelors for four weeks- me auditioning and you…Pokemon Go-ing or whatever and then…off we’d go, back to Oak Park.  We’d put Milo back into OPRF (a couple of weeks late, sure but…he’d catch up soon enough) and go back to life as we knew it.

SurpriseBut if we chose the six month place, we’d register him for high school and stick to the original plan.  Me auditioning and recording audiobooks, him in school, prepping for college application season and the both of us living like true Californians all the way through Christmas.

And as of today…

…they both became options.  We were offered both the single month place and the six month lease.

Sometimes, the most awful thing you can be offered in life is a stark, terrifying choice.

So we had a long, hard talk, Milo and I.

ConfusedWe weighed both sides carefully. We talked about for a long time (or, at least, as long as you can get a teenager to talk at a stretch).  And Milo made it clear to me that if we had to back out of the original plan and go back to Chicago, he would understand.  He’d be disappointed, but he could see that it was a big risk, staying. It would cost us a lot- in money, in stress, in time.

Yes, it was what we had wanted to do; what we still wanted to do.  But maybe it made more sense to just head home.

Going back to Chicago would be the smart, logical and safe thing to do.

Which is exactly why we’re not going to do it.

***********************

Well, that’s where we wound up, anyway.  But it was a little more complicated than that. Once we decided to try and take the six month lease and stick with the plan we made all those months ago, I said to him:

“Look- before we make this decision, we’re going to investigate this high-school-right-across-the-street and see for ourselves if it’s all it’s cracked up to be. I’m not going to send you to some dump just so we can stay in California.  This is your future we’re talking about here.”

Northridge_Academy_LogoSo I dialed up Northridge Academy High School on the Interwebinator to have a look.

And guess what?  Turns out you can’t just stroll into NAHS and grab a desk. Uh-uh.  You have to apply to get into that place.

And not just any time you felt like it, either.  Nope.  If you wanted in, you’d have to have applied back in March.  Because they hold a lottery for those lucky fans who get to go to this school and unless someone has a DeLorean that goes 88 miles an hour and can bring me back six months to participate in said lottery…I’m not registering Milo at Northridge Academy. Not happening.

We were, to put it bluntly, S.O.L.

This was very educational.

And it led me to the next thought:  If we chose the apartment in Northridge, they’d have to let him into some high school, wouldn’t they?

So…where would Milo have to go?

Well, it turns out that just up the street- about a mile from the apartment, in fact -is the public high school with the open enrollment that would welcome Milo should we sign a lease. The name of this institute of medium-sized learning?

granadalogoGranada Hills High School.

Yeah, I hadn’t heard of it either.  So I did a little research.  What’s this place like?

Well whaddya know?

It turns out that Granada Hills High School is one of the top ranked charter schools in the state.  84% of students pass the AP.  87% pass the math proficiency exam.  80% do just as well in English proficiency.

And while Northridge Academy- the one across the street from the apartment we viewed- is ranked #2122 nationally? Granada Hills High…is the 858th ranked high school.

In the country.

Highlanders

The actual school mascot

So if you sign a lease for a property in that school district, your kids gets automatically enrolled at Granada High, no problem at all. Go Highlanders!  (Yeah, that’s right…the school mascot is…the Highlanders.  Nobody’s perfect.)

And your kid gets one of the best educations in the state of California.

Hmmmm.  You don’t say.  Where’s that lease again?

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Actually, I’m jumping ahead again.  Just putting pen to paper and getting the place wasn’t quite that simple, either.  Because in order to sign a lease with anyone, you have to prove that you’re not a bum.  That you’ve got money.  And prospects.  And that you have no disqualifying ethnic bloodlines. (Kidding! This is California.  They pretend not to care about such things.)

Recruitment or Employment Issues Chalk Drawing

So when I applied for the apartment, I pretended that I had a job (which I kinda do, traveling around the country, working for this wonderful company out of New Jersey) but I had to further prove that it was regular, steady income. That I worked at least two or three jobs for this company every month and that this income from it was sufficient for me to cover the rent.

So…I just told them I made boatloads of money every month. Just like clockwork. You can count on it.

And, miraculously, they believed me.

Then they wanted to know if I had enough in the bank to cover the cost of the first month and the security deposit.

Money!So I showed them my bank balance, which happens to include the big, fat sum of money from my cashed-in 401(k).  And the folks in charge of handling this transaction, well…they liked that quite a bit.

And then they looked at my credit rating and…well.  I don’t like to brag, but I have no doubt that Bill Gates would take one look at my credit score and say, in all honesty: “Say, Kevin, that’s very impressive.  How do you do it?”  And I’d say “I don’t do it by making sub-par word processing software like Word, Bill.  I can tell you that much.”

So sitting at Coldwell Banker, with all the criteria having been met, we struck a bargain and signed the lease.  Milo and I will move into our newly renovated place on Wednesday, once they finish putting in the new carpeting.  (We’ve been kindly offered lodgings at my dear friends James and Doug’s place in the interim, God love ’em.)

And after all the sturm und drang, the hair-pulling and the hand-wringing and the completely nerve-wrecking drama…

…we managed to find a place.

map_of_northridge_caMilo and I are, starting Wednesday, the newest residents of Northridge.

Los Angeles.

California.

Now….let’s get some work, shall we?