Henry Desire waves his arms about his head, gently and touchingly performing a monologue from the French Revolution, describing a loving drawing and quartering. Tears gather in his aged eyes.
Henry Desire, Henry Desire, whose only desire was theater. Theater, and Jesus.
“You know at my house, with my wife, we’ve got students like you and they work hard. They live with us, they go to school down the street. Don’t forget: work works. Houses house. Artists make art. These students of mine, I think of them as my students although of course their lives are their own, though being a devout household we of course tell them that any sinning they may be doing should happen elsewhere, I’m sure you can understand that, but every morning, I hear her play the piano. She plays the piano very badly. But still she plays it. She plays it because that is her job. Because she is a music major. Because she understands that work works. She plays guitar beautifully, but with the piano she is terrible and yet she persists because this is her mission: to improve herself. Can you improve yourselves?”
We’ve failed again and we are sorry, Henry.
Jaime barks out: “Professor Desire, I don’t understand. What was wrong with our scenes? I thought they were good.”
“I’ll tell you what was wrong with them,” says Henry. “They were skits, not scenes. They did not penetrate the ambulation of desire, the fragrance of decay in every step, they did not move me. When I go to the theater, I leave, I leave if I am not enraptured in the first five minutes. Because how much time do I have left on this Earth? That is your job. To enrapture me.”
We hope for a different Rapture for Henry, and soon, but how can you not love a follower of Jesus? So well-meaning? So honest in his desire to help you understand your failures? It’s not as though he proselytizes. Or if he does, it’s the religion we share, theater.
My role at Theater Academy is Priapus, no that’s all men, no, my role is Pantalone, he of the pants. And while mine are simple Adidas sweats with drawstring, perfect for an active life, my true pants are those of a younger Rodney Dangerfield, back to school.
Back to school, back to school. Sent down, coming up, flowing back into the mind that is the oldest college try and nevermore: I can do this.
She is Adrianna, nineteen years old. I am Pantalone, thirty-five. My nose is large and my purse is small and I wear glasses but I have good cheekbones.
“Shake it like the boogie on your nut,” she says, her eyes wide. I nod, agreeing. She is reciting some new song, I don’t know what artist.
“Shake it! Shake it!” Her eyes are beautiful.
We’re in Los Angeles. Have you been? Lot of Armenians. Lot of every kind of people of course. But I live in Little Armenia. They make great donuts. Their name sounds like kulak, but I know that’s not it. Still, sometimes I’m tempted to order a kulak, with extra sugar.
I want a magic charm; I want to win the lottery. Seducing women was easier when I was young, and now I am a crybaby.
“We respect the work because the work is beautiful,” intones Henry Desire, “we respect the work because it takes work. Because it is the foundation we are laying. We respect the work because work works. Work works.”
I am fucking Melissa because it is the right thing to do. You can’t get what you want and so you settle for someone else, at least for a little while. She is Russian and American and zaftig, you might say, has got really nice belly dancing moves, she’s obsessed with me, why can’t I love her, I don’t know, probably because she’s obsessed with me.
“Oh God! Oh Holy Father!” she shouts.
I manage to ignore this. I live in Los Angeles and I am completely broke at the age of 35 but I have still managed to get a young woman to spread her legs willingly. It is a miracle of God. I will perform acts of righteousness. I will become a lawyer, and buy a house. I will serve you, Adonai, or Baal. Whoever you are, just please let me cum in her. And then again later tonight.
“We respect the work because the work is beautiful. To be an actor is to be yourself. To be yourself is to know yourself, to be human and to be comfortable being human. To overcome your flaws. To be unafraid. To show yourself to others. To help others. To be generous. To be part of a community.”
He’s right. We all cross ourselves and we worship his uncircumcised grey-haired cock, we bow to his Priapic wisdom, we . . .
“Pantalone!” He’s looking at me.
“Why is the footwork important?”
“Uhh. It grounds us. It helps us balance. It looks beautiful to the audience.”
“Pantalone, you’re a young and handsome man, why when you get up on stage do you move like you’re ninety years old?”
I want to crawl into a small hole. Some of the girls turn around in their seats to look at me, to check for tears.
“You’re not ninety years old. You’re young. You’re a good looking man. I see you walking down the hallway, I see that something that you have. Show it to us! Be brave enough to show that to us!”
I see now why they crucified Jesus. Not only was he a nice guy, he was always giving people advice.
Adrianna is standing with the other young girls, but she is the best. Her, they call it now, her bedonkadonk, it is large and wholesome and pure, but not too pure. Her eyes are black holes, black needy holes like her cunt, and she is graceful and too innocent. She lives in the San Fernando Valley. She is, God help us, a Valley girl, and so was my mother.
God helps us here in this Basin, God, why did we come to this arid plain?
I need a plan. I need a deception. I need this young piece of ass who makes my hair stand on end, who makes me want to fly into the air and scream in languages yet undiscovered. I need to bury my face in her ass. So I will be healed.
What do I do, God?
Love her, son. Love the woman.
Why are you calling me son?
Shut up. I love you. I’m God. Now you go and you get into that young girl’s panties.
She’s a young woman, God, not a girl.
Good point. She’s already too smart for you.
Please help me, God.
God helps those who help themselves. Benjamin Franklin said that. I never liked him.
But he was good with women, God. Can you put me in touch with him?
I am not a telephone operator. I am the Lord of the Universe. I hold mysteries in my hands.
Benjamin Franklin, he of the mighty American C-Note. He of the saved earned penny, and how did that one ever make any sense? Wasn’t excessive saving a contributor to the Great Depression?
Young man. The fairer sex is giving you trouble?
Is that really you Ben?
If you must use my Christian name, please use it correctly. My name is Benjamin.
Benjamin, how did you do it? You were a great American pussy hound!
I earned a great deal of money.
I walked next to her down to the subway, watching her bedonkadonk and her deep wells called eyes. Her breasts were huge, and usually I didn’t like huge breasts, but I liked everything about her. I wanted her to be older. I wanted her to be even more perfect, I wanted to keep her in my basement.
“Enjoying the semester?” I asked. Boring question.
“Yeah, it’s pretty good.”
“That’s good.” You’re a boring asshole, Pantalone. Make a grab for her.
“Yeah,” she says. Her eyes are too complicated for me. Invitation? Rejection? It’s always both, both, goddamn it!
“Come get drunk with me,” I found myself saying.
“I have to go pray,” she said.
“My prayer meeting is at six.”
“Oh. Can I come?”
Watching Adrianna on stage is wonderful: her youthful frustration is delicious because it isn’t forced, it’s like a long and slow tightening of a cunt, petulant and sublime.
Watching her at prayer meeting is not delicious. But it isn’t bad. We eat honey and apples. Kiddush, Kiddush!
Then we chant, and it is sad. Jewish chants are so sad. Why did she have to be a Jew? And a practicing one at that? The woman leading the chant plays a ridiculous little wooden box that probably cost more than my monthly budget of ten Ben Franklins, straight from India to my ears. Not only religious but multicultural.
Permanently ensconced in the 1970s, we light a candle and watch it drip onto the aluminum foil, chanting. Then we drink a little wine. The blood of Jesus, or of Jewish suffering, what’s the difference? Either way it’s bad wine.
Afterwards, I stand awkwardly by her side, having walked her to her car. I’m taking the bus home unless we start making out post haste.
“That was really neat,” I say.
“Yeah, she’s really in touch with herself, Bracha is.”
“Oh is that her name?”
“God, weren’t you paying attention?”
“I’m terrible with names, I’m sorry.”
“Well I have to go. Good night.”
“Wait, um, there’s something I need to tell you.”
“I have a huge crush on you.” There you go, Pantalone. But the idea is to spill your seed, not your guts.
“Oh God,” she whispers.
“Nothing. What were you saying?”
“No, what were you Oh-Godding about?”
“Nothing. Look. I just got out of a long-term relationship recently, so . . .”
“Me too! Look. Just drive me home, will you? I hate taking the bus.”
We drive in silence for miles
“To act in the theater is to perfect the art of listening,” intones Henry Desire. It is to learn how to be generous.”
We’re playing a “synchronization of line and movement” exercise scene, where we have chosen to portray an incestuous father and daughter.
Adrianna whirls about on stage. “Do you like it Daddy?” she asks, gazing at me.
“It looks good on you,” I say. She sits on my lap and I smell her skin and want to bury myself in her.
She gets off my lap and walks across the stage, and, like we’ve rehearsed, slowly lowers her dress over one shoulder, her back to me, showing me skin and bra strap.
I concentrate on feeling the sick and mixed feelings of an incestuous father and stand up and cross the stage to meet her, and then I do bury my face in her neck, inhaling her youth. She runs, I catch her. She cries out, I toss her onto the bed on stage.
The rest of the class is fascinated. It’s a good scene. It’s not a skit, but a real scene.
“No!” she shouts.
“Shut your fucking mouth,” I hiss.
“What do you want me to say, Dad?” she says. And I, deflated, impotent even as an incestuous rapist, just sit on the bed as she confesses about her new boyfriend, and her new life, free from me.
The audience applauds. I am so alone.
She parks in front of my apartment building in Little Armenia. The kulak salesmen are out in force tonight. I can smell them through the open window.
“Well, thanks for keeping me company at the prayer meeting. You can come again if you want.”
“Why do you go?” I ask.
“I like it. It’s soothing. It’s about the suffering of the Jewish people.”
“But then you just suffer all the time.”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Well make me understand then.”
“You’re not really interested. You just want to get me into bed.”
“Well, the second part is true.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“It’s dishonest. It’s disingenuous. I thought maybe you were really interested in Judaism but you’re not. You’re just another asshole.”
“That’s not true. There are a lot of worse assholes than me.”
“I have to go. Would you please get out of my car now?”
And I lean over and kiss her. Thank you, Pantalone.
I’m learning Hebrew now. It is an evil language. The Jews are such stubborn fucks they couldn’t borrow a good thing when they saw it, like vowels, no, they had to pretend Hebrew made sense without them, all the while making evil chicken scratches around the letters, to fabricate twice as many vowels that are twice as hard to read.
And I have known the bedonkadonk. But the healing takes time.
“If I don’t offer honest criticism, if I don’t tell you what I see, you will not experience growth. You will merely experience renovation, not transformation. Some of you will leave here in a semester, or two, and say, well I know what I’m doing now, I’m confident, I know enough to fake it, and that will be enough for you. But some of you will commit to the work. Work works. Some of you will remember that it is not all about you. It is about the theater, it is about the work, it is not about you. Those of you who remember that will make an impression on others, you will show that you have dedication, that you have commitment, that you have something special to bring to the table. People like to work with people they like to work with. You will get work, and then, more impressively, you will get more work. If I don’t tell you how you are failing now, you will never succeed. You will merely be renovated, you will not be transformed.”
Jaime pipes up: “But Professor Desire, I thought our scenes were good. I felt like we worked really hard on them. I know I did on mine.”
“Those weren’t scenes. Those were skits. I am entering the end of my career. But this Academy, it’s been here since 1929. Why do you think it’s been here that long? Because the work works. Because work is simple. Because work is hard. Because the more you work on your scenes, the more work you put into them, the more preparation, the more you get out of them.
“You could go across town, and pay $425 a month, and have someone blow smoke up your ass for two hours and tell you how good you’re doing, and you’d go home and feel good and come back the next week and pay another $425 and you’d never get anywhere. We don’t have much time together. Our time together is short. I must prepare you for your transformation.”
We are becoming actors.