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Entrances and Exits
part 2
by Phil Geusz and J.(Channing)Wells


I get these dreams sometimes.

You'll have to take my word for it, of course. You can't _see_ the pictures in my head. It would make this sort of thing a lot easier if you could. As it is, my words will have to suffice. I _am_ an aspiring writer, after all. I have a play in the works. It's called _Sommerset._ It's a heart-rending, rather smarmy and emotional thing that will be finished by the time of the Last Trump, I am _certain._ And when it is, I will present it in glory to a famous New York Repertory company, who will promptly see every ounce of beauty that I have sweated and burned to distill into my words, and will therefore bump their planned Neil Simon festival into next season so that they can devote their entire powers towards extracting the truth of my work. Representatives from Samuel French, Inc. will attend the opening night gala, and at the reception afterwards will beat their way through the seething crowds of fans to offer me silver-plated contracts and pens with ink of liquid gold. My name will be given top billing in theatres around the country as the nation swoons over their new Favorite Son. Tennessee Williams, eat your bleedin' heart out.

I am _also_ an actor.

And that's the problem.

I get these dreams sometimes. Not _those_ kinds of dreams. That's the first thing that people think of. I wouldn't blame you, if you did. Dogs are _famous_ dreamers. For centuries, man has watched his faithful canine companion walking the paths of the Dreamlands, legs wiggling in suppressed motion, muffled 'wrfs' escaping his throat, nostrils wiggling in scent-signing, eyes firmly closed to the outside world. And man has watched this, and has pondered the immortal-but-not-terribly-profound question, "Do Dogs Dream?"

Yes, we do. And what are we dreaming about, you may ask? We dream of chasing little bright streamers of scent through the landscapes of our minds. We dream of death and of life. We dream of carrion, the large and the small of it. And we dream of rolling in it. That is what we dream of. That is what _I_ dream of. Because I am a dog. Kind of.

My name is Michael Woodrow Bix. The son of a starched White-Irish-Linen mother and a French Protestant father, both proud American citizens and both, unfortunately, deceased. I am an artist and a dreamer, a poet and an architect of thoughts, a seer of worlds and an extroverted Promethean _ne plus ultra._ And I am an actor.

It is a fact about my being. I could put it on my driver's license. Directly underneath my name or my date of birth. Slightly above the spot that indicates my eye color (brown) and my hair color (descriptively listed as "White, Black Spots;" the state DMV will ever be practical that way...) and directly to the left of the stunning full-color photograph of Michael Bix in all his Dalmatian glory, smiling that insipid and vaguely sick-looking smile that even naturally photogenic people get when their picture is being snapped directly after their being placed under the heavy lamps and being asked detailed questions about organ donation.

It would say, "Soul: Actor."

And that, as I have said, is the problem.

Yes, I have the traditional doggy dreams. I can't _tell_ you how many aethereal rocks I have meticulously pissed on in the process of carefully marking my dream-territory. But I have _other_ dreams as well. Sometimes they mix and swirl together with the doggy ones; it's to be expected, I guess. My brains _still_ have not completely accepted nor admitted the fact that for the past four-or-so years, I have been, for all practical purposes save my bipedal stature and my six feet of height, a Dalmatian. So, for example, on the typical night, after spending hours upon hours romping through the forests of the Dreamlands joyously chasing the vibrant smell-trails of teeny little rodents and lagomorphs, I suddenly find that everything _stops._ The forests clear, and the clean scent of vegetative matter dissolves into another smell I know so achingly well.

The smell of the Stage.

Ask _any_ actor. Even the hominid ones. The Theatre has a smell to Her. It is sawdust and upholstery, grease and greasepaint, ozone and smoke. The must of ancient fabric and the miasma of new paint. The sharp, stinging odor of a slowly-cooking gel placed too close to a malfunctioning light. Soap and cold-cream, base and powder, oil and sweat. You _cannot_ know unless you have experienced it firsthand. It's like nothing else in all of Creation. My words will never do it justice. But I'm hoping to set the scene a little here. Got the picture? Good.


Magnify it tenfold. A hundredfold. Very possibly a thousandfold. Add the smell of _excitement._ The vague and not-quite identifiable smell of _nerves._ The odor of... passage. Your fellow actors leaving trails of scent as they enter Stage Left, Cross Downstage to the Table, then to the Couch... or enter Stage Right, Cross to the Coatrack... overlapping and combing their scents into a fibrous and gleaming network. A tapestry of smell-color into which every step that _you_ make weaves yet another vital, personal, critical thread. And... lastly and most overwhelmingly, the literal avalanche of human odor which rolls like silent thunder onto the stage floor at the _very moment_ that the curtain rises, smell created by the hundreds and hundreds of individual souls that make up that wonderful, fickle, horrid and glorious entity known as the Audience.

And _that_, my friend, is what the Theatre smells like to _me._

In my Dreamland, it is this odor that replaces the innocence of the forest.

And as the forest vanishes into the mists, the Space appears. It's never the same place twice. Two weeks ago, it was a vast and glorous thing of Byzantine columns and velvet seats. Last week, a makeshift stage in a bombed-out shell of a building in Bradenburg, with blankets and folding chairs. Early this week, the back of a pickup truck, lighting provided by a hand lantern. Two nights ago, a charming amphitheatre deep in the woods of Wisconsin that I visited once as a child. And last night, a textbook study in "modern proscenium" decked out in earth-tones; the sort you'd find being used as the Main Stage for a medium-sized university somewhere in the Middle West. The appearance is but trapping. Wherever it is, it is a Theatre. And its soul is always the same.

The air thickens...

And then, She is there present. The very Soul of the Space. In my mind, She appears eerily familiar to the images that I still carry of my mother, or my father, or perhaps both. Auburn of hair, green of eye, pale of skin. She, too, takes a number of forms, but like the space that she represents, She is always the same. Because She has the Smell. And I know Her well.

"Mistress." I murmur, bowing my head in a gesture of deepest respect.

My brain is still confused, because in these dreams I approach her as a dog only, my hands gone to feet and my frame quadripedal in stature. My fully canine shape is a remnant from my time spent romping in the blissful dream- woods, just moments earlier. This also, incidentally, means that I am quite naked and defenseless before Her. Just as She wants.

"Michael." She says, recognizing me. And in that one word, like the perfect Actress that She (naturally) is, She floods my dream-struck mind with acres and oceans of meaning.

She is sorrowful at her lost Son. She does not understand why I left Her. She is angry and hurt, confused and insensible. For all her power, she is strangely childlike herself, an adolescent faerie queen, lacking the ability to comprehend we foolish mortals.

The Theatre is a jealous mistress, indeed.

I try to explain to Her that it wasn't my choice. That I have fought like a thing possessed to keep Her company. That I have dedicated my life to Her, eschewing more profitable and satisfying professions to bathe in Her often-sparse glory. That my soul is Hers, and indeed has been Hers from the very beginning, ever since the time just shy of my fourth birthday that I played the First Wiseman in the annual Christmas pageant at my mother's church; wherein Little Michael was bearing Gold for the Christ Child but, at the last moment, accidentally ended up tripping on the kneeler and dropping the heavy foil-wrapped parcel smack on the head of the Newborn, thankfully played by a vinyl doll for this particular production. Without missing a beat, he retrieved the box, leaned over the Manger, and "inspected" the doll therein. Then, nodding soberly to himself, he stood up, and in a loud voice, proclaimed to the congregation, "Don't worry! He's okay!"

Everyone laughed. And at that moment, my soul became Hers.

My Mistress laughs as well, remembering this moment quite fondly. I try to maintain her happiness, by reminding her of the good times we've had. _Arsenic and Old Lace._ _A Midsummer Night's Dream._ _Search and Destroy._ _The Kentucky Cycle._ On and on, production after production, from my childhood days in Elementary School musicals, on through High School, and College beyond. And lastly, the Professional Stage. Harald Wallace's _Merchant of Venice._ The show that was going to be my big break. My final entry into Her lifelong favor.

And then She grows sorrowful again. Because it didn't work.

Her child has SCABS. And when you're a six-foot tall humanoid Dalmatian, the word "conspicuous" takes on a whole new meaning. Especially when you're trying _not_ to draw focus away from critical scenes. It was a wonderful experiment on Wallace's part, a glorious and insightful gamble; but in the final analysis, it failed utterly.

I was canned.

Leaving me stranded in a nameless city somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard. A city containing no less than twenty- three active Repertory Theatre companies, large and small. Not _one_ of which has ever been interested in replicating Wallace's grand experiment.

Leaving me with nothing, no job, no hope, no muse.

No Her.

"Damn it!" I howl at Her, then. "This is _your_ fault. Some good it does me to be _your_ consort. For all you care, I could just sit in my room, acting for an audience of none, whiling away the hours until I eventually collapse from starvation. But I _need_ a job. I need to pay for the groceries, the utilities, the rent. Yes, I'm working at an auto shop. It's my only other marketable skill. Mistress, you _know_ that, given the choice, I'd be back in an instant."

I pause then, focusing my bitterness. "But it's _not_ my damn fault that no-one believes in me..."

And then, quite suddenly, She begins to cry.

I sit there in uncomfortable silence as her tears flow. Then, sensing the need to do _something,_ I plod purposefully over to Her, my toenails clicking on the boards.

I lay my head in her lap. And still the tears fall.

And the tears become cold, and intermittent, and focus themselves, as my consciousness shifts, into that damn leaky pipe above the single boxspringless mattress that serves me in office of a bed here in the Lutheran Hostelry. It's an awful little room, small, dark and tea-colored, only spottily lit by a single naked bulb in the ceiling. I share a bathroom with four other tenants. It's cheap. But it's _not_ free. And that's the only thing that's keeping the single remaining flame of my pride alive and burning, albeit feebly. I'm _not_ a charity case. It's the only thing I have left.

My only possessions of any value are piled nearby the broad windowsill; my haphazard stack of books and scripts, my omnipresent mechanic's tools, and, of course, the one that hurts the most -- my old theatrical makeup kit. A single antique promotional poster of the Gielgud-Burton _Hamlet_ and an electronically unsound twelve-year-old vid-feed complete the decor. A tiny room for a tiny life.

The leaky pipe pitterpats on my face.

Sunlight slouches uneasily into the room.

And my tiny digital alarm clock breaches Seven. There is a click, and the radio comes on, to the sounds of station identification. Promptly, an annoying morning-show person attempts to entertain me with insipid host banter and then informs me in a rather demanding tone of voice how wonderful a day it is, completely covering over the instrumental beginning of a modern top-40's song that is its only redeeming quality. I shut all of them up with a brush of my hand to the snooze button. If only everything were that easy.

Michael Bix: Welcome to your life.

Good fucking morning.

* * *
Eight A.M. sees me making the relatively easy walk through the limp morning haze from the Hostel to Archie's Automotive, the near-downtown area's one and only totally SCAB-friendly service and repair station. Archie himself is already there, munching on a handful of long grass from the nearby park. He probably has been here for several hours already. Arch is going over the daily stores again; he is nothing if not careful, claiming repeatedly that if his clients have nowhere else to go, then they jolly well better be able to find it at his place. The business is his life. He's pretty much sunk everything into it, both in terms of his resources and his personal time. And he gets by. Sure, the place is in serious need of a good remodeling. Heck, he hasn't even gotten around to replacing the long-burned-out neon that used to grace the sign some years ago, I am told. But he gets by. As well as any of us ever do.

I receive the usual hand-raised-in-greeting salute from the other boys as I pass. I return the gesture to each in turn. Jonesy is taking the incoming folks; there's always a rush of 'em, right before the workaday proper begins, folks trying impatiently to fit their latest motor-vehicle crisises into already-cramped schedules. Jonesy's good at handling that sort of customer. You wouldn't expect that a four-foot-high Praying Mantis would come off as much of a people person, but Jonesy manages. Something to do with the voice, I think. We all have our skills.

My punch-card is waiting for me, as always. Archie does this more out of formality than anything else; he says he pretty much trusts us to manage ourselves time-wise. The notable exception to this is Scott, the straight-out-of-high- school Grunge Hamster, who is habitually late for work. Archie's cautioned him on it a couple of times, but he's really too much of a softie to actually fire anybody who's done anything less than steal from the till. Besides, when he _does_ get here, he's a damn good technician. Wonder of wonders, Scott seems to have shown up early today, because I can hear the tinny half-echo of his headphones out from under an old Aught-Seven Chrysler. Damn thing's on its last legs anyway, but the owner wanted us to do what we could. I bellow a halloo to Scott so that he'll hear me over the psychotic acid rock with which he regularly abuses his ears. If I'm up on my modern music, Scott seems to have selected some vintage screaming from noted SCAB chanteuse Allison Hyde, whose grotesque on-stage shapeshifting has gained her a sort of sick fanship across a broad range of the "music" (term used loosely) appreciating public, Norm and SCAB alike. Sounds like Allison's going off on the primal glories of the hunt and suchlike; so loud is Scott's music that I am able to pick out some of the words, even over his headphones. I know of some prey-type critters that would be driven absolutely loony by a female wolfy thing screaming blood and violence at them, even over a recording, but Wonder Hamster Scott just soaks 'er right up. I have to repeat my halloo once more before Scott kicks a leg in idle greeting.

Behind me in line for the punch cards is Kirk Feisel. Kirk is a big ol' English Rooster, and is consequently horny as all hell about ninety-nine percent of the time, but Archie tells me that I shouldn't believe that this was really all that much of a switch for him. Feisel's always been God's gift to Women, and his current shape is only a physical manifestation of what his soul has more-or-less always been. I will maintain until my dying day that, unless proved otherwise, that there is some sort of weird intelligence about the Martian Flu, or at least some kind of a sick sense of humor. Anyway. Feisel is bragging idly to me about the latest in a long series of sexual conquests, and as usual, I just smile and nod. We all humor him. Ever since SCABS ran its course with Kirk, he's always been a bit insecure about this sort of thing, and thus compensates by telling us all about his newest projects in excruciating detail. It's no real secret that part of his problem stems from the fact that even though his biological maleness is intact, the simplified plumbing of his Avian form has left him without... erm... God's gift to Men, as it were. On the surface, he looks like a reprehensible bastard, but once you get to know him, he's really an okay kind of guy.

All of them are, in fact. They're _all_ wonderful people. Folks I wouldn't mind inviting over for dinner some night if I could offer them anything more than pot noodles for a change. Each and every one is a heartbreakingly real, gloriously vibrant, utterly alive, _person_.

And that's why I feel kind of guilty that, despite my best efforts, my soul dies just a little bit more each and every time I come here.

I am technically lying to my Mistress the Theatre in those dream-dialogues that I've told you about already. Automobile mechanics is _not_ my only marketable skill. I could really do any number of things, from phone-solicitation to assembly-line work. All are good steady jobs. All would give me that paycheck at the end of the week, to keep my stomach full and my roof intact. But I am an actor. And when I cannot act, I go _nuts._ Absolutely bonkers. It's an obsession, an addiction, a dangerously habit-forming but transcendently-ecstatic drug that feeds the essentials of my ego those things that it needs to remain sane in the face of a ludicrous world. I can't help it. I am a sick, sick man. Anybody who would do so much for so unrewarding a profession _has_ to be sick. And we theatre people all are. And we go on loving it. When it's there.

But when I can't get it, life starts getting weird and unfocused on me. Colors (whose shades are already a bit dimmer to me because of my canine eyes) begin fading even more to grey. The world tilts on its axis. Morning becomes my most feared adversary. Life starts losing what little meaning it had.

Archie was a godsend, that way. When I was teetering on the narrow-edge of despair at finding absolutely no work on the Stage, good ol' Archie just happened to post a "Help Wanted, Full Time, Start Immediately, Own Tools Required." Everything I was looking for. A Job. Sure, it wasn't in the Theatre, but at that point, I was so out-of-funds and out-of-whack that I didn't care anymore. Plus, engine mechanics is something I'm actually good at; and not just because the Dalmatian spots do wonders for hiding the occasional grease stain.

Frankly, I've lasted longer and remained saner at Archie's than I would have at any other job; automotive maintenance has always been sort of a spiritual and meditative sort of thing for me. Comes from reading too much Pirsig, I think. It forces you to organize your thoughts, like a mantra or a mandala or whatever. Working systematically in slow, even stages, rhythmically honing in by process of elimination on the precise area where the problem lies. Why exactly this or that cylinder is misfiring. Why precisely the fuel cell is putting out uneven current. What the hell is making that odd clacking noise. Bit by bit, part by part, zeroing in, finding the center. Pirsig was right; it is kinda like Zen.

There's more, of course, on a deeper and more primal level. Jenny--


...must not think about that again... not now...

Jenny once told me that the Dalmatian, as a breed, has its roots as a "Carriage-Dog," i.e. a dog that would get along smashingly with your horses and remain at post underneath your vehicle when it was not in use to guard it against potential miscreants. And, although I don't like to admit it, hanging around under vehicles is just something that makes me feel at rest and at home. It's all in the genes. I probably would find myself liking horses, too, if I ever seriously met any outside the confines of the Pig.

So Archie has filled up a needed void in my life. He's given me something to keep me busy, to keep my mind off my pain, to keep me smiling. He gives me a paycheck that, while not something to write home about, is perfectly adequate for my meager needs. I've got a steady job, food (of admittedly poor quality) on the table, a roof (similarly questionable) over my head. More than a lot of poor bastards have. Especially amongst "My People."

So. Why am I miserable?

We've discussed that already.

The daily grind swings into high gear. What starts out as a simple fluids refresh for the air conditioning of a '25 Takahashi turns into a tricky condenser inspection, overseen by the far-more-experienced-at-this-sort-of-thing-than-I Jonesy; the proper repairs are going to cost about five times what the owner expected to pay; so not only will he come here tonight and not have his A/C fixed, but he'll have to bring it back in again another day and get charged through the nose for his trouble. It doesn't help that the weather-folks are predicting steadily-inclining temperatures over the next couple days. I try to call him a couple times during the day to okay the full job, because I'd _like_ to just get the damn thing done with, but the guy's secretary informs me that he'll be in meetings the whole of today, and probably won't get my message. So I can't do a thing with it. Another wasted hour and another unhappy customer. Not the kind of thing I want to be dealing with today. Thoroughly pissed off, I take my frustrations out on helping Scott with a jammed screw that won't come out for love or money, no matter how much lubricant shit we smear all over it. We eventually end up stripping the damn thing and it has to be drilled out. Archie's in back dealing with an irate customer over the phone, and so is unable to take the time to deal with a brand-new irate customer who has just dropped by, complaining about the charges for his brake job. He gesticulates wildly with a lit cigarette as he does so, despite all the posted signs that expressly prohibit having one here (Just _which_ of the two words _No_ and _Smoking_ don't you understand? How about the words _Explosive_ and _Fumes_?) Jonesy runs damage control until Archie can get out to the front. Feisel mutters something filthy under his breath and goes back to dickering with a bad fuel-tank sender that's causing somebody some radio noise. The day goes on.

Lunchtime. And there is much rejoicing. Arch makes the official proclamation that this has been a Day From Hell, and in an attempt to lift our spirits a little, he offers us beer and assorted edibles, both on the house, both delivered in from a pretty cheap local Chinese place. Arch says that he can afford to treat us all, occasionally. He's a _nice_ guy, by the way, in case I haven't already mentioned it. I tend to freak out about displeasing him, but deep-down I really think that with him, at least, everything's Okay. I put my order in for a nasty-sounding Chicken and Potato Curry with Hot Sauce, just the thing for my masochistic taste buds. Don't believe all that strict carnivore crap about dogs, either. First thing a canid in the wild will do upon taking down his prey is rip open the stomach and eat the partially-digested vegetable matter. We're omnivores, really. We just need a little (unwitting) help from our good friends the herbivores. I pass on the beer, as always. I've got promises to keep.

The food eventually gets here. It's okay, really. Arch digs into his assorted bamboo-and-other-greens. Everybody has to stop and watch to see Jonesy's impressively insectile skill with the chopsticks after Feisel brags about it to us. The curry that I've ordered is, as I predicted, about as friendly as the near slope of Hell itself. Yum.

Vinny asks me if I want to finish his beer, but I decline. Vinny can never finish a whole one. He's an odd case, too. Arch had to manufacture his coveralls specially, considering that there was nothing in the catalogues that would fit a girl of about elementary-school age, which, unfortunately, Vinny happens to be. His own personal bout with SCABS not only flipped his gender but also started him aging backwards, for whatever fucked-up reason that the MFV has for doing anything that it does. We still refer to him pronomially in the masculine gender, at his own request. Vinny was one of the earlier folks to come down with SCABS, way back roundabouts the turn of the millenium, making him technically the oldest guy here, but he defers to Arch because Arch owns the shop. The doc's used to say that Vinny had stabilized at age eight, but now they think he might be creeping even further backwards. Vinny will tell you all about this in a quiet voice, if you get him alone. He'll talk to you all about his fears of what's going to happen to him if he doesn't quit un-aging. He's very afraid. And he doesn't have anyone to turn to but us, his co-workers. His wife passed away a few years back at the age of sixty-three, pancreatic cancer that went too long before diagnosis. They never had the chance to have kids.

But we're all here. And we're all alive. And for most of us, that's enough.

And so, what right do I have to be unhappy?

Like I said, we discussed that already.

Lunch finishes itself and the afternoon swells into forever. The heat is getting more intense from outside, and I'm starting to regret not having those epidermal sweat glands again. Sure, it saves time on showering. But it's annoying as all hell when you start entering the early stages of heat exhaustion. Vinny forcibly gives me a break about halfway through and tells me to lie down and get some water. He was noticing the panting, I guess. I protest feebly, noting how much more I have to get done before the day is out, but there's something about saying "no" to an eight-year-old girl who is looking at you in "That Way" that makes turning her (him?) down a feat of considerable difficulty. Especially one who probably knows a hell of a lot more than you do about life in general. Scott, without lifting his head from beneath the hood of the car he's working on, dutifully kicks Vinny's stepstool over to him as I go to the breakroom in back and collapse.

Fifteen minutes later, I'm back on shift, doing a relatively simple oil and fluids job that got brought in midday. I've only been at it for about five more when I forget to mind the pressure on the radiator cap when removing it. No harm done, thankfully. I could have gotten splashed something nasty, and that wouldn't have been fun at all. I can't help it. I'm out of focus. I sit there cursing my own stupidity in a wide blue streak until Archie comes over to me and asks me if anything's wrong, other than a mistake with the radiator cap. I just tell him that it's been a tough day. It's true. But there's more, too.

I'm miserable. Images of the Stage keep coming back to haunt me.

Life really sucks, sometimes.

A quick application of long-practiced focus techniques gets me back on track, and I zhoom through this job and another one afterwards at record-breaking speeds. Archie's newest employee gets good marks on time, but has forgotten the routine vacuum and overall spiffing that Archie prides himself on. Jonesy picks up the slack. Meanwhile, Feisel and I take the truck out to 25th street, where some teenager with his daddy's secondhand car has just realized that he's left his lights on all night, through the morning and into the afternoon as well, and consequently needs a jump. It's a simple service, and Archie has instructed us not to charge for it if that's all that was needed. The kid is appropriately grateful to us. On the way back to the shop, Feisel talks to me about his idea of the perfect woman, but he loses me about halfway through because he gets into a sort-of-strange-sounding alphabetical code that I'm not familiar with, but that I'm _assuming_ refers to bra sizes or something. He doesn't clarify and I don't ask.

By the time we get back, everybody's all uptight because Jonesy had to give Scott the Heimlich maneuver while we were gone. Arch keeps telling the kid not to store spare bolts in his cheek pouches, but he never listens. I think he does it for the shock value more than anything. Scott's gonna get himself killed one of these days, one way or another. It's just a matter of time. It's the same sort of thing my dad used to say to me. Twenty-eight years old, and I'm already sounding like my dad. Scary.

Time passes. The clock wends its way forward, and quitting time approaches. I'm done with everything on my list for the day, so I'm helping Vinny out with his. Arch is telling Feisel about that trick all the rest of us learned with the broomstick last Saturday. (Feisel had the day off; another hot date, hubba hubba.) Bit of good luck there, that rabbit showing up when he did. Elsewise we probably would have had to pull the exhaust to get that damn starter out.

I re-visit last Saturday in my mind. He was a perceptive little bugger, he was.

"You want to talk about it, fine. Look me up at the West Street shelter. You don't, it's your business and your life." Brief pause. "But I happen to think you're a fool if you believe that you can deny what's going on inside you."

He noticed. He _saw._ And the bunny isn't the only one, either. Arch, for one, knows that something's going on in this brain a' mine. He's too perceptive not to. The rest of the guys only realize it to a somewhat lesser degree. But Arch knows, too.

Arch isn't talking. He's not the kind of guy who delves real deep into the personal stuff. Not when you haven't invited him to. And I sure as hell haven't been doing any inviting. My sanity is hanging by a single, solitary thread, and the name of that thread is "Self-Reliance." I am a rock, as Paul Simon used to sing before he gravitated to the more African rhythms. And a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.

Somebody slap me before I start getting overly sentimental, here. Point being is that opening up would mean weakness, and weakness means that I've lost. I can be a pretty stubborn bastard when the mood strikes me. I'm in no danger of cracking just yet.

But that rabbit -- he was a different story. The way he brushed me off like that. I had no doubt that, if this guy was a trained counselor, that some of this was just a clever ploy to win me over. By dismissing me so completely after only a little bit of probing on his part, he's made it seem like _I'm_ the stupid one. Worse, I have to keep _thinking_ about him. Every time Archie or any of the other boys talks about that trick with the broom, I'm going to remember that damn rabbit. I can't just brush him off as an annoying nosy bugger, because he seemed genuinely concerned about helping me on Saturday. And by throwing the ball firmly into my half of the court, he's actually being ten times more effective at his job than if he were to keep hounding me about it.

Don't get me wrong -- I _am_ grateful that he seems to be concerned about me. I'm just in no mood to be talkative right now.

My thoughts elsewhere, I hardly notice when Vinny tells me that he's all done with his stuff as well and is going to be heading out. Vinny's worked hard today; this sort of thing always exhausts his eight-year-old body more than the rest of ours. Arch is always sympathetic towards this sort of thing. Feisel gives him a ride home; it wouldn't do to have Vinny out wandering the streets by himself. Nasty things can happen to unattended little girls in this city. And we trust Feisel implicitly. Like I said, deep down, he's really an okay kind of guy. Scott is just finishing up and Jonesy is working with the returning customers. I see the guy who brought in the Takahashi with the leaky A/C, and I'm glad that Jonesy is handling him instead of me. Jonesy's a lifesaver, that way. I start in with a sweep and hose job to keep the place looking, if not absolutely spic-and-span, at least reasonably clean, but I've gone all distracted again and the comparatively simple task is taking me far longer than it should.

Scott finishes and departs in a blaze of acid rock, shouting good-byes to us all. Jonesy eventually clears out all the customers and follows suit, strapping on a helmet and wrapping his insectoid frame around his beloved Harley for his long ride home. Watching this display and leaning pensively on my push broom, I briefly consider buying a motorcycle myself, for about the fifteenth abortive time. When you're barely scraping by as it is, such thoughts bring the term "Idle Fantasy" to mind. Jonesy rides off into the declining sun.

So wrapped up am I in my thoughts that I hardly notice Archie standing behind me. I whip around a bit too fast and startle the poor guy; I've _gotta_ watch these predatory behaviors.

"Hey, Bix. It's quitting time, in case you haven't noticed. 'Vb'ody else is gone."

"Right. Sure, Arch. Just gotta finish the sweep here."

"Forget it. 'L get it in the morning. Go home. Relax."



"Thanks." I start packing up the cleaning supplies.

"Oh. And Michael?"

I stop. "Yep?"

Archie hedges a bit. "If you... um. Need to talk, or anything. I'm here."

I nod. "Right. Thanks, Arch. Sorry 'bout these past few days. It's just been kinda stressful."

He nods back. "Just so ya know."

"'Kay." I say. And I begin putting the cleaning stuff away again. Arch starts closing the bay doors.

"I'm gonna head out. Lock up when you're finished."

"Right." I say.

Archie gets everything all closed up, locks the register, and departs. Leaving me standing there alone in the empty garage.

Another Empty Space.

Waiting to be filled.

It will remain idle here, silent and waiting, throbbing with potential, until, come Six A.M. tomorrow, Archie returns, picks up the vacuuming that I didn't finish tonight, and starts the whole process of living a day in the Real Life all over again. Entrances and Exits. Characters come, characters go. We bring to the scene our own hopes, dreams, concerns and fears. We leave at the end, having lived another day in the life, having shared our hopes, worked for our dreams, nurtured our concerns quietly to ourselves and expressed our fears in quiet voices behind closed doors. And in between, well, that's where everything really _happens._

Another day in the life.

Another day away from the Theatre. Another day of maintaining a semblance of sanity. Another day trapped in a job that I don't want. A job that represents Archie's pride and joy, Jonesy's love, Scott's dreams of someday attending college, Feisel's need for a private bragging ground and Vinny's desperate, clinging hope that things will turn out okay, even though they probably won't. A job that represents the death of my Actor's soul.

Shaking my head silently to myself, half in disappointment, half in wonder, I roll the vacuum carefully into a storage closet, lock up the shop and begin my walk back home, as the sun begins slowly fading to blackout far off in the distant West.

Another day in Existence.

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