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Entrances and Exits
by Phil Geusz and J.(Channing)Wells
Day follows night and night follows day. Spinning in endless cycles. Round and round and round and round she goes. Put your finger right there, sir, if you would be so kind...
Nighttime again. Several days later.
I'm at home, in my crappy little room at the hostel, paging through my copy of Stoppard's _The Real Thing_, the old vid-feed playing quietly in the background. From outside, one of the City's feral cats is miaouing to beat the band, much to the dismay of my already-distracted ears. I have half a mind to go out there and show the sick little bastard just what a dog is good for, anyway, but my annoyance level isn't _that_ high yet. For whatever reason. Certainly, I've been getting no emotional help from work. Every day spiraling onwards into the next, in one unbroken stream. Living for quitting time. Living for the weekends. Living for Holiday Breaks. Living for anything and everything save actually being there and doing my job. The sad thing is, this attitude about the workaday world is probably the exact same attitude shared by a good chunk of my peers in the City's menial blue-collar workforce. Society is weird that way. In the final analysis, I'm not in all that unusual a position. I'm just taking it worse than most people.
And _that's_ what that damn rabbit saw. To draw from the age-old theatrical lingo, I'm _dying_ up here. Truer now than it ever was when I was on the Stage, no matter how nasty it could get at times.
"You want to talk about it, fine. Look me up at the West Street shelter."
I grit my teeth and throw myself into the reading. Tonight, Michael has chosen to distract himself from the shittiness of his life with the sometimes-tricky prose of Mister Tom Stoppard. Not as blank and senseless as Beckett, more concrete than Ionesco, a bit classier than Shepard and altogether funnier than Mamet. The perfect choice for the night. Rampantly pseudo-intellectual, slightly gimmicky, perfectly deadpan and thoroughly "real."
I need my plays. They're all I have left.
"You want to talk about it, fine. Look me up at the West Street Shelter. It's your business and your life. You're a fool if you think you can deny what's going on inside you."
Outside, the damn cat reaches the continuo, and shifts into molto fugace to boot. I send up a silent prayer to any potential cat-hating snipers lurking on the rooftops, but it goes unheeded. So much for practical religion.
"--business and your life. You're a fool if you think you can deny what's going on inside you. Your business and your life. You're a fool if you think you can deny--"
Squeeze eyes shut. Concentrate. Focus. All right now. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Ah. Much, much better.
Back to Stoppard.
"I was taken once to Covent Garden to hear a woman called Callas in a sort of foreign musical--"
The pipe starts in again. Drip, drip, drip, drip, drip.
"I was _Taken_ once to _Covent Garden_ to hear a woman called _Callas_ in a sort of _Foreign_--
Drip, drip, drip, drip drip...
"I WAS TAKEN, ONCE, TO _COVENT GARDEN_ to hear a _WOMAN_ called _CALLAS_ in a sort of--"
Drip, drip, drip, drip, drip...
Drip, drip, drip, drip, drip...
"I! WAS! TAKEN! ONCE! TO! COVENT! GARDEN! TO--"
Drip, Drip, DRIP, DRIP, _DRIP_, _DRIP_, _DRIP_--
Strangled scream. Shuffle, shuffle. Thud, thud, thud, thud. Wrench, wrench, tighten, screw, turn, strain, easy does it, easy does it, don't break it this time, (remember the mess, Bix, _please_), steady, steady, there we go, TURN!
Carefully, I pack away my tools. Sometimes they _do_ come in handy, outside of work.
Back to Stoppard.
"I was taken once to Covent Garden to--"
Without consciously realizing what I'm doing, I leap from my humble and newly-damp mattress over to the single open window and attempt to scream firey hell at the cat in particular and the world at large, but so senseless am I that all of my wrath pours itself into a long series of rabid barks that echo back to me over and over again in the smoggy evening air. It's a hideous sound, and it probably doesn't do my voice a hell of a lot of good to produce it, but sometimes, you just have to go all out, rational or no.
Silence, for some time.
Then, from without, a faint, tentative, "Mrowr."
And then, He / She / It starts _again._ Louder, if such a thing is possible, than before.
The growl builds in my throat again. I slam shut the window just as my kitty friend picks up with the feline equivalent of the Prelude to Act Three of Lohengrin. The closed window barely mutes the psychotic bastard, and what's more, in this heat, leaving my window closed overnight would be suicidal. Houston, we have a problem.
I idly toss Stoppard back onto the pile. There's just no doing it, tonight. My patience is quite gone.
Sometimes, you just reach the breaking point. And when man, or in my case, pretty-close-to-man, reaches his breaking point, he requires a means to "cope." Some take out their frustrations on their pillows. Some take out their frustrations on their wives and children. Some go screaming off into the night, cackling hideously at the insanity of the world. Some, tortured geniuses all, turn their frustrations inwards and produce brilliant masterworks of thought and sound and color. Me? I take showers. Long ones.
Stepping lightly, I make my way around the my bookstack and pluck from the floor my soaps and shampoos and the like. Then, flipping off the vid-feed with my foot, I grab my towel off the makeshift line I've strung up to keep it reasonably dry between showers and head out into the hall for the bathroom.
It is only when I am there and have shut and locked the door behind me that I notice something wrong with my reflection in the big over-sink mirror.
A grease spot.
It's a tiny little thing, no bigger around than a penny, about midway up my slightly-elongated canine neck. Must have missed it in the customary post-work clean-up. Mentally, I run over my tasks that day, trying to place where I might have picked it up. Probably dickering with that oil pan. Damned annoying thing.
Sighing to myself, I strip down and step into the ancient claw-foot tub. My finger touches the oil-spot, idly. Soap and water time.
Five minutes later, I'm back out, and drying off, shivering violently. Let me rephrase my original statement: When I require a means to "cope," I _usually_ take long showers. When there's any hot water. Fuck it. Fuck it all.
The grease stain is still there. I can see it in the mirror. My abbreviated showering didn't help.
The world spins again...
One thing that you must realize about me is that I tend to obsess over details, especially in situations of massive background stress. Details like dripping pipes and grease-spots. It's actually done me a world of good in my particular profession; if there's anything that helps an artist out in the practice of his craft, it's a meticulous attention to detail. But it also tends to make me just a shade obsessive- compulsive. And occasionally, I find myself, given sufficient stress, going utterly loony over trivialities of the environment. The grease-stain is one such triviality.
I stalk over to the sink, a dog on a mission. Soap... so. Water on. Scrubscrubscrubscrubscrubscrub check. Clean?
Scrubscrubscrubscrubscrubscrubscrubscrub check. Clean?
Grit teeth again.
SCRUBscrubscrubscrubscrubscrubscrubscrub check. Clean?
Not on your life, of course.
The tunnel vision begins. Thoughts race through my head.
Archie's got this _lovely_ stuff over at the garage. Some weird mail-order gunk that takes oil-stains right out of anything, fur included. Hell, it'd strip the paint off your siding, given half a minute. Normally, I make sure to carefully and anal-retentively clean myself with the horrid goop after each messy job. But today, of all days, I missed that one little spot.
Back to Archie's? Not at this hour. That would be ludicrous.
And the soap doesn't work.
I spin through several options in my head before my mind lights upon my makeup kit. I used to have some heavy-duty remover in there, suitable for cutting greasepaint. And if greasepaint, why not a little motor oil, right? I toss on my clothes, return to my room, throw the towel over the line and recover from the floor my old makeup kit. Rapidly, I make my way back to the bathroom before any of my other hostelmates can snatch it up. Then, pulling the dressing- chair up in front of the counter, I toss my kit down on the mock-marble top, sit, and open it.
From within wafts a cloud of the Smell.
I had almost forgotten it. It had vanished from everywhere but my dreams. And now, here it was again, a ghost from the past made flesh, so to speak.
The last time I opened this old thing was back in the Heloise City Theatre, on that last fateful night of _Merchant of Venice._ The last show of my professional theatrical career. It's not enough that the smell of the makeup itself is almost enough to do me in; death by nostalgia, as it were. But what's worse is that somehow, someway, when I latched this thing closed on that singular, horrid night, I managed to capture just a bit, a few cubic centimeters at the most, of the essence of the Theatre. The last breath of Hope within Pandora's Box.
It hangs heavy in the air.
The Smell of the Stage.
"You're a fool if you think you can deny what's going on inside you."
Almost unconsciously, my hand goes to the kit. But I'm not searching for the makeup remover. I know what I'm doing here. The ritual has begun.
I _hate_ makeup. Hate, hate, hate it. You might understand why, given what you've seen tonight with regards to one tiny little grease spot. I start getting edgy after a few hours of having several layers of gunk on me. Believe it or not, it's one of the more physically trying parts of my career as an actor.
But it's also one of the most magical.
Makeup is a transformative. It allows us to _change_ ourselves. To direct our own forms. SCABS takes this to an unholy extreme, twisting and reforming its victims at a very fundamental level. But there is a quiet beauty to the act of small-scale ritualistic transformation that is, quite bluntly, fascinating. Actors are painters, too. We use ourselves as our canvases.
My hand moves to the blue-wash. Back when I didn't have a layer of black-and-white spotted fur covering my face, this was a time for _base._ Now, traditional base makeup applied directly to dog hair would look silly, to say the least. But what remains to me is the concept of background. The blue wash serves that purpose. A few carefully measured drops in the little cosmetic bowl... like so. Add water... gently... a trickle more... there. Mix with the brush end.
I'm working on autopilot, here. Meditation and ritual. Every motion precise and perfect. Take the sponge, soak it, brush. Broad strokes. Evenly. Don't want any color to actually stand out, just the faintest of overall blue casts so that under the inevitable pale-peach of ambient theatre lights I end up looking _dazzlingly_ white. If you're going to be a freak, you might as well be an impressive one. Brush, brush, brush, brush, brush. Dip. Repeat. Over and over. 'Til that's done. Now. The spots. The blue-rinse makes the white stand out nicely, but it tends to overshadow the spots as well, if corrective measures aren't taken. Enter the pencil. Solid black eyeliner. Place it in the little sharpener, so. Turn. Remove. Admire the edge, critically. Then begin. Outline each one, including (for the heck of it) my added grease stain. Fill in the patchy parts. Round out the uneven ones. Color, color, color. Each and every one. Even the little one on the corner of my muzzle. Mustn't miss a freckle. One by one by one by one by one by... any more? Nope.
Back to the sharpener. Rim the eyes. Eyes are important, on stage. Must draw _attention_ to them. Good. Into the makeup kit again, for the shadowing. Faintest dark powdering underneath. Simulated shadows and light. The raw materials of any visual art. Satisfactory? Blink. Blink. Yes. Now to the sides of the muzzle. Faint clouds of cosmetic shadow-stuff, subtly changing the contours of the face. I've elected to do "standard nobility" tonight. It fits, somehow. A few quick pats with the stippler in a few carefully-defined areas completes this portion in toto. Done with the shadows? Hokay.
Almost finished, here. Lips. Got myself some black lip-color; normal folks use it for special effect. I use it as my basic. Spin through my collection of brushes to find the medium-small one. Apply the top, evening it out. Press together. Fill in the cracks. Blot with paper. There.
Home stretch now. All that remains is the powder. Open the bottle, pat a bit on the back of the hand... find the puff, touch it to the pile... then to the face. Poof.
Five or so large pats and twenty small ones brings me to the finish.
I am before my own reflection, illuminated by the bulbs of the overhead lamp. Before the mirror sits a perfect creature of the theatre, a true Scion of Thespis, a beauteous specimen of dogdom, positively glowing in a million and one ways. Michael Bix at his finest.
Michael Bix, the Actor.
I admire my handiwork. Not fucking bad.
Idly, I consider the specifics of my ritual. Everything seemed so... practiced. So real. I haven't lost the touch. Everything is all just waiting there, ready to be tapped.
A fragile contentment begins to construct itself amidst the general awfulness of the night. I'm still a Child of the Stage. Her spirit never leaves you.
I give myself one more critical glance. Yes, not fucking bad. Considering that about four years ago, Michael Bix had to learn his makeup techniques all over again from scratch. SCABS will do that to you. I mean, prior to my acquisition of the Martian Flu, I had a _completely_ different makeup ritual. No fur, for one thing. The color schemes were different, of course, as well. My eyes were blue then, not this deep canine brown. The hair was...
Brown, I'm sure. I'm having trouble recalling the specific shade, though. Ah well.
And then there was the matter of the shadows. Back when I could use white highlights that didn't get completely lost in the glare of dog fur. Back when I could dicker subtly with the shape of my nose using lights and darks for precise effect; back when I wasn't stuck with this ludicrous black thing cresting a canine muzzle; back when... um...
I realize that I'm having a hard time recalling the rest of my face as well.
Petulantly, I begin searching through the annals of my memory. C'mon, Bix. Grab onto something. Two-and-a- half decades before the Flu you were looking in mirrors. Two-and-a-half decades you were looking at that same old face, every single morning, toothbrushing on forward. All the way through college, Bix. C'mon. You can do this much, at least...
There's that glimpse of brownish hair. The blue eyes. And maybe a little bit of White Irish in the line of the jaw.
And that's it. That's as far as I get.
With vague unease that rapidly grows into full-blown psychological panic, I shuffle backwards through my mental scrapbook. High School football games, graduation pictures, publicity photos, headshots, cheap Polaroids of me and the guys I used to hang with back in college, every image of my old self that I can possibly dredge up from the dark waters of my memory.
Nada. Not a _thing._
All I keep seeing, over and over again, is that damn black- spotted muzzle.
My god. I've forgotten what I looked like.
I sit there, staring at an image of a face that is not mine. And there is no trace of _me_ there, anymore. Nothing to even hint at the me that will never be me again.
This is what I am. This is what I will be. This is what I always have been. Ever backwards into the past, ever forwards into infinity. Now and forever. Amen.
Michael Bix, the SCAB.
From somewhere far, far away, I hear a faint knock at the door of the bathroom. One of my hostel-mates, wondering what's taking me so long, I imagine. I am only distantly aware of this. My thoughts are quite elsewhere.
Time to return to the real world, shall we? Let's end the farce here. Dream's over, time's up, joke's finished. Let's all have a good laugh and go out for dinner or something. This isn't happening. This isn't me. This isn't my life. This isn't how things were supposed to go.
Eyes fixed straight ahead, I reach into my kit, fumbling about blindly for a bit but eventually coming up with the makeup remover and my scrub-cloth.
I dampen the cloth with the remover and start scrubbing. The layers begin fading, stripped clean by my hand. I unconsciously turn on the tap without breaking the rhythm, rinse the cloth, apply more remover, and continue to scrub.
From without, the noise of the knocking. Growing louder and more impatient.
Scrub. Scrub. Scrub. Scrub.
Layer upon layer of carefully-applied cosmetics vanish under my rhythmic scrubbing. Returning to normalcy. That's how it always is. At night, the makeup always comes off. We spirits of the Theatre are returned to our natural forms. When the Theatre takes us, we may be cats or serpents, males or females, aged or youthful, human or no, possessed of every shape of the world and every color of the rainbow. But at the end of the night, She releases us from her transformative clutches, and we become our normal selves again. That's just how things work.
The scrubbing continues. The knocking grows louder. Voices from the other side of the door, wondering what the fuck is going on. Still, the scrubbing continues. And I scrub away, with increasing force and furor, cleaning myself from every last trace of irritant.
Until there is nothing left to remove.
Every scrap of the pigmented chemicals I had labored so hard to apply is gone.
Calmly, I regard myself in the mirror before me.
And then, in the quiet voice of the utterly mad, my brain informs me that I am not yet done.
Back to the washcloth. The scrubbing continues.
Scrub. Scrub. Scrub. Scrub.
My arm begins to ache from the pressure. My hand cramps into a death-grip on the cloth. The fur on my face and neck begins to cluster in damp clumps from the constant abrasion.
More knocking from outside. More yelling.
Scrub. Scrub. Scrub. Scrub. SCRUB. SCRUB. SCRUB. SCRUB. SCRUB, SCRUB, SCRUB, SCRUB...
A low, keening, wail, drawn up from the inhuman parts of my soul, begins building at the back of my throat. My eyes glaze. My fist clenches. And still, the scrubbing continues. On and on. Faster and faster. Harder. Farther. Encompassing more and more of my face. Tiny clots of hair are torn from their roots. The pressure grows. Harder. Steadier.
The wail keens louder.
The knocking becomes insistent.
The scrubbing does not stop.
Harder and faster, up and down. Scrubscrubscrubscrub SCRUBSCRUBSCRUBSCRUB. My wail becomes a cry and then a shout, then a bellow. I squeeze my eyes shut, in an attempt to block out the pain that runs now in stinging lances across my abraded flesh. But I cannot stop. Not until I am _clean._
I scream, then, and something in me shatters. With a wild, furious apostasy the scrubbing stops. My arm falls to the sink-basin and my neck curls downwards towards the fetal position. Everything ceases for a brief moment.
Then, from the sink comes the sound of faint pattering, maddeningly similar to the leaky pipe back in my room that started this whole evening out.
I wrench open my eyes and stare in the direction of the sink. The washcloth is dripping into the basin, which accounts for the noise. The fabric is also stained to a disturbing off-reddish color.
I lift my head then and look in the mirror.
In at least two places, I've rubbed the skin completely away. Down to the blood. My fur is in a sorry state, matted, clumped and notably absent in some select places. Other patches are stained with red from the open sores I have raised on my skin. But for all my self-imposed injuries, I am still completely, totally, utterly, a Dalmatian-shaped-thing in human's clothing.
And the grease stain is still there.
I realize then that I have, indeed, snapped.
"You're a fool if you think you can deny what's going on inside you."
A deep, ratcheting breath.
"You want to talk about it, look me up at the West Street Shelter."
Something has to change. Something has to change, and it has to change _now._
I haphazardly throw my stuff in the kit and slam it shut again, barely managing to get it closed. Then, ignoring the concerned and fearful glances that I receive from my hostel-mates crowded outside the door when they see the hideous state I'm in, I stalk back to my room, throw my things with a _bit_ too much force inside, and rush downstairs to the lobby and the voice-only telephone that I know to be there.
A quick reference of the Yellow Pages gives me the number. Coins are deposited, buttons are poked. A call is sent off into the ether. I worry that no-one will answer at this hour. But maybe, just maybe...
Three rings. Then...
"West Street Shelter, this is Phil. K'y help you?"
I breathe for one second more, gathering myself. "Phil." I say, in a ragged whisper. "We need to talk."