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Entrances and Exits
by Phil Geusz and J.(Channing)Wells
I stare at the rabbit. He stares at me.
The silence that has reigned for many minutes already continues to do so. Reign, that is.
After a bit, he begins idly sorting some papers on his desk. I scritch at the floor with the tip of my toe. He stares at me.
"Sorry." I say.
"S'okay." He says.
He goes back to paper-sorting. I sit.
Eventually, he looks at a nearby clock.
I perform a faint, slightly embarrassed, frown-and-focus-gaze-elsewhere-type-thing.
He turns his attention back to his paperwork.
Even more silence.
Even more time passes.
Then, without a word, he gets up and leaves the room and goes out into the hall beyond.
Interrupted as I am from my pattern, I don't have much time to formulate a coherent response to this. "Um--" I say, to his backside.
He turns around. "Yes?"
"Um. Where are... you... um."
"Well..." he says, pensively. "I've got all my paper-shuffling done for the moment. I thought I would take a quick coffee break. Maybe go down the street, get a Danish or something. It's been a hard morning, y' know." With that, he turns to leave again and begins wandering away. "Thanks, by the way. I hadn't scheduled for a breaktime today."
"But--" I say.
He turns back around. "Yes?"
I fidget. "We haven't even started yet..."
He seems to consider this. "No, you're right. We haven't. Fifteen, going on twenty minutes of 'We Haven't Even Started Yet.' Nice of you to sacrifice your session this way just so little old me can take a coffee break."
Damn him, but his facial expressions are completely lapine... I can't tell if he's smiling or not...
"Yes?" He repeats. "Come on. Spit it out."
"I'm...um..." I trail off.
"What? You're saying you're _not_ sacrificing your session? Silly presumption of mine, I guess. I thought your just sitting there in stony silence was a sort of 'Don't mind me, Phil, go about your business, I'll just sit here' sorta thing. Was that not what you were trying to say?"
"No!" I say, a bit helplessly, gesturing with one hand. "No. We need to talk."
Soundlessly, he lopes back into the small office and takes his place behind the desk.
"Okay. _Talk_, then."
"Michael, you've been sitting here for twenty minutes saying absolutely nothing. Doesn't bother me, as such. I'm not the one who needs remediation here. Spend your appointment however you like. Talk, Don't Talk, Hedge and Gesture, do whatever. But I can only work with what you give me."
I take a deep breath. "Look, mister... um..." I peer at the nice faux-wooden name-plate on the desk. "Geusz. This is sort of a difficult thing for me to talk about, you know."
He makes a weird noise that kind of sounds like an odd animalistic throat-yowl. "Gezundheit." I say, completely unthinkingly.
"Not quite." He says, rocking his ears a bit in what I am beginning to interpret as a smile. I just stare.
"Not quite. You've got the language right, at least. I don't blame you -- German can be tricky that way. Here. Let me try again."
He does that weird yowly-throat-clear-y thing again. I shake my head, still looking at him and trying to fathom.
"That's your _name_?"
"Bing! You were pronouncing it kind of like the word 'Goose.' It isn't. It's pronounced--" Yowly-throat-clear.
I just stare. He does it again.
"Come on. Say it with me. Guh."
Again, the the weird dipthong-y sounding yowly thing.
He waits for me to model him.
"Eeeoiue." I attempt.
He shakes his head, and tries again. This time it sounds more recognizably like an "Oy." I can handle "Oy."
"Guh." He says.
"Guh." I repeat.
He takes a deep breath. "G-Oy."
"Whole thing now. Repeat after me."
He does a yowly throat-thing again.
I attempt valiantly and fail miserably.
Frustrated, I am on the verge of trying again when bunny-boy, without a word, hops out from behind the desk again and leaves the office.
"Hey!" I say.
"Just a minute." He says, in departing. He is gone for just about that length of time, and returns batting a roll of black cloth duct tape in front of him. He flips it over to my position.
"Pull out a length of that, please."
Mystified, I do so. I am left with a few inches of tape hanging loose off the roll. "Scissors?" I ask. He looks around in his desk for a bit.
"Can't use 'em myself. Maybe somebody stuck some in here, though..." Rustle rustle rustle. The search is fruitless. He makes an exasperated noise in his throat.
"Look. Just hold it out, okay?"
I offer the roll out. Lickety split, he rears up and delivers the edge of the tape one mighty lagomorphic incisor-chew. It splits easily.
"Now. Stick that end on the nameplate." I do so. He reaches up and flattens the rest of it down, completely obscuring the last name and leaving only the word...
"Phil. Just Phil. Please. Splendor went through all the trouble of ordering nameplates to make this place more friendly-like, and it's done nothing but confuse the hell out of people." He is half-chewing now, trying to dislodge one thread of sticky tape that got caught in his teeth. I watch him with some amusement.
"Phil." I say.
"Exactamundo." He replies, and finishes removing the tape strand. He sits back down at his desk.
"So." I say. "Now that we've wasted _even more_ time..."
"Right." He says, doing the ear-smile thing again. "Down to business."
Silence begins again.
"Look." He says. "Let's not start all this over again, shall we?"
I grit my teeth. "I'm _trying_ here, Phil. I _know_ you want me to be the one talking here. It's just..."
"You're looking for advice." He finishes.
"Yes." I say, matter-of-fact-ly.
"You want me to help you."
"Yes." I say, again.
"I can't." He says.
I slump slightly, and then gather myself to go. "Figured as much. Look, Phil, sorry to waste your time he--"
"Oop oop oop!" He says, by way of stopping me from leaving. "Sit back down, Mike. You didn't let me finish.
I take my seat again.
"_I_ can't help you." He pats me on my chest with one white little paw. "_You_ can help you. I'm only here to _let_ you help you."
I frown, wryly. "Okay. Semantics aside. Whatever. You're the expert here. Do whatever you do."
He leans back in his chair, musing. Then...
"Let me be blunt. I'm going to tell you something that you're not going to want to hear. And that is... the main problem here is with _you._ Not your life, not your situations, none of that. _You._"
I let out an exasperated breath. "Right. All of this shit is my fault. I went out and _looked_ for a case of SCABS, Phil. I had this burning desire to be a big goddamned black and white spotted dog, and so I said to myself, 'Hey! Why don't I go acquire a case of Martian Death Flu! _That'll_ improve my lot in life!"
"Whaddaya mean, 'And then?'"
"I mean, 'And then?' What happens afterwards?"
"Well, my life goes down the shitter, for one thing."
He cuts me off again. "So. What did you expect? Everything to be the same?"
"Why the hell not?" I say, my ire rising. "I mean, if society is so bloody narrow-minded that--"
"We're not talking about society, here. Mike. Don't try and change society just yet. You're having enough problems with _yourself._"
A brief pause.
"Like it or not, Mike, people _are_ going to react the way that they do. And you're not going to change that anytime soon. SCABS is a disfiguring disease, Mike. A horribly disfiguring disease. Look at me." He gestures at himself. "You wouldn't even recognize me now had you known me in my pre-lapine days. I have become, for whatever reason, a fuzzy little herbivore. I freak out at everything, nowadays. Hell, even being in the same room with you is more than a little bit unnerving. I've got a poofy little tail and no thumbs." He looks me square in the eye, his voice utterly deadpan. "I'm _cute_, Michael. That's a big change for me."
Despite myself, I smirk.
"If somebody, anybody, whoever, got into a bad auto wreck or got trapped in a fire or something and had as much relative disfigurement as you or I have got, there'd be no way that people would expect them to be back on their feet without extensive psychiatric help. Yet somehow, with SCABS, society is still expecting folks like me and you to be up and jumping two, three weeks out of the hospital. Like it or not, Michael, your concept of yourself is not just found in that neat little spiritual voice that makes up your 'inner self.' You are a whole, homologous individual, body and spirit meshing into one. I hate to be so presumptuous here, but Descartes was _wrong._ Change one, you can't _help_ but change the other."
I think about this for a bit. Then, I say, "So... I mean. What's there to _do_?"
He holds up one paw. "Getting to that. We've come to accept that you are a changed individual, Michael. Yes?"
"Let's accept that for argument's sake."
"Okay." He says. "But, like it or not, you are still the _same_, as well. Your identity is your identity. _You are who you are._ You are Michael W. Bix. And you will always _be_ Michael W. Bix."
"Actor." I breathe, quietly.
"Sorry?" He says.
"Michael W. Bix. Actor."
That ear-smile thing again. "Riiight. On the one hand, you are a completely different being. And on the other, you are exactly the same."
I'm beginning to get annoyed again. "Okay. Great. We're going around in circles now. I'm different, but I'm the same. Great. Wonderful. I knew that already, Phil. Where does that leave me?"
"It leaves you... Stuck."
He pronounces the capital 'S'. I look at him, curiously.
"Remember when you called me on Friday night, you told me how the reason that you got involved with the whole automobile mechanics thing in the first place was because of a book called _Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance_?"
"I took the liberty of heading over to the library and checking out a copy. Interesting stuff. Can't say I agree with all of it, but interesting nonetheless."
"You read Pirsig?"
"Mm hm. And something in there is sorta coming to mind as I'm talking to you about this. I seem to recall that Pirsig had a little bit to say on the subject of being 'Stuck.' You know what I'm talking about?"
"What, how 'Stuckness' isn't the end of the road?"
"Right." He says. "Being 'Stuck' is actually _the beginning_. The point where newness comes into play. We go with the patterns that have worked for us so far, until those patterns don't work for us anymore. _When_ those patterns don't work, we become Stuck. And from the point of Stuckness, we can choose one of two paths. We can go on applying our old patterns to an immotile situation, getting more and more frustrated, or we can _instead_, take this opportunity to develop something _completely new._"
"We're getting into abstraction here, again, Phil." I say. "I'm not really interested in abstraction."
"I thought that might be your opinion. Let's bring it down into concrete again, shall we?" He pulls open one of his desk-drawers and removes a small threaded implement, carefully, with both paws. He tosses it on the desk.
"What is that." He says.
"An Easy-Out." I reply, automatically. "A mechanical bolt extractor. You drill a hole in the top of the bolt, stick that thing inside and turn until it catches. Then you can get enough leverage to pull it out."
"Very good." He says. "This one's mine. A souvenir from my days on the line-floor. I assume you have your own."
I indicated that I did. "Best tool for the job."
"_Only_ tool for the job, you mean. Nothing else does what an Easy-Out can do. Y'willing to accept that, for the sake of this discussion?"
"Fine." I say.
"Wonderful. Okay. Now. Let's say that you don't have an Easy-Out. Let's say they don't even exist. You've got a casing bolt that _needs_ to come out. And the only tool that Archie's given you to work with is a wrench that's about a quarter-inch too big. What do you do?"
I muse. "I guess you could try it with the bigger wrench. See if it comes out."
"Let's say it's jammed in there real good." Phil's speech is coming faster and more staccato-like, almost as though he's grilling me or something.
"Then you wouldn't want to use the bigger wrench until it got unstuck, else you'd strip the bolt all to hell."
"That bolt _needs_ to get out."
"Lubricant." I say, grasping at straws.
"Doesn't help." He says.
"No other tools whatsoever?"
"I guess I'd have to use the wrench I had, then."
He slams on his desk. "Wrong! That's _exactly_ what I'm talking about with you, Mike."
I shake my head. "I'm not getting this."
"Dontchasee, Mike? This is your life! You _need_ to act. I daresay you're probably a damn good actor, if what Wanderer tells me is anywhere near true. Your skills, your talent, your whatever, is the force you use to turn that bolt. And the tool you have to use..." He pats me on the chest again. "Is _you._ You _are_ your wrench, Michael."
"Deep." I say, sardonically.
"Bear with me here. Okay. Only problem is, SCABS has given you a completely different wrench than you used to have. A completely different _you._ And what you've been doing, over and over again, is blithely using your new, wrong-sized wrench, on exactly the same bolts that you used it on before. And it's not working, so you keep trying harder and harder using the wrong tool in the wrong place until now, finally, you've ruined the bolt completely. You, my friend, have been _stripped._"
I break eye contact. Stripped.
I grit my teeth again, trying to keep the pain from flooding into my voice. "Okay! Okay! So you're right! Wonderful metaphor work! Great! _This isn't helping!_"
"Just give me a second more." He pauses to collect his thoughts a bit. "Okay. So. You've got a bolt that's Stuck there in that casing. You've stripped it all to hell. You don't have any other recourse. The Easy-Out hasn't been invented yet. What do you do?"
"Hacksaw and Vice-Grips." I say, pulling the first things that come to mind.
He laughs, almost a bit harshly. "Michael, even if I hadn't already specified that you didn't have any other tools, you can't turn a _bolt_ with a pair of Vice-Grips! What are you thinking!"
I stammer for a moment.
"C'mon! C'mon! Customers are waiting here!"
"Come at it from the other side!" I blurt out.
"Sealed block. No can do."
"Break open the casing."
"Bzzt. Wrong. You'd ruin _everything._"
"Damn it, Phil! You're just trying to make things difficult!" I exclaim, getting overly caught up in things again.
"Life _is_ difficult, Bix. It doesn't need any help from me."
"So what? What can you possibly do, here? You've made up a situation where the only possible course of action is to use the goddamn Easy-Out! What the hell kind of problem is this? How the hell are you supposed to solve this thing?"
He looks at me square on.
"In this case, Mike... I'd say the best solution is to invent the Easy-Out."
"Never occurred to you, did it?"
"No." I say, quietly.
"Ya see, Mike, _that's_ the problem with you. Your world has been completely turned on it's head. And here you are going around wondering why everything looks upside-down, when what you _should_ be doing is thinking up new ways to get yourself flipped back over. The world is a different place for SCAB's. It demands new ideas, new solutions, new _everything_. All the time. Every day."
I sit there in silence for a moment.
"Are you getting me here?"
"I don't even know, Phil. I mean, you've made your point and all. I see what you're trying to say. I gotcha. But how am I supposed to apply any of this?"
The ear-smile again. "Almost to the end. Bear with me, 'kay?"
"Okay. Last little bit of metaphor here. Hopefully Michael has learned his lesson from all this bolt-stripping business. He's finally got the casing off, has done whatever he had to do inside, and closed 'er back up. Problem solved. What goes on next?"
"That's it. We're done."
"What about tomorrow? And the next day? You're booked for a week solid. All you have is that one wrench, still. You go up to your boss...
"Archie. Right. What do you say to him?"
"'Arch, I've had enough of you only giving me this one goddamn wrench to use. Unless you buy some more tools to have around, I'm outta here.'"
He laughs. "Yes, well, this is kind of where the metaphor breaks down. Let me fill in the final point, here. Let's say for simplicity's sake, that every single one of these cars is going to have this exact same problem. Except for half of them have got casing bolts that are the same size you worked on today, and half of them have got casing bolts exactly one-quarter inch bigger. You'd say..."
"I'd... um... ask Arch if I could work only on the cars that had the right-sized bolts."
"Ah..." He sighs. "He _can_ be taught."
"You lost me again."
"Michael, Michael, Michael. Don't you see that maybe, just _maybe_, there are people out there who wouldn't see your particular phenotype as being a _hindrance?_ That maybe, just _maybe_ there are _some_ people, just a few, perhaps, that would _kill_ to get their hands on you? You fill a _very_ specific slot, Michael, in the theatrical world. Opportunities aren't going to be easy to come by. From what I understand, they never are. But when they _do..._ You are _it._"
"Wonderful. Opportunities like the National Fire Safety Council or whatever. Hell, I could be their goddamn mascot! Wouldn't _that_ be peachy!"
"No." He says. "Opportunities like this." He removes from his desk a small bit of folded notepaper with a few scribbles on it.
Okay. He has my attention.
"Before I give you this, I want you to promise me that from here on in, you will never, ever, attempt to erase yourself again. You _must_ understand that you _do_ have value and worth, no matter what, no matter when. It's all a matter of looking for the right place to express it. Promise?"
I nod. My eyes are fixed on that paper.
He tosses it to me. It's all I can do to suppress my canine hunt-urges to leap on it. Carefully, meticulously, I unfold it and read the words thereon.
Alan Barlow. Windy City Rep. _Sunday in the Park With George._ And a phone number.
"Spots." I say, quietly, suddenly understanding _everything._
"Mm hm." He says, with an air of finality. "Michael, what you have in your hands is a Private Audition. Courtesy of little ol' me. You won't believe what I had to promise in exchange for that."
"But..." I say. Then, "Phil! I mean... how... You don't even know the business!"
"No." He says. "But I know _people_. And that's what counts."
"Jesus Christ." I say, and I am uncertain as to whether I mean this as an exclamation or a prayer, and frankly, at this point, it doesn't much matter.
"I've got this weird thing about pride, Michael. You're right -- I don't know the business. But I can't stand losing. If I had my way I'd be making you the Jackie Robinson of the theatre circuit. You want to be remembered as the greatest actor of all time. Fine. Wonderful goal. But what you have to do first is admit your identity and turn your perceived weakness into your greatest asset. You have to show everyone that you are not only the best actor there is, but also that you are the best _SCAB_ actor there is. And when you do that and are up there receiving your Tony, do me a favor and mention my name in your acceptance speech, okay?"
"Will do." I say, still somewhat dreamily.
"Thanks." He says.
"I need to work up my monologues!" I say, suddenly. "I can't just go in there cold!"
"Do whatever you have to do, fella."
"Phil. _Thank You._"
"Hey. Helping people is my job." He peers at the clock. "I think we're about finished here, actually. You satisfied with what we've done today?"
I nod, earnestly.
"Make your phone call. I reckon you can handle this part from here on in. And..." Ear-Smile. "See you next week."
"Right." I say. "Hey. Maybe next time we can take that coffee break together. My treat. I'll buy you whatever kind of Danish you want."
"Oh..." He says. "That was just a figure of speech. Made it up off the cuff. I had to force you to talk somehow. We rabbits have a hard enough time digesting grass and such."
I look at him for a moment, quizzically. "You're _sure_ you don't know anything about the theatre?"
He nods. "Positive."
"Well." I say. "You're a hell of an actor."
He ear-smiles one last time. "All part of the job, I guess. Now get out there and knock 'em dead."
I wave jauntily to my lapine therapist, and, clutching the little scrap of paper tightly in one hand, I leave his cramped little office, heading towards the promise of a new world beyond.
One can almost _smell_ the possibilities.
* * *
Let's be quick about the next part. You don't need to know all the details about my preparations. We can skip over the time spent toiling through my monologues (carefully selected to demonstrate maximum range), paradoxically trying to "work" them to the point of effortlessness and organic naturalism. We don't have to watch all the hours spent at searching through scores I was once intimately familiar with to find the one perfect solo that would best show off my singing voice while simultaneously avoiding the weird canine yowl that always creeps in at the very highest points of my register. It's probably not necessary to see each and every one of the fifteen-odd obsessive- compulsive showers I indulged in as my meeting with Barlow loomed closer and closer on the horizon, each and every one taken in a desperate attempt to _relax._ We can even skip the audition itself; looking back, I don't actually remember very much of it, anyway.
Call it fate, call it luck, call it some odd form of spiritual karma that I had unwittingly been banking up. Call it talent, call it skill, call it being in the right place at the right time, call it... oh, hell. Why not. Call it, for the first time in my life, using my changed form to its best possible advantage. Call it, finally, an honest admission that Michael Bix the Actor and Michael Bix the SCAB could indeed both exist at the same time at the same place in this same black-spotted canine body. Call it anything you want.
_I got it._