Wednesday, July 7, 2010

People I meet in bars #17: Emily

"Can I buy you a drink?" Emily asks, a smile matching the gregarious $10 bill in her left hand and the outstretched palm of her right hand on my shoulder.

She's only asking because I complimented her performance as Jessica in the production The Merchant of Venice that I saw tonight at Cedar City's annual Shakespeare Festival. She's got hair the color of an orange snow cone and eyes like mud after a rainstorm. In a good way, though. In a way that reminds you of the purity of earth and the concentration of nature that only follows dark clouds and subsequent sunshine. And now, the clouds have parted and a redheaded actress stands before you, offering to compensate for a gin and tonic.

"You were absolutely wonderful," I said, placing my eyes immediately back to the James Ellroy I was reading to make it clear that I wasn't hitting on her, but rather, expressing my appreciation for actually decent theater. "Your Jessica--and the whole show, really--made me empathize with Shylock, a character reduced to mere stereotype by the anti-Semitism present in just about every other presentation of this I've ever seen."

"Putting our humble production past the stereotypical stereotyping?" She smiles and melts a transcontinental Russian snowman with her glow. "How kind of you."

Then she offers to buy me a drink. I accept.

"Just a club soda, if you please."

"That's not much of a drink," she says, sipping at her shot of Maker's Mark. "Nothing that'll get you going?"

"I'm trying to be a little more...what's the word." I pause and sip from my tea (yeah, now I'm the guy that gets tea at a bar). "Restrained, I guess?"

But restraint is not something to endorse when sitting with an award-winning (local Tony, I think she says) actress. And there's seriously something about that hair that's making me think things. And lately, I don't think many things.

"I'm not one for restraint," she says. She holds out her hand a few paragraphs later than she probably should've, given the all-important actor/audience member power dynamic that's been so firmly established. "So maybe you should let me buy you a real drink for saying such nice things."

"I'm a nice man," I say. She raises a dramatic eyebrow (I guess they're both dramatic, actually, but she only raises one), and waits for a follow-up statement. I don't have one.

"You seem like a nice man." She flips her hair in a way I've only seen in Jennifer Aniston movies. "So what do you do? Just here for the festival?"

"I'm press, actually."

"Oh, are you," she says, digging for a double entendre that isn't really there. "You know how we actors feel about approval. We wouldn't do what we do otherwise."

"That's pretty bold of you to say." I stir one of those thin red straws to try and distract her from whatever she seems to be seeing in me.

"I wouldn't be much of an actress otherwise."

She raises a fine point.

But she also raises my curiosity. Why is this woman an actress?

"I didn't get a lot of attention growing up," she says. "I know it's that stereotypical 'actress' answer, but it's true. Whenever there was a crowd, I had to fight three other siblings to see if I could land on top and get the focus of whatever group was surrounding us. I eventually got sorta good at it and decided to give it a try professionally."

"And now look at you," I say, pointing to the festival's playbill, on which she appears on the front cover. "Headlining festivals, buying drinks for frail young men reading crime novels in rural bars." She pokes my elbow with a stiff finger. "You've clearly made it."

"Don't think I can't recognize sarcasm. That's an actor's first step."

"Then double congratulations on your success."

"You sound bitter toward my people." She takes her shot glass to her lips, setting it empty back on the bar. "Actors, I mean. Not, like, white people."

"To be honest, I don't have a whole lot of respect for what you do. I think of you guys more as athletes. Talented, sure, but I don't know how much I can buy into it."

"Why not?" she asks. She's looking at me with eyes that could penetrate kevlar and they demand an answer.

"I guess it's that so many people lie in real life that I'm sort of...well, I guess I'm sort of disgusted with the idea that someone would be paid to lie professionally. And I know it's more complicated than that--I'm an amateur writer, after all--but even so, this whole 'method' thing? This Stanislavsky bullshit? I can't pay much heed to it, considering how many people I encounter day-to-day that lie as though they were getting paid for it."

"Bad breakup?"

"Several." I punch the last inch of tea down my throat. "Habitually, it seems."

"Why is that?"

"Don't know." The mug is slid around the bar like it was looking for a home. "Still trying to figure that one out. But regardless of anything else, I have a pretty substantial struggle in trusting people."

"Yeah, people are pretty bad," she says, "but they mostly try to be good. Don't you think?"

"Maybe."

"And isn't that comforting?"

"...maybe."

"And don't you think that maybe you should just calm down, watch a play, and let a pretty girl buy you a drink?" She steps a tiny bit forward, cutting through what little distance between us there already was and staking her claim. "Don't you think that something is gonna be good, even if it's just good for a little while?"

Then I think of you, smile, wonder when you'll get up for breakfast, and if I can stay awake that long. I decide that we all sorta need goals, and I've aimed for lesser targets than an early morning conversation with you.

"I think lots of things are good for a little while." I eye the row of bottles of brown liquor taunting me from the other side of the bar. "But I'm a long-term kinda guy."

"Then why are you hanging out in a bar? These places don't exactly lend themselves to long-term anything."

"Yeah." She's right. "You're right." But there's no real honest way to follow that up, so I just nod to myself while eyeing the flecks of tea leaves floating in the last dregs of my glass mug.

"Well," Emily says, indicating her party's members with a drifted hand, "I should get back to my group. You're welcome to join us if you like."

"Nah," I say, "I should get back to my hotel. You never know who's gonna make that late-night phone call."

She smiles. Her teeth remind me of you.

Then again, these days, most things do.

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