Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Method Actors Among Us

Well, here I am stuck at work on a Sunday morning. I’m working myself to the bone, folks. I was handed a big project with no time to do it in, so I came into the office yesterday (Saturday) and I’m here again today. On top of all this I’ve managed to squeeze in yard work for two properties. Yeesh! I knocked off last night at about 8:00pm, showered, ate a couple of tuna fish sandwiches and watched half of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (a horrible movie, but I love Bette Davis in all her many shapes). Finally I conked out around 10:30, but seeing Bette Davis dressed up like a six-year-old reminded me of something.

Last Tuesday I had jury duty. A very dull business that. I brought reading material with me in preparation for hours of sitting on my rear end, but other than that, the only amusement left me was people-watching. The civic obligation of jury duty provides one of the few instances I can think of where all the strata of society collide in a single location. It is egalitarianism at its purest. Or should I say its rawest. You have the upscale mixing with the downtrodden, the middle-class with the no-class, the posh with the great unwashed. Black, white, brown, yellow, red and every shade that falls in-between. I believe there used to be a dress code for jury duty back in the day, but now anything goes. Older men in well-tailored suits rub elbows with young men in grungy T-shirts, sandals and shorts. Sneakers typically outnumber the wingtips by about 10 to 1. Pleated skirts are hopelessly overwhelmed by calculatedly ripped jeans. They didn’t look like this in 12 Angry Men, I can tell you that. You wouldn’t have caught Lee J. Cobb with a nose ring. No sir.

Among the people who filled the big jury pool room was a woman, roughly 30 years old, who clearly stood out among all the rest. True, she was of average height, had a non-descript face and her black hair was kept short and plain. Equally true, she was quiet and did nothing through her actions to draw attention to herself. But what made her a spectacle was the way she costumed herself, for she wore in her hair a pink ribbon, on her white sweater a pink carnation, wore a pink frock underneath her white sweater, carried a large, glossy, pink vinyl tote bag, and, to complete the whole effect, wore shiny black shoes with white ankle socks.

My grandmother might have dressed my mother like that when she was five. Shirley Temple was big back then after all. But what in the name of the Good Ship Lollipop was this? What made her do this to herself?

I have a theory I’d like to share with all of you and maybe from among those four or five who tune in here, one might be able to confirm that which I have long suspected. You see, everyday we witness eccentric behavior. Like the time I saw a guy, in business clothes, ride his unicycle to work while reading a book. Or when I saw a man riding a bicycle holding a long fishing rod with a cat perched on his shoulder — on Mass Ave. in Boston. And all the countless instances we city dwellers have become inured to: pedestrians wearing Discmen singing well above the blare of car horns; the guy next to you on the bus muttering to himself; the bearded fellow on the street corner pontificating like the Prophet Elijah. I think there’s a simple explanation for all of this: they’re all performers studying for a part.

Think of Robert DeNiro spending days in the New York’s Little Italy for Godfather II, driving a cab preparing for Taxi Driver and gaining all that weight for Raging Bull. Or how about Dustin Hoffman keeping himself awake over 24 hours to look convincing for a scene in Marathon Man. And consider Rod Steiger, who stayed in character as Police Chief Bill Gillespie the entire time during the filming of In the Heat of the Night. I’m talking even when they broke for lunch or at the end of the day, he was still the Chief. There was no “cut” and “that’s a wrap” for him. He was a 24/7 kind of guy.

Doesn’t it make sense? Doesn’t it make you feel better? That guy mumbling to himself off in the corner isn’t crazy, he’s prepping for Scared Convict #3. And the woman with the stumbling, fast walk while looking over her shoulder isn’t flighty or paranoid, she’s up for Stalker Victim #5. They’re all method actors.

Um, still, it’s best you steer clear of Gang Member with Switchblade or Man with Spittle Running Down Side of Chin. Let’s not take our guard down altogether.


Blogger trinamick said...

What about the weird schizo lady that had her baby in the toilet? Oh, she's just auditioning for Asylum Crack Whore #2.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Spirit Of Owl said...

"You wouldn’t have caught Lee J. Cobb with a nose ring."
Come now, surely that depends on your ranching skill? :)

Never done jury, but I guess it's a strange old business. I love that people are dressing up for it. If you want to wear a suit, great! I can dig that. I'd want to wear one of those hats... I forget their name... Anyway, on the other hand, if you want to wrap yourself in violet washing line sprayed with canned cream and hung with hand crafted mahogany cheese graters, well, you're clearly a maniac but damn, get on with it if it trips your switches! Welcome to the free world... LOL

1:38 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"Oh, she's just auditioning for Asylum Crack Whore #2."

I'd cast her in a second.

Spirit, it's the cheese grater guy that gets picked to serve on a jury in this country.

4:20 AM  
Blogger Mona said...

I love being witness to eccentricities in our world. Thank you for describing your jury duty experience and the possibility that there are many method actors among us...and thanks for visiting my site, too!

11:53 AM  
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