How Did It Go

Pre-Audition

“I was told an hour ago that forty-four extras were coming to audition for 5 parts.” Suzanne Massingill of Barefoot Models and Talent tells the thirty five guys in the room, most of them standing.

A small white board on the wall read:

USS INDY SAG-AFTRA Auditions

Shoot Date Starts June 19

Have your Head Shot

Hearing a song playing softly in the background, I felt the “Radioactive” testosterone in the room. Hell I was radioactive. Nervous Excited. Explosive! Despite all the stress, I could have proudly worn my nephew Zach’s “I pooped today” T-shirt. We were all, well, they were all a handsome well-groomed group of guys, but we were cramped in our own flatulent filled higgledy piggledy office scene bubble. Even the military guys, both active and retired, were tense. So tense, one guy said, to no one in particular and everyone who arrived after him, “If you’re on time, you’re late.”

All the tension was an indication of how badly we wanted to be a part of the first big screen movie to honor the men and the memories of those who served on the USS Indianapolis.

Shut the front door! That’s what I would have told you if I didn’t see Hannibal Pictures producer Richard Rionda Del Castro and director Mario Van Peebles walk in through the same door I did. Van Peebles, a little shorter than I expected, was the Lenny Kravitz of LA Law or was he the Ice-T of Law and Order? I’ve seen him and that captivating smile on a couple of episodes of Nashville recently. Yeah, men of color get gigs on a show about country music. And I don’t think he’s even related to Darius Rucker.

The producer came out of the room, not to make a curtain call but to welcome us. He said, “I’ve been trying to make this picture for 10 years.” He went back through the door, or as I like to call it the portal to Hollywood fame.

Suzanne called the first name on the list.

“He left,” someone said. Great, I thought, one less person to contend with.

I looked around and saw five guys wearing shorts. Limbs intact.

I watched how people were walking around the room. No amputee I’ve ever met walks perfectly. There’s usually a hitch, a leg whip, or a limp. Nothing obvious, but some can hide it pretty well. Still, nothing as glaring as me in my cargo shorts. The carbon fiber and titanium catches the eyes of Suzanne, several hopeful extras, and most importantly, the producer.

The guy to my left was called and came out smiling after being in the room less than thirty seconds.

The guy to my right was in there for like an hour, but it was really just minutes. After a couple muffled rounds of laughter he sat back down next to me with two pages from the “shooting script.”

Audition: (more than 15 seconds but less than 120)

It happened so fast I couldn’t even describe the room I walked into. I only wanted to answer their questions without puking or farting from my mind’s gastrointestinal excitement.

I walk in and shake the hands of four people including “Rick” and “Mario.” The producer asked questions like Rambo going all M-60 on Hope, Washington.

Producer: How old are you?

Alan: 47, but no Military experience, I’m a born amputee. (Cool! I wanted to work that in)

Producer: That’s alright, can you swim?

Alan: Lifelong swimmer, taught by a lifeguard (True story)

Producer: We’ll be shooting lots of scenes in a large water tank, any problems with prolonged periods of time in standing water (My Dances with Wolves name is Stands without a Leg…in Water)

Alan: No I’m a floater too. (Did I really just say that? Yep, me and the Baby Ruth in Caddyshack and oh, BTW happy 30th anniversary to The Goonies)

Producer: Any problems being in the water with actors around you?

Alan: No (Really? Is this a question someone wanting a part as an extra would say yes to? Says the guy who is two degrees from Nicolas Cage and Kevin Bacon)

Mario: (pointing at my prosthesis) How far down does your real leg go? (Stump: The Librarian knows this one)

Alan: About six inches below the knee.

Producer: Okay we’ll be shooting with actors behind you, in the tank.

Alan: I know the story, I read In Harms Way. (I didn’t have time to say I was a librarian or that I never would have known about this story  or been so fascinated by history without the movie JAWS)

Producer: (to assistant) Take a headshot

Mario: (to iPhone holding assistant) Get his leg! (You had me at hello, Mario)

Producer: Em, yeah, a full body shot.

Mario: Thanks for coming in.

Alan: (with a half smile to Mario) Thanks for the opportunity.

Alan: (eye contact with producer) I really hope to hear back from you. (No one will cooperate more fully with the animatronic sharks than me)

Producer: (eye to eye with me) You will.

Post-Audition

I still haven’t heard anything from the casting director of USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, but it’s only been three days. No matter the outcome, the experience has been amazing. While I wait, another opportunity to be cast as an extra showed up on my radar, but it wasn’t quite right for me because I actually have a leg to stand on. If you’re interested, there is a horror film being made in Alabama by Legless Corpse Films.

 

Do You Want to be an Extra?

Extras

Two weeks ago my brother posted a link to an article from the Press Register on my Facebook page about a movie being shot in Mobile, Alabama. They put out a call for extras and for amputees for USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage starring Nicholas Cage, directed by Mario Van Peebles, and produced by Richard Rionda Del Castro.

Immediately after reading the article, I sent an email with head shot and full body shot of me reading Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel with my prosthesis planter.

Audition

Yesterday, I received an email from the casting director for an “audition request.” The local casting director wrote, “You have been specifically selected to meet with and speak to the producer and director about the scenes in which they may want to use you.”

I’m familiar with the history of the USS Indianapolis. I remember reading a great book about it called, In Harm’s Way, by Doug Stanton. As an aside, our Fairhope Library Nonfiction Book Club voted to the read book. We will be reading it early next year, just a few months before the movie is scheduled to premiere.

I’m nervous about the audition and excited about the opportunity. Whatever comes of it, I’m heading over to Mobile tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime wish me luck, maybe I’ll get a leg up and catch a break.

When Does Your Summer Begin?

Monday

“Summer’s here.” That’s what people down here are saying now that the temperatures are approaching 90. There’s no better way to kick off the summer than a concert with my wife Susan after her last day of school. 

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Tuesday

I went back to the Teen Department to see how my boss was doing with the updates on Windows 8.1 touchscreen. That’s when I saw the magazine cover out of the corner of my eye. Those flowing locks, hair parted smartly down the middle, and the Leno-like chin looked familiar.

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Weird Al is Mad Magazine’s first Guest Editor ever. He’s on the June cover with Alfred E. Neuman. Tickets are still available for the Hard Rock show, and he’s touring all summer. If you can’t get to a show on his World Tour, check out a Mad Magazine.

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Capture

This was in my notifications this morning. Thanks to my readers for following, joining, and staying with me over the last two years.

Are You Wasting Time? Or Learning?

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Here’s my alter Leg-O. The website (+) has many pirate-themed parts to build your Picture Yourself in Plastic Mini-Mizer but unfortunately, no one-legged options. It should be included in the book I’m reading right now. My wife Susan bought it for me at her school’s Scholastic Book Fair. 100 Ways to Waste Time is actually a project-based learning tool kit for middle school students. I’m discovering that it is suitable for all ages, and especially for anyone who has been hanging on to their imagination/daydreaming gifts. The book is written by Tim Bugbird, according to Amazon, but his name could also be an answer to a time-wasting exercise in the book. The trifold book includes a flick-able plastic frog, a small book of googly eye stickers, a booklet of time-wasting things to do, and a list of ideas on how to waste time.

Examples you want? (Follow the symbols to see some of my answers.)

  • Think of the weirdest combination of animals ever. (*)
  • Think of five things you would do if you were a ferret.
  • Think of three favorite TV shows you would combine to make the most awesome show ever. (#)
  • Take out all of your underwear and decide which will be your lucky pair.
  • Write the name of the best computer game ever. And, think of three ways to make it even better.

The book even comes with certificates for “Outstanding Time-Wasting.” If any of my readers feel they are outstanding time-wasters I’d love to hear from you. Answer one of my examples or tell me one of your own time-wasting ways.  Please leave me a comment and I’ll post a certificate for you.

Time-wasting is actually great for independent and group learning. Don’t believe me, watch “Build a School in the Cloud,” the best Ted Talk of 2013 by Sugata Mitra. It turns out that what looks like time-wasting to adults can be problem-solving sessions for students, using what he calls Self Organized Learning Environments. Susan learned about the Lego avatar site from a  Simplek12 webinar she watched during school vacation on “15 Free Web Tools for Elementary Student Projects.”

The limited choices meant that my avatar would not look like Metal Beard from the The Lego Movie. However, Susan and I learned  how to improve our avatars by working together. The future of learning, creativity, and real and virtual world problem-solving, will involve computers and the cloud. Like any good game, time-waster, or life lesson, learning will always need two or more players.

+ Click here to create your own Lego Avatar.

* Half Mosquito Eater/Half Anteater

# Scooby Doo, Boardwalk Empire, and House of Cards

Do You Write in a Library?

For two hours on the last three Mondays I was in my element teaching a class on creative writing at Fairhope Public Library.

Nine wonderful library patrons paid the $20 refundable deposit and showed up for “Great Readers Make Great Writers: A Crash Course in Creative Writing.” It was a true crash course as each two-hour session covered creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry.

Creative Nonfiction

In the first class, we got to know each other a little. My students ranged in age from thirty to ninety. The ninety year old is writing a gossip column for her community newsletter. The youngest is a coworker, sculptor, and installation artist. Many were retired, including several teachers, but I also had a stylist from a local salon.

Students enjoyed “Somehow Form a Family,” a personal essay by Tony Earley, and learned some lessons on craft from “On Keeping a Notebook,” by Joan Didion, and “This is What the Spaces Say,” by Robert Root.

The writing exercise I gave them for the first class was to skim through their notebooks, journals, or diaries, find an entry (a word, fragment, sentence, paragraph etc.) that interests or intrigues them and start writing.

“Reading fuels writing,” I said. When we read we are consciously and subconsciously learning and absorbing things we like and dislike. In this way, I believe each writer gleaned something from the readings and incorporated that little something into their writing, whether it was pop culture, a small detail, a setting, or a historic moment in their life.

For the next writing exercise, I handed out postcards from my collection and asked students to write to someone. After they finished writing, I told them to give the postcard to the person on their left. I instructed them to use the postcard given to them by a classmate as inspiration for a fictional writing journey for the next class.

Fiction

The fiction reading list included major amputee characters, a subject near and dear to my own heart.

“The Ironworkers’ Hayride,” from Robert Olen Butler’s collection Had a Good Time, was enjoyed by all the students for its humor but “Good Country People,” by Flannery O’Connor drew mixed reviews, mostly for being a bit too depressing. They did enjoy O’Connor’s ending.

We read aloud Chapter 3 from The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. “The story of a turtle.” I told my students, but it’s so much more. I called it “Steinbeck’s three-page metaphor for living.”

The flash fiction I assigned left most readers confused. Perhaps this was due to my selections, or the newness of the genre. In very short fiction you have to be able to make leaps in the reading and that’s something difficult to do, even for me.

The fictional pieces from postcards, which is how Butler wrote his collection of stories, Had a Good Time, were fabulous.

They used the postcard images (Cape Cod and Tiffin Motorhomes) or the words on the back to write an account and most of them responded to the writer in a letter, but with a fictional spin about blacksmithing, dieting, and traveling.

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Poetry

Students gave mixed reviews on a chapter from The Odyssey, by Homer and translated by Robert Fagles, and the nature poems by Robert Frost.

“Facing It,” by Yusef Komunyakaa and a “Poem Guide” from The Poetry Foundation, is where we spent the most time. Having the guide helped students understand the depth of poetry upon a close reading of a few lines.

In addition to Homer’s epic poetry, the nature poems of Frost, and the ekphrastic poem of Komunyakaa, I chose works from two actual amputees.

“Invictus,” Latin for unconquered, by William Henley was written from a hospital bed after doctors believed Henley, who already had one leg amputated, was at risk of losing the other. They saved the leg, and Henley went on to achieve what I can only dream of. With “Invictus,” he became a one-hit wonder, but to his friend Robert Louis Stevenson he was much more. Henley became the inspiration for Long John Silver in Stevenson’s classic pirate novel, Treasure Island.

Jillian Weisse’s poems of her amputee childhood brought back some memories of our experiences in “Below water,” and some humor in “Holman, Age 10,” from her collection, The Amputee’s Guide to Sex.

Read, contemplate, imagine, think, reflect, write.

Many said writing the poem was the most difficult exercise but they used song lyrics, humor, civil rights, rhyme and repetition to discover how writing is a form of artistic expression.

These never happen in order, but having a few steps to get the creative writing process going is useful to all artists, including creative writers.

I heard recently that creative writing is no longer offered at many public schools. While this saddens me, I would like to keep creative writing classes alive in the public library, an idea that dovetails with my Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing.

Let me tell you how fortunate I am to offer these programs. The leadership of Fairhope Public Library, recently named a “Gold Star” library by the Alabama Library Association (ALLA), encourages staff and patrons to share their expertise, hobbies, and passions with their communities. Sharing knowledge and information is the cornerstone of public libraries and I believe growing these learning, artistic, and continuing education opportunities is the future of public library programing.

Do you agree? If so, check out  Fairhope Library for what’s happening soon (Phil Klay author of Redeployment), and watch the “Events Calendar” for my summer creative writing series. I love sharing what I’ve learned with others, but there’s nothing more rewarding than hearing those voices read writing they have created.

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What Can You Learn From Steinbeck’s Classic?

Our book club, “Drinkers With a Reading Problem” met at Fairhope Brewing on Sunday evening. Thirteen of us, a large turnout for our group, came to discuss John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

Grapes Cover

We agreed to let Betty take the lead for this book. She immediately suggested we go around the table and air our impressions.

Irene talked about Steinbeck’s “marvelous descriptions.”

I mentioned that I had read the book in high school. It’s been thirty years since I read the book, and I explained to the group that the movie “clouded my memories of the book, especially the end.” I praised Steinbeck, as most did, and compared him to Hemingway and Sinclair.

While I could not recollect any memories, feelings, or reactions when Rose of Sharon lets a dying stranger suckle from her breast, many book clubbers commented on the scene.

Bob mentioned that the title of the book was a verse from the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and The Bible. He offered some Midwestern sensibility by suggesting that Rosasharn, if you are from the Midwest sounds an awful lot like rose is sharing, demonstrating the epitome of the word in that final scene.

Bob also felt that the Joads “lost a human scale,” once the tractors arrived.

A newcomer to the area and the club, who had not finished the book, used the opportunity to network. She’s in need of a job teaching High School English.

Judy talked about the significance of the turtle in Chapter 3 and it’s larger meaning for the Joad’s and humanity. She pulled out some notes about the shrub, rose of Sharon, and it’s horticultural properties, many of which aligned superbly with the character traits she was given by Steinbeck.

Betty quoted the scene with Casy the preacher and the roadside burial of Grampa.

This here ol’ man jus’ lived a life an’ jus’ died   out of it. I don’ know whether he was               good or bad, but that don’t matter much. He was alive, an’ that’s what matters. An               now he’s dead, an’ that don’t matter. Heard a fella tell a poem one time, an’ he says             ‘all that lives is holy.’ (144)

Wilson had started to read the book for a second time but got derailed by “the dialect.” He wound up listening, then playing his guitar and singing some Woody Guthrie tunes.

Robert called the book the “consciousness of America during the Depression and the labor movement.” He recommended another book by Steinbeck, Travels with Charley.

Donna praised the novelist for his, “use of description and for the evolution of the characters.”

Suzanne, and a few other, noted how depressing the book was, but empathized with the characters, and so continued to read. Despite these tests or perhaps because of them we read because we all endure.

After we all had a chance to comment we listened to Guthrie’s “Tom Joad, Part One and Two.” I think it was our second Bob, from Kentucky and a fan of Guthrie, who called the song another form of “Cliff Notes.”

I mentioned how the book was banned and how literature transcends the arts as The Grapes of Wrath is told in music, first through Guthrie, then Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” which was covered by Rage Against the Machine, a song I carry with me on my phone.

Elliott, the club’s founding member, selected this month’s book. He arrived late, but quickly dove into the music conversation.

When I left the meeting, I didn’t know what to write about. It was my own fault that I was stumped. I didn’t bring one of my favorite scenes for consideration. In this scene Tom Joad and his brother Al meet a slovenly man with one eye. Tom doesn’t give a crap about his disability. Fix yourself up, get clean, put a patch over that eye Tom says. Then he tells the junk yard man a story.

Why, I knowed a one-legged whore one time. Think she was takin’ two bits in a           alley? No, by God! She’s gettin’ half a dollar extra. She says, ‘How many one-legged           women you slep’ with? None!’ she says. (179)

My regret was not hearing from others about this scene, given that I’m an amputee. After some reflection and distance from our wonderful discussion on a literary classic, I found my notes, and stuck my nose back in the book.

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It turns out that Tom needed to learn that all living things, the turtle, the one-eyed man, and the one-legged whore are all holy.

Then I reread this oft quoted passage where Tom Joad, who is hiding out in his own wilderness, is telling his Ma what he learned from Casy.

Says one time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul an’ he foun’ he                 didn’ have no soul that was his’n. Says he foun’ he just got a little piece of a great big           soul. Says a wilderness ain’t no good, cause his little piece of a soul wasn’t no good           less it was with the rest and was whole. Funny how I remember. Didn’ think I was               even listenin’. But I now know a fella ain’t no good alone. (418)

The wilderness is where we do our thinking, if we are lucky to have the inclination, freedom, and time to do so. You can’t spend your whole life in the wilderness.

I can’t say for sure whether I’ve got a soul when I’m alone, thinking, and wandering around in my writing wilderness. I know I need that time, but I know I can’t stay there forever. I’ve been going to the “Drinkers” book club off and on for more than five years because I enjoy the fellowship.

We need time to be alone and together. Solitude for thinking and public areas for conversation are the fuel for community.

As we were leaving book club, I mentioned that I work at Fairhope Public Library.

A woman said, “I’m in the library four times a week and I’ve never seen you.”

I didn’t say anything, but later on I thought about how the rest of the conversation between Tom and his Ma went.

Next time you come in, look for me, I’ll be there.

Grapes Back