"Dear, I have a wonderful idea."

Now, I don’t know about you, but whenever a wife speaks this sentence, the wise husband should double-check that his wallet is still in his pocket and then sneak out the back door. In the past, I’ve experienced this sentence several times. On one occasion, it resulted in getting signed up for a couples yoga class, which eventually led to a week spent in traction at the hospital. Another time, that sentence plunged me into the horrifying world of ballroom dancing, complete with a month of expensive lessons under the tutelage of a lisping Spaniard named Diego. Several Tuesday evenings of watching Diego slink about the floor with my wife, teaching me, so he claimed, the language of the tango and the rhumba and the cha-cha-cha, inspired me to teach him the language of the straight right to the jaw. I’ve always considered that a man doesn’t marry a woman in order to watch some other man–particularly a lisping Spaniard named Diego–put his paws all over her in public. Anyway, I digress.

"What did you say?" I said, peering over the top of my newspaper at my wife.

"I have a wonderful idea."


"My old friend Myra Gluster–you remember her, don’t you?–just joined the Westside Thespians. Isn’t that exciting?"

"Good for her. I guess that goes to show you can never be too old to join a street gang. We should visit her in prison sometime. That’d be a fun outing. I’ve always wanted the kids to experience a prison. It will inspire them to do well in schools and not take drugs."

Jill punched me in the arm. She has sharp little fists that seem to hammer right through the muscle and into the bone. I winced.

"It’s an acting group. They put on plays. They’re thespians."

"Ah, that explains her moustache."

"They’re actors, you idiot."

"Show me an actor and I’ll show you a fruitcake."

"I’ve signed us up. The next meeting is Saturday night."

With that, my wife chose the better part of valor and vanished from the living room.

"What?" I roared, jumping out of my chair. I was too late. Jill was gone. I heard the screen door slam shut and my wife yell, "I’m going shopping!"

Dinner that night was a tense affair, even though my wife had cooked an amazing meal. I sulked my way through delectable pot roast, steaming baked potatoes loaded with butter and chives, and a green bean casserole swimming in a sauce that seemed to be mostly composed of white wine and succulent bacon grease. If there’d been a pool of it big enough, I would’ve pulled on my swim trunks and dove in. As it was, I contented myself with monosyllabic grunts through the duration of the meal. Monosyllabic grunts are my own special variation on the silent treatment. They allow a fairly flexible amount of vocal expression while still preserving the power of non-communication. If you haven’t tried that tactic before with your loved ones, I highly recommend you do so.

"I got an A on my poem in English class!" said Jenny in an impossibly cheerful tone of voice. "Ms. Givens say I write just like Maya Angelou!"

"That’s wonderful, darling," said my wife. She turned toward me and spoke louder. "Isn’t that wonderful, dear? Your daughter got an A on her poem."

I refrained from pointing out that I’m not deaf and that I would rather read my obituary than any so-called poem by Maya Angelou, but I contented myself with a single "Mmf."

"I can recite it if you want," said Jenny. "Can I?"

"Please do," said my wife.

"Please don’t!" said my son Tom. Tom is sixteen years old and a good chip off the old block. He knows what’s what.

"Don’t be rude," said my wife. "Go ahead, Jenny."

"Hmph," I said, expressing my view that poetry and pot roast do not mix. In fact, poetry doesn’t mix with anything. Poets are weedy, listless fellows who can’t get a job, slouch about wearing berets, and think their so-called poems will somehow gain their scrawny pale bodies entree into the beds of the opposite sex.

Jenny closed her eyes. "Blue skies are so blue. Blue like paint drying on the barn. But the barn is painted white. White like the lambs sleeping under blue skies. Oh, I wish, I wish I could wish, but all I dream of is lambs sleeping under blue skies." She paused and then whispered, "sleeping under blue skies."

There was another long pause and then she opened her eyes.

"Please tell me it’s over," mumbled Tom. "My brain hurts."

"My brain hurts," echoed our five-year-old, Ben. He giggled.

"Stop that, both of you," said my wife. "That was lovely, dear. Very nice."

"Mmf." I tried to work the necessary meaning into my grunt to communicate that, while I normally disagreed with the domestic policies of Josef Stalin, I did agree with his long-standing rule of exiling poets to Siberia.

"The assignment for next week is to write a poem about love." Jenny clapped her hands. "I can’t wait! That’ll be so fun!"

"Fun like gangrene." Tom rolled his eyes.

"Stop it, Tom! I’m warning you!" My wife glared at him.

"What’s gangrene?" said Ben. "Can I have one?"

"No, Ben, you may not."

"Why not? Tom says it’s fun."

The dinner did not go well from there, meandering from an impromptu and factually incorrect lecture on gangrene by Jill, a one-sided discussion by Jenny about who was the hottest guy on the basketball team, a monologue by Tom about the rock band he’s starting with his best friend Fog (what kind of name is Fog?), and an announcement by Ben that he had something stuck in his nose.

I wandered out into the backyard after dinner to grump at the lawn and scowl at the row of fruit trees I’d put in last year. They grew plenty of leaves but seemed disinclined to produce any fruit.

"What’s eating you?"

Murdock peered over the fence at me.

Murdock is our next-door neighbor. He’s an unusual guy and he knows a lot of stuff that most people don’t know, such as how to make a mortar from common household items, or where the best places are to get fake IDs. I’m not saying I need a fake ID, but it’s interesting to hear him explain the process. I’ve never been able to figure out what Murdock does for a living. He often disappears for several weeks at a time and then will reappear with a tan or wearing an enormous handlebar moustache. I figure he’s either some kind of criminal or he works for the government. These days, there isn’t much difference between the two, so I’ve never bothered asking.

"Jill signed us up for a theater group," I said. "You know, one of those amateur actor things."

Murdock recoiled like he’d been shot. "I once went out with an actress gal from Santa Monica. One of those blind, deaf, and dumb dates. She spent the whole evening talking about how her psychoanalyst was helping her find her inner child. I don’t know if she ever found her inner child, but she had definitely found her inner psycho. Halfway through dinner, I went to the bathroom and crawled out through the window over the toilet. That’s my advice to you. Once you and Jill go to that theater group thing, say you have to go to the bathroom and then escape through the window over the toilet. If you have to leave Jill behind, hey, that’s the fortune of war. She’s an adult."

"That’s good advice," I said thoughtfully. "Maybe I’ll do that."

"Or, if there’s no window, then just swallow your tongue. It isn’t hard to do if you concentrate and sort of relax the muscles in your throat. It’s a Zen thing. They’ll call an ambulance when you go into convulsions. The EMTs come, whisk you out of there, and you’re home free."

I was in a pensive mood when I went back inside. Murdock had given me a lot to think about. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I could swallow my tongue. It just seemed too big. Escaping through the bathroom window, however: now that sounded doable.

Ben whopped me with a cushion when I walked into the living room. For only being five, he’s smart, and he knows when I’m in a bad mood. Starting a pillow fight is his version of group therapy. Before I could react, Tom and Jenny were slinging pillows across the room too. Cushions and feathers flew. After everything died down, the kids wandered off to bed, still giggling. They’re good kids, even though Jenny sometimes has that goofy female thing going every once in a while. She gets that from her mother, I suppose.

"Hey, you."

I turned. Jill poked her head out of our bedroom door. She beckoned to me.

"Guess what I was shopping for today," she said.

"Hmph," I said, communicating that whatever it was, it was probably too expensive.


She stepped into the hallway and turned a slow pirouette.

Have you ever seen one of those old cartoons where the rabbit sees something he really wants, like a giant carrot or Marilyn Monroe? His eyes bug out, his jaw drops, and he makes an AH-OOGA! noise like a Model T horn. That’s pretty much what I did when I saw what Jill was wearing. I’m not exactly sure what she was wearing, but it was abbreviated, somewhat see-through, and probably wouldn’t be the sort of clothing you’d pack for an Arctic expedition.

Now, the one problem with the cartoon rabbit metaphor is that a few seconds after his eyes bug out, the rabbit usually gets whacked on the head with a big hammer. That’s pretty much what happened next for me.

Jill slammed the bedroom door shut. I heard the lock click.

"You’re sleeping on the couch until you agree to join the Westside Thespians," she said through the door. "Sweet dreams."

I did not sleep well that night. Or the following night. On the third evening, I waved the white boxer shorts flag of surrender. However, as I’m not some sweaty-fingered fellow, huddled in his basement and breathlessly writing smut under a pseudonym like Kitty Deluxe or Veronica Swallowes, I decline to go into the subsequent details of that night. I am, after all, a gentleman.

"Well, you’re looking smug," said my wife the next morning.

"Oh?" I said smugly.

"Don’t forget that tonight is our first Westside Thespians meeting."


The Westside Thespians met in the fellowship hall of the local Episcopal church. The location made me even more nervous. I was fairly certain that whatever play the Thespians were planning on performing, Jesus wasn’t going to like it. And if Jesus didn’t like something, I figured he had a lot of creative tools at his disposal, such as calling down lightning or having the Assyrians invade or things like that.

"Stop sulking," said Jill as we got out of the car. "I can handle it when the kids sulk, but you’re a grown man!"

"I’m not sulking," I said. "I’m just getting into character."

A tall, good-looking guy with wavy blond hair was talking in a disturbingly animated way when we walked into the room. About twenty other people were seated on the floor around him in a circle. The tall guy stopped talking and looked at us. He smiled. I disliked him a lot already. Everyone else turned and looked at us as well. I found myself disliking all of them already too.

"Hi, friends!" said the blond man, waving at us with both hands. "I’m Maurice. You must be our newest members, the Potters!"

"That’s right," said my wife, smiling. "I’m Jill. This is my husband, Frank."

"Let’s give Jill and Frank a big Westside Thespian welcome!"

Everyone cheered and applauded and whistled. Myra, Jill’s friend, patted the carpet next to her. We sat down beside her in the circle. My knees cracked and popped. I was forced to nod and smile stiffly at a fat, Russian-looking woman sitting on my right due to inadvertently making eye contact with her. She immediately began staring at me with interest.

"All right, fellow devotees of the stage," said Maurice. "Where were we? Oh, yes! Inspiration! Inspiration is that deep, deep well we all have inside of us. Actors have a deeper well than other people because we need so much inspiration to power our stage personas. Other people, such as plumbers or bank tellers or businessmen, really don’t need inspiration. Our wells are places of unique and vital individuality. Our wells can be filled with different things. Some are full of peace or love or nice, warm memories. It doesn’t matter what your well is full of, but simply that it is full. That fullness is what we use to inspire our acting. We draw from our wells. We let down the bucket of our souls, we pull them back up, brimming full of inspiration. We drink deep like hummingbirds sucking down the nectar of the gods. Don’t forget that."

Maurice smiled benignly down at everyone. "Okay, people, let’s take a moment and close our eyes. Close your eyes; breathe deeply. That’s it. Breathe in positive energy, breathe out negative energy. Now find your well. Find that deep, quiet place right inside of you. Stand on the edge of your well with your bare toes dabbling in the water. Take a big breath. Now jump into your well. Go on. You can do it. Do a beautiful, graceful swan dive right down deep into your well."

I didn’t bother closing my eyes because I already knew about my well. It was full of the beef tacos, guacamole, and refried beans we had had for dinner. Besides, I was curious to see how the rest of the people in the group were reacting to what Maurice was saying. He was obviously a lunatic of the profoundest sort. I had suspected it when I first saw him, as I am a good judge of character, but it is always nice to see other people agree with me. I was shocked to see that everyone, even my traitorous wife Jill, had their eyes closed. Most of them had goofy expressions on their face. Some of them looked deliriously happy. Some looked kind of drugged.

"Everyone found their inner well?" said Maurice. "Excellent. Now, let’s share what we found. Denise, what’s in your well? Don’t be shy. We’re actors. There are no wrong answers. There are only positive answers."

"My well is full of peace," said Denise. "Thick, warm peace. It’s just so gooey and warm and it makes me feel tingly all over. I love it!"

"Very nice. Joyce, how about you?"

"My well is full of rainbows," said Joyce. "Lots of rainbows with all different colors, and some little unicorns dancing in slow motion. They have braided manes."

"Wonderful," said Maurice, nodding in approval. "Gordon, you’re next."

Gordon was a short, stubby-looking man with thick glasses. He blinked and licked his lips. "My well is full of beautiful women dressed in black leather. There’s also a lot of peanut butter and chocolate too."

I looked at Gordon in fascination. He was obviously no crazier than any of the others, but I was impressed that he made no attempt to hide it.

"Excellent," said Maurice. "Harriet?"

"My well is full of a world with no men," said Harriet, glaring at Gordon. She was a stern, somewhat rectangular-shaped woman wearing a shirt that proclaimed GRRL POWER! in red capital letters. "The only men in my well are serving life sentences in prison without parole."

"Very nice," said Maurice. "A captivating and powerful inspiration. Beautiful. Myra, you’re next."

"My well is just brimming with positive energy," said Myra brightly. "Really positive vibrations. I can feel them flooding over the top to heal the world of racism, animal cruelty, and clear-cutting in the Amazon. They’re so positive! It just made me shivery all over when I dove in!"

"That’s fantastic. Jill, you’re on."

"I suppose my well is full of good memories," said my wife hesitantly. "Memories of my kids, and my husband, and growing up."

"That’s lovely. Frank, how about you?"

"My well is full of beef tacos and refried beans."

There was a brief silence in the room after I said this.

"Your well is full of beef tacos and refried beans?" said Maurice.

"Yes, and guacamole. Though I think the guacamole is going to be the first to drain out of my well, if you know what I mean."

There was another moment of silence as everyone in the room attempted to digest this. Jill stirred restlessly next to me.

"Very inspiring," said Maurice, looking serious and nodding slowly. "The famous British actor, Sir Leslie Paunceney, wrote in his memoirs that he drew inspiration from blood pudding for his lead role in the play Baboon Love. What a moving performance that was! Not a dry eye in the house when I attended. Svetlana, you’re next."

"My well is full of sweat."

After we finished going around the circle, confessing how crazy we all were, Maurice had us pair off in twos.

"Partner up with someone you don’t know," he said. "You’re all going to enjoy this exercise. Come on. Don’t be shy!"

The fat woman next to me, Svetlana, turned her head, sort of like a tank turret slowly cranking around to sight its gun on a fresh target.

"We shall be partners," she said in a deep rumbling voice. I was right. She definitely was Russian. Her accent sounded like that villain from one of the old James Bond movies. The guy who was always petting his white cat and trying to destroy the world.

"Um, okay," I said, wondering a little about her well full of sweat. Was it her sweat or someone else’s sweat?

"One of you shall begin the exercise in each pair," said Maurice. "That person says the first sentence that comes to mind. Say it quickly, without thinking. The other responds with their own sentence, just as quickly and without thinking. We call this Popcorning in the acting world. Go back and forth until I say stop. Ready? Begin!"

Svetlana gazed at me without blinking. She licked her lips. To be honest, she intimidated me a bit. She probably outweighed me by about eighty pounds. I wasn’t completely convinced I could take her in hand-to-hand combat, particularly if she fell on me.

"You shall be first?" she said. She had an odd way of speaking. English obviously wasn’t her first language, not with that Russian accent of hers.

"Is that your first sentence?" I said.

"That is your reply, yes?" she said.

"Uh, okay. I guess so. Go ahead."

"I am feeling hungry," she said.

"I would’ve never imagined that," I said, stretching the truth a bit. Well, okay, a lot.

"Your beef tacos intrigue me, yes." Her eyes bored into me.

"They do? Well, they’re all gone," I said, inching a little away from her.

"The beefier the better, that is what I say."


"If I see them, I want them."

"Well, that’s the beauty of capitalism. You can buy what you like. There are a lot of tacos for sale in the world. It’s a renewable resource."

"If I see them, I take them," rumbled Svetlana.

"Er, yes, I suppose you could just steal them. You Russians really aren’t into capitalism, are you?"

"Just like that, I shall take them."

"I doubt anyone would try to stop you."

Thankfully, that was when Maurice suddenly clapped his hands and announced that the exercise was over. I could feel sweat beading on my forehead. Svetlana gave me a long, thoughtful, and somewhat hungry look before turreting her head away.

"Wasn’t that fun, honey?" whispered my wife.

"Now," said Maurice, "I trust that you all feel limbered up emotionally and spiritually by our Popcorn exercise. It’s so refreshing! Before we end this evening, we need to discuss the options for our first play. Isn’t this exciting, everyone? Cheer if you’re excited! Yay!"

Everyone cheered, except for me.

"As the director of the Westside Thespians, I’ve taken it upon myself to select three wonderful plays that we can then choose from." Maurice beamed happily at all of us. "I know you’ll love them all, but we need to pick one to work on for our upcoming performance. The three plays are equally powerful and moving affirmations of life, brave and unflinching in their uncompromising examination of love, loss, and the fragility of human relationships."

I don’t know about you, but whenever I read reviews that use phrases like "brave and unflinching" I know a film or play is going to be incredibly boring and will also include someone taking their clothes off. The phrase "affirmation of life" in a review means the story will feature at least one suicide. The word "uncompromising" used in any sort of sentence means the scriptwriter is a moron and has a literature degree from an Ivy League school. For my money, if you want to see a good show, whether a play or a film, find one that all the reviewers hate.

"The first script," said Maurice, "is called Hello Death My Lover, and it’s a charming story about a sexually repressed man who decides to commit suicide on the anniversary of his first kiss. The second script is called Concrete Flowers Deux. I really love this play. It’s about the metaphysical longings of a frigid suburban housewife and how she unflinchingly lays her soul bare to the blindness of society. The third script is a real beauty. It’s called Sing Songbird Sing, and it’s about a deaf girl who must deal with her burgeoning sexuality while she cares for a suicidal artist who finds inspiration and symbolism in the transient nature of middle-class ennui."

Maurice paused to smile benignly at us all.

"They all sound wonderful," murmured someone.

I wasn’t sure who spoke, but they were definitely crazy. To me, all the stories sounded like complete garbage. As I suspected, two out of the three involved suicide. The other story sounded so bad that I’m sure plenty of audience members would be contemplating suicide in order to escape its awfulness. I knew I would.

"Let’s do Sing Songbird Sing!" said one woman. "I can really identify with the deaf girl and her burgeoning sexuality."

"Does Hello Death My Lover involve chocolate in any intimate ways?" asked Gordon.

"Which play has a great deal of nudity?" rumbled Svetlana. "We shall do that play. I am comfortable with my body."

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