When choosing some sort of creative art as a career, you find out early on that you need to find other employment opportunities outside your field of interest In order to pay the bills. And since I have yet to acquire the fortune that is my birthright, when I lived in Los Angeles briefly, one of those jobs was working background on tv and film sets — also known as being an extra.
As I had no aspirations of being an actor, I’m pretty easygoing regarding my placement in the crowd. Tucked behind tall people? Facing away from the camera? Set in a position farthest from the principal actors? Not a problem. I was glad to be working and I kinda liked being on set and watching the crew set up shots. Other perks include:
- Absolutely no acting ability is required (thankfully)
- Being booked on a series or feature gets me out of the house and breaks the monotony of my average day
- I get to slip into the skins of different people (hospital administrator, construction worker, churchgoer, Muslim, parent, etc.)
- I’ve seen myself on TV three times to date (freeze frame is my best friend)
- The pay could be better (but I’m non-union, so dem’s da breaks)
- Lugging around your own wardrobe (always bring at least two options) on public transportation (guess who never learned to drive?) can be cumbersome
- The hurry up and wait… and wait… and wait… and wait… can wear on your patience, especially later in the day
- Craft services (the snacks and drinks table) for extras is a bit of a dice roll
- And sometimes other background actors. Not all, mind you, you come across some interesting people chock full of stories and experiences who are willing to let you pick their brains… then there are the others.
Before I get to the meat of the nutshell, I need to set the stage. Picture a room that holds one thousand people. Only one person in that thousand is certifiably crazy. Do you know how you’d be able to spot the nutjob? It would be the only person speaking to me. Got it? Good. Let’s proceed.
One time I was on the set of a tv show named Grey’s Anatomy in extras holding (just as it says on the tin — a place where background actors lounge about while they wait to be called to set) minding my own business, when an attractive young woman stood close to me and started speaking. She clearly wasn’t looking at me, so I followed her eyeline to see if she was perhaps conversing with someone behind me. Nope, no one there. So, I assumed she invited her imaginary friend to the set to keep her company, and I shrugged it off.
For the record, I do not discriminate against people with invisible friends as I know full well the difficulty in making and maintaining worthwhile friendships, imaginary or otherwise. That, and I once dated a woman whose older sister was pretty chummy with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Pluto and the rest of the Disney gang, and they would often go on Magic Kingdom adventures in the solitude of her bedroom.
A story for another day.
But this woman kept repeating the same sentence, loud enough for me to hear, but no one watching would ever had accused us of having a conversation. More like we were secret agents who daren’t risk breaking our cover, she was giving me the sign and awaited the countersign.
“You’re not the first one to live in a strange place with strange people, nor the last,” she repeated.
I looked at her. She, however, refused to make eye contact and simply waited for my reply. Never one to resist the urge to poke the mental tiger, I finally said, “Sometimes it feels that way, though.”
The sluice gates were opened and I wasn’t prepared for the rush of conversation headed my way. Among the many topics she introduced:
- How women are Christlike when they menstruate, as they suffer for mankind.
- How she’s happy not to be dancing for biker gangs anymore.
- How pigeons are truly blessed and carry our prayer up to heaven.
- How she gave up selling subscriptions to a specialist magazine for ukelele players because she made a decision not to give up her integrity for money.
- How the government was concealing the fact that chicken fried steak was the cure for cancer.
- How her stepfather used to send Chinese pornography to her Toy Yorkie.
- How July always smelled like shades of red.
- How okra smells like sex before you cook it.
And a host of others I can’t recall at the moment (I’m sure they still haunt the nightmares I can’t remember). Throughout the day, I tried my best to avoid her. Trips to the restroom, striking up conversations with strangers, hiding within crowds of people, but she always managed to sniff me out and made other people uncomfortable to the point they drifted away and gave us space. I had been designated friend-of-mental and no one wanted any part of providing me shelter.
After the scene I was in wrapped for the day, I stood in line for one of the shuttle vans to take me from the set to base camp. Okra-Sex-Smell-Girl was nowhere in sight and as the van pulled up I thought I’d made my getaway. But the Transportation Captain held the van because there was still an available seat. I know I don’t need to tell you who the seat was next to, or who filled it.
Okra-Sex looked straight ahead. To my knowledge, her eyes never once fell on me. I was an entity that only existed in her peripheral vision. “Can you call my ex from your phone, please?” she asked.
“What? No.” Okay, not the best response, but she blindsided me.
“Please? I tried calling him but he won’t pick up the phone, probably because he recognizes my number. I think he’s still mad at me. I just want to make sure he’s okay because my friend threatened to beat him up.”
“Call your friend and ask him if he beat up your ex.” Mystery solved. Columbo was on the case.
“He wouldn’t tell me if he did. He knows I’d be upset.”
I shrugged an oh, well.
“You’re not going to call?” She seemed genuinely surprised.
“Nope. Not happening.” By this time I stopped looking at her, as well, figuring maybe the cold shoulder would silence her for the rest of the ride. As if.
“Hmmm, because not my ex, not my problem?”
“But he doesn’t know you. When he answers, just say you dialed the wrong number or something. Then tell me if he sounds beaten up or not.”
If he sounds beaten up. Under different circumstances, I might have let the exchange play out a little longer, but it had been a long day and I was both tired and hungry, so the best I could manage was, “What did I say? No? Then that’s what I meant,” before I officially checked out of the conversation.
Not that it mattered. Even without my participation, her side of the discussion continued without skipping a beat:
“If you call, I won’t have to stop by his house tonight. You’d be doing me a big favor.”
“You’re so mean.“
“Do you think I should just leave my ex alone?”
“Well, you obviously don’t know what being in love is like.”
“I’d do it for you. Do you have somebody you want me to call? Give me your phone, I’ll do it.”
And it went on like that for the entirety of the trip. When we reached our destination, she smiled, still not looking my way and said, “Thanks, for being sweet.” And maybe it was my imagination but as she walked away I thought I detected a spring in her step, like she’d made her decision on what needed to be done.
For at least a week afterward, I followed the local news for reports of a lover’s tiff gone horribly wrong in a room that reeked of sex… or maybe uncooked okra.
©2014 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys