Sunday, December 10, 2006

This guy I know

I know this guy, his name is Jeff. Or Ray, depending on who you ask. Or El-Rock, JD, Jay, Billy or any one of a number of other monikers. I have no idea why his name should be so impermanent. I think of him as Jeff.

I met Jeff at the first rehearsal for my first play out of college. It was the first time I had ever worked on an original script, my first show in Chicago. He was older than me, and working as a sub in "Tony and Tina's Wedding," which was legitimate, paying theater (if a bit on the wrong side of the tracks for a "serious" actor). So right away I envied him a little. I was the youngest member of the cast, and felt like everybody's kid brother. When a horn sounded outside as the first rehearsal was breaking up, I said "Gotta go: my mom's here."

Jeff was one of the eternally easy-going. He loved nicknames, and not just his own. He called me "Matty," "Matty P.," or "Maht News." The last was based on a typo from the original call sheet handed out at the first rehearsal. I'm assuming he didn't put an "h" into any of the others.

We lived, as it turned out, only a block from one another in the barren wastelands of Rogers Park. Since rehearsals were usually in Wicker Park, we began to carpool. We usually took his car, and I can recall watching him as we barrelled down LSD, his cigarette crunched beyond recognition between his index and middle fingers, the filters left in his ashtray crumpled and twisted from the force with which he held them.

The script was called "The Blank Page," by Adam Langer, and I think the whole cast felt pretty lucky to be a part of the production. It was a good, modern script about people working at an indie music magazine in the mid 1990s. I played the editor: a lazy, entitled suburban guy with little to no interest in the articles I had to edit.

Jeff played a bike messenger/photographer named Billy Jay, whose speeches were a beautiful combination of rapid and vapid. The show had a lot of energy from the start, but when Jeff entered everything shot up to maximum.

One night, he burst through the door and circled through the set as usual, coming to a rest by my desk and looking at me. He was supposed to have already said, while approaching: "Pictures, pictures, pictures, boss. I got pictures!" and slapped a folder down, cueing the next line. Instead he just stood there looking at me for what felt like an hour or so, but was more likely about 5 seconds. Finally I said: "Uh, what've you got for me, Bill?" and he delivered the line, and the show proceeded. He repeated that ad-lib back to me for years, dropping his voice to imitate mine.

I wasn't aware that another cast member had an artificial leg until the night I came into the space and discovered Jeff playing air guitar on it, while our friend hopped, single-legged, around the room.

When we later did the film version of the play, Jeff was the one who convinced me to do one of our scenes in Spanish without telling anyone. He had to teach me my lines in Spanish, and if I hadn't screwed them up, it's entirely possible that the final cut would have featured a scene which required subtitles.

Working on another play a few years later, Jeff was giving me a ride to the train station after a performance when a cab slammed into us, sending us skidding out of control along a wintry Wacker Drive, coming finally to a rest just a few feet from the barrier over the river. I'm pretty convinced that if Jeff hadn't burst out laughing when the cab struck us, if he had instead tensed up, we'd have gone over. I was mad at him at the time, though, as he sat there laughing in the stopped vehicle while I sat there dazed, with glass from his window in my mouth.

It was completely like Jeff that, after all the police reports had been filed, with us huddled together drenched and miserable in the back of a paddywagon against the freezing rain, he hired the same cab which had hit us to take us to our various destinations. The cabbie cursed and harrangued us endlessly as we drove, insisting that the accident was not his fault.

There's no special reason for this post. So far as I know, Jeff is fine, and doesn't read this blog. He will turn up in the next section of the map of july history, though, as he was the original drummer. Maybe that's what had me thinking of him.

4 comments:

nmj said...

Some lovely details in here, I like the way you write.

Julia Buckley said...

What a cool guy. I wish there were more Jeff/Ray/El-Rock's in the world.

The Moon Topples said...

nmj: what a lovely thing to say. Unfortunately, I have no money to lend you at this time.

Julia: you and me both, sister. After writing this post, I feel like I should call him. It's been a while.

ian said...

The brilliant part is Jeff hiring the same cab that hit you. Was it more awkward for you or the cabbie? That is so Jeff. And the funniest thing I've read all day. Possibly all week because it is only Tuesday.

ian