I was eating molten cheese, the kind that comes out of a spout, from Taco Bell.
I was a high school senior, hopeful actress, crashing at my father’s business partner’s pool house on weekends so I could attend back to back Friday/Saturday acting classes at the Bobbie Chance Studio.
I’d drive my Mazda Navajo with the broken A/C, windows down, up the 405 freeway toward that strip mall unit in the valley, blasting tunes from the walkman hooked into my stereo by one of those little cassette tape’s with an aux cord.
I’d sweat under hot lights, letting my “animal” out, travelling the gambit of emotions from laughter, to panic, to tears at my teacher’s behest, then hit the drive through on my way back to dad’s bud’s poolhouse and fall into bed with a bag of Taco Bell.
A day’s end reward.
I was going to be an actress.
In class, I’d often ask to work on scenes from the movie Gia. I’d been enthralled by the film, captivated by Angelina Jolie’s raw performance as a queer addict. I wanted to be an actress with that kind of grit. I still don’t know if requesting scenes from that particular film, which were primarily scenes between women, was an attempt at understanding the mind of a junkie, because my mother had been one, or to avoid being paired with and groped by male scene partners who were double my age and came from backgrounds in porn.
Then again, it may have been an excuse to kiss a girl, to embody queerness, under the guise of acting.
We’d rehearse scenes pulled from filing cabinets, crumpled scripts worn by sweaty palms, along those beige stucco-strip-mall-hallways on the second floor, then put them up in front of the class, scenes often being worked into 2 and 3 in the morning.
A coveted rehearsal space was the glass elevator facing the street where actors could have the privacy to run their scenes at full volume. That was only until the cops had been called too many times on scenes that involved violence or guns. A pedestrian had spied a scene from the sidewalk and called again to report an assault. Back to the stucco hallways we went.
Anthony would walk me to my car at the end of the night. He was from Queens, NY. He was ten years my senior and made me feel safe for no obvious reasons other than I thought he was exceptional at acting and ran the check in desk where we handed over $25 cash at the start of the night. He was kind, blunt, funny, his come ons were tinged in humor, and always seemed to tell the truth even when it pissed people off. Over decades, we’ve remained unlikely friends.
Bobbie Chance’s husband Larry’s deep bellowing voice would call out commands from a directors chair in the back of the theater while chewing on a cigar and drinking enormous bottles of black tea. I remember being able to see his bushy grey mustache from my place on the stage when he told me to say the line again — this time to the lights.
In brief moments I felt like a real artist with real talent.
I’d get back to the pool house in Sherman Oaks around 4am with a bag of Taco Bell and sit on the bed in my panties facing the mirror, eating nachos while shaming myself for eating such naughty food so late at night. Would an actress do this? Or would they swallow the diet pills? I did both.
At school, I carried a thick book on breaking into the business of acting, highlighter in hand, I snuck my walkman headphones on beneath my hoodie. I was failing my economics class, missing often in order to complete my training at the hotel where I’d been hired. Securing a survival job as a restaurant hostess felt more important, more practical, more economical for my future than grades.
My friends were studying for the SAT. Not me.
I was going to be an actress.
The women in acting class being invited to the weekly showcase* for producers had toned legs, excellent cleavage, and all wore clothing that occasionally resulted in nip-slips during movement exercises. These women were often assigned Sharon Stone’s infamous scene from Basic Instinct in which she sits in a chair in a dress with her legs spread while being interrogated. I noted the way the men in the audience leaned in and covered their boners regardless of whether these actresses were any good at acting.
Bobbie’s favorite scene to assign to women she deemed uptight was the scene from When Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm while sitting at a table in a diner. I watched countless women perform this “role of a lifetime,” faking an orgasm on that make-shift stage. Hadn’t we all already perfected this in privacy of our bedrooms in the company of men?
It felt somehow redundant.
I was to believe that good acting meant sexual confidence.
I was once sent to the corner of the stage to make out with a man in front of the audience for half an hour while another scene was in progress and wasn’t to be let off the stage until it felt real* to the spectators.
Eager to please my teachers, I wore “my shortest skirt and fuck-me-heels” to the showcases as the voicemail on my phone instructed and shut my mouth.
I was going to be an actress.
I attended those showcases for producers for a couple of years. I was cast in couple of roles in horror films. I played a stripper in a club taken over by vampires. I was eaten by a monster while hooking up with a boy in the woods. I was cast in a comedy about a magic shirt from the 70’s that made women instantly strip off their clothes and jump the bones of the man wearing it. I had a couple of meetings* in bars in which being cast in the next Quentin Tarantino movie was dangled as a possibility in return for sexual favors. I declined. Oh — and I scored an agent who controlled how I styled my hair and often insisted I rehearse my sides with him at his apartment in the evenings before he could guarantee I officially had the audition.
By then I was sharing a bedroom with my best friend in an apartment in Hollywood where I’d acquired my first stalker, and where despite being under age, we could order weekend liquor to be delivered to our door in trash bags from Pink Dot.
I was a kid spending my days in the aisles of the Samuel French bookstore on Sunset with my nose deep in Shanley, Rebeck, Lorca, Williams, Chekhov. I rented every movie Meryl Streep had ever done and wrote essays about them for my own pleasure. Just to quench a thirst, a need to be studious, or perhaps simply to consider myself something more than a pig on a spit for consumption, and to keep the flame of my intelligence, my love of stories, burning.
I still have an affinity for liquid cheese. And for storytelling. And for salty chips late at night while my best friend and I ponder queer art as a remedy for defying the patriarchy. Bed-time cheese if you will — let’s make it sound Chekhovian — why not. Sounds more romantic but it’s essentially the same thing going into your mouth. Cheese. In any form — queso, sharp cheddar, quesadilla, brie on sourdough, I like to eat it, book in hand, like a little mouse, before tucking myself in for the night.
I don’t eat it in front of the mirror anymore.
I don’t wear short skirts or fuck-me-heels anymore.
I still get lost in the aisles of bookstores.
I still kiss girls,
I feel happier.
I feel less hunted.
I like my legs more.
I like my head.
And the stories that live there.
I use my voice more.
I question instructions.
I’m no longer waiting.
I’m no longer sitting
on a stage
with my legs spread,
waiting for some man
in a suit
to come along
and give me my career.
I’m not an actress anymore.
But I am an actor.
with an appetite
and a human body.
I’m still an artist.
And I’m still eating cheese before bed.