Filming in Bishop, CA.

I have such a cushy place in my heart for student films. I worked on one with several talented MFA students at Florida State University before I moved out here (you can watch the film here) and became good friends with everyone. Now they let me come around their house and do my laundry in their garage. It’s a beautiful thing we’ve got going.

About a year ago, I auditioned for another thesis film at Loyola Marymount University by a young writer/director named Kelsey Taylor. We ended up not working together on that project, but a month or so ago she reached out and asked me to audition for another thesis film. She had written it with her friend and director of the film, Chris Jones, and she was also producing. I wanted to audition to begin with, but after I did a little searching and found the film’s Indiegogo campaign, I thought, “Damn. I really want to do this.”

Luckily, they wanted to work together and a few weeks later Chris picked me up in a U-haul full of equipment. We drove two and a half hours through the LA rain to the mountains. The van had no tape deck or CD player, so we listened to the radio. The only station playing by the end of the trip was the local Christian station. So we just listened to C-pop and laughed about the fact that we were listening to C-pop.  Shared experiences bring people together.

Filming took place in two different small, California towns:

Trona …

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And Bishop.

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Bishop is one of the coolest places I have ever worked in. We had to hike everywhere to get to our shooting locations…

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…which were equally as gorgeous as Bishop itself – like this old pump house. We had to hike a mile and a half into the gorge just to get to it:

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And the crew? Awesome. All of them. If anything had happened and we were trapped in the mountainous regions of California for an unknown amount of time, I feel like we would have made it until the rescue helicopters finally found us without killing or eating each other. And then we would joke about it later.

Chris’s parents, who were lovely and brought down a fully equipped RV/horse trailer to cook meals for the cast and crew (his parents are pretty much the best), hiked down into the gorge to bring everyone lunch on the final day of filming.

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Here’s more of our hike. I took so many pictures of people carrying things becuase if I was hiking down into the gorge with expensive equipment, I would probably die of anxiety before I reached the bottom.

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It was 30 degrees in the morning when we started the hike, but it warmed up.

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We would stop periodically to grab shots and various crew members would have to grab footing wherever they could find it.

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We shot along the actual 395 South highway as well. It crosses the huge water pipeline that brings all the water to Los Angeles.

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And the crew ate together in gorgeous locations like the side of the cliff that overlooked the gorge.

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The film centers around an aspiring young writer, Jake, and the beginnings of his journey to find something that inspires him. He meets a young woman named Casey who is about to see some big changes of her own and their chance encounter leads to a day that inspires them both.

This is Cole. He played James! This is us goofing around in the truck where much of the film takes place.

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Actually, the whole experience was pretty inspiring.

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I’m putting together a little video blog about it, too. Staaay tuned.

 

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I re-cut my reel. And it’s pretty awesome.

Check it out!

Jas Sams Demo Reel from Jas Sams on Vimeo.

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“Your cousin wants to be a writer.”

My cousin wrote me through Facebook to tell me that her daughter had decided that she wanted to be a writer. Not just a writer, though: a screenwriter.
“What do I tell her? Do you have any advice?” she asked.

I hesitated to say anything at all. People tend to smirk when someone with little to no accomplishment attempts to give advice.
“Who does she think she is and what right does she have to say anything on the subject at all?”

To be honest, they’re mostly right. I’m not much of a working writer – though I would like to add “yet.” I get freelance gigs here and there. I have been lucky enough to get some of my plays into a couple of playwriting festivals.  Some very nice people read a script that I wrote and decided to make me a finalist in the Sundance Screenwriting Lab (along with a bunch of other talented people.) I have never sold a screenplay and I have never worked in a professional writing room. That’s not to say that I won’t. But in terms of giving advice, I feel as though I have learned more about I should have done. She’s still young and who knows if she will want to be a writer in a few years, but I’m going to assume that she’s got the bug in a bad way. To say that it’s tough to be a working writer is a huge understatement, but she can help herself by writing and developing her tastes and talents in the meantime. Therefore I’ll attack my answer from that perspective.

In addition to the given, which is write all the time, here’s what I have to offer. I’m about to use words like “her” and “you” interchangeably. Look at me, already being a bad writer. Here we go:

1. Encourage her to watch films. All kinds of films. A person cannot be a great playwright if they don’t see theatre and, similarly, they cannot be a great screenwriter if they do not watch films. I actually considered myself a cinephile, except then I met a real cinephile and they could discuss themes, plot, structure, and characters on a level that I had never dreamed of. She should love film and be able to engage in intelligent and passionate discussion about it.

2. Encourage her to read film scripts. She needs to get a feel for flow and formatting and the earlier, the better. You can find drafts of films online for free. I encourage her to read them like books and then watch the film with the script in hand to compare.

2a. Download Celtx and encourage her to start writing scripts! It’s free scriptwriting software. It’s what I use and I love it.

3. Encourage her not only to write every day, but also to draft. You can’t just write one draft of a script and call it done. Scripts go through multiple drafts before they are anywhere near ready for production. I haven’t gone through this program personally, but I have heard nothing but wonderful things about Writers Bootcamp. It may be a worthwhile investment down the road.

4. Encourage her to COLLABORATE, especially if she wants to write for television. Get her into a sketch writing class if one is available. Get her into activities that require her to utilize her creative and critical thinking skills in the context of a group. If she wants to write for television then she must be able to sit at a table with at least five other writers to complete a project. She needs to learn to take criticism and notes from others. I’m awful at collaborating. Trust me when I say that it’s incredibly important.

5. Encourage her to start a blog and put her writing out there. Tumblr is what the cool kids use these days, but Blogger and WordPress are great as well. I don’t know how big social media is in your house, but Twitter is great. It’s an exercise in cleverness and prioritizing to get a great line or joke across in 140 characters. Twitter isn’t just for weird fankids that use “u” instead of “you.”  Get her to follow other writers on Twitter. I’ve only recently started doing this and I find it to be incredibly motivating. (I’m kind of obsessed with Katie Dippold right now. Her twitter is here: https://twitter.com/katiedippold .)

6. The only reason that it would be advantageous to go to college for screenwriting is if she got into a good school in New York or Los Angeles. You go to college for the connections and the network of alums. Otherwise she should move to LA or New York at some point or another and start working. Find a mentor. Get an internship or work in an agency mail room. Just get something that can lead to introductions or possibly a gig as a writer’s assistant. Who knows, that “something” just might be college. It’s just an expensive route to get some contacts that you could make without racking up some serious debt that you may never be able to pay off.

That said, it’s not a bad idea to go to college; it’s just that the expense outweighs the necessity. Most film programs don’t teach you about the actual business. They teach you how to make a film. If you choose to go to college for film or screenwriting, then try to go to a school in LA or close to LA. For those of us who don’t know as much as we should, being out here in the environment is the best place to learn. Learning, establishing contacts, making friends, and working your way up the ladder takes time. So the sooner you get out here and start grinding, the better. That’s just my opinion, though.

7. It would be advantageous for her to start reading publications like Variety, Hollywood Reporter, and Deadline.com at some point. It’s important to be knowledgeable about current events in entertainment. She needs to know the names of prominent and up and coming writers, producers, directors, production companies, etc. I can say, from mortifying personal experience, that it is embarrassing to lack that kind of knowledge in a conversation with someone who knows way more than you do. You are only giving yourself an edge by staying knowledgeable. If anything, then it’s simply nice to know what the hell people are talking about.

8. Professionally speaking, her own progress and success should be her #1 priority. One of my flaws is I get this weird “mother bird” instinct and I keep a lookout for opportunities for friends. I love them and I want them to do well! Yeah, well. I have been in positions where I solicited advice for others instead of myself – when I should have been worried about myself. Your friends will find their own way and if you can help them then definitely help them, but always make sure you can stand on your own two feet first. You get what you need and you learn what you need to know.

9. Be careful of the negative things you say. Once you get here and you start shopping yourself around, you don’t get to complain about shows or films or people anymore. Didn’t like that new sitcom on the fall line up? Sorry. Gone are the days where one can say, “Yuck, I hated that show.” Instead you must think of a classy way to hint at your true feelings. Better yet, try to avoid saying negative things. They get in you. They affect you. They affect the way that you affect others. Always, always ere on the side of positivity. Try to avoid saying anything bad about another person. Not just because everyone here talks and no one can keep a secret – but because it will help you be better.

10. Learn to cultivate healthy, working relationships with people in the industry. Don’t act like a fool or speak of your problems or mental flaws in front of agents, managers, producers, etc. Don’t let them even suspect that you have nothing less than a fire under your ass at all times.

They should see you like this:

Not like this:

They should never know that you do this. Ever. My personal experiences have made me a HUGE advocate of the philosophy, “Never show them anything less than your best self.”

10. Encourage her to submit to play writing festivals, screenwriting labs, and various grant and scholarship programs. Summer writing programs are amazing places to go out, connect with other artists, learn from amazing teachers, and get collaborative and life experience. And tell her not to be afraid of those rejection letters. Everyone will get rejection letters. You will read fellowship winning scripts that have three typos on the first page and you’ll think, “HOW?”
And that’s how it goes. Sometimes things don’t make sense and they aren’t fair. That is why you should take each rejection with a grain of salt and continue to hone your skills – because you know who didn’t get rejection letters? The one or two people who won and the countless individuals who didn’t even try.

These are the things that I wish I had known to do early on. I think I was ridiculously ignorant to this industry. Even now I tend to look at the business like it’s a great big zoo and I’m on a school field trip, trying to figure out how the guerrillas get their movie made. The problem is I can’t get up to the glass to interact with and learn from them, so I make due by reading the Animal Facts! boards outside the Guerrilla house. Tourists with disposable income and children whose parents bought them Fast Passes, however, can get as close to the guerrillas as they like. Actually, that’s a fantastic metaphor for Hollywood. It’s a crowded zoo in June and unless your dad works there or your parents purchase endless Fast Passes, you must figure out an alternative way to overcome the disadvantage of being nobody in particular. It’s possible, but you have to work harder than everyone else, be extremely lucky, and/or find some way to squeeze gaps the system without making people hate you.

And that’s all I’ve got (as of right now.) Be nice. Be kind. Be classy. Have opinions, but don’t be hateful. Be a good person. Be knowledgeable. Be social. Be resourceful. Know how to prioritize. Know how to see through the bullshit, but become good at recognizing when you have to put up with it. Put up with it gracefully, but not for any longer than you must. That’s what you can be doing to cultivate yourself as an artist and as an individual.

And once she’s old enough to start running toward a career, if that is what she chooses to do, then THIS article will prove to be extremely helpful.

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VIDEO MONDAY! Working through new material.

I have been writing and work-shopping new standup material for the past four weeks as part of Judith Shelton’s stand-up class.

Judith is one of the most delightful teachers I have ever had. If you want to start doing stand-up and need guidance, or even if you already do standup but just want to work on some new material, then I highly recommend her.

At the end of the four weeks she puts together a showcase for the students and they invite family and friends. D was the only person I could get to go on short notice, but he was nice enough to record my set for me on his phone. Sorry about the shakiness and picture quality.

One thing I loved about her class was how supportive she was of performing more as a character and less like myself. When I started stand-up at open mics, my friends would often say, “I don’t understand why you act like such a girl onstage.”

In a way, I understand what they meant. I have trouble presenting myself as a feminine woman in every day life. My priorities need work. If you showed me a table with a gift certificate to Nordstrom and a two month supply of Cool Ranch Doritos and said, “You can only choose one,” then I don’t know what I would do. You might then put a timer on and say, “Tick tock, Jas. Tick tock,” and I would turn around and viciously scream,
“YOU HAVE NO IDEA. NO IDEA AT ALL! STOP IT!”

It’s not just my priorities. It’s my surroundings. My male to female friend ratio is all out of whack. Don’t get me wrong; I love having the equivalent of a bunch of brothers. However, I can’t go out with them and act the way I imagine I would around a bunch of girls. I don’t get many opportunities to go out and dress up.

With that in mind, I came to class in semi-clean jeans and t-shirts and delivered my material in a low key, low energy fashion. It worked for some bits and pieces, but it’s definitely a style that I need to work on more if I ever plan to do a set like that for an audience. I touched on some dark stuff. When you deliver dark material in a glum or serious way, it can alienate people.

It wasn’t until the final class exercise, which involved experimenting around with different styles of comedy and delivery, that I decided to femme it up a bit. It actually went well.

So, hey. If I can take things up a notch in my stand-up and push out all my suppressed femininity on stage, why not?

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Absurd Answers #1

Around half of all acting classes and workshops have a point where someone asks you whose career you would model your own after. You basically go down a line, a circle, or whatever seating situation you find yourself in and take turns talking about crawling inside someone much more successful than you.

~

“Who’s career would you want yours to most emulate?”

“Well, to be honest, I think that James Spader’s would be a good candidate.”

“May I ask why?”

“He found unconventional love with Maggie Gyllenhall, lawyered about Boston and eventually married Shatner, and he’s Ultron? Is this really up for debate?”

“What makes you identify with James Spader?”

“For starters, we have both used fake surnames inspired by geographical locations.”

“Robert California was a character on the 8th season of The Office.”

“Correction: Robert California was the greatest character in the last ten years of all television, not just The Office.”

“So you also played a character who used one of the 50 states as a fake last name?”

“Well, no, but I did go through a four month period where I changed my last name to “England” after my insane ex started showing up on all my social media feeds.”

“What?”

“It’s true. He didn’t let me see my family or my friends for a year. He would also punch me in the face whenever we had intercourse. Insane.”

“No, no. You changed your last name to England?”

“Yeah. On the internet.”

“And this makes you feel connected to James Spader.”

“Yes. If I could have his exact same career, I would take it in a heartbeat.”

“You do realize you’re a woman.”

“Ugh, please don’t say woman.”

“But you are.”

“Woman sounds too much like wolf man. I just can’t do it.”

“You are being silly.”

“I am actually being quite serious. Woman disagrees with me – phonetically.”

“Who are you?”

 

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I’m sure many of you have seen the viral video making the rounds. A woman walks around New York City for ten hours and records all of the unsolicited catcalls and verbal attention. To the people who propose that some of the men were actually being “nice” or “polite,” I ask that they imagine the scenario reversed.

I do not walk down the street and verbally address complete strangers. This isn’t 1904. I do not expect a man to tip his top hat in my direction and say, “MISS! GOOD DAY TO YOU!” so as not to offend the social norms of polite society. Society has become less polite. Way less polite.

These days, I only talk to a stranger on the street if it makes sense. For instance, I might notice that we are both wearing the same outfit or carrying the same bag. I might accidentally trip and decide to decide to make a big deal out of it in an effort to save face. I might get caught up in their dog’s leash. I will ask if I can help if someone looks like they might need assistance – and I very much appreciate the same kindness from others. I will talk to a stranger provided there is an action that inspires interaction.

If that happens then I might say something to the effect of, “Whoops!” or, “Yikes!” Then I might follow up with a, “Have a good day!” I mean, I’m not an asshole. At that point it would be odd if I said nothing. That said, I fervently believe that the aforementioned scenarios drastically differ from calling out to a strange man or woman with minimal to no eye contact and forcing an interaction upon them.

I recently went to San Francisco for a 10 day streak of work. I walked extensively throughout the city and in addition to the random assaults by the homeless, I experienced my fair share of uninvited attention.

“Hey, pretty!” someone said to me. I stared ahead and kept walking.
“Why don’t you smile?” another person asked. I stared ahead and kept walking. When they realized I wasn’t going to turn around and flash a little grin, he called out, “Hey! I said why don’t you smile?”

Again, I didn’t say anything.

I wish that I could describe with words exactly how I feel when I stare straight ahead and pretend that I didn’t hear anything. It solves nothing. It doesn’t silence the person who called out to you. Why do I have to stare straight ahead and continue on my merry way as if nothing happened? Something did happen.

We have been taught to ignore the remarks. If we address them, we are just asking for a fight. We are asking for violence. Well, I refuse to believe that I’m the crazy one because I feel like I am doing myself a disservice when I turn deaf ears to rude men who call out to me. It’s maddening. You want me to smile? And just who the hell are you?

A couple of days later, I was walking back to my post from my lunch break. A young man with long blonde hair and a face made to market hemp milk said, “Sup, sexy?”

At first I ignored him. Once I made it up three steps or so, however, something snapped. I felt so angry. I didn’t want to just “ignore it.”  I turned around and said,

“Hey! Don’t talk to me like that.”

Suddenly I felt a little less powerless. Don’t talk to me like that. It’s so simple. It’s matter of fact. You aren’t flying off the handle at anyone; you aren’t swearing or threatening anyone. You are simply letting a person know, in very simple terms, to not address you like a sexual object.

The next afternoon another man called out the same thing to me. Without looking up from my phone, I said,
“Do not talk to me that way.”
“I was just trying to give you a complim-”
Do not talk to me that way,” I said again, slowly and authoritatively.
“Why you gotta act like that?”
Do not talk to me that way,” I said, icily, still checking the e-mail on my phone.
The man walked off, muttering something about how he was just trying to talk to me.
It didn’t matter, though, because I did not want to be talked to.

There was no need to look at him. He wasn’t entitled to my reciprocation.

And as I got onto the bus, I felt so much better than I would have felt had I pretended that I never heard him.

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YOLO and Driving.

YOLO?

I .. am never driving with you again.

For years I have joked, “Oh, I’m just going to die in a car, I just know it,” because I’ve had a few fender benders and more than my fair share of close calls with pedestrians.
But I have now realized that if I continue to date you, I will legitimately, literally, actually die in a car.
I have stayed quiet for a year, but you nearly killed us because making sure that I knew that the guy behind us being the worst human on earth was more important than remembering to COME TO A STOP BEFORE SLAMMING INTO THE CAR IN FRONT OF US.

It doesn’t MATTER that you remembered at the last second anymore! When you stop a car that fast, it is STILL possible for me to fly through the windshield like a goddamn lawn dart.
Driving with you is so physically jarring that it makes me regular.
How in the actual hell am I not supposed to crap my pants when you make a short stop less than an inch away from a Lexus?
How many times are we going to stall out or jolt forward in the middle of Olympic and San Vicente at rush hour before you admit that, yeah, you should have gotten an automatic?

If your driving doesn’t kill me then this… constant stream of commentary on other drivers and their road fuckery sure will. From the second I get into the passenger side to a few minutes after I get out, it’s constant nagging and constant bitching about left turns and cut-offs and how so and so must be a terrible person because they’ve got a BABY ON BOARD sticker and truck nuts on the same vehicle.

PEOPLE WILL ALWAYS MAKE LEFT TURNS WHEN IT IS INCONVENIENT FOR YOU, THEY WILL NEVER STOP CUTTING YOU OFF, AND PEOPLE WILL CONTINUE TO MAKE TERRIBLE LIFE CHOICES. This is not new. You are not the only man to have ever been personally victimized by asshole drivers. You’re just as much of an asshole driver when you skate that fine line between accident and vehicular manslaughter in the name of making sure that the universe knows what a dick that guy is.

God, it makes me want to distract you on purpose so that you actually will wreck the car and finally quit your bitching, but it’s my fear of dying that keeps me quiet.

And just so we’re clear: YOLO is not the correct response to a near death experience. The correct response is YOYO.

You’re on your own.

 

*Yoyo to “you’re on your own” was thought up by the father of one of my classmates. I only wish I could have thought of it first!

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According to the science that is my own experience with my body, I have concluded that working amongst of thirty thousand female marathon runners took a dramatic toll on my cycle and overall emotional well being.

Here is my evidence.

1. This series of text messages:

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That’s right. When my significant other let me know that they remembered to move my car on street sweeping day without being reminded, I sobbed in public.

2. I almost fought with a staffing agency representative.

I have never, in my life, behaved anything but cheerful toward a promotional staffing agent. That said, this staffing agent started the promotion by sending out a blanket e-mail that used lots of CAPITAL LETTERS and BOLD PRINT and ITALICIZED PRINT and UNDERLINED PRINT and RED PRINT.

She used no tact whatsoever in e-mails or basic human interactions. She addressed us as if we were felons in the special needs wing and she was our dominatrix warden. Look, lady, I get that you hired most of your staff from Craigslist, but when you treat complete and total strangers like that, it makes me want to ACT LIKE THIS ALL OVER YOUR RUDE FACE.

I mentally checked out when I arrived to my final shift at 4am and didn’t hear so much as a, “Good morning.” I was sick and also reeling from an alcohol promotion that I decided to work at the same time for some reason (edit: I am poor.)

Under normal circumstances, I would roll my eyes and chalk it up to the nature of the business. In the presence of thirty thousand jacked up female athletes, however, I transformed into a confrontational wreck with a penchant for passive aggressive revenge and what therapists refer to as “Intrusive Thoughts.”

3. My body perpetually feels like I’m inside a running microwave.

I shouldn’t have cramps for another week and a half. The stiffness in my chest feels like it’s crushing my lungs. My arms haven’t stopped shaking since my second shift. It’s difficult to breathe. I feel like I annoy everyone. I feel like people hate me. Nothing makes sense. Why is this happening?!

4. Since returning to LA, the benefits of a shower cannot compare to the vast amount of energy it would take to shower, so I have just compromised and soaked in the tub instead.

5. The same exact thing happened last year when I worked the same event. (Sans staffing coordinator problems.)

In short: I think that when I am around such large numbers of women, especially when they are worked up to perform an act of extreme physical strength and endurance, my personal cycle is pulled in so many different directions that it completely wrecks my body chemistry.

I will be binge eating pastries and completing my cycle of nonsense in the corner if you need me.

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I have got to start moving away from working promos.

Sounds funny coming from the person who said, “I’ll pass out one million free pairs of sunglasses before I fetch one more saucer of ranch dressing for international tourists – or wait another table in general.

The side hustle among side hustles has gotten old. The gig that I just worked gave me night terrors about my future. Dreams where I woke up in the body of a sixty year old woman and ate old cheese on toast while I scoured the darkest regions of Craigslist for staffing companies who would hire an old lady with no traditional job experience. Think of the stereotypical elderly Vegas cocktail waitress; with deeply ingrained wrinkles, a raspy voice, and a disposition that makes you drink your watered down gin and tonic and appreciate your retail job that much more. I was weathered, alone, and completely unfit to do anything except show up to a random address and beg strangers to take free key chains. These are the night terrors of a college graduate who makes a living telling people how walk in a line. (FYI: It’s always to the right.)

Without going into too much detail, I worked back to back events in San Francisco this past week and a half. One was fantastic and well run, with the sweetest women in the world handling the staffing coordination. The other was a prime example of why “Those who can’t do … teach,” has become, “Those who can’t do anything … promo.”

It got to the point where I was on the verge of losing my voice to a combination of screaming and fending off a sinus infection. In my Sudafed fueled stupor, I observed the oblivious crowd before me and watched in horror as they all blended together into a colorful, amorphous blob.

I turned and looked over at “Mr. Pep-Guy,” a promo lifer near the entrance, jumping up and down and screaming into the air like a silverback guerrilla, high fiving everyone who tried to pass him. If they didn’t want to high five him, then he found a way to high five them anyway. He had been doing this for eleven hours. He was pissing me off with his blind enthusiasm and he was pissing off consumers because he was screaming at them to get in line without telling them what they were getting into line for.

“You really should tell them to make sure they have the correct buttons to scan,” I said, trying to push him without being overly condescending.
“Yeah yeah I hear you, but the agency said to get them pumped and to make sure they see as much of the event as we can! Gotta funnel ‘em in, funnel ‘em in!”

He was the worst kind of idiot: if the boss said dance, he’d dance and be the best. If the boss said yell, he’d yell and be the loudest. If the boss said, “Now make every single one of them get on their knees and wait as you make your way down the line and shoot them execution style,” he’d do it and sparkle until the very last one.

I turned my gaze back to the crowd, now doubled in size, and to the promo worker at the other line who was literally standing there and swinging their arms in front of the entrance, causing a huge traffic obstruction in the process.

“Oh my god,” I whispered, “I am surrounded by morons.”

It’s easy to become jaded over the way I make the majority of my money.
“My brain is turning to rot,” I say. I have become so paranoid about my mind. I suffered a head injury a couple of years ago and certain things haven’t been the same. Factor in a job that rarely requires any kind of critical thinking skills and constantly surrounds you with people who are absolutely fine with that and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a train wreck.

However. That is a very negative way to look at it. That’s a depressed way of looking at it.

A sane person sees promo work as a means to an end. Promo work is what keeps me out of restaurants and bars. Promo work is how I have met some truly awesome people and a great connection or two. Promo work pays the bills. Promo work makes sure that Taxi cat gets fed. Promo work is the reason that I have a limited edition Conan O’brien Celebri-duck.

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True, my venture in San Francisco ended on a sour note. However, I must remind myself that I am fortunate to be able to make ends meet by doing this.

Also let’s be honest – I do have a morbid fascination with collecting Sedaris-esque material about my jobs and my life. I also enjoy coming up with new and interesting ways to describe the world’s worst.

Silver linings.

What about you? Do you have a day job or a side hustle that you fear might rot your brain?

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San FranPSYCHO.

If you had asked me 24 hours ago how I would respond to a homeless man attacking me, I probably would have said something like,

“I’d defend the shit out of myself.”

Because what woman doesn’t want to be in control when faced with danger?

Who actually wants to admit that they don’t have incredible self defense skills? I grew up imagining that deep within my soul lived a secret ninja whose physical prowess rivaled that of the Power Rangers. Watching them every single day counted as training, right? I sure felt that way when I was seven.

Some people store visual information in such a way that it seamlessly translates to physical expression. Case in point: dancers who can watch a routine, practice it once or twice, and then perform it mark for mark. Maybe those lucky souls can watch a few episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger and master the round house kick, but I have never been so lucky.

The first fight that I remember losing happened at Emmanuel Episcopal Church. I got into a scuffle with this kid Andy – a boy whose rough and tumble disposition probably had nothing to do with the fact that his father regularly picked him up by his head. Like this, except Andy’s head obviously remained attached to his body:

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I forget how the fight started or what it was even about, but I remember that it ended when Andy slammed my head into the cement. I remember seeing a white flash and then Andy, sobbing in the corner while a small group of adults and older kids tried to get him to say what happened.

I have gotten into physical altercations off and on throughout my life, but rarely anything that called for skilled hand to hand combat. Then I took the night bus to San Francisco.

The trip was fine. I rode in the double decker MegaBus – which I totally admit to being excited about. We arrived in San Francisco at 7am and I started my short journey to the Moscone Center area on foot. A homeless man walked briskly past me and then slowed down about six feet later. He abruptly turned around, pushed me, and walked back the way he came from. He startled me, but I decided to keep walking and picked up my pace.

Then I heard loud stomping noises behind me. I turned around and there he was, too close for comfort. I stopped and looked at him. He mirrored my expression. I tried to walk around him. He blocked me. I tried to keep going. He followed even closer. Finally, I said,

“Please stop.”

He walked closer to me. I made eye contact with a passing jogger – the kind of eye contact that says, “Please. Help me.”

The jogger kept going.

The homeless guy then lunged at me, kicking my suitcase and swinging at me, saying,

“You better watch where you’re going, lady!”

I wish I could say that I didn’t start crying, but I did. I was about to push my suitcase at him and stand my ground when the jogger circled back.

“Sir!” I yelled to him.

The homeless man looked at us both before taking off down the street, his pace a bit more hurried than before.

“Are you OK?” the jogger asked me.
“Yes, thank you.”
“I’m so sorry for not stopping earlier. I couldn’t tell if you were trying to signal me or what.”
“It’s OK.”
“Where are you going?”
“The Moscone Center.”
“I think you’ll be OK, but I’ll walk you if you want.”
“No, you’re right. Thank you for coming back.”
“No problem.”

I dislike the fact that I cried, but I felt so many things at that moment. The fact that the man pushed and chased me in the first place, the fact that he felt that he could get away with assaulting me, and the fact that he only left me alone when another man got involved left me feeling shaken and stirred. San Francisco has a reputation for a gregarious homeless population. What if he had bit me? What if he had meth-strength? He couldn’t have been younger than 50, but drugs can make even a gaunt pile of flesh and bones like a jacked up teenager. What if he had managed to get a good swing in? He certainly tried.

Perhaps I should rethink that improv class and take Krav Maga instead. I know that I technically didn’t “lose” this one, but if I were put into the situation where I could possibly lose – and very, very badly – I would prefer to emerge the winner.

EDIT: A woman also tried to push me into the tracks of the BART train two days after writing this. I have no words.

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