dog days. 1 : the period between early July and early September when the hot sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere. 2 : a period of stagnation or inactivity
Growing up, I hated summer. Weird, I know. What can I say? I just really loved school, and summers always seemed to bring with them an extra loneliness, a sadness. I also wanted to be a nun, though. So maybe that tells you everything you need to know about me as a kid. Even more than a nun, however, I wanted to be the Virgin Mary. I had a pink, faux-satin nightgown and matching housecoat set, trimmed all over with white lace, which I would wear (no matter if day or night), laying the housecoat over my head and tying the sleeves under my chin as a makeshift veil. I had a little plastic bottle of holy water that allegedly came all the way from Lourdes (although, for all I knew, it had really travelled no farther than someone’s kitchen tap), and I would sprinkle it ever-so-delicately on my wrists like it was Chanel No. 5, and I was the Queen of Sheba. Once readied, I would glide around the house on the balls of my feet, hands clasped in front of me, making a show of benevolence (and making my parents wonder, I’m sure, how the hell their middle kid ended up so weird). It gets weirder, though: whenever I misbehaved—or even thought about misbehaving—I would relegate myself to a time-out. In our house time-outs took place in the conversation pit, a little open nook set a bit down and off from the living room, and whenever I was feeling particularly guilt-ridden and masochistic, I would march past the rest of my family, all together in the living room, straight down to the conversation pit to sit and think seriously about what I’d done—or what I’d thought about doing.
Now for the big twist ending: I did not, in fact, end up becoming a nun, nor did I end up becoming a virgin mother. In fact, the closest I got to being a virgin anything was remaining one for twenty-two years. I grew up, lost myself, found several men (and a few women) along the way, and well...the rest is history (as was any notion of joining the convent). What I actually ended up becoming was a waiter. The thing about being a waiter (one of many “things” really!) is that no one dreams of becoming one when they grow up. Now, of course, there are lots of jobs like that. After all, for better or worse, we can’t all grow up to be the proverbial ballet dancer or astronaut, and still, we all have to make a living, or so society tells us. However, there’s a particular sort of depressing hopefulness (or is it hopelessness?) about being a waiter, especially in Los Angeles—everyone assumes it’s a meantime job, a little something you’re just doing on the side while you’re “becoming” something else. Waiters in LA are often treated as a sort of generally unhappy, pitiable, replaceable, searching bunch of folks.
And now I may as well just admit it—I’m an actor. Or at least, I was. I have a BFA in Theatre (so you know I’m either very serious or very dumb—or both). As we’ve established, I was a strange, shy kid, but when—at sixteen—I discovered acting, it was like getting that letter to Hogwarts, like looking down one day and seeing tits for the first time, like meeting a superheroine alter ego I would’ve never guessed was inside me all along. I loved theatre. Getting my degree proved difficult, however. By the age of nineteen, I was bingeing and purging so frequently that I had to drop out of the university I’d attended for only a year and move back home. I got a job as a barista at a Barnes & Noble (where I stayed for five years) and dabbled in community college and community theatre. When, several years later, I transferred to the university and theatre program from which I would eventually graduate, I breathed a sigh of relief (you’ll recall: I loved school).
The program was hard work—some of the hardest I’ve ever done—but it’s also one of the things of which I’m most proud. Once I graduated, however, I found myself drifting once again—literally, as at the time, I was crashing on couches, putting off the inevitable, before finally biting the bullet and officially moving to Los Angeles. Most of my classmates had already done it, and it seemed like the thing to do. Without school to moor me, life was one long, interminable summer (and you’ll recall: I hated summer). So maybe it’s not such a twist ending that—fast forward six years almost to the day, and—I’m still spinning my wheels (only figuratively, of course—bumper-to-bumper traffic doesn’t allow wheels to actually spin here). Don’t get me wrong—I’m grateful for a certain amount of success in LA. I’ve done some delightful plays and some indie films; I’ve met some wonderful people (who might’ve proven even more wonderful had I allowed myself to actually get close to them); I’ve stopped crashing on couches and have steadily—if only modestly—increased my income each year; and somehow—perhaps most auspicious of all—I haven’t gotten a single parking ticket in nearly two years.
But that exponential increase in income has been from bouncing around odd jobs (bikini bartender, barista—three different times—cocktail server, and—most recently—waiter). It has not, in fact, been from acting or writing or anything else that I once imagined. In fact, I quit auditioning about two years ago and began to focus solely on waiting tables. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, I had become so afraid of requesting time off for auditions or—every once a blue moon—gigs I’d miraculously booked, that I simply stopped requesting off at all. Restaurants are highly competitive, and I didn’t want someone to come and take my place, so after a while, I simply refused to move—even though I didn’t at all like where I was.
Every day that I put on my little black apron, I put on with it a heavy coat of shame. And then, I felt ashamed at my shame (why, yes, I am your basic ex-Catholic, thank you very much) because what—did I think I was better than waiting tables? Let me be clear: there is absolutely no inherent shame in waiting tables. It’s honest (and sometimes even enjoyable) work, and I’ve met phenomenally talented and good people who do it. The shame I felt was, of course, pure, unadulterated ego—the feeling that I “should” be doing “more.” I know...what a lame, bullshit construct of society, right? But even so, deep down, all BS aside, what really broke my heart was that I couldn’t shake the feeling that I could be doing more. Nevermind “should.” I could—if I wanted to—and I wanted to, I really really did. I was drowning in a dark, dank well of untapped potential. I’d always dreamt of somehow melding passion with money to make one brilliant, elusive thing called “a career.” I’d never personally known anyone who’d actually done it, but still, I was hopeful.
As I continued to wait tables, however, year after year, as I continued to make it not just my living but my very life, I felt as though my chances were slipping by. I was afraid of everything: requesting off work, quitting my job, losing money, investing in a dream, even defining my dream—it all terrified me, catapulting me smackdab into indecision, which is where I’ve made my home ever since. But now, a true twist ending (or, perhaps...a beginning?): one Saturday in March of this year, I went to work, like I always did, and was scheduled to work the next day, Sunday, like I always did, but I never ended up making it to that shift—the restaurant didn’t open Sunday, and it hasn’t opened since. See, pandemics apparently don’t care that you’ve been at a job for almost five years, ever since they opened their doors, or that you worked hard to be the first promoted from host to server. Nor do they care that, over the course of those five years, you sacrificed almost everything in the name of getting more shifts, then better shifts, then the best shifts, fighting tooth and nail for your place there. I suspect pandemics probably don’t even care that the whole time you were doing all that, you actually thought you were doing the right thing; after all, you were being responsible. In short, pandemics don’t offer immunity even to those of us who’ve insisted on playing it safe all our lives, shoring up against every real and imagined disaster.
And here we are, five months later, right in the thick of summer—still my least favorite season, although I’m not sure why. For me, there’s no longer a school year to tearfully end or another on the way to eagerly anticipate, but still, whenever June rolls around, so too, like clockwork, does that old, familiar melancholy, that loneliness, that feeling that everyone is at a party, and my unwritten invitation wasn’t even lost in the mail. This year, however, summer feels almost nonexistent (for obvious reasons), and yet, lockdown—to me—has felt like endless summer. The solitude, the isolation, the boredom, the anxiety are no longer specific to a certain season, are no longer specific even to me. Worse still, we don’t have our good old standbys—like the school year or jobs—with which to distract ourselves. There is so much loss. More than perhaps we can even imagine. There is sickness and dreams on hold or given up altogether and heartbreak and fear and loneliness and death and uncertainty. There is a feeling of time standing still but also hurtling forward into the unknown. There are all these things, and also: there is forced radical change—for myself, certainly, but also for our nation and our world—perhaps for the better, perhaps not; in every case, it remains to be seen.
All I know for certain: had none of this happened, I would still be working as a waiter at a restaurant that didn’t want or value me, ever forcing myself into the conversation pit of my own making, my life in a perpetual state of time out. Honestly, I don’t know if I ever would’ve worked up the ovaries to leave there of my own volition. But in the end I didn’t have to. Is that a blessing or a curse, a little nudge in the right direction or one of the worst things to ever happen to me? All I can say is I’ve written more in the past three months than I have in three decades. I’ve somehow—surprisingly, wholly unexpectedly—fallen in love with lifting weights. I’m getting bigger, with visible muscle in the same places where I once desired to see only skin and bone. I’m also more sober than I’ve been in more time than I care to admit. I am—literally and figuratively—stronger than ever. It’s not my intention to sugarcoat what’s happened here, what’s still happening, to leap hungrily to the good and bypass the bad—my own or anyone else’s. But, as with all things in life, the truths are many—and often conflicting. I am a would-be nun who ended up an ashamed—and then, a proud—slut. I am a would-be actor who ended up a hard-working—and then, an out-of-work—waiter. I am a would-be writer who ended up...well, who knows? There’s really no telling. Life can change overnight, as easily as Saturday transforms into Sunday, and oftentimes, we think we’ve ended up—when really, we’ve only just gotten started. And while summer may feel interminable to me, the truth is, for better or worse, it’s nearly over—as all things hard and interminable always are.