POV

Published on January 9th, 2017 | by Paul Stroili

2

Don’t overload the cart.

I just broke the escalator at Target®.

As those of you who frequent Target® may know – at some locations they have those side-by-side escalators so you can move a cart full of items from one floor to another. It’s kind of cool, actually – you ride alongside your items like you’re both heading through some sort of merchandising assembly line –  one consumer, the other, consumable  – to be happily united after check out.

There’s also this small feeling of thanks when the machine gently pulls the cart from your grasp.

“Thank you, shiny, escalator – for extending your gentle chrome hand and taking my cart up to housewares and office supplies. It would have been a bit trying to drag this giant, red plastic cart up a flight of stairs. Especially since the 18 pack of Bounty paper towels has pretty much filled it up already.”

So you are grateful for the escalator. Until you break it. Then you hate that shiny, chrome mofo.

The Target of my humiliation.

It was one degree in Chicago today. Yes, Fahrenheit. Having spent the past 20 years in Los Angeles, one degree sort of feels like walking into a Bizarro live version of Disney’s Frozen®, except instead of Olaf leading the way, it’s Dr. Joseph Mengele.

It was cold. But you need stuff, so you go to Target®. Like you do. And looking ahead at the forecast and seeing that today is the warmest day of the week, you buy a lot of stuff. Like a lot of people do.

Like all the people behind me did; the elderly Asian woman, the young Polish couple, the Assyrian family of four – I list their origins and nationalities because – let’s face it – given recent political developments, there was probably already a bit of animosity toward the middle-aged white guy before he broke the escalator.

It was one degree in Chicago today. Yes, Fahrenheit. Having spent the past 20 years in Los Angeles, one degree sort of feels like walking into a bizarro live version of Disney’s Frozen®, except instead of Olaf leading the way, it’s Dr. Joseph Mengele.

Now, just to be clear, I did not break the escalator with conspicuous consumption. I was not so laden with Grey Goose, Nespresso pods, Aveeno Scrub and other white people gear that I broke it. No, it was quite simply – the mutiny of the Bounty.

Apparently, if you put any large item – like, say – an 18 pack of double-ply Bounty paper towels on the bottom of the cart – that helpful escalator hand becomes a gnarled fist of defiance with middle finger decidedly extended.

And as you stand there helpless, with your giant red cart hitching and trembling in perfect sync to a nauseous grinding of gears – you get that same pit-of-the-stomach-terror you get when you flush the toilet at a dinner party at someone else’s house and the water starts to back up.

Oh. Please. Dear. God. No.

Elderly lady, young couple and family of four were not happy. Either were giggling goth teens, bald tall guy, small gaggle of first graders and finally, blessedly… angry, morbidly obese floor manager with giant key ring.

“You can’t put big stuff on the bottom” – He said – “the track won’t grab it.” I offered a slack-jawed nod.  The line of  carts grew behind me, red plastic soldiers parading toward my humiliation. The teens continued to giggle. One of the first graders started to cry. The carts jerky movements intensified from tremor to seizure. I swear I smelled smoke.

“You have to put this stuff on the top.” – He continued.

I just nodded faster.

“Everyone know you don’t put big stuff on bottom.” Elderly woman said.

Say all you want about Chicago street gangs, but there are few things as terrifying as an angry elderly Asian lady holding a large bag of potting soil.

So, as you might expect – the husky floor manager opened the box, hit a reset button and we continued on our assembly line ride.

You might expect that, but you’d be wrong. Because the paper towels were now wedged underneath the cart, and looking far more like a deflated six count than the original eighteen. Floor Manager had to climb under the cart and remove the mangled, shredded Bounty.

I know in hindsight that it was probably only a couple of minutes. But when you’re standing there, in a jaunty cap, scarf and earmuffs, dumbly nodding like a chimp-operated marionette, being cursed by a dozen people – all in their native tongues – time does indeed stand still. I swear getting those paper towels out took longer than saving those Chilean miners.

_______________

So why am I telling you this? Why would you care? This blog is themed around the entertainment industry. What does this have to do with showbiz?

Everything, as it turns out. And as I loaded up my car moments later, the metaphor hit me like a 10 pound bag of potting soil.

Every time I overload the cart, I stop the escalator.

Like most of you, I’ve had some success in this field and some failure. My goal has always been for the former to outweigh the latter.

But in looking back – my successes were when I was singular in my focus – when the cart just had a few things in it for me to pursue.

My failures were when the cart was so full that there was no room for the bounty. When I was trying to do too much, the escalator stopped with a grinding halt.

We get conflicting messages in this industry. The message to be a triple or quadruple threat is good in theory, but very few people are able to do everything better than everyone else. I know I can’t. But then again, I can’t work an escalator.

So I don’t put it all in. For instance, I removed dancing from my basket years ago. Mostly at the request of my agent who was tired of fielding post-audition calls inquiring if I needed medical assistance.

But by removing dancing, I added writing, and a few years ago – directing. And guess what? I went up a floor.

I’m not a multi-millionaire and I’m not famous – but I do work steadily, and I have a very active creative say in my own life. Because after 30+ years on the theatrical assembly line, I know what I do well.  I can sing, but I’m not a singer.  I’m a great comedic actor and a lousy stand up.  I’m past 50 but I’ve got a work ethic that would exhaust two 25 year olds.

So to all of you, especially those just starting out – I offer this humble advice.

Don’t try to do it all. Don’t put forty different head shots up on your website showing how vast your skills are. Don’t learn 20 audition monologues… perfect three of them.  Don’t pad the resume. Don’t claim to do twelve different accents when you can only do two.  Don’t weigh down the cart.

When it’s lighter, it moves faster.

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About the Author

is an actor, director, producer and writer. He has written for Los Angeles Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, NY Blade Magazine, The LA Stage Alliance and Breakdown Services, among others. As a playwright, his work includes Straight Up with a Twist, My Dinner with Arlecchino and Cheese Louise. He lives in Chicago.



2 Responses to Don’t overload the cart.

  1. Rhea Anne says:

    WAHOOoooooooo Abso-F&^$ing-Lutely! That’s it! Pushing, or in your case, stalling a lighter cart makes space for balance…something actors generally, but especially younger ones rarely study – anywhere. We are our instruments, our offering, so if we have done nothing but audition for 5 years we don’t have much to bring to the one audition custom-made for our particular collection of talent, look, experience, and passion!

    Besides the image of you being a jaunty cap-wearing shopper in the bitter cold of our favorite kinda town, your description of the UN live-casting building up behind you made me howl.

    PS The Mengele line did me in.

  2. V Leheny says:

    I believe I recall the story of someone whose ChiTown train-platform experience left an eyelid frozen to an eyeball. And if recollection serves, that resulted in a move to LA. That said, the charms of Chicago tend to tip the scales in it’s direction (at least for some of us). 😉

    And I must say, I love that story/message pivot. Well done – and beautifully articulated.
    No surprise there though.

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