(This is the last story in Watch Me, a book you can buy.)
Six days ago, I was fired from Ikea for smoking weed in the back room with Jake and Mara. Jake was also fired. Mara was fired and then apparently cried and hyperventilated and eventually got her job back. I could’ve cried if I wanted to, but I was already so embarrassed about getting caught doing an avoidable, forbidden thing, that the idea of then forcing the manager to watch my public display of remorse just seemed too big an ask. Sort of like if I showed him that weird, oozing cyst I discovered on my upper thigh a few weeks ago. Call me old-fashioned, but it’s simply too vulnerable to show any of your insides to your boss at Ikea. Too personal to show anyone at Ikea, really. When I first started working there, I had this recurring dream where I’d get to work and my boss would say, “alright you’re up! It’s stabbing time!” and I wouldn’t understand what he meant, and then suddenly everyone I worked with would be there, and they’d be showing me their scarred midsections while informing me that once a month we all stab each other’s stomachs for team building. In the dream, I’d be confused but everyone else would be so happy about it that I could never make anything of my confusion. I’d wake up before getting stabbed, so I think the dream was mostly about drinking the corporate culture Kool-Aid and not actually about getting physically harmed by Ikea, which is honestly a great place to work, all things considered. There’s free coffee, cheap food and the other employees are mostly fun to be around. It’s quite honestly a place that is the emotional equivalent to the opposite of being stabbed in the stomach. Everything is clean and orderly, the colours are bright yet harmonious, and the customers are usually excited to be there and spend lots of money. It was just something about the uniform and the idea of “corporate culture” in the first place that made it seem like everyone there was somehow metaphorically getting perpetually stabbed by something. All I’m saying is it would have been difficult for me, emotionally speaking, to beg for my job back after I was fired 6 days ago.
I spent the first 3 days of my unemployment fixing things around my apartment and figuring out how to apply for employment insurance. On the fourth day, I felt depressed and spent the entire day eating Chinese food and watching The Office. After a few episodes, I thought that maybe I’d pick up writing again, so I opened a document on my computer and labelled it “Journal” and then forgot about it until today. I considered smoking weed before writing to see if that would make my life sound more interesting, but I don’t even like weed that much, if you can believe it. My mom called me yesterday evening and told me about how her friend signed her father up for this app called SupWork. It’s kind of like Task Rabbit except only for helping elderly people who can’t afford or don’t want an actual Personal Support Worker. I asked if the SupWorkers have to wipe butts and do sponge baths and in response, my mom asked why I always take things to such a gross place. Then she said no, it was more like helping with groceries, changing lightbulbs and keeping company. I haven’t told her yet that I was fired. She never liked that I worked at Ikea, so we never really talked about work, which makes the topic of my firing easy to avoid. I figure I’ll just tell her once I find something else, so it seems like I left Ikea intentionally. We hung up and I thought about how dumb the name SupWork is, and then remembered my own grandmother, living alone across the country, routinely telling me that everything is fine with her, although she’s lonely, and hopes I can come visit soon. Anyway, I cried while I downloaded SupWork.
It took a couple of days for my background check to go through. I felt impatient, but in the grand scheme of things, five days of waiting for a background check is actually a criminally expedited route to the homes of a vulnerable population. I kept wondering if this app is even legal, but every time I looked into it, all I found were glowing reviews from people who had set their parents or grandparents up with SupWorkers. Occasionally there were also reviews from the SupWork-ed themselves. One review, from Selma in Oakville, said visits from her SupWorker gave her the will to live after her cancer diagnosis. Another, from Gene in Gatineau, said that his mom was so impressed with the professionalism and reliability of all four of her SupWorkers that she got rid of her medical alert system. These examples don’t exactly speak to the legality of SupWork, but if it’s as good as the hundreds of reviews say it is, then it’s certainly ethical. And since not everything ethical is technically legal, even if I were to get arrested, it’d be for a cause. It’d be noble or punk rock or whatever. Someone could make a GoFundMe for me and eventually I’d be okay. I’d be better than okay, come to think of it. I’d be a hero! All that to say, I had some time to work on my profile while I waited for the background check to clear.
The app has all these broad categories of skills and then specifics that don’t really specify anything. I clicked interpersonal (friendly), home repairs (basic), errands (no car), conversation (English), crafts and hobbies (handy), listening (patient) and computers (basic). It all kind of seemed like good infrastructure for scamming old people. Like, I could know nothing about “home repairs”, and still click “basic” because I re-caulked a bathtub one time, and because I chose “basic” instead of “advanced”, I’m suddenly telling the truth. I am telling the truth by the way, but the ease at which this app allows you to lie to the elderly made me revaluate how truthful I was really being while I was filling it out. Maybe that’s the whole business model - inject the app with a low-grade, barely discernible, yet inescapable sense of guilt to keep the SupWorkers accountable. It’s a page right out of every grandma’s handbook! Guilt the kids into calling more by saying you love talking to them type of shit. It might be completely genius… Whatever, I’m not lying, so maybe that means other people also aren’t lying. My profile is live now, so I guess all that's left to do is wait for an old person to swipe right on me and ask me to do something. What a time to be alive.
Only one person swiped right on me in two days. His name is Ian, and he lives five kilometres away. To be honest, I feel a little down about not being more popular on this app. It’s one thing to not get much action on a dating app, but it’s a whole other thing to have people fifty years my senior determine I am unworthy based on two pictures and some vague indication of skill. Ian’s message said, “hello. Please help me finish a small construction project. For art. I see you worked at Ikea, so you must know how to build something”. I thought about not messaging back and waiting for something easier. Something like going to the pharmacy for Creaky ol’ Ethel or making Diabetic Harold some sugar free muffins would be more my speed. What right do I have to intrude on someone’s art project? Sure, I have a basic toolkit and my mom taught me how to use everything, but what if Ian thinks, I like, I don’t know… know how to manufacture Ikea furniture? Unfortunately, at this point neither Ethel nor Harold nor any other hypothetical old person I could help without exerting any real effort has reached out to me, so I guess I’ll answer Ian back and clarify some stuff.
I’m typing this out on my phone while on the way to Ian’s house. I told him I could assemble Ikea furniture (anyone can assemble Ikea furniture), but I couldn’t build it from scratch. He said that was fine and asked whether I could take the SupWork. I ignored the message for a few hours, and then drank two beers and answered, “absolutely J!” so we made plans for me to come over this morning. I feel scared. This might be dangerous. I’m so dumb. Why am I going to this man’s house to do “an art project”?! Shit. What if Ian is building some weird sex thing? Fuck, is this how I die? Do I die because some guy named Ian decided to use SupWork to find his next victim? His name might not even be Ian. Shit shit shiiiiiiiiihlksflasdjiadjakdft.
I didn’t die and it wasn’t anything sexual. It was somehow weirder than that. I’ll try to explain:
So I got to Ian’s place, which was a typical old-person condo. Sleepy concierge, lots of beige, the smell of powder and cigarettes from fifteen years ago - the whole deal. I followed his directions up to the ninth floor and knocked on the door. Ian is a stocky man with a suspiciously deep tan for March in Ontario. He dressed well in expensive looking jeans, a purple shirt with a black vest, and it looked like he took great care to comb his hair just so. He welcomed me in and offered me tea or coffee and told me to take a seat in the living room, so he could show me the project. He was very direct and to the point, which I would generally appreciate in a person, but in this scenario the bluntness freaked me out a little. I told him I’d like a coffee and he went to make it for me in the small kitchen behind the living room. Everything was very beige like it was in the lobby. I sat on the (beige) leather couch while he ground beans and puttered around in the kitchen. A throw pillow with an embroidered image of the red Moulin Rouge stage added the only pop of colour to the room. There were a couple framed images on the wall, mostly black and white photos of marquees and costumed people on stages. One ensemble was definitely Rocky Horror, but the others were unfamiliar. It occurred to me that this guy must be a true theatre geek. I can’t remember if this realization made me trust him more or less.
Ian came back with coffees for both of us in big red mugs, and then sat down across from me in a beige armchair and smiled. I felt dumb again. This time, for accepting a beverage from a stranger. I resolved not to drink it in case he drugged it or something. Ian asked me a bunch of questions about working at Ikea. I tried to answer in a way that sounded interesting, but at the end of the day it’s hard to make working retail sound that cool. I told him about the cheap food and the warehouse, and how I once built the Hemnes 6-Drawer for someone in twenty minutes flat. He was excited about that last thing. After he finished his coffee (mine was still untouched on the table), he went to a nearby closet and got the project. It was a cardboard collage about six feet tall and just as wide. Very haphazard and floppy, like he was trying to conserve glue by only using the bare minimum amount to hold the pieces together. He dragged it along the floor into the middle of the room, which was an interesting transportation choice for something so fragile. I clocked some Amazon boxes, and the left eye of Tony the Tiger peeking out behind the metallic text from a toothpaste box. The whole thing was shaped like a science fair board and had a big window cut out on the main face.
He set it up in front of me and played with the arms a bit so it could balance on the (beige) carpet. When it was steadied, Ian stood up and wiped his hands on his pants. “Well,” he said, giggling, “this is it! Royal Ian Hall!” It was a freaking puppet theatre. I remember thinking that if this did happen to be a murder/sex thing, I’d probably become famous because what podcast could resist the quirky allure of The Puppet Murderer?! I’d probably get my own miniseries on CBC. Or maybe an independent network would pick it up, and I’d launch some downtrodden journalist’s career into audio stardom. I wonder if there are podcast awards…
Whoops, had to get the door and pay for my pizza and then I forgot to come back to journaling. Okay so- Ian brought out this junky puppet theatre and explained to me that he worked in playhouses around Toronto for fifty years before retiring last June. Since retiring, he’s missed the stage so much that he needed to figure out a way to bring the theatre to him, so he settled on puppets. I asked him if he was an actor, and he said, “sometimes, I did a little bit of everything.” Later on, he mentioned something about lighting cues for a production of Les Mis in the 80s and I asked if he also worked up in the booth, and he gave the same answer. I guess in 50 years, you can wear a lot of hats. After Ian got the cardboard theatre steadied, he went back to the closet (at the time I assumed it was to get some sort of weapon, so I hovered my finger over the emergency call button on my phone) and brought out several socks adorned with fabric scraps, rhinestone eyes, and little pieces of plastic. I could kind of tell the fabric pieces wrapped around the socks were supposed to be little jackets, and the plastic pieces, glued in a grid along the arm tubes, were supposed to be like funky pins, but all in all these puppets looked like toddler drawings of fish people. Ian said something like, “you can see now why I need your help” while flipping over a puppet with his toe from the pile he'd just dumped on the floor. Finding comfort in the clumsiness of it all and deciding that someone who can’t even make a decent sock puppet probably couldn’t orchestrate a murder, I said alright, let’s dive in.
Ian said that his main problem was that he used all his good scrap fabric for the puppet clothes and so he didn’t know what to use for the stage curtains. I looked around and saw his bed skirt (beige, obviously) was neatly pleated and draped, kind of like curtains. His bed was in the corner of the room, so that meant the bed skirt was essentially useless on two out of four sides. I explained this to Ian, and he said “Eureka!” and excitedly floated over to the kitchen to grab some scissors while muttering something about how young people these days are so inventive. I helped him move the bed away from the wall a bit and then he went behind and cut off the hidden half of the skirt. He threw me pieces of bed skirt over his shoulder as he cut, and told me to get the glue gun from the craft closet and start working. When he came into the living room with the rest of the bed skirt, I had already fashioned a top curtain from the scraps and glued it behind the stage window. I stood up from behind the theatre so he could hand me the rest of the fabric and saw he looked concerned. Apparently, the colour was wrong. He went back in the closet and grabbed some sparkly red spray paint that looked older than me. We put some garbage bags down on the floor, and then Ian went around opening up all the windows while I sprayed the bed skirt a bright, glistening red. He came back and said something corny, like “now that’s a curtain!” and then asked me what we should do about the rest of the stage. I suggested we paint it black, but the only dark paint he had was half a can of navy-blue house paint. We found some old wooden brushes at the bottom of his craft box and each started on a side. After about a minute, Ian got up and put the 9 to 5 album (Broadway version, of course) on the record player. He said, “workin’ music!” as he clapped his hands together and sat back down to paint. At this point, the apartment was freezing and the paint fumes were intense. I remembered the hot coffee on the table and went over to warm my hands on the mug. Ian seemed unbothered by the drafty and noxious living room atmosphere he'd just created. He was quietly harmonizing with Dolly while running his brush up and down the cardboard, only interrupting his rhythm to glob some extra paint over the shiny letters on the CREST box.
It felt nice to work with my hands again. After we finished painting, I went digging around in the craft bin and found some scrap wood. I glue-gunned pieces around the base so it would balance better, and then used some zip-ties to hold a piece of wood in place at the bottom of the stage opening so there’d be a place to rest your elbows while performing. Ian was skeptical about the elbow ledge since he said there wouldn’t be much time for passivity in the action-packed war drama he was trying to recreate with these puppets. I can’t remember what he said the play was called, but apparently a lot of the cast dies and the original production used so much fake blood that audience members kept fainting. The first run of the play was even cancelled briefly, until a group of drama nerds protested outside the theatre for a week straight, and someone from the New York Times deemed that ending the run was actually censorship, so it came back but was not renewed and now the show is elusive, legendary and banned in the West End.
I forgot to mention that after I left Ian’s house the other day, he tipped me ten dollars. I was there for about two hours and got paid a base rate of $18/hour, so I'm not sure if the tip was a low ball or totally appropriate. I went back to the SupWorker message boards and found a thread on tips, but there doesn't seem to be any consensus about how much is the norm. It was mostly people complaining about getting tipped seventy-five cents for cleaning a whole house, or people celebrating getting a hundred and fifty dollars for doing something quick and easy. Yesterday, a few more people swiped right on me on the SupWork app, which did wonders for my ego. Tomorrow I have three jobs lined-up. Morning is groceries for Susan, afternoon is cleaning a bathroom for a different Susan, and evening is playing bridge with Helena. I’m also going to vacuum for someone named Todd after I get done with Ian today.
When I got to Ian’s yesterday the spray paint smell still lingered since, at that point, the puppet theatre had been off gassing on the floor for three days. I felt worried about Ian’s health and then about my health since I had to be here for another two hours today, but all in all he seemed fine and eventually I got used to the fumes. Ian offered me tea and coffee again and I said coffee (again) and he asked me if I was sure, and I felt embarrassed since he must’ve remembered last time when I left the mug untouched on the table. I said I was sure and took a big gulp right when he handed it to me, so I burned my mouth pretty bad. Since the last time I went over, Ian had painted little pink cherubs on the corner of the theatre window and glued little pieces of brown and yellow yarn to the heads of all the puppets. I noticed a glue gun plugged in and dripping on the floor, and wondered how long he’d left it heating up like that. When he wasn’t looking, I unplugged it and put it on a piece of leftover cardboard to cool down. I told him I liked the cherubs and he said he was trying to copy the moulding of some theatre in Milan. Then he remembered that he found his old clipping of the New York Times article that talked about the audience fainting problem and the protests for The Sun Holds Still. That is the name of the play we are re-enacting, by the way. The article was from two years before I was born. Ian showed it to me as if it would inevitably make me as nostalgic as it was clearly making him.
The article had a large photo of the cast on stage, doing some sort of war scene. The actors were either splayed on the floor in pools of blood, or mid-action, lunging at some invisible enemy offstage. Ian pointed to the different characters in the photo, and then showed me their puppet counterparts. According to Ian’s description, I gather that the main character is Captain Harris, who is a real brute of a man, absolutely riddled with emotional baggage and past traumas that make him harsh and closed off, but “sensitive” when you get to know him. His puppet had yellow yarn hair and puckered red lips. I found out that the little plastic pieces (cut up soda bottles and old credit cards, mostly) were supposed to be military accolades and Harris’ jacket had way more of them than the rest of the characters. To be honest, the plastic bits made the puppets look like they were wearing ugly sweaters rather than official military garb, but I couldn’t think of a better idea for badges, so I kept quiet about that. The rest of the cast was mostly comprised of the soldiers in Harris’s squadron, whose puppets all had brown yarn hair and less puckered mouths. I gathered that while Harris is key to the progression of the play, more of the plot actually revolves around a friendship between two soldiers named Jack and Anwar. Jack’s puppet looked like the rest of soldiers and Anwar’s would have too, except Ian painted him brown, which seemed redundant on account of his name, and also maybe a little racist. Is brown face technically okay when it’s on a puppet? Or is it worse if it’s on a puppet? I’m having some trouble discerning where to draw certain lines when it comes to puppets... In the play someone named Dirk, who’s actually a spy, tries to get Anwar killed and then Jack finds out and kills Dirk first, but it was sneaky, so people think Anwar is dead for a bit until the truth comes out. Anwar’s wife gets word that Anwar died, and so she blows her brains out right in the middle of her kitchen, all the way in suburban Wisconsin. THEN it is revealed that Captain Harris actually has HIV and a pill addiction and THEN, in some sort of drug induced rage, he leads his men into battle without a clear plan and everyone dies except Jack, who “only” loses both of his legs and is actually the narrator of this whole thing and has adopted Anwar’s two kids. Or at least, that’s what I could piece together from Ian’s descriptions of the puppets. He talks about this play like it’s Seinfeld or something… like even if you haven’t actually seen it, most people would generally know the premise.
I spent the rest of the afternoon at Ian’s adding details to the puppets while he was busy in the kitchen. I found some Velcro in the craft box and used it to make removable legs for Jack out of the leftover green fabric Ian used for the army jackets. I quickly realized that now I'd need to make legs for all the puppets in order for Jack’s removable legs to make any sense, but there was no more fabric, so I used some pipe cleaners for the rest. Ian wasn’t thrilled about the pipe cleaners, but agreed Jack needs legs for the climax, so we’d have to make do. While I was drawing eyebrows on the puppets, Ian called me into the kitchen to have a look at what he was making. He had one of those giant stockpots out, so I assumed it was some sort of sauce or stew for us for lunch. When I looked inside, all I saw was an unappetizing, clumpy, red mixture bubbling away. Ian explained that it's the fake blood for opening night. I must’ve looked shocked, because he said not to worry, he had lots of tarps in the closet. Ian ladled some blood into a shallow white dish so I could see it better, and told me the ingredients were red food colouring and corn syrup, with added cocoa and dried onion flakes for clumps. It was disgusting. The smell was weird too, but the spray paint mostly covered that up.
I keep meaning to google this stupid play, but I’ve been getting more and more SupWork and have been running around like crazy the past couple days. The Susans both want me to come back on a regular basis and this morning I unclogged three drains for someone with severe carpal tunnel, and then made and ate turkey sandwiches with this lady named Alma, who talked to me about Yugoslavia for three hours. She tipped me $50. Mom called again yesterday, and I asked if she remembers The Sun Holds Still, and she was like, “was that the play with all the blood?” And I said ya, I think so. She said she remembers there were protests when the Toronto run was announced, and then there were counter-protests by artists who thought the protests were about censorship. She ultimately never cared to check it out, on account of all the blood. Mom then asked me why I was bringing it up, and I thought fast and told her a customer mentioned it because apparently the red pattern on one of the Silkeborg rugs looked like the fake blood spills in the play. Mom said that sounds creepy, and I should look for a job where I don’t have to talk about gross stuff with strangers. I told her that I’m looking and thinking of downloading SupWork. She told me I was being ridiculous, and I shouldn’t go into strangers’ homes because it's dangerous, but also what if I had to help someone go to the bathroom? What would I do then? I was about to tell her that I could choose which jobs to take and that the app was safe, but I stopped myself and instead just said I was also looking for office jobs. She seemed happy with that answer.
Okay, I finally looked up the play and watched a couple YouTube videos and it is legitimately horrifying. Ian wasn’t kidding about the blood. It’s everywhere and its chunky and it gets all over the costumes and a little even sprays out into the front row of the audience. The production’s laundry budget must’ve been massive. I still don’t fully understand the story. The war they are fighting in the play is somewhere in Asia, so how does news of Anwar’s supposed death travel to the USA that fast? And it’s implied that Dirk’s motivation is racism, but in one of the videos, Dirk is played by a black actor. And as far as I can tell, Anwar’s religion and/or race doesn’t factor into the plot at all. Also, Captain Harris’s HIV diagnosis is supposed to be this big reveal, but then everybody dies a scene later, so it’s not even explored. Apparently, in one show, the prop designers made an experimental contraption to spray Captain Harris’ fake HIV blood into the audience as some sort of comment on the AIDS crisis or homophobia or something, which was the real cause of a lot of the protests. I found out that the name of the play comes from a speech Harris does where he compares combat and living with HIV to the sun holding still. I don’t really get the metaphor, but I’ve never been to war or a Broadway show, so maybe it’s a you-had-to-be-there type of thing.
The SupWork has slowed down a bit and I’m thinking about getting out of the game. I was aerating some guy's lawn yesterday and he stared at me the entire time and then only tipped me one dollar. I feel strangely violated, even though he didn’t even say anything or touch me. Come to think of it, it was mostly his silence that made it all so creepy. He just stood there and watched, like I was in a prison yard and he was on guard duty. He didn’t even really greet me when I got to his house. He just silently demonstrated how to use the aerator and then grunted that it should only take forty-five minutes. When I was done (in forty minutes, I might add), he pointed to the garage and went in his house without saying goodbye or thank you or anything. I left the aerator on the lawn and sped-walked the hell outta there. That night, after the measly dollar tip came through, I started scrolling through job boards and applied to some actual office jobs because I decided it would be nice not to have to lie to my mom anymore. I’m sure there’d be some real characters at an office too. Real average folks who talk about coffee beans and the printer not working and the next “quarter”, whatever that means. In other words, the kinds of people my mom and I could laugh about. I also turned on an alert for available contract labour positions, since I figured it would be kind of like SupWork, but at least I’d have a boss to go to if someone was being sketchy.
I was going to take the day off of SupWorking after what happened with that aerator creep, but Ian messaged me about finishing the theatre this afternoon and added $20 to my SupWorkWallet, so I clicked the “On My Way!” button and went over. Ian opened the door for me with a huge smile and proclaimed, “welcome to opening day!” I answered with a half-hearted “woohoo!” while I scanned the apartment for the theatre to mentally gauge how long I’d have to be over there finishing it up. Ian had it arranged on the other side of the living room, on top of a heavy-duty plastic drop cloth. The cast of puppets was all organized in a line against the wall with their little pipe cleaner legs shooting straight out. I remember thinking that I should’ve folded some knees.
Ian didn’t offer me coffee or tea today, which I took as a sign he felt comfortable enough with me to not play host anymore. He ushered me over to the theater and explained that he’d been work shopping some scenes yesterday, but wanted to save the “good blood” for opening day. Also, he realized that having his hands inside puppets meant he couldn’t execute the “goreography” (his word) properly, so that’s why he wanted me to come back. I’d forgotten about all the blood. Ian had decanted it all into eight plastic take-out containers. We brought them all over to the drop cloth and placed them in a line in front of the puppets, which outnumbered blood containers by five.
I walked around to the front of the theatre, expecting Ian to get behind and start the show, but instead he told me that I should perform the scene where Jack kills Dirk with a machete and that he’ll come in with the blood from stage left. Since I was there last, Ian had used a bunch of elastic bands to wrap a butter knife around the limp arm of the Jack puppet. I suggested to Ian that maybe I should do the blood and he should act since I don’t know the scene. He insisted that everyone knows this scene and it doesn’t have to be perfect, just that I should try to get the tone and main ideas from the “vengeance is like a ship without a captain” soliloquy, that I must've learned in school. I told him that I really don’t know it, and must’ve been out with mono the week we learned this particular soliloquy, so it’s probably best if he does it. Ian took my resistance to performing as a lack of confidence and started hyping me up by saying that he knows I’ll be excellent because he’s observed the special way I’ve connected with the project so far. He insisted that now it’s time to “just let go and let the art flow out of me”. I tried one more time to tell him that I really, really do not know the scene, but he ignored that and put the Jack and Dirk puppets on my hands and said “please just try”, so I went behind the theatre and got on my knees. Ian stood squatting beside me, holding the container of fake blood like a football under his arm, ready to jump into action. Here’s what happened next:
The Sun Holds Still
Setting: A sunny afternoon in April, somewhere outside of Toronto, in Ian’s apartment.
Me and Ian, standing around a cardboard puppet theatre painted blue and red with pink cherubs in the corners. Sock puppet soldiers in funky sweaters and containers of viscous red liquid are lined up on the floor behind the theatre. I have two of the puppets on my hands, one of which has a butter knife precariously dangling from its arm. Ian stands at stage left, holding an open blood container. Liquid nears the edge but does not drip.
Ummm… okay aaah! I’m Dirk and I want to kill Anwar for all the reasons! And I’m Jack and I must protect my friend! Here I come with my machete! [Jack flops his butter knife over Dirk.]
You forgot the soliloquy.
I put the Dirk puppet behind my back and moved Jack to stage right, where the sun coming in from the window was hitting the theatre like a spotlight.
Oh, right. Okay, so vengeance makes people do crazy things! Like me, for instance, about to kill someone with this giant machete. That sure is nuts! Vengeance, some would argue, is like a ship without a captain and those-”
No, no, no. It is only called the “Vengeance is like a ship without a captain” soliloquy, Jack doesn’t actually ever say those words. It’s a common misconception. Also, he says it while about to kill Dirk, so you need to have both hands in the scene.
I try to improv the speech one more time while Ian rolls his eyes and closes the blood container.
Alright Shakespeare give me the puppets and you take the blood. Did the mono ruin the part of your brain that retains great art?! Let’s get this show on the road. You ready? Throw the blood in right as I say the final words, “the real war is never on the battlefield”.
Ian positions the Jack puppet over the Dirk puppet, the knife hangs down over Dirk’s dumb puppet face.
Sure, and mono doesn’t have lasting neurological effects. I’ve checked.
So, Dirk, after all these years, it seems we meet again. Who would have thought it would end up like this? You and me both out for, um, blood! How is it that… that… You could have done… um… done this to uh… me? After all we’ve been through… after all we’ve… oh no… after… um…
3 second pause.
Vengeance! And uhh, Vengeance! Just like a ship, I… I too…
Very long five-second pause, then Ian clears his throat and lowers his voice.
The real battle is never the uh… war.
Ian exhales and looks defeated.
I toss the blood from the container while Ian claps his hands together, plunging the butter knife between the first two fingers on his Dirk hand. The blood hits the front of the theatre, missing the puppets almost entirely. I move closer and dump the leftover chunks from the container onto Ian’s hands. We stand there looking at each other while fake blood runs down Ian’s arms and the front of the theatre, dripping onto the plastic on the floor.
Worried that I screwed everything up for Ian.
Oh my god! I’m so sorry! That was my fault. I wasn’t prepared for how much blood was going to come out and now it’s all over the theatre. Let me grab some paper towel and we can try again. I think I have the gist of the soliloquy now, so maybe you can do the blood- I mean, goreography, and we can put Jack’s knife on this other soldier puppet! It’ll be good as-
No, this one must be Jack. It’s alright. I- I had this memorized backwards and forwards in ’98. I could recite it in my sleep. We would act it out together backstage before the… um…
Ian trails off.
You got some of the main parts though. Here, let’s give it another try.
Ian takes the puppets off his hands and drapes them over the wooden ledge I affixed to the bottom of the theatre window.
No, no, no. We'll have to put down new plastic, and I gotta get Jack in the laundry and look, we never even said “break a leg” before starting, so we were doomed from the start, if you think about it.
Well, I’m supposed to be here for another hour.
Ian nervously scans the room. His gaze lingers on the duo of bloody puppets hanging in front of him.
We could go for a walk and review the goreo techniques? It’s only 10:30, so the matinée wouldn’t begin until two anyway.
Sure, yeah, let’s go for a walk.
Ian and I leave the apartment. A distant “splat” can be heard as we shut the door behind us. Dirk had slipped off the stage into a pool of his own blood.
I decided not to take on any more SupWork after I got home from Ian’s that last time. Instead of talking about how we could improve his puppet rendition of The Sun Holds Still, our walk mostly consisted of him telling me about the time his old theatre troupe did a drag version of Sweet Charity in High Park, and two homeless guys jumped on stage to join in on “Hey Big Spender”. The troupe let them dance along and shout the chorus, thinking they’d get it out of their systems and leave, but instead the homeless guys stayed on the stage and periodically shouted “hey! Big spender!” to no one in particular while the play continued around them. The story made me laugh, but it also made me sad someone so compelled to perform, so deeply committed to his craft, was now reduced to attempting puppet shows made from old junk. It pained me to think about ever loving something so much that mere scraps of that thing might suffice in a time of need. I also noticed Ian was repeating himself a lot and had thought we were right by his apartment when we were about fifteen minutes west of there, on his own instruction that we go check out some street art he liked. The street art wasn’t there anymore, or had never been there in the first place, and so I directed us home. On the way, I offered one last time to try the soliloquy again, and Ian said no, he was tired, and he’d tip me tomorrow.
Ian’s tip never came, and I deleted the app a day later. Maybe I’ll come back to it in a few weeks if I don’t find another job. So far, I’ve applied to seven office temp jobs and have gotten rejected from three of them. This morning, after the third rejection email came tumbling into my inbox to ruin my breakfast, I decided to broaden my job search to include creative work, not just office and general labour stuff. I had fun problem-solving Ian’s puppet theatre, even if it was just gluing wood to cardboard or making pipe cleaner legs on some old socks. I also did art in high school, so I figured that it’s not too crazy to think that someone like me might get paid for ideas or crafts or whatever. I found one job opening for a set builder at a small playhouse in the city, but after giving my resumé a quick once over, I realized that nothing about it attested to any set building abilities. I added in some things like “handy- good with tools” and “problem solving- creative” under the skills section, although the main part still only said IKEA, along with the string of grocery stores I worked at as a teenager. I decided to take my graduation date off and added:
Set Construction and Goreography Specialist - The Sun Holds Still
Toronto, Spring 1992