there was a storm here a couple weeks back, must have been just after my last entry. heavy winds stripped trees of their branches. some were left prone, mounds of earth suspended from their roots.
the following morning a squirrel lay along the iron railing of the fire escape outside our kitchen window, still as a statue. squirrels scurry up and down our fire escape on the regular, but never had we seen one so still. is he sleeping? sarah wondered aloud. i’m amazed at his balance, she continued. his balance? i replied. it’s a fucking squirrel! if there’s one thing... / yeah but if he’s sick, his fluid levels are probably all off, and that can affect your balance. ah yes, fair enough.
we distractedly went about our morning. after a time sarah noticed the squirrel had spun around--same spot, but facing the opposite direction. he’s missing clumps of hair, she said. he was indeed. hair was missing from his side and his tail. where the skin lay bare there were bloody gashes of various lengths. his eyes were open, yet he seemed unfazed by our proximity to him from the other side of the window. could be from the storm, i offered, an explanation somehow more bearable than disease. could be, sarah said. hell, possible this shit is his own fault, i further remarked, an anthropomorphic narrative unwinding itself in my mind. he went on a bender with the boys, and now he doesn’t want to go home to face the music. i get it.
saddened by the impending loss of such an adroit creature, while less than thrilled at the idea of removing a dead squirrel from our fire escape, we continued on with our day. we later noticed he was gone. off to face the music, we hoped.
earl the squirrel. he’ll be back for sure.
a month or so ago we had our library rug picked up for cleaning and repair, and now i’m waiting for it to be returned. they’ve got fifteen minutes left in their allotted window, between 2p and 3p. sarah is at the chiropractor’s, and cooper is lazing on the bed. she just texted. she’s on her way back. a little over <quote-01>a week to go<quote-01>. we are expecting the baby to arrive late however, so who knows. plenty to come, plenty to come.
i was thinking earlier in the week about what the first days might be like after the baby is born. sarah and i were running errands around the city. we borrowed feigmann’s car to drop off some larger registry returns at an amazon location in sunset park then drove into the city to hit up the container store. we’d acquired a fair amount of infant clothing and were in need of a way to keep it organized on schwartzbard’s shelves. walking the manhattan sidewalks felt different having driven a car into the city. even stranger than having driven was having parked. we’d be returning to the same vehicle, not like with a yellow cab or an uber. we’re so accustomed to the autonomy of the subway commuter, coming up to the street from the underground and leaving nothing behind. feels like sea legs, sarah observed. we were two manhattoes, inverted ishmaels, longing for the land after a spell on the waters of the road.
i expect what might feel strange about that first week won’t be the newness of the environment, what with the additions of an infant and a new mother, but <quote-02>rather the sameness of it; as if i somehow expect more to change than will<quote-02>. there’s a certain comfort to the thought, a certain disappointment as well.
i’m gonna hop in the shower as soon as this rug gets here, then i’m going to shoot into the city with a stack of residuals for my management. season six from orange has come in, still waiting on season seven. i haven’t tallied what i’ll walk with, but it’s usually around half after taxes and commission. <quote-03>you pull 10, you get 5. great.<quote-03> i think i’ll wander the city for a bit afterwards, look around for a brush for my vinyl (<quote-04>fun fact: to remove the dust from your record, you hold the brush lightly on the surface as it rotates. dust is not swept off, as with a broom, but rather lifted off by the tips of the bristles<quote-04>). i pulled the trigger on a turntable on monday--a nice one, or a capable one rather: the lp120X from audio technica, sets you back around 250. it’s the workhorse model of the low-end stuff. no point going in for the high-end unless you plan to upgrade your amp and your speakers as well. i got a few feet of vinyl on the shelf, in addition to the stack i took from schwartzbard’s place, but i haven’t had a player in years. the 120X comes in your late eighties black or your early eighties silver. i went with the silver.
rug acquired at 3:02p. just passable.
i’d been shooting pool at the bar the night the call came in. you’ve booked orange, my manager said. i could tell he was excited. he had three other clients on the show, all of them initial cast members. two of them had unfortunately just gotten the ax. the show had run itself into the ground, what with the size of the cast and the failure to deliver an intriguing plot thrust after killing off one of the show’s most beloved characters. ratings were way down, and the show was in need of a facelift.
my manager used to emphasize how every actor is one job away from the start of their career. this is that job, he said on that call.
just how a neuro-normative white guy ends up landing <quote-05>the role of an autistic latino<quote-05> on a show famous for the diversity of its casting is beyond me. you two might find it interesting how on more than one occasion in the audition room i’ve been told, fantastic! but can you make him less... spectrum-y? it’s possible my more <quote-06>idiosyncratic tendencies<quote-06> served me well in landing the role. who knows? they gave me the part, and i remain grateful.
i can’t remember how long i had after booking the role before we started shooting, but it couldn’t have been more than a couple weeks. i filled my time with research: i binged the show, i watched documentaries on autism, and i read the literature you recommended, hoke, concerning correctional officers. there was my four months as a private prison guard, the mother jones article by shane bauer; and new jack: guarding sing sing, by ted conover. you also recommended the lucifer effect, which i didn’t get around to, but i learned plenty about the <quote-07>stanford prison experiment<quote-07>.
i’m not sure how much use all the research was to my work on the show, but the picture i got of the life of a correctional officer was not a pretty one. for the most part, <quote-08>i belong to the david mamet school of thought<quote-08> when it comes to character research. mamet finds all backstory a distraction: if it’s not in the script, you don’t need it. how do you make the scene work? you get the fuck up there and start saying the fucking lines. <quote-09>all you need to know, you’ll learn through playing the scene<quote-09>. invent nothing, deny nothing, he famously says.
anyways. here’s how the day works.
you show up, find your dressing room, get to makeup, get to hair, and get into your costume. depending on the demands of the day, these activities might happen in any order. orange had a lot of wigs, so that helped the hair department. makeup was a fascinating department to be in because characters were constantly getting beat up. they kept meticulous documentation of the wounds, their healing over the passage of time. wardrobe? forget about it. is there a more comfortable show on televsion? not for the ladies, that’s for sure. they’re basically sitting around in pajamas all day.
season six exteriors were shot at a prison in kew gardens, queens. you’ve seen this prison in other shows; a lot of productions film there. i was told the prison was partly operational as a holding facility for transferring inmates, but we saw none of that. the chicken coop exteriors from season seven were about an hour upstate. i’d hop in a late night uber to meet the van on the upper west side. the sky would still be dark when we arrived at location for breakfast. most days, however, we were on a sound stage at kaufman astoria studios in queens. this was orange’s home base.
a production assistant knocks on your door when your scene is up and walks with you to set. i’m always hyper aware of the space from the moment i step on set; <quote-10>i’ll explain why in a minute<quote-10>.
after greeting everyone--director, director of photography (person behind the camera), assistant director (person organizing the actors), producer, writer, script supervisor, fight choreographer if the scene requires one--the first thing you do is read through the scene, sides in hand. (sides are the small scripts with the day’s pages, printed on half-sheets of paper, stapled together.) let’s just hear the words in the space, the director might say, the actors standing in a circle. everyone gives a fairly flat read-though. then, the director positions the actors--blocks the scene, as they say--and you run through it a couple more times. i’m always scrambling in these moments for anything in the space i might be able to use, because once blocking gets locked down, that’s it. you think it’s funny to fall here or maybe cross to get hit by that there? <quote-11>you’d better come up with it now<quote-11>.
then the heads of the departments, some twenty-odd folks, are brought in--lighting, camera, props, sound, hair, makeup, wardrobe, second team (more on them in a minute), etc--and you run the scene for them. if the room is small, folks can be really packed in around you. they watch from where they are standing or where they are crouched. <quote-12>all eyes are on you, but no cameras are rolling; no one will ever see that performance again. this is usually my favorite part of the day.<quote-12> having to pause the scene because i’ve done something awkward and made the boom operator laugh out loud? it doesn’t get any better. i’m always slightly aiming for this on the first read through with the director as well. they’ve anticipated how things will look, and it’s always nice <quote-13>to surprise them<quote-13>, to make them think twice about what a scene might be about.
you leave the set while the departments prepare the shot, then come back, do a few takes, then step away again. the director starts wide and continues to push in, shooting close-ups last. after moving in tight on one angle, everyone sets up for the reverse, beginning again with the wide shot. this setup is called turning around, and it takes longer than merely changing a lens and pushing in. the folks who stand in for you while you wait are called the second team. they are who the lighting department lights, who the camera department uses to measure focus. these stand-ins are assigned actors to trail based on sex, height, weight, and skin tone. most of them are doubling multiple characters, especially on a show like orange. they don’t have to bring it, quote-unquote, but <quote-14>they work the long hours and pay isn’t great<quote-14>--better than the background actors, but not great.
<quote-15>how an actor uses the downtime<quote-15> really depends on the requirements of the scene and the approach of the actor. some find it relaxing to sit around chatting with their fellow actors, while some will mingle with the crew. others disappear in order to maintain a certain headspace. it took me a little while to learn how to do the latter and not feel like i was shunning the folks i was working with. at the end of the day, all that really matters is that you’ve got the goods when the cameras are rolling. you do you.
there’s a lot that is coming up for me as i think back on orange; every part of the process comes with accompanying anecdotes. i could fill pages on crafty alone. crafty is the station where the snacks are, a highlight of any set. i’ll limit myself to a couple stories, both from set, then hand things over to you, hoke. you gonna give us your side of the water bottle story? will we return to lulo locked up in mexico? i have no requests, save that it come from you.
actually, fuck it. let rachel write one if you want. i’d read that shit. hell, let’s get one from conch too while we’re at it. how might her letter read, i wonder. <quote-16>a letter from each of the wives and a letter from each of the mothers<quote-16>!
mine was the first scene up on the first day of shooting for season six--not the first scene of the episode chronologically, but the first one we shot. my role was slated as heavily recurring, but i was not contracted for the season. with such potential and no guarantees, i was nervous. <quote-17>they might end up hating me and write me out. it’s never not a possibility.<quote-17> every actor has heard the stories. luckily, they had me pinned for episode two before i showed up on day one, so that helped. you’re gonna have a lot of fun this season, the director said at the end of the first day. i hope you know something i don’t, i thought.
the previous season had taken place over the course of a three-day prison riot, leaving litchfield’s minimum security facility, the locus of orange, in ruins. season six was to be all new sets at kaufman. production was stepping onto their new set--the maximum security facility down the hill--and i would be the first to walk through it. literally. we would follow me across the two story room of single occupancy cells as i made for the guard desk at the opposite end. my character was looking for his favorite pencil: <quote-18>the palomino blackwing pearl<quote-18>.
that first day on set is jam-packed with meaning. a lot is learned very quickly. <quote-19>i looked into the cells as i passed them between takes and saw an inmate--an extra--lazing on her cot. she looked up at me, and i immediately looked away, in embarrassment.<quote-19> this moment was not performative, mind you, but private. i clocked the impulse, as it was a strong one. my character was someone for whom maintaining eye contact was extremely difficult; this partly explained the reflex, but not entirely. i’d like to say the shame of my exposed voyeurism--she, reclined on her cot, head against the fake stone wall, engaging in no activity other than tracking her own thoughts--might best represent my role in the drama we were reenacting, and partly it did, but it was greater than that as well. i found that underneath the moment lay the natural hierarchy of the television set itself. she was background; i was a principal. she was expendable while i was a new central character. i mattered; she did not. i was interested in her until she was interested in me. did she continue to look at me? i walked away so she could not.
here’s another one:
a melee breaks out among the inmates in <quote-20>gen pop<quote-20> (general population, where inmates are permitted to socialize), and i charge in with a handful of other officers to take control of the situation. the director had blocked the scene so that i was to restrain danielle brooks. we don’t get very many rehearsals in, and i haven’t worked much with danielle--if at all, at this point--so things are a bit of a free for all. i’ve got her in a loose arm lock, but am allowing her to back herself out of the fight. it’s stage combat 101: <quote-21>it looks like i’m doing the work, but really, she’s doing it all<quote-21>.
the director, sitting in video village (a portable base, constructed closeby, where production watches the monitors), forcefully yells cut in the middle of one of the takes. he’s an older guy, short fuse, been around forever, probably shouldn’t be doing this kind of work anymore. he comes charging into the space, straight for me, and pulls me aside. stop yanking her away from the fucking camera, goddamn it! she’s the star of the fucking show! we want to see her goddamn face! who do you think people are tuning in to watch? you?
now, do i attempt to justify my position, explaining to him the nature of safe physical performance? look bro, she’s pulling herself away from the camera in the heat of the scene, i ain’t doing shit. or, do i pull danielle aside after he leaves the set and give her the note myself? hey, danielle? evidently you don’t know where the camera is and you’re not playing to it. if you could do your job so i don’t get yelled at, i’d appreciate it. cheers. not when i don’t know her, no. neither of these are an option. you got it, i tell him. totally my bad. he leaves in a huff, and i hope for the best.