We want to be more than the sum
of what we assume we are.
But if I’m not what you think, or I think,
what am I?
There may be clues in these,
which could be called My Career Highlights.
Not always the high points, or the proudest moments
of my past–but among the more interesting.
I was in a play at La MaMa in the East Village,
playing the manager of a burlesque theater.
A newspaper praised my performance by calling me:
“the personification of American sleaze.”
I was proud of that.
Here’s another path I was on:
I invented a new kind of textbook series for a publishing company.
It brought in millions of dollars in profit every year.
After it was launched, my entire staff and I were laid off.
We found out later this was a move by my boss
to cover up his sexual harassment of one of my assistants.
With no union to protect us, we had no idea
the law may have been on our side–
if in fact it would have been.
To attract visitors to a museum I worked at in Newark, New Jersey,
I developed a tourism program called A Day in Newark,
combining (1) a visit to us with (2) lunch in the Portuguese neighborhood
and (3) a tour of another museum or Thomas Edison’s laboratory.
We got national publicity because newspapers
found the idea of tourism in Newark
I realized that a student in my class couldn’t read.
I asked how he got to the 10th grade.
He said he’d always been polite and quiet,
so the teachers–usually nuns–passed him from grade to grade.
I worked with him, and two years later he was writing short stories
and playing the lead in his senior-class play, which I directed.
In a West African seaport, I painted murals in a bar
that was owned by the son of Rasputin’s private secretary.
As a young boy in the Czar’s court,
he had sat on the knee of the Mad Monk himself.
For a training video, they planned to hire actors
and have puppets made that looked like them.
That turned out to be too expensive,
so they bought some puppets
and looked for actors who resembled the puppets.
That’s how I got the job–I looked like a puppet.
I was summoned to the home of a famous director,
so he could tell me what he thought of a play of mine.
A theater company had asked him to read it.
He hated the play.
To express his contempt in the strongest possible terms,
he asked: “What is this? Autobiography?”
As a matter of fact, it wasn’t.
In the hospital I worked at, I pointed out that a framed travel poster
with the words DEATH VALLEY in big letters
was not a good piece of art for patients and visitors to see.
I worked with one of the greatest American actors
late in her life.
When we tried out a play that I wrote in a summer theater,
I realized that even if the project went no further
(and in fact it didn’t),
I would never hear words of mine spoken
more beautifully and movingly.