They're actresses splayed at sharp angles, right feet hooked on an oaken practice beam that runs along the mirrored wall of the abandoned supermarket, where auditions are being held. They're actresses stretching into Y's like dancers before recital, torsos going the wrong way.
They're actresses wearing jackets. Denim, fur, ski, fleece, wool, highschool letterman. All kinds of jackets, backs embroidered with the logos of products for which they've done commercials. Frito's and Zingers and RC Cola and Pennzoil and Timex. In the way travelers leave destination stickers on their trunks, in the way of race cars.
They're actresses staring intently at themselves in the mirrored wall, loosening up their faces, practicing subtle shifts of emotion. Confident becomes cocky. Frightened, horrified. Sassy, sultry. Relieved, hurt.
One stretching actress is wearing a gray Gore-tex jacket, logos for Cheerios and Evian and Miller Lite and Chips Ahoy! and Casio Watches encircle a hand-stitched caricature of Daphne from Scooby-Doo.
I peek over her head and smile at her in the mirror. She's doing bemused as it slides into shocked.
--I keep my watch on bar time, I say, holding up the Casio Digital on my wrist.
--In Scooby Doo on Zombie Island, a feature-length cartoon premiered on The Cartoon Network, we catch up with Scooby and the gang later in life, she says, as knowing blooms into self-assured. Daphne is now a successful TV reporter with a great wardrobe. And that same girlish figure, natch.
--Twenty minutes ahead. I'm tick-tapping the LCD display with a fingernail.
--Meanwhile, Shaggy and Scoob are lowly airport customs custodians.
--You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here!
--Poor Thelma has Old Maid written all over her, she says, parental disappointment rationalizing into resigned adoration. But that's my embellishment.
--Last call for alcohol!
The actress closes her eyes as she plays drunk becoming drowsy. Drowsy, asleep. She drifts slowly backwards, her foot gracefully loosing its grip on the balancing beam, and falls sweetly snoring into my arms. I set her down gently in the corner where mirror meets wall.
On the opposite side of the abandoned supermarket, two teams of actors line up across from each other, sticking their marks precisely on the black-and-white-checkered chessboard floor.
They're actors dressed in business casual. Khakis and soft-tone golf shirts and Docker's and Rockports and dark button-downs and loafers and leather-strap watches.
They're actors posing as chess pieces costumed as the Presidents of the United States, from Washington to Hoover (there are two Harrisons).
I'm playing Chaos Theory Hopscotch on the unoccupied middle squares of the chessboard, bounding one-legged, untethered, flailing my arms and yelping Swedish swear words before the frontline of Presidents. They don't even blink.
I spot James K. Polk, our 11th, in line with the pawns. The pasty resemblance to Martin Scorcese gives him away. --You were quite the dark horse, weren't you Jimmy? I say, flicking his jowl with a finger. A real Rocky-like character. I shine a pen-light into one of his eyes, and then the other, like an optometrist. Polk doesn't blink.
--Champion for Texas, the whole annexation thing, and you never even set foot there? Very selfless of you, my man. I'm sketching the shape of Texas on his forehead with a non-permanent marker. Very selfless. Polk doesn't flinch.
--But it's easy to have eyes bigger than your stomach, I know. I start pouring complimentary Pineapple Snapple behind his collar. Cholera's a messy way to go, and so soon after you left office. It's obvious. I'm patting his back so the Snapple soaks his shirt cold to his skin. Polk doesn't squirm.
--Well, at least they gave you a county. At this a brief blush flashes across Polk's cheek and recedes just as quickly.
I leave Polk to his game.
A birdier, bespectacled version of Gretchen Mol is pacing the middle space of the abandoned supermarket, between the stretching actresses and chess piece actors.
She's wearing a metallic-blue Adidas sweatsuit, white-and-pink Reebok hi-tops, and an Olympic-caliber stopwatch around her neck. She's reading times and checking things off on her clipboard as she paces.
I start pacing along with her, in time, shoulder-to-shoulder.
--I'm here to audition to be an extra in the new action movie, I say.
--This call is for extras in the new action-thriller, she says, stopping her manic march.
I stop along with her. --Right. Here's my headshot.
It isn't me. This is my first casting call and I have never acted on purpose before. My headshot is a blown-up 1981 Topps baseball card of Chicago Cubs utility infielder Mike Vail that I wrapped in Saran wrap and microwaved until the wrap buckled and collected itself in bubbled mountains and valleys. It resembles now a topographical map of Wyoming, which I hope will distract her from its unresemblance to me.
She turns over the card, scanning for acting credits, training, experience. Instead runs her index finger down Vail's year-by-year batting averages, chuckling. --So what are your credits? she asks, pushing her round glasses higher on her nose as her eyes make mine.
--Today my horoscope said, Your surroundings get you the attention that you so crave, Aquarius. Loud music and bright colors turn your day into a must-see destination for all who are curious. Your fame is measured by the number of people who tell you that you're famous. Of course, it helps if your show has a message as well.
As I recited this epiphanistic prophecy, she lip-synced my horoscope along with me. Her lips said what I said as she rolled her eyes and waggled her neck, making the blah blah blah sign, opening and closing her hand like a mouth.
--Oh! so you must be an Aquarius, too, then?
--As if! She slaps the clipboard to my chest and motions with her arm for me to back away.
Making horns on her head with her index fingers, she quarter-turns, bends sharply at the waist, snorts thunder, scuffs her feet behind her one at a time, revs up, and charges blindly towards the jacketed actresses and the mirrored wall.
Peter Vaeth lives and writes in the suburbs of Chicago. He has appeared in a Corporate Customer Service video, and also starred in the best-selling Adult DVD, Sexame Street (he played Big Bird). When he is not acting, he is the co-editor of Fiction Funhouse: http://www.fictionfunhouse.com.