Opossums and the Actor

Things this year have been slow to say the least. I’m living paycheck to paycheck again, the possibility of mounting credit card debt just to pay the bills a looming reality once again (after 2008, because I booked only one job that year, I wound up twenty grand in debt to creditors because I had just bought a house and being “house poor” made it impossible to exist on my wife’s teacher’s salary and unemployment checks. When things finally turned around at the end of 2009, I was able by the end of 2010 to basically be back down to zero debt outside of the mortgage…which is about as close to financial success as I ever seem to get. This year, 2011, I’ve only booked a few jobs and they haven’t been very lucrative so the struggle has returned. And just this week I was hit with my SAG union dues bill, which is calculated according to the previous year’s income, so I suddenly have to come up with sixteen hundred bucks in addition to my monthly bills. This is exactly where I was in 2008, and my union dues back then were what started my mounting credit card debt. So. I need work once again desperately.) Every audition I get I go on, regardless of what it is. And then there are little moments to add to the anxiety, like the last job I actually booked was for a small part on a television show, one day of work, and on my way to the set I was stopped by a young actor who told me how much  he loved my work, and how watching me on television had fueled his own hopes. Seems very nice, I know, but when he revealed to me that he had just moved to Los Angeles and I asked him what made him choose to come here from New York, he told me it was because he had booked a series regular role. And while I was very happy for him, I haven’t been able to book a single one of those truly lucrative roles in my sixteen years in the city and I was currently on the same lot as he was to make a mere one thousand bucks. Twist the ironic dagger deeper into me why don’t you, winds of fate?

And then came the opossums. Or possums, I guess, although some of my research has suggested that these are names for two slightly different animals. But it’s the internet, so my incredibly light research was probably misleading. What is absolutely true however, is that there was one in my garage. I clean my garage annually, usually when work has gotten so slow I can’t figure out what to do with myself anymore (writing and podcasting for my own creative fulfillment and such a small audience only runs so far…please don’t take that the wrong way.) Also, it was my son’s sixth birthday so we had ordered a bunk bed for him because he’s outgrown his toddler bed. I needed to clear the clutter from the garage to create workspace to unpack the pieces of the bed and start putting it together. I was pulling a bunch of old drywall that I had leaned up against the wall in the corner on the off-chance that I might use it someday, and out of nowhere I saw this giant rat-tail on my shoe. I jumped back and screeched because I am very brave. I steeled myself and pulled everything else out of that corner of the garage to reveal what I thought was a large opossum. (I came to learn that it was only a baby, mom was probably a good twenty pounds or more.) I thought if I could clear its hiding places, I could chase it from the garage. But once all the clutter was in my driveway, and it was just me and the big rodent in there, he made it clear that he wasn’t going to leave. In fact, he went to sleep. I thought he might be “playing possum” as they say, but every time I made loud noises in an attempt to chase him away, he would open his eyes and look at me like I was an asshole, and then go back to sleep. (If he had been actually “playing possum” he wouldn’t have woken up, he would have genuinely seemed dead. You see, another thing I came to learn is that when an opossum is terrified, it actually has a mini-stroke and all its organs shut down so when a would-be attacker sniffs at it, it doesn’t smell yummy.) This opossum apparently knew I had no interest in eating it, and really liked sleeping in the bed of leaves it had created in the corner. So, I took to the phone, trying to find someone to come and take it away. I came to learn that most exterminators don’t deal in opossums, and the ones that do use traps and charge you three hundred or more dollars for the service. I had multiple conversations with people, explaining that there was no need to set traps because I could fucking point at the damn animal! But I finally found one of five companies in the greater Los Angeles area that would actually capture the thing with one of those triggered dog catcher poles with the neck loop on the end. He charged the much smaller fee of one-hundred fifty bucks for his work. He came and grabbed it (took three whole minutes) and put it in the back of the truck. He said he could set some traps if I wanted, since I was also paying for the standard two-week trapping contract, but he doubted there would be any more because they tend to hang alone (unless they are part of a litter of babies, in which case they sometimes stay together until older.) I asked him how he got into the garage, and he pointed out the three-quarter inch gap at the bottom of the door on the side of the detached garage. Given how fat they were, my first reaction was, “How the hell?” He then explained that opossums and raccoons can flatten their rib cages and slide into tight spaces. (Oh. Nice.) In any event, he took it away in his truck. And he told me to put a bunch of mothballs in the garage because the smell would drive any other would-be freeloaders away. Problem solved. Unless you count the money I didn’t have that I used to pay for it.

But then. The next night my house alarm went off in the middle of the night. Thinking there was a burglar in the house, my wife and I lit into a panic, the alarm company on the phone. The alarm that was triggered was a motion sensor in the garage. Now, a smart person would have had them send the police to investigate in case there was some kind of violent felon snooping around in the garage, but if it was another opossum in the garage, we would be charged one hundred bucks for a false alarm. So, in a half asleep daze, I went out and slowly opened the door on the side of the garage. I gingerly reached into the darkness and flipped on the light. There, right at my feet, was another goddamn opossum. He just looked at me. Being a hero, I screamed, turned on my heels, and ran back into the house. Luckily I was still under contract with the animal trapper, so now we have traps set. Four days into the contract, we’ve trapped two more opossums. Trick is, the trapper charges an additional sixty bucks for each animal he takes away. Yeah. So all my unemployment insurance is going into opossums.

And when I finally got to unpack my son’s new bunk bed parts, the largest and most important piece was broken because all affordable furniture is made with particle board now and it’s pretty much a guarantee that something will break in shipping. So my son did not get his big birthday present on time, and currently he still hasn’t got it because it takes forever to get replacement parts.

But if I was that young kid who loved some older guy’s acting so much and I had regular role on a series, none of this would matter. It would just be a pesky set of homeowner’s expenses as opposed to building blocks to nerve-wracking credit debt. I heard the great actor Brian Cranston on a podcast, a couple of podcasts actually, in which he said the main thing an actor needs to be successful are huge strokes of good luck.

When’s mine coming? I want to look back on the opossum days and laugh.


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