Oct 24, 2014

My Careers as an Actor, Tour Guide, Chemist, Stand-up Comedian, Translator, Minister....

In December 1991, I returned to West Hollywood after my semester in Nashville completely discouraged.  I had spent 2 years at Indiana U., 3 years at USC, and a half a year at Vanderbilt, and what did I have to show for it?  A M.A., a lot of useless knowledge, a mountain of debt, and no job prospects.  What else could I do besides become a college professor?

I took the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory.  I read What Color is Your Parachute?  And I tried:

1. Spring 1992: Actor.  I got good reviews in my college plays, and I had some connections in the industry, like Richard Dreyfuss.  How hard could it be to get a job in a sitcom?  So I signed up for an acting workshop.  My first improv scene was: "Boomer, you're returning from a long trip. Your wife meets you at the door, and you hug and kiss."  I ran.

2. Spring 1992: Stand-up Comedian.  I was good at telling jokes, so I signed up for a class with Judy Carter, who wrote the Comedy Bible.  She said: "Your shtick should be about your relationships.  Boomer, are you married?"  I shook my head.  "Divorced?  Widowed? Separated?  Living with a girl?  Going steady?"  Finally I told her "Gay," and she yelled: No!  You can't be a gay comedian!"  I ran.

3. Summer 1992: Translator.  I bought some dictionaries, worked on some sample documents, and contacted a lot of translation agencies. I expected to get assignments translating Rimbaud, Verlaine, Thomas Mann, and Garcia Lorca into English.  Turns out, surprisingly, the greatest writers in world literature were already translated.

4. Fall 1992: Juvenile Probation Officer.  All I had to do was meet with the delinquents once a week to make sure they were going to school, getting vocational training, keeping away from drugs, and so on, and teach an occasional class in "life skills."  Great, except I had to be in the closet all the time.  If the boss suspected that I was gay, I would be fired instantly: "We can't have a homo working around kids!"

I endured the homophobic comments from the kids, police officers, case workers, and everyone else for about nine months.

5. Summer 1993: Writer. I tried to write a fantasy novel, but I had a problem with the plots.  If you're not walking across the continent to vanquish the Dark Lord by throwing something into something, what else is there?

 So I wrote a Gay Guide to Religion, scientifically ranking every Christian denomination in the U.S. by its level of homophobia.  My agent hated it: it's a slap in the face of all the conservative Christians!  

6. Summer 1993: Architect.  Why not?  I loved old buildings.  It would require going back to school again, but it wasn't hard getting a job as an Architectural Assistant at Gruen Associates, the guys who invented shopping malls. Meanwhile I signed up for some architecture classes at UCLA.  Who knew that they would go bankrupt and lay me off after a year?

7. Summer 1994: Tour Guide.  Why not?  I went to Europe every year anyway, and I spoke five languages.  I decided to specialize in taking gay tourists on tours of Scandinavia, Estonia, and Russia.

Ok, I had never been to those places (I would a few years later), and I didn't speak any of the languages,  but I figured it was a good niche.  Turns out I was wrong. 10 ads in gay magazines, no customers.

8. Fall 1994: Employment Counselor. Most resume services charged $5, but I figured I could charge people $200 each to give them a job test, write their resume and cover letters, and give them interview tips. Surprisingly, this plan didn't work.

9. Fall 1994: Minister.  Back in junior high, I thought that God had called me to become a missionary.  Maybe He wanted me to become a minister!  I called the Metropolitan Community Church, and signed up as a student clergy.  It wasn't as glamorous as I expected: they put me in charge of the church hotline, which unfortunately got a lot of questions that weren't related to religion: Where's the best cruising area in town?  If I say I'm gay, how much money will you give me?  How big is your..."  

10. Spring 1995: Computer Technician.  I figured I could pay my way through seminary by becoming an IT professional.  I had to take apart a computer and stare at the innards.  Enough said.

Seeking a change of venue, we moved to San Francisco in 1995.

11. Fall 1995: Chemist.  Maybe I should become a professor, but not in the humanities.  Maybe the sciences were the place to be.  So I signed up for three introductory science classes at San Francisco City College.  I failed calculus and physics, and only passed chemistry by studying six hours a day.

12. Spring 1996: Veterinary Assistant.  It didn't require as rigorous a scientific background, there was a veterinary hospital just two blocks away, and I love animals.  But not necessarily injured, limping, whining animals in pain.  Maybe I should go back to the humanities.

Then one day I was walking across the campus at Berkeley, and I glanced into a classroom and saw the name "John Locke" written on the blackboard.  I took it as a sign: go back to graduate school, get your Ph.D., become a college professor.  But not in the physical sciences or the humanities.  Go into the social sciences.

In the fall of 1997, I enrolled in a fourth graduate program, in sociology at Long Island University.  This time I graduated.