Teaser 159: Someone Wasn’t All In. Someone Was Merely Acting.

“And how do you make it work, Gregory?” Oprah asked, smiling to me deviously.

“I don't make it work. I don't. This is what's so hard for everyone else to understand. Everyone thinks, you included, Oprah, it's something I do, somehow I make it work, but I don't do anything except be myself and enjoy everyone there. They make it work. They make the hard choices which arise from this kind of arrangement. I honor their choices, because the only time I intercede is when I am too tired, wasted, or sick as I have been the last couple days, and I say, 'I can't. Not now.' And they honor it. If I do anything to make it work, it's that I absolutely insist no one sleeps alone. And no one sleeps alone. Right?” I said it loudly and glanced to the three women sharing the sofa with me. All nodded and smiled, too.

Oprah shook her head and focused on me. “How did you get to such an unconventional arrangement, Gregory, and, especially, when everyone accepts it? It's not supposed to work like that. You know that, don't you?”

I looked up to the ceiling for a moment. “Yeah, it's not supposed to work like that. Marriage or a commitment is the convention. It's what everybody can handle, although I've been known to be unconventional, a little.”

“Maybe a lot,” John interjected, with great laughter from all.

“But it has been working, Oprah. We have been sharing the same room for days now, the four of us, and everyone here knows it. It's not something we've been hiding or even could hide. There are a lot of factors involved, four of the biggest being ourselves, as each of us has a tendency to want to be independent and selfish, but we manage to keep it under reasonable control while we're together. If there's something we can all point to and agree helps to make it work, more than other things, is the rule to remain in my life is cooperation. Everyone has to cooperate, to get along with everyone else, and the rule isn't only for when we're all together. Serena has known about it from the first day. She's known should she become belligerent, to explode in my face, I'll get up and walk right out of her life and never see her again, and never want to. It's the beauty of my world, my life. It's mobile. It goes everywhere I go. It belongs to me. When my world intersects with another world which won't cooperate, I get up and leave, or if it's my residence, I'll warn you once to cooperate, and if you won't, I'll make you leave, because I'll throw you out. This is the one aspect of our arrangement everyone takes to heart. Cooperate. Get along. And the other is no one sleeps alone. It wasn't going to be how it all started, when I let these two decide.”

I pointed to Serena and Jennifer and shook my head in total disbelief. “And Serena started with 'You have to set Jennifer straight.' No, dear, you and I don't have a commitment. I'm still free to do as I please and what pleases me, if I have to choose, is we all sleep alone. We've got two beds here, Serena, so you'll sleep in one and I'll sleep in the other. Or...you two decide. I told them I would go to the lounge and have a drink. I had two.” I paused to let the laughter subside, noting both Jennifer and Serena wore similar expressions of embarrassment. “So when I returned, what do you think these two brilliant social stalwarts came up with on their own?” I shook my head in total disbelief again but no one interrupted. Everyone was fascinated. “I'll stay in Jennifer's room and Serena will sleep alone. I said, 'Why should anyone sleep alone?' Serena reminded me about an experience we had which I won't go into, and said, 'I'm not doing that again.' I said, 'I'm not suggesting it, Serena. We're in a suite. It has a private bedroom with a separate door. One stays out in the main room, the other is with me in the bedroom. When the private stuff is over, everyone goes to bed together. No one sleeps alone.' It's not like it's never been done before. There are whole cultures, often in harsh or extreme environments, though it's not even a requirement, and whole families, even multiple families all sleep together. No one sleeps alone. That's what we do. We sleep together, each of us with a warm body or bodies next to each one of us, and we sleep. It's what we've been doing for days now.” I paused for a moment to glance briefly to all three, Jana first, Serena next and turning to Jennifer. I turned back to Oprah. “And it seems to work, Oprah, and the reason I can say it with a great deal of confidence is, since we've been doing it this way, no one yet has complained and said, 'I can't do this any more. I'm going to sleep alone.'” Laughs and all three smiled widely. “They make it work, Oprah, and I only step in when I think there's a better alternative. When they decided Serena sleeps alone, how is that a good idea? No one should sleep alone. When you, or anyone, considers what is best, no one thinks sleeping alone is better than sleeping with another human being's body right next to you, keeping you warm while you keep the other warm. No one thinks sleeping alone is best.”

Oprah asked as delicately as possible, “Do you sleep with or without clothes?”

“Oh, we all wear mukluks, of course. After Jennifer arrived, we all went to the department store the next morning and bought our mukluks.” Since everyone was laughing, especially the three girls, I kept going. “We took Jana later and got hers, too.”

Amid the prevailing laughter Oprah advised, “Mukluks are a type of shoe, Gregory! You wear shoes to bed?”

“At least we're not naked! We're wearing bed attire since we only wear our mukluks in bed!”

Once the laughter had died a bit, Oprah asked with a laugh of her own, “I'm not going to get an answer, am I?”

“Other than what I said, um, no,” I replied. “I love how John said it though. 'I don't get it, except it all revolves around one little old guy.' That would be me, the one little old guy, and there's not even two of me, let alone three. Well, I still have my teeth.” Laughter again. I sucked down the last of my beer and held up the empty bottle. One of the servers immediately brought a full one and took away the empty as I thanked him.

Oprah had one more question about it and when I caught her gaze, she smiled slyly again. “So, Gregory, since Serena has said she would marry you and accept the company you attract, what's really keeping you from marrying her?”

“She's got you there, buddy boy,” John remarked, joined by several in laughter.

I took a big, long gulp from my newly refreshed beer bottle. “I could do the show and still drink endless beer, Oprah. Heck, you might even loosen me up, dear.” There was more laughter, even from Oprah, who was also shaking her head, trying to frown. “The biggest reason right now is that she is, and wants to remain, in the middle of all the show biz stuff, to keep stroking her movie career, modeling, attending the glamour and gala events which seem to pop up every week, this stuff. I won't be involved with it on a regular basis, as I've already said, mainly because I don't have to, and the reason I don't have to is because I am the quintessential outsider. I came out of nowhere and shook the business to its core, and if I come back and make another movie, it won't be only to make a movie. I'm going to shake it again. But it wasn't only the financial or business aspect I sent seismic quakes through, it was the artistic aspect, too. Long before I even wrote the screenplay, I had carefully and thoroughly considered the role of Cecilia, her role would be the most fully developed and would be, by far, the one which grows and adapts the most over all others. And you can't argue because it's there in the movie. I fully intended to expose the entire range in this character, so the actress who portrayed her would be forced to expose her entire range, and since she wouldn't have anyone else in the movie competing against her, it really would force, if the story and the movie turned out as good as I thought it would, the entire acting community to be unable to ignore the performance of this actress. Since I only had one human being in mind as this actress, I think I succeeded on that level, too, but the actress had to deliver. So you see and hear the arrogant, dismissive party girl from Vera Cruz arrive at the ranch for the first time and treat Gustavo like a slave. You see her fall from a horse while she's trying to learn to ride like a man and seethe with controlled rage when Gustavo refuses to help her back on the horse as she has demanded. You see her confrontation with the major, holding a double-barreled shotgun, and you know, by the look on her face, the major understands he's not going to have a chest if he pushes this little woman any further. You see her straighten her dress and push her hair from her face when Gustavo explains the mule reference, which, incidentally, is the scene we did for the screen test. You see her deep admiration for Gustavo as they sit at the dinner table when he interrupts and silences Esteban and the oldest sister, calmly finishing with, 'Not at the dinner table.' Birthing the calf with Gustavo during a hurricane, shearing the sheep without him, and her frustration with the progress or lack thereof. I put it all in there, because I wasn't going to let the acting community in the academy overlook and ignore the performance from this actress. And I was going to do it with the most impressive achievement of them all. Cumon, Oprah! Guess that one!”

“Tell me, Gregory, please,” Oprah said, smiling. I still had not looked to Serena.

“This actress was going to deliver her role using an acquired language, English, instead of the language she was taught from birth, Spanish, even though it should have been in Spanish. And the clincher? The bedroom scene after the telegram. I did not have to be on the set, Oprah, but I was not missing it, and I sat next to Carey and watched Serena deliver her scene in one take, and when Carey called it a wrap, she got up and avoided me completely, and I knew as soon as she turned away why, because there was a look of hurt on her face when she glanced to me. That's what I went through creating, developing and writing the screen play and what I went through making the movie. Time and time and time again, I watched Serena deliver exactly what I expected from her role, from Cecilia, because I wrote it that way. Oh, she struggled. At times, she struggled mightily, but she would not quit. She always looked to me, Oprah, when she struggled, with this fierce determination I always interpreted to mean, I am not going to let you down, Gregory. I can do this. And she always would. When they rewarded her the other night, it was the culmination of my intention all along, but this actress had to deliver. I couldn't do it for her. She had to do it, and, man, did she ever.”

Serena tugged on my arm. “Look at me,” she demanded.

I turned to look to her and watched her eyes dance back and forth until Serena lifted her right hand to my cheek to hold my head steady, leaned toward me and kissed my lips slowly. When she leaned back a few moments later, I said, “See? I've unleashed a monster. She can't stop acting. Now, she's ad-libbing.”

Serena pushed me. “You know I love you.”

I slipped my arm behind her neck, grasped her right shoulder, and pulled her back against the back of the sofa with me. “I don't know what she has left to achieve and I'm not going to push her or rush her to leave, to step out of the middle of it. We haven't discussed it and I want her to take her time. I think, maybe after I finish in Africa, she'll be ready. And this is off the record. I won't state this publicly. I don't want Serena with me in Africa. I don't know what's going to happen there. It's not because I think she doesn't have the balls, the strength, to deal with it. It's there will be a great amount of uncertainty tied to it, it will require my complete attention and resolve, and I don't want to add to it the responsibility which I would have to assume with Serena and her daughter there with me. The biggest reason is this. Everyone here, John, Drake, Will, Ken, Jennifer, Antonio, and their loved ones, are all close friends of both of us. If something were to happen to Serena and/or Sofia, they would all blame me, rightly so, and I cannot live with that. Africa is my endeavor, not Serena's. I don't want her there. If we were married, Serena would feel obligated, and I don't want that. Instead, I think if I give her the time to pursue whatever she wants to further accomplish in show biz by separating from her to accomplish what I can in Africa, then maybe we'll both be ready. I'm not taking a wife to Africa. I'm not doing that.”

Oprah looked to Serena warmly. “What do you think about it?”

“I don't want to go to Africa,” Serena stated calmly, “and I don't want Gregory to go either. If we could discuss it, I would strongly consider compromise. I would consider stepping away from show biz, as Gregory calls it, if he would skip Africa, but he won't. He's set on it.” Serena smiled but her eyes were serious. “He's incorrigible, you know.” Even I laughed.

“Bad beyond correction or reform, and you can't possibly reform me. Correct me?” I narrowed my eyelids at Oprah. “How so?”

“Yes, that's you, Gregory,” Oprah agreed, laughing.

“We're not going to end up as star-crossed lovers, as John has considered.” I engaged John's gaze. “He worries about it because he thinks it's so unnecessary. Here's how it will probably go, though. I'll be in India and Serena and I will be chatting by phone and I'll ask her how things are going in the middle of vanity fair, and she'll say something like, 'It's going okay. I miss you. I want to see you again soon.' I'll say, 'You can do the okay stuff from here, Serena. We can go back to it any time, you know. We have the means. You're still unmarried so you're hauling in your fifty-thousand dollar alimony check every month. It will pay for a few flights back from India. Cumon, girl!' She'll say, 'Well.' We'll hang up and I'll get to thinking about it and say to myself, 'That's it. My mind's made up.' And everybody here knows when my mind's made up, nothing's stoppin' me. I carried her to her bedroom that night and didn't drop her.” I paused for a moment to let everyone finish laughing and take a swallow from the beer bottle. “I fly to L.A., drive out to her house, say the magic words at her gate, walk in, and tell her, 'You and I got a flight booked to India. Don't bother packing, because the first thing we're going to do when we get there is get you a new wardrobe, so let's go.' I'd throw her over my shoulder, tell Lance to grab Sofia, and carry her out to the car, which is not an easy task, Oprah, because Serena is not a waif of a woman. She's filled out quite nicely. In fact, it's the one thing I love about women.” I turned to look to Katherine and held her gaze. “You're saying when you gain weight, it goes there, there, and there, and you are essentially starving yourself for, what reason again?”

Katherine could not contain herself. “And why were you looking at me, Gregory, when you said that?”

“Because you're the thinnest here, Katherine,” I replied, deviously, “and since Will won't bring it up, I certainly will.” I smiled at her wide and challenging. Katherine wanted to look at me sternly, but she couldn't keep her smile from intruding. “And if you ever have a problem with him, you call me right away and I'll get this man straightened out. He may be a rough, tough, Boston boxing boy, but I will shame him to correction. And if that doesn't work initially, I'll hunt up and recruit his mother and she'll finish the job, and don't think I won't!”

Will laughed. “I remember the shotgun scene, when we wrapped.” He turned to Oprah. “Gregory was on the set, which he often was when he was not called, and I walked over to him and said, 'I was looking at Serena and I thought for a moment she might actually pull the trigger.' Gregory said, 'Which is exactly why there is no scene with Cecilia pointing a gun at Gustavo. I'd have to be out of my mind to stand before Serena with a gun pointed at me.'”

I looked to Katherine and waited until she caught my gaze. “I was only teasing you, dear, but let me tell you something. I've been meaning to tell you this for a while. When we all arrived at Drake's place, and Little Boy popped up on the window, I cannot forget the sound of your beautiful, empathetic voice saying, 'Look, everybody, it's Gregory's friend from India.' Every time I think of it, and it's one of my fondest memories, your voice is the only voice I ever hear in my head, your beautiful, lyrical, empathetic voice.”

Katherine's face lit up so bright I was enthralled. “That is so sweet, Gregory.”

“Sweet, that's it,” I said smiling warmly back to her, “beautiful, lyrical, empathetic and sweet. I love it!”

“Followed by the look on Serena's face,” Will said. “Your friend from India is a cat?”

“Well, that, too,” I agreed, and with everyone laughing, Serena leaned and pushed me, and I pulled her closer with my arm.

“You can be such a bastard,” Serena said, but she was smiling openly and everyone laughed some more.

Oprah looked to me with uncertainty, not following, and asked, “A friend from India that's a cat? And you're a bastard?”

More laughter, but everyone was looking to Serena, who was mildly embarrassed. “Well, Gregory had been talking for months about this friend from India who he was protecting, whatever, and the whole time it was this little cat, and he did it all to see if he could make me jealous.”

Oprah smiled slyly and asked, “And did he make you jealous, Serena?”

“Well,” Serena said, hesitantly, “yes, but that's beside the point.” She couldn't finish because there were many hoots and lots of laughter. “All right!” Serena said loudly. “He did and I'm glad it was just a cat. There! Are you happy?” Serena beamed, though.

When it calmed down I said, “There's not going to be any star-crossed lovers. If Serena won't come to me, and I imagine she won't, because she's too proud and she's a woman, and women typically don't do it. They don't chase men. In that case I'll go to her and I'll throw her over my shoulder if I have to, but I don't think it will be necessary. I'll simply use her own words against her if she puts up any resistance. 'My life is better when Gregory's in it.' It will be enough.” I felt Serena's head fall against my shoulder.

“Are you like this all the time, Gregory?” Oprah asked, smiling widely.

“No, I wore my mania cap tonight,” I replied amid the many chuckles. “You know, I'm here at your place, Oprah, amid a number of performers, and if there's anything a performer, an entertainer, appreciates, it's a performance. I don't need more incentive! It's like I told John, when we were discussing Gustavo, and he said, 'You don't have any acting experience.' No, not formal, but I've been acting all my life. It's sometimes hard to tell whether I'm acting or not, because I have a lifetime of acting experience. I can go on and on with some scenario, Oprah, and have you completely convinced, even though I made it all up, and I'd wait for the one moment when you would reveal to me your full conviction in its truth, let you hang for a few moments, and say, 'Hey, I was just kidding.' I would watch you, Oprah, watch your face go through the whole gamut of emotions, and it would always leave you with the thought, 'How can I tell? How can I be certain?' Here's what will help you to be certain.

“Pay no attention to the man before the curtain. He may be acting. We've all seen The Wizard of Oz. Use it, too. 'Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.' Give neither attention, because they may both collude on an illusion. Instead, set your timeline in your life. Set it the moment you meet the man, and use your timeline for proper comparison. If your life after you met the man is better than before, there's your clue. If it's worse after you met the man, there's your clue. Acting is an illusion. Acting is pretense. Acting does not provide a material improvement in your life, and this is how you interpret the clue. Is there an improvement or not? Pretty much everyone has heard me say it using myself as the context, but I don't think I've said the reverse, yet the reverse is just as true, so if I look at my life after I met Serena, is it better? It is. After John? Yes. Will? Yes. Ken? Yes. Drake? Yes. Because we weren't acting. We checked our egos and differences at the door, stepped through the door and cooperated and worked together toward one common goal and achieved it, all three hundred and forty-eight once it was complete. It wasn't acting, because we made it real, we achieved what we had all set out to do together, so it doesn't surprise me so many think so highly of our achievement. We weren't acting in the first place. We took action. That's different. We weren't forming an illusion. We were making it all real. What we achieved is so impossible to ignore because we were all in. You may suggest if I wasn't all in first, no one else would have been. I think it's a moot point, because everyone was all in when we started, but I would also counter if you have to pick one person, it's Carey. He was the director and everyone will always think of The True Cross as Carey's movie and no one here is going to object. It still doesn't take away from the fact that all of us, all three hundred and forty-eight, were all in. If you want to discover why something didn't reach its potential involving more than one human being, I can tell you to stop looking. Don't waste your time. Someone wasn't all in. Someone was merely acting. That's how you tell. You have to think a little, but you can tell.”

“May I be in your next movie, Gregory?” Oprah asked, only half facetiously.

“Well, you might be, but it may be a demanding role. I'd have to ask you, 'Are you sure you can perform the role of Oprah? I have to hear it from your lips.'”

- Just Desserts, Segment NineteenAnother Show in Chicago” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

contact me, as always: schussprose@gmail.com