She nearly pleaded with me not to be too rough

Rain beats a tattoo on the hood of the Ford Explorer. The toll collector’s Boston accent cuts through the engine sound. “And sometimes,” he screams at the collector to our right. “Sometimes, they only roll down the window part way! And they hold out the money to ya, like this!” He pinches two fingers in a dainty no-germs gesture.

I roll down the window and put the dollar squarely into his palm. He ignores me. “Fuckin’ immigrants!” he hollers into the rain.

Suddenly, the toll collector has a realization: I (the guy in the Ford Explorer) exist.

As the window of the truck mechanically closes, the guy suddenly and nervously blurts: “T’ank you.”

There’s a grief that can’t be spoken, there’s a pain goes on and on

Friday night. Fred Sharkey shuffled nervously from foot to foot. Jeff Vinall smoked a cigarette.

Fred said, “Typically it’s your older crowd. At Mostly Irish we get a lot of bluehairs coming to these shows.”

“But this is opening night, and it’s ten till eight,” said Jeff. “Where are all your audience members?”

“You guys go to places,” said Fred. “Your audience will be along.”

Jeff, Aaron and I stood behind the curtains and stared at the empty auditorium. “So, um, guys,” whispered Aaron. “Have you guys, like, ever been in a situation like this? You know? Like, have you ever, like, put on a show? And there’s, like, nobody in the audience?”

“No,” said Jeff and I at the same time.

Fred hustled backstage. “We have an audience member,” he said. “Let’s get started.”

“As in one audience member?” I asked.

“As in,” said Fred. “Let’s go.”

The background music faded. We walked on stage and the lights went up. Aaron started his monologue.

And I recognized the audience member.

Now here’s the funny part.

I had a lot of fun doing the show.

Gold and silver blind the eyes, temporary riches lie

Sometimes, the endings don’t follow from the beginnings.

All the other actors lazed about in plastic chairs or looked bored. I sat in the back of the theater. “Number one on the rules list for the show,” said Darren, tapping a clipboard. “First, all the male actors are required to shower before each Sunday performance and taping. That is without exception. Devon, one of the costumers came up to me last time and complained that you reeked. That’s not fair to them to force them to breathe your skank. So, basic rule now: Everybody shower before you come to the television studio.”

“What?s next? Oh, yeah, number two: Everybody wears underwear to the tapings. This is mostly directed at the women, the ones who wear skirts. I know that this is not a problem for most of you, but if I have to look at Rachel’s stanky snatch one more time, I swear I’m gonna lose it. So it’s a global rule now. Got it? Okay, any more questions?”

Silence for a beat. Then Chuck, bald and tough and jovial, turns and grins at me. “Hey! We got a new member of the SUTN cast here? Let me be the first to say, welcome, John!”

Everybody clapped and someone catcalled, “You go, Harvard!” Chuck gave me a big hug.

One week later, Chuck was in a local hospital for some outpatient surgery. He had decided to have more children with his wife, and his vasectomy was being reversed. His forty-six year old heart stopped, and he died.