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SWINE FLU HITS “HOLLYWOOD EAST”!

by Tiferet Peterseil

November 25, 2009 | 11:13 am

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When I woke up Monday morning coughing, sneezing and with the general feeling that a truck hit me, reversed, and ran me over again – my first thought was: Uh-oh, I’m screwed. I had an audition in an hour that required I be in tip-top shape. I scrambled out of bed and brushed my teeth while repeating the mantra: “I’m not sick….I’m not sick.”

No one likes to be sick. No one can really afford to get sick. But as far as I know, there are only three professions where no matter how sick you are, as long as you’re conscious, it’s “business as usual”:

Being The President, a Model or an actor.

Skipping or rescheduling my audition wasn’t an option. I had prepared for this role all week. I knew the lines by heart, I had done all the character research – I knew what she would wear, how she would talk, and even what color lipstick she would wear. All I needed now was to show up and show them my stuff (Unfortunately, some of my “stuff” was flying through the air as I sneezed three times in succession).

Nevertheless, I refused to admit to myself I had THE FLU.

I glanced at my reflection.

It’s not a pretty picture looking at yourself in the mirror when you’re sick. I yelled in surprised, startled by the reflection of a grayish, leathery face and bloodshot eyes. I felt the sudden urge to snort, and roll around in mud. Where was my beautiful blonde hair? Where were my china blue eyes? (oh wait, I never had those to begin with….)

This wasn’t fair. I had prepared for this audition. Everything was in place. This role was perfect for me. How could I suddenly get sick?

Times like these I realized that my closest friend was, unfortunately, good old Murphy.

“Out of all the days to get me sick, you had to pick today?” I yell at my reflection, wondering if I’d be calling out to an imaginary figure if I didn’t have fever. “Why’d you have to go make up such a retarded law anyway?!”

No! Murphy’s Law wasn’t going to get the better of me this time. I WAS going to show up at the audition, and I WAS going to be at my A game. It’s just a small case of the sniffles, that’s all, I told myself. And immediately set to work to fix my situation. I could cover my face with make-up, and wear something extra warm clothes o stop my involuntary shaking. Okay, it’s not how I planned, but it’ll work. I’m fine.

I had just managed to convince myself that I look and feel like a (half a) “million dollars”, when my friend, Jim calls.

“You sound like shit” Jim says shamelessly. “Unless you’ve had a sex change, I suggest you stay in bed.”

“Jim! I have an audition in half an hour and you’re not helping,” I warn him.

“Whoa. In that case, I hope you don’t look as bad as you sound.”

“I’m hanging up now….” Jim is great for a lot of things. But NOT for making you feel better.

“Okay, okay, I know what you can do. What’s bothering you? Head cold? Soar throat? Coughing?”

“All of the above.”

“Okay, just eat the following things, and we’ll have you back on your feet in ten minutes!” Jim promises.
Jim is a health freak (but I consider anyone who doesn’t live off coffee, cake and popcorn to be a little “out there”). In general, everything about Jim is a little too meticulous. The way he organizes all the clothes in his closet by color; the way he dresses (His boots have 3-inch heels on them!), the way he speaks (Hebrew with a French accent – although he doesn’t know a word of French), and the people he hangs out with (rich and famous—except for me). Jim is a man who takes his figure, his looks and his health all too seriously. Worst of all, he’s sure the rest of the world could stand to learn a thing or two from him.

“You need to eat two cloves of garlic and raw ginger,” Jim advises.

“Ewwww! That sounds disgusting!”

“Don’t worry, because then you wash it down with a cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice.”

“Do you mean lemonade?”

“No, just lemon juice.”

I consider this for a moment. “But I can’t walk into an audition smelling like garlic!” I protest.

“You didn’t let me finish the recipe,” he continues. “Then after all that, you down two shots of whisky, and you’re good to go.”

“I can’t come to an audition tipsy and reeking of alcohol either!”

“Well, you can’t go sick!”

“I’m not sick… I’m just… Jim! What’s that noise?” I wonder aloud at the eerie squish-squish sound over the line.

“Nothing, I’m just rubbing in some hand-sanitizer.”

“I’m not contagious over the phone.”

“Famous last words,” I hear him mumble. “Hey, didn’t you say the audition is for a role of a girl who tried to kill herself the night before?”

“Yeah….” I say cautiously.

“So, problem solved! After having her stomach pumped and being depressed, I’m sure she looks like shit too. ”

I hang up with Jim, exasperated.

But it turns out Jim is only the tip of the iceberg. When you’re sick, everyone seems to be filled with useful-less advice.

My parents call from Jerusalem, putting me on speaker.

“What you need, is some good old fashioned Chicken Soup!” My father announces.

“Abba, you’re still in denial that I’m a vegetarian.”

My Mother reads down a list of medications and decongestants that she insists will whip me in shape for the audition.

“I don’t think so, Ima. Remember last time I was sick? You gave me those antihistamines you promised were for the day, and wouldn’t make me drowsy. Thirty-five minutes later I was sound asleep on the bus, and missed my stop by two cities! And don’t get me started on the time you confused ear drops with nose drops, Uch! That tasted disgusting!”

“Plus,” my father adds, on queue, “we had to scream into your nose for a week! That was the only way you could hear us properly.”

A quick “Thanks but no thanks,” as my friend, Miri, calls on my land line. 

She suggests a more “natural” approach. But I assure her I can’t show up stoned to my audition.

My Brother (#4) takes the extreme physical approach and suggests 20 pushups, 40 deep knee bends, 60 crunches and he guarantees I’ll feel good as new. I assure him if I felt well enough to do all that, I wouldn’t worry about the audition.

My sister (#6) takes a more psychological approach: “Feeling sick is just a result of some unsolved conflict in your mind. Clean your mind and the disease will disappear,” she advises. When I ask her what that means, she just answers “not all of life has to have meaning.”

My older sister (#1), an avid fan of “The Secret” takes the cerebral approach: “Listen, whenever I take the kids to the mall, we all envision a perfect parking spot. And I’m telling you, not once has this failed. Every time we go to the mall, there’s not only one parking spot, but the whole floor is empty of cars!”

“That’s because no one else goes to the mall at 7:30 in the morning,” I remind her.

“I like to avoid rush hour. Anyway, I’m telling you, just envision yourself healthy, and imagine you’re ideal self at the audition. Then picture yourself getting the part and it’s yours.”

By the time I get to my destination, I’ve envisioned myself strong, healthy and confident about a million times. I slap on my dashing smile, pull back my shoulders, and enter the casting room.

“You look like you’re about to fall off your feet,” the director says dryly, bursting my bubble. “Are you sick?”

“No!” I reply quickly, “Just a little run-down.”

“You must be Tiferet?” he says skeptically, looking from my glamorous headshot to the real live sniffilufigous in front of him. “I’m Raffi, The Director.”

He gives me a polite nod, but I notice that he won’t risk shaking my hand. (which is probably a good idea since I keep coughing into it.)

“Are you up for crying?”

“Excuse me?” I ask. “I’m sorry, all this liquid in my ears. I thought you said something about crying.”

“Well, this scene calls for crying,” Raffi replies.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve played several roles which require crying, but this was the first time I’d ever been asked to cry at an audition.

“Um, normally there’s a lot of preparation involved in crying,” I explain. “And I was under the impression that I was to prepare the scene you sent me?”

“Yeah, but that’s less important. The only thing I really need to be sure of is that you can cry in the exact way I’m looking for. Try and think of something sad.”

He turns on the camcorder and aims it at me.

Right now, this seems the saddest situation I can think of. Here I am, red nosed and droopy-eyed, trying to focus all my attention on getting in character and conveying real emotions and he wants me to… cry? I’ve never been the spontaneous crier type.

“Now,” the director says from behind the camera. “I don’t want just a few tears. I want a whole waterfall! When I say ‘ACTION!’ I want you to break out in hysterical bawling….Ready?” he asks rhetorically, and before I can blow my nose, yells “ACTION!”

I just sit there, shocked, and at a complete loss for words. Or tears. The director waits anxiously, and the room gets so quiet that I can hear him swallow.

You know the saying “Laughter is the best medicine?” Well, I’m almost positive I can hear Murphy laughing from the corner of the room, and for no reason at all, I suddenly join him.

The director looks up, surprised. (he probably doesn’t understand what’s so funny, since he only sees one of us.)

“Sorry,” I tell him, shaking my head, and accepting the sad truth. “But this isn’t gonna happen.”

If my head had not been throbbing, my throat burning, and brain in a medicated daze, maybe, just maybe I would’ve succeeded in focusing enough on crying.

And maybe not.

There are certain things you’re never asked to do at the audition itself: cry, kiss and take off your clothes. Generally, if you’re asked to do any of these things on the spot, something is fishy.

I remember in acting class we had a girl who could always cry (even when the scene didn’t warrant it!). But the thing is, except for crying, she’d never show any real emotion. My teacher called her “A Crying Whore”, meaning she could “put out” tears without thinking. He used her as a negative example to explain that when you act, first get in touch with the emotion at hand, and if crying is where it leads you, so be it.

Still, I wondered if not “crying on demand” made me less of a professional. Had I failed as an actress?

Waiting for the bus, feeling let down and disappointed, coughing and sneezing, I realized that if I was looking for sympathy, the streets of Tel Aviv were the wrong place to find it. Every time I coughed, people nervously crossed to the other side of the street; others just glared, silently accusing me of polluting their germ-free-smog-full air.

Once on the bus, things really got uncomfortable as people pointed to me and whispered to their seat-mates. I could swear I even heard a woman two seats in front of me say, “Don’t you hear? Her cough is high pitched and squeaky, just like an oink. If that isn’t Swine Flue I don’t know what is.”

When my coughing fit increased to the point that tears were streaming down my cheek, and all the passengers moved away from me and to the front of the bus, I took the hint, and got off 4 stops early.

By the time I got home, I felt angry for failing my audition, feverish and sore, and felt the urge to check for leprosy (Had my nose fallen off during one of my sneezing fits?). When Jim called again, he of course, had his own way of showing support.

“I would love to come cook you some home-made soup, except I don’t want to risk breathing the same air as you. But just so you know I care – how about I drive over and leave a few packets of instant soup in your mailbox? It’s outside your building, isn’t it?”

In case you’re wondering, I actually tried Jims’ instant remedy for the flu. The only change it stirred in me was a strong sense of nausea, and the hiccups.

I sat down and jolted a sentence I seemed to remember, on a nearby napkin. I was trying to figure out the exact wording, when I heard a knock at my door. To my surprise, there stood my ever-loving brother, (#3) holding large grocery bags.

“Hey sis, heard you’re sick,” he says, letting himself in and placing the grocery bags on my kitchen table.

“Not sick, just a feeling a little –” he puts his hand over my mouth.

“No, you’re sick. So…” He begins opening the bags, taking out different items. “I brought our patient some ice-cream and drinks and tea bags and a box of your favorite blue jellybeans…” He hands me a pre-opened box of HIS favorite blue jellybeans. “Um…. Weird thing, they sell them in half packages now…” he says as I notice the blue coloring on his finger tips.

“Did you just drive all the way from Jerusalem for me?” I ask, amazed.

“Don’t worry about it. By the way, Ima packed in all these medications for you, and Abba sent you some chicken soup.”

Turns out, I can be moved to tears in an instant.

“That’s so sweet! But I don’t want you to feel that every time I’m not feeling well you have to drive an hour to take care of me.”

“Yeah, me too. So how about you save us both the trouble and get a boyfriend already?” He smiles at me and leans-in to give me hug. “Gee, you don’t have to cry about it, you’ll get one eventually,” he jokes, and kisses my forehead, clearly un-phased by my germs.

But then he sniffs the air a couple of times, and after I hiccup, adds, “Sis, you smell like alcohol and it’s only 2 in the afternoon. Are you developing a habit?”

I shake my head. He moves towards the table, picks up the napkin I had scribbled on earlier, and reads it aloud:

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

“I knew it! This is from AA.!”

“No it’s not, it’s like a religious saying or something,” I insist.

“Sis, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a prob–“

“No,” I grab it from him, and smile. “Believe it or not, I was just summing up my day.”

For me, the day was an example of all my hard work, preparation and positive thinking, not paying off.

I couldn’t foresee getting sick. I couldn’t foresee that I’d be asked to cry at the audition. I couldn’t predict anything. 

I guess sometimes the biggest challenge in life is to accept that we don’t control everything. Oh yes, we control a lot of our fate, but there’s always that small percentage that really isn’t up to us.

On the other hand, not having control about everything in your life, is also a plus. I could never have foreseen my brother showing up at my door-step, just when I needed him most. And that was a wonderful surprise.

The serenity to accept that things I can’t change.

Thanks to high doses of cough-syrup, I finally feel serene, (except for the fact that Mom failed to mention it had caffeine in it, which is why I’m wide awake and writing at 4:00 am).

Sometimes trying my best will just have to be good enough, and the rest I’ll have to leave in the hands of higher being or entities (like the Director….).

So right now I guess I have to face facts that – yes, I’m sick. And I plan to spend the next 24 hours curled up under the covers, and eating my brothers’ favorite blue jellybeans.

This much I will accept.

But I draw the line at growing a snout and curly tail.

Oink.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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I don’t remember much about being born, but I know the event took place in New York a whopping 26 years ago. That’s the most Americana thing about me, because 2 years later...

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