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First Person

Salt in My Eyes

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Salt in My Eyes
"You remember John, don't you?" my uncle said two hours into his wedding reception.

Of course I did. Granted, the last time I'd seen John I was sporting pig tails and My Little Pony T-shirts. How could I forget the man my grandmother referred to as "salt of the earth," who had been my uncle's best friend for 40 years—and who was now a successful Hollywood producer.

My cousins approached the band to request a song, and my great uncle prepared to dance with a glass of ouzo on his head like any good Greek.  My focus remained on John. I knew whatever he had to say would be not only valuable, but also opportunistic. And two months later, as I sat across from him at a fancy San Diego bistro with a plate of scallops and fennel risotto, my inkling was confirmed.

"How would you like to co-host our next project?" his confident voice uttered.

Wait a second: Did I hear correctly? Was I just offered a recurring gig on a TV show?! I studied his eyes. They were genuine and serious. This wasn't a man who wasted time blowing smoke, yet I was incredulous.

"Yes!" I robustly affirmed.

That settled it. I had a job. A real acting job.

**************

Before I even had time to finish those scallops, a flurry of details needed to be discussed: I wanted to learn more about my co-host; we had a filming schedule to lay out; how were we going to approach the tone of our show—my heart was racing with creative energy. As John and I chatted away, my subconscious was on cloud nine. There was nothing that could bring down this night.

"We're going to need you in L.A., full time, by the first of the month."

My heart screeched to a halt.

The first of the month was two weeks away. I had a roommate, a lease, a boyfriend, and a corporate day job. How could I possibly finalize arrangements to be living in L.A. in two short weeks? Panic. Oh the bloody terror.

"Is there any way we could push that date out?" I asked.

"I'm so sorry.  We have an aggressive timeline and all the other players are ready to begin," he responded.

Crap.

There was nothing left to do but start hustling. I had always known that moving to L.A. was inevitable for an acting career. I just never thought I would need to do it in fourteen days' time.

**************

For days my personal odometer was set to hyperdrive.  Packing up my apartment, filling a storage unit and finding a 'good enough for now' rented room in the City of Angels all blurred together. 

My first day in the L.A. office was exhilarating, yet stressful. I briefly met Tamara, the office manager and marketing phenom that kept a unique buzz flowing about the halls, and I had my first face-to-face encounter with...

Dean.

Dean was John's business partner. To put it succinctly, he liked to swim with sharks.

Dean's personality wasn't new to me. We'd had several conference calls together with John. I secretly hoped his cool, clipped phone demeanor would vanish once I met him in person. Unfortunately, it did not.

In fact, it was worse. "Your hair's not right," he said as we were introduced. "Get it cut to look more like Brooke Burke's," he added and walked back to his office.

So much for a smile and a handshake.

**************

As the weeks progressed I heard less and less from John. He grew busier, and my time with Dean increased exponentially. And that time echoed a consistent theme: Dean making demands and me not living up to them.

I have a business background. I am completely familiar with the robots of corporate America. So Dean's behavior wasn't new to me, but it was draining. Buzzkill was the drill.

John, on the other hand, loved the art of creative expression. I tried desperately to navigate around Dean so I could share that mindset and be inspired. But those moments were few and far between. Circumstances of the project bound me to Dean much of the time.

On top of that, living in L.A. can be lonely, especially when you're in a 'hurry-up-and-wait' situation.  Pursuing other acting opportunities was impossible because I was so tightly bound to this project.  I had no day job, and after three months I started to question what the heck I was doing here.  The novelty of business meetings over fancy dinners had worn off. 

I was sick of talking about what we were going to be doing.  I was ready to be doing.

**************

After about six months of several false starts and multiple promises for too little money, a big part of me wanted to walk away from the project.  Other than some brilliant brainstorming sessions, we hadn't actually created anything.  I quieted my inner voice, and reassured myself that all Hollywood productions take time to get off the ground.  This was perfectly normal.

Then, suddenly, we got the green light.

The Indy 500 was happening in Florida, and this would be our first filming sequence. Finally, a chance to bring art to life!

Everything buzzed.  The pace became frantic.  Calls into the L.A. office were so numerous that John and Dean both got second cell phones in addition to their office lines. (I now had six numbers memorized and started to develop carpal tunnel.) 

The following Monday, John called with instructions.

"Kali, give Tamara the exact spelling of your full name and stand by for your plane ticket and hotel confirmation. Doublecheck that wardrobe has your correct sizes, and be sure to bring lots of sunscreen because we'll be filming all day in the sun."

Pay dirt!

My heart was soaring, and I couldn't wait until Friday when I was to board a plane to meet them in Florida.

Then, nothing. Silence.

Forty-eight hours passed.  I was sitting in Los Angeles in a holding pattern.  It's now Wednesday, and there was no sign of my plane ticket or a hotel confirmation.

I became anxious.  Thursday morning, still no word.  Not even an update.  I tried to remain calm.

But as Thursday night arrived, I fell into a full-blown panic.  I started to work those six phone numbers like a madwoman.

Dial phone one. Ring, ring, ring. Voicemail.

Dial phone two. Ring, ring, ring. Voicemail.

Dial phone three. Ring, ring, ring. Voicemail.

Dial phone four. Ring, ring, ring. Voicemail.

Dial phone five. Ring, ring, ring. Voicemail.

Dial phone six. Ring, ring, ring. Voicemail.

Why wasn't anyone answering?!  By the end of my maniacal song and dance I loathed the sound of my own voice and likely had full-blown arthritis. But I didn't care that my fingers were numb or that my voice was full of desperation. I didn't have a plane ticket and had no idea why this didn't alarm anyone but me.

Then Friday came.  I was so ready to fly out the door, packed suit case in hand.

Hours ticked by.  Nothing.  As night fell, I was crushed.  It was over.

The weekend came and went. Despite repeated efforts to contact them in the weeks afterward, I never heard a word from John, Dean or Tamara. Ever. I don't know if everyone made it to Florida but me, or if the earth opened up and swallowed the whole lot of them.

All I know is that the ride came and was gone. Poof. Nothing but dust left swirling in the air.

**************

On the way back to San Diego, I kept thinking of what my grandmother had said, how John (and by extension, Dean) was "salt of the earth"— a good guy, trustworthy. 

So why did this happen?  My family trusted this man.  For years.  Yet I was treated like a stranger.  Even if it was for some business reason—they found another actor—how could they just leave me hanging like that? It was inexcusable.

Worse yet, I was stuck because I didn't want to put my uncle in the middle. He'd done nothing wrong. I didn't want to start a fight between my uncle and one of his oldest friends. 

As I sat there, no tears came.  I felt numb.  It just seemed so random and inexplicable.  I didn't know what to do or what to think.  It felt like someone had pulled that salt from the earth and rubbed it right into my eyes.


Born and raised in South Dakota, Kali Kirk is the daughter of a Greek father and a Norwegian mother. A graduate of the University of San Diego, she has lived and worked in Hong Kong and several other countries throughout the Pacific Rim. Kali is currently attending the Stella Adler Studio's Summer Conservatory in New York City. She can be reached at kalibackstage@gmail.com.

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