The Clams Have It

One summer I got a job doing a play in Martha’s Vineyard. I was so excited. What a coup, summer on the Vineyard. It paid, a little. And with it came free lodging at the director’s house.

I had to sell my husband on the idea. “ We can stay for free at his house. It’s probably some great beach house on the Vineyard.” He said OK.

We packed up six weeks worth of belongings and our dog and took off in my husband’s sister’s Honda Civic.

I love the ocean and was so excited to be getting to spend six weeks there. I also love seafood and the minute we got of the ferry I insisted we get fried clams before going to the director’s house. Let’s call that our last “Happy Meal”.

We find the house; it’s on a suburban looking street. My dog takes one look at the director and pees on the floor. Thank goodness it’s on the wood part. We chat in the dining room. The playwright director makes me really uncomfortable, telling me he picked me because I look like his ex-wife. But he really hates her now. His current wife smiles uncomfortably.

When they are going to show us where we will be staying, I am looking expectantly up the stairs while they are opening the door to the basement. Oh, OK, maybe it’ll be OK. MAYBE NOT.

It’s an unfinished basement. Cinder block damp walls and a ceiling of insulation, which is under the floor of the house above. It smells of rank dampness and mildew. There is a washer and dryer down there. And a small abandoned rodent in a cage that no one pays attention to. There is no air, no light. As a claustrophobic, it is a nightmare. We will have to go upstairs and share the family bathroom to take showers. My husband is giving me the “what have you gotten us into look.” I try to not say anything. The dog looks indignant and upset.

Turns out my playwright director is a stoner house painter who is high constantly. I think he might have a problem with women. He has cast a dim blond in the show who wants to act and do a dance on Pointe. She is very stiff, acting and dancing. Find out later that he was having an affair with her. She looks at me with squinty eyes wondering if I am competition. She invites me swimming and takes me to a place where if you don’t know what to avoid you get cut up by barnacles. I get cut up by barnacles.

My husband and I can’t get ourselves to go back into the basement at the end of the day. We drive to the house and just sit in the car looking at it. Play music in the car. We refer to ourselves as “The People Under The Stairs.” My dog is scared of the director and has an accident every time she sees him. After two days we can’t take it anymore and rent a place nearby. Paying more for rent than I am making in the show. But how can you put a price on sleeping in a place where you can breath and not have panic attacks? It’s clean. It doesn’t smell. We don’t have to lug toiletries back and forth to the bathroom and worry about running into someone. It has windows. It’s not perfect. The only thing to sleep on is a fold out couch. We take the mattress off it and put it on the floor every night.

The director told me I was being stupid. The summer before he had six actors living down there in the basement. Six actors?

The show is a new age drama set in the future. I’m just hoping I don’t have to wear a tin foil hat and giant shoulder pads. I don’t, thank goodness. Stoner let’s me create my own costume from the thrift shop.

The director is very possessive of my time. Even on my time off, we’re expected to hang out with him. We were invited to a lovely art show on a lawn. The director finds us by spotting our car. He marches in and says I’m waiting for you at MY PARTY. He looks a little crazed. The lawn party people look at us like pariahs now.

When the show starts running, my favorite moment was one night when blondie is supposed to do her dance. The cue for the music to start was when she goes up on Pointe. So she goes up on Pointe and no music. She stays there and stays there. Forever. Her arms are over her head. Her eyes are darting from side to side. She is frozen. After an eternity and still frozen in position she yells; “CAN I HAVE SOME MUSIC PLEASE!”

AWKWARD. Duh. Just do your dance a cappella. Hello?

The director casts himself as my ex-husband in the show. He never memorizes his lines. He carries around a clipboard with the script on it. While we’re on stage performing I grab it out of his hands just to entertain myself. The local paper described it as a “tortured melodrama.”

He keeps stalling on giving me my weekly salary and I have to threaten to leave to get him to give it to me. Also awkward.

But there was beach. We found a favorite beach down a winding dirt road through trees. The water was clear. We ate lunch at the Black Dog everyday. I bought the T-shirt. Our dog played on the beach. She made friends with a famous writer’s dog. My husband did lots of writing. And there were clams. It was so worth it.

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