Freedom! Or why Star Trek beamed me to Kenya
The Truth, Part 2
"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose"
Before I take you on a ride in a New York City taxicab without a steering wheel…
And tell you why Star Trek forced my father into a momentous decision…
And why I found myself headed for work in a Kenyan wildlife preserve…
I want to tell you why our teak shower benches
are floating in the ocean?
If you haven’t heard, the shipping container filled with our teak shower benches is sitting on a ship anchored a few miles off the port of Los Angeles.
It’s not alone, however. About 40+ other container ships are keeping it company.
All are waiting for a parking space (a berth in nautical terms) to unload their cargo.
Once docked and unloaded, these containers will then wait to be re-loaded onto railroad cars, then unloaded and reloaded onto trucks to be taken to their designated warehouses.
Normally, if ever there will be anything normal again, our container's trip from Indonesia to our warehouse takes roughly 45-60 days.
In our new normal, it’s taking 3-6 months.
A record-breaking flood of imports from Asia, mainly from China.
You see, now that the pandemic is over (yeah right, tell me another one), consumers have released the Kraken (long-deferred buying) in celebration.
But the problem is, there aren’t enough container ships, containers, port workers, railroad cars, trucks and drivers to handle this tsunami of binge-buying.
Hence, “the backlog.”
This, however, doesn’t explain why the cost to bring a container of goods from Asia to America has skyrocketed between 400-800%?
Which is a great question to ask our distracted, divided and fractured Congress as it goes about proving, unwittingly, that Abraham Lincoln spoke the truth.
A nation divided cannot stand!
Nor is Congress able, it seems, to stop the wholesale profiteering and price-gouging by the shipping companies.
So consumers be damned.
Because there are more politically expedient issues to fry.
Anyway, now you know why the price of many of the goods you buy are shooting through the roof.
Which also explains why, if you recently bought new living room furniture, the salesperson told you it’ll take 6 months to deliver it.
Because your furniture is in the container next to ours, floating aimlessly in the ocean.
Ok, rant over.
Now onto the Truth, Part 2: Freedom
If you remember (otherwise click here to read Part 1), after I embarrassed myself in front of legendary producer-director-actor John Houseman, of The Paper Chase fame…
I flew off to college, to the celebrated drama school at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University.
Now, I want you to think back…to that heady day when YOU went off to college (or moved out of your parent’s home.)
Tell me it wasn’t like New Year’s Eve and July 4th rolled into one big flight to FREEDOM.
You were finally free of your parent’s grasp. No longer a child to be commanded, censored or vetoed.
That strangling parental umbilical cord had once and for all time been cut.
There would be no more rules, dictates, or the hour to be home by.
Ok, you were still a deduction, but that meant nothing. You hadn’t yet taken economics 101.
And your parents could still harangue you from miles away over the phone.
But now you can just smile, agree, lie and ignore them.
Because what they couldn’t see, they couldn’t know.
You were FREE!
So there I was, in Pittsburgh, living in a dormitory, making friends with kids who were as eager as I to explore, experiment, and push the boundaries of acceptable behavior.
To bust loose!
It was wonderful.
Plus, my parent’s continued to give me an allowance.
I was heaven.
What could be better?
Actually, there was one thing I thought of that could make it a helluva’ lot better.
To finally lose my damned virginity!
I was the only one I knew (or so I thought at the time) who still carried that shame and embarrassment.
So, one of the first things I did during orientation week was to find a way to get that damn monkey off my back.
For many reasons, none to be disclosed, when that opportunity finally presented itself that first week in Pittsburgh…
And I, with open arms, gratefully accepted…
I did not know that the night of my de-virgining would be forever remembered…
Not as a night filled with rainbows and unicorns dancing across my dorm room ceiling…
But rather as a night filled with, how should I put it, fumbled footballs in front of the end zone.
Part of the problem was, it wasn’t exactly clear to me what I was supposed to do.
I had never gotten that close to the end zone.
Or, put another way…
I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.
In fact, she even asked me at one point, “Barry, what the hell are you doing?”
Nonetheless, in the end, I got the job done.
And the pleasure was found solely in knowing that I had.
The monkey was off my back.
Carnegie was also anti-climactic
I was doing pretty much the same things in my acting classes as I had done at PA.
In fact, one of my teachers at PA was now my teacher at Carnegie.
It was like the movie Ground Hog Day—but the movie hadn’t even been written yet.
I felt trapped. And I was getting bored, fast.
So, I entertained myself with other pursuits. Mostly chasing co-eds.
I even dated the Homecoming Queen, until I met her roommate.
Of course none of this benefitted my grades.
And that’s why at the end of my freshman year I was, in four words, kicked out of Carnegie.
My father wanted to kill me. Again.
Back in the Bronx, I dutifully enrolled in The City College of New York.
Where I took the required “core courses,” the 3 Rs, and even an elective acting class.
More bored than ever, and living at home again…
There were only two things I could do.
I dropped out, and moved out
I rented a studio apartment and began making “the rounds.”
Introducing myself to casting agents, and going to auditions. Cold calling by any other name. Not something I was in the least bit comfortable doing.
A friend from Carnegie, a former child actor who would eventually co-star in the movie Grease, introduced me to his manager.
The only thing she could tell me was to get plastic surgery on my Adam’s apple. She thought it was too big.
Ignoring her sage advice, me and my Adam’s apple continued to make the rounds.
Here and there I got bit parts in stage plays and TV soap operas—where if you'd blink you’d miss me.
The end result, I was rapidly losing interest in my acting career, such as it was.
To pay the rent, I drove a cab at night.
Driving a cab taught me two things
Thing #1: the richer people are, the cheaper they are.
One night, I picked up Margaret Truman (Harry’s daughter) from her 5th Avenue brownstone and drove her to Lincoln Center.
She gave me a 10-cent tip.
Then, later that night, my steering wheel came off as I was driving down 3rd Avenue.
I frantically jammed it back on the steering column, pulled over, found a payphone and called the garage.
They told me, "ok, drive it back and we’ll give you another one."
No offer of a tow truck, no “are you alright?” Just, bring it back.
The following night, and every night thereafter, I went to the garage, picked up a cab and drove it straight to my parent’s where I ate dinner and watched Star Trek reruns on TV.
It didn’t take too long for the cab company to stop giving me a cab.
They didn’t fire me—they just ignored me.
So, I fired myself.
Thing #2 I learned while driving a cab...
I was hopelessly lost
And that’s when my father stepped in and came to my “rescue.”
He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Less than a month later, I was on a plane heading to Kenya to work on a game preserve.
At least, that’s what I thought.
To paraphrase the poet Robert Burns: the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.
In next month’s The Teakster: The Truth, part 3, I’ll tell you the rest of the story.
And, please, let me know below in the comments if you enjoyed reading this month’s Part 2 of The Truth.
Until next month—stay teak strong!