Lynda was a dancer and I was an actor and we would have our very own “performance space” where we would live, eat lots of brown rice, wear lots of black clothes and collaborate on lots of dance-theater “pieces” so avant-garde they’d make the fillings fall out of your teeth. And, we would only rent our “space” to deserving artists who shared our dietary and fashion sense.
When I learned that in the early 20thcentury a nickelodeon theater had occupied the ground floor of our building, Lynda and I decided this was a good omen. We determined to collaborate on a dance-theater “piece” on the theme of avant-garde nickelodeons. We never did.
The lofts above the nickelodeon theater had been sweatshops. Our top-floor loft bore the scars of that period – a long row of side-by-side footprints worried into the floorboards by immigrant girls as they sat working their sewing machines. It was a haunting artifact. Lynda and I decided this was a good omen and determined to collaborate on a dance-theater “piece” on the theme of avant-garde sewing machines or footprints or something. We never did.
In the 1980s, Evian was the #1 bottled water in New York. #2 wasn’t even close. But, #2’s new Sales Manager was determined to kick Evian’s ass – maybe since Evian had just fired his ass. I was hired as one of his ass-kickers. My job was to visit delis and bodegas all over Manhattan and persuade the owners to give #2 more shelf-space. (In the retail food racket, shelf-space is the name of the game!)
In every store I visited, the enormity of my task became apparent. Evian bottles were prominently displayed at eye-level on the shelves while my brand wasn’t.
Oh, wait, here they are, way down here at back-breaking, floor level.
My brand’s bottles were buried down in the cockroach graveyard.
There is no more stomach-turning sight in a food store than flies and roaches pushing up daisies. A Londoner asked me why I always washed the top of soda cans before opening them. “Ah, the survival behavior of a native New Yorker,” I explained. “You see, cockroaches lay their eggs on can tops – don’t ask me why – and their eggs roll into that small depression around the can top. If I swallow a roach egg, it will grow inside me like the Alien. I have never seen a cockroach in my many years in London but I still wash my can tops.”
Evian was a big moneymaker for the storeowners and #2 was a big waste of time. How welcome do you think I was on a scorching summer day? How much time do you think they wanted to devote to my tedious survey questions when they had a long line of impatient joggers waiting to pay for their Evian?