When I was about seven, my brother and I played a lot of make-believe. Generally, I performed the character of Mary Jackie – a struggling actress making her way through the rough streets of New York City (By this age we had already been corrupted by too many campy Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland films involving plots of, “Gee, lets put on a show!”)
My brother, on the other hand, was nameless, and became a sort-of “game master,” taking on all other possible roles – landlord, tax collector, agent, director, etc. In other words, he handled the money – buckets of plastic coins and wads of convincing bills.
Mary Jackie was at his mercy. Should he wish Mary Jackie to be poor, all he had to do was make up a bit about the one-thousand dollars in loans she owed and suddenly, the game involved a part-time job cleaning toilets. Although he’d occasionally humor me and Mary Jackie would land a role singing in a nightclub and move into a luxurious flat, the rent collector would eventually come, she’d lose the job, and the cycle would begin all over again. This was the extent of our game, and for us, this was fun.
I once explained this game to a group of real-life struggling performers and their eyes grew in terror as I recounted their lives through the scope of my childhood whimsy. It was then that one of the actresses told me that that she and her sister used to play “restaurant,” which involved orders coming into the kitchen faster than they could be filled, customers complaining about meats being undercooked, and her easy-bake oven becoming more than a simple piece of domestic paraphernalia. This time, my eyes grew in terror as she recounted a familiar scene.
I felt akin to the group of performers, as I think they did to me. We all had the tendency to look through the wrong end of the telescope. In out games, there was uncanny similarity and a sense of sacrifice that both of us had already decided to make at the age of seven. Even in our role-reversal we played at games that romanticized the potential of reality, rather than the delusions of fantasy. There was a lifestyle we were preparing to assume before we even knew what it meant – odd hours, long days, physical exhaustion, and a life-style out of step with the rest of the world.
We all just wanted to sing, bake, act, and cook. We would never see another Saturday, miss our friends’ weddings, show up to work with high degree fevers, and sacrifice Christmas, but somehow we couldn’t imagine living without our work, our adventure.
Although at the end of the day, Saturday night isn’t important. When work and play sit so close together, they ask for a dedication of the soul. I know there are orders in the kitchen, cakes to be made, I think of the tax collector and the rent, and the incomplete dreams and I am happy because I know I’m still playing. The game is far from over and I can’t help but feel the best parts are yet to come.