There’s this old Dennis The Menace cartoon. Punished, he stands in the corner with a caption underneath reading “Yeah, that’s what I should have said.”

Hours after learning yet again that not everybody has a sense of humor—still steaming—I went to Facebook.

“…Miss my friends at Fine Arts Association,” I posted, ‘though that was only half the story. What I really longed for was the free-range chastising and no holds barred humor that bonds their casts (and most companies, for that matter), making each role a joy. Ah, but I digress.

Just one eve earlier we’d been hanging around on stage, at a different venue, the lot of us, making small talk.

“I don’t know how you know all these people!” exclaimed Allen. “I’ll never get everyone’s name.” “Let me teach you,” came my response. “You just need a system.”

And so, employing my version of the Jerry Lucas Memory System, I took an eager buddy under my wing. “You just need a reason to remember names. For example,” I went on, “See the one on the end. Her name is Lane. She plays the slut in a lot of shows out here. Good actress.”

My friend nodded.

“And Mary,” I said of the seventyish woman next to me, clearly in earshot. “She IS a slut.”

My pal laughed, I smiled, and the evening went on. Or so I thought.

Fast-forward twenty-four hours. We were seated awaiting the director— the entire cast at contiguous conference tables with more free time.

“Well,” I greeted Allen, “Are you ready for tonight’s lesson?”

Beaming, first, dutifully, he pointed to Lane and Mary reciting each of their names.

“Great,” I proclaimed. “Now, this is Diane,” I said, pointing to the lady on his left. “She has red hair…. And this is Jen,” I continued. “The important thing to know about Jen is that she was dance captain last year even though she has a wooden leg.”

My end of the table laughed, of course—Jen the loudest—until—

“Bruce…” came a voice from the far end of the tables.

The room stilled.

“Bruce,” said Mary, (rising like the Queen Mother), “I want you to know you were very inappropriate last night.”

The room stilled even more. It was so quiet even my mother could hear.

“Are you kidding me?” I thought, in that instant ‘tween stimulus and response. “Are you f’ing kidding me?”

Twenty eyes stared right at me…waiting.

You know how multiple thoughts swirl in minimal seconds? That’s where I was. I wanted to say “You know I was joking”. And I wanted to say “Why don’t you take the stick out of your ass?” And OK, let’s face it: I wanted to use the C word.

But I didn’t.

“Are you serious?” I said warmly.
“Yes I am,” she responded.
“Well, then I’m sorry”.

And rehearsal went on…. Comforted that in the instant I’d thought of my father’s urgings—“You don’t have to stoop to their level”, he would say—I was fine on the outside. And yes, I even got laughs on stage. On the inside however, I was seething. Don’t get me wrong. If I offend you, call me on it. Pull me aside, put it to me, I’ll own it.

But in public? What’s that about? THAT is what pissed me off.

(The good news is, of course, that this wasn’t my first rodeo. Allen knew the story; he knew the nonsense it was; gladly the meeskite had my back, spreading the word).

I’d like to say I let it go right away, that I let it slide right off me, but I didn’t. I’m not that pure. Between running lines, anxiety ruled and I thought of all the people in all the casts in all of the years…of the Jew jokes and Jap jokes and the gay jokes and the straight jokes and this joke and that joke and how the only issue ever was whether it was funny. Thin skin in the theater? I don’t think so.

So I went home. To Carrie. And I shared.

Then I went to Facebook. To say I missed Fine Arts.

Later that night, totally unrelated to anything else that occurred, a friend posted something on line. “I’d rather be morally right than politically correct,” she wrote.  And I felt like Dennis, freed from the corner.

Yeah, that’s what I should have said.

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