Archive | August, 2012


13 Aug


… and why is that, exactly?

No posts for a while, as work suddenly got very busy (Overtime! Huzzah!).  Speaking of work (Segues, still not my forte), a friend on Facebook asked me recently to recount how I became an investigator, given my background. I’m sure this isn’t exactly what he had in mind…

How far back can you trace the decisions that brought you to where you are today? Can you clearly identify the tipping point after which your life began to build momentum that, while perhaps not making the outcome certain, without which your current situation would be far less likely?

The life I’m living now I can attribute to a single decision in the 5th grade that I made solely on the basis that it would get me out of class for an hour three afternoons a week.  I think of myself in all the time before that as a marble rolling around on a plateau. On that day in the 5th grade the marble rolled to a particular crack in the flat tabletop and began to roll down a particular canyon.

I had all the standard little kid aspirations; Astronaut, Soldier, Garbage Man… and up until the age of 10 I had worked toward all these goals equally and in pretty much the same fashion. That is to say, I ran around a lot, climbed on stuff and got dirty with little thought for the next two hours much less the next day or year. Up until that point I was just as likely to become an insurance salesman or fix air conditioners for a living as become an astronaut. That is until Mrs. King handed out a mimeographed notice one day not long after the beginning of my 5th grade year at Dwight D. Eisenhower elementary school.

We were being given the option to be in the 5th Grade Band. The notice was a list of instruments we could choose from. The band practiced three afternoons a week for about an hour and played in two concerts a year. There in my hand was a golden ticket (Well, actually a white and purple ticket) that would get me out of the classroom for three hours a week. I leapt at the chance! I went directly home and told my mother I wanted to join the band and that I would be playing the drums and mom said “No.”

Mom didn’t say “No you can’t be in the band,” she said “You’re not playing the drums.” Now I don’t want to get the drummers out there all het up and thinking bad things about my mom because she’s a really nice lady and makes a mean chicken casserole, but I can tell you her two very clearly defined objections and you’re not going to like one of them.

1) Noise level. Mom was under the (Mistaken) impression that me learning to play the drums was going to be loud. Perhaps if I’d eventually shown enough talent to continue past learning the snare drum in 5th grade band she’d have had reason to be concerned. A full-on drum set isn’t subtle. But they don’t send ten-year olds home with a drum set, or even a snare drum… they send them home with a pair of drum sticks and possibly a rubber practice pad. I am positive that learning the drums would have been much quieter than the instrument I did settle on, at least for the first year or so.

2) Talent. Mom was under the (Also mistaken) impression that playing the drums didn’t take as much talent as playing a “Real” instrument. (Seriously, if I find out about any of you giving my mom grief I’m gonna be REALLY hacked off. Let it go).  Not that I’d displayed tons of innate musical ability up until this point, despite the fact that I did already own an instrument at the time (My father gave me a guitar when I was five for no apparent reason. Somehow over the next 36 years I never found the time to ask him why), but Mom was convinced that drumming was beneath my abilities.

So I settled on the saxophone and for the life of me I can’t remember why.  I can’t recall looking at the form and saying “Wow! The saxophone looks cool!” or anything like that. I’ve always thought the trumpet was pretty cool actually, and can’t think why I didn’t pick that, but there you have it. At one time I was a professional actor. I am married to a wonderful woman I love more than my own life. I am an investigator for a private detective agency out in the Wild Wild West. All of these things are because in the 5th grade I decided to play the saxophone in the band so I could get out of class three days a week.

Perhaps further explanation is necessary.

I joined the band.  To support my bourgeoning music career my grandparents gave me my own saxophone for Christmas on the condition that I learn to play “Moon River” for them at some point in the future.

I got pretty good at playing the saxophone.

I got really good at playing the saxophone.

I played in the band for the next few years and at the urging of my middle school band director entered competitions where I always came away with top rankings. Then it came time to go to high school.  My parents were concerned about the education I would get at our local high school and were particularly anxious about the level of attention paid to the arts given the emphasis locally on sports. A public performing arts high school had opened downtown only a few years before and I auditioned. I was accepted. After a summer at a camp at the local university for talented musicians I would be attending a performing arts high school majoring in instrumental music! I went there to see a performance of South Pacific. The program director wanted me to see the band performing and this was the end of the school’s season.

I was completely enraptured. Not with the band, they were in the orchestra pit and out of view, who cared about them? The actors! The actors on stage! I wanted to do THAT!

I had attended a couple of live theatre performances. There had been a school trip to see a production of Comedy of Errors and our 6th grade music teacher had taught us the libretto of the opera Tales of Hoffman before taking us to see it. But this, this was a performance by high school kids! These were people my age! This was something I could do!

I started school that fall in the concert band and took private lessons from a professor at a nearby university. I played alto saxophone but they didn’t need an alto saxophone so I was handed a baritone saxophone. I also signed myself up for an elective class in the American Musical Theatre which had a touring performance group. Shortly I was going with the group to other schools to perform for other students. It was all over. Within another year I had changed my major to theatre. My mother had always been concerned that I would starve being a musician and urged me to have another career to fall back on. Acting wasn’t on the short list of things she had in mind.

Of course there are multiple factors at play in everyone’s life. We get a nudge here, a shove there… that marble barreling down the canyon takes a funny bounce…

I finished up high school as one of a handful of very well regarded actors in the program and was all set to go to a very prestigious arts program when things took a very funny bounce indeed. I had been accepted into the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University. I had a full free ride. My girlfriend had been accepted there as well. Things were ticking along quite nicely in fact. Then it all went somewhat pear-shaped.

SMU’s football program got the “Death Penalty” for paying players. As a result of this the school’s admissions program came under intense scrutiny and independent auditors were called in to vet prospective students receiving scholarships. I had achieved a nearly perfect SAT score in math by filling in half of the test at random. When placed next to the D’s in physics and math and the F’s in chemistry on my transcript the test scores painted a picture (In the auditor’s view) of a wildly intelligent but lazy kid not working up to his potential. I was told to take two math and science classes at a local community college, pass them both, and then re-submit my application to be considered for the fall. I would be cruising into August not knowing where I would be going to college.

I started opening the mail I’d been getting from another university. Turned out they were offering less in the way of scholarships, but they had a very well-respected program and they didn’t care that I couldn’t add. I would have to take on  a good deal of student loan debt and work lots and lots an lots of workstudy hours, but I’d be off to school in the fall. I took it. Ended up meeting my wife there.

So while the immediate cause of the change in schools was a football scandal that had nothing to do with me, my path into the performing arts still goes back to that afternoon in Mrs. King’s class.

Moving on…

Through high school and college and after I worked at various children’s theatres, outdoor dramas (Large scale outdoor history plays popular in the South and Midwest), and theme parks. I did voice-overs, local commercials, and industrial films. My wife and I lived in the Midwest near our families and I was a working actor, but I wasn’t making a living at it.  We decided that we’d make a run at New York, feeling we’d regret it later if we didn’t give it a shot.

Before moving I wrote a postcard to a friend I’d worked with a few years before. He called to offer some advice on the move. I asked what he was up to and he said “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Turns out he worked for a detective agency as a “Spotter” looking for counterfeit fashion items in Chinatown.  They hired actors exclusively for this position, as most actors are literate, can memorize quickly, are able to change their appearance, and now and again go away for a few months at a time when they get a job.

The minute I got to New York I started pestering these people for a job. After about a year of day gigs as a lighting technician and actually acting from time to time I went to work as a spotter. Two years later I was made a full-time investigator. It paid more than I was making as an actor and was steady work.

Later the company imploded. I went back to acting for a while and then we decided that seven years was long enough and that I needed to leave New York before I killed someone (Likely a cabbie) or had a stroke (While beating a cabbie to death). I pursued a number of possibilities, but it was my experience as an investigator that won the day and we moved to the Wild Wild West.

And here we are. Along the way I’ve tried to be other things. I fought hard for several years to be a New York City firefighter. In the long, quiet watches of the night I sometimes fear I will lie on my deathbed regretting not becoming a blacksmith. But at the end of the day, here I am. I’m 43 years old. I’ve been married for 19 years. I’ve worked in the PI business for the last fifteen years because I needed a day job when I was trying to make it as an actor in NYC. I was a professional actor because I’d spent years training throughout high school and college where, by the by, I met the incredible woman who would become my wife. I’d studied acting after seeing a show at a performing arts school where I’d been accepted as a musician. I’d made it as a musician because of the support I’d received from my family and the excellent training from my teachers and band directors along the way, starting with Mr. Sloan in the Eisenhower Elementary School 5th grade band… that I joined so I could get out of class when I was 10 years old.

Take good care.

© 2012 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator