A Second Career




A Second Career

 

Prescott Brown and Anthony, his English Springer Spaniel, sat on a bench overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at the corner of S. Ocean Boulevard and Worth Avenue. The bench was next to the Clock Tower and across the street from the condo he now owned, which was one of the most prestigious and expensive addresses in Palm Beach, Florida. Living at this address was due entirely to the twelve million dollar inheritance he had received the previous year from an uncle he’d rarely seen.

            It was a beautiful fall day, but neither he nor his spaniel seemed to notice.

            At age seventy-four, Prescott was officially retired after an even fifty years of teaching physics at MIT, ending his distinguished career as a full professor with many honors, honorary degrees and publications on his CV. He may be officially retired, but he always thought the word “retired” should be exterminated from every language. He believed the word itself was another way of saying death.

            Aside from having spent an active life teaching, Prescott had written twenty-two books under the guise of publish or perish. The books, purchased, but never read, had been happily included in many of the reading lists of universities and were thereby able to languish cozily in the corners of dorm rooms throughout the world.

            Prescott loved MIT and he loved Cambridge, Massachusetts. He loved to walk along the Charles River and watch the teams rowing, much as he’d watched the teams during his year as a visiting professor at Oxford University. But, as much as he loved MIT, it was Harvard Square in the fall with the leaves in full color and falling at his feet that he loved most.

            Now he was in Florida. How did he ever let himself get talked into that? Why had he listened to his colleagues who had extolled the virtues of Florida? Why had he succumbed to pressure from his late wife’s family, who had relocated to Florida years ago and had pressured his wife to join them once he retired and now were too busy to bother with him since he’d actually done the deed? He’d decided on a one-year trial, but that year had not begun propitiously.

            He and Anthony were here, and he wondered what he was going to do with the rest of his life. If he wasn’t going to teach or write scientific books, he had to find something else to do – retirement didn’t exist as far as he was concerned.

            He’d survived the sweltering summer, and there didn’t seem to be any relief to the fall. He felt physically sick every time he went out and saw the ubiquitous wardrobe on the other men consisting of shorts, a disgusting tee-shirt and either sandals or sneakers that seemed so large they could be used as pontoons and made walking any way other than flat-footed impossible.

            Then there was the foul-tasting drinking water, which made it impossible, even with the best water filter, to brew a good cup of coffee.

            And he was determined not to fall into the trap of a round of golf in the morning and vegetating at the pool every afternoon.

            He hated the fact that he was getting into arguments on an almost daily basis with the largest group of people he’d ever seen who held the attitude that they were the only ones who existed. Whether driving or in a store, they couldn’t care less about anyone else.

            Even the simple act of trying to get out of a store often precipitated an argument. One day he was just trying to get out of Bed, Bath and Beyond. A woman was blocking the door and a crowd, trying to leave, had formed. She was completely oblivious. By the third time he had said, “Excuse us, please,” she, finally, responded with “What’s your hurry? I’m retired. I have no place to go!”

            Or the fight with the woman at the deli counter in the grocery store which ended with her screaming – “It’s people like you who give south Florida a bad name!” To which he answered: “I’m working at it!”

            Or the fight in the parking lot when he demanded of a male driver who was dribbling his car into a parking space – “Are you alive?”

            The list of fights was far too long for him to remember.

            He never went into the ocean – didn’t even own a bathing suit and thought that water was for fish. But he did like to look out at it. The vast expanse and the waves helped to clear his mind.

             “Perhaps we should try amateur theatricals,” he said to Anthony. I always enjoyed acting, he thought. He’d been in the shows in high school and college and a couple of times he’d even been invited to appear as a “guest artist” in the Hasty Pudding Shows at Harvard.

            He looked out at the ocean and counted the waves crashing against the sand as the surf moved in and he thought more about the idea. And the more he watched, and the more he thought, the more the idea attracted him.

            He knew about the professional theatres in the area, and it was easy to find out what shows were currently playing and what shows would be playing during the remainder of their theatrical season; however, finding the amateur theatres and auditions would require a little research. And he realized that learning who to contact and the procedures and protocols was another thing. It wasn’t as easy as saying I’d like to be an actor – and he was one.

            It was here that Prescott’s research skills as a scientist stood him in good stead. However, he quickly discovered that the current shows and, for the most part, the shows for the remainder of the season, were fully cast; auditions had been held several months before. While frustrating, he knew he’d have to wait his turn and find something else to do in the meantime.

            As the days progressed, he continued to fill his time reading plays and musical theatre libretti, and he began to discern which shows and what roles he typed into. And, much like every profession, he learned that there was a whole language and lexicon to acquire.

            He also went to see every show where he could get a ticket so he could see the types of production each theatre presented.

            And, by sheer diligence, he began to meet the artistic and producing directors of the various local theatres.

            It was a process, but he discovered that the more he saw and the more he learned, the more he liked it. Maybe retiring from academia wasn’t such a bad idea after all, he thought one day as he and Anthony sat on their regular bench overlooking the ocean with the latest script in hand.

In the forty-two years at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village in Manhattan and all the productions around the world since 1960, Prescott Brown realized that he had never seen a performance of The Fantasticks. Now was his chance. He also knew from reading the script that he loved the role of Henry, the old actor, so seeing it come to life was perfect.

            His expectations were in keeping with the level of a local community theatre using a local high school auditorium, but his excitement at seeing it at all, for the first time, made him realize his expectations were a little out of proportion. He had both e-mailed and spoken with the artistic director, and they had planned to meet after the performance, so he had a lot to look forward to.

            The one thing Prescott wasn’t aware of was that the performer currently playing Henry had to leave the production, and he was already being considered as a replacement due to the picture and resume he had sent, which only included shows he had been in at Harvard.

            The performance was actually better than he’d expected, and the musicians, comprising the original orchestration of piano, harp, percussion and bass, were extraordinary.

            Prescott was having a great time.

            And his post-production meeting got even better when he was told about the actor playing Henry. He was then offered an opportunity to audition, an opportunity he quickly seized.

            Two weeks later, the artistic director walked out on stage to make his pre-curtain speech. The audience was surprised to learn that Prescott Brown, a new member of the community, was going to play the role of Henry for the remaining two weeks of the run.

            Surprised or not, there was polite applause at the announcement, but thunderous applause as Prescott took his curtain call later that night.

“Excuse me,” a short, bald man with a long fringe of hair extending over his ears and shirt collar, called to Prescott as he was leaving through the back stage door.

            Prescott turned and greeted the man politely.

            During the ten minute conversation that followed, Prescott learned that the man was a television director who happened to be in the audience with his parents who he took to see the show.

            He also learned that the director wanted Prescott to audition for the role of a university professor at Harvard or MIT in a new TV show scheduled to air beginning the following season. The show was to film on location in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the director wanted to know if Prescott would be willing to be re-located north.

            Later that night, as he told Anthony about the encounter, Prescott couldn’t stop laughing. He realized that he’d potentially found his second career by pretending to be something he’d been doing all of his life – only now it was to act the role of a university professor in the city he’d lived in for all of that time. He laughed again at the irony of it as he turned out the lights and went to bed.

 
 



Bruce Levine



Bruce Levine, a native Manhattanite, has spent his life as a writer of fiction and poetry and as a music and theatre professional. His literary catalogue includes four novels, short stories, humorous sketches, flash fiction, poetry, essays, magazine articles and a screenplay His works are published in over twenty-five on-line journals, over twenty books, his shows have been produced in New York and around the country and he’s the author of the novellas Reinvented and An Accidental Journey. He lives with his rescued Australian Shepherd, Daisy. His work is dedicated to the loving memory of his wife, dancer/actress, Lydia Franklin. Visit him at www.brucelevine.com.

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