I put my hair to the test with my curling iron ritual the next week,
my mom advised, "You know if you spent less time on your hair
and more time smiling at Estelle and making friends in class, I
think you'd have a good chance at getting something out of this."
I picked up on my mom's subtext, "Don't forget why you made
me spend all of this money. You want to be an actress." I decided
that I was going to actually pay attention that week, forget Jeff
and start fresh.
arrived to find the classroom stripped bare and a local improvisational
comedian bouncing around the room. "Okay guys! Let's start
playing! Because that's what acting is, play!" He picked me
to improvise entering a haunted house. I took to the makeshift stage
and mimed pushing open a heavy door, swiftly moving cobwebs out
of my way. Improv Guy shouted, "Okay Jen I'm going to throw
you a curveball in this scene. I'm going to send a ghost into the
abandoned house with you. But keep going." He tapped Jeff Friedman.
Jeff stood quietly next to me on stage, pretending to be a shadowy
figure. I jumped into Jeff's arms and buried my face in his neck.
"Oh thank God you're here! Hold me." The Improv Guy jumped
up. "Stop! Why would you run into the ghost's arms? You didn't
even let Jeff establish the scene or his presence as a ghost. You're
railroading Jeff." I turned red. Jeff turned away.
After class my mom and I rode the rickety elevator downstairs to
Brigham's for an ice cream sundae. I spotted Jeff and Megan Ames
in a booth together. Talk about Shiksas. Megan was a pale, blonde,
freckled little priss. I knew that I hated her the minute I walked
into class that first day. She wore the Kangaroo sneakers that I
coveted but couldn't have because my mom had already spent too much
money on Cameo Kids. Jeff's mom sat at a counter reading a book,
out of their earshot. I was witnessing the leading man/leading actress
romance that I was so sure would be mine. I skipped my ice cream
sundae and dragged my mom out of there. I rode the train home silently
fuming, each click of the wheel against the track reminding me of
that horrible term "railroading."
the last day class, all of us, Cameo Kids were going to read commercials
on videotape. There was no guarantee that any of us would land a
real commercial after our test shoot, but I kept thinking about
that headshot hanging in the lobby. Surely, Michelle Pfeiffer had
nailed her commercial test, which skyrocketed her to fame. I had
a hunch that I'd follow that same path. Local celebrity Rex Trailer
was our guest teacher for the day. My classmates were humbled by
Rex's presence. I was devastated. I thought a celebrity was going
to teach the class. Someone who could possibly swoop me up and take
me back to Hollywood with them. Rex was the star of local, low-budget
ads for The Crimson Travel Company. In his commercials, Rex appeared
in a cowboy outfit, and fake tumbleweeds blew by as he announced
great deals for senior citizens traveling from Boston to Fort Lauderdale.
Rex was so un-famous that he even accompanied the seniors on the
Since Rex didn't know us, he couldn't assign us ads based on our
personalities. So we picked commercial copy out of a hat. A cowboy
hat. I picked a dreadfully boring cereal ad where I had to go on
and on about vitamins and iron. I envied the girls who picked Toys
R Us and Hershey's Syrup ads.
I was happy to see that Megan Ames kept tripping over the words
on her Arnold Brick Oven White Bread commercial copy. But she just
kept giggling and tossing her pigtails back. Rex was laughing too
and saying, "It's okay honey. You're doing great!"
Class ended when the last kid was videotaped. There was no fanfare
or party and no sign of Estelle. Was I going to get famous there
or was there going to be some kind of follow-up call? Or was this
all there was?
Weeks later my evaluation arrived in the mail, along with a tape
of my practice Corn Flakes commercial.
As I watched it, all I could see was a girl with dashed dreams caught
on tape. I wasn't smiling, even though in memory I'd felt like I'd
really hammed it up. The answer to "When will I be famous?"
was addressed in my evaluation. Well, there was no formal evaluation,
just a coupon for Cameo Kids II. Instantly rejuvenated I held the
coupon up to my mom. Moments later, my mom and I were having "the
talk." You know, the talk where moms tell their 13-year-old
daughters that they're not that talented and some bad people just
want their money. A separate note fell out of the envelope. It was
a handwritten card. "Dear Jennifer, Performing and making commercials
is fun. It's supposed to look like you enjoy it. Sincerely, Rex."
I still think of the note to this day whenever I catch myself trying
to deliver my stand-up act with any kind of intensity. I am closer
to realizing my Hollywood dreams than I was at age 11, but only
on the technicality that I literally live in Hollywood. Something
still tells me not to worry and it's not just my ego. It's because
I have a Plan B. Right now the future Jeff Friedmans and Jen Kirkmans
are being born. And I can always take up smoking again, get a little
dog and teach.
I looked up Jeff Friedman on IMDB. There are so many Jeff Friedmans
in Hollywood, I've given up trying to figure out which one he is.
Rex Trailer later went on to play a gynecologist in the Cher movie,
Megan Ames landed an actual Arnold Brick Oven Bread commercial.
As far as I know that may be the only thing she's ever done. I think
it only ran locally in Boston and I have a feeling that it may have
been yanked pretty quickly. The ad had the most subversive copy
ever spoken. Megan, in her pale pallor, tapped her loaf of bread
and said, "Arnold White Bread. My kind of people, my kind of
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