Life After High School: Chapter 9 Vagabond

Welcome to Chapter 9 of my blog-to-book project: Life After High School: Secrets To A Successful Life By Those Who Have Had Twenty Years To Think About It (or) What They Didn’t Teach Us Gen Xers In High School. This chapter is called Vagabond. If you missed the last post, click here, otherwise, you can start at the beginning here.

One day I was stretching in the little space the tiny University Fitness gym allotted for such activity, and Mae happened to be there doing her Yoga. We were friends and had gone to the Puyallup fair with some mutual pals, like Lisa Yu and another personal trainer from the gym, John Taylor.

By the way, John ended up in a reality TV show called “Too Fat For Fifteen,” and ended up getting his Ph.D. and being teacher of the year in New Jersey. At the time, he liked Mae and was always hitting on her. Sorry, bud.

John Taylor in too fat for 15
John Taylor in “Too Fat For 15” Reality TV

I was usually very private, but for some reason, I decided to come clean and needed to confess to someone—so I told Mae I was a homeless derelict. She took pity on me and decided to help. It just so happened that she was house-sitting for some rich doctor friends in Seattle, taking care of their dogs in their frequent absences.

She let me stay at her apartment while she was gone! Can you believe the faith of this woman? To this day, she admits she has never even thought of doing something like that before. I now get to tell people that I lived with her before we even dated. Talk about a crazy conversation starter!

I moved in and even slept in her bed (without her being there of course), while she was gone and my brand new apartment was finishing inspection. Later, when she came back, I moved to the couch as the project continued to be delayed. We had many conversations late into the night and actually got to know each other a little.

When I moved out, I asked my dad to help me build something for her as a gift. She didn’t have a good towel rack in her apartment, so we fashioned one out of wood and added some elaborate scroll saw work on the side of a tropical scene for decoration. We stayed in touch and eventually started dating.

It was near the end of my college years that decided to get back to the theater and I began auditioning for local theater on the professional level. I wanted to see where the dance training, combined with my music minor and acting training combined would take me.

It was then that the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle took note of me and made me one of their premier chorus boys off and on seasonally from about 2000 to 2005. I worked through the ranks as an Equity actor and had a few good roles as well.

My first show was Gypsy, the life of Gypsy Rose Lee, one of my favorite musicals, where I danced with a few other great performers like Louis Hobson (who has some notoriety in Seattle with his own theater and a few IMBD credits), along with Greg Allen, one of the funniest men I have ever met and the greatest tap dancer. 

Greg has made a life of working professionally in the northwest and rarely needs to find other jobs, other than working at a coffee shop here and there between gigs. He made that choice long ago, stuck with it, and I commend him for it. The lead in Gypsy was played by Judy Kay, a fantastic and powerful singer with a long career on Broadway, who we used to see singing in New York at the Macy’s Day Parade. Every night I used to marvel as she closed the show with high notes and a ringing vibrato that filled the halls: “Everything’s coming up roses for me and for you!” I was a regular Joe among true battle-tested professionals.

Over the years I would perform in shows like Most Happy Fella, the 5th’s 75th Anniversary Gala fundraising events, Hair (twice, where I was the psychedelic modern dancer and acrobat with a giant glow in the dark phallus that everyone obviously assumed was real), A Chorus Line, playing the role of Don, The Wizard of Oz (the hardest show to be ensemble in, with all the crazy set changes and the green unitards), Yankee Doodle Dandy, a Hairspray Promo, Singin’ in the Rain, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, where I got to back up a special show with Lucy Lawless, popular at the time for her role as Xena the Warrior Princess on TV.

Lucy was amazing, tall, beautiful and extremely gracious to us chorus boys and girls. We got to pick her up and twirl her and I was the one with the knee to the ground so she could sit on my lap as she flirted with the audience and sang.

After the show, as we left the stage door in the alley, I had never seen so many ravenous fans awaiting any performer. Even on Broadway, when I later waited for friends to get out of their shows, even the big stars did not draw these kinds of crowds. It also happened that this crowd filled the entire alley and circled out into the street and around the city block, all waiting with bated breath the appearance of Lucy Lawless.

It was the largest number of Lesbians to ever congregate in one area at one time. We should have called the Guinness Book Of World Records, as it surely would have made the cover.

As with everyone else, Lucy was patient and gracious and took plenty of time to greet her fans and sign autographs. Poor clueless me thought it might be for us boys, and immediately checked my posture and flexed my muscles. I couldn’t understand why they never gave me or the other boys a second look. One of my coworkers had to point out to me that Lucy had a huge Lesbian following that traveled from all over to see her. We could have done a ribbon cutting ceremony of the alley and named it the New Isle of Lesbos.

We all went to dinner at Palomino’s just down the block after the show. Lucy went out of her way to raise us up and even kissed us on the cheek in front of our fans and parents just to make us look good. My uncle to this day is mesmerized by the lifestyle I lived, and everyone enjoyed the pleasant fiction that I had exotic Amazon women singers and dancers hanging all over me on a daily basis feeding me grapes.

Singing, dancing, and acting all at the same time requires a certain set of skills that relatively few people ever master. I was so fortunate to be allowed into this elite group of people for a short time in my life.

At the time, I had no clue how rare the opportunity or how lucky I was. I was having a blast and working hard and making more money than I had ever made in my life. 

During college, I had tried a ton of entrepreneurial ways to make money, including starting a jewelry business, buying “tiny little ads” in newspapers, and even buying and selling real estate. I was constantly reading the papers and thinking outside of the box and going to seminars. It was an incredible time of dreaming and conquest for me. 

My friend Gary called me an “Artist-Entrepreneur,” and I began to try to live up to it. I looked into starting a dance school, started an Internet import business before everyone else was doing it, and also took jobs for local ballet companies playing the prince in the Nutcracker or something when I wasn’t working at the 5th Avenue Theatre. I did a couple of runs with a theater on Vashon Island, where the parents and patrons of the theater would house me and feed me while I did the show. I lived out of a backpack and didn’t need much at all to live, so I was very happy.

Also beginning around 2001 I moved to New York City to try my hand there. When I wasn’t in Seattle working for the 5th, I was on an airplane. I found a scholarship that helped with the costs and decided to maximize it. 

I stayed with a college friend, Ryan Jones, or “Jones” as we all called him, who had graduated from the UW drama program and married another artist, thereby landing in the Burrough of Queens. Jones was running a non-profit and starting this own theater projects. He now runs a new dance and performance art physical theater company with his new wife in Los Angeles. 

It was a culture shock for me, but very good. I rode the trains and subways and lived in spare rooms and on couches for months at a time. I took dance classes alongside New York City Ballet dancers (that could mop the floor with me) and singing lessons from an amazing old sage called Maria Farnsworth who trained New York City Opera singers. I auditioned and honed my craft. I was eating, breathing, and sleeping New York and I loved the Big Apple and all its glory.

I ended up sleeping on a futon at my college roommate, Michael Bilikas’ pad in Greenwich Village. Michael was at this point at NYU dental school, and still on his phone all the time. His place was $1,700 per month for a tiny studio apartment in the early 2000s, and the place was hopping all night. The only hour of quiet was between the hours of 3 am and 4 am, when the nightlife finally died down, and right before the garbage trucks came to clean up to start the day all over again.

A week before 9-11 I was in still in New York, preparing to fly to the gulf side of Florida to visit with my parents who were on vacation to see my aunt’s new place. She had moved to start over and was tired of the rain and cold in Washington State. 

Around that time, Mae had decided on her own to come to visit me in our tiny palace of squalor in Manhattan. I was too dense to admit it to myself at the time, but our relationship was going somewhere and she was pursuing me. I had long ceased to pursue anyone and was happy with my only-child alone time, and single laissez-faire lifestyle. I was focused on my fanciful career pursuing the elusive stage.

Mae and I did a little tour and ended up at the twin towers and then decided to have lunch in the financial district. I was comfortable getting around but didn’t really know that area. I decided to take her to lunch, but we couldn’t find even a lowly sandwich place that I didn’t have to take out a mortgage to afford. 

I ended up putting an over-priced soup and sandwich on my credit card and tried to be chivalrous. I wanted to stay in New York City, and I secretly hoped Mae would just stay, but we both knew I didn’t have a real job or any kind of financial security to speak of, and we all know how attractive a man is and how secure his lady feels when the best he can offer is a futon in a dental student’s apartment.

I flew out from NYC and directly into the airport that we later found out the terrorists flew out from. I remember how laid back and relaxed that airport was then. The trip to Florida was short, but again reminded me how much I love the sunshine and palm trees. 

As soon as I got back to Seattle we saw on TV a plane crashing into the twin towers. We were all in shock and completely stunned by the tragedy. The little airport in Florida and every other airport in the country decided to start increasing the security after that.

In the next post, I will continue with more interesting interviews, like this one with Kyna Gonzalez.

Are you from Generation X? I want to hear what you think! Please comment below and participate in the conversation about What They Didn’t Teach Us Gen Xers In High School. What do you wish someone told you when you were eighteen?

About the author

Featured in CNN Money Edition, Jesse Stoddard’s primary aim is to make his mark in the world by exploring new ideas, enhancing collaboration and cooperation with teams, and working in his unique ability, which is transferring infectious enthusiasm, taking action, and loving people in order to gather and connect with others to pursue a bigger, brighter future.

Jesse’s mission is to make good bolder with his writing and art, to serve God, and in such a way that he illuminates truth, shines a humorous light on our human imperfections, and reminds us all to be humble while pointing us to what’s right.