Who would have thought? It was a simple Diet Doctor Pepper, consumed along with popcorn and a chocolate bar at the Hyland Cinema in London. It’s a ritual I’ve enjoyed for many a movie.

The thing is, I hadn’t had a carbonated beverage for two months – a remarkable stat given my decades-long history of Diet Coke consumption. What’s the problem with a reminiscing slurp of no-calorie sweetness?

Halfway through the movie, there was a pressure on my pants. I reached down in the darkness and felt my belly pressing against my belt. “What is that?” Had I gained twenty pounds as the story got rolling? And the pain was huge.

Many years ago, I had gone on regular visits to a family restaurant in Lethbridge, Alberta which featured prime rib and yummy desserts. Sheltered by a white linen tablecloth, I’d often undo my belt and unzip. Anything to release the pressure. And now I did the same in the Hyland. Darkness covers all sins.

Still the pressure mounted. I tried to remember where my appendix was, and came up short in the knowledge department. Gosh, it hurt! And the film was meandering along so slowly. Had I ruptured something? Were my insides about to be deposited on the outside?

Finally the curtain. As the lights came on and folks streamed by me to the exits, I sat serenely, my arms and hands crossed over my middle, obscuring any view of a languishing belt. So slow was the retreating crowd.

When it felt like the whole place had emptied, I stood up, fixed my hands in pockets to keep my pants erect, and stumbled toward the front entrance. I knew that it’d be dark outside. Except it wasn’t, and several cars were passing in front of me in their exiting. Hastily I zipped and redid the belt, hoping that drivers had to be concentrating on neighbouring cars. My garments intact, if not my psyche, I headed to the sanctuary of Scarlet.

As I sat down, my bloat drowned any well-being. The strategy emerged of slow motion homeward travel. I couldn’t imagine controlling my vehicle at 100 kilometres an hour. So I picked sideroads that would allow me to creep. A serpentine route followed and I finally breeched my front door. Then the bathroom, offering copious amounts of Gas-X. Lie down. Breathe. Continue living.

The pain continued for an hour, and then sleep took over. No ruptured appendix in the morning.

So … dear body. You don’t like carbonated beverages. A new normal has emerged. And the cans of Diet Coke in my fridge will be offered to stomachs who know what they’re doing. As for me, I’ve moved on.

On The Stage

I went to a workshop yesterday for beginning actors.  I wasn’t nervous at all as I walked in.  I talked to a few people in the foyer, put on my nametag, and then took a chair by myself.  Gabbing and not gabbing … both were okay.

For the first hour-and-a-half, our leader did a lot of teaching, and then it was time for coffee.  I started talking to a woman whose nametag said “Gladys”, but other people laughed when I called her that.  Shirley liked having fun with nametags.  And so do I.  I asked her if we could switch.  She was all for it.  For the rest of the day, I had my moments of confusion, as I heard my fellow participants referring to “Bruce”.  Not the me I know.  I was enjoying being Gladys, that’s for sure.

Our improv group of three decided to be uptight bank robbers brandishing guns at a teller.  Little did we know that she was an undercover cop.  Such fun.  And I got to dress up in a fancy black suit jacket and a floppy hat.  I felt quite nasty for close to an hour, as we watched other groups perform and then did our thing.

Next on the menu, we sat in a big circle on the stage.  One person suggested a topic and would give us a sentence about it, starting with the letter A.  The next improv-er got to continue, beginning with a word that started with B.  And so on.  On one go-round I got Z, and was very pleased to come up with “Zowie!”  After a complete circuit of the alphabet, we debriefed.  I mentioned that I didn’t like it when someone was struggling to create a sentence beginning with a certain letter, and others would chime in with suggestions.  Duly noted by the group.  When we began again, with the topic slowly morphing into a discussion about pets, it was my turn with the letter K.  And I couldn’t think of a darn thing.  Naturally nobody helped me, and the silence deepened.  The tension rolled through me for at least thirty seconds, until I blurted out, “Killing pets is really not a good idea.”

So I got to sit with my fear.  And I realized that drawing a blank was all right.  I didn’t die on the spot.  Oh, drama, what a teacher you are!

Later in the day, our groups of three each put on the same ten-page play, holding our scripts as we told the story.  Partway through, I got really confused about where I was supposed to be standing, and how I was supposed to kiss a woman without blocking her from the audience, and in general about all the stage directions written in the script in italics.  Out of the corner of my head, I heard silence hanging in the air, and finally found the highlighted line that I was supposed to say seconds earlier.  Humbled again.  Totally out of character, I smacked myself in the head.  At least I got a laugh doing that.

I survived this faux pas as well, and learned one more time to laugh at my imperfections.  Later, I would have a third opportunity to eat humble pie.  Quite delicious, actually.  The workshop was over and I had gone to a restaurant in St. Thomas.  I sat at the bar and watched big screen sports.  Had a good conversation with the bartender.  After a generous helping of nachos, and a sinful brownie, ice cream and whipped cream combo,  I checked my shirt to see if I had blobbed stuff there.  Nope, I was fine.  But there was a piece of paper stuck to my chest.  It said “Gladys”.  My friend behind the bar said he hadn’t spoken up about it since it was none of his business.  I told him the switcheroo story.  I think he understood.  If not, it was another rich life experience within the world of dramatic arts.