An Empty Chair


*siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh*

So… there’s some challenges writing this next section. And as my acting coach Andrew Benne would say, “CALL BEHAVIOR!!”

I use this tactic regularly in my life when there’s anxiety or nerves or messy feelings I don’t want to deal with… voice it. Get it out. Speak the truth you don’t want others to know because you are likely experiencing something others have experienced as well. Voicing it kills its power over you.

And we’ll get into those acting lessons later (volume 3 stuff I think)… but I will attempt to do that here before we get rolling.

This stuff makes me sad to think about.



And it’s so damn hard to find any humor in any of this. But maybe I’ll get lucky and my improv style of writing here will bail me out.

COME ON BRAIN. You lump of gelatinous nonsense. Find the funny.

I have volumes of material to write and I can’t stop thinking all day long every day about my lack of transportation (car blew up 6 months ago I actually wrote a post about it and then never published it because I felt like a failure for not being able to afford a car and having the world know about it– was a factor in my suicide attempt in Jan).

Amazing how that singular problem dominates my daily mental bandwidth.

And looking at the calendar… damn… I had hoped to already be on Volume 3 by now in the production schedule I keep in my head.

We’re now almost a year later since I started this thing and the last few months have been a mess and my bandwidth is shattered…

But then I see the Fucking Evangelicals™ are determined to destroy everything in this country as fast as possible.

How many anti-trans bills?

How many states are attacking the lgbt?

And before some of you Holy Bastards™ start yapping at me about how,
“Tsk Tsk The Bible says it’s an abomination” remember…

THE BIBLE ALSO SAYS JESUS CHRIST TOLD YOU TO HELP THE SICK.



And I’m reporting from the front lines of poverty and chronic illness… and I can’t see a Fucking Evangelical™ anywhere in sight.



And most of you who think you are christians are actually Fucking Evangelicals™.

Which is the purpose of this blog. To teach you all how to spot the difference of those who are illiterate and in a political cult, versus those who are actually trying to live by the teachings of the person whose name you claim.

And so… I’m going to– before I get rolling here– show you a great example that just hit the interwebs.

The following link is <12 minutes long.

Please watch the entire thing. It’s 12 minutes of your life… and many of you have invested HOURS of your life reading this content. So trust me when I give you rabbit holes bunny paths to check out.

This is a conversation between an actual christian… and a Fucking Evangelical™.

Let’s see if you can tell the two apart.

What happens when someone who thinks they’re a christian meets someone who actually is?

Did you spot the Apocalyptic Political Cult member?

Could you tell which person actually had a conscience informed by their faith?

By the way… that Texas Christian Politician Mr Talarico… which party is he in?

Google it.

This is where we are at in my country. A bunch of fake political cultists posing as religious zealots are continuing their destruction of the United States of America.

They. will. not. stop.

They must BE stopped by the majority of the citizens in this country. NOW.

And the only way I can help stop this…

The only literal power I have here as a citizen in a country hijacked by an apocalyptic political cult…

Is to… *checks notes*… tell the story of my friend Hal Smith dying and Out myself as a mental health patient talking about some of the most horrible, depressing, painful, gross parts of my life story in the hopes that some of you assholes will find some fucking empathy and actually live out your faith like Rep. Talarico is.

Writing this stuff makes me cry and hurts me.

Writing this stuff is going to make me a target of unpleasant people.

Who like to hurt others.

Writing this stuff is going to hurt people that will attack me.

This is going to alienate me with everyone I knew growing up.



Because now we’re headed into the part with my family.

And. they. aren’t. going. to. like. that.

And I’ve been dreading this section. Because even though I’m a 45 year old grown man… there are things that happened with my family that I have to discuss… and I’m afraid of how members of my family will react and how they’ll treat me after. Relationships will be permanently damaged (they already are but this will make it 10,000X worse).

It’s going to get ugly.

For me.

This is entertainment for you… but it has actual consequences for me.

But.

Wanna know how many of my fans are estranged from their families?

I’m doing this for them.

Fuck.

And I have to remind myself that the Fucking Evangelicals™ are trying to legally force my fans in Texas to have the 10 Commandments put up in public schools and institutions of learning. Which some of you may think “what’s the big deal?” But one of the 10 commandments is THOU SHALT NOT LIE and when you realize that the treatment of the mentally ill by the church is the result of a lie

What happens when churches lie?

I didn’t even want to be using the word fuck in this section because I was artistically making a choice for effect but literally every day it’s some new affront–

DO YOU SEE WHY I CALL YOU ALL THE FUCKING EVANGELICALS™?!?!?

You see what I gotta go through because of you and your cult?

*lights another cigarette*

So.

This is the story of…

HoW mY fRiEnD dYiNg MaDe mE SaD

*flicks ash*

Fucking Evangelicals™…Y’all suck.

We’re entering a new part of the narrative, too.

This year of my life was the worst year of my life up to that point.

I’ll be 46 next week… and I’ve had other years that were pretty FRICKING awful.

First year of pandemic.
Year of back injury (vol 3).
Year of volume 4? 5?

But this year… 1994… this still stands as the year of life destruction like no other.

And I don’t remember a lot of it.

Most of it.

And I don’t know how to make it funny.

Which means I don’t wanna write it. And I don’t remember a whole lot and so there’s gaps and things are out of order. My brains got scrambled.

And this is also the part of my life where everyone I loved starts turning on me.

The discrimination of this class of illnesses is truly brutal.

And it was waaaaaaay worse 30 years ago.

And now I gotta relive it well enough to convey it to you to affect your brain chemistry.


And I have to contend with a number of factors/threads that intertwine and are all important, and I can’t have every post take 30 minutes to read.

I’m worried I may have to totally rewrite this section later.

I don’t know whether to do it narrative style or in character.

Frick it.



*lights another cigarette so both hands have one*

Focus called.

They want you again.

Drive to Burbank.

Through the front doors.

Hey there’s another celebrity on the wall with Marc Grau.

And one of those faces on the wall with Marc Grau is Hal Smith.

And now the wall hurts to look at.

And I’m sad and mad and frustrated that I couldn’t go to the funeral.

And I don’t know if the people at AIO don’t want me there.

Or if my religious parent is lying to me.

In fairness, it is possible that this parent may have been concerned that going to a funeral may trigger another attempt in me… I will concede that may have been a factor but it was incorrect.

Going to Hal’s funeral would have been a major catharsis.

It would have given me the opportunity to grieve with others I loved.

And this would be another form of isolation.

How many of my cast/crew members went?

Why couldn’t I go?

Did he even have a funeral?

Being a minor in this situation information is still kept at bay.

People are communicating things around me.

My religious parent gets the phone calls.

Again. Isolation.

Wanna know how I grieved the loss of my friend and a man I considered to be my other grandfather?

I cut out his obituary in the newspaper and stuck that on my cork board for the next 10 years.

It’s. a. little. worn. out.

But I got to tell the man himself how I felt.

It was the last conversation I ever had with him.

Literally.

How many ever get to have that in their lives before they lose someone?

And so maybe I got to experience something that nobody else did.

This day in the studio was not fun.

I’ve mentioned before how the recording positions for the artists is 6-7 microphones in a half circle. In the Marc Grau studio there were large pieces of foam that were hung between the microphone positions to prevent actor’s audio bleeding onto neighboring mics so you couldn’t see the person sitting next to you when they lean in to the mic.

Hal ALWAYS sat at the 3 o’clock position so he could have an unobstructed view of the editing/directing booth. From the first moment I ever entered a studio with him in it, he sat in the same spot every. single. time.

I don’t think I EVER saw him use a different mic.

It was his privilege.

He chooses first.

Unspoken thing.

Everyone deferred to him not by force of ego or anything… it was just…

THAT’S HAL’S CHAIR.

Like your dad/grandad/grandma probably has a chair. And when that person enters the room people just naturally get up to let this person be comfortable. It wasn’t star treatment… it was… I don’t know how else to say it.

IT’S. HAL’S. CHAIR.

Hal was my favorite person probably ever of all time except for my real grandfather. And Hal was WONDERFUL to me. Always had time for me.

I have an anecdote to this point that’s rather… crude. But since Hal has been dead for a long time I don’t think he’ll mind.

I adored this man. Any chance I had in the green room to talk with him.

ANY. CHANCE.

One time… oh lord forgive me… I was 10 or 11. It was in the first year and I was utterly smitten with this wonderful, wonderful man who had all the time in the world for me. And I’d like to think there was something somewhat unique about my relationship to the cast compared to others… I never observed other kids have these kinds of interactions.

BUT MAYBE I WAS JUST MORE ANNOYING THAN THE OTHER KIDS.

Anyway. ANY CHANCE I HAD TO TALK TO THE MAN.



And one day we finish a scene and we have some time to kill– this was at the Pomona facility– and Hal and I start walking to the kitchenette area and I’m probably pestering the everloving crap outta this poor man.

Mic technique questions, how did you get your voice to do those things, how do you practice, when did you know show business was right for you, etc.

And as I’m launching my interrogation of this poor man I realize at some point we are not in the kitchenette anymore.

No.

We’ve left the AIO wing and have walked 50 yards further in the building to a bathroom.

And ordinarily I would be rather hesitant to follow someone into a bathroom BUT IT’S HAL AND THERE’S MULTIPLE STALLS AND HECK I PROBABLY NEED TO GO, TOO, AND I REALLY WANT TO LEARN ABOUT WHAT AGENTS DO SINCE NOBODY WILL TELL ME.

And so we go into the men’s room and line up at the urinals– lord forgive me— and I will. not. stop. pestering. this. man. begging. him. for. a. full. industry. education.


At some point it becomes apparent to 11 year old me that I got… *ahem*… finished a whole lot faster than this man with a 70 year old prostate.

And I go to wash my hands and I’m still asking him questions.

And then… because he’s still… uh… going… my god this is such a cringe moment I’M SORRY BABY JESUS AND HAL.

I literally stayed there yapping at him for the next few minutes until he did his business and washed his hands and we both headed back to the studio.

He never stopped answering my questions for one second.

My point of telling this rather crude memory and violating my friend’s privacy is that at no time… not for one second…

IT WOULD HAVE MADE PERFECT SENSE FOR THIS MAN TO TELL THIS KID TO TAKE A HIKE.

“Can I get some privacy here, 10/11 year old Dave?”

Like that is what SHOULD have happened, right?

He never broke stride. He never stopped the conversation even when it was clear he was in discomfort and wanted a break.

He ALWAYS had time for me.

The day I met Earl Boen… I remarked how I entered the Lounge of Legends greenroom and it was packed. Hal in his usual spot at the head of the table. And Earl is sitting to his immediate left with his back to me. A common spot that usually held the number two ranked famous person.

Cuz of course they want Hal time, too.

When I walked into the full room… Hal Smith stops everyone’s conversation to ask me if I know everyone. That was the kind of respect and love he had for me.

FOR A KID.

I adored this man with every fiber of my soul.

He told me I reminded him of little Ronny Howard once.

He’s a guy that calls Academy Award™ Winning Director Ron Howard “Ronny”.

Maybe that was why he was always nice to me… dunno.

He was good to everyone.

I always sat next to Hal in the recording booth.

Always.

Unless it was a scene with only him and I and then I liked to be directly across from him– this was even more critical in the Marc Grau studio setup because of the hanging soundproofing where you were blocked from seeing an actor 3 seats away. There have been other studios used through the years, this was the only one that had that hanging thing.

Anyway… I always sat next to Hal.

I ALWAYS sat next to Hal’s seat.

And if Hal wasn’t recording that scene?

Where do you think I sat?

Wanna know what my favorite recording position is in a live cast recording in a semicircle?

To any fans of the show who have the Complete Guide books there are two pictures of me working “on mic” where I’m actually at the mic when the picture is taken. One in my early 30’s at the 50th album taping and another wearing glasses when I was 11/12. Both shots are from the same angle.

Because that is the spot where a photographer would come in and stand in the opening made by the 6 mics that form a semi circle. In the middle looking towards the cast. So naturally, the person at the 3 o’clock position (to the photographer’s left) you would be taking a picture of the right side of their face.

In both pictures I am sitting in the 3 o’clock position.

Hal’s. Seat.

IF HAL IS NOT IN THAT SEAT… I AM IN IT.

Is it clear to you the relationship that I had with this man and the seat that he took and how it affected my preferences and behaviors?

Seems like an odd thing to really hone in on here, Dave…

I only have 3 memories of this session.

That day we recorded (I think…)

Adventures in Odyssey: Episode 282 – The Fundamentals

I have no memory of any of the remaining episodes recorded during this year plot-wise.

There are several reasons for this.

  1. I am a zombie. The medication I am on is a LOT. And all my senses are dulled, my body is freaking the frick out. The side affects are brutal. It’s basically chemotherapy and while it’s not as potent as cancer chemo… this stuff will still frick you up and kill you… just in different ways.
  2. There is a part of this story that may/may not have occurred the same day I told Hal I loved him. I don’t remember when during the year from hell that I had this particular conversation with the crew… And so I’m going to hold off on it for dramatic purposes until later. BUT. If this conversation occurred when I think it did… I had a feeling during this year that I was actively being written out of the show (again) after the suicide attempts. As a result a lot of the storylines start focusing more on Jimmy’s dad George who loses his job and becomes… a pastor! I’ll get more into this later. But it becomes clear that they’re angling to write us off the show. Or are they? There’s a part of the mental health thing where you never really know if what you’re experiencing is real or not. Am I being paranoid? But… for reasons that become clear later… it starts being obvious to me that my time here is dwindling. As a result the storylines were less interesting to me. And as much as it may make fans sad… I never really enjoyed the family oriented episodes between the family members. They were okay, but never very interesting to me creatively. I wanted to work with Hal and Corey and Will.
  3. The mood in the studio from this point onwards is tenser towards me. And it’s less fun. The final 6-7-8 episodes of my time on the show it seemed like Jimmy got sidelined… it felt like punishment for my fuck up. Had my religious parent told them? Did they know? Did the actor who played Rodney Rathbone tell anybody? You start getting spooked and wondering why is this person scowling at me? Because they’re having a bad day? Or because they know I tried to kill myself and think I’m a demon possessed sinner now? It messes with you. Makes it hard to concentrate. What used to be a place of comfort and familiarity was starting to become less comfortable. And is this actually happening? Or am I imagining it?

One thing I’m NOT imagining?

They do NOT like me smoking.

Now granted… I’m a minor. But I don’t think it’s my age that’s the main problem here.

Fricking Evangelicals™ are sticklers for certain behaviors. Drugs booze cigarettes. These things are clearly of the devil and stay away.

Remember how in the first hospital I knew how easy it was to NOT be smoker? And to not do drugs like the bad kids?

It’s easy. Never pick up a cigarette. HAVE SOME FRICKING SELF DISCIPLINE.

Evangies LOVE to point out the moral failings of others.

And a thing I will learn now that I’ve started being a “bad person”… is that christians don’t ever care to find out WHY you are doing something they don’t approve of… they just see you doing it, immediately assume you’re going to hell and have a made a “bad life decision” and start tsk tsking you.

And so it doesn’t interest anybody WHY I started smoking… they see someone smoking and immediately think “THAT PERSON HAS MADE A BAD LIFE CHOICE.” And if they keep pointing out that it’s a bad life choice then eventually you will have your cometojesus moment of surrender and pray the nicotine away.

And there’s an interesting thing about the Voice Over Industry.

EVERYONE SMOKES.

Hal smoked. Corey smoked. Earl smoked. Like 90% of actors smoke. It is a terrible part of the industry. For many years it was intentional for VO actors to smoke. That was how they could get raspy sounds… it also killed most of them… but that was the era. EVERYONE SMOKED.

And so… when Dave Griffin goes outside to sneak a quick cigarette while no one is paying attention guess who I end up running into. The other cast members who smoke.

And like every office and school and barber shop and court house and loading dock and ally behind professional kitchens you will inevitably see the smokers corner.

And for the people who don’t smoke… this is a curious thing. What are those smokers doing? Talking about? And when we all finish our cigarettes and head back in at the same time… well now it’s kinda looking like we’re smoking together.

And. What. Do. You. Think. A. Bunch. Of. Christians. Are. Going. To. Assume. About. Hollywood. Actors. Who. Are. Smoking. Cigarettes. With. A. Minor. ?.

They think I’m being corrupted.

They think that those actors have influenced me to smoke.

They think I started smoking because of Corey Burton.

And this becomes a thing that becomes rather unpleasant for both of us as the years would go on. And I’ll get more into this later but it really started during this session after Hal died.

Every time I come back in the Lounge of Legends from the parking lot… the writers and crew and “dad/boss/execprod” would give us the stink eye. Tsk tsk. Passive aggressive comments. Straight up saying things they know nothing about but trying to guilt and shame me into stopping.

NOBODY BOTHERED TO HAVE NICOTINE GUM IN THE LOUNGE AS AN OPTION, BTW. THERE ARE NO REAL EFFORTS MADE TO HELP 16 YEAR OLD DAVE NOT SMOKE. JUST GUILT, SHAME, TSK TSK, MOCKING, AND SOUR FACE FROWNS.

They just like being mad and disappointed in you and letting you know how disappointed and mad at you they are.

Because the reason I’m smoking has nothing to do with the Voice Over industry whatsoever.

I’m suicidally depressed and the meds are screwing with my noggin and I can’t think. BUT NICOTINE MAKES THINKING EASIER.

I’m self medicating.

But to Fricking Evangelicals™… I’m self sinning.

And anyone who was minding their own business having a smoke and here comes this 16 year old kid twitching like a meth addict because the meds I’m on are causing Tardive Dyskinesia (more on that later too) which is making my muscles twitch and spazz and I can’t sit still.

I look like I’m on drugs BECAUSE I AM. Just… not… the fun drugs.

And these adults who were minding their business, who have always been kind to me since I was 10, are now still being kind to me BECAUSE THEY ALL STARTED SMOKING AS TEENAGERS TOO AND THEY’RE NOT HYPOCRITES…

Now they’re getting pestered and blamed because I’m smoking.

And so the three memories I have of this day.

  1. I remember my Aunt Katie sitting on the steps from the back wall that leads to the parking lot and she’s crying. And I’m sitting in Hal’s seat at the table… and I can’t cry with her. And it’s upsetting me because I worry everyone will think I don’t care because I wasn’t at the funeral that I don’t know if they had or if I was excluded from or lied to about. And I want her to know that I care too. BUT I CAN’T SQUEEZE A DROP OUTTA MY EYEBALL. And my leg won’t stop bouncing under the table.
  2. I remember how this was the session where they start harassing me about smoking. And Corey Burton starts getting harassed because of me.
  3. Hal’s seat was empty the entire session.

Hal’s seat was empty…

It wasn’t a planned thing. It wasn’t like anyone went around and said to everybody else, “Hey ya know out of respect for the man that we all loved how about nobody sits in this seat.” It wasn’t a conscious thing.

But you would go in for a scene… and everyone clearly made a choice to leave it open. It was almost like his presence was still there or something.

And for me this was brutal BECAUSE I SAT NEXT TO THE EMPTY SEAT.

And Hal is supposed to be there and he’s not. And it’s killing me that I feel sad but I can’t feel sad. Like… these meds are numbing me out.

I can feel the cry somewhere deep inside and faint… like a dog barking 4 streets away.

It’s there but I can’t access it. I can hardly remember what it feels like.

And in between takes I just stare at the seat where Hal is not.

Finally, towards the end of the episode… I’m in the 4 o’clock seat guarding Hal’s seat. And the moment arrives. We finish a scene and actors get swapped out and now we have enough people coming in that… I have to slide over… and sit in Hal’s seat.

Which was my usual seat when he wasn’t there.

But this time… it felt… like… I should be feeling something but I can’t.

It was a weird moment where I when I sat down I felt a tension buried somewhere in my body. But… the feeling nods off. And then comes back.

Not a fun time to try and concentrate on a script when you’re grieving the death of a person you adored while being on the wrong psychiatric medication.

And those are my memories of the Beginning of the End.

From here on out everything changes.

The death of Hal was seismic. He was the star. The show was built around him.

Everyone loved him.

And I am becoming a mentally ill mess. And it seems like people are loving me a whole lot less and just assuming I’m some bad kid now.

Nobody cares that I literally am wanting to crawl out of my skin and die every day.

I’m miserably unhappy.

Because the more I want to be a part of this industry…

The more I’m about to become a professional patient.

And this wonderful journey I’ve been on for the last 6 years is going to become a place that hurts.

The more it slips away the more I want to cling to it all while it’s fundamentally changing.

I’m an actor who can’t feel a damn thing.



8 responses to “An Empty Chair”

  1. Shit, this is all so gutting. Feeling the stares glaring holes in the back of your head from everyone and not even being able to know what it’s for or about, let alone if it’s real or perceived, is so brutal. The numbing impacts of the medication and that terrible, stunted feeling when you need to cry and there’s just. nothing. there. is also an awful feeling. And to sit there, trying with every iota of your being to muster your soul to keep existing, while the rest of the world is trying to move along at a pace to abandon you; that’s an awful injustice. I wish so very badly that you could’ve been in a place to talk to Katie or Will at least, and ask them about the funeral, let them know what happened to you, but I could never fault you for not being able to move an inch in those directions given literally everything happening to you simultaneously.

    Also, that was a great video. I often can’t bring myself to watch videos like that because I know it will just get me frustrated; watching these people with clueless (20% incidence) or malicious (80% incidence) ignorance, using half-baked sentiment to sow discord and strife among their constituents. It doesn’t matter if they “got schooled”, because at the end of the day, the bill isn’t decided by ratioed they got on Twitter. Still, that was a good video, and seeing it come from someone who actually does practice what they preach and can truly and deeply give it to them on their own terms, not out of malice, but because their love for their people outweighs their spite for their enemies, like Rep. Talarico or AOC, /that/ is what eases my heart a little.

  2. Dave,

    This post speaks to me in such a deep way because I have spent the past 20+ years working to peel back layers of hypocritical legalism and still – and I am almost ashamed to admit this – when I read your previous post, my reflexive reaction was, oh no, he’s smoking. And I really had to take time to sit with that reaction and interrogate the part of myself that still goes right there, even in the middle of a horror story, even though I’m a grown up who has tried to unlearn that stuff, who understands suffering and should really, really know better. But it’s like we were given these litmus tests for “Christianity” or personal “goodness” or “holiness” or whatever that have nothing to do with Jesus, and I think there’s a part of me that will always react to them and I just have to keep my eyes open to that, keep reminding myself. And I deeply, deeply appreciate and respect what you are doing here.

    Also, Hal was so amazing. I had such a deep love for Mr Whittaker as a kid. I guess that kind of goodness is hard to fake. Thanks for letting us have a little glimpse of what he was for you.

    Otherwise, I think Devon pretty much says everything I would like to say. (Devon, if you are the Devon of the Oddcast you are my hero.)

    • PS Obviously I don’t know anything about your life situation or daily needs. I know it can be super hard depending on where you live. But for what it’s worth I have so much respect for people who don’t have cars. What kind of society is this that would even suggest that is a failure. Living for six months without a car is a TRIUMPH.

      • Pleasure to meet you, Devon! Now that I think about it, you probably already mentioned the fact on comments to a previous entry, but I’ve only discovered the whole online world of adults analysing AiO in the last few months, and it’s still a bit of a jumble in my head. I love what you do with the show (although at my time of life it’s hard to fit in a whole episode, yikes!) and it’s so cool you collaborate with your sister.

        Back to Dave: I’ve been telling people about your blog. I think you are reaching people it’s truly meaningful to.

        • Thank you, that’s very appreciated! Our content is certainly very long-form to say the least, but it means a lot that it sounds like you’ve still tried to fit it in anyways (where you can).

  3. …bunny paths…
    You sonofabitch, you got me with that one.

    “Dave is blatantly making an effort to show a distinction from the Alice/drug references, maybe as an evangelical in character thing or something”

    *Watches video, gets several minutes in*

    Wait, did she just…?

    Also, it is painfully obvious she only has two talking points and just has to circle back to one of them for ANY objections raised.

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