I was rehearsing the roll of Shelly Levene again this morning – from Scene 1 of the play “Glengarry Glen Ross” by David Mamet. This particular character is quite fond of that infamous “F” word, along with several other lesser profanities. Since I started memorizing and rehearsing this scene I can honestly say that I have used that “F” word more than in all the previous decades of my life. When I mentioned this to my wife she told me not to make a habit of it and, of course, I do not intend to but it has got me to thinking about the use of profane language and the ease to which some use it on a regular basis. It has also been an interesting journey for me because it is not my kind of language, difficult even in my writing, and yet I have become somewhat comfortable performing it as Shelly Levene.
Way back when Kennedy was in Camelot, and it seemed half the businesses on the boulevard I grew up on were there to sell bomb shelters, a pool hall opened two doors down in a red-brick building that used to be a Great Western Savings and Loan. Even though I was only eight at the time I got a job in that Family Billiards Parlor doing janitorial work – that is, cleaning restrooms and pool tables, emptying ash trays, vacuuming, and related chores. It was a job that did not pay in cash but what I could do was shoot as much pool as I wanted – for free. I suppose I looked pretty silly at first but I did eventually grow above the tables and become somewhat proficient.
Now, one of the regulars was a snooker player we all called Brooklyn Joe, and he was just as if he had stepped out of a 40’s or 50’s film noir; with a heavy Brooklyn accent, Derby Hat, plaid jacket, and bow tie. He was quite the standout in that Los Angeles County suburb but what I remember most was his remarkable use of the English language. And what was most remarkable to this eight-year-old, who was used to his own father’s angry diatribes, was that nearly every other word was a swear word with the most common being that “F” one. Between my father and Brooklyn Joe my taste for profanity was killed before I learned to use it proficiently. Except, perhaps, for that time when I was a very angry thirteen-year-old. Fortunately, however, the penchant for swearing dissipated with the anger.
And even now, as the man I am, I don’t like to use or hear vulgar or profane language. Even the years I’ve worked with middle and high school students hasn’t gotten me acclimated to it. But when I’m Shelly Levene it seems to pour out all too easily. I guess that’s kind of what acting is all about.