Author, Actor, Playwright, Excellent Parallel Parker

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

In Which You Get to Meet Michael Bailey

I met Michael Bailey when we were both at Eastern Michigan University. I was getting an M.A. in Dramatic Arts; he was finishing a B.A. in theatre and English lit. When his kids were little, Michael supported his young family doing stand-up comedy. He was REALLY good, the only comic I'd seen who combined in his routines poetry, theatrics and a fiercely optimistic world view. He eventually left stand-up for the more stressful and equally lucrative field of teaching. When we re-connected many years later, I was not surprised to learn he is extraordinarily gifted at teaching as well. When his fourth graders do well on a math test, Michael winds himself up in a white sheet, and with a flashing light saber, dubs them "Multiplication Jedis." He jumps on desks, and at night, flies through their nine-year-old imaginations. He is the teacher they will never forget.

Now, in his pre-dotage, Michael is writing a one man show for the theater. I've decided to feature his opening monologue in my blog because I think it's just plain wonderful.

And now, ladies and germs, please welcome my friend and favorite Multiplication Jedi Master, Michael Bailey.

"I just turned fifty. I think that’s what this is all about.  Don’t let my youthful vigor and pulsing virility fool you.  I have entered the twilight of this “good night.” 
I don’t want to get all Montel Williams on you or anything.  I realize by modern standards, fifty is not terribly old, but things are happening.  I’m losing my hair.  You probably haven’t noticed because I’ve combed it so skillfully.  The warranty is almost completely expired on my prostate.  My wife and I went to see James Taylor and Carole King a while back, and it was more than a little sobering to join the Flomax convention in the men's room at intermission.  If I’ve been reading the pamphlets right—and I hope to God I haven’t—doctor visits will soon become spelunking expeditions
Donald Justice wrote, “Men at forty learn to close softly the doors to rooms they will not be coming back to.” During my 40’s, I had three teenagers at home.  I close every door softly.  I’m usually hiding.  It’s not the rooms I won’t be going back to—I’m starting to realize that there are rooms I won’t be getting to at all.  You know what I mean?  All of those things that, as a kid, I thought would be really cool to do—I’m realizing some of them are just not going to happen.  There’s probably never going to be a time in my life when I’m standing with a bunch of other men, and I reach into my shoulder holster, pull out my gun and shout, “Cover me!”  I don’t think that’s going to happen to me.  There’s probably never going to be a time in my life when I finish making love to a woman and turn to her and say, “You O.K.?”  It would have happened by now is what I’m thinking.
            My father had his first heart attack when he was fifty.  It didn’t kill him, but man, it sure pissed him off.  He died about six years later from just about everything else.  In his eulogy, I read part of an interview from Studs Terkel’s book, Working.  A high steel worker from New York said that he wished there was a big cross section cut out of the Empire State Building so that, when he walked by, he could point to some beams and say, “There, I did that.’  Everyone should have something to point to,” he said.  In the eulogy, I said that, to my father, that thing to point to was his children.  Dad used to say that we were his life’s work—my brothers and sisters—me.  I don’t know if he really meant that...or if we were just the last thing left that hadn’t already not worked out.
            That's what this is all about, I think.  It's not just about turning 50; that’s kind of arbitrary.  I think it’s about a body of work—a life’s work. 
            You know, I say it to my own kids sometimes—that they’re my life’s work—but I’m fifty, and I’ve said all kinds of crap, and it turns out that I’m not nearly as smart as I thought I was.  
            I don’t know.
            I think maybe, that’s what all this is about.  I’m fifty, and I’m losing my hair, and I’ve raised my a smattering of applause...and I go to work every day and I pay my bills and I crawl towards retirement, which is a term I use very loosely, and I don’t know.  I don’t know.
            In high school, I was in love with this girl who was beautiful and brilliant and talented and desperate and hurt and insane.  I was drawn to her because I was all of those things too, except the beautiful, brilliant, and talented parts, and we ended up in the theatre because that’s where crazy people end up if their particular pathologies don’t preclude addressing large groups.  She broke my heart...about eight hundred times...but right after one of them, she gave me one of her senior pictures, and this is what she wrote on the back in realllllly tiny printing:
            “I am so glad you have never done anything, never carved a statue, or painted a picture, or produced anything outside of yourself.  Life has been your art.  You have set yourself to music.  Your days are your sonnets.”  That’s Oscar Wilde...The Picture of Dorian Gray.  I had to look it up. I’ve always had very literate friends.  It’s a mixed blessing. I’ve received Christmas cards with footnotes.  I don’t know where that picture is now, and I don’t know what ever became of her.  Although, I’m sure she’ll eventually show up on Facebook looking like a character from Beowulf and inviting me to join Farmville.
            But the words...stay.  Words pull at me.  They wake me up at night. They bounce around inside my head waiting for me to order them in a way that will make some sense...something sublime...and true.   I don’t know if she really thought those words applied to me or if she was just showing off.  I don’t know whether or not I believe them...but I want to.
              And I think that's what this is really all about.  I think I’m working on a sonnet.
But I don't think we can entirely rule out dementia."

Michael Bailey is an actor, an educator, a stand-up comic, a corporate speaker, a husband, a father, and a pretty fair bowler.  Hailing from Dayton, Ohio, he holds a degree in theatre and English literature from Eastern Michigan University. For over a decade Michael toured as a stand-up comic headlining clubs and colleges throughout the country and appearing on a number of national television programs including VH-1 Stand-up Spotlight with Rosie O’Donnell and Comedy Central.  For over twenty years he has worked as an educator for the Mesa and Gilbert school districts teaching English, gifted education, and drama.  He is a tad lactose intolerant, borderline manic depressive, yet endearing in a quirky sort of way.  His books, Shut Up and Do as I Say: A New Approach to  Classroom Management and Medication: It's Not Just for Students Anymore may well be published someday in the event that he ever actually writes them.

Click here to see Michael's stand-up rountine. (Check out Rosie O'Donnell's HAIR!) 


  1. Irene - I turned 50 in December, and I certainly recognize the 'I don't know' feeling. Do you get AWAD(A Word a Day)? Today's quote was from Albert Camus: "Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal." This must especially apply to people in the arts. Even people who light art!
    Be well, Robin

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