The Best Extra on the Set

Once there was and there was not …

… a moon so large in the Angelino Sky that I could clearly see the red underbelly of a Southwest jet flying over me, out of the Burbank Airport and into the future. On this first Sunday of October, the moon was so close that I could touch her wrinkles. I knew God had put her there just for me, so that He would illuminate the humdrum, drab, artless, and uninspired set of my midlife feature film.

Aristotle and some researchers quoted in a February Scientific American article believe the powerful pull of a full moon leads to temporary lunacy. Though science rebuffs the urban legend of being moonstruck, last Sunday I was not only moonstruck, but also overcome by a rush of patriotism and nationalism.

After watching the Horizon TV recap of the rally outside the Beverly Hilton, I stepped out to my balcony, stared at the moon and screamed, “Ararat-eh mehrn-eh (Ararat is ours).”

I paused for a second and decided to also yell, “ABC-Disney is mine.”

Selfish vs. selfless

I’m conflicted like most humans, but I don’t know how to tune out inner conflicts. I often struggle with whether to focus on my personal interests or communal and national interests. I wonder whether Armenians living in the Diaspora can ever separate the two.

Moonstruck and upset, I stared at the sky and decided if we aspire for personal successes, communal or national successes like the return of Western Armenia and Genocide recognition would be more likely, especially if I were to become a media mogul.

I looked down from the balcony that cousin Lory has dubbed my “Beirut bahl-kon,“ counted the Hummers in the MetroLink parking lot, and I decided I was on the right track. I was happy with my plea to be named the King of the Walt Disney Empire.

Then it dawned on me that CSI Miami, MTV Networks, and Simon & Schuster are part of the CBS-Paramount-Viacom Family, so I screamed, “CBS is mine.” But my mind leapt off to 30 Rock and NBC, so I changed my plea to “NBC-Universal, Universal City, and GE are all mine.”

Real World Confessional

Even though I’m not on MTV’s Real World, Nort Halli-vood, I need a moment in the confessional. You see, I’m stuck in my teens.

While most healthy adults whose forebears were victimized by the Ottomans successfully integrate into the modern societies they’re born to, I can’t seem to focus for long on anything other than genocide, justice, and cultural preservation.

Most graduates of Maslow’s actualization pyramid figure out how to balance being an Armenian with their other roles as employee, husband, brother, father, baker, butcher, candlestick maker.

I’m still stuck on trying to be somebody, to make a splash in the world. I’m waiting for my close-up, for the validation, for a chance to have the world validate not just me but my people.

(Psychologists and psychiatrists, please insert your diagnoses here. Thank You.)

Extra: an atmosphere player

Early in life this need to matter sparked its narcissistic head by prompting me to seek work as an actor, a background player or an extra.

On Saturday and Sunday nights in high school, I could be spotted on TV, working in the back of the Channel 30 Action News newsroom in Fresno. Gloria Moraga would be reading the news updates during network programming commercial breaks, and I’d be at an IBM Selectric, typing scripts on five-part carbon copy paper.

In college I put cash in my pocket for nights out in Westwood by working as an extra or as human furniture on the sets of movies and television. I played one of Rodney Dangerfield’s classmates in Back to School, served wine as a French waiter on General Hospital, and have spotted my extra self in episodes of Beauty and the Beast, Remington Steele, and Cagney & Lacy.

College should’ve taught me we are all meant to be extras in our world, but something made me think I could still be a leading man, an anchor holding down mass media. So I continued to play an extra in various newsrooms, including on the set of ABC’s World News Now, where I would be behind David Muir and Tamala Edwards, typing away in the middle of the night.

Last Sunday I realized something new about being an extra. I realized I was not just any extra, but I was a damn good extra – not just in movies, but at protests, at grocery stores, on freeways, even at home on my balcony.

Somewhere along my journey, I had unknowingly signed some protocols with myself. If I was to be an extra in the world, then I was going to be the best damn extra ever.

Existential meaninglessness

As individuals we are individually insignificant in the millions of years of human history. Billions upon billions of humans have made appearances on Earth and then faded like ‘dust in the wind.’

Other than the Mozarts, Einsteins, Chers, and Kirk Kerkorians of the world, the rest of us are the potbellied mediocre consumers, stumbling through life, trying to keep up with the Joneses, and fooling ourselves about our importance.

We are the marginalized masses who are taught to seek identity and a place in the world. We are taught to buy and want, buy and upgrade, and then buy some more.

Instead, we end up being the ones who catch the flu bugs, get speeding tickets, die in natural disasters, survive cancers, take pills for bleeding ulcers, drink to drown our sorrows or to celebrate, congregate on highways to move in unison at 10 miles-per-hour, and become Social Security numbers that accumulate debts to help run the giant machines of economy.

Yet when we are young, we want to make our time on this planet count for something. We want to be known for more than our baptisms, weddings, birthday parties, and funerals. And if we get it wrong, there’s always the Buddhist notion of getting another try during another lifetime.

I wonder how many lifetimes Ardi has lived. He’s the 4.4 million-year-old pre-human fossil scientists have discovered. Finding Ardi is more proof that we’ve been around for at least four million years, and I’m sure in another four million years whom Ararat belongs to will be irrelevant.

But for now, there’s no reason not dream it as part of the small parcel of our Homeland. There’s no reason for Mt. Ararat not to be the central theme of my life. There is no reason not to use my culture as my raison d’etre.

So, I’ve started going out in public lately and been yelling, “Ararat is mine.”

The role of my life

I made a similar scene twenty years ago on October 19, 1989. My sister Maral had taken me to a Rolling Stones concert at the L.A. Coliseum. One hundred thousand people were screaming, smoking, drinking, dancing, so I stood up and yelled, “Karapagh is mine.” Sure enough, my plea didn’t fall on deaf ears, and Karapagh is ours.

I don’t know if I could manage securing Universal City as mine. If it happens, I would write and direct critically acclaimed and popular episodic dramas and feature films that would convey modern, more realistic themes like identity crisis and banality of consumerism.

I would, of course, live in the Penthouse of the Universal Hilton, where all Armenian organizations and all newlyweds could hold their banquets and celebrations at no charge.

I would make documentaries about Chihuahua-Terriers as pets in prisons for MSNBC, make cousin Lory Tatoulian the star of SNL, open a mom-and-pop bakkal (grocery store in Turkish) on City Walk, take Universal Tour tram for a spin, and tell all the Armenian stories that are fit for print on the NBC Nightly News (with Paul Chaderjian).

OK. So, I’m being delusional, but why should I censor myself just because the idea of me running NBC-Universal may seem ridiculous to a lot of people. But then again nothing happens unless it’s preceded by a thought or a dream. Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra taught me that.

Who would have ever thought Armenians would have an independent homeland or that we would liberate Artsakh? For hundreds of years, who would’ve ‘thunk ‘it?

Just as it was impossible to think of the break-up of the Soviet Union, what if Turkey would break-up one day and world powers would return our historic homeland and our people’s symbolic mountain to the Republic of Armenia.

And even if my magical thinking doesn’t get me anywhere, and all I managed to do in my lifetime is be an extra in movies and at weddings and banquets, at least my epitaph will read, “He was a GOOD extra and he dreamed big.”

At the end of the day, though, even if I don’t get my hands on Universal City to rule it as I please, I know that in a million years, media products and Universal City will be irrelevant. Multinational conglomerate will come and go, pop media will be replaced by some other products, even prosperous nations will fade away. Cultures that thrived will die, entire peoples will vanish, and languages will be lost.

What will remain in five million years or even in a thousand years are some of our fossils and Mt. Ararat. What will remain is not Universal City but the universal dynamics of humans trying to be human and humane.

What will remain are people caring for one another, strangers showing their empathy and sympathy, and the masses trying to make sense and live every second of each moment the best they know how, even if moonstruck.

And three apples fell from heaven: one for the storyteller, one for him who made him tell it, and one for you the reader.

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5 Comments

  1. Paul said:

    Wow I really liked this. It was quite candid and honest while tackling the of the issues and truths that anyone who really thinks about life has to face at some point.

  2. Ian Marsh said:

    I’ve come to look forward to Paul’s unique and at times quirky insight into the complexity of the Armenian question as it’s interpreted in the 21st century. Looking forward to his next commentary.

  3. Armen Bacon said:

    “What will remain are people caring for one another, strangers showing their empathy and sympathy, and the masses trying to make sense and live every second of each moment the best they know how, even if moonstruck.”

    As a reader and fan, your words once again force me to stop, reflect, look inward on my own life. You make magic with words, Paul, and remind us about what matters most. And oh, by the way, I’ve never minded the notion of being Moonstruck. At the end of the day, it’s the only view worth having. Who knows what’s up there?

  4. Shant said:

    Thanks Paul… You just made me feel like a cancer patient who’s been told has 3 months to live! Now I have to deal with the ‘drama’ of doign all the things I’ve always wanted to do but put off due to insignificancies, and pretend that all of a sudden time, money or ethics are not only NO OBJECT but also irrelevant… And while I’m on this 3-month-path-of-self-distructive sinful journey, the MORE important issues such as recognition of the AG by Israel, USA, UK and forcefully Turkey AND getting back our lands, well at least the Wlsonian Armenia with a Black Sea shore, what the heck Artakh permanently ours, too… In the face of all the “ANTI-ARMITES” AND Armenia winning the World Cup in 2010 AND Yerevan Hoasting the 2020 Olympics AND at lease 85% oF all Armenians move to live in our new & improved Wilsonian Armenia AND my children becoming what else, doctors & lawyers, marrying Armenians and gicing me at lease 11 grandkids (Azkeernis shadtsenenk)………………… Will all automatically take place within these 3 months putting an end to my nighmares to never being able to witness these thing in MY lifetime.

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