The Power of Passion

Johnny Walker is a ruddy, white-haired former military officer with brilliant blue eyes and a square jaw. He’d make a great poster if the Army were recruiting senior citizens, and he’s probably pretty good at selling real estate in Birmingham, Alabama, where he lives. 

We met on the porch of a Cracker Barrel in Pell City, 30 minutes east of Birmingham, as part of a large cast shooting a commercial. Being on the set of a commercial – especially a big-budget affair such as this – is like being in an airport when all the flights have been postponed.

Actors, made up and costumed, lounge about reading, doing crossword puzzles, knitting, dozing and, more than anything, comparing notes about the business. They talk about agents, jobs they’ve done, jobs they didn’t get, jobs they wished they’d gotten, etc.

At lunch the first day day, an actor from Birmingham named Danny Vinson said he learned to cry on cue by visualizing a sad scene from his own own life. "Works every time," he said. "I can’t stop."

The most common topic, especially when actors meet for the first time, is "What else do you do?" Very few make a living at films and commercials, and in a business with so much rejection and uncertainty, curiosity is almost pathological. Scarcity is powerful motivation.

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False-Bottom Suitcase

A woman I knew flew into New York from Amsterdam in the 1970s with a suitcase packed with enough hashish to lift off the 82nd Airborne. She was saved from discovery by her cribbage board. The customs agent in New York, overlooked the false bottom in the suitcase while describing cribbage with his dear old mum.

The image of a false-bottom suitcase came to mind the other day as I pondered my new reality. In repayment for a favor, I have allowed a friend to move in with me for a few months while he searches for a new house.

The roommate is a friend from my men’s group and thus, by definition, committed to personal growth and communication. We also share interests in sports and fitness, and similar political views.

But the house is small, and I’ve been living alone for nearly 10 years. No matter how sensitive or considerate he may be, the dynamic cannot help but be changed.

At the moment, the challenge is compressing his essentials from a three-bedroom house into a bedroom and bathroom of exceedingly modest size. It hasn’t been easy.


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