I learn it's best not to believe those rave reviews
Sometimes it seems as though over the years I've perfected my remarkable ability to be in the right place at the wrong time. In 1962 when I chose Breckenridge, Colo., over Vail as the locale for a small theater, I was certain a boom was coming.
I anticipated if we could hang on for three years, we'd see a profit in the fourth season. A burst water pipe in the costume room and a fire at the end of the third season weren't part of the equation.
As far as the Breckenridge Opera House was concerned, the fat lady had sung. So I found a job peddling ice cream bars and bubble gum from a Jolly Jerry van in Denver.
Hardly a day went by that I didn't think of the theater and wish there was a way to go back to happier times.
Once, when I had dragged myself into a particularly deep pit of could-have-beens, I got a phone call from an old friend who had just returned from California. Although I hadn't seen Phyllis for several years, we had played opposite each other many times over the years.
"Here's what it is, Ken," she said. "My director has a style that's completely foreign to what I'm used to, and I'm just not sure whether or not he knows what he's doing. I know I can trust you, and I respect your judgment. Could you come to a couple of rehearsals and tell me what you think?"
I was wildly flattered and agreed immediately. I was even more puffed up when, after the rehearsal, Phyllis introduced me to the cast and crew: She recited some of the roles I'd played, shows I'd directed, plays I'd written, and theater companies I'd founded, along with just about every complimentary, ego-expanding adjective I'd ever dreamed of hearing from anyone.
The rest of the company seemed impressed into respectful silence. I was about to launch into my performance as the ever-so-humble and gracious guest when the 17-year-old apprentice stage manager came bounding up the aisle apologizing for missing the introduction.
As I turned and extended my hand to him, instant recognition flashed across his face. "Oh, I know you. You're the ice cream man!" he blurted.
Indeed I was. And a very humbled one at that.
Since then, life has been kinder, but whenever I realize I've grown a trifle larger than my trousers, I remind myself: "You're just the ice cream man."
I've come to see that it doesn't matter whether you're playing Hamlet or passing out ice cream cones, if you do it as a pro, you're in the right place at the right time.