During a strange period of my life, I worked an acting gig on a military base. We were called “Standardized Patients.” Our job was to portray hypothetical subjects in training exercises for nurses, doctors, emergency personnel. Some days I’d play a soldier suffering from PTSD or a schizophrenic planning to murder his boss. Other days I was just a guy coming in for a routine physical. Occasionally we’d get assigned disaster scenarios for first responders. A plane crash, a suicide bombing, a mass shooting. We’d be decked out in special effects make-up, painted with fake blood, prosthetic broken bones, silicone skin. All the actors had different briefs. You be in shock, you be difficult, you be dead. We’d all be screaming bloody murder with pre-recorded sounds of carnage blaring from hidden speakers. We had to make it as convincing as possible. “These exercises save lives,” we were frequently told. Macabre stuff. Almost immediately after I started working there, the idea for Crisis Actor began gelling. Much of what I describe in the book is based on these actual experiences.
You are an actor looking for work. Following a friend’s lead you take a job training military support personnel—doctors, nurses, first responders. The sprawling complex where you work is heavily fortified. At dawn each morning you show your new government issued badge to the armed guards who lift the gate and let you in.
A gang of us used to hang downtown by the old fountain whenever the city actually bothered to turn the water on.
The fountain had been there long before any of us had bothered to exist. A three-tiered urn sat in the middle, decorated by pucker mouthed fish that spat ribbons of water into the air. Sculpted faces surrounded the earthen colored rim, little horned men with eternally fixed grins.
We pilfered loose change from the rusty depths. A nearby vending machine kept us fed. I was forbidden to have sugar at home, but the fountain was a lawless place.
When we weren’t throwing rocks at the abandoned green house, we took pleasure in harassing the foot traffic that filed endlessly in and out of the Public Works building across the street.
Sometimes a security guard would try to chase us off, threatening to arrest us for loitering. But we knew the alleyways and the back streets. Evading the overweight, middle-aged man in his sweat-stained white uniform was never a problem.
Winded, the guard bent at his bloated ponch, hands gripping knees.
‘Don’t—let me catch—you little—pricks.’
As if he ever could. The young are quick. The law is slow. We didn’t need school to figure that much out.