Last night you taped your favorite shows. You had other things to do and games to watch before bed. You taped “Glee,” “Modern Family,” “Hawaii 5-0” and a movie, and you’ve settled in to watch them. In the middle of the story, up pops that annoying commercial. So you pick up that new remote and zip forward. Whooosh! We all do that. We’re busy people for whom instant gratification isn’t fast enough.

Most commercials are a bore, especially after you’ve seen them 70,000 times. You’re sick of watching the handsome couple in the twin tubs who have apparently just shared a magic moment. You can’t understand why they don’t just get one tub like the one you and your sweetie had on the cruise last winter.

You dread those spots that try to sell you those drugs with the side effects that are worse than the illnesses they’re designed to help. I don’t blame you. I hate them too, even though I used to make commercials. I wrote a few, acted in hundreds and cast and directed some. It was my life once.

Once upon a time in the golden days of television, actors would turn up their noses at selling toothpaste. They wanted to play all the leads on the soap operas and prime time shows. They wanted to do serious acting and get a permanent series. All actors want that.

But acting in theater, film and television is a tough, competitive game. As the competition grows tougher, the good jobs come slowly. So when their agents suggested sending them out for a job selling toilet tissue and soap, soft drinks and aspirin, shaving cream and diapers, they winced. But when they saw the money come in, the wince turned to a smile.

On your screen every night, hundreds of commercials roll by. You probably don’t see them anymore. You press the button and move on. They matter little to you.

But to the thousands of actors, mostly unknown to you, pretty and plain, fat and thin, tall and short, selling you all the stuff you use every day, they matter a lot. Many are kids, just starting their careers, getting their faces out in public.

Kids of all ages make up the largest number of commercial actors. Many of these kids are salting away college money. Some of them are actually helping support their families. Ask the now-famous Jodie Foster about that.

Don’t be fooled by those gorgeous young “party kids.” They’re mostly actors trying to make enough money to keep their Screen Actor’s Guild health insurance. They have to make $15,000 in four quarters just to maintain the minimum coverage.

That sun-splashed romp on the beach may be the only time they ever get to the surf in their busy lives. And that older actor pushing the car or the beer probably has a family to support, kids to put through college, a parent in a nursing home, a mortgage to salvage. Sound familiar?

They are all American union workers paying dues to three or four unions. They get up every day without a guarantee of a job. They have to go out and find one, make one.

Between jobs, they wait tables, sell books and clothing. They juggle their job time so that they can go stand in line in cattle calls, and smile and look pretty, even if their stomachs are growling and they’re down to their last five bucks.

I’m not asking you to feel sorry for people who live in the golden sunlight and don’t appear to work as hard as you do. They chose their lives, and you never hear them grumble. They weren’t born to the golden sand and permanent sunlight. They come from people like you, from small towns like ours, from Waterville and Sidney, China and Oakland.

They’re chasing a dream. So before you click away on the commercial tonight, take a good look at that handsome young face. It might be your kid or the kid down the street. Wave.


J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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