I was born and raised in Crowley, a Cajun town in Southwest Louisiana, the seat of Acadia Parish. My father was genetically half-Cajun (his mother was a Mouton, for crying out loud) and half-Alsace-Lorraine, but he was Cajun, unquestionably. My mother was Sicilian, born in Franklin, LA, to an immigrant who had just crossed the Atlantic to join her husband who, instead, had taken up with another woman in New Orleans and refused to have my grandmother around.
I was the third of three sons with an eleven-year gap between my older brother and myself. That meant my raising was largely done in absentia since my parents no longer feared that any breakage one of their children might incur would be irreparable. I credit their detachment with teaching me to take care of myself.
I belong to that last generation of children born in the United States before warning labels took all the fun out of being a boy. That meant I sometimes stayed out after dark before the age of seven, rode my bicycle all over town from morning till dusk, walked along train tracks, stood dangerously close to the edge of the water, took shelter under a tree during thunderstorms, and rode standing on the backseat of the family car on our weekly trips down Highway 90 to New Iberia to visit my grandmother. I would never raise a child that way myself, but, comparing then to now, I wouldn't have had it any other way.
Unknown to me until much later, when I was born, my Sicilian grandmother said to my mother in her Sicilian dialect, something like, "Il suo nome è Francesco. Egli sarà il sacerdote." That means, "His name is Francis. He will be the priest." My mother named me Glenn and later on expected grandchildren. My mother could be a strong woman.
Nevertheless, I developed a strong attraction to the Latin ritual of the old Catholic Church and became an altar boy. I was an altar boy for many years without ever having a priest lay a hand on me. From that experience I learned how to deal with future rejection, and future rejection is one reason I'm probably still alive today.
I say no priest ever laid a hand on me. That isn't technically correct. Father Robichaux once slapped me across the face at an altar boys meeting when I laughed at a joke my cousin Larry made. I was stunned and mortified, and I've adored Father Robichaux ever since. That was perhaps my moment of revelation when I recognized the twistedness of me. Oh, Father, if you knew now what I knew then ...
It wasn't long before I felt a call to the priesthood. But not any old priesthood, I decided I had to be a Franciscan. Where the hell did that come from? There were no Franciscans anywhere near Crowley. I had seen that movie about Saint Francis of Assisi, starring Bradford Dillman and Dolores Hart, who later became a nun. Could such a lame, cheap-ass potboiler turn my life around? Or was it the curse muttered at my birth? All I can say is if you ever see an old Sicilian woman coming your way, turn a corner. Quick.
Nevertheless, I tracked down a seminary in Cincinnati, and, in no time at all, found myself at the age of fourteen, alone on a train, chugging up to Ohio. Once there, it only took me two-and-half years to discover that, although dreams and fantasies and realities may all have their place in life, they are not the same thing. Whatever ideals had propelled the Poverino, they were buried with him in Umbria, not thriving in middle America. So I hauled my ass back home.
Another realization that came to me during that time in the seminary was that my love for the ritual of the liturgy had more to do with theatrics than with God. My mind was made up, an actor's life for me. Unfortunately, I hadn't reckoned with the ideas my father might have had for me. They included, above all, my staying home forevermore. No high-school of the performing arts out on the Eastern seaboard awaited me, but graduation from a respectable school in Crowley - followed by college twenty minutes down the road over in Lafayette. What could I do? You don't run away from a cushy home environment. So I made do.
It wasn't so bad. I got a good education (you could get one of those down here back in those days), meals, and a bed. After college, I even latched onto a couple of summer-stock gigs in Illinois that paid for that trip to New York which rewarded me with the knowledge that theatre is everywhere, not just in Manhattan. Or should I say, everywhere but in Manhattan?
Oh, don't be bitter. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, repeat.
It was back at home again where I managed to find some employment as a substitute school teacher. (My oldest brother was a principal. It helped. So sue me.) It was a miserable existence, and it lasted until that day when I stood in the middle of a seventh-grade class, unable to maintain any decorum whatsoever, and I suddenly beheld a blinding white light and heard an inner voice intone, "You don't have to deal with this." I walked out of the classroom, over to the office, told the staff that I was quitting, left the building, and scrambled back home to bed. A mystical experience will do that to you.
Faced now with the inevitably irrefutable realization that I was destined to be a failure in life, I took to taking Civil Service Exams. Nowadays, there is a single test that gets you into the door of any state agency in Louisiana. In the olden days when I turned to this last bastion of remuneration, there was a test for every position in every agency in the state. The trick was translating the state's job title for any given position into the kind of English we were taught to speak and comprehend. I was not too successful in this, and for that reason, I applied, and tested, for many positions I would have had no business being hired for.
Around this same time I realized I had reached adulthood and could legally come and go from home as I pleased. So I would frequently hop a Greyhound Bus on Friday afternoons and roll across the state down the highway to New Orleans. This may no longer sound glamorous in any way, but you have to remember this was around the time of movies like Midnight Cowboy when Greyhound still held a certain vagabond cachet. How could I resist the lure of the bright lights of New Orleans now that I was old enough to partake of her decadence? Easy enough to hop a coach, go Greyhound, and leave the driving to them.
It was here, while I was napping at the old YMCA on Lee Circle, that I got a phone call from my dad, informing me I'd received a letter setting up an interview with a state agency right down the street from where I was. I made the interview and, soon after, walked out onto Saint Charles Avenue a Civil Servant.
Of course, I made it a point to inform my new work-friends that this job was only temporary because, you see, I was an actor, and as soon as I got my foot in the door, I'd be leaving to follow my dream. And I did. After thirty years.
As it happened, I discovered I liked my job, and I also found I happened to be good at it. I learned more about acting while employed in that state agency than I ever would have learned on a New Orleans stage, and as I moved up the ranks, I learned how to direct.
My life has been a good one. I have the friends and the enemies to prove it.
Any regrets? I wonder about that sometimes, and I just don't know that I do. At least, not while my thinking is on an even keel. Maybe, if anything, on certain days, at certain times, I might admit to having not devoured enough of what life might have offered me in the past out of diffidence or caution.
But, hell, the way I see it ... there's still time.