One day at a time
Don’t hire C.J. Deering.
“I don’t know why people hire me,” she laughed. “Maybe I’m just lucky, maybe they see something in me that I don’t.”
Sitting in her dressing room, backstage at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in downtown Waynesville last Saturday night, Deering (C.J. = Cameron Jane) just finished the second night of a two-weekend run of her one-woman comedy monologue, “Jobs I Had For One Day.” The hour-long production puts Deering center stage, under the bright lights and in front of dozens of curious faces staring back at her within the cozy black box stage.
It’s a story, her story, about a haphazard life of employment and happenstance, one that has molded Deering into the captivating storyteller and persona she inhabits nowadays.
“It’s a little scary being out there onstage, it’s also a little exciting once you start feeding off of the energy of the audience,” the 68-year-old said. “But, it’s easy for me to sit in front of a group of people, because I love people, I’m so interested in them — I loved how tonight the audience and I talked back and forth.”
The art of employment
Raised in New Jersey, Deering grew up in a pretty atypical post-World War II household. Her parents, “both beautiful people” Deering noted, lived a somewhat glamorous life, filled with cocktail parties amid a “Mad Men” atmosphere of style and swagger. Deering herself emulated those folks who’d imbibed around her, ultimately wanting to live that Hollywood existence of devil-may-care shenanigans and chic interactions.
Graduating high school in 1964, she enrolled into an all-girls school in Rhode Island, dated the state senator’s (at the time) son, and seemed to be headed in a normal direction. But, her path thereafter became anything but normal.
“I moved to New York City in the mid-1960s. It was Bleecker Street, MacDougal Street, music at the Café Wha?, up to Woodstock for the festival in 1969,” she remembered. “And then, I got pregnant.”
At that exact time, a girlfriend of Deering’s also was pregnant and decided to relocate near family in Atlanta. Deering followed, in hopes of a fresh start. It was in Atlanta, she got hired as a stewardess for American Airlines. That didn’t last long, nor did her short time as a cheerleader for the Atlanta Falcons during the first year the professional football team put women on the sidelines.
Deering then ricocheted around the country like a pinball, with stints in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Houston, Los Angeles again, Philadelphia again, back to Los Angeles, and ultimately Waynesville, where she’s resided the last four years. And through all that moving around, she started innumerable jobs, only to leave after a day or so, either out of boredom, or simply out of hatred for the position.
Throughout the dozens and dozens of occupations she has held, Deering was a department store Easter Bunny (fired for accidentally setting the costume aflame while on a cigarette break), sex education teacher, photographer’s assistant (fired), weather girl (quit), radio DJ (fired for drunkenly swearing on-air), gelato delivery woman (quit due to melted product), stockbroker (fired for costly typing errors), tour manager for Jethro Tull, dog bakery cook (quit), personal assistant for Eric Clapton, financial television reporter (quit), office worker for The Eagles, cemetery plot salesperson (quit), and, most ironically, and employment counselor (quit). The list goes on and on, with Deering in awe of her journey within the American workforce. Currently, she’s the store manager for Anne’s Attic, a home décor business in Maggie Valley — a gig she has proudly held for the last couple of weeks.
“How do I keep getting hired? Hell, if I know — you should see my resume, now that is a great example of creative writing,” she chuckled. “I wish that my life could have been kind of normal, but I guess you always want what you don’t have. I look at people that have been married a longtime, have raised kids, lived in a house and had regular jobs, and I’ve thought what a great life that would be, but it just wasn’t in the stars for me.”
Stepping into your destiny
Deering got into theater production because of her friend Barbara Bates Smith, an acclaimed Southern Appalachian storyteller in her own right, who felt Deering had what it took to perform, and perform well. Smith, and HART executive director Steven Lloyd, put Deering on their show schedule last year. A similar production about her entire life, Deering’s act became the most profitable show that hit the black box stage in 2014. Thus, HART wanted her back for more.
The irony for Deering seems to be the mere fact that she’s found her calling, career-wise, in telling stories about all the failed jobs she’s had over the years. Onstage, she’s a magnet for your attention. Her casual nature in the production pulls you in, where with each story told, you want to know more, you want to dive deeper into her mind. She speaks of dating rock stars, national politicians and renowned artisans, with cautious tales of freedom found and freedom lost sprinkled in-between. And yet, she is only revealing the tip of the iceberg of a life, though chaotic, well lived, one filled with adventure, excitement and zest.
“It’s surreal to see people here for me,” she said. “It blows my mind — I don’t understand it.”
Watching Deering perform, you can feel the sincerity and honesty in her ability to weave a story. There are so many moments retold, that, even when telling a rehearsed bit, she suddenly remembers another one, to which she’ll go on an enjoyable tangent. Quite simply put, Deering, though she has endless material to work with, has probably forgotten more experiences than most people actually have in their entire lifetime.
“It’s hard to realize that the things that come easy to you are the most valuable,” she said in reference to her enjoyment of storytelling. “The funny thing is I don’t know what people are going to laugh at, and telling my story has been a very cathartic thing, too.”
Following her show, Deering opens up a question and answer period to the audience. The queries keep coming from anonymous voices in the dark room. Deering responds with more stories, more memories that flood back into her field of vision. She speaks truths, of failed marriages and opportunities, personal tragedies and triumphs, and how, today, she’s still standing, still waking up every morning ready to take another leap of faith into this great big world of ours.
“I hope people who come to my show had fun, laughed a little, maybe made a new friend in me, and that it was worth the 10 dollars admission,” she smiled. “Maybe I’ve had so many jobs because I never found the right job? Maybe this is the right job for me.”
Want to go?
Comedic storyteller C.J. Deering will tell her all too true tall tales of life, recovery and survival during her show “Jobs I Had For One Day” at 7:30 p.m. April 3-4 and at 3 p.m. April 5 at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville.
Tickets are $10 for adults, $6 for students.
828.456.6322 or www.harttheater.org.