Full Mental Racket

I wasn’t even a passable community theater actor.FullMetal

“Uh, your acting?” Bob Bye, our director on All My Sons, once said to me. “Don’t.

So of course I just had to audition for Stanley Kubrick.

Early spring of 1984, I saw a notice in The Twin Cities Reader that Stanley Kubrick, the cinematic mastermind behind 2001: A Space Odyssey (which the Family Project first viewed together on its release in 1968, in a drive-in theater of all places), was looking to cast young Midwestern men as Marines in his adaptation of Gustav Hasford’s 1979 novel The Short-Timers. The new film would be titled Full Metal Jacket.

The first mention of it in my 1984 journal is on Wednesday, April 25: “…ran up to the community center and talked to Carlos P. about seeing if the video class could produce an audition tape for me for Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.” It was the same night I watched the one-act skit rehearsals and ran into Monique at the St. Boni liquor store.

Three days later I was at the public library doing research on Vietnam.

“I don’t know if it’s really a good idea,” I wrote in the journal, “to know so much about the film’s concept. Kubrick may be looking for naiveté and ignorance about ’Nam. He may be looking for the fresh, unspoiled type of American youth, unaware of what that youth will face in Huế or Khe Sanh.

“Anyway, I’m looking for more lively material to perform for my 3-minute acting sequence of the audition tape. I’d originally planned on doing Chris’s big soliloquy from Arthur Miller’s All My Sons—but thought it’d be too longwinded and flat. Now I’m thinking of reciting excerpts from actual letters out of Vietnam. Tom LaCrosse thinks I should give a mix of comedy and drama, allowing the director to see the extremes of my audition. It might be more effective.”


Meanwhile I was ready to return to college after three years of working at the print shop.

I wrote in the journal about the University of Iowa just after Easter 1984. I knew I had to apply, forward my community college transcripts, and secure financial aid. I planned to visit the campus in mid-May.

Gerry, my boss at the print shop, was sending me to Vo-Tech classes in Brooklyn Park. But I was bored and raring to get back to school. I liked learning.

And I was dying to leave town.

Anxiety mounted as I got ready to drive to Iowa City on the early morning of Thursday, May 10. I’d planned to stay three days, get to know the place, and enjoy a mini-vacation from work.

On the road there I saw huge lettering on the side of a barn:


“I wondered,” the journal says, “if the message was past news, as I assumed it was not … was the 20th of August THEIRS? But if it is to come, how can anyone be sure that on any set date they can share something undividedly THEIRS?”

“It is beautiful,” the journal declares after I’d arrived at Iowa House that evening. I stayed at “the upper floors of the Iowa Memorial Union, overlooking the Iowa River. In a few minutes I’m going to pour another gin and tonic and crawl out onto the roof and look out at the river and university campus and sip my G&T. It’s lovely here.”

It was a warm spring night; the river gurgled by, and parents of graduating students were “singing and getting drunk down the hall.” I was relaxing after a long hot day on the road, “too tired to put on my street clothes and going down there and talking to them.” I had an appointment to tour the campus and meet with an admissions officer first thing in the morning. “I know that the parents down the hall are too drunk to really talk to me.”

I fell in love with Iowa City that weekend.

I wandered around, excited to imagine meeting new friends and attending classes. On Friday, May 12 I submitted applications for financial aid and housing, and put a deposit down on a room on a post-graduate floor of Middlebrook Hall. “I checked out of Iowa House by 1pm,” reads the day’s entry, “and walked around the campus some more: down the river by the Museum of Art, then across the river again toward MacBride Hall and into the Natural History Museum.”

But rather than stay another night in Iowa City, I packed up the car and made the dash north again to Minnesota.


Sometime before June 17, the community center video class shot my audition tape for Full Metal Jacket. Tom LaCrosse watched from the audience seats while I emoted—dressed in fatigues and hair cut shorter than it’d been since I was a boy. I did two monologues for the cameras, pulled from the Vietnam histories I got from the library.

Kubrick_mailAt 5 p.m. that Saturday, I “met Terry Kargel up at the Community Center to mix my audition tape.” The journal reports we were at it for 3-1/2 hours. The edited VHS tape was posted to Kubrick on Monday, June 18, 1984, in care of Warner Brothers in London.

“I’ve been procrastinating something awful,” I wrote on June 24, “…due to anxiety wondering what my autumn will be like. Will I raise the finances to go to school in Iowa? Will I be contacted for a screen test in Kubrick’s film? Will I stay on at SOS [Printing], bitter with each day until I find the courage to get another job? The Fall will be one of Change. It must be.”

The summer plodded on.

A June 28 entry reports: “Am anxiously awaiting more word of loan application and info from Iowa. And perhaps receipt of my tape to Kubrick.”

Then finally, on Thursday, July 26, this cryptic entry:

“Rec’d loan rejection from Iowa.”

~ by completelyinthedark on May 29, 2015.

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