…If only because I join a long list of Jews who get away with telling a tasteful Spice Girls/Holocaust joke in their speech at their best friend’s wedding.
…If only because I join a long list of Jews who get away with telling a tasteful Spice Girls/Holocaust joke in their speech at their best friend’s wedding.
I approached my Grandmother and sat beside her.
It had been too long since I had seen her last.
She was slowly eating her lunch while a woman played a waltz at the piano nearby.
My grandmother stared at me blankly for a good 20 seconds.
Then she began to cry.
Then I began to cry.
Then through our tears, we had a brief exchange:
Do you know who I am?
Do you know my name?
Michael? Michael, Michael, Michael.
I’m named after your mother, Mamie.
Mamie? Mamie, Mamie, Mamie.
I’m your grandson. You know Madeline?
That’s my mother. You’re my grandmother.
It’s so good to see you.
Thank you. Thank you, Thank you.
You look so beautiful.
Thank you. That makes me feel good.
I don’t want to get lost.
I’m right here with you.
I know you can smile.
I hope I still can.
Here. I’ll smile with you.
Thank you for talking to me for these few minutes.
I don’t know what to say.
You don’t need to say anything. We can just sit here together for a few minutes and enjoy the music.
(And so we did.)
A few years ago, I learned a very important phrase: “Treat yo’self”. Go out and ENJOY your life. Reward yourself for all that hard work. Travel has become my treat, my personal reward, my ice cream sundae. Last year, I had a three-week window snuggled between two of my biggest projects to date. This window happened to coincide with a business trip my parents were planning to South East Asia. So I bought a plane ticket and joined my folks for some much needed adventure.
I wandered the neon backstreets of Hong Kong. I took a boat around the floating villages of Siem Reap, Cambodia. I had one particularly magical day in the mountains outside Chiang Mai, Thailand. In the afternoon, I got into a water fight with four dancing elephants in a river. At sunset, a monk in a golden mountaintop temple blessed my family and me. In the evening, back at our hotel, I set up my first IRA with a (totally false) projected retirement year of 2050. I’m still not sure which of these activities was most surreal, and which had me counting my blessings more.
After a week and half with my family, I flew to Bali to meet Jesse, one of my best friends of more than 25 years. Bali had long been a dream destination of mine. Some artists have their blue period. I just wanted my Taymor period. (Julie Taymor infamously went to Bali on a fellowship after college, and ended up staying for four years. The multi-cultural mask and puppet work she developed during that time was later appropriated for Disney’s multi-billion dollar grossing stage production of The Lion King.)
Jesse and I arrived the afternoon before Nyepi, one of the largest Hindu celebrations and public holidays of the year. Nyepi is like New Years, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Yom Kippur and Burning Man all rolled into one. After our driver failed to show up at the airport, and we couldn’t reach our accommodations at Alam Shanti, Jesse and I gave in to a cab driver who had been trying to negotiate a trip with us for the previous few hours. As we drove through the streets of Denpasar on our way to the jungles of Ubud, all the roads behind us started to close. Villagers were making way for the parade of Ogoh-Ogohs, giant mythological demon statues that are used once a year in purification ceremonies throughout every village on the island. (Like Burning Man, the ritual ends with the Ogoh Ogoh’s burning to the ground. Unlike Burning Man, a grown ass man in a fur vest doesn’t try to sell you disco biscuits. )
That night, Jesse and I set out into the dark, damp jungles of the Monkey Forest, determined to find one of the street celebrations. We trekked and trekked. We were told the celebrations were over. I wouldn’t believe it, so we trekked some more, by this point completely lost in the jungle of a foreign island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Of course, right at the moment when we were about to give up hope, I spotted a glow up ahead. Jesse and I raced up and around the bend, encountering what I swear to you is the manifestation of all my wildest dreams.
(It’s called the Bhuta Yajna ritual. Go HERE to watch it.)
The first night of any new adventure is always the best. Nothing beats that exhilarating sense of jumping into the complete unknown. Jesse and I found our way back to Alam Shanti with the greatest feelings of excitement, relief, and joy. At our doorstep, we found two boxes and a small note. The note read that the next day, we were not to speak, we were not to leave the property, and if we must eat, enclosed were our only rations to consume. The entire island will essentially be “closed”. I opened up my box and found a slab of dry meat crawling with ants.
It turns out that Nyepi is the Balinese “Day of Silence”. To commemorate the new year, the day is reserved for self-reflection, fasting, and meditation. And as such, anything that might interfere with that purpose is restricted. The roads are empty. The lights are out. Even the airport is closed. While it is officially a Hindu holiday, non-Hindu residents and tourists are not exempt from these restrictions.
The morning of Nyepi, Jesse needed to get a little work done, but the WiFi was down. I was itching to explore, but when I approached the gate to the property to leave, I was stared down by the Pecalang, traditional security men who patrol the streets to ensure that the prohibitions are being followed.
Jesse and I were frustrated for maybe about a minute.
But come on. You don’t get to plan all your adventures. Restrictions can in fact provide structure, discipline, and inspiration. And sometimes, the greatest adventures can be found in not adventuring at all.
So Jesse and I gave in fully to the day. We put away our computers and kicked off our shoes. We pulled flowers from the garden and made color stories on the tables. We read and wrote and played cards by the pool. We soaked in the sun and meditated and had staring contests with frogs. We didn’t explore, well not in the traditional sense. We weren’t productive, well not in the “adult” sense. But rest assured, experiencing Nyepi was one of the greatest treats of our lives.
My hand won’t stop twitching. My feet won’t stop shaking. After more than 8 years living in that bustling metropolis known as New York City, I’ve returned to Los Angeles for an extended stay and my teeth won’t stop chattering, my mind won’t stop racing. Why is everyone on the couch watching Netflix at 2 pm? Why is everyone in bed with a dog by 10 pm? And how is it that every single Angelino qualifies for a medical marijuana prescription? It’s as if the qualifications were A) You’re human, B) You’re alive, and C) Haha. That’s it bro. Here’s your bag of Purple Dinosaur.
After 8 quick years, have I become addicted to the rush of New York City? Can I no longer keep still? Wasn’t the initial point of this blog to acknowledge the extraordinary in the ordinary, the great adventure in everyday life? Perhaps my biggest mistake was self-proclaiming myself The Adventure Addict to begin with. If I had initially decided instead on, say, The Apathetic Vagabond, The Nonchalant Explorer, or heck, even The Folksy Flaneur, maybe the idea of a carefree, casual Tuesday afternoon would not totally terrify the fuck out of me.
In New York, I wrote lists. Every day. List making was MY medical marijuana. I’d make lists in the frigid jail cell I call a bedroom. I’d make lists next to a splatter of vomit while I waited for the train, already packed so air tight that businessmen would have to circular breathe between their mouths, nostrils, AND anuses.
So last night, after enjoying a gluten-free vegan meal and a dip in the backyard hot tub, I decided to make some lists. I wrote down 25 things I love about New York City. And 25 things I hate about New York City. And 5 things I love about Los Angeles. And 5 things I hate about Los Angeles. See, despite living in LA for 5 years prior to moving to New York City, I couldn’t come up with any more things I loved OR hated about LA. This was interesting for me to note. Life in New York is 0 to 100, often in the same hour. In New York, I’ve experienced my highest highs and my lowest lows. Life in LA is generally more consistent. Pleasant, maybe even lovely, if not terribly interesting. A day’s biggest win shouldn’t be progressing a mile in less than an hour on the 405.
If I do 5 things a day in LA, rather than 25 things a day in New York, am I being less productive? Or is the key to productivity in NOT multi-tasking, in NOT running around, in NOT beating the clock? But in working in focused, isolated chunks, allowing my mind the space and pleasure to pause and reflect in between. What does productivity mean anyway? Could a 2 pm Netflix binge provide just the inspiration I was searching for? Will going to sleep before Midnight make for a new, relaxed and genuinely alert day? When did that tree climbing, cloud watching, smoothie making kid grow up to be the personification of a triple soy latté no whip? Gross. At least enjoy the whip, Mikey.
Now this is all just a lesson for me in perception, of both the internal and external sorts. In debating where I could be happiest, and where I am most likely to thrive, the answer really is: anywhere. As long as I do work I care about, and am surrounded by people I care about, I find that I’m a generally happy camper. I believe that’s true of most people.
When I think of New York, I can focus my attention on small apartments and jam packed trains, or I can choose to think about the glow and vibrancy of Lincoln Center, the autumnal park strolls, and all those gems tucked away into hidden corners. “The map is not the territory,” a friend said to me the other day. We all make our own maps. My map of New York is different than your map of New York, and neither is the territory. I can say LA is a place that makes me less productive, or I can just choose to work at being more productive, wherever I may be. (Again, whatever that means.)
“Who is that woman in the mirror with all the wrinkles,” my Mom said to me over the holidays. Talk about perception. She could barely recognize herself, as if time had suddenly catapulted her into the future with weight and responsibility, without care or warning.
Aging is a funny thing. Sometimes I sit across from people I think of as “adults”. I engage in quiet, adult conversation. I nod and scratch my beard. In my mind, I am flying around a track, acting recklessly silly, bouncing off walls and screaming and picking my nose. But you’d never know that. At least not most of the time. Because at a certain age, we’re supposed to “act our age”. We’re supposed to be Adults with a capital A. But the older I get, the more I realize that we’re all just acting at what we think an adult is supposed to be like, my Mother included. In fact, we’re all still children among the stars. None of us got the handbook. Every one of us is just floating weightlessly in space, grasping for solid matter to tether ourselves to.
So I’m going to forget all these neurosis inducing Adult questions for a second. Children work better with YES or NO questions, right? So scratch, “Where in the world will you be most productive?” Also, good-bye, “Where will you be most happy?” As if life shouldn’t warrant or value or necessitate all the other emotions.
“Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.”
Instead, I’m going to get out of my head and try something more tangible:
Wherever you are, are you continuously finding ways to gain pleasure?
Yes or no.
Are you contributing something helpful or meaningful to the world around you?
Yes or no.
These questions require reciprocity in my actions. They require engagement with others and the world around me. They get me out of the floating space in my mind and give me solid matter to tether myself to. It seems the older we get, the more attention we pay to selecting and developing our internal states, rather than our external ones.
Eventually, decisions will need to be made. Work will need to get done. But for now, my hand has stopped twitching. My feet have stopped shaking. My teeth have stopped chattering. And my mind has stopped racing. I may never know the territory, but at least I know which maps I’ll choose to create.
The day before, I met the Queen of Jordan in Amman.
The day after, at Midnight in Aquaba, I reclined deeply in a field of multi-colored beanbags, taking in the Summer breeze and smoking watermelon mint hookah with my giddy Mom and Dad, watching the World Cup in Arabic on a jumbo screen beside disco balls in palm trees, lying under the full moon and a sea of stars, finally at peace with the universe, thinking surely this is what Moses would have wanted for us all.
But that day in between, that day in Wadi Rum, all I wanted was my damn hat back.
Though I had only been with her for about a month, she was unquestionably the best hat I ever had. She was my protection from that giant ball of fire in the sky. She signified that a true adventurer was under her care in the sweltering desert heat. Because true adventurers find their accomplices in the marked down section of J. Crew.
Unfortunately, in an instant, the heavy winds of Arabia snatched her off my head.
My parents and I chased her up and down vertical dunes of red heat. She was too quick. My beloved hat was on jailbreak, weaving in and around desert pillars of shattered rock until she disappeared into the great unknown. After an hour questing across a vast, empty sea of sand, my tweed companion was nowhere to be found. I dropped to my knees, and called out her name to the heavens. Haaaaaaaaaaat.
My head sunk low in despair. My parents put their arms around me as we trudged back to the truck. Our driver Mohammed, seeing frustration and sadness in the curves of my brow, asked me, “Did you not enjoy Wadi Rum?”
“I did. I just. I lost my hat.”
Mohammed opened the door and walked a few paces up the nearest dune. He then stopped and closed his eyes, the back of his keffiyeh swaying ever so slightly in the mild breeze. My parents and I looked at each other with hope and excitement as Mohammed disappeared behind a bend. A few seconds later, he returned, sand cascading like lava from between his fingers, revealing my crumpled hat in his hand.
I jumped out of the vehicle and rushed towards Mohammed, my head down again, only this time with gratitude.
“How did you find it? And so quickly?” I said.
“You know your hat. But I know the wind,” he replied. “You called out to your hat. Hats don’t have ears. They can’t hear you. But if YOU’RE still, and YOU listen, the winds, the Earth, they’ll tell you everything you need to know.”
In that moment, if a tear could have fallen down my cheek without immediately evaporating, know that it would have.
“Or,” Mohammed continued. “I just watched the whole thing happen from the truck and enjoyed watching you chase something you were never going to find. Take whichever answer you prefer.”
Eight planets complete our solar system.
A complete byte is made of eight bits.
A complete mile is made of eight furlongs.
There are eight hierarchical levels of consciousness, according to Timothy Leary.
The eighth tooth is wisdom.
Buddha’s principal teaching is the Noble Eight Fold Path.
In Judaism, we cut the foreskin on a child’s eighth day of life.
In Hinduism, eight signifies abundance.
In Japan, eight is considered a holy number.
In China, eight is used as a term for parting, for saying good-bye.
It also signifies luck.
Eight apparitions appeared to Macbeth.
A figure-eight knot is called a stopper knot.
Eight is the atomic number for oxygen.
In numerology, eight is the number for destruction.
In numerology, eight is also the number for rebuilding.
Noble. Wisdom. Abundance. Luck. Holy. Oxygen. Appear. Conscious. Cut.
Stopper. Parting. Complete. Complete. Complete. Destroy. Rebuild.
Happy Eighth Anniversary, New York.
I love you.
I took the long way home from work last night. Briefcase over one shoulder, camera over the other. Through the pine trees of Central Park, around the reservoir’s edge. I stumbled upon a man from out of town proposing to his soon-to-be-wife. I asked if I could capture the moment. They couldn’t stop smiling. Neither could I. I continued my long walk home.
As EB White remarked, this couple and I are members of the third kind of New York. We came here on a quest. May we always embrace New York with the intense excitement of first love. May we always absorb New York with the fresh eyes of an adventurer. May we still generate heat. May we still generate light.
My hard drive was slow. The monitor flickered and spasmed as I searched my desktop endlessly for an answer. With her lips pursed forward, forming the beginnings of a wicked smile, a beautiful stranger in the coffee shop so kindly pointed out to me that when you have 103 tabs across 7 different windows open on your browser, everything slows down to an ineffectual pace.
She said nothing. She smiled and squinted, as if closing her hazel eyes to millimeter slits somehow gave her the capacity to see right through me. I looked at the left column of my Gmail. 844 unfinished drafts. I looked down at my phone. 1,256 ongoing text message conversations. I closed my eyes and imagined my desk. 47 notepads of to-do lists. I imagined my bookshelf. 321 half-read books. Infinite starts, stops, and weight. Heavy weight. 2,571 gallons of sweat. 81 tons of skin. I opened my eyes.
“My birthday’s tomorrow,” I said, unprompted. “Well you should probably shave then,” she replied. “Funny. When I first moved to New York, a big director told me to grow a beard and keep it until the day I turn 30, at which point I can finally shave. He said people start to take you seriously when you’re 30.” “And…” “Are people starting to take me seriously?” “No, silly. Are you going to shave?” “I am.” “Good. Let them see you, I say. Let them see you.”
She exhaled. I inhaled. She sat back down, leaned over, dug into her backpack and took out a book. “The Things They Carried”. Funny. Again. The universe giving me real talk and all.
Look at how much I carry. Look at how much we all carry. In our metaphysical beards. In our immaterial backpacks. Across 1,256 text messages, 844 unfinished drafts, and 103 tabs. The 20’s were all about building up, weren’t they? Building up varied experience, an arsenal of thought, a formation of kinetic momentum.
Tomorrow, as I celebrate the 30th anniversary of my birth, may I begin the process of unloading my metaphysical backpack, the bright Halloween candy bowl of my youth. Great prophets like the Buddha and Princess Elsa from Disney’s Frozen advise us to let it go, but that assumes things are directly in our grasp. Sometimes they’re hovering behind us, out of sight, strapped in tight. Deadlines and to-do lists are self-imposed. Take a load off. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Here ye, Here ye! A Declaration For My 30’s: Instead of texts, may I carry grit. Instead of drafts, may I carry resolve. Instead of tabs, may I carry a mischievous mind, a curious heart, and an unwavering generosity of spirit.
May I swagger so lightly that only the tips of my toes touch the ground. May my spirit act as your flotation device. May we tread these waters together. And if we text, if we MUST, may we text with only the wittiest of banter. We all can afford to carry that.
Smile big. Breathe deep. Put on aftershave. Here we go.
I played sports my entire childhood.
Up until age 9, that is. Because at age 10, I became a man.
At age 10, I discovered tap dancing.
While my brothers continued to play point guard in basketball and goalie in soccer, I continued to play center with my triple winged time step and power forward with my flap ball change. They watched Gene Banks. I studied Gene Kelly. They worshiped DeJuan Blair. I bowed to Fred Astaire.
My brothers would tease me. They’d say I’d never get in shape if I didn’t take up a real sport. But I so strongly remember one time, in the 7th grade, when my friends and I sat around my bedroom drinking Smirnoff Ice, and we all went around the circle and verbally acknowledged everyone’s best feature – “Adam, you have such beautiful eyes”, “Sam, you have such gorgeous hair” – that after a mild Pinter pause, everyone agreed, “Michael…you have such great…calves. Yea, like, your calf muscles…are really defined.”
Nevermind that I never wore shorts because I was so self conscious about my thigh eczema. Clearly all the better, because my triceps surae were so impressive that they indented my baggy Pacific Sun jeans. And how do you think I got them holy calf muscles? TAP DANCING.
By the 8th grade, I got so cocky about my amazing calf muscles that I signed up for the school’s 50 yard dash competition to place in the county track meet. Nailed it. First place. Sprinting away from my Dad and his giant wooden spoon every time I put my pet rats on the sleeping babysitter’s face was really paying off.
Unfortunately our PE teacher signed me up for the wrong race in the county meet. He placed me in competition for the 600 meter. See I was only a sprinter, an unusually tall boy with a large stride and the immediate burst of energy needed to leap through 50 yards in a matter of seconds. I couldn’t do long distance! I saw Sleepless in Seattle! It almost never works out! And since my dismissal of team sports occurred a few years prior, I didn’t own a pair of athletic shoes that made it through my growth spurt.
So I rolled up to the county wide track meet in my Capezio Capri’s and Stussy slip-ons and went boldly for the gold, my jock brothers finally cheering me on from the sidelines. Sure enough, for the first 20 seconds, I took the lead. Then one by one, each runner passed me by, until 40 meters from the finish line, Petey, the mentally handicapped boy from my class, skipped past me, glanced back, and shouted, “Sucka”.
I crawled my way past the finish line and fell to my knees panting, my life-long vertigo induced to skyrocketing levels. I looked over at the stands. My brothers were gone. As the rain clouds crept in, canceling the rest of the day’s competitions, I sat under the bleachers alone, the soles of my skater shoes withered to shreds, eating the biggest basket of Nachos you’ve ever seen, all the while lamenting my poor, fat existence. But please don’t feel too sorry for me. The nachos had cheese from the can. THE BEST KIND.
Despite that early bout of foolishness, I learned to know my limits and trust my gut. Well, except for that one time on my Jewish confirmation trip to Israel when the other boys convinced me that 60 seconds of hyperventilation followed by strict breath holding as they charged my chest would help me produce better abdominal muscles. Suffice to say, I came to on the floor surrounded by hyena like laughter. I was merely a pawn in the Israeli scam version of the Slendertone Vibrating Ab Belt.
I did have the last laugh one time. River kayaking was a summer staple for my family. A few years after being crowned the Great Patsy of Israel, I hiked out of the Grand Canyon following a week-long tumble down the Colorado River. I beat my father and my older brother out of the canyon by nearly two hours, in 105 degree heat with 40 pounds on my back no less. When my brother finally reached the top and spotted me sipping a Piña Colada in the gift shop, he exclaimed, “I can still kick your ass, fattie.”
He was right. By the end of high school, I had put on a few pounds. I used to blame the decade’s use of Zoloft that I was prescribed, ever since my Mom diagnosed me with childhood depression in the womb, but I knew it was really the incessant consumption of ice cream while watching Melrose Place marathons that led to my inflation.
I started dancing more. I started dancing hard. So hard, that I broke my wrists freshman year of college at USC. When I called up my brother from the hospital, he asked if I had finally tried out for the football team. I regretfully had to inform him that I in fact broke my wrists doing leap frogs over my director while rehearsing “Kansas City” from Oklahoma. The orthopedist said he had never heard a manlier cause of fracture in the history of medicine.
Dancing did me good, though. By senior year of college, I lost 65 pounds. No conscious change of diet or activity. I simply continued to dance, because I loved it, and it made me happy. My parent’s didn’t buy it though. On numerous occasions, they sat me down to tell me to lay off the cocaine. I reassured them that I had never done drugs in my life. My father the doctor told me he did a lot of cocaine research in New York City in the 60’s. He knew the signs. I air quoted “cocaine research” right back at him. He said, “No, no, you have to believe me.” And I said, “Right. You have to believe me. I’m just dancing. And be thankful that I’m not air quoting “dancing” too.”
I did have one misstep in college, however. Senior year, I played the alcoholic Harry in the school musical, Company, while taking all advanced level classes, choreographing for the school dance company, directing and producing the play The Shape Of Things, editing my thesis film, and assisting the Development Exec of a major Hollywood studio. Even Noah himself would have said from the ark, “Hey kid, take a break.”
So an hour before opening night, bleary eyed from final exams prep, I drank a Red Bull. Or two. Rather quickly, my vertigo reached Hitchcockian heights. I couldn’t see straight. I didn’t know which way was up. And I was just about to go on stage in front of a packed house of family, friends, teachers, and industry professionals. Now if you don’t know the show, Harry is on stage for the first 30 minutes, singing in the opening number, downing brownies and alcohol, then doing kung fu and back flips before singing an emotional ballad called, “Sorry/Grateful”.
On opening night, I was only sorry. Thankfully, I did not throw up all over the orchestra as anticipated. So I was certainly grateful for that. I made it through, tears streaming down my face be damned. One friend said to me after the show, “Were you really drunk up there tonight? God you’re SO method.” I then approached the director, my college mentor, with profuse embarrassment and shame. He told me I was fine. Barely anyone noticed. Don’t make such a big deal. Move on.
I remember feeling angry with him for a moment. Where was the consolation, the ounce of sympathy? But he was right. Despite all the physical and emotional turmoil I had that night, I made it through. I did the flips. I ate the brownies. I sang on key, for the most part. Obstacles are merely there to be overcome. That’s how we grow. That’s how we survive. I learned my lesson.
Well, until my last birthday, when I had a Vodka Red Bull with lasagna at dinner, then proceeded to spend four hours dry heaving in the corner of the handicapped women’s bathroom stall at the Maritime Hotel in New York City, while fifty friends waited awkwardly outside. Fun Fact: Women’s handicapped stalls are the biggest stalls imaginable. So spacious. I was just about ready to pay rent. So, Ok, fine. Push forward. Own your choices. Do your best.
Just don’t drink Red Bull.