A small story of joy at the end of a dark week in our country.
As some of you know, I build experiences across unused, Class A commercial spaces for one of my clients. My job is to essentially engage, strengthen and connect disparate communities in any given building.
One of the ways we recently achieved this for a particular building in Midtown was by inviting all tenants who had side passions as creators, makers, and artists to exhibit their work in our common space. So an HR manager at a hedge fund brought in her homemade greeting cards, an executive assistant at a law firm brought in his 3D paintings, a front desk associate at a beverage distributor brought in her photographs, and so on. Once we collected and proudly displayed all their work on the walls of our common space, we threw everyone a big Art Party. They could invite their colleagues, friends and family to attend in celebration (and hopefully sell some of that side hustle work too.)
I was particularly struck by a series of prints that appeared to be images of microscopic specimens, so I tracked down the artist. She was unbelievably sweet. Her name is Stephanie, and she’s been a secretary at the same company for nearly 30 years.
I asked her about her work. It turns out they were prints of various recyclable objects found around her desk. For the last three decades, whenever she’d get bored at work, she’d collect discarded staples, trashed packaging straps, and wayward hole punches, and make beautiful pieces of art out of them.
I asked her if she had ever shown her art before. She laughed. These prints had been accumulating under her bed, collecting dust for thirty years. No one had ever seen them before. In fact, she had hundreds and hundreds more where these came from.
I then asked her why she hadn’t shown her art before. She said she didn’t think she was a “real artist.” She said she didn’t think people would like her art. She said she didn’t think she had permission.
So I told her I wanted to buy a piece. Her mouth dropped and stayed open. I changed my mind. I told her I wanted to buy three pieces. She fell to the floor and sobbed. What seemed like a small gesture on my part felt like a tidal wave to her. Later that day, she submitted a few of her pieces online to a contest. And this weekend, her work will be shown publicly for the first time in her life at an art show in Red Hook.
I share this story as a reminder, friends. Please don’t hide your art under your beds. I say that both literally and figuratively. Show your colors to the world. If you’re angry, share your anger. If you’re happy, share your happiness. Enjoy your process. Share your work. Share your passions. Share your story.
This world could afford a little more of your light.
And if you’re interested in purchasing a piece of Stephanie’s, I’ll gladly put you in touch.
Our short film, Montana, based on my Sundance finalist TV pilot of the same name, played film festivals across the country this year, including
The Brooklyn Film Festival in New York, SeriesFest in Denver, and
The Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles.
Montana will continue to play the festival circuit in the new year, and be available to watch online late Spring 2019. In a surprising but worthwhile development, I’m now hard at work writing the novel adaptation,
the manuscript of which has a target finish of mid Summer 2019.
at The Rainbow Room, The Sofitel, and The Plaza Hotel in NYC
at a private estate in East Hampton
at The High Line Hotel in NYC
at The Marriot Marquis in Times Square
The Phantom Of The Opera 30th Anniversary Celebration,
events for Art Basel Miami and
U.S. News & World Report.
of Better Spaces, a leader in tenant engagement. We’re creating and operating experiential amenity spaces in top commercial real estate portfolios across the country. It’s been an exciting opportunity to bring programming, design and a bit of theatricality to commercial spaces nationwide.
I am most proud of the fact that we employed a record 75 different people on various film and event projects, and are on track to continue growing in 2019 with new experiences and TV projects in development.
On a personal note, this year included a number of new travels,
from Tulum, Mexico to the Cotswolds of England
to Calivigny Island off the coast of Grenada.
2018 will likely be remembered as the year
I officiated my first wedding, moved to Brooklyn, and became an uncle!
Last Summer, smack dab in the middle of my Tony Awards Week, I suddenly found myself in ten interviews, from the Yale Club to the top of 1 World Trade, as the sole candidate for the newly created role of Editor-In-Chief, Experiential across all of Condé Nast’s titles. It was to be the first non-magazine, Editor-In-Chief role in the company’s history. (A role that, for the time being, would two months later become obsolete. But just imagine for a moment my wide eyes and slacked jaw when they told me that the in-house stylist was going to redo my entire wardrobe!)
I’ve had too many major job almosts to count. This one was certainly one of the most fascinating. It was a bananas, super “who me?” experience, and everyone I met with during that period was beyond wonderful and encouraging.
But through this experience and a confluence of other well-timed events, it was the first time in my life, at age 32, when I realized I was worth something. I’m not speaking of monetary value. I’m speaking of human value. Over the course of this wild year, I recognized something so essential: I was a human that was worthy of respect and worthy of love, just like everybody else. Perhaps I always knew that on my skin. But now I knew it deep in my bones. My college mentor told me “You are enough” on graduation day. I guess it took me a decade or so to finally listen.
Maybe it was the years of working some of the most degrading gigs I could find to barely make ends meet. Maybe it was the hundred No’s after auditions and festival submissions and directing program applications that came with every once-in-a-blue-moon Yes. Maybe it all goes back to my at times fanciful, at times miserable childhood. Maybe it was all the other external factors I could name that would ultimately take the responsibility off of looking after myself. “You can’t blame nobody but you,” Janet sang. “I’m starting with the man in the mirror,” Michael sang. Whatever it was, I don’t think I had much self-respect. Not love. “R. E. S. P. E. C. T.” (Aretha SANG.)
After I started to respect myself a little more, that’s when I found love.
After I started to respect my opportunities a little more, that’s when I found strength.
After I started to respect my life a little more, that’s when I found joy.
I’ve been talking to a lot of friends and family lately about Pascal’s Wager. “You might as well believe in God.” I can’t vouch either way for that statement. But I do believe, “You might as well believe in Good.” In this life, you might as well try to be good. You might as well try to feel good. You might as well try to do good. You might as well believe that humanity as a whole has the capacity for good. Every person’s unique circumstances could certainly argue otherwise, and this current administration does nothing to support my claim. But I can choose only how I aim to live. And for me, I think this is a directive worth aiming for.
Social media has become a scientifically proven dust bowl of psychosis, misinformation, and ultra targeted marketing. It’s the ultimate “You are NEVER enough.” Whenever I log on, I see that congratulations are in order for a multitude of things – a big job or promotion, a marriage or a baby. Heck I’ve seen people sincerely congratulate others on finding their light in a grungy bathroom selfie on the Lower East Side.
If you’ve read this far into my meandering, 2 am thoughts, here’s what I want to say to you:
I AM PROUD OF YOU.
Yes, YOU. I am proud of the jobs and the babies, yes. I am also proud of you on just a regular Monday like today. I am proud of you for taking the time to apply to all those jobs. I am proud of you for soldiering on after heartbreak. I am proud of you for busting through barriers on a regular basis. I am proud of you for waking up every morning and charging ahead when the world wants to eat you alive.
I am proud of your optimism. I am proud of your kindness. I am proud of your resilience.
If you ever need a reminder, let me know. You have to remind yourself every day.
Cheers To The Friends
Cheers To The Gatherings
Cheers To The Travel
Cheers To The Adventures
And Cheers To The Memories
2016 was certainly my most adventurous year yet, in every sense of the word. I am thankful for the opportunity to know so many incredible people and places around the globe. Let us all continue to combat insularity and hate and strive for a kinder, more generous, and more inclusive world.
Wishing excitement and prosperity, love and connection, strong hearts and open minds to all my fellow adventure addicts out there.
To the past and future ghosts of W. 84th Street –
I moved to W. 84th and Amsterdam in September of 2007.
Apt 2E. “Tooey” as I affectionately called the place, labeling it as such on the front door the month I moved in. It’s the nickname Seymour gave the plant in “Little Shop Of Horrors”. You know, the thing he nurtured that eventually ate him whole.
I was in New York three months earlier, the youngest participant in the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab. I was a 22-year-old film actor in LA, masquerading as an assistant in the studio system, and I wanted to be a theatre director in New York. It was to be the smartest financial decision of my life. (🙄 )
I found this one month sublet at W. 84th and Amsterdam on Craigslist from a guy named Jonathan who was leaving to volunteer in Cambodia for a few weeks. I was back in LA, so “Cousin Jen” investigated the apartment for me. One room had a young girl from Texas. One room was acting as a storage closet for a rich girl who lived elsewhere with her boyfriend. And the third room was an office turned bedroom with a futon on the floor.
That room was to be mine.
I packed my bags. I had one month to see if New York was for me.
Then. Jonathan e-mailed me. He decided to stay in Cambodia. Full time.
The futon was mine if I wanted it. The lease was mine if I wanted it as well.
So I took over the lease and I found a steady gig as a middle school tutor.
Then. A month later, I booked a job on my first Broadway show. Sunday In The Park With George.
I guess I was staying in New York after all.
But things weren’t supposed to happen that fast, right? Where were my years of living pay check to pay check and feeling terrified I might end up sleeping on the streets? Oh that was to follow my Broadway debut? Got it.
Sunday In The Park opened. And the recession hit.
My Dad always told me, “Everything is negotiable.” So I negotiated my rent down. I hesitantly asked for a $300 decrease, thinking they’d laugh in my face. They said…”Sure.”
I was officially a lease holder on West 84th Street. 84. My birth year. 8, my lucky number. 4, the members of my immediate family. 8, the symbol for infinity, my greatest fear. 4, like a sail of a boat ashore, my greatest love. It is possible to find so much meaning, and yet look at an 84 sideways and you just might see a guy sticking his tongue out at you. After all, in Hebrew numerology, “84” means “G-d laughs.” Apropos. Do not look for meaning!
84th Street is also known as Edgar Allen Poe Way, but I won’t bore you with any far-reaching connections there.
In 2007 I became a New Yorker. I hustled and I hustled and I hustled. I took every job under the Sun. I did in fact live paycheck to paycheck for 6 years. I poured every dime into my work. I went broke twice. Red. The ATM actually said negative.
Every year I thought I’d finally move into my “real” place. But it never made sense to leave. There are fewer apartment buildings on W. 84th Street than any other residential block on the Upper West Side. That’s because there are two schools on 84th between Amsterdam and Columbus. My living room looked out on to a private garden and the bright blue sky.
The rent stayed down. And the neighborhood went up, up, up. Old Jews made way for New Strollers. The Columbia kids moved down. Good Enough to Eat moved to Columbus. And Jacob’s Pickles transformed the 7 block stretch.
Things changed after my bike accident three and a half years ago. I started writing more. I became more entrepreneurial. I created my own projects. And I started to make a living. I became a working, thriving artist. It was all I ever wanted to be.
I also started spending about a third of the year in California. Subletting out that office-turned-bedroom was the only way I could make it work.
W. 84th and Amsterdam has been my home for 9 years and 3 months. In that time, it has been home to a lot of other people as well. A LOT. I could tag half of my Facebook friends right now. Roommates and sublettors. In Betweeners and assorted vagabonds. People I met on Craigslist became roommates became lifelong friends. Thankfully, there was only one true crazy – the very first new roommate. She worked in “fashion”, did coke binges in her bedroom, and came out of her bedroom every five days to eat pizza on the hallway floor and scream in the middle of the night.
I stand now in this empty space staring at dead walls. But I’ll remember life here. I’ll remember profound joys and surmountable challenges. I’ll remember madcap Hanukkah celebrations. I’ll remember my roof. Oh will I remember my roof.
But more than anything else, I’ll remember the people. Roommates and friends. Deaf and nearly blind Miss Faagata across the hall. Sweet Miss Zingone on the 5th Floor. She must be 90 years old now. I always felt so bad living on the first floor while she slowly climbed five stories to the top.
I’ll remember Joe and Joe at the hair salon downstairs. I’ll remember the kids of Brandeis and PS 9. And I’ll remember Vivian at the laundromat on the corner. Vivian. Sweet, funny Vivian. I think I’ll miss you most of all.
I will be the keeper of this block. I will be its historian. W. 84th between Amsterdam and Columbus. 2007-2016. I walked this street a million times. I took notes. I told its stories. Now new people will come. I hope they’ll smile at their neighbors. I hope they’ll water the plants. Most of all, I just hope they’ll laugh at all of Vivian’s jokes.
My time here had its fair share of problems.
But for nearly a decade, this place was full of dreams.
For nearly a decade, this place was full of love.
For nearly a decade, this place was my home.
I might as well end with a quote from Poe himself:
“I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him.”
In anticipation of visiting San Sebastián, Spain next week, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite small cities and towns around the world.
My father took this photo of me in 2005, jumping around Charles Fort, a military base on the water’s edge. (James’ Fort is located on the opposite side of the harbor.) If you find yourself in Ireland soon, Kinsale is definitely worth a visit.
Ticead amhain go dti an Kinsale, le do thoil!
I’ve been to Guatemala twice, once at age 15, and again at 23. I went to volunteer at El Hospital de la Familia in Nuevo Progreso with my father, who’s been making the trip annually for decades. Of the many towns I love in Guatemala, from Tikal to Atitlan, Antigua always stands out as a special place. This photo was taken just outside Antigua at the peak of Mt. Pacaya, an active volcano. Want a one of a kind experience? Hike up some molten rock to the clouds, and watch the lava flow in crevices just a couple feet below you.
I went backpacking through Eastern Europe in 2007 in search of my great-grandfather Leo’s art. He attended art school in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century. So I knew, at the very least, that Austria would be on the itinerary.
En route to Vienna, I spent a few days further West in Salzburg, birthplace to Mozart, home of the world renowned Salzburg Festival, and backdrop to the 1965 classic, The Sound Of Music.
Now I haven’t cried a lot in the last 10 years, but I did produce those perfect, slow-to-trickle-down-the-cheek Demi Moore style tears in Salzburg. And I encourage you to do the same.
Visit the Schloss Mirabell, admire the palace’s Baroque interior, walk up and down the Donnerstiege, a spectacular marble staircase. Then take in a performance of classical chamber music inside the Marble Hall. The night I visited, I was treated to a Dvořák string trio. It was the most beautiful music I had ever heard. (Cue those tears.)
I’ve been thinking about this story.
A man went to his Rabbi and asked him how he could finally be free of all his problems, his anxieties, and all that was negative in his life.
The Rabbi told the man that the only time he’ll be free of his problems, his anxieties, and all that is negative is when he is dead.
The man decided he was willing to die so that he could be free.
So the Rabbi sat the man in a chair and said he’ll pour hot tar down the man’s throat.
And he did.
And the man screamed and convulsed as the hot tar shot down his throat and entered his stomach.
But. The man did not die. Because it wasn’t hot tar that now flowed through his body.
It was honey.
The man felt fine. The man felt free.
The man had to be willing to consume the hot tar only to find out that it was really honey.
The Rabbi could not have told the man that it was going to be honey to begin with.
The man felt fine. The man felt free.
Now, truth be told, you could say this Rabbi was a bit of an asshole.
But. I understand the point.
This year, may you take on your greatest challenges and fears head on.
May you come out the other side feeling less burdensome. May you carry less weight.
May you thrive in your work, in your love, and in your service to the world.
You can’t do everything. But you must do something.
Most of all, may you have a sweet, sweet, sweet new year.
L’shanah tovah tikateyvu v’tichatemu.
May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.
Also, may you light a candle, draw a hot bath, and listen to Solange’s new album.
‘Cause that’ll make you feel real good too.
Today reminds me of a dream I had many many years ago. I’m in a chilled room of floor to ceiling windows overlooking a San Francisco drenched in fog.
G-d is my tailor, and he is measuring me up for a performance. He silently works around my body as I stare onto a desolate Union Square.
Suddenly behind my ear I hear, “Where are your wounds?”
“I have none,” I say.
Then he asks, “Was nothing worth fighting for?”
I lost two of my childhood heroes in the last year:
Robin Williams and Gene Wilder.
I met Robin Williams when I was 10 years old.
Robin Williams was the The Pied Piper of my hometown, Marin County.
He was my fellow Redwood Giant.
I used to memorize his stand-up routines in high school and perform them for friends.
He tried teaching me to do a wheelie once on the set of “Jack” down the street from my house. I failed miserably.
He picked me back up and smiled and wheelied away with a cackle, sending me a photo and a note in the mail a few weeks later.
He was always so generous and so kind.
I met Gene Wilder about 5 years ago.
I was the bartender in the Presidential Suite at the US Open. (Never mind that at the time, I had never made a drink in my life – for myself let alone celebrities and international heads of state. But still, with a bit of mischief, I said sure, I can do that.)
It was a loud, boisterous scene. Mr. Wilder, one of my top five childhood idols, approached me. Quietly. Slowly. He walked with a cane, but no surprise tumbles were to come.
I want to say he ordered a soda water.
He kept his eyes on me as I made him his drink. Quietly. Intently. I’m no good at making conversation with my heroes, so I responded in the same manner. Quietly. Intently.
Images flashed across my mind. 7 year old me on stage, playing Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka. 9 year old me at home, wearing out VHS tapes of Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.
I handed him his beverage. He promptly took his wallet out of his pocket.
I said, “Oh no, sir. That won’t be necessary.” Tips were prohibited.
He paused to smile at me. A Mona Lisa smile. It felt as if he was studying me, discovering me. Or maybe he was letting me discover him.
He slowly turned his wallet upside down, holding it high above the bar. Then, he opened it wide. A few singles fell like feathers. Silence. He paused and smiled a little wider. He maintained eye contact with me. I was locked in his gaze.
Then, a few coins dropped out. Plop, Plop. Plop….Plop.
It was like a clown routine. Grace and perfect timing never eluded him.
He put his wallet back in his pocket, took my hand, then held it in his own.
“Sir, that won’t be necessary,” I repeated.
He glanced down for a moment, but only to look at my name tag. He looked back up.
“Michael. It’s very necessary.”
I could barely breathe. In his hands I felt play, vitality, honor, mischief. Great, lovely, wonderful mischief.
He released my hand, pushed $4.63 across the bar, nodded his head, then walked away.
…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.