Adventures In Leaving Home

To the past and future ghosts of W. 84th Street –

I moved to W. 84th and Amsterdam in September of 2007.img_8044

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. img_9051

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.”

Fondly,

Michael

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Adventures In Not Adventuring, Part I

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.

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New York

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New York

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Los Angeles

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Los Angeles

Adventures In Turning 30

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.

“But I always have that many tabs open – articles to read, spreadsheets to finish, portfolios to peruse…”photo (4)

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.

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Adventures In Airplane Anxiety

Let’s just get it out of the way.

Whenever we board an airplane, we all have the same thought every time. Please Lord; don’t sit me next to a baby. Or a biggie.

Yea I said it.

Now by “biggie”, I don’t necessarily mean obese. Or even a hologram of Biggie Smalls. At 6’4”, I’ve certainly been given a look or two in my day.

“Why do your elbows get BOTH arm rests?”airplane-1and2

“Can’t your knees just stay in FRONT of your seat?”

No, ma’am. I am sitting butterfly just to piss you off.

Now throughout my childhood, I often witnessed my mother’s anxiety over flying. She would claw into my arm. She would pop “Tic Tacs”. (I never thought to ask for one because they were always white and white Tic Tacs are gross and my favorite flavor was always orange.)

If four out of five of our family members were flying, she would insist we split in half and take separate flights. Her reasoning? She didn’t want us all to die in a fiery plane crash and leave a fifth family member alive and alone. So it clearly made more sense for only two family members to die in a fiery plane crash instead. (Unless both planes crashed…then I guess it was meant to be, Ma!)

So I went from a jolly kid who loved to fly to a panicked teenager who would spend hours imagining a horrifying demise every time he took flight. This led to my insistence on sitting in the window seat overlooking the right wing. Because, based on my genetic predisposition for sound reasoning, should the plane be going down, I could at the very least break through the window with my strong, right arm, and slide down the wing to safety.tic tac xanax

I could fit my 6’4” frame…through a 1 foot wide window…slide down a wing going 500 miles per hour…and land safely on the ground…30,00 feet below.

It’s a shame orange Tic Tacs don’t have the same effect the white ones do.

Thankfully, in recent years, flying has slowly become a joy again. I don’t get anxious. I envision my gruesome demise for only a few minutes time. I’ve made good progress! But then, the morning I was due to fly back to New York City after two peaceful and productive months in California, my years-in-the-making, super Zen mentality was annihilated by news of MISSING MALAYSIA AIRLINE FLIGHT 370. This story was everywhere. News channels, conspiracy theorists, and Lost junkies were having a field day. I frantically searched through my Mother’s medicine cabinets for those holy white Tic Tacs. yoga room photo

When I arrived at the airport, things seemed relatively normal, though the San Francisco Airport’s Public Yoga And Meditation Room was a little more crowded than usual. As I boarded the plane, thoughts of impending plane crashes and black wormholes immediately flooded my mind. Never mind that none of my previous doomed flight premonitions have ever come true. Like Devon Sawa in the classic 2000 film Final Destination, I was CERTAIN that THIS flight was a disaster waiting to happen.

IImage arrived at Aisle 17. In the center seat was a middle-aged Puerto Rican woman with an unattached oxygen tank at her feet. A-ha! Surely that tank will play a major part in some elaborate Rube Goldberg scenario that leads to our collective demise, no? I pointed to my seat at the window. The Puerto Rican woman did a little samba with her fingers, pointing to the window seat, then pointing to her own seat and smiling. She clearly wanted my window seat. She did not want to sit bitch. (Grandma – That’s the term kids use to refer to the middle seat.) I feigned confusion. I don’t sit bitch. I am a bitch free zone. She murmured something in Spanish. I said, “Lo siento. No hablo Español.”

…Pero por supuesto que yo hablo Español. Yo solo le hablo a ella en Español. Soy totalmente el tipo de hombre que cede su asiento a una anciana en el metro. Pero la única cosa que no podría, es ceder y perder mi precioso asiento en la ventana.

In spite, the Puerto Rican woman did not stand nor move when I began making my way to the window seat. So I crawled over her. It took me a good 20 seconds to make my way. A graceful samba, it was not. As we prepared to take off, I noticed a large Italian man sitting next to her in the aisle seat. He, it turned out, was not her husband. Her husband, also a large man, was sitting in the aisle seat across from us. The oxygen tank belonged to him.

We took off. The woman and her husband spoke to each other in Spanish across the aisle for extended periods of time. I slipped on my headphones and dozed off into a serene, Tic Tac induced slumber.el libro semanal 2

I awoke to the smell of raw fish. They no longer serve meals on these flights. And they certainly don’t serve fish. I glanced over. The woman was indeed nibbling on a piece of raw fish, TO GO, whilst reading a romance novella in Spanish, murmuring passionately to herself under her breath. Enrique…Enrique. The Italian man, noise cancellation headphones on his ears, large sunglasses over his eyes, snored loudly, his head slowly cranking down to the woman’s shoulder.

The Puerto Rican husband across the aisle noticed the heavily snoring Italian man on his wife’s shoulder. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t happy about it. But instead of tapping the Italian man on the shoulder, or talking to a flight attendant about the matter, the man started huffing. Then he took out his iPad. And began playing MARIACHI MUSIC. LOUDLY. He reached across the aisle and placed the iPad next to the Italian man’s ear. Nothing. Those noise cancellation headphones really do work!

THEN he started singing along to the music. THEN he started angry dancing in his seat! Still, no luck. The strangest thing about all of this, aside from the fact that a Puerto Rican man was listening to Mexican folk music, and that the oxygen tank in fact plays NO PART IN THE STORY, was that no one else on the plane told the man to turn down his music and stop making such a commotion. Granted, I didn’t say anything either. BUT WHY DIDN’T ANYBODY ELSE SAY SOMETHING. WHERE IS LIAM NEESON WHEN YOU NEED HIM?! neeson

My window seat suddenly felt smaller. The mariachi music and the smell of fish made me feel like I was on a rush hour train in the Heights in July. But I was not. I was in the middle of West Side Story 2: Bernardo’s Revenge.

Over the final hour of the flight, as I dozed in and out of consciousness listening to my Pure Moods Volume 12, I noticed that the husband repeatedly complained to a Spanish-speaking flight attendant about the Italian man. And for some reason, the flight attendant didn’t do anything about it either. So the Italian man, head now lifted off the Puerto Rican woman’s shoulders, continued to snore. Loudly. And I continued to softly sing Enya to myself in the smallest window seat known to man.

After we landed, and the seat belt light turned off, the two men stood at the same time and removed their luggage from the overhead bins.

“You gonna drop that suitcase on my feet, bitch?” the Italian man declared.

The Puerto Rican man started huffing again in broken English. “You fucking schmuck. You ruined our entire flight with your snoring and your salami head on my wife’s shoulder.”

I took less note of the “salami head” comment and was more intrigued by the fact that even a Puerto Rican man with broken English knows his basic Yiddish insults.

“Motherfucker I will cunt punt your ass so fast off this plane…” see something

Now I’m not quite sure when the term “cunt punt” came into the basic insult vernacular, but seeing a grown man use it against another grown man was a wildly fascinating ordeal. Again, nobody said anything to these two men spewing expletives and threatening violence at each other in the middle of a cramped plane. I mean, I didn’t say anything either, and I’m two feet away from them, trapped in my window seat. But still, WHY DIDN’T ANYBODY ELSE SAY ANYTHING. WE’RE NEW YORKERS. IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING.

Thankfully, the men gave it a rest, and we all quietly exited the aircraft. Though the flight had its fair share of weirdness, we thankfully did not crash nor explode nor evaporate into thin air. We instead exited the plane like free sardines. That is, until some of us took the two-hour subway ride home in a packed, garbage infested car with the “Showtime” kids…

Welcome back to New York City, bitch!

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Going to work in California

Going to work in New York

Going to work in New York