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 Meeting Your Childhood Heroes

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.

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Thank you, Mr. Wilder.
We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.
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Thank you, Mr. Williams.
All my love to you, poppet.

Adventures In Sitting Silently And Enjoying The Music With Grandma

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:
Hello.
Hello.
(Pause.)
Do you know who I am?
No.
Do you know my name?
No.
Michael.
Michael? Michael, Michael, Michael.
I’m named after your mother, Mamie.
Mamie? Mamie, Mamie, Mamie.
I’m your grandson. You know Madeline?
Yes.
That’s my mother. You’re my grandmother.
Yes.
It’s so good to see you.
Thank you. Thank you, Thank you.
You look so beautiful.
Thank you. That makes me feel good.
Good.
(Pause.)
I’m worried.
About what?
I don’t want to get lost.
(Pause.)
I’m right here with you.
Thank you.
I know you can smile.
I hope I still can.
Here. I’ll smile with you.
(Pause. Smiles.)
Thank you for talking to me for these few minutes.
My pleasure.
(Pause.)
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.)

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Adventures In Not Adventuring, Part II

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.

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(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 IMG_0141that 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.IMG_6656

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.

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 Handing Out Pasta Sauce Packets At The Children’s Leukemia Jazz Street Festival

When I first moved to New York, I enjoyed, and did not enjoy, a multitude of side jobs. A side job is a gig that supports your primary job. It should remain on the side, as noted by it’s straightforward title. Catering, Bartending, Promo Modeling, Filing, Mannying – You name it. I’ve done it. All in support of my primary career, as a theatre maker and filmmaker.

The promo jobs are usually the most eccentric. I say, you haven’t lived life fully until you’ve stood on a hot, muggy corner in Herald Square for 9 hours next to the hysterically screaming Black Israelites, handing out little toy dogs with oversized anuses that poop out chocolate flavored jelly beans. Or dressed up as a Viking at 4 am and posed for photos with celebrities that end up in the Second Look section of People Magazine.

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No, I wasn’t kidding.

Now I am a relatively mild mannered guy. But sometimes, a side job comes along that is so strange, and so eccentric, that it leaves the periphery of your life and instead consumes any and all sides, cracks and corners it can get it’s greasy little hands on. Then manners get spicy fast. Most of these jobs involve A) The Hamptons, or B) The Upper East Side, two magical lands where money has no price, and apparently, neither dignity nor good taste. Easy targets, I know. But this particular adventure was written 5 years ago, during much snarkier (and long-winded) times. It is set in Times Square, around a U-HAUL truck filled with one very special product…

I think I found Unnamed Marketing Company on Craigslist when I first moved to New York. I had good experience as a brand ambassador and promotional model, or “live model” as I like to say, because it can only infer that all other types of modeling involve dead people. I heard from Unnamed Marketing Company a couple times, but no opportunities arose. Then one day, I was suddenly asked to participate in an Unnamed Pasta Sauce Promotion. We were to give away free plastic bags of pasta sauce on 53rd Street in Midtown at the Children’s Leukemia Jazz Street Festival. (Because the thing jazz loving kids with Leukemia crave the most is a plastic bag of Vodka Sauce.) I was only available for one of the two dates, so I thought no dice. Then, a few days prior to the second date, I got an e-mail from the marketing company simply stating, “Call Me”. (Simply placing a call to me directly would clearly have been too difficult.)

They still needed someone for the second date of the promotion, Sunday, July 26th. The dead of Summer. In fact, they needed a manager. And I needed money. So I said yes, without hesitation. I learned that my managerial duties would include picking up the product and bringing it to site, and then supervising my very own “live models”. Sounded great for the resume. I was so game.

I had a catering gig scheduled the night before the promotion, so I told the Unnamed Marketing Company that I would pick up the vehicle and the product on Friday. I had never driven a U-HAUL in New York City before. Oh yea, that’s right, I had never DRIVEN in New York City before. That’s OK. I’m a good driver, and we should all do one thing every day that scares us, right? So I picked up the vehicle in Chelsea, 45 minutes after convincing U-HAUL that I wouldn’t offer my personal credit card information, and that they could charge the company’s corporate account instead, and then went on my merry way.

The storage unit with the pasta sauce was located at the beginning of Spring Street, that small one-way street right next to the Holland Tunnel. It was 4 pm on a Friday, and New Jersey was apparently the hottest destination in town. I was not offered specific driving instructions from the company. So I used Map Quest instead, that website that doesn’t care what city you’re in or what traffic conditions are like, you’ll still make it down a few blocks in 8 minutes or less. So I headed down the West Side Highway – my first time driving in New York City. And. Skip to 90 minutes later, after 6 near death experiences and one scraped Lexus convertible on MacDougal. (I am SO sorry, sir.)

I met up with my manager, Sam, and loaded about 550 boxes of pasta sauce into the van. Each box contained 6 packets, which equaled about 3,300 packets of sauce. For once in my life, I could be underestimating a figure. I headed home to the Upper West Side, where I could park the vehicle for the next two nights. After leaving a plum parking spot on the street directly in front of my apartment (because Sam feared someone might steal all of the product – HE FEARED SOMEONE MIGHT STEAL 3,300 PACKETS OF PASTA SAUCE), I convinced a parking garage nearby to take the van. They were hesitant, but as I soon learned, you can always barter any non-Italians with pre-made pasta sauce.

Sunday morning: The day of the promotion. A lovely morning – birds chirping, sun glistening. I pay the garage $160 total for parking. (The marketing company didn’t offer me any petty cash, but promised they would later reimburse me. Never heard that one before…) I head downtown, but wait. Broadway is closed off. (Thanks for letting us know about the Triathlon, NYPD!) I head two avenues East, and Columbus is closed off as well. Some busses collided. Or something. So I head four avenues West to Riverside Drive, which is also closed. Streets are marked off with yellow tape and police officers can be seen running in and out of a brownstone. So I stop and ask a police officer how I can possibly get downtown.

“Well, the West Side Highway is closed off for the Triathlon, ya know?”

“Yes, I learned this just two minutes ago. Thanks for assuming I knew, go on.”

“Your best bet is to cross over to the East Side at 86th Street and head down.”

“10-4.”

Sure enough. 86th Street was also closed. The next police officer I stop tells me 96th Street will work. You guessed it. Closed. The final police officer I stop simply looks at me and says, “I have no idea.” While I appreciate his honesty, I must offer apologies to my dearly departed grandfather, a noble New York City Police Officer himself, when I say, Why don’t these guys know what the fuck is going on?!

So I drive all the way up to Harlem, above the park, cross over to the East Side, and head down to midtown. Sam assures me that I will find street parking. Aw Sam, ever the optimist. 30 minutes go by, and no such luck. I text my two female live model assistants to be on the look out, but they say they’re going to stay put in the air conditioned Hilton Hotel lobby, so as to avoid any mix-ups. I pull over outside the hotel, rendezvous with the two ladies (one a last minute replacement, both of whom turn out to be great sports), and load up a few bags of pasta sauce so that they can start the promotion as I continue to look for parking. (Random Side Note: One of the girls finishes EVERY sentence with “Cool Beans”. Every Sentence. EVERY SENTENCE.)

Another 40 minutes pass, and I soon realize, how can I possibly parallel park a U-HAUL by myself in the Times Square area, especially on a day when half of the city seems blocked off? I start looking for parking garages, and of course, none of them accept trucks or commercial vehicles. I return to the Hilton Hotel, and remembering my incredible pasta sauce bartering skills, convince the guys to keep the U-HAUL near the entrance for a few hours while I engage in Operation: Get All The Fucking Pasta Sauce Out Of The Fucking Truck As Quickly As Possible.

Now this is when the fun starts. Unloading the pasta sauce takes a lot of work. You have to open every cardboard box with scissors, and then remove the pasta sauce packets from another smaller box within each box. Both boxes then need to be compacted and put in to a trash bag. I was given two trash bags, which were able to hold about 2% of the total cardboard. (In exchange for 6 more sauce packets, the garage attendants give me a few more garbage bags. God Bless the Polish. Every one.) Next, the sauce packets have to go into the trash bags, which are to be carried to the site. Pasta sauce is not light, and the trash bags all tear open en route.

Giving away the pasta sauce itself is a tricky endeavor as well. Street Fair in Midtown = Tourists. Tourists have very little use for a plastic bag of pasta sauce that can easily puncture and can’t travel home with them. I call Sam up and express my concern having only two promo models getting rid of all the pasta sauce, as I continue to stay with the U-HAUL, opening and compacting the boxes.

Sam tells me, “I only care that you get a few good pictures of families with the product to show the client. Just figure out a way to get rid of all the sauce.”

“Get rid of all the sauce?” I say. “I have an already extended 4 pm deadline to return the U-HAUL, and only 2 hours left to get rid of a truck load of pasta sauce. I just don’t think this is possible. With eight assistants spread out around town, maybe, but with two, and with THIS much product?”

“Why don’t you just drive down to Union Square and give it all away? There’s always big crowds in Union Square.”

Never mind that there is no parking in Union Square. Never mind the time constraints. Never mind that it would be impossible to unload all the product there, another tourist dense locale.

“As long as you get a few good pictures, I don’t care how you get rid of the sauce. Just get rid. of. The Sauce.”

Click.

I now have 90 minutes left before the U-HAUL is due. I try calling them to extend our deadline once again, but U-HAUL seems to only let you talk to their out of state headquarters, and the operator I got was NOT in a good mood.

Only about 20% of the product has been given away at this point. It’s hot and it’s humid and I’m dressed in all black. I haven’t eaten, and my bladder feels fuller than a bag of fucking pasta sauce.

The cops won’t take the sauce.

“We can’t take anything with vodka in it.”

Again, REALLY NYPD?!

WACA. WACA. WACA.

The cab drivers won’t take the sauce.

“I don’t have a microwave in the car, sorry.”

Really Cab Driver? REALLY?! I’m sure your dashboard in this heat would do mighty fine just about now. I can find you a fucking straw!

The Soup Kitchens are closed, and it’s illegal to dump all this product on the side of the road. As I text my two assistants to quickly reconvene at the van to come up with Plan B, I notice them fast approaching.

“We were kicked off the street. We don’t have a permit. The other vendors are complaining and we’re not allowed to give away the pasta sauce anymore.”

With ginormous sweat beads dripping off my face, I let out a maniacal laugh and start punching babies in Times Square.

I breathe. I smile. I fill them in. Cool Beans Girl proposes, “I think if we just drive up to Harlem and open up the back doors, all the black people will come and take all the pasta sauce.”

As tempting as her ridiculously racist idea is, there isn’t enough time. So she calls one of the head supervisors at the Unnamed Marketing Company, the one who got me the job in the first place, and explains our predicament.

New Plan. We are to drive a little uptown, pick up the storage unit keys from employees working a different promotion, head to Union Square and get rid of as much product as we can, and then head back downtown to return all the remaining product to the storage unit. Fine. FIIIIIIIINE.

We grab a quick bite, take some pictures with the Parking Garage Attendants (How about THEM Family Pictures, Sam), pay for parking (which is discounted by half because the guys initially give me the keys, and the ticket, of a more recently arrived U-HAUL), head up town, pick up the storage unit keys, completely BYPASS Union Square because I have 45 minutes left and no time for such a preposterous idea, fill up the gas tank so the van is ready to return, and then head straight for the storage unit on Spring Street, the safest little nook in all of New York City barring any appearances from U-HAUL driving neophytes.

The three of us form a line and unload hundreds of boxes of pasta sauce onto 3 dollies. We head to the elevator, and the towering boxes all fall off the carts. We reassemble, head down to the basement, and again, the boxes all fall off the carts. We unload 2 carts worth into the unit. I head upstairs, and leave the last cart to them. Make way, ladies! I’ve got a sauce-free U-HAUL to return! The storage unit attendant tells me he’ll charge me $35 to leave my four trash bags with him. I tell him to go fuck himself. Which I don’t really say. I really just smile and tell him, “Thank-you so much kind, sweet sir.” I load the trash bags back on to the truck and head back to the U-HAUL Center in Chelsea.

The rental return entrance makes no sense, so I mistakenly get back on my favorite street, the West Side Highway, make a quick U-turn, because returning a vehicle has never sounded so much like nirvana and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get rid of it, and head back to the rental return. I leave the trash bags on the corner like lonely hookers in the night and head inside. I ignore the long line and head straight to the manager and ask what else I need to do to get this God forsaken truck off my hands.

“I’m just going to need the e-mail on the account, sir, for verification and receipt.”

What E-mail. What. E-mail. I call Sam. No answer. I call Sam. No. Answer. I call Sam. He picks up. I get the e-mail.

He asks, “Cool. So I heard you put the rest of the product back in storage. Great. Ya know, I thought you might run into a couple problems today. But it seems like you guys got everything taken care of. How did you feel the day went?”

“Great, Sam. Just great…I’m tired…I’m hungry…I’m going to go home and take a nap…Thank-you so much for this opportunity…I’ll be sure to write up a little report and send it to you tonight.”

“Oh, no worries. Take the night off. You can send it to me tomorrow.”

“Oh, that’s so kind of you…Thanks…Talk soon.”

I’d love to tell you that I walked off into the sunset. I’d love to say that I got the money, Cool Bean Girl and I settled down and started a family, and everything worked out great in the end. Truth is, the day was only half over, and I looked like such a hot, sweaty mess in my all black uniform that the Orthodox Jews spoke Hebrew to me my entire subway ride home.

Life will always provide you with great challenges. My idiotic and vivacious tapestry of experiences can only muster so much wisdom. In the end, only you will be able to figure out how to navigate the ebbs and flows of your own life’s hardships. There is one thing, however, that I can so sagely impart: If you can, lay off the sauce.

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Adventures In Romanticizing Europe

In retrospect, it was the most formative month of my life. Eight Aprils ago, I performed Shakespeare in London. I got lost in Venice, Florence, Chianti, Cortona, and Rome. I drove the perimeter of Ireland, from Dublin to Cork to Kinsale to the Cliffs of Mohr to Galway and back to Dublin again. In Paris I had tea with Sartre and Seurat, and read the entirety of Alan Watts’ “The Wisdom Of Insecurity” in one sitting in the middle of the train station. I got off in Marseille, thinking I was in Nice, so I stole a pizza and placed a $90 collect call home crying, “Je ne parle pas français! Je ne parle pas français!” When I finally arrived in Nice at 3 am, I was greeted by the howling call of my Rosalind, all wild hair and wicked smile, through second story windows overlooking the water. We woke up the next day, purchased a bottle of red and a bundle of warm chocolate croissants, and we danced on the beach to Morrison and Joplin until the sun went down. The next day, we hopped a train to Barcelona, and when we arrived, we met with Gaudi and Picasso. We purchased local grains and produce, and cooked a meal in our hostel before attending a flamenco performance in one of the local “tablaos”. The next day, my Rosalind left me, and I continued on by myself to Madrid and Toledo. Those days were lore in my history books, full of endless magic and possibility. But I’d like to think that any day can be full of great wonder, if I let it. “We had our whole lives ahead of us” is such an inaccurate cliché, because we ALWAYS have our whole lives ahead of us. So if I ever need a reminder, I can just look at a picture, open a journal, or simply close my eyes, and dance with a beautiful girl on the beach in the South of France.

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Rosalind and I, atop Park Guell, Barcelona

Adventures In Making Sense Of Your Childhood, Or, What Happens When You Listen More Closely To The Verve Pipe’s 1997 Seminal Hit “The Freshman”

What excites us changes over time. 15 years ago, when The White Power Ranger & The Pink Power Ranger finally hooked up? So cool. When Mortal Kombat: The Movie” used brand new characters from “Mortal Kombat II: The Video Game”? Thrilling beyond belief. Unlimited rides on The Big Dipper rollercoaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk? Best thing ever. These days, excitement comes in the form of paying bills without an accelerated heart rate and severe dry mouth, finding public restrooms in the middle of the day that are just sanitary enough to remove your contact lenses in, or making it through one New York City subway ride without being groped.

Our adult brains have the ability to give old experiences new context, which sometimes make for sudden realizations about random things from our childhood. These moments most often happen in very banal ways, like realizing that Mickey Rourke and Mickey Rooney are not the same person.

Or sometimes they happen in more meaningful ways. I recently received the following message on Facebook from a kid I went to middle school with – someone I have not spoken to in over 15 years. “Hey man, I know it was a really long time ago but I just want to apoligize for the way I treated you when we were growing up. It was really stupid of me and I sincerely apologize.” So. 12 Steps? Did he convert and miss Yom Kippur? I don’t know. Did I appreciate the gut punches and Jew jokes at the time? Not exactly. But by looking at those difficult times with my now super handy adult brain, how could I not thank him for ultimately teaching me resilience and fortitude? So I wrote back and simply said, “Thanks. You spelled apologize wrong.” Adult brains: Good for logic, reason, and being an asshole.

When I was a young child, my mother would sing me to sleep under a canopy of glow and the dark stars with “Michael row your boat ashore, hallelujah,” thus the name of my production company and accompanying e-mail address, Boat Ashore. Beyond my love of all things nautical, and the metaphorical references intrinsic in constantly trying to “row one’s boat ashore”, the phrase today evokes my childhood. It reminds me why I’m here and why I’m doing what I do. But I recently discovered that my beloved “Boat Ashore” isn’t some sea shanty hymn – it is in fact an old African-American spiritual about death and going to be with Jesus.

Well I never had much luck with religious songs anyways. When I was 10, I played Mordechai in the Purim story at Hebrew School. A singing and tap dancing Mordechai, but still, it was a pretty authentic portrayal. My opening number was to the tune of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”. It went, “Ooooo, I bet cha wondering how I knew, about your plans to kill the Jews….” It wasn’t until last year that I realized those weren’t the original lyrics. Now I understand why I got so many strange looks when I was singing along to the musical Motown on Broadway. I wasn’t so off-key after all! #SilverLining

As adults, we listen to lyrics differently than when we were kids. When the ball dropped on New Years in 2000, I was in high school. My mother and I happily sang along with Sting as he crooned “Brand New Day”. 13 years later, I’m horrified of the notion that I once sang to my mother in public, “I’m the train and you’re the station. I’m the flagpole to your nation.” But sometimes, we want our childhood understanding of songs to remain true. Who wants Third Eyes Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” to be about crystal meth? IT’S ABOUT 8TH GRADE.

On a recent walk home at 1 am after a long day’s work, I was jamming out to my mid 90’s alt-rock playlist – because I can’t remember the last time I heard an actual rock song on the Top 40 radio – when listening to The Verve Pipe’s “Freshmen” suddenly gave me great pause. “I can’t be held responsible. She was touching her face…I can not believe we’d ever die for these sins. We were merely freshmen.” …WHAT is he talking about?! And more importantly, WHAT DID HE DO HIS FRESHMAN YEAR?!

Now I could be misinterpreting things, but we often have surprising moments that force us to re-evaluate the past, whether it be something as meaningful as an event or a relationship, or as seemingly meaningless as an old song lyric. For better or for worse, it’s a daily practice for many of us. But perhaps it is these inconsequential moments in pop culture from years ago, like finally understanding why Brenda had every reason to be so angry with Dylan and Kelly when she came back from Paris at the start of Senior year on Beverly Hills, 90210, or what Jareth’s want for teenage Sarah to be his Goblin Queen might really entail in Labyrinth, or that, yes, “Semi-Charmed Life” is in fact a rock song about crystal meth, not middle school melancholia, that have the power to make us re-evaluate our childhoods as a whole.

There’s a reason the famed performing arts camp Stagedoor Manor doesn’t allow past campers to return as (out-of-work) counselors. There’s a reason Disneyland doesn’t want you peeking behind the scenes to see Mickey Mouse with his head detached smoking an E-Cigarette and quickly skimming through audition notices in Backstage West on his 20-minute lunch break. Our childhoods and our adulthoods, due to the proven laws of relativity and the long debated laws of romanticism, must remain two separate halves of the whole. If our adult selves could fully make sense of our child selves, we’d rewrite history and replace every moment of horror with a sense of wonder. And if our child selves truly knew what was to come, we’d have never gotten out of bed and gone to school every morning. It turns out that endless childhood nights in suburbia of gazing at the glow in the dark constellations intricately strung out across the ceiling while we dreamt of infinite future possibility was the healthiest daily practice we ever had.

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A late 90’s high school made collage of my favorite pop culture at the time that still hangs on the wall in my childhood bedroom. Note the tangled glow-in-the-dark stars that hang upon then top left thumbtack.

Adventures In Starting A Blog

My name is Mike. I am not an adrenaline junkie. But I am an adventure addict. Every day, I daydream endlessly about travel to far off places, cultural events across vast urban landscapes, and unique experiences that provide thrill, wonder, and great conversation changers when my Grandmother asks my brothers and me how soon she’s getting grandchildren. While this addiction has never felt truly detrimental to my health, unlike, say, my love for Ben & Jerry’s Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt, or, my hobby of ingesting knives, I think it has robbed me of something of value – finding adventure in the every day, and acknowledging wonder in the ordinary. So instead of a 12 step program, I have vowed to share 120 personal stories about every day adventure. From the hysterical to the heartwarming, from the mundane to the extraordinary. The Adventure Addict will be a compilation of short, true life stories, each presented with an accompanying personal photo. Through written and visual storytelling, it is my hope to create an interactive, engaging community – one that discovers and shares the extraordinary adventures that lie within every day life.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

-Helen Keller

“Living on Earth is expensive, but it does include a free trip around the sun every year.”

– Unknown

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