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

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Adventures In Physical Activity

I played sports my entire childhood.

Up until age 9, that is. Because at age 10, I became a man.

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My older brother and me. Please note that I’M the one wearing a soccer shirt, THANK YOU.

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.

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Trick # 1 To Not Showing Your Belly When All The Other Guys Are Shirtless: “Hey man, I’m just gonna keep this life preserver on. It’s so cozy!”

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.

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Trick # 2 To Not Showing Your Belly When All The Other Guys Are Shirtless: “Hey man, I’m just gonna keep this heavy, soaking shirt on in 100 degree weather because isn’t this color just awesome?”

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.

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Trick # 3 To Not Showing Your Belly When All The Other Guys Are Shirtless: “Hey man, I’m just gonna hide behind you in the shadows because my body needs to cool off like woah.”

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.”

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Can you spot me? Better yet, CAN YOU SPOT THE CAST ON MY HAND?

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.

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The track suit that mocked me.

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.

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…Adventures In Getting Back On

Previously, On The Adventure Addict…

Mike fell off a bike in Aspen last Summer.

He hurt himself pretty bad.

His friends and family helped him heal quickly.

For that, he’s incredibly grateful.

Six months later, he finally hopped on a bike again.

But what happened next proved to be AN EVEN GREATER BIKING DISASTER.

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In the months following my bike accident, I slowly graduated from physical therapy to running, weight lifting and yoga. But I had avoided getting back on a bicycle until I made it to the six-month mark, at which time, about 50% of people with titanium collar bones get their plates removed due to discomfort or complications.

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I’ve been fortunate to spend much of the Winter writing in San Francisco. It’s been 72 degrees and sunny nearly every day since I’ve been here. (Great for sunbathers and tourists and those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Bad for livestock, flora, fauna, produce, and romantic couples hoping to recreate rainy scenes from The Notebook.) But I’ve been in isolation a great deal, living by myself in an empty house in Pacific Heights.

So the other day, I walked around outside to get me some Vitamin D. It turns out that I’ve been staying right next door to a certain well-known cycling studio that’s good for your soul. I’ve frequented the spin classes at my New York gym over the last few years. It’s a stimulating, invigorating workout for someone like me who finds the gym boring but also enjoys ice cream nightly at 3 am. So I signed up for a class…

Upon arrival, I navigate through the throngs of PR princesses and Lululemon lovers to my seat.

Overheard conversation:

“We’re just having casual sex. Bonobos have casual sex too ya know.”

“Yea but Trish, bonobos also eat their babies.”

Unaccustomed to wearing specialty spin shoes and clipless pedals, I ask a nice dude to my left named Buck to help me out. Buck! I teyl Buck that we don’ wear special shoes at mah speen class back in New Yawk. I’m just not used to bein’ locked een. What if they’res a fahr and I need to escape?

The leggy blonde in front of me turned around and coos, “Why would you ever need to escape? Enjoy your ride.” She smiles, winks, and turns back around.

Oh this’ll be interesting.

At $30/class, spinning at Unnamed Cycling Studio That’s Good For Your Soul sure is different from all those other spin classes. They have grapefruit scented candles burning during your ride. And motivational wisdom shared through loud speakers, courtesy of instructors with glistening torsos and exciting names like Tiffany and Chad.

We start out easy enough. Dimmed lights and a midtempo groove take my mind away from the fact that I’m rubbing sweaty elbows in a walk in closet with sixty other people.

But then Chad turns off the lights. And it quickly gets hot. Like, really hot. And the scent of mass quantities of perspiration do not mix well with grapefruit. And then the music gets louder. Like, really loud. And the mid tempo soul quickly moves into a hard dubstep. (For you more seasoned readers, dubstep is the sound of robots fucking and murdering each other at the same time.)

Chad, in his v-neck tank, yells, “I need you to sweat! I need you to clear out your pores!” I’m sorry, but I’ll sweat in my own way, thanks Chad. I didn’t ask for forced pore cleansing. This is pore rape.

And then it gets worse. We move on to saddle jumps, where you alternate between seated riding and riding up “out of the saddle”. Well remember that leggy blonde in front of me? Like, two inches in front of me? As she rides up out of the saddle, she straight up bullhorns a three second anal symphony right in my face.

Now when I was a little boy, my father convinced me that girls neither shat nor farted. And that when ladies went to the bathroom, they emitted tiny pink packages wrapped with ribbon and string. So either I had a few moments of disbelief, or her frothy flatulence impaired my judgment like a stun gun.

Suddenly we move on to two count jumps. And this lady in front of me straight up Bippity Boppity Boo’s each time she lifts up! 1. 2. Fhwat. 3. 4. Hoot! 5. 6. Schwat. 7. 8. Toot! And now this studio coffin reeks of grapefruit and sweat AND intestines. People, this is not a fruit salad you would ever want to order!

Dubstep and darkness and fire and farts. If Hitler were alive today, this is surely how he would do me in. My feet are locked in place. The chamber’s quickly filling up with poisonous gas. Chad starts yelling “motivations”: Open yourself up! Release! Take a risk! Why keep it in when you can let it go! In my head, the demon bitch from spinning hell in front of me cackles, “Why would you ever need to escape?” No, like, her eyes are turning red and horns are sprouting from her temples and she’s screaming like Megadeth, “WHY WOULD YOU EVER NEED TO ESCAPE? MWAHAHA. MWAHAHA.”

The scent becomes increasingly nauseating. Then I notice my buddy Buck start to sway in circles. Then I see his eyes roll back. Then Buck falls off his bike!

MAN DOWN. WE HAVE A MAN DOWN.

With his feet still locked in, Buck’s legs twist the bike to a stop. But it’s nearly pitch black and our eardrums are being assaulted so nobody else even notices.

Thankfully Buck’s OK. Oh thank God. He swiftly gets back on his bike and continues riding as I intermittently hold my breath and tremor like a bad Kevin Bacon movie. As the ride winds down, Chad offers up a few more lines of inspiration from the likes of Buddha and Dame Taylor Swift. He admits that before class, he ate a big lunch of Mexican food. After his hearty meal, he felt scared to lead class today. But since life is all about taking risks, he pushed through.

Clearly, Chad pushed through hard.

So. Was Chad the guilty party all along? Did his lethal dose of Salagadoo Lamechickaboo merely inhibit my sense of direction? Or were both he and the lady in front of me guilty parties? OR. Did this all happen Murder On The Orient Express style, where EVERYONE was out to make me the first case in history of Death By Stench?

As we exit the Spinning Sauna of Doom, Imagine Dragons  “Radioactive” so appropriately echoes through the speakers.

The point of relaying all this nonsense is that I survived. I fell off a bike. I got back on. And though evil forces tried to bring me down again, with a little help from my friends, I kept pedaling through. What an old valuable lesson for a promising new year.

Take risks. Let go. Push through.

Unless you had Mexican food for lunch.

THEN DON’T TEACH A FUCKING SPIN CLASS.

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Now watch THIS.

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I’ve had safer experiences JUMPING OFF CLIFFS IN RIO than riding bicycles in suburbia.

Adventures In Falling Off A Bike…

I’ve loved riding bicycles my entire life.

On July 1st, 2013, I had my first biking accident in Aspen, Colorado. I was going 40 mph down a steep mountain trail in the pouring rain when a grizzly bear suddenly jumped out in front of me. I swerved to the left, which took me down a steep ravine about 200 feet, throwing me right into the Colorado River. I wasn’t wearing a helmet. What else would you expect from The Adventure Addict?

Well, hopefully not a lie.

The Colorado River doesn’t flow through Aspen, friends.

The more you know, and shooting star.

On July 1st, 2013, I did have my first biking accident in Aspen, Colorado. I was going 4 mph down a flat, empty suburban street on a clear skied, sunny day when I tried to take an Instagram photo on my cell phone, then unconsciously braked the front wheel, flipped over the handlebars, and landed on my head. I wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Social media really will be the death of us.

Adventures In Riding A Bicycle Sober And Slowly On A Sunny Summer Afternoon Along A Splay Suburban Street.

I woke up in the hospital covered in blood, with a concussion, retrograde amnesia, a broken collar bone, and a head stapled shut. I remember two things from the hospital. I remember thinking I was about to die. So I started taking deep breaths and muttering, “Here we go…Here we go…You had a great life…Here we go…” Then when my Dad showed up and said I wasn’t going to die, I remember thinking he was a big fat liar, because he’s a doctor, and he was just trying to make me feel calm before my untimely demise. So I’m pretty sure I told him to fuck off.

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“Here we go…Here we go…You had a great life…Here we go…”

But after he clenched my hand with reassurance and told me to think happy thoughts, I  started singing in my best basso profundo, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…” Apparently, Spaceballs is my happy place.

Four days later, I had fourteen screws and a plate of titanium drilled into my collar bone. As they were putting me under, I channeled my Australian soul sister Sia and belted some Titanium: “I’m bulletproof. Nothing to lose…” Two hours later, I awoke: “Fire away! Fire away!” Oh. Wait. We’re done? Sweet.

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar

While I’ve long had a dependant/hate relationship with social media, I’ve often used it as a springboard for public discussion. While it played a significant role in my accident, it surprisingly played an even greater role in my recovery.

My last Facebook status prior to the accident was written on the plane en route to Aspen:

Guys. Spike Lee is sitting next to me on my flight. What do I do? Do I do the right thing? WHAT’S THE RIGHT THING?!

83 likes. (Not bad, not bad.) 30 comments…with hilarious suggestions for what the right thing would be. Communal comedy. Everyone gets a rim shot. So fun.

But the day after being discharged from the hospital, I posted a message on Facebook explaining my accident. I admitted to not wearing a helmet, and in the wake of CitiBike’s helmetless launch in New York last summer, I demanded that all my friends wear helmets in the future.

“…I never imagined I’d have a biking accident like this. So. Friends. Please. Wear a helmet. Long rides. Short rides. Mountains and streets. Wear a helmet. And if you start seeing me wearing a helmet out to dinner on a Saturday night too, don’t judge. We can all sing Titanium together as a good reminder.”

237 likes, 184 comments.

Social media allowed me to publicly make a lesson of my idiocy, and many friends who admitted to not wearing helmets when they bike or board or ski quickly confessed to changing their minds. Wonderful.

The degree of reciprocal support and discourse reached peak levels when, after years of making silly online videos for various friends, a bunch of them banded together, through social media no less, to make one for me. And I will forever be grateful for the cheek bursting, knee shaking, fist pumping burst of comfort and glee that I had when I started dancing around, by myself, at 5 am, with great friends around the country.

Watch it HERE.

I get by with a little help from my friends.

It would be 6 months before I hopped on a bike again. But what happened on my first ride back, ended up being far worse than the accident that preceded it.

To Be Continued…

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A Portrait Of The Idiot As A Young Man

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.