The Pretender

My father is not a pretender. 

He is, at his very core, exactly who he is and who he's always been. This is not to say he is not also warm, open minded, funny, and caring. He is all of these things and many more.

What I speak of instead is his comfort in his own skin. I have never in my life, seen my father try to act cooler than he really is. Any time my father has pretended to be some kind of cool it has always been with tongue in cheek. He knows who he is.

It's a fact that I never realized or fully appreciated until now. A fact that hit me heavily mainly because I have spent almost my entire life trying (fantastically unsuccessfully) to be cooler than I actually am. 

I've always tried too hard, to make people laugh, to impress people, to convince people of whatever I might be obsessing over at the time. 

I'm not sure where this comes from. It could be an insatiable appetite for more.  It certainly doesn't come from my father.

My father is defined by many things, some of the most prevalent traits are his preparedness, his ability to provide at all costs, and his ability to appear comfortable in nearly every situation.

This last one has always impressed me most. Whether it was walking down the center aisle as we went to find seats in church, or when I'd come in from having fallen off my bike with bloody knees. In retrospect I realize there were many times when he had no idea what he was doing but I, my sister, and possibly my mother were none the wiser.

Examples:

The time he led me sled down the hill head first into a chain link fence.

The time he was driving and we ran out of gas and were able to coast into a gas station.

The time he and I showed up for our flight home from my first college visit the day after it departed.

And so on and so forth.

My point is, things always worked out in the end.

Of course he wasnt James Dean all the time when I was growing up. He lost his cool. I got yelled, I got punished and and grounded. But outside of our home, anywhere he was no matter what he was wearing, he was himself.

If he was in a shirt and tie like when he would come to my basketball games immediately after work, he looked so comfortable that kids on my team started spreading rumors that a scout was in the stands.

Naturally, because scouts always come to 8th grade basketball games in the suburbs.

And he was himself when he had enough time to change into his casual clothes, like when he would come to my baseball games in his "older wiser sexier" t-shirt and homemade cut off jean shorts.

Cool is a relative term.

Especially for a man who frequently altered his outfit (out of weather driven necessity) with pieces from of a collection of items he kept in the trunk of his car. This was something we teased him for endlessly, at least I did... until I started a similar collection in my own trunk.

As the saying goes, "The turd doesn't fall far from the bird."

Clothing be damned, regardless of what my father wore or wears, he was and is always himself:

Engaged personable and present.

I always noticed what he wore and when, since he was the one who taught me about getting dressed up and grooming. But I didn't really understand the man inside the clothes, his being himself. It was something that, while I observed, I never really noticed.

I'm 29 now and I can't believe I'm realizing this for the first time. 

I find it fascinating since more often than I'd like to believe, who I am and how I behave is tied to what I wear, how I feel about myself, and other environmental factors. I'd like to believe this means I have some cosmic connectedness with the universe that helps me interpret the zeitgest of the situation, but really, I think it means I'm still discovering who I am inside.

My father's general coolness was most impressive when he wasn't around anybody else.

We would be in the car together with some loud obnoxious BMW blasting music and vibrating at a red light next to us and I would be transfixed while he would be completely uninterested unaware or just unaffected. Possibly all three.

That's not to say he didn't and doesn't notice things. He notices things. Many things. The amount of people in the restaurant. The changes in the house across the street. Haircuts new shirts etc. he is aware. Which is perhaps why I am so impressed by his ability to remain unsomethinged by the inconsequential things around him that I obsess over.

Perhaps it is a function of age as my father was 38 when I was born, and in his 40s by the time I was old enough to really start paying attention.

But even when I look back at the old pictures of my father, from the times in his life where he had a mustache, wore a turtleneck, and briefly (I hope) a neckerchief, I can't possibly imagine him trying to be something other than what he was.

Part of me wants to believe it's a generational thing. That back then you had a job, a family, and a personality that was your identity that you stuck with.

Logic tells me that can't be true though.

People have wanted to be something other than who they felt they were for as long as people have existed. It is one of the driving reasons of the incredible and the tragic elements in our lives.

And even though his surroundings may have changed, where he lived, and what he wore, I don't think the core of Fred Boehmcke has changed very much, if at all.

And when you are who he is, it doesn't get much cooler than that.

The Flea Market

There was a racetrack near where I grew up called Roosevelt Raceway. I know it not because my family was big on betting on the ponies, but because that was the site of a weekly flea market my mother would take us to from time to time.

My memory wants me to believe we went there weekly but after conferring with my mother I am told it was perhaps monthly.

The flea market took place in the rather sizeable parking lot next to the racetrack. It was aisles and rows of individual stands selling everything from kitchen appliances to video games.

We’d park in the sunny parking lot among the hundreds and hundreds of other steel boxes on wheels separating us from all of the fun stuff to be seen and hopefully purchased.

The flea market was one of many places we went with my mother. My dad, never one for shopping was usually out golfing or working in the yard. My father was always working in the yard when I was a kid.

Unlike the mall or other stores, the flea market seemed eminently more approachable than other retailers. It wasn’t because we bought more things there as a family. I myself certainly did not buy anything. I was probably getting a small allowance at the time, 50 cents maybe. I was old enough to own a fanny pack, but not old enough to have anything to put in it that wasn’t a G.I. Joe.

Everything at the flea market just seemed closer and perhaps more possible. Maybe because it was all right there, next to you, at the edge of every aisle, begging to be touched, picked up, and examined.

All things my mother told me not to do because, well, she knew me.

Whatever if was you were or weren’t looking for, you didn’t have to venture very far to find it. It was always right in front of you, individually wrapped, and probably massively discounted.

Or so they’d have you believe.

When I was really small my mother would wheel me through the market in a fabric-bottomed stroller, the only way to travel. It was considerably better than walking and having to hold my mother’s hand when I got older. My frequent requests to “Just go over here for a minute” were almost always met with a no.

And for good reason. What right-minded mother would let her child loose in a cacophony of thousands of deal hungry strangers on a hot summer day?

Especially since I had a penchant for getting lost in department stores… and those were indoors. Never mind the limitless space of an outdoor flea market.

Logic like that was lost on me though. In fact, a similar, progressively more advanced logic that combated my questions of “why can’t I do this?” would almost always be lost on me at every age.

The flea market attracted as many characters as it provided. People looking for deals are usually an interesting sort.

There was always a hoarse, tank-topped man standing on a stepladder yelling through a megaphone.

LADIES, THESE DEALS WON’T LAST LONG. GET THEM WHILE THEY LAST. LADIES!

He was there every week. Always yelling through a megaphone. Always at the ladies. You heard him way before and way after you saw him.

No matter what aisle we walked through or what we were in the market for, I was always looking for the toys. The colorful plastic toys encased in more plastic in cardboard. Things I had never known I had wanted before I saw them.

Not that I needed any more toys, but what child could understand such a statement?

Not me. I was so hypnotized by everything I saw.

Like the “Little Policeman” set I found that had a set of plastic (naturally) handcuffs in them.

Somehow I had been well behaved and persuasive enough that day or week to convince my mother to buy it for me.

It was a happiness I could barely believe.

I don’t remember how old I was at the time but I remember I was old enough that when we made a trip back to the car to drop off some of the sheets and tablecloths she had purchased, my mother asked me if I wanted to stay in the car while she checked out the last aisle.

I willingly agreed, not wanting to walk anymore and now having a plastic handcuff set to play with and completely occupy my attention.

It wasn’t long after she closed and locked the door to her blue Pontiac with me in the front seat that I opened my new toy and promptly handcuffed myself to her steering wheel.

This probably wouldn’t have been an issue if the piece-of-shit plastic key that came with the handcuffs had actually worked… which it didn’t.

As a teenager or even a slightly older kid this would have probably been something to laugh about before finding some way out of them, to free myself from embarrassment before my mom came back.

But as a child my heart went into an intense panic. I was locked to the steering wheel. Trapped! I fiddled with the key. Over and over again. Trying it 10 different ways. Sweating out of my tiny armpits all the while dreading what would happen if my mom saw what I had done in the few minutes she had been gone.

Miraculously, I freed myself, the tiny Houdini that I was before my mom came back to find me casually inspecting the quality of my wares, or whatever it was I was doing.

I’d like to believe that I never asked her to buy me another toy again.

But I’m pretty sure that’s not true.

The Bathing Suit

I bought a bathing suit last year while I was in Italy.

I haven't purchased a bathing suit in probably ten years.

In fact the last new bathing suit I got was given to me as a parting gift when I left my job at the magazine five years ago.

It wasn't like people had gone out of their way to buy me gifts, certainly not swimwear, but while I was walking around the office on my last day to say goodbye, one person gave me a gift from their desk. As I carried it around while I said my goodbyes, it made each subsequent person I met think they should take something from their desk to give to me as well.

Like they thought I was going on some tremendous journey where I would need supplies.

Supplies being, among other things,

A bible sized book on men's style

Massage oil

A rock and roll action figure

A green and orange bathing suit

And those are just the things I still have.

Amazingly the bathing suit actually fit perfectly. It was just somethign sitting on one of the style editors desks, which, I realize now means that it might have been worn in a fashion shoot. But we'll pretend that wasn't an option.

That was my most recent bathing suit. The one I bought before that I got from Target in Arizona and was too big and too long, purchased at a time when neither of those things mattered. What did matter however was the fact that it had a bottle opener in the pocket. I am almost positive thats why I bought it.

I also have two basic blue billowy bathing suits from when I was a non-CPR certified pool attendant at a hotel on Long Island. I was supposed to get CPR certified it just… never happened. Thankfully the closest I ever came to saving anybody there was distributing bee sting ointment.

Last year, after taking all of these facts into consideration, and reading an issue of Esquire had told me men's bathing suits were generally too long (it didn't mention anything about bottle openers) I started to realize that it was time for a new bathing suit.

So while soaking up the Italian sun on a beautiful walk from Portofino to Santa Margherita Ligure, my girlfriend and I came across a little beach boutique. The sign outside said that that it was closing for the season. It was literally the last weekend it would be open for the next five months and they were having a massive sale. We figured we'd take a peek. 

We went in and each tried on a variety of colorful clothing and bathing suits made by this French beachwear company. I have never owned french beachware, but I learned something very important about the French that day.

Seeing as the pants fit me the way a pair of spans might fit a gorilla, I was left to believe that my calves are bigger than most frenchmen's thighs.

I gave up my hope of any pants and moved onto bathing suits which I actually had no trouble fitting over my thighs seeing as the suit itself barely covered half of them. After slipping it on I was suddenly left with the sensation that I was showing a considerable amount of leg.

And seeing as my legs are about 60% of my body, that is a lot of leg.

I felt like some kind of strange more than half naked pale chicken man.

This bathing suit was not only short, it was shorter than most of my boxers.

It's a strange feeling to put something on and still feel like you are wearing nothing. I debated whether or not to leave the dressing room, feeling a bit like I might be accused of indecent exposure.

When I emerged from behind the dressing curtain like some kind of shy mostly-naked-pale-chicken-man-magician.

And for my next trick… I will make this bathings suit REAPPEAR!

My girlfriend assured me they weren't that short.

Be that as it may I was almost positive I could hear the hairs on my upper things screaming in terror,

WHERE ARE WE? WHAT'S HAPPENING? QUICK HIDE US!!!

While not a speedo by any means, it was closer to public nudity than I'd ever been.

However all of those fears were drowned out by the fact that I actually really liked the suit, it was 50 percent off.

So I bought two bathing suits and even wore one that day for a dip in the freezing ocean.

I felt so European.

I then brought them both home and put them in my drawer where they have remained for months and months.

Until last week.

I pulled them out and saw that I had left the tags on one.

Like I might fly back to Italy to return it.

Hi I bought this a year ago and umm, I think it's too skimpy, can I have my 40 euro back?

Sometimes I have a hard time committing to things.

However, I bit the bullet, ripped off the tags, and climbed into it pretending, as I walked along the beach, that I felt perfectly normal and not at all like a giant pair of reflective legs attached to a head with nothing in between.

But it worked out. And I've grown to love it, because really, what other choice do I have?

Personal Space

Over the past year or so I have had nearly every single shirt I own tailored by my dry cleaner. I'm a skinny guy so he takes it in on the sides and makes the sleeves a little slimmer. He's asian, and even though he's been doing it for 40 plus years, I'm not sure how many of those years have been in the US because his English isn't very good.

He also seems to think he remembers me from when I was a child, which is impossible, because I've only been going to him for five years.

Whatever, nonsense aside, we communicate fine. He's friendly and he does good work.

What usually happens is this:

I walk in with a couple of shirts and tell him I need them tailored. He turns on the light in the two foot by two foot "dressing room" ( storage space) and I put on my different shirts. I then emerge and stand in front of the mirror with him behind me. After rifling through a box of safety pins on the floor, and taking out a couple the procedure moves forward exactly the same every single time. Without fail it goes like this:

Just take it in on the sides please.

Ohhh yea. Skinny, skinny.

Haha yep.

Not too much. Not too much.

No just bring it in.

Sleeve too.

Sure.

Then he turns me around and unbuttons my shirt for me.

In the middle of the store.

Sometimes there are other customers there, sometimes it's just his son who also works there, he's about my age.

But at this point, having my dry cleaner unbutton my shirt is only slightly awkward. I tack it up to him providing full service tailoring. I mean, who doesn't like full service. When you get a suit tailored they put your jacket on for you. I think of it as just an extension of that.

Granted, the fact that he then taps me on the chest once my shirt is open and says

Too skinny,

That I could probably do without.

He then writes up my ticket and asks my name. I tell him and he says the same thing every time.

Ah yes Rich man.

Not yet I say. Not yet.

And I leave the store, or transaction over without me ever commenting on or reacting to the awkwardness of his practices.

At this point though its almost tradition. and plus, I'm pretty much had all my shirts tailored.

I'm sure it's some sort of cultural divide. Though I'm not sure that asian dry cleaners are known for being extremely hands on. Maybe it's just him.

I can practically see you nodding along with that last statement.

I wouldn't say I get special treatment on the regular, not that a handsy dry cleaner is really special treatment, but once in a while people pay extra attention for me. And it's nice. It can feel good to stand out amongst an expanding mass.

When I was a kid, my elementary school was shaped like an L. Two floors. Not a big building by any means. The main office where the principle and other school officials ( who else was there?) was on the first floor. It was where you reported for two reasons. One, when you were in trouble. Two, when you were getting picked up early.

The main desk in the office was operated by a sweet middle aged lady with a voice that was built for the ears of children.

It was accented with a bit of Long Island and sprinkled with a little bit of sugar so that every time you talked to her, you felt like you were getting some kind of special treatment. Or at least I did. Then again I was a semi-cute kid, at least in the eyes of adults.

I liked her for the same reason you like most adults as a child... I just did.

I probably rarely saw her outside of that office or desk. I don't even remember how tall she actually was. She was always there though, like a comfort fixture. Makeup and perfume and hair always the same. That voice the anchor of the office.

I remember being sick one day while my class was using toothpicks to excavate the chips from chocolate chip cookies. (I have no idea what the lesson of the day was). After my illness was confirmed by the most prophetic of education officials (the school nurse) my mother was called and I was sent to the main office to wait for her to arrive. I shuffled in and Mrs Parisi said something in the sweetest voice that has reverberated softly in my ears for the last 20 years.

Whats the matter Butch?

Now of course my name isn't and wasn't butch. It definitely wasn't a nickname of mine. And it wasn't even the name of anybody in the school. I'm not sure I had ever heard the name before she said it.

But it sounded wonderful coming out of her mouth. It confirmed my weakened, sickened state and made me feel special.

I'd say I always wanted to feel special as a kid, but really, that hasn't changed much.

Now, it's very possible that's what she called every little boy in the school. After all, remembering the names of kids who weren't chronically ill or bad couldn't be easy. But that didn't matter to me because that thought never crossed my mind.

All that mattered was that I was Butch and I was sick and I was loved and I was going to get a little bit of extra attention from somebody I liked.

If only she were my dry cleaner.

What Makes a Gatsby Great?

I saw the Great Gatsby in 3D this weekend. It was a movie that was culturally highly anticipated and one that I was approaching near delirium in my own excitement to see.

I knew I needed to see it opening weekend to avoid the inevitable spoiler of an overheard conversation on the train or otherwise. It's happened before with other films. One specifically comes to mind where I was sitting on the Long Island Rail Road and a girl in front of me said to her friends:

"I can't believe he turned out to be the villain."

I immediately bent in half, put my fingers in my ears and my head between my knees and started humming maniacally to avoid hearing anymore. I hate knowing anything about a movie before going into it, and this shows to what lengths I go to avoid that.

That is why even though my girlfriend saw it on Saturday night, I asked her to go back with me to see The Great Gatsby on Sunday. She willingly complied.

And while I don't usually write reviews of movies here, I feel so strongly about many of the things I've been reading that I am compelled to at least explore the critique of others of Gatsby through my own writing.

I will start by saying that I really enjoyed the movie. I'm almost positive that I loved it. So there's that.

The movie is a spectacle no doubt. Any classic American text that gets remade into a 3D movie will of course be subject to that adjective.

I had read The Great Gatsby twice and enjoyed it both times. But it had never really resonated with me the way it had with generation after generation of cultural zeitgeists.

Nonetheless when I heard it was going to be a 3D movie, I too was skeptical.

Because for the most part I don't believe in 3D. I am not the first to say that it is largely unnecessary. I have seen exactly 3 movies in the theater in 3D; Avatar, Gatsby, and The Green Hornet. The last one was only because my dad and I needed something to do and it was the only thing that looked interesting.

Unless 3D is going to be a transformative experience, like Avatar, I think it largely hinders movies. I love being immersed in pitch black theaters watching 50 foot screens. I love it like I love few other things. And for the most part, 3D ruins that for me.

But with Gatsby the trailers looked so interesting, so significant, that I was immediately transfixed. 

I will readily admit that I am easily done in by a flashy trailer.

I don't read reviews before I see movies, only after, since I don't want even a hinderance of a possibility of a spoiler to make it's way through. And for the most part, reviews largely share a tremendous amount more than I care to know before seeing something.

Plus, I like to see something through my own lens before trying to interpret it through somebody else's.

I wouldn't let my girlfriend tell me her thoughts before we saw it. She wasn't allowed to tell me if she even liked it.

I am a lunatic, I know.

So finally, we see the movie and as I have stated. I loved it. And here is why:

It is spectacle, but it is spectacle in such a wonderful form. It is big and brassy and flashy and slick and brings to the forefront a world that never could have existed because it never really did exist.

The Great Gatsby is a film that has been made and remade many times. And the reviews that I have read pretty much say the same thing that not a single film has managed to meet its mark. Which does not bode well for any film being made for a fourth, fifth, or sixth time. At a certain point how much harder can you squeeze the lemon, what piece of relevance can you extract that hasn't been before.

At a certain point when you've tried to hard to drill to the core, there becomes no core left to drill to, or through and so you are left with a void that nothing new can fill.

And that is where I argue this latest Gatsby comes along and expands that void and fills it at the same time.

The text itself looms impossibly large in American History, I don't know that anything, any interpretation, any re-imagining could have possibly pleased the vast majority, never mind doing it without making the original author "Turn over in his grave."

That is a phrase I find so detestable and overused that its appearance in critique makes me feel the writer is striving to be some sort pompous pseudo-scholar whom I would avoid at a cocktail party if I were the type of person to be invited to cocktail parties.

Sure F. Scott Fitzgerald would never have imagined his writing in 3D, he lived in a world that in our memory is 1D.

And that is why this movie was so wonderful for me. I understood who Gatsby was, really was, for the first time.

You could argue that with blunt force, anything becomes readily apparent. But so what? This is not the story of a man who whispered sonnets from afar. This is the story of a man who went through epic lengths to change his life and the world around him... for one woman.

Spectacle gets a bad wrap. I think it is sometimes unwarranted when it is spectacle for the sake of. But sometimes even that can be fun.

I went to a show ten years ago where the audience stands the entire time as the action (acrobatics, vignettes and more) happen above them.

In one scene a man walks on a treadmill, increasing in speed until he is jogging and then running at a flat-out pace. The pace quickens and quickens until a Gun Shot rings out and he (attached to a harness) flies off the treadmill.

It is jarring and strange.

And it becomes stranger when the process repeats itself again and again, walk, jog, run, gunshot, repeat.

You could try and pull apart the meaning for days, but the truth is that I enjoyed it. It was interesting, perhaps not incredibly substantive without applying an undue mantle to the entire show, but I enjoyed it.

And perhaps that is how some people see this latest Gatsby as imagined by Baz Luhrmann, a mere spectacle of escalation that culminates in a gunshot that nobody anticipated nor wanted, a vacant shell of a structure created solely for the purpose of delivering specific kind of punch.

I feel like I might be slipping into some sort of metaphor vortex here, so I'll pull back for a moment.

My point is, I believe the movie works. It is beautiful with a soundtrack both reminiscent and contemporary. I believe people get angry when individuals try to blend the two and the resulting product leans more towards the now than the then. But what choice do we have? If what we do strives for relevance, we must find a way to make those past icons feel present.

Much has been made of the acting in the film as well. I feel like this is the kind that puff piece magazines will rate high and intellectual magazines will rate low. 

I will say that there is something from the actors that gets lost in 3D. The emotion that is so heavy in the forefront of 2D films becomes yet another moving piece in a set of moving pieces.

So even had the acting been perfect it would not have felt that way to a viewer.

Largely though, the actors portray what we need them to.

Still, how can something that has been so over-evaluated, so heavily scrutinized, and so otherwise deconstructed function as a ship to deliver meaning to an audience?

I'm not sure that it can.

In retrospect, the movie actually feels like a memory or a dream of my own, which is how I imagine it felt to live that story.

And so in our age of extreme everything, where there are no higher-highs, and new frightening lows, I believe that The Great Gatsby of today delivers. It gives us a roaring 20s that truly roar, characters that seem like impossible figures, and a surreal world to which we can (continue) to attach our own beliefs, suppositions, and emotions.

And whether it's Gatsby, Baz, or the Press, I'll let you decide for yourself who turns out to be the villain.

I'm Not Annoying... Am I? - Part 2

The first time somebody added me to an email list without asking I thought it was just a one-off thing, a fluke. And then when it happened again I chalked it up to a couple of inconsiderate people taking advantage of their access to me.

But it has started to happen on a regular basis, by people I actually like, or... thought I liked. All of a sudden I'm scrolling furiously to the bottom of multiple emails a week unsubscribing from things I never signed up for.

If these crimes against e-mail etiquette (be there such a thing) could be considered misdemeanors, there is one that has stood out as a felony. Somebody I used to be connected to on LinkedIn took all of their contacts' emails and added them to a mailing list to, as they put it, "Save you the trouble of signing up for our mailing list."

A more creative string of swear words I could not have put together had I tried. I was so outraged and indignant.

I suppose I'm a little late to the game to be raging about the fact that there are no more boundaries, no more personal spaces, and nothing off limits. Everything is free reign for everybody and anybody.

But it drives me crazy.

And then I remembered a time when I took emails from my friends and added them to my mailing list. Was I really any better than the people who were doing the same thing? I'd like to believe so. But then again, I'd like to believe a lot of things. I rationalize my past actions in my mind by saying that I was younger and naive and didn't really understand.

So perhaps others don't realize how annoying it can be. Or maybe it isn't annoying to other people. Maybe I'm the only one. It wouldn't surprise me. Stupid things bother me all the time.

I am stuck between feeling pissed off at the people who add me to mailing lists without asking and being pissed off at myself for bringing about some kind of internet karma.

You know what they say, Karma's an e-bitch.

This bout of back and forth self-argument goes hand in hand with another question that has popped up in my mind lately;

What do strangers think when they overhear my conversations?

Living in New York you are subjected to dozens of intense conversations throughout the day that you are completely unable to avoid hearing every last detail of. It's just the nature of the city. There's a growing number of people and a fixed amount of space.

Very often I find myself with my friends rolling our eyes or making fun of the things we overhear.

Yea I mean it's like the second most expensive hotel in the world, it's like so beautiful.

Oh my god I can't even.

Yea everybody in that part of town is rich, but then when you get superrich you move to the next town over.

It drives me crazy. Sometimes I want to shake people and ask them why they sound like that.

But I've started to wonder, if those conversations are bothering me, surely my conversations must be bothering somebody else. I have a loud voice, a gregarious personality, and a penchant for the theatrical. There must be other individuals, possibly many MANY individuals who can't help but hear every detail of my own stories and think to themselves;

Jeez that guy is spoiled and/or obnoxious and/or ridiculous etc.

And that makes me frustrated. Self-awareness is something I'd like to believe I have. But can anybody really claim to be self-aware? Is that even possible?

It would be a flat-out lie if I said that I worked regularly on being more self-aware. I think about it a lot. But I don't think that counts.

The longer this essay goes on the more it feels to me like a whiney Sex and the City episode packed with first world problem shoe gazing self inflicted supposed mental duress.

However, I do think they are important questions. I don't think questioning one's self is a bad thing. Questioning one's self to the point of anxiety, well, yes, that's useless.

I had a therapist who once told me "analysis is paralysis." And I believe in a certain way she is and was right. But I also like the philosopher's statement that says "The unexamined life isn't worth living."

Because for me, life is context. Life is the interplay between what we know and what we don't. Life is growth and excitement and frustration and all of that in between stuff we don't have names for, or haven't learned yet.

At least, what has felt like a fulfilling life so far has involved those things for me.

So whenever I find myself being constantly frustrated by something's rapid and frequent occurrence I am left with two options; either decide it's so unbearable that something more significant must be done, OR, decide that it's on me to change how I behave, how I view a certain thing, and most specifically, how I react to it.

When I took my first improv class a couple of years ago my teacher was talking to us about the 2-person scenes we would be doing and he said this.

The bad news is you're only responsible for 50 percent of the scene. The good news is, you're still responsible for 50 percent of the scene.

Life is half our actions, and half our reactions. And I believe I am not the first to forget that I have full control over both.

I'm Not Annoying... Am I? - Part 1

When Facebook first started I was still in college and I didn't see the point. Wed be sitting around a friends apartment while all my friends would be looking at pictures of themselves from the night before. It didn't make sense to me.

When I graduated college I finally had a reason to join. It was a way to keep with everybody I went to school with. Until at a certain point, not exactly thrilled with my career path (it wasn't even a path at that point) and unsatisfied with my social life (no offense to my parents who were absolutely wonderful roommates for those two years) I quit facebook. Seeing the semi-fabulous lives of everybody I no longer really talked to was too much for me to handle mentally, and certainly emotionally.

It was a relief not being a part of it anymore. I felt less pressure and stress. It was amazing how fast I had gone from never wanting to know anything about anybody else's social life, to being completely addicted to it.

I had become a free man in a land of internet slaves.

Several years passed and I took a trip to South America by myself, to backpack and travel and experience more of the world.

While I was away I found a funny thing. People weren't just exchanging occasional emails to potentially stay in touch, they were "friending" each other and posting pictures of each other that might otherwise never be seen by the people in them.

It was the fourth time I'd backpacked in a different part of the world and the first time this kind of interaction was happening. And I was amazed.

I had to join Facebook but I didn't have a computer with me and I wasn't looking to spend a bunch of time in an Internet cafe getting back on Facebook. So naturally I tasked my friend back home in New York with setting up my account.

Long story short, I had to eventually change my password a month later when she refused to stop friending everybody I went to high school with.

Anyway, I was on Facebook again. I collected photos from my travels. I returned home.

And while I hadn't been off of Facebook for that long, I was kind of shocked at how it worked. Shocked in a bad way.

The process of connecting with people became this noun-verb of "Friending." But a cheaper feeling experience I could not imagine. There were never any re-introductory emails. Never a "Hey, long time no see, how are you?"

It bothered me just as much when people I only knew in a passing manner added me. There certainly wasn't a reintroduction there either.

There was none of that, it was just people clicking buttons, adding, increasing a number on a social scoreboard.

I felt like I was being collected. And it made me angry.

What made me even angrier was that it didn't seem to piss anybody else off.

Everybody I talked to seemed so blah about the whole thing. Like it was the natural thing in the world. Granted social media was new to everybody but I was making the (foolish) mistake of believing that it should behave similar to the way real human interactions did.

I didn't like that it was an interaction that I had no real say in. All I could do was Deny or Accept. And acceptance was probably the best word to describe it. It certainly wasn't the ready arms open embrace of a new friend, no it was disconnected, seemingly detached acceptance of something somebody else had proposed.

Friends?

::shrugs:: OK.

But I kept going along because as much as I detested the interaction, I still didn't want to be the guy with 15 friends on Facebook. And that is what i would have been had I been hoping for rational healthy human communication.

It was around the same time that I started my blog and started taking my mailing list more seriously. I would tell people about it, ask them for their emails, and then add them to the slowly growing list of individuals who were subjected to my 1000-word thoughts on the world week after week.

And as more and more people friended me without any interaction at all, I did something that probably wasn't the right thing to do.

I started adding them to my mailing list.

My mentality was, ya know what, if they are really that interested in being my friend then they will obviously want to be a part of this mailing list.

Yes, I am aware now that I am an a-hole and that was a jerk thing to do.

I was so angry and frustrated at these "Friends" who wouldn't so much as say hello, at Facebook, at Social Media in general.

The strange thing is though, some of those people that I subscribed without asking, became people that read my blog week after week. It's a strange sort of irony.

The size of my mailing list has certainly peaked and continues to shrink slowly in size as time goes by. This isn't something that bothers me that much as I still write mostly for myself, and sharing my art with others, at least that piece of art, is still more about doing it for me than anything else.

However, there is a strange sort of (possibly) karma afoot and it's hard for me to ignore the fact that it is in fact karma and not just a fluke.

You see, people have started adding me to their mailing lists without asking me, and it's pissing me off!

To be continued...

How It All Ended Up

If I think back over the last 10 years, my life has started and stopped in a series of roughly two-year spurts. Not intentionally, it’s just kind of the way it has happened. Even college, which was supposed to be a 4-year endeavor, was noticeably divided by the changing of my major, which happened halfway through my sophomore year. 

Aside from my first job out of college, which lasted a matter of weeks before I lost my mind and moved onto something else, each job was roughly two years. Magazine, nonprofit, social media company, all of them around two years. My last job was the longest I had held any non-bartending job and holds the record with 26 months.

But none of those jobs took as long to get from start to finish as the one thing I managed to start and finish in my late twenties.

The idea started as a wine fueled conversation between my friend Andrea and I. Most of the most significant things I’ve done in my 20s have started this way.

A boozy conversation led to a contest, and then a pilot, and before we knew it we had a fully fleshed out seed of an idea that would stick in my mind like nothing I’ve ever thought about.

What happened next felt like the longest slowest walk ever.

On April 17, 2011 I told the world about the series, I grandly released and shared the exciting news that this was the first of many episodes to come, 7 in total.

I thought those seven episodes would happen quickly, easily, and readily become yet my newest path to success.

What I didn’t anticipate was that it would take 2 more years to work through those episodes. 

I won’t lie to you. At times it was the most stressful thing in my life. I was frustrated, disappointed, angry, excited, exhilarated, and a dozen other emotions.

Any time I wasn’t able to make something happen that I wanted I felt so much frustration that I wasn’t able to just impart my will upon the universe.

Whenever something was harder than I anticipated (often much harder) I got so angry with myself.

And when the end product didn’t look like I had envisioned in my head over and over again, I felt disappointed.

But every time we finished an episode, I felt such a sense of accomplishment. That I had taken one step closer to a thing I had never even imagined doing. And that gave me a momentum.

A very quiet, slow, almost imperceptible momentum. At first it was just the pride in all we had done to create one episode. And then we had the scripts finished. And then we had a second episode under our belt, which gave the series legitimacy.

And then we got to the halfway point and it had to happen. I didn’t have a choice anymore, if I ever did. This was going to happen. I would finish this fricking thing if it killed me. If it looked like shit. If it wasn't nearly what I wanted it to be. At least I would finish it.

I always talk about how my complete ignorance of difficulty has allowed me to both start and finish many creative tasks over the last several years.

Had I known how challenging any of these things I ventured after would be I probably would not have done them. So I am grateful for that innocence.

Without it I wouldn’t have:

Learned to edit video… because I had to.

Became a better editor, also because I had to.

Learned how different it is to tell a story in different visual mediums.

Learned that directing was as much about what you didn’t say as what you did.

Re-learned how much I hated and valued preparation.

Learned that trying to do it all is just as gratifying as it is disappointing.

Just as I am grateful for every single person (and there have been many of them) who helped out with this series from the pure goodness of their hearts. Anybody who held a boom microphone without knowing what the hell a boom microphone was, anybody who ran an errand, lent a hand, or otherwise contributed in some way shape or form.

We threw a wrap party last week to celebrate and watch the last episode. I watched as my three primary actors drank and laughed and danced with each other and in many ways I watched them in disbelief.

Mainly because I did not believe I was going to be able to convince all of them to stick with this thing all the way until the end. But also because I am so fortunate and lucky that I crossed paths with them, extremely talented individuals all of them.

Photo by Lord Jacob Wilhelmi

I am so cosmically blessed that I got three such people who were as committed to memorizing crap tons of dialogue as they were to laughing their asses off when things went wrong. Some of my favorite memories are of the things we botched. and giggled endlessly about.

It has been the most wonderful, hilarious, educational ride with all of them. I hope it is just the beginning.

So 2.5 years after I started. We have 105 minutes of scripted viewing that cost probably somewhere under $2,000 to make. All in all I probably spent weeks editing it. Literally hundreds of hours sitting in front of a computer screen trying to make it all come together to tell a story.

So where does that leave us?

Well it leaves us with Episode 8, a conclusion to a series I am so proud of in so many ways. And something I’m not done with. My goal from the beginning was not just to finish it, but also to continue it. I want to do more seasons and tell more stories of these characters and introduce new ones.

But to do that I need help. I need exposure and access and connections and so I appeal to you, loyal reader. That if you have watched any or all of these episodes and have seen in it the promise you have seen in any first episode or first season of any show you’ve ever watched, I ask you to share it.

And most importantly if you like what we’ve created, and you know somebody who could help us promote the series, connect us with representation, or even fund a second season, please let me know. Whether their in New York or Hollywood, or Bollywood, I’d be so incredibly grateful.

So without further ado, I give you my baby. The season finale of season one of Twentease.

Hands All Over

It seems my whole life from birth until age 16 was one big growth spurt. This ceaseless continuing expansion of spine and limbs to form a pale gangly parade of gesticulations that became me. It wasn't always a beautiful expansion, that is for sure.

There were growing pains, literally, and I still have stretch marks on my thighs from the years when my ankles seemed to always be running away from my pants.

And during all this time, while I was an active, energetic, and gregarious kid, I was also the most ticklish human being on the planet.

This is not hyperbole.

Every part of my body was ticklish.

Feet - Check
Under the arms - Check
Neck - Holy Cow Check

Being tickled is one of those things I don't quite understand, kind of like the hiccups.

As children, we all get tickled. It is how our parents and relatives get cheap laughs out of us. It starts with coochy coo and all that crap. And then at a certain point it turns into something way more intense and borederline violent.

I don't remember when, but a certain point in my childhood, being tickled went from a funny fun thing to something I hate. Something I dreaded.

I was almost always unsuccessful in getting whomever it was to stop ticking me because I was laughing. And nobody thinks the person giggling is being serious. But people laugh at the wrong time regularly. This is something that would pop up later in my life. Like when I quit one of my many jobs and my boss didn't believe me.

Boss: You're joking.
Rich: No I'm not.
Boss: Yes you are.
Rich: No, really.
Boss: Then why are you smiling so big?
Rich: Because I'm so uncomfortable!

The shrieks of PLEASE, NO, and STOOP usually weren't heeded until the offending tickler was out of breath or lost interest. Didn't anybody else realize being tickled wasn't fun? Why did this keep happening?

Being tickled became something I was very careful to avoid.

Needless to say, I was incredibly unsuccessful at avoid being tickled.

It's pretty much the equivalent of adult gossip. Once one adult finds out that you are ticklish, the news spreads like wildfire, and before you know it you've got strange people at family parties jamming their fingers into your ribs asking you if you're ticklish. This, from my perspective at least, was a horrible way to go about it.

It didn't even give me a chance to lie or to bluff my way out of being tickled. Not that I was a good liar anyway. I've never been a good liar. When I lie I either cry or my voice goes up 12 octaves, sometimes both at the same time. And nobody believes the kid who sounds like a wet train whistle.

It didn't help that I was extremely ticklish and extremely gangly. Any time that I was tickled it was like I had been dipped in water and plugged into a socket. My whole body erupted in a fit of comical spasms trying desperately to get away from whatever was causing me such physical discomfort.

The worst for me though was always my neck. I had a very ticklish neck.

So much so that when my neighbors realized I had such a ticklish neck they coined the term a "Richard Neck." Anybody who had a ticklish neck had a Richard neck. I suppose there are worse things in life to have named after you. But "he of the ticklish" neck is not something that ages well.

At it's worst I would wander around parties at my neighbor's house dodging hands like I was in a sea of deadly jelly fish. It took a traumatic experience for all of the tickling to to, if not stop, at least become less frequent.

It was one of the days when my neighbor across the street was babysitting me. We were sitting on the couch watching TV. I was 7 or 8 years old, a pile of pale sticks. At a certain point the tickling ensued. And I went full possum, curling up into a ball trying to block off all readily accessible points of sensitivity, screaming and giggling and begging my babysitter to stop.

But amongst all the wriggling and writhing, once I had curled up into a ball there was only one direction for my legs to go, and that was out.

I don't know if I kicked my babysitter directly in the head, but it was pretty much the case.

The tickling stopped immediately.

I probably would have felt worse about it had it been my fault (it wasn't, being tickled is the equivalent of temporary insanity) or had I not begged her to stop (it might not have been clear English but come on, people know being tickled is the worst).

It was a hard lesson for all involved.

Over time I grew out of my Richard Neck for the most part. It was an extremely gratifying experience too. Somebody would reach out and try to tickle my neck and I'd sit there, unfazed watching the bitter realization rise up in their cheeks like a barometer of disappointment.

"Oh, you're not ticklish anymore?"

Damn right I'm not, now get out of here before I kick you in the head.

Well I didn't say that, but I might as well have. It was a stake in the ground, a moment of evolution, an inflection point. I had shrieked off my last tickle.

And while I miss much about my youth, specifically giggling into hysteria, I don't miss when the cause was tickling.

Nor do I encourage you to help me relive those days by touching my neck.

If you value your head, stay away from my neck.

6 Months In

Six months ago I had a job in an office, coworkers, a guaranteed salary, and a regular schedule.

Back then I said to myself that if after 6 months, the business I was starting didn't look promising I would throw in the towel and go back to working in an office.

Well I'm happy to say that while I'm not making enough money to buy a fleet of ponies... or, My Little Ponies for that matter, I'm still afloat, I'm as comitted as ever, and I'm learning a tremendous amount every day. I'm learning some things that make sense, and some that I really don't understand.

For instance:

I've learned that people want to introduce me to people that do the exact same thing as me. This I don't understand. I would have thought that my friends and companions would want to introduce me to people who need my services, not people who provide my services.

People will say to me "Ohh my friend does video for brands, you two should meet."

Why?

I understand it comes from a well intentioned place, but I think we as people try to support others with a somewhat skewed mentality. Sure I like meeting other people in my industry, but those aren't the first people I hope to meet. I want to meet clients. Clients with money they want to spend on a video that I produce for them.

I entertain all introductions to other humans, be they purveyors of video or rocket scientists or therapists. I like meeting people. It just confuses me that people's first inclination is to introduce me to those doing the same thing as myself, especially since I don't think this is the norm in other social situations.

It's like if you have a friend who opens their own dental practice, you might say, oh my friend is looking for a dentist, give me your card.

You probably wouldn't say, you're a dentist? I have a dentist. You guys should get together and talk about teeth.

Or maybe you would.

Weirdo.

Let's take another example. Let's say you get kidnapped by an axe murderer. And this axe murderer has got you all taped to the backsesat of his Isuzu while driving 90 miles an hour down the highway to take you into the woods and kill you.

You're probably thinking either A. I hope this guy has a good lawyer so he can get off after he kills me becuase I don't want him to go to jail, or B. I sure hope the cops pull him over so I don't get axe murdered in the woods.

And this is because every entrepreneur (let's consider axe murdering a profession) is essentially like being one half of a puzzle. And entrepreneurs are typically trying to solve that puzzle, every day, multiple times a day.

You probably wouldn't be sitting in the backsteat of that Isuzu thinking, "I wish I knew some other axe murderers so I could make some social introductions for this guy."

Do you see the point I'm trying to make?

What was my point again?

Oh right, entrepreneurship.

The other thing that has been really shocking to me, and something I don't understand is how many people just don't respond to email. At all.

I'm not talking about taking a long time to respond, or being lazy about it, I mean just flat out don't respond after many emails.

I totally get that there are some very busy important people who just don't have time. But those aren't the people I'm emailing, at least not regularly. I'm talking about people who I either meet or am introduced to for business purposes.

I will readily admit that sometimes I suck at email. I can be slow to respond, I can be lazy, I can take a long time to do certain things. But for the most part I at least respond. And certainly if somebody follows up on something twice in a row, I start feeling guilty and have to respond even if it's just to say;

Listen, I'm an idiot, I haven't gotten to this task yet, but I still like you. Please don't stop liking me.

I guess that's the beauty of email, it allows us to essentially ignore people, any people, all people, whenever we want.

I think we maybe just assume that we can always use the excuse that emails got lost in cyberspace.

Ohhh I didn't get your last... 9 emails.

Whereas if somebody calls you twice and leaves you two voicemails, that's a little harder to shrug off, though it's still possible to do so.

Now let's say I am standing across from you and I say hello and you don't respond. And I say hello again, and you still don't respond. And I say hello six more times and you still don't respond. That, we would probably all agree, is weird.

Nobody would want to be friends with the guy who just blatantly ignored the people who talk to him. Then again, nobody would want to be friends with somebody who stood in front of you yelling HELLO all day long either.

So the knife cuts both ways. I don't know if that's a saying but now it is.

My point is... what is my point?

My point is being in business for yourself is an incredibly interesting and enlightening endeavor. It's a crash course in finance, economics, leadership, relationships and more than anything, the human condition.

It often promps more questions than answers and causes more challenges than one could ever imagine before they became an entrepreneur. And perhaps the greatest point is no matter how confusing business is, or how challenging it is...

It's way better than being stuck in a car with an axe murderer.

Splatter Paint

I will start this story by telling you that I readily admit, though I can't be completely sure, that it was probably my idea to splatter paint the basement ceiling.

Even though both my sister and I participated in as much active, let's call it post-modern, re-decoration of the foam tiles that covered the the subterranean level of our home, I don't feel like she would have suggested it. I would like to point out that this makes her no less responsible for the ensuing drama and damage.

I'm not sure how it started, probably by accident I'm sure.

It was during that magical time between 3:30 pm when we got out of elementary school, and 5:30 pm when my mom got home from work. We were old enough to look after ourselves for a couple of hours, but not old enough to make any really significant decisions. Case and point: if somebody rang the doorbell that we did not know, we were told not to answer it. We would instead just peer creepily out the side window to see who it was, and watch them until they went away.

Our mom's shop was only about 3 miles from our house, and we were instructed to call her as soon as we got home from school so she knew we were OK. And in the ensuing hours we would eat cookies, watch cartoons, or maybe play in the backyard.

For some reason or another, we were in the basement painting with our water color paints on this particular day. In and of itself it seems a bit strange because we didn't do a lot of painting, but perhaps this episode was the reason.

We had smocks, which were just our dad's old shirts that we wore backwards. We had these easels with big white paper pads, and we would just paint... whatever. Neither of us were particularly talented with a paint brush. 

Before this I remember having watched an episode of Bob Ross on PBS once, and after seeing him paint "a happy little stream"  surrounded by "happy little trees" I decided I would go down to our basement to do the same.

Fifteen minutes later I had what appeared to be a giant blue rectangle running the length of the middle of my page, with no connotation of happiness whatsoever. Painting was harder than it looked.

On this particular day though I don't remember what my sister and I were painting but at some point one of us, again I will say it was probably me, flicked their paintbrush causing some paint to splatter on the ceiling.

To the both of us it was subsequently the funniest thing we'd ever seen and the new best idea we (probably me) had ever had.

We danced around the basement dipping our paintbrushes in new colors and flinging those colors up at the giant white rectangles above us. It was like we were a part of some after school at home montessori program or hippie arts camp. This was what we were doing and there wasn't any part of our brain that said it wasn't a good idea or that we might, possibly get in trouble.

Nope. None of that.

And then mom came home from work.

She came downstairs and saw us in our smocks giggling and laughing, have ready to giggle as well as we said:

Look what we did!

But her response was not one of giggles. In fact, it was quite confusing and subsequently terrifying to watch her face go from smiling, to confusion to shock and then a whole bunch of anger.

She moved throughout the basement looking up at the ceiling, hands clutching the top of her head as a lot of very angry questions came out of her mouth, questions we had no good answers to.

We had answers mind you, just not good answers.

When your mother is yelling at you asking you "did you think this was a good idea?" In your own mind you are thinking "yes, of course we did" but somehow you nkow that is not the right answer to give.

So we stayed silent, which was also not the right answer.

Suffice to say at this point in the whole affair, everything we thought was the right idea, had turned out to be not.

The next hour or so is very blurry in my memory. We were sent to our rooms, presumably to think about what we'd done. And I thought hard. We had a pretty clear set of rules for how to live our lives growing up. Don't break things in the house. Don't leave the house until parents got home from work. Take out the trash after dinner etc. But there just weren't any specific rules that I remembered about splatter painting the ceiling.

My tiny little nugget of a brain did not register that this was not something our mom would agree with. Thought somehow I think there is no way we would have thought it was a good idea to do it on the first floor.

It was winter when it happened because it was already dark out when my sister and I were sent to our rooms at 5:30. Eventually my mom came upstairs, I'm guessing after contemplating the damage, both to her ceiling and to her children's brains.

What followed was many minutes of the three of us sitting on the floor of my room, all of us crying, apologizing, seeing peaceful resolution through fits of sobs and choked out sorries.

And one particular phrase that my mom keeps saying over and over again:

Don't tell your father.

That much, we understood

Evolution Resisted

I feel like one of the most frustrating/challenging things about growing up is realizing how many things are changing that you never expected to.

Ideas and feelings sit like facts inside our heads when we're younger. Things that will just always be, regardless, no matter what, forever and ever.

We'll always be young, we'll never have obligations, and the people around us will always be around us.

Period. End of story.

Then things start to change. When and how varies, but a common thread is the feeling that we think something is wrong. Then we try to resist whatever it is that's happening. And then sure enough, a slow, strange realization starts to seep in that no matter how much we always thought something would always be a certain way, things change.

The most obvious change is probably with our bodies. One day we wake up and our knee hurts for no reason, or our hangovers seem to last a little bit longer than they used to or suddenly parts of our face seem to be decidedly less youthful.

Those things happen over night. Just one morning we wake up and things are different.

When it happens it is immediate and awful, the end of an area and a frustrating lack of control we are unused to, being the creatures of unlimited potential and infinite time that we are.

What is more surreal and a bit more subtle at first, are the changes our relationships go through.

When we are younger the superlative adjective-noun pairings in our life are the ones that we spend the most time around.

Our favorite cereal is the one we eat every morning.

Our favorite shirt is the one we wear every week.

Our best friend is the one we do everything with.

Again, period. End of story.

As we get older, for many of us, the world around us gets bigger, faster. There are suddenly more things to do, more places to see, and people in our life.

Despite my best efforts to ignore it, the older I get the more things in my life require more of my attention. The easy to understand and implement daily schedule of home, school, play, family time, bed evolves into a multi-textured ever-changing, expanding and collapsing timelines of obligations, wishes, unforeseen events that continue to happen.

We start to realize that having a best friend no longer means seeing them every day, being a part of their every significant moment, and what has perhaps been most challenging for me, knowing every detail of their life.

I think for me it's been because that was the rubric by which I so fervently judged my closest relationships, as perhaps many of us do. 

Oh we know everything about each other.

Knowing equaled being. If I know everything about you, I am everything to you, or vice versa.

Though as we get older we start to learn that breadth is not depth, and that realization is hopefully accompanied by a realization that it is ok, and perhaps, even liberating.

I had a shift recently where I started to worry I wasn't seeing my friends enough. It was kind of scary because as I tiptoe up to the gates of 30 no piece of literature, common advice or otherwise says that we suddenly end up with much more time for the people in our lives as we get older.

The people in our lives get the most attention when we are youngest and have no choice but to spend all of our time around everybody, and and perhaps again when we retire and start attempting to complete actions and activities we have some how managed to completely avoid until we are suddenly fearful of our dwindling time and thus start throwing around the loathsome term "bucket list."

Where am I going with all of this?

I have no idea, you're guess is as good as mine as this point.

What I do know is that relationships change and evolve, or at least they can. And that is OK. This has been a hard pill for me to swallow.

Suddenly one, my specifically,  starts to realize the way they tell stories to their closest friends change. The whats become less important and the whys rise to the surface.

I have found myself skipping over elaborate story setups that could take hours and summarizing all of the lead-in by saying x happened, then y, and now I am here, and this is what I'm feeling. And this is what I want to talk about.

Conversations become like news broadcasts, skipping over the interesting but unimportant minor stories until settling and exploring the feature story that is important that night, that month, or even that year.

And even as I write this I'm starting to realize there is a kind of liberation in that. There is less of a need to keep somebody abreast of every single little thing in your life and instead a focus on being able to get the most out of your interaction with that person.

All the groundwork has already been laid. With my closest friends we planted the seeds 5, 10 or even 20+ years ago. We require less back-story, less pre-amble, and instead we join our regularly scheduled friendship already in progress.

It's a far cry from youth where time spent together seemed to indicated quality of interaction. Time on the phone, time shooting hoops, time spent sitting around doing absolutely nothing for hours, but feeling like no time had passed.

It is probably one of the greatest, most widely held misconceptions about time, that it is completely irrelevant when you have it in abundance, but any awareness of it immediately cuts its amount in half, and doubles in value.

The unexpected continues to happen, my friendships will continue to evolve, and I will forever try to appreciate them for all that they are and not just what they once were.

Or maybe a little of both.

The Fabric Under Your Feet

People who move to New York City often tell the story about when they felt they became a "real" New Yorker. I myself have lived in New York City on my very own for 5 years now. It wasn't such a huge shift though as I grew up in the suburbs just outside the city limits.

Thusly I've always felt like I had some built in credibility When I still lived in the suburbs and I would tell new acquaintances that I lived in New York they'd almost always respond the same way.

The City?

And I'd counter with:

No, just outside.

I was close enough to understand, to get it, to be able to speak with some (read: barely any) knowledge of the city but with a much higher exposure to trees and grass.

I've been lucky enough to travel to some pretty wonderful places around the world and when people find out from New York they ask me what it's like. They tell me they want to visit it someday, like it's the most exotic place on earth. Last year I had a waiter in Downtown Los Angeles and a baker in Portofino Italy who spoke no english both tell me how badly they wanted to visit New York.

It's something I take for granted. Not on a regular basis, but from time to time.

From the very first moment I stepped foot outside the train on my way to my first day of work as an adult I have tried to love my city, hard. Not that it was difficult to do so, but I didn't want a casual love with this city.

It wasn't difficult to do, there is so much to love. But when there is so much to love it's easy to paint broad strokes with statements.

Oh I love it all. It's all amazing.

Bullshit.

I didn't want to be one of those people who eventually moved away from the city and raved about all the things I missed that i had never really experienced firsthand. My greatest fear from an early age has been a fear of missing out. It can be scary in thought and downright paralyzing when you are in the middle of a million things happening and don't know which one to do.

I wanted to love my city hard, the way one hugs their close friends tighter. I wanted to be a vocal, contributing, lover of my city.

I tried to love my city fervently in all seasons. When it was perfectly easy in the Spring and Fall, and more challenging in the Winter and Summer extremes. I tried hard to love my vibrantly when it made it difficult to be loved. In the rain. Waiting forever for transportation. And when it took things away from me, tangible things, followed by innocence.

No matter all the amazing things I had the opportunity to do, all the things I experienced. I wanted more.

A fear of missing out and an insatiable thirst for more create a frenetic, palpatacious energy within a body, something so fluttery and significant that it becomes an energy source all it's own. It doesn't guide decisions, it makes them for you.

So working my 9 to 5 job with a great company with good people in an amazing neighborhood all looked good on paper. But none of it really resonated.

I didn't really work "in" that neighborhood. I worked in a building in that neighborhood. I looked out at it during my work day. I walked through it at the beginning, at the end, and in between for lunch.

I sat outside while the sun shone in all four seasons, trying to squeeze more juice from this city during my lunch break, afraid that there would be none left to have the next day. I wrapped my arms so tightly around the city. I verbalized it. Aloud. To myself. To anybody. To nobody. To her.

My city.

I didn't know what else to do. How else could I get more out of the experience? How could I become one of those people who seemed so blissfully connected working in coffee shops at 2 in the afternoon?

If I was being honest I didn't live in this city, I didn't work in this city. I lived on it's fringe and worked in between it. I used the subways like teleportation. Showing up from place to place. Skipping over all the in-betweens. Proud claims that I had never been to this place or that started to sour in my mouth. They felt stale and depressing and no longer of interest. I wanted a better experience. I wanted a more connected experience.

And like every lesson of significance I've learned in the last 4 months, I got the feelings I wanted when I quit my job.

It wasn't the job that was holding me back, or the work, or the neighborhood or any other ridiculous reason. It was just me.

I wanted and want a more connected experience. I want the city to wash over every part of me not just my face and hands. I want to feel a part of the fiber, like every movement I make weaves my little individual thread, deeper into the texture of this incredible place.

And since leaving my desk behind, working from coffee shops, from meeting points, from places I've never spent any significant amount of time in, I have suddenly found myself feeling like a more connected, integral part of what happens here.

Every step I take on the pavement, sometimes short and slow when I'm making love to the universe, and long and fast when I'm late getting from uptown to down, every single step feels for significant, feels more important. It feels more honest. It feels more true to who I am.

When I was in college I fantasized about working in Manhattan in a big fancy building with a big security desk that I could cruise by with my slick ID badge.

The fantasy faded as soon as it became a reality. Thus began the pendulum swinging action of wanting more and fearing missing out. Those two things have guided me up and around a mountain of insecurities, inspiration, and experiences I couldn't have planned if I tried.

As I bounce around this city now in my day to day, from coffee shop to coffee shop, from office to office, leaving the echo of my footsteps on streets I have never visited and might never see again, I feel both a gratitude and sense of purpose that light me from the inside.

I believe I belong here as much as anybody. I don't know that I've had my "I'm a New Yorker" moment, just the same way I don't know that I've had my "I'm an adult" or "I'm a man" moments.

Though those moments, as significant and monumental as they seem in preface, are almost never as amazing as they are amortized throughout the course of one's life, as they have been for me.

As I hope they always are.

Listening

If you had asked me six months ago to describe how it feels, I'm not sure I would have said liberating. But that is how it feels to me, now, and every day that I find myself doing it.

Listening to other people talk is liberating.

Let me clarify. Talking to people one on one, hearing their story, getting to know their history, their past and how they ended up where they are is one of the most liberating things I've ever learned how to do.

I'm not saying I'm perfect at it. It's a sliding scale whose length I probably couldn't even fathom. And to say right now that I think I'm getting good at it is probably an incomparable overstatement.

But I believe it.

You see I didn't really have a choice.

When I launched my business just under four months ago I had a list of all the things that I thought I would have to do, the skills I would have to learn, and what selling my business would look like.

Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, did I write down "Get good at listening to others."

There's a great line in the movie Fight Club where one of the characters is talking about what it's like being a part of a support group for people with terminal illnesses.

"When people think you're dying they really listen to you instead of just waiting for their turn to talk."

I think about that line a lot. Because it's insightful. Because it's true. And because it is incredibly relevant, for me.

You see I'm somebody who loves to talk. I have always loved to talk. At first it was because I just talked a lot. And then it was because I wanted/needed attention. And then it was because it was how I thought I was supposed to exist. And then as I have gotten wiser at 1/4 of the speed at which I have gotten older, I have realized that I actually do have some things to say. I believe I do anyway, and it feels important for me to share them with others.

It is why I started writing a blog, why I write plays and scripts and all the rest. I do it because I think I have something to say.

Even writing that writing that now feels incredibly narcissistic. Which prompts another favorite quote:

"People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

It is something I've always believed if not always understood.

I have spent a large portion of my life sitting with raised pulse, waiting for an opportunity to contribute, for the opportunity to say something, to contribute, for whatever reasons. Most times, in group situations it's incredibly difficult for me to sit quietly. Impossible to do that and be still.

So when I struck out on my business venture it felt like the way that I was going to get clients was by climbing to the top of every bell tower, megaphone in hand, and screaming about the things that I do.

And I tried that at first.

Amazing how few people responded. I'd probably be disappointed if I found out how many people actually heard me, and downright depressed if I knew how many of those paid attention.

To be honest, I know it's only been a short amount of time since I've started this business, but in the last 6 weeks or so, something has changed. And I am trying to listen to people more. Trying to listen. To pay attention and to get a grasp of what people have to say, of who they are.

It is absolutely phenomenal.

As a tactic for a acquiring new clients, I'm not sure it's something that works, but I am having interactions that are so much more meaningful with complete strangers that honestly I don't care if they become clients. And maybe I'll regret that if I run out of money. But the stories I am hearing...

I am struck by so many feelings.

One of them being that I can't believe there are so many people with such interesting, amazing, diverse and unique backgrounds that are constantly floating around always at arms reach.

People talk all the time about how everybody really has a story. And it sounds nice. A way of validating every single human life. Showing that everybody has worth and value and significance.

But I'm realizing it's true. And it's scary.

Because the other feeling I'm experiencing is that of insignificance. So many people who are so incredible are just always at arms reach. I feel suddenly like I'm taking my whole life for granted. Like every single time I've felt like I had nothing to talk about with somebody it has been my own fault. My own inability to connect, to understand, to relate. It has been me being self-centered and oblivious.

Admittedly it would probably be hard for anybody meeting a stranger for the first time who might be a potential client in the future to focus only on the human element of that person instead of whether or not they are interested in buying, if you are close to getting them to a sale, if you are saying the right things.

But that's exhausting. For me anyway.

And building a business is exhausting enough on its own. I'm not looking to compound that. And I'm not looking to build something on sleazy practices and manipulation. Which brings up a third quote which I will attempt to paraphrase and thusly butcher.

"What does a man gain to inherit the whole world but lose himself."

I'm not looking to lose myself. Hell this whole journey has ben a venture to build a bigger better version of the self that I think or thought I could be. If I couldn't enjoy a recently purchased polo shirt that a cashier had forgotten to charge me for without bringing it back to pay for it, there's no way I'd be able to enjoy success if it wasn't done from an honest place.

So where does that leave us? Or more specifically, where does that leave me?

You may remember that last December/January I was exhausted and very tired of creating New Year's resolutions so I opened myself up to the universe and embraced 2012 as the year where I offered myself to others.

This year I was so focused on this business that thinking about anything outside of that made me short of breath. For that reason and others this became the year of gratitude, of appreciating the unbelieveable amount of things in my life I had to be grateful for.

And like a compass that guides one to true north, that is where my gaze has returned. My true north in this year, in this experiment in entrepreneurship, has become listening to others. Letting go of my preconceived notions. Of my worries. Of my obsessions with time. Of my need to tell my story. And to just lose myself in the truth of others. A truth, that day after day, in a way that grows signifcantly, constantly amazes me and wraps me and my frenetic heart in a blanket of warmth that I refuse to let go of.

No matter who it is I meet or what they have to say, I am liberated by being able to focus in on them, and listen to their story.

And believing that maybe in some small way I can contribute to or be a part of that story.

But even that is ancillary.

Listening just feels good.

Belief in Change

A handful of years ago I left my job at a magazine to go work for a non-profit. It was something I had been thinking about doing for a while. I loved magazines but I felt it was time to do something more altruistic. I wasn't feeling fulfilled in my current position and thought by getting into a company that helped people, as a business would fill the hole that I felt within myself.

Needless to say that hole remained relatively unfilled for the 2ish years I spent at the non-profit.

It's a dangerous expectation to have that a job will make you feel better about yourself, work, or the world at large. Granted this is something all of us walk around doing, and when your job fulfills your expectations you can feel 100 feet tall.

But when that job doesn't do what you hoped it would we can be left wanting, frustrated, and often times, lost.

I realized it wasn't altruism I was seeking but something I was truly interested in. I'm not sure what it says about me that altruism wasn't enough to sustain me, but I knew I wanted to do something I cared deeply about, that would be fun, that would allow me to become the man I spent so much time dreaming of becoming.

I left the job at the non-profit 3ish years ago. Since then I've always had this frustration with myself that I haven't made more time for volunteering, for service, for finding a way to make giving back a part of my regular life.

I've had ideas.

I contemplated sitting on the boards of non-profits before. I've thought about offering my skillets, public speaking, creative writing, to people who might be interested in them. Perhaps helping young people learn such skills.

For one reason or another I've felt more comfortable with the guilt of not doing more than with actually calling myself to action to help others.

Being out on my own now, with my own business, and a schedule that I'm more free to control, it should seem easy to actually make time for volunteering, for some sort of service, for some sort of connection.

Alas, it has not happened yet.

Perhaps it is the fear of the commitment to something that scares me but would that stop me from even volunteering once a year? That's some serious fear there.

I know I have the ability to do good things for people, to use my life to improve maybe just the moods of others once in a while. For some reason the thought of it takes me out of a comfort zone that seems to be recognizable to myself only when thinking about leaving it.

I certainly never gave more than a passing thought to how I could physically leave the country to brighten somebody else's day in another state, certainly not another country.

The Far East? The Dark Continent? These are things that scare me for real and perhaps stereotypical reasons. Having visited 20 countries seems less impressive when all of those countries are flush with nearly the same amenities I enjoy in my day-to-day life. Sure there are cultural differences, but manageable ones.

I certainly have never gone so far out of my comfort zone as to contemplate creating an art project that might brighten somebody else's day. And I most definitely never thought about doing an art process that impacts an entire city. And no way did I plan on doing something so significant that it would be an international success changing how people live, if only for a day, around the world.

I never have. But my friend did.

His name is Yazmany.

The first time I met Yazmany I was 16 and he was dressed in a suit holding a giant Scooby Doo stuffed animal that was covered in pins from different states.

We were both campaigning for international positions in a high school service organization. I was from NY and he was From Florida. One could argue how we compared qualifications-wise, but I would say on the day that I met him I was intimidated, not something that usually happened when I met people nearly a foot shorter than me. But his charisma far surpassed my height. And that was intimidating to me.

We both ended up winning our election and served together and while we became close friends I was struck with this feeling of being simultaneously impressed and jealous of him at the same time. He was a gymnast, he could dance classically, he spoke multiple languages, he had lived in different countries, and he was an artist.

I was tall and loud and moderately funny. Sure there was more beneath the surface but I didn't really understand it yet so tall and loud and moderately funny were what was most obvious.

Watching Yazmany ballroom dance around a hotel suite with a friend of ours I whispered to my friend that it was incredible how many things Yazmany knew how to do.

My friend just nodded along and said something that rang like a clock tower bell in my head:

Yea man, I'm just glad he's my friend.

One sentence and any jealousy I had melted into gratitude.

We became close. He influenced my life in significant ways, he propped me up, and he gave me courage.

And then we graduated and lost touch for several years before reconnecting as "adults" living in New York City.

At the time we reconnected his candle was burning brighter than ever, an architect with a respected firm, an Artist with a capital A. He defied description and was always moving. He was more kinetic than ever. 

He took bold moves. He made bigger art. He left his job. He took small risks followed by what seemed like his biggest one.

He created a project called Monday Mornings whereby he would visit a city somewhere around the world, and spend an entire morning with hundreds of volunteers, handing out bright, monochromatic biodegradable balloons to people on their way to work that day with only one condition.

That they keep it until they got to work.

It transformed cities, landscapes. It reinvented a morning commute. It excited people. It infused monotony with spontaneity. With smiles. With giggles.

He did it in Japan, in Kenya, and mere weeks from now he will do it again in a place that seems unfathomable.

Kabul, Afghanistan.

A place that most people barely know enough to speak about Yazmany is visiting to spread love through bright pink balloons to people who have never experienced anything like it.

But there is a catch.

It is no longer just Yazmany's project. It is everybody's.

How?

Because what goes on beneath the surface far exceeds the already superfluous amount than meets the eye, he has a greater goal in mind.

He wants to connect all of us to the project, to allow everybody to brighten somebody’s day. And to make it so easy that literally every single person can help.

The goal is to bring 10,000 pink balloons to Kabul by having 10,000 people contribute 1 dollar to make it happen.

Not a minimum of 1 dollar. A maximum. Every person will help change one life for at least one day. 

Have you ever been able to actually directly change someone’s day around the world for a dollar? Have you ever tried? Have you even considered it?

Today is your day. Join me and become part of a movement.

https://webelieveinballoons.com/

One dollar.

One balloon.

Ten thousand ways to make a difference.

Click below to watch the video.

Bend But Not Break

I live on the top floor of a 7-story building. There’s a tree outside my window that reaches higher than the roof of my building. It’s not a particularly thick tree. About halfway up the trunk it splits into two main parts, one much skinnier than the other.

I’ve been thinking about this tree a lot lately as we’ve had some pretty windy days in New York over the last couple of months. From super storms to snow storms, winds in the city have gotten up to 40 and 50 miles an hour, something we’re not used to seeing.

And when the wind blows, the tree outside my window sways something fierce. The main parts of the tree will move several feet back and forth. If they were just naked branches blowing in the wind it wouldn’t hold my attention as much, but these are large substantial pieces of tree that could easily do some damage if they ever broke off and fell.

Winter makes it seems even more exaggerated as the snow and ice on the branches add unknown weight, changing branches that used to point up into ones that are bent to point down, and turning the whole tree into a rocking, shifting, groaning beast of danger.

During the day time it can be scary hearing the wind pick up and then seeing the tree lean, almost impossibly to one side, before eventually returning to it’s normal pose.

At night time it can be terrifying as the sound of the wind is the same but I can’t really see what the tree looks like, just hear its many branches scraping and clawing against the side of my brick building, creating new and unfamiliar sounds.

It makes it hard to fall asleep, lying there wondering as the wind picks up if this gust is going to be strong enough to do some damage, if the next surge will be followed by a mythical crack that will snap a part of the tree off and send it careening off the sides of apartment buildings and down to the alley below.

It’s hard not to become entirely focused on it.

But in all the time that I’ve lived here, through every major storm be it wind or rain or snow, the whole time, the tree has remained standing with more branches on it than underneath it.

And every time the wind blows and I watch the tree waiting for that scary sound, in my head, over and over, I hear the same phrase:

Bend but not break.

I’m not sure where it came from, or when it first appeared, but it’s there, deep within my head and my heart, like a beat that you don’t even notice but can’t help but tap your foot too. It plays itself over and over, on repeat. Like a mantra or a warning, or perhaps a simple reminder. Something that exists to counterbalance the force of the wind. Perhaps something given to me by the universe. Or maybe just something I made up and blamed the universe for.

And just like everything else in my life, when I spend enough time thinking about one thing, spend enough time studying it or just staring at it, I can come up with an unlimited amount of seemingly unrelated metaphors that I feel compelled to share with the world.

In addition to spending large chunks of my time staring at affected trees, I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about childhood and it’s role in who we become as adults.

I think about my childhood a lot, maybe because I had such a positive wonderful one. And I think about adulthood because it’s something that I’m always walking deeper into. Perhaps walking isn’t the right word. Moving. Like one of those people movers in the airport that carry you forward even if you do nothing, but move you forward at a tremendous pace if you even walk at even a gentle clip.

Even though I think about both of those things a lot, childhood and adulthood, it is only recently that I have started thinking about childhood’s role in who we become as adults. It has come to my attention, and perhaps only because I’m looking for examples to support this thought, that so many of the things we do, look for, strive for as adults, are as a result of what we did, felt, or experienced as children.

It seems like we are always either trying to prove something to others, or perhaps more frequently, prove something to ourselves.

I’m not entirely sure how my childhood factors into the adult I am becoming. I understand the good things I do, but not always the mistakes. The path that I am currently jogging down seems to be something I might have been leaning towards all along but just didn’t know where it led.  If I’m being honest, I still don’t know where it leads, but years of trying and experiencing new things has given me at least a somewhat functional compass that leads me to new and interesting lands.

No matter what I experience though, and what new skills I learn, what knowledge I continue to be bombarded with on an almost non-stop basis, I keep coming back to the idea that somewhere deep inside me, because of my childhood or something I don’t yet understand, I will know the right choices to make by gut, by instinct, and by something deep within the fabric of myself.

And that no matter how hard the wind blows, how much snow and ice exists on the branches, that if a tree is meant to grow and stand tall it will continue to do so, shedding the parts that are no longer necessary. It will continue to occupy the same space, perhaps slightly altered, or visually different in some ways or others, but also perhaps stronger.

Bent, but not broken.

Laundry Woes

So here's a confession.

I'm 29 years old and I barely have any clue how to do laundry.

Granted this doesn't stop me from actually doing laundry because I know the basics. I can separate the whites from the coloreds from the darks. I know to take my jeans out of the dryer before they shrink. Etc.

Anything beyond the most basic of laundry functions however, is lost on me.

Specifically it's the wash cycles I don't understand. When it comes to washing my clothes I never use the delicate cycle because I don't have anything I would qualify as delicate. If I did, I wouldn't wear it. The only thing I would wash in the delicate cycle is maybe... wine glasses.

I understand that women have clothes that are made of silk and lace and other such fabrics. For them, a gentle cycle probably makes sense. And that's why I propose we rename the delicate cycle as "Lady Stuff."

This way we will stop confusing men who try to do laundry, ultimately preventing millions of couples every year from fighting and moving one step closer to my ultimate dream washing machine that has only one button that says "WASH THESE CLOTHES."

I know there are other wash cycles that exist but the fact that I can't remember what their called speaks to how little I really pay attention to them.

The laundry wash cycles are practically idiot proof when you consider how my clothes demand they be treated.

I find it both presumptuous and rude that every single garment, towel, sheet, and thing I wear has a little tag on it that tells me how that specific thing should be washed. Every single piece of fabric has a tiny two page guide printed in microscopic font explaining the particular needs, hopes, desires and dreams of this cotton thing.

Here's a question for you, manufacturers of clothes...

Are you out of your damn mind?

Do you think I'm going to look at the label of 49 different things before I put them in the washing machine? I didn't read the handbook for my first car and that was a 2,000-pound pile of metal that could burst into flames or massacre somebody at any point in time. You think I'm going to read the tiny print on the inside of my corduroys?

Yea, right.

I'm sure all of my clothes would look better if I followed those instruction to a t, just like I'm sure all my clothes would look better if they were ironed by individuals gnomes assigned to each specific article. But neither of those things is going to happen.

The bureaucratic mess that is the dryer industry doesn't make it any easier by creating cycles that are completely incomprehensible using rational human thought.

Case and point? Permanent Press.

Oh ok. What the hell does this mean? The only thing I know about permanent press is that the laundry machine in my building has a sign on the machine telling people not to use permanent press. Are we not qualified? Do we not have the appropriate training?

If this is a permanent function I should only need to use it once right? And what is being pressed? You are spinning my fabrics around in a hot circle for 45 minutes. At one point does the pressing happen? 

You know what I think?

I think the dryer industry is just lying to us.

This might sound redundant but how about a dryer that comes with one button that says "DRY THESE CLOTHES."

And I know I am not the first or the last to bring this up but can we just for a minute talk about the whole missing sock thing?

WHAT THE HELL? WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN?

It's not like I keep my dirty laundry on the fire escape and some of it blows away every once in a while. I live in a two-room apartment. If I lose ANYTHING it is either in one room, or the other. If I lose a chap stick or a scarf or anything like that, it's entirely possible I could have lost it at any point throughout the day. Those things I put on and take off multiple times in different locations.

But I don't take off my socks when I go into a coffee shop. I don't shove one sock in my pocket when I need to make a phone call. My socks stay on throughout the entire day and only come off when I am actually inside of my apartment.

The only time I think it's acceptable to lose only one sock is when I go to the beach and for whatever reason, that just never happens to me. I always come home with two socks and enough sand to burry a pyramid.

But somehow, in the process of going from my room to the laundry room and back, I end up in some serious sock debt.

So you'll understand that as of last year I no longer wear matching socks. And it's for two reasons. First, I started running out of matching socks. And second, I just got sick of folding socks. It just was no longer worth my time. All those minutes I spent folding socks I could have spent doing something I actually gave a crap about.

I no longer need to care about where the other sock went because now every sock I own is the other sock.

And I've given up trying to figure out what permanent press does.

Maybe it tracks down lost socks.

Couched Ambitions

The magical time was 3:30 pm. That was what time my elementary school got out on every day except Thursday, when we were dismissed at 2:30. I never figured out what we had one day of the week that we got out early but I also never really cared. It broke up the monotony… before I knew what monotony was.

My sister, who is three years older, and I went to a very suburban cozy elementary school a short walk from our house. We didn't have to cross any major roads, no stoplights to deal with. In fact if you did it right you could get there by only crossing one street.

From the time my mom went back to work when I was about 7, pretty much until I was about 12, my routine was very much the same.

I would run out of the school like I had been trapped in there for a year, and flee the school premises to hurry back to my house to do the same very important work I did every single day:

Sit on the couch and watch cartoons until my parents came home.

It was the first period of true independence in my life. My parents judged that my 10-year-old sister and I were old enough to survive on our own between the hours of 3:30 pm (2:30 on Thursdays) and 5:30 pm when my mom would get home from work.

We weren’t allowed to have friends over, or to go wandering around the neighborhood. The rules were actually quite clear. We would come straight home, let ourselves in the side door with our key, and then call mom at work to let her know we were at home.

And if we forgot our key that day, there was usually one in the shed. And if somebody had forgotten to replace that, our neighbors always had one.

So once we had made our way home and actually made our way into the house, we had the place to ourselves for two (three on Thursdays) whole hours!

It was like we had been given the keys to the castle. We didn’t have to start our homework. Nobody could tell us to stop lying on the kitchen floor or stop eating the margarine straight out of the container. 

Freedom doesn't necessarily breed creativity. I found myself extremely focused on only ever wanting to do one single thing. Which is why every single day that we came home, we would change out of our school clothes into our "after school clothes" and plop down on the couch in the living room and watch 30-minute cartoon shows until mom came home.

At which point we would hear the key in the door, shut the TV off and run into another part of the house to pretend like we were doing something productive with our lives.

I don't think either parent ever believed that.

But it was hard not to revel in our own personal TV watching time. Having complete control of the remote (which was a new invention when I was 7 year old) and choice of television shows, was a power we didn’t get to experience we didn't typically get when our parents were home.

So the routine was the same every single day. Our two favorite shows were Tiny Toons and Anamaniacs.

Tiny Toons took the traditional Warner Brothers cartoons like Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny and created similar, smaller, younger versions of them. Making the story lines slightly younger and topical, but with the same amount of semi-adult pop culture references.

Anamanics took what Tiny Toons did and exploded it to a whole other level. The amount of obscure historical pop culture reference and pure unadulterated irreverence is something that still blows my mind.

I still maintain, to the very day, that a large chunk of my pop-culture knowledge comes from those shows. My ability to reference everything from Shirley McClain to Lake Titicaca served me surprisingly well throughout my young life.

High School clubs and sports arrived around the same time I was starting to outgrow some of my favorite cartoons. I began staying later at school for meetings and rehearsals and practices. My parents got home before me as often I did before them.

So it was no wonder that by the time I got to college in Arizona the same habits started to find me. Except the temperature outside was about 40 degrees hotter than I was used to, and cartoons were replaced with free dorm cable, something I had never experienced before.

I would come home from class and change into my "after class clothes." This was just me stripping off my sweaty clothes down to my boxers and laying on my bed to watch MTV and Family Guy.

The feeling of freedom had returned. Sure I had homework but I could do it whenever. Mom and Dad weren't coming home so I could make time for my responsibilities whenever.

I look back now and wonder how much time I actually spent lying on my bed watching crap TV. If I had to guess, I would say way too much.

For a handful of years now I have successfully avoided watching much TV outside of sports. This came as a result of again not having cable along with the realization that when I watch TV, I just don't do anything else.

All of the time I have spent watching cartoons came back to mind this weekend, when after running around buying groceries and prepping for a Super Bowl party, I plopped down on the couch to zone out with some TV.

And then Anamaniacs came on, and it all came rushing back to me. The feelings of freedom after school, the realization that I had hours before mom came home, the desire to put my hand in to our big green dinosaur cookie jar to see what was waiting to be consumed.

All of it just making me realize that if the cartoons are good enough, you are feeling lazy enough, and your parents aren’t coming home any time soon… there's no limit to how much time you can spend on the couch.

The Wrist

Around March of last year I started having some issues with my wrist.

People always tell you that your body changes as you get older, certain things no longer work as well, and you don’t recover as quickly. But nobody told me things would just… start hurting.

And that’s what happened with my wrist. It was my right wrist, my primary hand. I hadn’t injured it in some obvious way, or bruised it. Just one morning, it started hurting.

I was confused but figured it would just go away on it’s own. It was a little bit extra frustrating because it was impeding my ability to do Yoga, which I was positive, was the only thing keeping my body from slipping into complete and total uselessness.

Playing softball once a week seemed to do more harm than good. I couldn’t stand gym memberships anymore. But yoga really felt like it was going to be my focus for a long while.

Until my wrist started hurting.

I thought maybe I had slept on it wrong and maybe that caused it. After more time it didn’t go away and a rather obvious swelling appeared. I thought that maybe I was regularly sleeping on it wrong.

I figured the only way to fix it was just to let it get better on it’s own.

I’m not scared of going to the doctor but I am scared of going to the doctor for what seems like paranoid reasons so that he either A. Looks down on me or B. Starts to think I’m paranoid and refuses to take my serious.

However I’m starting to think that a fear of paranoia is kind of a self-defined term.

I stopped doing yoga and tried to wish my wrist better. A couple of weeks turned into a couple of months, and then a half a year. And then before I knew it, it was 2013 and I was sick of the swelling that refused to go down.

So I finally took to WebMD to see if I could self diagnose.

The thing about WebMD is they never put subtle pictures up for self-diagnosing. They are always the most extreme, severe, borderline gag worthy photos that not only make you cringe at the picture on the screen, but also function to help you start hating yourself as well.

I thought I had figured out what it was and made a doctor’s appointment to confirm.

My doctor confirmed my suspicions and told me that I in fact had a cyst on my wrist.

Leave it to me to get the only ailment that rhymes.

He does an examination and moves my wrist this way and that, turning it, shaking his hand firmly, twisting it, etc.

He seems confident and tells me I have a “ganglion cyst” which doesn’t sound like a physical ailment as it does some sort of interstellar constellation.

And then he says to me what is perhaps my favorite doctor phrase in the entire world.

Yea, it’s a cyst but it shouldn’t hurt.

I KNOW IT SHOULDN’T HURT! That is why I am here! Do you think anybody walks into this doctor’s office complaining of not enough pain in their lives?

Hey doc this shoulder keeps functioning normally… can we do something about that?

It shouldn’t hurt. Like I am the one doing something wrong here. If it shouldn’t hurt, but it does, can we please figure this out?

When he says things like that he makes me feel like a 4th grader trying to get out of a math test by getting a pass from the nurse.

Trust me. I did not schlep across town in the middle of the day to pay you 15 bucks to sit in a waiting room full of coughing, sniffling zombies just so you could verify my pain. I know it hurts. It shouldn’t but it does. Can we please DO something about it?

He tells me to go see a wrist specialist and he would recommend a simple procedure that would be a quick fix. I am frustrated, optimistic, and skeptical all at the same time.

On my way out of the doctor’s office I immediately look up ganglion cyst on Wikipedia to see exactly what it is I am dealing with.

And here is what I read:

A ganglion cyst is also known as a Bible cyst, is a swelling that often appears on or around joints and tendons in the hand or foot. The term “Bible Cyst” is derived from a common treatment in the past that consisted of hitting the cyst with a Bible or similarly large book.

ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME?

Of course! OF COURSE I get the only ailment whose renaissance cure was being smacked with a gigantic biblical text.

I cannot wrap my brain around the desperation of people in pre-doctor time with a bump on their wrist going to the local medical professional only to hear that they were going to have to hold their arm out from their body, and bend their wrist so that somebody could swing and a 2 pound book at them as hard as they can.

That’s a hell of a remedy for something that “shouldn’t hurt.”

Luckily the wrist specialist I went to gave me slightly more advanced options, which included:

Do nothing and hope.

Minor surgery with rehab.

Using a needle to drain the cyst.

That last one still makes my face scrunch up.

All of the options he gave me allowed for between a 33 percent and 50 percent success rate. Not amazing numbers but all much better than previous researched holy remedies.

I opted for option 3.

To have a doctor drain something from you is definitely some sort of right of passage that you have crossed over into adulthood. There is no more being a kid once something has been drained from you.

I actually turned away from him as he did it. I didn’t feel like watching him insert the 4-inch needle into me, nor did I want to see what he extracted.

I also didn’t watch him put the next needle into my wrist with the “medicine that should prevent this from happening again.”

Alas, another should. I suppose we all have to deal with a relative amount of uncertainty within the medical profession. We shouldn’t expect doctors to be able to fix everything, even small things like rhyming wrist cyst.

We also shouldn’t wait 10 months before doing something about it, especially if you have your own bible.

The Fall From Grace

I cried when Mark McGwire broke the home run record.

I was in my basement watching it on the downstairs TV with the lights out. Every game that Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire played in was televised nationally as Major League Baseball and the rest of the country anticipated one of the greatest accomplishments in sports history.

As McGwire took the swing that broke the record I stood up. As bat hit ball I thrust my arms into the air, pushing the foam ceiling tiles inside of reach, slightly out of place.

And I felt this surge as I watched one man break one of the most sacred records of all time with one of the most fantastic feats that sports had to offer.

I had never been as excited to watch somebody accomplish something in sports that didn't play for the home team. What happened that day was for sports, for all sports fans, regardless of the team you played for. It was superhuman and amazing and the kind of thing that teenage boy lived for.

And as luck would have it, that moment would serve as a high point in what would be come a downhill relationship had with professional sports.

My love of sports hadn't been without controversy up until that point. I had made it through my first baseball strike relatively unscathed. I didn't really understand what was going on, but I knew that I loved baseball so much that when it returned I wrapped my arms around it.

From fourth grade until I graduated high school, I started off every morning the same way. Taking the paper over to the kitchen counter, flipping it over to the back, and reading the sports section while inhaling 5 or 6 bowls of cereal.

I got to follow my heroes, the sports stories, the teams I hated, catch up on everything that was relevant from the day before, all within 15 minutes before going off to do what I had to do.

The great home run chase of McGwire and Sosa was soon overshadowed by the dark cloud of steroid accusations, something that had existed at the time, but that I never wanted to believe. And that cloud was further overshadowed by the ridiculous and impractical pursuit of Barry Bonds.

And slowly but surely my relationship with sports changed. I hadn't been foolhardy enough to believe that there were no cheaters in sports. I knew the games professional athletes played included cheats, liars, and unseasonable characters.

But around the time I left high school it seemed that all of these individuals, the unsavory types, the liars, were the ones who were rising to the top of an un-homogenized sports industry.

It became almost routine. Some athlete comes out of nowhere to have an incredible season, break a record, or come back from injury to unite a nation in the great sports story of the year.

Until years later when we see that same unifying story, sitting in a suit in a courtroom facing accusations of doping, cheating, and every other name we would come for what was essentially the same thing.

There was a time in my life where I looked hard for new sports jerseys to buy. I wanted to wear the shirt of the next great athlete to come to New York. I wanted to be on board supporting and identifying with a new hero.

But year after year, every athlete who seemed to be worth supporting fell from grace.

I wasn't looking for perfection, I didn't need somebody to arrive who was flawless but I was looking for great. And it seemed that athletes in their pursuance of what they thought was perfection, fell from great heights to levels way below average. Places littered with asterisks and annotations entire sections on their Wikipedia page.

By the time I moved out of my house and out on my own I had stopped getting a daily paper to read. I could still get all of the same information on the Internet but it wasn't the same. The Internet is a raucous thoroughfare filled with an infinite amount of entrances and exits competing for your attention, begging for your distraction.

Reading sports websites while possibly more informative turned out to be less so because it was never just me and the website. But that wasn't the only reason.

I had read the sports pages, because it was infinitely inspirational. It almost always seemed positive. There was always potential in loss. Compared to the front section of the paper, which almost always led with trauma or tragedy or controversy. Reading the sports pages in my youth made it easy to be an optimist. Even if we couldn't win this season there was always the next. A cycle of perpetual hope.

To be honest, I'm not really sure if sports have changed or I have. I imagine it's a little bit of both. The bliss of youthful ignorance blankets so many corners of one's life like a blizzard. And as I have aged, and that snow has thawed I am both more aware and more disheartened.

As the tallest tale of any evil actor in sports reached unparalleled heights last week I was reminded once again of how much I want to believe the stories. How I want to cry when the record is broken, and thrust my hands through the soft ceiling tiles, which seem to represent the never truly solid ceiling of accomplishment.

And I was reminded once again how heartbreaking it is to watch what you thought was pure, poisoned in reverse. That disappointment is also coupled with an alternating cycle of anger and ambivalence, both serving to protect and encourage optimism for the tale of sports that I wish desperately try to cling to.

The only sports jerseys worth buying these days seem to be the ones of the players who not only no longer take the field, but have long since retired. The ones whose reputation is already in place, whose performance we can no longer cheer for, only their already completed career, their accomplishments set in stone years and years ago.