Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Death in the Woods

As we plowed down the unpaved road in a pickup truck that we would soon found out did not have 4 wheel drive I had an interesting thought:

This might not be a good idea.

Shortly thereafter my phone rang. It was my buddy in the Hyundai ahead of us.

Turn back. Don't come any further we are stuck in the mud.

Naturally by the time he had finished his sentence we were directly behind his Hyundai and stuck in snow mixed with mud which had made a wonderful slush that trapped us too.

My then girlfriend gunned the engine of her parents Toyota pickup truck we were driving, trying to get us into reverse and out of the woods. I turned to her and said:

I thought you said this was four wheel drive?

She turned to me and shrugged.

I thought it was.

Ohhhh. Suddenly it became clear.

We were going to die in the woods.

I had thought of the many ways I might die in my life. But stranded in a snow covered wood from starvation really had never entered my mind. I'm not one for camping, or hiking, or just hanging out in the woods. So not only was I surprised that I was going to die in the woods, but that we had ended up in the woods in the first place.

That wasn't the plan. The plan was to go skiing. And in 2005 when you needed to get someplace you had never been before, you went on MapQuest. And whatever MapQuest said to do... we did. It had never gotten me lost before. I had always arrived safely at my destination.

Then again MapQuest had never invented an imaginary road that cut across a mountain to a ski resort.

So there we are, 4 of us, 2 couples with a Hyundai and a Toyota stuck in the slush trying to get a pick up truck out of the slush with a board and our wits.

Needless to say this didn't work.

So instead we started debating what to do. Who should we call? The police? What would we even say?

Hi 911? Yes we are lost in the woods. No I don't know where, we are lost. Actually if you try and get directions to go skiing via MapQuest that should get you to where we are right now.

We didn't have any friends in the area, and the only friends we did have were 3 hours away back in Phoenix. We were lost deep in thought when we saw a Honda barreling down the dirt road towards us. Immediately we start screaming.

TURN BACK! STOP! DON'T COME ANY FURTHER!

Before it makes it all the way to us the Honda stops and two girls wearing flip flops step out of the car. Part of me wonders if we should have let them keep going at this point. Immediately it is obvious that these two girls are also going skiing via MapQuest directions. We explain the situation to them and right away the driver gets all pissy with us... like we're trying to prevent them from going skiing.

Yea that's it, we know the skiing is really good so we basically parked our cars in the snow on a dirt road in the middle of the woods MILES AWAY FROM THE SKI SLOPES so nobody could get to the good snow which we are hoarding.

A-holes.

The a-holes get back in their Honda (which is smaller than both of our cars) and manage to back out of the woods to safety and civilization and all that crap, whereas the four of us are left with a greater issue. It is cold. We have no plan to get out. And some of us have to go to the bathroom.

As we are all aware, there are two kinds of having to go to the bathroom. The kind you wouldn't mind doing in the woods, and the kind you never want to have to do in the woods.

Naturally you can probably imagine the situation we were faced with here.

Even though you are in the middle of the woods, miles from people, part of you still thinks...

I wish I had a door right now.

But enough about that. After walking in circles we eventually decided we had to walk back the way we came. So we locked our cars (who knows) and started trekking out of the woods. We had been walking for about 15 minutes when I saw a giant black bear running towards us.

As it turns out it was just a large dog. But when you think you're going to die in the woods your mind is ready to accept crazy things.

But now I was worried I was going to eaten by a rabid woods dog. Until I saw a man following it. At which point I was ready to be confronted by an axe. I really didn't know what to expect.

As it turns out the man was the nicest man I'd ever met in the woods (read: only). We told him our story and he said just the weekend before he had met more people in the woods who had been kindly guided there by MapQuest and it's "invent a road" software. He volunteered to drive to Wal-Mart, buy a tow strap, and then come back into the woods and tow us out!

We were all in disbelief. How could a person be so nice? That's amazing! Please do!

As he drove us one of my friends turned to the rest of us and said "Is this a good idea?"

We suddenly realized that this guy knew we were stranded in the woods and maybe he was going back to get his weapons or people chopper or axe wielding friends. But we realized we didn't really have a choice.

And believe it or not he came back, axe-less and with a tow strap, and pulled us out of the woods.

I don't remember his name, and we never heard from him again but I never used MapQuest again.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sliding Slowly Down the Mountain


How do you feel?

This is the question everybody keeps asking me.

After nearly 6 months of working to bring a play from idea to implementation, after beating a script into submission, hunting for theaters, soliciting actors, rehearsing to ungodly hours, doubting every facet of my life, and more restless sleep than I care to remember… I’m not sure how I feel.

I know I am incredibly proud of the show, I felt warmed, and purged, and impressed, and wowed and fulfilled, but this past week has almost felt like a hangover.

I know I don't feel numb, it's actually quite the opposite, I think I feel everything. Kind of like being underwater, where every sense on your body feels something, like you’re enveloped.

I do know I feel tired. I haven't felt this tired in years, since I was 21 and running homecoming for my school. A week of events had left me so drained that I fell asleep sitting up at the lunch table on the last day. The mayor was sitting across from me, kicked me under the table and said

Hey, go home and go to bed.

This feels kind of like that.

How does one even begin to contextualize something like this? How can I make others understand when I myself have barely managed to wrap my brain around it. I think about every moment of the process every hour of every day. I quote the play in my head. I replay conversations I had with my actors. I relive the feedback I heard from the attendees. It is like the entire experience is on loop in my head and I kind of can’t stop it long enough to realize:

A: It’s over.
B: What that means?

People also keep asking me what’s next. And while I know, I’ve known for months what my next project would be… I’m not ready to look at it yet.

It’s kind of like finishing a really amazing dinner. A meal that was slow cooked that you took your time to savor than lives on your tongue long after your plate is cleared. And the natural instinct is to start the next course, or dessert, but I’m not ready for the sensation on my tongue to dissipate yet.

This project took so much out of me in the best way possible. I honestly believe by the time Saturday night came, and my actors took their last bow… I had nearly nothing left to give.

Every night of the show I watched from the back of the theater, trying to gage the audiences reactions by their faces, trying to anticipate how it was making them feel. My head swiveled back and forth from my incredible actors to the audience. Back and forth, back and forth.

But on the last night I had a hard time watching the show. It had nothing to do with the fact that I knew exactly how it would go, or that I had seen it dozens and dozens of times. Something about the fact that this was the last time it was going to happen made it almost unbearable to watch.

Logic says to me that it should have been the opposite, that I should have been glued to their performance, but for some reason, not knowing if I would ever see it staged again almost… hurt.

And so these last 7 days I too have almost hurt. I feel slow, purged but at the same time sluggish, laden with all of the emotions I struggled with over the last 6 months… over the last year.

I have had crazy dreams every single night. Wild dreams with diverse casts of characters in far off places, a result no doubt of having repressed my creativity for anything except this very project.

My emotions have been so close to the surface. The first two shows I did I felt this overwhelming storm of tears brewing within me, and sure enough sometime after the show ended, those tears came in force, no doubt aided by alcohol.

This time was different. Seemingly little things bring tears. A story from my actor telling me what she appreciated about the show. Questions from friends about how this affected me. And as always, self realizations about who I am or am not.

All of this has made it feel like I am walking through sand the last week. Not getting anywhere quickly, incredibly aware of how much energy it takes.

And this might not make sense, but the way I feel, the way I have been this past week has almost felt… earned. Like I deserved it. In some sick way, this exhaustion is almost exactly what I didn’t even know I wanted to feel.

One of my good friends who came to the show and I were talking last week about the important attributes artists need to have to be successful. I mentioned vision. We went back and forth a little bit about it but as I sit here now and write this, I realize how important it has been for me.

The ability to see where I want to go, to trust that I have the ability to take myself there, that I can will myself into something more than I was when I woke up this morning, that such a thing or place exists, to me that has become more important than ever before.

So I turn my eyes to the future, to unknown lands, and to the next mountain I look forward to sliding slowly down.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Phantom Vibrations


I noticed it for the first time when I went to South America a couple of years ago. After 3 flights and nearly 24 hours of travel I had arrived in Santiago, Chile without my luggage. To kill time I took a walk around the city to start my day.

I was soaking up the sights and sounds when I felt my phone vibrate. I reached my hand into my pocket and… nothing. My phone hadn't vibrated because there was no phone. My phone didn't work internationally and there was no reason to have it with me so it was turned off and buried in the bottom of my backpack where it would remain until I returned to the states.

So if my phone wasn't in my pocket why did I feel this phantom ring?

It happened to me several more times that trip and it was weird, kind of spooky. Like I had a haunted thigh.

I was in South America for over two weeks and by the time I left the phantom vibrations had tapered off. I had very much realized that there was no phone in my pocket and the only vibrations were in my brain. But since that trip phantom vibrations happen to me regularly.

Part of it makes sense because I rarely have my phone on anything but vibrate. I used to have specialized ringtones for all of my friends but stopped doing that when I realized how much effort it was.

It's not saying that I don't love my friends and think they are all deserving of individual recognition... it's just that they are all equal in my eyes.

Ahem, moving on.

But what started as a coincidental observation in South America has turned into something more. I check my phone way too often. Sometimes it does vibrate but I don't feel it. I use this as a reason to justifying checking my phone every other minute. Perhaps it is not hyperbole to call it an addiction. What else do I do 20 or 30 or… 50 times a day?

It's the only activity that's normal to do that frequently. If I wanted to know if it was raining, I might check online, or look out the window. But if walked over to the window 30 times a day to see if it was raining, people would think I was a mental patient.

If my phone were a person, our conversations would go like this.

Hey do I have an email?
No.
Hey do I have a text?
No.
Hey did somebody tweet at me?
No.
What about an email?
No.
Are you sure?
Yes.
And still no texts?
No.
Do you want to check if I have any emails?
::punch::

Yes from time to time I do get some important emails. Perhaps my bank balance is low, or somebody needs a last minute favor, or a friend is unexpectedly in town, but on the whole as embarrassing as it is to say… my life isn't that important.

There aren't teams of people running around asking each other

What would Rich Boehmcke do? What does he think? We should email him immediately and find out.

And now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I don't want teams of people wondering that.

Sometimes I will pull my phone out of my pocket and if the little green light in the upper right hand corner isn't blinking I will just put it back in my pocket. And in my head I will congratulate myself for resting the temptation to turn on the screen just to make sure.

Like this is some kind of great life accomplishment.

I pretty much did the same thing when I was down at my parents house this weekend. They live in a quiet part of South Carolina and going down there is absolutely relaxing. Their development is super quiet, nobody has anything to do, I just sit on the porch and chill.

I take this as an opportunity to not carry my phone around all the time. An added bonus of this is I no longer have a super hot nuclear generator toxic electro wave distribution power plant pressed up against my leg for much of the day. I am absolutely terrified of the as yet unknown effects of carrying a cell phone around all day so the chance to have it not pressed up against my flesh 2/3 of the day is a welcome relief.

But even when I take my phone out of my pocket and leave it in my room, throughout the day I will still walk past my phone and glance at it.

WHAT AM I EXPECTING TO SEE?

Even when I do have an email, 999 out of 1,000 times it is some unenlightening mailing list I subscribe to, or a bank update, or something else I don't even care about. But somehow that little frigging green light makes me feel validated. Like every time it blinks it says:

Richyouarespecial Richyouarespecial Richyouareloved

When I was in South America, or any of the other times I've left the country, I have had no problem leaving my phone in my luggage until I get back home. Because I WANT to unplug. I like stepping away from technology and connection. I like being off the grid for a while. I like taking the time to soak up things like conversations and scenery and ya know… life.

And when there is no chance of being contacted, I don't worry about what might being going on elsewhere. I went to Fiji earlier this year and not only did I not care about email or Facebook or texts, but I also couldn't stay awake for the entire day and I fell asleep every night by 10.

But for some reason, if there is even a remote possibility that somebody might potentially have a fraction of a reason to get in touch with me… man it is all I can do to avoid checking my phone every 90 seconds like I am about to get a text from Jesus.

What I really need to do is realize that if there IS actually something important about to happen, I can always just take out my phone and hold it in my hand, crank up the volume and wait for said event to occur.

But again, the chance of that happening is pretty slim. Considering there are no Victoria's Secret Models, Hollywood Producers, or Renaissance patrons of the arts who have my phone number.

So if there is a chance, a slim, fractional, remote chance that somebody… anybody, wonders what would Rich Boehmcke do?

Well, I'll answer them now. He'd probably just check his email.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Reason # 1 Why I'll Never Be Cooler Than You

My feet are slanty.

I didn’t know this until the 4th grade. I always just assumed I had normal feet. In fact that’s pretty much how it goes for most of us isn’t it? We think everything fine until somebody else tells us it isn’t.

I had never really had any significant pains in my body before. Up until that point the worst thing to happen to me had been a fractured finger in the summer before the third grade.

Technically it was my sister’s fault. You see we were in the Poconos sitting upstairs on the fold out futons and watching Police Academy (it’s amazing what you remember) and she said something to anger little Richard.

So instead of hashing it out with words I ran at her with my arms extended like I was an athletic Frankenstein. All she had to do was put her foot out and then my perfectly straight ring finger turned into a janky swollen mess.

My mother splinted it up with the top of a band aid box. She was less than thrilled with my conflict resolution abilities.

It wasn’t too difficult to live with and it didn’t really affect my life much except it did delay the development of my cursive handwriting.

In fact I’ll just go ahead and blame my poor handwriting today on that.

But aside from that I had never had any major pain in my body. But then I started playing CYO basketball. And it wasn’t long after I started that I would feel this excruciating pain up and down my legs hours after I got home from practice.

My parents were baffled they didn’t know what to do. They would give me Tylenol and tell me to lay down on my bed. There I would lay while the numbing pain in my legs would just continue to throb.

This happened a few times before my mom finally took me to the foot doctor. I didn’t even know there was a foot specific doctor.  Imagine my surprise when my mother brought me to a house in the neighborhood next to ours.

Wait, so this “foot doctor” can just work out of his house? We’re sure he’s legit?

We didn’t go in his front door but a door next to the garage that led into his office. Immediately I was confronted with a smell of must and stagnation. It smelled liked what I might have imagined the 70s smelled like.

The d├ęcor was that of a turn of the century explorer. Animal heads and African art displayed amongst the 24 different kinds of brown that adorned the office.

The doctor himself was a nice man, nearly a relic himself with big soft hands that he used to gingerly touch my extremely ticklish feet.

The examination room was unlike any doctor’s office I had ever been. I distinctly remembering thinking there were many tools I had never seen and certainly did not understand.

But luckily I didn’t need to. The good doctor said my feet slanted in and I would need orthotics. He took molds of my feet and a couple weeks later I had new blue plastic inserts red padding and a blue leather cover that was glued to the top.

My instructions were to wear them in every pair of shoes I wore.

Forever.

That was one of my first inclinings that I was never going to be cool. I had never heard any of my cool friends talk about having orthotics. I had never heard ANYbody talk about orthotics.

As far as I knew I was the only person on the planet who had to wear orthotics.

I sought to alleviate my insecurities by sharing this latest development with some of my elementary school “friends.”

I explained in earnest that I now had these plastic inserts I had to wear in my shoes all the time because I was getting really bad leg pains due to the slanted in nature of my feet.

And do you know what my “friends” said in response?

RICH HAS RETARDED FEET!

Damn it.

I even remember the part of the hallway on the second floor just before the staircase we were walking past the first and last time I told anybody I wear orthotics.

I eventually grew used to them and became comfortable putting them in all of my shoes. They became second nature; I just switched them from shoe to shoe whenever I change shoes. I realize right away if I’ve accidentally put on shoes that don’t have them.

It also makes trying on shoes considerably more embarrassing. Like when the shoe clerk brings out a pair and instead of just putting them on, I pull out my orthotics and slide them into the shoes as the clerk looks on with complete bafflement.

It’s like I pulled my own salad dressing out of my pocket at a restaurant.

Trust me shoe clerk, this has nothing to do with you or your shoes. It’s my feet.

Most shoes don’t account for custom plastic inserts to be added later. So a lot of shoes I really like end up being way too uncomfortable to purchase.

And I suppose it’s for the best. Maybe it’s god’s way of telling me (Through my slanty feet) that I should focus on being comfortable instead of cool.

I’m 28 years old now and have been wearing my orthotics for 18 years without interruption. However my mother will still ask me from time to time:

Are you wearing your orthotics?

Trust me mom. Between the excruciating leg pain or the inability to purchase cool shoes, I’ll stick with my uncool shoes.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chasing the Familiar

I’ve been there 100 times in dozens of different locations. I’ve spent money, I’ve used gift cards, and I’ve ordered things I never quite understood. And while I might have had the sensation many times before… I don’t think I actually realized it until just recently: I find a kind strange familial comfort in Starbucks.

A couple of weeks ago when we were first starting rehearsals for my upcoming play, I had met my actors at a Starbucks to read through some lines for a couple of hours. It was early Sunday morning when I emerged from the subway in midtown east.

It was one of those delicious fall mornings in Manhattan when you want to walk for blocks and never stop. I was chewing on my love of the weather when I walked into the Starbucks and immediately I was transported back to college.

Even though Starbucks had become ubiquitous long before I left for college. During high school I had spent plenty of time shooting the shit with friends over hot chocolate when we just needed to get out of house.

I would grab my coat and keys to leave the house when my mom would say:

Where are you going?
Mike and I are going to grab some coffee at Starbucks
But you don’t drink coffee...
I know, it’s a saying. I'll have a hot chocolate.
Then why do you say…
Bye Mom!


We had the exact same conversation almost every time.

Sometimes we’d drive to a different Starbucks just because we could. It seems we spend the first half of our lives looking for something different, and the latter half looking for more of the same.

But for as much time as I spent in Starbucks in high school, the first inhalation I take when I walk through the door always puts me on the campus of Arizona State University.

When I got to college I got a meal plan. There were points you could use for dining in the cafeteria or flex dollars you could use pretty much anywhere on campus. Those flex dollars made you feel like a member at any of the places you used them. Like you were above cash or credit. One of the places I went regularly was Starbucks.

Starbucks was where I discovered you could get a peppermint shot to kick up your cocoa. It’s where I discovered chai. And it’s also where I discovered too much chai could make my eye twitch for a week.

It was this easy breezy beverage dispensary that was almost always completely different inside the doors than outside of them.

Outside the familiar green lady looked at you with seemingly open arms. Inside it was almost always a little warmer, (or in the blistering Arizona summers, a lot cooler) it smelled wonderful and the music was mellow with just enough pep to make your foot tap if you were prone to such inclinations.

I think about the college friends I chatted with while at Starbucks. I think about the girls I dated and sat for hours with. I think about killing time before and after class.

But when the weather turns cold Sarbucks almost always makes me think of the holidays.

Just as Macy’s puts up its Christmas trees in early October, and Rockefeller center has their ice skating rink up by Halloween, Starbucks cues up the season with decorated windows, holiday cups and limited time seasonal flavors just as the leaves start to hit the ground.

Pumpkin spice, gingerbread, hazelnut and peppermint are the four horsemen of the holiday season.

Maybe it is the fact that in the winter time I almost always end up there with a loved one, huddled together while swathed in multiple woolen layers clutching those paper cups trying desperately to get warm.

And I am pretty positive my hot chocolate intake would be a fraction of what it is today without Starbucks.

Starbucks is where I discovered new Christmas music by old artists, or old music covered by new artists. It is where I discovered my affinity for their exotic smells and renewed my affinity for whipped cream.

It’s the familiar dark wood and faux iron furniture. The occasional couch when you find one and it happens to be empty. The green straws. The recycled napkins. The sounds of steaming, spitting, machines doing god knows what.

I make fun of my parents for being in love with The Panera Bread Company, a cozy chain restaurant known for its soups and sandwiches. When they moved to South Carolina they bemoaned the loss of Panera bread the way most people remember a long lost friend.

And when a Panera finally opened down the road from them, they told me often how when I came down to visit we could go there. Strange thing, going down to South Carolina to go to a restaurant I had been to dozens of time in NY.

But upon closer inspection my affinity for Starbucks was really no different. The familiar layout, regular menu items, sounds, and smells were the same hooks that tied my parents to Panera.

I was traveling in Paris one summer while backpacking in college. I was walking with a friend who mentioned having to stop off at the "American Embassy."

Imagine my surprise when she ran into a McDonalds to use the bathroom. I suddenly understood the reference.

If McDonalds was her American embassy then perhaps Starbucks is my college embassy. It is a place that I will always enjoy going if only for the fact that it reminds me of a time when my psyche was clay, my eyes were wide and my story was very much unwritten.

And also for their whipped cream. That helps too.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Content is King


When I applied to speak at the 20 Something Blogger Summit in Chicago this summer I basically gave them a list of 239 things I could speak about in the hopes that they would select me. They ended up choosing me to speak about “The Future Will Be Vlogged.”

Seemed like a fancy title, but it wasn’t until I started thinking about it that I realized I had a lot to say about that. It wasn’t just because I had created content in the past, and made videos, and posted things on the Internet. No, it was because I was getting frustrated.

Everything I saw on the Internet was so negative and snarky. Or if wasn’t directly making fun of something it was parodying it. Now I definitely believe parody can be awesomely relevant, but it just seemed liked anything that was made was parodying something else and it seemed so derivative.

And video blogging? Forget it. It seemed like every video blog I had ever came across was some pimply tween whining about how they found a hole in their sock during math.

Who cares?

So how the hell was I going to lead a session in Video blogging when I hadn’t really found anything I wanted to watch?

Well lucky I didn’t have to talk about what I liked, only what the future would hold. And luckily people tweeted live as I moderated this panel so what follows is what I actually said, and what I meant.

There is a tremendous demand for content. The rate we share content outpaces the rate we create.

In the beginning there were very few platforms whereby you could create content and share it with your friends. But then the ability to share became second nature. And amongst the major social platforms we now get bombarded with the same videos from different people on a regular basis.

That becomes an issue when every channel is airing the same shows and movies. When every website has the same videos. When you can see a piano playing cat on YouTube, Facebook, twitter, and dozens of other places.

For a while the pendulum was swinging in the direction of sharing. And while the rate at which we share will never slow down, the demand for content is now just as important. That is why you have brands like Hulu, Yahoo, YouTube, Netflix and more doing their own original content.

For a while people wanted to ingest content as fast as they could, but with that means content gets old quickly. Those who create content in the future will control it.

Content isn't a well that runs dry. It's endlessly refreshed

So many people have had great ideas for scripts, a series, or some other type of broadcasted content that they haven’t implemented because they worried about using up their good ideas.

The thing about creating though is that it’s not a one-time thing. Sure you have one hit wonders and people who do one big thing and never work again. But for the large majority of people, if you have enough in you to make one thing, chances are you have enough in you to make another. Making begets making. Start making something and see where it takes you.

It's not a challenge to find out how to be different. It's a challenge to be MORE of yourself.

And now with the hierarchy of content creators flattened and everybody having the ability to create whatever they want whenever they want, people worry, oh how will I stand out.

And so that is why you have people being audacious and ridiculous online. Doing incredibly stupid things to get attention. And sure it might work for a time. But since now everybody can make stuff, the possibility that someone out there is making something for YOU is greater than ever.

My prediction for the future is that there will be fewer major celebrities and what you will see is the rise of middle class celebrities. Not to say that minivans will become extremely popular. Rather I mean that there will be new niches and audiences that will spring up as more people connect with those with the same interests. And the best way to do that is by talking about or just doing the things you truly love.

The transition from content creator to curator happens fast. They like you; they want to know what you like.

And this is how those middle class celebs will come to be. Since we now all have an online presence, the people who like what we make will be curious to see what we like. This is how community is built, people liking things together.

So the people that never thought they could make anything will make stuff and people will see it and follow the stuff that those people making stuff never thought anybody would care to see.

Make sense? It probably shouldn’t.

Things that people have said will never work, work all the fucking time.

OK granted this is pretty vulgar but it’s true. I swear when I’m emphatic. And I am emphatic about this. The success of our culture is based on the principle that people who say stuff won’t work HAVE to be wrong.

Nobody knows for sure anymore. I have no idea what will work or what won’t. But I know what I love, and I know what I love to do. And I know how I feel when I do those things. So if I can pursue those things without harming anybody and while making myself happy… why the hell not?

So if somebody tells you no, well, just remember what Brian Grazer says:

No is just a moment in time.

I left that conference extremely enthusiastic about what I had to say and what people were eager to know. And thusly, after mocking, making fun of, and privately judging video bloggers… I became one. (anything I made fun of I eventually became.)

It supports the things I stated here. I talk about what I love. I keep it relevant. It is positive. And most importantly, I make it happen fast.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…

90 Second Love.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Play Time

I was 25. I had been living on my own for about a year. And my social life was anything but bustling. “Going out” typically meant drinking beers and eating fancy pizza with my friend Andrea whom I had done theater with in high school.

Andrea mentioned to me that our high school theater teacher who was a huge mentor for me, was putting on a play in Manhattan and she was going to get tickets. She asked if I wanted to go. I readily agreed.

As we took the elevator the 4th floor of a sliver of a building just off Broadway, and walked down a narrow hallway past a meeting of some very large, bearded, individuals meeting for a support group, I wondered if this was indeed the best use of our time.

The play went well and afterwards my mentor told me had a small part in a play for me.

Seeing as I was not an actor and hadn’t been in a play since I was 17 and was now an “adult” with a full time job and my own apartment, I was a bit surprised and not really sure I should be in a play. But on second thought I really had nothing else going on in my life, so why the hell not?

As it turns out there was a part for Andrea as well

It wasn’t really difficult acting that I was required to do. I had a handful of lines and basically my role was to run around the stage and portray the life of an 8 year old who was up to mischief in the woods.

A tony deserving performance it was not.

The show only went up for two nights and it was sparsely attended. And it made me realize a couple of things.

The first was that I find acting to be extremely boring! The performing part of it is fun and something I enjoy, but the sitting still in rehearsals, not talking, having to stay in one place while things get set up around you, oh man was that boring. It was about the worst thing in the world for my ADD.

But after the show was over I realized something else. I too could write a short play that not many people come to see!

So that’s what I did. While waiting for my turn to speak at a job function I was attending, I wrote 3 pages of dialogue in red pen on the back of my notes. Those pages became the foundation of dialogue of my first play; Disengaged.

I convinced Andrea this was something we should do and she agreed, or maybe I just hung up on her before she could disagree.

Either way she was in.

I wrote a companion piece, we booked a theater, and put on our first show. It was one of the most incredible experiences watching the words I wrote come out of other people’s mouths and see an audience react to them.

I was immediately hooked.

I took a couple of weeks off after the show but I started writing again, and nine months later we mounted our second show Safety and Desire.

It was different than anything I had ever done before in that it was more grounded in real life conversations and there was poetry in it, my own.

We actually oversold the show and by all accounts it was a great success. But afterwards I felt like something was missing.

And the more I thought about it, I realized it was because it went so quickly. I had spent months working on the script. And then more months planning, looking for theaters, casting, marketing and countless hours with Andrea discussing every minute aspect of the show.

And then for six weeks we rehearsed. Nearly every single day we spent several hours with the actors running lines, blocking scenes, and getting ready to put this thing on. I was still bartending at the time too.

So I would work from 9 to 5, then go to rehearsal from 6 to 10, and then rehearse all weekend and then bartend on Sundays from 4 to 10.

And for as crazy bone tired as that made me, I never didn’t want to do it. I was in love with it the whole time. Sure I had no time to do anything else and kept running out of clean underwear and cutlery, but it was worth it.

So when both performances of the show were over it felt kind of like… that’s it? I wanted more. I didn’t feel purged of the show. I felt like I wanted it to go on longer, to share it with more people, and prolong its life.

And I think a part of me was also hoping for the show to save me. I don’t know how that would have happened or what it would have meant.  But I think I just was expecting some kind of reaction or response or something more significant.

So I made a promise to myself, the next time I did a show it would be for longer.

Well guess what… that time is here!

My next play is coming December 7th – 10th in Manhattan! So if you are going to be even close to the area I’d love to see you there. It’s called Ripped at the Seems and you can buy tickets at www.ripped.eventbrite.com.



It’s a show about a lot of things, but more than anything it’s about the things we think but never say. It’s about the conversations that Andrea and I have after rehearsals or when we’ve had too much wine (which isn’t an infrequent occurrence).

I am so excited to put this show on for twice as many nights as any show I’ve done but I’m also excited because I’ve made another promise to myself.

And that promise is that this show won’t save me. Whatever hopes and dreams I have for after the show, I’ve let go of.

Well, almost let go of. I’m close. Really close.

But the goal is just to enjoy the process, because it’s all process. We all spend too much time on this for it to be just about what happens during 4 days in December. I have made a commitment to just love every minute of this.

And hopefully it shows.

Until then, enjoy the trailer!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sounds Like Home

The house I grew up in made a variety of sounds. They were the natural creaks, and groans, expansions and contractions, flexes and bends that a house makes. I got pretty good at knowing which step would make a squeak, or how far I could open a door before it would make a noise.

Living in a house with three other people you also get used to the noises they make. Which sneeze belongs to whom, who lumbers up the stairs versus who runs, and tons of other inconsequential other sounds that you never really pay attention to.

All of that stuff pretty much left the forefront of my mind as soon as I moved into my own place. My new apartment was a host of new sounds. I had a really squeaky floor before I got any furniture. My heating hissed at me like a disapproving audience. And every door had its own signature alert when opened or closed.

But shortly after moving in I was lying in bed not yet asleep when somebody in the apartment next to me or below me coughed loud enough that I could hear it.

My first thought was:

Oh Dad must still be awake.

But then I realized that wasn’t my dad coughing, it was just… a stranger. It threw me for a second. It was a surreal moment. I didn't know any of the people who would be making sounds around me.

I quickly learned the people to the right of me really like explosiony action movies. The woman to the left of me really liked vacuuming… a lot. She also liked Barry White. And sometimes she liked vacuuming TO Barry White.

Not too long ago I came home and noticed my neighbor had the “Ab Rocket” delivered to her.

For those of you who may not know, the Ab Rocket is NOT a piece of combustible military weaponry. The Ab Rocket actually combines what you love about rocking chairs with what you hate about crunches to create the ultimate ab toning experience.

I didn’t think too much of it, merely happiness that my neighbor was making a commitment to fitness. I myself had just purchased the Iron Gym, which is a combination pushup/pull-up bar that you can secure into your door frame without any hardware. You can then do as many pull-ups as you’d like until the 24-dollar thing falls apart and you fall and break your ass.

But that hasn’t happened yet (I also haven’t used it in 6 months) so I won’t worry about it.

One day I was in the bathroom… well, ya know, being there, when I heard a very rapid squeaking sound.


SqueakSqueakSqueakSqueak

It didn’t stop, it just repeated itself over and over again. I strained my ears to see if I could tell what it was. Was my building moving? Was somebody doing construction? Was somebody slowly cutting a hole into my apartment through the bathroom wall? I chalked it up to one or all.

But then I heard it the next day, and the next. Every day at the same time. Always first thing in the morning. And it sounded like it was coming from just the other side of my bathroom wall.

And then it hit me; it must be the Ab Rocket. My neighbor was Ab Rocketing first thing in the morning every morning. I was relieved at my revelation. At least nobody was burrowing into my apartment.

Discovering new activities from my neighbors around me was part of the experience. The new sounds kind of plateaued after a while as I settled in as a permanent resident of my building.

Until one specific night.

I was lying in bed reading when I heard it from the apartment below me:

YeOOOOOOOO

It sounded like a howl, or somebody celebrating. It happened several times and the look on my face was that of “What the…”

I sat up straight in my bed with my brow furrowed as I tried to figure out the sound. But I could do no such thing.

A couple of weeks later I heard it again. It was definitely a man. Was he celebrating a sports team? Couldn’t be, it was too late in the evening. It happened, several times. It still sounded like a shout of joy like maybe he was celebrating… something else…

The beginning of it almost sounded like a slap… like somebody was slapping him and he was screaming. Was he being hazed? Did I live above a private fraternity? Was I just making shit up now?

Quite possibly.

Every so often I would hear it again. The shouts coming in twos, fives, and more. Over and over again I would hear this sound for a short while. Every time I would stop what I was doing and try to use my crap powers of deduction to understand what was going on.

A couple of weeks ago I heard it again. This time there were more shouts than ever. There had to be at least 15 of them. If I wasn’t so terrified of life I might have gone downstairs to knock on his door and ask him if he was OK. But I didn’t because

A.    I rarely speak to people in my building
B.    I was not really sure I wanted an answer.

But I heard it again last week. And I was sick of it! What the hell was going on? Was it spanking? Because really that’s what I thought it was, and I couldn’t think of anything that made more sense. I lived above a guy who was getting spanked in rapid succession at random times throughout the year almost always before bedtime.

I jumped out of my bed and squatted closer to the floor. The sound was closer and seemed more familiar.

I then sprawled out completely flat and put my ear on the floor. I was shocked at how clear the sound became. It was almost like I was in the apartment with the stranger below me.

And that’s how I figured out:

He was sneezing.

Frigging SNEEZING! All this time and all my conspiracy theories and all it turns out to be is a sneeze. I actually was relieved, if only for the fact that I no longer had to expend brainpower to figure this out. The knowledge was mine.

However, it was also at that point when lying flat on the floor with my ear pressed up against the wooden panels that I realized:


I need to dust under my bed.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What Not to Run With

I’ve always been a skinny kid. I don’t just mean that I’ve always been in shape (because I’m not sure I’ve ever referred to myself as “in shape”) but skinny. Muscles have never really been my thing. Sure I’ve wanted them, but they just never really… happened.

When I started playing basketball in high school, weight lifting became a mandatory aspect of our training and practices.

We’d meet in the weight room after school and pair up with a partner of similar strength (which for me meant some other weakling) and take turns lifting and spotting each other. It is amazing how going from never lifting weights to simply lifting weights can make you think you are so much stronger than you were a week ago. When really, you probably are not stronger at all.


And of course when I say “you” I mean me.


I spent a lot of time in the weight room after school as well as during summer break. But for as much time as I spent in the weight room, it seems all I did was wait for my muscles to come.

But in my mind, I was jacked, huge, a veritable Adonis. And because I was an Adonis I would try to do things I saw football players do, like… squat with other human beings on their shoulders.

Yes I know my teenage years were not my brightest.

I would pick up my really skinny female friends and throw them over my shoulders and do a couple of half squats with them to show off how buff I was getting. While people probably thought it was funny, I’m not sure anybody truly believed I was strong. Frankly it was a miracle I never dropped any of them.

During this time in my life I took a trip to Louisiana, a state I’d never been to before nor had never given much consideration to.

The fact that I was in Louisiana didn’t really matter as much as the fact that I was thousands of miles from home without my parents hanging out with a dozen kids a year older than me that I was simultaneously in love with and trying to impress.

There were a couple of advisors too.

I was serving on the International Board of this leadership organization I was a part of. It was quite an honor and everybody on the board was smarter, more confident, more talented, or at least taller than I was.

In typical high school fashion (though I’m not sure I’ve stopped doing this) I compensated for my insecurities by making lots of jokes, being extremely loud, and doing ridiculous things.

For the most part it worked out OK, but not always.

We were wrapping up the weekend, checking out of the hotel and getting ready to load up into the 15-passenger van that would drive us all to the airport.

It was about this time that I was saying goodbye to a female friend of mine who just happened to be the tiniest teenage person I’d ever met. She was a few inches shy of 5 feet, and adorable at that. We had a very affectionate relationship, and would regularly hug each other or sit in each other’s lap.

Well, she would sit in my lap; I wouldn’t sit in hers because ya know… I’d crush her.

So we are hugging and I think I started joking about how I was going to take my little friend home with me. So I threw her over my shoulder, which wasn’t that hard to do considering how tiny she was.

But then I started to run.

I want to pause here to let you know that even though it is now 12 years later my stomach is still in knots while I write this. Also, I feel a little nauseous. If that’s not foreshadowing I don’t know what is.

So I start to run and I get about 20 or 30 feet before I start to feel myself leaning forward ever so slightly.

And if you are running with a person on your shoulder, by the time you feel yourself start to lean, it’s already to late.

My hands let go of my friend and go out in front of me as we both start to fall, which doesn’t really help her because she isn’t prepared to fall off the shoulder of the idiot 16 year old who picked her up and started running with her without her permission in the first place.

I don’t remember my exact thoughts as we fell but I’m pretty sure it was something along the lines of:

Holyshitholyshitholyshitholyshitholyshitholyshitholyshit

Boom.

We both hit the pavement. I am OK though my friend’s knees immediately start to bleed and she starts to cry. And I shrink to 1/8th my size and feel incredibly embarrassed as everybody, including our advisors come running over to help.

Saying I feel awful is an understatement. I feel so stupid, and embarrassed and disconnected from the group. None of who would ever think it a good idea to RUN WITH ANOTHER PERSON ON THEIR SHOULDER!

Ugh.

I got to hear later on what it looked like as I ran. People told me that they knew it was bad when we fell because when I dropped my friend they saw her bounce.

BOUNCE!

Humans should not bounce off of pavement.

The ride to the airport consists of me apologizing, my friend forgiving me, and then me apologizing again.

Apologize, forgive, repeat.

I get back to New York and I send her a basket of fruit? Teddy Bears? Something that says “Hey I’m sorry I threw you on the ground like a bag of trash”

Since then I cannot so much as think about the story without feeling my stomach tie itself into a handful of knots. I’m not sure I will ever feel good telling the story, not that I should.

But I definitely learned my lesson.

I quit basketball the following year.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fate and F U

We had literally JUST talked about it. My buddy Andrew and I had created a new podcast earlier that week called “Nonconfrontational Arguments.” It was our first episode and we were really excited to record it.

We covered a lot of things in the podcast but the subject matter was talking to strangers. We discussed meeting people at parties, how to introduce yourself to people you want to meet, and awkward encounters with randos.

But one of the things we discussed was how neither of us had ever had a meaningful/significant conversation with somebody we met on a train. Our hypothesis being that other people are just so weird that it’s impossibly rare to have a positive interaction.

I have been taking the train regularly for almost 6 years now, and I’ve had a few very short conversations with people. Usually it’s nothing more than catching eyes with somebody and opening them real wide to jointly acknowledge some nonsense happening elsewhere on the train; a crazy preacher type, somebody singing loudly for no reason, or somebody reeking of something awful.

I’ve chatted briefly with people about the book they were reading if it was something I had read. My longest “conversation” had been with the embalmer who had been in prison for 10 years and just started talking to me for 20 minutes because he was drunk or lonely… or both.

Two weeks ago I changed trains to get off the express and get on the local. I do this sometimes because I always get a seat on the local and some days I just don’t feel like standing.

While I was still on the express train the doors opened and I hesitated. Did I have enough time? Sometimes the local can be EXTRA local and take way longer to get to work. The last thing I wanted to do was have a nice relaxing ride to the job I was now going to show up late for. But right before the doors closed I thought the better of it and scooted off the train.

If you’ve never seen me scoot it is quite something.

I get on the local train and get a seat. I pull out the script I was editing for my upcoming play and start crossing out and editing not really paying attention to what was going on around me.

At the next stop a woman gets on and sits down next to me and pulls out a script herself.

That I noticed.

So now I’m immediately curious. Who is she? What is she working on? Should I say something?

Now since I’m still relatively new to play writing and screenwriting, I still feel insecure talking to other people. I figure she is somebody important and if I say something she’s going to feel like I’m some wannabe Hollywood schlub trying to get her to read my script. So I don’t say anything.

And I probably wouldn’t have talked to her at all had she not first spoken to me.

Do you teach screenwriting?

And that catches me off guard because this woman thinks that I look competent enough to teach other human beings how to write movies. I tell her no that I’m just a playwright. And that spurs a conversation that instantly got my heart pumping.

Turns out she is active in the theater world and we have similar views and interests and opinions. In fact, we talk the entire way into the city. She tells me she never takes the train. That she only took the train because she missed the bus today.

We talk about fate. We exchange information. We get off at the same stop. She goes her way and I go mine.

The whole time we were chatting I have been sweating because I am so excited and my heart is beating so fast and I’m trying to appear competent but all I can think is

OH MY GOD THIS IS SUCH AN AMAZING FATEFUL UNIVERSAL COINCIDENCE HOLY CRAP HOLY CRAP HOLY CRAP.

So I hustle out of the train station not because I am late but because I am on cloud 9. That is by far the best experience I have ever had on a train and one of the best interactions with a stranger in general.

I’m walking really fast because my energy is just flowing like crazy. And I am a fast walker to begin with so I must have been really flying. I’ve got an extra duffel bag over my shoulder because I was going up to Boston that evening. And I’m hustling along weaving in and out of slow people. I am about to pass this guy in front of me when I realize he is walking pretty quickly and I can’t really get around him, and by that time my bag has hit bumped into him.

Immediately he spins his head around and shoots me a dirty look. And that’s when it gets amazing. I speak first.

I’m sorry.
Yea it’s called consideration!


So now I feel really bad because this guy is really pissed, and when I feel bad my voice goes up.

I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to bump you.
It’s fine!


But he’s not fine. And he’s turning to go into a coffee shop. I want to say something else.

I hope you have a good day sir.

And I can understand how, considering the circumstances that might sound like I was mocking him or being a jerk. But honestly it wasn’t intended that way. But it obviously did not sound the way I wanted it to because he just pushed into the coffee shop, shook his head, and said almost in a defeated manner:

Fuck You.

Oh well, at least the train ride went well.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Brew at the Zoo

The sign outside the building was written in both Italian and English. And while the three of us might not have understood the Italian very well, we certainly understood the English:

SOLD OUT

So that was it. While the three of us had taken a three-hour train ride up to Milan to see the city and explore, the primary reason had been to see Leonardo Davinci's painting 'The Last Supper.' But we weren't going to get to see it. We would just be three guys hanging out in Milan eating paninis for a day.

But Chad was cut from a different fabric than Will and myself. While the three of us were all studying Italian at the same school in Florence, Chad was about 10 years older than us. He had also been a self-made millionaire, then bankrupt, then a self made millionaire again and a religiously focused motivational speaker. He wasn't one to call it quits easily.

So he pushed on into the lobby anyway, spoke his broken Italian to the woman at the desk while Will and I looked on cluelessly. And sure enough he ended up getting us tickets. Here I was, used to quitting things quite quickly and accepting the word 'no' as fact, but Todd changed everything. Had it not been for him, I never would have been able to see one of history's most famous paintings. And while seeing the painting was significant, the lesson I learned about persistence was even more significant.

I think of that day a lot. I think of it when roadblocks come up or somebody says something is not possible. I think about Todd saying, "it doesn't hurt to ask." Years later I read an interview with the movie Producer Brian Grazer where he talked about his own personal philosophy on being rejected. And he said:

No is just a moment in time.

I thought of both those things as I called the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston last Monday. My sister lives in Boston and I take the bus up a couple of times a year to hang out for a quick weekend. We were discussing dates when she suggested the coming weekend. She said:

We are going to Brew at the Zoo. It's a beer festival that takes place in the Zoo.

Now she could have just invited me up to Boston to go to the zoo and that would have been enough. But beer AND animals, I mean come on.

Tickets are sold out but the website says they might be available at the gate.

So I went on the website and sure enough it said that tickets had sold out. But the site also said if you were interested in tickets to please call Jessica. It listed her number.

So I called. I got her voicemail. So I left a message like this:

Hi Jessica my name is Richard and I was calling to see if I could get a ticket to Brew at the Zoo this Saturday, I am coming up to visit my sister and I would really love it if we could go to this together. Please let me know if it is possible.

And I left my number.

Tuesday came and I called again. Voicemail again.

Hi Jessica this is Rich. I had called yesterday about possibly getting a ticket to brew at the Zoo this weekend. I am coming up to visit my sister and I would really love to go with my sister to Brew at the Zoo. Please let me know if I can buy a ticket. Thanks so much.

I tried to stress my desire to go as well as my affection and love for my sister without overdoing it. I hadn't yet bought a bus ticket, so my going up to Boston was pretty heavily dependent on getting a ticket to this one of a kind event.

The rest of the day passed with no response.

Wednesday morning I got a call from a strange area code. I answered.

Hello?
Hi this is Jessica from the Franklin Park Zoo.
Hi Jessica, do you have good news for me?
I...


And the way she held out her 'I' was almost sad, like she felt guilty. It sounded like the beginning of a:

I don't. I'm sorry but we can put you on our mailing list for next year and if you'd like to donate to our new Frog and Turtle Arboretum we'd be very appreciative.

But it wasn't remorse that I heard in her voice, it was almost... empathy. She said:

I do. I can't deny you if you are coming to see your sister.

Huzzah! It had worked! My persistent sympathy strategy had worked. I would get to drink beer and see Monkeys or Giraffes or something. Actually I really had no idea how it was going to go because I hadn’t read the website or really done much research on the event because once my sister said the words "Zoo" and "beer" in the same sentence I was hooked anyway.

And it was totally worth it. I go to see a tiny baby Gorilla, a baboony looking thing, a hippopotamus looking thing, and a butt-load of lemurs, bats, and other creatures. We took pictures, we spoke to the animals, and we drank a ton of beer. Some good, some not so good.

But the most important thing was I made it happen. And that's the coolest thing of all.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Green Stone

By the time I had left Arizona in December in 2005 I could barely breathe.

Though my college experience had been rich and rewarding, at the tail end I felt overwhelmed and unprepared. I wasn't reluctant to leave school, just to enter the post grad world without a path or a plan.

I remember dry heaving the night before graduation. I remember looking around on the morning of graduation at my fellow classmates and not recognizing a single one.

What was happening?

So nearly immediately after returning home to New York I fled to Australia.

I needed time to clear my head and my spirit. One big adventure before I became a working stiff with only two weeks of paid freedom a year. I left. Alone. It wasn't until my North American sneakers touched the Australian pavement that I could actually take my first deep breath in weeks.

It felt like success.

I was in search of excitement and experiences in a land that was just different enough from my own. I had left behind my community, a girl, and friends. Friends, which I would probably never see more than once every other year if I were lucky.

My watch told my story. It was an athletic watch with a spinning bezel on top. Sometime during my last semester the bezel had gotten stuck and no longer spun. It was just locked in place. No matter how much I tried to force it, it wouldn't budge.

Some days into my time in Australia I was fiddling with my watch and all of a sudden the bezel spun again. Just like that. My breath and my bezel, suddenly free. The metaphor was not lost on me.

I walked around streets in every city I visited looking for something I could purchase to symbolize or kick start this next stage of my life. A necklace or talisman or other type of iconography native to this part of the planet. An item unique and worldly, both qualities I hoped people would think about me.

I started noticing necklaces. So many people I met or saw had necklaces of a thin black cord with a white or green stone carved into elaborate symbols or shapes.

Several conversations with jewelry wearing strangers told me the green ones were jade and they came from New Zealand, the last stop on my trip. It seemed appropriate and relevant. It would be perfect. It was of the land of this part of the world.

I wanted a story for it too, I didn’t want it to be something I just bought at a gift shop. So I waited until I went to a traditional Maori Hangi. Kind of like a luau for the native people of New Zealand.

I mulled over a couple of different options before settling on this one.



The green spiral meant renewal or rebirth.

Perfect.

I put it around my neck, tied the knot, and never took it off.

When I returned to the states it was my reminder of where I had been. My symbol of growth, of change, or all the things I hoped this next stage of my life would be.

Typically I had worn cheap necklaces I bought for a summer or a couple of months, rarely much longer. But this was different. I had no desire to take it off. It wasn’t until more than a year later that I had to take it off.

I was part of a modeling competition that mandated no jewelry. So I followed the rules. I didn’t win anyway.

After the competition I considered leaving it off but eventually decided I wasn’t done wearing it, absorbing its benefits or channeling its spirit... Whatever it was that I thought or hoped it did.

I put it back on and realized immediately that I had put it on backwards. Instead of leading out from my collarbone, the spiral seemed to be pointing in.

Maybe this would change my karma. So I left it.

And there it stayed for 4 more years.

Once in a while somebody would comment on or ask about it, but it just became part of me.

I didn’t fiddle with it much but sometimes I would play with it absentmindedly. Feeling the cool circular stone between the pads do my fingers.

Good jade is always cool to the touch I had once heard. I wondered how good mine was? Did it really feel cool or was I just trying to convince myself.

Sometimes I would put it to my lips breathing through the spiral in the middle imagining I was breathing new life into myself. Thinking about the word rebirth.

I never really thought about how long I’d wear it. It never felt flashy or obnoxious. I just liked having it on me.

Last week, in a rare moment of clarity in an otherwise clouded couple of months, I realized; it was time to take it off.

It wasn’t completely unfounded, I had been thinking about it for some time now, months really.

I could feel the sensation bubbling up from deep within me that the time had come. The saddest thing for me seemed that I would never put it back on again. Sure I could if I wanted to but it wouldn’t make sense. It represented a period in my life and maybe a mentality.

And for whatever reason, it just felt like it was time to move on. I put my hands on the thin black cord, which had become frayed over time and gave it a quick yank.

And I didn’t regret it, I didn’t question my decision, I just felt good.

Maybe I didn’t need a talisman for this next stage of my life. Maybe I would be enough.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Bun Check

All families have secrets. But as a child you may not necessarily know that they are secrets. They are just part of your life, part of the things your family does, and you don’t find out you shouldn’t share them until it’s too late.

Normally if there was something that was supposed to be just between us my parents would sit my sister and I down and be very clear with us. But I suppose that’s the thing about being a parent, you have no idea what your kids are going to do.

I come from a pretty loving family. As a kid growing up there were no shortage of hugs, kisses and other forms of affection. Every night before going to bed I would give both of my parents a kiss on the cheek before going to bed. It’s something I still do when I stay with them.

We were also affectionate with a family that lived across the street from us. They had three kids who were older than my sister and I. They were as much a part of our lives as our blood relatives. They came to our birthday parties, baseball games, and we went to their weddings, and holidays.

Their kids even babysat my sister and I many times.

Growing up though I was pretty ticklish and a hug from my mother could quickly turn into her tickling me. My neck was especially susceptible to it. For some reason anything that even grazed my neck would make me freak out. I would collapse spasm and wriggle just to get out of having my neck touched.

I was so ridiculous about it that my family and the family across the street started referring to anybody who had a ticklish neck as having a “Richard Neck.” There is something about squirmy little kids that makes adults want to make them squirm even more. I was an easy target.

My neighbors would tickle me too. Any time I was within arm’s reach, there was a pretty good chance somebody was going to tickle the skinny kid.

The youngest of the kids who lived across the street was Lisa. Lisa was babysitting me one day at her house. We were sitting there watching TV when she decided to tickle me. And as I said I am quite squirmy when being tickled. And as she went to tickle my neck, I spasmed and my leg shot out and kicked her.

Lisa never tickled me again.

But it wasn’t the last time anybody was tickled.

We had this thing we did in my family called a “Bun Check.” Typically it was my mother who did it, though I don’t know who actually started it. But she would walk up behind me or my sister while we were washing dishes or not paying attention, grab our tush, and say “Bun Check.”

Really, it was a straightforward process.

We all got in on the action doing it to each other, scaring each other, giggling and generally laughing about the whole thing. In my whole life I’ve never heard anybody else reference this act which makes me pretty sure it was something that only my family did. It wasn’t a trend like high fiving or the hula hoop.

But I didn’t know that, it was a part of our regular life. So as far as I was concerned everybody probably did. My parents never said, “Hey this is something you shouldn’t do with anybody else.”

The oldest of the three kids who lived across the street was babysitting my sister and I one night, her name is Donna.

Now Donna was great. We got along wonderfully and if my memory serves correctly, we were pretty well behaved children. The night had gotten late and it was time for my sister and I to go to bed.

My sister and I’s rooms were both on the second floor. Our house had a staircase with 13 steps that led up to the second floor and the last 4 steps made a left turn to bring you up to the level. My sister led the way to bed that night, followed by Donna, and then myself.

Donna was just about to make the turn up to the second floor when the idea struck me like the most natural thing in the world.

I reached out both my hands, grabbed her butt and shouted:

BUN CHECK!

Well the poor woman let out a shriek and just about fell down the stairs. The look on her face clearly showed that she had no idea what I was doing or what I had actually done.

It was then and only then that I thought to myself… was this something that I shouldn’t have done?

After the scene calmed down I’m sure my sister and I probably explained what had actually transpired, though I imagine my sister (three and a half years my elder) probably had a firmer grasp on the fact that you do not grab the butts of people not in your immediate family.

And I distinctly remember my parents telling me the next day that there were some things that were only OK to do in the house. And the bun check was that the top of that list.

Our families still laugh about that event to this day.

Though needless to say…

The bun check never happened ever again.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

This Is Not a Blog

I remember growing up and hearing my parents complain about bills. Whenever the mail came I would ask what had come and my mom would say;

Ohhhh bills, more bills.

I didn’t understand why we got so many bills. As a child, you don’t get bills. You don’t really get anything. But even by the time I was old enough to get bills of my own (hooray) I could pay some of them online so the arrival of a bill wasn’t really climactic.

Today as an adult I pay nearly all of my bills online so I get hardly any in the mail but there are still some things still come in the mail. They are mostly bills for things that are not recurring, a service rendered or a doctor’s visit. And it is these bills that confuse me.

I was doing my yearly checkups not too long ago; Doctor tests, Dermatologist tests, etc. I’m not a really good patient. I don’t mean I scream and kick and bite, I mean I don’t ask a lot of questions.

Some of my friends question their doctor, asking him or her why they are doing what they are doing, referencing research and studies etc.

I’m not that… bright?

When the doctor tells me he has to do a test, remove something, or stab me with a sharp stick, I pretty much just go along with it because he’s a doctor and I, well… I’m a writer.

Plus doctors don’t really tend to ask you what you want them to do, they just tell you what they want to do. They also don’t tell you the price of things.

Rich I’d like to run this echo cardiogram… and it’s going to cost you 900 dollars.

No. They just do it, bill your insurance, and you don’t find out it actually had a cost until 4 weeks later when you play Russian Insurance Roulette to find out whether or not you’re covered for the life saving preventive test you didn’t even know you needed.

But sometimes you don’t even get a bill, you just get, well… something else.

A couple of weeks after my appointments I got a letter from my insurance referencing some diagnostic lab that apparently processed or did my tests. I didn’t understand the piece of paper except for the bold line at the top that said:

THIS IS NOT A BILL

Now that might not have bothered me if it weren’t for the lines underneath it that said:

Amount Billed:
Discount:
What Insurance Paid:
What I Owe:
You Saved:

OK so let me just get this clear. This is NOT a bill, but you are telling me how much my bill would be if this were a bill (which it’s not) as well as how much my insurance would pay on this hypothetical bill and how much I owe on this non-bill and how much I saved on the non-bill that I don’t have to pay yet.

Oh yea that’s really clear.

Why the hell am I getting a discount? I don’t recall walking into the doctor with a coupon for half off a blood pressure reading. I really resent my insurance company trying to make it seem like they are giving me a deal.

So I just put the piece of paper down (it was 3 pages of non-billdom) and just waited for the actual bill to come.

But it never came.

Instead I got another letter from my insurance that all said in bold letters at the top:

THIS IS NOT A BILL.

Damn it!

What is so hard about sending me a bill? When I go to dinner and it comes time to pay, the waiter doesn’t drop a piece of paper on my table that says "This is not a bill, but if it was, your dinner would cost." No, they just give me a bill and I pay it, and that’s it. End of transaction.

It’s like insurance is a clingy ex girlfriend that refuses to let you move on with your life. She is going to carry on this relationship until you are both so miserable with each other that the mere mention of her makes me scream like a karaoke banshee.

So I continued to wait for the bill. And of course it never came.

I got another non bill. And another. And another. Until I had received 7 different pieces of paper from my insurance, all 3 pages long. That’s 21 pages of non bills all for different things, all for different amounts owed to doctors I had never heard of!

How do I know this Doctor? Why cant I pay the doctor I know? At least he has seen me in my underwear. How can I trust a doctor who hasn’t seen me in my underwear?

And how come the insurance doesn’t know how much they will cover? It’s not like I have fancy blood or magic urine. It’s the same tests you are running on all of your other clients. Come up with a number, and stick to it.

I can appreciate the insurance companies’ desire to communicate what might happen, but at a certain point it just becomes confusing. Just send me a check, tell me how much I owe, and I will pay that amount.

Or maybe I won’t.

Maybe the next time my insurance company sends me something with “NOT A BILL” written on it, I will take out a small rectangular piece of paper and write in the amount I owe. Then, before I put it in the envelope to mail it, I will write at the top in big block letters.

THIS IS NOT A CHECK

Monday, September 5, 2011

Window Pain

I spent a lot of time staring out my window growing up. It’s just another thing dogs and I have in common (overeating, drooling, barking in our sleep). And I was reminded of that last week when a hurricane hit New York.

Granted by the time the hurricane arrived it was more of a tropical storm. But either way, I was pretty mellow until it hit. I kept playing it down about how I wasn’t that worried and it wasn’t going to be a big deal. Nonetheless I picked up some items from the grocery store and settled in for the weekend.

Friday and Saturday brought nothing much but when Sunday morning hit, the winds were blowing like crazy and the trees outside my top floor apartment were swaying and blowing in a way that kept making me worrying about what kind of insurance I had.

The trees kept swaying dramatically. And seeing how my apartment is next to trees that are probably 100 feet tall I suddenly realized…

I have a very good reason to be concerned.

The trees were bending and swaying so severely that I thought I might be a good idea to not sit so close to my window. And that is tough, because my computer is right next to my window. So I just sat on the opposite side of my living room being afraid of what the hell might happen to my window.

But the windows of my life have not typically been a happy entry point.

I remember being in college where I lived on the first floor of my dorm.  It was the handicapped dorm (a story for another day) and there was a window that went from floor to ceiling, about 8 feet high.

My bed was against the same wall as the window and the foot of it lined up just with the edge of the window.

Typically I would stay up late downloading songs from whatever service Napster had given birth to and watching MTV because I had never had cable before and I was absolutely stupid with excitement about it.

Most nights I would fall asleep pretty soundly, sometimes waking up to hear people being loud in the hallway as they stumbled in from being drunk at some frat party or other location that served alcohol to freshmen.

I shared a bathroom with a guy who was also the only person in his room and he was a nice enough kid, an artist who I didn’t talk too much and didn’t think much about.

My roommate had a friend that we’ll call Sara. I liked Sara; she seemed interested in my life and had big nice eyes and an easy smile. We’d interact maybe every other week and that’s about it.

Halfway into my stay at this dorm I was sound asleep in my dorm when somebody started banging on my door like they were part of a S.W.A.T. team. I woke up instantly and pulled my NY Yankees comforter around my neck.

I was terrified. Was it the cops? A robber?

If I had time to actually contemplate I would have realized neither of those could possibly have been true, but when its 2:30 in the morning and somebody is continuously banging on your door all you can think about is whether or not you are going to have to wash your sheets the next morning.

I didn’t move from my bed.

The next morning a kid down the hall came up to me and told me he thought he might have knocked on my door late at night because he wanted to hang out.

I didn’t ask him if he might have been completely out of his ever-loving mind. I just said,

Oh I’m not sure I heard it.

In fact, several people had a predilection for banging on different parts of my dorm room. It was as if there was some sort of notice that had gone out that said:

The Freshman in 1D is insecure and extremely paranoid, please take advantage.

Not too long thereafter I was lying in my bed sound asleep when I somebody started banging on my window like a savage looking for a meal.

Now there is a big difference between somebody banging on your door and somebody banging on your window.

If somebody bangs on your door it could be a variety of explanations. It could be people in danger, police, security, fireman etc.

But when somebody bangs on your window all it can be is somebody who is completely out of their mind or somebody who is trying to kill you.

Mind you it is 4 am. And whoever is outside my window is banging on it over and over again. I am terrified. I am clenching my blanket so tightly that there is no blood left in my hands.

The banging stops and my heart slows down, but just barely.

It is hours before I fall back to sleep.

Several days later I run into my roommates friend Sara. She tells me:

Yea we were hanging out pretty late the other night. I took my friend’s aderall and was banging on peoples’ windows. I think I banged on yours.  Did you hear it?

I panic and not wanting to make her feel bad… for scaring the shit out of me while on drugs at 4 o’clock in the damn morning, I say: 

No I don’t think I heard anything.

Thankfully, those were the only incidences of people expressing high interest in interacting with me late at night. But regardless of whether I am in a dorm or my own apartment, a loud bang or noise in the middle of the night still makes me wonder when I wake up:

Should I change my sheets?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Train Science

I am on my way to my birthday dinner in Manhattan. I enter the subway and get down to the platform just as an F train is pulling into the station. I hop on the train and grab a seat between a couple of white college looking kids and a middle aged black man.

The train has barely left the station when a homeless man enters the car and starts singing a song about chicken.

Kind of.

He is “playing” the harmonica and I can’t really tell what he is saying but it sounds like he is singing the song “Feelings” except every time the word ‘feelings’ should appear, he is using the word ‘chicken.’ It is apparently an appeal for somebody to give him some food.

Typically in this situation I don’t make eye contact, I just look down, which is what I am doing now.

I have my legs crossed and am staring at my knee as the homeless man works his way through the train asking people for money. Of course I was the only one he touched on the knee. I can’t stop staring at my knee praying for something else to happen.

So he passes through our car and moves on to the next. The black man to my right takes this as his cue to rant about how dumb it is to sing about chicken.

I have no iPod with me, no reading materials. I can’t even pretend to be immersed in anything. I had planned to lose myself in self-reflective birthday thoughts, but instead I am suddenly part of a conversation I am not participating in.

The black guy next to me is cracking jokes and being extremely loud about the homeless man who just left the train. He is hitting me on the arm like we are old buddies. It is when I turn to acknowledge him that I smell the hot wind of brandy.

And sure enough he pulls out a fifth of V.S.O.P. wrapped in a black plastic bag and takes a big sip.

I don’t say anything, I just smile politely and nod.

The two white kids to my left however, see this as an opportunity to make a new friend. So now drunk guy on my right, and white kids on my right are talking. The white kids start using slang they hadn’t been using before, saying things like “you gotta do what you gotta do” and using words like “hustle.”

My mouth remains shut. And then the drunk guy starts talking about his career in Mortuary Science.

Yep that’s right, he’s a mortician.

And anybody can do it too. Do you know how I know? Well because my new friend tells me right off the bat that he did ten years in prison before getting his Mortuary Science degree and if he can do it, anybody can do it.

He says other things as well but all I can focus on is the fact that I have never sat this close to anybody who has been to prison.

But he goes on. Being a mortician is quite easy. He shares that all you need to do is take the glue and plug the holes.

It’s just all holes. Nose holes, ear holes, pee holes.

At this point the white kids are just eating this stuff up. I have yet to speak but they are asking all kinds of questions. Where he went to school, when he went to school, etc.

And he's not quiet. He is talking loudly, not yelling exactly, but the train is quiet and his voice carries. And I imagine the rest of the train is just as eager to hear his story as we are.

He then tells us a story about how when you die it is possible to die with an erection. How does our friend know this? Well apparently a girl in his Mortuary Science class got kicked out of school for having sex with a cadaver.

And then he makes gigantic masturbatory gesticulations while laughing wildly.

At this point my insides are folding themselves into origamied discomfort.

I also learn that he loves being a mortician it because the gas that preserves dead bodies gets you high:

Ya know because it’s basically just Angel dust. That’s true!

He says that aside from the fact that he gets high, a dead body is

The worst smelling shit of your life. And women stink more than men because…

I’ll spare you the details on that one.

I still have not spoken but the white kids keep egging him on and making puns, acting like this was the first black person they have ever spoken to in their life.

You know what they say about Mortuary Science, people are dying to get into it.

I am so uncomfortable yet I am about as still as a cadaver, somehow thinking that will make this stop. But it doesn’t.

He’s doing quite well for himself. Apparently he is making $120,000 a year but he really wants to go back to school for autopsies.

Because you know, basically I’m a doctor then.

I nod. Because that is the only thing my body will let me do. But now I’m straining my neck trying to see what kind of watch he has on, trying to indiscreetly check out his sneakers. I am trying to gage if this guy is making six figures why is he sitting on a train drinking a fifth of brandy.

He touches on other topics like how he has no idea how to use a computer. And then, he asks me a direct question, which means I have to actually speak. He asks me what I am in school for. I tell him I have been working for six years.

The only benefit of this is he can stop telling me to major in Mortuary Science. But he doesn’t stop leaning into me, over me, exhaling his 80 proof beliefs upon my ears.

Eventually he tells me it makes sense that he hangs out with dead bodies because:

You know, I done killed some ninjas.

Except he didn’t say ninjas. Understand?

So now my heart is in a full out rave panic mode as I try to comprehend when this train ride is going to end and how I am going to get away from the mass murdering mortician who spent a decade in prison.

The train pulls into Queensbridge and he tells us this is his stop. He then gives us all five and leaves us with this piece of advice.

Get into mortuary science.

Then he stood up and I saw he was wearing a Spider-Man t-shirt.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

20 Something Summit – Part 2

I live in New York but I was in Chicago this past weekend for the 20 Something Blogger Summit. I met people from all over the country but nearly everybody I met from Chicago asked me the same question:

What do you think of Chicago?

They asked me as though embarrassed or ashamed, anticipating that I was going to say it disappointed me or paled in comparison to my far larger and more impressive city. This really surprised me because I am in love with Chicago and have been for some time now.

I fell in love with Chicago the way 12 year old girls fall in love with teenage pop stars. I gush about it. I am effusive to the point of obnoxious. I shout out "I LOVE THIS @#$@IN CITY" while cool breezes tousle my short brown locks as I stand on the bank overlooking the river.

I love the layout, and the restaurants, but most of all I love the architecture. I also love the perspective and space between streets and buildings which allows me to appreciate the architecture. I'm not going to argue that New York or Chicago has better architecture than the other. For arguments sakes let's say New York did. You wouldn't be able to appreciate it as much because the buildings in New York are so close together that it is challenging to fully absorb their presence and their footprint.

It's like seeing a person in profile only. You don't get the full picture of what they really look like.

Chicago gives you perspective, you have space and room to look and absorb and ingest and love.

The other thing I love about the Chicago architecture is something I found out on the boat tour I took from the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The buildings of Chicago are not insular as so many of them pay tribute to each other in one way or another. By referencing elements from the buildings next to them or mimicking a similar element or just stopping at the same height. The buildings aren't just independent individuals, they are a part of a community. It sounds silly to say that about inanimate structures. But it is true. The buildings don't compete for your attention. They reflect, and feed off, and truly support each other.

I went to Chicago for this summit not quite sure what to expect. I was excited that I was a panel moderator, but outside of my sole duty from 2:15 to 3:15 pm on Sunday afternoon, I wasn't quite sure what else to would come my way. I didn't know anybody, I had never really interacted with any of these people before, and this would be my first blog conference.

When I arrived the first night for the cocktail party (a situation which I thrive in) I was caught a bit off guard that so many of the bloggers seemed to know each other already, had been to conferences together, or fostered relationships before meeting in person. There weren't a tremendous amount of people there, perhaps less than 100, but yet I couldn't help but feel a bit like an outsider.

An outsider with a Fancy Pocket square mind you, but still, an outsider.

The next day brought sessions, speakers, forums, and a tremendous sharing of knowledge and experience. While I do (still somewhat reticently) refer to myself as a blogger, I really had no idea or concept of people in the same space. You see blogging is a lot like dancing alone in your bedroom in your underwear. You might do it every day, you might tell people about it , but it's very easy to think that you are the only one who does it, and CERTAINLY the only one who does it the way you do.

By the time it came for sessions I fully expected to be listening to speakers with hundreds of thousands of followers who would tell me just how backwards and misguided my approach to blogging was. But instead what I found, were men and women who I had far more in common with than I could have imagined.

They weren't talking about numbers, and in fact, numbers rarely came up. They talked about love, they talked about passion, and they talked about sharing who they are.

That first day, I actually showed up to the first session without a pen and paper, not really expecting to take notes. My half assed brain apparently thought that if I really needed to take notes I could just write them on my phone.

But I immediately regretted my decision to fore-go a pen. I found myself grabbing my phone every couple of minutes, writing down jewels and gems that I just wasn't quite expecting to hear, but was fully committed to remembering.

And as the weekend went on and one session turned into two and then six, every speaker used different words but essentially said the same thing.

Do what you love to do. Find a way to do it more often. Open yourself to the people who love what you love and you will see a windfall of the unexpected.

Speakers constantly referenced other speakers, and then eventually when it came my turn to speak, I did the same. What everybody had said was true. Maybe these positive inspiring quotes and stories were brand new. Maybe I had already heard them in some form before. Or maybe they were things I had already believed in my heart of hearts. But hearing those things out loud from somebody who had found success, reaffirmed those beliefs in a way that might have never come naturally.

On my best days, I tend to think nobody else does what I do, the way I do it. On my worst days, my thinking is far more self destructive. Leading up to the summit I kind of expected there to be an air of competition.

Oh what platform do you use to blog?
How many followers do you have?


Etc. These were all things that I had never concerned myself with before I started blogging but had somehow regularly obsessed over since.

But there was none of that in Chicago. There was talk of a whole lot of social media, mentions of tools I had never heard of, and tweeting beyond what is probably healthy. But there was a genuine interest in furthering and helping not just selves, but others. I left every session having learned something, even  if it wasn't something I was going to pursue. Even if it wasn't something I necessarily was interested in learning more about, it still helped frame, contextualize and and support the beliefs and ideas I was building and developing.

People rarely asked about what I did for a living, they asked what my blog was about. They asked how I ended up there. They asked me questions I rarely get asked in my daily life. Questions that felt kind of refreshing.

And that's when I realized that the 20SB Summit was a perfect fit for the city of Chicago. Just as the buildings paid tribute to, reflected, and supported each other, so did the bloggers of this conference. Whether you were there to talk or learn, whether you cared about photography or monetizing, there was an interconnectivity you could not deny.

I was inspired by the things other bloggers were doing, but also humbled by their warmth and their openness toward each other. At times it made me feel like a self centered narcissistic coot, somebody who wasn't nearly as open or supportive as he claimed to be. And yet by the time I actually had to physically walk away from the last remaining group at the conference, I felt sadness. Sure there had been awkward, frustrating, or uncomfortable moments, but when searching for adjective, incredible was the only one that felt appropriate.

There are millions of bloggers that can exist in this same space and not compete. Nobody needed to defend Chicago just as nobody needed to defend being a blogger. This particular weekend in Chicago, everything was working together rather than trying to outdo.

There's no limit to the amount of words a blogger can use, nor the amount of bloggers that can exist in the world. Indeed, there is enough love, passion, and support to keep everybody loving and blogging for a very long time.