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

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.


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:


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:



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!


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.


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


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:


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.

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

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.