Say Goodbye To The Merch Whore

28 Dec

Two years ago – almost to the day – I started a journey that has taken me across this great country more than once, to cities I’d only dreamed of visiting and, truthfully, to some that I hope to never return to again. Today that journey ends and a new adventure begins.

I never dreamed that I’d be out here as long as I have been – what was supposed to have been 6 months turned into 2 years – and now that I’m facing down the reality of living off the road, I’m having a bit of a freak out. There have been anxiety attacks, cold sores, acid reflux, headaches and ground teeth, not to mention copious amounts of sugar and Doritos consumed. The stress of searching for an apartment from 3,000 miles away has literally kept me up nights and the idea of having a car payment, insurance payments, rent and utilities, etc. gives me heart palpitations and sweats. Add to that the idea of going back to auditioning after 2 years of not singing a single note (and about 60 lbs. heavier) is intimidating, as well.

That being said, the possibilities that are ahead of me get me excited. Jessie, the young lady who’s replacing me as merchandise manager for Kinky Boots, went to college in Orlando and talking with her last night has gotten me really excited for the work opportunities down there. I feel like she’s given me some very good advice and she’s somewhat relieved my anxieties. That’s not to say that I’ve relaxed, but I feel less anxious. I suppose that’s something.

Anyway. It occurred to me just a few minutes ago that, since Jessie will be working today’s matinee on her own as a trial by fire of sorts, I quite possibly sold my last t-shirt/magnet/CD/program/pair of socks ever last night. Today I will spend the majority of the show counting and packing inventory and getting things ready for load out. I suppose it’s a bit of an unceremonious ending after so many years of doing this job, but…this job has never stood much on ceremony.

Monday morning I will board a plane to fly out of San Francisco. I’ll meet my parents in Atlanta, where we’ll have “Christmas” with my brother, and then we’ll drive down to Orlando for New Year’s, where I’ll hopefully get to check out a couple of apartment complexes. I’ll go home to Kentucky after that for a few days, I suppose, and then I’ll have to head up to New York to collect my belongings from my storage unit. From there I’ll have to drive back to Kentucky to offload some of those things and pick up other things that my Mom wants to give me before driving down to Florida and starting my new life. Y’know…no big deal. Easy, right? Riiiiight. Just writing it out makes my eye twitch.

So, there you have it. Today’s the day. The Emancipation of the Merch Whore. Stay tuned for what happens next – it’ll be just as big a surprise for me as it will be for you.

Sad News: The Cafe Edison Will Close

18 Dec
Cafe Edison will close on Sunday, December 21, 2014.

Cafe Edison will close on Sunday, December 21, 2014.

Despite our efforts to save it, the Cafe Edison will be closing its doors when the last customer leaves on Sunday evening, December 21, 2014.

Thanks to all 10,024 (!!) of you who have signed the petition, forwarded, texted, tweeted, Facebooked, handed out flyers, sung, done magic tricks, made signs, stood out in the cold and fought to keep this special place open.

The Strohl family is considering relocation and, if that happens, I hope each of you will lend them your support and business at their new location.

I knew when I started the petition that we were fighting an uphill battle – I’m sure contracts were in place for the renovations and new restaurant for months prior to the public announcement that the Cafe would be closing – but my hope in starting this was to at very least show our love, support and appreciation to the Strohl family and all the service and kitchen staff.

If you’re in the city and have a moment, please stop by Cafe Edison one last time before Sunday. Bring a card or some flowers or even just a hug for the staff there. Let them know how much they mean to you. And give Betty a big hug for me.

If the closing of Cafe Edison has inspired you to do more to help save what’s left of old New York, please check out Jeremiah Moss’ new Facebook group, “SAVE NEW YORK.”

These past few weeks, Jeremiah and a group of devoted Cafe Edison supporters have been tireless in their efforts to raise awareness of the Cafe’s closing. Jeremiah has done some amazing work to organize weekly lunch mobs and entertainment all while maintaining his blog, “Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York.” He has planned one final meal mob this weekend. Click here for the event information on Facebook.

If you aren’t reading Jeremiah’s blog yet, please do. Here’s the link: http://vanishingnewyork.blogspot.com

Again, thank you all for your support and outpouring of love to the folks at Cafe Edison. It’s been an honor to have been a part of this movement, and I hope to share a bowl of matzoh ball soup with you all if and when a new location should open up.

Best,

Jason

I Am Thankful For The Happiest Place On Earth

7 Dec

I have failed you, dear reader. I told you I’d recount my Disney Thanksgiving yesterday, but the day got away from me and…well…that’s the only excuse I’ve got. I’m sorry. And I can’t believe I didn’t post anything yesterday about it being Walt Disney’s birthday! I’m really slipping here… Well, Happy 113th Birthday, Uncle Walt!

As some of you may recall, I recently spent a week at Walt Disney World completely on my own, enjoying the parks on my own schedule, at my own pace and on my own budget. Several people were shocked that I would want to go to an amusement park by myself – especially for a full week – but I had the absolute time of my life. I rode what I wanted, I met the characters I wanted to meet, I ate what I wanted whenever I wanted and I took the time to take photos and soak in the world famous Disney atmosphere and attention to detail. I found myself talking to strangers and laughing and walking around with a smile on my face. It was heaven.

So, when I found out that we had Thanksgiving day off in Los Angeles, I decided to forgo a traditional theatre orphans’ Thanksgiving, which usually consists of 5 or 6 people who haven’t any friends or family nearby getting together and cooking (and is, for the record, always fun and a wonderful way to spend the holiday), to treat myself to a day at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

My mother always asks me, “What exactly do you do there all day?” Obviously she has never been to a Disney park, though not for my lack of trying to get her to one.

Rather than tell you what I did, I’ll just show you. Nothing more exciting than looking at someone’s vacation photos, eh? Enjoy!

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The Final Countdown

5 Dec

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a month since my last entry. My apologies for being negligent of my tens of adoring fans.

A lot has happened in the four weeks since I last wrote – including, but not limited to, my 38th birthday, a screening of “Big Hero 6” at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, three trips to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, Thanksgiving, a 3-week run of Kinky Boots in Los Angeles and the addition of nearly 6,000 signatures to the Save Cafe Edison petition. And now, here I am in San Francisco – my first time playing this town and also the last city on this two year journey. That’s right, kids…the Merch Whore is hanging up his kinky boots on December 29 to go pursue his own dreams, and it feels really good.

"Big Hero 6" at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, California

“Big Hero 6” at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, California

I’m still not really sure what this means for this the future of this blog – I still have many stories to share, and I expect my future endeavors will provide much fodder, as well, but I may need to change the name of the blog since I will no longer be whoring myself out as a merchandiser. I don’t know – there are much more important things to consider at this stage in the game, like getting through the next 28 1/2 performances without strangling someone.

Since day one of this particular tour, things have been more stressful than the last three I’ve done. It’s a bigger show, yes, so that’s to be expected, but there has been a lot of unnecessary and avoidable stress, as well. Having a legendary pop star come up and tell you that all of the merchandise you’re selling is “fucking ugly” (sorry, Dad, for the profanity) and that I should be selling in drag on my first day should have tipped me off that this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. My grandmother dying two weeks into the run and not being able to go home for her funeral…? Pretty shitty. The immediate and overwhelming increase in workload, while also expected with a show that does the sales that this one has, has been unpleasant and I’m pretty sure has done some damage to one of my shoulders, leaving my fingers numb in my right hand. Add to that a new feature with our credit card system that allows for immediate customer feedback (against which I have no willpower and feel compelled to read everything they have to say about me) and I’d say I’m pretty burnt out.

“What kind of feedback are the customers leaving?,” you might ask. Well…here’s a smattering of the bad ones.

The person working yr [sic] promotion table had no customer service skills at all!!!! Very rude!!!! Selling products is a no brainer but I expected more personality!!!!

“Selling products is a no brainer?” Really? I have a feeling they’d feel differently if I miscalculated their total and overcharged them… Oh, wait…someone did:

I was overcharged by $10.00. I was charged for 1 ornament (20), 1 vocal selections (28), 1 little black book (12), 2 black hoodies (45×2). I purchased and actually received 1 ornament (20), 1 vocal selections (28), 1 little black book (12), 1 black hoodie (45), 1 black t-shirt (35).

I made a mistake. That’s my fault. But rather than just contact our office and request a refund, they decided to complain about me. Forget the fact that the prices are clearly posted on each item and, if they’d taken the time to do the math or, even easier, check the contents of their bag before walking away, there wouldn’t have been an issue. But consumer responsibility doesn’t exist anymore. It’s always the salesperson’s fault.

And one last one…

The salesman that was there was brusque and unfriendly. I almost didn’t buy because of his behavior.

The operative word in this statement is almost. It is quite possible that I was brusque and unfriendly, but as one person selling a few thousand dollars’ worth of merchandise to 500 people in a 25 minute time frame, there isn’t much time for dillydallying. I’m not sorry I don’t have the time to unfold (and refold) every size of every shirt for you. I’m not sorry that I helped the three people behind you in line while you dumped the contents of your purse out on my booth, looking for your credit card. I’m not sorry that I asked you to step aside while you decided what you wanted while I helped 10 or 15 other people who did know what they wanted and had their money out and ready. What I am sorry about is that I’m not sorry, because this job has made me dislike people, and that makes me sad. Some specific people, to be sure, but I’m speaking in more generic terms. This has never been a secret – I’ve never been a big fan of the general public, and from that dislike and frustration came this lovely blog – but this show has been the final nail in my patience’s coffin. I’m done.

But I still made the sale.

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To be fair to myself (and to make myself sound like less of an douche bag), it should be noted that of the 142 feedback entries received, only 5 have been “Not Satisfied.” Five. There are many comments about how fast and efficient I am (and how I need help) and even some noting how pleasant I was to talk to. The thing to note about people is that they generally can’t be bothered to praise, but they leap at the opportunity to complain. And I understand that…I’ve been guilty of that myself a couple of times. I hope that one of the things I take away with me from this job is the ability to understand that not everyone is having a good day (perhaps their grandmother died just hours before they had to come to work, so you wanting a synopsis of what you missed because you were late isn’t very important to them in the grand scheme of things…) and to just let it go.

I am one with the wind and sky.

In addition to the daily stress of the job, like coming in and finding 5 or 10 boxes of merchandise waiting for me at the stage door when I wasn’t made aware that it was coming, there’s also been some internal drama here at the show with people wanting their significant others to come out on the road as my replacement. To the point that one company member actually defriended me on Facebook and has apparently been talking trash behind my back to cast members…many of whom are my friends. Now, this person has never actually spoken to me about the grievances that he holds against me – I’ve just heard it all through the grapevine and he won’t even look me in the eye now – and I feel skeevy and prepubescent even writing about it because I feel like I’m perpetuating the non-existent drama and being just as passive aggressive as he is, but it’s really been weighing on my spirit lately. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly people are willing to turn on you when you are no longer useful to them. I don’t make the hiring decisions when it comes to who gets hired, and honestly, I can’t really believe that anyone who knows me would want to take this job from me. I mean, isn’t he one of the ten people who read this blog? (He’s not). No one ever says, “I aspire to be the merch person!” In fact, our head carpenter just said to me a few minutes ago, “Merch and Stage Management: two jobs I would never want.”  I may not make the hiring decisions, but there’s one thing of which to be sure:  I can certainly recommend to my employer that certain people not be hired.

All this drama, and I don’t even get a curtain call.

Alright, so this has turned into one big, negative entry and that wasn’t my intention, though unfortunately, that’s kind of what I’ve been reduced to with this show. So, it’s time to go. I have 28 shows to go – only 25 days – and then I’m free. I’ve already started getting “nesty,” searching for kitchen and living room and bathroom necessities and looking at deals for one of those newfangled flat screened TVs. I’ve started researching housing in Orlando and I’m formulating a plan to get myself down there by February 1st or so. I’m so excited for this new chapter in my life – a complete reboot. I’m nervous, too. Not only will I be leaving my tour bubble after two years (what do you mean, I have to buy my own toilet paper again?!), but I’ll also be looking for a new job, making a car payment and all the other stuff normal grownups around the country have to do. As Little Red sings in Into the Woods, I feel excited. Well, excited and scared.

In the meantime, I hope to enjoy my time in San Francisco, see some sights (I have yet to see the Golden Gate Bridge) and spend some quality time with my friends Toni, Amy and Matt, who all live in the Bay Area.

Tomorrow I’ll do my best to recap what was, quite possibly, the most fantastical Thanksgiving I’ve had in years, including a visit with my future boss, though he doesn’t know it yet…

Me and my future employer...he just doesn't know it yet.

Me and my future employer…he just doesn’t know it yet. Look at the joy on my face!

Pardon Me…I Believe You Dropped These Names

8 Nov

As I wrote last night, I started a petition yesterday to (hopefully) save the Cafe Edison in Midtown Manhattan, and I’m happy to say it’s going very well. So well, in fact, that I received an email today from Colleen Wilson at the Wall Street Journal, asking for a brief phone interview about the closing and the petition. Her article, “Lights Are Going Out At Cafe Edison,” was published online tonight and should be in the printed paper tomorrow. (If anyone gets a copy, save one for me!) Here’s a link to the article if you’d like to read it. (And just to clarify: I am the merchandise manager for the national tour of Kinky Boots, not the Broadway production…though I have managed there, as well.)

As I type this, we have about 3,700 signatures. Now, I’m new to this whole petitioning thing, but apparently that’s a very impressive number for a petition that’s been public for less than 48 hours. Still, I’m not sure it’s enough to achieve what we’re all hoping for, so if you’ll forgive me…I’d like to drop a few dozen names of people who have signed our humble little petition in the hopes of persuading you to sign it yourself.

::Ahem::

Glenn Close. Susan Sarandon. Sarah Paulson. Matthew Broderick. Alan Cumming. Michael Cerveris. Judy Kuhn. Lin-Manuel Miranda. Julia Murney. Martha Plimpton. Carol Kane. Bryan Batt. Karen Olivo. Billy Porter. Celia Keenan-Bolger. Howard McGillin. Karen Mason. Mary Testa. Gregory Jbara. Lee Wilkof. Amanda Green. Teal Wicks. Jonathan Freeman. Marcia Milgrom Dodge. Donna Lynne Champlin. Emily Skinner. Shuler Hensley. Rachelle Rak. Danny Burstein. Marc Shaiman. Christine Pedi. Harriet Harris. Jackie Hoffman. Lily Rabe. Harry Groener. Ron Orbach. Noah Racey. Kevin Cahoon. Francis Jue. Judy Blazer. Jim Stanek. Joe Iconis. Brad Kane. Steven Pasquale. Rob McClure. Leslie Kritzer. Steve Rosen. Jeffry Denman. Sam Harris. Ilana Levine. Mamie Parris…

I’ll stop there because I’m even embarrassing myself (and I’m waiting patiently for Audra McDonald, Bette Midler, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Rosie O’Donnell, Jennifer Holiday, LaChanze, Sutton Foster, Andrea Martin, Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Neil Patrick Harris and even Barbra (Ms. Streisand, if you’re nasty) herself to join our cause. And yes…I tweeted each and every one of them.)

What’s the point of all this name dropping nonsense? To show you that this diner means something to not just the poor merch folk who can’t afford expensive meals, but to Broadway and Hollywood heavy-hitters, too. It’s an indication of how communal the Cafe Edison really is – where common folk can sit next to a 6-time Oscar nominee and enjoy a cheese blintz and a latke and it’s no big deal. If Broadway were a college campus, the Cafe Edison would be the commissary where even a freshman can mingle with the most popular seniors.

My new pal, Jeremiah Moss (@jeremoss), has a very successful blog called “Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York,” which chronicles the sad demise of Old New York as icons and landmarks are torn down and gutted in favor of strip mall fare. He is officially the one to have broken the news about the Cafe Edison closing yesterday and he has organized a Lunch Mob at the diner tomorrow (Saturday, November 8, 2014) at 12 noon. He’s encouraging diners to bring large signs with supportive slogans like “Save Cafe Edison” or “Polish Tea Room Forever,” and he’s absolutely encouraging everyone to have a bowl of matzoh ball soup and a grilled cheese sandwich while you’re there. If you can make it, please go. I can’t because…well, I’m in Denver…but my heart will be there with the Strohl family (the owners of the restaurant) and the staff as well as the supporters. Here’s a link to the Facebook Event Page for the Lunch Mob. Please…go if you can!

And finally, I’m going say this: The folks at the Hotel Edison shouldn’t mess with that Glenn Close. If she doesn’t get what she wants, she’ll boil your bunny or make a coat out of your puppies. I’m just sayin’.

"I'm not gonna be ignored, Gerald Barad!"

“I’m not gonna be ignored, Gerald Barad!”

#SaveCafeEdison

Save the Cafe Edison

6 Nov
The Cafe Edison in New York City

The Cafe Edison in New York City

I don’t do this often, but today I feel it’s time to take a stand against something that has me and, quite honestly, a large majority of the Broadway community reeling. It was announced today that the Cafe Edison, also known as the Polish Tea Room, will be closing at the end of the year (or possibly sooner) after 34 years of operation in the Theatre District in Manhattan. The hotel in which the diner is situated, the Hotel Edison, is gutting the place to put in a new high-end restaurant with a celebrity chef-du-jour.

“What’s the big deal? It’s just a diner…,” you might be thinking. Well…you’re wrong. The Cafe Edison is so much more to so many people. For me, it was a place to go between shows for a quick, tasty, inexpensive meal either on my own or with my friends from work – actors, wardrobe people, front of house folks, musicians and other merch people. The place is covered in theatre posters signed not only by a litany of theatre stars, but by chorus boys and girls who may never have been recognized on the street, but whose legacies live on on the walls of the Edison. It served as the inspiration (and physical setting) for Neil Simon’s play 45 Seconds From Broadway and Broadway lore has it that August Wilson scribbled notes for three of his plays on napkins at the Cafe Edison.

Since moving to New York in 2002, I have watched the restaurants, bars, theaters and stores that made up New York in my mind disappear, one by one, only to be replaced by commercial retail stores and chain restaurants. Colony Records – one of the largest, if overpriced, sheet music stores in the country closed just a couple of years ago and will be turned into a Build-A-Bear store. Times Square Bagels, one of my nightly haunts while I was working at Spamalot, is now a Ben and Jerry’s. McHale’s Bar and Grill is a new high-rise condominium building with a New York souvenir shop on the first floor. The Howard Johnson’s restaurant on the corner of 45th and Broadway is now an American Eagle Outfitters. The things that gave New York its distinctive character have been picked off or plowed down in favor of tourist-friendly fare while stripping the city of the things that the locals need and want.

Today I started a petition on Change.org. I’ve never done this before, but I felt that I had to do something.

Please consider signing this petition against the closure of Cafe Edison. So far we’ve gotten over 1,500 e-signatures in about 10 hours from people around the country and the globe, including notable theatre and film actors like Howard McGillin, Marin Mazzie, Martha Plimpton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Karen Mason, Judy Blazer, Mary Testa, Carol Kane, Greg Jbara, Teal Wicks and many others. As impressive as that may be, we’re going to need a lot more signatures if we’re to get the hotel management’s attention. I know that it’s an uphill battle we’re fighting – probably a futile one – but I just couldn’t let this one go without a fight. I have too many memories in that diner. I know the people that work there – Betty, the cashier, is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. And…they make the best matzoh ball soup I’ve ever had. If nothing else, let the people there know that you support them and appreciate what that restaurant has meant to so many of us for so many years.

Thanks.

The MerchWhore

Sign HERE: Save the Cafe Edison

Your Kiss Is On My List, or My Grandmother Gave Me Herpes

19 Oct

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written – mostly because I’ve been so busy with this show that I can’t really muster up the time or energy to write. We’re in Seattle, Washington, now and business is significantly slower, but that is not to say that things are by any means slow. I’m sure my boss is disappointed in the sales numbers here, but honestly – I’m glad for the break before we head to Los Angeles, where I anticipate insane sales.

When last you heard from me, my paternal grandmother had passed away and I was stuck selling t-shirts in Tempe, Arizona. Well…unfortunately, this has been a bad year for grandmothers – mine and otherwise. I’ve seen so many Facebook status updates about friends losing their grandparents this year and on Thursday I received a phone call from my Dad to let me know that my maternal grandmother, who I call Grandmama, was in ICU following an emergency operation on her colon. Apparently she and my great aunt, Betty, were getting colonoscopies done (in separate rooms, I would assume – or at least hope) and Grandmama’s doctor found some areas in her lower colon that needed to be cauterized, which apparently perforated her colon wall, which is no bueno. They had to remove about 5 inches of her colon, but they were able to put everything back together again and she’s been in the ICU since, resting and recuperating, though my Mom says it’ll be at least 6 months before she’s back to normal simply because of her age.

Obviously she’s been on my mind since I found out she was in the hospital. When I got into work today, though, a rush of memories came back to me that I haven’t thought about in years. Our head audio guy, Ben, was checking the sound system by playing Hall & Oats’ “Your Kiss Is On My List,” one of my favorite songs as a kid, and I immediately had a memory of my family’s old house in Louisville. We had an above-ground pool in the back yard and in order for the pump to work, it had to be plugged into an extension cord that was run into the kitchen and plugged in near the washer and dryer. In retrospect, probably not the safest way to set that up…

Anyway, there was one day that Grandmama and my Aunt Betty were watching me and my cousin, April, while my parents were away at work. They were in the kitchen doing something – probably making lunch for us kids – and April and I were out swimming in the pool. The radio was playing, the orange Crush was flowing and we were having a great time. I needed to go inside for something, so I got out of the pool and, without drying off, walked to the side of the house and grabbed the handle of the storm door to go into the kitchen. The storm door under which the extension cord was running. The extension cord with exposed wires because of a tear in the rubber coating.

The electricity flowing through my body tightened every muscle in my body and I couldn’t let go of the handle. A girl who lived in the neighborhood just happened to be walking past and I managed to tell her to go get April, who was still in the pool, and she did. I’m not sure if she knew what was happening to me, but April came around behind me and grabbed my hand, trying to pull it away from the door or trying to pull the door open – I don’t know – but there the two of us were, getting electrocuted while my grandmother and her mom made deviled eggs just a few feet away.

Somehow my grandmother must’ve heard us outside the door and opened the main door to the house. When she saw us through the storm door, someone screamed for her not to touch it and either she or Aunt Betty unplugged the extension cord from the wall and we were able to let go of the handle and get inside.

My grandmother, Nellie, and her sisters have always had a flair for the dramatic – I come by it honestly – and so of course there was much screaming and panicking, but ultimately April and I survived. Whether or not there was permanent brain damage is still up to interpretation, though.

I don’t know what it was about that song that brought back that memory to me. Perhaps it was the one playing on the radio while I was being flash fried on our side porch or maybe I just remember hearing my Grandmama, in her best melodramatic, Scarlett O’Hara-esque delivery, say that she just couldn’t ever hear that song again without thinking about the time that April and I were nearly turned into tater tots. She also recalls our trip to Florida in that same over-the-top manor, which is usually worthy of an eye roll, but is almost always humorous. And, to be fair, she’s 1/4 of the reason I’m here. She gave me life. Twice, if you think about it.

She also gave me herpes. The mouth kind…not the genital kind. You guys are sick. She kissed me when I was a baby, not realizing she had a cold sore coming on and passed it on to me.  And every year since then, I had a big honking fever blister on my lip for every school photo until high school. So…at least when she goes, she’ll always be with me.

Herpes: the gift that keeps on giving.

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Feel better, Grandmama!! xo