Tag Archives: New York City

I Always Feels Like Somebody’s Watching Me

11 Feb

Well…maybe I don’t always feel like somebody’s watching me, but sometimes it’s fun to give myself the creeps.

As I wrote in my last entry, I have started walking. A lot. I’m averaging about 3 miles a night now, not including the mileage I get just walking in everyday life, so I’m getting in anywhere from 5-9 miles a day now. It’s during those nightly walks that I really get in the steps, though, and to keep myself entertained while I’m walking, I’ll typically listen to whatever music pops up on my iPhone (SEE ALSO: Beyoncé, “Formation.”) But a couple of times a week, I get a special surprise when two of the podcasts that I’m following release new episodes.

I’m new to the world of podcasts, and I’ve recently discovered Fireside Mystery Theatre and Chilling Tales: The Podcast, and I gotta tell ya, guys…I’m hooked. Fireside Mystery Theatre is a storytelling podcast based in the tradition of radio dramas from the 30’s and 40’s. They perform their stories live from September to May at the Slipper Room in New York City’s Lower East Side and they have a whole slew of back episodes to choose from. Recently I listened to Episode 8 (April 10, 2015), which included three Irish ghost stories and I was completely taken in by them. The musical interludes between the stories were wonderful, too.

Chilling Tales is another storytelling podcast, but it has less of a “radio drama” feel about it and is more straightforward storytelling with actors voicing the characters or a single narrator. The first night I discovered the podcast, I was at home, cooking in the kitchen with only a couple of lights on in the house, and by the end of the second episode (Horror S’more-er: Chilling Tales Goes To Camp), I was checking the locks and windows in the house and turning on as many lights as possible.

It takes a lot to genuinely scare me. After living in New York City for as long as I did, there wasn’t much I hadn’t seen or experienced and, believe or not, after years of terror threats and heightened alerts and raids on your apartment by the FBI, one becomes desensitized to a lot of things. Or at least one tells oneself. After some time in the city, I became less worried about being blown up in the subway than I was about being blown away in a hurricane or bodies falling on me from the high-rises in Midtown. (This actually happened, by the way – not a body falling on me, but I happened upon a suicide scene on 6th Avenue one day on my way to work. The body had landed on the sidewalk just next to an outdoor café. The police had brought in city buses to park on each side of the corner to block off foot traffic and onlookers. It was not a pretty scene. And I would have expected my pastrami on rye to be comped.)

All that being said, one of my favorite things to do at one point in my time in New York, was to walk from work at the Metropolitan Opera House, where I used to work coat check, to the subway on 57th Street, while listening to a suite of music from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” You should try it sometime. It’ll really freak you out. So now, while I’m walking around my darkened neighborhood late at night, I listen to people telling spooky stories. And I find myself looking over my shoulder. A lot. Because the one thing that does scare me is people jumping out from behind things or sneaking up on me.

When I was in third grade, my next door neighbor’s dad took me and a few of the kids in the neighborhood to a radio station-sponsored haunted house. We were all far too young to get in, but Kevin Ray’s dad knew some people who let us in – or he convinced them that we were old enough…I don’t know – and we got into this place.

Looking back on it, I don’t really remember many of the specifics of the place – it felt like there were a hundred different rooms that we went through and I remember thinking we were never going to finally be done with it, though the reality is there may have been a dozen or so different rooms and scenes. But what I do remember still haunts me.

The first room I remember walking through was a large, open space, with a walkway on the left side of the room, and Satan pacing the floor on the right side of the room. Now, I know, that sounds kind of hokey, but I was maybe 9 years old and, in addition to Satan, there were also dozens of fallen angels behind bars, reaching out into the walkway, begging us to save them. As a kid who went to church regularly, this terrified me on so many levels. I may have cried…I can’t remember.

The next room I remember featured a doctor eating the guts out of a body on an operating table. Just, y’know, yanking them out and shoving the slimy, bloody entrails into his face. And then he sawed off their head. Duh.

And finally, the last room we came to was a huge space with just a coffin set up near the wall at the far end of the room, furthest away from the door. The tour guide told us to form a circle in the middle of the room, holding hands and closing our eyes, which immediately made me suspicious, but I closed my eyes, anyway, so that maybe I wouldn’t have to see what was inevitably about to happen. A few seconds later, there was a lot of screaming and I heard someone passing behind me, so I opened my eyes to find a mummy in the center of our circle, getting in everyone’s faces and making mummy-like sounds (I’m not even sure what those are), and Dracula, who had risen from his coffin, running around the outside of our circle, thrusting his head between us as if he were going for our throats.

Well, I was done. I bolted for what I thought was the door, only to find that I had accidentally run myself behind Dracula’s coffin, which set me into a panic. Kevin Ray’s dad came and rescued me and we proceeded to leave through a giant door that had black plastic hanging from it, like a meat locker. That’s the last time I’ve ever willingly set foot in a haunted house.

That night, perhaps in an attempt to apologize to all of us for subjecting us to that nightmare, Kevin Ray’s dad took us to Pizza Hut, where we all sat at a booth. We didn’t all fit, so we had to pull up a chair to the end of the table, which is where I had to sit, and as we were waiting for our pizzas to arrive, I remember hearing Hall & Oates “Private Eyes” playing over the PA system.

Private eyes (clap!)
They’re watching you! (clap! clap!)
They see your ev’ry move…

I’ve never been able to listen to 70’s soft rock the same way since. (If only I’d developed a similar aversion to pizza…) I was convinced that someone was behind me – Satan or perhaps that weird-sounding mummy. Convinced that they had followed us to Pizza Hut and were planning to finish me off before the pepperoni pan pizza had even arrived. That they were watching me (clap! clap!)…that they saw my ev’ry move. Like demons and mummies do. I think I maybe ate half a slice which, even at that age, was unheard of for me. I couldn’t be bothered to eat – I was on poltergeist patrol.

To this day, I have never wittingly stepped into a haunted house again. I’ve been that guy who holds people’s bags while they go through the house or runs down the hall with his eyes covered, screaming, “I’ll punch you! I swear, I will!” when the dorms decided it’d be fun to have a haunted floor. I flat out refused to go to Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights this year, even though I could have gotten in for free and all my co-workers begged me to go, but I am 99% certain I would have gotten myself fired for assaulting the first performer who jumped out at me with a chainsaw. Homie don’t play dat.

But I can creep myself out with ghost stories and Bernard Herrmann scores and that’s enough for me. Because I can turn it off whenever I want.

I still get a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach when I hear that song, though. And a craving for Pizza Hut pan pizza. Not today, Satan! Not today…


Those Shoes Are Mine, Betch!

13 May
"Here Lies Love" is playing at the Public Theatre in New York City.

“Here Lies Love” is playing at the Public Theatre in New York City.

Today on my way in to work I had my iPod plugged in and on shuffle. I’m not sure exactly what’s happening with it, but it tends to play the same song rotation over and over again, but today it switched things up and surprised me with a few forgotten treasures. One of them was, admittedly, Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” which I may have sung full-out with shoulder-ography down I-45. A couple of times. Don’t judge me! As exciting as that was, I got even more excited when it started to play the opening bars of “Here Lies Love,” the title song from an incredible show with music and lyrics by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim that’s currently playing off-Broadway at the Public Theatre in New York City.

While I was back in New York last summer, my boss informed me that he was treating me to a night at the theatre. He had two tickets to a musical at the Public called Here Lies Love and all he knew was that it was about Imelda Marcos, the widow of Ferdinand Marcos, the former President of the Phillipines. I didn’t know anything about her other than she was famous for having several thousand pairs of shoes, so you can imagine that I was a little less than enthused about seeing a 90-minute show about her. Especially after we got to the venue to find out that it was an experiential theatre piece, which I typically hate. I enjoy the fourth wall, both as an actor and as an audience member. Set in a Filipino karaoke dance club, we entered the space to find a giant platform on wheels in the middle of the room and we were instructed to fill in the space around it. There were ushers in coveralls with fluorescent reflective tape all over them and we were told to pay attention to where they directed us to go throughout the performance. On one end of the room was a very small stage, but other than that and the big platform, there was no set to speak of.

A 1986 picture shows Imelda Marcos' shoe stash stored on shelves in the basement of the Malacanang Palace in Manila before being transferred to the National Museum.

A 1986 picture shows Imelda Marcos’ shoe stash stored on shelves in the basement of the Malacanang Palace in Manila before being transferred to the National Museum.

Suddenly the show started with a DJ up on a platform and cast members entering from all different areas of the room and the ushers started herding people and moving us around the room as smaller platforms were moved in from – well…nowhere, it seemed – and suddenly there was Ruthie Ann Miles, the actress portraying Imelda Marcos. David and I both looked at each other incredulously, not sure how she got in the center of the large platform, but he and I were both completely absorbed by the show in a matter of minutes. For the next 90 minutes or so the entire room moved and morphed and changed, with platforms and actors and lights moving and changing. The story of a young Imelda unfolded in front of, behind and beside us, only briefly giving a nod to the root of her obsession with shoes in a single lyric, but providing mounds of insight in to this woman’s past:

At least we have each other.
The neighbors pass us food.
No clothes, no bed, no jewelry.
Sometimes I had no shoes.

It occurred to me midway through the show that this show was to Imelda Marcos what Evita was to Eva Perón, which could have been a tired concept, but this show was so fresh and engaging that it stood no chance of being just another bioplay. Alex Timbers’ (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher) direction focused the audience’s attention to various areas of the performance space while other, less interesting things (like set changes) were happening behind us and suddenly our attention would be directed back and there’d be a new piece of scenery that hadn’t been there a moment before. During one scene, rain drops were projected on every surface of the room – walls, ceiling, set pieces – everywhere and one by one, the cast came out with umbrellas and stood on a stage as Natalie Cortez (A Chorus Line, West Side Story) sang the haunting “Just Ask the Flowers.” We – the audience – watched from a second stage on the other side of the room and suddenly in the middle of the song, the stage on which the entire cast was standing starting slowly moving toward us, creating the feeling of a slow zoom in on the scene. It was simple, but so cinematic and breathtaking. When the number was over, the cast passed through the crowd and we were ushered forward onto the stage that had just moved toward us. On the back side of that stage were a set of steps and we were asked to sit for the remainder of the show, and when it ended, we were encouraged to stand up and join in a dance party with the cast as they sang a reprise of the title song.

David and I are pretty seasoned theatre professionals and we’ve both worked with some major talents in our time working on Broadway, but both of us were so gobsmacked by the show that we decided to stick around and meet the cast – particularly Ruthie Ann Miles – to congratulate them on such an incredible theatrical experience. We both downloaded the concept album before we’d even gotten home that night and until just a few days ago, we were anxiously awaiting the release of the Original Cast Recording of the show, but unfortunately, due to the Public Theatre’s schedule, Here Lies Love had to close just a few weeks after we’d seen it, which made us worry that a cast album wouldn’t happen. Well…it’s finally out and it’s fantastic, and I’m happy to say that the show re-opened in its original space at the Public for an open-ended run, which means more people will get to experience this strange, wonderful and surprisingly moving piece of musical theatre. Hopefully that will include you, Dear Reader.

Go see this show. In the 13 years I’ve lived in New York, Here Lies Love ranks in my personal Top 5 Best Theatrical Experiences and I encourage you to experience for yourself.

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life

11 Sep

As I scrolled through my Facebook and Twitter feeds today, I was reminded with nearly every post and Tweet that today is the 12th anniversary of 9/11. I was, of course, already quite aware of that before everyone started posting their stories and memories and tributes – I don’t think any of us will ever forget it. I debated on whether or not to write an entry today about that day because the stories I read tend to be maudlin and sad. Don’t take that to mean that it’s not a sombre day to remember and I certainly mean no disrespect, but out of all that horror and sadness I do believe there came some good, which is what I’d prefer to think about today.

On September 11, 2001, I was living with my parents in Louisville. I had just gotten my Masters degree in May, I had spent the summer doing summer stock in Tulsa and my plan was to return to Kentucky for a few months to save money so I could move to New York. The week I got home from Oklahoma, I went to a temp agency to find some work. My first assignment was to do general office work for a credit card collections company – stuffing envelopes, answering phones, making copies, etc. I showed up on my first day – Tuesday, September 11 – and within two hours, the entire office had been sent home because planes had been flown into the towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. The reason we were sent home had something to do with Fort Knox being a potential target, though Fort Knox is a good 50 minutes from Louisville.

I remember being incredibly confused by what was going on and didn’t quite grasp the import of what had just happened. I was just concerned at that point about whether I’d be paid for the full day or not. During the short 20 minute drive home I kept looking up at the sky, looking for planes, though there were none. I don’t know what I expected to see up there exactly, but I kept looking. It wasn’t until I got home and turned on the television that I really had a concept of the hugeness of what was happening. During my drive home, the towers had fallen. As most of you will remember, though, we had plenty of opportunities to see them fall over the next few hours, days and weeks, whether we wanted to or not.

No one was home when I got in from work. The house was empty – just me and the TV and the sudden, worried voices in my head, wondering about my friends from graduate school who had just moved to New York over the summer. I didn’t know the geography of Manhattan yet, so I didn’t realize how far Midtown actually was from the Financial District. I knew that most of my friends there were also working for temp agencies, and for all I knew, they were temping in the one of the towers and the news was telling us that there was no cell phone service in New York, so I had no way of reaching anyone. All I could do was watch and hope that they were all alright.

My parents were out at work when everything happened. My Mom has owned and operated her own residential cleaning company for the last 20+ years and on that day she had a particularly heavy workload, so she asked my grandparents and my great aunt and uncle to come down from Lexington to help her. They came home not too long after I did and, from what I remember, they weren’t really aware of everything that had happened. As they came in and settled down to watch the news, the phone rang and I answered it. It was my second cousin, Derek – my great aunt and uncle’s son. He is a researcher for the Army Research Labs not too far from Washington, DC, and he was calling to let his parents know that he was alright.

I didn’t recognize Derek’s voice when he called. We hadn’t seen or talked to each other in probably 15 years, so why should I? Derek had been one of my favorite cousins growing up. He’s a few years older than me, so I guess it’s normal for a middle schooler to look up to his cousin who is in college. As a kid, all I heard were comparisons between Derek and me – particularly about how smart we both were and how much we were alike in personality. What’s funny is, Derek is adopted, so it’s not genetic. And I remember Derek could juggle, and that fascinated me. There was one Christmas or Thanksgiving that he tried to teach me to juggle in our Aunt Bibby’s gigantic driveway and I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I think that was also the last time I saw him. Derek went off to college in Michigan and a year or two later it came out amongst the family that he was gay and had met someone. From that point on, we didn’t see Derek at family functions and he wasn’t really talked about around “the children.” I didn’t understand where he went or why we didn’t talk about him – I just knew I missed my cousin. The same thing had happened when our older cousin, Mark, came out a couple of years before Derek. I didn’t get in touch with him until last year – close to 25 years after the last time I’d seen him.

Derek gave me his phone number and email address before I handed the phone over to my aunt and I made sure to keep in touch with him. When I finally moved to New York five months later, Derek let me know that he was coming to Long Island for a meeting and we decided to meet and catch up. It was one of the happiest reunions of my life. I was on Cloud 9 for days. In the months that would follow, I would meet Derek’s partner, Pete, who is, as far as I’m concerned, as much my cousin as Derek. They drove up to Pennsylvania to see me in The Scarlet Pimpernel with their friends Nicole, Brian and Andy, who, along with their former roommate, Josh, have all become very dear friends. They’ve shared their home with me on multiple occasions. Pete played tour guide for me when I was in Baltimore with Flashdance and they hauled me back and forth from the theatre to their house every night after work. They even treated me to a very delicious brunch when we all happened to be in Denver at the same time a few weeks ago. In the wake of such a terrible event, something wonderful happened – my family grew, and I will always be grateful for that.

It’s easy to let “September 11” the Event overshadow September 11 the Day. We should never forget the people who lost their lives, but it’s important to remember to celebrate the living, as well. In addition to celebrating the fact that the Event brought me closer to some long-lost family, I also want to acknowledge my friends Sierra and Brendan today.  Twelve years ago, one of the most important days of a young person’s life stopped being about them and became “September 11.” I think they deserve a special shout-out today because it’s their birthday. I love you both and I am so happy you were born!

Be good to each other.

Don’t Stand So Close To Me

13 Aug

Greetings from 40,000 feet above somewhere over Indiana. I had a hard time getting to sleep last night – I don’t know if it was anxiety, excitement or the 2 quarts of iced tea I had, but I just could not get myself to sleep. It was nearly 3:30 a.m. when I finally nodded off, and my first alarm went off at 6:45. I should probably be sleeping right now, but as I said before, I don’t like to sleep in public.

Somewhere over the Midwest...

Somewhere over the Midwest…

I said my goodbyes to Mom before she left for work and Dad and the dog dropped me off at the airport at 8:30. Due to weather in the northeast, my plane’s arrival was delayed by nearly an hour, but that was fine – it allowed me time to get some breakfast at the Chili’s Too in the Louisville airport. P.S., Chili’s Too – calling your breakfast platter the American “Feast” might be just a touch overzealous.

Even though I knew I had some extra time, I shoveled the “Feast” into my face as if I were in an episode of “Man vs. Food,” where the only prize is indigestion and oily skin. In fact, I got through check-in, security and I had finished my breakfast by 9:15 – 45 minutes start to finish. That left me a lot of time to sit in the terminal, which I actually don’t mind as long as it’s quiet. I picked out a seat to myself two gates away from my own where there was no one near me and I sat for a while watching CNN on the flatscreen TV mounted above my head. Remember when they used to have small TVs in the terminals mounted on long rows of seats and you had to pay to watch your favorite show in miniature black-and-white? Am I dating myself? Moving on…

My peaceful Valhalla in the middle of Terminal B quickly crumbled around me with the arrival of a family of 5 – a mom, a dad and their three beautifully blonde daughters who were probably between the ages of 8 and 13. Despite the hundreds of empty seats throughout the terminal, the dad planted himself in the seat nearest me and in an instant, as if they were in their living room, all three girls dropped their rolling carry-on bags and laid themselves out in the middle of the terminal floor, shoes off and iPhones in hand. Despite laying right next to each other, they shouted back and forth about how hungry they were and how they needed to find an electrical outlet to charge their various devices while the mom and dad both ignored them and focused on their own iPhones. So as to not look out of place, I pulled out my iPhone, as well, and managed to  snap a quick picture of the dad and the several dozen empty seats behind him. At such close range it was difficult to snap a picture of the entire scene, but I think you’ll get the point.

My awkward attempt at a picture of the close-sitters. Do you see all those empty seats that they could have chosen?

My awkward attempt at a picture of the close-sitters. Do you see all those empty seats that they could have chosen?

I don’t know what it is about me that attracts people to me. I don’t mean this in a conceited “everyone finds me to be incredibly handsome” kind of way. I mean in a “Hey! I see that you have your headphones on and, despite the 20 other people around you who are not enjoying music or are in the middle of a phone call, I’m going to choose you to ask for directions” kind of way. It happens to me all the time. I am a magnet for personal space invaders. If I were a betting man, I would put money down that any time I get on an empty or mostly-empty subway car, someone will come sit right next to me. There could be sixty empty seats and sure as shootin’, I’ll have a neighbor. If I happen to be seated in a moderately crowded train where there are no more seats available, you can be sure that momentarily someone will grab onto a rail or pole directly in front of me, and they’re probably not wearing deodorant. If I’m in an empty movie theatre, it’s almost a guarantee that someone will end up sitting right in front or right behind me. I don’t get it. Am I so devastatingly handsome? Does my Midwestern charm and delightfulness just ooze out of every pore, inviting people to approach me? Do I just smell really good?

While I do smell pretty great (L’Occitane’s Green Tea is my signature scent), I’m pretty certain I am not an overly inviting person – especially when I’m out on the streets of New York. I put on my best bitchy resting face (B.R.F.) so as to say, “Don’t look at me. Don’t talk to me. Don’t even think about it.” And bam! “Um, excuse me sir? Which way to Macy’s?” or “Can I just squeeze in there?” Sometimes when people plant themselves next to me, I will passive-aggressively get up and move to one of the dozens of empty seats while flashing them my best B.R.F., which inevitably invites someone else to come park himself next to me and want to strike up a conversation. Or a mariachi band will step onto the train just as the doors are closing and play “Cielito Lindo” just inches away from me.

But really – what makes people feel compelled to encroach on someone else’s space when there are plenty of more comfortable options? Why is that when you park your car all the way in the back of mall parking lot, where there are no other cars for hundreds of feet, there are always cars park in the spots on either side of you when you return? What makes someone think, “Oh! Someone has chosen this secluded toilet stall in the back corner. They must want a neighbor while they relieve themselves.” Is it a safety in numbers thing? And while we’re at it: Gentlemen, let’s talk about urinal etiquette, shall we? Always take the outside urinals first and then fill in the middle, only using every other urinal unless it’s particularly crowded and you’re forced to stand next to someone. And do you really need to prop yourself up against the wall while you pee? Is the force of your urine flow so strong that you must brace yourself to avoid being blown backward by the pressure?

Sorry…I went a little off-topic there, but that’s one of my biggest pet peeves.

Speaking of peeing, the gentleman in the “I Love Cheese” t-shirt just came out of the lavatory that I’ve been waiting for for the last 10 minutes. Excuse me while I climb over the lady who plopped herself into the center seat next to me just as they were closing the door. See you in Denver!

You Is Smart. You Is Kind. You Is Important. But You Isn’t That Important.

2 Aug

There’s an old adage that says, “The Customer Is Always Right.” I could not disagree more.

Being back in New York after six months on the road has reminded me that people are dumb here, too. I don’t know exactly how I never noticed it, but people say and do the most ridiculous things, and often because they feel entitled to something. The example that immediately comes to mind transpired in Houston, Texas, just a few weeks ago. Here’s how it went down:

PATRON (buying a sweatshirt): Do you have posters?
ME (indicating the poster under her hand): Yep…that’s the poster there.
PATRON: Is it free with my purchase?
ME: Um, no. The poster is $15.
PATRON: Oh! Well. Can we make an exception for me?
ME: Are you accustomed to getting a free poster with your merchandise purchases?
PATRON: Sometimes.
ME: But not all of the time.
PATRON: Sometimes.
ME: Well, unfortunately this will not be one of those times.

What, exactly, made this woman think that simply by asking, I would make an exception for her and give her a poster for free? Everyone else had to pay $15 for a poster if they wanted one, but for some reason she thought that didn’t apply to her. Would she walk into a western wear store and ask to get a free pair of spurs with her purchase of boots? My guess is that yes, she probably would. But why?! I’m all for self esteem and whatnot, but really – who did she think she was? The Queen of Houston? The Czarina of Texas?

Tonight a scenario played out that I surprisingly experienced last year at Evita. It went a little something like this:

PATRON (on her way out the theatre with her 12-year old daughter in tow): Hi. My daughter bought this mug and then when we were waiting in line for the bathroom, someone bumped into us and it shattered. I was wondering if you could just give me a new one that’s not broken…?
ME: Was the mug broken when you purchased it?
PATRON: No, it wasn’t. It got broken after we bought it.
ME: No…I’m sorry. If the mug had been damaged when we sold it to you, I could, but it was in good shape when you purchased it. (Inner monologue: It’s not our fault you can’t take care of things for more than 10 minutes.)
PATRON (Offended, as if I’d just told her that no, she could not take her top off in the lobby): Oh! Fine! I was just asking, but that’s fine!

Can someone please explain her reasoning to me? From a salesperson’s perspective, here’s how I see it: The merchandise was in sellable condition when she purchased it. Had the mug been cracked or broken when it was handed to her, I would happily have replaced it. However, when she paid for said mug, she became the owner of that mug. I simply do not believe that someone bumping into you would shatter a ceramic mug. My guess is she or her daughter dropped it or hit it against something much more rigid than another human being, so why should I – or, more specifically, my boss – have to give her a second mug for free to replace the one that she was so careless with in the first place?

Now, I know some of you may think that’s harsh or rude or unprofessional, but let me put it to you another way. Scenario: You walk into Macy’s and buy a bottle of perfume. Ten minutes later, you go to the bathroom and set the bag in which your perfume is stuffed on the counter as you wash your hands. As you turn to grab a paper towel, you accidentally knock the bag to the ground and your bottle of Exclamation! or Electric Youth shatters all over the tile floor. Would you return to the perfume counter and honestly expect Macy’s to provide you with a brand new bottle of perfume free of charge because you “just bought it a few minutes ago?” I think most people with any common sense would say “No!,” but sadly I’m learning that we are in a severe common sense drought in America. To me, expecting to get a free replacement for something you bought and destroyed in less than 10 minutes is as asinine as being shocked by a “You Break It, You Bought It” policy.

To continue this line of entitlement, yesterday during the matinee intermission I had a very large group of people rush to my booth, including several theatre camp kids who all wanted to buy keychains and magnets – basically anything under $20. Including those kids, I probably had about 60 people waiting for me to help them, and I was trying to handle three people at a time. After all, I only had 15 minutes to help them all. (Selling on the road has prepared me well for getting through large groups of people quickly.) To my right, I could see a woman was standing there sort of staring at me. While I was counting someone’s money, this happened:

WOMAN: How much are the t-shirts?
ME (shocked that she clearly didn’t notice or care that I was in the middle of three separate transactions): Ma’am, the line starts back there.
WOMAN: I was just asking how much the t-shirts are!
ME: They’re $30 or $35. Now, please…the line starts back there. All of these people are waiting patiently for me to help them.
WOMAN: I was just asking how much they were! You don’t have to get pissy!

Again I wonder, “What made that person think that she didn’t have to wait in line while everyone else did?” She “just” had a question about prices, but I’m pretty sure that’s what everyone in the line wanted to know, too. She just didn’t want to wait, so she skipped the line. It would have been unfair for me to take care of her needs while I had three people waiting for their change or shirts and fifty some-odd people waiting behind them, but she felt that I was rude to her by suggesting that she had to wait just like everyone else. So she complained about me. And, unfortunately, that’s how this job goes sometimes. I had already explained the situation to my manager by the time the complaint was made and he was able to blow it off, but still – I don’t like getting complaints. Especially when I don’t feel that I was in the wrong.

So, please. Someone please explain to me this idea of entitlement…this mentality of “the rules apply to everyone but me,” because I was certainly not raised that way. You is smart. You is kind. You is important. But you isn’t that important.

Off The Road Again…

16 Jul

Greetings from my temporary home in Brooklyn, New York. Sunday night was our last night of Flashdance in Kansas City and was, as best I can tell, my last night with the show. My boss tells me there’s a chance I may be going back to it at some point in September for a week or two, but that’s all still up in the air. I’d like to say that it was hard to say goodbye to the show and the cast and crew, but it wasn’t really anything for me. It was hard to be sad knowing there’s the possibility that I’ll be going back, even if just for a short while, but I was also acutely aware that it could be the last time I saw them. It was very strange for me to not know exactly how to feel. Regardless of what happens in September, I’m going to miss them all very much and I wish them all the best.

Yesterday we had what amounted to an almost 12 hour travel day. We had a 2-hour delay in Dallas, so I got to my sublet in Brooklyn at around 11:30 last night. It was a long day. And it’s hot here. According to my phone, it was 86° at 11:15 last night. According to the thermostat on my taxi driver’s dashboard it was 91°. Is it autumn yet?

So, here I am, back in New York. I slept in today, enjoying the air conditioning and putting off the 15-minute walk to the subway. I need to go into the office today to drop off paperwork and sort of debrief…talk about the future…all that fun stuff. And I’m working tonight. No rest for the weary. Thank goodness I’m working – I can’t afford to be here for three weeks and not work. Honestly, I couldn’t afford to be here for three days without working! I’m already looking forward to going back into the bubble that is touring, where I don’t have to worry about making my bed or buying toilet paper or paying electric bills or rent. I can’t wait, actually. I guess there’s nothing to do but go out and face this hateful city, though, and try to make amends with her. I better get moving…

You Gotta Have Heart! Miles And Miles And Miles Of Heart

1 Jul

I’ve just returned to the hotel from a truly wonderful going away party/company roast (think Comedy Central roasts Bob Saget…not Sunday dinner) and, even though I have to be up in seven hours to drive to Oklahoma City, here I am…writing.

Tonight was a celebration – not only of those six company members that played their last performance tonight, but also of the six new actors who are joining the family. It was  a celebration for those of us who have been here since we opened the show exactly six months ago today in Pittsburgh. It was a celebration for the company, as well, for getting through an incredibly difficult week of learning new material during the day and actually doing it at night. We were due for a celebration.

After our musical director’s brilliant roast which, somehow, I was lucky enough to evade, we sat around talking, laughing, and eating. Some danced. Most drank. I was talking with one of our cast members, Ariela, who is a staunch supporter of me writing this blog, and our show’s executive producer. We were talking about the blog and what direction I wanted to take it and how I planned to get it out to a wider audience. And finding a niche. Dani, our producer, asked me what I considered to be my niche. After a couple of seconds, the only answer I could come up with was “Heart.”

I suppose that there are many things that we, as actors and singers, hope to be known for in our careers… He’s funny. She’s “fierce” and can “belt her face off.” So-and-so has a lovely legit voice. I guess I’ve always wanted to hear someone tell me my voice was “sick” or “stupid good” or whatever, but one of the kindest – and enigmatic – compliments I’ve ever received came to me from a very dear friend while I was singing in Japan.

In 2011 I was fortunate enough to be chosen to go to Japan for three months to sing a concert tour of Disney music with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. It was the most life-changing thing I’ve ever done, and it almost led me to quit the business because I figured nothing could ever be so good again. It was such a wonderful experience that it deserves its own blog entry – or four.

Our show’s director/my cast mate/my dear friend Tony and his partner Rob and I had worked together in New York selling merchandise, and I had heard them talk about this concert tour that they did in Japan, but I was so incredibly intimidated by them both (now I realize I was intimidated by their résumés, which certainly do not make a man) that I never dreamed of asking them to audition. My friend Michael did the tour in 2010 with Tony and, even though he denies it, I think he suggested to Tony that I be seen for the 2011 cast. Tony and Rob had never heard me sing. Come to think of it, neither had Michael. I was desperate to make a good impression on them both because they were sticking their necks out for me by bringing me in.

Tony walked me out of the first audition, gently laying his hand on my shoulder, and when we got out into the hallway he hugged me tightly and said, “I had no idea you could do that.” It was one of the few times in my adult life when I felt like it was OK to be proud of myself (which makes me think I need to explore this further in another entry). I hadn’t made Tony look like a fool in front of the Japanese producer and I felt really good about the work I had just done. I mean, I had just sung 5 songs in my first audition, ranging from Sebastian in “The Little Mermaid” to singing high Ds in “So Close” from “Enchanted” without even flinching. And I made the Japanese guy with the big hair in the back of the room dance. (I would later find out that his name was Francesco Sasaki, and he would become one of my favorite people on the planet). The callbacks were the next day, and when I got the call that night that I’d been chosen to go to Japan, I wept in my room. And then I started telling everyone I knew.

I was so excited and grateful to have booked a job, but there was more to my excitement. Just a few days before our auditions in New York, the great East Japan earthquake and tsunami destroyed a huge chunk of northeastern Japan’s coastline, wiping out entire cities and towns and causing some serious problems at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima. I was surprised that they even had the auditions, but as it turned out, the Japanese contingency had already flown into the States to meet with the show’s conductor in L.A., so they were able to make it to New York. Whether the U.S. government would allow us to go into Japan with the threat of nuclear fallout, though, was anybody’s guess. After seeing the devastation on the news, I wanted to do anything I could to help, but I had no money to send. I had nothing of any material value to offer as aid. But I had my voice and my heart, and I was being given a chance to hopefully help, even if it just meant making someone forget their troubles for a few minutes by singing a song.

Rob came to visit us in Japan in November. Knowing Robbie was in the house watching us made me a nervous wreck. Not only would he be out there judging us on our musicality and voices like everyone else, but he was also one of the only people in the house who actually understood the words we were singing. One of the things I love (and fear) about him is that he will tell you exactly what he thinks – no sugar-coating. So when he came backstage during intermission his first night seeing the show, I was terrified. And I had to know what he thought. Immediately.

I happened to be in the hallway with Tony when Rob started toward us, and when he saw my face, he opened his arms, wrapped himself around me and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with so much heart as you have onstage. Every moment is sincere.” The insecure actor-y part of me at first thought, “Is that the best compliment you could come up with? Am I that awful?,” but then the saner part of me stopped for a moment and realized that Rob’s was one of the best compliments I could have possibly received.

Two weeks before the tour ended, I started having meltdowns at rehearsal and soundcheck. I’d get choked up at soundcheck, people! I specifically remember the orchestra running the Princess section of Fantasmic!, and as I heard the strings and crashing cymbals swell and swirl into a frenzy, as I watched the 72 people who had somehow, unimaginably become my dear, dear friends despite language and cultural barriers, I turned to my friend Katie and buried my face into her shoulder and sobbed. In front of everyone. I quickly became known in the orchestra as a crybaby. At our final soundcheck, it was suggested that as a surprise to the orchestra, we – the singers – should run the opening number facing them as opposed to facing out into the house as we would in performance. It was an opportunity for the orchestra to actually see the number as the audience would, instead of just the backs of our heads. The Japanese love surprises, and to see their faces light up as we made our entrance – and to see tears coming down some of their faces – turned me into a blubbering mess and I couldn’t sing a note.

Backstage, we exchanged gifts and notes. I somehow managed to keep it together after I got over my initial soundcheck breakdown, but I knew there was a whole ocean of tears waiting to be let loose. I also knew once they started, those tears would not stop. Tony and I had been friends before Japan, but he and I had really bonded while we were there along with our youngest cast member, Joey. I have been part of shows before where I’ve become close with people, and despite the promises to keep in touch and call and write and email and Facebook and tweet and Instagram and everything else we promise to do, it’s inevitable that you will never have the relationship in real life that you had on tour with your cast mates. People go home to their lives, their families, other gigs and, try as you may, you lose touch. I knew this going into our final show. I knew this could happen with Tony. I knew it would most likely happen with the rest of the cast. I knew it’d be almost impossible to keep in touch with my new Japanese friends from the other side of the world, and I knew there was a good chance I’d never see those new friends again.

In our dressing room, Tony gathered us up and started handing out closing night gifts to us. As he presented them to us, he said a few words about each of us, and when he got to me, he got a little choked up and said that in the five years he’d worked as part of that concert tour he’d never met anyone with as much heart as me. That’s all he had to say and I went into the ugly cry. I’m talking the hideously ugly cry. It was coming to an end and there was nothing I could do to stop it. My heart was broken.

Throughout my life, my heart has been a recurring theme. Not the actual organ, mind you. That is, as far as I know, and in spite of the food that I eat, still in good working condition, but my heart isn’t always working as well. “Sensitive,” “emotional,” “tender-hearted,” “weak,” “sappy,” “sentimental,” “soft”…they’ve all been used to describe me. I used to think that was a detriment to my character. “Real men” aren’t supposed to be sensitive or emotional. New Yorkers are tough – they don’t cry. Just suck it up. Toughen up. Be a man.

The truth is…I liked myself better in Japan. I liked feeling things again. I’ve done the tough New Yorker thing for almost 12 years and honestly, it doesn’t work for me. In the song “Tennessee Homesick Blues,” Dolly Parton sang “It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.” Preach it, Dolly. How can I be the performer or writer I want to be if I close off my emotional well just to survive in a city that doesn’t give a damn about me? Would I ever have a performing job that would be as emotionally and artistically fulfilling as the one I’d just had? Should I just quit while I was ahead? These questions plagued me for the months following my return to the States. Honestly, they’ve haunted me until just a few weeks ago when I made the decision to leave New York. I thought it would be a gut-wrenching decision. Actually, I never thought I’d choose to leave New York, but I’m following my heart rather than continuing to be stubborn because I think that’s what I’m supposed to do. Clearly other people can see that my heart is one of my greatest assets, so I’m going to trust them and in doing so, trust myself. That I have had no second thoughts about leaving since I made the decision just proves to me that I’m making the right choice.

Tonight’s going away party was a lot less emotional for me than it would have been if I were a cast member. As the merch guy, I don’t get to spend a whole lot of time with the performers in the show. There are full weeks that have gone by without me seeing even one of them, even though we stay in the same hotel and work in the same building. It’s the nature of the job, I suppose. That being said, I will miss each of them. I myself will be leaving the tour in two weeks, so another round of goodbyes is in short order. In six weeks, I’ll meet another cast and I’ll open another show in another city. And that’s showbiz, kid.