Thursday, August 10, 2017

‘It’s Not a Good Vacation Unless You Have a Pre-Trip Freak-Out!’

            I still remember those words, uttered by my then boss and current friend John so many years ago. It was his attempt to comfort me, as I freaked out about something work related prior to my vacation. What was I freaking out about? Who knows? Like most freak-outs, they seem totally legit at the time and then we feel humiliated literally minutes later as we calm down and realize what an ass we just made of ourselves. However, John was totally in support of my outburst. He attested that every good trip is preceded by some sort of meltdown. And believe it or not, I have found this to be true with every vacation I’ve taken. There’s always something that causes me to break down in the days leading up to a big trip. (Many times it involves nightmares about flying. Thank God for Xanax.) Now, as I’m days away from embarking on my two week European holiday, the question is… when is my “pre-trip freak-out” going to occur???

            Whether this freak-out will take place or not, there are certainly interesting behaviors I’m noticing as I prepare for my journey. Shopping. Why all of a sudden do I HAVE to go shopping? I have a double rod closet, an armoire AND two dressers full of clothes. Sure, some of my garments date back to when Steve Perry was still in Journey, but come on! I have PLENTY of clothes suitable for any occasion. And it’s not only outer garments I’ve been seeking.  I felt compelled to visit my beloved Victoria’s Secret. Truthfully, I’ve been publicly reaching into my shirt to not-so-discreetly pull up my bra straps for months, but why does it take a vacation for me to finally remedy the situation? (The fact that they were giving away a free rose gold tote bag with the purchase of two regularly priced bras had NOTHING to do with it, I swear!)

            Then there was the dilemma with my suitcase. This is a long vacation and I wanted to make sure I could take everything I need... and by that I mean MORE than I need. My green expandable Samsonite suitcase was twenty years old and had clearly seen better days. I thought maybe it was time for an upgrade. Little did I know how involved that upgrade was going to be. It was more dramatic than a death scene on a soap opera. Can anyone envision a 25” vs. a 28” vs. a 33” suitcase? I can’t. Even with a tape measure. So, why buy ONE suitcase when you can order THREE different suitcases in THREE different sizes online from Macy’s? (It’s free shipping and returns, after all.) Suffice it to say the 33” suitcase could have fit me inside of it. Twice. And then, when I finally thought I settled on the 28” suitcase, in swoops my mother to tell me to meet her at T.J. Maxx for a luggage sale. Oh the humanity! MORE SUITCASES!!! When all the shopping dust had cleared, I ended up with two suitcases that I probably don’t need and have justified these purchases by telling myself one of them was reduced from $340 to $40 so how could I return it? Uy.

            Now that I have my choice of suitcases, I need to start thinking about packing. I always admired my friend’s philosophy: “I just throw some shit in a bag and hope it all works out.” I’d love to be that free and easy. But free and easy just isn’t in my nature. No, I have a packing list in an Excel spreadsheet organized by category. You know those people who get somewhere and say, “Damn, I forgot to pack xxx.”  They’re always relieved when I turn to them with a big grin and say, “Don’t worry. I brought it. You can borrow some of mine.” Call me anal (I prefer meticulous) but either way it comes in handy to have me around on a trip if you forgot to pack your SPF 40 sun tan lotion!

            I’m still wondering when and IF this pre-trip freak-out is going to occur. I just worked the last thirteen days in a row with no day off so I am beyond exhausted. And when we are tired, we tend to get… well, emotional. It’s the perfect breeding ground for me to lose my shit. So far, nothing has happened, but I still have five more days. Am I going to blow a gasket in the waiter station at work, and bitch at the person who forgot to fill up the ketchup as part of their sidework? Or will I instead tell a guest what I REALLY think of how gross it is to reach a spoon into someone else’s dessert without asking first? (A cardinal sin in my book.) Stay tuned, ladies and gentlemen, and I apologize in advance to whoever is on the receiving end of my emotional frenzy. Bon voyage!

Monday, August 7, 2017

If Everyone Is Leaving, Why Am I Still Here?

            New York City is a transient city to a large extent. People come to the Big Apple full of dreams, ambition and wide-eyed excitement. Some are college graduates; eager to begin their adult lives in the “big city”, completely unaware their paychecks are probably not going to cover the exorbitant costs of living here. Artistic types like me flock to the city hoping to get our “big break”, and if we’re lucky, we either get it or we move on to pursue something equally satisfying. Some are here for job transfers, some come from other countries and still others come for an education. There are many reasons people come here, but what we all have in common is that we want something MORE for ourselves. And that desire crosses all racial, cultural, and religious boundaries. I mean, who DOESN’T want more? It makes our city one of the most diverse places I have ever been. There’s an energy that seems to draw people in. The problem is (if you see it as a problem that is), not everyone seems to stick around for the long haul.

            This past week I’ve had to bid farewell to two “creatures” I love, one being of the four-legged variety, i.e. a dog. Let me tell you how hard it is saying goodbye to a dog, especially when you are their dog walker.  A dog is a permanent baby of the furry kind. They are eternally innocent and loving, and unlike their human counterparts, they need you forever. Dogs don’t grow up and they can’t communicate in conventional terms, though I swear I understand everything my fur babies are trying to say! When you bid farewell to a dog, a part of you knows there’s a good chance you’ll never see them again. And unlike a human, there are no phone calls, emailing or texting. As brilliant as I think dogs are, those modes of communication are just not in their wheelhouse. Dogs solely communicate by their physical behavior, so you have to be there to see it.

            That’s not true with humans, but it’s still quite painful to say goodbye. Because as much as we have options to keep in touch, most of us New Yorkers get so bogged down by the pace of city life, we completely lose track of time. (Or maybe that’s just me.) Before you know it, it’s been months since you spoke to that friend you texted twenty times a day when you both lived in the same city. That said, I’ve done fairly well at keeping in touch with friends who have departed NYC for other places and new opportunities. And my bonds with them still remain strong. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy, and it doesn’t mean a part of me wishes these wonderful people could have remained physically at my side forever.  So saying goodbye to yet another friend who is pursuing his dreams elsewhere felt like a big blow to my gut. I thought to myself, “There goes another one.”

And as another friend rides off into the sunset, that nagging question comes back to me: What is it about me that stays? The fact that my parents are both native New Yorkers and have never left might have something to do with it. Being the Jewish-Italian girl that I am, I must admit moving away always felt like abandonment. Is it some kind of flaw that I haven’t done so?  Why don’t I strike out in search of thrilling adventures and undiscovered territories? But then I remember, I HAVE moved… it’s just of a more temporary nature, i.e. my travels. I’ve traveled. A lot. To England, France, Scotland, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and all over the Caribbean. I’ve sailed the British Virgin Islands, went white water rafting in Costa Rica and climbed Mount Olympus in Greece. I’ve toured the United States while playing Tiny Tim in a Christmas Carol. (Wanna hear me say “God bless us everyone” with a British accent? I didn’t think so.) Suffice it to say, I’ve done my fair share of seeing this wonderful world and have moved around. Movement is good. Movement is necessary to grow. But I don’t need to define WHEN those movements take place or HOW long they last.

And when I consider that I am in the city where WHAT I WANT TO DO is thriving and ever changing, it gives more evidence as to why I’m still here. In New York I can audition for Broadway or a student film. I can write my own material and produce it (and have done so on multiple occasions). The opportunity to meet newcomers and share experiences and life lessons continues to inspire me. The trick is to make sure the grind of city life doesn’t burn me out! It’s always important to maintain a sense of humor when living in NYC. How else do you survive watching someone pluck his nose hairs on the subway? (Sad, but true.) Does this mean a permanent move where I build a new home and life elsewhere is out of the question? Definitely not. But right now, as hard as it is to say goodbye to those that decide to leave the “big city”, I’m okay with accepting that this is exactly where I need to be.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

It's My Party And I'll Cry If I Want To

Do you recognize those song lyrics? You might be too young… it’s a sixties song, after all. Lesley Gore sang it many years ago, and I always found the lyrics intriguing. I mean, who the hell wants to cry at a party? Doesn’t that sound a bit narcissistic? I’m sorry if Judy is wearing Johnny’s ring, but can’t you go somewhere private and not ruin everyone else’s fiesta with your tears?

And what if it’s NOT your party? Can you still cry IF you want to? Answer: No. When it’s someone else’s party you must play by their rules, and I discovered it’s not always so easy. As actors, we are taught to let our emotions be accessible at all times. In life, we are taught to keep them under control. I’m sure we’ve all heard our moms say, “Don’t make a scene.” How ironic that scenes are what we play as actors, while in real life, we avoid them like the plague. And in my specific case, scenes were something I often played in both—whether I wanted to or not. Growing up with a hot-tempered Italian father (who I absolutely adore so please understand that), scenes were something that flared up without warning. He mellowed, as most people do, with age, but the memories of his volatile mood swings are not something a child ever forgets… even when said child is now a much older grown-up.

Hence, my somewhat callous sounding words earlier about crying at a party. Public spectacles are not something I relish. Thus, when it came to expressing vulnerability in my life, I learned to keep it in at all costs. And as my acting teacher, Matthew Corozine, would say, “Great for your life, terrible for your acting.” Vulnerability is an essential ingredient in acting… it keeps an audience sympathetic and engaged in the story. And thanks to the aforementioned acting teacher, I have learned to unlock that side of myself, which has coincidentally helped me in my life as well. There are situations where you NEED to and SHOULD be vulnerable. It’s how we connect as human beings. But it still doesn’t necessarily make it easy to do.

So when I found myself recently playing a character in a film where crying was her go-to emotion, it was a definite challenge for me. The crying was literally written throughout the entire script… no way to avoid it. But I relished the opportunity to play such a unique character—an ultra conservative Christian mother whose world has fallen apart upon discovering her daughter makes porn and her son masturbates to it. Yup. Not in my normal wheelhouse of acting roles. This woman is devastated, rightfully so, and didn’t hold back that devastation. The role felt like it was a gift, given how hard I’ve worked at showing vulnerability in my life as well as my art. Crying is this weird thing… I resist it, but once I do it, I actually kind of LIKE it. It feels good to let those kind of feelings come to the surface; it’s cathartic. Hence the expression “I had a good cry.” However, it is quite an experience to try doing it on command and for a long period of time, i.e. eight hours of filming!

What I discovered was how challenging it can be to keep that kind of emotional life going throughout the stops and starts of making a film. And how you have to find ways to keep clicking back into those painful feelings once the camera starts rolling again. (For the record, watching the ending of “Marley and Me” works wonders.) By the end of the first day of filming, I was exhausted and had a splitting headache!

And who knows how it will all look when the film is edited and “in the can” as they used to say in the old days. Inevitably, I am sure I will find flaws in my performance even where there are none. I am never satisfied with my work; I always feel it could be better. But as my coach Tessa Faye tells me, sometimes when we are the hardest on ourselves is when we are doing our best work. And we may think it’s not good enough, but to the rest of the world, it is exactly what they wanted. Here’s to hoping, at the very least, my performance is exactly what my director wanted!

Friday, July 21, 2017

When Brutal Honesty Just Makes You a Brute

We’ve all encountered situations where someone has said, “I’m just being honest.” (Insert annoyingly whiny voice.) Admittedly, I’ve said it too. Sometimes it feels so good to be honest, even though seconds later you’re deeply regretting your words as you see the person on the receiving end’s reaction. I’ll never forget when I said something hurtful to my grandmother as a child. I was immediately sent to my room by my mother, but of course I snuck out to hear what they were saying about me. Years later, I still remember as my mom said, “I don’t understand why she has a mouth like that. It’s not how I raised her.” And my grandmother responded, “But how can you fault her when what she says is true.”  It really stung. Knowing that I was speaking the “truth” but that didn’t make me right, or mean that I was a nice person for saying it.

Then there are other situations where honesty may not be hurtful, but it’s just unnecessary… and possibly gross.  Case in point: My family recently went to Morton’s The Steakhouse to celebrate my brother’s wedding anniversary and his wife’s birthday. I’ve always thought of Morton’s as a high-end chain with good quality food. (They certainly have the price tags to support such a notion.) I was working the night my family went out so I couldn’t make it, but boy do I wish I could’ve been there to witness what happened next! Someone (who shall remain nameless) at the table asked the server if there were any end cuts. The server said no, but apparently seemed tentative as if she was new and thus unsure of her answer. To verify, the unnamed guest went to the host to ask her to find out if there were, in fact, no end cuts available. A few minutes later, the chef AND the general manager of the restaurant approach the table. Now I think it’s important to mention that on their website Morton’s proudly proclaims to have “The Best Steak Anywhere.” Really? Is that why the chef brought a steak to the table IN A PLASTIC BAG?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen—I will address you formerly since I am in the hospitality industry too but I actually KNOW how to treat people properly—my horrified family found themselves staring at a pre-cut steak in a plastic bag. The chef went on to explain that all their steaks come into the restaurant like that and they have no control over the cuts they get. And apparently, he was miffed, as if my family had some nerve asking about the menu. How’s that for gracious hospitality? Answer: It’s a total fail. Possible alternative: How about you INSTEAD come to the table and POLITELY inform my family there are NO end cuts available?

When I’m trying to de-clutter myapartment and reorganize my clothes closet, that’s the time to bluntly remind me I wore that SAME red shirt to a Bon Jovi concert back in 1988 and now’s the time to let it go. Brutal honesty is welcomed and appreciated in that scenario. But telling me that you can’t remove the mushrooms from the quesadilla at T.G.I. Fridays because they come to the restaurant pre-made AND frozen is just disgusting. (Another true story AND epic fail.) Find a tactful way to let me know it’s simply not possible. I don’t need to know all the gory details. Let’s face it, sometimes we just don’t want to see behind the curtain and realize “The Great Wizard of Oz” is just a balding old man. Let us have our magic!

What about Morton’s, you might be asking? I personally think a phone call to their corporate office is in order, but I will leave that to my family who was actually there to witness the atrocity. As for me, I think it’s given me food for thought (yes, I had to go there). Honesty is something I value very highly, but there needs to be boundaries, on my own behavior as well as everyone else’s. You hear that, Morton’s? There is something to be said for telling tactful truths. No need to let the brutes inside us win. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Are you fit... or FREAKY?

            I know I’m opening a BIG can of worms by asking that question, but I think it NEEDS to be asked. And with that said, I will full out admit that I am neither. I actually need to be more fit, and I have been spending a lot of time at the gym trying to make that happen. I’ve already talked about my love/haterelationship with exercise a few months ago, and believe me, there is still plenty of hate going on! But I’ve come to a kind of peace about my exercise routine, and at times I almost ENJOY going to the gym. The gym is the place where it’s acceptable to be stinky and sweaty, although no one really wants to be standing next to the aforementioned stinky and sweaty individual. Speaking of which, boy do I sweat! It feels good though, knowing that I’m pushing myself hard and challenging myself to do better with every workout. The question is… how much is TOO much?

            Spending more time at the gym has allowed me to observe people’s bodies as well as their workout routines. What else is there to do when you’re standing on the elliptical pedaling away? I watch people pumping iron to the nth degree, and I am reminded of the ABC Wide World of Sports promo back in the late 1970s, where you see a clip of a man victoriously lifting an enormous barbell over his head. Does “The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat” mean anything to you? If not, watch this: I don’t know about you, but it gives me chills to watch athletes persevere against all obstacles. I admittedly get teary whenever I see an athlete WIN. Win what, you ask? I could care less. I’m a sobbing mess. I guess it’s because at the end of the day we all want to be winners and seeing someone else come out on top means there’s a chance it can happen for us too.

            And maybe that’s what drives these people I’m watching at my gym. They also want to experience the “thrill of victory”. But at what cost? Some of these people seriously look like they need to take a few days off, if you ask me! Come on, gentlemen… when your muscles have muscles and you look like you’re ready to bust out of your t-shirt like the Incredible Hulk, I think a line has been crossed. I know some people find that look attractive. I, however, do not. You do not need to be sooooo muscular that you look like you might topple over from the sheer weight of your upper body!

            Social media only intensifies our obsession with our bodies and being fit. We all know that once we put something out there on the “world wide web”, it’s OUT THERE. And we darn well wanna look good when we do it. Hence, all the photos on Facebook or Instagram with people posing in their Sunday best with a caption about how excited they are to be at XYZ event. Subtext: “Hey world, look at me! Don’t I look GREAT?” And knowing that someone might share your photo puts even more pressure to always look your best. But what does best really mean anyway?

            My gym has a CrossFit room where you actually need special access to enter. It even has its own membership. Ooo la la! These people give a whole new meaning to training. I was doing stomach crunches in the exercise room one morning, and all of a sudden there was a thud so loud that the floor underneath me literally vibrated and my heart nearly stopped. I panicked, thinking, “Did a BOMB just go off?” Silly me. Moments later I realized it was just the CrossFit folks dropping a weight onto the floor. ExCUSE me? Newsflash: If the weight is too heavy for you to put it down without sounding like the building is about to be demolished, then you SHOULDN’T BE LIFTING IT IN THE FIRST PLACE!

            Being fit is amazing. It’s something we can strive to be at ANY age. My mom often walks around town instead of using her car to run errands. She wants to make sure her body stays active and fluid. That’s wonderful. But when you’re lifting insane amounts of weight to make your muscles’ muscles have even MORE muscles or you’re running so fast on the treadmill you might actually fly off the back, I think there is a problem. I see a nutritionist who was also a professional body builder early on in his career.  He has repeatedly told me, exercise is good for your health, but what you eat is critical to staying trim and fit. All the exercise in the world isn’t going to get rid of those love handles. Cutting carbs, however, WILL.

            So for all you super muscular people out there who think they HAVE to look that way… you don’t. Work out. Eat right. Be FIT. But no need to look like Popeye the Sailor man. After all, Popeye is a cartoon character. And last time I checked, we’re living in the real world where people have REAL bodies. And lord knows, if nothing else, my body is REAL. And on that note, I’m off to the gym to make my flabby body a little LESS flabby!