Monday, November 27, 2017

All I Want For Christmas Is A Happy Holiday

                  It sounds so cheesy, yet simple. But it’s not. We’re only a few days into the official start of the holiday season, and I already see signs of stress on people’s faces. And I know much of it is due to retailers whoring out their wares at “supposed” deeply discounted prices. Black Friday sales! Cyber Monday sales! Do you know I actually got an email where it announced Cyber WEEK? Are you kidding me? I miss my childhood, when Laurel and Hardy’s “March of the Wooden Soldiers” on Thanksgiving Day was the only thing to remind me the holiday season had begun. And since I work in a restaurant, I am continually reminded of the holidays and my duty to make others happy. But what about me? Sometimes my own happiness during the holiday season gets lost in the shuffle of rushing from one shift to the next. And I don’t want to let that happen this year. The holiday season should be a magical time… where things are possible. At least, that’s what I always thought. So, I’ve decided to make a list of things (in no particular order) that I am looking forward to this holiday season in order to remind myself that the magic is STILL there:

1. Post-work drinks... I know that might sound silly (and possibly alcoholic) to some, but going out after work is a true joy and necessity during the holiday season. Patience IS a virtue, and it certainly can be tested this time of year. That said, it’s nice to bond with your coworkers and exchange stories of the night and laugh about what probably wasn’t funny at the time.

2. Post-Thanksgiving breakfast with my mom… I had to work on Thanksgiving and thus could not enjoy my mom’s turkey with all the fixin’s. That’s okay. Mom is coming into town tomorrow to have breakfast with me and deliver a plate full of leftovers. Can you say string bean casserole? I assure you, that tasty item was NOT on the menu at my restaurant Thanksgiving Day, so I am really looking forward to chowing down on some home cooking!

3. Hallmark Movie Night… Betsy and I were already good friends, but when we discovered a mutual love for Hallmark, well that just sealed the deal. We knew we’d be friends to the end! Our Hallmark movie night is an annual event we started about four years ago and I look forward to it each and every year. We sit on her couch and drink, eat and watch Hallmark movies all night long! No holiday season is complete without Hallmark movies. I mean, who doesn’t want to live in a world where people actually LIKE each other and things always end on a happy note? Sign me up! And this year, we have an additional guest attending and a Hallmark Drinking Game (see card below) to play, so who knows what could happen?

4. Billy Joel concert… Some may say Billy is passé, but I still think he’s cool. I grew up loving  ROCK (it wasn’t called “classic” back then because it was current) and NEW WAVE music (that’s what they called alternative music back then for you youngsters who might be reading this). Billy Joel was and is rock and roll to me. He even wrote a song about it for goodness sakes! (“It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” for those of you not in the know.) I am thrilled to be going to Madison Square Garden to witness his sold-out monthly residency with my friends from college. We tried to go back in June and when we got to the venue we were told that Billy was sick and wouldn’t be performing.  ( It was a real bummer at the time since my friends had traveled hours to be there, but now that the show is less than a month away, I’m kind of happy my friends and I can celebrate the holiday season and Billy together!

5.  Christmas Lunch with Claire… I sat next to Claire one day in acting class, and my life was forever changed. Besides producing a play together that we both starred in, we have determined we are wine soulmates. She is a wonderful gal whose candor, humor and kindness are much appreciated in my world. Last year we took a break for our hectic lives to have a holiday lunch at a historic restaurant—P.J. Clarke’s—where Buddy Holly supposedly proposed to his future wife on their first date. There are many famous stories of this charming eatery and I had a wonderful time with Claire, bonding, catching up and enjoying the holiday spirit. I’m excited about this year’s outing… historic site to be determined!

6. Montreal… I’m not sure if I sat next to Sue, but like Claire, we also connected in acting class (Matthew Corozine Studio to be exact). My acting studio is like a second home to me, and nothing serves as a testament to that more than the lifelong friends I have made there. This year, I am so excited to be traveling to Montreal to visit Sue and ring in the new year with her (and celebrate my birthday). Sue and I have had many wonderful adventures together over the years and I am so grateful for her friendship this holiday season. And of course the fact that she has an adorable dog named Skoshi just puts the icing on my virtual birthday cake!

7. My cousin Mark’s engagement party… Although Mark is on my dad’s side of the family and thus, Catholic, I would still call him a mensch. (That’s Yiddish for gentleman,) Mark is kind and caring and I couldn’t be happier for him and his fiancée. And now that my dad is gone, it’s especially meaningful to connect with my Italian family—the Laura’s—and celebrate his engagement and the holiday season together. Looking forward to toasting with you, beloved Mark!

8. Rosie Cheeks at the Borgata… Last year, I went with two of my pals, Monica and Rene, to Rosie’s final show and it was AMAZING. Rosie is an incredible performer, full of charm and style. And she has a great sense of comedy too! Something about seeing your good friend (aka Betsy) on stage in such a big venue gives me the goosebumps and I feel such a sense of pride. And when I hear the audience cheering for her (because yes, she is THAT good), I want to stand up with a megaphone and shout, “That’s MY friend up there!!!” (Don’t worry, Rosie, I won’t.) I look forward to seeing another amazing show this year, right after Christmas!

9. My annual Christmas photo at Bryant Park Grill… Hey, no one REALLY wants to work the holidays. While some of us are pretty good at making our peace with it and even having some fun along the way, we’d all rather have a day off if we could. That said, I actually DO manage to have quite a bit of fun working on Christmas Day, and a definite highlight is my annual photo with my coworkers, Shaheen and Yaffa. Shaheen and Yaffa are two people that can smile no matter what is going on around them. How they do it, well, it’s one of those mysteries that will probably never be solved, but it’s remarkable. So who better to pose with in a photo before AND after our shift than the two of them? Yaffa and I have already been talking about wearing matching lipstick in our photos, so watch for it on Facebook, folks!

10. Snow… Hello? What says holiday season in NYC more than snow? I know it can be brutal to get around in, but it’s soooooooooo pretty! I’ll deal with the travel headaches if I can just see the snow falling even ONCE before Christmas.

Wow. That turned out longer than I thought. But it was worth it. Just writing down the things that I’m looking forward to this holiday season already makes my heart feel happier and lighter. Feel free to let me know what you’re looking forward to. And please, let’s try to all have a happy holiday season!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Actions Speak Louder Than Words aka Please Take Your Belongings (and your lobster) With You As You Exit the Train!

            We’ve all heard the expression about actions versus words. In fact, most of us have used that expression in an argument, even though none of us ever want to be on the receiving end of it. Why? Because it’s true. We can all TRY to talk a good game when we want/need to, but at the end of the day, it’s someone’s behavior that is the truest indicator of his or her feelings. How many times have people told me I have the worst poker face? Answer: you don’t wanna know. In fact, I suck at actual poker for that very reason. I can never bluff. My fellow players always know when I have a good (or bad) hand. It shows right on my face. And sometimes you need to have a lobster dropped right at your feet to remind you of how people’s actions are as obvious (and stinky) as a fart in a car.

            Yes, you got that right. People’s actions can stink. I mean, the things we do that show who we are and how we feel is astounding! Even if we later regret our actions, in the heat of the moment our behavior is proof positive of where we are at. Take the lobster incident. I was commuting home from work Saturday night via the subway, and was too exhausted to do anything but people watch. There was a woman standing by the doors who was clutching a shopping bag in her arms, presumably because it was so heavy it would’ve broken if she had held it by the handles. Well, that’s exactly what happened. All of a sudden, the bottom of the bag ripped open and all of the contents dropped onto the floor so loudly that everyone in the car turned to look at her. (My heart felt her embarrassment.) The bag was filled with plastic to go containers, full of seafood (probably from Red Lobster). A few of the containers broke open and there it was. Pieces of lobster and some unidentified fish sitting on the floor of the subway car. Take a look:

Pretty gross, right? Well what happened next was even grosser. The subway pulls into the stop, the doors open and the woman, starts KICKING her seafood onto the subway platform as people are trying to get on the train! The doors close before she can complete the process, and everyone is horrified and shocked by what is happening. And there was little any of us could do. If I had any kind of plastic bag on me I would’ve certainly handed it to her, but there was no way any of us wanted to touch her half eaten seafood! Can you say airborne disease? I like to help people, but even I have my limits. It felt like the entire subway car had come to life, our eyes unable to look away from this bad accident while we simultaneously waited with baited breath to see what happened next.

            NOTHING. That’s what happened. The seafood-spiller-in-question wasn’t doing ANYTHING. Once the train pulled out of the station, she started rambling to the girl next to her about her plight. The ultimate crime was when the chick got off the train at the next stop, leaving the rest of us with her dirty seafood platter! I honestly don’t care what the hell kind of excuses she was giving to the straphanger next to her. The bottom line is girlfriend simply exited the train leaving a trail of lobster and some kind of mystery fish (probably tilapia if it was, in fact, from Red Lobster) on the floor of the subway car. The best part was the bonding that occurred after the doors shut and how we all started hypothesizing on what that girl must’ve been thinking. Someone joked that it probably wasn’t even her stop. She simply wanted to hightail it outta there and leave us with her lobster tails.  And as my cousin Mark said, “Who leaves lobster behind?” It’s LOBSTER.

Most of us were empathetic to her plight. Admittedly, I would be mortified if that happened to me. But I would not just leave my leftovers on the floor of the train without DOING SOMETHING! I would probably have picked it up, as gross as that sounds, put it back in the containers and exited at the next stop—whether that was my stop or not—and dumped all of it into the nearest trash can. Life is full of embarrassing moments, but what shows character is how you rise above your humiliation and move forward. This girl certainly moved forward… right off the train. But she left her self-respect on that subway car, in my opinion.

            It reminds me of those badly behaved individuals who come into restaurants and say they have a “gluten allergy”, and then can later be seen at dessert time shoving their fork into someone’s piece of chocolate cake. Why don’t you just be honest and say you’re avoiding carbs and see if your entrée can be modified accordingly, instead of making up stories and forcing the restaurant to jump through hoops? Do you have any respect for people who actually DO have a gluten allergy and thus need modifications made for medical reasons? I think we need to remember that what we DO shows who we ARE. Also, that people are not oblivious to the things we do.  And as it is the beginning of the holiday season, I am going to try to watch the things I do. After all, I want Santa to see me on my best behavior! Happy holidays, all! 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Weightlifting for Dummies aka Romanian Dead What???

            Fear not. No one died. I’m referring to a Romanian Dead-Lift for those of you not in the know. I sure wasn’t. It involves a barbell. It hurts. It’s hard. I’ll leave it at that. In fact, everything about weightlifting is hard. You think it’s just about lifting a lot of weight so you can show off in front of everyone at the gym? Remember the Arnold Shwarzenegger lookalike in the Planet Fitness commercial who kept repeating, “I lift things up, I put them down”? Check it out if you don’t: Admittedly, I thought that ad wasn’t far from the truth. I frowned upon these “meatheads” as I heard them grunting and groaning from across the gym, while I quietly worked up a sweat on the elliptical. Well, now that I’ve had a training session with someone who actually competes as a weightlifter, it’s time to eat my piece of humble pie and admit it’s so much more than being able to lift things up and put them down. It’s an art. (More on that later.)

            I should have known I was in trouble when we headed to the area of the gym with all the free weights. I tried to act cool, but inside I was screaming, “What the hell are we doing over here? I want to go to the area with the machines, where I can let go of the weight if it feels too heavy!” No such luck. My trainer—the formidable Johnny Santos aka Boogie—started me with squats on something called a squat rack. Don’t know what that is? Don’t worry, I didn’t either. Here’s a photo of my trainer showing me what to do:

Does it look easy? It isn’t. I was told to lift the bar, which I figured was super light. It wasn’t. In fact, it weighs FORTY-FIVE POUNDS! I start doing squats with the bar, praying I didn’t topple over. But as we went along, I started thinking, “I got this! I can DO this!” And I told my trainer so, confident I’d get used to the bar eventually. Well… imagine my surprise when he replied, “Oh just wait until you add weight to the ends.” EX-cuse me? Add WEIGHTS to the WHAT???? WHY DOES A FORTY-FIVE POUND BAR NEED WEIGHTS?? (Apparently that’s the point.) Reality suddenly came crashing down on me as I realized I had been lifting an empty barbell.

            And this is where the art comes in. I always related weightlifting to the machines I used back in the days when there was a gym called Jack LaLanne. Oh, Jack. Remember him? He was an exercise God! But I digress. Back to machines… I don’t want to poo-poo on them.  They have their benefits. After all, Jack LaLanne helped develop many of the machines still used in gyms today. However machines, I discovered, do not teach you proper form. Sure, you can still lift heavy weights on a machine, but you don’t necessarily learn how to do it properly. Heck, I remember using the leg press machine way back when, and if I couldn’t handle the weight, I’d just let go and the equipment would loudly bang right back into place, no harm done. There are no such shortcuts when weightlifting with free-weights. Try suddenly dropping a barbell if you decide you can’t handle the poundage and you just might break your foot (or someone else’s). That said, using free weights forces you to focus on your stance, posture and range of motions to target the appropriate muscle groups and gain the maximum benefit.

            And boy, did my trainer work me hard to make sure I achieved the maximum benefit. At one point, as I was struggling to do the dreaded Romanian Deadlift, he just took the barbell from me in ONE HAND and put it back on the rack. What a SHOW-OFF! (Just kidding Boogie.) In truth, he was probably going easy on me for my first workout, but it didn’t feel that way. In fact, I was convinced he was trying to kill me. I thought back to all those moments on the elliptical, when I had given the death stare to all of the grunting and groaning body builders. Forget about me grunting and groaning. I wanted to unleash a bloodcurdling scream the likes of which has only been heard in the scariest of horror films. Feel the burn, my ass! And then… each time I’d think we were done with a rep, Boogie would utter the dreaded three words no one whose muscles have turned to jell-o wants to hear: “One more set.”  Is that some kind of sick joke? My little Jewish-Italian heart could only mutter, “Uy,” in response.

            So yeah… that was my first foray into the world of free weights. All in all, despite my belly aching, I kind of LIKED it. There’s something powerful about lifting up a barbell and being able to support the weight yourself. And did I mention it was forty-five pounds? That sounds like something to be proud of for a five foot tall gal like me! I’m nervous about going back on my own and possibly making a complete jackass out of myself, but I’m going to give it a go and see what happens. Don’t worry. You won’t be seeing me at any weightlifting competitions anytime soon, and by soon, I mean NEVER. But if I can build a stronger body, that will be good enough for me. I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to my trainer for NOT killing me, or laughing at my utter ineptitude. And for those of you wanting to be whipped into shape, you couldn’t ask for a better trainer than Johnny Santos. He is tough, but he is also kind and inspiring. (In other words, ask me for his contact info if you want it!) Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to catch up on some reading:

Monday, November 6, 2017

Better To Be On Time Than Early!

            That should be my mantra. For real. When it comes to time management, nothing makes my blood boil more than being early. Why would I want to be EARLY? So I can sit around twiddling my thumbs wondering exactly what I’m supposed to do now? When I’m early, I feel like a volcano on the verge of an eruption. In my head I’m screaming, “Do you know how many things I could be doing RIGHT NOW?” Who am I yelling at, you ask? The universe… God… the MTA, for finally getting me somewhere AHEAD of schedule. Take your pick. I mean, come on. Other than dinner specials, why would I want to be an early bird? Certainly not to catch a worm, I assure you. Gross. The problem is, in New York City, being early usually means you’re right on time.

            Everyone in NYC is on the go. Sometimes I have so many things to do, I almost lose track of WHERE I’m going at any given moment, but darn it, I’ll know when I get there! One thing that doesn’t stop during all my “to do’s” is time. Time. Sigh. Sometimes I truly feel like time is out to get me. I never have enough of it and I always want more of it. It’s a theme I’ve mentioned before in terms of my productivity. What hasn’t been discussed, however, is my TIME-liness. And how I struggle with it every single day of my life. Most of it is my own resistance to being early. Did I mention I loathe being early? Someone used to call me Just-In-The-Nick-Of-Time-Dina, because I’d roll in at the last possible second. My college economics professor used to look at his watch every time I walked into class. Apparently I always turned up ten minutes late and it was his way of telling me he could set his watch by my tardiness. Hey, at least I’m consistent in my lateness… that’s gotta count for something, right? (Yeah, I didn’t think you’d buy that either.)

And it’s not just my own personal disgust at arriving somewhere early. It’s a whole other level of hell experiencing SOMEONE ELSE who consistently arrives everywhere ahead of schedule. These folks are compulsive about their timeliness in a way that makes my skin crawl. And as much as I may love these people (hello, mom), planning an outing with one of them can make me insane. I become equally compulsive, planning strategies to ensure that my entrance is precise down to the exact second. So picture me meeting one of these “early birds”, in which the stars align and I proudly stroll into my destination right on schedule. Now, imagine my fury when I see friend XXX (names are omitted to protect the guilty) already sitting at our table waiting for me! (Friend XXX got there ten minutes earlier.)  Doesn’t friend XXX realize that by being EARLY, he or she has made me LATE? Here I was, reveling in my “perfect” timing, but I was immediately crushed when I discovered the person I was meeting was ALREADY THERE! Oh, the humanity!

But in all honesty, the opposite scenario isn’t any better. Being perpetually tardy isn’t fun. And in many cases, it pisses people off. Other times, you might miss out on opportunities. I even missed a flight once because of it. (Okay it was twice. In my defense, when you’re only 5-10 minutes late, missing a flight is a rare occurrence.) I’ve also missed the beginning of a few shows, not been there to yell “Surprise!” at several birthday parties, and arrived at a wedding just as the bride was walking OUT of the church.

The fact that I’m usually only a few minutes late shows my true desire to be ON TIME. I just don’t want to be EARLY. I really don’t. I have zero interest in sitting somewhere, playing on my phone going through the most recent Facebook or Instagram posts. I want to be accomplishing something on my to do list, rather than passing the time idly. Part of my punctuality problem is a refusal to give an excessive margin of error for any unexpected issues. This is NYC, after all. Anything can, and usually does, go wrong. So why not leave myself an ample cushion?  As William Shakespeare said, “Better three hours too soon, than a minute too late.” Put a sock in it, Bill. There is NO way I’m ever going to want to be THREE hours too soon. Are you kidding? My to do list is bleeding at the prospect of that madness. While I recognize that I may need to widen my cushion, I’m not going to allow two hours for a trip that should only take a half hour. I just can’t do it.

But the events of this weekend give me hope. I had two auditions on the same day, in roughly the same area. No surprise, I was 5 minutes late to my first audition. But then I had two hours until my next audition. What to do, what to do… would I be 5 minutes late to the second one? I went to a coffee shop around the corner from my second audition, and wrote this blog. That’s productive, right? It felt good. I was already where I needed to be, so I could sit back and accomplish something I knew I needed to do. Yet when it came down to the wire, I still resisted getting up and heading to the next audition. I kept thinking “One more minute… one more minute.” In the end, I dragged myself out of the coffee shop and even made it to the audition with a few minutes to spare!

And guess what? It didn’t feel so bad. I think the takeaway is that if I can prepare more in advance and make sure I have things “to do”, being early might be almost tolerable. I just need to know I’m doing something I deem valuable with my downtime. That said, you might be shocked to learn there is an upside to being late (I know I was). According to an article in Business Insider magazine, latecomers are often more successful, creative and OPTIMISTIC. The article goes on to say, “If you’re an optimist, you tend to think you have more time on your hands than you actually do.” Wow, I never thought being a positive person would be tied to my lateness… there’s hope for me yet! It’s not to say I don’t want to work on my time management skills, or lack thereof. And a big thank you to all of you who, like my economics professor, set your watches by me (and tolerate it). I truly do appreciate your acceptance. Perhaps, however, I shouldn’t berate myself endlessly when I breeze into somewhere a few minutes late. Instead I should simply remind myself, “Better late, than never!”