Life is But a Theme
This section will be periodically updated.
Milwaukee Brewers star outfielder Ryan Braun admitted to some wrongdoings and was suspended for the rest of the major league baseball season. He juiced. He enhanced. He resorted to dastardly deeds to gain a competitive edge.
Reactions across the game have ranged from anger to disgust to contempt to cries to clean up those involved in the Great Pierogi Race... not that last part.
Meanwhile, the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez is secretly fighting to stay alive, but comes across more like the lawyer in 'Jurassic Park', running away from the T-Rex and hiding on the toilet.
Here's the thing to me about PED's (performance enhancing drugs), HGH's (human growth hormones), steroids...
You don't need them.
Yeah, no kidding. They're illegal. They're bad for you. They shrink a lot of business.
But, I'm telling you, it's not about boosting the body - It's about alleviating the mind.
It's not the strength that's giving the player that edge. I don't think it's what's improving an athlete's game. Do I think that some or all of these things help an athlete recover from injury? Yes. But, giving you a competitive edge via the player's body? No.
I should note at this point and time I am playing the barroom devil's advocate, but I do think there is some merit to this.
A lot of the game of baseball and how you play it depends on the state of mind. It can make or break you. How many relievers have you seen that have blown 9th inning rallies in the most important game of their life and never recover from it? Many. How much sports talk have you heard about hitters that can't come through in the clutch? A lot.
Psychology is such an important part of the game of baseball. It always has been. Nowadays, it can cost a player millions.
I can clearly recall the two balls I hit furthest in my life ---sorry, I had to look at that phrasing for a second, it doesn't look right ---- the first ball came after I had been up all night at my junior prom and was so sleep deprived that the only thing in my brain was 'HIT THE BALL'. The second was in a scrimmage, against one of the best pitchers in the county, so nothing mattered. I might as well have been playing wiffleball down the street from my house again. I was just playing baseball and not worried about the consequences.
Keep in mind that I hit both of these balls with an aluminum bat - speaking of competitive edges - a black Mizuno aluminum bat that pinged like you won a game show.
Do I actually think these drugs made these guys stronger ? Yes. But I also think that it freed up their mind. It didn't make them think so hard. And that is where the real competitive edge came into play - not for better body, but for better mind.
I also want to make note that some of my best little league games came after eating a can of Chef Boyardee Ravioli - Dinner of Champions. I can still hear the sound it makes coming out of the can - like sucking in reverse.
Chef Boyardee Ravioli - my performance enhancing drug.
Collapsing on the couch after five hours of driving from Oswego to NYC, I decided to turn on the television. A very cute car commercial about two young kids in love leaving camp at the end of the summer came on. The girl made the boy a friendship bracelet. The boy carved a tree trunk into a jewelry box containing a friendship bracelet.
What. A. Sucker.
WAIT! This blog would be themed 'Bitter' if that was the case. No, my first thought, honestly, was, 'What's today's date?'
I never went to camp. Never wanted to go to camp. Pray that my unborn children never wish to be campers. Occasionally work in the woods where I try to be in my off time as very as little as possible. I hate the very idea of camping.
And nature doesn't suit me.
I am a suburban child with city tendencies (I did live on the border, after all). Cement and brick are more of a comfort. I would rather have a theme park attraction make it smell like a campfire than actually have one.
Keep in mind I have reveled in the woods for 14 years.
Since I don't know a lot about camping, I run under the assumption that camps don't end until August. That the end of camp is an end of the summer thing. It's still July. Why is camp over now? Why has there been Back-To-School supplies in WalMart since June? Why will Halloween decorations replace the Back-To-School supplies before school starts?
Why do we have to buy Christmas decorations when we're only halfway through the candy we bought in anticipation of Halloween?
Why does an improviser ask so many questions?
...says the guy who just celebrated Christmas in July.
I already blame YouTube for making life move more quickly than I would like it to. YouTube and Netfiix. YouTube, Netflix, and TMZ.
Please note that this blog does not affect my current state of living (except YouTube).
Oh, and if you went to a camp and my complaint is all for nought - let me know!
When people ask me what I do at the Sterling Renaissance Festival, I answer 'I'm the Master of Revels'. The response is confusion. People are generally confused by the title. So, I usually rephrase, somewhat self-conciously - 'He's sort of like the Master of Ceremonies'.
I'm not sure if it's the entire title that confuses them. Or if it's me mumbling over Revels because the conversation has already made me more self-conscious than I realize.... fear the judgment, fear the judgment... I've always led myself to believe the reason was not understanding what 'revels' meant.
Revelry came to me at a young age.
...the revelry; dear simple days of childhood.
Charles Emerson Winchester the 3rd says this to Radar after receiving a Christmas present on M*A*S*H. It was his toboggan cap from his youth. The Corporal & Father Mulcahy had arranged this gift since the Major was having a hard time since he arrived in Korea. There are more holiday related episodes of this show than there were years of the war, but this episode was one of my Christmas fixtures growing up. An odd tradition to have for sure.
Dear simple days of childhood.
That's how I have always defined revelry. It's what I thought of when Lenny Burrows the thief became Lenny Burrows, the Master of Revels. It's why a Lord of Misrule, a Christmastime title, seemed like a natural fit for me - the lowly one who is raised to this new level of status. It's why 'Merry' came into the moniker trifecta.
Winchester thanks the priest a few moments later and says:
...You lowered a bucket into the well of my despair, and you raised me up to the light of day.
To me, that's what revelry is meant to do.
Here in the greater metropolitan area, there is a strong emotional attachment between the people and the Yule Log. And I don’t mean the big, honkin’ piece of wood that burns at the hearth of many European Christmas celebrations…
I do mean the one on television every year.
For nearly 50 years, this log has burned on a televised loop while all your holiday carol favorites play for anywhere up to four hours. I typically don’t like heading down the road paved with Viagra references, but I just unintentionally wrote about a four hour burning log.
Moving on very quickly as we have now learned that I do not pre-plan these blogs.
50 years of the Yule Log! Except the 1990’s where the fire was extinguished by an evil, tyrannical, Scrooge McDuckian of a man known as a television executive. You see there are no advertisements while the Yule Log burns so, rather than anger the masses by adding in the occasional Hershey Jingling Kisses, returning Hess Trucks, and some toothless Toys R’Us kids, he eliminated the Yule Log outright. Than he took the original film and hid it! He hid it! He hid it in an old 'Honeymooners' episode film canister!
I don’t know if he was actually the one to do the hiding part, but we’ll never know. The statute of limitations has passed to jail him.
Needless to say, people lost their minds. Christmas was ruined for nearly two presidencies. Bush lost to Clinton because he wouldn’t answer the question, ‘When will the Yule Log return?’, while at a gala at Hastings on Hudson. A new ice age had come to the city. People were so lost they didn’t realize how much Rudy Giuliani had cleaned up the Manhattan.
I moved to Florida in great part because there would be no Yule Log at Christmas...
Just when all hope was lost, a light began to shine – a star from the east? No! An oncoming N train? No!
That’s right! THE INTERNET SAVED THE YULE LOG!
What began as an offering on the ‘World Wide Web’, the Yule Log - its burning embers, the whole thing there - slowly made its way back to its rightful place in American Christmas Traditions… Television.
And that burning Yule Log footage was found in an old film canister of 'The Honeymooners'.
Happy Christmas in July one and all! Only five more months until we get to listen to the log again!
The cowboy and the ranger were doing their thirty minute set in a movie based theme park. They were not as popular as they were when their first movie came out, and their second one had just been re-directed from 'straight to video' to a wide release. But, let's be clear, the cowboy and the ranger were like The Beatles of theme parks three years before.
Believe me - I was there for it.
The old age meets new age twosome still maintained a steady stream of guests. They struck their poses. They stamped their autographs. They tried not to think about the fact that it was eighty-five degrees the week after Christmas.
Once every so often, a special request would come in that would happen 'off-set'. The first time that this happened, the cowboy and the ranger bestowed a child a huge assortment of gifts. The child was part of the 'Give Kids the World' program. The emotion amongst all involved would leave the cowboy with goosebumps for an hour. Believe me - I was there for it.
This particular special request came from the mother and grandmother of a very young autistic boy. They feared that when he saw his two favorite characters in the whole world he would overreact, so they hoped to get a few minutes away from it all.
They went backstage.
The child was tightly wrapped around his mother - arms around her neck, legs around her waist. The ranger approached to see if he could grab the young boy's attention.
The cowboy stood back.
A little time went by and the ranger was not having much luck. The mother was very disappointed and proceeded to apologize. The cowboy and ranger's guide waved off her apologize saying that they were all happy to do whatever they could. The ranger continued to work for the young boy's attention.
The cowboy stood back.
After another moment, the mother turned her back to the cowboy. The boy was now peering out of the corner of his eye. The mother said to the grandmother, 'we should go - I was hoping we could get a picture but he's not budging.'
The cowboy held his arms out forward, palms up, and moved his fingers towards himself two times, as if to say 'come here'.
The boy immediately left his mother and climbed onto the cowboy, assuming the same wrapped position - arms around his neck, legs around (most of) his chest.
The mother was completely overcome. The boy had not responded to any character like this before. A great many, pictures were taken. The cowboy had goosebumps for days after. Believe me - I was there for it.
Six days later...
The cowboy and the ranger were doing their thirty minute set in a movie based theme park. They struck their poses. They stamped their autographs. They tried not to think about the fact that it was eighty-five degrees in January.
A special request was made for them to meet up with a family 'off-set'. The cowboy and the ranger waited backstage.
A grandmother made her way backstage. She was followed by a boy who was wrapped around his mother - arms around her neck, legs around her chest. The young boy was autistic, and peering at the cowboy and the ranger from the side of his mother's head.
The mother opened with an apology.
"Hi... I'm sure you don't remember us, but we wanted to come and say goodbye before we went home tonight. You were the only one that...
The cowboy held his arms out forward, palms up, and moved his fingers towards himself.
The boy once again climbed up into the cowboy's arms - arms around his neck, legs around (most of) his chest.
You can't make that kind of magic up, folks. Believe me - I was there for it.
n honor of the 84th Annual Major League Baseball All Star Game's completion, I give you this valuable lesson that took place on the evening of the 58th Annual All Star Game. . .
It had been decided between 'Osha' and myself (going by the Osha given name, 'Iss') that Tuesday July 14th, 1987 would be an all baseball night. There would be the All Star Game. There would be Stratomatic. There would be epic baseball card trading. That last part most likely would involve me getting hornswoggled in some ridiculous exchange that would not matter years later because nobody who was a child of the 1980's would have their baseball cards thrown out, as their grandparents had done to their fathers (or mothers), thus diluting the cards' worth to the point that you still to this very day wonder why you spent your paperboy earnings on things such as an Eric Davis Donruss Rookie Card.
It was a stormy night - as in the epic kind of summer thunderstorm - thunder, lightning, rain, witches on a heath, wind, naked Lear roaming the village streets - anything was possible.
Osha was two years older than me, so he already had the Greg Brady seminal moment of moving his bedroom up into the attic of his house. In retrospect, it was probably a gutted oversized walk in closet, but his bedroom was in an attic! His baseball card collection were on shelves outside his room in the hallway! He had access to his own hallway!!! He also had a television in his room.
The game was afoot.
No one scored for the first 12 innings.
Now, when all of the best players in professional baseball gather in one stadium, you inflate your expectations slightly. I mean, these are the guys that will make your baseball card collection worth millions (present day note: there were twelve Hall of Famers on the field that night). And when no team scores for twelve innings, even the best of the best young baseball fans in the world get bored. And when you get bored, your mind starts playing tricks on you.
The attic was old. And creaky. The storm was raging. And there were two very bored chickens in the henhouse.
Noises started to come to the forefront. Slams. Bangs. Forceful. Interspersed with thunderclaps. From the 7th inning on all I could think was this was the very reason why I never saw Friday the 13th, Halloween, or A Nightmare on Elm Street - especially when there was an Elm Street in our neighborhood.
9th inning - still no score.
Osha made an executive decision. We would head downstairs to investigate. I didn't see any real need for this. I thought barricading the door was the better idea. What I'm sure Osha was thinking was actually my second thought - if his parents were aware, then we could carry on with our lives.
...Unless his parents had been slashed by a hockey masked wolverine.
We made our way downstairs. The attic was actually the second floor of the house, but the first floor was massive - huge living room, a dining room you could play ping pong in (and we did), kitchen, master bedroom, television room (Osha's old room), and a huge porch wrapped with bay windows on three sides.
We made our way towards the porch. You could not have orchestrated the moment any better if you tried. The brightest white of lightning lit up the room like Gorbachev pushed the button. We both saw the same thing in that flash...
A window was cracked open.
There was no time to react as the richter scale thunderclap sent us into Scooby-Doo fear frozen poses. When that subsided, Osha and I confirmed what we had saw. And now, sadly, we had to find the intruder.
Slowly we made our way through the darkened rooms - living room, dining room... The master bedroom was still closed shut and I could tell Osha was under strict orders to never open that door. As we passed through each room, eliminating them as potential villainous liars, my feet started getting heavy. Osha was in the lead ahead of me as he made his way to the television room. He reached the doorway.
Another flash of lightning and I saw it from a distance.
Osha saw it right in front of his eyes.
Someone was sleeping on the couch!
I think we walked backwards all the way back up the attic stairs. We barricaded the doorway. The Expos' Tim Raines tripled to win the game for the National League in the 13th inning (or something like that). Osha kept speaking of the 'Skinny Neck' he saw sleeping on the couch.
Why we didn't think to run across the street to my house, I don't know. But I will tell you, moviegoers who get angry at horror movie characters running away from the villain by going back into the house and up the stairs...? Authentic. The brain causes you to retreat to whatever womb is available rather than into the great wide open.
The next morning 'Skinny Neck' was gone. Because there was no 'Skinny Neck'.
'Skinny Neck' was Osha's mother. His parents had been fighting.
I still don't watch horror movies. And I still prefer AC to having any windows open.
Even when I'm driving.
I used to have it out a lot with my guidance counselor in high school. I was a big time underachiever. Sitting in advanced classes but getting by just enough to play baseball in the Spring. Part of that was I knew I could get by on the knowledge I already had. The other part of that (with some serious retrospective on it) was that I didn't want to do more than that and walk away with the same grade or, worse, do more than that and fail.
And you say I didn't know I wanted to be an actor until I was a senior. I fit the mold even back then..
The guidance counselor was furiously trying to sway me away from a life in Art (that would be of the drawing and painting variety back then) and move me towards a career in Hotel & Restaurant Management. I assume this was due to my fascination with Walt Disney World.
If she had only replaced 'Hotel & Restaurant' with 'Event', we may have been on to something.
A couple of years later in college, after completing my Acting final (merely a monologue), my professor called me into his office and told me that while I would probably work a lot in life as a character actor, he thought my true path was as a director.
I didn't understand.
"You see the big picture AND the details. You're not just focused on performing for an audience, you're painting the entire picture for us on stage."
"You're going to be a director."
A month later he replaced the stage manager for the musical he was directing and I became the new one, along with the never-officially-titled 'assistant director'. It was a crash course in both stage management and directing, pretty awesome, and you can say everything I direct to this day - whether it has music in it or not - I try to pace like a musical.
For nearly twenty years, the term 'Manager' and the term 'Director' have been butting heads in my life. Besides being a stage manager at 19, I was an assistant manager at a now defunct Sam Goody record store. As I type this blog, my job title has 'Manager' in it...
Truth be told, I am much better at managing than directing.
I blame my guidance counselor.
I am traveling to Europe for the first time this summer. I am mad, crazy, super excited about it...
Which means I'm also paranoid.
Since the trip has been planned, just about anyone my age and older has said the following to me regarding strolling the streets of Europe: "Hold on to your personal belongings"... Well, they didn't say it as Disneyfied as that, but more along the lines of "Hold on to your wallet", "Don't take a lot of money with you", "Don't look like a tourist" (have you seen and/or listened to me speak? I'm a tourist as soon as my toe dips out of Long Island), and, lastly, "Don't get thrown in jail" - you know, in case I attack my pickpocket... Listen, I'm not 19 anymore. I can't go chasing shoplifters out of a Sam Goody and across Stewart Avenue into a Ground Round parking lot like I used to. Mostly, because there are no more Sam Goody's.
My Doppelganger up at the Sterling Renaissance Festival, Lenny Burrows, came from a life of crime. For research, I would study up on all forms of thieving. My favorite one was on an episode of (inflect like Barbara Walters) '20/20'. A 'tourist' would approach their mark with a map and ask for directions. The mark would end up with the map in their hands and the thief would have their way with them (you know what I mean).
Note to self: do not hold a map in Europe.
So, even though I live in New York City, I have become worried about European rogues. I can't put my wallet in any pockets or in my sock, which I surely would be wearing with sandals. I could carry light with a money clip, but fear I would just lose them because that's just how I am.
I have come up with a solution, and I'm not really proud about it. It's not very civilized.
A jock strap.
I could wear a jock strap without the cup and I would have have an extra pocket that would be undetectable...
I'm glad I put this in a blog so now I can't do it - because I totally would have done it.
Am I just saying that just so you think that's not what I am doing, but it is what I'm doing...
postscript: my wallet is in my sneaker at the beach.
I am a newlywed - so there is bliss.
It's very common.
The definition of bliss is 'utter joy or contentment'. Contentment? Really? Contentment is bliss?
I had to look up contentment because so many people I know recoil at the idea of contentment. Instead of contentment, you might as well say 'complacent' and completely drive them over the edge.
Contentment does suggest 'satisfied', but never does one hear this conversation...
"Are you content?"
Mainly, because nobody would ever converse this way. They would text.
What is this blog about?
I want to focus on 'Bliss' as utter joy for a moment. When I see people dance, I mean really dance - out on the town - having a grand old time - not just getting drunk and not worrying about getting skeeved out or roofied or groped or being rejected or twisting a foot when you have a photo shoot for anklets the next day - I mean really just letting go and dance - I see utter joy.
I am not a dancer. I do not dance well. I have somehow managed to perform routines in Disney parades. I consider myself lucky to have been able to get through it.
When I was in grad school, I played this character for a dinner theater. We did a lot of 'weddings'. He was the dorky little brother - shocker I know. He wore a newsboy cap and a brown tweed coat, and he miraculously ended up with the tramp ex-girlfriend of the groom at the end of the night.
I He danced my his Irish tuckus off during those 'receptions'. You have never seen a Macarena performed to Will Smith's 'Wild Wild West' (now now now now once upon time in the west - mad man lost his damn mind in the west) until you have seen me him gallop and lasso through it. Shaking my his hips to 'Jailhouse Rock'? All. Over. It. And my his whole world was NOT so jive when I he did the YMCA.
That character - Patrick - he was not content dancing. He was blissful.
I can now dance my way through a wedding reception - thanks to Disney parades and one dorky Irish brother.
My summers were spent playing a lot of wiffleball. I played most often with the kid across the street. His nickname for me was 'Iss'. My nickname for him was 'Osha'.
No backstory exists for those nicknames. They were just stupid.
There were two versions that were played most often:
1) One on One, 'Automatic', in front of a house. One pitcher. One hitter. One out per inning. If you struck out, that was it - new inning. If you hit a pop up and it was caught - new inning. If you hit a ground ball directly to the pitcher and it was caught - new inning.
The percentage was in the hitter's favor however to keep an inning going. If you hit a ground ball past the pitcher - single. If you hit the ball on a fly past the sidewalk to the front lawn - double. If you hit it to the bushes planted in front of the house on a fly - triple. If you roof'd it - home run.
Hours of entertainment. The '86 Mets vs. the '86 Yankees. I was learning how to be a mimic before I even knew what that was. The way Lenny Dykstra stood in his batting stance, the way Darryl Strawberry kicked his leg. The way I seemed to make an out every time Rafael Santana was up because that's what he did.
What I didn't realize is that I lost these games a lot because I was a right handed hitter and Dykstra, Strawberry, and Keith Hernandez were lefties. And YOU HAD TO HIT LEFTY IF YOU WERE A LEFTY. And I couldn't hit as a lefty. Osha was a switch hitter.
Osha could bat from both sides.
Stick with the baseball connotations on that. It's what I mean.
2) One on One on One on the Field. One hitter, one pitcher, one fielder, one out per inning. There was small grass area at the park down the block from my house. There were three thirds to each inning. You had to run after you hit, so there were plays on the field. After you made an out, you would go to the field and the pitcher would hit, while the original fielder went to the 'mound' and pitched.
Hours of entertainment.
One year we decided that we would spend our nights practicing rundowns on particularly hot summer nights...on a slip and slide. One runner would be caught between two ends of the slip and slide (or, the bases). The ball would be tossed back and forth until the runner had to decide when to slide into one of the bases. They had to make it without being tagged out.
This lasted 37 minutes.
The slip and slide was set, the hose was on, the fielders were in place, we took our turns. Osha, who owned the slip and slide, was the one caught in the rundown this time. Me and the other guy, who was more of a friend of Osha's than a friend of mine, started tossing the wiffleball back and forth. Osha darted his feet back and forth. Which way would he go? Which way would he go?
Osha then took off running like a bat out of Hell... into the inside of his house.
We were confused, but we waited...
It was awkward because this other kid was Osha's friend and not mine so we really didn't have that much to talk about. And back then 20-25 minutes felt like the equivalent to 6 weeks.
We then started to put together what had happened in the moments before like a mystery.
Osha grabbed his ear!
We then heard the screaming.
Slowly, we approached his side door that led to his kitchen. The friend of Osha peeked into the window...
He was stunned and ducked down out of sight.
"What's going on?", I asked,
"Osha's mom has his head bent over the sink!"
So we both did what we thought was right... we got the Hell out of there!
Thoughts of Osha being water tortured passed in my head throughout the night. The next morning, Osha called from his house. Not on the phone. He would yell with a high pitch squeal from his patio. I would have to return the squeal.
We were weird... I didn't know it back then to the extent I know it now but, yeah, we were.
I met up with Osha and he told me what happened.
His mother was pouring hydrogen peroxide into his ear due to the severe pain (hey, it was the 1980's). This went on for 45 minutes (like I said, the 80's). When it went nowhere but to becoming a painful, flooded ear, they went to a hospital.
There the doctors removed a beetle that had clung to Osha's eardrum while it was drowning in hydrogen peroxide.
Protect yourselves on these hot summer nights, kids.
And wiffleball can be dangerous. I have lots of stories. Thank goodness kids don't go out and play anymore.