Archive for May, 2007

My Back

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

Our dishwasher quit working. I blame it on that.

I mean, I should say, it works, it just doesn’t drain, and it doesn’t drain because it was installed by an undereducated idiot… me. The hose they sent with the dishwasher isn’t long enough for where I want the dishwasher to be, so I replaced it with a rubber hose that is the right thickness and length. It didn’t occur to me that a rubber hose might very easily trap gook on the inside where a plastic hose wouldn’t.

I know this is pretty mundane but the truth is that all the miracles and big moments in your life have, at their root, all of these mundane moments. My actual life seems to be filling in the quarter notes more than it is hearing the music, if that makes any sense.

So, I spent several hours over the last two days trying to clean out the various traps and trying to get the dishwasher functioning. It’s at about 80%, so, naturally, we did a load of dishes. Our house is a goddam mess, a complete goddam mess… it feels like I’m walking home from the store with a month’s worth of groceries and no bags, I just keep moving armload after armload up a block and then go back for the rest. In any case, we did a load of dishes and they came out clean, I just have to keep working on the trap and the hose.

What it led me to was a slow bad feeling in my back. I’ve never had a bad back, my knees are for shit and my stomach always hurts but I’ve got a really strong back, always have. So it’s weird and rare that I get this bad feeling in my spine, but last night it started feeling kinda, y’know, *bad*.

My poor kid is teething. This morning at 2:15, he woke up in pain. I went in as I always do and tried to get him to settle down, but he was really unhappy. Because it was the middle of the night, I had forgotten that it could be his teeth. Jordana popped her head in and said, “You can give him some baby tylenol…” and I was like, “Crap, why don’t I ever *think* of these things…”

I spent the next 52 minutes rocking him and swinging him. At 3:07, when he lost his shit again, I whined into the monitor, “Jordana… can you come in here?” My back was locking up, I couldn’t move and Barno was inconsolable.

So, that’s a great little pity party, isn’t it? Sucks for me, up all night, back hurting. My life is extremely hard.

But those 52 minutes were partially awful, but partially amazing. I put some teething tablets in his mouth and waited for them to melt, and then I rubbed them on his gums. I don’t know if it’s the tablets or the rubbing, but he just completely relaxed as I rubbed his gums. I got to the back of his teeth and he started biting down on my finger making this little “gaaaah” sound of satisfaction, the same sound I make when I get some good pot roast…

And I was swinging him and he’d relax, but then he’d start to whine like a rusty door swinging, and I’d pick him up to my face and nibble on his chest and belly and arms and he’d stop whining completely. When I pulled him down from my face, I could just see him, smiling, with fingers in his mouth, eyes looking to the side.

It’s hard for me to talk about my life with Barnaby, because it’s all inside me. He has some problems, his sleeping sucks and he’s a hilarious pain in the ass when it comes to eating, and then all of the nice stuff, the smiling and the talking and the staring into my eyes, that’s all so obvious.

You never really change, I think. You don’t change or have something happen to you and then you’re changed. It’s never as simple as it is in the movies, where you can say, “my father fought in Vietnam, so now I’m scared of pineapples” or whatever. People claim this all the time, like the so totally misunderstand psychiatry that they say, “my father was mean to me, so now subconsciously I mistrust men.” As if you can make an announcement about your own subconscious, and as if knowing the source of an irrational feeling wouldn’t make it basically go away.

The changes that happen tend to be the kind of thing where you look back and you realize that years ago something shifted your point of view, and you’ve been behaving accordingly ever since. You listen to someone talk and you don’t believe them, and you realize it’s because of something three or four years ago, plus something from last year, plus something from high school.

But when you have a baby, your learning curve, your maturity and your shifting nature starts to pace his. He’s a different person, entirely, every day, and you find yourself changing your head and your heart every day.

There aren’t any goods and bads anymore. Everything is painted in different colors. It’s the same painting, it’s all the same life, but now, the colors are different, like blowing out the tint knob on an old TV.

I can barely move my back. But I had Barno this morning for 45 minutes, and the exquisite pain of carrying him was a different kind of pain. When I pick him up and he puts his hand out and pulls my glasses off and then drops his forehead into my neck, my back freezes, but it’s just so lovely.

Those 52 minutes I was up with him are different than you might think. It was terrible, and I fell asleep in horrible pain at minute 54, but the color of the pain was just not the same as it was five months ago today.

Obviously, five months ago today, all of the pain was Jordana’s.

But five months and a day ago, I wouldn’t have known how beautiful a hurt back can be. I didn’t know how much you could be loved by someone you barely know. The colors were all different.

Somehow, the feeling of “broken dishwasher” is still pretty frickin’ similar…

Acting on the Fringe

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

We have been accepted by the NYFringe Festival this year, which is a real thrill for us. Never before, ever, have we entered into a production schedule with so much already in our proverbial backpacks, ready to make the trip.

The script is “Hail Satan”, which we did as a workshop production of a year and a half ago. I am a big believer not only in Mac as a playwright, and I think this might be his tightest script ever. Jordana, Mac and I do share a similar ability to disappear into whatever is expected of us, we can parody things nice and broad or we can parody them so thin that it’s almost unrecognizable, but this piece is one in which I completely hear “Mac”.

We’ve got the acceptance, we’ve basically got the script (Mac is doing some second act revisions that everyone except me seems to think are necessary) and we’ve got a director. We have all worked together so much in the past that we’ve got a shorthand for making the thing work, and I have to tell you, this is the dream I’ve had since I was a kid.

I always wanted *this*, I just didn’t know what it was. I’ve always wanted an audience for our shows, I’ve always wanted to be one of the people that helped say something really lovely. That’s the thing about acting, you get to be a part of storytelling and if you get really lucky, you get to be one of a group of people that are telling stories you want to tell in the way you want to tell them.

My acting life has been really terrible. I should say, I’ve been really lucky in love, I’ve been really lucky when it comes to money, and I feel like I SUPER lucked out with my kid, so I can’t really complain. But it really sucks being an actor. I’ll tell you why…

1) Other actors. It takes a special kind of abuse as a child that makes you crave being an actor. This particular career attracts only the most ravenously needy. There are a lot of people clawing their way to downstage center, leaning in to the follow spot the way an herb garden grows toward the window. Most of the time, these people get a little older, a little less desperate and slowly become okay-to-normal people, but not always. And even the mature, settled, considerate and kind actors, who are one in a million, still have that horrible eating need to be *watched while they do stuff*. It isn’t healthy.

2) Scripts. You fight like crazy, calling casting directors, buying writers and stage managers drinks, sending out your resume cold, calling agencies cold, all so you can get on the list where *someone* will consider you for a role on the Breakdowns. Not just a “Backstage” role, the one where you’ll get a metrocard and wear your own clothes in the show, but a “Breakdown” role. With residuals. A costumer. Who gives you a pair of shoes to wear, and then you give them back.

The thing is, you get one of these gigs, and then you start reading. I left an audition for a children’s show because reading the script made me start feeling physically ill. In a Home Depot commercial audition, I let the other guy go first and then I just sighed and walked out. Have you ever watched an Olive Garden commercial? Stop your DVR and watch it, it’s just… it’s torture. It’s inhuman.

But the very worst thing is the “Backstage” role, the one you have to wear your own clothes in, the one with six weeks of rehearsal being directed by the playwright’s college buddy, these are the scrips that are the absolute worst.

((( Please let me provide the caveat that the very best theater I’ve seen in New York has been showcase code, crazy ass scripts being directed by the playwright’s college buddy. There are a lot of off-off guys that are doing it right. But I’ve gotten just gun-shy of being cast in one of these things. I’d rather do one that my best friend wrote, directed by his college buddy…)))

3) The Director. If you find yourself with a really lovely script, don’t think for a moment it can’t be utterly destroyed by the director. I had always thought that the worst possible director is the one who walks in and really wants to save a script from itself. In one instance, I played the antagonist, a lovely young actress played the protagonist, and the director’s college friends were the supporting characters, which meant the entire play was designed around the ancillary characters doing distracting shit.

I had always thought “The Savior” was the worst, but I was proven wrong at some point. There are in fact directors who are directors because they wanted to be actors and couldn’t, and ran the box office at their college or something, and hung around, and hung around, and found a way to raise enough money to kinda get a group of people around them to produce and direct their own stuff. (if you look at reason #1, it’s not hard to see why these kind of people can actually get wonderful actors to work with them), but then when they actually have a script and a cast and a rehearsal room… they do nothing.

They run scenes.

And, at the end of the run, they say, “Questions? Comments? Concerns?” Or they say, “Let’s try it again, and really focus on *what* you’re saying. Y’know? Think about WHY…”

4) My Own Brain. I have problems with authority, linked in a lot of ways to the fact that I was desperately unhappy the whole time I was in school. I was the kid who got suspended for getting beat up. I was the kid who was put on probation when my gym clothes were found in the urinal. I was the kid who did well on standardized tests, but failed my classes. My teachers hated me as much as…. well, I guess, as much as most of the directors who’ve worked with me have hated me.

But, I failed school because I had an undiagnosed learning disorder that I have since come to terms with. This disorder made it difficult for me to *recall* lines, it didn’t make it hard to memorize them, and there is a difference. It isn’t that there would be a passage or two (or ten) in a play that wouldn’t stick, it’s that every night, every show, there would be something else that would leak out.

It’s a perfect storm, really. I had enough talent to get cast, but as soon as I did, I would hate the script, I would fight with the director and make her or him look like a dick in front of the rest of the cast, all the while I was showing flashes of brilliance and a constant sense that I might lose my concentration at any moment.


Two years ago, I retired from acting. I didn’t do it in any kind of a showy way, I just quit sending out my heashots, I quit accepting invitations to audition for stuff, and I quit pushing to be in the things we were producing.

My time away from acting has been extremely fulfilling. I love writing music, I love working on my house and there is nothing that could have prepared me for how much I love being a husband and a father. Over the last two years, I’ve found that my dream, where I accept the Tony, has disappeared, replaced with the dream of playing piano along with my son who’s playing violin. I got on medication that sobered me up quite a bit, and let me find the center of my mind. I no longer wander.

There is a part for me in the production we have in the Fringe this summer, and I initially suggested that we leave the part open, but both Mac and Jordana had artistic and non-artistic reasons for me to act in the show, so the last two days I’ve been steeling myself for the months ahead.

This morning, I find that I’m pretty clear and optimistic.

I think we can change our outlook on things. I think you can. I think if you’re in a bad marriage, if you get into therapy, you can pretty easily remember what it was that was good, the things you loved that got you into the marriage, and you can work them out with your partner. Acting was a bad marriage for me, but I don’t think it’s bad any more.

I love the character. I know this guy. I’m avoiding the bad director and bad script by going back into this in the safest possible way, with two of the
most talented and hard-working people I’ve ever known, in a setting that is as familiar as could possible be expected.

Maybe this will be the actual start. Maybe this will be the beginning of the rest of my career, the real career, the one where I’m not angry any more and I’m not looking to each play to finish me and fulfill me. Maybe this is where my wife and my son and my music keep me fulfilled, my love for my brothers and sister and in-laws and parents and friends replaces that horrible ache for attention, and I can just *do my job* without worrying about the rest.

I have to say, I feel like it can be. I feel really optimistic.

This Anniversary Better Be “Barf”

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

It’s strange, when we asked our doctor about Barnaby’s drool, he gave a half smile and said, “put a bib on him”. For almost all the problems that a baby can have, the solutions are pretty much that simple. There’s no way to expect more, and you just have to treat the symptoms because the problems just take growth to go away.

If you’re worried about your baby crying too much or drooling or not sleeping, you may as well complain about her height or weight, this stuff will only change with time. And it’s a terrible and wonderful realization. When you say to yourself, “I am supposed to shape this mountain, and all I have is a water gun” it can be awful, but when you look at the rivers slicing through mountains, it’s breath-taking to comprehend how much can be accomplished with tiny steps and perseverance.

When you have a child, that dichotomy is always right in front of your mind. You look at your baby and know that you’re holding the water gun and he’s the mountain, but then you look at yourself and you know that you’re the river, already having made your mark on the mountain. You carry with you the giant divot of your life, the depression in the stone where you’ve been dragging yourself for thousands of miles.


When I think back to three years ago, I don’t feel like I was a lot younger then, and I don’t feel older or wiser now. I feel like the guy I am now was already pretty deeply in the works by then, and the difference between me now and me then is that now I’ve sluffed off a lot of the crappy stuff. I’m a lot simpler now than I was then, and that’s weird because my life is certainly a lot more complicated.

I should say that three years ago, I spent a lot of time being breathlessly thankful that I was not who I was five years before that. Even after Jordana and I got married, there was this sense I had that this could all be taken away from me at any moment, or even that I could walk away, disappear, and nobody would be too deeply distraught.

Combined with this was a pathological regret. I would spend time basically every day wondering how I would have done it differently, reworking the moments of every intersection of my life. I kept trying to figure out where I would steer my life if I could go back, what moment would be the perfect moment to stop the litany of mistakes and missteps, which fork in the road would have changed everything.

And always, it was about her. Every daydream was focused on how to get back to her, to these moments. Every fork would take me off in one direction, knowing that, when she got back from Cincinatti, I had to be there to lay down my plot.

In these fantasies, I focused more on my career and far less on fucking the vapid. My sister always teased me about the “blowing skirts of ladies who promise to gather you to their breast”, and she was totally right. I always hungered for the disgusting fruit of poisoned trees, and I don’t know why. Y’know how over-ripe fruit is basically all sugar? It took me forever to figure out it would make you sick.

In these fantasies, I showed up in New York, on the crest of a brilliant career wave, with tons of money, so I could just be like, “Come on, come with me, don’t worry about anything.” I mean, the little changes and switches were infinite, depending on how far back I could go. Sometimes, I would go all the way back to high school, and bide my time working until I could go to Carolina, alone, and when I saw her there I’d just be *awesome*.

I’d show up with “Atlas Shrugged” memorized. I’d have converted to Judaism…

It was insane, the permutations. Always about her, always about finding a way of being the better man once I met her. And always about showing up to offer her a man who wasn’t mostly destroyed, but rather a man who could lift her up on my shoulders, who could be for her what she has always been for me.

It’s only when I look back that I realize that I no longer do this. It didn’t go away with a bang, it faded like a whimper, like the friendships I had had with those people who weren’t worth being friends with. The regret I had, the obsession with what points I could have gone back to in order to save the time I wasted… this wasn’t a casual thing, this was a *daily* thing. Sometimes I would sit in the dark for hours, not sleeping, fantasizing about pulling a “Somewhere In Time”, only I’d make sure to empty my pockets of change.

Now I know why I didn’t meet her as a whole man. I know why I couldn’t put her on my shoulders. It’s because I was never going to be the man who could carry her without her. I couldn’t show up to save her because she is my salvation.

She’s the river, and I’m the mountain.

So, now we have this baby, this little mountain, and suddenly I know who I am, and I think with terror of how I tried to hard to go back and change things. If one little thing had been different, would we be here now? Would that sweet baby boy be here? With her eyes and her smile set on my cheeks and my chest?

If I went back now… I’d try so hard to remember to do everything *exactly* the same. Maybe I’d invest in a couple of stocks, bet on some basketball game long shots (I bet Houston in ’95 would have gotten you a pretty good return) but I’d do everything I could to make sure I ended up right here, right now, waiting for Jordana to get home from work, watching Barnaby play with his toys. Every mistake, every painful awful moment was worth getting to someday be married to her. To live in New York, married to Jordana and to have little Barnaby… it’s more than I could have ever hoped for.

At the time, when I asked her to marry me, I think I paraphrased Chaim Potok and said something to the effect of “this is a thing about which one should either say a lot or very little, and I’m going with the latter”. Now that I’ve written this, I feel like I’ve said way too much for a public blog, but… I mean, that’s never stopped me before.