I should reveal, I don’t watch myself on television.
“Why not?” Chadd asked me as we walked down the side of Union Square.
It was a beautiful day out, the type I enjoy and others see as dreariness, not so sunny and probably around 57, with just that edge of chill that keeps you going, makes you remember you can feel the world around you.
More importantly, it was the day the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck re-opened and we were off on a mile-walk pilgrimage.
“I don’t know.” I replied. “Maybe I’m too self-conscious. I just don’t he said.”
“Well, I think you were awesome.” He told me with his definite Ohio certainty.
“Yeah, you gotta admit, it was a great scene.” chimed in my quasi-roommate John Beamer, along for the trip.
Saying I was self-conscious was easy and mostly true, but the truth is that seeing myself on screen is knowing how I’m portrayed to America. It’s one thing to be on these shows, to be in the moment, to try to be yourself or at least show your best side and another to see what you’ve created, pass judgment upon it, another level of reflection.
Who is the Nicholas I am? A question I thought I was past back in film school where I made movies about failed dates-that-weren’t and awkward family moments, and cast the non-daters and my family respectively. Who was the Nicholas on screen there, that version of me, that other me, that character? Was it just a side, an exaggeration or some aspects of myself? A “Persona” like in the video games I so enjoyed or, more frighteningly, was it the real me that other people saw when they saw me, was this the finished product?
These all seem like strange, reflexive questions, but take for example how we experience our own voices, something I feel I’ve brought up before.
When I speak I hear myself with a deeper voice, an octave lower, coming deeper with the vibrations of my vocal chords creating a base that permeates in my body. At the same time, my brain paints over the parts of my voice that are undesirable, a lisp, a stumble, a slurring of words. I don’t even hear them unless they’re very pronounced; they’re the part of the “white noise” my brain tunes out.
Such is an example of the gap between self-perception and reality. The person listening to me hears the lisp, hears the octave higher, there’s that difference and it’s difficult to change, barely known or recognized.
Such measured ignorance is what I persist on in my life now, as I’ll choose to read my tweets, but not google myself, choose to hear about the show, but not watch it.
People tell me not to change, to be myself. I worry if I see the person these people like on TV, that need in me to feel like I have to correct myself, to hide my weaknesses, to present a stronger front, it’ll coalesce, I’ll become closer to that Nicholas and farther from me.
And so when the two pretty girls on the Big Gay Ice Cream line in front of us recognize me, I talk as myself. I give them food advice. I go into the zoned-out, gesticulating trance I go into when thinking about restaurants.
And I make it through, ice cream in hand and that much better.
“Dude.” Chadd told me. “I will tell you why this fame thing is good. The hardest part of meeting someone is just saying hello and now you have beautiful women coming up to you, doing your work for you.”
“Whatever, I’m not going home with them.” I said, neutralizing it. Who knew which me attracted them?
“Well, anyway, the brunette was pretty hot, I checked her out.” Chadd said.
And went back to eating his Bea Arthur.
Rob Malone stole my iPhone at a warehouse party.
I guess it was too tempting to him, or at least, at that party, he was too cool.
It was a Saturday and a welcome one at that.
After the usual struggle of my Improv 401 class (more on that later), I came home to a mostly naked John Beamer, lying face-down in his loft-lite John-cave, mostly passed out.
“Wake up,” I told him. “Najia and my dad are coming over.”
“Which one first?” He groggily replied.
My friend Najia had just been dealing with a med-school break-up and wanted to come over and chill with some filthy bros for a while, knowing at least hanging with us would be different than the collection of hard-studying, hard-binging med students she saw every day.
My dad just came over to fix a couple light bulbs.
John eventually got dressed and showered, while Najia and my dad and I took part in a guessing game over speakerphone with my mom looking for wine she could use and my dad answering with a head shake while we translated, all while he stood on a step-ladder trying to fix a fixture.
Eventually, Dad left and Rob and (the villain) Andrew Parrish came over and we sat around watching Buckwheat Groats videos on my TV for a while and trying to figure out what we would do.
Najia and I bonded a little over love lost and found and the small steps we’d take in getting over (kind of) our exes. It was refreshing how un-weepy it was.
But eventually we headed to the party, where I couldn’t drink due to a sinus infection and to which John war a blazer I told him “you could probably pull off if you had a mustache.”
“Definitely.” Najia added.
The party was hopping, a warehouse/studio space, nestled deep in Hasidic Williamsburg off the J train.
As we walked down Lorimer, I was struck by those same uneasy contradictions present in me due to my Jewish heritage.
We crossed the street and averted our eyes, to avoid the pack of 8-14 year old girls, dressed in black who ran up into their vesitbules turnings their heads from us at their mother’s behest, or out of instinct.
“This must be my fault.” Najia said, indicating her brown skin, though they couldn’t have known she was Kashmiri Muslim.
“Actually, it’s all of ours, a little.” I told her. “They’re turning they’re heads because we’re unmarried men and women walking together. The Haredim do not allow young and men women to intermingle as such and don’t allow their children to see such behavior as common. They’re not allowed to watch movies or television that show such things either. When I sat on a plane with a Haredi couple back from Israeli, even the married wife covered half the screen during ‘The Sound of Music’, covering the male characters when they appeared.”
“That’s a little intense.” John said. “You’d think New York would be a bad place to hide from the world.”
“On one hand, they want to maintain the culture they’ve created, to honor God, to preserve a set of values they see as degrading in our society.” I answered. “On the other, is the explanation I tend to: Jews, throughout history, were always isolated in the ghetto. When others stopped doing it, we did it ourselves.”
But I still felt that tinge of sadness as I passed people who could be my cousins and saw the shame and fear they felt towards me, as I headed towards illicit activities, while they celebrated the sabbath.
The party was good. Sam Baumel who threw it in honor of the expansion of his production company, did a good job enticing artists and performers to show up, giving the whole shtick the feeling of an old-school Chelsea-style opening.
He also had the good graces to use Ro-beardo Malone to promote the event, which later got Rob and his beard some hot-girly attention for his dance-worthy celebrity.
I had fun, wandering the sea of people, climbing the many flights to the beautiful Williamsburg roof, seeing Najia and John unwind a bit, each talking around, falling into their own and swallowing the social bit, which weirdos like us sometimes neglect.
It can be good to remember there are other people in the world to talk to.
Rob borrowed my camera for a while, took some shots, before I tracked him down and grabbed my phone. He seemed pre-occupied anyway and even Andrew couldn’t find him when we went to leave.
We left without Rob, saw the Groats perform in the East Village and headed to respective homes.
Najia had a good time. John wasn’t hungover. Andrew in slightly less villainous (or deceptive) fashion even invited me to Fast Five the next day with his hot GF Kelly Hi-Res.
“The girls surrounding me had one question.” Rob told me the next day. “How do you know ‘Nick from Bethenny’ and how did Sam get him to come here?”
It’s not every day I eat pasta for lunch.
But this day, I could use something.
I was burnt out from replying to tweets like they were text messages (they are kind-of), trying to figure out my friends prompts of “how cool I was” and dealing with a slew of shifting demands from an ending workplace situation.
Add to this my sinus medication keeps me from tasting things as normal and having an appetite (“a blessing” John thinks, a curse in my mind), I figured I could use a treat.
Pepe Rosso, the original one, still reminds me of my sophomore summer in Italy.
The middle-aged man behind the counter cursing loudly in Italian.
The Roman Catholic church next door.
The Salumeria and Latticini on either side of the street.
And a place you can get a bowl of pasta and a salad for 8.95.
I did the honorable thing and brought the couple nearest the window their paninis; there are no waiters at Pepe Rosso and I was in the way.
I sat down with my WTF podcast in m ears and poured spicy olive oil and vinegar and parmesan on a small, provided plate and stewed it together with a warm piece of bread.
I soaked up the oil from my simple salad, I sloshed the fresh mozzarella in my pasta around the sauce.
I didn’t lick the bowl out of some sense of class.
I bussed my table and thanked the man, still cursing in Italian on the phone.
“Ciao, saluti.” I told him.
“Thank you very much!” he replied liltingly.
And with a smile, I was gone.
PEPE ROSSO TO GO
Penne Tomato Basil with Mozzarella and Mixed Greens Salad- $8.95 (12-4 only)
Sullivan St bet Houston and Prince Sts.
CE to Spring St. R to Prince St.
One last thing, as promised earlier, about the improv from last week.
Recently, there’s been a surge in my blog traffic due to my recent… semi-celebrity and my posts on some larger sites.
I figured with that traffic I owed some more explanation in my state of mind.
Improv classes can be stressful, particularly when there’s that air of competitiveness. As John puts it, if the UCB aims towards sort of ideal society, its “the most cutthroat sort, a society founded on always being ‘on’.”
But there’s also the ways that improv has improved my life, meeting new people, giving me a community, learning to play me and accept my choices and instincts on a base level, with grace.
When I finished a class I took with a great teacher, Ms. Ashley Ward, she did what none of my improv teachers had done before and took us all aside, one-by-one at a bar, and gave us notes individually.
“You’re real hard on yourself, Nick.” She told me, sitting across from her at the Triple Crown. “You think being hard on yourself will make you better. But it won’t, it’ll just hurt you. Don’t think you need to be better than you are right now given you’re experience. You’re just where you need to be. You’re doing great. Believe that.”
In the competition of it all, in the craziness of not knowing your life, it can be easy to assign blame to the things that are stressful. To be hard on yourself and others.
Ultimately, who am I to pass judgment on what brings others happiness and me as well?
When I went up to my current teacher, the pretty objectively funny Will Hines, and told him that I thought I was struggling and did he have any advice, he told me: “Why do you think that?”
Ultimately, in improv or in life, there’s that sense of narrative that need to say that you’re improving, that you’re better, that you’ll go somewhere, you’ll succeed.
It’s part of the uncertainty of being my age as much as the uncertainty of most other ages I’m guessing too.
It’s harder to just accept where you are for as messy and strange as it is.
Where I am is taking comedy classes, sketch and improv, most of which I enjoy.
I spend a lot of time laughing and thinking and interacting with people who I respect.
That seems like a good template for a life.