Neil Casey 401 Notes Day Two

January 6, 2012

I just want to reiterate that this is me scribbling as fast as I can on an iPhone. Some of this may not be accurate, some of it may not be in full or out of context, all of it may have typos.

For those improvisers, I still just hope it’s interesting (it is to me) and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

-Nick

***

Find a way to avoid stalemates, find ways to affect each other because the person who has a reaction, even when we’re disagreeing, bicker in a way that I know these people care.

Take pride in your job, in sex, whatever. Always care. If we catch ourselves playing characters who don’t care about each other find a way to care

If someone is being terrible to her and “drops a bomb” it’s either the other character being terrible or that this is the family/place/people who don’t like them/are terrible.

Who cares is just as important as who what and where. What are the stakes in this scene and why are we seeing it?

Don’t clever your way into two robots talking until the end. Part of what matters is the relationship between this two people and heightening that intensity.

What’s funny is the revelation, not game necessarily but the characters realizing their own situation, since it’s true to realize your own behavior and find ways that’s heightened.

If you’re not doing an opening, don’t start scenes with premises off one-word suggestions. It’s better to find something than a half-baked premise. I want to see you yes-and your way into finding the scene instead of ruminating on the back line to come up with a sketch idea.

A half-idea is great, a comedic premise is harder. “Sweetie we’re out of Chex” is fine.” “Sweetie were out of Chex because you always throw out our cereal” not so much.

What game idea did you get from “pineapple”? Just discover.

Openings are our way of creating special books in the library were making of comedic ideas. Great to draw a premise from it. But totally fine to come out with a half-idea or just a suggestion.

Corny is lazy, make full characters.

Never leave anyone hanging. Edit or come in even if you don’t know how to support.

It’s always better to edit sooner than later, but there is a difference between a laugh of completion and a laugh of a scene just starting. Know the difference between both and a pity laugh which requires the edit. (After a minute or two have these people earned the extension?)

Premise makes us feel like we can be goofy.

It’s really awful to watch people act like “look at me on stage, look how funny I am” because you’re pushing 30, I payed 5 dollars for this.

Don’t let the fact that you have a funny premise lower your level of acting. You’re always going to fuck up, but commit to try to honor it or else you’re disrespecting your audience because you’re not honoring the funny idea.

When someone’s acting is sitcomy when it betrays the premise, they don’t need to be there. When you see people play it real, the funny hits harder.

Advertisements

Je dois reflechir/Il faut vivre

December 30, 2011

I’m sitting in my room right now, perhaps defying the only rule of vacationing, which seems to be: don’t sit in your room.

In my defense, it’s morning and a while ago I ran out of “plans”.

The joy of travelling alone is the independence you find, the discoveries you make.

Last night, walking along Boulevard St. Germain, I tried to find something to do or just to wander, my backpack growing heavy on my neck, my requisite two-Tylenol cocktail for that time of the backpacker’s day, yet to set in.

I had already seen many of the American films there were to see in Paris, as my French was terrible-going-on-passable, good enough to get people less annoyed at me, but not good enough to understand a film like “Le Havre” without subtitles (English or French). The Cinematheque Francaise was playing only weird Clint Eastwood movies, like the one where he has to infiltrate a mountain-climbing trip or the “reverse Harold-and-Maude” movie as Ro-Beardo Malone described it via text from across the sea.

So I wandered, checking my email when I’d find a Starbucks, not using my phone otherwise. I just wanted to find a place to read “From Paris To The Moon”, which I was determined to get through before I left Paris, when I came upon, like a mirage, first an old cinema (Paris is full of them) playing A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy and the very Brasserie described in “From Paris” as “the best restaurant in the world”.

Paris has had a way of doing this to me, offering consolation in walking, guiding you at the right moments. When I was depressed after a night of snoring and a fumbled attempt at female interaction, I found a DDR machine inadvertently by the Bastille, ended up being better than I ever was at DDR and a had a crowd of pre-10 year-old Algerian boys clap at my rendition of techno–fied “Cotton-Eyed Joe”, on which I got a double-A and took a bow after. That’ll beat about anything.

When I walked all the way yesterday to one of the last restaurants I had been planning to go to and I couldn’t eat anything, I discovered a neighborhood I had never found before, found a nice cafe and had a very silly picture taken of me that again, invigorated me.

When I went to go home from the movie (funny and appropriate) and the dinner (excellent), I almost took the Metro before a string drew me out.

“Really?” I asked myself. “You’re going to walk home? In the damp Paris evening?”

“You don’t have to walk home.” I told myself. “You get to. Through beautiful Paris.”

As always, walking, you make discoveries. One night, I found a Magic: The Gathering store (L’Esplace Du Dragon). One night, I met a couple Arizonans and we retired to a bar after a film. Last night, I ran into two hipsters out of Virginia with appropriate facial hair and had a conversation about where we were in our lives.

I also ran into two French guys who wanted a light, though I thought they were asking directions. (Sidenote: Though I am not out of the woods yet, so to speak, I’m a New Yorker and have a decent sense for danger.)

“I am sorry, I thought I had a lighter, but I forgot I left it passed airport security.” I told them.

“It’s fine, you are American?” One said,

“New Yorker.” I replied.

“You like Paris? You like the French girls?” He asked.

“Yes, but it is difficult. You are all too good-looking.”

“Oui, c’est vrai.” He replied and they went off into the night.

Such meetings are valuable, magical even, but ephemeral.

When I came back to the hostel, 5 euro 90 bottle of wine in hand, a Beaujolais Nouveaux (which I remembered from my pops was fruity and good for drinking on a lark), I sat in the lobby of the hostel as I often do waiting for someone to drink with, but there was no one. The bottle stayed closed. And eventually, I went to sleep. Even for all the good things, on a sour note, though it could have been just coming down from the coffee and the wine at dinner.

I wondered when I got to Paris whether I was addicted to people, my friends, the people I see. I’ve called myself “an interdependent mess” and Rob told me he liked this phrase to describe me. I’ve been more independent here in Paris, but just as I knew in film school, whatever else I am or become, I’m a storyteller and I’m not happy if I don’t have someone to share stories with.

My raison d’etre.

If you will.

While I’ve been gone, I’ve gotten messages from my friends, people checking in, telling me they miss me, wanting to share stories too. Telling me I was “missed” at the Magnet holiday party, which is an ego-inflation I don’t need, but which reminds me, as lame as it is to say, that the connections I have in my life are important. That I love people and am loved in return.

My father said, upon giving me advice, the day I was having girl problems and roommate issues, that it was better to leave reflection alone. Your subconscious will work on that while you’re there. Just try to have fun. My depressive friend over G-Chat told me “Wallow when you get home.” I found that appropriate.

The only “friend” I’ve made here really (Brad was at a different hostel and had that same mentality of impermanence) is Hossein, the kid who loves Clint Eastwood movies who I saw “The Rookie” and “Heartbreak Ridge” with, a film nerd who is glad to have someone else to talk to, even haltingly, in English.

Before I left for Paris, I was talking with my improv group about “an agreement about how to play”. People were a bit shaken by this, they didn’t know if we should plan to much in advance, this is improv after all. But it’s good to have an agreement on how to play, a frame on the wall, a knowledge of what this is.

That’s what New York is, a way of knowing each other, a culture, a sense of dependent permanence, in the best possible way. As much as Paris tries to allow me in and console me on my silly American follies and as much as I find it extremely beautiful, I miss the people who care to miss me.

It’s a nice frame on the wall of my life.

So what to do? A good question. I still have a cheap eats place to try (which I’ve liked better than the fancy places I’ve been, just who I am). I need to get my sister another gift and I know where. And then who knows?

Honkytonk Man at the Cinematheque? Another walk around Cluny?

I guess I’ll just have to wait and see and see what comes to me, whether Paris consoles me, whether I discover something new, or whether I just get to remember when I get home that at worst, they’ll be someone to share that bottle with.

***

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my comfort-food spot in Paris.

Coming in close second to this is the other place I’ve been twice, L’As Du Fallafel, a very silly place in the Jewish quarter that is plastered with signs all over it saying that it is endorsed by Lenny Kravitz of all people. The food there is insanely large portions and cheap and portable. Near perfect.

Also great were normal Thai and Indian take out places, though the Indian was a bit expensive.

However, the winner was certainly apparent.

Le Relais Gascon, right on La Rue des Abbesses, makes fucking huge salads. It’s what they have.

It’s a south-western French restaurant and this is there fomula for a salad:

A lot of good lettuce, some tomatoes, some meat and protein (egg, pork, chicken, what have you) and a metric-shit-ton of duck-fat fried-potatoes on top.

Oh yeah, some balsamic vinaigrette too.

It’s delicious.

It’s so delicious I got on the phone, yelled at my dad about how pissed I was about my snoring roommate and wondered if I should just get the incredibly expensive train to Amsterdam just to decompress from Paris, went there and was fine.

I called back my dad and apologized.

The service doesn’t care, the menu looks like a tourist trap and even has some English on it (a faux-pas). But there it is. Delicious. And relatively inexpensive for the size at 12 euros.

I could not finish one.

The old me could not finish one.

Frank or Simon from back home with their epic appetites probably could.

We’ll see if we can get them to come, next time.

***

LE RELAIS GASCON

Salade Du Chef (sans oeuf)- 12 euro (tar. inclusif)

6, Rue des Abbesses

12 to Abbesses, 4 to Pigalle


The Trip To France

December 21, 2011

Looking at this picture, I enjoy that there are children behind me who seem just in that mix of confusion, wonder and odd displacement that I seem to be exhibiting here.

After all, this is Paris, the top of Le Tour D’Eiffel and here we both are, seeing and being in said experience.

On the plane ride over, I got my first taste of France (Air France) when trying to talk to the people around me in my improved but still woefully-lacking French led to mostly semi-annoyed looks and people replying to me in similarly broken but still comparatively superior English. It’s not their fault or mine I suppose, as we both think to work out languages. It’s just what the author says in the book I am reading, From Paris to the Moon: The French harbor residual anger that English has so overtaken their language in universality, proven corporeally by that they themselves know it better than les autres know French.

“Pardonnez-moi, Madame.” I said to the ticket-lady at Le Tour, “Ext-ce que je peux acheter un ticker pour le tour?”

“Yah, how old are you?” She replied.

“24.” I said dejected and then, as I would several times that evening: “Sorry for my French.”

The French would have different responses to this in Paris.

Sometimes if they were trying to be nice or I was buying something from them, they would reply.

“Mais non! Vous etes fort! Vous parlez tres bien!”

Other times they would just say knowingly (sometimes without my even opening my mouth!):

“Vous parlais anglais?”

This woman just replied:

“Just think of it as a chance to practice your French.”

I had arrived in Paris on a near whim, planned several months earlier, just because I thought I needed something. What I didn’t know but something it seemed.

Sitting in the courtyard of the hostel, people would give me their reasons, some good, some just as random as mine.

Many Koreans and Chinese people, on vacations, or taking a trip with their significant other or friends. A special-ed teacher from L.A. on holiday. A boyfriend and girlfriend from Australia traveling here and then to Brussels.

When I asked another Australian girl at the provided continental breakfast whether she knew my previously met Australians, she said:

“No, we travel in droves.”

My room consisted of four bunk beds, standard hostel I guessed, since I hadn’t really stayed in one. My roommates were two large, affable college students from Tennessee, a study-abroader and her friend who had come to visit who were headed for the rest of Europe as adventure buddies and a Londoner named Brad who was keen on debating the Republican candidate field with me (“Ron Paul has devoted followers who know when and where to be.”) and who, upon graduating from acting school, knew only “that I didn’t want to act”.

The flight was relatively stress-free despite a crying baby and a woman next to me who thought she could use her seat-back compartment as a foot rest (a good preview for the French) as I got to watch “Cedar Rapids” (a middling-good airplane-ish comedy) and “The Help” (a middling-good airplane drama). I also discovered that Air France boozes you up which is a great idea flying (dinner was accompanied by both red wine and a glass of champagne and coffee came, inexplicably to me, with cognac at the bottom) but a really poor idea when you have a rest-of-the-day to attend to.

This was especially true when I realized that my international roaming charges were 20 dollars per megabyte and that the GEVEY sim I had purchased for France didn’t seem to work with any of the prepaid SIM cards I got and that unlike New York, there was no one in Paris who understood this. I only understood this 3 prepaid SIM cards later.

I headed back to my hostel in time for check-in exhausted and exasperated, walking up-hill thinking what I would do without internet how annoying it all was how I literally had already spent hours at these shops and STILL nothing worked, how I’d gotten coffees at Starbucks, even more overpriced than America, just to pee and check my email how I’d been walking and wandering and felt lost and everyone’s directions were wrong.

And then I took a nap.

And woke up.

And looked up some things online to do.

And instead of taking the metro, I just started walking.

I walked the stairs at nearby Montmartre and managed to evade the hucksters who spotted me as American as soon as I got there, trying to put my finger into some colorful string.

I found stands selling Churros and Hot Wine (Vin Chaud) and these glow in the dark rainbow whirligigs that everyone seemed to have.

Instead of taking one metro station, I took the next one.

And I went to a wonderful restaurant I found on Chowhound, L’Alcove, where I was the only one present, chatting with the owner who was very proud of his rave reviews in Le Figaro et Le Fooding. I got some Couscous Poulet which was reasonable and delicious. and much more than I could eat as I sat reading From Paris To The Moon. I  read about Adam Gopnik trying divine Haricots Verts and asked the proprietor if I could have some as a side.

“Des Haricots?” He replied. “No you don’t need them! There are legumes in the couscous.”

I didn’t really understand but said fine and as I said it was delicious.

***

And then I just walked and kept on walking.

My phone didn’t have internet service, but somehow it still had GPS and along with an incomplete cached map of Paris I had left over from when I had looked up the restaurant on my phone, it was enough to tell me vaguely where I was and what was around me.

I walked from the restaurant just up and down streets and side streets, main drags. I went to the mall and train station at Montparnasse. I passed the “Indiana Club” which looked hopping but strangely named and Johnny’s English Bar, which actually wasn’t too expensive, but no one seemed to speak English.

I just kept on walking seeing what there was to see, passing closed boutiques and (sadly) people who kept seeming more attractive than me. Just like Israel, the last time I went on vacation, it was a shame to know the natives were all so good-looking.

I decided to walk to the Seine, several miles from the restaurant and when I made it there, I said “I made it to the Seine”. Then I decided to walk by the Musee D’Orsay just to see that and I made it and I said “I walked to the Musee D’Orsay.” and then I decided to walk to Le Tour D’Eiffel and there I was as well.

And as I walked my mind worked in the back, mulling and streaming, observing the night.

What if instead of lamenting the lack of internet, I took it as a a gift? What if instead of trying to write my life, like I thought going into to trying to find a SIM card, and feeling so frustrated if didn’t go according to a script in my head, I just explored and stayed in the moment and tried to follow what inspired me?

This concept of “being there”, “being in the moment” is drawn from improv, acting. But it’s true, here you are, here I am. And there are so many wonderful things to see. I noticed the streaming of the Seine, the posh apartment buildings, the cigar smoke streaming in the night from the person walking in front of me.

When walking through les Arrondisements, I just turned when I saw a light that looked interesting, somewhere that looked like it had something happening, something that felt like it was there for me.

I went down a street of cloth merchants at one point. I passed and entered a popular chain of supermarches called “Monoprix” which seemed somewhere between a Whole Foods and a Macy’s, only smaller. I felt the breeze and the strangely warming night.

I was there. I was here. I am.

I went 7 hours without the internet, a crazy amount of time for me, but there I was again.

And, though I wished I had someone to kiss atop Le Tour D’Eiffel, I settled for knowing I had made it here, this far.

That I was present in the moment.

Moi.

The only thing to comment on, really, were the McDonalds which seemed invariably like the coolest places around, filled with hip 16-24 year-olds (moi inclusif) and advertising the shown “Bagel Burgers” as their star item, with one listed as “A Victim Of Its Own Success”. The place was full and bustling, your order was taken by electronic screen and the prices were roughly even with New York, converted from Euros.

In From Paris to The Moon, Gopnik describes these McDonalds (10 years ago, when the book was written) as threatening the classic French Bistro and why not.

I think you might be able to get a beer with your meal.

I guess that’ll be on the list to see.

***

L’ALCOVE

Couscous poulet- 11.90 Euros (about 16 dollars)

46 Rue Didot (near Rue D’Alesia)

Metro 13 au gare Plaisance.


My Internship at [redacted]

December 13, 2011

I leave for Paris in 5 days.

The trip is supposed to give some perspective, a palette-cleanser, a way of looking at my life from a distance and maybe of attempting to figure it out. Trying to figure out how I’m not just going to mooch off my parents, find some calling or vocation, do something, anything, commit.

Clarity, I guess, is what I’m looking for.

That, and a good croissant.

But even leaving behind New York City, which I haven’t left for more than a day in 2 years, there are those things that are difficult to leave behind. Traumas, bad memories, the moments that flash before my eyes and make me feel dizzy or nauseous or even just aversive, shifting from thought to thought.

These “traumas” as I call them can be big or small. They’re not “repressed memories” in my understanding of the term because I can remember them. They’re “averted memories” memories I see and then choose to avoid because I don’t know how to or fear to unpack them. They can be great or small, ranging from the time I defended the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima at age 14 in front of a camp meeting of liberal New Englanders (relatively trifling) to the incident in which a classmate died in Georgia that I was involved in.

They represent moments of shame for me, a difficult emotion to process, moments where a schism occurred between the Nicholas of a currently formed identity and the Nicholas realizing the incapability of his identity to function in the face of an event. Moments I could not at the time properly understand, only understand somewhere underneath that I couldn’t understand them. These are the moments when an insane person sticks to their logic, insists on their sanity. Our minds are made to protect themselves after all.

These are the moments that flash before my eyes when my mind wander sometimes, associatively, loaded like IEDs, derailing my thought and sending me reeling. In middle school they were so bad, they manifested as migraines and my parents brought me to a neurologist who, noticing no physiological reason, suggested therapy. I remember 13-year-old Nick hoping for a medical reason, just so there could be a cure.

My panic attacks have lessened over time and I no longer get those dwelling migraines. But these are the moments which in college caused me to say “I hate my life” and which now cause me to say “Eva”. Both are ways of distancing myself from those thoughts, either through separating myself from my own actions (The “Nick” who is capable of hating another “Nick”) or by reaching for the safety blanket of love or affection that I used to take as a form of absolution: my ex.

When I look now at myself and my loneliness, some of it is certainly a desire for connection, for a relationship, for that spot in the bed, a hug, a kiss. But some of it is also a want for that absolution again, a way to ignore those aversive moments, to push past them.

I thought about that this week, as I thought about going away to France.

I decided I wanted to unpack them, to look back on them. To try to disarm them as best I could.

I decided to face some of my demons, deconstruct them and see what I could find. At least by discussing them, I could maybe repair that schism, with enough distance, I could understand moments that had only shamed me before.

With perspective, or clarity, some freedom.

I told my therapist my theory and she agreed.

“Do you have any particular one you want to start with?” She asked.

“Well,” I replied. “I’ve got one on the top of my mind.”

***

About the title:

I worked at a popular TV show as an intern for one semester. When I was there, a person I respected saw that a former intern had been interviewed by a local newspaper about her experience and they at the show were very upset. I think things did not get too out of hand, but why give people reason for anger?

The people who know me know where I worked. The people who don’t can assume, or does it even matter?

That was my life then.

It was.

***

You’ll forget, I was just graduated from film school at the height of the “recession” in late-2009 and despite our propensity for maintaining the illusion of mental homeostasis, I was a very different person back then.

I had wrapped work on my thesis film, but hadn’t yet gotten rejected from every film festival to which I applied (literally). I had been hooked up with this internship by the only connection I had through family (a friend of a friend). I had been not stridently insane or dirty in my interview and had thus gotten the job.

One thing was just that I was desperate. I had no idea who I was or what my life would be. College had ended only less than 6 months prior. Already, I was amazed at my ability not to get production assistant jobs, not to have a production company myself, not to have anything lined up.

School and the internships I did during it were the only paradigms I knew. In these places, my persona was relatively flamboyant as a front for insecurity. My motto was “accept me or fuck you” and I made my films in school about myself, had big opinions, always asked questions. I was a socially-clueless semi-douche, which could work in film school.

At the show though, people didn’t know what to make of me. I would carry around DVDs of my thesis, ask people to watch my film, ask for notes, ask for their story of how they got into the TV game. I searched for some sort of mentor, someone who would adopt me. I was “a barn” as the Magic players I hung out with would say, short for “barnacle”, someone who attaches themselves to someone big and strong and sucks on their underbelly for nourishment.

It would be easy to say that I was desperate and flailing, but it was more than that. I didn’t know who I was or what I could do with my life. I didn’t have much in common with the other interns, mostly current college students and what’s more they didn’t seem to like me. So, lacking social ties, I made a persona I wasn’t even fully aware of.

“Why are you doing this schtick?” One writer asked me at one point.

“This is me. This is what I’m like.” I told him.

“No it isn’t, but that’s fine.” He said.

I was playing a heightened version of myself, calling everyone Mr. and Ms., acting like I was in a movie or a sitcom or a comedy bit. It seems insane looking back on it, but one defense of the unliked is to become unlikeable. A shell by which to defend others from piercing your real self.

So there I was, with no friends, working every day, out of my mind, really. One day, I asked to watch a rehearsal when someone else asked me not to and the assistant production coordinator cornered me and asked me if I was after her and I was so taken aback .The truth was, in that character I played, there was no room for anything but my manufactured, isolated self.

And the way this came to a head was with a producer. I asked to show him my movie, as I did so many others and he said yes, but blew it off for a while. One day, I stopped by his office and asked him why he hadn’t gotten a chance to watch it yet and he went off. He told me I was a bad intern and that I should stop kissing up and just shut the fuck up and do what I was told and nothing else. I asked him if he was joking and he said no and we never talked about it again.

The only person I told was the security guard who was one of the few to realize I was fucking out-of-my-mind but at least not inherently spiteful. He told me a. to stay away from the guy and b. that it wasn’t all my fault, that producers are stressed, that I was here to learn.

I took his advice and just avoided the producer.

But things kept declining at my job. It’s hard to go somewhere where you have no friends, even fake friends, every day. It’s hard when you don’t know who you are, when you’re stuck in this insane pattern to realize your own insanity.

Things culminated at the holiday party. I was standing by myself, getting drunk off free booze in the big, rented club, sad because I had no one to talk to. The other interns were never friends of mine and even the few staff members who tolerated me were busy chatting each other up and who was I to intercede.

I went outside, teary into the cold to write a drunk, pathetic Facebook message about how sad I was when the star of the show came in out of a car and high fived me. Me! I walked in the club and followed him around as everyone gathered. As I marveled, I thought to myself one thing: I must take this man’s coat to the coat check.

It made sense to that half-drunk Nick, looking back. As my therapist pointed out, the star was the only one who’d acknowledged me that whole night, who had been kind to me. I waited and waited and finally asked and he said “No, but thank you.” but then I hung around on the periphery since seeing him talk to people was the only thing that seemed interesting to me in that club. I didn’t see the producer who I’d had the run-in with on my periphery until he turned to me and said “Get out of here”.

I was paralyzed. I didn’t know what he meant. Get away from him? Leave the star alone? Leave the club?

I just stood there and then pretended not to hear him. It was a loud club. Who cared?

But he kept repeating it. Until I walked away.

I walked backed over to the intern tables, shook up. I looked for a sympathetic ear, someone, but people hadn’t talked to me, really, before. Why now? I went in the middle of a conversation and said:

“Wow guys, you guys won’t believe this, the weirdest thing just happened to me…”

And then six feet away behind the couch was the producer who made eye contact and then just repeated “Get out of here”.

“Get out of here. Get out of here. Get the fuck out of here! GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!”

Louder and louder. The whole party stopped, everyone turned. I didn’t know what to say.

Finally:

“Alright, if you’re going to curse out an unpaid intern in front of the holiday party, go ahead, I’ll leave!”

And left I did, in tears, knowing even what shitty thing I had was gone.

The next day, I came in hung over. I felt like it was the day of my execution.

Everyone looked at me and knew, everyone wondered.

Somewhere in the back of my mind lingered that desperate notion. I knew now as I knew then, whatever I did deserve, I didn’t deserve that.

No one deserved that.

Everyone had seen.

But everyone was quiet.

Eventually, I was summoned up to the Executive Producers office who told me something very close to, textually:

“We all took a vote and decided we don’t like you. So we’re sorry for the producer’s profanity, but we’re not going to give you a recommendation.”

And then: “But you’ve learned something from this, right?”

To my credit, I was professional. I remember at that point in my life as now always marveling when friends could be professional, when they could leave their emotions out of certain parts of their lives. I never could and maybe never will.

I had one more day left, or maybe two. I went upstairs to do an errand and the secretary took a look at me and called my boss to get a different intern sent.

Even the PAs, my bosses, thought that was unfair. Why call me in if they were going to do that?

Thank god for that one writer, who took me out on a fake mail run, and tried to give me some perspective, tried to explain to me the frustrations and difficulty of even a successful TV show, the way people value mediocrity because mediocrity does not offend. I wasn’t ready to hear everything he had to say, I was too defensive, too broken.

But just that someone cared enough to talk to me, meant so much. I cried and cried and cried when I got home.

The last day, I left early, when people were saying their goodbyes. It was too much for me to hear, people saying they’d stay in touch, they’d miss each other, they liked each other. I didn’t want to make anyone consider whether to say that to me.

I didn’t want them to lie.

I left a note for one of the production assistants who didn’t even like me, who didn’t even dig me or want to be my friend: he just was able to operate on a non-bullshit professional level. He just treated everyone the same.

When I left early without other notice, I left a note, a little index card on his desk and it said:

“You always treated me fairly. I appreciated that. Thank you, Nick.”

I got calls, voicemails from the show later that day.

The second thing they told me when they got in touch was that I shouldn’t have left without notice.

The first was that they were worried I’d “tried to hurt myself”.

The audition/interview for the reality show I appear on was a month after the show.

I told this story there, with less perspective, just like showing a wound. I must have seemed crazy and desperate and sad.

Of course, I was.

And they put me on air.

***

I got teary unpacking this today as I left my session as I knew I was going to write about it.

There’s still that desire in me, that anger, that hurt.

It’s still hard for me to think about.

When I talk to people about faults I see in others, I admit they are faults I see in some incarnation of myself: self-involvement, knowing self-sabotage/incompetence, being “fake” to others, being a sycophant.

Looking at some of these: I exhibited near all of  them on my time working on the show.

Previously, in previous incarnations of this story, it was too difficult to examine my culpability in it, my lack of insight. I was desperate for so lung, I needed to cling to my idea of self-“right”-ness.

Because if whatever I was doing wasn’t right, I no longer had a teacher to guide me, a lesson plan. I would lay victim to my own doubts including one of the biggest “aversive thoughts” I have: that I don’t make movies anymore or at least, for now.

Going out of the show, I used it on my resume. I found the couple wonderful people who tolerated me or cared for me. The writer who took me on the run remained a friend. My ex and I broke up, eventually. The tragedy in Georgia actually came right before this story.

I reiterate that I didn’t deserve what happened to me, that no one does.

But in order to move from victim to actor, one must get perspective on their own actions, be able to learn.

In other words, in order to change, one must know what they’re changing from.

It’s been two years now. I still see people sometimes. A concert in the summer. Improv or Sketch shows. It’s a small world I live in, even in New York City.

I don’t know if I’ll still avert myself from those people, from the thoughts, from owning who I was and whoever I am now.

Maybe I need some more perspective.

Maybe a trip would help.


Human Interactions

July 14, 2011

Is it weird to start to feel like you might be happy?

I smiled in this picture from my friend Ray Munoz’s dramatic/comedic interpretation of the story of the Super Mario Brothers (the Dickersons are welcome to do their own interpretations).

A friend of mine from improv recently talked to me about trying the Landmark Forum, an organization that is derived from the 70s new-age-y program EST, which, sadly, was founded by a lapsed, crazy jew.

He talked to me about being invited by a friend, the idea of trying it and would I do it with him, to have some sort of tether to reality, to have something interesting to write about.

“No fucking way.” I replied. “I mean, I feel better about myself than I don’t know, I have for a while, but I don’t want to take the chance. Why would you if you didn’t have to?”

“To see what it’s about.” He said. “What it is. Why people flock to it. Do you feel happy?”

The question took me aback.

Looking at my life, it’s still not really going anywhere or doing anything of permanence. I feel like I’ve worked harder before in the past, I feel like I’ve felt greater highs, the sort of thing you get from love or achievement. But I also had a job I liked, I had a wide range of people to hang out with, a community again, this time in comedy. I saw movies, I saw friends. I found ways to fill up my time. My parents are supportive and I don’t feel any pressure or sense that there’s something wrong in my life, somewhere I’m supposed to be.

“I guess, I don’t know. Yeah.” I told him. “I feel that way, generally, sometimes.”

And then my friend asked me the same question I asked myself so many times.

“Really? Don’t you ever feel like if you’re happy it would keep you from being interesting? From making things?”

I’ve struggled with this.

There’s a thing in improv called a “solve” which is what you want to stay away from. Basically if one person is asking you to marry them and your character’s want is not to give in, if you suddenly do, the scene is over, one character has won. It’s more interesting to see the series of evasions that a character employs who loves someone but wants to deflect their marriage proposals than it is to see them give in. Such is the nature of drama or narrative, a conflict between people and its resolution.

Back when I had a girlfriend for the first time, I wondered if this would happen to me, the idea that I wouldn’t be funny anymore if I had someone who loved me who I loved back, solving my character that had persisted through film-school and writing, the character of “Nick Feitel: hopelessly un-date-able”. But the truth is more complex.

One time, I did an improv scene in a workshop where I was playing one of two best friends who had just taken a vacation together edging toward boning on the beach. We never in the scene got there even though we kept alluding to it and eventually the scene plateaued. Afterwards, my partner asked the teacher, Curtis Gwinn, who noted us that we should have “gone for it”, whether consummating would have been a “solve”.

“It may seem that way.” Curtis said. “But think about the broader consequences here. Even if these guys do fuck, they still have wives at homes, have lives. Their actions in this one circumstance don’t necessarily change the broader things about them.”

The truth is (and I apologize to Rob-bearded Malone or anyone else who’s sick of hearing me talk about improv) that finding love for a person defined previous by loveless-ness just made me focus on the anxieties of my life, my job-less-ness, my artistic failures, what I should even be doing, existential ennui.

The truth of “Nick Feitel: Hopelessly Un-date-able” was not that he was romantically void, though that was a part of it.

It’s that he’s a neurotic dude who needs to fixate on something to worry or be upset about in order to motivate himself. It’s that an order to achieve balance or order in his life, he needs some looming unhappiness.

It’s a relatable thing and one I smile at, even as I talked to my friend.

“We’re Jews.” I told my friend. “Don’t worry, even if you achieve some level of happiness, there will always be something to complain about.”

Later, my friend did do the Landmark Forum and enjoyed it. I thought about criticizing him, telling him he’d been brainwashed, questioning it more than I even did.

But the guy’s found his happiness, has found something he feels like he can use.

Let’s see what he does with his “solve”, what it causes him to find out about what’s really there to take care of.

***

My friend Chano Garcia probably thinks he’s pretty cool right now.

After I totally ditched him (by accident!) when we were supposed to take 401 at UCB together and he had a less than fun time dealing with the people there (Yeah, I’m a bag…) he got to have Bob Odenkirk and his wife come and scout him for a show he did at the Magnet.

Another friend Chris Simpson who was also scouted told me:

“Yeah, she saw our team and realized there was some non-white people on it and so decided to come take a look.”

Chano got to meet them and talk and it all sounds super-exciting. All my friend Teddy did, who was interning that night was have the following exchange with Mr. Odenkirk.

Ahem:

***

INT. MAGNET THEATER LOBBY- EVENING

TEDDY, a 20-something “urban” youth sits behind a counter. BOB and NAOMI, a nice looking couple in their 50s enter.

TEDDY: Oh wow! I know you! Mr. Show right?

Naomi laughs.

BOB: Well, guess you can’t help it. I think you have a reservation under my name.

TEDDY: Oh wait don’t tell me! Its John Odenrick!

Naomi laughs.

A silence in the room.

BOB (p.o.ed): Actually, no. It’s Bob. Bob Odenkirk.

TEDDY: Oh ok, right.

Bob hands money, Teddy hands tickets.

TEDDY: Ok.

NAOMI: Thanks.

TEDDY: Enjoy the show!

Bob turns around to glare at him as they entire the theater.

FIN

***

Interlude over.

Anyway, before Chano got to give his business card to the same person who represents Kristen Wiig while shaking the hand of the father of modern sketch comedy, we ate some pizza.

It was a lazy Sunday. We had just had class together and neither one of us had eaten. Most of the stuff in that midtown area (that someone told me was called The Tenderloin?) was closed like the business that they fed.

We headed to Waldy’s which another improviser, Mishu Hilmy, had shown me to be good, years after Brian-David Marshall and my Magic-playing friends had recommended it back at the old Neutral Ground.

We sat down, we ordered custom personal pizzas, which were huge and less than 9 bucks. The proprietor even decided to give us free sodas, citing some unadvertised lunch special.

For my $8.71, I got some Chicken, Roasted Eggplant and Red Peppers on a Margherita base, fresh off a wood-fired oven, while Chano got pepperoni, broccoli rabe and something else delicious.

We chatted for a while and talked about improv before going to the free practice session/Student-Teacher coaching that the Magnet sometimes offers on Sundays.

He had been my student coach there originally when I first started doing improv at the Magnet and there he was coming back to be a guinea pig, like me.

“Gotta give back, ya know.” He said, as we finished off our pizzas.

I’m happy for him that he had the opportunity, he’s a good guy and the pizza was good as well.

I’m just wondering why didn’t I go that night, jesus Nick, fuck you.

Goddamit Chano.

Sigh.

***

WALDY’S WOOD-FIRED PIZZA AND PENNE

Chicken, Roasted Eggplant and Red Peppers Pizza (w/free soda at lunch)- $8.71

6th Ave bet 27th and 28th Sts

NR to 28th St 1 to 28th St F to 23rd St


C-U Next Tuesday

June 21, 2010

It was Father’s Day today so I got my dad “Pop Rocks”.

I don’t think he was amused.

Neither were the gaggle of young ladies in the Tasty-D-Lite store near my house that doubles as a candy shop.

“See, I’m getting them for my dad.” I told them, hand-upheld. “Father’s Day.”

“Oh.” one of them replied, before turning back to the machine that would grant them their banana-berry swirl.

In my mind, I had envisioned getting him about six of them, but I decided four (one of each flavor) would be enough.

My dad, who is known to have “soup and apple” for lunch, remaking that he “skipped the soup today”, is not exactly Pop-Rocks material.

But he is ruthless with the punnery and not prone to big celebrations. So I thought getting him an un-ironic ironic gift, would work out well.

But he mostly seemed disappointed, trying to hand them back to me.

My mom tried to console me in the other room, even teaming up with Eva who called me after the occasion.

“He doesn’t seem to appreciate the irony.” I told Eva over the phone.

“Pop Rocks!” she proclaimed. “What’s not to get?”

“No, I think he gets it.” I told her. “I think he just doesn’t really care.”

“Give me the phone!” My mom asked theatrically as she consoled Eva over my downer attitude.

“Here,” my mom said, giving the phone back to me.

“Your mom thinks he’ll appreciate it, in time.” She told me.

My dad just stood their stoically through all this, chopping leftover fried chicken from last night into small pieces and dipping them in spicy vinegar.

No thanks, I told him, when he offered me a thigh.

And he shrugged and kept chopping.

Pop Rocks, I thought to myself.

Brilliant.

***

In other news, I’m beginning to question the role of therapy in my life.

Therapy was an easy fit for me, even though I started it late (21). I’m naturally loquacious, easy talking to almost anyone, well, as long as they are willing to hear about me.

But I find myself more and more thinking about my therapy as a crutch: useful for working out what’s going on in my life, but sometimes too convenient.

For instance, the other day I felt depressed walking around, down from too little sleep, a too-early coffee and a possible unreported hangover I thought averted due to excellent water consumption the night before.

I hate myself, I thought walking around. I hate myself and my life.

And I should probably remember this, because it’s going to come up in therapy on Tuesday.

It’s almost comical, the idea of facing some sort of dilemma and just sort of giving up on it and saying “Well, I’ll deal with it on Tuesday”, even if you know that things in therapy don’t always get worked out.

And then when I forget emotions, when I move on from even the intense things that I felt, as is natural to do, I feel some sort of strange sense of loss.

Oh wait, I was really depressed, I think. But now I’m not. Shit, I was going to hold on to it. Now I can’t even bring it into therapy on Tuesday.

It’s a fallacy, thinking that even as I’ve worked out things on Tuesday in my 45-minute therapy sessions, that everything needs to be worked out there.

It’s like taking Motrin, I suppose, which cured my foot pain once and caused me to look for around Motrin whenever I feel bad.

You trust the thing that works for you once.

But in the opposite way, things from therapy seem to spill out into my life in ways they shouldn’t.

My anger about job and my mistreatment there has only become more palpable as I have someone clinical who agrees with me on how it sucks.

My commitment to Census work (now over) grew as I was helped to realize how valuable it was in filling my time.

I even yelled, somewhat irrationally, at my mom the other night, for adolescent woes I’d long put behind me.

But we’d talked about it last week. And it was fresh in my mind. And I was angry.

And when you’re angry, you reach for a knife, or a memory.

When I sat down tonight to write this, I tried to think about what I should write and my mind first went to the list of things in my head that I thought I should discuss with my therapist.

And I’m not sure whether that’s honesty, coming out there, self-exploitation, or both.

***

Lately, I’ve been thinking about sex and relationships too.

I know what you’re thinking, dear Feitelogram reader (who may only exist in my head): a return to the old diatribes about depression and “not-relationships”.

But it’s more like seeing my friends disconnected and wondering at the world they know, from a distance.

It was my friend’s birthday and I went to Toys in Babeland to get her a present, a tame sort of sex shop, popular with the hip crowd.

I felt very uncomfortable there, standing around dildos and a group of smiling, slightly-amused people who seemed somewhere between asking about cock rings and a job.

I didn’t feel comfortable buying anything crazy there for my friend, so I got her a gift certificate and a little candle that melts into massage oil; as tame of a present as you can get someone from that store, I guess.

The attendant praised my good taste at my suggestion to the tape the candle to the gift card envelope and I felt a little better.

But seeing all of my friends fall in-and-out of love, throw one-night stands and examine their own sexualities leaves me with a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach.

It’s summer again, I guess, and it’s to be expected.

But hearing about people I flirted with at a party, or tried to figure out if I should kiss their hand or their face, or who were mean to me, or were kind–

It’s like when I met my girlfriend’s long-time male friend, who she described as her “Josh from Ghost World”. He was well-dressed in a suit, ordered whiskey and hot-chocolates, and shared with Eva things I didn’t even know.

And that frightened me, it threatened me. It gave me that feeling of something tugging at your throat.

Just like I feel seeing my friends entangle and disentangle themselves now.

Sometimes I think we’re all just fucking through our pasts, for lack of a better phrase.

I guess I’ll have to discuss it in therapy on Tuesday.

***

The last thing, the other thing on Tuesday is a meeting I have with an agent.

It’s not for directing or writing. Though Dan Berk was real nice to me the other night when he told me to be proud of my movie, “LOSER”.

It’s for acting. In commercials.

A month-or-two-ago, I spent a Sunday afternoon making a spec commercial with some friends of mine, Dan Berk and Chadd Harbold, Reed Adler and even some tall frenchie who doesn’t particularly like me but made me look good anyway.

I emailed it around, around the same time I was on TV with the headline “if you have a second…”

A friend at an agency who I sent it to came through, out of nowhere, showed it around the office and got me a meeting.

“Someone’ll call you.” He told me.

It was a tense week, waiting to see when the call would come, psychological-existential battles not being my specialty.

But eventually the call came and the meeting was scheduled: Tuesday (a coincidence? I think not.)

In the intervening time, I’ve done what I always do when something important is coming up: I solicit advice from everyone and anyone who has it.

I call people, I talk to them at parties. I even go see movies with inspirational, self-actualizing potential (“Toy Story 3”) or movies that read like horror-comedies about the industry (“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”).

The general consensus I’ve heard is “be yourself”, which is pretty much what I heard all the years I was failing at dating miserably.

I talked to my friends, some of whom have had meetings themselves and I wondered what I could have that they didn’t, how I could be pitched differently than them.

Just like my interview on TV, there was an impending sense of “is this even what you want to be doing with my life?”

But eventually I’ve come to embrace the haphazardness of it all. The “if they like you, cool” sensibility.

I’ve even given up on trying to figure out how to get that lapsed pimple off my head.

Zen, baby.

It’s like I said, I can talk. I can talk to anyone, pretty easily.

As long as they are willing to hear about me.

So that’s what I’ll do.

Next up on my plate: figuring out whether I’m a “textbook narcissist”.

I guess that one will just have to wait until Tuesday.

***

Here’s my spec commercial for my phone-case, OtterBox. My respects to the professional and excellent people over at Last Pictures and I will take it down, if they wish it so.


The Job Song

January 18, 2010

I came up with a song the other day.

It goes like this:

“All-I-Do-All-Day-And-Night/Is App-Ly-For-Jobs”

And then repeat.

I wish I could get the cadences down, but without knowing the musical notes it’s hard to get the real sentiment across.

Then again, when I was G-Chatting with my friend Jacob LaMendola the other day, I shared with him that I had created the song off-handedly, a tack which caused him to immediately start offering help to me in whatever way he could. I’m not sure if this is because Jake’s a nice guy, or the fact that I had created a song about my obsessive searching of job sites that consisted of one sing-song-y line caused him to recoil so much that he felt the need to restore some hope-slash-humanity to me.

Really, it’s probably both.

Either way, the search and struggle for jobs has been consuming my friends left and right, so I’m hardly the only casualty.

Take Dan, who last month was ecstatic when he found a census-taker’s test (only later to find out that the Census doesn’t hire till April. He’s been fretting about emails and recommendations, as we continue to duke it out for the same jobs that are often lo- or-no-paid. Or Zach, whose job working at an upscale hipster-clothing store seemed safe when they signed him past the holidays, only to find that they had engaged in hour-cutting everyone to try to thin down the employed so they didn’t have to pay firing bonuses. Eva even found out that from her co-workers that her bosses wanted to fire her, even as they prostrated themselves before her to come in and work the weekend shifts that interfered with their party schedules. But the worst thing, worse than the struggle, is the radio silence maintained around it. I could only discuss Eva’s case since she quit her job to go back to school. Another friend I can’t even name, since even though he’s being exploted working 13-hour days for a deferred 50 dollars per-diem, I’m scared to even name him since it’s a job he wants to keep.

Looking at this might seem absurd, since I see my friends for their worth and intelligence and as my dad once told me “the people in these jobs you’re looking at aren’t a race of superhumans”. But instead I see advice ignored and the tale of my friend and Armond White Love-Hater Jason Lee, whose struggles to find a job in Austin seemed entertaining and story-like at a distance but when I feel myself approaching his number of applications (though the hundreds which he reached is still in the distance), I begin to admire his sense of dry humor in dealing with those hundred-something rejections, scams and blighted-opportunities.

Even I’ve found myself scammed a few times or begin to wonder, other than the few places that I’m contacted for interviews, which places are just stealing my information, or getting my email to send me spam. It seems like such a pointless endeavor, until it nearly happened from a few phone calls I got asking if I wanted to do extra work. When I came in for a “casing session”, I saw what I like to call an “anti-lawsuit plaque” detailing that the place I was going to was in no way an agency, but a photography studio charging for headshots. I left with some dignity, but not as much as Rob who’d received the same girl and not even bothered to show up for his appointment. I guess that was the problem: that I feel like in my increasing desperation around work, I keep feeling like I’m setting aside judgment for naivety and self-worth for self-prostration. It’s a slippery slope.

And what I find to do in the meantime?

Movies mostly. Dates with friends and seeing Eva. My pops told me the other day that I’d want a job until I got one at which point I’d wish that I didn’t have a job. But even Dan who hated his holiday-time suit-selling at Macy’s was talking about working anywhere to get structure back in his life too.

I also started volunteering finally at the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center. On a trip last month to see my cousin/uncle, the Rabbi, he talked to me of his experience doing good sometime in his early 20s. His opinion mattered to me, as he remains the symbol of my tenuous connection to the religious parts of Judaism, which I felt like I would connect to if I volunteered somewhere. “Tikkun Olam,” I thought, looking back on words from my Hebrew school education. “It means, to repair the world.” Such thoughts were romantic, but such romanticism was needed along with something resembling a pragmatic order. I’d do good, I thought, I’d do good.

Or at least, maybe, it would give me an excuse, finally, to read.

***

The Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center was a place I had been before I decided to volunteer there, about one year ago, when I had been producing Dan’s movie. It was a site of some shame for me, as I had entered into the production with some cock-sure attitude about getting Dan’s film, an intermediate project, done, but hadn’t counted on his want for extras from the Center, who turned out to be the active users who patronize it. They were nice and courteous, but I always felt uncomfortable around them, because for the most part they seemed so normal, yet in my eyes, in what I could see of their presentation, something had been taken or robbed. When I would later meet Lou Reed, whose hand I shook too vigorously, I saw the same thing: Youth, taken prematurely. Not youth, like the state I was in or the vigor of a 15 year-old. But an energy or a chi or something stupid that I didn’t have answers to like that. A sense of a reserve of years, of something to take from within them; It had already been taken.

My only humiliation there came when I tried to cater for the crew and the extras from Tuck Shop, the Aussie joint I’d later use to cater for my job at Colbert, only to hear politely from one of the staff that the extras didn’t like food like this and could I get something else.

“Like Popeye’s?” I asked.

And he said that was fine and I took orders and went.

As I came back I felt wounded, somewhat because of a perceived slight to my sense of self-superiority, that I had guessed wrongor catered incorrectly, that I didn’t know the people and the situation well enough. But it was more thinking that I didn’t know these people who were in the film’s world at all, didn’t know what they liked, what their lives were. After years of film school and of characters and neurotics, I had gotten a sense of the world I was in. In some ways, this was my first experience out of it.

When I came in a year later and earlier this week for training, I learned I’d be the volunteer at the Syringe Exchange, dealing directly with users as they brought in used needles and I gave them new ones. Days later, when I saw Dan who had worked in a place like LESHRC in Worcester, Mass (the inspiration for his film), he picked at my unease, asking me if I had felt odd with the “moral ambiguity” of what I’d be doing.”In some way, you’d be in enabling them.” He told me cryptically. He meant that by giving them needles, I was putting myself as part of their using, but I never saw it that way. In a mix of pity and guilt, the only thing I could think that Friday I went in for training was how nice all the people were who came into the exchange and how I felt bad thinking about what they were going to do next. In my own life, in the people there, figuring with the commonality of drug use is something I can avoid easily, through video games or social interactions or anything else in my life. But sitting there watching a man pick used needles out of a shoebox as he tries to avoid touching blood–his or someone elses–well, it’s difficult to avoid thinking.

***

Sunday went on for me and got better and I didn’t apply to any jobs.

I saw a movie and I saw some friends and I saw Eva.

In short, it was good.

But on Monday, I’m sure of it.

I’ll be back to combing Craigslist and Mandy.

And singing the job song.

***

Finally my kudos to Jacob, who I mentioned here earlier. His film STONEY won an award at the Festivus Film Festival for Adam Newport-Berra’s cinematography. It’s a great film and Jacob’s a great guy and Adam, a talented DP.

When Jacob sent out a congratulations today to all the people involved with the film, I saw numerous congratulations as many people hit “Reply All”.

One of them was “Congrats everyone! -Tom N” from Tom Noonan, the star of Jacob’s film.

It gave me a laugh on a rainy day.