Why Am I Such A Downer?

April 12, 2012

On Monday, 4 separate people came up to me and asked me what the matter was and I didn’t know what to tell them.

More disconcerting than whatever was going on in my heart was the fact that it was so readily apparently, obvious to 4 different people, so urgent that not only did they notice it, they felt the need to come up to me directly in order to have some sort of intervention.

And what was that?

My hairline? A source of easy, venial obsession. I noticed the other day a spot on my frontal scalp hair would not grow and which I keep trying to sweep to the side or not notice, an easy signifier but not something worthy of a massive self-immolating breakdown to the point that people are concerned.

My weight? Still a point of contention for me, so much so that wandering around on Monday I considered talking to a nutritionist, a medical doctor (something suggested by my father after I told him the difficulty I had had opening  tough window) or downloading a fitness app, only to finally just literally google “What should I weigh” only to discover from the rote internet that I was literally at my ideal weight or, said differently by a tipsy girl at the bar last night: “Really, you’ve lost a lot of weight Nick since I first met you, don’t lose anymore or you’ll be too skinny.” Grace here is not imminent because it is something I chose to change about myself (thus a point of vulnerability) but at least validation from a stupid google search proves the insanity of my inadequacy there.

Romantic difficulties? These have tortured me since forever, so there’s no big change there, except maybe sometimes feeling like a dirtbag. Going in to my therapist’s on Tuesday, she posited that the issue regarding my weight and my romantic difficulties were inter-connected and thus feeding each other in terms of worry, that “you were wearing your extra weight as an excuse, a way to protect yourself or not take responsibility for your difficulty in finding someone compatible with you”. After all if I had the excuse that there was something physical I could change about myself, I could let myself off the hook for the more difficult work of maybe just accepting myself more, being more okay with myself, just being a happier person.

I gave a note the other day to the Level One improv class that I Big Brother (read: like a TA in college) that was given to me by Peter McNerney: “A great gift that you can give to your scene partner is being natural, not being worried, not trying to “get it right”. Because when you get yourself in that headspace of ‘getting it right’, you close yourself to the opportunities of what the scene can become.” An easy note, a difficult one to accept. If I want to be more desirable, more fun to play with, find some more balance or okay-ness in myself. Don’t try to blame percentage points of my own weight (“If I lost 1 pound would I be one pound closer to  a girlfriend?” cries flawed and silent logic) but instead just do the work of trying to enjoy myself more, be happier, be more in the moment and ready.

In my yoga classes I take (again Young Nick cries out in douchebaggery at present Nick’s invocation of yoga), the teacher will often tell us in poses, “Don’t look down at the ground. Looking down at the ground may serve you in life, probably not, but maybe. But here, in practice, look up.” Like in yoga, in life, in improv, just trying to stay positive, not seeming worried, being affected but staying up until something important comes along, well, it’s important.

So I went into my therapist and confessed like I would a confessional the different ways I felt like I was undermining myself romantically, the ways I felt inadequate or sad or frustrated. And my teacher Christina Gausas is right that “after a certain while, navel-gazing becomes about ego”, in the way that people have pity-parties as a way to attract attention and receive external validation, but it also felt good just to be explicit about what you feel about your life, to be expressive to say your emotions in a way that they could be exposed and then mastered. In my work with my coach Sean Taylor, one of his most frequent notes to me and my teammates is just to “speak your thoughts”. In life we are frequently coy because we fear the consequences and certainly as I look back on a youth of speaking rawly out of either extremes of speaking out of intense emotionality or saying nothing that that is not the best way to live, but damnit, if you can just talk to another person, birth your thoughts and insecurities into the world, make your unconscious or conscious mind exposed for a moment, what a difference that makes.

To reiterate a note from last week from Neil Casey- “We are that special breed of people who can talk about what they mean on stage”. Or, that way, in life.

People ask why I write this blog, why I write things so personal here and it would be easy to say that it is therapeutic (and it is), but the truth is as it has always been, is that storytelling is a craft which is both a practice and a way of attaining a sort of mastery over the self. In connecting the dots in my own life on paper, I see my own patterns, forgive myself for my own mistakes, make manifest what is only insecurity when it floats around in my brain. When I talked to my friend Matt Weir this morning, who is very handsome and tall and an inveterate improv lady-killer, he was telling me how important it was to have that moment “where you realize you are in the presence of someone or something important”, where you take that time to recognize the importance of the moment and not blow it off, but try not to worry about it.

And then the paradox of yoga, improv, acting, what have you: To care about the things that are important to you. To consider them without worrying about them. To show the appropriate amount of attention to things that drive you without letting them consume your life or become yet too much for you. Yesterday in my groovy friend Emily Shapiro’s “Yoga For Freaks and Geeks”, a cheap yoga class she runs for improvisers and comedians, Emily talked about “Tree Pose”, that classic pose in yoga where you try to put one bent leg high upon the other, balancing on the straight leg: “Maybe today you get high on your leg, maybe you’re just down by your ankle or even toes on the floor. Just try not to push your knee and hurt yourself. Wherever you are, that’s cool!” the last part intoned with her own goofy lilt. Finding balance in your life, your worries, your improv, everything.

And then that difficult part embodied by Emily’s cool-weird-girl lilt- Being in that place then, of “That’s cool!”

So there you are, people who came up to me, worriedly on Monday. My psyche exposed. I’m worried about my weight sometimes, my improv not so much right now (I had three great shows last week, pretty cool!) and my love life, happiness, balance, quite a lot. Sometimes I fall out of that pose, on to the floor and sometimes it gets me down not being where I want to be and I dive into that place of self-criticism, desperation or even the crappy validation-projection that happens looking on online dating sites or into the eyes of another person at a bar.

But even those days are fine, somewhere along the way.

Even those moments are fine as long as they are manifest and talk-able.

Because I think a scumbag is someone who isn’t honest with themselves.

And I think me, I just have a receding hairline.

And that will have to do.

***

It was a feast fit for a blood test.

As I have mentioned on this blog before, I suffer from psoriasis, one of the nerdist things one can suffer from.

Psoriasis makes you covered in terrible like scabs and crap and rough patches, it can be brought about by stress the environment or nothing, be dormant in you forever or make you into a freak of nature, standing around like some 50s Ray Harryhausen creation.

Luckily I take pills that control it for me, just leaving me with something that resembles but isn’t dandruff and a couple weird spots here and there. But, the medicine that I take does have all sorts of side effects causing me to get blood tested every now and then just to make sure that my liver isn’t failing or any of that crap.

And that also means, once in a while, in a while, I can’t eat anything for a full 12ish hours.

This would be easy for most men, but not a hypoglycemic crazy like me, oh no.

Between the waiting, the daze of getting up and the unfriendly people at the NYU Medical Center Pharmacy, by the time I have gotten my extraction given and on gone, band-aid placed, I am in a blur of food-crazed starving and blind anger searching like a sasquatch seeking brains!

But that old conundrum, one that used to plague me!

By the time I get done with these things it is ALWAYS 10:30-11:30am! The nether-zone of eating!

Too late for breakfast with it’s strictures and conventions (see other rants against breakfast on this blog) and too early for the nearby go-to Indian joints of Curry Hill (near to NYU-Med) to be open.

So it was in this way that I found myself trying out for the first time a place on Lexington that I never would have gone to ordinarily, one of the anonymous joints that line that street with adverts for sub-par lunch buffets or hot plate fare, all pale imitations of my beloved Dhaba Lunch Buffet which opened stunningly at noon! Noon! Too late!

Anjappar Chettinad is a South Indian restaurant, a breed that is usually vegetarian (and thus constantly advertised for NYC as being kosher) but this one advertised on the window that they featured “thalis”, the south indian tradition of a meal comprised of several small plates, but with non-vegetarian options as well. I almost opted for the North Indian special off their lunch menu, not knowing what anything really was, before a kind look from my waiter steered me back saying “If you come to a South Indian restaurant, it would make sense to try the South Indian food, no?”

It did.

The plate was deceptively huge with a chicken curry still on the bone, a delicious spicy vegetable curry with cauliflower, the precise makeup with which was unrecognizable to me, some biryani rice (plain) which I tried to have little of even though it was exquisitely spiced, raita and finally the bread.

The bread was the best part, my deepest regret, my greatest pleasure.

It was neither naan nor poori nor any of the indian breads I am used to. It was a heavier, flaky, pull-apart bread soaked with butter that felt rich and full absorbing curry fully with every bite. I was transported.

I ate so much more than I ever though possible.

Luckily Yoga was harder than I thought it would be with Emily Shapiro.

So I felt some sort of atonement.

And also drank some Diet Coke (sorry Emily :P)

***

ANJAPPAR CHETTINAD

South Indian Executive Lunch Special (Non. Veg)- $12.95 (15 w/tax+tip)

Lexington Avenue bet.  27th and 28th Sts.

6 to 28th St.

***

A final addendum, food wise.

I am addicted to those fucking hot wraps from Pret A Manger.

It is embarrassing.

I blame Christina Gausas who, while lovely and amazing and talented, has an unnatural predilection and love for that place that like most of her advice, forced me to follow it.

The Buffalo Chicken Wrap and The Falafel and Red Peppers Wrap are inexplicably excellent and relatively inexpensive (like 6-7 dollars). They are low in calories and (if you give them five or more minutes to digest) very filling, disturbingly so considering their low calorie count.

Now, I should be clear. I should hate Pret A Manger. They are a chain, the enemy of New York City business and innovation. Low calorie foods are stupid and lame and pre-packaged hot wraps? God, why don’t I go to fucking Denny’s?

But I can’t help it now.

I dream of getting fucked up and eating twelve of them, wrap after wrap.

Damn you, Christina Gausas. Damn you, Pret A Manger.

You have turned me in to a corporate shill.

 

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Feel The Burn

March 28, 2012

I talk a lot about yoga nowadays, which I still believe firmly makes me into some sort of douchebag but that said:

Often times in my life, it feels like improv, yoga, dating, living, just walking around on the street, is all just a journey towards self-acceptance and the accompanying tension and struggle of that journey.

Put in a different way, by the great improviser David Razowsky (among others), denial is the source of all suffering.

The way we want to be or imagine ourselves versus seeing clearly where we are and are surrounding, being present in the moment, is the tension of existence.

And it’s painful and difficult to notice how aware you are, how present you are, and to try to make yourself more so.

Some of us are tighter than others, I can’t even do a decent downward-facing-dog because my hamstrings are too tight or are decent chair pose, because Frank thinks I’m too weak and my teacher thinks I might have too much tension.

Or, to pull backwards, It can be difficult for me to be confident in improvised scenes because I’m often not confident in life and my choices, it can be difficult for me to “be in the moment” listening to people and absorbing what they have to say (in scenes, life, dating) because it’s not a skill I’ve always used, it’s a “tight” muscle.

All of this is fine, we all have our limitations as humans, our own stretching to do. But not being present, wanting to be somewhere else, being desperate, judging or hating ourselves, is a slippery slope to despair.

And all of this is too vague. Some examples:

This past weekend, I auditioned for Harold teams over at the UCB. Those of you who know me know it is sometimes a place of stress for me (I still get rejected for even classes there all the time, take that reality-star pseudo-fame). I had decided long ago that the Magnet was the place that I loved and getting to work with Christina Gausas in her classes and shows, learning her style. Harold teams weren’t a priority for me, heck I didn’t even like Harold Night for the most part (Neither did they apparently, since they broke up most of the teams while I was writing this). But, the thought is you’d be crazy not to audition, at least to get the experience. The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre has a lot of exposure and can be a good place to perform and there is much to be learned from any performance opportunity. I decided I would be fine with the auditions, because I didn’t want it, unlike some people in the comedy community, for whom getting on a team there is the be-all end-all next-step for them in their ascendance to greatness. I told myself I was ok.

But I wasn’t. As the audition came up, I got gradually more stressed. I wasn’t too stressed before the audition and even going in felt like I did fairly well. But after the audition as I talked to friends and they seemed overjoyed, I felt overwhelmed by failure. Even if we didn’t know who made teams, I wasn’t as good as them. Who was I here? Why did I care so much when I told myself I didn’t care, when I didn’t even love all of UCB, this stressful place for me? The truth, as my father told me over a turkey burger before the audition, was “that you do care so you should just stop lying to yourself about it”.

And what I realized, walking back down along lower 6th avenue to write this blog post, was that I did care because I wanted their approval BUT even more than that (explain the explanation!) I wanted their approval because still in me there is so much that isn’t ok with myself, so much that isn’t self-confident, that wants someone to tell him that he is great and that everything will be ok.

And what’s more than this and this is the most difficult thing to say of all:

THAT. IS. FINE.

Ultimately, do I want to be an insecure person? No! I would like to be less of one, at least. I have girls constantly telling me how much they hate “weakness” or “men with no balls”, just for instance. But we all have our own places we are tight, our own places to stretch, our own progress that can be made from where we are. If I have a core of insecurity and I know that, guess what?! It’s the fist, million-time-th-better-step to being less insecure! Just knowing where you are and then stretching from that place, trying on more confidence, little by little. Doing the work and being satisfied.

At the end of my Neil Casey Advanced Study class yesterday I had a terrible class where I couldn’t make choices, another player on stage didn’t understand my move and we sat in the shit we had collectively taken on stage and I just performed generally poorly. And yet I knew I had done the work so I tried to feel good, I knew I had identified weaknesses and stretched them.

When we are practicing yoga, or working out or running or whatever physical activity we do to strengthen our bodies, we know we do well because our bodies literally thank us through releasing endorphins telling us that we are helping them, physically MAKING us feel great! But when we work our minds, our souls, there is no accompanying flow of endorphins, no hints to make us be okay with the stretch, the tear, the weakness we have endured, so insted of thanking ourselves, I judge myself and make myself feel bad, or I can.

I walked out of a rehearsal for the show I have that I was cast in that Christina Gausas is directing that I am SO honored to be a part of, that meshes with my values and background and how I love to play and knew I was worse than the other people there, knew I had fucked up repeatedly in rehearsal, knew that only in the very last moment of rehearsal did I begin to grasp myself and my skills and have a breakthrough. I moved already from a place of weakness to a place of strength in such a small time. As my yoga teacher, Chrissy Carter says, do not think of the body you are not in right now or wish you had, thank yourself for the practice you are doing in this body at this time.

But as I walk out, I am consumed with worries. Will I not be good enough and be dismissed from the show? Am I being too weak in scenes, in that struggle to be in the present? What about my habits and quirks that I try to suppress, picking my nose, or scratching my scalp or just my insane gestures from the audience (a fun sight for those of you who know me to behold). It is a struggle to not judge one’s self for one’s mental work because WE CARE. I care! We all care about our lives and our passions and so it is difficult to see them as practice. It’s good to be emotionally invested in things, to feel things. My friend Jon Bander said last night in rehearsal that “it is so wonderful to see people feel things on stage, because frequently as stand-up or sketch comedians, we are not allowed to feel something on stage, only comment”.

But I also have to recognize that note that Ashley Ward gave me over a year ago that, “you are where you need to be”.

I didn’t get on a Harold Team at UCB. I didn’t even get a callback.

I didn’t have a good class with Neil Casey and impress him, so I could get petted and stroked and told how brilliant I am.

I wasn’t up to snuff in my rehearsal with Christina, whom I admire and adore, and it breaks my heart.

But today, I feel happy and I feel fine.

Because wherever I am in my life, I’m doing the work. As my friend Sebastian told me as we were walking down the street, quoting another great improviser and teacher of mine, Michael Delaney: “If you want to do this, see that you are working the hardest out of all of your friends.”

Because today, I look at myself, I see where I am in the present moment, I forgive myself, I love myself and know there is nowhere else that I could be.

Whatever happens, I do not control. I don’t control what others think of me, whether I am cast or not, admired or not, nothing.

Only if I am in the moment, the present and I’m okay with my own weakness.

Which I guess, you could call, a kind of strength.

Oh yoga.

What the fuck have you done to me?

***

My friend Frank, who is now the big brother/probably partial-dad (his pops is in his early 60s) of one Charles Orio, tells me I obsess too much about my weight.

This is true.

When I went into my therapist’s office, I described a night of regret where I got drunk ate two “Kooky Brownies” (Brownies that had a chocolate chip cookie top to them), bought too many drinks and let other people buy me some and woke up 3 pounds heavier.

(I also saw Kiss*Punch*Poem that night, an improv show inspired by and involving poets, which I highly recommend, as it currently is I think the only show that elevates improv to art in New York City that is running right now.)

My response, which calmed her down, was that I just ate normally that day. Had some nuts and coffee for breakfast, chicken salad for lunch, a Fu Man Chew from Better Being Underground (aka my secret sandwich shop) for dinner and this taco for a late-night snack.

My couch-crashing roommate Teddy and I were walking down Greenwich Avenue on the sort of long-stroll from the Magnet back down to Soho we occasionally get to indulge in on a nice night when we noticed a lone taqueria standing open on the late-night street.

We went in to discover it was “Taco Happy Hour” at Oaxaca as exemplified by an open tall-boy of Modelo Especial at the counter and a dude who was willing to talk about why he was not willing to join the co-op in Park Slope.

The taco itself though was fragrant and delicious, mounds of picked onions, spicy salsa verde and a light sprinkling of cotilla cheese on two light corn tortillas with some chewy, salty chicken for an umami core. At 2 bucks, it made me more okay that the taco truck wasn’t out on a weeknight over on 6th Ave.

Teddy and I headed home after he even talked about applying there for a job and our conversation was complete.

The next day I weighed less, I told my therapist.

And all was right in the world.

Until I woke up 2 pounds heavier, this morning.

***

OAXACA TAQUERIA WEST VILLAGE

Pollo Taco- $2.00 (5-7pm or after 10pm)

Greenwich Ave. bet. 6th and 7th Avenues.

123L to 14th St-7th Ave. ACEBDFM to West 4th St.


The Courage Of My Convictions

March 23, 2012

This is the sight of me walking down 7th Avenue after a midnight show, semi-successfully executed, in the post 1am hours, going down past the bar from 57th St.

I had been flirty at the bar, an easy enough affair. I had tried it on like a coat, or like the clothes at that American Apparel warehouse sale I go to, seeing if things make me look good.

An apt analogy actually. I have commented to people that never before when I weighed much more did I ever comment on or want to shop for clothing. It was outside the realm of my expectations as I knew I didn’t look good, so my defenses shut me off to the possibility of shopping, of having to see myself, or accept the way I was.

Now, I shop endlessly on the cheap, mismatched racks of the American Apparel Warehouse Sale on 26th St, looking for things that make me feel good, asking for opinions on what works and what doesn’t, what colors, what styles, looking for shirts that fit me tight, that show me off.

That’s how I try flirting on in that bar after the Gethard show, my friend Andrew Parrish (who met his current girlfriend this way) had recommended it to me previously, actually, but I’m usually too tired after the show, too wanting to do Yoga the next morning, too scared to put myself out there and fail or, worse, fuck up a good situation for me.

So in that mix of defensiveness, self-doubt and common sense, I usually end up walking home down that 7th Avenue, either all the way down or far enough to pick up my locked-out couch-crasher Teddy, who is at a different bar, before completing my 3 miles and being home.

But I try on flirting that night. Complimenting, finding ways to be assertive without being intrusive, seeing opportunities to connect, making sure, as I try to with all people now, that I am looking them in the eyes confidently, with a smile or the receptiveness of listening.

Like clothes, it’s not a natural fit for me, a thing out of the past. Like clothes, I still don’t really know what I am doing, throwing on a slapdash approach, sometimes not seeing how silly I look.

But Michael Delaney pointed out to us in a class that the difference between writing a sketch and doing improvisational work (being in the moment), is that a sketch is like working with clay where it can be formed and reformed, changed and shifted before being presented. With improv though, he said, we are working in marble and every move we make, mistake or not, is visible.

I don’t know what I am doing in marble right now.

Flirting or performing, though I’ve gotten better about being okay about life.

Christina Gausas (an amazing performer and improviser who I am lucky enough to get to work with) noted me a few weeks ago that when I made moves in my scenes it was like I was moving through water, making half-moves, unconfident. A non-improviser or even one might be confused by the terminology, I’ll explain. Instead of grabbing someone by the hand and giving a firm handshake, you reach out in slow motion waiting for their acceptance. Instead of brushing a girl’s hair back, you touch her lightly on the arm, uncertainly. When my old friend Jonny-Jon-Jon told me I needed to “take more leaps, not just from sinking in the mud to a rescue helicopter, more uncertain ones”, he was right too.

And life, improv, writing everything, they all tie together and seem to intermesh, though my life is full of them, so that may just be it.

Another moment learning from Christina was an exercise she does where we draw a trait from a piece of paper in her hand and have to play it subtly, or to put it differently, like a real, normal person. I nailed “gay” apparently (I talked about taking some time off from work to explore the world and a collection of Portuguese spun-glass), but when I drew “sexually aggressive”, I stumbled into creepy or timid, struggling like balance in yoga, to find a middle ground.

“When I think about being flirty or aggressive, ” she told me. “I think about a male improviser who would always be at the bar, just making super sexual jokes and it was always cool because that was just who he was, but if you ever took it seriously, he’d be down in an instant.”

I think my version of that was someone telling me my voice was hoarse it was and saying it sounded super-masculine.

“Yeah, I have huge balls.” I replied.

I think that got a laugh.

But in the end I walked home by myself again. I didn’t want to stay out late (I did), didn’t want to feel like shit again (did), wanted to get up in time for yoga, which I did.

But what am I looking for?

Playing my gameboy (a term, Nintendo DSi is the more accurate one) is often a troubling sign, something of a detachment from reality for me. Playing it while walking, an even greater one, especially now that I am aware of the work I do on my posture in yoga and how I fuck that up looking at my screen.

In improv and in life, the work I do is essentially to listen better, which is what I’ve told my friends, listen to myself (which I have gotten better at), but listen to others, be vulnerable, be in the moment and be confident not knowing ever what you are going to do.

Think about it, the amount of times in life we pre-plan what we are going to say, the times we judge a conversation or muscle past it just to make our point. If our points are so great, let’s make them, but as a talker I am almost exclusively defined by my propensity to talk about myself to the exclusion of others. Thus the blog you are reading right now.

So to listen, to not pre-plan, to be in the moment and vulnerable is practice in life as well as an improv. It makes you into a better, more responsive person. Know what you want in life and have that somewhere and how you feel, but I think that’s all you get to take for things.

When I go into a bar, or a classroom, when I hang around the Gethard show, or the different comedy theaters, who knows what will happen? It’s painful to be there, frightening to be confident.

So the “safe choices” are either detachment or self-abuse, detachment by not trying to connect with other/yourself (video games) or just judging yourself for your inadequacies as a way of not absorbing them, by viewing your perceived weakness as an external force, itself a kind of detachment as well.

All of this seems rambling and it is late. No apologies.

On Tuesday I had a great show and a great class and felt on top of the world. I got asked to be in a sketch group the next day out of the blue with people I respect, again people much more talented than me.

And yet, for all my practice not judging, for all my work, I still find myself slipping into judgement after a bad class, beating myself up over not being good enough or confident enough to really connect or hook up, wondering what I am doing or who am I, looking for external approval, because somewhere within me still lives vivid my own sense of worthlessness birthed from years of insecurity.

I’ve said here many times on this blog, I’m happy to return to yoga as much as I do because it reminds me when I am exerting myself that staying calm in the moment is how I stay calm in the face of adversity of life, that when I am not good at a pose it only means that I have self-awareness and I am doing the work, that when the teacher comes over to adjust me (which is very frequently, even now), it is a help because it means I am learning and getting closer to my own self-sufficiency, put succinctly by my friend Amy Hellman: “Think of everything as practice and you’ll get a lot more of a kick out of it.”

I spent time with my friend Frank today, a new big brother to his 62 year-old father’s son with his wife, Karen, a sort of slightly removed half-brother for Frank as he’s adopted. I knew though talking to him, as I went to Park Slope and to New York Methodist Hospital to see little Charlie in the NICU and saw Frank’s pride and wonder at his little brother’s cuteness, at his little brother’s being.

Well, some shit’s real.

And sometimes it’s good to remind one’s self of that.

And have more fun, if you can, and be more “practical” with the stuff that’s not.

And maybe that’s called “being a man” which is a note I got once, and maybe that’s called being confident.

Or maybe, it’s just something I’ll just have to be okay not knowing how it looks on me, until I do.

***

I am addicted to Mediterranean food.

It’s just delicious and healthy and flavorful. It’s adjustably spicy. It has great textures and vegetables. Hummus and falafel are so good that it’s just silly that they even exist.

So I apologize for how much I cover them, it’s just that I love to eat them and so I write what I eat.

In this case, it was The Hummus and Pita Co., a new joint over on 6th Avenue that, like Meze Grill before it, attempts to be a sort of Chipotle for mediterannian food.

Unlike Meze though, which I have not been to in a long time (I’m not often in the 50s during dining hours), THPC seems to be put on a little fanciness with a wider range of stuffings (fried eggplant, shawarma or a sort of tandoori chicken/steak as well as falafel) and different kinds of hummus.

All of it of course seems a little strange when you can get a 4 buck chicken kabab sandwich on many street corners.

But everything was really fresh and delicious. The salad bar of toppings (the mark of any great Mediterranean take out place) was ample with different kinds of cabbage and pickles and the shawarma I got was greasy and great and I even found some whole wheat.

The result was a yummy journey from crunch of cabbage to soft plyant chicken thighs rounding through to savory hummus and tahini, with dabs of hot sauce flecking in a mess that fell apart only to be scooped up, finger food, the dirty work covered up with napkins.

Maybe not for every day with the amount of good halal carts, but if I need some primo-shit, I know just where to look.

***

THE HUMMUS AND PITA CO.

Chicken Shawarma Whole Wheat Pita w/Fried Eggplant, Pickles, Red+White Cabbage, Hummus, Tahini, Hot Sauce- $8.11

6th Ave. bet 16th and 17th Sts

1 to 18th St. FLM-PATH to 14th St-6th Ave.


The Sweet Spot

March 8, 2012

I have to say, looking back on this moment this morning on my computer, the thing I was most impressed by was how red my hair looked on TV.

Now, I should point out, what was happening in this picture was that I was getting a move called “The Regal Stretch” performed on me by NWA champion pro-wrestler Colt Cabana, a move that involves being thrown on the ground, grabbed around the neck and stretched upwards while an NWA champion puts his knee into your back, thus causing intense pain.

But I am color-blind and people often tell me that my hair is no longer reddish as it was in my youth, a strange disjunction that I still see it that way, the way memory or nostalgia colors even the reality we perceive.

“Nope.” My couch-crasher Jeff told me, looking at the play-back clip. “It’s just a red light. Everyone’s hair looks that way on TV.”

Thanks.

If you want to know how I got into this situation, I am a strange and marginal character named “The Man Behind The Plant” (because I sit behind a plant) on a strange public-access/internet TV show called “The Chris Gethard Show”. The bit that night was that people could call in to see former NWA world champion Colt Cabana do wrestling moves on Chris or any of the other masochists on the show, but unfortunately for me, my improviser friend Shaun Farrugia is going through a bad breakup and too much free time and as a way “to kill the pain” decided to call in to ask Colt to do a move on me, by name and, well, improvisers don’t say no on stage.

After some intense back-pain and some grumpiness, I hobbled home, walking the 3 miles down 8th avenue to pick up my other couch-crasher Teddy from the improv mixer he was at, before walking and walking home.

In parts of my life, I find myself fearless, shameless and in others, paralyzed.

I speak of this abnormally, but it is normal, I’m sure.

I had my first Advanced Study Harold class with Neil Casey over at UCB and I came in to a class that some people freeze up in, a master class with a top performer and approached it fearlessly, a mile a minute, my heart pumping adrenaline off some sort of in-the-groove high causing me to talk a mile-a-minute after class getting food and in the break. People wanted to hang out with me, sent me messages on Facebook asking me advice, my only note I got was for breaking in my own scene because I was having too much fun. Something in me knew after I got in there, maybe after the initial fear, that there was nothing they could do to me now. I had taken so many level 4s at UCB, been rejected so many times. This class wasn’t an audition for anything, just an opportunity to learn. So I tried having fun and did great, I stunned myself in how great I did. I felt like a million bucks that day.

And then the next day I went to sign up for auditions for the UCB’s house teams and even just waiting in line looking around, confidence abandoned me. Here were all these people, nervous and experienced. I was just a number again and everyone seemed more together more belonging. Who was I? I wondered. What chance did I have in this wide sea?

I have had the honor for the past few weeks of being coached in a small team and a larger show by Christina Gausas, the best teacher and performer I’ve ever had the chance to study with (who is, incidentally, also beautiful), who somehow ended up taking me and my best buddy Sebastian under her wing in some miraculous confluence of events that I can’t even seem to recount now. In her workshops that I took, I did the best work of my life playing way outside my comfort zone, finding characters and confidence inside myself that I never knew I had. But in practice, something happened to me, these past few weeks, that was hard to overcome. I couldn’t say what it was? A fear? A pressure? A sense of not belonging or being unworthy? Or having to live up to something? Of being some sort of disappointment.

“It’s like you’re moving in slow-motion.” She told me. “There is a hesitancy. A half-move. And it’s something new.” She said.

“I don’t know, I feel afraid.” I told her.

“Don’t.” She replied, simply.

Christina is an amazing teacher, in that unlike some teachers giving a philosophy, like my other mentor Armando Diaz, she creates an atmosphere in which people can be true and honest, kind of like the way a catalyst works in chemistry: a catalyst doesn’t add some crazy energy to a reaction, it simply lowers the barrier that it would take for a reaction to happen otherwise.

That practice, I broke my boundaries and returned to that place of confidence and did, again, some of the best work of my life.

But I’m a big fan of believing that improv notes are often life notes.

Neil Casey told our class that improv “is not about not doing bad scenes, it’s about recognizing where you are and finding a way to navigate out of it”. That same not could apply for yoga, could apply for life. Noticing where you are, not judging yourself or giving up, finding a way to have fun even in an unexpected or unwelcome situation.

And Christina’s note to me (her notes that often seem like mind-reading) apply to my life as well.

Somehow, from all the confidence I’ve felt through the weight-loss and the way I’ve toned up my body, the way I’ve been continuing to perform well, the improvement I see in myself and the opportunities I get, there’s still that something inside me that isn’t confident, that feels small and unworthy. That thinks this current happiness a sham.

Sebastian (who often complains about not being represented positively enough on this blog) diagnoses it as my 8 years of high school introversion and also it should be noted, my markedly less-positive than remembered college experience, bubbling through, reminding me who it thinks I am.

Or maybe it’s just my singleness, that emptiness in me there.

A chauvinistic joke among my improv friends is that when a female student starts dating a good male improviser, they seem to improve rapidly as if succubus-like absorbing their power (I apologize for the offensiveness of this). But the truth is, just like my old sketch teacher Adam Conover used to say in his stand-up routine, there’s such a thing as “Girlfriend Confidence” or boyfriend confidence for that matter: the sensation of knowing someone loves you, that evolutionarily you are a winner for now, procreating, safe. I think the truth behind the joke for women in the improv community is that it is very, very difficult to be a woman in a small comedy community full of awkward men, especially when you might be interested in some of them, or even just unsure and that in finding a solid significant other, especially one whom you respect, you gain the confidence of not having to deal with being externally sexualized at the same time as being emotionally vulnerable in your practice. And it shows.

For guys though as well, it’s a difficult path, trying to find the right one, trying not to hang your hat on any failure or rejection. Trying to find grace in a small bar full of people after a show.

As I’ve said, dating in the community is kind of like shitting in a kiddy pool: everyone knows you’ve done it and they’ll probably remember even if some different people step into the pool.

So my therapist told me I should go back to online dating, which I’ve considered.

“How long has it been?” She asked.

“July or August. September?” I offered.

“You’re a much different person now then you were then.” She told me.

“It’s a place I went out of desperation and loneliness.” I told her.

“But it betters your odds.” She replied.

Looking back at my profile, at the questions I answered, how I’ve changed is evident, the intense criticism and self-doubt on display there is evident, so willing to beat myself up. I change answers, write new things as I realize the change in myself.

I worry as I look at my “quiver matches” about having to put myself out there again, talking to these people, taking a chance on something that could beat my confidence, that could make me feel terrible again.

But the note is that confidence breeds confidence. Life is unwritten and all we have is an initiation an attempt at connecting with someone.

No one knows where the scene will go.

So act confidently, knowing that no one has any more idea than you.

As Chris Gethard said:

“When you get up there, what you do could be the greatest thing that’s ever been done, or totally terrible. No one knows.”

Or as my sister said:

“You’re the dude. It’s up to you to initiate. So just be confident like the handsome cardigan-ed man you are.”

Life back into improv.

I did some good scenes yesterday.

Let’s see if I can do some good life.

***

It was a Sunday brunch, I was fighting a two-whiskey hangover (sorry for my pussi-tude) and I was look for something delicious for the day, a treat.

Faicco’s was the obvious choice, that magical oasis where a man can get a three-meal sandwich the size of a long forearm for 10 dollars, somehow located in the yuppified Greenwich Village/West Village boundary.

But Perilla just caught my eye, wandering down Jones St.

It was another morning where I had gotten up early and I had planned to read my backlog of New Yorkers and had yet again failed miserably to do so (I keep one in my mailbox for self-shaming purposes).

I saw the Spicy Duck Burger on the brunch menu, as it was my habit to check out the menus of restaurants I do not know as it is the habit of some people to stare up at blimps in the sky: admiring, with an eye to read their purpose.

As a non-carnivore, I am always interested in burger replacements, especially with alternative meats (most Veg-burgs I’ve had have been mealy or rubber-y) and this one came with fries, a forbidden and sometimes allowed treat for me.

So I waited out that extra time between 11:20 and 12, like I used to in my anti-breakfast days, until I sat at the bar, while a hipster emo-couple in their 30s came in with their hipster-emo baby.

My burger came shortly after the couple and was delicious.

Duck can be a little too fatty for me sometimes, difficult to eat in its dark, veiny-ness. But ground up and liberally spiced, the duck was perfect material for a burger replacement, with thick broadly-cut fries coming out fresh and a generous, sweet-seeded brioche, which I tore off much off, to preserve my weight-sensing sanity.

My only complaint (the price was high but reasonable for the atmosphere/quality) was that all of my burger toppings came on the side. For shame, restaurant. When I enter you I do not want a democracy. I want a tyranny of your choice as chef, deciding my experience.

If necessary, I can say the safe word of “allergies”, but other-wise, give me the stomach-pounding I paid for, no choice, just submission.

Rawr.

***

PERILLA

Spicy Duck Burger w/Pepper Jack Cheese and Spiced Fries- $16

Cornelia St bet. West 4th and Bleecker Sts.

1 to Christopher St. ACEBDFM to West 4th St.


Tell Me Your Dreams

February 22, 2012

I found this in the waiting room of my therapist’s office perusing when my therapist was 1-2 minutes late for a session, coming down the hallway, a fact that is inconsequential (I have been late and I sometimes run-over), but a fact that I lord over her.

The book was there but the placement was my own.

I frequently noticed it, perusing the shelf of cast-offs and maybe strategically placed therapeutic books, it was hard to know: kismet or misplacement? A thoughtless collection of what people could find, or just a random selection of whatever anyone was too in distress, to distracted to remember to take with them after a 45-minute session of, perhaps, baring their souls.

Anyway, this book seems pretty tragically out of place in a therapist’s office, with all of its intimation of a concept of “womanliness” and strange pandering to a sub-sect of illusory middle-school girls that I imagine do not exist outside of television.

But who knows, maybe that’s what people want. A topic starter, a place of discussion.

I once saw a book in my therapist’s room that said “Lesbian Psychologies” and thought it said “Lesbian Pathologies”. What did that inspire in or say about me that I found that there, just a certainty of a point of view, a subconscious gesture, what? I think I had just been defensive or unsure about how I related to queer culture. What was that moment that happened that would not have otherwise?

Nowadays, when I go to my therapist, half of my time is spent talking about girls. Therapy can feel like some sort of wishful make-out session, some sort of pow-wow in a closet or sleep-over looking out to what might come of my love-life this new-found (somewhat) attractiveness and who’s a good idea or bad idea. These moments are like milk chocolates for me or the Sour Patch Kids that my best friend Frank kept offering me while we watched the Studio Ghibli adaptation of The Borrowers: sweet and quick and empty, fun but requiring self-control.

It is an illusion to think one’s problems are solved or that one cannot improve their psyche or to see progress as itself some sort of pedestal. Back in the depths of earlier depression, I would insist to my friends and others at my happiness and relative fine-ness when I was losing hair at how unhappy I was at my post-production job, when I was crushed after not getting a movie-theater promotion, when I wanted to be okay so desperately in the months following my break-up.

Now looking back at those moments, it’s easy to see how unhappy I was. I didn’t want to be a post-production coordinator but felt obligated to, didn’t want to work in a movie theater, but needed some sense of worth, I wasn’t ready to love someone else, but so desperately wanted the pain of a first love to go away.

My friend Sebastian often accuses me of being maudlin (he also frequently complains about how he is portrayed on this blog) and in this case he is correct, I am being maudlin.

But I am also letting myself experience those emotions from a distance with the fondness of some completion. Like the shows I can look back on, I can either smile or cringe. And if I’m lucky and I think of a moment, some real emotion might be released into me, a gift that no video-game or twitter-feed can bestow.

As I’ve said before here, the great gift I’ve found through therapy, yoga, improv, growing-up, life, what-have-you, were the lessening of expectations; to stop being so hard on myself and just notice where I am. To just treat the journey as the fun thing and to not worry about “the big picture”. Life, I seem to have decided, is pretty great for me right now (despite my relative lack of love or solid career), I guess, I have become a fuller, more self-confident person to the point where I believe that those things will come in time. That as long as I continue to have fun, wherein my fun is self-improvement in writing and comedy, everything else will come or not.

Already, I’ve gotten numerous performance opportunities on New York stages, I’ve gotten cast in my friends sketches and gotten to put up my own. I’ve even gotten to work with performers I idolize like Christina Gausas and learn from them, which was and still is unimaginably great for me, from starting out.

To be all buddhist-y about it, the journey is the goal.

But all my friends and parents say otherwise as they ask me to know what I want to do or be again. In film school, this question was answered for me, which is in one way a relief, but in another way led to a massive meltdown and certain unhappiness as I got rejected from 50 film festivals, the only recourse to which was: “Well if you really wanted to do this, it wouldn’t break you.” But then what if it did?

On his “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast, comedian Todd Glass comes out publicly and talks about the use of the word “gay” as derogatory and why people so cling to wanting to use it, despite the negative effects and connotations on others.

“I don’t think that those are very terrible people or even that they don’t realize it in some part of them.” Glass says. “I think it’s just that it makes them feel uncomfortable, because if they’re wrong, it means they have to change.”

Change is painful, it’s something we avoid. I’ve talked on this blog repeatedly about “homeostasis” the biological process through which our bodies try to preserve order and how this is the same things our minds and natures try to preserve as well. When I had to get out of film school and look at the world, when I had to get out of a relationship and do the same. Another thing I talk about is how the most painful moment for me is the schism in which I understand the reality I thought I perceived was not the one others’ perceive, which could be when a girl isn’t in to me, or when I get fired from a job, or when I realize in a certain situation I  am friend-less and alone and one way to look at these situations is the mental crux of “Am I going crazy?” but another is to look at these as moments where one is forced to confront the necessity of change and that is truly frightening.

So that’s what I worry about as my roommate Teddy hits up famous people on Twitter asking for jobs, because he tells me “[he] wants to make the whole world laugh.” That’s what I worry about when my friend Sebastian talks about Chris Farley, or my father or Frank asks me “what do you want out of this?” meaning comedy or writing or the rest.

I am afraid that the zen or calm that I have found, that I am comfortable in, is just another stalking-horse for a defensiveness, a clinging to the moment that has already past in the guise of a peace about the present.

That having no great dreams is a defense against having any at all.

And that is the difficult thing I suppose, to asses that moment, scary as it is.

Because how ever comfortable I am in my life, lady-less, in-therapy, without an even paycheck:

I like it.

***

I went down to North Carolina this past week to perform in a show that my only bit was standing behind a plant and clicking next on a projector and that too was cut for time.

But I still had a blast.

I was holed up with a bunch of comedians as a part of the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival, sleeping 5-6 to a hotel suite, leaflet-ing downtown Chapel Hill, getting sized up amused-ly by the ladies used to frattier boys in a way that seemed to take some of the pep out of my step.

But I ate boneless wings, found an incredibly comprehensive (and expressly forbidden-by-my-lifestyle) beer store in a close-by strip-mall and shared stories with a bunch of groovy people, screwing around and making friends.

Even though France was amazing and liberating and somewhat lonely, I was doing a lot of work on myself out there, you know? Wandering the streets of Paris, thinking about improv (I am insane, right?) and my friends back home, trying to unpack every moment cross-wired with my old relationship, trying to forgive myself for things I had displaced on to the veneer of strength and confidence you get from co-dependency. I was largely successful at that and it was amazing, but it felt less like a wacky vacation than an immersive experience.

But this was a fun-fuck-around moment, the college trip to Vegas I’d never gotten, loaded with funny comedians who suddenly thought I was cool, whom suddenly I could talk to and hang out with and just shoot the shit.

We searched for BBQ places, I helped pick out a bunch of prizes for a rowdy North Carolinan crowd and I got to hear a really funny dude do a preview of his one-man show for us in the front row. Amazing, the 10-hour ride back may have been the best part of the trip, from something I was once terrified of.

It’s nice finding that dynamic of people, finding some mutual respect, but also just drinking and working and being exhausted and getting wild. It felt like a film set, without all the existential “will my life amount to anything” baggage.

I came back refreshed and ready and happier than ever that I had my life at home as 2 days felt like I had been gone for 2 weeks.

By the way, watch The Chris Gethard Show tonight at 11pm on MNN in Manhattan or at http://www.thechrisgethardshow.com or download the podcast on iTunes.

And look closely for that man behind the plant.

He’s pretty happy, just to be there.

***

Is there such a thing as a Soy Cappucino?

My server at  MUD Coffee seemed confused too.

You see, I am a fan of Cappuccinos over lattes (a trip to Italy in my adolescence solidified this as did my recent trip to France) but I am also, and let’s be honest here, one of the fartiest people in the world.

It’s true! I’m sorry ladies! I’m kind-of-sorry my friends! I cannot help it. I am slightly lactose-intolerant (I think?!) and I don’t really care.

So I do that d-baggy thing and order soy drinks sometimes and this time I did.

It was filled with that weird soy-y foam. But it was light and kind of nice.

I got weird looks from the servers, but no more than someone with half-a-pair-of-pants who might walk in to an east village coffee shop.

It lifted me up after a night of drinking and just getting back from a collective 3-days-12-hours-of-sleep and a big trip down the coast.

I was awake during brunch with my family.

And I didn’t fart…

Well, maybe a few times.

***

MUD COFFEE

Soy Cappucino- $4.00 (in a mug, to stay)

9th St bet. 1st and 2nd Aves.

6 to Astor Pl. R to 8th St-NYU. F to Lower East Side- 2nd Ave.

***

POST SCRIPT-

Oh yeah, I hear I’m back on TV. Here’s a deleted scene brought to my attention by someone, forget who.

I think it is unfortunately called “Nobody Likes A Unibrow”.

Yep.

Enjoy!