The Apple Of…

April 6, 2012

I eat apples now.

Walking around New York City in the all-encompassing want-to-eat after Yoga, meandering between classes, rehearsals and such, I want something sweet.

The chocolate “bark” I keep in my bag for dessert-y things is quickly depleted through sharing and late-night, mid-day and other cravings. I want something portable and I don’t crave anything sugary due to the calming effects of the dark chocolate.

So I go for apples. A new development in my life.

But I find myself needing one to eat.

As referenced by friends and even in the New Yorker not so long ago, this is not as easy as it might seem. For some reason, between childhood when I ate apples enjoying their simple sweetness and the current moment, skipping over the many years when I did not eat the fruit (who would eat an apple if you could eat a Candy Center Crunch from Good Humor?), apples seem to have either vastly declined in quality (a talked about rumor) or my taste buds have changed significantly (true as well). Now, unlike the daily banana that with a piece of Babybel cheese consists of my breakfast, I cannot just pick up an apple anywhere.

Myst has to be made about finding an organic store, sifting through or discovering the right kind of apple (Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, the list goes on) and then spending the 1,2,3 dollars just to try to get to something that tastes like it’s sweet and edible as opposed to mealy like the Red Delicious or Granny Smith has been reduced to.

It’s a strange task, but one suited to me.

After all, I’m a chaser.

To make the obvious metaphor, I chase around girls, trying to find the balance. For all the roller-coaster highs and lows of comedy, I feel like I’m getting a lot of attention in my small corner of my small community for the work that I am doing (despite how much I still beat myself up for not being good enough or getting it right, in a direct proportion of about 3-4 bad rehearsals shows-to about-2-3 good ones). My therapist continues to compliment me on my looks, as does the old woman Marie who wakes me up every morning grunting up the stairs (“You’re beautiful.” she tells me, when I see her on the doorstep). I had someone text me for a date last week out of the blue that seemed fun and fine. I even have people tell me at the bar come up and say they “like my face” which is pretty cool, but in flirty situations, I still don’t know who I am.

As I try on being mildly aggressive, it’s like putting on a character in a scene. When you touch my arm, are you touching it because that’s the way you are or you want me to touch you back? How much contact is too much? Or how do I even gauge how you feel about me? Now that I’m not so hung up on crushes (or am I?), I can be better about backing off, not hanging my hat on one thing. But then if I’m just flirting, how do I read your mind or confidently make moves when I don’t know how much to put on, how little?

I feel like I get kind of creepy when I talk about this stuff and, of course, I assume it is something I will learn at some point (bringing things back to yoga, I didn’t assume with that I’d be a prodigy over night, much to my aid) but it goes to life and improv and everything. In situations of comfort or elevated status we can be comfortable and otherwise not.

An improv example: this past week I did a rehearsal with my friends Teddy and Sebastian. Both of them are incredibly funny, talented people who have had a lot of opportunities thrown their way because of how good they are, how hard they work. Our coach is Louis Kornfeld, an improviser I have amazing respect for and I get into the room and I just choke and choke repeatedly. My friends are being hilarious, getting tons of laughs, making nice, natural choices. I am talking quickly, unnaturally, sounding worried. Telling people who they are. It takes me all the way until the end of rehearsal to get out of this place of tension.

A counter example: I go into the class where I big brother (read: T.A. the class) and help teach the students exercises and I do great, feel super-natural and when I make mistakes I don’t sweat it. I got to do a show last night on the Magnet mainstage, that I was so tired and burned out for, I had just had a class I had done terribly in right before it and had no rehearsal and destroyed it. Everyone at the bar was talking about how funny I was, coming up to me, shaking my hand. It’s improv so that show is gone forever, but for that night, it was mine.

When I find myself in a place of comfort or not, when a girl stares into my eyes and tells me “you know people really like you around here” or grasps my hand or something, or when I just have no idea who someone is to me and so act naturally, without as much self-regard, I tend to do better. The same as improv, dating, life, job interviews, god… But when I feel that pressure to perform, whether it be on track to team auditions, or just in a room full of people I respect (or a girl I have a crush on) it can be easier to find myself in that place of self-doubt, of instant self-judgement. Crippled.

This happens often. As I’ve said, I’m a chaser of things, formerly dreams (replaced by “doing the work”), sometimes girls, still constantly: approval.

I still seek it out and even in that seeking, find myself lost (a cliche, but…)

In a great speech Michael Delaney gave to my improv class two weeks ago, he talked about people auditioning for Harold Teams at the UCB theater and talked about the priorities of these people in comedy:

“They all want to get on Saturday Night Live, right?” He said. “I think that’s honorable, that’s an honorable goal. But I think it’s a shame when people miss the opportunities they could find along the way while they’re hurtling so quickly towards their goals.”

Because isn’t that the trick of it? Just slowing down and noticing. Seeing what happens, being open, even as you have a want?

In improv, pretending you don’t know you’re funny, that you have no idea what you’re doing, so that you can accept and give laughter?

In acting, “pretending you’re not pretending”.

In dating, seeming like you’re not needy for long enough for you to both admit that you are, in a way that’s hopefully mutually manageable?

I’ve walked around New York City a bunch. I’m less worried about my weight.

I’ve eaten quite a few apples.

Maybe it’s just fun, finding my type.

Or having a show.

Or going with overwrought metaphors.

For one post or two.

***

I feel like for most of my food discoveries, they could just all be chalked up to: “What can I say? I was hungry.”

I had noticed a hole-in-the-wall called “Meatball Obsession” a few times, sticking up near the PATH train on my way/walk up toward the improv ghetto from down near my house.

The proximity to mass-transit along with the specificity and tinyness of the location all contributed to my interest and one semi-hungover morning before class I decided to just sit at a Starbucks waiting, waiting for it to open.

It claimed to be the home of the “meatball-in-a-cup” and indeed it was, with various balls retrieved from crock pots with toppings administrated liberally.

There was a sandwich option which I did not avail myself of, but I was happy to report that the cup was full and nourishing.

I got the turkey meatballs in a “double” which were great (though my mother’s remain the gold standard), filled with bread crumbs and light with thyme for flavoring. I also opted for the Genoa topping at an extra buck which added toasted pine-nuts, shaved parmesan and some nice extra virgin olive oil I saw to the top of my meatballs coated with “sunday sauce”.

The dipping bread was delicious, dangerous, unexpected. Strips of parmesan-coated Foccacia already placed swimming in the sauce. I ate only one before throwing the other one out in a task that took too much willpower and a lot of fear.

Apparently they had opened that week so I felt pretty cool.

“You are.” They told me, looking me in the eyes.

And then I made out with the cashier.

***

MEATBALL OBSESSION

Double Turkey Meatball Cup w/Genoa Toppings (Shaved Parmesan, Pignolis, EV Olive Oil)- $8.71

6th Avenue bet 13th and 14th Sts.

123FL, PATH to 14th St.


Routines And Otherwise

October 25, 2011

This is a snapshot of what my life looks like right now.

This week I got complimented by the (pictured) man in the body suit who told me, ostensibly in literal Greek, that I was a “beautiful man” who he “wish he saw more”.

I only know this because his (also pictured) friend in the sunglasses translated this for me with a smirk.

This is the place that my choices in life have brought me to.

Getting come-on compliments in Greek from a man in a bodysuit after midnight on a Wednesday at a public access television station.

But hey, I guess: beats a nine-to-five.

This past week was actually a pretty great one for me. I went to this crazy-ass show (where all such pictures derivate), which I am apparently part of the crew of now.

I got the opportunity to stand in for one of my heroes, Armando Diaz, at his show “The Armando Diaz Experience”, telling true stories from my life while amazing performers did improvised scenes off of them (pictures, here courtesy of great man/friend M. Woody Fu).

I even had some fun shows and rehearsals with my indie teams.

Which may not sound like much, but consider that six months ago, I think I was pretty much despairing for my life.

Getting to perform regularly, having the freedom to find things and discover opportunities, to learn and to be a party of wacky, fun stuff, like I’ve described: it’s awesome.

This weekend, I sat a while and talked to Louis Kornfeld, in the lobby of the Magnet’s Training Center, the place where I do most of my shows.

I remember almost a year ago now being in the same class as Louis, the performer who I’d most like to be, a sketch-writing class, coming in off a week of auditioning for commercials (which would be among my last) and looking at Louis, who is the same general “type” as me and asking him:

“Hey man, you’re funny. You have a beard. Why don’t you go out for commercials?”

And he told me: “I don’t know. I have no ambition. I’m happy doing what I do.”

I kinda shrugged and continued the class, where I had Louis perform in one of my sketches and had my friends, family and classmates blown away by his abilities as a performer.

Back then, it seemed so important to “start my life”, that everything was building to something or it wasn’t.

Looking back as well, it was (and maybe still is) the same case with my romantic life: either I am getting more attractive and more successful, more prospects, more possibilities or I’m not and that’s reason to sulk or complain.

But sitting on that extended portion of a Sunday morning that branches into the afternoon, Louis and I talked about film school and that culture of want and narrative, the idea that there was a narrative of success, a path or a story you were a part of that justified people treating you poorly and, more importantly, you accepting the inherent shittiness of your life as some sort of part of a grand scheme.

We talked about nostalgically, in contrast to the way I used to speak about “paths” and “the direction of my life”, as if I was in it.

“You know, any time I’m asked about film things, I still feel like I’m made to feel apologetic about my life,” He told me, one lapsed film student to another. “That people expect me to say I’m taking some detour. That I know I’m going to return. There are still people I just can’t deal with from those film days. That I duck and hope they’ll respect the mutuality of our non-acquaintance.”

As readers of this blog know, I am a fan of applying improv principles to life, which I’d guess Louis is as well.

I was reading the other day a post on a comedy website about moving to L.A., composed of comments from UCB performers. Jason Mantzoukas, a very-talented performer had this to say:

” LA, New York, whatever, it’s all an improv show itself, really. The hardest thing is the internal battle between the knowledge that your audience expects you to be hilarious and brilliant and the awareness you have that you have no idea what’s about to happen, and very little real control over it, an inability to control the inherent panic. So what do you do? You be very good at narrowing the scope of what you’re going to do. The first rule is: don’t ask questions, because everyone else is in the same situation and they don’t know anything either.”

And isn’t that something: to realize that no one has the answers, not you or anyone. That life’s story isn’t written, that there are things that can be done or not done, but there is no narrative, no set path or paths. Just trying to be in the moment, to know who you are and what you want to give. To try to get better and hone your craft or what you love.

As we sat in that building lobby talking, in the intervening months between when we had done our sketch class show together, Louis had been hired to work for the same Second City Touring Company that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and Jason Sudeikis and others had done. He’d been promoted to co-Artistic Director of the Magnet. His improv teams had been invited all over the country and to Hawaii (recently) to perform.

Ambition-less.

And here he was, sitting in a building lobby, crouching on his haunches, nervous, hoping he’d be able to give the best he could to his students who were about to mill in.

And sitting in that lobby, an intern at that same theater, who hadn’t been on many commercial auditions lately, or looking to “advance himself” in the industry he went to school for, just sitting and waiting to open some doors on a Sunday morning.

That intern felt good.

But he should have finished his rewrites for his damn sketches.

Fuckin kid.

***

Speaking of kids, I’m pretty sure the guy who sold me my netbook was in 10th grade or younger.

In preparation for going to France, my pops suggested that I get a cheap, crappy netbook instead of taking my (still very nice) 2009 MacBook Pro to the scummy four-person room hostels I’d be staying in and breaking my back like I have been carrying it around, it would be nice to have something both more portable and which I would be less upset about if it got stolen.

But, being me, I didn’t want to have any “crappy” netbook, I didn’t want to crawl back into the vagaries and inconsistencies of Microsoft.

I wanted something that was dependable and real and functional. I wanted a Mac.

Except that Mac laptops start at a thousand bucks and only get more expensive.

So, I turned to what used to be my specialty: turning a certain very specific brand and model of netbook (the Dell Mini 10v) into a 250-dollar Macbook Lite.

It was much harder than the last time I did it (a birthday gift for my ex, while she wasn’t it, to be clear) since the model was older now and more difficult to find.

The place I had the netbook shipped from last time, a factory outlet, no longer had their delightfully “Gak”-soaked Nickolodeon model for kids, the kind I had gotten before.

Places on Amazon even mis-advertised their models in some attempt to put one past people and the “Hackintosh”-able model was the most in-demand.

After a couple of days of looking I turned to Craigslist and started text messaging someone who told me their netbook was quote, “Minty” and “Full-functioned”.

After telling me he lived “way uptown”, we agreed to meet in front of the Central Park Apple Store, appropriately or ironically and tested it out in the lobby of the nearby Plaza Food Hall.

The guy was quite nice and obviously a geek too about computers, but I realized, he wasn’t too careful. His name was still on the computer, first and last, as was, apparently, his homework.

He was a nice kid, looking back on it, and he sent me some tips on how to proceed. He obvious was literate about basic hacking because he had hackintoshed the netbook himself.

He threw in some basic, crappy accessories, which I appreciated even though he tried to jack up the price on me forcing me to haggle.

I haven’t read his assignments or watch his pirated copy of the movie “The Change-Up” he left on my computer.

The netbook runs well, especially with the tweaks I installed on it.

I guess I just wonder about this kid’s life.

And what he spent his 250 dollars on.

He told me that 2006 MacBooks were going for 300 on eBay.

“I’d do that if I were you, man” He told me. “Apples are the best.”

And I guess through all those text messages I wonder what it felt for that kid meeting someone else hack-literate, when you’re in 10th grade.

Who is this kid, Rimu?

My computer won’t remove his name.

***

Ah the pleasures of being on a diet.

Let me tell you, I amaze myself with how I’m still goddam losing weight eating things like this.

I’m 185 today, down from 188 one or two weeks ago.

And I can still have a goddam Faicco’s sandwich.

My “cheat” is that I go next door to Amy’s Bread and buy their double-seeded whole wheat loaf instead of the delicious Italian bread that Faicco’s usually uses. This allows it to not technically constitute a “break” in my diet.

But the catch is, the sandwich is probably about 1.5x the size of an already huge Faicco’s sandwich.

Smothered in the same Sunday-morning hot-fresh chicken-cutlets, fresh mozzarella, garlic-marinated sun-dried tomatoes and oil+vinegar. With that sesame-seeded bread.

I usually have them cut it in hal but after Emmy-nominee and sometimes teacher Russ Armstrong told me “this is three meals!” when I handed a previous, bifurcated version for him to hold, I got it cut in three at Faicco’s.

I could barely resist after the first third nibbling through the second throughout the day. Today it was my lunch.

Multiple meals of greatness.

And still just bragging to the goddam scale.

***

FAICCO’S ITALIAN SPECIALTIES (AND AMY’s BREAD)

Half of a Wheat Double-Seeded Baguette- $2.50

Chicken Cutlet Hero w/Fresh Mozz, Marinated Sundried Tomatoes, Oil and Vinegar- $10.00

Total $12.50

Bleecker St bet Leroy and Cornelia Sts.

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


Celebrity Night

March 9, 2011

This was the mob crowd this past Friday outside my movie theater, while I watched from the box office.

These men and women were swarming the writer/director/star of a new movie that had just opened.

Who is that man there in back? Is he Adam Goldberg and are we looking at Two Days in Paris? Kentucker Audley and we’re talking mumblecore? I do have a picture of DIY filmmaker Larry Levine flipping me off from the box as I took his picture.

But anyway, no. This man was the director of one of the most reviled films of the year so far. It didn’t have any huge stars. It came out January 2010 at Sundance, dead in the water. It elicited the greatest panning of any self-serious film that I can recall seeing from Stephen Holden of the New York Times.

But the film was Happythankyoumoreplease, and the man being swarmed behind all those people, was Josh Radnor, its director and one of the stars of the hit CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother.

I had no idea really who this guy was and why he was here. The only thing I knew about How I Met Your Mother was that it was supposedly a passable sitcom that some people liked and it gave Jason Siegel some money to keep writing on his off-days (and to make bad movies like Gulliver’s Travels).

When I saw the reviews of Happythankyoumoreplease (the title of which was fairly frustrating for a movie theater employee to deal with), I felt relieved. It would be a quiet night at the movie theater. Maybe I’d gent sent home early. My best friend Frank from high school, who I rarely got to see due to his Manhattan-leery laziness and gym-obsession, had invited me out if I got off early enough and that seemed worth whatever loud, crappy bar I might have to endure.

But the theater, despite the reviews, drew two sold out shows at 7:20 and 8 o’clock, while I sat in the box and marveled.

Both shows had lines, going out the door, people waiting in the somewhat cold, people coming up to me at the box office, asking about standby, calling me, seeing if there was any other way.

The security guard took pity on a few and let them in for the Q+A with a later ticket.

As a former film student and film critic, I thought what could be the reason? Were there really that many How I Met Your Mother fans lying around New York, who were die-hard enough that they’d come out to fill these seats despite the reviews, despite the lack of stars? It’s conceivable, given the show’s network and time-slot. Was it the star himself, Josh Radnor, who I hadn’t heard of, but who maybe had a cult appeal on the show, a following enough for himself that he’d draw out people?

Or was it just the same allure of the question and answer session advertised in the papers? The idea of that proximity to someone you see on television, the curtain lifted, the player in front of you for real? Was it just fan boys and girls out there in that long line, down the staircase, in that crowd waiting to talk to Josh Radnor after what must have been a terrible movie?

Or is that, like animals to light, we are drawn by proximity to fame, by the chance of discovery, by the feeling that somehow, in meeting the special person, we will become special?

It’s strange to think about, really.

That happened on Friday and on Monday, I was on TV again, as I had had some forewarning about, and though I didn’t get to see it, the next day my followers on Twitter swelled from double-digits to quadruple-digits in the matter of three-to-five hours. I had tweets and blog comments praising me and telling me I was special or great or funny or cute. Some people even sent me their number or email. Some people told me they wanted to see me.

I had only been on TV for three-or-four minutes, on a cable show, just playing me. No real artifice or craft. No “bit” really. But there I was, the real me, for people to see and decide on.

What did Josh Radnor feel, right in front of me, enveloped by that crowd? An actor playing, a writer with his movie.

When those people look at you like that, do you cling to who you are, do you try to be who you were for them?

Do you own what you’ve done? How do you engage?

And how do you get away?

I don’t have answers to these questions.

I have work tomorrow.

***

I usually don’t watch basketball games, on TV or otherwise.

In an incredibly nerdy, but true fact about me: any time I watch people playing a ball-related game, I always think, somehow, I’m going to get hit in the face with that ball. And then my glasses are going to break.

The fear makes me feel like a stereotypical nerd out of an 80s movie, but then again, there you are.

I owed Blake LaRue, the young stud pictured above sweatin’ through his shirt, because Blake had acted in my sketch show the night before.

While I had been thinking about what was probably going to be my “triumphant return to television” for a while, it had actually been back-shelved for my Sketch Level 2 class at the Magnet Theater.

Ro-Beardo Malone and Blake were going to act in one of the two sketches I wrote that were in the show, with Blake playing a 7 year-old, and Rob playing the somewhat benevolent bear that gets him over his inability to sleep at night due to fear (a real life problem I had at around that age).

It was down to the wire with the show, as it is for a lot of low-budg arty-type things and Blake and Rob had to learn some lines at the last moment.

But Blake brought it on with his lisp and Rob with his weirdo Bear, confirming my faith in them and wringing twisted laughs from the audience.

Above and beyond them, the great Jon Bander and certainly Louis Kornfeld did amazing jobs bringing my sketches to life with Bander helping me stage and figure out some of the last minute dialogue for the Bear sketch and Louis bringing down the house in the most acclaimed comic performance of the evening as a deranged first-time stand-up at an open-mic. The two men are both geniuses and the cheesecake I bought them as recompense the next day (along with some emotional voicemails) was hardly due justice for the pride and profound sense of gratitude a writer has for seeing his work done well.

(Also, I should thank my teacher the famous and duely-loved Armando Diaz, who directed the sketches, but I’m holding off to see whether I get rejected from the next class of his I applied to, which I find out tomorrow morning.)

Anyway, Blake got me coming to his basketball game as his thanks and Rob, well, maybe I’ll stop stroking his beard for a while when I see him. He’d like that.

I went out for a semi-satisfying time after, that Monday night, for too-pricey drinks and some hopped-up bar food while ladies and gentlemen conversed and I sat around date-less.

As I discussed with my therapist the next morning, whatever fame or feeling of success or funny-ness I could get from these things, it wouldn’t bring my girlfriend back. And as I watched as a girl I had half-a-crush-on who came out to my show flirted and talked with most of my non-me friends, I got down and walked home back to the X-Files on Netflix on Demand and some video game multi-tasking. Nothing like taking yourself out of the world for a while, in an immersion that is electronic and complete.

The basketball game was pretty cool, actually and Blake made some good shots, even though his team got crushed. It was quick too, not the 3 hours I’d heard about games taking, but just around 50 minutes.

As I sat in the one small row of bleachers they had set up in the middle-school gymnasium for the game, I felt good accepting the compliments of my peers about my sketch show, which they’d heard about, even though most of them didn’t come. It felt nice knowing I could make something that other people thought was cool and both Andrew Parrish and Sean Dunn subsequently requested to be in my next sketch, which made me wonder, now sketch class-less, when my next sketch would even be.

I suppose that’s how people get into the business of doing things like that.

I waited for Blake at the end of game and hugged him before grabbing a cab.

Last night when I’d hugged him before the show he shirked and shimmied saying “Geez, Nick, you’re make me so uncomfortable.”

But this time he just gave me a sweaty hug, as I hopped into a cab outside Avenue B, off to see my next friend’s show.

***

Of course, we elide an important facet of my sudden appreciation for basketball, which is, my persistent appreciation of a warm place where I can eat take-out.

While running between the Magnet Theater for my old improv coach’s show and Blake’s basketball game, I needed to pick something up and after a conversation/subway walk I gave to Lorina, a woman from my improv group I ran into at the show, I was left scrambling to pick something up to keep me from going into hypo-glycemic rampage mode while watching the game.

My walk from the theater to the R train had magically left me in proximity to K-town with its wealth of food options, but I had my heart set on Bon Chon, because of some pseudo Groupon coupon deal, only to find out it was eat-in only and I definitely didn’t have time.

Luckily, this led me back over down 32nd St and past the crazy food court housing Bian Dang, a stand which used to be the NYCravings truck, which would hang around my area all the time.

That truck looked like it had some mighty fine things, but unfortunately, everything was either full of pork or “smothered” in “pork sauce”. Given my eating habits, that wouldn’t work.

So I was lucky when I remembered the news flash from Midtown Lunch that Bian Dang was offering their spin on a General Tso’s Chicken.

I knew I was in for something when a. it took more than 3 minutes to prepare and b. they asked me how much hot sauce I wanted (“Yes” I replied, to their eventual understanding).

What I unveiled in front of the N.Y. Urban Professional Basketball League was a classy spin on a classic dish, sweet with orange zest tingles and hot with the chili sauce I poured on.

I also grabbed two spring rolls, for S+G, but the platter would have been enough.

It’s nice to see food that doesn’t condescend to the way you ate when you weren’t a foodie; it accepts your tastes for being valid for what they were and meets you half-way.

That’s the best kind of comfort food, in my mind.

“That smells delicious.” Said the jerseyed basketball player, turning the score-pad.

“Yep.” I replied. “Yep, it is.”

***

BIAN DANG TAIWANESE LUNCH BOX

General Tso’s Chicken w/Two Spring Rolls- $10.00

Part of Food Gallery 32 on 32nd St bet. 5th and 6th Avenues.

NQRBDFM to 34th St- Herald Square. 123ACE to 34th St- Penn Station.

***

For those of you interested, here is the clip from the show I was on last week. I hear I’ll be on next week too, though we’ll see how people feel about me then. Somehow I feel with all of this positive stuff throwing at me, it’s just setting me up for a bigger fall.

But then again, I guess we’ll see.