Inappropriate Jokes/Inappropriate Times

January 30, 2011

It took me dying two times in front of two different audiences to let me realize, I wasn’t naturally good at stand-up.

Not that I was supposed to be, or expected to be.

Still, it hurts when you stand up there in front of everyone, having received some praise and hear silence and smiles, followed by polite claps following you back to your seat.

Matt Chao and Dave Broad came with me to one of them, where I promised them a set full of untested material mostly referring to online dating and delivered just that, to no promise.

“Well, I still taped that if you wanted it.” Dave said, Canon 5D camera in hand.

I considered putting my dying on stage up here, but decided against it.

It’s good in a way, I know, just like with the sketch comedy. There needs to be pain for growth, struggle for learning.

“It’s like being a prize fighter.” My teacher Armando told me, while lifting beverage boxes in the break in our class, “You just have to go out there and get beat up a lot.”

I think it’s motivated me to do so, or at least try. For now, I’m bothering all my friends who do stand-up, trying to cajole them into mentoring me.

The second open-mic I went to was with a nice dude from my SNL writing class, where hubris and a small room led me to get up.

When I apologize to the M.C. afterwards, he told me to “come back with some punchlines”.

Another comedian, Dave Greek (a swell dude) told me about stand-up after I had died at the first open-mic, “What’s important is that you wake up tomorrow and keep doing this.”

“Don’t worry I’ll wake up tomorrow and still want to do stand-up.”

“Oh.” He replied. “I meant not killing yourself, but that’s good too.”

The next night at McDonalds, I went out with a consortium of friends (Ro-bearded Malone, Simon Robinson, Sean Dunn and Zach Weintraub–pictured above) after a showing of the documentary Strong Man at IFC.

“I know I’m not funny enough yet.” I told Zach. “But I’m glad at least I know a lot of people who are doing this sort of thing, or at least trying, you know, to do something with their lives.”

“Oh, sorry bro.” Zach said contritely. “I wasn’t listening, I was too busy putting pre-chopped peanuts onto my Mickey D Sundae.”

“Thanks.” I replied.

Zach was off soon to Argentina to go shoot his crowd-sourced movie, “The International Sign For Choking” and Simon, whose Japan-o-philia included frequently recommending a semi-pornographic Japanese version of the Powerpuff Girls called “Panty+Stocking” to me, was off to teach English in Nippon, where I only assumed he would meet/marry his Japanese wife.

Recently, I had been wondering too if I should take a break, head to Europe or Japan or somewhere and see what was out there for me.

Now, newly girlfriend-less, I felt less reason not to leave New York, at least for a little while, to see somewhere else. Love is like a magnet, or gravity, in that way; good at drawing you back to where you’re coming from.

Still, I felt good about being out in the city, using my time, taking classes and electives and free practices and open-mikes. I was proud I had died trying stand-up, proud I had put myself out there enough to know that I had to learn.

Even if there still weren’t commercials to audition for, my life felt like it was moving and writing, terrifying/gratifying, was happening more than ever for me, with my classes spurning me on with deadlines and timelines and high expectations for material.

I finally met one of those expectations in my sketch-comedy writing class, where I just last week reported that same experience of learning/dying in front a crowd of people I could only assume didn’t respect me.

On that non-hungover Saturday morning before my class, I watched half an episode of “Mr. Show with Bob and David”, analyzed what each sketch was about, its reality and its jokes, thought about something in my life I knew the reality of it and wrote it.

It was a sketch about someone going up at an open mike, saying too many awkward rage-filled things and alienating people.

When they called for notes in the class after reading it, someone raised their hand and said: “I loved it”.

And it was only one sketch.

But it was one sketch to feel good about.

***

I ran into Eli Rousso, the other day at the movie theater, taking tickets by the door.

Eli was my red-headed doppelganger from Poly Prep, a web designer and man on the hand of cool, who was a good video editor back when I was afraid to even touch the computer than Final Cut Pro was on.

When I saw him, we talked for a couple minutes, just about what he was seeing, who this new girlfriend was he was with and some comments about my blog. Eli’s the sorta guy who says he’s your friend but who doesn’t pick up his phone and who you don’t see for a long time. It’s a good way of preserving that image, that many of have, of people from their high school eternally cooler than themselves.

What Eli said to me once though, upon reading my blog was something to this effect:

“Nick. You talking about girls on your blog, that’s like the pussy. Everyone wants to get to it.”

So yeah, after a year or so of relative domestic happiness and then a couple months of awkward rebound attempts/self-immolation, here I go.

When I talked to Schuyler, my co-worker at the movie theater, about being single and out there, he’d mock my attempts to meet someone on the internet.

“Why don’t you just go out to the bar or the club?” He’d ask. “Plenty of ladies there.”

“Going out to one of those places I won’t meet people that I like.”

“How do you know?” He replied.

“Because I don’t go out to bars or clubs, I don’t enjoy over-priced drinks or rubbing butts on people, so why would I enjoy the people who enjoy those things?”

“Well, alright then, where?” He asked.

“I don’t know. Online, maybe. Or at a party with friends. Or maybe an improv class.” I said and mulled on that last one for a while.

Given that my last attempt to meet someone at an improv class ended with Rob calling me “kinda sad” and the girl telling me she was “busy till [next] November”, I should have been hesitant, but also given that my old Nick Feitel self-embarrassing instincts were beginning to regenerate, I felt darn invulnerable. Felt that way, at least.

“So, teach. That cute coach have a boyfriend?” I asked Armando in between classes. I had been attending an “Improv Coaching Workshop” on Saturdays that was free, where Armando would teach seasoned improvisers how to teach students improv. I/we were the guinea pigs and “the cute coach” had told me a few times I was “real funny”.

“Oh. Her.” Armando recognized after I whispered her name for clarification. “Yes. Yes she does.”

“Well, I mean you met him? Nice guy? Cool guy?” I asked.

“You’ve met him too.” Armando said. “He’s another coach in the class.”

Strike one.

“Oh.” I replied.

“Yeah, but there’s nothing wrong, you know, with having an affinity for someone.” Armando said, in an airy, comforting tone.

“Yeah, I feel ashamed. See you guys in 5 minutes. And went to get some Bubble Tea.

When I came back, the “volunteer” portion of the coaching class still hadn’t begun and so I sat down and played video games on my DSi. A curly-haired young lady, who’d also told me I was funny when I left class last week, in the sort of the way that someone empowers another, sat down next to me and tried to talk to me about video games.

Mmrow.

We talked a bit about them, though she was no afficianado, about her job and our college time.

“What did you major in?” I asked, after she told me a fun story about learning improv on a cruise.

“Psychology. But that was 20 years ago.” She said.

Not a deal-breaker.

“Well, uh, sorry if this is like weird.” I replied. “But you don’t look it at all?”

“No, not too weird.” She replied, but then we were ushered in.

I spent some of the class looking over at her, trying to catch a glance or two, noticing her sweater, or her jeans, looking for age or lack thereof, or if she was looking at me.

After class, I went up to her and asked “What’s your last name?” my iPhone out, ready to friend her instantaneously.

“My maiden or my married name?” She asked with a smile and if she was looking for something in my face, I thought I did a decent job of freezing it, before saying “Either one!” and adding her as a friend, just a friend, indeed.

Strike two.

Then there was the girl who came in the first week with leg-warmers, a skirt and a t-shirt that had an ironic description of caves written on it.

Love at first sight.

When she didn’t come back to the second class and someone mentioned he had come in her stead, I let loose one of my weird truthful-isms, saying to him: “Well that’s pretty lame, I was trying to get her number.”

When she came back this week, I wondered as she laughed at some of my creepy “hitting-on-crying-girl improv” scenes, whether word had gotten back.

When I tried talking to her after, waiting on line for the bathroom, she started talking to me about acting and classes and whether I was interested in that.

“Yes.” I told her, without much other context. “Then let me get your email.” she said, followed closely by. “Gotta go, bye.”

I still don’t know what it was for, but I guess if it’s some sort of recruitment for “The Landmark Forum”, I’ll feel bad later.

Strike three?

I left then and headed to Last Pictures’ TOMORROWLAND, a screening of my Feitel-Friend Chadd Harbold’s film BLOCK, as well as others by the good ol’ LP crew. When I stood at the bar by myself for a while, sneaking Whiskey-Ginger-Ales, I took the above blurry picture of Gavin McInnes trying to corrupt Chadd’s parents through conversation, which sounded the alarm with his crew of flunkies and caused me to flee, or retreat, at least.

“Where are you?” I texted Chadd, with the picture. “Your parents are going to grow moustaches and start experimenting with Mescaline.”

Of course, Chadd did some soon; it was his party. I hung out, mostly with Andy Roehm and Brennan McVicar and his lovely girlfriend Vanessa.

I got to see all my friend there, including Rob, shaking thighs like he’d never have to go home, and Zach again, who showed up with Michigonian girlfriend Jenny.

As for me, I found myself stuck at the bar again, with a young lady, a friend of a friend, who kept on talking to me, wanting to hear about improv classes and our respective lives. I snuck her a couple drinks from the open bar, as she wasn’t there to partake due to early morning work (with children no less!) and I even asked for her number at the end of it all and she gave it to me, even though I just kept expecting her to walk away.

“Oh yeah, she does that all the time. Very nice, friendly type.” Brennan told me later on, when we walked down the block to get tacos, but super-funny man Ron Phippen told me, when I admitted to him I had forgotten her name when I first saw her:

“Dude, if a girl knows your name and you don’t know hers, it means she wants to fuck you.”

And like being called funny, I don’t take it as the truth.

But it’s nice to feel that opinion sometimes, true or not.

Was that four strikes? No one’s watching baseball now anyway.

How about four downs, for football.

Or maybe a hit?

Or a concussion?

Or something else.

***

When I told Matt Chao that we were going to dinner at Grand Central, despite not having any real reason to do that other than a promise of home-made doughnuts, he kinda shrugged and said whatever.

“Better than going home to Jersey.” He replied.

Matt had been getting a lot of ribbing from me, for the fact that I had made fun of him for years for his corporate slavedom working un-paid for PBS a their longest running intern and now here he was, with his first feature-film assistant editing gig, credited as a “shooter” and a “PA” as well on set, getting paid, reportedly, 4 times as much as me and getting a short-short he made for them on the web.

But there he was still, after work, with nothing to do but go home to Jersey.

Which means, he’d call me up a lot.

It was Matt who went with me to the Diamond Lion show, where we laughed our asses off watching people improvise a musical about child abduction and Lord of the Rings copyright infringement. It was Matt who came with me to see Billy the Mime do a show that included a sketch called “The African-American Experience” and “Thomas and Sally: A Night in Monticello”. It was Matt who sat with me in Grand Central, before my Writing for SNL class and was down for getting the prix-fixe menu when all the doughnuts we’d gone all the way uptown for turned out to have sold out at 3pm.

The prix-fixe was at Caffe Pepe Rosso, an outpost of the Italian place by my house, but it was notable for both the portions (a huge soup or smaller salad and a main course) and the price (under 11 bucks) which was less than ordering even any of the entrees on their own, at the location by my house.

The Chicken Parmigiana was great, an unexpected surprise at the uptown locations, which mostly serves Paninis, with a good deal of Italian espresso.

I lapped it up with a salad, but Matt got the soup with some gnocchi for his main and the soup seemed bigger than my entree.

After finishing up, in between biting and Matt reading, I found the check already paid for in classy fashion.

“Don’t worry about it.” Matt said cooly.

“Fuck you, Matt, I didn’t ask for that.” I said full of spite.

“Fine, pay me, bitch.” He said staring down at his book.

“Yeah, whatever, thanks.” I mumbled. “Only cause you make four times more than me.”

Today my best friend Frank called me, after texting me all weekend dealing with his existential lady crisises. Frank lives in Brooklyn, but he’s too busy between the gym and mostly unemployment to ever come by the theater to say hi.

“That’s like, 2.50 there and 2.50 back, bro.” He said.

“2.25.” I commented.

“Anyway, I’m broke.” He said. “And almost to the gym.”

People have their lives, I guess. But it’s nice sometimes, when someone’s down like that Matt.

All, I’m saying.

***

CAFFE PEPE ROSSO

Chicken Parmigiana with Penne and Lemon/Garlic Arugala Salad- $10.95 (free w/Matt Chao)

Grand Central Terminal Dining Concourse (specials change daily)

4567S to Grand Central-42nd St

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Stood Up

January 19, 2011

I posted this picture to my dating profile the other day.

I had only recently gotten back this sweater, one given back to me when Eva had come over for our talk a couple weeks back now.

I hadn’t had occasion to wear it, in the morning tussle that usually started with either writing or pulling myself together for work and ended, largely, with wearing the same clothes I did yesterday.

But it was a Sunday night and I felt like maybe going out and my green sweater smelled like beer anyway, which is the peril of going out in sweaters to bars in the wintertime.

I had always thought I looked good in this sweater though, a real cashmere affair that was given to me by either my mom or my grandma. Somehow, I felt skinnier in it, felt I looked cooler in it, somehow felt like it made me more attractive or more put together. I’d imagine that much of that is the belief as opposed to the wear, “the man not the clothes”, but whatever gives you confidence is probably worth taking some note of.

My online dating profile got this picture because I still had big hair on the picture I had there and I hadn’t heard back from the girl I’d gone on one good karaoke date with, so I figured, “on to the next one”, as it was and that I’d have to be looking my best to try to attract the ladies.

I wrote a bad sketch which I was proud of writing (since I wrote anything at all) for my Saturday sketch class and it died rightfully in the class, but the sketch in my Wednesday class went over well, which was almost harder to take. It was a fake commercial for a pill called “Ex-static” which “triggers off that unique blend of sadness and arousal” brought about by thinking of your ex to provide a shock to one’s testicles, as a sort of Pavlovian method for break-up redemption. The premise, which we are required to read at the end of all of our sketches, was that “guys who talk about their exes all the times bring everyone else down and should be treated like dogs or goats or something”. I believe that was it, verbatim.

I’d like to say I’m not sure where that leaves me, but I’m pretty sure I do know: in a puddle of barely disguised self-disgust.

“Shouldn’t I not be feeling this way, 2 months out?” I asked my therapist, in the increasingly interrogative tone of our sessions.

“A year out, I might say that’s a very extended bereavement period.” She replied. “For now, I’d just say, you really loved her. How you feel is how you should, for that.”

I find myself reaching every day towards Eva, her popping into my mind, in the blank moments of walking or waiting where I would reach for the comfort of her love, of my love for her, confirmed or returned. It’s when I shunt these thoughts away that I go online to try to find people, that I feel compelled to make a connection.

I need something to fill that gap, so I’m not just reaching for what’s not there.

I felt good wearing that sweater and good about the picture. My hair’s looking ok on a day-to-day basis.

I’m not smiling there, but I don’t know if that’s ok. It’s hard to put yourself out there like that, talking to people you don’t know, pitching you.

Why should I be smiling, for the thought of that?

***

I tried stand-up for the first time last night and I wish I’d had someone take a picture.

They put me on second and I think I did pretty well.

I’d been seeing stand-up shows for a while now, the free ones at the UCB and people had often told me I had the right personality for it, a thought only countervailed by the many “wannabe-stand-ups” I had seen in my time and at open mikes. It was a profession that seemed, if possible, more painful than “wannabe actor” a position I found myself somewhat in the role of, after mocking it for my whole film-school career.

I texted a few people to come out and support me, the opposite of few-times quasi-roommate John Beamer, who shied away from anyone but me coming, so as to not have that social pressure.

I, on the other hand, am a multi-dependent mess and I appreciated the company.

Zach Weintraub, Andy Roehm and a surprisingly supportive Jonny-Jon-Jon Fostar all came out to see me and sat through my 3-minute set and everyone else’s at the PIT’s Tuesday open mike.

Robert Malone and his beard were notably absent, later telling me they was too busy “watching Snake Eyes on the couch with roommates”.

It was nice to see Andy there, since I felt like the more I worked with him at the Angelika the less time I had to be friends with him and Zach, who one of my coworkers hit on the last time he came by my work, was notable for showing up after a series of “maybe-no”s to other plans I’d had for weeks.

Jonny-Jon-Jon though came early, talked through a bit of my set with me and kept giving me reassurance, even laughed at all my jokes from the back.

“Would it be better if I fake laughed or just tried to laugh anonymously along with other people?” He asked.

“Just do what’s in your heart.” I told him.

To which he replied: “Right, nothing!”

“Hello, everyone. I’m Nicholas Feitel, it’s nice to meet you.” I said up there on stage.

“I should just say, I’m not a stand-up. I’ve never done this before. My girlfriend was an aspiring stand-up. And, uh. Then she dumped me. So. Here I am then. Good for you guys, I think.”

That got a good laugh, which was nice because I thought it was funny, practicing it that morning in the movie theater box office, but I couldn’t really figure out why.

My set was only 3 minutes, but I had a fair amount of laughs and I beat my “1 solid laugh” expectation that I had been holding. By the end of the night, I was trying to not to be pissed I didn’t get nominated for the “best joke” award that came with a free beer, just trying to remind myself it was my first time.

“I was solidly depressed by it!” was Jonny-Jon-Jon’s review as we walked out of the PIT. But my friends all backed me up and said it was good.

We all ended up walking for a while as Jonny-Jon-Jon turned off first, to undisclosed locations, Andy talking about projecting at the movie theater, before hopping on to the L. I had the longest time with Zach, while we discussed his own girlfriend, a Michig-onian named Jenny, who was pretty cool, but was now in Kalamazoo for two more years, while Zach was bound to Argentina in three weeks.

“I’m a little hesitant to say this, given past accusations.” I said. “But did you guys discuss this?

“No.” He said, but in the sort of optimistic way I couldn’t help but admire while judging it for stupid.

In the end, the last stretch. I walked home alone, trudging in boots, video-game system in hand.

The decision to try stand-up hadn’t come with much pre-meditation, or long thought or a career choice.

It was more just feeling like I wanted more to happen in my life.

It’s nice to know when you feel that way, that they’ll be more people onboard.

***

I had lunch with J-Sam Bakken the other day, whose been dating on-and-off with more success than I have.

After all, he plays the guitar and teaches children.

He’s a regular Raffi or Mr. Rodgers or something.

We met at Torrisi Italian Specialties, a place I’d been before, but was suitable for an inexpensive lunch with sit-down elements and no tip required.

J-Sam was excited to try the place, but he also was grilling me for tips on an improv comedy mini-curriculum he was planning for his inner-city 6th grade class he was going to teach.

“It’s pretty simple.” I told him. “It’s just like conversation, agreeing with people and adding what you have to say. That’s what improv is, the same way.”

While I didn’t know if I was the best person to explain it to him, I at least went through some of the structure of the things I’d done in shows and classes before with him, while waiting fo our meals to come.

J-Sam got, at my recommendation, the house-roasted turkey, the shop’s specialty, which is probably the best turkey sandwich I’ve ever had, beating even Katz’s. I tried the Eggplant Parm, alone, no bun, since they only had it in the winter and I’d already had the Chicken Parm and the aforementioned turkey sandwich.

We both got a side of brussel sprouts.

The eggplant parm was surprisingly excellent. “Surprisingly, you say?” a reader might ask, but I don’t look to eggplant parms as a real solid meal, more like a delicious appetizer before a bowl of pasta, as I’d had it in Italy.

But this eggplant parm was made like lasagna, layered with delicious fried eggplant and mozz and sauce, and doled out in hefty slices, that gave it a textural interest, like a casserole.

J-Sam was jealous. “I’ll get more of that next time.” He said enviously, as we swapped small bites of our food as I’m oft liable to do with fellow eaters.

The brussels sprouts were good, with red onion and a parmesan-like cheese, but lacked the toasty warmth that would have made them excellent.

“It’s all about getting people to agree, to not be self-conscious.” I told J-Sam. “To just let loose and accept what they’re going to do, without self-criticism.”

“And look how well that’s worked for you.” J-Sam said, un-ironically.

“Yeah.” I replied and finished my food.

***

TORRISI ITALIAN SPECIALTIES

Eggplant Parm w/side of Brussels Sprouts- $14 (Winter months only)

Mulberry St. bet Prince and Spring Sts.

NR to Prince St. 6 to Spring St.


Stuffy Noses

December 16, 2010

I tried to describe to John Beamer the other day which sort of weather New York was actually good in.

“The fall, obviously.” We agreed on. “But summer nights too.”

“Not so much the summer days.” John chimed in, questioningly.

“No man, it’s fucking disgusting here on summer days. The humidity just hangs between the buildings. But summer nights, it doesn’t get dark out until 9 or so and at that point your night has just begun. Plus it feels beautifully temperate out in Jeans and a T-shirt, like you’re walking around San Juan.”

“Summer nights,” John repeated. “I regret I haven’t experienced more of them here.”

“Plus, as my buddy Chadd would say, the girls wear less.” I finished.

This was all mentioned in the context of a cold, windy December day spent walking up to Old Navy to go pants-shopping, since for the many-ieth time, my jeans had developed a non-useful hole in their crotch and John, well, John was just a girl who liked clothes.

He had been crashing with me on and off for a few months now, springboarding back and forth from Palo Alto, where life had less trajectory and I was glad to have him around. It had helped, so far, in getting through the transition of being partner-less, even if my former partner was only a visitor in my home.

At least, it was someone I could give my spare set of keys to, so they didn’t sit on my shelf, another curio, next to my big red hair-ball (gross).

“I think I’m developing a cold.” John told me one night, spoken loudly from the ceiling-snug loft he slept in at my place, known as the “John-cave”.

“Fair.” I told him.

“Nah, it’s a bummer.” He said realistically. “But at least I know this, I’ll get over it soon.”

What was unmentioned was my own impending illness, a symptom of the season, but also of the proximity to someone sick. I used to joke with Eva when she came over that the sniffles I had were an STD foisted on me and that I’d be looking out on the streets for men with tissues while we walked, to stare at her accusingly.

I wasn’t fucking John (sorry, everyone?) but living in a small space has it’s consequences and I’d rather accept them than Lysol the shit out of everything, like I see people do at work.

“I feel like I’ve missed out on too many summers here.” John told me. “Too many things I could have been doing.”

“Well, you’re here now.” I told him. “Shit’s here. Stay.”

But John had other places, other friends, other commitments in his life. He’d be home for Christmas and he’d be back again most likely.

When we got to Old Navy, I almost got some flannel-lined pants, until a call to my father (and an unsuccessful attempt at my mother) pointed out to me that they’d be hot when I was inside.

“And I can’t take off my pants when I get places.” I told my father over the phone.

Which must have drawn some approval, parenting-wise, on his part.

***

I sent this picture one morning in the movie theater this week, to Eva, which I didn’t like thinking about later.

I used to send her pictures like this all the time and after hearing from her once in a brief text-message exchange that took place over a vintage Mrs. Potato doll, it felt hard not to send her something like this when I saw it, sitting reading by the concession stand, on a chilly, early morning.

This past week I’d experienced a couple of breakthroughs of sorts. I got a girl’s number who snuck me jungle-juice at a comedy club. I even chatted up a nerdy-cute girl I had a crush on in one of my comedy classes while sitting in a holiday-themed McDonalds, an experience that made me feel “electric” on my way home and stopped me from falling asleep, until I did.

When I went to my therapist, she had little in the way of advice again, hearing my torrent of confessionary information until finishing off with a “what now?” question, only answered with a:

“Nothing. You sound better than most people in your position would.”

Still I feel diverted, I feel wanting, I feel like I’m in withdrawal for something that feels all the more painful for my denial of its addiction in my life. Is love an addiction or was this one just one? Is it an addiction that’s ok to have?

Amidst the responses that I got to my last blog-post was a cavalcade of friends (and my mom) chiming in to let me know it was ok to relax, to recover that in Penny-Arcade reader Matt Chao’s unusually articulate words: “You can’t outrun yourself, no matter how fast you go.”

Still, the words that hit me most were just from someone I didn’t know posting under a pseudonym telling me that the relationship I had entered into was some sort of faustian bargain, where the pain of heartbreak was endemic to the joy of a relationship. That my feelings would fade into pleasantness and nothing and “this girl you dated when you were 23” would be just that.

I remember having a good day on Saturday, when I read my web-series adapted from my blog to my sketch-writing class full of stand-ups and actors and people who didn’t know me and they commiserated and felt for the characters. It was good to know that people outside my life could identify with it. But it’s strange to think how you stack an outsider’s word against your friend’s. How you wonder what someone who sees your life, your pictures, your facebook page thinks of you and your worries outside of your direct experience with them.

It’s a question I ask when I think about that still active, though less used, online dating profile from last week. But it’s also applicable here, where I write what’s on my mind, or near it, but there are invisible borders between representation and truth. Is the character I play in life more or less desperate for love and acceptance? More or less relatable? And how does this all translate to the way I see myself and my world.

All I know is when I tried to write last night for my writer’s group, I just kept writing about the break-up, stopping, realizing there wasn’t enough time, before walking to Kinko’s and printing out a sketch I wrote earlier about an irredeemable Charlie Sheen. I felt bad just walking in the bar, though people showed up and enjoyed themselves.

Half-way through the group, midway through Alex Hilhorst’s historical-fantasy about lion-headed rape-goddesses, I felt my nasal passages occlude to a place where I could no longer breathe. I struggled and was absorbed as I often am when such things happen, lamenting the alcohol and fighting the symptoms, though I knew there was no stopping it.

A cold is a cold after all, and all that stops it is rest and the certainty that, after reaching a head, it will get better over time.

There was talk of Holiday karaoke afterwards, but I excused myself, even from that, to go home, to lie down, and fell asleep early. I knew then it was right to sleep.

I guess sometimes, in some cases, I capable of some common sense.

I woke up to a cold apartment, after a few snoring stirrings in the middle of the night.

John had unplugged the half-broken electric heater, which lost a wheel when Matt Chao sat on it, months earlier.

As Rob-it’s useful-this-time-of-year-to-have-a-Beard-o Malone would tell you, the loft gets very hot at night, when the warm air collects near the top of the apartment, amplified by its tight walls and mirrored body heat.

John couldn’t sleep with it on though sometimes, so I didn’t blame him.

“I have your cold.” I told him, when he woke up to his chiming cell-phone.

“Really? Sorry about that.” He commented groggily. “I hate that.”

“It’s alright.” I replied. “It’s not like you could help it.”

“I guess it just comes with the territory.”

***

I sat alone for a while, after an improv class with some time to kill before my next event.

John was getting up for a 2 minute 55 second stint at an open mike at the PIT, where I was taking classes, but my last class had gotten out, and though I didn’t feel too bad about it, I still needed somewhere to be in the intermittent hour between class and mic.

I tried sitting lobby in the theater, inquiring if it was ok, hearing an affirmative, but realizing that sitting in such a small place for an hour was still a little too sad.

So  I found a place with four-dollar Peronis and a combination Garlic-Knot/Chicken Parm Sandwich.

I remember in the days I found myself in the fashion district playing Magic cards, Cavallo’s Pizza was remembered as the lesser of the pizzerias one could go to, when compared with the late-game refinement of a brick oven place like Waldy’s or the sheer beefiness of a nuts-and-bolts joint like (New) Pizza Town.

Since Neutral Ground closed however, Cavallo’s has changed it’s game somewhat, keeping its unimpressive slices, but adding the aforementioned Chicken Parm on Homemade Garlic Bread sandwich at the impressive cost of 2.75, which is how much it’ll cost you for a plain slice at some of the overpriced joints in this city.

However, the kicker was the little beer selection, all 4 bucks, which beat out the local bars for me which all were crowded with sports nuts and the 35-plus crowd and would doubtless involve tipping and bad looks. Though I had a Peroni with this sandwich, in an act of lax will/deliciousness, I got two of these babies as well as two of a different kind of beer, a sort of IPA made by Italian maker Moretti (think Italian for “Miller”) called, attractively, La Rossa.

By the time I got to the PIT, 45 minutes later, my stomach was as filled with chewy garlic and sauce as my head was with a light easy buzz, which I would later regrettably compliment with several Bud Lights.

The headache the next day was beaten with a single Tylenol and a good mocha.

So I’ll call this one a victory.

***

CAVALLO’S PIZZERIA

Chicken Parm on Homemade Garlic Bread Sandwich w/your choice of bottled beer (Peroni shown above)- $6.75

NW Corner of 28th St and 7th Ave

1 to 28th St.

***

BONUS 1:

A successful appearance of the “McGangBang” (a McDouble with a McChicken between it, 4 dollars in NYC, 2 dollars elsewhere) and my first visualization of it, courtesy of local fast-food master and eternal 17 year-old Blake LaRue:

***

BONUS 2:

Please check out friend of the blog Nandan Rao (who never calls me anymore, asshole) and Zach Weintraub’s trailer for their new film “Tender is the D”. Obviously they should have cast me in it, but seriously, fuck those guys.

Link is here.

***

BONUS 3:

If you are a reader of the blog but missed this, I will be being (not) funny on stage for my UCB class show on Saturday, Dec. 18th at 2:20pm at the UCB Theater. Improv, the most reliable form of comedy, eh? See, that’s what you’ll be getting if you decide to come.


Adventures in Online Dating

December 9, 2010

To be honest, I went to my therapist with some expectations this week.

Maybe some of that was just my following of the end of the show, In Treatment, getting into the episodes towards the end of the season, where the patients are supposed to have their breakthroughs and make whatever progress in their lives there is to have, before either returning back to the masses or continuing therapy on the road to something new.

In fact, this season ended in only mixed results for all but one of the show’s patients, with even the therapist rejecting therapy, for its limitations and betrayals.

My session, on the other hand, was less dramatic. I didn’t cry about Eva, or shiver and shake. I just talked, sometimes angrily, but mostly just wondering, trying to put together the pieces and figure out some stuff in the environment I knew how to, while being assured that the drunken therapy-like conversations I had with myself on the long walks home from karaoke bars were in fact “relatively normal”.

In the end, I wound up asking about whether my therapist’s daughter had liked the Professor Layton game I had gotten her (had seen it, was excited, hadn’t tried yet) and trying to squeeze some out-the-door insight from her while our time was nearly up.

“Before I leave,” I asked. “Just tell me, you told me last time to ‘be in my feelings’ and not ‘do anything I usually wouldn’t’. I’ve tried to squeeze as much mileage as I can out of this but tell me, what else can I do.”

“I’m sorry,” She replied. “But you seem stable, Nick. It sounds like you’re not acting out and you’re trying to reasonably understand things. I think you’re doing what you need to do.”

I was a bit hurt by this as I frequently didn’t feel all right and I did need guidance and I wanted some plan to feel less like crap, but I took it, with one more question.

“And the online dating?”

She smiled.

“You’re putting yourself out there.” She said. “But careful, it’s addictive.”

“Or so I hear.” She added as I grabbed my bag and closed the door.

***

In all the history of embarrassing shit, I’ve put up here on this blog, for some reason this might take the cake:

I am using an online dating site right now.

All throughout college, when I was frustrated, thinking about my shape and size and my hair and whatever the fuck else could be wrong with me, it was always the one taboo I resisted, the one thing I felt like would plunge me into utter despair.

After all, I was at college at NYU, the home of a bevy of available film-savvy actresses and here was I, the jew-nerdy toast of the prestigious film department. Surely, I could find someone in this big multi-college town who was tired or desperate enough to jump a shaky newbie, someone who, forgive my phrasing, was into “this”.

Going to online dating would be a rejection of these fortuitous circumstances I thought, an admission of defeat, that I was  so unattractive, so out of it, so socially inept that I had to go online to craigslist or beyond, where my roommate would later trawl with posts entitled something like “looking for a mate in the bush”.

Worse yet, memories stick in my mind of one solitary night sophomore year, when the reality that I hadn’t found anyone as a Freshman began to sink in, amidst the happy nuptuals of my then-coupled roommates, replying to a craigslist ad of some poor girl with a kid, asking her to give me a chance in a way and with descriptions, that made it sound like I was asking her to touch a leper, or at least someone with poor social qualities.

This single incident, mercifully unanswered, was sublimated and tucked away, locked, as a symbol to my conscious mind of how low I could go if I wanted to, in the pursuit of my own self-pity. When I tell people about the worst moments of my life flashing before my eyes and they wonder through what crucible they are made, you can behold that and me telling whole-heartedly an autistic teenager’s parents he had a future in the theater. They are the moments I lose control of my reality and subvert the rules of my world.

Anyway, for all of my many friends who predicted “months, year” for my recovery from my break-up, all I needed was one friend to tell me to “try it” to get me to sign up for one of the websites, make a profile and submit myself to a battery of insane-o questions (“Would you rather you die or 10 random people?”).

I took pictures of myself, I used self-deprecating humor. I tried honesty and, honestly, I felt rather bad about myself so there I was again, shying away, trying for modesty and answers to questions like “What do you want to do with your life” with “I don’t know, I work in a movie theater.”

“Nick, what is wrong with you?!” My friend who had suggested the online dating asked, with a horror that resounded through g-chat. “Have some confidence for godssakes.”

“Say you’ll take them on a comprehensive food tour of New York City. Tell them about your self-deprecating humor and that you’re a character emblematic of your city. Juxtapose two movies that have nothing to do with each other and let some film nerdy girl message you about them to try to figure out what they could possibly have in common.”

“Try!” she added.

I demured.

Looking over my profile, I did see a lot of uncertainty, but what was expected of me? It was my frist time trying this, a thing I once thought so shameful I sublimated it. Coming out of my first mutually-loving relationship, I wasn’t sure I could ever find someone who’d love me like that again, or could feel that way, or could accept me.

Was it self-sabotage? I asked my therapist if I “sabotaged” my relationship?

“I think that involves an element of want.” She told me. “And I don’t think you wanted it to end.”

True. But maybe my ambiguity about the whole process led to the insecurity that seemed to permeate my profile, looking at it.

But really though, the same could be said as my dating strategy as a whole, a sort of sad-sack humor that my friend Chadd explicitly warned me about through his first successful Karaoke session.

“Just don’t tell them the truth.” He told me. “Or pick the truth. Saying you just got out of a relationship is the sort of thing that would make a woman run from you. Sadness and fucking don’t go hand in hand.”

Maybe, but all I felt was that need for acceptance, that want for someone to need me as is, to see me at least for the bad things and still to want me, as it’s the bad things right now I see about myself.

It’s a hard place to be that way, putting yourself out.

***

None of this is to say that I haven’t been going out, drinking with friends, trying to move on in the real world as well.

The aforementioned Karaoke de-virgin-izing of Chadd resulted me belting a song from “Annie!” while a girl (most likely a friend of good-man/karaoke bartender Colin Lime) grinded on the side of me.

“I just want to point out, you didn’t even look at her.” Chadd told me, between beers, to which I shrugged uncomfortably.

I went out with Frank and Simon, two-parts of my former middle-school Counterstike-playing trio, to a bar where a skinny girl with a lot of tatoos told me about her Jew fetish, stroking my uncombed red hair, while I waited on her, hopefully, to not barf on me.

“What’s the matter?” Frank asked me.

“I just feel weird, that’s all.” I said, after I escaped. “It’s just not exactly what I’m looking for.”

Which is what exactly anyway? I told Zach online that I was looking for someone safe, someone stable, someone I could share something with.

“Isn’t that kinda alot?” Zach asked. “Why not just be looking to make out?”

“That too, sometimes.” I said.

The truth is, as much as I might try to similarly sublimate it, that I’m still wounded, still reeling, still trying to replace the missing love in my life whatever way I can, while trying to process how it ended up missing in the first place.

In denial, I desperately want to prove my friends wrong that I’ll be facing some period, some year, something more, where I’ll just feel terrible all the time.

The truth is, I want to find someone who doesn’t make me feel like that. Which is a lot to ask of someone.

Which, then, makes me think about my last relationship ended.

And so on.

***

I ended up after a day working at the movie theater at my mom’s along with pseudo-roommate/ceiling-dweller John Beamer, since I’d missed a home-cooked meal and my dad was out of town.

As we sat, we talked about 1968 and the transition between civil change and backlash and narratives of progress.

The spaghetti was delicious, as were my mother’s lightly fried turkey meatballs, a hallmark of my childhood.

I ate till I was stuffed, picking at salad and garlic bread, a feast that even John, picky eater that he is (he refers to vegetables as “greenies”), enjoyed heartily.

I sat stuffed there on the couch, where I ate and had eaten and where I slept for 6 or so years in my life, when I outgrew my room.

I felt in it, I felt surrounded.

I felt full.

But there was still a night to go and people to see.

So I went out into the river-windy New York night.

Because, even with everything else, it’s what there is to do.

***

FEITEL RESIDENCE

Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs, House-Made Balsamic Greens Salad, Semolina Garlic Bread- Free (w/visit to Mom)

Location redacted (sorry)


“Hipster Goes On Food Stamps” (or “I Quit My Job”)

July 14, 2010

“That’s what I’m going to call my next one.” I told Rob.

“What?” Rob asked loudly.

It was a sleepy Sunday afternoon in a quarter-crowded movie theater up at the Walter Reade Theater of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Rob (of moderately well-groomed beard) had convinced me to come out to see two Clint Eastwood movies (“A Perfect World” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales”) with him, mostly through lack of anything better to do with a Sunday afternoon on my part.

I got to the box-office early and thought about trying to mug the whole “I write for you guys” thing to get in free, but I didn’t know the dude at the box office so instead used my one-month-left student ID and forked over my 8 bucks.

I sat around playing video games as Rob showed up late, or on time, depending on who’s telling the story.

“Hipster goes on food stamps.” I told him, again oblivious to the surrounding crowd trying to watch the movie.

(Actually not that oblivious; the people behind us were poppin’ beers.)

“But you’re not on food stamps.” Rob smirked.

I gave him a face in the dark theater that amounted to “fuck you”, but I’m afraid it was lost somewhere near the pro-Confederate Clint Eastwood smackdown on screen.

The reason I had decided that would be my blog title was not in fact that I was on food stamps (though I was recently unemployed, more on that later) but that our mutual friend and Bummer-filmmaker Zach Weintraub had apparently recently gone on food stamps.

“How’d he do that?” I’d asked Rob during the first Eastwood flick.

“Just applied, buddy.” Rob told me. “Gaming the government.”

Rob knew something about this, as he’d spent the last few weeks working a temp government job that comprised mostly of reading the collected stories of Rambo.

The thought hit me kind of odd. We had been making fun of Zach, whose new movie The International Sign For Choking we had recently read in our bi-weekly writing group, for living out in hippie-capital Olympia, Washington and going to work in a suit everyday for a not-even-film-related job.

“He made a fucking feature.” I told Rob over a chief-on-squaw Eastwood love-scene. “I mean, c’mon.”

“Don’t mean nothing bro.” He replied, looking forward. And then:

“Do you know you can used food stamps to buy beer?”

“Great.” I replied. “So that’s why Zach is going on food stamps, so that he can trade them for beer.”

My thoughts went racing back to my extremely limited knowledge of food-stamps, wondering whether any of the drug dealers on The Wire had accepted them.

“No he isn’t.” Rob told me disgustedly. “That’s a fucking lie.”

“And whatever you do don’t print it on your blog. Zach’ll fucking kill me.”

“Yeah.” I replied. As I wondered at Civil War-era Native American virility.

The movies were both pretty good. A Perfect Year ended up being about a surprisingly top-form Kevin Costner kidnapping a Jehovah’s Witness kid who doesn’t have a dad and their relationship.

It was sort of like a non-sexual Badlands except for the scene where the little kid shows Kevin Costner his dick (I shit you not).

The Outlaw Josey Wales was fun too, a good western, though I admit little tolerance for that “The North was evil” civil-war crap, as I’m one damn Yankee.

Rob and I ended up eating too much popcorn and coffee and Belgian pastries as we struggled to kill a Sunday.

***

So I quit my job on Wednesday.

I wish it was some sort of long-brewing Jason Lee act of defiance or else the opposite, a professional-style exit, complete with two weeks notice.

But the truth was my bosses were some sons of bitches who were going to fuck me no matter what I do.

A cynical attitude? Perhaps.

I remember marveling in a previous blog-post about my friend Selom’s optimism and how it found her  interning endlessly until she got a big-name gig, before the rest of us.

But my bosses weren’t just underpaying me (illegally) or threatening me (implicit and/or explicitly).

No, in my mind, they committed the greatest sin they could have: they made it not about the movie.

I had been working on an indie feature film and that comes with what you’d expect: long hours, a lot of running around and a constant invocation of Murphy’s law.

But I really never had a problem with that. As I say on all of my job applications, I’m looking to be a part of something. To make something, of a movie, of a company, of myself.

But the problem was by the end, I wasn’t working on the film: I was working to suit my bosses’ petty whims.

It wasn’t all so obvious.

Sometimes it was, with people asking me to pick up scripts or copy DVDs or even, doing personal accounting work (something I almost quit over several times).

But other times it was just in the way they treated me, calling me with no respect for my time, not to problem solve or fix something desperate, but just to complain, yell or ask me to do something later.

I was the personal gopher, paid for 4 days a week, but on call for 7.

I ended up spending each day and hour tense, worrying not about the movie, but about another stupid thing I’d be called about, another call I’d be required to answer.

Because if I didn’t pick up, there’d be more calls, text messages emails. There wasn’t any telling these people I didn’t have time. All that elicited was an argument, bargaining. They held on to my time like they would die if they didn’t get it, going through the stages of grief for it.

And then there’s my initial comment, that it wasn’t about the movie.

I remember working for my old teacher, Robby Benson, a mentor to me at school. He brought me on for a feature he was making, as a makeshift script supervisor. I ruffled a few feathers with bad jokes I’d have gotten away with on a student set and I found myself not getting in edgewise with his crew, shunted farther to the back with the PAs. When I asked him at lunch what had happened, he was honest with me and told me to just keep my distance on set.

“You messed up, you’re learning.” He told me.

“But I can’t do my job.” I told him.

“Then someone else will.” He replied. “Just remember: it’s not about you, it’s about the film.”

The next day I came to set with no attitude. I was super-polite, super high-energy. Suddenly, everyone took a shine.

I didn’t make jokes, but I laughed at other ones. What mattered was the shot. The film. We were all working towards.

The breaking point came for me on this project when I got a call at 8:30pm asking me to be available at 10 to be chastised and then 9am the next morning in a group session.

There were problems about the film, but these meetings were not about them. They were about seeing how well my bosses could control me.

And suddenly I snapped. I consulted my friends. I told them I was too busy to work on their film anymore.

And I felt great.

Until the next day when I was ambushed by both of my bosses and forced into work and more pointless excoriation.

I ended up feeling pretty bad about it.

Until my bosses asked me for help the next week and I said I wasn’t able to help.

Or something like that.

I want to say that there’s a good ending to this tale.

That I was rewarded quitting a bad job. For getting out of there when I could. For not causing a big “scene” like what happened in my last few jobs.

Well, at least not as big of a scene.

I’ve got some interviews. Some semi-paid day-PA work.

Theoretically speaking I’m a “freelancer” at an agency.

I’ve written nice thank you emails and sent out nicely-written cover letters, I didn’t have time for before.

I’ve thought about Alaska or Prague or wherever the hell my dad wants me to go.

I’ve even thought about graduate school, though thankfully, it’s way too early in the season to think about applying.

Which is when I went into see my therapist, who I had left five minutes early last session, I described it like this:

“I no longer live in a state of constant terror; only a state of vaguely uncertain and occasional terror.”

“Sounds like an upgrade.” She told me.

And I agreed.

***

My old net-obsessed boss Amanda, who Rob still asks about for DTF availability, invited me out with fifteen minutes notice to a hoity-toity museum gathering.

“Free booze.” She told me and I was there.

We talked about mostly how I wasn’t an art person and she wasn’t a theater person and how neither one of us belonged there.

She also ordered a bourbon on the rocks that she ended up pouring most of into my bourbon-and-ginger-ale.

“Can’t drive drunk.” She reminded me.

“Bike drunk.” I corrected her, as we’d just locked up her bike on the Bowery.

“That too.” She replied, sipping the remains of her drink.

It was only a few minutes there, looking at some mash-up hippie stuff and discussing job politics.

A typical bit of conversation: “I can’t log on to Foursquare.”

Our two-person nerd-fest ended quickly as she unchained to go back to her beer-brewing-boyfriend in Brooklyn.

As I stumbled home, half-drunk, I picked up some cupcakes from a place I had not initially impessed by, called Baked by Melissa, famous for selling you 3 button-sized cupcakes for 3 dollars.

This did not exactly excite my Jew-boy value-meter, but my Jew-boy low-alcohol tolerance wasn’t paying attention and I got the ‘cakes.

Surprisingly, alcohol or no, they were near perfection.

For some reason, their small size concentrated their cupcake-richness and made you value each bite.

It almost seemed like prophetic insight: that part of the problem with any cupcake is “too much”. To make such a large thing too rich would make it inedible, while erring toward heartiness would cause the same.

The cupcakes (Cinnamon Bun, Cookie Dough and Cookies and Cream) were just rich perfect little morsels, concentrated nuclei of a flavor and rich texture.

What more did I need, I thought?

They came in a coffee filter and soon they and the coffee filter were gone.

***

A final note.

When I was getting ready to write this post, I called up Zach to give him half-a-warning.

“You’re kind of the main character in this one.” I told him.

“I’m touched.” He replied. “Now why don’t you hurry up and tell me what you thought of Choking.”

The last time I had talked to Zach after all, had been when he had sent me a text message referencing the film “Babies”, saying “THEY’RE COMING! I’M COMING!” (NSFW, kids.)

When I woke up this morning, I found this on my pillow.

And I decided to keep the byline.

Sorry, Rob.

***

BAKED BY MELISSA

3 Micro-Cupcakes- $3

NW Corner of Spring and Broadway

6 to Spring St. R to Prince.


A Letter to Cousin Nick

June 6, 2010

This was what the box of cookies I got from Ruby et Violette looked, already partially eaten.

I had eaten mostly through the first layer, containing some I had already tried (the mint double-chocolate “Cool Seduction”) and some I hadn’t (A vanilla-looker called “Berry Blueberry”) but I had left the brownie, deciding that it was too good to eat immediately.

A special occasion, perhaps.

In fact, I had meant to bring the whole box into work on Friday, where I was supposed to be helping my mom out packing gift bags.

“Really? You would do that?” Eva asked me over the phone. “I would just eat all of them. And then tell people about the box. And then tell people, oh wait, no I ate all of them.”

I love her.

But the point was moot anyway, since I forgot to bring the box into work and there wouldn’t have been time for it anyway, since there were t-shirts to be folded and bags to be stuffed and so on and so forth.

But Eva was there and so was Rob, freshly de-bearded, as we found ourselves suckered into a room together, replacing blue ribbons with red ribbons, tied to big, bronzish medals.

We talked about friends and beards and haircuts (I had just gotten one) and what our friends were doing now and, more saliently, what they were doing then. The sort of idle conversation to go with the busy work we were doing.

The rest of the evening was a hodge-podge trapped between attempted cab-rides on Canal St, Michelob Ultra at the Malone-pad on Ave A and a movie we didn’t even get into for the opening night of the Brooklyn International Film Festival.

I tried touting my press-credentials at the door, only to find out that no one really cares if you are a (former) “Contributing Editor to the Film Society of Lincoln Center Blog”. We ended up getting drinks with the directors afterward, who were friends of friends.

I read one of the reviews that was propped up outside of the venue which talked about the amount of “nudity and sex, as a poor-man’s special effects”.

My friend Zach Weintraub was in town (His film Bummer Summer screened on Saturday) so I asked him and his collaborator Nandan Rao:

“Would it be strange to say I want to see that movie to see how all those people look naked?”

“Yes.” Nandan replied.

I wanted to discount his reply (Nandan is a Mormon), but Zach quickly agreed.

“Yeah, pretty weird.” He told me.

“But I mean, like,” I continued. “That’s a natural thing to think right? To wonder?”

“Yeah,” Nandan replied. “But I think that’s the sort of thing that gets filtered out around the first time something passes through your brain. You know, as something it might not be best to say.”

“But it’s perfectly natural to think right?” I asked.

“Well, yeah.” Zach admitted.

And I felt vindication at last.

Later, at the after-party that featured free whiskey-and-wine, I asked them for a screener or a ticket to the next show. They told me they’d get back to me and I realized, awkwardly, that it wasn’t smart to press it.

The next night, I asked Zach a question about Mumblecore at his Bummer Summer Q+A.

His response was a roundabout Q+A answer that, after parsing, meant “shut the fuck up”.

***

I’m not allowed to talk about my work for the census all that much, though it takes up a lot of my time.

It’s a government secrecy thing, a jail thing, a thing-thing.

I talked to a woman though, in my rounds., who had cancer.

I had tried going to her apartment before, but she had told me and my partner, a young lady about my age, that she was about to vomit so we should leave.

“Fuck this job.” I told my partner. But we still went to a few addresses more before we finished the day.

I came back by myself later and she was much nicer.

I sat in her apartment. I listened to her talk about her life. She had a chance, she told me. The doctors thought they got it.

But she was sick. And it was still difficult.

I talked to her about Howard, my family friend, who’s been dying of cancer these past months.

She reminded me of him, her stoicism, her living alone.

I didn’t refer to him by name. I called him “my uncle”. Because to call him a family friend wouldn’t adequately place where he fits in my life.

He’s the person who I would go to with intellectual queries, the person I look up to for his asceticism, his self-imposed rigor, his monastic lifestyle.

Here was a man dedicated to his art, his livelihood. He didn’t need fame or even recognition. He just wrote because that was what there was for him to do.

To be honest, I’m not smart enough to understand him. My parents would place me in front of him, as if I were, talking to him, since they thought I with my rudimentary Latin and D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths could understand his discourses on Dante and Vergil. I couldn’t, I never could. It was like facing a waterfall or a cliff: You know enough to understand the gap without being on the same level.

I didn’t tell all this to the woman I visited. But she commiserated on some of it.

It made me feel better talking about it.

It was the only time so far I’ve cried about Howard.

Later that week, when I went door to door with my census partner, someone refused in front of their family and when I tried to go in the building, confronted me.

We argued and he seemed to physically threaten me. He told me to “get a real fucking job”, which felt like a particularly bad jab, since between the two of them I have, I have none.

My census partner suggested peeing on his doorstep.

No, I said. Let’s just leave the notice of visit form. That’s what we’re paid to do.

***

I read an interesting article the other day on Jewish exceptionalism, written in the Times by Michael Chabon.

I gave it to the person in my life who best exemplifies my connection to Judaism, my cousin Lenny, whom I respect and admire and see not so often.

He wrote a whole response to my question, asking what he thought, on his own blog, called: “Letter to Cousin Nick”.

It was thoughtful and measured and contained explanatory stories from Jewish lore, a quality I admire in Lenny and in learned men all.

Much of his reasoning has to do with the idea of a moral consensus versus a higher ideal.

It’s an interesting treatise on the predicament of Israel, a country I visited only to become more confused by.

In other news, a Jewish boxer was defeated this weekend after slipping in the ring, opening up an old injury.

His wife called for the towel to be thrown in, in the eighth round, seeing her husband barely standing.

His manager through it in, but it didn’t matter, since the boxer still wanted to fight.

He was badly beaten and needs to recover now. He lost his welterweight title.

When asked about it afterward, he told the press that when you have a belt, you don’t want to give it up. You fight until you can’t.

Take from that what you will.


My (little) Nervous Breakdown

February 28, 2010

I was at work when I got the email.

Well, at my internship.

But for a day at my internship, it hadn’t been a bad one.

Things were coming to an end there either for me or for them or for both. They were running out of funding fast and office space and a good chunk of time had been spent that very day with the director, trying to convince him to store things from the office at his apartment in preparation for “the move”.

One of my two bosses, an annoying-pert-anorexic-type with an MBA and a Com degree, who talked to me like I was 12, had recently left for an associate producer gig on a reality show and while I resented her ability to obtain solid work, I was glad to have her out of my hair.

And anyway, that day, I was working for the producer, a guy who once cheered me up by improvising a song about how much my office sucked on acoustic guitar, and who resembled what I might like look like in the future if I laid off the neuroses and started wearing hempen shirts.

What’s more even, is that even though I wasn’t getting paid, I was working directly for someone I liked and not only that, but I was actually doing something fairly important for him, tooling around with Final Cut Pro, cutting selects and exporting a DVD for a meeting he had in a few hours.

Even if I wasn’t paid, I felt valued and valuable, which is really all you need at an internship.

Which brings us to the email.

I was putting motion on some sketches that artists done for the movie on spec, to give an idea of some material they might be adding to the film.

My phone buzzed in my pocket and I turned it on as the producer checked out reals for post-houses on his laptop.

“Fuck.” I said and dropped my phone.

“What?” He asked, his back turned, intent on his screen.

“I’ve been rejected from my own school’s film festival.”

***

The night before the Bummer Summer premiere/Director’s Series at Cantor, Zach Weintraub proposed a plan to me.

My phone buzzed. I was at work. A text:

“wanna get some old crow and street meat and hand out fliers?”

(To be fair I’m not sure if those were the exact words–it was a while ago–but that was the sentiment.)

We met up first at Sammy’s Halal over on 4th and Broadway, which is known for its liberal use of onions and the Vendy award it had gotten a few years past.

The Old Crow (or Jim Beam?) we got from Warehouse and we sat down in Weinstein’s freshman outsourced-dining-hall to eat our food and mix our drinks.

Zach had gotten a Dr. Pepper to mix with his whiskey, while I had gotten a Welch’s Grape Soda, a bottle of which had been difficult to find.

When Zach emerged from the downstairs bathroom, alchemy complete, he handed me my bottle which, combined with the spicy sauce/uncertain quality of the Sammy’s, caused me a big, disorienting tummyache.

As we ate, Zach examined a postcard stuck to a dining room napkin holder, situated in between us on the table.

“This is a great idea!” Zach exclaimed and summarily removed the postcard, sticking on a postcard-sized Bummer Summer flyer.

We spent the rest of the night handing out fliers, in that dining hall and at Tisch.

In one encounter, a graduate student took a flier, only to complain about Cantor’s preference for undegrads and accuse me of being drunk.

“Yes, he’s drunk.” Zach said excitedly.

“Bastard.” I muttered under my breath, since he must be as drunk as I was, or if not, he was a big douche.

When we were done handing out fliers inside, we went outside Tisch, to where the smokers stand, to bother them too.

“Hey, do you uh, like movies, you know? At all? Sometimes see them?” I said, giving the pitch I’d given before.

The smokers laughed as I endorsed and introduced Zach and they said they be there as they passed and left Tisch and Zach and I took their place.

“Did I ever tell you about the greatest moment I ever had at this school?” I asked Zach.

He looked at me, with a mix of amusement and resignation.

“No, but I guess I’m gonna hear it now.” He replied.

“I was a Freshman and it was early in my second semester. No one had like my sound project I had did, but everybody thought I asked good questions and the teachers all knew me, ’cause I would knock on their doors and bother them all the time.”

“I lived in a small dorm room and my roommate was handsome and popular and a skateboarder, which all made me insecure, so I spent all my time at Tisch.”

“Sometimes I would just prowl around the common room, looking for people I’d know, ‘running into them’, ‘accidentally’, ‘by chance'”.

“It was just a way to keep my energy up, I guess.”

“But one time I did this, I ran into this TV teacher, James Gardner. And I never taken a class with him, but he knew me, from all the questions I asked, and he had a class where he brought in special guests, old buddies from his TV days, to come talk to the kids and impart some wisdom.”

“Today, he told me, he was bringing in an executive producer from Arrested Development, which I fuckin loved. He told me I could come on one condition: that I go and announce in the freshman colloquium that this was happening and that any freshman who wanted to come could.”

“I show up and I’m there early and the guy’s not on yet. They’ve got this guy from The Love Boat there who’s talking about his path that he took and teeling us that everyone gets a chance and that’s it what you do with it that counts. I nodded my head, but I waited.”

“And when the guy came on, Jim Vallely, he was really funny and he pointed at people and made fun of him as he took questions. And I was embarrassed, so I stuck my shirt over my face and he called me, ‘guy-with-his-shirt-over-his-face-deargod-why-are-you-doing that’ as he spasmed with his shirt over his face and the whole class erupted in laughter.”

“But it turns out he liked my question. And he took another from me. And Mitch Hurwitz, the creator of the show showed up and he took a question from me too.”

“And as the class ended, the students pooled around Jim and Mitch and I felt shy and inadequate and not as cool or funny as these people, I didn’t even know why I was in film school. So I thanked Jim for my taking questions, poking in in the crowd that surrounded him and he thanked me too, an honest thanks. I left the classroom, but stood still. And all that stuff The Love Boat guy had said sunk in. And I turned around and went back.”

“And then Jim offered to buy me a drink. And then he offered to buy everyone a drink. It was the day it was announced that Arrested Development wasn’t being picked up for another season. He had decided that he just wanted a bunch of people who loved the show who he could talk and exult with.”

“And we drank and smoked and ate Mexican food with giant margaritas. And I came home, thinking it wasn’t even real.”

A pause.

“Wow.” Zach said. “Nah, you never told me that story.”

“Yeah,” I replied. “You wanna know what the things is though?”

I didn’t wait for him to reply.

“Out of all those kids I’d made the announcement to in my freshman colloquium, I was the only one who went.”

***

My producer once commented on how bulky my iPhone case was, a comment I replied to by throwing it against the wall and then picking it up and showing him my Facebook page on it.

Ever since then, he had been suggesting to me, when I saw me, that I should make a commercial on spec for the company that makes my iPhone case.

Looking back on it, parts of the day I found out I had been rejected from First Run would probably make for a good commercial.

I’d bounce my phone on the desk, throw it under the counter, slam my fist into it and yelp in pain.

I had somehow managed to complete the selects that the producer needed for his meeting, while muttering and tilting over all the while.

I even did the customary things: calling professors, emailing to see if it was a typo or deletion (it wasn’t), calling my parents.

I didn’t call Eva or my friends.

After all this, I didn’t even know if they wanted to be friends with me, wanted anything to do.

It felt at the time like I’d built my whole identity coming to school as a Tisch man, a film student who knew the ins-and-outs of the school, who was friends with the teachers and who was loved or hated by everyone.

It was grandiose identity, but it gave me room to function, a platform of sorts, a place, however imaginary, that I could make art from.

In other words, at Tisch, improbably, I felt accepted.

I guess all the phone-bouncing, the calls, the illogical fears of further rejection by my friends, my peers my girlfriend–they were symptoms of that, ongoing.

As for the office assistant and the producer, they watched on in a sort of stupor for a while or would go back to their computers, like it was some sort of dance or strange Shakespearean display.

At one point the producer came out and looked at me as I paced around the office, dialing and redialing, and he mock-whispered to the office assistant:

“Well shit, I wish he had gotten in.”

***

In the days after that, I came to varying conclusions, some healthy, some not, as I tried to get over the rejection.

I had been rejected by 20 film festivals already at that point (with 30 more to hear back from), but this one hit home more, you know.

It was the first year the festival had ever been “competitive” to get into. And sure a film could not get an award or have a bad timeslot in previous years, but the plan was this year to show some films in Cantor and the rest in a classroom downstairs in Tisch, three weeks later.

They were literally throwing me in the basement.

So I did a lot of things.

I got real depressed. I reached out to teachers. I wrote mass emails to the administration asking for notes, or an explanation. I tried to figure out what was wrong with my movie, what was wrong with me.

What started out as one rejection pooled into a perceived string of failures that struck the chord of one of my greatest fears:

That I am out of touch with the reality of my life.

That I’m a joke that everyone is in on but me.

In between these further mini-meltdowns, these aftershocks, one of the emails I wrote to the administration (posted here) snowballed with more people sending emails out to the administration expressing their dissatisfaction.

I was cc’ed on emails and received direct ones thanking me for what I’d done, telling me I was “right on” or urging me not to stop.

But even as I was egged on, the fact still stood that a judgment had been made and that I hadn’t “made the cut”.

***

Later that week, I saw the new Martin McDonagh play, A Behanding In Spokane, in previews, with my friend Langston, who was in the city to commence cat-sitting my parents’ apartment, while they went on a much needed vacation to Texas.

My dad kept insisting I need a vacation too, but I kept shrugging him off, asking him where I would even go.

(“Nowhere I wouldn’t feel like a failure.” I thought to myself.)

As we left the play, an odd and somewhat unsatisfying affair, we descended through the snowy night to the 42nd Street Subway, where at first I thought I saw a classmate and then was sure of it as we shook hands and talked, coldly.

Because the first thing I’d recognized when I’d seen him, was that he had made the cut and I hadn’t.

“Is this how it’s going to be?” I asked Langston as we got off the train. “How people are going to treat me?”

“I don’t think he treated you different than ever.” Langston said.

“Even worse.” I muttered, through the snow.

And as I head through the weekend now, I still don’t know what comes next or how to feel.

I’ve been told many times that if you don’t take rejection well, that this isn’t your business.

But even though I’ve graduated, I’ve always come back to Tisch.

Through those halls, looking for someone to run into.

Maybe this is growing up, or maybe it’s saying goodbye.

But even with some nice emails–

I’m don’t think I could hand out fliers there, drunk, on a cool winter’s evening with a good friend.

That, I guess, won’t ever happen, again.

***

SAMMY’S HALAL CART (“street meat”)

Chicken and Rice w/hot sauce, white sauce, onions– $5.00

SE Corner of West 4th St and Broadway

RWto 8th St. BDFV6 to Broadway-Lafayette.

***

A final note:

One of the films that didn’t get into the festival I happened to be acquainted with and it happens to be online.

It’s an excellent 3-minute animated short called “CUBES” by Kelly Goeller.

One of the ways I’ve kept sane through the film festival process is by seeing my friends, whose films I KNOW are good, get rejected from the same film festivals I have.

In my mind, there is no excuse why this film should not be in the running.

If you care to watch it, the link to it is right here,

If you like it, feel free to email Kelly here and let her know.