I always dreamed about living by the Beach. After spending years being smacked with humanity in New York City, I fantasized about the open space, the fresh air and the freedom an evening dip in the ocean would provide me. A year after moving from New York to Los Angeles to pursue my other dream, making a living as an Actor, I was thrown a bit part on a TV show. I say "thrown" because my long time friend, for whom I had worked before, created the show and as the boss, he was allowed to fill in the supporting roles as his vision dictated. His vision dictated me delivering 2 or 3 wildly inappropriate, but very funny lines, with unabashed enthusiasm, every other week or so, to the female lead of the show, or to anyone for that matter. Call it my big break and praise me as the closet Misogynists and other fans did on the TV obsessed web sites, or mock me and call it bread crumbs brushed from the great feast that was once network TV - either way I made enough money to afford an apartment at the beach. I could finally watch the Sunset every night without anything or anyone between me and the Pacific Ocean. My dreams were coming true.
After the movers left that morning, that’s right I hired movers, no more lifting furniture for me, I walked over to the Napoleon French Bakery & Cafe for a coffee. The Cafe was one little beach block away, on the corner of Strand and Main Street in the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica. It looked so civilized and laid back, everything a neighborhood cafe should be. You could sit outside and occasionally look up from your book to glance at the foot traffic, or you could sit inside and get to work on that novel, script, or short story you meant to write oh so many years ago. I wandered in and behind the counter stood a tall, young, bleached blonde waitress named Carly. She seemed busy, because aside from the kitchen guy, who made the seldom ordered hot food items, she was in charge. Still, there was only 1 customer, an aspiring someone sitting at the back corner table, lap top open, typing away at what would most probably turn out to be nothing. At the moment, Carly was making more coffee so the next Charlie Kaufman could get his 15th free refill pronto. This, I instantly recognized, was a lousy job. The place just didn’t do much business as it was a good 5 blocks north of the popular section of Main Street. Nobody came here, with Peete’s Coffee, Mani’s Bakery and Starbucks down the street. Someone should be nice to this young lady. And that someone was me. “Hi.” I flashed a kind smile, then turned away so as not to be too friendly, too available, too creepy, which could easily end in “hey pal it’s just a cup of coffee, okay.” She had a cute face, a baby face really, she was 23. A sad, bored, slightly frustrated 23 year old named Carly, who moved to Los Angeles 8 months ago from Michigan and somehow found a part time job at the Napoleon Cafe in Santa Monica. “I just moved to the neighborhood. I live right over there,” as I pointed to the ocean. “I love it, I mean so far so good.” “Cool.” She said. She got me. It was cool and she was impressed, I think. It was hard to read her. You can create any scenario in your head about who a person is, particularly when you’re idealizing an attractive woman, but until she speaks, you really have no idea, particularly in Los Angeles, and particularly, as you get closer to the beach. People who live near the beach are crazy. What happens? Does the sun bake the sanity, intellect and ambition out of them? I don’t know. But as I watched the movers unload my couch, and I saw some of my eccentric new neighbors, dragging their flip flops as they walked by, I wondered how long it would take until I turned into one of those beach guys who didn’t wear a shirt for several days at a time. Always walking his dog, with seemingly not much else to do...anyway.
“I just started working here," Carly said. "Sometimes I go to the beach after work with a beer and just chill. I wish I lived here.” Clues. Of course she doesn’t live here, she’s young and poor and couldn’t possibly afford anything in this neighborhood. She probably shares a 1 bedroom with some random roommate in Culver City, or Baldwin Hills and hates it. She drove to the beach one day in her 92 Toyota Corolla, just to take a vacation from that horrible thing called her life, when she saw the Help Wanted sign at the Napoleon. Next thing you know, she’s standing behind the counter, wearing an apron and a push up bra, taking muffin orders. “I love the beach," I said. "I can surf anytime now.” How cool am I? I surf. I live by the beach and I surf, no big deal. I gave her another warm smile, just a taste. “God I want to learn how to surf, it looks like so much fun.” The sadness in her face momentarily disappeared. Look at her. This sweet, sad, vulnerable, poor girl, new in town, craves fun! She needs excitement! “I need someone to teach me.” Amen. My God, easy now, don’t jump for the bait too quickly. Women are constantly testing men, even when they aren’t quite aware of it. I avoided the obvious move. “It’s easy, once you figure out how to stand on the board,” I said. Wow, that was a stupid thing to say. “Once you figure out how to stand on the board?” Well then, that would by definition be surfing, wouldn’t it? What I should have said was, “I have 2 surf boards, we can go surfing anytime you want.”
And that’s exactly what I did say when I went back to the Napoleon Cafe for a second cup of coffee the next morning. It was exciting to go back there with a plan. I would just pick up the conversation where it went wrong and fix it. “Did I mention, I have 2 surfboards, I can teach you how to surf anytime you want.” I watched as her eyes brightened. She held my look, seeking to confirm what she thought she had just heard. We set the surf date for Friday morning, 9 a.m., my house. We’d surf in the morning, then she’d go to her noon Graphic Design class. That’s what she was studying, Graphic Design, and the 2 year unaccredited school was only 5 minutes away. That’s how she found this neighborhood, and the cafe. She said sometimes she would come sit there after class and draw. A young, cute, passionate artist, drawing in a quiet cafe. Now that’s the stuff of good erections. Walking those 100 yards back to my beach pad, I felt reinvented. I was a new man, living at the beach, on a popular TV show, a new chapter in my life was beginning, and it felt right. I took a deep breath and savored the ocean air.
Friday morning I was sipping coffee when I heard the knock on my door. It was 8:45 a.m. She was early, maybe I should pour her a cup? Give back a little, get her a cup of Joe for a change. When I opened the door I found Carly in a pink bikini, short shorts and 2 cups of coffee in hand. She had stopped by the cafe to get me one on her way over. What a sweet girl. I left my coffee in the kitchen and drank hers, even though it wasn’t the way I liked it. It was the thought that counted, she was already trying to please me. It made me think that she would be very happy to blow me, when the time came. I quickly chased that thought from my mind because I didn’t want to be a bad guy, or ruin the moment, or limit the types of fun we might have together. Even though a blow job trumped every type of fun we might have together. We had some coffee then slipped into our wet suits. She wore mine and I wore a rash guard, a wet suit shirt basically, that would keep me almost warm in the water. It was a sunny, spring morning and no one was at the beach. During the week this was a great beach, my own private beach really, and I would jog, surf, read or nap there every day, depending on my mood. The weekend was a different story. That’s when the amateurs came. They showed up on Saturday morning with their kids, coolers, umbrellas and blankets and they turned the beautiful, pristine sands of Santa Monica into their filthy, cramped, overflown living rooms. The worst part was going for a run on a Monday morning and seeing their left behind potato chip bags, soda cans, balloons, cigarette butts, diapers and anything else they were finished with, it made me feel like I held myself to too high a standard in life, when everyone else simply did as they pleased. I would never do this. And why bring balloons to the beach? Why not a kite? It’s attached to a long string, it won’t just float away. It didn’t matter, this was Friday morning, and like I said, no one was on my beach except me, Carly, and a couple of early morning sun worshippers. We watched as 3 Dolphins effortlessly swam by, then waded in. I stood behind Carly, in chest high water, and as a wave rolled in, I would give her board a hard push and off she’d go. She wobbled and fell the first couple of times, then managed to boogie board one in. That looked fun for her, I guess, it certainly made her want to try again. This went on for what felt like a long time, until I realized she didn’t understand the concept of standing on the board, or she was too afraid, or who knows, it just takes time. It took me 2 summers to learn how to surf. After a couple more tries, I abandoned her and starting catching every wave I could, as if making up for lost time. The tide pulled us North and we drifted all the way to the Santa Monica Pier. The rides at the Amusement Park were not yet running, and the only people on the Pier were a couple of fishermen, who as far as I could tell, never caught a thing. Why didn’t they ever try a different spot? Or different bait? Or cast for a different kind of fish? Why did they do the same thing everyday, day after day, when they caught nothing? Shouldn’t they try a different approach?
We sat on the beach and talked. Carly looked good wearing my wet suit - you know, all wet and tossed around and smiling. The ocean can do that to you. It makes you feel good. A dip in the ocean is like returning to a simpler, happier time for me. Growing up on Long Island, my family - my 3 brothers, mom and dad - we would go to Tobay beach every weekend in the summer. We’d swim and boogie board and hang out til the sun went down. But we never littered! After all, it was our favorite spot, and we loved it.
When we got back to my place, I asked Carly if she wanted to take a quick shower. It was strictly on the up and up. After surfing that’s what you do. You get in a hot shower, peel off the wet suit and wash away the ocean. “You go first, I’ll put the boards away,” I said. She was a bit hesitant, we had just met and taking a shower at some guy’s house was a big step. But she did bring a change of clothes, so she might have anticipated this moment would come up. She took a shower. Meanwhile I put the boards back behind the table where I stored them. Then I headed for the bathroom. She had taken the wet suit off and was wearing her pink bikini in the shower. She was tall, and lean, and had a sexy body. I got in and made my way under the hot water. I took off my wet suit shirt and let the water stream over my head. She gave me some room, then started to get out. I put my hand on her shoulder and pulled her towards me. We kissed. A big, long, wet kiss. She came close and mashed herself against my crotch. It was surprising to feel a young girl so aggressively grind herself against me, and I wondered, when I was 23, 14 years ago, if I was that aggressive and knowledgable when it came to clit stimulation. After a bit of this, she got out and toweled off. I joined her in my bedroom. I came up from behind and wrapped my arms around her. She leaned back and over her shoulder, we kissed. Then I pushed her to the bed, she laid back and I went down on her. In short, I did all the moves I had perfected over the years. At some point, she sat up, yanked the towel off me and kneeled in front of me. God bless her. I watched as this sweet, sad, generous, eager girl sucked me off, then I got up on my tip toes, and I looked out my bedroom window to enjoy my partial ocean view. I was living the dream. “I want you to fuck me.” No now I was living the dream. Thank you God. I deserve this. I do. I deserve a little happiness after years and years of struggle. How many Plays did I immerse myself in, that no one saw? How many years did I spend writing, rehearsing and telling jokes, only to have some comedy club owner decide to give me 10 bucks instead of the 25 after my set, because the crowd was “a little light tonight.” I had moved to California, reinvented myself, and was being fellated for my efforts. More good things were to come. I got on top of her, then she got on top of me, then we did it from behind, then on our sides, then I put her in a couple of purely show off positions. She came. I was impressed by her freedom to orgasm so readily. So heck, I pulled out and did the same. And like that, the excitement of the morning was over. She went to her Graphic Design class, whatever that is. I took a nap. When I woke up, I fantasized about what had just happened, took things into my own hands, then fell back asleep. The rest of the day I felt the need to do nothing, except make Margheritas, drink them, then nap again. This was a good day. A day at the beach. A day I had earned. I slept peacefully that night.
The next night, a friend of mine since junior high school invited me to his 39th birthday party at the Viceroy Hotel. My neighborhood was so great, I lived about 5 blocks from the hotel and I could stroll over and make an appearance that evening. Carly came over at 8 p.m. and we had a glass of red wine. Then another, why not? I realized how buzzed we were when she blurted out how much she liked to drink and smoke and get fucked. “Why are we leaving my place again?” She laughed it off and we walked to the party. We walked to a party! In L.A! Howard had rented 2 Cabanas by the pool of the Viceroy Hotel. Immediately, this trendy, posers scene didn’t feel right to me - like a virus, the nonsense that is Hollywood had spread all the way to my beach! Why did he choose this place? Because he saw it profiled on Entertainment Tonight as the latest “In Place To Be?”His friends were boring. Boring, married people, boring each other with boring stories about pre-school, nanny interviews and play dates. What happens to people? Mommy and Me Yoga? Bottles of fancy booze and food were everywhere. This must be the good life to them, throwing money away and calling it fun. He was celebrating/mourning the last year of his 30s, trapped in a unhappy, sexless marriage, with 3 kids, wondering what the hell happened. All he could do was stare at Carly and look for answers. He and his wife came over, made some semi serious jokes about couple swapping, and I remember thinking that they would be divorced within a year. Sure enough... I made Carly and me 2 stiff Kettle One & Sodas. Before I knew it, she made herself another one. Maybe she was uncomfortable, she didn’t know anyone there. Whatever the reason, she got really drunk, really fast and I recognized we had to go. As we walked out, an executive from NBC and his wife emerged from the crowd and chatted me up. They loved the show, they loved me and “is this your girlfriend?” At that point Carly’s was practically falling over. How did she get so drunk? Just then her boob popped out. “It’s a first date,” I said, “and I’m going to be fondling that in about 15 minutes.” They loved it. “Always in character!” I High Fived the guy. I High Fived his wife. Carly tucked in her boob and I carried her out. Strong Exit. Nice scene, embarrassing but I knew how to deliver an exit line. I left my peers with something to talk about. You see, only the few, the brave amongst us, those who truly search and persevere, can live the dream. Everyone else, those who settle, those who mindlessly conform, well, buy a ticket to the show, sit home and watch Real Housewives. Bravo! Me? I've got a hottie to bang!
We stumbled the 5 blocks home. Carly headed for the bathroom and threw up for the next hour. What the hell? I flipped on a repeat of the Daily Show and I was almost asleep when I realized steam was coming from under the bathroom door. I found Carly in my bath tub, naked, in the fetal position, hot water filling up fast. I turned off the water. “No, it’s the only way I won’t be sick.” “Really? How am I going to explain it when you drown in my bath tub?” I lifted her from the tub, dried her off, dressed her in a tee shirt and shorts and put her to bed. This was not how the night was supposed to end. A pang of resentment hit me. I didn’t want to watch how much she drank, or hold her hair back as she vomited. If I couldn’t even take a girl out to a little cocktail party, what was left for us to do? The boundaries of this relationship were rapidly being defined. Just sex. In my apartment. That’s it. The next morning I woke up to the sounds of her giggling in the other room. “This is so funny, come here.” She was watching a Cartoon. What? Did she forget she threw up and passed out in my tub? Was she embarrassed about how the night ended? Was she really watching a cartoon? “I don’t have a TV at my place and I miss my Saturday morning cartoons.” Oh God, I made a terrible mistake, and the truth was coming out. First of all, what kind of a sick world does a person live in with no TV? Not even basic cable? How poor was she? I realized I knew nothing about this girl, and whatever fantasy I made up about her did not at all resemble reality. She watched cartoons! That could knock the wind out of any erection. I made her some breakfast, which she didn’t eat, too wrapped up in the ‘toon I suppose. This led to more resentment and finally I had to leave for my Sunday morning basketball game. I got home at 2 p.m. Carly was still there. Asleep on my couch. In front of the TV. Friday morning was a slice of heaven, but by Sunday afternoon, the party was over. She let it all hang out in our first 48 hours together. The excitement of Coffee Girl had given way to the reality of Coffee Girl. A sharp kick of the couch, and she woke up. Time to go. She got her stuff and left. I made my coffee at home and steered clear of the Napoleon Cafe the next few days. After all, I was living the dream, I really wanted to live the dream, and I decided Carly would only be part of that dream when I was bored, horny or lonely.
By the end of the week I was bored, horny and lonely, so I called Carly. Oh well. After some tap dancing and cajoling, she agreed to come over. We went to the beach, and laid out for a couple of hours. It was a nice day, she was cute and life made sense again. She was just a young girl who drank too much that night. It happens. We went back to my place and had really good sex. I think I might even have felt something for her. Just for a moment, I found myself kissing her more with genuine affection than just blinding lust. Maybe because we had gone through a bonding experience of sorts, not the sex, but her throwing up, me taking care of her, tucking her in my bed, I don’t know. But we were closer now, and she felt it too, so much so that while I was on top of her, inside her, she had what she called a panic attack. She couldn’t catch her breath, because as she said “it just feels too good.” What followed was what she described as “the biggest orgasm I’ve ever had.” Naturally I felt great about myself! Look at me go! What kind of stud am I? The biggest orgasm of her life? I am a magical lover! To celebrate the moment, I let myself go. I pulled out and I came in her mouth. After really good sex I often make the mistake of doing stupid things because I’m feeling...what? Generous? Vulnerable? Close? I let Carly sleep over. The next morning, the sound of her laughing to a cartoon woke me up. Not again. Maybe it had something to do with her Graphic Design interests, I thought. She appreciated the animation and one day she’d do that for a living. Totally made sense. “No, I just like the Fuzzy One and the Chip Monk. They make me laugh.” Oh God. I had errands to run, I needed some stuff for my new beach pad, so I took her to Home Depot. We bought some plants, a Welcome Mat, a throw rug for just inside the front door, and a lamp. I could tell she was having a good time, it made her feel all domesticated, like we were in a real, adult relationship. I took advantage of all that good will when we got back to my home by having sex with her in my kitchen. Sure why not. If I were to make a list of Pros and Cons of being involved with Carly, here’s what I’d have. PRO: 23. Cute. Nice Body. Pleases me Orally (that should be first on the list). Poor (so if I buy her a 10 dollar item, a poster, a fancy Margherita or a tee shirt that says “girl power,” she’ll be very appreciative, and probably look to please me orally. See above). As I looked back at this list, I realized I could reduce it to 4 words. SHE’S CUTE. SHE BLOWS. Then I listed the CONS. 23. (I lived through the life experiences she’s having now, 14 years ago). Can’t Handle Her Booze (If we go out for a drink she’s going to end up on my bathroom floor again). Watches Cartoons (A deal breaker right there). She’s into Graphic Design (I still don’t get what that is). And lastly, I didn’t really like her that much. (Self explanatory). Alas...
That week she called to tell me she had quite her job at the Napoleon. I saw my out right there, but I was horny again, and perhaps more tragically, a bigger problem emerged. I made the mistake of trying Cocaine for the first time since college. Was I feeling down? Well, it was summer, which meant Hiatus, a very pleasant word for “No Work,” and very few work related opportunities- apparently there was little demand in film for bit part TV actors. Who cares though! Rerun checks were coming in every week! Also I had just bought myself a brand new car! It was an incredibly satisfying moment to write the dealer a check and just flat out buy it. Although in the next moment I did feel a little deflated that I had no one there to share it with. All I knew was I had a gram of Coke sitting in the jar I normally keep my paper clips in, and no one to share that with either. Carly came over. She had on a black tank top, no bra and tight jeans. The minute I saw her I felt bad for how I’d treated her. I felt very emotional, very loving, probably because I’d been doing coke for about an hour, and I was very fucked up. We sat around and downloaded our favorite songs from ITunes! Every time we bought a song, we each did a line. How many songs did we buy, 12? 14? 16? What got into me? I didn’t do drugs. I didn’t corrupt 23 year old cute, sweet, sad girls with drugs and sex. Was this still living the dream? We got very coked up and we had nothing to eat or drink. 2 people who never did coke, finished a gram of coke, on an empty stomach. That was bad. Very bad. We had to get out of the house, we ended up in the back room of a small club on main street. There was music, and a DJ, and people dancing, but we were so coked up and flipped out, we had to leave. Then we found a tennis court by the beach and just laid down at center court - that calmed us for a while. Then back to my house. Safety. Sober up. Get some sleep. It was 2 a.m. and we laid in bed completely awake, not knowing what to do, we were panicked. It was horrible. 2 weeks into living the dream at the beach, an actor on a hit TV show and look at me. How did this happen? The only thing to do was have sex. I remembered reading something about erections being tricky to maintain when all coked up, so I went to the bathroom, dug deep into my toiletries and I was about to nibble off a piece of Viagra when Carly came in. I swallowed the whole pill so she wouldn't see. Wait? What? I just took a whole Viagra, as a topper after a gram of Cocaine. Why? I’ll have an erection for 4 days. “What are you doing?” “Nothing.” “Don’t leave me like this. Come back to bed.” Within minutes I was hard as a rock although I didn’t really feel it. Carly got on top of me. She lifted herself up and down on me like she was trying to plunge all the cocaine out of her system. She was going to kill me, no doubt about it. She was going to fuck me to death. A Viagra, a Gram of Coke, my heart was going to explode. It was beating like the drum solo from Led Zeppelin’s Moby Dick - John Bonham, could really bang those drums back in the day, until his drug overdose, that is. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I was flushed, sweaty, and gasping for air. I couldn’t breathe, not because “it just feels too good,” but because a major side effect of Viagra is have completely stuffed up nasal passages. Veins were popping from my face, Carly was banging the life out of me, and all I could feel was panic. I wanted a taste of the good life. Not this. I didn't want this. If I lived through the night, I promised, “never again.” Please God, a little bit of happiness, too late now. MUST. GET. AIR. She came, I guess, who cares, and collapsed on top of me. I came too, I guess, again, who cares. We laid in bed for the next 8 hours, watching the sun come up, me fully erect and struggling to breath the entire time.
That morning, we walked down and sat on the beach by the Pier. We watched as the surfers caught the early rides. The waves rolled in perfectly. Clear Sky. Beautiful Ocean. A New Day. Thank you God. Never again (something I have kept to). “See,” Carly said, “you don’t need drugs to feel good when you can have this every morning.” And she snuggled against me. So true I thought, if only I was sitting with someone I liked. If only I liked myself. I broke it off with Carly 2 days later. She wanted to come over and talk about it, but I wouldn’t let her. There was nothing to talk about.
Monday morning I went for a long run. It was low tide and the morning fog still covered the beach, so I went down and I ran along the ocean. The crews were out, as usual, sifting through the sand, cleaning up the garbage from the weekend. The fishermen were on the Pier, catching nothing. Life was getting back to normal. Those same 3 dolphins swam by, playing in the waves. It must be nice to have each other like that, to play in the water all day, to be happy just swimming back and forth along the Santa Monica Bay. I thought about my 3 brothers in New York. I missed them. I was alone in Los Angeles. But I had come such a long way from that tiny New York studio, those late nights doing stand up, those exhausting plays, torturous acting classes, pointless auditions, leading to no job. After being poor, and struggling, and paying dues all those years, I had made it! I was living the dream, at the beach, on TV! I had to stop running. I was crying. I couldn’t stop crying. Why was I crying? It was just the coke I told myself, it messed with the chemistry of my brain. It would wear off in a few days, and I’d be myself again. I tried to run home, but ended up walking most of the way. I had hit rock bottom.
A couple of weeks later I wandered into the Napoleon Cafe for a coffee. There was a new girl there. Of course there was. The Help Wanted sign went up every month or so. I figured it took a new Waitress about 2 weeks to realize it was a lousy job. Followed by a week of fighting with the Owner about missing shifts. And finally, because she was a fair person, she’d give a week’s notice before she quit. Tatiana was cute. Eastern European cute. This Owner could sure pick attractive young women to hire, you think he’d have more to the business plan though. Tatiana seemed busy, even though there were just 2 old ladies sitting at a back table, sipping tea and sharing a scone. She had a tough facade, and a bored, slightly frustrated expression. Her pants rode very low in the front, like, “those are her pubic hairs low.” Certainly one way to a sweeten a tip. Don’t even glance, I thought, if she’s sees you checking out her crotch, it’s over. “Hi.” I put on my happy face and flashed a quick smile. “I’m new in the neighborhood,” I said, “I live over there,” as I pointed to the ocean. “I love it, I mean so far, so good.” “I’m new to the neighborhood too. Just started here. "I love the beach.” Her face seemed to brighten as if she was happy to tell this to someone. “I love the beach too, I can surf anytime now.” "I want to learn how to surf, it seems like so much fun.” “It is fun. It’s the funnest thing you’ll ever do.” “Really? Is it hard?” “Not at all, you can pick it up in one day." "I have 2 boards, I can teach to surf anytime you want.” She held my look for a moment to read who I was and what I had just said. Of course she wanted to surf. She craves fun! She needs excitement, adventure, that’s why she moved to Los Angeles in the first place. I gave her a honest, kind smile. After all, I was telling the truth. It would be nice to have someone to go surfing with. A surf buddy. A companion to share life with. Maybe we could have sex too. I quickly chased that thought from my mind, I didn’t want to ruin the moment, or limit the types of fun we might have together. We settled on 9 a.m., the next morning, at my place. Tatiana was hooked.
As I walked back to my beach pad, I realized I forgot to get my coffee. Last month it took me 2 cups of coffee before I closed the deal with the New Girl. This month I didn’t even bother with the coffee. I had perfected the moves. It was my own private Groundhog Day. In truth, I had been perfecting these moves over my many years as a single man. But did I really want Tatiana? Wasn't it time for something different? I already knew how the rest of this relationship would go. Come tomorrow, Tatiana be at my house at 9 a.m., we’d be in the ocean at 10 a.m., back at my place, in the shower by 11, and having sex by noon. Then, over the next few weeks, it just wouldn’t work out with her. I would realize she was bulimic, or “borrowed” money from my wallet, or she’d always want me to take her “clubbing” on the Sunset Strip. I would get bored with her, the lust and excitement would fade, only to be replaced with resentment, and finally, disappointment. During those same few weeks, she’d quit her job, because 8 dollars an hour just doesn’t pay the rent. Then I’d break it off, knowing I’d never had to see her in the neighborhood again. Come next month, just as I began feeling bored, horny and lonely, the Help Wanted sign would appear, and as if on cue, I’d return to the Napoleon Bakery & Cafe and do it all over again...
I always thought that to live the dream requires that you go it alone. Only the brave few who persevere and search and never settle for a life on the beaten path, can truly understand. But maybe, on second thought, come next month, I’ll walk right past the Napoleon Cafe, and take my coffee at one of the more popular, more conventional places on Main Street like Peete’s or Mani’s or Starbucks. They’ve been around longer and there must be something better about those destinations, well worth the extra 5 block walk to find out. Maybe that’s what I’ll do. Or maybe I'll just walk down to the beach and take in a sunset...
I lived on 54th street at 7th Avenue in New York City for many years. I love to romanticize that time of my life, I was a struggling actor, pursuing my dream, sharing an illegal sublet with 2 of my brothers. We split the rent 3 ways and it was fun..!
Despite the hustle and bustle of Midtown Manhattan, or maybe because of it, I enjoyed the neighborhood. During the day I walked to my auditions and to acting classes. In the evening, I jogged around the loop in Central Park. Late at night, on the way home from a crappy stand up gig or from waiting tables, I would pass by and say hello to the hookers that worked the corner near the Stage Deli.
My room in the 2 bedroom apartment faced 7th avenue (yes I had my own room!), and as I lay in bed, drifting off to sleep, the cacophony of New York sounds would fade away until those last sounds of the night - the clippity-clop, clop, clop of the horse drawn carriages trotting down 7th avenue, on their way back to the stables on the west side highway. This is what it sounded like to live on 54th street in Midtown Manhattan in the early 90's...
Maybe the most quintessential New York part about living on 54th street was that I was on the same street as the Ziegfeld theatre. Built in 1969, a few hundred feet away from the original Ziegfeld theatre (1927 -1966), the Ziegfeld was an iconic movie palace - Art Deco, Red velvet curtains, Chandeliers in the Lobby, 1131 seats! It was a place not just to see a film, but to have a collective experience with over 1000 people.
In 1995 my girlfriend and I went to see Braveheart at the Ziegfeld theatre. Now I have seen Braveheart many times on TV since then, but to see it that first time, in that theatre, with 1000 people, was one of the most memorable movie experiences of my life. (Even more powerful than the first time I saw Jaws or Animal House). It was an incredible movie, it won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Best Directing, Best everything - and forget everything you think you know about Mel Gibson in real life today. Back then he was Mel Gibson. And this was Braveheart. To this day, watching the Freedom Speech, reminds me of that evening 20 years ago, it gives me goose bumps and makes me want to jump out of my seat and fight!
After the movie, we left the theatre in stunned silence. We stood out front, and my girlfriend broke the silence; she looked at me, shook her head and said: “And you call yourself a man…” She laughed, then I laughed, I guess, but I said nothing, I knew what she meant. At that moment, after that experience, in front of the Ziegfeld, on a hot summer night, no man could compete with Mel Gibson. We walked up 54th street and headed home...
It was announced that the Ziegfeld Theatre will close next month. It will be renovated and transformed into a “high-end” event space for corporate events. The largest single movie screen in Manhattan, 1131 seats, but it just doesn’t make money anymore, because people just don’t go see movies like that anymore - the end of an era.
Tonight, as I lay in bed, after I finish streaming a few episodes of Jessica Jones from the Netflix account on my iPhone, I will drift off to sleep and dream about that period of my life, those sounds of New York, and the time I went to see Braveheart at the Ziegfeld.
“And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies, they may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!” William Wallace - Mel Gibson.
Come High Five me in Auckland New Zealand at Armageddon Expo Oct 23-26th! www.armageddonexpo.com
Spin City was a terrifically funny TV comedy that ran in the late 90’s. It was an important show because it marked the return of Michael J Fox to Network TV, it was the only network comedy to shoot in New York City and perhaps most importantly, it was the first time I had a speaking role on a prime time sitcom!
The co-creators of Spin City were Gary David Goldberg, and a young man named Bill Lawrence. In addition to giving me my first speaking role on a television sitcom, Mr. Lawrence was also kind enough to invite me to the tapings of the show every Friday night, to the parties after the show, and to let me hang around and watch how the show was made. One Friday night, one of the principal actors on the show, the talented and likeable Richard Kind, said to me, or at least in my direction, “there’s really no reason not to get a laugh on every line.” Then he wandered over to the set, he played the scene and he got a laugh where one did not seem to exist. I always remembered that off the cuff comment as unintentionally, sage advice. It seemed like a more practical, less pretentious way of saying “there are no small parts only small actors.”
About 5 years later, I got to work for Mr. Lawrence again, this time, on another show he created called Scrubs. My part on the show was always meant to be a supporting one - very supporting. My character's name was listed number 9 on the Call Sheet. That meant there were at least 8 characters more important than mine. Nevertheless I rehearsed and prepared and obsessed over every moment that was written for me because in my mind, and thanks to Richard Kind, “there’s really no reason not to get a laugh on every line."
After it's first season of being a critically acclaimed show, the Season 2 premiere of Scrubs was set to air after Friends on Thursday night. Must See TV! Incredible! It was a huge opportunity for the show to connect with a larger audience. In the episode there was a scene between the 2 lead characters of the show, JD & Elliot (the incredible Zach Braff & the incredible Sarah Chalke), about the sexual tension between them, and about whether or not they would be “together.” This was one of, it not the main emotional story line for the next 7 seasons of the show. Meanwhile my character was in the background, flexing and admiring himself in the mirror. At the end of that scene I was supposed to “rat tail” JD with the towel I was wearing around my waist. But I knew that when I took my towel off, I couldn’t be naked, the moment would get cut from the show. I had to wear something underneath. Something funny and memorable! (Also, with the beautiful Sarah Chalke courageously (as always) appearing in a bra in this scene, it would be hard for anyone to remember anything else!)
So in the week prior to filming, I brainstormed with the Wardrobe department, they sent an assistant to go shopping and she returned with a dozen or so “Speedo type” Banana Hammocks for us to choose from. We settled on the flame colored Banana Hammock for me to wear as it matched the flame colored scrubs cap I was beginning to wear more and more on the show.
Here’s where the story gets weird…
On the day we were to shoot this scene, I was in my dressing room, preparing. This consisted of me shaving my chest, slathering oiling all over my chest and body, slipping on my Banana Hammock, perfecting my “rat tailing” technique for a crisp snap, perhaps by wetting the end of the towel, and lifting weights (I kept them in my dressing room) so I would look as pumped up as possible. (In the later years of the show, I learned to have the Make Up department simply paint on a 6-pack, and shade in where the muscles should have been). Despite all of this preparation, I wanted to do more, to make a bigger impression, it was a quick moment in the scene and I wanted to make it count. So perhaps in an inspired moment of creativity, or insanity (it’s a fine line), I pried off the cushiony grip from the weight bar and I slipped it around my penis to enhance the size of my package. Yes, an actor, fitting a weight grip around his penis, under a Banana Hammock, to make said package look bigger on camera…and that actor was me.
I studied myself in the mirror, considering my new look: “come one, no one will believe that’s real.” So I pulled off the weight grip, grabbed a scissor, cut it in half, and then slipped it back on. Hmm, I really wasn’t sure. I wanted a second opinion. Where was Richard Kind when I needed him? We could have had a long discussion about the proper sized package enhancer to ensure maximum comedic effect.
So I popped my head outside and saw one of the Executive Producers of the show in the hallway. Randall Winston was a trustworthy, well respected gentleman, and a friend. I invited him into my dressing room and said: “Take a look at this, what do you think?”
Then I stood back and assumed a pose, which was basically me presenting myself to him with my enhanced banana hammock.
“…ah. Not sure what to say…”
“I mean, is it too big?” I asked.
I turned profile so he could see the enormous mound I had created under my Banana Hammock.
“’well, ah...still not sure what you are looking for here Rob—"
He was caught off guard, confused, of course he was. After all, asking Mr. Winston into my dressing room for his opinion on the size of my package, all the while, shaved, oiled up, slightly out of breath from lifting weights and wearing a Banana Hammock might seem a little odd. Did I mention that among other things, Mr. Winston is also gay. (He later admitting that he momentarily thought I might have been hitting on him).
So I explained to him that I had been thinking about this scene ever since I got the script. I wanted this moment to be visually memorable, so I slipped on a weight grip around my penis to make it look bigger.
“What?! You did what?”
And so I showed it him - to clear up all confusion. I lowered my Banana Hammock and showed him the cut off weight grip wrapped snuggly around my penis and asked him “is it too much?” Do you think this “prop penis will play? Or will the network cut it from the scene?”
After the slightest of pauses Mr. Winston looked up and said to me:
“I don’t think you need it Rob. You’re doing fine without.” (At least I remember him saying that second sentence as well.)
And with that, he turned and left my dressing room.
Relieved, I decided to shoot that scene “au natural,” no enhancements necessary, thanks to the collaborative input from Mr. Randall Winston. It turned out to be a great scene between JD & Elliot. And my contribution to it played quite nicely - oiled up, admiring myself in the mirror (Mirror Todd) and wearing a Banana Hammock was enough to create a quirky, memorable comedic moment, from a quirky, earnest actor, playing a quirky, earnest, supporting character, who eventually became known as the Todd.
When I look back at my years on Scrubs, I have many great memories, but one of my favorites is simply that of a guy, brainstorming in his dressing room, wearing a Banana Hammock, with a cushiony weight grip wrapped around his penis, or not, trying to figure out how to get a laugh on every line...
The season 2 premiere of Scrubs was the highest rated episode for the show ever. It was watched by 22.31 million people...sometimes you just got to #hammockup.
There used to be these things on TV called Soap Operas. Many people watched them, faithfully, mostly women, who were home during the day, raising kids and running the house. When I first started pursuing work as an actor in the early 90’s, I had a friend who was a Casting Assistant for one of those Soap Operas called Another World. So once a week (or whenever they might be shooting a Bar Scene), I got to work on the show. That’s right, at 22 years old, I was a featured background actor playing the role of “Bartender” on Another World!
Now aside from the $100 a day that “job” occasionally gave me, I really only liked going to work on Another World because the show was filmed at JC Studios, deep in the heart of Midwood, Brooklyn. The Studio was only a 5 minute walk from where my then 80-something year old Grandpa lived. That meant that once a week, I jumped on a subway in Manhattan, travelled an hour to work on Another World, then after work, I walked over to visit my Grandpa in Bay Parkway, Brooklyn.
I usually found him sitting in a lawn chair in the back of the alley next to the brownstone where he had lived for the last 50 years, with his neighbor Minnie, also in her 80’s. They sat facing the street and watched as people walked by. I remember how his face lit up when I walked down that alley and he first recognized it was one of his grandsons. He had a little garden back there, where he grew tomatoes, peppers, squash, he even had a fig tree. We would sit and he would tell me all about his garden and the squirrel that would come around and eat the tomatoes. He had a 2 dollar BB gun and he occasionally shot at that squirrel, mostly to scare it away, but it always came back, probably sensing he didn’t really want to kill it.
My Grandpa smoked cigarettes. He started when he was 13 years old and he was still smoking 70 years later. On one visit, I noticed he had a dark circle on his lower lip where that cigarette sat for 70 years. I told him to go to the doctor to get it checked out. Yep, I was telling a man who probably hadn’t seen a doctor since the Korean War to go see a doctor. I believe he said to me, “they can scratch my ass.” But I kept after him, week after week, and finally he went to see a doctor. Sure enough the doctor told my Grandpa he had skin cancer. And sure enough, my Grandpa told the Doctor to “scratch my ass,” and he left.
The next week, after pantomiming Bartender stuff for a few hours on Another World, I walked over to visit my grandpa, to see how the doctor’s appointment went. He had what looked like a crater where the cancer spot had been. It looked terrible. Apparently when he came home from the doctor’s office, he took a pocket knife, cut out the cancer and flicked it away. I then noticed he had simply moved the cigarette that had dangled from that spot on his lip for 70 years, to the other side of his mouth…
After about 3 months of working on Another World, I asked the Casting Office if I might say a line the next time I came to set, something like “that’s one’s on me,” or “we’re closed, come back tomorrow,” but no one liked that idea, nor did they like the idea that I spoke up at all, and shortly thereafter my role as “Bartender” on Another World went away.
I was upset, mostly because I looked forward to visiting my Grandpa, and every time I said goodbye to him I thought it might be the last time. So I kept going back to visit, I didn’t need a reason or excuse or a fake part on a soap opera to come. I could just check in with him from time to time to see how he was doing, how those tomatoes were coming along and if that squirrel was still tormenting him. I hoped it was – chasing it away gave him something to do. You see, aside from his neighbor Minnie, there was no one left. His wife (my Grandma) had passed away, his kids moved away and had their own families, he outlived all the neighbors on that once thriving, close knit block of Brooklyn. He was the last of his generation, the last of an era, as far as I was concerned, he was the last man in Brooklyn.
Eventually, as his health declined further, and after some resistance, my Aunt moved him out to their home in the suburbs of Long Island, to be closer to his family. He lived there, simply and peacefully, just as he had done while in Brooklyn, until he passed away a year later. He was 89 years old. He died from...emphysema.
A year later Another World was cancelled. It ran for 35 years.
JC Studios kept going, eventually it became home to another long running Soap Opera called As the World Turns. And about 10 years later, with my career on the upswing, I was offered a big part on the show! So one summer I went back to Brooklyn. I rented a modest apartment a few blocks from the Studio, and over the course of a month, I appeared in 25 episodes. I did 8, 9, sometimes 10 scenes a day. I had so many lines...
And every day after work, when I walked back to my place, I thought, if only I could keep walking, just a few more blocks, and visit my Grandpa. If only he were still there. That would have made it special.
As the World Turns was cancelled in 2010. It ran for 54 years.
Brooklyn is a very hip place to live these days, let this story serve as a little history of this place and of those who once lived there.