Chapter 10: The Wisdom of James Malanga

February 11, 2009

When we last left off I had embraced my car-loving ways by securing a job at a gas station. 

There’s still so much more to tell before we arrive at the present-tense, but I need to fast-forward for this one and talk about something that I’m in dire need of.  But as you know, often times the cassette player will rewind instead of fast forward, because they combined the buttons into one and you have to hit it twice to fast forward, because they wanted to save money on buttons, which is why we started listening to CD’s instead, despite the fact that they are so easy to scratch and ruin.  But since we’re just starting to officially enter the Digital Age of music, MP3’s and the like, I think it’s safe to say that cassette tapes are once again “cool”, and not just something someone has because they’re too broke to upgrade.  They’re the new 8-Track. 

What did that have to do with anything?  Not really sure, something about rewinding instead of fast forwarding…

It was the fall of 2005 and I was living in a four-room apartment in Manhattan. A room had opened up and I was thrilled to have my Original Next Door Neighbor James Malanga move in, along with his good pal Tim Clancy, both fresh out of College  They brought some new life and optimism to the apartment, which I was in need of as two years of “the real world” had started to kick the “golly gee” out of me.  We were living exactly two blocks from the middle of Times Square, which, if you do the math, is pretty awesome (especially given what we were paying, granted the quality of the place met us halfway).

We didn’t have cable in the apartment, my logic being: why would you?  Walk three minutes away and you’re outside the window of the Today Show (or TRL).  This city is for living in, not sitting around watching the latest reality television show.

James seemed to enjoy the city just as much as anyone, that is to the degree that his or her budget would allow.  Within several months he was working full time, interning for a Production Company, and finding his way out to Brooklyn on a regular basis for the night life.  So it was with a jolt of horror that I received the news of James’ intention for his one day off of a particular week.

“Yeah, I did my laundry yesterday, went grocery shopping, and rented Seasons One and Two of ‘Rescue Me’.  I’m not going to leave the apartment tomorrow.”


“Yeah, I literally don’t want to step foot out of the apartment tomorrow.”

What the hell is wrong with this kid?!!  I mean here he is, a 22 year-old chap living in the middle of the liveliest and most visited city in the entire world, and he’s going to sit in our crappy living room on our crappy couch covered in our ratty blankets and watch two seasons of, granted, a really good show, but still…what the hell is wrong with this kid?  He could live anywhere!  Why not just move to a small town and get cable and call it a day?

I was appalled.  I was sickened.  And I was speechless.

“So, you’re really…?” I stammered, trying to find the words.

“Yeah Jesse G, I need to chill out.”

I couldn’t formulate a response.  I felt like one of those perpetually baffled girls that lives in Beverly Hills, calling all my friends and saying stuff like “I know” and “seriously” and “whatever”.  I’d heard of people taking it easy, but intentionally not stepping foot out of the door for an entire day?  Where would he get his Vitamin D?  “like…?!”

It’s at this point that I realize the tape is rewinding, so I fast-forward.  Knowing that the fast-forward is generally quicker than the rewind, I stop early, perhaps a bit too early.

It was two and a half years later and I was living in a studio apartment in Jersey City.  I was exhausted in general from an eight-month string of artistically rewarding while financially debilitating acting jobs.  I had been working at the restaurant like a dog, and my financial woes were further exacerbated by a five day sickness in which I couldn’t work, getting my backpack stolen on the subway while asleep, and getting mugged on a side street while wide awake.  On top of this I was paying more money for rent then I ever have because I thought it was time to get a studio apartment and live by myself.  Good thinkin’ Gavin!

The winter of 2008 was swinging into full force, and I was starting to feel like I couldn’t take it anymore.  That’s when it appeared: James Malanga came to me as an apparition.  But he wasn’t dead.  It’s just that I was in Jersey City, and no one really goes to Jersey City unless they live there, so he had to send his Alternate Soul.  The message was simple: chill out for a day, or I would end up in the Looney Bin.  I protested, clinging to my busy-body ways.  Maybe I can meet up with some people for dinner – it’s still relaxing, right?  Wrong.  The apparition of James was adamant (curiously enough, the real James had no idea his Alternate Soul visited me).

It was February 22nd, 2008, and I was taking my first ever James Malanga Day.  What was my poison?  I cranked Erykah Badu for half the day, and took two baths, candles lit and all.  I had read in a recent interview with her that she would dunk her head underwater for 60 seconds in order to clear her mind, repeating as many times as necessary.  I ordered Indian Food at one point during the day, and other than that I ate food that I had pretty much entirely prepped the night before.  I watched the Rangers game during the night time, and a few episodes of the Canadian television show “Slings and Arrows”.  Phone was off, internet was unplugged (I broke down and checked both during the early evening, but all things considered I thought that was pretty impressive).

My roommate Danny says the proof is in the pudding.  The next day when I walked into work everyone had some sort of comment for me that had to do with how relaxed and happy I looked.  Not a person neglected to say something.  Sure, it only took about 20 minutes of work to become a strung out ball of stress, but it was clear that my James Malanga Day did wonders for me (usually it only takes 20 seconds to become completely stressed).

James Malanga has accomplished a great deal in his three and a half years in New York City, working in one of the most competitive and least rewarding fields there is.  He was working 80 hour weeks at one point for a solid six months, pulling in a salary that would make a perplexed Beverly Hills girl go “you’ve got to be kidding me.”  So the proof was in the pudding: The guy knows how to get stuff done, but he keeps from burning out.  It was Dr. Alexis Carrel who said “those who keep the peace of their inner selves in the midst of the tumult of the modern city are immune from nervous diseases.”


Crap, I’m still not at present tense.  This is why we tolerated CD’s for so long (I mean a little dust gets on them and they skip like crazy, am I wrong?).

Summer of 2008 I was up visiting my dad.  As successful as my James Malanga Day was, it couldn’t overcome the Jesse Gavin Mantra of “I should really be doing something productive”.  And the proof is in the pudding, as I took so little care of myself that my nervous system had a little relapse in the form of a crippled hand (sheesh, I’ll explain this one later). 

My Great Uncle and Aunt were in town visiting, and talk turned to my dad’s new job.  My dad is one of the hardest working people on the East Coast, which puts him pretty high on the list for hardest working Worldwide.  My great aunt asked, out of nowhere, about how much vacation time he was getting.  He responded that he gets six weeks a year, but that that’s not realistic with his job.  I other words, he doesn’t really take vacation time.  Part of why he is so good at his job is because he goes the extra mile to reach the goals he sets for himself, an example I feel I was blessed to have for my own work ethic.  However, it was with almost Shamanic Wisdom that she retorted, “you’ve gotta make time, Jim, it’s important for your soul”.  The energy of the room changed, and I couldn’t help but think of how better off everyone might be if we listened to old people more.

The thing was that she was speaking from a life of experience.  She wasn’t one of those befuddled girls from Beverly Hills exclaiming, “Oh my God, you like totally have to take vacations!”  And I could see my dad truly taking it in.

But I also feel we’re cut from the same stone, and it’s tough when something’s in your nature to just change your ways.  But I think about the day when my dad finally gets to take a James Malanga Day, and it makes me smile.


Instead of my usual list of goals for the New Year, I wrote Mission Statement 2009.  In the five or six weeks that have transpired, I have been an absolute maniac; meeting casting directors, playing open mics, starting pre-production on a new music video, writing this blog, pumping gas, tutoring, and exercising in some fashion five times a week.  I read Mission Statement 2009 every morning and feel like I’m on track.

But in the last few days I realized that if I don’t take another James Malanga Day in the next few weeks, then I may push myself to the point where James’ Alternate Soul has to visit me like in the video.  And it’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy the visit, it’s just that I live in Los Angeles now, so his Alternate Soul would have to fly all the way out here from New York City and there’s really no airline discounts available for Alternate Souls…I mean a seat’s a seat, right?

So here’s my rough plan for the next one:  Since I live in a house and have a yard that’s entirely ensconced by shrubbery, “not stepping outside” will pertain to the sidewalk and not the front door.  I’ll find a cheap Kiddie Pool on Craigslist, preferably with matching floaties.  I’ll get a six pack of beer to nurse throughout the day.  At one point I’ll get some food delivered from the Greek Deli where they speak Greek.  And I’ll just lounge in the most cliché way possible, soaking up the rays of sunshine that for some ridiculous and lovely reason will be plentiful in the month of February.

As for the music?  I’ll borrow my roommate’s boombox with the tape player.  I don’t have any cassettes, so I guess I’ll just go search through the One-Dollar bin at the record store and see what I can find.  It’s not too long until tapes will be cool enough to be expensive again.

What will your next JMD be?


Eject (Same Button as Stop)

Ah, Shit!  The tape got eaten.  Stinkin’ Cassette Tapes! (Shaking fist at the sky).

I need a day off.