Chapter 17: Inspiration

March 31, 2009

The New Year was under way and I was eager to tackle Mission Statement 2009.  First things first, I needed to seek out some inspiration.

Thomas Edison once said that “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”  Fortunately for me, Edison didn’t muddy up his quote with any qualifiers or pesky ‘plus or minus’ phrases that are used so often in research and statistical analysis.  I happen to sweat quickly, regularly, and profusely, which leads me to believe that the ‘inspiration’ factor of the equation carries extra weight when it comes to Jesse Gavin, relatively speaking.

I’ve always been one to seek out inspiration, and over the years I have come to believe that the most effective inspiration comes from either people I know, or those that are in the same boat.  As good as Philip Seymour Hoffman may be, his performances pale in comparison to seeing Kira Sternbach on stage, in terms of inspirational value.  If a good friend of mine is a force to be reckoned with (talent-wise), then his or her landing a role and becoming successful is like a major drug binge for me (inspiration-wise).

Hemingway hit the bottle; I hit the off-off-Broadway circuit.

One of my dear friends from New York City, Rachael Hip-Flores, deservedly landed the lead role in a new Web-Series on Strike TV.  Normally the phrase “web-series” makes my skin crawl, as it tends to be industry-speak for “don’t have to pay anyone or waste time with pre-production or create anything of value,” or some slight variation of this basic standard of shaziness (“shazy” – varying degrees of lazy and shady).  Every kid out of film school that doesn’t have enough drive to raise a budget or fill out paperwork quickly learns that he can call himself a producer and/or director when he talks to girls at bars by simply making a web-series.  “The Networks are scouting the Web these days for their new shows” is the sort of phrase that he’d use.

Strike TV, however, was conceived during the Writer’s Strike to give creative control back to the ones wielding the pen.  Consequently, a lot of carefully thought out, respectable productions found funding based on Strike TV’s challenge to members of the Writer’s Guild: “create original programs for the Internet and we will provide you with a website and ad revenue.”

I was thrilled to find out that Rachael landed a choice role in a series written by Susan Miller, whose credits include The L Word and Thirtysomething.  The series is called Anyone But Me, and focuses on “a new generation searching for love and belonging in the post 9/11 age.”  Rachael plays a sixteen year-old girl who faces the culture shock of moving from New York City to the suburbs.  We see her have to say goodbye to her girlfriend in Episode 1, introducing a side of her that she has yet to really tell anyone about in her new home, her sexual preference.

Ah, the suburbs.  They just don’t invite anything out of the norm.

A few days into New Year’s I was still hungry for inspiration, and a notice popped in my Facebook about the latest Episode being available online.  Sweet!  I brought up the site, selected the new episode, and maximized the screen.  As I was doing this, my roommate Jimmy moseyed in from wandering out and about and asked what I was watching.

“My friend back in New York got a lead role in a web-series…did you want to watch?”

“Yeah man, fire it up.”

I started to play Episode 4, and popping up onto my screen were two scantily clad female teenagers under the sheets, gazing amorously in each other’s eyes.  The scene lasts about a 60 seconds, and before it was halfway through, Jimmy interjected:

“Dude.  I swear to God.  I wrote a scene JUST like this before.  I mean, like, EXACTLY like this.  Back when I was in film school…” – Jimmy began a tangent about film school, and I ended up pausing the episode.  In general I like to focus on what it is I’m watching, and Jimmy seemed like he had switched gears from watching the show to telling a story, so I paused and gave him my attention.

When he was done, he sat back on his bed and grabbed his laptop.  I started the Episode again, from the top so that I wouldn’t lose any of the flow of the writing.  I was fifteen seconds in when I heard Jimmy get up from the other side of the divider.

“Dude, I’ve seriously written like…Fifty scenes – EXACTLY like this.  Like two chicks hanging out, you know…”

After a third attempt to watch the Episode, I realized that I would have to wait until Jimmy was not around.  Unbeknownst to me, Jimmy had apparently penned quite a few scenarios that involved two young girls lying in bed with very little clothing on.  I wasn’t able to read any of his work, but I suspect their function fell more under the category of “gratuitous” than the scene from Anyone But Me, which could best be described as “heart warming”.

The preceding three episodes set the stage for this intimate reunion of Aster and Vivian, as the latter’s move to the suburbs had placed her in a setting way out of her comfort zone.  We get to see Vivian truly relaxed and at peace, in stark contrast to the anxiety induced by her fish-out-of-water predicament.  The scene further builds the relationship with Aster, something we really only got to see over cell phone calls and text messages.

Jimmy didn’t have to watch the first three episodes, however, to see the most brilliant aspect of the scene: the teenage girls in bed.  He was able to relish in the knowledge that he had already thought of this long before Susan Miller.  In this industry, however, enjoyment quickly gives way to that nagging regret: why didn’t I shoot my stuff when I had the chance?  Here it could have been Jimmy directing the scene instead of Tina Cesa Ward.  Maybe there could have been an additional make-out sequence?

It was at this moment that I was reminded that the best and most important inspiration in the world was not going to come from Philip Seymour Hoffman or even Kira Sternbach, but from the real life characters I have the chance to experience if I get my head out of the laptop (as I wrote this, I took a quick look around the Coffee Shop and it’s just a bunch of writers on laptops, so maybe this is one of those rare exceptions).

When people ask me why I want to be an actor, I always think of Dale the Dishwasher.  My first job at age fifteen was scrubbing pots and pans in an upscale Italian joint (where I met the infamous Bucci).  Although we shared the same duties, Dale was my senior by a solid twenty years.  Having grown up in the suburbs (much like the area Vivian loathes so much), I wasn’t accustomed to those that made their way through life on minimum wage.  At first I thought of Dale as, I regret to say, a bit of a joke.  He was the sort of guy we made fun of in High School or on Hockey trips.

I remember asking him out of the blue one day, for fun, “hey Dale, you ever been hit by a train?”  He spent a solid seven seconds reflecting before his definitively doofy response, “duh…nope!”.  I wish I could say he didn’t precede most of his regularly incomplete sentences with the word ‘duh,’ but let’s just say I no longer view the creator of the Goofy character as a man with an impressive imagination.

The truly defining moment for me was the day Dale started asking me questions.  It was during some down time on a Tuesday shift, and he had a grounded energy about him that led me to believe he wasn’t hung over (this is the man that would hold his arms out and shout “gimme” when cases of beer were carted by).  He asked me about school, what subjects I was taking, what I like, what I didn’t like.  He asked about my family, how my (previously employed there) brother was doing and asked that I say hello for him. 

As silly as this sounds, this is the day Dale became a real person to me.  I started to learn more and more about him.  He lived with his mom, who was sick.  He had moved in to take care of her, after his father had died.  I saw him one time taking a walk with someone, and asked him the next day at work.  “Oh yeah, that’s my buddy Larry”.  The fact that the guy was named Larry was hilarious, but I was more moved by what I could sense was his life-long friendship with this guy.  They drank beer and probably went to strip clubs when possible (I know what you were thinking there with that Larry part, but Dale was all about the ladies, just ask the flummoxed waitresses).

This was the beginning of my love affair with people.  I’m not saying I had a love affair with Dale, I mean, what would Larry think?  But Dale was the first person I ever moved past the stereotype of.  He was just a regular guy like me that lived a different life.

One of my biggest fears of moving to Los Angeles would be that I would be around lots of fake people.  But there’s no such thing as a fake person!  That’s the best part.  It might get kind of boring being around a lot of Hollywood-types, but I was fortunate to find a house with all sorts of wacky characters.  None take the cake more than my roommate Jimmy.

Jimmy has easily been my best friend since moving to Los Angeles.  Hailing from Upstate New York, we have a very similar outlook on the world.  He’s a wake-with-the-sun sort of a guy, and likes to wander.  He likes hockey, grilling, and movies.

There were two fundamental differences, however, between Jimmy and I.  These didn’t cause any tension, but rather served as defining factors for our experiences.  The first was that Hollywood was not Jimmy’s place.  I would have given anything to have lived with this guy in Colorado or Hawaii, but Los Angeles isn’t his thing.  He moved out to pursue work in film production, but his heart was in it.  He wanted to direct.  The second difference was further exaggerated by California’s medical code regarding glaucoma and the like.  Jimmy gets headaches, see.  So Jimmy gets medicine.  It’s not that he couldn’t get this medicine elsewhere, just not from state approved dispensaries.  He’d have to get it from the street corner.

Jimmy didn’t dig Los Angeles.  Jimmy got stoned.

And thus we begin the Jimmy Chronicles: Jesse’s first time moving past the stereotype of a stoner.

Thomas Edison: I’ve got some sweating to do.

 

PREVIOUS CHAPTER: Mission Statement 2009

NEXT CHAPTER: Inspiration Meets Action


Midweek Rant #6: Flyers & Menus

March 26, 2009

I had the same next door neighbor for all four years I lived in Midtown Manhattan.  Michael was in his late fifties, well dressed, well groomed, well read, and had an unnerving ability to maintain unflinching eye-contact for unusually long periods of time.  This last quality led to him acquiring the nickname “Fava Beans” one night, after telling my roommate and I about the lady from the third floor that was lighting candles on the roof.

“She’ll burn us all alive” he warned with the terrifying vocal quality of Anthony Hopkin’s Hannibal Lecter.  It was tough to tell who we should be worrying about, the lady on the third floor or the guy across the hall with a proclivity for Chianti

I distinctly remember the first time that it crossed my mind that Michael was absolutely insane.  At this point I had only experienced his deliberate stillness, so the aggressive burst of movement I witnessed that particular night was surprising to say the least. 

As peculiar as it would have seemed with any other neighbor, the fact that I always arrived at the building’s front door at the same time as Michael did was something I didn’t think twice about.  Conversations would always ensue before entering, continue while walking up the stairs, and linger on for far too long in front of my apartment door.

So we were mid-conversation when the front door was opened this Autumn evening in 2003.  Upon seeing a pile of menus that had been slipped under the door by the local Mexican Restaurant, Michael burst into stream of expletives directed into the general airspace of Ninth Avenue.  Without interrupting his own word flow, he bent down and picked up the menus with the nimbleness of Ian McKellan, which I had not realized was an option for this man up until this point. 

“Fucking assholes!!!” he roared as he proceeded to throw all ten of the brightly colored menus onto the sidewalk with a trajectory that enabled each one to separate itself from the pack and find it’s own special place on the concrete, thus maximizing the surface area that El Taco would inhabit. 

Hmm.

Noticing the perplexed and slightly aghast look on my face, he pointed to a sign on the door that says “No Menus Please”, explaining that the impudient Restaurants know better and this was just a recalcitrant ploy to make a few extra bucks.

“If I want a fucking menu, I’ll go and get a fucking menu myself, thank you very much!”

Hmm.

At this point I had gotten over the shock of what was happening and began thinking about how uncomfortable the rest of the journey up to the fourth floor and into the actual door of my apartment was going to be.  Michael regained his composure, and his stoic nature took on a new level of creepiness, as I was now aware of the volcano that was always ready to erupt.

And that was just over menus…

However, five years of living in New York City gave me insight as to why Michael may have gone so nutty over what would seem to be an innocuous attempt to advertise on the part of the Restaurant.  People were always handing you something, putting something under your door, or wearing a giant sign (in this last example, as they simultaneously re-traced all the steps in their lives that led them to being a walking “Men’s Tuxedos” billboard).  Living in Los Angeles, however, is different.  There’s not much foot traffic, so having people hand out flyers is pretty inefficient.  Door to door flyering is pretty much nonexistent, as the population is spread out over houses and three-story apartment buildings.

So what’s a guy with a bunch of flyers to do?  The solution lies, as does the answer to every question regarding Los Angeles, in Automobiles.

Automobiles!

I couldn’t help but channel Michael the first day someone put a flyer under my windshield wiper.  Having already gotten a ticket for forgetting to move my car for street cleaning, I was in a state of paranoia at all times regarding where it was I had parked The Beast.  Twenty feet away I noticed what appeared to be the same size and color as the citation I had just received.

“Fucking son of a bitch!” I thought, my heart racing and my disdain for Los Angeles expanding and mutating.  I didn’t even want to look at it, I just put the groceries I had in my hand in the car, maniacally postulating over whether it was worth the time to compare prices of the several varieties Dried Figs for sale when it must have put me over my time limit on the meter and cost me whatever Fascist price the LA DMV thought such an offense dictated.

I took a deep breath, gathered myself, and calmly walked to the front of the car to open the ticket.  But what did I find?

“Tony’s Haircuts”

I know what you’re thinking.  Weren’t you glad it wasn’t a ticket?

Well that’s because you didn’t live in New York City.  Had you lived there, you would be with me in thinking:

“Thanks a lot, Tony!  How about I come into your barber shop and give you a beating with my windshield wiper?  Huh?!  That’ll teach you not to put shit on my car!

But here I was with an option that was not afforded to me in New York.  I didn’t have to physically take this flyer out from under my windshield wiper.  It would eventually come off on it’s own, either from the driving on the highway or using the wipers next time it rained.  And in the meantime, it will send a message to all the other flyering jerks that I don’t take flyers out from under my windshield wiper.

Atta way to stick it to ‘em, Gavin.

Why should I have to waste three seconds of my day lifting my windshield wiper and disposing of this piece of junk?  They’re wasting paper as it is!  Just like Michael said, if I want to find out about Tony’s Haircuts I’ll go to Tony’s Haircuts and be like “hey, Tony, tell me about these haircuts you got.”

So here it is, after seven weeks (it finally came off a few days after I took this picture):

img_04681

Is that a ticket?

img_0465

That's not a ticket, that's a flyer

img_0466

That's what seven weeks'll do to your flyer, Tony

 

And for those of you that don’t get the New York City hatred of flyers, let my good buddy Tim Clancy’s video enlighten you:


Chapter 16: Mission Statement 2009

March 23, 2009

Before I got sidetracked into a three week long explanation of how I started going to the gym again, I was recounting the moment on the front porch when I decided I would fight to stay in the crazy house I’d been living in for six weeks.

As you may recall, the incident with the police on Christmas morning started a chain reaction that looked like it would lead to the demise of the household.  After going to the gym (cue workout montage), I sent Andre a text message asking what was going on with the house, with a clear statement of my wish to stay put.

“Ja Ja, I’m going to keep the house” was the text message I received back.

Oh.

Jeez, that’s it.  Now you know why I went onto a three week long detour; there wasn’t much of a payoff to the story.  A simple text message let me know that I could stay where I was and not have to worry about the nightmare of finding a new place to live or, even worse, changing my address.

The New Year was approaching and I had composed ‘Mission Statement 2009’, which was to be read every morning to keep me on track.  Now I know what you’re wondering, “what does this kid think he’s Tom Cruise or something?”  If you weren’t wondering that, then forgive my presumption.  If you were, then the rest of this blog is for you. 

I read about a study that found that the average time it took before people started breaking their New Year’s Resolutions was 23 days.  As it is a Mean and not a Median, those that stick to their Resolutions for the entire year weigh pretty heavily into the conclusion, leading me to believe that the typical amount of time is about two weeks, unless some people were straight up honest and reported times such as 27 minutes (NYE Brunch is quite the temptation).

For me, this is reason enough to dismiss the concept of New Year’s Resolutions as being nothing but a marketing ploy that was, not necessarily created, but certainly perpetuated by, Gyms and Book Clubs looking to sell memberships.  My co-workers at the station had declared 2009 to be “The Year of Action”, and I thought this year called for something more than my usual list of “Goals”, which is an indirect and watered down euphemism for “Resolutions”.

The thing about “Missions” is that they tend to get accomplished.  Have you ever heard someone say “Resolution Accomplished”?  At best your goals will be “reached”.  I don’t know about you, but that particular verb seems kind of childish and needy to me.  To explain:

Pretty lame, right?  Even if you reach said object (or goal), you looked all awkward and gawky in the process. 

Now “accomplished”, that’s a verb that can lead to a victory lap peppered with high-fives and potential sponsors.  People “slip” on their resolutions and “fail to meet” their goals.  Missions?  If they’re not accomplished, then them mo’fo’s are “aborted”.  That’s not a verb you just throw around, and I think both Pro-Lifers and Pro-Choicers would agree with me there (is this the common ground they’ve been looking for?).

Missions are badass, and 2009 is the year of action.  So consequently I drafted Mission Statement 2009.  As you may know from watching the many movies about missions (as opposed to the few movies that exist about resolutions or goals), there is always some sort of “human” element.  It’s not just about finding the treasure or saving the Queen, it’s also about making a connection with people.

So my Mission Statement included several such elements, most notably the following: OPERATION HOLIDAY.

Holidays have become the bane of my existence.  The majority of my generation has to deal with the juggling act of separated parents, in which every holiday doubles in quantity of locales.  Over the years my family expanded geographically to further complicate the task of holiday get-togethers.  But the final nail in the coffin for my holiday go-get-em cheer was my first Easter in New York City.

I had missed my first Thanksgiving just six months earlier.  I was scheduled for the evening shift, and was unable to find anyone to cover for me.  As an actor, I was constantly trading shifts with fellow employees in order to be able to make the slew of last minute auditions that pop up.  Since I couldn’t get rid of my shift, I figured I may as well help someone else out by taking their day shift and working a double.  The horrible irony of that wondrous day was that we closed before my night shift would have even began as it became clear that no one was going to be coming in for dinner that night. 

Sweet!

I worked Christmas Eve and was able to spend a short two days at my Dad’s just three hours north of the city, the trip being book-ended by crowded Amtrak rides.  I worked the 6:15am shift on New Year’s Eve, and didn’t get to start my Saint Patty’s Day celebration until 1am.  They ironically gave me the one holiday off I never have any use for, Valentine’s Day (take that, Hallmark!).

All these shifts tended to be return-favors for people covering for me.  I learned quickly that the only way I was going to get off when I needed to was if I made it up to people in a big way.  Easter was coming up and I was once again in a situation where there was no way I’d be able to off my night shift: 5:30pm to close.  Feeling a healthy mix of caring and cynical, I suggested to my good buddy Eric Saez that I take his shift on Easter morning so that he could enjoy it like a proper human being.  He protested, but I insisted that there was no way I’d be able to make it up to my Dad’s anyway.

The one catch, however, was that he was scheduled for the 6:15am shift, which normally gets off at about 2:30pm.  I assumed someone would be willing to switch so that my double would be a bit more reasonable, but alas, no one would budge and I was stuck with the 6:15am shift and a nice three hour break.  A bit of a bummer, but at the same time I was happy I could do the favor for Eric, a relentlessly generous and thoughtful fellow.  In fact, it was probably better this way as the three hour break would give me an opportunity to call family and whatnot.

If I already had a sour taste in my mouth for holidays, the two people that decided not to show up for work that day poured some soured milk into my already too tart glass of lemon juice.  My day sucked.

Showing up at 6:15am, I got a net total of 15 minutes off my feet before my shift ended at 11:30pm.  That three hour break kind of took a back seat to our persistent flow of customers.  As I finished my side work at the end of the night, I began what promised to be a lifelong habit of muttering to myself.  Yes, this is normally reserved for alcoholics and crazy people, but it was the only way I could keep my sanity (?).  Instead of my usual stroll home down 34th Street, I waited for the Crosstown Bus, unable to muster up any more strength for the night.

My muttering generally consisted of the following thoughts divided into nonsensical fragments much like the character of Lucky in “Waiting for Godot”:

– I’m done with this city

– I’m quitting acting for good

It was amidst this muttering that I looked out the window at stupid thirty fourth street.  I normally liked this street so much, especially because of the Empire State Building in all its glorious enormity.  But now thirty-fourth street was just stupid.  Stupid and dirty.  Stinkin’ American Eagle store.  Stupid apartment building.  Dumb elephant walking the other way.  Idiotic sidewalks with their…wait…

Elephant?

I snapped out of my newfound state of maniacal muttering and focused my eyes on the line of elephants walking the other way.  This was one of my many ‘New York Moments’, in which I decide I love New York City despite how much it has been kicking me when I’m down.  I decided that this was just another wacky day in my wacky life, and I had to keep truckin’ on.

But in the act of truckin’ on, I had to make peace with the futility of celebrating holidays.  And so began an era of holiday humbug.  I couldn’t help but think that the story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas was a delightful tale of sensibility up until the end when the hero of the story sells out to contrived gaiety driven by commercialism.  But in sharing my analysis with other people I began to suspect that my outlook on holidays was a bit unhealthy.

Mission Statement 2009 set out to rectify this problem:

“Every Holiday this year, I will take the day off and celebrate it with people.  If this means booking an expensive flight or risking my job, so be it – you only live once.”

This is without a doubt the scariest and hardest part of my Mission Statement.  But what Mission doesn’t have a good challenge, right?

First up was New Year’s Eve itself, since the post-midnight section was technically part of 2009.  I went to a gathering and had fun like a normal person, getting home at 4 in the morning (having only imbibed one drink, I would be safe unless the cops tested for Blood Mirth Content).  

The next day I woke up at 9am, eager to begin my mission.  The first thing I did was walk to get a newspaper from the Lankershim Food Mart, the closest thing this town has to a bodega.  I engaged in the standard banter with the guy behind the counter, asking him about his New Year’s.  After telling me about his quiet night at home he followed up with:

“I visited my wife in the hospital this morning.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, what happened”

“She’s in a coma.”

“Oh God, I’m sorry to hear that.”

“It’s been six years.  But, you know, I still have her.  But it reminds me how lucky we all are to be healthy and to be alive.  We must be happy and appreciate the people we have.”

Well shit, guy across the counter, that’s just what I needed to hear.  Commence Mission Statement 2009, OPERATION HOLIDAY.


Midweek Rant #5: Bananas

March 19, 2009

I have of late, but wherfore I cannot quite articulate, become wary of bananas.  In these situations when I can’t quite put my finger on it…I rant.

I rant!

The first hint that bananas need some questioning came from the scallop-filled mouth of my former boss at the Barking Dog Restaurant, George.  Having grown up in Greece, George always had a bit of information to share with you that would in some way contribute to his central thesis that his native country was far superior to America, or any other nation or civilization that ever existed on the Planet Earth.  That includes you, Mayans.  Don’t even think about it, Druids.  Did someone say something about the Pyramids?…I assure you the Greeks built them and transported them to Egypt.  How could the Egyptians do it by themselves?  Their ineptitude is evident in their cave drawings that make the Greeks look like Aliens!

“You have to eat peppers.  Peppers are good source of potassium.  You need potassium in this business because you are on your feet all day.  A lot of these people think bananas are the best source, but it’s not true.”

Outraged, I had to interject: “Whoa! Whoa.  George, you’re trying to tell me bell peppers have more potassium than bananas?!”

“Yes!” he insisted, further driving home the point with a signature fist-pound on the table, creating an effective jingle of cutlery, sugar caddy, and salt & pepper shakers.  “Everyone thinks that bananas are best source of potassium but that’s because they don’t use their brain.  They don’t use their brain!”  (fist pound)

Although originally domesticated in Mexico, bell peppers became a regular element of Greek Cuisine.  Bananas, however, did not.  So my assumption was that George was getting his facts mixed up as he was trying to further illustrate the brilliance of Greece, the country he brags about so much, but after 34 years has yet to return to.

I let it be, and planned to look it up when I got home.

Always the scatter brain, I of course forgot to.  But it was six months later when I was transitioning to veganism that I thought it might be a good idea to learn about nutrition so that I wouldn’t die from malnutrition.  Sure enough, under the caption “Potassium”:

“Though bananas have somehow become famous as potassium-rich foods, in fact mushrooms, tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, and strawberries all have more potassium per calorie than bananas.”  Becoming Vegan by Breanda Davis & Vesanto Melina

Peppers weren’t even listed, but…potatoes?  What kind of nonsense are these vegans spouting?  For a more thorough list, I checked out a nutrition website, in which bananas ranks a solid 38th on the list of nutrient density (all the other sites say the same thing in a less organized and thorough manner):

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=90#foodsources

Even if this number isn’t entirely accurate (nutrient density isn’t particularly telling when considering turmeric), the point remains that there are LOTS of sources of potassium other than bananas.

And yet!

Every single person I have ever asked the question “what would you say is the best source of potassium is” says “bananas.”  Nine out of ten can’t name another source.  Haven’t had anyone name three (and I asked a lot of people because I’m a big dork).

WTF?!

If I were to ask someone what the best source of protein is I would no doubt get lots and lots of answers.  I can only think of one other nutrient that has gets the same treatment:

Calcium!  Ah yes, calcium.  But of course you must drink milk to get calcium.  Well, let’s peek at the list, just in case.

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=45

So there are other sources?  I don’t need an explanation for this one.  The Dairy Industry pumps a lot of money into commercials to make sure you’re of the mindset that “Milk Does a Body Good”.  Thus, Calcium = Cow’s Milk.  So the question arises, why does Potassium = Bananas?

Who is the mastermind behind this fallacy?  For the life of me I could’ve sworn there was a Banana Council, but it turns out that the “Council” belongs to Peanuts (Don’t think I’m not watching you too, peanuts!).  But alas, I can’t seem to find any sort of big organization online that’s brainwashing us into thinking bananas are the only way to get some K (the element on the Periodic table, not the special cereal or rave-drug).

I’m watching you, bananas.  Aside from this guy, I think I’m the only one out there.

Some other things to think about.  Why is this exotic fruit that’s primarily grown in South America and Southern Asia SO easy to find ALL the time?  Ever notice that in old literature bananas are described as this exotic fruit that people are dazzled by (much like it’s less ubiquitous potassium co-champion, the kiwi).  So why so common?  It’s not like it’s super addictive like coffee is.  Ever needed a “banana fix”?  Why is it always sliced into bowls of cereal on Kellogs commercials?  I want answers.

I want answers!

Who am I kidding?  I just want to rant.  Thanks for letting me rant.

 


Chapter 15: The Gym – Part 3

March 16, 2009

I was in the gym locker room yesterday, brushing my teeth after a hard workout.

“You’re not doing yourself any favors.”

I slowly turned to the right, unsure of whether or not the comment was directed at me.  Sure enough, standing five feet away from me was a stout, spectacled fellow of about forty five years, his attention firmly focused on my brushing technique.  He took the cue to continue from what I’m sure was a dumbfounded look on my face.

“I know you think you’re doing a good job, creating all that foam, but it’s not doing much of anything.”

“Oh” I began, searching for the right words, “uh, what is the, uh…?”

“What you wanna do is brush the gums at a forty five degree angle, you’re gonna get the teeth in the process.”

I do my best to execute this approach, with an “is this right?” look on my face.

“You’ve gotta take it easy, you’re still brushing far too hard.  I mean the way you were brushing before was ridiculous.  Way too abrasive.”  Perhaps thinking he had offended me, he added “I mean, I don’t mean to…”

“No it’s fine, no one ever really taught me how to brush my teeth, so…”

Confirming my suspicion, he followed up with: “I always tell my patients, brush the gums at a forty five degree angle.”  Further adding, “But I’ve gotta take my hat off to you, you were really brushing away..I mean, Jeez!”

This was his exit line, which he couldn’t help but say with the chuckle he’d obviously been repressing.  During the entire conversation he was standing right where the counter of sinks ends and the hallway leading to the weight room begins.  He was obviously on his way to work out when my amusingly appalling brushing-technique forced him to make a pit stop.  As he exited I did my best to show my gratitude with a  “thank you”.  I continued brushing, pleased with the free-yet-unsolicited Dental Consultation I had received.

Now you’ll notice in this story that I was in fact the person that was being laughed at, not vice versa.  I got a membership to LA Fitness back in November, and something has been different this time around.

In “The Gym: Part Two”, I talked about my neurological disorder.  It’s some shit.  I had a major episode this past summer, one that made me realize that I needed to step up and do something about it or it would forever mess with my life.  Just like the first time it happened to me when was nine years old, I compressed the radial nerve (much like my grandfather had in World War II).  I woke up the morning of my first rehearsal for “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and it became apparent that the physical comedy that Billy Shakespeare called for would be pretty tough to pull off if I couldn’t even open my left hand.  I dropped out of the play and took a few weeks off to visit family and think about what the heck I could do to solve this life-long problem.

In my last post, however, I referred to the disorder as a blessing.  Not only was it the reason I was alive (as I pointed out in capital letters), but the disorder always seemed to hit when I was not taking care of myself.  In the months leading up to this particular episode, I wasn’t sleeping much, I was carrying tons of stuff with me every day, using a one-strap bag as opposed to a nifty two strap backpack with the strap in front, and I was stressed out in general, trying to accomplish far too many things.

So taking care of myself would be important.  Yada yada.  What the hell does that even mean?  Most people I know that take care of themselves need a slap upside the head.  “Get a job!  Life ain’t a Spa Retreat!”  How do you pay rent AND take care of yourself (ah, the capital letters come back into play).  This was the conundrum that I would be ruminating over during my time away from the city.

Something that had occurred to me a few years earlier was that repetitive motions are very dangerous.  In general they’re not good for you, but with my compression disorder the negative effects are exaggerated.  For my grandfather, training as a sniper included putting compression on the same area of his arm day after day, which ultimately led to his episode.  For me, doing the same weightlifting exercises week after week have taken their toll on me, especially in my legs.  Yoga?  Same thing.  But therein lies the “damned if you do” motif: being in shape helps my body stay healthy and strong, decreasing the amount of compression I’m likely to put on my body, whereas working out generally requires you do the same kind of things week after week, increasing the compression I’m putting on specific areas of my body.

Sheesh!

What had occurred to me a few years back was that in an ideal world, I’d exercise regularly but in as many different ways as possible.  I wouldn’t do the same repetitive motions as often, and I’d stay strong and healthy.

Ah!  But there’s the elephant in the room.  The elephant in the room that reached into my back pocket with its trunk and ate all my money.  Stinkin’ elephant!

Anything that’s going to get you in shape is going to cost you a ton of money.  The only hope you usually have is unlimited passes or regular member discounts, although the best way to go is doing it at home.  But once you’ve invested in a DVD or some sort of machine, you’re kind of limited as to your options.

“Well, I bought this stair climber.  It’d be pretty idiotic and irresponsible to work out in any other way.”

This is why year after year I was doing the same things over and over.  The cheapest gym would have the least amount of equipment, locking you into the same exercise routines.  I got a yoga mat and a DVD – damned if I was going to pay 12 dollars per session.  Not to mention, all of these options include no guidance whatsoever as to the proper use of your body, which can make you prone to some pretty serious injuries.  One of the only ways to provide that is:

The personal trainer!

Ah crap, like I’m going to be able to prevent myself from laughing at Gerald, the Personal Fitness Consultant, let alone afford him.

It was during my 3-Day Trial membership at LA Fitness that it all came together.  A few of my housemates go there, so I tagged along with the Guest Pass.  I walked into the door and before I could blink my eyes I was sitting at the sales desk, being pressured to sign up for a membership by a glossy lady with a penchant for High Fives.

“Well, I’d just like to work out for the three days and see how I like it.”

“You’re awesome, Jesse!” she replied rather matter-of-factly, initiating the third of what would be seven High Fives during my visit.  I was tempted to ask what it was about me that she found so awesome, but refrained as I suspected the explanation would necessitate an onslaught of “up-tops” (three was already way beyond my limit, given my state of sobriety).

I finally freed myself from the (high-fiving) iron claw of the Sales Desk and headed towards the weight room.  It’d been many years since I’d lifted weights, so I was pretty excited to be back in an environment I spent so much time in during previous years of my life.  I maintained full stride as I checked my pectoral-to-rib-cage alignment, but something in my peripheral vision caught my attention…a yoga class.

Hmm.

I’d heard of this before.  Living in New York City, the only gym that was even close to affordable had the bare essentials when it came to equipment.  In Manhattan you don’t just go dedicating space for people to stretch out unless you’re charging them a pretty penny.  But the concept wasn’t completely foreign to me: classes offered at the gym.

I wandered over to the doorway and noticed a schedule posted.  Whoa.  Lots of classes.  Aqua fit?  Don’t you need a pool for that?  They had a pool.  Ah jeez, I thought, this place must be expensive.  But I quickly remembered what Andre told me he paid and how it didn’t seem so bad (35/month), and all of a sudden it occurred to me that this varied workout plan I had always dreamed of might just be possible.  Space is not as hard to come by in Los Angeles, nor are fitness experts.  The teachers at these places were likely to be very qualified, so I’d be in good hands in terms of using my body properly.

Hmm.

That’s when I rack-focused to the classroom itself, which was in plain view of the rest of the gym via the giant windows.  What began as giddy, boyish excitement abruptly transitioned into stark, cold reality.

A roomful of attractive women save for the one effeminate man with a tucked in sleeveless shirt and matching headband.  I thought of all the movies in which men dress up as women and do womanly things.  Tootsie.  Mrs. Doubtfire.  White Chicks featuring the Wayans Brothers.  It always seemed to be so enjoyable for those characters to find themselves in close proximity to lots of women without any men around.  This could be that exact kind of situation except for the fact that I wouldn’t be in disguise, and there’d be giant windows that every guy that walked by would be looking through.

So there was one little wrinkle in my ingenious plan to keep my nervous system healthy.  It’d be the most emasculating thing I’d ever do.  Countless guys would walk be sneaking glances of the pretty girls in Kickboxing Class, only to see me, front and center, hopefully without a head band on, kicking away.  What would they say?  Would it be monosyllabic?  Would it contain the word “Mary”?

I can only imagine the laughter I have induced for the many meatheads that work out at the seven different locations of LA Fitness I go to.  I’m happy to report that I high-fived glossy lady and got myself a membership, initiation fee waived.  I mix it up as much as I can, mainly taking classes but supplementing it with the weight room.  My nervous system has never felt healthier, and I’ve never enjoyed working out more.  But more important than that, I don’t have to live in the constant fear of laughing at a meathead and dealing with the subsequent altercation it provokes.  No, no, this isn’t a problem for me at all anymore…

They laugh at me. 


Midweek Rant #4: The Benefit of Ranting in Public

March 12, 2009

When I lived in New York City, my roommate Brian Bernys and I were walking on 42nd Street in Times Square one night, when the outgoing friendliness that we were accustomed to in the small college town of Geneseo managed to put us in an awkward situation.

As we walked with the general flow of foot traffic, a cab decided to lay on the horn for a solid twelve seconds, trying to send some sort of message to the car that was blocking it’s way (blocking it’s way to a congested crosswalk that the cab would not have been able to pass through, of course).  Bernys and I looked over at the car, just as another fellow was looking.  We both turned back, and we were put in that weird situation where you feel the need to say something to the other person.  At least that’s how we rolled in Upstate New York.

“Not gonna do much for ya, buddy” said Bernys, including the fellow pedestrian in his joke.  Seemed like the right thing to do, in the sense of spatial relationships.  I turned my attention to the shabbily dressed fellow, letting him know that he was now part of our temporary “group” (the group that had just witnessed the angry honker, and that was walking down 42nd Street).  New York City is actually filled with lots of friendly people, and this fellow was not shy in joining in.

“Yeah, fucking terrorists.  It’s always the terrorists driving cabs.  I’d almost rather have it be the n***ers…etc”

Hmmm.  It’s not that people in Upstate New York don’t say things like this, in fact racism is probably more common there.  It’s just that when people say innocuous things, commenting on the surroundings in an attempt to be jovial and friendly, the response generally doesn’t include the N-Word, let alone the stereotyping of an entire ethnicity based on the actions of a small extremist group.  And given the fact that Times Square is nicknamed the “Crossroads of the World” for good reason, this was the least comfortable place you could hear someone say something like this.

So Bernys and I did the turn-around, cutting off what I suspected was going to be a long-winded rant.  We must have passed the store we were looking for.  We quickly escaped our new found “group”.  You know when you wait until you’re out of earshot until you start talking about what just happened?  That’s what I figured would happen.  But by the time we were far enough away, there was nothing really to say.  We didn’t talk about it until a few hours later.  All it really got was the shake of the head.  The “man people here are messed up” shake of the head.

I couldn’t help but think of this encounter a few days ago when I myself was the explosive “ranter” in such a situation.

Walking back to the Metro from the Los Angeles Kings game Monday night, my housemate informed me that you have to pay an extra thirty cents to transfer from one line to another.  I assured him he was mistaken, that transferring between subways is free.  I was starting to get heated up because he was so sure of himself.  What would make him think something so ridiculous?  He started to show me what was written on the ticket, but before I could look I was distracted by the lady walking curiously close behind us.

Turning back to look, the woman was quick to acknowledge her proximity.

“Yep, I’m walking with you guys!”

She started laughing.  But before you start picturing a stream of maniacal laughter pouring out of a disheveled bag-lady, this was instead a delightful chuckle coming from a very pleasant woman that was very well dressed.  A big, warm smile on her face, it was clear that she was joining my housemate and I so that she would not be walking alone.  It was, after all, 10pm at night on a dark alley road that could aptly be described as sketchy.

I was, of course, thrilled to be of help to this lady.  I come from the land of Upstate New York, where people look out for each other.  Of course she could walk with us!

Now that we were a “group,” I felt the need to include her in our current conversation.

“Do you know if you have to pay extra to transfer from the Blue Line to the Red Line?”

“Yes, you have to pay an extra thirty cents for the transfer” she informed me, with a bemused smile on her face, looking not at me, but straight ahead.

I wasn’t expecting such a succinct answer, and immediately burst into a rapid-reflex-reaction-rant that went something like this: “What kind of a Fascist system is that?  They expect people to use the Metro instead of driving a car, and they’re going to nickel and dime them like that?  That’s trash!  Trash!  It’s like you’re encouraging people to hate the Metro…”

The dot-dot-dot means there’s more to come.  This is where I notice that the bemused smile is still on her face, still facing ahead.

“…I got a monthly TAP Card when I first moved here, and you know what they said to me?  They said ‘keep the receipt so we know you didn’t steal it’ – didn’t steal it?  What kind of a backwards system is that?  The slogan for the card is “Smart. Simple. Secure”.  Are you kidding me?  Simple?  Not so simple if I gotta hold onto not only the card but the receipt.  Why give me the card in the first place?  I mean am I some kind of a jerk?…”

Noticing that the bemused smile was still on her face, and she was still facing forward, I felt the need to back up for a second.

“I just moved from New York City, where you buy an unlimited card and it covers subways and buses, and you register it online so if you lose it you can cancel it.  Transferring from train to train is just something you’re allowed to do; you can ride the subway all day if you’d like to.”

She finally responded, “Ah, New York City, they’re the best when it comes to public transportation, we have to hand it to them.”

I didn’t have anything to say to this, I just thought to myself, “yeah, that’s true”.

“Are you walking to the Metro right now?”

“Yeah, we just got out of the hockey game, we live in North Hollywood so we take the Blue to the Red.”

“Great.  Well as an elected official, I want to say ‘thank you’ for riding the Metro.”

Oh.

It gets better.  She’s on the Metro San Gabriel Valley Governance Council.  I’m talking to someone that is working to get more people to take the Metro!  There was nothing for me to do in this situation but to laugh at the fact that I just ranted and raved like a lunatic about the Metro, seemingly out of nowhere, to someone that has been elected to make it better.  I made no attempt to take back anything I said, and instead took the opportunity to suggest they start making the Subway to the Sea, extending the Purple Line down Wilshire all the way to the Pacific Ocean.  She told me that in fact legislation had just passed and I said that that was great.  Then we parted ways.

So the moral of this Midweek Rant?  Real life ranting, while it may make people uncomfortable, does have the tiny chance of actually mattering. 

Hey, people always say they want honesty.  Well, Council Member Sharon Martinez got it.


Chapter 14: The Gym – Part 2

March 9, 2009

When we last left off, I was in what would be my last visit to the gym for four years. In an attempt to keep myself from laughing at all the ridiculousness around me, I allowed the cacophony of grunts and growls to blend into one, blurry state of noise.  This way I wouldn’t laugh at any of the intimidating meatheads around me, and I’d be able to make it out of the gym in one piece.  I had faced quite a few challenges, but found my state of Zen as I attempted my tenth and final repetition on the isolated bench for bicep curls.  But then it happened…

Into focus walked a concerned and helpful meathead who must seen my previous repetition and thought that I needed a spot. 

“I gotcha!  C’mon.  Push it.  Push it!”

I finished my last rep without any actual help, unless you counted the verbal support.  But apparently this guy thought I needed more than just a spot.  He must have saw room for improvement, thinking to himself “that guy’s biceps aren’t as developed as they should be”.

“You got two more!”

“I’m just doing ten, thanks man” I informed as I started to bring the bar back down to the rack.

“No man!  Two more.  TWO MORE!  You got it, boss.  C’mon, push it!”

At this point I have no choice but to channel the laughter into my biceps, preventing as ass whooping and instead achieving two extra reps that I truly didn’t believe I had in me.

“That’s what I’m talking about!” he exclaimed as he shook my hand afterwards.  “I knew you had it.  I’m Brad”

I’m about to burst.  “Jesse”.

“Hey, can you give me a spot over here?”

Oh sweet Jesus this is what’s going on.  So there I am, spotting Brad, when I reach the end of my rope.  What was it that put me over the edge?  Here I am spotting Brad, who has apparently confused his chest for a trampoline as he does the bench press, when I hear something that topples any self restraint I have.

If you, the reader, were in front of me, I would pinky-swear that I am not exaggerating this.  Coming from a large guy two bench presses away from me, I hear this:

The only thing that can describe what I heard, and what you just heard if you played the video, is an orgasmic scream.  I was in complete shock as I started to wonder if every bench in the gym is more contaminated than the sheets of a run down Motel 6, practically paralyzed at this point with a state of mind that could only be described as Twilight-Zone-ish.

“aggh.mmmm…bro…BRO!”  I look down and there is Brad, beet red with two hundred and thirty five pounds lying on his rib cage.

Oh shit.

I reach over and start to pull up the bar, most likely giving him the same treatment I got from the moisturizing gentleman in the locker room, struggling for a bit before we both lift it up.

“What the fuck, bro?” cries Brad after fifteen seconds of hyperventilation.

What do you say in this situation?  How do you start your explanation?  What could smooth things over with Brad?

Certainly not the burst of maniacal laughter that came out of my mouth.  The worst part was that I was actually trying to explain myself, so I maintained eye contact with Brad as I just laughed and laughed, right in his face.  I finally hit the point where I realized I had messed up, and needed an exit strategy.  What nifty escape technique did I use?  I just said, “I gotta go, sorry”.  Then I turned around and walked away.  Hmm.  This probably wasn’t the most clever approach, but I didn’t look back to see how it worked.

I rushed to the locker room, got my stuff, and got the hell out of there, laughing all the way.  As I was walking out the door, Vinnie (my friend from middle school) asked me if I wanted to renew my membership.  I tried to tell him “no” but I just looked at him and laughed. 

I was finally on 49th Street.  Freedom!  Fresh air…

I booked it home, worried that if I looked back there’d be a pack of guys in ribbed A-Shirts hobbling down Eighth Ave.  Maybe they’d have pitch forks and torches, maybe they’d have lat-pull-down attachments and protein shakes.  But either way, they’d be hobbling because they were so sore from that extra rep.  If I kept looking forward I’d outpace them.

Safe in my apartment, I decided that maybe that gym membership renewal wasn’t quite worth it.

So I instead walked a lot.  For years and years I’d just walk a few miles a day on top of the walking I already did, living in New York City..  A jog here and there.  Push ups in my room.  Occasional yoga class, the more occasional DVD.  Jumping Jacks in my apartment to get blood flowing.  And I thought I ‘d never go back.

But then the day came…when I DID!

I capitalized “did” because I thought it would be so surprising that it was bound to jolt you.  Who knew that was coming?  Am I right?  Ever get a text message or email that is in all capital letters?  It’s pretty freaky, am I right?

Now that you’ve had time to recover from that curveball of epic proportions, you may be wondering what made me go back to the gym.  To explain, I’ll need to tell a story.  It’s lengthy and wordy, but there will be a jolt of capital letters at the end.  In other words, it will be “worth it”.  (your interest is still not piqued?…it’ll be WORTH IT…you in?…good).

My grandfather, like most men of his generation, was in the Service during World War 2.  While in the Marines his superiors took notice of his accurate shot and decided to train him as a sniper.  Back in the day, the best way to ensure a steady shot was a tight strap wrapped around the middle of the left arm.  He trained for six months until he had earned a sniper’s medal, and was deemed ready to be sent to battle.

About to be shipped out to Okinawa, Japan, he was paid a visit by one of the high-ups in the Marines (I’m sure there’s a title that’s impressive but it’s escaping me).  Walking down the line, this high-up was saluted by each and every Marine, who would present his gun and show that it was unloaded before spinning it around back over his shoulder.

It was my grandfather’s turn and when he went to place the gun back on his shoulder he dropped it. 

“Barnard!  Pick up that gun!”

Frantic, my grandfather picked up his gun and attempted to finish the salute again without dropping it this time, but had little choice in the matter.  That morning, his wrist had gone completely limp.  He had trouble opening his fingers, and extending his arm until it was completely straight seemed unusually difficult.  He dropped the gun again.

Now I’m not a military expert or anything, but I’ve seen enough movies to know that dropping your gun is one of the worst things you can do.  This is the thing that is protecting your life, and you treat it with the utmost respect.  The gun is your best friend.  Now over the years I’ve punched my best friend in the face, stolen his bike, and eaten his food, but never have I just carelessly dropped him on the ground.  My grandfather’s actions were so despicable, he got the impression he was going to be court-martialed.

Something that is curious about war is that people don’t always necessarily want to fight in them.  Even in World War II, perhaps the last time our country was truly unified in our opinion of the mission, there were some people who just didn’t want to go fight and possibly die.  Understandable. 

So here was my grandfather, looking like some kind of yellow, spineless war-dodger.  He underwent a week of psychological profiling along with the more relevant medical testing.  The Marines were informed that he was not in fact trying to squirm out of the war, but was truly unable to move his wrist.  His radial nerve appeared to be damaged.

Years later I would undergo more advanced medical testing, and his story would make a bit more sense.  He had a genetic disorder, which must have been the result of a mutation somewhere along the line in his family.  It results in a deficiency of myelin sheath, the outer coating of nerves.  When a nerve is compressed, myelin sheath acts as a guide in it’s regeneration.  With a deficiency, regeneration gets slowed down big time.  So that strap that was steadying my grandfather’s gun was also compressing his radial nerve, and once it was cut off it would take a solid five months to come back.

It’s similar to multiple sclerosis, except that it isn’t progressive.  In other words, it’s as bad as it’ll ever be.  I got the gene passed down to me, and it seems to affect me more than anyone else in my family.  Over the years I’ve battled with it in six major instances, and a whole bunch of minor ones. 

When I tell people about the disorder, I usually get concerned eyes.  As much as I appreciate the concern, I can’t help but look at this disorder as a blessing.  It always tends to happen to me when I’m not taking care of myself.  So it’s kind of a motivation to take care of myself (which seems to be hard to find these days).

But even better than that: It’s the reason I’M ALIVE.

Holy crap!  What is this kid talking about?  He busted out those capital letters he promised long ago.

When my grandfather was affected by the neurological disorder for the fist and only time, it prevented him from being shipped out to Okinawa, where his entire company was killed within two weeks.  If he didn’t have the neurological disorder, he would’ve been with them, and no doubt would have perished.  Instead he spent four months in physical therapy, and by the time he was ready to go the war was ending.

Ain’t that some shit.

So what does this have to do with going to the gym again?  Good question.  More next week…TUNE IN!

Sorry.  I just figured if I used capitals it’d jolt you enough to want to tune in next week….