Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Born To Be a Trainer...Or Something Like That

Growing up I dreaded the week of gym class reserved for the Presidential Physical Fitness test. The only activity I ever had a shot at was the shuttle run. Run out there, pick up the eraser, and bring it back. I was a little guy. Short, quick, bursts, that was my game. Strength and endurance? Forget it. I could barely do one pull up and I don't even know if they considered me a participant all those years I wheezed my way to the finish line of the mile. 

Well, time heals all wounds. So does a little mobile-phone-magic. Check out these promo pieces for the awesome Nike+ Training app I voiced a few months back. If only Ms. Chatfield could see me now...or hear me...or whatever.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Precipice For The Rest Of Us

Greeted with a reminder of how easy it is fall off the sheer mountain cliff, we stood at the bottom of Precipice Trail, our third day in Acadia National Park.

"You sure you want to do this hike?" Bridget asked.

"Sometimes you just gotta grab life by the balls," I answered.

"Just do it carefully," Bridget said. "Grabbing the balls, I mean."

Precipice Trail is steep. 1,000 feet to the top of Champlain Mountain in about 1 mile and a half. You literally have to pull yourself up by the 100 year old iron ladder rungs that you hope to God wont suddenly decide to dislodge themselves from the mountainside. Not for the faint of heart. And not for the kid who was barely able to convince himself to jump off the 20 foot tall high-dive platform in eighth grade. Yet sometimes the most essential part of the most rewarding journey is choosing to ignore all the reasons it's a bad idea.


After a day of driving up from Boston we arrived to our lake house cabin around 10:30pm. We unloaded the car and surveyed the land. A quaint little cabin with a screen porch and deck, built in the 70's, and a smaller sister cabin, the original, built in the 50's. To be clear, I only know the decades and the fact that Mamsie hand picked the $500 piece of property because we decided to read the elaborate 80 page type-written family history that adorned the coffee table inside. Before tucking ourselves in for the night we made our way out to the small dock overlooking Long Pond. Full Moon. It was beautiful...either that or it looked like the setting of the R.L. Stine Goosebumps thriller The Curse of Camp Cold Lake...but we'll go with beautiful. We sat on the dock and took it all in.

"I kinda wanna get in," Lauren said.

"Me too." I surprised myself. I've never been one to opt in for a cold swim in a dark lake at night. I remembered the elementary school parties at Cascade Lake. I struggled enough with water in a pool - I didn't learn to swim until I was ten. Throw in some slimy rocks and what always seems like a myriad of mysterious things rubbing against your ankles. I'm usually good to just admire from the shore.

I'm not sure if it was the full moon, being surrounded by some gorgeous Maine mountains lit up by said moon, or the realization that all the moons and mountains in the universe wouldn't change the fact that it was pretty damn cold on that dock and the water was likely warmer - whatever the reason, I got in - and immediately realized the water was just as cold. We may have been in and out in 5 minutes, shrieking the whole time at how cold and slimy the water was, but dammit if it wasn't exhilarating. 

The next morning we had every intention of waking up our first day in Acadia and hitting the trails early. A stop at the store for some trail snacks and we'd be on our way. We planned for an active vacation. We didn't plan that Yelp's #1 rated Bar Harbor brunch spot would be located right next to the store, or that after finishing brunch we would immediately drive by a local church pie sale. But sometimes life throws you a blueberry pie and you better be ready to catch it - and in this case life was also throwing a key-lime pie as well. They were going fast, there was a lot of pressure, and we did what we could. After waiting in line for twenty minutes the pies were gone in less than three. Suffice to say people in Maine are serious about their pies and we were right there with them.

Two slices later we were setting out on our first hike. A simple trek up the Sergeant Mountain loop trail. About halfway through the five mile roundtrip journey, on top of Sergeant Mountain, the trail meanders right next to Sergeant Mountain Pond. A built in break on a hot day and an opportunity to test your increased buoyancy after pancakes and pie. I dipped my hand in to get a feel for the water and immediately began running through the rolodex of reasons not to get in.
  • Reason #1: It was freezing. (We've already been over this. I'm not a fan.) 
  • Reason #2: I wasn't even that hot, and I didn't really need a break. The water in my camelback would easily do the trick. 
  • Reason #3: Lauren mentioned the possibility of leeches - and instantly reason #3 superseded any other reason. 
I didn't care. It isn't often that you find yourself standing on a mountain top in Maine in front of a beautifully secluded pond with three great friends. The plunge lasted all of sixty seconds - but the pride I felt knowing we fully lived every inch of that hike, lasted the whole way down the mountain.

We woke up rested the next morning, started the day with a slice of pie, and somehow determined that our one hike the day before was enough to warrant a break. At some point we were going to have to concede the fact that this "hiking" trip was very quickly trending toward a trip to a Sizzler's buffet. Regardless, we determined it was a prime day to relax around the cabin and take advantage of Mamsie's water-sports. And so out came the row-boat from the shed. Now, I've kayaked, Ive canoed, I've watched Ryan Gosling in The Notebook expertly maneuver one of these row boats - how hard could it be? Answer: very. Within five minutes of pushing off from the dock we were fast moving in the opposite direction that I was furiously rowing us in. Forty minutes later we had abandoned traditional rowing methods. Lauren and Steph were in the water attempting to pull us by hand, Bridge and I in the boat using the ores to steer clear of rocks, and local residents were shouting from the shores, "You're doing it wrong."

"We know!"  we all shouted back in unison.

Relaxing? Maybe not. One step closer to beating out Gosling for the lead in The Notebook 2? I think so.


Barely two hours afters after we started at the Precipice Trailhead, we arrived at the top of Champlain Mountain. I wanted to look down off the cliffside to see exactly what we had accomplished, but at more than a few places on the way up it felt as though a mistimed sneeze would send you plummeting to your death, so I opted against the look down. A nice sitting rock a healthy distance from any edge was more my speed. I took a deep breath, took off my pack, stared out over the Atlantic Ocean, and just smiled.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Packing Peanuts & Broken Mailboxes

Tears were streaming down my Mom’s face as she turned around from the driver’s seat to take one last look at 3295 Greenway Drive. “Well, say goodbye to the old house, Joe. I guess this is it.”

In my mind, my parent’s move from my childhood home and the house they lived in for 35 years was going to be one of those real-life movie moments, like something out of The Wonder Years. One of those sort of asterisked memories that you tell your kids about later – the time we moved out of my childhood house. I wanted fanfare or something. I wanted the neighbors to all come outside and wave goodbye as we drove into the sunset to the Byrds playing in the background. Instead, Mom was swerving off the road and nearly taking out the neighbor’s mailbox.

“Mom! Eyes on the road!” I shouted as my teary eyed Mom turned off of our street for the last time.

There had been a lot of work involved in getting my parents to that pivotal moment of moving day, most of which my parents took care of on their own, miraculously without killing each other. As soon as the move date was set I had my bus booked. I arrived the day before the move so I could help pack up the last minute things Mom and Dad needed help with - at least that’s what I told them. The real reason, of course, was to make sure my Ghostbusters house and action figures were properly packed and cared for. (Can’t always trust the parents with the well being of some very important plastic people and their place of residence.)

Moving is never easy. As a New York City resident of five years who has pretty much moved every time a 12-month lease has ended, I can attest. But sifting through 35 years worth of crap crammed into two stories of a house in the hopes of “downsizing” is a whole other ballgame. My hopes of taking a nostalgic trip down Memory Lane initially felt more like a trip down There’s Seriously A Ton Of Shit Lane. A random inflatable kayak, a coconut that fell out of a tree on my parent’s honeymoon, multiple strobe lights left over from 70’s basement dance parties, numerous 8-track cassettes, a rotting wooden trailer, the couch a friend of mine threw up on years prior - all needed to go. We got rid of what we could at a surprisingly successful garage sale. The rest tossed or given to Goodwill. Slowly but surely the house emptied. As we cleared away the last boxes of plates and pots in the kitchen, suddenly there was the dinner table that I sat ontop of as a kid to have my hair cut by Dad. There was the kitchen counter where I found my sister’s mace attached to her keychain and decided to spray it in my mouth. I was seven. I was barely a teenager when Benji, the family dog and my best friend, died and we buried him in the backyard. When my high school’s Sno-Ball winter formal was canceled because of a blizzard, I invited everyone to the house in their formal wear. Two years later, the 3rd annual Sno-Ball ended with Becca passed out behind the living room piano and Mom proclaiming there would be no more Sno-Balls. Just a few months ago I said goodbye to that house as Mom almost plowed into the Smith’s front yard.

It’s pretty rare that things play out the way we imagined them to. Most of the time our real lives aren’t written like a movie, and the thing is, I don’t think life is about how many movie moments we can actually realize. I think more often than not, it’s just about being there.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Little Things

It was a year ago September 1st. I stepped off the plane from Chicago, back in New York. A new chapter.

I should probably start at the beginning. It was a crazy decision to leave in the first place, or if not crazy, at least random as hell. At some point last spring I found out that the restaurant I was working at was closing for renovations. The wheels started turning. What to do without a job? There was of course the obvious answer of finding a new one, but that didn't sound fun. I was tired. Tired of working in a restaurant for a year, and honestly I was tired of New York. Being in New York now for over five years I feel like I have these brief flashes of perspective where I realize I'm living in the greatest city in the world...and then a rat-sized cockroach runs over your flip-flopped foot. Sometimes it's hard to see the broad side of a barn if you're standing right next to it, or in my case you only notice that whatever side of this barn you're looking at there's bugs and smells and you'd really like to be looking at a different barn.

Chicago. That was the plan. Somewhere I had never been, but somewhere close enough that I could bring my voiceover equipment and work remotely if necessary (I thought about spending a few months in Thailand, but not exactly a place teeming with recording studios). Chicago also had the added benefit of being home to Second City, the legendary home of comedy's greatest: John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, John Candy, Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, the list goes on and on. I thought about the plan for a long time. Was the idea of randomly uprooting my life a little too ridiculous? Maybe, but what the hell? What's life if you don't take risks? I decided to spend two months in Chicago, taking a variety of intensive classes at Second City and improv workshops at iO.

Halfway through the summer I was biking home after watching my first game at Wrigley Field (a religious experience in and of itself). The game had ended early due to rain - pouring, torrential, thunder and lightning, rain. I was soaked within seconds, freezing cold, and thought I was going to die multiple times on the ride home. As I pedaled home with rain pelting me in the face I knew that if I could make it home alive that it was something I'd never forget. I was making this memory in a new place, and as crazy as it sounds I finally felt at home, like I lived in Chicago. If I hadn't already figured it out, that night I knew that leaving New York for two months was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

I was a little scared to come back to New York. I didn't want to fall back into the same frustration and negativity I tried so hard to escape in the first place. I opened my notebook on the plane ride back from Chicago and jotted down a few words.

"A new perspective. A new outlook. A new chapter in New York. And so I'm going to approach it the same way: with wide-eyed optimism. Finding the unfamiliar in the familiar. Allowing myself to 'discover' a new New York."

I promised myself I would invest more time and energy into my acting career. I had spent the previous year getting my voiceover work off the ground, now it was time to get back on stage, to get back in front of a camera, to get back into classes. I also knew I didn't want to work six days a week at a restaurant like I had been. I wanted a part time job I actually enjoyed doing.

Last October I made my New York stage debut, albeit was playing a questionably racist Mexican character, but a New York stage debut nonetheless. That same month I joined the New Mercury Theater company and in December we put on our first benefit performance for charity. I began working with Matt Newton, a amazingly talented acting coach who has taught me a lot over the last several months. In January I signed a new voiceover contract with Paradigm. And in June, after a three year break I started new classes at Upright Citizens Brigade theater, I was cast on a new improv team, and got new headshots taken.

As for the part time job - in April, after studying my ass off for three weeks, and then taking an endlessly long exam asking the most random questions about New York you can imagine, I became an officially licensed tour guide. I taught myself more than I ever thought I wanted to know about New York and I literally re-discovered a whole new city. I was hired by Urban Oyster, an amazing tour company that does walking food tours through New York neighborhoods. Now, I did get a few people lost while guiding a tour a few months back, but I'm confident I've rectified that problem. Here's hoping.

It's not always about the big things. In fact, more often than not I think recognizing the little things along the way are sometimes even more important.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Yearbook Committee

Super stoked about my new improv team, Yearbook Committee. We're part of the PIT's 10,000 hours program. Now, I'm sure there are a few people that have no idea what I'm talking about so here's a quick catch up.

The People's Improv Theater is one of the top two long form improv theaters in New York. A little over two years ago PIT house team member Julia Morales founded 10,000 hours, a PIT enrichment program designed for improv students to practice their craft through organized and budget-friendly practice sessions. As part of the program Julia holds auditions twice a year to cast a rotation of five 10,000 hour teams that each perform two Sundays out of the month. I was fortunate enough to be cast on a team this past June.

Like I said, super stoked. I know the nine of us have a lot of potential as a group, and we're booked out through next June so it'll be exciting to see how much we can grow over the next year.

Stop by our Facebook page and help us rack up some more likes. Also check out the new team photo. Pop Quiz: who wasn't actually at this photo shoot/who wasn't actually wearing a white polo?

If you're in and around the city come check out our next few shows and hang out after, I may even buy you a beer!

Sunday, September 15 @ 6:00pm - People's Improv Theater (123 East 24th St, New York, NY)
Sunday, September 29 @ 6:00pm - People's Improv Theater (123 East 24th St, New York, NY)
Sunday, October 20 @ 6:00pm - People's Improv Theater (123 East 24th St, New York, NY)
...dates continue through June 2014!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Finding a New Seat

Bridget was quiet but the look on her face was definitely saying, “The girl sitting next to us in this movie theater is definitely shitting her pants.” Maybe it was also the smell that clued me in, or the fact that this girl was forcefully kicking the seat in front of her as if she was birthing an eight-pound infant. Let me tell you, this was no infant.

Let’s face it, sometimes people shit their pants. Sometimes people shit all over someone else’s couch. Sometimes the ‘shit’ that happens is a crazy lady from Craigslist placing a curse on you and your girlfriend, or maybe it’s an exhilarating morning of ball surgery (I’m pretty sure that’s the proper medical term).

About two years ago I made some shit happen when I quit my desk job. I was unhappy where I was and I made the tough decision to leave for unpaid uncertainty – the life of a comedy actor and voiceover guy. It’s one of the most ridiculous things I could have chosen to do with my life. I’ve had a few modest successes over the last 24 months, but it can definitely be easy to start freaking out when it’s been a few months since the last booking. In such an absurdly competitive environment, it’s easy to start focusing too much on what’s next and how you can make it happen that you end up missing everything else.

I think we all can agree that actually making a living doing what you love would be a dream come true, but no one can know exactly what the future holds. If the ticket guy had warned me, “Hey, a lady usually comes in halfway through the movie and takes a dump in the 6th row,” I probably would have sat somewhere else. But life isn’t about knowing what happens next. It’s about enjoying the journey it takes to get there. Even if that means politely stepping over the lady shitting herself as you move to a new row.