Tuesday, September 24, 2013

On This Whole Aging Thing

Today is my 35th birthday.  Maybe 11 or possibly 12 years ago, I began a little ritual of sitting down and just writing for an hour every year on the anniversary of my birth about whatever comes to mind.  Topics typically range from work, to life, love, death, friendship, sex, philosophy and the general state of my affairs.  I haven’t exactly been the best student at keeping up with this self-imposed tradition, but since this is one of the “big ones”—and because I actually have some things on my mind to say—I thought that as I celebrate the end of my 35th go-round of this little blue ball floating out in the ether for reasons we know not, I figured it was high time to pick up the quill and again ruminate on all things that face me as I stare down the beginning of year 36 of EFA. 

As with everyone else, perhaps one of the surest signs of age I perceive is in my physical appearance.  A few more gray hairs, a few more wrinkles, more of a beer-saving compartment at my midsection than there used to be.  Losing weight is harder than before (although I am typing during the midst of an 11-day cleanse, which is helping in that particular regard), I’ve now been dealing with a bad lower back for six years, I seem to sleep more and get tired just a little bit more easily.

Honestly, other than that, things are pretty good, and for my health I’m thankful.  My friends and I have been grousing about the descent of our bodies from the tip-top peak shape of our early twenties for close to a decade now.  With medication, exercise, yoga and various other methodologies, I’ve been able to get by reasonably well in spite of my two herniated discs and ankylosing spondylitis—a rare form of arthritis that typically manifests when a male is in his late twenties (mine popped up at 29).  My jogging days are long since behind me thanks to these maladies, but I can still hike, bike, walk fast and do a little bit of running within reason.  My heart rate gets up several times a week, and I’m beginning to eat a little better.  Partly because I don’t burn off calories as briskly as I used to, partly because I just want to live a little healthier as I careen towards my “middle ages.” 

I’ve been on mood-altering medication for over three years at this point.  I’ve suffered panic episodes and depression off and on since I was 15.  Three years ago, while working at “the magazine” and things went to shit, it got so bad that I could no longer function healthily.  I started out on the lowest possible dose of an SSRI, and thus far have only had to up the dosage once (although, for various reasons, I may be due for another upage).  Without question, this has wrought a major, positive change in my life.  I’m still me, I still get down in the dumps sometimes, still sometimes wring my hands in agitation on occasion, but generally things have leveled off to a far more manageable degree, and I’m not going through daily life a walking wreck anymore—as I was before the meds started. 

And join the club.  Many or most of my friends are now—or have been at some point—on mood-altering medications of some order.  I firmly believe the stigma has gone away, and there’s greater compassion nowadays for the very real phenomenon that unbalanced brain chemistry can be as hazardous a premise as cooking up Walter White’s “blue”: Handled haphazardly and incorrectly, stuff’s gonna ‘splode.  (And just look to such sad events as Newtown, the Navy Yard, the Colorado “Joker” shootings and elsewhere for what can—and does—happen when potentially dangerously imbalanced individuals don’t get the help they need.) 

My career has been on a slow, intermittent burn since I went full-time freelance three years ago.  I’ve made enough to survive, if not to thrive.  Flush times invariably are followed by the fallow.  At present, things are fallow: I was laid off from my most recent contract editing job middle of August and have had absolutely no income in a month and a half’s time.  Last I checked (and I need to recheck) I will not qualify for unemployment again until after Thanksgiving.  If I can’t get work in my virtuosity fields of editing, writing, film and TV production or vocal arts, by the holidays I’ll most likely be taking your order at Ruby Tuesday’s. 

I’m not “above it.”  In my life I’ve done absolutely every possibly low-paying, thankless job you can think of.  I’ve stuffed envelopes for two consecutive days for $8 an hour.  I’ve bussed tables, sold my soul to focus groups, given cheap tours of my alma mater, laid sod in the hot California sun and even worked for a medical company that produced anal probes.


Sure, I have a college degree; so what?  That makes me no more special than the two of diamonds.  I happened to enter the workforce right after the dot.com bubble burst, and then came 9/11, Enron, Iraq, the global financial crisis, outsourcing and the implosion of the print industry at the hands of the Interwebs.  Before I ever went to college, I worked decidedly thankless, blue-collar jobs for not much money.  I’ve never had too much pride to do it again to make ends meet. 

As a friend of mine once said, the world doesn’t owe you a damn thing.

My only solid job prospect at present is in Washington, DC.  I interviewed there three weeks ago, was told nine days ago I’d made it to the next round and would soon hear more, and have since heard nothing.  My daily grind consists of sending out upwards of 20, sometimes 30, resumes per day. 

Do the math yourself.

I’ll get by.  I always do.  And there are many, many others out there who are far worse off than myself.  I’m in the enviable position of having to provide solely for myself.  I’m not married, I have no children (that I know of), no pets and my parents are still relatively with it and still working. 

Every year, my dad inevitably asks how I “feel” about turning another year older.  I always shrug: “It’s just a number.”  People who worry that they aren’t hitting certain goalposts by certain years are just setting themselves up for disappointment and surefire disquiet.  Yes, I’m closer to my end than this time a year ago, but I stand by my assertion that the thirties are way better than the twenties!  There’s more self-confidence, you care less about lots of the little things, have an easier time letting some things go, and certainly more ease with casting out those negative influences in your life.  I have no time for negativity and Debbie Downers.  I’m not your therapist; get a fucking shrink. 

Listen, we all get down now and again, but I’m not talking about garden-variety depression.  I’m talking about people who never, ever can be happy, even for a moment.  You know the type…you can show up at their house with a giant chocolate cake studded with diamonds and covered with hundred-dollar bills and they’d still find something to complain about.  These are the same people who never have anything to add to the conversation that doesn't directly revolve around themselves and their own neuroses.  Who keep recycling the same five uninteresting stories and bitch and moan about the exact same shit year after year after year after year without ever making any steps whatsoever to change their lot—people whose 2013 incarnations you could swap out for their 2003 incarnations without any noticeable difference…the two versions would likely even yap the same shit in unison. 

George Carlin put it best: “God, people are fucking boring!”

Fortunately, I was blessed with ADD, meaning that I’m perfectly capable of tuning you out if you start boring me, even though it appears that I’m still paying attention.  All you gotta day is repeat back a few phrases the other person says and they’ll think you care.  Meanwhile, I can go on thinking about organizing my sock drawer or what movie I’m going to watch that night while you prattle on incessantly about how you can never get enough together to move out of your parents’ house. 

I think I’m gonna stop doing that, however.  Get ready for more honesty than you ever wanted. 

Ten years ago, I certainly believed I’d be married by 35.  Such has not proven the case for a whole host of reasons.  For one, I’m picky and bore easily.  If she doesn’t fascinate me, I’m certainly not going to pretend.  I’ve been in love and in extreme like many times over the past half-decade.  For various reasons, none of those persons were willing to go the distance with me.  Or even try.  I was in a relationship for the last few years of my twenties; that person and I currently do not speak. 

Since the Ex and I split, I’ve enjoyed a few unbridled years of serial dating and a playboy mindset.  My attitude after 30 was come one, come me…I mean, er, come all.  I gave anyone a chance for a few years.  Partly to get some experience under my belt, partly to see if there were others out there with whom I could genuinely connect.  There were a few contenders, ones with whom I felt a serious connection and desire to up the level from cas to something more meaningful and ditch all other comers.  This may sound arrogant, but in every such instance, it was all…their…fault.  I’ve been at fault a number of times in my dating life, but whenever, in the past five years, I’ve expressed a serious desire to build something more serious, the woman has been the one to put the kibosh on anything. 

I was raised with the premise that men are commitment-phobic, and that women want to settle down and get serious.  While there’s definitely some truth to that, what most women don’t realize is that when a guy finds the right girl, he’ll move heaven and earth (and occasionally hell) to make it happen.  I did my best in a number of instances these past few years to move the universe, to give and give and be accommodating and meet halfway.  Each time I was met with outright rejection and a lack of even the willingness to attempt a compromise. 

So I continued my playboy life.  That is, until about a month or so ago.  Granted, I’m unemployed and could be moving anywhere for a new job, but while on a date last month, I basically decided that I’d had enough.  Not because of anything this person said or did, but largely because the conversation was entirely her-centric, she asked me no questions, and I felt like I was only there to validate all of the sordid tales of her previous dating experiences.  She didn’t do anything improper or piss me off in any serious way, but I basically didn’t care.  I just wasn’t into the game anymore. 

I came home that night and deleted all of my online profiles.  I no longer pursue or “play the game.”  Honestly, I’ve had my fun.  I’ve been out of that previous relationship for five years.  I had a specific number in mind of people I wanted to hook up with before my next serious relationship.  Not only did I meet my number, I’ve more than doubled it. 

So what?  Well, for its own sake, the experiences were fun, great for the stories, great for themselves.  Sex is usually fun (although not always, but those are tales for another day).  I learned more about myself as a person and as a potential companion.

More importantly, I learned what I don’t want in a partner.

So now I enter an age where most of my contemporaries are married, remarried, divorced or in long-term relationships.  The same people are single season after season for their own reasons.  I’ve tried.  I really, really tried to get into a relationship many times since I turned 30 and became a serial dater. 

I also realized something more existential of late.  Someone asked me recently where I pictured myself in five or ten years.  I rattled off the list of accomplishments: successful author, maybe with a few short films produced under my belt, singing with a cover band, maybe going back to California to live in Santa Barbara, more travel, more fun, more adventures, trying out more new beers wherever I go.  Basically, more or less what I do now.

It occurred to me in the telling, however, that at no point did I mention a significant other being in the equation.  At first I thought that I should be sad about that, but then I pulled myself back from that brink.  It’s OK.  Actually, it’s better than OK.  First of all, as I mentioned earlier, at 25 I forecast I’d be married by now.  Making projections about your future is a fruitless endeavor given that no one can see his or her own destiny in advance. 

But more than that, I think of late I’m beginning to come to some semblance of peace with the notion that for the here and now, I can’t see a mate really adding anything significant to my life.  All of my major trips of the past few years (Australia, New England and Canada, California on several occasions) have been on my own, without friend or family of any kind by my side.  I get to make all of the decisions and do what I want to do when I want to do it.  There’s no jostling for consensus or jousting for position.  It’s I, me, mine, all the time. 

And I meet people along the way.  One of the best things about traveling alone is picking up with strangers in strange lands for activities and impromptu fun.  Or visiting friends of yore and grabbing a bed or a couch for the night without having the baggage of a second person to bunk.  For my 32nd birthday I flew up from home in L.A. to Eugene, Oregon, to visit a girl I was seeing at the time.  For my 33rd birthday two years ago, I snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef off of Cairns on the first full day of the three-week tour; that night, several of my tourmates and I went out for drinks and painted the town red (I got absolutely awful food poisoning from that night’s dinner, but that’s for another time). 

The fun is wherever I go.  It requires no preparation or suitcases of party aids. 

Look magazine once published an article with sociological data that claimed that if a man does not marry by 35, the odds are he never will. Rather than huff and puff at this, I choose to see it another way: I am the patron saint of bachelorhood!  Boys, you be boys as long as you want to, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

Our society haaaaaates single people with a passion.  Don’t believe me?  Try going to a wedding alone, and the questions range from “Where is your wife or girlfriend?” to “Are you gay?” My answer to all such inquiries is the same: fuuuuuuuucccck you!!!!  I don’t need to explain myself to you.  If my being solo here makes you uncomfortable, then maybe you should keep a better eye on your date.  After all, they have been known to be found with me doing shots at the bar.  I’m just sayin’. 

I guess I’m just dealing with a different mode of thinking at present.  For so many years I’ve been focused on finding “the one” but still taking time out for “the ONES” who came along in the meantime.  But I’m tired of the search.  Honestly, I do pretty well at rockin’ and rollin’ on my own.  If I need to scratch the proverbial libidinous itch on occasion, I can—and will.  That’s not been a problem since I pulled myself out of that self-hating morass of my twenties and into the “here I come” modality of my thirties. 

To wrap things up on a slightly more morbid note, last month I read a story on CNN about a Kansas City sportswriter who, on his 60th birthday,put a gun in his mouthHe was healthy, successful, not depressed, in no physical pain and had no terminal disease.  He basically decided that 60 was…enough.  Better to go out then, he reasoned, than to become old and infirm and losing his mind to senescence. 

Now before you all race to the phone with your fingers above the “9” and the “1” keys, let me just say out loud that I have no intention whatsoever of doing harm to myself.  Firstly, doing such a thing is simply not my style.  Secondly, there are still, as Walt said on Breaking Bad two weeks back, “things I have to do.”  Like finish my book, which is alllllmost done!  I want to publish it, tour with it, talk about it, and then move on to something else.  There’s plenty of projects left for my time and efforts.

But here at 35, I find myself looking backwards instead of forwards.  Most of the goals I ever set for myself have been met.  Items have fallen off the bucket list like dried rice on flypaper.  I’ve been to 39 states.  I’ve traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Mexico.  I’ve been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Oktoberfest in Munich (and next month, the Great American Brewfest in Denver).  I’ve been in plays with major movie stars.  I’ve sung at the Hollywood Bowl.  I’ve been on TV and in the newspapers.  I’ve written for newspapers and national magazines.  I got up on stage with a cover band in front of dozens of my high school classmates at our 15-year reunion in 2011 to sing “American Girl” and was the belle of the ball.  I’ve been at a party where there were 100 naked women just walking about.  I’ve dated a lot of women.  Read tons of books and seen even more movies.  I’ve met several of my heroes, including Bill Maher, Conan O’Brien and Jeff Bridges.  Been to well over a hundred rock shows.  Lived on both coasts.  Met oodles of rock stars, movie stars and various other celebrities.  Made friends by the boatload. 

I’ve had sushi and sake in Salt Lake City, for fuck’s sake. 

Some people never do a damn thing; I’ve done so much.  I could go out today like that Kansas City sportscaster a happy man.  I have no desire to procreate—and have taken proactive steps to ensure that end.  I lack the egocentric premise of “passing on” items and traditions to a new generation.  When in the Outback, I learned that when someone in the Aboriginal community dies, there is a week of wailing and mourning, after which point the departed is never spoken of again.  Ever. 

Why do we feel this need to be immortal by procreating beyond ourselves?  Personally, I’d rather tear out my path while I’m here and do as much damage while I’m here.  No one ever need follow or pick up the pieces in my wake. 

To answer my father’s question, no, I am not bothered by 35 any more than I was by 34 or 30 or 22.  Life is a journey, and I’m enjoying mine.  Even though I look at my past as fulfilled, I realize I’m still peaking.  There’s much left to be done.  Much left to see.  Much left to do. 

More stories for me to share with the rest of you.

And now I have written for one hour and 40 minutes.  I think this year’s birthday goal has been accomplished. 

See you at 36.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hollywood Days and Night(mare)s: The Princess Kiss

I've encountered a fair number of celebrities in my day, through working in the television and film industries, living in Los Angeles for a decade and a half--where celeb run-ins are part of daily life--and just through the luck of the draw and being in the right place at the right time.  I've been fortunate to meet several of my heroes, including Conan O'Brien, Bill Maher, Jeff Bridges and Weird Al Yankovic, and to work in professional capacities on shows and films with folks like Greg Proops and Rachel Hunter.  I've been an actor in plays with such luminaries as Malcolm McDowell, George Wendt and William Atherton.  During my four-year tenure at Hustler, because the entertainment editor Keith Valcourt had the office next to mine, he invited me along to many a photo op with rockers and movie stars.  I have dozens of pictures to back it up, but all of that is surface glitz and basking in refracted glory of the famous.

I like stories, and I like sharing good stories.  I've got some good ones from my years in Tinseltown as both a working professional and simply just from hanging around long enough to rub elbows with the rich and the famous (and, in some cases, the infamous).  I thought it was high time I started putting down some of these tales to share.  Some are harrowing, some are horrifying, all are fascinating.

And so begins a new "blog miniseries," "Hollywood Days and Night(mare)s" chronicling some of my more memorable encounters with the stars of television, film, stage and the dial.  Some were assholes, some were plain awesome, some are just like you and me but for their millions of dollars.

And to be clear, these stories are defined as "encounters" versus "sightings," which I've had innumerable and are defined as simply seeing someone famous out and about doing the normal things like eating dinner--an activity wherein I personally would find it profane to be pestered were I in their shoes.  (Ask yourself this the next time you see a famous person: Are they doing something that, were you doing the same, you would want to be bothered by a fan?)  To me, having dinner out at a restaurant with family should be off-limits, whereas someone in a coffee shop, walking the street or just doing normal people shit is fair game for saying hey.

And if you are in a fortunate enough capacity, as I have been, to chat with some of them for longer than two minutes, then you can wrack up the photo ops.

So without further ado, let us begin with the story "The Princess Kiss."


In spring 1999 I was in my third year at USC.  My roommate Steve, whom I knew from growing up together in New Jersey, was a year ahead of me and in his final year of film school.  As often happens, he and a bunch of his colleagues were invited to a film premiere.  He brought me along to the Universal Amphitheater in Universal City for the premiere of USC film school alum Ron Howard's comedy "EDtv," a satirical take on the then-nascent 24-hour reality phenomenon, with Matthew McConaughey as the eponymous San Franicscan Ed.  On the way into the theater, there was the entire red carpet affair, replete with paparazzi and stars in tuxedos, etc.  Stars of the film Dennis Hopper, Rob Reiner and of course Opie himself were on hand (who of course was mobbed by some current students for a group photo op).

Steve and myself and some of his film school cronies were walking up the red carpet in our jackets and ties towards the entrance to the theater.  We were certainly no one of importance, but it was just the way into the damn theater.  Steve and I were chatting about something forgettable when, out of the corner of our eyes, we see a man and a woman, up on a small dais, locking lips.  The woman quickly broke the kiss, came down from the platform, and briskly walked away.

"Hey, that was fucking Carrie Fisher, wasn't it?"

Sure enough, it was the second-generation Hollywood royalty, making off towards parts unknown and away from the paramour.  But who was this mystery kisser????

Steve and I turned back to the dais, and there stood a youngish, good-looking fellow with too-blond hair and a million-dollar smile.  He locked eyes with the two of us, beaming out the whitest of teeth.

"Did you guys see that?" he enthused to Steve and myself.  "I just kissed Princess Leia!"

That man's name was Ryan Seacrest, then just 24.

Now remember, this was early 1999, a full three-plus years before he got the gig cohosting American Idol with Brian Dunkleman--which of course he would take solo reins of the following year, vaulting him to the Seacrest-mania that has continued unabated ever since.  At that time he was a little-known former Atlanta radio host who cut his jib hosting forgettable fare in the late '90s after moving to L.A.  One such gig was filling for Talk Soup host John Henson on occasion--a show Steve and I were frequent watchers of.  During the 98-99 season, we'd seen Mr. Seacrest doing a decent-enough job with the comedy recap show of the week's talk show greatest hits and misses.  

The next time we saw him, he was locking lips with Princess Leia.

It was as good an omen for the man's career as anything.

Seacrest out.