When I moved to LA from New York several years ago, I went about 8 months without having a car. I bought a car for $800 and it broke down irreparably three weeks later and I scrapped it for $120 which means I lost $680, not counting the money I spent to get it smog checked. But this story is not about a bum car or even about foolish decisions. Well, maybe it’s a teeny bit about foolish decisions.
It’s spring in LA and it seems everywhere I go, I smell the night blooming jasmine. I’m not an olfactory expert, I wouldn’t know how to describe the fragrance to someone who doesn’t know it. Pretty? Flowery? Springy?
There are a copious amount of jasmine plants in Southern California and I love walking down a sidewalk and catching a whiff of it before I even see the distinctive plant and flowers.
And every time I smell jasmine, night blowing jasmine, I think about my first few months in LA, when the town was new, new to me, anyway.
I moved to LA from New York, where everything was outside my door. In New York, how do I put this delicately, I sometimes frequented watering holes that catered to a gay male population. Trust me when I say, it was a lot of me standing in the corner, watching the room, futzing with my bottled water, hoping someone would come over to talk to me. And I’m not going to lie, sometimes guys, some handsome, some not, would make their way to me to start a conversation. And most nights, I would head home from Uncle Charlie’s or Splash or The Break unattended, my safety assured by the many others who were also walking through the streets of Chelsea and the Village at the same time, regardless of the hour.
And then when I moved to LA, to Detroit St and Wilshire, the nearest gay bars were 3 miles away in West Hollywood, 2 different bus rides away. And because I did not have many friends at this point, I would go to West Hollywood by myself. I’d take the bus, two buses, to go to Revolver and Rage and Mickey’s. And for the most part, the results were the same: I would stand in a corner, bottled water in hand, hoping someone would come over to start a conversation. And sometimes they did, but mostly they didn’t. And before I knew it, it would be 2:00 a.m. and I’d have to weigh my options of how to get home. A $20 cab ride was not an option. A few times, I took the bus, but that took over an hour, with long waits at each bus stop. So eventually, I just started walking home, from Larrabee and Santa Monica to Wilshire and Detroit.
My routes would vary each time, sometimes I would walk along Willoughby, other times I’d take Waring. I learned the street names, like Sweetzer and Spaulding and Martel and eventually, I’d unwind my way back home. I’d dream about living in homes or fancy old apartment buildings I’d pass by. I’d dream about being a working actor and finding my way. I’d dream about making enough money to afford a $20 cab ride. And also, I’d dream about falling in love. That hope of meeting someone special was what called me to those places in the first place, I understood that much.
And the entire walk, in the middle of the night, through the heart of Los Angeles, the night blooming jasmine was my constant companion, my accompaniment, my pomander. And finally, I would make it to 649 S. Detroit, unlock the door and go inside. I’d lie in bed, the jasmine permeating my apartment through an open window.
Last night, as I walked along Melrose to meet Eric and a friend for dinner, I passed by block after block of jasmine. I breathed it in, took the above picture and went on my way. As I continued walking, I remembered those late night walks. Oh my, how things have changed. And yet, a part of me will always be the Kansas boy discovering a new city for the first time and with every inhale discovering that Los Angeles can be his.
It’s been kind of a long few days. I received several sweet comments on my Facebook page after my last post. Yesterday, I was feeling a little pleased with myself when I read something a relative wrote about a conversation we had that had hurt her feelings. Of course, I apologized immediately, but I spent the rest of the day thinking about it.
I don’t need to go into the specifics here. It’s a conversation that took place 20 years ago. I don’t actually remember the conversation, but I do not doubt that it took place. I was wondering if I would have felt better or worse had I remembered. It’s a wonder I haven’t received more messages from people in the last 72 hours, reminding me of hurtful things I’ve said, I’ve been around long enough to inflict a few scars of my own.
Since yesterday, I’ve thought about how much hurt we all deal out, most unintentional, hopefully, but some completely willfully. I do not hold a grudge against the former co-worker that I wrote about on Saturday. If I saw her tomorrow, I would be happy to see her. Some friends conjectured why she would say what she said to me, but really, who knows. I’ve always been a little bit of a brat. To love me is to love me in spite of my occasional bouts of obnoxiousness. I can think of reasons why a person just ultimately may not be a fan of Ray Barnhart. And to play devil’s advocate, I can think of a few reasons why someone would like me, too.
I am sensitive, sometimes overly. Hence, the name of my blog. I’m the kind of guy who would smart for twenty years about a comment he received from a person playing an under 5 in the soap opera of his life. But I am also the kind of guy who feels very bad for hurting the feelings of a loved one, especially someone he’s looked up to since he was a boy.
Her words to me were, guess what, let it go. I need to let a lot of things go. I don’t want to be the kind of person who is remembered for his unkind words.
I’m ending this blog with a video of Amy Grant singing one of her newer songs called, “Come into My World.” It reminds me of the risk involved when we invite someone to know the real us: the insecurities, the arrogances, the cruelties and kindnesses, too. All the messy rooms and scattered pearls.
Okay, let me preface this by saying that I clearly haven’t been making a habit of it, but tonight, this post is entirely sponsored by Maker’s Mark and also a couple of glasses of sauvignon blanc. There will be typos. I’ll say things I’ll probably regret in the morning, but that’s okay, my mom is out of town and won’t see this until Monday or Tuesday.
Let me start by saying, I am a little fascinated by the attention my last blog has received on Twitter. Apparently, Jimmy Fallon has a lot of angry twentysomething female fans. I’ve received several private messages about Let it Go?, some in support and others saying she was too sensitive. All I can say is, while I do like anything that encourages dialogue, I don’t think it’s cool to hurt a person’s feelings. If you hurt someone’s feelings, even if you think they are overreacting, just apologize. You have nothing to lose and who knows how much it might mean to them. Okay, end of sermon.
When I was swimming this morning, I thought about this young woman I worked with back at the Popover Cafe in NYC in the early ’90s. Her name was Conan Morrissey. If I was sober, I might have made up a pseudonym, but I’m not, so that is her real name! We worked together. She was an actress with dirty blond hair that bore a striking resemblance to a young Glenn Close. She had a pedigree, I think she did her graduate program somewhere fancy (Louisville, maybe?) Anyway, one night at work, we were talking about something and I casually mentioned I thought I was handsome. I certainly don’t remember a time when I talked about my good looks, but at 25, in 1993, when I ran at least 5 miles a day through the streets of Manhattan, I probably was as good as I’ve ever looked. Anyway, I said something along the lines of “I am handsome.” My co-worker, a female who was quite literally the definition of a “handsome woman” told me pointedly, “You are not handsome.” I was crestfallen, easily. “Well, cute, maybe?” I offered. “No, you are not handsome or cute. You’re just NOT, I’m sorry.”
And we went about our business and the rest of the time I worked with her, I kept trying to act handsome-ish in the hopes that she might come to me and say, “Ray, I’m sorry, I was wrong. You are handsome.” It never happened. She moved away to Vermont or something to run a theatre company with her boyfriend, who seemed a little gay, if you ask me, not that you did.
Now, my last blog post, about my friend Carreen, who can hold a grudge for a very long time, made me think about myself and the grudges I hold. I’m not saying I think about Conan every day, but when I do think of her, I do get kind of pissed. She really knew me at my peak and if I wasn’t handsome THEN, then when?
I just think it’s a good rule of thumb to tell your friends (or co-workers) that they are handsome or cute or look great in that outfit or that that sweater makes their eyes pop or whatever makes them feel good about themselves. I think we all have enough negative voices inside our heads that we don’t need the people who are supposed to be our support system to tell us how average we are. But, hey, that’s me.
Conan Morrissey, wherever you are, I’m fine, don’t worry about me. I have people who tell me on a daily basis how cute my plaid shirt is, even if they don’t always mean it. But if you do happen to stumble across this someday, I hope that by now you’ve learned to be just a little bit nicer. You could scar a person for life with the things that you say.
And for the rest of you, I’ve added at picture of me with my parents at twenty five. Maybe I wasn’t handsome, maybe I wasn’t even cute. But I’m very protective of that guy and I think he was very special. A little squirrely, maybe, but not without his charms.
So, guess what?!? I can hold a grudge, especially if someone does something that hurts the feelings of someone I love. Real person, celebrity, it makes no difference. And that’s why I’m not the biggest Jimmy Fallon fan. I used to like him until I read my friend’s blog where she detailed a rather upsetting interaction she had with Jimmy Fallon. And ever since, I just couldn’t really watch him without thinking about that story.
Cut to last month, when everyone was posting the video of Jimmy, Idina Menzel and the Roots singing “Let it Go.” Everyone in my orbit emphatically told me that I HAD to watch the video, that I’d love it, that it’s seriously, like the best thing in the world. But I resisted.
And then in a weak moment, I watched it on Youtube on my Iphone and I’ll be honest. I did love it. I love Idina and I love the song and there really is something magical about the video. And I sat there on my couch, watching the video, thinking, Ray, there is a message there for you. Let. It. Go. Forgive Jimmy. It’s time.
And then I went and found my friend’s blog and read it and got a little mad again. But I sent “Carreen” a message on Facebook, she’s since moved away from Los Angeles, and asked her if I could share her Jimmy Fallon story. Also, since she posted it in 2007, how does she feel about him today, seven years after posting the original blog? Her response: “You can most certainly re-post my blog because I wish more people could know about what a jerk he is. He will always be a social-climbing jerk in my mind, and that incident with him was the turning point for me that caused me to turn away from comedy and writing and all things Hollywood.”
So, really, I’ll be honest, I don’t know how I feel. I still don’t think I like him very much, but I do love this video, so in the spirit of letting things go, I’ll repost it. And by all means, please read Carreen’s blog:
Why I hate Jimmy Fallon
I know I’m supposed to be trying to behave myself and be a nice person these days, but I just can’t help it. I still hate Jimmy Fallon. Every time I see his faux-earnest face on TV or in a movie poster, I just want to punch him.
But hear me out – I have a good reason for hating him. My hatred has basis in fact, and like everything else in my life it’s a long story.
Many years ago I was in a comedy group called the Groundlings. I took classes there and worked my way up through the ranks very quickly – too quickly in the opinion of some. By the time I was 25 I was in their Sunday Company, waiting to get voted into to the main ensemble. But when it came time to get voted into the big company – much to my shock I was tossed out. I was stunned. Several other really good comedians besides myself were tossed out in the same vote. We just couldn’t believe it.
And I really was good. I’m not usually a confident person, but I know in my heart that I was an exceedingly talented writer and comedian. I could improvise circles around just about anyone who shared the stage with me, and I could get a laugh with any material I was handed by the other writers. That was the problem though. I was a young, idealistic kid and I didn’t realize that being talented marked me for death in the shark pit that was the Groundlings. I foolishly thought that Hollywood was a place where talented people rose to the top and got famous, and everybody helped each other out along the way, and I thought I was absolutely destined to be on Saturday Night Live.
Right before the vote came up for the main company cast, I started to notice that every time I did an improv scene in a show, the director paired me with actors who talked nonstop and never allowed me to get a word in edgewise. They’d immediately grab focus and force me to the background of the scene, ignoring me as they talked loudly and nonstop at the same time as other loudmouthed actors. I also noticed that our bitter, (and might I say over the hill) female director was putting fewer and fewer of my scenes in the shows until finally I didn’t have any material to show the voting committee. For some reason she didn’t think I was funny, and when we’d all read prospective scenes and mine got laughs from my cast mates she’d wrinkle her nose and go “I don’t get it. It’s not funny to me.” and cut it from the roster.
It was years before I realized what had actually happened to me. I had been steamrolled. I’d been completely smudged out by aggressive actors who were older than me and therefore more familiar with the rules of the game – kill or be killed. That was when I started hating acting, and I quit. I thought, “If this is how you have to behave to be successful. I can’t do it. I just don’t have it in me to knock somebody over to get ahead.”
It was a good time for the Groundlings. The main company then featured Will Farrell, Lisa Kudrow, Mike Hitchcock and Kathy Griffin and many others who went on to great success. My fellow actors in the Sunday company included the brilliant character actress Jennifer Coolidge, MAD TV’s Phil LaMarr, Chris Kataan and also Cheri Oteri, who later ended up on Saturday Night Live.
Cheri and I had been close friends during our humble classroom days at the Groundlings but right after she got cast on SNL I saw very little of her. I figured she was busy and our friendship had been sort of on-again, off-again throughout the years anyway so it didn’t really hurt my feelings. A couple of years went by, though, and I still could not bring myself to watch SNL. It was just too painful for me to see it, knowing how much I had wanted to be a part of it and knowing that it would never happen. I continued to write and even signed with the Artists’ Agency literary division, but I distanced myself from actors and acting.
That’s why I was very surprised when I got a call from Cheri in the late ’90’s, out of the blue, saying she was coming to LA for hiatus and she wanted to talk to me about submitting some of my sketch material to SNL. We had lunch and talked about ideas for a film, then she said she’d tell the SNL producers to look for the stuff my agent was sending over. She warned me that it would be very difficult to get my writing seen or taken seriously because the writers were all male at that time, and she was trying to get me in because she wanted a woman writer on the staff. My submissions got read but I was not hired. I truly appreciated her trying, and I still do.
BUT…the last time I ever saw Cheri made me walk away from the entire comedy scene forever. It went down in history as the most awful, embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me, I want to throw myself off a bridge every time I recall it, and yes – it involved Jimmy Fallon.
Cheri and I went out to dinner, again to talk about movie ideas, and she said “We’re going to a party afterwards at the Chateau Marmont. Dress hip.” We had dinner, went to see Jim Wise’s band at Molly Malone’s, then I followed Jim and Cheri in my car to the hotel. As we were walking in the front door I said “Whose party is this?” and Jim said “It’s Jimmy Fallon’s birthday party.” Since I hadn’t watched SNL in two years I said “Who?” I really had no idea who he was. They both looked at me like I was insane.
The party was in a bungalow there – one of those little private houses like the one where John Belushi died. I walked in the door and almost had a stroke. I am a very, very painfully pathologically shy person, and parties are excruciating enough to give me dry heaves all day beforehand, but this was the worst-case-scenario-of-all-time party I could ever have imagined in the subconscious nightmare regions of my medulla oblongata. The lights were all blazing – 100 watt bulbs overhead and in all lamps, so no hiding in any nonexistent shadows for me – and there were ten people there. All ten of those people were famous. Very famous.
And I….was not.
They were also really close friends with each other. Really close, darling sweetie love you kissy friends.
And I….was not.
Cheri introduced me to Janeane Garofalo and I pointed at her and said, “You’re funny!” in a stupid childish high voice that was so weird it made her walk away uncomfortably. That’s when Cheri disappeared and left me to fend for myself.
I tried to join conversations. I lingered at edges of groups, hoping to be noticed and asked to join. I introduced myself to people. Nobody talked to me. They squinted at me, annoyed, as if I was the pizza delivery guy trying to crash their party, and turned their backs to me. I wandered from room to room in that bungalow like the ghost of John Belushi, with nobody seeing or acknowledging my presence, for nearly an hour. Nobody wanted to know me because, you see, I was nobody.
Miraculously, another non-famous person entered the party. It was Chris Kattan’s girlfriend at the time, a very nice and polite girl to whom I will be eternally grateful for the rest of my life for not turning her back to me after I introduced myself. She and I chatted for a long time until finally I felt like I’d redeemed myself enough to make a graceful exit. There was no way in hell I was staying amongst this cold, bloodless horde another minute. I brushed past Sara Michelle Geller (who frowned at me as if to say “What IS that?”) and I found Cheri. I said, “I’ve got to get home – I have to be at work early tomorrow morning.” She looked puzzled, then said, “You have to say good night to Jimmy. It’s his birthday.” I said “Nooo – really that’s not necessary. He and i didn’t meet…” and I headed for the door as if my life depended on it because really, it did.
As I reached the door, so close to freedom, I bumped into a seemingly-drunk Jimmy Fallon. He weaved a little bit and said “Hey – where ya going?” I said “I’m headed home. Happy birthday!” and I tried to squirt past him as quickly as I could. And then he did something truly evil, which absolutely destroyed me and from which I have never fully recovered. He grabbed me and hugged me for an uncomfortably long time, looked at the ten A-List actors in the brightly lit room, and stage-whispered over my head to them “WHO THE HELL IS THIS?!?!??!” which they all found simply hilarious and subsequently died laughing.
And there I was, with a room full of famous people laughing at me. It was bad enough that they hadn’t talked to me all night, and that they treated me like I was an irritant. These people whom I admired so much, and I had hoped would someday be my comedy buddies, my actor peers – and Cheri, who I had thought was my friend, were laughing at me and I couldn’t escape because Jimmy Fallon was still gripping me in this evil, patronizing, life-sapping hug.
I finally wrestled free of him and, looking at the floor with my eyes full of tears, I stumbled out of the bungalow. As the door closed behind me I could hear them all still laughing at this funny, talented, man who was celebrating his birthday, and who was on his way to the top of his professional game at that moment.
And so that’s why I hate Jimmy Fallon. He continues to rise up the ranks in Hollywood and charm people, and to take the moviegoing public’s money and spend it on wonderful things for himself but I know from personal experience that he is a mean person. His friends are mean people too, and I am glad I never got famous and had to suffer the horror of being their friend as well. I am glad walked away from being an actor and a TV writer and failed on purpose because in turn, I succeeded at being a human being. I held on stubbornly to my kindness and my integrity, and I would never, ever in a million years laugh at somebody who came to my birthday party and just wanted to make friends.
I never saw Cheri again after that. I think that night was a kind of litmus test for her to see if I could cut it in the big leagues and I am glad to say, with a sigh of relief, that I can’t. The ten people who were in that room that night can take the big leagues and shove it up their asses.
A few years ago, outside the stage door of a Broadway theater, I found myself herded into a cattle holding pen along with about 200 other people. My friends Michael and Kim and I were waiting for Broadway legend Kristin Chenoweth to come out and greet us after a performance of the show she was starring in at the time, Promises, Promises. And yes, this is the same Michael who often thoughtfully, eloquently, guest blogs here.
Michael and Kristin Chenoweth grew up in the same town and attended the same high school. They walked the same halls, performed on the same stages, learned from the same teachers. In fact, one such teacher, whom Michael is still close to, was the reason we were ushered into the front of the holding pen. There had been the possibility that we would get to go backstage, but it didn’t pan out.
It’s a humbling experience to be packed with hundreds of other people like that. There were security people yelling at us about where to stand, what to do. “No flash photography!”
To her credit, Kristin was gracious when she came out. Michael teased her by calling her Kristie Dawn, the name she went by when she was just a young Oklahoma girl with a big voice and a dream. She good-naturedly dead-panned, “Don’t call me that.” She and Michael talked Broken Arrow for a few moments, then she signed our programs, said hi to a few others and then climbed into a waiting SUV and was whisked away.
And I was both exhilarated and depressed by the experience. It made me us feel both special and insignificant. But while she and Michael stood talking, I felt an odd resentment boiling beneath the surface. I thought, Kristie Dawn, you really don’t know who you are talking to. Talk about a legend.
I met Michael several years ago when we did Party together. He was, even then, an available, funny, skilled actor. And through the years, I’ve been lucky to see him in many roles and he continues to expand himself. The last thing I saw him in was a production of Greater Tuna where he expertly and seemingly effortlessly became 20 different characters, 20 inhabited lives. And if Michael were only an actor, that would be enough to make him the kind of star around which the world orbits. (Full confession, I’m no Isaac Asimov.) But, I think the thing that makes Michael truly a legend is that he’s the best friend anyone could ever have. I know a lot of people, but I don’t think I know anyone as beloved as Michael Patrick Gaffney. And if you’re reading this and you know him, you know what I’m talking about. He remembers the details of your life, he reminds you of memories that you’ve shared, he does not pontificate, but always makes you feel he’s rooting for you. And I can never see Lucille Ball or peanut butter or a lady bug without thinking of him.
I don’t know if MPG will ever be as famous or as rich as the little one (his name for her, not mine.) If we lived in a world that made sense, he’d have Tonys and Emmys and 912,398 Twitter followers, too. But I actually think, in many ways, Michael’s life is richer than, well, richer than most. He is loved and he knows how much he is loved. And we’re just lucky to have him in our lives. Because I knew him, because I know him, I have been changed for good.
They seemed like the unlikeliest of best friends. I was fascinated by their friendship because I saw something kindred in it. They were both popular, in their ways. Carolyn was a singer who often sang solos or duets during chapel services. Mary was a star athlete on the basketball team. Even as a Bible college closet case, I had pretty decent gaydar, and I was sure that Mary and I had something in common. Their best friendship kind of came up out of nowhere. Carolyn and I had been friends since our freshman year. And then in our sophomore or junior year, I noticed that she and Mary started to spend a lot of time together. They became inseparable. They dressed alike. At one point, Carolyn even cut her long hair into a dramatic bi-level that was popular among the budding lesbians of the late 1980s, just like Mary. And then, after a few short months, they were no longer inseparable. In fact, I never saw them together at all. One day, I asked Carolyn about Mary, I can’t remember what my question was exactly, something like, “Hey, have you seen Mary lately?” I remember trying to phrase my question delicately. Carolyn quickly and finitely told me that she and Mary were not friends anymore. “But you were so close,” I said. And the look on her face told me that this was not a conversation that was going to be continued. For the rest of that semester, Mary walked around campus like a broken-hearted puppy. I don’t think she even came back to Ozark after that eventful semester. Carolyn, on the other hand, continued to thrive. Carolyn was and is a woman who thrives.
Because I was experiencing my own overwhelming same sex emotions, I watched this play out with a vested interest. It’s probably no surprise to anyone who knew me in Bible college, but I had a habit of falling in love with my best friends. Three different times, I fell in love with three different friends and each time, I feared what would happen if he found out my feelings. One of those friends sometimes bragged that he didn’t like gay guys and I wondered if he would beat me up if he knew how I felt. I certainly never had the audacity to make a pass at either of these three loves, but I feared that in every look and in every action I might be revealing my secret.
Of those three loves, I am still friends with one of them. The other two just kind of drifted out of my life. I’m sure they know I’m gay. I’m sure they know that I was in love with them in college. And I really don’t care whether they hate me now or not. I have some good memories of those years and each of those three friendships are cherished, even if I never have another conversation with them.
But I do find myself wondering about Carolyn and Mary. I have so many questions, of course, starting with, did they ever hook up? I actually don’t think they did. I don’t think that Carolyn was gay or bisexual even, but I suspect that at one point, Mary confessed her feelings, perhaps she even made a pass. And Carolyn responded by cutting her out of her life forever.
I don’t know whatever happened to Mary. I keep thinking she will show up on Facebook, eventually, but I’ve yet to see her profile pop up in the “people you may know” section. I wonder if she came to terms with her sexuality. Does she have a life partner? Is there a chance I was wrong and she’s straight, married with kids, labradors, etc.? Is she still a little in love with Carolyn? Does she still have that bi-level haircut?
And I wonder what goes through Carolyn’s mind when and if she thinks about Mary. Does she feel shame for cutting out a friend who probably really needed a friend? Does she think she would do it the same if it happened to her again in 2014. We prayed so much back at Bible college, did Carolyn pray for Mary to find her way? Does she pray for her still? Did Carolyn have some feelings of her own that she did not know how to process? Maybe she doesn’t even remember any of this.
But of course, I do remember. I remember it because at the time, I thought the worst thing in the world was to be gay and the second worst thing was to tell the person you’re in love with how you feel and they reject you.
The first person I shared my secret with was one of those college loves. At the time, not long after we’d graduated from Ozark, we were separated by several states. I was still a youth minister and one night, I went to a Christian concert where the singer (I think it was Steven Curtis Chapman, actually) had everyone in the audience write down the thing that burdened them most in their faith and then ushers collected what people had written and the idea was that God would lift that burden. For the first time in my life, I wrote that I was struggling with my sexuality. I was there with the kids in my youth group and I was so afraid that one of them might see my words. After the little, folded papers were collected, the musician prayed with the mass of people about their secret burden, that the weight might be lifted. And later that night, when I got home, I needed to talk to someone, so I called my best friend Ab. I called him and I shared and he listened. Even though I didn’t tell him that I had been in love with him, I still feared that he would drop me as a friend for telling him I thought I was gay. But he did not judge, he told me this would not change our friendship. And nearly 25 years later, he continues to hold to that promise. That was the beginning of my coming out. Certainly, on that night in a tiny rural Missouri apartment, circa 1991, I could not have foreseen the road my life would take. But I’m eternally grateful for the friend who listened as I bared my gravest secret and responded with, “You will always be my friend.”