A Whole New World

IMG_3731Eric and I returned from New York a couple of days ago. It was a cold, action-packed 6 days and as much as I enjoyed the adventure, I’m glad to be home. I might fantasize about living in New York again, I probably will for the rest of my life, but, first, I really enjoyed swimming in the 70 degree California sunshine the day after our return and second, our dogs would hate living in cold weather and probably try to pick fights with people and other dogs on their daily walks. Eric and I always marvel that we never see or hear barking dogs when we are in Manhattan. What’s the deal? Is it the water?

Anyway, Tuesday night, our last night, Eric and I tried to stuff as much into an evening as humanly possible. We had burgers at the Shake Shack in Grand Central, then drinks and clam chowder at the Oyster Bar. We walked up Lexington to 58th, popping into the various hotels along the avenue. I wanted to check out the East Side Marriott, formerly the Shelton Hotel, that was once the tallest hotel in the world as well as Georgia O’Keefe’s home from 1925 to 1936. The day before, we saw the painting East River from the Shelton Hotel at the Met and I read about the Shelton and wondered how I’d never heard about the hotel or O’Keefe’s inspired, lengthy stay there. Either way, the hotel is still glamorous and stately, even if a bit Marriott-ized. From there we walked into Bergdorf Goodman’s men’s shop where I could get one last spritz of my favorite perfume, Maison Francis Kurkdijan’s BG exclusive, 754. On every trip, I try to visit every day to spray a little. On Saturday, an employee, perhaps resentful that I wouldn’t try the fragrance she was trying to hawk, sneered at me, “That is a ladies’ fragrance.” “Oh, what’s going to happen to me?” “Nothing, I just wanted you to be aware of it.”

From Bergdorf, we walked along Central Park South to Robert in Columbus Circle. We had drinks in a lounge area that overlooked Central Park and the Upper West Side, specifically Broadway. We took pictures and Instagrammed them, talked about some of the highlights of our trip, the traditions like Barney Greengrass and Central Park and the Met and Mary Ann’s in Chelsea. We talked about the new experiences, discovering a great, new to us, hotel, The Roosevelt and seeing John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, from the second row, no less. We talked about the cheeseburgers at J.G. Melon. We talked about how much we enjoyed the snow. We talked about how much we missed the dogs, or as we call them, the babies.

After Robert, we took the subway down to Grove Street, to Marie’s Crisis, the iconic Greenwich Village piano bar. Several years ago, I did a show where I talked about visiting Marie’s Crisis with my best friend Michele and her new husband Stan. It was a fun, special night and because it’s on YouTube, the evening has had an enduring glow for Michele and me.

When Eric and I walked into Marie’s Crisis on Tuesday night, it was to the accompaniment of 15-20 Broadway loving souls singing Everything’s Coming Up Roses, an apt welcome. We ordered a couple of drinks and found a wobbly table to sit at and enjoyed taking it all in. There was a shift change and the early evening piano player was replaced by a pretty, zaftig woman named Franca who, we came to find out, was enjoying a bit of internet celebrity because a few nights earlier Jimmy Fallon made a drunken, passionate, raucous visit and several people had posted videos from the evening.

There were men and women, gays and straights, young and old. There were boys in their early 20s belting out show tunes and I couldn’t help but think of my own 20 something self. I never went to Marie’s Crisis. I didn’t have the confidence to stand at a piano and croon Corner of the Sky, but I wanted to. Instead, I would frequent Uncle Charlie’s or Splash and stand in a corner and suck in my stomach and wait for someone to come up to me and introduce himself.

Of course, I thought about those nights as I sat there with Eric. It could have been the bourbon, it could have been something else, but I felt an ache for those days of my youth. That ache comes and goes. It’s probably, at this point, directly proportionate to my weight. When I visit New York, and walk down 8th Avenue in Chelsea or 7th Avenue in the Village, I just don’t feel as visible as I once did.

The song after Corner of the Sky was from Aladdin, A Whole New World. I know I don’t write about my sex life here, but I think that even if you are super conservative, you have deduced, at this point, that I am no longer a virgin. Still, if you are related to me, in any way, please skip the next two paragraphs. Don’t get tempted to disregard my plea, just scroll down. I don’t want to think about you having read this while we are feasting on Italian sausage and spaghetti at the next family reunion.

The first guy I ever had sex with was a guy I met at the 23rd Street YMCA. We met and he asked me back to his place and we fooled around and it was very vanilla and after, the two of us lay on his bed listening to music. Aladdin had just come out and the song was getting a lot of radio play. Before we went to his apartment, I had told my new friend, I’ll call him Milton, because that was his name, that I was very new to all of this. As Peabo purred, “I can show you the world, shining, shimmering splendid…”, Milton turned to me and said, “This certainly seems like the perfect song for this moment.” And it did.

My body might have been at 2015 Marie’s Crisis, but my heart was in that one bedroom apartment with exposed brick on one wall on 18th street between 7th and 8th, circa 1993. I knew before we tumbled into bed together, on another snowy New York day, that Milton was not going to be the person I would grow old with, but what he was, still is, actually, was my first. I wish he’d been cuter, I wish I’d been more attracted to him. Because of my upbringing, I suppose there is still, over 20 years later, a part of me that wishes that my first had been my only. But alas, that is not the way the years played out. And that’s okay, probably for the best, really.

After the A Whole New World, Franca played and everyone sang I Dreamed a Dream and I remembered another boyfriend from those early years, an Israeli atchitecture student who was only in New York for one summer. Then, You Could Drive a Person Crazy, then another song from Pippin, Morning Glow. And then, Eric and I decided to call it a night.

Eric and I splurged on a cab to our hotel and I asked the driver to let us off at 6th avenue and 41st, so we could walk around Bryant Park and the New York Public Library. We went to Duane Reade to buy some water and bedtime snacks. And as we walked back to our hotel, bundled up in scarves and hats and gloves, carrying our booty with us, one of us said, “The babies.” And the other said, “I know, I can’t wait to see them.” And we walked on and on, sideways and under, on a magic carpet ride.

“You are Not Handsome.”

sc0036b468Okay, 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.

Let it Go?

Jimmy-Fallon-Idina-Menzel-Let-It-GoSo, 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.

Until yesterday.

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.