I grew up in a small town. I guess that’s been established at this point. On Facebook this weekend, the class of ’84 held a thirty year class reunion. I have many friends in that class, also my cousin is in that class. They were all seniors when I was a sophomore and I remember looking up to many of them.
A few years ago, at their 10 year reunion a class member drunkenly confronted another class member about being a jerk in junior high and high school. If I recall, the victim threatened physical violence on his tormentor. It was a story with traction, I heard about it several times from several sources in the years that followed.
It was a story that stuck with me because that confronted tormentor was one of my tormentors too. In fact, of all the verbal abuse I received growing up, I must say that Karl Johnson’s (pseudonym) words stung the most and had the most enduring effects. And before I go further, if you are thinking I should have let this go by now, let me agree wholeheartedly. I should have let this go by now.
What was Karl Johnson’s crime? Every day of 7th grade, he would call out loudly names like Fag and Gay Ray as I stood in the lunch line. He and his friends would sit at a table near the lunch line and make fun of various targets as they passed. Karl would call out the name and his cohorts would erupt into laughter. This lasted my entire 7th grade year, every day. It was something I fretted over every night as I lay in bed, trying to fall asleep, and every morning when I dreaded going to school.
So when someone else confronted Karl Johnson at his ten year reunion, all I really thought was, wow, good for him. I heard that Karl Johnson attempted an apology. In the years since high school, he’d become quite religious and considered himself a very good person.
I know that as far as bullying stories go, it’s a fairly average one. And I am okay. Since, I’ve started this blog, strangers have pointed out emotional and pathological issues that they think I have and I think you might be right. I am flawed and I am scarred. I try to move forward and love myself and make the world a better place, but, well, there is always a but.
When I saw the pictures of smiling Karl Johnson and his wife at the reunion, my heart started pumping and all I could think about was 12-year-old me and the fear I had every day. My cousin who had been friends with Karl Johnson and always sat at his lunch table, apologized several years ago about sitting there and never discouraging his friend. At a dive bar in Kansas City over pints of Boulevard hefeweizen, he told me he realized that must have been hard for me. I had to hold back tears because, I remind you, I was in a dive bar in Kansas City, but also, I didn’t want him to see how affected I was by his apology. I wanted to be manly.
Of course, I’m not really manly most of the time. I am sensitive, I do cry. My voice is nasally. I was and still am an easy target for people who want to call me names or point out my perceived flaws.
Maybe this is a story you relate to. I think some are better than others at leaving past hurts in the past.
Forgiveness is not really one of my strengths.
I do keep looking at this picture of Karl Johnson and his wife. I look at her, and while I may be wrong, she doesn’t seem like the kind of woman who would love that her husband was the bully of his junior high, flagrantly homophobic. (Although to be fair, wasn’t everyone flagrantly homophobic in 1980 Kansas?) Maybe he is a kinder person now, maybe she is the reason he is a kinder person now. I don’t know. I’ll probably never know.
I do feel little lighter. My heart has returned to a normal patter. In truth that reaction might have been partly attributed to this morning’s first cup of coffee.
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.