Monday, June 21, 2010

ten things i learned on vacation

1. I'm good at traveling

I went on a ten day excursion to Sleepy Hamlet and Las Vegas - two very different climates and two very different atmospheres. And yet I managed to fit everything into a carry-on-sized bag. Winner.

I also left my laptop at home, relying on my Palm Pre and iPod Touch, and had no internet access in Vegas other than my phone. If you've ever met me, you know that's a minor miracle.

2. I can't treat my body the way that I used to

One of the few positives of my crappy temp job is that since I don't take lunch breaks (because I don't get paid) I bring healthy food to work. I've kind of shifted into a grazing mode: a handful of almonds and cranberries here, an apple there, a turkey sandwich at lunch. Occasionally I'll have a bag of chips or some chocolate, but that's the exception to the rule. Dinners have been pretty light - mostly chicken or fish with some vegetables. I've also been working out pretty consistently these days, and I've cut back on the drinking.

On vacation?

Multiple drinks most nights. I got completely hammered at least three times, and had one of the worst hangovers of my life. On a different morning, I woke up still drunk from the night before. I ate loads of red meat and greasy food. Salt. Fat. Sugar. Very little exercise (unless you count "twelve ounce curls" as working out).

Five years ago, I could eat that without skipping a beat. Now? I feel sluggish, bloated, slow. I went grocery shopping tonight and I've never been so excited to buy fruits and vegetables. This must be a sign of me getting old.

3. I'm ready to go back to Sleepy Hamlet

The first leg of the trip was spent in my old stomping grounds, and I had a great time. My man Leprechauna Jones and his lady came up from LA. I stayed with an extremely cool chick who we'll call The Prodigy (another story for another time). I saw all my old peeps. Everyone had such nice things to say to me, and more than one person said, "They need to bring you back here." Normally I just laugh stuff like that off...but this time was different.

I hate admitting that I want acting jobs, because that opens up a whole can of worms, but I really want to live there again, to work there as an actor. Never thought I'd say that.

We'll see if it happens.

4. I miss having a community

One of the reasons that I love Sleepy Hamlet is because of the network of friends I have there. Not only do they know me, but they know and like each other. I feel like I have a real clump of people who have my back. I love them like family. It was really hard to leave them this time...but then I went to Vegas and met up with my actual clan...

5. My family is remarkable

I had a great time in Sleepy Hamlet, but it was exhausting. I really wasn't looking forward to spending four days in Vegas for a birthday party/family reunion. I've got some crazy family members who get on my nerves, and I was afraid that it was going to be a disaster.

Instead, it was delightful.

I spent some quality time with several cousins that I hadn't seen in years. We ate, we drank, we gambled, we sang, we prayed, we laughed. And I was really reminded of my legacy. I am related to some remarkable, talented, intelligent people.

One experience stands out. We had a Father's Day brunch on Sunday, and my brother had already agreed to sing one of his songs. As always, my cousin who generally plays the MC tried to get me to perform something. My attitude is generally, "Why? Who wants to see a monologue out of context?" But she kept badgering and badgering, and finally I relented. I got up in the little room we had reserved and busted out forty lines of my best Shakespeare.

I have never received such an ovation in my life.

If you've never had the change to have several generations of your family applaud you and give you hugs and pounds and kisses, you really have to do something to make that happen. It's an amazing feeling. To be able to share your art with your own flesh and blood - and to have them get it, really get

The coolest part was that my brother played after me, and then my father got up and said that he was proud of us, and proud of the whole family for working to make it possible for us to get to the place where we're able to share our gifts. He talked about talents of previous generations who didn't get the chance to shine due to various circumstances, and said that my brother and I are reminders that you can really do anything you want to, if you're willing to work hard. It was really great to hear him verbalize that. I don't know that I've ever been prouder of my dad.

So yesterday was a great day. Then I hopped on a redeye back to New York, got home at six, crawled into bed at eight, and couldn't stop my brain from racing. Because, over the past few hours, the following realization had crept over me:

6. I'm not in a good place

While the validation from my family was great, in some strange way it magnified the misery I've been feeling lately. I hate this temp job with a passion, and I feel like it's keeping me away from doing what I want to do. I had just spent ten days with two great communities that I belong to...only to come back to New York and realize that I don't have one here. Sure, I have great friends here, but they're all individual friendships; there's no greater connection to a whole.

On the female front, I've been rejected by girls I liked twice in the past two weeks, and I kept having this visceral reaction in the pit of my stomach whenever I would see couples holding hands, or kissing. At first, I thought I was just turned off by PDA a little more than normal, but as I thought about it more and more, I kept returning to the horrible conclusion that I first blurted out to my therapist a couple of months ago, which is:

7. I want to be in a relationship

It really hurts me to admit that. I feel like I'm supposed to be independent right now - after all, I was with Maxine on and off for almost eight years, and during most of those "off" times I usually had someone around. I feel like I'm supposed to be ok with being alone. But I have to face facts, and confront the truth: I would really love to have a partner.

You know what the worst part of this is?

8. It's logistically impossible for me to be in a relationship right now

I realized that truth last night, after reading an e-mail from The Prodigy telling me that she wasn't interested in having a relationship with me. Now, there's a bit more to the story than that, but nevertheless my feelings were really hurt. After thinking it through, however, I realized that my travel schedule over the next few months and my economic condition isn't so conducive to a healthy relationship. Sure, I could make something work long-distance, but I've already done that, and I don't know if that's the kind of relationship I want right now.

9. I don't know how much longer I'm going to be in New York

Something else I realized in my talks with The Prodigy (it was an intense few days) is that I'm not sure how much longer I want to be here. I'm not living the kind of life I want to lead. My competitive nature is the one thing keeping me here; I feel a need to prove that I can compete with the best actors in the world, and land parts in high profile projects. But I'm broke, working a lousy job for lousy pay, and I'm not auditioning right now, and my apartment (while a great deal for the city) is tiny and expensive. I just keep thinking, "Why am I doing this? For what?"

Why shouldn't I move to a smaller regional city, like San Francisco or Seattle or Washington or Denver or Minneapolis and work a lot and teach on the side? I could have an apartment, get a teaching job, meet a nice girl and settle down and get married and start a family. Why not?

Because, if I never gave New York a fair shot, I wouldn't be able to live with myself. I don't want to be 55 looking back and saying, "Oh, I could've done this and that, blah blah blah." I want no regrets. So, every though I deny myself pleasure after pleasure, I have to keep pushing. It's immensely frustrating.

So, in summation, what did this week teach me?

10. I have no clue where I'm going

For most of the past decade, I've been able to tell you what I'm going to be doing five years from now. Not with any freakish degree of accuracy, mind you, but I could say, "I'm going to be an actor based out of New York, and I'm going to be with Maxine." Breaking up with her last fall changed all that. Suddenly my life had no anchor. I was free to move in any direction I wanted. Sometimes that has been pleasant, but most of the time I've felt paralyzed. I suppose, however, that recognizing this is some small victory. You have to know where you are before you know where you're going, right?

Two things to close with. Yesterday, I was sitting with my mother in the hotel room. She was trying to give me money, as usual. As usual, I was trying not to take it. But my poverty trumped my pride, and I relented. My mother bent down, cradled my face in her hands, and said, "I just hope that you find whatever it is that you're looking for."

I almost bawled. I have no idea how I held it together. I think I muttered thanks and looked away quickly, but I was just in amazement that she could see right through me like that. I guess that I shouldn't be that amazed. She is my mother, after all. She just wants the best for me.

Which brings me to the other thing.

We got goodie bags for the whole weekend, and much of our swag was cancer-related. (Several of my family members have battled cancer, so many of us are involved in cancer fighting charities.) This was the night of my massive hangover, so I was feeling particularly crappy. I took the bag from my cousin, who pointed out something in their that she didn't want me to lose. Perched on top of the purple tissue paper was an elastic bracelet wrapped in plastic. In the center of the bracelet was a grey bead with a single word printed on it.

It spoke to me. It was just what I needed. I ripped open the plastic, and put it on my wrist straightaway. I'm wearing it now.

It's a reminder. Things may be tough now...but tomorrow brings endless possibility, of brightness just around the corner.


That may be all I have, but it's a pretty powerful something.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

changing the paradigm (i need a nice girl)

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I tend to experience...ahem..."girl drama".

If you know me in real life, you would probably agree that I tend to date CRAZY women.

It's true. I don't deny this. I tend to have a weakness for icy, bitchy, beautiful women, who are mean and/or selfish. Or flaky, flighty women who have random mood swings and do irrational things that freak me out. Like print t-shirts with my name on them. Or plan spontaneous trips to visit me when they know I'm dating someone else.

Yeesh. It looks worse when I type it.

Anyway, I'm trying to actively change the type of woman I date. Some of the qualities that I'm looking for can't be changed; for example, it is impossible for me to date someone who hates theater. Or who isn't honest. Or has a flat butt. But I'm trying to put more of an emplasis on women who value some of the things I do: family, courtesy, tact.


Above all, I'm looking for someone who is nice. I used the phrase "big-hearted" recently - not sure that I've dated someone like that since high school.

I had an encounter a few weeks ago that showed me I'm making some progress.

I'm in Brooklyn on a Friday night, and I passed a beautiful woman with an Afro on her cell phone. I am intrigued. I get to my destination, and as I wait outside I see her again. Still on her phone. She smiles. I smile. She approaches me.

PRETTY WOMAN W/AFRO: Excuse me, can I ask you a question?

ME: Of course.

PRETTY WOMAN W/AFRO: Would you mind doing me a favor?

Uh-oh. Alarms bells going off.

PRETTY WOMAN W/AFRO: I'm trying not to run into my ex-boyfriend, and I think he may be inside this bar. Would you mind going inside and checking to see if he's there?

Now, obviously, I'm thinking BULLSHIT. Obviously, this woman is just looking for an excuse to talk to me. It's a lame one, but I'm kind of impressed that she came up with something And, you know, having a pretty girl make dumb excuses to talk to me is kind of awesome. It makes my ego feel good. So I decide to play along.

ME: Uh...sure.

PRETTY WOMAN W/AFRO: He's got dreadlocks. He's really corny-looking.

"Corny-looking"? Really? What the hell does that mean?

ME: Uh...ok.

PRETTY WOMAN W/AFRO: Oh, thank you. You are so nice!

I go into the bar. It is Buppie central. (Black Urban Professionals, for the uninitiated.) I walk the length of the bar. There is exactly one guy in the place with dreadlocks - and he's the DJ. And, if a girl's ex-boyfriend is a DJ, she's going to say, "Look for the DJ."

Armed with this information, I return to the front, where she is still standing (and still on her cell phone).

ME: The only guy in there with 'locks is the DJ.

PRETTY WOMAN W/AFRO: Was he real corny-looking?

ME: Uh, I don't know...sure.

PRETTY WOMAN W/AFRO: Yeah, that's him. You are so nice! Thank you!

We exchange names and chit-chat for a bit, and then she moves off to finish her phone call. My friends arrive (The Flying Squirrel and her friend). We walk through the club, decide that it's not our scene, and head across the street. I see my new friend walking away down the street. Too bad, I think. I had been planning on asking her to join us.

We go to the bar across the street. As we enter, I'm thinking, "She was cute, and she was obviously interested in you. And it's New York, so if you see someone you like, you need to go for it!" I excuse myself and head back out into the street.

No sign of her.

I walk in the direction where I last saw her.


I walk around the entire block.


Oh well, I think. I cross the street and prepare to head back to my friends...when I see her coming towards me on the street. Still on her phone. I approach her:

ME: Excuse me, Pretty Woman W/Afro?

PRETTY WOMAN W/AFRO: (to person on phone) Hold on a minute, Darnell. (to me) Yes?

ME: I just wanted to ask you if you wanted to get a drink or coffee sometime.

PRETTY WOMAN W/AFRO: Hmmm. Well, I don't know. You were acting kind of stuck up back there.

Um, what?

ME: I don't know what you mean. I was waiting for my friends to arrive, and when I turned around you were walking down the street. I was going to ask you to join us.

PRETTY WOMAN W/AFRO: Hmmm, I don't know. old are you?

I tell her my age.

PRETTY WOMAN W/AFRO: Okay, okay, I'm thirty, okay, that works. Well...what do you do?

It is at this point that I seriously consider walking away. These are pointed questions. I feel like I'm being interrogated. But, hey, I am a guy who follows through. In karate, as a kid, the tenth rule was ALWAYS FINISH WHAT YOU START. I must finish this. This is how I roll. So, against my better judgement, I answer:

ME: I'm an actor.

PRETTY WOMAN W/AFRO: Okay, okay, so that means you must be creative. You look like someone who can sing.

Um, what?

PRETTY WOMAN W/AFRO: Okay, okay, I could go out with you. Yeah.

ME: Well, how should we do this? Should I take your number, or do you want to give me yours, or can I give you my card...?

PRETTY WOMAN W/AFRO: A card? That's just so impersonal. (to person on phone) Darnell, I'm going to have to call you back.

Yes, that entire conversation took place WHILE SHE WAS ON THE FUCKING PHONE.

We exchange info, I go inside and hang with my friends.

I tell this story twice over the next two days: first, to a group of female friends, who are vehemently opposed to me going out with her. "If she's going to make you jump through all those hoops now and play these games," one friend says, "she's going to do that the whole time, You don't want to mess with that."

The second time was at our annual Mother's Day brunch: my brother, sister-in-law and I drove up to New England to have brunch with Voice & Sandwich, Grandma, my aunt, and my cousins. After the story, my mother looks distressed. "I just don't like this," she says.

ME: So you're saying you don't trust my taste in women?


We all laughed. It was kind of shocking, hearing that from my mother. And eye-opening.

So, of course, I call this woman on Thursday night, as I'm headed out for the evening.

At this point you're probably thinking, where are these changes? This seems like another pursuit of crazy.

Well, yes.

But as the phone was ringing, I found myself hoping that she wouldn't pick up. When she called me back the next evening, I didn't pick up. And a couple of days later, I deleted her number from my phone, without calling her back.

If she treats a stranger like that, is she really the nice girl I'm looking for?

It took me a while to get there, but I consider this progress.