Sunday, October 31, 2010


Angie and I watched, strangely, Back to the Future last night.  I haven't seen the movie in twenty five years or so.  And, of course, it got me thinking on my favorite and most recent obsession, the passage of time and aging gracefully.

The movie takes place, as nearly everyone knows, in 1985.  The Michael J. Fox character then does a little time travel thingee and ends up in 1955. 

1985.  I had just finished a year with an Equity theatre in Iowa, of all places, and had moved to NYC in May of that year.  For the first few months I stayed with a couple of friends in Jersey City and then in the fall moved to a small studio in Washington Heights.  Actually, more accurately, to Inwood.  I think the street was 201st street.  Something like that.  Seemed a long ways up, but on the A train it was only about 15 or 20 minutes to midtown.

That first summer in New York was a blur.  Out nearly every night and up early working.  Oddly, through a temp agency, I had landed a job at Working Mother Magazine as a receptionist and typist (even then I was a very fast typist).  Later, in October, I think it was, I started waiting tables.  My friends Jeff Wood, John Bader and Rober Fiedler and I were having a non-stop party, it seemed.    Ah, youth.  Frankly, I don't know how we did it. 

New York had actually been my second choice.  I had attempted to move to Los Angeles a couple of years earlier but my car died in Oklahoma effectively aborting that trip.  Funny how things work out for the best, sometimes.  Los Angeles would have been, for me at that time anyway, disasterous.  New York, on the other hand, was precisely the place to be.

That first summer I actually ran into Woody Allen and Madonna.  Both very briefly, Madonna jogging in Central Park and trying to hail the same cab as Woody Allen in Chelsea.  Today, neither of those chance meetings would mean much to me, but as a midwestern boy straight from the trailer parks of Missouri, I felt like I was in Oz. 

That first summer I also did my first play in NYC, a short stint, only one weekend, down in the east village.

'Twas a heady time for me.

Interestingly, the thing that kept me from being eaten alive by that city was my sheer naivety.  I didn't know from nothin'.  I wasn't afraid of anything because I didn't know enough to BE afraid.  New York was a very dangerous city in 1985.  Midtown alone was nearly unrecognizable then.  Nothing like it is today.

Nonetheless, every day was an adventure.  I wouldn't give that summer up for the world.  Absolutely nothing of consequence happened that year, really.  Except the personal experiences still resound in me to this day from that time.  It was a fearless. arrogant time. 

Later I started waiting tables at a restaurant on Fifth Avenue.  Money was pouring in from that gig.  Who knew a kid could make so much money just by bringing food to a table?  It was a new thing for me and, in retrospect, nearly derailed me.  I've seen it so often with young actors, in NY and LA.  They get so wrapped up in their 'day jobs' that the actual reason they moved to the big city is suddenly forgotten.  That is to say, to be an actor, or an artist, or a musician or whatever.  It nearly happened to me.  I got so wrapped up in the day to day workings of the restaraunt, I don't think I even auditioned for anything for a full year.  And, being from the midwest, I moved up the chain of command quickly...waiter, head waiter, bartender, head bartender, corporate innate work ethic from the midwest was highly desirable in that place.  And it wasn't until 1987 or so that I finally took inventory of all that was happening and said to myself, "Is this why I moved to NY?"

I think the one moment that saved me was stumbling into Michael Moriarty's professional acting class in 1987.  After that first night in Michael's class I suddenly realized how futile and meaningless my existence was in NY up to that time.  Everything suddenly came into focus.

Plus, my other friends, Robert, John and Jeff, were also putting their career on hold to work tirelessly at 'day jobs.'  Robert was also a waiter over on 3rd Avenue at a place, now defunct, called Lily Langtree's and John and Jeff were with NBC news heading up the polling division.  We were all making money hand over fist and none of us were really pursuing our work in the theater.  This is an age old story, I'm afraid.  I see it even today in LA with young actors and artists.  It's a tremendously dangerous pitfall.

But, like all great stories, it came to an end.  I remember going to a 'cattle call,' that is to say, a massive audition for actors.  I think it was called 'Straw Hat.'  I had, incredibly, not been off the island of Manhattan for nearly 18 months.  I was going just a tad bonkers.  So I threw myself into these auditions and ended up getting about 11 or 12 offers to do Summer Stock theatre up and down the East Coast.  I remember pulling out an atlas one night in my apartment up on 178th street and finding all the spots where I'd been offered jobs.  I literally took a ruler and measured the one farthest from New York.  It ended up being a job I'd been offered in Kentucky, of all places.  I called them the next morning and accepted the job.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

1985.  What a wondrous year.  New York spread before me like a 7-course meal.  And I gorged myself.  I went back for seconds and thirds.  I nearly drowned from the hedonism.  Danger, excitement, love, loss, glory, money, drugs, booze, a hundred midnights.  All of it absolutely necessary, every single moment of that high wire summer needed, all of it pointing strangely toward the exact moment in time that is now.  Honestly, I wouldn't change a thing, not a second, not one instant of that time.  I probably wouldn't do it again, but I love pretending I would.  I have to say this, though, I wouldn't mind doing about six or seven hours of it again.

See you tomorrow.