I have worked as a writer for the better part of the last ten years. Focusing primarily on copywriting (and SEO) and other types of web content, I have helped individuals and businesses with their online presence in various capacities. I have also written several scripts for film and television as well as collaborated with other writers on creative projects over the years.
Writing has been in my DNA from an early age and served as one of the strong-suits of my academic career. But earning a living through the written word took many, many years and a LOT of effort. Those of us with a creative streak know too well how hard it can be to make a living in one’s chosen field, so we often juggle other lines of work to pay the bills in support of our true passion. I have held MANY jobs in a wide variety of industries on my journey as a writer and all-around creative professional.
Corporate VIP Relocation Coordinator. Standardized Patient. Videographer. Video Producer. Video Editor. Waiter. Bartender. Market Research Panelist.
Those are just some of the titles I have carried over the years on my path as a professional writer. Each position allowed me to hone a different set of skills that not only helped me to be a well-rounded person, but also informed my creativity by offering a bounty of experiences to pull from. I am the person I am today because of the person I was years ago and the ups and downs of my story have truly enriched my life for the better.
Unless you are in a long-running TV show or play, you are always facing the inevitable hunt for the next gig. And even then, the future can still be uncertain, for a show or play’s future relies greatly on its audience – or lack thereof. It can be challenging and frustrating to not have job security; especially if you are not one of the Hollywood A-listers who demand millions in salaries.
As an actor, you must consistently apply to all relevant breakdowns on the casting sites, continually hone your craft in workshops and with coaches and self-promote yourself to the industry on the regular basis. You must audition, audition, audition and then audition some more. One must learn to BE COMFORTABLE in that room or face the prospect of continued unemployment. That means learning to RELAX and ENJOY the RIDE. The actor’s daily routine is tedious, meticulous and time-consuming – not to mention expensive. You must have discipline and perseverance if you want to get anywhere in this business. Like anything in life, it is what YOU make of it. Effort = reward. You can’t expect results without putting in the time. I know that more than anyone, believe me.
I find that this process can be hard to navigate at times, especially given all the obstacles that life and the world throws in front of us. It is SO easy to get off track or to fall victim to a lazy moment. But it is that struggle that makes the journey that much more rewarding, as you see the fruits of your labor manifested in front of your eyes. For me, it is the big picture and incremental progress that sustains my fight during the hard times. I am proud of the progress I have made in the last few years. I am further than I was, but still not where I want to be ideally.
So I travel further up the road, chasing this dream with no end in sight and no timeline to confine my path. I am in it to win it and will proceed until my dying breath. Why? Because I have no choice, this is who I am. And it is up to me to follow my heart and use my God-given gifts to make a life for myself that lives up to my potential. Every action brings me a step closer to where I want to be and God-willing, I will arrive at my destination sooner rather than later.
Just about ten years ago, in 2006, my best friends and I embarked on a grand creative journey. Out of the blue, we decided to form a production company (Crazy Elk Productions) and produce an independent film called ‘Fight the Panda Syndicate,’ an ambitious dark comic adventure film that consumed the better part of six years of our lives. It was an amazing creative experience for us that I can look back on with a great sense of accomplishment (as I was heavily involved in its making in the form of co-writer, co-producer, actor and co-editor, among many other hats alongside director Jason J. Dale).
It was a monumental task producing an ambitious project like this on such a shoestring budget, but with that challenge came tremendous rewards. Now that the film is in the can and we are past the film festival submission wormhole, we are actively looking to get the film out into the world; which is a whole other challenge in itself, but one that has greater chances of success than it did just a few short years ago, when you consider the advent of the digital distribution age we find ourselves in. I feel good about the future of this film and look forward to the world feasting their eyes on it.
I felt it was apropos to share an essay that I wrote back in 2009 as we were knee-deep into production on this film, for it really provides a window into the world of independent filmmaking and into the soul of the grassroots artist. Additionally, make sure to check out the film’s trailer below the essay, which I have included for your joyous perusal…
What Fight the Panda Syndicate Means to ME
We have had a motto that has somewhat guided us since we began this journey on ‘Fight the Panda Syndicate’: what we lack in budget, we make up for in creativity. Given our meager resources I am very proud of what we have produced thus far. Lacking a large nest egg to cushion us, we have been forced to really get imaginative with how we have been making this film. Whether it is stretching the dollar to limits unseen by fund raising and bargain hunting or throwing away all conventional ways of storytelling and production, we have slaved since day one to achieve our filmmaking dreams. And as we watch the film come together in the editing process, like pieces of a puzzle, we stand behind another motto, one we adopted around the same time as the prior: ‘Fight the Panda Syndicate’ is the greatest independent film ever made. A bold statement to be sure, and one ‘El Mariachi’ fans may dispute, but never the less, one I will stand behind until the day I die.
It is hard to put into words what ‘Fight the Panda Syndicate’ means to me. How do you express a love this strong in words? I can honestly say I have never loved anything as much as this film. IT is my baby, my passion and the single most important thing in my life. My best friends and I have been working on this film for over two years now, going on three this summer. We have spent countless hours producing this project: discussing, planning, shooting, sweating, problem solving, bleeding and pressing on, as obstacle after obstacle, problem after problem, and antagonist after fucking antagonist has attempted to get in our way. We will not be deterred, not by the naysayers, the worrywarts, the assorted Riff-Raff, the inevitable financial woes or any other unforeseen force that is always working against this film. But, that is the life of the filmmaker and even on big budget films; there are nothing but obstacles and problems to address. So one must just keep their chin up and soldier on.
‘Fight the Panda Syndicate’ will be finished this year and then everyone can finally see the fruits of our labor, which is an independent film like no other. It is a film that transcends genres, is rich with character, ripe with humor, filled with action and danger and is truly a passion-filled ‘labor of love’ that started with four friends sitting around a kitchen table one night discussing ‘what if?’ This grand experiment, for lack of a better word, has grown into a family of creative artists over 400 strong from all over the north east. We are building a creative revolution, a collaboration of not only artists, but friends, who together are helping each other achieve their personal goals while striving for greater heights creatively and personally. This film is just the beginning of something truly remarkable, for it signifies that anything can be done no matter how impossible the odds against its success are and that if you work TOGETHER, ANYTHING can be achieved. ‘Fight the Panda Syndicate’ is just the first of many creative endeavors we will be working on together in all artistic realms in and out of film.
I sometimes find myself in disbelief at all we have accomplished. It is truly daunting to think of all we have been through since we started this film back in 2006. I pinch myself at times just to make sure this surreal dream is indeed a reality and not a sick Matrix-type joke I have been sleeping through. My dreams are unfolding before my eyes, almost too fast, and I find myself struggling to keep my mind on anything else. I can honestly say that ninety percent of the time I am not here; I am lost in my dream world physically present, but mentally on another plain going a hundred miles a minute in the idea super-highway. It is a place I don’t ever want to leave. Why would I want to?
This has been one HELL of a ride, filled with DRAMA the likes of which I have never experienced in my life. It is as if a door was opened into another world once production began on this film, bringing forth both great and terrible experiences; leaving our lives behind the scenes resembling a movie in itself. We have been through SO much these last couple years, both creatively and personally. Almost everyone involved with this project has had to deal with some pretty heavy shit, but we are still going strong, still fighting the good fight to get this thing finished. I am happy to say we are closer to the end than ever before with a rough cut actually in sight. The excitement is starting to brew, for nobody really has any idea what is in store for them! I am so excited for everyone I know and love to see this film that I feel high all the time, like I am floating along on a current of intense positive energy.
I am very thankful to God for the amazing family and close-knit circle I have been blessed with; I could not have asked for anything better. Without my belief in God and the strength that gives me and us each day, we would not have gotten through half the madness we have overcome. It is through faith and hope and the memory of my Mom that guided us through some of the hardest and darkest days and into the bright clearing we are at today. We have learned a lot and also gained much more wisdom these last couple of years; I know I am a better person because of it all.
In the end, experience builds strength, which in turn creates wisdom, which finally influences our character and makes us the enlightened people we are meant to be. I look forward to all the wonderful experiences the future has in store for us as we embark on a continuing quest for creative Zen – a place we can truly reach if we continue to work hard and to BELIEVE. And we will, I know it…right here in northern New Jersey, right under our noses; who knew?
Childhood, as we are very well aware, is the make or break period in our lives, there is no dancing around it. Our battle training begins in first grade and concludes freshman year of high school where we then generally enter the adolescence arena. Those formative years which are riddled with fluctuation, have a gargantuan role in shaping your academic and especially social position among your peers. I learned this from experience many years ago from an event which was scarring at the time but is rather hilarious to me now to reflect upon all these years later. This unique experience from third grade was integral in shaping my social status among my peers and effectively ensured that for a time, I was considered a weirdo or something along those lines. This experience, the time my Mother persuaded me to attend my first sleepover party in a three-piece white suit, has been deemed the White Suit Incident.
My Mother ALWAYS had the best of intentions and consistently put the interests of me and my sisters at the forefront of everything she did. In fact, it can be said that my Mother sacrificed SO MUCH to have us and lived her life FOR us. At eighteen she was diagnosed with Lupus, a terribly debilitating autoimmune disease that ravaged her body for almost forty years. Her doctors warned that having children would severely aggravate her condition, but she did not care and could not fathom the prospect of not having children with my father. So, in other words, my sisters and I felt the weight of what our Mother went through to bring us into the world. It is very poignant for me to reflect on all the educational and dramatic experiences my family shared over the years and the funny scenarios that have also helped shape the life I have lived. My parent’s guided us from our childhood through adolescence and into adulthood; their actions serving as beacons towards the right path…usually.
One piece of advice from my Mother (and its resulting event) was remarkably fateful and would prove to be more influential on my life than just about any other. Until that point – in Third Grade, I had never been invited to sleep over a friend’s house before, so understandably I was excited by the invitation. This wonderful invitation came from John, a newer friend, who was very good friends with (my good friend) Chris. Starting in first grade, Chris and I had become very friendly. I was kind of shy in the early days of first grade and Chris was notoriously loquacious from the moment I met him. Suffice to say we quickly became thick as thieves, as they say (and remain close today, more than thirty years later and counting). But back then, as I stated above, Chris was also good friends with two other guys in our class: John (whom you know) and Mike, whom I really did not begin to get to know too well until a couple years later in grade three, where this story takes place. So given my close friendship with Chris and our growing camaraderie as a group, I was invited to join the guys for a sleepover party at John’s house to celebrate his birthday one Friday night.
Elated and counting the hours until party time that spring evening, my Mom and I were packing my overnight bag with the usual roster of essentials: toothbrush and accompanying paste, pajamas, pillow & sleeping bag and the ever important clean underwear! I can only assume that in my Mother’s head this was some kind of grand occasion that called for only the best clothing, because I see no other explanation for why she said I should wear my white suit to this party. If I had previously attended a sleep over I would have been able to explain that these events are very casual, but being an overnight virgin, I did not know any better. Oh, the ignorance of youth…
My Mom was raised in Brazil in a very proper upper-class manner, attended boarding school along with her siblings and was always well dressed. So I gather it was this experience that shaped her views on her children’s appearance upon leaving the house every day, with no lack of influence from my Grandmother, who was even more dedicated to proper etiquette than my Mother was. I recall my Grandmother telling me upon my first trip on a plane that we should always dress nice for air travel. So it is not surprising looking back on it now, that my Mother always ensured that I wear proper dress clothing on the daily basis to school (slacks, nice shirt and loafers or some variation of dress shoes on my feet), with the firm caveat that I would be allowed to dress down and wear sneakers to school ONLY on the two days a week I had gym class. I bet you can imagine where this is going from here.
So given this upbringing, it was not even an issue when I was instructed to wear a three-piece white suit to the fateful sleepover party at John’s house. Not only was I used to formal attire and therefore did not think anything of it, but I was also a novice entering the world of childhood overnight escapades. In other words, I did not know what to expect. I just knew I was excited to have been invited to the party.
On the ride over to John’s house I felt the butterflies in my stomach jumping around as if they were bound to pogo sticks. The five-minute drive from my house to John’s across town felt like an eternity, with the anticipation of a night filled with misbehavior and the overeating of junk food corrupting my brain like an enveloping storm cloud. Although I had never been to a sleepover before, I had heard the roster of insanity that usually ensued once the parental units were out of sight, so now that the night was upon us, I was itching to get the evening started.
I finally arrived at the front door, dressed in my angelically-white ensemble that Hervé Villechaize (Tattoo from Fantasy Island) would have supported. Standing there with my bag, pillow and sleeping bag in toe, I excitedly rang the doorbell. My Mom was at the door behind me, ready to have the obligatory conversation with John’s mom that would ensure that her child was in good hands for the night. I can imagine parents must be nervous when their children become old enough to stay over other people’s homes, and unsure of how watchful these stranger’s eyes will be on their beloved child. To my Mother’s delight, John’s mom ensured her everything would be fine. A few moments passed as I said my goodbye to my Mom, walked through the door that was opened by John’s mom, who welcomed me in kindly and proceeded to point me in the direction of John’s bedroom where the guys were hanging out. I headed through the tidy living room, down the hall towards the bedroom, with a smile on my face and a skip in my step.
John’s bedroom was on the left-hand side of the hallway and I could see that the door was open. I announced my arrival and entered the room, where I saw John, Chris and Mike hanging out on the bed and floor, talking and laughing. To my surprise and to theirs, I was OVERDRESSED. It was as if a record skipped at the moment of my entrance, in classic movie fashion, where here instead of saying the wrong thing, I was WEARING it. I stood there in my formal wear observing the guys who were dressed in shorts; tie-dye t-shirts, no socks, looking totally comfortable and content. In sharp contrast, I walk in dressed for front row seats at an exclusive one-night only symphony at the New York Philharmonic. If the word awkward had never before had a definition, this moment would have been an inspired narrative to explain not only the word’s meaning but its definitive origin.
I felt like the eyes of the world were upon me as I put down my things and greeted the guys, who were snickering innocently with their mouths agape; undoubtedly shocked at the prospect of having a young butler crash their party.
“Hey guys,” I said, still happy to be part of John’s birthday.
“Why are you so dressed up?” Chris said, his tie-dye shirt burning a hole into my retina. “My Mom thought it was appropriate,” I said to him, deferring the blame. “She’s Brazilian, they dress nice there.”
“It’s a bit much for tonight, don’t you think?” Chris added. “We’re dressed like slobs,” he concluded in the most clearly evident self-awareness I had ever witnessed up until that point. I remember envying their pure comfort, wishing I could be in similar rags while simultaneously hating that neither my Mother nor I had thought to bring a change of clothes with me in case of a situation like the one I was presently experiencing occurred. “Sit down and get comfortable,” John implored. “We’re gonna have pizza soon.” And just like that, the moment passed. I sat down and we began to hang out, goof off and eventually devour several pizzas.
Looking back it must have been like that scene in Goodfellas where Maury was at the card game with De Niro, Liotta and Pesci during the sequence where he was close to being whacked and had no idea. Maybe that is why I always felt bad for him – the illusion of security among your peers is immensely intoxicating. We can never be too sure how genuine our acceptance really is at that young age.
As the evening progressed, I recall a trip to the local arcade for several rounds of video games, followed by pretzel-making back at the house afterwards or possibly before (I may have the food timeline mixed up), but regardless of order, it was a richly pleasing feast of fat and carbohydrates no doubt and the first time I ever made my own pretzel. The anticipation we felt waiting for them to be ready was intolerable and the increasing aroma of those fat, salty twists of dough teased our noses for what felt like hours. That first bite of warm dough and salty contrast was truly a marvel and one I will never forget.
The junk-food marathon of Roman Vomitorium proportions did not stop there, no sir. It continued with chips, cheese puffs, popcorn, ice cream and cake into the wee early hours of the morning as we watched back-to-back science fiction and horror movies in John’s basement. It was also the first time I had ever seen either of the first two Alien movies, which are classics to me now, but to a bunch of kids about 9 years old, were films that were too slow-starting to draw our attention at that age. We definitely turned both of them off after a few minutes, feeling bored with the exposition and impatient for some bloody action. Kids…
Next, I believe we perused scenes from various Freddy movies, as they were called by us (the Nightmare on Elm Street series, to the uninformed), and eventually settled on Creepshow as our feature presentation, a Stephen King anthology horror film, put together like stories from a comic book. This blood-fest was definitely more our speed and we watched it from beginning to end with great delight. To this day, I have vivid memories of this film, with The Crate, being the most terrifying and entertaining segment of the film. That horrifying creature is still one of the scariest monsters I have ever seen in a movie (bravo to Tom Savini for his wonderful creature effects). I was at a horror convention a few years ago and was told by the man himself, that that terrifying hairy beast with razor teeth and evil eyes was named Fluffy on the film’s set, which kind of takes away from the trepidation it is meant to evoke in the viewer.
Eventually we fell asleep, sometime in the early AM hours and awoke mid-morning that Saturday to a grand breakfast. Thanks again (if she is reading this) to John’s mom for preparing a memorable plethora of culinary delights for John and his ravenous guests. After breakfast we went for a walk in the woods near John’s house, eventually entering into a large area of undeveloped land called “the sandpits,” an apropos name for an area composed mostly of sand dunes and adjoining wooded areas hidden behind the local industrial park and residential neighborhoods.
Remember that feeling I had in John’s bedroom where the fog was lifted and I did not feel conspicuous in the white suit? Well, that feeling went away and the uncomfortable awkwardness had returned with a vengeance once we commenced our hike through the dunes of the sandpits. As I trudged through dense, cascading sand in my polished white dress shoes, ensconced in that cursed virginal white suit on an unseasonably-hot spring afternoon all I could think of was how ridiculous I felt in this getup. The entire ordeal was not exactly conducive to enjoyment or to cardiovascular activity for that matter. The only positive aspect to all this absurdity was that the sheer whiteness of my suit deflected the sun away from me a little bit, while assuredly blinding any birds that were unfortunate enough to fly overhead that afternoon.
I recall that we eventually split up into groups of two, Chris and John pairing up and Mike and I partners in expedition. Mike was very kind to me as he played down the white suit, insisting that I should not worry about it. I always remembered that in the years that followed, as it was a kind and thoughtful gesture. If memory serves, I think Chris and John had made some comments about my attire that morning, in a tag-team sort of fashion in an effort to bust my balls. I rolled with it the best I could, even if their remarks made me feel embarrassed. I did not feel like I fit in that afternoon as we hiked through the mountainous sand, which I am sure Mike picked up on as we navigated the mirage of dunes together. The more we trekked, the more uncomfortable I felt in my skin and especially in that fucking suit. I felt my body sweat like a leaking faucet and I was breathing heavily and cursing the manufacturer of the white equivalent of the Scarlett Letter I was trapped in. There is a reason athletes do not dress up for these occasions. My Mother apparently did not get that memo.
Do Brazilians hike in suits? Is that why their sexuality and raw animalistic attraction is renown around the world, because they dress to the nines for every aspect of their luscious tan lives? I should have consulted my Grandmother before she passed, for the dressing guidelines of South American sportsman. I have a sneaking suspicion there is a Portuguese expression for guys like me in this situation that would probably translate to “poor kid never had a chance.”
Thankfully, a little while later our hike ended and we reached the end of the sandpits, where Chris and John were already waiting. The four us headed out of the woods together headed back to civilization and by the time we got back to John’s house all our parents were already on their way to pick us up to go home. I remember being excited to strip off that suit and change into something, ANYTHING more comfortable and make sure my Mother explicitly understood what she had unknowingly put me through. I think I wore that suit MAYBE one more time after that day and it was for a holiday or some other special occasion.
Alas, in the end, I did survive the white suit incident and graduated from that to many other social and wardrobe faux-pas in my years from grammar school to early college; learning as I evolved, that white suits, red sweat pants & sweatshirt together, silk shirts or a jean Snapple jacket (although admired by me), were not fashions easily found among the pages of GQ magazine or likely to give you positive word of mouth among the female constituency. If I took anything useful away from that humiliating experience, it was that sleepover parties are a fairly casual occasion and the expectation of attire is on the lower end.
It is a testament to my perseverance and character that as embarrassing as that event was for me in the moment, I really don’t remember carrying it with me in the days, weeks, months and years that followed. It happened and I moved on from it. It was not until many years later that I learned of the profound impact that outfit had on me socially-speaking. I was informed probably around the time I was in college, that after the sleepover party, I was secretly looked at with an askew eye by Chris and the guys in the wake of the legendary white suit fiasco. It was completely unbeknownst to me, that from their perspective, I was “working off” that image for several years until I was officially accepted within their ranks. I guess it was cool of them to at least not make that fact obviously clear to me at the time. Or was it? Is it worse to not know? Who cares at this point?
You have to make your mark early and etch your name on the social totem pole as soon as possible or risk being the subject of ridicule and banishment forever from the graces of coolness. If only I had been given that memo in the third grade and allowed my Mother to read it, perhaps then the formative years of my life would have been drastically different. If I could go back in time now and change aspects of my life’s journey, I would probably decline because I am the person I am today because of whom I was back then.
We all make mistakes, have missteps and endure challenges as we evolve from children to adults, but hopefully we will learn from them and grow into stable, confident adults who can fulfill lifelong dreams and contribute to society. In a way I am now thankful that my Mom made me wear that monkey suit that night, not only because it gave me another unique story to tell years later (one that could only happen to me), but more importantly, because it allowed me to understand the value of making a good first impression; whether it is in school, socially, romantically or professionally. The first thoughts people have the moment they meet you are usually the ones that stick, so do what you can to make that first impression as great and as embarrassment-free as possible.
This landmark event also taught me to suck it up and make the best of any situation, because you don’t often get many do-overs in life. So even when you are shuffling through shin-deep sand in formal-wear, try your damnedest to shuffle exceptionally. My Mother had a saying that has stayed with me ever since I was a kid that is “always put your signature on everything you do.” I hear those wise words in my head all the time and consult them whenever I have a challenge on my plate. Maybe they guided me in the sand dunes that morning following the sleepover party and motivated me to just tough it out the best that I could.
In the end, whether we like it or not, our parents are with us forever – their voices, teachings and wisdom inevitably influencing us throughout our entire life, and no matter how painful or embarrassing certain events may be for us, they usually carry with them the most useful lessons. For me, it was a white suit. What was it for you?
I was invited to speak at my Alma mater, William Paterson University, as part of a panel discussion with other alumni, where we would share our achievements since graduation with students and elaborate on how we incorporated all we learned at the University into our careers. This enlightening event took place yesterday in the shadow of New York City in Wayne, New Jersey – just a short ride over the George Washington Bridge.
This engaging conversation between my fellow alumni and I and the crowded room of students (of varied majors) and faculty, was immensely enjoyable. There were three of us seated at the front of the Martini room (William Paterson’s cozy multi-media theater) in Hobart Hall aka the Communications building and we couldn’t have been more diverse in our chosen professions, yet as similar in our stories. We took turns telling our tales, reviewing our days at the University and each imparted tidbits of useful information and wisdom to these young studious minds.
The students were privy to the “war stories” of a career broadcast journalist who had most notably reported from the Wall Street trading floor on 9/11 and from the front lines of 2005’s Indonesian and Indian Tsunami disaster, where she stayed for seven weeks. The kids also heard from a career salesman and marketing guru who moonlighted as a children’s author – all after serving in the Marines when he was young. And they heard my story, as an actor, a writer, filmmaker and freelance videographer.
It was truly a privilege to be able to go back in time for a moment and recount my days in William Paterson’s Hobart Hall and praise the professors whom inspired me – like Chriss Williams, my film-making professor or John Rhodes, my adviser and journalism professor who helped me secure my internship at Late Night with Conan O’Brien when he was still at NBC in new York. These two pros, among others, showed me that you can make a difference in the world and provoke a spark within the artist that will eventually produce the grand flames of creativity within.
I was able to share my experiences as a struggling actor, filmmaker and freelance videographer and how important it is to remain focused on your career path. I answered many questions on craft, technique and especially how I market myself in the fast-paced world of social media we are currently in right now, where self-promotion is absolutely vital because nobody will work as hard for you as YOU.
Additionally I broke down my daily, weekly and monthly routines and how they related to my overall BIG PICTURE goals. How it is so easy to fall into the time-wasting traps that the internet offers and how fast we can slip into procrastination.
And lastly I explained how vital it was to ensure that an artist not only considers oneself a business person but that the artist dutifully maintains his creative endeavors in a manner that works AS a BUSINESS, and not merely as a hobby. This is of paramount importance if one wants to not only be successful, but desires to be seen as a creative professional and hence, taken seriously within the industry.
If there was one piece of advice I was able to relay to the students that for me, held real value was simply how important it was to believe in yourself. If you do not believe in yourself and your ability to achieve your dreams, nobody will. My belief in my talents, my dedication and passion are what have guided me on my journey through the failures and successes and kept me afloat during the hard times when it seemed my career aspirations were out of reach.
I also said to them how special it is to be an artist and how audacious it is to pursue a career in the arts, where the odds of success are often spewed onto the budding artist with the grimmest of patinas, yet it is the inherent rebellious nature of the artist to face the obstacles and naysayers with a stiff upper lip and proceed forward regardless – for the artistic hunger will surely override the roadblocks that the real world enjoys throwing at the creative soul.
In all, it was a great feeling, being up there with my peers in front of all those students during our afternoon panel discussion and later on during an evening panel as well, where I was the sole speaker. It is my hope, that together, the three of us left these kids with a sense that it IS possible to achieve success if you are willing to put in the work, to take the time to hone whatever craft is relevant to your chosen profession and how necessary it was to find a strong work ethic; which they must develop in school because it is the discipline that will follow them throughout their life in all their various endeavors. If they could take away even a morsel of these themes from our discussions and apply them to their lives, there is no reason that one day they could not end up sitting in the very seats we were sitting in, speaking to a future generation of William Paterson students about THEIR success. That would make me very happy.
Last night I had a wonderful experience at my Alma mater, William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey (which I graduated from in 2002 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications). Along with several other alumni, I had the pleasure of being invited to attend a lecture and discussion with “60 Minutes” broadcast journalist and co-editor Lesley Stahl, as part of William Paterson’s annual Distinguished Lecturer Series.
This was a very interesting and engaging lecture, which was preceded by a dinner with the Dean and other William Paterson faculty and administrative staff. Ms. Stahl’s lively lecture covered her long and varied career at CBS which began right as the Watergate scandal was breaking and also covered the challenges of being a female journalist in a mostly male-dominated field in the 70’s and concluded with her respected contributions to “60 Minutes,” where she still contributes today. There were some fascinating tidbits, immensely useful advice for students and a terrific Q&A afterwards, where Ms. Stahl shared that she is in the midst of completing a new book which will chronicle her life as a grandparent.
I think the most interesting topic for me was the evolution of journalism from its print heyday to the fast-paced digital realm it is vastly residing in today. Ms. Stahl’s lecture really made an impact on me and enticed deep reflection about the media era of today. In the age of the internet, where any and all information is only a fingertip away, we tend to forget how far “information” has come. It is almost alien to imagine a time where news traveled slowly via countless local and nation newspapers, from telegrams and wires and largely from mouth-to-mouth. We tend to take for granted how much work and effort was put into researching a story and checking the facts in advance of an impending print deadline. Today with the click of a button one can find just about any information they want on the world wide web, written by God knows who and often without the smallest hint of credibility. Of course the major news outlets still follow traditional journalistic guidelines as they manage their internet counterparts, but they are but a fraction of the news-gathering entities online today in the wild, wild west of the world wide web.
The Information Age is a double-edged sword at best and an abomination to fact-based education at its worst and it is up to us individuals now to do the fact-checking, because with the onslaught of content and the enchanting power of advertising dollars, domains are pumping out legions of “click-bait” articles designed to allegedly increase their readership (with eye-catching headlines) and in turn attract the coveted revenue dollars instead of focusing on putting out actual information. In many cases sadly, MISINFORMATION is the law of the land, as readers flock to get their fix of slanted and or distorted versions of stories that may or may not align with the actual facts of the day and usually just serve to feverishly stir the pot of whatever the topic of the day happens to be. More than ever before, readers must be vigilant and shrewd when seeking news and lean on skepticism until proven otherwise. In other words, question everything. Which in a way, is kind of what journalism is all about. The tough questions are usually the right ones to ask. Yes, it was truly a memorable evening and one I was honored to be a part of.
One unexpected bonus from this grand evening occurred during a conversation I had with the head of alumni relations – whom after hearing a brief synopsis of my experience and achievements since graduation, asked me to participate in an upcoming alumni panel discussion where we would share our accomplishments with current students, answer questions and flesh out how we incorporated our educations at William Paterson into our careers. Having participated in a similar event in the past on two separate occasions at another local college [where I co-taught a workshop on independent film-making], I was eager to be a part of it.
I always enjoy public speaking and anyone who knows me is aware that I am not exactly an introvert. I have always been comfortable talking in front of people and love inspiring others with my world view or past experiences – which is always thrilling, especially if they can occur in the same discussion.
You may see the University’s official event page below:
I recently purchased a bag of good old Reese’s Pieces and was horrified that they had grossly changed the recipe and turned a once classic candy of perfection into a disgrace of flavor. To say it was almost inedible would not be a terrible exaggeration. So I took it upon myself to write them a letter today and submit it via their website.
I urge all of you to do the same if you share my distaste for their poor judgement @: (www.reeses.com).
I thought it would be fun to share this letter… November 17, 2011
To Whom It May Concern,
Hello, I am writing to express my disappointment in the changes Hershey’s has made to Reese’s Pieces. I have enjoyed these candies pretty much my entire life and was beyond let down by the recent bag (7.4 ounce) I purchased at my local CVS. It had been a while since I last bought a bag and was understandably giddy at the prospect of once again revisiting a favorite treat – especially since it was a reward for a hard day’s work.
As soon as I opened the bag I noticed immediately, that something was wrong with the taste; the flavor was noticeably more processed and the peanut butter was WAY TOO SWEET (factors that were never present in the beloved Reese’s of my memory). Even my friends noticed the difference and experienced the same horror as I upon taking that first bite. Never before have a group of friends collectively felt their tongues recoil back into the depths of their throats upon sensing such an injustice to the palette.
I do not know what the catalyst behind the recipe change was, but I for one, am not pleased and will never buy Reese’s Pieces again. It was the PERFECT candy that was untouchable in its simplicity and unparalleled in its dominance over all other candies.
This is my humble petition on behalf of all the unsatisfied Reese’s fans out there for you to consider reverting back to your old, glamorous Reese’s recipe and hence reclaim Reese’s place on top of the hierarchy of sweetness.
Last year, an idea was sparked in my head upon the realization that my driver’s license was about to expire. In the honor of good comedy, I felt it was incumbent upon me to mess with the system a little bit. So in the tradition of comical pranks and inside jokes, I decided it was necessary to alter my appearance for my new license photo.
Given that idea, I did not want to just wear funny glasses, make a silly face or dress as a priest (as “Jackass” alumni Johnny Knoxville brilliantly did several years back) no, I wanted to take the idea much further. I figured if I am going to run with this idea, I might as well sprint with it. So, I chose to wear a wig; not just any wig, but a Bohemian-style wig I had purchased back in 1999 for a Qui-Gon Jinn costume I was assembling for the absurdly-anticipated premiere of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (yes, I am a movie dork and proud of it).
This wig is wondrous; truly a cascade of flowing hair rivaled only by the manes of the most majestic lions of the Serengeti. The wisest investment I have made to date, bar none; this $40.00 special-ordered wig has paid for itself tenfold, as I have used it on countless occasions over the years whenever it was deemed necessary.
Whenever I wear it I feel like the son of Sasquatch or some other starved, feral beast out to masticate the young of the privileged. Hear my roar! Upon placing the hairy crown over my scalp, I instantly feel the encompassing locks engulfing my face as strand upon strand either shoots up my nose like rebellious mustache fragments or taste them plunge into my mouth, aggressively caressing my drenched tongue as would a longful lover. Numerous bouts of spitting out hair, placement adjustments and glances in the mirror ensued as I secured the day’s prized adornment as a genuine element of my person. I even wore a rather captivating brown suit to further establish and project a grandiose image of myself to the subjects I was about to address within the stale, depressing walls of the local office of the Division of Motor Vehicles or DMV for short.
To pull off a stunt this brazen, one must confirm that all key elements are in place to secure proper execution. I could not leave anything to chance, as the slightest oversight could bring my comedic masterpiece crumbling to the ground. The covert plot must be a success, so overcompensation and strict attention to detail was instituted to ensure personal hilarity. I went above and beyond my Six Points of Identification required by New Jersey state law to efficiently obtain a driver’s license renewal, taking with me in my arsenal of identity verification: my current (and soon to be expired) NJ driver’s license, United States passport, High school diploma, vehicle registration and insurance cards, college diploma, Social Security card, and a current bank statement. I was confident I had the points in the proverbial bag, leaving only one unpredictable variable in this equation, which was whether or not the keen DMV staff would buy my presumptuously daft appearance as gospel, or see through my facade and destructively heckle the grandest practical joke I had ever proposed.
With my aforementioned doubts hovering in my psyche, although fairly low on the scale of deterrence, the rouse was now perfectly prepared. My suit looked dapper and dashing, the celestial hair magnificently flowing and my confidence was rock solid. I chuckled mischievously as I took one more gander at myself in the mirror – tickled pink at how utterly ridiculous I looked, while grinning proudly at the risky self-imposed challenge I was about to embark on.
I was on a mission, not one of nobility, but of jest, and as I drove from my house to the local Division of Motor Vehicles I could feel the butterflies parading inside my stomach like kernels of popcorn exploding over an open flame. Perspiration omitted from my pores at a steady rate the closer I got to my intended target, as I was now slightly nervous about the wool I was about to pull over the inspecting eyes at the DMV. I took deep breaths and got into character as I jumped from the car and walked through the parking lot towards the agency’s entrance. I felt the eyes of everyone I walked past upon me, like a sudden pariah among a colony of disciples. Undeterred I ventured into the building where the motor vehicle constituency was located, feeling a soldier’s resolve in my veins like mother’s milk.
“No one can stop me now,” I thought to myself, as I approached the double-glass doors of the DMV, with adjacent heads turning as my presence appeared in their peripheral vision. Surely I was a strange sight to behold in a venue usually comprised of boredom and impatience, but a well-dressed man wearing a wig to the DMV, was confidently not a summation I would gamble the bystanders were thinking upon witnessing my entrance into the busy home of state driving privilege. I speculated my ironic appearance would be regarded by the congregation as any number of characters in our diverse societal paradigm: a rugged beatnik, or eccentric artist perhaps, maybe a begrudged biker (hoping to be deemed presentable for a change by the masses) and possibly even an unrelenting hippie wearing a suit for the man, while flaunting long locks of rebellion to satisfy his own lust for protest. Whatever the label I was given, there was no turning back now, as the momentous time had come to perform the prestige of a lifetime.
I got into the rather surprisingly short line for renewals in the back of the room near the door. I felt conspicuous, more conspicuous than I have ever felt before, like a shotgun hiding under a napkin. Beads of sweat were beginning to collect under the wig and on my forehead, as it felt like the eyes of the nation were narrowing their gaze onto me. My heart pounded relentlessly and my stomach was electrified, but I felt jazzed by the rush that was slowly enveloping me from the inside out.
I followed the lead of the guy in front of me and moved a couple steps forward, now feeling a calm begin to wash over me. That soothing cool sensation was to be short lived, as my movements clumsily triggered the collection of documents that were neatly tucked under my left arm to be regurgitated from their folder onto the floor beneath me and scattered all over the place in a mortifyingly messy manner only a troublesome two-year old could arrange. Given the tight surveillance I felt was surrounding me, whether real or imagined, this was a nightmare.
Immediate stares followed my horrendous display of attempted stealth from the patrons waiting in the uncomfortable chairs all around, from DMV staff that casually looked up at me upon hearing the choice obscenity that slipped from
I could feel the panicked sweat cascading down my head with salty pools beginning to collect in the nooks and crannies of my armpits and seeping like a sponge onto my eyebrows. I quickly bent down to pick up all my identification documents, cursing my clumsiness and the premature attention I was currently receiving in the wake of my faux pas. It was only a collection of seconds in reality as I grabbed my passport, license and other points of identification, but in my mind it was an eternity – like a lost child in a large department store, filled with terror and vertigo at the intense overwhelming sensations overcoming their every sense of being. Then like a flick of a switch the scrutiny was over, with my documents finally in order and back into their rightful folder and all the prying eyes reverted back to their home positions.
Soon enough, it was my turn at the preliminary verification desk where a middle-aged woman was waving me over to inspect my six points of identification and to verify I am indeed who I say I am. As I walked over to her I felt cool and collected and most certainly back on my game. With a smile of pearly whites I introduced myself to her and said I was here to renew my license. She was a very nice, pleasant person and I recall thinking she was almost overly kind, given that she worked at a place most deemed to be the closest place on Earth to Purgatory.
Any local branch of the Division of Motor Vehicles was a place you go only when absolutely necessary and never with the anticipation of a speedy exciting visit. Long waits prevailed here, feeling like a penance for the privileged gift of driving which was granted to the masses by miserable, not particularly animated employees who worked at paces even snails would describe as lethargic. All the while we the waiting patrons are inflicted – as we await the beckon of our name, with a level of boredom not soon experienced by those lucky few who transcribe tax codes into braille for a living. It was this knowledge that made this woman’s cheerful demeanor that much more welcomed by me as I delivered to her all the requested points of identification, explaining that I brought WAY more documentation than deemed necessary, to ensure that all my bases would be covered.
The documentation review process went fairly quickly as I waited for the other shoe to drop and for her to question my authenticity. A momentary chill of nerves rushed through me as she inspected my expiring license in a way a doctor examines an x-ray. I felt as though the gig could be up, as my current license was four years old and featured a photo of me bald and clean shaven. My youthful appearance in that picture was truly contrary to the bearded Yeti that was presented before her today.
“Wow, your hair sure grew,” she said to me in an amused tone as her eyes rose from studying the photograph in her hand to the man himself.
“I know, it grows like weeds,” I replied, in a matter of fact manner, confidently peppered with a hint of dually-amused dismissal. “It’s amazing what four years can do,” I continued with faux enthusiasm.
Before I knew it I was verified and cleared with the properly-signed paperwork in my hands and the finish line in my sights. The last step on my farcical journey was only a mere twenty paces to my right – a distance I traveled with steadfast self-assurance and thoroughbred agility.
The line at the main counter where the photos are taken, paperwork officially processed and currency exchanged was but one person long and as I joined the short procession, I was giddy inside like a child waiting to board a ride at Disney World. I stood there patiently for my turn while perusing the female specimens sitting, standing and mingling about the room in their skimpy shorts and spaghetti straps with their assets on display like strawberries on shortcake.
“Next!” I heard from in front as suddenly it was my turn to go. I deferred back to my 12 and headed to the counter where several women were stationed. A police officer paced behind them, surveying the room with minimal interest. As I approached I felt the eyes again, glaring suspiciously at me from behind the counter. There was no paranoia this time, all eyes were tractor-beamed on me: the glowing suit, the pristine beard and Neanderthal hair, exasperatedly accompanied by a smile surely reminiscent of a used car salesman. I held my resolve and kept on trucking, submitting all my papers to the woman in charge.
Skeptical would be an understatement when describing the tone in her voice as the woman scanned my old license photo. “This looks nothing like you,” she stabbed, as a wave of chills sank from my forehead to my groin upon hearing her accusatory remark.“I know,” I shot back calmly. “I’ve been growing it out for a movie these last four years along with the beard,” I said confidently and deceitfully.
“I’m an actor and I have been producing an independent film for the last couple years, this look is necessary for the part,” I half-truthfully continued, knowing that all that information was technically true except for the part about growing out the mane in front of her; a white lie necessary in executing the elaborate escapade I was chest-deep in the middle of.
“Wow, it REALLY doesn’t look like you at all,” the persistent persecutor mused as her biting words enticed the cop and other DMV employees to congregate in a semi-circle behind her like rubbernecking motorists to an accident. This was clearly the most excitement this place has seen in a LONG time. I guess I do not blame them – how often do you see a guy sporting a bushy beard, with very long unkempt hair donning the sharpest suit outside of a courtroom in your local motor vehicle office?
The suit, which I thought was a nice touch, was a way to add a little class and validity to the rambunctious wig. I speculated that given my appearance, I would be seen as a business professional that happened to enjoy long hair (an eccentric lawyer or small business owner perhaps). What I mistakenly overlooked was the sheer discrepancy between the two appearance factors. My intentions towards vindication had backfired eliciting the exact opposite reaction from these people: one of doubt, conspicuousness and scrutiny rather than the preferred welcoming and procedural air. If I had worn torn jeans and a leather jacket with a Born to Ride patch on the back and the Hell’s Angels insignia on the sleeve, I think I would have encountered a fraction of the prying eyes.
The vast contrast between my current appearance and the older photo she held in her hand was a clearly-justified red flag, but not an antithesis that could technically be contested, as I was VERY prepared for just this scenario. Due to the brilliance of the immaculate portfolio of identification provided by me for specifically this purpose, only the hardest of asses would attempt to discredit the encyclopedic ensemble of credentials before them. As this woman of imposing authority studied me intently I could tell that she began seeing the resemblances as she looked at my face, focusing on my eyes, mouth, and nose and comparing them to the details in my old license. It was a few moments later when she was taking into consideration the thorough dossier in front of her that I knew I had won. I could see in her face that there was no justification for dispute here, I was indeed the man I claimed to be and in minutes I would have achieved exactly what I came here to do.
“OK, stand in front of the blue square on the wall over there,” the woman said to me in resignation. I obliged happily and prepared myself for the moment I had been anticipating. As this other lady – slightly older than the other, fiddled with the camera, I readied the biggest smile I could muster and held it for whenever she decided to click the button. I stood there steady as a totem and braced feverishly for that fateful lens to capture my face – etching it in time what to me, was a true achievement in humor, my dearest friend and partner in arms. SNAP, went the camera as the jubilation rushed through my body like the building of a huge sneeze. I had done it! The picture was taken and I had won the day, fooling everyone in the room.
While I awaited my finished identification my thoughts went to Andy Kaufman and the countless stunts he pulled in his brilliant career. To pull this stunt off was if anything, a tribute to Andy and anyone else who dared to put everything on the line in the name of comedy. After all you cannot take life too seriously, especially if an opportunity is presented to you for a great practical joke. One would be remiss to think otherwise.
Any moment now, it would be ready. The anticipation of seeing the final product was killing me. I could not wait to lay my eyes on this absurd new license and I was even more anxious to show everyone in my life what I had accomplished. Anticipating the hilarity that would ensue from this made every ounce of nerves I felt in the process well worth it.
The woman told me I may want to consider taking another picture in the near future after I was done with the long hair so I would more closely resemble my old self in case I was ever pulled over. I nodded in agreement with her, knowing full well I would never do that. This picture was way too good to only use for a few months. I wanted the delight of walking around with this photo for the next four years and was not concerned at all with any legal implications that could possibly ensue as a result, as I knew there was nothing illegal about it.
My signature was spot-on, I had all the proper identification and had all the answers to the questions asked. So I did not look like my picture in person, do you have any idea how many people do not currently look like their license picture? I don’t have that answer for you, but I am sure the number is pretty high.
All these thoughts went out of my head as I was finally handed my new driver’s license – my first one featuring all the new digital watermarks and imprinting modifications, which ensured near-impossible forgery. Looking at it, I had to hold back the laughter as I gazed at the huge smile plastered across my face in the picture…and that waterfall of long brown hair accompanied by that colorful austere suit…oh man, I was impressed with myself for actually pulling it off. I thanked everyone at the counter and said goodbye, further staring at the license as I headed for the exit. I could tell that the staff was still watching me skeptically as I ventured further and further away from them like a camel disappearing into a desert mirage.
As soon as I could I paraded my new license around like a mother with a newborn child. I showed it to family, friends and coworkers to glorious, howling laughter and high marks. Some people laughed so hard they could not breathe; another friend of mine fell off his chair – all satisfying results of a prank gone right. Accolades like these made me feel like a comedic god and further cemented my dedication to entertainment. Making people laugh can be addictive; a drug in itself and one I am not ashamed to enjoy and revel in. Now I just need to figure out what my next prank will be…
I lay awake at 6 am this morning unable to sleep, tossing and turning in my bed – like trying to nap on a wooden staircase. I can usually sleep anywhere but not today. My gift of sleep versatility was broken today. Truth be told, I had a lot on my mind, too much to think about at such an early hour. Why do our problems seem to reveal themselves in the middle of the night? Never the less, I lay there, WIDE AWAKE. To distract myself from my running mind, in hopes of zoning myself to sleep, I watched the Olympics.
This is a rare moment for me because I am not usually a sports guy – those who know me can attest to that. I am the guy who could usually be found watching a movie over the day’s big game and the Oscars, well, they are my true Super Bowl! But in a strange turn of events, I have found my eyes circling web articles for Olympic updates these last few days, and flipping through the channels to NBC, MSNBC or to the USA network hoping for a glimpse at something exciting or hopefully extraordinary.
I found myself drawn to these heralded 2008 Olympics for the first time in my life. Maybe it was China, a mesmerizing draw in itself, with its ancient architecture and deeply rich culture that demanded my attention. Better yet, perhaps it was the media chatter and excitement surrounding our own Michael Phelps, the unbelievably inhuman swimming god who has broken more records than a bull at a vinyl shop. In the end, it does not really matter what lured me in, I was interested. Stop the presses.
As I stared at my television screen at the athleticism on display and noted the pitch darkness of the morning out the window beside me I realized that I was clearly not dozing, but instead was caught up in a tense volleyball game between Brazil and Russia, the two best teams in the world. Sadly, Brazil lost in a surprisingly self-destructive manner (bravo Russia), but it wasn’t the end of the road for Brazil just yet, as they still have a good chance at making a comeback this weekend against Poland, just to name one team. After the game I passed by some basketball, which was not my taste and then flipped around to the Today Show live from Beijing, then to some Greco-Roman Wrestling on MSNBC which was not even remotely interesting to me. I kind of wish it was though. As the clock ticked on towards 7 I did eventually finally fall asleep thankfully.
When I got home later that night from work I watched women’s gymnastics (yet another activity I would never normally watch) and marveled at these young girls from the USA, China and Russia flip, jump, run and twirl their hearts out in front of millions of people. I couldn’t help respect their tremendous skill, laser-point precision, agility and poise under unimaginable pressure. These kids have been under more stress before they are legally able to drive than most people experience in their whole life. They were truly a remarkable sight.
A smile crept onto my face as I watched the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals being awarded to the USA and China. Tears rolled down USA Gold medal winner Nastia Liukin’s face as she received the very thing she has been dreaming about since she was 4 – a dream shared by her father and coach, Valeri Liukin, who was a double Gold medalist for the Soviet Union 20 years ago. Sharing the same emotion was 16 year-old USA Silver medal winner Shawn Johnson, who stood to the left of Luikin. She has been compared to famed Olympic Gold-winning gymnast Mary Lou Retton. Then to the right of Luikin was Yang Yilin of China, who won the Bronze. I don’t know if the pressure of this incredible experience was too much for her to handle or if she was nervous of the repercussions her country may divvy out to her for not coming in first, but standing up there in that moment this amazing athlete looked frozen. The pressure the People’s Republic has put on their athletes to win is loathsome and unfair. If they had a heart they would see that at this moment, China has won the most Gold medals with a not too shabby 22. However, the USA has the most total medals so far, with 43. So China, lighten up a bit and give your stars some air.
I guess what I am getting at with all this sudden Olympic enthusiasm inside me is deep down, the Olympics are the closest thing we will ever have to a taste of world peace. The Olympics are so much more than heated competition and bragging rights, much bigger than the World Cup and most certainly more emotional to its participants than any other event in the world. These games represent something very meaningful to me. It is the only time the world is united in one global activity and we are all watching something together, something positive, and something amazing. For the briefest of moments all of humanity is focused on ONE THING. And that is rather amazing.
It occurred to me a few years back as the last Olympic Games came and passed, that I have always felt a sense of world unity and togetherness, dare I say peace, around me whenever the Olympics were on. I remember even since I was a small boy, walking past my parent’s room as they cheered and clapped in awe of the athletic ability and endurance they were witnessing, that something special was going on in the world. Until this week I never really paid much attention to it, to these Olympic Games, but I have always enjoyed when they were on, even if I was not paying attention it, because for even the slightest of moments I felt that the world was at ease within itself and we could all actually get along for a while. That peace, harmony and the simple appreciation of being alive is enough for all of us and together we can sit back and applaud the best of ourselves and throw away our differences if even for the briefest of periods. There is great comfort in that, even if it is to be short lived.