Sunday, July 29, 2007

Iron Men

In the summer of 1995, Cal Ripken Jr., veteran shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles, was closing in on a record – his 2,131st consecutive game, which would surpass the mark set by Lou Gehrig more than half a century before, and make him baseball's undisputed Iron Man.

Forty miles down the road, in Washington DC, another distinguished, silver-haired gentleman – a man named Ed Gottfried – was going for his own endurance record. He sought to make it to my sister's October wedding in New York, before the cancer that took his stomach and was now devouring his liver would finally take him, too.

I never called Ed my stepfather. Popular culture long ago killed any positive notions associated with the title “step.” Besides, he and my mother married when I was an adult, so I didn't grow up in his home and he didn't raise me. But they were together for many years before their marriage so I knew him well. He was family, but better. Like the kind of person you’d have in your family if you got to choose family members.

Raised in Brooklyn by immigrant parents from Hungary, Ed was utterly gregarious in that quintessential New York way. When he and my Mom bought a house in DC’s DuPont Circle neighborhood, Ed’s main requirement was that it had to have a front stoop. The kind he enjoyed as a kid. A place where he could sit in the warm afternoon sun, have a beer and chat with the neighbors and random passersby.

Ed was the kind of guy who made friends everywhere. One time in a restaurant, he was chatting with a couple at a nearby table, as he would often do. Apparently the woman had this dessert that Ed could not stop admiring. Taking the hint, she offered him a taste. Now if it were you or I, we’d politely decline, of course. But not Ed. He gladly took spoon in hand and took his taste from a complete stranger’s plate!

Life was to be experienced, and Ed knew few experiences equal the perfect dessert.

Ed had arrived in Washington after a stint in the army, called to service like so many other young people of his generation by Kennedy-era idealism. He worked for the government, traveled the world and, after 30 years, retired at the relatively young age of 55. He did not slow down. He launched a consulting business, taught English to Latino immigrants, volunteered on political campaigns, took classes, read voraciously, went on road trips, loved the opera.

He still arose every day at 5:30 am. When I asked him why – why he didn't just relax and sleep in – he said, "Because I can't wait to get out of bed every day. There's so much to do!"

As a teenager and young adult, I accompanied Ed many times to Baltimore Orioles games, where we had the opportunity to see Cal Ripken in action. The Yankees were Ed’s team, but he settled happily for the nearest American League franchise, just for the love of the game – being out there, at the park, enjoying the spectacle on a perfect summer day. In fact, one of several letters he had published in the Washington Post was a short, single-paragraph paean to summer, baseball and beer.

On September 5, 1995, Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's record. The hometown crowd at Camden Yards honored him with a 22-minute standing ovation. And he didn’t stop there. He would remain in the lineup every day for another three years, ultimately appearing in 2,632 consecutive games over 19 seasons.

To give some perspective, the third-place record-holder, after Lou Gehrig, played in only half as many games. He retired in 1925. And the leader among players now active has a mere 434 consecutive games under his belt.

So Ripken’s epic accomplishment is as close as you’ll come to a record that is “unbreakable” – until such time as ballplayers get outfitted with bionic limbs. Or perhaps, more aptly, bionic character. Ever self-effacing, Ripken brushed it off, saying all he did was go to work every day, like millions of others.

Home run battles, base stealing percentages, ace pitching – they’re all exciting things to follow. But there's something important to be said – most especially in these times of insta-fame and the elevation to a virtue of getting something for nothing – there is a lot to be said for the steady, quiet focus and dedication it takes to show up every day and do your job.

I was so happy that Ed lived to see Ripken break the record. But in his own quest to return to his beloved New York one more time and dance with my mother at her daughter’s wedding, Ed didn’t make it. By the time of the October wedding, he was too ill to travel. Days later, during her honeymoon, he was dead, just eight months after his original diagnosis.

The last time I saw him, in August, he was alarmingly underweight but truly happy – partly, I think, because of the drugs he was given to help get him through the day, but also, I know, because he was headed that afternoon to Camden Yards to see his Orioles play.

This summer, Cal Ripken was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Ed has been gone for 12 years. But of course, the dead never truly leave us. In my mind and sometimes in my dreams, he's as alive as he ever was.

I wish he were around to see the person I’ve become today. Partly because I'm not so proud of the person I was then. But also because Ed, a true adventurer at heart, would unquestionably be my biggest fan.

As is the custom in our family, I never told him I loved him.


For the record, I did not go to the fireworks tonight.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Best gig ever

This is what I'm talking about! My two worlds -- corporate copywriting and acting -- converging. It's happened a few times in the past couple of years and this week it reached its full potential.

Several months ago I was called in by an old colleague on a project for a huge, global technology research and consulting company. They have this five-day training program for their new salespeople, and we were charged with creating a handful of video vignettes to be used in the live training to reinforce messages and provide comic relief.

So together we brainstormed and created this fun character and drafted these 7 sketches, which the client loved and approved almost 100%. And then yesterday and today we shot them, with ME in the lead.

And it was the smoothest project I've ever worked on. The client was thrilled. The crew was super-happy, because I got everything down in just a few takes and made their job easier and kept us on schedule. (And even though I wrote it myself, there were a lot of long, extended takes, with lots of physical stuff thrown in. And having, perhaps stupidly, poo-pooed the need for a TelePrompter, I worked hard to get the lines down, which really paid off.)

Most of all, I was happy. Because it was a role I was meant to play, since I tailored it to myself, and because it was a script that was ... okay, it was really good. So it was really fun to do. Plus I got to ride a moped!

It's just a really great, satisfying feeling to deliver something that pleases the client -- that exceeds their expectations, actually. That's always been my biggest motivator in this business -- getting that appreciation and feedback from the client.

Tonight I hope to sleep the sleep of the dead ...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Higher math

Does 4 beers @ 16 oz. minus 12 miles biking = 0 net calories and near sobriety?

I say yes.


Now I can't say for certain that I got food poisoning from that pizza. Yes, things have felt a little off the past 48 hours, but that may have been stress from worrying about the poisoning.

I choose to think I was hit with something virulent, but it was knocked out by my SuperFood-fortified immune system.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Barf watch

Last night, as I was chewing on some warm-but-not-hot pizza, I kept thinking, this could end up making me sick. It's got sausage and pepperoni in it. Who knows how long it's been sitting out?

I've been poisoned once by pizza (or perhaps by the ill, non-handwashing people who prepared it), once by tepid hot dogs (at a Wrigley Field rainout) and, most recently in January by infected tapas handlers.

But I was so hungry, I kept eating, not wanting to wait to heat it up. Then after I finished I sat for 30-minutes very seriously contemplating inducing vomiting. And to me, vomiting is just about the worst, most miserable thing that can happen -- because it's terribly, terribly violent when I do it. But I was thinking, vomit some now to save hours of vomiting later.

But I didn't. And so for the past 24 hours I've been on tenterhooks, carefully weighing every odd symptom that crops up. So if it happens, I imagine it will be in the next 3-4 hours, which would be just awful, since I've got a big two-day shoot to do.

So we'll see. Off to bed. Hopefully I'll make it safely out the other side.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ride-by Art

I had an opportunity -- excuse me, "opportunity" -- to work today on a commercial spot.

But as an extra.

I feel constantly pulled between the advice I've heard to just do anything and everything, which is pretty much what I did for four years, versus ... I don't know what it's versus. It's frustrating, though.

I don't want to be just another face in the crowd ...

First the money's not great. Plus I just don'
t like sitting around eating craft services and waiting to go on. I like WORKING. I like being integral, being the principal, being THE ONE people are counting on.

But probably the biggest reason I didn't take it was I really,
really, really wanted my Sunday. The weather was so awful most of last week, so this weekend I spent something like 30 hours outside, eating and drinking and streetfesting and just generally running amok.

Today I took a 20-mile bike ride northward along the river to Evanston and checked out this really awesome sculpture garden that goes on for miles and miles. It was interrupted when I came upon the car dealership in Lincolnwood where I'm pretty sure the shoot was taking place right at that very moment.

I was reminded briefly of my shirking. So I turned away toward the river and didn't look back.

It was an awesome day.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

John Jeremy Doe

I said before that 90% of my life's embarrassing moments stem from something I said or didn't say. I would now add that well over half of that 90% has to do with getting peoples' names wrong.

I've always been terrible with names. And some people say that and just blow it off like it's no big deal, that it's just a cute character trait. But for me, I realize how important it is (and that it's definitely an indication of self-absorption), so I've been working on it very hard for a very long time. Making a point to repeat someone's name when I'm introduced and then say it several times in my head then use it a few times in a sentence and all that.

But I still find myself forgetting peoples' names the moment they're introduced. In shows I don't start calling people by their names until several weeks into the rehearsal process. Sometimes, like for the Castle, with a dozen cast members, I'll practice their names in my head on the way to rehearsal, thinking through each character, the actor who plays the role, and his or her name.

So yesterday I'm at an audition and paired up with this guy I think I know as John. Just a few weeks ago I was in another casting office talking with him, calling him John, very proud of myself for remembering. Then yesterday I peer over at his headshot, which reveals his name is actually Jeremy. WTF?

This is worse than mixing up a name. I actually confused this guy with a totally different person. I've done this several times. I swear Jeremy looks almost exactly like a John I knew from Second City.

So I'm back to cringing and yelping, Tourette's-like, several times a day as I recall this.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Night at the Museum

Just got back from a night at the Field Museum, where I was an extra in a commercial. I was really regretting agreeing to do this when I found out we might be shooting 'til 3:30 in the morning, and was totally crabby about it for the past 24 hours. Then I thought, hey, you're in this cool museum full of dinosaur bones and australeopithicus skulls and mummies in the middle of the night, you'll probably meet some fun people -- what the hell.

And it was kind of fun. And we wrapped at 12:30, which seemed a completely reasonable time relative to what I was prepared for. The shame of it was, our call time was 7:30 and we didn't go up to do our scene until four hours later. But I worked some lines and did some puzzles and talked with some people, including this guy I've seen on a bunch of auditions lately. And ate some double-chocolate cake or something.

The best part was the light show from the huge-ass thunderstorm going on outside. These pictures suck, as do all my camera phone pictures, but what the hell ...

Monday, July 16, 2007


I spoke with one of the directors and he said my little issue was of no consequence -- some people did one monologue, some did two.

So I'm fine today. In fact, by yesterday afternoon I was already getting over it. Nothing that multiple beers and a little CatFight can't cure.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I want to vomit!

Every few months I do something ridiculously stupid and embarrassing that causes me to shudder and cringe and convulse for years to come. It's happened all my life. I have gotten to the point where I forgive myself and let go of the things I did in kindergarten and before. Everything since is fodder for self-flaggelation.

(At one point I planned with a friend to have a little ceremony in which I would write each incident down on a card and then burn them one-by-one in my
baby Weber as a way of purging them forever.)

Of course, acting has opened up grand new vistas of humiliation on a scale and frequency I've never experienced. Today I went to season auditions for this theatre I did a show with a few years ago. I've auditioned for them now four or five times -- probably several times that when you add up the different outside projects all the directors in the room have done that I've auditioned for.

In any case, every year the notice says to prepare two contrasting monologues, and when you get there they tell you to do just one. So that's just what I assumed about this year. Though nobody told me this time to do just one. But that's what I had in my head and that's all I did. And I didn't realize until I was getting back on the train that maybe for once they were expecting two.

So I feel like an idiot. It's hard enough auditioning for these guys. I mentioned once to another actor that I'd rather audition for strangers than for people I know. He thought I was nuts. But seriously, these guys know me, they've directed me, they've seen me perform and audition on countless occasions. I feel like they know all my tricks, my short-cuts, my worst habits, my limitations and my lazy go-tos.

It's like ... what is it like? I'm at a loss for analogies. Maybe it's like trying to flirt with a woman with a whole chorus of ex-girlfriends watching. "Oh, look -- he's doing that phony self-effacing thing" or "Christ, not the story about standing on the beach at midnight in France again" or "Not the old tired line about 'at what point did I go from prematurely gray to just gray?' "

Yeah, it's like that.


Friday, July 13, 2007

"You've been released"

Under most circumstances, those would be good words to hear. If you're in jail or been kidnapped, for instance. In the context of commercial work, however, it's bad news.

The 16th and 17th of July have been my White Whale. F
irst I was on hold for some commercial shoot in St. Louis. Then I got released. And along came this other commercial in Chicago, and now I just got word that, again, I have been released. Oh well. Monday morning I audition for a print job that shoots Tuesday and Wednesday, so maybe one of those days will bear fruit after all.

Either way, I suddenly have extra time in my schedule. Ti
me for a break:

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

August: Osage County

Wow, I'm officially a huge Tracy Letts fan. After seeing him perform a couple of times, I got an opportunity tonight to see one of the plays he wrote.

August: Osage County just opened at Steppenwolf and I scored free tickets. If you would have told me I'd be completely gripped for 3 hours and 15 minutes by a play (or by anything, for that matter) I'd have told you you're crazy. Amazing writing, amazing performances (finally got to see Amy Morton). Heartbreaking, shocking, brutal, hilarious -- if you've ever been in a relationship or had siblings or parents or breathed air, this play will hit you hard in the gut.

It's gotten rave reviews and I assume it's gonna go to Broadway, but who knows. It makes me want to see Bug even more when it comes out on DVD (since it was in theaters for just 10 minutes).

A really funny thing: one of the actors was the Native American woman from the Jerry Seinfeld Cigar Store Indian episode.

And I am even more convinced than ever of the mediocrity of my talent. Huzzah!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Tailor made

So the character breakdown (so to speak) said "uptight" and, in one of those impossibly imprecise directions you often get, "OCD without being too OCD." Finally, a role I was made for.

Little Hyper OCD Guy was one of the first characters I ever did in one of the first shows I was cast in. And I've played him multiple times since. I even have a special shirt and tie that he wears.

Anyway, the 8 or 10 clients in the casting room seemed to like him. They had me do it twice, so I gave them a nice little range of pyschosis, from angrily agitated to anxiously unhinged.

In other made-to-fit roles, I found out I'm on this website for one of the world's leading mobile headset makers. (Click the left-right arrows until my picture comes up, then click on me for video.)

For this job I went in and they said, "You're a professional" (check), "you own your own business" (check), "working out of your home" (check), "and you're going to talk about the challenges and opportunities you face" (duh). "And about how this fancy bluetooth headset makes your life easier" (finally! acting!).

So I delivered a one-minute off-the-cuff soliloquy and was done in one take. They should all be this easy. I do not know why they made me button my shirt all the way up. I don't even know why I got cast -- profile is definitely not my best side.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Cat Fight!

I caught the tail end, as it were, of this band last year at a street fest and have been trying to see them again ever since.

So far this year I had conflicts with every performance. But this weekend I finally caught up with them.
And even though they didn't play Rock & Roll All Night, they were as awesome as I remember.

They're sort of like a Pussycat Dolls with guitars. And talent.

They play Green Day, Ramones, White Stripes.

They had to keep things G-rated, though, since it was a church festival. So no kissing.

Just some mild cavorting.

And speaking of cats, this little guy from my neighborhood kills me. His owners are very inventive.

At any rate, Cat Fight rules. Way better than The Police.

Though that may have had something to do with my seats. On the curb at Waveland Avenue.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

That's the brakes

Ninety percent of the trouble I've gotten into in my life has been from talking. (The other 10 percent, probably from not talking.)

So there I was, whizzing along the lakefront when something terribly important came to mind and, as I was saying it, looking back over my shoulder, for some reason I grabbed the front brake, causing a cascade of problems that happened a little too fast to recall exactly. But I ended up on the concrete with the bike in two pieces and what would become a giant purple bruise on my thigh. Not a huge disaster -- the other piece was just the front reflector snapped off (possibly by the thigh). So Wheely's got its first ding. At least that's out of the way.

I've been spending so much time tooling around outside (it's so fun, like when you were a kid and you were outside for 8, 10, 12 hours and had to be called in to dinner). I was at my agent's the other day and one of them came out and said, "Wow, you're tan!" Which is a little embarrassing. I feel like having a tan carries a hint of shallowness to it, or it implies that you're not working very hard.

Most actors are pretty pale, not being outdoorsy types. Also I heard somewhere that you're more versatile when you're unsunned. If you're in a play or film and it's supposed to be winter time and you're all tan, it doesn't quite work. I gotta find some triple-digit SPF somewhere.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Easy come, easy go

I was on hold for this commercial in mid-July and just got released, which is weird. They said I was their first choice. So who knows what happened there. But it wasn't great money, and it would have involved travel to St. Louis.

I think I'm okay with this hiatus as long as I can keep a toe in the water here and there -- like with the reading last week, season auditions, writing and such. Plus I have a two-day industrial shoot coming up in July.

Even though it's pretty inconvenient for work, which continues unrelenting, not having a computer is kind of a good thing. I spend WAY too much time online. I visit message boards where I don't post and read blogs of people I don't know. I'm guessing my firefox bookmarks are toast along with the hard drive, so maybe I won't even be able to find half these places when I'm back online.

The bike has been amazing. I took my longest ride yet this weekend -- 23 miles. Made it down to Promenatory Point, down on the South Side, which I'd been wanting to see. It's different down there. Same lake, same skyline, but still slightly foreign.

I've also wanted to see these for the longest time:

The outdoor art in Chicago is awesome.

And, of course, it wouldn't be summer without some of these:

Up close and personal, so you can feel it in your sternum.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Funeral for a F(r)iend

I was going to title this post, "I Hate Dell," but I feel I must take some responsibility for the periodic breakdown of every laptop I've owned. I'm a little rough on my computer, as evidenced by the grooves worn into the spacebar like the depressions in the stone steps of ancient cathedrals. And by the way the keys occasionally pop out and fly across the room while I'm typing. I can't count the number of times I've tripped over the power cord and sent the laptop spilling off the coffee table (in eight years I've probably gone through 8-10 power cord/AC adaptors -- they've made them more rugged in recent years, which I attribute to my crash-testing). Then, of course, there was the punching the screen incident, but that's a different story.

Anyway, when the computer started flashing ominous messages a few days ago, shutting down Windows and talking of damage to my hard drive, I at least had the foresight to back up everything onto my external hard drive. Which really saved my bacon when it crashed for good Friday evening. After going through the charade of Dell's usual catch-all solution of reformatting, in spite of the fact that the hard drive was vibrating and clattering like a set of china tumbling in a clothes dryer, it was finally determined, at 8:27 am, Central Daylight Time, the 30th of June, 2007, that the hard drive was indeed dead. New one on the way in 3-5 days.

It seems these melt-downs occur mainly around the holidays, which is a blessing in a way. Fewer clients around to make demands. And I'm also lucky to have an Internet cafe less than a hundred steps from my apartment. And that most of the work done since the backup was preserved as e-mail attachments.

But I am already living like Ben Franklin, writing out the hour or so of lost work in long-hand for typing up later. And at least two presentations to draft like that this week. I really don't write as well by hand. And the typing is pure drudgery. I need an intern. One who is fluent in chicken-scratch.