The NY Neo-Futurists and Me

I don’t have too many words to share today, and I was reminded today of how tremendous these people are and were to me in NYC, so I’m sharing this video snapshot of one of the best theater companies in NYC. I also consider them my adoptive family.

More about them soon.

Until then, to learn more about the NY Neo-Futurists, please visit www.nynf.org. For info on the original Neo-Futurists based here in Chicago, check out http://www.neofuturists.org/

Have a good show.

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Baseball and Other Personal Stuff

Let’s set the scene.

I just walked home from seeing a preview showing of the new film “Morning Glory.”  It’s a film I have a connection to, as I do many movies and TV shows made in and around NYC for the last five years. I worked for a company that provides camera equipment to the film industry, and it was my job to keep the gear from breaking down. It’s a job I miss sometimes because I enjoyed learning new things. I also enjoyed the variety of personalities one encounters in that business.

But that was in NYC, and I’m in Chicago now.*  I love New York City. LOVE. So what dragged me away from a city I had a very personal relationship with, a city I could see myself living in forever? A woman, of course.  Oh, Teresa’s not any ordinary woman.  She’s a genius with talents that go as deep as the bedrock under Manhattan Island.  I’ll write more about her another time.  Tonight, she’s watching a video I shot of her first full-length play, something she produced here in Chicago this summer. But I said I’d write about her later, and I promise I will.

I’m compelled to write tonight because there’s a baseball game going on out in San Francisco tonight.  Game One of the World Series has the Giants up 10-4 over the Texas Rangers in the bottom of the eighth inning.

I have a history with baseball that goes back as far as I can remember.  My memory these days is more like a system of highways than anything chronological or temporal.  One memory takes me down a deserted road I haven’t traveled on in years, and then all sorts of emotions tumble down on my head like a rock slide.  There should be warning signs: Falling Memories Ahead.

So I’m walking home from the movie and I checked email on my phone.  (I do this because I’ve been freelancing since I arrived in Chicago, and I’ve lost work before by not checking my email regularly.  It’s an annoying aspect of life as a freelancer.)  I read one message from my sister Deena.  She’s a nurse and has done more good in her life than I ever will, but hey, there’s still time for me, and hey, it’s not like I’ve been a complete ass! Caretakers of any breed are heroes.  In her message, she updated me on a cousin who has fallen on hard times with his health, and she also mentioned the baseball game.  I had a sudden rush of bitterness.  I wanted to tweet (yes, I tweet) something along the lines of I hope SF wins the World Series, even though it would have been nice if they’d won it in 2002, when it would have mattered.

Now, I don’t know if that was 140 characters and it doesn’t matter.  I didn’t take my phone out of my pocket.  That little eruption of bile was a surprise.  What follows deserves a more complete description than I’m about to give, but for the sake of moving this story along, here is what sparked my untweeted tweet.

I met a woman in 2000. Her name was Siri Aarons. She was a raven-haired beauty of considerable intellect and charm.  It took me a while to convince her, but eventually she went on a date with me.  I managed to wrangle tickets to the opening game of the SF Giants’ new ballpark.  (Among many other things, she was a Giants fan.)  At the time, their ballpark was called Pacific Bell Park. As is the curse associated with naming rights and corporate takeovers, the park’s name has changed twice since then.  It was a smashing first date, even though the Giants lost to the hated Dodgers 6-5.  (True fans of the game never forget significant games and their final outcomes.)

We moved in together, did the lovey-dovey thing, and then she suffered a recurrence from ovarian cancer. The Giants had been a very helpful distraction from her health woes.  And they would continue to be a grand distraction for her and for me.

In 2002, the Giants got themselves into the World Series.  A close friend of Siri’s made it possible for us to buy tickets to Game Three of that series, the first World Series game to be played in SF.  They went up against the Anaheim Angels (a team I followed when I lived in Southern California) and the Angels pounded the Giants in the game Siri and I attended. The final score was 10-4.  Tonight, the Giants whooped the Rangers by a final tally of 11-7.  They beat a very talented team. Despite tonight’s win, the Giants will be lucky to win the Series.

Back in ’02, it looked like the Giants would win the Series, yet they managed to blow a lead with six outs left in Game Six.  If only they could have held on in that game, they would have won their first World Series since moving to SF.  (They were one of two NY teams to move out west.  For shame.)  I try to imagine what it must have been like to be a baseball fan in NYC in the late 50s.  Whadya mean they’re moving to California?

So the Giants lost what would have been the clinching Game Six and then barely showed up in Game Seven and lost 4-1 (fans never forget scores).  The Angels played their hearts out and beat a talented Giants team. And the San Francisco Giants broke our hearts.  Yes, Siri had more severe sources of heartache, like cancer, yet, a win by the Giants would have made her very happy.

She died the following spring. And it wasn’t long after that I finally said goodbye to baseball.  My heart just wasn’t in it any more.  My heart wasn’t in a lot of things.  I struggled to stay alive and to stay focused on the future; the last thing I was going to do was worry about baseball. I stayed interested in 2003, but by 2004, I was finished with the game.  The eruption of the Steroid scandals helped drive the game out of my mind for good, I think. But really, I just couldn’t get excited about baseball if Siri wasn’t around to talk to about the games.

So the Giants are playing in the World Series again.  Most of my immediate family is very invested in the outcome, and so for them I hope the Giants win.  I really truly want to say something like I hope they win for Siri, but the rotten brat in me wants to kick the dirt and say, She’s dead. She don’t care.

Is that truly how I feel?  Not really.

I don’t imagine she’s paying attention to goings-on here on Earth.  If, somehow, human consciousness manages to escape death and move on to a higher plane of existence, I really doubt that she is caring a damn about baseball.  So yeah, sure, it would be swell if they win.  If she were alive, she would be out of her mind with delight over tonight’s score.  But she’s not alive, and I’ve let her go.

So let’s talk about today.  Remember that genius I mentioned earlier?  Well, I won the World Series of Life when she suggested it might be a good idea for me to move to Chicago.  She’s a remarkable person and the best friend I’ve ever had and ever will have.  Listen, when you reach my age (49) you come to know certain things.  And I know that I’m a lucky man.  Not only did I have the fortune of sharing in the making of an amazing son (from my first marriage to his mother Norma), but also I met Siri and had an amazing time with her for three years and ten days until she died.  And now I have the incredible fortune to be with Teresa.  I know that there are many men (and women) who think their girlfriend or wife is the best since Forever.  I dig it, and I don’t mean to take anything away from you when I say I have the best girlfriend ever, so let’s just leave it at this–

I’m a lucky man.

I also realize I have a lot to write about.

I think this is a good time for me to stop, for now, and practice some Spanish before calling it a night.  I’m learning Spanish now.  It’s good to learn new things.  (My girlfriend is half-Spanish and fluent in the language; it’s a good thing for me to learn Spanish!)

If you’re a baseball fan, may your team play hard all nine innings.  If you’re not, you might not understand the ache of a former baseball fan.  Or maybe you do.

* I love Chicago, too!  God help me if I ever end up rooting for the Cubs.

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The Second City: A First Visit

I’ve lived in Chicago for four months now and I finally made it out to see a show at Second City.  This was the real deal, folks.  As much as I will always hold that lovely little black box of the People’s Improv Theater near to my heart, the PIT and all the other improv joints in NYC can’t stand chest to chest with Second City.  I know that UCB people might bark back that I am so wrong.  Go ahead and bark.  All that’ll get you is a shot at being let out to pee.

But this isn’t a pissing contest.  Second City is 51.  It has established itself as the center of comedy in this known universe.  It’s legacy is well-known yet it’s really worthwhile to take a minute and read the list of prominent alumni that they can claim their own.  The list reads like a Hall of Fame of Funny.  UCB is gaining, though. Established in 1990 by people out of iO and Second City, UCB has given us a lot of quality funny people.

Why have I stayed away from the Chicago comedy scene until now? Why did it take me four months to visit the Mecca of Comedy?  Simple.  I’m very underemployed and don’t have the money to go see shows and take classes.  My girlfriend’s brother suggested it for a night out so I could finally meet his wife.   It was a good time for the four of us.  We saw the 11:00 performance of The Absolute Friggin’ Best Time of Your Life. It was good stuff.  The performers were all very solid and entertaining and I found myself impressed and a wee bit envious.

Envy is not something one normally feels when watching a show.  I miss performing and it came down to them being on stage and my sitting in the audience.  That’s all.  (Listen: I know that envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  It wasn’t raging envy. As I said, it was just a touch of the stuff.  It faded.  I’m no longer drenched in sin (or is that Sin? Well, not that one anyway–).

Getting back to money.  Regarding Second City, I want classes more than a show.  The reason I stayed away was because I can’t afford to start taking classes there, so there wasn’t a compelling enough reason for me to go.  I can always pop in and see a show.  I expect my affiliation to be professional and instructional.

I studied improvisational comedy at the PIT and had a great time performing with two improv troupes in NYC: my very first one was Long Division, and I soon after joined Track Suit Mafia.  From the first time I got a big laugh from an audience (in a one-time role as the roustabout for the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus), I was hooked.  I’ve gone after laughs from people most of my life, yet this was the first time I ever did it for real.

So I saw a show at Second City and had a great time with my girlfriend and her brother and his wife.  Two nights ago, Teresa and I saw Ricky Gervais play at the Chicago Theatre.  He was very good.  Damn he’s smart and funny. And during his show, I considered, during certain bits, how I might have performed them.  I have the bug again.  I want to start getting serious again about performing.  I need to make a steady income that allows me some extra cash for paying for coaches and classes and rehearsal space.  A month or so ago I wrote some spec pieces for The Onion; I haven’t done anything with them yet.  I have a couple of ideas for sketches, and I have a strong urge to try stand up.

(Yikes.  What the hell’s going on here?  Is this the direction my life is going to take?  It is if I continue to steer down that road.)

Since I started making comedy “for real,” I feel a little weird when I clown around in my regular interactions with people, as if it’s not appropriate.  I never felt that way before.

I’ve progressed past the need for acceptance from you.  Maybe now I want acceptance from everyone.

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bad dreams / good schemes

Lately I have been having some very unpleasant dreams;  I am writing this now because I woke from a bad one after only having slept for an hour or two.  I must have just barely entered REM when WHAM I had a nasty dream, a dream that was.  Violent.  Heartbreaking.  Crushing.  Unkind and downright cruel.

There’s something going on inside my brain.

I think the sources of these dreams are simple to deduce.  Some stress from money woes.  Some physical stress from a reflux condition that is slow to clear up.  Some guilt: survivor guilt, bad parenting guilt, poor life choices guilt. Etc.  Typically, residual business I wish I had left behind a long while ago.

So, what to do?  What I have been working on to little effect, and shall work on even harder.  Namely, I need to forgive myself.  I need to move on.  I need to lighten up and just get on with life.  Have more fun.  Smile more.  Exercise more.

(Today was a good good day, which makes this bad dream even more perplexing.)

First, I need to meditate on this very simple and basic fact of my existence: I am a lucky man.  I should start to appreciate that.  And I will. I really want to appreciate that fact.  And I do.  Just not often enough perhaps.

My girlfriend will remind me occasionally to journal.  Every time I do (especially after a drought), I feel better.  Journaling is exercise for the soul.  I’m trying to remove judgment from my next statement – let me say that I want to take good care of myself.  Today is always a good time to renew that effort.

But hey.  Seriously, I need to get some sleep.  Right now.  (I think I am going to have some good dreams tonight.  That’s the plan anyway.  Maybe I should plan that more often.)

(Oh yeah.  Maybe the book I am reading is affecting me.  House of Leaves is remarkable. It is also disturbing.)

On the lighter side, we are seeing Ricky Gervais tonight (tonight being the accurate word since it is now Wednesday September 29, 2010).  This will be my first visit to the Chicago Theatre.  Looking forward to the show.  I’m very much looking forward to the date with my beautiful Teresa.

Okay then.  Now.  Sleep.

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Putty Hill: A review

The only thing I knew about Putty Hill as I headed in to the Gene Siskel Center in Chicago was that Roger Ebert had recommended it on Twitter with a four-star rating.

I tend to know a good deal about a film before I see it (I wish this were not so) and so it was a rare delight to go in to this screening knowing absolutely nothing about this one. This stirring and honest work nails what it is like to experience the aftermath of a life just ended.  Yet this film is about much more than loss and grief.  It’s an attempt to bring together something that might be fractured beyond repair.

There is dizzying deflation that comes along with death. Director Matt Porterfield (who contributed the story) weaves together many threads using startlingly fresh technique that by the end of the film left me impressed with his confidence, smarts, and sensitivity.

From the lack of a screenplay credit, I assumed that the performances were improvised.  (I verified this later by reading interviews with the director.)  The revelation that the cast is made up largely of untrained actors surprised me; they are that good.  Sky Ferreira (Jenny) is the lone professional, and she is known more as a singer-songwriter than an actor.  She joins a talented ensemble of unknowns who create some of the best work by an ensemble you’ll see this year in film.  Not only did I believe what I saw on-screen, I also shared in the survivors’ experiences and feelings as they react to Cody’s death.

There’s no point putting a varnish on this next statement.  So much of what we are given as consumers of modern cinema is bullshit.  It’s bullshit we don’t believe, and it’s bullshit that we can smell before we enter the theater or switch it on at home.  I ask you a simple question.  Don’t we deserve better?

Putty Hill answers that question as it brings us into a loosely connected family and network of friends in a small community in lower class Baltimore.  They have lost Cody (a young man we never meet) to a drug overdose. An off-screen presence, voiced by Porterfield, interviews in documentary style those Cody left behind.  These characters reveal more about themselves than they do about Cody; he remains a vague shadow throughout the film.

That’s all I really want to say about plot and structure.  From the opening shot that serves as the backdrop for the main titles, a shot that shows us the dying light of a day in an empty room, Jeremy Saulnier’s stirring photography lifts this film from the ranks of typical low budget indie features.

This is a small film that you might have to go out and find.  Please, go find it.

It takes more than one person to make a movie.  Visit http://puttyhillmovie.com/ for the names of the cast and crew who made one of this year’s best films.

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Saying my goodbyes to New York

In six days, I will be in a minivan while I am looking at NYC in the rear view mirror.

800 miles ahead of me, Chicago will be waiting for me and my co-pilot, Teresa. (She’s flying out to make the drive with me.  She’s the reason I am moving.  She’s awesome.)

A rental minivan full of my belongings.   Two people with intersecting lives.  A tale of two cities.

Soon, it will be, “So long, New York.”

Soon, it will be, “Hello, Chicago!”

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Two-handers

A man seated across from me on a Brooklyn-bound D train was looking at me.  I felt his stare and returned his gaze.  This was when his blank expression changed to a warm and slightly sloppy grin.  His face was a little crooked, like mine.  He was missing teeth, top and bottom, and his nose looked swollen and pulpy, like a boxer’s.  He looked as if he had just chased a parked truck.  His smile unnerved me, and I returned to reading the latest issue of New York magazine. A story about bed bug infestations in the Upper East Side had my interest.

I looked up and he was still looking at me.  Annoyed, I asked him directly, “Can I help you?”  I have a bad habit of talking to crazy people, and this guy gave off a crazy vibe.  I normally don’t confront people who stare, but I was lonesome for a friend who had just left the country so I might have been a little crabby, and I didn’t want this guy watching me.

“You look like Sam Shepard.”  This wasn’t the first time I had heard this from someone in the subway.  It must be the dim and ugly green of the fluorescent lighting that brings out the Shepard in me.

“Yeah, I get that a lot.”  True.  But I would like to state for the record that I resemble a young Sam Shepard.

The fellow started to seem a little less annoying and more clear-headed once he started speaking, and so I asked him the first thing that came to mind.  “Do you like his plays?”

“True West and a couple others.” He looked down then up again, and he blushed a little. “I write, too.”

“You write plays?”

“Yeah. Two-handers mostly.” Well, this guy was clearly an aficionado, because I had never heard that phrase used by anyone who didn’t love theater.

“That’s interesting.”  Sometimes, I say boring things.

“Yeah, I like turning two souls lose, letting them mix it up, and seeing what sort of salad they become.”

I laughed abruptly in a concussive burst. “That’s awesome,” I told him.

“Yeah.”  He opened the soiled baby-blue backpack at his feet and pulled out a school composition book.  He turned his head down to the rumpled pages and took a pen from his back pocket and started writing.  This ended our chat.

I should have introduced myself, asked his name at least.  I have a feeling he was disappointed I wasn’t Sam Shepard.  They would have had something to talk about.

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