The Boy from Virginia Breaks Routine (The Concrete Choronicles)

Novemeber 2012

 The first day of November, I did something I hadn’t done in a very long time. I decided I was going to an open call. It would be my first open call in New York and I wanted to make it count. So I planned an outfit that would make me look 60s chic without going overboard, and I skimmed through my appropriate sheet music, finding that I actually didn’t possess the right songs for the show being cast. I instantly reprimanded myself and was about to can the entire idea when I thought to myself, ‘You made a decision. You can’t back down now.’ So I decided I’d go to the audition with whatever was in my songbook and if I were lucky enough to be called back, then I would do the extra prep work then. The fact that I’d built up the resolve to go to a cattle call was good enough.

The next day, to take away the stress of not feeling fully prepared for the audition, I linked up with a friend from London who’d happened to be in town on his honeymoon. He and his partner chose an unfortunate time to be in New York, however, as Hurricane Sandy blustered her way through town not too long after their arrival, leaving the newlyweds without power below 14th Street. Being resourceful, however, he’d managed to find alternative living quarters. He also managed to get me from the Upper West Side to Hell’s Kitchen to say hey and to meet other artists. It was a visit I welcomed wholeheartedly because I was in desperate need of London energy. I hadn’t been able to make many new friends in the city who weren’t co-workers, and the friends I did have in the city were so scattered about the place that linking up with them was becoming a more difficult task. I wasn’t feeling loved in the city.

I’d begun to prefer the London Fog to what I’d started calling “The Rotten Apple.” I knew I shouldn’t have allowed my emotional success to reside in such a specific location, as I definitely had hardships there as well…but forcing a connection with a place wasn’t healthy either. It felt akin to trying to make a relationship work because one felt he must; not because the foundation was strong enough for it to work on its own.

Upon linking with my friend -a former co-star in a brilliant new musical I’d had the chance to workshop multiple times while living in London- I was able to relax and talk shop for a bit. We’d both been informed that the show we work-shopped had been picked up to be performed by one of the most reputable companies in the world. We were both on pins and needles hoping that we’d get a call or news about when the show would premiere, and if we’d both still be a part of it. Conversation waned once the hype about art was over, but it was an important enough conversation to plant a seed of hope in me for my future. In the back of my mind, I was confident that, regardless of whether I lived in New York, London, or the Amazon, I was going to be a part of that new show if it killed me. I believe that second day of November was the day I remembered what ambition felt like. But how long would that memory remain?

The next day, I woke up, threw on a decent outfit, gathered some sheet music from my song book and packed a headshot and resume, and then trekked into midtown at 6:30am to attend the open audition for Motown the Musical. Having known someone who was a part of the workshop, I was confused as to why the show was still auditioning when they seemed to be fully cast. Still, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to be seen.

About thirty-five other early bird artists and amateurs felt the same way, I discovered, when I entered the lobby of Telsey and Company. They were cold, and shivering, and ready to show the world that they belonged on a stage, anyone’s stage. And here I was…feeling…like I’d gone back to high school. Instead of feeling like I was at an audition, I felt like I was at a forensics competition with all the assorted characters. There was even the overachieving, know-it-all girl who made a list of all the people who came in so no one could jump the line.

“There’s an order here, and we want to keep it that way.” She smiled one of those psychotic smiles that warned me not to cut in line, or I’d be cut. Then she gave me the sheet of paper that was already covered in scrawls. “Number yourself and sign your name here.” I complied, mainly because it was 6:50am and I am a firm believer that all drama should be put off until noon.

What she failed to do, however, was read the fine print on the website –and the door– that said “unauthorized audition lists would not be taken into consideration at all unless distributed by Equity.” So after the doors were officially opened into the audition room (and after about 200 more people showed up), I moved from being the thirty fifth person to number eleven (merely because I was closest to the door). In waiting for the auditions to begin, I watched a good twenty people change into their best thrift store costumes to emerge as people from my grandparents generation. I enjoyed their efforts, and their outlandish afro wigs. Power to the people! I watched American Idol wannabees riffing up, down and around the scales as they warmed their voices. Girls plastered on too much make up. Guys got in touch with their falsetto. Yet, I was still wondering if singing Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” would motivate me to do exactly that. I wasn’t worried, but I was overwhelmed at the environment. I’d luckily avoided open calls my entire London career because of my wonderful agent there. It felt strange knowing that I’d only have 16 bars of a song to represent all of what I could possibly do. But when they called my name, I knew I’d have to try.  

It was a very brief audition. I wasn’t asked to remain, like some others were…and I was ok with it. Unlike others, I wasn’t there to compete or make fun of others or challenge anyone. I was there to challenge myself. The hard part was done; going to the damn audition. I was proud of myself for taking that risk. I laughed off the entire day and prepped myself for a return to work and normal non-actor routine.

My wake up ritual had become the same. My iPhone would play a snippet of the pop song I’d programmed to wake me up at my designated time, and I’d listen to see if one of the 4 other roommates were plodding across the floorboards. If so, I’d wait until I heard a door shut, and I’d start my day of avoiding people until I had to step outside of my building. Considering we still did not have a bathroom to call our own, I’d sometimes had to go to the coffee shop next door to pee.

The election was around the corner. In my mind President Obama was just bound to win. I had no doubts. But I was also disappointed in myself for not getting my absentee ballot mailed off much sooner that the day before elections. It was evident that my vote wouldn’t count, but I did try. Unfortunately just as I’d missed my chance to vote on time, I’d also missed the moment when the POTUS actually won his second term. Walking through Harlem at 10:58pm (I’d stayed at work late and went to the gym) and hearing the cheers and the overall relief at the victory was enough to warm me up on the suddenly chilly Election evening. If anything was certain in my life, it was that our President would be spending the next four years doing his best to make a difference. That was about all I could count on.

The next week, I was supposed to be celebrating my debut on ABC’s Revolution! I’d made the mistake of telling friends and family that I would most certainly be a part of the episode that was airing only to receive an e-mail from my agent stating “your part was cut from tonight’s episode.” I wasn’t completely crushed. I’d gotten paid for my work already, so that was proof enough that I actually did the job. “Embarrassed” is a more appropriate word for how I was feeling. People root for me -sometimes- and I wanted those people to be proud that I’d made it to primetime. Truth was: I hadn’t. The only lesson I learned, at that moment, was a professional one. Keep all successes quiet until they occur. I made a vow to myself from then on that if I did anything regarding film and TV, I wouldn’t speak about it to anyone. If I booked a job, I could be happy about it, but only to myself. To tell anyone else would be getting their hopes up and I didn’t want to do that to anyone. I’d experienced enough empty promises in my life to shatter the dreams or expectations of others. Funny enough, I was also beginning to get bored with the empty promises I was making to myself.

During the month of November, I’d been having sporadic text conversation and occasional meetings with my college heroine. Mo, a dead ringer for Brandy Norwood (if she’d worn box or micro braids and had a music career), was my saving grace many times in NYC.  There was once a time in our lives where we both considered ourselves royalty and lately we’d started asking life, “How in the hell did we end up in this particular moment?” There was something absurd about the fact that we were growing up and experiencing these epic highs, lows and adult-isms that we were somehow prepared to deal with. Getting older was just laughable to us. Mainly because we felt no older than the day we’d met back in 2003. Only now, she had 2 amazing sons and an apartment in Harlem and I…well… I was a no-money nomad who’d gotten complacent. This was a problem…

Two months prior, Rihanna released a song that, though lyrically cheesy, changed my perspective on things. “Diamonds” was a song that told you to shine bright. While others paid attention to the childlike tonality of Riri’s singing voice, I was hearing a command. The message in that line burst through like sun rays through interrupted sleep. “Shine bright like a diamond.” Be not afraid to illuminate this world in whatever way you can. The song itself wasn’t about individuals, but I took the message of “shining” as my personal responsibility. And I told Mo one day, “We must hold each other accountable. Please don’t allow me to let my light dim. And I will do the same for you.” It felt like I was in a twelve-step program…but I knew I couldn’t shine alone. No truly successful person ever shines alone. I would need loads of help from willing participants and people I could trust. In mid-November, Mo became a woman I could trust with my light. As diamonds, we promised each other not to dull.

But even diamonds get soiled every now and again…

It was hard to feel like I was shining at all when I would go back to my box of a room and have to sleep on a borrowed air mattress with borrowed sheets. Besides my clothes, I felt I was still borrowing my room though I was paying rent. I had no furniture. Most of my stuff was still in a suitcase, and I couldn’t shift or adjust myself on the mattress without sounding like I was farting out the tea, and Entemann’s cake that was becoming my nightly best friend. I wasn’t owning anything, not even my life. My life wasn’t being lived in the way I’d wished. Tough times wouldn’t last, I knew. But God knows I didn’t feel like waiting until the struggle was over for it to be beautiful. I wasn’t feeling beautiful. I was feeling stunted.  Luckily art would save the saved the day for a day.

After filming a small role for a “Finding Me,” a thriving webseries based on two popular independent films of the same name, I’d planned a trip back home to Virginia for Thansgiving which was that same week. My niece would also be turning one year old that week and I refused to miss her special day. Since her birthday was the day after turkey day, I’d also be killing three birds with one stone: food, family, celebration.

Despite a terrbible Chinatown bus journey home, I arrived back in Virginia, hoping that in the time I’d been away that things would have changed. I hoped my sister would’ve become more responsible, that my mother’s worrying about things she had no control over would subside, that my little brother was flourishing in school, and that my niece would still remember my face.

She did.

Me and my neiceAnd after spending months without me, she walked right over to me so I could pick her up. I almost cried from happiness. Sometimes joy really is in the eyes of a child. My niece looked at me with so much curiosity and no judgment, and then rested her head on my chest. Only a child’s love can be that unconditional, or so I’m told.

Thanksgiving Day was full of food -that I helped prepare- and family. The next day, my niece’s  first birthday was simple and fun, and then it was time for me to return to New York, where the cold has settled in and I’d have some personal changes to make.  What was great was that I was able to spend the end of my month seeing two more friends from London who’d come to visit the city. If anything could lift my spirits, it would be ANY Londoner.

Deep in my heart, I knew that I would eventually go back to London. I didn’t know how or when it would happen, but seeing my friends solidified that it would definitely happen. Because I believed in that dream so damn much. Somehow I knew that it would be art that would make me return. But until art decided to make its move, it was back to my daily routine: wake up, avoid roommates, pee at the coffee shop next door, get dressed, and serve people all day long until I got off work, went to the gym, came home, drank tea, ate Entemann’s cake, and fell asleep. Then repeat.

The Boy from Virginia Weathers The Storm -Part 3- (The Concrete Chronicles)

“Every storm runs out of rain” –Anonymous-

 Patience. It’s my most uncharacteristic of traits, according to my astrology chart. But all my life, I’ve always managed to wait for things because I knew that doing so would produce one of two results: I would either be surprised by waiting or I would miss out by waiting too long. So I chose not to delay my much needed conversation with my manager about keeping me on the work roster. If I didn’t take action, I’d have been out of work in New York City and I wasn’t ready to add “homelessness” to my resume. 

Our conversation was brief and filled with her pleasantries, my explanations, and our shared compromises. It’d become clear to me that the reason work wasn’t so fun anymore was due to my working more than I’d wanted. My availability in work –and, sadly, in other areas of my life- was too open. When I first began at my job, I’d expressed wanting something flexible so that I could go on auditions. I’m sure this was a common request for many working in Manhattan. Truth be told, however, I hadn’t pursued an audition in the city since my arrival. This was my own fault. I needed money. Money came from working as many hours as possible. Working as many hours as possible meant, for me, no time to invest in auditions or classes or anything truly creative. So I asked my boss if I could cut back on hours. It wasn’t as if I had intentions to move up in the company (though it is assumed everyone in any job will eventually want promotion). A promotion, to me, meant new responsibilities and people that I would eventually disappoint when I decided I’d wanted to depart. Obviously, I think too damn much about my unknown future.

Luckily, my boss met my request, of course requesting that I adhere to her policy of cheeriness on the job. I promised to give “the best of what I could possibly give” and waited to see how taking charge of my situation would play out.

*          *          *

As I said before, the advantage of waiting meant surprises and I was happy to have waited three weeks for my payment from Revolution to finally arrive. The massive amount of money that went into my account would not only feed me, but keep all necessary bills paid (which warranted a Hallelujah quick-step on Lenox Avenue). Hell, if I wanted, I could treat myself to a real dinner since I was tired of eating cereal, hot dogs, and sandwiches everyday (my new New York diet). That same day, I came home from work to discover that the ceiling was fixed in the bathroom. Were things looking up?

Indeed.

I was thrilled that same week to hear from the cleaning company I e-mailed not too long ago. One of the co owners called and explained my mission. There was an apartment that needed cleaning in Brooklyn (yikes). The location was Park Slope, the apartment was relatively large, and I’d be teaming up with another worker for my first assignment. He wondered if I’d be interested. Hesitancy was non-existent as I accepted the job immediately. The voice on the other end of the phone seemed pleased (relieved, even?) at my enthusiasm and I ended my phone call more grateful than I’d been in weeks.  

Until my roommate knocked on my door with an announcement.

“Our bathroom is out of commission,” he’d said, nervously smiling to . My perplexed face made him continue. “Apparently, they need to gut the entire thing and it’s seriously overdue. We’ve been asking for a new bathroom since we moved in here (Wait…wasn’t that two years ago?) and it seems it’s finally going to happen. (But I just moved in!) The whole process is gonna take two weeks, max. (Whatchoo talking ‘bout, Roomie?) Hopefully, we can get a whole new kitchen too.

He didn’t sound too convinced about the prospect of a new kitchen.

“So… what are we going to do about showering and whatnot?” (I mean, I drink tea at night. Knowing where I would pee in the middle of the night was a necessity)

“So here’s the thing. We are going to be given a key to go upstairs to a vacant apartment. No one lives there, so we can go there to use the bathroom and to shower.”

None of this made any sense to me. But I knew what I needed to do. I went into my room, packed clothes into my book bag and headed out the door and back down to the Upper West Side to the gym. Now I actually had a reason to go every day. If I couldn’t shower at home, I’d at least utilize my gym membership and their shower facilities as well.

The rest of the week, I woke up, ran upstairs to the vacant apartment to pee, hustled to the 2 to work during the day, and walked 3 blocks over to the gym every evening when I was done. Each day, I returned home smelling fresh and feeling lucky that I didn’t have to go through shenanigans just to keep up my hygiene. On the rare days one of my roommates would beat me to the vacant apartment upstairs, I found that I could go next door to the hipster coffee shop and pee without hassle. I’d explained my situation to the guy behind the bar and after a “Man, that sucks” he gave me free access to the shop bathroom. I didn’t even have to buy a coffee to do so, which meant that, because I felt guilty, I would have to buy some large coffees to make up for it.

Bathroom drama aside, my weekend arrived. Day One of my cleaning job was upon me.  I arrived early, like the good employee I know myself to be. Somehow, however, I knew that my patience was going to be tested that day. Upon entering the Park Slope basement apartment, my breath caught in my lungs. I felt I was in a cavern; a cavern cluttered with dust, accumulated furniture, clothes strewn about, and…what was that stuff on the ground? It looked like snow, but I was pretty sure it was fur.

My chest tightened in response as two cats slinked past me confirming my analysis. Cats? I wasn’t aware there were asthma-inducing cats on this job. And where in the hell was my partner to prep me for this job?

I excused myself outside of the Hoarder’s Cave to call my new colleague and catch my breath. There was a nagging feeling I’d be taking this break multiple times during the cleaning. Upon re-entering the apartment, I’d began evaluating how I was going to make a miracle happen and how  I’d magic fur and cat vomit out of an old, unwashed carpet while not ending up in the emergency room afterward. This job would require fortitude, prayer, and a pint of something strong when I was finished.

My partner arrived 15 minutes late and with an “I-really-don’t-have-time-for-this” attitude. I hoped he hadn’t approached other jobs in this way. When I found him getting snarky with our (suddenly) persnickety Hoarder, I realized, he shouldn’t be in the business of cleaning up after others. I was doing this job because I truly needed the money and I also didn’t mind helping clear this man’s space. A house is supposed to be a sanctuary, but I doubt our Hoarder could find any peace, let alone his underwear in that cacophonous mess. I felt it was my job to at least make the space feel so new that he’d be able to invite guests over for a Hipster soiree.

Five and a half hours (and some awkward interactions) later, that man’s house was fur-free, dust-free, clutter-free, and I could breathe without wheezing despite the presence of cats in the house. I mentally gave myself a pat on the back and prepped myself to leave the job when I was stopped and given a hefty tip. At least I could pay for that pint I’d been thinking of the whole time. (Side-note: the Hoarder , disappointed by the tardiness and the attitude of my partner hired me to do his future cleanings.)

I left Park Slope feeling at last I was crafting a New York life on my own terms.

Then there was my surprise job interview at Levi’s…

I’d completely forgotten that I’d submitted my resume online at other retail shops during my “I might be getting fired” period earlier in the month. One company called me for a random phone interview which was unsuccessful because I didn’t eat, breathe, and shit fashion. But then there was Levi’s, where I’d applied to be an “Overnight stockperson” (mainly because I didn’t want to have to deal with customers hands-on anymore). They’d called me in for a group interview and being the old school person I’ve been when it comes to job interviews…I dressed up and went to the afternoon interview in Soho.

I was immediately out of place in the crowd of late teens/ early twenty-somethings who all looked as if they’d stepped out of teen magazines. With my tailored jeans, button-down, vest, tie, and Italian shoes, I looked more prepped for an office job than a stock person. Still a first impression should never be an attempt; it should always be a success. Or maybe I was the only person who ever believed in this philosophy…

 Three minutes into the group interview, I realized that job interviewing is 1) a skill and 2) something I legitimately abhor…especially when it’s enforced in a group setting. I was the only person there for a stockperson job, but I still had to answer pre-written and trite interview questions which would barely scratch the surface of anyone’s interpersonal skills, let alone ability to sell clothing. What was worse was, though I looked young for my age, I felt old. But that’s a whole ‘nother chapter in a different book…

I listened to the young children give cookie cutter answers: “I want to work for you because I like fashion and I love your jeans.” I, on the other hand, suffered from honest-itis. No, I didn’t say “Please hire me so that I can pretend to be living above my means, while actually living pay check to pay check so that I can barely scratch the surface of my bills and student loan debt.” But I did state that I understood how to work on a shop floor and I wanted to something more independent and behind the scenes, therefore a stockperson position would be more desirable. After the round table of interviewing torture, I was told that I would get a chance for another interview. (I guess old school works). The meeting was scheduled early the next week…but unfortunately a coy storm named Sandy was sashaying towards the infamous five boroughs and I would never get to go to that interview…nor have it reschedule

The day before the storm, I made the mistake of going to my local grocery store and entered a war zone. People had gotten word that the end of days were near and so like other hungry hysterics, they’d purchased all the important food and produce in the store and were fighting their way into the narrow checkout lines. I’d only gone in to purchase my obligatory sandwich bread, milk, deli cheese and deli meats, and some soda and juice. For some reason, I believed the storm wouldn’t be too heinous so my small buys would get me through.

Hurricane Sandy was doing her best to prove me wrong. My day job closed early, in preparation for the storm. I decided that I couldn’t make any more last minute groceries, so I went to Papa John’s, purchased a large pizza, went home, and downloaded season one of Homeland.

As the storm ripped though Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, and the winds intensified in Harlem, I got sucked into the calamitous lives of Carrie and Brody while eating sausage and mushroom pizza, drinking ginger ale, and eating Entemanns’s ( addictive) red velvet cake. Right up until my wi-fi connection failed, I choose to invest in a fantasy world while waiting for the current tempest to end. For the first time that October, I’d had time to truly escape the personal catastrophes that had come before. So far it’d been experience after experience after frustrating experience. Life was happening too fast to me and I really wanted to happen to life. I fell asleep during the downpour, confident that it’d be over in the morning.

I awoke not sure what to expect. Then news came. Brooklyn suffered devastation. Residents below 14th street (and their guests) were left in the dark. In Harlem, the most damage I’d seen was a fallen awning. The morning after Sandy hit, I drank coffee on my borrowed air mattress and wondered if any more storms world rush my way. Also, if they were manifesting in the atmosphere would I be prepared? Or would I succumb to being swept away by some other disasters?

Well…I woke up on the other side of this hurricane and a tempestuous start of the month. So I was beyond sure I’d wake up on the side of many more to come.

 

 

The Boy from Virginia Finds a Place (The Concrete Chronicles)

September 2012

            At the start of the month, my sub-letter had returned and I was still without a new place to live. Being the person I am, I hate overstaying my welcome anywhere and I had the unfortunate feeling that I would be overstaying for a few more weeks. Luckily for me, the sub-letter was a gem of a woman, and she and her roommates (who had made my acquaintance before she did) became the first “sort-of” family I’d made in the city. Having been in New York longer than myself, they seemed to uderstand my plight and excused my housing delay. Excusals aside, I still needed to find a place  and ASAP.

            Finding a decent place to lay one’s head comfortably in New York City is among the more difficult life-tasks I’ve ever taken on. Period. Not only is it tedious, strenuous, and merciless…I’m sure it’s a rites of passage for aspiring New Yorkers that truly separates the boys from the men. (To feel my pain, click here)  With no potential roommates and no decent leads on the horizon, I was back to being a boy. So where to start on this second go-round?

            I’d put up a status blast on Facebook saying that I was looking for housing and/or roommates and for people to contact me. I received two private message replies from people I knew, but we’d wanted different things; some people wanted Brooklyn, some wanted Washington Heights, but more importantly, our pockets also wanted different rent amounts to pay. I was still craving Harlem, but I felt I wouldn’t be able to afford the area considering the epidemic of gentrification it’d gone through.

My bro, Ray.

My bro, Ray.

Then I’d received a surprise message from a young man from my past. He was an actor I’d been in contact with for four years but our only interaction was at his movie debut back in Philadelphia in the summer of 2008. Somehow, I’d remained on his radar and he’d made the selfless attempt to reach out and assist me in my search for a place to live. I conceded that this might be the only true helpful gesture I’d receive, so I made plans to have him help me.

It’s not that I couldn’t find a place in New York. It’s just that I couldn’t accept the very first one that became available. Shopping around for the right place to call home was a good idea. I’d turned down a small place in Washington Heights at the end of August because it was the first place I’d actually seen and I didn’t want to just say yes. I also turned it down because the renter was all too eager to pressure me into being his roommate. When he explained that his former roommate had just…left one day and didn’t tell him he was leaving; though I felt sympathetic, I also felt there was also a reason behind that guy’s sudden departure. Red flags told me to consider other options.

It was funny however that I’d ended up in Washington Heights, yet again, to link up with my friend. He’d told me that he had success with a room rental company. They would charge a small finder’s fee, but I’d be able to hopefully find a place in two weeks or less. Catch was, I’d be living like a boarder in a room in someone else’s house and the renter’s might’ve only spoken Spanish, but there was a possibility I would luck out and ended up somewhere comfortable. It worked for him.

The agency (if I should even be allowed to bestow such a  legitimate name upon them), was one of those “hidden-in-plain-sight” type of places that looked like it could double as a tax office/ immigration office/ job centre, (etc.), but when we got there, the woman who was responsible for housing placements wasn’t there. No one could seem to contact her either, but I was assured that she knew what she was doing and was good at her job. I thanked my friend for his help and we planned to meet up again if I made any further progress.

The next day, I decided to go at the search alone…silly me.

After ending up at another room rental agency, and sitting for about two hours after they took $150 from me as a finder’s fee (when they hadn’t even found a room for me yet), I was supplied with an address on the back of a small business card. I headed to the location and ended up…in. a. fucking housing. project. Lies and deceit? Not this time.

 The room I’d been sent to was on the ninth floor of a building with an elevator that decided it would take the Lord’s day of..on a Thursday. I skipped steps up those nine flights, occasionally passing elderly people who were wondering why I was taking the stairs and then I ended up outside of the apartment that was written on the business card. Even before I stepped in, my Tommy senses were tingling. The door opened and I was greeted by a man in a wheelchair. A man who looks as if he hadn’t bathed, who was in a wheelchair. There was also a woman present (His mother? His nurse?) who seemed to care less that I was there. There was a bed that looked as if it were stolen from a hospital, cold dull-looking tile floor, a box fan in the window, and a television was playing…Who gives a fuck what it was playing because in my mind, I felt as if I were in a hospital ward. The man in the wheelchair did his best to sell me his apartment, and while my heart felt like it was being sliced and diced by that box fan in the window, I tried to maintain my dignity (which had spun on its heels, sucked it’s teeth and headed back down the stairs). Thank God I’m an actor because I was able to remain diplomatic, take a deep breath and say things like, “Hmm…well…I..have…some other places to see, but I’ll get back to you. (insert forced smile) I’ve seen all I need to see here.”

And then I rushed down the stairs of the projects and rushed to work, all while my brain was being mangled to death by confusion and the feeling of being swindled.

I went to work my shift and I couldn’t even function. All I could think was, ‘I was sent to project building. I. was sent. To a PROJECT. To live…(OK, yes they are livable spaces, but I’d had my healthy dose of underprivileged living as a child. I didn’t need a reprise…back to my thoughts)  And I can’t get my $150 back. I’m a fool. I’m alone in New York. And I’m a burden to these wonderful women I’m staying with.’ My insides were debating whether or not they wanted remain inside of me, and it seemed my tears were doing the same. As I swallowed everything back, I couldn’t help but think the worst.

‘I’ve lost favor with God. This is punishment for what happened between my sister and me. I’m no longer one of his chosen people.’ Had I ever really been chosen to begin with? I mean, here I was crashing on a couch; my luggage (though neatly stacked) littering a living room that wasn’t my own, and my growing despair puddling the carpet. I wasn’t completely down and out, but I was definitely around the corner from it. Or was I?

Though I was discouraged by the small amount of people who stepped up to help me in my situation, I had to give a hand to all of the co-workers on my job. The ladies all offered their assistance to me in some way, whether it was offering to bring in a lunch, or to provide money, or to even shelter me for a bit. And my actor friend also came with me to try and get my money back from the people who’d taken it. He went with me to view more rooms, and other (much better) options I’d found from Craigslist. People -not the ones I expected- were subtly showing me that I mattered and that I deserved to be in New York, just as much as anyone else. I was immediately humbled. My heart hadn’t planned on being in NYC, but people wanted me to succeed here.IMG_1237

That subtle encouragement was more help than I’d given to the burn victim who’d lost his nose who begged me for money on the train. It was more help than I offered the family who was kicked out of their hotel room whilst visiting the city for a holiday. It was more help than I could give myself, because I’d even forgotten how to do that effectively. The job I did was so rooted in helping others, that I didn’t know how to pamper myself. Instead, I worried myself. I stressed myself. I had started to hate myself for being -what I considered- incompetent and inefficient. What was my purpose?

What was worse…I was beginning to crave the city where I faced the most challenges, and yet felt the most loved: London. Would I ever return? Had I given the Big Apple enough of a chance? I felt like it was biting me instead of the other way around, and I could tell I was becoming bitter to the taste.

To pull myself out of the funk that was beginning to waft through my brain, I decided to join one of my current roommates at an event called Sundae Sermon. There’s nothing like an outdoor picnic full of Harlemites, House music, and high spirits to completely turn your mood around. In the span of 5 hours, I’d felt free and as if I were being introduced to the pulse of the city. Sundae Sermon is where I met two wonderful people who would become my “friends of the moment” (you encounter many of those temporary types in New York). And it was under their wings that I got completely shit-faced drunk (as you do, when you feel free).

That Sunday was only a temporary relief to what needed to occur. I still needed to find a place and I was determined that I was NOT going to remain a lodger on a couch for another month. So it was back to Craigslist. I’d abandoned the agency, and my chances of getting my money back so whatever methods I used this time would have to work. Or else.

I’d courted the idea of moving to Brooklyn. I’d even gone all the way out there from the Bronx to view a place. The renter of the apartment was older than me, but well put together. The room was spacious and the entire place would’ve only been the two of us. So far so good. There was a pool on the roof of the building. Great! I don’t swim, but great, nonetheless. The commute was lengthy, but I was excusing that for the pool I’d never use. Hmm…I could see myself here….

But the goal was always to move to Harlem. I couldn’t sell myself so short…or so long-distance.

Just when my focus became clearer, I came across two listings for places to live in Harlem. Both about 10 odd blocks from one another. One option was a two bedroom that I’d share with a Turkish man. I loved the place…but you had to walk through the kitchen to get to the bathroom. …Interesting setup… but a small price to pay. I thought I marketed myself and my intentions well. But I was informed that he’d get back to me.

The other place was right in the middle of everything. I was three blocks away from Sylvia’s -overrated- Soul Food restaurant (I mean, it’s good, but it’s not down south cooking), There was a grocery store across the street from the apartment, I was four blocks from 125th street (one of the most iconic streets in Harlem) and to top it off, I was in a decent building with a doorman. Granted, it wasn’t a real doorman like you see on films about people who live downtown, but it’d suffice. IMG_1407

Only thing…I’d have to share this place with four other people. But after having interviewed with all of them, they seemed nice and one of the guys was originally from England. To me this was an omen. Even if I could just live around this man to hear an English accent, I’d be fine. I equated his accent to feeling like I was home. Like the Turkish man, they told me they’d be in touch soon. They were and they informed me that I was their second choice. If the person who they’d chosen decided not to take the room, it would be mine. But I’d have to wait three days to see if I got the place.

The other Harlem apartment I was interested in had a second round of interviews to which I went and encountered two other guys who also wanted the place. It was as if we were on a TV show competing to be the Turkish man’s Next Top Roommate. I didn’t mind this process, but I just thought to myself that the next time I went apartment hunting it would be with people I knew, and people I could trust.

Two days later I’d gotten notice that the first person decided to pass on the apartment, and that I could go ahead and move into the Center of Harlem if I was still interested. It was the final week of September and I was happy that I wouldn’t be entering October on anyone’s couch. I passed on living with one other person to live with four because the rent was most definitely in my range and my room had an actual closet. That is a true luxury. (You have no idea the multitude of places in New York have no closets at ALL…which is NOT okay)

After receiving that news, I also found out that I’d booked a small part on a new show for NBC. Revolution, it was called. Though I knew nothing about it, I was happy as hell to be able to do some actual work on a major primetime television production. But everything in my new New York life was complicated, of course…

I booked the job as a local hire. What did that mean? That meant I was hired because people thought I still lived in Virginia. Where were they filming this show? In North Carolina, a good 5 states south of where I now lived. An obstacle? Yes.  I knew I was going to get my ass to that set if it killed me, but I had less than 24 hours to plan a journey back down south. This would mean trying to find someone to cover my shift at work and also trying to find a cost-effective method of getting to North Carolina.

It was a Tuesday, I’d need to film Thursday, and somehow, be back in New York on Friday for my shift. No one wanted to over for me, and I didn’t want to get written up on my job. But I decided that I’d somehow make filming work…and I’d also make work work…and I’d do this by going into the money I’d saved up for my deposit and first month’s rent on my new place. My rationale: I’d get it back once I was paid from the show.

Wednesday morning came. I was packed and ready to go to the Port Authority Bus Station when I got off work at 4:45. I managed to catch a $64 bus (very last minute) to Richmond Virginia, then transfer to an $80 bus to Wilmington North Carolina; a journey that lasted a total of eighteen hours. Because NO buses would be headed back to New York at the time I needed one, I had to book an early morning ($188) flight to New Jersey, where I’d eventually catch a shuttle back to Manhattan. I was beginning to worry about my money big time.

 Once off the bus, I walked to my lovely hotel, which had been negotiated by my Virginia talent agency, and I promptly fell asleep. Once I’d awakened and after a lovely self-date at Buffalo Wild Wings, I made my way back to the hotel and caught a van to set. It would be a late night shoot. Working on any film set is exciting, but seeing your first on-set explosion has to be the best thing you’ll ever see (unless you catch fire). I never tire of seeing how many people it takes to put on a production and this was no different. I’d had my hair and make-up done and gotten in my costume and sat. IMG_1376

I sat.

And I sat.

 I ate at craft services. And then sat some more.

At 4am, (after arriving on set at 7pm the night prior), I geared up to yell my one line in multiple ways. But because I needed to be back in New York by 5 the next day, the crew rushed through my performance (or either I hit my mark and got it right the first time, who knew?) and I was hurried back to my hotel to prepare for my flight.

I’d arrived back in New York at around noon on Friday. I was proud of myself for accomplishing a hell of a lot in a small amount of time. I’d also had the help of my mother through what could’ve been a messy process, but overall, things kinda of worked out. I was back at work, though I felt a bit underappreciated because I’d gone through hell and high water, (and money I shouldn’t have touched) to return to a job that was paying me a fraction of what I made in 10 hours. Regardless, I’d ended my month with less woes than when I started it. Soon enough I’d be off a couch, and in my own room in Harlem. With no worries and no stress.

 

Yeah, fucking, right…

The Boy from Virginia Starts Over

Final two weeks of July 2012

My impromptu, yet necessary trip to New York had been more than successful and I came home with both dread and anticipation in my heart. Dread because I’d have to figure out how to navigate being in a house where negative energy had become a tenant, yet I brimmed with anticipation because I would soon be away from the familial shenanigans. It also helped that I had a gig that would help make the time go smoother as an extra on adocu-drama about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Me as an "uncredited" Union Soldier in Killing Lincoln

Me as an “uncredited” Union Soldier in Killing Lincoln

During that small job, however, I said a tiny prayer to myself:

“Dear God, I ask to never play another slave or underprivileged antebellum man again. We both know there are more stories to tell that are more interesting than being on the periphery of someone else’s history. Please and thank you!”

 

            Once that gig was finished, and once I’d handled all of my paperwork for my job, it was time to hop another bus to the Big Apple. My only regret was leaving on my mother’s birthday. Having not been in the country to celebrate it for the previous 3 years, I’d wanted to at least plan a huge outing or give her a  huge gift, but her celebration money soon turned into moving money and next thing I knew, I was saying “I love you and I’ll call you when I arrive at my new place.”

            Nine hours later, I arrived back at the Port Authority (a station that was becoming more and more familiar to me) with larger luggage, a backpack, my smaller wheelie luggage…and no one to meet me upon arrival. One of my new (temporary) roommates has texted me the information I would need to find the place in Bronx, and lucky for me, I had my map app on my iPhone, but I was still hoping that someone could assist me with my luggage. The last thing I wanted was to let go of my bags for a second and have them snatched away from me as quickly as I let them go. Little did I know, I had nothing to be afraid of, except blocking the doors of the “2” train, which I couldn’t help given the size of my luggage and my not wanting to over exert myself in the sweltering heat.

            I enjoyed what little dribble of A/C the train decided to distribute and ended up at Intervale Avenue. It was when I departed the train that I realized there were no elevators here…and the escalator was broken, and that I was way too dressed up for what looked like “the hood.” (No lie, I was in dress pants, a button down shirt, dress shoes, and, if I recall, a tailored button down vest) ‘I guess I won’t be fitting in today’, I thought to myself. After a deep breath –and a prayer- I dragged myself and my luggage down the stairs and huffed and puffed…about three blocks…in the wrong direction. It didn’t take me long to call my new roommate and ask her to meet me (something I felt she should’ve done, anyway. But hey, I was in New York, from here on out, I wasn’t expecting any hand-outs or any manners).

            A girl with a Texas accent greeted me and though I couldn’t get an immediate read on her, I knew we’d get along as she led me in the right direction to the apartment and to the room which I’d sublet for the next month. I spent the evening trying to get acquainted with the local bodega (which closed a bit too early for my own liking) and then I slept as work began the next day.

Sunset view from Intervale Avenue station

Sunset view from Intervale Avenue station

 

August 2012     

            For the month of August, I would accept whatever hours were given to me as well as take other shifts if no one else wanted them. I just wanted to keep busy and re-learn the art of selling soap and lotion (among other things). Coming back to a job you thought you knew well can be daunting. I constantly found myself knowing that I was capable of doing a fantastic job, but feeling like I wasn’t quite up to par, given the differences between working for the company in the US versus the UK. All I could do was compare what I’d done overseas to what I was doing on home soil. Still, I’m a hard worker and I wanted to make sure I could actually do my personal best, regardless. If I can recall, I believed I worked 8 days straight with no complaints, just a strong desire to make money and refocus myself.

            It had been the end of a week of long shifts, acclimating myself to Manhattan, failed attempts at apartment/ roommate searches, and to top it all off, I’d discovered some news that made the ground tremor. It had come to my attention after my final shift of the week, that back in Virginia, I had been disowned as a family member. Actually, being disowned would have been a privilege. I was told that I did not exist. A source close to me informed me than an uncle on my father’s side claimed that he didn’t know my mother had any children, though he’d met me on multiple occasions when I was young. What baffled me wasn’t the fact that he could say this with conviction. I wondered how he could’ve brought himself to deny that I was alive because I’m sure it’s not something he came up with on his own.

Then it hit me.

The only way that anyone could jump on board with saying that I didn’t exist was if the seed was planted by another source: a familial source that could’ve been angry with me. That source had to have been my father, who I’d not spoken to since before returning to the United States. It only made sense considering he was none too pleased when he learned I had arrived back in the states and hadn’t contacted him. (That was due to his lack of help when I needed him most back in January 2012 when I was basically being detained in Britain and had exhausted all of my funds trying my best to return home.) If, indeed, he had disowned me, and succeeded in having others jump on board with this foolishness in which he would deny his own progeny, then I guess I’d have to follow suit and continue not existing in his world.

I tried to be nonchalant about the statement, but it vexed me. I thought to myself ‘Wait a minute. People who I’ve known, but may not have dealt with much, are saying that they do not acknowledge me as my father’s son? Better yet, they state that they, indeed, know who my mother is, but are convinced that I’ve not existed over these past 27 years? I’m HERE! And I’m sure those people I interacted with have the factual knowledge of my being a product of my mother and father’s love.’

Obviously love wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to keep my parents together and it wasn’t enough for me to “exist” after all these years.

The news shouldn’t have been as heartbreaking as it was, but I couldn’t help but feel jilted by this man I used to champion for his charm, joie de vivre and genuine loving nature. Who knew he would grow to become so dilapidated in his mindset and disdain for me; his blood, who has only done his absolute best to do right in this world?  In the aftermath of that news, I was beyond disappointed in this man who, at that point, would hold no weight with me beyond the circumference of where he grew up.

I’d have to ask God for healing, to grant me the power to forgive, and to push me to be greater. I promised myself not to subscribe to poor examples of leadership. Then I thanked God for the many powerful men that had been placed into my life; some older than me, but the majority of men were my age, who I’d met in high school, college, and overseas. If you can’t emulate your father, the only solution is to emulate the Holy Father you see in the spirit of others. Thank God, I’m blessed with many fine examples of men who love, uplift, and inspire and who acknowledge my existence.

Patriarchal tangents aside…

On my days off, I had to reward myself with things that would make me feel like a competent human being. On one day off, I linked up with a friend from high school and we managed to go see Valerie Simpson perform live under the stars. Nothing like a bit of old school to make one appreciate the good things in life.

Brandy

Brandy

On another day, I swapped shifts with a young lady at work so that I could go meet Brandy Norwood (my absolute favorite vocalist) in person at BET’s 106th and Park. Despite feeling like I was way too old to sit in the audience of that show, I was happy I waited in line for 2 hours with the 18-24 year old fans (called STARZ), to see an artist who I respected and admired for her never-ending desire to be what God made her: a supernova of positive energy and light. The highlight of that experience was getting the chance to see Brandy debut her first video in years, “Put It Down,” and having her push a fan aside so that she could hug me. I’d hurriedly yelled to her that I traveled all the way from Virginia to see her (this is a true story) and she left the person she was with and gave me the hugest hug saying “Thank you so much for coming. I appreciate you so much.” If I ever get fans in this lifetime, I’ll have to keep in mind that appreciating them at all times is how you keep them.

 On other days off, however, when I was frustrated with myself for thinking that I wasn’t good job at my new job (or led to believe so by some in the all-female environs I was in), I found another activity to bring me peace: Walking.

            I’d had bad day at work and it was the customers who were giving me a hard time. But I was so incensed at feeling like I was perpetually doing something wrong that once I left work, I couldn’t go home. So I commenced walking downtown. As the numbers on the New York streets decreased, my heart sank below my ribs, past my abdominal organs and sauntered in tandem with my trudging feet…until I trampled upon a smidgen of joy: The Donut Plant in Chelsea. I thought to myself, ‘The people in this section of town probably don’t even eat donuts. Probably trying to watch their figures. Well, fuck them; they aren’t in need of gourmet salvation as much as I am.’ Uncharacteristically, I didn’t indulge in my donuts immediately. Instead, I allowed myself to be lead to the Chelsea Piers, which would soon become my favorite place in the city. It was where I  eventually devoured my donuts. It was, also, where I found the most peace. IMG_1115

            Open water. Something about it soothes the shit out of my soul. Can’t swim a lick, but boy-oh-boy, I can listen to lapping, waving water for hours. I imagine that it’s God having a conversation with only me. Once the conversation is over, I imagine mermaids reassuring my existence with their serene smiles…and then I envision an asshole of a prankster pushing me into the water and me drowning. This drowning is further aided by the appearance of an octopus which suction cups me to death and drags me deep into the ocean-y abyss. (Yes, that is how quickly my spiritually enlightening situation turned ridiculous because my imagination ran wild.IMG_1118Once I pulled myself out of Imagination Land, however (looking around suspiciously to make sure no one was trying anything sneaky), I walked back into my New York life, from Christopher Street to 72nd Street. From there, I took the “2” back to Intervale Avenue.

            The final two weeks of August I decided to be more proactive in my apartment search as my month of subletting was rapidly coming to an end. Looking for housing in New York has to be one of the most frustrating, strenuous, and unsatisfying acts in the world. Things started well. I’d found two potential roommates online via one of those “We’re artists and we’re looking for roommate/sub letters” groups on Facebook. Everything started fine. We all got along, and we were looking for various apartments in various places together. We were mainly looking to stay Uptown, and in or near Harlem. We saw a perfect apartment, but at day’s end, the price range was completely astronomical for our artistic budgets. Also, there was the little thing about guarantors, and filling out an application that was longer than a work application. “Tedious” isn’t a good enough descriptor for what we went through.

Eventually, one roommate decided he’d want to live in a different environment while the other lucked up and had her leased renewed for the same low price she’d been paying…and I was left with no one to live with. I had no leads on affordable places to stay and about 5 days left before my sublet was up. Had I been given a false sense of security about my circumstances? Was I truly working hard enough to survive in this city? Where was my focus? How had I allowed myself to get to this point with no safety net whatsoever? Was my beginners luck coming to an end? By the final day of September, my clothes were packed and in the living room of the sublet, but I hadn’t moved out because I still had no other alternatives…and that was after seeing roughly fifteen different options and almost being scammed by one Craigslist posting. Things were not looking good…

Waiting on the train...

Waiting on the train…

The Boy from Virginia Tastes the Concrete Jungle

July 15th, 2012

When I stepped off the Greyhound Bus from Norfolk, Virginia at 7am that Sunday morning and stepped foot into New York’s Port Authority Bus Station, my small overhead wheelie suitcase in tow, I’d only set two goals for myself: 1) Find the location of the room I’d rented for the next two days and 2) find a job. Oh, and find a place to charge my phone. So, three goals total. And I had four days to accomplish them all. It had been four years since I was last in New York City, and despite prior recollection, it wasn’t to attend grad school auditions (which had happened earlier in the same year), but instead for a movie premiere of a relatively well-known television show-turned film. When I last came to New York, I’d become one with midtown and scraped the surface of Harlem. Manhattan was my island (in my mind). But, as this particular trip to New York was a much needed exodus, I didn’t care where I stayed, as long as it resulted in me eventually being able to live there on a more permanent basis. So, I took out my iPhone, typed in the address I was given, and used my lovely Embark NYC app (best app for subway transportation) to figure out how to get to where I was going. After purchasing my Metro Card I weaved my way through the underground maze to find the “7” train that would take me to the dreaded “G” train. You see, the place I was about to venture was a borough that’d only existed in hip-hop lyrics and my youngest uncle’s anecdotes: Brooklyn, new home of the hipsters I thought I left in Shoreditch, London.

            Half an hour later, I was rushing out of the Myrtle-Willoughby station to make sure I could meet this random woman who’d allowed me to rent her room for the next two days. She’d had to go to work but she’d wanted to drop off her key to me and allow the previous tenant to move out (I’d later find out that subletting and room- renting is the norm for most New Yorkers strapped for cash). This meant that I’d only be dropping off my stuff and then heading immediately back over the bridge into Manhattan. I left the apartment with a folder of resumes in my hand and my cell phone and charger (still hadn’t managed to accomplish that goal), and decided to head back to Manhattan.

            My plan was to see if I could get a job with the former company I’d worked with over in London. I knew that they had 4 branches in New York and I was going to dedicate the full day to visiting every single store. I was also going to visit each branch because while overseas, I’d met the manager of one of the shops and I wasn’t sure which one she managed. So my journey would serve a twofold purpose. If none of them were hiring, I was equipped with a sexy resume to take elsewhere. Considering the summer heat and the early hours, I decided to go furthest from my location and ride all the way up to the Upper West Side.

            I’d gotten to the Upper West Side Branch a bit too early for my own liking. The shop manager hadn’t yet arrived. But I was in luck.

            “She’ll be here in about thirty minutes,” The perky manager on duty assured me.

            “Great, well then I’ll come back,” I replied just as perky. Hell, perkiness was a requirement for the company, and I knew how to serve it with all its sweetness. “I just want to make sure I meet the manager in person.” I flashed my best Crest smile, and took my shine out of the door with me.

            While I prepped to give my little “This is why you should hire me” spiel to the manager, I killed time by walking up Broadway and into a Barnes and Nobles. Anytime I’m in a bookshop, I just imagine I own it for a little bit. Then I sigh when I realize I’ll never own all of these books, and I resign myself to flipping through the pages of interesting books and reading the book jackets while making mental lists of future literary material. After thumbing through my tenth book, I realized I’d wasted enough time and that it was about to be “showtime.” So I briskly walked back down Broadway, blazer blowing in the wind (which always makes me feel important and business-sexy). With each block, the anticipation grew, as well as a bit of anxiety. I hate interviewing for jobs, but I understand protocol, and I wondering how to sell myself as I entered the shop.

            “She’s still not here.” I was informed. Darn. I was too eager. I hoped that wouldn’t work against me. I decided to browse the shop and become familiar with the items I’d left behind. Yes, I knew these products like I knew my way around the stage, but now I was on American turf and I’m sure rules would be different.

A woman walked into the shop. I recognized her right away. It was the manager I’d met in London. When I reminded her who I was, she brightened as much as I did! I explained that I was desperately looking for a job. She said that she was hiring and wondered if I could do a trial shift the very next day. I came to New York with no set plans, so I immediately said yes and breathed a sigh of relief. I’d been looking for that woman specifically, and what were the odds that the universe would lead me directly into her shop first thing? Serendipitous, or Divine plan? Whatever it was, I was thankful.

Evening on the town. Streetcar Named Desire

Evening on the town. Streetcar Named Desire

I’d spent the latter part of that evening catching up with an old friend from college who was wonderful enough to purchase a ticket for me to see Tennessee Williams’ A Street Car Named Desire with Nicole Ari Parker and Blair Underwood.The show was stellar, and to this day, I feel I’ve not seen a more specific Blanche onstage. Reviews aside, I also bumped into one of my favorite professors from undergrad who was my mentor and one of the reasons I decided to go to school abroad. The Universe was giving me a lot of people. And New York was catching me in its net after my fall from grace in Virginia.

           

July 16th, 2012

The next day, I woke up, fully prepared to attend my trial shift at my potential new job. (I was also excited because I’d be able to reconnect with someone whose career I was secretly obsessed with, buuuut more on that later.) No one told me that the weather was on full Hades and that black and white clothing was not going to bring my body Arctic peace that day. So, to escape the heat, I decided to go another place I’d never been before, the Upper East Side.

What I learned on that part of town was…that I couldn’t afford it. That and the fact that I felt like I didn’t belong there with the clothes (and perspiration) I was wearing. So after a very brief walk around, I decided to take the plunge and walk through Central Park. I spent ample time there, only because my interview was at 2pm and it was only 12:30. Personally I didn’t understand the hoopla about the park.

Central Park 1 Central Park 2 Central Park 3 Central park 4

Sure it was expansive and full of wonder, but I was only temporarily awed by it all. Then I remembered that I was comparing this park to Hyde Park in London and that’s when I realized I needed to start booking it through the haze to my trial shift. I passed by young black men break dancing in the park for passersby, gaggles of tourists in similar states of wonderment, and many statues that were clearly holding down the fort when people weren’t around.

 After eating an overpriced tuna sandwich at a place called Viand, I’d made it to my trial shift about fifteen minutes prior to my needing to be there. (Had to give a good impression, right?) Soon, I donned the infamous black apron that had been a part of my wardrobe for two and a half years in London, and went out on the floor to show my old job that I still had their skills. An hour and a half later, and having made a cumulative sale of over $350, I. Was. Hired. Goal one: accomplished! Logistics and paperwork would be handled later, but I was definitely on the team which meant I could go back home, and pack up my life and move to the concrete jungle.

One of the most inspiring people I know.

One of the most inspiring people I know.

I beamed with pride in myself as I hurried to meet my fellow actor friend,who’s been inspiring me since I met him. Though he and I weren’t the closest of friends four years ago when I first met him, we’d always been privy to one anothers journey’s. I believe that, in and of itself, was enough to connect us. We’d met over coffee and I’d apologized for being late. He’d congratulated me on the job and then it was down to business. I needed to tell him why I was actually in New York. After responding incredulously to what I’d told him, and confirming that a move was definitely the right decision (“Dude, yeah, you needed to get out of that situation. For your own health”), the issue of housing arose. Where would I stay? Had I looked into finding an apartment? Just as I was about to answer those questions, I saw something like clarity wash over his face.

“Oh!” he said, He fumbled for his phone and began to search his contacts as he spoke to me. “I know someone who’s looking for a roommate and you’d be perfect for each other.” I felt like he was about to find me a boo, not a roommate. “Lemme see if the room is still available.”

He made a call. The phone rang. He dialogued. The room was not available.

“You know, it’s ok…I can go on Craiglist or Air BnB or something,” I conceded.

“No no no. Give me a second.” He swiped through his contacts once again. Made a call. He talked me up. Then he handed me the phone. The young woman was looking for someone to sublet her place for a month while she was on tour and it was so affordable that I couldn’t help but say yes. It was in the Bronx (not too deep in the Bronx). It would be available in two weeks. It was near the 2 train (the exact train I’d need to get to work). All in all, it was perfect.  I had a place to stay (temporarily). Just like that. I thought to myself, this meeting was destiny. He read my mind.

“Isn’t that God?” He asked. Part of me wanted to ask ‘where?’ until I realized he was referring to my situation. “I mean, look at it. You came all the way to New York – with nothing, mind you- and on your second day in the city you walk away with a job AND a place to stay?”

He was right, but he made me sound like some sort of chosen miracle person. So I tried to talk down the situation, “A place to stay for a month…not a home…”

“Still, it’s a place to stay!” he said. Could the wonder in his tone have been legitimate? Was it possible that a person I was in awe of felt the same about me?

“Who are you? I mean, how many people can say that’s happened to them?”

He kept piling on the special, so I felt obliged to tell him, “I guess I’m blessed.” And then I bowed my head and blushed, like a kid who’d been told that he made Student of the Month. I blushed because I’m not good with being praised for things that I have no control over. And while I tried my best to laugh it all off, I could tell that my friend could see something in me that I couldn’t. He’d identified a light in me that I wasn’t acknowledging and one in which I refused to acknowledge. I hoped, as I sat in his presence that his light would rub off on me as I was still feeling guilty about my home situation, and still numb to what had happened to my cousin months earlier.

After we parted ways, I ended my night with another college friend who lived in Brooklyn. She got me drunk on corner store wine and I ended up drunk, nauseated, and eventually asleep on a bench at Clinton-Washington station (and it was only midnight). Once I realized that I’d been asleep and possible prey for the kitten sized rats that roamed the city nightly, I quickly sobered up enough to figure which direction to go on the train, and then I walked back to my rented room. Day 2 in New York had been an unexpected success.

I’d spent the next two days connecting with friends, since I had nothing else to do, and exploring the city that would soon become my home. While those last two days were basically a blur of buildings, subway travel and oppressive heat, standout moments included reconnecting with a friend who was still reaping the rewards of her Tony nomination, and watching Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday at Bryant park with another friend from college.

IMG_0875Cinema in Bryant Park

My big sis.

My big sis.

(When people come back into your life, it’s definitely for a reason and this friend of mine would prove instrumental in ways I’d never imagined in months to come.) I remember having lunch with two of my former colleagues from undergrad (one a distant cousin who also inspired me in more ways than one by just being an amazing individual). We’d eaten at the bar where there were pictures of The How I met Your Mother Cast, and I told them both the real reason I was in the city to which they left judgment behind and comforted me with friendly words and comfort food.  I also remember getting lost on the subway returning to Brooklyn to stay with another friend as I couldn’t navigate the “J” or the “M.” When I made it to my destination, I vowed to never ever use those lines again.

 

July 18, 2012

On my final day, the levees on the sky seemed to break and there was a terrible thunderstorm which drove me into the movie theater to watch Moonrise Kingdom. That was the last activity I participated in that Thursday before I returned to Port Authority, dragging my small wheelie overhead suitcase, and hopping back on the Greyhound Bus to face my recent past…and pack/prepare for the future.

In four days, I’d accomplished more than I’d planned. And after such a warm, humid, balmy welcome to the city, I felt like, once I made the actual move, I’d accomplish a wealth of things I’d never experienced before…

IMG_0876

The Boy From Virginia Takes a Leap

“Success” means a myriad of things to many people. For some it means living out the mythical “American Dream” of having a big house, picket fence, 2.5 (I still don’t get that .5) kids, and some sort of pet. For others it can mean riches. For some it means living another day. And so on and so on.  I found myself wondering late last night what does being successful mean to me now, in this very moment?

            If you asked me what success meant to me about three years ago, I wouldn’t have had a clear answer, but I would’ve expressed that it meant changing lives and social perceptions via the artistic medium. Today, I am certain that my success still has its foundations in remaining artistically relevant. Achieving fame and fortune, however, has ended up on my list of undesirables. Being financially stable is one thing (and necessary), but if there is anything I’ve learned from my experience in a failed/ unprofessional shows, it’s that selling one’s soul to make a buck is about the most draining thing one can do to his/her spirit.

            Some people have made soul-selling into an art. And I guess it furthers what we perceive as their success. An unfortunate example: The Kardashians, who are now being paid forty million dollars for a “reality” show (which I am happy to say I STILL haven’t seen), when as a family their contributions to American society are the equivalent of what a hangnail is to a digit on the hand: unnecessary, lingering pain. And I won’t begin to mention any “real” housewives or “bachelors” or anything else that suggest “reality” at the expense of actual realism. My reality at the moment isn’t eventuful, nor is it lucrative, but it works for me.

            I know that there are many who would ask me, “So if you got a chance to make millions of dollars for acting a fool on screen, you mean you wouldn’t do it?” Let me just say this: There are loads of people “acting a fool” on screen and the internet at the moment so joining their company isn’t going to make me feel like I’ve broken new ground. One of my favorite artists (who I can admit, I’m a HUGE fan of), Brandy, just did a VH1 Behind the Music special in which she said, referencing her time has a young artist in the entertainment industry, “For me to have had it all, I was the most unhappy teenager in the world.” If having it all means feeling like that, then someone else can have it.

            But Brandy also said something else that was very interesting. She said that she knew she would be a star and she never ever doubted it. Then she went on to joke about wishing she still had that courageousness she once had as a youth. I understand wanting that feeling of invincibility to return all too well. When you’re young you feel you can take on the world. And every door seems to be opened to you until its closed, and even then, you think that you have the power to re-open those doors. As of late, I’ve been feeling as if I’ve hit some sort of plateau. But did I reach this place because of outside forces or because I stopped believing that I could be on my Michael Jackson status someday?  I can only attribute my feeling of paralysis to one thing: fear.

            Many people who read my blogs in the past have probably given up on waiting for me to write anything new, as it’s been so long. It’s not as if I haven’t had some fantastic topics to sift through. On the contrary, I would begin to write and then stop because I felt like I didn’t have enough, or because I was afraid that no one would really give a damn that I was writing anything, despite me having a readership (albeit a small one). Also, I had some crazy obstacles to overcome as well and when I was figuring out my priorities, writing always came in last place. I needed to deal with the tangible before dealing with the technological. If I am completely honest, I was much more fearful that nothing I would write would be as great as my “Breaking the Silence” entry which was so in depth and so full of me that I felt I’d given all I could give. (I guess I did put an invisible ceiling on my artistic life, just a bit.)

            Two days ago, however while I was putting final touches on a cover letter that I was sending out to start my process of self-promotion, I felt a surge of energy…no…I felt a surge of power. It was a feeling of such surety that I became overwhelmed. I found myself happy and fearful simultaneously to the point where I was sure I would combust. It was like seeing something glow and knowing that glow you saw was actually coming from within. The exact thought I had at that moment was ‘Something spectacular is coming my way and I’m going to be so blessed’ and immediately after I thought, ‘Am I ready for the responsibility that comes with these impending blessings?’ I then thought one last thought: ‘Have I been working hard enough to deserve whatever it is I’m about to receive?

            There are some people who’ve been on this journey with me from the start and they will vouchsafe and say that I’ve never stopped working. I will say that I’ve been working as hard as my circumstances will allow me to. Every single day, I’m pissed at the fact that I’m not enrolled in some sort of class somewhere, but I also know that given the right situation, I’ll go out and get what I need and God will make a way, somehow. I will learn as many monologues as my mind can hold and I will practice songs for as long as my voice can tirelessly carry a tune.  But I’m also not going to overwork myself either. Up until February 12th, I was in a country without any family, except the friends I adopted over the years, and I had to survive on my own. I worked every day to the best of my abilities and was fortunate enough to work in my chosen field and meet loads of significant people who have influenced my life in a positive way. Keeping myself afloat as a foreigner in another country was definitely hard work so if I give myself enough credit, then yes, I’ve not stopped working.

            But after a fun yet tumultuous end to my London adventure (I had an emergency surgery during my final show in Scotland, had to fight with the UK Border agency to return to America, and ended up spending all of the money I’d just earned in a desperate need to come home), a holiday was in order…even if it was just an excuse to reintegrate myself into the life that I’ve been absent from for many years. Still, people who know me also know that I don’t know how to rest for too long.

After two weeks of just breathing and being with the family, I searched for local representation and got it, as well as some on-screen work which, so far, has been pretty rewarding. I even worked on my very first union film and I couldn’t have been more pleased. You see, a goal of mine when I returned, was to do my best to break into television and film as I’ve spent the past 13 years of my life gaining stage experience. I need a new challenge and I am ready to embrace it, if the opportunities come my way. Of course, I have to encourage the universe to work with me. How is anyone going to know what I want to do if I don’t put it out there, right?

            After returning home and being privy to the success of many actors/ actresses who I’ve worked with or met in passing, I’m starting to feel like there is room for me to excel in this industry as well. Before I left London, I had the chance to witness my former classmate, Da’Vine Joy Randolph electrify the West End Stage with her original portrayal of Oda Mae Brown in GHOST the Musical. Having been Hamlet to her Gertrude in college, I felt triumphant knowing that someone with tremendous talent was getting to exhibit it in a phenomenal way! She is currently on Broadway showing the world, or at least NYC, her capabilities. Also, in late 2007, I was fortunate enough to meet and be inspired by Leslie Odom, Jr., who I discovered is a fan of my blog series! If you are not familiar with this gentle spirit, all you have to do is tune into NBC’s SMASH or go see him play Isaiah in Leap of Faith on Broadway. His skills shine! And I can’t even begin to mention all of my London, Philadelphia, or Temple University connections that continue to make me proud each day. Their successes have prompted me to take action.

            In the past, I’ve been quite blessed in the way that good things did seem to just come my way. I was a chosen child, I guess. Or so I thought. If I took a microscope to all of the situations where it seemed like I was being “given” a wonderful opportunity, I’d realize that I’d already put in the work somewhere else. Rewards don’t come to those who don’t work. Nothing is luck. I’m of the school of thought that if you meet God halfway, then he’ll do the same. So two weeks ago, I began drafting out a cover letter to send to any casting director who is willing to read what I have to say about my overall experience as a performer. I intend to send about 150-200 letters because someone is bound to believe in what I have to offer. Someone is going to trust my talent enough to hire me and not be disappointed. Someone is going to care enough to give me feedback. Someone will hear how eager I am to stay in this business that I love, for all of its thrilling ups and dismal downs.

            Funny enough, when I sat down to write the letter, I couldn’t think of a way to talk about me (which is odd because I write a blog that’s ALL about me). I fought with how I would be perceived, whether or not I was including enough information or too much. But mostly, I thought to myself…There are thousands of people in the U.S. trying to be actors and working at a high professional level. What makes me standout? Then I thought to myself…someone will think I’m perfect. To some casting director, myself will be enough. So yesterday, I sent out 11 letters (my first wave of them) in hopes that someone will say, “This Tommy guy is interesting enough to employ. Let’s give him a chance”

            There are 139-189 more letters to send, but I’m sure this is going to be my biggest lesson in stepping out on faith. In the past, I left home at 14 only because I knew I’d be stepping into a great experience. I ended up at Milton Academy and subsequently Temple University.  I left the country in September 2008 for the same exact reason: I knew greatness would come of going abroad. So far I’ve been lucky enough o continue working in my field since my return. Coming home may have not been my goal, and yes, my work will never be done as an actor, but there is a future here that has been waiting for me. (“We’ve had this date from the beginning.”) So in sending out the cover letters, I’m hoping I’m stepping into a future that I can handle. That’s all I can hope for when I step out on faith: A future that I can handle…and one in which I can thrive and showcase the best me that there is to show!

The Boy from Virginia Emerges from the Grave (The Hiatus Series)

“There’s always another chance. Another chance to make a change, to make new choices, to say sorry, to offer and accept love, to embrace responsibility, to understand, to create  romance, to make amends, to escape, to break the chain, to see the truth, to tell the truth, to reassess, to rebuild, to be reborn. Give yourself a chance to live. Give the world a chance to be wonderful” –Rikki Beadle-Blair

Last Friday, I performed a small interpretive dance piece about fair trade gold for Africa Fashion Week. The next day, I cut off my hair and went into work for a Burlsque night in central London. Then, on Sunday, I began my new job as a waiter in a restaurant. Only two and a halk weeks ago was I sitting in my room feeling as if I couldn’t move. Now here I am, moving as much as I possibly can. Things do turn around, don’t they?

The following was originally written on August 3rd

What a hiatus gives a person is the following: 1)serious time to think, 2) a clear head to figure out what’s next, and 3) a refreshing feeling that no vacation has the power to give.

So I thought. A lot. And I tried to pinpoint the root of my problem with God and with my situation and it boiled down to something quite simple. I wasn’t angry with God because I didn’t get a role in a play. I’ve NOT gotten roles before. Instead, I lost faith because all I wanted was a job that was going to help me get out of financial debt before leaving London. I lost faith because I figured that getting a role was such a small thing to ask God for. But He couldn’t do it. Or better yet, he chose not to do it. He’d rather give the rich even more riches and keep the poor, struggling no matter how hard some of them fight to make life better.

So I questioned him. I questioned Him hard. And it made people very mad I feel because of some unspoken rule that says He’s not to be questioned. Here’s my theory:  I don’t think God punishes negative thoughts. He doesn’t reward them, obviously, but why punish when he has bigger fish to fry? The world has tons of negativity. Instead, he tends to show you what he has in store. The more I questioned, and the more insecure I became, the more I began to care less about God and His miracles. But then, calls came in and doors opened and I figured that it would be stupid of me not to put in work to make good things happen for myself (which is why I now have a couple jobs to help me for a bit). So from now on, I will say, “Question God,” because he will definitely show you His answer. I think a cowardly entity would just refuse to show up at all.

I think God showed me an answer through a death. You see, it was Amy Winehouse’s death that made me think, this isn’t it for me. I still have a legacy to leave behind, and a mark to make on this world. To just quit my career (which is what I was considering) would be a testatment to failure, and people who know me well know that I only fail at relationships, not my career.

I love my job waaaay to much to just give up on it. Moments like the one I experienced are considered a “scuffle.” Like any other relationship in which you love something, you are bound to get hurt, and you need to recover from that hurt in your own way. This industry is something that most people love and hate at the same time. To be able to love/hate simultaneously shows the depth of my involvement in the craft. It’s like family; Only real family members know how to piss you off, and then make you smile 5 minutes later.

This is a journey that I am constantly on and the only relationship I know how to manage. I wouldn’t be surprised if I feel the exact same way about the industry in later years. Yes, I recognize how specific my situation is to me yet, for those who’ve forgotten, I write my blogs not just for myself, but for those people who aren’t near me and want to know how I’m living my life. That includes being candid with my readers and not stiffing them on the details that make my journey a real one. Not everything I write will be comfortable, nor understandable to some. Remember, regardless the emotion, the essence of me doesn’t change.

One of my favorite lines of any movie is in Scream 2 where Sidney Prescott says “I’m a fighter.” Her graying drama teacher looks at her with a hint of challenge and disdain and says not once, but twice “I don’t believe you.” She looks at him with a combination of determination and fear, and says with more than enough internal power, “I’m a fighter.” This is how I feel every single day of my life. I start my days with question marks about the things I believe in the most, and by the day’s end, or the next morning, my questions marks have turned into periods or exclamation points.

My personal plea to my friends and family and readers is this: Know me well enough to know that I’m fine and will always pick myself up of the concrete when knocked down. I’m not a hopeless case who will end up in a hospital somewhere for slitting his wrist. That’s too played out. People are remembered most for their actions, how they persevered and lived through even the worst of times.  However, also know me well enough to know that my hiatus was a form of rebellion. I don’t get to rebel often because people think that I am happy and together all the damn time. It seems selfish for people to want meto be happy for them as opposed to myself. So if feeling sad for a week, or a month, makes me feel happy, respect it.

For a time, during my hiatus period, people were suggesting all types of ways to diagnose my “problem” and I kept wondering if they knew that my problem was merely financial. If they had a get rich quick scheme, then I would take that on in a heartbeat. But the question of problems remained. Do I have a problem?, I thought. Yes, I do. It’s called “feeling too much.”  When I get caught up in something, I feel it to the nth degree. But funny enough, there is nothigng wrong with that. Most people don;t feel or care enough. I don’t want to be one of those people no matter how foot-loose and fancy free they appear to be. From my personal experience, I’ve come to realize that being considerate of others is rewarding, even thought it can get a bit stressful as well. Therefore, I need to find a balance between giving and not giving a fuck.

But a word to the wise, when it comes to me, I ask my friends to let me come to conclusions on my own. I have to live with myself 24 hours a day and no one knows me like I know me, so don’t try to solve me as if I am some sort of emotional equation. I can usually solve myself with silence, some well thought out words, and my laptop.

Sidewak drawig at the Southbank