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 Weathers the Storm -Part 2- (The Concrete Chronicles)

After my week from hell, I’d managed to summon enough energy to start my (unpaid) training at the Harlem restaurant. Though my serving skills and shorthand were rustier than I’d expected, I’d proven competent and friendly enough to be among the staff there. I’d even met the owner of the restaurant who made it her business to remain warm and friendly with me during the busiest of times: Sunday Brunch. I was thrilled to be surrounded by good food, and hard-working people, but I also felt that the work being done was much harder than it needed to be.

In London, I worked diligently as a waiter, even setting a record for most tips received at my particular branch during my second month there. Serving comfort food, however, to greedy Harlemites after church or foreign tourists getting their voyeuristic fix was more taxing than serving the high end, suburban clientele I’d once served on the murky, yet lovely Thames River. Still, I gave it a go…for free. Deep in my mind, I’d believed I’d been given this opportunity to train because it would eventually become my new -hopefully lucrative- job. I mean, it happened so quickly that that had to be the reasoning behind it, right?

The next week, I wasn’t on the work schedule for my day job as much as I’d been before, and I was okay with that. Soon, I’d be out of there. I’d be making enough tips to pay my bills and save up for dance classes or theatre classes or that gym membership that I’d signed up for the previous month and hadn’t yet used. Not one to languish in idle time, I managed to acquire quick side job: cleaning an apartment.

I’d mentioned to a new New York friend the month before that I’d had a background in domestic and janitorial work and I didn’t mind cleaning as an occupation. Knowing that I wasn’t at full financial capacity and wanting to help me out, she allowed me to clean her apartment, which, oddly, helped me clear my mind. It also helped put a much needed $40 in my pocket. After hurrying home to buy some items for my empty section of the shared fridge, I hopped on my laptop to revise my resume. It was high time I applied for a job in a field that I could manage. The first month I moved to New York, I discovered a small cleaning company that needed “Cute Guys” to clean houses, paint walls, organize shelves, etc. As dubious as I was about the company, I quickly learned that judging a website by its homepage wasn’t particularly appropriate.  I read their mission statement and got the feeling that they were quite friendly and legit. And hey, people referred to me as “cute” in the “puppy dog” way so I figured that adjective would suffice until I could become cute in a “sexy” way. What I truly cared about was that I didn’t need to take off my clothes to clean a house.  I indulged people’s fantasies on stage. I refused to do so while cleaning a toilet.  

I sent my cover letter and resume via e-mail and prayed for a response sooner than later. In addition, I’d sent my resume out aimlessly to other retailers looking to hire soon. If I could manage two jobs in New York City, I would. No sooner had I clicked “send” did I hear a large ripping sound followed by a soft thud and what sounded like trickling debris. It came from the bathroom, which was situated immediately next door to my room. The guy who roomed next door to me stepped out of his room moments before I decided to step out of mine and I dreaded the origins of his subdued “Holy. Shit.” 

IMG_1465

Upon exploring the bathroom, myself, I concluded that I had, indeed, heard falling debris. It had been preceded by the bathroom ceiling caving in over the tub; the only tub that was shared between the 5 people who occupied the apartment. Dirt, ceiling, dry wood, and probably one hundred years of dust/dust mites layered themselves like lasagne inside the tub, with remnants of the recipe powdering the bathroom floor. I managed to speak an underwhelmed “wow”, and my roommate began to rant while simultaneously laughing incredulously about how “this has happened before but not to this extent.” (I wish I had known this before moving in.) He made some phone calls to our other roommates while the lead roommate (a British guy who was never home due to flying all over the world), made a call to the super.

Within an hour the super was surveying the bathroom and speaking at the glacial pace Miranda Priestly mentioned while she was being all devilish in Prada.

The tub

“It looks like the ceiling came down,” the simpleton said. Ya think? “I don’t know how this could’ve happened.” Part of me wanted to say, ‘we’re not concerned about the how, but instead with the where are we going to shit and shower now?’ My next door roommate had reached a moment of calm and decided he would give his diagnosis.

“You see,” he began, “I think if you look right there (he pointed at the piece of ceiling that was hanging). I think that the tape you put up, wasn’t strong enough.” (Hold on, our ceiling was put up with tape? What kind of ramshackle apartment was I living in?)

“No. That’s not it,” my super said matter of factly, still sloth-like. (Was he high? I understood he was West Indian, but I hate to feed into stereotypes, even when they are true.) I didn’t have time to answer my own internal question because the Roomie was now reprimanding the Super for his shoddy job and storming out and down the hall to his room. I’d actually witnessed a hissy fit but lemme tell you; if they don’t look good on two year olds, they’ll never look good on a twenty three year old. Kids these days, huh?

I gave up trying to rationally explain to our Super that I thought the ceiling caved in because the ceiling was old and the shower condensation caused whatever adhesive was there to fail. He nodded his head, considered my evaluation, and then said, “Nah. There’s flooding or something. A leaky pipe somewhere.” Some people prefer their own truths.

Shenanigans aside, my roommates and I were left with one option: in order to shower and use the rest room, we would have to go up to a vacant apartment on the fourth floor of our building. This would last for about two weeks, the Super told us, while they completely renovated our bathroom. At least we’d be getting a modern room in this ancient apartment of ours.

I figured now was as good a time as ever to become invested in my personal health. I had no acting gigs, no agent, no connections in New York. I had a job I’d soon be leaving for another, and more importantly, I needed a place to shower. My gym had shower, steam room, and sauna…and I was paying for it anyway. So unlike my roommates, I made it my mission not to climb up to the fourth floor, unless it was for exercise -and my bladder’s- sake.

*          *          *

The week was swimming by fast, despite little activity. I was becoming addicted to cardio as the weather was starting to change. Our bathroom construction was driving me insane. Hammering and drilling began every morning between 9 and 11am. On the first day of renovating, the Super managed to put holes in my bedroom wall: the curse of living next door to a faulty room. My day job was becoming more tolerable and, dare I say it, I was building an attachment to the friends I had made there, even though I was on my way out the door. Just as I’d started coasting on the new vibe that was settling in…I got a rude awakening.

At the end of my third (unpaid) training session at the Harlem restaurant, I was told that someone would be in touch. The hiring manager who previously showed an interest in me before beginning my training had become distant and rarely engaged with me at all. It couldn’t have been because I was doing an awful job, was it? (I had made some mistakes, but I was rusty and I was literally thrown on the floor as if I’d been working there for years.) I was being trained by a veteran waitress who knew the ropes and who had expressed that they were in dire need of someone like myself since they’d recently fired a guy for being drunk on the job. In addition, the hiring manager was never there when I was working. Regardless, it was she who’d stopped me at the door when I inquired about being put on the work roster.

“Thanks for coming in, but we won’t be needing your services.”

The sentence was simple and sharp. Like a box-cutter. There was some half-hearted attempt at mentioning that my information would be kept on file…but everyone knows that’s the new version of “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You.” Then she walked her pug face and animal print blouse back into the restaurant. Hungry Hungry Harlem folk started to line up outside the door and I turned swallowing my rejection to walk past their growling, expectant stomachs. For the second time in New York, I left a job site confused and wondering, What next?

I’d just closed the door to my room when the veteran waitress called me to ask what had happened. She’s seen me come to the restaurant and asked why I wasn’t going to be joining them. “I don’t know,” was the only answer I had. I really didn’t know. I didn’t know why I couldn’t manage to get a new job. I didn’t know why I wasn’t good enough to serve food at that restaurant. I didn’t understand why my apartment was falling apart and I hated that I couldn’t seem to get my life in order. Something needed to be done. So I did the only thing I could think of: I emailed my manager to ask her for a private meeting.

*          *          *

When a person puts in two weeks’ notice at his job to find another, and then that other job opportunity falls through in a big way, there’s no choice but to use your last dime to buy a margarita with a friend. It was a Sunday and not only was the drink welcome, but so was the company.

Erin had contacted me a week beforehand to reconnect. She was a fellow thespian who I’d met in college and whose work always captivated me. I was sure that she’d be living the best life there  ever was in New York City. So when we hugged each other on the corner of 43rd and 8th, I’d figured, from her smile alone, that she was living the dream. It wasn’t until we got to Blockheads that the truth came out for both of us. Life hadn’t been a crystal stair for her either and she was only just starting to climb her self-made staircase.

We caught up over nachos and much needed frozen margaritas (though it was approaching 30 degrees outside) and I discovered something: Every little interaction in life counts. Erin and I weren’t the closest of friends in college, but we’d always been pleasant to one another, and as I said before, I thought she was a stellar performer. I kept thinking to myself, ‘why hadn’t we been friends back then?’ Yes, we shared a department major, a circle of creative folk, and now a profession that would send us on the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Still, the ease of our conversation made me feel that our reunion should’ve occurred much sooner. I felt I was speaking to a kindred spirit who knew my plight, and like me, was successfully surviving. I was both comforted and inspired by Erin because I knew, in that moment of eating guacamole and chasing it with frozen tequila, we’d definitely be the sort of friends to call on one another in times of emotional hardship. More importantly, she wouldn’t judge me for my negative/insecure moments, because like many other creatives, she’d probably already been there, done that, and gotten a souvenir.

God had decided to put the person I needed into my life at the exact moment I would need them. Funny how the Universe works.  

Our conversation -as well as the margaritas- gave me clearer insight to the environment I’d infiltrated. I’d come into New York trying to find peace. What I’d ended up doing thus far was shifting my emotional balance. If I didn’t actively try to salvage my situation and turn it around soon, I’d fail in this city. Failure isn’t a brand to which I happily subscribe. 

Life only works if you stop bullshitting yourself, and lend it a helping hand. So, the next day, with a clearer head, a plan of action -and more humility than I thought myself capable- I decided to ask my manager for my job back.

IMG_1881

The Boy from Virginia Weathers the Storm -Part 1- (The Concrete Chronicles)

October 2012

 

October was a month full of enough setbacks to make me feel like the most inadequate and incompetent punching bag in New York City. And most of those setbacks happened in the first week.

 

The day before the first of the month, I returned my key to the wonderful roommates who had tolerated me a month longer than was necessary and made my way to my new home on 129th and Lenox. Arriving at my new place felt like putting the final piece of a puzzle together. I walked into the one hundred year old lobby feeling as though I was one step closer to being where I belonged. I mean, I’d made it to Harlem, a place I’d craved since studying the Harlem Renaissance and Langston Hughes in the fourth grade. I was in the heart of it and life couldn’t be better. I went into my empty room, saw that there was no furniture and thought to myself ‘It won’t always be like this. And at least you have a decent sized closet.’ That night, after a brief check in with my new roommates, I fell asleep on the couch in the living room; the jazz of my new neighborhood singing me to sleep.

 

*          *          *

I ventured into work on the second day of October feeling a sense of anxiety in the highly polluted air. Something was amiss, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. So as I hopped off the train at 72nd street, the music from my iPod soundtracking my morning, I didn’t realize I was missing a very important text.

 

Once at work, I greeted my co-worker, who I felt didn’t care for me at all, and went into the staff room to prepare for work. I put on my apron and picked up my iPhone, ready to put it on vibrate and seal it inside my book-bag for the duration of my shift when I read a text from my roommate asking where my rent check was and stating that it was due by 2 pm that afternoon. Oh shit!

 

I’d completely forgotten to write the check for my security deposit and first month’s rent before I left the apartment that morning, because I didn’t want to be late for work. Also, I was well aware that I did not have the full amount of money I needed to pay the rent due to having to provide my own transportation to the shoot for NBC the week prior. In all honesty, I was $300 short of that full required amount that was needed and I felt my stomach drop. Panic swam around in my bloodstream as I made my way out onto the floor and said to my colleague, “I might need to take a long lunch today.”  I thought I’d posed my sentence as a question. Did I employ an upward inflection?

 

I expressed to her my emergency which may as well have been met with a shrug of shoulders. I understood that we were the only two people on the morning shift and there was a potential that the shop floor could get busy (but that was rare on a Monday), but I couldn’t get caught up in coulda, shoulda, woulda’s. I needed to pay rent or I would definitely pay some other price.

I didn’t expect for her to have empathy for me (Hell, I was in New York. I knew that no one truly gave a shit about your circumstances in the big city). I’d managed to go into the staff room and sneak a phone call to my mother asking her to foot me the money that I needed to pay my rent. Luckily, Superwoman was able to come up with the amount for me. And all I’d need to do was wait for her to text me that she’d put it into my account.

 

I was antsy on the shop for the next few hours. For one, I was under the watchful eye of my co-worker, who I need to be on my side that day. Two, I just wasn’t satisfied with myself that I’d allowed myself to be in a deficit. Even after paying the rent, I’d have no money to eat or buy groceries with. I became obsessed with getting through to lunch. But a bit of misguided banter (I playfully compared my co-worker’s managing skills to someone she didn’t particularly appreciate), didn’t help my cause one bit. Without someone with whom I could to commiserate dread settled in. Thank goodness, I’m an actor, though, because I kept up an “It’s all good” face around my customers.

 

At midday, a senior staffer arrived and as she was headed to the staff room, she asked me how I was doing to which I replied “Not good. Not good at all. But things’ll be fine.” I smiled, because that was my only option. I couldn’t let my panic affect the customers or, more importantly, the sales. But I noticed a flicker of discomfort in her face before she smiled back disappeared into the staff room.

 

Not long before she arrived, I’d gotten the confirmation text from my mother that the money had gone into my account and I could’ve punched the air in celebration if I felt I had time to do so. Instead, I ran onto the shop floor and asked if I might be able to go to lunch early so I could run and pay my rent. Both co-workers faces showed me that they did not appreciate that request. Nor did they appreciate me telling that that my errand would take about 45 minutes to compete. Lunch was a half hour. And it was a half hour that I desperately needed. I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t be cut some slack when all I wanted to do was rectify all my wrongs.

 

After a quick negotiation and rearrangement of lunches, I bolted out of the door and down the street to my bank, got a money order and crossed the street to catch the 2 back to Harlem. The bank run was 15 minutes. A trip to Harlem would be 15 more minutes. My run to and from my apartment was 5 minutes. And my hauling-of-ass back to my job would be 7 minutes more. My entire trip was 20 minutes longer than my lunch period, but I’d had my money order back at home by 2:10 pm. Unfortunately, I’d missed my 2pm deadline (something I would later discover didn’t particularly matter), but I didn’t care. I was lighter in my spirit. I mean, I would still owe my mother and I’d have nothing to eat for a few days, but at least I’d have a roof over my head for the remainder of the month. In my mind, I was free.

 

That is, until I was set free by my senior staff member.

 

“Has it been a tough one today?” she asked me after pulling me off the shop floor and into the staff room.

 

“Yes, actually. I’ve been a bit stressed out this morning, but I think I’ll be fine now.” I even thanked my other co-worker for allowing me to go to lunch before her. I felt nothing but gratitude and I was happy to continue work knowing that I wouldn’t have to deal with any more financial crisis for the rest of the day. Somehow, my gratitude hadn’t translated.

 

“Well, you know what, I think we’ll have another co-worker coming in very soon so if you need to go home to de-stress, go ahead.”

 

“I’m fine. Everything’s cool.”

 

“Well, it’s just that when I came in and asked you how you were doing, you’re response was ‘Not good.’”

 

“Well that’s because I wasn’t, at that moment. But given that things have been resolved I’m cool.”

 

“Understandable. But when you say things like you’re not feeling good. It can come off as negative. And we need you to give your best on the shop floor at all times. Can you promise to give 100 percent? ”

 

“Well, no.” I said, quickly, readying to give her the mantra that had helped me through many situations. “I can give you 99.9 percent of what I can give you today. That’s all anyone can give, really. I don’t believe that anyone ever truly give 100% because you need .01 percent of personal energy. But I can promise to give you my absolute best.” This was an answer, I could tell, she wasn’t prepared to hear.

 

“Well given how tough today was for you, we feel it would be best if you…go ahead home. It’ll give you a chance to work out whatever’s going on.” She said this with a thin smile and in a fairy tale manner that made me feel like I should just go home, bake a cake, and life would be fine in the morning. Her tone of voice convinced me that she understood my pain. I considered what she was saying…tentatively.

 

“Are you sure?” Because I wasn’t sure going home was the best option for a guy like me with no money.

 

“Yeah. It’s fine. We’ll be fine here.”

 

My mind acted fast. I was being dismissed. Obviously. Somehow, it didn’t feel like a true dismissal. My gut told me, however ‘something about this isn’t right.’ I left work, however, two hours earlier than planned. I was about to get on a subway to meet a friend at 8pm that evening when I got a call from my senior staff member. This could not be good.

 

“Hey! We’ve given your shifts to another co-worker this week. We have too many hours that need to be covered and you’ve been doing quite a lot of work for us so…

 

“I’m sorry. What?”

 

“Yeah. We realized that another worker needs some hours and you need to de-stress…”

 

“But I am de-stressed.” And the conversation made me borderline distressed. I didn’t know what else to say so I said. “Okay,” and hung up the phone. I thought the worst immediately -which is what I do sometimes- and came to the conclusion that I was being fired. I went to bed scratching my head in confusion, and hoping that my stress would fall out like dandruff.

 

*          *          *

 

Because the phone call the prior night got my Tommy senses tingling, I decided to go into Times Square the next day and look into retailers where I felt I might want to work, if indeed, I was about to be laid off. It was while I was job-browsing, that I’d received a phone call from my assistant manager, who was on a work conference outside of the country. I ran under the awning of an unfinished “Hollister” Store which would be “opening next spring” to take her call and to protect myself from the rain that had begun to pour.

 

My assistant manager led the conversation with news that I would not be working for the rest of the week. I knew it! I was immediately in heart attack mode, and also confused. How had having a bad day led to a mandatory leave of absence? I wasn’t rude to customers, I still managed to make sales, and I was a daman good employee. Wasn’t I? I was informed that the managerial team felt that I was not in a good “space” to work, and that I was also a negative influence on other staff. ‘I will have to monitor my honesty in the workplace in the future,’ I thought. Luckily for me, my assistant manager asked me what went on the day before.

 

I was frank with my assistant manager about all the things that occurred prior to that moment, as well as all my verbal encounters with co-workers. I also informed her that I came into negativity that was already present on the job, which gave me a false sense of who I could and couldn’t express myself to. Having heard my side of the story, she informed me that she’d need a discussion with our boss before moving forward. But I was already feeling doomed….so I pondered my next move as well.

 

I expressed that I found fault with the decision to send me home for a week to sort out my “issues.” For me, it seemed the decision would be financially counterproductive and I deemed it a rash over-penalization for being honest about my feelings at work. In articulating my frustration to my assistant manager, and reeling from the attacks on my character, I couldn’t physically control the huge New York mess I was about to become: a man blubbering through tears on an iPhone, pleading to retain the job that was my sole source of income. The rain continued to fall, occasionally matching the drizzle of precipitation from my eyes. I didn’t own an umbrella (nor sunglasses) so I’d be under that awning for a long time. I know the tears helped nothing, but I hoped my transparency would.

 

That evening, I made my way to my favourite Harlem restaurant, where I’d showed a previous interest in working, and I told the hiring manager that I would like a job there. I left my resume and went home to pray. (It was definitely a time to turn to God)

 

On the third day of October, my phone rang, waking me up out of a very therapeutic sleep. “Are you available to cover a shift today?” was the question that almost made me furious. But I immediately lost the battle with my pride and principles, and decided money wouldn’t appear without my help. So I went to work that day, limited my interactions with others (to avoid spreading ‘negativity’), and sold the shit out of the products in our shop. When people attack who you are, the best revenge is being a better version of who you were the day before. Or in simpler terms: Prove those motherfuckers wrong about you!  That day at work, I was determined to give people the best 99.9 percent of what I could give that day.

 

I didn’t go into work the next day, but I did receive a call from the hiring manager at the Harlem restaurant saying that I could come in for training. I was amazed at how fast God worked. So that evening, I went in to have what was basically an interview, and I basically…trained. It’d been a year since I’d been a server. And I was a server in London, not America…so I’d have to eventually adjust to a new way of customer service…and an ancient computer system…and my new clientele (since it was a soul food restaurant). It would be drastically different than working retail in the Upper West Side.

 

At the end of that week my managerial team returned from their conference. I’d had another successful day at work and five minutes before the end of my shift, I gave my assistant manager an envelope. In it was my letter of resignation that I’d written three days prior. With all the to-do that had become my life that first week of October, I decided that the true way to de-stress, was to leave a bad situation before it could get any worse. It was the first time since moving to New York that I’d felt I’d actually given 100 percent of myself and realized 100 percent of my worth.

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…

My Journey To Happiness

Friday will end my first term here at the academy. My second one will begin January 12th. I am not returning to America during the interval, but instead looking for work and a reason to rest because, dammit, a brother is tired!

I am typing right now with the most mucous throat I’ve ever had while singing. Deep in my heart I feel that someone should at least say, “Oh Tommy, your voice sounds a mess; let’s allow you rest for a while.” Instead, I have been plowing away and been given slight remedies to rectify the gravel-type sound that ha plagued my voice for the past week. At the present moment I am uncomfortable. I cannot believe that I went onstage last night, sang “This Christmas” and then segued into Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” (a song that is in no shape way or form made for me to sing). I’m having mini melt-downs every single morning when I wake up because I have to figure out if my voice is going to  come back clear, or if I’ll continue sounding like someone is crushing rocks in my larynx. Yes, I understand that your worst day should always be your best day, but this has never happened to me before and I’m not sure if I’m handling the situation properly. I feel awful and I really wish I didn’t have to perform while awful. But a former boss of mine said it best: smile through the pain! So I will.

My classmates and I get along very well. This week, though I love many of them, they are stressing me out with their constant check-ups. I understand that we all want to care about and for one another, but sometimes, alone time (along with QUIET time) is more valuable than any other time one would need. Most people are simply afraid to be alone with themselves for too long, and I notice that in many of my classmates. It’s as if many of us do not want to just sit mull over who we are and how to make ourselves better. I hope we al find ways to “get better” for our next term Why is getting to know ourselves such a big fear? Is it that we are afraid to try and conquer ourselves, or have we given up on progress?

I have been doing a lot of thinking about home lately and the things that are happening there (that I’m not apart of). My family is still dysfunctional (as most REAL families are). My grandmother is now in a nursing home, and her sanity is going. There is a discussion concerning my oldest uncle right now where they are considering amputating his leg because of his diabetes. A younger uncle who has been recently released from prison is not doing a good job at reinstating himself in the family. Lastly, my mother (the rock of a woman she is) still manages to support me while I’m here, keep me updated on the family, and raise my little brother and sister in the best way she knows how. And then there’s the whole Obama brilliance going on right now which, to be honest, doesn’t have much of an effect on me over here. I kind of wish I was home to participate in a lot of the goings-on, but that would be stress on top of stress and here, I am totally happy; frustrated at times with myself and sometimes others, but mostly happy.

And here is the crux of what has been going on with me today. I have been thinking about my happiness too much since I’ve been here. What constitutes happiness? How do I maintain it? Am I lying to myself when I say that I’ve found it? Or am I just not willing to accept the truth: that I have actually found it?

All my life I feel as if I’ve worked hard, (yes, I’ve had my lazy moments but who hasn’t?), but when I was at home, I was slowly beginning to condition myself to the fact that excelling too much was a bad thing. So I would only push myself to an extent that wasn’t intimidating to others. I reflect on moments from middle school when I would get an A on an assignment, but to be cool and accepted, I would “help” someone with their math quiz or something. That was my way of giving back to the community because it would keep people from calling me names or looking down on me. Then I got older and realized that people still have negative shit to say about you regardless of your intellect or lack of it. So I began to thrust myself into my work even more. And it was then that I realized my race to discover happiness was more about me than anybody else. Therefore I needed to take the thought of others out of the equation and push myself. But of course self, motivation only goes so far. So I turned to the women in my life who have always gotten me through. And they have been more than supportive. But what of the men in my life? How were they helping me, if even?

Well, my father was the example of a life wasted (in my eyes he had the potential to be so much more than he became) therefore I used him as an example of what not to be. But I did take away certain aspects from him, like his voice, his looks, and his loveable outgoing spirit. My uncles, though encouraging, weren’t the greatest of role models either, and at a young age, I realized I didn’t want to be like them, so I didn’t try. My maternal grandfather, though far away always showed me love and I took that idea with me everywhere I traveled. But the most effective men in my life were those who believed in me and weren’t afraid of helping me go further.

In high school, I was sent to a guidance counsellor when I had thoughts of suicide and he and I forged a friendship that I still value to this day. He was more of a father to me than anyone had ever been in my life and he pushed me to be myself in all aspects of my life. To this day that’s what I’ve worked hard to do. The next person I met was an accidental friend who ended up becoming almost a brother/ almost a soul mate. I’ve never had a male friend who wasn’t afraid of saying “Go for it!” and he did so without the negative, contradictory, behind-the-back commentary for which many are known. I haven’t allowed that friendship to die. Lastly, I was introduced to a professor in my last year who exemplified triumph to me. His wisdom about life was (and still is) a treasure that I appreciate. And if anyone is responsible for getting me to this place I’m in (in my life), it is him (combined with the efforts of the women, of course).

 

After looking back on these people, who I miss and love and appreciate, I evaluate my happiness. It wasn’t my own initially. The funny thing is…in a way, my happiness doesn’t belong to me. It kinda belongs to everyone who helped me get to where I am. And I don’t mind sharing it with the ones who’ve always believed in me and helped me. Most of them know exactly who they are because I always tell them that I love them. For those who don’t know…trust me…when I want you to know, you will.