Posts Tagged ‘NYC’

I don’t think I understood what was going on – Mom had just gotten off the phone with my agent. I had heard Mom’s side of the conversation, and I pieced together that something serious was going on – I just didn’t know what. We had a brick cell phone – I mean one of those huge, blocky things with a long rubber antenna, terrible reception, and cost a small fortune to talk on. I knew this call must have been important – otherwise, Mom would have surely pulled off and called back from a payphone. She looked at me thoughtfully.

Mom: The agency is closing its doors.

Me: What!?

Mom: They’re done. They’re bankrupt.

I was floored. The agency was huge – one of the largest in the industry – with offices on both coast and stars on their roster.

Me: What in the hell…

Mom: I don’t know. We’re supposed to stop in tomorrow and talk.

When we stopped in to the office, everything seemed different. I mean, the furnishings and whatnot were pretty much the same, but the mood was totally different. You ever watch a hive of bees when they’re slightly drugged or sleepy? They move, but it’s like they’re underwater. That’s sort of how it felt. What once was a bustling hive of activity was now a dying colony. Nobody had a spring in their step. Desks were empty. Some people were even in the process of putting things in boxes. We had heard rumors – clients were jumping ship by the truckload. Some people weren’t getting their checks, and hadn’t been for some time. The previous owner of the agency had somehow embezzled millions, or the new owners – who had taken over only a couple years prior – had run it into the ground, or maybe it was just an innocent accounting error. I had heard the owner himself was involved in some sort of insurance scam – that he paid thieves to steal his art so he could file an insurance claim. Allegedly, he paid the thieves off and kept the art for himself. Even if half of these were true, this was not what you wanted to her – not, at least, when you worked for (or with) one of the biggest agencies in the business. Besides, going belly up as an agency  – at least one this size – was nearly unheard of at the time.

We sat down across from my agent of many years, who explained to us that we should start looking for other representation. Yes, the rumors were true, and the agency was broke. Embezzlement was suspected – accounts were frozen. The agents hadn’t been paid. Big stars weren’t even getting their checks. I let the conversation break over me like a wave, and didn’t say much. I just watched the two adults – my mother and my agent – talk, and soaked in the office. I liked that office, had practically lived there since I was 8, and was disappointed. I also knew it may be difficult to find an agent – if people were jumping ship like rats from such a big agency, other agents would be flooded with too much talent to even deal with. I sensed changes may be afoot, and they were.

We ended up moving to a smaller manager – Mom’s logic behind this was that we had a history with this person, and a manager might be better than an agent. (If you sign with an agent, you’re exclusive with that agent. If you sign with a manager, they send you out through many different agents, and you can kind of get a feel for who you work well with). I guess it was a good move, or at least a move that made some kind of sense. She was worried we’d get lost in the shuffle at a bigger agency, and I suppose that was a real possibility. I was still doing a significant amount of acting work – still making a living, supporting myself and 3 other people. Work had started to slow down a bit, but I attributed that to the fact that the agency was going under. When I signed up with my manager, I did work less. But the business always went in cycles – sometimes you were up, sometimes you were down. That’s just the way it was.

Mom felt she had some sort of personal relationship with the manager – they were quasi-acquaintances I guess – and she would talk to her quite a bit on the phone. I think she may have let her in on some of her craziness – her theories about the Mafia and Russ – because I eventually started getting the impression that she thought something was funny. Not funny as in off, funny as in ha ha. Especially as things wore on, whenever we stopped in, she’d just sort of sit behind the desk and listen to Mom and sort of have this smirk on her face. You know like when someone says or does something really stupid, and you have a hard time keeping a straight face? It was sort of like that, with maybe a little bit of patronizing thrown in. I can’t explain it any better than that. When I look back on this, I feel an odd mix of protectiveness and indignation, mixed with shame. Indignation, not that Mom should have been taken seriously by any means, but that she should have been respected. At the very least, not made a joke out of. Shame that she was obviously crazy, and I was lumped into that – it reflected on me, and affected my career trajectory.

I can see why maybe the manager got fed up – Mom would call and try to pump her for information, or try to get more auditions out of her. Add in the paranoia – Mom’s fear that certain people were my “competition” and out to get me, like Joey Lawrence or others – and I can see it seriously wearing thin. She even went on a kick for a while that this band called The Moffats were my direct competition, and taking away music opportunities from me. When she presented this to me, even I laughed at her. I stopped laughing when she bought several of their cassettes and listened to them over and over in the car, analyzing them. I managed to find one of their videos, so you guys can know what I’m talking about. What pissed me off even more is when this stuff got stuck in my head (which it unfortunately did). Watch the video and weep with me over the indignity I suffered.

 

Not to long after this, SAG went on strike. There had been strikes in my time, but none this widespread. If I recall correctly, they were striking over contracts for new media – things like shows and commercials on the internet, and higher wages. What I think the union hoped for was a short lived strike that got the clients back to the bargaining table, once they realized they couldn’t live without union actors. There was one problem: The clients realized they could live without union actors.

Reality TV started to pop up – things like Survivor and Big Brother – and as the strike wore on it became more and more commonplace. Networks decided to bypass the sitcoms of old, and just do more reality TV. It was cheaper – sometimes the “actors” (who were real people, at least in theory) weren’t even paid. Total win. What that meant for us as actors was that we couldn’t work, unless we wanted to do non-union stuff. That meant crossing the picket line, which meant losing your benefits and maybe getting kicked out of the union. I had years vested in the union at this point – a great health plan and a pension for when I retired. If I was kicked out, that was gone. Plus, non union work paid chump change by comparison. Non union might give you a few hundred dollars in a lump sum, vs a union gig of a thousand plus they paid you every time it aired. I know a lot of people who weren’t able to work. Auditions dried up. When they did come up, it was for junk. Gone were the big payday bookings I had grown up with. Those were bad days.

Mom didn’t know what to do. We had depended on my income for so long. She was afraid to get a “real job”, because it would tie her down for driving me out to auditions. So she tried things like stuffing envelopes, and get rich quick scams. When they didn’t work – and things became more desperate – she decided to deliver phone books. She took Tim and I along to help. I remember the interview process. The boss – I can’t remember his name – looked at the three of us skeptically. Me, my little brother, and my Mom.

Boss: You guys want to deliver phone books…?

Mom: Yes. My sons are actors – very famous actors, actually, you’ve probably heard a lot of their stuff on TV. Timmy was just in a movie…

Boss: Okay…

Mom: The union is on strike and they can’t work. So, we’re making ends meet right now. Yes. We’d like to deliver phone books.

He shrugged. I don’t think he much cared about our life story. We were just warm bodies to get the job done. We loaded up our car with phone books and drove our route. As per instructions, he didn’t want them tossed at the bottom of the driveway, but actually delivered to the door. It was my first real job – Tim’s too – that didn’t involve doing something we loved doing. I was game for it – I understood it was short term – but Tim was deeply unimpressed and complained the whole time.

The system was that we did the deliveries while Mom sat in the car. I remember one house we went to, and it had this really long driveway. Tim and I got out of the car together, and marched up towards the house. I watched him freeze in mid step. I was about to turn and ask what was wrong, when I heard a low growl. Across the yard was a huge behemoth of a dog – slobber was dripping from its jaws, and it was baring its teeth. It looked like it would eat us feet first if we came any closer. I was pretty freaking worried, but at the same time, I knew we were supposed to drop the phone book at the door of the house. It looked incredibly far away, though. I glanced from the house back to the sanctuary of the car – we were sort of between the two. I took a tentative step forward, and the dog let out another unholy growl.

Me: What do we do?

Tim: Fuck this. I’m going back to the car.

I was about to argue with him, when a second dog – not quite as big, but looking every bit as eager to consume human flesh – rounded the corner of the house.

Me: You’re right, bro. Fuck the phone book.

We backed slowly away, and at first it seemed like the dogs would stay put. I don’t know what it was – whether it was some arbitrarily determined distance or the sound our sneakers made on the blacktop – but the big dog decided to go for it. He started loping towards us and Tim and I broke into a dead run back to the car. We got in and breathlessly slammed the doors.

Mom: Did you do it?

Tim and I almost shouted in unison.

Me and Tim: NO!

Mom: Why?

Tim: There’s two freaking huge dogs. I’m not going to that door.

Mom leaned forward in the driver’s seat – she had been reclining it to shut her eyes – and saw the two dogs about halfway up the driveway. They never made it all the way to the car, but they were clearly pissed – growling and snapping.

Mom: We need to deliver it to the door, or we don’t get paid.

Me: There are worse things than not getting paid.

Tim: If you want to get paid so bad, you deliver it. I’m not going out there again.

Mom could see this was a losing battle, but I don’t think she really wanted us to go back out there again. To end the debate, I rolled down the window and chucked the phone book halfway up the driveway. I didn’t have a very good arm – it landed several feet in front of the dogs, and a little in the grass.

Not long after, Tim started refusing to go on deliveries. Although I dutifully went along for a while, I wasn’t much use to Mom other than as company – I’d usually get out of the car only with great reluctance. When she started delivering at 5 AM, I started refusing to go at all. It wasn’t long after this that she stopped delivering phone books altogether.

I’d like to tell you that things went back to the way they were – auditions once again became plentiful, and money rolled in. I’d like to tell you that Mom was wise and saved up the money Tim and I had made over the years – that it was somewhere safe, perhaps in a savings account or something. I can’t. The industry- or at least the part that I was involved in – did come back, but it was drips and drabs. There would never again be 5 auditions in a day. We’d be lucky if we went into the city a couple times a week. I worked, a little – my audition to booking ratio was still rather good – but it never did recover. Perhaps the title is a little misleading, in any case. It wasn’t the end, but rather the first couple serious body blows that would change things irrevocably. But if you think about it, you don’t wake up one morning and find all your plants dead. You wake up one morning and find them dying. You think to yourself “Oh…they’ll come back. Let me water them a bit.” But they don’t come back – they continue to wilt, little by little until they’re gone.

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My third project on the stage was On Borrowed Time – a play about a boy who traps death in a tree so that his Grandfather can live forever. I got to work with George C. Scott, Nathan Lane, and several other luminaries of the acting world. I guess I wasn’t technically on Broadway, though, since I was an understudy. Understudying can actually be somewhat heartbreaking – you learn the part, sometimes several parts, just in case someone calls out sick and you get to go on. It’s been known to happen – sometimes the main actors will be kind and be “sick” for a particular day, letting the understudy have their time in the spotlight. It’s a very cool thing for them to do, but in my experience it’s kind of rare. Sometimes lead actors are suspicious of their understudies – leads have been known to fall down the stairs after being “accidentally” bumped by those who would be interested in taking their role. In my experience this, too, is an overblown misconception – with only a few exceptions, every actor I’ve worked with has been 100% professional. It’s a job, and they’re there to do it.

George C. Scott was a bit of a card – I remember there was one guy in the audience who couldn’t stop coughing. He stopped the play and yelled: WOULD YOU JUST SHUT THE HELL UP? He insisted the guy be removed before he would continue the play. The scuttlebutt backstage was that he drank quite a bit. If rumors were to be believed, he rarely gave a sober performance. One night, a gun was supposed to be loaded with blanks – George’s character was supposed to shoot someone on stage. The gun didn’t go off, and George turns to the audience and breaks the proverbial Fourth Wall: YOU’LL JUST HAVE TO PRETEND, OKAY?

The Stage Manager was a cool guy – he was always really nice to me. Sometimes he let me leave a little early if the play was almost done and it was obvious I wasn’t going to go on. He seemed tired a lot – I expect he was a bit exhausted from dealing with all the backstage drama. Mom somehow got into her head that we had to become good friends with this guy, and that to do so we needed to give him some of my toys for his kid.

When I was much smaller, Grandpa had gotten me a plastic horse named Clip Clop. It bounced up and down when you rode it and made galloping sounds. I loved it. I was too big for it, but it was something I really loved and wanted to save it. Mom insisted for whatever reason that we had to give it away to this guy for his kids. I was pissed. Even as a kid, I had a sense of trying to preserve things – I was always trying to “save” a particular favorite toy or shirt or whatever. Putting things in boxes or Ziploc baggies. I think given all the death I encountered at an early age (my Grandfather, a close Aunt, and later Uncle Carlo) I knew that time was fleeting and I needed to hold onto the things I cared about. Mom and I got into conflicts about this a lot – I was saving “junk” to her. I suppose, at times, I became a borderline hoarder. Hell, I even saved candy that people gave me. I literally have chocolates that are 25 years old. Granted, they’re special chocolates – say, a musical note made out of fudge given to me on my 7th birthday – but it’s still 25 year old chocolate. It’s practically fossilized now, and I have no idea what possessed me to save it.

The kid that went on in my stead every night was from somewhere in the South – I can’t remember exactly where, but his mother was the picture of a Southern Belle (or pretended to be). She was absolutely obsessed with sex – even as a kid, this was fairly obvious to me. She kept sneaking into the men’s dressing rooms “by accident”. She’d make a big deal about it.

Southern Belle: Oh, my! I can’t believe I actually did that! I just got so confused! This theater is so big! Would you mind if I sat down and had a glass of water? I feel faint from walking up all those stairs!

By the 3rd or 4th time this happened, nobody was under any illusion that it was an accident. I thought it was pretty damn stupid, myself, and sort of viewed her scornfully. Granted, I wasn’t yet a teenager and probably didn’t have a concept of a sex drive, but even then I probably would have looked down it.

One of the coolest people I met there was an understudy like me named Kate. She was older than I was, probably in her early 20’s I’d guess. We connected, and I guess I had a bit of a crush on her. I thought she was really pretty but more importantly, she was really cool – she liked sci-fi and horror. She was even in Night of the Living Dead (the remake) and told me all about George A. Romero‘s zombie trilogy. I was fascinated and insisted that Mom let me see it at once. I wasn’t allowed because it was “too gory”, but I did sneak peeks of it when it came on TV. I have her to blame for my fascination with zombies. Anyway, she’d give me different sci fi or horror videos to take home and watch. We’d talk about it after I’d seen them, and she’d tell me about how important they were.

Kate: Have you seen the Twilight Zone?

Me: No. What’s that?

Her jaw dropped.

Kate: You *have* to. Promise me you’ll see it. It’s AMAZING.

Me: Okay, what’s it about?

And our conversations might go on like that. One night, she did get to go on – someone called out sick. She was thrilled, and I was thrilled for her. She was combing her hair in the mirror and seemed to have a thought.

Kate: Sorry you don’t get to go on tonight.

Me: It’s alright.

Kate: You’ll get a chance.

Me: I know.

Girl: Would you watch me? Let me know how I do?

Kate: Sure.
I watched her part from back stage, and I thought she did great. I had seen the rest of the play many times by that point – I knew all the lines and the blocking, and the rest didn’t interest me. Besides, I didn’t want to get in the way of the stage hands. I gave her a hug after, and told her she did great.

When the show closed, Katie gave me a video of The Day The Earth Stood Still. She told me to watch it and write her with my thoughts on it. The letter she gave me with it is long gone – it had her contact info, I’m sure, but also an in depth explanation of just how cool the movie was. By the time I had gotten around to watching the movie, I had lost the letter with her info.  The last time I saw her, she gave me a huge hug and promised me we’d both be big stars one day. She’s doing alright for herself these days, and I’m very proud of her. I never kept  in touch, which I regret – kids are pretty much rubbish at that – but I’ve been happy to see how successful she’s become.

 

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The doors at Colony Records – I always thought they were pretty cool.

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Colony Records, NYC, circa 1980

I just got news that an old friend has passed. It may be unusual to think of a store as a friend, but it was a big part of my childhood during that time in NYC. For those that don’t know, Colony Records was a huge music store in NYC – one of a kind. It had records, cassettes, CDs, sheet music, and books. It was the size of a city block, and it was THE go-to place if you were auditioning for a musical and needed some new songs. I feel like Mom and I were there often – navigating the narrow aisles of tapes and music books. During my time as a musician, I’ve amassed a fairly significant number of music books and sheet music – probably in the hundreds. 3/4 of that was probably bought at the Colony. What made the place unique – aside from the fact that it was freaking huge – was that you could get anything you wanted there. If they didn’t have it, it didn’t exist. Looking for an obscure song from a forgotten 1800’s opera? They probably had it. Hell, they might have even had the original manuscript (I joke…mostly). Whenever I had an audition for a show, or when my voice teacher would inevitably give me a new song – they’d say “Run down to the Colony and pick it up. I’m sure they have it.”

I won’t go into how the place succumbed to the inevitable advances of technology – about how people began buying songs and music through digital downloads. Or about how music stores in general have bravely stood against the rising tide, facing a sad, inevitable end. Just suffice it to say that when I was a kid, and I had time to kill, I was at a record store or a book store (and those won’t be here much longer either – don’t delude yourself).

New York in the 80’s and 90’s was a place of filth and wonder. As someone fairly sheltered, I saw some real eye openers there. I was eating pancakes in a diner when I saw a biker get into a fight with a cabbie. The biker pulled a chain from his backpack, the cabbie had a crowbar. I think the argument was over the fact that the bike tried to pass the cab while it was turning right, but really…does road rage ever have a good reason? I saw a homeless woman with a babydoll in a carriage, asking for help to feed her kid. People gave her money, not realizing the baby wasn’t real. I saw hookers wearing next to nothing trotting up and down the street. We were attacked by what Mom used to call The Squeegees – they used to stand outside the entrances to the Lincoln or Holland Tunnels and assail your windshield with squeegees. After they cleaned your window, they’d ask for money. Psychologically, this worked phenomenally better than straight up begging – people felt guilted into giving them at least a buck or two usually. Sometimes they’d wash the window and Mom wouldn’t have any change to give them. I remember one bearded and disheveled looking gent screaming at Mom and beating on the car door as she drove away.

One day, I came out of the Colony clutching a newly acquired book – the Complete Hits of Irving Berlin. I had heard of some of his music, and thought it’d be fun to learn to play it. On the way out the door, I was heard a voice mumble something barely intelligible.

Man: EES A FEET. A FEET.

I was perplexed, wondering if there was something wrong with my feet or his. Mom was straggling, making her way out of the building, so I stopped.

Me: What?

The man barely had any teeth, which is probably why I couldn’t understand him. His level of sobriety probably wasn’t doing much to help the situation either – I could smell his breath from 3 feet away. He was holding a very nice, but worn looking violin, however, and I pegged him as someone who probably wasn’t a threat. Street musicians were sometimes crazy – sometimes even crazy talented – but usually harmless as far as I knew. Besides, we were both musicians – members of the same tribe. The man angrily pointed to my book and enunciated.

Man: Irving Berlin. He’s a thief. A thief.

Me: Oh, really? I didn’t know that.

Man: He stole EVERY ONE OF HIS SONGS.

The guy was getting really worked up. I wondered if he knew Irving Berlin personally, or maybe had one of his songs stolen. He began gesticulating wildly, his violin in one hand and his other waving in the air.

Man: He’s a con man. Ask anybody. Fuckin’ thief. Fucking JEW THIEF.

Mom had come out at this point, and grabbed me by the elbow.

Mom: Lets go.

We walked quickly to our car – we had found a good parking place on the same block as the store. The man didn’t try to follow us, but he screamed invectives against Irving Berlin until we were out of earshot.

We learned very quickly not to acknowledge anything on the street but what was right in front of us. Ignore the people – especially if they seemed crazy – walk fast, and don’t gawk at the scenery. Keep up with the crowd.  If someone spoke to you or asked you for help, pretend you didn’t hear. I hear a lot of people talk about how New Yorkers are cold or indifferent – they’re not, it’s just how you survive in the city.

I think I still even have some of that sheet music in bags from the Colony. Heh. I still remember the logo – it was a drawing of a girl, perhaps from the 40’s, jumping in the air and holding a record. In script below, it said: “I found it! at the Colony” (the grammar mistake always irked me a little).

My kids – and maybe yours – won’t know what the hell a record store even is, probably. That makes me said. Like Uncle Richard once told me, though…time is a son of a bitch.

Mom became obsessive about my performances. I would have to read a script over with her 50 times while she hashed and rehashed every little nuance. Sometimes she’d look at me and go “That was the best performance I’ve ever seen. You just booked this.” or sometimes she’d say “That was terrible. You call yourself an actor? I’ve seen better acting from ___” (fill in the blank with whoever she thought was terrible at the time – usually Mac Culkin). Sometimes, I’d get those two completely disparate reactions after doing it the exact same way twice for her. It always made me slightly unsure of my performance. Music was the same way – I’d practice for hours (which probably made me a better musician) while she picked apart what I did. She’d spend time looking for that “one time” that I did it “so incredibly well that it blew [her] away” – in retrospect, that “one time” was probably in her imagination, just like “the One Russ” (sounds like The One Ring, doesn’t it?).  This is probably a reason why I hate performing so much…I’m very judgmental about myself and my work, and always a little insecure. When I would complain, she would cite the Jackson 5 as an example – they stayed in all the time, worked hard on their music, and became legends. “But maybe you don’t have what it takes to be great.” she’d say, and leave the room. Inevitably, I’d chase after her – promising I’d give it my best and really work. She’d relent, and we’d be at it for a while longer.

Anyway, one day while driving back from the city she had a moment of clarity completely out of nowhere.

Mom: I haven’t been very with the program lately, have I?

I was stunned. She was still obsessive and paranoid, seeing Machiavellian plots at every corner. I wasn’t sure if it was a trap, so I wasn’t sure how to respond. I decided a bland, noncommittal approach was best.

Me: I guess not.

Mom: Well, I’m sorry.

She took the next exit, which again was out of character. She usually wanted to go right home after we had spent a long day in NY.

Me: What’s going on?

Mom: I’m taking you to the mall. You can get whatever you want.

This, too was a huge deal. If I asked for something specific, she’d usually argue with me and tell me “that’s not what you really want”. Throughout my childhood, I argued till I was blue in the face for a SEGA Genesis, only to be told I didn’t really want it. I really did, damn it. This trend has even continued to day, where if she asks what I want for Christmas or birthday, and I tell her “Mom, I’d like a blue guitar” at best, I’ll get a red one of a completely different kind than I asked for. At worst, I’ll get a microwave – arguably, what I “really wanted”. Even eating wasn’t exempt. It wouldn’t be unusual for a conversation on that topic to go like this:

Mom: I’m hungry. Where do you want to eat? You pick.

Me, knowing how the conversation was about to go, would try to throw the ball back into her court.

Me: I really don’t care…what do you feel like?

Mom: Anything! I’m just hungry.

Me: How about McDonald’s?

Mom: No, I don’t want that.

Me: Okay, well, how about Outback Steakhouse?

Mom: No, I don’t want that.

Me: Well, you told me to pick. What about Denny’s?

Mom: Ok.

Then, on the way to Denny’s – we might even be as close as 3/4 of the way there – she’d say something like

Mom: I don’t really want Denny’s. Let’s do Red Robin.

It was enough to make me nuts. Sometimes discussing dinner turned into an hour long ordeal. It was usually better not to have much of an opinion about things, because you probably weren’t going to get your way regardless.

Anyway…that day, she drove me to the mall and – completely without argument or comment – let me get what I wanted. I think I got a couple of Dick Tracy comics, some Spider man and Batman comics, and a novel or two. On the ride home in the car, she promised things would be better…she was feeling better (I didn’t know what that meant, and I’m still not entirely sure I do now), everything was going to change.

I assume she tried – it just didn’t stick. She got slightly more bi-polar about things. We’d go to the amusement park, and she’d be all excited to go, and we’d get on a ride and she’d say “I hate this. This sucks.” and be miserable all day. We’d leave shortly after. Or she’d be all excited about decorating the Christmas tree, only to cry – and I mean really, truly weep – while doing the decorations.

I don’t know what prompted her single and momentary change. Can someone in the throes of a severe mental illness like she had spontaneously “get better” without treatment, even for a moment? Or did she decide that she really didn’t need Russ, that she was strong? Or did she decide that the Mafia was really going to support us, and her dreams were coming true after all? I don’t know…I probably never will.

Even as I write these recollections, I have to admit to being a little nervous. I have told close friends about some of this before, but rarely have I been so open with so many. Having had it pounded into my head never to say anything, yet saying things in a “public” forum can make someone a little tweaky. I remember the first time I told someone about anything like this – I was probably 17 or 18. I swore them to secrecy, convinced they were going to die. When they didn’t, it was a bit of a revelation for me. Of course, by that time I had begun to see gaps in my Mom’s logic and that was my way of “testing” it further. By that point, we had a near total breakdown in our relationship.

I remember sitting in the office of what would become my new acting agent, JMB. The carpet was green, the color of money. Beautiful (and probably one of a kind) paintings adorned the walls of the spacious waiting area. There were modern art sculptures in the lobby that looked like giant mushrooms. We were here, looking to sign with them. You see, as I became more and more successful, my Mom’s focus began to shift towards “The Business” – running the day to day operations of my career. She had determined that Shirley wasn’t the best place for us. While Shirley doted on me, Mom decided that other people in the office were plotting against us. She insisted they refused to send me out on calls while Shirley was away. Shirley insisted that wasn’t the case. Mom disagreed, and broke our contract. I have serious doubts as to whether or not Mom’s perceptions about Shirley were factual – in fact, people “working against us” would become something of a pattern throughout my career. An alphabet soup of talent agencies pursued me – wanting me to sign an exclusive contract. We had decided on one of the biggest, and most reputable at the time, JMB. We didn’t decide this based solely on facts, feelings about the people we’d be working with, or anything. Mom decided that one of the owners was a “Russ” , and being offered a contract by them was tantamount to them offering to “make me”. I didn’t argue, because I was getting to do what I loved to do – I let the adults hash it all out, and I trusted Mom to know what she was doing.

When the dust was settled on the legal wrangling, we paid Shirley a percentage of whatever I made – on top of whatever commission JMB took. I still made money, somehow, but I think it was a bad deal – especially considering the whole premise was based on a likely delusion.

Anyway, sometimes there would be 5 auditions a day – all in different places. Some were last minute, and some were at the same time as other auditions. We had to prioritize, decide which commercial would pay the best if I booked it. I learned to eat fast food, and eat it fast. Sometimes I’d be running so hard and fast I’d only get one meal a day. We’d rush into McDonald’s, wolf it down, and go. I ate fries by the fistfull, and burgers in huge, gulping bites. The whole time, Mom was panicked we wouldn’t get to the audition – I had to hurry, we wouldn’t make it in time. In all the rush, I had to worry about not getting food on my clothes. Somehow, I managed to eat lightning fast and not get messy. It was a real high pressure situation. I don’t blame Mom for this…she was already sort of excitable, considering her mental health situation and this just amplified some of those traits. And it’s tough when you have two casting calls that both start at 2, and are across town from each other in NYC traffic.