Posts Tagged ‘Parent’

Mom used to be absolutely bonkers for contests. Still is, actually. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t worth my time, or if it was a long shot…she thought it was a great way to get “a foot in the door”, as she put it. A foot in the door is an old salesman’s term – it means that you literally would stick your foot in the door so they couldn’t close it all the way. Theoretically, they had to listen to your spiel. Anyway, she was always thinking of the next “big thing” – the problem was, whatever she came up with was either ridiculously implausible or difficult to pull off. I remember her reading a magazine once, and getting excited.

Mom: Danny, look! There’s a contest and the winner gets to play at a fair in Iowa.

Me: Why would I want to play at a fair in Iowa? 

Mom: It’s a great chance to get discovered.

Me: In Iowa?

Mom: Yes! They’re having open auditions…

The auditions, if I remember correctly, were at the crack of dawn and it would have been a total cattle call. That’s what we called auditions where there were hundreds of people. Not that I have anything against Iowa in particular – I’m sure it’s fine – but it doesn’t strike me as one of the top places to get noticed in the entertainment industry. Besides, I was already doing great with acting. I shot this idea down with extreme prejudice. Mom grumbled quite a bit about it – something about me “not listening” to her and being a “rebellious teen” – but the idea died rather quickly, thank God.

Anyway…one idea I couldn’t buck was this contest that Paul Simon was holding. It was a Doo Wop competition, and the winner got the chance to appear in his upcoming Broadway show the Cape Man.

Mom: You should do this!

Me: But I don’t sing Doo Wop. I don’t have a group.

Mom: Well, get a group!

Me: It’s in like…2 weeks. How am I supposed to do this?

Mom: We’ll figure it out.

I sat down and cranked out a quick 50’s style song – I figured my odds would be better if it was something original.

Putting a band together on the fly is a hell of a task – but it’s made significantly more simple if you’re friends with some of the top jingle singers in the business. After a couple quick phone calls, I had a bunch of my friends jumping onto the project with me – Jackie, Eden, Lisa, and Jeff. In their own right, they were all totally awesome singers – somehow, we pulled it together in just a couple rehearsals. Then came a curveball. Turned out, after reading the rules, that you had to be 16 to enter. I was 13.

Mom: So just lie. You could be 16. Who would know?

I shrugged. I was a little worried they would ask for me ID or something (they didn’t), but I figured I had come this far. Mom also wanted us to work with Russ, but Philly was kinda far considering most of my group lived in NY and surrounding areas. I have no idea why she thought this would be productive, but she actually wanted me to sing into Russ’s answering machine so he could hear what we sounded like and offer tips. I thought that sounded silly as hell, but basically went along with it. I figured it couldn’t hurt. We went back to practicing some more. For whatever reason, Jeff started being really ridiculous. Not just hitting on the girls, but actually saying really crude stuff.

Jeff: Mmmm. Tasty!

He flicked out his tongue at one of the girls who had her back turned to him, and slowly licked his lips. The girls asked him to quit it, but he just wouldn’t stop. I watched the girls get more and more uncomfortable as crude gestures were made and more comments were said. Not only was he upsetting my friends, practice was being disrupted. If I have one cardinal rule in my life, it’s this: Be A Professional. Somewhat loosely, it translates to being on time, being prepared, working hard at your given task, and having a positive attitude. There are only a small handful of things that set me off – I’m fairly easygoing – but someone Not Being Professional is one of them. People being demeaning to women and/or minorities is another, so really a couple of my buttons were being pushed. I took a quick assessment of the situation, and looked at the girls. They all looked upset. One of them was sitting on the floor, trying not to cry and doing her best not to look at Jeff. I also decided that Jeff wasn’t going to listen to anyone in the room – it had to be an adult. I didn’t really think, and I’m sorry I didn’t. I decided the best answer would be to rile Mom up against Jeff (there was probably a 50/50 shot she’d actually care about what was going on). I knew exactly what buttons to push, and walked out to her.

Me: Mom, Jeff says Russ doesn’t know anything. He asks why we’re even listening to him.

Mom’s face turned several shades of red and blue in quick succession. I immediately regretted my decision – I had used at atom bomb when a scalpel probably could have done the job. But it was too late. Mom was a bulldozer. She practically charged into the practice room, her eyes full of Jeffrey.


Jeff stood there, gaping. He had no idea what he did, just that this bear of a woman was coming down on him with all the fury of an enraged rhino. He tried to speak, I think, but I don’t think he got much to say. Mom literally roared. Jeff’s Mom came to his defense, grabbed him, and started a (blessedly brief) shouting match before leaving. Mom, evidently happy with her defense of Russ, stalked out of the room.

The girls and I were dumbfounded.

Eden: I guess we just lost our bass.

They were all upset…possibly even more so than before. So was I. I felt dirty. I had never before used Mom’s psychosis was a weapon against her, or her as a weapon against others. I tried to tell myself there was no other choice, and I made the right decision, but it didn’t wash with me. Even if I did the right thing, the ends didn’t justify the means.

We talked for a while, each noticing that the sense of palpable tension had left the room. The practice got back on track – we were all professionals, and we had a job to do. We quickly reworked the harmonies without Jeff. From a production standpoint, I missed that bass, and I was sorry he had left. But from a group cohesion perspective, it worked much better.

It wasn’t until years later that I put together what was actually going on. Jeff was gay – a fact clear to everyone (at least the adults) but him. A lot of the mothers made comments about him. I got – vaguely – what “gay” meant, but I didn’t really understand. With some years under my belt, and hindsight, I get that Jeff was struggling with his sexuality and probably overcompensating. At the time, I just saw a bully who was being an ass…I didn’t see his struggles underneath it. I can’t tell you how much of a shit that makes me feel, even today.

Anyway, the contest made the news, and our group was all over the highlight reels from the night. During the intro, I slipped on the stage – not one of my prouder moments – but I recovered. That wound up on the news, too. We made it to the second round, but we didn’t ultimately win. Still, we got to meet Paul Simon. One of the girls the group – Jackie – did something I’ll never forget, and always love her for. She snatched a demo tape out of my hand (I had been carrying it around on the off chance of giving it to someone) and marched up to Paul Simon.

Jackie: You see this kid right there?

She pointed at me.

Paul: Oh, hey there.

We shook hands.

Jackie: This kid is enormously talented. He’s an amazing songwriter. Listen to his stuff.

She pressed the tape into his hand, with a surprising amount of force.

Jackie: I’m serious. Don’t chuck it in the trash. Listen. You’ll be sorry if you don’t.

I was flushed. Nobody had ever gone to battle for me like that before, and no one has since – not like that, anyway. I thought so then, and think so even more now – she had a mile of guts. I had no idea before that moment that she thought I was good, or  even if she did that she actually believed in me that deeply. This may sound almost silly, especially after everything I’ve written about, but it was one of the most flabbergasting, and pleasantly surprising experiences of my life.

She grabbed me by the shoulder and led me away.

Jackie: If he doesn’t listen, I’ll kick his ass. I don’t care who he is.

We laughed.

The group disbanded after that – not that we weren’t all friends and saw each other often, but we ceased to be a Doo Wop band. It wasn’t really a marketable kind of music, and there wasn’t a whole lot of places for underage kids to play. Besides, who had the time? We were busy making money.


There’s a recently acquired Polaroid on my fridge these days. It’s was taken some time ago – maybe in ’90 or ’91 – and it’s my first audition with what would turn out to be my longtime agent. We reconnected recently (or, more specifically, Mom reconnected with her) and she passed along this Polaroid. It’s just a basic shot of me, at 8 or whatever, at the agent’s office. They wrote notes on the back: Cute kid, good reader. I see that kid, shoulders straight, starry eyed, and marching toward what can only be a glorious future. Every morning, we stare at each other across time and space – me, the depressed 30 year old and him the idealistic Wunderkind. I am not anything like he would have wanted to turn out, I’m sure. And he’s so very young, and has no idea what’s ahead – the soaring highs and the crippling lows. I would tell him about it – warn him, prepare him, comfort him. I wouldn’t tell him everything will be okay, because it won’t. Not terrible, I suppose – it could be much, much worse – but certainly not what he imagines. But the past is the past, and as they say, it is another country. I have a passport, but I am no longer a resident. I’ve often wondered how the two of us would interact – Past Me, and Future Me. I don’t expect we’d get along very well – Future Me would think Past Me was naive, full of himself, and wound way, way too tight. Past Me would think Future Me was a mopey underachiever who somehow ruined (or allowed to be ruined) Past Me’s plans. I think they’d strangle each other in all of 2 seconds.

Past Me: Get off your ass and do it! You know you can! Why are you being so freaking lazy?

Future Me: You don’t have any idea what I’ve been through! Just wait and see. You’re in for some real surprises, kid.

Is that normal, to feel like past you/future you wouldn’t get along at all? Hm.

When I was about 10, Mom started seriously researching family history – she was insistent that Grandpa told us we were related to Arthur Freed – a famous composer and film producer from the golden age of Hollywood. And when I say that she did research, I mean I did research – she’d take me to the library and grab a book and tell me to read it (which I did) and tell her about it (which I also did). While I didn’t remember Grandpa saying anything specifically about that, he did die when I was 7. Although I have vivid memories of him, it’s entirely possible he related such stories to the family. I didn’t exactly doubt Mom’s testimony, but I was hesitant to get behind it 100%. I’m still not sure what’s the truth – so much of my past is bullshit mixed with delusion mixed with reality – it’s hard to sort it all out sometimes. In the end, I guess it doesn’t matter. In researching, for whatever reason, she came across an cousin of Grandpa’s who was still kicking. Her name was Leah, and she didn’t live terribly far from us – maybe 20 minutes down the road. We hadn’t spoken to each other in quite some time – at least since I was born, so that would be 10 years minimum. But Mom suddenly decided to reconnect, talking about how family was important and we shouldn’t forget about people. I knew it was bullshit, of course, because I knew she had an ulterior motive – Mom often did. She wanted to get into Leah’s scrapbooks to find pictures of the Freed family, and maybe get some sort of testimonial from her that we were indeed related (she got both, for whatever good it did her). Leah was a strange lady, at best, and by all accounts not a terribly good person. Back in the day, she and her husband had impersonated Grandma and Grandpa in order to get a large loan (I think it was for a car, if I remember my family lore correctly). I imagine such things were easier to do back in the 50’s and 60’s – no computers or anything. So I guess they were basically identity thieves before such a thing existed in the public consciousness. Anyway, I suspect that little stunt at the bank was the reason our families didn’t speak. Grandma wasn’t real happy about it, but Mom did her best to smooth things out and Grandma went along (she usually did this in things that involved Mom). Long story short, bygones were bygones. Leah had a small house with a trashy front yard – lots of lawn gnomes, globes, and ceramic squirrels. You know the type. Mom pulled me aside before we got in.

Mom: Leah has a…funny hand. Don’t ask her about it.

Me: Funny how?

Mom: Just…don’t ask about it. You either Timmy.

My mind was already spinning with possibilities – was it a stump (I had seen such things before)? Was it some kind of horrific tentacle? Did her arm terminate in a hook? It wasn’t long before I found out. It turned out “funny hand” was as apt a description as “pretty hot” is to a heat wave. Regardless, it wasn’t her hand, it was her forearm – it grew pretty much straight for a ways, then seemed to have decided to make a full on U-Turn. It didn’t get quite all the way back around, but it looked like it had given it the old college try. I’m not going to lie, it freaked me the hell out. I hadn’t been around many people with disabilities (or deformities for that matter) and it always made me feel funny – a little alarmed and nauseous at the same time. I didn’t make fun of them or anything – I felt really bad for them – but I certainly didn’t want to be around them. Add to the fact that Leah’s house wasn’t exactly the pinnacle of cleanliness (and the fact that I basically was all about clean and tidy) and you had one uncomfortable 10 year old. Her house smelled like must, sweat, and old dogs – lots of dogs. She only had one ancient golden retriever but I swear to God it smelled like a herd of maybe 10 or 15. Everything either looked moldy and dilapidated or smelled disgusting. After that one time of going to her house, Mom decided that it would be better if she came to ours (I breathed a giant sigh of relief when this decision manifested itself). Even though she still smelled like her house (a special brand of cologne I thought of as Old Sweat and Million Dogs), it was at least tolerable. She seemed nice enough, I suppose, though I didn’t talk to her much. We had dinner a lot, and I had a hard time eating when she was around (mostly the smell, honestly, but the sight of the hand was upsetting enough to turn my appetite). I’d be cutting into a big slice of ham steak, and get a whiff of must and dog and just put my fork down. After Mom got what she wanted (which took several months), we were pretty much done with Leah. Mom stopped inviting her around, and started making excuses when she called up. I felt an odd mixture of relief and pity – I felt kind of bad that Mom had used her and was basically dropping her, but thanking God I didn’t have to endure torturous dinners with that smell hanging over me like a cloud. I can still remember it today, even years later – it makes me think of rotting bricks. It still makes me wrinkle my nose.

When she died, she didn’t have any direct relatives except for Mom. Basically, Mom went through the house and sold what was valuable and tossed what wasn’t. Most of it was junk, so 95% of the stuff was stuffed into contractor garbage bags and tossed on the curb. What wasn’t junk smelled awful, or had mold, or was under about 3 inches of dust. Nobody wanted anything. At Mom’s repeated insistence that we take something – anything we wanted, she said – Tim selected some sort of turtle knick-knack, and I picked up a clear paperweight with pennies suspended in it. I couldn’t tell if it smelled – I’m sure it did, just by virtue of being in the house – but it didn’t look nasty like a lot of the other things.

The last thing to go were the papers, which Mom and Grandma went through. Most was of no consequence, at least that I remember, except for a pile of her personal writings. I tried to catch glimpses, but I couldn’t quite make it out – and Mom and Grandma did not want to let me see it. Since it was a secret, I was curious and pestered. Still, they didn’t give in. I overheard a conversation between Mom and a family friend who was helping her go over the papers.

Friend: …horse shot…?

Mom: Yeah. You know. Like, semen.

The friend laughed.

Friend: hooooly shit.

I did manage to catch glimpses of Leah’s scrawling script – I had no idea what I was reading at the time, but I understood enough to be revolted. With the benefit of hindsight, I now see Leah had written about 100 pages of sex stories. With horses. Not like, having sex with a guy on a horse. Her. Having sex. With a horse. Sometimes horses in the plural sense. I’m sorry if you were eating just now – it was pretty foul and explicit. Like I said, Leah was weird.

But back to what I was talking about earlier. This blog has been my passport to another country – the past in general and my past specifically. I feel a little like a paleontologist who is digging for dinosaur bones. I don’t know what I’m looking for, exactly, just that I’m playing around in the dust of a dead world, hoping to exhume something interesting and useful. Except what I’m digging up is liable to still be alive.


She threw the fabled Red Book in my lap – the book contained the phone numbers of important people we had come across; agents, managers, casting people, directors…whatever.

Mom: Here. You call.

I felt a little panicked.

Me: Me? You want me to call?

I was like, 10 or 11. I had talked to these people, of course, but hadn’t talked business with them – I had never negotiated before in my life, that was Mom’s job. And I had certainly never seen them in the context of anything more than a social call. Sometimes Mom would tell me to bring up cookies or flowers to my agent’s office and I would do that. It mostly involved me talking about whatever book I was reading, or asking them how their families were doing. (Take note, readers – that stuff goes a long way).

Mom: I want you to be the one to talk to these people from now on. You negotiate the deals.

Panic fluttered in my chest. I didn’t know the first thing about any of this. I never liked the business end of things – I wanted to be creative. I could give two shits what I was paid. The specter of making horrible business decisions arose in my head. Those shadowy figures making back room deals rolled through my vision – I worried I would make mistakes and fall into a trap. After all, the world was out to get me.

Me: But why?

Mom: Because.

Panic was turning into anger.

Me: Because why?

My Mother looked straight down into my eyes with an intensity I had rarely seen.

Mom: Because I’m not going to be around forever.

There was a long, pregnant pause.

Me: But…how do I do this. And what do you mean you’re not going to be around?

Mom: Everyone dies, Danny.

I blinked back tears, thinking of the horrible ways she could die – killed by mysterious hit men, or an “accident”, or poisoned. I thought of running my life without her and became even more overwhelmed.

Me: Is there another hit out on you?

Mom: Not that I know of. But I’m on the way out and you’re on the way in. You need to do this yourself.

I stamped down my anxiety as best I could, and picked up the phone. I hoped like hell I wouldn’t say something stupid, or my voice wouldn’t sound as nervous as I felt. It was a simple call – checking in to see if there were any last minute auditions. It went rather well, I thought, and I hung up the phone with a sigh of relief. I felt somewhat empowered, thinking it wasn’t so bad.

Mom: Well? Did you ask them about the audition you went on yesterday?

Me: No…I just checked in.

Mom: Dammit, Danny. You were supposed to ask about that!

Me: I didn’t know…

Mom: Call them back.

I didn’t feel right turning around and calling them back – in my limited experience, I felt it made me look like I didn’t know what I was doing (I didn’t, really, but I didn’t want them to know that – I had trusted Mom to make all the decisions thus far and that was fine with me). Embarrassed, I called them back like I was asked. With my agent talking in one ear, Mom was literally bent down by the phone and talking in my other ear.

Mom: What did they say? Ask them when the callback is.

It was confusing to carry on two conversations at once. I managed to get Mom’s questions in before the agent got too impatient and I started to get too stressed out. The phone calls went on like that. She would have me make a phone call to whoever – then dictate what I ought to say and ask questions or make comments during the phone call that I was somehow supposed to convey to the person on the other end. It was like a fucked up game of Telephone.

It extended further than simply phone calls, though. Sometimes we’d be in the studio with Russ, and she’d lean in and whisper something in my ear.

Mom: Tell Russ you think the drums need to be louder.

I didn’t necessarily agree with her assessment, but with some hesitation I relayed the message.  Russ would nod in acknowledgement and then do whatever he was going to do anyway. She’d nudge my shoulder, and then give me another message to repeat. It was something I quickly got tired of.

Sometimes we’d be out in the car, after a lesson with Russ, and she’d get thoughtful.

Mom: Dan, run back in and ask Russ if the answer is coming back.

Me: Mom, I really don’t want to do that.

Mom: Just do it.

I did, and relayed his response to her. This resulted in no small amount of pumping me for every detail and going over every scrap of information. What did his eyes look like when he said it? What was his body language like? Did he seem positive or negative? Did he answer right away, or did he pause?

Like I said, her propensity to do this hasn’t changed much over the years. Even today, she’ll literally ask me to write e-mails for her. Hell, when she took grad school classes she actually had me write her papers for her because “I was so good at it”. A family friend once said that she wants to be the power behind the throne, so to speak. She wants to be the one pulling the strings but not the one actually out there doing stuff. At least in my experience, I think that’s accurate. But I think it has more to do with her confidence level than anything else – she’s perfectly capable of writing e-mails or making phone calls. She just feels the need to hide behind other people.

So, at a young age I started making business deals and doing things (mostly) on my own. I don’t think this was necessarily a bad thing, and it’s come in handy over the years. I have to admit, I still feel under prepared sometimes when I make phone calls. I have to stuff down that rising anxiety. I worry that I’ll get it wrong, that I’ll miss something, that I’ll forget to ask a question that’s relevant. In the end, I take a deep breath just dial the damn phone.


I realize this whole thing with Dad has me backtracking a bit, but it kind of makes sense in a way. This is called A Brief History of Time Travel, after all, and if I’ve learned anything from the sci-fi movies I love is that time isn’t linear anyway. At least, that’s what The Doctor would tell me.

The divorce itself wasn’t terribly acrimonious – mostly because Mom didn’t contest very much. In the initial stages, Dad insisted – wanted it in the divorce agreement, in fact – that I would stop acting and so forth. That’s about the only thing Mom flipped her lid on. Once that was settled, there was the matter of custody. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with Dad, of course, let alone being forced to see him on weekends or holidays. I was concerned about this, and did what I always did when I was concerned – talked to Uncle Richard about it.

Me: What if I’m forced to see him?

Uncle Richard stroked his chin thoughtfully.

Uncle Richard: I bet you’re old enough to just talk to the judge.

Me: Really?

Uncle Richard: Sure. You’re intelligent enough to convey your feelings. If he’s willing to listen, I’m sure he’ll respect them.

Me: Okay. Well, what do I say?

And Uncle Richard walked me through my first court date – interestingly, we did a lot of improv where he pretended to be the judge and asked me questions. He guided my answers – what he thought would hold weight with a judge and what wouldn’t – and helped me come off the best I could. To this day, I think improv is an excellent tool for things like this – evidently some in the business community have used it to loosen themselves up for presentations and public speaking.

Uncle Richard advised me not to talk directly about the abuse – at least, not to make it a central issue. Proof was scant (Dad was a bastard, but he wasn’t a dumb bastard) – he suggested I frame it in such a way as to be not so full of anger and vitriol.

Uncle Richard: Anger, hatred, yelling…these are how a fool communicates. A gentleman uses words. He’s persuasive. He doesn’t use his fists unless he has to. 

The judge ended up being a fan – watched me on Al Alberts Showcase and had seen some of my commericals. He asked for an autograph, even. Almost everything I said, he listened attentively and nodded. He even laughed and rocked back in his chair at some of my answers. Long story short, it was a slam dunk – I didn’t have to see Dad at all unless I wanted to. Thank God.

The upshot of the divorce was that Dad would pay a pittance in child support – something like $120 a month – ridiculously low, even by the standards of the early 90’s. He stipulated, though, that the child support was for Tim – not for me.

Dad: Dan makes his own money. He doesn’t need help from me.


Anyway…Mom agreed readily to this – particularly since Dad dropped the stipulation that I quit acting (which frankly, I don’t know of any judge who would have realistically taken his side). She and I (and Grandma) just wanted him out of our lives – we would have agreed to nearly anything to get that to happen.

After that day, he was out of our lives – at least from a legal standpoint. He insisted on seeing Tim – I don’t think visitation was strictly set up, or if it was he didn’t follow through that often. Tim quickly got to a point where he lost interest, and so did Dad. What started out as once a month ended up as once every two months. Then once every two months became a couple times a year. The phone calls dripped and drabbed in – they had no real consistency. I remember looking at the caller ID and seeing his number come up. Pretty much whenever he called us, there was an awkward silence in the house. Nobody picked up the phone (except, occasionally for Tim). When the two of them talked, he sometimes asked for me – I always made sure I wasn’t around.

For the first year or two after the divorce, he made something of an effort – we got Christmas cards and birthday cards. Sometimes they had a 5 dollar bill in them. He never wrote anything – no personal message. Not even “Love you” or “miss you”. Didn’t even address the card as people usually do. Just scrawled “DAD” somewhere near the bottom. These cards too, eventually stopped.

He’d sometimes show up at the house unannounced. He’d bang on the door and just beat on the doorbell. We would all hit the deck when this happened – we’d kill the lights and sit in the dark. We’d try to be as quiet as possible.


We never answered the door, and he usually left – only after yelling at Mom through the door.


Of course, he was around – skulking in the yard, or sitting at the end of the street in his rusted out Bronco. Once, somebody kicked in the door of our house while we were out at breakfast. Didn’t take a thing – didn’t move a thing, really – just rifled through some tax records and overturned some chairs. I’m pretty sure I know who it was (and if you can add, I’m pretty sure you can figure it out too).

He would fall off the face of the earth and we’d never hear anything for years. Then he’d suddenly remember he had kids and call furiously. Even if Tim did see him or talk to him on the phone, he’d lose interest in maybe a month and he was back to being a disappeared Dad. Curiously, he usually only called when one of us -Tim or myself – did something to land us in the papers, or he saw a commercial we were in or something.

As a kid, and even a teenager, I used to think about him a lot. I thought about what meeting him would be like – if I’d be able to keep my fists still, or if I’d try to punch him out. Sometimes, in my darker moments, I used to plot his death – usually something painful and humiliating. But that was a childish anger, even if it was righteous. I even stopped calling him Dad (I did this even before the divorce was final) and called him Bob. I just had to separate myself from him as much as possible.

When I think about it now, as an adult, I don’t feel much. It’s like having a rotten tooth pulled. Your tongue still finds the place where the tooth was, but it doesn’t hurt anymore. You know you’re supposed to have a tooth there – at least, you did at one time – but you don’t. The scabs have healed over and although there’s a little dip in your gums where the tooth used to be there isn’t any pain. It’s like that.

Last I heard, he got remarried and redivorced (no more kids, thank God). He drinks in bed, and spills wine and beer all over the sheets (so his now-ex-wife told Tim). He’s as strange as ever, and probably just as angry. I suspect he’ll die alone.

When he does die – assuming I hear about it – I’m sure it will be a strange experience for me. People are supposed to feel grief at the death of their parents, aren’t they? I don’t think I’ll feel anything.

I think most would agree I didn’t have a “normal” childhood in many respects, and social outlets were no exception. Between being home schooled and being on the road all the time, I didn’t have a lot of options to make friends. Most of the people I hung out with were adults – Uncle Richard, Uncle Carlo, Russ, and Mom. If they were not well educated, they were well traveled and wise. They were funny and interesting, and I considered them my peers far more than others in my age group. This cliquishness bred a bit of contempt for normal people – when I met “normal” kids, I could not believe how immature they were. They didn’t talk about books, or talk in depth about  music (other than what bands they liked – they wouldn’t tell me why they liked them, just that they did). Beyond video games, I had little in common with them. I was friendly enough, but they could tell I wasn’t like them and resented it. I didn’t play in the dirt – I despised getting dirty (still do). I didn’t understand them, and they didn’t understand me. When it came out what I did – the music, the acting – even kids I had managed to become friends with would flare in resentment. I eventually learned to shut up about it, but this made me uninteresting to them. Neighborhood kids would sometimes come over if Mom ordered pizza. They’d pretty much eat the pizza and leave. If they did stay, they’d try to take advantage of me in some way – a lot of things went missing from my house, for instance. Not big stuff – mostly toys and maybe some video games would disappear. The big trend at the time was trading cards, and my brother and I got into Magic: The Gathering with the neighborhood kids. They played with us, but they laughed at us a lot. We traded cards with ignorantly (or sometimes gave them away when we were told they were “worthless”) – we got the raw end of a lot of trades. I suppose that’s fairly normal for kids to take advantage of each other, but I did feel as if this had an edge – I was the “rich kid” (I wasn’t, really, but everyone assumed I was).

If the normal world held little for me, I did find members of my own tribe I could connect with. I would see these kids at auditions, and we’d chat in the waiting rooms. Sometimes, if the stars were aligned properly, we would all go out to lunch or hang out. These times were pretty rare – maybe a few times a year – and a lot needed to fall perfectly into place. For starters, Mom had to be in the right mood – if she was grumpy that day, or distracted by her delusions, or wanted to race home in time to catch Russ at the studio, I was likely not going to get to hang out with my friends. My friends, of course, had to have nothing going on as well, but they also had to be doing something that interested Mom. If it was something “weird” (like grabbing Chinese food or watching a foreign film) she was instantly disinterested. Most importantly, of course, Mom had to like them – or at least decide they weren’t plotting against us. If she thought they were “in competition” with us, she’d never have agreed to hang out. Perhaps I should explain what I mean by that. In those days, you had a ” type” and you were sent out on auditions based on that. If they wanted a bookish kid, I got the call. Someone with red hair and freckles wouldn’t be competition for me – or a 300lb kid, or a Jewish kid, or a black kid…you get the idea. The people who weren’t likely to get the same calls as me were the people Mom would gravitate towards.

There used to be a pretty cool place in the city called Ed Debevic’s – it was a retro type place. It had a full on, unapologetic 50’s atmosphere – complete with waiters and waitresses on roller skates who smacked gum and were rude (they were supposed to be). Sometimes they’d even hop on the tables and sing. There was even a giant atomic warhead in the waiting area – I was a little skittish about it at first, because I wasn’t interested in getting radiation sickness. But my friend insisted it was only a metal shell, and I relaxed. My friend and I talked about Batman over dinner, and Mom even let us hit a comic store afterwards. I was euphoric.

Had I lived in the city and gone to school there (there was at least one school of “child actors” that probably would have fit the bill for me), I no doubt would have been happier socially. As it was, I lobbied Mom vigorously for more time with friends, and when I got it I treasured those times. Aside from having my brother, I was pretty freaking lonely. I have no idea what I would have done if I were an only child. Hell, I still have a picture of me and a kid I knew and hung out with a couple times – it sat on my dresser in a frame for a full decade after our last visit together. Like I said before, I eagerly held on to those times I was able to socialize with members of my own tribe.

I read in a book once that the universe subtracts. But I think it can also add and multiply. A lot of things are a tradeoff – I could have had a Dad who wasn’t a psycho. I got a bum deal on that count. But in return, I got not one but 3 incredible father figures. I could have lived a “normal” life and had “normal” friends and done “normal” stuff. Believe it or not, I longed for that normalcy and stability so much I could taste it. In return, I got a career in an industry whose veil few manage to pierce. And I did have friends – as a kid, I called them my New York friends  – and they were all vibrant people. I am, ultimately, who I am supposed to be. I know the people I know and experienced the things I was meant to. Sometimes I wonder how different things might have been – and even if as a kid I had wished fervently for things to be different, I embrace it today. The tradeoffs the universe gives you may not always be fair – they may not even always be what you want – but you need see them for what they are: they are a gift.