Other Writing

  • home

    I’ve lived in this house for five years.  It’s hard to believe how fast time flies, of course, of course, but then you live that saying and find yourself trying to tell the other people who won’t hear it until it happens to them.  It’s a nice house, nestled in the Mellenthin neighborhood of Sherman Oaks.  Pleasant neighborhood, decent grass, and not much maintenance required since we moved here.  It was a turnkey house when we bought it, which means that we haven’t had to lift a finger to fix anything since we’ve been here.

    Now though, the grout is starting to crack.  The Malibu walkway lights have been replaced at least twice.  The hardwood floors are starting to show the scuffs and wear of three kids worth of traffic every single day.  The carpets probably need to be replaced, finally.  Our furniture is kid wrecked.  And somehow, it’s perfect. 

    I clipped the hedges tonight.  They’re not so much hedges as crawling ivy on the other side of the fence that likes to reach it’s tendrils towards our house and up to the sun.  I clipped the ones that blocked the side walkway to our house and swept the cement below.  I should do it more often and take a little better care of this place.  I’m finally starting to feel like we live here.  Five years later.

    Things start to wear out.  My bathroom sink is spraying the water in a different pattern lately.  The refrigerator, that we insisted the previous owners leave in the kitchen when we bought the house, has broken hydrator doors and a funny hum at night.  The drawer that holds the trash barrel pops whenever I close it  These sounds will drive my children crazy soon.  To them, they will be annoyances.  Relics.  Proof that their parents are old and don’t get it.  Those sounds, the funny spray of the faucet; the weird hum of our refrigerator; the loud pop every time we close the trash drawer, these are the sounds that make this house home.  

    All this time, I felt like we were living in someone else's house.  After five years, maybe it's finally starting to be ours.

  • tape shows

    My brother and sister and I found an old Panasonic tape recorder back in the 80's.  I'm not sure exactly where it came from, although I'm pretty sure my parents left it for dead in a closet or drawer somewhere.  You know that old saying, "One man's junk is another man's treasure?"  Same goes double for kids.  They can ressurect any old thing into the most exciting new toy.  In fact, the older and more archaic the better.  

    I guess it's wishful thinking to imagine that a cassette recorder that looked a lot like this...

    ...might be considered archaic in the 1980's.  It wasn't.  It was probably only a couple of years old when we found it.  It seemed ancient to us because old batteries had been left inside and had leaked out their metallic brown, rusty guts into the battery compartment.  It looked like junk when we found it, but when we discovered that it still worked, it changed our lives.

    Now, I don't want to bemoan the changing times or tell you how different things were back then, or at least...not in a way that makes me sound wistful or nostalgic.  In fact, it's just as hard for me to remember my life before the days of information and media being constantly pumped into my brain every single second as it is for some of you to imagine that such a life could ever exist. Still, it's important that I set the time for you.


    No digital cameras, no Internet, no iPhones, no webcams, no Instagram, no mp3 players, no GoPros, and no real way for us to instantly capture images or voice recordings.  If we wanted to see what we looked like and hear what we sounded like as kids, we had a mirror, we had a Kodak Instamatic camera with c-110 film... and now, we had a portable cassette recorder. 


    My mother had a shoebox full of used cassette tapes.  The tapes were filled with the confessions and ramblings of random people in therapy sessions that I guess she recorded while she was getting her Master's degree.  We were strictly prohibited from listening to any of the dark words of these sullen strangers, and believe it or not, we never did.  We'd occasionally hear snippets of the boring, droning voices as we FF'd or RW'd through our own recordings, but we were far more interested in ourselves than we were in adults we didn't know talk about stuff we didn't understand.  With the box of tapes, we could record for 20 or 30 HOURS.  We taped over the boring psycho-babble with reckless abandon, and our new electonic device became an obsession for the next several months.  

    We recorded everything.  We did funny voices, and made jokes.  We made fake radio shows, imitating Paul Harvey and Larry Glick and the 80's era Top 40 DJ's.  "All the hits on WHTT!"  We'd occasionally forget to turn it off and caught snippets of life in an average house in 1980's New Hampshire.  Voices of parents in the distance.  Phones ringing.  Interrupted conversations and kids screaming in their summer voices.  Radios playing.  Full recordings of Knight Rider and Dukes of Hazard episodes (yes, this was also the pre-VCR era for our family).  We filled those tapes with our young imaginations.  They were an audio time capsule of our childhood, perfectly capturing moments of my youth that have long since faded from my memory. 

    I remember bits and pieces.  I remember imitating a local car commercial: "I'm Ernie Boch, COME ON DOWN!"  I remember all of us signing off as AM radio personality Paul Harvey: "And now you know...the REST of the story.  Paul Harvey............Good Day!"  I remember one moment in particular when my parakeet started flying, the sound of his beating wings captured perfectly on tape, while I narrated. I began, "There he goes, he's flying all around the room..." but interrupted myself with an unexpected fart.  We exploded in laughter.  Let me tell you something: There is nothing funnier to kids than farts, except perhaps an unexpected fart caught on tape that you can listen to over and over and over and over and over.  Maybe 500 times.  I can still hear it perfectly in my head: "There he goes, he's flying all around the room!"  ::FART::  Explosive laughter.

    Irving was his name.  Irving the parakeet.  He died not long after that, although we never figured out exactly why.  He stopped eating, and his green breast of feathers started collapsing in on itself until he eventually withered away to a husk of a bird.  Sad.  A bird in a cage is sad.  He lives on in my memory, punctuated by a fart.

    But this is the part that sucks.

    One day, a tape broke.  On those old machines, the tape inside the cassette would sometimes get sucked into the spinning heads of the cassette player and it was surgery to try to extract the crumpled, tangled tape and then carefully wind it back into the cassette to preserve the recording.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.  You could use scotch tape if the tape snapped, but you lost a little bit of the sound on each repaired, crimped section.  I got pretty good at fixing jams and repairing mangled tape, because it happened ALL THE TIME.  A pencil was a necessary tool for the procedure.  Pencils fit perfectly into the holes on cassette tapes, which made winding them up as simple as spinning the tape around and around like a New Year's party favor.

    On this particular day that the tape broke, I didn't have the patience to try to repair it.  Instead, I stripped the magnetic brown tape out of the cheap cassette and strung it all around my room.  I wrapped it around furniture and over and under shelves.  I strung it through bed posts and up and over window shades and around doorknobs and through the legs of baseball trophies and wound it in and out of the filthy birdcage.  When I was done, my room was filled with an insane zigzagging spider's web of magnetic tape.  It looked like one of those infrared laser security systems you see in movies, usually around a rare piece of art in a museum that the burglars have to somehow navigate before they can steal it.  Except in this case, the security system was made of tape.  And priceless childhood memories.

    The new game became creating these intricate webs in our rooms.  There's about 300 feet of tape in one of those old cassettes.  That made for some great "web your brother's room while he's not home" pranks.  Hilarious!  20 to 30 hours of what we sounded like as kids was gone in just a few days.  We destroyed every single tape.  It didn't seem like a tragedy at the time.  Why would it?  We could easily remember all of the things we recorded.  We had nothing but time.  We sang in our chains like the sea, as the poem goes.  The bird flying away.  The three of us kids playing radio.  A peek into the past.  Siblings before they each had their own lives.


    I'm preserving my kids' own version of cassette tape radio shows.  Their version is much more advanced. They have voice memos and Mac Photobooth and Flipcam videos and iPhone movies and a hundred other ways to capture their own image.  Will it make them more self aware, this modern media age?  I don't know.  I do know that at some point, they'll want to look back and see where they once were.  Once in a while, it feels good to remember who you were way back before you became who you are.  It's comforting when you realize that sometimes, there isn't much difference between the two.  As for me?  I'll still laugh my head off at an unexpected fart.  

    Some memories will not erase. 

  • clogged

    Me, 1995.  San Francisco.  Yes, that's a fucking Les Mis shirt, jorts, and Birkenstocks.  Good thing I married young.

    My son is obsessed with Katy Perry.  My daughter is obsessed with Lalaloopsy dolls.  My wife is obsessed with So You Think You Can Dance.  I am obsessed with trying to figure out what I'm doing next in my life.  My 22 month old is only obsessed with waking up excited to run around like a lunatic.  Maybe I should think more like her.

    Has anyone read "Getting Things Done?"  Howard Stern keeps talking about it, but ironically, I can't seem to find the time to read it.  What's that thing when you have a million plans and they're all clogging your output?  That.

    Off to Napa to play in the Wrubarb Golf tournament and see some old friends.  And no, "I'm not drinking fucking merlot."  

    Sure, it'll all be on Instagram.  

  • sometimes, there is nothing

    I woke up today to read about another horrific shooting in Colorado.  The television media scambled to assign blame, as the Twitterati raced to make observations supporting personal agendas, premature categorizations, and shockingly, tasteless jokes. Mass murder is frightening. It was frightening when it happened in Norway almost exactly a year ago, it was frightening when it happened in Columbine in 1999, and it was terrifying when it happened in NYC on 9/11.  We are built to process information.  We are wired to discover the reasons and somehow justify the horror.  It helps us sleep, I guess.  

    "Well, he was a loner...

     A religious nut...

     Mentally ill...

     A muslim...

     A Christian...

     A Tea Party member...

     A Lib...

    An American."

    Whatever the label, there will be no solace.  There are unstable people in this world of every nationality, religion, and political leaning.  Wouldn't it be nice if we could all band together and mourn tragedies as a nation (and world) of people who are not unstable; who are overwhelminly good and decent; who would not wish a tragedy like this on even their worst enemies?  

    We needn't mimic the divisive media.  We are better than they make us.  We are compassionate enough to not pick a side, but to instead mourn the loss of life without pointing fingers at anyone but the insane person who walked into that theater and killed 12 people.  Any labels they slap on him will not justify the killings.  Our burden to bear is that answers will never give us peace.

  • dead heart

    In the dreary halls of a decaying building in the heart of Hollywood, the drones of a dozen production offices make their way to lunch or scurry off on an important run or head off to some set somewhere that won't matter in six months.  It is an historic building, once home to CBS in the golden era of radio.  Lucille Ball and Jimmy Stewart and William Conrad broadcast from here in the 1940's and 50's (or so the legend goes), and the baked in smell of that bygone era lingers in the asbestos trapped within the building's innards.  I have walked these halls a thousand times during my time here, on shows that have defied the odds and lasted more than ten seasons combined.  Each feels like the last, and it becomes hard to remember where the lines separating them all exist.  Today I walked through the barely sunlit halls on the way to lunch, passing a couple of other bodies with heads down, faces buried in their phones.  I was thankful for the freedom not to wave or smile or raise my eyebrows in an unconvincing civil, "hello, we both share this dismal space for a while, but we will probably never have an actual conversation."  Saying nothing feels more genuine, and our phones allow us the rudeness that might once have been impolite.

    Outside, the sun snatches me from the clutches of the old pink building, and I walk towards the trendy salad restaurant that all of the other people walk towards.  I pass Nickelodeon and the Palladium and probably some other "eons" or "iums" that I don't even know are happening in a skyrise above a restaurant called "The Waffle."  It's a fancy/grubby place nowhere near as perfect as the actual grubbiness of a Waffle House.  I keep walking, and the line at the salad restaurant is out the door.  I decide I can't eat another Bowery Burger or Magnolia Salad from either of the nearby restaurants with no line.  Instead, I walk past my usual lunch spots and continue towards a recently deceased Barnes and Noble.  "For Lease," it says and I wonder who will replace the memory of a time when physical books were important.  Maybe an Apple Store, I thought hopefully.  I walked on, skipped the Baja Fresh and continued past a film school that always seems to have more students outside smoking than could possible be inside learning slowly and expensively that film school can't turn you into a visionary.

    I landed at a vegan or vegetarian place (or maybe it's just organic), and found a seaweed bowl, a purple smoothie, and a powerball of something vaguely chocolate-like.  Together they looked like not quite lunch, but would probably work better than anything from the Jack in the Box across the street, I guessed.  A woman in a thick faux (I'm assuming) fur coat and big hoop earrings took my order, and her over the top everything fit the vegan/veggie/organic place perfectly.  It was a perfect reminder that I did not belong in there and that only insane people eat seaweed bowls and weird chocolate health balls.  But then I tasted it and it was amazing.  Begrudgingly, I glanced at the tall unshowered for the environment woman in the faux fur coat.  Fur coat hoopsy smiled at me like she knew all along.

    I took the long way home past a Bed Bath and Beyond that couldn't possibly have any customers on a hot summer day in the middle of Hollywood, but then a gigantic lady in a mobility cart wheeled out as I walked past and she huffed at me for being in the way.  I began to walk again and her daughter (?) wheeled out and over my foot and huffed the same exact way.  I said nothing and walked down the sidewalk peppered with pink stars, commemmorating people who were famous enough to lobby the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to make them immortal.  I recognized not a single name for a huge chunk of sidewalk, and realized it's not a city of broken dreams but of maybe imaginary ones.

    At the big pink building, I escaped the scorching sun of Hollywood and retreated back into the cool air and stagnant state of suspended decay inside the halls of a production building filled with fleeting ideas.  Everyone in there is employed right now, which is about all any of us can ever hope for.  You never know when the whole thing is going to fold up, but the echoes of burned out dreams and long lost careers keep you safe as you trudge back to your office, buried in your phone.

  • get there somehow

    I can't decide whether I'm drawn to writing when it's time to shed a skin of some sort, or whether the gaps in my work simply allow me more time to funnel creativity into personal projects.  I'm not sure it matters.  

    I went fishing with my brother and my dad while I was on vacation.  We got up early every morning, chugged some coffee, hopped in Todd's 14' aluminum Princecraft boat, and plunged ourselves into the serenity of a tranquil lake in the middle of Maine.  It's as close to perfection as I can imagine.   In the early summer mornings, a mist rises off of the water as the sun rises.  The loon calls echo across the lake and the faint hum of the boat's trolling motor churns beneath us.  At one point a bald eagle flew directly over us as we rounded the rocky point of a small island.  It felt like a computer generated happiness.  Too perfect.

    On that particular morning, my dad caught everything.  I think he caught something like ten fish, although I'm sure that number will grow to 15-20 by the time the story is recounted next year.  It seemed like every third cast brought in a new big bass.  Todd and I caught a couple apiece, but my dad had the day.  A day to remember, both for him and for us.

    I spent time thinking about my life while I was in Maine, out of cell service and out of reach of Los Angeles. I'm 40, going on 41.  If all goes well, I'm probably somewhere in the middle of my life.  One afternoon I sat on the dock, mindlessly casting out my line, lamenting the speediness of time and the quickly passing week in Maine.  I thought, "How great would it be to live here for part of the year?"

    You know how sometimes you think things like that, and your brain answers you by repeating the question back to you as if the answer is really obvious and you just haven't seen it yet?  That.

    I stopped fishing and let the realization wash over me.  Is it even possible?  How would I make that work?  What ABOUT work?  So many road blocks.  Right?  Hm.  Maybe most of those are in my head.  What am I waiting for?  If someplace makes you happy, whether it's a physical place or an intangible place, shouldn't you do everything possible to go there at least some of the time?  40 going on 41 going on 80.  There is no second run.

    How great would it be to live there for part of the year?  

    Only one way to find out.

  • back from beyond

    I'm back.  Not necessarily to blogging, although I'd like to believe that.  I've been reading archived entries from my old blog and miss my ability to write so honestly.  It felt like a liability at times, true, but it kept me writing and it wound up being a pretty interesting account of an important transitional period in my life.  From Actor to Producer; from broke, starving artist to not so broke guy with a career; from kid to adult...to parent?  Alas, I won't bemoan my inability to write consistently here.  My life is busy with three kids and a job, and my time is often devoted to other things.  But I miss it.  Did I mention I miss it?  

    Anyway, I'm back from New England, after spending three weeks there with my family.  It's become an annual pilgrimage for us, that trip back east.  It's a path back to the place I still think of as my REAL home.  That path, though overgrown and fading (and over 3000 miles with THREE SMALL KIDS), is still open to me.  My parents still live there in the house I grew up in. My brother and his family live in Massachusetts.  I still have a place to go that feels like the home I knew for the first 23 years of my life.  That's pretty lucky.  For some, that path home has long since grown over or disappeared, or perhaps been intentionally forgotten.  For me, that path is familiar and necessary.  Without that access to my past, a part of me would be lost.  I dread the day that part of me is gone.  This year was three full weeks.  Maine, New Hampshire, Massachussetts, Vermont, Connecticut.  A real New England vacation. 

    It resets you.  Leaving Los Angeles for an extended period of time resets you, and reminds you that the city you live in is an alternate reality.  Los Angeles is separate from the rest of the world.  It's twisted and exaggerated and exciting and hollow and rich and false.  I say that in the most loving way.  I love this city, but I also love leaving this city.  It reminds me of who I really am, not who I think I should be.  I'm back, refreshed and filled with ambition.  Old goals are rekindled.  Opportunity seems endless.  So much to do and no focus on where to start.  Short films I want to make, sketch comedy shows I want to shoot, actual work I get paid to do, dreams I've almost forgotten, ideas I can't start, holes in the plans I've made, failures I haven't even imagined, fear of being average.  And it all hits me together in this paralyzing soup of stagnant energy.  The reset button is neutralized by the crush of pressure to go do something without any real understanding of what to do first, what to focus on, how to silence the voice measuring myself against everyone else, or what to do about the possibility that a real artist would know how to move forward.  Perhaps a fraud hatches big plans and then becomes a coward about executing them.  Or perhaps a fraud realizes that ideas are easy and risking failure by seeing them through is the hard part.  It takes no time for new exciting things to feel like status quo.  The bar keeps raising and is there an end?

    So a swirling fog of ambition and goals and plans muted by doubt envelops me.  Two days home from a three week reset button and the blob of LA uncertainty has practically eaten me again.

    My life is better than it was when I was blogging a lot in 2005.  An apartment has become a house.  My car has become a nicer car.   A freelance job has become a career.  One kid has become three.  A dog has become a similar, but slightly dumber dog.  My surroundings have changed.  Technology has changed.  Some of my friends have changed.  The URL has changed. As for me, I have become a guy who still doesn't know much about the future.  In many ways, I haven't changed at all.

    I'm still filled with doubt.  I'm still afraid of not being liked.  I still wish I was a big famous movie star (kind of).  And I still yearn for more, no matter where I am.  And yet, I feel like I'm back.  Back from New England; back from not writing; back from something.

  • online>IRL

    Occasionally, I run into some of the people I interact with every day on Twitter and the Internet in the real world.  Whether it's at a party, a comedy show, or holy crap, a TWEETUP, I'm ashamed to tell you that I fully dread these real life encounters.  Even though you people provide me with the bulk of the information I receive every day, and I feel like I know some of you like actual friends, I'm no good at face to face.   

    I'm way better like this, using carefully thought out written words to represent me.

    But listen...it's not you, it's me.  I'm the one with the issue.

    So let's say we're at one of these things where lots of us end up in the same room:

    More than likely, it will begin with me double checking my phone to make sure I have your name right.  I may only know your @name, and I want to call you by your real name.  I'll be the guy pretending to check emails, desperately hoping I can match an avatar to the face I now think I see in the room.  If I'm alone at the thing we're both at, it's because I couldn't drag a friend along and I'm probably floundering somewhere, staving off the irrational childlike panic of looking like an idiot somehow.  Check the bar or the bathroom.  I'm probably hiding in my phone there.  So many apps to open and close, open and close, open and close.  Eventually, I will force myself to say hi, or make eye contact, or drift my way into a conversation.  I find myself navigating small talk in the same way I might cross a fast flowing river; jumping nervously from slippery rock to slippery rock, hoping not to miss one or land hard on my back and get whisked away.  I get nervous, and I'm bad at pretending I'm smooth or calm.  I say things out of order and with a soft voice, and the jokes I make to clean up the mess I'm making with my entire awkward presence buy me time, but don't quite fix the problem.  

    I never know what to say to people.  In Los Angeles, a trick that almost always works is to make the conversation about the other person.  People here seem to have a lot to say on the topic of themselves.  But I barely hear them.  I nod and smile and try to carefully time my responses but it's slightly off, I think.  I start to wonder how I will escape the conversation when it dwindles.  Do I need another drink?  Is there a joke I can make to make it less awkward?  Who else do I know here?  My eyes dart around nervously, and is my breath okay? And how exactly do I know some of these people? And what will I possibly talk about when I have to start inventing a new topic, when this topic ends?  I smile through my panic about what to say if the conversation hits a lull.  I'm always certain the people I talk to can tell that I'm not very interesting and not very cool, so I talk in rhythms that sound confident with a cadence that seems appropriate.  

    I used to drink to feel comfortable in social settings.  Two or three beers helped me care less about how I seemed to others. There is a short window during an evening of drinking when alcohol makes me a little funnier; a little looser in my conversation; a little more normal.  The window closes quickly though, and then the alcohol fueled confidence has diminishing returns and I start to say things I will try to recount and replay and analyze the next day on a continuous loop.  Those drunken words and sloppy jokes plague me, and my brain can no longer reconcile the events of a beer-fueled evening on the morning after.  Was I rude?  Did I make it awkward?  Do people think I'm weird? What the fuck did I say?

    I suppose that's why I lean so heavily on communicating through words and images on a computer screen.  I have control in this medium.  I can share what I want, and edit what feels wrong, and I can avoid having to sustain eye contact at one of those social things when every ounce of me wants to look away and hide.  From a keyboard, I don't risk as much and therefore my online connections with people are probably experienced at a limited level.  It's like knowing people in demo mode.  I retreat to my friends and family that I feel comfortable around, and find excuses not to be social.  Sometimes I feel like I've lost the ability to connect with new people in real life at all.  Sometimes I can't even connect with friends.  Is that social anxiety, or just fear of rejection?  Is there a difference?  Is it getting worse as I get older?

    I have no idea if relationships with limited face to face human interaction are enough to satisfy the inherent need I still feel to connect with other people.  Each day I send out little contact beacons: status updates, Instagram snapshots, Twitter stars, comments on blogs, and a steady stream of feedback on the various posts of other people I know and don't know.  They are tiny bursts of connection attempts, at times unrequited and forgotten, but there anyway in case the right timing and the right mood and the right words find the right person.  A reply or an acknowledgment to a tweet or a blog entry or a stupid Instagram photo is sometimes all I need to feel adequately NOT awkward for a few hours.  I control what you see, and I can hide my insecurity pretty well with feigned indifference and managed expectations.  The disconnection from actual human contact makes it easy to send these quick messages and tweets and replies, serving as both kind gestures of acceptance of the words and images others put out there, and as ongoing probes constantly helping me to monitor my own status in the vast online community.

    I started writing thinking this would be an exploration of the way limiting our communication to mostly online dialogue means not genuinely connecting with the people we are probably very compatible with.  It turned into an exploration of a nagging issue I suppose I've been masking in some way or another since I was very young.

    Maybe I've gotten pretty good at hiding it, but wow I'm a shy weirdo.

    See you online.

  • My life in a Marathon

    At almost exactly the halfway point, just before mile 13, I passed by the apartment building where I spent my first year in Los Angeles.  I was running the most perfect Marathon course in the world: 26.2 miles of memories and images from a city that I've called home for almost 17 years.

    I didn't plan to run another marathon.  In 2003 I trained for eight months to achieve that goal, and had a gruelling experience on an unseasonably hot day on an unremarkable loop course beginning in downtown Los Angeles.  I was 31, and I wanted to cross "FINISH A MARATHON" off of my list.  I did it.  I struggled.  I vowed that I would never run another one.  In fact, I didn't run at all for several years.  The marathon killed my running fever like a shot of penicillin.  

    Of course, time has a way of undoing vows.  I've been running quite a bit over the past several months, slowly increasing my distance and stamina on tough trail runs in the mountains of LA.  I've been registering for events I'm not even sure I'm capable of finishing, and the thrill that gives me seems to be addictive.  It started with standard 5K's and 10K's, evolved into trail runs and organized bike rides, and has now become whatever I can find that seems interesting and exciting.  In the weekends leading up to the 2012 Marathon, I did the SoCal Tough Mudder in Temecula, a 25k Malibu Creek trail run in the Santa Monica mountains, and the Pasadena Triathlon last weekend.  I was looking for a Sunday event for March 18.  LA Marathon kept popping up, and because of the size of the event, there weren't many other options for me to register for on that day.  "Fuck it," I thought to myself, "I'll give it a shot."

    That last minute registration was a very different approach than my carefully calculated plan in 2003.  Back then, I started running with a training group called the "LA Leggers" eight months before the event and ran every weekend with them through March.  I gave up drinking and ate like an athlete.  I ran lots of miles during the week.  I showed up on race day back then 100% certain I would finish.  I had physically and mentally prepared enough to give me that confidence.  As I registered for the 2012 LA Marathon practically on a whim, I was far less certain.  26.2 miles is tough, but that thrilling uncertainty fueled me.  Fear, doubt and anticipation is a powerful intoxicant, and for the two weeks after I registered leading up to March 18, I rode high on that drug of doubt.

    It was the "new course" that got me.  Unlike the 2003 course, this "new course" was a route from Dodgers Stadium near downtown LA all the way out to the ocean in Santa Monica.  It passes some of the most iconic landmarks in the world.  I've lived in Los Angeles for seventeen years, and I have a lot of memories here. For me, landmarks like Grauman's Chinese Theater, Rodeo Drive, and the Hollywood Sign have countless personal stories attached to them.  My past is alive in the sights and sounds of LA, and this course would be like running through my life spent here.  That's what got me.  I wanted to run through this great city on closed roads with cheering residents lining the route.  I wanted to be the pulse of the city for a morning, pumping through it's veins with 25,000 other people in a surge of focused energy and fearlessness.  LA's "new course" was too tempting, and as I registered for my second marathon ever, I gave little thought to the difficulty of the task ahead.  It almost didn't matter how much it might hurt.

    Of course, the weather scared the shit out of me.  For ten days before the race, the prediction was nasty rain and wind.  Some reports predicted hail and thunder storms for the whole weekend.  I checked my phone compulsively for updated predictions all week. The day before the race, there was a torrential downpour.  I seriously doubted my ability to finish in terrible weather.  I was barely prepared to finish in perfect conditions, so soggy shoes and a headwind filled with hail would likely break me.  The night before the race, I set my alarm for 3am and hoped for the best.  The weather was out of my control  As long as I got my car to Santa Monica and got on the shuttle to Dodgers Stadium in time for the 7:24am start, I was holding up my end of the commitment I made to run the race.  I focused on that and went to bed at 9pm.

    It's easy to dismiss Los Angeles as vapid or soulless.  It's a go to criticism for people that are either unfamiliar with or disillusioned by this great city.  It has been slammed for ignoring its own history, and for churning through the dreams of young hopefuls like a thresher.  Perhaps so.  However, it is also a city filled with hope and possibility and culture.  As with anything, your Los Angeles experience is what you make it.  Surround yourself with vapid dipshits and you will be disappointed.  Seek out the culture and discover the thousands of vibrant artistic and social communities throughout Los Angeles and you can't help but appreciate the richness and intricate texture of this city.

    The weather, somehow, was perfect.  I sat in Dodgers Stadium in the dark, cold morning weather staring at a puddle in the middle of the field, hoping not to see rain drops.  The stadium filled with runners.  No one spoke of the weather, as if we had collectively agreed not to jinx the fact that there was not yet rain.  Ponchos and stretching and adjusting gear belts and earbuds, bathroom lines and last minute carbs and tension and excitement filled the place. 25,000 of us found our places in the starting corrals. The overflow backed up into the parking lots, as runners jettisoned their rain gear and warm clothing.  Dozens of worn out sweatshirts, ponchos, extra shirts, and hats flew through the air to the sidelines as the minutes ticked down towards the start.  A welcome speech, a National Anthem, a countdown, and....here we go.

    My run through Los Angeles was a run through my past.  Each mile of the race was layered with a rich tapestry of 17 years of memories here.  My first apartment in Los Angeles on Sierra Bonita and Sunset at mile 12.  The Regent Beverly Wilshire, where I worked as a doorman in 1998 at mile 17.  Blue Palms Brewery, my current favorite lunch spot just up the street from my office at mile 11.  The Coffee Bean at Beverly Glen and Santa Monica, where my wife and I used to meet for evening coffee, back before we had kids.  On a beautiful morning that was supposed to be nasty and rainy, I ran through the heart of a city that has become mine.  This is my home.  Running from Dodgers Stadium to the Pacific Ocean allowed me time to reflect on how far I've travelled since arriving here in a U-Haul back in 1995, and I felt proud.  I got lost in metaphors and symbolism as I tried to connect the run to my life, so I eventually stopped trying to encapsulate the whole experience.  Instead, I tried to live and exist within that steady rhythm of my feet hitting the ground.  Right here, right now, right here, right now.  And so on.

    The first thirteen miles were smooth.  Good gear choices and healthy muscles made it problem free, and I took care to hydrate at every mile.  My music drove me forward.  Travis Barker and Girl Talk and Eminem and some other favorites pushed me.  I ignored the work left to be done and enjoyed the miles I put behind me.  The weather was cool and the air was fresh.  I could do this.

    The second half of the race was hard.  I didn't train for 26.2, and that caught up to me at about mile 16.  Muscles began to angrily protest, and I began to really take my time through the water stations.  Mentally, the hardest miles are the hopeless miles: 18-23.  It is there that continuing on feels impossible.  No justification makes it feel easier.  No whispered words of encouragement to myself inspired a rally.  My legs hurt, and I had not put in the long miles to expect more than utter exhaustion.  I pushed on.  I walked from time to time, and stretched my legs when necessary.  I kept running.  I wanted it to be over.  I wanted a beer.

    The last four miles of the LA Marathon follow San Vicente Blvd all the way from Westwood to the ocean.  It is a route I became intimately familiar with in my 2003 training with the LA Leggers.  We ran up San Vicente every Saturday on our training runs, so it was familiar territory.  I thought I'd cruise that last stretch with ease, but my legs had other ideas.  It was a hard four miles, eked out in fits and starts, walks and limps, and at times, utter desperation to be done with it all.  Finally, I rounded the corner at Main Street, and made my way the last half mile to the finish line.  4:49:17.  I didn't set any land speed records, but I beat my 2003 time by six and a half minutes.  I grabbed my medal and my tinfoil heat wrap and went straight to the bar.  The beer was as good as you might imagine.  

    Another marathon under my belt.

    I vowed in 2003 that I'd never run another one.  I've told people that for nine years.  And yet, time has a way of undoing vows.  It also has a way of erasing fears.  In this case, time gave me nine extra years of experience to reflect back upon as I raced through Los Angeles.  At the end, I felt better than I did in 2003.  I beat my time by 6 minutes, which means 40 is better than 31.  

    I guess I knew that already.

  • Tough Enough

    I woke up in a hotel called "Hyatt HOUSE" in Carlsbad, California at 4:15am. It's a nice little no-frills hotel, wedged conveniently between the 5 Freeway and a noisy commuter train track. It's Hyatt's stripped down version of a Hyatt, with only the bare essentials for amenities. Imagine a Holiday Inn, Hyattized. For me, it was a perfectly adequate place to stay the night before doing something I had been anticipating for several months. Though I had scheduled two wake up calls and backed that up with two alarms on my iPhone, excitement and nerves woke me first. 4:15am. In the dark room, my heart began to flutter.

    Race day.

    My gear was carefully laid out on the other bed in the room:

    -Under-Armour compression shorts and warm weather compression shirt.
    -A random tech shirt from a 10k I ran at the Pasadena Rose Bowl.
    -A worn out pair of Adidas running shorts.
    -Neo-Pro fingerless gloves.
    -A weathered old pair of Nikes, ready for retirement.
    -2 packets of GU, with caffeine.
    -A small bag of dry clothes.

    After months of training, it was finally the morning of the day I would cross another goal off of my list: The Tough Mudder. The mother of all Mud Runs. An eleven mile adventure trail run with 25 military style obstacles scattered throughout the course. 12 foot high walls. Ice baths. River crossings. Monkey Bars over freezing cold water. Electroshock live wires.


    If you're not a runner, the idea of running at all might seem silly. The notion of running long distances might seem even more absurd. And running through a military style obstacle course with mud, freezing water and electric shock? Stupid. Like, dipshit stupid. You know what? That makes sense as I write this. It does sound stupid.

    But I wanted to do it. The moment I saw this video, I wanted to see if I could do it. Over the past couple of years, I've been pushing myself towards a much more athletic and active lifestyle. It began with a workout program called p90x, and it has evolved into a complete overhaul of the way I eat, the way I live, and the way I challenge my mind and body to be better. I register for a race every weekend. Whether it's a bike ride, a trail run, a half marathon, or a mini-triathlon, I'll give it a shot. Sign up and figure out how to finish it on race day, is my philosophy. I may be 40, but I've never felt more fit. I refuse to become a fat dad. I refuse to miss my kids youth to my own laziness or fatigue. I refuse to ignore the longing for physical activity that I've ignored since college. I'm not built to be be stagnant, and that's something I've just begun to rediscover and honor over the past few years. I'm much happier this way.  So, Tough Mudder? An event that bills itself as "Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet?" Fuck yeah. On December 6th, I signed up and started training.

    4:45am, February 25

    I got dressed in my gear, and snapped a quick shot for Instagram. "A before photo," I thought to myself. I grabbed my bag of dry clothes, ate half a Clif bar, and headed out to my car. The road to Temecula at this hour would be clear. Dark and desolate, in fact. Butterflies. Big ones.

    I arrived at Vail Lake Resort at about 5:45am. I was meeting my friend Dustin there, who was running with a team of guys who had all run the NorCal Mudder a few months earlier. They were running late, so I decided to take the shuttle up to the starting area to get checked in. Starting time for our wave was 8am, but I like to have plenty of time to register, get situated, check my bag, mentally prepare, shit my pants, etc. I was nervous. The line for the yellow school bus shuttles crossed a scary looking obstacle in the middle of the race course. I snapped another Instagram photo. "Are You Tough Enough?" it asked. I began to wonder.

    As the bus rumbled uphill, it was a slow climb to the staging area of the event. Perhaps intentionally, the bus circled past some of the more ominous obstacles near the end of the course, including Everest, the greased up vertical quarter-pipe that you must attack at full speed, attempt to run up, and lunge for the lip before hoisting yourself up and over the top. It's the last major obstacle before the dangling live wires at the finish line, and seeing it now as the bus prepared to drop us off filled me with an odd mixture of excitement and fear. The bus stopped and the few of us that had, for some reason that now seemed hard to remember, chosen to be up here this early headed towards registration.

    At 6:00am sharp, the lines for registration opened. It looked like the gated entrance at Disneyland.  There was a team of Mudder staff spread out along an entrance to the event, separated into sections of the alphabet. I found the "N" line, and walked in. Bib #107. In Sharpie, the volunteer wrote that number on my forehead and calf. "Bibs have a way of falling off in this event," he told me with a chuckle. "I'm sure they do," I replied, trying to find a chuckle of my own. It was forced, and more of a nervous whelp. I walked out to the grass that was wet with morning dew and surveyed my surroundings. Nerves were beginning to mix with blind excitement now, and I looked around for Dustin.

    As I pinned my bib onto my shirt, Dustin and the six guys he came with found me. He told me their team name was Boner Jams, which was fine with me (although in hindsight, I do have some questions). I was happy to be running with a group. Something about this event calls out for support from a team. You want to suffer together with people so you can all drink beer to the same stories later. I glanced over at the Dos Equis tent positioned right at the finish line. Mmm...Beer (Homer voice).  Team Boner Jams was ready.

    We checked our bags and gathered near the starting line. To enter the gated starting area, participants were forced to scale a couple of 8 foot high walls, just to give everyone a taste of what lay ahead. The energy was amazing. We moved into the starting area at around 7:40, twenty minutes before the scheduled start of our wave. I surveyed the crowd forming around us. Some wore costumes, I noticed. A group of hulks (painted green, ripped jorts) stood nearby. A hot Wonder Woman with a hot wonder body jumped and stretched behind us. Normal looking people looked as nervous and anxious as I felt. I stretched my quads, more out of a need for something to do than an actual tightness. Eminem ripped through the speakers, and I felt ready. We got a pep talk, and were led through the Tough Mudder motto:

    ** As a Tough Mudder I pledge that…

    * I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge.

    * I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time.

    * I do not whine – kids whine.

    * I help my fellow Mudders complete the course.

    * I overcome all fears.**

    Pretty easy to get behind that pledge. They played a nice recording of the National Anthem, everyone cheered, and then he counted us off. 10...9...8...7...6...5...4...THREE...TWO...ONE!

    A pack of crazy people, we burst out of the starting gate through the orange smoke towards the "Death March" up the first ascent.  It's always hard to control the urge to sprint at the beginning of a race, but the excitement and months of anticipation made it doubly hard as I ran my way through costumed athletes, former military personnel, and weekend warriors. I was giddy. Together with my newfound team, we charged up the trail towards whatever lay in our path.

    I felt strong. Months of running, including substantial uphill trail training, gave me the confidence to maintain a steady pace on this first incline. Much of the giddy pack of crazy people quickly faced the cardio reality of this first climb. As my team turned into the sun, we saw our first obstacle: The Berlin Walls.

    I think the most nerve-wracking part of taking on the Tough Mudder was wondering whether or not I'd be able to successfully complete all of the obstacles. I've not had the occasion to scale a series of three twelve foot walls lately. I'm not often challenged with perilous monkey bars in my daily life. Maintaining my balance on a two by four to avoid plunging into cold water is not something that happens at work. These things, and my ability to actually do them, were all unknowns before the race. I felt pretty confident, but based on what? What if I struggled right away?

    Swallowing my nerves, I dug my foot into the base of the first wall and reached up to grab the lip. I hoisted myself over the top as if I'd been doing it every day of my life, and easily jumped down to the ground on the other side.  I went straight for the second one.  Just as easily, I jumped up and pulled myself atop the wall. This time, I turned around to help a couple of struggling mudders get a hand over the edge. It's an event that demands teamwork, even when it's not your team that needs work. After helping a few people, I jumped down and scaled the third wall with relative ease. My nervous energy disappeared as I waited for the rest of my team to make it over. I was ready for this race.

    There's a lot of running. The obstacles become a welcome break from the runs, and are almost a reprieve from lots of tough trail work. Sometimes there is a bit of a wait at the obstacles which, trust me, is not at all a bad thing.  There were mud crawls underneath low to the ground barbed wire and electric live wires. There were cargo net climbs and hiking with logs and traversing shaky balance beams. The obstacle I feared the most: the Funky Monkey Bars was about four miles into the race. I was thrilled to make it across without slipping off into the water below, but my excitement about staying dry was short lived, as the very next obstacle was the ice water bath plunge. Jumping in sucks the air out of your lungs in an instant. It is FREEZING. You must then go underneath (thus, underwater) a barrier to exit on the other side. I gasped in shock, but I loved it. I loved it all. I jumped out with a scream of excitement and a jolt of energy.  I thought running with wet shoes would be an issue, but they tend to stay wet and muddy throughout. I jumped 20 feet into water; I swam across rivers; I plunged down a 60 foot, massive slip and slide, through creeks and of course, mud; and I ran up the face of the dreaded quarter pipe Everest, easily pulling myself over the top.

    Near the very end, we waited almost fifteen minutes for the entire team to catch up so we could all cross the finish line together. Tough Mudder isn't an officially timed race, so none of us worried about beating any records. Finishing as a team is as important as finishing at all.  Once together, we locked arms and plowed through the dangling live wires that stood between us and the coveted orange head band (and the Dos Equis).  The electricity of the live wires lit us up as we staggered through the final obstacle of the race.

    Together, we crossed the finish line and accepted our reward.  Cold beer and a bright orange head band worth about 2 bucks.  

    One of the best beers I've ever tasted.

    Did I have fun? I'm signed up for three more this year. My brother and I will take on Vermont in July, and then I'm doing both NorCal events in September.  One will be with the very same guys from this race: Team Boner Jams (although I might push for a name change), and one will be with a team I coerced into joining me in the fall: Team Jaguar Suicide (Brad, BadBlood, Jeff, G-Rob, and all the rest of you...see you in September.)  

    As a whole, it was one of the most rewarding events I've ever been a part of.  

    I can't wait for the next one.

  • running good

    *I wrote this a couple of years ago.  I still like it.

    July 5, 2010

    At 7am, I walked up the dune, and the cool, soft sand swallowed my bare feet with each step.  The beach was mostly empty, dotted only with the silhouettes of a few fisherman, a distant dog owner in a faded sweatshirt, and an early morning couple, walking hand-in-hand towards the rest of their lives.  The cool mist, and the lingering grey marine layer dampened the excited barks of the distant dog splashing and carousing in the receding tide, and the crashing of the waves along the Ventura County beach briefly dampened my ability to process or reflect upon anything outside of the beauty of this particular morning. As I approached the wet sand by the ocean, I started running.  In front of me, an eternity.  Behind me, nothing.

    Immediately, I knew I was having one of those perfect runs.  I felt strong and invigorated.  Shirtless and barefoot, I felt primal as my feet pounded into the sandy earth.  The light rain cooled my body, and the ocean tide occasionally reached my feet as I charged, excitedly splashing up at me with each stride.  Breathing the cool, salt air through my nose felt like inhaling pure energy, and I was sure I'd run down this beach on this day until there was nowhere left to run.  The sandpipers dipped their long bills into the water-logged shore, then jogged away from me, eventually leaping to the air to escape my approach.  About a mile in, a Golden Retriever, still soaking wet from his splashy adventure, ran briefly with me and carelessly licked my hand as he peeled off towards his owner in the grey hoodie.  The seagulls watched, unimpressed from the middle of the beach, and ahead, I spotted a sea lion lazing on the wet sand. 

    As I neared the sea lion, it did not flinch, even with the sounds of my pounding feet and accelerated, audible breathing.  As I ran past him, I realized that the sea lion was merely the hull of a sea lion, and several seagulls were feasting on his innards and brains like gluttonous zombie birds.  I would have chuckled at the thought of this as I ran past, but the image of the dead animal, lying lifeless on the beach stuck with me, and the boundless energy that once carried me up the coast on two legs was suddenly starting to feel limited.  I continued on towards a vague goal of "that house up there," and opted instead to turn around at the next person I passed: an old woman staring out into the ocean.  I wondered what thoughts filled her head as she stood there on the beach, and then wondered what she thought of me turning around only a few yards past where she was standing, only to begin my path back to where I started.

    The view was different going back.  The mist had tapered off, and the ocean water, which once seemed desperate to reach me as I ran, now seemed trying to grab my feet to drag me into the sea.  The seagulls were still eating brains, so I chose to stare out at the distant oil rig on the ocean's horizon, instead of looking again at the dessicated sea lion.  I picked up the pace, not because the air was alive with life, fuel and hope, but because I wanted to be back where I started, with this perfect run safely behind me.  The sand was my last friend now, and it splayed out in forgiving, muddy footprints behind me as I pushed through it towards my starting point.  When I was close enough not to fail, I sprinted to the spot where I began.

    Back at the beginning point, I slowed my run to a walk.  Hands on hips, I savored the feeling that some call a runner's high.  For me, it was more than that.  I considered my mortality, thanks to a sea lion, but I also looked out into that ocean, thought about how lucky I am, and realized that I have never felt better physically in my entire life.  Once again, I avoided the tricky quandary of not knowing exactly who or what to thank for my fortunate life, so I took a mental snapshot of the majestic ocean in front of me, and thanked whatever put it there.  I'm content not to know, and I think that's about as close to a belief in any sort of god as I'll probably ever get.  Seems like just enough.

    I turned from the sea, and walked back over the cool sandy dunes of the beach towards home.  The decomposing sea lion lay behind me somewhere, but like everything else, once behind me, he was nothing.

  • One Week

    Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook (or all 3) has been inundated over the last several months, with photos of me running, biking, and training all over Los Angeles.  This healthy living has somewhat taken over my life, and I have significantly changed my diet and lifestyle all in preparation for an event I've wanted to cross off of my list since I first heard about it: The Tough Mudder.

    It's a 10-12 mile trail run with at least a dozen military style obstacles scattered throughout the length of the course: freezing cold water, 12 foot high walls, muddy drainage tubes, 10,000 volt live wires.  It's tough, and it's scary.  I've been preparing for it since December and it's now a week and a day away.

    When I ran the LA Marathon back in 2004, I had never run more than three or four miles in a row before I started training.  Because it was something I always wanted to do, I decided to commit to the goal of running L.A. and trained for six months leading up to it.  It was a difficult process, filled with simple victories and constant testing of my resolve.  I knew I was physically capable of getting there; I simply had to find the faith in my own commitment to see it through.  It taught me a great deal about how goals are actually achieved.  It helped me figure out my life.  I discovered that hard work is the true key to success.  One audition would not change my life; one moment wouldn't answer all of my career dreams; one lucky break doesn't mean anything without a lifetime of effort leading up to it.

    Crossing the finish line is a glorious, life-changing event, but only because it represents all of the work, the sacrifices, and the difficult choices it took to get there.  At that time in my life, it was a major shift to give up my Friday nights to be well rested for long training runs on Saturday.  It was annoying to find time for 12-20 miles of running a week.  My body was always sore.  Months before the race, I wanted it to be over before I was even able to run half of the 26.2 miles finishing would require.  I stuck with it and finished, and succeeding still helps me follow through on goals I set in my life.

    The Tough Mudder has been my new mission for 2011-12.  My diet is insane compared to what it was in my 20s and 30s.  I've started to enjoy vegan food and have cut my beer intake dramatically (THAT ONE WAS HARD). I exercise every day: p90x2, biking, running, hiking, trail running, and some sort of organized race on the weekend.  This coming weekend is the Bandit 6k in Simi Valley, which will be my last warm up race before the event it's all been leading up to. 

    At the end of the Tough Mudder, you get what seasoned Mudders consider the highly coveted "orange headband."  It's a cheap trophy, but it will mean everything to me.  At 40, I've been proving to myself that I can be better than I have ever been both mentally and physically.  It's a goal that has helped me to become a better father, a better person, and someone I like a lot more than some of the versions of me I've been in the past. 

    One more week.

    One more tough week.

  • 13.1

    As I ran through the starting gate, I took inventory.  Shoes felt good.  The new shorts with spandex liner felt snug and secure in all the right spots.  The iPhone on my arm was tight, with no obvious chafing points.  The white, stock iPhone headphones probably weren't the best choice for a long run, but I could live with the jostling cord, I decided.  Breathing was good.  Air was cool.  Knees felt pretty strong.  I looked ahead at the pack of other fools running for fun, and tried not to think of them as competition.  The urge to catch all of them was strong, but I maintained a steady, comfortable pace.  Long road ahead.  The adrenaline gave way to resolve, although nagging doubt seeped in and I began to wonder how I would do this for 13.1 miles.  A half-marathon with very little long run training.  I focused on a point in the road two steps ahead of me and let Travis Barker and DJ/AM drown out doubt with their music.  One mile at a time.  One breath at a time.  One goal at a time.

    It's not usually fun for me while it's happening.  Half of running is having faith that the way it feels when it's over will make it all worth it.  As I passed the first mile marker on Venice Boulevard, I settled into a rhythm that I hoped I could sustain for 12.1 more miles.  I breathed.  I drowned out doubt with a mantra:

    "This guy is better. This guy is better. This guy is better. This guy is better."

    Is he?  Even the mantra requires faith.  

    Better than I was last year.  Better than drinking every night.  Better than being late to everything.  Better than finding excuses not to be active.  Better than being a fat dad.  Better than resenting my own laziness.  Better than wishing I was healthy.  Better than ignoring problems.  Better than eating crap.  Better than dampening emotions with a vaporizer.  Better than coasting through days.  This guy is better.  This life is better.  It's a daily exercise in faith, and each run parallels my daily struggle with self-doubt and too much indulgence. 

    Mile two, three, four whisked past me, and I knew I would make it.  At mile five, supporters and cheerleaders and music and a last look at the streets of Marina before a long stretch of beach.  I ran faster, and I struggled with my iPhone strapped on my shoulder to take a picture of the moment.  It was one of the magical moments during a run that you know you will remember.  The breeze hits your face and your lungs fill up and you smile and enjoy the feeling, for perhaps only a minute.  I fumbled my phone out of the armband and clicked a photo as I ran.  Mile five.  8.1 to go.

    Lots of times, stopping would be easier.  The temptation to quit becomes intoxicating, and the thought must be nipped early before it begins to threaten the peace that comes from a steady heartbeat of footsteps against the ground.  One step at a time.  One mile at a time.  One goal at a time.

    I ran past a sewage treatment facility in El Segundo, and tore the top off a packet of GU.  The jolt of carbohydrates and the small percentage of caffeine gave me just enough spark to round the corner for the last three miles of the race.  I passed mile 10, again scrambling to wrest my phone from its spot on my shoulder, and snapped a photo of the mile I dreamed of passing for most of the race.  From here, a mere 5k.

    The last 3.1 miles were mostly downhill.  Doubt gave way to relief, and though I was averaging a sluggish 9:45 mile, I felt like an Olympic athlete.  I crossed the finish line, dreaming of the Michelob Ultra tent on the other side; realizing again that our goals can merely be things we decide to accomplish, and temporarily replacing my "This Guy is Better" mantra with an updated, post 13.1 mantra:

    "Earn Your Beer."  

    I did.  I will.  This guy is better.