Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No Walk in the Park

In an embarrassing flashback to high school, I ate an entire bag of snack mix today.  Unlike 1989, however, I did not wash it down with a pint of ice cream and back-to-back reruns of What's Happening? (You know, I watched that show all the time as a kid, and can't remember a single episode except the one where Dee gets cast in a hamburger commercial and the one with "Bubblin' Brown Sugar."  Yet I barely recall watching The Golden Girls and I know every episode by heart.  I wonder if it's something gay people are just born with, like the ability to mix a cocktail or detect synthetic fabrics at 50 paces.

Anyway... feeling fat, I decided to take advantage of the gorgeous weather and go for a run in the park at about 6pm.  Now, I usually go running early in the day, so I was unaware of the freak show that populates Central Park at dusk.

Did you know there were people who run with their iPhones - using the phone part?  I've never seen this, which is kind of amazing since I go to a gym where there are plenty of people with acute boundary issues. Seriously, I have seen folks working their Blackberry while running on the treadmills (someone actually fell once, while answering an email.  Ow.  But, also, Hee.) I've also seen people squirt a pump or two of moisturizing lotion from the amenity bar in the locker room and head for the sauna like they're thirteen years old and taking a Victoria's Secret or (in my case) International Male catalog into the guest bathroom.

Oh, and, Ewww.

Anyway - getting back to the point (why do I always take the off-ramp to the tangent?) - I'm running and a guy enters the park at 90th St on the West Side, picking up the running loop about 6 feet in front of me.  And he's on the phone!!! He's got the earbud/microphone thing on (why not use a Bluetooth?  Much less likely to sway from the wind and movement.) and he's discussing the details of a business deal.  And, immediately, I knew something important about this guy:

He's a jerk.

I'm serious.  Who goes for what is, clearly, a 4-6 mile run and has a business conversation?  Now, maybe I'm jealous because he's talking comfortably whereas I, at a similar pace, could only have croaked out single words like, "Help!" or "Ambulance!" or "Khgflfk!"  Or maybe I'm projecting, since I'm fairly certain I spent seven or eight years being that guy.  Yeah, really.  Especially when I worked for the software company.  I got dirty looks in coffee shops and retail stores from coast to coast as I talked at inappropriate volumes on my cell phone.  I once spent 30 minutes on an elliptical machine at my old gym in Washington, D.C. talking to my friend and co-worker Malcolm.  (Who would probably love this story, since it was my irreverence and lack of boundaries that bonded us to begin with.)

And once, Frances McDormand gave me the evil eye at the Citarella on the Upper West Side because I was on my phone while she was buying farfalle.

Oh, and once, I was hosting a conference call for my customers while driving from Lexington to Cincinnati, and got pulled over for speeding.  If you ever want to understand what fear and embarrassment feel like simultaneously, try gathering the people whose respect you need to do your job and commit a moving violation in their presence.  Then, when the Kentucky State Trooper approaches, remember that you're a gay Jew.

Where was I?

Oh yeah. So that guy's a jerk.  In addition, there is a lot of bad fashion trotting through central Manhattan on any given evening.  My I propose a few rules:

  • clothing should cover any parts of your body that rub together;
  • pink leopard print is not a conscious fashion decision, it is either a cry for help or a manifestation of serious mental illness; and
  • before you leave your house, ask yourself:
    • If I weren't me, would I want to see me in this?
    • Can I really pull off this shade of orange?
    • Will this much make up start to run when I sweat, making my face look like some sort of clammy, panting Picasso?
On the inspirational side, I saw an old man - easily in his 80s - out for a jog with his home health care worker.  I recognized him, too - he's a character actor who you've seen but don't know his name (neither do I, and I spent hours Googling "old man character actor" and weeding through, like, a million pictures of Dean Stockwell and Allan Melvin - Sam the Butcher from The Brady Bunch.)  There were also people going through the park in motorized scooters, and one blind man running with a buddy.  This was really cool - they had what amounted to a string (like you see kindergarten kids holding so they can be corralled when their teachers take them out) and they each held one end of it while they ran.

Let me tell you - if you need a little inspiration in order to get through a cardio workout, watch an elderly man or a blind one motor through the park, and you'll find it.  I was moved.

Meanwhile, the best part about running right before Happy Hour, is the glass of wine I poured after I got home and showered.  We could save some serious cash on liquor if we jogged four or five miles beforehand.

Exercised and inebriated, I sat down on the couch and leafed through some old scrapbooks from high school and college, to trigger some memories for the book I'm working on.  It was really interesting to look back on some of the things I saved from my senior year in high school - which began 20 years ago.

First, I remembered a lot more of the "senior" events than I thought I did.  I actually went to most of them, which shouldn't sound odd until I tell you that most of my friends weren't in my year.  A had a lot of friends who were a year ahead of me, and a lot that were a year, or even two, behind.  It struck me immediately - and for the first time - that this is a pattern that's replayed itself several times in my life.  College was the same way.  It's not that I didn't have friends in my own year, I did.  But I wasn't in a clique.

I remember there were a bunch of guys who all rented a limo together for them and their dates at the Prom.  And most of their girlfriends came from the same clique of girls.  My sister had six friends who were close since middle school (and some since grade school) and is still close with five of them today.

I never felt comfortable in those groups and, to be honest, was never accepted by them.  I always felt more a t ease picking people from different elements of my life - classes, activities, theater - and creating my own group.  It's like everyone chose a packaged product and I had to create an ad hoc solution.  Reunions (and my 15th college reunion is in 3 weeks) never appealed to me because I'd only see a fraction of the people I was friendly with.  Plus, the friends I did have in my own year were often part of larger cliques that I wasn't friendly with and didn't feel comfortable being around.

I'm still like that - Neil and I have a couple of guys we're friendly with who would, I guess, constitute our "group" but we've chosen a subset and eschewed the larger group.  Then we've got a couple here, another couple there, a friend from the gym, and my collection of straight women that includes lawyers, actresses, producers, fitness executives and housewives.

Let me tell you a funny story (as if you could stop me at this point):  I recently heard back from one of the agents who requested my hosting reel.  His feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and he thought I had solid hosting skills.  However, right now he's got plenty of people like me and, in the words of my co-producer, just doesn't need "another white guy."

I spent so much of my youth feeling like a misfit - too smart, too fat, totally closeted (though, reviewing my high school memorabilia makes me wonder how I ever got away with that) - that as an adult I spent a great deal of effort trying to fit in.  When you spend the period from 13-25 being an outsider, it's easy to spend the next dozen years trying to become "another white guy."  So - of course - now I need to be a freak again.

Stupid fucking irony.

Though, in truth, I never "blended" as well as I'd have liked to.  I may come across as just another white guy in my reel, but there's a totally irreverent, shopworn and partially damaged personality behind the comprehensive understanding of food, fitness and weight loss.

And that's what I want to see on television; what I want to teach people to do on television: Lose the weight, but don't lose you.  People who've felt alone, ignored, or disempowered are far more interesting.  They generally develop humor, intelligence and humanity that makes them totally engrossing.

Provided they don't shoot up a school or something.

The other thing that struck me as I flipped through those books is how much we wrote.  Notes passed in class, letters from camp and teen tours and summer programs at Universities, cards from graduations and birthdays.  We didn't really say anything profound, but it was so great to re-visit all those teenage emotions - the intensity, the virulence.  How quickly one girl hated another because the first one became friendly with a boy the other one liked.  The gossip about who was having sex.  All the deep feeling and shallow vanity; the passion and the pettiness.

I wonder if the current generation of teenagers is going to miss that?  That opportunity to stumble across your youth as you stumble across middle age.  However you feel about your history, its yours, and whatever you become is, in part, due to what you make of those years.  Awful or awesome - and they're generally both - they're you.

And that was what was profound to me about the experience: I was, what I'll call, a Functional Outsider.  All those cherry-picked friends from different parts of my life; the summers I stayed home and worked while my friends went to camp or traveled.  Yet for all the feeling bad about myself (and I did a lot of that at 16), I knew some really cool people.  One grew up to work for MTV, another is a pretty good web producer.  And I must've meant something to them because they wrote to me from Israel or Ithaca or wherever.  And from the straight guys I worked with who live in Philly or Cincinnati or LA, and my girlfriends who are lawyers and actresses, and my gay friends who either balance me out or are as dramatic as those long-ago 16 year old girls' letters - I'm pretty lucky.

So, sweaty, drunk and lucky - you eat steak.  Here's our Ginger-Garlic Flank Steak Recipe.  It's easy, it's quick, and it's delicious:

1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp Mirin
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp fresh ginger
1 tsp minced garlic (do it yourself, that stuff in the jar sucks)
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (Yes, I do put these in everything)
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 flank steak
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1.  Bring soy sauce, mirin, vinegar, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes to a boil in a saucepan on medium-high heat (you can go to high, but be careful and DON'T burn or over-caramelize it).  Simmer until reduced by half (5-8 minutes).
2.  Heat a cast iron skillet (a large fry pan works, but not as well) over medium-high heat.  Add oil.  Season steak with salt and pepper and cook for 3 minutes on each side.
3.  Reduce heat to medium and brush top of steak with some glaze.  Flip and cook for 1 minute.  Brush with remaining glaze, flip, and for one more minute.
4.  Transfer steak to cutting board and let rest for five minutes.
5.  Slice against the grain and serve.

We serve this with sweet potatoes and a mixed green salad.

Well, that's about it for now.  Next time, Kate Gosselin's Talk Show (how am I supposed to get work if people like her are getting shows?), questions about why Brach's Autumn Mix no longer includes those weird candies shaped like ears of corn, and how I bought my husband's affection for $5.99 (two words: and reamer.  It's not dirty.  I swear.)

The Last Word:

DO THIS, New York:

Take a stroll don't memory lane.  Well, maybe just do a drive-by.

Go for a run.  Or walk.  Or roll.  Just get the hell outside.  It's beautiful.

Write something in longhand (that means with a pen.  On paper.)  someone will look back years from now and smile.  Unless you write something mean.

Make that steak.  Slurp.  It's so good.


Yeah, that whole "running while on your iPhone" thing is probably a bad idea.

Skip the pink leopard print.  Actually, skip any leopard print unless you are a leopard.  Or Elvira, Mistress of the Night.

Don't totally blend in.  Be you - and embrace it.


  1. My 20th HS reunion was last Saturday. Because of the holiday, I didn't go. But, it made me nostalgic nonetheless. I remember your being part of our group in our senior year -- including the poem that you wrote. You are a fixed part of my High School memories. And I am not sure that you did "get away with" it.:-)

  2. As someone who worked with you (or at least observed you working) at SAP, I'm so glad you admitted that that guy could have been YOU. If you hadn't, I WOULD have!

    I loved this piece. I know everyone's experiences are very unique, but there's something very universal about all of the themes here. You and I are very different people, but I am always touched by a handwritten letter yet don't write enough of them myself. I know I wasn't comfortable in my nubile 16 year old skin, and I'd be surprised if many people were/are... even those who appear to be. I am now in my late 30s. I've never felt so happy to be the person that I am, and yet there is something uncomfortable about the way I now blend into the landscape I wanted to be a part of for so long. Strange.