I’ve found myself tossing and turning in bed at night wondering what’s next in my life, or simply lying there bug-eyed wide awake until 4:00 or 6:00 a.m. only to wake around noon. It began sometime during the last week of the show’s run and has only taken a day or two off since then. Maybe it’s a new manifestation of my post-Christmas exhaustion or the emotional crash of leaving behind the sensory stimulation of New York. In any event, I figured since I’m awake I’d try my hand at a blog post; but not before I tend to a little catching up. I’ve got a few things to share with you (in no particular order).
FIRST … Given the tenor of my last post, I think I need to clear the air. My outlook on life isn’t all doom and gloom. I’m generally optimistic, but I know this life isn’t all there is. My friend, Bob, who recently lost both of his parents, said it quite well—
“Although I don’t really see it as dying a little each day, I rather see it as one day closer to really living. Here on earth we only see a small glimpse of what life really is, someday, I pray I am fortunate enough to be chosen to truly live and be forever in His presence along with my parents, family and friends.” —Bob Addonizio
Before I left New York, I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and rather enjoyed it despite the wambly 3D effects in a few spots. So if you’ll indulge me again, I must make mention of one particular Gandalf quote that resonated with me. It is spoken when Galadriel asks him as to why he chose Bilbo. Gandalf’s response—
“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? I don’t know. Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”
Thank you for your indulgence. Enough said.
Well, not quite. Jesus said it best of all—
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. —John 13:34,35
SECOND … there’s the small matter of my first New York Walking Tall book event. Oh, man. Go grab a cappuccino, a latte, a glass of Jameson Irish Whiskey, or whatever suits your fancy, as this is a pretty fun story, if I must say so myself.
Back near the end of September, a friend of mine named Jim dropped me a line and mentioned that he was enjoying reading my book, and thought that I should try to arrange a reading during the time I was in New York with the Christmas Spectacular. He also said that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Center in Greenwich Village would be a great venue for an event; and that he knew a few folks there to whom he could pitch the idea.
Great! I told him sign me up.
So I sent Jim my electronic press kit and he forwarded it on to Paul (the Center’s Director of Cultural Programs). I got all ensconced in the rehearsals with its requisite shock to my body, and the sightseeing, the eating, the drinking, the tech rehearsals that were derailed for three days by a hurricane that was totally off New York’s collective consciousness until it came ashore in New Jersey (yes, frigging New Jersey), and all that goes into opening a show on Christmas Island.
The week after the show opened, Paul confirmed Tuesday, December 18, as the date for my reading. It was the only date he had available and he expressed a little trepidation as that day kicked off the official unofficial start of Christmas shopping for New Yorkers and he experienced firsthand dismal turnouts in the past for events so close to Christmas. I don’t know if what he said didn’t register with me or what, but I wasn’t fazed at all. I agreed to the date.
Picking a passage to read was a no-brainer. I decided on something seasonal, light, and relevant to the audience. Besides, more pressing matters stared me in the face: I had people coming to see the show the next day, followed by a late night of making scones, and a three-show Thanksgiving Thursday that kicked off a lot of performances for the upcoming weekend. So the reading was a little off my radar. But I did manage to create a Facebook event for the reading in the middle of it all and invited everyone I knew in the New York City area. And ordered a few books to sell at the event.
Life on Christmas Island picked up considerably with more shows per week along with a record number of friends from far and wide who came to see the show. Friends came Tennessee, Florida, California, Washington state, and even Hawaii to see me perform; but my secret longing is that my family will someday make their way to New York to see me on the Great Stage. (More on that in another post, I’m sure.) There was no major strife or conflict in the dressing room; except for a very heated debate over the pronunciation of the French cookware Le Creuset.
And before I knew it, the time came for my gig at The Center.
I agreed to meet a couple of friends at Tavern on Jane before the event for a light bite and beverage to calm my nerves, but that backfired. They were travelling on bicycles to Greenwich Village from the Upper East Side, a good sixty blocks away, during rush hour. After waiting half an hour, I left and walked over to The Center.
Paul, The Center’s Director of Cultural Programming, met and welcomed me. I, in turn, made it known that I had a bad case of the jitters. I’m sure my profuse sweating clued him in to my mental state before I opened my mouth. He and his staff made every effort to assure me that I had no need to be nervous and that would be okay.
At about five minutes before I to enter the meeting room, I headed to the men’s room to make a pit stop. From inside a stall I heard two people enter.
“It looks like it’s going to be one of those nights,” one voice said. I recognized it as Paul’s.
Immediately, the movie screen in my mind flashed images of two people listlessly waiting for my arrival.
“Oh, why’s that?” the other voice said. I was certain the other voice was that of Paul’s assistant.
“I don’t think I set out enough wine for the reading. A lot of people turned out for this reading,” Paul said.
The other voice said something, I can’t tell you exactly what the other guy said because I was too busy trying not to wet myself from the good news of a nice turnout. The two men resolved to remedy the wine situation and left me alone with … my thoughts.
I joined the volunteers in the hall outside the meeting room and I felt a wave on anxiety wash over me. You’re probably thinking it was absurd for me to feel nervous about speaking to a room full of people when I perform several times a day in front of 6,000 people in one sitting. But my nervousness was justified. With a show like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular I’m a part of a larger whole, I’m merely a cog in a machine. The show involves lights, set pieces, drops, the biggest indoor video wall on the planet, singers, dancers, costumes, and a live orchestra; but with this reading, there was only me and my words. That’s it.
One of the volunteers at the check-in desk, pulled me aside before I walked into the room and colorfully said, “this is about you. These people came to see you. Go in there and give them what they want—you. Enjoy yourself. Be yourself. Take your time and relish it.” I don’t remember exactly how he put it, but his words made me laugh and took the edge off my anxiety probably as well as any pharmaceutical. I thanked him, said a quick prayer, and waited at the back of the room while Paul gave me a gracious and warm introduction.
The room was pretty much packed with roughly twenty-five people. I strolled down the center aisle, gave a little background about myself and the book, and settled in and read Chapter 14, Christmas Is.
There was no need to imagine my audience naked as they were eager to hear what I had to say. As I looked out over the audience I recognized several people who travelled to lower Manhattan to witness The Clay Show. Old friends from my earliest days at Disney came. New friends came. Coworkers from the show came. Former coworkers from the show from years gone by came. New coworkers I’d only met only a couple of weeks earlier came. People from around the city with whom I forged new friendships came. People I would have never expected came. People I didn’t even know came! Even Bethe, my first and favorite Mrs. Claus with Radio City, came. Her presence made the evening extra special for me as she had no idea that I was about to fondly mention her in the passage.
They laughed where I hoped they would, as well as in a couple of other places where I expected no response at all. But in both instances, I remembered to pause long enough for the audience to complete their response. Then some 15-20 minutes later, the reading part of the evening ended and those present applauded.
And the real fun began—the Q & A. Much to my surprise (not that I had any expectations), for the next fifteen to twenty minutes, the folks in the audience asked thought-provoking questions ranging from my walk with Christ to why I wrote the book to my mother’s response to said book to how to make it in the entertainment industry and more. I tried to keep my answers succinct, honest, and intriguing. Oddly enough, I found that a number of the answers to their questions had been answered at great length within the pages of Walking Tall. And I comically told them so.
The event wrapped up with me signing copies of the book for those present. Sitting there with a line of people waiting for me to sign their book reminded me of my days as Donald Duck; but the surroundings at The Center were a lot less harried and the background music much more hip. I made it a point to speak with everyone who hung around. Frankly, the turnout, the energy, everything overwhelmed me—in a good way.
Once the room cleared, Paul informed me that the attendees purchased all copies of the book, except for the few copies I reserved for a few folks at the Music Hall paid for in advance. I pulled out a copy for Paul and The Center’s library, and thanked him for a glorious evening.
And to end the night in proper form, a small contingent of friends and I headed to Tavern on Jane where we laughed the night away over the food and drink I missed beforehand.
You know I’ve been been around and welcomed by some pretty high-ups, thanks to my affiliation with Disney and other employers, but the welcome and care bestowed upon little ol’ me, a first-time author trying to get the word out about his book, by Paul and the folks at The Center ranked right up there with the best of them. Any writer should be so lucky to have hosts as personable and an audience as engaged as the ones I experienced that night.
Thank you one and all.