The Biggest Loser

I want to gain weight.

By weight I mean social status, success and clout. Not only in ordinary facets of my life, that many of us crave, but in my artistic life. The time has been coming for a long time. I keep imagining the realistic possibilities of attaining quiet acclaim through my writing and then going on to one day produce that hit-ish Broadway Musical, and then settling nicely into teaching master classes and seminars at universities world-wide. Then there is the fantasy part of me that it pains me to even want to forecast, that being the life where I actually make more than enough money to self-sustain and I become a noteworthy, infamous celebrity. My personal business will be exaggerated and obscured in print and ink, on the interweb, through salon and barbershop gossip, etc.. The fantasy resembles hell in a way, but getting my name out there will mean putting myself out there, and the price of fame as we all know, bears that treacherous leap through the media pendulum.

The other night I pickled myself in wine, not waiting for inspiration to come but rather ignoring the opportunities banging on the door. The ebb and flow of creativity is oft times suppressed just for the sake of sanity, that demon inside can be so scary and demanding and you really start to wonder what you are doing it all for. I love my “real job” and at times I just want to throw up my hands and say “alright”, putting all my efforts into my 8-5, getting my degree in something accessible and humbly joining the herd.

I laid on the couch, distracted by internet surfing and chatting. I watched a show or two and then ordered a cheesesteak from Lazzaro’s on 18th & South, quite possibly one of the finest cheesesteaks in town. The bread is always so beautifully soft that sometimes I eat the whole thing (I have an aversion to bread carbs for some reason, perhaps because I am so thin?). The steak is always perfectly chopped and seasoned, retaining its rightful juices. The cheese is always melted just enough, but not too much; it melts in your mouth in the most divine way. I walked into the joint and the usual hustle and bustle occurred. I swear they have about 17 people working there, all in one indecipherable, controlled chaos, deus ex machina hot mess.

They have a television in the standing room only area and this particular evening they were showing “The Biggest Loser”. A former classmate from high school (we’ll call him Matt) is currently a Story Producer for the show. He lives in L.A. has a hot girlfriend and probably does L.A.-esque things, things I wouldn’t even begin to know how describe. Just the thought of the west coast makes my ass twitch, I’m such an east side boy.

I stood and watched the show for a while, drowning out the well olive oiled machine running in the background, watching the other bystanders who were waiting for their pizza and Stromboli and cheesesteaks watching the television as if they were about the hear what the anecdote was. I thought of my (then) friend Matt (now a Facebook friend) and how he is the one who “made it”. He’s like the Sandy Fink from “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion”. Coming from a small, suburban, sort of hick town in south Jersey, he’s kind of a star back home, or so it would seem. That’s an impressive way to start a letter to Mom.

Me being me, I stood there seething with envy, about to implode until at last my name was called. I wanted my name in lights, not to be screamed at me to come and get my delectable sub (even though the Nazi way the owner has about running the place kind of turns me on, and I always use my last name not only because no one can ever pronounce my first name, but it makes me feel like I’m taking orders).

Anyway, I’m proud of Matt. There has never been any doubt in my mind of his talent and that he would go far. We worked together in drama club stuff mostly, but I got to know him better on a more personal level once he started dating one of my best friends. He was always humorous and charming (a scorpio on the cusp of sagittarius), and we collaborated on one or two practical jokes during rehearsals for our drama club shows. I remember Matt as a visual artist, well-versed in fine arts, particularly drawing and comic characters, but he was constantly creating stuff with his hands the likes of sculptures made out of aluminum foil and regular household found objects. Cheeky little monkey he was.

I went back to my couch, got back into my shell, and made sweet love to that cheesesteak. I passed out dreaming of MY time, my fifteen minutes (more or less). I wanted it, I needed it, and then when I woke up the next morning; I remembered that I was in reality.

A few days later I ran into a notable (and one of my favorite) reality TV celebrities at the bar where I work. We ended up hanging out most of the night. It felt odd in a way, but his genuine nature and amazing sense of humor quelled my discomfort. It’s weird to know so much about a person, or at least a story that was depicted about them on screen, and then be live with them in the same room and try not to act like you know who they are already. What was interesting to me, besides his amazing personality and over-the-top witticism and vivaciousness, was the fact that he kept complaining about how much attention he gets. “Why do people keep talking to me!?” he exclaimed as onlookers stared at him and his cell phone constantly buzzed. Sure, he was mighty boisterous in the crowd of drunks, but it wasn’t obnoxious. Whenever someone recognized him and wanted to ask about his reality show endeavors he rebutted with a firm yet sad “I don’t want to talk about it”.

I was not overcome with pity although for some reason, I was stricken with pangs of compassion, and perhaps a little sympathy. Just talking to him, his larger-than-life personality seemed like it was one that belonged on television, but he is/was so approachable. He seemed damaged from fame, but at the same time, he was made stronger. It made me wonder if I could handle all the attention and the finger pointing and the wondering and the assumptions and judgments and accusations.

I remember my first solo art exhibit. I basically pasted my soul on these well lit, stark white walls for the whole town to see. I stood near the entrance with the appropriate “I’m the artist” greeting, people asking me about the work, nearly everyone calling it “interesting” (whatever that means). It was a sweet masochistic pain, putting myself through all of that. Hoping to become a better person. A better creator. Someone appreciated. But it wasn’t the attention I was after. It wasn’t the “Do you do landscapes and portraits at all?” that I was after. It wasn’t even the affirmation or validation of acceptance. I just wanted to entertain and intrigue. But the hardest part is actually being there. Live. In person.

Usually by the end of an art show or dance show or whatever show, I feel like a complete loser. While my processes and accomplishments are overworked, drawn out and meaningful, I feel like the high you get from presenting work takes a serious crash once the lights go down and your audience has left the building. You want to know what every single person has said. You want to know what they are thinking. You want to know if they felt something. If they hated it. If they loved it. It, not me.

Soon after the beginning of the year I promised myself that I would start cutting out the many forks in the road to my goals. I’ve abandoned painting altogether, I gave up the idea of starting a burlesque troupe, no more acting auditions, and I have stopped wanting to be the next Spike Lee. But still, the desire resurfaces every once and again and I wonder if I will end up doing something I wasn’t planning on doing, like in high school. I loved soccer and tennis but I really excelled at track. I was a pine jockey or bench warmer as they call it for the former two sports because quite frankly, I was a loser, but really good at defense (there is defensive tennis btw). I hated running track, but I broke records and I had amazing speed, and I could have gone far, but then I got on stage…

Who knows the value of what I’ve lost regarding the things I have given up. I know I have a lot more to gain. I am really starting to develop my dance technique. The main ingredient I need is time, everything else falls into place. I have faith, but I lose it sometimes. Today I am right in the middle. This relationship I have with my job and then with my art. It’s not fair really. I know so many artists who despite their numerous degrees are worse off than I am. They don’t even get the opportunities to dance or have exhibitions or apply for grants. They have student loan debt just like lawyers and doctors and executives, but we are servants of the black collar workforce. Perhaps it is just so American of us to have it this way. I can’t talk about Europe right now though, I’ll lose my mind if anything.

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