Monday night I went to Astoria to hang out with my friend Wade. He was insistent that I come over. To give you an idea, back in the day Wade was a Ford model. You may have seen his washboard abs sporting underwear on various billboards worldwide. Heck, I saw him on one before I knew him and developed a crush. Then I found out he was gay, but we are amazing friends. These days, he is doing less modelling and wants to help the environment.
At first when he insisted I come over, I thought he had his heart broken. Wade and I always go for the wrong men. As I came in, Wade informed me he had planned a semi-impromptu get together for my belated birthday. According to Wade, he had heard me whine about turning 30 and wanted to do something special. It’s not that I am unhappy with my life. Time just goes by. One day I was twenty and then poof. Pulling it out of the refrigerator, I realized Wade had spent the last two hours baking me a gluten free birthday cake. One by one, our friends arrived and our little surprise get together got underway. The event and gesture was so wonderful it made me cry.
As a group of gay men, all with perfect voices, Broadway style, sang “Happy Birthday” to me, it made me realize that no matter what happened, I had my friends. Whether 30 brought me more things checked off my bucket list or not, I had the most important thing of all. As I said it, my friends.
This year for my birthday, it seemed many of my friends came out into full effect. I don’t usually celebrate my birthday extravagantly. It’s because over the years I have sang “Happy Birthday” to so many people in so many places. These have included the CFO of the NHL, the husband of the Sultana of Saudi Arabia and the best friend of Forbes Regular Blake Mallen, the song has kind of lost it’s luster for me. Plus I like my birthday to be a calm affair. However, this year my boss Bruce, entrepreneur of the singing telegram company I worked for, called me and gave me a “Happy Birthday” phone gram. Not many can call their boss a friend, but I am one of the few who can. He is an inspiration at every turn.
Heck, my boss and all of my coworkers are. This past summer, I did my book event in which they all took part in. While my gift was writing the book and emceeing the evening, my coworkers lent their tremendous voices, tremendous sense of craft, and tremendous hearts to the event. Their generosity and giving to make my event the success that it was moved my heart beyond words.
My boss’s assistant Laila, who has been a singing telegram person and a cabaret favorite in the city for nearly two decades, helped me organize the event. On several occasions, it looked as if I was going to lose my mind. After a small meltdown, she gave me a pep talk where she quoted David Mamet’s book, True or False, and told me to step away from the event for a little bit. I am like a buzzard, I keep going until I run into the wall. While my work ethic has always been good, it in the end is always my undoing. So I stepped away and felt better. When I returned later, I was able to focus. It was amazing. That’s what friends are for, right?
Add in Nishu and Hedda, my friends from the neighborhood. Nishu is the literal ringmaster of various characters. Hedda is his lady love who keeps him in check. Despite the adventures, and sometimes misadventures we all find ourselves on, Nishu has been there for me this past year. Same with Hedda. Yes, they were present for the book signing. My singing telegram cohort Jeanie and I did a special number for Hedda’s bestie’s surprise party. Was it fun? You bet. Am I sad to see Hedda go to Spain? Ya. Will she be back? Duh. Until then, Nishu and I have some mischief to cause.
I can’t forget Spooky Juice, my super who gives me inappropriate kisses and hugs. At the same time, he reads every blog I write and has bought several of my DVDs to resell to his various friends all over the world. He has also bought several of my books to give away. A magician when it comes to fixing things, he prevented me from getting some dripping disease by fixing my sink.
Then there are the boys at Vibe West who get all my packages. They are always on the stoop smoking cigarettes in between clients. Yes, we all gossip about boys because these are gay men. It’s always nice to see a friend when I come and go into my apartment running about. Sometimes that is what you need during a stressful second, and it might be what they need to as they are smoking their nicotine, the legal choice drug in combination with caffeine of many a New Yorker.
The corner store is another place where I have friends. Of course I have a playful yet flirty relationship with the men behind the counter and the regulars. We gossip about the news and sports, and the dudes always know the NFL scoop as the cabs are hitting shift change. The jokes are raucous and dirty, but it’s a great start to the day as we drink our coffee.
Then wherever I go up the block, past the funeral home, I see a friend. Then to the gym whether it’s the pool I see an acting teacher friend of mine, Trish. A lifetime member of the Actors Studio, Trish has either known, taught, or dated practically every acting teacher I ever had. One day, steaming naked in the sauna, the subject of a player would be leading man I dated briefly came up. When his name was posed, Trish remarked, “Mike could be a good actor, but he’s too into himself.” SNAP!
Add in the girls I brunch with. Plus the girls in Astoria. And my red carpet friends. Damn, I have some serious friends.
Then there are those who have become friends through the comedy world. The people who have given me rides to places and who were so kind they wouldn’t accept my gas money knowing I was broke. Or those who bought me food when I had none. Add in the older headliners who helped me with a punchline or gave me career advice solely because they liked me. And then there are the crazies like myself. How could we not bond?
The wonderful thing about friends is when I haven’t seen them in a while, and they pop up. One friend of mine, Rich, had worked in my college dorm freshmen year. He saw me perform live my first year of doing comedy in the city. Afterwards, he graduated and went to law school. After law school, he joined the Navy and is now a JAG. Last summer, he came up to the city. Rich had purchased my book and was giving it to a friend of his who wanted to be an actor. It was a wonderful reunion.
Another wonderful surprise was at my DVD taping this past spring. After the show my friends and fans were greeting me, and one familiar face stood out in the crowd. It was Derek Judy. A school mate of mine, he had been a stand out as a boxer. We went to the same elementary, middle and high school as well as rode the same bus for our school careers. As a matter of fact, I believe his dad was my mailman. Anyway, he had gone off to West Point and I had not seen Derek, that is, until that moment. He apologized for being an unexpected surprise. While unexpected, he was a pleasant surprise.
At the same show, I had a reunion with Emma Olsen and her sister Betty. While Betty was younger than us, Emma and I were in the same English class senior year and survived a psychotic student teacher with the ultimate eye twitch. The experience not only bonded us, but now we both live in New York. This woman as unforgettable, but it brought us closer together.
As I think of the various people I cross paths with, I think of those I haven’t seen in forever. I see the faces of old cast mates of mine from various projects who I was close with for a time. Then I see the faces of friends of mine from college who pop up every once in a great while. Or friends of mine from writing groups who cheered me on as I penned my book. Then there are puppeteer and filmmaker friends that have shared their genius and knowledge with me such as Guenevere Dean.
I have friends that have gone to jail. I have friends who worship Satan. I have friends who have hustled, sold drugs, robbed armored trucks, you name it. Relax, they aren’t doing it now. It makes for lively conversation. It makes for some laughs. It also makes for people who don’t judge me when things are going wrong. People who fly right don’t always have that skill set.
Then I think of some of my friends who aren’t here. I see the faces of Chacho Vasquez, and hear him talking about his latest sexual conquest in one breath, but then he is educating me on how to screw someone over without getting caught just because he doesn’t want to see me stepped on. I see Joe Cannava, the friend who told me I would be on television someday, and to be patient. However, I will always remember Joe because he was the one who pushed me to write my book. He didn’t stop until I did mind you, and although he is no longer here in some ways he lives on through the words he inspired me to write. Add in Michelle Dombrowsky, who was a friend to me when I had no one in the comedy world. As I remember her huge laugh and even bigger heart, I just want to tell cancer it sucks. Lest I not forget Ray Payton, who used to give me spots at doing opening comedy for the shows at the TSI Playtime Series. Diabetes can suck it, too. Egardo Rodriguez, how could I forget his quick comebacks and snappy style? Sometimes, I even feel his spirit in front of the salon he once worked at. Otto Petersen, Dear Lord, ventriloquism is nothing without you, Sir. You taught me so much. And lastly but certainly not least, my breakfast buddy Spenser Kimbrough. Yes, we had breakfast every Saturday as the soy milk curdled in my coffee. You were one of the first people to tell me I was funny and should pursue comedy. Then an unknown cause took you in your sleep.
In my 30 years of life, I have met some people who have sucked, yes. At the same time, I have also met some awesome people. Not only it is wonderful they are in my life, it is a blessing. So what is the best birthday present I got this year? Answer: The tremendous people I call friends. Your generosity makes me cry. Thank you for being a part of my life.