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SNL40

February 16, 2015

Tonight the only TV event I care about aired–the 40th Anniversary Saturday Night Live Special. Overall it was a fun tribute to the series. There were a lot of missteps and things wrong with it, sure, and there are and have been a lot of things behind-the-scenes wrong with SNL throughout it’s history.

But it’s a huge part of MY history.

For as long as I can remember, Saturday Night Live has been a staple of my life, and a constant source of happiness. There are skits that I distinctly remember watching in the early ’90s when they first aired and laughing my ass off at them, and laughing at them the same way when I see them in syndication. There are skits and episodes I only ever saw in syndication because they were way before my time, but I shared laughter with my family because they remember watching them in real time and cracking up at them. It’s a show that brings my family together and one that’s always been a source of comfort for me and for that I’ll be forever grateful. I recall purchasing the Best of Eddie Murphy special on VHS and forcing my family members to watch it at least once a day—thankfully, they didn’t seem to mind too much.

When Comedy Central started airing reruns I’d build my schedule around that and the reruns of Kids in the Hall. I would quote Wayne’s World ad-nauseum to whoever would listen. I was inspired by “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy” and built joke websites with my friends based solely one series of funny and absurdist one-liners. I might not have been the most popular kid in school by any means—but I made my little group of friends laugh (or at least hoped I made my friends laugh)—and that was all that mattered to me.

At one point in my early teen years I got really into the history of the show and would carry around that huge, hardcover 25th anniversary book with me everywhere, reading passages from it like it was the Bible. I’d get weird looks from other students who thought the sight of anyone reading a book of that size not for school was weird, regardless of the subject matter. I devoured every bit of information about the show and the craft of sketch comedy and aspired to one day find myself in one of those SNL writers rooms—I even took a stand up class and entertained the idea of becoming a stand up comedienne. The show also taught me that women can be and most definitely are funny. From Gilda Radner to Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jan Hooks, Julia Sweeney or Cheri Oteri, I found a woman I could relate to in some way that gave me hope that I could fill people’s lives with as much joy as they did to mine.

Sure, I’ve gotten cynical towards the show over the past few years. And, admittedly, I haven’t really watched it regularly for the better part of a decade, but the place it holds within my heart will always remain. Re-watching classic episodes non-stop this past week has been a blissful, cathartic affair. So many of those skits transport me back to my youth and not only make me laugh, but fill me with a sense of nostalgia and happiness. Watching again also make me realize that, deep down, being in that writers room is still a dream of mine. Maybe my dream is to get in a time machine and be a writer/cast member from the ’70s-’90s, but I’d settle for the former, too.

It might seem pathetic to babble on for this long about a TV show, but, I mean it, it’s truly more than just that to me. SNL and TV in general in many way has been both a best friend and therapist of sorts throughout my life—maybe that’s fucked up and wrong, but if it made me happy then who’s to say?

Thank you, Lorne Michaels. Thank you, Saturday Night Live, even if being a part of it is an unattainable dream, it’s given me a goal I never want to stop striving for—and that’s making people laugh and smile through my work. Here’s to 40 more years to come!

Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

In Remembrance: 9-11-01

September 12, 2014

I’ve been reading a lot of people’s beautiful accounts of where they were and what they were doing on this day, thirteen years ago (one of note is comix creator Dean Haspiel’s powerful and relatable depiction of his experience that morning.) I realized that I don’t think I’ve ever written down my story.

But that makes me think: why should my story matter? On that same note–why should the story of anyone who wasn’t actually there or didn’t lose anyone on that day matter? Who am I to write an account–I wasn’t in the city when it happened. But, I didn’t have to be there. I didn’t have to have that experience. Because while the nation-wide mourning on this day is a blanketed feeling we may have all experienced, everyone’s own pain, loss, suffering and memories of the day are unique. So, here is my story.

As a child, the one word I could use to describe myself was paranoid. I’m still a pretty paranoid adult, but I used to get *really* freaked out over everything back then. As I’ve mentioned before, I was obsessed with the Book of Revelation, often envisioning different ways the world could possibly end. These thoughts would cloud my mind and make it hard to focus on anything else. If I were having fun, they would interrupt my good time and force themselves into my mind so a day of fun turned into a day of fear. I remember one instance of going down to the city to attend the Ringling Brothers Circus with family. As I walked around and marveled at the big buildings, my awe turned quickly to horror, imagining a bomb going off right in the middle of everything, or the buildings toppling down and crushing everything in their wake. This happened only about a year or so before the events of 9/11 transpired.

I don’t remember much about my day on September 11, 2001. Just that it was remarkably… normal. Every school chose to handle how they told the students what happened differently. Mine opted to have the teachers not say anything at all.

So when the two planes crashed into the Twin Towers on the morning of September 11, 2001, I was completely unaware. Blissfully ignorant that the world was falling down around me—only 20 or so miles away from where I was sitting, in my 8th grade science class.

When I left school that day my grandma was nervously awaiting me. As soon as I got to her she told me the news. “A plane flew into that World Trade Center.” I really had no clue what that meant. I think I responded with something along the lines of, “Oh geez, is everyone ok?” She didn’t respond. She probably didn’t even know where to begin—but the news would tell me everything I needed to know—but never wanted to.

The news for the next few days was a constant stream of reminders of the horrific tragedy that took place. Seeing it happen for the first time—and every time after that—left a knot in my throat and an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I didn’t know what any of this meant, but it felt like a horrible nightmare—one that had plagued me for what felt like years—coming true in a way that I couldn’t control or understand.

My uncle worked on Wall Street when 9/11 happened. We didn’t hear from him for an entire day. It turned out he made it onto a ferry and into New Jersey, where he eventually reached some cousins-in-law who took him in for the night. That uncertainty of where he was or what happened to him didn’t settle until he finally made it home, two days later. When we heard he was ok it was a relief—but it was hard to be happy when so much awfulness was all around us.

It was hard to avoid the news. The only keywords being thrown around at the time were “terrorism,” and “war.” I wanted to shut off everything—including my brain—and pretend like nothing was wrong, but it was impossible. I had to finally face my fear, but it didn’t make it go away. Sleepless nights of hyperventilating and panic attacks that had ceased over the past year returned with a vengeance. I didn’t lose what others had lost. I wasn’t there to experience it firsthand. I didn’t even witness the events as they were unfolding on the news—but I still felt it. I felt everything. We all did.

The year anniversary took place a week after my first day in high school. We congregated in the gym to share our memories. I didn’t like remembering, but I had to. We also had occasional assemblies for “what to do if doomsday occurs” scenarios. I didn’t like having to think about those, but I had to.

Every year after it for a long time I dreaded September 11th, both for fear that it might happen again (my thoughts of that started to only really occur on that day) and simply because I hated remembering. I hated thinking of those images on the TV, recalling my feelings witnessing them and worrying about my uncle. I felt for all those who lost who had to remember each year.

I’ve started to hate remembering less. I still shudder when the news replays the events of that day, but I no longer live in fear of its anniversary each year. I don’t mind reading peoples’ accounts from that day. I’m now ok with sharing what I remember with others.

And that’s why we have to remember.

So now, thirteen years later, I’ve been able to recall my account of that day. Thirteen years—meaning infants who lost their mothers or fathers that morning are the age now that I was when it occurred. It’s surreal to think of. How far have we come since then? In some ways, tremendously, in others, frightfully not. But if there’s one day where we can all stop and just—remember, together—maybe we’ll someday have the ability to come together more than just once a year, and not just because of a tragedy. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, and I know that’s not thinking I often have, but if this day instills hope rather than fear, then we have come a long way.

In honor of the 100th anniversary on February 1 of New York City’s famed Grand Central Station, write an essay about a time in your life when you travelled—it could be daily travel, such as the commute to and from a job; seasonal travel, such as heading to a beach community every summer; or a vacation, such as a trip to a foreign country. Focus on what compelled you to go and the transition of leaving one place and arriving in another.

“Come on, where the hell is this bus? You know, years ago, the bus would come a few minutes early and they’d let you sit inside with the air conditioner on if it was hot out like this, not make you wait in the heat like animals.” The blazing sun beat down upon my small face as my grandmother and I waited for the #26 Beeline to take us home. Every day after school an executive decision had to be made: walk 10 minutes and wait in the heat for the bus or walk 10 minutes and wait in the heat for the train? On this day, we opted for the bus. By the time we reached the bus stop, we realized it probably would have been cooler to wait for the train.

With my mother now working a 9-5 job, my grandma and I were left to our own devices to get home. If the weather was nice enough, we’d walk. The walk through the quaint town my grammar school was located in usually stopped being so wonderful when my heavy, rolly backpack started to weigh us down and we’d spend the rest of the trip irritated and praying that someone, anyone, would spot us alongside the road and give us a lift. Sometimes we were just lucky enough for that to happen, but not very often. Our other option was the train. We’d hop on and ride it the one stop home, hopping off right as the ticket-taker got to our car. I never realized that riding one stop rarely required a ticket, so I felt as if we were doing something wrong and dangerous. My grandmother noticed the look of amazement on my face the first time it happened, so she made a game out of it from that point on. “Quick, he’s in the next car; let’s stand by the door so he won’t notice us!” She’d whisper to me. It made the humdrum trip exhilarating, and then quickly back to mundane once we’d leave the magical Grand Central-bound train and get off at the Fleetwood stop, walking through the pigeon-shit piss-scented tunnel into the outside world. Then I’d get a bagel sandwich at Dunkin’ Donuts, which was pretty nice.

It was the last week of fourth grade and it was unseasonably warm for late June. Fortunately, the last week of school also meant it was dress down week, so I had the option of wearing something cooler than the stuffy white collared cotton top and navy blue cotton/polyester blend shorts, cuffed ankle socks and loafers uniform I’d wear any other day. (Most girls opted for the much more flattering light blue skirt, but I found the awkward boy-tailored shorts to be more my style. And in 8th grade when I would ruin them and many a classroom chair with period blood I’ll look back and be content with my clothing decision.) However, my forest green coolots were still not cutting it in the unbearable heat. I closed my eyes and dreamed of going home, changing into my swimsuit, diving into my pool in our backyard, and swimming, the cool, chlorine water covering my entire body.

Then I remembered that I didn’t have a pool. Or a backyard. And that my best option would be to turn on my old, cumbersome AC in my room and take a cold shower or bath—which was never fulfilling NOR did it ever really do the trick of cooling me down. But it was my only option, and so I embraced it, and thinking about it at least helped me cope with our wait. My grandmother was still cursing the bus driver when the bus crawled up to the bus stop, #52: Destination Secor Housing, Bronx, NY. Damn!

The bus was an adventure in and of itself as well. The yellow cord was like a lifeline, forget to pull it and you’re done for, doomed to circle around your town on the bus forever. Or you could pull it at the next stop and have to trek your way back to where you’re supposed to be in the snow, scuffing up the brand new glasses you just got from the eye doctor. Another bus creeped up to the stop, #26: Bronxville RR Station. Score!

The bus driver scurried off the bus frantically with a phone in his hand. “Just one moment, everyone, I need to handle a situation at the bus depot. We’ll be leaving shortly,” he said with a think Island accent as he rushed off into the shade. The bus was parked. And locked. And air conditioned. And we, all of my elderly homeward-bound comrades and myself, were on the outside looking in. I’ll spare you the swears that flew out from my grandmother’s mouth, as this is a family publication.

The daily commute is a thing that brings people together. Office workers who hate each other 90% of the time can commiserate if the ride to work was hellish. No one argues whether or not traffic is bad. But even when gas prices soar and roadwork and rubbernecking gets the best of you, pretty much everyone agrees that public transportation is about as bad as it can get. I’m not one of those people. Getting to zone out in my own world for 45 minutes to an hour, doing nothing but watching the world pass quickly by while simultaneously getting in some of the best people watching ever is one of my favorite things. Getting to see familiar faces everyday and piece together life stories based on where they got on and off provides wonderful material for writing. The only thing I really dislike about it is the waiting. The knowing you’ll have to brave the weather but not knowing HOW long you’ll have to brave it for can be a killer. Despite that, I’m thankful for those public transportation trips of my youth. The years of travelling with my grandmother built up my knowledge and resilience in my later, license-less years. But, I mean, if you’re offering me a ride, sure I’ll take it …

The bus driver returned a few minutes later and let us all onto the comfortable, non-sweltering bus. We were able to finally breathe and enjoy the cool air for the five-minute ride home. Our journey was coming to a close. At my grandma’s signal, I reached my small hand up and yanked the yellow-cord. I beamed when the bell gave out a little “ding” and the stop sign at the front of the bus flashed. As the bus approached the stop I could see our apartment, where my bed and my TV and, most of all, my air conditioner were. Repeats of Arthur called my name. The heat wouldn’t bother me anymore, and victory was so close I could taste it. We exited the bus and slugged our way over to our side of the apartment complex and made our way to the front door. The sun was bearing down on us, my skin felt clammy and I could feel the beads of sweat forming after only being outside again for a few minutes. But we made it, we were there. Home was where my heart and sweaty body longed to be. My grandmother placed the key in the keyhole and … nothing happened. It was the wrong key. She had the wrong keys. We had the wrong keys. There was no getting inside until someone either came out and let us in, or we maneuvered our way in through the basement on the opposite side of the building. Even then, we’d still be stuck in the hallway of our apartment until either my mother or grandfather got home hours later.

Another thing I’ve learned from the travels of my youth is to always remember to bring your keys. Do not lose them, and don’t forget them at home. This is something I’m still working on.

In the end, the summer had its victory over us. And I did the only thing I could to accept our crippling defeat: “Maybe we could go and play in the park?”

The slide never burned more than it did on that day, but dammit, it still felt good.