One of my favorite gifts is a rather weighty and sizable prop plane ornament, given to me ten years ago by Joey M., a then nine-year-old fellow actor in New York’s Radio City Christmas Spectacular. He bestowed me with this memento as a final gift during our annual Secret Santa gift exchange. He gave it to me as a reminder of a specific moment in the show, but it has come to symbolize a greater gift I was given by him and so many others. One I try to share as often as possible.
December 24, 2004
I sat alone in my room at the Doubletree hotel in Boston and ended a phone call with my family in Orlando. I summoned as much cheer as possible from my aching body to wish them a merry Christmas Eve. I didn’t fool them at all.
Some people get all bent out of shape by use of the phrase “happy holidays.” I suppose it’s because they prefer others greeted them exclusive with the phrase “merry Christmas” this time of year or not at all. Personally, it makes me happy when people wish me good tidings of great joy (or any amount, for that matter).
A few weeks ago I uploaded the above picture of a banana bread loaf I made on Facebook. Who knew so many of you liked banana bread? Since I can’t get a loaf of banana bread to each and every one of you, what I can do is share this recipe with you! (I wish I could take credit for the recipe, but it’s celebrity chef Tyler Florence’s recipe.)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 overripe bananas
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Preheat over to 350 degrees F and lightly grease a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
Mash 2 of the bananas with a fork in a small bowl so they still have a bit of texture. With an electric mixer fitted with a wire whisk, whip the remaining bananas and sugar together for a good 3 minutes; you want a light and fluffy banana cream. Add the melted butter, eggs, and vanilla; beat well and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix in the dry ingredients just until incorporated; no need to overly blend. Fold in the nuts and the mashed bananas with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Give the pan a good rap on the counter to get any air bubbles out.
Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Don’t get nervous if the banana bread develops a crack down the center of the loaf; that’s no mistake, it’s typical. Rotate the pan periodically to ensure even browning.
Cool the bread in the pan for 10 minutes or so, and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing. Toast the slices of banana bread, dust with confectioner’s sugar, and serve.
Enjoy and merry Christmas!
And if you’re really bad with recipes, here’s a link to a video with Tyler making this very banana bread!
Now that two major events of the fall have passed (Thanksgiving and the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree), I can say that the holidays are in full swing. Unfortunately, I’m unable to say the same about the total number of written blog posts for this time of year. Nothing’s swinging there, no movement at all. One reason for my sedentary post numbers is that I’m not in New York this fall. The other is that I’ve been toiling over a hot MacBook Pro working on my next book, The Raindancer.
The writing style for this book is a departure from my usual cheeky regaling of firsthand experiences. Just about everything you’ve read of mine so far has been non-fiction. The Raindancer, an inspired by real events tome, requires that I take the essence of real-life situations and populate them with fictitious characters in imagined settings and still have them read as plausible to the reader.
How am I doing that?
I’ve completed a basic outline and book proposal (a more in-depth outline) that covers, themes, characters and their development, conflicts, blah, blah, blah. Next comes—
As Ernest Hemingway so eloquently put it, “the first draft of anything is shit.” That’s because the first draft is a the phase when the writer put his thoughts on paper, real or virtual. Writers are encouraged to write with wild abandon since writing is rewriting and rewriting and rewriting again.
I sat at my keyboard ready to let the thoughts in my head flow freely from my fingertips to my keyboard and. . .nada. Nix. Ne rien. This wasn’t like telling about the time I stood waiting on a subway platform at 2:00 a.m. with one of New York’s seedier denizens lurking around. I had to put my main character in a specific place and time and have him realistically experience things in a fictional setting.
That’s my challenge. I have to create as opposed to recall events.
This isn’t so bad, as sometimes I can swap out an interest in marching band with an interest in theater (since I know about that and it won’t change the direction of the story). The real fun comes in when I have to write about I have no experience with, like motorcycles. I can’t fake my way through that because anyone familiar with motorcycles will see right through my writing. I can’t swap out that hobby with something about which I have a working knowledge, like knitting. It won’t fly. Everything I know about motorcycles can fit on the head of a pin.
So in instances like that, I have to interview people, people who have a working knowledge and appreciation of motorcycles. Pity I don’t like talking one on one to people, right?
Typically, I prepare my questions in advance, thinking of the entire book and what specific information will I need to glean from the interviewee(s). We get together, I tell them exactly what the book is about so that there’s no misinterpretation as to what’s going on, and we start in. It’s like being Arsenio Hall with a celebrity guest, but without the set, the audience, the lights, the band, and the big check. It is however way more fun than Mr. Hall’s job, I’m sure.
I have a personal relationship with 90% of the people I’ve interviewed thus far, so that gives us both a certain level of trust which puts us both at ease. Each and everyone of my subjects has answered every question asked of them, but they’ve also given me a lot of background on what else was going on in their lives at that time. And more often than not it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. It’s the nitty-gritty parts of life. It’s been the writers dream of getting for character development.
In the beginning, I thought I could conduct these interviews and rely on taking notes during the session to catch all the relevant information.
Because these people are friends of mine, they’re sharing things with me that are personal. Things I’ve never known, so of course, I’m going to be engrossed in what they’re telling me. Can you imagine taking notes while catching up with someone you haven’t seen in a few years? Yeah, it doesn’t make for total recall.
Thank you, Steve Jobs, for putting a voice recorder into every iPhone. Now I whip out my iPhone and record the interviews.
After a couple of days I listen the recording and cherry-pick all the stuff I need for the book. Then I mull over where all this raw information is going to go and how I’ll disguise it as fiction, and finally start weaving it loosely into the first draft.
Easy, huh? (That was abject sarcasm at its finest.)
I never thought it’d be easy, but it’s more challenging than I thought. Ergo, the delayed timeline. The cool thing is that every step of the way, the people I’ve needed to to interview have popped up at exactly the right time I’ve needed them. And they’ve all been more than eager to help out.
I hoped to have the first draft done by the end of the year, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. And that’s okay. I’m dedicated to this project and believe that this book has the potential to change a lot of people’s lives for the better. I’m sure of it.
So while my butt is in Orlando and a part of my heart is still in New York; I’m pouring the rest of myself into this book and spending long-awaited quality time with my family and friends.
In 1991, I saw the Radio City Christmas Spectacular for the first time and before the curtain came down on the performance I added the goal of someday performing on the great stage at Radio City Music Hall to my Bucket List. Eight years later, I auditioned for the show’s choreographer and director and pulled off what I knew was my best audition at the time and was rewarded with two contract offers, neither of which I could accept. Little did I know the opportunity to don elfwear and a baby bear ensemble with a matching bonnet (as well as Frosty the Snowman gear) would present itself again two years later, thanks to one of my other wildest dreams coming true.
If you’ve read Walking Tall: A Memoir About the Upside of Small and Other Stuff, you know the story of God summarily closing a door, but also knocking a wall down to grant me access to people, places, and experiences that otherwise would’ve never come my way. (And if you haven’t read Walking Tall yet, click the link above for info on where to purchase your copy and get caught up.)
For eleven consecutive years I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best people in live theater across the country and in New York (six years in touring companies of the Christmas Spectacular and five years in New York).
At the close of my fifth season in New York (2011), I wept bitterly in the stage left wings as I knew in every fiber of my being that that would be my last year sporting elfwear for Radio City, but graciously God gave me another season, a bonus season if you will—the Christmas of 2012. That was pretty awesome indeed. And when that twelfth season came to an end, I shed no tears. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and satisfaction for having been so richly blessed beyond my wildest dreams.
I think you know where I’m going with this . . .
So to dispel any conjecture, here goes. Plain and simple, I won’t be returning to the Music Hall this year. Calls went out yesterday and today and I was not offered a contract. Given the way I’ve seen God work in my life, I see this not as a snub of any sort, but as another instance of God closing a door. This time I suspect He’ll rip the proverbial roof off to present my next opportunity. So rest assured there’ll be no worrying or wringing of hands on my end.
With that said, I’d like to extend a heartfelt thanks to Linda Haberman for giving twelve unbelievably glorious Christmas seasons that will be forever etched in my memory. To all the singers, dancers, crew, front of house hosts, animal handlers, musicians, production people it’s been an honor to work with and for you—you freakin’ rocked my world in ways you don’t even know. You really have become a second family to me. And to the friends I’ve made in Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Minneapolis, Seattle, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston, and New York because of my involvement with the show, thank you for opening your hearts and extending your hospitality to me. You’ve all given me memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.
To my friends who schlepped from as far as Honolulu and Amsterdam and points in between, thank you for deeming my small involvement in that little show at the Music Hall worthy of the your time, energy, and hard-earned dollars. This includes old Disney friends who had no idea I was even in the show until they saw me onstage, and everyone who ever asked for house tickets (yes, even those of you leisurely got me your ticket info). For me, seeing each of your radiant faces after a performance and parading you and yours around backstage made me feel like a king. Thank you for sharing your holidays, anniversaries, and once in a lifetime moments with me.
As you can see this isn’t about me. It’s about all of you and how you, each in your own way, have enriched my life. With what you’ve all given me, there’s no way on Earth I could be bitter about it coming to an end.
So what’s next? I’m not at liberty to give details at the moment, but there’s been some exponential movement going on with one of my screenplays. All I can say is who knows what God’s got up his sleeve.
Break a leg, 2013 Radio City Christmas Spectacular Cast and Crew like I know you will!
I only hope someone’s going to pick up the Scones Thursday mantle and do me proud.