2016 – A Year In Review

For many people I know, 2016 has been looked upon as a year of sadness.  Many singers and celebrities that I grew up with in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s died this past year.  And with Donald Trump winning the Presidential election, many of my family and friends including myself were devastated.  We now have to worry about the future of our country in the hands of somebody who seems very ill-prepared to be the leader of our country.  On the surface, this year could easily be looked upon as one that many of us would like to forget.  However, in reflecting upon my own personal life, a lot of good and interesting things did in fact happen to me.  Some of these things involved personal growth in new endeavors in my life and some involved friends and family who did great things this year.

In January, I visited my brother Aaron and sisters Sarah and Rachel at my father’s house.  They are actually my half-sisters, but that really doesn’t matter to me.  I remember when they were both just born and how my family and I helped bring them up.  I am proud that they have grown up to become intelligent, responsible, and caring women who both have interesting careers.

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From left: Aaron, Sarah, Me, and Rachel

My brother Aaron got a job working with mentally challenged adults in Brooklyn.  He helps them live as independently as possible and has really excelled at his job within a short period of time.  With one of them who was severally autistic, Aaron was able to help bring him out of his shell by dancing and singing with him.

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Aaron with Ronnie, one the clients he worked with at his job.

My brother was in a live comedy sketch show in February.  He enjoyed the experience working with other actors.  You can see highlights of her performance here.

I am proud of my brother is that he recently came out in public as bisexual, something that took a lot of strength and soul-searching for him to do.

Doing stand-up comedy has been on my bucket list for at least a dozen years.  In April, I finally did it.  With the help of my friend Darin Magras who was my role model, I went out on stage during an open mic at the Looney Bin Comedy Club in Staten Island.  It wasn’t a pretty sight, but I was very relieved to finally get it done, kind of like taking a pee after having it stored in your bladder for 15 years.  You can see all the carnage of my comedy act here.

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I made comedy look easy.  Of course it was all an act.

The following month, my friend Will Sanchez contacted me about being a “very special guest” on his Manhattan public access cable show, Gotta Run With Will.  This show features people who are fixtures throughout the New York City running community.  At first I wondered why Will would want me to be a guest on his show being that I’m not the greatest runner and I wondered what could I possibly say that would interest his viewers. Will saw through my Facebook posts that I do have a life full of interesting things that could translate well on his show.  After all, I am a teacher, background actor, filmmaker, comedian, and the publicity director of the Staten Island Athletic Club.  But of all these things, Will was most interested in the fact that I played a naked dead guy on an episode of Law & Order: SVU.  If you’d like to see how my interview may have “cracked” some people up, you can view it here.

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On the set of Gotta Run With Will discussing something that seems to be captivating Will.

Two years ago, my friend Michael Ring contracted this very rare muscle disease called CIDP.  It incapacitated him for a long time.  Last year his range of motion was very limited and he was often confined to a motorized wheelchair.  Since then, has made amazing progress and attempted to walk the entire 13.1-mile length of the 2016 Brooklyn Half Marathon. I was asked to be one of his guides during his attempt.  Because we were walking the entire length, I decided it would be a good idea to film him during the whole event.  Here is a 6-minute documentary that I made using that footage to showcase his fantastic achievement: F*ck CIDP …One Year Later.

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My daughter Emma loves art and was offered by her high school a fantastic opportunity to work as an art intern for a professional artist.  From January to May, I had to leave my job 40 minutes early in order to pick her up from school, then drop her off at Smack Mellon, the place where her internship was held.  Every Wednesday, I went on an Indiana Jones adventure with my car throughout the streets of Brooklyn in order to make sure she arrived at her internship by 4:00pm.  It was difficult for me, but I knew that this opportunity was important for her future career in art.

My daughter’s friend had passed away and she was devastated by his death.  To help her and his family deal with it, she used art therapy to heal.  She drew a portrait of him made to look like his favorite anime character.  She had this artwork displayed at a public art exhibition as part of the culminating event of her internship at Smack Mellon.  After the exhibition was over, she presented it to his family as a gift and they were very pleased and grateful for receiving it.

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To draw her friend dressed as his favorite anime character, Emma used the composite photo to the right to create her drawing on the left.

This year, my friend George had been getting sick due to a failing kidney.  He is a great guy with a great family including two beautiful little girls.  His kidney was rapidly failing and he could not find a donor whose blood type was compatible with his.  After many of his friends and family members including myself were unsuccessful blood matches for him, George finally got lucky with Darren Corona.  Darren selflessly went through the whole medical procedure that essentially saved George’s life.  Darren has served as a role model for me and I’m sure many other people as well.  Soon after the surgery was a success, Darren and George were both featured in a news article which you can read here.

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Darren and George: so happy together.

In November, I elected not to run the NYC Marathon.  I ran the last three marathons as a pacer for the New York Road Runners Club and this time around I wanted to give it a rest.  However, several of my friends including Jacky, Catherine, and Danielle were first-time marathoners and I would like to acknowledge their achievement here.  One of them was Lisa Swan who probably worked harder than any of my friends to get to this point in her life.  Lisa was a self-described couch potato and very overweight at the time.  Just a few years ago she decided to get off of the couch and make a major change in her health and fitness for the better.  She started running road races and shed a ton of pounds while dropping down a few dress sizes.  Her stalwart determination to do what had to be done for her marathon training was unparalleled.  She serves as a role model in determination for many runners in our running club.  You can read all about Lisa’s amazing marathon story here.

My children continue to grow in many ways.  My daughter continues to pursue her artwork and creativity and enjoys listening to rock and heavy metal while my son continues to improve in his piano playing.  He has completed yet another year as a boy scout and loves playing Minecraft on the computer.  His growth has shot up this year by several inches and he is now taller than my daughter.  My daughter is happier at school and is surrounding herself with good friends more.  And yes, my son doesn’t smile too much for photos; it could be because he has uncomfortable braces in his mouth.  They will be coming out in 2017.

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Our shirts matched that day.

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The den leader and his boy scout son.

 

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Posing at one of the most photographed streets in Brooklyn.

Thanking Mr. Teret

Five years ago, I contacted my high school marine biology teacher by mailing him a letter.  He was one of the handful of teachers who have made a positive impact in my life and I needed to let him know how far his efforts went.  He was much more than a science teacher to me; he taught me how to write better, how to organize my thoughts, how to use logic, how to be responsible, and how to be more efficient in everything I do.  Most importantly, he developed in me a deep respect and interest in marine life that I still carry with me today.  And he was also funny.  In my high school yearbook he wrote, “Success and happiness to a nice squid, don’t flounder around”.

After I mailed my letter to Mr. Teret, he soon got back to me and was ecstatically thankful to me for contacting him.  We spoke on the phone and had a great conversation.  He told me how a few of his former students like myself have reached out to let him know that they too still have a love and interest in marine biology because of him.  I told him all the interesting things I’ve been doing in my life lately and he enjoyed hearing about them.  I also told him about a trip I was planning with my family to go on a whale watch in Provincetown, Cape Cod.  Back in 1982, Mr. Teret brought my class and me on our first whale watch trip together.  It was a pivotal trip in my life that began my life-long fascination with whales.

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Me with fellow members of my marine biology class taking notes on a research vessel, circa early 1980s.

Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Teret contacted me out of the blue.  He had just received a lifetime achievement award from the New York State Marine Education Association.  This award called the Founder’s Award, is a highly-coveted prize that very few will ever receive.  When he went on stage to receive this award, he mentioned a handful of his former students whom he had over the years and how they had contacted him years later to thank him for developing a life-long interest in marine biology.  One of the students he mentioned was me.  It brought me great happiness to hear this, possibly as much happiness to Mr. Teret as when I first contacted him five years ago to let him know how much he meant to my life.  The mutual appreciation between Mr. Teret and myself had now become full-circle.

I now impart my wisdom and fascination with marine biology to my own children.  My son, daughter and I recently assisted a marine scientist on a horseshoe crab count at a nearby beach, something you could say was 34 years in the making.

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Me trying to remove discarded fishing line that was tightly wound around the legs of a young horseshoe crab.  Eventually we removed all of the line and let the crab swim away.  I’m sure it was grateful for our efforts.

If you have a teacher who has made an impact in your life the way Mr. Teret has made in mine, I highly recommend that you contact them while you still can.  It’s a worthwhile endeavor that you won’t regret.

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I Am A Yes Man

This morning my eyes opened up at 6:00am as they are conditioned to do every day for work, but my body was in no condition at all to get out of bed.  I knew that if I didn’t force myself to go back to bed to get a few more hours of sleep, I could not use my precious unplanned Saturday to restore myself back to the normal person I once was just a few weeks ago.  You see, I’m a yes man, and a yes man needs at least one day out of the week to do absolutely nothing but rest.  And living the life of a yes man can bring a lot of excitement and adventure, but sometimes at a detrimental cost, which is extreme tiredness and irritability.

A yes man says yes to many opportunities or proposals that are presented to him.  In the romantic comedy of the same name, the story begins with the actor James Carrey playing a guy named Carl Allen who is always saying “no” to everything.  He signs up for a self-help program based on the premise of simply saying “yes” to everything.  This transforms his life and he gets to the point where he can only say yes to everything.  A lot of amazing and unexpected things happen to him along the way, but of course, he ends up getting so exhausted that he can no longer function.  During his “yes” adventures, he takes classes in Korean and is able to speak with a Korean storeowner, blind dates an arabic woman in full Muslim garb, role-plays at a Harry Potter-themed party, learns how to play the guitar, which helps him save a suicidal guy’s life, and meets the girl of his dreams who simply falls in love with him due to his zest for experiencing everything that life has to offer.  Towards the end of the film, he realizes that he cannot always say yes to absolutely everything because there are some things that a person genuinely doesn’t want to do.

Yes Man poster art.

For whatever the reason, I’m the kind of person who tries to find a reason to do something rather than a reason NOT to do something.  It may be rooted in wanting to please my own mother or to feed a need to help others, or simply it could be to please the adventurous side of me that wants to continue to do things in life that I have never done before, or it can be a combination of all of these things.  Or it may be that I have a very serious case of joie de vivre.  Whatever the reason, often saying yes to opportunities and requests from friends has brought me to new and exciting adventures in life, helped me make a lot of new friends and has taught me to open my mind to a world without limitations.  But my mom thinks I’m nuts to do as much as I do in my life and I agree with her.  I am often tired from doing as much as I do and my tiredness shows.  But being a yes man is addictive for me and I just can’t stop it.

When my daughter was a little girl, my yes man ways became apparent when she said this to me, “Daddy, you are different than Mommy; where she often says ‘no’, most of the time, you say ‘yes’ and sometimes ‘maybe'”.

Here are a bunch of interesting and crazy things I have done in my life where my yes man attitude has compelled me to make these things happen:

  • I participated in a police line-up to make some extra money
  • I took a course in Chinese in college for no other reason but for the challenge
  • I portrayed a naked dead guy in a Law & Order: SVU episode
  • I learned to play the piano
  • I’m the publicity director of my running club
  • I’ve raised over $4,000 for my running club’s scholarship fund
  • I’m the President of my condo building
  • I’ve smoked cigarettes for film and TV roles (I’m a non-smoker)
  • I’m a den leader of my son’s boy scout troop
  • I saved a shark’s life
  • I performed stand-up comedy at a comedy club
  • I saved several kittens’ lives
  • I participate in the polar bear plunge every January 1 at Coney Island.
  • I was a marathon pacer
  • I drove cross-country for an entire week with a film crew playing the body-double of a well-known actor
  • I started the process to donate my kidney to a friend who desperately needed a new one.  Unfortunately my blood type was different than his and I was not a match.
  • I performed surgery on a horseshoe crab

Just looking at the list above is dizzying to me and upon reflection, I almost don’t believe that I actually did these things.  I sometimes question myself why I do them.  But my answer to myself is always this: because life is short and you only have one life to live.

Being involved in helping others gives me great satisfaction when I know that my help  may have benefitted them in some way.  A friend of mine recently asked me to help teach her how to pace her runs using proper pacing techniques.  I made a customized pacing strip for her and ran with her for five miles using a pacing strip and a stopwatch.  A few weeks later, she was able to break her half marathon personal record by 17 minutes.  While this achievement was all her doing, I would like to think that I may have had a little to do with helping her achieve this amazing feat.  And it all started when she asked me to help pace her and I replied, “yes”.

My Saturday of doing nothing all day is almost over.  I am now well-rested, recharged, and at peace with myself.  I think I’m ready to experience another week of being a yes man.

 

 

Nightmare Toy – A True Story

By Josh Pesin.  Based on a true account by Emma Pesin.

Three years ago, I gave my daughter Emma a Ouija board for her birthday thinking that it would be a fun way that she and her friends can be entertained by “talking to spirits”.  Three years later, I wanted to destroy the thing realizing that this board was far from being a toy.

Just last night, my daughter and her friends got together to celebrate her 16th birthday.  After going out for dinner, the teens went downstairs to my basement to play card games and foosball.  Growing bored, one of her friends remembered that Emma had a Ouija board in her closet.  The last time they used this board was last March, just a few days after their friend Brian died of cardiac arrest.  They wanted to see if they could contact his spirit by asking personal questions like what his favorite TV show was, etc.  They put one of his Yu-Gi-Oh cards under the Ouija board in order to connect with his spirit.  The board indicated through his spirit that he was happy where he was at.  That happened last March.  What happened last night was a whole different story.

Late last night, my daughter ran out of her bedroom crying hysterically and absolutely terrified.  I had no idea what the hell was going on.  She told me that as she was laying in bed while the rain came down outside, she kept on hearing rubbing and breathing noises against her bedroom window.  You know, that squeaking sound one makes when they are cleaning a wet window.  It was 1:00AM at the time.  Once I woke up and came running to her, she grabbed me and wanted to sleep close to me that night fearing that spirits were trying to communicate with her.

Little did I know at the time that earlier that night, the teens had another “session” with the Ouija board in my basement.  They wanted to communicate with Brian’s spirit again because this time, Brian’s best friends were there and wanted to reach him.  First they took the planchette and circled the board several times, then they asked, “Brian, are you here?”.  It didn’t move, so they did it again.  It moved halfway up towards the word, “No”.  Then they tried it again.  This time it went to the word “Yes”.  Then they asked, “Is any spirit here?”.  Then it went to the letter “G”.  At exactly 9:40PM, the cell phones of both Emma and her friend Andriana rang at the same time.  Both girls picked up and there was silence.  Their phones rang several more times together and each time there was no voice on the other end.  With each call, the caller ID for each of their phones read, “No Caller ID – unknown”.  A total of four cell phones for each of my daughter’s four friends received the same number of calls at the same of time.  After they got these phone calls, Emma started to panic and they all went outside to burn the Ouija board.

Then Andriana received the following text: “LEAVE LEAVE LEAVE”.  Her friend Ivan received the message, “DO NOT COME BACK”.  Finally, her friend Kiran received a bunch of random numbers which turned out to be the coordinates of the cemetery for where Brian was buried.  All of these texts came from the same phone number that was traced to Ontario, Canada.  When they tried to call the number, nobody picked up.

Below are the actual screenshots from the texts mentioned in this true story:

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A Funny Thing Happened To Me

One of the items that I always had on my bucket list was to perform in a stand-up comedy routine.  Enough of my friends and family thought I was funny to them, but I knew that being funny in front of one person who I already knew was a whole different ball game than being funny in front of a crowd of strangers.  My fear of failure in doing a stand-up routine was enough of a reason for me to never actually attempt this feat.  Plus I always equated doing stand-up with all the of great comedians of my time such as Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Steven Wright, etc.  How can I possibly do what they do, so I thought?  I never personally knew anyone who did stand-up, so doing stand-up was simply a dream of mine that I knew would most likely remain on my bucket list until the day I died.

Several months ago, one of my friends in my running club, Darin Magras, started to post on Facebook that he was going to test out his comedy skills at local comedy clubs that had open mics.  For those who are unfamiliar with an open mic, a comedy club will often have an open mic an hour or two before the professional comedians come on to do their acts.  Anyone coming from off the street with their own comedy material and enough guts can go up and test their comedy skills during an open mic.  As I saw Darin continue to post about the open mics he was doing, I began to get interested in seeing him perform.  He then invited me to one of his shows.  Unfortunately, I had to cancel due to another commitment.  One beautiful weekend morning, I ran several miles along the Promenade near where I live.  When I run alone, I often have an internal dialogue with myself about whatever crosses my mind at the moment.  For whatever reason, my mind thought about what Darin had been doing with his comedy and I thought to myself, “Hey, what if I came up with a bunch of my own jokes?  Since Darin has been doing it, why can’t I do it too?”  As I continued my run, I came up with several original jokes that I could potentially use in a routine.  Incidentally, when I am running, many red blood cells go to my brain and I become an absolute genius.  It is during my runs when I come up with my best ideas and running has often been my brainstorming sessions.

When I got home, I typed up all the jokes that I came up with during my run.  Later that day, I told Darin that I just wrote some jokes and I’d like to take a crack at stand-up myself.  He was now my comedy role model and I said to myself, “If he could do it, I can do it too!”  Darin was thrilled that he now had a new protege who wanted to do what he does.  And I was thrilled that that this dormant item on my bucket list was finally awakening.

However, the list of jokes that I had in my notes appeared a little too flimsy for me.  If I told them in the most comedic way possible with all the appropriate hesitations, gestures and facial expressions, then MAYBE I could stretch it out to a 3-minute routine.  This is not enough for a full-fledged routine where many comedians spend a good 7-8 minutes engaging the audience.  It would take me another week where I was inspired enough to add more jokes.  And of all places, these new jokes popped into my head while at my job.  My actual performance turned out to be somewhere between 5-6 minutes long.

It was now April 2 and a Saturday morning, a big day for me since I was to perform that evening.  I made sure I stayed in bed an extra hour or two that morning to get my necessary “catch-up sleep” so my body and brain would be well-rested for the big event.  I was so afraid that I would fail miserably that I only told two people about my performance, my brother Aaron and my good friend Mark Vogt.  I knew that no matter how much I sucked at comedy, I would get their support.  The day before, April 1, I made a very ballsy move by posting on my Facebook wall, “I will be performing stand-up comedy at the Looney Bin on Staten Island this Saturday at 6:00pm”  I was hoping that everyone would think that this was just an April Fool’s joke.  Some actually believed it and some thought it was just a joke.

In the afternoon, I met my brother Aaron.  We went to the park where our daughters played together while I rehearsed my routine with him.  I wanted to time my routine with all the hesitations and pauses to see how long it will actually be.  While rehearsing, a little Jewish boy inserts himself between us and becomes my “audience”.  After saying a few f-bombs during my routine, I decide to stop speaking and I shoo him away.  Boy, I wonder what he told his parents after that.

The night of the show, I meet Darin and his wife Katie.  They introduced me to the other comedians who were slated for the open mic.  A big part of what motivated me to do this was that Darin told me that since this an open mic, comedians were there to test out their new jokes and if need be, many of them could consult their notes in the middle of their act.  My gameplan was to read from my notes almost verbatim, but while still “performing” my jokes to make them funny.  I learned that stand-up comedy is not just about having good material, but in its execution.  And sometimes the execution is everything.

There were 8-10 comedians who were slated to go up and perform that night.   I believe that I was number seven.  One of them was a 10-year-old boy.  When I first saw him, I got nervous and said to myself, “How am I going to do my act while saying profanities in front of him?”.  I soon found out that this boy had a filthy mouth himself and his mom, one of the other comediennes, was a part of the open mic.

Once the show began and as the acts began then ended, for some reason I was antsy to come up with a few last-minute jokes.  I had two random clown noses with me that my brother had given me and I decided to add them to my act.  Additionally, I added a last-minute joke about a mob guy waiting for me since I owed him money and another joke making fun of the fact that I had to hold onto my notes to do my act.  Finally I go on.  As strange as i may seem, I felt very comfortable doing my act.  Being well-rested and having my notes in front of me made all the difference.

After I was done and the rest of the comedians finished their acts, I was on a super-high knowing that I had done something that was on my bucket list for many years.  Before I performed that night, Darin had told me that doing stand-up can become very addictive and he was right.  I almost want to do it again, but with new jokes of course.

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Clowning around with Darin.

I would like to thank Darin for being my comedy role-model and for encouraging me to try it out and making me feel at ease (“Don’t worry Josh, everyone is supportive of each other there”).  And to MC Patrick, Joe Rombi, Michelle Conrad, and all the other supportive comedians who rooted for me that night no matter how much I may have actually sucked.  And to my bucket list, I say “Fuck you, you’re MY bitch now!”.

Below is video footage of the glorious disaster that you can call my “comedy act”.

WARNING: You may be wasting a good 5-6 minutes of your life by watching this video.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Korean Dictator, My Daughter and I

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It’s amazing how a series of events happening halfway around the World can cause a chain reaction and impact the lives of ordinary citizens.  This is the true story of North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-Un’s involvement in an international cyber attack and how it directly affected my daughter and I.

Back in 2013, we were both background actors for the film Spiderman 2.  We worked for one day and at the end of the year, each of us received a W2 statement for the day we worked.  Our personal information such as our names, social security numbers and address were now on file with Sony Pictures Entertainment, the company that produced the film.  A year later, the Sony film The Interview was about to have its theatrical release.  This comedy starring Seth Rogan and James Franco was about two reporters who are hired by the CIA to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.  With word of this controversial film getting out, the North Korean government warned against possible ramifications with the release of the comedy.  Their government essentially threatened Sony.  On December 1, 2014, Sony learned that hackers engaged in an all-out cyber-attack against them.  As a result of this attack, thousands of confidential and embarrassing emails were exposed between Sony executives and many famous Hollywood celebrities including Angelina Jolie, Kevin Hart, Channing Tatum, George Clooney, Alex Trebek and Will Smith.  You can read more about the story here.

The film was so controversial that on December 17, 2014, Sony announced that it was pulling the theatrical release due to terrorist threats.  Sony decided to release it on DVD and a limited theatrical release.

A week later on December 24, my daughter and I each received a letter in the mail from Sony.  Part of the letter read:

“…your work with [Sony] may potentially have been compromised as a result of such brazen cyber attack.”, and “…personally identifiable information that you provided to [Sony] may have been obtained by unauthorized individuals…”.

With the above letter, Sony offered my daughter and I one full year of identity protection services at no charge since both of our personal information was now compromised.

On December 19, the FBI confirmed that the North Korean government was behind the Sony hack.  No doubt the directive came from Kim Jong-Un himself.

My daughter and I became implicated in this whole North Korean hacking story simply because we wanted to have fun being in a film.  Little did we know what would unfold a year after we worked on it and how it would involve us on a personal level.  World events can affect us all.