The Search for Richard Rose – A September 11 Story

On September 11, 2001, just two days after I had begun a new position as a preschool teacher at my school in Boro Park, Brooklyn, the horrendous terrorist attacks unfurled themselves at several locations throughout the country.  As I taught my students in a school building that was only several miles away and within clear view of the World Trade Center, I looked out of my window to see an unbelievable sight: buildings engulfed in mushroom clouds of black unforgiving smoke.  Little did I know that within the hour, those buildings and the 2,871 people inside them would be no more.  Upon leaving my school that afternoon, I found a piece of paper on the ground that gave me a small sense of hope amid a world of sudden desperation and despair.  That paper inspired me to write the following story that was later published in a Queens College newspaper.

The Search For Richard Rose (top)

the-search-for-richard-rose-bottom.pngUPDATE: Right before I was about to publish this blog 16 years after I wrote the above news article, I googled “Richard Rose” and “Aon” to find out whatever happened to him.  According to my google search, he is alive and well and still working for that company.

A Life Lesson in a Journey to Mount Doom

The events in my life are steeped in reality peppered with bouts of imagination.  Reality is where I’m forced to live; my imagination is where I often choose to live.  It makes life more colorful and interesting in dealing with the mundanity of life.  However, I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail with my daughter the other day and the reality of our experience was just as exciting as what our imaginations brought us to during that journey.

My daughter got her first real taste of roughing it last Summer while at a sleepaway camp in New Jersey.  Part of her stay required her to spend an entire week hiking part of the Appalachian Trail with other teen campers.  They spent a total of five days on the trail hiking a total of 30 miles.  She told me that they slept underneath tarps and ate food from cans and she enjoyed the whole experience.  I was stoked knowing that my own daughter loved something that I had begun 20 years ago when I slept alone on top of a mountain, married, but without any children at the time.  At 17-years-old, my daughter was now old enough, tough enough and strong enough to do what I had been yearning to do since then.

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Emma in her element.

A few weeks ago, through the efforts of Dorothy Reilly of the Greenbelt Conservancy, we had the opportunity to meet Jennifer Pharr Davis, a female hiker who had broken the speed record for hiking the Appalachian Trail in only 46 days (most who hike the whole Trail typically need several months to do that).  After meeting her, hiking part of the Appalachian Trail became one of the items on our Summer to-do list.

With only a few days to go before Summer’s-end, my daughter and I set off to begin hiking part of  the Trail at the base of Bear Mountain in New York.  We already had all the necessary items with us to survive for a few days with the addition of a Lifestraw portable water purification device and a large solar charger that would become an emergency energy backup to power our cell phones in the mountains.

Our ascent up Bear Mountain was grueling.  It consisted of a series of hundreds of steep rock stairs that seemed to never end.  With our loaded-up frame packs on our backs (mine was 22 lbs, my daughter’s was 19lbs), this made the ascent the more challenging.  By the time we reached the one-mile mark along our journey, I had chest pains which stopped me in my tracks.  This scared me and for a good minute or so, I contemplated ending our hike then and there to make sure I’d be around in the future to to see both my kids go to college and get married.  After resting enough where the chest pains dissipated, we continued on our hike to the further reaches of the mountain.  Eventually we reached the top of Bear Mountain and saw a tower on the top while enjoying an amazing panoramic view of the valley below.  Far away from us still was West Mountain, the mountain that housed a stone shelter at the summit and our final goal for our journey.

Our trek through the Appalachian Trail brought us in contact with various forms of wildlife: deer, a praying mantis, and a large millipede.  These were reminders to us that while the trail was made for people, everything else was made for nature.

While half of our route was walkable, the other half was harrowing and dangerous and required us both to use very careful footwork navigating down rock scrambles desperately looking for safe footholds throughout.  This was our introduction into the reality of our adventure.  A sense of imagination started brewing in my head as we continued our dangerous, yet exciting journey towards the Shelter.

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“While half of our route was walkable, the other half was harrowing and dangerous…”

Our route crossed the path of the 1779 Trail, a trail with historical significance during the Revolutionary War.  I imagined the Continental Army marching along it as the British were close on their backs.

As our hike brought us down Bear Mountain and up West Mountain, there was a sense of desperation and urgency as the Sun slowly settled towards the horizon and the woods we were hiking through darkened more and more.  The gps watch that I wore to get a sense of our distance covered showed me at four miles.  My daughter and I were getting tired, our shoulders were killing us from carrying the heavy frame packs, and my feet were hurting.  The impending darkness made us committed to continuing until we found the Shelter.

Finally, our fifth mile brought us to one of the first unobstructed panoramic views of our journey since reaching the Bear Mountain summit hours before.  We were now near the top of West Mountain!  Looking across towards Bear Mountain, we saw the tower that we had passed right under earlier that day.  I was so giddy with excitement at that moment, I told my daughter that it is as if we were seeing the Tower of Mordor, a reference to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I imagined us two as characters from the story who had just engaged in an epic journey full of challenging terrain and danger, which is what we really engaged in thus far.

Upon studying my trail map very carefully, I noticed that the West Mountain Shelter was not along the Appalachian Trail, but about a quarter-mile off along the Blue Trail.  I used this moment as a life lesson to my daughter.  I told her that most people make quick decisions in their lives without really putting enough time and thought into their decisions.  These decisions eventually become bad and screw up their lives unnecessarily.  I explained to her that I had just spent my time carefully studying our hiking route and noticed that our route for reaching the shelter was incorrect.  It was not along the Appalachian Trail, but about 1/2-mile along the nearby Blue Trail.  If I didn’t take the time to study this, we would never find it and would be hiking in the dark all night long looking for it.  I hope that this lesson stays with her for the rest of her life.

At this point, we were somewhere between Miles 5 and 6 and were hiking along the edges of West Mountain in search of the Blue Trail.  After passing a series of awe-inspiring panoramic views of other mountains, valleys, lakes, the Hudson River, and the setting Sun, we were both bent on finding the seemingly-evasive West Mountain Shelter.  The map that I held in my hands told me that it was so close that I could smell it.  We then saw through the trees a series of tents with hikers sprawled throughout campsites

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Natural lighting created by the Sun. The mountains, trees and sky created by G-d.

at the top of the mountain.  As we continued along our route a little bit more, we saw the West Mountain Shelter.  Seeing this shelter made it feel like we had reached our epic journey in search of Mount Doom, the final resting place where Frodo was able to finally rid himself of the dangerous Ring.

As the last rays of sunlight disappeared into the darkness of the night, we set up our tents, enjoyed a meal together, and began a much-needed rest after a day packed with adventure.  In all, we had hiked 6.35-miles and scaled two mountains, each more than 1,000 feet in elevation. Our total hike lasted for only 4 hours 15 minutes, but the memories of our adventure together will last a lifetime.

We’re hooked.

 

Notorious S.I.A.C.

Notorious SIAC

March 9, 2014 – It was the 17th anniversary of rapper Biggie Smalls’ untimely death.  El Presidente, a local rapper from Staten Island, wanted to produce an update to Biggie’s classic rap song Hypnotize as an homage to him.  Better known as Notorious B.I.G., Biggie admired the local running community throughout Staten Island and was planning to record a song about it before he was brutally gunned down in a drive-by shooting in LA.  El Presidente, a long-time fan of Biggie’s, recorded Notorious S.I.A.C., the never-before-released running version of Hypnotize along with his fellow rappers from Brooklyn, JP and Klaygirl. This song was going to be a part of the high-concept album, Gonna Run From Yo’ Momma, but was pulled due to it’s controversial lyrics that mentioned such things as the High Rock Challenge among others.  Here’s the raw, unedited version that was recently unearthed from the vaults of the Staten Island Athletic Club:

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.