2017 was a memorable year for me for the simple fact that I turned 50-years-old in June. Turning 50 affected me in a negative way and made me question and wonder about all that I have done in my life up to this point. Summing up this year like I have done in previous years has helped me reflect on the things I have done and has been a kind of therapy for me. Writing this blog has helped me realize that I truly do have a meaningful life if I spend the time to reflect on it through my writing.
I began January making a kind of comeback to running. I registered for the bi-weekly Miles Mania speed series held at the Ocean Breeze Indoor Track in Staten Island. At that time, I had a pronounced belly, but I gave it my all each time I ran a race event. By March, I had accumulated enough points in the series to come in 2nd place out of 12 men in my age group. I won a trophy for this not because I was the best runner, but because I showed up for the most races. And running the races in this series brought me back in time to when I was on the boy’s track team at Sheepshead Bay High School.
My running club friends posing with our hard-earned trophies for the series.
In February, I did my first background acting gig of the year portraying a Russian KGB agent for the TV series, The Americans. We filmed at a set made to look like the interior of the Russian KGB Headquarters back in 1980. The set was located in Brooklyn, a far cry from it’s intended time and place. I had to smoke in the scene, but production always gives the actors herbal cigarettes since they’re less toxic and irritating than the real thing.
During our Mid-Winter Break in February, I brought my kids snow-boarding in the Poconos. It was the first time all of us had snowboarded. I was in pain for the rest of the day from constantly falling, but I still had a good time with my kids.
In March, I ran as a 1:55 pacer for the NYC Half Marathon. It was very difficult for me to maintain this pace since I was overweight and out of shape. But I somehow managed to pull it off by crossing the finish line within 30 seconds of my pace goal. By the look on my face in the photo below, you could see that the struggle was real. My co-pacer Sarah on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying herself. I was in a recovery for days as a result of this.
Also during March, I worked on an episode of Law & Order: SVU playing the strangest character: a big blue bunny. I was actually portraying one of those cheap knock-off costumed characters walking around in Times Square. Elmo and other popular characters cannot be used on shows like this since they are licensed characters and shows need to use only generic unlicensed characters like Mr. Big Blue Bunny. In the scene, me and another costumed character were on a cigarette break sitting down with our heads off. Our “action” was to smoke an herbal cigarette during the filming of the scene. The director asked me to keep on taking puffs of my cigarette to show how stressed I was working as a big blue bunny. I think I smoked the most in my life that evening. If I ever get lung cancer, you’ll know why
My friend Jacky and I were teammates for the High Rock Challenge, a wildly popular adventure race held in the Staten Island Greenbelt every April. This race had a series of mystery challenges that punctuated a 10k race course with challenging trails. Our team was called Muddy Buddies. We had fun taking on the challenges throughout the course and of course we got muddy.
After the race, my friend Darren Corona gave my friends and I challenge: eating a piece of the stinkiest food in the world: surstrÖmming. This Swedish delicacy is fermented herring that according to one Japanese study, has one of the most putrid food smells in the world. As soon as Darren opened up the can, a bunch of flies began flying over his head and almost every one of our friends ran far away from him. Three brave souls ate a piece of this stuff: Darren, Mark Vogt, and I. It was an experience bordering on insanity that I will never forget.
Celebrating our achievements with post-race beers
My friend Linus, a fellow runner and neighbor of mine, is a very creative person. One of his hobbies is to g-write or run routes that draw out various shapes and words using his gps watch. He dedicated one of his runs to spelling out my name in the neighborhood we both live in. It takes special attention to detail to do something like this and that’s Linus’ forte.
Each May while I run as a pacer for the Brooklyn Half Marathon, my uncle Richard stands at Mile 7 and takes photos of all the runners he knows with his iPad. The photo below is one of the last photos he took of me before he passed away in November.
In June, I “ran” the Palisades Climb, a grueling half-marathon along the very treasurous New Jersey Palisades. I made the mistake of not carrying my own water since there was hardly any water stops except one. The race director warned us of this in the race information we had to read. The second half of this race was spent bouldering up and down huge rocks. All of my teammates who participated with me had to be very careful not to lose their footing. By the time I crossed the finish line, I had to be treated for dehydration by EMS. This was a tough race for me, but I had something to prove to myself since I was turning 50-years-old the very next day.
The same month, I met marathon runner and Ironman triathlete John Young at an Achille’s International party in Manhattan. His story was very motivational for me. He took up running to lose weight and to serve as a role model for his son who was being picked on in school. Having dwarfism, he had to train and work harder than those of average height. We both shared stories of how we are role models for our sons. He reminded me to put my own problems in perspective for just when we think we have the biggest life challenges, there is always someone else who has it harder than me.
By the end of July, my daughter auditioned for the role of Callie for an online drama series called Vantage Points. We were both excited for her to get this role. Her episode was filmed in a spooky house off of a Florida swamp. We were there for a week for the filming and I even got a bit part playing a father of one of the other girls. The series is still being marketed around and one of the interested buyers is Amazon Prime. Stay tuned!
By the end of August, I planned an overnight hike along the Appalachian Trail with my kids. However my son didn’t want to go and I ended up going with Emma. We hiked for several miles along the New York section of the Appalachian Trail and had an exciting journey while disconnecting from civilization during those two days. It was a much-needed repose for the both of us.
In September, my brother Aaron and I volunteered our time to help raise funds at a CIPD/GBS fundraiser race on the South Beach Boardwalk in Staten Island. CIPD/GBS are rare debilitating diseases affecting one’s muscles that can sometimes be deadly. It can affect people of all ages. There were many survivors of this disease and their families who participated at the race that day. My friend Michael Ring who is a CIPD/GBS survivor assisted us while we entertained the runners wearing Elmo and Cookie Monster costumes. This was a very enjoyable way to spend time with my brother while we interacted with the small children at the event who wanted to play with our two lovable monster alter-egos.
In October, my friend Kathy invited me to volunteer my time to paint a senior center in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn through an organization called Bay Ridge Cares. Knowing that my daughter needed community service credit and the fact that she loves painting, we painted the center together along with about a dozen other volunteers.
The following day, I was a pacer for the Staten Island Half Marathon. It was a miserable, rainy day and my running shoes got waterlogged at the very beginning of the race. My feet were becoming very uncomfortable from all the water in the shoes. At the last mile, I decided to remove my shoes and socks and run barefoot to the finish line. I still managed to fulfill my pacing duties by finishing just seconds within my pace goal.
Martin Scorsese was filming The Irishman, a made-for-Netflix production about the man who may have killed Jimmy Hoffa. I was fitted to portray a 1970s Michigan cop. The mustache and sideburns in the photo below is the real-deal; many of the other actors playing cops were given fake mustaches and sideburns to wear. The only thing the makeup person had to do was dye my sideburns brown since there were too many hints of natural grey in them.
Since last year when I “dressed” as Hillary Clinton’s emails for Halloween (my son “dressed” as Trump’s tax returns), I wanted to continue making costumes based on recent news. Below I decided to dress as a Russian Hacker complete with a Russian Hacking for Dummies book and a binder listing the passwords to the World’s Leaders. And my hacker ID read, “Picov Andropov”.
One of my greatest accomplishments of 2017 was single-handedly producing the Brooklyn Triple Crown race series. It started as only an idea on a piece of scrap paper at the beginning of the year that kind of evolved by accident. At first, I was very fearful that I could pull this thing off by myself and raise enough funds through sponsorship to make this series financially viable. By August, with the help of Mark Vogt and others from Complete Race Solutions, I had prospected enough race sponsors to generate $5,600. Along with the 100+ runners who registered for the three-race series, an additional $3,500 in race fees was raised through my ongoing promotion of the series. In all, my efforts helped generate over $9,000 in total sales. A portion of this went to local charities. While I did make some money from this since it was a business endeavor, my efforts in obtaining many freebies for the runners made this series a truly memorable experience for them. For the last race, I was able to obtain free Starbucks coffee and pizza for all from a local pizzeria who sponsored our race by “paying” us in pizza.
In November, I was invited by the Partnership for the Parks to an event celebrating those who helped improve Kaiser Park, a park right next to Coney Island Creek. While I was creating the Brooklyn Triple Crown race series, I decided to name one of the races the Coney Island Creek 5k. I thought to myself, Coney Island is famously known for its amusement park and beaches. I wanted to call the race something that is little-known about Coney Island which is the creek that is in need of TLC and public support. Me naming the race after the creek brought awareness that it existed to many runners who never knew of it. Due to this, I was asked to speak at the podium to all the supporters of Coney Island Creek. It was both a surprise and an honor for me. I was always an environmentalist since childhood and this was the perfect opportunity to let others know that.
My friend Diane is a photographer who turns her photos into functional coasters. To sell coasters at an event in Rockaway, Queens, she asked me if I could dress as Santa and have him walk along the beach with Rockaway Bridge in the background. The Santa you see on the coaster below is me.
My brother Aaron and my sisters Rachel and Sara spent Thanksgiving at my dad’s house. We had a great time reconnecting as family since we hardly have any opportunities anymore to do this and we all have busy lives.
My son Hunter is an accomplished pianist who now writes and performs his own original music. However, due to the fact that he chooses to be very private, he does not want me to post photos or videos of him performing. He has been playing the piano for half his life now.
By far the worst thing to happen in 2017 was the untimely death of my uncle Richard. It happened at the very end of November. He was loved by all since he loved and embraced everyone he met, even strangers. He would take the most difficult unsavory person he met and befriend them, humor them, and make them feel special. He encouraged me with my running and always took pictures of all the runners during the Brooklyn Half Marathon. I can still picture all the many great times I spent talking and joking with him and how much he meant to my entire family. His death has left a hole in all of our hearts.
I’ve always liked to bring people together for I believe that half the world is waiting for the other half to become friends. With this in mind, I arranged a multi-club trail run involving three running clubs: the Prospect Park Track Club, the Ukranian Running Club, and the Staten Island Athletic Club. We had run together right after a fresh snowfall which made the woods of the Staten Island Greenbelt a magical winter wonderland.
Writing this blog entry was therapeutic for me for in my mind, I feel that after turning 50, I have done nothing with my life. However, summarizing 2017 as I have just done here in my writing tells me that I am quite wrong with that way of thinking.