If 2021 were a pile of garbage, I plowed right through it, bravely living my life as if the pandemic never happened.
I usually start the new year off each January 1 with a soul-cleansing plunge into the Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island Beach. 2021 didn’t begin that way since the event was canceled due to COVID. What did happen was an interview I had hosted for the Manhattan public access show Gotta Run With Will. My episode was postponed from the previous November also due to the pandemic. Conditions were safe enough on January 2 where we were able to successfully produce this episode with the help of gifted producer Will Sanchez and his crew. I interviewed my good friends Mark Vogt and Bob Denker who are fellow life-long runners and background actors. You can view the episode here.
As society continued to open up in February due to increased vaccinations, I was able to engage in some fun activities. I portrayed a boom mike operator for the Showtime series Succession, went skiing in Massachusetts with my son at Catamount Mountain, and went snowshoeing in the Staten Island Greenbelt. A call to the community from Senator Andrew Gounardes asked for homemade Valentines Day cards that would be distributed to older adults at local senior citizen centers. Through my Buy Nothing group, I had asked families and teachers to ask their children to make cards for this program.
In March, a single mother of five living in my community desperately needed a new refrigerator. I found a couple willing to donate a fridge that they didn’t need. With the help of my friend and fellow community activist Ajamu Osborne, we wheeled the fridge 1.2 miles to the mother’s apartment house.
My brother and I participated in an anti-Asian hate rally in Coney Island along with Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, Steven Patzer, Ari Kagan, and others.
Mukasa Edward is a teacher, runner, and track coach living in a small village in Uganda. I have known him for a few years. His friend’s baby got an infection from a tainted vaccine and was in danger of losing her life. Mukasa needed my help. At first I didn’t know how I could help, but in time, I was able to begin a fundraising campaign that helped to save the baby’s life. You can read about it here.
Through the efforts of community activists Steven Patzer and Reyna Gobel, we engaged in the second annual Chinese Restaurant Food Crawl. Among dozens of other great community events, Steven and Reyna initiated the inaugural event at the outset of the pandemic last year to help support locally-owned Chinese restaurants in the area.
I had the opportunity to meet Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa as he walked along the Coney Island Boardwalk trying to get support for his mayoral campaign.
My brother and I spent some quality time with my dad. After our visit to his house in West Orange, New Jersey, we took our daughters for a hike on a nearby mountain.
As a background actor, I had the opportunity to portray a dead body for the third time for the show The Blacklist. My role was as a preserved cadaver that was pulled out of a drawer in a medical lab. The medical examiner then inspected me as they filmed the footage.
My daughter is a graphic design and painting major in college. As a dedicated artist, she has been exploring all forms of self-expression from the humorous to the abstract to the downright disturbing. Among many other projects, she created a “Canned Baby” label, a paper-mache mask named Snuffy, and a stuffed-animal-inspired full face mask she calls the Velveteen Vermin.
I had the opportunity to portray a FedEx delivery worker in a Nissim Black music video. Black is an African-American rapper who happens to also be a Hasidic Jew. Check out my attempt at hip hop dancing towards the end of the video by clicking here.
Since the outset of the pandemic a year ago, I worked with other volunteers by helping those most affected throughout South Brooklyn. One of the many things I did was to deliver care packages to over 200 families and hot food and PPE equipment to senior citizens. Local leaders took notice including 46th Assembly District Leader Dionne Brown-Jordan and Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus. They each invited me to events that honored those who stepped in to help during a very difficult and dangerous time. While I never expected to receive any recognition for what I had done, it was an honor to be recognized among other brave recipients.
I lucked out in August when I got hired to be the stand-in and body double for actor David Costabile for a Pepsi commercial. I was the same height and age as David, and I kind of looked like him. It was fun seeing how a commercial was made first-hand as well as meet the actor that I was standing in for. You can view the entertaining ad by clicking here.
One of my greatest memories of 2021 was when I went on a whale watch with an old high school friend and our favorite high school teacher. Larry Parente and I had taken two years of marine biology together with Joel Teret when we went to Sheepshead Bay High School. Our mutual love for Mr. Teret was so great that we brought our families on a whale watch with him back in August. And boy, did we see whales that day!
I was invited to two separate weddings in September. One was the union of Geo Morales and my good friend Eddie Sud. The wedding took place inside an old church on top of a mountain with breath-taking views. It was the first gay wedding I had ever attended and the venue was beautiful.
The second wedding was for my sister Rachel and her new husband Austin. It was such a happy and festive event that included tacos as an appetizer. I got to see so many old family members who I haven’t seen in a long time. The newlyweds looked great together and I wish them many years of happiness.
After hosting the January 2 episode of Gotta Run With Will, I immediately wanted to set up an interview with Mark and David Carles, brothers I know through the Staten Island Athletic Club. A few years ago, Mark was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and was told by his doctor he had only a few months to live. His brother David did not accept this as an answer and went through many doctors to find the one doctor who knew how to save his brother’s life. The interview kept on getting postponed either by the increasing COVID rates that closed the recording studio down or Mark becoming too sick to be interviewed. Finally, in October, we were finally able to get the brothers interviewed. You can see the interview here.
I got the opportunity to run the NYC Marathon for the seventh time. I wasn’t planning on running it this year, but I knew if I signed up for it, it would make me run more and lose weight. I lost 15 pounds, so I succeeded in that area. I ran the first 13 miles of the Marathon too fast and paid the price when I struggled to run the last 13. While this was my second slowest marathon, I was glad that I was able to work through the constant leg pain in the last 10 miles to be able to cross the finish line alive.
Here are some other people and events I attended that helped to make my 2021 memorable.
As 2021 comes to an end, I am grateful for my Mom. Just a few weeks ago, she got hit by a car that ran a red light. Fortunately, she escaped with only a dislocated shoulder and a broken leg which is now almost fully healed. I am also grateful for having good health in spite of having COVID during this last week of the year.
After receiving my first dose of the COVID vaccine almost exactly a year ago, I began 2021 believing that I was a superhero. Now I know better.