“How can it be thirty years?” I said as I was cleaning out the basement.
Looking into the gray, Stocker Brothers dairy milk crate, its frame still sturdy even after decades of sitting in dark silence, is actually what made me pose the question.
I had just spent the better part of the morning organizing the crawl space of my two-story colonial, a home I’ve been making mortgage payments on for as long as I can remember. During my tenure at this location, the basement had become a breeding ground for large, cardboard boxes of clothes, holiday items and various knick knacks, as well as six large boxes of comic books I’d collected as a kid along with my feeble attempts at Bob Ross paintings. The latter two categories being things I can’t seem to let go of — even after all of this time.
The thing inside the milk crate behind the wall of canvases is where I found it. There, along with the curious smell of old books and dust was a folded, paper program; kind of like something you’d get handed to you from an usher at a Sunday church service or a Broadway show as you entered the theater. It had obtained a dull, off-white color over the years but its red lettered appearance was still clearly visible:
Easton Area High School’s 131st Commencement: June 11, 1987 6:00 o’clock.
It can’t be, can it? Thirty years already? I mean, wasn’t it just yesterday that I was roaming the halls of high school? Dreaming about being the next Bon Jovi? Longing for Friday night visits to the mall so that I could get the new Def Leppard album, read the latest Gross Jokes book in Waldenbooks, drink gallons of Orange Julius and then try to impress the girls by beating the high score on Pac Man and Galaga?
I slowly ran my fingers through the pages of the slightly weathered program and saw all of the people who stood by me that day. “Did they know where they would wind up?” I thought. “Would they remember and realize it’s been thirty years?”
I remember that commencement. I remember wearing my class ring on my right ring finger and sitting in my cap and gown on an uncomfortable metal chair waiting for my name to be called, peeved once again at the alphabetical order of things and the fact that my last name started with a “W”. I still remember congratulating and hugging every classmate I met, whether I knew them on a “friend” basis or not. I can still feel the leafy stem of the flower against my bare hand after I accepted my diploma, and the sense of urgency I had for the final notes of the Alma Mater to ring so that I could toss my tasseled, red cap high into the air. It was the end game. The “so long”. The final, “see-ya-later” salute to thirteen years of education.
Who am I kidding? When I look back now it didn’t really seem like goodbye. Instead, walking out of Kirby Field House that night was just like any other night. It would soon be the start of summer, camping at the lake, amusement park visits and graduation/backyard parties. Heck, I even had one at my house where me and my buddy (and fellow graduate), Nathan Brown, played our guitars and drums as entertainment. Before long, September would roll around again and we’d all be right back together again in class, right? Just like it had always been for thirteen years in a row.
Several friends went off to college to follow their dream. Others enlisted in the military, started families or immediately entered the work force. As for me, my own dream of becoming a rock star officially began June 11, 1987.
But that’s a story for another time.
As I continued to page through the program, I tried to see how many classmates I could remember and was thankful to discover I could still put faces to the names of most. Then I thought of Nathan, who’s own name I didn’t see listed in the graduating class and yet had attended graduation and received his diploma along with the rest of us. Had it have been another time, I probably would have called him up to ask him why he wasn’t mentioned in the list of graduates, but he died in 2014.
A lot can happen in thirty years.
Sierra was a competitive figure skater. Andre, an animation expert and filmmaker. Both had their own dreams of making a mark in the world. But it wasn’t until a chance encounter in the heart of Los Angeles led them to begin a journey together. One of love, inspiration, hope and a desire to do something for the greater good.
Although known for volunteering their time to various causes, their passion project, Love Set Run is more like a way of living. It stands for taking action to spread a message of love, unity, and the interconnectedness of everything.
This summer, Andre and Sierra Mercier will continue that mission. Traveling around the globe volunteering and giving back everywhere that they go. Along the way, they’ll be documenting their travels for a web series they hope will inspire others.
The couple’s five-month journey will take them to eight countries on five different continents. From volunteering at an organic farm in Costa Rica, visiting a monkey sanctuary and partaking in a spiritual ritual in Peru and even working with locals in Bandipur, Nepal. Each destination chosen to make a positive impact in some way.
Perhaps the most inspiring part of Sierra and Andre’s story isn’t so much the beautiful places in the world they’ll be visiting, but the selfless love and compassion they have for each other and the world. Their drive to do something for the greater good proves that offering something as simple as your time can be the greatest reward in giving back.
I recently spoke with Sierra and Andre about Love Set Run and more in this exclusive new interview.
How did the two of you meet?
Sierra: We both moved to L.A. for the entertainment industry. I was a competitive figure skater and trained in California and Salt Lake City but had an injury that ended my skating career. I began doing other things that interested me and found a new passion with acting. So I moved back home to save money to move to L.A. I had met a family while I was visiting L.A. and planned to live in their guest home temporarily until I found a place to live but there was a miscommunication and on the day I drove in, I found out that I could only stay a few weeks. So I frantically started looking for a place and saw an ad for a room that piqued my interest. I called the number and left a message— it was Andre. I went to see the place and we both hit it off. We became friends and few weeks later I moved in as a roommate. We spent some time getting to know each other but it was pretty clear that there was something other than “friends” flying through the air.
What else can you tell me about your love story?
Andre: About a week after Sierra moved in I asked her to be my girlfriend and a month after that we decided that we were going to get married. Shortly after I proposed, Sierra’s mom suggested that we apply to a few online contests where they were giving away honeymoon packages. Sierra found out that TheKnot.com was having a contest for a dream wedding in New York. The idea was to create a video on why your love story was unique and romantic. I was skeptical at first but Sierra encouraged me to use my video making skills to make a video. A few weeks later we found out that we had been selected as one of the finalists. Fan voting determined the winner and we wound up getting the most votes. The wedding was at Bryant Park in the winter and we flew in a bunch of friends and family. Everything about the wedding was voted on by the public—from the dress to the cake to the decor and rings.
Our vows were aimed towards creating a positive impact to the world and giving back more than we receive. We knew that we weren’t able to give a lot monetarily, but we could give a lot with our time and spread our message. So on our honeymoon we did tsunami cleanup relief in Japan, visited an elephant sanctuary in Thailand and worked with an orphanage in Bali. That was the first of our charity travel ideas. That’s when we said let’s see more of the world and do more volunteer work, because it feels good to give back.
Was there a defining moment on that trip?
Sierra: Sometimes, volunteer opportunities are unexpected. I remember we were traveling in Japan after a major typhoon. We were walking along a path where waters had flooded and local people were there trying to block the flood and transporting sandbags. We just stepped in and helped them. Then a little while later it started to rain and we noticed a local business shoveling mud and rocks out of their business and moving sandbags to keep it from flooding. We just went in, picked up some shovels and started hauling out debris. We were hot and sweaty and wet but it felt so good to help people. The most amazing part of that whole experience was that while were doing it, other tourists that were walking by saw what we were doing and offered to help as well. As two people, we can only make so much of an impact, but it’s the ripple effect it can cause that makes it so special. If what we do can inspire four people to make a positive difference, then maybe those four people will inspire four more people. It made me realize that’s what Love Set Run is all about.
How do you plan to document your journey for Love Set Run?
Andre: Throughout our travels we’ll be posting vignettes and snippets to Instagram and Facebook. We’ve also got a blog going on our website that we’ll be posting to regularly. Once we get back, we’ll start editing the full web series, most likely one episode per country. We’re also considering doing a full feature out of it.
What satisfies you the most about giving back?
Sierra: It’s engrained in my soul that my duty here in this lifetime is to help others. To light a lantern and be a light to the world. It’s just feels so natural for me. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Andre: It’s gratifying to give back and help others. It’s a selfless act that rewards you. It also feels good to inspire other people. We’ve heard from people who tell us that our love story has inspired them to not settle for anything less. So if we can inspire friends and family through our work, then maybe the next time they go on a trip they’ll be inspired to volunteer. What’s satisfying is that you can create a ripple effect of positive energy and impact. The world needs more of that.
Is there a message you’d like people to take away from the journey you’re about to undertake?
Sierra: A message I really want people to feel is realizing that the more love you give, the more you’ll receive.
When I was young, I used to watch a lot of Bugs Bunny cartoons. I enjoyed sitting by the television on Saturday mornings gorging on Cap’n Crunch and indulging in the antics of that waskaly wabbit and his friends.
One of the shorts that always stood out to me was the one where Bugs cons an unsuspecting old man into buying The Brooklyn Bridge. He does this by telling the man a fictional story of how a New York City bridge-jumper named Steve Brody allegedly leaped off of it. The short ends with the old man believing Bugs’ story and giving him money.
Of course in real-life, even a kid in a Cap’n Crunch coma knows you can’t actually buy The Brooklyn Bridge.
Oddly, I was reminded of this cartoon this Saturday morning as I was perusing my Facebook timeline and saw no less than seven copies of this same picture from people on their own pages:
The picture (and attached link) goes on to say how two of this week’s Powerball winners were giving away some of their newfound fortune to random people. All you have to do to get in on your chance at a free ten grand was to click on the link provided and share the post with your friends.
Of course, what the link fails to mention is that it is part of a phishing scam. Designed to trick unsuspecting people into giving up personal information (like Facebook and bank passwords and social security numbers) in exchange for…. well, absolutely nothing at all.
You might remember a similar occurrence of this FREE money scam shortly after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg publicly stated on major news outlets that he was giving away much of his fortune to charity. And it wasn’t long before scam artists took to social media and posted a link of Zuckerburg along with a note saying that poor, random souls (like us) could also get in on the action simply by clicking on a link. At that time, I saw no less than a dozen of these posts/links on my timeline from people who apparently had fallen for the scam.
It’s one thing when horrible people prey on the elderly by dressing up like a representative from the gas company and trick them into letting them into their homes only to steal their money and jewelry. Or when representatives from “Microsoft” call non-tech savvy people at home and tell them their computer is corrupt and can only be fixed by providing valid credit card information.
But the fact that so many people quickly fall for these “Get Rich Quick” schemes on social media really scares me.
Think about it: Why would complete and total strangers who’ve just won part of a $1.5 billion dollar jackpot want to give away $1,000,000 to people they’ve never met – even before they’ve collected it? And worse, why would these same people set-up a questionable website and then have it promoted on Facebook? Don’t you think that if this were really true, MAJOR news outlets all over the world would be running the story?
What’s that old saying? — “If it sounds too good to be true….”
But if all that doesn’t raise a red flag then consider this: Saying you don’t need all of the money and then only offering to give away $1,000,000 is pretty cheap. Especially when you consider you’ve just pocketed $300 million in winnings.
So the next time you see any of these posts offering free money from the rich and famous, delete them. Because there’s only one real way to get legitimate money my friends, and that’s by doing it the old-fashioned way.
October 5th, 2016. My 47th birthday.
Hey! Wait a minute…. You mean to say that I’m 47-years
old young today? Impossible. I’m a Count Chocula connoisseur. An Ultraman geek. A comic book nerd. A PS4 dork. I couldn’t possibly be a middle-aged man.
And yet, I’ve grown accustomed to listening to the creaks and cracks of getting out of bed every morning and the inevitable gray hair I see whenever I look into the mirror. Reading glasses have become the norm for me now and summers are often spent resisting the urge to tell young children to get off my lawn.
Seriously, wasn’t it just yesterday that I was the youthful teenager driving my beat-up, old Toyota to the mall on Friday nights after school? Pouring my lawn mowing allowance into video game cabinets at the arcade while drinking Orange Julius and wishing I could muster up the courage to go talk to the cute girl who stood with her friends in the record store?
Wasn’t I the one who could go to rock concerts and then stay up to the wee hours of the morning talking to his friends about what would happen when we took on the world and made our dreams came true?
This song always makes me stop in my tracks whenever I hear it.
The truth is you’re only given a certain amount of time on this bouncing ball. My goal now is to try to make every moment count.
But I’m not here to bum you out on my birthday. Because in addition to being the one who drove to the mall and went to rock concerts, I was also the one who consistently laughed at his parents for being in their 40’s while I regaled in teenage glory.
There’s an odd sense of immortality you have when you’re young that makes you believe time will always stand still and that you’ll never be as
old as your parents. But then you take a nap and wake up in that role.
What was it they said about karma?
What’s in a name you say? Well, when I was growing up, there were certain words that – whenever spoken, always conjured up a feeling or an urge inside of you. Something that was more than just a rational, cognizant realization.
Let me give you a few examples from my own childhood to prove my point:
No, not Fred’s “Yabba Dabba Doo” buddy from The Flintstones. In my neck of the woods (on the south side of Easton, PA), Barney meant only one thing: The guy who made the best cheesesteaks this side of Philly. Although Barney’s been dead for nearly two decades I can still recall the days of eating his wares in his Steak Shop while trying my luck on the latest video games like Vanguard and Defender and listening to the Foreigner “4” album on the jukebox.
No, not the imaginary place or state of things in which everything is perfect (although some of the questionable paraphernalia they sold there may have you think otherwise). Utopia was/is a store in the downtown section of town where all of the teens would congregate in the 1980’s in order to purchase the latest AC/DC or Pretenders album and get concert tickets for Stabler Arena or the Allentown Fairgrounds.
I’m not talking about the chick that swiped the football out from under Charlie Brown. Lucy’s was the neighborhood candy store that served up the finest in Swedish Fish, Tootsie Rolls and Hostess Twinkies.
See how one word can easily trigger something deep inside you? And while we’re on the subject, let me give you a pair of words that does the same thing for me:
Whenever these two words are mentioned together it instantly reminds me of one of the scariest films I ever saw as pubescent teenager – “A Nightmare on Elm Street”.
Sure, by the time that movie came out in 1984, I had already been covering my ears to the creepy intro music of “Halloween” and hidden my eyes from the inevitable pop up scare scenes in the closing minutes of the first two “Friday The 13th” movies. But there was something far more diabolical with Elm Street. For unlike Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees – who at least early on were actual human beings, Freddy Kreuger represented something that was far more sinister – an unknown, malevolent creature who came to us in our darkest dreams.
Watching the scene where poor Amanda Wyss’ character, Tina, is standing in the alley way while Freddy’s arms grow and he pounces on her still gives me an uneasy feeling some thirty years later.
Back then, I wasn’t even aware of some of Craven’s earlier films like “The Last House on The Left” or “The Hills Have Eyes”. All I knew was from that point forward, anytime I saw the words “Wes Craven” before a film’s title, I knew immediately it would be scary and I would have to see it. And although some of his work was questionable in the years following NOES -“The Hills Have Eyes Part II” and “Shocker” immediately come to mind, Craven was back in top form for “Scream” in 1996. Single-handedly creating a film that (at least to me) rivaled Elm Street in terms of its originality and scare.
So hearing the news late last night that Wes Craven had passed away at the age of 76 was somewhat shocking. Knowing that there will never be another film that will give me that same feeling when I see the title. But whenever I hear those two words together – “Wes Craven”, I’ll always remember a man whose vision and memorable characters will continue to live on, both on screen and in dreams.
Those who know me will tell you that I’m one of those people who’s stuck in the Eighties.
Admittedly, I do love my hair metal and wish that I could somehow get inside of a time machine and go back to those carefree days of youth. To be able to use the confidence and knowledge I’ve gained through years of being an adult to make up for the lost opportunities I missed because of my shyness and lack of social interaction.
Some days I’ll take a trip to the Palmer Park Mall and remember all of those Friday and Saturday nights thirty years ago. A time when the only thing that really mattered was the usual excursions to Orange Julius, the arcade, Waldenbooks and topping it off with a visit to Listening Booth to check out the new albums by by Night Ranger, The Hooters and Bon Jovi.
But I don’t think I’m “stuck” in the Eighties. It’s just that every once in a while you need to go back to those times if for no other reason than to remember who you were.
Last night I had the chance to do just that.
Singer/songwriter Howard Jones – who many of us MTV nuts will remember for his big hair, monster songs as well as a multitude of synthesizers, performed an acoustic show at a local theater in town. What I thought at first would just be a typical trip down memory lane instead turned out to be something much deeper.
When Howard came out, gone was the arsenal of keyboards, the colorful fashion and the big eighties hair. In it’s place was a simple keyboard, a microphone and small MAC laptop. For the next hour, Jones performed many of the songs that a teenaged me listened to. Songs that were the soundtrack of summer pool parties, trips up and down the “Strip” on Northampton Street and background music in the Palmer Park Mall.
But it also felt different. These stripped down, acoustic versions of “Life In One Day,” “What Is Love,” “Things Can Only Get Better” and “No One Is To Blame” took on a new meaning. Every nuance of every word resonated. It wasn’t just music. It was therapy.
For a moment, I was no longer the middle-aged man who worries about bills, health and his family’s future. Instead, I was the wide-eyed, shy boy hanging out at a record store in small town America.
And it was good.
1. an opening, hole, or gap.
2. a space through which light passes in an optical or photographic instrument, especially the variable opening by which light enters a camera.
It was underneath the smell of cut grass and gasoline that I first noticed the hole. A medium-sized perforation about the size of a tennis ball that was sticking out like a pockmark on the face of my freshly manicured lawn.
On first glance I estimated its size to be approximately three-inches wide by four-inches deep. A perfectly shaped cylinder unlike any of the typical oblong-shaped chasms that are dug by man. On the contrary, I was certain this particular hole was delivered by one of the masters of dirt and dig – a varmint. The enemy of perfectionist yard enthusiasts everywhere.
Now, I’ve always prided myself in keeping a tidy yard and have been mowing my one-third of an acre plot religiously every Saturday morning during the mowing season. Always making a point to follow-up the proper mow with a good trimming around the base perimeter of the fence line as well as going the extra mile to get every rogue dandelion that curiously survives the spraying by the professional weed service I pay top dollar to in order to make my lawn the envy of the neighborhood.
And now — there’s a freaking hole in it.
For the last twenty years mowing the grass has been the only thing that has really given me any sort of happiness. During that same span of time the long, blondish lawn on my own head has disappeared and the chiseled abs I once had have succumbed to the inevitable phenomenon I like to call age mass. I’ve been in and out of jobs over the years, habitually single and even survived a bout with colon cancer at the tender age of thirty-six. For the most part you could say that my life has been pretty much status quo.
But I wasn’t always the lawn-loving, bald, thick in the middle-man you see here before you. At one point in my life I actually had dreams. Dreams of becoming the next Edward Van Halen as guitarist for the hair metal band, Silent Rage.
You’ve heard of us, right?
Don’t worry. I won’t shed a tear if you haven’t. But I will say that Silent Rage was one of the 80s most well-known hard rock groups. I mean, we played gigs everywhere from Maine to South Florida; opening for bands like Winger, KIX and Heaven’s Edge. We even had a showcase for the Adverse City Records honchos in New York City, who promised us a two-album recording deal in early 1991.
Yep, the world was going to be our oyster. That is until Kurt Cobain, Alice in Chains and the rest of those Seattle grunge lunatics shot that dream to hell. Forcing the band to dissolve and me to have to sell off most of my gear and take on the first of countless jobs just to make ends meet. Eventually leading to the middle-aged conundrum I now find myself in.
In a world where age, health and hair have forsaken me, mowing the lawn is the only thing I have any sort of control over. So you’ll have to excuse me if I get a little upset when a rabbit or groundhog comes into my inner sanctum and decides to dig a hole.
How did I not notice this obtrusive hole while I was mowing, you ask? Good question. I pondered the same thing myself. Surely I would have seen a tennis ball sized hole as I was making passes over it with the lawn mower, yet I must have somehow overlooked it.
But what made the whole thing even stranger was the fact that there was no dug-up loose dirt in the area surrounding the hole. In fact, the earth near the hole was hard packed and completely dry. Giving every indication that the hole had actually been there for a long, long time.
Now, I may be forty-five years old and been diagnosed with presbyopia at my last eye doctor visit, but even I would have noticed a blatant hole sticking out like a sore thumb several weeks into the mowing season. I decided to kneel down to get a closer look at the intruder’s work, hoping to find a clue as to what brand of rodent had been infiltrating my land.
As I started moving loose grass clippings out of the way a drop of sweat slipped off of my brow and fell into the hole. There, beneath the warm June sky something began shining out of its depth. At first I thought it might be a quarter or some small piece of glass or stone reflecting off the hot summer sun. Instead, it turned out to be nothing material at all.
It was a beam of light. A light shining out from somewhere within the hole. It was almost as if someone was on the other side of the hole shining a flashlight outward and into my eyes.
A lump began to develop in my throat and I actually felt my heart skip a beat. I’ll be honest with you here. I seriously gave consideration to making a run for it. Something about this whole thing just didn’t seem right. But instead of running, I decided to do what only a fool would do. I laid down flat on my stomach and peered my eye right inside that cantankerous hole.
Screw you, Alice in Wonderland.
What I felt when I first looked into the hole was reminiscent of a pirate who had been lost at sea for months. A pirate who would spend most of the day peeping through his spyglass in a vain search to find land but only finding endless sea. Until one day, just as he’s about to run out of food and water, he discovers the thing he had been searching for. The only thing that mattered.
As I looked down into the hole I could see a white-colored, cloudy canvas. Like I was flying through a sea of cumulus clouds, with edges clean and soft. A canvas whose brightness covered the entire spectrum of my senses and then; as if on cue, having already known of my intentions to see what lied beyond, the canvas of clouds quickly parted into some dream-state dimension
From a third-person perspective I saw myself in this surreal state just as clear as day. Only it wasn’t the forty-five year old me I saw. Instead, it was a much younger version of me, no more than twenty-one.
Nearly forty pounds from my midsection had all but disappeared and every last one of my long blond hairs had miraculously returned. The real me had a sense of confidence he hadn’t felt in a long time.
For all intents and purposes, it felt like the year 1990. Like watching some old home movie, but in the highest of definition. One where every nuance of every movement was noticeable – the sights, the sounds, the feeling. From that moment, I realized I no longer wanted to just look into the light inside of the hole. Instead, I wanted to become a part of it.
I watched from above as this younger version of me stood somberly next to his idling, green, 1976 Chevrolet Vega wagon. A dark brown suitcase sat next to the car as it sputtered in and out of stalling. I was certain that it wouldn’t be long into my trip before the car would leave me sitting on the side of the road.
It was 1990.
The familiar sounds of Westminster Chimes began to play from the St. Agnes Church a few blocks away. I had enough time to count each chime as it signaled the hour of day.
By the time it reached the ninth chime I had already determined that it was early morning based on the positioning of the sun in the eastern sky and by the faint sounds of another lawn mower leveling the landscape some distance away. It was also at that moment that I realized I was at West Chester University again and even more importantly, I was fully aware of what was about to happen next.
A young, attractive woman slowly approaches the vehicle. She had fair skin, a creamy complexion and the familiar long brown hair that ran down beneath her shoulders. With deep blue eyes that breathed a life in me that I’ve never felt before nor ever will again. She wore the blue denim jacket her parents had bought for her in high school, with matching jeans and scuffed up Chuck Taylor’s that have seen a lot of miles from the long walks we had taken together over the last two years. The smile she had that could light up a room was now replaced with sadness. I knew going in this was not going to be easy.
Christine is was my everything.
“Have everything you need?” Christine asked in her casual, nonchalant fashion. The faux me was already quick to answer.
“Yes. Enough to get me through to Scranton.” I said. Of course, I was lying. As Christine already knew from our many journeys in the beat-up old wagon, the Vega constantly burned oil and overheated. I figured I might only make it as far as Allentown before I’d have to stop.
“Did you get all of your paperwork complete?” she said, hoping that somehow I might have overlooked something. Something that would have delayed the inevitable.
“Uh-huh. Got the final papers from the bursar’s office yesterday. It’s all done. Turned in my keys to the resident advisor this morning, gassed up the car and here we are.”
“You know, you don’t have to do this.” Christine said solemnly. “Can’t you at least stay until the end of the semester and see what happens?”
Tears began to fill her eyes.
“ I can’t.” I said. “You know I’ve waited a long time for my music to take off. This gig up north promises shows for the next three months. Good pay too. Mike our drummer even says that it may lead us to a showcase in New York City if we’re good enough.”
There was an odd silence and then she said those same five words I still ask myself in my darkest nights.
“Are you good enough, Jim?”
Even though I already knew the answer, at that moment someone greater than me had pressed “pause” on this supernatural VCR.
“Choose.” a voice said.
“Choose?” I asked looking at the now frozen in time Christine. I could not take my eyes off of her.
“You can change the outcome. I’ve given you the choice.” the voice responded.
“But I already know what happens” I thought to myself, now knowing that whatever voice was speaking to me could also read my mind.
“Twenty-five years ago you decided to leave college for music.” the voice responded. “You now have the chance to change it.”
“Change it?” my conscience said. Could I really sacrifice these last twenty-five years? Is it possible to get a second chance in this life?
It’s true. I did turn my back on college and Christine [who was already halfway through her second year of pre-med] in exchange for a chance to become the guitarist for Silent Rage – the next great hair metal band. But instead of staying in school to get my teaching degree, marrying Christine and living happily every after, I took my beat-up Fender Strat on the road for two years performing to semi-packed crowds before the advent of grunge destroyed me and nearly every other 80’s hard rock band that existed and ended my musical dream.
During those ensuing years Christine and I fell out of touch. I don’t know if she ever did become that doctor but I am sure that her end result was better than mine. I did try looking her up on Facebook and LinkedIn after my battle with cancer [being face to face with death has a tendency to make you want to tie up loose ends] but came up empty-handed.
“Are you good enough, Jim?” the voice asked me again.
“This isn’t that movie, ‘Groundhog Day’.” my conscience told me. “No one can really go back. You only get one life and the trick is to make the most of it.”
Sure, grunge was a setback. And I know that if I had been made that decision back in 1987 instead of 1990 things might have been completely different. But age, health, relationships, job-hopping and even that little drinking episode I had that led to a night in the drunk tank were all setbacks. But none of those things really destroyed me. They only made me who I am
“Are you good enough, Jim?”
I looked at the frozen Christine. I looked at the frozen twenty-one year old me. I looked at the idling Vega that would wind up stalling out halfway to Pottstown, leaving me stranded on the side of Route 100 for two hours. Until a friendly trucker came by and offered me a lift into town where we talked about music and The Gulf War over a six-pack of Coors Light.
What happened next I can’t explain. It was as if the dream sequence I had become immersed in had suddenly become a puddle and a huge omnipotent hand had disturbed the still water. I saw Christine and the Vega and the young me ripple away into darkness while the real me drifted off into another stream of consciousness. I woke up lying face down next to the hole on a warm bed of freshly cut grass.
As I was pulling myself up off the ground I noticed that the sun had already begun its soft descent into the deep western sky. I smiled. The light and hole that once seemed so painfully intrusive to me was now gone and in its place was a breach that no longer seemed like it was the end of the world.
When it comes to Hollywood actresses, you’d be hard pressed to find one who is as confident, inspiring or more hardworking than Brooke Lewis. Because whether she’s acting or producing, this beautiful Philadelphia, PA native has made a name for herself in the film and television world.
As an actress, Brooke has appeared in many different genres of film but is perhaps best known for her work in thrillers and mob themed stories like “iMurders” and “Sinatra Club” as well as for the comedic portrayal of her vampire “alter-ego”, Ms. Vampy.
If all that weren’t enough, Brooke is also a board certified life coach; using her talent and experience to encourage her clients to become more courageously confident and to discover their own inner voice.
Brooke has another busy year ahead of her with passion projects like “The Mourning” as well as the sequel to the hugely successful film, “Starship: Rising”. I had the pleasure of speaking with her about her upcoming roles as well as her work as an actress and life coach!
Tell me a little about your background.
I’m one of those people who knew what they wanted to do in life early on. As a child, I was very sensitive and a bit insecure. It wasn’t until I started taking drama classes that I discovered that acting was a great outlet for me to express myself and feel emotion. I started my career back East in Philadelphia where I did a lot of theater work. Then I went to New York where I did a few off Broadway shows like Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding before finally making the move to LA.
What can you tell me about your new film, “The Mourning”?
It’s a labor of love project. I first met Marc Clebanoff [writer/director] a few years ago when we did an action film called “Break” with Michael Madsen and David Carradine. I did a supporting role in the film and had a lot of fun. The two of us went on to do a few other films together and we eventually became good friends. In 2011, Mark and Michael Walton came to me and said that they wrote a great supporting role for me in a new film they were working on. It’s a drama with a sci-fi twist where I got to play a tremendous supporting role along with Louis Mandylor, who’s a tremendous actor. It has everything that makes for a great gritty indie film and it was a blast working with true artists who were really committed to the project!
What attracted you to the script?
By nature, I’ve always been a big fan of thrillers, but the thing I loved the most about it is that it’s a love story. Every good film starts with a good script and this is one of the most beautiful stories about love, life and how things change.
How would you describe the story of “The Mourning”?
It’s the story about a young guy who lives in a small town. He and his best friend go off to the Gulf War and without giving too much away, one of them comes back and the other one doesn’t. Now it’s twenty years later (present day) and this person who’s been missing suddenly reappears.
You have another film that’s about to be released, “Starship: Apocalypse”. What can you tell me about that?
Neil Johnson is another director who has been a blessing to work with. The first film, “Starship: Rising” came out last year and was a huge hit overseas. The sequel is a fun, spaceship driven, full blown sci-fi piece that I had the best time working on. I play Staris, who is a bad-ass fighter pilot. She’s strong and sassy and fights for what she believes in. She has integrity and will keep to her beliefs in order to protect her federation. She is one of my favorite roles.
How did you become involved in life coaching?
I’ve always been the kind of person my friends and associates would come to looking for advice and shortly after the economy crashed a few years ago I decided to explore that different side of me. I was so inspired by helping teens and young actresses that I took a year and a half off, went back to school, took the boards and became a certified life coach. I’ve since launched my business, Be You Be Fearless Life Coach. I really love what I do!
What other projects are you working on right now?
Director Greg Lamberson came to me about a new film he was working on called “Killer Rack” and told me that he needed me for a specific role. I was a bit skeptical at first but after reading the script was just blown away! It’s comedy at its best with a twinge of horror. Yes, it is literally about a killer rack of boobs, but here’s the catch. I’m all about coaching female empowerment and body image and this film has a great subtext and message to it. It’s a supernatural comedy about what happens when you get plastic surgery because you think it’s going to make you happy but then things go terribly wrong!
What’s the best advice you can give to young actors and actresses who may want to follow in your footsteps?
I tell young actors every day that if there’s anything in this world that fulfills them other than acting then they should go do it, because acting is such a challenging process. But if you’re like me and it’s the only thing you’re passionate about and the only thing that fills that place in your soul, then you definitely have to do it!
Photos by: Roger A. Scheck
“Good morning. This is US Airways calling to let you know that there is a delay in your flight from Los Angeles to Charlotte. As a result, you will need to contact an airline representative to change your connecting flight itinerary. We are sorry for any inconvenience.”
This was the message that greeted me first thing this morning. As if the return to sub-zero temperatures in Easton weren’t bad enough, realizing that there would be no connecting flights from Charlotte to Allentown isn’t exactly something I needed to hear on the last day of an amazing journey. But as I now sit here on a plane en route to Philadelphia with a ninety-minute car ride to follow, I know that nothing is going to dampen my mood. So while we cruise at altitudes above 30,000 feet, let me take the time to tell you about my final day in Hollywood.
I spent most of yesterday cruising around Los Angeles with one of my favorite people. Someone who; although she is a fan of the dreaded San Francisco 49ers, is one of the coolest, most talented people I’ve never ever met.
Carrie Carnevale is a filmmaker who has written and directed amazing short films that have won her quite a lot of acclaim over the years (including many times by yours truly). And like most of the other people I’ve met on this west coast excursion, Carrie and I had up til now only known each other through emails and various telephone conversations. Today was going to be the day we would meet each other after nearly three years of this back and forth banter. There was a heightened sense of excitement in the air.
When Carrie arrived at the hotel, it was a surreal moment. Yes, I had already experienced this giddy feeling of meeting people for the first time a lot during this trip but this meeting was extra special. After making our long overdue introductions we soon ventured off to spend the afternoon doing touristy stuff.
During our trip I was unfortunately introduced to real Los Angeles traffic. So bad was it that we ended up having to change our plans on a few occasions. But I didn’t care one bit. Carrie and I talked for hours about our lives, our work and families as well as all of the other things that friends do. Carrie even managed to hook us up with a few actresses from her films: Anna Hanson and Ashley Watkins. Two people I’ve interviewed who I had also never met and two of the most creatively inspiring and independent women doing their thing in a place where the deck is often stacked against them – and they are succeeding! I could literally go on for hours about them and their awesome projects but in the interest of time, I’ll save those stories for future articles you’ll read!
After spending most of the day with Carrie, the final destination on my adventure was a planned night of debauchery with actor David Banks (a fellow metal head) cruising the Sunset Strip and visiting all of the metal head clubs where our favorite music began. But what happened next was completely unexpected and no doubt the last thing you would ever think I would do.
As I’m walking Hollywood Blvd to the rendezvous point where David is going to pick me up, he suddenly sends me this interesting text:
“Hey man. I just got invited to a red carpet fashion show event down on Melrose Avenue. Wanna go?”
This red carpet event would be another chance for David to have his picture taken and to talk about his killer new movie, “CUT!” which had it’s premiere last night. Then came the big decision for Metal Head James Wood —- Do I go visit the infamous Sunset Strip and bars like The Whisky and Viper Room (places I have never been to) or, do I go to a fashion show red carpet?
We went rogue.
For the next several hours, David, his super cool companion Karen and I walked the red carpet, drank free booze and hob nobbed with Hollywood’s fashion elite. I could not tell you what the event was for or 99% of the people who were there. All I know is that there were so many beautiful women dressed to the nines as well as a few I’d rather not ever think about again. Although I did recognize actress Bai Ling on the carpet, most of the rest of the people at this event were complete unknowns (at least to me).
Following our adventures on the carpet, David took us back to the Arena Cinema for the last showing of “CUT!” for the evening. Together, the two of us sat and watched his movie again on the big screen. I recall looking over at him several times during the course of the film and seeing the biggest smile on his face. He was witnessing the end result of years of hard work, and I could not be happier for my friend. Forget about the Sunset Strip. This was David’s dream and he had made it come true.
This morning, David and Karen picked me up and drove me to LAX. As the radio in his car blasted some of our favorite tunes we talked about the music as well as his movie. Both of us promising we’d get together again soon. My guess is that this time our reunion will include the trip down Sunset Strip that never happened.
But then again, maybe there will be another red carpet event to go to!
This trip has been the adventure of a lifetime. Me, James Wood was at a Hollywood premiere, walked a red carpet and connected with amazing people who are strangers to me no more. It’s been fun, exciting, exhausting and everything in between.
In addition to missing my family and the small town I grew up in, this trip has made me realize that dreams really do come true. All it takes is a spark, a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. I’m ready.
I hope that by reading this journal of my adventures in Hollywood it gives you the inspiration to follow your own dreams. It certainly did for me.
Now, let’s go home.
To say that yesterday was surreal is a bit of an understatement. It was actually the culmination of three years of phone calls, emails, interviews and follow-up conversations about this amazing new horror/thriller, “CUT!” which finally saw it’s premiere in Hollywood last night.
It was an evening where I finally got the chance to meet all of the wonderful people I’ve been writing about and to come face to face with a fellow brother in hair metal. Someone who would have taken on the world with me playing in bands on the Sunset Strip back in the glory days.
The story of how I met actor/musician David Banks is an interesting one. One that has its own musical connection as well at involves an incredible actress from a cult-classic horror film.
Back when I first started doing interviews, one of my angles was to seek them out through milestone events. Such was the case in 2012 when Wes Craven’s film, “The Hills Have Eyes” reached its 35th anniversary. Through hard work, due diligence and a little bit of luck, I had the opportunity to speak with Suze Lanier-Bramlett, who was the star of the original film as well as an accomplished musician and songwriter herself (Suze was also married to the legendary Delaney Bramlett).
Suze and I spent the better part of forty-five minutes discussing everything about the original “Hills Have Eyes” as well as her latest CD – Swamp Cabaret (which by the way is wonderful). After we were through I asked Suze if there were any other projects she was currently working on. Without hesitation, she told me she was involved in this little indie horror film project called “CUT!” where she got to play the role of herself. It was something that was new, interesting and exciting.
That’s what got the ball rolling for me. I decided to seek out these filmmakers and see what it was all about.
The first person I was able to contact was David Banks, who was one of the producers, writers and actors. What I thought was only going to be a fifteen minute interview wound up turning into a nearly two hour conversation. You see, David and I have almost the exact same taste in music.
Long story short, the two of us became instant friends. Not only talking about “CUT!”, but all of the bands and music we grew up loving in the 80s. David’s enthusiasm and passion was infectious and it was through him that I was able to reach out to many of the other actors involved in the film for interviews, including David Rountree, Dahlia Salem and Gabrielle Stone.
Fast forward to January of this year. David and I were emailing back and forth and he told me that the film was finally complete and that they would be having a Hollywood premiere.
That’s when I came up with the idea of paying tinsel town a visit.
The premiere was as exciting as any high energy metal show I’ve been to – and more. It was connecting with friends who up until that point had been nothing more than words typed in an email or a voice on the end of a telephone 3,000 miles away– and I just sat back and took it all in. I’m sure there were some people who noticed me standing aloof in the corner, wondering why I was there all by myself. The smile on my face would tell them the story. It was incredible.
Some quick highlights:
Suze Lanier-Bramlett gave me the biggest hug when we finally met and made it a point of getting the introverted James Wood on to the red carpet for pictures with her.
Dahlia Salem and I talked for quite a while about her upcoming appearance on Patricia Arquette’s new show, “CSI: Cyber”. She was telling me how great it was for her to be able to work with Patricia and I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if she wins the Oscar next week?” [Arquette is up for Best Supporting Actress for “Boyhood”]….What a question to ask an actress!
David Rountree, who is terrific in CUT!, told me about a new project he is working on in New Orleans next month and promised to talk more about it as things got rolling. It was a truly magical evening.
As David Banks and his beautiful companion drove me back to my hotel at 2am, I couldn’t stop telling him how great it was to be here and to finally meet him in person. Tonight we’ll be getting our metal on by visiting places like The Rainbow, The Whisky and Viper Room. Venues David and I would have surely frequented (and no doubt played in) back in the day if we had grown up in Hollywood.
As their car drove off into the wee hours I couldn’t help but go back to the conversation David and I had a month ago when he first told me about the premiere. He said, “You know, it’s too bad you can’t come out for this. It would be so cool to have you here.”
And somewhere in that statement there’s a lesson to be learned.