I’m Ready for My Close Up

The last bit of the whole Mortified experience happened on Saturday. For the documentary, they were conducting interviews of all the participants which included yours truly.

I was pretty nervous for the interview but I had a few different interviews under my belt in various forms (camera, phone, email, IM and Skype) so at least I wasn’t going to be in completely new territory. However, this was definitely going to be the most involved interview so far with a camera crew and such.

I was scheduled for the first slot of the day at 11 am. The location was a house in Woodland Hills. I got there early (of course) and they were still setting up. I chatted with Neil, one of the Mortified producers for awhile. Then they asked me to sit in the chair where I’d be interviewed so they could set up lighting.

It was a small crew: Neil, the cinematographer, the director and David, the other producer.  But still, it was strange to be have these people run around to set up all this equipment so they could film me. I could see how years and years of this could fuck with somebody’s ego. This was a low budget indie documentary and people were still asking me if I was ok, did I need anything, I was being such a great sport etc. I can only imagine how much catering there would be to a big star in a hundred million dollar movie.

But I was nice, polite and eager to please as my Chinese upbringing taught me to be. Finally, everything seemed to be set. The director was going to be asking me the questions. He was sitting by the main camera. There was another camera operated off to the side by Neil. I was mic’d up and ready to go.

When the interview began, I felt calm and then as I began talking, I could feel myself get really nervous. Then I went back to a semi-calm state for most of the rest of the time. They asked me a lot of questions about SYED which they found to be really interesting. There were questions about my Mortified experience in general and then about the night when they filmed my performance.

They also brought up Angela, the newbie I had talked to because I thought she looked really nervous. I was kind of surprised by this. I realized that Angela might have been mic’d up or they just saw me talking to her and wanted to know more about it. Or maybe Angela had brought it up in her interview.

Then they asked me to give the introduction to my Mortified piece. For some reason, I got really nervous. I was trying to figure out why and I think it was because it was almost like they were asking me to perform something. I was ok with talking candidly on camera but for some reason the performance aspect freaked me out. I managed to stumble my way through it but it was pretty awful.

Then it was over. I asked the director how I did and he said I did an amazing job. That I was really “well spoken.” I never would’ve guessed somebody would say I was well spoken but that just drives home one of the big lessons I learned from SYED and that’s you be the person you want to be.

It’s crazy to think about the progression of the Mortified experience in my life. From one of my readers commenting that I should audition for it to being interviewed for a documentary about the show. I’m so happy about it because so many of my SYED experiences have been, to use a military term, Fire and Forget. One offs that are great and all but ultimately aren’t as rewarding as something like Mortified.

The movie comes out at the end of the year. I’m sure you’ll be hearing all about it on my blog. If I don’t wind up on the cutting room floor. In which case I’ll be telling them all to go to Hell.

Mortified One Last Time

A couple of months ago, when I was still working at my old job, I got a call from David, one of the producers at Mortified.

He told me they were shooting a Mortified documentary. They were going to film shows at five cities. He asked if I would be interested in possibly participating in one of the shows. Of course I agreed immediately.

A few weeks ago, he finally confirmed that I would be in the last show they were shooting, here in LA. I was excited and nervous. It sounded like a lot of fun. I had three shows under my belt already. If you recall, I performed at Mortified three times, once in LA then in SF and Berkeley. So the nervousness had less to do with performing and more to do with the fact it was going to be filmed for this documentary. It was such an honor for them to ask me to do this. They obviously thought my piece was strong enough to be in the documentary. I didn’t want to let them down.

I hadn’t read my piece in nearly 7 months.I read it twice out loud yesterday before the show. That was all the practice I did.

I headed over to King King in Hollywood at 5pm. We were asked to arrive at 5:30pm to be around for shoots if they needed it. I discovered that out of the six performers, two were brand new. They followed them on their journey from casting to showtime. I thought this was a great idea.

It was nice that it was the same venue I had performed at the first time. It made me feel a lot more calm. I saw David right when I got into the club. Though the venue was the same, I noticed immediately that things were very different.

The last time I was there, there weren’t very many people around. The band, the producers and some employees of the club. This time, there were a lot of people running around. There were at least three people with cameras. Various crew people. And just a bunch of people doing other things. It was a bit overwhelming.

David took me over to meet the other performers. I recognized Lorelei from the first show that I did. The others I had never seen before. The two new girls, Libby and Angela were a study in contrasts. Libby had a theater background and seemed quite calm about the whole experience. She was also mic’d up and had a camera person following her around. Angela was a regular civillian like me. As such she was nervous as hell.

After talking with everybody, I wandered around the venue. Went outside for a few minutes and when I came back in, I noticed Angela sitting by herself at a table, intently studying her notes. I knew exactly how she was feeling because I was there before. Not that I’m an expert at performing but I was 1/10th as nervous as I was my first time.

So I went over to her and starting talking to her. I gave her some of my insights about the experience and told her that she was going to do fine. I think it helped calm her down a bit. She seemed more relaxed and thanked me for talking with her. It’s good to be alone sometimes before performing. I found I like to be alone right before I do it. But we were over two hours away and being alone too much, I think you can get sucked into a hole and get into your head too much.

It was strange having people with cameras running around filming stuff. I tried to fly under the radar. One time I was reading over my piece in a dark corner of the club. I looked up and someone had a video camera pointed at my face. I quickly looked back down and tried to ignore it.

I was feeling fairly calm about everything until I finally looked at the program to see when I would be reading:

First?? I was going first?? Mother of God. This freaked me out. Going first is pretty tough. The crowd is not warmed up or drunk yet. If you fuck up, you screw it up for the rest of the people after you. Going first is the second most important position next to of course, going last. I was flattered to be the lead off hitter but like I said, scared shitless.

I tried to tell myself I would be fine. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my piece was perfect to go first. It was light and funny. Kind of like an amuse bouche. I thought back to my other shows and how well they went over. That helped me calm down a bit.

Next, a photographer grabbed me to take some quick portraits outside. This was bizarre to me but luckily the photographer kept it casual. She didn’t ask me to pose. She just talked to me and snapped some pics. She was also kinda hot and told me I was very photogenic. Hmm.

When people started lining up outside, the nerves began ramping up. Nate and Caity were coming to the show as was my bug-eating friend Chrystine. I saw them in line and chatted them for a bit before going back inside. That was very different than my first time because I could actually hold conversations with people before the show. The first time I couldn’t concentrate on anything.

Then I was standing off to the side of the stage, just like 7 months ago. Only this time, I was going to go up right after David was done giving the introduction.

He gave me the signal and I was off. I realized that I was much more nervous than I thought I was. I had to worry about hitting my mark on stage and adjusting the microphone. I also had taped my pages into my actual journal, a request from the producers so it looked better for the documentary. But I was unfamiliar holding it.

I launched into my piece and everything went fairly well. I stumbled a couple of times and blew through a few sentences. But I was also more expressive in some parts than I had in the past. The jokes hit pretty well, but not as big as the first time. Overall, it was a very uneven performance. Higher ups and lower lows.

One thing was that David said he wanted the readers to look up as much as possible when reading. This was a lot different than what he normally tells us which is just bury your nose into your paper. That made it more difficult and the first time I looked up, I realized they had turned up the lights in the crowd and I could see everybody. Before I was pretty much blinded by the spotlights. So that was a bit freaky.

Then it was over.

When I walked off stage, I looked at David and felt like I had let him down. I had put a lot of pressure on myself to do an awesome job for the documentary. David reassured me I had done fine. I wasn’t so sure but at least it was over.

The rest of the show went well. The crowd seemed a little disengaged for the second performer and part of the third. But she eventually got them going. Then Shaun, the last performer before the intermission did an awesome piece that got the crowd fired up.

The second half of the show went even better. Then it was curtain call time which was the best part. When David called my name, I felt like I got a few extra cheers. I just love standing on stage with all the other performers. It’s such a bonding experience to go through and it’s nice to stand there together and get some applause.

It was such an amazing night. I still have to be interviewed for the documentary in a few days but it felt like a chapter closing in my life. Mortified has been one of those rare, life changing experiences. It’s always one of the things I list when people ask me, “What was the scariest thing you did for your blog?” It taught me a lot about myself. Showed me I was capable of more than I ever imagined.

But like I said, I think the Mortified chapter is over. If they ask me to read again, I don’t think I would unless they really needed me. I appreciate everything they’ve done for me, but at a certain point, it feels weird reliving those past moments. Especially when they weren’t particularly great. I think it’s time to close the book on that awkward 12 year old kid from New Jersey.

Tell Me Your Scare Yourself Stories!

Hello everyone!

Have you been inspired by Scare Yourself Every Day?

Or just have a great story to tell about yourself confronting a fear or living outside your comfort zone?

Then I want to hear about it! Please submit your story (using the form below) for my upcoming community site Go Scare Yourself!

Your story could help others get inspired and start scaring themselves!

There’s no guarantee that your story will be published but I will let you know either way. Thanks so much and hope to hear from you soon.

- Greg

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#370 The Pheromone Party

A couple of weeks ago, Apocalypstick clued me into a strange sounding event called a Pheromone Party. It’s a singles mingle party with a twist. Everyone brings a white cotton t-shirt that they’ve slept in (and not laundered) for three nights. You’re supposed to keep the t-shirt in a Ziploc bag after you wake up in the freezer as that purportedly helps preserve your sex scent. The bags are brought to the party where you and your bag are given a number. The bags are all placed on a table and you can sniff people’s t-shirts. If you find one you are “attracted to,” then you get your photo taken with the bag and its number. The photos are displayed on a screen so if someone sees their number and thinks you’re attractive, they go find you and you make babies and live happily ever after. The theory behind it, of course, is pheromones, those mysterious olfactory odors that are supposedly one of the factors behind attraction.

Silly as it sounds, this is based on an actual study by some dude named Claus Wedekind. The science behind it involves a cell-surface protein called a Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) and blah blah blah sweaty t-shirt sex. Whatevs. I had to go this thing so I bought my ticket immediately.

Despite my abundance of white cotton t-shirts, I only have a few “nice” ones. The ones that  aren’t Hanes t-shirts that I got when I was college that one would only call white in the vaguest of terms and have more holes than OJ Simpson’s alibi. My nice ones are kind of expensive and I didn’t want to give one up but embarrassment prevailed over economics and I decided to sacrifice one of them for the sake of this party.

I didn’t follow the suggestion of keeping my t-shirt in a Ziploc bag every night. In fact, I didn’t even have a Ziploc bag that could fit my t-shirt on the day of the party. A quick trip to the Rite-Aid down the street remedied that. Bagged smelly t-shirt ready, I drove over to the Cinefamily Theater where the party was being held.

In particularly un-Greg-like fashion, I arrived 15 minutes “late.” There were about 10 people standing in line at the sign in table and they were all dudes except for one girl who was actually kind of cute.

I eavesdropped as she checked in since she was only a few people in front of me and memorized her number. My plan was to find her bag, get my photo taken with it and see if she came and found me. Was this cheating? Yes and no. Yes, I know it was cheating. Rimshot!

After a few minutes, I was at the table. I gave them my Ziploc bag and they gave me my number. Then I headed inside.

It took me a few minutes of aimless wandering to realize that the party was behind the theater, in an outdoor patio area. Quite a few people were already there. There was a table near the entrance with a giant sign and bags of t-shirts already on it.

The blue post-its denoted male shirts, the pink ones were female. Not surprisingly, most of the bags were male.

There was an area setup in the back where you could get your photo taken with a bag and a bar on the side. I got a beer and then headed for the t-shirt table.

I noticed right away that this was going to be a disaster. The bags were all just thrown on the table as people checked in. There was no separation between the female and male bags. Also, the table was in a very cramped area of the patio so a wall of people blocked any access to the bags. I stood around, trying to get at some but had no luck. Eventually they opened up a second table so I headed over there.

I started sniffing bags. That’s when I realized unless someone was particularly pungent, all I could smell was plastic. Other people realized this as well so pretty soon, people were yanking the shirts out of the bag and burying their noses in them. I’m not at Howie Mandel levels of germophobia, but this really grossed me out. First of all, you’re plunging your nose, mouth and face into the shirt of a stranger, a shirt that stranger has been wearing for three nights. Second of all, once that bag’s been around a few times, you’re sticking your face into a shirt that a bunch of other strangers have stuck their face into. Kind of disgusting.

Still, I got in close to a bunch of shirts to be able to actually smell them. For the most part, they smelled exactly the same. Pretty neutral. Some smelled a little spicy. Some like perfume which I thought was cheating. But I really didn’t find anything I was that interested in.

I also wasn’t able to find that one girl’s bag. Because at this point, people had taken bags off the table to stand in line to get their picture taken so there were few actually left on the tables. This was the dumbest part of the whole party. Why did people have to take the whole bag for the photo? It would’ve made more sense for people just to write down a list of numbers of the ones they were interested in. Half of the bags were standing in line most of the time so you couldn’t even smell all of them if you wanted to. Not to mention the line for the photos was incredibly long. There should have been at least two photo stations.

Eventually, the photos were sent to a TV screen in the patio area and on the movie screen back in the theater.

I talked to a few people but nobody interesting so I headed out to the theater where it was quieter and I could look at the photos. That’s where I ended up meeting a cool girl named Kate who also came out to sit. We chatted for awhile. She was smart, funny and interesting which seemed to be qualities lacking in most of the females there.

Eventually, she went off with her friend to sniff more shirts and I’d had enough at this point.

Overall it was an interesting concept completely ruined by execution. The biggest thing is they need to ditch the whole taking the photo with the bag idea. I know it makes for fun photos, but it makes it extremely difficult to sniff as many shirts as possible which is kind of the point. Also, they really need to organize the bags into men and women sections as well as have a bigger venue.

So I didn’t fall in love with anybody’s scent but I did meet someone the “old fashioned” way. You know, by talking with them and finding them interesting. Also, the party was written up in the LA Weekly. That’s me in the last photo, looking terribly stressed out trying to get to the shirt table.

#369 Have a Drink with an Ex-Con

I was in San Francisco this weekend visiting friends. I decided to cash in some of my stockpile of American Express Starwood Points and treat myself by staying at The W Hotel.

On Saturday night, I had some time to kill before my friends picked me up to go out to dinner. Since The W Hotel bars are usually pretty nice, I decided to have a drink there while I waited.

There wasn’t much going on since it was still early. I sat down at the bar, ordered a martini and settled in. I played with my phone for a few minutes before realizing I was breaking my own rule about being out alone: limit your phone use.

A few moments passed before a man two seats down from me leaned over and said, “I know this sounds weird, but do you think I could borrow your phone? Mine is all fucked up.” I looked at him. He was a light-skinned black guy, smallish build, looked like he was in his late 20′s. There was an iPhone sitting in front of him on the bar so I figured he was telling the truth or at least partly. But my immediately gut reaction was to say, “No, sorry.” Then I realized if SYED was still going on, I’d let him use my phone so I’d have a story to tell. So I did.

He called two numbers, none of who picked up. Then he slid the phone back to me. “Thanks a lot,” he said. I took a sip of my drink then looked back at him. The old me would’ve just been quiet and drank my drink. Instead I asked, “What’s wrong with your phone?”

“It’s kind of a fucked up story,” he said then explained he couldn’t pay his phone bill because he had to pay his rent first. And the reason he was so low on cash was he just got out of jail this morning.

Whoa. An ex-con. I had to ask this guy some questions.

Turns out he was in maximum security prison because he had gotten his second strike for his third DUI (make sense?). Maximum security for a DUI is absurd. He had a 30 day sentence reduced to 15. Maximum security involves being on 23-hour lockdown with absolutely nothing to do.

“No books? Pen? Paper?” I asked. Miguel, as his name turned out to be, shook his head.

“I counted to keep myself busy. By 1′s. Then by 2′s. Then by 3′s. 3, 6, 9, 12… and on and on,” he said. I was shocked and of course thought about my own little stint at doing solitary confinement. I could barely do 10 hours and this guy had to do two weeks. Others had to be in there for life.

Breakfast and dinner was one of the three “deaths.” Black death, red death or white death. Black death was a gravy with weird meat in it. Red death was a tomato sauce with weird meat in it. White death was a cheese sauce with weird meat in it. Everything basically had no salt because many of the prisoners had high blood pressure.

“The worst part about it,” Miguel said, “is they wake you up at 3:30am to feed you that shit.”

Lunch was bologna sandwiches and a salad with “dressing.” “They called it dressing but believe me, it was just mayo,” he said.

I looked at Miguel. He looked like a nice enough guy. Seemed smart enough when I talked to him. True, he wasn’t smart enough not to get three DUI’s but maximum security prison seemed excessive and expensive to taxpayers as well.

“All you do is think about how dumb you were to get in there. The whole time. There’s nothing else to do but beat yourself up about it,” he said. “I know what I did was stupid. I have no one to blame but myself. But it ain’t right in there. Fucks people up.” I just nodded like I understood which I really didn’t.

“Hey, next drink’s on me,” he said.

But I got a text from my friends. They were pulling up to the hotel. I finished my drink and thanked him for his offer. “Be good,” I said as I left the hotel.

I hope he will be.