I never had an official job growing up. No paper routes. No working at Blockbuster, MacDonalds, the Bischoffs ice cream shop, or Subway. I babysat the neighbor’s kids a few times to make some money during the summers. Between 9 and 13, some days during the summer I would go to work with my Dad at Presbyterian and he would pay me to tear perforated sheets of data from the printer and organize them into folders. He would give me 5-10 bucks an hour. I remember buying a really cool transformer triple changer from Davis Toys shop on Cedar Lane with some money I made from a day’s work. My main job up through college was basically being a good student, and doing well in my classes. I was very fortunate, definitely privileged, in not needing to have to pick up another job to support myself through college. In high school my parents would always spot me a twenty if I went on a date or something (which wasn’t THAT often but more on that in the sensual chapter).
The first real office job I ever had was during the summer after my sophomore college, working per diem in the admitting department of Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Manhatan, a job I got through a professional connection of my dads since he knew a lot of people in the hospital field. It was an amazing experience. I got to check out music at the Village Vanguard and Smalls when I did the late shift. During my training, I even got to admit the great jazz pianist Geri Allen when she was about to have a baby with her equally famous husband trumpeter Wallace Roney in his pajamas.
The first job I really got on my own was a music gig I got while attending Oberlin my freshman year. It was a gig playing with the Ernie Krivda Big Band, and it paid only something like 20 to 30 bucks but I was elated. I remember confiding to the older trombone player next to me that it was my first gig. He looked at me and I could tell how funny he thought my doe eyed innocence was and merely congratulated me. I was even more psyched when I made my first $100 playing in a Merengue band. The band was made up of locals in nearby Elyria, Ohio, but the gig was in a seedy Detroit. I rode up with another Obie sax player in the front of the band leader’s broken down pickup truck, which for some reason on the ride back could not go over 30 mph. The three of us ended up stopping at a highway rest stop where I slept for a couple of hours in the seat of a racecar arcade game. What should have been a 3 hour trip turned into a 10 hour trip back. The rest of the year I got comparably better paying gigs locally with salsa bands in Lorraine, specifically Sammy DeLeon y Su Orchestra. I even made a little spending money playing at Oberlin parties with a funk band called the Package and Greg Glassman’s small jazz group, Five Bass Hit, at the local Feve café Wednesday nights. So in hindsight, the first official jobs I got on my own were as a budding freelance trombonist. I had still yet to figure out what a job to pay the rent and live on my own without any parental help.
I missed my college graduation commencement ceremony because I had to to start my first real full time job, a six-month contract on Norwegian Cruise Lines playing in the showband, which played for all the featured artists and Broadway review shows. I got the gig when a trombone player I knew high school passed on a number for a cruise ship company that was looking for musicians. I called them and auditioned over the phone, reading some music they sent me and then played and improvised over a jazz standard bebop song. I think it was Confirmation. Playing on the cruise ship allowed to save money for moving to New York on my own, gave me time to practice, and provided me a way to see a lot of the world for free.
As many friends I made and great places I saw, the cruise ship industry often was sad because it seemed to be a place where many performing artists work to escape lives on land – alimony, stalled careers, bad relationships, warrants for arrest (seriously). It seemed to be a floating purgatory inside a womb of a ship, where many drink and consume their lives away. While passengers escaped a week for a nominal fee, many of the musicians, singers, and dancers usually escaped for three months to a year in exchange for contracted creative enslavement. While there were some incredibly talented people on the ship, it was a place that seemed to be able to kill an artist’s soul easier than anything on land because so often those that were in charge were that much more less qualified than any terrible producer/director on land.
After my cruise ship job ended in December of 1999 I moved to NYC in the January of 2000. Looking back, I would say your first year in New York tends to be the most memorable, because there are many sensations of your first times doing many things trying to find your identity in the big city. I reconnected with my old Oberlin college roommate, Chris, who lived in Williamsburg Brooklyn at the time. He let me temporarily stay with him while I figured out how I was going to make a living in NYC. I only had to pay $300 to sleep on a mattress on the floor of his study in his 1 bedroom apartment on South 3rd street and Keap. For nearly 4 months I did not need to get a day job, able to stretch out the $4000 I saved working on that cruise ship. During that time, I went to various jam sessions, most of which were jazz at the time, to show off my skills, make connections, and hopefully get some work. I even walked around Williamsburg asking different restaurants and pizza shops if I could play dinner music for $30 and/or free meals.
Aside from a $35 to a $100 dollar gigs here and there, it was very slim pickings. I started to get better paying gigs playing in salsa bands here and there. I made my first salsa connections playing in the salsa rehearsal band Tuesday nights at Boy’s Harbor in Spanish Harlem. However waiting to get paid at the end of the night of those gigs was often tiresome, especially when I would have to take many connections of subway trains to get back to Brooklyn at the end of the night.
After my saved cruise ship money dried up, I ended up joining a temp agency, and worked a few office jobs over the course of a month from the end of April up until Memorial Day in May. I quit my temp job when I thought I was on the verge of getting better paying gigs. I quickly learned that not only did I have more fun going to R&B jam sessions/open mics, but from those sessions I got called to play with bands that did parties like weddings and corporate events that paid pretty well, much better than most of the jazz gigs I was getting. My love for dancing seemed to pay off in making me a more desirable band member. I felt almost cocky having two of these $250 paying R&B “club dates” the books for May and June when I quite my temp job. It turned out I wouldn’t get many more over the next couple of months. I lived primarily on rice and beans for eight months, and when I had a sweet tooth, Duncan Heinz frosting on bread for dessert. Chris kindly asked for his space back after 6 months and I ended up moving into a two roommate situation with a sax player I went to school with in Oberlin for a couple of months before I moved out when scored a Broadway tour my 10th month in New York, giving me a financial cushion I had never known before. After the tour was officially over in May of 2001, I moved in with another Oberlin connection (friend of a friend) up in the Inwood/Washington Heights area of Manhattan, where I have lived ever since. Work started coming in more regularly with the “club date” connections and work which have fortunately been there, allowing me to live relatively comfortably but not extravagantly to present day.
Table of Contents
Part I – My Material (Physically Having) History
- Chapter 1 – Race, Money, Fashion
- Chapter 2 – Plants, Pets, and Education
- Chapter 3 – Jobs
- Chapter 4 – Connections, Opportunities, Genetics
Part II – My Sensual (Feeling) History
- Chapter 5 – The Satin Edge
- Chapter 6 – Gifted, Hyper Competitive, and Overly Sensitive
- Chapter 7 – Puppy Love and Status
- Chapter 8 – Busy-ness as Salvation
- Chapter 9 – Karate and Self Image
- Chapter 10 – Homophobia and Musical Expression
- Chapter 11 – Digging a Pond, High School, and Music Camp
- Chapter 12 – Heterosexuality, Self Esteem, Avon Fashion
- Chapter 13 – The Opposite Game, College, and Sex
- Chapter 14 – Cruise Ships, Internet, and Control
- Chapter 15 – Saturn’s Return, Delayed Gratification, and Aging Dreams