It's time to tell you who I really am
I owe you the truth - the whole truth - the real truth.
About me, and Teak Culture.
It's not an easy story to tell.
So, where to begin?
You may have read Teak Culture's "Our Story" page, aka our About Us page.
However, in the last analysis that page is just smart and necessary marketing.
It's well-know in ecommerce circles that most shoppers head to a website’s About Us page before deciding on a purchase and clicking the Add to Cart button.
You want to know who you’re giving your money to.
You want to know if the company is legit, and not out to scam you.
I do the same.
I always read a website’s About Us page before I hand over my money.
But the About Us page rarely tells the deeper, hidden truths about a company or its owners.
It's concise and shiny. You don't see any blemishes. No skeletons in the closet.
It's pure public relations. Mad Men-style marketing.
In it you read a bit about how or why the company was created and for whom, and if relevant, why they’re trying to save the world.
Maybe you’ll even read why its products or services are better than the competition’s, though this is typically the role of the sales page.
Afterwards, when you’re sold on the quality of their products and nobility of the company and their mission…
You still go to the competition’s website to check out their prices.
Because nobody wants to pay more for the same doodad just because it comes in a fancy box from a trendy store.
At least I don’t want to.
Okay. So, now to answer the question…
What’s the real, unvarnished truth about me, and Teak Culture.
First, we’ll tackle me.
So let's start with...
Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Bombers
I was born and raised in the Bronx.
We lived in a “pre-war” (built before WWll) 6-floor apartment building that was a 5-minute walk from Yankee Stadium.
We moved there when I was 12 from a racially and ethnically-mixed lower-middle class neighborhood at the far other end of the Bronx.
We went from a 1-bedroom apartment, where I slept on the couch in the living-room, to a 2-bedroom apartment, where I still slept on the couch until I went off to college.
My sister got the second bedroom. Which wasn't fair, at least in my opinion. I was older.
But she got the bedroom because she was a girl!
Nonetheless, my mother would've been content to stay in the old neighborhood with my sister continuing to sleep on a cot in her and my father's bedroom.
Why? Because my mother was worried we couldn’t afford the higher rent for a 2-bedroom apartment.
The rent was $125 per month.
My mother was a secretary, my father a jewelry salesman, and I wanted to be a baseball player.
Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, and the rest of the “60’s” Yanks were my heroes (except for Roger Maris, didn’t care much for him.)
And my friends and I figured out how to attend all the Yank's home games—for free!
We'd put on our rattiest t-shirts and dungarees (that's before they were called jeans) and we'd stand next to one of the entry gates, looking hopelessly poor and forlorn.
Around the start of the second inning, sometimes the third, one of the ticket-takers would inevitably tell us, “alright you kids, go sit up in the grandstands and don’t make no trouble.”
So we’d run inside and without a second-thought head straight to the box seats.
And there we’d sit for an inning or two, whoopin' and hollerin', until an usher chased us out.
Oh, to be a kid again. Those were fun times.
High School and a Different Path...
New York City has a number of "special" high schools.
The Bronx High School of Science was for science nerds.
The High School of Music and Art – well, it’s obvious what that school was for.
And there were other special schools as well.
I had no intention of applying to any of them. They were all a subway train away from home. Too far.
I wanted to go to my neighborhood school, Taft High School, with all my friends.
But when one of them told me I can get a day off from school if I apply to any of these special schools—I applied to them all!
I applied to Bronx Science. They gave me a math test. I hate math. I’m terrible at math. I didn’t even finish the test.
I applied to Music and Art but only to their art department - because the only musical instrument I knew how to play was the radio.
Then again, I also didn't know how to draw, other than stick figures.
But I was fearless, and determined to amass as many school days off as possible.
So I applied to every special school there was...and wasn’t accepted to any.
Well...except for one.
A high school located in the heart of Times Square. A world away from the Bronx.
The High School of Performing Arts.
It had three departments. Music, dance and drama.
Well, you already know about my musical talents.
Dance? Fuhgeddaboudit. Not a chance.
As for the drama department, all they wanted was for me to recite a monologue.
Okay, but I had no idea what a monologue was.
So I asked my mother to checkout a book from the library that had monologues.
I picked one out that was short and easy to memorize.
The next morning I took the subway, the D train, to my audition, and another day off from school.
The school was housed in a small building built in 1894 for a purpose I can’t remember, if I ever did.
Sandwiched between a dirt parking lot on one side and an office building, or maybe it was a hotel, on the other, it looked out of time and out of place.
It was nicknamed The Castle.
It had no campus, no sports teams, just 600 aspiring actors, dancers and musicians from every borough in New York City.
Anyway, I recited my monologue…
...And I was accepted!
Whoa. That wasn't supposed to happen.
Well, that night I decided. I was gonna be a movie star!
When my father learned I agreed to attend the school - he wanted to kill me.
He came around eventually of course. Didn't have a choice.
But on my first day at Performing Arts, I was now having second thoughts.
It was obvious that almost all the students had some sort of theatrical background. And they showed it.
They were animated, exuberant, uninhibited.
The world was their stage, and they were always on.
Some had already performed professionally.
By the way, the movie “Fame” was based on Performing Arts, or PA as we called it.
And here was me.
Supremely self-conscious, with no pretensions of having any performing talent.
During my first week, very much intimidated by all these stars-to-be...
I was descending the central staircase, going to lunch, along with everyone else…
When the girl next to me, an “upperclassman,” asked me, addressing me by name no less, how I was getting along at PA.
Well, I was thrilled that she knew my name—and she was so sweet, and pretty.
Not wanting to show that I felt like a duck out of water, I stammered that everything was…uh, great!
She introduced herself. Her name, Melissa Manchester.
If you want to know which other stars attended PA, from Jennifer Aniston to Al Pacino, you can see some of their names listed here.
Long story short, my four years at PA was a ball. And I was fully committed to being an actor.
But I still wanted to go to college.
I applied to what I understood to be the top drama schools: Juilliard and Carnegie-Mellon.
Carnegie, however, was where I really wanted to go. Don’t remember why.
So when it came time to audition for Julliard, I didn’t exactly take it very seriously.
Legendary actor and producer John Houseman (“The Paper Chase”) was holding the auditions.
So, I did my schtick in front of him (I don’t remember the monologue I recited, but I think it was from “A Thousand Clowns.”)
After I was done, Mr. Houseman asked me who was my favorite actor.
Well, Laurence Olivier was widely considered the greatest living thespian—so, of course, I said Laurence Olivier.
Then, Mr. Houseman said, “why?”
I had no idea why. I was lying.
But I had watched the movie “Spartacus” starring Kirk Douglas on TV the night before.
And Olivier had a part in the movie.
At that time Olivier was getting on in years, and there was a scene where he had to mount a horse.
And he did it rather well, effortlessly even.
Well, I couldn’t think of an answer for Mr. Houseman, other than…
“I enjoy how he’s able to…to…to stay in physical shape for his roles—because I was watching Spartacus last night and I was so impressed with how at his age he could get on a horse.”
Okay, so I didn’t get accepted to Julliard.
But I got accepted to Carnegie!
And again my father wanted to kill me.
However, one year after attending Carnegie my life took another unexpected turn.
Suddenly, I found myself traveling down a very dangerous and deadly road.
In next month’s The Teakster: The Truth, part 2, I’ll tell you the rest of the story.
In the meantime, please let me know below in the comments if you enjoyed reading this month’s Part 1 of The Truth.
Until next month—stay teak strong!