A series of stories from my life.
Big Nipple Audition:
Last week I went on an audition for a commercial. I had to take my shirt off. Oh no. (I kept my wedding ring on). But I’m self-conscious about my big nipples. I told my wife I was nervous. She said, “oh stop, you don’t have big nipples, you have big areolas.” OH WHEW.
They had me wait in the room while the guy before me auditioned. He took off his shirt. I almost started to applaud. It looked like he photoshopped Zac Efron’s body onto his body. I should’ve left right there.
Now it was my turn. I took off my shirt. My areola’s flaunting in all their glory. The casting director got an eye full of pale skin, moles and pepperoni. You’re welcome. Almost as soon as I tossed my shirt aside the director said, “THANKS SO MUCH.”
Look. At the end of the day, I’m happy with my body. The lesson here is never, NEVER look at the guy auditioning before you.
Wake Up Wife With Fart
Ok. I woke up my wife with a fart. I know. I KNOW. Not proud. (It may have happened more than once.)
She’s a deep sleeper. I could set off fireworks in the bedroom and blast death metal music and she would still sleep. It was not the sound of the fart that woke her up. (I know. I know.) The smell literally broke her out of a REM cycle. You know in the movies when you see someone come back to life after they were drowning? It was like that. But instead of coming back to life, she woke up to death. It did NOT smell fresh.
“OH MY— baby, did you fart?”
“You can smell that?”
“Why would you do that? It’s so noxious. You ruined our bed.”
“Ok, I mean it’s not tha–“
“It’s bad. Why would you do that to your wife?”
Never thought I’d fart so bad I’d need marriage counseling. WOW. Now anytime I have gas I have to leave the bedroom. THE THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE. Doctors say it’s healthy to release gas when you have it, but what they don’t tell you is that it’s bad for relationships.
Got on a plane to Italy…
Wife and I were planning to go to Greece (the real Greece, not Astoria). The first two announcements about delays gave me heartburn. They gave everyone free food to console our furious animal brains. After waiting 10 hours they announce there’s a maintenance issue and the flight is cancelled. At this point I don’t even remember what the word ‘patience’ means. I’m a big ole pouting baby. Wife is frantically getting refunds on all Greece bookings. I continue to stress eat. They announce the next three days of Greece flights are overbooked (classic). At this point passengers have formed their alliances, broken off handles from rolling suitcases as weapons and are on the verge of full out riot. Also, we were flying out of Philly so we couldn’t just go home (double classic). A dear friend from Philly let us crash for the night. Get good friends in your life like that if you don’t have them.
We found that there were open seats on a flight to Venice. VERY awesome plan B destination. Wife frantically booked hotels. Got on a plane to Italy and now we’re here butchering the lovely language by saying things like “more gelato, grat-see”. Pretty sure I’ve said “chef boyardee” twice on accident.
Through all this we learned sometimes in life you do weeks of planning to go to a certain place but it doesn’t work out, things fall through, but you end up somewhere beautiful. No plans, just present in the moment.
The time my bro-in-law challenged me to an arm wrestle…
It was a pleasant evening. My wife and I had her older brother and his daughter over for dinner. It was nice. I love my brother-in-law. He’s one of the best guys I know and we get along lovely. BUT he’s also the most alpha male I’ve ever met in my life. Not only does he have a successful career in finance, but he does IRONMAN COMPETITIONS. I can’t even run two miles before giving up and calling a cab.
We finish dinner and my bro-in-law commented that I’m looking pretty strong. Do I work out? How much do I bench? (Classic bro talk).
Then my well-meaning, fiercely supportive, encouraging wife says, “I bet Paul’s stronger than you.”
To which I replied, “<SILENCE FOR 10 SECONDS>”
To which my bro-in-law responded, “Oh yeah? Let’s arm wrestle.”
THANK YOU SO MUCH HONEY. I’m in panic mode. I don’t want to arm wrestle. I hate conflict. I can’t lose an arm wrestle IN MY OWN HOME. Internally, I’m hyping myself up like I’m going into battle: “you must defend your home, you must defend your wife’s honor, you must earn your bro’s respect by beating him in front of his daughter and sister. DO. NOT. LOSE.”
All really healthy, post-dinner thoughts.
I agree to the arm wrestle. We get on our knees and post up on the coffee table. Wife and bro-in-law are laughing and chatting. I am silent. I am in the zone. Channeling all of my fear strength.
BEGIN. We are locked in and in a stale mate for a good five seconds. Wavering side to side. The whole time in my head I’m screaming at myself “DEFEND YOUR WIFE’S HONOR. DEFEND YOUR HOME.” I’ve never had an adrenaline rush before, but about ten seconds into the match, I have a burst like a mother lifting a car off her baby. I slam him down. Thank you merciful God for giving me the strength to win and continue making eye contact with my brother-in-law for the rest of our lives.
As soon as I won the match he left. Awkwardest goodbye ever. I’ve retired from arm wrestling forever.
Story about my first night in NYC:
I was crashing with one of my sister-in-law’s friends in Brooklyn. It was January and rainy. I had been in Manhattan hanging out with a friend from college and when I returned to Brooklyn it was a little before midnight, cold and rainy. I buzzed the door. Nothing.
I buzzed again. Nothing.
I text. Nothing.
I call. Nothing.
Waited 15 minutes. Then repeated the cycle.
I keep doing this for a few hours. Luckily, I’m sitting on the front steps in cold rain. So blessed.
PANIC SETS IN. At this point it’s now 2:00AM. A few drunk people who live in the building come home and let me inside. Thank God. I’m out of the cold rain. Finally I can go to bed and get some rest for my first day of work as a busboy at a fancy Italian restaurant (I quit this job after three days because it was too stressful).
I knock. Nothing.
I ring. Nothing.
I text and call. Nothing.
[Repeat for two hours].
NOTHING. OH DEAR GOD.
I feel like a psycho ex-boyfriend. I don’t know what else to do. So I do the only rational thing I know to do. I sit down in the stairwell and wait. All night. Just sit in a stairwell while trying to not look creepy as residents come home. Trying to not look creepy only makes you look creepier.
At about 4:00AM I literally say out loud:
“Elohim Elohim Sabachthani” (my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)
That’s what Jesus cried out on the cross as he was dying. I cried it out while sitting in a staircase in Williamsburg. It felt the same at the time. I felt so abandoned, alone and betrayed. BUT THEN. Day broke. 5:00AM rolled around and I felt at peace. I made it through the night. I survived. I could make it in this city. Everything would be okay. I kept waiting.
At about 9:00AM my sister-in-law’s friend texted:
“Hey, just woke up, sorry!”
SHE WAS INSIDE THE APARTMENT SLEEPING THE WHOLE TIME.
Look. Sometimes people will disappoint you and you’ll feel alone. But it won’t last. And you’re not alone. Sometimes you just have to sit in a stairwell through the night until the day breaks.
Keep hoping and keep persevering.
Preparing for Fatherhood
I’m reading a baby book. To prepare to be a dad. In two months. Pray for me.
Our OB recommended a parenting book to help us know what to expect each trimester. I’ll be frank. It’s mainly stats about how things go wrong, why things go wrong, ways to not kill your baby, and fun anecdotes about how impossible it is to be a good parent. So I’m feeling good. I’m good. You’re good? Good.
Reading through the book makes getting to a new trimester feel like I just beat a level in a video game. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, BABY IS STILL ALIVE, NEXT LEVEL. What the book doesn’t tell you is that the final level is birth and you’re the boss that the baby defeats. Game over, new life has won. Then you read about more ways your baby can die and ways you’ll probably screw up as a parent (especially you, dads, LOL). This is why they say making a baby is a miracle. Because there are a trillion things that can go wrong. And even when things go as planned there are still things that can and will go horribly awry.
We’ve also turned to other parents for advice. Other parents don’t really give advice so much as they give warnings on two things:
1. Ways to not kill your baby
2. POOP WILL GET EVERYWHERE INCLUDING YOUR MOUTH
Multiple parents have informed me, “oh, you’re having a boy? well he’s going to pee in your mouth when you change his diaper.” JACKPOT! The spoils of parenthood, amiright? I gag VERY easily. Can’t wait to accidentally throw up on my precious baby boy.
Books and parents warn to help prepare you for the worst. It comes from a loving place. I’m genuinely thrilled and grateful that I get to be a dad. I just have to appreciate that there might be an increase in days where I wake up and think OH NO I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING. Then eat a sandwich and be fine.
My first job in NYC…
Let me preface. I moved to NYC without already having a job. Just some money in savings and hope. I came to the city to pursue comedy but needed to make money. No idea what I was doing.
One of my dad’s business contacts set up a job for me at a super fancy Italian restaurant in Astoria. It’s still there. Trattoria L’Incontro. The manager Vinny still runs the place. Very suave guy. I’ve never worked in food before so this felt like going straight to the major league without having never swung a bat. FEELING REAL CONFIDENT.
It’s January and snowing. I’m from Florida. I’m numb but not from the cold. I take two hours to get to Astoria even though it’s a 45 minute ride. I get off the train and immediately walk into the Trattoria restaurant. I walk to the back and announce to a very large Italian cook that I’m Paul, and I’m here for my job.
“Paul, I’m here to be a bus boy.”
“Is this Trattoria L’Incontro?”
“NO. No, no. Down the street.”
Did you know that there are 7.9 million restaurants in NYC that begin with “Trattoria”. Haha. What a hoot. So hilarious. No clue. Currently fighting back tears. About to walk into a new job with puffy eyes.
I finally find the RIGHT Trattoria. I’m covered in snow and panic. I’m greeted by one of the smoothest, sharpest men I’ve ever met in NYC (I’ve met about 3 people so far including the burly man at the mistaken Trattoria). He’s very kind. He can tell I’m tense. I had the vibe of frantic-parent-searching-for-lost-child.
“Me? Yes. Yes? Sorry I’m late, I’m so–“
“Take a breath. It’s okay. Take it easy.”
Day one, already crushing it. Nailing the first impression.
Vinny shows me around the restaurant and introduces me to the staff. Another bus boy takes over and shows me the ropes. I don’t remember anything.
I went to college for 4 years and graduated Cum Laude. Everything is going over my head. Real intense stuff like, how to place the table cloth and when to refill waters. He tries to show me how to make an espresso. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. No.
It’s so impossibly complicated to me that I don’t even bother trying to learn. I will quit before I ever have to make one solo.
“You got it?”
I survive my first day. I’m convinced bus boys should be making six-figure salaries.
Day two. I get there on time. Vinny is VERY impressed. I’m hanging on by a thread. Work begins and I almost feel like I know what I’m doing. ALMOST (I don’t actually). I’m filling up glasses of water, replenishing bread for the table. Totally crushing it as NYC’s newest bus boy of the year. I change a table cloth BY MYSELF.
Immediately break a pepper shaker.
My soul leaves my body. Abandons my physical being. Bye, you deal with it, idiot. I’m in a panic grabbing handfuls of pepper with my barehands. Another bus boy cleans it up like an adult. Vinny reassures me. Vinny’s reassurance makes me want to call him dad. I keep my head low the rest of the day.
Day three. I show up on time. Again, Vinny is VERY impressed. Or surprised. I can’t tell. Greet Vinny and let him know that I’m quitting. He acts shocked. Asks me if I’m okay. We both laugh on the inside. I think about hugging him but don’t. He hands me an envelope of cash. As I walk to the subway I check the envelope. $80. I’m rich. Oh no, why did I quit? Two days of work and a broken pepper shaker and I get $80? $80 is way too much money for what I’d done. Or rather what I didn’t do.
I got another job that week. God showed me pity. One involving zero pepper shakers.
Whatever you’re struggling through. Give it more than three days. Give it a week and then one more day. You can overcome it and conquer it. Just think, if I had persisted and kept working hard I would’ve been able to accomplish incredible things like: setting a table. Cleaning a table. Not break pepper shakers. But I still never would’ve learned to make an espresso.
My first girlfriend…
Honestly, I don’t know if it even “technically” qualified as dating, but I still count it. I’m not going to use her real name in the story (close to her real name, but not her real name).
It was sixth grade. I had bright blonde hair and glasses. I was the fastest runner in sixth grader (something I’m still proud of). I wore glasses and tighty-whities. I was not confident. Whenever the teacher called on me to speak in class my face would get beat red, my eyes would water and voice would shake. Truly a PILLAR of a man.
I heard the “hot” girl had a crush on me. This is huge. This is life changing. I already see us getting married and me doing badass things like speaking in class. As one does in sixth grade, I was told this steaming, hot piece of intel through a series of her friends passed along to my friends. Very reliable.
“Becky has a crush on you. You gonna ask her out?”
“Oh dude, you like her, don’t you!”
<face turns bright red and I start sweating>
“We’re going to tell her you like her too!”
Time slows down. I lose all focus on school. It feels like a grenade just went off by my ear. A girl is going to know that I, Paul Schissler, HAVE A CRUSH ON HER. All sounds are muffled. I’m floating in a dark sea. No idea what we’re learning in class the rest of the day. School is pointless. Education meaningless. Only thinking about my future girlfriend.
By the way. I forgot to mention earlier. I HAVE NEVER SPOKEN WITH BECKY BEFORE. We saw each other in school occasionally and our friends took care of the rest.
I put together a game plan. My body put together a nervous stomach ache. Perfect. In between switching classes, I planned to run up to her, ask her out, she would say yes, then BOOYAH. Dating.
Bell rings. All my dumb friends watch me make a beeline for Becky. I’m sweating. VERY bad stomach ache. Face deep red. I reach Becky. This is it. I lay my heart on the line like a knight in shining armor.
“Will you be my girlfriend?”
[then immediately walks away]
BOOM. Welcome to girlfriend town, chumps. Just like that I’m in a committed relationship. It takes the entire rest of the school day to come down from the adrenaline rush of talking to her. I, Paul Schissler, am a boyfriend.
We don’t speak for the next seven days.
We don’t ever speak.
No idea what I’m doing. Too afraid to call her on the phone. Blowing it. Hard. James Blunt’s “Goodbye My Lover” plays on constant loop in my head.
At the end of the week I get a voicemail on my home phone. You know, the home phone, where your entire family can listen.
[voice of a boy clearly impersonating a girl]
“Hey Paul, this is Becky, your girlfriend, are you going to call me on the phone or anything? hehehe.”
Devastating. A prank call from a dumb boy IMPERSONATING MY GIRLFRIEND. I should fight for her honor. I do nothing.
The following Monday her friends tell me she wants to break up. Totally get it. Honestly, really wise move on her part. One of the cornerstones of dating someone is communication. One of the cornerstones of communication is actual communication.
I am incredibly relieved. And incredibly single.
If I could tell my sixth grade self one thing about dating: don’t be afraid to talk to people. Eventually you will talk to people, make friends and you’ll meet your dream woman and get married.
The first time I met my in-laws…
Quick preface: I’m white. My wife, Esther, is Korean. The week leading up to meeting my future in-laws, my wife’s friends prepared me. Just kidding. They TERRIFIED ME. It was like an episode of that prison show “Scared Straight” where inmates shout at troubled youths to keep them out of jail. So like that, but with meeting Korean parents.
“Korean culture isn’t like white people. It’s not all laid back and chill.”
“DON’T touch her in front of her parents. No hand holding, hugging, kissing. NOTHING.”
“When you’re at dinner, don’t drink or eat ANYTHING until her father begins.”
“Again, NO hand holding or touching their daughter.”
“It’s best to speak as little as possible. Actually, don’t talk. Sit there and smile and don’t say anything dumb.”
Needless to say, I was confidently looking forward to a pleasant dinner with my then-girlfriend’s parents.
Her parents are in town on a trip for her Father’s church. Her dad’s a pastor. I’m actively thinking of scripture to slip into conversation. It’s the day of. Tonight I will meet my girlfriend’s parents. I spent all week practicing “hello” in Korean. I butcher it perfectly. I decide to work remotely out of Esther’s office that day. It makes me feel less anxious to be close, plus we can leave together to meet her parents at the restaurant. Perfect.
Esther gets a call from her mom that they’re near her office and want to stop by to say hello. Perfect. PERFECT. PERFECT. NOT part of the plan. No. I’m not ready to meet them yet. Abort. Abort. Should I hide in the bathroom stall? I’m not mentally ready yet.
I instantly start sweating. The nervous poop monster pops up in my belly. My face is turning red for no reason. My hands start shaking. Why are my hands shaking? Stop shaking. Esther asks me if I’m okay to meet her parents.
“hah, totally, babe. of course. yes. absolutely fine.”
She looks nervous too for some reason. Oh no. Why is she nervous? Oh God. She knows I’m going to blow it. We’re both nervous. I keep wiping sweat from my hands and doing my best impression of “guy who knows how to breathe properly.”
Her parents walk around the corner. Eagle has landed. You got this white boy. All my “scared straight” training comes flooding in. I walk awkwardly fast toward them. Slow down what are you doing? I reason it’s polite to walk to them before they walk to me. This is the woman I love’s parents. This is a big moment. I need to make a good first impression. Esther’s mom is visibly aware that I’m visibly VERY nervous. It’s surreal to see someone absorb your energy and reflect how badly you’re freaking out.
She says hello. I say hello in Korean. Offensively bad. Her smile is like a hug. She skips a hand shake and hugs me. She holds my hand and keeps patting it and smiling at me. She doesn’t let go of my hand. That’s how visibly nervous I was. She was consoling me like I was a trauma victim. She asks about my mom. Esther’s dad smiles and says hello with a hearty chuckle. He doesn’t speak again. A man of few words.
I hug her mom goodbye. I begin regaining consciousness. I feel so loved and accepted. So grateful for her parent’s warmth. So laid back and gracious. Nothing like what Esther’s friends had warned me.
We had dinner that evening and it was lovely. I followed all the rules: NO TOUCHING. Lots of sitting silently and smiling. At the end of the night Esther’s father gave me a pen from his church. It felt like I was receiving a sword from the king. That was our conversation. Him giving me a pen. It was beautiful.
The lesson I learned was that you should take as much advice as you can from others who know better than you, but be confident in yourself. Trust who you are. And most importantly NO PDA in front of parents.
My first time doing stand-up…
Some people are just born natural stand-up comedians. I was not one of those people. I was born funny, but not born a stand-up comedian. Very different. It’s taken a lot of work and even more failure. I still fail a lot, but I’m better at it now.
It was the day after my 21st birthday. I promised myself that when I turned 21 and was old enough to drink that I’d get on stage and do stand-up. I was TERRIFIED of public speaking. Just thinking about speaking in front of a crowd used to make me panic. So, duh, just throw a couple drinks in to get loosey-goosey. Booze confidence. I was living in Nashville for the summer. I Googled open mics in Nashville. Found a sports bar off the highway hosting an open mic. Tonight was the night. I didn’t tell any of my friends I was going to do a mic. This was a solo journey.
I spent all day writing up a very crappy five minutes of “material.” It was bad. Not even actual jokes. Knowing I would need a drink before even walking into the bar, I prepare a mixed drink. Tequila and grape juice. I put it in a water bottle. Grape juice was all I had. I didn’t know better.
The drive to the open mic is silent. No music. No talking to myself. Silence. Fear. Doubt. Turn around. Nervous stomach ache. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. I’m alone in my car driving and my heart is already racing.
I pull into the sports bar. It looks much sketchier than I anticipated. Why would they have comedy in a place like this? They will hate me here. I am not “highway sports bar” guy. I’m “let’s hang out at youth group” guy. I sit in silence in my car debating if I should leave. 10 minutes pass. I stay. Chug the entire water bottle of tequila juice. Gag. Alcohol is gross but WOW do I feel confident enough to leave my car.
When I walk inside the bar I immediately want to leave. Is smoking still legal inside bars? People are smoking. The people playing pool look like they are physical growths from this establishment. They are sports bar people. I ask the bartender if the open mic is happening. She points me to a large bearded guy. He’s very nice.
Hi, I’m here for the open mic? I’m Paul? (I’m so nervous my own name is a question)
Yeah man, just write your name down.
Okay, great. Thank you. How long have you been doing comedy? What’s it like?
Umm…I dunno, a few years. It’s kinda just the same guys telling jokes around here.
Wow. That’s so cool. It’s my first time.
Okay. Well, you’ll be okay. Just stand up there and do your thing.
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so nervous.
Good work, tequila. Thanks for having my back and helping me nail that first impression with lots of confidence and coolness YOU IDIOT.
I sit down by myself. Observe the other comics. They’re all friends. One guy is with his girlfriend. He looks cool. Mainly because the other guys look like they do not have girlfriends. The host starts the mic and announces the winner of the mic is awarded a free Fresca.
I have never desired a Fresca more in my life.
Don’t even like Fresca. But winning a Fresca for being the funniest person in the room?
I will die for that Fresca.
One by one, the regulars do their sets. They laugh for each other. I am confused. This is not the stand-up I’ve seen on TV. I don’t know what this is. A couple are really funny. I’m hopped up on adrenaline and tequila so I laugh generously. The girlfriend guy does his set. He crushes. I follow.
“The next comic, it’s his first time doing stand-up. Give him a warm welcome.”
“Hi I’m Paul. Thank you…”
[everything is a blur]
A mix of cringe-worthy act-outs and shouting ensues. Other than that, no idea what I said.
But I got some laughs. It honestly might’ve been two or three laughs. But they were real laughs.
It’s over. I did it. So much adrenaline.
I return to my seat and down a beer. The mic ends and the host announces the winner of the Fresca. In my head I’m making plans for my Fresca trophy. I’ll put it on my mantle. Maybe I’ll frame it one day and talk about how I won it at my first open mic.
The dude with the girlfriend won.
Makes sense. Good choice. He drank the Fresca. I’m dumbfounded he didn’t want to keep it as a trophy. To each their own. I walk over to congratulate him.
“You were so funny, how did you do that?” (it was like a child talking to a magician)
“Oh, thanks, I’ve been doing it a few years. It was your first time? You were funny. My girlfriend was cracking up at one of your bits.”
[I’m transported to heaven]
“Really? I mean, really. Wow, thank you. That means so much.”
They thought I was funny. Someone other than my mom thought I was funny. I’ll never stop doing this. I’ll never come back to this highway sports bar, but I’ll find other bars. Then shows. Then who knows! (Adrenaline was still surging through my veins)
That was it. That’s when I was hooked. At a highway sports bar in Nashville, TN.
In 9 days I’m going to be a dad…
My wife’s due date is in nine days. September 26th. I’ve heard from a lot of parents that the baby rarely comes on the actual due date. But it’s about nine days. SO MANY EMOTIONS. Laughing while cry-humming writing this.
Family and friends have been incredibly generous. That means each day I carry boxes, packages and envelopes of baby stuff for the baby upstairs to our apartment. My existence is box carrier, to opener to box disposer. Repeat. So much stuff. At this point it makes more sense for me to throw out our bed, couch, table and just use diaper stacks as their replacement.
I’m so excited to be a dad. I’m so terrified to be a dad. I made a bucket list in my head of things to do before the boy comes. I didn’t mean to. My brain instinctively did it. I’m not dying. Why would I do that? It’s a death of one stage of my life, but it’s more so a birth of a new stage.
My bucket list:
-sit in silence for prolonged periods of time
-eat at restaurants
-take 20 minute showers
-not smell poop
Our hospital bag is packed. Can you bring a beer in a hospital bag? Hah! J/K! (it’s a bottle of Soju). Overall I feel pretty useless throughout pregnancy. Esther carries the weight and endures torture on her body. I buy ice-cream bars and chips. That is the cross I bear for this family. Walking to CVS for junk food. Paul: The Provider.
But we are a team. A unit. Creating life together has made us closer. I will love this boy, but not as much as I love his mother. His mom is awesome. I’ve never met him before, I don’t know him yet. When he’s born I’ll tell you all his name. OR if you wire me $100k we will name him whatever you want. Even if it’s dumb like Baby McBabyface. Or Sir Screech Da Baller. Or Chet.
I love you all.
The day my son was born…
Wednesday. September 26th. The due date. Not even born and our boy is punctual.
Today’s supposed to be the day. This could be it. My wife and I both work from home JUST IN CASE. Everyone tells us that your first is always late so we’re not too concerned.
Her water breaks. We think. Did it break? It’s not like the movies where there’s a waterfall and all of a sudden we’re jumping out the window into an ambulance and some George Clooney-looking doctor is screaming “PUSH, PUSH” five minutes later. It was all very chill. I leave the house to drop off some paperwork at my wife’s office. Then I go to the gym. This could be my last workout in a long time, and I want to be crazy buff for my son so one day he can say “my dad can beat up your dad” and all the other kids will be like “yeah, for sure.”
So I’m in the gym, getting huge, thinking about how life is going to change forever and my wife texts me.
Wife: I’m getting contractions
Me: Should I come home?
Why would I ask if I should come home? OF COURSE I SHOULD RUN HOME IMMEDIATELY. I drop the weights (RIP to getting buff) and run out of the gym. Get on the Q train and almost immediately they announce uptown service is shut down due to an emergency. *$%&#@!!!!!!!. Of course. I’m freaking out. I sprint to the street to get a car. It’s raining so traffic is extra bad. I manage to get a car but it takes FOREVER to make it home in the traffic.
Finally get home. We grab our hospital bags and jump in a car to the hospital. This is it. It’s go time. It’s really happening. How is it happening already? Nine months is a long time but how are the nine months already done? The boy is fully cooked and ready to come out of the oven.
The pregnancy waiting room is PACKED with pregnant women. NICE. PERFECT. Eeeeeeeeeverybody just feels like giving birth today, huh? There isn’t any seating left, so they have us sit in the hallway. Yes. Pregnant woman having contractions, running a fever. Let’s have her sit in the hallway. That’s right. Wife was also running a fever that morning. BEAUTIFUL.
We sit in the hallway for two hours.
(Don’t worry, they gave her a styrofoam cup of water.)
Finally we get her into a room. She’s already past 5cm dilated. Lots of pain. They can’t give her the epidural because the fever and contraction pains is giving her high blood pressure. At this point I’ve ground my teeth down all the way to the gums.
9cm dilated. No epidural. LOTTA PAIN. Luckily for my wife, she has me standing by her side:
“It will be okay.”
Just knocking it out of the park with words of encouragement.
She’s endured up to 9cm dilated with zero pain medication before they finally give her the epidural. Thank God.
It’s game time.
Doctor says she’s 10cm so it’s time to push. No time to grab an extra nurse to assist.
“Paul, grab a leg”
I’m too jacked up on adrenaline to process thoughts so I follow orders like a scared 18-year-old in bootcamp. The “PUSH” part of the delivery was totally like the movies. Doctor and nurse shouting at my wife like coaches yelling from the sideline at their star player.
“PUSH, PUSH, PUSH, GOOD, YOU GOT IT, GOOD, GOOD, YOU’RE DOING GREAT, KEEP IT UP.”
“HARDER! PUSH HARDER! YOU’RE ALMOST THERE!”
In a nearly inaudible voice I was saying, “good job, babe, good job.” I haven’t been trained in baby delivery shouting so I was A LITTLE SHEEPISH OKAY?
It took her under 30 minutes to push him out. My wife is a bonafide, rockstar, champion of a badass. BAM. Pushed him out. I cut the cord with almost no difficulty, so we each contributed fairly equally.
The second I heard Owen Taeun Schissler cry his first cry I felt every cell in my body change. Melt. Burst with love. Explode with unrestrained joy. He’s here. Our boy is alive and here and his cry is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. In that moment I felt I would do anything for this person. I’ll never stop loving him. I want to sacrifice for him, for this family more than I ever conceived of sacrificing.
Owen didn’t ask to be brought into this world, but I’m thankful he’s here. I hope one day he’s thankful he’s here and realizes what a gift it is to be alive. I hope he’s as in awe of his Umma as he should be.
One of the times (JUST ONE OF THEM) I pooped my pants in third grade…
Let me start by saying, I HAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE pooping in public. Always have. The thought of strangers waiting on me to finish up so they can use the bathroom gives me a nervous stomach ache. Then I have to go all over again. Also, germs.
Mobile, AL. Pauline O’Rourke Elementary School.
I’m waiting for my mom to pick me up from school, hanging out in the library with one of my best friends. It’s after school so we have the whole library at our disposal. Bean bags, books and a stomach brewing up a storm in one little blonde boy.
We’re having fun. It’s during drawing cartoons that I feel the first rumble. Level 1. No worries, I’m sure mom will come by the time I need to go poop. We keep drawing, laughing, being free like we’re going to live forever.
We’re running playing tag. I’m stopped in my tracks by the rumble. Level 2. I lose tag and don’t care. Start assessing exit strategies. You might not make it before mom comes.
“Hey, let’s take a break, I have to go pee.”
I can’t let my friend know I have to poop. Pee is a safe, respectable body relief. We find a faculty bathroom. It smells of pee. We turn on the light and see the urine smell is coming from the massive pool of urine surrounding the toilet. Classic. I can’t use the pee covered throne. I gag but play it off like I’m laughing and run away quickly.
We keep playing. I’m in hell. Level 3.
We’re throwing a ball back and forth. I fart. My friend smells it.
“Ewww, did you just fart”
YES THOMAS I JUST FARTED PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GET OFF MY BACK I’M BARELY CLENCHING IT TOGETHER HERE.
(That’s what I wanted to say)
“Haha, yeah, I tooted.”
As I’m throwing the ball back it happens. Level 4.
It’s not a fart.
It’s not a shart.
It’s not a rose-smelling heart.
Full on regular turds. Fills my whitey-tighties to the brim. He throws the ball back, I miss it. I can’t bend down to pick it up because that will mash it all over my butt. I do what I can only refer to as the “bend and snap” (reference “Legally Blonde”), where my legs are straight and I slowly bend down on one side to pick it up, straightening up quickly.
“Ewww, what’s that smell? Did you fart again?”
NO THOMAS THAT’S POOP I JUST TOOK A DUMP IN MY KHAKIS WHY CAN’T YOU JUST PRETEND TO NOT SMELL ANYTHING AND THROW THE DAMN BALL
“Haha, yeah, I tooted again.”
[a few minutes pass]
“Did you fart again?”
“Yea, I did. I keep tooting, that’s why it’s smelling.”
MOM WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?
Just then my mom pulls up in her van. I grab my backpack and waddle-run out. You ever see a penguin try to run fast? That was me.
Were I a wiser boy, I wouldn’t have sat down when I got into the van. I sat down. Smoosh. The poop is no longer contained in my whitey-tighties.
“Mommy, I pooped my pants.”
The time a kid tried to heal me when I was in a wheelchair…
Sophomore year of high school I was in a wheelchair for six weeks. I was a tall, lanky kid. Constantly growing. Very weak hips. Zero flexibility. To this day it’s painful stretching to touch my toes.
It happened at soccer conditioning. You know that hellish period before you can even try out for a team? Lots of running, drills, getting yelled at– all to eventually probably get cut. I’d never played soccer before, but my friends were doing it and according to my mom I did sports for friends. I had already quit football and swore I wouldn’t do basketball again. It was nothing personal, I just didn’t like any of the other players, coaches, sport itself and lacked the skill.
I ran really fast. Terrible at kicking a ball. Speed was all I had. I avoided the ball at all costs. That’s not what you’re supposed to do. Avoiding the ball in soccer is just cross country. Why am I here at soccer instead of cross country? Oh right, friends. We’re playing a scrimmage and I’m sprinting as fast as I can. Just a blur of pasty white legs. I hear a loud *POP*
I feel the *POP* noise.
Just kidding. Crying happens later. Must look macho in front of all the guys so I do what every macho teen boy does who’s in pain:
“dude, dude, oh man, duuuuude. I don’t know. My hip. Oh dude.”
“You okay, Paul?”
“My hip. It hurts. Dude, this sucks.”
Praying my mom will magically appear and fly me away on angel wings.
Everyone thinks I’m fine and resumes playing soccer while I lay in the grass.
Can’t move my leg.
Can’t stand up.
I army-crawl to the sideline (Ok, so part of the way I roll like a log, but it looks cool).
I call my uncle to pick me up. He lifts me up into his van as “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban plays in my head. Now I cry like a little boy. Family vans are a home away from home.
MRI scans show that my hip flexor pulled away from the bone with a little piece of the bone. NOICE. Wheelchair for six weeks. No cast, just wheelchair. That’s a big detail. Wheelchair with a cast on people go, “oh, he got in an accident.” No cast, people stare. “What’s wrong with that guy?”
I’m mature and wise beyond my years for a high school boy so naturally I fantasize about getting pity attention from hot girls at school. (Author’s note: this never happened).
At school no one really cares that I’m in a wheelchair. Sort of looks like I’m playing a twisted prank on the whole school because I’m doing wheelies, carrying on as normal, no cast. No one cares. Except one kid.
My mom takes me to the library one day before school. A kid walks in rocking frosted tips, cargo shorts and flip flops (quintessential Florida). Already a bad sign. He makes a beeline to me and mom. This isn’t good. I know this kid. He goes to the ultra charismatic church in town where everyone claims to speak in tongues.
“I’m going to heal you.”
Boom. Right to the point. All business. I look at my mom. My mom is wide-eyed. She’s the most God-loving, genuine Christ-like Christian I know and even she’s got the what-the-hell-is-this look on her face.
“Is it okay if I heal you?”
WHAT ARE YOU TAKING MY ORDER AT A DRIVE-THRU?
“God told me to heal you.”
God did not send me the same memo that morning.
The librarians are looking over. I feel very uncomfortable. I’m a Christian. I believe in healing and the power of God. But I do not believe frosted-tips in cargo shorts was sent by God to heal me in this high school library.
I agree to the healing. I take an order of “Miracle.”
He places his hand on my shoulder and stresses that in order for it to work I need to believe. I want to wheelie on this dude so bad and roll away. BUT WHAT IF, RIGHT? The curiosity of some cargo short wearing kid actually healing me is killing me.
He prays out loud. Something like:
“God, heal Paul’s hip and make him walk. By the power of God, you are healed. Stand up.”
I keep sitting because I don’t know if he’s finished with his miracle or still cookin’.
“Okay, now stand up.”
“But I can’t stand up.”
He looks annoyed.
“You are healed. Now, stand up.”
“I can’t stand up.”
“Will you just try standing up, please?”
I try standing up but can’t BECAUSE MY HIP MUSCLE ISN’T ATTACHED TO MY HIP BONE. I try, then fall back into my wheelchair.
“You didn’t have enough faith.”
THEN WALKS AWAY.
My mom assures me it’s not because I don’t have enough faith. Doctors heal people too, not just teenagers in flip flops and cargo shorts.
Stay healthy and stretch your hips, folks!
The time my family went trick-or-treating after my grandpa’s funeral…
It’s Halloween and this is my most memorable Halloween story. Don’t worry, it’s not sad. I mean, it is sad, but it’s also funny.
October 26, 1994 my grandpa passed away from diabetes. He was a great man. A person of character. Someone who brought levity to heaviness. My mom always said I got my sense of humor from him. I was four when he died so I don’t remember much. Just his smile.
Equally heartbreaking was we would miss trick-or-treating because we had to go down to Florida for grandpa’s funeral. They don’t hand out candy at funerals.
The funeral landed on the night of trick-or-treating. I am a HUGE candy addict. Any money given to me goes straight to candy. This is a terrible year. I lose my grandpa AND a night of free candy.
It’s an open casket funeral. I peak. Grandpa’s wearing a stylish powder blue suit. There’s grandpa. Laying in his casket forever. I’m fully convinced I see him move. I run to tell mom.
“Mom, grandpa moved!”
THAT MUST HAVE BEEN DEVASTATING FOR MY MOM. Your imaginative four year old telling you that your deceased father is moving in his casket. LOTS OF TEARS.
(It’s funny how kids can be so aware and yet not fully understand the reality of a situation. The weight. The pain. We know we feel sad, but we can’t yet appreciate the depth of the loss that actually happened. That’s why we have no filter on our imaginations and do things like tell our grieving mothers what we hoped we saw.)
The family returns to grandma’s house. It’s quiet. Adults are tired. All I can think about are the kids in costumes outside going door to door getting all the candy. One of those houses has to have MilkyWays. I can feel it. Mom, dad, aunt, uncle and grandma feel bad for the kids. They just had their first funeral and it’s Halloween. They agree taking us out to get candy will cheer us up. They right. They ask us if we want to go. I’m not proud of being the first one to say yes, but here we are.
We have no costumes. You can’t collect candy from neighbors in regular clothes.
“Trick or treat!”
“Happy Hallow– sorry, what are you supposed to be?”
“Oh, we’re a grieving family. Give us candy.”
It’s not a good look.
We decide to rummage the closets. Closets in grandparents homes are the best. Old toys, vintage clothes, haunted dolls. It’s slim pickings for children halloween costumes though. One of the cousins wore an old dress, another cousin wore a frilly hat. Brother wore a an old man blazer and sister wore a sweater (I’m not 100% this is accurate because I was four, but it was something along these lines). I wear my grandpa’s leather vest that had a hand-engraved horse on the back and one of his straw cowboy hats. And my velcro shoes. I was a cowboy. No clue what the other kids decided they were in their outfits. Librarian? Old man? ‘Little House on the Prairie’ cast member?
We use pillowcases for candy bags. First house is a neighbor friend. They’re sorry for our loss. LOTS OF CANDY. Second house is sorry for our loss. They let us take handfuls. Every house is the same. Even if they didn’t know we just came from a funeral, they open the door and see this rag-tag, tired family with kids dressed in old people’s clothes and pity us. Sweet, sweet pity. This is the light in the darkness.
The “costumes” are itchy and we have our pillowcases filled with candy. We’ve only been trick-or-treating for six houses but we all want to go home. One too many kids dressed as the grim reaper or a skeleton feels like one of those dark, twisted “ooh too soon?” jokes.
I have a pile of candy. My sweet tooth is throbbing. I’m aching for a MilkyWay.
I remember grandpa died from diabetes.
Though not entirely sure, I know it has to do with sugar being bad. Sweets are bad. I’m torn. Candy makes me happy. Will it kill me? Will it make my family sad?
I’m four. I eat the MilkyWay.
And Smarties. Then only like two Three Musketeers, another MilkyWay, Skittles and a Jolly Rancher. Okay, fine. Then I finish with a Tootsie Pop.
I’m a kid. I live in the moment. I’m happy. I’m sad. I’m crying. I’m laughing. I miss my grandpa and would trade all the MilkyWays in the world for him to be back. But I can’t. I can eat my candy. I can be with my family. And I can proudly wear my new leather vest that has a hand-engraved horse on the back.
Love you grandpa.
Happy Halloween, friends.
The time my brother and I destroyed our bathroom…
Brothers fight. It’s in our DNA. We love each other, but we don’t have the emotional development to express our love in words so we punch each other instead.
“I’m beating you up to make you tougher” = “I love you”
One day in high school my brother and I were in the middle of a match to see who could show each other the most love AKA full on rage throwing basketballs at one another.
My brother is two years older and plays football. I am a beanpole of boy. My arm doesn’t have the same strength and accuracy as my brother. Thankfully I am lanky and quick, making me a harder target to hit. Like all of our fights I have no idea how or why we started fighting. All I know is that it started civilly:
“You’re an idiot”
“Shut up, idiot”
“NO YOU SHUT UP YOU IDIOT”
“YOU’RE AN IDIOT, YOU IDIOT”
We ran out of words to exchange so we picked up basketballs. Getting pegged by a basketball hard enough will make you stop talking.
Bro hits me hard in the leg. I black out into Hulk-level rage. He turns his back for a split second. In true younger brother form, I go for the cheap shot and launch a basketball in the middle of his back.
For a millisecond the joy of victory floods my body. That millisecond does not last. We both stop and stare at each other.
We both know I’m dead.
I’m not angry anymore. I am hopeless and terrified.
Everything is in slow motion.
I do what I do best as a younger brother in a fight with his older brother.
I sprint inside the house. I can hear my three-sport-playing athlete brother’s footsteps close behind. Those speed drills at practice have been paying off for him.
I’m in a panic. Need to hide. They say the safest place in a house to hide for shelter during a hurricane or tornado is the bathtub.
I run to the bathroom. Jump in the bathtub. Assume the fetal position.
As if he’s working renovations on a construction site, my brother takes my body and shoves me into the tiled wall.
We freeze and lock eyes. Together we slowly back away and see a fetal-Paul-shaped indention in the wall.
Now this next moment is critical. Every sibling knows whoever calls out “MOM” first is innocent.
He beats me to it.
“MOM, Paul busted a hole in the bathroom wall!”
The audacity. Oh, I busted the hole in the wall?!?!?!
I WAS YOUR RENOVATION TOOL.
Mom runs in and grounds us both immediately. For our punishment we have to fix the bathtub wall.
The bad news is that we had to renovate the bathtub. The good news is that we learned to renovate a bathtub.
I learned two valuable lessons that day: run faster and always be the first one to call mom.
Call your mom today (or mom-figure, Aunt, grandma). Pick up the phone and give her a ring.
The time my sister and I made each other throw up…
My sister is the eldest. I’m the youngest. We were usually allies against my brother. There’s a bit of a motherly-son vibe with older sisters and baby brothers. We all had our roles in the family. Megan the cruise director. John the protector. I was the jester. I was there to diffuse tension and make everyone laugh. But sometimes the jester fights back. We all love each other but we also all fought each other. Family love.
We’re at our family cabin in the Georgia mountains on vacation. This cabin is the most special place in the world. Built from the ground up by my grandpa. It’s a haven of love. A home of warmth and joy. It’s also where I once rage-cried over losing a game of UNO.
The cabin is small. Tight quarters with siblings for prolonged periods of time is a breeding ground for fights. Any little thing to scratch that pent-up-aggression itch.
No idea why we started arguing. Megan probably beat me in a game of Scrabble and I went berserk (that word would’ve got me so many points). This isn’t supposed to happen. I’m supposed to fight with my brother and get saved by my older sister. Not tonight. Bedtime at the cabin had a storm brewing.
Brother fights are simple. Shouting and name calling. Physical altercation. It’s done. Eat a snack together.
Fights with sisters belong in a psychological thriller movie. My sister knows how I tick. All my weaknesses. Weaknesses I don’t even know I have. The only weakness of hers that I know of is that she pronounces bagel as “baa-gul”. Sisters implement their intelligence in fights. They conquer. Baby brothers get emotional and cry to mom.
My sister knows I gag easily. VERY easily.
One time I took too big of a bite of a bread roll and it made me throw up. Just smelling urine makes me gag. Writing about this is making me gag.
Megan and I are at the peak of our shouting match. Mom is telling us to stop. Like respectful, loving children, we disregard and escalate things. We run upstairs to fight without pleas from our mom. This is the final battle. No turning back. No apologies now. My sister plays my weakness.
She hocks a huge loogie on my shirt.
I didn’t know she had it in her.
This is my nightmare.
It flies over in slow motion.
I’m so shocked she spit that I don’t actually believe it happened.
Slowly, like I’m peeking under the bed to check for the boogey monster, I look down on my shirt.
I puke immediately.
Megan’s victorious laughter stops abruptly upon seeing me puke. She return-pukes.
Brother and sister puking together.
An eye for an eye, a puke for a puke. Sometimes your weakness becomes your opponent’s weakness.
We’re both crying and shouting. There’s vomit everywhere. Mom runs upstairs and sees the aftermath of our battle.
“WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING? GO CLEAN UP RIGHT NOW, YOU’RE BOTH GROUNDED!”
I’ve never been grounded for throwing up before but I totally get it. Fair call.
We got over that fight and forgave each other. We still laugh about it. But to this day, my sister can fake the sound of making a loogie and I gag.
People are a lot less judgey when you say you ate an “avocado salad” instead of a bowl of guacamole.
My favorite part of eating healthy is the junk food I eat immediately after.
Kudos to boneless wings for convincing everyone they’re not actually chicken nuggets.
My favorite part of a salad is when it’s finally over.
Gang initiation: Eat tortilla chips when you have a cut on the roof of your mouth.
Putting a napkin on my lap at a sad hotel continental breakfast feels like wearing a tuxedo to a barn dance.
People are A LOT less judgey when you tell them you ate “potatoes and chicken” instead of chicken nuggets and fries.
I didn’t eat “leftover pizza” for breakfast. I had tomato and cheese triangle toast.
I have a lot of self control when it comes to eating. Like, even when I don’t want to finish a pizza I’ll force myself to eat the whole thing.
The only cardio I do is when I eat my food really fast and get out of breath.
My first time on a plane with my baby…
Let me start by first apologizing to any parent on past flights at whom I rolled my eyes, gave a nasty glare, a heavy sigh or asked God to smite for having a crying baby. At the time I had no baby. I could put on headphones and escape it. You, with your crying baby were trapped in a Hell at the mercy of a tyrant.
We’re flying cross country to California. Owen’s first flight and it’s cross country. Go big or go home. A few weeks prior we took him on his first road trip. He was a champ and slept most of the way. We’re feeling confident. Borderline cocky. He’s a natural born traveler. These are all lies we’re telling ourselves. Babies have pacifiers, parents have lies they tell themselves.
He sleeps the entire Uber ride to the airport. Feeling. Real. Confident. We get through security with ease. He smells like poop. He always smells like poop because he’s always pooping. Even when he just finished pooping he’s already pooping again. It’s his ‘eau de parfum’. We wait to change him. Esther goes to the bathroom to pump milk. I feed him. Halfway through feeding it feels like he’s sweating. He runs hot. His sweat is on my shirt. I lift him up. Oh, thank God, he didn’t sweat on my shirt it’s just HIS POOP JUICE THAT LEAKED THROUGH HIS DIAPER, ONESIE AND SWADDLE. Diarrhea on my favorite shirt. Such a gift.
Esther returns. She’s tired. I’m tired. Owen is ready. To. Party. I take him to the men’s room to change his diaper. This is my first time changing him in a public bathroom. I’m scared but confident. Look at me, I’m a cool dad wearing skinny jeans and a hoodie. I got this.
I did not “got this”.
The second I lay him down on the cold, plastic changing table Owen starts wailing. WAILING. Huge tears streaming down his face. He’s crying harder than when he got his shots. I’m in a panic. Someone wiggles the door handle to the bathroom. DO YOU NOT HEAR THE BANSHEE SCREAMING INSIDE, SIR?
The harder he cries, the more I panic. There’s so much poop. I must push onward. I wipe. I cuss out loud. It’s okay he’s a baby he doesn’t understand, Lord please forgive me. I cuss a lot more but quieter (sort of). I successfully change his diaper. I change his poop-decorate onesie with a new one. That really pisses him off. I gather him up and leave the bathroom. I’m sweating profusely. Owen hates me. I pass him off to Esther. Zip up my hoodie to cover the poop juice on my shirt.
If it’s this brutal before we even get on the plane, what Hell awaits us in 26 D and E? I pray a mother or grandma is our seat mate. No dice. Large, middle-aged Middle Eastern guy. There are four other babies on the plane. In my heart I vow to earn trillions of dollars so we can take private jets everywhere in the future. We’re terrified for the six hour flight ahead of us. No food, no headphones for movies, no books. Just holding a ticking-time-bomb-baby for six hours.
Miraculously, Owen is pretty chill. We feed him. He poops. It smells. Our seat mate is sleeping. Did the diaper fumes knock him unconscious? Maybe. We hold our stinky, poopie-diaper-filled boy for three hours. No movement. I can’t feel my shoulder or either legs. The pain is worth not stirring the baby. Finally, we decide we need to change his diaper. There’s a lot of turbulence. Seatbelt sign is on. Screw it, we gotta go for the bathroom. The steward saw us coming.
“Excuse me, you two really need to be seated there’s a lot of turbulence right now.”
OH REALLY I DIDN’T NOTICE THE PLANE JOLTING UP AND DOWN, SHOULD WE WIPE BABY POOP ON THE SEATS INSTEAD YOU MONSTER?
But instead I confidently say, “Sorry?”
Esther changes the diaper. I return to the seat cursing scientists for not already creating teleportation or some Harry Potter magical transportation.
Mother and son return. He’s calm. The four other babies on the flight are flipping their sh*t. Our baby is calm. I feel so smug. Even as I hold my baby, I roll my eyes at the other parents with their crying babies. Owen sleeps the rest of the flight. We survived. The six hour flight felt like eighteen hours, but we survived.
I’m so relieved. So elated. This must be what it feels like to win an Olympic medal or climb Mount Everest and live. Life is all about celebrating the little victories. So like, loving, selfless parents, we celebrate by getting In-N-Out burgers before changing our boy’s diaper.
My first Patriots game…
If you’re a Patriots fan, cool. If you’re not a Patriots fan, still keep reading. When you get married, your partner’s loves now become your loves. My family loves Auburn University football. So my wife became a fan. My wife’s family loves the Patriots. So I’m a fan. When her parents moved to the states from Korea, they came to Boston. A family’s NFL team allegiance is a big deal in American culture. Boston was their first American home. The Patriots were their team all the way.
My father-in-law had never been to a game before. Like a good son, my bro-in-law wanted to make his dad’s dream come true. He got him tickets to the season opening game. My wife and I invited ourselves along.
Game day. We drive from NYC to CT to pick up the bro, then on to Boston. I’m behind the wheel, going over the speed limit to impress my bro-in-law. Pick up my wife’s dad from the airport. Everyone’s excited.
Traffic on the way to the game is of emergency-evacuation-of-a-city level chaos. Luckily we manage to snag a $17,894 parking spot. Walking to the stadium is like trying to weave through a riot of drunk zombies. Game hasn’t even started and the drunk shouting going on is, well, worrisome. I don’t care for loud, drunk crowds. They’re unpredictable and scary.
We make it into the stadium. Hordes of people. It’s a diverse mix of large, older white men that have guts rivaling a 9-months pregnant belly, and backwards-cap bros who are one “WOOOO” from setting a most-consecutive-WOOOO’s-in-a-row record. And there’s us.
This stadium. This crowd. Is huge. Crowds, loud music, drunk people– all of it makes me want to curl up in a quiet attic with a book. Needless to say, I’m having a blast. Smiling big to convince my wife I’m having a good time. She knows I’m not.
We buy a couple beers for $851. Total steal. My bro and father-in-law have seats in a different section. We part ways. We find our seats. Awesome, the two seats next to me are empty. Maybe we’ll have some extra space.
Two WOOOO bros sit down next to me.
“WOOO! HELL YEAH, BRO! LET’S GO PATS!”
“Hey, sounds good. Alright.”
“Heh, wooo, yeah.”
I’m hitting it off with the bros splendidly.
They’re both very drunk. I look at my wife and smile. She mouths “sorry”.
WOOOO Bro #1 leans over to me like we’re close enough for me to be the best man at his wedding.
“DON’T YOU LOVE THIS, BRO?”
“Sure do! Actually, this is my first Patriots game.”
I can tell his entire world goes into slow motion. The stadium is outer space silent. He’s having an out-of-body-experience. This is a spiritual moment for him. He takes off his hat. Lowers his voice and gets serious.
“Are you serious, bro?”
“Yeah. First time.”
“I’m going to take good care of you and make sure you have an awesome first game.”
“Thanks so mu–“
“You’re gonna be the bigGEST PATS FAN BY THE END OF THIS GAME, BRO.”
It was a beautiful crescendo of passion.
I turn to my wife. My smile is quivering.
Bro #1 turns to Bro #2. He whispers with that loud, drunk person whisper that everyone can actually hear.
“Bro, I swear to God. When he said it was his first Patriots game, I got a f***ing tear in my eye. I feel like I’m his dad.”
This is now the best, first Patriots game ever. I just got adopted by a Pats bro. Like a good father he offers me beer. Like a good son, I decline.
Every time the Pats score a point or make a good play, my Bro Father hugs me vigorously, shakes me, and/ or high-fives with enough force to be considered assault. At this point I’m rooting against the Patriots so I can have a few minutes of relief from my Bro Father’s celebration-battery.
It’s finally third quarter. I don’t know from what energy source Bro #1 and Bro #2 draw their energy, but it’s endless. The WOOO’s don’t stop. They only increase with alcohol. Their shouting is beginning to annoy other Pats fans behind us. They engage cordially.
“HEY YOU TWO, SHUT THE F**K UP”
“What the hell, we’re on the same team, man”
Bro #1’s feelings are hurt.
“TAKE YOU AND YOUR LITTLE FA***T BOYFRIEND OUTTA HERE”
Bro #1 is angry.
“YO, F**K YOU. WE’RE BOTH ON THE PATS. I’LL F**K YOU UP.”
The Pats fans all around us start booing my Bro Fathers. As their son, I’m humiliated. My wife and I crouch farther away from them.
Two police officers approach the Bros. The fans start cheering. No one cares about the game anymore. The police officers tell the Bros to come with them. Before leaving, my Bro Father turns to me in all of his drunken-loving-weary splendor.
[shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head]
“I’m sorry, bro. Sorry about all this. Enjoy your first game.”
Now I almost teared up.
“It’s okay, fath– I mean, bro. Hope you guys are okay.”
Bro Father smiles.
“Yeah, Go Pats.”
Then the cops escort him away to stadium drunk jail.
I don’t remember who won that day. What happened during the game. Or even who the Pats played. But I’ll never forget my first Pats Bro Father who took me under his wing at my first Patriots game.
My son’s baptism…
We got our baby baptized. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. All that happens is you hold your baby underwater for six minutes then parade around the church with sparklers while the pastor sings a Christian rock song. Standard stuff.
Actually, baby baptism is about us, as parents, making a public commitment to raise our child in/ with the love of Jesus with the support of our church community. Maybe that sounds crazier to you? That’s okay. It was a special day. Here we go.
We’re having Esther’s dad baptize Owen. Super special. Esther’s dad is the pastor of a Korean church in California. We’ve been staying with her parents for the whole month of December while Esther’s on maternity leave. Owen is an immediate celebrity with all the older church members. Pastor’s daughter’s son. MAJOR CELEBRITY.
Due to his high profile in the Korean church community, we want to make sure Owen is dressed devastatingly cute. We forgot to bring the white gown that I wore for my baby baptism so we opt for corduroys, flannel shirt, suspenders and bowtie. Total hipster. But the clothes are all tiny and baby-like so it’s cute.
Before church we have to pick up rice cakes (in Korean it’s called “dduk”) for the post baptism feast. We’re new parents and don’t have a grip on life because babies are impossible, so we’re running late. Perfect. We’re late to our own son’s baptism. Esther’s mom texts her to let her know that we’re late to our own son’s baptism. Feeling good! Thanks for the reminder!
There’s a baby in the car, so I drive a safe 48 mph over the speed limit. The desire to not disappoint my mother-in-law far outweighs my fear of God’s wrath for being late to church.
We’re flying down the highway. Just as Esther and I are discussing how Owen hasn’t pooped yet this morning we hear an explosion. Sounds like someone dropped a pipe bomb in a tunnel. I look to see if any cars around me are in flames. Nothing. I look in the rearview mirror.
Esther is wide-eyed.
Owen is grinning.
The smell is strong. Potent. Ruins the interior of the car.
We can’t check because we’re in a moving car, but we know it’s bad.
We pull into the church parking lot. Nice. We made it! We’re only 42 minutes late. WHEW! Thankfully, we collectively smell like baby poop.
We take Owen out of the car seat.
It’s worse than we thought.
I don’t really understand physics, but it turns out, if you’re sitting on your baby butt in a car seat, and you get explosive diarrhea, it will shoot upward, downward, outward and beyond. It will Jackson Pollock paint your clothes with feces.
It went through his diaper.
Through his flannel onesie.
(flannel is thick material)
Through his corduroy pants.
(VERY thick material)
Through his swaddle blanket.
Oh. Baby poop is yellow. His clothes are now stained yellow. We could play it off as mustard stains, but answering the question “why were you spreading mustard on your son’s butt?” is way more embarrassing than the reality.
We wipe him and his clothes down with 237 wet wipes. It’s almost helpful.
It’s baptism time.
We take a seat in the front pew. I’m holding our crime-scene-looking child. My arm and hands are strategically covering his butt and back area.
ALSO. This is a Korean church so I have no idea what’s being said. Esther’s father motions for us to come up on stage. He asks us a few questions in Korean. We both say “yes” in Korean (it’s one of the few words I know). Esther’s father makes a comment about me saying “yes” in Korean. The whole church laughs. HAHAHA. Classic white dude burn.
Joke’s on him because I’m about to hand over a smelly, poop-covered diaper. Hopefully he’s generous with the holy water. The only thing that can possibly cleanse this boy of the sin that covers his body and clothes, is holy water.
I hand-off the baby to my father-in-law. I look like the world’s politest quarterback handing off a football made of eggshells.
He sprinkles a few drops of water on Owen’s head. Says a few things in Korean. Seems like he’s speaking faster than usual. That stench is hitting him.
Baptized. Boom. Righteous baby.
He passes Owen back. Catching a whiff of the poo I almost instinctively pass him back. Like a game of hot potato.
Service ends. We made it. Oh wait, SIKE. Now we get to eat and mingle with all the church members.
Grandmas swarm Owen. They can’t get over how cute he is. His cheeks need to be pinched. We put him in his stroller. No one is picking him up. There’s no way we’re going to let someone pick him up and have his cute-baby-celeb-status tarnished. Can’t come back next year and hear:
“Aw, how’s your poop baby doing?”
He stays in the stroller. We eat fast and get out of there.
We did it. We hid the mess and got the boy baptized.
We’re in the car, pulling away from church and–
I look in the rearview mirror. Esther’s eyes are closed and she’s clenching her jaw.
Remember folks, always carry around wet wipes and an extra outfit!
My worst job in NYC…
When I moved to NYC I was willing to do anything for money. I mean. Not ANYTHING, anything. But pretty close. My first couple years in NYC were rough. Lots of crying. LOTS of crying. My first place I found on Craigslist. It was a windowless room with a curtain for a door in an apartment without a kitchen or living room in a 5-story walk-up. I paid $860/month and slept in my sleeping bag. My roommate was a Romanian guy that would sometimes peek in my curtain to see if I was home.
I was living like a king.
It was winter and raining a lot but luckily I managed to get an outdoor job. Praise God. Ticket taker for NYC Airporter. It’s a shuttle service that buses people from the city to the airports.
This job opened my eyes to the brokenness of humanity. The depravity of souls. The raging sin that perches on the hearts of man.
There’s something about taking a bus to the airport that INFURIATES people. It’s not like a school field trip. It’s more like a prison bus taking you to be locked up. No one is happy.
My spot was right outside Grand Central. I’d work 12 hour shifts. Standing outside in the cold.
My shift routine was as follows:
-Get on the bus
-Check each person’s ticket
-Get cussed at by people who couldn’t get a seat
-Create a line of angry people on the sidewalk to wait for the next bus
-Get cussed at more
-Rinse. Repeat. 12 hours.
For lunch breaks I’d eat McDonalds and sit on the floor somewhere inside Grand Central. To this day there are corners and nooks inside Grand Central that I look at and think: “ah, yes, my old lunch spot.”
I worked right outside this restaurant called Pershing Square. I’d stare in there for hours at the people eating and drinking, fantasizing about having enough money to eat there. One day I would sit in one of those booths and look out.
One day as I was throwing myself a pity-party, stalker-staring into Pershing Square I had my worst interaction with a customer. Little boy Paul was about to be destroyed:
It’s late in the night. The guys selling tickets don’t care if there’s a bus already there waiting or twenty minutes away. They’re selling tickets and telling people, “there’s a bus! now give me your money.” Then I get to deal with the angry people.
A bus just pulled away. A woman rushes up to me. Visibly furious. This lady has screamed “let me speak to the manager” countless times in her days.
“WHERE. IS. THE. BUS?”
“Sorry, ma’am, you’ll have to wait for the next bus.”
“NO. I need to be on the bus right now.”
“… But there’s no bus right now. You’ll ha–“
“ARE YOU F***ING KIDDING ME?”
“No ma’am. I apologize, there’s no bus right now.”
(It is very hard to hide a bus. I’m not David Copperfield. What’s she waiting for me to be like, “hah, kidding! here’s the bus, right behind your ear!”)
“NOW I’M GOING TO BE LATE. YOU MADE ME MISS MY FLIGHT.”
(Technically, her poor time management made her miss her flight. not me. I did not say this.)
“Ma’am, I’m sorry, there will be another bus–“
“THIS IS YOUR FAULT. F**K YOU. YOU MADE ME MISS MY FLIGHT. YOU’RE GOING TO HELL.”
(That’s a bit of a leap. But also. How hilarious would it be if she were right? What if in that moment I died, went to Hell and Satan was there waiting like, “you know what you did.”)
She storms away and grabs a cab. I’m shaky with adrenaline. Confrontation cripples me. It feels like I was just assaulted. All my innocence is gone. I want to cry. I do cry. I look over into Pershing Square. The warmth of the lights inside. The people without a care in the world. In that moment I promised myself to make enough money to one day eat in Pershing Square.
~Fast forward seven years~
I’m married with a baby. I’ve had a rollercoaster of different jobs, but now I’m stable(ish). I get to do stand-up. I’ve made a lot of friends. This is practically a different universe from the one when I first moved to NYC.
To celebrate seven years in the city my wife took me to Pershing Square. The host sat us in the exact booth I’d always stare at. Finally, I was inside the warmth looking out at the cold. Staring at the spot where I used to stand.
As I sat across the table from the love of my life and precious baby boy, all I could think was:
“WOW this place is overpriced. Terrible food.”
Enjoy the little treats in life my friends.
A tribute to my mom and dad for their birthday…
My parents have the same birthday. January 22nd. Happy birthday mom and dad!
When I was a little kid, I thought that all parents had the same birthday. I figured that when two people got married they both agree on one last name and one birthday. Shake hands. Settled. Marriage.
I wasn’t alone though. My older brother thought that you had to FIND someone who shared your birthday to marry.
Can you imagine how much more of a HELL dating would be if that were true?
“So, what do you look for in a girlfriend?”
“Oh, you know, a really sexy June 13th.”
But he’s my older brother so I believe everything he says. Older brothers’ word is law. Fact. Commandment. I immediately Googled which celebrities had my birthday. June 13th.
The Olson twins!
Jackpot. I’m going to marry twins.
(I did not. Thank God.)
In honor of my mom and dad’s birthday, below is a childhood memory for each.
The first time I heard my mom say a bad word…
Before I begin, allow me to make it 100% clear that my mom is a living angel. The most patient of patient people. Selfless. Loving. Slow to wrath. Quick to forgive. Boundless grace.
I’m somewhere between the age of 4-6. Momma is wrangling my sister, brother and myself to go somewhere. Ever my mother’s plight– rounding us up to get somewhere on time. Just. Get. In. The. Van. Now.
We all pile in our huge Chevy Astro (we had a picture of an angel on the front plate and named the van “Grace”). Doors close. We’re going to make it on time.
Mom freezes. She’s not holding any keys. She exhales a beefy sigh. One of those long sighs that you’ve stored up for an entire week. She forgot the keys inside the house. Mom runs to the house to grab the keys.
She freezes with her hand on the door. Another long, beefy sigh. The sigh of an entire month.
The door is locked.
The three of us kids unload and check the back door and the basement door.
This isn’t good and we’re definitely going to be late. Tension is building as we sit in the van like it’s our raft in the middle of an ocean. We wait for mom’s game plan. She’s standing by the driver side door, head in hand. Doing the slow back and forth head shake trying to muster up words to even mutter words. She’s tired. Stressed. Frustrated. Then she says it. The three of us kids hear my mom say a bad word for the first time in our lives. (BRACE YOURSELF).
The three of us freeze and lock eyes. I’m holding my breath. I’m exploding with fear and confusion internally. My world is shattered.
MOM JUST CUSSED. DOES THIS MEAN THAT I GET TO SAY CRAP NOW?
Bad words were not permitted in our house. Couldn’t say “that sucks” or “shut up”. We couldn’t even watch ‘The Smurfs’ (because of witchcraft). Hearing “crap” was mind-blowing for three goody-tushu kids.
One of us instinctively calls out, “oooooo, you said a bad word.”
My mom, the saint, immediately gushes an apology for uttering such an offensively crass word in front of her innocent children. We graciously offer forgiveness. And lots of giggling.
As we convene on the side of Grace, my brother volunteers to climb a ladder and crawl through an open window. Success. He gets the keys, we pile in and drive off. Late to where we’re going. As a family.
The time we got killed together in laser tag…
My dad used to work at this laser tag place called Q-ZAR. It was huge in the 90s. When your dad works at a laser tag place you get to play free laser tag. Cha-ching! Dad always found a way to get the hook up for fun things like laser tag, amusement parks, buffets. You know, the true joys in a kid’s life.
We’re at Q-ZAR for one of my siblings birthday parties. Everyone is psyched. Hyping each other up to shoot each other with lasers. There’s candy, cake and soda to make sure all the kids become berserk killing machines.
I’m young and small. The laser tag vest is too big and the gun is too heavy. I’m terrified. All the other kids are older and seem disturbingly prepared for combat. The laser tag instructor is preparing us for battle. All rules and guidelines are sure to be thrown out the window the second we’re released.
My dad is behind me the whole time. I’m small enough to stand between his legs. He’s calm because he’s an adult and knows this is a fun game. I’m a shivering chihuahua. This is my Vietnam.
The laser instructor brings us into the battle zone. It’s dark with strobe lights and deafening 90s techno. This is a nightmare house for a boy who enjoys drawing cartoons and sunshine.
The alarm rings and battle begins.
I’m shot with a laser almost before the alarm finishes ringing.
(I get it. Little kid = easy target.)
I run with my dad to a cove to avoid the crossfire. Kids are going absolutely bananas. They’ve been storing up this blood-thirsty energy since birth. They are all in full ‘Lord of the Flies’ mode.
By the fifth kid that jumped out of the darkness, screaming while lighting me up with his laser gun, I break down in tears.
Dad whisks me away. To protect ourselves we crouch behind a steel oil drum. My back is to his chest and we’re shooting at anything that moves. Father and son taking on the wrath of adolescent rage. I’m still crying.
A little boy casually walks up to us as we sit crouching behind the oil drum. He proceeds to rack up dozens of points shooting us point blank with his laser gun. We just kind of sit there and take it because we’re crouching behind an oil drum. It’s not even shooting fish in a barrel for this kid. It’s shooting dead fish on the ground outside of a barrel.
But he’s a kid and my dad’s an adult. So my dad shoo’s the kid away like he’s a gnat. I had forgot. This is the real world kid, you have to shoo when an adult tells you to shoo. I have the most powerful weapon in this laser tag game. My dad.
We shoot him as he runs away. Dad picks me up and carries me out to the sunny lobby. Then, as grizzled, laser tag veterans do, we eat some cake.
Which celebrity who shares your birthday would you marry?
Do you ever trace an insecurity back to a childhood memory? You know. For fun? Just brew in feelings of inadequacy?
Just me? Cool.
Throughout my life I’ve struggled with: not feeling smart (aka being “dumb”), the need to be liked, and physical flaws I can’t change. Fun stuff!
I’ve traced each insecurity back to a moment in elementary school. There’s probably other instances that fed into each insecurity but these are the ones I remember. This week I’ll share about feeling dumb. The following two weeks I’ll cover my need to be liked and physical flaws.
The first time I remember feeling dumb…
First grade. I’m the youngest in my family and my older brother and older sister are extremely smart. Every teacher I have comments on how good of students my siblings were. I have to live up to their standard. I can’t be the dumb Schissler that teachers gossip about:
“All the Schissler kids were excellen– well, except Paul he ate sand.”
Our elementary school in Mobile, AL had a gifted program. Brother and sister both took classes in the gifted program. It’s my year to test.
I’m so nervous. At first I’m excited because I was invited to take the gifted program entrance test. HUGE HONOR. (In reality I think all kids took it.) This was my chance though– to separate myself from all the schmucks in regular class and join the brainy elite in an Alabama public school gifted program.
Oh no. What if they find out I’m a genius? Can they find that out in this test? Maybe it will just be obvious.
Wait. What if they find out I’m like really, really, dangerously stupid? After the test they’ll probably put a helmet on me and stick me in a short bus.
Maybe I’m so low-key genius they’ll mistake me for being dumb.
Or. Maybe they’ll just know I’m dumb before I even take the test and they laugh at me.
I was brimming with confidence.
It’s my turn. I take the long walk through the school hallways to an empty classroom. Just me and a gifted teacher.
She assures me there’s nothing to worry about.
YEAH EXCEPT FOR MY ENTIRE FUTURE LADY.
We begin. She has me play with wooden blocks. I crush it.
Next she has me look through a series of picture cards. I’m to give alternate names for each object.
Card one: [picture of a doorknob]
“Yes, good. What are some other names you might call it?”
“Umm… door grabber?”
She smiles with the smile of a thousand reassuring mothers. Eyes of hope. I can feel her screaming answers telepathically. Sorry lady, my thick, dumb head can’t hear you.
DOOR GRABBER? WHAT THE FIDDLESTICKS IS A DOOR GRABBER THAT’S NOT A THING PAUL. DOOR. GRABBER. GRAB-BER? NO. STOP. NO.
“I don’t know.”
I don’t remember any of the rest of the test. All I remember is not getting into the gifted program. From then on I never thought of myself as one of the smart kids. And WOW did I resent door grabbers.
I failed to get into the gifted program. I’m average and dumb. I can’t be smart. That’s not my role. I’m one of the dumb ones.
I believed those lies for most of my education. But just because I didn’t get into some special program doesn’t mean I’m stupid (technically maybe it sort of does). But that doesn’t define me. Once I found the things I was interested in learning I did well.
When I look back on that dumb gifted test, all I can think is:
How kids used to tease me about my name…
I love the name Paul. It’s my favorite first name that I have. But no matter how much you love your name, little kids will find a way to make fun of it. No name is safe. Even if you didn’t have a name, children would mock your no-name name.
Peak name-mockery season of life was the first grade. Everyone is learning words and getting real cocky. Why use education for good when you can eviscerate your peers’ names?
I wanted to be liked. By everyone. I was nice to all the other kids, shared well and paid attention in class. In my mind, I’m safe from getting teased because who the hell teases the nice kid?
That’s who teases the nice kid. Kids because they’re kids. The first time I was name-roasted caught me off guard.
A few girls approach me on the playground. Very pleasant. Smiling. Smiling too much. TOO MUCH SMILING IS BAD.
Smiling turns to giggling. GIGGLING IS VERY, VERY BAD.
“Hey… Polly Pocket!”
[girls in unison]
“HEHEHEHEHE… POLLY POCKET”
I roundhouse kick all three girls at the same time. They burst into flames and disappear.
My face turns beet red. In that instant, I envision the Polly Pocket that my sister owns. I’ve only touched it a few times. I don’t play with it though. I’m not a Polly Pocket boy. There’s no way they could know I’ve played with it once, twice, maybe six times.
“Hey, Polly Pocket, do you have a Polly Pocket?”
“No I don’t. I’m not Polly Pocket. I’m Paul.”
Stupid girls. My name isn’t even spelled the same. If it was ‘Pauly Pocket’, okay fine. I see your case. But we’re talking P-o-l-l-y versus P-a-u-l.
In retaliation I do what every self-respecting kid does in this type of situation.
They chase me for twenty minutes shouting “POLLY POCKET”. But I learned a valuable lesson that day: Polly Pockets are evil.
The boys played a different name-game.
Another day of first grade. Another afternoon on the playground. Another day of minding my own business digging in the sand. One of the boys from class walks up on me.
(sweet! making friends)
“Pauly wanna cracker?”
(BURN IN HELL YOU SOULLESS MONSTER)
“No, I don’t want a cracker.”
“C’mon, Pauly wanna cracker? HEHEHE.”
“NO. I’m not a parrot. I don’t want a cracker.”
The more I say I don’t want a cracker, the more he asks if I want a cracker. Children are cruelly persistent creatures.
The truth is, I would’ve loved a cracker. Crackers are delicious. Any cracker. But I couldn’t fall into this demon child’s trap of name games.
I was so hurt. Why would someone make fun of my name. That was the first time I felt insecure and self-conscious about my name. PAUL IS A NAME FROM THE BIBLE. The audacity. The blasphemy.
I cried about it to my mom. My mother is a peacemaker. She would never suggest revenge. She would never be like, “his name is Ryan? Then call him ‘Lyin Ryan’ because he’s a little liar who smells.” She would never offer awesome, vengeful advice like that.
My mom told me to take the high road. Next time some kid says, “Pauly wanna cracker?” I should respond, “No, I want the whole box.”
That blew. my. mind.
GENIUS. They wouldn’t see it coming.
I was so hyped up. In my room pacing back and forth repeating “NO, I WANT THE WHOLE BOX, SUCKA,” like I was getting ready for a rap battle.
Next day on the playground I was AMPED. On high alert for little punk ‘Lyin Ryan’. Like clockwork, he walks up to me by the sandbox.
“Hey, Pauly wanna cracker?”
Adrenaline surges through my body. The excitement of getting to use my retort is euphoric. Like I just ate a handful of sour straws all at once and the sugar punched me in the brain and tickled my tongue. I let him have it.
“NO. I WANT THE WHOLE BOX.”
It feels so good. I wait for him to bow at my feet.
He stands there with a confused look on his face.
“So… you do? Pauly does wanna cracker?”
“Hah, Pauly wants a cracker! Pauly wants a cracker! Pauly wants a cracker!”
I’m deflated. Once again, totally owned by my peers. And once again, as a self-respecting, honorable first grader, I do what I do best. I run. He chases me, shouting, “Pauly wanna cracker?”
I hate parrots.
I wish I had a happy ending for you. Like, ten years later Lyin Ryan was attacked and killed by a flock of parrots. But to be honest, he’s probably doing really well. Good job, good family. And who knows, maybe he even named one of his kids Paul.
We all have different names and that’s beautiful. I hope you love your name and celebrate names of new people.
Pauly “Wants a Cracker” Pocket
The first time someone made fun of my body…
Every person I know has at least one insecurity about their body. Even people who are models. Physically perfect people. We all have mirrors, an attention to detail and a hefty supply of self-loathing. We are humans. I’m fine with my body. Other than the things I hate about it, it’s fine. It’s a good soul-transporter here on Earth until it’s time to depart for Heaven. Gets me from point A to point B.
Like with most insecurities, a benevolent stranger or friend brings it to your attention. Something about you struck their eye and they just NEEDED to let you know about that mole on your neck. That’s how I found out I hate my left ear.
I’m in second grade. All the kids have to wait outside the school before the bell rings. That means all grades are intermingled before school starts. Older kids are scary because they’re bigger, faster, stronger and they know that. They know that you know that. You’re at their mercy.
As a kid I have no idea what I’m insecure about yet. I’m a kid. I want to play and eat candy. I’m not old enough to stare in the mirror for 45 minutes and Terminator-scan my body, square inch by square inch, fantasizing about what needs to be fixed. Those joyous moments come in middle school. I’m a second grader. I don’t even care if I wipe my butt properly yet.
I’m waiting in line to enter the school near my friends. Quietly. Dreading going into school. I would like school, but numbers and math exist. So I hate it. Out of the corner of my eye I see a large kid walking towards me. He’s massive. Goliath proportions. He must be a third grader. Hell, maybe even… a fourth grader. My heart races.
(he refers to me as “kid” because he, being at least one grade older than me is CLEARLY the adult. I, a mere child.)
“What’s up with your ear. It’s all pointy.”
“Yeah, your ear is pointed. It looks like an elf ear. Are you an elf?”
(my face is ON FIRE RED. my soul left my body to search for a new vehicle. humiliated about this p.o.s. second grade transport)
“No I’m not.”
“It is. Is your other ear pointed?”
He checks my other ear.
“Oh, it’s just your left ear that’s pointed.”
THEN HE WALKS AWAY.
Wow. Had no idea the spawn of Satan’s son attended my elementary school. Such a true honor. He trained him well in the art of subtle destruction.
I reach up and feel both ears. I’m angry because he’s right. How did this Lord of the Rings Rivendell-looking ear go unnoticed until now? That kid’s eyes are as sharp as this dumb ear.
I try to adjust my bowl cut to cover the tip of my point. As far as I’m concerned 100 school kids are staring at my ear right now. Every giggle I hear I’m certain is directed at me. They must know too. Damn it. Now everyone is going to call me “Elf Boy”.
The bowl cut does nothing to help me hide the ear. The rest of the day I spend casually holding my hand over my ear. Very smooth. Either the move worked or none of my classmates care because we’re in second grade sniffing flavored markers. I’m staring at everyone’s ears. Like I have some weird, non-sexual ear fetish. Rounded top. Rounded top. Rounded top. Those lucky bastards. They have no idea how good they have it.
When I get home from school I want answers. I confront my mom about the deformity sticking out of the side of my head trying to pass as a human ear.
Why would you allow this?
Why did God make me like this?
You and dad don’t have pointed ears. No one else does. Why me?
Can we fix it? Use a system of tape, glue and string to unfold the top to round it out?
She tells me I’m made the way I was supposed to be made. How my ear is, is perfect the way it is. There’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, it’s special because it’s unlike everyone else’s ear. It’s unique.
I felt okay about my elf ear. My special ear. It’s not that bad. Honestly, I feel worse for that kid who made fun of me. He only has two boring, round ears. Lame, normal ears. Poor guy.
Whatever your insecurity is, I hope you try to look at it differently. It’s not a flaw, it’s a special touch. It’s an artistic touch on your body.
Take it from an elf, you look good the way you are.
Since last week was Valentine’s Day I was inspired to do a 4-part series about meeting and getting married to my wife: the first time we met, asking for her hand in marriage, the night I proposed and a nightmare incident on our honeymoon (not sex stuff).
The first time I met my wife.
I honestly don’t even remember it.
She remembers it clearly and remembers thinking to herself, “wow, that guy is so rude. So full of himself.”
Truly love at first sight.
Here’s what happened: she was walking in Central Park with one of her friends with whom I went to college. They ran into me hanging out with “some blonde girl” (my wife’s words). Apparently I chatted with my friend from college but COMPLETELY IGNORED MY WIFE (her words).
The second time we met (the first time I remember) was at coffee hour after church. If you’re single and attend church, coffee hour is that special time after service where you can get a free cup of coffee, mini-muffins and stare at your crush from across the room but not go up to her because you’re a coward and she probably has some finance boyfriend anyway.
Great place to mingle.
At coffee hour one Sunday I ran into my college friend and her friend (MY WIFE). This time we actually talked. This interaction I do remember and not because my wife is watching me type this. I distinctly remember this interaction because I remember how uplifted I felt after talking with her. She’s like a powerlifter of lifting others up and making them feel good about themselves. Feel good about life. She radiates positivity. But real positivity, not like a smiling, programmed robot you’d see in a Christian theme park. She was open and inquisitive. Laughed easy. Smiled a lot. Genuine smiling like she knew who she was and was happy with it. You believe in yourself more after talking with her. She appreciates you without needing to know your backstory and what you have to offer. I felt like I could succeed in life. Run a marathon. Write a book. Go vegetarian for an entire day. Life-changing feelings.
It was an impressionable two minute chat.
“Wow”, I thought, “what an amazing person.”
“An amazing person who I have no interest in dating.”
“It’s great that now I’m friends with an older girl at church who’s a counselor. She’ll be great to talk through all my girl problems with.”
THOSE WERE MY REAL THOUGHTS.
These were my wife’s real thoughts about me:
“That boy needs Jesus.”
“That poor, young comedian boy needs help.”
“Oh boy, he needs community. He’s lost.”
“He’s actually a nice kid. Much nicer than that jerk I met in the park.”
“I should try setting him up with some single gals at church.”
We were friends for two years. Platonic friends. Zero attraction or interest in dating each other. She’s six years older so I wasn’t even on her radar as a potential mate. She would constantly try to set me up with her single friends or suggest women at church to date. I would lament about my dating woes, she would talk about her dates. Anytime we met up for dinner or coffee she would pay. Because I’m a “poor comedian boy who needs help.”
It was a great friendship.
After being friends for about two years, something changed. The scales were lifted from my eyes. She took me out to dinner for my birthday. She looked really hot. I remember shoveling sushi rolls into my mouth, not able to concentrate on what she was saying because she looked GOOD. And smelled good. Her whole essence was sexy.
I wore a backpack to dinner and didn’t shower that day.
I happened to be dating a woman at the time who was a year older than her. I thought, “well clearly an age gap isn’t an issue with me, so why haven’t I ever tried dating Esther?” (Things were clearly going really well with the woman I was dating).
Then I felt mad at Esther. She always tried setting me up with her friends, but why hadn’t she ever set me up with herself? How dare she not fall madly in love with me. How could she NOT be falling head over heels for this $20k/year-earning-aspiring-comedian, who still shared a bedroom with another adult? Obviously I was a prime candidate for a successful church counselor who had her own bedroom and 401k.
Eventually me and the other woman broke up. I met up with my sexy platonic friend to talk through the breakup. Get her wisdom and consolation. I was really, REALLY, hoping for consolation. Like, arm around my shoulder, hug-it-out, consolation. From my platonic friend. My hot, platonic friend.
Our dinners became more frequent. I even paid for one. A couple months later we were dating.
SO. You know that really good friend you have, who you’re like “Pfff, I could never date them, we’re like best friends. It’d be weird.”
Worst case scenario, it doesn’t work out, things end terribly, the friendship is ruined and one of you has to move to Alaska to work an oil rig. Life goes on. But at least you gave it a shot.
Best case scenario, no one moves to Alaska to work an oil rig.
The time I asked for my wife’s hand in marriage…
We decided that during our summer trip to her parent’s in San Diego that I’d have a talk with them. THE talk.
Just a boy, standing in front of two traditional Korean parents, asking for their eldest daughter’s hand in marriage.
We’ve been dating about nine months. We know we want to get married. Not just so we can have sex because we’re both saving ourselves (I promise)((Seriously, I promise))(((I PROMISE))). It’s important for me to have a face-to-face conversation with her mom and dad about marrying their daughter. I can’t do it over the phone. That’s cowardly.
“Hi, it’s me, Paul. The white guy who was just staying at your house for a week. So. Huge fan of your daughter. Love her. May I have your blessing to marry her?”
<phone hangs up>
It has to be in person. They need to see and feel my fear. My humility. Look into my soul and decide whether I’m worthy enough to spend a lifetime with their beautiful daughter.
I tell Esther I’m ready.
I’m not, but I say that I am. We both need to believe that I’m a strong pillar of a man who’s ready to lead a family.
I’m ready to marry her. I’m less ready to meet with her parents solo. They speak English but are more comfortable speaking in Korean. I’m more comfortable speaking English because that’s the only language I know. Esther always translates for us. This will be the first time we’ll be talking without the comfort of our mutual buffer.
Like I’m cramming for the SAT, I start memorizing the Korean words for “love”, “daughter” and “Please have mercy on me.”
I’m the first white person anyone in the family has dated. I can’t help but feel like I’m white washing a role in their family tree. There are already three strikes against me: I’m not Korean, I’m six years younger and I’m a comedian.
NOT. THE BEST. RESUMÉ.
Esther tells her mom that I want to take her and her father out for breakfast in the morning. Just the three of us. Her mom knows immediately what this is about. (This is all happening in Korean with me standing nearby like a man awaiting trial while attorneys talk). She says her mom said that if I’d like to talk about that, then we should all talk together.
“If you two are going to make a decision together, then you two need to come to Appa and I together.”
WHEW. My lawyer will be at the trial.
The next morning we go to a hippie cafe. I say “hippie cafe” because it’s run by hippies. There’s a big tree in the middle of the restaurant and all of the employees have names that sound like they should be in ‘Lord of the Rings’. We order coffee and pastries. MY HEART IS POUNDING. I keep counting down from 10 to nudge myself to start the conversation, but keep chickening out. “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3– better start over, 10, 9, 8…” After about six minutes of doing that in my head while everyone does that thing where we silently smile at each other while fondling our coffee mugs, I launch into my spiel.
“I love your daughter, Esther, very much.”
(AS IF I NEEDED TO CLARIFY WHICH DAUGHTER.)
The second I say “I love your daughter”, her father’s eyes start to mist and he looks away.
This is good.
I ramble a five minute speech about how she’s the perfect woman, how I admire her so much, how she’s the one I want to spend the rest of my life loving and serving, just like Christ served the church. It was so much more eloquent in my head. I was certain they would applaud.
There is no applause.
Her mom smiles kindly and nods her head. Oozing with love and grace she gives her rebuttal.
“Paul. Marriage is very hard. I want the best for Esther. I’m thankful that you are healthy and love the Lord. But. I am also a little concerned. How will you be able to provide for Esther and a family?”
In my head I’m like, “WOW. Me too. We’re on the same page. And to provide for a family, I plan on marrying your daughter. She has a 401k and health insurance.”
Before I could fumble a response my lawyer cuts in.
“Umma, I know the man that Paul is. He’s a hard worker and will do whatever it takes to provide for his family. I trust him. I trust us to work together.”
Dammit I love that woman.
Her parents nod.
“He co-founded a website and has a salary. The company could be worth a lot of money one day.”
Parents nod more positively.
I look at Esther. We look at her parents. I don’t know where this leaves us. Do they approve? ARE THEY GOING TO TELL ME NO AFTER I JUST PAID FOR PASTRIES?
“Yes, yes, you have our blessing. We are very happy for you both and love you both very much. So happy Esther will be getting married.”
We all laugh, smile, cry and stop fondling our coffee mugs. What a relief. Thank. God. So happy. Now we can relax. Then Esther’s mom goes:
“So. When is the wedding?”
A honeymoon disaster…
We took our honeymoon six months after our wedding. Gave us a chance to save up some money because weddings are ungodly expensive. Plus it allowed us to settle into married life for a bit. Get used to each other as husband and wife before taking a long trip to a foreign land together.
We went to the French Alps, Lake Como and Turin, Italy. I’ve never been to Europe before. The closest I’d come to traveling internationally was visiting Epcot and eating at different “countries”.
The months leading up to the honeymoon Esther is hyping up French food. Oh, the food. Oh, the amazing, delicious French food. Cheese and wine like you’ve never had in your life. I love cheese. I’m sold.
Once we land we get our rental car. We tell them it’s our honeymoon and they upgrade us to a Mercedes Benz. Travel tip: always tell everyone you’re on your honeymoon and they will give you free stuff. Even if you’re traveling alone. They’ll probably give you even more free stuff because of how pitiful it looks that you’re honeymooning alone.
Our drive through the French alps to our AirBnB is beautiful. The whole time Esther’s describing all the delicious French food we’re going to gorge ourselves on. I’m salivating. We haven’t eaten since our airplane meal. I’m starving. She doesn’t let me stop at a McDonald’s on the way because it’ll ruin our appetite before enjoying an authentic, delicious French meal. My one chance to try French fries in France. Gone. French fries are authentic French food to me. That argument is quickly shot down.
We arrive to our quaint mountain village that we’ll be staying at for the next few days. It’s breathtaking. Straight from a postcard. A village nestled between majestic snow-covered mountains. We stroll around town to find something to eat. We’re the only people walking around. It’s a ghost town. So strange. Every shop is closed. Weird. Every restaurant, closed. WEIRD. I begin to panic. My love for food is almost as deep and wide as it is for my new wife. She planned this trip. Where has she taken us? Why would she take us to this haunted town in the alps? This food-forsaken village?
As her loving, patient, new husband, I begin to blame my wife. Where was all the delicious, French food we would be scarfing down? Sure this trip was to celebrate our union, but more importantly, WHAT ABOUT THE DAMN FOOD?
Day one of our honeymoon and I’m mad at my wife for a trip she planned, researched and organized all by herself while I complained.
We discover that we are staying in a ski town. It’s not ski season so everything is abandoned until winter. Perfect. For dinner on our first night of our European honeymoon we find a convenience store and buy some stale bread and cheese.
Day 2: For breakfast, lunch and dinner we eat bread and cheese.
Day 3: More bread and cheese.
Bread, cheese and wine is romantically French until it becomes the only sustenance available to survive.
Three days of eating mostly cheese. WE ARE THE MOST CONSTIPATED WE’VE EVER BEEN IN OUR LIVES.
On the fourth day we drive to the airport for Italy. On the way we stop by a super fancy restaurant. Finally, we’ll be having one of those out-of-this-world, delicious French meals.
It. Is. Incredible. This was the amazing French food Esther had been hyping up for months.
Truly a perfect romantic dinner. A rich, 8-course meal with wine and complimentary champagne (we told them it was our honeymoon). I’ve never eaten such rich food in my life. It’s especially rich compared to the three days of bread and cheese sitting in our bellies. Like an annoying college bro, I egg-on Esther to finish off the wine since I’m driving.
“It’s expensive wine. Chug it!”
The roads out of the Alps are windy. Snake-like curves for hours. I feel like James Bond driving the Benz through the sunset mountains with my smoking-hot wife sitting in the passenger seat who’s unusually quiet, swaying back and forth with her eyes closed. Oh God this isn’t good.
“Honey, are you feeling okay?”
“I feel sick.”
“Like throw up sick?”
“Like throw up right now, sick?”
James Bond is gone. Nervous husband Paul is back. Every curve we drive around is punishment to Esther’s nausea. That damn rich food. If only we had eaten McDonalds instead, we wouldn’t be in this mess.
It’s almost midnight. We pull into town near the airport to fill up on gas. As I get out of the car to fill up, Esther also gets out.
“Babe, it’s okay, I’ll fill it u–“
She sprints to the dumpsters beside the gas station. I HEAR PUKE POURING OUT ON THE PAVEMENT. It sounds like buckets of soup being dumped out.
All I can think about is what a waste of half of a $400 dinner. And also, how sorry I am for my sick wife.
She walks back to the car like a zombie. She is in a daze of life-ending food poisoning. We drive to the airport to drop off the rental car before heading to our AirBnB for the night. As I’m about to park the car, Esther gets out.
“Sweetheart, it’s okay I can park it, you don’t need to hel–“
She pukes up every ounce of life inside her body. This parking garage is now christened with once very expensive French food. I drop the car keys in the drop box. Esther is barely conscious from sickness. We jump in a cab and as we’re about to tell the driver the address, Esther reaches in her purse and discovers she doesn’t have her phone. All the information for our entire trip is in her phone. We make eye contact and watch all hope leave each other’s eyes. We jump out of the cab and race back to the rental car.
I am in full take-care-of-your-wife mode. The inner provider, protector and partner is awakened within me. Esther, who has been leading us and taking care of us this whole trip is now out of commission. It’s my turn. God help us.
I peer into the passenger side window of the rental car. Esther’s phone is in the car door pocket.
I bottle it up inside. Don’t explode on your sick wife. Don’t explode on your sick wife. Don’t explode on your sick wife. She didn’t do this on purpose. She’s hanging on by a thread. Sick as a dog. I tell Esther I see the phone. The keys are locked in a drop box and there aren’t any employees because it’s past midnight.
“What should we do?” I ask her.
“Break the window.”
I look for something heavy to break the window. I ALMOST COMMIT TO BREAKING THE WINDOW.
We decide against it. Instead we figure out a way to get to our AirBnB then come back early in the morning before our flight. Thanks to the kindness of a stranger letting us use his computer, we get the information for our AirBnB and get there around 3AM. Esther continues to vomit. Thankfully, we are able to sleep for an entire 45 minutes before having to head back to the airport. Fully rested.
There are no employees at the rental car company early in the morning. At this point I am very anti-France. I denounce all things France (except French fries). This is how I’m repaid as an American after we helped them in World War I?!
I was a tad emotional.
We can’t miss our flight to Italy. We call the rental company’s customer service and tell them to hold onto the phone. Esther pukes the entire flight to Italy.
We are swimming in romance. Two lovebirds blissfully enjoying a honeymoon.
We land in Italy. The sickness has finally subsided. The rental car people can’t mail the phone to us. I tell Esther we can buy her a new phone once we’re back in the States. We give up on the phone and drive to Lake Como. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise– not having the distraction of her cellphone so we can be present with each other. Once in Lake Como we get a call from the rental car company. They’re holding onto the phone for us. Esther looks up Google Maps on my laptop.
“We could take an impromptu road trip.”
“No. We just came from Fran–. No.”
“It’s only four and a half hours to drive back to France to pick up my phone.”
“No. That’s insane. We’re not going to back track nine hours round trip to get your phone.”
I put my foot down.
We drive nine hours round trip to pick up her phone.
And you know what? Everything worked out. We took a surprise road trip back through the Alps for a cellphone and enjoyed our time together. Just husband and wife, alone, figuring out the road bumps in life as a team. In sickness and in health. That was the point of this trip. To experience life together. To experience each other. To be in our own little world before going back to face the real world. Together. Forever. There will be more puking, crying, lost phones, and arguments over French fries. But there will be even more love, patience, and growth as one.
Thank you for being my wife, Esther.
Living with three women in a one bedroom apartment…
My first apartment in NYC I found on Craigslist. My roommate was a Romanian guy who would occasionally pull back my curtain door and check if I was sleeping. Nice guy. Soon after that murder-waiting-to-happen living situation, my two friends in the city and I decided to move in together.
My two friends are women- Kat and Morgan. I was raised by women and always had a lot of girl friends so it felt natural. They’re like my sisters. But, my entire life I’d been raised in a world where boy’s and girl’s rooms are separate. No scandalous co-ed business. But this is NYC and we’re poor. Very, very poor.
We found a one bedroom apartment in Astoria, Queens that was perfect. It would’ve been really perfect for one of us. But we were poor. To afford an apartment in NYC you just have to keep adding people until the rent is low enough per person. It’s a numbers game. Things that would seem ridiculous anywhere else seem normal in NYC if it means being able to make rent.
“No windows, the couch is on fire and there’s a cobra in the bathroom? Sounds affordable, we’ll take it.”
We put all of our beds in the bedroom. It was like summer camp. More specifically, like a girl’s summer camp and I was the creepy male counselor. Kat bought an actual bed and frame to sleep on. Morgan had a full-size air mattress that she would go on to use for two years. I claimed the twin-size mattress that the previous tenants left. It looked clean enough and was perfect because it was either that or sleep on the floor.
It sounds crazy but it worked. We were like a little family unit. All of us new to NYC, trying to figure out life. Figure out who we are. Survive. Eat pizza. Chase our dreams. Some nights we’d lie in bed chatting and laughing. Say our goodnights and try not to think about how we’re all probably farting in our sleep.
One day Kat asked what we thought about one of her friends moving in with us. Three women + Paul in a one bedroom apartment?
That’s my greatest fantasy come true: super cheap rent.
We held a family meeting, agreed and welcomed our new family member. “Three’s Company” was now “Four’s Company”. We moved my bed out into the living room so the three women could share the bedroom.
People would always ask, “Paul, what do you all do for privacy?”
The only privacy were the precious moments you had alone pooping or taking a shower. And thankfully our shower pressure was strong enough to cover up the sound of you crying. But we knew.
“Soap in your eyes again, huh?”
“What? Oh. Yeah. Soap.”
Another frequent question was, “what happens if someone wants to bring someone home?”
All in all, I look back on those days as happy ones. We were a tight-knit bunch. I also think that living situation prepared me for marriage.
“Paul, take out the garbage.”
“Paul, kill that bug.”
“Paul, why are you crying?”
“Paul, why are you crying?”
“Paul, why are you crying?”
After daily cleaning out hair from the bathtub drain from three women, one woman doesn’t seem too hard.
Haunting my in-laws…
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love my wife’s parents. I genuinely look up to them and want to be like them when I get older. They’re wise. Loving. Caring. Serve others and open their home to anyone who needs one.
They also only speak Korean in their house.
I do not speak Korean. I know like three words and play those on loop whenever I can shove them into conversation.
While my wife was on maternity leave, we lived with her parents in California for five weeks. Again, they ONLY speak Korean in their house.
I do not speak or understand Korean.
They DO speak English. (Not to me.) But they do.
For an entire month.
Just a quiet, white guy, silently observing a Korean family. I felt like a ghost haunting an older Korean couple. I’m pale, friendly– I was Casper the Friendly Ghost. I’d watch, observe. Long to be part of the family. You know, ghost stuff.
When they wanted to speak to me directly, they would look and talk to my wife, who would then translate to me. So basically, my wife was a medium. I was Patrick Swayze, my wife was Whoopi Goldberg. But also Demi Moore.
“The ghost said he wants more kimchi, please.”
DON’T CALL ME THE GHOST. Not helping.
Look. If they wanted to talk to me directly, with no translator. Be respectful. Use a Ouija board.
I love that they only speak Korean in their home. It’s their home. There’s something comforting about it. Home is your personal world safe from the outside world. Home is a place to be free and feel comfortable. Even though I couldn’t understand anything, I still felt like I could understand everything. It’s strange, but home talk is all home talk. Meals, family, church drama. There were even times when it would be just me and my mother-in-law in the kitchen and she’d have a full conversation with me in Korean before realizing she was talking to the white guy. Zero subtitles. We’d laugh. Then she’d say:
“You need to learn Korean.”
(“Yes”– the most important word I know.)
That’s my dream. To one day be fluent in Korean so I can speak freely with them. Meet them where they are. I want to show my respect and love for them by embracing their family’s language. I love my wife so I love her family and her culture. I didn’t even know what kimchi was before I met her, but now I eat bowls of it and know her mom makes the best. (True story: Esther’s mom makes such delicious kimchi that it’s made multiple grown men cry.) On the flip side, my wife embraces my family and culture too. I mean, before me, my wife had never eaten at Waffle House, gone to a college football game in Alabama or had flavorless, dry chicken for dinner. It’s a beautiful thing to share your culture with loved ones.
Living with my in-laws for five weeks, hearing only Korean was extremely educational. Being immersed in another language is the best way to learn it. And after five weeks, I’m proud to say I learned two new words. Huge progress. By the time I’m 96 I’ll be able to say a full sentence.
Honestly, not being able to speak for a month is very relaxing. Everyone around me has ZERO expectations of me contributing to conversations. Thank God. Didn’t have to share opinions or ideas. I was just along for the ride. Arguments over where to eat for dinner? Hah! Didn’t matter, I was going to eat what was decided. My opinions on things happening in the news? Involuntary pass. It was the best. When you don’t speak, no one can find out how dumb you actually are.
I was the agreeable, “Yes Man” all summer long. Because I had to be.
“Did you enjoy dinner?”
“Are you feeling well?”
“Can you take out the trash?”
We love this guy!
At one point my mother-in-law did try to teach me the Korean alphabet. She found an extra children’s workbook lying around. We made it two lessons.
“You need to practice.”
She taught me how to write my name! That was exciting. I even remembered for about three hours how to write it before everything went out the window.
About week four Esther and I started feeling the itch to be in our own home again. No matter how comfortable you get in someone else’s home, even if it’s family, it’s never your home. You don’t have the same comforts or liberties to do as you please, like walking around naked or ordering Pizza Hut at midnight. While we craved our own space again, the hardest part of leaving was all the home cooked meals. So delicious. So healthy. Though, I’m not sure how many more weeks of seaweed soup or abalone porridge for breakfast I could stomach. Sometimes you just want a massive bagel loaded with cream cheese.
We left our time with her parents fuller, healthier and better parents. They took care of us while we took care of our baby boy. He got to soak up love from his grandparents and cousins. It was his first time being immersed in his Korean heritage. Constantly being spoken to in Korean. And just like his Appa, he still can’t speak it.
My basketball career in the 7th grade…
I use the word “career” VERY sarcastically. There was no actual basketball career. I wasn’t even that good. I was always just a nice, tall kid who did what he was told and worked hard. When you’re tall, old men say things to you like:
“Do you play basketball?”
“You should play basketball.”
“I bet you’re a basketball player, aren’t you?”
“Have you seen my wife? I’m lost.”
It always annoyed me because I didn’t love basketball. I felt pressure to like it because I was tall, and my older brother played. I convinced myself I was into it when in reality, I’d rather just play H-O-R-S-E.
In 7th grade I tried out for my middle school basketball team.
I was tall, lanky and still nowhere close to hitting puberty. I tried out for the team because I felt like I was supposed to. It’s my duty as a tall kid whose older brother also played. I gave it my everything. I was one of the fastest sprinters, I hustled, I was tall and I feigned enthusiasm like a champ. Unfortunately, one of the key traits to play basketball is the ability to play basketball. I dribbled the ball like a dog treading water. Zero finesse. My shot looked nice until the ball actually left my fingertips and landed in the bleachers. I was building a mansion with all the bricks I threw up.
At the end of try-outs all of us gathered around in the middle of the court. The coach, a towering man with a short temper and a bent pinky on his right hand, was an ex-pro player (so he told us). When his young sons misbehaved he would make them do pushups and run laps. Coach called out the names of the boys who made the team. He got down to the final two spots. I held my breath on the last one. Half of me prayed I wouldn’t make the team. Half of me prayed even harder that I wouldn’t make the team. What the hell was I even doing here? I’m not competitive. I hate getting yelled at and being forced to run. I can’t believe I just volunteered to be considered for this nightmare.
My name wasn’t called.
I was relieved. And then immediately embarrassed. My older brother made the team so what would everyone think about me not cutting it?
The coach announced that the team would need two managers. A ray of hope shined on us dejected. A new way onto the team. In order to be a team manager you had to write an essay explaining why you’d be good for the position. What I lack in athletic ability I make up for in writing because I got that damn middle school basketball manager position! So did the only other boy who wrote an essay, nevertheless it was an accomplishment.
As managers, we were required to wear a tie and sports coat on game days, take stats during the game and basically be the team’s bitch. Collect uniforms, gather balls during warm-up, fetch water– all the glorious stuff.
Our team was horrible. Anytime we won a game it came as a shock to all of us. One day the coach decided to punish the team by letting me suit up in a uniform and play during the game. This was huge. I felt like Clark Kent taking off my tie and changing into a jersey. This was my moment to prove to the team, and myself, that I belonged on the team. I wasn’t just some quiet kid sitting on the bench inaccurately jotting down players’ stats. I was a basketball player too.
All the players were confused. Why’s Paul getting in a uniform? He’s a manager, not a player. I’m sure even the coach second-guessed himself after making the decision.
We were playing an away game. Thank God. That meant no kids from school were there to watch. THANK GOD.
I sat on the bench in my uniform the whole game. We were losing. Bad. Coach was furious, yelling at the players the entire time. Nothing was going right and everyone was falling apart. With a minute left in the game and our team down, the coach angrily grabbed my jersey and said, “Schissler, you’re in.”
This was it.
My moment to prove my worth. To prove I deserved to exist on this team. On this court. In this world.
I sprinted onto the court like a bat out of hell. The kid I subbed in for was PISSED he was getting taken out of the game for the manager. But screw that kid, this was my time. The next sixty seconds I was going to be Michael Jordan to these 13-year-olds.
When the whistle blew and the game started back you’d have thought I was playing to save my family from terrorists. I ran up and down the court like there was no tomorrow. I dove for balls like I was a starving lion pouncing on the last morsel of meat in the wilderness. Jumped for rebounds and swung my elbows like I was being attacked by a gang. The two shots I did take, I missed, but it felt so exhilarating shooting that to me they felt like points.
The buzzer rang. Game over. We lost.
In the locker room the coach made all the players sit down and had me stand in the middle with him. He shouted his praise for me at the players.
“Paul outplayed ALL of you!”
“Not a single one of you hustled as hard as he did on the court tonight. If any of you had HALF the heart and intensity as him we could’ve won.”
I felt like Rudy.
“YOU LET A MANAGER OUTPLAY YOU. YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED.”
Well, maybe not quite like Rudy.
The “praise Paul” fest quickly felt more like a “shame fest”. When the scolding finished and the other players sheepishly told me “good job”. It felt like when a father makes his son apologize to someone but the son really doesn’t want to and only says sorry to get his dad off his back. Like that, but with congratulations.
The following week I was back on the bench, tie on neck, pencil in hand. It was a home game. I hated home games because all the kids at school could see me sitting on the bench, not playing. I felt like such a loser. Everyone probably thought I was so lame sitting there with my clipboard while the athletes played. Everyone was here to watch the team play, not me. I wished I could’ve just melted into the wall to disappear. I sat as still as possible hoping that if I was still enough I’d be invisible to the naked eye.
Turns out I was very visible. During a time out, a girl that I had no idea had a crush on me, stood up on the bleachers and shouted:
“PAUL, I LIKE YOUR PENCIL.”
I dropped my pencil. I melted into the bench. My face burned hot red. Why did she have to draw attention to me? I hate this pencil. What does that even mean? She likes my pencil? Is that a euphemism? Does she really like my pencil?
I made up fake stats the entire rest of the game because I couldn’t concentrate.
That game completely reframed my view on life in middle school. I realized that trying to get the praise and respect of some basketball coach wasn’t important. It didn’t define me or make me special. Getting the attention of a cute girl in the bleachers did.
Confessions of a Cart Boy…
My junior and senior years of high school I was a cart boy at the country club in town. We were a small fraternity of high school boys cleaning carts and doing the biddings of country club members.
Day one. I was a nervous wreck. My only jobs prior to this was raking leaves for neighbors and being a janitor at my church. This was my first job out in the real world. I show up on time, ready to be the best cart boy they’d ever seen. Pleated khaki shorts. Belt. Country club branded polo shirt. I was look FRESH. I go in the pro shop to clock in. I can’t figure it out. It’s 20.3 seconds into my first day of work and I’m too stupid to figure out how to clock in. I write my hours on a napkin and leave it on the counter instead.
I take my post next to the garage of golf carts. As a cart boy it’s my responsibility to charge the carts, clean them, get them for members, refill, restock, worship these things. I jump in a cart in the garage to take it out for some golfers. Nothing. I turn the key back and forth. Nothing. Oh no. The cart’s dead. Did I kill it? All I did was sit on it and it’s dead? This is a sign from God that I’m an idiot and not intelligent enough to clean golf carts for a part-time job. I run into the pro shop in a panic.
“The carts. They’re not working. They won’t move forwards or backwards. WHAT DO I DO?”
The guy working the pro shop very calmly said, “oh, they’re probably just in neutral. You have to put it in Drive or Reverse.”
I’ll be right back I’m just going to go light myself on fire in the bathroom.
Another cart boy I was working with that day was older than the rest. A college cart boy. We worshipped him. He was jacked, tan, handsome, older and TALKED TO US. He was a god among teenage boys. He was THE cart boy. We were just wannabes.
“Here, I got you a soda from upstairs.”
I melted. Wow. A god lowering himself to a mere mortal like me. To quench my thirst. Just wow.
“Wow, thank you.”
I take a sip and immediately spit it out. It’s bitter and sour. Wretched liquid.
“It’s soda water and onion juice. We like to pull pranks on each other sometimes. Keep it fun around here.”
“Oh haha. Cool. That’s cool. Yeah. Nice. That’s cool.”
I’LL NEVER TRUST A CUP WITH A LID ON IT FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. TRUST. NO ONE.
My walls are up. For several months anytime I used a stall in the bathroom I’d lift my feet up so no one would try to pull a prank on me in the bathroom. No where was safe. Eventually I eased up and even pulled the soda-onion juice prank on new cart boys, betraying any sort of mutual trust that could have been had. Ah, the sweetness of teenage boy friendship.
They called me the “Sandman”. Sounds badass, right? Wrong. I was a tall kid and lifted weights so I had a little bit of size on me compared to some of the other cart boys. My boss saw this and decided that I should be the one to refill the barrel of sand from the sand pit. The sand pit sounded like a cool place, like something out of Star Wars. It was not. It was just a big mound of sand next to a shed.
“Don’t try to lift the barrel of sand onto the cart,” they warned.
Pffff. OK. I’m a jacked 17 year old. I lift weights at the YMCA. I can lift some dumb sand barrel. Sand is light. I’m strong. I got this.
My first time going to the sand pit I was cocky. They built me up to feel like I was some strong guy. I take the barrel off the golf cart and fill it to the brim with sand. I put the shovel in the cart then scan the horizon to see if any cute girls who happen to live along the golf course are lucky enough to be watching me as I’m about to beast-mode this sand barrel onto the golf cart.
It won’t budge. I try to use my biceps more (every high school boy that works out focuses 90% of his time on his biceps). I get down low and try to squat thrust it up. Finally I get some movement. In my lower back. The muscles in my lower back. Oh God. My lower back is destroyed. I realize I have to empty the sand barrel, attach the barrel to the cart, then fill up the barrel on the cart. I scan the horizon to see if any babes caught me. None. Whew, just some maintenance crew laughing at me. I return limping with a hunched back.
“You tried to lift the barrel, huh?”
“What? No. No, I uh, must’ve pulled something lifting weights the other day. Super heavy weights.”
Once I survived my first few weeks I settled into being a cart boy. To this day it’s one of the funnest jobs I’ve ever had. Other cart boy confession stories will be saved for a book later on. Many more to come!
If you’re out playing golf, please slip a few singles into the scorecard clip on the steering wheel of your golf cart. It’ll make a cart boy’s day.
The time I was on The Steve Harvey Show…
This day in 2015 Steve Harvey’s people flew me to Chicago to be on his show.
Around this time in my life I had just started publicly joking about being a virgin and saving myself for marriage in my stand-up act. I talked about it on some podcasts and wrote an article for some website about dating in NYC as a virgin– hot stuff.
One day I got a call from a producer at Steve Harvey. She found my article about being a virgin. I was blown away. Someone other than my mom and her friends saw my work online? This is huge. The producer explained Steve was going to do a segment on three young women who were also virgins and at the end of the show present them with three virgin dudes to go on a date. Super hot show. Hot competition for daytime soap operas.
You’re telling me my man Steve Harvey is going to help me by-pass dating apps and hook me up on national television with a girlfriend?! Who’s also a virgin? And I don’t have to have an awkward conversation in the middle of the date where I drop a vague hint about not having sex before marriage and she gets weirded out and suggests I hit up her friend who also goes to church?
YES PLEASE. Sign me up. I’m in. I’m ready to pop my national TV debut cherry.
I get flown to Chicago and picked up in a private car. I have a few hundred bucks in my bank account but I feel like Leonardo DiCaprio (minus the sex with supermodels part). The hotel is very luxurious. I feel like a celeb. In retrospect, they could afford to put all of us up in a fancy hotel because none of us were getting paid to appear on the show.
It’s the morning of the show. I’m woken up by loud moans.
My neighbors are having unashamedly loud sex at 8:00AM. It’s hot. So ironic. I’m here to go on a show to talk about abstaining from sex and temptation is literally banging on my walls. Impossible to get through morning prayers with “MORE, MORE, HARDER,” in the background.
I get to the studio early. This is crazy. I’m about to go on national television and tell everyone I’m a 24 year old virgin. Staff brings me to my private dressing room. None of my neighbors here are having wild sex. A few minutes later there’s a knock on my door. What if it’s Steve? What if it’s my future bride? What if it’s like a dozen babes who just want to hang out and get to know me, but not sexually, but like sort of sexually, but like not too much, just like kiss and hold hands?
It’s two dudes.
“Hey, I’m JimDre”
“I’m Daniel. I, guess we’re the three virgin guys.”
I stop myself from asking if they too have sexually active hotel neighbors. Instead we all make small talk and totally hit it off. We unexpectedly bro-out, connecting about typical bro stuff like: resisting sex, not having sex, praying away temptation, bragging about all the chicks we haven’t hooked up with. It was awesome. We’re here to meet single girls and we’re in the green room sparking up a bromance.
A producer takes us to wardrobe and makeup. They give me new pants and a new shirt (which I kept after the show) because my outfit looks like a high school kid trying way too hard. I’ve never felt more beautiful in makeup. This whole time I’ve been thinking about what I want to say to Steve Harvey on the show. I’m ready to pour my heart out and share my faith and journey. Plus, I’m a comedian so I can connect with him about stand-up.
This hope is immediately killed. We’re each given scripted responses that we’re to memorize and regurgitate on the show. I get REALLY nervous. All I can think about is memorizing my lines so I don’t look like an idiot. And I’m angry that we can’t just say what we want to say. That’s suffocating as a comedian. I’m told I can’t say that I’m a comedian because they don’t want it to seem like I’m doing the show just to help my career (I am). This sucks. Now I feel like I’m playing a character of myself. If I have to stick to guidelines and can’t joke around I crumble.
We still haven’t seen our blind dates. It’s a surprise for everyone. The anticipation is excruciating. They line up the “Virgin Bros” backstage. It’s getting to the end of the show and Steve is about to bring us out as a gift to the girls. The producer backstage is in drill sergeant mode making sure we’re prepared for battle.
“What’s your line?”
“And then what?”
I’m panicking. I’ve never sweat this much in an air-conditioned room in my life. All I can think about is looking like an idiot on TV.
“Hi, I’m Paul, I’m from New York City and I’m a virgin.”
IT’S SOUNDS LIKE WE’RE AT A SEX ANONYMOUS MEETING FOR PEOPLE WHO DON’T HAVE SEX.
I’m so beyond nervous that my face is doing that thing where random parts of my mouth, eyes and cheeks involuntarily twitch like I’m about to cry myself into a stroke. Oh no. What if I have a stroke on TV? That will be my legacy.
The second before we’re called out on stage the producer turns to me and says:
“Paul, don’t forget, your girl’s name is “Lael”, like “male” with an “L”.
Then we hear Steve Harvey say to the crowd, “gentlemen, come on out!”
A studio full of middle aged women erupts with applause and “woooos”. I’m in the back of the line. All I can do is stare at the backs of the other V-bros as we walk to greet Steve and our dates. I give Steve a very sweaty handshake. His hand dries my hand off a little so that Lael gets a slightly dryer handshake.
My face muscles are still twitching. Oh God, I hope this isn’t in HD. Please. No close-ups.
Steve asks us to introduce ourselves. I try to make myself seem calm and cool which only makes me seem nervous and scared. Never-the-less, I nail all my lines. We have a brief “conversation” that’s really just six kids one-by-one reciting a script about reasons for being virgins.
Steve sends us out on a group date with a camera in tow. Thankfully Lael is also into comedy so we immediately start joking about the whole situation the second we leave the studio. The group date is awkward at best. Everyone in the restaurant is staring at us. We all still have makeup on. They can smell the innocence on us. When I’m uncomfortable I go into dad-joke hyper mode. At this point I’m relentlessly punishing the table with cheesy quips. Expunging my nerves.
No sparks of romance. No sexual tension. Just six, v-card-carrying young adults eating a meal on Steve Harvey’s dime. We make it through dinner and collectively decide to all go our separate ways.
Later that night me and JimDre go eat Chic-fil-a and shoot the breeze. We bro-out. Two guys desperate to find a wife, fly to Chicago to be set up, and instead we find a new friend. It was life-giving to connect with someone else walking along the same journey.
I go back to my hotel room, feeling grateful to have been part of such a cool, weird experience. Very, very weird. Who knew that not having sex would result in getting me on TV. You hear that, kids? If you abstain from sex you too can be on TV!
I lay down in bed and close my eyes. Content. Happy. Relieved. All of a sudden I hear:
“HARDER! HARDER! MORE! YES, YES, YES!”
Meeting Bill Hader…
About six years ago I appeared on Telemundo. It wasn’t me technically. I was portraying someone else. But underneath that costume was Paul Schissler, and I was going to let the world of Spanish-speaking people know.
I’m one or two years into New York City, constantly desperate for money, and willing to do almost any job no matter how dumb it makes me look. A friend who worked for Sony at the time asked if I was free to work a gig.
I thought SWEET. I’m going to work a gig for Sony, probably get noticed by some execs and celebs then boom, I’m in Hollywood doing all of the movies.
They were promoting the movie “Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs.” Excellent children’s book. Never saw the movie. To promote the movie they needed a few starving actors to dress up as the characters and make a handful of public appearances. I didn’t even care how much I was getting paid. All I knew is that it was more than $50 and I’d be on TV.
They put me in costume as the lead character “Flint”, voiced by Bill Hader in the movie. Bill Hader is a hero of mine so it was an honor to walk around in an ill-fitting lab coat and itchy wig for 8 hours to share a role. Our first stop was Telemundo.
You might be thinking, “oh neat, I didn’t know Paul spoke Spanish.”
I don’t. None of us on the crew did. They made it VERY clear to us to NOT SPEAK. At all. Not in English. Not in Spanish. Definitely don’t try to speak in Spanish.
For the love of all that is holy.
Not a problem. I can sit and look pretty in my costume while holding my toy monkey “Steve” and not talk. Flint and Steve on Telemundo. My first appearance on TV.
We take a seat next to the hosts on the couch. We’re live. They’re talking in Spanish and me and the other characters are smiling like idiots. I play with Steve the monkey on my shoulder and pretend like I’m listening along to the hosts. PURE EMMY-WINNING ACTING.
The hosts pause for a second. They say something rapidly in Spanish then I hear a “Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs”. This is it. This is my time to shine as Flint. Make Bill Hader proud and carry the torch of this cartoon character.
Host: “<Spanish, Spanish, Spanish>”
Me: <look of confusion>
Host: “Ah, sî. What is your name?”
Freeze. Okay, this all happened in slow motion. I’m on TV for the first time in my life. I was just berated with instructions to NOT SPEAK AT ALL on camera. I’m depicting the character FLINT with my monkey STEVE. And I am so freaking excited to be on Telemundo.
Me: “Uh, I mean Flin– uh, Steve!”
The host looks EXTREMELY confused. He slowly turns to the camera.
I am stoic with fear. Absolutely spiraling. Horrified. I see a producer off camera shaking her head.
WELL WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO DO, NOT TALK WHEN SOMEONE TALKS TO ME? I TOOK TWO YEARS OF SPANISH IN HIGH SCHOOL.
When we finish the segment, my friend who hired me joked how she’ll probably get fired for my flub-up. I laugh. She wasn’t joking. (She never got fired for it but I was infamous in their office for a week).
After Telemundo we loaded up and headed to a screening of the movie. Bill Hader was there. This was my moment. Obviously we’d meet, hit it off, then he’d invite me to do every single movie with him going forward.
We get to the theater. Kids are coming up to me but I’m ruthlessly ignoring them because all I can concentrate on is: where is Bill?
A screening just finished and we’re going to go into the theater and wave to the kids. As we’re waiting outside the doors Bill Hader walks up. One second he wasn’t there, then the next second, I look over and he’s standing right next to me.
We look at each other. I’m afraid to talk because the last time I spoke in character it almost brought down a program on Telemundo.
Bill smiles a smile of the deepest, most empathetic understanding. The smile of someone who knows the struggle of taking ridiculous gigs to make a way for yourself in the entertainment industry. A smile void of judgment. His eyes made me feel seen. Known. Appreciated. He looked the costume up and down and nodded his head.
For a split second I once again forgot I wasn’t Paul. I’m Fleve. I faux-chuckled to hide my cataclysmic embarrassment. I couldn’t respond. Just gave him one of those shoulder-shrug-goofy-smiles that lets the other person know you’re deceased.
We walked into the theater of screaming children. And at that moment all humiliation melted away because it was worth it to see the joy and excitement of those kids. Not for myself or Bill. It was for my crew member who was dressed as a massive strawberry.
Lottery sign installer…
In my first year living in NYC I was starving-artist-cliché level broke. Constantly worrying about not having money, needing money, wanting more money, confused about how to make money, losing money. I was a real New Yorker.
I was so thin. Stressing about money and not eating much is a very depressing weight-loss plan. I needed a job fast. I was on my knees pleading with God to provide work. Something lucrative, fulfilling, honorable and full of opportunities for me to share my gifts.
Oh. The Lord provided. Through a family friend of a friend, I landed a freelance job installing lottery signs for the NY State Lotto. You know those digital signs that show the Megamillions numbers hanging in bodegas around NYC? I most likely installed the ones that you’ve seen.
Prayer answered. A job helping out the state to take advantage of poor Americans with crippling gambling addictions. BUT I get to choose my own hours.
My task was to show up to bodegas (mini-convenient stores for you non-New Yorkers), liquor stores and the occasional grocery store, to install the digital lottery signs in the store front window. I bought an electric drill, tape measurer and a leveler. I couldn’t wait to start earning ones upon ones of dollars.
The night before my first day I get all my gear packed so I can get an early start. That way I’ll be done with my lottery sign work before my afternoon unpaid internship, then I can do comedy all evening.
I wake up the next morning. I’m feeling VERY rested. Wow. Unexpectedly rested. It feels like I slept a long time.
I overslept my alarm by FIVE hours.
You know that type of body fatigue where your subconscious takes over and shuts down operations so that you can rest and repair? It was that. I explode out of bed. My heart’s racing and I’m cursing myself. I rush to my unpaid internship. By the time I leave that it’s dark out, but I still have to go install signs. My first location is deep in Brooklyn. I’ve been living in NYC for less than a year so I don’t really know how to navigate the outer boroughs. But, what the hell, let’s walk around Brooklyn at night time with an electric drill.
My first store is a liquor store. They’re very confused why some tall, blonde boy is showing up late at night asking to install a lottery sign.
“Hi, I’m with the New York State Lottery. I’m here to install your lottery sign.”
“Um. Your lottery sign?”
“May I install the lotter–“
“Yes, yes, fine. That window over there. Don’t break anything.”
Great start. My first installation. As soon as I took a look at the instructions a panic swept over me. This might as well have been written in hieroglyphics. Worse than IKEA. I step outside and call my older brother. He’s the fix-it man.
I fight tears on the call. I can tell he can tell because he’s speaking extra fatherly. Reassuring me that it’ll be okay, I’ll be okay and to take my time figuring it out. He also said that he was proud of me for doing what I had to do to survive and working hard. That he knew I could overcome this one step at a time. One day at a time.
We hang up and I wipe the tears from my eyes. I walk back into the liquor store with renewed optimism. This go-around I disregard the directions. I was going to hang this damn sign my way and get home.
It took me over two hours to install the sign. The directions said each installation should take AT MOST 30 minutes. Not the Paul Schissler way. After drilling way too many holes and using far too many extra screws, I managed to almost install the sign correctly. It didn’t turn on after I set it up. We plugged it in, I smiled and shrugged at the store owners, who looked less-than-pleased, and let them know to just keep plugging and unplugging the sign until it synced up. No idea what I meant by “synced up” but it sounded professional.
But I did it. I installed my first lottery sign late at night in Brooklyn. I overcame my fear of failure and pushed through my doubt. I figured out a way to get done what I needed to get done.
I had to return to the store to properly install it a few days later.
Over the course of the next few months I walked up and down, all around Brooklyn and Queens installing lottery signs. With each one I got better. Each day I looked forward to exploring new parts of the city and getting my hands dirty to earn some money. I felt connected to the city. Connected to the people. Bodega owners regularly gave me free coffee, treats and one kind storeowner even gave me spaghetti and meatballs.
I’d like to think it’s because of how grateful they were to have a hardworking, young man do his work with a grateful, cheerful spirit. To be positive. Respectful. Caring.
Really it was because I came on behalf of the NY Lottery and the NY Lottery meant more money for their business. I was helping bring in the gamblers.
But I did it with joy. The physical work. That was the joyful part. Not the gambling aspect. That’s sad. But also, thank you to all of you who played the NY Lottery because it helped keep a roof over my head and food in my belly for a few months.
The day I started dating my wife…
My wife and I were just friends. Platonic friends. For two years. Then hangouts and dinners slowly started to feel different. Warm fuzzy feelings. Excitement. Tingles. I would tell friends that my one-on-one dinners with Esther at nice restaurants were just two friends hanging out. Sometimes we’re blind to reality. In hindsight they were pre-dates to our dates.
Towards the end of our pre-dating, platonic friendship period, Esther invited me to her brother’s house in Connecticut. There would be friends, food and a good time. I didn’t think anything of it. My platonic, non-romantic, definitely-not-dating friend inviting me to meet her older brother and their close friends.
Esther picks me up from the train station with her niece.
“Esther gomo (aunt in Korean)? Who’s he?”
“That’s Esther gomo’s friend, Paul.”
FRIEND. FRIEND PAUL. PLATONIC. Loud and clear. I can read between the lines.
“Hi there! So nice to meet you! <insert 4 to 9 painfully cheesy dad jokes>”
“Heh, hi Mr. Paul.”
Already bombing with Esther’s niece. I make a mental note to make goofier faces the rest of the day.
We get to the house. I’m still not aware that I’m walking into what is OBVIOUSLY A TEST TO SEE IF I’M WORTHY. Ignorance is bliss, because the second I walk in the door I’m comfortably chatting with people around the kitchen. No pressure because I’m here with my platonic friend, Esther.
I meet Esther’s older brother. Didn’t think anything of it. Nice guy. Man of few words. Firm handshake. Very, very firm handshake. This guy must have one of those grip strength handles in his office. He probably rock climbs or something. I can still feel the handshake four years later.
Everyone is incredibly nice. So welcoming. And so over-the-moon fond of Esther. It’s hard not to be though. The entire time at the house she’s singlehandedly running the operation– cooking lobster, entertaining her niece, playing hostess, filling the home with laughter– all with a graceful smile. I was so taken with her. This woman is the real deal. This is a woman you want to get yolked to for life. Too bad she’s my platonic friend! Oh well.
It was conversations with her friends that started to unveil the intentions of this visit:
“Hi, you must be Paul. So, how long have you and Esther been, uh–“
“Friends? Oh we’ve been friends for a couple years.”
“How long have you known Esther?”
“For a long time. We love her so much. She’s such an amazing woman.”
“Yes, she’s great. Really great friend.”
After about the fourth of these interactions the curtains over my eyes are pulled back. It clicks that I’m not here as Esther’s friend, I’m here as her friend friend. My head does that slow motion thing like you see in movies where the protagonist realizes he’s the oddball out and everyone is swirling around him.
Out of the corner of my eye I realize Esther’s older brother has been keeping an eye on me this whole time. Every so often I feel his gaze on me from across the room. Even when I walk to another room, I feel him. Like a hawk assessing a potential threat to its hatchling.
Cool friend Paul is gone. Best behavior Paul is at full attention. I follow Esther around the house like a needy puppy too afraid to play on its own. Staying side-by-side only draws more eyes at us. We are an us now. US. How did this happen? I mean, I like it, but is she just being friendly? I can feel her brother watching us. Big brother is in full “Big Brother” mode.
We sneak out of the house for a walk. Two friends, walking outside. Nothing to see here. Just two, platonic friends taking a walk together while linking arms. LINKING ARMS. OH WOW. OK, DON’T FREAK OUT. THIS IS GOOD. Heart is beating fast even though I’m talking calmly on the outside. Glad we’re linking arms because my hands are dripping with sweat. Did I initiate the link or did she? I’m sure I did. Or did she? Oh God, please don’t let her older brother be trailing us in the bushes.
We make our way back to the house as everyone is starting to clear out. I help Esther clean up the kitchen and dining room. Just as I finish wiping down the dinner table I look up and see her older brother standing in the doorway.
How long had he been standing there watching me?
Did he just pop up like a sorcerer?
He walks over to me.
“Did you clean up this whole table?”
“Yea– uh yes sirr–yeaup. Yes.”
He nods his head approvingly then walks away.
I gasp for breath. I think I just passed whatever test that was. What an adrenaline rush. I’m not food for the hatchling, I’m part of the nest now.
On the train ride home Esther and I are silent for about ten minutes then I speak up.
“So what the hell was that all about?”
“What was what all about?”
“Oh you know, just that whole test with your friends and brother, thing.”
Esther’s silent. I keep pushing like a coward instead of saying it first.
“Were you seeing if they would approve of me? It kind of feels like we’r–“
“I like you, okay!”
My face turns bright red.
“Well, I like you too.”
It’s a quiet ride back into the city. We grab dinner so we can discuss what just went down. We admit to each other again that we like each other. Two grown adults, bashfully saying “I like you” to each other while eating Pad Thai on the Upper West Side. No matter how old you get you’re always high school “you” the first time you tell your crush “I like you.”
As I walk Esther to her apartment I take her hand in mine. We’ve graduate from arm-linking to holding hands. Like a couple. Brimming with giddiness. I stop and take both of her hands.
“I want to kiss you right now.”
Esther looks visibly flustered. Eyebrows raised.
“Nuh joogeul le?”
“What does that mean?”
“Do you want to die?”
I had to wait to kiss her for two weeks. But it was worth it.
Auditioning for ‘Crashing’…
Comedy is a never-ending cycle of potential opportunities that fall through until one doesn’t. And then after that one, you have to fight, claw and work your way towards another one. Sometimes it feels like it’s 99% luck and 1% miracle.
A comedian friend passed along my stuff to his manager. Usually when people offer to do that you don’t hold your breath. I held my breath. For six months. Then one day, out of nowhere, I get a voicemail while I’m on the subway:
“Paul, it’s <manager’s name> here. <Comedian’s name> passed along your stuff to me. I think you’re funny and perfect for this role on Pete Holme’s show, ‘Crashing’. I’ve already talked to casting about you and they think you’re funny. Give me a call back.”
I’m frantic with joy on the subway. Smiling at random strangers, giving the “rock and roll” hand sign to babies. It sucks getting good news when you’re by yourself. You feel trapped in a bubble of euphoria and you look like a crazy person, smiling and twitching to yourself. In my mind I’ve already cashed the check from the role. I don’t have cell reception so I’m freaking out. Cursing the subway. I panic that if I don’t call back immediately they’re going to move on and I’ll be old news. Show biz moves fast so I’ve heard. I’m desperate to get above ground and call the manager back.
I sprint home from the subway and close the door to the bedroom. I’m like an excited school boy secretly calling back his crush. I’m fixing my hair and adjusting my shirt as if this manager can see me on the phone. The call goes well and he schedules me for an in-person audition. He filled me in a bit more about the role and I got chills up my spine. This role was created for me. It was me.
Role: cool, hip, young Christian comedian.
BOOM. I’M RIGHT HERE THANK YOU. I mean, could you be a little more subtle describing me? Sheesh. Cool? Double-check. Hip? Check-ish. Young? Check. Christian? Ch-ch-check mate.
ALSO. They would be filming this character’s episode at my church in NYC. This was divine. This was an alley-oop from God.
In the past I’ve wrestled with my identity as a comedian. I’m Christian and I’m a comedian, but I’m not a Christian comedian. I joke about my faith some, but I’m not doing “church jokes.” A small part of me was conflicted about the role and how I’d be portrayed. Would the world now box me up as a “Christian comedian” if I were to land this gig? But, a bigger part of me was like OMG IT’S HBO AND I’LL BE ON TV AND GET PAID SOME OF THAT SWEET, SWEET TV MONEY.
Going into the in-person audition I was nervous, but confident. I felt like The Blues Brothers. I was on a mission from God. Nothing could stop me. Plus, who else in all of NYC also fits the bill of “cool, hip, young Christian comedian”?
Just then a cool, hip, young Christian comedian walked into the waiting room. He was a buff black dude that smelled amazing. He even gave me one of his fancy business cards. Oh no, AND he’s charming? This guy is actually cool. I’m wearing a short-sleeve button down with slacks. I look like a substitute teacher for a Sunday school class.
I’m called into the audition room. All I can think about is how much cooler the other guy is than me. Good for him. And worst case scenario I can at least say that I met the guy who landed the role. The casting director is friendly and complimentary of my stand-up videos. For the audition I do a couple of my jokes, the lines from the script and a few “church” jokes that I weave in throughout. It makes her laugh. It’s hard to make an audience of one laugh during a stand-up set. I’m feeling good. Feeling hopeful. I can see angels in the audition room high-fiving each other and doing chest bumps.
I’m certain I nailed it. This is it. Hollywood, here I come. I’ll be the talk of the entertainment world. I could hear the buzz already:
“Whoa, is that the cool, hip, young Christian comedian that played a one episode, supporting role with four lines on that niche comedy show on HBO?”
The manager let’s me know that they liked the audition. I’m one of the top choices. DUH. Of course.
A week goes by and I haven’t heard anything. I email the manager. He tells me they said I’m still one of the top choices. It’s between me and a couple others. I’m “in the mix”. MIX ME RIGHT UP! LET’S DO THIS! Enough of this showbiz mumbo jumbo back-and-forth. Give me the contract and let’s start shooting, sister!
Another week goes by. I don’t hear anything. It’s all I can think about. I’m consumed with the fear of not landing the gig. From the moment I wake to the second I go to bed, it’s all I think about. I need this. I want this. I believe in this. After another week I follow up with the manager. He let’s me know they loved me, but they went in another direction. They went with a Christian comedian from Atlanta who goes by the stage name “F.U.D.G.E.”. I was devastated. And angry. And then I ate a bunch of junk food for a week. If I couldn’t land a role perfect for me, what hope did I have for any role in the future?
I finally watched the episode when it aired and I’ll be damned if F.U.D.G.E. wasn’t the most perfect hip, cool, young Christian comedian. He totally nailed it. He’s really funny too (you should look him up). They were performing on my church’s stage too. So many mixed feelings. But you know what, this was his big shot at a big break too. Mine will come and it’ll be perfect for me (my counselor wife helped me get to this place after a couple weeks).
Fast forward to a year later. I’m hired to perform stand-up for two events at the church. The stage I wanted to be hired to perform on for HBO, I was hired to perform on to make a room full of people laugh. And that’s the best. Cut it down to the raw core, I do comedy to make people laugh. Shows and big opportunities will come and go, but my goal is to continue the pursuit of making a roomful of strangers laugh so that we all feel a little less like strangers.
Stay tuned next week for my story about audition for America’s Got Talent!
Auditioning for America’s Got Talent…
This season of AGT is back in full swing so I thought I’d write about my audition for last season. Around this time last year I auditioned. Do you remember seeing me on TV? Performing for millions? The standing ovation? The gold confetti? The city-destructive riot of applause?
I never made it to the TV auditions where you get to stand before Simon Cowell and three other judges smile-laugh, to look good on camera laughing, while watching acts.
I got an email from one of the producers saying she thought I was funny and thought I’d be a hit with their demographic. Oh, you mean white people in middle America? GOT IT. She set up an in-person audition for me. I’d get to skip the masses and head straight for my own personal, private audition. I was borderline shaking anytime I responded to her emails thinking about how I was about to skyrocket to fame after securing an audition on AGT. Finally, all my hard work has paid off. I’m ready for this. Ready to be on TV and win the hearts of millions of Americans. This was my big shot and I was not going to blow it.
The morning of my audition I asked my wife to help pick out my outfit. I mean, she usually picks out my outfit for any day of the week, but like, she also helped this day. The auditions were being held at the Convention Center in midtown Manhattan. Exiting the subway I knew exactly which direction to walk. Just follow the horde of eager-faced, festively dressed individuals carrying a variety of instrument cases, puppets and God knows whats-its.
A volunteer led me past all the lines and groups in the waiting hall. I felt so VIP. I even got a different color wrist band to separate me from the losers! I was wearing a winner’s wrist band, that’s why they gave it to me because they know that I’m a winner and love me and cherish me and adore me. The neon pink paper wrist band implied a lot.
After checking in, I was told to wait outside one of the many audition rooms. To break it down: before all the TV auditions there are tons of back room, definitely-not-filmed auditions with random judges. They have to screen people to see who’s talented enough (or crazy enough) to make it on the televised audition. There was no doubt in my mind I’d be Speed Racer-ing towards the TV auditions. I’m family friendly, clean, smile a lot and look like the Mormon Bachelor. This was my destiny. The audition room I’m waiting outside of has a line of other people waiting as well. There’s about six of us, not including the moms escorting their child performers.
A volunteer tells us to enter the room. The judge is ready to see us now. I’m freaking out inside because I know what’s about to go down. This isn’t going to be one of those fun auditions where a panel of judges enjoys my comedy. It’s one judge. Six competitors. No microphone. We each get 90 seconds to wow the judge. I’m hanging on by floss-thin strands of hope that it’ll be a fun time.
The six of us sit on a row of chairs against the wall. The breakdancer is off to the side stretching. An old, fat guy with a beard is tuning his guitar. The children sit stoically by their mothers like trained soldiers. I’ve never felt more alone.
Child one performs. She faces the judge and destroys with the voice of an angel. Her mom is mouthing every word. We all enthusiastically cheer.
Child two also sings. She faces the judge and almost sings well. Her mom was proud. I was proud of her too, she hit at least three to four notes on key. A feat I myself could never dream of.
Child three faces the judge and delivers an inspirational song/ spoken work mashup about women empowerment. We all applaud emphatically when she’s done. She lingers at her spot in front of the judge a few seconds too long after finishing. Squeezing in every ounce of face time.
The old, fat, bearded guitar guy took his turn in front of the judge and I must say, he was truly bearable. I don’t even know if he wanted to be there. He wasn’t even dressed up. It seemed more like he was just walking around the building with his guitar and a volunteer corralled him into this uncomfortable audition. It’s a shame there isn’t a fast forward button in real life. He finished. One person clapped.
The break dancer faced the judge. Oh, bless his heart. The first ten seconds of his audition he was trying to figure out his boom box. I love watching break dancing. It’s impressive that people have the ability to move their bodies like that. This gentleman was not one of those people. He finished. I clapped.
It’s now my turn. I’m so terrified internally that my body and mind feel at ease with numbness. My body’s self-preservation instincts kicked in and literally numbed myself. I take my place in front of the judge.
“Hi, I’m Paul Schissler, I’m a com–“
“Thanks, Paul. Okay, since you’re doing stand-up comedy, for your audition you’re going to face the six other contestants. They’ll be your ‘audience’.”
Body numbness hits peak levels. Confidence level is at about a negative twenty-nine. It’s a 90 second audition so I don’t have any time to warm up the room. Clock is ticking. I launch into my set. My first joke is about saving myself till marriage and being bad at sex. As soon as I say the word “virginity” I watched each child look up at their mothers who are unblinkingly staring me down. No one laughs my entire set. Not a single chuckle. I was devastatingly close to a smirk on my joke about my wife teaching me “do you want to die” in Korean. In that moment I did want to die.
I finish my 90 second set. No one realizes I’m done until I say, “thank you.” I can already taste the beer I’m going to chug when I get home. I turn to the judge and thank her. She nods. We’re told that we’ll hear something back within the next six months if we’re selected.
Six months came and went. I wasn’t chosen. The bearded guitar guy wasn’t chosen either from what I saw, so I wasn’t too devastated. Sometimes you get your hopes up and they’re dashed in front of child singers and their moms. But those moments make me work harder, dream bigger, cry harder in the shower and appreciate all the little things in between.
Good luck to all the AGT people putting their hearts on the line.
My Batman birthday…
I was a Batman kid growing up. Some kids are Superman, I was Batman. Every kid chooses which cape to wear. I honestly have no clue why I chose Batman. Superman is cooler in every single way possible in comparison to Batman. Superman has actual powers, was raised by a good family on a farm and sometimes wears glasses (just like me!). Batman is a rich guy whose parents died so he lives a revenge-fueled life taking out his anger on anyone he thinks is a bad guy. I think it was the black suit and cool car. Superman didn’t have a cool car and I wasn’t fond of the color red.
It’s my 5th birthday. Huge milestone. My mom threw me a birthday party at our house. If you don’t have a lot of money growing up you do birthdays at home. There’s no renting out an arcade or roller rink. If you do go to a fun venue you certainly don’t tell the venue. No. You hijack a corner and sneak in the cake to avoid having to pay extra for any sort of birthday reservation crap.
Home birthday party. My friends and I would have a sugar-fueled reign over the house and yard. I decide to have a Batman themed birthday party. We’d all dress up like the caped crusader. When you’re a little kid, you can all be Batman, you don’t have to assign multiple characters. It’s just Paul-Batman, Drew-Batman, Jonathan-Batman, Patrick-Batman, and so on. My saint-of-a-mother hand-sewed black capes for all of us. I think I even wore a black cat ears headband to really stand out. 5-year-old Paul was uncontrollably excited about being able to transform into Batman. Once I put that cape on I was actually Batman. It’s amazing what a few dollars worth of black fabric from Hobby Lobby will do for a kid’s imagination.
More than opening presents or gorging on soda and cake, I was most excited about the planned birthday activity. The main event of the whole shindig. I was blood-thirsty for it. My older brother would dress up as The Joker and my friends and I would get to chase him around the yard. My body was EXPLODING WITH ADRENALINE JUST THINKING ABOUT IT.
It’s every little brother’s dream to tackle his older brother. Take him down. Be the superhero and crush the villain. Finally, I, the little brother, would be the superhero and there’s nothing he can do to stop it. To transform my brother my mom dabbed some paint on his face and gave him a green cape. Very convincing costume.
My birthday comes and I have my cape on hours before anyone arrives. Swedish pancakes for breakfast. Sun shining. Cat ears on. It’s a beautiful day to spear my Joker brother into an azalea bush in our front yard.
My friends arrive. We eat our fill of pizza and cake. They sang “happy birthday” and I blew out candles. It was all white noise. All I was thinking about was being Batman and taking out The Joker. I was going to be the Batman this birthday party deserved, not the one it needed. My mom announces that it’s now time for all the boys to put on their black capes. My older brother is somewhere inside caping up. Waiting to run into a gang of 5-year-old boys jacked up on sheet cake. Not many older brothers would submit themselves to being chased by a bunch of his younger brother’s annoying friends just to make the birthday boy happy. We might not say ‘I love you’ much, but he sure as hell said it putting on that green cape and face paint.
Mom opened the front door to release The Joker. The gang of kindergarten Batmen swarmed him. He’s older and faster than us so it took every ounce of strength and sugar in us to reach him. He juked back and forth, sprinted in circles, dodged lunges– maneuvered every which way to avoid our grasps. The Joker’s too damn fast. We were a group of Batmen boys, but I was THE Batman. I had the cat ears. I would catch The Joker. I make a lunge at my brother. In slow motion he side-steps and I land in the bushes. Scratch my arm. Like the real Batman, I immediately start crying and call out for my mommy.
Mom takes me inside to clean me up and put on a bandaid. As she’s cleaning me up I look out the window to watch the hunt continue without me. My friends chasing my older brother. Back and forth across the yard. Trying to grab and tackle my big brother. MY big brother. Not theirs. He’s not their big brother to chase, he’s MY big brother to chase. He’s MY Joker. I don’t like this game anymore. I’m done with this party. No more Batman versus Joker game. If there’s going to be any Batman chasing after Joker, it’s going to be Paul-Batman and Paul-Batman only. No one else gets to grab, kick or scratch my brother except for me.
I hated seeing him be a big brother around the other boys. I was afraid he’d like them as little brothers more than me. Maybe they’d be faster, funnier, cooler and less annoying.
I refused to go back outside. Just watching the other boys play with him made me want to hide inside. This wasn’t my birthday party anymore, it was an event for my brother to play with my friends. My mom agreed to go outside and end the game so I’d come back out. Diva-Batman had enough. The sugar-crash was coming on and the thrill of the hunt had died. We threw a ball around, played some other games then the other families went on their way. I had my family to myself again.
The best part was that no one caught The Joker. None of the boys could claim that victory. Instead, the party ended and the capes came off. The Joker and Batman were gone. The brothers were back. Another birthday in the books. Another year of life. I was a wise 5-year-old now and a happy younger brother.
Selling boat tickets in Times Square…
Many moons ago I was one of those people in Times Square saying anything and everything to get you to stop for a few seconds so I could sell you something. Most of the time I felt like a ghost. People go to great lengths to not make eye contact with you, walk near you, hear you, acknowledge you in any way, shape or form.
I sold boat tickets for New York Water Taxi. It was an uphill battle everyday because Times Square isn’t near the water. Thankfully, tourists were hilarious. Just over-the-top, originally funny in their responses to my pleading to them to buy a ticket.
“Boat ride? Where’s the water?”
“Does the boat pick us up right here?”
HAHAHA OMG I’M HYPERVENTILATING HAHAHA
Like a good salesperson whose soul wasn’t completely crushed with ceaseless rejection, I always made sure to counterpoint with, “fair enough, have a great day!”
The first time I actually made a sale it felt like a mistake. Constantly hearing “NO” and getting brushed aside by fanny-pack-wearing midwesterners, my brain almost didn’t recognize the, “okay, sounds fun.”
“Yeah, we’ll take two tickets.”
Adrenaline surged through my body from making a sale. Total high off the win. This must be how drug dealers AND druggies feel simultaneously.
My ticket machine didn’t work. Didn’t have a clue how to get it to work. It had gone so unused that it had forgotten its purpose in life and turned into a useless inanimate object whose sole mission was to be the bane of my existence.
“Sorry, my machine won’t work. Just walk to the river, look for a yellow boat and a guy there will sell you a ticket.”
PAUL, MASTER SALESMAN, TAKING OVER TIMES SQUARE.
The company wanted to expand the team. Naturally, since I had interned with the marketing department and had days upon days of street sales experience, they appointed me to be the supervisor of the sales team. I’m 22, barely hanging onto life by a thread, every day waking up feeling like I’m drowning, overwhelmed with lack of skill and experience, and they figured I was the best man (*boy) for the job. I couldn’t accept it. Then they told me it paid more so I graciously accepted the position.
Life was a blur. Long days, one day off a week, and still trying to do comedy at night. My deep breath of fresh air moments were when I’d get out of the subway in Times Square at 7AM, when the sky is still deciding if it wants to wake up. Cotton candy skies. There’s not a soul in sight. The peaceful calm before battle. Cool air and silence. That two-minute walk from the subway to my work station gave me fuel for the day.
I really put a lot of hope into my team. It was important to me to get to know them on a personal level so that we were people working together, not just transactional workers. We all knew that I didn’t know what I was doing but none of us ever said anything about it. It was like playing “house” as a child except we were selling boat tickets in July in the epicenter of concrete buildings.
We were an eclectic mix. Eclectic is polite, right? But we made it work. My personal investment into getting to know everyone on the team really paid off too. They were all really comfortable telling me literally anything that popped into their head. Unfiltered. Teenage workers. What a hoot.
Day One on the job, one of the sales guys peed his pants so he went home. FIRST DAY. I checked in with him the next day and let him know I heard from the others what happened.
“Yeah, my bad. It’s all good though. It was just because I had a UTI.”
“Oh, okay then. What a relief. Thank you for sharing.”
I got really worried about the team when another employee asked me to tie her shoes because she didn’t know how. Graduated school, but couldn’t tie shoes. It was almost impressive. To make it through all of high school, get a job, be old enough to drink alcohol– AND AVOID THE SHOELACE-TYING LESSON. A couple weeks in, on one of my precious days off I get a call from another employee. She’s a little quiet on the phone. I can feel her sheepishness.
“Hey, everything okay? I’m not on today.”
“Yeah, sorry. It’s just that. I was wondering if I could go home early.”
“Oh? Are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah… Well, actually, I’m wearing my khaki pants today and you know, like once a month, how girls… you know… and I forgot to bring–“
“LOUD AND CLEAR. Please don’t say anything else. I completely underst–“
“My period. It got onto my pants and now–“
“PLEASE STOP. It’s okay I promise. Go home. Please, just please. Everything is fine.”
They skipped that part in the training manual for boat ticket sales supervisor.
Ticket sales were abysmal. We had our luck here and there, but tourists simply couldn’t get over the whole “there ain’t no boat or water right here” conundrum. All I knew is that I wasn’t the right guy for the job. They should’ve promoted my other sales guy. His first week on the job he explained to me, IN DEPTH, how he made $700,000 selling cocaine. He assured me he didn’t sell it anymore. I believed him, because why would you give up that money for the straight-and-narrow path of hawking boat tickets for $12 in a tourist hellscape? Either way, he had street sales experience that none of the rest of us did.
I didn’t stay with the company long, but I’m grateful for the experience. I’m grateful that I was drowning in inexperience and had to suck it up, figure things out and persevere. I’m thankful I got to know the people on my sales team and even more thankful they went along with the whole “Paul’s our boss” charade. Looking back, it’s also a reminder that one thing leads to another to where you’re supposed to be. A short while after I left the company they asked me to host a web series for them, promoting their variety of boat rides. So, for a short stint, I was Paul Schissler “Man on a Boat”. Sorry, but they took all the videos off YouTube.
If you find yourself near the water in NYC, lookout for a big, yellow boat and take a ride on the New York Water Taxi. Tell them that “Man on a Boat” sent you.
My first 48 hours in Korea…
Last February my wife, Esther, and I took a trip to Korea to visit her family and catch a couple events at the Winter Olympics. I was school-boy-on-last-day-of-school excited for the trip. My first time in Asia. Meeting family members for the first time. Incredible food. Cheap soju. And more delicious food.
All my wife’s friends told me that everyone in Korea would think I was a celebrity.
“You’re tall, blonde, white. Just wear sunglasses and people will be like, ‘oh damn, who is that?'”
That’s it? That’s the criteria? Tall, blonde, white?
I grew up around tall, blonde, white people my entire life. The thought of standing out, looking different than literally everyone in an entire country, was an amazing thought. I would feel so special. All I want in life is to feel special. The months leading up to the trip I doubled up on my Korean dramas. Needed the extra language practice. The biggest thing I’ve learned from K-dramas is how to cry on cue at literally everything, and sneak up behind my wife and give her a back hug. I was ready.
After the 14-hour flight we were tired and famished. We got to our AirBnB a little later at night than expected. We’re staying with a family in Gangneung. The daughter, who was the primary English speaker of the home, is the one that my wife had been communicating with. The girl’s mom answers the door. She gives us a warm welcome and ushers us in. She and Esther immediately start speaking in Korean. The Umma is so relieved she speaks Korean. She told Esther that when she saw me she assumed neither of us spoke Korean and she wasn’t sure how we would communicate. Apparently, if I’m standing next to you everyone will assume you only speak American. My face screams, “HOWDY, HAVE Y’ALL EVER COME ON DOWN YONDER TO ALABAMA BEFORE?”
We drop off our stuff and tell the family we’re going to go explore for some food. She recommends a famous spot in the neighborhood that all the locals go to. They’re known for their clam bibimbap. Sold. We’re starving. We get to the restaurant and it’s packed. We ask (hahaha, kidding, Esther asks) how long the wait is. They look at me, then her, then at me.
We walked around the neighborhood for an hour and came back. It smelled incredible inside. It was one of those hole-in-the-wall places that you’d walk past and wouldn’t think twice about unless someone guided you there. We’re at one of those tables where you have to take off your shoes and sit on the floor. Being 6’4″ with weak knees and hips, I was ecstatic. One of my dreams is to be able to sit cross-legged comfortably for more than 30 seconds.
We order their house dish. They bring out a massive pan of their clam bibimbap. It’s packed full of clams and hot peppers. We politely began shoveling it in our mouths. The peppers were so hot. There were so many of them. So. Hot. Oh dear. Can’t stop eating though because it tastes too good. There are too many peppers mixed in to avoid eating spoonfuls with every bite. I down more beer and soju to ease the pain. After a while Esther’s older brother and his friend join us. They’re hungry so we order tteokbokki (spicy rice cake). I love tteokbokki. This tteokbokki’s sauce looked like it was straight from a volcano. It’s mouth-numbingly spicy so I do the rational thing and shovel it into my mouth faster and faster. To beat the heat.
It’s been a half hour and I can already feel the apocalypse brewing in my stomach. My white boy upbringing didn’t prepare me for this level of spiciness. Everything is watered down in America in comparison. I’m in pain. We make our way back to our host family’s apartment. It’s a modest home, three bedrooms close together. One bathroom. It’s below freezing outside but I’m sweating by the time we make it inside. My butt is quivering. Giving it’s last hoorah to hold it all in. This is my Chernobyl.
My wife and I go to the bathroom together. We want to be polite and not both be in and out while everyone is trying to sleep. Welcome to marriage. Two become one, and that goes for pooping too. The bathroom is just one open room. There’s no bathtub, just a shower head and open floor with a drain in the middle of the room. I Houdini out of my pants and collapse on the toilet. My wife turns on the shower for ambient noise to mask what was about to happen. I open the flood gates. It’s loud. I’m mortified because there is a 100% chance the family can hear through the wall that connects to their bedroom. The shower noise was a cute attempt. Definitely giving this family a 5-star rating. I’m sprayed with shower as I sit pitifully on the toilet emptying my bowels as if my body is at its final stages of turning into a zombie. In hindsight, it was kind of amazing though, to be cleansed by the shower while taking the most historically notable diarrhea of my life. My wife stood at the sink brushing her teeth through stifled gags. Truly a blissfully romantic moment between husband and wife.
We both finish up and scurry to our bedroom. My feet hang off the bed. It’s uncomfortably warm in the room. Like a lot of homes in Korea, their heat radiates from the floor. I’m burning up. My stomach is still burning. From outside to inside my body is in the fiery pits of Hell. How is there still anything left in my bowels?! Why God, why?! I can’t go back to the bathroom alone. I won’t do that to this poor family’s home. Another trip to their toilet and they’ll be evicted. Lord, forgive me for what I’ve already done. I eventually fall asleep, butt cheeks clenched the whole night.
In the morning the stomach storm has settled. For now. The mom offers us fresh carrot juice. I’m sure after last night she heard that my body could use some restoration. We give our thanks then meet up with Esther’s bro for some lunch. I wish I could say I learned my lesson, but it’s my first time in Korea and I’m going overboard with food every chance I get. My favorite dish is budae jjigae (Army Stew). It’s a spicy stew with sausage, SPAM, ramen, and an assortment of other tasty things. Super healthy. We order a big pot to share and go to town. After my first bite I want to cry. Both because it’s so delicious and because my heart breaks for what my stomach is about to endure for the sake of my guilty pleasure. Three bites in and emergency alarms are already going berserk in my belly. I double down and eat as much as I can. If my stomach was its own entity it would sue me for assault and battery.
After lunch we grab our stuff and head to the train station. Have to catch a train to make it in time for our first Olympic event. We have to hurry but if I walk too fast it’s all going to slide out my bottom. My wife asks how I’m doing. I shake my head. It’s bad. I’m clenching like I’ve never clenched in my life. These cheeks deserve a medal of honor. Once we get to the station I sprint to the bathroom and rush into a stall.
My heart sinks.
There’s no porcelain throne. Just a hole in the floor.
It’s a squat toilet.
My first time using a squat toilet and arguably the most painful diarrhea of my life awaiting its debut. I’m not sure whether to face the door or the back wall. Do I take my pants off? How will I not get poop all over my pants? I risk it and keep my pants on, face the wall, squat down and pray to God for mercy.
It’s not pretty. I’ll spare you most of the details but I was sweating like I had just ran a half marathon in Florida during July. I thought sitting cross-legged at a restaurant was painful on my knees and hips. HAH. Squatting, using all my balance to hover over a hole in the ground so I don’t accidentally fall in it, for 20 minutes, felt like an Olympic event. Esther texts me that if I don’t hurry we’re going to miss our train. THAT’S THE LEAST OF MY WORRIES RIGHT NOW. If you had walked in on me in that moment, you’d have thought I was in labor. After what felt like an excruciating eternity, I finish the atrocity. I almost couldn’t stand up. My legs were shaking and numb. Standing up, I then see the picture on the back of the stall door that instructs you to face the door, not the back wall. Oops.
As I leave my stall I notice little images on the other stall doors. There are images of sitting toilets. On all the stall doors. All of them except mine. Mine is the only one with the image of a squatting toilet.
Sometimes in life, you’re too much in a panic to pay attention to the signs around you. You find yourself in less-than-ideal situations. In hindsight, you realize it’s often your own doing. But at the end of the day, everything gets taken care of, you make your train in time and your loved one cradles your whimpering body in their arms for a while.
Gluttony for Halmoni…
My wife and the Korean dramas we watch, taught me that it’s extremely respectful to eat a lot at meals when someone’s cooking for you. It makes your host feel good. It’s polite and loving for you to eat bowl after bowl, plate after plate. It says, “WOW this is delicious and you’re my favorite cook in the whole world.”
Since I can’t speak Korean, the best way for me to communicate with my wife’s family was by eating large portions at every meal. I love to over-eat yummy food. Eating way too much until I’m in pain is one of my hobbies.
“Paul ate four servings and can’t stand up or else he’ll faint? We love that guy!”
I loved everything we ate in Korea. The food there is unparalleled. Every next meal we ate was my new favorite meal. This eating way too much thing was awesome. I get to be a pig AND adored? Maybe we should move here.
We were going to visit my wife’s grandma (halmoni) with my brother-in-law and cousin-in-law. We travel from Seoul to Incheon where Halmoni lives. It’s a long bus ride. We’re starving. We purposely don’t eat because we know she’s going to make a feast for us. Have to be good grandkids and lick our plates clean.
Meeting Halmoni for the first time was so special. She lives by herself in a one bedroom apartment. We pile in and take our seats on the floor around the table. And then she begins to bring out 8,000 dishes, bowls and plates heaped full of homemade food. I’m already full just taking it in with my eyes. My mouth is salivating, but I already know that I’m going to be on the verge of throwing up by the time my wife stops me from eating more.
The main dish is marinated soy crab. It’s raw crab marinated in soy sauce. Halmoni’s specialty. She brought out enough to feed two football teams. I begin doing breathing exercises. Halmoni says a prayer to bless the food then immediately urges me to take one of the crabs. She does not stop staring for the rest of the meal. She’s so curious if this white boy her granddaughter brought home would like the taste of this Korean meal. If she only knew that I grew up eating unseasoned mashed potatoes and shake n’ bake chicken, she’d be bursting at the seams with anticipation even more.
I smile and suck out my first bit of juicy crab. It’s an explosion of flavor in my mouth. It’s incredibly delicious. I attack the crab. My hands are dripping with sauce and crab juices but I keep going. Crab one, crab two, crab three. Break for rice, kimchi, bowl of deonjangjjigae (fermented soybean paste stew), mouthfuls of banchan (side dishes). Crab four, crab five. Another bowl of deonjangjjigae. Kimchi. Rice. Shaky sip of water. Breathing break. Wipe sweat. Spoonful of rice. I’m in so much pain. I’m in unchartered waters of fullness. I notice Halmoni still watching me and smiling. She makes a comment to my wife about how pleased she is that I eat so well.
My wife, brother-in-law and cousin-in-law ask me if I’m okay. Tell me to stop. I’ve done enough. The battle has been won. Halmoni is pleased all the crabs have been eaten.
I thank Halmoni and tell her it was delicious in Korean. Mission complete. The table is cleared.
Then she brings out a tray of desserts.
My lip quivers.
It’s an assortment of dduk (rice cakes). My wife knows I’ll eat a whole plate until I’m unconscious so she tells me to not eat any.
I see Halmoni watching me. Smiling. Waiting.
I place four piece of dduk on my plate. Give my comrades a weak smile goodbye. I eat all my dduk, smiling the whole time so I can receive Halmoni’s love. Once we left, my brother-in-law gave me a pat on the back and told me I really took one for the team by eating so much. It allowed the rest of them to eat less. They say a way to a person’s heart is through food, but my way into your heart is by eating your food. After that visit we continued our trip visiting family, eating, but no longer over-eating, to our heart’s content.
At the end of our Korea trip we stayed with Halmoni the night before we flew home because her home is closer to the airport. That night she takes us out to eat for jjajangmyun (noodles in black bean sauce). It’s one of my favorite meals. Again, I eat enough food to last me three days. It’s like I’m preparing my body to hibernate. Halmoni tells my wife how pleased she is that I eat so well. Eating to the point of pain to show and receive love. I’m playing with the fires of an eating problem.
My wife and I sleep on the floor directly next to Halmoni’s bed. With all the food I ate my body is ballooning up with gas. This is not good. I can’t fart next to Halmoni. I won’t. I tell my body to shut it down. Lock it up. Even if it kills me. It’s freezing cold outside but I’m sweating buckets. Sweating from being too full and sweating from the heated floors. The apartment is heated from the floors. We’re sleeping on the floor. I run hot as it is, plus the food sweats. I look over and see Esther fast asleep. I try to telepathically wake her up so she can be miserable with me. She rolls over and continues her slumber. At 3AM Halmoni is fully awake. I too am fully awake but I’ve been sweatily waiting with my eyes closed the entire night begging God to speed up the Earth’s rotation so morning comes sooner. I hear Halmoni in the kitchen. At first I think she’s just grabbing a cup of water then going back to bed. Nope. I hear more noises. The noises of someone about to cook. Pots, pans, prepping.
Oh God. Please, God. Don’t let her be cooking. Why would she be cooking at 3AM?
I shut off my alarm at 4AM at the sound of the first ring. I lovingly shake my wife awake. Halmoni turns on all the lights and carries over a large tray of food. This must be a dream. I’m still hallucinating from the gluttony the night before. Maybe I died and this is purgatory. There’s no possible way that a fellow human would serve a full meal at 4AM.
She serves us each a huge bowl of dduk mandoo guk (rice cake and dumpling soup), rice and banchan. I love dduk mandoo guk. I would eat this soup every day if I could, that’s how tasty it is. But not at 4AM. Not when my stomach is already over-capacity with noodles and farts. There’s no more room in the inn. Find another body, dduk mandoo guk.
I panic-whisper to my wife that I’m not sure if I can eat anything. She tells me that Halmoni wanted to serve us one more meal before we got on our flight. Can’t let these grandkids leave home on an empty stomach.
I eat my bowl of dduk mandoo guk. I eat my kimchi. I eat some of my wife’s dduk mandoo guk. I’m sweating soup out of my pores. My body’s full and my heart is fuller. Oh, to be loved through food and love right back by eating.
We make it to the airport. My stomach has stretch marks, but I’m a happy boy. The fun trip was over and now the nightmare ahead of us– a 14 hour flight holding in one of the biggest poops of my life because I’m too tall to sit down in the airplane bathroom.
Have fun traveling, friends. Eat up!
My sleepwalking days…
When I was around five or six years old I was a sleep-walking, nightmare-having, talking-in-my-sleep little boy. If my family was in a movie you’d be able to determine that I was the possessed one five minutes in.
“The little, blonde bowl cut screaming his head off in bed at 3:00AM. My money’s on him.”
We all have our roles in the family.
I think a lot was going on in life. In the span of two years grandpa died and my parents got divorced. I was young so I don’t know how aware I was of what these big life things meant, but I think my spirit knew. My subconscious absorbed these things, cooked it up and served up a nightmare platter each night. The human mind is so neat sometimes!
Not to brag, but I was a bit of a trifecta when it came to sleeping– I talked and cried out, walked around and had recurring nightmares. My brother had it the worst because we shared a room. Bless his heart. Curled up in his bed with the covers pulled up listening to his brother speak non-sense, then cry, then non-sense. Probably praying to God that he wouldn’t all of a sudden open his eyes and see me standing over him with my eyes rolled back. He was always a little nicer to me the day after those night terror-talking nights.
The main recurring nightmare I would have still confuses me to this day. In the dream I’m in a dark room or building and raining down from above are tons of scary chimpanzees. Vicious, Planet of the Ape type chimpanzees ready to attack a human. Hundreds and hundreds of these horrifyingly aggressive chimps pouring down on me from above. I couldn’t escape them. I would try to run through them but there was no where to run. No way out. There was too many of them. Even after I woke up and would run to my mom’s room I could still envision them. They were in the house every time I closed my eyes.
It’s weird because I love monkeys. Never had a monkey phobia or traumatic incident at the zoo (RIP Harambe). As an adult, the nightmare seems hilarious. It’s like “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” but with monkeys. I would read that book.
The terror chimps and possessed talking was manageable compared to the sleepwalking. Where am I going to go? What am I going to do? Keep the doors locked. I mean, sure it’s awesome I was getting in some extra steps, burning a few extra calories without knowing, but I was six and skinny. I didn’t need to.
According to my mom’s account, one night I sleepwalked out of my bedroom, down the hall and stood in the frame of my sister’s room. The foot of her bed faced the door. She woke up and saw me standing there. Silent. Motionless. Just. Standing. I stepped closer to her bed. I’m now standing at the foot of her bed. This would be the part in any child possession movie where the older sister is murdered by the demon boy.
As my sister is about to scream like it’s the last scream of her life, my mom swiftly walks up behind me and motions for her to not freak out. If she freaks out then it wakes me up, and well, we don’t want to unleash the underworld. My mom carefully guides me back to my bed and tucks me back in. My sister likely didn’t blink for the next four hours till sunlight. The next day I woke up rested and lean.
More scary movies need real life moms. The movie would be over after the first scene.
“Oh you’re possessed by a demon? Sweetheart, come here, momma’s gonna give you a hug, sing you a song, tell you how much I love you, and tuck you into bed”
“THE BLOOD OF THE INNOCEN–“
“I’m not gonna say it again sweetie. You have to the count of three to get over here for a momma bear hug before I scoop you up in my arms like a baby.”
Big time in small town Kansas…
For a good ten years of my childhood, every summer my dad would take me and my siblings to his hometown in Kansas. Atwood, KS. Heard of it? No one has. Except for the 17.5 residents that live there. Just kidding, there’s at least a population of 100.
Two weeks every summer we visited with my dad. One of the perks of divorce is getting to travel between parents and see different parts of the country. Plus, TWO Christmases. Two houses. Two counselors. Hah! Kidding. Just one counselor. I’m on a roll!
Every summer for 4th of July we’d make our pilgrimage to my dad’s childhood hometown. We’d drive 1,000 hours in a minivan. All of us packed in. Dad, stepmom, stepbrother, sister, brother and me. On the way to middle-of-nowhere Kansas was an amusement park. Lakeside Amusement Park. It was exactly the kind of amusement park you see in every single 80’s movie you’ve ever seen. Roller coasters way past their prime, ferris wheels one rotation away from rolling into the highway and bumper cars that would send you to the ER. It was magical. We were always so excited. One trip, I was too excited. My stepbrother Andy, and I were running through the parking lot to the park entrance. Skipping and hooting and hollering. Giddy with excitement. My foot caught a huge pothole. BAM. I’m down. I mean, fully sprawled out on the asphalt. Andy helps pick me up and we waddle over to the sidewalk to assess the damage. Scraped knees, elbow, chin and hip. My dad is furious. We march into the park (I think for free) and I get bandaged up by the “nurse” (who I think also operated the ring toss). My dad explains to the “manager” that they’re liable because they didn’t fix up their potholes. The manager takes my dad’s threat seriously and gives me a Lakeside trucker hat. All is well. Our demands have been met, I guess. Also, what are we going to do, sue a dying amusement park for all of their trucker hats and the $20.78 in their bank account? No, we’re here to have fun and make memories. And get injured. But in a fun way.
The next day we make it to Atwood, Kansas, doubling the town’s population the second we drive in. We’re there in July. My grandma wants to make a belated birthday cake for me (my birthday is in June). I’m so excited. TWO birthdays? Just when I thought divorce couldn’t get any better. She calls us into the kitchen where there’s a massive, chocolate cake on the table. I eat a massive piece. We all do.
“Grandma Lucy, this chocolate cake is delicious. It’s so moist and the icing is so creamy.”
“Honey, that’s prune cake.”
We all drop our forks and stop chewing. My dad gives us the “please don’t say anything and make her feel bad” look.
“Yum, thanks Grandma Lucy!”
Grandchildren of the year.
The next morning, just as the sun’s waking up, Grandma Lucy opens the door to the basement where we’re all sleeping.
“Time to wake up! You’ve slept long enough.”
She was ready for us to be done sleeping, so we were done sleeping. And that was that. Since we had an early start to the day we decided to get to business with 4th of July preparations. Buy as many fireworks as possible. My brothers and I had been saving cash for weeks for this. People around town joked that we were a boost to their economy, coming in every summer buying fireworks and going to the one restaurant in town. We were big shots. From morning till night we basically had the freedom to roam about the entire town doing as we pleased. It was amazing. This is what you dream about as a kid– buying explosives and walking around town without adult supervision.
To this day I genuinely believe Atwood, KS put on the best firework display in the entire country. Even better than NYC. The whole town gathered around the lake in town. People grilling out, playing games, drinking and throwing firecrackers at each other. Peak America. This particular year the lake was dried up. Sad. But that meant we could run around the bottom of a dried up lake and light off fireworks. Nothing more fun than youths lighting off handheld explosives in a drought. Andy and I were borderline irresponsible. At one point I ran back to my stash to reload on fireworks and overheard a man talking to his friend.
“Look at some jackass out there in the middle of the lake setting off fireworks. He’s gonna light the whole place up.”
I realized he was talking about Andy. He could only have been referring to Andy because he and I were the only two people in the entire town dumb enough to light things on fire in a dried up lake. I grabbed my remaining fireworks anyways. This was our town for the night. For the record, we never burned down the town. Our fireworks shenanigans were all just appetizer compared to the glory of the fireworks display by the town. Nothing for miles and miles surrounded Atwood, so to see such a massive display of colorful explosions and booms made you feel like you were in a completely different universe. We were in a Kansas snow globe, but instead of snow, glittering sparks and rainbow eruptions. It’s the closest I’ve come to being Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. The fireworks were the tornado that whisked me away to a magical world, far away from real life and responsibilities.
Every trip to Atwood, we visited a pizza parlor called “Pooch’s Pizza”. An old man called Pooch ran the place. He was one of those old guys who’s been 80 for forty years. The day after festivities we took our annual trip to Pooch’s. My family was the only one in the parlor. We ordered two pizzas. Hardly enough for eight people. My dad walked up to the counter to order more.
“Hey Pooch, we’d like to buy another large pizza.”
“No, y’all have had enough. I’m not going to make another one.”
And that was Pooch’s. He didn’t feel like making another pizza so that meant no more pizza.
Every summer we left Atwood fuller (not of pizza), but ready to get back to civilization. And when we got back to the city we were ready to be right back in the small gem in Kansas called Atwood where kids could roam free. Thanks, Atwood.
Going to pre-school in a suit…
My momma told me that I was always who I was. If I wanted to act silly or wear something weird I just did it. She never put a cap on my imagination or restrained my creativity. Most importantly, she let me be a kid when I was a kid. It’s normal for a kid to act like a kid. My mom didn’t coddle me, but she also didn’t treat me like an adult. Nowadays it seems like you have to treat your child like a full blown adult. If you read any parenting article online or follow parent influencers on Twitter, there’s a slew of stuff like “BUT DID YOUR CHILDASK TO BE BREASTFED? HERE’S HOW TO GET CONSENT”.
So my mom was a mom and I was a kid. I couldn’t make adult decisions, but I could make kid decisions. My mom didn’t stand in the way of me and my creative decisions. Like a perfect artist and artist sponsor relationship.
I had just started pre-school. Pre-school was great because it didn’t take much to create soul-bonding friendships with almost any other kid in class.
“You like to throw dirt clods at the fence too?”
“Cool, let’s swear a blood oath to each other for life.”
I think I was pretty well liked. Got along with the other kids. Blended in like you want to as a kid. There’s nothing worse than shining the spotlight on yourself so everyone sees that you’re different. Now that I’m an adult I think it’s beautiful to stand out. As a 4-year-old? Nightmare. I remember on a “career” day we were supposed to dress up as what we wanted to do when we grew up. All the boys almost exclusively dressed up in Army guy uniforms or fire fighter helmets. I think wore a collared shirt and said I was a business man like my dad because I couldn’t wear what I actually wanted to be when I grew up. A raccoon. I come to school as a trash panda and boom. I’m a social pariah.
But the beauty of being a kid is not thinking backwards or forwards all too much. You’re just in the moment of the day. Hungry for a snack? That’s your entire world: hunger. Want to jump off the jungle gym because it looks cool and the boys in class are egging you on? Do it. You can’t see a future in which you fall and get hurt. Just the climb, jump and praise. So one morning, only listening to the imagination in my brain guiding my every move, I told my mom I wanted to wear a suit to school. Full dress suit. Tie, dress shoes, belt. The works. My mom asked why. I, very thoroughly, explained to my mom.
“You want to wear a suit today? Why?”
“Because. I want to.”
“Well okay, let’s get your suit.”
What mother DOESN’T want to see their little boy dressed up in a Sunday-best suit? WILLINGLY. She probably thought I was drunk. Or she was drunk. A suit to pre-school. And this wasn’t a high-end, private school where you pay college tuition level prices for your kid to learn how to color. This was a pre-school in Alabama at our church. It was heavily a jean shorts and t-shirt type of school.
The real, secret reason why I decided I wanted to wear a suit is because somehow, at some point, I had seen an action movie with a cool man running around in a suit. Maybe it was James Bond. I don’t know. I just know that I needed to run around in a suit. Once I put the suit on I’d be able to leap from building tops, dive over cars, beat up bad guys.
The second my mom and I stepped out of the car I realized I made a huge mistake. A tsunami of regret hit me in the chest. Why the #@$&! WOULD I WEAR A SUIT??! I panicked. Told my mom I couldn’t do it. She kneeled down to talk me off the ledge.
“It’s okay sweetheart. You look so good in your suit. Just be yourself. And make sure you don’t run around and get your suit dirty.”
The teachers LOVED that I was wearing a suit. I was like a little proper boy doll. My classmates were very confused. “Did your mom make you wear that? Why are you all dressed up? Why do you have to be dressed up? How come you’re wearing a suit to school?”
I fielded their questions like a veteran White House press secretary. “Just because.”
I felt so conscious. What was I thinking? If only I could’ve seen into the future so I could know how much I regret wearing this. Sure, I’m the best looking one at school today and everyone’s probably super jealous. But at what cost? What was even worse was that I couldn’t even James Bond my way around the playground because then I’d get my suit all dirty. So I just walked around the playground during recess. Like an office supervisor. No dodging bad guys and swinging off ropes. The only secret spy mission happening for me was stoically observing my employees from the edge of all the fun. It sucked.
But I was all me that day. I had an idea in the morning and went for it. Other kids went home and probably told their mommy and daddy that some kid wore a suit to school. And their parents probably got worried that they missed picture day or some other important event. But no. No reason. Just some kid wearing a suit for literally no reason. And they probably laughed together, as a family.
Sometimes you have to let yourself wear a suit for no reason so you can feel like you just a little bit more.
My mentor, David Brenner…
When I was about two years into comedy I had the unbelievably lucky fortune of performing in front of legendary comedy David Brenner, may he rest in peace. He liked my set. Saw potential in me. Saw me as a comedian before I saw myself as a real comedian. David Brenner was the most frequent guest on Carson’s Tonight Show, and guest-hosted 75 times. And there I was, a green comedian with barely 15 minutes of material, half of which was funny.
David was planning a big show. The show would be sort of a pilot for a stand-up show that he was going to pitch. It would be like a big comeback for his career. He selected five comedians and an alternate. I was the alternate. But I was thrilled. I got to be part of it and learn from a great comedian. I had a couple one-on-ones with him where he helped me with my set, chatted about life, talked about his past. The man has lived the highest of highs and lowest of lows in life. Had a lot of money, been screwed out of a lot of money. He’s been through it. He’s lived life. Those are the people I crave to learn from the most. They have the secrets to life. The ones who have had the failures and successes and back to failures and uphill battles– they have the nuggets of wisdom to help the rest of us navigate life a little better. I was all ears around him whenever he spoke. Plus, I didn’t grow up with grandfathers so I’m like a magnet to any grandfather-like figure willing to give me time. Thankfully I wasn’t dumb enough to ever call David Brenner “grandpa”. At least audibly for him to hear me.
One time at a comedy club, I was about to go on stage and he asked how I was feeling.
“I hope they laugh.”
His response changed the way I approached stand-up from that day forward.
“Paul, don’t worry about what the audience thinks. Don’t hope they laugh. You have something to give them. You’re the one on stage and you’re meant to be there. So you give them what you’ve got. You don’t need anything from them in return.”
I’ve thought about that advice every show I’ve done since that day six years ago. It made me believe in myself and trust my abilities. Trust that I was a real comedian.
Through weeks of shows and prepping our sets, it was finally the day of the big David Brenner show. The five comedians would be his opening acts and then David would headline. IF there was time, I would be allowed to do a short set somewhere in there. It was at a big theater in Long Island. Biggest venue any of us had ever done. This was my biggest opportunity to date and I was just an alternate. Awesome credit to use for future shows. “Paul Schissler, ALTERNATE comedian for a show in Long Island with David Brenner.” Really rolls off the tongue. But it was a big deal to me. Both my parents flew into town for it. Two of my mom’s friends also flew into town for it. Their generation loved David Brenner. He was a huge deal in the 70s. Plus, the opportunity to see their baby boy perform with a legendary comedian was too good to pass down.
From the second the show started I was a nervous wreck. No one knew if I was or was not going to perform. Every 5 to 10 minutes one of the show crew members would give me one of those “we’re not sure if there’s time, but be ready because maybe we’ll have time and then you’ll need to be ready to jump on stage” responses. The other comedians were having amazing sets. Huge theater crowd. Weekend night. I’d never performed for a crowd this size before. But I knew I could do it.
I was pacing up and down the hallways staying in a positive mindset. HAHAHAHAH. I wish. I was nervous thinking about performing and nervous thinking about not getting to perform. My parents sitting in the audience wondering when their son was going to take the stage. Thinking about them sitting in the audience thinking that made me feel like shit. Who was I to think that I belonged here with these funnier comedians? I’m such a fraud. I’m the pity case that somehow was able to tag along with the real comedians. Oh God, why did I have to wear a sports coat and fancy shoes to let everyone know that I really care about this?
The fifth comedian finished their set and it was time for David Brenner to close out the show. There was no time for me. I was simultaneously crushed and relieved. I wouldn’t have to go out there and risk bombing in front of my parents and comedy mentor, but I also didn’t get to do the thing that I love to do.
After David finished his set he brought out all the comedians on stage for a bow. Even me. He brought me out there. It was so embarrassing. He has an older demographic of fans so I’m pretty sure a handful of people in the audience in the crowd saw me on stage and thought, “huh, I can’t remember if I liked that boy’s skit or not, but his shoes look nice.” I took my bow along with the other comedians. The other comedians were bowing for their sets, I was bowing for all the pacing I did backstage. David apologized that I wasn’t able to perform and assured me that there would be future opportunities for me to do shows.
I was afraid to see my parents. I felt like an idiot. So humiliated. I didn’t want to see their disappointment. Or worse, their pity. It took everything in me to not cry when I did see them. They hugged me and told me they were so proud of me. I apologized that I didn’t get to perform and felt so horrible. And that I felt so, so damn disappointed.
“Well, then even better that we’re here for you.”
One of those movie lines a parent says in the final scene. I cried about it in the shower later.
Before we left the venue all of us comedians were given envelopes. Our paychecks. Even me. World renowned alternate comedian, Paul Schissler. Since I was the back-up comedian I was paid half of what the other comedians were paid. I took a peak at my check. $750.
I didn’t feel so bad after that. $750 for pacing backstage at a theater? Not a bad night of work. There would be plenty of shows in the future.
Sometimes amazing opportunities in our lives don’t pan out the way we dream and we have to sit on the bench for a couple hours. But the important thing is that you’re ready to jump in the game either way. Oh and a big paycheck sure makes riding the bench a little more comfortable.
In loving memory of David Brenner.
A NYC family goes on vacation…
New York City has everything to offer and offers it to you immediately. It has ruined me as a person. I’m no longer reasonable. Waiting for my coffee order at a café for more than 40 seconds is INSANE. I literally just finished handing you money so why isn’t coffee pouring down my throat yet? I’m unable to fit in with normal society now. NYC has ruined me in the best of ways. Thanks to NYC I have the burden of knowing what the best bagel tastes like. How sandwiches were meant to be made. Better pizza and croissants than all of Europe could offer (I STAND BY THAT). Everyone in this functionally chaotic city operates on a speedy rhythm. Move, move, go, go. Done. Next. That’s comfortable to me now. Which makes visiting anywhere outside of the city, where people act like people, s-t-r-e-s-s-f-u-l. You want to talk AND make eye contact with me when I order food?!?! What is this, a poorly directed horror film?
So I took my little family to a small vacation town in Florida. We were excited to get out of the city for a few days. Relax. Breathe fresh air, not subway air. Sleep with silence outside our window instead of drunk people having shouting matches with sirens wailing past our apartment. The flight there is uneventful aside from our sweet 11-month old baby boy crying, fussing and writhing around for the entire 2 hour and 9 minute flight. He was that baby on the plane. Every past flight he was a dream. Not this time. He’s congested and AWAKE. Ready to let everyone on this side of the hemisphere know that he’s tired, hungry and NOT willing to settle for a nap and a snack. Baby rationale is an oxymoron. Nap because I’m tired? Nice try idiot. I’ll cry until you cry. You’re in my world, Mr. Adult. We land and make our way to baggage claim to collect our highness’s car seat. It’s not at baggage. How DARE this small, relaxed Florida airport not have our baggage available immediately. It should’ve been waiting for us before we even landed. We talk to a relaxed employee at the ticket counter.
“Hi, um, yeah, we don’t see our car seat?”
(classic raised voice, questioning inflection at the end of the statement attitude)
The guy brings us our car seat. Well, that was easy. No escalation or shouting match. Just a simple inquiry and immediate solution. Looking for your car seat? No problem. Here you go. Have a good day. Don’t they know they’re supposed to be like JFK or La Guardia and give us a torturous round-a-bout for an hour before finally relenting and throwing a mangled car seat at us?
Onward we made our way to the beach. Time to relax. But we can’t relax just yet because we’re starving. We flew one of those airlines that doesn’t feed you or give you water. The ones that make you pay an extra $500 fee to use a square of toilet paper or have a seat that’s not in the cargo storage. We are hungry. We are have-no-patience-for-humanity hungry. As one must do when you visit Florida we sped to the closest Publix for a sub. Publix subs are amazing. Floridians would fight a methed-up alligator for a ‘Pub sub’. The young fellow making subs was sent by God to test my patience. He was anointed with the task to determine if I’m a good soul. And wow was he talented. This kid is giving off real hard it’s-my-first-day-on-the-job-and-everyone-hates-me vibes. I can tell because every once in a while a co-worker walks by and offers encouragement like, “what are you doing?” and “that’s not how you’re supposed to do that,” before rolling their eyes and abandoning him.
“Hello, sir, what would you like?”
“Hi, I’ll take a chicken tender sub and a ‘Jerk Turkey’ sub.”
“Salt and pepper?” (except he pronounced it “peppa”)
“Salt and peppa on the subs?”
YOU CAN’T JUMP STRAIGHT TO SALT AND PEPPER BUDDY. THERE’S ORDER IN THIS WORLD. It goes bread then cheese then meat then veggie toppings then condiments AND THEN SALT AND PEPPER.
After he pieces together my chicken tender sub as if he’s never even heard of the concept of a “sandwich” before, he moves onto the ‘Jerk Turkey’. I buckle up. He checks the fridge below the counter and pops his head up.
“There’s no more ‘Jerk Turkey’. I would have to go slice some more.”
I wait for him to continue. He stares silently at me obviously straining to telepathically convince me to tell him to just use regular turkey instead.
“Okay, that’s fine. I don’t mind waiting.”
He blinks. Then says okay and slowly walks over to slice more ‘Jerk Turkey’. He puts the freshly sliced turkey on the bread.
“Salt and peppa?”
WHAT ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT BRO? SALT AND PEPPER AT THIS STAGE IN THE SANDWICH ARE YOU TRYING TO GIVE ME A HEART ATTACK?
At this point he’s been making the subs for 9 hours. We’ve set up a tent and are now living in the Publix. By the time my son turns 18 our subs will have been completed and he can take them to college. A NYC deli guy would’ve already finished whipping together the subs before I even stepped foot inside the store.
“We’re out of Gouda cheese. I would have to go slice some more if you really want it.”
Now I genuinely feel guilty for burdening this poor kid for wanting to exchange money for his sandwich making services. Who am I to oppress him by asking him to make a sandwich while he’s clocked in at his place of work? I graciously defer to a different, available cheese.
“It’s okay, I’ll just take Pepper Jack.”
“Pepper Jack CHEESE. No pepper please.”
He finally finishes making what looks like a Picasso painting of a sub sandwich. I have passed God’s test.
We sat in our rental car and inhaled our subs. Vacation! Nothing more relaxing than sitting in an economy Nissan with a fussy baby enjoying a meal. And just like that, we weren’t hungry anymore. Bellies full. Happy once again. Now we felt relaxed enough to enjoy our family getaway. These New Yorkers found rest in food, sun, walks on the beach and extremely limited interaction with other people the remainder of the trip.
Fast forward to our flight home. We’re all fully rested and grateful for a relaxing time at the beach. Happy hearts. Happy bodies. We wake up at 3AM to make it to the airport for a butt-crack-of-dawn flight. Owen is wearing his only remaining diaper. It has to last him the hour drive, two-hour flight and then hour drive home from the airport. The diaper did its best. For a couple hours it put up a good fight. Halfway through the flight the dams burst. The diaper couldn’t hold anymore baby pee. Esther is the selfless parent holding him and lays on the sword for us all. The diaper, like a soaked sponge being wrung out, soaks Owen’s onesie and Esther’s jeans and shirt. My two loves are covered in baby pee. I, dry, and a little guilty (but mainly thankful to be dry) offer loving words.
“Ugh, dang. This sucks. You okay?”
She’s okay. She’s a badass mom who isn’t phased by a little piss. Also, I doubt this is the worst thing to happen in this seat on this budget airline. We make it home and clean up. Happy to be home in our comfortingly chaotic, fast-paced city. Life makes sense here. The craziness of bursting diaper was just the stressful situation we needed to ease us back into our reality.
A NYC family is home.
Life lessons from my first year of fatherhood…
Before I get to the meat, here are 5 lessons to kick things off.
Lesson 1: YOUR LIFE IS NOT YOUR OWN. YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN PERSON. KEEP YOUR HEAD UP. DON’T STOP MOVING. NO TIME TO SLEEP. GET UP SOLDIER. RUN, RUN, RUN, RUN, RUN!!!!!
Lesson 2: Don’t fight the tears. Cry when necessary.
Lesson 3: You want to take a dump in private? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. You idiot. There is no privacy anymore. Privacy is a thing of the past. A myth.
Lesson 4: You will sleep when the baby tells you that you’re allowed to sleep. You will wake when the baby tells you to wake. He is your master now. You live to serve him.
Lesson 5: Inhale your food as fast as possible. Like, competitive eater-level fast. Quick. Before the baby wakes from his nap.
I’ve been cast in a few pretty amazing roles in life: son, brother, husband. And now “Dad”. My role as Dad is one of my top two favorite roles. It’s the number one most difficult role, but also incredibly, unexpectedly rewarding. The highest of highs and lowest of lows. Please dear God help me.
Before the baby lived among us, other parents told me to do things like go see movies, eat out at restaurants, sit alone in silence. Extravagantly indulgent things.
I had no idea how violently time would be ripped out of my hands. There’s never enough time. It’s sand slipping through your hands while a heavy wind blows. I can’t cram it all in. I can only focus on one major thing at a time. And that thing is always “baby”. There is no longer a hierarchy of priorities. Just one priority. The baby. And then a sublist of “hopefully I can maybe, possibly do this as well” items that will never actually be accomplished. I can’t just leave a bowl of milk and a pee-pee pad in his crib then peace out to meet up with friends. I’ll go to jail. Time is not my own, it belongs to keeping another human alive.
I’m tired for the rest of my life. Tired is default. Forever until I die. I’ve accepted that. Even when he grows up and moves out, I’ll be tired because of him. At all times there will be, at minimum 20% of my brain focusing on his well-being. Even at rest and asleep, I will be drained of energy from thinking, worrying, hoping for this boy.
The number one thing I miss most about pre-baby life is going poop with the door closed. Just me alone in the bathroom, pooping, and no one bothering me. Almost daily I’ll hear the pitter patter of my son crawling towards the bathroom. I sit on the throne, with bated breath, waiting for my captor to burst through the door. He pushes open the door slowly to reveal his grinning face like a mini serial killer. He giggles. Bone chilling. His babbling sounds like “HERE’S JOHNNY!” Vacation time is over. Now I have to poop (AND WIPE) while HOLDING A BABY. Not only do I have to wipe his butt, but I have to hold him while wiping my butt.
Showers used to be those things that I’d do to clean my body. Hell, maybe even relax for 10 minutes, washing off the stress of life. With a child, taking a shower has turned into a homemade game show where I have to prevent a baby from crawling into a bathtub while I’m waterboarded by a shower, squinting through soapy eyes.
“Whoa, folks, there he goes! Left, right, left, wobble. Don’t slip!”
There are no winners. No grand prizes. Just a non-drowned baby and a sort-of-clean body.
Not proud of this one, but sometimes when the baby wakes up in the morning (usually sometime before sunrise, before God awakes, before actual time starts) I’ll pretend I don’t hear him. DO NOT JUDGE ME. I’ll hear him. My wife hears him too. Then we play a delicate game of patience. Who can pretend to sleep the longest? Who can endure the early morning cries with eyes closed? Who can be the worse parent and wait till the other parent reluctantly gets out of bed to retrieve our child? I’m VERY good at this game. I’ve learned to suppress the guilt.
There are some silver linings about having a child. We are now the people that eat dinner at 5:00PM. The baby has an early bedtime, so time is of the essence to cram food down our throats before the bedtime bell rings. I actually love the early dinners because I know that I will be hungry again in an hour and get to eat a second dinner.
There are hard days, fun days (that are still hard) and so many stressful incidents that pop-up in the middle of the road. BUT. The most unexpected thing I’ve taken away from this first year of fatherhood is how much I love it. I love it so much. It’s so damn difficult. Practically impossible. And I love it. All my fears about failing as a dad. Sucking at raising a human. Resenting the death of free time. All washed away. Insignificant. All washed away by this amazing little boy who I get to know more each day. This child who is outrageously joyful. As someone who loves to write, I am often speechless at what it’s like to be my son’s dad. The privilege. The depth of love. The paralyzing happiness. The hopes and dreams. The burning desire to do more, work harder and never quit. How can one little baby boy transport me into a completely different, higher, dimension of life? Everything he does that frustrates me. I love. Every day that he exhausts me to no end, I cherish every single second. Because that is all time with my son. Memories together.
Above all, I am so, so, so very sorry to my future children for not writing something like this for you too. Dad is tired.
A morning with my son…
Through a sound machine, an air purifier and from across the apartment, I hear the faint sounds of my boy. The beast awakens. They are dull, kind noises. I can tell he’s talking to his stuffed bear. Its name is “Bear”. He’s probably telling Bear about his dreams. They’re making plans together to be best friends forever. Owen and Bear against the world. Two peas in a pod.
My eyes are still shut. I try to shut my ears too. Pretend I don’t hear Owen talking to Bear. If I pretend I don’t hear him then I get to sleep more. It’s my morning to get Owen because Esther housed and then split open her body for him for childbirth. Fair trade off.
I sleep more.
Owen is louder. He and Bear are conspiring to take over the house. He’s shouting. Hyping up Bear. He’s nearing a battle cry decibel. It’s the only way to pull me out of bed. It’s not so much a cry as it is a “HEY IDIOT COME AND GET ME OUT OF MY CRIB” but in infant babble. I understand his language.
I shut my eyes.
He gets louder.
He has a sixth sense.
I stumble out of bed and cram my glasses on my face. I tip-toe out of the room so I don’t disturb my slumbering bride.
Owen is standing up in his crib. Eyes on the door. Hugging Bear to his chest.
“Hello, father,” I hear them both say. I’m still partially unconscious but I’m pretty sure I heard them say it.
I pick up Owen and Bear drops down into the crib. Owen whinges and reaches back down to the crib. No man left behind. I sacrifice the remaining strength that I don’t have in my lower back to bend down and retrieve Bear. Owen is satisfied.
I sit Owen down on the couch and prepare his majesty’s bottle of morning milk.
I give Owen his bottle of milk. He drops Bear to the floor without hesitation. He holds his bottle and points at the TV screen. I whisper, “no TV.”
He is displeased.
He takes the bottle out of his mouth so he can shout at me. He points his little baby hand at the TV with such aggression as if he’s trying to throw his hand off his wrist.
I turn on the TV. He squeals with delight and wiggles his butt. We watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. The only show he cares about. And yes, I am that parent who turns on an episode of a cartoon so I can have 15 minutes of sanity in the morning to make coffee and turn on my brain. THANK YOU MICKEY MOUSE FOR HAVING MY BACK.
Owen has lost interest in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Made it through half an episode. Milk is done. It’s time to pull every. single. item. off the shelves while screeching. Umma is still sleeping. He doesn’t care. This is his house. I meet all his demands- read books, throw the ball, offer snacks- anything to occupy him and not wake up my bride.
My wife enters the living room. Her boys are starting another episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. I’m relieved my comrade is awake to join me in our servitude to the cherub boy.
Life is good.