Movement Refugee Part III: Boulder Bound
Updated: Sep 23, 2020
New York! Ah! We’re there. What a ride so far. It feels like we’ve been here for a week. Talk about emotional, too. It has definitely been a rough change for both of us. Life is totally different out here. Nothing could have prepared me. Nothing! It is only the second day, but I am starting to feel comfortable. Wow, I am not sure exactly where to start; so much has happened.
Journal Entry 10/21/2005
I moved to New York City on October 19th, 2005. I was 20 years old and had just dropped out of UCLA to pursue stand-up comedy. My girlfriend made the move from LA with me. We arrived with little money and an agreement for a Craigslist apartment sight unseen in Spanish Harlem. Neither of us had spent a significant amount of time in New York. I’d been to the city once for a few days with my mom to visit NYU in 2002 or 2003, and my girlfriend had never been. Both of us had grown up in a small town in Lake Tahoe, and our life in Los Angeles could not prepare us for the New York gauntlet. At the time, I wrote in a journal regularly. I wanted to document events in my life, and I believed that regularly writing my experiences, thoughts, and feelings would benefit my stand-up craft. I recently decided to revisit my words, crack open the time capsule, and reflect on my early days in the city that made me an adult, because in one week, just shy of 15 years after arriving in NYC, I will leave New York for Boulder, Colorado.
In March of this year, we stopped classes at Movement Brooklyn due to Covid-19, and by May we decided to permanently close the physical space. Not long after the closing Matt Bernstein called. I’ve mentioned Matt a number of times in previous blogs. He introduced me to movement years ago and now owns Ape Co. Movement School in Boulder (and recently added a school in Denver as well). Matt’s call came at a time of transition. I had continued to film daily classes for our website from March until August and was reassessing my next steps. He reiterated a proposal that he has made many times throughout the years; would I be interested in moving to Boulder to teach at his school. In the past, my NYC roots were too deep to consider a move. Alexa and I had a business, a quality of life that we were content with and we were excited to see where we were headed. When Matt and I spoke this time, things had changed. Alexa and I no longer had an apartment, our gym was closed, and we were living with her parents in Northern Westchester with no signs of a return to the city. Covid ruled out any major travels, and the growing uncertainty left me saying, “Let’s talk about this in a few months, and see how things look then.”
I am amazed at how crazy life gets. You really can’t ever plan on anything. Nothing is definite; all you can do is prepare yourself for whatever you can think of, but for everything you think of, there are a hundred other possibilities that you didn’t think of. Wow, so how do you survive life? Let’s think. I guess you can’t work to survive, you just have to live and accept what comes your way, good or bad, and not worry or excite yourself until that time comes.
Journal Entry, 11/5/2005
We took the red eye into La Guardia from Sacramento. When we arrived, we were physically tired and emotionally fatigued. Our faces were crusty with dried tears from the previous night’s goodbyes and the continued crying at cruising altitude. We did not sleep on the plane. After a long ride on the airport shuttle to our roll of the dice apartment, we quickly discovered that we had rolled snake eyes. All of the disgusting and undesirable events were happening at once; mice, cockroaches, mold, smells; all of the above. We were so tired we laid on the smelly bed, crying together and watching The Emperor’s New Groove on repeat while the cockroaches crawled across the ceiling above us.
Unfortunately, the apartment nightmare quickly transcended beyond the visual of mice and cockroach infestations. We had paid 3 months of rent up-front ($2625) to a woman we were subletting from. She turned out to be an unsavory character who owed months of back rent and was being evicted. We were subsequently forced out of the creature infested apartment. We fled in the middle of the night, with all our bags, headed toward the 110th St subway station to take us who-knows-where. During the apartment fiasco, I was the victim of ATM fraud, and my bank account was wiped out. So, just a couple weeks after arriving in NYC, we were homeless and all the money we’d paid for our apartment was gone. This is when I stopped using bodega ATM’s for withdrawals and Craigslist to find apartments.
During these last six months spent in Westchester, I’ve reevaluated my priorities, values, and practice.
After five years of continuous instruction with Ido Portal, I found myself drawn towards different mountains, so I decided to stop online coaching with Ido, and take the precious tools I’d learned over the last five years and use them to discover new summits. I began exploring the Fighting Monkey practice and started a continuing education program with Tom Weksler. I rediscovered my passion for honest creative expression, and have placed this at the forefront of my practice.
My new perspective on creative expression goes beyond movement practice. I tried my hand at woodworking. After carving a sphere out of a block of wood, using only a hatchet, I felt inspired to try other wood projects. With a piece of the remaining wood from the sphere project, I hand carved a simple bowl (it also passes as a squirrel boat). One project led to another. After seeing an outdoor table made entirely from 2x4s and one 2x6, I decided Alexa’s parents needed a new piece of outdoor furniture. Again, no experience, however I was gifted with guidance, assistance, support, tools, and occasional handholding from Alexa’s brother, Chris, a Broadway stagehand. I now have a small toolbox of different blades and carving tools that will be joining me as the trek continues.
Cooking also became an outlet for my creativity. From day one of our arrival at the house, I made a point to cook a Sunday breakfast for everyone. It always included paleo-style pancakes, and had a rotating line-up of bacon, sausages, and varying egg dishes. In the beginning, breakfast was my limit. Over time, I was inspired to spread my wings. Birthdays and holidays motivated me to test my luck with paleo-style cakes, which ended up becoming a staple of lockdown special events. And, although Alexa and her dad, Francis, did the bulk of the heavy dinner lifting, I also got an itch to cook outside of the breakfast and dessert genres. I learned to create dishes such as reverse seared steaks, pineapple and jalapeno pulled pork, and veal liver with a bacon/mushroom/onion topping that has become a most requested Kyle dish. I now have a mounting number of recipes in my internet “bookmarks” and “favorites.” As a group, we ate every dinner together. During almost every sitting someone would say that one of the themes of our lockdown is the always-excellent meals.
Investing in friendships from all periods of my life took on new importance. I found myself having 2+ hour phone conversations with friends old and new. I reconnected with high school and college friends, some comedy buddies, and people I’ve crossed paths with more recently. We shared stories, debated, reminisced, laughed, and cried. Regularly, I’d hang up and say to Alexa, “I just had the best phone call.”
My family, which is spread out across the country, started doing a weekly Zoom call. I made a point to be on whenever I could, only missing a few over 6 months. Everyone shared about their life in lockdown, joked with those who had poor internet connections on their Android devices (you know who you are), and told stories. These calls made me feel closer to my entire family than I have in many years. I look forward to the Sunday calls, and will be there this week to tell everyone about writing this blog.
Most days, Alexa and I would take an afternoon walk. We’ve always been walkers, but back in Brooklyn, they were often isolated to weekends or a rare weekday afternoon. During the lockdown, this became precious and sacred time for us. Being in a house with 5 people, it could often feel like Grand Central Station. The walks were our time to be together, connect, and talk without any distractions. It became a priority and daily tradition, almost ceremonial. Despite being tired and fatigued from training, or drained from the other miscellaneous lockdown activities, we rarely missed a daily walk together. Neither of us brought our phones, and we’d just be together. Recently, as I’ve been looking toward our next steps, I realize this tradition will continue to be a priority and carry the highest of values.
I bought Ruhbin’s meal as a Christmas gift. We had a great time. We went to this delicious Italian restaurant. We just goofed around, taking pictures with our new digital camera.
Journal Entry, 12/25/2005
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my 21st birthday were all spent in New York that first year. Ruhbin Mehta, a fellow aspiring comedian, had become my best friend, and joined my girlfriend and I for meals and trips to the movie theater. Ruhbin and I roamed the mean streets and haunted open mics together. On a given night we’d squeeze 5 minutes out of a mic on the Lower East Side, then make our way to Chinatown for another set, and finish off at the Bowery Poetry Club to try to get laughs one last time before we retreated to a diner for a late night meal.
Ruhbin went on to become the friend I never thought I’d have. We became family. We arrived in New York within months of each other. He was from Toronto, a proud Maple Leafs fan, and always quick to remind me of all the great Canadian comedians. For the first many years in New York, we worked together at odd-jobs and wandered the city chasing laughs side-by-side. We bickered and argued like brothers. We could talk for hours, or sit around together and say nothing at all. He battled depression and insomnia for many years, and passed away in 2015. In recent years I’ve struggled to recover memories of our time together, but revisiting these early journal writings have brought back some wonderful times we shared.
I want to have what we had when it all started. I want that back. I think about those first days of us being together. I can’t think of a more amazing time in my life. I would love to just relive those days over and over.
Journal Entry, 1/16/2006
As is the case with most young love, my girlfriend and I grew apart. We arrived in the city as kids, and we quickly became adults forging different paths. At the time, this was difficult for me because all I could feel was the sharp pain of a breaking heart. The heartbreak dragged on for a number of months before we both landed on our own unique roads. She quickly found a new relationship with a wealthy restaurateur who took her to France. Being on the receiving end of an ex in a new relationship is hard, but being poor in New York and feeling like you are learning to walk again while your ex-girlfriend is gallivanting around Europe with a new boyfriend wielding an Amex Black Card was a powerful blow to my spirit. This developed into an important lesson in perseverance. I’m happy to say that she and I stay in touch to this day. She still lives in New York, and on occasion we meet for coffee to catchup and reminisce. And, on October 19th, we always exchange a few text messages reminding one another of our New York anniversary.
Summer 2020. In August, Matt called again. He was about to open his new gym in Denver and again, he said he’d love to have me out there teaching alongside him. Matt understood that this would be a big change for Alexa and I, and given the conditions of the pandemic, he asked what we needed to do to make it happen. When we looked into our magic ball, Alexa and I didn’t see Brooklyn for the foreseeable future and were open to change. Alexa and I were about to depart for a 10 day stay at an Airbnb in New England, so I told Matt we would discuss this at length during our time away. Matt and I scheduled a call for when we returned to talk seriously about the potential of moving.
Our time away from the house that had been our home, sanctuary, and life raft for 5 months was a well needed break. The first part of our trip was spent with two Brooklyn friends, Nina and Antonio. They normally returned to their homes in Europe for a summer vacation every year, but were left unable to travel during the pandemic. So, we all get Covid tests and took a short trip together. We ended up in a wonderfully funky Airbnb that reminded me of an Escher painting, with stairs to everywhere and nowhere. We spent days chatting and playing on the beach, and evenings cooking and laughing.
After our time with Nina and Antonio, Alexa and I continued our journey to a cottage near the beach. Suddenly, it was just us. The day we arrived, we dropped our bags and binge watched Ozark on Netflix. We quickly realized we hadn’t had this kind of autonomy in months. It was during our time in this cottage that we realized we were ready to take a step. Landing at Alexa’s parents’ house had been a saving grace, but we could now feel the time had come for us to be on our own again. There was a silence and togetherness we rediscovered and were ready to welcome it back into our lives. During days spent on the beach, we often returned to this theme as we discussed the Boulder opportunity.
I talked to grandma yesterday. She just got back from Stanford. She had more tests done on her cancer. Basically, she’s been informed that the cancer will never go away. All they can do is slow the process. The goal at this point is to give her a better quality of life.
Journal Entry, 2/5/2006
Not long before I left for New York, my grandma, Grandma Bea, was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was an inspiration for me, and continues to be. She was both an actor and a teacher. I remember once, when I was in an elementary school play, she came to help with a rehearsal. She walked in the room, and ran around in a wig that made it look as if she’d stuck her hand in an electrical socket. She bounced around the room while maintaining a look of terror, like The Scream painting, and kept saying, “What am I?!” All of us kids were baffled and confused, but this didn’t slow her act. Eventually she revealed that she was “stage fright.”
During my first year in the city, and the final year of her life, we spoke often. I still have an image in my mind of wandering down Houston St at night with my Motorola Razr pressed against my ear and her supportive voice on the other end. She began sending regular e-mails to all the grandchildren she titled Bubba Mintzes, which loosely means “grandma’s memories.” In these emails she shared family stories, discussed her values, and gave life advice. The back of the journal has a pocket where I discovered all of these emails printed, folded, and tucked away. At the beginning of each email there is a section she called “Observation.” Here she shares some of the key take-aways she made over the course of her life. As I reread these, some have developed new meaning for me, while others bring tears to my eyes because I can hear her voice reciting the lines. I will wipe the tears away and share a few of her observations because I find these insights wise and powerful. I’ll allow her to speak for herself, and perhaps you will discover some of the richness I have found in her words.
“Change is the only absolute. Everything is in a constant mode of change not only in the universe, but in our emotional lives as well. Sooooo, can you count on anything being the same always? Nope. Wait a minute, it will change, is the rule.”
“Nature can be your sanctuary. I have found getting into the wilds (the real wilds, not a state park that tries to pass for wilderness), is almost a holy experience. “
“A tender, loving touch is absolutely essential to each and every baby born into this world. Continually loving touches throughout your life (both given and taken) are essential to your mental health and how you feel about yourself.”
“What would we do without our artists, performers, writers, musicians, etc.etc.? What would life be like without these people who take us out of ourselves for a short period of time and show us other ways of living and feeling? Life would probably be dull.”
“Going to another geographical place is the only way to really know it. You can read about cities, states, countries, etc. in books, but the actual ‘gestalt’ (a psychological term, look it up) will not be yours until you are there.”
“Live each day. I know you have heard this a hundred a times, but it is hard to remember. Especially when you are young and think you have all the time in the world. Everyone has told me I never stop and just to relax and do nothing. I am glad now that I did as much as I could because I sure can't do anything now. I'm glad I have seen something of every continent. I am glad I got advanced degrees, glad I worked at things I loved to do, glad I married and had kids and grandkids, glad I learned to play the piano, glad I acted and directed, etc.etc. In other words, glad I lived every day and did not waste it. So, don't waste your life. Live every minute.”
Alexa and I returned from our trip and decided we were willing to make the move. We would start with a three-month commitment. This felt like a way test the fit for us, for Matt, and the whole Ape. Co Movement crew. Before committing, Matt and I had a number of calls discussing logistics, compensation, and pedagogy. I explained the gravity of this change for us. I opened up about what has occurred over the last few months. I explained Alexa has always lived within driving distance of her parents, and I have spent 15 years becoming a New Yorker. I let him know where I’ve gone with my practice, and expressed my passion for creative expression. All-in-all, I wanted to be transparent about where we’re coming from, and who he would be getting from me as a teacher. After laying the cards on the table, Matt was excited, thrilled, and passionate about getting us to Boulder, and me teaching alongside him. He spoke to the rest of the Ape Co decision makers, we agreed on terms that worked for both of us, and we committed to getting on a plane at the end of September. Matt continued to go the extra mile to make us feel confident and excited about the move. He and his wife, Emily, found us a place to live, offered to let us borrow their car until we get our own, and even sent us some Ape Co swag as if we were first round draft picks. To top it off, after we posted our plans on social media, a number of Ape Co students sent warm and welcoming messages.
We organized one last class (for now) in McGlorick Park in Brooklyn. This was our first trip to the city since May, and the first class I’d taught to a live group since March. I was touched to see people from the many different chapters of my teaching career all in one place. A few were from my early globo-gym bootcamp days (Alexa being one of them), others I’d met at CrossFit Virtuosity, many had been students at Movement Brooklyn, a few had discovered Movement Brooklyn LIVE during the lockdown, and one friend, and fellow movement teacher, made the pilgrimage from Long Island. After a two-hour class, we hung around chatting and catching up. There was so much to say, but not enough time. We spent two more hours standing and talking. I didn’t want it to end. I loved connecting and reconnecting, and found myself holding back tears while I said hugless goodbyes to some of my favorite people. For some it was just a class in the park on a Sunday, but for me it was a wonderful farewell to people who had been deeply supportive of me and all the weirdness I had hurled their way.
I realize, as I look back on the stories from my early days in New York, they read like a tragedy. Although, ask anyone about their first year in the city, and they’ll have a laundry list of kicks to the face. Maybe I will feel similarly in 15 years when I reread my journal entries from our time on Covid lockdown. However, I believe much of our stories are told by our scars. No one points to an unblemished part of their skin and says, “Let me tell you how I got this!” Scars are signs that we took risks and tried new things. Scars are signs of a life lived. If we want to have joy, laughter, and love, we have to be willing to slip, trip, and fall. I’m certain there are new scars waiting to be made in Boulder, and that is magnificent because it is an opportunity to take Grandma Bea’s advice to “live each day.”