#19 I’m Still Paying For This Website So…

It’s been about five months since I posted (February 2017). I just re-read that last one and it was an interesting trip down memory lane. I sound like I’ve finally pulled it together, and have been able to move on and move forward after being hung up on Killer Party for so long… I was fooling myself. Saying the right things, but they were merely words. It’s true, I was feeling better about the Killer Party experience, but now I know I wasn’t even halfway out of the hole I had dug.

Here’s the deal in a nutshell: What I thought would be a “summer project” way back in the spring of 2012, became a five year descent into a personal abyss. I wish I were exaggerating, but what follows will be a guided tour into my heart of darkness. Fasten your seatbelt. And keep a barf bag handy.

It was April, we were back in New Jersey for my twin nephews’ baptism. I look forward to our trips “home” and was eagerly anticipating this one. The time with family and friends means a lot. Even more so as I’ve gotten grotesquely older and become a parent. Ever since I left in 2001, a trip to the motherland has focused me and provided clarity for what my path is and what my goals are. I love my time there, and I always feel ready to go back to L.A. and get to work.

Having said that, this April trip was a real doozy.

It all began at O’Leary’s Publik House…

https://www.facebook.com/OLearysPublikHouse/

O’Leary’s is an excellent Jersey City bar and grill owned by my good friend Kevin Hennessey. My brother Frank was the designated driver, which he is kind enough to do on our O’Leary’s excursions. A lot of our friends showed up. It was an awesome night. Right up until it wasn’t.

With my brothers Frank and Pete and good friend John Foster on that fateful evening

 

Old school Johnny Rockets crew (Shar and Raul). My 45 degree head tilt shows how drunk I am.

I drank a lot. Way too much. And sometime before midnight I broke my cardinal rule of “no shots.”

Damn Irish Whiskey.

The Culprit

So I got sick. SICK. S-I-C-K.

Maybe worse than ever. I’ve had some bad ones, but this particular asshole probably takes the gold.

Why, Alex? Why?

You should know better. You’re too old for this shit.

You’re a father.

God, am I an alcoholic?

I like to drink. I can self-medicate with booze. I can binge drink. I’ve had the worst days (or nights) of my life while drinking.

What happened that particular night?

I was having fun. But not too far below the surface, a storm was brewing.  While I was talking and laughing and drinking lots of beer, there were these thoughts swimming around in my head, thoughts that had been there for a long time. “What have I done with my life? I’m a failure. My friends have good jobs, houses, and are halfway to their pensions… Me? I had this stupid idea about writing and making movies and now I’m drowning in credit card debt from a movie that I don’t wanna talk about or even think about, I’m hanging on by a thread at the job I have, and I have no foreseeable prospects for the job I want (and have spent the last fifteen and a half years pursuing).” Not exactly polite conversation.

So I drank.

And became ill on the ride home. Then became violently ill at home. Puking my guts out. It would not quit. Comical quantities. In hindsight, I’ll say that years of bile and venom were pouring out of me.

I was exorcising a demon.

I forget to mention that we went to O’Leary’s the night before the baptism. Which was the next morning. And I’m the godfather of Nick. (1/2 of the dynamic fraternal duo Nick & Nate.)

My bros Luke and Pete with Nick and Nate

This wasn’t a pull yourself together, drink some Gatorade and pop a few Advils hangover. My body was punishing me for the abuse. I took a liquid, and moments later, I expelled a liquid.

We had to get from Dumont to Jersey City. A forty-five minute trek. Normally, I’d drive. Today, Rachael was behind the wheel. But as we left the driveway of my childhood home, I believed that the worst was behind me. Because I’m an optimist.

It was about ten minutes in, right about when we entered Teaneck, that the rumbling started.

“We’re gonna have to pull over.”

The kids were in the backseat. Curious, not alarmed. They’re still blissfully unaware of how screwed up their father is.

My parents were behind us.

And now I’m glad they were. I certainly wasn’t glad at the time.

Rachael pulled into the parking lot of the Teaneck municipal center, and my parents followed. Shit. Seriously? I hopped out of the car and ran to the nearest garbage can. I caught my mother’s eye mid-vomit. I could have just crawled into the can at that moment and called it a day.

The kids could think I had a stomach bug. My parents… as much as they love me, they’re not that naive.

The scene of the crime

“Jesus Christ. Am I this guy? Is this who I am?”

Yup, it’s me. Holding onto this trash can and throwing up in a parking lot.

It was humiliating. More humiliating than any of the shitty experiences of the last four and a half years. And probably the most humiliating of the thirty-six before that. I did not want my parents to see what a fuck up I was.

So I was standing, but I was metaphorically on my knees. Groveling.

“No more! Stop! I’ve seen the light! I’ll change!”

I felt cleansed. I spit and returned to the car. Rachael gave me some gum and we got to Jersey City without further incident. But the demon wasn’t done with me yet.

If I were writing a screenplay about this experience, about the rock-bottom cratering of a forty-year old man with delusions of Hollywood grandeur, I’d probably consider taking him back to where it all started and hit the highlights of his earlier days. We were already in New Jersey. We had a night out with friends that ended badly. Childhood home. Parents, kids… How about a baptism?

The baptism was at Saint Peter’s Prep.

I took this while suffering for my sins
This, too.

My high school. A place I love. A place that loved me back. A place that means a lot to me and my family. I married Rachael there. The education. The friends. The experiences. It was special.

I was a different person back then. Maybe a better person.

Were those the best days of my life?

(Probably not, because I believe I peaked when I was 12.)

I was 17 when I graduated. I was a good kid. I still had a long way to go.

The school has changed a lot since I got my diploma in 1994. It’s changed a lot since Rachael and I were married there in 2006. For instance, the bathroom that I was throwing up in was not there in 2006.

Yes, here I was, at the place where I was possibly my best self more than twenty years ago, kneeling in a bathroom stall and puking into an environmentally friendly toilet.

Fortunately, the demon gave me a momentary reprieve and I made it through the ceremony without baptizing my godchild in something unholy. To even it out, I looked like shit. Like more shit than usual. Nauseous, unshaven, gut sticking out of the shirt and jacket I had bought for the World Premiere of The Shower (Killer Party) at Shriekfest in October 2013 (when I was twenty pounds lighter and still had a glimmer of hope in my eyes).

October 2013
April 2017. Yikes. This was in between bouts of sickness
Poor Nick. What the hell am I doing?

I should have at least gotten a haircut. But I was a mess, and trying to save money by cutting my own hair.

So I spent some quality time on the floor of that bathroom, contemplating my life’s failures in between retches. I deserved to be lying in piss, and in the movie version, I would be, but reality was nicer. (It was an extraordinarily clean bathroom. Good old Prep, looking out for me once again.)

Finally, I was done. Empty. Hollow. I made my way to the reception and tried not to act like I had been puking my brains and other organs out for the last 10-11 hours. The reception was in the cafeteria, which used to be the church, where we got married.

That was Saturday. We were flying back Monday. The rest of the weekend was fine. I didn’t drink. Didn’t feel like drinking. I tried to be present, but mostly I was ashamed. Rachael and I didn’t talk about it until we were driving home from the airport and the kids were asleep in the backseat.

“So are we not drinking anymore?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

The one thing that I did know was that I needed help. I had all the pieces of the puzzle in front me, I could identify them, but I just couldn’t put them together. (Which was unbelievably frustrating. And that frustration fueled plenty of other negativity. I felt like I should have figured it out. And then I felt stupid and weak for not being able to.)

Rachael found someone for me to talk to. A therapist.

The first session was rough. My interpretation of it was he basically asked, “So what are you gonna do with your life? Because this clearly isn’t working and isn’t going to work.” I felt defensive, but a part of me agreed with him. It clearly isn’t working and isn’t going to work without some real changes. My homework for the week was simply to think about what I looked like at six years old and where I lived back then.

Technically, I might have been 7 in this. But I was 6 when the season started.

So I did that, and the next week, he guided me through a meditation where I thought about who I was at six and where we lived, and introduced my current self to that little boy. I wept. I was embarrassed. Ashamed. I didn’t want my younger self to see who he had grown up to be. I hated who I had become. It was a revelation. These last few years, I had only viewed myself as a failure. It was the demon that seeped in and took control.

I didn’t know how bad I felt until I started to really feel better. Feeling like shit every day had become normal. (The therapist is a psychologist, so no drugs. Am I correct to think that’s the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist? The psychiatrist is an MD that can prescribe medicine?)

Yes, I’m Tony Soprano in this scenario

So after that, the puzzle pieces started to fit together. It’s a slow process. I’m not done. Not close to it. But I had stalled for almost five years and I’m finally moving again.

Getting me fixed up is a team effort. For almost half a decade, Rachael has dealt with a very unpleasant, very unhappy person on a daily basis. And that’s not just at her restaurant jobs. (It was me.) Our life wasn’t all coconuts and sunshine before we made the movie, but these last few years have been especially difficult. As she told me the other night, “You were miserable.” I was miserable. My guilt, anger and regret about the movie were with me all the time. But so was Rachael. She stuck by me, loved me, supported me. I’m lucky.

I started reading Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography right before I began therapy and the timing was perfect. If I read it earlier, it wouldn’t have hit me the same way. For a successful rock star, Bruce faced a ton of failure and rejection before finally achieving some success. A lesser person would have quit, but he didn’t. I’m not Bruce Springsteen, but his journey inspired and encouraged me. He also had a terrible relationship with his father, who was a bitter alcoholic. I don’t have a terrible relationship with my father, nor is a he a bitter alcoholic. But in this case, I worried that I might wind up like Bruce’s dad, and Andrew would become the new Boss. Sorry, Andrew, you’re gonna need a different motivation for success.

After that, I re-read Stephen King’s On Writing, and it was also the right time to rediscover King’s most generous gift to writers. I was inspired all over again. King reminded me not to focus so much on plot and to let inspiration be my guide in the first draft. I had become too programmed and too rigid in my creative process. He says if you don’t surprise yourself, you won’t surprise the reader… Based on my trauma with Killer Party, I had focused so much on plot and outcome in my writing and lost the fun and discovery and honesty that brought me there in the first place.

I also have to thank my buddy Travis Lee Stephenson. He suggested I read books about people who achieved great things to inspire me because I’d see how much failure and rejection they endured to get to that place they really wanna go… (corny Bruce reference is mine)

http://www.travisleestephenson.com

Thanks, Trav!

So what’s the moral of this story?

Don’t make a movie. Chances are it will ruin your life.

Nah, go ahead and make a movie. Just don’t do what I did. Any of it.

I think this is Day One. Exhibit A in how not to make a movie.

I let this movie, my first movie, paid for with money from family and friends and credit cards, define my entire existence. It was an all or nothing proposition. And it didn’t work out. The movie could have been better. It also could have been worse. So rather than being an incredible learning experience, it became me. My value. My worth. My epic fail. I stopped believing I could ever succeed because this one thing didn’t work out like I hoped. (And looking back, my expectations were absurd. Here’s some advice: SET REAL, HONEST EXPECTATIONS. FOR EVERYTHING.) Yes, I was writing in the years since, but I was just going through the motions. I didn’t believe. There was no flame.

For almost five years, I also spent a good deal of energy on the “What if” game. What if I did this in pre-production? What if I did this on set? What if I gave up on the movie in January 2013 when a distributor said our initial cut was “unwatchable.” (There have been a few internet commenters who have said the same thing about the finished version. I can laugh about it now.) What if we just focused on finding distribution after our glorious World Premiere at Shriekfest in October 2013? I could go on. And now, I will go on. But it was nearly impossible to do that even three months ago.

If you were telling me this, I’d get mad and say “Shut the eff up! You’re an idiot! Take pride in what you accomplished, get back to work and do better. And you will do better!” But I couldn’t say that to myself, even though I knew it. Instead, I let it devour me.

I feel different now. I feel like myself again. Energetic, hopeful, creative, resilient, inspired. I feel like the person I used to be, before making the movie that nearly ruined my life. But I feel even better than that. I feel lighter. The dead weight of the last few years is gone, but the knowledge I’ve gained is a part of me.

My intention with this post was to close the book on Killer Party (and all that shit), and allow myself to start writing a new story. It has taken up so much of my life, and now I can see and believe that the good outweighs the bad. Thank you for coming along for the ride and listening to my ramblings these last couple years. And in case you haven’t seen the movie, well, it’s available on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu and other VOD outlets.

Awesome artwork by John Allen Phillips. http://www.johnallenphillips.com
LINKS TO KILLER PARTY on Amazon & iTunes

https://www.amazon.com/Killer-Party-Kurt-Ela/dp/B01KBJR688/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1499643006&sr=8-4&keywords=killer+party

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/killer-party/id1136973911

In closing,

the moral of the story is…

I don’t know.

Let’s find out.

Author: Alex

A married waiter/filmmaker with two kids.