In 1988 I was working at the American Stage Company in Teaneck, NJ. I graduated from the University of Michigan in 1986 and decided I wanted to become an actor. Around that time I moved to NYC, studied at several acting schools and had dreams of "making it" as an actor.
At the American Stage Company, under the artistic direction of actor Paul Sorvino, I worked backstage as an assistant stage manager for the upcoming roster of productions and it was my goal to get an equity card through serving an internship, as it would give me the ability to audition at Equity Theatre Productions and get hired as an actor in professional theatre.
My uncle Frank met the producers of the American Stage Company on a bus enroute to Atlantic City, where he played poker on a regular basis. He was a former bookie dating back to the 50’s and parlayed most of his money into real estate by the 60’s, choosing to lead a more straight and narrow life, after he got married.
Uncle Frank gave me sobering advice about becoming an actor. He told me it was a numbers game with very poor odds. The sooner I realized that the better. It was also the very handsome and dear family friend Robert Krugman from Ridgewood, NJ, where I grew up, who who shed light on the challenges of the trade. He frequently talked to me about his ambitions of pursuing acting in the 1950’s when he was enrolled at the Actor’s Studio. He recounted how all the actors he knew were lining up to become the next James Dean. As good looking and talented as he was, those doors didn't open for him. He would become a fashion designer, where he had a long and satisfying career. He seemed to elude the possiblity that a similar fate may await me, yet not to be disappointed if it did.
The biggest question I had in my life at the time was what will happen to me? Will I make it? And it was my father whom I could turn to for advice, knowing that he wasn’t going to admonish me for my choices. He would serve as a constant support, both financially when I needed it and when I was starved for career guidance.
This letter that arrived helped pacify me, giving me solace that I could not really know the answer to that question - for the future was unwritten.
Dec. 2nd 1988
'What will happen to me in this only life I am destined to have,' you ask. You have chosen a more unorthodox career so you have to face a longer struggle – perhaps. Perhaps you will soon get your precious “card.” You have made new friends including Hemingway so the road you travel is not without riches.
Success is a danger, only misery loves company. Life is an enigma for my spry 97 year old patient who bemoans the fact that the insurance will not cover his medical bills. I tell him at his age he is immune but he finds his inability to pay a great injury to his pride. Pauperism is one of man’s greatest fears.
The world is so constituted in complexity that it is only necessary to travel on any road and in any direction to participate in its many wonders, and then because it is round return to where one started. The whole expedition essentially accomplishing nothing, yet everything for such is the destiny we are condemned to with all the thrills to be found along the road.
At least in the arts and periphery there exists a more fertile ambience for intellectual communication. Your cousin Joseph might be considered along with yourself to have learned what the educational process had hoped to convey. You both are curious, self-reliant and interestingly, first-born and blood.
Have faith, continued faith, in yourself. What you have chosen is noble and you, able. You will prevail when the others falter.
There is no guarantee for your success nor is there for anyone. All of life is a mystery, making no sense to prince or pauper.
I have just examined a good lady who has an abnormal shadow on a recent mammography. The only way to tell if this is malignant is to do a biopsy and to do this the patient needs to be put to sleep. She has been scheduled in 1 week. Until then her life is in a state of suspended animation because if this is breast cancer whatever other struggles her road has will be deferred. She will worry until the biopsy – fortunately, the odds are good that the shadow is insignificant, not quite good enough not to biopsy.
For me a case, a fee, a presence in the operating room at The Valley Hospital.
Enjoyed your letter. Love Dad.
The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood NJ was where my father practiced medicine for over thirty years, dating back to the 60’s.
In this letter there is plenty to chew on.
My father refers to the road on several occasions. That road he referred to is “the road” that is our journey in this life, like the road from The Wizard of Oz, “The Road less Traveled” from Robert Frost or On the Road with Jack Kerouac. The road is a lovely metaphor for the journe we find ourselves on. Each road leads to another destination where our most important pursuit is finding the meaning along the way. For me, that road has become like the hero's journey, the mythical voyage about which Joseph Campbell wrote, and in which we are the heroes.
As a teacher, which I would later become, "the road" was rich and suggestive. I worked to instill that idea in my students and to get them to see their own journey's as magical, where they are the heroes just like Odysseus, Dorothy and so many others.
One thing was for sure. I would pick up the language of the road and understand it as a place for the journey we are on. Somehow this wonderful, mythical journey begins and ends on a road. Our own unique road, whether we choose it or not. It is ours, we own it and eventually the road becomes us.
Where will the road lead? I learned that tomorrow always brings something new on this road. I’m starting to carve out my own little niche. I’m learning too, that it is never too late to get on the road to your dreams.