A Chronological History
I was born and raised in a small city in Upstate New York about a half hour from the Thousand Islands region of the Saint Lawrence River. I was the middle of three boys born to moderate Republican parents. The best way to describe my upbringing would be "stable." My parents were very much in love and never fought. My father was a small-town lawyer making a comfortable living, and my mother was a full time care-giver. We lived in the same house from the time I was 4 until after I went off to college. We were in every way the perfect American family.
I had a pretty ordinary life in school. My self-esteem was high, but my self-confidence was a bit low. I knew I was intelligent and well-adjusted, but I was also very shy and considered myself to be socially awkward. At one point my parents decided that it would help me if I went out for a sport. This was a very good decision. But for some reason they decided that the sport should be football. This was a very bad decision. Why they thought that a shy, scrawny, weakling should go out for football is beyond me. After only a few weeks of sheer terror I finally convinced them to let me quit. They agreed only on the condition that I went out for another sport. Fortunately this time they allowed me to choose the sport myself. I decided to go out for the swim team. I swam for four years, and I probably have that to thank for the naturally sleek physique and consistently good health that I enjoy to this day.
After high school I went off to study architecture at Hobart College, a small four-year institution in New York State's Finger Lakes region. It was a wonderful school with quality faculty and a beautiful campus. I didn't have a lot of friends, but the friendships I did have were very strong and deep. I got involved with the Dungeon & Dragons club on campus, and participating in the games went a long way to bring me out of my shell.
One of my friends Rich had pledged a fraternity his freshman year moved into the fraternity house the beginning of our sophomore year. I had never had much interest in fraternities, but spending time in his house and observing him interact with his brothers made me realize that there was more to it than I had realized. Rich soon became a major influence on me. He struck me as a living paradox. I perceived fraternities as being all about conforming to the group, and yet Rich was a strong individualist. He had passionate convictions about things that typical college kids weren't interested in, and his opinions and outlook on life were unlike that of anyone I'd ever known. And yet he was not at all dogmatic about it. If people disdained him his nonconformism he gladly gave them that freedom. I began to admire Rich very much and attempted to emulate his behavior. I tacitly understood that I was deliberately conforming to a nonconformist ideology, but that did not deter me. All I knew was that I greatly enjoyed being perceived as someone who differed from the norm.
It was also in my sophomore year that I discovered computers. I took a BASIC programming course, and I was hooked immediately. In addition to the fact that it came very naturally to me and I easily got good grades, I realized that the other people in my class were struggling and often came to me for help. This told me that I had a special aptitude that the general public did not share. I continued studying computers, and soon decided to make it my career. The only problem was that this college did not offer a computer major. After a great deal of soul searching I decided to transfer to a school that did.
I wound up at the State University of New York campus in Potsdam, a small village in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, which was even farther North and further isolated than the city I grew up in. I soon found that the quality of the faculty and student services couldn't compare with those of the private college I had left, but it was understandable considering the tuition was a fraction of what it was at the other school. The curricula seemed sound, however, and I was confident that I would receive a quality education. All my credit hours transferred, but they made me start out with the first course in the sequence for computer majors. I knew that despite the fact that I had class standing as a junior that I would be there for some time to come.
I decided that I wanted to pledge a fraternity right away. I made the rounds of all the houses, but one stood apart from the rest. They had interesting letters, Psi Phi (as in Sci Fi), and a great color scheme or red, black, and gold. Their parties were more energetic and enjoyable than the other's. Their house, while not the classic Greek revival fraternity house, was quite spacious and located midway between campus and downtown on the banks of a scenic mountain river that ran through town. But most importantly, the members were very friendly and seemed to embody the qualities of individualism that had recently become so important to me. I submitted a bid and entered into their pledge program.
I quickly built a repoir with my fellow pledge brothers, but I found the process of pledging to be very difficult for me at this particular point in my life. I had just adopted the attitude that I would allow no one to tell me how to behave, and here I found myself constantly being told what to do and how to think. I was astute enough to understand what the members were trying to accomplish. It was a process very similar to military boot camp where inductees are taught to put the good of the group above the good of the individual. But I found the whole concept to be contrary to the new-found individualism that I had been working so hard to develop. Complicating all this was the fact that I missed my old school and old friends very much. I didn't second guess my decision to transfer here or to pledge the fraternity, but I was utterly miserable. In the end I felt it more important to finish something that I had started than to depledge in an act of protest and defiance. I was ultimately inducted into the fraternity, but it was an empty victory. I didn't feel the elation and fulfillment that I had been promised during my pledgeship.
But as time went on and I became more comfortable with my surroundings and got to know my new brothers better, my feelings began to improve. The membership, as I had observed, was indeed committed to individualism and self-expression. I moved into the house the following semester, and I found the constant companionship that the fraternity offered to be very comforting and reaffirming. I decided to organize a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and since I was the only one who knew how to play I was the Dungeon Master. This went a long way to developing my organizational and leadership skills. And since most of the guys who played were the older members who were running the house, I found myself managing those who were managing the fraternity. This gave me an immediate "in" with the upper echelons of the membership.
As the semesters wore on I gained seniority and moved my way up the hierarchy of the house. I always ran for offices and generally got elected, and my self-confidence was constantly increasing. I was even elected president for a semester. I found that if I always went to class and made sure not to blow off too many assignments that I could have all the fun I wanted and still get acceptable grades. The fraternity house was gradually becoming my home, and I was growing more and more dependent on the support and constant companionship that the membership afforded.
By the time I made it through all the courses that were required for my computer major, I had been at this school a full four years. Combined with the two years at the private school I had been an undergraduate for a continuous six years! I had become quite comfortable as a college student, and I was not looking forward to moving on and providing for myself. I was not very diligent about looking for a job, and when graduation time rolled around I found myself with no prospects and no plans for the future. I would not say that I was depressed, but I felt very sad to have to leave what had become my home, and I was scared of the future.
About the only joy I saw in my immediate future was Senior Week. I'd been looking forward to that for six years. But it rained every day. Every damn day. We mostly sat around the house and watched movies. "Faces of Death" was one of them. It fit my mood.
Personally I had no desire to attend commencement. I had my diploma. That was enough for me. But my parents, who had paid for all this and stuck by me for these full six years, wanted to watch me walk across that stage. So I got all dressed up in my cap and gown and sat in the gymnasium for the excruciatingly long ceremony. When it was all done the procession was to head outdoors where a reception would be held. But guess what, it was still raining. So the column of people turned back upon itself and utter mayhem ensued. I walked around that building again and again and again looking for my parents, but I couldn't find them anywhere. All my friends were surrounded by their families, happy and joyous. I felt like an orphan. I was alone and miserable. I finally bummed a ride back to the house with one of my fraternity brothers and his family.
Soon after graduation I still had no job and no prospects. I contacted a fraternity brother Tim who had graduated a year earlier and moved down to Washington DC to attend graduate school at American University. He told me that a room had just opened up in his boarding house, and that there were tons of computer jobs advertised every week in the Sunday paper. With just a few hundred dollars in my pocket and all my belongings stuffed into my little Renault sedan, I went off to make it in the big city.
About the only thing I had going for me was that I was totally clueless as to how badly the odds were staked against me. Still, I somehow wound up landing a job in a little over a month's time. I was hired to do phone support for a small company that sold accounting software for the IBM PC. My daily commute took me past a number of embassies, down the Rock Creek Parkway, past the Watergate Complex and Kennedy Center, behind the Lincoln Memorial, across the Potomac and past the Pentagon. It was a long way to go, but a very interesting and beautiful job. I managed to keep my expenses very low, and I was able to easily get by on my entry-level salary.
Although I was finding Washington DC to be an exciting place to live, it was the first time I had lived in a big city and I wasn't adjusting too well. When classes started up in the fall, Tim had no time at all to spend with me and I became very lonely. I missed my fraternity so much it hurt, and when the fall pledge class was assembled I was overwhelmed with feelings that I was missing out. I was once again feeling quite miserable.
Then one night when I was lying awake in bed it dawned on me that there was no reason that I had to stay down there. Tim also had his issues with DC and missing home, but he was stuck in Grad School. If I didn't like it I couldn't just pack up and go back home any time I wanted. Ironically at about that time my supervisor took me out to lunch and told me that I wasn't exactly doing a bad job, but that I could be doing a whole lot better than I was. Tax season was coming up and they needed someone they could count on. He told me I should decide if I wanted to buckle down and do some serious work or if I wanted to move on and do something else. I politely told him that I wanted to move on and do something else, thank you very much. After my two weeks notice was up I packed back up and moved north.
Rather than going home to my parents I went directly to my fraternity house. I was so glad to be back that I was absolutely overwhelmed with feelings of love and affection for my brothers. It was easily the happiest time in my life.
Unfortunately this joyous time wound up being a prelude to what became the most miserable time in my life. I had no choice but to move back in with my parents, and while this was in no way an uncomfortable or stressful situation, neither was it all that enjoyable. After effectively living in the fraternity house for four years, and then living on my own in Washington DC, this was not at all where I wanted to be. And what made matters worse, I was having a very difficult time finding a job. Month after month went by, and I wasn't even getting any interviews, let alone job offers. Although frequent trips to the fraternity house eased the pain somewhat, this was easily the most unhappy time in my life.
Then, just as spring was starting to emerge, I got a call to interview for an entry-level programming position in Syracuse, NY. It wound up being a small family owned company that leased copy equipment and fax equipment to offices all across the country. The family had stumbled upon the leasing business early in the Reagan years when tax breaks made it ridiculously profitable, and they quickly became very rich. Within a couple weeks they made me a job offer and my life was back on track.
One of my fraternity brothers was already living in Syracuse, and he let me sleep on his floor while I looked for my own place. Since neither of us really had any other friends in town we became quite close over the following months. We would go out on Friday nights and travel together on frequent trips to the fraternity house. Work was going well and I was making more than enough money to get by. For the first time since I graduated from college, life was good.
Less than a year after I was hired, the manager of the computer department moved on to another job. His successor did a good job, but was much more an accountant than a computer programmer and didn't stay in the position too long. Having been with the company for only a year and a half, I found myself promoted into the position. This was a tremendous opportunity for me, but I had nowhere near the experience I needed to do the job adequately, and I quickly found myself in over my head. The family that owned the company, while financially successful, had no real idea how to run a company and manage people. This made my job very difficult. Beyond that, the information system I had to manage was a jumbled mess of spaghetti code that was riddled with bugs and errors. I was getting very stressed and my mental health began to suffer. Frequent trips to the fraternity house were one of the few things that kept me sane.
At around this time another one of my fraternity brothers landed a job doing computer programming for Cornell University. He would tell me what a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere it was to work in, and how there were always all sorts of high tech goodies to play with. The more he told me about it the more attractive it sounded. The next time they were hiring he told me to apply. Although I knew it would mean a significant pay cut, I enthusiastically sent in a resume. A few months later I was hired.
As soon as I started working at Cornell I knew it was a move in the right direction. The contrast from a relatively new, family owned company to a venerable institution was remarkable. When people at work would complain about how unpleasant it was to work there, I would tell them in no uncertain terms that they didn't know how good they had it. My mental health quickly began to return.
But hand in hand with one of the best decisions I ever made was one of the most questionable. The fraternity brother who introduced me to the job also suggested that we get an apartment together. He had built a reputation in the house as someone who was difficult to live with, but I took him up on his offer anyway. The elation of a wonderful work environment was soon tempered by a dreadful living environment. He proved to be an absolute nightmare to live with. I would say that he was inconsiderate, but that supposes that he considered my feelings and ignored them. This individual behaved as if I had no feelings to be considered. Or, more to the point, he behaved as if I didn't even exist at all. It was as if the world was just a dream he was having, and he could do whatever he wanted because nothing was real anyway.
When the lease was finally up in the apartment with my nightmare roommate, I got the hell out of there and never looked back. At this point I decided to give mobile home living a try. I found a trailer for rent in a respectable trailer park that was very close to campus. It provided me a space of my own that was quite inexpensive, and I wound up enjoying it very much. Finally my professional peace was matched with domestic peace. Once again, life was good. But by this time I was so much in the habit of making frequent trips to the fraternity house that continued to do so, even in the absence of an excuse to get away.
It was around this time that one of my fellow alumni got his hands on a video camera. At the time the technology was still relatively new, and it was an immense novelty. A handful of us shared his interested in playing around with video production. We would get together when we could and whip up improvised productions, later to be edited by dubbing directly from the camera onto a VCR. I wasn't as spontaneously witty as some of the others were, but I quickly learned that I had a knack for creating characters and adopting accents. I'd never really acted outside of High School productions, but suddenly it seemed very natural to me. As soon as I could afford it I bought a video camera of my own and began directing my own productions.
Not long after that I underwent a change that would prove to be more profound than I could have ever imagined, and the genesis came from an unexpected place. I had started watching MTV's new show "The Real World" because one of the cast members was a hot muscle guy (Eric). Towards the end of the season they began to advertise that they were looking for people to be on the next show. I didn't think much of it at first, but then it hit me. Way back somewhere in my primitive brain I had unconsciously cultured the assumption that people who were on TV must be more talented than I was, because they were on TV and I wasn't (remember, this was long before the Reality TV phenomenon took hold). But thinking about auditioning for the 2nd season of Real World sparked a revelation. None of the kids on that show had anything I didn't have. I was as interesting and entertaining as any of them were, and here they were on TV and becoming household names. For that matter, I was probably as talented or more talented as most of the morons I did see on TV. From that moment on I was infected with the unshakable notion that I could get on TV if I wanted to, or that I could otherwise become famous.
I did submit a photo and a letter of application to MTV, but I was rejected. This left me wondering how I could go about becoming famous. I continued producing humorous video short subjects with my fellow fraternity alumni, but that would never lead anywhere. I had a plan to get involved with the local Public Access studio and produce what could be used as audition tapes. I actually had a number of ideas that weren't bad. Alas, I continued to procrastinate on actually taking their training and that never got going.
In the mean time my job was going fine and I was enjoying living in the mobile home trailer. It was so inexpensive that in a couple years I had saved up enough money for a down payment on a house. Rather than some nice, new home in town, I decided to look for someplace with a lot of land all by itself out in the country. I did a lot of drive-by's without much luck, until I chanced upon an old farm house that had a small cemetery practically right in the back yard. I knew instantly that it had potential. It turned out to have about 35 acres of pasture, woods, brush, swamp, and even had a little creek running along one side. I was sold. The closing wound up being just a couple weeks before my lease in the mobile home was up. The timing couldn't have been more perfect.
Having my own home was fantastic. What I liked most about it was the privacy. I had 35 acres to stretch out in. My immediate neighbors, a couple with a son who'd just graduated High School, were friendly but knew how to leave me alone. And I could disappear off into my land any time I wanted. Being a first-time homeowner I wasn't sure of the kinds of things I should be doing. I wasn't all that interested in furnishings. In fact the house remained quite barren for the first several years I lived in it. Friends who would visit said I wasn't a homeowner, I was a squatter. The first Winter was also a bit of a challenge. The house was old and drafty. I was able to keep it relatively warm with the wood stove in the kitchen, but I kept the thermostat down to save money, and it was always cold. By the second summer I'd gotten myself a John Deer lawn tractor. I could finally tackle the considerable grounds keeping requirements of the property, but it was a big chore.
It was during this time that the world wide web started hitting the fan. While surfing one day I found a young guy in Boston who said he was looking for models to photograph. Thinking that maybe this could lead somewhere, and just that it might be fun, I let him know I was game. He wrote back and said that he was interested. I took a little vacation time and rode my motorcycle out there. We spent the better part of the day together and he took lots of photos of me. Most of them were pretty basic stuff, but a lot of them were nudes.
After I got home he sent me proof sheets, which I promptly scanned into the computer. My first instinct was to take the best of these pictures, including the explicit nudes, and create an online portfolio. Thus, this web site was born. When I discovered that I could take decent pix of myself using the office's Connectix QuickCam (a primitive black & white webcam), I started taking self-pix at a feverish pace and posting the best on the site. In an attempt to balance out the countless naked pix I was doing, I started adding autobiographical essays. The site continued to grow into what it is today.
For the most part, this web site was merely a hobby and a vehicle for my emerging exhibitionism. I hoped it would open some doors for me in my quest for fame. I did enjoy a modicum of notoriety. I was listed on Men On The Net back when they only had one page of listings. I was contacted by badpuppy.com who wanted me to pose for their site, although that never happened. I was contacted by a guy who was actually in the filmmaking industry. We had a lot of email exchanges, but in the end it went nowhere.
What was really interesting were all the personal emails that I started to get from people around the world. They ranged from "Who do you think you are?" to "Oh my God you're hot!" to an honest artistic appreciation for my work.
One of the people who emailed me was a guy in NYC named HowieJ. Unlike most of the brief email exchanges, HoweJ and I became email buddies and wrote back and forth rather extensively. He encouraged me to pursue my video interests, and told me about a film festival called MIX-NYC. This was the inspiration I needed. I finally got off my ass and took the training at the Public Access studio. My student project was an outlandish little piece called Pard' Me. HowieJ invited me to come down to the city to attend the MIX festival. I could stay at his place and avoid an expensive hotel bill. He also told me to bring along Pard' Me, as the festival had a Gong Show program where people could submit videos on the spot. I took him up on his offer and attended the festival. I submitted Pard' Me for the Gong Show and wound up with 3rd place.
The festival completely changed my outlook on what I was doing with video. I could see what other people were doing, and based on the production values and the content I saw, I was confident that I could produce work of commensurate quality. Over the following year I worked on a big and elaborate production, but wound up submitting an eight minute one-man character monologue called G*I*J*O. While I personally liked the piece, I thought it was a long shot to be accepted. But much to my surprise, it was! I returned to the city the following year to attend the screening. While it had been fun attending the festival the year before, I had been an ordinary Joe. This year I was attending as an exhibiting filmmaker, and it was absolutely exhilarating. My film was screened in a very good program, and it got a great response. It was an amazing experience.
I returned home pretty much thinking that was that. Much to my surprise I started getting contacted by other festivals who wanted the video to screen at their festival. This was something I simply hadn't considered. I started to do some research on what other festivals were out there, and submitted it to a number of them. In the end it screened at various locations in America, Canada, Mexico, and even Germany. This inspired me to produce more.
From that point on I continued to produced more work. MIX-NYC was always very good about accepting my submissions. I also continued to submit to other festivals around the world, but that wound up being a very tedious process and labor-intensive process. It also wasn't cheap. On top of materials, packaging, and shipping, there were also the submission fees. And more often than not I would get rejected. Within a couple years I pretty much just submitted to MIX and left it at that.
While all of this was a lot of fun and personally gratifying, it wasn't getting me any closer to landing real work in the film industry. Every so often I would come up with some ridiculous idea of how to get myself some national exposure. The reality TV craze offered a lot of opportunities, but I didn't like how that tended to play out. All I saw of reality TV personalities were appearances on Weakest Link and Dog Eat Dog.
Eventually my attentions shifted more towards writing. I was doing less and less photography and video production, but I'd been writing more and more. In the Fall of 2004 I arranged for a leave of absence from Cornell to go live in Palm Springs and work on my first novel. It was not easy. After years of writing autobiogrphaical essays, I found fiction writing to be so entirely alien that I wasn't sure how to work through it. I only got about 10,000 words written before my time was up and I had to return to my job at Cornell.
When I got back, I realized that my time in Palm Springs and the whole story surrounding it was much more interesting than the story I was trying to concoct, so I wrote a memoir documenting the experience. It was the first time in my life I was able to sustain a large-scale writing effort. By the time I was done with the first draft, it was over 160,000 words! But I decided not to try to get it published. There were just too many issues revolving around protecting people's privacy. It also needed a tremendous amount of work before it would be ready to even show to a publisher, and frankly I was sick to death of the whole story. Some day I will return to it. Not today.
Instead I decided to pursue a work of pure fiction. The work I did in Palm Springs taught me a lot about writing fiction, and I was ready for another go at it. Rather than continue on with that project, though, I chose to start an all new story from scratch. I felt much better prepared to tackle the fiction writing, but it was a real challenge to get back into the habit of writing on a regular basis. After a few fits and starts, I think I've finally gotten into a comfortable and sustainable routine.
That's where the story stands today. At the time of this writing, I'm making slow but steady progress as I chip away at the story. It is my intention to get it finished and get it published, but for the time being I'm must enjoying the ride and taking gratification from the creative process itself. If I get it finished, and if I get it published, and if it brings me some degree of notoriety or leads to greater opportunities, then so much the better. If not, then at least I'll have the self-satisfaction of having created something I'm happy with.