April 24, 2012

Happy Days Are Here Again - Barbra at 70 !

To celebrate Barbra Streisand's 70th Birthday, I am reposting my most popular blog entry. The story was of me actually winning a contest to meet Hello Gorgeous, Barbra, The Greatest Star! I was so impressed with the outpour of love for Barbra & also for me on winning. I was overwhelmed with good wishes sent to me for my then upcoming wedding! My Blog was read & shared by people from ALL OVER THE WORLD... OMG, who wouldda thought?!

I've updated it slightly & added some photos & videos of my Mama saying hello to Barbra & singing her birthday greetings. Mama is a hoot & there's even a new blog about us dealing with her Dementia called "Dementia-Mama-Drama", check it out. I do hope you enjoy reading my once in a lifetime experience & the updated version... Happy Birthday Barbra & Thanks Again! You were a delight.

So what do you do when you finally get a chance to meet a celebrity you've admired your entire life? I am not a fanatic, but Barbra's career has been important & meaningful to me ever since I can recall. Lines from her movies & songs are a part of my daily vocabulary. "Don't tell me not to live just sit & putter..."

I have a connection to her through her work, since that has been the extent of it. I was never fortunate enough to see (or been able to afford) one of her rare live concerts. We both are from New York & have a similar rhythm that comes from being native New Yorkers. I learned to question things & see things differently because she made me aware of these options at a very young age, so I am forever grateful to her for that. "Papa, can you hear me? Try to understand me..."

As you may have read in my previous post, I won a contest through Sony Records to coincide with the release of Barbra's latest recording "What Matters Most". It was called The Barbra Streisand Flyaway Sweepstakes & I was chosen to meet Barbra Streisand in Vegas on the set of her latest movie - "My Mother's Curse". There was ONE winner & it was ME!!! OMG! "It's gonna be a great day..."

(Since then the film has been retitled "The Guilt Trip" & the release date has been changed to November 2012).

Sooooooooo, what the hell do you say to an icon when you finally get to meet them? I had a list of things I would say, but I was just overwhelmed with emotion & was not able to do my "checklist". The first glimpse I caught of her is when she appeared on the set. I was about 20 feet away from her & I could not believe I was actually watching Barbra shooting a scene & I was gonna meet her in a few minutes. My armpits were wet, my mouth was dry, my lips were tense & I was doing my deep breathing to help calm me down for what seemed like an eternity. "There are moments you remember all your life. There are moments you wait for and dream of all your life. This is one of those moments..."

During a break in the filming, she looked my way & rushed towards me, almost tripping over the velvet rope pointing & saying - "Ohhhhh, you must be the winner!" & she extended her hand towards me. Holy shit!!! She came towards ME & spoke to ME. (And yes her hands were incredibly soft "like butter"). I was almost at a loss for words, which is a first for those of you that know me. I introduced myself & she was "sweet as pie" to me. We talked about her upcoming album, I told her I enjoyed one of the cuts, she asked which one & I hummed a few lines. (I hummed to Barbra)! OMG!!! I wished her Mazel Tov on the success of her yet to be released CD. When I told her that SHE was my first wedding gift, she looked at me like - whaddya tawkin' 'bout, kid? I explained that my partner of many years & I will finally be "allowed" to get married & we were returning to NYC to do it! She then wished us lots of luck & said that it was "about time" & how happy she was for us. She immediately asked her photographer to take our pictures (she was truly excited for us), but he suggested to shoot on the set, since the lighting was better. We walked over to the set together, which was in Caesar's Palace lobby in Las Vegas. I said "Wait a minute, I wanna get my good side". She looked at me & said "Which is your good side"? I said "you tell me, you're the director". She laughed. OMG! I made Barbra Streisand laugh AND congratulate me all within a few minutes. She was so warm, engaging & real. 

After the photo shoot, she told me to ..."stick around for as long as I want to...". Wow!!! She liked me, she really liked me! But I was thinking -  "Nicky Arnstein, Nicky Arnstein... I'll never see her again." NOT true, I was on & off the set for the rest of the night & was even asked if I wanted to be in a scene taking place at the slot machines (OMG, yesss)! 

Somewhere in between all that, I had gathered up the courage to ask if I could get some vintage magazines autographed that I had brought with me. She not only personally signed them, she signed them in the specific color markers I requested!!! WTF? "Extra, extra I'm in love. I'm gonna thank my lucky stars above..."

At the end of the night, which slowly turned into early morning, I was exhausted. I was leaving the set when Barbra's publicist asked "are you leaving already"? I said it's really late & it was a full day for me, BUT if Barbra wants to have a glass of champagne when she wraps filming, I'll head back downstairs immediately!!! The anticipation, the preparation, the planning, the traveling, the uncertaintly, the meeting, the conversation, the photos, the laughter, all "the memories" made it truly a once in a lifetime experience & I knew that I was extremely lucky. I mean "How lucky can you get?" And as Barbra said in "Yentl"... "Nothing is impossible". She was right... once again!

April 16, 2012

Women's Conference in Suburbia as Told by a NYC Man

Vin & Patricia V. Davis
I was very honored that a former teacher, Patricia V. Davis, author of "The Diva Doctrine" & President of Harper Davis Publishers invited me to be a guest blogger & interviewer at "The Women's Power Strategy Conference." My first thought was I wouldn't fit in...  I'm a man & a displaced New Yorker who blogs about nyc2suburbia! Well I was wrong, not that I am a man, but that I certainly did fit in. It was a day full of panels, presentations & vendors (oh yeah & a pretty darn good lunch). I thought I'd be the only man, but I wasn't. The goal of the event to "educate, inspire & believe in your own talent & potential" was Universal. We all feel isolated, displaced or lost in one way or another at some point in our lives. We all struggle to fit in, find happiness, contentment & hopefully find ourselves in the process!

Joe Klocek, one of the moderators & honorees, is a friendly, outgoing comedian who likes to call himself "a square peg in a round hole." We got along right away, after all, remember I AM a displaced New Yorker living in Suburbia ~ so I asked Joe why he left the Midwest to live in San Francisco. He told me he moved with his family but would have left eventually, Suburbia wasn't his thing.

I was curious what's the difference between playing to an audience in a City as compared to Suburbia. Joe said that in the City he can be more aggressive, less "safe" with his material & express opinions more freely. Wow - my sentiments exactly! He said San Francisco is very PC & intelligent & that they usually take a beat or two to react to jokes ~ thinking whether or not it is PC to laugh. I find this so true whenever attending theatre in SF & now I know the reason!

My last question for Joe was "is there a joke that can't loose anywhere... Suburbia OR the City?" He looked at me with a perfectly straight face & said you always get laughs anywhere with dick jokes. He was right again ~ I cracked up. You can visit Joe at www.standupjoe.com

Listening & Writing & Tweeting - Oh My!
I was very interested in interviewing Niko Volonakis, who is a very creative independent filmmaker, writer, actor & composer. Wow, talk about a Renaissance Man! What grabbed me most about Niko was his film titled "Hate Your City." I related to this immediately since I am a displaced New Yorker & I write about how challenging it is for me "Surviving Suburbia". I wouldn't say "I Hate Suburbia" but you can see the analogy & I try not to use the word hate. I hate that, don't you? I just hate when people hate. (Okay, I got a chuckle outta that!) Niko was busy most of the day taking photos & multitasking, plus he was on a panel, so our time together was very limited. You can visit his site vimeo.com/nikovolonakis & check out his work.

Listening to Jennifer Gennari, a writer & speaker, was very touching. She was promoting her book "My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer" about bullying. She explained that bullying can stop by just stepping in & that we should all do our part. After all, who wasn't bullied as a kid? Remember how awful you felt? I certainly do! I don't know how I survived it, but suicide never entered my mind! I was a "triple threat" when it came to bullying... I was Fat, I was Gay & I disliked sports! I know some of you may think "Oh, he can sing, dance & act!" (Sorry, I gotta keep myself amused!) Jenn explained that you need to be assertive & stand up for yourself, but that being different can make you a target. We should all have the courage to be ourselves, "it's okay to be different." Brava Jen! Check out her site www.jengennari.com.

Patricia V. Davis & Malissa Feruzzi Shriver
The Keynote Speaker was Malissa Feruzzi Shriver, who is a California Arts Council Chair & Founder of Feruzzi Fine Art. From the moment she started speaking I was impressed & felt a kinship. She shared many personal experiences that most of us have felt at one time or another ~ not being quite good enough, the need to please & the need to be loved for being ourselves. She always questioned what people were thinking of her & felt "outside of herself". She was fat as a child & had eating disorders later in life. She was able to rid herself of her self doubt many years later. Malissa's advice was to "take risks & be brave, being brave pays off in life." She suggests to do something everyday that scares you.

I was amazed at how honest & open she was in telling her story. Her story is about being vulnerable & about her healing. She was inspiring to me & I felt like she was telling my story. Starting out as a fat kid with an Italian background, to becoming an artist/designer, to wanting to be loved/accepted & even now as I am still trying to "fit in" Suburbia. Oy, does it ever stop?

Malissa was also promoting a great program of The California Arts Council which is a joint project with The Department of Motor Vehicles called Art Plates (see photo) & was designed to solely benefit the Arts in schools. The website can be found at http://www.artsplate.org. Thank you, Malissa!

I met & spoke to many interesting & talented people at The Convention, too many to mention, but a special shout out to Evan Bailyn, Vicki Larson & Hyla Molander. What a great group of people! And lest I forget, the very supportive Patricia V. Davis whose site can found at www.patriciavdavis.com.

At the end of the day, even though I am a New Yorker, I was not displaced & I fit in this Suburban Event. Being a Man at The Women's Power Strategy Conference was just secondary... it was jam packed with Universal messages for all. Who knew???

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