Sunday, May 11, 2014

A few lessons she taught me....that stuck!

On this Mother's Day, I find myself a bit reflective.  I am a first-time Mom, and as per the universal rule of "life's not fair," I am experiencing every joyous moment of this journey without my Mom by my side to guide me.  Some days, I find this incredibly frustrating...wanting to kick and scream like the baby I once was.  Although, other days, I feel like I'm getting to know my Mom all over again.  I imagine what her sleepless nights felt like.  I think about how she must have reacted the first time I said mama.  I can almost visualize her smiling over me in my crib.  Mostly, I marvel at the fact that she did it THREE times and was able to divide her attention and care between the three of us.  How?  Beside the fact that she's basically a walking, freaking miracle, she taught us lessons that inspired independence, self-reliance, and ultimately helped us become responsible for ourselves.  On this Mother's Day, I share some of these lessons with you...

1) To Thine Own Self Be True - I remember one day in high school, I was trying out for a leadership position on my dance team.  As part of the try-out, I was going to be asked how I would deal with team members smoking and drinking.  Now, we all know that every generation of teenagers pushes their boundaries, and I was no different.  Back then, in order to maintain "popular" cred, you partied on the weekends which, in my experience, meant throwing back a few wine coolers and smoking my Mom's Virginia Slims (she was no dummy - she knew).  Anyway, when asking my mother how to answer this "trick question," I explained that it was my understanding that real leadership meant not copping out to difficult questions.  However, I further expressed my fear that I would lose the coveted "Colonel" position if I answered honestly; that smoking and drinking in high school was pretty much par for the course and perhaps more of an issue that should be handled at home rather than at school.  Later that day, after we both had time to ponder it, she taped a piece of paper to the refrigerator and walked away. I knew it had to be something of enormous magnitude since she used tape (permanent) and not a magnet (a place holder).  Curious, I walked over to see what the paper said...."To Thine Own Self Be True."  I stared at that paper for what seemed like an hour trying to understand what this meant.  It landed!  When the dreaded question was posed to me, "Martha, how would you prevent team members from smoking and drinking," I replied, "I don't think I can. As Colonel of this dance team, I would focus on anything and everything related to the team.  However, I believe issues like smoking and drinking aren't my place to deal with." With that, I felt true and honest to my convictions.  I was certain that they would see my honesty as leadership.  I was wrong.  While I did win the lower rank of "Captain," I did not achieve my goal of being head honcho #1.  After getting over the initial sting, I eventually found gratitude and self-respect in that position because I earned it by staying true and not compromising my beliefs. Right or wrong, I didn't lie, I didn't "fake it," and overall I did gain the respect of my team anyway.  Without saying a word, my mother taught me what I believe to be the most important lesson in life.

2) You ARE your word! - My mother was a big fan of the word NO.  "Mom, can you take me to the mall on Saturday night?" No! "Mom, will you buy me that new stereo?" No! "Mom, can I get a tattoo?" Hell No! I seriously felt like I could never get a yes from this woman.  Yet, in the rare instance she said yes to something, then come hell or high water, it was a sure thing!  Through the years, I remember several times seeing my mom disappointed or let down by others and the empty promises they made to her. Perhaps sadly, she was never surprised by this though.  My mom has always been a "one strike and your out" kind of gal.  If you didn't keep your word, that was all she needed to know about you. To this day, this lesson is gospel to me.  It is OK to say to no to anything and everything I can't or don't want to do. I'm comfortable with that. But if I say yes, it's a YES.  I will be there! I will do that! You can count on that!

3) Family loyalty is your core - We all have disagreements with members of our family.  Sometimes these differences are fundamentally significant.  Sometimes, these differences would be considered "deal breakers" with anyone outside of our family. What's the old adage? "You can't choose your family?"  No matter matter how much you may disagree, disapprove or disallow, FAMILY IS BLOOD! We are all products of the same ancestry; a lineage of talents, beliefs and lifestyles. We are one.  There is no outside force that will ever penetrate the deep bond and cosmic ligature of family.  ...and if you want to join our family, do so with conviction! Once you're in, you're IN.

4) Focus on the work! (Not the outcome) - This is a lesson that has resurfaced in great magnitude for me lately.  As a creative person, an artist, an entrepreneur, I am in a constant pattern of conceiving and actualizing ideas.  In a place like Hollywood, it's especially easy to get carried away with "what if's..".  What if I sell my idea to a network and become an executive producer?  What if I write a pilot and it becomes the next big thing on HBO?  What if I book this acting gig, and I win an Emmy? We all struggle to compartmentalize these thoughts of grandeur so our ego's don't self combust.  I have found, and learned from my mom, that the best way to do that is to focus solely and completely on the work.  If every ounce of energy is focused on the product alone, the rest has a real chance of coming to fruition.  In the same vein, my mother taught me that while I should always set high goals for myself, I should never feel entitled to success JUST because I worked hard. There is a linear causation between hard work and success, yes. But it's still not a guarantee that you'll get the payoff you want.  **She was always fond of reminding me that "only stupid people wait for things to fall in their laps."

5) Life is short/You can't take it with you - My mother has been ill for as long as I can remember.  She was diagnosed with MS in 1982, and then with Frontal Temporal Dementia in 2008 (which she is in the final stages of).  She has never ever let it get in the way of anything she wanted to do though.  In fact, quite the opposite.  While her disease(s) have been a huge part of her experience in life, I believe it really motivated her to take every bull she encountered by the horns, so to speak. She has always been the kind of woman that acted in the immediate.  She didn't really ever put things off. When she wanted something material, she bought it. When she wanted to spend time with her friends, she did.  When she wanted to go somewhere, she went.  She was good with money but sometimes would splurge on things for us.  I remember her devious smile when she would knowingly spend too much money on unnecessary goodies.  If anyone questioned her spending, she would follow it up with a defiant shrug and say, "you can't take it with you!"

These lessons are at the core of who I am, and I hope to be able to pass them down to my daughter.  There is no other love that is comparable to the love between a mother and her daughter.  I am so blessed to be able to share that love with Charley now.  Thank you Mommy for making me a good Mom too!

Happy Mother's Day.

Monday, December 31, 2012

My year end review: 2012: The Clean Up

While I can't say 2012, in its entirety, was particularly better or worse than the last few years, "the drama" has slowed down enough for me to catch up and clean up! The years since the beginning of the recession have seemed to drag on for me at a painful pace, and at times, simply spiral out of control. However, for the first time in a long time, much of 2012 felt like the figurative "light at the end of the tunnel" was only about 5 feet in front of me. However, no matter how fast I ran towards it, it kept moving forward too. Until recently.

Towards the end of this year, I had a string of days/weeks in a row where I actually found myself a bit uncomfortable with the reality that my mind was quiet, my family settled, by business operating smoothly, my marriage solid, my creativity flowing...and to be honest, it freaked me out a little bit. I felt like I needed to be very still, so as not to interrupt this awkward contentment or by some strange flick of the wrist initiate the other shoe dropping. Today, New Year's Eve 2012, I'm still sitting still. I'm breathing a few well-deserved breaths and taking stock of the last year and the whirlwind of events it has blown through my life.

In January of this year, my mother took a turn for the worse. She has had MS for most of my life, but several years ago, we realized that her cognitive condition was not being caused by that. In 2008, she was diagnosed with FTD (Frontal Temporal Dementia). Just after celebrating her 60th birthday (on January 8th - aka "Elvis' birthday), her symptoms became more pronounced. My sisters and I knew the time had come to move her into a facility that could care for her better than we could. Some of you may know the pain, the guilt, the sadness that comes along with something like this, and as much as I tried to prepare myself for how that would feel, I simply had no idea. Moving her into a place where she adamantly did not want to go, moving her things out of the house that we built for her, seeing her entire life stuffed into a small storage unit, as if there were some chance she would come back to get it all....these are events and realizations that change a person. I think that in my life thus far, this was the hardest week I had ever lived. Thankfully, I knew how lucky I was that I could go through these motions and still get to hug her, to smell her perfume and look her in the eye to say I love you.

Following this period of time, I started to see how out of whack my priorities were. There's nothing quite like boxing up an entire lifetime of memories to make you see how empty yours might look in comparison. I realized that I had been spending nearly every ounce of energy, every second of my day trying to maintain a business that, for all intents and purposes, just never should have been open to begin with. In previous blogs, I've written about the struggles we had with the city of Los Angeles while opening my restaurant, Henry's Hat. While the restaurant was a success and people loved it, our legal and zoning battles shoved us in a financial hole that was basically impossible to climb out of. After numerous attempts, countless fights, and killing any ego I had left, my husband and I decided that it just wasn't worth it anymore. Someone else could literally walk in, debt free, and make a great living from the business we created. A very hard pill to swallow.  But we did it. We sold it. While it was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made, I felt like (for the first time in a long time) I made the right decision. Almost immediately, life got a little easier. I got one step closer to that 'light at the edge of the tunnel,' and to top it off, we ultimately saved the 45 jobs we created by selling and not just closing our doors. It hurt, but I finally found some peace in the process.

After the purge of some of these majorly stressful stimuli in my life, I had a quick but fun period of blessings come through my summer....I got a new manager who seemed to take a real interest in my acting career, I had two, long-time regular Henry's Hat patrons hook me up with 10th row-center tickets to "Book of Mormon" on Broadway (these amazing people also got me an autographed poster from Matt Stone and Trey Parker - incredible), I celebrated my 5th wedding anniversary to the man of my dreams, and even garnered my very first Emmy Nomination as a producer on the web hit, "The Bay!" This was the first moment of 2012 where I stopped, took a quizzical look around and skeptically thought, "could the worst be over?"..."Are we approaching a new normal?" I almost felt guilty or that I was somehow jinxing myself for having such an inconceivable thought. I also realized that most of these things (minus the Book of Mormon awesomeness), had not just fallen in my lap. As my mother would have said, these were results of "making it happen." I really only noticed this in retrospect, but I realized then and there that perhaps this was the way to actually REACH the light at the tunnel's end.

With a combination of that "make it happen" spirit, my incredibly supportive and motivating circle of friends and family, my genius IQ husband - AJ, and a few key investors, we made a few more things happen. Earlier this year, we raised a large chunk of change to start a new business, called After 4 years of owning/operating 3 restaurants in a depressed financial market, we saw the need for a way to control our costs (ie: when you can't increase revenue, you have to cut costs). So, ChefSheet is the very first, completely FREE, cloud-based inventory management smartphone/tablet app on the market. In addition to it's main function of inventory management, we also patented the ability to share and compare prices across the market anonymously. The potential of this business is huge and the reward to other mom and pop shops like ours could mean the difference between staying open and closing it's doors. For us, it feels like a win win for everyone, and for me, it's a full circle moment with Henry's Hat.

Another blessing arrived in the form of....wait for it....drumroll....The Virgin Mary! Yes, the Virgin Mary! In October, I received a message from an incredibly talented director with whom I worked nearly a decade ago. She asked me to come to NYC and head up a cast of ladies in a dynamic and somewhat controversial play called, "Mary of New York." The play is not about the Biblical story surrounding the Virgin Mary, but simply about a mother who lost her son...about a woman who gave up her youth to raise this son.....about a woman who took on the most monumental responsibility without a question or a complaint. Honestly, the experience reminded me of how strong my mother used to be, about how strong I could be, about how afraid of having children I am, and that I DEFINITELY ALWAYS want to be an actress! It was so fulfilling, so educational, so inspiring. (**To the Carny Girls of NYC, I am in awe of you and so grateful you gave me such an amazing and creative experience. I am certain I am a better actress because of you!**)

Finally, my last "make it happen" moment of 2012 was recently completed. I set out to write a script about a vision I had last year when someone asked me (shortly after selling HH) what I wanted to do now with "all my time." My answer was something like, "well I was happiest when I was dancing, but I'm 30-something (cough cough) now and I probably can't do a lot of that stuff anymore." From there, my script began to take form. My secret (well, not anymore) wish is that someday, you will see it on TV. Until then, I have written a script. It is mine. It will always be mine. It was hard. I was scared, but I did it. And it feels soooo good! 

Here are a list of some things I am grateful for at this year's end....
-My husband
-My friends (especially the strong ones)
-My siblings
-My parents (all 3 of them)
-Good health
-My home (particularly my bed)
-New York City
-Tinkle lights
-My computer
-My agent and manager
-Our investors/ChefSheet
-President Obama
-Mario Batali
-The Dalai Lama
-The Carny Girls
-Our continued prosperity

I've decided for 2013 not to make any resolutions. I'm simply looking forward to a year of peace, stability, rebuilding, re-connecting and being grateful for the people in my life who love me. Gratitude and humility will be my guiding compass for the year to come! Happy New Year!

"People say things like 'treat yourself, you deserve that vacation' or 'have that sticky toffee pudding, you only live once' and other things that suggest that being good to yourself is about allowing yourself immediate pleasure. There are difficult things that we can do for ourselves in the present that will provide peace and security over the long term. Perhaps these are the times we are really treating ourselves." ~ A.J. Gilbert

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Hunt - Part 2

Welcome back! Thank you for checking back in and forgive me for taking so long on this one. 

In my last blog, “The Hunt-Part 1,” I discussed my perspective on interviewing candidates for the restaurant business.  This got me thinking about my many decades on “the other side” of the interview.  I’m an actress.  I’ve been auditioning for roles in everything from commercials, to theatre, to TV and film, to live industrials, to student films, to web series…you name it….I’ve auditioned for it.  I started acting when I was a little girl.  In those days, all anyone had to do was start a sentence with, “Martha, we want you to pretend to be…..” and it was ON!  No fear, no reservations, so sense of rejection or imminent disappointment if I wasn’t doing it “right.”  It was just a fun game to play….and at that time in my life it always seemed to end well.  I often got the gig which meant I got to wear fun costumes, put on make-up and get a ton of positive attention and affirmation from strangers, friends and family alike.  It felt awesome, and I wanted more……

As I got a little older, I began to experience some rejection in the audition room.  Landing the part wasn’t as easy as it was before….the adoration of my peers and teachers was more difficult to gauge…..I started experiencing doubt in myself!  I remember auditioning for a huge show for the Disney channel when I was about 10 years old.   I knew that this was a BIG audition, as it was my third time to be called in for it!  For the first time, I began to understand what pressure meant.  My mom was nervous which, quite frankly, scared me.  As I sat in front of the green screen with a camera in my face, lights heating my hair, I distinctly remember feeling like I better not blow it.  The script was dialogue intensive, but without fail, I got through it all in the first try.  I confidently looked over to see my acting coach rolling her eyes in disbelief.  I didn’t understand why she looked so frustrated….I didn’t drop any lines, the director was smiling……and then she signaled to me from behind the camera…..I guess I rubbed my nose during the monologue.  Later she would tell me that by scratching my nose, it seemed like I wasn’t “engaged.”  My response was a simple yet quizzical, “ok.”  I would not come to understand what that meant until years later.  Oh, and unsurprised after witnessing my coaches clear disappointment, I learned I didn’t get the part.  That one left a mark, so to speak.

“Connecting,” “Engaging,” “Relating,” “Listening,” “Reacting,” are all words that are used by acting teachers everywhere when trying to advise young thespians on their craft.  Throughout years of scene study, audition technique, and cold-reading classes, I’ve learned the importance of “being in the moment.”  I’ve always been taught that in order to adequately portray a writers’ true will, one must be willing to actually BELIEVE his/her own circumstances when acting them out.  For me to do this properly, at least three things need to happen. 1) I need to “assign” certain real life experiences to the fabricated ones so that they have personal meaning to me 2) The other people in the scene need to BELIEVE too, 3) My environment needs to be one of trust and creative freedom.  The second and third ones are where I get screwed up….audition rooms are almost never comfortable, and with the clock ticking and people lining up in the waiting room, there is almost never time to express more than 90 seconds of creative freedom.  With that being said, being prepared is key.  The only things you can do to prepare are to “get off book” (ie; know your lines…and everyone else’s for that matter), and “know your beats” (understand the arc of the scene and when/where the direction changes).  Aside from those basic scene study lessons, there is not much else you can do to prepare.  There are probably close to 300 casting offices in LA alone.  Most actors are lucky to get into even half of those.  So, it’s safe to say that, fairly often, an actor is entering an unfamiliar space with unfamiliar people in order to deliver a relatively unfamiliar scene with a “reader” who is usually someone who will read the other lines with as much enthusiasm as Ben Stein in “Ferris Buellers Day Off.”  This can be both unnerving and distracting.  In a very short allotment of time, you need to get comfortable, focused and confident while delivering a freshly learned scene to a complete stranger better than you’ve ever performed it in your life…..mind you, all while “sucking in,”  “keeping your shoulders back,” and “angling to your good side.”  This is something I have yet to master!  My awareness of this fact is probably why I have had so much trouble with this process.

In recent years, booking an acting job is quite like pooping diamonds…..meaning, it’s a sheer freaking miracle!  With the transition beginning between television and internet, a sustained decrease in box office and DVD sales, and all of the other economic horror of the last 4 years, studio budgets have been slashed and movie production, overall, is down considerably.  Because of this, movie actors are being offered TV Series roles, TV stars are being offered “guest star” roles, and all of us who were doing “guest star” roles are now doing “diddly squat.”  Shit rolls downhill, right?!  So, when I get the chance to audition for a “series regular” role (ie; a contract job), I do more than prepare…..I panic!  I also tend to over-think it.  For example, last year I was called to do an audition for a contract job on a soap opera.  I was so excited!! First and foremost, in this particular field, I felt some confidence knowing that I had worked well in this medium before.  I felt this gave me leverage.  In addition, I was skipping all the pre-reads, and going directly to read for the producers (the EP, the casting director and the Network VP of daytime programming would all be in attendance).  In this particular scene, there was a passionate kiss at the beginning of the scene, however, based on my past experiences of auditioning (with a reader), I was completely caught off guard when I walked into the EP’s office and saw one of the show’s veteran cast members waiting there to read with me.   My immediate thought was, “Oh shit! Do I make out with him or not?”  It felt inappropriate at the time, given that this was not a screen test.  I’ve heard countless horror stories of actors trying to make out with casting directors during auditions, so I wasn’t sure what to make of this kind of situation…..I was a seasoned soap actress (ie; I’ve made out with plenty of hot guys), he was a soap icon, and here we were sitting in front of one of the most famous show runners in the history of daytime television.  What do I do???  Well, I ultimately skipped the kiss which, turns out, he went in straight for.  The result; a very awkward mouth-dodge that most definitely was the WRONG CHOICE…..Ugh! Idiot!  I just kept saying to myself throughout the remainder of the scene “Idiot Idiot Idiot!!! Why didn’t you kiss him?!?!?”  Needless to say, the rest of the scene was far from “engaged”!      I, of course, was met with some choice words by my manager on my way home.  “They said you didn’t kiss him, and it was weird!?!” he said dumbfounded…..I just shook my head in disgrace and called it a day.  Lesson 1: “Be in the moment!” – Do the kiss!

Steve Jobs was once quoted as saying that “There are two types of people in the world; Creators and Destroyers.”  Now, as an actor, I can confirm that we “Creators” need constant affirmation.  Therefore, getting feedback is important.  When you open yourself up to feedback though, you have to be open to it being negative while still being able to learn and grow from it.  This is where the “Destroyers” would enter while self-righteously declaring, “You’ve got to have thick skin if you want to be an actor!”   Yes, that sounds so easy….but it just isn’t.  When you decide to try to become an actor, you have to find a way to reconcile that YOU are the product you’re selling.  This means that, when people don’t like the product (ie; you) or worse, they think it (ie; you) are deficient in some way, you have to be able to take that feedback and use it to “improve the product”(ie; yourself).  This is the fine line where negative feedback can feel very personal.  For example, I once went in for this TV guest role of a woman with a secret addiction to pain killers.  Her secret was discovered by her brother whom she hated.  The actual audition scene was where she fell apart….exposing her shame and guilt and disgust with herself.  Needless to say, to me, the thought of doing this part was probably equivalent to the characters’ need for her drugs.  I WANTED this part!  I put my whole heart and soul into this scene….I hired a coach to help me work it out, and I knew without question that this particular role fell squarely into my “sweet spot.”  When I entered the audition room, both casting directors complimented my prior work at my former job, so I knew they knew me already.  At that point, I felt very comfortable.  In my opinion, I was about to audition under the very best of circumstances.  When I finished my audition, my immediate thought was, “I nailed it!”  I was elated! The look on their faces seemed to confirm that they were “stunned” by my performance.  Well, not so fast!  Less than an hour later, my manager called me with the news!  They thought I was “over the top” and “they didn’t know what happened to me since they had seen me last.”  Now, I don’t know whether it was right or wrong of my manager to tell me this in so much detail.  However, what I do know is that this particular feedback scarred me both personally and professionally.  It made me realize that, perhaps, I was not as self-aware as I had always thought I was.  Maybe, I had gotten stale.  Maybe, they didn’t like the way I looked now?  It destabilized me…..literally knocked me off my feet.  Lesson 2: “Be in the moment” – Don’t overthink it!

Now, the next thing that many actors will come up against in Hollywood is “the callback.”  Being called back to audition a second or third time can mean only one thing.  As Sally Field so proudly declared while accepting her Oscar for “Places in the Heart”, “You like me! You really like me!”  The downside to being called back is that you inevitably get your hopes up.  This has never been truer for me than it was for the 6 consecutive weeks I was called back for a network drama.  As you see on TV, there is a new episode produced for these dramas every week for nearly half the year.  I had been bugging my manager to death trying to get me in to read for this particular one, and finally they called!  I remember specifically it was for the role of the victim who was being held captive in a closet by a deranged killer, and their only form of communication was to be made through an intercom.  There were two audition scenes, and they were intense.  The scenes called for the victim to try several different manipulative tactics to persuade her killer to set her free.  Now, this particular audition room was big, and as opposed to the usual 2 or 3 people, there were no less than 15 people in the room.  Lucky for me, I prefer a larger audience… keeps it less intimate, therefore, it’s less intimidating for me.  I felt good about this one! Flash forward to my manager calling to say they loved it, but they decided to go with someone else.  Obviously, I was terribly disappointed, but by this point in the game, it wasn’t a shock, and I was just thankful they didn’t hate me.  As luck would have it, they called me again the next week.  New role, new episode.  This time, I would have to play an upscale call-girl who was ultimately revealed to be the deranged killer of that episode.  Again, I had a good audition. Again, I didn’t get the part.  This cycle went on for four more weeks.  The last of the 6 weeks, I must admit, I was a bit exhausted by the process.  It was clear that they liked my work which is the very best thing an actress can hope for (and I was incredibly grateful for that reality)!  However, it was also clear that they didn’t ever ultimately choose to cast me.  This was the first and ONLY time that I was ever disappointed by getting called back so much!  It almost sounds ridiculous as I type this, but the feeling was very real.  While, perhaps, not rational, it felt like a tease!  In week 6, the final role was for a foster mother to a 10 year old blind boy.  I told my manager that I felt silly going in for a role that was clearly going to be cast with a more mature actress.  At the arguably still ripe age of 31, I didn’t feel like this was a role I could realistically play for a network audience.  She actually agreed with me, but she encouraged me to go anyway.  I knew it was the professional thing to do, but I had been so disappointed in my lack of ability to seal the deal, that I was ultimately losing my confidence.  I decided I would go anyway.  I arrived to a waiting room full of people that were at least a decade my senior.  I felt at that moment that my instincts had been right.  I actually considered leaving so as not to embarrass myself with an audition that was clearly out of my range.  However, I decided to stay and give it my best shot!  Low and behold, THIS would be the one I would book.  I seriously could NOT believe it!  It just seemed so unreal!  I was so relieved to have finally been chosen.  I had one of the very best weeks of my life that week shooting with such an amazing cast and crew!  It was a struggle to land it, but it was so worth the wait!  Lesson 3: “Be in the moment” – and always show up! 

Much like getting called back over and over, you never know if the work you’re doing today will lead to other work years from now.  In the entertainment industry, one of our “secret handshakes” is the “5 block rule.”  This rule applies to the idea that when you are headed to an audition, you should make a special effort to be very pleasant to anyone within a 5 block radius of the audition room.  The idea is that you never know who you may meet, or share an elevator with, or who may actually be the person deciding whether or not to hire you.  Therefore, it’s a good idea to be “your best self” within earshot of your audition destination.  The same idea applies to every single second you are on tape or film.  You never know if a scene you may be shooting today will be the ultimate “audition” for something in the future.  For example, I was recently temporarily cast on a soap opera to fill in for an actress who was extremely ill.  Now, the unusual thing about this particular “casting” is that I never auditioned for this role.  I can humbly say that while this may be the norm for many, more experienced actresses, this type of thing had never happened to me.  I had never been offered a role without an audition.  While I was at work at my restaurant, my agent called me to ask if I would consider dying my hair for a role that may only last a few days.  Of course, I said yes….to me, that’s a no-brainer.  When I asked what it was for, she became vague….not wanting to get my hopes up.  I could tell something was in the works, but I wasn’t sure what.  Then she asked if I had any pictures of myself with dark hair.  Knowing I didn’t, I told her I wasn’t sure.  I needed to check and get back to her.  I quickly called my sister-in-law who I knew was a pro at digital retouching and photo-shop and asked her if she could make my current headshot have brown hair.  In a flash, it was done, and I sent it to my agent.  It was then, that she told me what it was for and that the people in charge over there had decided to just offer me the job.  I was elated!  I seriously couldn’t believe it.  I couldn’t believe that they could feel confident in me simply from an altered picture.  It was only later that I learned that they had all sat down together to watch a scene on my reel (shot 3 years prior) where my character says goodbye to her dying father at his bedside.  I vividly remember shooting that particular scene, but it never occurred to me that at that moment I would actually be auditioning for a role that I would play 3 years later.  This was one of the highlights of my entire career! I was, and still am, a bit overwhelmed by that particular casting process!  Lesson 4: “Be in the moment” – It may count later.

Lastly, as those of us in the industry know all too well, looks DO matter!  This truth isn’t always as sinister as one may initially perceive it to be.  While I’ve spoken of my “weight issues” and “age issues” and how they’ve affected my employment in the past, it is also true that sometimes booking a job can rest on something as trivial as height, eye color, or hair color.  For example, when a casting director has already cast the lead female role, and I go in to read for her “sidekick”, it would stand to reason that I should not look the same as the person playing the lead.  If she’s blonde, I should probably not be blonde.  The same is true if the male lead has been cast, and he happens to be 5’ tall…..the woman they cast opposite him will likely not be 6’ tall and tower over him….and so on and so forth.  I recently had an experience with this.  After I finished that job where I had to dye my hair brown (it had, by then, faded to red), I was called to read for the lead role on a TV movie.  I felt that the audition had gone well, but I was second guessing myself as most of the girls that were waiting to audition were blonde (as is often the case with lead female “heroine” roles).  I was secretly pining for the blonde hair I had forfeited only weeks prior.  I knew that this would likely keep me from being considered for this part.  I was shocked to learn, later that day, that they wanted me to come back….but for a different, more “character-y” role.  This was a thrilling surprise, and I was so grateful for this consideration!  It is often times that the “character actors” get the best material anyway….the one liners, the funny reactions.  I rarely get called in for those types of roles, and since the movie was a comedy, this part had a ton of funny material.  I went back in, rolled up my sleeves, and threw down as much “hyper giddiness” as the role had called for.  We all had a good laugh!  In fact, I was blushing all the way out to my car!  This particular audition tickled the little kid in me.  I knew that no matter what the outcome, I had had a great day that day!  Obviously, I was beyond excited when I learned that I got the job…..and I was informed it was in part because I was a red head.  Since this was kind of an ensemble cast, my red hair weighed in on the decision so as to give all the different actresses a clearer identity.  We all had a distinct look, and with this being my first comedic role, I really felt like I was playing a completely different character than I had become accustomed.  So, Lesson 5: “Be in the moment” – Just go with it!

So, in my many years of working to master the craft of acting, I have also had to grow to respect the audition process.  Make no mistake; these are two completely different skillsets that are only related in the fact that an actor must nail the audition to be considered for the job.  In my opinion, they are unrelated in every other way.  I’ve met hundreds of actors, like myself, that are hard-working, empathetic, relatable, and direct-able, but they simply have a hard time jumping that audition hurdle.  If you suck in the audition room, you may not necessarily suck at the role.  If you nail the audition, you may not necessarily work well on set or in a group once you have the part.  While I believe it’s an imperfect process, it IS the process.  So, I must continue to work at it, suck it up when it goes south, be grateful when all the elements come together to make it work, and try, try, and try again.  As Michael Jordan so eloquently said, “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying.”   

So, a final lesson from “his airness,” “Be in the moment” – Just Do It!

xo Martha

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"The Hunt" - Part 1

Disclaimer:  For those of you who know me, I hope you are reading this with my general sarcasm in mind.  For those of you who I have not had the pleasure of meeting, please know that these blogs are my simple musings that express my personal opinions and frustrations about some of my daily, random observations.  As most of my friends and family are aware, I generally focus on the bright side of things.  This is the place I have created in order to explore "the other side"…..Thanks for stopping by!

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs….It’s the word on everyone’s mind these days.  It seems there just aren’t enough of them to go around.  As a business owner, I have witnessed, firsthand, all of the obstacles that can come between a proprietor and their ability to create jobs.  It can be both a financial and bureaucratic nightmare.  However, if you are lucky enough to defeat “the machine” and get your business open, you will have created at least ONE job.  That’s the mission.  That’s the goal.  After that, it’s just a matter of finding the perfect person to fill the position!

Over the last 7 years, I have posted countless ads on looking for that perfect server, bartender, busser, runner, and on occasion, that enthusiastic and creative General Manager for one of our restaurants.  Before 2007, if we posted a want ad for any of these positions, we could receive anywhere from 25-75 resumes in a 24 hour period.  Now, when we post these ads, we receive anywhere from 200-600 resumes on any given day.  Scary!  The downside to this type of thing is pretty obvious….it’s a sign of a stubbornly inactive economy.  The upside…..I get to be VERY choose-y when selecting our next employee.

In order to efficiently and effectively look at every candidate, I have a way of narrowing down the submissions to find that perfect person.  So, I am going to let you job-seekers in on what exactly an employer like me is, or is NOT, looking for.  My goal in sharing this with you is to help you employment-hunters out there secure a position that will both fulfill your needs and the needs of the business that hires you.  While some folks may find  my criteria shallow or unfair, it has proven to be generally successful for our restaurant company.  It seems that the majority of feedback we receive from our dining guests would support the belief that our staff is professional, fun and, overall, take great pride in their workplace.  In addition, I’ve had the great pleasure of watching our staff grow into a terrific working-family (with all of it‘s quirky dynamics).  In fact, more than half of our staff at Henry’s Hat has been there since the very beginning (the rest joining our team as our business grew), and several members of our staff at Luna Park have been there since it’s conception, nearly eight years ago.  So, with that, I’ve come to believe that hiring people is something I’ve had a little success with, and this criteria has been responsible for much of that.  So, here it goes….every little bit helps.

Whenever I post an ad for a new employee, I have a lot of criteria floating around in my head.  Does the position require someone “more mature” or someone a little “fresher?”….. male or a female?…..someone to work weekends or just day shifts?  Believe it or not, every position is a little different and requires different experience and skill sets.  Lets pretend I’m looking for someone to work behind the bar, full time, mostly nights and weekends (our busiest times), during the height of football season (one of our resto‘s has 17 TV‘s)……Okay, my ideal candidate is going to most likely be female, have at least 3-5 years bartending experience (meaning seasoned, but not a “life-r“), open availability, beautiful (meaning thin and athletic), funny and definitely well-educated.  Why these particular qualities for this particular position???….It’s football season, right? So, a hot girl is going to be most pleasing to our sports fanatic, jock-type, frat-crowd we will most likely be serving.  Next, if this position will require mostly nights and weekend shifts, we will definitely need a skilled (but not jaded or burnt out) bartender.   To put it simply, you need to be eager, enthusiastic, buoyant ….. and in shape!  Physically, bartending when it’s busy is like doing aerobics for 8 hours.  You need stamina, and often, a high tolerance for pain.  Also, when the bar gets busy, the job requires a lot of fast paced movement (mostly dodging other bartenders).  Since bars are generally very narrow, being thin and agile is a must.  It’s just a matter of being able to move around a lot.  See???  Practical…not vein!!!  Now, the “funny” and “well-educated” requirements have to do with conflict resolution.  Problems and mistakes happen all the time in restaurants.  For instance, on any given weekend night, when you have 200 people ordering modified menu items from 15 staff members which are entered into 1 of 4 computers and then sent to 1 of 3 printers and are made by 5 cooks and sent to 1 of 30 tables by 2 or 3 food runners, some things are bound to have been missed or made incorrectly.  It happens.  Everywhere.  When this happens, and you point out our glaring omission, we hope that you are met with both a charming and compassionate server or bartender.  Employees that are quick on their feet can quickly take the edge off, make you feel important, make you laugh, AND fix the problem in the most expedient way possible. These are the staff members that bring joy to my life.  Finding these qualities may seem simple enough, but it’s a rare trait; and one that is nearly impossible to teach.

Now, per the example above, I find that it helps to ask applicants to attach a photo to their resume when submitting them online.  Since two of our three restaurants happen to be located in the headshot capitol of the world, it‘s relatively common for employers to request this.   As I previously touched on, looks sometimes matter!  I think it’s fair to equate the look and feel of the employee to the look and feel of the restaurant in general.  Having attractive staff is part of the one-two punch of  a restaurants very first impression.  Upon entering the establishment, you immediately get the “vibe” of the place by noticing the details like wall color, furniture, décor, music, lighting, etc.  These details, whether you’re immediately conscious of it or not, were carefully chosen by us to design an accurate expectation of the experience you are about to have.  To follow this immediate sensory upload, it’s important to be greeted by someone who, by their look and demeanor, will confirm that expectation.   This is not meant to be an act of vanity…..just an act of wanting consistency.

Now, if I receive 600 resumes, ask that you attach a picture, and you don’t……it’s very possible that I won’t even open your email for fear that either you “don’t want to conform to such nonsense” or that you think adding a photo will exploit some horrible facial defect or something.  Either way, it’s probably not going to be a good fit for either of us.  On the flip side, please ladies…..PAH-LEEEZ…don’t attach your “I wanna get nasty” photo!!  I can’t tell you how many lingerie-clad, inappropriately posed, female “sexy-face,” ridiculous looking photos I’ve gotten.  What the hell are you trying to accomplish??  Waiting tables does not require a lap dance!!  At least not at our restaurants!  Geez!!!  Have some self respect!…..Also, PS…Attaching the weird “one-handed-self-iPhone-picture” just eludes to the fact that you are the kind of person that likes taking pictures of yourself….alone… your room… yourself…..which only gives off the impression that you may be a scary-stalker-ish kind of person and/or that, possibly,  you just don’t have any friends.  Neither is something that will entice me to call you for an interview.

Now, the following are five items of simple advice when emailing a resume:
    1)  Don’t apply through someone else’s email address.  If the example I mentioned above would compel me to look for a female, and you apply with your boyfriend’s email address, I may simply pass over it.  It also makes me wonder if you have yet to figure out how to create your own email account.
    2) “PDF: Please Don’t Fuck-up the format!  Make sure you attach your resume in a format that I can open.  If I can’t open it, I will just frustratedly click “next.”
    3)  Keep it short. Usually the first two sentences of any cover letter are the only two I will read.  I don’t need your whole life story, and I’m not looking for you to woo me with your literary skills….at least not for the restaurant business.  A good opening line would go something like, “I saw your ad, and I think I’m what you’re looking for.  Check out my resume for more information about me. Ps. I have great references!”  With that, I’d be eager to see what you’ve got!
    4)  Sometimes, withholding information can work in your favor.  If you’re applying for a management position, and you say you have 30 years of restaurant experience, I begin to doubt you’re motivation.  Why?  If you’ve ever managed a restaurant, you know that it is, BY FAR, the HARDEST job you can take on in a restaurant.  In my opinion, the only reason anyone should take on such  unrelenting responsibilities is if they have plans to open and own their own restaurant.  If you’ve been managing other people’s places for 30 years, either a) you’re not learning quickly enough, or b) you don’t have the confidence to try it for yourself.  Bottom line, if you’re good enough and know enough about running a business, DO IT!  Just my opinion….
    5)  The "education" section is important.  If you include a college on your resume, and only state what your major was, I know you didn’t graduate.  I don’t particularly care if you went to college or not, but don’t put something on your resume that you didn’t finish.  It just gives the impression that you may be a quitter.
    6)  Don’t show off your “job-hopping".  If I see that you have a string of 3 month jobs (even if they’re in the most notable restaurants in town), I know that you’re either going to quit or I’m going to end up firing you.  It’s clear that these short stints are either a sign of a lack of loyalty, poor work ethic or an inability to work well with others.  None of these traits are attractive to an owner who has to spend precious time and money training you.  It’s only worth it on our end if your work history would dictate that you’re likely to stay. 

The next step is the interview.  After choosing a handful of select applicants, I’ll set aside an hour or so to meet with all of them.  I am a firm believer that you can get a pretty good sense of someone’s personality and skills within the first few minutes of meeting them.  After all, as a server/bartender, you will usually only interact with your guests for a total of roughly 10 minutes on average.  During that limited window of time, we hope as owners, that you will have made the appropriate impression on a guest.  Therefore, this is how much time you’ll have to show me what you’ve got.  When interviewing, I try to let the applicant steer the interview.  While I’ll ask an array of questions, I’ll let the interviewee take me where they want to go.  By doing this, I get an inside look at how you think, speak, and what’s truly at the heart of who you are.  With that, here is some very standard advice when sitting across from a possible future employer:

    1) Know what you’re best AND worst qualities are.  I always ask applicants what they think their previous employer would tell me about them if I were to call them for a reference.  I’ll ask, “How do you think they would respond if I asked them to tell me the best thing about having you as an employee AND on the flip side, what do you think they would say was the one thing you needed to work on?”  In response, applicants usually have no problem listing their positive qualities, however, the response to the other side of that question says A LOT!  It’s not a trick question!  I truly believe that we succeed at the things we’re great at, but we can fail because of the one thing we’re bad at….simply because we don’t know that we’re bad at it.  Knowing your weaknesses means that you’re self-aware, you understand that you’re not perfect, and that because you’re aware, you are always working towards improving.  I’m not looking for “perfect.”  I am looking for someone I can train though., and that starts with knowing where you can improve.
    2)  Don’t rag on your last job!!  I will usually go through your resume and ask what provoked each job change.  When I do this, I’m hoping that each transition was due to some type of promotion, life improvement or geographical move.  However, I can’t tell you how often people use this as an excuse to vent about how much they hated their previous gig.  When folks use this as an opportunity to spill shop secrets about how their former employers “cheated on their taxes” or “they didn’t know what they were doing,” I will seriously want to end the interview right then and there.  First of all, BAD ENERGY=TOXIC!  Second of all, how the hell would you know the in’s and out’s of someone else’s business by serving food to customers 3 days a week?  When an applicant blames their negative experience at a job on everyone but themselves, I tend to believe that the problem most likely lies within.  I don’t EVER hire these people.
    3)  Please don’t show up in your gym clothes…and ladies, put some make up on!  This is pretty straight forward.  Showing that you take pride in yourself is the only reason I would assume you would take pride in your job.  While I know some ladies think they don’t need to wear make-up, I am here to tell you that YES YOU DO!  Everyone looks better when they‘re properly made up, and if you happen to work for me, you’ll learn that I have been known to send people home to “finish getting ready” when they arrive to work with wet hair and no make-up.  Since most of our employees are struggling actors, I tend to gently remind them that anyone in their section that night could be a casting director.  Works like a charm!
    4)  Make eye contact!  While this may seem like a simple idea, you would be surprised at how many people come to an interview and leave their self esteem at home.  Making eye contact is an immediate sign of self confidence.  If you don’t have it, we won’t have it in you.  I think this is generally true in all aspects of life.
    5)  Don’t come to an interview smelling like booze or cigarettes!  I recently interviewed a guy for a General Manager position, and low and behold, it became clear within minutes that he was wasted!  This was quickly confirmed for me when I saw my bartender cutting off his girlfriend at the bar in the other room…..while I was interviewing him!!  Seriously?!!?  So, I guess it just has to be said!  Don’t drink and interview!  Also, while I have been known to smoke a cig or two, don’t come in smelling like an ashtray because A) I know that if I hire you, you’ll be asking for a break every five minutes, and B) I know that it doesn’t bother you to serve delicious food to a table while offending them with your disgusting odor.  I try not to hire smokers, but if I do, they are not allowed to smoke while on our clock!

So, to sum it all up, just as every news reporter, financial analyst and government official has been hammering home for the last three years, it’s simply a new day and age in the job market.  Businesses are being forced to downsize, budgets are getting slashed everywhere, and it has resulted in the largest sustained unemployment rate since the Great Depression.  It’s a critical time out there.  In this kind of market, there are only a few things that we can all do.  If you’re out there looking for a job, know what you’re strengths are, put together the best package possible to represent yourself, persistently apply to anything and everything within your skill set, and then pray.  If you’re not looking, do what you can to help a friend who is, and then quietly thank your lucky little stars!

Next time, in "The Hunt" - Part 2,  I will discuss my observations and experiences from the other side of the interview table......that all important "audition room".  Stay tuned.....

Happy Hunting! xo

“The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one.” - Oscar Wilde

xo Martha

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Being Hard on Yourself!

Disclaimer:  For those of you who know me, I hope you are reading this with my general sarcasm in mind.  For those of you who I have not had the pleasure of meeting, please know that these blogs are my simple musings that express my personal opinions and frustrations about some of my daily, random observations.  As most of my friends and family are aware, I generally focus on the bright side of things.  This is the place I have created in order to explore "the other side"…..Thanks for stopping by!

When I put my daily performance in life under the microscope, I often feel frustrated by not being better at something that I think I should be great at.  I often find myself in situations where I’ll beat myself up a little bit about that last piece of cake I just ate, or that nasty thing I just said that I knew I shouldn’t have, or that terrible skirt I should’ve thought twice about wearing in front of someone’s camera.  When I express these things to my friends, they usually reply with some form of, “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” and follow it up with something like, “I’m sure you’ll be fine.”  EXACTLY!!  I’m sure with those types of mistakes, I’ll be JUST FINE!  Well, I don’t want to be just fine!  I want to be great!  I want to make an impact!  For lack of a better phrase, I’ll just take a page from the Army motto book and scream at the top of my lungs that, “I want to be ALL that I can be!!”

I think that there is too much entitlement in the world today.  I think there are too many parents and teachers and coaches out there that coddle today’s children who fail to reach their full potential on a daily basis.  For example, let’s say you see a truly gifted 10 year old gymnast who is part of a nationally ranked competitive team that’s on track to make it to the Olympics.  Now, if making it to the Olympics is the goal, and you want your kid AND their team to do the best they can and make it as far as possible, why would anyone be compelled to congratulate them for anything less than their best?  Let’s say the kid falls down during a floor routine.  Should the parent say something like, “Well, the rest of it was amazing, and you’re amazing!” or should they reply with, “Let’s get you to the gym an hour early next time to give you more time to practice so that you don’t make that mistake again.”  Which is more loving?  Which is more supportive?  Who knows…..I guess it depends on the kid.

Now, I was never a gymnast, but I did compete in dance from the time I was about 12 years old, and I did perform in front of audiences from the age of about 6.  I AM the kid that would want honesty so that I could improve.  I AM the kid that would feel incredible humiliation if someone said “you did fine.“  If my parents or my teachers or my coaches didn’t give it to me straight, I would not have had the skill or the skin necessary to succeed in either the restaurant business or the entertainment industry.  While my overall success in these respective fields is still up for debate, I do believe that I have found a few successes in my life because I was never allowed to believe any kind of delusion that I could be great without a tremendous amount of work and perseverance.  I have rarely uttered words about fairness, deservedness or entitlement.  I don’t believe in that.  What I believe in is hard work.  I have also been taught on many occasions that “working hard” is totally different from “hard work“.  While working hard may require long hours or sweat and tears, hard work is simply about doing things that are hard.

When it comes to my restaurant, I am often faced with brutal feedback from our guests about things that may have gone awry during their dining experience.  With the current venting sites like and, I’ve come to know criticism in a new and immediate way.  While I wish these websites would crumble and die, I’ve had to thicken my skin and take it like a man!  The upside to getting called out in such a public way is that I can fix any issues that come up just as immediately as I’m made aware of them. I do this because I strive to have the best restaurant that I can.  I do this because I’m harder on myself than these reviewers are on me.  However, I would like to point out that if these same critics could come into a nine-to-fiver’s cubicle and scrutinize their every method of doing things in a public forum, it could possibly go something like….
“I went into Sarah’s office this morning, and boy….was it a freaking disaster area!!!  I mean seriously, a bowl of freaking M&M’s on the desk for every non-hand-washing pooper in there!  Gross!  And the way she was talking up her skill set to me…..Pah-leez!  I didn’t even think she was average at sharpening her pencils!  I mean, how hard it is to sharpen….freaking….pencils?!!?  And her typing???  I wonder if her boss knows that she can only type 50 words a minute!!  Not to mention, she had to backspace like 100 times while writing a simple memo!  Sheesh!  Although some of her co-workers seem to be fond of her, I would NEVER hire this chick!  Like…EVER!”
So, I ask of you, my dear readers who blog on Yelp and other sites like it, what would YOUR star rating be if they came in and reviewed YOUR work?  If you think it would be somewhere in the 2-3 star range, I beg of you…..BE HARDER ON YOURSELF!  A four star rating is crucial if you want to be taken seriously!  Trust me!

Now, when I was working on the soap, I got criticism from every corner, every day, everywhere.  With the combination of message boards, critical bosses and of course, the actual TV screen itself, I heard all about the issues I was having with my fluctuating weight, my “incredibly large forehead”,   the fact that I looked waaaay too old to play the character I was hired to play, etc etc etc.  I have to admit that these were all pretty difficult pills to swallow at first.  However, after hearing this kind of criticism, I realized that I wasn’t being hard enough on myself.  Of course I have always known that the weight thing was an issue.  Throughout my life, like many young female overachievers, I have struggled with my weight and eating disorders.  I’ve been 100 pounds, and I’ve been 140 pounds.  Neither weight (or method of becoming that weight) was healthy, nor did it make me happy.  A couple of years into my tenure on the show, I was spoken to about my increasing size.  In a word, I felt humiliated.  I felt like “Carrie” (at the end of the movie where Sissy Spacek was standing on stage in a happy, contented moment and then, in both shock and horror,  was washed over with warm, bubbling pig blood).  Unlike “Carrie,” I wasn’t driven to kill all the spectators with my telekinetic powers.  However painful, I did recognize that it must’ve been incredibly uncomfortable for my boss to have to sit across from me and deliver that kind of critique.  In his defense, it was his job to be hard on HIMself and the show and do whatever it took to get it looking the way they all wanted it to.  It was a necessary conversation on his part, and I fully understood it and respected it.  Without getting too much into it, that moment taught me, on a professional level, that maintaining a “Hollywood healthy” weight would be both incredibly difficult and absolutely necessary.  I have learned that this is an area that I HAVE to be VERY hard on myself without becoming compulsive or neurotic about it.  I’ve reached a point in my life where I know that I have to work out every day and make healthy choices about what I eat every time I decide to have a meal.  With that, I’ve chosen to be happy with whatever the results of that are.  Am I the hottest hottie in Hollywood????  Hell no.  Am I happy with how I look?  Not always.  Am I healthy?  Hallelujah, yes, I am!!

Now, the forehead thing is simply genetic, however my hairstyle is always a choice.  I’ve had extensions, chopped it all off, had bangs, no bangs, highlights, lowlights… name it, I’ve tried it.  Why?  Because I’m hard on myself.  I want to have good hair and a nicely shaped cut.  I understand that if you have a face shaped and proportioned like mine, you have to work on making it as “watchable” as possible.  I remember once on the show that I decided I had had extensions long enough.  I wanted them OUT and I wanted a cute short/chopped cut.  I came in to shoot the next day and received rave reviews from the hairdressers there.  However, after I finished my scenes, I got called up to the boss’s office and was told that I needed to put the extensions back in.  I was mortified and embarrassed.  Had I really made such a horrible mistake by cutting my long locks?  Apparently.  Of course, I did what I was told and went straight to the hairdresser after work.  Why?  Because they were hard on me, therefore I was hard on myself.  I wanted to please whoever I was supposed to please in order to maintain goodwill in a job that I coveted.  If that meant putting 100 little daggers in my scull to lengthen my hair, then I was certainly eager to oblige.  It was all part of the unspoken agreement you make with the universe (and the network) when you decide you want to be a TV actress.

Lastly, the age thing was tricky.  First off, just let me say that I was 27 when I was hired for that job.  TWENTY SEVEN IS NOT OLD, PEOPLE!!  I can’t change the year I was born, nor would I want to.  That would mean that I would’ve missed the colorful carnival ride that was the 80’s.  I would’ve missed out on the youthful crush I had on CeCe from Poison!!  I would’ve missed out on MC Hammer pants at the eighth grade dance.  For God’s sake, I would’ve missed out on Fraggle Rock, people!  These were all incredibly formative influences in my life, so NO!  I will not participate in being hard on myself there.

In wrapping this up, I should touch on the topic of what I believe it means to actually be too hard on yourself.  In my opinion, there are many times when someone can truly be far too hard on themselves.  When outside forces like disabilities, economic challenges, natural disasters, psychological trauma, etc, come into play in your life and you feel like you should be able to rise above them on your own, you may be mistaken.  Sometimes, God will present us with challenges that we cannot control.  All we can do in situations like these is our best.  If you do nothing, then yes, you should do something.  If you’re doing something, but you are still able to push yourself a little bit further, then yes you should.  However, if you’re doing everything you can and it isn’t getting you where you want to be, then you should stop for a moment.  Recognize your efforts.  Recognize your strengths.  Recognize what you’ve done to get yourself as far as you have, and thank yourself.  When we realize that we are all only capable of our absolute best (and we push ourselves to achieve that), it is then we can find comfort in looking up and finding strength from above to get us the rest of the way there.

As my husband often reminds me, “Hope is not a plan.“  I hope to be a working actress.  I hope to have a thriving business.  I hope to be a great wife and, someday, a great parent.  However, I have no delusions about how much hard work it will take to achieve those things.  To put it simply, I believe to be good, we need to do good…..which is often doing things and facing things that are hard.  As the Coen brothers so poignantly stated in opening sequence of True Grit, “Nothing in life is free but the grace of God.”

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Disclaimer:  For those of you who know me, I hope you are reading this with my general sarcasm in mind.  For those of you who I have not had the pleasure of meeting, please know that these blogs are my simple musings that express my personal opinions and frustrations about some of my daily, random observations.  As most of my friends and family are aware, I generally focus on the bright side of things.  This is the place I have created in order to explore "the other side"…..Thanks for stopping by!

Mark Twain said, "A man's character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation." While I agree that this is especially true of people who consistently phrase sentences to exploit words like ‘douche bag’ and ‘awesome’, I differ from Twain in my understanding of a man’s character. After over a decade of working in restaurants, I believe that a man’s real character may be learned from how he tips.

In my experiences within the restaurant business, it has become abundantly clear to me that there are no less than five types of tippers….therefore, in my opinion, there are only five categories of guests with which I will interact throughout the day.

1) The “pay as you play-er”
2) The “pile maker”
3) The “fifteen percent-er”
4) The “over-the-topper”
5) The “stiffer”

Let’s start with number 1, the “pay as you play” guest. This is the guy/gal at the bar who will buy a drink with cash and leave a dollar for each drink as he/she goes. Now, this is the most common type of tipper. However, it should be noted that, as a bartender, there is an enormous difference between popping a bottled beer open……and with making you a Cadillac Margarita consisting of fresh muddled lime, no salt, shaken and strained (half over ice and the rest in a martini glass). Both drinks should not garner the same $1 bill as a tip. Although the buck is great for the beer (and even a few easy-to-make, pink martini’s), an extra buck on that high maintenance tequila-fest goes a loooong way! Ole!

Next, the “pile-maker.” No, this is not in reference to the friendly, slur-happy accountant who makes a wee-wee at the bar and then, awe-inspired, points and laughs at it as though he had fully regressed to a 14 month old. Although, I’ve seen that guy in action, the “pile-maker” actually refers to the lesser known of the tippers. This is the guy that sits at the bar and, instead of opening a credit card tab (as most do), may start with something large, like a hundred dollar bill, which is to be broken down into change drink-by-drink….all the while, leaving his pile of cash in front of him at the bar. This is to signal to the bartender that …

1. He can afford to drink
2. He’s going to be there……for AWHILE.
3. He doesn’t want you to interrupt him by constantly asking for his last name (to find his tab).

What this tipper says to me is that he is probably fiscally responsible (according to his lack of credit card), that he is uncomfortable having conversation with minimum wage earners, that he is likely accustomed to heavy drinking (because he clearly understands the not-so-well-known rule of ‘”piling”), and that if an attractive woman sits within eye-shot, that he is hopeful of appearing LOADED and AVAILABLE for inquiries as to his job and marital status. All in all, this guy is not my favorite. However, if he doesn’t reach the bottom of his pile before stumbling out the door (while leaving the remains of his pile on the bar), he is often a great tipper. On the other hand, if he depletes that hefty pile before parting ways, he could possibly fall into either the “fifteen percent-er” or “stiffer” categories, depending on how many drinkypoos he digested…..making him a not-so-favorite guest the next time he lays his cash out on my bar.

The third type of tipper is the “fifteen percent-er.” This tipper is usually over the age of 55 OR a European. I say this because only our more advanced-in-age guests and our foreign, albeit tourist-y, guests are under the impression that 15% is a good tip. This is due, in part. to out-of-date US travel guides and/or to an out-of-date understanding of how the service industry works. For example, my grandfather, a well-regarded, well-educated southern gentleman is by all means a social elite in his community. By most standards, he’s not only a wealthy man, but a socially conscious one as well. However, on the many occasions that we’ve dined together, it has become evident to me that he is a “fifteen percent-er”. Now, with this information, I think it’s important to point out that he was tipping 15% back in the early 90’s as well. As is true for many of our American senior citizens, he just hasn’t been able to grasp the idea of adjusting for inflation. It is true that in 1991, tipping 15% was nearly qualifying him as an “over-the-topper,” but as the US dollar has inflated and housing prices have skyrocketed, service tips have become necessary to the income of the minimum-wage-earning service community. Now, as far as our European friends, I’ve always been impressed by their world education and language skills. Therefore, I am sticking to my theory that they may just, in fact, be using their European-ness to knowingly rip off our hard working American servers and blame it on the fact that they don’t normally tip at all in Europe. Well, to those Euro-hipsters I say, you’re in America now! Since we’re lacking in your Euro-style social safety nets (I’ll leave my opinion out on that one), we have to put faith in the idea that all of our guests will tip an average of 20% so that we may be able to provide for ourselves the many great services that you all provide for each other. USA = every man for himself!

Next, we should spend some time analyzing and assessing the childhoods of the “over the toppers.” There are only a few reasons why people overcompensate any time they are faced with an option like tipping...

1) Their parents told them they would never amount to anything, and they believe that during the 60 minutes you’re serving them, that you will undoubtedly come to the same conclusion….and they aim to prove you (and their parents) wrong.
2) They believe that money = power, and power = a date with the hot waitress. (PS….Hey, CAA Junior Agent…..she’s not gonna blow you because you left her 30%. Give her your card and promise her a speaking role in the next Spielberg movie……that should do the trick!)
3) They are super loaded and have the opposite of the “fifteen percent-er“ syndrome. (ie; their business manager does most of their daily financial dealings). Oh brother!
4) They’re drunk and have no idea that the hundred dollar bill they just left you wasn’t a ten dollar bill they meant to leave .

This particular tipper is tricky. They’re hard to gauge, and most of the time, they’ve left the building before you even notice that this guy is an “over the topper.” So, if you’re a server who’s into guys that try to buy your affections, it’s usually too late to say thank you and ask for his number. However, if you’re a cynic like me, it’s usually a relief to know that you don’t have to pretend to be thankful to a guy that was obviously trying to manipulate you with a tip. Geez!

Finally, the last kind of tipper, the “stiffer” is simply-put, an asshole. Let’s break down the steps of service we provide for that big pile of nothing you think our hard work is worth, shall we….

I bring a smile and energy to your table in order to make you feel comfortable and at home in our establishment. I then tell you about our specials, offer to get you whatever drink you’d like….basil?? Sure, we can make you something with basil! I answer any menu questions you have, and then laugh at your “hilarious” interpretation of what the “jerk chicken” REALLY means. I go put your drink order in the computer, make your drink, bring you your drink and top off your water glasses. I perfectly time your appetizer order so that your JUST finishing it as your entrée is ready (and piping hot). I go fetch you that bottle of tobasco…..oh wait, you’d rather have Tapatia?? No problem….let me go find every hot sauce option we can muster up. After that, I bring you an extra napkin because you’re a freakin’ slob. I again laugh at how adorable “messy” can be, and refill your waters again. Once I’m sure you’ve been satisfied by things so far, I clean your disgusting plates away (all the while, getting bits of your chewed up chicken fat on my new shirt) and in return, bring you an array of dessert options that my trainer would never even allow me to look at. You want the molten chocolate cake??? Fuck you, my hormones say, but I bring it with my everlasting smile and charm and watch you devour it while every fiber of my being wants to strip it away from you and scream how unfair it is that I’m supposed to be skinny and you can be a fat, unfunny PIG!! I digress……I clear away the empty plate with sheer sadness but pull my chocolate-longing together and return with profound excitement for the big payoff. I drop the check and ask how you enjoyed everything, and you reply with, “hmmmm…it was…..fine” I immediately think, “Uh-oh! This can’t be good.” Sure enough, $45 dollar tab, with ZERO tip?!? It can’t be!!! After all of that?!?!
All I can say is KARMA IS A BITCH, A**HOLE!….and I never forget a face! Come on back and see us, ya hear!

Now, I can hear some of you saying, “if you want more money, get another kind of job!“ OR “you think that’s hard? Try my job for a week!“ To the first guy, I say, “This is LA, and if you want to audition in this town, you have to be available during the day. This means that you have to be able to work at night. Since most gals out here prefer to keep their clothes on at work (unless “Californication” calls) and pride themselves on not breaking any laws, working in restaurants is the only real option where one can make more than $8/hr AND “follow the dream.” To answer the second question, I would like to reply, “No! No matter how hard working in a restaurant can be, it‘s can be a lot of fun too.” That will likely be part of my next blog! Watch out!

So, in wrapping this up, if you don’t know what kind of tipper you are, here are some easy rules to go by….
1) 20% tip is good. Based on your experience (and your plans to return to the establishment) 2% in either direction will get your point across without voyaging into a red flag tip area.  If you're bad at math (like me), just look at the sales tax on the check, double it and add a dollar.  There's your 20%....easy peasy!
2) If you find a server/bartender who buys you an occasional drink, you must tip on that drink!! Just because they discount it as a show of good will, doesn’t mean that it took any less steps to provide it.
3) If you really have a problem with your food or service, talk to a manager before you leave. You may be surprised to find that your opinion matters and is valued.
4) If you can’t afford to tip your server, then you can’t afford to go out to dinner. It’s a full package.
5) Remember the golden rule…..treat others as you would expect to be treated. Personally AND financially.

Happy Dining…..Tip your waiters!

Friday, December 31, 2010

2010, the year of “Well, it could be worse.”

Disclaimer:  For those of you who know me, I hope you are reading this with my general sarcasm in mind.  For those of you who I have not had the pleasure of meeting, please know that these blogs are my simple musings that express my personal opinions and frustrations about some of my daily, random observations.  As most of my friends and family are aware, I generally focus on the bright side of things.  This is the place I have created in order to explore "the other side"…..Thanks for stopping by!

I think it’s truly a look to the bright side to be able to say, “it could be worse!”

I’ve spent many months marveling at the apparent joy that many of my friends express daily. Facebook has truly been the most profound conduit between myself and those who choose to ONLY look on the bright side. I feel like I’m constantly faced with status updates that quote world leaders like Nelson Mandella, and American Presidents like JFK or, of course, good ol’ standby, Ghandi….can’t go wrong there. I often wake up to a long stream of inspirational daily quotes about finding one’s own inner strength…….or how the power of giving teaches us true joy…..or how one can find God‘s divinity in a grain of sand….blah blah blah. I understand that this is a motivational tool for someone who is seeking positive motivation. I do it too, but in my own way……with a status update that goes something like, “Well, I guess it could’ve been worse.” However, when I do this, I often get an outpouring of support from worried friends trying to comfort me, and it’s confusing. I don’t really understand why it’s so sad to say, “Glad it wasn’t worse.” Yes, I guess it alludes to the fact that things may not be great…..or may even be straight up BAD, but Hallelujah!!! It could’ve been worse!

Let me give you some perspective on where I’m coming from…..

I’m an actress who owns a restaurant…… Los Angeles…….down the street from my old acting job…….constantly surrounded by well known actors..…..while I’m covered in either ketchup or burger grease, depending on the day. To my working actor buddies, can you feel me here? Yes, I’ve built my own business, and yes, I’ve fought many good fights to make it a thriving one. However, I can’t help but feel that I’ve slipped in the ranks a bit. Perhaps that’s my own neurosis or perhaps it’s the realistic consequence of choosing a semblance of stability over “the dream.”

This year has been spent dealing with the laws, rules, regulations, tax rates and contractual obligations to the most broken city government in the country and the most unrelenting landlord we could possibly have been cursed with.

Also at work, I face daily struggles that lie mostly in the technological realm. Broken computers, tv’s sound systems, lighting, kitchen equipment…..basically anything with a cord. Let me give all of you non-restaurant people an example…..On any given day, if the computers go out, we are not only unable to ring in orders and send them to the kitchen or bar , where they in turn are made in a timely manner, but we are also unable to ring in credit cards. Now, while this presents a very real timing issue to our guests, it also creates the most fundamental system breakdown within the workings of a restaurant. Since I so rarely get the opportunity to express my creative side, let me break it down for you in script form…..

SERVER: Martha, I think the computer isn’t working…’s like stuck or something.
MARTHA: (Trying not to panic)…Okay, let me look at it.

(On Martha as she clicks on a couple buttons, then just unplugs and plugs the terminal back in. Computer reboots, but only to the windows screen. Alas, no POS (point of sale) software.)

MARTHA: (Trying not to cry, with shaky fake-leadership voice) Okay everyone, the computer is not working. Not sure why, but I’ll call our tech guy and see what I can do. In the meantime, use the manual credit card slips and the little manual-card-slider-thingy until I can figure this out.
SERVERS/BARTENDERS: (Overlapping, but in earshot of Martha) Crap. / This shit always happens. / I hate this freaking system. / Now what?

(Pan over to customer as she waves her arm at Martha signaling that she wants her check as Martha is clearly on the phone with tech support……)

MARTHA: (whispering into the phone to the tech guy) Is there any immediate way to pull up a check to print out for the customer that’s currently freakishly gesticulating 2 feet above her head that she’d like to sign a check?
TECH SUPPORT: uh nope…not yet. Sorry.
MARTHA: (to server) If you remember what they ordered, will you write it all out, add up the prices, times it by 9.75% and give it to them?
SERVER: Do we have a calculator?
MARTHA: (literally about to strangle the phone cord around the server’s neck, but continues on in the fake leadership voice, but slightly slower and higher pitched) Just..Look..In..The..Office.........I’m..Sure..You..Will..Find..One..There.

(On server as she walks to the office, Bartender approaches Martha….)

BARTENDER: Martha, table 24 is really pissed that they haven’t gotten their food yet.
MARTHA: Did you make sure the kitchen has their ticket? You know the system is down. You have to hand write tickets until it’s fixed.
MARTHA: (looking around the room for any sharp object, but restrains and whispers to herself) It’s ok. This WILL get fixed. It could be worse.

Now, to my readers, I ask that you imagine this scenario, multiply it by 250 guests on a Friday night, and then follow the thought up with an image of me reading a one-star review on the next morning that goes something like…..

Went to HH last night….OMFG, the service was sooooooo slow! Our server said the computers were down or something, but c’mon people! Get it together. I come into your restaurant, give you my money, and in return, they take like 10 minutes just to get me the freaking check. DIS…ORG…ANIZED! No thanks!

Well, I hope from this little Oscar-worthy short, you will learn a couple of things…

A) That people who Yelp like this on a website that affects the reputation and bottom line of a business, are DOUCHEY!! And if you’re one of them, redeem yourself and delete it!

B) That when computers break in a restaurant, you should only take it out on the server!! Not the business! Not the owner! Just the SERVER! That’s what they’re there for!

Now, to add another layer to being a small business owner, I’ve been forced to learn the importance of insurance. Currently, we are not only being sued for a slip and fall by a woman I think actually had a momentary lapse in balance, but also by a man in a wheelchair who has made a career by patronizing restaurants in order to find flaws in their ADA compliancy. He believes that we caused him $5000 worth of pain and suffering because the bathroom mirror was 2 inches too high. FYI, this guy made over $500,000 last year doing exactly this. However bad it gets though, everyday I still find the strength to know and understand that, “It could be worse.”

Is that wrong? I mean, it COULD be worse. I could be uninsured, I could be broke, I could be roofless….Hell, I could be mangled or paralyzed! I could be DEAD…..or worse, I could be single in LA! But alas, I AM insured, I DO have money, I DO have a roof, I’m NOT mangled or paralyzed, I’m alive and healthy……and thank God, I found someone dumb enough to marry me. So, since my reflexive comparison is between whether the computers crashing on a Friday night or death and destruction, then yes, IT COULD BE WORSE!! And sadly, yes, that makes me feel MUCH better ….because, for the most part, it’s because of ME that it’s NOT WORSE!

Now, I am aware that this may be a heavy way of thinking. 2010 was a heavy year for me! But I’ve looked it in the eye, kicked it in the balls, spit in it’s face and come out of it stronger than I’ve ever been in my life. For this, I can proudly say, IT WASN’T WORSE because I fought hard! With that, 2011, I’m not afraid of you! I’m ready, I’m charged, and I’ll kick your friggin ass if you make me do it! However, if you’ll go a little easy on me this year, I’d like to say about you that, “I could never have imagined a year this good! It couldn‘t possibly get better than this!”

Happy New Year!