A piece of writing that has forever represented a lame egotistical, false sense of importance in an already over saturated “look at me!” Internet based world.
Ok, maybe not the dictionary definition, but this has always been my thought about that filthy dirty word… Blaaawg. Then I gave in and wrote a piece about my friend Ryan Dunn and shared it. And in some ways, it felt good to say things “out loud”. Dare I say “therapeutic”? So now I’ve decided to say fuck it and re-think this blog nonsense and try to redefine what blog means to me. I would never be egotistical enough or have such a false sense of importance as to assume I would be changing anything about anything for you-I’m just interested in sharing these thoughts and ramblings that may or may not be of interest to some of you…
And what better way to kick off an attempt at dodging ego than to spew out my life fucking story? But in all seriousness, I do get asked the same question over and over again: How did you end up doing what you do?
So I’ll write this out as best as I can (and best I can remember it) and now when someone asks me, I’ll have a link to send them and be able to get back to my whiskey and more important issues like women, music and the Yankees. Yes, in that order.
I barely graduated high school
Not because I was dumb, because I didn’t give a fuck.
I chose to go to college only because I drank the punch and believed you could get “a better job with a degree”. Well, that, and the girls.
And that is where everything got completely flipped upside down:
I had no idea what I wanted to be “when I grew up”. There were no jobs/careers that seemed even remotely attractive to me.
I grew up in Staten Island, NY. Everyone I knew was either a criminal, a stock broker, a cop, fireman, electrician, or some random corporate job that they couldn’t even explain. I couldn’t imagine doing any of it. So I went to school to find the answers. Ha!
While in college, I paid a shit ton of money to drink beer, sell pot and practice being horrible at picking up chicks. In between I’d show up at a class or two and learn something.
And then I dropped out. And my whole life changed.
While I was trying to “figure it all out”, I was working at some bullshit “fancy” restaurant with some buddies. We would work these over the top, gaudy parties that seemed never ending in Staten Island during the late 80’s-early 90’s. I’d need an entire blog just to explain them so trust me- they were ridiculous.
We were making some cash, spending it all THAT NIGHT at the bar, sleeping for a few hours, then doing it all over again the next day in the same filthy uniform.
During this haze of an existence, a chain reaction of bad decisions somehow got me to exactly where I am today.
Bad decision #1
Memorial day weekend was approaching and me and my buddies decided to have a BBQ. Probably at my place. Can’t remember because it never happened.
We all decided to “borrow” a few key items from the restaurant for the party. We needed things like ice, beer and… Chicken cutlets.
So with my car trunk full of ice, I grabbed two 40lb. bags of chicken cutlets and walked them right out the back door of the restaurant and into the car.
I went back in, finished my shift, counted my tips and then proceeded to shit my pants.
“DeVito! Boss wants to see you. NOW”. Said barely in english by one of his fat dumb lackeys in the kitchen.
Then the easy part- I walk in to the office, my boss says “You stole from me. You’re fired” I said “you’re 100% right. I’m sorry”. That was it. Literally.
As I was walking out he said “keep the chicken”.
I go to my car, take the chicken out and place it right outside the kitchen door and drove home.
So, just to recap: I’m 20 years old, I’m not in school, I have no job and I’m living at home with my mom- Yeah, I’m kick ass.
In a panic, I hit the yellow pages and call every restaurant on staten island (yep- pre Internet) After about 45 minutes I realize no one is hiring. It’s already memorial day and all the kids are back from school. I’m fucked.
Later that night, my best friend at the time calls me and I tell him the whole embarrassing story. He offers to get me an interview at the place he is working at… Applebee’s in the fucking MALL. Luckily I didn’t own any weapons at the time.
I hung up on him and hit the yellow pages again.
Bad decision #2
The next morning I picked up the phone and called my friend back. I knew this was going to be the lamest place on earth to work at but I was desperate.
He said “dude- we make like $250 a night, every girl that works here is hot and we all go out every night”.
Cut to: me wearing an Applebee’s uniform singing the fucking birthday song to some fat 9-year old kid covered in BBQ sauce.
Living the dream.
About a month in to my sentence, on some random Tuesday or Wednesday, a new bartender shows up for her shift. At this point about 20 of us were all a tight crew who basically spent 24 hours a day together either working or drinking or other things…
So when someone new shows up, you feel them out and see if they want to join the circus too.
So I introduce myself to a sweet girl named Nicole, we realize we have some friends in common and I invite her out to shoot pool with us that night. She accepts.
Shift ends, tips counted, 20 shitty cars drive to the bar.
First game of pool- me vs Nicole.
We are chatting and talking shit about who knows what, music, movies, whatever.
And as I’m playing just another game of pool in a crappy bar listening to crappy music drinking crappy beer, Nicole says “you’d probably fit in well at my other job” and I said “cool- what restaurant?” she said…
And with those 3 shitty letters, every bad decision I’d made, somehow came back to me as a gift wrapped map to the rest of my life and my ticket out of the inevitable monotony of where I was headed.
My reaction to Nicole’s suggestion that I could work at MTV must’ve been comical to her. We didn’t grow up in Hollywood. TV wasn’t an option as an occupation where we we’re from. But she found it. And passed it on.
Then, she tells me something that seemed typical. It was too good to be true, right?
“all you need is a letter from your college that says they acknowledge the internship, and you’re enrolled, blah blah blah. Just go to your dean, they’ll know”.
Bad decision #3
So I reverted into the “poor me, nothing is easy” state of mind and explained to Nicole that I’d dropped out and this wasn’t going to happen for me. And then she said yet another poignant short sentence: “figure it out”. And that phrase would become such a familiar one as I grew up. FIGURE IT OUT. Nothing is easy. It shouldn’t be. Use the tools you have to get what you want and need. So I did.
The next morning I rifled through my mother’s drawer full of bills and letters (every house has one of those, right?) and I found a letter from my now former college, St. John’s University. I grabbed it and ran around the corner to the video store that had a copy machine and ran off about 5 pieces of what is now St. John’s letterhead. I took that I went back home and turned on a word processor that I had borrowed from a friend and preceded to fake my way through a letter that was supposed to be written by a dean of studies at a private university. “This letter acknowledges Joe DeVito, blah blah blah…”.
I called Nicole and set up an interview at MTV for that following Monday morning.
On the most nervous and completely paranoid day of my life, I walked into 1633 Broadway to meet with a guy nicknamed Buka. I handed him the counterfeit letter. My heart was pounding. He glanced at it, threw it to the side next to a pile of MXPX CD’s and a Beta tape and asked me a bunch of random questions. I nervously faked my way through the “interview” and it ended with “you know anyone else looking to intern? We need a few this season”. I immediately said yes and thought of my best friend Mike and just like that, I had myself an internship at MTV sports. September 1995.
A week later I started, now with my boy Mike right next to me who also forged a letter from the College of Staten Island, and we were sitting in these weird things called cubicles, organizing tapes, getting Doug coffee, and being harassed by a chick named Cinnamon. These people would go on to become some of the most influential people in our careers.
At the end of the “semester”, I did what any naive kid from Staten Island would do, I asked “so, can I work here now?”. Buka laughed.
MTV sports didn’t exactly have a budget that could just take on a couple of interns who were often referred to as Beavis and Butthead. We weren’t getting a job there. These guys were lucky they had work. So we did what we did best. We rolled a joint and asked Cinnamon to hang with us and give us the answers.
Bad decision #4
Cinnamon explained that they were all packing up and heading to Long Beach California to work on Rock N Jock softball. Maybe if we scraped up some money and bought ourselves flights to Cali and just showed up, the boss would hire us.
This was nuts on so many levels. We had never been to California. It was a place on TV. And a flight? How many hundreds of dollars is that going to be? We are poor as fuck! So once again, street smarts wins. Mike and I went to the internal travel agent at Viacom and told them we needed to buy tickets (under the company discount, of course) to LA and they didn’t ask a single question. An hour later, we had 2 tickets to paradise (with money borrowed from our Mom’s) and no where to live and no guarantee of work.
The night before the flight, Mike and I hung out with my girlfriend (who I met at Applebee’s, as well) and a mutual friend. We drank beer and talked shit for a few hours. It was early January. Our flight was at 8:00am. We got our stuff and went to leave and couldn’t open the door. There was LITERALLY 3 feet of snow on the ground. All flights cancelled. Once again, FUCKED.
We eventually made it home and waited. And waited. And finally, we got on the first flight out to the west coast… 3 days late. We showed up, got work and did the only thing we knew how to do well: We worked our broke naive asses off. No ego. No questions. Just work. While there we would meet Rick “fuckin” Marino, JxPx, Rockamora, Alyssa and literally countless others who we not only worked with for YEARS but remain close friends with to this day. It was as if in one gig, we would meet the entire cast of this crazy story we were embarking on. While there, we got hired to work on MTV Spring Break a few weeks later. For $10 less a day than this gig. Not a good pattern but we didn’t care. It wasn’t about making money. Yet. It was about the proverbial foot in the door. And at this point, it was in and there was no way I was going to let it close. Ever.
With no money for a flight to Panama City, so we took a 22-hour greyhound bus from Penn station in NYC to Pensacola Florida, met with a buddy, partied for one night and then took a 6 hour bus to Panama City. And worked our balls off for 3 weeks, made more contacts, got more work. And that was pretty much the pattern for the next 8 months or so. Random jobs in random places. No questions asked. Sleeping on floors. Show up. Work. Get another gig. Repeat.
So, a bunch of bad decisions, and wham- I found something I could do for the rest of my life and actually enjoy it somehow. The worst day on set for me is still the best day of my life.
So thank you, shitty college that I dropped out of. Thank you, chicken cutlets (which I haven’t eaten since- seriously), thank you, Applebee’s, and most of all, thank you, Nicole, Cinnamon, Buka, and my mom and grandma who funded my completely ill advised journey. Thank you for all of it. Every bit of it.
I guess the theme here is this: Sometimes doing the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to do makes perfect sense. If you want it to. Finding yourself in the middle of the last place on earth you’d ever think you’d be is the perfect time to make bad decisions.