I turn 37 later this year, but I’ve certainly felt my mortality with all the losses this year (Tim, George, Bernie), of which Paul Newman is the latest. GQ considered him one of the top 50 gentlemen of the 20th century, and for good reason. I’ve got a page from that issue of GQ on my wall, with nine of those top gents, and Paul is there next to Pacino and above Jack. His Newman’s Own line was a fantastic example of a celebrity committing a significant and lasting act of charity . . . in the private sector. I grew up watching Butch & Sundance. This year I’ve finally embraced the journalist/entertainer in my soul. So I feel like I’ve lost not just a portion of my childhood, but a mentor and hero in Paul Newman. Others spoke, even screamed. He simply and elegantly acted. The results were his quiet eloquence.
Attempting to not only survive the Great Recession but find success and significance as a father and actor/writer, I got mad during a job interview yesterday. I already have a part-time job telemarketing for NGO’s, after submitting 30+ resumes and job applications. (Somehow making a difference for survivors of Super Storm Sandy feels so much better than taking a mortgage loan application for someone’s ski lodge.) So as I interviewed by offering a sales plan that gave back to the community, I realized I was teetering between dream employee and someone who threatened egos. The interview confirmed my suspicions based on a cursory Google search of the firm: it lives in the old paradigm of profit and banking relationships, the country club members of Caddyshack. I anticipate an America more like Gangs of New York or Les Miserables. I see how a business could easily avoid the branding of Bernie Madoff and instead become superhero to those attempting to secure enough income to feed, clothe, house and keep healthy their family. I pitched ideas not far off the mark of what other Fortune 500 brands implemented years ago. “You should be in politics” is what I heard, from a man apparently trapped in position and corporate dictates, instructed to give lip service to change, but not empowered to implement outside the current paradigm.
I have as much an appetite for politics as Mark Twain. Promised a second interview, I left realizing I had to leverage my position for a job that might not even be appreciated. I thought of researching the competition, perhaps playing one against the other. Why should I fight so hard for a company that clearly does not appreciate it? How is it I have absolutely no problem taking direction on a film or TV set, but the second I enter any sales organization, I suddenly become the over-achiever, a bit too confident and creative but without the proper pedigree or mercenary results? Perhaps because I respect directors and film? Perhaps because I’ve worked for too many sales organizations across the fruited plain? Perhaps Glengarry Glen Ross and Office Space ring too real for me? Perhaps the signs of ignorant privilege muttering “let them eat cake … and get a job” I can spot too easily?
So I reflected on the last three months. I thought of the heroes who stepped up and gave me a hand when I was against the ropes in the eleventh hour. People who were not blood relatives, people who I may have met once. People who looked more like relations of the re-elected First Family than my own. People who had their own significant challenges, yet found a way to give me the help I desperately needed. At the end of August I had admitted myself to a hospital for thoughts of suicide and became homeless. Now I have a nice $450 place to live in Studio City, weekly therapy sessions, a part-time hourly plus bonus job that feels fantastic, and much of my notoriously optimistic and creative mojo has returned. When I reluctantly reached out for help, family ignored me or offered trite platitudes and “prayers”. Some “friends” took offense that I asked for help in a manner that caused embarrassment. Because I asked.
Others came out of the woodwork, eager to write the obituary to my career as a performer. (I share Bryan Cranston’s incredulity at what “making it” in Hollywood even means. I love live audiences and rolling cameras. I hate selling shoddy products. The end. I just want to do what I love without perishing in the process.) But a few rallied behind me. Without fanfare or platitudes. They just helped. Cash. Bus fare. Rent. Lunch. Constructive ideas and strategies that respected my mojo. Truly encouraging words, the ones the singing cowboy imagined. They honored the hero they still saw in me, even when I failed to see it myself. The gave me what I needed in a moment of crisis. They were heroes who volunteered. They were my heroes. No, they were … heroteers. Yes, this culture desperately needs a new word. It will take heroteers to harness the best in us in spite of our worst.
Heroteers are people who recognize needs and step in with their resources and abilities, solving the problem at hand. In spite of differences. In spite of the way things have always been. Engaging and even enlisting perceived villains. But by inspiring the hero we all want to be. Because a human had need. But it takes courage. It takes faith of a kind. Faith that humans who can invent the smart phone, be the Beatles or Stones, learn to recycle or eat organically, create the United States of America or travel to the moon and Mars can end hunger, poverty, homelessness, disease, slavery and war.
I’ve lived in a country club. I’ve been homeless. I’ve had a six figure income. I’m now under-employed, living on food stamps under the poverty line. I once looked a college president in the eye and refused to fold the independent student newspaper I founded. I’ve been kicked out of college. I’m an Eagle Scout on the FBI’s subversive list. I’ve sold stuff. I’ve driven taxis and limos. I’m at my best when I perform before a camera or live audience. That is my strength. I have challenges that threaten my success, even my survival. But I refuse to submit to the failed patterns of this culture. I choose to find and encourage the significance within all of us. I’m going to stop focusing on my needs to earn money. I choose to rally the heroteers and actually help people.
Heroteer Mission #1 is to feed LA Thanksgiving 2012. According to the LA Food Bank, 1.7 million humans in LA County struggle with hunger. In 2012. Nearly 31 LA Dodger Stadiums FULL of hungry humans. I don’t know how, but I intend to feed at least 56,000 people in Los Angeles this Thanksgiving. Yeah. The one this Thursday. Yes, Dodger Stadium fits 56,000. I’m not clear exactly how. But you know someone who can help. We all do. You know someone who can heroteer and help with specific challenges, whether they be the legal, financial, transportation, safety or other logistics of feeding fifty six thousand desperate and hungry people in one day. Yeah, you’re on the hook now to spread the word. You can click or call or think for a moment to make a difference in the lives of fifty six thousand of your fellow humans who are literally STARVING. In America. In the town of film production and other magic. I’m heroteering to lead the better angels within the residents of the City of Angels to get this done. How will you heroteer? Follow “Mission: Feed LA Thanksgiving 2012” on Facebook for the latest.
So I want us to rally around that new verb “heroteer”. Like and follow it on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Use the word. Be the word. Discover the hero within you, and rise up to defeat the evils that remain in this world, one human need at a time. Quantify it. Analyze it. Make it more efficient. Make it better. Tap into the power of your own unique emotions, passions and talents. Overcome faults and fears and differences to cooperate with those outside your cave of comfort. Transform your lifestyle into a force of overwhelming daily influence and change that replaces hope with joy and significance. You’ll feel like a superhero in the process. Because … you are.