My Safe Place

The theater’s always dark. Sometimes it’s empty. Sometimes it’s packed. Sometimes you’ll see dribs and drabs of people scattered throughout. Sometimes they talk or look at their phones which irritates and forces me to shush them. Often I’m alone, but sometimes not. My Sno-Caps are usually gone by the end of the trailers. My small Diet Coke makes it about halfway through the film. The movies is not a means of escape. My mind remains present. Always critical. Always analytical. I don’t get swept up in movies. I’m too busy appreciating or disliking editing, cinematography, score, acting, directing, etc., but this doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy what I watch. It doesn’t mean I can’t get blown away by something truly amazing up there on the screen. I also worry too much about what others think of the film and my opinion of it. Too often my opinion gets lost in this obsession to be right. Regardless, what’s most important is that when I’m in a movie theater my anxiety level decreases to the point where I can breathe.  The movie theater is my safe place. Just being there releases the choke hold anxiety has on me. Even if it’s just for a little while.

Not too long ago my wife and I met with our financial advisor because we’re having money issues. He chastised me for going to the movies. “You know you can just wait for it to hit cable or Netflix or on-demand? That’s what I do.” His words slapped me and in that moment I hated him.

“You don’t get it!” I wanted to yell. “I don’t get that same sense of relief, of freedom. “I’m a stay-at-home dad with depression and anxiety issues. Sitting those 2+ hours in a darkened theater helps my chest loosen. I don’t have many hobbies. I don’t spend money on clothes or collections. I’m with my daughter every single day. Isolated. Alone. Doing my best to mask my depression and anxiety. I love her so much, but sometimes I need out. I need a dark room with a large flickering screen. The more anxious I get (and I’ve been highly depressed and anxious the past 6 weeks) the more I want that darkened theater. The more I want to see WildWhiplash, Birdman. The more I want my Sno-Caps and small Diet Coke. Seats that aren’t always comfortable. I DON’T CARE!! DON’T TAKE AWAY MY SAFE PLACE!!”

I hadn’t realized the movies is my sanctuary until we met with our financial advisor. Not until I felt it yanked away. I feel safe with my wife, but sometimes I can’t see her eyes or feel her hugs past the chest constriction. That’s when I need to get out. To get in the car, drive to one of my regular theaters and let my mind follow Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar-caliber performance in The Theory of Everything or the positively mind-blowing editing work in Birdman as my chest slowly decompresses. That’s when I need my safe place.

Elaine, my wife, told me that when I had my last nervous breakdown I was too afraid to go back to the movies. I don’t remember this at all. She thinks it’s because I was too afraid to let myself enjoy any aspect of my life. Instead I lay in bed shaking and crying and stuttering until one day I moved to couch and planted myself in front of the television. I don’t know when I returned to the cinema. Maybe I finally heard the calling of the gorgeous Landmark Loew’s 1930s movie palace just blocks away from us in Jersey City, NJ, a place that feels frozen in time. Red velvet walls. Golden staircases. A giant screen on which you can watch anything from silent features (complete with an organ accompaniment) to 80s classics like The Goonies. At some point I went back. At some point the movies became my safe place.

Now in Queens, NY, as I continue to slog through my depression and anxiety, as I raise Sienna to best of my abilities, the cinema remains my Fortress of Solitude even if I happen to be with someone or the theater is packed to the gills. I crave those evening when Elaine comes home at 6 and I can catch a 7:30 show. The darkness, the trailers, the Sno-Caps, the small Diet Coke, the film, the seats, the screen. They all combine to alleviate my anxiety for a few hours until those credits roll.

I can’t give it up. We’ll have to budget accordingly, but I can’t give up the movies. It’s too important to my mental health. I’m thankful Elaine supports me on this and in fact is the one who pointed it out. I’m lucky to have such an understanding wife who knew immediately that the financial advisor hit a nerve that sent my mind to the edge of an abyss – no more movies…EVER. She is the one who called the theater my safe place. And so it is.

What’s your safe place?

Sienna and “The Breakfast Club” in 2027

Sienna’s 2 year, 4 months old. She’s never step foot in a pre-school classroom. And yet last night I lay awake until 3 am thinking about Sienna’s high school experience because I had the great fortune to attend a 30th anniversary screening of what I consider to be arguably the most honest and accurate portrayals of HS life ever to grace the silver screen – The Breakfast Club – and I can’t wait to share it with my toddler daughter.


No I’m not gonna sit her down in front of the TV and show her an R-rated film filled with cursing and frank sexual conversations, but in 13 years when she’s entering the heightened social world of HS, you can bet I will because the late John Hughes’ brilliant dialogue and character development, his ability to capture and destroy these 5 HS archetypes was uncanny and stands the test of time.

Each iconic character – Molly Ringwald’s popular, “conceited” Claire; Judd Nelson’s brash, “anarchic” John; Emilio Estevez’s athletic, “strong” Andy; Anthony Michael Hall’s anxious, “nerdy” Brian; and Ally Sheedy’s silent, “screwed-up” Allison – proves to be unhappily lumped into a category by both adults and school life. Each feels better than at least one other club member because that’s how they’re supposed to feel. And each learns that they can break out of their prisons, that their comrades all share disdain for their sometimes bullying, sometimes ignorant parents and authority figures. Each learns they have flaws. Each learns they have strengths. Each learns the other is a real person and not a cardboard cutout.

Even the adults come off flawed as imperfect. Brian and Andy’s respective parents pressure their kids into being things they don’t want to be. Via his stories, John’s household is rife with abuse. Allison’s parents appear as shadows in car and completely ignore their daughter. Claire’s father equates money with love. Paul Gleason’s Principal Vernon tries to come off as all-powerful, but he’s jaded and frightened of where his world is leading. Only John Kapelas’ Carl the janitor feels sure of his position as unknowingly to the Club and Vernon, he’s the eyes and ears of the school, collecting and keeping all its secrets, sometimes for a price, yet being a custodian is not what he wanted to be.

I want Sienna to see this, to know that she doesn’t need to fit into HS cliques to be a person, to see that parents make mistakes and to understand that although I’ll have my own flaws, I’ll never an abusive father, I’ll never apply extreme pressure, I’ll always want to be in her life and help her feel safe in unsafe world. I want her to know that she can be herself, especially in high school, and that those that do succumb to stereotypes might have things going on in their lives that she doesn’t know about.

This applies to me as well. I have so much trouble remembering that I too often take things at face value. I see people with houses, fancy cars, and huge job statuses and immediately think they’re rich and happy. I see Facebook pictures and think people lead perfect lives. It’s just one terrible aspect of depression, your brain creating false worlds based on the smallest details.

So in 12-13 years I plan to sit down with Sienna and show her one of my favorite films. She’ll probably roll her eyes at watching a movie that will by then be over 40 years old, but if I do right by her, if I’m still the parent I strive to be, she’ll be receptive. And then she’ll watch the magic on the screen, fake realities shattered.

And she’ll know.

High school hasn’t changed all that much in 40 years.

Dad’s experienced the insane world that is high school. He’s a person – just like her – but with his own imperfections.

And no matter what, he’ll never forget about Sienna.

What other high school genre films do you feel fit the fold standard of The Breakfast Club?

Sharing Your Childhood Likes With Your Kid

I’ve been having a rough time blogging of late so I wanted to write something personal yet fun because despite all the turmoil I’ve gone through recently, I’m seriously enjoying Sienna’s current verbosity, her ability to mimic and the accompanying glee that comes with it.

I’ve already taught her plenty of animal sounds so if you see her and ask what a crow says, she’ll answer you with a smile and a loud, “CAAAAAAAW!” But what I’ve found even more enjoyable (and clearly more hilarious) is teaching her pop culture words and phrases from my childhood. In a way, I feel it further connects as Daddy and Sienna. Sure it might be utterly ridiculous and have no redeeming social value, but it absolutely feels special because I’m teaching her a part of myself and we both love it.

It all started when Sienna was just a few months old. She made these noises that reminded me of Gizmo from Gremlins so of course I immediately went out and got her very own Mogwai (not a real one, people…they don’t actually exist!):

Sienna and Gizmo copy

Now she asks for Gizmo when she goes to bed and I couldn’t be happier. She’ll also cheerfully squeak, “Bright light! Bright light!” when you ask her what Gizmo says. So cute!

I also find it cute that she loves the theme music to Alf. I’m not sure why she does, but I made sure to put it on her YouTube list (we don’t let her watch much television and instead created a playlist filled with classic Sesame Street and Muppet skits and songs as well as “Let It Go” and a bunch of other things which we let her view on occasion). She recognizes the first note from the theme and goes, “Alf!” and I grin like a fool.

Just like Daddy, she says, “D’oh!” when she drop something echoing this famous character:


If you ask her what this guy says, she yells, “Cobraaaaaaa!”


If asked what Peter Venkman says, she’ll repeat the famous Ghostbusters line, “He slimed me!” though it sounds more like, “‘limed me!” She’ll shout, “Yo Joe!” if you ask her what Roadblock says. She’s working on, “I’ll be back!” (complete with accent) when asked what Schwarzenneger says. She giggles and goes, “How you DOIN’!” if I ask her what Joey says (wrong emphasis, but still impressive, and though it might not be from my childhood, it’s still pretty funny. And once she gets those down I plan to teach her John McClane’s awesome “Yippee ki yay!” (sans the MF, of course).

She even starred in her own version of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan which you can see here:

Teaching Sienna this stuff is not for the benefit of others, though sometimes I can’t resist watching people crack up when she throws out an 80s reference. Teaching her these things along with numbers, letters, colors, songs, manners, names of things, etc., is a way for me to bond with my daughter and pass on some of my own loves. I also adopt her own as I taught her to say, “Drums! Drums!” when she sees the Muppets’ Animal because she gets excited whenever he comes on screen. Her other favorite is Beaker (who happens to be my chosen Muppet), but she picked up on his, “Mee mee mee!” without me having to do anything.

I tell you, there is nothing cuter than seeing a 2-year-old girl refer to Batman as “Na-na!” thanks to the 60s theme song unless it’s hearing her say, “Braaaiins!” when asked what a zombie says. I promise to make sure she knows that not only do the zombies on the bus not say, “Brains! Brains! Brains!” by the time she goes to school, but that she understands there are no zombies on the bus. One day she’ll be ready for zombies and Gremlins and Ghostbusters and G.I. Joe and hopefully we’ll sit, snuggled up, bowl of popcorn in our laps, and watch some of Daddy’s favorite things, but for now the objects will remain abstractions, the words and phrases echoes, just things for the two of us to laugh about and share. Oh, and Sienna, if you’re reading this, we need to keep working on your Chewbacca imitation.

So what am I missing? What other 80s references should Sienna spout? Something from The Breakfast Club since it’s celebrating its 30th anniversary (ugh!), right? Send me your suggestions!