After Central, went to Penn State and had the great pleasure of being the roommate of a fellow 218 classmate – Bobby Waldman. I graduated with a BA in Social Welfare as I decided in College that I wanted to be a Social Worker specializing in Community Organization. By the way, college was a breeze after Central. After college, joined the Peace Corps and served for 2 years in India building sanitary kitchens in conjunction with the CARE Midday Meal Program and starting community vegetable gardens.
After India, spent 6 months traveling in Europe till I got a telegram from my Dad saying, get your ass home ASAP; you have been drafted and have to report to your local draft board. How I got out of the draft will be a good story to tell at the reunion.
Returned to Philadelphia and did a myriad of odd jobs until I landed a social work job as a housing relocation specialist for the city. After 2 years of that, a couple of things happened kind of simultaneously: Nixon got elected and the projects I was working on were eviscerated and I got the Rock & Roll bug. For the next 6 years, I made up for my rather straight adolescence, which I spent as a very serious student and a much disciplined high school and college athlete. In a very positive way, my life went to pot: sex, drugs and Rock & Roll.
I learned how to tend bar and play a pretty mediocre rhythm guitar. (As a side note at 66, I’m now learning to play the drums.) I wound up moving to the Pocono Mountains, working as a bartender and being joined by an old friend – Bobby DeLeo, who was and still is a wonderful singer. For some crazy reason, he liked my guitar playing. We then met John Polgreen, a brilliant lead guitar player. Those two guys made me sound good, and like many other “hippies” we started a band. We called ourselves “The Sugar Mountain Band”, because we lived in a little cabin in the woods on Sugar Mountain. Low and behold, we started to get prospects to do gigs. As a bartender in a resort, I was working mostly at night and now needed a day job if we were going to perform. I happened to be friendly with the Executive Chef, and he took me on as a cook. That’s when “the rubber hit the road”
Bobby and John felt they wanted to play more sophisticated music before performing; I came to accept that other than great rhythm, I was half tone deaf and actually not a very talented musician; and last but not least, I fell in love with professional cooking. So I had a “heart to heart” with the boys and despite their rather strong protests, convinced them that I was not in their league and they would be better off without me, and I would be better off playing music for fun and pursuing a career in cooking- something for which I actually had a real talent. It was a very difficult coming to terms with who I really was.
For the next 4 years, I worked with Chef Heinz: summers in the Poconos and winters in Florida and other resorts in the South. Met a girl who spoke fluent Spanish and wanted to go to California; broke down Tucumcari, New Mexico; rebuilt my Volkswagen engine on the side of the rode; went broke and took a job as the Souse Chef in a ski resort in the Taos ski valley under a world renown French Chef ( a real bastard); fell in love with New Mexico and got a job in a fabulous year round restaurant under another world renown Danish Chef ( a great guy); After three years, broke up with my girlfriend, who went to Columbia University to study language. After six months, we decided to try it again and I came to New York for the first time in my life.
Then the next chapter began. Loved New York, didn’t love my girlfriend and after one and a half years of working 12 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week in small, hot and dirty New York kitchens fell out of love with commercial cooking. Was lost, guilty for splitting up with this very nice lady and went into a depression for several months. I was broke, but fortunately I had a good friend who was also a chef that I met in Taos. He moved to New York to work as a model and study acting. I crashed with him and was sleeping on his floor trying to get my shit together. One day I picked up one of his books. It was called “Respect for Acting” by Uta Hagen. That changed my life. Down deep I knew that I wanted to act. I got a job as a bartender and because at 30 something I felt too pretentious and embarrassed to say this out loud to anyone, I declared myself as a “wanna be” film maker. I started film classes at NYU’s school of continuing education. Now I had a good excuse to take some acting classes: “it would make me a better film maker” I said to myself.
So I dove in. The first time I learned a monologue and felt connected to what I was saying was one of the most thrilling moments in my life. It was an out of body experience and I was higher than a kite. I also realized at that moment why I fell in love with music. It was the words and telling a great story as if you’re living it. As a film student, you acted in your own little short films and I found I enjoyed working in front of the camera more than behind it.
Another thing happened that really clinched it for me: I was working in a bar that was staffed and frequented by a lot of actors. Many of them were part of a theatre company called “Hudson Spring” When I mentioned that I “was studying a little acting” they invited me to do some workshops with them. After about 9 months they cast me in a small part in Checkoff’s “The Three Sisters”. I played a soldier who was a family friend of the sisters. It was a tiny part, but I had one big monologue where after an enemy raid on the town, I lost everything including my camera. (In the play I was an amateur photographer). In this monologue, I enter hysterically laughing only to finish breaking down and crying by time I tell the whole story. There was something about that monologue that always brought tears to my eyes. To this day I don’t know what it was, but this was the first time as an adult that not only did I cry, but I cried in front of people.
One night I did my monologue and I sat down on a bench to be comforted by the sisters. I then broke one of the cardinal rules of acting; I broke the “fourth wall”. Instead of imagining the audience as a window or something else to create privacy on stage, I actually looked at the audience, which was about 5 feet from me, and in the front row was a woman who was weeping. I remember saying to myself “I did that”. That was it; I was hooked.
Another wonderful thing came out my association with The Hudson Spring Company. I met my future wife– Pat Weber Sones. I can spin hours and hours of yarns about that courtship. The short and long of it is after 30 years we’re still married and still very much in love.
Less than a year after we got married, I had a real bad accident. Wile washing the outside of my apartment widow, the little iron balcony I was standing on collapsed from under me and I went down thirty feet to concrete and rusted iron. As a competitive springboard diver for fourteen years, my first instinct was to stay straight. I also remember saying to myself I’m going to be alright. I don’t remember hitting the ground because on the way down I hit my head against the wall, cracked it open and went unconscious. But I landed straight and on my feet and then buckled into a sitting position. I became conscious almost instantly, tried to get up and I couldn’t move. The severe trauma to my body induced an asthma attack that almost killed me. Fortunately my wife, who watched me disappear in front of her as she was washing the inside of the window kept her wits about her, called the ambulance which seemed to take forever. When I got to the emergency room, I was rushed past everybody into a surgical room with about ten medical people working on me at the same time. Besides hardly being able to breathe, I knew then that I was fucked up. My back was broken in three places; my head was split open; my leg was severed down to the bone; my hand was ripped open and I missed being castrated by an inch or two. I was in the hospital for two months and spent one year getting my strength and coordination back. Oh yes, while falling I remembered one other thing; I felt that I was going down very slowly as if somebody had their hands under my arms and was lowering me down. I don’t follow any religion, but I do believe in my heart of hearts that some superior being or force was looking over me and saying “it’s not Lou’s time”. I guess I started believing that for me there was a God.
Other than a few permanent but minor disabilities, I recovered almost completely. Let’s put it this way: I was and still am able to work, take nourishment, play sports and make love. Not bad considering what could have happened. Eventually we won a personal injury lawsuit, which afforded us the luxury of buying a little getaway house across the street from the beach in a sleepy little town in Florida and gave us a little wiggle room financially to pursue our dreams. Pat got a small recurring role on a Soap Opera and both of us did many, many plays for free in an effort to be seen and get signed by an agent. We thought about kids, but neither of us wanted to give up our dream of having an acting career. We both continued to study and audition. Pat wound up on the Soap for 8 years and I did lots and lots of extra work on film and TV. After the Soap ended, Pat moved on to directing and to work in production. She’s now a Location Manager for TV and movies. I continued to do extra work, showcases, dinner theatre and one payed job in regional theatre.
I finally got a break, got signed by a personal manager and freelanced with three agents. I booked my first commercial after a year and then was on a little roll: Speaking parts on 8 different episodes of Law & Order, a small but recurring roll on OZ for 3 years and a couple of small parts in soaps and one movie. I still had to tend bar or cook for caterers to supplement my income. I was a working actor, but didn’t have an “acting career”.
In 1997, after being gentrified out of several apartments in Manhattan & Brooklyn, Pat & I were determined to by a house and at least, real estate wise, become the masters of our own fate. With the help of friends and family, we were able to put the money thing
together and we started looking in “up and coming” neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Pat was very focused and committed, but I had trouble pulling the trigger. We moved into another apartment and kept on looking. One day I had to find car insurance and was recommended to a broker in Red Hook, Brooklyn. When driving through this neighborhood, I passed a schoolyard and started watching the kids play. They were mostly kids of color with a few white kids mixed in. It brought back memories of where I grew up and I became enchanted.
Red Hook was unique to say the least. It was a little peninsula surrounded on three sides by the New York harbor and cut off on the fourth side by a major highway. Red Hook was challenged economically, had a terrible reputation for crime, and was a shell of a once thriving working waterfront community with container ports, lots of vacant land, pockets of charming streets and some houses in the middle of bus lots and other industrial uses. The houses were cheap and except for the “old timers” occupied by a small but growing community of artists. I knew that this was the place for us, even though everybody I knew and, to some extent, even Pat, thought I was crazy. But this was one of those “shoulda, couldas” that I was going to jump on. We found a cute little house, in the middle of an industrial block and we became home owners.
Moving to Red Hook was a game changer, big time. Immediately after moving in, we had trouble with the school bus lot next to us. About 5 or 6 AM a hundred diesel buses would start up and run for almost 2 hours before leaving. The noise and the fumes were unbearable. We talked to them and they literally told us that people shouldn’t live here; it’s an industrial area. After two weeks, we went to a Red Hook Civic Association meeting to see if we could get some help for our plight. There were people from public housing and private home owners, black, white and Latino. Immediately, 2 African American guys who were obviously community leaders jumped up and basically said “we got your back”; we’ll picket them if we have to. Wow! We felt better for a while until the Co-Chair of the Civic Association – John McGetrick- announced that Red Hook was targeted for the site of the countries largest waist transfer station on the waterfront 2 blocks from my house. This waist transfer station would process 13,000 tons of garbage a day and would absolutely destroy any revitalization that might take place. Mayor Guilliani wanted to shut down all of the waste transfer stations equitably distributed throughout the 5 boroughs and have all of the 26,000 tons of garbage go out of the city through Red Hook and another poor neighborhood of color. John McGetrick asked for volunteers to help fight this grim prospect. I raised my hand, and my life changed once again.
My social work and Peace Corps roots propelled me into the next three years of my life. I became the lead organizer fighting this plan, organized hundreds and hundreds of people from Red Hook to unite and fight this and started and worked full time as the Coordinator of Red Hook GAGS (Groups Against Garbage Sites) – an environmental advocacy 501C-3 not for profit. I never worked so hard in my life, and just as I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and ready to give up, we won an environmental justice lawsuit and became the first grassroots group to beat Mayor Guilliani at anything. We defeated the plan, closed down 3 other waste transfer stations in Red Hook and forced the bus company next door to my house to comply with no idling regulations. I became a local hero. Red Hook has become a very desirable place to live with restaurants, bars and art galleries. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a mixed race, mixed income neighborhood with the second largest complex of public housing in the city, several affordable housing projects (that I’ve worked on) and truly a neighborhood that’s trying to revitalize without gentrifying all the wonderful people that we now know and love out of our special community. It’s a hard balance to maintain, but we’re trying.
Don’t worry; we’re close to the final chapter. In 2001, I wasn’t tending bar or cooking anymore. I was running Red Hook GAGS and getting a small salary. Making some decent money from acting, but still not enough to live on or call it a career. But, I was auditioning and enjoying my work when I got a call from my ex employers for whom I tended bar for 11 years. They opened another bar in Brooklyn and their managing partner wasn’t working out. They wanted me to take over. I resisted at first, but at 56 with some acting work but not enough to count on and working very hard for very little money, they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
So, here’s we’re we are now. I’m running a fairly successful neighborhood bar featuring craft micro-brew beer and small batch whiskey. Still auditioning and working as an actor once in a while. Last spring played Polonius in a production of Hamlet. My wife, who still makes more money than me, is on location of an ABC pilot as I’m writing this. Our house is worth a lot more than what we paid. It took awhile for Pat, but she and I are loving living in this very unique neighborhood that feels like a small town where everybody knows each other. We rent out our little house in Florida. I’m on 3 committees of our local community board and have the reputation of being a trouble maker by speaking truth to power. I coach little league hardball with 9-13 year old boys and girls and Pat sings the National Anthem at the opening game of every season. The kids come from all backgrounds and some of them are little bad asses, but settle down because of the great common denominator – baseball. We don’t know if we’ll ever have enough money to retire, so I’m working on a new retirement plan: I’m thinking about becoming the oldest rock and roll drummer in history.
Fill you all in with the details when we get together including Super Storm Sandy, which we’re even now trying to recover from.