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Thanks for all the laughs, Mr. Letterman.

4 May Letterman Late Show

On May 20, 2015, David Letterman’s final show will air on CBS.  Events such as this are not altogether uncommon, but this is the first time I’ve been compelled to write about one of these things.

The reason: To me, it is anything but “one of these things”.

In fact, two nights ago, I had a dream that Mr. Letterman was walking across the street from me, and I wanted to go up to him, shake his hand, and say “thank you”.  I was unable to reach him, so I scribbled a note in red ink (not sure why the ink was crimson, but hey, it was a dream) and handed it to a Late Show staffer who happened to be close by. They promised to get the letter to him.

I was not able to meet David Letterman in that dream, but I have met him twice, and was even interviewed by him.  I shook his hand, made him laugh, received a compliment from him, and he even handed me a sponge.

All of that is very high on my lifetime thrill meter.  Super-amazingly high.

I was a huge admirer of Johnny Carson.  I enjoy Jay Leno.  I love Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Conan O’Brien.  But, for me, David Letterman is king, and always will be.

This was the only show, be it on NBC, or CBS, that I would watch EVERY night.  For years it was community viewing with my buddies, then, I watched with my wife, then with the wife and kids.  Now, the kids are adults.  We all still watch.  Always the same. Always Letterman.

I won’t rehash all of the crazy skits, but, things like the Velcro Suit and the Alka-Seltzer Suit were just not the norm on television.  Having a run-of-the-mill, middle-aged, Brooklynite named Calvert DeForest appear regularly as a hapless, and generally un-scripted, character named Larry “Bud” Melman was pure genius. That was taken to the next level when Calvert played “Bud”, who in turn played “Kenny the Gardener”.  You couldn’t get stuff like this anywhere else.  Stuffy types didn’t get the joke.  They watched other shows.  Those of us who loved Letterman felt like we were part of some “in crowd”.  The more ridiculous it was, the better we liked it.

I have been to so many Letterman tapings that I’ve lost count.  I’ve been to the big anniversary shows too.  My wife, my buddies, and I were in the front row for a big anniversary show at Radio City that included Bob Dylan, Bill Murray, and a host of others.  We stood in line for hours to grab those seats.

There used to be a stand-by list for tickets, where show staffers would call you on the phone if seats opened up.  To get tickets, you had to answer a David Letterman trivia question.  I never got one wrong.

I used to work security for Saturday Night Live just when Dave was beginning his NBC show. I was about twenty years old.  One time, he was exiting the building at 30 Rock, through a revolving door, just as I was entering.  I nodded at him, and smiled, through the glass.  He did the same.  I count that as “meeting him” and always will.  I went full-circle in that spinning door just so I could watch where he was going outside the building.  A tiny car pulled up.  A VERY tiny car.  And old.  Someone got out, pushed the front seat up, and Dave squeezed into the back, with a couple of others.  There were at least five people jammed into that little vehicle.  I guess I had expected a limousine.  Letterman got into a car that looked like it would normally carry me and my buddies.

That made me smile.

A couple of years later I REALLY met David Letterman.

I was on line outside the show, as usual, with my fiancée, and our friends.  A staffer came up to me and asked if I had a good story about a recent snowstorm that had blasted New York City.  I had absolutely nothing of interest to report, so of course I immediately said “Yes.”

Our whole group was ushered inside and seated in a prime, reserved location.  We were the first audience members in the studio, so the room was even colder than its usual, famously freezing temperature.  Paul Shaffer and his incredible band were not yet even on stage to warm up the crowd.  The sound system was playing “Another World” by Joe Jackson, and I truly felt like I was in another world.  I knew that I was going to be interviewed by David Letterman.

I had no idea what his line of questioning would be, but I had seen the show enough to know that it would, at its core, have little to do with whatever I had experienced in that blizzard.

Our segment was entitled “The Winds of February”.  I learned this as it began.  He interviewed a man sitting in front of us.  I knew there would be three audience interviews, but I didn’t know if I’d be next, or third.  While Dave questioned the first guy, I saw on the monitor that they had a scrawl on the screen that read “Part One: The Storm Gathers”.  I paid no attention to what the guy was actually saying, as I readied for my part.  When Dave came to me next, he asked where I was from.  When I answered “Brooklyn” I got a big cheer. I knew the New York crowd was with me.

Then, before we continued, and as a bit of a shock to Dave, I decided to introduce him to my girlfriend (and now wife), Joanne, who was seated beside me, as I stood with Letterman.  The crowd chuckled at the change of pace, and Dave seemed to get a kick out of it (how much of a kick will be revealed later).  He shook hands with Joanne, said “Very nice to meet you”, and was quite pleasant about it all.

Then, he asked me about my snowstorm experience.  I remembered that “Part One: The Storm Gathers” scrawl that they had placed in front of the first guy on the monitor, so I just began by saying “Well, my story picks up just about where his leaves off…”

That was all it took.  The crowd got it and howled.  Dave stopped a bit just to laugh at my joke.

I had made David Letterman laugh.

I forget most of the rest of the interview, but sure enough they put something up below my face that read “Part Two: The Storm Descends” (or something like that).

After Dave interviewed the third guy, and as the show left for commercial, he returned to me, shook my hand again, said something to me about how he appreciated how I helped the bit, and got the joke.  Then he handed me a coveted “Late Night with David Letterman” sponge.

The letters have faded, but I still have it.

Here’s the best part:  About a month or two later, the show did a bit called the Late Night Emmy Awards.  There was a category for “Best Audience Member”.  In typical, brilliant, Letterman fashion, guess who won?

“And the winner is – Dan O’Connor’s girlfriend.”

Yes, Joanne, who did nothing but shake Dave’s hand and smile, won the “award”.  They had an elderly woman come on stage to “accept”.

“Dan O’Connor’s girlfriend is away in France and unable to accept in person,” said the announcer.

Absolute genius.

As I write this, there are but a handful of nights that will include the opportunity to watch a new episode of a talk show featuring David Letterman.

I will watch every one.

Thank you to Mr. Letterman, and to everyone who has ever worked for him.

This will never happen again.

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357272093&sr=8-2&keywords=sons+of+the+pope

TRUE GANGSTER STORIES (Part 1)

23 Mar

Long before Gangsta, there was Gangster.

“John Gotti is my uncle.  He’s gonna kill your whole family.”

Most people I know enjoy a good mob story; especially, the TRUE ones.  As a former police officer, I have no love for lifelong criminals.  The world would be a wonderful place without them.  There is a certain fascination with gangsters, though.  The REAL ones, anyway.  Those who won’t bring harm to your loved ones – unless your loved ones are part of “The Life”.  The ones who keep their bloodshed exclusively in-house gain a certain respect from me, even though I’d put them behind bars in an instant.  I’ve seen the workings of the mob through the eyes of a Brooklyn kid who lived among the legends, and then, much later, from my perspective as a New York police officer.  My New York friends and family have a seemingly endless supply of mob stories, as well.  Actually, there may not be any true good guys or bad guys.  Only differing shades of gray.
I, along with my late cousin, Peter Randazzo (who had even more tales than I) have a novel called SONS OF THE POPE.  It is fiction – but based on things all too real.  It is the story of a family-within-a-family.  It spans five decades of New York.  It, as the best-selling title ever from its publisher (Blood Bound Books) has achieved something that doesn’t happen often – an option for television for an indie novel.  More on all of that, and some pretty big name praise for the book, at the end of the post, but how about some REAL organized crime stories – FOR FREE – from the mouths of the Brooklyn folks who were there?  None of these incidents appear in my novel. That is chock full of the better ones. Unless an incident is already public knowledge, names have been changed to protect – everyone.  Feel free to add your own stories in the comments section for all to see!

If this post draws interest, I will add additional true mob stories in a series, perhaps weekly, so be sure to “follow” this blog to be notified of the latest updates!

It might now be relevant to include a quote from the first page of my novel as we begin:

“Though inspired by certain true events, SONS OF THE POPE is a work of fiction.  Because as many a New Yorker will tell you when asked about organized crime…There’s no such thing.”

(To be continued below SONS OF THE POPE link).

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357272093&sr=8-2&keywords=sons+of+the+pope

“John Gotti is my uncle.  He’s gonna kill your whole family.”

I’ve heard that, or some variation on it, countless times.  Sometimes Mr. Gotti was their cousin, or their aunt’s ex-boyfriend, or their girlfriend’s neighbor.  The smarter ones would use John’s older brother, Peter Gotti, as a more realistic curveball.  This was when I was a cop in New York.  Mind you, I was working in Suffolk County, Long Island.  My precinct was 30 miles from John Gotti.  Seemed any punk who was unhappy with being locked up, somehow thought the cops would shudder in fear, and open up the jail doors, at the mere mention of their fictional connection to a famous mobster.  I can only image what the NYPD cops heard.

Years before, as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, if I happened to have the upper hand in some street fight, or even just an argument, I’d get Carlo Gambino or “Big Paul” Castellano thrown in my face as the man who was going to do me in.  That’s right, the alleged head of an organized crime family was going to execute a 15 year-old boy because he happened to have someone in a headlock.

The point of all this is that the big mouths who are quick to tell you how “connected” they are, or boast about who they “know”, and who is going to be dumping you in a swamp, are always completely full of shit.

If you have a confrontation or altercation with someone, and they dust themselves off, give you a steely-eyed smirk, and quietly walk away, THEN you might have something with which to concern yourself.

My wife watches the VH1 television series MOB WIVES, and whenever I have seen a bit of it, my mind has been blown.  Some of these ladies may actually be connected to alleged crime families (or were – before they were excommunicated), yet they are the complete antithesis of a true gangster, in every way.

The late Vincent “The Chin” Gigante – a man who, to downplay any relationship to the criminal mastermind the government accused him of being, spent decades walking the streets in a bath robe and staring into space – can you picture his reaction to watching an episode of MOB WIVES?

Seems all they do on that show are scream at each other, call one another “rats” or “cop-callers”, and boast about their affiliations with “the lifestyle” – oh, and they do this all ON NATIONAL TELEVISION!  Back in the day, this would not have stood a chance of happening.  In fact, in the early 1970s, the makers of the film THE GODFATHER made a deal with legendary wiseguy Joseph Colombo, whereby the terms “Mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” would not be uttered in the movie – and that motion picture, based on Mario Puzo’s novel, was FICTION. Shortly thereafter, Colombo was shot, paralyzed, and eventually died from his injuries.  Word on the street was that he was targeted because he was bringing too much unwanted publicity to the five crime families of New York.  This was the guy who thought THE GODFATHER was bringing too much attention to the Mafia – and HE was likely gunned down for doing the exact same thing.

Now, think about MOB WIVES one more time.

I lived in the heart of the Joe Colombo/Joey Gallo stronghold for a part of my youth.  I lost my parents before I turned seven, so I bounced around a bit between families – both mine and the territories of the “Five Families” of New York.  I always, however, lived in Brooklyn.  From 1960 through 1990.

Joe Colombo’s Italian-American Civil Rights League offices were directly across the street from the apartment in which I lived, on Fifth Avenue.  I could see it from my bedroom window. Right around the corner, on President Street, was the entry into Joey Gallo’s territory.  Many believe that Colombo was shot (in 1971) because of his many television appearances in connection with his Civil Rights League.  Too much of a spotlight brought to the families.  Most also believe that Joey Gallo was behind the shooting, though he did not pull the trigger himself.  A year later, Gallo was murdered in a restaurant in Manhattan.  Bob Dylan even wrote a song about him.  “Joey” appears on my favorite Dylan album, DESIRE.

Did you know that the mob even controlled gumball machines?

Joey Gallo’s crew used to give neighborhood kids a quarter to smash any gumball machines that were not owned and operated by their gang.  Well, one day, a shoemaker on Smith Street caught three kids in the act of destroying the machines in front of his store.  He managed to grab one as they fled and began to inflict some street justice.  I guess he didn’t count on the other two returning to help their captured friend.  Return, they did – and the three of them handed the shoemaker one of the more serious beatings the neighborhood had seen.  The kids made their bones that day.  Instead of the 25 cent piece they would normally receive for the routine machine-smash, they each received a stack of crisp bills.  Within days, the Joey Gallo gum machines stood in front of that shoe repair shop.

As a child, my own Italian wife, Joanne, growing up near Court Street, was told by her parents, “Do not go too far down President or Carroll Streets.  That’s where the gangsters are.”  The many law-abiding Italian-Americans went to great lengths to steer clear of the trouble.

After Gallo’s murder, his sister Carmella declared, over his casket, that “The streets are going to run red with blood, Joey.”

This may have run through the minds of some of my childhood friends as they sat, one late night, on a street corner in Sheepshead Bay.  They were in their early teens.  A black car pulled up, and two well-dressed, burly men got out.  They walked up to the teens and said “Yous might wanna go somewhere else.  It ain’t safe here.”  Now, these kids usually would have risked a smack in the teeth by responding in some smart-ass manner, but they had the street sense to know this was the big leagues.  They retreated into the alleyway behind the buildings.  Within the hour they heard the shots fired, screams, then, a bit later, police sirens.  That meant, to them, that they could emerge.  They ambled from the alley to find people surrounding a bloodied man on the sidewalk.  He was in front of a restaurant and a health club.  They recognized the woman kneeling over his body as a young lady they knew from the neighborhood.  For reasons known only to her, she was wiping his blood on her arms and face as he died.

“The streets are going to run red with blood, Joey.”

Those same kids, in that same back alley, had an incident happen in broad daylight, as they played a game of Wiffle Ball.  The stores and restaurants along a certain section of Avenue U would have their back doors open into small yards that were fenced in from that particular alley.  There was a restaurant there that had closed down and was converted into a “social club”.  The kids were often given five bucks by the club members to run to OTB (Off-Track-Betting was a legal form of wagering on the horses in NY at the time) and bring back copies of The Racing Form (also known as the “scratch sheet”).  The kids had earned their cash, brought back the Racing Forms, and were now onto their Wiffle Ball battle in the alley.

They thought they heard fireworks.  Maybe some M-80s or “ash cans”, they figured.  Then the men from the social club began to scale the back fence and spill into the alley, completely disrupting their ball game.  It was a shotgun hit in the club.  The kids later learned that the victim was the father of someone they knew fairly well.

Remember that health club I mentioned, outside of which the young woman was wiping her dying boyfriend’s blood all over herself?  As a kid, I “worked” there.  It was also featured in the documentary PUMPING IRON, which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou (“Incredible Hulk”) Ferrigno.  When I say I “worked” there, I mean I had a handshake deal with the owner.  I would come in at the end of each day and put away all of the weights that were strewn about the floor.  I would keep the place tidy, and in return, I could work out any time I wanted. That is how Brooklyn operated back then.  That’s how an orphaned kid, without a cent, could secure a prime health club membership.  Also, see nothing and say nothing.

The Story of Muscle Matty:

Muscle Matty might’ve been the strongest guy I’ve ever met, in terms of physical power.  Sometimes it would take two of us kids to hand him the dumbbell he was going to pump with his ONE hand.  We were in awe of him.  He was a monster.  Unfortunately, he was also a monster of a different kind, and we had no idea.  It seemed Muscle Matty had a thing for under-aged boys.  Word was, if the boy wasn’t interested, Matty might just take what he wanted anyway.

Who was going to stop him?

This may have been one of those cases where the mob actually did some good.

Matty apparently came upon a boy he fancied in a public restroom.  The kid wanted no part of him, but the muscle-man forced himself on the child.

Unfortunately for Matty, that kid was one of the quiet ones who knew better than to boast about the connections he had.

Maybe a week later, Muscle Matt’s body was found with his own severed penis stuffed in his mouth.

Lest anyone think my claim is that only Italian-Americans can be gangsters, I can assure you that I am well aware that there are gangs and gangsters of almost every ethnicity.  It’s just that the Mafia has risen to a strange level of popularity in American culture.  My own father, at the age of eight, in 1931, was almost accidentally gunned down – most likely by Irish-American gunmen.  He was just a kid walking down a Brooklyn street at the wrong time, when one of those machine-gun-out-the-window-cars we have all seen in the movies turned a corner blasting at somebody.  He dove under a parked car for safety.

“You shouldn’t hang around here, Eddie,” said one of the local toughs as everyone dusted themselves off.  My father ran straight home, never bothering to survey the aftermath of the drive-by.  He also knew, at that tender age, to be “in the wind” by the time the coppers arrived.

In fact, my father’s first cousin, Helen Walsh, was, at that very moment, gun moll, and accomplice for Irish/German-American gangster, murderer, and cop-killer, Francis “Two-Gun” Crowley.  Miss Walsh was in the fifth floor Manhattan apartment with Crowley and his partner, Fats Duringer, as they waged a gun battle with 300 New York City police officers, before finally surrendering.  15,000 people found their way to the scene of that incident that day.  My cousin Helen wound up testifying against the two men, and both went to the electric chair.  Needless to say, I am not proud that my own blood was an accomplice to a cop-killer, and also had the distinction of becoming a “rat”, or a “canary” – “singing” to the feds.
Well, we all have family members who go astray.  But, the reporter who gave the tip that brought them all down was named Joe O’Connor.  Shared my family name.  Way to go, Joe.

Two-Gun Crowley was immortalized by the character Cody Jarrett, as portrayed by James Cagney, in the 1949 film, WHITE HEAT.  I never met my cousin Helen, who lived her life out on Long Island – never uttering another word about her times with Francis “Two-Gun” Crowley.  I did know her sister, Margaret, who was all too willing to share details about the entire story.

Currently, if one does a YouTube search for “Two Gun Crowley”, footage of his arrest is available.  After he is wheeled out, wounded, Helen Walsh can be seen being escorted, and arrested, by police.  So too can Fats Duringer.

I wonder, is there any chance my then eight year-old father, wasn’t just “accidentally” in the sights of those machine-gunners?  Could this have had anything at all to do with his high-profile gangster cousin and whatever the heck she was up to her elbows in?  Could he have been a pawn – or part of some message to her and Crowley?

Probably not, but I’ll never know for sure.

I have some amazing, true mob stories all set for the next blog post, so please stay tuned!

If you’d like to read a novel that Amazon reviews have compared to gangster classics such as THE GODFATHER, GOODFELLAS, and THE SOPRANOS, take a FREE peek at SONS OF THE POPE.  It’s available in a new, second edition paperback, and for Kindle or Nook.

It has a 4.9 rating (out of 5) on Amazon.com.  4.4 on GoodReads.

It has been optioned for television by brilliant creative forces behind incredible shows such as DEXTER, NURSE JACKIE, RECTIFY, RED WIDOW, and CONSTANTINE.

Remember AL PACINO’S incredible performance in THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE? Well, the man who wrote the novel upon which that film was based, ANDREW NEIDERMAN, has praised SONS OF THE POPE, and his quote can be found on the back of the book.  Mr. Neiderman has also written all of the books in the VC ANDREWS series for over thirty years.  He has sold over ONE HUNDRED MILLION books.

New York Times best-selling author, KEVIN O’BRIEN, who has brought readers to the edge of their seats with ONLY SON (optioned for film by TOM HANKS), THE NEXT TO DIE, THE LAST VICTIM, and UNSPEAKABLE, called my novel, “A rich, epic chronicle of murder, the mob, and miracles.”

JOHN LOCKE, who was the first self-published author to sell over ONE MILLION novels on Kindle, felt so strongly about SONS OF THE POPE that he ran a contest for his readers to win copies of the book.  He bought those contest copies with his own money.  Mr. Locke’s DONOVAN CREED thriller series and EMMETT LOVE westerns have proven so popular, he became the first author ever to sign a distribution deal with Simon & Schuster.  He retained all editorial rights, and control over design, content, and pricing.  In the publishing world, that is unheard of.

Take a FREE peek at what those three New York Times best-selling authors are all excited about.  See what might spur a top television producer and director to option an independent novel for television.

Have a look at SONS OF THE POPE.

Thank you.

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357272093&sr=8-2&keywords=sons+of+the+pope

These true stories would not be possible without the help of Paul Smith, Ken Angelos, Deborah Joyce MacDougald, Nora Ball, M.a. Tarpinian, Michael Musumeci, Marc Sheer, Thomas Pirics, Jason Altman, Maureen O’Connor, & Joanne O’Connor.

UPDATE: Ariana Grande’s Latest Response. One Week Later.

29 Aug

BRAND NEW UPDATE (08/29/2014) – ONE WEEK AFTER THE ARIANA GRANDE INCIDENT.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE RESPONSE FROM MS. GRANDE AND HER REPRESENTATIVES?

THE ORIGINAL POST, THAT SOMEHOW BECAME A NEWS ITEM, IS RIGHT BELOW THIS ONE.

How has Ariana Grande responded to the disappointed MTV contest winners?

That is the question I have received most over the past week.  There have been a lot of questions, and I’ll try to answer them all here at once. This has actually become too big to even handle by a family without the power of a public relations army working for them.

I never imagined that our little blog post would be read by hundreds of thousands of people, in almost 200 countries, but somehow, it has.  Many of these people have asked if Ms. Grande has reached out to the fans she walked out on one week ago. These are the most popular questions:

“Has she invited everyone to re-do the meeting?”

“Has she mailed the explanation letter she talked about writing?”

“Has she tweeted any of the fans who were there?”

“Has she called anyone on the phone?”

We have waited a week to answer these questions, as we didn’t want to rush into anything, and my daughters had faith that she would maybe just make a two minute phone call, so they could all explain their side, get past the whole thing, and the girls could concentrate on buying and enjoying her new album.

Our family has been bombarded with interview requests all week – and up to this point have granted NONE.  We had no desire to make this a bigger issue. Those few who have labeled us as “fame hungry” may not realize that we wrote a post, out of frustration, on a blog that used to get maybe 3 hits a day. We didn’t follow up until now, and we didn’t sell any interview to anyone. We just wanted to speak out for fans everywhere – even those who now hate and harass us.  Treating contest winners as an annoyance is not really cool.  This was not a case of interrupting a celebrity on the street, or in a restaurant, and it was not a large scale meet and greet of hundreds of people.  It was three contest winners, with one guest each. That’s it.

Ariana has tweeted that she was saddened by the contest-winning artwork that featured a drawing of her and her departed grandfather.  We do not dispute the fact that she may well have been so affected, but this is important to note, please:

EVERYTHING in the original blog post occurred BEFORE she saw the artwork that featured her and Mr. Grande.

EVERYTHING.

The “only a selfie allowed” warning.

The confiscation of any gifts intended for her, including one fan’s contest-winning CD of violin versions of Ariana songs.  That young man poured his heart into that, and traveled across the country to hand it to her.

The lack of banter with anyone – not even asking their names, or if they were the contest winners (as opposed to the guests).

The ordering of security to be sure all non-selfies were DELETED.

Heading off to leave after spending just seconds with each winner.

ALL OF THIS OCCURRED BEFORE ANY ARTWORK WAS PRESENTED TO ARIANA GRANDE.

She was already walking away from her fans when my daughter Jen mustered up the courage to approach her with the artwork.  Jen and her sister Kelly had recently lost their own grandpa, and their intention was to tell Ariana that they loved her and that they felt her pain because they knew what she was going through. They wanted to say “We feel you as a person right now, not as a superstar, because we know the pain in your heart.”

They assumed Ms. Grande was aware of the artwork because it won the contest for Jen, and, as with the other young man’s violin CD, it came from a place of love. Jen wanted to give Ari the originals to keep.

The other piece of artwork featured Ariana and Iggy Azalea, and it was this drawing that Ariana was looking at when she ordered all pictures deleted. She had not seen the grandpa drawing yet.  When she did see the grandpa drawing, she walked out.  Remember, she had been on the way out already, before Jen walked up to her with the artwork. She had taken the fan selfies and was on the way out.

We believe that Ariana was affected in some way by seeing the artwork, we are not challenging that. It’s just that nobody knew it at the time, and it doesn’t really explain everything that went on before it.  The fans were treated horribly before that final few seconds.

So, to answer the above questions, there has been no contact at all from Ms. Grande to the fans in the week that followed.

We received a midweek phone call from Mr. Joseph Carozza, vice president of Ariana’s Republic record label.  The girls looked at me as if to say “We knew Ari would make this right.”

Here was the sum total of the phone call: Mr. Carozza asked me to update the blog by writing that we now understood why Ariana acted as she did – because of her being in mourning.

When I asked him why I should do that considering that everything noted in the blog occurred BEFORE she saw the drawing, he responded that this post had become a legitimate news story and that it was Ariana’s album release week, and the story was making her uncomfortable.

I told him that I was sorry for all that, but that my girls had been affected too – as they were receiving death threats.

He reiterated the notion that Ariana had wanted to contact the girls after she had walked out on them, but that MTV had no way to deliver the “letter” she talked about.

I reminded him that MTV knew exactly where the contest winners were staying for all three nights – as they had placed them in that hotel.  They also had everyone’s phone number (that’s how Mr. Carozza got it to call us in the first place), home address, email address, and quite literally – their picture IDs and social security numbers.

Perhaps the Ariana letter could have been sent over to the hotel when MTV had the VMA passes driven there two days after the meet and greet?

I suggested that maybe Ms. Grande could phone the contest winners personally, for two minutes, just to have each side make nice, put it all behind them, and I could update this blog with a happy ending saying how Ariana reached out and acted like a true star. I could then write that the girls were excited to buy the new album.

He refused.

We still waited several more days, in the hope that, within all of her promotional fan interactions, she might still call, tweet, or send a note to the original winners, as part of her weeklong album release fan experience.

Didn’t happen.

I called Mr. Carozza as a final reaching-out gesture to see if any contact might happen soon, before writing this follow up.

No, it will not.

There is a happy ending to this, though. The happiness is not with the spurned contest winners, but with the fans who have met Ariana Grande since this blog became news.  She has gone out of her way to meet many fans, with cameras rolling, surprising them at America’s Got Talent and the Today Show. Giving them VIP passes – on national television, singing happy birthday to one, hugging them all, taking Vines with them, doing repeated live chats, and telephone Q&A sessions. She also has tweeted several of them personally, and posted repeated tweets about how she loves all of her fans.

The ones who earned a meeting with her through difficult contest entries, and follow up phone interviews, have received none of that.

They have been forgotten by Ariana Grande and her huge publicity machine.

They have no voice in this world except for this tiny blog page. I’ve been asked why I wrote it to begin with – well, Ms. Grande is famous for (rightfully) defending her family when they have been wronged. I chose to do that for my daughters, and the other contest winners. It’s that simple.

But the happy ending is that, at least for now, some fans are being treated as actual human beings.

That was the point from day one.

For the few who call our family “liars” regarding all of this, I put this offer out there: Every one of us will take a public polygraph exam if Ms. Grande will agree to do the same.

Every word I have written has been the absolute truth.

We don’t have a corporate spin machine to twist the story, we don’t have the power to tell magazines and websites that we will refuse future interviews with them if they don’t slant the story our way, and we don’t have millions of fans who believe everything we say.

We just know that if we tell the true story, there will be no guilt in our hearts.

Say “Hi” – of course we’ll follow back on Twitter:

JEN: @HerNamesJen

KEL: @KellyyPatricia 

DAN (DAD): @DanOVegas 

JO (MOM): @JoanneOVegas

Meeting Ariana Grande, Then and Now.

26 Aug

PLEASE READ NEW POST (CLICK PRIMAL SCREAMING HEADER ABOVE) FOR ARIANA’S LATEST RESPONSE (08/29/14) – Thank you.

****NEW – 09/12/14 CBS RADIO INTERVIEW WITH A CONTEST WINNER. KLUC LAS VEGAS 98.5****
PLAY “ZOO PODCAST 9/12” AND FORWARD TO APPROX THE 60% MARK. THANK YOU.
http://kluc.cbslocal.com/2014/09/12/september-12th/

“Oh, Dad – I might be able to meet Ariana Grande today!”

That’s what my 14 year-old daughter, Jen, exclaimed to me on a January day in 2011.

Both Jen and her older sister, Kelly (then 19), were such big fans of Ariana. They enjoyed her in her role as “Cat” on the Nickelodeon show “Victorious”. Thought she was so charming and funny. But what they enjoyed even more was her singing. She wasn’t a pop star back then. She was a funny and talented supporting player on a comedy show. But my daughters watched Ariana’s homemade Youtube videos of her using her beautiful voice while singing other people’s songs. They showed the videos to my wife and I, and we were naturally impressed as well. We also watched “Victorious” with our girls. We knew Ariana Grande was destined for stardom.

On that day in 2011, Ariana tweeted that she was excited that she would be visiting the Titanic exhibit at the Las Vegas Luxor hotel.  We live 20 minutes outside of Vegas, so Jen practically begged me to drive over to the Luxor and wait outside the Titanic exhibit – for however long it took – so that she might see her idol.  Kelly wouldn’t be able to come because she was already at work. Of course I said “yes”. The one rule I had was that, if we saw Ariana, we had to wait until she finished enjoying the exhibit and was ready to leave. I’m not one for intruding on anyone, celebrity or not.

If Ariana were to tweet something like that today, there would likely be hundreds, maybe thousands, of fans waiting for her.  On that day, before she was a superstar, there was only Jen.

Jennifer O’Connor was an “Arianator” before it was even a term.

We waited on a bench near the Titanic exit for hours. I read a book while Jen kept her eyes on the gift shop.

“Oh gosh. There she is,” said Jen. She was actually shaking.

We watched from a distance as Ariana, her mom, and one or two other folks paid for their purchases and began to exit. First Ariana stopped to slip on a hoodie she bought in the shop. Then they moved toward the exit. Ariana spotted Jen smiling at her. Jen didn’t have to say anything.

“Hi,” smiled Ari, “Do you want a picture?”

“Yes, please. I’m such a fan of yours. I saw your tweet and hoped I could come down and meet you.”

“Aww, that’s so cool,” replied Ariana, “What’s your name? Check out my new hoodie! Do you like it?”

They chatted for a minute or two, and then posed for a photo. Ari threw up a peace sign. I took the picture.

“Can we do that again, please?” asked Ariana, “I think I probably looked terrible in that one.”

Of course I re-took the photo. Ariana never asked to see or approve of either picture. Jen deleted the first one, without being asked to do so. She did it out of common respect. As they said their goodbyes, Ariana hugged Jen, and Mrs. Joan Grande actually thanked us for coming to meet her daughter. It was a wonderful experience, and Jen has told the world about it for years.  Ariana Grande was one of the nicest celebrities we have ever encountered – and between originally living in New York, then Vegas, and our frequent trips to L.A., we have come across a lot of them.

Flash forward to August, 2014. Ariana is a superstar. But surely she is still the same sweet girl where it matters most – in her heart. Maybe, maybe not.

“PEPSI, MTV, AND VH1 ARE GIVING YOU THE CHANCE TO WIN AN AMAZING TRIP TO LOS ANGELES TO HANG WITH ARIANA AND WATCH HER PERFORM LIVE AT THIS YEAR’S (MTV VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS).”

That’s how the contest was advertised.  Contestants had to produce some art and say why they loved Ariana so much.  They also had to follow and hashtag MTV, VH1, and Pepsi, label it as #ArianaNOW, and a few other things.

Jen spent days working on artwork of Ariana, wrote why she loved her, and amazingly, became a finalist. She was then interviewed via phone by an MTV rep for the second stage of the competition, and a few days later was announced as one of the two MTV winners (there was another winner through VH1). All winners were permitted to bring a guest to L.A., so naturally Jen chose her older sister (another Arianator).

The winners were placed at the Standard Hotel in Hollywood. They were told to get to the L.A. Forum in Inglewood for a 5 PM meeting with Ariana. They had to provide their own transportation. Jen and Kel arranged for a taxi to take them. They know that Los Angeles traffic is horrific so they left extra early from the hotel so that they wouldn’t miss the event that they were so excited for. Jen brought her winning artwork because she wanted to give it to her idol. She also wanted to remind Ariana of their prior meeting by the Titanic exhibit, when it was just Jen, Ariana, and that cute hoodie.

Jen and Kel got to the Forum early, as traffic wasn’t as bad as they had been warned. They were not allowed inside, or even permitted to wait in the safety of the parking lot. Fair enough – though probably not hospitable or decent, it was never promised that they’d be let in early. At least they knew they wouldn’t be late, and miss the chance to “hang” with Ari.

Turns out, they were never permitted in the building at all.  An MTV staff member in a big tent said “You can’t stay here. I don’t know where you can go, but it can’t be on the property. Also, this neighborhood is unsafe so be careful out there.”  At some point later, they were allowed into the parking lot, where all the winners and guests stayed, being shuffled from table to table as more “important” people appeared.  They waited till around 7:30, outdoors, for the meeting with Ariana. They were all hungry and cold, and despite a huge party barbeque going on in the tent beside their benches, they were offered nothing but a bottle of water the entire time.  Still, no problem – that’s life sometimes.  Some folks care, some don’t.

Here’s where it gets shady:

Jen and the other MTV winner (a young man of 16 who traveled across the entire country for this meeting) were interviewed on camera by MTV to be broadcast at a later date. Before the camera rolled they were told they would be asked what it was like meeting Ariana, and they had to PRETEND that they had already had said meeting – even though the interview was taped BEFORE Ariana ever appeared. They were told what to say, almost word for word. I know Jen feared that if she refused to do this, she would not meet Ariana (though she was not told that).

That, my friends, is known as a RED FLAG.

After the bogus interview, Ariana was set to appear. First, she did an on-camera interview. We don’t know what it was about, but I’m wondering if she also faked that the meeting had already taken place.  She then approached her fans without a smile – just an icy look as she toyed with her hair.  She was surrounded by 8 to 10 assistants.  Ariana stood by, with a blank stare, as the rules came fast and furiously from a staffer:

“You are not to present Ariana with any type of gift or anything. Give them to security and they will get them to her. You can take a selfie with her, but nothing else.”

Remember, these are not kids who interrupted Ariana during dinner at a restaurant, they are pre-screened contest winners who poured their hearts into their winning entries. The 16 year old boy had recorded a CD of beautiful violin cover versions of Ariana songs. It won the contest for him, and he wanted to present it to her.

It was taken away by security.

Ariana Grande, the superstar, then walked toward her three contest-winning fans.

She spent perhaps 15 seconds with each of them. That is not an exaggeration. They took an approved photo with her and that was it. No small talk. No banter. No “I can pretend I care a slight bit for you because you support me, you tweeted about me and my projects thousands of times, you buy my music, and you traveled so far, while paying for your own taxis, three days of meals, new outfits to meet me in, and federal and state taxes on this prize. Let me hear the one sentence you’ve always dreamed about telling me.”

Nothing. That was it. Don’t be fooled by the sweet smile in the photos below.  Ariana gave that grin for each picture, but then it was gone again. She never bothered to even ask anyone their name. She didn’t inquire as to who the contest winners were, as opposed to their guests, or what they created to win the right to meet her. Shocked by all this, Jen, whom Ari had been so kind to in 2011, walked up and said “Ari, here’s a photo we took together in Vegas at the Titanic…”

Ms. Grande glanced at the photo on Jen’s phone and said, “Let’s redo that picture.” She said nothing else, so Jen retook the photo. No peace sign from Ari this time.  Then Jen took out one of the drawings that won the contest for her.  Kelly snapped a photo of her smiling little sister giving Ariana the drawing.

“Delete those pictures, please” was all Ariana said.

“Can I just keep the one of my sister showing you the drawing?” asked Kel.

Ariana turned to her security and ordered, “Make sure she deleted those.”

Then, Ariana Grande walked away from her prize-winning fans without even saying goodbye.

That was it. That was HANG WITH ARIANA GRANDE, as the contest ads had screamed.

The MTV reps on scene seemed startled, but at a loss for what to do.

“Sometimes celebrities are like that,” was all they could muster, “So what are you guys doing for the rest of the day?”

CRYING would turn out to be the unspoken answer for most of them.

What did MTV, VH1, Pepsi, or Ariana Grande do to rectify this disaster? So far, nothing.

The weekend continued. On Sunday, the winners received passes to the MTV Video Music Awards (which was part of the prize all along). They were seated three rows from the back of the top balcony, possibly closer to the sun than the stage. I had told them to expect that, though. The fact that one of the winners was somehow awarded better seats than the others, seated among industry insiders, and given wristbands for he and his guest for free food and drink during the show is a mystery that was not specified as a prize, and was likely just another MTV oversight – along with letting all the contest winners out of the car that brought them to the show in a Sizzler parking lot several blocks from the Forum. They were told to hoof it to that same lot after the show, in their new outfits and shoes. How glamorous.

Do you think that MTV might have offered to place the winners up close in the pit in front of the stage with hundreds of radio contest winners? You know, to make up for the terrible meeting experience? Nope – they stuck ‘em up in the rafters.

Polite texts were sent to several MTV reps, and tweets to both Ariana and her mother, desperately asking for something to be done. Some type of re-do, or perhaps a meet n greet with some other, more fan-friendly, celebrity.

All were ignored.

It is understood that this was a meet n greet. Nobody expected Ariana Grande to become their best friend, or to even spend 15 minutes with the group of contest winners (though that wouldn’t seem to be an insane request), but 15 seconds each, followed by barked orders to delete photos, and an abrupt exit, doesn’t seem to really epitomize such an event either.

Jen and Kelly have encountered many celebrities, just passing on the street, that have spent more time with them than Ariana did with her contest winners.  These include Ashley Tisdale, Chris Kirkpatrick from *NSync, Brandon Flowers of the Killers, Brad Garrett, Nicolas Cage, Weird Al Yankovic, Ariana’s “Victorious” co-stars Leon Thomas and Mikey Reid, and many more. Every one of them kind and engaging.

Jen met Ari’s “Sam and Cat” co-star, Jennette McCurdy, at an event and was knocked out by how sweet she was. She asked Jen questions about herself and chatted about a variety of things. Jen tried to move along to give time to other fans, but Jennette actually called her back to talk more about her artwork.  Same with Miranda Cosgrove – a complete sweetheart.

In 2003, Jen and Kel received an opportunity to meet a superstar even more famous than Ariana Grande. They met Britney Spears. Wanna know how that went?

Britney invited our two girls into her dressing room at MTV’s TRL. She spent between 12 and 15 minutes with JUST THEM and her assistant Felicia.  Then Britney invited my wife and me to come in as well.  We all took a bunch of pictures, from any angle, while Britney chatted with the girls, looked through pics of their memorabilia, happily personally accepted a gift bag they had brought for her, answered any questions they had, gave them each a signed copy of her CD (which was released that day), and personally made sure that Jen and Kel could watch the live taping of TRL in the studio, even though they were both too young according to MTV policy.  Neither Britney, or any member of her staff, ever asked to see any of the pictures we took. In fact, her security guard remained OUTSIDE the entire time we spent with her.

That is a true superstar who loves her fans.

We did not expect Ms. Grande to be as gracious as Britney, but 15 seconds and a silent walk-off?

Jen also once won a contest to spend the afternoon with Disney star Ryan Ochoa (“iCarly”, “Pair of Kings”…) at Knotts Berry Farm. We expected that Ryan would be there for an hour, maybe two, and that would be fine.  He showed up with his dad and his brother and they stayed with Jen for EIGHT HOURS.  They wanted to stay longer but I insisted that they had done more than enough and I was actually embarrassed at their kindness.

Then they set our whole family up with front row seats to a taping of “Pair of Kings”. We met the entire cast after the show. They were all amazing and friendly.

Ryan Ochoa and his family have become our friends now. We see them whenever they are in Vegas, and sometimes when we are in L.A.

We did not expect Ms. Grande to become friends with any of the contest winners, or to spend eight hours with them, or give them any type of tickets for anything.

Some might say she was having a bad day.  But what about the day after, and the day after that? The fans were all still in Hollywood, awaiting the VMAs.  All involved knew that very well. Could Ariana have met them again? Could she have just sent them a personal tweet, or had a letter driven to the hotel?  A signed CD? Could she have sent out a general tweet about meeting some huge fans?

None of that has happened.  The contest winners have been completely ignored.

Nobody expected Ariana Grande to spend a whole hour with them, or give them her phone number, or even follow them on Twitter.

But 15 seconds and a silent walk-off?

We’re waiting to see if Ariana, her mom, MTV, VH1, or Pepsi will do anything at all to rectify the injustice done to these disappointed fans and their guests.  It’s a terrible thing to be treated that way by your idol.

They deserve something.  Maybe five minutes with a celebrity who cares.

Say “Hi” – of course we’ll follow back on Twitter:

JEN: @HerNamesJen

KEL: @KelleJansky 

DAN (DAD): @DanOVegas 

JO (MOM): @JoanneOVegas

Jen and Ariana. Titanic exhibit, Las Vegas 2011.

Ariana blog 3

Jen and Ariana. L.A. Meet n Greet. 2014

Ariana blog 2

Kelly and Ariana. L.A. Meet n Greet. 2014

Ariana blog 1

Jen and another contest winner being interviewed by MTV, BEFORE they met Ariana.

Ariana blog 7

Our entire family with Britney Spears at MTV studios, NYC, 2003.

Ariana blog 5

Jen with Ryan Ochoa at Knott’s Berry Farm, 2011.

Ariana blog 4

Hey, thanks.

21 Nov

You, my cyber friend, are super-smart. Congrats!

Well, at least you are probably more intelligent than the average person. I once read that people who read blogs regularly are supposed to be in the top 15% of brainiacs or something. I’ll take any positive reinforcement I can get. There is likely some study somewhere that says those who stare at tree bark all day are on the verge of wizardry, so the grain of salt has been swallowed as well.

Regardless, I thank you for stopping by this blog. As I write this, it is the season of Thanks here in the U.S.A., so I’d like to mention something for which I am quite thankful.

Naturally, I am grateful for all the usual suspects: the health and well-being of my children, the contributions of teachers, cops, firefighters, nurses, our brave military, wonderful volunteers the world over etc. I am thankful for all of that every day, as are most of us, so this Thanksgiving I also want express gratitude to some other folks who have enriched my life.

People who actually give a shit.

Now, your list might be different than mine. Doesn’t matter. There is no right or wrong answer.

Do you know when you read a book, listen to an album, or watch a movie or TV show and you just know that those involved really gave it their all? You can tell, right in your gut, that they covered all the angles, sweated the details, hashed out all the minutiae (even if they hashed it out internally – losing sleep in the process).

I want to thank all of those people for having the pride and determination to not cut corners, hurry through the process, or simply rush out product.

As your list is possibly flowing through your above-average brain and hopefully giving you some happy thoughts, here’s part of mine:

Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, the Beatles, Bob Marley, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Julianne Moore, Halle Berry, Ben Foster, and the entire cast and crews of Dexter, Breaking Bad, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Also, everyone involved in The Beatles’ LOVE by Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas.

There are more, but since statistics show how smart you are, you are also more likely to bore easily, and if I’m nearly as smart as you, I wouldn’t want to be the cause of that.

I would love to know if any of my list overlaps with your own.

These folks have brought me such joy over the years, and I have such confidence in their genius and work ethic, that just the thought of any of them can bring a smile to my face. Yes, most of them have had some lesser moments, but probably not from lack of effort. Perfection seems impossible to me, but the goal of it should be what drives us all.

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, I knew kids who were always under the spell, and the hoods, of their cars. I was never much good with my hands (other than in sports), but these kids – wow! For every minute I saw them actually driving their cars, there was an hour of me seeing them under them, feet protruding, then emerging smelling like pit row.

They weren’t millionaires, award-winning novelists, or musical geniuses.

They were giving it their all, busting their asses, and striving for perfection.

I thank them.

I thank the kid who stays in the batting cage after hours because, though he has almost mastered the line drive, he can’t get that bunt to hug the line.

The landscaper who angered his buddies in the truck because he went back for the ladder at the last minute to even out that misshapen palm tree?

Thank you.

Though I don’t pretend to be Richard Matheson or Ray Bradbury, I do strive to be like those Brooklyn kids under their cars, and the proud landscaper, when it comes to the stories and novels I write. I can’t guarantee that you would like them, but I can unequivocally promise that I put everything I had into them.

Here’s what both encouraged me and knocked me silly: My first full length work, a 5 decade Brooklyn suspense novel called Sons of the Pope, was published by a wonderful indie house called Blood Bound Books. It became their fastest and biggest seller ever. No, not Stephen King numbers. Probably didn’t sell what one of his does during his lunch break, but it did mean that someone liked it. My hard work had paid off – not in dollars – but in the fact that I brought people – complete strangers – enjoyment!

Here’s where I nearly hit the tiles: Some of the folks who praised my book include writers and directors behind Dexter (yes, one of the shows mentioned above as my idea of brilliance), True Blood, the V.C. Andrews novels, Nurse Jackie, Sleepy Hollow, the Donovan Creed novels, Rectify, Red Widow, Unspeakable, Terrified, Only Son, Sister Sister, and The Devil’s Advocate. I even got a 5 star review from Rock Over America! To a frustrated musician like me, who can’t play a lick, having a music magazine review a book was more than I could ask for.

A man who has sold over 100 million novels, Andrew Neiderman, said, in writing, that my career was one to watch.

Whaaaaaat?

John Locke, who was the first author to sell over one million self-published e-books, actually ran an online contest for his readers to win copies of Sons of the Pope. My book!

Double Whaaaaaat?

Me – a kid from Brooklyn, who had lost both parents by the time he was seven years old, and all grandparents by the time he was eleven – had somehow, in some odd quest for that perfection we can never grasp, managed to receive kudos from some of the most talented people in the world.

Dean Koontz – Dean Freaking Koontz – recently sent me a note saying he was going to be reading my short story, The Binding, from the anthology, Blood Rites, because an Amazon review compared it to his writing.

No matter what happens from here on out, I will always have that note. For that, I am thankful.

To you, the reader of this (probably overly long) blog post, I am just as thankful. You could have been doing any number of things, from reading one of those books from the cast of Jersey Shore, to working on a cure for Arachibutyrophobia* (if you don’t have to Google that, you’ve just joined the Beatles and Alfred Hitchcock on my Awe List).

So then, I am thankful to you, dear blog reader. I am thankful for anyone who bought, borrowed or read any of my books or stories. I am thankful to those well-respected creative types who’ve had kind words for my work, and I am thankful to those, on my list and yours, who really, really care about the work they do.

If you celebrate it, please have a wonderful and HAPPY THANKSGIVING! If you don’t, just have a joyous and uplifting NEXT THURSDAY!

* Arachibutyrophobia – Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth.

Books, albums, and DVD/Blu-rays have always been my favorite holiday gifts.

My AMAZON author page: http://www.amazon.com/Daniel-OConnor/e/B00B7N4USM/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_3?qid=1359501792&sr=8-3

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1377620004

Amazon 4.9 stars
Goodreads 4.4 stars

Initial Press Release for SONS OF THE POPE

10 Dec

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Highly-decorated former NY cop, with fascinating, inspirational bio, has first novel published to rave reviews from top authors, directors.

Las Vegas, Nevada – December 10, 2012 – When he was four years old, in Brooklyn, he lost his mother to cancer on her wedding anniversary. Two years later, his father succumbed to the same disease. He then lived with his grandmother, who became his second mother. She died when he was ten.

This is NOT the novel, this is the actual childhood of former police officer Daniel O’Connor, and it is only the beginning of his incredible personal story. When asked by Suffolk County Police applicant investigators how one with such a start in life could manage to pass their rigorous drug, polygraph, psychological and background tests, Daniel had a one-word answer: Reading.

It is Daniel’s goal to inspire young people who may be feeling that the world is against them to know that anything is possible, no matter how dire their current situation.

THE NOVEL: SONS OF THE POPE by Daniel O’Connor with Peter Randazzo

In Brooklyn, before the murders, before the miracle, before the 1940s were gone forever, there was a tree.

If only they let that tree alone.

Experience the richness of a story that spans half a century. Love and hatred. Devotion and betrayal. Murder and miracles.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

“Daniel O’Connor’s ‘Sons of the Pope’ reveals an interesting new talent with a snappy style. This is someone’s career to watch.” – ANDREW NEIDERMAN, 100+ million-selling author of “The Devil’s Advocate” and many V.C. ANDREWS novels.

“A rich, epic chronicle of murder, the mob, and miracles.”- KEVIN O’BRIEN, NY Times Bestselling Author of “Terrified”, “The Last Victim” and “Only Son”.

“This is a very visual novel and the attention to detail is so rich that I could smell the dirty water dogs from the NYC street vendors. Bravo!” – ROMEO TIRONE, Director ( “Dexter” , “True Blood”, “Nurse Jackie”)

“You’re reminded of music that you forgot about long ago. Joey is drawn to music in a way that you or I could never understand. With a particular love of the Beatles, his story is intertwined like a beautiful counter melody among the most foreboding dirge. Joey is lightness and innocence in a world of darkness and death that, through no fault of his own, is thrust upon him time and again. Woven through the story are references to songs that set the scene beautifully. You can hear Glenn Miller coming over the scratchy airwaves, the unique sound that is a record being played on a turntable, the neighbor’s radio playing too loudly on a summer night. It’s the nuances that Daniel adds that make this such a richly rewarding read.” – Melissa Martinez, Rock Over America magazine

________________________________________________________________________

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1377620004

Four Dark Passengers on the Set of DEXTER

21 Aug

“I’ve never been around so many people who made me feel normal.”

The Showtime television series Dexter is based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. To over-simplify, the show is about a sociopathic serial killer who happens to be a blood spatter expert for the Miami Metro Police Department.  We like him because he has fought mightily to harness his murderous urges, and uses his secret burden to rid the world of those who’ve killed the innocent. To say our family are fans of this show would be a gross understatement. We watch it, re-watch it, look for minutia in the background, freeze it, quote it, add our own would-be lines to it, play the board game, buy the Blu-rays, oh, and you might find more than one character bobble-head in our home.

How then, are we to act in a dignified manner when we are somehow invited onto the set of television’s greatest drama? It seems my wife, our two daughters and I have these dark passengers inside us that we can’t fully reveal to the cast and crew, lest they think we are insanely annoying or annoyingly insane.

I have a buddy named Romeo. He has worked on Dexter since day one as Director of Photography. He also directs several episodes of this and many other shows. In fact, he is now more often than not, a director instead of a DP. He’s ridiculously great at both.

Full disclosure: Our family didn’t watch Dexter from the beginning. When I heard my friend (with whom, many years ago, I made a sort of student film – with me mostly writing and him mostly directing) had directed an episode, I finally ordered Showtime and tuned in. I didn’t know what to expect, other than a show that I knew would LOOK fantastic, since Romeo was in charge of that aspect. I watched the episode. Then watched it again. Then I gathered the family around to watch it once more.

Since we hate to see things out of order, we quickly bought what we had missed and caught up to speed the right way. Yeah, the show LOOKED great, as we knew it would, but the writing – holy F-bomb – was fantastic. As was the acting, directing, editing and everything else. It was, and is, a perfect storm of creative and talented minds.

“I just know there’s something dark in me and I hide it. I certainly don’t talk about it, but it’s there always, this Dark Passenger.”

We had been to the set once before. On August 17, 2011 we were invited to the interior sets at Sunset-Gower Studios in Hollywood. It was for an episode from season 6 called “Sin of Omission” – directed by Ernest Dickerson. Romeo was DP. I won’t break down the characters for those who haven’t seen the show, but we watched them film a scene that featured Dexter, Deb, Jamie and Harrison, in Dexter’s apartment. We also toured the rest of the sets including the police station, Deb’s beachfront home and the church of the Doomsday Killer.

We talked with Romeo, took some pictures, spoke a bit with Mr. Dickerson (who was very nice to us), but mostly we remained silent. Our daughters, and the eldest’s boyfriend, had been instructed to speak only if spoken to, and to not embarrass our host in any way, or make him regret inviting us. Call it our “Code”.

So yes, Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter were just a few feet away, but we let them be.

Last Friday, August 17, 2012 (one year to the day from our prior visit), we found ourselves back on the set of Dexter for an episode  from season 7. Things were about to be taken up a notch.

“I have no idea what Hammer Time is. Or how it differs from regular time.”
I gave the speech again, to my wife, the girls, and my own dark passenger: The Code: “Stay cool. Keep your mouth shut. Politely answer if spoken to. Stay out of everyone’s way.”
This was going to be a location shoot in Long Beach, where most of Dexter’s “Miami” shots are filmed. We were going to watch them film a scene at a beachfront cafe. Everyone was ready to be outwardly stoic, despite what raged within us. If Dexter can do it, why can’t we?
“IF YOU GUYS CAN HANG AROUND A FEW HOURS, WE CAN PUT YOU IN THE SCENE.”
Let me write that one again:
“IF YOU GUYS CAN HANG AROUND A FEW HOURS, WE CAN PUT YOU IN THE SCENE.”
That is what Romeo said upon greeting us at the location entrance.
Four dark passengers were now tearing to get out of our bodies and go to hair and makeup as we politely said “Yes, that would be great, Romeo!”
The scene would feature Dexter, Deb, Jamie, Harrison, Astor, Cody, and…BATISTA! Plus some police extras, a few girls in bikinis, waitresses, and now – US.
Even more exciting, it seems that the shot OPENS with our family being seated at our table by a waitress before the camera focuses on Dexter’s family. We also seem to be in view behind the main action as we peruse our menus and mouth our orders to the waitress. We shot the scene maybe six or seven times and Dexter and Astor then walked right by us each time, to conclude that take.
Before shooting started, we met the wardrobe woman, who gave the girls different shirts to wear, for a variety of production reasons. I was able to keep my own clothes on. Then we chatted with Romeo as we sat at our assigned table. I asked about our fee to appear in the episode. We settled on the four of us getting equal shares of $0.00. Suddenly, my oldest daughter Kelly was tapping my arm like crazy. David Zayas (Batista) had made his way to the patio location. I laughed and told her to calm her dark passenger, but Romeo had seen her excitement and headed over toward the actor. In an instant, Mr. Zayas was at our table chatting with us! Romeo took the opportunity to snap some pictures and a couple of dreams had come true just like that.
The filming soon began and we did our little routine a half-dozen times over the course of an hour or two. None of us tripped, broke a chair, looked at the cameras, sneezed, or did anything to ruin the production, or waste the time of the cast and crew.
SUCCESS!
After our little bit was complete, the extras were being taken to the holding pen (Isn’t Hollywood glamorous?), but Romeo saved us from that and told us we could hang around a tiny production tent that wasn’t any larger than a small bedroom. It was where he would watch the shooting from some monitors and yell “Cut” and all that good stuff. As we walked in, we noticed The Chairs. You know the standard set chairs with the names printed on them. There they were, the empty seats that read: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas, Aimee Garcia, etc.
“Okay, we’re not sitting in any of those,” I thought – or said. Or thought and said.
“Please sit,” said David Zayas, as he appeared behind us, “Sit anyplace. If you DON’T sit in my chair I’ll be insulted.”
Kelly happily sat in his chair. I think our youngest, Jen, grabbed a more generic seat labeled “Cast”. My wife Joanne and I stood. Our dark passengers wanted to sit in Dexter and Deb’s seats. We were able to spend some more quality time with our friend Romeo in the tent between setups. Mr. Zayas hung around talking with all of us for almost the whole time we were there. We talked about actual police careers (both his and mine), he talked to the girls about school, we talked a bit about the show, but we all remained relatively calm on the outside. Then Jennifer Carpenter showed up. She quietly sat down with a novel, just a few feet from us. I looked at everyone, but they knew: “Leave her alone”.
We continued talking with Romeo and Mr. Zayas. Kelly was discussing her college education, forensic psychology and the fictional work done on Dexter when Ms. Carpenter put her book down and joined the conversation! The “Speak when spoken to” code had been adhered to and accomplished. She poked fun at the fictional aspect of the show and the complaints she sometimes gets from real-life “experts”. “We’re not making a documentary!” was her answer to them. She kidded us that we had just been in a “thrilling” scene (since it included no real action or murder). I told her we thought it was great anyway, even if it didn’t contain any of Deb’s famous F-bombs. “I tried to squeeze an ‘ass’ in there,” she laughed.
Next up was Aimee Garcia, who plays Batista’s sister, and Harrison’s babysitter, Jamie.
What a doll.
She acted as if we were all friends, laughing and joking, telling Jen to Tweet her and promising to answer the Tweet (both happened later that day). When Aimee left, she hugged us all. Such a nice girl.
I know what you’re thinking. What about Dexter himself. What about Michael C. Hall?
“I killed my brother. I killed yours, too.”
Let’s flash back one year to when we visited the interior sets. We were standing around with Romeo and some of the crew watching playbacks. Mr. Hall was approaching with a bowl of soup in his hand. As if in character as Dexter Morgan, he spotted a few strangers (us) and did an abrupt about-face, retreating with his soup. We didn’t mind, as we were not going to bother him anyway, adhering to our rules – but we found it very “Dexter”-like in a charming way.
Now, this time, he came walking toward the tent, another bowl of soup, saw us again, and did the same about-face.
Priceless.
We laughed and mentioned it to some of the cast and crew. They also found it funny, but assured us that he is a great guy, but very quiet.
“He treats us the same way. It’s just Michael,” smiled one prominent cast member.
The girls felt comfortable enough to tell Ms. Carpenter that they used to know a real girl named Emily Rose (the title character in a Jennifer Carpenter film about an exorcism). Her response? “That’s creepy. Are you still friends or did you dump her?” They asked me if it might be all right to ask for a picture with the actress. I thought about it and it seemed as though it wouldn’t be much of an imposition considering they were joking and there was no work going on at the time. I said “OK” and then Ms. Carpenter said the same before they even finished asking the question. She was very nice and took a great, smiling photo with our daughters.
A short while later, we made some real progress as Michael C. Hall approached the tent. He was still carrying soup. He saw us. His chair was empty and Jennifer Carpenter was seated in hers, right beside it.
He walked into the tent!
He sat beside his co-star and began talking with her. We didn’t look his way or try to get his attention. There were four dark passengers who were screaming to meet, compliment and maybe take a picture with their favorite TV star in the whole world, but we held them in check. It was almost beyond comprehension that we were on the set, in an actual damned scene on Dexter, and talking with some of our favorite stars, – not to mention hanging with one of our old friends – we needn’t push the envelope by breaking The Code. If we did anything to embarrass Romeo or have him regret inviting us, I’d never forgive myself and would have wished we’d never shown up.
We did make some very real progress. Michael C. Hall had become comfortable enough with the four quiet strangers to see us and still walk into the tent with his bowl of soup. Maybe we’ll meet him again someday, down the road.
Now, I am not Jeff Lindsay, author of the original Dexter novels, nor am I part of Ernest Hemingway’s family, as the talented Mr. Lindsay is. But I have written a novel that is to be published in December. It is called Sons of the Pope and you can read about it, if you desire, in earlier posts on this blog.
There is that old saying, “THE BOOK IS BETTER”. In most cases that is true. But when a team is assembled that has the talent, drive and creativity of Showtime’s Dexter, that doesn’t have to be the case. The production can be at least as good as the book.
The dark passenger inside me has a plan that includes doing everything I can to have a filmed version of my novel (be it as a series or movie) not only come to fruition, but be of the quality, and have the integrity of Dexter.
As I stood with my family, prepared to do another take of being seated by the waitress, Dexter Director Romeo came up and said “Sons of the Pope has some scenes in Florida. We could shoot them right here in Long Beach.”
“For the first time, I feel that the future might hold something different for me. It’s possible I’m just fooling myself, but I’m willing to take the risk.”
*All bold quotes are by Dexter Morgan.

TOP: Our family with David Zayas at our cafe table scene.
BOTTOM LEFT: Our girls with Jennifer Carpenter.
BOTTOM RIGHT: Me with director Romeo Tirone.