Why 9-11 will always be a time I reflect on my journey
In the summer of 1998 I was living in a run down house (above)¬†on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, California. Our house really should have been condemned but¬†for me¬†it was a place that gave me one of the best summers of my life. I shared the house with a couple of Maryland shore kids. One we all called Balzac (Jeff Burgee) and the other I called Flava¬†(Andrew Loeser) They were both members of a band called Color Wall and had made the adventure out to Los Angeles to chase their dreams around the same time I had in 1995.
I met these 2 at a wonderful old bar called the Formosa Cafe on Santa Monica (just off of La Brea) where I worked as a door man my first year in the big city. Balzac and I bonded over sports and music…His love of the Orioles and Steelers (no love for the Colts or Ravens) and knowledge of music were perfect for my short attention span. We bonded over some Corona’s generally brought to us from a Hollywood legend named Cassie. Cassie,¬† was a mid 70′s year old cocktail waitress who had served everyone from Frank Sinatra to Brad Pitt in her long career. She treated me like a star and everyone with me got the same treatment.
In 1998 I needed a place to stay and I ran into Andrew and Jeff at our favorite haunt and they said that they needed a roommate¬†soon. In the 3 years of getting to know these guys they had invited me into their world where I met some of their closest friends. Guys like Ira Rosen, PK, Frank Angulli, and Andrew Kyriakatos. (¬†Ira and K ) K quickly became one of my closest friends as we worked some shitty jobs together and also were pursuing the same thing.
Hollywood can be a great place and your friends become your family. I had different groups of friends…a group that evolved over time like this one was pretty special though. That summer 2 new members of our crew arrived when Schmitty¬†(Sean Smith) and Leo (Chris Leompora) made their way out west from Philly. We all were connected to someone in our group and we formed a solid foundation with each other.
That summer we all had plenty of fun. Often I would take off to some Hollywood club with another group of friends and would come home to these guys still going with some Fat Burger or Pinks Hot Dogs, playing Fifa¬†soccer and drinking warm beer. I don’t know how much I slept that summer but the statement “you can sleep when you are dead” was a true statement of that time. Flava¬†and Balzac would skateboard all over the neighborhood and their band usually played a couple of times¬†a week (often with their friend Pete¬†Yorn) at places like the Dragonfly and Viper Room.¬†K would come over throughout the week and break down life for us with his newest theories.
K was that guy who is impossible to dislike. He would allow everyone to take jabs at him and he would just laugh at himself. But, he also was a guy that was always thinking and always planning something. As someone who was proud of his Greek heritage he had been to his ancestors homeland several times. In 1998 he invited me to go with his friend Jeff Coale in July and I jumped at the opportunity.
K and Jeff already had their tickets so I flew to New York City by myself and met them the next day. I arrived at the airport and saw a panicking K and met Jeff for the first time. K had forgotten his passport in Los Angeles and would miss our flight. So, I flew to Greece with someone I had never met til that day in Jeff. K would stay in New York and join us somewhere in Greece after our trip had started.
Jeff was a serious guy. He traded stocks or some big boy job like that. I was just an out of work actor with a few side jobs who lived in a house full of idiots. I was worried that this trip was going to be really odd between the 2 of us. Of course, the fact¬†I decided to wear a trendy¬†cowboy hat (hey, they were in style at the time) and a pair of boots probably did not help my cause with Mr. Serious New York City guy.
But, we arrived in Greece and Jeff took charge. I was lucky to be with someone who had been there before. He knew where to go and when to get there. Still, we just did not seem to have anything in common. Mind you,¬†I can talk to anyone but boy was I struggling here.
We went to Santorini¬†to start our trip. Santorini¬†is a magical place and the most beautiful place I have ever been. Jeff and I got a room and would meet K in 2 days at a special bar in Santorini.¬† Jeff and I decided to go grab a beer at this special bar; a place carved out of stone overlooking the sea. This is where the bonding commenced. Uzo’s and¬†cold beer will do that to a couple of guys like us.
In 2 days I got to know Jeff. I found out his interests and why he was in Greece. He made a great living in the city but his dream was to open a restaurant. He thought Greece would be a great place to do this.
K joined us and the next 2 weeks the 3 of us visited 3 Islands with Santorini, Mikonos, and Eos all places we stayed at. I observed two friends in Jeff and K that had one of the closest friendships I have ever witnessed. They had been friends since grade school and the 2, while opposites, complimented each other so well. I was lucky to spend that time with the 2 and be the third wheel on this trip thru paradise. We had 2 days left in Greece and the 2 of them urged me to go to Athens. They had business to attend to and would not go. I thought about it and decided this could be the only chance I get to see this ancient city. So, I left and enjoyed Athens by myself.
I met K and Jeff at the airport. We flew back home to the states. 2 weeks of my life that I can still close my eyes and remember events with my newest friend and one of my favorite dudes. I can still sit back and remember that entire year and know it was a year that gave me so much.
I was living in the Hollywood Hills in 2001. I was woken up by my roommate who said a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. It was early in L.A but I jumped out of bed to see what was going on. I observed the 2nd plane hitting and began to think to myself if any of my friends were in the city. I knew some childhood and college friends were living in the city and I prepared for the worst.
I remember the rest of that day like a bad dream. I could walk you thru my entire day right now. I am positive I could not do that with any other day in my life. I saw my friend Dash Mihok at Baja Fresh and gave him a hug. I could tell he needed one and I know we didn’t even say a word to each other. He was a New Yorker and I knew this was harder on him than me.
A week went by and while I had friends lose people who¬†were very close to them the only person¬†I knew that had died was a guy who named Angel ( a New York Firefighter) who had just won a reality show I had watched. So, I did not know him. But, life was still very zombie like in LA and I decided to see what my old Melrose friends were doing. I called K and no answer. I called Shmitty¬†and he was hanging out at his new place with Balzac, Leo, and Flava. Then, he said something I will never forget and I heard like this “I am sorry about Jeff man, K is back east to console his family.”
Below is a very well written story on who Jeff was and why he was in the WTC when it collapsed. He exemplified everything I find so valuable in life. Be passionate about what you do-if you can’t do that, find something that you can be passionate about!
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