On The Menu: The Reality of Getting On A Reality Show. (Part 1 of 2)

Being on TV can help sell books. Getting on TV is hard.

But I believe in myself. And in chances. I get an opportunity to step toward my goals -- I take it. October 3rd, I'm on TNT's new reality cooking competition series, On The Menu: The Chili's episode.

I just wrote The Pink Marine, a memoir about my time in Marine Corps boot camp. Writing a book is hard. As difficult as completing recruit training. I thought finishing the book meant the process was over.

But like I learned in the Marines, there's always another battle. I typed "The End", turned the page and met a new challenge: Marketing. Marketing is hard.

I've built one of the most globally recognizable brands with millions of built-in customers that guarantees success in everything I do. No I haven't. But I love hard work.

Here's what happened. One day as I chilled in Montreal, nibbling on pain au chocolate, I read an email asking if I cook the food I write about on my blog. The email is from the offices of a new television show -- On The Menu. I lean in closer to my laptop. I'm interested. They ask if I want to compete on their cooking show.

I do!

I love Skype. I put on a live Skype cooking show every night I'm apart from my other half. Skype lets me audition from Montreal for the producers back in California. We talk about my cooking. The casting director is fun; she makes me comfortable. It's -22 ootside, so I pull on my fur hat to show her why not to be in Canada. Asked when I plan to thaw my way back to my home in Santa Monica, I say, Sunday night.

Come in Monday, she says. Oh, and bring your best original recipe -- cooked, plated and perfect.

I run on this philosophy: Nothing's a problem, everything's an adventure. Thank you USMC.

12AM Sunday: land at LAX. 7AM Monday: push a cart and myself awake with coffee at Whole Foods. 10AM, 11AM, 12PM, 1PM: cook, test, recook, retest my most impressive dish. Halibut in parchment. My most impressive is now my most important.

I ease each attempt out of the oven with the care I use when removing the funny bone from the game Operation. I rush my plated dish to the car and buckle it in like strapping a patient down for surgery. I drive as if delivering a kidney for a transplant.

I worry about my fish getting cold but I save space for concern that my hair looks great. Before entering, I flip my hair, almost sending my dish flying along with my bangs.

I have a blast at the audition. They taste my dish and seem to enjoy. I look into the camera, trying my best to answer all the questions in a way.... that will get me on the show. That's the goal. The Marines taught me to accomplish a mission. I hold onto a thought as I wonder if it's going well.

I defended our country for 6 years as a Marine, and it's still here. A guy like me. So... I can nail this audition. 

I have no idea what I'm doing but I really want to be cast on this show. Even if I never get to talk about my book, I want this opportunity. And -- I can cook.

I want to be on this TV show. And I want this show to be on TV. We all read about the disconnect in our society -- people's heads buried in devices, not feeling that the things they see (safely from a distance) are real. Mark Burnett is a game changer. Each week, four home cooks compete. The challenge is that the contestants create a new dish for a national restaurant. The winning dish goes On The Menu at that restaurant the very next day. Instant connection. We get to eat the dish we just saw on television. What we see, is what we can get.

Almost everything's fun for me. But nothing's easy. It wasn't easy to get in the Marines. I lied on the paperwork. My recruiter taped a lead weight to my crotch because I didn't weigh enough. I thought I was going to a summer camp canoeing in great boots. But I made it through. (Bet you can't wait to read my book.)

I get on the show. I meet Ty Pennington and cook for one of my culinary heroes, Emeril Lagasse. Imagine, a home cook like me!

My episode of On The Menu airs October 3rd at 8PM (7PM Central) on TNT. I hope you watch. I'll be the excited guy.

(Part 2 of this story will be published October 4th.) 

Fifty Shades of Penises

Are you a man? Let's hope the first penis you saw was your own. Are you a woman? I bet you remember your first.

That becomes your watermark -- your point of reference for every other penis you see.  You can read ancient philosopher's theories on envy. You can become a hooker under the guise of field research.

Or... I can enlist in the Marine Corps and see dozens.

I write about this in my memoir, The Pink Marine. I'd seen a few, I'd had a few -- but I learned that every one is different.

Here's an excerpt:
"A whole new world was opening up to me: I’d never seen an uncircumcised penis or a black penis, and here I was, presented with the combination.
I paused underneath a showerhead to rub the water all over me, then ran the bar of soap over my chest and face.
“Keep moving! Calgon isn’t taking you the fuck away, recruits!”
Left with only a vacant stare for protection, I saw pecs firming under chest hair as the other boys reached up to scrub the velvet of their freshly buzzed heads. I looked down at my flat, hairless chest as I rinsed the leftover clippings from the back of my own sweaty neck. I glimpsed the thick, curly pubic hair of the boys standing next to me. I looked down at the thin wisps plastered limply to my own unimpressive penis. The other boys soaped under their balls and down their butt crack. They bent over as they picked up each foot and washed between their toes.
I marched to the next showerhead, willing whatever soap rinsed down from my chest to take care of my lower body. Not looking directly at the other recruits—but not not looking at them—I thought to myself, Sure, I routinely shower with seventy other men. In fact, I insist on it.
The recruit in front of me was black. I’d never seen a black man naked. I didn’t even realize that he would be black all over, void of a tan line like the one that I’d burned into my body with year after year of swimming and sunning. He rotated under the water, and a quick glimpse took in his crotch. His pubic hair, even wet, was a small mass of tight curls, so different from mine.
Despite my discomfort at being naked in front of so many men, other thoughts started to occupy my mind. The penises. Seeing a lot of penises is probably on every gay man’s bucket list, and even heterosexual men like to check out the competition. I’m sure that a group shower is the birthplace of both athlete’s foot and penis envy.
Our neat loop through the showers was interrupted as several more recruits shoved into the room. A good-looking white boy scurried past me and settled on the shower in front of me. I recognized him as Jhimchek.
I hadn’t planned on ending up next to Jhimchek’s muscled farm-boy body in the shower, but sometimes that’s just how these things go. He confidently grabbed his cock and soaped it up. Perhaps this was his idea of getting it clean, but it was my idea of public masturbation. I prayed I wasn’t getting hard, but didn’t look down in case I made a mental and physical connection. I saw his long, soft penis with the head completely covered by foreskin, and recalled seeing an uncircumcised penis once before—and then, only in a few vintage pornographic photos. I wanted to reach out and touch it; it looked like it was wrapped up like a to-go sandwich. All I had to do was extend my hand for a quick grab, just to feel the difference between his and mine.
However, the resulting scream would be like a siren, and I’d be beaten to a bloody mess. I’d have to leave the military ashamed, and on the first day. These easily predictable results kept my hands busy washing my own body. I wasn’t a bold gay teenager prior to coming into the Marines; I wasn’t about to start a predatory gay career here. Or ever.
Although I had been looking at other penises before, now I was completely focused on my own penis—and not because I was comparing size or shape, but because I feared arousal. 
I can get hard thinking about other penises—hence the gay thing—but one sure way to bring an on erection is to touch my penis, especially with any kind of lubricant, such as soap. Trust me, this experiment had been done repeatedly, and always with the same fantastic result. The last thing I wanted to do was pop a boner while in the shower.
I emerged from my shower—or sexuality test—and looked for my towel. I snagged it and wrapped it around my waist. I wished for huge Mickey Mouse hands for extra cover as I began walking back to the squad bay. 
I watched the boys walk in front of me, using the towels to dry themselves off, not missing a step as they deftly reached down to dry an ankle or confidently run the thin, cheap towel up their legs and across their balls. I could see penises and testicles dangling between legs; I grabbed my towel a little tighter, letting my hand rest just in front of my penis, as if to tell it to stay out of this for our own good."
If anyone fears this is exactly why gays shouldn't serve in the military -- chill. I can speak for every swinging dick out there. All men look. Only 10% act out on the impulse to reach out and grab one like a to go sandwich.  Unless you're a televangelist. Then it's about 100%.

There wasn't a chance in hell I'd make a pass at anyone in boot camp. And land in some gross and badly decorated jail? News flash -- living in the closet, repressing one's true nature is already a prison.

At least I had a nice one.  A nice closet. 

Did You Just Eat a Frog?

I learned that the Marine Corps packs thrills. I didn't join expecting great food. However, after you force-march 15-miles, carrying a 70-pound pack on your 115-pound body, you want food. Any food. I'd tear into the tough, plastic Meal Ready To Eat pouch. I sucked out the compressed tuna using the sense memory of freshly shucked Louisiana oysters.

I didn't even pause to release my boot's death grip. My cracker broke as I dug it into stale peanut butter. Chomping sounded like marching. I looked up and scanned the area to see my brothers-in-arms frantically trading chocolate pudding for spaghettios. Affix neckties instead of bayonets and you'd have the trading floor of Wall Street.

"Bradley": A Play In Three Acts

My grandmother said I was born to entertain. When I took the stage, there was another actor already in place.

Curtain rises... A bare West Texas backyard. A curly haired toddler, Bradley, stands near the back door. He blinks into the sun.

My brother Brad has a strong mind. He can still picture his POV from the crib.  He recalls not understanding the words being spoken to him. Perhaps my parents had thick Southern drawls.

He remembers our father more clearly than I do. What if feels like to be a family. He witnesses two people he loves fall out of love. Understanding their decisions lurches him out of childhood. He is aware of what we have versus what we lose. He will always miss it.

A Gnocchi for Nicole

I love to celebrate an entire day preparing food. Some days I'm an old woman rocking on a porch, knitting dinner. I can be the pitcher of tea steeping in the sun for hours. Other times I'm an octopus -- reaching, chopping, grabbing, opening, rushing and plating in a blur.

When time is tight, I reach for prepared and fresh ingredients. In under an hour my Gnocchi with Cherry Tomatoes is ready to shake onto your plate -- with one hand tied behind your back.

Tie The Love Knot

man in fur hat
How do you know when you find the perfect mate?

My other half is so perfect that it seems, to those who haven't met him, that I've made him up. The fact that he lives in "Canada" makes him conveniently, possibly a legend in my own mind.

But like Teri Hatcher's rack, he's real and he's spectacular. Once we experienced the thrill of love at first sight, we settled down to get to know each other.

"Where do you see yourself living in five years?" He wanted to know. I was honest, "I'm in spring chicken's waning shadow sliding into tough old bird -- so, I'm hoping to just be living."

"What's your favorite vacation spot?" All of them. The world's an oyster, right?

"What's your favorite food?" he wondered. "There's not one food I don't like, that I've tried. Except fennel."

On our next date, he handed me a little cellophane bag of what looked like dried tortellini. I hoped he didn't expect me to cook on the spot, I was saving that for marriage.
"Love knots. Laced with fennel."

I cocked my head toward the sun, hoping to intensify my eye's blueness. I needed to distract him from the lunacy of offering me fennel.

"Wouldn't it be great to say you liked every food?" he slyly smiled.

And that's how I knew.

We constantly cross borders to see each other. We didn't anticipate our governments limiting our time in each other's countries. Mine spent a lot of money training me to be a Marine. They effectively taught me to conquer an objective, strategically, and emerge victorious.

I hate to fly, but it's easier for me to get into Montreal. America isn't as welcoming to Canadians as they are us. Our customs agents haul him away from the immigration line and interrogate him for hours, fearful he's coming into the US to take a job. If they'd let me go back with him I'd set them straight, "Don't worry, he doesn't want a job in Canada, much less here. He's only after a tan."

The Marines made me tireless but I get impatient. Canada and the US need to call a truce to their hundreds year old feud and merge. Invite Mexico and we create a super-continent that can defeat China.

Canada's freezing, but it's embraceable. I don't mind the cold. Because it gets warmer.

It gets better.

And I case you didn't know, love knots laced with fennel are delicious.

Camouflage Is The New Black

It's good to be alive.

Recently, as I boarded the bus to compete in the Spartan Race in Malibu, memories of arriving at Parris Island to join the Marine Corps popped into my head like mean drill instructors storming a bus. Bus transport held no appeal then and holds less now. They're great --  I'd much rather leave the driving to someone else -- but once you've been screamed off a bus, the gentility of being chauffeured is over. The Spartan Race is as challenging as any USMC event. There are some differences...