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Oct. 19th, 2014

Jericho

Down to the Wire!

We are just SIX...count it...SIX days away from my wedding to Nicole! I absolutely cannot believe it. I know I probably sound like a broken record at this point but I just really am amazed at how fast our engagement went, especially since August of 2013 when we booked our venue. Went by in the blink of an eye.

I mean, the process of making sure everything is completed can be stressful, especially when you're this close to it. In the later part of September, I compiled a "To Do" list for the wedding, and while I've completed a lot of it, there's still so much. These kind of affairs have a lot of intricate tasks associated with them and, especially when you're a couple like Nicole and I, you don't want to half-ass it. You want to make sure everything goes smoothly and that people enjoy themselves to the max.

The hardest part, for me, and I think Nicole might agree, was definitely the seating arrangements. Nicole and I really didn't disagree on that part but it was our parents who did. Don't put this one there, put that one over here, etc. Now you might say--especially those who aren't familiar with how a wedding works--why not put them wherever you want and forget your parents? Well, first and foremost, let's face it...they are paying for a chunk of it so we need to honor their opinion. But beyond that, even if they weren't contributing a dime, it is out of respect. We handled where our friends are sitting but they had a certain idea of where they wanted family members. Although we got in a few, small tiffs, luckily everything turned out well and Nicole and I are ultimately happy about it. Moral of the story: It turned out fine but that, to me, was the most stressful part.

You know, one thing I will say, is that I have mixed feelings right now. I'm excited and thrilled that it's coming so soon, but I'm also kind of sad. I have to say that having something like this to strive for really put a little extra pep in my step. It was something, while you were at work and maybe stressing out about a customer--or three--there was this light at the end of the tunnel. No weeks were ever THAT bad because you knew you had such an exciting event coming up. I'm going to miss this special time in our lives, that's for sure, but luckily I have this to reflect back on as well as pictures that we've used to document events along the way. It really has been a blast. All I can hope and pray for is that this Saturday, October 25th, goes as smoothly as possible.

The other part of me, as remember: I mentioned mixed emotions, is that I feel a sense of (almost) relief. While there were a lot of fun memories attached to this process, you also have your share of stress, like what I mentioned two paragraphs ago about the seating arrangements. Obviously there's more issues than that that constantly weight on your mind. Especially in the last couple of months leading up to your big day, your mind is in a hundred different places. I haven't gotten a good night's sleep in several months, which very few exceptions. I used to go to bed by 11:00/11:30 and now I find myself going to bed a whole hour later, so by 12:00/12:30. While I still get a decent amount of sleep, naturally I'd like to get even more shut-eye. But it just hasn't been possible because we've had so much to do. Weekends, weekdays, it doesn't matter; you find there's something to do practically every day. So, as I said, there is a sense of relief knowing that this milestone will be completed next weekend.

I have to say, I now know why a Honeymoon follows a wedding. It's because you really do need a vacation after all of the planning. I can't believe that in slightly more than a week, I'll not only be married but we'll almost be heading on our Honeymoon to Disneyland (for 2 days) and Hawaii (for 11 days)! I am so excited, I really am. I've never been away for that long, as I believe the most I've gone on a trip for is 10 days. This feels extra nice because the last elongated trip I went on was in June of 2013. Here we are a year and a half later, and I'm feeling elated that I am going away for a while. While Nikki and I went to Disney World in June of this year and North Carolina in July, those were very short, weekend trips. To know we'll be away from this hustle and bustle for almost two weeks is just splendid. And I'll be away from work for a while...I'm off starting this Friday, October 24th (to do any last minute things I need to do) and won't be returning until Tuesday, November 10th. However, someone at work mentioned we may be off on that day as it is Veteran's day, in which case, I'll be off until Wednesday, November 11th! That's about two and half weeks, give or take, and that is just plain awesome.

Having said all of this, let's touch base on recent events from the past month:

-- On September 20th, my Bachelor Party was held in Atlantic City...and it was amazing. I really have to hand it to Stephen, who had planned it with me since last March, I believe it was. We went over the itinerary every other month since that point and sent out the official invite in late July. I was absolutely honored by the turnout. Twenty guys made it out there and I'm so humbled by that, believe me. It just...really means a lot. I invited all the guy friends I care about and who I know would enjoy themselves and I'm elated to say that they did.

The day began when Stephen picked me up at around 10:30 in the morning. Chris (Corrigan) met us on Austin Street and we picked him up and made our merry way over to AC. We didn't really make any pit stops as we bought some bagels and beverages for the car so we got there by, like, 2:00/2:30. Our resort of choice was Tropicana and as always, it never disappoints. Ever since they remodeled several years ago, in my opinion, they're the best resort on the boardwalk. Unfortunately, Atlantic City's economy is nowhere near its best, but I believe the Trop will stay in business, even through these hard times. In any case, we checked into our room, refreshed ourselves a bit, and then it was off to Chickie & Pete's for lunch. C&P's is like a TGIFriday's with more of a seafood heavy menu, but in my opinion, is one of my favorite restaurants of that caliber. Their crab fries are through the roof!

Those that joined me for lunch that day, besides Stephen and Chris (Corrigan), were: John P., Eddie, Jason P., and Chris M. We filled up a little in there but certainly not enough to ruin our appetite for later in the evening. Afterwards, we met up with Mike, Sal, and James (Rita's boyfriend and a true friend) in the middle of Trop's "Quarter." We grabbed a few drinks at Wet Willie's and walked the boardwalk for a while. We went inside the mall across from Caesar's for a half hour or so but ultimately we split up and would meet later on.

I went back to the Trop, showered, got dressed up and such and then it was off to 'A Dam Good Sports Bar' or as I called it, 'Adam Good's Sports Bar.' While in there, I shared drinks with Stephen, Chris (Corrigan), Jason P., and now joining us, Steve B. We had a few drinks amongst ourselves and then joined the rest of our clan at P.F. Chang's for dinner. Originally we were going to go to Carmine's for dinner, but I changed that, as they wanted it to be a Prix Fixe menu at almost $70 a pop. I didn't want to do that to the guys so we chose Chang's instead. Chang's ended up costing the guys around $39 a person, from what I hear, and I was so happy to hear that. That is incredibly affordable for a bachelor party dinner. I've been to some bach. dinners that cost at least $100 or more, as the groom-to-be had chosen a steak house, so this was a breath of fresh air for sure. But, hey, I mean you have to go into a bachelor party knowing you're going to spend some money, otherwise don't go, that's the way I feel. In any case, I was happy with everything.

At Chang's, we met up with the rest of the gentlemen who joined us on this illustrious evening: Dalvano, Kevin, Giacomo, Erik, Wilfredo, Bogdan, RJP, Billy, Rich (Martinez), and then those who had been there already: Yours truly, Stephen, Chris (Corrigan), Chris (Maurer), Eddie, Steve B., Jason P, and John P. The only slight bump in the road was that for dinner, since we couldn't get an actual reservation beforehand, they split our tables into two. So half the guys sat at one table, half the guys sat at another. I was rather livid in the beginning, and certainly the guys understood my frustration, but everyone made the best of it. I was even told by quite a few friends that they thought the food was delicious, so mission: accomplished. Also, some of the guys were a bit tipsy during dinner, which made for some fun conversation.

My favorite line had to be Giacomo. He said it so dryly, making it even more hysterical. Basically, there was a table of girls next to us, celebrating a bachelorette party, so Chris M. said he would start talking to them. Out of nowhere, Giacomo goes, "Really? We're going to send Chris? That's our plan? I give up." I mean, obviously no disrespect to Chris M. but that was just funny. Classic stuff.

Following dinner, we all began walking over to Caesar's where Dalvano had recommended a bar/club called 'Toga.' In there, they had some dancers, but no strippers which was great if you ask me. Nothing too over the top but yet it had that bachelor party feel to it. We hung out in there for a while, even snagging a group shot, which I was pleased with. At that point, some of the guys started to stray, which was fine, as I even figured as much with 20 guys. It's hard to keep them contained, especially in a place like Atlantic City. Some of my friends went back to their rooms for the night, while the rest of us made our way over to Bally's Wild Wild West resort, where Jason and Erik had gone post-'Toga' and had recommended it.

When we were in there, I ended up drinking more and more and wound up riding a mechanical bull which I had never done before. It was pretty fun but I fell off within seconds. Ah well, all in the name of fun! We also watched some cowgirl dancers do their thing, even taking a couple of pictures with them. The debauchery continued as we left there (it was almost 3:00 am at that point) and wandered back up the boardwalk towards Tropicana. That was a fun, drunken walk, let me tell ya. I have some photos and videos that are just hysterical. I even took a whiz on the sand. As my friend Rich (Martinez) said, I Christened the ocean.

The night was just about winding down and the rest of the gang parted ways. Stephen, Chris (Corrigan), and I went back to our room and called it a night. I have to say the truth, it was one of the most fun nights of my life and I truly thank all of those guys who attended. I got absolutely obliterated but not like I had done at Sutton Place a few years prior. This was a different kind of drunk. I remembered a lot of stuff.

In the morning, we slept in a bit (my head was pounding, FYI) and then grabbed an early lunch at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. While most of the gang had left already, it was a nice lunch with an intimate group including: Yours Truly, Stephen, Chris (Corrigan), Michael, Sal, James, and Rich (Martinez). Even at the lunch table, my head was spinning, but I was able to enjoy what I could out of it. I appreciated the guys chipping in for me, too, which was so unnecessary but very appreciated. Following lunch, we hit the road and made our way back home with a few hours.

Once again, a giant THANK YOU to anyone who made it out to AC for me. It is appreciated beyond words.

-- So the week after the bachelor party, Michael, Sal, and Wilfredo joined me in getting our tuxes fitted for the wedding. We went to Men's Warehouse on Austin St and they were accommodating. It was a little hectic, though, as they were remodeling the place so you could tell there was a bit of a commotion. Luckily, the fitting itself went rather well and the guys seemed very happy with their soon-to-be tuxes for the big day. They are a gray color and are manufactured by Vera Wang. I hope that all the guys look snazzy. I like it because most tuxes are black. I'm not saying I've never seen the groom and his ushers wear gray, but I'm just saying, it's rarer.

Following the fitting, we went to TGIFriday's for some endless appetizers. We had nice conversations in there, including Wilfredo and his recent engagement to his now-fiance Leslie. He was talking about the theme of his future wedding and it sounds interesting and fun. God Bless 'em. When dinner had concluded, "Wild Will" had gone home but the Brothers Graffeo joined me at my apartment for a little while. They had wanted to see what the new pad looked like and I am happy to report, they really liked it. Again, anyone is welcomed over, especially after the wedding and honeymoon. We just have a lot of cleaning and organizing to do but otherwise, we're in good shape.

-- The following day, Nicole and I went to get our marriage license at the Queens Court's Marriage Bureau. It was a relatively simple process - and nice to show up to work later that day as well, since I had to go during business hours since they are closed on the weekends as we are. We found ourselves there around 9:00/9:30 and waited on a decent line. It reminded me of the DMV but a little more organized and the people were more pleasant. We just spoke with a representative briefly, signed some papers, and we were good to go. Can't believe that was already almost a month ago and that our special day is coming up so soon!

-- A few Fridays ago, Mikey G and I were to go to a WWE Live show at the IZOD center, as my boy Dalvano got me a couple of comped tickets. I was supposed to go with Michael and Stephen, who were with me when Dalvano had asked me, so all was swell. But then, when the day approached, chaos happened. Firstly, Stephen had to cancel because of work. He was taking a mandatory class for de-icing and that got moved from Thursday to Friday because of inclimate weather. It sucked he couldn't make it, but at least Mike and I were going, right?

Well, not exactly. Poor Mike got a new boss a little over a month ago who has been pretty strict with how late the employees stay. They have to be there until the deals they work with are finalized. Prior to that, his old boss would let them leave at decent times. Nevertheless, Michael could just not get out of work. He tried his best but the boss kept him. Mike was so apologetic but I told him it obviously wasn't his fault. I know how it is when a new regime comes in...not fun. I had that turnover happen a lot at the Gap as well as NBC. I waited for Mike a while near his job, just chilling in a spot that was overlooking the water, so it wasn't terrible. Mike got out around 9:30, though the show started at 7:00. We thought we'd be able to at least see the last hour of it, but the guys at the door would not let us in. We parked the car and everything. I could swear on my life, those live shows go at least til 11:00 pm but I guess that wasn't the case. We were pounding on the doors, asking them to let us in anyway. It was so funny; one of those "you had to be there" moments.

After that debacle, although it was awfully funny, we went to get some food as we were both pretty hungry. We decided on Friendly's and went to the closest one we could find, which was in...Bloomfield, NJ. Talk about random, haha. Even that dinner was kind of funny, as the waitress kept telling us we couldn't order the 12-scoops of ice cream dish. We were looking at each other like, "Do we look like the kinda guys who would eat 12 scoops of ice cream?". I don't know, it was just a really funny night. Despite not getting in to the IZOD Center, we had a good time anyway. It proves that when you're with (one of) your best friend(s), you can make the most out of any situation.

-- Nicole had technically two bachelorette parties recently. One was in Atlantic City with about 7 of her girlfriends, while the one last night was with another few girls. Many of her friends couldn't make the one in AC, so Robyn and Kim devised a NY-based bachelorette party. Since I obviously was not seeing Nicole on those nights, I made plans of my own. When they were in AC, I joined Richie Boy, Stephen, Chris M., Ed, and Jason P. at Manor Oktoberfest for a delicious feast. We then crashed at my apartment for a bit, followed by a fun trip over to the Racino in Ozone Park. I won $100 off of a penny slot, so I can't complain! When Nicole was in the city celebrating, which was just last night, I got together with Ed, Richie, Mikey G, and James. We had dinner at TGIFriday's (and yes, we had those damned endless appetizers) and then had a drink at the Irish Cottage. We were all kind of tired sooner than we would have thought, so we concluded our night a little earlier than expected, but it was a nice night nonetheless.

-- This past Tuesday was pretty cool. Chris Jericho had come out with his most recent book, "Best In The World: At What I Have No Idea." I met him twice before, for his two previous books, "A Lion's Tale" and "Undisputed," which were both great. To me, Jericho's stories are almost equal to Mick Foley's and not just because I'm a big Jericho fan. They just are. I would say also up there would be Bret Hart's book. But, anywho, it was Tuesday around 3:30 and I checked if Jericho would be signing his book anytime soon. Whaddya know? He was doing a meet-and-greet at Barnes & Noble in Carle Place, LI (ironically, very close to our wedding venue, Chateau Briand). It was slated to be for 7:00. I contemplated going for a while, but I said the true sign would be if we got out of work early.

Low and behold, my coworker Stephanie, at around 5:05 said, "Alright, we're outta here." The minute she said that, I knew I had to go. I thought it would be cool to have all three of his book personalized. Luckily for me, the trains were super cooperative. I then grabbed the car and there was little to no traffic. We got there by 6:30 which was terrific timing! The line was a bit long at about 200+ people (we were 182 I believe, and yes, we were numbered). The only sucky part was that Nicole wasn't able to join me in the actual meet and greet. They required each person to buy a book otherwise you weren't allowed to be on the line. What stupid protocol. I've went to plenty of book signings (and even one of his, which I believe was from 2011) where that rule was not in effect. I was a bit upset, and certainly appreciated Nicole taking the ride with me, but it is what it is.

When I finally met Chris (albeit for the third time), I said I was a big fan and I actually mentioned my wedding coming up. Since Nicole managed to sneak as close to the line queue as possible, I was able to point to her. I figured, why the heck not? At least it was something different than mentioning a match or whatever. I know perhaps we weren't placating to him, but I thought it'd be nice to hear him say congrats. He not only said it, he actually signed it in the book! Pretty cool if you ask me. I'm very excited to read his new book and will probably do so on the plane over to either California or Hawaii. God Knows, I've got plenty of time in the air, haha.

Having said all of this, I thank anyone who reads this journal and appreciates it. It's been awesome documenting the past 10 years of my life, especially this past year. It has been so much fun and I'm glad I can look back on it and relive it through the words written on this site.

I'm going to TRY to post one last update before the actual wedding (and perhaps recap the wedding rehearsal, which is slated for this Thursday) but we'll see what happens. I again thank you for the love and support and wish you all well.

Until next time...

--J[o]n[a]t[h]a[n]

Sep. 27th, 2014

Surprise!

The Final Countdown

Well, hello there folks! We are exactly *gasp* one month (okay, well, even less at this point) away from my wedding to Nicole! I truly cannot believe it. I was telling the guys the other night that I remember the evening I got engaged like it were yesterday. You mean to tell me it's already been a year and a half? Crazy, I tell you, crazy!

There's SO much I want to update on so I don't even know where to get started. Actually, I think I do, and not to switch topics to a morbid subject, but I have to comment on the passing of Robin Williams last month. It happened shortly after I wrote my last entry.

Nicole and I were on our way to Woodside to see her brother Chris for his birthday. We got a text from Lauren that Robin Williams passed away. I was in total shock. A very big reason for this is because just mere weeks earlier, the Graffeos, Rich Parker, and I filmed our very last bar scene for The Insiders. Without spoiling anything, you may remember Richard's character of Simon Lane having a "frien-emy" in that of Mr. Williams, so naturally there was a line (or five) about him. I immediately texted all of the guys this sad news. They were just as shocked as Nicole and I were.

I always thought Robin Williams would be one of those comedians who would be alive when my kids were growing up. The way my dad showed me comedians from his youth, I would show comedians to my children, Robin Williams most certainly being one of them. Sure, I'll still show them his work, but it's sad that they won't grow up watching new material from such a gifted comedian/actor. I reflected on RW's career and he was so amazingly talented. He had a bunch of comedic roles, obviously, but he also was a great actor, and certainly one of the best standup comedians of all-time with his whirlwind, mile a minute style. Then of course there was his achievements in voice acting and such. I mean, his resume speaks for itself.

His death was like a punch in the gut, not only for my adoration of his filmography, but because I actually met him twice when he was performing in "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo," at the theatre where Nicole works. He was such a wonderful man, who signed as many autographs and took as many pictures as he possibly could. Nicole even told me some stories where he would hold doors open for her and such. It's nice to hear stories about celebrities who put their ego aside and remain humble. In any case, as you can tell, Robin's passing still hurts but I find solace in the fact that I grew up watching him in so many different roles. Although the way he died was ever-so-sad, I hope Mr. Williams is finally at peace.

Another celebrity death shocker was that of Joan Rivers. I always am reminded of my Grandma when I think of her, as she had met her in Atlantic City as they were both walking through revolving doors. I believe Ms. Rivers said something along the lines of "Watch out, honey, you're gonna get hurt!" when my Grandma almost stopped dead in her tracks in the revolving door once she saw Joan. But Ms. Rivers said so in a caring kind of way, my Grandma recalled. JR was a pioneer for so many comediennes and I know her death also left a lot of people in a state of shock and grief. That's another one whom we didn't see coming.

While we're on the topic of passings - and don't worry, this will be the last one - back in August, my great Aunt Ida (my Grandma's sister) passed away. She was 88, I believe, and had collapsed at home. Her son Charlie found her and they rushed her to the hospital. They were able to stabilize her but she died about five days later. It was truly the end of an era after she died, as she was the last of the Caliendos. She was now reunited with all of her siblings, who were the warmest, funniest, most wonderful people in the world. Aunt Ida always treated me well, even though we weren't terribly close in later years, as she became a home-body and really didn't go out much once my Grandma (her sister) passed away in 2009.

The weekend after she passed away were services and I attended everything, including her wake on Sunday and funeral on Monday. In between the afternoon and evening wakes, we actually went to the Zanzonico home for some lunch, which her sons Charles, Nunzi, and Pat had catered from Frost Restaurant. There were a bunch of us there in their huge backyard...yours truly, my parents, Nicole, Robyn, the Zanzonicos - Brian, Karina, Ashley, Stephen (her bf/my BM), Charlie, Diane, Carol, Nunzi, Pat, Cheryl, Steve, Britney, her husband Chris, as well as the likes of the two Aunt Pams, Joe, Stephen, Aunt Betty, and even cousin Patricia. I hate to say it, though it's very true, that we all had such a wonderful time at that lunch. The food was delicious and we all really enjoyed one another's company. I told my cousin Ash that I can't believe what a great time we all had and wished we could do that more often--of course, under different circumstances, to which she agreed.

The next day was Aunt Ida's funeral and it was pretty sad. Afterwards, we all went to Bamonte's for a celebratory dinner (in other words, a celebration of her life). Many of the same people showed up to that and it was yet another terrific time. I was so honored, too, as cousin Charlie chose me to say a few words at the dinner table about Aunt Ida, which I was more than happy to do. I hope I made the family proud.

The only other bit of sad news I have (and then it's on to the good news!) is that I felt so bad for Nicole's mom over the last month. Basically, back in the latter part of July, Nicole's mom was starting to feel weak. She was losing a lot of blood and was taken to the hospital. They had given her an injection to slow down the blood as there seemed to be an issue with her uterus. She was then doing okay, but on the day of Nicole's Bridal Shower (August 24th, to be exact) she only stayed for half of it. She felt very weak and was rushed to the hospital. Although it was a great affair and Nicole is able to separate those unfortunate events from her actual Shower, it still sucks. Also of note, the aforementioned Aunt Ida had collapsed at home while this was going on, so her daughters-in-law had to leave early.

But back to Nicole's mom, my future mother-in-law. She had to have emergency surgery where her uterus had to be removed, despite earlier attempts to leave it be. On the Monday after that, she had the surgery, and it literally stretched over the course of 8 hours. Nicole, myself, and her family went there at night to see her and she literally looked like a corpse. I don't say that disrespectfully, I promise you, but I am just being honest. Because she had been under anesthetics for so long, naturally her skin looked very pale. It was a hard operation because she was bleeding so much, but luckily it was a successful one.

It took her mom quite a while to get back to her usual self - including a scare/false alarm about a week later - but I am happy to report she is well on her way to recovery and can now focus on the future, including her daughter's wedding! I truly Thank God that she is doing better and am eternally grateful that it wasn't worse. She's such a wonderful, selfless person and I'm proud and happy to be calling her my mother-in-law in under a month's time.

Okay, so with ALL of this said, let's focus on the good stuff!

Back in July, Nicole and I began looking for apartments, as we decided - along with my parents - that it would be best for us to move out vs. changing the Harrow house into a two-family, which was originally proposed. We checked some places in Glendale but there was one in Rego Park that really caught our eye. It was on a beautiful block and was right near Metropolitan - close to Wendy's, Trader Joe's, Staples, Panera, etc. The apartment wasn't terribly big but was perfect for newlyweds. I didn't absolutely love it at first, but we viewed it a couple of times and we saw the potential in it. My parents kept saying we were crazy if we didn't go for it because the price was pretty decent once we got the landlord to lower it a little bit and it was in the perfect location. It also had a remodeled kitchen and bathroom so, really, no work had to be done to it. So, towards the end of August, Nicole and I signed a one-year lease with an option to renew. I can officially say that, as of September 1st, we have been living in an apartment on our own!

I was telling the boys the other night that it was one of the best things we ever could do, especially with our wedding at the end of this month. At least we will be all settled in once we are married. I consider it a blessing that we got a head start! We've also had quite a nice amount of company so far. Off the top of my head, those that have seen the apartment already (besides my family and Nicole's) are: Stephen & Ashley, Sal & Teresa (Mauro), Bogdan, Anthony & Gina, and Michael & Sal (Graffeo). If you haven't seen it yet, I promise you will soon, as our home is always welcomed to close friends. It's just by happenstance that these friends have come by to see it. I can't wait to entertain more guests as I love having company over.

Having said all of this--and my apologies for most of this entry being a little bit more morbid than I would have liked--I will definitely post another update, real soon. It'll include my bachelor party, tux fitting, getting our marriage license, my adventure with Mikey G last night, and I'm sure a bunch more stuff. Looking forward to it.

Have a blessed day!

Until next time...

--J[o]n[a]t[h]a[n]

Aug. 10th, 2014

Lima

(Almost) Another Year Older...and Wiser (I Hope)

Hey everybody. A rather chill Sunday afternoon so I figured I would write a quick update. As always, and I'm sure I sound like a broken record when I say this, but life has been crazy and filled with events. Fastest. Year. Ever. My birthday's in 2 days? Seriously?

In any case, amongst the hustle and bustle, I try to reflect and enjoy whatever it is that has been going on. Here's some highlights from the past month...

-- Two weeks ago, Nicole and I, along with Robyn, went to our cake testing at a place called Francesco's on Long Island. They work hand-in-hand with our wedding hall, Chateau Briand. The experience was a bit different than what I had pictured. I thought it was a sit-down dessert-centered restaurant a la Ferraro's in Little Italy but instead it was a small bakery with a couple of bar stools near the windows, good for a quick nibble. I'm not saying it was bad; just not what I expected. I guess because our food tasting several months earlier was in Chateau Briand itself, I thought the experience would mirror that where we were waited on and such. I didn't mind at all that it was casual, but, again, just not what I expected.

In any case, we really liked two flavors and the gentleman who assisted us, Gian Carlo (sp?), said we could pick two flavors, so we decided to do that. Not that it's a big deal, but rather than reveal it, I'd like to keep it as a surprise for the day of the wedding. I'd like to think that we also picked a really nice cake exterior/design. I'm glad Robyn came as well...she's a pisser when it comes to this kind of stuff. She was SO excited to be joining us. I think if Robyn could eat dessert all day, she would.

After the cake testing, we actually went to my aunt Pamela's 60th birthday party which was held in her backyard. She and her family live in Oceanside, which was only, like, 25 minutes away. There was no traffic, so we got there in no time. It was a really nice get together with guests including: me, Nicole, Robyn, mom, dad, Erica, John, Johnny, Victoria, Stevie, Aunt Pamela (the guest of honor!), Joe, Joseph, Ivy, Michael, Ashley, Aunt Betty, and Joe's siblings. We also got to see Clara, Chucky, Christopher, and Lisa, along with their respective spouses. We hadn't seen some of them in a really long time! We enjoyed catching up with everyone. Overall, it was a nice afternoon, filled with good food, fun conversations, and some time in their really nice pool.

-- In more wedding-related news, we recently picked out gifts for the bridesmaids and groomsmen. It took some time, but we wanted to give them something unique. Something that they can use every day but also something that is distinct to them. There's actual one bigger item and one smaller item that we're sure they'll appreciate. Again, I don't want to reveal it here but will probably do so after the wedding. I will say, though, that trying to find the right items for our rather large wedding party was a bit of a struggle. There's so many sites (i.e. Zazzle and Etsy, not to mention PersonalizationMall.com) that have 1,000 wedding party gifts. The problem is, is that most of them, at least for the groomsmen, include flasks, bottle openers, and so on. I wouldn't exactly say those in our party are alcoholics...so...I think we made the right choice ultimately.

I honest to God cannot believe that this wedding is in 2 and 1/2 months. Why, just one year ago as of August 5th was the date that we booked our wedding venue (meaning, August 5, 2013) and it already has passed! At that point, we were 14(ish) months away (in 2013) and now we're only 2 and 1/2 away! Unbelievable.

-- The last wedding-centric update I wanted to mention was that we mailed out the invites yesterday, August 9th. We took our time in picking them out (we used Whimsy B.'s service) and choosing just the right paper, color, and font. I believe I mentioned this a couple of entries ago, but I am super-happy with how they came out. I don't say this at all to toot our own horn but I think they are absolutely fantastic and can't stop looking at them. To say they are already in the mailbox at the post office and will likely be sent out tomorrow (Monday) is absolutely surreal! Here's hoping they will get to everyone in one piece and as crinkle-free/crushed-free as possible.

-- A few weekends ago, Nicole and I joined Mike, Lucie, Wilfredo, and Leslie at the AMC Dine-In Theater in Menlo Park, NJ. Michael and Lucie met Nicole and I at my house after work and I drove us over there. We met up with "Wild Will" and Leslie at the mall and looked around for a little bit. Then we went to the movie. We all decided on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and I'll be damned if that wasn't entertaining. That Andy Serkis (who plays the main primate character, Cesar) is incredible. I really enjoyed the first incarnation as well, 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, too. The new series has not disappointed. By the way...I had NO idea The Twilight Zone's Rod Serling was the co-writer of the original Planet of the Apes. Ya learn something new every day.

As for the experience, I really enjoyed it. I don't know if I could do that every time I see a movie, but every now and again, it's a real treat. I like the fact that they serve you while you are watching a movie. It's sort of like a Drive-In movie except indoors, naturally. Reminded me a bit of Disney's Hollywood Studios' Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater, which is fantastic in its own right. It also took me back to a couple of years prior, where I joined 13 other people in going to see The Dark Knight Rises there. That is actually one of my favorite summer memories in recent years. It was just a boatload of fun going there with a lot of close friends. I think that roster was: Yours Truly, Nicole, Stephen, Robyn, Richard (Parker), Erik, Wilfredo, Leslie, GL, Chris M, Elisa, Karina, Joe and Allyson. Having said that, our recent night with Wilfredo, Leslie, Michael, and Lucie was terrific as well. Looking forward to the next time we make a rendezvous out there. Nights like those are what the summer's all about. Mini-road trips and such.

-- Last Thursday, Sal, Mike, Nicole, and Richard (Parker) joined me in filming for the very last Insiders episode. Mike, Sal, and Rich were actually in it, while Nicole was helping us behind-the-scenes.

I had work that day, as did the boys, and of course the train--out of all days--was delayed like crazy. Rich and I, who incidentally work together, were going to separate and then meet up again later, but because of the almost hour and a half delay, he just came back to my house and I took care of some last minute alterations. Soon, 'Brad' and 'Lunk' themselves arrived but we grabbed some pizza first since we were all pretty hungry. The first scene we shot was in the basement. It was actually the very last bar scene which took place at the faux "Keg Cottage" where 'JD' works. It took us about 2 hours to complete and was a lot of fun. As Rich said, "I gave it a little extra something...as I know that 'this is it.'" It's true, though. I think we were all kind of soaking it in, knowing this was the last scene being filmed down there at the bar. Although, I'll be honest, it didn't hit me until the boys left. After over 12 years, that was it. Unreal.

When we had concluded filming the bar scene, Richard left and Nicole had to go to work, so it was just Sal, Mike, and I. We decided to do the kitchen scene next. Now that I'm thinking about it, I believe that is the last kitchen scene as well for the series. I don't believe there's any other scenes that take place in there over the course of the episode, so that in and of itself is unbelievable. The scene itself came out great and that took another couple of hours to fine tune everything. Afterwards, we filmed some interviews with the cast and called it a day (more like night, since it was almost 11:00 pm). I was absolutely exhausted when we had finished, especially because of work earlier in the day, but it naturally was well worth it. Trust me when I say this, I'm cherishing every moment. It's been a pleasure collaborating with close friends and allowing my creative juices to flourish. I love it. And I love the people that continue to make that happen. I'll obviously write some more words once filming is completely finished, but for now, I leave you with that.

Next weekend, I am actually going to my aunt Roseann and Frank's house to film something for the episode. I don't want to ruin what will take place in this scene but I will say, I hope that it adds some dimension and depth to one of the show's main characters. Fingers crossed it comes out well!

-- Speaking of Insiders, let's talk about Sal for a minute. I want to wish Sal all the best of luck in the world as he and his now-fiance Carmelisa got engaged two weeks ago today! I got a call from him around noon on Sunday and he told me he was on his way to ask Carm to be his wife. I was honored that he called me beforehand and was even more flattered when he asked Nicole and I to join he, his family, and Carmelisa's family at her house for an engagement day BBQ. Nicole ended up taking off of work that day, and we both went there to celebrate with the newly engaged couple.

All of Sal's siblings and some of his extended family were there; same with Carmelisa. Her family was very welcoming and Nicole and I enjoyed every minute of it. They kept encouraging us to eat and drink over the course of the BBQ. It was a Sunday but we were partying like it was a Saturday. Of course, the harsh reality hit when it was 10:00 pm, I was buzzed, and had work the next day. But screw it! We had fun and it was an awesome day. I don't regret it for a second. Once again, a GIANT congratulations to Sal and his future bride-to-be on their engagement! Thank you for making us a part of your special day.

-- Is it me, or are these weeks flying by?! Just last week, for instance...I didn't have too much going on off the bat. But then things started piling up. For instance, although it's trivial, I wanted to print out some pictures from our recent Disney and North Carolina trips. I spent ALL of Wednesday evening doing so because the CVSPhoto.com website is kind of wacky and was taking forever to upload some of the pictures. And I guess me being a perfectionist didn't exactly help, haha. But I don't know...I just find that there are NOT enough hours in the day. I get home from work anywhere between 6:00 and 7:00 pm and I find there's so little time between eating dinner, trying to relax, or in some cases, having to take care of things you didn't have a chance to do during the day because you were at work. No wonder these weeks have been flying by!

-- This past Friday night, Nicole and I joined Stephen and Ashley at Eataly, an Italian restaurant/marketplace in the city. The food was delicious (the pasta was al dente...just the way I like it!) and the atmosphere was so laid back despite being crowded with tourists. We got a seat on the second level, so we were far enough away from the crowd that it was more than fine. We had a lot of laughs during dinner. They even asked me, after all this time, how I felt about them going out, especially since they are so serious now. I said it to them and I'll say it again right now. They make each other so happy and I'm elated for them. You could see the chemistry is there and it's real. I have NEVER seen Stephen, one of my best friends of almost 26 years, this happy. He's really changed a lot since he's finally content with his life and this serious relationship. I couldn't be happier for the guy. And my cousin? No dude has ever treated her the way he has and does. She's just as happy as he is. It's terrific and I wish them the absolute best. It's cool, too, for me to hang out with them and know both individuals so well. It's double the fun and double the laughs!

Following dinner, the four of us went downstairs and had some dessert. Stephen and Ashley ordered pastries, while Nikki and I ordered some gelato. Even though we were in the center of everything and there were tourists everywhere (which, honestly, other than long lines and such, is fine), it was still very relaxing. I liked the overall vibe of Eataly and would go back there in a heartbeat. As Ashley said when we had parted ways, we should definitely do this more often. Couldn't agree more!

-- Yesterday, my family came over to celebrate my birthday, since this year it falls on a Tuesday. Erica, John, Johnny, Victoria, as well as Sal and Teresa, and Robyn came by for some food and cake. My mom ordered a bunch of things from Gino's Pizzeria on Yellowstone and we had a feast for the ages. The cake we got was from Carvel, which was, is, and always will be (I sound like Bret Hart here...) my favorite cake of all-time. I really appreciated everyone coming by to celebrate. I am actually not having a birthday gathering this year. With the wedding coming up in two and a half months, plus everything that surrounds it (i.e. the bachelor party in September, Nicole's shower - don't worry, she knows - later this month, etc.), I figured we'll be celebrating enough in the upcoming months! I'm also throwing a SummerSlam party next weekend so hopefully I'll see some of the guys there as well.

Though I don't want to sound vain, I really appreciated the gifts I got yesterday. I was very humbled that the Mauros remembered me. I was also honored by the card my sister wrote to me. It was easily the most beautiful card she's ever given me and I really cherished the words. And, lastly, in a very unselfish deed, Dalvano stopped by and dropped off the new Paul Heyman (WWE wrestling manager and long-time promoter) Blu-ray in my mailbox, along with a SummerSlam t-shirt. I unfortunately wasn't near my phone when he came by but I texted him a bunch of times to truly thank him. That was so nice of him.

As my 31st birthday rapidly approaches, I realized that this is my last birthday in my house and as a "single" (aka non-married) man. And you know what? Yes, I thought about all the years there and got a bit nostalgic--and not in a bad way, just thinking about all the birthday/backyard memories and even those who are no longer with us, like Grandma Esther--but I'm also happy. I look forward to starting a new chapter in my life. I will always cherish the memories I've made here through the years but I can't wait to see what the future holds. Exciting times for sure!

Okay, I must be going. Thanks as always for reading this if you did.

Keep having fun and enjoy the summer!

Until next time...

--J[o]n[a]t[h]a[n]

PS - By the way, I really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy, which I saw last week with Nicole's brother, Chris. Highly recommend it. A different take on the super hero movie.

Jul. 10th, 2014

Launchpad

Summer Update: WDW & NC Trips + More!

Okay so 2014 has been the fastest year ever if you ask me. Obviously, I think much of this has to do with our wedding coming up in October. But I also think it's because the older you get, the faster time goes. Not to mention, I work at a place where they specialize in biweekly debiting so we're constantly talking about next Friday, the Friday after that, and three Fridays from now, so basically...we're always talking about the future. I just looked at my calendar, for instance, and I can't believe it's already July; it feels like I just put this thing up! It's a National Lampoon's Vacation calendar, in case you're wondering.

Of course, since the last entry (which was mid-May) a lot has gone on. So I may as well get right into it.

-- Back in mid-June, just about a month ago actually, Nicole and I went to Walt Disney World for a weekend. I was so sure it was going to fly by--which it did--but I also have to admit that we got a lot done so it felt longer than it probably should have.

Here's a breakdown of the days:

Thursday - I had work all day and then afterwards ran to the LIRR, where I took it to the Jamaica station. I met Nicole there, where we grabbed the air train to JFK. But guess what? The plane was delayed 3 hours. And here we thought we would get there at least by 11:00 pm to head to Downtown Disney for a late night dinner. Instead, we got to our resort at almost 2:00 AM and didn't get to bed until 4:00 AM because of a mixup in the room. The positives? We had Shake Shack at JFK for dinner and wine followed right after, not to mention, we were spending the weekend in Disney World, so as long as we got there in one piece that's all that matters.

Friday - Woke up extra early but were comped a taxi ride courtesy of our resort, Disney's All-Star Movies, to the Magic Kingdom where we had breakfast at The Crystal Palace. We joined Winnie the Pooh and his gang from the 100 Acre Woods for a breakfast buffet. We then went on a bunch of rides including Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, Peter Pan's Flight, and the newest addition, The Seven Dwarfs' Mine Train. It was a short ride (no pun intended) but very cool as it was fast during some parts and slow during others. The animatronic dwarfs were amazingly detailed. We also had a run in with "Gaston" near his area in the New Fantasyland. The guy who played him was hysterical and said, "Normally I'd ask you (to me), 'How's the little wifey?' but I guess I'll ask her (Nicole), 'How's the little husband?'" He was such a jerk but...well played. For dinner, we had a smorgasbord of American food at the Liberty Tree Tavern and it was fabulous. We ended our night at Downtown Disney, where we went to World of Disney and our favorite, Ghirardelli, for some dessert drinks.

Saturday - We spent the morning sleeping in a little and having breakfast at the resort. While Nicole was getting dressed, I scouted the resort for different photo ops including at their "Toy Story" and "Mighty Ducks" sections. Our park for the day was Disney's Hollywood Studios and we started off by going on Tower of Tower and The Great Movie Ride, to name a few. We had lunch at my favorite themed restaurant of all-time, The Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. To refresh, that's the place where you sit in tables that are shaped like cars and watch cheesy sci-fi movie trailers from the '50s and '60s. The ambiance, the food, everything is awesome about that place. After lunch, we went on more rides including Star Tours, "Toy Story" Midway Mania, and Aerosmith's Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. For dinner, we kept it simple and ate at one of our past favorites, Kona Cafe, which never fails to impress. A sign of things to come, since it's Hawaiian-themed and that's where we're going for the bulk of our Honeymoon. Once our delicious dinner had concluded, we went back to Downtown Disney and once again went to World of Disney and Ghirardelli.

And of course, the next day, Sunday, we headed back home around noon. As you can see, I wasn't exaggerating when I mentioned that we did a lot on our trip. You know, it never ceases to amaze me that no matter how many times we head to Disney World, there's always something new to discover. The prime example would be: we have about 5 or 6 albums we've compiled from our various Disney trips and each of them contains many new pictures because everything is always so detailed over there. I said it once and I'll say it again, it's not Disney Street, it's Disney World. It's gigantic. So much to see and do. I don't think we'll ever get sick of it. And why should we? Speaking for myself, I grew up a huge fan of television and movies and going down there is like stepping on the set of one. Even if you're not the biggest Disney nuts like we are, you have to at least appreciate what they bring to the table.

-- In some wedding-related news, it's ALMOST 3 months away. It's un - BO - lievable! I remember last summer when we were looking at all these different venues--I believe we saw 9 in total--and we finally booked Chateau Briand in August. At that point, it was 14 months away. And now it's almost three. Scary!

People often ask me if I'm nervous, and I'm honestly not. I'm very excited. The only thing somewhat nerve wracking is making sure you get all the details right and that you're not forgetting anything. Some examples of that would be picking out the photos for our slideshow that the DJ will produce. When you take 1,000 pictures a year and you've been dating since 2009, that's kind of tough. I know that we have some in mind, though, so hopefully we can narrow it down.

Some future wedding-related activities include the cake testing (which is next Saturday afternoon), picking out designs for table numbers, what gifts to get the groomsmen and bridesmaids, compiling the menus (which I believe Tiffany is handling, thankfully), visiting the neighboring hotel to block off a set of rooms (which we'll be taking care of this Saturday), tux fittings, and so on. Then of course, there's preparation for Nicole's bridal shower which is in August (don't worry--she knows about it; it's not a surprise) and then the bachelor party is in September while the bachelorette party is in early October. I'm sure I'm missing 1,000 things but that's some of the items off of the top of my head.

I think the biggest struggle is most definitely the expenses that go into a wedding and everything that surrounds it. We also have to pay for part of the Honeymoon beforehand so that's a challenge in and of itself. I'm certain, though, that we will have enough for everything by the time it's due. Plus, my parents have offered to help with anything they can (to borrow, I should mention) and they know they'll get every dime of it back. And, of course, Nicole's parents are paying for the actual wedding reception so we are forever grateful to them. I'm not writing this to be all public about it, by the way. I'm very appreciative of everyone's help and just want to be able to look back on all this preparation and take a second to thank these people in my mind.

I feel good knowing that many married couples (i.e. Jason & Joanna and Kim & Vinnie) have said that it's your day and is worth every penny. Yes, it's super expensive, but they said, looking back on it, you'll be so glad that you did it. I always appreciate the advice of other friends of ours who are married. It really means a lot.

Speaking of married couples--or at least, engaged couples--back in early June, Michael and Lucie had an engagement party at Garguilo's in Coney Island. I had been to Garguilo's before as it had played host to many of my sister and John's events including both Johnny and Victoria's Christening parties. I told Mike from the get-go that I approved of the place, as their food is always so good. And I have to say, Mike and Lucie put on a terrific affair. They were both so welcoming to everyone and put a lot of work into it. You could just tell. It was also great catching up with Sal as well as Michael's sisters Rita, Anna, and Chrissy. My parents were invited, too, and were with the Mauros and Kellys at an adjacent table. Nicole and I sat with Rich Martinez and his girlfriend Donna amongst other friends of Mike's and we had a grand ol' time. Props again to Michael and Lucie for putting on a great party. Congratulations to you both and continued well wishes on your road to MarriageMania!

-- Last weekend, Nicole and I joined her brother Chris and sister Robyn in going to North Carolina, where we spent the Independence Day weekend with her relatives who live down there. Here's a breakdown (similar to what I did above for our WDW trip):

Friday - Woke up super early, as it was the 4th of July, and got to JFK pretty fast via cab. The flight to NC had some turbulence because of the scattered storms but otherwise it was okay. Nicole's uncle Mark picked us up at the airport and he took us to Waffle House, which is a personal favorite of mine. A great way to start the trip! We then were dropped off at Grandma and Grandpa Corrigan's house, which is so so nice. I'm really happy for them and they looked happy. They said it's so much better than living in that tiny apartment in Jackson Heights. I also have to say that Nicole's Grandpa Joe looks terrific considering he had so many problems with cancer as of late. Luckily, the doctors were able to remove it, but still. I thought he would look so wilted but he looked terrific, very happy to report!

That afternoon, I also had a chance to meet Nicole's uncle Scott and his wife Cyndi. They were the last relatives of Nicole's I had yet to meet so I was delighted to meet them. Nicole had forewarned me that Scott was kind of tough, kind of like her father, but honest to God, I thought he was a real cool guy. He wasn't anywhere near as jovial as his brother Mark (the middle brother; not Nicole's father, Kevin) but he was just a regular guy who I enjoyed talking to. And Cindy was great, too. She was so warm and welcoming. Her parents happened to be over for a BBQ because of the holiday and they were wonderful people as well. Scott and Cyndi's kids, Christopher and Sierra, were terrific too. We had a great time bonding with them. After the BBQ, we went to a local Walmart where I splurged on a couple of cheap graphic t-shirts and such, which was fun. We ended the night back at Grandma and Grandpa's house, where Nicole and I stayed up with her Grandma just shooting the breeze. I'm surprised we lasted as long as we did (11:00 pm, I think) as we were on such little sleep from the night before. But I'm glad we stayed up. The conversation was great and the fireworks were fun to watch.

Saturday - As soon as we woke up, Grandpa and Grandma fed us these amazing Jimmy Dean sausages wrapped in blueberry pancakes (think: corndogs, but breakfast food style). After getting ready for the day, we went over Uncle Mark's house and visited his wife Lynn and son Mark Brandon, who is absolutely adorable. Mark has a really nice home as well. Matter of fact, all of the homes that we saw were really nice. Afterwards, we went back to Grandma and Grandpa's house for lunch, where we feasted on cold cuts and hot dogs. We followed that up by going to the pool near the complex, which was a lot of fun. I had been dying to go to a pool since the summer started, so I got my wish. A few hours later, we were back at Grandma and Grandpa's house for dinner (more food, of course!) and Grandma made this delicious pepper steak with mashed potatoes and green beans. She really spoiled us! I also wanted to mention that Grandpa pulled out his boxes of autographs and old magazines (i.e. TV Guides) for me to look at. I've seen them a thousand times but I do enjoy looking at them anyway plus I wanted to humor him.

Once dinner had concluded, Cindy drove Nicole, Robyn, Chris, Sierra, and I to Walmart. I had to change a pair of pants that I had bought there a day before, so she was sweet enough to bring me back. Except the Walmart she brought me to was actually a half hour away--in South Carolina! That was pretty cool actually. After gallivanting inside Walmart (exchanging my pants for another size/style and getting another graphic tee; I'm so bad...), we went to a nearby Krispy Kreme doughnut shop. Since KK's are few and few between in NY, I took advantage and bought, like, six donuts. They were just as good as they look. We ended our night by grabbing some Bojangles' chicken, having some drinks, and talking outside by the fire pit. Nicole, Robyn, Scott, Cyndi, Christopher, Sierra, and I sat out there for a while. It was so cool getting to know them. I appreciated their hospitality. We even gave aunt Chrissy (the one who lives in San Diego) a call and caught up with her. FYI: Congrats to her, as she is a mother-to-be! That fun convo around the fire pit concluded our night.

The following day was Sunday and we flew back to NY in the early morning. It was nice to come home and have a little time to unwind before heading to work on Monday. I have to say, though, that it was a very enjoyable, calm trip and I was delighted to have seen Nicole's family (or met them, in some cases) and look forward to future visits there. I don't know if I could live there, but I would absolutely go back there to have a relaxing time.

-- I do have to say though, speaking of the South, I can absolutely see myself living in Florida sometime down the road. Right now, I don't think it's possible with all that's coming up (our wedding, friends' weddings, etc.) but once things calm down, I would definitely consider it and so would Nicole. I'm honestly tired of the hustle and bustle of New York. I kind of want to see what Florida would be like as it's always been my favorite state. I'm sure the heat would get to me but, then again, I'd get used to it. I'd rather the heat than the cold, that's for sure. The only problem is the jobs. I hear that they don't have nearly as many down there as they do in NY, so that may present a challenge. Then again, with all the people who move from other states to here in NY, they end up taking the jobs anyway! I don't say that as a knock on them, but let's face it, it's a dog-eat-dog world. And as Norm on Cheers would say, "I'm wearing milkbone underwear."

-- A couple of weekends ago, I went to Steve B.'s birthday at a bar called Good Company in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I really enjoyed the place a lot. They had a backyard area where people were playing various games, like darts and so forth. The music wasn't too loud and the weather was perfect. That evening's roster included: Yours Truly, the birthday boy Steve, Nicole, Stephen, Tiffany, Chris M., Richie, Joe, and Allyson. We all had a great time there and props to Stevie Slim for picking out the place.

I'm actually very saddened because I took two pictures that night using my digital camera and they have completely disappeared off of my SD memory card. I spent over an hour trying to look for them and even downloaded a retrieval program and nothing worked. They're MIA. I know I never deleted them or anything so I have no idea how they vanished. That's one of my biggest pet peeves...I hate when pictures or video is deleted or lost. You can never get it back and that sucks.

I know there's probably a thousand other topics I could talk about tonight but I am admittedly tired from typing all of this. I am glad to have finally written an update and I hope that all of you enjoyed this if you read it through.

I wish you all the best and a lot of fun as the summer continues!

Until next time...

--J[o]n[a]t[h]a[n]

May. 18th, 2014

JD Nikki Beach

Mr. M-I-A

Hey guys, been a long time since I last updated. I think that the last time I wrote in here was towards the end of March. A lot has obviously gone on in my life since then but because the year has been flying by so damn fast, it's going to be a little hard for me to recollect everything. I guess I'll just go over whatever comes to my mind the quickest.

Having said that, I know there are some relatively new viewers of this LJ, and I just wanted to say I appreciate you reading this if you do. However, please understand I don't write in here for ratings or hits, so to speak. I simply write in here to express how I am feeling and what's been going in my life at the current point in time. I know certain parts may be kind of boring, but in the end, it's a way in which I recollect certain events. To me, this is the closest thing--besides videos and photographs--to time travel. I've been writing in here almost ten years (as of September, I believe?) and it's truly fun to look back and see what I was doing in the past. Again, an honest thank you to those who actually read this and, moreover, enjoy it.

So, with that out of the way, I cannot believe that my wedding is in less than six months! April 25th marked the six month mark and here we are, several weeks later, and now May 25th is rapidly approaching. Whoever said the year of your wedding zooms by in a flash was not kidding.

It has been a lot of fun, though. I mean, yes, certain things are stressful but overall I try to have as much fun with it as I could. I know things are usually easier on the groom, so I will admit that right now. I know the bride (women in general) have to worry about the hair, the makeup, the jewelry, the this, that, and the other thing. I've seen Nicole go through some days of stress but at least she's the farthest thing from "Bridezilla." I always assure her that everything's going to be fine.

Since I last updated on the wedding, I've picked out and placed the order for the tuxes for myself and the groomsmen. Nicole and I decided on a dark gray color, both because it compliments the navy blue bridesmaids dresses she's chosen and because most groomsmen wear black suits; at least this is different and will stand out. I wasn't exactly wild about the price, though, as because they are gray they naturally cost a little more, but the friends I've spoken to about this assured me they have no problem. They said that I'd given them enough of a heads up (when I first chose them as a groomsman) where they've already considered this as part of the budget. They definitely put my mind at ease and I truly appreciate that vote of confidence!

The other bit of wedding related news is that Nicole and I both chose our invites and have already picked them up! Well, actually, that was all Nicole, as she wanted to venture out to L.I. herself while I was at work - this past Friday actually - to bring them home as our designer had finished them rather quickly. I must say, and I'd hate to toot our own horn, but they are absolutely beautiful. When I got back home from work on Friday, I got a chance to look at the finished product. What's cool is that we opted for our designer to put the names of all of our guests on the envelopes (as opposed to writing them ourselves) and that made me emotional. I was looking at them like, "Oh my God...this is really happening." And going through the names and such, it was like a 'Who's-Who' of our lives.

I am truly amped for October 25th and I hope you all are too! As long as people have a good time and look back at our wedding and smile at the memories they've taken with them from that day, then mission: accomplished.

In other news, the future Mrs. D. and I have booked a short weekend getaway to...yep...you guessed it, Walt Disney World! Our favorite place, that's for sure. No matter how many times we go, we can never get enough of it. We're slated to go on Thursday evening, June 12th to Sunday morning, June 15th. This will be the quickest Disney trip we've gone on to date, but I look at it this way...with an almost 2 week Honeymoon coming in the fall, this is icing on top of a very delicious cake. I consider myself blessed that we could even fit this in, to be honest. So Nicole and I intend to enjoy every single minute of it!

Speaking of Disney, my sister, brother-in-law, and niece and nephew are there right now. They finally went there as a family for the first time and they seem to be really enjoying it. My sister was always a Disney nut like me, but my BIL needed some convincing. I think this trip has definitely proven to be a great one, as not only is he mesmerized by the sights as this is his first time there, but I'd imagine he's also living vicariously through his kids. Next time...we will all go together!

On the topic of trips, we also have another weekend excursion to North Carolina coming up in July. The reason that it's so soon after our WDW weekend is that, since because of the honeymoon, it's hard for me to get any extra days off, the office as a whole has Independence Day off. The Thursday before the 4th (as that lands on a Friday this year) we intend to either drive there or take a flight. We just have to go over some numbers and see what works for us. Hopefully by the next entry, I'll have a clearer idea of what's going on with that. Either way, I'm pretty excited about the next couple of months. Since we had a long winter, these weekend getaways are something I've been looking forward to for a while.

I wanted to touch base on my work life as well. I've been at IP (I won't actually state the name for Google searchable purposes) now for just about 5 months. I've gotten used to the routine of things and, as with any job, it has its ups and downs. I like that I know my schedule is always going to be 9:00am to 5:15pm (give or take) so I could make plans accordingly. When I was at my prior retail jobs, that was annoying, to say the least. However, the five days straight thing can be annoying, especially since there were times I'd have a day off in the middle of the week and then at the end, though I never got an entire weekend off unless I requested it. This time around, weekends off are the standard and I like that. I think I prefer this way, even though Monday through Friday can definitely be challenging in and of itself. I find that--and I think I may have written this in a past entry--if you make plans during the week (even if it's, let's say, a Tuesday and a Thursday and you have Monday and Thursday to just come home and crash), the work week definitely goes by faster. The busier you are, the faster it goes. Most of the time, anyway.

I don't love what I do by any stretch of the imagination, as being a customer service representative over the phone can be challenging. This past Friday, for instance, was just plagued with nasty customer after nasty customer. I understand when something may go wrong with your funds people get extra-sensitive, but still. I found that all my calls were so negative. At one point, I just wanted to scream. I feel like a therapist who has to calm people down and take bullets for the company. And our workload has been more than ever since the boss has now sold our service to even more places. Luckily, we just got four new hires, so I'm hoping they learn the ropes quickly so we can have a breather here or there.

The positives of the job include limitless internet surfing. No one ever says a peep, as they understand that talking to people over the duration of 8 hours without an official break is most difficult. You need that minute or two checking out Facebook or Buzzfeed or whatever to just clear your mind. The way I look at it is, everyone needs to recharge and if you're not getting an on-the-books break then you have to simply create one. I think that's how we all feel.

Overall, I am grateful for this job though, and I'm sorry if my complaining sounds like I'm not. Five months ago I was struggling at NBC, as I barely made much and hardly ever put anything away. I had to pretty much live paycheck to paycheck. Although I'm still not making as much as I would like (and really, these days, who does?) at least now I can save x-amount of dollars biweekly (my pay schedule) towards the wedding and towards our future.

Going forward, I am going to begin looking in media/entertainment again. I have to; it's in my blood. It's in my overall makeup. At least when I do begin this journey again, I'll have some solid ground to fall back on. I kind of want to begin looking again as soon as this summer, however, I literally just put in for time off for my wedding and honeymoon respectively and don't want anything messing with that. I mean, if I got a new job in the summer, I'd have to hope the employer would allow me to take off for two weeks that I'm slated to be away and that may be a challenge. We shall see.

I just mentioned media and entertainment, which made me think of yesterday. I had a long albeit fun day filming one of the last scenes for The Insiders episode 13 (which is part 1 of a 2 part finale). It basically consisted of my character taking Nicole's character out on a date whereby certain things go wrong at the restaurant they're at (though not necessarily between them...though I'll leave the spoilers at that). Since both Michael and Sal were seemingly not around (and no knock on them at all as this was my own choice to film it on that particular day), it did present me with a bit of a challenge as I had to play both actor, director, and camera man at times. I also had to play producer, as I usually do on behalf of the show, in finding actors for the scenes. Overall, I worked with seven people yesterday, including: Nicole, Tiffany, Chris M., Chris C., Stephen, my dad, and Sal (Mauro). Everyone took direction so well, so that part was great, but the filming took far longer than I would have imagined. I truly appreciated everyone's kindness and unselfishness in joining me yesterday and taking the time out of their busy lives to do so. And not just those kind folks but everyone whose been a part of this episode and episodes of the past. I hope we continue to make you all proud!

Last weekend, actually, I saw Sal and Mike (Graffeo) after a long while of trying to get together on a weekend. Our lives have been so crazy, so finding the right day was like trying to find the last piece of a puzzle. Luckily, we finally agreed to a day and had a wonderful time in the process. We went to dinner at Tony Roma's in Bayside, which was delicious as usual. Then, we wrote the outline for the very last Insiders episode (aka episode 14 aka Part 2 of the finale). We put our heads together and came up with something that I think should come off well. It's not over-the-top but I think it's a fitting conclusion to the show's easygoing yet heartfelt theme that we've created over the years. Afterwards, the three of us went to College Point and saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2. We all enjoyed the movie, as there were some worthwhile scenes, but overall...I felt like I did with Sam Reimi's Spider-Man 3, where there were just too many villains/characters. I mean, I think both series of Spider-Man movies have good and bad qualities, but because I was always a big fan of Spider-Man, they are definitely a guilty pleasure of mine. Comic book movies in general. I'm very excited for the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, speaking of which.

A couple of other weekends worth noting: Back in mid-April, we accompanied Anthony and Gina to the city to order Gina's bridesmaids dress for our wedding. Following that, we had a tasty dinner at Queens Comfort in Astoria, which my high school and college buddy John (DiGregorio) raves about. I really enjoyed it in there too, as they had a lot of throwback toys from the '80s, including memorabilia of Mr. T, Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, and the WWF. Heck, they were playing WrestleMania VI on their projector, and I'm thinking that was because the week before, the Ultimate Warrior had passed away. In any case, it was a fun dinner and great afternoon with them. I also remember there being beautiful weather that day and it was the first sign of Spring in the air.

The following weekend, we joined Jason and Joanna for a nice afternoon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We went to a really good organic hamburger place called Burger Guru, which was better than Bareburger I thought. We sat in their courtyard and it was reminiscent of the week before's weather, it was getting warmer and everyone was just happy to be outside. After a long winter, people couldn't wait to be out and about. After dinner, we had some dessert and walked along the North 5th Street Pier, which was lovely. The sun was shining bright and the sight we had of the NY skyline was crystal clear. I love afternoons like that. Good times and great company.

A few weekends after that was Easter and it was terrific. Instead of going by Aunt Connie's or vice-versa (no knock on them by the way; I just mean it was different than the norm) we actually spent it with Aunt Pam, Joe, and Stephen along with Erica, John, Johnny, and Victoria. We had a ball of laughs and the food my parents' cooked was outstanding. The company didn't leave until 9:00 which was great, but from 5:00 on my throat was sore and I was coughing a lot. I took some medicine and thought it would be gone by the following morning, but it wasn't. I had to call out of work on Monday, unfortunately. I took the necessary meds and was okay for Tuesday.

On the Wednesday that followed, I did a bonehead move and joined Bogdan--whom I hadn't hung out with in a while--at Dallas BBQ in the city. I had eaten there several weeks earlier for Wilfredo's birthday and had their Texas sized alcoholic drink, so I was craving another. The time Jason and I had was great as always but unfortunately because I drank, it didn't hit me right. I went home feeling like crap again. They always say that alcohol lowers your immune system so I guess that's why. As a result, Thursday was pretty tough to get through, but Friday was the absolute worst. I had a fever but I refused to call out since I had in the beginning of the week. As soon as I went home on Friday evening, I stayed in bed and stationed myself there all weekend. The only time I saw daylight was on Sunday, as I went to Premiere Care and had them prescribe me some medicine. Luckily, a few days after taking said meds, I felt great. But man...that was the second time I had a fever within two months. I hope I don't have another illness like that for a while. It's really annoying and incapacitates you.

The weekends that followed were pretty good, too. Like this past weekend, outside of the filming, I saw Stephen on Friday and Saturday. On Friday, we went out to The Pine (an Italian restaurant in the Bronx) with Richie Boy and had a great meal. I ordered a couple of glasses of wine as Friday was a major headache at work (see: a few paragraphs above) along with a delicious pasta dish...penne pasta with pieces of chicken cutlet, sausage, and meatballs. The guys ordered baked clams and rollatini which also looked pretty good. Admittedly, the first time I went there with the guys I didn't really like it, but this time around it was much better.

Last night, post-filming, I went with Stephen and Nicole, Kim, Robyn, and Richie to Havana Central, a cuban restaurant in Times Square. Their food is amazing and probably one of my favorite restaurants in the city. I love the atmosphere in there...I feel like I'm away. Plus, the Cuban music! And the food is more than good. I personally like it better than Caliente Cab which is downtown. We had a lot of laughs and an overall great time in there. It was nice to see everyone.

Next weekend is Memorial Day weekend and I'm super stoked for that. Not only is it a three-day weekend, Thank the Lord, but on Saturday we'll be doing another "Cousins Dinner," as we label it. We had hung out with some cousins back in March and had promised to get together again real soon. This time, even more family is coming, so it ought to be a great time. My aunt Pamela raves about this Chinese place on Long Beach around where they live so we're going to give it a shot. Then on Sunday I believe Nicole and I will be going to brunch and mass at Queen of Martyrs to follow. I'm not sure what's going on next Monday, but it may be Eliza's birthday party over in Woodside. Either way, should be a fun weekend! It'll definitely make this work week easier to digest.

Anyway, I think I'm done here for today. Thanks as always for reading. Hope you're all enjoying the Spring!

Until next time...

--J[o]n[a]t[h]a[n]

Mar. 29th, 2014

Hogan Knows Jonathan

"Back to the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance"

Good evening, folks. A quiet Friday night here at the DanoDome, so I figured I'd use this time to update the ol' LJ.

As usual, my life has been a nonstop train ride that is full speed ahead, with plenty of fun and memorable moments packed in there. For starters, let's begin with some highlights from February...

-- Towards the end of February, it was actually one of my favorite weeks of the year so far. I find that the best weeks don't just rely solely on the weekend for fun, but events spread out during the week, which really add depth to it. That week was a perfect example.

On Monday, February 24th, the work day flew by, as that was the evening the WWE Network was launching. All day long, in between calls of course, I was looking for updates online and was keeping a look-out for feedback from certain friends and acquaintances who had already purchased the network. I waited until I got home that day to do so but was super excited for it.

I do think that $9.99 is a very fair amount for all of the content that they provide you. From live PPVs, to pre- and post-shows, to a library full of WWE/WWF, WCW, and ECW PPVs, plus tons of other shows/specials, it's definitely worth the price. The unfortunate part? My life has overall been so busy, that I haven't had time to really watch it nearly as much as I'd like. I'm lucky if I watch it a couple of hours a week to be honest. I think my best bet is to get a Roku and connect it to the TV in my bedroom (because they do offer the network), which seems to be the place lately that I usually watch most of my programming.

Having said that, once again, Monday the 24th of February flew by in the blink of an eye. Which brings me to the next day, February 25th. After work, Nicole and I met Anthony and Bryn at Tony Roma's in Bayside. Let me preface this by saying that this had been a dinner, probably, three years in the making. Originally, we were supposed to include Michael and Lauren as well, but because this was happening during the week and they live in Connecticut, we figured this was a no-can-do, so we left it just us and the Montalvos.

We had suggested Tony Roma's as the restaurant of choice for several years now because we all love ribs. I can happily report that the food did not disappoint and we truly enjoyed ourselves with BryBAC, as some folks so eloquently call them. I just really enjoy Anthony and Bryn's company. Both of them are such kind and entertaining people in the sense that they always have something interesting to say. If I'm being honest, they are some of our favorite people to go with on a double date. I mean, yes this dinner was once in a three year span, but what I mean is, whenever we have seen them over the years, at various parties and stuff, they've always been so much fun. I'm actually happy to report that most of the couples we've gone on double dates with have been really pleasant company and Anthony and Bryn are certainly high up on that totem pole. I just hope that it doesn't take another three years to do so!

A couple of days later, Nicole and I celebrated our *5*-Year dating anniversary, on February 27th. I truly cannot believe that five years has come and gone but I must say that we have certainly evolved as people and as a couple. We've shared countless memories over these past several years and, certainly, as of October 25th of this year, we can look forward to a lifetime of them. But I will say...no matter how much October 25th, our wedding date, is going to be so endearing to us...February 27th will ALWAYS have a special place in my heart. And so will June 5th, as that was the day we got engaged back in the summer of last year (2013).

As for the 27th this year, after work, I picked Nicole up at her parents' house. I had flowers and chocolates on me to give Nicole and I was proud to say that the flowers were beautifully arranged. I bring this up only because, in the past, I've had to skimp on Nicole's flowers because I didn't have a job that provided me enough to really spoil her. Although I'm no Rockefeller and have a long way to go until I consider myself financially stable, I certainly make a lot more than I have in previous jobs, so it felt damn good being able to spoil my sweetheart with things like that. But, yeah, that was a bit of a sidestory for you. As for that evening, I took Nicole to a nice dinner at Barosa Restaurant on Woodhaven.

I have to be honest and say that that may be one of my favorite meals of recent memory. Everything was just so perfect. Nicole and I enjoyed every bit of one another's company, as we always do, and the food was spectacular. From the appetizer, to our main course, to wine, to dessert (which we don't always order, but this time certainly called for it), it was a meal fit for a king and queen. If I could relive that night over again, I most definitely would. The icing on the cake came when Nicole and I were back at the house and exchanged our gifts and cards. It's always a nice way to end a fun, memorable day, especially one where you just celebrated a five year anniversary.

-- In general, lately Nicole and I have been eating out a lot, especially on weekends. Some people have been ribbing us about it but truthfully, I have no regrets. Again, financially I'm more stable than I was at my previous job and after a long work week, I want to enjoy my fiance's company and/or friends' company and, to me, there's no greater pleasure than socializing and enjoying some great food while we're at it. Recently, a favorite of ours has been Pizza Classica on Union Turnpike. It was originally just a pizza place, but they expanded their menu--and their space--and have been a hit ever since. I've been to several dinners there over the past few months and all have been very good. Obviously, as the wedding draws closer, especially at the end of the summer into the fall, Nicole and I have to watch our pennies even more than we do now, but for the time being and as long as we don't act irresponsible, I say: live it up!

-- A couple of weekends ago, Nicole and I joined Erica, John, Johnny, Joseph, Ivy, Stevie, Ashley, and my good buddy Stephen, at Frost Restaurant in Brooklyn. We deemed it "cousins dinner" as we had one back in 2010 and it was awesome. For whatever reason, we hadn't had one in almost four years, so we decided it was about time! So Ivy and I began talking about it and then started including the rest.

It was a really nice dinner with great company, I must say. I truly love my family and wish we'd see them even more than we do. It's dinners like this that help you appreciate your relatives. As a matter of fact, when we parted ways that evening, the Capitellis and I agreed to hang out again soon. We have tentative plans to head to their neck of the woods for a Chinese buffet at the end of April, so here's hoping!

After dinner, Nicole and I stayed with Ashley and Stephen and went over to Bamonte's, where Diane and Charles--my cousins and Ashley's parents--were hanging out. We enjoyed a few glasses of wine with them and got a chance to catch up. It was also Stephen's first time meeting Charles and I'm happy to report that went well. While I'm not one to air gossip on this site, I will say that I am SUPER excited for Ashley and Stephen. They have been dating now for a couple of months and have finally made it official as of this past Wednesday. They work very well together and I am absolutely elated for them. It's interesting, too, for me as Ashley's cousin and as one of Stephen's best friends, to see it unfold. I know Stephen treats and will continue to treat my cousin like gold. I know Ash has been looking for a good guy for a long time now and I know that he will do nothing but make her feel like the queen that she is. May God Bless both of them and may be this be the start of something amazing.

With my sentiment aside, after we met up with Ashley's parents in Bamonte's, we then escorted Nicole to the city, as Nicole has been back at work since early March. We waited in the Times Square Marriot and had a few drinks until Nikki was finished working. We then all drove back into Queens and enjoyed a late night snack at the Nevada Diner. It was a terrific day from start to finish and, once again, I wish A&S nothing but the best going forward.

-- Last weekend was a very memorable one, as on Friday night, Nicole and I met up with Manny, our wedding florist, in Brooklyn. We gave him a deposit towards the flowers, as we had already went over details with him the week before. I'm very happy to be working with Manny as he's a family friend of my brother-in-law's and actually was the florist for my sister's wedding as well. Manny is a very personable guy who I know will treat us right and is also giving us a good price.

After we met with Manny, Nicole and I waited almost an hour to have dinner, since we had our hearts set on this Italian place called Gino's. We had eaten there back in September when we had met up with Manny the first time around, when we went over the preliminary details. But, yea, we enjoyed Gino's so much that time that we decided to go again. It was definitely worth the wait, especially on a Lenten Friday, where you can't eat meat. Nicole and I both observe that religious practice, so eating at an Italian place is one of the best choices since you can get pizza or pasta. We both decided on having macaroni, with Nicole getting bowtie pasta and Yours Truly getting gnocchis. Both dishes were great and we were happy to have eaten there. Man, I talk about food a lot in these entries, don't I?!

The day after was a boatload of fun, as it started with us spending time with Erica, John, and most certainly, Johnny and Victoria. Along with my parents, we all went to the park and the kids had a grand old time in there on the various rides. Nicole and I couldn't stay with them for the entire afternoon, however, as in the evening we would be going to "The Enchantment Under the Sea Dance." What do you mean that was the dance from a scene in the Back to the Future film and isn't real? Well, thanks to BBQ Films, it finally was real.

A few weeks before, I had read a link on Facebook that one of my friends shared, which stated that BBQ Films would be hosting this event. I thought about it for a while and slowly got the itch to go. Much to my happiness, Nicole was down for this event. And the best part was, we would be going with another couple, as Antonio and Gina really wanted to come as well! I was so glad that we'd be heading there with our good friends. Much like Anthony and Bryn, whom I had mentioned in the beginning of this entry, Ant and Gina are another couple that we absolutely love to see.

At first, when I tried to purchase the tickets, it said the event was sold out. I was absolutely heart-broken as I had my heart set on it, so I emailed the guy that runs BBQ Films, Gabriel, and pretty much begged him to sell us tickets to the Saturday showing. After a few emails back and forth, he was kind enough to release four extra tickets to us. I was ecstatic!! See: it pays to ask and, certainly, to hound people. Well, sometimes, anyway.

We met up with Anthony and Gina by Ant's parents' house near Grand Ave and took the train from there. We arrived a quarter past 7:00 and the line was UP THE BLOCK. We could not believe how many people had turned out for this event! Oh, one thing I forgot to mention, since it was replicating the "Enchantment Under the Sea Dance" from the movie, everyone had to dress up in '50s garb! Nicole got a retro dress in Party City, while I borrowed an old suit jacket and a skinny tie from my dad. Anthony and Gina also dressed the part, so we all looked pretty suave if I do say so myself.

Lucky for BBQ Films, a lot of people do indeed read directions and came dressed like they were from the '50s. There were also actors and actresses who played the parts of different characters from the movie. Whether it was Doc or Marty or Biff and his gang or even the woman who screams "Save the Clock Tower!" in the first film, they were all represented. And it was awesome.

When we walked through the doors of the gymnasium, the entire place was decked out to look like the famous scene from the movie. It was such an exciting thing to experience and witness, being a HUGE fan of the films. For a second there, I felt like I myself had stepped back in time. And I loved every minute of it.

Admittedly, the first three quarters of the night were great. They had a '50s-like band playing music on stage, while folks mingled and danced. We grabbed some complimentary drinks and socialized with our dear friends the Libertas. At 8:00, we all sat down, grabbing some close-to-front row seats, and watched the movie, Back to the Future, in its entirety. One of the coolest things was, during the actual "Enchatment" scene from the movie, the actors that were there recreated the scenes involving George McFly, Lorraine, Biff, and Marty. And then we all got up to dance again as the '50s band supplied some more tunes as the famous scene played in the background!

Once the movie ended, however, there wasn't too much going on. They hired a DJ after the band left and he played these really weird mixes of '80s music that you honestly could not dance to...if I could change one thing, that would be it. I would have brought back the '50s band for some more music, even contemporary hits, and had the crowd dance the rest of the night away. But, hey, you can't let one bad apple spoil the bunch. It was a fun experience and one I'm so very glad that we all got a chance to experience.

After the "Dance," Nikki ran to work. Antonio, Gina, and I hung out at the place for a while and then headed back to Queens. We were all starving, so we went to the Georgia Diner for some late night grub. It was delicious and really hit the spot. The only problem was, the trains were awful at that hour, so it took Nicole a while to get back to Queens. But, alas, we breathed a sigh of relief when she arrived and, consequently, stuffed our faces. Oh, what a night!

-- We actually saw Anthony and Gina again tonight for an enjoyable Friday night dinner at Ozone Pizza in Ozone Park. We talked about a bunch of interesting topics, to say the least, and enjoyed some pasta and pizza. I hope we continue seeing them regularly because, as I mentioned, we just get along so well with them. Nicole and I also stopped briefly at Eddie's Sweet Shop and treated ourselves to a vanilla malted. Yeah, buddy!

-- This past Monday night, I joined Mike, Sal, and Sal's girlfriend's brother, Joey, as well as his friends, to see Monday Night Raw at the Barclays Center. I didn't think I'd wanna return there so soon as the last time I had gone, back in July, it was a nightmare getting home. But I'm truly glad I decided to go. It was great catching up with the Graffeos and meeting their friends. Plus, getting to see Hogan and Undertaker live was a treat. But perhaps an even bigger treat was taking a cab home, which saved us so much time. I was home slightly past midnight and was very pleased with that. Back in July, I think we all got home close to 2:00 am. Woof. In any case, I wouldn't rule out Barclays going forward. The key is to cab it back home! :-P

Alright, well, it's late and I'm getting tired. Glad I was able to write a quick update here.

Until next time...

--J[o]n[a]t[h]a[n]

Feb. 23rd, 2014

Mr. Showtime

There's Snow Business, Like Show Business

Greetings and salutations, friends. Figured I'd update you folks on my life the past month, before this evening, as its WWE's annual Elimination Chamber PPV. I have mixed thoughts going into it...

I think the overall card is actually more than decent with the Chamber match itself (including spots earned by Cesaro, Christian, & Daniel Bryan!), as well as The Shield vs The Wyatts, amongst other matches. Those two matches alone have a crapload of potential and may navigate the way in which April's WrestleMania XXX will turn out. I think Orton will retain his WWE WH Championship tonight but I think there'll be some controversy with D-Bry and he'll get placed in the main event of 'Mania in a triple threat match with Batista and Orton. One can only hope, anyway.

Overall, the Road to WrestleMania as this season is often called, is very fun if you're a wrestling fan. It's like the playoffs for professional wrestling. I'll admit that last month's Royal Rumble match was a stinker, but nonetheless, from Rumble to 'Mania, it's Christmastime for us "rasslin'" fans. Also, on one final note, I'm very much looking forward to Monday Night Raw tomorrow with the return of the Undertaker and Hulk Hogan and, of course, the launch of the WWE Network. For $9.99 a month, it is a very reasonable price.

I will say, though, that tonight is a bit melancholy for me. Elimination Chamber is the last *PAY*-Per-View for a very long time, I'd imagine. Meaning, with tomorrow's WWE Network launch, all PPVs will be streamed on their network going forward. No reason to order events via cable anymore. While, to be perfectly honest, my PPV attendance has dwindled the past several years due to people's schedules becoming more hectic and/or certain people's on/off interest in wrestling (much like any other sport/entertainment franchise) and/or people moving away and what-have-you, I obviously realize that my attendance will take more of a hit. I just hope that not everyone shys away, especially those Pay-Per-View loyalists like Stephen, Chris, Mikey G, Billy and so forth. Time will tell, though. The only thing I could hope for is at least some solid attendance for the bigger ones like WrestleMania, Royal Rumble, Money in the Bank, and SummerSlam. Here's hoping. Truthfully, at the end of the day, yes it's about wrestling...but it's also about enjoying a once-a-month Sunday night out with your friends. At this point, I'm grateful for the amount of years I've been doing it and hopeful that it will continue through the years.

While on the topic of wrestling, I very quickly wanted to say that although I mentioned earlier about the Royal Rumble match and how it was a bit lackluster, I will say that the party in my basement so eloquently called the DanoDome was nothing but fun. I wanted to take the time out to congratulate my pal Chris Maurer on winning the coveted championship! Since he's going to this year's 'Mania in New Orleans, he's going to bring the belt with him. Can't wait to see pictures!

Alright enough about wrestling! Other highlights from the past month include:

-- On Saturday, January 25th, ironically a day before the Rumble, I had a fun afternoon with Sal & Mike, as well as Nicole & Robyn, and even Bogdan. That afternoon, we filmed another few scenes for The Insiders finale. I set up the basement to look like a movie set as the premise of the episode is Lunk creating his own film - which, I'm sure you can imagine - is an absolute debacle. The real life filming, however, was a ball of fun.

When the boys had arrived, we filmed three different scenes for it, back to back to back and they came out well, I'd like to think. Then, Jason met us around 4:30, and we filmed his scene. It's a pretty short one but we had a great time and I'm grateful to him and our other extras for taking the time out to film. I don't want to reveal which scene he's in so as to spoil it, but let's just say you'll get to see one of the main character's family members, adding more depth to that character.

After the filming, I was so beat and because there was so much preparation for the next day (aka the Rumble), I didn't do much at all except for clean up and grab some dinner. I felt bad, too, because Erik was hosting a premiere of a movie that his friends had produced that evening at Videology in Brooklyn. Luckily, a few days later, the E-man and I were able to get together and catch up, so I felt a little better about that. We grabbed dinner at Sizzler and watched an old PPV, Taboo Tuesday 2004. We couldn't believe that it had already been 10 years since some of those matches/storylines. It's crazy how time flies. As trite of a saying that is, I'll be damned if it isn't true.

-- The weekend after was also a fun one, as on Friday Jan. 31st, I went with Nicole, Robyn, Chris, and Michael to Denny's on Long Island. And if you know me, you know I love Denny's. I'll admit Denny's in Florida and California are more fun, but the one in LI is still an entertaining atmosphere with tasty (and admittedly inexpensive) food.

Following dinner, we went to meet Mike, Lucie, Sal, Carmelisa, Anna Marie, Anthony, Rita, James, Chrissy - basically the entire Graffeo clan, haha - at Dave & Buster's. I enjoy it over there because you feel like a kid again. Whether it's the famous trivia game or Connect 4 or playing a racecar game or whatever other concoction they have in there, it's a throwback to our youth, which was arcade heavy.

Two hours later, and $20 poorer, we went to a local Dunkin Donuts. We took up every possible space in there, and then-some, and chatted it up for a little while. Before we left--leave it to me--I had the gentleman at the counter, whose name we found out was Franz, take a GIANT group shot of all of us. The flash wasn't going off so I didn't think he was taking the picture. It was just a funny story because he was so foreign to cameras and there I was trying to show him how it worked. Everybody got a kick out of that. A fun night, indeed!

The next day was Johnny's birthday, and we joined my now 5 year old nephew at Bounce U in Brooklyn. Basically, it's like a Discovery Zone type of place. All of Erica and John's family and friends were there, especially those who had children. The kids all loved it and it was truly nice to catch up with Lauren, Kevin, Aimee, Dennis, Melissa, etc.

We also went back to the Cosentino home for an encore cake, this time with John's family present (some were not at the kiddie party). I just can't believe my nephew is already five years old. I remember visiting him in the hospital, being so excited, and I can honestly say that - five years later - being an uncle to him and to his sister/my niece, Victoria has been nothing but amazing and fun.

In the evening, Nicole and I went to O'Neil's in Maspeth for Meagan's 30th birthday celebration. It was nice partying with Meg and getting to see Chris, Richie Boy, and Worm as well. Nicole and I were super impressed with O'Neil's in terms of their food and their renovations since their reopening back in November.

The next day was the SuperBowl and although I'm not a football fan, I do enjoy that day, if even for the food! For the past several years, Nicole and I have spent the evening with Jason and Joanna. This year was no different as we chose ol' faithful, Manor Oktoberfest, to watch and dine. Much like everyone else, I found that the game was lackluster because the Broncos had ZERO defense against the Seahawks. However, and Nicole would agree, the company was great in that of the Piteras, Robyn, and Joanna's cousin Diana. And the food! We ordered their chicken wings which were actually really good, as well as some other delicacies. We left MK before the end of the last quarter because it was obvious who was going to win, plus we were all pretty tired. Nice seeing everyone over there, though.

-- Yet another eventful weekend followed, as on Friday February 7th, Nicole and I joined Jason & Joanna and Kevin, Dana & Shannon for dinner at Donovan's on Bell Blvd. It was really nice catching up with Kevin & Dana especially, since we see them kind of sporadically throughout the year. And their daughter Shannon is adorable. She looks exactly like Kevin!

The following day, Saturday, was Chris and Joe's birthday bash in the city. We had been anticipating it for a while and I can happily say it was a great evening all around. Firstly, a few of us, namely: yours truly, Nicole, Stephen, Ashley, Joe, Allyson, Robyn, Ed, Chris and Richie, dined at Caliente Cab, a Mexican place in downtown NYC. The food was pretty good though admittedly I would order a different dish next time. I'm a fan of the place, though, so I chalk that up to me not ordering the right dish. Besides, the chips with salsa and guacamole were filling enough!

Chris and Joe's actual party was held at Public House which I believe was in Midtown. I truly enjoyed myself, especially since the boys had reserved a private room. At first, things were kind of slow, but once more and more people arrived and the drinks were flowing, it was pure bliss. For me, my favorite part of the evening was actually seeing Anthony & Bryn! It's a rare appearance that they are out together on a Saturday night. B-A-C and I got to catch up and, as I mentioned, it was very enjoyable. I actually miss Anthony, so any excuse to see him is a good one. As a matter of fact, we set up a double date this coming Tuesday, February 25th. We're apparently going to Tony Roma's in Bayside. Can't wait!

Overall, though, the party was just a boatload of fun. Other people in attendance were: Wilfredo, Chris (Corrigan), Kim, Vinnie, Mary, Chris M's brother Anthony, just to name a few. I also have to say that it was a damn pleasure driving into the city versus taking the train. I take the subway 5 days a week so the car was a breath of fresh air and I'm happy to report, I got some great parking spots both by Caliente and by Public House.

-- Last weekend was a nice one albeit one that wasn't as busy as previous weekends because I was sick.

Friday night, for Valentine's Day, Nicole and I had joined Anthony and Gina (Liberta) at White Castle. The year before, in 2013, Nicole and I had gone to the one in Woodside just for fun and, you know what, it was honestly impressive! They change their menu a little bit and actually have a waiter/waitress serve you. It was, as I mentioned, so much fun. We had spoken with Anthony & Gina last year and agreed we'd go with them this year (2014). They were terrific company as always and we truly wined and dined...like kings and queens!

Saturday I didn't do much, except go to dinner at Chili's with my parents and Nicole, which was nice and calm. The weather sucked and I was sick, so it made sense to keep things low key. The next day, the Antonaccis came by, as well as Erica, John, Johnny, and Victoria, so that was fun. I was still ill, but was able to muster up enough strength to enjoy myself with them.

On Monday, even though I was sick, I joined Nicole and Tiffany for lunch at a cafe in Wooside. Then at night, Nicole's parents, Chris, and Michael met us at a new burger place on Austin Street. I was still pretty ill by the evening's end, so I actually took a sick day from work the following day. I did nothing but watch old sitcoms and some movies, including The Dream Team and Forrest Gump. Random choices but entertaining, at least.

-- To keep us up to speed, this weekend was actually a really nice one. Nicole went to Disney World with Kim and Robyn to be a part of a Princess Run, where they ran around the perimeter of Epcot. I'll be honest and say that I was eternally jealous, since I not only love Disney, but had wanted to get away from NY after all this horrendous weather as of late. I actually was a bit depressed before Nicole left, actually. I wasn't mad at her or anything, but I certainly was jealous, to be honest. I busted her chops all weekend while she was over there, but, I certainly hope she had a good time. And from her various pictures, it sure looks like she did!

On this end of it, I actually enjoyed myself a lot, too. On Friday, I joined Mike Graffeo for dinner at Outback Steakhouse in Bay Terrace. We got a chance to catch up, which is always great with one of my best buds, and then we came back to my place. We grabbed some Martha's beverages to go and watched "WWE: 50 Years of Sports Entertainment" on Blu-ray. We enjoyed the program and both agreed they did a good job with it, considering they had to condense their rich history into two and a half hours. A great night with an even greater guy!

Yesterday was another fun day, as I joined Jason and Donald, my friends and NBC alum, for a tasty lunch at Sizzler. You could tell Donald was thrilled to see us as he kept saying how much he misses us. Believe me, we miss him too! After The Don had left to go visit his family in Jersey, Bogdan and I played some billiards on Austin Street until it was time for him to meet his girlfriend Sarah. We actually both won a game so we'll have to see who the definitive winner is. Bogdan vs Showtime: BilliardMania XXX! No friends, only foes! Every man for himself! haha.

At night, Stephen met up with me, and we went to get some cupcakes at Crumbs Bakery in Queens Center Mall. We grabbed a table in the food court and feasted. Then, we went back to my house for a little while, watched the film my father had compiled a few months ago called "Take The Bait," which Stephen said he truly enjoyed, and then we went to Whitestone for Billy's birthday. It was a fun time in there and it was nice to see Big Bill for his special day, as well as Richie and Pete & Matt Yudt(i). At 1:00 AM, before driving me home, Stephen and I stopped for some late night Taco Bell. And it was awesome. Such a throwback to, like, 10 years ago when we would do stuff like that - including eating unhealthy at that hour! lol. Another fun night, for sure.

Well, I've written far more than I even thought I'd have the time for, but I thank you guys for reading. As I always say, I write in this journal mainly for my own memories and recollections (I love reflecting back) but if you've enjoyed the read, then I'm more than happy to hear it.

Have a good one guys!

Until next time...

--J[o]n[a]t[h]a[n]

Jan. 20th, 2014

Hogan Knows Jonathan

"I Had a Dream..."

Good afternoon, folks. Happy MLK Jr Day! For the first time in...well...ever, I am off for this holiday. I now work in an office where they observe bank holidays since we deal with people's finances. It sure feels good, I'll say that much.

In general, attaining this job back in November was the much needed change I was looking for. Sure, it's not in media/entertainment, which is certainly a lingering issue that dates back to post-college graduation, but for now...with a wedding coming up at the end of the year...this will most certainly do! I feel a lot more like an adult than I have in any facet of retail. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate all opportunities, big or small, and I certainly miss many of my former coworkers and such, but at 30 years old it's a feeling I so richly deserve. I don't say that conceitedly; I say that because I've paid my dues.

It's such a pleasure now, for instance, to go to the bathroom and not have to "ask" someone. I mean, unless the caller queue has 5 or 6 people, that's different. But otherwise, it's fair game. Same with breakfast and lunch. I can take those breaks at pretty much any time I wish, so long as we're not super busy. It's truly nice to feel like an adult. From now on, all my jobs going forward, will only advance from here. No more going backwards for this guy.

I will say that going from the Gap to NBC was definitely an ascension, as NBC did operate better, but that may be because they were one store vs a chain of stores like Gap. I'd like to think my employment has always went on an incline vs parallel, which is a good thing. Those people that leave jobs only to go to one that's equal or perhaps worse...what's the point? Always move forward, not backward.

Having said all of this, I'll recap the past month...

-- On Friday, December 27th, it was my very last day at the Store. A lot of emotion was going through my head, that's for sure. I was thinking back to my early days with Bogdan and others like Christophe, Keith, Bright, Jay Lindsey, Bianca, Pete White, Nekia, the list goes on and on. Then of course, I was thinking of recent favorites like Jesse, Albert, Manny, and certainly those who had been there with me the entire time including Donald, Joe, Paris, and Mason.

I was very honored by a few people on that day. Firstly, Copley came by to wish me well and gave me a congratulatory card, much like the one I had given him back in May when he left the company. It felt nice being reunited with my fellow "tag team champion." Next up was Jason Bogdan, whom had stopped by before work (he now works close to the store) and had "fired" me a la Vince McMahon. He also brought me a purple flower and said, "this is for your funeral." Haha! I know what he meant, like it was my "last day." He's a funny dude.

Speaking of visits, Nicole came by during my break, to have one more lunch with me. At my new job, we're really not allowed to take an hour. It's more of a sit-by-your-desk-and-hope-you-don't-get-busy type of thing. So Nikki and I enjoyed one last lunch break during my tenure at the NBC Store. And lastly, another gentleman who came by to see me was Casey. He now works at Central Park and thought it was fitting to see me on my last stay at the store that started the roots of our friendship. I was very honored and humbled by everyone's appearances. Even Albert, who wasn't technically scheduled that day, came by to wish me well. Much appreciated, believe me. Gennady, too, stopped by to wish me well and thanked me for all my hard work. Touching.

The most emotional I got, to be honest, was saying good-bye (temporarily) to Donald. He was absolutely my best friend at the store and I man I truly loved to work alongside. He was always joking around and never took life--nor the store--too seriously. I'm glad I got to know him and befriend him in the three years I worked there. We hugged a couple of times before I left and took a great photo together. Luckily, I'm not worried about my friendship with him because I know in my heart that we'll always keep in touch. Heck, I was just on the phone with him yesterday.

Another guy that I truly enjoyed working with and a guy who was "my boy" was Mason. Mason became so much more than just a security guard. He was a friend, a fellow wrestling fanatic, a man who had the same morals and values as me. He told me before I left that whenever I was in and he was having a bad day, I'd always brighten his spirits and somehow make him realize life wasn't so bad. I appreciated the sentiment and told him I felt the same about him. He was just a cool guy whom I do miss a lot. I'm thankful for Facebook and cell phones at times like this. I know he and I will certainly keep in touch.

After that heartwarming last day at the company, Richie Boy, Stephen, and Chris met me in the store and we were to follow that up by eating dinner in the city. Except, as we soon found out, trying to grab a bite in the city around dinner time on a Friday during the holidays was damn near impossible. We tried Olive Garden, John's Pizzeria, Junior's, Havana Central; all were booked solid. Instead, we decided to hop on the train, back to Worm's car, and took a quick ride to Roosevelt Field. We decided on La Bottega, a great Italian restaurant, and feasted in there. Stephen and Rich actually surprised me and treated me that evening, as a way to wish me well on my new endeavors. It was so unnecessary but extremely appreciated.

We ended off the evening in a couple of Queens pubs, including Yer Man's and Connolley's. Nothing says new beginnings like going to the ol' watering hole, haha.

-- For New Year's Eve this year, we wound up at Kim and Vinnie's apartment. When Nicole had asked me back in November if I had wanted to spend NYE with them, I was hesitant. Not because of their company--I love 'em both--but because last year, they spent it at a crowded bar. This year, however, Nicole assured me it'd be a quaint get together at their apartment. I was thrilled with that, as anything beats a noisy bar any day. I had a quick day at work and then off to the McPartment, as Kimmie so eloquently calls it. We had plenty of finger foods and booze to go around! The only unfortunate part was that I had gotten sick from something I ate earlier in the day, so I went to the bathroom a record amount of times. TMI, I know, I know. I only bring it up because I'm mad that it stained the memory of that night for me. I enjoyed myself immensely otherwise, but I'm just upset it happened. Ah well, at the least, I got to ring in the new year with my lovely fiance and some great friends.

Like I told someone (I'm forgetting whom at the moment), "It's kind of fitting. 2013 was kind of crappy with my uncle's passing and my job search troubles, but 2014 is gonna be a great year when everything gets better." Ironically enough, as soon as the clock struck midnight, I was starting to feel better already. Guess that analogy was rather fitting, after all.

-- In terms of my new line of work, it's definitely something I had to get used to. Being on my feet for 8 hours a day and getting full lunch breaks was the norm for me for so many years. Now, I would be sitting down all day and my breakfast and lunch would be eaten at my desk. If I'm being candid, I wasn't sure if I liked it at first. But now that I'm getting used to things, I'm very happy about this transition. As I mentioned at the top of this entry, I feel much more like an adult and that I've earned these stripes, these perks, if you will.

My first week there, I was strictly listening in on phone calls with my supervisor, Patrick. He is a cool guy who has a mostly calm temperament, except of course, when customers get under his skin. Since we're the middle man between a the lender for car loans and the bank, we get a lot of customers who don't understand what we do. We basically debit your account automatically, biweekly, in order to pay your car loan off faster. If you do the math, you shave a few months off of your loan over the course of a couple years. It's definitely advantageous, especially if you have a high interest rate. But, again, some people don't get the way it works, so patience is a virtue with a job like this.

The following week, I began taking calls, with Patrick listening in and training me on precisely what to say. The week after that, which was last Monday (1/13), I was on my own. Now, if I had any questions, I could ask any member of the team via Skype (not video but instant message) and they'd be happy to help. Well, most of the time anyway.

I'd like to think that I fared well my first week and hope to get better and better as every week progresses. While I admittedly don't love this line of work, I do like the company, the people, the salary, and the benefits. Now if only I could be working in media/entertainment with these same perks, all would be right in the world. Time will tell, ay?

-- Last weekend was a great one. On Friday (1/10), I joined Stephen, Ashley, and Nicole for dinner at Joe's Restaurant in Ridgewood. We had a lot of laughs and some great Italian food. Joe's never ceases to impress me, as they have very decent prices and fairly large plates, meaning, you get a lot of bang for your buck. Afterwards, we went to Grandstand to Rita's (GL's now-fiance) birthday party, and that was also pretty fun. I sang a duet of "Great Balls of Fire" with Champagne Dave and he told Stephen he loved it. All-in-all, an entertaining evening and a great way to spend a Friday.

-- Saturday (1/11) was a also a great evening, as it included Jason and I getting together to swap our Christmas gifts. To kick the night off, we went to Buffalo Wild Wings and feasted on their specialty, buffalo wings. It was a meal fit for a king. Or at least, two hungry bastards, haha. We went back to my house for a little while and exchanged presents. He got me a funny shirt that says "Who's getting married? This Guy!" amongst other gag gifts. He also liked my stuff which included a coffee table book on Batman and a sign that reads, "Jason's Man Cave." We hit up the city shortly thereafter, as it was Peter White's birthday party. We hadn't seen the guy in almost two years so I thought it would be nice to see Big Pete again.

I have to say that Peter lit up like a Christmas tree when he saw us. I totally don't think he was expecting us. He entertained us like he had done for all those years in the store and didn't skip a beat. We also hung out with Jenny and Frollo, who were mainstays at the store and who also brought back a flood of memories. Jay and I didn't stay too long because it was one of those super-crowded bars, but we both agreed it was absolutely worth it to see Pete for a little while.

-- This weekend was another fun one, as on Friday, Nikki and I joined Robyn for some dessert at Martha's Bakery. On Saturday, we saw Robyn again, as we had to run some shopping-related errands, and we decided to have dinner at Pizza Classica. I hadn't been there since they renovated, so it was a real treat. The food was as great as I remember. I had the steak pizzaiola and it was out of this world. The girls also wanted Sangria so we decided to order a pitcher. I was making more money so, hey, why the heck not? A fun night, to say the least.

Yesterday was a blast too as, since I had today off for MLK, my parents, Nicole, and I decided to head to Connecticut for Cracker Barrel. I had a gift card I hadn't used from my birthday, graciously given to me by Richie Boy, so I was more than eager to make the drive. First, we went to the neighboring Wingfield Mall, which was really clean and nice, with stores like Target, FYE, Express, and all that good stuff. On the drive back, we stopped for the main event, which was obviously Cracker Barrel. It was a little crowded in there because there was a huge table of people in the middle of the floor, but we were lucky enough to get a table within a half-hour. That's probably the best place to have a wait simply because their general store is so interesting...from their hard to find candies and other foods to their toys and trinkets, it's definitely something that passes the time.

For dinner, I had chicken fried chicken, as did my father. I got my usual sides of corn, fried apples, and dumplins. My mom and Nicole also got some good dishes and we truly enjoyed ourselves. It was nice to spend the day with a little road trip. Sometimes it's good to get away, if even for the day.

Today is a very calm day, as the only thing worth of note is that Stephen and Chris are coming by for Raw later, which hasn't happened in quite some time. Poor Nicole is sick, so in between writing this entry and such, I am trying to take care of her as best as I could.

-- Next weekend is actually a very big one, as Saturday (1/25) is the next Insiders filming. It's the most important scene of this episode so I'm hoping everything goes smoothly. We have to shoot three mini-scenes and then a bar scene. I don't see it taking that much time and as long as we have some fun along the way, that's all that matter. I'll be a happy man, that's for sure.

Then on Sunday, it's the Royal Rumble and you all know how much I love that event. I've already purchased this year's championship belt and have already customized it. I've been watching old RR's in preparation. It's definitely like Christmas for wrestling fans!

Alright, well, I'm glad I was able to update the LJ. I hope you are all doing well and look forward to the further adventures (or misadventures, haha). Be well!

Until next time...

--J[o]n[a]t[h]a[n]

Dec. 26th, 2013

March of the Wooden Soldiers

Holiday Hangover

Hi, folks. It's officially December 26th, the day after Christmas, and I had wanted to write my Christmas recap for you. And for my own records, of course.

As a bit of prelude, I had wanted to say that this Christmas was predicted to be one of the most difficult ones...and it was. This obviously is because my Uncle Dom, unbelievably so, passed away in April of this year.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were actually better than expected, but today is when things got a little sensitive. I'll explain when I recap it in more detail.

The month of December, as always, went by so fast. I always say, December is the fastest month, not to mention, I'm rarely ever bored. So much going on! Over the course of the month, we put up our outdoor lights, put up our indoor decor (including the tree), went to visit Santa with Stephen and Chris at Roosevelt Field Mall, enjoyed ourselves at Karol and David's annual Christmas party, went shopping with Lauren at (where else?) Roosevelt Field Mall, edited my yearly "Christmas Sneak Peek," and much, much more. Perhaps the biggest news of all is what I covered in the last entry, and that is the fact that I got a new job. I start this Monday, January 30th. But I'll get to most of this later. Let's talk about the past few days.

-- On December 23rd (Christmas Eve's Eve, if you will), I met up with Sal and Mike for a fun-filled evening, as we do every year for our Christmas get together. I had work in the morning, which was sort of emotional, since it was my second-to-last day there. I said my good-byes to those whom I knew I wasn't go to see on my last day.

After work, I ran around, doing last minute things before meeting up with Mike and Sal. I got a haircut, for instance, wrapped some more gifts, and did other odds and ends. I would say we were on the road to Roosevelt Field (yes, I went there quite a few times this holiday season...so sue me) at around 7:30. Lucky for us, there was absolutely no traffic and we were there within 20 minutes.

Sal, Michael, and I did some last minute shopping, going to places like FYE, the Hallmark Store, the Disney Store, etc. We had dinner at the RFM food court, which was kind of fun, in and of itself. We enjoyed some chicken teriyaki, as per usual, and got to catch up. Following that, we hit up a local Best Buy, as the boys had wanted to purchase some gift cards there. Then, on the way back to Queens, we hit up a CVS for some Christmas cookies, but to no avail. Ah well. Great start to the night anyway!

We had gone back to my house following the mall and continued our great tradition of watching my "Christmas Sneak Peek" video first. This particular year's project took me, probably, the longest it's ever taken me to edit this video. On Tuesday, December 17th, I was down in my basement editing from 10:30 am through 2:30 am. With only one break for dinner. Crazy!!!

Getting back to my night with Sal and Mike, they really enjoyed the video. They had commended me on the program, especially Uncle Dom's tribute. I put my heart and soul into that part especially and I'm glad it showed.

Next on our list was watching The Insiders' Christmas Special: "You're a Mean One, Mr. Rodney." We've been viewing that episode consecutively at Christmastime for about 10 years now. I'm happy to report that it has stood the test of time. "So many great one liners" as the Brothers Graffeo so eloquently put it. "Who exactly IS Feliz Navidad?" "You really, REALLY shouldn't have..." "You know what today is? CHRISTMAS!...and you know what that means? PRESENTS!!!!" Not to pat ourselves on the back, but SO GOOD.

During our movie watching, by the way, we were able to find some shortbread cookies, not to mention drinking our traditional spiced apple cider and eggnog. Both were from Target's Market Pantry brand and they make quality products! (This ad was not paid for by Market Pantry...but it might as well be!)

Finally, after those two videos had concluded, we went upstairs by the tree and swapped gifts. The boys were generous as they always are and I'd like to think I was the same way with them. Then, of course, we took some photos and video in front of the tree, telling stories about our evening and the presents we received. I also received a terrific honor from Michael. I had found out while we were out on Long Island that Sal was going to be Mike's Best Man, as he should be; I know he's going to do an awesome job like the class act he is. Well, I was in for my own bit of great news, as Mike picked me to be one of his groomsmen. Michael had said that I am one of his best friends and that he'd love me to represent him on his special day. Right back at ya, buddy!!

After a successful evening, the boys and I parted ways. I have to say that I really want to thank Sal and Mike for making December 23rd this year so pleasant. It's always so nice, every single year, but this year's really helped since going into the holidays I was naturally a little down in the dumps. They truly lifted my spirits and it helped me find the magic in Christmas this year. So thank you guys. A lot.

-- Christmas Eve was actually a really nice day, even though I wasn't sure what to expect. Naturally, old memories had floated through my mind, ones of Uncle Dom, my Grandma Esther, Tom (Aunt Ro's father), Pa and Tess (Uncle John's parents), and even Rob and Jean (not deceased like those aforementioned but they weren't able to make it in this Christmas). We all really missed their company but as the years go on, you just have to adapt, while cherishing those past memories.

Speaking of adapting, I decided to do so this year. I joined Nicole and her family in Farmingdale, Long Island. That's where Nicole's cousins Bernie, Arlene, Stephanie, and Taylor live. Every year, Nicole joins her family there (save for 2009, when she graciously came to Aunt Connie's house), so I thought it was about time I gave it a shot. My reason for ultimately going is because I knew that this year at Aunt Connie's would be quiet. Plus, Erica and the kids were coming over Christmas Day, so I thought that would be a fair trade. I did feel bad for my parents, though, since they said it was the quietest Christmas Eve they've had since before Erica and I were born. As bad as I felt, they insisted I still go to Nicole's family's house, and I'm so glad that I did.

Bernie and Arlene, along with their children, Stephanie and Taylor, welcomed me with open arms. Also in attendance were: Alex, Jackie, Oma, Ayla, Eliza, Robyn, Chris, Michael, Ralph, Morgan, and Tante Sieglinde. They didn't have the Italian feast of the seven fishes, as we do at my house, but that is because that is mostly an Italian tradition. They are German so they served ham, potatoes, meatballs, salad, and other delicacies. I thought what they served was great, all things considered. (Plus, dad did save me some baccala salad...score!)

We got a chance to catch up with everyone and what I really liked is that it felt like a good ol' fashioned family, country Christmas. That's kind of the way Aunt Connie's house felt when she lived on Oxford Road. Something really magical about it. Maybe because we had to travel to get there and they live in a WASPy kind of area (no offense). Something really quaint and nice about it.

Mid-way through the evening, I asked Arlene if it would be okay to dress up as an Elf, as it had been a tradition of mine for just about 20 years (give or take). The problem was...I needed a Santa, so I looked to Bernie to do the job. He has a white beard anyway, so it kind of does the trick. And what do you know? He agreed! Arlene seemed very enthusiastic about it and even Taylor said, "Yes! This family needs a new tradition!". So, I donned the yellow tights with the red and white socks, while Bernie put his Santa gear on, and we were good to go! The only problem was that Bernie had forgotten to wear the slip on boots, so the pants looked ridiculously short on him! To make things even funnier, he wore flip flops for shoes! Everyone kept laughing, saying that he had just come from Hawaii or the Tropics. Too funny! Overall, everyone LOVED the outfits, I'm elated to report. I'm glad I got to keep my 20 year (and counting!) streak going.

While in our Santa and Elf gear, we handed out the presents for the Yankee gift swap. Basically, you choose a number at random and pick out a gift. If the person whose number comes after yours likes your gift, they can take yours (and you'd have to pick a new one), or they can pick a new one themselves. It made for some funny moments and it seemed as if everyone kept picking mine! I aimed for the Amazon or Best Buy gift card but they ended up in someone else's hands by the end of the night. However, Nicole and I were the real victors, and she received a basket full of coffee-related items, and I got the Jurassic Park DVD trilogy. Although, yes I do own those DVDs, Jackie sneaked me the receipt (FYI: Chris [Corrigan] had purchased it) so I'm going to be getting back a Best Buy gift card anyway! I'm glad that all worked out. :-P

Once the gift swap had ended, Bernie and Arlene asked me to do them a quick favor. They had wanted me to go to their neighbor's house dressed up! I was a bit hesitant but they wanted me to go with Bernie aka Santa, so I figured, what the hell! And boy...did those neighbors love it! They couldn't believe it and went nuts. They wanted so many pictures with us; it was like the paparazzi! I'm super glad that Nicole filmed the entire transaction. It made for some great footage! It's for moments like that, that I love dressing up as Elf alongside Santa. People just eat it up, no matter where you go. It makes the gift swapping all the more interesting.

The night was soon winding down. We had some dessert, mingled some more with the family, and soon said our good-byes to the Soete family. Then, it was back on the road. Oh, and by the way, the traffic was horrendous the first half of our trip going to their house! I'm happy to report, it was smooth sailing on the way back.

When we had gotten back to Forest Hills, Nicole helped me wrap the remainder of my gifts. We were dead-tired, but my stubborn ass had to wrap the last few presents. I truly appreciate Nikki staying up with me and hope that I learn my lesson next year. While I do actually enjoy wrapping gifts on the Eve (there's something somewhat serene about it), I think the most I'll leave unwrapped are like 5 or 6. Otherwise, going forward, wrapped they shall be!

Man, I love Christmas Eve. I'm so happy my day was salvaged. It still is, in my opinion, the absolute best day of the year. It's unequivocally magical! I wish it lasted, like, four days. It's a day I hold so near and dear to my heart; a shame it's only one day a year.

-- Christmas Day was actually more pleasant than I had originally thought it would be. This time, Nicole joined my family and I for a feast at our house.

Nikki and I woke up around 9:30 and ran out to CVS as they were thankfully open. She had to pick up my parents a gift (rough year...she gets paid on Wednesdays, hence the reason why) and also we both had to get my Aunt Connie a present. We were lickety split in there, thank God, and went right back home to exchange gifts with my parents and with one another.

They all got me such wonderful things. I was truly spoiled! From my parents (whom I opened first), I received a sweater from AE, a few gift cards, Mary Poppins on DVD, a WWE Trivia board game, and a bunch of other things I can't even remember, haha. As for Nicole, boy oh boy, that girl went nuts! I got a brand spanking new digital camera (my old one doesn't work anymore and I've been borrowing her mother's since the beginning of December), three graphic t-shirts, gift cards, a beautiful picture frame with our engagement photo in it, "hot tamale" boxer shorts...the list goes on and on and on! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

In a feat of more generosity, Erica and John spoiled me as well, as they arrived about an hour after the first gift exchange. First, we had Johnny and Victoria open up their gifts, and then we ripped into our own. Erica and John got me two DVDs, a calendar, three gifts cards...absolutely ridiculous! Totally unnecessary but much appreciated.

After our fun morning, more excitement was on the way, as dinner was being cooked and the Ambroses arrived to feast. And, of course, for more presents! Aunt Connie was her usual generous self and gave gifts to Nicole, Erica, John, the kids, and yours truly. Yesterday was seriously a marathon of gifts and we weren't even done yet!

Dinner was delicious, as usual, as mom and dad made manicotti pasta for starters, and then a rib roast with a bunch of side dishes as our main entree. We had a lot of fun at the dinner table, as we were relaying old family stories, including many fond memories of Uncle Dom. It was really nice.

On that same note, once dinner had concluded, we went into the den and watched my "Christmas Sneak Peak" video. After it was over, everybody commended me on it, which I really appreciated. Even my Uncle John was hysterical laughing through many parts of it. They also loved the tribute I made to Uncle Dom. I was flattered by their compliments but, believe me, it was my pleasure compiling it. I even sent a copy to Rob & Jean in Indiana and they loved it, too. Matter of fact, both R&J and my Aunt Connie had written on my Facebook wall just how much they loved it. Really meant a lot.

Following the video, we had dessert, watched some movies with Danielle (including Mickey's Christmas Carol and How the Grinch Stole Christmas) and then everyone left. Nicole and I soon made our way over to Woodside, shortly thereafter.

It fortunately didn't take us long, as there was no traffic on the BQE towards Woodside. We parked in the back of their house in front of their driveway, so that saved us time in looking for parking. The two of us greeted everyone, most of whom we had seen a day prior, save for Kevin (Nik's father) and Opa (Nik's grandfather). After a little while, Opa fixed us a plate of ham and *potatoes*, as if we needed more food! haha.

Coming up next was our own Kris Kringle. On Thanksgiving night, we chose names out of a hat (or was it an Elmo basket?) and I had gotten Oma. I really didn't know what presents to buy for her, so I ended up getting her $30 of scratch-offs, a snow globe, and a box of chocolates. She absolutely loved it and I got her reaction on tape...which was priceless!

Alex (Nikki's aunt) had gotten me as her Kris Kringle and my gift from her was a Mickey Mouse watch, which I had temporarily forgotten was on my Amazon Wish List. It was a beautiful watch and I've already started to wear it! Very grateful for it.

The funniest part of the evening was Nicole's Oma, who had gotten Nikki as her Kringle. She gave Nicole a bracelet of Egyptian goddess Nefertiti, a necklace which clearly said $7.99 on it, a pair of socks that was probably a dollar at most, and--what we found inside of the socks--a pair of $7.99 earrings, that were clip-ons. Nicole, her mom, dad, and I were hysterical laughing! It was priceless! Nicole said that clearly Oma did not understand it was a $50 limit...or she just played dumb. Either way, it made for a hell of a moment!

Our evening over there soon wrapped up, and then we had gone back to Forest Hills. Needless to say, after an eventful day, we were wiped out. We fell asleep on my couch in the den, watching Clark Griswold do his thing in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

-- Today, December 26th, was actually the toughest of all four days. While the other three were pleasant, I found today to be rather difficult. The reason being is that today, Aunt Ro, Alexis, and Gaetano stopped by for a visit. They had spent this year's holidays with Aunt Rosemary's close friend Ducky, who's actually a really sweet lady. But, they had wanted to see us in some capacity, so they came over today.

The earlier part of the day, Nicole and I had gone to the mall (in Queens) to see if we could find some good deals, using our gift cards. I had also wanted to exchange that Jurassic Park Trilogy I received on the Eve, but Best Buy's return/exchange line was ridiculous!! Instead, we had gone to Target, which was much better. We also went to Queens Center, and it was an absolute zoo in there! The only place we found success was at the Disney Store. Otherwise, it was complete chaos.

A few hours later, the DePaolas (well, one DePaola and two Chiparos) arrived and we had Chinese food for dinner. It was actually quite delicious and we all enjoyed one another's company. I did, however, notice that Alexis was not her usual self. I took out the camcorder and recorded some parts but I could see she and even Aunt Rosemary weren't very receptive, so I put it away after a while. I don't blame them at all; I know how tough it must be without Uncle Dom here. I just figured, let me get at least a couple of shots with them in it.

As we drank wine, Aunt Ro and Alexis loosened up a little more (Gaetano was the exception, as he was his usual, pleasant self) and I started seeing shades of the old Alexis. I don't say that at all to point fingers at her or anything. Like I said, I know how hard is must be for them. I'm just stating fact. Sometimes alcohol helps, in cases like this.

The Mauros (Sal and Teresa) came over for a little while, we all had some dessert, and then everyone left. I felt very sad when I had reflected back on the evening. While there were some good times dispersed into today, it was overall a melancholy vibe. I really felt the absence of Uncle Dom today out of every day this holiday season. We miss him dearly--no bullshit.

I just sometimes can't believe he's gone. It's just unreal to me. I think to all of us. But reality is reality and there's nothing we can do but remember him as best we could, cherish the time we had with him, and move forward. But man...does it hurt sometimes. Nothing against Aunt Rosemary, Alexis, or Gaetano, who are great in their own right, but it felt very strange without him there today. Very sad.

It may not be the best of notes to leave on, but I really have to go to bed. I have my very last shift at NBC tomorrow and I don't want to be too tired. Here's hoping it's a shift to remember. I believe WWE's Big Show will be in attendance, so if that's true, then color me excited. What a parting gift, haha.

Merry Christmas to all and to all...you know the rest!

--J[o]n[a]t[h]a[n]

Dec. 22nd, 2013

SHOWTIME!

"Mary...Mary Christmas!"

Good evening, everyone. I hope this Christmas Eve's Eve's Eve finds all of you well. I was supposed to be typing this a lot sooner, but got sidetracked with a project. Eh, it's that time of year. There's just absolutely no free time during December. I absolutely love Christmastime as you all know, but I wish I had a day where I could actually enjoy the festiveness, rather than running around like a chicken without its head.

Having said that, the past month has gone by in the blink of an eye. Last I updated, it was late November, on the evening of Thanksgiving, as a matter of fact. Thanksgiving was a week later than it was last year, so the season felt even shorter than usual. So many things have happened over the past month; I can try to highlight them, so here goes...

-- I got a NEW job! That's right, a brand spankin' new one, which is located at the Empire State Building. I'll be working alongside my grammar school cohorts Ali and Rich (aka Parker). As you may remember me mentioning in the last entry, I had an interview (Whaddya know? It was exactly a month ago today!) with this particular company on a jam-packed Friday. I had an open to 4:00 shift at work, and then ran straight over to the interview.

About a week and a half later, after being on a bit of pins and needles, I got a text from the company's big dog, Mickey, and he had said that I was hired! It was pretty damn cool, especially for a guy who is getting married in 10 months. I don't want to reveal the company's name, for Google-searchable purposes, but let's just say I'll be a customer service representative for them. I'll also be making more than I do now (Thank GOD!), have benefits, paid breakfasts and lunches, and some compensation on the Metrocard. Pretty sweet deal, if you ask me. It may not be in the media field, but for now, this definitely works. Much thanks and praise to Ali, for sticking his neck out for me, as well as RJP, who put in a good word for me and gave me the scoop on everything.

-----I didn't realize how late it was on this evening, so when I realized the time, I went to bed so as not to tire myself out. I had an opening shift the following morning, that's why. However, I Wanted to post this anyway, just for the heck of it.

--Jonathan

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