Sidewalk Ghosts / “you can only lose your dignity once”

“happiness is not about money or status, it’s about self-worth.”


It was day thirty-eight into the project and all those who knew me were starting to see, even feel, the impact it was having on my families life. Literally, to the point, that as I first authored this story, I was looking across the table at six of my closest friends. Who, accompanied by our children, had gotten together for a Sunday family and social night. Yet in the middle of the get together, I had a commitment at hand, to publish my daily story. With that, I took leave from the group as all settled into an evening of games and conversation. Everyone by that time used to me working, no matter where I was. However, even though they were with me in the journey, they all figured harassment was still fair game.

_L2R2675That said, it would be short-changing my friends to not publish the remarks they shared. From my friend Pam, “If you’re dissing us, you better write about me,”even upstaged me, “I’m going to start my own blog on a leap year. So I’ll beat you with 366 days. Eat that!” she laughed.

The train had started, and I gladly offered myself as target. Some of the most creative jests came at me with the speed of a jabbing prizefighter. It was roast time and I was guest of honor, and as joke after joke hit me like pounding uppercuts, I lost no stride. With words flying at me faster than I could respond to, I was focused as focus could be. Yes, I was in keyboard nirvana and nothing was going to break my typing rhythm.

_L2R2680I give credit to who credit is due. Their effort was stellar. Monumental in fully blend of support and true effort to distract. So fairly in tribute to their efforts, thezerbert I threw to them that day still stands. A banner to their friendly harassment and loving patience, and to my ability to endure as the writing machine I was becoming.

_L2R2701The verbal punch fest subsided as all retreated to the living room for karaoke time, and as I worked to separate my mind from Billy Joel, The Beatles and other greats, I sat resolute in authoring the day’s story. So with the haunting sounds of lounge music behind me, I placed at center stage our new friend of that day: Jenna.

I strolled upon her as she chatted with friends outside of a little sports bar in Woodland Hills, The Corner Club. A place a touch out of my comfort zone, but there was a magnetic energy that inspired me to approach the group. As I arrived, I absorbed my first challenge; a dismissive bantering that was being tossed at me from one member of the group. A friendly enough bloke who giving me a bit of sarcastic hassle, made it obvious he had no intent of allowing me to photograph him. A few minutes passed as I compassionately listened, in a way de-escalating a situation that had potential to turn south in a destructive way. For it was not my place to correct him in his assessments of the moment, and as long as he was respecting my place to share the space we were in, and not physically attacking me, he had just as much right as I did to voice his opinion. His input expressed and his demeanor lessoned after making his position known, he quietly retreated to the solace of the bar inside, leaving Jenna and I the privacy to talk.

At first I was uncertain of where we would go with our conversation, especially after the storm of negativity that was just thrown our way. Not knowing exactly how to relate with Jenna, I simply jumped right in with a question, Is there anything you would like to share with my readers?

That was all it took. Instantly Jenna and I were deep in discussion and she had a ton to say. As was over and over being proven to me, I again knew why I was there, at that place, at that time, standing with Jenna.

First off, another lesson of the downfalls of profiling was instore for me, for sadly, due to the location, appearance and attitude of the group, I had prepared myself to hear an edgy point of view. Something that did have a partial relevance in what was to come, but in equal manner was diminished as Jenna opened-up in a sweet and accepting spirit. Sharing her insight on society she began, “Life is tough for everybody, but some make it a bigger deal than it has to be. They forget about each other, overreact and disregard the fact that we are all in this life together.”

A struggling actor, Jenna had experienced the high and lows of being an artist. Yet she was highly optimistic, quoting a piece of advice she picked up from a MartinScorsese interview, His father’s advice: “Nothing is more tragic than a wasted talent.”

She went on to tell me that although it had been an incredibly difficult year, she had reached a time where she was no longer fighting for control. Further expressing that in doing so, life had bought many new opportunities to her. She was honest with me in what was helping pay her bills, a YouTube spoof on sex advise, telling me that although it was somewhat raunchy, she drew the line at nudity. With humble admission, she exposed she took hits when people called her a porn star, but that was farthest from her values. I know, for many that line is black and white. But Jenna was resolute her show was a means to an end, and she had made the commitment to not compromise in going anywhere close to full-scale pornography.

Her stance, “you can only lose your dignity once,” and for Jenna, pornography would have been just that.

It is not our place to judge the intent of others, and after spending time chatting with Jenna, I was positive her point-of-view was of good rapport. You will absolutely see why in a moment.

She comfortably stated, “happiness is not about money or status, it’s about self-worth.” A theme that was already becoming strong, as even in these early days of Sidewalk Ghosts, it was a grounding premise to the mission we are now on. So how does a statement like this balance with smiling off the accusations of being a porn star?

Now I ask you to take off your first impression glasses and read on.

What really peaked my interest in Jenna was when she expressed her truest desire. A dedication to the future of our youth, specifically those who had special needs. A passion that was quite a change of direction from the sex talk program that was supporting her. The very unseen catalyst that stood under all of her efforts and compromises was exposed. Sex talk was a means to an end. A way open to her for making income through her acting talents, and I’m sure you realize just how hard it is to survive in the entertainment jungle, especially for the single folk.

Once again, it was not mine to judge her decisions of how she applied her skill set, nor was it mine to condemn her for the content she created, for at the end of the day, it is someone or something beyond myself who will have the last remarks as to her intent. Reality had hit me in the face upon meeting Jenna. The revelation that under the outer surface on all that we do, there is a human heart that, at first glance, is mostly hidden.

For eighteen years Jenna had dedicated her life to teaching special need children. Her nitche, working with kids roughly eleven-years old. An age that somehow, in her word, “seem to fall through the cracks with many taking no interest.” A point of view most would not entertain from a person hanging out at a grungy sports bar as they talked of a seemingly raunchy choice of content they created. I took careful notes in accessing her integrity. Observing things like the healthy Peach Yogurt she was carrying, of her not drinking alcohol or entering the bar, and of her plan of standing by while her comrade’s downed other more intoxication beverages.


We were interrupted mid interview, when politely she redirected an aggressive fellow who approached us. With grace and poise she pointed him another way, seemingly not wanting to have the topic at hand polluted by any loud distractions as she empathetically put him on another path.

Distraction settled; we resumed our conversation as Jenna expanded on what was most important to her. A balance she was striving to find in separating her acting decisions from her pursuits for helping special children to build healthy self-esteem–a theme in which she fore-fronted the importance of hard work and not being lazy. “I want them to succeed,” Jenna proposed, and as we talked of this aspect of her life, I saw great pride and compassion in her continence.

I could tell by the look on Jenna’s face that her life had not been easy, and that she was a fighter. In my time with her we spoke of many more things. Too many to fully express in short essay format, but I promise that I do share the above chosen words with purpose. You see, many of the Sidewalk Ghosts essays touch on a very common topic. One that Jenna exampled in a big way: We cannot judge a book by its cover.

It was an afternoon I approached, even interrupted, a group of friends enjoying their weekend leisure; and viewing through both side of the looking glass, perhaps I was the one to have been judged. A question that now, after over eight years of approaching and interviewing countless strangers is one that constantly humbles me. But in reflecting upon the wisdom so graciously given by Jenna, “Life is tough for everybody, but some make it a bigger deal than it has to be. They forget about each other, overreact and disregard the fact that we are all in this life together,” I am continuously grounded.

Readers, if you are returning, so nice to be with you again. If you are new, looking forward to getting to know you.

To all: please comment,like, and forward. Every engagement goes a long way toward connecting us; as together, we grow a movement that betters the way we view and treat one another.