Gandhi once said “Whatever you do will be insignificant…, but it is very important that you do it.” I struggled, at times, to comprehend the meaning of these profound, bold, wise words spoken by a man who was anything but inconsequential, and whose observations and legacy still reverberate nearly 70 years after his passing.
I was born at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, July 28, 1977 in Parma General Hospital near Cleveland, Ohio. I’m the youngest of two children – by nearly two years, from a Sicilian mother and German/Ukrainian father. We were a typical middle class family being raised in the suburban Cleveland metro area. We weren’t an extremely religious catholic family (if that even makes sense), but my parents tried their best to raise us to have moral values, and I believe they did a commendable job. My sister and I fought often as youngsters, like most siblings do, but deep down inside we both knew we were each other’s best friend. From my earliest memory growing up, we always had some form of a pet in the house too, mostly dogs, and I believe they were the glue that bonded us all together. It was the one common denominator that we all shared – dogs.
My father was brought up in a house on a farm and quickly formed attachments with the animals on their property. He had to learn the hard lesson kids in these circumstances are forced to face – pet one day, dinner the next. It was a strict household, married together by rules and tough love, as many families were at the time. My father’s parents passed away when I was at a young age, so the fragmented memories I have are glossed over by the innocence of an adolescent boy. One of my more vivid recollections is that of me standing next to my father on the day of his father’s funeral. We stood before the casket and I looked up at him and saw no tears in his eyes, just a blank stare. For years that image was etched in my brain, and from time to time I would think about it when I was going through one of life’s trials and tribulations. Years later, I learned he was taught to not show his emotions. Showing emotions was and still is looked at as displaying weakness or vulnerability. I kept these same “tools” with me as I went through adulthood.
I wasn’t always this passionate about the more meaningful challenges this world has to offer. Most of my life I skated by without much afterthought at all. I barely passed high school, and if not for the help of my mother, I never would’ve graduated. Luckily I landed a job I was not qualified for, and had some success while getting paid very well for doing it. My 20’s were mostly a blur, filled with binge drinking and finding women at the bar, as well as participating in other social activities. Myself and four other close friends made this a nightly occurrence, that came to a screeching halt after I was pulled over and charged with a DUI. Coupled with that, I found myself in debt due to careless spending habits and excessive indulging. I was officially at my lowest point in my life, and looking back, one of few things I am not proud of. But, there are positives that come from negative situations like this. It gave me the opportunity to think long and hard about what I want out of this life – the only one I have. Because of that night my luck ran out, and a failed love attempt that immediately followed, I used that time productively and started writing a screenplay about that period in my life, titling it “kArmA” – a script about friendship, love and addiction.
It’s obvious to anyone who knows me, I love my dogs…all of them, every single last one of them – past or present. I rely on them just as much as they rely on me. I am at my most comfort when I am around them. As far back as I can remember I have always gravitated towards animals. My sister and I “collected” everything indigenous to the area at one point in our childhood. If it moved, we caught it, made a temporary pet out of it, then reluctantly released it back into the wild. One day, I even asked my mom if we could get a pet dolphin, because of my fondness for Flipper from the reruns of the popular TV series that reran in the late 70’s/early 80’s. She asked me where I would put him, which I replied “In the bathtub.” – an irony to my current stance towards captivity, especially in regards to dolphins. Along with my affection towards animals, I had a deep passion for the arts. It started out with drawing Corvette’s and other race cars, which was influenced by my father who used to drag race at nearby Norwalk raceway. When kids were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, the answer to that question was usually either football player or an artist. My parents were very skeptical, and gave me the usual “You’re gonna be a starving artist” line, that made it sound as repetitive and dangerous as “You’ll shoot your eye out” from ‘A Christmas Story’.
My freshman year of high school, my parents were going through some tough marital times, and separated for a year. My sister lived with my mother, and I went and lived with my father, which meant we moved from our affluent development into two apartments. This was a cultural shock to me, and I saw the old neighborhood kids I played sports with everyday grow further away for whatever reason. Still, I was fairly well known in high school, but didn’t belong to any one clique or group. It allowed me to be friends with whoever I wanted, but also made me feel I didn’t fit into any of them. Also, I didn’t date much while in school, mostly because I was shy around girls, especially the ones I was attracted to, and there were rumors questioning my sexuality because of my hesitations. All in all, I just felt nobody understood me, not even my best friends.
In high school I took every art class that was offered, sometimes twice without getting credit for it. I used to skip school often, especially my junior year, but would risk getting caught by coming back to attend these classes in the middle of the day – they were that important to me. My dream job after school was to become a computer graphic artists and work for the mega corporation, Disney, but since I did so poorly and lacked motivation in the other classes, college wasn’t in my foreseeable future. About this time, I started to find the power of words, and began writing poetry, but kept it mostly private. I was a troubled teenager, and it was my way of responding to hurt, love, and other emotions I was too afraid to publicly display. I kept my private life really private, and admittedly had trust issues that developed early on. My reluctance to show emotions heightened and continued after two back-to-back girlfriends shattered my heart, putting all feelings effectively into hibernation mode, where they stayed for much of my 20’s.
Some of the most enjoyable and entertaining times in my life were spent intoxicated, which in a way is contradictory since I can’t recall much about them. I do remember having a lot of fun, and laughing, and I wanted to keep living happy like that even if it was artificial and unhealthy. By day I was a sales professional, by night a drone drowning in my alcohol consumption while having meaningless one night stands. I controlled my heart’s best interest, even though I was physically spiraling out of control. On one of these nights, I reacquainted with a girl from high school who I was never able to express my adoration to. Alcohol made it easier to speak, and the feeling between us became mutual. We talked off and on for several months after, until it escalated into another broken and wounded heart. Since I was now an adult, this one seemed to have destroyed me more than the two previous girlfriends. The feeling for this girl just felt more authentic. Because of that, I became a recluse locked in my house writing a screenplay that detailed out my behavior of the last several years – the promiscuousness enhanced by an overindulgence of drugs and alcohol, and the realization of how it all came crumbling down at once.
Once completed, there were several attempts to produce the screenplay into a full feature film. I began networking within the independent film community in Cleveland, but it unfortunately just never took off. I’m a day dreamer, a visionary, a creator; and I wanted…, no I needed, to be able to creatively express my artistic mind. I started growing an attachment to filmmaking, and thought about a project I could control from start to finish, even if I didn’t have the necessary formal education. A documentary film immediately came to mind, and in February of 2007, I proceeded to research about animal cruelty in an effort to expose the abuse of those who could not speak. It was my chance to combine my love of animals and art together.
It didn’t take me long to narrow down the subject of this documentary. In April 2007, NFL star quarterback, Michael Vick, was suspected of dogfighting, and it seemed natural to attempt to put a face to the victims of these callous acts that treated them as though they were co-conspirators of the crime. Nearly another year passed before I met the dog who deepened my obsession to the issue. Preston was saved from a drug bust in Akron, Ohio, where his previous owners allegedly used him for fighting purposes. I fell head over heels madly in love with this little, black dog, and made my intentions instantly known of my plans to adopt. The suburb of Cleveland I was (at the time) living in, Lakewood, had other plans though. In May 2008, city council proposed and eventually passed a ban of ‘Pit Bull’ dogs, which made me scramble for a place outside the city that would allow me to have him. The state of Ohio already had statutes within their law that declared these dogs inherently vicious at birth since 1987. This became my new mission, therefore, the direction of the film changed to challenge breed discrimination, using Ohio as the backdrop.
I can’t remember being more enthusiastic about anything in my life before I started the film that became “Guilty ‘Til Proven Innocent.” My philosophies about the topic changed countless times, but my purpose never wavered. I wanted to be the change needed to help the dogs and prove their innocence in society. It took a long 5 more years before the film was completed and ready for public opinion. Along the way, I found another girl that I believed was put on this planet specifically for me. But, like the others previously, it was again only temporary. Through that, this time I learned I don’t need to keep my guard up waiting for the implosion, or completely cut out others in the future. I’ve learned being vulnerable about something does not mean I have to eliminate that element from ever happening, so I never feel the effects of sadness. I am proud of my transformation, and know someone out there will feel the same. And if that never happens, then I don’t need to stop expressing my love to people who do incredible things…And I can be one of those who do incredible things too. If those deeds become insignificant in the bigger picture of life years down the road, it doesn’t mean they were not important to me. The only things I was doing that was without significance was nothing at all. Anybody who has a dog knows, in their eyes nothing you do is meaningless. You are their entire world. I have my dogs to thank for understanding the meaning of this powerful quote Gandhi once spoke.