Imagine, if you will, the Pillsbury Doughboy with Peter Brady’s haircut and Truman Capote’s voice. Add a sprinkling of the fear of being touched and the social anxiety of a shy Chihuahua. That was me at 18, and in December 2008, that guy decided it was a good idea to take a trip to New York City all by himself.
To reiterate why this cultural experiment was destined for failure, I should mention I was born and raised in Clovis, Calif., a small town in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley — you know, where they end up in “The Grapes of Wrath.” Clovis is a place of spacious farmland, quiet suburbs, ample street parking and trucks with testicle ornaments. It couldn’t be more different from the Big Apple, which is probably why I spent much of my adolescence wishing Kristin Chenoweth would show up in Glinda the Good Witch’s bubble and take me there.
In 2008, my spirit guides must have paid off their gambling debts, because I was unexpectedly presented with a plethora of life-changing opportunities. In June, I graduated from high school; that September, I auditioned and booked the pilot of “Glee”; in October, I briefly moved to Los Angeles to shoot it; and in November, I had neck surgery from the whiplash of it all. Actually, it was just to have my wisdom teeth removed, but I was under the influence of Vicodin nonetheless.
During this narcotic haze, I kept in touch with my “Glee” co-stars (I also sent a lot of emails to Condoleezza Rice, but that’s a different story.) Although I don’t remember it, I somehow managed to invite myself to the apartment that Lea Michele and Jenna Ushkowitz shared on the Upper West Side.
“You’re going to New York City … by yourself?” my mom was shocked to learn. “But Christopher, you’ve never even been to the doctor by yourself.”
“Mom, life is about stepping outside your comfort zone,” I replied — or maybe I said: “Cut the umbilical cord, Mrs. Bates! I’m going to see my friends!” I can’t remember.
I fully expected Lea or Jenna would greet me when I arrived at Kennedy International Airport — but I quickly learned that’s not how it worked in a big city in 2008. Getting into the taxi of a complete stranger was the most terrifying experience of my life up to that point. I was convinced that I would be whisked away and murdered like one of the victims in “The Bone Collector.” I was too afraid to look my driver in the eye or try pronouncing his foreign name (it was Gerald, by the way). The taxi’s door locks were broken and clicked loudly whenever the vehicle accelerated, so naturally, I thought gangsters were shooting at us.
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