april 20th, 2008 – french toast & hugs #11 in auckland

Where to begin??

Letting go is a difficult thing for me. Always has been.

It’s funny though because you’d have thought I’d realize by now that’s usually when things work out best.

In January of 08 I went to Auckland New Zealand for work. Well really I went out there to make french toast for the kiwis but it was the job that allowed me to meet so many amazing people who are now permanently fixed into my life.

That January I put my Coleman stove and trusty spatula in my suitcase (who needs clothes?) and got on my flight. The power of carbs and love not only got me through customs easily but I was actually welcomed by the NZ agent with a laugh and a smile when I told him what I was there for.

When I got to Auckland the fields were full of massive red strawberries. So much so that they were selling them by the crate. Along the green winding country roads were signs for freshly made strawberry ice cream.

My first task was to find where to hold the FTX (french toast & hugs) Auckland event. Doug Smith, my supervisor, immediately told me it had to be at the harbour. A place filled with people, ferries, a brilliant horizon and soft red brick sidewalks. And he was right. It was perfect.

Next I had to find supplies. Dianne, our script supervisor, gave me the info for a Jewish synagogue that might sell Challah bred. Now for me french toast is best with either Hawaiian sweet bred or Challah bred. I called them up and learned I could order some a week before I needed them. No worries.

Then thanks to the caterer on the set I learned of a food warehouse type place called Gilmours. It doesn’t cost anything to join BUT you have to be representing a business. Not having my own business I figured I’d just go in and tell them the truth. The Indian lady at the application window recognized my name as Indian which caught her curiousity. When I told her that I was part of a non profit that hands out free french toast and hugs across the globe she laughed, leaned in close, and asked me really what I was doing here in New Zealand. Some sort of criminal mastermind type activity no doubt. When I told her that french toast was it she laughed and handed me a laminated card with “French Toast & Hugs” written proudly over the Gilmours logo.

Next up is Ems. She is a chapter unto herself! Emma Maurice was one of our crew production assistants and the most vibrant and alive person on set! You could hear her laughter throughout the workday – silence on the set be damned!! Ems is I believe part Maori and to me a very brown person. I say that as the ultimate compliment because my best pal and co-creator of FTX, Daisy Mae, has many times told me that brown is the color of love. When I first tried to mention FTX to Ems she immediately cut me off and asked what she could do to help! That type of pro-active go-getter attitude is rare in this world especially when the person may not be rewarded with anything but a thank you. In less than a minute she had us locked in for free coolers and water and even a boombox to play my FTX Auckland mix on.

A few weeks after that initial conversation she out of the blue (or brown??) asked me if the gang had an FTX #34 in it. Now the numbers for the gang are usually given to new members consecutively. But I had skipped #34. The reason being was that a few years back I had a person in mind for that number. Also at that time I wanted to try and make a brown shirt. So I had the shirt made but then realized that although the person was really great I couldn’t in fairness give them a number at that time and still be following Daisy’s 1 and only “stone cold” requirement. Being a good person doesn’t make you “stone cold”. It was by taking your good self and putting it and your heart into action. So I held on to the brown shirt with the brown sleeves and the brown 34 on the back.

I held onto it for years.

So when Ems asked me about this particular number I was shocked. She told me that 34 was the age her mother was when she decided to go back to school and do and be what she wanted to in her life. It was in that moment that Ems learned that she could do anything with her life and that she couldn’t wait to see herself when she reached her own 34.

So I had the shirt hand delivered to me by FTX 36, the Bigmez, and handed it to Ems on that wonderful day at the harbour in April. She literally exploded into a dance!! On that day even before she knew she was in the gang she was shot out of a cannon. Her full body slam hugs hit friends and strangers alike. One homeless man when asked by her if he would like a hug said he hadn’t had one for over 40 years – she immediately leaped into his arms and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

Thank you Ems for leaping into my heart and inspiring me. You are my 34.

I know I’ve kept you reading for awhile but just allow me one more story. As the day got closer I suddenly realized that I was set for every supply but one – strawberries!!! I’m used to living in Los Angeles where there aren’t any real seasons. Which means that things don’t go OUT of season. About 2 weeks before the carefully planned event I realized the only strawberries I’d seen at the store were nasty aged black ones. The red abundant ones filling boxes to the rim were gone. GONE! Like Keyser Soze from the Usual Suspects! I was grumpy and grumbling about it on set one day when Mike, forever to be called by me Strawberry Mike, asked what was wrong. I told him and he didn’t even hesitate to roll out what he said next. “Strawberries, how many would you like? My brother’s job is to import fruit into New Zealand. I can get you strawberries no problem.” You gotta be kidding me???!! But he wasn’t. Mike and his son Zach delivered to me CRATES of fresh icy cold strawberries the Friday before FTX, flown in from none other than California!!

There are more stories to be sure:

-The torrential (and I MEAN torrential rains up to and stopping for our day).
-Kelly coming thru in the end and getting our flyers finished.
-Brandy and I burning the late night hours burning mix cds.
-A bunch of young boys not wanting a hug from a GIRL!!!! (ewwww!)
-A recently adopted Russian girl with her yellow lollypop who just arrived in Auckland, unfazed and probably thinking this was a common NZ event!
-Singing happy birthday to Kirsty as Peaches her dog ate some french toast.
-The demise of my spatula (I’ve had it since college!!) as the end of it fell off, turning it into a massive fork!
-The hand delivered cinnamon gelato!! (a must have for french toast now)
-The applause and ovation our french toast gang received Monday on set by the crew.

My friends Bigmez, Howie, my sister Tara, my girl Brandy, Michelle (14!), Leah, SchaperJ, Lisa and Jon all were there that Sunday on April 20th to help. Some had flown in from as far as Los Angeles or Melbourne just to participate in what was our 11th FTX.

And that was it. A day I will remember for the rest of my life.
It was one of those great days that we are given when we realize what we’ve got.
When we appreciate this life. When we connect.
It was a day when I felt in my soul what I could become.
And that any day or any moment can and should be what it was intended to be.

A celebration.

And for that day and for all of you who are reading this I express my complete and total gratitude. With love. Shyam. FTX 1.

For almost 1800 FTX Auckland images (you can hit the slideshow button on the top right for groupings of 200 photos):



FTX slideshow of FTX #10, Echo Park California, December 1st, 2007

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