‘Any police department has its share of danger. Just watch the news any night; cops are putting themselves in danger every single day.’
“There were moments of sheer terror. I started off as a police officer in the Bronx in 1988, got promoted to detective and wound up doing undercover. I got to buy heroin and cocaine, legally obviously. Maybe that’s where my acting comes from. I was shot at a couple of times. I had a gun put to my head. Thankfully, our field team came to save me before he pulled the trigger. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be talking to you today.
“Any police department has its share of danger. Just watch the news any night; cops are putting themselves in danger every single day. It wasn’t just me. But I had my share in 20 years; it’s hard to avoid.
“I was a first responder on 9/11. I can replay the day frame by frame. As I was driving in, I remember seeing the towers burning from the Expressway. I knew it was going to be a day like no other in my life. We were kind of helpless on that day, just hearing the screaming on the radio from cops that were in the tower and knowing how helpless we were, knowing there was nothing we could do. It was very difficult to hear radio transmissions from police officers who are no longer with us.
“My central role was in the recovery efforts, like many of us in the detective bureau. I was assigned to the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island. Basically, we were investigating the largest crime scene in the history of the United States. We were charged with looking for people, or just parts of people. There were no whole bodies; everything was pulverized.
“As they cleared out Ground Zero, they put it all on barges and dumped it in the middle of the debris field. When it came over, it was so hot, it was still smoking, There was so much methane gas. There were puddles where bubbles were coming out of the water and, of course, everything was covered in dust. At first, there were no masks. We were told that the air was fine. Then one day, I remember they came in with trucks filled with canister masks. The smell, I can still smell it today.
“When you’re a police officer, you know what death smells like. The work went on. We had 12 hours on, 12 hours off. I worked on Thanksgiving, my wedding anniversary, nothing else mattered. The nation was in shock.”
I have many friends who worked next to me in the landfill who are not here today. It’s a reminder that life is precious and to enjoy every day. I try to.
“Eventually, PTSD got the best of me. It took a few years for it to kick in to the point it was interfering with my daily life. Cops are very stubborn people. Instead of seeking help, we like to suppress. I felt like I should be able to deal with it, but when it becomes overwhelming, you have to try to normalize yourself. I retired in 2008 as a detective squad commander.
“Along with the PTSD, I have breathing issues, sinus issues, stomach issues, sleep apnea. It’s all still with me today, almost 22 years later; it’s not going anywhere. I have many friends who worked next to me in the landfill who are not here today. It’s a reminder that life is precious and to enjoy every day. I try to.
“After I retired, I went into the private sector. I went to Dowling College as director of campus safety, then was promoted to associate vice president and was able to help the college get accredited for its criminal justice program.
“A headhunter found me after three and half years and recruited me for a security company. I wound up as vice president of operations and eventually went into business for myself, doing executive protection and transportation. It was very stressful, having my own business, a very high-pressure environment, being responsible for other people’s safety [celebrities, CEOs]. I didn’t want that amount of stress.
“I’ve always had a culinary background, though not formally trained. I wound up doing work as a private chef, cooking private dinners, more as a hobby than a career. I cooked for priests in a rectory. I just wanted to do something.
“I’d always acted, though very rarely was I able to do shows in the police department. But once I retired, I stayed very connected to theater. I was in several productions: ‘The Producers,’ ‘The Odd Couple,’ ‘Deathtrap.’ I started getting involved heavily in theater because acting, being somebody else, was the perfect solution for me to combat the PTSD, just being out of myself.”
I’ve had psychologists tell me you need to stay with theater, because there were very dark times, post 9/11. When I immersed myself in theater, my life changed for the better.
“I met the director of Studio Theatre, and he had a small youth program at the time. At first, I didn’t want to be involved at that high a level. But I had business experience from what I did at Dowling, maximizing profits, managing budgets. I knew marketing, I knew public relations. We partnered up in January of 2020, and two months later the world shut down.
“When COVID hit, the impact was staggering, not just on our company, but theaters across the United States; everybody was suffering. We had to find every possible way to keep money flowing into the business, to keep it alive. Thankfully, we had a landlord who worked with us, and the government stepped in with grant money. We basically begged and borrowed from anywhere we could to keep the business afloat.
“We were fortunate enough to get an outdoor venue at Firemen’s Memorial Park to be able to keep the youth program going. Because it was outside, we were able to run a theater program and stay in compliance with all the COVID restrictions. We were fortunate to be able to give the children some sense of normalcy in their lives, despite what was going on in the world.
“But really, it’s not about money, it’s about having a passion for theater, being able to produce quality shows and even being fortunate enough to act in some of them. It’s a labor of love, to use a colloquialism, but it has to be. It’s got to be about the love of our craft, the love of the arts. It’s never about money.
“For me, theater has saved my life. PTSD isn’t just PTSD. It has other effects on the body, physically, psychologically. So finding my passion in theater and immersing myself in the theater world and, especially, the youth theater world, makes me feel so uplifted. Without having a passion and something to occupy my mind in a way that’s creative, along with the love and support of my wife and two daughters, I couldn’t handle the PTSD. I’ve had psychologists tell me you need to stay with theater, because there were very dark times, post 9/11. When I immersed myself in theater, my life changed for the better.”
Interviewed by Barbara Schuler