first drafts

GREAT SPEECHES

IN HISTORY

Ah, to say just the right phrase. To string together in concise fashion the perfect mix of sentiment and meaning–to galvanize the assembled masses. I’m sure all of us at one time have asked “Where are the great orators today?” I know a guy who sleeps outside my building who was asking that just last night. In addition he asked if I could help him out with a little change, because he fought in ‘Nam and still hears the choppers sometimes at night and that Charlie killed his best friend.

My point is, who among our so-called ‘leaders’ has the power to inspire us with their words, to coin the phrases that will strengthen us in battle and comfort us in tragedy? President Obama gives a great speech, but even his most stirring words had to start with a first draft.

Now, a recently discovered collection of these early manuscripts has been made public, and we can see that even our most treasured orations went through a little…tinkering.


During the Revolutionary War, and facing certain death for treason against the British Empire, it turns out Patrick Henry initially muttered

“Look, you don’t have to kill me.

I like the King–this whole ‘United States’ idea is just a big misunderstanding”–and I can take you to Jefferson–he’s the main guy behind this anyway.”


Few people know  that Abraham Lincoln agonized for hours before his great speech, and that the original ending was to have been

“I realize that it won’t matter what I say here, since most of the people here are DEAD. God, I hate this job.”


Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King foretold in lofty metaphor a vision of a country united across racial divides. However, in an early manuscript, Dr. King, worried about instigating violence, intended to begin with the somewhat less inspirational

“I have…what seems to be, at least in my mind–what might be a pretty good idea–at least give it some thought.”


The immortal question posed by JFK in January of 1960 inspired an entire generation. But what we remember as “Ask not what your country can do for you…” actually began as

“Don’t ask me what to do. I’m not sure we really have to do anything. It’s not like we’re at war”


And baseball great Lou Gehrig, addressing the Yankee Stadium faithful, brought tears to a generation with his humility and strength in the face of tragedy. But it turns out, in an early draft of his speech, he actually planned to say:

louToday…I consider myself…to have really been screwed over here. I mean…c’mon, people, I’m a professional athlete, and now they’re telling me I’ve got an incurable neurological disease—AND you’re planning on naming it after me? There are luckier people I can think of.”

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your guaranteed accurate horoscope

I’m amazed that newspapers still carry horoscopes. I mean it’s not like there’s an alchemy column, or like the police blotter lists witch sightings–you can’t find a palm-reading report in your Sunday paper. But people still read their horoscopes.

I stopped reading my horoscope when I realized it was so generalized that it could apply to anyone.  So in the spirit of ‘giving the people what they want,’ and after much divination, oracle-consultation and star-gazing (I’m unemployed right now, so I’ve got the time), I’ve put together a guaranteed 100% accurate fool-proof astrological forecast and guide for today, March 11th, 2009. Just for you. Seriously. It’s personalized.

 

ARIES

Someone you know will talk to you today. Also, you will find yourself unsure at some point about something, but this will pass.

TAURUS

Don’t try to solve the world’s problems today. You won’t be able to.

GEMINI

Caution is your watchword, Gemini, especially if barefoot mountain-climbing is on the agenda.

CANCER

For you, this is a day governed by the laws of physics. It’s not a good day, however, for running naked through the grocery store.

LEO

Like a typical Leo, you enjoy some things more than others.

VIRGO

It will seem today that life is unfair, but you will probably not kill anyone.

LIBRA

If you see a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk, you should pick it up and keep it. Today is a good day to plan for the future, or pursue your goals, or be productive.

SCORPIO

Watch out Scorpio–there will be people who disagree with you today. There is a chance you will fall in love.

SAGITTARIUS

Today is not a good day to travel to Baghdad. You will think about a member of your family today,and have some sort of feeling about this.

CAPRICORN

Because of the position of your ruling planet, good things will make you happy. Try to have good things happen today.

AQUARIUS

The alignment of the outer planets will make it difficult for you to accomplish everything you planned, but some things will work out o.k. Other things won’t.

PISCES

Avoid screaming, demon-possessed outbursts today– especially around co-workers. Pisceans by their nature hate being shot, so it’s best to avoid this.

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thundersnow and freezing fog

I’m sure you’ll forgive me if, every spring, i refuse to turn even one cartwheel. But I know how this works. Sure, after a relentless winter, we can now enjoy those special two or three weeks before it becomes too hot and humid. Seriously, this was turning into the mythical Winter With No End. And after ten or so winters here, I’m finally starting to realize something very profound–crappy weather sucks.

But what we have in Minnesota is a kind of collective amnesia, a shared mental illness that allows us to conveniently forget, every year, that the weather will turn to shit, every year. Yet we stay, walking around muttering things like “great theater…vibrant music scene” to convince ourselves that it’s actually a good idea to live in a place where on some days, you have to cover your mouth so that you breathe in air that might freeze your lungs!

I lived in Minneapolis for several years in the 80’s and distinctly remember telling my California friends how great it was to live where there’s a change of seasons. And of course, my friends in L.A. would call to give me grief every winter, asking me “How cold is it now?” and “Are you freezing yet?”–as if we don’t have ‘indoors’ here, like there are no cities, simply bands of nomads exposed to the elements. Of course, my snarky vengeance would come every fall, when I would call and ask “Is your shit on fire yet?” or in February when I could ask “Has your house slid down the hill yet?”

Now that I have the wisdom  that comes with middle-age, I think I’m less fond of Old Man Winter than I had been when I was a bit more…spry.  Last night, we got 6 inches of new snow.  I’m looking out my window as I write this, and it’s quite lovely–if I didn’t have to actually WALK OUTSIDE. But take it from a guy with a limp and a cane–one man’s glistening city sidewalk is another man’s treacherous path to the bus stop. Winter wonderland my ass–as far as I’m concerned, it’s just a lot of places where I can slip and crack my skull on the curb.

I try not to bitch about the weather here, but today is one of those ridiculous days. This afternoon, the high temperature will be 15 degrees. Spring training has started, fer chrissake! I really don’t understand how the midwest was even settled. Let’s say the westbound pioneers got here in…June. Beautiful skies over the endless plains, frolicking in the lakes. But a few months later in that first year, when it became butt-fucking cold (an actual meteorological term)…PACK UP AND KEEP GOING WEST! OR HERE’S AN IDEA–GO SOUTH! But don’t just…stay where you are. It’s not like the first Minnesotans were tied to mortgages and school districts–get in the wagon and find someplace warmer! Load up your wagons and take your ad hoc city somewhere else! Some place where a suffocating blanket of cold and ice doesn’t bury you for four months!

And TV weather people don’t help. They seem to perversely relish these ‘weather events.’ I want to hear the anchorman say “Here’s Dave with the live Doppler forecast to tell us what to expect” and have Dave say “Screw that–everybody get out of here! Evil Winter’s coming with her mighty arsenal of cold and ice!” Last night they predicted ‘thundersnow.’ C’mon–that doesn’t even sound real. In Oregon I saw a forecast of ‘freezing fog’. I was pretty sure that was just Portland’s Chamber of Commerce trying to frighten people out of moving there–let’s take TWO shitty weather conditions and pretend they’ve joined forces! And wind chill–is this concept even necessary? Do I need to be reminded that not only is it too cold to be outside, but that it ‘feels’ even colder than it is?

And then there’s my favorite meteorological phrase–‘a wintry mix.’ Now there’s descriptive, verifiable hard science for you. Anyway, I realized a long time ago that weather forecasting is actually just pseudo-science, like astrology, or phrenology. Think about it–when the weatherman says there’s a fifty percent chance of snow, isn’t that basically saying it might snow, or it might not? That’s going out on an empirical limb!

I’ve lived in a lot of cities, and I will say I’ll take cold weather over hurricanes or earthquakes. When I left L.A. after the Northridge quake, people would say “but every place can have disasters.” True enough, but with every other natural disaster get at least some warning. If you’re in Florida and the guy on your teevee says you should leave your home–you usually have the option of LEAVING YOUR HOME. If you live next to a river and it’s rained real hard for real long time, then during that real long time you could FIND HIGHER GROUND. Even tornadoes–if you can’t get to a basement, you at least have a couple minutes after the siren sounds to…I dunno–pray.

But not earthquakes. Not only can they not be predicted (we have the technology to go to freakin’ Mars but we can’t predict when our own planet might break into pieces like peanut brittle?–priorities, scientists?) but when one hits, you have no idea if it’s gonna be a few seconds of gentle rolling or THE CATACLYSMIC RUPTURE  THAT SENDS US ALL PLUNGING INTO THE OPEN MAW OF AN ANGRY EARTH!

So, I suppose I can deal with cold, but I gotta admit, if some opportunity presented itself in say, Austin Texas, I might take it. It might be a hundred degrees for a few months, but you don’t have shovel heat.

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what’s in a name?

Sometimes when I’m creatively blocked I just start randomly typing things into Google. This time I wasn’t as random. Being a spiritual seeker, I searched for ‘God.’ Turns out, that search yielded 497,000,000 results, which I think explains why we can’t get along. Then, just to balance things out, I searched for the ‘Devil.’ Great news–only 160,000,000 results–clearly the Creator has a better handle on Search Engine Optimization. Now I’m figuring that the reason I’m not finding anything definitive is that I’m tied to archaic mythology, so I widened my search. For ‘evil,’ Google gave me 213,000,000 results, which means that there are at least 53,000,000 instances of evil for which the Devil is not responsible. This theology stuff is easy! But I wanted, at the very least, to have incontrovertible proof that is more good than evil in the world, and–voila! ‘ Good’ yields 2,060,000,000 hits! Good defeats evil! I’m a philosopher genius!

All that philosophizing took my mind off my piddling worries, but not for long. I’m just not sure where I fit in the grand scheme of things, and I’m just not feeling I’ve accomplished as much as I should. Granted I have nearly TEN regular readers of my blog, and as a standup comic, I am HUGE in Berwyn, Illinois. And Crest Hill. But I needed some perspective, so it was time to consult the Great Wireless Oracle once again.

It’s called ‘ego-surfing,’ and it involves simply typing your own name (in quotation marks) into your favorite search engine. According to the magical Google, 9,700 pages on the internet have at least one reference to ‘Michael Dane.’ So to boost my self-esteem, I decided to see how my life’s work stacks up against that of some the other Michael Danes. Instead of comparing myself to everyone on the planet, or even everyone in show business, let’s just see if I’m one of the most successful people named ‘Michael Dane.’

The first result I found was for a karaoke singer in Spokane, Washington. You can see a video here. Pleasant enough fellow, but I’m way funnier. Next I found a guy in Mooresville, North Carolina. Now he does own his own company, Dane Construction, but federal campaign records show he donated $1000 to both Kay Hagen AND Elizabeth Dole in their senate race, so that tells me he’s wishy-washy and not to be trusted. Take a stand, pal! Then, rounding out the first fifty, I get worried, because there’s a Michael Dane who’s listed as a ‘voice talent.’  But I went to his website, and first of all, he’s based in Athens, Texas, which is isn’t even the hippest Athens in the U.S. And his bio says that he was a DJ at a club called ‘Toppless,’ so I actually feel o.k. about doing comedy at Bada Brew in Crest Hill. At least I was the headliner.

The next result led me to one of the most fun time-wasting sites I’ve found in ages. Iit gives you statistical information on how your name (first, last or both as a combination) ranks in popularity, and it tells you where people with your name live. Indescribable nerd fun. There are 33 ‘Michael Dane’ listings in the entire country (making it the 613,590th most popular name), and I/we can be found in 20 states (with five of me/us in Massachusettes!).

Back to the search for my doppleganger. There’s a link to the MySpace page of a twenty-one year old girl in Lorain, Ohio, but I didn’t like the looks of her friends. She could do better. Then I think I might have real competition–an actor, and he’s actually listed on IMDB. But here’s his entire resume: in the 1985 film ‘A Certain Sacrifice,’ he played ‘Transvestite Steve,’ and in the 1987 movie ‘Hangman’ he is credited as…’Bad Guy.’ I feel much better. No disrespect, Mike, but neither of your characters had last names.

Still in the field of entertainment, Canadian singer Michael Dane apparently had a minor hit with the 12″ disco single “Let’s Make Love” (the flip side, as we all remember, was “The Dead Are Making Love), but that was in 1981, and I’ve seen no evidence of a comeback. Or a resurgence of Canadian disco.

The next contender was fun to read about. An English professor at two colleges in Hawaii, he’s listed on ratemyprofessors.com . Here’s a few quotes about Professor Dane (overall rating–4.6 out of 10):

Sometimes he seems like he’s weird but he’s very helpful.

We don’t seem to do much in class at all. He is entertaining to listen to, but jokes can be repetitive.

First impression make Dane seem intimidating. He has a strange sense of humor.

Finishing the top 100 ‘Michael Dane’ results, there’s:

a goth kid who takes pictures of himself

a lawyer in Kirtland, Ohio who in 37 years of practice has never had an instance of professional misconduct (and has apparently never left Kirtland Ohio),

a guy who owns an ‘architectural products’ company in Phoenix with a sharp-looking website where twelve of the sixteen links say ‘Coming Soon.’

a guy credited on the album “A Victorian Christmas For Brass” who didn’t play any brass–he’s listed as ‘bellringer’

So, all in all, I think I represent the Michael Danes of the world quite well.  In fact, two results of the first hundred actually quote a joke of mine, and my calendar from my website is result #104. But my favorite result actually referred to a character named ‘Michael Dane.’ In the 1923 John Ford silent film “North of Hudson Bay,”  legendary cowboy Tom Mix played a rancher named Michael Dane, and check out this synopsis from the book  “John Ford” by Tag Gallagher:

Rancher Michael Dane falls in love with Estelle while en route to Northern California where his brother Peter had struck gold. But there he finds his brother dead and his partner MacKenzie sentenced to walk the ‘death trail’…Dane tries to help MacKenzie, earns the same sentence but both excape, battling wolves, and meet Estelle, pursued by her uncle, the real murderer, who dies after a canoe chase over a waterfall.

Now that would beat the hell out of telling jokes in bars. But I am having trouble imagining the pitch meeting for that movie–it’s not exactly what you’d call ‘high concept.’ Sadly, according to the book, ‘only portions’ of the film survive, ‘with titles in Czech.’ No idea why.

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apocalypse whenever

As hopeful as I am in this post-Osama world, the cynic in me always is ready for things to go kerflooey on a global scale. And when things get real scary, like most people, I think about starting my own religious cult. I’ve obviously got the leadership thing down, having been captain of my high-school debate team. If you’re not inclined to join my cult, maybe you’ll want to start your own, and in the that spirit, I’ve put together some tips to make your cult as successful as possible.

  • Pick a date for the end of the world. Avoid the beginning of any century–be creative. Who’s to say the world won’t end on March 30th, 2012? Or tie your personal vision to an astronomic event–comets have been done to death, but what about the next asteroid shower?
  • Get as many people to agree with you as possible–ideally, you should have at least twenty followers–otherwise it’s really more of a club than a cult.
  • Choose a spiritual name for your followers to call you. You will have more luck drawing adherents if you avoid really American-sounding names like ‘Greg.’ Also avoid names which are difficult for your followers to pronounce, like Azhgtilsksh.
  • When the ‘end times’ come, remember–you don’t have to kill yourself just because your followers do.
  • If you have a regular job, quit. In addition to the long hours involved with starting a cult, you lose some credibility if you have to miss a vigil or a sacrifice because you’re ’stuck at work for another hour.’
  • Convince your followers to have sex with you in exchange for their salvation. If they are not convinced, threaten to shoot them.
  • Good places to build your compound: the desert, the mountains, or anywhere in Idaho. Bad places: the banquet room of a Holiday Inn and your apartment.
  • Avoid telling potential converts about the killing themselves part. Wait until you get all their worldly possessions, then start dropping hints about ‘the next world.’
  • Be sure to tell your followers that when they kill themselves (see above) they will be going to a better place. Nobody will give you all their worldly possessions if you tell them you’re ‘just not sure what will happen when this all shakes out.’
  • Don’t tell people you’re God. Acceptable substitutes–Vessel of God, Messenger of Truth, Most Eminent Visionary. Bad choices–Smart Guy, Man Who Is Better Than Others, Guy Who Tells People To Kill Themselves.
  • Find corporate sponsorship. With more cult startups expected than ever before, competition for lost souls will be intense. If you could be known as The Nike Cult of The Impending End Times, you’ll have a better shot at getting new members.
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