my first post-first-therapy-session post

Every time I go longer than a couple days without writing, I worry I’ve been stricken with an incredibly specific type of amnesia, one which only erases that part of my brain that knows how to write eight hundred word humorous essays.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Mister Comedy, but you may never be able to blog again. It’s possible that, in time, you may be able to post comments, but…I’m very sorry. All your other functions seem to be fine.”

If I’m a bit scattered here, it’s probably because I had my first therapy session this morning. Those who read my ramblings regularly (“The password is…alliteration.”) know I’ve had this whole depression-anxiety-batshit crazy thing for a while, which I thought just made me an artist but apparently can actually get in the way of the creative process. Who knew?

head

me, after my first session

The therapist seemed nice. Of course, you probably don’t get a lot of work if you’re known as the ‘mean-ass therapist.’ Anyway, in today’s session, I gave her a sort of greatest-hits of the depressed, anxious, batshit-crazy things I’ve felt lately, and she seemed to be writing a lot, which I thought was good. Although now that I think back, she might have been holding a book of Sudoku puzzles.

lobotomy

“We’ll just remove the part of your brain that’s causing the problem.”

But honestly, it wasn’t as scary as I had imagined. And, I’m pretty sure that when the session ended I was all fixed. I suppose I’ll go back, though, just so I don’t hurt her feelings.

Watching some late-night TV before my initial headshrinking, I noticed that every third ad was for an anti-depressant. You’d think Craig Ferguson’s main demographic consisted of 18-29 year-old Sylvia Plath fans. Now, I get that drugs have side effects. I just think that certain side effects should be dealbreakers.

lunesta

“Lunesta–Oh, you’ll sleep alright, and who knows what else you’ll do?”

The ad for Lunesta casually mentions that some people who take Lunesta are at risk of DRIVING WHILE SLEEPING. Ok, so you’re working in R & D at Sepracor, and a lab guy hands you a note saying “We’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is people have been able to get a solid eight hours of sleep on the drug. The bad news is, at some point during those eight hours, they might decide to go for a drive.” At this point, doesn’t somebody at Sepracor say, “Hey, before we sell any more, let’s see if we can stop it from causing THAT.”


Talked with my therapist about getting a cat, and she seemed to think I should get my shit figured out before trying to take care of another life form. Fair enough. I’d hate to have my relationship with the cat to be like something out of a tawdry pulp movie from the fifties with Joan Crawford: “I’m too depressed for this—open your own damn tuna!”

joan

me again, looking through the bars of my daybed

But I did a little browsing at PetSmart, and I had no idea cats were such gourmands. Now, I had a cat–used to eat roaches. Apparently though, cats have such savvy palates that they occasionally crave a little lamb and rice. And what kitty’s mouth doesn’t water at the thought of liver paté, or prime filet of ocean whitefish?

The beef thing is what really throws me. Beef flavored cat food? Yeah, because in its native environment, a cat’s natural prey is the…cow. I really think if we are to be good caretakers of our pet companions, we should feed them the kinds of things they really want. Friskies Mouse and Lizard Cat Food, or Savory Sparrow. Purina Dog Chow—new hearty Gopher Flavor!

cat

Here we see the mighty Tabby, as it eyes the helpless Guernsey…

My therapist and I also talked about pot. I guess her usual contact was out, and there was this whole deal…no, in fact, we talked about my pot use, and though she did that therapist thing of not saying anything, my sense was that she felt I should keep smoking pot.

It wouldn’t make sense to quit now anyway, because I just got cable. Pot and cable TV go together so well there oughta be a stash compartment in the back of your cable box.

pot

tip: Two and a Half Men isn’t even funny when you’re baked

Three McGyver episodes back-to-back? If that isn’t weed-worthy programming I don’t know what is! Hell, I once watched an hour of Univision before I realized I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND SPANISH! I’ve watched the same blender infomercial twice because the first time, I missed some of the twenty-six attachments. Cable is clearly aimed at stoners; there’s no other explanation for what the Cartoon Network airs after 2AM.

So this is the point in the piece where normally I would tie all the comic threads together—the therapy, the cat, the drugs, the pot, the cable. I’d come up with some killer line to end the piece with a bang, because ideally, when describing a comedy piece, you don’t want to have to use the phrase ‘peters out.’ But to be honest, I’m just not feelin’ it. A total stranger opened up my skull today and started to poke around. I’ve got a lot to process. For now, I’m just glad I’m writing again.

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where do you put a panic room in a studio apartment?

I’m always writing, but there was a three-week period a while back when I didn’t write any comedy, because I was enjoying a much-needed nervous breakdown, and I didn’t feel particularly funny.

This wasn’t my first time dealing with anxiety. Several years ago, I called a friend because I was having all the usual forty-year-old-guy-who-laughs-at-things-like-exercise-and-diet symptoms—shortness of breath, palpitations, etc. Took me to the emergency room. Check that—we actually had to spend an hour in the emergency room waiting room. Now, I’m not a health care professional, but I know a thing or two about words, and I’m pretty sure the word ‘emergency’ implies NO WAITING!

So there I am, in the middle of a panic attack, and I’m sitting next to some guy with a lawn dart stuck in his head, people wailing like extras from “The Snake Pit,” and the only thing to distract me from this Miltonian Hell is a TV which is showing (and I assure you I am not making this up) a rerun of “Highway to Heaven”! Yeah, that’s what you want to watch when you’re worried about dying—a cancelled show about the afterlife starring a dead guy!

I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized. Yeah, thanks for narrowing it down, doc. “Well, my considered opinion, Mister Comedy, is that you’re anxious about some things…just—in general.” Now I’ve always been a drama queen, but this was tangible proof of what I’d been saying for years—that a lot of things freak me out. (if I currently work for you or you were planning to hire me in the future…um…I’m fine).

Here’s a joke you can tell around the water cooler:

Two guys with generalized anxiety disorder walk into a bar. They look around the bar until one of them notices something. Their palms start to sweat, and then they leave.

While I wasn’t exactly thrilled to have an actual signed piece of paper attesting to my mental illness, I did want some help. So, they send me to the pharmacy and I pick up a two week supply of Xanax, or as it’s known by its common name, Holy Crap I’m Way Too Mellow This Kinda Scares Me Should I Be This Sluggish Why Can’t I Move My Arms.

Now understand, I’m skittish about drugs to begin with (yes, I realize that booze and weed are drugs but you know damn well what I’m talking about stop judging me alright fine I drink too much and I’m a pothead are you happy now?). For some reason, pills scare me, and one night, when I was battling insomnia, and the vodka didn’t knock me out, I decided to take a Benedryl.

Over the counter, just twenty-five milligrams, but since the bottle says  ‘avoid alcohol,’ which I hadn’t, I didn’t know if it would be safe. So I actually called a 24 hour Walgreens to ask the pharmacist on duty if I could ignore the contraindication without, say, dying. He said I should be fine, and pointed out that the bottle also says that taking Benedryl after consuming alcohol may increase drowsiness, which was, after all, sorta the point.

But Xanax—that’s a whole different kind of relaxed. I can see why people start eating them like candy. Thankfully, the clinic wouldn’t renew my prescription, so I had to look for other ways to deal with anxiety. With the help of some good friends, and a little tune-up at the Walk-In Counseling Center, I went back to simply being irresponsible, impulsive and OCD.

Flash forward to a couple Thanksgivings ago, and I wake up crying. And I cry all day. Now holidays were never that big a deal for me, what with the only child thing, and the no parents thing. (note: there will be more funny in just a bit). But every year it feels a bit worse, and the last thing I want in late December is to be reminded of ‘family’ Unfortunately, during the holiday season, there’s no way to escape it. Every show on network tv has their ‘Christmas episode’ with images right of Rockwell (Norman, the painter–not George, the American Nazi Party guy)

From the end of November until New Year’s, it’s like a fat lady from Berlin is sitting on my chest—“Submit to the holidays! You vill submit! You must haf a family dinner!” TV should show holiday specials for single lonely people: Hallmark Hall of Fame Presents: Chinese Takeout and Netflix—What Christmas Means To Me.

The anxiety attacks came back, and it wasn’t just the holiday thing that had me agitated. I was freaking out about my health. Every muscle twitch, every tingle now feels like a reminder that a) I’m old and b) I’ve never treated my body like a temple…maybe a rec room, but not a temple.

I thought it was odd that, after years of living in crisis mode, and not feeling depressed, now that I had good creative energy and a place to call home, suddenly I was having anxiety attacks again. Then I figured it out. When you’re in survival mode, you don’t spend a lot of time feeling depressed and scared.  When you’re checking the pants in your closet for change so you can have bus fare, you don’t do a lot of brooding about big-picture stuff. Apparently, I now have the luxury of depression.Woo fucking hoo.

So I’m finally taking some steps toward fixing whatever mental widget is broken, figuring out why I go into ‘fight-or-flight’ mode when I’m not, in fact, being chased by a tiger. I started therapy then, and I’ve been really making an attempt to be open to the process, be present, have a plan, set realistic goals, and…learn other clichés. I’m not sure if I’m willing to try any of those fancy big-city brain drugs they have, but on the other hand, if they’ve got one that’ll help me get out of bed before noon, I’ll give it some thought.

Hey, what the hell, now that I’ve dealt with the whole anxiety thing, maybe I’ll actually see a doctor about my bum leg, and my arm that doesn’t really work…like arms are supposed to. But I’m a little scared, and if I see one leech, I’m outta there.

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rushing the season

Apparently, I was confused. I thought Christmas celebrated the birth of Jesus (which, from what I’ve read, was a one-day event), but last year my local Walgreens was under the impression that we’re celebrating Mary’s last trimester. That’s right; they had Christmas items on the shelf in October.


Norelco
I’m a big ol’ Jew now, but I was raised in a Christian home, and I still have some fond memories of Christmas traditions. For me, the start of the holiday season was always marked by the ad with Santa riding a Norelco electric razor. Call me sentimental.
Of course, when I think of childhood, I mostly remember all the toys, beckoning from under the twinkling lights of a tree trimmed with strands of tinsel. And looking back, I can see that most of my toys sucked.

bigwheel

I got the short end of the gift stick through no fault of my parents. Even with just my mom’s social security and my stepdad’s veteran’s benefits, there was always something for me to open on Christmas morning.

The problem was, having been born in 1960, I was too old for toys by the time the cool toys came out. I still remember being envious of kids who had a Big Wheel, because the Big Wheel debuted in 1969, and what with me being nine, I was too old to ride one.


globe

Another problem was that I was really smart, so Mom would always buy me smart kid toys, as opposed to toys that involved, say, going outside. Don’t get me wrong—I always asked for brainy toys, but it probably would have been a good idea, social-development-wise, for Mom to get me a ball, or a bat, or a glove, and suggest I leave my room. Instead, one year, she got me a globe.

Great. I’ll invite some friends over. We can…point to different countries.

visible man and woman anatomical

One year for Christmas, I got what was called ‘The Visible Man,’ I guess the reasoning being, “He’s sure smart for a sixth-grader, which must mean he’ll become a doctor, so he’d better learn where the spleen is.” Of course, I could always invite friends over and point to it. Maybe the reason my generation is so fat and sedentary is that so many of our toys didn’t actually DO ANYTHING. Or, I got a lot of toys that did one thing, and that’s it. So, I’d gleefully open a package, do the one the toy was capable of, and think, “That’s all it does?”


Here are some examples of toys which…don’t do a whole lot.

(To my younger readers, none of these toys ‘plug in,’ so they would make perfect gifts for your Amish nephew.)

wheelo-toy

 

Behold, the Wheel-O. Through the magic of gyro-dynamic something-or-other, the wheel goes around the loop thingie, and back. Down. And up. Minutes of fun.

ClackersBLUE

These were called Clackers. They bang together. Loud enough to annoy the entire family, yet dangerous enough to leave a bruise.

whizzer

Our last entry in the Parade of Pointless Toys is the Wizzer. Despite what it says, it does not do ‘a zillion fantastic tricks.’ It spins if you roll the rubber tip on the ground. And then it stops spinning.

slinky2

I never had a Slinky, but only because our house didn’t have stairs.


hot wheels

Though I’m not a car guy (somehow I missed that genetic marker), I had some toy cars. Hot Wheels cars were how I rolled, and the best thing about Hot Wheels was the track that came in pieces you could assemble in infinite combinations. Or, you could just do a straightaway, with a loop in the middle.

Anyway, I would push my car toward the loop, and the car would race to the top, and…plummet to the floor. The imaginary carnage was horrifying.

ssp

Then came the ne plus ultra of car toys for 1972, the SSP Racer. First of all, this commercial mentions that it comes with ‘sonic sound,’ and there’s no sound more thrilling to a young boy than sonic sound. So, I would insert the special T-stick, pull it out, put the car on the floor, and…then the car would be lost, or broken. But it really went fast that one time.


etch-a-sketch-blank

The two most frustrating toys from my youth were the Etch-A-Sketch and the Spirograph. Etch-A-Sketch was great for drawing steps (and what kid doesn’t enjoy that?), but then there was that special moment when you figured out you could draw a curved line by turning both wheels at the same time. And….then you were done with it.

Side note—if you fight with your cousin over an Etch-A-Sketch and it breaks, aluminum powder is a bitch to get out of the carpet.

spirograph[1]spirograph

The problem with Spirograph was that the box would tell you that you can make designs like the one on the right, when in fact, you can’t.

That, and the fact that if you lost either the pens or push pins that came in the box, no other pen or pin made by humans would fit in the little holes. And, the fact that it was impossible to use the long skinny pieces at all.

viewmaster

My childhood was a time when it was considered entertaining to look into plastic binoculars and see 3-D still pictures of the Grand Canyon. Presenting–the Viewmaster! Entire afternoons spent clicking and staring. You could even get discs for it with still pictures from movies and TV shows! Did I mention they were in 3-D?  Now that I think of it, if they still made these, I could catch up on ‘Mad Men’ without having to pay for cable.


Every year, I gave my mom a Christmas list, and from the time I was seven or eight, I wanted an ant farm. It went on the list, and every year, no ant farm. Oh, I always got the new edition of the World Almanac and Book of Facts, but never the ant farm. Until, one Christmas, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I tore off the wrapping paper and there it was—UNCLE MILTON’S GIANT ANT FARM!

The thing is, I was seventeen when I finally got it. Really, Mom? I know the box says ‘ages seven and up,’ but, really? Only thing I can figure is that Mom kept all the old Christmas lists and, since I never told her I had stopped wanting an ant farm, she finally decided, “He’s ready for this now.” Oh well, it’s the thought that counts.

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unpacking my life

I like feeling settled. After many years of living on the edge, I love that, when a friend ask me what’s up, I can actually say, ‘Nothing new,’ by which I mean, no new crisis (“Crisis-Free Since 2010!”)

Settled—weird word, since it’s usually a negative (“You settled for this when you could’ve had that?”) Now, I have choice anxiety with everything—an ideal restaurant menu for me would have, like, three or four items, tops, otherwise I spend half an hour just figuring out what appetizer to have (and then, no matter what I choose, I end up envious of what someone else ordered.) So picking a place to live and (gawd no!) settle down, used to make my head explode.

I’ve moved around a lot, sometimes from things, usually away from things, all the while trying to ‘follow my bliss.’ Turns out, apparently, I had my bliss with me all along. Must have been in a suitcase under some sweaters. Understand, Minneapolis had always been my default go-to place when the wheels fell off (I’ve moved here four times), but this time I had a novel idea—maybe I’ll stay.

I got an apartment right the hell where I was, in Minneapolis, and after a few months, I can officially say—I’m happy here. I think it was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (or illusionist Doug Henning—I get my vaguely hippie seventies fringe celebrities mixed up) from whom I first heard the phrase “Be here now.” I always knew that was a profound way to live, to be in the present, connected to the now. But my problem was, I was always too busy packing for there, then to devote much time to being here, now.

I lived here for several years in the eighties, but since I always felt I would move somewhere else, I never really tried to ‘grok’ the place (which I’d explain, but I’d rather people read a little Heinlein.) I was always just here ‘until I have enough money to move.’ This time feels different–I intend to embrace Minnesota. To that end, here’s a hotdish full of random Minnesota observations—you might enjoy these with some tater tots!

  • Minnesota, of course, gave the world Garrison Keillor and Prince—although I don’t think they ever shared a stage…A Purple Home Companion?
  • Inventors in Minnesota created the aluminum bundt pan and the Tilt-A-Whirl, Scotch tape and Cream of Wheat—four of the pillars of American society…I might be exaggerating, but they’re all pretty cool.
  • The Minneapolis suburb of Maple Grove (“I’ll take Generic Bucolic Place Names for 600, Alex”) has a huge Hindu temple, and Hampton, Minnesota is the site of one of the country’s largest Cambodian Buddhist temples. Factor in the large Somali and Hmong populations in Minneapolis, and I guess it’s not as monochromatic here as I thought. (Although I would have loved to have been at the Maple Grove city council meetings to hear the objections to the Hindu temple—“It’s not the Hindus we don’t like—it’s those damned finger cymbals…”)
  • This state has the only gas station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—welcome to Cognitive Dissonance, Minnesota!
  • There’s a pizza joint here whose drivers, clad in superhero costumes, drive electic cars from their wind-powered store. Stoners in Minnesota probably think they accidentally called the future.
  • Street views of North Oaks, Minnesota are not included in Google Maps, because the privately owned town successfully sued Google for trespassing. We might want to look there for the next terrorist cell.
  • Minnesota was the first state to declare an official state mushroom. This place definitely knows how to celebrate fungus.
  • Longville, Minnesota is the “Turtle Racing Capital of The World’—every Wednesday, right down Main Street. My guess is, the city fathers realized how slow life was in Longville, and figured by having turtles race, visitors would see the turtles and think the people in Longville were leading fast-pace lives by comparison.
  • This is a weird and wonderful state, politically speaking. Forgetting the wrestler and the comedian, the good citizens here saw fit to elect the first Muslim representative to Congress AND an arch conservative Luddite harpie. I think this fiercely independent streak stems from an attitude, as winter starts to descend in November, of “Well, I’m kinda bored, and we haven’t had one of those before..” And despite the presence of people who would elect Michelle Bachman, overall, our lefty cred is pretty solid—we’re the only state Mondale carried, for chrissake.  I think this is because as provincial and reserved as Minnesotans can be in public, in the anonymity of the voting booth, people here end up deciding government oughta do some stuff.
  • Bob Dylan AND Charles Schulz. “It’s Blowin’ In The Wind, Charlie Brown!?”

The only Minnesota thing I can’t get behind is lutefisk, which is cod soaked in lye. Roll that around in your brain. Cod. Soaked in lye. I picture the early settlers thinking “Ya know, I like fish a lot. Amost too much, don’t ya know. Maybe if I added something to the fish, that’s like, a poison. We’ll put it on some dry crackers and call it traditional!”

Every day I remind myself why I fell in love with this very…yin-yangy place. And if I ever start whining about a lack of ‘edge’ here, remind me of these two stories, which happened within a week of each other:

I’m at my neighborhood coffeehouse, doing the same work I’d be doing at home, but here, people can SEE that I’m a writer (“ooh—he’s smoking and he has a laptop…wonder what he’s working on”). Now the first thing I noticed was the graffiti on the side of the building—who tags a coffeehouse? What kind of props do you earn marking the local java joint…are there gangs claiming this as turf? “Yo yo yo—acoustic open mic is ours, bitch—you better step off!” Then, as I sit writing this very piece, all of sudden two dudes are fighting. Punches thrown, rolling in the shrubbery, iced mocha splatter everywhere—you expect fisticuffs in front of dive bars, but you rarely see a fight in front of someplace with a special on cranberry-walnut muffins.

Speaking of dive bars, at my nearest watering hole, I spent part of one night talking about the Twins game for an hour with a transgender lesbian biker Navy vet. I’m pretty sure Norman Rockwell never painted that.

Everything’s falling into place for me here, with strange and quirky details, like a film that was started by Fellini, but with a final cut by Bergman. And to top it all off, now our baseball team can suck outdoors, like God intended. Don’t tell the student loan people, but I’m gonna be here for quite a while.

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if only obama were really a socialist…

I’m not known for making great choices. When I left high school, with a 4.0 g.p.a. and a combined SAT score of 1450, I entered U.C.L.A. planning to be a doctor. Not, mind you, because of a life-long passion for healing the sick and serving humanity, but because that’s what I thought ‘straight A’ students did—they became doctors (spoiler alert: I didn’t become a doctor).

About the time I started my pre-med training, I discovered theater, and right then I knew I had a choice. I could use my hard-earned scholarship money to get a bachelor’s degree in biology, making my parents proud and justifying an adolescence in which I developed no social skills, go to medical school, and within a few years make hundreds of thousands of dollars providing help to those in need. Or, I could spend the scholarship money on classes like Film Studies 167: The Early Works of Peter Bogdanovich, compete with hundreds of thousands of attractive people who all had connections in order to get into show business, and if I got really lucky, I could one day make enough money to pay rent on a studio apartment.

I’ve consistently made bad choices in my career as a comedian. Although originally from Los Angeles, I spent most of the eighties working at comedy clubs in Minnesota, apparently believing that the entertainment industry would eventually be based there. Every time there was an earthquake in California, I would think “now I’m in the perfect place…the studios will finally move here.” Even after twenty-five years I make poor choices. Comics frequently open for musical acts, and that can lead to bigger venues, celebrity connections and national recognition. Me, I opened for Arsenio Hall. After his show was cancelled.

Last year, I opened for a Blues Brothers cover band. Talk about diluting the gene pool. Process this for a minute. There’s the blues—gritty, real…gut-level artistic integrity. Then there were the Blues Brothers—not actual blues musicians, but an entertaining and affectionate tribute from a couple of famous white guys. And, an act that hasn’t been popular since 1982. But I didn’t open for a blues legend, or even the ‘actual’ Blues Brothers. No, I opened for two unknown white guys in Blues Brothers suits, one of whom couldn’t find his shades, in the town of Nelson, Minnesota, a town which had more pro-life billboards (four) than open businesses (three, all bars).

So looking at the arc of my career, I wasn’t surprised when I received the news today from the Obama administration. Beginning June 1st, the federal government will take over day-to-day operations of My Comedy Career. To prevent My Career from going into bankruptcy, in an agreement I signed yesterday, the government will control seventy-percent of My assets and be responsible for guiding Me through the current economic crisis. I’ve assured my investors that this only a first step toward a new Me, a Me that will be competitive and profitable. The comedy industry has changed, and I need to be willing to change with it. Here is the text of President Obama’s statement:

“It is with great ambivalence that I announce today the government takeover of Michael Dane’s Comedy Career. Understand this—your government does not want to be in the comedy business. But it is vital that Michael Dane succeed, to bring the United States back to a position of prominence in the comedy industry. Too many people depend upon Michael Dane for us to let him fail. The repercussions would extend from comedy club waitresses to Rotary Club event organizers if we do not step in. Now make no mistake—Michael Dane is in some ways responsible. Poor planning, lack of strategy and getting a Capitol One credit card have all contributed to this collapse. But as structured, this Comedy Career was not following a profitable business model, spending too many years trying to sell the American people jokes they simply were not buying. But our economy is interconnected, and we cannot allow Michael Dane’s toxic assets bring down this country’s infrastructure. I’ve instructed the Treasury Department to pay off all of Dane’s past cell phone and cable bills, and I will be proposing a stimulus package of 6.8 hundred dollars to be given to Dane for day-to-day expenses. He will become a publicly traded company, accountable to you the taxpayer as shareholders. In short, our goal is to get Michael Dane back on his feet, take a hands-off approach and get out quickly.”

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making the team

I have never been what you would call an athlete. My high school sports career consisted of one practice with the junior varsity basketball team. It’s not like I didn’t learn the value of teamwork, though. I was a key member of the Quartz Hill High School Math Team—talk about dealing with the pressures of competition, try being the guy on the team everyone turns to when the team has a differential equation to solve! But, I just tried to stay inside myself, bring my ‘A’ game, and give a hundred percent (it was the math team, after all—we knew that you can’t give ‘a hundred and ten percent’).

I was at a lot of games in high school, because I was in the pep band, and I’d like to think I brought quite a lot of pep to my school. The problem was the music. It was the mid-seventies, and band directors across the nation began to toss out John Phillip Sousa in favor of watered-down Sousa-like arrangements of hip tunes the kids might like. Our band actually marched to an arrangement of the theme from ‘Shaft.’ Which would be like your grandpa performing “Me So Horny.”

The last year I was in band, the school began issuing letter jackets. To the band. And the choir. That’s right, you could letter in band. I chose not to get one, realizing I was enough of a target carrying a briefcase and a clarinet. I didn’t need the jocks, who were already inclined to shove me in a locker, to think I was mocking them by wearing a jacket that looked just like theirs, but with an embroidered music lyre on the sleeve.

I love watching sports, but I follow baseball more than the others. The NBA has become a little…thuggish for my tastes. With the chest thumping, tattoos, trash talking and women dancing on the sidelines, I’m never sure if I’m watching a sports event or a rap video. Football’s exciting, but it’s hard for me to root for guys who are just grownup versions of the guys who…shoved me into lockers.

Baseball is my sports passion. My favorite thing about it? It’s the only professional sport that the average guy can watch and say things like “Hell, I could have made that catch.” Now, granted, the average guy probably couldn’t in fact “make that catch,” but we all think we could, because, hey—it’s just catching a ball. No different than having a catch with dad, except that dad wasn’t juiced on ‘roids. As far as I know. Point being, nobody watches a Vikings game and thinks “Damn, I could have tackled that two-hundred fifty pound guy who runs the forty in under five seconds!”

The pro sport I can’t get into is hockey, which is followed with religious fervor here in Minnesota. The high school tournament is actually televised here, which creates scenes of middle-aged men in bars swearing at sixteen year-olds playing a game. Plus, the puck is too small. Make that thing the size of a discus so I can figure out where the hell I should be looking. Also, in the NHL, too many teams make the playoffs. I’m pretty sure if I could get five of my friends together with some sticks in late January, we would be given a playoff berth.

I’ve moved around so much, my team loyalties are literally all over the map. Wherever I am, I follow the home teams, because if they win a championship, I can help overturn cars and set shit on fire downtown, because that’s how we celebrate athletic excellence in this country.

I spent some time in Chicago, and I think my favorite moment as a spectator came at Wrigley Field. Game against the Phillies. I was in the bleachers for batting practice, and a misguided woman was trying to get the attention of one of the Phillies outfielders, screaming that she loved him. Suddenly, with no prompting, HUNDREDS of Cubs fans began chanting “SHUT UP BITCH”, in unison, until she, in fact, shut up. Very fun, in a scary, villagers-with-torches sorta way.

Sometimes, a team’s name is what seals it for me. I’ve been a Vikings fan since I was a kid in Southern California. Sports is combat, and your name is what you carry into battle. Historically, if Vikings defeated you, they pulled your lungs and still-beating heart out of your body, and that’s what I want my team to do. Metaphorically, of course.

The other Minnesota team names are less intimidating. ‘Timberwolves,’ I suppose, are scary enough, but ‘Twins’? “Hey, honey—I think the twins are coming for the weekend, would you make up the guest room?” The U of M Golden Gophers? Please. Is that the meanest animal you could think of? “Watch out—the Gophers are in town—they’ll…annoy you by burrowing in your yard!” And don’t get me started on the missing-an-‘s’-so-it’s-not-really-a-team-name Minnesota ‘Wild.’

Hockey also has the ‘Avalanche’ and the ‘Lightning.’ Look–a team’s name should be either something iconic, specific to that city (‘Pistons,’ for example) or the name of an animal that might kill you. And it should be plural. I think the reason the WNBA hasn’t drawn more fans is that half of their team names are…just concepts. The ‘Dream.’ The ‘Sky.’ The ‘Liberty.” These would be great names–for a team entering a poetry slam. It’s a slippery slope—what’s next–an expansion team called the Anchorage Angst?

Now. If you happen to own a team, and you’re not able to extort a gazillion dollars from the city you’re in for a fancy new stadium, so that city calls your bluff and you move your team—pick a new name. Utah Jazz is an oxymoron. Call yourself the Utah Missionaries, or the Salt Lake Polygamists, but leave the Jazz in New Orleans. L.A. doesn’t have Lakes—you don’t get to be the ‘Lakers.’ You can be the Los Angeles…Tourists. And while British Columbia may have grizzly bears, so there could be Vancouver Grizzlies, ‘Memphis Grizzlies’ just sounds stupid. How ’bout the Memphis Presleys?

I think all real sports fans look forward to the Olympics, and next year the Winter Games will be in Vancouver. The one event I never understood in the Winter Olympics is the biathlon, which is essentially trudging through snow, while stopping occasionally to shoot a rifle. I get cross-country skiing, and I get shooting things. Do one or the other.

I mean, while we’re combining random things, let’s have an event in the Summer Games that combines the 100-meter butterfly with…archery. The next Summer Olympics will include two new sports—rugby and golf. Now THERE are two activities that should be combined. Golf would be much more interesting if you could tackle your opponent as he lined up his tee shot, and all the golfers got into a big scrum at each hole.

To any actual athletes reading this  (‘Athletes Who Read’–on the next Tyra!), understand that I harbor no ill will toward those of you who might have picked on me. And really, it worked out for the best. Sure, because of your freakish physical talents and genetic luck, you have the opportunity to earn millions of dollars while I have the opportunity to…i dunno, have dozens of people read my stuff. But it’s been years since I’ve been shoved into a locker, and besides, I’ll always have the clarinet to fall back on.

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