fine, i’ll see a doctor

I’ve never been too worried about my age, and I’m sure when asked “When did you first start feeling old?,” everyone can point to something different. For me, the first time I sensed a ticking clock was one day about a year ago, when I looked at my hands. See, you might look like someone out of a Bowflex ad from head to toe, but the hands don’t lie.

I can’t say time has treated me badly—if you never saw me walk, and were looking at me from a distance, you might even think I’m in my forties. Losing my hair never made me feel old—that started in my twenties, and I’ve been shaving my head for twenty years. But those hands. They have some explaining to do.

Truth is, in fifty-plus years, I had never really worked with my hands, unless you count…typing. But there they were, looking (and feeling) like they’d been on an assembly line installing tiny widgets for the last thirty years. It looked like someone had Photoshopped my stepfather’s hands onto my body. I had Larry King’s hands. Even my fingers looked old.

I think as I’ve stumbled on in later years, it seems I’ve spent about half of those years just fixing things that younger me messed up. And paying attention to the little things. Like my health. Which I had pretty much ignored. What with being afraid to go to the doctor and all.

One morning, five or six years ago, I woke up and couldn’t lift my right arm higher than my chest. No pain—I just couldn’t lift it. Now if you’re a math whiz, you know that one arm is at least half of the total number of arms you have. For a lot of people, THIS would enough to see a doctor. Not me.

Then, over the past few years, I’ve developed a fairly pronounced hitch in my stride, on account of my left leg not being on the same page as my right. We’re down to TWO working limbs, people—obviously time to call the doctor. Or not.

I’ve never been the doctor-seein’ type. First, they work in hospitals, and I hate that ‘hospital smell.’ I got my fill of it visiting Mom. I always thought it odd that Mom, who had been a nurse, was such a horrible patient. I still remember tracking down some poor beaten-down orderly to apologize for the way she made him essentially reconsider his career choices.

Odd, also, that I am so doctor-phobic, considering when I started college I was pre-med. My high school yearbook is filled with things like “I’m sure you’ll be a right-on doctor (it was 1978, after all). Nobody wrote, “Remember me when you’re a published humor essayist.” I thought ‘being a doctor’ was what you were supposed to do with a 4.0 GPA, until I realized it would mean being around sick people all the time.

But beyond that hospital smell, I had what I felt was a very rational reason for not going to the doctor–I might get bad news. Now, I KNOW that going to the doctor won’t actually CAUSE me to have some telethon-worthy disease, but it’s damn sure where I’m gonna find out if I NEED a telethon, and why would I want to know that? That’s depressing!

I don’t handle run-of-the-mill bad news well—I went into a funk when they cancelled ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ I start frantically calling vets if the neighbor’s cat seems sick. I got a little weepy when Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon broke up. You get the idea. Friends usually offer some variation of  “Wouldn’t you feel better knowing what’s wrong?,” to which I can definitively say, “Ummm…I’m not sure?” Sorta depends on whether ‘what’s wrong’ can be fixed, doesn’t it?

And since I didn’t pay much attention to that memo about smoking being bad for me twenty-five years ago and have had more than a few times in my life when I drank more than the USDA recommended daily allowance of vodka, I figured, why push my luck? I felt the same way about my health that I feel about the Tea Party—what little I know bothers me, and I’m not sure I want to hear any more about it.

Besides, the few times I’ve been to a clinic, I’m as bad a patient as my Mom was, I think because I watched all fifteen seasons of “ER.” So when nurses ask me questions, I throw out words like ‘contraindicated.’ I tell them I’m ‘presenting’ with certain symptoms that seem ‘consistent’ with a specific ‘pathology.’

Of course even without the medical guidance of George Clooney, I’ve got the internet.  Doctors must hate WebMD. Just enter some symptoms and…click! With zero training, I can diagnose with at least twenty distinct illnesses, conditions, and syndromes I probably have. WebMD is like Wal-Mart for people with Münchausen Syndrome.

It doesn’t help that I tend to, given several plausible explanations for a symptom I’m feeling, latch onto the one most likely to be featured on an episode of “House.” I have a headache, it must be a brain tumor. I get a muscle spasm, I’m joining support groups for people with MS.

Now, if you’re following along at home, here’s where we are—I’m paranoid about my health, but at the same time I’m afraid to find out if anything might be wrong with my health. Talk about wanting to have it both ways—there’s not much point in being a hypochondriac if I’m not gonna see a doctor! I was missing out on one of the perks of thinking I’m sick—the attention!

Then it hit me. Let’s say I go to a doctor and find out I have some scary neurological weirdness (often referred to as ‘SNW’). First of all, it’s not like I have to DO anything about it. I can be every bit as careless with my health as I’ve always been! And it wouldn’t be bad ‘news,’ exactly, because it wouldn’t be news! Whatever yer fancy book learnin’ and yer computers and yer spectrographomometers tell you I have, it obviously hasn’t kicked my ass yet and I’ve clearly had it for a while.

Gotta admit, it makes a difference having The Girlfriend in my life. Beyond being someone who is willing to listen to me whine when I hurt, it’s a lot easier to face the health care boogeyman knowing someone has my back if I happen to have some made-for-tv movie affliction .

What I’m getting at (talk about burying the lead) is that I have an appointment in a couple weeks with a neurologist, which my friends assure me is a kind of doctor. Don’t get too excited–it’s just a conversation—just a couple of guys sittin’ around talking about, oh, I don’t know, degenerative neuromuscular diseases and the like. It is, however, a step. One wobbly step toward dealing with my shit. So do your worst, doc. But if I see one jar of leeches I am out of there.

obama resigns, tired of ‘knuckleheads’

During an appearance with Oprah Winfrey, President Barack Obama today resigned from office, claiming he had become “tired of dealing with knuckleheads.” What follows are excerpts from the surprisingly frank hour-long interview:

Oprah: This week many people are celebrating the killing of Osama Bin Laden, yet your poll numbers are still just slightly over fifty percent. And now, you’re walking away. What would you like the American people to understand about your three years in office?

Obama: First, Oprah, thank you for having me on your show. What I don’t think the American people realize is that my job is…how can I put this…HARDER  THAN THEIRS. I know you all thought I was cool as a symbol—heck, I even got caught up in it—but I wasn’t campaigning to be a symbol. I was handed a big steaming plate of shit by the last guy and was asked to turn it into a chef’s salad. But since about week two of my presidency, everyone’s ‘disappointed.’ Seriously?

Oprah: But your campaign was all about ‘hope’ and ‘change’–

Obama: First of all, what I meant was that the American people should feel free to ‘hope’  for ‘change.’ Sure, we all had a good national catharsis yelling ‘Yes we can!’ but at about ten o’clock on January 20th, ‘we’ weren’t in charge, I was. And this may surprise those of you who missed the last two hundred and thirty-five years of American history, but the guy you pick as president has to work with a whole bunch of other people to get things done.

Oprah: When you were elected, it seemed you had the political capital to make your agenda a reality. What happened?

Obama: Of course, when my approval ratings were higher than Jesus, I wanted nothing more than to enact all of my ideas by some sort of sweeping decree. But it doesn’t work that way, because my office, as it turns out, is located in the REAL WORLD. So I decided to work with the Republicans—fine, I was an idiot on that one, but I actually thought, if any issue were a ‘life or death’ issue worthy of some teamwork, it might be health care, seeing as it deals with…life and death.

Oprah: I think we’re seeing another side of you, Mr. President. What are your real feelings about your critics?

Obama: Well, Oprah, I just get so irritated. I’m so tired of dealing with knuckleheads. But see, the President’s not allowed to be irritated. I’m sure most of you, in your non-presidential jobs, blow off steam once in a while. Not me. I have to be poised and calm, because if I showed the American people how I really felt, it wouldn’t look…presidential. And, there’d be panic in the streets. I swear, Oprah, I’m losing it. If one more person asks ‘what is President Obama’ going to do about this?’ I will snap. I just want to hand them copies of my morning briefings for the last few months and say “You figure this out.”

Oprah: Don’t you have an obligation to the millions who voted for you?

Obama: The people who most annoy me are the people who voted for me. I give the right-wing credit for one thing—they know how to do big-picture thinking. Instead of getting bogged down with details and facts, they simply lump every issue under the heading of ‘family values.’ Whereas my progressive supporters all seem to think that if their particular issue wasn’t made into law by April, then not only did I fail, but I violated their trust and abandoned my principles.

Oprah: Well, to a certain extent–

Obama: I’m not finished. I want to address the people who voted for me. To the sixty-six million, eight-hundred eighty-two thousand, two hundred thirty people who could get past the fact that I’m an Islamic Kenyan socialist, I’m sorry I couldn’t please every one of you. Oh, and I also wasn’t able to do everything I mentioned AT THE SAME TIME .

Oprah: We all remember specific things you promised as a candidate. Why have you not been able to deliver?

Obama: Well, as luck would have it, I didn’t get chosen as President of Gays in the Military, or President of the Environmentalists, or President of the Public Option People. I have to be president of everyone. Which means, somebody’s shit is gonna have to wait. When you’re home, don’t you make little to-do lists and prioritize? Now, imagine if your family had the national media get on your ass because, let’s say, you told them you planned on cleaning the rain gutters but didn’t get around to it yet because you were too busy fixing the broken pipe in the basement. All of sudden you’re having to defend yourself on MSNBC, saying that you realize progress has been slow on the rain gutters but that you are still committed to solving the rain gutter problem.

Oprah: I really appreciate how honest you’re being here.

Obama: As I’ve said, I don’t have the chance to tell people what I really think anymore. I’m too busy trying to figure out a way to keep some sort of health care for people, just in case they start clobbering each other with signs at town hall meetings, raging wackjobs at Tea Parties start shooting people. I didn’t even think the whole ‘Tea Party’ thing was a movement—it’s not like I can actually hear what you’re screaming at me when you march in front of my house—I’m usually way in the back…I thought it was just a bunch of really loud Revolutionary War buffs—you know, like some people reenact the Civil War on weekends.

Oprah: Is there anything else that you’d like to get off your chest?

Obama: Yes. Yes…I’m not thrilled with ‘Saturday Night Live.’ I don’t expect it to be as consistently funny as it was thirty years ago, but Fred Armisen as me? Really? A white guy in blackface?

Oprah: So, you’ve made up your mind to resign. Is there a chance you’ll change your mind?

Obama: Bottom line is, the job just isn’t worth the hassles. And, frankly, it’s too hard. Do you think I really understood every arcane and obscure detail about economics when I was running? I’ll bet most of you didn’t know what a derivative was either. I hired some smart people and we’ve tried to keep all the plates spinning. And guess what? Sometimes two smart people have different ideas about how to fix things. And they have to work out a compromise!

Oprah: When I had Jay-Z on the show, he mentioned how difficult it is to be on top.

Obama: I know how he feels. I suppose I’ll miss some things about being President—there are perks. But there are definitely things I won’t miss. Do you realize there were mornings when the person who woke me up was Rahm Emmanuel? Can I really walk away from that. I think I’m gonna look for a community that needs organizing—that’s where the real changes are made. Can I really walk away from the Presidency? Yes I can.

Oprah: Former President Barack Obama, everybody! Now if you’ll all look under your seats, you’ll find a special gift—it’s a copy of his autobiography, “The Audacity of Hope”!

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it’s a good thing i’m not president

I’ve never wanted to be in charge of anything.  I’ve certainly never wanted to have political power, and I don’t envy those who have it. I’m content to change the world five hundred words at a time with my little comedy pieces.

Besides which, I’m probably not very electable, and it’s not my stands on the issues as much as what some would call ‘voter negatives’—namely, that I’m a bisexual, pot-smoking socialist. I don’t doubt that there exists an vast army of horny, stoned leftists out there as a potential base, but it strikes me that this would be a difficult group to galvanize, what with them already busy getting laid and getting high.

I may not want to be president, but I do have a big enough ego to imagine myself as president.  And in looking at what President Obama was handed for his first term, I think if I were in his place, my first official act would have been to flip out.

Seriously, what a crappy gig this is.  Two (three? I can’t keep track) unwinnable and unpopular wars, collapsed banks, outsourced companies, nobody has credit, nobody has a job, nobody wants to buy cars because they don’t have credit (and don’t have jobs to drive to),  and, for nostalgia’s sake, let’s throw in travel advisories for the country right next to us, a country that is apparently governed predominately by drug lords. Oh–almost forgot–most of the world isn’t really sure they trust us. Here’s the paperwork on all that, Mr. President. Any ideas?

As we approach the next election cycle, pundits are already assigning letter grades to the President–and they’ve been doing it since his ‘first hundred days.’ First hundred days’ is such bullshit. Do the math, people. A little over three months, and we’re seriously judging  performance? It takes most people more than three months to get the hang of a new job in the mail room. Hell, it took me four months at my last office job before I figured out where they kept the extra paper clips.

When I look at my last hundred days, I see a mixed record. In no particular order of importance, my accomplishments include:

  1. filed income tax returns
  2. signed up with two temp agencies
  3. responded to 137 Craigslist job leads
  4. wrote over several allegedly funny essays
  5. organized the music on my computer into folders
  6. bought two pairs of jeans

In my defense, I didn’t have a staff of advisors, so I was pretty much flying solo on most of this.

I don’t think my personality is suited to the demands of the presidency, anyway. First, I’m not a morning person, and I understand the president has  ‘morning briefings’. Now, everyone I worked with at the old office job knew that until 11 o’clock, it probably wasn’t a good idea to talk to me, let alone hand me a bunch of paperwork.

Secondly, and I’m not proud of this–I’m a ditherer. If I absolutely have to make a decision, it takes me for-freakin-ever. I once spent three and a half hours in a book store trying to decide what to get for a girlfriend’s birthday. “Hmmm…I could get this, but she might have that already, maybe this is too serious, she might hate this, screw it I’ll get a gift card. ”

So imagining I were president, let’s look at just one decision from Obama’s first year. The Somali pirate thing. Here’s how I would have handled it.

After making several dumb pirate jokes, I would call my advisors in, and then I would have to sort through the options. And then I would freeze up.

“Hmmm…I could send in the Navy, but maybe that’s too aggressive, and what if the pirates shoot the captain, well then we have to shoot the pirates first, but they’re teenagers, and what if we miss, then they shoot the captain anyway, but if I don’t do something right away I look weak, but wait I’m the President so who cares what they think”–and by the time I called my advisors back in, the pirates would have actually seized our Navy ship. Maybe our entire Navy. And the pirates would have been in their mid-thirties.

I think it’s pretty clear that I shouldn’t be president. What’s also clear to me is that it’s a thankless job for anybody, and maybe we should hold off with the evaluations and grades. In fact, I have an idea–maybe, instead of the first hundred days, we should judge him on his first 1460 days in office. Then we can…vote on it or something.

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what if?

What if we’re wrong. And by ‘we,’ I mean…me, and the people who agree with me. For instance–as much as I might think fundamentalist right-wing narrow-minded racist misogynistic homophobes are idiots–what if I’m wrong. What if, when I depart this plane of existence, I am greeted by the real St. Peter–at a real gate, with a real clipboard in his hands-and he’s working through a checklist.

“Okay–pro-choice…that’s not good. Had sex with other men…that’s a big ‘no’. Believed that Christian doctrine is –and I’m quoting here–’a feel-good myth that keeps people weak and easy to manipulate and encourages right-wing narrow-minded racist misogynistic homophobia’–that is definitely not what we’re looking for. Off to the fiery pit with you.”

Or what if we’re wrong about the internet. What if, instead of being potentially infinite, there is actually a limit to the amount of, for lack of a better word, crap that can be posted to the web. What if, at some point, some blogger (or worse–a ‘Tweeter’) could post something entirely innocuous, and all of sudden, the internet is full. No more room. What if all that information basically crashed the whole thing–one nerd in his basement thinks “I should add some Flash animation to my website, then link my website to my Facebook page where people can see a link to my YouTube video–” and the whole thing goes kerflooey.

No more IMDB, no more Googling, no more email–talk about a good old-fashioned Christian apocalypse…the skies would be raining twenty-something middle-management lemmings jumping out of corner offices–the streets would be littered with Blackberries and Bluetooths (Blueteeth?). People would be forced to actually talk to each other.

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me and al capone

One of the most under-reported stories of Tax Day  is that I filed my tax returns. You know, the yearly ritual of teeth-gnashing, hand-wringing and misdirected whining that everyone goes through. Well, until this week, that was everyone but me. The IRS even has a term for me (makes sense–we have plenty of terms for them)–I am known as a Chronic Non-Filer. Believe it or not, I am fifty-one years old and had never, until 2009, told the government how much money I made.

When I first started making money as a comic, I wasn’t really clear on how to file with that kind of freelance income. Then, as each year passed, I became afraid to file, thinking than once I started the paper trail, I would be in some serious trouble. After all, this is how they got Capone–not the stealing, or the killing people, but the tax thing.

What’s ridiculous about this is it’s not like I was leading a Capone-like life. When I was on the road as a comedian, the most I ever stole was some hotel towels, and other than metaphorically, I killed nobody. I wasn’texactly hiding from a reign of scandal and terror (although I have often thought that I’m just not famous enough to know if I fathered any children–when I’m huge, that’s when I’ll get the letters saying “I was a waitress at a the Chuckle Hut in East Des Moines in 1987, and here’s a picture of our son–send money”).

I also never made enough money to have to PAY taxes. Even in my best years, I would frequently get bailed out by various friends and “the kindness of strangers” (It’s so much easier to pull of Blanche Dubois now that I’m a tired old queen). I wasn’t hiding all of my vast income in some offshore unmarked account–I put most of my ‘assets’ into the pockets of my weed dealer and the CD store  at the mall in the town where I was performing.

The IRS never contacted me–I’d like to think changing my stage name twice and moving every year and a half  made me more elusive, but that’s ego talking. I changed my name because I thought of one I liked better, and I usually moved because I ran out of money and–had to. The reality is that one occasionally employed guy telling jokes in bars for a hundred bucks and a couple of drinks just wasn’t a priority for the Federal Government. I feel so insignificant.

I realized a while back that I was actually living ‘off the grid’. Now unlike the Unabomber, I didn’t have the discipline to write a manifesto, and unlike Jack Bauer, I wasn’t using my fringe status to infiltrate any terrorist organizations. Frankly, I’m just too lazy to make the most of being off the grid. Then there’s the issue of my politics. Anyone who knows me would vouch for my lefty sensibilities–as far as I’ve always been concerned, to paraphrase Jefferson, “that government which governs best spends buttloads of money building really cool things”.

When friends would confront me about this (ok, they usually were confronting me about money I owed them, but that’s not the point here), I acknowledged it would be more consistent with my politics if I, oh, paid into the system I supported, but I always said that I’d deal with my tax status ‘next year’.

Well, next year became this year, and I’ve started the paper trail. Of course, now I’m afraid that I’m gonna have to do all those other grownup things I’ve dodged on my blithely blissful bohemian path–like I’m worried that when I get my refund check, in the same envelope will be directions to my house in the burbs , the names of my wife and children, and a Home Depot credit card. I suppose to assuage my fear of growing up, I could take the refund I’m expecting and piss it away–buy a few hundred Powerball tickets (you can’t win if you don’t play!) or fly to L.A. just to have a drink with some old college buddies.

When the Tea Party protests started, I couldn’t help but relish the ironic juxtaposition with my life. Here were thousands of people protesting the very thing for which I had finally signed up. But that’s me–I’ve always been a little back-asswards. Or maybe I’m just a rebel. Yeah, that’s it–I’m a rebel.

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and the senate seat goes to…

Having lived in Illinois during the Blagojevich era, I came to enjoy political scandal as theater. In a state where reading the local political news feels like reading Soap Opera Digest, reactions from people on the street to the latest allegations weren’t so much “Oh no he DIDN’T” as they were “Ah, what are ya gonna do?”

Here in Minnesota, political controversy is a much bigger deal because, well, it’s pretty darned unusual.  We like our politics as clean as our cities, don’t ya know. In an exhaustive ten minute internet search, I was only able to find one previous scandal in Minnesota:

  • Minnesota State Senator Sam Solon (D-MN) Pleaded guilty in 1995 to telecommunications fraud for letting his ex-wife make $2,430 in calls on his State Senate telephone line

Outrageous! Where are the reformers?! The system is broken! Seriously, folks–that’s it. Over a decade ago, a state senator’s wife made some long-distance calls. See, ‘Minnesota nice’ means that we don’t have scandals. Heck, we even have a Muslim congressman, and the hubub over that here in Lutheran Land lasted maybe a week. And though right-wing nutjob Michelle Bachman is TRYING to generate some cymbal-clanging outrage, we tolerate her, too.

Our politics is quirky here. Minnesota has historically been a bastion of old-school liberalism (Hubert Humphrey, of course, and don’t forget we’re the only state Mondale carried), but we also elected a professional wrestler as governor. And, if is former comedy partner is to be believed, our current senator is the only member of that august body to have dropped acid.

So I figure there might be an opening in the next election. The issues which grip this state will be the same–having enough Target stores, keeping Garrison Keillor on the radio, and solving the Twins’ pitching problems. So I have decided to launch an ‘exploratory committee’ in advance of the 2016 race.

Let me offer a little background for the voters. I have always registered as a Democrat, except for the year in California when I switched my registration to the Peace and Freedom Party. Suffice to say, there was a woman involved. And some weed. On the issues, I’m opposed to crime, and in favor of education. I will save the state millions of dollars by running official business from my apartment,, and since I am currently unemployed, I will have the time to commit at least three hours each day to solving the state’s budget crisis.

The state’s unemployment will be addressed by the creation of a massive public works project.  I propose we build a giant insulating dome over the city of Minneapolis, thereby courting conventions and tourist dollars even in the middle of winter.

Now here’s the most visionary part of my plan. Forget ‘sin’ taxes, which clearly haven’t stopped people from smoking or drinking (every smoker I know has said things like “When cigarettes get to be more than x dollars a pack, I’m quitting,” and in reality, we would buy them for fifty dollars a pack out of the back of a van).

Instead, I am proposing a  tax on healthy things. Soy milk. Broccoli. Bicycles. Especially bicycles. And everything related to bicycles–tax their goofy little blinking lights, tax their ridiculous bells and tax their helmets which apparently make them feel invincible as they cross three lanes of rush hour traffic and ignore stop lights even though the helmet will only protect your skull while the rest of your body can still get RUN OVER! Sorry. Bicyclists just seem a little full of themselves sometime.

Oh, and to avoid any possibility of getting caught up in some pay-for-play, graft-fueled corruption scandal, I will sever all ties with any professional politicians. I will only talk to my closest friends. Just my buds. Who will also be my advisors. And who will serve in various positions in my office.

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