it’s all about the chair

My Muse, sometimes, is like my first girlfriend after we broke up—yeah, I could call her, we might even get together, but nothing much is gonna come of it. You try to think of topics, as a writer, that haven’t been done to death. There aren’t any.

We have reached a point in civilization where everything has now officially been covered. Oh, and mocked. And there have also been pieces commenting about the mocking. It’s all been done. Move along, nothin’ to write here.

If you’re not a writer, and instead, say, actually make things people use, you probably don’t have much empathy for the whole ‘writer’s block’ thing. I think that’s the case with most stories about the ‘struggling artist.’ I’m pretty sure the reason the film of ‘A Chorus Line’ wasn’t a huge box-office hit is that,  for the typical American worker, the notion that ‘it’s really hard to dance in a show’ didn’t really resonate.

After trying for days to start a new comedy piece (weird term–“I think I’ll just have a piece of comedy, thanks”), I finally had a breakthrough. I now know the reason why I haven’t been able to write lately. It’s my chair. It doesn’t roll. Damned stupid, non-rolling, stationary chair.

I think a writer’s credibility goes up a notch with the rolling chair. There’s something profoundly powerful about…not having to get up. Since I live in a small studio apartment, I could conceivably spend an entire day sitting on my ass. That, my friends, is living the dream. If I feel a need for some exercise…well, I can read about exercise on the internet.

Having a rolling chair says a lot about a man. It implies, “He’s so busy he can’t take the time to stand.” It says. “He must have a lot of visitors, what with him needing a chair turns around like that.” It says, “That’s kinda sad that he needs to pretend he works in an office.”

So today, to procure said chair, I entered the Swedish labyrinth known as Ikea. I realize that, to use the math of the far right, that means I’m a socialist. After all, I’m shopping at a Swedish store, Sweden has socialized medicine, therefore I want to pull the plug on your grandparents.

Ikea actually frightens me. First of all, Ikea stores are too freaking big–I shouldn’t need a map after I’m already at my destination! Just because you’re a Swedish company, doesn’t mean your store needs to be the size of Sweden. If I’m getting two things, say, a rolling chair and a skillet, and I’ve found one of the two items, I shouldn’t need to consult a GPS device to locate the other.Here’s an idea–split up into multiple stores, each specializing in something. It’s called a mall, and the concept works.

Secondly, It’s all just a little too…efficient, don’t you think? You know who else was efficient, don’t you? The Third Reich. Seriously, is that an Ikea catalog, or Aryan Monthly? Everything in a nice, flat box? Lemme tell you something, Mister…Swedish guy. REAL LIFE doesn’t come in a nice flat box! And ya know what else, Sven? Oh, never mind, imaginary Swedish person.

Now, the idea of low prices because you build the shit yourself is fine, but why stop there? Why not have a store that’s just a pile of wood and particle board, with another big pile of random screws and bolts? And no cashiers—just boxes of money at the entrance out of which you make change. Imagine the savings! I wonder if Swedish grocery stores follow the same model. Shoppers wandering through aircraft-hangar sized warehouses, picking their own bananas, milking cows… “Honey, don’t forget we’re having lamb chops tonight—bring your mallet and your cleaver.”

I guess I’m just willing to spend a little more in order to arrive home with the actual thing I bought, and not a box representing that thing. Also, I am, mechanically speaking, a numbnuts. My stepdad wouldn’t let me go into our own garage after he watched me try to hammer two boards together.

In those high school aptitude tests, I would score 99th percentile on everything except what they called ‘spatial relationships.’ They would show a diagram of a bunch of pulleys and gears, and the question would be something like, “If pulley A turns counterclockwise, which direction would gear C turn?” And I would stare at the page as if trying to decode the Rosetta Stone, thinking, ‘who could possibly figure that out?’ I remember scoring right around the 43rd percentile on ‘spatial relationships,’ which is only slightly better than Bobo the Circus Orangutan would have ranked.

My one attempt at assembling an Ikea item was a desk, which took me three and a half hours, an hour of which was spent looking for more instructions than the half-page of sketches included in the box. When I was done, it looked like a desk, but I had four random pieces left over. I was afraid to use the desk, because I was worried at least one of those pieces was the piece responsible for actually supporting any kind of weight. I mostly put really light things on it, like postage stamps, and my keys.

So, I have a chair now, and it has wheels. Okay, I actually have some cushions, some metal thingies, a couple of plastic dealies, and some wheels. But I vow, someday, somehow, I will take those cushions, most of the metal thingies, at least one of the plastic dealies, and the wheels, and I will make me a chair. And then–yes then,  I will be able to write.

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i blame the music

Nostalgia for Woodstock always leaves me cold. Born in 1960, I was nine at the time. Now in 2018, however, although there won’t be an outdoor music festival to commemorate, there will be the fortieth anniversary of me turning eighteen.

I think we are shaped as people by three things—our genetic makeup, the environment in which were raised, and the pop music of our adolescence. Granted, I can’t prove the last part of the theory, but in retrospect, I probably learned most of what I know about life, and love, from the songs that were popular as I was taking my tentative first steps into manhood. In further retrospect, I probably should have dated more in high school.

The musical landscape in 1978, like at any time, was a reaction to the zeitgeist. It was the year of Ted Bundy and the Hillside Strangler and the year Son of Sam was sentenced. The year of Jonestown, and John Wayne Gacy. Rhodesia attacked Zambia, and Vietnam attacked Cambodia. It was the year Garfield debuted. As a reaction to all of these horrific events, record buyers wanted something comfortable, something they understood in a world turned topsy-turvy.

Popular music in 1978 was, for the most part, soft and mushy, because the real world was hard. Sure, you had the Camp David accord (which worked out really well—thank God that led to lasting peace.) But all in all, things were kinda scary. And the last thing Americans wanted was angry music. We wanted songs about love. (Note: I did not live in a cave—I’m aware that punk music existed, but the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever sold fifteen million copies…I’m just sayin’.)

When I turned 18, five of the top ten songs on the charts were either performed, written or produced by some combination of Bee Gees. Whether it was Barry, Maurice, Robin, or Andy, fully half of the top ten songs in the country were sung in a quavery falsetto. To this day, I can’t walk down a street in Brooklyn carrying a paint can without hearing the faint harmonies of the brothers Gibb and the incessant mind-numbing rhythm of 103 beats per minute. It’s a damned good thing I don’t live in Brooklyn, or paint.

I’ve figured out that my lack of romantic success is directly related to  the soundtrack to my coming of age. Without any siblings to consult for advice, I had to rely on the radio to understand dating, and I took the lyrics of the songs to heart. Except the lyrics to Steely Dan songs. I still have no idea what the fuck they were talking about.

In the following story, I reunite with an old flame after reconnecting on Facebook. But there’s a catch! Everything I say to her includes the title of a song that was on Billboard Magazine’s Top 100 chart in 1978, in order, starting with number one.

 “All I know is that too much Shadow Dancing will lead to Night Fever. You Light Up My Life, but I’m just barely Stayin’ Alive. I’d like to Kiss You All Over, just to find out How Deep Is Your Love. Wait! Baby Come Back. I know I said Love Is Thicker Than Water, but maybe we could just, I don’t know, Boogie Oogie Oogie? No? Oh I get it – you’re too good for that now that you’re Three Times A Lady.”

 “When I try to figure out why Grease is the word, I Go Crazy. But You’re The One That I Want—and I say that with a lot of Emotion. Now…Lay Down, Sally. I’m kidding! Of course I know you’re name isn’t Sally. I just Miss You, and I want you to know I love you Just The Way You Are.”

 “I was thinking that With A Little Luck we could work it out, but If I Can’t Have You, I guess I’ll just Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah). That’s it—Feels So Good. Maybe I should ask that girl to dance…she looks like a Hot Child In The City. I just have to remember—Love Is Like Oxygen, and It’s A Heartache. But me–along with my buddies here—you know, We Are The Champions. We Will Rock You.”

 “Of course, when I walk along Baker Street, I realize I Can’t Smile Without You, but I suppose it’s Too Much, Too Little, Too Late. How about you just Dance With Me? C’mon, Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad. My friends Jack And Jill both think you should Take A Chance On Me, but I’m not so sure, because Sometimes When We Touch, it feels like our Last Dance.”

 “I gotta tell you, I am Hopelessly Devoted To You. I’m Hot Blooded (check it and see)…You’re In My Heart, and The Closer I Get To You, I realize that all we are is Dust In The Wind. Or we’re like a Magnet and Steel or…something.”

 “By the way, I have nothing against Short People. In fact, a short person Use Ta Be My Girl. I know I’m not making sense herer, it’s just—Our Love…well, let’s just say Love Will Find A Way. And I’m talking about An Everlasting Love, especially since Love Is In The Air. I could be wrong, though—don’t leave–oh, well—Goodbye Girl.”

 I had felt her Slip Slidin’ Away for some time, so maybe I just need to get into the Groove Line, whatever that is. Or take a trip to Thunder Island with an Imaginary Lover. Realistically though, it’s Still The Same situation—me thinking about My Angel Baby. Frankly, I could walk past a Disco Inferno right there On Broadway, and if she were to ask me to Come Sail Away I would be Back In Love Again.

 This Time I’m In It For Love, and I ‘ll just come right out and tell her “You Belong To Me.” Oh my god—I can’t believe it—”Here You Come Again! I thought you were moving to Blue Bayou, Peg (that’s her name—it’s Peg, not Sally!), but apparently You Needed Me. Yeah, sometimes I feel a little Shame when I start Reminiscing, especially since I said you could Count On Me. Baby Hold On—”

 “Hey, Deanie—I wanted to ask you about those Summer Nights.  I’m sorry—What’s Your Name? Sorry, thought it was Deanie. Anyway, I’m here with Sally—er, Peg, so I gotta go.  Talk to you later.”

 “Hey—watch this—this is cool–when I start to think about you, Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue? Don’t it? Because The Night does strange things to a man.” You’re leaving again. Well, fine. I guess it takes Every Kinda People. “Well, at least we’ll have the CopacabanaAlways And Forever, You And I. And, of course, the tragic memories of that Serpentine Fire. I know you remember that, because you always were a Sentimental Lady.”

 “I will not be Falling again any time soon. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood—I am Bluer than Blue, but I’ve been Running On Empty here, and it seems like Whenever I Call You ‘Friend‘, you just say “You’re a Fool (If You Think It’s Over). That really doesn’t help– I just want to Get Off with a Sweet Talkin’ Woman. How am I doing? Well, Life’s Been Good, and you know me, I Love The Nightlife, but–hey, you’re changing the subject–You Can’t Turn Me Off (In The Middle of Turning Me On).”

 “It’s So Easy for you. You’re a Native New Yorker. You should probably go, but…here, take this Flashlight, and whatever you do, Don’t Look Back. I’m serious—you’ll Turn To Stone. Take my umbrella, too, because I Can’t Stand The Rain. Now go…don’t look at me with those Ebony Eyes. Don’t cry—leaving is The Name Of The Game. We’re All Alone now. Just remember those Hollywood Nights.” They call Alabama the Crimson Tide—call me Deacon Blues.

 Questions for Discussion

  1. Did the serpentine fire CAUSE the disco inferno?
  2. If love is thicker than water, how can it also be like oxygen?
  3. If you’re ‘bluer than blue,’ doesn’t that make you…indigo?
  4. If you date someone who is ‘three times a lady,’ are you actually cheating on two of them?
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book learnin’

I found a screw on the floor today. Thing is, I don’t think anything I own that’s held together by screws is missing any of its screws. So what could this mean? Is it a clue—some sort of omen? What kind of ‘Lost’-inspired sign is this? Of course, if my life were being scripted by the people who created ‘Lost,’ the clue wouldn’t be explained for six years and then it would just be  part of a fairly heavy-handed quasi-christian allegory, and it would turn out I’ve actually been dead the entire time.

I like to believe that if there were a rip in the cosmological fabric, Alternate Me would be more successful, and be having more sex. You know, a world in which the most admired and highly-paid profession is ‘comedy writer.’ In that world, cops would come to your door to give you pot, and the Oscars would have a category for Best Barely Started Screenplay Idea. And I would fly into the Kodak Theater with my jet-pack to receive my award.

The idea of an alternate universe has always fascinated me. A place that looks like our world but because of some glitch in the time-space continuum is actually a frightening bizarro world filled with people who sort of look like us but ultimately are discovered to be aliens bent on our destruction. For example, Texas.

If I understand this, the Texas Board of Education approved changes to the social studies and history curriculae (-li? –lums? damn, I hate when I forget my Latin declensions!). Anyhoo, that means changes to textbooks in Texas, which means changes to textbooks everywhere because Texas buys a lot of textbooks.

I suppose the changes are meant to bring about a nostalgic return to an era uncluttered by voting rights, or religious rights, or civil rights. Whatever the motivation, the new curriculum will put a distinctly rightward spin on what used to be called ‘facts.’

Apparently the new guidelines require that students be taught that the Founding Fathers were actually very religious, and that the whole church and state thing was meant to be a just a trial separation. I’m guessing the people who voted for these changes also believe that fossil evidence for evolution was manufactured by the liberal media to lead the country down the path to socialized…archaeology, or something.

Although I’m a card-carrying liberal (it’s actually an NPR membership card, but it counts as ID in Arizona), I’m not all that concerned about what ninth-graders in Texas are studying. It’s not that I don’t care about what they read…it’s that I don’t believe many of them will actually remember what they read.

For example—the new textbooks will now imply that free-market economies are better for society than…whatever other kinds of economies there are. See, my point is, I don’t remember, because I learned that stuff from a textbook—meaning, the information stayed in my brain until the test was over. Then—poof! It was as if I never learned it.

I think for most people, what we learned as kids simply served as a placeholders until we learned important things, like things related to our jobs, and how to get laid. I took calculus in high school, and I don’t even remember what calculus is, let alone how to use it.

So I’m not too worried about the next generation being manipulated by their textbooks. I’ve always said that if you want kids to read Shakespeare, ban everything he wrote. Seriously, if high school kids aren’t allowed to read ‘Hamlet,’ they’ll be quoting Polonius in the hallway.

A school in Tennessee actually banned some textbooks a while back. Called them ‘anti-religious.’ And again, I don’t get the problem. You could put a whole section on Satanic rituals in ‘America: Pathways to the Present’ and if it isn’t mentioned in the chapter summary, most students will never see it!

You know, if school boards are gonna revise the curriculum, they should have the balls to go all the way. Why not make history books entirely fictional? Include chapters explaining how the South didn’t lose the Civil War, it’s just laying low and regrouping. Have kids learn that the Underground Railroad was a just another leftist public transit boondoggle. And for god’s sake, bring back home economics classes. Just for girls, of course. They need to have role models, too.

But if high school kids in Texas are required to learn this more…creative version of our history, one more change needs to be mandated. The federal government should require diplomas issued by Texas to have a big Texas-sized asterisk on them so that the rest of us know who we’re dealing with.

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i like my listening easy

Jokes might be my stock in trade, but music is my passion. In fact, if I’d realized how much music means to me years ago, I might have tried to make a living at it (because if the comedy business has been inconsistent, unfair and unpredictable, leading to a struggling, hand-to-mouth existence, at least music would have been—wait…never mind).

My musical experience is as eclectic as it is unspectacular. Played clarinet for eight years—made All-State Honor Band (33rd chair, but hey, California’s a big state!). Been in a couple of musicals in which I didn’t dance because…I can’t dance. Done a bit of cabaret singing (you’d particularly enjoy my intimate arrangement of Meat Loaf’s “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”). Can read music and find middle C on a piano.

Growing up, my musical touchstones were vigorously bland. Mom was a HUGE Andy Williams fan—I remember sitting with her at the kitchen table with the radio covering RFK’s funeral, and Andy Williams singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” And at Christmas—my god, how many Christmas songs are there? He sang all of them—for years I thought he wrote ‘O Holy Night’ because it was the only version I’d ever heard.

Me, I was discovering a whole new generation of music—forget Andy, it was now the early seventies, and I was digging…the Carpenters. Mock them if you will, even though Richard is one of the greatest vocal arrangers in history and Karen had the voice of a bittersweet angel. Yes, they recorded a lot of tracks that were the audio equivalent of oatmeal, but watch some of their vids on youtube. They were sincere. And I’ll take sincere schmaltz over feigned rage any day.

First record I bought—Carole King, ‘So Far Away.’ Which became one of the biggest hits at my junior high-school radio station, KPRV. In eighth grade, our school started a five-watt radio station, and I was the on-air talent (yes kids, there was a time when schools had money, and that money went to the arts, and…). We also played the shit out of “Just You ‘N Me’ by Chicago. And strangely enough, the B-side of Elton John’s ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,’ a song called ‘Young Man’s Blues’ which was distinguished by the lyric ‘screw you.’ Repeated a lot. We were such rebels.

When I got to college, I started going to church. Now to recap, I converted to Judaism years ago, after  the Jesus thing. But I recently realized that when I was going to church, it wasn’t out of any religious discipline, but because of church choir. I got to sing every week! And it’s pretty hard to get kicked out of a church choir. So I’ve done your ‘Ave Maria’s, even your ‘O Holy Night ’s (sorry, Andy). After converting, I discovered I wasn’t the only Jew who loved gospel music. Seriously, Jewish composers—try a major key!

Lately I’ve been dabbling in cabaret, which is an interesting genre. With a few exceptions, the venues are essentially piano bars, where at an open mic night, you sign up for two songs and someone plays piano for you.  Now, take great songs with witty lyrics, add simple acoustic accompaniment, and put them in a tiny space filled with drunk tourists sitting five feet away and seventeen other singers who want your stage time.

I actually started singing show tunes at these open mics before I ever got my queer card. Before I identified as ‘bisexual,’ I used to be a regular at the piano bar at the Gay 90s in Minneapolis, believing that I just REALLY liked the music of Stephen Sondheim.

As much as I love music, I haven’t seen many concerts, because I never seem to have a hundred bucks to see either 1) a band who’s only done two songs I’ve heard and the rest of the concert consists of their J.R.R. Tolkein-inspired concept rock opera in its entirety or 2) a band that I loved as a kid performing less-authentic-than-karaoke cover versions of the songs I loved as a kid. With different guys.

Saw Jackson Browne at the State Fair, and during his sound check, these burly goons were sitting on the lip of the stage staring down the crowd. Lookin’ for someone to start shit. Seiously? At a Jackson Browne concert?! What, were they afraid a rowdy global warming rally would break out? Really harshed everyone’s vibe.

I peed next to jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie. Middle of one tune, I have to go, and figure I’ll just discretely scoot up the aisle. And then Dizzy Gillespie stops his band. In the middle of the song. He points me out and embarrasses me into sitting back down until intermission. Finally able to relieve myself, I notice that to my right was one of the greatest jazz trumpeters in history. Can’t really ask for an autograph in that situation.

Best concert experience ever—the Ramones, 1978. Now to set the scene, in 1978 I had yet to shed my nerd chrysalis. But—I knew that I should be into punk music. It’s like when I pulled my only prank in high school, not organically, out of a deep-seated resentment of authority, but because I thought I should pull a prank in high school.

Anyway, I didn’t have any punk clothing per se, so I wrapped my bicycle lock around my waist as a belt. In your face, people who wear normal belts! So I get to the concert venue, and the bouncer tells me I have to take off my bicycle-chain-belt. Apparently worried I would stage-dive and injure someone by hitting them with my belly.

Well, in the spirit of punk, I decided to take a stand right there. If he wasn’t going to let me in, I was damn well gonna go back to my dorm room, get the key, take off the chain, walk back to the concert and ask the nice man to let me in. And it was a great concert—all visceral and palpable, nothing but two-and-a-half minute songs followed by “1 – 2 – 3 – 4!” Kinda scared me. Did it change me? Maybe—when I got back to my room I put on a Dan Fogelberg album, but I skipped the ballads.

I have 3,382 songs on my computer, and not all of them are what you would call ‘lite rock.’ In fact, there are recordings I love in every style from opera to gangsta rap (sadly, I know of no ‘gangsta opera,’ but that would be cool!). I will say, I still have a taste for music that’s not so…angry. I admit it–I like happy songs. I like pretty songs. In a world of environmental devastation, crushing poverty, and genocide, sometimes I want my music to offer a little contrast. Something happy…and pretty. With harmonies.And maybe a little gospel feel.

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you can’t teach that

For the first time in a while, I’ll be teaching again this weekend. Before you start congratulating me for re-entering this most noble of professions, it’s not like I’ll be teaching about the towering figures in modern literature, or advances in higher mathematics, or, really anything with practical value. I teach stand-up comedy.

There are some problems with this as a way to make money. First, I’m not sure why anyone would take a stand-up comedy class, since the stand-up ‘boom’ ended in the early 1990s. It seems rather like studying to be an apothecary, or a blacksmith. Yeah, there are still comedy clubs, and a few hundred dive bars that might have a ‘comedy night’ in which they move the karaoke machine out of the way for an hour and a half (“You guys have to be done by 9:30, because the Metallica tribute band needs to set up”).

But it’s not like it was in the eighties, when every town with a sewer system offered a place to perform in front of a faux brick wall to an audience of drunk twenty-somethings. Sadly, the golden days of stand-up ended when it got over-exposed on TV and—sorry, I almost turned into an old vaudevillian bemoaning how radio killed his career.

More to the point, although I’ve taught comedy classes in the past (even taught ‘advanced stand-up’—and what the hell is that? Really complicated jokes? Longer…segues?), I’ve never been convinced you can actually teach stand-up comedy.

I think you can teach someone how to hold a microphone, and you can teach some tricks about putting jokes in a certain order (‘Don’t end your set with a joke about abortion,’ or ‘Don’t open by mentioning the Holocaust’), but you cannot teach someone to be funny. You need to bring funny with you to the first class.

However, I guess there will always be people lured by the prospect of a fifty-dollar Thursday gig in Dickinson, North Dakota, and for these brave souls, I offer four two-hour sessions, culminating in a three-minute performance at one of the local chuckle joints. The real problem is that if you want to be a comic, you should be at a comedy club, not in a classroom. You should be showing up at open mics trying out your shit in front of an audience (I’m really not selling my class very well—must learn how to market myself better.)

See, comedy’s different than other forms of ‘art,’ say, violin playing. You would never hear a violinist at Orchestra Hall say “This is something I’m just kinda trying out—it’s new–not sure if it’s gonna be any good.” But with standup, the ONLY way to know if something is funny is to say it in front of an audience—you can’t practice it in front of a mirror or say it into a tape recorder (are there still tape recorders? must update references…).

So the demographic that would sit at home and think “I want a more theoretical approach to the whole comedy thing, and I want to learn in an environment that’s entirely unlike any place comedy might actually happen” are people who, by and large, aren’t toting a lot of funny around with them. They’re taking my class for the same reason they might take a class in bungee jumping, or macramé—something they always thought about trying, because it could be fun.

In my experience, there are certain types of people who take Introduction to Stand-up Comedy.

The Frat Boy Type: believes he’s funny because he can make his ‘bros’ laugh at a kegger by doing a drunk impression of his boss followed by armpit farts—sadly, this doesn’t always translate in front of a real crowd

The Cubicle Guy: wants to try something different to shake up his nine-to-five life, but prior performing experience limited to emceeing the raffle at the company picnic, during which he attempted part of a Bill Cosby routine

The Hipster: watches too much Comedy Central, thinks he could do comedy because ‘they’re just saying a bunch of random shit anyway’

The Saucy Mom: has read a lot of Erma Bombeck, and now that kids have moved out, finally is trying what she ‘always wanted to do,’ but mostly wants to say inappropriate things and swear a lot

The Comedy Writer: has none of the personality required to be a performer, but has a chapbook filled with wacky ideas, most of which are only funny to him

The Toastmaster: Unclear on the distinction between public speaking and stand-up; would ideally prefer to read from note cards at a podium (tells people what he’s going to tell them, then tells them, then tells them what he’s told them)

Another challenge in teaching the ‘rules’ of comedy is that almost by definition, comedy is about seeming like you’re breaking the rules—saying those very things that you’ve been trained to suppress since fourth grade when you were sent home with a note saying ‘cuts up in class—always disrupting lessons with jokes.’

Of course, there will always be the stand-up student who simply wants to be like whoever the hot comic is at the moment, and I essentially have to beat that out of them so they find their own comic voice, and so the world isn’t overrun with clones of Dane Cook. But every so often, I come across students with a spark, that ineffable flair that makes you want to listen to whatever they feel like talking about.

It’s what my beatnik friend Eugene used to call ‘the thang.’ And though I try my damndest to give every student the tools they need to pull a few laughs out of increasingly jaded audiences, it’s that one in twenty, the one who has that ‘thang,’ who makes me want to teach comedy. Just don’t expect me to teach you to be funny.

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fifty is the new forty-five

When did I become that guy?  Seems I was this…other guy for a lotta years. But now I’m that guy. And it’s not like I miss being that other guy, the guy I was in my thirties and forties, it’s that I don’t even recognize him—it’s hard to realize I ever was that guy. There are things I did when I was younger that I can’t imagine doing now, not because they’re all that wild, but because just remembering doing them makes me tired.

So I’m that guy now. I’m the guy who…

says he’s been “sitting too long”—How is that even possible? Sitting is not an activity—you can’t do it ‘too long’!

hears a song on the radio and says “but you can’t understand what they’re singing”!

has so many body parts that pop and crack that when I get out of bed it sounds like an Afro-Caribbean percussion section

goes to a restaurant and says “I need to order something bland”—Seriously? I used to go to a Sri Lankan restaurant in Minneapolis and order level four spiciness , dammit! Level four, do you hear me people?! Now, what,  I have to make sure the mashed potatoes don’t have any…basil because that might not agree with me?

Somehow, I’ve acquired a bunch of twenty-something and thirty-something friends, which definitely makes me feel younger. Although I don’t think they find me cool or hip so much as–intriguing. “He’s really talented…but kinda troubled too…wonder if he’ll snap some night when we’re just hanging out…”

I’ll party with the kids, but it’s different now. I can drink as much as I used to, but I don’t recover as quickly. And I forget this when I go out—maybe bars should require you to check your own ID so that you realize how old you are before you start drinking.

So, the night of my birthday, a group of the ‘kids’ threw me a party at a local Thai restaurant attached to a mall (I know—I’m out of control—pad thai level one all around!). And I was home by the age-appropriate hour of 11:30. Turned on the iTunes, opened a box of cabernet, and realized that I was sitting in a one-room apartment drinking cheap wine and listening to merle haggard, and that I had in fact turned into a country song.

Don’t misunderstand here—I can still rock…I’m just choosing not to. Some cable channel I’d never heard of and didn’t know I had was airing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies from a couple years ago. The highlight had to be Iggy Pop, who was introduced by Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day (quick aside to Billie Joe—if you can write a three minute song, maybe you could write a three-minute speech? I swear he mentioned every band that ever recorded an album as being influenced by Iggy). Anyway, Iggy comes out, still visceral, raw and shirtless at 63. I’m only 50, and I catch a terrible chill if I don’t wear my AARP hoodie—meanwhile Mr. Pop is rolling around on stage without a shirt—that’s a good way to catch a cold, mister!

Not sure why, but the other significant act in this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class was Abba. Iggy and Abba. Headlining for eternity at the Opposites Club. Now, as creators of the kind of sterile pop fluff that sticks to the brain like Cheetos dust sticks to your fingers, I love me some Abba, but the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? That’s like giving Jerry Bruckheimer a Lifetime Achievement honor at the Independent Film Awards. The drop-off in rock and roll credibility from Iggy Pop to Abba was vertigo-inducing. But at least the members of Abba kept their shirts on.

I haven’t been to many live concerts, and now I suppose I’m relegated to seeing age-appropriate music acts. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the Fleet Foxes or Vampire Weekend, but it might feel a little weird to go to one of their shows. Somehow I feel like I’d be harshing everyone’s buzz, like they’d all be looking at me as if I were a chaperone, or a faculty advisor. “You kids get this gym cleaned up if you want to have any more dances.”

A couple years ago I went to see Foghat at the State Fair, and it was none of the same people—I’m pretty sure it was just four guys who happened to own Foghat albums. Last year I actually saw Styx, REO Speedwagon, and Survivor. I haven’t seen that many paunchy white guys in the same venue since the last Republican convention. And that was just on the stage! Thank you–good night! Sorry…I had a little standup flashback there.

So, I’m that guy now. When did I become the sitting-too-long, bland-food-eating, comfortable-music-listening-to guy? I’ll tell you when–a few days ago, when I looked at my ID and remembered that somehow, despite my best self-destructive efforts, I had passed fifty. I actually made it. Sure, I don’t get around like I used to, but on the other hand, I feel like now I’ve got a license to dispense unsolicited advice to everyone I see, because, well, I’m fifty. I may not do a lot anymore, but I damn sure know a lot. And for what I don’t know, I can always just quote Styx lyrics–their stuff was deep.

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