i need a quirk

I’ve come to an important conclusion—I need to be famous.Not sure why I didn’t think of this before, but being famous would really help my career. I used to think that I wanted that fame to be the result of my work, my craft, my artistic vision.

But the clock’s ticking, people—at the end of the month I will have bounced around on this plane for half a century. It’s time to get noticed, and, though you might find this surprising, posting a seven hundred and fifty word comedy piece every couple weeks hasn’t made me famous.

 So I wanna be that guy. You know, the guy with that one weird quirk that has nothing to do with his talents but still makes him memorable? For example, there’s an artist in Minneapolis who, during the winter months, wears all black, and during the summer, he wears all white. And then, from what I can tell, he walks around the city, from coffeehouse to coffeehouse. That’s it. Not even sure if he paints anymore, but…everybody knows him. As affectations go, it’s fairly simple. But I’ll tell you this–people I know who know NOTHING about art know that this guy is an artist.
You need to decide on a weird thing to do, and commit to it. If you do something weird enough, often enough, with no apologies, people assume you must have artistic credibility. We expect our artists to be freaks.

I already walk with a cane, but that doesn’t count as an affectation, because I need the cane to avoid falling down. If I tricked out my cane to look like a wizard’s staff, that would be an affectation. Or if my cane had a hollowed out interior that could hold a pint of vodka and I drank from my cane, that would work. The key is to pick something that nobody does, and ideally, something nobody else wants to do. Because you really don’t want a bunch of hipsters just copying your affectation—then all of a sudden you become a cult leader, and that’s a whole different deal.

 So I’ve narrowed down the list of possible quirks to adopt, and I figure there are a few ways I can go:

 A Strange Hat

 I could be The Guy Who Wears A Bowler, or alternatively, The Guy Who Wears A Pith Helmet. Not sure if I would need an entire outfit to go with the strange hat.

An Unusual Pet

 It can’t be a reptile. We’ve all seen the guy with the iguana at the coffeehouse—it’s been done. And if you’re going the bird route, it can’t be a parrot—done. Now maybe, if I got a heron, and took it for walks around my neighborhood…
 
Communicating Only In Show Tunes
This affectation requires a lot of rehearsal, and risks annoying one’s existing friends. Not recommended.
 
The Monocle

Now we’re talking! Henceforth, I will be known as The Guy With The Monocle. It has everything I’m looking for in an affectation—pop culture cachet (Mr. Peanut, the Penguin, Colonel Klink), implications of wealth, and vague connotations of evil.

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fill ‘er up

So, after this Chilean earthquake, I’m browsing around the web looking for fodder, and the headline at MSNBC says “Pope To Pray For Chile.” Now, I think it’s great for Benedict to take a break from repressing women and spreading misinformation about AIDS, my problem is that it was a headline. As if it were…news.

Obviously the Pope is going to pray for Chile, given the fact that he is…leader of the Catholic Church and Chile is predominantly…Catholic. It’s his job fer chirssake—literally! News would be a headline saying “Pope Snubs Chile—Opts to Not Include Victims In Prayers.”

Edward R. Murrow would spin in his grave–while smoking a cigarette–if he were to see what passes for journalism today. In any given half-hour tv news broadcast, I would say an average of 86.3% of the stories aren’t really news. News should have two ingredients—it should be new, and it should be sorta…important, and to more people than just someone’s immediate family.

 

The problem of course, is filling the half-hour, or filling up the web page. With three major online news portals and a gazillion ‘aggregators’ (‘we don’t investigate the stories, but we do group ‘em all together for you!”), not enough actual news happens to satisfy them, hence—filler news. We wouldn’t tolerate this in a restaurant—“The chef only has a half portion of the chicken marsala left, so we’re going to fill the rest of your plate some microwave popcorn.”

News filler usually consists of ‘human interest’ stories. Which begs the question—what type of beings are the other stories aimed at? Is there a section of ‘panda interest stories’? In theory, shouldn’t every news story be of interest to…humans?

And for the love of Cronkite, stop interviewing family members of people who have died! It’s not news!

“I know this is a difficult time for you…with your entire family having been killed in the blaze that destroyed your ancestral home, what are you feeling right now?”

“I’m very sad.”

“We’ve got a scoop! Rush this footage to editing!”

They should give anti-journalism awards, like the Razzies they give for worst movies. They could call it the Mister Peabody.

Used to be, tv news was fifteen minutes. Now, there are fifteen minutes of graphics before a breaking news story. Sure, the times were simpler, but the times were also filled with fewer Octomoms. Oh, Octomoms might have existed back then, but we didn’t feel they warranted above-the-fold reporting.

 

I get my headlines online from MSNBC, because yes, one of my goals has always been to destroy the newspaper industry and eliminate the jobs of hardworking print journalists. Now, since MSNBC is a “joint venture of Microsoft and NBC,” you’d think there would be someone at one of those giant companies who would notice this stupid shit.

 

But no, at one point last year the headline on their home page was “Osama Still Not Found.” This just in—nothing! That’s not news! It’s—anti-news! It’s bad enough to print ‘news’ about something trivial that happened, but now you’re putting up a story about something that hasn’t happened!

 

This week in the news we learned that the earthquake in Chile shifted Earth’s axis. Every report about this quoted ‘NASA scientists,’ which I suppose would be more reliable than ‘NASA janitors.’ Anyway, as a result, every day will be shorter by 1.26 milliseconds, which sucks, because I’m really busy at the moment and cannot afford to lose that kind of time.

There was one ‘human interest’ story this week that genuinely touched me. Seems the woman who wrote the first book about crockpot cookery (a bestseller in 1975, in part due to its compelling title, ‘Crockpot Cookery’), died at the age of 88. Mable Hoffman was interred in a late-morning ceremony. Onions, potatoes and chopped bell peppers were added a couple hours later, and she was ready by late afternoon. Thanks—you’ve been a great crowd! Tip your waitresses! Good night!

separation of church and sport

I consider myself a spiritually-minded man, even if I’m only occasionally religious. Now I believe that God CAN be everywhere, but I’m not sure God SHOULD be everywhere. Or wants to be. Sometimes I think it’s useful to think of the universe as a big company, with God as more of a…chief executive officer. Makes sure things are running in the black, but kinda removed from day-to-day operations. When I look at the universe this way, I’m struck by a profound realization–people pray way too much.

Just as you wouldn’t constantly pester your CEO with suggestions and special requests (do office employees at Apple constantly call Steve Jobs’ direct line with requests for more paper clips?), I don’t think humans should be bothering God with every detail of their own lives. I’m pretty sure God, if there is one, is too busy with the big picture stuff to address a lot of the things we’re calling about.

C’mon, you know there must be times when God thinks “Stop bugging me. Handle it.” In my conception of the universe, God wants us to at least try to handle our own shit. Or at least go through middle management first (not sure who ‘middle management’ is in my metaphor, but it’s my metaphor, so indulge me). What I’m saying is, we need to stop annoying God.

Which brings me to the Super Bowl (dizzying how I got there, isn’t it?) Apparently, during one Super Bowl, millions of drunk, Doritos-engorged football fans had to endure a thirty-second ad from a Christian organization called…not sure if I have the name right…Focus On (An Incredibly Narrow Homophobic Misogynistic Definition Of)  The Family.

One of their ads a couple of Roman numerals ago featured Tim Tebow, wunderkind quarterback from Florida. Now Tim is really into the whole God thing, to the point of inscribing Bible verses in his eye-black (and seriously Tim—if someone is close enough to you to read what’s written under your eyes, they’re probably planning to tackle you, and aren’t really gonna take the time to reflect on whatever wisdom might be found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians).

Another interesting thing about Tebow, and I guess the point of the ad, is that he wasn’t aborted. Well…congratulations? Me neither, Tim! We’re like…related! My point (and yes, I’m a little winded with how long it took to get there too) is that EVEN IF your God tells you the issue needs to be addressed, you’re not gonna change a lot of minds during the third quarter of the biggest sporting event in the western world!!! When that game goes to commercial, I’m probably gonna be grabbing another beer and swearing about the refs—I’m not in the most philosophical place!

American culture has cruised along just fine for decades because of one fundamental understanding–that on Sunday, you either went to church OR you watched sports on TV. Why risk tearing apart our cultural fabric? God does not care who wins a football game.

The players are as much at fault as the fans. It’s nothing new—Sandy Koufax was an observant Jew and wouldn’t play on the Sabbath. But it’s not like he had ‘Shema Yisrael’ written on the bill of his cap, and he didn’t try to convert anyone. I don’t mind the occasional prayer in the end zone, because it’s like a touchdown dance—silly, pointless, but it doesn’t last long. It’s the post-game interviews that bother me.

Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals used to refer to God so often after games it didn’t’t look like reverence, it just looked like he’s sucking up. Mercifully, God commanded him to retire. And by the way–if you’re gonna give God credit for what goes right during a game, why don’t players ever blame God for bad games? “I wouldn’t have thrown that interception if God hadn’t wanted my team to lose a playoff game.”

As a sports fan, I don’t WANT players on my team to be really ‘religious.’ Football used to be filled with tough sons of bitches like Lombardi. I’m sure away from the field, he was a deeply spiritual guy, but I can’t imagine Vince Lombardi praying during the game. I don’t want my middle linebacker to be particularly Christian—what if he has some epiphany and decides to forgive the nose tackle for blocking him? Christianity is about peace and love and a lot of admirable, but kinda…squishy, feelings. Nowhere does Scripture say ‘the meek shall inherit the Super Bowl trophy.’

I watched my Vikings play the Packers at Green Bay this year, and there was that guy. Big foam block of cheese on his head, no shirt, and scrawled on his chest was ‘John 3:16.’ Is this guy really the kind of messenger God wants? True enough, God created Wisconsin. God even created the ‘frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.’ And then God left and moved on to bigger things.

All I’m saying is that religion and the average sports fan have different agendas. As a fan, I want to be able to yell “Kill that bastard–and then rip his head off!” without being confronted with moral dilemmas, and I don’t want my cleanup batter to suddenly love his enemy, the pitcher. I leave my soul at the stadium gate–and my God is O.K. with this. I’m pretty sure My God actually wants to smite the people who hold up signs that say ‘John 3:16’—it sorta trivializes the message if the messenger takes the form of a fat guy in a rainbow-colored wig trying to do the wave without dropping his bratwurst.

So if you’re an athlete or a fan, do take the time to go to the church or synagogue of your choice. Sign up for missionary work in Zaire. Donate your entire salary to the Sisters of Mercy. But do me and God a favor–once the whistle blows, just play the fucking game and let me enjoy a three hour break from the brutal things in the real world that actually warrant calling on God.

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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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more lizard people, please

I’ve been a science-fiction fan since I was a teenager, and I believe there is only one cardinal rule of the genre, a ‘prime directive,’ if you will: Create No Boredom. Here’s the deal. In theory, it should be impossible to create boring science fiction. Laughably bad sci-fi, I’ll watch. Campy sci-fi? Why not. Even really-disappointing-so-thank-god-i-didn’t-pay-to-see-it-in-the-theater sci-fi. But boring science fiction is as oxymoronic as…a groundbreaking Bon Jovi album…or…a substantive Sarah Palin interview.

If you are combining science with fiction, how in hell do you end up with something dull? You have all of science to draw upon (which is most of mankind’s collected knowledge) and fiction to work with (an essentially infinite amount of possibilities here, because…you can make up anything you want!) So how  do you end up with the TV equivalent of a Swanson Chicken Pot Pie, where everything in it just sort of tastes…gray? How, in the name of James Doohan, do you do that?

The answer is, you waste time on romantic and family relationships. There was a short-lived show called Flash Forward which had, as its premise, the idea that every human on Earth blacked out for two minutes and seventeen seconds and during said blackout saw glimpses of the future. Okay writers—run with it! Or, don’t, and spend minute after leaden minute showing us the collapsing marriage of the lead investigator. Wuh…huh?

Incidentally, it seems like every third drama on television—X-Files, Flash Forward, V, Fringe, which I enjoy–involves some secret branch of the FB freakin’ I…how many of these little boutique divisions does the FBI have, fer chrissake? is anyone still investigating bank robberies, or mail fraud?

Back to my point (in case you blacked out)–not counting commercials, the show has about forty-five minutes to deal with explaining a rip in the time-space continuum. This means we don’t have time to waste on some character’s personal demons. I don’t care if our hero has a drinking problem—he’s got shit to figure out! Get back to the weird stuff that’s never happened in the history of the planet!

Now V had some potential. It has extra-terrestrial life forms—AND they’re lizards! How cool is that? And for the first nine minutes of the pilot, man, does it ever deliver. Check that—the ninth minute delivers, because that’s when we get the money shot of the spaceship. After that, set phasers to ‘snooze.’ The skeptical commanding officer. The ambitious reporter. And. The. Relationships. The rebellious son. The naïve fiancée. C’mon–show us the lizard people!!!

Again, you’d think that, in an hour-long show, there would be scene after scene of lizard-people–eating humans, shorting out our brain waves, or at least—doing something other than talking! Stop talking!

It can’t be possible for a show to jump the shark in the third episode. But there it was, a scene in which the brooding teenager glances longingly at the lizard-person-who-looks–like-a-hottie—the almost palpable melancholy as he realizes he won’t be able to date the Lizard Hottie (see, they’re from two different worlds). Stop it! Then there’s a scene where Mom comes into moody kid’s bedroom to thank him for not getting involved with the Lizard People (because see, she knows they’re up to no good), after which he stares at the picture of Lizard Hottie on his cell phone. Cut to blah.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying science fiction should be just spaceships and aliens—sure, spend a little time making us care about the people fighting the mysterious visitors. Then get to the good stuff! I’m just sayin’ that there are very few classic science fiction stories that I can think of where I’ve thought afterwards, “Yeah, that was a compelling look at an alternate reality, but why didn’t they show us more about that guy’s relationships?”

Even something as iconic as Star Wars—if George Lucas had dropped the whole Han Solo/Princess Leia, Sam-and-Diane love/hate thing, I don’t think we would have missed it. Because every scene of people doing…people things means one less scene where aliens do…alien things, and that’s what I want from science fiction. If I want to spend an hour watching people deal with their relationships, I’ll watch Brothers and Sisters.

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