Sunshine Saved My Life

10416609_751737838201393_2876214994543462887_n“Sometimes I feel like, I’m so uninvited, like something so out of touch. They tell me depression runs in the family, well that doesn’t help me much.”  ~Todd Snider

My wife likes to joke that I have no soul, because I don’t cry. She, for the record, weeps at the drop of a hat: during movies, a commercial, while reading… She even cried at the birth of both our children, and seriously, who does that?

(What, everyone does? My bad.)

The Mrs. is quite in tune with her sad side, because she suffers from clinical depression. She was diagnosed and placed on medication at age twenty, and it changed her world. For the first time since childhood, evil thoughts weren’t pounding away at her constantly, making her feel worthless, or that her life had no value.

I’ve never been diagnosed as manic-depressive, but it’s heavily prevalent on my father’s side of the family, and I have had plenty of damaging thoughts about my self-worth.

I have also been right on the cusp of suicide.

My story is no secret, and it is neither original nor special. I moved a lot as a child, and my parents had an unhappy marriage. Combine those two and you have a kid who thought friendships don’t last and love isn’t real. I swam inside the idea I would never have friends, or be loved. Once beliefs like that are ingrained in your cellular structure, they live with you for decades. You can combat the feelings using positive influences such as therapy or medication, or self-medicate using drugs, alcohol, or, my method of choice: comedy.

(Everyone knows you don’t become a comedian when everything is right inside your noggin.)

Again, this was wasn’t an original reaction to what I felt; most comics worth their weight in salt have something hidden inside that pushes them to the spotlight. Personally, comedy was both a weapon and a shield. It became an armament that gave me distance from the world—think Pink Floyd’s The Wall—and was a weapon used to attack when feeling defensive.

(Which, to someone depressed, is quite often.)

Like any drug, you eventually build up an immunity to it. For a while, the glory of a great show sits with you and carries you through the dark hours. But after a while, it’s not enough. As a comedian, you go from being on stage in front of two hundred people, basking in the glory of their laughter…

…to alone in your hotel room, the thoughts of worthlessness screaming at you at the top of their lungs.

So, when your main drug fails, you compound it with others; the alone gets shut out using women, alcohol, pot, and whatever you can get your hands on.

My drugs during bouts of depression were music, and anger. Music, because there were songs I could relate to and not feel so alone in the world. No matter what I was going through, I could tether to an artist and understand I was neither unique nor special. They knew what I was going through, which mattered to me. Anger, because when I was at my wit’s end and absolutely ready to end it all, the overwhelming desire to say “Fuck you!” to whatever power may be out there (God) would carry me through. Sadness happens, so buck up and deal with it ya pansy. Every fiber of my body would be telling me to do it, just exit this world to escape the pain, but suicide seemed like losing. And I hate losing.

*  *  *

Mork & Mindy premiered in 1978; I was eight years old.

In life, that’s what’s known as “perfect timing,” as the show was aimed directly at eight-year-old sensibilities. I had no clue who Robin Williams was, I just knew that I laughed at the wacky man pretending to be an alien.

I more than laughed, actually. I reflected. Each episode ended with a moral, an oft-times touching moment where Mork waxed philosophic on what he was learning on earth, and reported that information to Orson. It was in those moments I discovered the genius that was Robin Williams; he could make you laugh, but he wanted to make you cry.

(Maybe, because if you were crying, he felt not so alone in his pain. I cannot say that with absolute certainty, but I don’t believe it’s too far a throw.)

An instant fan, I became obsessed with both Robin, and Mork. I scampered around the house saying “Nanu-nanu,” and “Shazbot.” I begged and was taken to The World According to Garp, a movie not exactly marketed to a twelve-year-old. Good Morning Vietnam made me howl; Dead Poets Society choked me up.

Robin Williams was also the first stand up comedian I saw live.

I would have been, I can’t remember, sixteen or seventeen. He was performing at The Riverside Theater, in Milwaukee, and when I heard about the show I immediately called for tickets. Naturally, the show was sold out, but they were considering adding a second performance; did I want to be on a waiting list?

Hell to the yeah I did.

A late show was added, and I got my tickets. I remember absolutely nothing of the evening, save for the fact I missed over half the jokes because I was still laughing at the one before. Tears ran down my face, and my face and jaw hurt at the end of the night.

To me, Robin Williams was a God. He meant more to me than just about everyone.

(Except Martin Riggs.)

Robin was open about two of his drugs—alcohol and cocaine—but I’ve not heard anyone discuss his other weaknesses: women, and marriage. Comedians aren’t special creatures; like anyone else, they find solace in the arms of a lover to assuage their pain.

Robin Williams cheated on one wife, married his daughter’s nanny, and then married a third woman just a few years outside the end of his near-21-year second marriage. I will neither judge nor analyze his behavior, but I will say I am all too familiar with the pattern: the thoughts of not wanting to be alone, and of wanting to feel loved when you believe you’re unlovable. In my younger years, I entered into several relationships too quickly, if only because I was astounded by the fact someone seemed to like me.

“This one is fooled,” I would think. “Better not let her go!”

It was only when I reached my mid-30s that the desperation faded; I went through therapy and examined the origins of my insecurities, and hit my Malcolm Gladwell tipping point of failed relationships. I began to attack my depression, and eventually realized what I had wasn’t medical; I didn’t have a disease, I just had a shitty childhood I needed to deal with.

Robin Williams suffered from the disease; his was a manic depression, unlike mine. That means his hole was larger than most, one that couldn’t be filled by millions of dollars or awards. When he looked in the mirror he didn’t see an icon, he saw his own insecurities.

And in the end, that was too much to bear.

By the time I started writing this, arguments aplenty littered the Internet. Did he kill himself, or end his own pain? Was his act selfish, or was it his choice to make?

I don’t care.

I’m not here to fight or start arguments, I just want to talk about what he meant to me.

I was at the gym when the news broke; I finished up my workout, grabbed my phone, and it was waiting for me in a text: “Robin Williams, dead. Suicide.”

I think my only surprise was at how not surprised I was. Knowing his life and story, I don’t want to say I expected it, but after Belushi, Farley, Jeni, and Geraldo… It just wasn’t as out of left field for me as it may have been for others.

But that didn’t make it any less tragic.

As I drove home, I started to well up. Pulling into the garage, and could feel the tears behind my eyes. I got out of my car, and opened the door to my house; inside, my two-year-old daughter was playing on the floor in the kitchen.

“Daddy!” she shouted happily.

“Hi sweetie,” I croaked.

Fuck, it was really going to happen.

My wife asked me something and I tried answering, and she heard it in my voice. Alarmed, she jumped up, saw my eyes, and started asking, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”

I waved her off twice, saying “Nothing. It’s nothing,” but she kept prodding, hugging me tightly in the process. “Robin Williams committed suicide,” I finally sputtered.

I wept for about twenty seconds, then felt a mix of better and silly. Which is how I believe most people feel after crying in front of others.

If anything, it made my wife joyful.

“I can’t say you don’t have a soul anymore!” she cheered.

I’ll remind her of that at the end of the next chick flick she drags me to, when she is sobbing and my eyes hurt from rolling.

 

tl/dr: watch this instead.

The Character Study of Cinema

413799_planeta-majmuna_fI remember sitting in a theater, watching Dances With Wolves. Behind me was an obnoxiously stupid woman who chitchatted throughout the film, and became especially noisy during one scene. There is a moment where Wind In His Hair and John Dunbar meet for the first time; Costner’s white settler is holding a gun at the native Wind In His Hair, who is shouting defiantly “Do you see that I am not afraid?” in response.

It is a tense moment, and during it the woman behind me whispered fearfully, “Oh my God, shoot him. Shoot him. Shoot him-shoot-him-shoot-him!”

It took all my self-control to not turn around and yell, “Will you shut the FUCK up?”

Obviously, Costner did not fire his gun, and the two men become friends over the course of the film. The whole movie is a study in communication between strangers, and how solving problems through relating to others is better than force.

I thought of that scene during Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. In ‘Apes,’ the path to war is set in motion when a human named Carver runs into two apes in a forest. It is a moment somewhat like in ‘Dances,’ only with the completely opposite outcome; Carver, a fearful and stupid person, shoots and kills one of the apes. Where Costner was reserved and patient, Carver was panicky and impulsive. Carver is the kind of person who only looks out for himself. He doesn’t trust anyone or anything but his own instincts, which is unfortunate because his character doesn’t have the brainpower enough to warm a piece of bread, much less handle complex situations.

Over the course of the movie, Carver’s ability to grasp reality never expands; he is continually behind the curve when it comes to what is happening, and what he believes. During one scene, it is explained to him (and the audience) that scientists experimenting on apes in a lab created the disease that wiped out most of humanity. This disease got the name ‘Simian Flu,’ but apes didn’t spread it, and apes were not the host. The disease was entirely man-made, and man-spread. This fact didn’t matter to Carver; he heard ‘Simian Flu’ and blamed apes for the downfall of mankind, facts be damned. The “Carver character” works so well in the movie because he is all too real, and people like him walk among the rest of us.

The crux behind ‘Apes’ is that individual characters can hurt the whole. On both sides of the coin—among humans and in the ape colony—misguided individuals think what they believe is more important than what is beneficial to all. Some humans don’t trust the apes; some apes don’t trust the humans. Instead of conversation, these weaker, less intelligent characters call for violence. When you remove ‘apes’ from the equation and insert ‘religion’ or ‘country,’ it becomes a mediation on how all of humanity can be shaped or driven by the weakest and least intelligent of the herd. The idea “A single drop of poison ruins all,” if you will.

When you relate it to politics today, you see that a minority of tea baggers, people so incoherently clueless they believe destroying America is the only way to “save” it, currently controls the Republican Party. When you relate it to religion, a minority of Muslim terrorists create enough fear that the entire religion is looked upon with suspicion. Translate it to disease, and anti-vaxxers who ignore scientific fact present a threat to the whole of the populace. In each case, the minority can (or does) inflict great damage upon the whole simply because they champion ignorance above all else.

Several days before seeing the movie, I interacted with a real-life ‘Carver,’ a man who, in 2014, still believed America invaded Iraq because Iraq had something to do with 9/11. Obviously that was never the case and has been disproven repeatedly over the years, but in the run up to the 2003 invasion “9/11” was trumpeted from the rooftops and broadcast from the airwaves. It is a perfect example of population control: you repeat a lie often enough, and the dumb will believe it. This means 1984 wasn’t just a great read, it was prophetic.

(“We have always been at war with Eastasia.”)

The real-life ‘Carver’ exposed his cluelessness regarding the world around him, but could parrot talking points like nobody’s business. When presented with facts on the economy, “Lower taxes!” was shouted. When Iraq was discussed, “9/11!” When presented with the state of tax rates over the past few years, he had no comeback other than to double down on his particular political fetish. When presented with facts regarding trickle-down economics, and the current state of affairs in Kansas, who had just cut taxes to nil, lost massive amounts of revenue, had their credit rating demoted, and was running severe budget shortfalls, silence was the response. Not because he was mulling over the facts presented to him, but because there was no point in discussing facts. What he believed had to be true, all evidence to the contrary. This same willful ignorance happens when Christians are told “Not all Muslims are terrorists,” and when anti-vaxxers are told “Jenny McCarthy is a fucking idiot and vaccinations do not cause autism.” It doesn’t matter what the facts are, they know in their heart and gut that they’re right. No matter how wrong they are.

I wonder what these people think when they see themselves on screen. I wonder if they recognize themselves in the most ignorant of screen characters. The woman sitting behind me in Dances With Wolves was crying at the end of the film; she sobbed as Wind In His Hair shouted, “Do you see that I am your friend?” Maybe the movie touched and changed her just a little. I don’t know.

Maybe others don’t think anything at all while watching the screen flicker. They just want to be amused and entertained.

Maybe they agree with the actions of the dumb, and think, “I would’a shot him, too.”

How sad.

 

Post Script: For the record, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a horribly boring movie. Yes, it has moments of character study, but overall it isn’t worth your money. I won’t give a movie review here, but Vince over at FilmDrunk sums it up nicely. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I agree with enough of the points to say, “Yeah, ‘Apes’ is not a good movie.”

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One Step Back

10252048_10154066713390693_6438589448822900165_nJune 30, 2014

Dear Hillary,

Today was tiring.

We went to Target, which is par the course, and while there my phone was dropped and destroyed. The screen didn’t even crack, but the impact scrambled the electronics within.

You giggled; I shrugged my shoulders. I wasn’t even upset. It’s a phone, it happens.

I mean, I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t upset.

It happens.

We went to buy a new phone, an expense I wasn’t excited about, and that took about an hour. For being so bored in a boring store for an hour, you behaved wonderfully. I smiled and danced with you when I could, and carried and bounced you when I had to deal with the phone people.

(I also changed a poopy diaper of yours in the employee lounge. Which is what they get for not having a changing station in the restroom.)

When we got home, I put you in your crib for a nap—you had actually fallen asleep in the car—and fired up my computer.

And I saw the news.

During her entire pregnancy with Squeak, I’ve joked with Mommy about my wanting another daughter. I figure that after raising you, I understand better how to take care of a little girl than a little boy. I also worry about the stereotype surrounding little boys: they’re destructive.

Mommy has an instinct that Squeak is a boy, and when she tells me this (which she does constantly), I say “It better not be!” and pretend to be angry. I’m not angry, of course, because I’ll love whichever gender comes popping out of her. But I pretend.

Sometimes, however, I’m not so sure I want to bring another girl into this world.

And I often worry about you.

It is still, in 2014, so much easier to be a white male than anything else.

When I got home and jumped on line, I saw that a Supreme Court dominated by misogynistic assholes decided that, as men, they knew better than women what was best for women.

(Forgive my language, by the way. I’m just being accurate.)

Five men stated: The type of health care a woman receives should not be determined by women, but by corporations owned by assholes who use ancient tales to cover their intellectual shortcomings.

(The three women on the Supreme Court were, of course, against this ruling. One lone man, one who probably remembered he had a mother [and possibly a wife] he loved, also dissented.)

As a father, I am at a loss for words.

I see horrible stories—universities who refuse to investigate sexual assaults, law enforcement agencies that refuses to acknowledge rape, high schools that protect athletes who commit atrocious acts against young girls—and wonder: why would I want to bring another woman into this world? Why would I want to expose her to such treatment?

As a nation, America raises a pointed finger at supposed “underdeveloped” 3rd World Countries and trumpets loudly our superiority; in certain areas on this planet, women can be (and are) put to death at the whims of men. With an air of condescension we shout, “Look at those savages!”

But are we really the superior nation when we subjugate women using legal means, not blunt force? How does championing our fairy tales as greater than their fairy tales elevate us above anyone?

This very Supreme Court ruled “Corporations are people.”

Unfortunately, they don’t feel women deserve that same distinction.

I am angry, frustrated, and fearful.

Which is not unlike the men who feel the need to control women; mine is just sympathetic to your plight, not cackling at it.

When you awoke from your nap we went outside and drew on the driveway with chalk. You watched Sesame Street (which is only known to you as “Elmo!”), and I watched as a storm blew through town and destroyed our gazebo.

Like with my phone this morning, I wasn’t upset as I watched it get damaged. It’s just a thing, and things are replaceable.

(Just like women, according to some men.)

Hilly… I’m not sure how to end this.

I’d like to have positivity and hope swoop in, and finish by telling you that I’m going to enroll you in martial arts so you can protect yourself against predators, that I’ll know exactly at what age we can talk about inappropriate pictures and how they live on forever via the Internet, that by the time you enter the corporate world women will be taken seriously and earn as much as their male counterparts, that whatever you want to do with your life and career won’t be challenged by a desire to have a family, that you will be judged by your mind and not your looks…

…but I don’t know what to say, and I don’t know how much of that will be true.

I do believe that life is about moving forward, even when obstacles are on the path in front of you. And I know that Mommy and I are going to do all we can to give you the strength you will need to navigate the minefield that is being a woman. Many women before you have overcome greater obstacles by far and advanced the rights you have today. As I write, many women are fighting for the rights you will have tomorrow.

My hope is as you grow, women will gain more footholds than they lose.

My hope is that today was just a bad day, but that tomorrow—as the song goes—is a latter day.

(The skies are clearing and the sun’s coming out…)

Love,

Dad

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The Wonderful World of Public Restrooms

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 9.13.22 AM

April 30, 2014

Dear Hillary,

I have written this before, but it is absolutely worth repeating: I cannot wait until you have reached the age where you are no longer fascinated with my bathroom activities.

This week, you had extra special fun with me “going number one,” because it happened in a public restroom. We attended Music Time With Nancy, a multi-week class we signed up for in order to get a little socialization into you. It was the first class for me—last week Mommy and Grandma Diane (Mommy’s mom) took you—so I wasn’t too sure of the protocol.

We walked in as everything was about to start, and Miss Nancy asked me to put a nametag on you. Since you were wearing—as you usually are when I am in charge—a Batman outfit, I wrote “I’m Batman” on the tag. Not only would it represent accuracy, it was also a nice bit of nostalgia for those who would get the dual meaning.

When I affixed it to you, I had no idea the instructor was going to sing her way around the arc of children facing her. “Hello Sarah! So happy you’re with us today!  Hello Kennedy! So happy you’re with us today!” When she got to you, there was a moment’s pause, but then, given no other option, she went right along with it, “Hello… Batman! So happy you’re with us today!”

All the other parents giggled, meaning my stupidity was a success.

I cannot explain why, but I’ve always lied on my nametags. Early on in our relationship, it caused a minor moment of friction between Mommy and me. We were attending some sort of nonsensical social get-together, a “Young Professionals” event. Someone created the gathering under the guise of “Building connections with people in the community!” and with nothing better to do, Mommy suggested we go network.

Upon arrival, we were given nametags to fill out, and without even thinking, I grabbed three. I began writing, and before I knew it had scribbled “Xenu is my God. Ask me about Scientology. I <3 Tom Cruise” across them.

I plastered the trio to my chest, and went about entering the room when Mommy grabbed my arm.

“You can’t wear that, it’s embarrassing!” she hissed.

“To who?” I asked, bewildered.

“To me!”

“It’s fine, trust me.”

Mommy was anxious, but I wandered off with my head held high: time to meet new people.

I don’t know if this needs said, but my nametags were a hit. They garnered more attention that night than just about anything else. Were they funny? Maybe, maybe not. Were they different? Yes. And different is all that mattered. In a sea of social normalcy, I had done something just a smidge off, and that was Robert Frost’s road less traveled. Where my idiotic mind thinks it’s normal to write stupid things on nametags, it doesn’t even cross the thoughts of most folks, so my idiocy was (in the very least) an icebreaker.

Back to Music Time.

We completed our session with ease, and you, dear one, had bunches of fun. You danced (a bit), shook musical shakers, hit timing sticks together (albeit to a different beat than the music), and both laughed and smiled. Because you were happy, I was happy. Watching you revel in the silly events made my heart grow three sizes that day.

(Or some other stolen reference involving love.)

After class ended, you wanted to explore the rest of the recreation center where Music Time was being held, so we wandered hither and dither, to and fro. You spun the handles on the foosball table, reached your wee hands into the pool table looking for the cue ball, and eventually wandered into a corner of the room and paused.

I knew what was coming next.

You turned and looked at me, your little face and delicate features growing quite stern. A hue of crimson appeared around your eyes as you concentrated; something serious was taking place.

You, my dear, were pooping.

Your poop face is hilariously endearing. It is a wonderful beacon with which to let Mommy and me know what you are up to, so we can change you quickly and not let any of the nasty stick to your skin and create a rash.

When you finished impersonating a bear in the woods, I scooped you up and away to the bathroom we went. I placed you on the changing table, took your stinky diaper off while you squirmed (and managed to plop a socked foot into the poop; kudos to you on that maneuver), and tossed everything into the handy-dandy wastebasket by the sink.

I then reached into the diaper bag… and discovered no spare diaper. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Oh, the joy I felt in that moment.

I looked at you and sighed.

Technically, I should have checked the bag for all necessary supplies before leaving the house, but since Mommy was the last person to change you in public, I felt it easier to blame her for the lack of necessary provisions.

What to do?

I pondered the idea of plucking the dirty diaper out of the garbage, scraping it clean and re-using it, but you had piddled as well as pooped, meaning it was trashed. Because you had seemingly vacated all your waste, I decided that going diaper-free until we got home would be safe. And if not? Well, that’s what a washing machine is for.

I put your pants and shoes on, helped you to the floor, gathered up the diaper bag, and we made moves to Elvis the building. While doing so, however, I decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea if I paused to relieve the pressure mounting on my bladder.

Which is where things got tricky.

I had hoped you would wander around safely and ignore me, but your interest in my bodily fluids knows no bounds. The instant I started a healthy stream, you tried to scooch as close as possible in order to get a glimpse of what was happening.

Now, I’m no prude, and I know you’re just curious, but it’s not an image thing. I don’t mind you seeing me naked (and lord knows you do constantly), but in a public bathroom things are sketchier than at home. I didn’t want you getting too close to the urinal, because the multitude of less-than-hygienic people using it daily creates a surface unsafe for a toddler’s hands. Or anyone’s hands, for that matter.

I began to pivot while I peed, as if playing basketball. My foot was constantly in motion, turning my body, blocking you, frustrating you… I thought all was won when you disappeared behind me, but no, victory was not mine to have.

A moment later you re-appeared and rushed right up to the next urinal, the one aside me. You grabbed hold of the lip and happily arched your chin up to look inside and see what it was.

My shoulders slumped.

So. Very. Gross.

After my bladder emptied a few seconds later, I scooped you up (to minor protest: Daddy! I wanted to see in there!) and rushed you to the sink. I fired up the warm water, rinsed your hands, soaped and scrubbed them, rinsed them again, paused, lathered them up a second time, performed a surgeon’s sanitizing ritual, and then rinsed them a third time.

Had I been so conscious, I would have then grabbed an anti-bacterial wipe from the diaper bag and battled all the germs on your hands with that, too.

Frustrated with my inability to be a decent father, I carried you to the car, buckled you in your seat, and watched with sad eyes as you shoved a thumb in your mouth.

So. Very. Gross.

Telling Mommy about the story later, she smiled and said, “She’s going to get hepatitis on your watch, just you wait.”

My hope is instances like this won’t happen when you realize that waste exiting my body isn’t in the least exciting. But until that day, I will no longer use a public bathroom if you’re with me. Better to soda-bottle it while driving than allow you another opportunity to do that ever again.

Love,

Dad

PS: I really do <3 Tom Cruise.  If you haven’t watched Oblivion, Jack Reacher, and Jerry Maguire by the time you’re reading this, I’ve really failed you as a father. More so than if I’ve allowed you to get hepatitis from a urinal.

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Do Not Go Gentle…

david letterman retirement cbsI was never a huge fan of Brett Favre.

I worked in the restaurant industry, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during his ascension, and was “lucky” enough to hear all the stories of his drug use and constant womanizing before they made their way to the general public. Not that there’s anything wrong with either vice, but the philandering left me a little cold. Brett was in a long-term relationship, then engaged, and then married. All the while he was publicly monogamous, you’d hear from waitresses in his steakhouse about his behavior.

(You’ll note that after the 2010 scandal where he allegedly *cough* texted graphic shots of his genitalia to a woman, no reporter seemed surprised; this behavior may not have been public, but it was well known in certain circles.)

But I could have forgiven him all that, if not for one thing.

The Green Bay Packers won the 1996 Super Bowl, and immediately following every Super Bowl the winning quarterback appears on The Late Show with David Letterman. In a pre-show interview, Brett quipped something terse along the lines of, “I’m not going to let Dave pull anything on me.”

Brett said his guard would be up for Letterman, and lived up to that promise by giving a lifeless interview.

Several months or years later, I forget which, Favre went on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He was relaxed, happy, smiling…

…and like that, I knew why I never embraced him: Favre was a Leno guy.

I have been a Letterman guy since episode one on NBC. I heard Bill Murray was the main guest, and if there’s one thing I’ve loved ever since SNL, it’s Bill Murray.

I fired up the television, staying up well past my bedtime, and discovered an unintended bait and switch: I had tuned in to see Bill Murray; I turned the television off wondering who David Letterman was.  Being a kid meant I had no idea a talk show could be interesting; I only knew of serious interviews, such as those on The Phil Donahue Show. David Letterman was different.

Turning on the TV at 11:30pm became a regular occurrence for me. In the days before DVR and TiVo—and with the programmable VCR being slipshod at best—going to school exhausted (or sleeping until noon in summer) was the only way to get my nightly fix. During the school year, it was worth the sleep deprivation. In summer, it was worth missing the sunrise. David Letterman was doing things any teen would find compelling, and only years later would I read that he was given a show specifically to target “young males.” The network suits may have been after the expendable income of my demographic, but Dave was simply relating to us. He did so by being hilariously immature, whether it was by throwing a flaming bag of flour off a 5-story building, smooshing hot dogs in a hydraulic press, or running items over with a steamroller. Dave would put on a Velcro suit and bounce off a trampoline, sticking himself to a Velcro wall. He’d yell out a window—using a bullhorn—at the Today show, which was taping live on the street below. It was incredible.

Dave was ahead of his time. Yes, that phrase is used too often when showering praise upon someone, but it’s true. Before YouTube existed as an outlet to become famous for doing something dumb, Dave had both Stupid Pet Tricks and Stupid Human Tricks. Did you have the ability to shoot milk out of your eye, or two dachshunds able to run their impossibly tiny legs off on a treadmill? Dave wanted you on the show.

(He also, and you didn’t have to watch closely to catch this, often enjoyed interacting with the people in these segments more than he did interviewing pampered millionaires offering their mediocre films.)

Dave was also the first entertainer to shatter my innocent naïveté regarding the way show business works.

(I shall explain.)

A few years deep into existence, Late Night with David Letterman aired what was to become one of the few bits to carry from NBC to CBS: Dave’s signature Top Ten List. What perked my ears upon hearing it’s announcement was not the Top Ten List itself, but the prelude sentence; “And now, from our home office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin…”

Not knowing any better, when Dave spoke those words, I believed him. I believed there was a staff of writers in a city I had once lived in, and that was still a mere 30 miles away. They were relatively close to me, creating hilarious lists weekly, and I wanted to meet them. New York might as well have been on the other side of the world. But Milwaukee? That was quick drive; you could go and return home within an afternoon.

It was a dream of mine to look up the Late Night Home Office and visit. Maybe take a tour, in the same way people tour Universal Studios or meander their way through a zoo.  I just wanted to go see where the magic happened.

Then, without warning, one day Dave spoke ominous words: “And now, from our home office in Omaha…”

I was shocked; what happened to Milwaukee? What caused the move? I had never made my way to the home office, and now it seemed I never would.

It was eventually explained to me Dave was simply being a goof, and that neither Milwaukee nor Omaha ever contained a home office. Picking a random Midwestern city and declaring it the base of operations was just part of Dave’s character. Something he would find amusing, even if no one else did.

Which was a huge part of his charm, the quirks.

Dave was a rare brand of performer, someone who didn’t pander, but instead did things he found amusing. His belief was that if you put honesty behind your art, people would be interested.

And they were.

For a while.

The problem with America—or maybe most people in the world—is that if given the option of being challenged, or catered to, the majority will choose “catered to.”

People don’t always appreciate unique, original, or even enlightening. America likes safe, vanilla, and easy-to-understand. When Leno took over The Tonight Show, there was a short period where Letterman bested him in the ratings, but simple soon overtook challenging, just like it always does. For most of the Letterman/Leno run, Leno won in the ratings. Letterman was John Coltrane, Leno Kenny G.

Which isn’t always a bad thing. Coltrane is a legend, Kenny G. a punchline; the same is true of Letterman vs. Leno. Letterman is widely respected. Leno, not so much.

As he aged and matured, Dave entered a new role: the elder statesman. He turned intelligently political, adding a gravitas to his interviews with those able to rise to the challenge. He could still goof around with a movie star, but throw a senator or newsman in the guest chair and Dave spoke from a depth of knowledge unparalleled by your average citizen.

After 9/11, every TV show host gave a return-to-air speech. I watched as many as possible, and none were as powerful as Dave’s. Though every speech was sincere, and many had emotion behind them, only Dave’s carried weight. True weight.

Without meaning to, he became Generation X’s Johnny Carson. The Frank Sinatra of the talk show world. Keith Olbermann compared him honorably to Babe Ruth.

Dave deserved all of those comparisons, but above and beyond, he was David Letterman. Unique, original, and at times enlightening.

Brett Favre appeared on The Late Show again many years later, in 2008. This time he was more relaxed, because he had an agenda. Brett was on his “Twin Middle Fingers to Ted Thompson” tour, playing to nothing but his ego and ignoring 16-years of dedication by Green Bay fans.

He was selling his “Aw, shucks, I’m just a country boy” persona the best he could, but I wasn’t buying it. I still looked at him as the philandering, nudity-texting, “Dig me” guy.

Dave will retire with more grace and power than Favre—or Leno—attempted to.

And I will miss him.

 

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A Fetish for the Ages

1920399_10151946693355868_1654255535_nMarch 17, 2014

Dear Hillary…

…it was laundry time, and because you were a little under-the-weather emotionally—you wanted to be right next to me; needed a little “Daddy time”—you were sitting on my lap as I pulled clothes from the bin and threw them into our front-load washer. I two-armed a particularly large batch of items, and as I tossed them into the washing machine you started howling. You were off my lap and head first into the washer before I could react. Over the shoulder you threw item after item, digging deep into the pile of stinkables waiting to be cleaned.

I sat back and waited to see where this was all going, when finally you emerged from the basin triumphant: in each hand was a pair of Mommy’s underwear.

Victory!

You began to coo happily, and wandered off waving them in the air like pom-poms: Go Team Go! Your fascination was so strong I had to wonder if you are a reincarnated Japanese businessman.

As I returned to the task at hand, re-loading the washing machine, you wandered back, smiling. I looked up and you had thrown one pair of Mommy’s underpants over your shoulder and around your neck; you were wearing it like a sash.

Miss. America, dirty-underwear contestant.

It was too much for me to bear, so I took a picture and quickly posted it online for all the world to see. Because who wouldn’t want to share an image like that with everyone?

(Mommy, for the record, is the answer to that question. She wouldn’t want to share an image like that with everyone, and was less than pleased with my decision to do otherwise.)

After that, we went to the living room, and for reasons unknown to me you decided to pluck the pacifier out of your mouth, and pop it into mine. I smiled and scrunched up my face in a silly manner as you did so, which made you giggle. Which means you repeated the process. Over and over, you plucked the pacifier (now from my mouth) and then shoved it back in there. And each time I scrunched my face up, and you giggled.

At some point, maybe after three minutes of this nonsense, the thought very clearly crossed my mind: “I never thought I’d be sitting on a floor, having a toddler shoving a pacifier into my mouth, and loving it.”

But I do.

You keep me forever smiling in your direction.

Love,

Dad

 

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Gradient Change

muppets-waldorf-stadlerI almost sat down to write another episode of, “People are Goddamned Annoying,” but as I started typing, I noticed something.

Here’s the backstory: The other week, three rude women did their best to ruin a comedy show; they talked and texted through several comics before the establishment threw them out.

Time was, I would have ripped them a new one the instant I hit the stage. But ever since my daughter was born, I’ve been trying to do a better job of controlling my irritation with the insolent few who walk among us. Instead of attacking, I watched silently as employees, the other comics, and audience members continually tried to quiet the disrespectful three.

After my set, I sat at a table to watch the next comic, and though the women talked and texted and made entirely too much noise during his set, I vowed to let the situation to resolve itself without me. Two tables surrounding the women tried to quiet them to no avail. When one customer finally said he was getting management and left the showroom, one of the trio said, “Jesus, what’s his problem?” This prompted a woman at another table to respond, “You’re being rude is the problem, and I wish you’d shut the fuck up.”

A manager arrived and asked them to pay up and leave; the women were belligerently surprised by the fact their loud talking and texting was bothering people: “Us?! We’re just trying to have fun! What’s wrong with having fun?”

As they stood to exit—making a show of it, of course, disrupting the show again with their actions—one approached the man who complained to management and got in his face: “You know, we were just trying to have fun. Maybe someday you’ll be a good person and learn what it’s like to have fun too!” she slurred, leaning in on him.

The man put his hands up defensively—palms out to prevent her from pushing in on him too far—so the woman yelled, “You touched me! Maybe I’ll press charges for that!”

I had had enough, and snapped: “Maybe he has witnesses who saw he didn’t do anything,” I said flatly.

“Maybe you should mind your own business!” she yelled at me.

“Maybe you should go be fat and obnoxious somewhere else,” I responded.

Her jaw dropped. She was stunned for a moment, but when she recovered it was like the detonation of a nuclear bomb. “What did you say?” she shouted. “What did you say?!”

“Please leave,” I said, bored with the proceedings. “Just please leave.”

She put her middle finger right up against my nose, shouted “FUCK YOU,” and stormed out.

The people around me golf-clapped their appreciation of my action.

The show continued, and I sat and pondered my words; had I gone too far? Maybe. Had the woman deserved it? Yes. Because she deserved it, did that mean I had to stoop to her level to deliver the slam? No.

And therein is the problem: just because someone deserves poor treatment, doesn’t mean I want to be the karmic come around. I didn’t feel bad about my actions, but neither did I feel proud; there was no “I sure told her!” high-fiving going on in my mind.

After all had ended, while standing in the bar outside the showroom, one of the more-polite women from the trio approached me. We began a nice conversation regarding public etiquette; she still didn’t understand why they had been asked to leave: “I hadn’t seen my friends in a year, and we were just trying to catch up.”

I felt it somewhat confusing and sad that I had to explain, to an adult no less, that talking and texting during a live performance was inappropriate. She seemed to come around, and she and I got along famously throughout the dialogue. I admitted that I had lobbed my insult at her friend because I was overly annoyed by her behavior, and since civility hadn’t been able to burrow it’s point into her noggin I wanted to say something mean to provoke a reaction. The woman agreed they should have quieted down and remained silent after their first warning. A resolution to the whole sordid event was in the works, when the rude one returned and started calling me an asshole. I shrugged and walked away; no one wins a shouting match, so I try to avoid them as much as possible.

So.

At the beginning of this, I sat down to write about how clueless people can be, how some people shouldn’t be allowed in public and so on and so forth, when something dawned on me: the last time I witnessed audience members as disrespectful as these three was almost one year ago.

One year.

I wondered how many people I had been in front of since then, how many thousands.

I wondered why I wanted to focus on the negative, the offensive, and the clueless/classless, when the obvious focus could/should be the majority of people who were wonderful. Hell, that night alone I had been in front of 250 people, and of that only 3 were bad. And of those 3, only 1 could be completely written off. That’s less than 1% of the audience.  That means 99% of the people in attendance were upstanding, there-to-have-fun folks.

Considering the last time I wrote about an event involving obnoxious audience members it also involved 3 people, that means that out of—and I’m just spitballing here—6,000 people I’ve been in front of in a year, only 6 were really, really obnoxious.  Yes, there were drunken louts, and idiots, but when it comes to people who had to be removed from the showroom: 6.

The percentage of shitty people becomes microscopic.

Yes, one drop of poison can ruin water for everyone, and that’s the problem. The minority can disrupt the majority; the few can harm the whole. But overall, people are good. And personally, I’m getting better. As said, time was I would have begun the proceedings with an inappropriate, cutting remark, but these days I’m waiting until the bitter end to pull out the big guns.

More proof: I saw The Monuments Men in the theater with my Mrs.

(Side note: I don’t recommend it. Love me the George Clooney, but not this time around.)

Behind us was a couple, talking.

I granted them the previews, because, fine, they’re the previews.

When the movie started and they continued their chatter, I turned and gave them a very hard look. They responded with confusion and slight embarrassment; “Why is this person glaring at us?”

And then they continued talking.

So I whispered very politely, “Excuse me, could you please talk after the film? Thank you.”

Again, they looked slightly confused and embarrassed…

…and continued talking.

So I turned around and said, firmly and somewhat loudly, “Seriously, shut the fuck up.”

And they did.

For the whole movie.

After looking at me in shock and horror for my rude action.

Two years ago, that would have been my opening salvo, not a final straw.

I may not be the tyranny of evil men, but I’m trying real hard to be a shepherd.

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In Memory of Harold Ramis

5d165265c3dd7c7edcf7e3f36294832cFor reasons I can’t explain, when I was a child I began doing something most adults don’t even do: reading the credits during (and after) a movie. I found it fascinating one could be set in Detroit, yet say “Filmed in Los Angeles” at the end.

Within the span of a few short years, I noticed the movies I enjoyed the most had one thing in common: Harold Ramis.  His name would pop up all over the place.

It started innocently enough, when I saw Animal House. “Written by” was something I liked taking note of; who was behind the hilarity I was seeing? Then he directed Caddyshack… wrote and starred in Stripes

(Side Note: I remember seeing Stripes and being enthralled when John Winger’s girlfriend entered her scene while topless. I had the thought, “Is that what a relationship is like? Full of awesomely casual nudity?” It looked like the best thing ever… until she dumped him one minute later.)

Harold Ramis was the complete package: he could write, act, direct, and produce.  And not only could he do each of those things, he could do them well. It wasn’t like a movie star saying, “I want to direct” and creating some haphazard mess; Ramis was a master across the board.

He became sort of an idol of mine. Yes, Bill Murray was nothing short of fantastic, and every boy wanted to be as cool as him… But there was something about the power of Harold Ramis. Maybe he wasn’t as cool, maybe he wasn’t handsome, but he was smart and talented. As a teenager, I knew there was power in talent. Being a face on a screen was one thing; being able to write was another. Being able to direct on top of that? Get the fuck out of here. That was a threat to be reckoned with.

For a while, it seemed like he could only get better. Ramis followed movies like Vacation and Stripes with Ghostbusters, and then followed that with Groundhog Day, which may have been his plateau.

(Yes, I know he didn’t direct all of those films; I’m just discussing anything he was an important part of.)

I enjoyed his later work—Analyze This! and even Multiplicity—but he will always be remembered for his classic work of the late 1970s and the decade known as the 80s.

Sadly, I didn’t even know he had fallen ill. To find that at one point he had to learn to walk again was tough to read.

It is a sad day for the planet when Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, and Lindsay Lohan are still alive, and Harold Ramis is not.

 

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A Moment to Myself

Screen shot 2013-11-08 at 3.25.45 PMDear Hillary,

You know I love you more than words. You are my everything, and I orbit around you as does the earth the sun. I love spending almost every moment I can with you.

Note that word, “almost.”

As much as I love you, you do not need to hunt me down every time I sneak off to relieve my bowels. Pooping is a nicely private time to me, and I try not to male it up too much, with a newspaper and 20 minutes of solitude. No, I’m a fast, one-minute get-it-outa-me fast pooper.

(I have a healthy colon.)

I also, for the record, find it a bit disconcerting you feel the need to go peering into the toilet after I stand up. I know you’re just an inquisitive child, but the arch of your eyebrow that signifies interest on your little face… Yeah, it’s poop. Nothing interesting there.

I would close the door, but you crying and pounding on it is good for neither of our mental states.

Maybe you think, “But Dad, you see me poop all the time!  I make quite a show of it!”

And you do.

You furrow your brow and gain a look of intense concentration.

Your face becomes red with pressure, as you try and work out exactly what’s going on with your little body.

And like a summer storm, everything passes quickly and you go on about your day happily.

Or, you try to, but I scoop you up and it’s time for a diaper change, where you fuss and squirm and flail all four appendages as I try to wrestle you into a clean Pamper.

Anyway, I can only hope that you soon remain distracted enough by whatever you are doing that when you notice I am not around, you grant me the moments of respite from your presence I require.

Love,

Dad

 

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November 23, 2013

aIMG_5896Dear Hillary,

I am in Chicago, and missing you dearly. This past week contained quite a few wonderful moments, which you didn’t notice as you are a delightfully unaware fifteen-month-old.

Monday was my birthday, and it’s the first time I’ve ever felt old. My whole life I’d looked at being an adult as something more interesting than being a teenager or dumb punk in my twenties, but now reality is sinking in. I lament the thought I had you too late in life, and that had you been born when I was 30 I’d have another whole decade to spend with you.

I worry about being an “old dad,” someone you will be embarrassed by in your teen years. I know kids are naturally embarrassed by their parents, but I’m talking about the “Is that your grandpa?” situation.

Well.

Also on Monday, I posted a meme of a joke of mine online. It soon went viral, with people sharing it around the world. It hit the front page of two very popular websites—Reddit and The Chive—and within a day several hundred thousand people had viewed it.

That was pretty nifty.

Because of this success, I posted a video of the joke online Tuesday night. When I woke up Wednesday morning, the video had received more views by far than most of my offerings do. I soon found out that some unknown kind person posted it on Huffington Post, which is a goulash of entertainment and news. 17,000 people watched me (and hopefully giggled) within 24 hours.

Finally in the Wednesday world of Dad’s career: my latest CD was approved to stream on a service called Pandora. With millions of subscribers, this will hopefully expose my comedy to many new people.

All this attention could be nice for my career; whether or not the comedy Gods take notice remains to be seen.

I remain ever hopeful.

Thursday follows Wednesday, and Thursday, November 21st may become a milestone… or perhaps it will fade into obscurity. Mom and I will soon learn how the day will be defined.

On Thursday, Mom and I went to the hospital and she had a microscopic embryo implanted in her uterus. In vitro fertilization, it’s called, and it’s how we were able to bring you into our life. The procedure is too much to go into at the moment, but suffice to say we are trying to bring another child into the family.

You, dear one, were such a wonderful addition that we are trying to give you a brother or sister you can befriend and mentor. Someone you can grow up with, someone you can play with night and day, a secret-keeper, someone you will watch learn to crawl and walk, just like your Mom and I watched you learn to crawl and walk…

From the moment you were born, your Mom has been resolute in the concept that when she and I are gone you will need someone to share memories with. Personal memories, like she shares with her sisters; someone you can always call upon to wax philosophic about childhood.

We named the embryo Squeak, just as we named you Peanut; Mom feels it’s good luck to add a little flavor and personality to the proceedings. When Squeak was injected into what is (hopefully) a nice warm home in Mommy, a small amount of air was released. This air made the embryo appear white on the ultrasound monitor. Amidst the gray and black hues on the screen, the embryo looked like a star in the twilighted sky, a tiny white dot living inside your mother.

You, Hilly, were once a tiny white dot living inside your mother, and look how perfect you turned out.

Because of all the struggles to get pregnant with you, all of our friends and family were told the instant you were placed into Mommy. After two years of struggling with infertility issues, everyone was with us every step of the process used to create your life.

But we’re keeping Squeak a secret until the time is right.

Because sometimes… well, it’s just nice to surprise people.

Love,

Dad

(TL/DR watch this instead)

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