It’s OK to Talk to Animals (and Other Letters from Dad)

After selling tens of copies of my first book, I had at least three people ask, “When is the next one coming out?” Three years and two months later, boom: new book.

Animals-3D-Book-Cover

From the back cover:

First steps, first word, first time pooping in the bathtub… as a stand-up comedian, Nathan Timmel missed numerous milestones during the first year of his daughter’s life. Traveling from town to town, he spent his night slinging jokes while his daughter Hillary discovered the world around her. 

As she turned one, Nathan vowed to be a part of her life even when far from home. Writing a letter a week, Nathan tells his toddler where he is and tries to give context to her world: why Daddy travels, why a baby brother or sister isn’t the end of the world, and the importance of dismantling the pharmacy section at Target.

It’s OK to Talk to Animals (and Other Letters from Dad) is a touching, funny, and introspective glimpse into a comedian-turned-father’s hopes for—and apologies to—his baby girl.

 

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Self Service

shake-weight-womanHi.

My name is Nathan. I watch pornography, and I masturbate.

Usually in that order.

I say that not by way of confession, nor am I in a recovery program making a declarative statement while looking to take control of my addiction. I’m simply being honest. It’s 2014, pornography is an $8 billion-a-year business, and yet people still lie about supporting it.

(To be fair, I’m not sure how porn is a multi-billion dollar business, or how I support it, considering everything I view is free and I have advertisements blocked… but then again, I still get emails telling me a Nigerian prince only needs $1,000 of my money in order to free his millions from a bank, so I guess there are suckers out there falling for scams and paying for things they can see for free. But I digress.)

Anyway, I bring this up because my wife was out boozing it up with some friends. As happens when alcohol meets the brain with giggling women, the topics of relationships, sex lives, and pornography came up. When she got home, the Mrs. tossed an odd nugget of information my way: when her turn in the tell-all rotation came up, she said she knew I watched porn, and the other women were taken aback.

They were surprised I admitted to watching it, and equally surprised this admission was to my Mrs.. The origins of their shock seemed to be rooted in the confidence their boyfriends/husbands didn’t look at porn. In some cases, this was because the significant other said he didn’t partake in that particular hobby; in other cases, the woman said her feminine instinct would cue her in to any extracurricular hand habits of her hubby/boy-toy.

I laughed and told my wife that someone was lying. I don’t know exactly who, but someone in those relationships is a fibber. The husbands may be lying to their wives; the wives could have been lying to the collective dinner group (doubtful). Maybe those women were lying to themselves about what their husbands do when they’re not around. But the overall statement is one of fiction. I know, because I’m a man, and in all my years as a man I have yet to meet one of my penised brothers who didn’t take the occasional gander at online delights.

Well, no, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Every so often I meet a man with the sex drive of a tree sloth, and when he says he has no interest in watching two shaved apes go at it, I believe him. But those rare instances aside, men look at pornography, and men masturbate.

Since it’s not 1950, I don’t know why we have to lie about that. In my time on this planet, I have had several women ask me if it was normal for a man to look at porn. Their idiot boyfriend/husband forgot to clear the browser history, or she was just curious, or she asked him and he lied said he wasn’t into it…

I can think of a couple reasons men might lie about their ocular interests: shame, and insecurity. Shame, because maybe there are still people out there who believe masturbation is icky, immoral, or wrong, and they don’t want anyone to know they enjoy it just as much as everyone else. Insecurity, because most men I know have dealt with a woman stuck in the “Oh, is that what you like?” mentality. The porn actresses have bigger boobs, or are more daring, or are more skilled… that can leave a self-doubting person feeling they lack in the sex department.

I look at porn maybe twice a week. Couple minutes each time. Five tops. Because the beauty of porn is: you can see what you want quickly, and get out. You don’t have to sit through exposition or plot—“Pizza’s here, hey, you’re only wearing a towel!” You watch a couple scenes, and then it’s off to the races. Watching porn isn’t something you make an afternoon of; you realize you’re carrying a little extra weight in the testes and decide to do something to release it. You don’t have to light candles, create atmosphere, or get in the mood. You just Nike away.

What I watch is pretty vanilla. There are bizarre, fetish-oriented videos out there I just don’t understand, but hey, if two consenting adults are into something? Whatever.

I think that’s the secret to any relationship—two consenting adults connecting on emotional and sexual levels. I found a woman that doesn’t care I satisfy myself every so often. Hell, she sometimes feels relieved, because it means my meat paws aren’t clawing at her that night. So we match. If out there, two people who both happen to like gimp costumes and bananas in the butthole find one another and fall in love? More power to them, too. Which means that if there are men out there who want to lie about masturbating and watching porn, and women who want to believe their husbands are part of that precious few fraction of fellows not supporting the 4.4 billion clicks some websites get per month? I guess I have to say more power to them, too, even though I spent the early part of this essay rallying against such nonsense. I guess just don’t understand why they go through the hassle of lying, when being honest would be so much easier.

After all, self-service was the high point of Lester Burnham’s day.

Sober Doesn’t Mean Less Stupid

4f00326e750047d759c3c760495cf68702407012d688028a5e802ad1c8319868In my line of work—stand up comedian—you deal with people who are drinking. As a whole, people are good, and can handle their alcohol. But every so often you run into folks who would have done society a favor by staying home and downing a case of beer from the safety of their couch. Sometimes they heckle; other times they’re simply belligerent. Either way, they usually have to be kicked out of the comedy club.

I’ve always wondered what they thought of their behavior the next day, when they sobered up. Were they embarrassed by their actions? Any decent person would be. When dealing with the unwashed masses, however, you don’t always get decent people.

Case in point: the other week, a table of four had to be removed from the showroom during my set. They had talked all through the host, talked all through the middle comic, and were still talking when I hit the stage. Fortunately, by that point, management had lost their patience. After I had turned to them twice and said, “Hey, quit talking,” they were asked to leave.

There are two ways to exit a room you’re no longer wanted in: quietly, head hung low, or boisterous and defiant. On this particular occasion, it went 50/50; two people quickly slinked away, embarrassed by the attention. The other two at the table were stunned.

“What? We were just talking!” the woman shouted.

After the manager explained talking isn’t permitted during a live performance, they grew even more agitated. The manager explained that they were annoying every table around them, which seemed to stun the couple.

“They don’t have to listen to us if they don’t want to!”

Apparently the woman didn’t understand how audio waves work, and that you can’t really ignore sound.

To accelerate their exodus, the manager asked the audience, “By a round of applause, who wants these people to leave?”

The whole crowd erupted; the table had been sufficiently annoying enough to get on everyone’s nerves.

After several minutes of back and forth, the couple finally made their way out, throwing a couple parting shots my way, since I had dared tell them to quiet down.

As the collective rest of the audience cheered the departure, the thought I mentioned earlier crossed my mind: what would those people think of their behavior once they sobered up?

Lucky me, I got to find out.

The next day around 5pm, a post from the argumentative woman—Cindy—appeared on my Facebook Comedy Page: “Don’t go see this guy. Our table were laughing and talking and we were asked to leave as we left he had the audience clap to see us go. The comedian before him had no problem with us and encouraged the noise and laughter.”

As I made my way through the grammar and syntax errors, I had to give a combination laugh and sad head shake. As stated, this post popped up around 5pm. That means Cindy had all night to sleep it off, and all day to come to terms with her behavior. And when all was said and done? She used willful ignorance to double down on her stupidity.

I didn’t even consider responding to her post; there didn’t seem to be any point. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t wonder how some people make it through life when they’re oblivious to how the world works.

Dissect her very own words: up front, Cindy admits they were talking. She doesn’t even bother to lie, or say “We were kicked out for absolutely no reason!” Nope, she says they were laughing (lie) and talking (truth).

Next, she isn’t self-aware enough to understand that the audience applauding her departure means they were more than happy to see her go. It’s unlikely she made it her whole life without hearing spontaneous applause, which means she willfully denies the fact she wasn’t wanted there.

Finally, the opening comic wasn’t appreciative of her at all. I know, because when he walked off stage he was furious. He even, and somehow Cindy missed this, yelled “Shut the fuck up!” at her table. Twice. I’m not sure how Cindy interpreted “Shut the fuck up!” as encouragement, but I think we can determine from her writing skills she’s not the brightest light on any Christmas tree.

That night, when all was said and done I thanked the manager for his actions, and he laughed; “Oh, that wasn’t anything. If you thought they were bad, you should have been here for Screech.”

He described how during Screech’s set, a man who identified himself as a lawyer got into it with the Saved By the Bell star. The lawyer was exceedingly drunk, and started heckling. This set Screech off, and irritated the audience. They went back and forth for several minutes, with Screech getting in jab after jab and the lawyer getting angrier and angrier as the audience laughed and applauded at his expense.

Eventually, realizing he was on the losing end of the verbal jousting, the lawyer stood up, hoisted twin middle fingers into the air, and shouted “FUCK YOU!” to the world as he stormed out.

A fitting end to his derailing of the comedy show, but that’s not the conclusion to this story.

Several days later, the lawyer interviewed for a job; he was looking to move up in the world, and presented himself as a clean-cut, no-nonsense straight shooter. The potential employer took the man through every stage of the interview process, all the way to one final question.

After jumping through the myriad hoops of the interview process, the lawyer probably felt he had a great shot at being hired, until the potential employer said, “Well, I think we only have one question left; would you like to explain this?”

At which point they showed the lawyer a video of his actions at the comedy club. Someone at the company had been at the show, recorded the whole event on his cell phone, and realized it was the same person coming in for an interview later that week.

Job = denied.

I should start filming all my sets.

Just think; I could have posted a clip of Cindy acting the fool, and made sure all her friends got the link.

Oh well.

Maybe next time.

 

(Bonus: sometimes my camera is running when there’s an idiot in the audience.)

Hey, look, second book!

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Click the picture for purchasing options. Word.

A Cautionary Word About Words

1“Of course it’s hard; the hard is what makes it great. If it was easy, everyone would do it.”

~A League of Their Own

I knew trying to become a published author would be a difficult, uphill battle; I had several strikes against me going in. One: my first book was a memoir, and I am not famous. Two: my book contained no shocking revelations; I didn’t overcome a drug addiction, or beat a terminal disease. Three: there are no homosexual vampires in my book.

A lack of compass in my hand, I set out aimlessly wandering the same path so many hopeful authors before me have. I researched an exceedingly lame “How YOU Can Get Published!!” trickster book by a con artist of a literary agent selling snake oil to the masses. I designed and refined a query letter, and took the trouble to snail-mail to as many outlets as possible, my hope being that in the world of e-commerce a physical letter would seem quaint, and draw a smile to certain lips. I examined agent websites, and made sure to only apply to those who specifically stated “Interested in unknown writers with compelling stories.”

What I discovered almost immediately is I had an important fourth strike against me: my story lacks a perfect elevator pitch. While I believed I had a decent story to tell overall, when reduced to a 30 second summation that really grabs you, I was completely bereft. In my ignorance, I did not realize that the attention span of the literary world has reached Michael Bay levels.

I don’t want to complain too much; I understand how important it is to be able to summarize a concept for the masses. My problem comes with the absolute importance placed upon that concept. When I realized what I was lacking, I researched many, many memoirs, and what I found disturbed me. More than a few books I manhandled had fantastic pitches that I could glean from glancing at the back cover:

  • I’m a Conservative Christian, and I fell in love with an atheist!
  • I was a teenage prostitute, but quit after meeting the right man!
  • My lifelong battle with nose-picking, defeated through cocaine addiction!

And so on.

The problem was, past that summation, most of those book had nowhere to go. Suddenly, someone with a great one-sentence story had to fill 300 pages based on it. All too often the books read like those Saturday Night Live sketches that are fantastic for 30 seconds, but run for five agonizing minutes.

After over 100 rejections based on pitch alone—no one bothered to read my transcript to see whether or not it was interesting, they didn’t even want it taking up their time—I decided to go the only route available to me: self publishing.

The flip of my switch came because of a high school friend. I know an actual author, with an actual agent, signed to one of the largest publishing companies around. I’m not naming him here, because he told me in slight confidence, “When it comes to my next book, I’m self-publishing.”

Because being in the big leagues isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Since they’re fronting the money, the big publishers get to “help” you with your book. They “suggest” changes that could (meaning should) be made. They hand you a cover they think is marketable, which isn’t always one you find aesthetically pleasing or necessarily all too in tune with the contents of your book. Oh, and if they sell a copy of your story for $14.99, you receive a smaller cut than had you sold your own copy for $2.99 on the Kindle.

So, that information in hand—combined with a lack of interest by many, many agents—I decided that getting my product out there on my own wasn’t such a bad choice; ego be damned, I didn’t need the validity a major publishing house offers.

Unfortunately, others like that stamp of approval.

I approached a small, Midwestern publication in Wisconsin with my story: “Born and bred Wisconsin boy takes his jokes out into the world. Performs for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and turns life story into a memoir.” Hoping for some press, I was instead given a smile and pat on the head. Good for you, little boy; come back when you’re a real author.

You see, the problem with self-publishing is literally that anyone can do it.

Anyone.

Digest that a moment.

So, if the mini-magazine wasn’t interested in promoting me, because I was (and am) an unknown nobody, who did they push? Doing a little research, I discovered that a few months prior the publication had fawned at masturbatory levels over a different local author, one who had signed with a major publishing house for an advance of $600,000. Looking over the article, I noticed the signing amount mentioned repeatedly. That number, those zeroes… In the world of Hollywood, $600,000 might not be much, but regarding books, well, you have to kill a lot of trees to make that back.

Like any business, the publishing world is a machine. After investing north of a half-million dollars, the gears get to grinding. I looked up the $600,000 man and noted that many prominent authors and reviewers had praised his book. Quotes aplenty adorned the “Editorial Reviews” section of Amazon. This doesn’t happen by accident; strings are pulled to get authors and major publications to talk about art. They generally don’t go discovering it on their own.

The thing is, Amazon also has a “Customer Reviews” section, and the common folk discussing the $600,000 book were scathing in their judgment. People hated the book. Outright hated it. With anything artistic or involving an opinion, a leveling will generally take place. Some will love the work, others won’t, and the truth lay somewhere in the middle. Go to any Amazon page and you will generally find a mix of positive and negative, with positive almost always coming out in higher numbers. With the $600,000 book, the number of 1-star reviews was almost as high as the number of 5-star reviews. Such a phenomena is difficult to find outside of Rotten Tomatoes, the movie review website.

I’d love to think that such a weak foundation could support no business, but the publishing industry has been around a long, long time. E-books and modern technology are challenging it on all fronts, and a tsunami of unknown authors is taking their product directly to the people now…

…hopefully the tide will turn and soon old games will exist no more.

Maybe the literary houses, agents, will go back to trying to find good works, and not just chase trends and thirty second pitches. And maybe the press will care less about how much something cost and be more concerned with how good it is when deciding whether or not to promote it.

Helpful people are out there, for the record. Just because you face rejection, doesn’t mean you give up.

You keep sending query letters, and every so often someone takes an interest in the little guy. A kindly soul, an Erin Schroeder, a Little Village Magazine…

The gratitude I feel toward these people and entities is limitless.

Here’s to hoping more of them become the gatekeepers of power in the future.

Hey, look, second book!

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Click the picture for purchasing options. Word.

An Ogre By Any Other Name

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I know Fiona was also an ogre, but the woman in ND didn’t have as nice a personality as that.

I’m heading to Minot, North Dakota, this weekend, which had me recalling a moment from years and years ago. I was in Bismarck on a Tuesday night, because someone thought Tuesday Night comedy would be a good idea.

They were wrong.

A whopping seven people were in the bar, and that included the bartender, waitress, and manager. So, four audience members. Two couples, sitting several tables apart.

It’s rarely fun performing a by-the-numbers act for such a small assembly of folks, so in such situations I talk to everyone. That night I discovered the two female-halves knew and did not like one another, hence the reason they didn’t sit near one another in a wide-open room.

One was a tiny waif of a woman, the other more Shrek-like in appearance and attitude. The waif was a mother of three, which you never would have guessed from her size. She was forever going to the bathroom, which led me to believe she was putting something up her nose rather than expelling anything from her bladder.

During the frequent breaks, I learned a little about Waif, because Shrek was more than willing to dish. My favorite nugget of information was: “Did you know that while she was in jail, her mom slept with her boyfriend?”

Well, no, I didn’t know that. There would be no way for me to know that. But I laughed upon hearing it.

At one point, Shrek and Waif decided to get into it. Not physically—which would have been no contest—but verbally. I half-mediated the proceedings, while every so often tossing in a nugget here and there to enflame things.

I can’t pretend I remember 99% of what was said that night, but two comments stick with me. One was the aforementioned “boyfriend/jail” bit of hilarity, the other shot forth from my mouth. Sometime during the volley, Shrek let fly a bit of snark that seemed a bit cruel: “Do you know why she’s so thin? Meth.”

Without thinking, I responded, “You know why you hate her? Because she’s had three kids and is skinny, while you look like you have three kids in you right now.”

Six of the eight people guffawed.

Shrek, not so much.

.

Oh, look… I have a book!

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Click the picture for purchasing options. Word.

Unite Your Dumb

TweetThat Tweet started it all.

Before I knew it, a bevy of 12-year-old girls were shouting at me via Twitter; a unique society of musically impaired Mean Girls who lash out when they feel threatened.

Which is fine, I was laughing the whole time they were calling me “asshole” and telling me to “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” But I was also a little sad. By that, I mean I was young once, but I wasn’t stupid.

Well, I was stupid, but not unaware.

I liked bands like Slayer, and early Metallica. Groundbreakers. Those who lashed out against the system, not those who jumped on the bandwagon.

I also liked Mötley Crüe, and if you really study 1980s metal, you have to admit that when it came to popularity everyone copied them. Everyone. When they went glam for their second album, Theater of Pain, every mainstream band in existence went glam. Ozzy Osbourne wore glitter. KISS wore glitter. Bands like Cinderella and Britney Fox formed simply because of glitter.

When Mötley Crüe went to jeans and leather for their next album, Girls, Girls, Girls, suddenly even Bon Jovi stopped wearing sequins.

(And if any band deserves to wear sequins, it’s Bon Jovi.)

My point to all this isn’t to praise Mötley Crüe, it’s to point out that there are two ways of being an artist: leader, or follower. You can be popular no matter which path you take, but the former garners more respect than the latter.

So when it came to tween girls angry with me for taking a very small poop on their current band du jour—because let’s be honest, my slam was neither all that great nor all that vicious—I both laughed and sighed. They don’t understand that the reason they’re marketed to is because they’re so gullible. They don’t realize that “bands”—and I put that in quotes, as these “bands” are constructs put together by record companies or producers simply as a way of printing money—like One Direction already existed in the form of Backstreet Boys, and before them New Kids on the Block, and before them New Edition…

In terms of female “bands,” the same man behind Fifth Harmony, one Simon “I can wipe my ass with $100 bills I’m so rich” Cowell, already unleashed “Girl Power” on the world in the form of the Spice Girls. So to the teen who Tweeted me, “IT’S ABOUT FEMALE EMPOWERMENT, ASSHOLE!” no, no it’s not. It’s about marketing, and the powers above know you’ll buy into that nonsense. Thanks for proving them right.

What’s sad is it always works, because each generation “discovering” the band created just for them thinks what they’re seeing is special. They have no idea that their “band” was assembled, not created. These “bands” aren’t a group of people with similar musical tastes finding one another and unleashing their creativity upon the world. These bands are cookie-cutter, assembly line nonsense, with thousands of applicants trying out and having songs written for them, all in order to make money.

While there might be a certain singing “talent,” there’s no soul. They may have perfect pitch, but they won’t have a longing in them to tell a story the way Tom Waits—“ugliest voice, ‘EVAR!’”—does. Boy/girl “bands” are seeking fame; they aren’t burning to have something inside them heard. Record executives know there is a certain, very, very large segment of the population that doesn’t care about soul, talent, or storytelling, which is why these “bands” will never go away. What’s new is the fact the bands are now loved via online societies, and if you tread upon them even lightly the reaction is swift. They don’t understand the difference between a guilty pleasure (the Spice Girls, or even Fifth Harmony) and something worth getting worked up over.

Admittedly, if Twitter had been around when I was a teenager, I absolutely would have gotten into a flame-war with someone insulting Slayer. Sure, it’s what you do when you’re young and have no impulse control.

But I wouldn’t have ever defended Cinderella, or Britney Fox.

And I think that’s what makes me disappointed in the kids all fired up over my “attack” on their idols.

They should know better, but they don’t.

And that’s why we can’t have nice things.

 

Oh, look… I have a book!

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Click the picture for purchasing options. Word.

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Interpretation

I’m a comedian, which means I use words for a living. I also have a degree in English Literature, which means I know how to choose those words carefully, and for maximum effect. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean people always listen to what I’m saying. Sometimes they hear what they want to hear, or a trigger-word will deafen them to the content of what’s being said.

Though I make it very clear I’m pro military and speak of touring for the troops with pride, I once had a member of the Army enraged by my comment: “We should bring the men and women we care about home and send gang members over to fight.”

“Are you saying my friend sacrificed his life for nothing?” he shouted at me drunkenly enraged.

The man had to be removed from the showroom, and after the fact his handler explained he had a severe case of PTSD and lashed out often. He didn’t quite understand the point of my joke was that his friend should have never died in the first place.

I also have a joke about using prisoners as land mine sweeps, sending them into the field to find IEDs, keeping our military engineers safe in the process.

“Prisoners have rights, too, asshole!” was once hollered loudly from the back of a dark comedy club. The man who said it then stormed out to the amazement of 200 people who watched in confusion.

I used to perform a pro-immigration joke, where I said “The phrase ‘illegal immigrant’ is a polite way of saying ‘Mexican’ without sounding racist. No one is worried about Canadians slipping across our border.” I then went on to say we should have a “White-trash-for-worker exchange program,” meaning whenever someone came up from Mexico, we sent down someone from a trailer park.

A Latino woman began berating me, shouting that Mexicans were hard workers and that I should leave them alone. It didn’t matter that I was praising immigrants and insulting racists, she heard what she wanted to hear, which was enough to get her fired up.

These instances are very, very rare, and usually contained to a single moment in the showroom. But every so often someone gets a bug so far up their butt they have to take it public. Recently, a comedy club owner told me he had a negative review on his Facebook page, one calling me out by name. I looked it up and was instantly a combination of disappointed, and livid.

It’s not the fact the reviewer didn’t like me, what got under my skin is why he didn’t like me. In his own words: “I’m gay. I’m not politically correct or hyper sensitive. The show I just paid to see was disgusting. The main act, Nathan Timmel, forced me to walk out. He would, ‘prefer to sit next to a gay than a Muslim because he’d prefer to be sticky than falling from the sky in pieces.’”

He went on to say he would never return to that comedy club again.

Well, to begin to dissect this, if your opening statement is “I’m not (fill in the blank here),” then yes, yes you are that very thing. That shows a defensive attitude and is very telling to your character.

Second, I didn’t force him to walk out. That implies I berated him specifically or took action against him, which didn’t happen.

Third, and most importantly, what offends me is his poor interpretation of my joke. This is the actual joke, in meme form, posted many months ago online.

Homo MarriagePOSTED

My favorite part of it is the inference; I never, ever, say “Muslim.” Of course that’s where everyone takes it, but I never say it. It’s more fun to me to let people paint that stereotypical picture than to verbalize it. So right off the bat the reviewer puts words into my mouth, which isn’t fair. But so be it.

The very next joke in my act is: “Speaking of gay, I have a friend who is Vegan…

…I’m sorry, that’s a cheap shot. Gay people are born gay. The overwhelming majority are kind, decent people. Vegans choose to be pompous assholes.”

(Note the statement, “The overwhelming majority are kind, decent people.” Lucky me, I stumbled across one who resided on the opposite side of that coin.)

As I see it, I’ve made two fairly pro-gay jokes/statements back-to-back, yet he preferred to view me in a negative light. Unfair, but not much I can do about it. If he chooses to go through life with a chip on his shoulder, that’s his choice. I don’t know his story, and have no idea what it means to be gay. Was he called names in school? Did his dad disown him when he came out of the closet? Something in his life made him very sensitive, so much so he now lashes out at people simply for mentioning a group he aligns with. He hears what he wants to hear, not what is.

That said, I feel I can still loathe the fact he took his attitude public. To misinterpret something is fine; to offer your anger to the world as truth is annoying. On top of that, attempting to damage the reputation of the comedy club by writing the review in the first place is simply mean spirited. Two thoughts come to mind: if you see a movie you don’t like, do you write a negative review about the theater? Of course not, that would be silly. “Avatar was the worst movie I’ve ever seen! I’m never attending a Carmike Cinema ever again!”

More importantly, as shown above, that joke is online, and has been for many months. I have over an hour of videos on YouTube. What he did was show up at a random entertainment venue without any research and expected the act to be suited to his specific tastes, which is fairly arrogant. No one goes to the movie theater and tells the ticket monkey, “Give me one to whatever you think I’ll like.” Maybe had he put the time and effort into researching my act he might have said, “You know what? This isn’t for me. I’ll go another night.” But that would have taken the slightest modicum of effort on his part. Instead, it was easier for him to just show up, not like what he heard, and then whine online about it.

Many thoughts ran thought my head upon seeing the review: I should thrash him! I should point out how wrong he is about everything! I should email some of my most reliable friends and have them start attacking him!

But as the thoughts ran through my head, I thought of the negativity involved in every one of those actions. Is that something I wanted to participate in, to reduce myself to his level of discourse?

No.

Instead of jumping into an online fight, I started looking at pictures of my kids. Within seconds, most of my anger was gone. Evaporated immediately, with only wisps of ether lingering behind.

Who could be angry looking at this?

Who could remain angry while looking at this?

Part of me was still upset with him for his attack on my career—what I do keeps the very kids calming me fed and warm and so on—but that was a very tiny fraction of the peace looking at my children gave me.

I figured I could rage against him, point out what a sanctimonious jerk he was being, and explain how he missed the point of my act completely… but it would be a waste of my time. Trying to speak reason to anger is like kicking water uphill.

As I was calming down and deciding not to engage, I noticed something. His review started getting comments; several people from that very show said they had a great time and called him out on his nonsense. That made me smile. Two people specifically said they believed my jokes sounded “pro gay” to them, and one woman pointed out, “I’m a Christian, and I laughed at Nathan’s comment about Christians. It’s a comedy club. You have to expect jokes about your fundamental beliefs.” Even better, several more people wrote their own 5-star reviews of the evening.

I went to bed feeling OK about the situation, and when I woke up, the negative review was gone.

The only person who had access and the power to delete it was the author, which had me wondering: did he calm down and look at the situation rationally in the morning, or did he just not like being challenged publicly for his misguided beliefs? The former leaves hope for growth and awareness, the latter not so much. I know of a couple people who have such little self worth that attacking others is the only way they can feel good about themselves. It’s sad, but as said, there’s nothing I can do about that.

Nothing but shake-shake-shake-shake-shake it off.

Fuck.

I just quoted a Taylor Swift song.

Now I dislike me as much as that customer did.

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Hey, look: I have a book!

TTA Timmel Book Cover SQUARE_102314

Now available in paperback or e-book. Click picture for more information.

 

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An Anonymous Tale

poop_poop_everywhereEverything you are about to read was told to me first-hand.

Names and locations have been changed to protect the… well, I guess you’d have to say guilty parties. Or party. You can’t blame a toddler for what her daddy does.

Either way, nothing in this story involves me.

Really.

* * *

On October 10th, 2014 year of our Lord, the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, Iowa, held their 102nd Homecoming Festival. As the father of a two-year-old, a visit parade route was in order. My daughter “Hillary” loves parades, and the University Homecoming throws one of the better ones you get in such a provincial state. It might not have all the bells and whistles the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day offering does, but it’s better than many of the local ones we’ve attended.

(Case in point: one was nothing but local yokels driving their own cars. Not the most exciting way to spend an hour.)

My family—wife, daughter, son, and yours truly—arrived in Iowa City as the parade was about to start. We picked a nice spot from which to view everything and started to settle in…

…when I noticed a stink emitting from Hilly’s bottom.

She had pooped.

No worries; I was surrounded by many University buildings, which means I was surrounded by many warm, clean, well-lit bathrooms. There would be no changing a diaper in the cold air of a Friday night in October for this fella.

I scooped up Hilly, grabbed what I thought was a changing pad with diapers and wipes in its pouch, and made my way to the closest building.

Arriving at the front door, I made an unfortunate discovery. The University, in all their smarts, decided they didn’t want hoards of parade-goers befouling their bathrooms, and had locked up tight.

A wise move, I thought. But I also wondered if they were smart enough to lock down the elevators.

I walked into the parking garage, pushed a button for the elevator, and once it arrived took it up into the building proper. Nice work, University employees. You locked your front door but left the window wide open.

Now safely inside the warm building, I set out to find a bathroom with a changing table. This turned out to be a task akin to finding a husky kid who hates candy. Universities are places of higher learning, run by people with the highest and most expensive of degrees. They know that kids these days are having babies in high school, not college. Why put changing tables in University bathrooms when anyone with a kid isn’t furthering their education anyway?

Well, that F.U. in my face, I picked a nice sofa to lay Hilly down across. Cushy = nice for a toddler’s back. No need to put her on the cold tile of a bathroom floor.

I peeled her diaper back to find not only had Hilly pooped, she had really pooped, and had done so a while ago. It was everywhere, and it was dry and caked on. Time to get to work using the handy-dandy wipes…

…I thought I had brought.

Nope, the pouch I grabbed contained a diaper, but no wipes.

OK, what to do?

I decided I would call the Mrs.—who was just outside watching the parade go by—and do my best to prevent Hilly from making a mess until Mommy arrived with armaments. So, putting one hand on my squirming toddler, I used the other to make my call.

“Hi,” I hurried as she answered. “I need you to bring me a new diaper and some wipes, quick!”

Instead of springing into action, a barrage of questions was flung my way. “What? Why? I don’t understand. You have a diaper. Why do you need another?”

“I don’t have wipes. I need to… Hilly!”

As toddlers are wont to do, I noticed my daughter was attempting to dig in her poop. I chastised myself silently for not putting the new diaper on before calling in reinforcements.

Meanwhile, my wife continued her interrogation into my ear: “But I don’t even know where you are. Why do you need wipes? I thought you brought them.”

“I’m in the building right next to you,” I responded. “Just come to the closest doors. I need a diaper and wipes, now.”

But now was too late.

Hillary had already squirmed off her diaper and was now contorting in joy on the sofa.

The cloth sofa.

The “boy, I sure do absorb anything placed on me” cloth sofa.

Multiple poop stains were clearly visible.

“Hilly, no!” I commanded, not really telling her anything specific, like “Sit down,” or “Don’t squirm.”

Hilly stood up; poop was really getting everywhere.

“I just need you to bring a diaper and wipes to the front door of your building,” I pleaded into the phone again.

“But I don’t know where you are,” my wife told me. “Upstairs or downstairs?”

“Upstairs,” I sighed.

It was a lost cause.

Now poop was strewn across the sofa, embedded in its fibers like an ISIS cell in an Iraqi city.

I gave up.

Hilly was allowed to squirm, stand, and move about to her heart’s desire. There would be no mitigating this disaster.

Eventually my better half showed up with the needed items, and I cleaned Hilly’s bottom the best I could. I took a wipe to the sofa, but all I managed to do was rub the poop deeper into the fibers.

I gave a last, resigned look at the devastation, and then disappeared like Keyser Söze.

I felt sorry for the janitor who would find the mess, but I blame the University overall. Bathrooms with no changing areas, and environmentally-friendly air dryers only? Sorry, folks. No paper towels = no ability to clean up spills.

And my baby’s butt > your precious sofa.

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Coming In October

Animals-3D-Book-CoverIt’s OK to Talk to Animals

(An Introduction)

 

September 3, 2014

Dear Hillary,

Like most good ideas under our roof, the project you are reading came from your mother’s mind. She saw a story about a parent writing letters to their infant and decided, “You should do that while you’re traveling. Write to Hilly and tell her where you are, and what you’re up to.”

(Because creating projects and pawning them off on me is what your mother does best.)

So, I did as I was told and wrote, wrote away.

From August 2012 to August 2013, I dreamt up and scribbled down letters to you, the topics of which are as varied as can be. Sometimes I wrote to you in the present moment, you being a toddler, sometimes I imagined an age far in the distance and wrote to you as if you were reading my words in your college dorm room. I wrote about our daily activities, milestones in your existence, and my life, the last of which being done in the hope you may forgive me my nonsensical ways.

It’s good I started at your first birthday, because to detail the first twelve months of any human existence wouldn’t be the most exciting of tales: “Today you ate, pooped, and napped. Repeatedly.”

Likewise, it might be best the writing has slowed now that you’re two, because the “Terrible” age kicked in quickly after your second birthday. It’s as if a switch was thrown, because you went from being my adorable little cuddle-bug to a tantrum-throwing monster almost overnight. Not that I don’t still love you, and you are still my little cuddle-bug, but my God, some days you are almost Sybil in nature, given how quickly you can flip temperaments. Plus, tales that perpetually end “and then you threw a fit” might be as boring as repeated poop/nap letters.

Anyway, as the year passed, I dropped a couple of the notes on my blog and holy poop-on-a-stick was the response overwhelmingly kind. People laughed, cried, and spread the words around, telling their friends, “Hey, you need to check this out.”

“So,” you might be wondering, “why not just post them all on your blog? Why turn them into a book?”

Because college is expensive, and I don’t have it in me to “Tiger Mom” you to death so you can get a great scholarship (and have no friends or life along the way). Also, to quote The Joker in one of my favorite movies, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”  (Daddy has odd idols) For all of the above reasons, and the fact that I flat-out enjoy writing letters to you, this book came into existence.

Also, I’m not ashamed or embarrassed by anything in here. The letters are personal, but they’re not sensitive. Plus, given my ability to act the fool in public, I’m sure by the time you do read these you will have a thick enough skin to avoid being scarlet-cheeked by anything I’ve shared.

(Your teenage years will most likely play a great role in this “toughening up.” Teenagers are already sensitive; having a comedian for a father will probably lead you to eye damage from all the rolling you’ll be doing as I embarrass you. But, at the end of it all, you’ll come out all the stronger for it. Promise.)

With any luck, the pages that follow will help give you insight into what life was like in one of your earliest years.

I hope you enjoy it.

Love,

Dad

The book It’s OK to Talk to Animals, and Other Letters from Dad will be available online at both Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com in October.

 

You can read sample letters here, and here.

(Several other letters are peppered throughout my blog; feel free to go searching for them.

Book cover designed by Lydia Fine.

Picture by Dreamday Photography.

 

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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.

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