Thursday, November 30, 2006


I think I'll finish up my series on stand-up by answering a few questions from the ol' mailbag:

Colleen asks:
so why don't you give it a go again?
I get asked this a lot. The short answer is: Because I don't want to.

I know, it's too short.

The medium-long answer is: Because I don't want to invest the time necessary to achieve success in the business, especially when the short-term financial prospects are so low. And there's this: I'm the custodial parent of two kids, and being there for them is far more important to me than any success in stand-up. I would have to sacrifice that relationship to pursue this dream. Doing this 'part-time' at open mike nights holds no appeal. Been there, done that, inhaled the second-hand smoke.

Jessica asks:
Do comedians watch a lot of other comedians? Does it get old/formulaic to see so much standup?
Yes, and yes. Once you achieve even the miniscule amount of success that I had, every comic's a teacher, even if he or she teaches you what not to do. And I can't not do it. Every standup I see, I dissect in some way. I'm noticing how well Dennis Leary uses his body. How Bill Cosby can essentially tell the same joke three times in a row and get huge laughs each time. How Chris Rock uses lulls to accentuate jokes. How Dana Gould can weave three seemingly disparate, random subjects--each funny in its own way--into one mega-punchline at the end of his act.

As far as getting old...well, standup is predicated on the assumption that you're only going to see any given act once. At least, only once in a great while. You'd be surprised at how many of the acts--even the ones where the comic appears to be making almost the entire thing up onstage--are merely one-person, one-act plays. Even the 'mistakes,' which the comic seemed to be able to work his way out of with quick thinking, were staged.

One guy I worked with finished by making balloon animals. He made one, and handed it to an audience member. The next one he made popped in his hands, but part of it remained inflated, and it looked just like a cock and balls! Oops! Huge laughs! He hands it to a girl "Here!" he said in improvisational glee, "tastes just like chicken!"

He did that bit, and every other part of his act, with clocklike precision. All seven shows that weekend. And he would do it again next weekend. And the weekend after that. And countless weekends before that, as well.

A year or two ago, I saw a friend of mine who was just starting to tour nationally come back into town for a show. I hadn't seen his act in more than a decade. Much of it was still the same.

To go back to Colleens question, this was another reason that I don't want to do standup any more. If I'm going to do the same thing over and over again for a living, I'll work in a call center.

To be fair, not all comics are that way. But you'd be surprised at how many are. Does anyone remember Sam Kinison? He was a clockwork comic too. One of my favorite acts is a guy named Steve Briscoe. He's just a guy who told stories. He has a seemingly inexhaustible number of them, and he never tells them the same way twice. He just goes up and talks to the audience, allowing them to talk back, and would weave the stories in. Paula Poundstone is the same way. If I ever got back into it, that would be the route I'd take

Åsa writes:
I thought that was part of the game: the stand-up might find someone in the audience to heckle.
A little terminology here would be appropriate: When a comedian interacts with the crowd, it's called spritzing. If the comedian is actively berating members of the crowd, he's an insult comic. When an audience member takes it upon him-or-herself to disrupt the comedian in some way, that's heckling.

Briscoe, the guy I mentioned above is a classic shpritzer. So's Poundstone. It's a rare talent. They can pretty much take whatever's given them and work it into their act. It takes a tremendous amount of concetration to do this. You have to really be present in the situation to be able to pull it off. Plus, your hearing has to be above average. You can't do this if every other word out of your mouth is "What?"

Insult comics, ironicallly enough, are oftentimes clockwork. Many of them have huge mental libraries of putdowns and characterizations. They then scan the audience, and find the people in the crowd that best fit the stereotype. That guy's a drunk, this guy's a dumb jock, that girl's a slut, et c. Whatever the person says or does, he or she gets interrupted with an insult reinforcing the stereotype. Again, the material doesn't have to be new--it just has to be new to that audience

Hecklers are just obnoxious assholes who interrupt the act. Sometimes they're drunk. Sometimes they just don't think you're funny. Sometimes they think they're funnier than you are. Sometimes all three. 'nuff said.

Guy Wonders adds:
I can only imagine the stories you must have about your experience there. . . .
Most of my stories would involve sitting around working out material, or pacing around nervously before going onstage, or drinking. For every moment worth a story, there were hours of Not Much. If you'd like to get an idealized version of life on the road for a struggling standup, read True Story, by Bill Maher. It's an easy read, and it gives you an excellent idea of the life of a standup comedian, with the added benefit of being entertaining, because it's fiction.

I gotta go! You've been a great audience! Try your waitress! Tip the veal! Goodnight now!


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Melting Down

I've seen worse.

I've seen heckled comics break down into tears of futile rage, sputtering incoherently.

A friend of mine was once carried off the stage by a bouncer named Mocha Thunder, all the while screaming at a heckler: "I'll cut you! I'll stick the blade in, twist it, and break off the handle so no one can pull it out!"

I worked a show in Niagra Falls where the headliner's 'finish' involved a card trick with an audience member, who thought it would be funny to toss the cards offstage while the guy wasn't looking, and then thought it was funnier to just stand there with a shiteating grin on her face, not telling him what she did with the cards, while he tried to figure out what to do next, now that his act, which he had worked on for months, maybe years, was just ruined by some unthinking dolt who must have thought that we made all this stuff up right off the tops of our heads. I remember feeling very glad that it wasn't me up there, because I really didn't know what I would do in his situation, and waiting with a mixture of anticipation and dread to discover what, exactly, he would do.

What he did wasn't pretty.

Welcome to standup.

Michael Richards is a gifted comic actor. His background is in improvisational theater, and acting, and therein lies the first problem. It's a lot harder to go from acting to standup than it is from standup to acting.

This isn't to say standup comedians are better than actors. They're just better at standup than actors. If everything goes well, and a comic actor has a good set, he can pull it off. But when things don't go well...

You see what happens.

You really do. My last post ended with me saying that it's so much harder to do standup now than it used to. Part of it is because there's so little room to fail. When every person with a cel phone is a videographer and every computer is a broadcast tower, mistakes are harder to bury. My friend was banned from the club for a while, got his head together, made his apologies, and got back into it. He is still performing, and making a pretty good living at it, too. If he had that sort of meltdown today, he would never get the opportunity to get back onstage. However, he probably would make several cycles of Headline News.

And trust me, there are mistakes. Bad jokes, bad ideas, bad days. Like in every other aspect of our lives, comedians need to learn from their mistakes, but they also need to forget them, in order to move forward. Hard to do that when your mistake is the number one viral video on the internets.

And the hecklers. Man, you want to make them shut up. Sometimes you can do it with funny. Sometimes you can't. Sometimes you can somehow ignore them, finish as much of your set as you can and get off. But sometimes your head's in an entierly different place and things just go very, very bad, very, very quickly.* It's in the back of everyone's mind all the time--very similar to the fear NASCAR drivers must have of hitting the wall. You know that every time you go out there, there's a chance it will happen. You just bury the fear, and hope that if it does happen, you don't lose it like so very many--including Richards, have done. The difference is, for most of them, there's no record. Richards wasn't so lucky. That video will never be far away from anything he does, probably for the rest of his life.

Actually, I think there's a lower tolerance for the learning curve now than there was when I started out, along with even fewer opportunities for comedians to work. Twenty years ago, there were three clubs here in Smugtown, all within a three block radius. We could--and did--work all three clubs every chance we could. Now, there's one club, and they rarely have open mike nights. Along with the decline of locations, there's an increase of exposure. There's standup every night on TV, and lots of it. You gotta get real good, real fast, to make it these days. Because the crowds are far less tolerant. As Richards has discovered.

The argument is being put forth that Richards is a racist. That's because the hecklers happened to be black, so he used the meanest words he could think of to hurt them, and those were racial. But what if the hecklers weren't black? I'm guessing that in that case, he probably be called a sexist, homophobe, or anti-semitic.

Which he might be. If he's any of them he's probably all of them. It's my view that all of us have, somewhere in our herd-mentality consciousness, a fear and loathing of 'others,' whatever they might be.** He may be less successful at restraining those base urges than others. Hell, that's what his entire character was about in Seinfeld, remember?
"He is a loathesome, offensive brute, yet I can't look away"

And that's the thing about Richards: that edginess is part of his attraction. And it has always been that way, right back through 'Fridays,' and his small, but memorable bit in 'So I Married an Axe Murderer.'

And it's the same for many of the best standup acts. Lenny Bruce. George Carlin. Andy Kaufmann. Richard Pryor. Bill Hicks. Even lesser lights like Bill Maher. All pushed the envelope. Difference is, they were standup comedians. They were able, through the tempering achieved by hundreds and thousands of nights alone on a stage, to craft their rages and their fears into something, while dangerous, was nevertheless entertaining, or at least not simply unacceptible offensiveness. Richards had no such skills. When his act was destroyed he was left with precious little but his rage.

So what's my point? I don't rightly know, to be honest with you. I do know that I'm not defending what Richards did--merely trying to explain how such a thing could happen.

Maybe my point is this: We can't have it both ways. We can't have comedy dancing on the edge of good taste when the occasional forays into madness will come back to haunt us forever. Especially if someone has a 'name.' I don't know if Richards qualifies as that anymore, but it's something to think about.

*In case you're wondering: No, I never had a meltdown. But only because I got out before I had many opportunities to have it happen. Had my day job not changed, I probably would have a story to tell.
**And stroking that fear is a huge part of what has kept the Republicans in power for the past decade.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Standing Up.

Stand up comedy is hard. It's beyond hard. It's awful. It's a soul-crushing machine designed to drive you into madness.

It's also intoxicatingly wonderful beyond words.

And it can be both in the same night.

My stand-up career ended thirteen years ago. It wasn't much of a career to begin with, so it didn't much matter to anyone.

The trajectory of the stand-up comedy career is almost always the same: open mike nights, often times with a 'funniest person in [YOUR TOWN'S NAME HERE]' contest thrown in for good measure. This separates the idiots who can actually be funny from the idiots who do a good imitation of Aunt Martha getting drunk at Thanksgiving and think that everyone will think it's funny.

The next stage is 'guesting', where you get to do your five minutes at a midnight show on Saturdays with a bunch of other hacks in front of the folks too drunk to get out of their seats from the 10 o'clock show. If you're lucky, you might also be able to get five at the top of the Thursday show as well.* A lot of hanging around, buying drinks, complimenting more established comics on their 'sets,' and begging is often involved in this stage.

If you're good enough (at both standup and ego massaging), you can start getting a few out-of-town gigs at this point. Around here, they're called the Ports: Gasport, Weedsport, Brockport, Portageville, et c. Those are real names of real towns where I've worked. These places don't have comedy clubs; they're just bars that have the occasional comedy nights. Usually it's in a motel bar; sometimes it's in a bowling alley. You get the gigs because one of the comics you've become friends with is also a booker, and he brings you along. At this stage, you've gotten to know quite a few comics; mostly local, all of whom are in some way, shape or form, bottom-feeding just like you. You share stories, drinks and hotel rooms, sometimes write together, are supportive of each other, and insanely jealous of their successes.

Once you've shown you can handle these situations, you might get to emcee at your 'home' club. This gives you a guaranteed five minutes for five or more shows in a row (One on Thursday, and two each on Friday and Saturday is usual; some clubs will throw in a Sunday show as well). Besides 'warming up' the crowd, you also introduce the featured performer (aka, the 'middler'), who does twenty minutes, and then the headliner, who does forty-five. You also get to say "Tip your waitress; try the veal!" These gigs are usually few and far between: At a lot of the clubs the emcee is usually the house manager. At a lot of the clubs the house manager is simply a stand up act who never made it big, and now does this to keep his hand in.** Sometimes, he has a gig at a different club, or the middler or headliner cancels and he moves up and needs someone to fill in for him. You get the call for this gig usually on Thursday afternoon, but if you're good enough and lucky enough, you might get it as early as Tuesday night. The better you are, the earlier you get the call.

By this point, if you've worked really hard, and been really lucky, you have at least fifteen minutes of comedy that will get you laughs. Some of it gets chuckles. Some of it gets laughs. Some of it---omygod--some of it works so well that you can feel the curtain behind you shaking with the force of the laughter. You are a comedy god! You have this audience exactly where you want them. You are slayer of dragons, you can satisfy any woman sexually.

And the exact same material lies there like a big stinky cat turd the next show.

But you keep coming back. You have a book. Maybe two. Maybe a laptop. Someplace where you've got your funny categorized. You have your 'A' material. Your 'B' material. The stuff you use when the crowd's loud and drunk. The stuff you use when you're in a certain town. The stuff you use at certain times of the year (Well, Lent's just begun. Anyone giving anything up this year? You? What are you giving up? Chocolate? Wow, lady...good luck. Me? I'm giving up the same thing I give up every year. I'm giving up abstinence. Hey, it's not as easy as you might think. You don't know how many times I've wanted to say 'No, thanks!'). And you've got your ideas. The stuff you want to develop (Start act by falling flat onto my back. 'Unlike the rest of the people you'll see tonight, I'm not a standup comedian.').

If you've made it this far, and been successful at not pissing off managers and bookers, you'll get a call like this: "I need someone to middle this weekend. You available?"

Hopefully it will happen early enough in the week that, with the proper application of ice packs, you can get your erection to go down.

And then you get to work. You bring all your stuff together. You need to start strong and finish strong. I need to segue from the bit about taking communion to the bit about family vacations. Or should I do my bit about exercise videos first? I have to end with the bit about baby seals. That's a killer. Can I get to there from having sex with goats?

And so on. This is where you first have to really deal with hecklers. When you're just doing five minutes, you're not up there long enough for someone to give you shit. But when it's twenty, and there's one drunk who's there to see Michael Winslow, dammit, get the fuck off stage where the fuck's Michael Winslow you're not fucking funny you SUCK get off! this is where you learn how to deal with it.

You're not doing much for my ego, Mom.

Heh. Yeah. I remember when I had my first beer.

I don't bother you at your job, why are you bothering me at mine? Seriously, I don't go to the bus station and slap the dicks out of your mouth, do I?

I was not far past this this point in my comedy career when my day job changed, and with it my hours changed to three to midnight. My new boss said that I could still do standup. I just needed to give him a week's notice to find a replacement for the days I missed. Unfortunately, I was never given a week's notice by the nightclubs, and the first time I said no to them was the last time I was asked.

But I knew what the next steps would be: continue working on the material. Middle more and more. Try to even get a headliner gig on slow weekends, or when a huge National Act would be in town (for two nights only!) on the nights when he or she wasn't there.

For most, if not all of the standups, it's a low paying, thankless job, at the mercy of the bookers and owners (often the same person). You were lucky if you made seventy-five bucks a night.

But some broke free. Some went on. The few who had just the right combination of luck and skill could achieve bigger dreams:

Getting accepted by NACA. You could get thirty gigs a year--maybe more!--through NACA. Remember Ed? He did 'Popeye on Meth?' He got on the NACA tour. He bought a Mustang.

And cruise ships. Donna--remember her? With the guitar? She sang 'My period's more like a comma'? She got on a cruise ship. Twelve days in the caribbean, all expenses paid. Had to do two shows. Made fifteen grand.

And the holy grail: Getting an agent. Having someone do the booking for you. Guest shots on TV. Flights paid for. Rooms paid for--and not the owners 'condo,' with a funky mattress and a fridge that smelled of month-old fish. A real room at a decent place.

Quitting your day job.

Then quitting standup altogether. Because, let's face it--once the world hears your act, which you spent all this time painstakingly putting together--you have to start all over again. If you're Gordon Lightfoot, you can sing 'If You Can Read My Mind' and every other song you wrote back in 1968, at every gig you play, and the audience applauds. If you're Robert Klein, those jokes about Spiro Agnew fall sort of flat. For a good idea of what this is like, watch Jerry Seinfeld's Comedian. In it, he decides to start all over again--he's 'retired' everything he'd ever written, from the time he started, to the end of his Series. It's both painful and funny. And remember, he did this right after the show ended, and he was one of the most popular and beloved figures in American pop culture. (Also, you have to see the trailer. One of the funniest things ever made.)

Having written this, I must now tell you that I've described a world that, in many ways, no longer exists. Standup today is infinitely more difficult than it was when I was starting out. In fact, I can't imagine how anyone does it anymore. And it plays right into the whole Michael Richards fiasco.

But that's another post.


*This depends on who the emcee is.
**When it's the house manager that's the emcee, you usually have a better shot at 'guesting.' He's usually drunk and/or morose over how his career is going, and just doesn't want to get up there. This is the prime time to beg for stage time.

Friday, November 24, 2006

"In This Family, We All Wear a Little Thanksgiving"

The title of this post is a direct quote from #3 son, and truer words were never spoken, since there's not an article of clothing worn today that's not been spot-treated. I'm too full and too tired to post anything that even remotely resembles witty commentary,* so I just thought I'd do a quick photo essay of the day.**

Two days of thawing the bird in brine, plus another 6 hours of sitting in the fridge in a garbage bag with a rub of salt, cayenne pepper, sugar and garlic powder. I started the hardwood charcoal burning at 7AM, and sat the bird over a catch basin with a 50/50 mix of water and apple cider. I kept the cooking temperature around 250, and the sucker was ready at 4:30.

Me and the smartass.I know, I know--he looks just like me. Luckily for him, he also has a personality. He seems to have my comic timing, and his mother's voice (she comes from a musical family; one of his aunts trained to be an opera singer). So he has the skills, and if he has the desire, I have no doubt that he could have a long and successful career as a waiter.
Puddle and STBEW both stopped by for dinner.
Which made the youngsters quite happy.
Even though STBEW brought along her friend.

Actually, I didn't mind. It reinforces the fact that we're not together, which is fine with me. He made black-eyed peas in hamhocks, and helped with dishes, so it was cool to have him there. Plus, it tipped the balance of power in the battle for TV supremacy; we had football on in the living room, and the kids watched cartoons in my bedroom.

And Puddle never travels without the sauce.
Plus STBEW makes awesome pies. #3 son loves the sweet potato and pumkin pies.

While my daughter is all about the fruit.

We picked the apples yesterday, but not all of them made it into the pies.

I have a lot to be thankful for this year. I'm thankful that I have four healthy kids, and I'm thankful that this is STBEW's third consecutive Thanksgiving clean and sober. I'm also thankful that I've met so many wonderful, witty and warm people in the blogging community. Thanks to all of you for being in my life.

*I know, I know--when have I ever?

**I'm sure there's some way to format this fershlugginer blorg so that the pictures better lined up with the commentary, but right now I couldn't give a flying fig.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Commenting on a Comment...

To the point made by Madame X:

Ruben Bolling is one of my top two Tom-based socio-political cartoonists.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Worst. Commercial. Ever.

I saw this spot yesterday, while watching football with Puddle:

What, exactly, is the message here? That you can survive and extinction-level event if you drive a Hummer? Those hunks of tin can't even survive IED's in Iraq, even when they're up-armored.

Notice how he's driving a hybrid car?

Here's the message I got: We're destroying the earth anyhow, so what does it matter? Make sure you get yours, suckers!

Is this what our society's come to?

Are we this shallow and self-absorbed?

When the revolution comes, I hope the first one's against the wall are the assholes who came up with this idea.

I'm not saying. I'm just saying.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Lt. Trouble Goes Hollywood

Well, actually, Vegas, but since he lives there, it didn't feel like it had the same cache.

He and his girlfriend had front-row seats to a production called Comedy Festival Salute to Our Troops, which will hit the air Sunday, at 10 pm, on TBS. That's him and his sweetie over there, with Kid Rock and Jay Mohr, who was one of the co-hosts, along with Carmen Electra, and I have a picture of them with her as well, but she, in my opinion, is even skankier than Mister Rock, so I chose to not post it.

Apparently, he was the object of many cutaways, so I you want to see what the El-Tee looks like when he's laughing (which, trust me, is a lot nicer to see than when he's pissed), tune in, or at least TiVo it.


Monday, November 13, 2006


This morning my son woke up in tears.

"I don't want to go to school," he cried. "All the kids are mean to me!"


Some of this could be attributed to extra morning crankiness. We had a long weekend, filled with all sorts of activities, including a surprise birthday party for Puddle on Sunday afternoon.

But there was, I know, some truth to this.

He had told his mother as much in the middle of last year. But this was the first time he's admitted it to me.

I'm still working on the feelings I have about this. Why did he reveal this to STBEW and not to me? I hate to admit that this bothers me, but it does. But that's my problem.

His problem is that he's selfish. And self-centered. It hurts me greatly to admit this, but it's true. I know, all kids share this trait. Some more than others. And he has it in spades. Especially compared to his sister, who it the exact opposite. Some times to her detriment. But that's another story.

So how do I talk about this with him? Especially since he doesn't really want to?

First, I did nothing until tonight. Then I kept it short. I told him that I know he's sad, and angry. I also told him that I know he knows this too, and he doesn't need to hide this all the time. And then I told him he's ok. That this is not unusual. Then I told him that one reason all the kids seem to be mean is because a lot of that sadness and anger is coming out of him sideways, and it's affecting the way he deals with other kids, and they aren't going to put up with his shit the way I sometimes do.

Then I told him that he can change. But, I said, it can only happen if he really wants to change, and no one else can do it for him. But I will be there with him helping him if he wants me to. But he has to make the first move.

A little later in the evening, I told him that there would have to be some changes at my house, too. He could no longer be as bossy as he had become in the past few months. He didn't have to change anything else, but that part of him was in my control, and it was going to change. The only question will be will he go along, or drag his feet.

Since this is my second go-around with all of this* I'm aware of what happens, in a general sense. I dealt with the same problems with Lt. Trouble and Puddle, obviously with mixed success. I know I've been living in the eye of the childrearing hurricane, and I see the far wall approaching rapidly. In a year or two, I give the next talk. No, not that one, although I will have to deal with sexuality soon.

The next talk will be about the upcoming years. I'll tell them that, in many ways the next few years are going to suck for them.** And me, too. I'll suddenly get dumber, and I'll never let them do any of the stuff they can handle, and they won't like me, and may even say they hate me.

And that will be ok. Just like this is OK, too.

I want to show my son that he's been given a gift. He's been shown at a relatively early age how our own behaviors can come back and bite us in the ass. His lesson may be a bit harsher than some, but harsh lessons aren't easily forgotten.


*Third, if you count my own experiences.
**But, I tell them, once they get through them, the decade or so after that can be really, really cool.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Coffee and Donuts

The meeting ended early.

I had booked an hour, and was done in less than ten minutes. I'm an 'idea man,' and sometimes the ideas are just lying there waiting to be used. This was one of those times.

I had a lot to get done today. I needed to get back to work, but figured I could make a quick stop to celebrate.

The donut shop was warm, and crowded. At one table, a man was sipping coffee and reading the sports section.

Two older men were at the next table over. They were discussing the elections. I heard words like 'Pelosi,' and 'Clinton,' and 'Bush.'

A young couple and an older man were in front of me. They were together. From the way they were acting, I'd guess it was a boyfriend and girlfriend, and the boyfriend's father. Pastries and coffees were being parcelled out, and some cold, pink, frothy drink with whipped cream was handed over--to the father.

Behind the counter were three people. A guy in shorts was dealing with the money part of the transaction, another man was making the drink no father of mine would ever order, one woman was working the drive-through window, and another got my attention, and took my order--large decaf and a strawberry frosted donut. No cream, no sugar. I like coffee-flavored coffee.

I left, holding the door open for two paramedics on break, and stepped around a couple of cab drivers who were drinking their coffee, smoking, talking and basking in the sun of a pleasant November morning.

A typical American day.

So why did I write about it?

The sports fan was Asian. The two older men were wearing traditional Afghan clothes. The words I mentioned were the only ones I could understand.

The girlfriend in front of me was hispanic, as was the guy serving them. The talked in a patois of Spanish and English. The boyfriend and his father were black, as was the maker of the foofy drink.

The two women behind the counter were Indian. I could tell by her bindi that the one who served me was married.

The paramedics? Black man, white woman. And the cabbies looked and sounded Sudanese.

A typical American day.

I love this country.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006


I've written many times about Lt. Trouble, my oldest son.

Same thing for my two little ones at home.

There is another.

My second son turned 22 today. He came over for pizza, cake and presents. He's got a lot going for him. He's an excellent artist, musician, and writer. He's funny, polite, and cute. The only thing he doesn't have is himself.

When he was younger, I would, on occasion, call him 'puddle.' That's because he would invariably find the lowest spot, and stay there. The only way he would move is if you displaced him.

In school, he was a straight A student. Until the seventh grade. That's because up until then, he could get A's without really putting much (or any) effort into it.

His approach to any task was always the same: he would figure out the least amount of effort it would take to complete any task (invariably underestimating it), and then almost do that much.

I sound like an awful parent. I know. I sound like someone who only harps on the negative. I know.

I was not always like this. I tried for the longest time to encourage him. I tried letting him learn the lesson on his own. I tried incentives. I tried punishments. The result was the same. The lowest possible passing grade--usually achieved only after going to summer school.

If I had to choose a single instance to best illustrate the way he (almost) lives his life, it would be from his Senior year in High School.

The bus that he rode to school stopped about a block and a half away from our house. One morning he left for the bus stop a few minutes late. I was walking our greyhound, and I was on the way back to the house when this happened. I could see him leaving the house. I also saw the bus coming from the opposite direction. I saw my son break into a trot when he saw the bus getting close to the stop.

There was a point where I saw that if my son just decided to really run, he could probably make it to the stop before the bus left. It was certainly worth a try. At that instant--the very instant I realized this--he stopped. Just gave up.

The minute that he needs to put a bit of effort into something is the minute he quits. That's been his life.

So far.

How much of his current situation is my fault? How much is his? Impossible to say. I freely admit that I made my share of mistakes. I know I have some amends to make with him. Actually, I started making them last year.

In February of 2005, he had been out of high school for more than two and a half years. Yet, he wasn't in college, and he wasn't working, other than a part-time job at a video store. In February of 2005, I told him he had until the end of March to either find a full-time job, or leave the house. At the end of March, he left. The only gift I had left to give him was his freedom. It broke my heart to watch him leave, with a backpack full of clothes, and a guitar in a case, looking like every other lost boy that was walking the world.

He didn't go far. He's been living with his aunt ever since. He's still pretty much the same kid he's always been.

But there's some changes. About a year ago, he was hours away from being kicked out of her house too. But he started paying rent, and I guess he's been doing that ever since. He told me he's quitting smoking after his current pack. I gave him some pointers.* He appreciated them. I've asked him to help me watch the kids a few times. He loves his brother and sister like crazy. After a few missteps, he's gotten reliable. The change, I think, came when I said to him "I'd like to be able to rely on you," and he said "You can."

I don't harp on things. I make a point to do stuff with him. Stuff we both like. Right now, it's mostly been just hanging around on Sundays watching football, but it's a start. Next Sunday, I'm throwing him a surprise birthday party. He thinks he's watching the kids.

And he's only 22. Maybe this is when he starts to 'get' it. We all grow at our own pace.

Maybe this year. Maybe next. Maybe never.

Whatever happens, it will be OK. He'll be OK, and I'll always love him.

Happy Birthday, Andrew.



*Smoke-free since June 1, 2005

Saturday, November 04, 2006


...sort of, by my Queen:

1. Explain what ended your last relationship? While my ex-wife was in rehab for drug and alcohol abuse, she decided she didn't want to be married to me anymore.

2. When was the last time you shaved? Thursday

3. What were you doing this morning at 8 a.m.? Eating breakfast (Cheerios,* skim milk, 1/2 c. raisins, and some fake sugar)

4. What were you doing 15 minutes ago? Kissing my kids goodnight.

5. Are you any good at math? Are you kidding? Look over there on the right...I PASSED 8th GRADE MATH! Boo-yah!

6. Your prom night? What about it? I was so inexperienced and so scared of girls, and so positive that I was a lousy kisser that I hugged my date goodnight. Leave me alone.

7. Do you have any famous ancestors? My great-grandfather was a goldsmith of high regard in the Pittsburgh area. One of his sons (my grandfather's brother) was one of the first stuntmen in Hollywood. He was killed in a motorcycle accident. He lost control of the bike and fell off of it. Since he was a stuntman, he knew that the trick to suriviving such an incident was to roll away from the bike. Unfortunately, he rolled underneath an oncoming car.

8. Have you had to take a loan out for school? A relatively small one.

9. Do you know the words to the song on your myspace profile? Terry wrote: People my age aren't allowed on MySpace. Or shouldn't be. I agree.

10. Last thing received in the mail? A cable bill and a mailer from a candidate for whom I have no intention to vote.

11. How many different beverages have you had today? Four: decaf, apple cider, diet Pepsi and water.

12. Do you ever leave messages on people’s answering machines? Yes. And furthermore, they are messages with information in them. Not any of these 'Hello? Anyone there? Pick up the phone! Hello!' messages. God, I hate those.

13. Who did you lose your CONCERT virginity to? Foghat,** and Peter Frampton.*** The opening act was the guy who sang Dreamweaver. I was never a big fan of Foghat, Frampton, or the guy who sang Dreamweaver. This was merely the first concert that my parents let me go to.

14. Do you draw your name in the sand when you go to the beach? Wait, lemme go look. Nope, not there.

15. What was the most painful dental procedure you have had? Root canal, and plenty of them.

16. What is out your back door? A pear tree. Last I checked, no partridges, though.

17. Any plans for Friday night? Too bad I didn't see this meme on Thursday. I could have written about the party (yes, a real, live, grownups party with beer and stuff!) where my friend Dave and I had a race to see who could drop the most social filters. Next Friday's plans involve working a hockey game.

18. Do you like what the ocean does to your hair? Are you kidding? Ocean hasn't been my hairdressser for years. Not since he wanted me to have frosted tips.

19. Have you ever received one of those big tins of 3 different popcorns? Yep. I think there's still half a bag of the 'butter' flavored stuff around here somewheres.

20. Have you ever been to a planetarium? Last time was April. We're due for a trip there next month.

21. Do you re-use towels after you shower? I've just taken a shower. Therefore, I'm clean. I use a clean towel to remove clean water from my body. How does that make my towel dirty? Hell, yes I re-use, and will continue to do so until you decide to get up off your ass and do my laundry for me.

22. Some things you are excited about? The upcoming college basketball season. I've got to believe my Tar Heels will be a force this year. Getting my brakes fixed on Friday.

23. What is your favorite flavor of JELLO? Anthrax.

24. Describe your keychain(s)? My in-pocket keychain has my van key, my house key, a fob that lets me into the office, a USAF medallion given to me by Lt. Trouble, and three 'club' tags (Borders, Discovery, and my local supermarket). My office keys are on a 'balloonpirate' keychain that was given to me by Notsocranky, and my spare house/car keys are on the 'yeharr' keychain that Notso gave me (and which I love).

26. Where do you keep your change? I dislike having a lot of stuff in my pockets--hence, the streamlined keychain. I keep change in my pocket only until I get home, then I put it in a change-sorter--you know, one of those contraptions that has four tubes, for pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Seriously--if I have change in my pocket when I get home, I almost immediately get rid of it into the change sorter.

27. What kind of winter coat do you own? It's really just a heavy raincoat. I wear it from mid-October (unless it's warm enough to go without it) until mid-May. If it get's really cold, I put on layers. I'm all about the layers.

28. What was the weather like on your graduation day? I graduated in 1977 and 1981. My lack of weather-related memories from those days tells me that both events were probably best characterized as 'seasonal', i.e., the sort of weather you'd expect from late June (high school) and mid-May (college).

29. Do you sleep with the door to your room open or closed? Closed. Despite the best, desparate measures of chrono-cat.

30. Did you read this far? Consider yourself tagged! D'oh!

*usually the generic store brand, but sometimes I splurge and buy the big 'G' original.
** Who had just released 'Fool for the City'
***I was told that some of 'Frampton Comes Alive!' was recorded at this particular concert, but since I never bought the album, I don't know for sure.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


So my son's regressing.

He's having a hard time in school. Not with the schoolwork, per se, but with the discipline and accountability he needs to succeed in this classroom.

He's reverting sometimes to baby talk. Plus his selfishness has bumped up a notch.

My daughter's retreating.

She's getting quiet and introspective, hiding in her dolls and her books.

They've been through quite a bit in the past few years. As have I.

I spent a lot of time in the past week or so reflecting on these behaviors, and on my reactions to them. I've snapped at my son. I've ignored my daughter. I realized I've been regressing and retreating myself. Into my work. Into political discussions. Into various groups. Into the computer.

I decided steps must be taken.

I had a whole 'pep-talk' mapped out in my head for my daughter. I had a stern 'talking to' set to deliver to my son.

Then the most wonderful thing happened.

I said to myself: Fuck that shit.

Tonight, we went to a mexican restaurant. We laughed. And talked. We talked about our favorite songs. We talked about our favorite grains. Really. My son's partial to rice. I favored corn. My daughter's all about the triticale.*

Then we came home, and played Michigan Rummy, and drank apple pie milkshakes.**

Then it was time to brush teeth, a quick snuggle with daddy in his bed, and off to their own beds.

Will my son wake up tomorrow and not be selfish and frustrated with school? Will my daughter come out of her shell?

Possibly. Probably not. Maybe a little. Who knows?

I do know this: There's a better chance of it with constant love and gentle, positive parenting than there would have been with me just sitting down and yammering at them.

There's much more to parenting than just lecturing. In fact, if it gets to lecturing, then I need to re-evaluate what I do.


*No, not really.
**My own invention (I think). Blend 2-3 scoops of vanilla ice cream with 4-6 oz apple cider and 3 or 4 shakes (about 1/8 tsp) of cinnamon, and a pinch of nutmeg (optional). I'm thinking it might taste good with a jigger of rum poured into it as well, but I don't have any rum in the house, so that's just a guess. Besides, my kids only drink tequila.*