Olde Timey Radio

My dad drives a big ass truck. It’s a Ford 150 King Ranch edition. It’s way too luxurious to be a pickup truck. The interior has dark brown leather seats, heated AND cooled. We call it “The Steakhouse” because sitting in it feels like a booth in a restaurant.

Of the many gizmos in his truck, the one thing my dad loves the most is his satellite radio. He listens to the 30s channel on it because it plays those old radio shows with goofy names like “Fibber McGee.” He makes us all listen to them when he drives, because rules are rules, driver gets to pick. When I ask him if we can listen to something else, he just says, “this is theater of the mind.”

I know people like to wax nostalgic about those radio shows, but I’m sorry, I’m not buying it. When I hear those shows, I don’t the Lone Ranger riding the range. All I can picture are people in suits yakking into of big old microphones, holding scripts, while a guy bangs coconut shells on a table.

He laments the days before television, which for him at his age, was probably 3 weeks. He’s not THAT old. I love how people judge the radio age like it was so great. When I was a kid, my brother and I used to get harangued by my parents and grandparents about staring at the TV. But whenever you see old pictures of the days before TV, what did you see? The whole family, staring like a bunch of morons at a radio, and it didn’t even have a screen.

Gig Economy

I get the gig economy. I just don’t get why we think we need all these companies acting as middlemen when it seems like all the same people doing the gigs. Every Uber driver I have also drives for Lyft.

I was working from home because I was had someone from Task Rabbit painting my kitchen. He was doing a great job and I was working upstairs in my home office. I ordered lunch for both of us using DoorDash. I went downstairs when the food arrived and it was delivered by the guy who was painting my kitchen.

That wasn’t even the worse part about it. The two of us had Jack in the Box for lunch, and it cost $30.

Flying with Kids

I have an idea for a business. The market is specifically women who fly alone with their kids. For a small fee, a man between the ages of 25 and 40 will pretend to be your kids dad and take them from the car, all the way to your gate. Meanwhile, stroll through the airport at your own leisure, enjoy a cup of coffee, or just go to the bathroom in peace. You just show up minutes before boarding your flight.

I know it’ll be a success, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from flying with little kids is that men get treated like royalty and women get treated like shit.

When my kids were little and I flew alone with them, I was treated like father of the year. Complete strangers would commit acts of total selflessness.  I had a guy give up an entire row to himself so my kids and I could sit together.

TSA agents are the best. When going through security, it’s always, “Oh honey, you take all the time you need”, and “don’t worry about taking off your belt and shoes.”

On the plane, the staff couldn’t be any nicer. When my son was 18 months old, we took a red eye to Chicago. He was wide awake, and I was totally exhausted. The flight attendant said, “you get some rest, I’ll take care of this little guy.” Flying as a father is amazing!

When my wife flew alone with the kids, people didn’t even make eye contact. If someone had an empty row and saw her coming down the aisle, they’d put their laptop on one seat and shoes on the other, then look out the window until she passed.

If she asked for help in the security line, the TSA agents would say, “You should have thought of that when you had those kids.”

Pre-boarding was the worst. They’d let anyone in that line – people with giant stuffed animals, sixty-something triathletes with cartons of wine. But when she got in line with a toddler and a 6 year old, they would be sticklers for the rules. “Ma’am, your son is too old for this line. He can go in the regular line, but not this one.”

Jimmy Johns

I wasn’t feeling particularly picky and grabbed lunch at a Jimmy John’s. I’m not a huge fan of the food. I think the founder is an asshole, but it does make me nostalgic. One for the first Jimmy John’s ever was in Champaign, Illinois where I went to college over 20 years ago. Now it’s nationwide chain and I was in California looking for something quick to eat.

I ordered my usual, their Beach Club – turkey and avocado, and back in the day, sprouts. It’s just as fattening as their other sandwiches, but it feels healthier because it’s on thick, square-shaped wheat bread and not a long chewy sub roll.

When the guy handed me my order, the first thing I noticed it was sticking out of the bag. He made me a sub, and not a sandwich.

I told the guy, “this is supposed to be on wheat.”

He said, “you didn’t order wheat.”

“I don’t need to, it’s automatically comes on wheat”

“No it doesn’t.”

“I’ve been coming to Jimmy Johns  since I was in college and ordering the same thing.”

“Well I’ve been here 7 years, I should know!”

Fair enough, I thought. I will let him win this argument.

MRI

I was in a car accident a little over a year ago. A white minivan ran the red light and t-boned me at 40 mph. I walked away from it, but later went to the doctor because I was experiencing some pain. After an inconclusive x-ray, the doctor ordered an MRI. Turns out, I had a tiny fracture in my hip socket.

I’ve had plenty of x-rays before, this was my first MRI. When I got to the place, the guy asked me if I was claustrophobic. I said, no. I’ve taken the BART home at rush hour plenty of times and ridden in crowded elevators. How bad could it be.

He asked the wrong question. What he should have asked was have I ever been buried alive. Or spent more than 45 minutes trapped in a coffin while people were trying to excavate asphalt with heavy machinery. He did give me headphones to listen to music. He should have also asked me if I liked smooth jazz.

I’d like to know who approved the design of these things? They’re so user unfriendly, it’s like they shipped the very first version of one without testing it. Every other technology has gotten smaller, as its gotten more powerful.

The MRI is a room-sized machine that makes a shitload of noise. It’s just a magnetic field penetrating your body. You’d think they could just take two iPhone and wave them around you and get the same output. God knows those things are putting out way more energy.

Speechless and Limbless

Last Thursday, I checked out Speechless Live in San Francisco with some of my fellow Bay Area comic friends. It’s an improv show where people give PowerPoint presentations in randomly selected formats based on topics blurted out by the audience. Formats vary from TED Talk, to Wedding Toast, to Startup Pitch. The twist? The presenter has no idea what slides they’ll be using.

I gave it a try, and my assignment was toasting a couple getting divorced. I started strong, but ran out steam around the two minute mark.

Having faked my way through a fair share of presentations, this was hardly the worst.

It was 1997, Seybold, a huge publishing trade show at Javits Center in New York. My friend Jason and I were there as contractors doing filler presentations for different companies. I was working for Apple and he was with some telecom company promoting some broadband like telephony called ISDN.

Jason wanted to schmooze some woman at Xerox and asked me to fill in for him. I said yes, but I didn’t know anything about his topic. He said, just read the slides and you’ll be fine.

I slogged through his deck slide by slide, bullet point by bullet point. All through the talk, I could hear a whirring sound like someone playing with a dental drill. It was coming from this cranky dude in the front row who was giving me the stink eye. He had one of those mechanical prosthetic arms with a rubber hand. For some reason, he wouldn’t stop moving the fingers. It sounded like it needed oil. For the rest of my preso, I couldn’t stop looking at him and his hand.

Most of the audience split way before I was done, but he stuck around. As he approached, I thought, “oh shit, he saw me staring.” Before he could said anything, I said, “look, I’m sooo sorry…” And he cut me off, and growled, “You sure are! I had an ISDN line installed 6 months ago, and it’s still not working.” Relieved he didn’t notice my staring, I just gave him a big dopey smile and thanked him for his feedback.

I still go in front of people unprepared, but now I know to look slightly over people’s heads instead of making direct eye contact.

 

Nasty

I used to sell furniture at Sears, and one day, two women came in to look at couches. They were eyeing a large white sectional. I asked if they had any questions, and one replied, “Do you come with it?”

I said, “Yes, but you’ll have to pay extra for the Scotchguarding.”

Happy Valentine’s Day

A friend of mine had a Valentine’s Day party back in college. Everyone going was pretty much single or detached. And while we were all too cool to admit it, we all wished we had somebody that weekend. For the party, I made a mix tape full of the most dreary songs and called it “Wishing You a Shitty Valentine’s Day”. It included songs like, Last Night I Dreamt the Somebody Loved Me by The Smiths, Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game, and probably something from Depeche Mode.

Every time I tried to put the tape on people gave me a hard time. Over the course of the evening people paired up and split. Around midnight, those who were left and out of options were begging me to play it.

Root Canal

When someone wants you know how bad an experience is going to be, they like to compare it to a root canal. I’ve had two, and I’ll be having another really soon. I can safely say, there are way worse things to go through in life.

I hate telling the dentist how long it’s been since my last cleaning. I feel like a hillbilly because it’s always been more than 6 months. The dental hygienist, on the other hand, I’ll tell her anything. I feel like they’re the ones you can trust not to judge you. No matter what, they’ve always seen way way worse than whatever you’ve got. The dentist always acts like everything is a state of emergency.

I hate telling the dentist how long it's been since my last visit. No matter what, it's too long and I'm going to sound like a hillbillly.Click To Tweet

I started having a nasty toothache yesterday and broke down and bought some of that shit they use for teething babies, Orajel. That product sounds like something that should be in the marital aides section. I bought that, and slathered it on my gums. Turns out, a little goes a long way, and all over your mouth. It’s a topic anesthetic, so everything was on the right side of my mouth was numb.

I got into the dentist today and found out, I was having some nasty ass decay going on under a crown. My dentist drilled into it and packed it up with some antibiotics and scheduled me for a root canal next week.

The happy ending I that I got a prescription for Vicodin.

Hooper the Pooper

I had a roommate in college I really, really coulldn’t stand. He wasn’t my first choice in roommates. My buddy Vince and I wanted to rent our friends’ 5-bedroom apartment. We had 3 other guys lined up and they bailed after Vince and I had fronted the deposit. We had to find replacements fast.

We found two guys from the track team. The other was Vince’s freshman roommate from the dorms, a guy named Hooper. Everyone got along for about a month. The two track guys laid on the couches all day and night watching TV. Hooper was annoying in every way possible. He was a mooch, a blowhard, and had a voice like a railroad spike in the temple. Plus he had the most annoying girlfriend that drove him to drink, a lot.

Don’t get me wrong, the drinking part didn’t bother me. I just hate bad drunks.

He came home wasted one night and got into a screaming match with his girlfriend. He passed out on the couch with the receiver in one hand and the base of the phone on his chest. I would have turned him on his side so he wouldn’t puke and choke to death in his sleep. But I figured we could use the extra bedroom.

The next morning I got up around 7. Hooper was gone, but his clothes were all over the living room. As I was stepping over his clothes, I noticed he had taken a crap in the middle of the room. I’ve been to the edge, but I’ve never been so drunk that I’ve done that. What an animal.

Fortunately, Hooper left his wallet in his jeans. I took six bucks and stuck his license in the pile just to mess with his mind, then went to class.

When I got home, everyone was there but Hooper. No one knew about Hooper’s mess. So I filled them in. The next day, Joe, one of the track guys, told me he talked to Hooper. He asked about Hooper’s night. The conversation went something like this…

Joe: Hey Hooper, how was the other night?
Hooper: Fine. I got a little drunk.
Joe: You didn’t do anything crazy?
Hooper: Nah. Just drunk.
Joe: You didn’t do something like…shit on the floor?

According to Joe, Hooper froze and didn’t say much. From that point forward Hooper and I never had much to say to each other. I’ll never know if he was too furious or embarrassed to talk to me after that, but I didn’t care. I got what I wanted out of it. Win-win.

Rat Trap

Years ago I was driving back to my folk’s place from the coast of North Carolina. My wife rode with my mom and I had the kids with me. They were probably 5 and 8 at the time. Two weeks before my trip I had gotten a speeding ticket. It was the second that year, after having gone 20 years without one.

I missed my exit and ended up on a state road. I thought I was still on the interstate so I was cruising along at 65 in a 55 zone. The state trooper who nailed me asked how fast I thought I was going. I was honest with him, and it didn’t help. I still got the ticket.

I told the kids, 'Don't say a god damn thing. Just keep quiet. No one needs to know about this!'Click To Tweet

I told the kids, “Don’t say a god damn thing. Just keep quiet. No one needs to know about this!”

A month passed and I’m on a business trip in Orlando and I get a text from my wife who was going through a stack of letters from North Carolina lawyers. She couldn’t believe I would make the kids lie for me. I was quick to point out I never told them to lie, I just told them to keep their mouths shut.

When I got home my wife told me how she grilled the kids. My son stood strong and held back tears refusing to rat out dad. My daughter, sang like a bird. God bless her soul she at least tried to use my excuse that I didn’t know we weren’t on the interstate.

Lessons Learned

I first got the itch to do comedy when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. I wasn’t specifically interested in standup, but I liked to be funny. My brother and I used to ab-lib skits into a portable cassette recorder we got for Christmas.

My first shot at standup was in college at the University of Illinois in 1990. There was a contest sponsored by Certs, the breath mint (with Retsyn for those of you old enough to remember the commercials see below). I entered along with 20 or so other students.

The show was at 6pm on a Friday night in the student union. I waited until the very last minute to tell anyone about it. Then when the time came, I tried to play it cool and said, “yeah, I got dared to do this, so you know”. There were a shitload more people than I expected in the audience, at least 500-600.

I went to happy hour beforehand to get some liquid courage. I went on 3rd. I did absolutely nothing to prepare. I had one joke. I thought being a smart ass was enough to carry me. It was the longest 3 minutes of my life. I stared out into a sea of cold dead stares. The only people with any expression on their faces were my friends who were grimacing like they witnessed a paper cut to the eye.

I stared out into a sea of cold dead stares. The only people with any expression on their faces were my friends who were grimacing like they witnessed a paper cut to the eye. Click To Tweet

I don’t remember it verbatim, but I think the joke I told went something like this:

I was talking to this chick, and said, “so, are those Lee Press-on Jeans?”. And she said, “they’re stretch pants.” So I said, “like they had a choice.”

Imagine that in a slight Dice Clay accent and you get the horrible picture.

Most of the people were hacky but at least they had prepared material. The guy who won had great stage presence and killed. I learned being prepared and polished is better than being funny.

Fast forward to 1990. The contest is back. This time I tell more friends, including my future wife (though we weren’t an item then, and god knows how she could date me after that night).

Same place, same time, same size crowd, and I made the exact same mistake. This time, I don’t even remember the joke. I just remember no one wanted anything to do with me after.

So I hung up my high-top Chuck Taylors1 and took a 26 year break from standup.

The good news is I have learned the my lesson. I have done tons of public speaking since then and make an effort to rehearse and be prepared. I have presented in front of some the stiffest people you can imagine, so I know what it’s like to stand in front of a crowd and get zero reaction.

 1. I actually didn’t own a pair of Chuck Taylors. That was probably the only smart choice I made that night. I did, however, own a leather biker’s jacket.