Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday Factoid


The odds on a piece of buttered bread falling butter side up on a carpet are directly proportional to the cost of the carpet.

A Glock 9mm beats for Aces in a game of Texas Hold 'em.

If a dog is man's best friend, then a cat is an Asian food delicacy.

If two wrongs do not make a right, then two Wrights make an airplane. 

Nine out of ten doctors surveyed say that they would not be surveyed again.  

Out of the 27 side effects of the flu drug Flangelsta 26 of them are the same as having the flu.

Everyone that ate home grown tomatoes in 1832 is dead.  

100 our of 17 people are poor at math.

A comic is someone who says funny things.  A clown is someone who says things funny.  That makes me a... ventriloquist.





Friday, September 26, 2014

Observing the Herd

I am about to get my land legs back after a trip at sea.  Between Newark and Bermuda we encountered high winds and a pretty good chop to the ocean.  For me there is something very relaxing about a ship that is rocking and rolling.  It reminds me of being rocked in a cradle before the "Bough Breaks." 
It never dawns on me that the motion is an issue to some passengers until I see pouches of "vomit bags" placed on the stair well of each deck.  That is when it becomes clear to me that most people do not share my love of the angry sea.  
Now in total honesty, when I am alone on a ship, I become a guiltless people watcher.  I pass the time watching those who are on vacation trying to get along.  I have come to the conclusion that some people save up for a long time to take a cruise so they can  have heated arguments about what to do for fun. While trying to appear that I am uninvolved with anything other than my iPad, I observe body language and study the countless types of people on board.  Since the odds are that I will be able to observe the same people for several days, I imagine what their stories might be.  Grandparents traveling with a grandkid, honeymooners, Old people who can barely make it down the corridor (part of a bucket list I assume), extremely large whale like humans being propelled by sit down scooters, and some of the worst examples of tattoos and  body art that one can imagine, are all fodder for my bored imagination. If they only knew the world they occupy in my sea fairing pastime.   
On day two of the trip I went to the Windjammer Buffet to have lunch. People were having trouble walking on deck due to the pitch and roll of the ship. The Windjammer is on one of the highest decks so the motion is much more pronounced.   I noticed a table occupied by a family with matching neon day glow colored tee shirts that said,  "The Bufano's - Bermuda or Bust".  Those shirts were hard to miss.  One of the little girls was looking quite pale leaning up against her Mom.  She wasn't eating nor did she look like that was even a possibility.  The Mother repositioned the little girl who came to rest on the shoulder of her older siister who was perhaps eight.  The sister did not have the same compassion for little sister's current situation and continued to eat. The Mother left the table to refill a drink. 
A moment or two later I hear the splatter of some viscus liquid hitting the floor of the dining hall.  Before I can quantify what the sound is I hear the scream of an eight year old girl followed immediately by a very loud call to her mother, "MOM.... PUKE!"  The word "puke" ricocheted  around the restaurant full blast. 
Like a herd of Antelope sensing an approaching lion, every head in the Windjammer turned in unison to the table of neon clad Bufano's.  The little girl continued heaving after covering the table, the deck and her sister with rejected breakfast.  
I suppressed a natural gag reflex as did others in the Antelope herd, and following the lead of most, excused myself from the area.  I fled quickly to a more pleasant deck no longer interested in the second act of the Bufano Story.  I assume the day glow shirt was washable. 
So here is my take away from this experience.  Next time I decide to enjoy the rock and roll of the Atlantic Ocean, I will enjoy it with room service, alone in my cabin.
As you were,
Jay

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

So... You Made it.

It was going to be an easy trip. I had been home for less than 12 hours after a trip from Atlanta, but the trip to Hailfax, Nova Scotia was just another day for a road warrior like myself.  I got my upgrade so I settled into my first class  seat ready for the flight, everything seemed to be AOK. How quicky things change.

I was connecting on my trip to the East coast of Canada via Chicago.  Chicago is a fine town but the airport is the black hole of air travel.  I rarelly change planes in Chicago without a two hour layover; this time it was only an hour but the weather couldn't have been more perfect for the trip. No worries. 
The pilot suddenly made an announcement.  It seems  the galley floor needed to be inspected by the mechanics. The mechanics had been called but the estimation was an hour before they could certify us to fly.  We would be more than an hour late to Chicago.  Any connections less than two hours of lay over time in Chicago were in trouble.  
There are two options given us unfortunate travelers.  One: stay on the plane, and they would try and get us to our destinations via another flight from Chicago. Two: get off  and rebook on another flight.  I called the main office of Royal Caribbean who had booked the flight. She checked her schedule and there were no flights to Nova Scotia that would work out of Chicago.  Even if I spent the night in Chicago, which the airline would pay for, all the flights the next day got me in too late to catch the ship I was contracted to work.  I took my carry-ons and left the comfort of my first class seat.
The customer service desk was swamped with 40 other people who were in the same situation as me.  It was 45 minutes before I got to a talk to a frazzled agent. The mechanics had signed off on the repairs and the Chicago flight was calling for all passengers to return immediately for take off.  
I explained my delimna to the agent.  I said, "Unless we can get my bag off that flight to Chicago there is no reason for me to make this trip."  The checked bag was undeniably connected to my reason for traveling that day.  She excused herself and  headed for the tarmack.  The jet way was being disconnected from the plane. There was no way to get my bag off that plane.
I called the office again and told them my situation.  The reality is... if I was not on the ship by the next day there would be no way to join it because it would be at sea.  I was trying to resign myself to the idea that I would be back home sooner than I thought.
But the United Airlines agent found a way to get me to Halifax before the ship sailed.  In thirty minutes there was a flight to Newark, New Jersey. At 7:00am the next morning there was a flight from Newark to Halifax.  I could make it.  "What about the checked bag?" I said.  
She explained that since it was an international flight to Hailfax from Chicago they would pull my bag after it got to Chicago if I wasn't on the flight. Then they could direct it to where ever I was. In fact there was a Chicago to Newark flight that would arrive before I did... my bag was going to be waiting for me when I landed.  
I ran to the gate to catch the Newark flight.  We took off. I have an app on my iPhone that registers stress.  The reading said, "Stress level very high... close your eyes and take deep breaths."
It was evening when I got to Newark.  I proceeded to baggage claim to get my bag.  Indeed it had not gotten there before I me. 
"The only thing I show on my screen is that the bag was checked in LA to Chicago." Said the agent.  I explained my situation and how I had to be on a ship before it sailed with that bag or... there was no reason from me continue my trip.  I also said that I would not get on a plane out of the country unless I had the bag with me. The options were very limited but she understood I was desparate.  
She dialed Chicago and after several unanswered calls an actual human answered.  We described my bag and the situation. The person said.  "Oh yes the bag is right here. It just arrive at the baggage office. We were wondering what to do with it." The Newark baggage agent said that bag had to be on the plane to Newark leaving Chicago in thirty minutes... it was the last flight that would work.  

The Newark agent said not to worry,  the bag would be delivered to the hotel room when the plane landed at 2:30 am.  Having run this drill before I said, "What is the turn around time to deliver the bag once it arrives?" In Los Angeles it is a minimun of 5 hours.  I said, "I am afraid that it will be delivered after I have checked out of the hotel to make the Hailfax plane tomorrow morning." She agreed that there was a possibliity of me and the bag missing each other at the hotel.  We decided the bag should stay at the airport and I could pick it up in the morning before my flight.  Unfortuantely it would arrive at the domestic terminal and I would be leaving from the Internationa terminal. I would need to pick the bag up no later than 5:30am to make it.  She said, "I will make a note to hold it here for you to pick up."   With that reassurance I proceeded to the Ramada Airport hotel for a very uncomfortable night's sleep.  I was up and out of the room by 5:00am.  I caught the bus to the domestic terminal and by 5:25 I was back at the very baggage desk I had been to only hours earlier.  
The morning shift agent was very nice.  She told me that indeed that bag had arrived on the early morning flight. I began to breath again but stopped when she said, "The truck just left to deliver the bags to the hotel."  I told her that it was supposed to be left here for me to pick up. She typed a little bit on the computer and said... "I don't see that note here."  
I was done.  Foiled by the joys of air travel. It was my last attempt to make it to the ship with my act. I was glad this happened before I left the country but it was of little solice.  The agent said, "What does the bag look like?" I told her and she went into the back storage room of baggage claim.  It took a long time for her to return. I was sure if I used the stress app. it would say.... "Go to the emergency room immediately".   The door to the back room opened and there she was... with my bag. There was a hand written note attached in bold letters.  HOLD FOR MR. JOHNSON TO PICK UP.   I rushed to the International terminal and, against my better senses checked it in again.
I slept like a baby on the flight to Canada.  It seemed I dodged a bullet and would actually be able to fulfill my contract on the Explorer of the Seas, next stop the ship.  But there was one more test of my resolve to entertain the aged passengers already on board.  Canadian immigration. 

The officer said as he looked the computer screen, "You have worked in Canada before?"  
"Yes, 20 years ago I did an American Television series that filmed in Vancouver." 
"Were you asked to leave?"
"No.  The series only went for half a season."
"Have you ever been arrested? Spent time in jail? Convicted of any offense?'
"No"
"Not at all? Ever?" Said the officer implying that it was a total lie.
"I got a speeding ticket 12 years ago on the Ventura Freeway."
"Driving too fast were you, eay?"  I didn't know what to answer to that question.  When I don't know what to say I usually go for the quip.
"I owned a BMW M3 at the time... It would idol at 85 mph."  He looked at me over his half glasses like a high school principle.
"How long will you be working in Canada?"
"I won't be working here."
"How long will you be here in Canada?"
"Long enough to drive to the dock and board the Explorer of the Seas."
"Where is that?"
"Next to the bay I would imagine."
"When will you do your shows?"
"I have no idea.  When ever the Cruise Director has me scheduled in the next week."
"So you will be here a week?"
"No sir... on the ship for a week.  I am on the ship till it gets to Bermuda."
"Do you have a work visa from Bermuda?"
"I'm not working in Bermuda.  I'm not even staying in Bermuda.  I get off the ship and go to the airport." 
He began to type and read the screen. Type some more and read again.  Finally I said very politely, "Can you get word to my driver who is waiting for me in the lobby? He may think I missed my flight again and leave."
"You missed a flight earlier? Why?"
"Faulty Galley floor on a United 747, I think."
"A flight from Newark?"
"No Los Angeles."
"You arrived on a flight from Newark New Jersey."
"Long story but it was the only way to get here before the ship leaves."
"Who paid for your flights?"
"Royal Caribean Cruiselines. And they are expecting me on the ship...If my ride leaves...."
"Well, you are about done here.  I just have to check your arrest record."
"I don't have a fucking arrest record you brainless idiot. I am a ventriloquist just trying to earn a living by getting on a ship, and I made it here by the skin of my teeth. Fuck you Fuck Canada and Fuck the Royal Canadian Mounted Police." 
No, I didn't say that... I was thinking it... but  better judgment took hold at that moment.
He was finally done with me.  I connected with my bag which had been taken off the belt and waiting to be sent to lost luggage. I was the only one left in the terminal. Except for the Customs agents it was completely empty of humans. I could see the exit and prayed there would be someone there with my name on a sign.  
The officer at the exit stopped me and pointed me toward a small room.  It was time for another officer to "check my luggage". Holy Mother of Pearl, it was time to start all over.  
"How long will you be in Canada?"
"Less than half an hour."
"Where will you be working?"  Bla Bla Bla.....take two. 
This lady officer asked me to open the "head box". I told her it was fragile but she gloved up. 
"You have anything sharp inside, any needles or anything that might stick me or hurt me?"
"No..."
With that she took a dive into the case. 
"What is that?"
"A puppet head"
 "What is all this fur?"
"A monkey."
"Is it an indangered species of Monkey?"
"I don't think so. It's a puppet. I use him in my act." 
"What kind of fur is it?"
"Monkey fur...I mean artificial monkey...uh...puppet fur.... it didn't come from an animal it came from a textile factory." 
"Where is that factory located?"
"I don't know. I didn't ask." 
She let me have the head box back to repack. Then she went through every item in my breif case.  She examined the change that had fallen to the bottom of the case and counted it in her hand. She asked me what the medicene was for in a perscription bottle. 
I said, "Anxiety and stress.  As a matter of fact I could used one now... could I get a glass of water?"
"There is no eating or drinking in the inspection area, Sir."  
She even took out my iPad... turned it on and scrolled through all the apps.  She then found the Pages app and scanned some of my essays and writings. She read a paragraph from each page to herself.  I thought it was funny that she moved her lips a little with each word.  Thank God she did not open an art app to see the depressingly dark images I love to draw.   
"You a writer? What do you write?"
"Stories about my travels.  I think I am going to be very busy writing about my last two days." 
And with that she left all my stuff on the counter for me to replace in the breif case and vanished into the back room.  I assummed I was free to go, but was not sure until Jimmy the driver was on the road to the dock and out of the airport property.  
On board ship the officer at the pursers desk said, "How was your trip from California?"
"My bags went to Chicago. I went to Newark. We connected again at 5:30am this morning after a miserable night in an Airport Ramada Inn and the Canadians kept me at immigration for over an hour." 
It was a rhetorical question. He was not listening nor even interested.
"So you made it.  Welcome aboard."  
"Glad to be here",  I said and really,  nothing else mattered.
As you were,
Jay

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Girl in the Scandalously Short Red Dress

Sandi Asbury-Johnson front and center in
"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas"
I have watched my wife dance in all kinds of productions.  I can pick her out of a line of dancers even if they are wigged and wardrobed exactly the same moving around in frantic artistry.  Instinctively my eye goes right to her no matter where she happens to be dancing at that moment.  It is a skill/habit that I embrace with great pride.

This is a picture from the movie, "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas".  The beautiful lady in the center in the scandalously short red dress is my wife. Sandi was one of the "whores" in the movie with Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds.
It is not the only movie Sandi has done in her incredible career, but by nature of the subject matter perhaps the "sexiest" one.  This is the beginning of a dance number where they strip down to g-strings. Before they were finished filming that number I was thrown off the set.   It wasn't personal there were just too many people trying to watch that day and I was absolutely not essential to the production.

Years after the movie was released I was in Atlantic City performing.  A friend came to visit me from New York.  After my show he wanted to see some of the other shows in town and invited me to go with him.  He wanted to see a "drag queen" review that was at a different Hotel.  There was nothing better to do on that night so I went with him.
The star of the drag show was a Dolly Parton impersonator.  He/she was very good and I suppose if you can't see the real Dolly, this illusion works for some.  If you don't have a real Rolex a knock off watch will still tell you the time.
For the finale of Faux Dolly's act several other he/she dancers joined her/him on stage.  They recreated a production number from "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" down to the original Tony Stevens choreography and costumes.  I have to say after watching that movie countless times they did a very accurate recreation.
As I sipped my cocktail trying to remember I was watching a troupe of men I found myself tracking one particular dancer on stage. My eye went right to the same dancer almost ignoring the rest of the cast.  It was a guy in puffy hair and a scandalously short red dress.  At first I just thought I was drawn to the red color but then it hit me.  This drag queen was performing Sandi's part in the movie down to her costume. I was entranced by a drag queen on stage impersonating my wife.  The number ended to a big ovation, but I was still trying to come to grips with the fact that I had strange feelings of attraction to the boy/girl in the scandalously short red dress.  Life sometimes throws you a curve.  

As you were,
Jay  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I Always Remember

So much has happened since then.  So much has changed... but my raw emotions never seem to change.  Here is the way I will always remember it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


September 11 Remembered...

Reprints from the past:

Those of us who did live past this day in 2001 we will never forget those who didn't.  They were all of us.  There were no blogs, no tweets, no texts, no smart phones connected to social media back then,  but it was seared into my consciousness nonetheless. It was seven years before I thought I could write about it here.

Written on: 
Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. No one of this generation will forget where they were when they heard the news about a plane hitting the World Trade Center that morning. Most of us were watching CNN by the time the second plane hit. I was in Boston, which immediately became part of the crime scene.

I was performing for an Insurance company. A week earlier they called and asked if I could move my performance/presentation to Tuesday morning instead of Monday afternoon. They had a scheduling problem and that would help. I had no problem with coming in and leaving a day later. I didn't think much about it until after the events of 9/11. My manager at the time just switched my flights around and adjusted everything by 24 hours. That change in schedule saved my life.

My traveling MO is to catch the first nonstop home to Los Angeles the morning after my performance. In most major cities American Airlines is my carrier of choice. I am a two and and a half million mile American Airlines AAvantage member and in 2001 had Executive Platinum status. It was of no help when all air travel stopped for a week after the towers fell.

Until the company delayed my performance by 24 hours I was booked on the first non stop home after my Monday afternoon show. I was booked in seat 4E non stop from Boston to Los Angeles, Tuesday, September 11, 2001, American Airlines #11. I remember at the time thinking that flight #11 on the 11th of the month seemed lucky. That plane hit the north Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:45 am. Because the show date changed I wasn't on that plane. I was waiting to go on stage.

Even with that graphic life changing example, I sometimes forget that everything happens for a reason. One small decision is sometimes the one that changes your life. Only with perspective do we understand it as either good or bad, and ultimately even good and bad are human judgments.

It would seem natural to thank God for saving my life, but doesn't that make him responsible for the 3000 souls he didn't save that day? There were people on flight #11 much more "deserving" to live than me, or at the least equally deserving. They prayed for protection and deliverance that morning.

I would have been sitting on the plane next to David Angel who was the very talented writer/creator of the television show "Frazier" had my show date remained as contracted. He was deserving to have another day in his life, but he rode the plane into the tower. Who did God love more, me or him? It is a stupid question.

That event does not define me. I do not count the days since I was saved. I have not used it as a testimony in Church. I don't think I was given a celestial "do over". I rarely even remember it unless prompted by some event. All I know is I am here to write briefly about it and David Angel is not. I wrestle with the name Angel trying to make it some sort of metaphor. It is as fruitless as thinking flight #11 on the 11th was lucky. It was what it was. Those who have moved on are not looking back, but here's to all of us who are left behind to try and figure it out.

We will never quite be as we were,
Jay

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

To the Moon Alice.

Between reports of ISIS beheadings, Humas rocket attacks and the Syrian uprising the Constant Conflict News (CNN) was able to report on home fed American violence this week.  Ray Rice and sparing partner Janay were all over the news defending their right to practice Cage Boxing in Atlantic City elevators.  
The NFL players who have been in trouble with the law is not news nor is it a short list.  There have been charges of rape, murder, abuse, drug dealing and assault to name only a few.  Some have served jail terms, been released and returned to their "out of proportion salaries" as football players.  Michael Vick comes immediately to mind.  But then he was only violent toward dogs.
Here are a few facts that can not be separated from the "story" of Ray Rice. 1) The NFL is a multi- billion dollar business in America and winning teams make more money. 2) Players are not people, they are the raw material used in the manufacture of this NFL product called sports. 3)  Lastly and most importantly, the NFL is the passive promoter of a very violent business. 
There is a pretense of thinking professional football is a sporting contest but it is only the modern day PC version of gladiators in the Roman Colosseum.  At least we do not kill players on the field anymore.  However, death and disability due to repeated head injuries years after the players are too old to play is just now being considered.  Obviously the difference between us and the Romans is the length of time it takes for a gladiator to die. 
Football players become rich and famous if successful. They become role models valuable to advertisers who want to sell the products that they endorse.  However, they are not hired because they can sing or dance or tell a great joke. They are hired to play in a violent physical game.  
There is little doubt that violence is encouraged in the sport.  In recent years teams have been fined for encouraging injuries to the opposing team with bonus checks.  They never use the actual word "violence", they call it toughness, or hard tackles. 
So in this industry of inflicting injury the players are not taught manners, sensitivity and normal human interactions. They are taught to hit, hurt and immediately react to a quick snap with all the fury they have. Why then are we surprised when some of these players can't turn off that knee jerk violence when not on the field.  
Ray Rice reacted as football groomed him when his wife did something or said something he didn't like in an Atlantic City elevator in February.   Ray saw someone step over the line and he reacted violently to stop them cold in their advance.  This is not to say that men in other professions do not abuse women, but only in this case does it come from on the job training.  
On "The Honeymooners" Ralph Cramden used to threaten Alice with a balled up fist.  He would say "One of these days, Alice. One of these days,  bam zoom... to the moon." Threatened spousal abuse passed for humor back in the late fifties.  But it is now as dated as the flat painted sets of a black and white sitcom.  Today we are horrified to see a grainy black and white video of a man actually carrying out the Cramden bam zoom threat. 
Ray Rice may or may not play football again.  It doesn't matter he is not ground zero for the problem. Until violence is no longer profitable, and playing a game is more important than winning there will be no change.   
Like work horses professional football players will be trained, encouraged and rewarded for going into a blind rage when they hear the word "hike".  The kind of human they become when not on the field is not the concern of the NFL... unless it affects the cash flow.  When no longer able to hit the hardest or run the fastest they will be turned out to pasture.  Or in the case of Ray Rice... fired because he exposed the underbelly of professional sports. 
If a picture is worth a thousand words... a grainy elevator security video must be worth millions of words. But they are not the words of one man's violence toward his wife, it is a cautionary tale about the hypocrisy Americans have toward violence itself.
As you were,
Jay



Friday, September 05, 2014

Thank you Joan Rivers

I guess if I were to script the exit of an 81year old female comic, she would do one last great show at a club, go into a coma and die a week later.  That seems to be the way it was with Joan Rivers, she did it her way and made a quick exit.
When a comic is so much of the moment, so prolific and has no filter on her pointed wit, humor is sometimes eclipsed by their acerbic nature. That is to say, sometimes I think Joan Rivers went too far in her quest for the joke. I often found myself laughing out of embarrassment.  But I did laugh, even if I thought the joke was a little cruel, there is no doubt it was funny.  There is no line in the sand, funny is funny even if to laugh is sometime against polite society or political correctness. 
Joan influenced so many comics, blazing the trail for female comedians to become accepted in a male dominated profession.  But she was so much more than a female stand up. She was a quick draw with a perfect one liner and never stopped working on new stuff in front of a club crowd.  
Waylon Flowers said that his original routine with Madame was a monologue too blue for Joan to perform. However, Waylon felt It was just right for the unfiltered horny old lady puppet that became Madame. 
I knew Joan Rivers in a professional way. I did a week of $20,000 Pyramid with her, was on her talk show, her radio show and she came to see my solo show "Jay Johnson:The Two and Only" off Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre.  After she saw Jay Johnson:The Two and Only, she had me back on her radio program in New York to promo the show.  She was really wonderful to me. 
I knew Joan Rivers as a staple of the Tonight Show and even the Ed  Sullivan show. She was a headliner when I was fighting acne.  In fact she is responsible for one of my characters.  It is a story I got to tell her personally the week we did Pyramid together.
I was looking for a new character and it seemed all the great ideas had been done.  I really needed to reach for something different.  It was the mid 70's when the love generation had turned drinking age.  People were communing with nature and the popular notion of the time was to converse with your house plants. New research at the time suggested that talking to your house plants and even playing music for them improved their health.  It became a popular notion.
Joan Rivers was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson one evening. I tried never to miss Johnny. In that perfect conversational style of comedy that Johnny mastered, talking to plants came into the moment. Johnny said to Joan, "Do you ever talk to your house plants?"
Joan said, "Yes, and the other day they said to me... For God's sake shut up Joan."
It is difficult to remember the actual moment of inspiration when you are creating a character, but not this time. This was it, the lightning flash; it was what I was looking for.
House plants that had experienced enough conversation and were speaking up in their own defense. Phil O'Dendren was born at the second Joan Rivers' line settled into my brain. 
It took weeks to make the puppet, and more time to come up with the routine, but Phil and I went on to do most of the major talk shows of the day. Joan Rivers is Phil's muse, and always will be. 

I have been looking for a picture of Joan, Bob and me taken backstage at the Atlantic.  It must be in a box marked Broadway stuff in my office storage, but I can't seem to find it.  Joan made a joke at the time that Bob's face was more flexible than hers.  Her sessions with the plastic surgeon were not above her own acerbic wit. We laughed, but that is too be expected when in the company of a great comedian. 
A lot of people miss you Joan. 
As you were,
Jay