Friday, September 30, 2011

Entertainment vs Reality

As I re-read some of the things I posted, as in yesterday. I realize that sometimes my emotions get the better of my editorial sense. What is a momentary thought gets quickly translated into this document and then sits there for a very long time. That is the problem with this new instant media. It doesn't allow personal thought to be personal long enough to decide it is not worth the typing time.
One would think that I had learned that lesson, but it is not something that seems to be solved by only a few bad examples. What I really want to do is tell stories, funny ones hopefully. Unfortunately for the last week I don't see the humor as clearly. This will pass.
I have been following the Dr. Conrad Murray trial via the internet feed. With the time change making it a little later here in Rochester, it is perfect afternoon entertainment for me before the show. I don't know what fascinates me about a high profile trial, I got just as hung up on the Casey Anthony trial when it was happening. Which was coincidentally during the last Rochester run. The most fascinating thing to me is not just that it is a story told in a very plodding and some what random way, it is that these are not actors. We are so used to watching good actors pretend to have emotions or thoughts we forget what it is like when we see it for real. There is disingenuous quality to reality because we have seen only the depiction of reality so often in dramatic entertainment. We tend to disregard a persons feelings as untruthful if they are not showing the emotion that an actor would in a drama. How weird is that, art not just imitating life, but actually defining it.
When we hear a story of how someone reacted in time of tragedy, if it is not in the dramatic way that we think it should be is seems wrong. The truth is an actor is just portraying how they think a person would react. When an individual is really faced with the situation there is no specified way to react; they have never faced this before so how can they know how the will react? I suggest that the more bizarre, the more real because an emotional event short circuits every cell in your body. Chaos is chaos and is defined by its unique randomness.
Especially today we want a black and white differentiation for anything we comprehend. There is a good guy, a bad guy, a right way and a wrong way, a Republican way and a Democratic way. Life is not so easily parsed. As in art the grey areas give us the depth. The shadows which are neither dark nor light give us value. You can not take a pencil drawing with shades of light and expect that it will photocopy correctly. The camera decides the value. If it is darker than it really is the camera makes it black. That is not the reality... that is a mechanical decision.
We know that the pixel number on a digital camera will make the picture more clear and distinct. The greater the number of values the more beautiful the picture. Why isn't that metaphor more accessible to our every day living. The more information, the more elements, the more sides the more depth one can add to a situation the better perception we have of it. The more divergent sides to a problem the better the solution can be.
Media is still broadcasting in Black and White. To cover a new story you get two pundits touting their extreme sides and they yell their differences at one another, because it is entertainment. They are not broadcasting reality, the pundits are no more representative of a consensus of ideas than Little Red Riding hood is a study of wolves.
Gather it all in especially those you don't agree with. Try to see them as not all right nor all wrong or all left. The true picture is defined by the shades of subtle differences in the two while not really being all of either.
All this to say, the negative things I wrote yesterday have no shading... no reality... it was a dramatic story that I thought was is not.
As you were,

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Business of Show

Everything relates to my Dad these last few days. He was a big believer in the fact that Show Business is an equal mix of Show and Business. The business part of the career is just as important as the show. I am so glad that I got some of his understanding of business. It has helped me in more ways than I can say in my career.
So tonight we are sold out for a theatre party. It is a very big deal on a week day. An investment company is giving the show to their customers to thank them for their loyalty. They are serving dinner in the lounge before the show with drinks and have dressed up the tables beautifully. The staff is all in black outfits and there are waiters with trays of goodies working the crowd. John and I arrive a couple of hours early to get into the theatre and set it all up so a sound check will not encroach on the festivities.
Then about 5:45, just before sunset, the power goes out. I thought it was the extra food warmers they had plugged into the theatre circuit, but that is not the case. It seems the grid for our entire area is blacked out.
The guys who promoted and planned the evening begin to panic immediately. People are arriving for the evening and there is only emergency lighting in the theatre and lobby. No one seems to know much about what was going on.
John powers up his smart phone and finds out that 2500 customers are currently without power and that they are estimating they will have the grid back up by 9:00. The show is suppose to go up at 7:15. It looks like that schedule will certainly not hold. I have to say that John is the best techie there ever could be. He can find out what is going on faster and more reliably than anyone I have ever seen. The Rochester locals are coming up to him to ask what the update is on the blackout.
Now there is a discussion about how we can do the show with out electricity. John and I are sitting in the theatre that is lit with only with two emergency lights. It's not a bad situation because he is surfing his smart phone and I am drawing on my Ipad. The enigma about drawing on an Ipad is that normally you look for the best light to draw, but with an Ipad you need the worst light to draw. The owner of the theater instructed the servers to bring us the finger food that is being served in the lobby. Suddenly a person would appear in the dark with skewered chicken or boiled shrimp and ask us if we wanted some. We are happy as clams, waiting for the electrical situation to change.
The stage is too dark to even know it is there. The promoter appears and asks if we can do the show if the lights come back on. I said I was there to do a show and when the lights come back on I would be ready. They are not sure everyone will stay if it gets too dark and the lobby is no longer lit by he outside light. John continues to surf and I continue to draw.
Then at 6:45 suddenly and without warning the lights come back on. It is half hour and John and I jump into performance mode. We were ready, and the show went on, on time and without a slip.
Here is the point. You never know what situation you will find yourself in. In business... especially Show Business you have to be a professional. A professional is ready to do his/her job whenever called upon to do it. The black out was a minor glitch, but a glitch nonetheless. Anybody can perform when everything is perfect... the professional can deliver even on a moments notice under conditions that seem impossible. I think that ethic came directly from my Dad. Thanks Dad.
As you were,

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ventriloquism and Art

NOTE: This was written in the afternoon of my opening night. At the time I did not know that one phone call would change my night and all others from then on. I didn't even know that my Dad had been taken to the hospital. I wasn't sure I would leave it up and publish it, but in some way it is an attempt to get back some normalcy from the last few days. My Mom would always read my blog to my Dad, this is one he will be able to comprehend on a different level.

As I write this we are several hours away from my opening night at DCT. At that time I will pose a question to the audience, "What is ventriloquism, and why does it even exist?" Like all art it is up to the audience, the observer, to answer it and up to me, the artist, to pose it. Ultimately there is no other obligation between us. I love the question because the answer is as varied as the number of people who comprehend it. The audience will come to their own conclusions and take from it what they personally connect with. If the observer is looking for the answer outside of his own opinion, they will not find it. It is the very thing that makes art valuable, this internal analyzation that can't really be shared. And there is no wrong answer. It is only as you interpret it. The wrong answer is not to have an interpretation.
Of the two adverbs "what" is easier to quantify than "why?" There might be an objective consensus after seeing a demonstration of something on what it is, but the why is totally subjective. What happens when you put a match to gasoline is an easy explanation, why it explodes when water does not is difficult to explain. When asked "what is it that you do?", the best answer is to respond by doing it. There is no demonstrable answer to "Why do you do it?" It IS what I do and that is why I do it. More of a riddle than an actual answer.
In High School my friend Larry used to entertain me with his insightful silliness. He once posed the question, "Why is a duck?" the answer, "because the much you go the more." It was indeed the perfect answer to any question that begins with why.
I demonstrate that I am a ventriloquist in my show. I have tried for years to come up with why I am a ventriloquist. For convenience sake I have invented reasons to use in interviews when asked. I doubt any of them are true because I do not know the answer. All I know is: I do it because I get a thrill from doing it. To watch an audience even for a second believe that there are two of us on stage and not one, is better than drugs to me. That is when the observer becomes the observed and it is my turn to interpret and analyze what they are doing. A performing artist's loop of performer being audience as the audience performs back. In that way art unites us in a common un repeatable experience. There is a bond which only happens because we are both in the same moment, inseparable yet separate with the whole greater than the sum of the parts. It is theatre, it is art, it is valuable and it is nourishment for the human spirit; not taking more than it gives nor giving more than it gets. How can this not be as important to the survival of our human spirit as water is to the survival of our bodies? If this shared bond through art is allowed to die from lack of participation, humans will become a spiritless hive of worker bees with no sense of self or individualism. What I am is a ventriloquist. Why I am a ventriloquist? Because the much you go the more.
As you were,

Monday, September 26, 2011

Symbols of Life

Although I did not know that my Dad was dying when I walked into the theatre on Thursday night, there was a Raven sitting alone on top of the theatre crowing at John and me as we entered. I am a student of theatrical traditions and love the legends associated with all aspects of the theatre. I said, "Isn't that a bad omen? A raven sitting on the theatre opening night?" In John's manner he said, "Right?" which is both a question and an affirmative in context. We both snickered and as we opened the door I said, "Quote the Raven Nevermore." It might have been the last time I thought of that bird but it was not to be.
Ten minutes before the show I got the call from my sister and Dad died while we were on the phone together.
I called John into the dressing room and said, "Let's go out back for a minute." We went outside the theatre which is empty except for loading docks. There is a tree line just on the other side of this alley way that I am told obscures a beautiful view of the Erie Canal. It is the perfect urban setting where nature tries its best to encroach on asphalt. As John and I are discussing the death of my father, and how we will handle it during and after the show, a raven landed on the telephone pole above us. I am not a raven expert, but it appeared to be the same lonely raven that had greeted us when we walked into the theatre. There were no other ravens or birds of any kind that could be seen or heard at that moment. A rational person would have assumed it was the same bird hanging around. He crowed and crowed very loudly as if not to go unseen. And it seemed to me that the raven was crowing directly at us again
I thought of my Dad. He had been robbed of his speech for a decade from a stroke but never stopped trying to communicate with all of us. He had a few phrases that came out clear, but always with a struggle. He would sometimes get frustrated by not being able to say what he wanted to say and "I... don't... know" would end his attempt. Dad was gone now, his struggle over, and here was this bird free and very vocal announcing its presence in a way that could not be ignored.
I stopped and looked at the raven and said to John, "That's Dad, he can finally talk again." It came out of my mouth before I even knew what I was saying. The raven stayed perched on the top of the pole alternately being loud and silent as John and I came to some decisions.
It was time to go back and do the show. There was no thought of canceling it, Dad would not have wanted that. He loved to see me perform. As we walked back into the theatre the raven gave one last call, took flight and soared over the Erie canal thicket.
I have a friend who says to a carpenter everything looks like a nail. To a person in mourning everything looks like a symbol of hope. The truth is really not as important as the feelings it generates. For me it was a contact from a consciousness that I do not understand. I did not need a bird to tell me that my Dad was finally free, nor do I think that Dad needed a bird to tell me he was okay. But whatever it meant it was a direct call to my heart and it touched me deeply. I may not see the bird again and it may not speak to me with the same symbolism if I do. It was for me, however, one more moment to remember sharing the company of my Dad.
As you are, Dad,

Sunday, September 25, 2011

My Dad

I was reminded that there are a couple of mistakes in the blog about my Dad on Thursday. Dad was a detail guy and would want it to be precise. Particularly when it comes to numbers. Dad rarely made a mistake with numbers and kept complicated bond maturity rates and schedules in his head. On a bond issue once which had been calculated by a computer Dad looked down a column of seven digit numbers on a spread sheet and said that they were incorrect. The young financier who had prepared the numbers was insistent they were right because they were computer generated. After Dad would not give up the numbers were recalculate and found to be wrong to the exact value Dad said they were. The young man had used a formula that was not correct in this case. Dad did not use a computer at all in his career. The only machine he would use was a floating decimal Frieden calculator. It was a mechanical machine that looked more like a typewriter or cash register than a calculator. It used to scare me as a kid; it made noise and numbers flipped by like a crank style movieola.
In my blog for Dad I said he was 89. That is not right... he was 88 on his last birthday in June. I also quoted his military rank as Lt. J.G. The J. G. stands for Junior Grade which is a step or two below the actual full Lt. rank that he actually attained in the Navy.
I think the JG stuck in my mind because of a trophy that occupied an honored spot on the family bookshelf. It is a silver loving cup engraved by the crew of the USS Montrose and given to "Lt. J. G. Arthur Noel Johnson, Jr. for service above and beyond the call of duty in the battle of BeNo Straights." In a story that is right out of Mr. Roberts, Dad took flack from a commanding officer to save his crew from his cruel abuse. The Captain was given to telling the men, "There will BE NO liberty, there will be no movie" until certain duties were performed to his satisfaction. In fact when the play and subsequent movie Mr. Roberts came out, several people contacted Dad to see if he had sold his story to the author. Except for the ending, and a different class of ship, it was the same story. The Captain would not let Dad transfer from the ship. Instead of the men holding a forgery contest to sign the Captains name on a transfer as was depicted in the movie, the actual event was a little more theatrical.
Dad and another officer were sure the Captain was not rational, but neither one could get officials to take a look. All communications to channels were censored by the Captain. No one could get word to the shore officers.
One evening when Dad was officer of the deck, his friend and fellow officer requested permission to go ashore. His name was not on the list to go ashore, but Dad gave him the salute and he boarded the launch dingy. The Captain saw the launch from the ship and ran to Dad to see the list. When he found out who it was going ashore and that the officer was not on the list he grabbed the radio and ordered the launch back to the ship immediately. The radio message was never received by the launch crew and Dad's friend was able to get ashore and report what was going on. Dad was soon transferred and it was discovered that the Captain had a brain tumor that was causing his abusive irrational behavior. He was eventually removed from command and died soon after from the tumor.
Years later when Dad and his officer friend reconnected recalling the event, the true story was told. The crew had heard the radio command by the Captain to return to the ship, but the officer drew his 45 cal. service weapon and told them to disregard the broadcast. They knew something was wrong with the Captain and never reported what really happened. They probably did not need the 45 as incentive, but the fleeing officer was taking no chances.
Dad loved to tell his Navy stories and I loved to listen to them over and over if I could. It was heartbreaking to know that the last couple of decades of his life he was unable to tell them to me again. He was a numbers guy not a writer and never wrote them down. But the family will continue to tell them to his Great Grandchild who is due in February.
Daddy I will never forget. You made me love stories and yours were the best.
As you were,

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Arthur Noel Johnson, Jr.

He was called Noel because his Dad was Arthur and he did not want to be called Junior. I remember as a child he called his Father, Arthur Noel Johnson, by the initials A.N. Noel had a special relationship with A.N. who was a strong smart man of great character with no more than a 3rd grade education. Noel went on to get his Masters degree from Texas Tech University. It made A.N. very proud. Of the four sons that A.N. had, Noel was present at the end as his Dad lost a bout with cancer. I believe of all his sons A.N. favored Noel the most, because he was after all his junior.
Noel was my Dad and the first manager I had in my career. He drove me to shows when I was too young to get a drivers license. On the way home we would analyze the show from the stand point of strengths and weaknesses. He loved to act in that capacity and told me that he was sad when I became old enough to get to shows by myself.
Dad booked the first show I ever did for the Abernathy Lions Club, because he was the president of the organization at the time. I remember at eleven I told him that I did not think I was good enough to perform for the Abernathy Lions Club with my fledgeling act and he said, "Jay you don't have to be that good to perform for the Lions Club."
In some ways I lost my Dad 17 years ago when he suffered a stroke that left him unable to communicate. For a man as eloquent and intelligent as him it was a great struggle to be robbed of his communication skills. He continued to communicate with us even though it was a struggle. He could say, "I love you" with great clarity while not being able to articulate much else.
Dad was a mathematical savant and taught Algebra in high school after a career in the Navy and a recall to the Korean war. He continued to climb the ladder of a teaching career to became the youngest Superintendent of Schools in Texas. He quit his job as Superintendent to form his own securities business and continue to work with schools as the financial advisor for countless school districts. He helped finance more schools for Texas students than companies hundreds of times the size of his own.
At 89 years old he had grown weary of the fight just to communicate and get around. The strong Navy officer had lost too much weight for his 6' 2" form and the struggle became too much. He did not like hospitals nor doctors and did not want to linger. But when the pain from fluid on his lungs became too much to bear he agreed to go to the emergency room.
Six years ago Dad made the trip to be there for my show off Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre and two years later for the opening night of my Broadway run at the Helen Hayes. He never tired of seeing me perform and it was obvious to me even though he could not tell me in so many words. It was in his eyes. He was there to see my show at the Eiseman Theatre in Richardson a short distance from his house in February of this year. I got to introduce him and my Mom from stage. He was truly beaming back stage.
Tonight at half hour before opening night of my Rochester run, I got a call from my sister. The fluid in my Dad's lungs was worse, his heart was racing out of control and they had transferred him to the ICU. Mom and my sister told the doctor that he did not want to be kept alive artificially and the decision was made to make him comfortable and not resuscitate. As I talked to my Mom from such a long distance away, my Dad opened his eyes, closed them again and passed away. It was a very surreal perspective to experience such an event. As the realization hit all of us my phone ran out of battery power and lasted only long enough for me to say I love you to my Mom. It was ten minutes before I was due on stage.
There was no doubt that this show would be done for my Dad watching from a vantage point that I could not comprehend. I wanted to do the best show I could knowing that he was there. In some way I was glad that I had to concentrate on the moment and not dwell on what had just happened. Dad has always admired my professionalism and my ability to do my job under any circumstance. He would call that a "true" professional.
I knew the final scene in my show talking about the death of my mentor Arthur Sieving ( Yes the name Arthur is very much ingrained in my family history) would be difficult to deliver on this night. What I had not realized is the number of times that I refer to my Dad in the context of the script. The references were like mental land mines that took me by surprise every time. For my Dad, I got through it but there were moments I know the audience did not understand. I did not understand the emotions that ambushed me myself.
The show ended and it was time to let go and I sobbed uncontrollably backstage. My stage manager John Ivy was the only one who knew. He allowed me the space to decompress and sent unknowing opening night well wishers away so that I did not have to pull up and be a professional off stage. The ride back to the house was longer than usual until I was able to plug my phone into a power source and call my wife.
I know that Daddy will never miss another one of my shows, but I will miss him forever and a day. Good night Lt. J.G. Arthur Noel Johnson, Jr. mission accomplished with honors.

I did not know this was on YouTube. It has been many years since I have seen it.

It is the opening credits for a show called Broken Badges. It ran on CBS and was produced by Stephen J. Cannell.
We shot it in Vancouver, Canada and I had a ball. I got to do stunts, carry a badge and a gun and really act. We only did 6 episodes but I wanted it to last forever. They are all on YouTube in 15 minute sections. I just watched the pilot episode this afternoon. I guess if it had run for any length of time I would not have written "The Two and Only". Badges was written by my friend Randall Wallace who left the television business to write some movie called "Braveheart". I guess it worked out well for both of us.
As you were,

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Ghost of Irondequoit

By now you know that I am a ghost hunter and evangelist on the subject. I grew up in a house that was haunted and no one believed that it was anything but my ventriloquist imagination until I moved out and others in the family saw the apparition I was telling them about.
So here I am at the "star house" for DCT in Rochester and there seems to be some sort of presence that occupies the premisses. Two days ago the thing we call Sammy made his presence known in a most startling way while I was trying to shower. I'm still trying to figure that one out and now... Well, he may have made himself known again last night.
John missed the bus and I was here alone for an additional evening. I was gone most of the time because of the promotional show I was doing at Geva. When I got back to this house I did not feel any sort of unaccounted for energy. There are always bumps and sounds to any place that is unfamiliar and I did not hear anything that could not be explained by the house settling or the climate control going on or off. I did think I heard the water running down stairs at one point, but don't know the house well enough to be sure.
Then there was the noise in the kitchen in the middle of the night. It woke me up enough to know that it came from the kitchen, but again... refrigerators make noise and an ice maker can sound like footsteps. It did not persist so I chalked it up to just that.
In the morning I was jolted awake by the door bell ringing. I stumbled through the living room and down the entrance stairs still mostly asleep. I didn't put on my glasses so everything was blurry. I yelled down the stairs, "Who's there," or "Just a minute" I can't remember which, but when I got to the door no one was there. I opened the door to look around and saw the blurry image of a utility truck in the street. It was the meter reader and he had assumed no one was home. I let him into the basement so he could read the meter.
As he left he casually said, "Sorry... there is usually no one here when I come...I should have waited a minute longer. By the way are you having heating trouble because the basement is really cold." The first morning I woke up a little cold so I had put the furnace on very low the day before. It should have been fine on the lower story as well.
I went into the kitchen to start the coffee and found myself in a pool of water. The door to the freezer was open and the ice had melted all over the kitchen floor.
I have not opened the freezer since I have been here. I noticed that there was nothing there but a bag of ice that had melted onto the floor. The other thing I noticed is that this refrigerator does not have an ice maker.
There are many ways that this can be explained which do not involve he concept of Sammy. Unfortunately, the Sammy explanation is the easiest and quickest conclusion.
John arrived this afternoon and got a kick out of the signs I taped on the bedroom doors. There is a sign that says Jay's room, one that says John's room and the extra bedroom up stairs says, "Sammy's room". I am hoping, however, that Sammy stays downstairs in the cold.
As you were,

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fly on the Wall

As part off the promotion for my show here in Rochester, I participated in an event called Theatre Rocs. It is an event that is held at the regional theatre to promote and expose the general public to all the shows that are performing in the area. Rochester seems to have an abundance of theatrical choices. I would say more than Los Angeles on any given day.
Each theatre company gets four minutes to present a slice of the shows that are currently performing at their venue. This year there are 22 participants including DCT which is my org. I made some notes as I was sitting in the green room with all the actors getting ready to take the stage. Most of them know each other and I was the curiosity hanging back and observing.
Of course I am not used to shows that have this many cast members, at least non wooden ones. I have played this theatre before and the setting was familiar but not this backstage frenzy. There is a common thread that connects theatre people who ordinarily might never come together. The movie "Waiting for Guffman" is perhaps the paradigm for the types of people who populate community theatre. That was a movie and this is real life but you can recast it by just looking around.
There are 14 people all dressed in the same black outfits. Some wear the design well while others look as though they are on wide screen mode of an HD television. They will sing the finale to Company. One man near my age is walking around with a prosthetic bullet hole in his head dripping red blood. It is a good makeup job even by movie standards. He is running lines with a friend but I do not recognize the play.
Several people are in costumes that look like wizard Komonos. Just as the people in black, some wear it better than others. There is a cast of all ages that seem to be dressed as extras for a reshoot of Little House on the Prairie. In various other costumes and make up are the usual blond ingenues and festive boys and, of course, me in a suit holding what will become a talking tennis ball.
We are at this moment all linked in anticipation of performing for a large crowd that has assembled up stairs. Everyone expresses their excitement in different ways from over the top flamboyance to stark terror. I see both in there faces and mannerisms. Stage fright/excitement is not confined to age, some of the older actors are much more terrified than their younger cast mates. Other seasoned actors and actresses are quoting other shows and remembering other audiences with equal amounts of joy and resentment usually with the younger actors hanging on every word. These seasoned pros seem to seek me out more than the rest to see if my audience stories are similar. Of course they are, I perhaps have had more experiences with different types of audiences, but the memories are the same. There are good shows and bad shows and good audiences and bad audiences but you hope the two never come together on the same night.
Some of the performers seek me out to ask about the Tony. What was it like to get it, did I know, did I plan my speech, where do I keep the trophy at my house? I am delighted to be a minor representative of the American Theatre Wing and give them my best remembrances. The Tony Award is my validation into a closed community of theatre performers. It is my passport to be allowed to participate in their world. But when the chips are down we are all the same, we have to entertain the same people with what we do. All of us will face the same audience tonight. The playing field is level, there are no do overs, no retakes, no grading on a curve; it is just us and the audience. I am no sure if I have the advantage taking the stage alone or not. What ever happens, I am the only one to blame or praise. There are no other real actors to lift me up if I fall but none to steal the thunder if I don't. I am just as excited to get out there as anyone in the green room, only difference is I have had years to work on my poker face so as not to let my emotions show either way.
There is a trend in this economic time to disregard the contributions the arts give us as a society. It is the first budget item to be eliminated in favor of any other need, even sports. But the arts are the heart and soul of a people. With out this softer look at who we are we only have the harsh black and white editorials of the pundits who deal mostly in fear and sadness not hope and joy. If the bean counters could only see it through my eyes tonight. This is a community of thespians come together in a common goal. Tomorrow we will all be competing for the same audience but tonight we are united with the same desire to entertain. Each person participating, each audience member and each person who is responsible for producing and presenting this event came together; Setting aside all politics, races, ethnics, religion and experience, we united in one common goal and made it work. If that is not a lesson the world needs to see more of I don't know what is.
As you were,

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Ghost house

I am here at the "star house" two nights before John arrives to do some publicity for the show. So I am alone in this split level four bedroom house. Or am I. The last time I was here John and I began to joke about a ghost that seemed to mess with our Internet, at the same time an account named Sammy would show up as a user. It was local to the WIFI so it would indicate that the user was in the house. It was more of a joke than a problem as we started to blame any mishap on Sammy. However, it happened with enough regularity and consistency that some "thing" was definitely around that we could not explain. John ran every diagnosis he could with his computer to find out what the cause would be and never found an acceptable answer.
As I was getting ready for an interview this afternoon I was taking a shower. There is no doubt that at one point the shower curtain wafted as a shadow passed by on the other side between the curtain and the light on the mirror. My first thought was that John had arrived early and was there to give me a start. It is out of character for John to do such a thing particularly invade the privacy of my shower, but we like to kid each other. I beat him to the punch and yelled, "Sammy.... cut that out." to John. There was no one there to respond. John is still in Brooklyn. Instead of going into a panic from viewing the movie Psycho too often, I tried to rationalize a reason for the event. The wind, I surmised, from the window had blown the curtain the same time it had moved a tree outside causing the apparition. I looked out the shower curtain and the window was closed, the bathroom shades were drawn and there was not enough sun on a cloudy day to create a shadow. I spent the next few minutes trying to recreate what I had seen by shifting to different positions in the water to cause the affect. I was not successful.
Imagination is the devil of ghost sitings and I was determined that it would not rule the moment. I doubt that it will be the last time I see something that can't be quickly explained in my life, but this is definitely one of them. There is the Murphy's law that states those who tend to see ghosts, seem to see them more often than those who don't. I have been one to see a few in my life and have come to a point where it is not scary, but entertaining. Still I would have been fine not to be entertained in the shower in such a way this afternoon.
I think it gets back to that lonely feeling I get on the road so often. Like a blind man who finds his other senses heightened by the loss of site, I seem to become sensitive to such machinations when I am by myself. There are those who think I am crazy just because of the career I have chosen. I have never been convinced that there is a correlation of the two. I do not fear that these apparitions will become so real I lose my perception like Russell Crow in a Beautiful mind. However, if I were writing the screen play this would be the first act.
Onward and upward and I plan to live with Sammy in full cooperation. There is something comforting to the fact that a familiar presence is here to share the loneliness until John comes. That said...I hope John arrives soon, this comfort nearly caused me to pee in the shower this morning.
As you were,

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Air Travel Experiences

I would bet that 600 times a day this very same story plays out with various unsuspecting fliers. Flying used to be an event, now it is just a punishment for leaving your home to work.
There is no direct route from LA to Rochester, NY. You have to connect somewhere. This time I connected through Charlotte, NC on US Air. Charlotte is their East Coast hub. I knew that I didn't have a lot of time to spare under the best of conditions and the day did not start out with great expectations.
I couldn't get a seat assignment on line when I tried, and when I checked in at the counter the boarding pass still diid not have a seat. I questioned the token human behind the counter. He was dismissive of the problem saying,
"Oh they just haven't released the seats yet you will have to get an assignment at the gate." My experience tells me that he longer you have to wait for a seat the less desirable the seat. I am sure that is some sort of Murphy Law. I hustled to the gate to get ahead of the curve. It was not encouraging. The lady told me they were over booked and she would try to get me on. I repeated the word "Try?" She quickly said, "I'll find you a seat don't worry." I smarted back, "Make it my favorite, the middle bulkhead between two very fat guys with no sense of personal space." Yeah, I really said it. It came out of my mouth before I had a chance to even think about it. Fortunately she smiled... and seemed to get it. Eventually I got to board with first class and she had given me an aisle seat on an exit row. It was just fine for my economy flight.
Then the stress began as we sat at the gate past take off time. A couple of mechanics came on board, and checked the very exit door that I was now responsible for several times. We sat for about 45 minutes which is exactly the time I had in-between connections. I was hoping they could make up some time in the air, but during the flight the captain said that we would have to change course to avoid a storm.... more stress.
We land ten minutes before my next plane is to take off. I doubt that I will make it and have even less faith that my checked luggage will make it. This gloomy scenario seems to deepen as it takes us 10 minutes of taxiing to get to the gate. Although the flight attendants have asked everyone who doesn't have a close connection to remain seated, I only notice two people who respect that request.
It is now departure time for my connection and I am two terminals away. I arrive at D and have to go to B. I head that way and soon notice a curtesy counter with actual humans working it. I decide I will just go ahead and book the next flight to Rochester, but the guy calls the gate and they are on a ten minute hold... they haven't left yet. He hands me back the ticket and says "go" like a racing official.
I walk briskly to the gate and indeed the plane is waiting on me.... I am the very last one to board. It is a middle bulkhead seat but my row mates are of average size with a fine sense of personal space and hygiene. As I board I asked what time the next flight is to Rochester saying I doubted that my bags made it. The guy told me this was the last flight of the day but was sure with the extra ten minutes my bags would make it. I have always heard from the airline people who know that a transfer needs at least 30 minutes to make it. I figure if they started unloading before I was able to get off the plane there was still only 15 minutes with the extra gate hold time.
No one was more surprised that me when my bags were the last ones down the Shute in Rochester. I cant figure out how that happened but they got them on....and they arrived with me.
All's well that ends with your luggage arriving with you. The frat house is just like we left it... My shampoo is still in the shower and envelopes I bought to send checks home have not been touched. I assume Sammy the ghost is here as well, although things have been very quiet since I arrived.
A couple of days to see if the lights at the theatre are still working and unpack the set and away we go again.
I am never happier than when I get to do "The Two and Only".
As you were,

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Binewski's

This is until now a never before  seen photograph of the Binewski family on a rare summer vacation.  
Father Aloysius "Al" Binewski is in the front left, and his wife "Crystal" Lil is sitting on the cabin steps  with "flipper boy" Arturo ("Arty"). 
Electra ("Elly") and Iphigenia ("Iphy") conjoined twins are sitting with  Olympia ("Oly") on the bench and "Chick", the baby, is sitting in Al's lap.
The family toured the country with a carnival Al inherited from his Father called the Binewski Fabulon. The feature of the carnival was the freak show which was comprised of the family members.  Al was the barker/boss and "Crystal" Lil was known to occasionally perform in the Geek pit biting the heads off of chickens.  Oly, a red headed albino and  small for her age was mainly a roust about and up front performer, while Arty, Elly and Iphy had shows in their own tents.  
Elly and Iphy sang and performed songs on the the piano. Arty performed in a glass sided water tank as the "flipper boy" a human/fish exhibit.  Arty would recite home spun wisdoms from his tank and proved to be a great crowd manipulator. He acquired a cult like following of "Arturos" who traveled to see him from place to place revering him as a sort of a savior figure. Chick, the baby, was being groomed to take over the Fabulon and was taught from the time he was born all the scams and hustles of the carnival. The picture is unusual because they were rarely photographed out of their costumes and makeup which accented their oddities and deformities.  Al is quoted as saying, "What better life can you give to your children than being able to earn a living by just being what they are."
The carnival caught fire and everyone except Oly and Lil died in the blaze. Oly settled in Portland, Oregon with Lil who quickly lost her mind to dementia. Although Oly looked after her until her death she never remembered anything about her former life nor even knew Oly was her daughter.
The entire account of this strange family is documented in a book by Katherine Dunn called, "Geek Love".  My friend Harry Anderson adapted it for a screen play.  Various people have tried to make the movie, but it may just be too weird.  Harry has published the original screen play in his new book "Fast and Loose"  which has just been printed.  This is the first picture that I have ever seen of the clan. I doubt any others exist. 
As you were,

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The World is an Election?

Not to get political here, but the world is a stage and sometimes the show is about politics. But there is a danger in confusing politics with decency.  Although I watched the Tea Party debates with less than baited breath there were some very disturbing displays that played out. Several outburst from the crowd had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with dysfunctional morality.   I am not sure who disgusted me more,  the nasty personal attacks by the candidates themselves, or the hostile rhetoric from the crowd. At times it was like watching a mob rally. 
Two cases on point: When Rick Perry mentioned the number of people executed in Texas during his eleven year reign there was a cheer from the crowd as they stamped their feet in approval. There are at least three investigations into the allegation that some of those executed in Texas during that time were actually innocent. Currently a request for a stay has been sent to Gov. Perry to re-sentence a man who is scheduled to be executed.  It seems that during the penalty phase a prosecutor quoted a psychologist who said that black people are more likely to present a future danger to society than others.  There are no facts to support this allegation and it was the opinion of a witness for the prosecution. It is believed that statement turned the jury from a decision of life in prison to execution. Keeping the community safe is an admirable quest, but to cheer the fact that a Governor or a State has killed more people than any other is despicable decorum.  
Another incident occurred when medical care was being debated.  When asked, what should happen in America if a young person has a catastrophic illness and can't afford treatment that might save him... the crowd audibly shouted "let him die".  One of the candidates said we are all responsibility for ourselves and he should have planned his finances better in the hypothetical case.  Insensitive hypocrisy coming from a congressman who enjoys the benefit of a top notch governmental health plan. 
Ron Paul was booed when he suggested that the Muslim world was not out to destroy us. He cited the many Muslims living at peace with their neighbors stating that a radical fringe was reacting with political violence not religiousness. He is correct, political acts should not be confused with religion. 
The Klu Klux Klan spouts Christian religion as the basis for their actions. I don't think we would link all Christians with the violence, hate and crime associated with this group.
I am fine with discussions in opinion of a government run as a Republic verses a Democracy. By straddling the two we come up with a better government. But the whole discourse has gone from intellectual differences to hatred. As a nation we can not cheer the sanctioned killing of those who may be innocent.  We can not boo the idea that we are not all stereo types cast along racial differences.  And we can not write off a person who is not rich enough to afford the medical treatment to save his life.  Those very actions are counter to the American principles of freedom, liberty and justice for all.
The very legislators who allowed tax breaks and trade agreements to send all the manufacturing jobs out of this country are now complaining that we need to create more jobs in this country. Their solution is to eliminate over site and restrictions on the very companies that have shipped their jobs overseas.
How can the electorate make a good decision about the leaders of this country when they are so full of hate and misinformation?  To vote for a candidate because you both hate the same people is very dangerous.  Hitler was elected on that very ideology... sure worked out well for them.  
As you were,

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Today's Deadline

I got nothin'.  I have nothing to write about today.  I refuse to write stream-of-consciousness details of my day. It would sound like some sort of Amish tweet. "I wast holy and gracious to the English this morn."  So  if I can't think of something interesting to write about.. I will just miss my deadline.  Really can't even think of one sentence to write.  I guess that is a sentence and I did write it, so you can probably disregard the first part as well.  

The trick to writing is writing, the physical act of coordinating your fingers to touch the correct computer keys to form this code we call written English language.  Most of the time a reader will assume you have something to say just because you made the effort to type it. A skillful writer can suck you in with the turn of the phrase and use of clever vocabulary. The juxtaposition of pondering and the integral nature of the alphabet can turn mere configuration of letters into an eloquent resonance of seemingly immense cerebral magnitude. It lets readers confuse talent and observation with the use of a good thesaurus. Another trick is to quote other people and piggy back on their intelligence by repeating it.  Like the penultimate gambler Amarillo Slim used to say, "Never explain as intellect what can be dismissed as stupidity."  It doesn't even matter if what the person said has any relevance to the thesis of your writing. It doesn't really matter if you even quote the source correctly. A good quote is worth a hour of trying to write something yourself. Or as Ben Franklin said, "A penny earned is minimum wage."

Another cunning device is the use of paragraphs.  The paragraph to a reader is like a squirrel to a dog.  It is a momentary distraction which hints that something exciting is about to happen when it is not.  And the paragraph is easy. It is just space, a couple of taps on the return key and you have added a line to your document. Longer documents are better documents.  Poets try to say it in the fewest words, to say it in the longest form is what people regard as writing. To a reader the number of words and the space they occupy on a page convey the notion that some thesis has been thoroughly worked out. 

The Peanuts musical taught us that when an essay is graded by the word, repeating words is a good idea. This is still a good idea even if you are not graded on the number.  The more words the better and repeating again and again is a great way to add words . Let me repeat that, repeating words is a good idea, a very, very, very, very good idea. Just try to space them up and not write the same thing over, and over, and over in the same sentence. The reader will catch on to that.. they will know that you are just trying to fill the space with repeats.  There is nothing more important to a writer than to remember never, never, never  and I mean never repeat your writing.  That is so important I will say it again, There is nothing more important to a writer than to remember never, never, never  and I mean never repeat your writing. 

If everything works like it is supposed to, the reader becomes involved in the devices you have used to sucker them in. The reader keeps waiting for the words to actually form a complete thought, to develop a thesis, to state a case.  But alas, by the time the reader realizes that they have been tricked into reading something with absolutely no meaning, it comes to you. The writer's "got nothin" just like he claimed in the beginning... but by then.... It is over.  
As you were,

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fair Use Parody

Or........Art and the useless Rant.     Zazzle, the digital landlord of my online shopping boutique rejected this drawing for my tee shirt line.  It is my original art but they claim it is a trademark infringement on the corporate brand Fruit of the Loom.    I say duh..!  Hello! Yes.  It's a PARODY.  It wouldn't be much of a parody if it didn't resemble the original, now would it?  A joke is a twist on reality and a parody is a twist on familiarity.  It was my express purpose to have this drawing reminiscent of the Corporate underwear maker. It was the very point.  I'm not sure how you could not get this.  If anything I would say it is too straight forward.  I guess if you never set off a cherry bomb as a kid you might not get the cherry/cherry bomb reference.  But bomb, loom boom... pretty straight forward.  Parody.  According to  the Constitution of the United States of America we have a right to free parody. (Look it up, I'm sure it's there somewhere.) This drawing is my right to free parody and I should be allowed to publish it, particularly on a tee shirt to complete the art concept.  What damage am I doing to a corporate icon? One has to know the original brand to get the joke, free marketing brand recall as I see it.  It is an artist look at corporate branding. If anything can examine commercial icons, Art can.  
Speaking of Art Can....Andy Warhol painted a Campbells Soup can and called it art. It was the actual trademark can, he didn't change it only, enlarged it.  Zazzle would probably say no to that idea too. The things we artists have to endure to push the visual envelope is astounding. 
So here it is in the square above.... gone soon and never to be published again.... my drawing of the Fruit of the Boom label. 
It would look great on a plain white tee shirt.  But nooooo..... 
As I was,

Monday, September 12, 2011

Not Forgotten

I got this wonderful comment on my blog yesterday.
Jay, I just wanted to say 'thank you'. On 9/11, and for many days after, you and I were both stranded at the Hartford Airport hotel. Evacuated by M-16 wielding National Guardsmen and taken by van to another hotel and then back again to Hartford. We saw each other each day, talked while we ate at the bar, walked around to try and ease the monotony, spoke to people about their circumstances and tried to figure out ways to get 'home'. Or, in your case, to a gig in Utah, if I remember correctly. It was comforting to have a 'familiar' face during those difficult days. You were so humble and friendly. It made the 3000 mile separation from my family a bit more bearable. I'm always proud to say 'I was stranded during 9/11 with Jay Johnson'. 
 This brought it all back to memory like a movie re-run - that 9/11 week at the Hartford Airport Hotel. The airport was closed and there were several flight crews for different airlines stranded with all of us. I remember this young lady very well. She had small kids at home. Her husband expected her to be gone only a day or two. She was even attending the same conference that I was performing for. Her husband was dealing with the kids. She and I were dealing with how the world had just changed. It is perhaps a bonding moment when armed National Guardsmen escorted us from the hotel. This was the closest airport to Boston Logan/departure point of the hijacked planes. There was a rumor on the news of the hijackers using Hartford as a staging area for other strikes. They evacuated us by van to a downtown hotel, searched all the rooms and moved all the parked cars away from the terminal before they would let us come back.
This lovely lady and I were stranded across the country from our families and air travel suddenly stopped. At one point we discussed renting a car and driving for three days. There were no rental cars....all of it came back to me.... except her name, and she didn't sign her comment.

While everyone concentrates on the actual day of 9/11,  the horror and complete helplessness of that day extended through the week that followed. Until the air planes flew once more thousands of people like us were stranded away from home and loved ones. It was a week of fear and uncertainty.
While all of this was happening I didn't know: had I performed my show when it was originally contracted, I would have occupied seat 4F on American Airlines Flight 11. I had a first class seat on the plane that hit the first tower. That as my seat until a week before Sept.11. The insurance company moved my performance forward a day. Sept 11 was my performance day and not my travel day.   It was so insignificant at the time. I never knew why they changed it last minute.

My Airport friend, thank YOU very much. You made a very unique experience less frightening. We really did get through it together. I'll never forget.... except your name damn it.
As it was,

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Friday, September 09, 2011

Michael Sartor

Michael Sartor passed away this morning.  He will be missed on so many different levels. 
We met when he played the piano at Charlie's Place. He was an easy friend and humble in his excessive talents. 
We were just kids in every sense of the word. In times of pure tedium trying to entertain the Ft. Worth night club audiences, Mikie was there to make us laugh.  It was always fun to be around Mikie.  He could make you laugh with his wit or by playing a song on the piano that was perfect for the moment.  He arranged the playback songs for my act.  The next time I go on stage, it will be Mikie's performance that will orchestrate my own.  To call him clever with his music is to say that Itzak Perlman plays a good fiddle there was just so much more to Mikie. 
He was a talented teacher and coach as well.  His staff position at AMDA put him in contact with many students who came to love him as we all did.  With his coaching many have gone on to full careers in the performing world and to honors of their own.  He was my sister-in-law Claudia's favorite collaborator. They produced countless showcases for the talented performers of AMDA giving just the right numbers to show off their strengths.  
I remember one evening at Charlie's Place there were a series of signs dotting our path from the dressing room to the stage for all the performers to see.  Like Burma shave road signs, every few feet there would be another.  They all said basically the same thing, "Toll ahead... pay Toll".   When we finally made it onto the stage there was a tip jar on Mikie's piano with one final sign... it read  "I'm Toll".  He would organize fashion shows made of the props and costumes back stage between shows.  He wrote music with our friend David Sinkler and had a way to join two musical ideas with an inspired cleverness and joy that was Michael Sartor. Few musicians have the ability to put their humor into a sheet of music; Michael was the best at that. 
If you were lucky enough to have known Michael you were blessed.  There are few like him in the world and it is a rougher place without him. 
Our mutual friend Kristopher Kyer was with him at the end.  Kris told me that one of the last things he whispered to Michael before he made his transition was, "Claudia is waiting to greet you..."  I have no doubt she was and I know the performances "on that side" are about to be so much better.  I hope they save a spot for my act. 
"No Wei, Michael.... you can't really be gone." 

Grampa Geezer

I have been going through some old family photos of distant relatives recently.  Funny that this wooden relative would show up...on YouTube no less. Steve Axtell saw it first. Thanks Ax for the link. 
I remember doing this special in Nashville many years ago. If I recall it was titled Country Comedy II.  If I have a copy, it would be on an alien video tape format in the closet. I have only seen it once or twice.
I don't know who put this up on YouTube or if they have permission from the original producers. Mike Algers are you still in Hernando, Miss?  Most of these are James Hampton jokes with some of mine thrown in, certainly not the work of the writers on the show.  The producer took writers screen credit for the show. He did write the checks I suppose.
The puppet's original name was Farmer Frogurt. Just before I got the role on SOAP the Hood Dairy Company contracted me to create a trademark puppet and travel around the country promoting their new frozen yogurt product.  Variety newspaper  would  proclaim: "Puppet product promoter pure profit". 
I had done  research for a PBS children's television show in Houston, as part of the writing staff.  It was the job I got just after Sandi and I were married. I based the Farmer character on known marketing positives I learned at college and this show.When I pitched this concept I could tell you why the color scheme worked, why he favors the Quaker Oaks man, and why he is a white male rural grandfather type. He was created based upon my own sketches, plans and research.  The material is still in the original case I took to the pitch. 
A sculptress named Pat Neuman did the clay model and I had a mold and two copies made out of fiberglass. The Frankie Brothers did the movement and it is Rene hands and legs. The face painting was done by another female artist who's name escapes me. I was very pleased with the way he came together from the sketches.
I was set to become the wrangler for the Dough Boy of the Dairy business.  They allowed me to post pone the tour until after my first season of SOAP. They didn't have to contractually, but thought it would only help the tour.  I thought they would cash in on the fact that I had been on ABC television for a  year and tour me like a bus.  But,  by the time hiatus came for the first year of SOAP, the frozen yogurt market had gone cold. Literally it was the phrase they used,  gone cold. They decided not to promote the product with a guy and a puppet and I was paid to do nothing. But, they paid for the puppets and would keep them.

For several years I didn't know what happened to the Farmer Frogurt puppets. They were pawns in the slimy frozen yogurt game.  To get the settlement check I had to send the puppets to the home office in Boston, those Bastards. What was a lawyer going to do with a puppet.  The puppets were identical in identical cases. I knew the one I preferred to operate, but it was a feel no one else would get. I numbered the inside of the cases so even a stranger could tell the difference.  I suppose I thought I might see them again one day and from a distance I wanted to be able to tell them apart.  SOAP continued on and I slowly forgot about the puppets.  It was at least five years before I saw them again.

I was opening the show for Shields and Yarnell in vaudeville theatres around the country. Having one of the great times in my life.  A theatre show with a full orchestra. Norman Mamie actually conducted Bob and I doing "The Great Figero Challenge" with the orchestra.  Very exciting.
Robert Shields, in addition to being famous for his artistry in pantomime, was also famous for his unique toy collection at one time. I don't know if he still has it. At the time I think Robert and I were on a frequency that was compatible.  Whatever planet he is on, I have visited at least once so we quickly became friends.  One conversation led to another and I told him about this farmer puppet I had designed and lost in the cold market of frozen yogurt.
Over the next few weeks Robert persuaded me to call the Hood Dairy people and find out what happened to the puppet.  He wanted to buy it for his collection. He seriously wanted to buy it for his collection.  So I decided to see what I could find out. It was not easy at first to find anyone still at the company who knew anything about puppets.  (Over dinner or cocktails there is much more I add to the story here)                   CUT:
Robert Sheilds owns one of these puppets and this one is mine.  As far as I can tell they were never out of their cases the entire time they were in Boston. Other than jokes about the dummies becoming president and chairman of the company, I was told they were stored at a warehouse.  I like the character and I finally got to use him on this  TNN special.  I had forgotten what a nice face his has... perhaps it is time for him to un-retire. 
As I was,

As you were,

Thursday, September 08, 2011

 Know Thyself
Because I have some time to just think I am doing just that. It seems to me that we humans are wasting a lot of energy, stress and time with the way we think. Computers don't have that short coming. Not that computers are superior thinkers, about all they have going for them is speed. A computer can calculate much faster than it takes a human, but they have no emotion or obviously humanity. However, they do have a process that is superior to a human when it comes to taking action for future events and dealing with the past.
The fact is that a computer really doesn't deal with the future or past at all, they are always in the now. They can predict future actions or analyze the past but always based upon the now. They never find themselves paralyzed by a future problem or past event. Humans tend to live in either the past or the future and avoid the now. It can cause stress and wastes time and energy.
A computer is never concerned with what it did in the past. If it makes a mistake it corrects it in the moment and continues on. It spends no time wondering what would have happened "if" the mistake had not occurred or suffer guilt because of it. It was just an error, not a defining moment in the computers life. It thinks no more about the error except to correct it so that it is not repeated.
Humans seem to dwell on the mistakes they have made in the past. They have a need to be guilty or remorseful while neither emotion in itself will correct the mistake nor keep them from repeating it. The pattern of an abuser is to abuse, feel bad, express sorrow to the one hurt and soon repeat the abuse only to be sorry again. Remorse in itself does not correct the behavior. If they could not have both, would the abused rather have the abuser say he was sorry and continue the abuse or say nothing and never do it again. I suggest it would be the latter. A computer never apologizes for a mistake it simply corrects it. But, once the erroneous line of code is corrected it never repeats it either.
Future events are handled very differently by a human and a computer as well. While the human tends to think in terms of "What if then else" the computer thinks in terms of "If then else". A basic line of code in computer language is the "If then else" loop. It is used extensively to get computers to make choices. It says in essence, If this is the condition or answer, "then" complete the next sequence. If it is not the condition or answer, "else", complete a different sequence. When confronted in the now with a condition it makes a choice and continues on. When it reaches the next "If then else" loop it makes the choice based on the information it has at that moment. Like a sail boat continually correcting its course based upon current conditions, it reaches its destiny. A computer has the speed so these billions of "if then else" decisions happen very quickly, but no more than quick decisions based upon its current status.
Humans usually deal with the "What if then else" loop. Instead of waiting until information or a situation has presented itself the human will try to anticipate future actions. It is a loop that goes like this, "What if I lose my job? What if my saving is wiped out?" Based upon these hypothetical situations the human mind comes up with a plan of action. If I lose my job THEN I will run out of money fast, lose the house and will be homeless." The next part of the human loop is "else" , What if something else happens then what do I do? Again a fantasy scenario is calculated for the next situation that has not happened.
The human mind is capable of coming up with all kinds "what if then" situations and feels it must prepare for every thing that MIGHT come its way. Since all the imagined what if's can't possible happen, there is a lot of wasted time, energy, and stress used in contemplating that which will not happen. It is much better for humans to wait, like the computer, and react to that which IS in the now and not rehearse that which will not be.
In the same manner the past is taken care of because if you make better choices in the now, there will be less regret and guilt over what happened in the past.
One might quote the Boy Scout credo, "Be prepared" as the proper way to conduct your life. By anticipating the what if then scenario are we humans not becoming prepared? Prepared for what? Is it smart to prepare for a category five hurricane in the desert? Or bring refrigeration to the arctic? It is wasted time to prepare for that which will not be. And the only thing that will be is that which is... that which is now. When faced with the reality of now, IF action is needed THEN you will react to the proper stimuli.
The way we can prepare is to know who we are and what we are. If you know you are an honest person, faced with a choice that is dishonest, THEN you will not make the dishonest decision. If you believe in the value of everyone, when faced with the idea of hurting another for your own gain, THEN you will not participate.
The only way to truly prepare for what might happen is to know your core values now. Instead of imagining an event in your life and trying to write a scenario based upon what you would do IF it happens, know the principles you stand for. If you know what you believe in THEN you do not have to think about what you might do IF something happens you will simply do it when the time comes.
Written above the entrance on the Temple of Delphi thousands of years ago are two words. It is perhaps the best advice for modern living ever written. It says, "Know Thyself". IF you know yourself, THEN you will find everything ELSE easy and you will never worry about WHAT will happen to you, ELSE it is a lot of wasted time worrying about that which never will be.
As you were,

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Road Monkeys W.M.F.D.

One of the great things about being on a ship is running into other road monkeys. I use the term road monkey advisedly and with great reverence. I am proud to be a road monkey myself and a member of the invited only Facebook page. It is a site where comics and novelty acts that primarily work the ships communicate. Last year when I was in Alaska I wondered how some of the entertainers on the ship knew where to find each other in Skagway and other ports and off different ships. It was the road monkey page and at the time I was not a member. Thanks to my friend Steve Smith I was asked to join recently.
Now I can post, "I'm going on the Serenade this week who is on already." If someone is on or com in aboard while I am there you can find out. You can also communicate with all the other monkeys that are hooked up on any other cruise line. There are codes to let you know what kind of Cruise director it is and what to expect from the production manager all hidden in what looks like regular communication. Then there will be the rendezvous set up when and where to meet on a port day. The communication crosses cruise lines and acts, and is mostly comics. It is a great way to have an inside track at sea.
On this ship I ran into Billy Prudume , George Kanter, Rick Starr and Joey Van coming and going. I have not seen any of them for a decade. Being sea locked is a great place to shoot the breeze and catch up. There are so many great people out here, except for crossing ships or ports we might never cross paths. None of the people I mentioned live in Los Angeles.
The inevitable road stories come up and the game is to top everyone with the best story. I started late on ships and mine are generally he least interesting tales, but I love hearing the others. Perhaps my only story that can compete is the time I had to leave a ship by rope ladder onto a pilot boat at 4:00 am while the ship was sailing full out to the Panama Canal. I literally felt like a drug smuggler, getting on a small boat from the mother ship with a crew that spoke no english and not knowing exactly where they were taking me. I sat in an office that functioned as sort of the traffic controller of the Canal for several hours before being driven to the airport. On a scale of one to ten and compared to the other Monkey tales my story would rank about a five to six. You can imagine the others. Most are not retell-able because they involve ship policy, or errant conquests of the opposite sex. Mine gets a couple extra points for being clean enough to tell in mixed company.
Joey Van is a comic impressionist and a double talker. He will do his show tomorrow night here on the Serenade. Everyone, including me, has stories about Joey. It usually involves his double speak in situations outside the ship. He will double talk any unsuspecting person and particularly likes to confuse the trinket traders at foreign ports. It is amazing that a store keeper will try to make a sale even if they have no clue what the guy is saying in any language. Most people will become irritated and frustrated when they keep trying to understand, but not a Jamaican souvenir seller. They will negotiate in this impossible language for hours if it might lead to a sale.
As far as port peddlers go I have my own negotiation technique, especially in Haiti at the straw market. They sell voodoo dolls there which are nothing more than sawdust stuffed muslin figures. The marketeers will start the price at 10 dollars. On most things you can negotiate down to about half the original price. For a couple of runs I was paying that much for one doll. I started giving them as gifts because there is much cache in an authentic voodoo doll actually purchased in Haiti. That is even more true for my friends.
However, I realized that I had an advantage in the negotiation process that I was not taking advantage of: I could make the voodoo doll talk. On subsequent trips I began asking the doll itself if that was a good price to pay and the doll would answer no. It would freak out the shop keeper and eventually they would be glad to get rid of the possessed doll. I get them for two bucks apiece now. If I had the time or the desire and wanted to continue to perform in the straw market I might be able to get the shop owner to pay me to take the doll away.
I finished my shows last night and am now cargo for two days. It would be nice if they would disembark me today in Barbados, but I have to wait till Antigua so that Joey and I can disembark together. It is easier for the ship and although you would think an extra couple of free days on a vacation cruise would be a perk.... I am always ready to go home once I don't have any shows to look forward to.
As you were,

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

We're not in Kansas anymore...Toto

I knew it is going to be one of *those* days when at 6:00 in the morning I was awaken by what I thought was a big bug landing on my cheek. Still mostly asleep I flicked the intruder quickly off my face only to see a small lizard scurry across the sheets. Welcome to the glamor of showbiz. Once again I am wondering why Ernest Hemingway did not shoot himself sooner.
The driver said he would pick me up at 8:00am so there was no going back to sleep before my pickup. I scoured the bedding for the invader and never found him. I am sure he is hiding in the mattress somewhere waiting for his next wake up call. Although creeped out a little I was not surprised. There seemed to be lots of reptiles crawling up the walls of the Ocean Terrace. I was hoping they preferred to stay outside, but in the intense heat you can't blame them.
I thought the pickup call was early. 8:00 is usually when the ship docks and it takes an hour or so to clear. I usually board around 11:00 so the pickup is never before 10:00 and I could see the dock from my hotel room no more than a five minute drive. The driver called the room at 7:45 saying he was ready, but as I looked out the patio the ship was not yet docked, it had just arrived. I asked him if this early boarding had been okayed by the ship, he said they were aware. I should have know that was not a definitive answer. But in my eagerness to get to my job, and thinking that I would have time for a nap on board getting there so early, I didn't much care at the time. I figured I would let the lizard have the room with out me bothering him.
The driver dropped me at the dock house which is nothing more that an open breeze way with a roof. The guard let me stay in the shade but said I would have to go through immigration before I could go to the ship which was about 200 yards away. He acted like he was giving me a perk by letting me stand out of the sun. And stand I did.
The immigration officer did not even show up before 9:45. There was nothing to do but wait it out. It was oppressively hot even at that time of day and I had to fan myself with tour fliers to keep from bursting into flames. I emailed the Production manager at 8:30. Fortunately I had his email address and my smart phone was getting a signal. He did not check his email before 9:30 because I was not due until 10 or later. They had no clue of my early arrival. Finally they sent a couple of production guys out for my luggage and soon the immigration officer showed up.
The story seems to be that my driver, who's name is Winston Johnson, we made a big deal about being related. is also a tour guide. He had decided to be there to catch the rush of passengers looking for a tour the minute the ship arrived. Since there was a Carnival ship arriving at the same time there was money to be made. Of course none of this was communicated to the ship and they were really angry at the port agent who arranged this transfer from the hotel. I'm not sure it was even his fault, this driver just decided to kill two birds with one stone and collect for taking me and be there for the windfall of business. Because he was dropping me off, he was able to be the first car in line for the tours. It was a perfect deal for him, and I wouldn't have a clue until he was already taking a load of tourist to see the reptiles of the island.
I guess it was self fulfilling prophesy when I had blogged about the difficulty getting onto a ship from a small Island. It is always new and different and this was not the worst, but close. It was mainly the heat... how do people live in that kind of oppressive heat?
I am on the ship but don't have wifi in my cabin so I am still not able to post yet. My shows are tonight so there is no time to go seeing the hot spots. However, the hottest spot I have ever found is the dock at the port of St Kitts. Tomorrow St Thomas, one of my favorite places, and one that I have been to what seems like hundreds of times. I have a ritual walk around Havensight that I do and might even get into town since I will be cargo for the rest of this segment of my week. I am hoping that the heat is not Caribbean wide and St.Thomas is a little more civil.
I am assuming that this is a lizard free cabin and I will get to sleep in tomorrow morning. It was an exhaustive red eye set of flights to get here yesterday. I'm beat.
As you were,

Monday, September 05, 2011

Editor's Note

For the next week I will be publishing the posts I wrote while I was on the Serenade of the Seas. Those posts will follow this note.
Currently I'm at the McCarren Airport waiting to return to Burbank. The telethon was just as I remember it from every time before, except there was no Jerry Lewis. A lot of waiting followed by a flurry of activity to get you on and off camera. What is so distracting is the noise in the studio. It is a constant shuffle and low level talk while you are doing your spot. For comedy it really is deadly to be sidetracked by the other sounds and not hear the audience clearly. Because of the delay I was in my room relaxing by the time my segment actually aired. I hate watching myself on television. It is a nightmare for a control freak, there is nothing you can do to change it yet there it is slapping you in the face. I get to be home today for a week and then gone again. The family is used to it by now, but the new dog is not sure if I am ever coming back.
As you were,

St Kitts

I am writing this on the patio of the lovely Ocean Terrace Hotel on the island of St Kitts. (Look it up... I have no idea where I am geographically) The hotel looks over the island and I will be able see my ship from my patio when it docks tomorrow. This will be a post-posting since I can not get on the Internet even after my offer to pay the $13.00 a day. That would be over 35.00 in local coin. Probably operator error, but it is an expensive learning curve. Nonetheless I will publish this missive when I get the opportunity.
Between the last sentence and this one I have moved my operational base. This is off season for St Kitts and the hotel is empty. I wouldn't even be here if hurricane Irene had not pillaged some of my ships ports of call this week.
As far as I can tell I am the only guest. When I checked in the clerk told me that when the electricity went out on Tuesday the hotel back up generator broke. He said if there is suddenly no electricity in the hotel, it was because this section of the Island was blacked out and there was nothing the hotel could do about it. Just what you want to hear after an all night flight. The hotel bar and restaurant is closed and I have been directed to Fisherman's Warf eating establishment right on the water. In fact it sits right in the water on a pier into the surf. I was struck by the sign out front... it says "Fisherman's Wharf Sea Side dining"... then in smaller letters under the sign it says, "No fishing". Perhaps they should just call it the Wharf.
No one is here either but they are open. There is a couple in the restaurant part and a table of locals in the bar. I feel like I am living some strange Caribbean version of "The Shining". "Good evening Mr. Torrence."
"Hello Lloyd... wonderful weather we are having here at the Overlook...."
It was a long wait to get through Immigration this afternoon. Not that many people but the line was moving at a pace even slower than the usual Island pace. The officer controlling my line seemed to be taking a very long time with each person. I could see them signing things and shuffling paper back and forth, and taking much longer than I am used to. I have done his drill on almost all of the Islands and this was excessive. I expected a long line of questions when I got to the window, about what I was doing here and a discussion on the reality of making a living as a ventriloquist. But when I finally got there the guy was great. He asked me if I had ever been to St Kitts before, I said, "I can't remember." He said something to the effect that I must have had a great time before if I couldn't remember it. We laughed and established my island experience was eschew because I worked ships. I was stamped and admitted in less than a minute. It seems the others before me had not filled in the landing form correctly and he had to have them correct it. If a plane load of Americans can not fill out a simple form correctly... no wonder Rick Perry is ahead in the polls right now.
There was almost a fist fight over which skycap would help me with my luggage. Evidently two guys had seen me at the same time, each claiming territorial rights over hauling my stuff to the taxi. The little guy won. But back to now.
The sound track to this reality ride is quite busy. Between the surf pounding the shore, the tree frogs squeaking like a broken baby carriage, bad reggae musak, and the television at the bar blaring with reruns of Seinfeld, one would think you were at a carnival. One only has to look around to see the truth.
It would be easy to see my adventure here through the eyes of Ernest Hemmingway. With a little tweak I could play up the romance of such an adventure. It is tempting, and would be a good read perhaps. But it is the loneliness that takes center attention. There is no one here to share it with, no one to laugh with over the "no fishing" sign. At every point I am reminded that I occupy a table for one no matter where that table is located. And ultimately Ernest offed himself. Was his an exciting life well led, or a cautionary tale. All we really have is his writings and his legend. I question that either was a truthful representation of the events of his life.
But before I go looking for a shot gun.... I have a TSA complaint. Yes, me and the TSA are still not friends. At LAX today I was instructed to go through the scanner and not just the metal detector. Now two days ago I had several skin spots burned off my left arm. By this morning it looked like I had been burned several times by a lit cigarette while being tortured to reveal the secret of ventriloquism. Rather than go through a plane ride looking like an abused elder, I wrapped an ace bandage around my forearm to cover the spots. So, back to the f****** TSA. I got to the scanner and the TSAsshole looked at my wrapped forearm and said, "Woa, what have we got going on here." I said the bandage was covering a couple of open burn wounds on my arm. He actually made me take the bandage off and show him my arm, then step into the scanner holding the bandage above my head. Really? I thought that was the whole point of the cancer causing scanner... it can see through cloth. It is supposed to show anything that a person is hiding under his clothes. If I was stupid enough to hide explosives under the ace bandage on my left arm, wouldn't that have shown up on the scanner? If I give them the benefit of the doubt and say that it was an extra security screening for the protection of the flying public it might sell to some. However, I am not one to explain the incident with brilliance when I can dismiss it as stupidity.
Ernest might have offed himself earlier if he had been required to go through TSA security to seek his adventurous life.
As you were,

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Laffs Vegas

Not so much.
The lady behind the desk at the hotel is way too serious. She is not rude, but on the border line of civility. I don't know why I feel compelled to try and intervene in a social crisis like this, but it is like a flame to the moth. I really can't help it... call it comedy Turrets syndrome. I watch her as she is helping those in line ahead of me. I analyze this prospective audience so to speak. I change the metaphor, it is not a moth to the fame, it is more like the wolf watching sheep. My show biz instincts are straining at the lead. The frowning clerk seems to reward efficiency and speed. Don't make her ask for a credit card imprint... you'll just make her growl. But no problem...I've had tougher audiences than her... I just got off a ship for crap sake.

It is my turn at the desk. I am pumped ready and on my game. There is, however, a speed bump to my plan. I arrive early to Vegas. What usually happens is they have your reservation but your room is not ready until 3:00pm. It is a ploy that makes you wait either in the bar, restaurant or casino for a couple of hours where you will spend money out of boredom. Even though the telethon set up the flight and the hotel reservations the very efficient lady behind the desk says, "Let me see if we have a room available..this early". She stresses the word *early* like I have broken the "Inn Keepers golden rule" by not checking in at the proper time.
With that serious hang dog face she types furiously on her key board. I still want to brighten her day but want her to get me a room first. Finally she says, "The only room we have right now has two queens in it.... Is that okay?"
I said, "As long as they have checked out before I go to bed."

Okay.... now that may not be the most original line, but it was organic, to the point and funny, or at least witty enough to garner a smile. No so from the Mount Rushmore of the hotel clerks. Neither a smile, twinkle, wink, blush nor noticeable change to her countenance could be found. I smiled at her as if to say, "Trust me, I am a professional and yes that is a funny line." but nothing. It was like staring at a photograph of the worst teacher you ever had in grade school. In my case that would be Mrs. McClure...good ole redheaded Mrs. McClure. That tight assed scottish personality with a hair trigger temper to boot. Today she would be fired for psychological child abuse, back then they just called those kinds of teachers.... stern. Nurse Ratchet had more love in her heart than Mrs. McClure...not even sure she had a heart. (Wow... I wasn't expecting that to come up.... but just in case Mrs. McClure who taught second grade at Abernathy Elementary school - happens to be reading this--- she is probably in her 80's by now and as Dick Chaney can attest to... people with no heart live longer than those who do have hearts.... If you are reading this Mrs. McClure.... BITE ME you old BAG PIPE)

Scooby Doo wiggle fade, BACK TO THE HOTEL STORY------

"Here are your keys Mr. Johnson...... Next", she yells at the line. As I am leaving in defeat the next person has not come to her desk with proper haste and very loudly and ironically she says again, "Next Person...Next in Line..." I sincerely hope that the next guy has better luck than I did. There was no time to warn him of the seriousness of the encounter he was about to have. Unfortunate Bastard, he was just moments away from getting the hot chick that just came on duty.
Life is too short. You gotta laugh when you get the chance.
As you were,

Saturday, September 03, 2011

My kind of humor

As you were,

Happy Labor Day

I will "post publish" the blogs I wrote on the ship next week starting on Monday. I am off to do the MDA Telethon. I think it was three or four years ago that I last performed on the show. Even as I board the plane there has been discussion on whether Jerry Lewis will make an appearance. Originally I thought it was note worthy to do his last show, but it may be that he has already done his last show. I am not expecting to see him. However, Nigel Lithgow will be one of the hosts and I have a history with him. He hired me years ago for the Joe Thorn show in London. It was a television show shot in Nottingham. Last time I saw Nigel, at a Share show, he remembered more of the details of that performance than I did.
As you were,