Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Romance of Air Travel

In my 50 some odd years of air travel I have watched the industry decline exponentially. Recently, we all have have seen the American Airlines video as well as the United Airlines video of passengers being treated badly by airline officials. One can make the case that because of the access to our cell phone video camera we are just seeing more of these types of events, but I think this is a symptom of a bigger problem that is growing industry wide, if not Nationally.   I think I am qualified to make an observation since I am a permanate Platinum Flier on American because of the 3 million miles I have flown on that Airlines since they started their Frequent Flier Program.  I have almost a million miles on United Airlines as well.  
As a Platinum Flier I get treated better than most flying on the same flight.  However, I think I have been involved most every bad situation that can happen on an airplane except a fatal crash.  All I can say after all those experiences is this:  It is getting worse.  I have a theory on why this is happening industry wide now based upon my 50 plus years of air travel.   I have watched the airline industry decline in my almost 50 years of air travel.  I have flown extensively on both of these airlines through my career.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

If you knew Sushi... like I know Sushi.....

 The drawing muse has come to visit for the last few days and this is the result. I titled it "Sushi". The meaning has a cautionary tale. "Becareful what you wish for."  Most of the time we go through life never realizing that we bait our own hook, which means we are mostly responsible for what we get.  I think a wiser philosopher than I said it better, "What you sow you reap." Duck hunters don't use a moose call to catch ducks.  The call you put out is the answer you will get back. But that has little to do with the rest of this blog.

Although I have not lived in Texas for the last 40 plus years, it is hard not to think of a thick juicy steak and baked potato as my favorited dinner.  However, an evening out for Sushi may be giving that traditional dinner some competition to my dining desires. This is quite a pivot for me, although I do miss going to Sushi the way it used to be.
I was introduced to Sushi by Ted Wass and Billy Crystal.  It was when we were doing SOAP on the ABC lot in Hollywood for a half season.  One day Ted and Billy decided to go to lunch "off Campus" and invited me to go along.  I did not know they planned to make a lunch of raw fish until we got to a small out of the way Sushi Bar 10 minutes from the studio.  It was located in Chinatown and at that time one of the few Sushi bars in the city.  It was only after my second time there that I was able to find my way back.  It was traditional in every way.  There was low hanging cloths on the door way, and traditional Japanese music playing.  The Sushi Chefs were all decked out in traditional white with scarves rolled and tied around their foreheads.  They were welding sharp knives with Ninja precision.   A very calm and inviting place that was like no other restaurant I had ever been too. There were no tables only the long bar with personalized wooden sake cups on wall shelves. As we walked in the entire staff yelled something in Japanese.  Since we were the only "non-Asian's" there I thought they were yelling at us to leave.  There were no menus just a glass counter in front of us with various kinds of raw fish.   I remember thinking it looked like a butcher shop more than a restaurant.  
Billy and Ted began to utter a different language to the chef. They ordered things like Magura,  Neghihama, Yellow Tail and sea ell.  When I found out that one of those items was tuna, I decided to give it a try.  I didn't jump off into the deep end, Ted, however, ordered Sea Urchin with a quail egg.  It looked like something that was ready to be prepared not yet ready to eat, but Teddy gulped it down.  After I got past the idea that a "hot" lunch was out of the question I settled in.  Every thing I ordered, most of the time not knowing what it really was, tasted great. It was a new adventure and an unrealized turn in my eating habits.  
Back then there were so few Sushi places that it became an event to have a Sushi dinner.  To introduce Sandi to my new passion we had to drive over to Hollywood, there were no Sushi places I knew of in the Valley.  But, before long Sushi places starting springing up like Starbucks.  It was not long before  LA had a glut of Sushi bars. We didn't have to travel to Hollywood any longer to get our fix.  TerraSushi opened on Ventura boulevard not far from the Radford CBS lot and it became the "in" place for the young Turks of Hollywood to hang.  If you wanted to see celebrities and be seen by those looking for celebrities TerraSushi became the place to be.  We used to joke that to get a good table or preferred place at the bar you needed to be wearing a satin production jacket from a hit show. Satin production jackets were also the rage at the time and I will admit to wearing my SOAP jacket there more than a few times.  In those evenings of just hanging out with friends, I learned that a fine compliment to any Sushi is Kirin beer and hot sake.  I salivate now just thinking of that combination. 
It was at a Sushi bar in New York during that time that I had an unforgettable "fan" experience.  I was in town doing some promo for ABC and had gone out to Sushi on Columbus Ave. with a friend.  
As we were ordering our second round a very nice asian woman came up to me.  In very broken English she explained she was a reporter/writer from Japan.  She knew that I was a "television man" and wondered if I would have time to do an interview with her.  In anticipation of just such an occurrence the publicist at ABC had given me a dozen of her business cards.  She told me that if someone wanted to set up an interview, give the person her card and they would set up something at a convenient time.  Being a good network employee, I said, "Sure we can do an interview" and I reached for one of the cards.  Before I could say, "Give ABC a call and they will set something up..." The woman retrieved a small tape recorder and a very large professional microphone from her bag and said, "Good... we do it now?"  It was a rhetorical question, she immediately launched into it tuning on the recorder, clearing her throat and checking the level. It went exactly like this:
She held the mic to her face and started speaking in Japanese.  It was very lyrical in sound but the only thing I understood was my name.  She sprinkled it into the monologue occasionally saying, Mr. Jay Johnson San.  After what seemed like a long time she paused looked me in th eye and said very seriously, "Mr. Johnson San..... what you eating?"  In all my years of being interviewed it was the first time and perhaps the only time that question had been asked.  I said, "I am eating Tuna sushi."  
She seemed delighted at that response and moved the microphone back to her face and said, "Ahhhhh, Mr. Johnson San, yadda yadda, yadda, Tuna Sushi.... yadda yadda." This Japanese monologue went on for some time until once again she paused, looked at me and said, "Mr. Johnson San..... what you order next?"  
I hadn't really decided until that moment but I boldly went out on a limb and said, "I think next I will have California Roll." 
Same reaction..... "Ahhhhhh,   Mr. Johnson San, yadda yadda yadda, California Roll.... yadda yadda yadda."  The yadda's continued in the same manner as I had become accustomed to.  Once again she paused getting ready to ask me another question.  I was prepared with all the answers about my career on SOAP, our new season, what happened at the end of last season, and what it was like to be on a show like SOAP.  So, she looked at me with all seriousness, took in a deep breath as if this is the question she had been waiting to ask.  It was a little slower and more deliberate in the delivery, she paused a longer time between my name and the question.  
"Mr. Johnson San...... what you order after that?"  
Now I am set on improv mode. One of the great things about eating at a Sushi bar ordering a selection at a time and waiting until you are ready for the next taste.  I was not sure at all what I would order after the California Roll, but I usually ended my Sushi dinners at the time with Sea Ell Sushi.  As if I was considering the question longer than the first two I finally said, "I guess I will have my favorite dessert, Sea Ell."  
"Ahhh.... Mr. Johnson San, yadda yadda, Sea Ell yadda yadda yadda.  She giggled as she yaddaed some more.  Finally it was back to me as she said, 
"Mr. Johnson San......... thank you very much."  
The interview was over. The mic and the recorder went back into the bag, she bowed and returned to her table.  Noting more needed to be said.  I have spent years reliving that interview wondering what was really said.  I decided she was probably a food critic rather than an entertainment writer but I will never know.  To date it is still one of the strangest interviews I have ever done.  
As you were,
Jay

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Left Coast Easter

This is Bruce. He sits guard on the brick column by the pool.  He scares evil spirits away from coming near our orange tree.  He seems to be very effective except in the case of squirrels. I have seen those furry tailed rats standing on Bruce's head to get the advantage on a particular orange.    I think it was my oldest son who named the gargoyle Bruce when he was young, my son, not Bruce. This gargoyle has been around a long time and has refused to state his actual age. He is the old friend, always looking out, always guarding my back.
Today Bruce is my secretary, my receptionist and my collaborator.  I have moved the main office of Jaysons Imagination, Inc. out doors today.  It's one of those perfect California days, Spring has sprung.  From the few rain showers everything brown has turned green.  Unfortunately my collaborator does not seem to be inspired at the moment and has assumed his "thinking" position.  I totally understand because the perfumed air, the gentle breeze and song of the wind chimes makes it impossible to think clearly enough to write. At my desk the smell is of orange blossoms.  If you walk around the neighborhood you find the orange blossom scent mixed with some sort of jazmine.  It is a distinctively California Spring smell unlike any other place except perhaps Hawaii.   
So Easter is this weekend.  Funny that Easter always lands on a Sunday.  Unfortunately no little kids to hide eggs for and no old people to attend a sunrise ceremony with this year.  We will have a brunch for the extended California family but no Easter egg hunts.  
I remember one Easter when the boys were 8 and 5 years old and their Asbury Grandparents were here to celebrate with them.  My mother-in-Law, Grammy, found some plastic Easter eggs at the store and meticulously spend the night before Easter Sunday stuffing dozen's of them with candies and small change.  She placed them carefully around the dwarf peach tree in the back yard..  
The next day after Church the boys were very excited to start their egg hunting.  We gave them their baskets and set them to the task.  Grammy was particularly interested in their hunt and "steered" them to the peach tree.
Excitedly the boys ran to the tree and gathered the plastic eggs.  My oldest son quickly opened the first egg, and to everyone's surprise it was empty.  His little brother did the same thing and his plastic Easter Egg was empty as well.  We watched as they progressively got more excited that the next egg would not be empty only to be disappointed by more empty eggs.
Grammy was totally baffled. We all watched her prepare the plastic eggs but we were not seeing the results.  Grammy wondered if squirrels had eaten the candy.  I was not sure that was the reason.  First squirrels don't eat chocolate and I was certain they would not cover their theft by re-assembling the egg halves.  
The boys were filled with such hope for the next egg they opened to be anything but empty.  They seemed so very disappointed when there was, once again, nothing inside.  It was a panic for grandparents and new parents who wanted Easter to be a perfect memory for the kids. Grammy replaced all the candy in every egg that was opened and empty.   The grown ups were all baffled.
I am not sure exactly how we solved the mystery, perhaps it was the five year old who cracked.  Turns out, that while the "grown ups" were getting ready for the big hunt, the boys covertly invaded the backyard.  They took all the candy and coins out of the plastic eggs, reassembled them and placed them back in their spot.  The whole disappointment and bewilderment at the missing candy, was only a completely realized scam.  They were able to get double the candy treats with this ploy.  
I realized then that the apples do not fall from the tree.  I was secretly proud of the guys for coming up with that plan on their own.  However it was a harbinger of things to come as they later approached puberty.  Knowing what they were capable of as kids helped me stay only half a step behind them as they grew up.
Easter is a time to renew, recommit and remember that the future is beautifully unfolding after a long gloomy winter.  I understand the symbolism that has been co-opted by the Christian Religion to renew faith and love.  I have no trouble in seeing how both the secular and the religious come together in one celebration of renewal and rebirth at Easter.  Enjoy every aspect of this season.
As you were,
Jay


Friday, April 07, 2017

My Day in Court

 California statute requires one day or one trial every 12 months as far as jury duty goes. So on Sunday night I call in to see if I am needed... No... Yea.. Monday I make the same evening call... Not needed on Tuesday. I repeat this process the next two nights. Thursday I call in.... I am told to report at 7:45 am on Friday. Damn. One more day and I would have served my time without leaving my phone.
So Friday... frikin' FRIDAY at 8:00 am, in the jury assembly room at the Van Nuys Superior Court building in Van Nuys, we unfortunate participants, have jury duty orientation. This consists of a video telling me what a wonderful service I am about to perform for the State of California.  I am not swayed.
At the end of the video, a nice young Woman comes to a podium with a  wireless microphone.  She repeats this same speech every morning, 5 days a week as a career. It is a pleasant "reading" but the freshness of the script has run its course. She will say the words, "Any questions" every few seconds for the rest of the orientation. 
She starts repeating most of the information we just had to sit through.  I am thinking that if we have to be reminded of what we just heard moments before, maybe we do not have the brain capacity to serve on a jury.  None the less we listen to her "sort of".  I see several people texting covertly, and one old man continues to glance at his LA Times, or he was nodding off it was hard to tell.  
The nice woman gets to the part about "postponements and excuses not to serve". I was not listening very closely. None of this section applies to me, because if I could come up with an excuse that worked I wouldn't be sitting here this time of the morning. 
The woman says, "If you are over 70 and have a medical condition, you must state the condition on line 7 of the form...".  At that moment some man  in the middle of the room almost shrieks, "Wow. Unbelievable"
This stops the process in its tracks.  The lady turns to the man as if she had not understood the questions.  
He says, "Possum"
She repeats, "Possum"
Now the jury room of the Van Nuys Superior court house is located on the ground floor with plenty of windows. It is not a bad view of old trees and official buildings. It is not however, a place that seems to inspire creativity.  I guess I would call it an institutional environment.  It is easy to get distracted by the people walking on the sidewalk through the trees. No one is just enjoying the stroll. Everyone on this property has some legal reason to be there.  As I watched people make their way past the window I played a game in my mind.  The game is called "Lawyer, Planiff, Defendant".  As quickly as the people passed by was all the time I had to cast them (the movie in my head) as a lawyer, planiff or defendant in some Superior Court drama to come. 
I am sure that is exactly what the man was doing when he said, "Possum." For indeed now everyone in the jury room is looking at a very large possum peering into our window.  As an indicator of the boredom factor people began to act like they had never seen an animal off -leash and ungroomed.
No one is listening to the jury Woman, everyone is giggling at a possum like it was a giraffe giving birth.  In fact the jury woman herself has moved closer to the window to see the possum. She is able to continue repeating the speech while clearly expressing more interest in the possum. Just as everyone in the room had taken their seats convinced the possum show was over, the jury woman says, "I think that is security trying to get the possum."
Indeed the cops had shown up to arrest the possum. Perhaps for trespassing, I suppose. Or maybe for being out after possum curfew.  Whatever the charge it became difficult to subdue the possum. The possum refused to obey verbal commands, and was already down on the ground.  I am sure their Smith and Wesson handcuffs do not ratchet down to possum size.  
Before too long the possum decided to take it on the lam and took off to parts unknown. It was back to the boredom of civic duty.
Soon we were called to various courts and the process began.  Since we were admonished not to talk about the case, and we were not allowed to take any photos, you'll have to take my word for all of this.  However, I can tell you with complete candor that the Possum was the highlight of my day in court.
As you were,
Jay

Monday, April 03, 2017

The Swarms of Spring


The Orange Beetle - genis -Trumperius Irritateus 
With Spring comes an infestation of a rare and destructive beetle. The Trumperius Irritateus Beetle is swarming the country and seems out of anyone's control. Like killer bees the Trumperius Irritateus is an experiment gone bad, a genetically engineered bug was released to do a specific job.  The DNA of two bugs was mixed to creat a more aggressive insect breed. The Trumperius is a cross between a New York cock roach (Slimis Bagus) and a Russian louse (Putinus Dic). 
In an attempt to stem the pestilence of the common DC stink bug (Politicus Ignoramus), the Trumperius was introduced to the insect hives of Washington hoping create a new line of beetles.  Unfortunately too much of the Russian louse was reproduced in the hybrid. The engineered insect had more problems than the breeders thought.  Rather than mixing well with its new environment  the Trumperius was angry and provocative to other bugs, ineffective at leadership, and very destructive to the environment.  The Trumperius surrounds itself with other cockroaches and shows  affection for all kinds of Russian louses. Most alarming, however, the Trumperius Beetle has spread up and down the east coast.  Rather than staying in one spot it has established nests from New York to Florida.  
The Trumperius is irritating in actions and expressions.  It attempts to dominate females of all kinds but prefers to stay close to it's own off spring, especially the oldest female Irritateus.  It seems to disdain all other non-native species except itself.  The species is obsessively self aware  puffing up its orange antenna in an opulent manner for attention. The Trumperius is know by its "Tweeting" sounds often trying to imitate fox howls or the shrieks of the alternative white jackal. The tweets are loudest in the early morning hours and annoy most every other species on the planet.  
Exterminators disagree about how best to rid the country of this infestation. It would appear that the mutant bug is immune to most normal forms of elimination. It is not known how much damage the Trumperius will do before it can be neutralized.  In fact there is not a consensus on who should be in charge of the beetle problem. The governmental agency which looks after the environment has been eliminated by the current administration. However, everyone agrees that it will cost a lot of money, time and resistance to keep this infestation from spreading.  

As you were,
Jay

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

You Stole my cart...


As I was walking Boo, or rather as Boo was walking me, we got to the corner of Ventura and Woodley this afternoon.   As we passed by Encino Plaza a mini mall at the corner, a lady almost ran into me and Boo and  said, "Where is my cart?"  She seemed a little panicked and concerned. I said, "I haven't seen any carts, Ma'm" and continued my journey. That did not seem to be the correct response on my part. She ran across the street to the entrance of an office building garage and started yelling at the attendants... "YOU Stole my cart." I could still hear her screaming as I got to the traffic signal to cross a busy Ventura Blvd.  

I happen to be standing next to a very well dressed man who obviously worked in one of the buildings near.  I was just waiting for the light to change as he was also doing when the lady made her way to the corner where we were standing.  She stepped off the curb and faced the two of us.  She backed into traffic as she confronted us. 
She looked at the man next to me and said, "YOU, you stole my cart."  He had the good sense not to answer. She looked at me and screamed "YOU, you also stole my cart where is it." I followed the business man's lead and remainded silent.  She continued,
"You both stole my cart where is it? Where is it you thieving bastards? You murdering sumbags what did you do with my cart." A car has to swerve to avoid hitting her and honks. She throws the car a finger and continues to berate the both of us.  "I know who you are.... both of you... you kill you cheat you steal... you bastards are all alike. You stole my cart." 
The signal finally says walk and we cross the busy boulevard.  I am afraid she will follow us but she stays on her side of the street continuing to yell obscenities our way.  
"You thieving bastards.. They stole my cart.  Those two guys stole my cart. Murderers.. Murderers... cart stealing  bastards both of them." She ran back into one of the business of Encino Place as if to make a full report.
We safely got across the street and continued in different directions. Before we parted we make eye contact and I said, "Okay. What did you do with the cart." 
He didn't miss a beat
He said, "Behind the Coffee Bean. We'll meet up later and split up the goods."  Then he brushed his nose with his finger in a very deliberate way.  I immediately knew this as the "con-man's signal" from the movie "The Sting".  I laughed and returned the nose signal.  He laughed and we parted ways.  I love someone who will go with the situation and Improv an ending.  I will probably never see that guy again, and hopefully I will never encounter the cart lady again either.  Just one more scene in the continuous drama of life proving that "The World is a Stage". 


As you were,
Jay

Monday, March 20, 2017

How I found time for Happiness in Trumpland...

From the Jay Johnson Mickey Mouse Watch Collection
I remember it was an ad in the Houston Chronicle in the late 1960's. I was living in Houston at the time working at Astroworld. The Advertisement was from Neiman-Marcus located in the Galleria and it was a full page.  They announced sale of "Imported" Mickey Mouse Wrist Watches ... imported from Disneyland for a limited time.  The only place you could get this watch was Disneyland, and now for a short time Neiman- Marcus.

I wasn't looking for a new watch.  I wasn't a customer of Neiman-Marcus, I have never seen an ad like that before or since. But, I had to have one of those watches before they were all gone.  The ad said limited time. I assumed a limited number of watches.

I drove to Galleria immediately, and made my way to the watch counter.  Neiman -Marcus hires only top notch salespeople and this guy tried to interest me in a more "mature" watch, but my mind was set.  It was the first watch I ever bought for myself and it replaced a Christmas gift watch my parents gave me 10 years earlier.

I loved this new Mickey Mouse watch. I wore it out after replacing three crystals, and having several major repairs.  Each jeweler who repaired it over the years said the same thing, "The repair will probably cost more than a new watch..." I didn't care.  The minute by minute show that Mickey performed on my wrist daily was worth any price to me.

Wrist watches in the 70's and 80's were fashion statements, and status symbols.  While my television friends displayed new Cartier's or Rolexes, I continued to sport Mickey.  I was known for wearing that watch; it was my personal statement.  I even wrote a ventriloquist act around a "talking Mickey Mouse watch" and performed it on stage over the years. When asked why I wore a Mickey Mouse watch I would always say.. "It puts my daily life in perspective... running late for an important meeting.... you glance a Mickey and when he tells you the time... nothing seems to be so serious." Years later I was completely vindicated when Dan Brown wrote his best selling novel, the Da Vinci Code. His hero Robert Langdon the Harvard professor, wore a Mickey Mouse wrist watch.  I was way ahead of that fashion curve.

After Sandi and I settled in Southern California I discovered that the Clock Shop at Disneyland always had the latest model of Mickey Mouse Watch for sale. It was easy to find a cheap kids version of the Mickey Watch, but the Clock Shop at Disneyland had good watches that happened to have a Mickey on the Face.  Visiting the park over the years I gathered a big collection of Mickey Mouse wrist watches and I still have them.

Sandi would often gift me with more "age appropriate watches", as she put it, in keeping with the style and level of my showbiz career at the time.  Once while on tour with Julie Andrews, she gave me an expensive watch engraved with "Love Julie" on the back. I would wear it to "functions" on occasion when we had to dress formally, but I was never as comfortable nor happy if I wasn't relying on Mickey to tell me the time of day.  Eventually I bought a very expensive 14k gold Mickey Mouse watch from the Clock Shop at Disneyland. It was a  themed out "gold watch" they used to give retiring executives of the Disney corporation.  As a regular customer at the Disneyland Clock shop, I was able to talk the shop keeper into selling me the display model.  As the price of gold began to sore through the years I could only wear the watch to extra special occasions.

So eventually cell phones began to dominate our culture.  No need for a wrist watch you had to manually change for each time zone, and replace a battery at the worst possible time.  The cell phone kept perfect time.  Eventually the battery ran down on my Mickey and by the time I got around to replacing it, I was used to digging in my pocket for my phone to get the current time of day. A wrist watch was one less thing to put on in the morning so... eventually I quit wearing a watch at all. This would be a horrible decision looking back on it.

So now here we are in March of 2017.  We have a complete idiot for President who daily makes news with one statement after the next which turns my blood to acid.  His mere presence in the oval office offends my Patriotism and depresses my entire countenance of good feelings.  Unfortunately he is not going away soon enough for me. He is not getting better, and since I can only be responsible for myself, I have to ignore the orange faced fascist.  This becomes harder to do than I thought.

I have given up watching the news.  I have purged my Facebook friends of those who might be inclined to normalize him or god forbid like him.  I try to avoid speaking his name or engaging in any discussions of his existence.  Unfortunately his kind of "stupid" seems to be epidemic and is infecting everything.

Here is how it happens.  I think to myself "What time is it anyway?" I am currently not wearing a watch, so,  I reach for my iPhone and hit the button. At the same moment I see the time, there, on the same screen, is a push notice, or flash announcement of some ignorant Tweet or other news worthy obnoxious action by the President. My blood boils, my eyes narrow, my teeth begin to sharpen and I'm livid that he is still alive in the White house.  It is not healthy, and all because I wondered what time it was.

Recently I saw one of my favorite Mickey's in a drawer.  I wondered if it still worked so I took it to my watch repair guy at the Fashion Square.  All it needed was a battery.  I placed Mickey back on my wrist and have had a much better attitude toward life in Trumpland since.  Now if I want to know what time it is I look to where Mickey is pointing;  no hint of POS 45 nor any of his lunacy.  Mickey, who four times a day spreads his arms out wide to say, "I love you this much"  Four more times a day, At ten minutes till 2:00 and ten minutes after 10:00 he shrugs a WTF pose and at 6:30 he plays with himself.  I feel like a kid again.  I am not reminded of any election PTSD that pollutes the news these days.  I can pretend that life is caricature of itself and the orange President is just so much ink on a page.  It keeps everything in perspective.... why... because we like you.
As you were,
Jay

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Right, this way... see the Orange-Haired ape....

 A carnival is a very interesting group.  Oh it may look like a band of performers and tricksters who are just traveling together, but they aren't.  They are one mechanism bound together all for one and one for all and everyone against the Rubes.  The Rubes are the unsuspecting audience of this traveling carnival. It is a carefully orchestrated experience  to "take" the Rubes for as much money as you can get without getting caught.  The moto is, "you can shear a sheep a lot of times, but you can only skin it once."  As you go down the midway you see all kinds of games of chance and skill.  It would be easy to cheat the Rube out of all his money at one booth,  that would be skinning the Rube.  You let the Rube win a little, lose a little and send him on his way to the next game. By the end of the evening the Rube has lost more than he has gained in prizes but feels like he had a good time.
If you have any money left by the end of your carnival visit you would come upon the Big Tent. 
Outside is a pitchman.  He was usually surrounded by beautiful women, dressed in flashy clothes and promises an experience inside the tent that will be, Amazing, Great, Stupendous.  The canvas banners are vague promises of what is inside.  Most of what the Pitchman is saying is a lie.  All they want is to get the Rubes into the tent.  
Of course there will be Rubes who won't foolishly spend their money on games you can't win. The pitchman wants some of that fresh money so he employs a trick that has been used by every con man who ever gathered a crowd.  It is so simple so effective and is based on the idea that the Pitchman has your best interest at heart.  Here is the scam.... 
Once the crowd is gathered inside the tent the Pitchman starts his pitch.  He is very good at telling tales.  But at one point the Pitch will stop and the Pitchman will say,
"Ladies and Gentlemen. You know the world has turned into a dangerous place. I have been told that there might be a band of pick-pockets in the area.  They could be in this very crowd tonight, so please make sure you still have your valuables on your person in a safe place." 
Sounds like an honest man just looking out for the crowds interests.   

It is more devious than you can ever imagine.  The human instinct when one hears a phrase like that is to check your valuables, to make sure they are there. I do it almost every time I walk out of the house. I pat the wallet in my back pocket to make sure I have it and then check the other pocket for my phone. Professional pickpockets call that the touch. I have just made a gesture that tells someone who is watching two things:  1) what I think is most valuable and 2) exactly where those valuables are.  

As the Rubes in the crowd check their wallets... they have actually told the Pickpockets where the goods are.  Oh and by the way there are pickpockets in the area, and they are in the crowd and most importantly... they work for the Carnival.  The Pitchman shares in the loot they steal. 

I have heard people say we have a Pitchman in the White house. Pitchmen and con-men usually travel with a carnival. With that metaphor in mind remember that the Carnival does not exist for the good of the community, a carnival is there to grab every cent it can before it moves on to the next unsuspecting community.  
I think  the present administration's involvement with Russia is alarming for our National security.  And is does seem that even statements under oath can't be assumed true when it comes to this Russian connection.  I am concerned that while we are trying to figure out just how far up the chain of command the corruption goes our pockets are being picked by the rest of the carnival.

Case in point, while all of this stuff about wiretaps and purgery is being talked about 24/7 here are some of the bills that have been introduced. 

1. HR 861 Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency
2. HR 610 Vouchers for Public Education
3. HR 899 Terminate the Department of Education
4. HJR 69 Repeal Rule Protecting Wildlife
5. HR 370 Repeal Affordable Care Act
6. HR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood
7. HR 785 National Right to Work (this one ends unions)
8. HR 83 Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill
9. HR 147 Criminalizing Abortion (“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”)
10. HR 808 Sanctions against Iran
mental Protection Agency
2. HR 610 Vouchers for Public Education
3. HR 899 Terminate the Department of Education
4. HJR 69 Repeal Rule Protecting Wildlife
5. HR 370 Repeal Affordable Care Act
6. HR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood
7. HR 785 National Right to Work (this one ends unions)
8. HR 83 Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill
9. HR 147 Criminalizing Abortion (“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”)
10. HR 808 Sanctions against Iran
If you have not exercised your right to express your opinion to your representative you are being played.  If you don't know who your reps. are,  text your zip code to 520-200-2223. You'll get a text back with every one's contact info, both Federal and State.


As you were,
Jay

Sunday, March 05, 2017

The Final Chain Reaction


If you do not remember how the NBC show "Chain Reaction" was played here is an example. 
 
I worked with  Bob Stewart and Sandy Stewart on several of their game shows.  I was a semi-regular on the various versions of  "Pryamid" and they considered me a good player.  "Chain Reaction" was also their show and I enjoyed doing that one too. I remember the game very well, and  this particular episode specifically. Here is what I remember about that very day in the summer of 1980. 

 "Chain Reation" was only on for a cycle of 13 weeks but I got to do several weeks  during that short time.  We knew before we started taping this would be the last one. As you will see the "end game" was played by the "civilian" player in the middle with the two "stars" on either side of a desk.  The stars could see a word on a screen that was hidden to the civilian.  The idea was this: the stars would construct a question one word at a time that would be answered by the civilian with the word that was hidden from them.  It is more complicated to explain that it is to comprehend when you see it.  But back to the story.

So, it is the last show.  I say to Sandy Stewart it would be funny if we put my puppet partner Bob in the hot seat for the final end game between Betty White and me and he would get every word wrong.  We would give the money made to charity.  He loved the idea and even improved on it.  Sandy suggested that Bob miss the correct answer because of his interpretations.  For example if the word on the screen was "chair", Betty and I would construct a question one word at a time like: "What do you sit on?" And Bob would answer "A ventriloquists knee".  The other one I remember was for the word "scalpel": Queston: "What does a doctor use to cut you open?"  Bob would answer "A saw".  We wrote enough of these gag answers to fill the end game. It was going to be great fun and a great way to end the run of the show.

The time comes for Sandy Stewart to explain to the network what we were planning.  He had to run it by "Practices and Standards" which is the office that makes sure game shows are legitimate and there is no cheating.  Sandy made his way into the office of the "suit" who was in charge of  "Chain Reaction". He explained that Jay and Betty would be the clue givers and puppet Bob would be the contestant in the middle.  Before Sandy could even get to the jokes we wrote the suit said, "You mean Bob... Jay Johnson's dummy."
Sandy said yes and started explaining how the jokes would work from Bob's wooden point of view. It would be funny and the money made will go to charity. 
 The suit said, "Wait a minute if Jay is seeing the clue won't Bob know the answer?"
"Of course", said Sandy, "And he will get them all wrong as a joke."  
"If Bob knows the answer then that would be cheating."  Says the suit. 
"It is the last show... you cancelled us... there will be no more so this is just a gag as a going away bit."
"Well, cheating is cheating, Sandy, even for charity... you can't do it." Said the suit.

What we eventually did was lampoon the ruling by writing a bit about Bob trying to cheat.  You can see how that worked in the final round. The end game was played round robin style with all the celebrities.  I think Bob in the Hot seat would have been much funnier, but hey....there will be no ventriloquist cheating on NBC. 
As you were,
Jay 


 

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Here's Johnny......

 Some where in my stash of "things important" I have saved all the name plates (all 8 of them) that were attached to my dressing room door each time I did the Tonight Show.  Seven one them were with Johnny Carson the eighth was with Mr. Leno. Assuming that they will play all seven of my show eventually I will make $165.69 dollars.  Woo hoo! I just received this check in the mail for the show that aired on April 16, 1985. I will have to look up in my own personal journal to determine which character it was that co-stared with me that day so I can give them $11.85. 
This represents my residual for a replay on antenna TV, an online streaming service of "classic shows".  That is the same as a basic cable rate.  I remember well going on strike in 1979 for a new AFTRA contract.  The despute was over a commercial residual contract increase and we actors were on strike for a couple of months. The new contract included perpetual royalties for repeated shows.  To this day I get money, and always will, every time SOAP is played on the air. At the end of the negotiation just as every one had agreed the union brought up the idea of cable residuals. 
In 1979 cable consisted of a thing called HBO which was only in New York.  The producers stood firm on the idea that the market for such repeats was so minimal they would only give a minimum residual.  AFTRA agreed and the contract included only a token rate not the usual rate.. As we know cable, Internet, and streaming content is now a very lucrative secondary market. Although the producers are free to negotiate their fees on a show by show basis the performers have been stuck with the same old cable/Internet rate since the1979 contract.  That said,  if the cable rate had been negotiated to be the same as broadcast network residuals that check from Mr. Carson would be 10 times greater.  It still would not be the kind of royalty that one can retire on but it would be a little more commiserate with what the producers are making from the same repeated show.  
Here is why I bring this fact up in a blog today.  I got a new keyboard for my iPad and I needed something to write about so I could test it out.  I wanted to see if my investment was a good one.  Keyboards have always been very important to me.  I am a good typist so the speed and construction of the keyboard is fundamental to having a good typing experience.  I have gone through every kind of keyboard in my experience.  
In college I used a portable Underwood typewriter to type all of my assignment papers.  Pushing a key on a manual typewriter required not just a touch on the key. It required pressing the mechanical key down about a 1/4 inch with enough force to make a nice bold letter through the black ribbon of ink.  Then came the electric typewriter. The machine itself would deliver the proper force necessary to strike a perfect letter on the page.  This made typing faster with the touch lighter.  
My Mom worked for my Dad's investment firm and became such a fast and accurate typist she could "out run" the speed of the iconic IBM Selectric.  She had to slow her fingers down enough so that the machine could keep up with her.  She retired before the computer revolution in keyboarding got to the point it is today.  I can't imagine how fast she could type given the keyboard I just bought.  
I am not a good thumb typist and the virtual keyboard on the iPad screen is like trying to make words by tapping your fingers on a table.  So to do any kind of thoughtful work I need a real qwerty keyboard that is really fast and comfortable. 
To give it a plug this is the new Magic Keyboard from Apple.*  I have been using the Apple wireless keyboard for some time and like it for the touch, but the battery housing, weight and awkward shape was not pleasant to travel with. Besides I had to keep double AA batteries in my briefcase cause it seemed to always run out of power.  The final straw was when the on/off switch became damaged. To use it I had to take out the batteries  every time I wanted to turn it off.  Reinserting the batteries before I could type made it difficult to capture a spontaneous thought in a timely manner.  The Magic Keyboard is recharable with a lightning cable and has a much more durable on off switch. The touch is even improved over the older generation wireless Keyboard.  
So I hope you enjoyed this test drive of my new keyboard. 
As you were,
Jay

*This evaluation of the Magic Keyboard is based on the experiences of one iterate writer. No warranty, endorsement, recommendation nor specific technical opinion is implied or given. Do not use a keyboard if you are allergic to any of its parts or if you have ever suffered from finger fatigue.  Side effects of using this keyboard may include, typos, incorrect auto-correct, sentence fragments and content of questionable veracity.  If content coming from this keyboard is posted and rampant trolling of that post occurs, Apple nor any of its associates will be responsible.  If you have a text that lasts  more than four hours immediately contact your eighth-grade English teacher.  This and all visceral devices should not be used while driving or operating heavy machinery or when trying to communicate a concept of importance. Carson Productions, NBC, The Tonight Show, EPS Payroll services have nothing to do with the keyboard blog recommendation and any references to them in the writing above was simply a misdirection for marketing sake.  If after using the Magic Keyboard to write you experience a drop in the number of friends you have or an increase in frowning emojis in you feed or any of its threads stop using it immediately and consult with a friend face to face.  Studies show that if this keyboard is given to a thousand monkeys for a thousand years they would eventually write the classics.  

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Question of Reality

This is a rarely seen picture of Charlie McCarthy in  Black Face. It is from a scene in a 1939 movie called "You Can't Cheat An Honest Man"  staring WC Fields. Fields also wrote the story of the film under the name Charles Bogle.
Although part of the original film the scene was edited out when it played on television, for obvious racial reasons. 
But the story behind this photo and that scene is not a story about changing political correctness, but a story about the definition of an actor. 

The story goes like this.  The movie is about a traveling carnival. Fields character Larson E. Whipsnade is the owner and main barker of the troupe.  It was a Universal Production filmed on the Universal Lot in Hollywood. In 1939 Universal like all movie studios were big factories turning out several films daily.   
 The time came to film Bergen and Charlie in a minstrel show scene. This meant Charlie McCarthy needed to be "made up" in Black face. A controversy broke out between unions as to which one was responsible for actually applying the black face to Charlie.  The make up union said that since Charlie was an actor, they would apply the proper make up.  The prop union argued that Charlie was in reality a prop and they would apply the proper paint. They began to argue about it. Neither union would bow to the other and both claimed jurisdiction. Make up held firm and said that either they would be the one to do it or they would walk out on strike.  The property Union made the same argument, threatening the same action.  The director could not determine the actual status of Charlie and deferred to the Producers.  The producers were not in solidarity and they also began to fight.  
The issue became so contentious that it went to the head of the studio to make a final decision.  His decision was to shut the production down for the day to have more time to resolve the matter to everyone's satisfaction.   But by the end of the day neither side had budged and threatened a work stoppage "studio wide" if it was not determined who was the responsible union.  
Edgar Bergen was called to the office of the head of Universal. They said to Edgar, "What would you do if this were just a bit in your act.  Who would you use to get it done."
Bergen replied that he would simply take some burnt cork and apply it himself. Since that avoided any union disputes, head of Universal said, "Do it.. Have that black on Charlie's face by tomorrow morning so we can continue the scene". That was indeed the solution to the problem.  
To this day if you look in the archives of Universal Studio you will find a 1939 production report stating that Production on Fields picture number #693072 was shut down for the day to determine if Charlie McCarthy was actually an actor or prop. The question was never resolved, not even to this day.
Editors note:  60 + years later it was still an issue.  On Broadway we had to have a discussion and clarification for "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only"  to set some parameters regarding my vent figures and Broadway union stage rules.  My characters were actors while on stage during the show, but they became props the minute the show was over.  I was allowed to pack them up and set them on the edge of the stage, but the prop master carried them to and from their own "dressing room" located next to mine.  For a one person show this was our compromise.  
As you were,
Jay 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Time Out of Mind

It started out as just a joke.  A clever little "what-not" to sit on my shelf with other items of memorabilia.  It is a bogus prescription bottle I forged for my own amusement. The prescription reads: "If you forget what these pills are for... take all of them at once." The bottle contains ten 500mg capsules of Arsenic trioxide.  I call it my time out of mind cure.
There is only one thing worse than having your mind trapped in a body which can not respond to mind's desires. Much worse, to me, is being trapped in a body when your mind no longer functions to control that body.
My philosophy of existence is totally wrapped around the idea of a universal consciousness that expresses itself individually.  I believe life is the manifestation of this unique and individual concept of identity.  To over simplify: life on Earth is actually a concept of consciousness created to teach us abstract concepts that do not involve the physical senses.  What we think is reality is only a complex dream of symbols that should ideally teach us how eternity is experienced... in the abstract.
Take LOVE for an example.  Love is not a thing we can hold and touch.  It is not a scientific experiment that can be measured. It is just a feeling in our Earthly dream but a law in the cosmic consciousness of spiritual reality.
So how do we understand the law of love, and how do we learn what  that law is and experience it?  The abstract can not be taught with abstract examples.  So, Consciousness creates a dream reality that gives us seemingly solid examples of the abstract. Again to over simplify, if you ever want to have an earthly example of "unconditional love" open your heart and raise a dog.  By experiencing the feeling for a dog which becomes part of your life you can come to understand the abstract concept of "unconditional love".  When we can understand love from the physical there is a better chance for us to "know it" in the abstract. Learning how to exist in the eternity of abstract is the goal of this earthly experience.

Holding to that believe I find a conundrum.  To learn how to exist the conscious moment of the eternal now requires acute awareness of this symbolic dream reality.  How can we lean these abstracts when our mind can not understand the physical parables all around us? What happens when you are facing Alzheimer's disease or just plain dementia? That is the conundrum.  To learn,  you must be able to understand.  How do you graduate into eternity when you have a learning disability?

So, this little bottle of pills sits on my shelf above the computer I am typing on right now. The older I get the less of a joke it becomes.  It is not a perfect plan because it assumes I can understand the directions for taking the pills after having forgotten what they are for.  Perhaps the joke will ultimately be on me.
I have seen the mental decline of close members of my family.  One from Alzheimer's, one from a stroke and another with just age related dementia.  On the other hand I have friends and relatives in their mid 90's who are as sharp and aware as ever they were.  I know which direction I would like to go in my life.  What will I have to learn to keep being able to learn?  Another conundrum.

As you were,
Jay



Tuesday, February 07, 2017

God is NOT.....

Digital Airbrush - by Jay Johnson
There is an old parable that goes something like this.

A garden of tomatoes has grown wild with weeds. The gardener asks a young man to weed the tomatoes while he is gone.  It is a simple task, pull all the weeds out of the tomato patch so the tomatoes can grow bigger.
After several hours the gardener returns to find the young man has barely started the job.
"Why haven't you finished?" Said the man.
The boy says, "There are so many kinds of plants here. I am not an authority on plants like you.  I don't know what to pull up and what to leave."
The gardener said pointing out a plant, "This is a tomato plant.  That's all you need to know.... pull up everything that's not like it.  You don't have to know what the 100's of kinds of weeds look like, you just need to know what a tomato looks like. "

In trying to make right ideas grow we get completely overwhelmed by all the wrong ideas that surround the right ones. Wrong comes in so many different forms and grows in so many different ways we get stuck trying to figure out which ones should be tossed away.  It is easy when you stop looking at the form of wrong and look only to save the right.

God is not Christian nor Muslim nor Buddhist nor Jewish nor Hindu nor Scientologist nor Frisbeetarian nor Republican nor Democrat, Independent, Fascist nor Socialist.  God is just God, Omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscient.   To put a label on God diminishes his universal Love.

There are so many wrong ideas invading my life right now.  I try to exorcise them but like Hydra's head two more grow back in its place.  What I really should be doing it just mucking the shit from my mental stall and holding only to the horse.  It requires listening to that small voice inside my own identity.  I don't have to wait for a Christian to tell me what is God, nor a Muslim to explain the concept of infidel, I have my own direct channel to the Almighty. When I am listening to my own spiritual GPS I am going via my own route. When I am holding to what I conceive as the highest source of Good then I am only looking for tomatoes and not becoming an expert on weeds.  What ever you feed on or feed into will grow stronger.

If we really do believe in a universe that is above selfish human failings and a country NOT of conditional love but equal Liberty and Justice for all, then why do we entertain other ideas of what we are?  In the paraphrased words of George Carlin... "Humans are not as powerful as the Universe. The earth will shuffle off humans from its surface like so many fleas off a dog."

We need not be concerned with the short term stupidity of those who think they are "in charge".

Ralph Waldo Emmerson said: "There is always some leveling circumstance that puts down the overbearing...... the dice of God are always loaded."

As you were,
Jay

Monday, February 06, 2017

The Duck Call Experiment

Annimation Cel on Mirror - Jay Johnson
I remember the excitement I had starting this blog.  My desire was to document my first hand,  first time experience living in New York City and doing a Broadway show.  It became a nightly ritual for unwinding after the theatre. The blog was an outlet to tell the stories I saw every day. Most observations were funny because when you are in a state of happiness laughter comes easier. *

If nothing unusual happened at the theatre  my walk home through the streets of Time Square would offer ample material to write about. Of course doing my show in that theatre nightly was always special enough to write about.   I hope one day to read those posts again to perhaps relive the experience.

However, as I was looking back on a recent few posts my blog has taken a bluer-darker turn.

How did  "The World is a Stage" become a political dossier.  I have never been political in my life. In my career I've never done edgy political humor so I was never looking for the political scandal to make jokes about. I wanted to fit into any situation.  When I arrived in California Richard O. Linke told me that the definition of Class: "Being Comfortably at ease in any group".  I don't know if that is textbook but I thought it was something to strive for.  I have spent years as a corporate show entertainer avoiding the conversation of politics.

But, Politics seems unavoidable right now.  It dominates every aspect of social intercourse. It is nearly impossible to avoid, even in a show biz blog.

In hopes of  personal growth beyond the steady drone of politics; I will use this post as a test.

I named it the "Duck Call Experiment".
Theory is: you do not expect turkeys to show up if you are blowing a duck call.
Existentially stated: What you put out into the universe comes back to you.
Millennial explanation: I mean,  when you order something online you, like, get a bunch of other offers to buy something like it. Right?

*Here is my "Duck Call" :
I will start with the story of an actual duck. I find that magicians have the best stories.  
Mike Caveney works with a live chicken on stage and told me this one involving livestock productions. (Magical term ofr pulling an animal out of some impossible place) 
It seems that a friend of his was going to do the "duck bucket" trick at the Castle.  As you might expect that trick involves producing a live duck from an empty bucket.  (No I can't tell you how it works because of the Magicians code of secrecy). It doesn't matter since the story does not involve the production method anyway. 
The magician didn't want to travel with a real duck so he decided to get one when he got to Los Angeles.  The place to get a live duck is Chinatown, so that is where he ended up.  He was directed to a shop keeper with a pen of ducks for sale.  The magician wanted just the right one as far as size and color.  He looked at all of them and found a white one that was just right.  Although the merchant did not understand his reasons for wanting a specific duck, he finally isolated the one the magician wanted.
In one well perfected move he grabbed the duck threw it down on the chopping block quickly cutting off its head saying, "You like me to take off feathers." 
Little did the duck know that he was just moments away from going into Show business.
As you were,
Jay

Friday, February 03, 2017

Whose Ethics shall rule?

Art by Jay Johnson
America was founded as a Nation of Law. Law exists because we have a desire to be ethical human beings, but disagree on whoes ethics should be the standard.
The short definition of ethics is: acting in the highest sense for the goodness for all.  In school I pledged allegiance  every morning to a Country that supported "liberty and justice for all".  I still believe that is what America was founded on.
Universally all humans are held to the same ethical standards.   They have been spelled out in many philosophical writings, social mores and decrees. The most simple rule of universal ethics is: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." But short term and egotistical thinking gets in the way of that simple rule. Ego says, my existence is so much more important than someone else's existence: I must take from another for my own good.  

Short term thinking agrees and says we need it right NOW.  So when humans decide they can disobey a natural law of ethics, we pass a law that says, "Do not Steal".  Unfortunately law is still not enough to keep people ethical. The ego and short term thinking will try to parse the words of the law to still have it MY way.  That's when we get legal dilemmas.

"Am I allowed to steal back something that was taken from me in the first place?"

To adjudicate such an interpretation of law we have the court system.  The problem is, the court is composed of humans who try to impose their own interpretation of their ethics on the law and we are back at square one.
Unless you are a sociopath you know deep in the center of your being what is right and what is wrong. In a perfect society we would need no laws because every one would behave to the highest standards of the "do unto others" ethics. But we don't live in a perfect society and some have lost touch with the center of their being, so laws become the imperfect spearhead for ethics.  But because of this we can have a situation which is Legal but not at all ethical. Justice is sometimes Unjust.

Justice should be blind. Justice should be ethical. Justice should know only what is the highest interpretation of the good for all humans involved and rule accordingly. So wouldn't we want to hold a Judge to the highest standard of universal ethics? Unless you are a sociopath the answer has to be yes. But that is not the case.

Congress and the President are now trying to find a Supreme Court justice.  But they are not looking for someone who is fair and will rule in favor of ethics when future lawyers try to parse the wording of a law; They are looking for a candidate who will bend the words of the law in the direction of their own personal interpretation of ethics.  They want a judge who will always rule in favor of individual ethics not the universal.  We are back to square one... whoes ethics should be the standard.

In my highest desire I would like the highest justices in the land to be fair, not political.  I want the Supreme Court justices to be independently constitutional and not "beholding" to any ideology. Unfortunately, that is not the way the political game is played. Congress will approve someone who is already in lock step with those currently in power.
Law should be the like gravity, affecting all to the same degree.  If law ultimately can be bent to benefit some and not all it is no longer law nor ethics but a dictatorial edict.
By eliminating the phrase "engaged in a great civil war" Lincoln's words are as true today as they were scores of years later.

"Our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are...(omitted) testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure." 

Lets make it the country it should be, not a country forced upon us.  
As you were,
Jay


Thursday, February 02, 2017

Ground Hog Day 2017

I had lunch with my friend Bob Mandan today at his house along with two of Bob's other friends.  It is his 85th birthday. Bob doesn't get out and about like he used to but he is still his charming self and still the perfect Chester Tate.  

I repost this article I wrote about my friend from his birthday in 2012, preceded by this editors note written today.

There are friends, there are people you have worked with and then there is a person like Bob who is both. I recall so many fun times together when we roamed with a group of actor/publicists/writers called the "Terrible 10".  We got that name because we were a terrible table of ten if you were sitting next to us at a restaurant.  We laughed the entire time and were not quiet about it.  If you were looking for a quiet evening's meal we were not the table you wanted to sit close to.
Happy Birthday Mr. Mandan. I cherish your friendship.
Nothing has changed in the way I feel about you since I wrote the blog below.

It's GroundHog Day
On my top ten list of movies "GroundHog" day is near the top.   And here it is in real life, Groundhog day 2012.  But I think the Punxsutawney rodent gets too much attention today.  It is a special day for other reasons.

Robert Mandan, Bob Campbell, Jay Johnson, Jay Sandrich
Opening night of "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only"
It is also the birthday of my friend Robert Mandan: "Better Dressed!" 
Only a true SOAPY will get that reference, but it is how I know my friend Mandan. He is better known to some as Chester Tate on SOAP. 

Robert Mandan
I remember when I moved to Los Angeles I was with my  vacationing folks having dinner at the  Toulca Lake Marie Callendars. Although I didn't know his name at the time Robert Mandan was also waiting for a table.  Mandan is one of those actors I had seen in many staring roles. Bob was my first "celebrity siting" in my new home town.  Bob received the ultimate compliment my Father had for working actors when he whispered to me, "That guy has been in a gillion films." Indeed my friend has been in a "gillion" things. Take a look at his IMDB - Robert Mandan. That impressive list is only the film and television roles. There is an even more impressive list of stage productions that Bob has done, including an Ovation Award for "The CareTaker" and a critically acclaimed portrail of "King Lear", not to mention three Broadway shows. 
 I had no clue that soon I would be working with that "guy who has done a gillion films". We became friends almost immediately.  For a time we had the same personal manager, the same publicist and hung out with the same group of television actors.  We were known as the "terrible ten" because of fun we used to have at various Los Angeles restaurants. The members of the social group changed but Bob and I have remained friends all this time. 
Bob and his wife Sherry have been impromptu godparents to both my sons.  My oldest son will say, "How is Mandan?" even today.
Robert Mandan in "Barney Miller"
Chester Tate and Benson
Bob is an actors actor.  He never stops studying and learning how to better deliver his gift. He is funny and smart and yes, as piss elegant as Chester Tate sometimes. If you're lucky a working relationship turns into a real friendship in this town of huge openings and quiet closings. I am grateful to have friends like Bob and Sherry in my life. On a day like GroundHogs day when the talk is about the weather, I will be thinking about my friend Bob Mandan, certainly not a "fair weather friend".  
Note to Mandan: You are not getting older, like wine you are getting more valuable.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Mandan. We shall celebrate with a bottle of "HOOP DE HAH".

As you were,
Jay
Bob Mandan on "Three's a Crowd"
Bob Mandan on "Star Trek,The Next Generation"

Monday, January 30, 2017

Wake Up, It's Monday in Trumperica....

 I wrote this one week after the election when we realized this guy would be an "advisor". I had no idea that just like his German doppelganger from the 30's, Bannon would be made head of the Military one week after Inauguration. The one thing we should all agree on.... NO ONE in America voted for Steve Bannon.


History Repeats Itself (when we are too stupid to learn from the first time.)
November -2016

It has only been a week since the election. That is not enough time to gain a perspective on what is to come... Or is it?

I hear people say and read posts to the affect that we must, "Wait and see, Give the new Prez a chance, We don't know what he will do yet."  To those who think time is on our side I say, Really?  What I think is: If it talks like Fascism, appoints people who are Fascist, is embraced by Racists and makes promises to a disappointed working class that can't possibly be kept, it must be Fascism. I personally have had more than 18 months of this new Leader's rhetoric and lies.  When I hear a duck quack I don't wait to see if it is actually a chicken in the pond.

Yesterday was my worst day.  By the end I was so depressed I went to bed early almost hoping that I wouldn't wake up.  That may sound overly dramatic but for a CD (clinical depressive) like me that can be par for the course, particularly when things seem to be out of my control.

My day started off with rage. So many posts on Facebook from people who have been very laid back about a Trump Presidency are now Trumpeteers with a "na na na- we won and you didn't- na na na" attitude.  I even found myself drawn into a "troll fight" on FB with people whom I will never ever meet. I decided to get off the media feed and see if the world was still turning outside.  It didn't help, that rage continued and I realized I was just aching for a fight. I was waiting for someone to cut me off with a car so I could scream and give them the finger.  I was very irritated that a guy in front of me at the Hardware store check out did not have his check card ready fast enough for me. I felt myself just hoping someone would say something that I could take the wrong way and read their beads.  I know it was all my own interpretation of normal events based on this thick fog that hangs over the nation right now.  

So, I am going to limit my time on all social media and this blog, and turn all my attentions to the book I am writing, which is anything but political. I will also say this to anyone who cares to have a open mind.  After Goebbels was appointed advisor to the Fuhrer in 1930's Germany,  there was no more real news, no truth, only the propaganda and lies that the regime allowed.  Yesterday Sean Hannity suggested that CNN, MSNBC and several other "news" outlets have their Whitehouse press credentials pulled because they didn't support Trump. The Trump himself asked President Obama to "Stop talking to the world... their mine now". And so it goes and the new Goebbels has not even officially taken office.
  
I see the America train heading for the edge of a deep canyon and unfortunately I can't get off.  I get marginalized if I try to warn the conductor, and this causes my depression to rise.  Not heeding the lessons of History condemns us to repeat it.  With the educational level of this country at an all time low it is now possible to fool most of the people all of the time.  
I am white, college educated and live in an affluent neighborhood with a healthy amount of retirement cash stashed away.  If I feel this hopelessness, how must those who have none of these advantages be feeling today with a propaganda guy like Bannon helping run the country?  
Over and out,
Jay




Thursday, January 19, 2017

Missing Miguel

I heard yesterday that Miguel Ferrer died.  I was shocked and saddened by the news.  Miguel and I became close friends while we were filming Broken Badges in Vancouver.  It was one of the best jobs I ever had in show business and Miguel and I were inseparable on set and off.  Although Miguel was a seasoned professional by that time, it was my first job in a single camera film series.  Even though there was a 5 year age difference, he was my mentor.  I learned a lot very fast from Miguel. In fact the two hour pilot looked more like a buddy picture than a cop series because we worked very well together. Miguel and I had some extraordinary experiences, one of which I wrote about at the time. We laughed about this one every time we got together.  Until today no one has ever read this but Miguel.  In fact it was only today that I remembered I still had it in my files.   Other than Miguel's name the rest have been changed for personal reasons. It is a longer read than I usually post. 

Rest in peace Miggy.  I will be waiting for you at Herb's, with Brandon.


Circa mid 1990's.  Vancouver, Canada



AFTER HOURS
by Jay Johnson
I would never make up a story like this.  This story had to be lived, and I was there.  The reality was much more frightening than I can explain.  I chronicle the event only because it has a moral.  If you do not listen to the story remember this:  Be careful of what you want because sometimes you get it. 

Early in the evening I wanted­­ to hear some blues.  You know that mood, crying in your beer and getting sad inside for no reason.  Miguel was all for the idea, although Zootie and her girlfriend Ashley wanted to hit one of those meat market dance joints.  Hanging out at a Hustle joint with a couple of cuties like Zootie and Ashley wouldn't be a bad evening ordinarily but I want to hear the blues.   

Now Miguel has some connections at this Blues place called the Jail.  He’s on the list as a VIP and we can just walk right in.  This sounds good to the girls and we head over to the Jail.  I want to hear blues and I don’t want to wait in line.  This has all the beginings of a great evening. 

Just when things are going well we have this episode with an entrance Gorilla.  Miguel is engaging but there’s no list and this guy cannot even spell VIP.  We are turned away, denied at the door.  There is nothing more humiliating than getting rejected at the head of a long line. 

The girls don’t seem bothered by this and admit to holding out on us.  They have VIP passes to Dicks, the meat market dance joint.  I suppose this was their ace in the hole in case they dumped us.  However, they decided we will do in a pinch.  Not that we would ever get fresh enough to pinch anyone uninvited. 

We head over to Dicks and there is an even longer cue waiting to get in here.  We boogie up to the front of the line past the jeering crowd.  Zootie leads the pack and struts her stuff to yet another entrance gorilla. Based upon the tuxedo, this gorilla has more class than the last one.  I figure we are good as in.  The girls have the magic pass, and besides who wouldn’t admit two cuties like Zootie and Ashley into a dance club?  The answer to that question is a Gorilla in a tuxedo.  It seems Miguel and I are in sneakers and this is strictly against the gorilla code.  Try as we might with all the charm of the ladies and the velvet sandpaper tongue of Miguel, the gorilla is unflappable.  We leave fast.  There is nothing more humiliating than getting rejected at the head of a long line, again. 

The girls are getting hungry so we decide to cash it in and have dinner at Monks.  It’s a delightful place with no entrance Gorillas, just a sweet girl who requires only legal tender for entrance. It’s a delightful dinner, and sitting the entire time next to Ashley is good for my ego.  But I wanted to hear the blues.  

We all eat and drink and Monks is not a bad place to drop a lot of money, which we do.  Just when we think there’s nothing more, up steps a trio and a girl singer.  The singer does her damnedest to make us think we are listening to Rosemary Clooney.  The music is fine, but certainly not the "rip out your vocal cords-kill me cause I am just too sad" blues I wanted to hear tonight.  We decide this kind of music is not to be found in the city this evening.   Miguel and I resign ourselves to the idea that we will be telling lies about Zootie and Ashley at Herb's Bar the next day. 

We get back to the hotel and say good night to Zootie and Ashley without so much as a sweaty hand shake, but no matter.  There are no witnesses to our scoreless evening and at Herb's a good lie is as better than the truth. 

It’s only one-thirty in the morning and I know that look in Miguel's eyes.  The eyes say in a glance, Plenty of party time left.  He says he knows of a party, a show biz party, lots of models, booze and more raw material for a longer story at Herb's.  Kyle, one of the stand ins on the picture we are making, says it’s the party of the year.  In a weak moment I say what the hell, no work tomorrow and we go.

The address of the party is an area known as Gastown.  This is a bohemian section of town on the come back to desirability.  A cab dumps us off near the address.  We walk around until we find the building.  It is a fairly well kept old structure. 

There’s the faint sound of heavy rock music coming from the stairway, like the heart beat of a monster in a far away cave.  The apartment number appears to be on the 4th floor so we ascend the stairs.  Each flight ahead of us reverberates with louder and louder music. 

By the second flight it’s obvious that maintenance is confined to the lower floors.  The paint in the stairwell is peeling and you can see the palm prints of felons past. 

By the third flight the carpet is pulling away from the walls and only strings attach fuzz balls to the steps.  Graffiti now covers ancient dirt on the walls  Each step up gives way to more explicit graffiti representing crude but identifable sexual diagrams.  Positions depicted in faded felt tip are impossible to achieve but intriguing.

The music is now blasting at an unsafe level as we round the corner to the fourth flight.  The music has to be loud to be heard over the crowd noise coming from the apartment ahead of us.  There is no more carpet to see.  Conscious and semi-conscious bodies line the stair well and stepping over them requires hurtling two and three steps at a time.  One young person in a tie-dyed shirt moves slightly.  He is face down on the floor.  All that’s missing is a chalk outline.  I say, “Are you all right?  Can I help you sit up?”  With a guacamole scented belch he says, “No I’ll just stand here.”

Midway up the last set of stairs, the door to our destination opens then closes and for this moment the music is so loud you can see it.  With ears to numb to hear melody the beat itself propels our bodies forward. 

We open the door to find a wall of people, stuffed into a small living room shoulder to shoulder, back to back, belly to belly like bacon in a shrink wrap economy package.  We have been invited by co-worker Kyle who is friend of the host.  We do not know the host’s name and cannot see Kyle in the crowd.  Like new ingredients in a dough of flesh we are kneaded toward the center of the room.  We are getting the same “who the hell are you stare” seen earlier on the face of entrance gorilla number one. 

It’s important to know that Miguel is a pretty well known actor.  He starred in a robot action film a couple of years before, which became a cult hit to the leather jacket set. We are now standing in the middle of what could be a cow hide recycling project. 

One of the jackets turns to see Miguel standing next to him.  He says, “Hey aren’t you the guy from that Robot movie?”  Miguel says yes and several events happen almost simultaneously.  As if E. F. Hutton himself had spoken every leather covered body turns and says “Far out, cool, I can’t believe it, radical, righteous, duuude.” Miguel gets sucked into the center of leather hell with the force of a hoover on steroids, and I get spat out of the other end of the crowd like puss from a teen-agers zit.  Miguel is gone.  I wonder if he is still alive.  Above the music I can hear the inquisition of Miguel.  I hear questions like, “Dude, did you really kill those guys or was that just some movie special effect?”.  It’s clear to me that Miguel is still alive but wishes he was dead. 

I look around and realize I am alone in the room that functions as a kitchen.  The crowd cramps the adjacent rooms but I have the kitchen to myself.  Fate has brought me to a beer if I can just find the refrigerator.  This proves to be more difficult than I can imagine as I survey the decor of the apartment hell to which we have been invited.  Years before it could have been a bad window pane trip, but I am strait as an arrow and this is reality.  Black light florescent greens and oranges with posters of Jimi Hendricks adorn the chamber that holds Miguel hostage.  Beyond the kitchen is a den darkly lit and garnished in a back alley west side story motif.  Chain link fence, corrugated tin, metal trash cans, discarded radial tires, automobile bench seats and exposed bulb lighting are some of the designer choices.  Across from me is a door secured with a hasp and padlock.  The liquor pantry I bet. 

A long haired guy in a faded Neru suit enters the kitchen.  On his arm is a blonde dressed like Michelle Phillips on a Mamas and Papas tour.  Either they are too drunk to see me or do not care that I am watching him grope and probe her various delights.  He reaches into his front pocket with a move I think will expose his privates.  The move reveals the padlock key instead.  In an apparently well rehearsed move Neru keys the padlock, opens the door, and shuffels in without a break in the tongue lock he has on Michelle’s tonsils .  For the brief moment the door is open, I realize it is not a pantry or a liquor cabinet— no bigger than a good walk in closet — it is a bedroom.  I almost smell the incense and hear the sitar music coming from this mattress pantry.  The door closes and it’s the last time I’ll see the sex shrine, which is so special it must be kept under lock and key.  There is no end to the extremes the tenants of this space have gone to recreate the worst of the 60’s.  The kitchen where I am standing is Gary Larson’s worst nightmare. 

The basic theme of the kitchen is jersey milk-cow hide, a painted plethora of pinto pony skin.  It’s white with irregular ovals of glossy black.  A floor to ceiling cowhide effect, allowing for no break in the pattern for individual appliances.  Painted in place the irregular ovals start on the floor and overlap with 90° turns to complete themselves on the front the cabinets,  down into the sink and up onto the refrigerator, toaster and anything else which stands in the way of art.  Even the light fixture in the ceiling has not escaped the leading edge of a black blob. 

My eyes cannot focus on individual parts of the kitchen but I reach for what could be the handle of a refrigerator door.  There’s a cool rush of air and I see racks of chilled goods materialize before my eyes.  I subliminally reach for the carton of milk but lower my gaze to the beer cans instead.  There’s only one selection, a local brew in a black can called SkullsBreath Lite, it figures.  I pop the top, close the mock - cowhide door and lean my back side on the refrigerator. 

I have a beer and I’m betting Miguel doesn’t.  Taking stock of the entire situation there are three words on my mind: bolt and run.  I will finish the beer while I devise a plan of escape.  I lift the can to my mouth which obscures the sea of cowhide for a swallow. 

Lowering the can, I see a female thumb posed in “Romanesque- save his life position” directly in front of my face.  The thumb is turning blue from the strangling effect of a plastic guitar finger pick wrapped around the knuckle.  It’s the kind of pick used by bluegrass players who pluck rather than strum the strings of their instruments.  This pick is at least four sizes too small for this thumb.  The thumb’s hand is attached to a female standing so close to my right side that I cannot turn to see her face lest my nose hit her squarely on the cheek bone.  She is speaking rapidly and directly into my ear.

“The doctor says I could ruin the circulation in my thumb if I keep this guitar pick on all the time.”

I say, “Then why don’t  you take it off ?” Unable to turn my head to see her reaction, I cut my eyes right and strain my peripheral vision to see how this brilliant idea fairs. 

“I never take it off.  I am a singer.  I keep it on my thumb all the time.  I bath with it on.  I sleep with it.  Just in case I want to play the guitar and sing, I’ll need it.  But it never comes off, never.  I’ll never take if off because I’m going to be a very famous singer.  I sing all the time and I write.  I did an album.  I sing Canadian folk songs.  Do you know what Canadian folk music is?  Do you know a Canadian singer that does sort of the same kind of stuff, Gordon Lightfoot?”

“Ye.......” I don’t even get the word out of my mouth. before she continues.   I realize now this is a rhetorical conversation. 

“You know him? Cool. Well that is the kind of stuff I do only, I don’t sing that kind of stuff, I do my own songs.  Songs about my life.  My son thinks I’m crazy to keep this pick on my thumb.  He’s 15 and you know how they are at 15.  I had him when I was 14, I got sexually active real early.  He probably is too but he sure wouldn’t tell me if he was screwing around.  It’s funny, he’s older now than I was when I had him, so what do you think about that?  Of course, I think it’s easier for a girl to get it on at an early age than it is for a boy.  Boys learn it from some older girl who learned it younger from an older guy.  Abortion didn’t seem like the way to go.  I mean I’m not one of those right to lifers or anything, I believe we should have a chance to get rid of a mistake.  Maybe if I’d been older when I got pregnant abortion would’ve been the way to go.  If I was sure who the father was maybe we would’ve gotten married or something.  He sort of looks like one of the boys I was going out with at the time Sedrig but who can be sure.  I never saw him again anyway.  I thought about adoption but adoption wasn’t it either.  I was adopted.  So I just had him.  That’s good too, cause now he’s old enough to be his own person.  He can take care of himself and I can start my career.  He’s like my best friend, my son Robbie.  Excuse me Rob, he hates it when I call him Robbie now that he’s 15.  My name is Mary, pleased to meet you.  We sort of grew up together, me and Robbie - Rob.  I’m not that old.  How old is Gordon Lightfoot?  I don’t know but I bet I am younger than he is now.   He’s always been honest with me and he tells me I’m crazy, Rob not Gordon Lightfoot.” 

This is a scary experience.  I am standing next to a crazy person.  There is no alcohol on her breath.  She is not drunk, she is not stoned.  She is card carrying crazy and she is standing so close I can’t even get a clear look at her.  I start to sweat thinking there could be a weapon in the other hand, the hand without the guitar pick, the hand I can’t see.  If she risks gangrene to her own thumb what could she do to another human being?  I hear the police say, “Can you describe the person who stabbed you in the neck with the ice pick? “  “Yes officer she was bald and turning bluish-white wearing a #3 Gibson guitar pick around her waist.”  I turn my eyes inside out to get at least a hair color or a basic height.  I am hoping she has an identifiable disfiguring scare.  The best I can do with my nose buried in her cheek is make out a brown fringe leather vest,  strait 60’s blonde hair and a red headband.  She hasn’t stopped talking.

“I write songs about Rob.  He hates them.  He’s 15.  He doesn’t tell his friends I sing, I think he really has a thing about this guitar pick.  But I don’t take it off even when I paint.  Sometimes I have to express myself with painting, sometime singing, sometimes both.  I love to paint. I am a good artist . Acrylic mostly.  Acrylic on canvas, sometimes just a board. I paint pictures, paintings.  I paint every day.  Art is really the best form of expression, except for nudity.  Maybe that is why so may of the masters have painted nudes.  I never have painted nudes.  I’ve painted nude before.  Sometimes in the middle of the night I will get up to paint and I am so engrossed I forget to put on clothes.  My stuff is more expressive than it is identifiable.  Even if I painted a nude model or something it might not look like a nude person.  Sometimes I play my own music when I paint.  Self indulgent I suppose, but it is all expression isn’t it?  My house is full of paintings.  I have over $200,000 worth of paintings at my house if anyone would pay me for them.”

A loud noise comes from the mass of people in the other room.  Mary is distracted for a moment and looks toward the crowd.  I quickly turn my head and complete my mental description of her.  I am sure I will need it for the police report.  She turns back too quickly for me not to make eye contact.  I’ve seen her face, she will have to kill me.  She continues,

“Did you know that actor is here?  You know the one who was in that great Robot movie?  I loved that movie, all the violence and hurt.  It reminded me of my life.  You remember that movie Taxi Driver with William Dinero?  I know someone just like that, I used to date him and he drove a cab in Toronto.  He used to hear voices just like that guy with the mohawk hair, was that the same guy, Dinero?  He looked so different.  Then there was that guy who tried to kill president Regan just like that movie to impress Jodie Foster, is she a dyke?  Do you know if she is?  I’ve heard that.  You see life does imitate art.  Maybe that is why I sing and write and paint.  I’ve had enough of life to fill an art gallery.  Did I tell you I have over $200,000 dollars worth of paintings at my house.?  Robbie didn’t see the Robot movie I don’t think. He wouldn’t know the actor that’s here.  I remember he blew some of the guys away in that movie.  He got shot too, I think.  Yeah, he did.  Maybe I could write a song about a guy who blows  a guy away, but he really doesn’t do it , it’s a dream like in a movie that he is watching.  I’d like to get a look at him....”

She is gone.  Swallowed in one gulp by the crowd.  There is no trace.

I am at once exhausted and relieved I am still alive.  I have no idea what Mary is all about or why I was the object of her rhetoric.  Time goes by, but like the shock of a car wreck I can’t tell you how long I stood in the Holstein kitchen.  There is no time to contemplate relativity as Miguel is squirted from the crowd.  We stand face to face for the first time in what seems a life.  Miguel is exhausted as well. 

We walk together through the kitchen and into the den/alley.  The car bench seat and the discarded radial tires are all taken and the only place to sit is on the sill of an open window.  I offer him a draw of my beer and he chugs it. 

Miguel admits there are no actress/models at the party only fans of his film.  He agrees to the concept of bolting out of here.  We talk about how we will get back to the hotel.  Suddenly standing over us is Kyle.  Kyle the reason we came, Kyle our co-worker.  Kyle our friend.  Kyle the only person I know at this party.  Kyle who told us this was to be a great party.  Kyle reads our faces like tabloid. 

“Not your kind of party, right guys?” Says Kyle.

“Not at all,” we admit.

“I can understand.  Sorry you got mobbed by those fans, everyone thinks it’s cool you are here.” Kyle says. “To be honest with you, it is way to crowded for my tastes, besides I hear they have run out of brew.  Hey, you guys want to go some place less crowded?  How about going down to my place to chill out with a couple of beers and some blues tunes?  It’s been a hard week and maybe we can just zone for a while to some gritty music.”

This is the best offer of the night, a chance to get out of this scary place. Miguel and I jump at the suggestion.  Kyle says he will make excuses to the host and return for a quick getaway together.  We’re instructed to hang tight right where we are. 

Kyle leaves, life looks better until the guy on the car bench seat starts a badly off beat rhythm on a conga drum.  Miguel and I have to yell in the others ear to be heard.  Miguel’s breath on my cheek reminds me of the crazy girl in the kitchen.  I say to Miguel, “There was this girl in the kitchen, she talked directly into my ear and she had a guitar pick cutting off the circulation in her thumb.”  Miguel turns white.

“You mean that psycho bitch named Mary?”  I nod and his expression confirms Mary had indeed found Miguel in the crowd   “She is so wrong...what is it with her, she wasn’t stoned or drunk.. she is just out.”  We compare notes and she had repeated the same things to Miguel that she had told to me.  We both feel lucky to get away from her without a ice pick wound to the chest. 

What a strange party!   What a strange bunch of people.  What a strange beat we are hearing on the conga drum, not good but loud.  Almost inaudible from the sound of this anti beat is a record by “Three Dog Night” playing in the background   It’s so faint I’m not sure if it is playing on the sound system or on in my head. 

“Mama told me not to come... Mama told me not to come .... that ain’t the way to have fun ...uhn uh........”

Kyle reappears.  He has a smile on his face.  To us he is the angel of mercy.  He says everything is arranged, the host understands, the excuses are made and we are socially correct if we leave.  All we have to do now is get through the wall of humanity in the living room. 

We form a single file serpentine line to make it through the mass.  Miguel holds on the back of Kyle’s shoulder, and I hold to the hem of Miguel’s coat.  We slink through the crowd. 

In the middle of the room it’s deafening.  “MAMA TOLD ME NOT TO COME....THAT AIN’T THE WAY TO HAVE FUN...”   I see Kyle turn to Miguel and yell, “Hold up a second.  Let me get my girlfriend.”  He turns to the thick of the crowd and cups his left hand to his mouth and yells, “Hey, Mary!”

I make eye contact with Miguel and time stood still for a moment.  We were thinking the same thing. 

Many people are named Mary.  There are a lot of Marys in the world.  If the scale is the Virgin Mary on one end and Typhoid Mary on the other, there must be plenty- o’- Marys in-between.  There is Mary Tyler Moore, Mary Martin, Mary Kay Place, Mary Magdelen, Mary McDonald, Mary Pickford and Mary Queen of Scotts.  In a crowd like this there must be 20 girls named Mary. The odds on Kyle’s girlfriend being the same criminally insane wacko are astronomical.   Besides Kyle would never get involved with the principal of Ding Dong school. 

Miguel and I are no longer making eye contact.  We look at the crowd.  We strain in this surreal time warp to see who will answer Kyle’s call.  We scream but there is no sound, as Crazy Mary, good ole talk in your face, singer/painter, guitar pick on her thumb, alien psycho chick from another planet walks in the direction of Kyle.  Kyle says, “Let’s go, ” and receives a peck on the cheek.  We are doomed.

There is no way to turn back.  The crowd is squeezing us through.  There is no way to buck the flow.   We scream, “Kyle we can’t go, we remembered we have to get back to the hotel.  We have another obligation.   Kyle...Kyle...”  But this is of no use, we are on our way to hell.

Hell is further than we think.  We assume Kyle’s place is in the same building on a lower floor.  His exact words were, “How about going down to my place  to chill out with a couple of beers and some blues tunes?”  Walking out the building we realize we are going to crime scene number two.  There is a cab in front of us with the door open.  Mary is walking down the street arm in arm (face in face) with another couple we have acquired at the party.  This is lucky.  With the extra couple in tow there are too many of us to fit into Kyle’s car.  Kyle says he’ll drive the car and we can take the cab and meet them at the house.  Kyle mentions the address and the driver seems a little vague. 

I see a way out.  The minute we are alone in the cab we will abort the mission and tell him to take us back to the hotel.  At work we explain to Kyle that the driver got lost, it was costing a fortune, so we had him take us back to the hotel.  The perfect plan.  We are seconds away from a get away.  Kyle says to the driver, “You know where that is?”  The driver barely speaks English; he is vapid.  Kyle seems concerned, “Maybe you should just follow me.  I’ll pull around.”

Panic.  What do we do?  Miguel thinks fast and says sure, we’ll find it, not to worry, as he is closing the back door to the cab.  Kyle is looking in the front passenger side window.  It’s working.  The cab starts the meter.  Kyle says, “You sure you know where you are going?” 

Miguel says, “Sure it’s.....”  Miguel goes blank.  What is the address?  Kyle just said it?  I jump in quickly.

“It’s five three....”  I’ve lost it, I’m guessing.  More panic.  “The driver can get there...right?”  I am praying the driver will bail us out with a number, a street, an area something that is near correct. 

There is too much hesitation from the driver.  English is not even his third language.  Kyle yells down the street.  “Mary you take the car I better go with these guys.”  Kyle opens the passenger door and jumps in the cab.  There are suddenly no bones in my neck and shoulders as they fall like silly putty.  We are doomed. 

There is a death row silence in the back seat.  I am thinking about all the stories I have seen on the television show Cops.  I am seeing yellow tape stretched around a blood stained chalk outline that used to be my mortal shell.  I envision a hand held camera shot in poor light.  The cop says, “This guy probably didn’t even know it was coming.”  Oh yes I did.  I knew.  How many punctures can you take with an ice pick before you go unconscious? 

There is a screech of tires as the cab stops at a yellow light turning red.  Kyle goes ballistic.  “You could have made that you idiot.  For Christ’s sake it is 3:00 in the morning.  Nobody is on the street.  What are you trying to do run up the fare or something?  Now we have to sit here at a light while nothing is happening.” 

The driver is irritated.  He says something in a foreign language under his breath.  I am guessing it was something like, “Just thinking of your safety and the safety of my other passengers, sir.”

Kyle assumes he said something else.  “That’s the problem with this country.  You guys come over here, don’t even speak the language much less know your way around town, and what job do you get?  A job where you have to communicate and find your way around.  Why the hell didn’t you just stay where you were and direct camel trains?”

Miguel says, “Easy... Easy.  Let’s just chill.  We’re in no hurry.  The man is just trying to get us there safely.”  Kyle responds and backs off the driver.  He turns around to us like the defense attorney to a jury. 

“You know Mary is really a talented lady.  A really creative person.  You know she sings, writes music, paints.  Mostly paints... she paints a lot.  She is also a great mother to Rob.  He really is a great kid given all the things he has to put up with in his life.  I see the goodness in her life.  A lot of people don’t.  I think that is why I moved in with her last year.”

Red alert!  Red alert!  My brain puts it together very quickly.  Kyle lives with Mary.  This is not Kyle’s pad we are going to; it’s Mary’s house.  There is probably a dungeon.  Miguel and I will be put in a sound proof pit and starved for three days until our skin sags.  The hide will be stripped from our emaciated bodies, stretched over wooden frames and some night a deranged naked woman will stain it with acrylic paint while listening to self styled Canadian folk music.  Maybe Jimmy Hoffa knew Mary.

I look at Miguel.  Kyle is talking.  Miguel’s eyes are large and watery.  I see the reflection of Kyle’s face on Miguel’s cornea.  It looks like a skull.  What do we know about Kyle?  We have seen him around the set for a week or so, but we hardly know him.   He has just yelled at the Iranian cab driver for not putting our lives in more danger.  What’s the rush to get to the house?  Is Igor rushing us back for feeding time?  Maybe it is a vampire thing.  How long is it until sunrise?  I start to make anagrams out of the letters in Kyle’s name.  Kyleigulia no.  Selyk, Esylk. .....Yes Kl   that’s it..   Yes Kill  ..Kill.  We have been pronouncing his name wrong.  It’s all too simple now.  But it’s all too late.  After a drive out of the city we are at a house.  Mary’s house, and it is still hours from sunrise. 

It doesn’t look like the house where Anthony Perkins lived with his mother.  It’s an average place, an inviting front porch with a bench swing.  Mary is there in the face of the other couple who have been waiting on us.  Kyle says lets go in, and Miguel and I head for the front door.  Mary yells to us not to go that way.  She and Kyle live in the basement, the entrance is on the side of the house.  I become a human thesaurus: basement, dungeon, cell, chamber, pit.  I am a lamb being led to the slaughter.  I can’t believe I will not hold up a cross and scream because it might be socially incorrect.  Is Miguel under some spell, or is this part of his plan?  It’s Dr. Helsinki’s voice I hear in my head saying, “Don’t be afraid.  Ve moost find zee cofins, und destroy zees evil.”

I descend the steps behind Miguel.  Kyle leads the way and Mary blocks my retreat.  I start to count the steps knowing there will be thirteen.  However, I lose count quickly.  The stairwell is covered in paintings.  Bizarre, weird uninspired paintings that betray no hint of inspiration or talent.  The canvases line the way three to five deep stacked in front of, and on top of each other until they reach the ceiling.  The paintings form a single file path to the bottom of the stairs. 

The living room is the same.  Floor to ceiling paintings stacked five and six deep.  It seems to be this way in the entire basement turned apartment.  The paintings show the same style if that is what it is.  Maybe markings is correct.  At any rate this entire inexhaustible collection of goo has come from the same fallacious faculties.  Basic kindergarten scrawled human and animal forms twisted in agony painted in muddy pastel colors.  The canvases have been caked with a texture like dried spackeling paste for drywall construction.  The texture conflicts wiyh the forms in pastel.  It’s as if the paint attempts to cover a bad repair job to a leaky ceiling.  My breath is taken away. 

Mary has wafted into the kitchen turning on lights.  More light reveals more paintings.  Critical light causes the spackleing textures to cast weird shadows on the paintings.  It does not help.  I realize Mary had not been kidding.  There are over $200,000 dollars worth of painting here even at 50¢ a canvas if any one would pay her for them.  I can not conceive of that ever happening. 

Midway up the wall in the living area my gaze stops on a particular canvas glob.  It appears to be a snarling dog in baby blue, on field of pastel lime green.  As a child would draw an animal all the legs are on one side of the body.  Apparently the eye of the dog has been repainted several times.  Like a piece of paper erased too much the images of mistakes linger to obscure the final coat of blue.  Suddenly there is a nose on my cheek, and Mary is in my face talking in my ear.  She is pointing to the picture with that hideous guitar pick hand.

“That’s one of my favorites, too.  It is a portrait of my son Robbie.  I call it ‘Bad Dog.’  I remember painting it when he was about 3 years old.  I was trying to toilet train him.  He kept going in his pants and it was ticking me off that he wouldn’t get it right.  I got up in the middle of the night and painted that one for him.  I was thinking about how you house brake a dog, you know like a child.  You whack them with a paper and rub their nose in it.  They snarl back.  Sometimes you have to hit them again until they get it.  He hates it.  He hates them all.  He thinks I’m crazy to wear this guitar pick.  He thinks I can’t sing.  He’s wrong...Bad Dog! Bad dog! I tell you something I sing better than I paint and I paint all the time.” Mary doesn’t even take a breath.

She starts to give me the painting by painting tour.  This one she painted in the nude.  This one is the landlord, scum bag.  That one she painted on acid and all the ones over there were painted in a single night, she thinks it was mushrooms she was on then.  Every painting has a story and I will hear all 200,000 of them.  It is like a Roershock test in reverse. 

There is a scream, but it isn’t me.  It isn’t a human scream.  It is more of a screech.  It scares the hell out of me, have they killed Miguel?  It’s the whistle of a tea kettle.  Kyle yells, “Mary the water is boiling.” 

“I guess we’ll all want coffee don’t we?”  It is another rhetorical question from Mary.  She is off to the kitchen.  I am safe for a moment.  But where have they taken Miguel? 

I wonder into the den area.  Miguel is making time with the other girl on the couch.  She could be a model or actress.  Miguel is blatantly making a pass at her in front of her escort.  The escort seems to be oblivious.  I hear the escort say, “So you didn’t really kill the guys they just used blanks in the guns?  But  it sure looked like the Robot was hit.”  Velvet sandpaper voiced tones from Miguel wax eloquently on the dangers of stunt fighting on film.  The doe eyed nymphet is spell bound.  I know Miguel is in his element and has forgotten the plan to flee. 

“Miguel,” I say. “You know it’s getting late and we have an early call on the set tomorrow.  Those pick up shots for the uh... Chucky script... remember?”  It’s total bull but the language is vague enough for the lay people not to get it.  Miguel comes to his senses.

“Oh, yeah.  The pick up shots.”  He says as Kyle enters the room. 

“What pick up shots?’’  Kyle asks.  Now Kyle is working on the same picture we are.  In fact he is Miguels stand in. 

“Well, we better get going Kyle. You know, early day tomorrow.”  I say as we both get up to get free. 

“Tomorrow is Sunday.  We don’t work on Sundays.  Besides my call time is three hours before you guys get there on Monday, and I’m not worried.  Relax have a cup of coffee, a brew, lets listen to some blues.” 

Damn.  Why didn’t I remember he works with us?  I resolve to think of better lies. 

Enter Mary with the coffee.  The coffee pot and the cups are painted with kindergarten animals in muddy pastel colors.  It is functional art.  The handle on my cup resembles a penis.  It may be the most accurate interpretation of anything depicted in the house. 

Miguel settles down lounging his head in the lap of the nymphet.  He has resigned himself to attempt a score even in the face of danger.  Mary is still talking but she is across the room and much easier to take at a distance.  This is the last place on earth I want to be.  I am lonely, sad, betrayed, depressed and defeated.  I’m suicidal but I swear not to end my life here- I must warn the world first.  Kyle switches to his Dr. Jekel personality acting the part of the perfect host. 

“Everyone okay?  More coffee?  Would you like a brew? There’s plenty of beer in the box.  How about some sounds.  What do you want to hear?”

“Blues,” I say.

“Yeah, you got any gritty barroom blues, Kyle?” says Miguel.

“Oh man, my favorite kind of tunes.” Kyle smiles a smile as if he is hiding the stash.  I wonder what kind of record collection could be hidden in this gallery of horrors.  I see no stereo system in the room, but it could be painted with textured pastel colors.  My blood chills when I hear Kyle say,

“Mary, how about singing for the guys?” 

The extra couple starts to chant on cue like a rock and roll crowd. 

“Mary, sing, Sing Mary. Mary.  Ma-ry. Ma-ry.”

Miguel rolls his eyes.  I have no energy left.  This is the scheme is it?  These vampires aren’t going to kill me they are crucifying my artistic soul.  Mary’s butchered art is all around me and now she will attack the sacred sanctuary of performing.  There is nothing holy left.  I stand condemned to be slapped in the face by a bad performance.  A live show from hell. 

Mary picks up her guitar.  It is painted with textured pastel animal shapes.  The guitar is leaning against the paintings perfectly camouflaged until this very moment.  Mary attempts to tune the instrument.  I hear the screaming of the cat from whose bowels the strings were ripped.  She is way off.  She has no sense of pitch. 

“I can never tune my guitar, Kyle.”  She hands the guitar to Kyle who cradles it like Itzak Pearlman’s Stradivarius violin.  He proudly tunes it with a smile of anticipation.  He hands it back to Mary. 

She strums it twice.  I notice she’s not using the pick on her thumb. 

“You know I don’t sing like I talk.  I sing really differently than people think,” she says.  I figure that means she takes a breath occasionally.  With a couple more attempts at making a chord she starts to wail. 

From the depths of Hades a voice comes out of Mary like I have never heard before or since.  A cross between Kim Karnes, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Janis Joplin and Linda Blair possessed in the Exorcist.  A node ridden, hacked up, razor blade gargle growl of an abused voice.  It is demonic.  It is nothing like her normal voice.  She has summoned a gargoyle from the depths of a gothic inferno.  I am shocked that a person can make this sound for any length of time without internal bleeding.  The voice matches the subject matter of the material.  It is an original work called “Poison.”

“Two cups of coffee a specialty brew.....I’ve laced one with poison just to kill you....Your beatin’ and hurtin’ me days are all through....I’ve laced it with poison just to kill you.........”

The song continues to weave the story of an abused wife in calculated revenge at the breakfast table.  Caught up in the pain of the song and the hurting voice, I forget I’m drinking a cup of coffee given to me by Mary herself. 

She finishes the song and the room is deadly silent.  I have the feeling I am witnessing a rare and special performance.  It is the perfect blend of artist and material.  She starts into her next selection.  It’s called “Blackness”, about a young girl gang raped by a group of black thugs.  I am on the verge of tears.  More than a song it‘s a therapy session.  This is it.  This is it, the "rip out your vocal cords-kill me cause I am just too sad" blues.   This is what I’ve wanted to hear all evening.  It’s what Miguel and I set out to hear hours ago. 

We beg her to sing another.  Miguel and I chant, “Sing Mary..Mar-y.  Ma-ry.  Ma-ry.” She has won over the most hostile audience of a career.  We are begging for songs we were kidnapped and forced to listen, but no matter.  We have found the magic sound. 

She sings another.  It is mercifully lighter in subject matter.  It concerns an unrequited love silently suffering watching a lover and another woman.  It is called “You and her”.  I am crying.  Miguel is crying.  The extra couple is crying.  Kyle is not crying.  He smiles in the same way Col. Parker must have smiled at sold out Elvis concerts. 

She ends.  The guitar disappears against the wall of paintings.  The gargoyle is condemned to the depths again.  Mary becomes the person she was before.  She is talking about the guitar pick on her thumb unused during any of the songs.  What the hell is that pick all about?  I can’t figure it out.  I don’t care.  I want to hear more, not about the pick, more songs.  It will not happen tonight but she mentions all the songs are on her album.

“Album?” Miguel says.  “Where can I get it?”

“Right here.  I have them.” says Mary.  “I have over $50,000 dollars worth of tapes in the closet if anyone wants to buy them.”

Money jumps out of our pockets.  We both buy an album at ten dollars apiece.  The “J” card jacket cover of the tape is a reproduction of one of Mary’s more twisted pastels.   I look at the art considering the music I’ve just heard.  I think of artistic license.  I think about Mary’s tough life, and her attempts to visualize the pain in canvas.  Nope.  It doesn’t wash.  This art still sucks.  Mary is not an artist.  She can’t make normal conversation.  She has no social sense of personal space.  She doesn’t know how to use a finger pick.  She cannot tune a guitar, and she definitely cannot paint.   But— she can sing the hell out of a blues song.  She could be a big star, she is a truly inspired performer.

Kyle says he has called a cab and it will be here in moments.  We have to go.  There is almost a rush to get us out of the house like they have to set up for a second show.  The cab honks and we are almost thrown out of the basement.  Mary says a quick good bye with the same peck on the cheek she gave to Kyle at the party a life time ago. 

Kyle walks us to the cab.  “Do you know how to get back?” He asks.  We do.  This cab driver speaks English.  It looks as it will be a long good-bye until Kyle glances at his watch and then up at the sky and hastily retreats to the basement.  Strange reaction, we think. 

Seconds later it’s sunrise.  Everything looks different from just seconds ago.  This cab ride is certainly more pleasant.  The Rocky mountains cast long pastel colored shadows across a rough horizon.  It is stunningly beautiful.  I get an insight into the paintings I just endured.  Maybe this is the feeling Mary is trying to impart in her pictures.  Perhaps she is showing the juxtaposition of the horible images of night with the beautiful colors of dawn.  Maybe this is what Mary sees when she paints.  If this is the case it makes sense why the paintings are so wrong.  A vampire never sees the morning sun.  I am still convienced I have mixed with the undead. 

Miguel looks at me and says, “Well, it was a long way to get there but we finally found that gutsy blues music you wanted to hear”

As we reach the hotel safely the strains of a choir singing Ava Maria fill my brain.  It is the final scene from the film Fantasia, and we have lived through the “Night on Bald Mountain.” 

I ride up in the elevator with Miguel.  He gives me the traditional high five, but it lacks the energy it usually has both our life forces have been tapped.  I will see him a Herb’s later on in the evening and we will try to sort out this  experience.  Next week end I have decided I want -- to spend a quiet evening alone.

-->