Thursday, October 03, 2019

Hi.. I’m Jay....depressive...


These are tough times for depressives.  The struggle to see the glass half full is needed now more that ever, but it has also never been more difficult.  Even when things are great, depressives have a difficult time converting that energy into happiness. That is the disorder.  Like a diabetic who can not physically process sugar, a depressive can not physically  process happiness.  If we could process happiness like others do, we would not be depressives. It is a struggle when times are good,When times are rough... it is almost impossible for a depressive to be “happy” or even neutral.    In this emotionally divided country, no matter what side of the political divide you inhabit,  these are not normal times. The tone of the news is divisive and upsetting. Those who do not have such issues with depression don’t understand, These are tough times for depressives.  

Unfortunately most people don’t know how to interact with a depressive.  With other disorders there is some sort of a protocol.  When some one sneezes you say “God Bless you”.  When faced with the specter of depression most do not know how to act or what to say.

“Just be happy”, “Get over it”, or my favorite phrase proclaimed by the uninformed, “What do you have to be sad about.... look at your life.”  

Yes, look at my life. There is nothing  I have to be sad about.  There is no disagreement that I am extremely blessed.  A list of my credits and experiences should be the penultimate of a persons life and career. Unfortunately these wonderful experiences are very much like a Snickers bar to a diabetic;  I do not process it in the same way as a “normal” depressive neutral person would. Pointing out the abnormality of a person’s depressed emotion is not helpful.  To exasperate the problem, in theTrump era normally happy people are stressing out. These are tough times for depressives.  

It is not a perfect synonym but happiness and hopefulness are connected in the depressive mind.  A depressive can feel unhappiness for any reason because of their mental disorder, but if there is a way to hang on to hope,  there is a chance of happiness.  Hopeful times are helpful times to depressives.  But, because we have an Executive branch of government composed of lawlessness, lying, corrupt individuals who seem to defy convention and law, there is no hope for the depressive.  Equality, morality and ethics do not seem to be part of the Trump administration. There is no accountability to the truth, the law or even human courtesy  and decency. We are being told that what we see and know is not the truth, and because they seem to be getting away with it, truth becomes irrelevant.  There is no hope that wrong will be unsuccessful nor punished.  To the depressive we are being shown that there is in reality no way out of our unhappiness.  There is no hope.  
The unfortunate thing is, I have no solution. I know of no way that depressives like myself can find peace and harmony in this “era”.  Politically I would love to see Trump brought down and humbled for his complete lack of humanity, lawlessness and selfishness.  My depression tells me that this event might bring me happiness and a relief of depression.

These are tough times for depressives,

As you were, 
Jay

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Jimmy Nelson - Dean of American Ventriloquists



Even if you are not a ventriloquist and don’t know the name Jimmy Nelson, If you hear the jingle “N-e-s-t-l-e-s, Nestles makes the very best...Choc-Late” (from the Nestles Quik commercials of the mid fifties through 60’s) you know Jimmy Nelson.  Jimmy and his ventriloquist figure Danny O’day performed the Quik commercials that ended with that song/jingle. Farfel (a vent puppet dog) took the last line “Chocolate” and snapped his mouth closed at the end.  Jimmy’s performance on those commercials were better than any of the shows they sponsored.  They were delightful.   Jimmy parlayed a recurring role as a ventriloquist pitch-man on the Texaco Star Theater in the 1950’s to become an icon of American Variety performers.    His brash side kick Danny O’Day and long-eared dog,  Farfel,  performed in every entertainment medium from 33 RPM records to Carnegie Hall.  He became a pillar of what is now referred to as the Golden Age of Television. He was a regular on the Ed Sullivan Show, did the Nestles commercials, pitched toys, did record albums and performed in supper clubs with the “Who’s Who” of entertainment. 
I became addicted to Nestles Quik because of Jimmy Nelson. I became a ventriloquist because of Jimmy Nelson. Truth be told I didn’t want to be just a ventriloquist... I wanted to become Jimmy Nelson.  
Edgar Bergen was too formal. Some of the other ventriloquist of the day were too corny, Jimmy was the Goldielocks of ventriloquism, just right.  He did not get lost in the relationship with his characters. Danny was precocious but not rude, Farfel was deadpan but not a push over, master of the understatement, and Jimmy’s personality was so engaging he could negotiate peace between the two.
Jimmy never retired, because his phone kept ringing, even after he left the winters of Chicago and moved to Florida. Because he always had time to encourage other ventriloquist,  he was ultimately given the title of “Dean of American Ventriloquists”. To me he was my Ventriloquist GodFather.  It wasn’t that he just showed us how to be ventriloquist, he showed us how to be gentlemen.  I never heard him say a bad word about anybody and no one who knew Jimmy had a bad word to say about him.  Everybody called Jimmy Nelson their friend and I was no exception.  His devotion to God, family and ventriloquism (in that order) was as influential as his instructional album teaching ventriloquism called “Instant Ventriloquism”. Over the years our paths crossed many times. I even became friends with his son Larry Nelson for the short time we both lived in Los Angeles. My times with Jimmy were never often enough nor long enough and I never got over being a “fan boy” to my hero Jimmy Nelson. I suppose my greatest thrill was to be called a “half-Nelson”.  Betty Nelson gave me that title during a dinner at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.  We had just seen Terry Fator’s show. 




Jimmy passed away this morning after a short illness from a stroke.  
There is no way to prepare for this news. There is no way to calculate his loss to the art of ventriloquism nor fill the void that his departure has left in my heart.  I know so many people, peers, entertainers and especially ventriloquists feel the same.  My eyes glisten, keeping me from more joyous memories of my friend, Jimmy.  My thoughts are with Betty and Jimmy’s wonderful family.  Like Danny O’Day I have no more words right now.

Never the same,
Jay

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

18 Years Later.....


In the years since 9/11 I have watched both my sons graduate from College, was joyful when Sandi got hired on a television show that is now premiering its 9th season in a couple of weeks; I won a Tony for a one man show I wrote and performed on Broadway. Somewhere along the way I started writing this blog. 

9/11/01 seems so long ago, until I start to recall that specific day in my life. It then becomes altogether too fresh like it only happened months ago.  In this time of memorial to all that did not see 9/12/01, I reprint what I have written before.  During this unpleasant anniversary, I find it easier to cut and paste the past rather than relive it to write about it. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014


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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


September 11 Remembered...

Reprints from the past:

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

Written on: 
Thursday, September 11, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will never quite be as we were,
Jay

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Michael of Inis Oirr



In June of 2015, Harry, Elizabeth, Sandi and I engaged the services of this buggy driver to show us around the Aran island of Inis Oirr/Inisheer. It was a vintage buggy, pulled by a horse named Bob with a driver named Michael. Of the four or five other buggy drivers waiting  at the dock that day, Michael just looked the part.  Michael looked like he had been sent by Central Casting to be the perfect Gallic/Irish guide.   He had the round face of an Apple doll that hadn’t completely dried out yet. Michael was born, raised a family and lived his entire life on this Galway Bay island of 250 residents.  He retired from his career as a fisherman and was now literally a welcome wagon for visitors to his home. His lyrical accent made it sound like he was singing the words when he spoke.  In fact at one point he actually did sing to us.  As we traveled up a small hill Bob, the horse, released a loud and lengthy fart.  As the smell of digested hay reached our nostrils Michael began singing, “ Oh...The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind”.  

 Michael and Bob took us to the eastern shore of the island to the ghostly site of the Plassey Ship wreck. Grounded 100 yards inland lay the  rusting hull of the merchant ship Plassey.  Michael recalled a very bad storm as a child in the early 60’s that stranded the Plassey at that spot.  To say that Michael made an impression on us that day is an understatement.  This day would forever be etched into our memory.  

None of us would have thought,  four years later we would make a trip back to this very island to scatter Harry’s ashes.  

Harry’s death was sudden and unexpected. In his will he requested that his ashes be taken to Ireland and scattered by a couple of his close friends, and immediate family. This Ireland Ashes party of 9 included:  Elizabeth, Harry’s kids, Turk and Christy (Harry’s close friends) and my family. We met in Dublin, took the train to Galway and the ferry to Inisheer. We repeated stories of Harry along the way and observed signs pointing out the reason we were in Ireland.  Things would happen that seemed to have Harry’s celestial input.  Case in point: while all of us were  trying to find the bus station, to get to the ferry, we were led to this Galway mortuary.  


The busker who danced in front of Harry’s favorite pub wore black instead of her signature red outfit, 
and from an overcast day that threatened rain, the sun came shining through at the moment we set Harry’s ashes free on the rocky Inisheer beach. None of it was coincidental to those who knew Harry.  Eventually we just accepted everything as an occult “sign” .

Harry had specified his ashes be spread in Ireland but “where” in Ireland seemed to be up to Elizabeth, who was doing everything the way Harry would have wanted.  The Plassey ship wreck on Inisheer seemed a perfect place, because we had such a vivid memory of being there with Harry. It is also a very distinctive local landmark.  Elizabeth made plans to make that happen. 

On the ferry ride over, Elizabeth, Sandi and I discussed how perfect it would be if we could hire Michael to take us one final time to the Plassey ship wreck.  We docked and quickly scoured the buggy drivers to see if we could find Michael.  There were half a dozen buggy’s and drivers but no sign of Michael nor Bob the horse.  We had to settle for two other buggies to transport us to the shipwreck. 

Normally the buggy tour allows for a 10 minute stop at the ship wreck for photos.  We asked our drivers if they could stay for an hour while we said goodbye to our husband, father, godfather and best friend. When they realized the reason for this trip, the drivers were very reverent.  

It was a tougher job than any of us thought it would be.  Because the rocks were unstable,  just getting to the waters edge was a challenge.  It was also more emotional than we thought it would be. All of us had been to the previous four memorial services for Harry.  We erroneously thought this would just be one more, but we soon realized, it was the last one.  It is an indescribable scene watching Harry’s ashes linger in the water for a moment, and then to be swept forever away into Galway Bay. With not a dry eye in the party, the sun came busting through the over cast sky to project theatrical lighting on the occasion.  It was an exit Harry would have been proud of.  

The buggy ride back to the dock took some time, and our driver was very respectful of our silence and our questions.  I was thinking back to the time it was just me, Harry, Elizabeth and Sandi traveling this very road.  I thought of Michael and Bob “blowing in the wind”.  After a moment or two I said to our driver, “You must know a buggy driver named Michael.  His horse is named Bob.” 

 “Of course.” He said. 

I explained that Michael had been our tour guide the last time I was on this island with Harry... the person we had just put to rest. I also said Elizabeth, Sandi and I looked for him at the dock but he wasn’t there. We didn’t see him. 

“Everybody knows- him.. very nice man.” Said the driver.
“Does he still drive the buggy?” I asked. Then the driver said:

“Michael... just passed.” 

It was yet one more “coincidence” to Harry’s death. The street dancer dressed in black- the mortuary - the sunshine for the ashes ceremony -  And now one more “sign” our driver Michael also died.   I responded with some sad remark about losing friends. There was a moment of disconnect in the conversation. The young buggy driver realized - for some reason- we were not on the same page, 

He said, “No. No.  He just passed us....” as he pointed to another buggy which had just passed  by.  

Sometimes it’s not a sign..


“Be Seeing You”
My Friend.


As you were, 
Jay












Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Stupid is not Ignorant


The Amazon Rain Forrest is burning out of control. Smoke from the Amazon fires is turning day to night in cities 1000 miles away. Most of the fires were set deliberately to clear pastures for cattle.  The easiest way to clear a Forrest to make a pasture is to set it on fire.  For the last 30 years the Amazon has lost an average of 31,000 square miles a year from deforestation for ranch land, to raise beef. 
The tropical Forrest that supplies 20% of the worlds oxygen is now producing Co2 , the gas that causes climate change.    But why would you want to set the lungs of the world on fire? Money.  Money can be made from beef and no money can be made from the oxygen the Rain Forrest produces.  The current president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, is a climate change denier who says he will not preserve nor protect a centimeter of Rain Forrest.  He says that Brazilians have the right to make all the money they want from their own land, and now  refused the offer of money from the G7 to help battle the out of control fire. 
When I think about Bolsonaro’s policy toward this Global problem I say to myself, “How Stupid.” When I see climate denier, Trump rolling back EPA rules and  relaxing mining and drilling standards on protected lands in this country, I think the same thing... “Stupid.”  After much more thought I do not believe these men are Stupid.  They are much more dangerous than just being stupid.... they are IGNORANT. 
Being a wordsmith, adjectives and labels are very important, especially describing people of power.  Stupid is having or showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense. Intelligence is not the issue.  In fact our President is a self proclaimed genius.  Trump supporters believe, arguably, that he is a rich man because of “some sort of”  intelligence.  This is not an essay on the IQ of Trump or Bolsonaro nor a question of either man’s sanity.  I believe both to be much more dangerous because they are Ignorant.  The word "ignorant" is an adjective that describes a person in the state of being unaware, and can describe individuals who deliberately ignore or disregard important information or facts. 
Ignorance and Ignorant come from the root word “ignore”.  
Ignorance then is not so much  a description of knowledge or intelligence but a quality of awareness and acceptance.  Facts are facts, and scientific facts are things that can be proven true time after time.  You take water and heat it up enough it will turn to steam and eventually disappear.  Fact... you can prove it at home on your own stove.  The fact that humans  are contributing to the climate change of our planet by dumping poison into the atmosphere is   scientific fact.  These studies and facts are all almost general knowledge.  An uneducated person may not be aware of these facts, as would be the case if one was stupid. However, to know the facts, and dismiss them or IGNORE them is IGNORANCE. Both Trump and Bolsonaro know the facts, but they ignore the facts that are not good for them. 
I would suspect that Bolsonaro is very much like Trump.  He was supported and endorsed by Steve Bannon. I do not know the depth of his ignorance, but it runs very deep in the orange clad brain of Donald Trump.  Trump is ignorant to any truth, that he is not the best-ever, the brightest and most successful.Trump ignores his oath as president. Trump ignores any compassion for those not “loyal” and praising him and those who do not agree with him.  Trump ignores climate change. Trump ignores the fact that his words have any affect on the rest of the country while claiming all good comes from what he is doing.  Trump ignores and rejects any fact that the world is not the oyster of rich white men.  Trump simply ignores the truth about anything that does not support his selfishness.  
Trump supporters are not stupid either. They know Trump is a liar, a cheater and a vulgar racist but they IGNORE those facts because the economy is good? They are like the Brazilian cattle ranchers, as long as I make money... the hell with the world’s oxygen supply.  IGNORANCE.  

So let’s be fair.  Donald Trump is not the Stupidest President we have ever had.... He IS however the most IGNORANT President we have ever had and that is so much more dangerous.  

As you were,
Jay


Monday, May 06, 2019

God said, “No Collusion”


It baffles me how anyone who claims to know or and believe the tennents of Christianity can support Donald J. Trump.  It has bothered me for the entire time this poser has been seeking the presidency.  Here is a man who has broken every one of the Ten Commandments except “thou shalt not kill” but even jokes that if he DID kill somebody on 5th Avenue he wouldn’t lose his base of supporters.  
And it’s not just the fact they support him, they deify him claiming he is chosen by God to be the President. Apparently, however, God does not participate in ALL presidential elections just this one.  

In an opinion piece from the Carroll County Times, a guy named Sparkle (yes Sparkle), claims God stepped in this time because: 
We needed someone who could pick up the pieces after eight years of Barack Obama and his program to “fundamentally change America.” https://www.carrollcountytimes.com/opinion/columnists/cc-op-other-voices-041019-story.html
Hey Sparkle, the only fundamental change Barack Obama made to America was to break the color wall of the Presidency.  But I get your point. God obviously did not help elect a black man to the Presidency.  But let’s leave the racism out of this discussion.  

How can Christian people support a leader who is so unlike Jesus and so much like their concept of the Devil? For several years now it has vexed me as I try to see the appeal of Trump to these otherwise pious people.  Trump’s obvious lying, cheating, disloyal, insulting, bullying, name calling, ignorant vanity is in direct opposition to anything that Jesus lived for or taught.  In fact to quote the Bible itself, it seems like John was making a statement on Trump.
John 8:44 
“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” 

I have even entertained the idea that Trump is a demon who has used his evil power to hypnotize the faithful into believing in his own anointing.  That line of reasoning falls apart when I realize that even a demon would be more intelligent than Trump. So what is it? It seems that no matter what he does his evangelical support seems to be steady if not increasing.  

Today as I was searching the news, two items came together in a way that turned a light on for me.  As Oprah would say it was an “Ah Ha” moment.
Here is the first article that caught my eye: 
Mr. Trump retweeted a statement by Jerry Falwell, Jr. that because of the “witch hunt” that has been going on for two years, Trump should get a two year extension on his term. It dawned on me how similar Falwell, Jr. and Trump are.  Two sons who inherited a large fortune from their Dads, who grew up with privilege and power taking over their Dads business. 

Now, If you do not see televangelism as a very lucrative business, then read no further.  We will never see eye to eye. I will not argue that these ministries don’t do some good.  Some more than others.  However, the lucrative business of pharmaceuticals also does some “good” while bringing in billions of dollars. 
On the heels of that article I also came across this one. 
https://www.insideedition.com/investigation-shows-televangelists-living-lavish-lifestyles-52662
It is an Inside Edition piece on the lucrative life style of some high profile  televangelists, Jesse Duplantis and Kenneth Copeland on their multi-million dollar love of private aircraft. In one instance Duplantis actually said, “God told me he wanted me to have this airplane.” (God evidently prefers $85 million dollar luxury jets). Copeland is quoted as saying, he couldn’t fly commercial air because “it is a long metal tube filled with demons.” Along with Joel Olsteen these mega preachers hold rallies in arenas and live in mansions spread out all over the country.  They are not shy about their wealth but flaunt it as proof that God loves them,maybe  just a little bit more than you.  All the time preaching that money given to their tax free cause will bring ten fold blessings to the “flock” in return.  Give me my private jet so I can flaunt my wealth to masses all over the world, in the name of Jesus.  

I finally realize why so many evangelicals  blindly support Trump.  The Trump lifestyle is exactly like that of the televangelist they listen to on television.   He is wealthy. He has expensive multiple homes, flys on his own private jet, and holds rally’s in arenas.  He touts his own accomplishments but is lining his own pocket first.  Trump is the poster boy for what the self righteous “Duplantis’s” of this world spout as the rewards of Christianity.   Add to this similarity in style and opulence, an aberrant election that seemed to be impossible (in fact even losing the popular vote by millions) to win. It was such an anomalous political election that surely God intervened, certainly not the Godless Russians.  So there you have it,  Trump is Rich, Famous and now President.... all the  “things to come” promised by Jesus. After all aren’t the streets of heaven paved in Gold? Just like Trump Tower toilets.  

Trump is the result of many years of riches and greed  taking over high profile religions. Luke 20:24:  When asked about wealth and paying taxes Jesus wanted to see a coin and asked who’s picture was on the coin.  The disciple said, “Caesar’s”. Jesus answer is forgotten by some of the wealthiest, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. If it was not clear from that statement that Jesus separated wealth from spirituality he also said in Luke 18:25. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”  Fortunately for the Luxury Jet Salesmen the televangelists pay nothing to Caesar because they are tax exempt.  

I certainly have no solution to this ethical, moral and spiritual detour of Evangelicals.  However there is an admonition in the Bible Mark 13:6  “See to it that no one deceives you.  Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am He” and will deceive many.”  

I’m spinning my wheels here because there are  Bible scholars who can quote scripture that will contradict my research and thesis.  I’m not trying to convert anyone nor discredit faithfulness.  However, for what it is worth, I spoke with God this morning. He and Jesus said they had no collusion with the Trump campaign. I believe them.  Unlike this President, God doesn’t lie.


Friday, April 19, 2019

Why Come to a Live Performance?

I have great respect and admiration for my friends who specialize in children’s shows.  I can’t do it. I love kids, but I am not comfortable performing for them.  It could be that I am much to ADD to make it work. To me an audience full of kids is like performing for a can of worms... worms that occationally yell out nonsense. Doing my act and my one man show requires way too much concentration to be distracted by little Johnny who has yet to learn proper social filters.  It becomes so easy for me to become distracted that my entire concentration suffers.

Here is my theory about performing live.  A live performance is a very special moment in time when a group of people and a performer(s) come together and meet in the “now moment” of a specially rehearsed event.  My attention is obviously on the material being presented but it is filtered by an analytical consciousness of the audience.  The audience becomes an emotional mirror to what I am doing on stage.  If their emotion mimics the intended stage reaction then all is good. If something other than that is happening, a conscious shift is necessary to get everyone back on the path of the performance. Most audiences do not realize that performers are adjusting at almost every moment on stage to make the “story” clearer.  

There is a relevant story about Lena Horn when she was doing her one woman show on Broadway.  Being a consummate performer, her attention was always laser focused on the audience. On one evening after the intermission, she came out singing and immediately noticed that the attention of the audience, particularly down front, was different.  Her audience mirror was not reflecting the right emotion.  Her instinct, as an artist, was to move closer to the audience to see if she could wrangle them back to paying attention to her performance.  As she did  a  large lighting instrument fell and hit the stage where she would have normally been standing.  The audience was observing what was happening behind Lena Horn, something she could not see nor was she aware of it.  The opera curtain became intangled with the grid, dislodging the lighting instrument which fell to the stage.  The attention to her audience and her instinct to move toward them for more focus saved her from injury or worse.  

I recently got to perform “Jay Johnson: The Two and Only” at the North Coast Rep in Solana Beach.  It is a nice intimate theater,  perfect for my intimate show. Because I am a ventriloquist, my ears are always aware of the sound around me.  I listen to the ventriloquial voices to monitor their effect and clarity.  This awareness of sounds include, laughs or sighs or whatever noise comes from the audience as well as from the sound track and me.  It is the equivalent of a race car driver monitoring the RPM, Speed and vitals of the race car.  There is so much to monitor on stage that anything less than full concentration doesn’t work.  In the case of a live performance you only get one time to get it right, no retakes, no do overs, the only chance you get is the one happening now; so the stakes are high.

The focus for a theatrical presentation is much more intense than that of  a nightclub performance. When liquor is involved you need to have more of a guard up since the likely hood of a heckler yelling out is increased by the number of beverages ingested.  But a club performance does not require as many ideas to juggle at once so this “heckler guard” can occupy some idle brain space.  

While I was doing 8 shows a week on Broadway there were times that I could put the cruise control on and relax a little while doing the show.  However, it has been a while since I have done that and at the North Coast Rep I had to concentrate on so many things I could not even find the cruise control for the show.  It was going well and to a point in the Tuesday night show, we were on course. That’s when I heard a noice from the audience.  Stage time slows way down when your mind has to multi-task. First comes the evaluation phase. What is the sound?  Is is threatening? Is it directed toward me? Does it require a reaction from me, or do I need to completely ignore it?  While continuing with the show, I determined that the sound was someone talking loudly followed by several people “shushing”.  My decision was to continue as if the fourth wall was soundproof.  There was another outburst this time attached to an angry tone, followed by another loud voice, then a young girl pushed her way through one of the center rows to get to the exit.  I did not know what happened but it seemed that the cause of the noise left the audience.  Just as I was about to devote my entire attention back to the script of the show, there was more loud talking and two more women walked out.  At this point my instincts told me to briefly stop and make sure there was no issue or continuing distraction.  I stepped out of character and script and said to the Usher who was closing the door behind the last woman to leave, “Do we need to stop the show.... Is everything okay?”  The Usher said, “Everything is Okay now.” Indicating the cause of the commotion was gone. 

Even if this performance was recorded, rather than a live show, some sort of re-cue needs to occur to the get back to the  place where the show left off.  I tend to think in text blocks for my hour and fifty-minute show, and the block of text I was doing  suddenly left my brain.  There is a trick I learned years ago to get back on track when a distraction like this occurs in an audience.  I said, “Geez where were we I’m lost..... I guess we have to start over from the beginning.”  I moved to my starting position for the show and a quick laugh gave me time to re-rack, re-cue and begin where we left off.  

It wasn’t till the end of the show that I found out what happened and I am glad I didn’t know during the performance.  A young lady in the middle of the house was texting on her phone which was very bright in the darkened theater, blinding the lady behind her in the next row.  The lady behind asked, if she would please turn the phone off. The theater director was sitting close enough to hear the exchange.  He said the lady was polite when she asked the offender to go dark.  The texting 20 something said in response, “Are you reading my texts, you cunt?” It caused an immediate conflict which escalated to the young lady inviting the older lady outside saying , “I’ll Kick your ass”.  The two girls sitting with the “texter” tried to defend her but were told to leave by the usher.  All three left the show.  

Never mind that I have an announcement at the top of the show asking that all cell phones be turned off and silenced for the enjoyment of every one else, why come to a show to text?  Why spend the money to watch a show only to ingnore it and text on your phone? And when a person realizes they might be unintentionally ruining the show for someone else, expletives and attitude from the offender is the result? I am glad that young lady was not around after the show.  There is nothing civil that I could have said to her.

The light from a cell phone in the darkness of an audience is distracting enough to actors on the stage, but to ignore manners and disrupt the rest of the audience when asked to put it out... is unforgivable.   If we are going to live in a society that accepts social media and ubiquitous cell phones, we need to establish some manners to go along with that “society” of texting.  

So to the young lady who disrupted the only chance I had to tell my story to that particular audience that particular night at NCT, please don’t ever come back to any of my shows.  And on behalf of every performer who is trying to communicate art,  just stay at home and text with your friends till you go blind.  Instagram and twitter, Facebook and IM your life away, as is your right to do, just never, ever, ever do it within 400 yards of a theater.  
As you were,
Jay




Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Continually Amazing Mr. Marshall

Once again it is the birthday of Peter Marshall. (It happens every year about this same time). I am a big fan of Mr. Marshall and wrote this essay for his birthday a couple of years ago.  It has only become more relevant and true.  I republish it again now in honor of the occasion.  Happy Birthday, Peter. 

Often one has to stop and take a big deep breath, otherwise you forget how great it is to be able to breath. Mostly breathing happens when we pay the least attention to it.  The same holds true with gratitude.  Sometimes one has to stop and take inventory of the things for which you are grateful lest you take them for granted.

At the top of my list of gratitude is friendship.  I hope my epitaph says, "He had wonderful Friends." I hope those friends know how blessed I am to be considered their friend. I don't have a ranking order of friends because they are all unique and all crowd the top because of their own special and wonderful qualities.  However...

Last night was a wonderful reminder of how blessed I am. It was an evening at the Paley Center for the Media honoring Peter Marshall.  It was also his 90th birthday.  The audience was filled with 300 or so invited guests, family and friends.  What struck me most about the crowd was the depth of performers from every field of entertainment.  There is no type of show business Peter Marshall has not excelled in. From first banana in a comedy duo, to  big band singer, to stage star, to movie and television actor, recording star, to pitch man, night club performer, game show host, variety show host and guru expert on the music of Big Band Swing, Peter has done it all, extremely well.  He is the happiest, nicest most engaging person who commands a steel trap mind and memory with twice the energy of people half his age.  His singing voice is as strong and beautiful as ever and he remembers every detail of every moment of his life.  Treasures like Peter defy what age is supposed to act like. 

Fred Willard and Peter Marshall


First came a 40 minute video tribute to Peter gathered and edited by Jim Pierson. It started with film clips of Peter singing from 1949 Television shows and included cherries picked from the best moments of his 16 years as host of Hollywood Squares. After that,  Peter Marshall himself took the stage. 

Leading Peter in an informal conversation about his life and career was his friend Fred Willard. Fred, one of the great comedy minds of all time and Peter one of the great comedy team straight men of all time, made for very easy listening.  It was not an interview nor even a chat.  It was like eaves dropping on two amazing minds having a dinner conversation. The Paley Center was filming the entire event, but to be there "live" as it was happening is a moment that can not be captured by any media. 

Jay Johnson - Jim Pierson - Peter Marshall

Photo by Steve Cox

I marveled at what a large brush this artist named Peter Marshall has used to paint his life.  The best game show hosts, the best game show producers, best actors, best comics, best writers, best dancers, singers and musicians (not to mention a ventriloquist) were there to honor the 90th anniversary of the birth of their friend Peter.  We have all been touched by the charm of his personality and the joy of his talents.   The very same can be said of Peter's beautiful wife Laurie who was the force behind the event. To meet Peter and Laurie is to love them.

Peter is my hero. At 90 years old his is not the guy who screams "kids get off my lawn",  he is the guy who says, "hey kids, come over to my lawn so we can play together." The world would be a better place if there were more humans like the Amazing Mr. Marshall.

As you were,

Jay


Monday, February 18, 2019

Trying to Face It.


I haven’t been writing much for the last couple months.  I have been drawing more than usual.  I think Art is a way I can emote while keeping my actual feelings to myself.  Unlike writing, visual art leans to the obscure and symbolic, rather that’s the clear and precise.  A picture is worth a thousand words, but they are up to the interpretation of the viewer.  

My writing comes from my story telling ability.  To communicate a story you must be as clear as possible so the reader can understand what you are saying experiencing or feeling.  Honestly, I have not been eager to share what I have been feeling for the last few months.  Every time I would start to hide my emotions in the tale of a personal experience for laughs, it would fall short. 

Since Valentines Day last year I have lost seven people who were special friends.  Any one of them would have been shock enough to throw off my thinking,  but when one experiences that loss more than half a dozen times 12 months, it is overwhelming. That fact is exponentially true regarding this blog for each one of those friends was an itinerant reader of this blog. 

Recently I posted one of my newer drawings on Facebook. My stability was thin over the weekend. It took an almost insignificant event to trigger a major emotional fall.  The picture was not a cry for an intervention but was a little more revealing than I ever wanted to be on Facebook.  

I was touched by the many comments and messages of support I got from my friends still here. In clearer moments of my life I might be able to understand that the number of friends still here, is greater than the ones who have gone.  Depression, however, does not look at the long odds it looks at the short term loss.  I understand intellectually that is my struggle, to rise above the short term downward spiral of depression.  It used to be easier. 

This week marks the one year anniversary of the first of our friends to pass.  She is significant because Dr. Joyce Ducas was not only a beloved sister-in-law, she was also one of the smartest psychologists I have ever known.  One of her specialties was multiple personality disorder.  As a ventriloquist making a living musing about that disorder we had some “delicious” conversations.  She would have been the first person I would turn to in a time like this.  She knew me and what made my depression tick on a level of love that is impossible to find in real therapy.  She was the first to leave so every other loss became heavier because her insight was not there.
  
This anniversary blind sided me. However, understanding the reason it might be a dark time for me does not define the cure.  As much as I try to imagine  what Joyce might say to me at this moment, I can’t really.  For a depressive that very process becomes a down spiral.  
So here is the point.  No intervention is necessary.  Thank you to all who have reached out, that very act is healing to me. Fortunately I am working the next few nights in a theater variety show on the Gulf Coast of Alabama.  Dr. Greasepaint does come to the rescue and lighten my mood when I am on stage.  Manipulating strangers into my own idea of reality is what I do best.  I am grateful for this gig at this particular moment.  

So, thank you to all who reached out in thought, message, emoji and love.  
As you were,
Jay

Monday, February 04, 2019

Do you believe in Ghosts?

I will tell this exactly the way it happened. Since it happened only moments ago this could be considered contemporaneous memorializing.  
I was sitting at the dining table with my iPad looking over lots of social media well wishes for my friend David Wylie who passed away yesterday. The sky was grey as waves of rain passed through the area.  I admit to feeling sad considering what seems to be an unusual number of friends who have passed away in the last year. 
Suddenly the French door to the patio flew open with such force I was afraid the glass had broken.  As I checked it out I was hit by the gust of wind that had blown the door open. It felt like some unseen intruder was attempting to force their way in.  The first person who comes to mind when I am experiencing something strange is Harry Anderson.  Without even thinking I said out loud, “Come on in Harry.” The wind continued to push against me.
Since David Wylie had just passed I said, “Oh,  and you too Roomie Goober Wylie. Come on in.” 
I then remembered  all the people in my life who were on that ethereal side of existence and I began to invite them all in.  “The door is open, Mom, Dad, Bob, Paul, Bradley, Mary, Joyce, Gerry come on in.” 
It seemed like an endless list of friends as I remembered those who had passed on recently. The wind continued to gust through the door until the last name had been spoken.  And as blustery as the wind was, it stopped. The wind chimes slowed and the smell of new rain filled the void and I shut the door.  I tried to remember if I had left the door ajar the last time the dogs went out... but couldn’t remember, it blew open very hard. 
I sat back down and woke my iPad from its sleep to see a picture of David “Roomie Goober” smiling back at me.  I looked away toward the den with an unfocused glaze thinking of all the departed friends and family I had called by name just the moment before.  There was suddenly a very loud buzzing sound as all the lights in the house dimmed. The dogs began to bark in fear.  Before I could even wonder what it was there was a flash and a boom that knocked all the electricity off leaving a very eerie silence. The only sound was a quick beep to let me know the security system had gone to battery power.  
I immediately thought that lightning struck the house so I ran outside to see if I could confirm it.  I saw my neighbors running out of their houses as well.  They confirmed they had experienced the same thing. The entire block was silent without electricity.  One neighbor said she would call the LADWP to report it.  In the middle of the wet street I walked to a neighbor a few houses the other direction.  He said he had been looking out the window and before the loud boom he saw a transformer spark with a blinding blue light.  I asked which transformer, and he pointed to the one at the corner of my property... the one I was standing under at that moment.  I jumped off the wet street into my yard for safety but also to call the LADWP.  I had my cell phone in my pocket, dialed the number but my phone was dead.  
I went back into the house to make sure  the computers were unplugged so they would not be damaged by a surge when the power went back on.  To my surprise it was already back on.  My son and his girlfriend, visiting from out of town, were bolted out of their room and were wondering what had happened as well.  My youngest son also showed up after working a shift and heading back to his house.  We told him our version of what happened and I set about checking the wifi.  I thought it had been knocked out but after a brief investigation  was working fine. It didn’t even have to reboot.  
I still could not make a call on my cell phone, so I used my land line to call LADWP.  After a couple of long waits on hold the girl said, there had not been any outages reported nor calls about service interruptions in my area.  All was normal, but she said if the power goes out or if I spotted a fire to call the fire department, have a nice day.  
The rain stopped and the clouds thinned to lighten up the mood.  Everything was back to normal except my cell phone service.  Perhaps our nearest cell tower had been affected.  Comparing my phone to the boys cell phones,  iPhones on the same service contract, theirs seemed to be functioning normally. Only my phone was not able to make or receive a call.  
I did everything I know to do, to a non working cell phone, the apps and the wifi were working, but there was no cell service... at all.  The bars would show full strength I would try to make a call and it would not ring.  I watched the top menu of the phone flicker from full bars to “no service”.  I tried to call my cell number from another phone, land line and cellular, I was able to leave a voice message but nothing went through to my phone.  
By this time I had cancelled my lunch plans and decided to take a trip to the Verizon store to see if they knew what was wrong with my phone.  As I was getting ready to leave my phone pinged, then pinged again.  I saw that I had two voice messages.  They were the ones I had left as a test a hour before.  The phone was suddenly in perfect working order.  
It rained hard for a minute, the sun came out and puffy white clouds framed a crystal blue sky. Our latest rescue dog immediately wanted to go outside and sit in a ray of the sun that was shining on the step of the door that flew open. He stayed there for quite some time, oh and the name we gave him is Harry.


Now I know that none of these things by themselves are particularly spooky, unusual nor or they a sign of anything.  Things happen and a case could be made that they are all generally related.  It’s just that they happened when my mind was on my friends who have made a transition to the other side. 
But... 
I have seen the movie “Poltergeist” way too many times.  I’ve seen what happens in that movie when they invited the other side into their house.
I am drawing no conclusions.... it is just the timing of everything that is “odd”. Or as the little blonde girl said...”They’re here...”
As you were,
Jay





Monday, January 21, 2019

Blood Moon Sunday - Blue Monday



I have never particularly tried to hide the fact that I suffer from depression. It runs in my family, particularly on my Mom’s side.  In those early days it was virtually dismissed and ignored by most of them, even the sever depressives. At least I have become aware of the potential of the problem and have tools available, chemical and therapeutical, that can help me manage.  I accomplish it fairly well and have learned methods to cope with it, but that submarine is cruising so close to the surface I can always see the periscope.  This comes as a shock to some friends with whom I have contact only when my moods are under control.  I rarely let my guard down in public or any social situation.  But that is enough of telling tales out of school.  

Because I was born between June 22 and July 22, I am a moon child by astrological birth. Even before I knew what depression was I associated my moods with the phases of the moon.  I knew just enough astrology to  erroneously think that the moon was to blame for my shifting feelings. 
So last night when there was to be a lunar eclipse, I associated it with my recent bout of anxiety. To make the event even more spectacular it was to be a “Wolf Blood Moon”.  I am not sure where the Wolf name originated but the blood comes from the color the moon takes on during the time the sun’s light reflecting off the surface is being shadowed by the Earth.  That color is red, which is the slowest moving wave of the spectrum. Partly out of curiosity and mostly out of distraction from my depressed mood, I decided to turn this eclipse into a ritual of observance.
When I turned to my StarWalk app last night to observe the position of the moon I realized the “Wolf Blood Moon” was occurring in the middle of my zodiacal sun sign, Cancer.  The symbolism was all there: my happiness, the fullness of the moon, was being diminished and turned to blood by the darkness, my depression,  by the shadow Earth.  And all of this was happening inside the very crab shell of my birth.  
Several years ago my sister gave me some Tarot cards of Lunar design, patterned after all things of the moon.  Last night, during the period of lunar redness, I took the deck outside and spread them face up on a flat rock in the front yard to be bathed in the mystic orange of the moon. (Note: I am almost sure that in one of my lives I was a Druid.  Elemental ritual comes almost instinctive to me). The ritual helped, it is always good to be pro-active during times of depression, anything to stay out of the squirrel cage of the downward spiral.  Ritual or not, what is wonderful about and eclipse is this: three hours after the moon starts to radically change its shape and color, it is back in full radiance. I went to sleep looking forward to the daytime when I could cast the Lunar cards and see what influence the Wolf Blood had on my Tarot reading.
As I woke I breathed a sigh of relief because I had made it through a cosmically symbolic depression and I was still here.  No sooner than I had turned on the radio to get the weather the DJ said,
“Well it is January 21, 2019, the third Monday in January known as Blue Monday. Psychologist say that the third Monday in January is traditionally a depressing day for most people.  They sight the full onset of winter weather, the length of time from the holidays and the seeming endless days til Spring.”  It seems that today is the day that everything catches up on North Americans to push their moods to the max.  With that in mind I’m sure  I need to wait at least another day before I do that ritualized Tarot reading for myself.  
All of this is to say, if you are feeling the least bit down about anything today... blame it on the moon, blame it on the calendar, blame it on your team losing, blame it on the cycle of the universe... just know one thing:  (it is what I am telling myself today). This too shall pass. As the moon begins to bleed and grow smaller we know that it will come back, it will be bright again. The night will become the day and sadness will become happiness.  In other words: 

As you were,
Jay





Wednesday, January 09, 2019

On Death

Let me say at the beginning, this narrative is not for everyone.  It was pointed out to me yesterday that one should write as if writing to one person. I have taken this to heart and here it is.  The personal audience for this missive will know who they are and why I am writing it.  To anyone else who is squeamish reading about death, dying and religion; maybe you should check out another blog.  I suggest  Chip Martins - Chip off the block  and you can thank The Dale Brown for making it available.
That said, you have been notified and metaphorically clicked the box that agrees with TWIAS “terms of agreement”. 

Rather than watch television speeches last night I went to Happy Hour at Larsens (my favorited neighborhood hang) with some dear friends.  The conversation wandered around every topic except politics. It eventually settled on “Death and Dying”.  One of my friends admitted to being afraid of the process and ultimate results of their own death.   In an effort to belay the fears of my friend I found myself expressing my own inner thoughts about the subject. The one thing that I am NOT afraid of is my own death. I wanted to re-express my feelings in “hard copy” to remind not only my friend but myself.  
It is hard to even mention death without touching on religion.  It is, however, the third rail in any discussion.  Death has been around a lot longer than any religion. People have been dying and seeing things die around them much longer than there have been savior surrogates.  Death has been a reality long before there were philosophies to even attempt an explanation.  To my thinking religion was created mainly to deal with the idea and result of death.  
My friend was raised Catholic.  I was raised Methodist, so most of what we know about the “afterlife” is a concept embraced and drilled into us  by the practitioners of these philosophies. And none of the people telling us how to get to heaven have ever experienced it before.  So what we have been taught about life after death is no more valid than what we know about Santa’s North Pole headquarters.  For my thinking, none of the Judo-Christian stories about heaven, hell and how you get there, make any logical sense. If there is only one thing I believe regarding Omniscience, it would be this: it operates absolutely.
To contemplate what happens after death you have to think about what we are when we’re alive. I do not believe like the “right to life people”  that life is created at conception.  If life is created when a human sperm and a human egg come together... then we should worship the sperm and the egg since they are capable of creating a human soul that lives forever.    Logic and science tell us that energy can  be neither created nor destroyed it simply changes form. I believe that is absolutely true of human life as well.  We “were” before this body and we “are” after this body has worn out.  The body is a vehicle used by our consciousness to explore the a physical universe.  It is the same as driving a car we use to get around.  A car is controlled by a human, but it is not the human.  Same idea with a physical body.  
Rather than a soul, I like to think of my identity as “consciousness”.  I believe my consciousness was around before I took over this body, and it will be around after this body wears out.  When my consciousness no longer embraces a physical body or relative universe it exists in a state of Absolute constant. In the state of Absolute, consciousness (man) and Omniscience (God) are codependent.  One can not exist without the other.  Omniscience is all knowledge (God) and consciousness (man) is the acknowledgement of all knowledge.  Knowledge can not exist without the “knowing” of its own existence.  Therefore God is always knowing and Man is always acknowledging, eternally. 
Why we need to be here on this level of human existence will not be dealt with in this blog.  I have my own theory but I have only a short time on this soap box.  With this writing I am only trying to explain to a friend that death is neither the beginning nor end of  life. As a caterpillar changes (dies) in one form the Butterfly appears (is born) in another form.  They are the same and they are completely different they are one but unrecognizable to each other.  I do not believe that a caterpillar can only change into a butterfly because a butterfly who lived 2000 years ago died “for” all other caterpillars.  
That is “mystory” you may feel differently... someday we will all know the truth. 
As you were,
Jay

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Looking Back

I have been writing this blog since 2006.  It was a daily contribution for several of those years. It started out as a memorialization of my adventure with “Jay Johnson: The Two and Only” as it ambled its way to the Helen Hayes Theater. For a while it seemed like so much was happening surrounding me and the show that it was impossible to write about it all.  That New York adventure culminated in a Tony Award and I received positive confirmation on the “writing” of the show book. 
Thirteen years later, after a year  defined by the number of good friends I’ve lost, I have developed a weird kind of writers block.   I realized after almost a life time of introspection that I am at heart a story teller.  In fact we are all story tellers and even describe our past as History (to be gender neutral Thestory). We look around us and take possession of the thoughts, dreams and ambitions with which we want to be aligned.  Some are better at expressing “thestory” than others, but we all have a tale to tell.  I have tried to figure out what is causing the block and I have come to the conclusion that it is not a problem with writing.... it is a problem of inspiration.
Ultimately it is not ones ability to structure a story that causes a writers block it is a failure to see the story unfolding in your life.  Over the past year I have unconsciously overlooked so many things to write about it would fill a blog for the next 13 years.  It is that block.  It’s as if my  grief has calcified into an obstacle that obsures my reason for writing.  I was telling my story to the very people who are now gone.  I still have things to write about but no one to tell the story to. It is like preparing to do a show in a theater that is empty. 
Knowing this does not help.  In fact giving reason to a problem makes the problem real.  I have been told I should just think of those who have departed as still reading the blog. However, since they are no longer on this plain of existence, they already know what I would be saying,  so why go to the trouble? (Note: I have a similar problem with prayer.  How can I presume to tell Omniscience something it does not know, nor can I suggest a solution Eternal Knowledge would not do without coaxing. Who is man that he would attempt to inform Infinite Knowledge of anything?)
A story teller needs a listener, a show needs an audience and an artist needs patrons.  Although art is created for its own sake it  only transcends when it is acknowleged.  I have a garage full of personal journals and old sketch pads which will all be junk to recycle when I leave this plain.  The question of whether any of it is art or just the raw material to make something else is moot. 
This is a new year and my resolution is to get back on the writers horse and try to ride it again.  I have no idea where the ride is taking me nor even if this horse is truly trained.  I’m just tired of being afraid to get out of the barn and see what is out there.
Here is a parable that seems appropriate.  
There is a man who builds a house on a hill  to have a 180 degree view of the ocean.  He loves this view of God’s handy work and finds peace and happiness each time he looks out his window.  One night there is a huge earthquake.  The house is built on a rock and other than some minor breaking of fragile glass items the house remains sound and intact.  As day breaks the man looks out his window to see that a large mountain has pushed its way out of the ground and towers above the standing hills.  It totally obscures the ocean view he once had.  The peaceful and beautiful view of the ocean he once enjoyed standing at that window is now gone. 
The man was religious and looked to his Bible for help.  He finds this verse which seems to be perfect, Mark 11:23 “22“Have faith in God,” Jesus said to them. 23“TrulyI tell you that if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and has no doubtin his heart but believes that it will happen, it will be done for him. 24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
The man begins to pray that this mountain obstruction to his happiness be ‘lifted up and thrown into the sea’.  He prays this way every night and every day when he wakes up the Mountain is still there.  He believes, he asks, he prays but the mountain stays in place but every day the man expects his prayer to be answered.  
One day as he wakes to look out the window he sees that the mountain is still there.  He notices how the sun casts a shadow of ultraviolet blue on the side  which seems to move and make room for the beautiful glow of the morning sun to burst on the lovely green grass. The mountain is so majestic and strong while at the same time soft and engaging.  The man felt happiness and peace in this beautiful view.  It was the answer to his prayer.
As you were,
Jay