Ever since early November I’ve been getting a good six to eight hours of sleep a day. Now that is all shot to pieces. Baseball season has started.
I can see you scratching your head and saying to yourself, “What the heck is this idiot blathering about now?” Don’t deny it. I know that is what I would be doing if the blog was on the other foot. Let me explain.
Below is a cutting from an unfinished novel set in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. It is the story of a young widow who has moved west to rebuild a shattered life. This scene is her first day exploring her new hometown.
Her wardrobe was distinctly Midwest Rust Belt plain. It was excessively Earth-toned for a young attractive blonde in California, but she perked up her look with a vibrant scarf and some jewelry. It would do, she thought, as she opened the front gate, set to meet her new neighborhood.
Taking her time, not wanting to miss anything, Marlee window-shopped and ambled into the eclectic commerce of Haight Street.
She considered the latest Rave fashions on the rack at “Housewares”, all to the driving techno-beat from the in-house disc jockey. The iguanas in the window didn’t seem to mind.
She laughed out loud as she looked through the Anarchist Collective Bookstore. Their display of pamphlets and political screeds loudly denouncing the capitalism at which they were so dismally failing. Signs trumpeting a “Half-Price Sale” and “Clearance” were everywhere, alerting the three lost-looking teenage browsers that they too could join the Revolution at a discount.
FOLLOWING UP ON PREVIOUS SATURDAYS I have decided to post another piece from my catalog.
This was written as a performance piece to be done in front of a live audience.
I think it is important to stress that in the title of this piece I say “almost killed,” and not “killed.” To the best of my knowledge I have never actually killed anyone. I just tend to come close. Sometimes very close and I’ve done so five times – so far. The five nearly “dearly departed” have all shared one characteristic: they are, or to a large degree were, famous. Let me explain.
YOU ARE READING THIS on Monday. I am typing this on Friday afternoon. Knowing that might help you to understand what follows.
As I type this the sun is shining and the temperature in beautiful Terre Haute, Indiana is 13 degrees, Fahrenheit. I might look back on that as the high point of this weekend.
ACCORDING TO MY CALENDAR, the Julian calendar, the Aztec calendar, the Hebrew and the Chinese calendars it is not long until Baseball Spring Training begins. It will be a time of magic, creation and resurrection. The rhythmic smack of horsehide on leather will begin and of beautifully lathed Ash and Maple bats diving through the warm air and lifting the ball into the clouds. And Vin Scully will be taken from his hermetically sealed vault, rethatched his personal shade of orange, and propped up before a live microphone.
THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE weekend all I saw and heard on my TV was that there was a monster winter storm coming. The talking heads on The Tube were using terms like, “Storm of the Century,” and “Once in a Lifetime Storm.” They were showing pictures from the “Blizzard of 1978.” That was the one that sent me scampering off to snow-free California.
Uh – oh. Brace yourself.
I HAVE OPTED TO SKIP my usual visit today to the Chapel at St. Arbucks in favor of going to the “other place” in my neighborhood.
With the impossibly cute name of Java Haute, (we’re in Terre Haute and they serve coffee – AKA Java. Get it? Get it? Clever, huh???) it is a hangout/study area for students from the nearby engineering college. Ergo: this joint has a higher geek population than most places this side of your local Best Buy store.
I’m here because I got an email from them announcing that this week at Java Haute was “San Francisco Week.”
THE WORLD OF STAND-UP COMEDY can take you to places and situations you never would have dreamed of – while sober.
In the late 1980s I was doing a lot of performing in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was not unusual to be able to get stage time in four or five places a night. Some of those venues were very nice, others were not. Some places paid performers in cash while others…ahem…did not. I preferred cash. Some performers accepted drugs, a place to sleep, food or even close personal, albeit temporary, relationships in payment.
I always sought out those places that paid in American legal tender – cash – preferably in small, unmarked bills. Never take a check. I’m still owed money by some producers who have since died. I think some of them kicked the bucket to just avoid paying the comedians.
THE THIRD AND FINAL game show that I invaded was my favorite – “Win Ben Stein’s Money” on the Comedy Channel.
It was 1998, during the show’s second season. I was in LA for a few days and arranged for a tryout. Compared to the Jeopardy quiz this audition was more like asking someone out on a date. I chatted with about five staffers and we sat around cracking jokes. They liked that I had just put out a small book called the “Joy of Revenge,” and was pretty much a sarcastic SOB. After all, this was on the Comedy Channel.
Two months later, at about ten o’clock at night I got a call from them asking me if I could come to LA the next day to be on the show. It was kind of last-minute, but I said, “Sure, no problem.” So what if it was a 450 mile drive, did I care? Well, yes I did, but this show had one very attractive feature: you played for cash. I didn’t need any more rice.
In contrast to the Jeopardy shoot, “Ben Stein’s Money” had the feeling of a “Wayne’s World” episode. The set looked like somebody’s basement rec room.
My fellow contestants were a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and an LA lawyer. After the first round the lawyer was history. I was in first place. The reporter dude was in second and Ben would be joining the game.
In the second round my brain kicked into overdrive and I smoked both Ben and the reporter. That meant that, after a short break, it would be Ben and me, one-on-one, mano-a-mano, winner take all – $5000 and no parting gifts.
During the break Ben and I sat down on the edge of the stage and chatted. He was very nice and at ease. He asked me how I prepared for the show. He was taken aback when I told him that I had been called less than 24 hours ago.
For the final challenge Ben and I were sequestered in our own private “Isolation Booths.” His had an easy chair, Art on the walls, and a cooling beverage on a small table. My booth looked like the inside of a plywood shipping container: one bare light bulb hanging down, a wooden stool, and sitting in the corner a half empty box of cheese crackers.
My theory on shows like this is that, “You either know this crap, or you don’t.” You really can’t study for it.
Jimmy Kimmel asked me ten questions about all sorts of things. I got 7 out of 10 correct. Dumb luck. He happened to ask me about stuff I knew.
He then asked Ben Stein the same ten questions. He got only five correct.
A ton of confetti and balloons dropped from the ceiling and Ben congratulated me, shaking my hand. He told me that only about 1 out of 10 contestants bested him. I beat him like a rented mule.
About two weeks later I got a check for $5000 in the mail – no dishes, no Zenith televisions, and no rice. Just money, lucre, scratch, geetus, dead presidents, moolah.
About half of it went to taxes and a healthy portion of the rest went into a new, state of the art, computer and printer.
The television industry limits people to three game show opportunities. They don’t want people to make it into a career. Trust me – given my track record on game shows, it would make a lousy career. Not a lot of money, but at least there would be something to cook up for lunch.
IN AN EFFORT TO FULFILL my citizenship requirements in California I applied to become a contestant on Jeopardy – or as they insist on calling it “Jeopardy!”
The tryout for the show is a two-parter. First you take a written test of about 60 questions – with a ten minute time limit. Not multiple choice, you have to know the answers. The day I took the test, in LA, on the Jeopardy! set, I was one of about 80 people scribbling madly. There were a lot of tweed jackets with elbow patches there.
I LIVED IN CALIFORNIA for 25 years.
It may a law out there that, if you are going to live in The Golden State, you must appear on at least one Game Show. I did three of them. I swear.
Today I will tell you about Game Show Number One.
Back in the mid 1980s, while I was heavy into both stand-up and nightclub comedy Improv, the word got out that a new game show wanted comedians to apply to be contestants. Somehow I got on.
The host was Jim Lange of The Dating Game fame. I honestly don’t remember the name of the show. I don’t even know if the thing ever aired. I know I wouldn’t have watched it. It sucked.
The “Celebrity Panel” on this turkey consisted of two second tier actors from “Three’s Company,” and June Lockhart – Lassie’s Mom, from the iconic hit show of the 1950s, and “Lost in Space.”
The format was some kind of word game, but was so nonsensical it just confused the heck out of everyone. At the end of “Regulation Play” the score was 0 – 0. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Squat. We then went into “Overtime” better known as a “Dumb-Off.” The producers stopped taping twice to confer with Lange about what to do. The “Celebrity Panel” wanted out of there. They could see their “Q – Ratings” tanking. They were yelling at the people in the control room. I can’t blame them.
One thing that surprised me about June Lockhart – the woman had a real potty mouth on her. She could create strings of obscenities that would make the Navy blush. The editors must have had to work overtime to make it viewable anyplace outside of HBO at midnight.
Through some quirk of TV fate, I was declared the winner of the game and sent home with a list of the prizes I would be receiving: a new Zenith television, a set of dinnerware from somebody or other, and with the knowledge that I had watched Jim Lange sweat. I’ll bet he never sweated doing The Dating Game.
I didn’t know why I was selected to be on that show. I didn’t understand how to play the game, and I didn’t know how or why I was “the winner.” All I understood was that I was getting a new TV and some dishes. The best prize was that nobody I knew ever saw the show. My reputation was saved.
Tomorrow: Game Show Number Two – the Big Time.