ON GETTING OLDER.
It’s a very strange condition, this getting older thing . It kind of sneaks up on you and you don’t even know it’s coming. One day you’re a strapping young man ready to take on the world, the next day you’re world includes a walker and a bed pan. How the hell did this happen to me? To me? To US? How the hell did this happen to US? No one told us that we were going to fall apart in big chunks… that was for old people. Now, WE ARE THE OLD PEOPLE!!!
I was perfectly fine. I mean perfectly fine. Sure when I hit forty I could no longer stay up until 3 a.m. and then operate the next day on four hours sleep. But I wasn’t looking into nursing homes either. I had simply slowed down a tad. And by a tad I mean that if I wasn’t in bed by eleven p.m. every night and got six to eight hours of sleep my body would revolt by coughing up big things that looked like sofa throw pillows. So I learned, the hard way and began going to bed at eleven every night. That seemed to work for about five years… then, suddenly, without warning… I would wake up refreshed and ready to start the day, only it was three a.m. and the day hadn’t started yet. So I would lie there for an hour and try to fall back asleep until I was ready to pull out my hair. Then at four a.m. I would get up and watch the dreck that’s on TV at four a.m. Did you know they now make a wheel-barrow that has four wheels?
The three a.m. wake up call from hell lasted for about two years. It didn’t seem to affect me at all unless you call falling asleep at three p.m. every day normal. At this point I did and thought nothing of it. After all, I was a young man.
Then my friends started dying. I almost took it personally. My closest friends were dropping off like flies. How could this happen to us, we’re so young. How can they be dying… 50 ISN’T OLD . But they were dying and I was faced with the fact that now it begins…
Then came the comma in my life. A little slip down two stairs in flip flops, a slip that sent me flying into the air about six feet and landing me squarely on two ribs, breaking them in two. Then came the famous ride to the hospital in the ambulance where the driver could not find UCLA medical center. No, I’m not kidding you. At one point I asked him, “Do you want me to drive?”
Six weeks after the ribs healed the shoulder blade began to hurt… not just hurt but burn in a way that was non-stop and grew so badly that I could no longer sleep in a bed. The only place I was comfortable was on the floor because flat on my back was the only way I was not screaming in pain. Then one, two, three, four doctors and finally the right doctor who knew what to do. Enter the surgeon and the surgery and the recovery and the tests for the surgery… and what’s this blood in your urine?
So, I heal from the surgery and then back to yet another doctor to find out I have stage one Bladder Cancer. Turns out if I had not fallen they would never have found it and well you know what comes next. But as luck would have it, it was at such an early stage that simply removing it was enough… no chemo…no surgery. Just a check up every six months where they shove the UCLA Marching band up my dick. Who would have guessed that falling and breaking two ribs and rupturing you neck disc would be a lucky thing? Not I.
Then there was the six month period when everything was good. Until one day at the UCLA Band practice the doctor said, “Wow! Your Blood pressure is through the roof.” I wonder why, you have a semi truck up my dick. And now it’s a whole new group of doctors and new medications. Father time is sitting on my shoulder laughing his ass off, “Still feeling like a young buck, are you, Steve?” One medication made me so insane that even I noticed I was crazy, while another slowed me down so much that people in comas would say, “For crap sakes, snap out of it.” Finally got the blood pressure under control.
But there was more… suddenly my hands were so tight I couldn’t close them. My hips were so painful that simply sitting sent me screaming out of the room. But who can walk when your hips are so painful. Then my ankles hurt and my wrists…then I started getting emails for assisted living and Forest Lawn and walk in tubs. I looked over my shoulder and my life was catching up with me then I realized I was in such pain, I couldn’t look over my shoulder. And then my friends began to have grandchildren. How the hell can people my age have grandchildren? After all we are only 28..but there are the pictures my friends, their grand children and in one case…THEIR GREAT GRAND CHILDREN. Holy crap, look how old my friends got. All the time I’m denying the fact that I was right there along with them.
I want a t-shirt. AGING SUCKS. I think that sums it up. Today at the doctor’s I learned I have macular degeneration. Oh joy. Oh Rapture. Now I have enough illnesses that I’ll have to list them alphabetically. This part of my life, the retirement part, was supposed to fun… instead it’s a long slow march to a casket. And so why do I write this? So why do I kvetch in open for the world to see? I write it in the hopes that young people reading this will take note and take care of themselves. I write it so they’ll enjoy life while they can. I write it because I was invincible as a young man and now two days without a bowel movement and I can’t fit into my walk in tub.
I write this because we have to take care of ourselves… catch this shit early and be on top of our own health. Take care of yourself people. You are all you have.
In the face of the latest gun violence in Isla Vista where seven innocent people were shot down like dogs… I had to do something. But when I heard the father of one of the victims give a passionate speech about the senseless killing of his son… I had to write something.
I watched as Mr. Martinez held a press conference and pointed the finger squarely in the face of the NRA… and I cheered. Another senseless killing in Isa Vista, another family tries to understand why their son or daughter has been taken from them for no reason at all. Another President of the NRA will defend his defenseless position. Another politician will defend our rite to bear arms while another family will make plans for a funeral.
Human nature is this. We do it this way. This is the way we always do it. I like it this way. It’s how it’s always been. But in this case it’s more about the money that’s guns generate than human nature. Guns are the oil of the political machine. The NRA sinks millions into the coffers of politicians and in return those politicians give the NRA everything they feel they need. Meanwhile a family plans for a funeral.
The founding fathers were worried about being invaded by the British. The founding fathers were worried that the natives whose land we stole would attack them. The founding fathers were talking about muskets. The founding fathers could never imagine assault weapons, machine guns, rocket launchers, handguns…they started their fires with flints. And yet the NRA defends their position to bear muskets like it was valid today. They defend their position while another family will make plans for a funeral.
Hunters. You want to hunt. Ok. I don’t agree with that sport but if you want to hunt all your need is a rifle. We don’t want to take away your rifle despite the fact that a shooter in at tower at the University of Texas killed 16 people with just a rifle. We’ll give you your rifle so you can go out and kill innocent dear and elk and buffalo and wolves and in Dick Cheney’s case, hunting buddies. But why do you need an assault weapon? You can’t use an assault weapon to kill a dear. It’s a needless weapon in our society… and meanwhile another family will make plans for a funeral.
Self-defenders. Your argument is that there are so many guns out there that you NEED a gun to protect yourself. Did you ever stop to think that if we got those guns off the street there would be no need for you to defend yourself? I know. I know. The crooks will always get the guns. My mother always said, “A lock only keeps an honest person out.” But we have to start someplace. There has to be a ground zero or these murders of innocent children, college students, toddlers, postal works will continue on and on. Getting more guns off the streets is not the perfect solution but it’s a start. We can’t just stand around and let a mad man gun down shoppers at the Mall… while another family plans for a funeral.
When I was nine years old, in my little hometown of Chelsea, Mass, Stephen Leppo was killed by a friend , who was simply handling a gun in his back yard. It must have been about 1954. This was a small town. It was a small town filled with Jewish families. Stephen’s mother was divorced. She had 3 children and one of them was taken from her by gun violence. It was the first time I had heard of gun violence. It was the first time I saw the aftermath of it, how it destroyed Stephen’s mother for years. How his sister and brother carried it around with them like a badge of courage. I learned at an early age that guns in the hands of anyone can produce sadness and havoc and pain and suffering. I learned that this is how another family will plan for a funeral… and I wanted to do something about it.
And so I urge every person reading this to do something. Don’t watch the news reports and shake your head at how horrible it is. Do something. Write something. Write someone. Talk to your friends. Start a movement. Tell the NRA we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. Why? Why do these things… so that another family won’t have to plan for yet another funeral.
Last night’s show.
Every time I am asked to do stand up it’s like the sentence you get in court. “You’ll be cleaning the side of the 405 Freeway in an orange vest for six month” That’s what it feels like to me, like I’ve been sentenced to hard labor. This is so strange for me since for over twenty years it’s all I ever lived for, to get on stage and be funny. But something has changed in me… the need to be funny is gone… the desire is gone… the funny remains.
David Zimmerman is a man who runs an organization called MEET THE BIZ. It helps handicapped performers like the girl on AMERICAN HORROR STORY to cross over into the main stream of show business. It is the most selfless, amazing, inspiring, incredible organization in show business and it’s David’s baby. So when he called and asked me to be part of last night’s show I could NOT say no… despite the fact that every bone in my body wanted to run and hide under a bridge overpass.
I looked forward to this show like guys on death row look forward to the electric chair. It was circled on my calendar the way Anne Frank circled dates in her diary. I would look at that calendar and know there were five days, four days… two days… it’s tomorrow. And I knew that my lack of rehearsal and my lack of recent stage time and my lack… just my lack would be the downfall of me, that I would get on stage and they would stare at me and I would be judged badly and I would be shamed and I would be forced to leave the theater in disgrace. Those are the emotions that I experience every time I am asked to stand on stage an expose myself to an audience. And, it’s why I stopped doing it. I just didn’t have what it takes.
That was the fantasy, this is the reality. As I stood on the sidelines waiting as the MC introduced my name, a gene kicked in. I began pacing as I have done before every show for the last 25 years. It’s something that Kip Addotta taught me… you get into the zone. And I began pacing and chanting and getting myself into “that space”. I was like a fire horse when it hears the bell. I just went into automatic overdrive.
My name is announced and as I hit the lights something happened to me. Suddenly I was fearless again and nothing could harm me even if everything went to shit on stage. I grab the mike and begin talking, it’s like I’m possessed by someone else. I don’t even know what I’m about to say, my mouth just opens and shit comes out of it. Now I have to do material. You can’t stand on stage for 20 minutes and just babble and this is where the inner trouble begins. I can not remember the order of my act, it’s been so long that I’ve done it I just can not remember it. (thankfully many of my comic friends tell me they are having the same problem) I do remember bits and pieces… a joke from this bit… a piece of business from that bit… but it doesn’t feel organic to me on the inside. Yet, on the outside they are laughing.
Then I go completely blank. I look out into the darkness and there is nothing in my brain. I hear an audible hum in my head…it feels like six months. It must have been two seconds. I say the first thing that pops into my head. They laugh. I look at my cue cards, get a second wind and continue on…all the time they are laughing. And I talk and talk and talk…. Then stop and say, “Is that 13 minutes?” and the audience screams. It’s only been ten. I look at them like it’s a chore and find something else to say and I say it. Finally I get the signal to get off and say, “Oh thank god… it’s 13 minutes.” The audience laughs again. I try to end with a closer…but I screw up the punch line so badly that I stop and tell the audience, for some reason they laugh even harder. I say good night and go off in disgust to huge applause.
People are all over me telling me how wonderful I was. I don’t understand what they are seeing. I don’t feel it was wonderful but they do. So I accept and move on. I wait for the show to end so I could congratulate David. And then the following happens. I’m standing with Geri Jewell. A man approaches and throws his arms around her. “Oh my God you were so incredible… I laughed and laughed…you were inspirational… you had me in stiches.” And while he’s in the embrace with Geri he sees me standing there and over Geri’s shoulder throws off an obligatory, “You were good too.” As if he were throwing a dog a bone. That was all I needed. I began to crash dive like a bomber over Pearl Harbor. I found the rejection I had been looking for and ran with it. And from that moment on, no matter what anyone said to me I knew that guy was right and the rest were giving me lip service. It was the comment I needed to validate my insecurity and ruin my night.
It’s not easy being emotionally damaged. But I guess if I were “normal” I’d be working at Target in the Patio department wondering why I never got to do stand up on stage and meet famous people and tour the world and see incredible places and get paid for doing what I did in study hall in high school… my passion.
The end. Nah… it never ends.
Why I hate comedy clubs.
I was asked to “host” a stand up comedy show. I didn’t want to do it. I have never been a good MC. I don’t like MC’ing. It’s just not my thing. Some people are good at it. I’m not. But I said OK because I can’t say no to anyone. If Osama Bin Laden called me and asked for a ride to the airport… I’d take him. It’s just who I am.
So let me tell you how tonight went. There is a formula to making an audience laugh. There has to be focus. The room has to be cold. The audience can’t be eating. It’s standard fair for almost every comedy club in America… the good ones anyway. So let me tell you about tonight. The club is three stories tall… a ground floor with two balconies. Balconies in a comedy club are like screen doors in a submarine. It doesn’t work. There is no intimacy… add to that the light on the stage is so strong that it spills into the audience so the audience is sitting in light. What theater have you ever been to where the audience sits in the light? They are in light and they are eating food. They are eating food and in an attempt to make the club look full…they spread the audience out… one here, one there… death for comedy. If they had tonight’s show at the end of the runway at LAX it would have been better for comedy than what I just experienced.
Now let’s talk about the comics who I was to introduce. The first girl comes into the green room with more tattoos than Dennis Rodman. This tatted up toots has and attitude. She tells me her credits, they were like second runner up in the Bayonne, New Jersey Comedy Laff fest and grill. She gets on stage and is about as funny as a root canal. I only knew one comic, he was in the death spot. First up. A horrible spot to be in. And I did not help at all. I was supposed to warm up the crowd for him. I looked at the 12 people, the food, the lights, the height of the room and surrendered like General Lee at Appomattox.. I could not get off the stage fast enough. I ran like Custer. It was seven minutes of complete silence.
Act after act came to the stage… I heard more laughs in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. The combination of bad club, small audience, bad material, and inexperience made the show as much fun as grinding your hand down the garbage disposal. I mean what these people were calling material was shocking… “Listen guys, let me tell you… your balls only smell good to YOU.” “When I jerk off I like to use a soft tissue” “I’m not using the same soap on my face that you’re using on your ass.” And then I had to come on with my little sports jacket and be charming. Mid way I just stopped and told the audience, “Ya know, I drove in here for this. I have a beautiful home in Bel Air… I got dressed and came here for this… “ And that was followed by,” I told them I wouldn’t be any good at this.”
The best thing about this night was how it validated my decision to leave stand up and go into writing. There is no original comedy being done out there. It’s all filth that they are calling comedy… but it’s not. Now, that being said, there were three stand outs in the bunch… their material was horrific but their stage presence was magical. You wanted them to be funny, you wanted to listen to them, they just had nothing to say. Those three will develop if they do their homework and stop listening to other comics and find their own voice.
So bottom line is this. I got out with my dignity. Barely. Oh, did I tell you that when I got the parking lot, my name was not on the list and they wanted me to pay 21 bucks to park. At that point I took it as an omen and was ready to go home. But, like a crack addict who wanted to get on stage, I talked the parking lot guy into letting me in… FOOL THAT I AM.
Yep, I’m very happy to be the playwright in the back of the auditorium listening to someone else say my words. I have moved on and I’m happy I did. Oh! The club manager said to me, “Thanks for coming in you were hysterical.” I was what? That was hysterical? Gives you an idea what crap is out there.
PORGY AND BESS II
I have seen Porgy and Bess twice now. One production I loved… one I did not. Here’s the first time I saw it.
So here’s what it’s like going to the theater in Los Angeles. The curtain goes up at 1:00 p.m.; you have to leave your house at 11 a.m. just in case someone decides to enact the second act of Westside Story on the Slauson off ramp. It takes me a good hour to get to The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Nothing comes easy and that includes parking. The Music Center is massive and was built prior to the use of computer-generated models. If they had used those models back when this thing was built they would have taken a stick of dynamite and blown up the architect who designed this nightmare. You drive down into this cavernous structure and immediately have to take a left turn in a turn radius designed for a wheelchair. That means the people with the honking big SUV’s are forced to slow to a crawl while those of us with normal cars are stuck behind them at four miles an hour. I am there early and the parking structure is filled to the seventh level below ground. You go down one more level and Satan takes your ticket.
I find a space and head for the sign that says escalator. In front of me are various groups of people also looking for the escalator. You follow the signs and then suddenly there is no sign nor is there an escalator. Hundreds of people are walking around in circles. I, being the most inventive in the group, think… “If a hundred people are over there and can’t find a moving staircase… I’m looking over here.” And lo and behold there is an escalator, tucked away in a corner, hidden from view behind what looks like a closet door. I yell, “Here it is!” And there is a stampede of people from Palmdale headed for me. I am literally pushed out of the way as they make it up the stairs.
I finally make it up the stairs only before letting Ma and Pa Kettle go before me. I get to the plaza level and see the theater for the first time. This is a structure built in the sixties and looks like the cast of “Hair” should be standing in the lobby. It’s a massive lobby with huge chandeliers… two coffee shops… and a dress store. Who goes to the theater and says, “I think I’ll buy a gown before the show?” But women were over there looking at shit. Which only proves my theory, women will shop underwater, on fire, in a lava dome.
The theater doors open and it’s a parade of walkers and wheelchairs to the seats. I had excellent seats four rows from the stage, center. I sit down and within 30 seconds Donna Mills sits to my direct left. In another 30 seconds Betty White sits two rows in front of me and to my right. Welcome to Los Angeles. Betty looked wonderful. Donna did not. Donna looked like she had just rolled out of bed and said, “Don’t we have tickets for something today.”
The lights dim and the music begins. I had never seen Porgy and Bess and anticipated this performance for months. It opens with “Summertime.” The soprano is brilliant. The set is magnificent, a three story masterpiece in rust and browns. I am really looking forward to this. And then… it goes on and on and on and on. It became summertime by the time the first act was over. The massive cast seemed more like a mob than a choreographed ensemble and the extras were over acting to beat the band. It was “look at me” time all over the stage.
You sit in the theater listening to one familiar theme after another, sung by magnificent artists, standing on one of the most magnificent sets I have ever seen, lit by a genius lighting designer and you keep looking at your watch. The piece is dated. The themes are dated. The main character is a drug-addicted whore and her protagonist is a loser cripple. There are two murders, drug addiction, sex and lots of church thumping Jesus stuff…or… every stereotypical African American character every conceived by white writers and a reflection of the temperament of the thirties (when this was written). It made me uncomfortable to watch and it angered me that the white race could be so stupid.
At the end of the second act Bess has run off with her murderer, drug pusher boy friend leaving Porgy alone. Porgy decides to follow Bess to New York and the curtain comes down. That’s it. No resolution to the problem. It ended like those British sit-coms. It just ends…. And it was three fucking hours. At three hours I want to see some kind of resolution…anything… an arrest, a cock fight anything.
But the music… the music is magical and I suppose audiences and critics alike overlooked the book (the story) because Gershwin’s music was that magnificent. Sections of that score leap out at you and enter your soul. They are like having a warm blanket wrapped around you on a cold winter night. They are so totally American and so totally a part of musical heritage that one cannot help but stand when the final curtain is raised.
Bottom line with all it’s dating and confusion on stage it was a joyous experience and I’m glad I went.
Now here’s the second time:
In comparison to the first production, the production I saw last night was like comparing a diamond to a rhinestone. It was in a word, magnificent. Where the first production relied on bloat, over sized sets, massive casts, outrageous costumes, this production relied on talent and emotion. And when I say emotion, this production brought me to tears.
My complaint in the first production was there was no resolution. But in this production you understood why Porgy goes off to New York to find Bess because you understood the love that he had for Bess. Instead of massive set with hundreds of extras waving him good bye… he stood on the stage alone… no scenery… back lit… with only his magnificent voice and talent to relay to us why he was leaving. AND IT WORKED.
The young woman who sang “My Man’s Gone Now” I have never felt that kind of emotion in a song before in my life. It was eloquent and sad and touching and brilliantly performed. I was transfixed on the stage when she sang.
The characters were so completely flushed out that at the curtain call when the villain came out, the audience boo’d LOUDLY. I have never seen this in a production before. But it was because the actor brought the character to life in a such a way that he lived even after the play had ended.
But here’s the most important lesson I learned last night. Less is more. You don’t need to fill every inch of the stage. You can fill the stage with nothing. In one scene all they had was a blue backdrop… lighting and a barren stage yet I was on the picnic with them. I saw the fields, I saw the ocean, I saw the trees… this production allowed the audience to use their imagination. It gave us credit for being smart enough to get it. And the thank you the cast gets for that was a unanimous standing ovation.
Last night I saw the Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and had a lesson in theater. I am so glad I got to see the first production so that I could appreciate THIS production to the fullest. If you are in LA… go see it… it’s money well spent.