Freedom is the right to be wrong, not the right to do wrong.

The other day I was sitting in the lounge area of the mall waiting for my wife – I’m sure a familiar situation for many guys. Why is it I never see women sitting in the mall, looking at their watches with annoyed expressions on their faces, waiting for their husbands? What is it about shopping that is such a detailed, comprehensive investment in time and attention for women, while for men it’s more like a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am exercise. Get in, buy something, and get out as quickly as possible.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. The price I pay for the time it takes my wife to shop is well compensated by the money she saves by looking for and finding amazing bargains. She can buy $200 worth of merchandise for $50 and have two $10 coupons left over for the next time. I, on the other hand, recently purchased the same sweater for $75 that was on sale for $25 just two racks over that I didn’t bother to look at. Think about that:

“Neglecting to glance,
Took away my chance,
To see a bargain in advance
and save money perchance.”

Okay, I know my poetic skills are just as limited as my purchasing skills, but sometimes a man should be brave enough to place one foot forward and venture into an area that holds all kinds of dangers for him… like the mall for instance.

So, I’m sitting in the mall noticing an inordinate number of interesting people and things when a child of about six years old walking with his mom kicks his left foot high in the air, leaps forward, does the same with his right foot, and then falls back into walking side by side with his mom – and I thought, “how wonderfully free kids are, how did we lose that, and what a shame we did.”

Then I realized something extraordinary I’d never noticed before – children don’t just walk, they execute wonderful body maneuvers while walking that no one pays any attention to whatsoever. That kind of freedom is a wonderful thing that children exhibit so naturally. The next half hour became a delightful experience as I settled into my seat and started paying attention to kids passing by. One little girl began to twirl like a ballerina before continuing to walk as she had before. A little boy got down on his knees, did a somersault, jumped back up and continued walking; shortly behind him a little boy and girl, presumably siblings, began to gyrate their bodies while walking as if they had ants crawling all over them, then stopped, put their arms around each other, and followed their parents as if nothing had happened.

I was having so much fun watching the kids that I hoped my wife would take a lot longer. That’s when I had a thought. People pay little attention to kids making silly movements while walking, but would they ignore it as well if they saw an adult doing the same? At the time, it seemed as if it would be fun to try. In retrospect, it would turn out to be one of the worst ideas I’ve ever had. I looked and found a particularly busy section of the mall. I’m sure the fact that it was directly between a Victoria’s Secret and Harley-Davidson apparel store had something to do with what transpired next.

I started walking slowly, then stopped abruptly, lifted my head, looked straight up towards the ceiling, jumped back, and with my arms straight out in front of me kicked my right foot up in the air with the intention of stopping abruptly and continuing to walk away quietly. Unfortunately, a woman carrying a Victoria’s Secret shopping bag happened to step directly in front of me, and I kicked her shopping bag straight up in the air, causing a pink lace bra and matching panties to fly from the bag before the bra landed around one ear of a huge, burly, bearded guy in a Harley-Davidson leather vest with the words “KILL OR BE KILLED” written across the back, exposing arms that looked like enormous pistons, who was just exiting the Harley store.

His look of shock was followed by one even greater when the matching lace panties landed squarely on his other ear and hung there as if in collaboration with the bra. Any question as to whether my antics would be ignored, as they were for the kids, became moot at that point. I must admit that the sight of this mean-looking, muscle-bound, maniacal-looking macho man with the matching bra and panties hanging symmetrically from his ears looked hysterically funny, and it was only my strong sense of self-preservation that kept me from laughing my ass off. I remember thinking I would be lucky even to have an ass when this was over.

As I braced myself for what was coming next I heard loud laughter from behind me and turned to see the woman whose shopping bag I’d accidentally booted, pointing to Mister Bra and Panties and laughing in the way I wish I’d had the courage to do. Lucky for me that stopped him in his tracks, and he stood there staring daggers at her while the garments swung back and forth from his ears like a couple of sexual pendulums.

“I’m so sorry for laughing,” she finally said. “I was thinking that I hope they look better on me than they do on you,” which seemed to change his mood instantly.

 “Yeah, well, I wish I could be the one to tell you if they do” he answered with a devilish smile on his face, revealing four gold front teeth. Then he reached up to take the garments from his ears, but the woman held her hand up and whispered:

“Wait; don’t remove them yet. There’s something about them hanging from your ears that makes me feel kind of giddy.

After a look of pleasant surprise, he dropped his hands to his sides and wiggled his head back and forth, causing the bra and panties to swing slowly on each side of his head as though they were chasing each other. Then he smiled even wider and said:

“What do you get when you put Victoria’s Secret and Harley-Davidson together?”

When she put up her hands in an “I-don’t-know” gesture, he answered:

“A MOTORCYCLE WITH WINGS!”

Then as they both laughed he pulled the bra from his ear, placed it up to his mouth like a microphone, hooked the panties around her upturned hands, pulled her towards him, and began to sing the Sinatra classic “Come Fly with Me.”

I knew in that moment that I could sneak away without his even noticing if I were quiet enough, so I tiptoed silently to the escalator, descended to the ground floor, and arrived at the bottom, feeling both relieved and unfulfilled. Relieved because I had escaped a beat-down by a gorilla in leather, and unfulfilled because my original idea to see if I could be as free as a child had been thwarted by flying lingerie.

Not to be dismayed by one unexpected calamity I decided to give it another try. So, I picked up my pace, walked a few feet, ran a few feet, then did a cartwheel across the floor, landed on my knees with my arms spread wide like an Olympic athlete celebrating victory, and jumped to my feet – directly in front of a security guard who stood with his hands on his hips, a stern look on his face, and, after shaking his head in a questioning manner, asked in a gruff voice:

“Excuse me; what in God’s name do you think you’re doing? Don’t you know you could have injured someone?”

 Have you ever had a moment when you realize what you are about to say in no way expresses what is really going on?

 As the words, “Would you believe I was trying to see if I could feel free again?” crossed my mind, I suddenly had a major gestalt moment, and the word FREE took on a more meaningful, incredibly important implication – which was that my longing to feel free as a kid again was merely a substitute for something going on much deeper in my psyche – and, as if being directed by some sort of guiding hand, I answered:

I’m sorry, sir; I was thinking about what it’s like to live in a country that allows us Freedom of religion… Freedom of speech… Freedom of the press… The freedom to love whom we choose… The freedom to marry whom we choose… And the freedom to be who we choose to be. So, I guess I felt a need to celebrate our freedoms in a demonstrable way because these days I’m afraid there are those who would take them from us. Now, I ask you, sir, don’t you think we should all express how important these freedoms are in whatever way we choose to?”

 The guard looked at me pensively for what seemed like forever, then removed his hat, scratched his head, placed his arm around my shoulder, pointed to the other side of the mall, and asked:

“So, how many somersaults do you think it will take for the two of us to reach the other end?”  

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Posted in Humor | 1 Comment

There was a man from Dunkirk, who everyone knew was a jerk. He cared for no one, except his own fun, and tweeted all night just to irk.

(Any similarity to someone residing in The Nation’s Capitol is purely intentional.)

In actuality, the person I’m writing about is not who you think he is… it’s a young guy named Kirk from my neighborhood in Brooklyn. He was a tough, heavyset bully, who used his size and mean disposition to get his way. He had all the guys in the neighborhood intimidated. When we played ball, if there was a close play that he was involved in, he’d insist he was right, we’d reluctantly agree, and the call would go his way. We were all in our early teens, and at that age giving in seemed a much sounder decision than getting the crap kicked out of us.

Staying on his good side took precedence over our own personal needs. At times when he wasn’t around, the guys and I would talk tough about how we weren’t going to take it anymore, how we were going to stop being complicit in his egotistical, self-serving bulls – – t and tell him to screw off, but when the time came, we folded like a cheap suit.

(By the way, if you’re wondering where that phrase came from, it originated in the 16th century, when cheap suits were normally made of thinner and poorer-quality fabric than expensive ones, making them easier to fold, collapse, or give way under pressure. Its most common use today is when playing cards; in poker, when a player “folds,” he gives up and withdraws from the hand – similar to someone who resides in The Nation’s Capitol, who folds and withdraws from reality on a daily basis.)

Back to Kirk – the bullying was tough enough to deal with but the thing that drove me up the wall was the fact that he was a compulsive liar. He never told the truth about anything. It wasn’t hard to understand why he lied – it was always in service of making him win, seem smarter, look stronger, appear wiser, or give the impression that he was better than everyone else.

(Incidentally, the phrase “Drove me up the wall,” which is very rarely used today, refers to someone trying to escape from something by climbing a wall. As far as I know its origin is unknown. Maybe if that person who resides in The Nation’s Capitol follows through with his absurd idea to build a wall, the phrase will take on a completely different meaning.)

I would imagine that most everyone has known someone like Kirk in his or her life, and like me, has endured the consequences of his self-aggrandizing actions and comments. I also hope that, like me, you had the good fortune to experience your boorish blowhard finally getting brought down like a giant Sequoia crashing to earth. What made it so special for me when that Kirk’s retribution didn’t come from my friends and me, or a person of authority. It came from a sweet, 12-year-old girl named Trixie whom few people ever noticed until that eventful day.

We were in the schoolyard playing ball, when Kirk became enraged at one of the guys who had made an error and reared back and threw the ball at his unfortunate teammate. The ball hit the guy on the side of the head, bounced high in the air, and rolled sharply away towards Trixie, who was walking by with her dog at the time, a tiny Chihuahua she called Trixie-Two. Trixie paid no attention to it whatsoever – I can’t say the same for the dog, who picked up the ball in her mouth and began chewing on it.

“Oh man, now the ball has slobber all over it,” Kirk roared in anger. “Hey, kid, take the ball out of that ugly mutt’s mouth and throw the damn thing to me!”

 At that point, most everyone in the schoolyard began to crowd around in a circle and watched with surprise when the girl kept walking with her dog alongside her, who continued to chew on the ball. We had never seen anyone ignore Kirk before, which enraged him even more, and he screamed:

“HEY, SKINNY GIRL, I’M TALKING TO YOU. TAKE THAT BALL FROM YOUR MOUSY-LOOKING MUTT AND THROW IT TO ME!!!”

Not believing what was happening, we watched in shock as she continued walking, paying no attention to him. At this point I was so afraid of what Kirk might do that I considered grabbing the ball from the dog myself, but before I had a chance to make that decision Kirk ran over to the dog, picked him up by the scruff of the neck with one hand, and attempted to yank the ball from the dog’s mouth – but the defiant pup let out a deep guttural growl and gripped the ball even harder with his teeth so that it wouldn’t budge. That was the moment Trixie, the little 12-year-old, finally saw what was happening and began to gesture desperately at Kirk with her hands in sign language, which brought the realization to everyone that Trixie hadn’t been ignoring Kirk… Trixie was deaf.

What happened next was the kind of thing that can only be seen to be believed. Trixie stopped gesturing, pointed to Kirk, and yelled something to the dog that sounded like:

“DROFF, BYFF!”

To everyone’s amazement the tiny Chihuahua dropped the ball, chomped onto Kirk’s nose, and hung there like a rock climber dangling from the face of a steep cliff as Kirk, in obvious distress, swung around in circles, trying desperately to dislodge the dog from his nose. This must have frightened the little animal because by the second oscillation she started to pee all over Kirk’s face, causing Kirk to flop to the ground on his butt, spitting up and crying like a baby.

I must admit how surprised I was at the mixed feelings I had watching the encounter. I wanted to clap my hands and laugh with joy at seeing Kirk finally get what was coming to him. At the same time, I felt extremely sad watching the humiliation of my tormentor, who always appeared to be so invincible. In retrospect, I think that’s what it’s like to be human, something I never experienced from Kirk since I’d known him.

While I was going through my emotional confusion, Trixie handed the ball to Kirk, picked up Trixie-Two, and walked away. Then, as if she had an aftertought, she turned back to Kirk and voiced something that sounded like:

“Bng huem idsa givn. Kepng ur huemty idsa choyc.”

 Besides everything else that happened that day one of the most amazing things I remember is that everyone watching this surprising event began to smile, nod their heads, and clap in appreciation because as difficult as it is to believe, they had heard what her words were with perfect clarity:

 “Being human is a given. Keeping your humanity is a choice.”

Posted in Humor | 1 Comment

You can always tell a happy motorcyclist by the number of the bugs on his teeth.

Let me preface this by saying that for the rest of this blog the terms “bike” and “cycle” are all meant to be variations of the word motorcycle.

 The first motorcycle I ever owned was a Honda 50. It was the smallest bike made by Honda at the time, and I bought it because I thought it would be fun to tool around Brooklyn on two wheels that summer – that and the fact that I thought I looked really cool in the red, white, and blue helmet that came with it. To my knowledge no one in my family had ever owned a motorcycle before, so I was about to set a precedent that, at times, would give me experiences I never imagined could possibly happen. Although I enjoyed scooting around Brooklyn on it, I soon realized that it didn’t have enough power to fulfill the machismo image I was craving. To be perfectly honest, I wanted something a lot bigger between my legs. (All right, all of you who are snickering like immature adolescents, what I’m trying to say is that I wanted a larger, faster bike.)

A month later I upgraded to a more powerful, much larger Honda. Not anywhere near a Harley 850 but powerful enough to give me that “I’m King of the Road Feeling” that only a motorcycle can give. In the next few years I continued to trade up to larger bikes, but today’s story is not about the size of the motorcycles I’ve ridden but the unanticipated events I could only have experienced by owning one.

From the beginning, I was made to realize that things pertaining to motorcycles were often interpreted much differently from everything else. The first accessories I purchased for my bike were a heavy chain and padlock to keep it from being stolen. When I mentioned to the store owner what I wanted and why, he smiled broadly, which I wish he hadn’t, because eight of his upper and lower teeth were missing and he had words tattooed on his tongue that read, “He promised only to take the tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth.”

“I’ve got exactly what you need,” he answered, sounding a little like a train whistle – which was a blessing because when he spoke he had to close his mouth between words, which gave me a reprieve from the sight of the inside of it. Then he pulled a length of heavy chain from under the counter and dropped it with a loud clang in front of me.

“Are you sure this can’t be cut?” I asked with concern, to which he smiled again, which had the same frightening effect it did on me the first time… and he answered:

“Don’t worry; this is the same chain I sell to all the cyclists. It can’t be cut. What length do you want?”

“Three feet should be fine,” I answered, starting to relax until he took a bolt cutter from under the counter and cut the chain with ease.

The year I started riding motorcycles they were not as in vogue as they’ve become. The cops didn’t quite know how to police them. A case in point is the first time I parked alongside another bike that stood horizontal to the curb, and I was given a ticket for double-parking. Think about that: a cycle alongside another doesn’t take up anywhere near the space of two cars, but was still considered to be double-parked. On another occasion, I was stopped and given a ticket for signaling with my hand while making a turn instead of using the turn signal on my bike. Of course, I might have been able to avoid the ticket had I not used my best Arnold Schwarzenegger impression and responded by saying:

“Officer, if you didn’t like my hand signal I suggest that you TALK TO THE HAND.”

I was a member of “The Motorcycle Club of America,” and because we believed we were being treated unfairly by the police, a protest Ride-a-Long was scheduled in Manhattan on a Monday morning, one of the busiest traffic days in the city. At 8:00 AM over 300 motorcycles gathered together in Central Park and commenced to ride in rows of 30, side by side down Broadway at 20 miles per hour, tying up traffic for miles. When we reached City Hall we all stepped off, stood our bikes up on their stands, put our hands over our hearts, and began to sing the National Anthem… and that’s when I changed everything.

While trying to remove my helmet I accidentally nudged my bike, knocking it over into the next bike in line, which knocked over the next one, which knocked over the next one, which created a cascade of tumbling bikes, one after the other, until they all ended up lying on their sides, on top of their riders, filling the streets with what looked like a reenactment of Custer’s last stand. The fact that the collapsing bikes resembled one of those continuous falling dominoes tricks you see on TV every so often was not missed by the media. The photo appeared on every TV news channel that night and every front page of the newspapers the next morning, with the headline:

“350 MOTORCYCLES IN FRONT OF CITY HAL, PRETENDING TO BE FALLING DOMINOES ARE ALL TICKETED FOR NOT STANDING DURING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM.”

Riding a motorcycle on a mild summer’s day with the temperature in the low eighties and the wind caressing my face like the soft hands of a sultry woman was always a joy… except for some very rare occasions. I remember the time I was riding home, dressed as always in my three-piece pinstriped suit, after a long, hard day at work. Halfway through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel my bike coughed twice, shut down, and came to a complete stop. The deafening barrage of hundreds of car horns as I tried to start it up again was like nothing I had ever heard before. I was worried that if I didn’t get it started right away, going deaf could very well become one of the tragic results of the breakdown.

A few of the cars directly behind me accelerated dangerously past me with the drivers’ fingers in an upward position, which I’m sure was their way of assuring me that if I got the bike started I would very shortly be up and out of the tunnel in no time. As all cyclists know, one way to jump-start a motorcycle is to run alongside, pushing it until you gain enough speed to jump on and hit the starter button – which is what I proceeded to try to do while the cars behind me kept up their earsplitting discontent. Finally, after about twenty minutes the bike coughed once, started up, and I smiled gratefully, knowing that my misery was about to end – until I exited the tunnel into a deluge of heavy, pounding rain.

Within minutes, and already soaked to the skin, I decided not to seek shelter and continued in the rain until I reached home, where I knew my wife and kids — already used to this scenario — would be waiting for me with warm towels, hot tea, and the complete inability to keep from laughing their butts off. It wasn’t all that bad though because on the rest of the ride home I made a lot of friends who were looking out their windows, laughing, and giving me the thumbs up – which I think in retrospect was meant to be a lot kinder than the fingers that flashed at me inside the tunnel.

A week later while out with some friends my buddy Leroy announced that he had a very funny story to tell:

“You’re not going to believe this, Joe, but last week I was in the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, and I saw this nut job running alongside his motorcycle and jumping on and off for almost twenty minutes.”

 While everyone laughed along, conveying that they’d wished they’d seen it, I sat quietly thinking:

“Laugh all you want, but there’s nothing that makes me happier than riding my bike and feeling that humming engine under me. If you don’t believe me just count the bugs on my teeth!”

 ACKNOWLEDGMENT

 As often happens when I’m ready to start a new blog the most difficult part is to decide what to write about, so I’d like to thank my friend Nancy, who after hearing my Brooklyn Battery tunnel story, suggested I write about it.

Posted in Humor | 1 Comment

There’s something to be said for doing something a second time. The victories, the missteps, the things you learned the first time, make up a total experience that allows you to thrive the second time around.

Damn it was tough to leave the music business. After being fortunate enough to hit the charts with a couple of records and perform in concerts around the country I was having a hell-of-a-time making music. But I was married with two young children and knew it was time to start building a more secure future for myself and my family, so I walked away with no regrets. There were times I thought about how much I missed being a recording artist, but having a high-level job in a large corporation fifteen years later was proof that I’d made the right decision.

Then one day I received a call from someone from my past. He had been a young kid who was crazy about music and would stand outside looking in through the window of a beauty parlor we used to rehearse in when we first started out. One night, after seeing him outside the salon numerous times, I invited him in, and that was the beginning of my friendship with Marty. I took him under my wing and brought him into rehearsals and recording sessions, where he watched, listened, and learned all he could about the recording industry. After I quit we lost touch, and I didn’t hear from him until the day he called, fifteen years later, and sounding very excited, exclaimed over the phone:

“Hey, Joe, it’s me, Marty; how have you been? I’ve got exciting news. I work for CBS Records now, and I’m in charge of a project for a label that they’re really excited about. They’ve asked me to record new albums with new material by groups from your era, and I was hoping you could get the guys back together again and be a part of the project.”

 “That sounds like it would be fun, Marty, but I work for a large corporation now, and I can’t put that much time into making music again. Besides, I don’t know if the other guys would be interested.”

 “Can you at least give it a try? All you need to do is write some new songs for the album and spend a few days in the recording studio. The whole project will be over in no time, and then I won’t bother you anymore. How about it, Joe… just for old time’s sake?”

 After thinking about it for a while I decided to go along with the project and contacted the other guys in the group. Tony said yes immediately, and when the other original Emotions turned me down we brought on three new guys, Eddie, Joe, and John. I couldn’t believe that I was going to get the chance to record again as I called Marty back and told him it was a go. At the time I agreed, I had no idea what was in store for us. Had I known the calamitous misadventures that were about to follow I’m not sure I would have said yes.

Marty was true to his word – at first. I wrote the songs, rehearsed the vocal arrangements with the group, and recorded the entire album in a short period of time. At the wrap party while we were all patting ourselves on the back for a job well done Marty pulled me aside and asked:

“Hey, Joe, if you’re all right with it I’d like to have a reporter and photographer from the Daily News interview you, take pictures, and post the article in the Sunday paper. It would be a good way to promote the album, and after that I won’t bother you anymore.”

 The thought of having an article and photos of us in one of New York’s leading newspapers was so exciting I agreed.

 “No problem, Marty; just tell me when and where.”

 “I thought you’d say yes, Joe; I’ve already made arrangements. We’ll have it at the old beauty parlor where you used to rehearse. It will be a great human interest story to do it back where it all started.”

 And that was where the first of the calamities occurred. The photographer was in the process of taking a series of photos when Tony, thinking it would be funny, suggested we take a picture of the five of us singing with the industrial-size hair dryers on our heads. When he stuck his head under the dryer I thought I’d turn it on to surprise him, and when I did it shorted out, sent a large electric flash across the room, and knocked Tony to the ground. He jumped up screaming, smoke billowing from his head, lunged to the sink, and as he ran ice cold water over his head we saw that his hair had burnt off in a perfect circle, making him look like Friar Tuck in the movie Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.

A week later a photo of us singing appeared on the cover of The Sunday magazine section of the paper a week later, and the article inside featured a picture of Tony with smoke rising from his head along with the caption:

“SINGERS’ RENDITION OF `SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES’ GETS A TOUCH OF REALITY!”

That was the first time Tony threatened never to talk to me again… but I knew he didn’t mean it.

A week later Marty called as excited as he was the first time:

“Oh, my god, Joe; you’re not going to believe this, but I was able to get you on TV. To further promote the album you’re booked to do a spot on “Good Morning America” next Monday. This will be the last thing I ask you to do.”

 Because we were all from Brooklyn the producer of the show thought it would be a great idea to have us appear live on a barge sailing under the Brooklyn Bridge during the interview. The host of the show was on vacation at the time so they asked a popular young soap opera star to do the interview. I won’t mention her name because after what was about to happen her career took a short downward spiral. I’m happy to say that she is now one of the stars of a very popular TV show so it all worked out for her in the end – not so much for Tony.

She was asking good questions, we were giving good answers, and the interview was going great until she asked us to sing a little a cappella as we sailed under the bridge. Unfortunately, when we threw up our hands to sing the last note of the song I knocked the microphone out of her hand, and when I tried to grab it out of the air I accidentally bumped into Tony, knocking him headfirst into the icy waters of the East River. Regrettably, the clip from the show appeared on all the news channels that night, and the video went viral within an hour with the heading:

“THE SONG ‛WALK ON WATER’ DIDN’T HOLD TRUE FOR THIS UNFORTUNATE SINGER.”

That was the second time Tony threatened never to talk to me again… But I knew he didn’t mean it.

Other than possibly hearing some of our songs on the radio I fully expected to be done with having anything else to do with the album… until Marty called again.

“Look, Joe, I know I’ve promised you before, but this will definitely be the last time I ask you to do anything to promote the album… and if Tony resists please tell him it won’t be anywhere near water.”

With a weary voice my cautious response was:

“I’m not sure how the guys will feel, Marty, but tell me what it is you’d like us to do, and I’ll see what they say!”

 “I’m producing a weekend concert at The Bottom Line in a couple of weeks with a few of the other groups I’ve recorded. We’ll sell the albums right there at the club between shows so not only will it be a great way to promote the albums, but you’ll get 100 percent of the profits. If you agree to do it you just need to put together a thirty-minute show.”

 I really didn’t have to think about it. All the great acts have appeared at The Bottom Line. Everyone who was anyone has performed on that stage. It was one of the top nightclubs in Manhattan, and I was thrilled when the guys said yes. The night of the show was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I hadn’t performed in over fifteen years and was more nervous than I’d ever been before. The excitement in the club was electric. You could cut the tension with a knife. Tony hesitated when he saw a sink in the corner of the room, but I managed to convince him that it was nothing to worry about. Marty thanked me for everything and promised again that he’d never ask me for anything after this. While waiting for the show to start I couldn’t stop the frightening thoughts running through my mind:

What if I forget the words of a song?
What if I trip running out on stage?
What if the harmony is off?
What if the show sucks?
What if no one knows or even cares who we are?

 A voice through the speaker in the dressing room announced that we were going on in two minutes – and I couldn’t find Tony.

 “He’s in the bathroom,” someone mentioned, and I started pounding on the bathroom door screaming, “TONY, GET YOUR ASS OUT HERE; WE’RE ABOUT TO GO ON,” when I was interrupted by a booming voice:

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, LET’S HAVE A BIG ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR… THE EMOTIONS.”

 As we ran on stage the first five rows of people stood up, laughing, applauding, and pointing to us. I couldn’t believe it. All my fears disappeared in an instant. My heart swelled with pride, my eyes filled with tears, thinking, “They remember us, they know us, they’re sending us their love,” and as I opened my mouth to sing someone in the first row shouted out:

“HEY, TONY, YOUR FLY IS OPEN!”

 ***

 ENDNOTE

There’s something to be said for doing something a second time. The victories, the missteps, the things you learned the first time, make up a total experience that allows you to thrive the second time around. I realized that night, at The Bottom Line, that performing wasn’t something I wanted to walk away from just yet. Even though Tony threatened never to talk to me for the third time, I managed to convince him, Eddie, John, and Joe to keep singing after that night. Thanks to Marty, whom I befriended when he was a just a young kid, and who gave me the opportunity to do something that I’d forgotten how much I loved, we continued performing for over thirty years.

I’d like to give a special thanks to my buddy Tony, who, despite his better sense, agreed to whatever crazy ideas I asked of him to make the act a little funnier. If you’re interested in reading more about Tony I posted a very funny blog about him on Sept. 2013 that you can access by clicking on this link,Just do this one last thing for me and I promise, I’ll never ask you for anything again.” If the link doesn’t work open the archives menu on the right, click on Sept. 2013, and the headline listed above.

 Tony passed away a few years ago, but he’ll always be a special part of my life that I’ll cherish forever. If he were still around today I’m sure that after reading this blog he would probably threaten never to talk to me again, but there’s no question in my mind that he wouldn’t mean it.

Posted in Humor | 1 Comment

When people hurt you, think of them as sandpaper. They may scratch and hurt you a bit, but in the end, you end up polished and they end up useless. – Chris Colfer

I wasn’t the kid who got teased, bullied, and made fun of. I wasn’t the kid who teased, bullied, and made fun of the aforementioned kid. And as difficult as it is for me to admit to myself and to anyone casting their eyes upon these regretful words, I wasn’t the kid who stepped up to intercede when the bully was making another kid’s life a living hell.

There were numerous times I stood in the background and did nothing, and even laughed along with the rest of the crowd as a piece of crap kid was making himself feel big at the expense of someone smaller and weaker.

I’ve thought about that many times and I’m not proud of it, but I believe the reason I didn’t take a stand for someone else was to keep myself safe from having it happen to me. That’s why my heart soared the day I saw this similar circumstance happening on the subway platform in Manhattan, when a complete stranger stepped in and attempted to put a stop to it.

A thin, weary-looking young man, sitting on the ground, holding a guitar next to a guitar case that had a cardboard sign in it with the words “Please Help Me,” was looking up fearfully at two tough-looking, unkempt, burly, pissed-off guys with menace in their eyes and tattoos covering their arms and necks. They were wearing bandanas on their heads with scruffy-looking ponytails that hung down their backs like pendulums on a clock spewing evil intent. They sported black leather vests with skull and crossbones on the back. The bigger one was prodding the young man’s leg with his thick boot and in a voice that sounded like rock scraping sand paper growled:

“Why don’t you clean up this station by helping yourself, punk?” The shorter guy grabbed the young man by the arm and was trying to yank him to his feet.

As I watched this unfold before my eyes I thought of the times in the past I’d walked away without helping, and my guilty conscious became a megaphone in my head yelling, “DO SOMETHING; NOW’S YOUR CHANCE TO MAKE UP FOR THE TIMES IN THE PAST YOU DID NOTHING.” At the same time my self-preservation kept insisting that I walk away as fast as possible – but before I acted one way or the other a dignified-looking gentleman dressed in a tailored suit, shirt and tie, with hair slightly graying, and a thin pencil mustache, looking nothing like the type of person who would do such a thing, stepped up to the two tormentors, pointed to the one prodding the young man with his boot, and in a voice that seemed too pleasant and calm for the words that followed, stated:

“If you really want to clean up this subway station why don’t you take your two sorry asses up the steps and get the hell out of here?”

“ARE YOU TALKING TO US?” they responded with shock.

 “I must be because I don’t see anyone else stinking up the place.”

 “YOU MUST BE KIDDING… WHAT POSSIBLE CHANCE DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE AGAINST THE TWO OF US?”

And then the most incredible thing happened. Two young guys wearing varsity jackets stepped forward, saying, “HE’S NOT ALONE; WE’RE WITH HIM,” followed by some others who also stepped forward and said, “AND US” in unison.

“US TOO!” stated a host of other people of all ages, ethnicities, and color, and within a couple of minutes the two tough guys, not acting so tough anymore, were surrounded by a large number of, in my estimation, courageous people. At that point, the young man stood up, hugged his guitar to his chest, pointed to the words, “Please Help Me” on the sign and began to tear up.

As I joined the crowd, experiencing a sense of community I’d never felt before, I knew that something very special had just happened that would change my life forever. I don’t know if I’ll ever come upon a situation like this again. I don’t know if I’ll feel more comfortable stepping up the next time. I don’t even know if there’ll ever be a time when I’m the one who gets picked on. What I do know now is that I believe there will always be some people who are ready and willing to do what they must to make the world a better place.

***

Now I realize that I left you on the subway platform with a group of people surrounding two numbskulls and a man in tears who had just had his belief in humanity restored, but what followed was so humorously unexpected that I didn’t think you’d want the heartwarming emotion you’re feeling at this moment to be ruined by laughter – I’m just kidding. You’re not going to believe what happened next.

“We didn’t mean anything bad,” the shorter of the two, who had been holding the young man’s arm, suggested with a sheepish grin as the crowd closed in on him. At that very moment, a train pulled into the station, and as he put his hands up in a gesture of surrender he suddenly bolted for the train just as the doors began to close and attempted to lunge headfirst into the train. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite make it, and the doors slammed shut around his waist, trapping him halfway in and halfway out, with his lower body flailing frantically outside the train. What happened next was beyond comprehension. As if it had been rehearsed before, a young woman ripped his boots and pants from his body, exposing white jockey shorts, and another woman pulled a black magic marker from her backpack and quickly wrote across his butt as the train pulled away:

“TO OPEN THE DOORS, PULL DOWN HIS DRAWERS.”

As I watched the lights from the back of the train disappear into the deep darkness of the tunnel I couldn’t help but wonder what the people at the next stop would think when the train pulled into the station.

Well, it seems as though your friend’s day may have reached quite a sorry-ass end. How do you think yours should end?”

The man in the tailored suit spoke to the other guy, whose eyes were as wide as saucers, as if he were admonishing a child who had just misbehaved. Then he turned to the crowd and asked:

“Maybe I should be asking all of you what we should do… any ideas, folks?”

“LET’S WRITE SOMETHING ON HIS ASS!” someone shouted from the left, which drew a huge round of laughter and applause, and was followed by a barrage of other loud, angry, resentful suggestions that I would never repeat in a family blog. As the rage seemed to reach a boiling point the young man who had been at the center of this amazing event held up his hands and shouted:

“STOP!”  which silenced everyone instantly.

 “If we continue with this hate, aren’t we just like him? Shouldn’t we be better than that? The only way to put an end to this kind of ignorant thinking is to set a better example. Folks, let’s act towards him as we’d like others to act towards us… PLEASE.” Then he picked up his guitar and started playing and singing:

“I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony – I’d like to hold it in my arms and keep it company.”

To my surprise everyone locked arms and began to sing along – and when the guy with the tattoos and skull and crossbones on the back of his vest also started to sing the young man walked over to him, gave him the most tender smile, raised his guitar in a gesture of victory – AND SMASHED IT OVER THE TOP OF THE GUY’S HEAD!

Then, he turned to everyone who stood there with shocked expressions on their faces and said:

“But, every so often you have to make a point!”

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I knew I was in trouble when I asked for his cell number and he answered, “Cell 23.”

He stood staring at the front of the police station with a look of unrelenting purpose. Then after mustering up as much courage as he could, he stepped through the door into the building, up to the Sargent at the front desk, and with depressing determination he said:

“Officer arrest me, I’ve committed a crime!”

 “What crime have you committed?” Asked the Sargent.

I can’t tell you that. I’m too humiliated by what I did.”

 “But, I can’t arrest you without the knowledge of your crime sir.”

 “Can’t you just take my word for it and lock me up? I assure you I did a horrible thing, but I don’t have the heart to tell you what it was.”

 “Well, let’s try going about this another way. I’ll ask a couple of detectives to show you to an interrogation room where they’ll ask you some questions and you’ll have the opportunity to answer each question as truthfully as you can. Do you think that might work?”

 “Yes sir, I’m willing to give it a try.”

 The room resembled a set from the movie “Dirty Harry” except the two detectives that brought him there didn’t look anything like Clint Eastwood. One was tall, bald, thin as a rail with sharp squinty eyes, and a huge bright red pimple on the end of his nose. The other was short, fat, with thick greasy black hair combed in a pompadour and long sideburns that made him resemble a short, fat Elvis impersonator. Standing next to each other they looked like the number 10.

“State your name sir.” The thin detective demanded leaning close enough to almost touch noses.

“Do I have to?” He asked, trying desperately, but not able to divert his eyes from the large bright red pimple that was just inches from his own nose.

“YES, YOU DO!” And as the pimple seemed to grow redder and bigger with each word, he finally answered with a slightly devious smile:

“RED… my name is RED, RED ZITT!”

 “Okay Red, I’m going to ask you a series of questions and I want you to answer each to the best of your knowledge. Was your crime against an individual?”

 “YES!”

 “Was it against more than one individual?”

 “YES!”

 “How many people did you perpetrate this crime upon?”

 “It was probably a crime against the entire country.” Then a tear slipped from his eye and he continued, “As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said it was a crime against the world.”

 Upon hearing that, the short, fat guy dropped to his knees, raised his arms above his head and for a second looked as if he was going to go into a chorus of, “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog,” but instead screamed at the top of his lungs:

“OH, MY GOD, IT WAS A CRIME OF TERRORISM! THIS MAN IS A TERRORIST!”

Then he ran out of the room with the tall guy in hot pursuit and returned a half hour later with two other guys sporting very grave expressions on their faces who introduced themselves as Holt Bolt from the FBI and Latch Catch from the CIA.

“Do you realize that you’re in very serious trouble Mr. Zitt?” Said Bolt.

 Of course, that’s why I turned myself in.”

 “Since you seem eager to cooperate, could you state as simply as possible the ramifications of your crime, and write it down on this pad?” Exclaimed Catch.

 He picked up a pencil, sighed, and wrote on the pad as he quoted aloud the tragic events he believed would ensue because of his actions.

Energy programs that save people money will be cutPesticides will threaten children’s health – Grants that provide help to build affordable housing will disappear – Protections for drinking water will be rolled back – Firearm background check laws will be weakened – Programs that help make college more affordable to low income students will be gone – Our commitment to combat global warming will end.

“These are just a few,” he exclaimed, as he continued to list one thing after another for over an hour until the detectives became so weary that they stopped him, stared at each other perplexed for a minute or two until the pimple nosed detective placed himself face to face again and said:

“LOOK, THIS COULD GO ON ALL DAY! WHY DON’T YOU JUST TELL US WHAT YOU DID. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY CAUSE SUCH CATASTROPHIC RESULTS?”

Whether it was the heat of the interrogation room, the pleading from the eyes of the detectives that seemed to peer so deeply into his very soul, the guilt he felt that had been growing more and more since he committed his crime or the bright red pimple on the tall detective’s nose that looked to be getting larger by the minute – only after a period of intense staring did he decide to relent and confess his crime.

“Okay guys, I’ll tell you what I did.”

The look of relief on each of their faces brightened the stiflingly dim lit room and all four leaned in closer to listen to what they’d been waiting hours to hear.

“Now listen closely because I’m only going to say this once. I did the worst thing anyone could ever imagine.”

 “WHAT WAS IT, TELL US, TELL US.” They pleaded.

 I VOTED FOR DONALD TRUMP!”   

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There are three Christmas stages of man: he believes in Santa Claus; he doesn’t believe in Santa Claus; he is Santa Claus.

Because we’re in the middle of the Holiday Season and this will be my last blog of the year I thought it only appropriate to close by writing a Christmas song. I like to call it:

Oy Vey, Oy Vey, Oy Vey
Sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells”

              Chorus

Donald Trump Donald Trump
Who could believe
Anyone could lie like you
With so much ease.

Oh, Donald Trump Donald Trump
How could you be so mean
To pick on all immigrants
And take away their dream.

               Verse

I woke up one fine day
And heard somebody say
That Donald Trump is President
Oy Vey Oy Vey Oy Vey

They say his ties to Russia
are all very true
And what he did to women
Can’t help but make us blue

             Chorus

Oh, Donald Trump Donald Trump
What’s up with your head
It looks like someone skinned a cat
And left it there for dead

Oh, Donald Trump Donald Trump
You’ve always had your way
But we’ are gonna change all that
And – get – rid – of – you –  one – day.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who have taken a few minutes of your valuable time each week to read what I write. Your kind comments and continued readership give me the incentive and reason to continue to put down my thoughts – and I thank you for that. I hope 2018 turns out to be a year that fills your soul, warms your heart, and brings you peace and love. If at times things don’t seem to be going the way you’d like there’s a technique I use that helps get me through to the next day.

Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, put both hands over your heart, and in a soft calming voice, repeat to yourself:

“Oy Vey, Oh Vey, Oy Vey!”

Posted in Humor | 2 Comments