More About New York*

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Well, not New York per se, but being in the humongous crowds on Times Square last week did inspire me to try to create a comedy routine based on how idiotic people are in large crowds. And in traffic. And in general.

What happens frequently in Times Square is a group of people, five or more, will stop dead on a street corner to discuss what they’re doing, where they’re going, all the tall buildings, all of that and more, and possibly, how to inconvenience the maximum number of people who would just like to cross the street before the light changes. Yep, they block several hundred people from getting on with their business, whether those people are fellow tourists (no native New Yorker would ever block a sidewalk in that way except in strict dire need) or Natives trying to go about their business. And for some reason, that is okay?

I believe that I understand why people from the sticks think that New Yorkers are impolite. I’ve always found New Yorkers to be the nicest people imaginable. They’re helpful, they’ll tell you what you need to know, if they know themselves, and they are sympathetic with each other and with visitors. But, they have things to do. The polite thing to do with public right of way in a large city, even in Las Vegas, is to use the public right of way as you need to, and then get off of it so that somebody else has a chance to use it. If you dawdle, you’re being extremely impolite. Extremely. So, since impoliteness begets impoliteness, the average small townie gets a lot of rudeness our of New Yorkers in return for the rudeness he or she is dishing out. Personally, I fantasized about picking up the offenders and setting them down in front of a bus! (No, I didn’t do any such thing.) The people who dawdle on Times Square without being impolite do it on the pedestrian mall that has been developed in the middle of Broadway. There are even tables and chairs out there if you want to sit a while and contemplate your next move. That’s where the Naked Cowboy, the costumed characters, the naked women, and anyone else with consideration for their fellow humans, who wants to dawdle, does their dawdling. Is that so much to ask?

For small town America, I guess it is.

*Sorry if I sound bitter. At least I can hope that the bit is funny!

Bienvenidos a Nueva York

Thinking of investing in Las Vegas real estate? Contact Steve at 702-379-6267, or check out Paradise Palms Real Estate and Retiring to Vegas on Facebook!
On Times Square
On Times Square

There is one city in America which I think is more interesting than my home of Las Vegas. That being New York, the original home of, well, damn near . anything without avacados in it. The heart of New York is Times Square, which is a lot like the Strip but more compact. Also there are even more restaurants. Similarities also include frustrating crowds of tourists, traffic jams (NYC is worse) and women naked except for paint posing for pictures with tourists. Okay, Times Square has Vegas beat on that one. I didn’t get a picture. Sorry.

Here’s something else cool that we saw on Times Square:

I know that you know what this is
I know that you know what this is

You can see naked ladies anywhere, but this is special. It visits all over, but only infrequently. So, this is cool. But, believe it or not, Times Square is not all that there is to New York. There’s the Top of the Rock, from which you can see Central Park, among other things. To wit:

Central Park from Atop Rockefeller Center
Central Park from Atop Rockefeller Center

Central Park was begun before the Civil War. It is what makes life in Manhattan possible, basically. We also visited a bunch of museums, even the Museum of Sex, but I don’t have any museum pictures. I had to leave in the middle of a classic silent porn feature, so I’ll never know how that came out, but other than that, I liked the Museum of sex because I got material for a bit about bonobos. I won’t print it here, sorry..

The first few days the weather was about six degrees cooler than Hell, which made the subway about two degrees cooler than Hell, so we didn’t spend much time at the Brooklyn Flea, a famous flea market. If you like mid-century modern, you should check it out. And, before I forget, don’t pay for the New York Experience at 30 Rock. Lame-o.

Speaking of the subway, it takes about 45 minutes via express train to reach Coney Island from Times Square. Coney Island? You bet! We ate at this fine dining establishment:

The Original Nathans at Coney Island.
The Original Nathans at Coney Island.

If I speak only of the sausage, it was the best frankfurter that I’ve had in a very long time. Plus, while I normally don’t like cheese fries, Nathan’s are truly delicious. Then of course there are all sorts of shops, a huge retro looking arcade (that is not retro,) the Luna Park Amusement park, and a really nice beach. The most amazing thing is that Coney Island is in the very same city as Times Square. New York is one gigundus big city, I can tell you that.

We also went to Ellis Island again, but as none of our ancestors came through there, that will probably be the last time. Fascinating place, though. And we took a harbor cruise on a Clipper ship. Photos? Sure!

You get a better view from the harbor tour than from the Liberty Island boats.
You get a better view from the harbor tour than from the Liberty Island boats.
"Show me that horizon!"
“Show me that horizon!”

In spite of a less than perfect time on our last cruise, I kind of wished I was aboard that Carnival ship. Oh, the places they’ll go!

There are a lot more pictures, but I think this is pretty good considering I’m doing this in my Times Square hotel room.  As I said, New York is the one city that I find more exciting than Las Vegas. It’s about time for me to go home where I can unwind.

Drugs and Sanity

Or, I’m Mad as the Dickens, but I Guess I’ll Keep Taking It!

As if I had a choice. I’ve been blessed with ADD all of my life. It really is a blessing, but that’s for another day. My point is that I take a low dose of amphetamine salts every morning, by prescription. Last week I picked up a prescription from my doctor for 90 days worth (nice, that, and the legal maximum) and dropped it in in the mail. As of this morning, the mail order pharmacy which my insurance company uses had not received it. So now, if I’m lucky, I can get a ten day supply prescribed that I can fill locally. See, I have two days worth left, and it’s best not to run out. It’s hard to take delivery of something that hasn’t been shipped, you know.

The thing is, I have to visit my doctor every time for a new prescription. 90 days is the limit. You can’t just pop in any time to buy the stuff. People get upset, I guess, because college students abuse the stuff while pulling all night cram sessions before finals. And it is addictive (not at the level I use, but I’m told that it is.) So, in order to save people from themselves (apparently) laws have been put in place ensuring that a drug invented in 1886 is very expensive, even in generic form. I could probably get thirty bucks a capsule if I wanted to sell any. Which I would never do because I need them. I lost out on a job with the State Department once because they were worried that I might not be able to get the stuff wherever they assigned me to go. A legitimate concern, but one that could be eliminated by allowing me to take a two-year supply with me (the stuff keeps for ever if you keep it cool and dry.) But, the law forbids such a sensible thing. Thank you, War on Drugs.

More broadly, the reason infamous drug lord El Chapo is so rich is because of our policies. The things are either made from cheap chemicals, or weeds. (Cocaine is from a bush that grows wild in the Andes, for example.)  Because we distort the market for such things, we make them very expensive, and give bastards like El Chapo an incentive to murder and steal in order to be able to distribute what should be a cheap product. A motive to adulterate the product, also. Our drug policies make it inconvenient for those who need the drugs, and enrich a lot of very unsavory people. I’ll give you dollars to the untampered-with value of amphetamines that it also enriches a bunch of the people in congress, one way or another. Ninety 10mg capsules of amphetamine salts, a drug for which the patent ran out about a century ago, costs over $500.00. I pay a bit over half of that, but my insurance company is on the hook for the balance, which of course drives the cost of insurance up for everybody. And the illegal market is priced higher than that!

I think that recreational drug use is probably a waste of time at best. But that doesn’t mean it should be illegal. Sure, the results of drug abuse can be terrible, but not as terrible as the results of our War on Drugs. Murder, extortion, terror. According to the scare mongers among us, illegal drug money even goes to fund terrorists like ISIS. So, once again, why in the name of logic and reason are we still fighting that fight? Seriously, I want to know.

Writing Funny

A Fey Cow

Besides using a cartoon drawing of a goofy cow, writing funny presents a unique set of challenges. I like to write, you know that, but it turns out I also like to get up in front of people and tell jokes. You may know that too, but I discovered it only recently. But there is something you may never have considered about being a comic. That is, a comic is also a writer. You have to write all the time. Right now, I’m working on a YA romance, a chapter book involving some fourth-grade detectives (not that they’re low grade, they’re in the fourth grade,) and an endless series of jokes to be invented, refined, and worked into a routine that will, I hope, make an audience pee their collective pants. Or, at least get me hired at some corporate events. (My HBO special will be next year, of course.)

So, oddly it seems to me, every comic you see on television or in person is also a professional writer. In my case, I have never been able to get a serious point across unless I couch it in humor. Hell, I bet you’re bored right now, aren’t you? ‘Cause I haven’t made any jokes yet, have I? Well, be bored then. I charge for humor, after all. But my point is that every one of the comics, from Seinfeld to the guy at the club you dropped in on the other night when you were already too drunk to walk straight (we see you, you know,) writes something virtually every day. And he or she has to write something that’s funny! And that means studying what is funny. (That sentence certainly isn’t.) But, humor can be studied just like algebra, and that’s what comedians do. Can that be funnier? What’s the best punchline? How do I make it funnier? How can I add another punchline? And on and on.

I write regular stuff, so I’m hoping that by posting this about writing comedy I might help some of my fellow writers to appreciate the amount of thought and effort that goes into a comedy routine. I doubt that, just taken as a person, Lewis Black is any more angry than anyone else, but his anger schtick earned him a movie role as, well, Anger. And if you think Seinfeld is just a bunch of goofs kicking stuff around, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. Seinfeld is a bunch of professionals who polish and analyze and polish and analyze and polish some more, until it’s funny enough for prime time.

Think about that next time you see or read some funny stuff. A whole lot of serious work goes into making it that way. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

Fourth of July!!!!

american flag photo: American Flag american-flag.jpgUnless you’re getting damned old like me you may not remember, but once long ago (1973 it was, to be exact) Independence Day was included in the Monday lineup of Federal Holidays. That lasted only a few years, because dammitall, we call it “4th of July!” and that’s that. But this post is actually about ageing.

On 4th of July back in my days when I lived in Bowling Green, Ohio, my friends and I had an annual tradition of taking LSD and going to the park to sit as close to the fireworks as they’d let us. I don’t know if you’ve ever done that, but, honestly, you probably ought to. It’s awesome! But I digress. My point is that, a mere fifteen years later, my tolerance for recreational drugs had deteriorated rather shockingly.

When I was about 40 years old I was at a hot springs resort in the Sangre de Christo Mountains of Southern Colorado. I hadn’t used any sort of illegal drug in, well, just about fifteen years, but in the evening, in a common room, somebody rolled a joint and passed it. Old habits kicked in and I took a hit and passed it on. Ten minutes later I actually made it to my bed before passing out. From Acid Freak to Narcoleptic in only a decade and a half. Sheesh!

I know that I’m probably better off. And, if you’re thinking of turning me in, go ahead, all of my drug use was too long ago to prosecute, and not in the jurisdiction where I live anyway. But my ageing, well, it’s progressing quite nicely, thank you.

I can’t tell you my best “getting older” stories because they’re a bit raunchy, but they illustrate just the sort of physical deterioration shown by my drug tale. But, for all of that, I would never go back! In more ways than I can count, it’s better to be old than it is to be young! Not least of which is that I truly can do whatever I want, pretty much, and nobody says anything about it.

Getting back to the title theme of this post, there was something we used to shout every year on Independence Day. Given Mr. Adams’ prescription on how to celebrate the occasion (which we follow to this day) it seems appropriate. Ready? Here it is:

4th of July!!!

4th of July!!!

4th of July!!!

Monday holiday my left foot!

Stages of Anguished Joy

A short post this week. I want to mention the stages I go through when I’m writing a new work. It’s simple:

First, I draft the thing at a furious clip. Then I read it over, and guess what? It’s the most wonderful story ever conceived. I’m so lucky to be alive at the time of its creation!

Second, I put it away for a while, so that I can see it with fresh, and newly re-amazed eyes.

Third, I take it out and start reading through it, looking for things like superfluous modifiers, excessive gerunds, unclear phrasing, and so forth.

Fourth, I sink into the depths of despair because I now see that the project is some of the most awful, unworthy, boring and repulsive prose ever spawned. I can’t imagine what I was thinking when I drafted it.

Fifth, I start working on revising it anyway, looking for characterization, crisp prose, clarity, grammar and spelling. But all the while I stay depressed because I just know that no matter what I do it is going to be be a dog in the end. And I don’t mean dog in a good way, either.

Sixth, I put it away again for a while. Maybe a long while.

Seventh, I get it out again and read it. Now I’m surprised because it doesn’t actually suck. In fact, parts of it are actually reasonably good! So,

Eighth, I revise it again to clean up the stuff I missed the first time, and now the work is all ready to go.

To somebody else to read, after which I look at the revisions and sink deep into despair again. But, that’s all a part of the process, innit?

Louie, Louie

My copy of the record was from the third release. The title was listed as “Louie, Louie 64, 65, 66 . . .” I tried playing the 45 rpm disk at 33-1/3, of course, but mostly the lyrics were a complete mess. You could hear “we gotta go” quite a few times, and “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I said” too. But that was about all. Because you couldn’t understand the lyrics, it was easy to imagine almost anything comprising the message of the song. In fact, the FBI did, in fact, imagine almost anything. They said it must be dirty lyrics. And the Governor of Indiana jumped in with his opinion that the lyrics were obscene. Which meant that every adult wanted to ban the song, and every kid wanted to buy a copy and listen to see what the words were, really.

If you’re curious, the link above will take you to a page displaying the lyrics as sung by the Kingsmen. You’ve probably read about how they couldn’t afford a good studio so the lead singer had to shout the lyrics up at a dangling microphone. Nasty stuff, and no wonder you can’t understand the words. I try to respect copyright, so I’m not going to reproduce the lyrics here, but I can say that Louie Louie is the pained lament of a Jamaican sailor boy longing for his girlfriend back home. That’s all it is, and not a single lyric is dirty or obscene. Anyone at the FBI, or even the Indiana Governor’s office, could have checked out a copy of the sheet music for the song at a music store. It was released for the first time, I believe, in 1956. So, what was all that “dirty lyrics” stuff about?

It was about the same thing that so many Facebook posts go nuts about. Somebody posts something that sounds like it just might be true, and it’s outrageous! Sharia Law is Being Forced on Students! WTF? People, no such thing is true, at least not in this country. It’s the same thing, actually, but it spreads faster, which means that there is time for people to see so much more of it. I do have a simple test for such rumors. Here it is:

If it:

  1. is simple and easy to understand, and
  2. gives you an emotional jolt (good or bad) to believe that it’s true, then it almost certainly
  3. is false.

It is a true fact of human nature that upset people buy more stuff. So, it behooves anyone wanting to sell stuff to get people upset. Maybe they’re selling a political ideology, maybe they’re selling insurance, maybe they’re selling air time during commercial breaks, but upset people buy more stuff. If you’re thinking that Facebook should do something about all the silly and false information people are using Facebook to spread, forget it. Facebook lives off of ads, and upset users will respond better to ads than relaxed users. Because, honestly, being a little upset feels kind of good. Makes you feel alive, involved, and relevant. Too bad it also shortens your active life and ruins your health, but that’s the way it is, so there!

My point being that it is a good thing to note the words and assertions that upset you, and realize that they’re probably false. Because that’s what they are: probably false. That way you can concentrate on upsetting other people, you know, like a comedian . . .

 

Stand Up, Sit Down

Fight, fight, fight?

Okay, it’s not a fight. But doing stand-up requires writing, of course, and just like other writing, the writing requires revision. I even have a few jokes about writing. They’re not great, but I did write them myself.

You may not know this, but query is an old Sanskrit term that means, roughly, “Throw it down a deep well.”

Okay, not that funny. That’s because I used it once, in my first stand-up class, and never used it again. It’s never been revised. But anything I do on stage certainly has. For instance, here’s a revision sequence for a joke I’m probably going to include with my next performance.

1. My cousin got a ticket the other day. Used his turn signal.

Not a bad idea, but is it funny enough? Who the hell knows? But could it be funnier? Well, almost anything could.

2. Traffic in Vegas is sort of weird. My cousin got a ticket last week for not using his turn signal. He caused a six-car pile-up.

More detail, probably be funnier when delivered. Is it funny enough, though? (See above.)

3. Traffic in Vegas is so weird, a friend of mine got a ticket for not using his turn signal. They’re sending him to traffic school to learn to be an asshole like the rest of us!

#3 is the funniest of those, and the most revised. I prefer it because it flows more smoothly, it includes more people in the punchline, and it’s a lot more unexpected at the end. That’s one joke that takes maybe fifteen seconds to deliver, and you can see what a bit of revision has done for it. I did a lot of that revision aloud, and I’m not saying that it will remain as you see it here, just that it got better at each revision. And now, I come to my point about writing and revision, to wit:

When I revise out loud, I stand up. Then when I type it into my file of material, I sit down. (See how I cleverly worked in the title of this post here?) Revising out loud helps me see where things hit snags, where I can make something stronger, and which parts maybe I should just toss and forget. (What? Forgettable jokes? Say it ain’t so!) And this technique works not just for comedy, gentle readers, but for any writing.

Right now I’m metaphorically bleeding as I slowly revise a YA romance I drafted during the last Nanowrimo. The revision will take a lot longer than the first draft, I can tell you. Sometimes I find that reciting a passage aloud provides a lot of insight into what’s right and wrong about it, which makes the process a lot easier. How about that? A perfectly serious book can be helped by a technique from stand-up comedy? Who knew?

You may not know this, but “First Draft” is an old Farsi phrase meaning “Five-Hundred Hours on Facebook!”

That last one is true, of course. ;-)

 

Comedy Last Nite

Okay, a little late when I got in last night, so I’m posting this morning. I was out at Haza Las Vegas, in Chinatown, trying out a new short set. Meh. But, it was a fun evening, all the same, thanks to Leo Gets and his partners. There was a $50 prize for the performer voted the best. That brought it to two singers (a couple of lovely chanteuses) and half a dozen comics. I didn’t win (I’d have been disappointed in the voting if I had) but the guy who did got my vote, so everything was fine at the end.

Haza serves Yakatori amongst other things; it’s a Japanese restaurant in Chinatown (on Jones) run by a bunch of Polacks, so you know it has to be good. There is comedy every Wednesday, usually professionals, not open mike. They serve a special comedy show drink, but I have no idea what’s in it. It costs $4.50. They have specials on Sapporo beer, too, and sake. There’s also a special comedy menu from 7PM, and the show starts at 8. Check it out!