May 27 2013

Memorial Day

Published by under Empty Nest,Family

I am finally settling down from a busy Memorial morning, lots of friends coming over and  Tami and I have been running around being busy. Forgetting that it has only been a few years since our son Aaron was in Iraq for a Memorial Day. It is easy to forget what that felt like because he is home, healthy and has just given us our first grandchild. Busyness makes that possible. If I can get busy enough, the day becomes a blur and passes without any conscious thought of what our country has set this day aside for. I promised myself when Aaron was gone for that year in Iraq that I never would do that again. This day is an opportunity for an entire nation to silently give thanks to the countless millions of young men and women who selflessly gave of themselves at a time in life when the rest of us were selfishly pursuing our heart’s desires. Today I will have a privilege that so many other parents will not have, to hug my son and tell him how much I appreciate his sacrifice for not only me, but for an entire nation. I will not take that lightly.  Many parents today will be eating across from an empty chair. It is a sobering thought not knowing where your child is and even worse to know that he is in a war zone and in potential harm’s way. Our prayer before dinner tonight will be a simple one, to thank God for our soldiers.

Blessings on this day to you and yours.

God’s Peace be with you,
Jeff

Jeff and Son

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May 10 2013

Ruing the Day

Published by under Family,Teenagers

One of my mother’s favorite sayings was “you will live to rue the day…” and you can fill in the blank as to what it was that I would rue. I had no clue as to what rue meant and, of course, I didn’t interrupt her with details such as what the heck was she talking about. All I knew was that if I asked, chances were I would get rued, or be rued, or maybe it was just plain rude to ask. I digress.

You see, looking back on my life as a teen, it seemed like every stupid thing I did was something that I would “rue.” For instance, the time I threw a pack of firecrackers under my brothers’ bed while he was sleeping and burned the carpet. While mom was scrubbing up the powder burns, she was livid and talking to anyone who would listen. “This is going to come back to haunt you, you will rue….” And so it went. Every time I did something equally as dumb, it was followed by Mom cleaning up the mess and telling me how I was going to rue that I did it.

I believe it is connected to every parents’ prayer, “I hope you have a child just like you. Amen.” It’s almost as if Mom was implanting in my DNA that everything I did to annoy her was going to be replayed out with my own children, therefore causing me to “rue.”

This all came full circle last Fourth of July when my youngest threw a pack of firecrackers under his brothers’ bed while he was sleeping. I was scrubbing up the powder burns and screaming at him, “WHAT would compel you to do something so stupid!?!” That’s when it hit me; I did the same thing and was told I would rue it.

I needed to know what the heck rue meant.

After looking it up, I sat on the end of my son’s bed and laughed so hard it hurt. Thinking of my Mom and how hard she would have laughed at how long it took me to “get it” made me miss her and her laugh. With tears streaming down my face, in between fits of my own laughter, my son asked me if he was in trouble. I barely got it out, but said to him, “From the grave, to me and back to you, son, the time will come when you will rue the day this happened.”

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Apr 26 2013

Do Not Bend

The Internet has made nearly every job on Earth easier. Except mine. Connecting the world through instantaneous communication is all well and good, but it makes it really difficult to tell someone a joke they’ve never heard before.

Some well-meaning clean comedian will come up with a wry observation on, say, breakfast cereals. The punch line hardly has a chance to leave his pen before it’s being forwarded to half the country. I’m not sure how the joke gets out, but I believe it’s absorbed into an e-mail through osmosis. By the time the comedian actually gets onstage to tell his joke, all your relatives have sent it to you multiple times, claiming it’s a legitimate discovery by the Breakfast Council of America and that if you don’t forward it on, you don’t love Jesus. Or kittens.

Fortunately, much of my material comes from my own life experiences, so it tends not to be as susceptible to this phenomenon as more general observations. But still, the Internet is a big place, and sometimes even life experiences aren’t unique.

Case-in-point: The other day, I went to get the mail, and wedged into the mail slot was an enormous brown envelope with the words “Do Not Bend” printed across it in big, authoritative letters. And of course, there’s a giant bend, right down the middle.

It occurs to me there might be a joke there somewhere. It’s not exactly comedy gold, but a comedian learns to look at everything as potential material. So I’m picturing some rogue postal worker who plays by his own rules, refusing to be bound by the tyrannies of mail delivery etiquette. No mere letter is going to tell HIM what to do! I file the joke away to work on later.

The next day I’m browsing Twitter when I come across a post by a friend, another clean comedian like myself. It’s a picture of a big brown envelope, virtually identical to the one I got, unceremoniously bent down the middle and wedged into HIS mail slot. With a quip about a Postal Workers’ Rebellion, subverting the system one bent letter at a time.

Thirty years ago, my friend and I could have toured with our respective jokes and hardly anyone would have noticed. But today, his joke is already being retweeted to thousands of followers while mine sits unfinished in the back of my mind. Guess it’s back to the drawing board….

Blessings,
Jeff

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Apr 04 2013

Los Angeles, Sometime Around 1985

Published by under Inspiration,Married Life

When I moved to Los Angeles it was to pursue my dream.  The irony is that if you had asked me what that dream was, I couldn’t have articulated it to you even if you had a gun to my head. My dreams were one of those things in life that fit in the category of, “I will know it when I see it.”

In essence what I am saying is, I had dreams. Don’t we all? I just didn’t quite know what mine were. So I was in L.A. pursuing a shadow, a silhouette of what I thought I should be.

I have no clue why we chase dreams. I must have read it somewhere.  Which is a mystery to me because I don’t know where I would have read that. Honestly, at this point in my life the only reading I was doing was on the back of cereal boxes and the occasional shampoo bottle.

But somewhere inside me I just knew I should be pursuing something called a career, and I wasn’t going to waste my time getting locked down with anything specific. I needed something to call a goal, because people ask you what your goals are. I needed an answer, so I decided my goal was to be a “big time comedian.”

I look back on that now and I can tell you I don’t even know what that means, but it was vague enough not to inspire me and at that point in my life; any inspiration I’d had would have been met with extreme resistance. It was enough to have an answer to the question, even if it was vague, to “why did you move to California?”

So when my friends in Chicago asked why I moved west, I told them that L.A. is the only place you can “make it big” as a comedian. So I guess you might say I moved to L.A. to pursue “bigness.” That’s my dream: I wanna be BIG!

Unfortunately, at this time in my life I was doing more consuming than pursuing. I was drinking more now than ever before and, as a consequence, I was more miserable than ever before. Deep down in my soul, whether I was conscious of it or not, I knew I was drowning out the joy of living I was meant to experience and justifying the murder of my soul with self pity, anger and cynicism. I behaved as if I had absolutely no control over how I responded to life. I was an out-of-control, bitter, 29-year-old drunk, careening from one comedy club to another across America.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I was not like this 24/7/365 days a year. I would have offed myself. I heard a saying that a person’s life should be one of constant joy, interrupted by periods of suffering. Mine was one of suffering interrupted by periods of joy.

I did have moments that I experienced joy in my life, but my worldview at the time of sex, drugs and rock and roll wasn’t supplying me with all of the necessary distractions that I needed to be in a constant state of materialistic bliss.

If I was to describe myself at this point in my life, I was a huge, walking, talking scab for whom, if things didn’t go my way, the scab got broken open and this puss would ooze out in the form of sarcasm, at best, and a violent rage at its worse. In case you don’t know, it isn’t my Universe. Therefore I have no control over the running of it and its five billion inhabitants.  Soooo, I was in a perpetual state of oozing, if you know what I mean.

I mention all of this because it was during this period of oozing when a moment of clarity hit me. An epiphany, if you will. Namely, that what I needed in life is a point, a purpose, a reason to live. Apparently, comedy, and the pursuit of bigness, had not provided the needed spark to propel me to the place of peace and prosperity that we all seek, whether we acknowledge it or not. So one day, the thought pops into that cesspool I call a brain that what I need is a wife. A good woman would straighten me out.  I may not get sober for me, but perchance for the love of a woman.

So as hard as it was, I put the dream of being the largest comedian on hold and began to look for a wife.

Before I would begin the search that would ultimately change my life, I had to run it by my brain trust at the neighborhood saloon. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know any of these people. After a few drinks, the bonding that takes place amongst drunks is unparalleled.  So I mention my plan one night with a few of my drunken brethren at the bar. They agreed that I would make an excellent husband. A lot of them loved being married. So much so that a few of them had been married multiple times.

I should take the time here to point out that living in Los Angeles and trying to make ends meet as a comedian is difficult. I had to go out on the road to make the money I needed to pay for the apartment in LA. I was on the road at least three weeks every month to pay my bills. In reality, my home was on the road. I didn’t think I was going to meet the future Mrs. Allen in the City of Angels, I thought. She would come from elsewhere.

I had one other problem. I don’t know why it was, but I seemed to repel women. My biggest problem with women was talking to them. It was extremely nerve-wrecking for me. Consequently, the majority of the conversations I had with women were in my head. I would say this, and she would say that, and this could go on for an hour, just me and my fantasy. It was safer that way, and I never got rejected. I was also alone a lot.

I have a feeling that if the Internet was around at this point, I would have never left the house. Chatting online would have fit me to a tee. I could have sat there with a bottle of rum, some lines of coke, and a mouse, and conquered the entire world in chat rooms.

I, like most drunks, can lie with impunity. The difference of talking directly to a person for me is that my face always gives me away. Which is why I could lie to myself so well – I couldn’t see my face. I was a lousy poker player, because I would literally get giddy when I had a good hand. Friends used to say I didn’t have a tell, I had a shout.

The hand that I dealt myself with my various addictions was not anything to get giddy about. I was seriously lacking in all the things that a woman would be looking for in a husband. With that said, I wasn’t going to lay all my cards on the table until I had too.

One of things I had learned over the years was to create a shadow self, something that was a shell of the real me. I knew at my core that if a person knew who I really was, I didn’t stand a chance. The silhouette was the best shot I had at getting married.

Whomever God created at birth had no chance to emerge. That guy was buried years ago under gallons of booze and narcotics. So the shadow had to be enough. The real me wouldn’t come out until years into my marriage, and that was buried under buckets of rage.

For those of you reading this in recovery, you probably recognize the failed attempts to right myself with the universe. The geographical cure, “If I just had the right location to live, then things will be better,” was something I used for years – even after I was in recovery.

I was a textbook addict. The right job will cure me, the right person, the right salary, and on and on, ad infinitum. It wasn’t until I stopped feeding the shadow which was insatiable, and focused on the external and started feeding the soul which is calming and focused on the internal, that I was able to stop pretending long enough to begin the healing process that continues today.

That only began after I conned a waitress from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio into being my wife. Oh, for the love of a woman!

Next week: Tami – and how I asked her to marry me at Cleveland Airport Baggage Claim. She had no idea the baggage she was picking up when she said “yes.”

Blessings guys,
Jeff

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Mar 14 2013

Getting Ready for Tax Time

Published by under Corporate Comedy

Well, it’s that time of year again … tax season is upon us. Even a clean comedian like me has to pay his fair share.  This year my New Year’s resolution was to get my financial matters in order.  I called my accountant, Rocco, to set up an appointment and got a very disturbing message on his answering machine, “Hi, this is Rocco.  I’ve gone to Rome to witness the selection of our new Pope. I’ve never been to a Conclave before. Leave a message. Arrivederci!”

How can Rocco be so unprofessional as to leave myself and his other clients in the lurch while he’s off gallivanting to the Holy See to watch white smoke billow out of a chimney?  Where is his devotion and loyalty to a higher authority…the IRS?  And what if his trip results in a delay of my tax refund?

I wrote him an angry email.  Here is his response:

Dear Jeff,

Thank you for your email.  I understand your concern but there’s no need to worry, I’ll be back in plenty of time to file your extension (God and His Holiness willing).  Please leave your shoebox in a waterproof garbage bag under my porch.  I have to run now – my cappuccino is getting cold.

Ciao!
Rocco

An extension? Is he kidding me? While he is in Italy dining on pasta and pizza perhaps he didn’t take into account that filing an extension could jeopardize our family’s annual “Race for the Postmark” event.  Last year we made it to the post office window at 11:55:023: That’s 1/100th of a second off last year’s record.

Then a brilliant idea came to me and I sat down to furiously write Rocco another email:

Dear Rocco,

Thank you for your prompt response.  I was just thinking that since you are going to be at the Vatican anyway, would you mind stopping by St. Peter’s and lighting a candle in my name and saying a prayer to St. Matthew, the patron saint of taxes?

Grazie,
Jeff
Clean comedian

Hey, it couldn’t hurt.

 

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Mar 13 2013

Chicago, Thanksgiving Night, 1978

Since August, I had been hanging out at a Comedy Club called The Comedy Cottage, trying to muster up the courage to actually go on stage. Up until then, I had been telling everyone that I was a magician who specialized in close-up magic, with no desire to take it up on a big stage. I like the table magic. Truth is, I wanted desperately to go on stage and try stand-up comedy. I just lacked the courage.

That had been pretty much my life up to this point. I wanted to go on stage in high school, to do plays. I even went down one day to join the theatre department.  But I was a jock, and when my friends found out, they mocked me. That ended that.

When I got to college, I was in Radio and Television. I told the instructor I wanted to learn how to direct. Truth was, I wanted to perform. Again as a jock, when my teammates found out, the ridicule started. That ended that.

Now that I had no teammates to ridicule me, I still hadn’t gone onstage, and I realized I was the one mocking me the most. The fear of being laughed at as a comedian is almost a joke in itself. No other profession I can think of exposes a human being to being ridiculed like stand-up comedy.

If you are bad public speaker, people just fall asleep. They don’t think it is their job to shout out their discontent and how much they think you stink, before they nod off. Comedy audiences, on the other hand, feel it is their obligation to let you know – as if they all got together and nominated two or three drunk guys to speak on behalf of all who have attended.

After three months of putting it off, I ran out of excuses. I was leaving my parents house after a Thanksgiving meal – which in our house was a few bites of turkey and a belly full of beer – and driving to the comedy club to hang out. Then I realized that tonight was Thursday night, Open Mike night. Anyone could get five minutes on stage.

It was time for me to suck it up and set aside my fear. I reminded myself that this was my dream. It never occurred to me that I didn’t have any stand-up comedy material. I didn’t know at the time that comics actually prepared things to say. I just thought you talked about your day, and hopefully people found it funny.

If you are a budding young comic reading this, take my word for it. Prepare something, anything. Standing on stage stuttering and drooling on yourself, no matter how entertaining to the comics in the back of the room, creates severe discomfort for the normal people in the audience.

To this day I have no idea what I said beyond my opening line. Looking into what amounted to the sun, I said, “Man, I can’t see a f-ing thing!” As a matter of fact, I don’t know if I did the whole five minutes, but I can tell you the audience probably thought it was an eternity. I finished whatever it was I did and was wiping the drool off my face as I stormed out of the club, humiliated, and I vowed I would never step foot in that place again. I cried all the way back to my apartment and pounded holes in my closet door. Again told myself I can’t go back there again and face those comics.

Good thing, as an alcoholic, humiliation was a way of life, and I lie to myself all the time. The only thing I do more than break promises to myself is breathe.

I was back in there on Sunday. The MC, a large and cool black man named Orlando, came over to me and said, “If you are going on tonight, you goin’ to have to make sense. We’re still trying to figure out what you said Thursday night.”

And so it began, my life as a stand up comic.

In 1978 there were only a few clubs in the Chicago area that did stand-up comedy. I began to hang out at all of them and eventually became a regular performer at each of them. The fact that they didn’t pay anyone really helped, and believe me, I was worth every penny they were not paying me.

microphone-stand

It took me a long time to get over the stage fright that paralyzed me that first night. Years later, I was in therapy, trying to figure out if I was a sadist or masochist. Trust me when I tell you, every night someone was suffering an unbearable pain because of my performances. It was either them or me. I don’t know which came first, the stress or the fear, but it always manifested itself in the form of stress, and it wasn’t pretty.

It is interesting to me how different people respond to stress. Some people actually use it to heighten awareness and consequently performance improves. Bobby Jones, the great golfer, said he needed to be nervous in order to perform at his best. On the other hand, my response to extreme nervousness is that the brain goes completely blank; I lose all thought. Nothing. When I say nothing, I mean nothing. It plagues me even today; it just doesn’t happen that often. But it stills rears its ugly head every now and then. I have just developed alternative ways to deal with it rather than running off the stage and crying.

This problem has cost me more than once in my career. One of my favorite stories happened when I was living in New Jersey and working out of New York City.

I was in final callback for a VJ job on VH1, a big opportunity for me. A couple of days before, I was to meet with the executives over at the VH1 studio. Rosie O’Donnell, who was one of their stars, called me at home and told me that the buzz around the studio was that the job was mine. This audition was just a formality. I even had lunch with one of the executives and she heaped all kinds of praise on me. I was one of two finalists out of thousands that they looked at nationwide.

That was a Saturday. I was to go in and read, I believe, on Monday or Tuesday the next week.

It gave me enough time to think of what this meant for me and my young family. I thought of the cash, the exposure, and I saw what VH1 was doing for Rosie. I knew this was my break. Finally, stardom! Combine those thoughts with a core belief of worthlessness, and you have an amazing recipe for disaster. It was a recipe that unfortunately would play out over and over again in my career.

I got to the studio early and began to go over in my head what this meant, and told myself not to choke. Breathe.

It didn’t take long for the panic to set in. By the time I got through with the reading, I did everything but vomit on my shoes. My mind went blank, I stammered and stuttered and eventually started screaming at myself in front of all these VH1 executives. I even heard the tech people laughing at my meltdown in the sound booth. Believe me, it made Albert Brooks in Broadcast News look like Tom Brokaw. That is only one of many instances when fear destroyed a tremendous opportunity for me.

In hindsight, I didn’t know which I was afraid of more, failure or success. I will delve into that more in the coming weeks. The problem with recovery is that it is lived one day at a time, and those days add up to years.

There is a saying in the 12-step rooms, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift so enjoy the present.”

It took years for me to openly quit sabotaging my life and my career, and to walk in the simplicity of God’s Grace.

Blessings to you all and may God’s Grace be enough for you today.

Jeff

 

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Mar 04 2013

Recovery Again, Not Recovered

Published by under Outreach

On September 28th of 2012, I celebrated my 25th consecutive year without a drink of alcohol or an illegal drug, i.e. cocaine. While it was a monumental birthday for a person in recovery, it passed in our home and among my friends without much fanfare. No one seemed to notice it.

Outside of me mentioning it in my social media accounts and a couple of times on stage, I really didn’t seem to care about it. You see, I got “recovered” a few years earlier and began to live my life as if I was officially recovered and not recovering.

Every addict will tell you that you are one drink (or one drug or one minute) from the path of enlightenment and peace to the gutter. In other words, we are always recovering, never recovered. What happened to me, happens I am sure to other addicts. My pride and ego took over and I began to live off the tank of God’s grace that I had built up for over 20 years. And ran it dry.

I traded in the drugs of alcohol and cocaine for a myriad of earthly more “socially acceptable” but almost equally destructive drugs. I won’t bother to list those, because to explain how they took over my life, would take more space than I choose to use in this format.

Let it suffice to say that the enemy of my soul was winning the war against the Lover of My Soul.

As I begin to come out of the self-afflicted deep dark hole I had been in, I am beginning to see God’s light again and feel his breath of inspiration. It is “my” desire to use this format of blogging to try to understand what happened and why it happened. It will take time, as I am just beginning to get my life back.

It was, a week ago last Friday that I had convinced myself that my wife of 26 years had had enough of me and was going to leave. I was so thoroughly convinced of this, I was ready to move into a hotel for a few days to give her some space. It never occurred to me to ask her if this was her desire. Instead, I just played the scene over and over and over and over in my head, and then made the decision for her. After all, I knew the kind of man I was and I wouldn’t want to be married to me either. The thing about this kind of depression is, it is not a chemical imbalance. Rather, it is an imbalance of what God wants for you and what your flesh desires.

I heard a wonderful thing a little while ago, I don’t know where, so forgive me if it was from one of my twitter followers. “My pride binds me to the earth and my flesh, so that those things of heaven can’t get in.” In other words, when I am so full of myself, there is no room for God to get in. And when God can’t get in, the devil will.

I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, when the devil’s minion writes him and says that his subject is actually getting “true humility in Christ,” and the devil writes him back and says “make him proud of his humility.”

In essence, what I have learned these past few weeks is, when I took credit for God’s work, all his work unraveled briefly enough to give me a glimpse of the work I actually do, which is basically wreck all the work that God has done. I don’t know if that makes sense to any of you, but it hit me like a ton of bricks, when my wife Tami told me before dinner a couple of weeks ago, “You remind me of the man you were 25 years ago.” (Wow! She wouldn’t say that if she read my press clippings, sheesh!)

Who Tami says I am, trust me, I am. I respect her opinion of me more than she will ever know. No one outside of God knows me better than Tami. It has been said who you are at home is who you are.

The good news is that I am crawling out the other end of all this, I know this is true because the other day eating dinner, my lovely wife got up and walked to my side of the table and kissed me on the neck, hugged me and said “It is nice to have you back.” Praise be to God! There is no other explanation.

Truth is, I am not the man I was 25 years ago. Christ dwells within me and when I seek His counsel, His grace and peace will come permeate my soul. All I have to do is “knock and it will be answered.”

Today is another day and a glorious one at that. It is the day that God has created. I can use it to feed my selfish desires or use it to honor His creation. By trying to serve His creation, I have found that feeds my soul the way the Lover of My Soul designed it to be fed.

Something I wrote years ago is appropriate again today:

Who I was, is not who I am. Today I choose to walk a different path.

So feel free to throw at me the stones of my past, I will not deny them, but gladly use them to humble me, for today my shield is the Lord.

It is because of who he was and the blood that he shed that I no longer have to run from my past but can embrace it and walk with his grace to my future.

I would love to hear from you guys about your recovery and faith and trials. If there is anything I have learned in my life, we can’t do life alone. God wanted us to be in community with one another. I am thrilled to death to be “recovering” again and not “recovered.”

Blessings,
Jeff

9 responses so far

Dec 19 2012

Is There Paper In Heaven?

My Life As A Bystander Cover

An inspirational story from Jeff’s book, My Life As A Bystander that has particular relevance given the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.

I once read that the ultimate sign of love and respect is to listen to another human being.  I love my children and respect them.  They know they’re in my act and love hearing the stories I tell about them.  But years ago I made another one of my mental notes that I was going to listen, really listen, to them.

Like a lot of things in life, that is a lot easier said than done.  If you hung on every word your three-year-old said, your head would literally explode by noon.  In my case, that might not be too large of an explosion; but I’m sure you might have a lot more brains left in your head than I do.

A nice balance needs to be achieved.  It is important to listen to our kids, but if we allow them to blather on endlessly without ever being checked, they can keep us from getting our work done and putting food on the table, and they can also begin to believe that the universe really does revolve around them, and them alone.  In other words, children need to learn manners.

I once read an article about parenting that said teaching children manners is abusive, because it goes against their basic “nature.”  Can you believe that?  What does this writer feel the act of unleashing rude and obnoxious children on an unsuspecting world is?  And merely teaching a child the words, “Excuse me,” isn’t a panacea either.  On the surface, it’s polite, but sometimes kids feel the words “Excuse me” gives them a right to interrupt as often as they please. After about the nine hundredth “Excuse me,” it might be time for us parents to rethink our strategy on this.

Whenever my sons interupt me with an “Excuse me,” I always gave them the stock parental answer, “In a minute,”  This only works after they actually know what minute is over.  My son, Aaron, and I once had a twenty minute conversation while I was on the telephone, covering the receiver and asking him to give me a minute to finish my conversation.

“Excuse me, Dad,” he said.

“In a minute, son.  I’m on phone.”

“Is it a minute yet?”

“No.”

“Is it now?”

“No.”

“Now?”

“No.”

This went on and on until it finally hit me.  The kid has no idea what a minute is!           Aren’t epiphanies wonderful?

Ignoring a child’s prattling isn’t the answer either.

Not long ago, I was at a mall with my wife and our three-year-old.  Trying to keep up with the latest parental technology, our son was on a leash that my wife had attached to her belt loop.  That’s right.  My wife had actually paid good money for one of those things.  Actually, I kind of like the idea of a leash, and as I see it, there is nothing wrong with it if you are just walking through the mall.  The kid just kind of flops around behind you like a long board behind a downed surfer.  As long as we were in motion, everything was fine.  The problems began when we stopped in the middle of the mall to briefly converse about which store to visit next.

Jeff Allen with wife, TamiAs we were talking, our little one began to wrap himself around his mother’s leg.  Eventually, he ran out of leash, and like a dog that’s wrapped himself around a tree, he couldn’t figure out how to turn around and go back the other way.  Now, literally pinned to his mother’s thigh, the lad began to chant the chant.  We all know what “the chant” is, don’t we?  We’ve heard it a thousand times in malls, grocery stores, and restaurants all over the globe.  “Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, ma, ma, ma, ma, mom, mom, mom, mom, mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy…”

I believe you get the point.  In case you didn’t, feel free to throw in a few dozen more mommies for your own reference.  The chant is relentless.  The words never change, but like an old campfire song, the verses can go on forever. What my wife failed to recognize that day is that there is not a three-year-old alive who will say to themselves, “Gee, Mom looks a little busy.  Maybe I’ll give it another minute and let her to finish what she’s doing, then we can properly focus on my request.”

Three-year-olds don’t process information like that.  Sometimes, husbands don’t either, but that’s a different chapter.  So the chanting just kept going, and through all this, my wife continued to try to hold a conversation with me. But did she honestly think I could hear her over “the chant”?  Apparently so, because her lips were moving.  Now, both of their voices just sort of blended together and this is what I heard:

“Mommy, mommy, mommy….food court….mommy, mommy….credit card limit….mommy, mommy. mommmmmmmmy.”

I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating this was for me.  I was beginning to get information overload.  At one point, I started vibrating, and blood began to trickle out of my ears. Thankfully, at this point some guy came to my aid and got on the public address system in the mall and announced, “Please, lady, answer your child!  Please answer your child!”

There was even a mime in the mall that came over and slapped my wife with his padded white glove.  Then he asked, “Is your name Mommy?” (I pause at this point to explain the severity of this mime’s actions.  You see, mimes are dedicated artists.  It takes a tremendous amount of angst to get them to break character.)

Even though he’s a fellow artist, I do feel that my painted little friend was way out of line when he mimed an attempt to maim my son’s mom.  So as a man, a father, and a husband, and I might add, totally against my bystander lifestyle, I went after that mime.

It was the oddest thing, too.  I started to run, but it was as if I was running against a strong wind. I was stalled, but not completely.  Then, just as I began to gain ground and was closing in on him, he somehow locked himself in a box (how do they do that!!!?).  I couldn’t see the box, of course, but I knew where the four walls were because he was showing me.  From off in the distance I could hear the Mommy chant again.  As the vibrations resumed, I  tried to climb in the box with him, hoping it was soundproof, but he wouldn’t let me in!  I thought mimes by nature were compassionate, caring human beings.  But apparently I was wrong.  One more myth destroyed.

Knowing what I had to do, I left the scene of the mime and returned to the scene of the chant.  And this is where I come to the point of my story—the importance of listening to those you love.

As Tami continued to talk over the chant, I finally stopped her in mid-sentence.

“I believe our son would like to talk to you,” I said.

Tami, looked a little annoyed at me, as if she were saying “Okay, let me show you something, Dad.”

Being the loving mother that she is, stooped down and asked the little lad what it was that he wanted to say.

He put his chant on pause for a moment, then said, “I forgot.”

With that, Tami just smiled, looked at me, and winked triumphantly. She knew this

was going to happen long before he ever said it.  Women know instinctively when a child needs to ask something important and when he is merely enjoying the melodious sound of his own voice.  It’s called “selective listening.”

Now, all parents need certain tools to raise children—patience, tolerance, love and understanding are in the basic kit, but one tool that a parent must have is selective listening.  For women, this is standard equipment in their tool box.  I had to earn my selective listening tool, and every tool in my box for that matter, the hard way.

One day not long ago, I was working in my garage, minding my own business, “pretending” to be building something.  I do this so I won’t have to go inside the house and do the chores my wife wants me to do.  In other words, I was enjoying the day in true bystander form.

My three-year-old, who happened to be sitting at my feet just chatting away about everything and nothing, not a care in the world, said something that sounded like a complete sentence.  All morning long, I had been occasionally nodding at him at regular intervals, or saying “That’s nice, son,” giving the appearance that I was listening when I really wasn’t.   To tell you the truth, my mind had drifted off to golf courses unknown.  But at one interval it drifted back just in time to hear, “And kitty was all sticky, Daddy.”

Now a sentence like that can make the hair on the back of your neck rise to attention.

Sticky kitty?  Those two words could have a myriad of meanings, so I stopped, turned around to face him, then calmly asked him to repeat the last thing he said.

“What about Kitty?” I asked

I waited for his answer.  Talk about a lesson in futility.  Children rarely listen to themselves, so asking one to hit the rewind button in his brain is like asking a border collie to program your VCR.  (They can do it, but they’re their timing is all off due to the dog years factor).  So I continued to try to help my son retrace his verbal steps and repeat his statement word for word.

“It sounded like you said, ‘sticky kitty.’  What about the sticky kitty?” I pressed.

“Sticky kitty?”

It’s the confused look on his little mug that always makes me laugh.  It’s a lot like the look a politician gets when a reporter reminds him of something he himself had said a week earlier.  Had my son been quicker on his feet, and bilingual, he would have thrown out a “No comprende, padre.”

I now have no other choice than to continue with my fatherly interrogation.

“What about Kitty?”

“I had to.” he said.

Don’t you just love that?  Everything a child does is a “had to.”   There is never any other choice.  So I delved into the matter a little further, “What did you ‘have to’ do?” I asked

“I had to pour milk all over the kitty,” he said, satisfied the inquisition would finally be over.  But I couldn’t close out the case just yet.  I was becoming far too intrigued at this point.  And besides, since Kitty was no where in sight, it was probably a good idea I get to the bottom on this.  It was hot, and Kitty’s fur could be curdling at that very moment.

I put down the hammer that I was pretending to use, and continued to pursue my line of questioning.  Now adults have been known to do stupid things for absolutely no reason whatsoever.  But small children usually have very sound reasons for everything they do.  It’s toddler logic.  You just have to keep pressing and they’ll eventually explain themselves.  So I kept pressing.

“Why did you ‘have to’ pour milk all over the kitty?”

“Because he was hot and thirsty,” he said, smiling proudly.

Satisfied he went back to working on his bench.  I, on the other hand, was still a little perplexed, and still had a few questions.

“Why did you pour the milk on kitty and not in his bowl?”

Without hesitation, he said, “Because kitty likes to lick himself.”

Now, I have to tell you, it took a few seconds for that to make sense to me.  But then, the light went on in my head.  Kitty was hot and thirsty, and he likes to lick himself. Hence, it was my son’s way of delivering the milk.  It makes sense in a three year old kinda way.

So now I’m stuck trying to figure out how, and whether or not I even should, punish logic like that ?  The cat may have wanted to punish my son, but I had to admire my kid’s resourcefulness. I did suggest to him that in the future he might want to run any new ideas about the feeding the household pets by his mother or me beforehand. He assured me that he would. Then we both went back to pretending to be busy.

I have told you all of this in order to illustrate my point, that listening to those you love is not always easy.  Sometimes you hear what you don’t want to hear.  That is why some have called “listening” the ultimate act of love.

Since that day, I have tried to work a little harder at being a good listener.  But I’m still learning.  Daily.

One afternoon, while driving this same son to one of his soccer games, I heard another one of those lines that make the hair on the back of a dad’s neck stand up.  Now, you would think that I had learned my lesson from the sticky kitty incident, but I didn’t.  I was once again visiting faraway golf ranges in my mind, and not paying much attention to his chattering away in the seat next to me, when all of a sudden I happened to hear the words “Dad” and “God” in the same sentence.  Now that will usually make a father sit up and give his child his undivided attention.  After all, you don’t know whether he’s praying to God for you, complaining to God about you, or using the Lord’s name in vain and needs correcting.  So I figured I should pay attention.

“Well, dad?” he said, awaiting my answer, to what question I didn’t have a clue.

“What was that?” I asked, hoping he’d repeat himself without my having to confess that I hadn’t heard him the first three or four times.

“Does God know what I’m going to be when I get bigger?”

Not really giving it a whole lot of thought, I said, “Yeah, son, I believe he does.  He created each one of us with a purpose.  So yes, he knows.”

My answer seemed to satisfy him.

“Okay,” he nodded.

He was quiet for a while, then…

“Dad…”

“Yes, son?”

“Is there paper in heaven?”

Again, not really knowing where he was going with this particular line of questioning, I said, “If there’s a need for paper, I’m sure God will provide it.”

“Okay.”

Ryan got pensive for a moment.  It took a while for the more laid back part of my brain to catch up with the frontal lobe and realize there was something a little deeper on his mind.  Now it was my turn to ask the next question.

“What are you thinking about, son?”

He continued to look out the window, then almost as if he were talking to the sky, he said, “I don’t know. I guess I was just wondering if someone came into my school and shot me dead, when I got to heaven would God be able to write out on paper all the things that I was going to be when I got big?”

Wow.  I need to repeat that.  Wow.  In all the conversations that I’ve had with my sons, this one continues to have the most profound effect on me.  This was around the time of the Jonesboro, Arkansas school shootings.  I’m sure my son, and every school-aged kid in America, had a lot on their minds during those dark hours.

As a rule, bystanders don’t like to think about tragic things like this in depth.  We

turn the channel on our television sets, or turn off the car radio.  In the particular case of the Jonesboro shootings, and later the Columbine shootings, I never allowed myself to empathize too much with the victims and their families.  The whole subject was too painful to even think about, so I wouldn’t allow my mind to go there.  Understand, I felt for them, but not on a deep level, not on the only level that true empathy can live—in the soul.

My wife, Tami absorbs herself in life, taking the painful right along with the good, and so she cried for days thinking what it must have been like to be a parent of one the victims.  She would ask me, as she reached for another tissue, “Can you imagine what it must be like for those parents?”

“Yeah,” I would reply, closely guarding that vulnerable side of me.  Then I’d open another piece of junk mail.  I think I thought if I ignored the painful reality of the situation, or at least shielded myself from it, it would somehow make me stronger than her.

But Ryan’s question wouldn’t let me ignore it.  Children have a way of bringing us to places that most of us don’t want to go.  While we’re trying our hardest to figure out how to properly raise them, they’re propelling us into our own maturity.  It’s almost as if God used Ryan that day to tell me that it was time to start looking, and really seeing, the events of life.  It was time to shed some of my bystander ways, and begin my journey on the path to becoming one of life’s participants.

I pulled over to the side of the road, and just looked at Ryan.  I don’t think he even realized what he had said and why it had affected me so much. I was overwhelmed immediately by a tremendous sense of loss, grief for this generation of kids that even has to think about such things.

For a brief moment, an image of Ryan meeting with a tragic end flashed in my mind.  It wasn’t a vision or anything spiritual like that.  It was just a parent’s fears seeming all too real.  That was all it took to open the floodgates of my soul. That part of me that I had been so good at protecting me from hurt, the part I had hidden through my humor, suddenly burst open. I broke down and wept, not just for me and for him, but for all the parents who have lost children in these violent times, and for the rest of our youth who have lost their childhoods.

I am so thankful that I was listening and heard what a ten-year-old was thinking about on his way to the soccer field.  I answered him as best I could, but I don’t think I was totally honest with him that day.  I told him that he doesn’t have to worry about all that.  I told him that I wasn’t about to let anything bad happen to him.  I didn’t want him to worry.  But who am I?  I’m just his dad.  I’m not a superhero.  I can’t be with him twenty-four hours a day.  I can’t even be 100 percent sure that I can protect him when he’s in my own car.  No matter how safely I’m driving, another driver can pull out in front of us and put both our lives in jeopardy. We live in an imperfect world, and so much of what happens in life is out of our control.  But how could I tell him that?  All he needed at that moment was a hug from his dad and the reassurance that he was going to be all right.

Kids and their questions, huh?  It makes me wonder if while we parents are doing all this selective listening, how much of what our kids are saying is going unheard?

I continue to learn the importance of listening to those we love.  But we’re busy, the television is blaring, there are a dozen other things that we need to be doing.  It’s easy to tune them out.  Especially for bystanders.  We see their lips moving and we tell ourselves that whatever they have to say, we’ve heard a thousand times.  We hope that kind of thinking will get us off the hook.  It doesn’t.  My wife has heard about my athletic youth over and over and over again, but she still listens anyway.  She’ll sit and listen to my latest golf tale as if it really matters to her.  To me, that’s love.  The kind of love that requires involvement.

If we only listen when it’s convenient, who knows what we might be missing?  And let’s be honest, it’s never convenient.  There will always be things to do, places to go, and favorite television programs to watch.

Maybe all of us should take our cue from our heavenly father who tunes in to us

24-7.  We don’t get a half-hearted “Uh-huh” when we tell him about our day.  He hangs on every word we utter.  Maybe that’s why the Bible tells us to pray without ceasing.  God really does enjoy hearing from us. Even when we have doubts.  Even when we’re discouraged.  Even when we’re angry.  And even when we ask those seemingly unanswerable questions.

I wonder how many times we’ve made the hair on the back of His neck stand up.

                        “He who has ears, let him hear.” -Matthew 11:15

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Oct 08 2011

Another Corporate SNAFU

Published by under Corporate Comedy

As I said, I pride myself on being the ultimate professional. Companies love having me and I enjoy them. I perform a family-friendly show. I don’t break into any crazy rants. All that said, I am human, and mistakes do happen. Let me share one – I think it’s pretty funny. After reading this, I’d love to know your comments.

Sam’s Club Event, Las Vegas, Nevada
I was the main entertainment at a large sales meeting for Sam’s Club. A lot of top salespeople were present. Now, many folks are committed to their company, it’s image, quality, etc., but no one is more passionate about it than the sales force. And none are more committed to their company than the fine executives at Sam’s Club. And rightly so – it’s a top notch corporation.

Sam’s Club may have a number of competitors, but the only one you probably know about is their biggest competitor, Costco. And they are fierce competitors. Let’s just say, you wouldn’t want to show up at a Sam’s Club meeting bragging about a flat screen you just scooped up for a song at Costco.

I have a bit I do, you might have heard it. I talk about how… “My wife and I hide brownies and muffins in the bedroom to keep them from the kids. We go in the bedroom late at night and lock the door. The boys probably think we’re doing something else, but we’re just under the covers eating brownies and laughing.” Later, after talking about something else, I tell them… “We have three boys, ages 20, 18 and 3. That’s right, 20, 18 and three. Yeah, we ran out of brownies one night. It won’t happen again, though. We get them….”

Let me back up a second. Thus far, the night’s going swimmingly. Everyone’s laughing and engaged. After a hard day’s work, people are enjoying themselves. Everything’s working. I’m the train, comfortably on the rails, with nothing but clear track ahead. However, there’s one person in the room, my manager, Lenny, who can see the train about to wreck. I’m oblivious. This bit I’m doing has worked every time I’ve done it. Without fail.

Later Lenny told me it was like one of those action movies where you see the person in slow motion helplessly trying to intervene yelling (also in slow motion), “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Lenny told me he had sweat dripping down his back and wanted to throw something at me (and he was close enough to do it). Like the old Krazy Kat and Ignatz cartoons.

But it’s too late. Here comes the punch line. The line that was meant to be the last line of my set, and would have been even if I didn’t mean it to be. I said, “Yeah, we ran out of brownies one night. It won’t happen again, though. We get them from Costco by the pallet now.”

That’s right, Costco.

The air went out of the room. At first, you could have heard a pin drop. Then people actually started booing. I hadn’t been booed in 20 years. By the time I realized what I’d done, it was too late to correct my mistake.

It had been a great set and to end on that note was a huge bummer. After I wrapped the set, I apologized to the executive who’d booked me. After a few uncomfortable moments, we were able to see the humor in it and we got a chuckle out of it.

However, I was upset about it for a few days. At least I got a good story out of it. There’s old Mark Twain again, “Humor is tragedy plus time.”

Ironically, we were never a Costco family. We shop at Sam’s Club. I use Costco in my bit because some genius decided (this is true) that words that begin with a “K” sound are funny. I guess that’s why they have “Clowns” not “Lowns.”

Anyhoo… I believe when you lose, you shouldn’t lose the lesson. I’ve gotten really good about scanning my material for anything that might offend any constituent. Nothing like that has happened since and, God willing, it’ll never happen again.

6 responses so far

Sep 21 2011

Corporate SNAFU

I pride myself on being the ultimate professional. Companies love having me and I enjoy them. I perform a family-friendly show.  I don’t break into any crazy rants.  All that said, I am human, and mistakes do happen.  Let me share one – I think it’s pretty funny. After reading this, I’d love to know your comments here or your own tales of woe.

 

Seattle
I was doing a corporate gig in Seattle. Now, let me first explain something. While I’m known as a “Christian Comedian,” the truth is that there’s nothing that would offend a non-Christian in my comedy act.  My topics are purely family-oriented.

Now, if I’m performing in a religious venue, like a church, and they request it, I will passionately talk about my faith. But when you’re in Vegas, or at the Merchants of Business Commerce Industry Conference, nobody really wants to hear about that.  They just want to be entertained.

I’ve worked for everyone from Sam’s Club to the Hamilton Farm Bureau, from Chick-fil-A to Blue Creek Investment Partners, from Amway to General Mills.

But, there I was in Seattle.  I was killing (which, in Comedy terms, is a good thing).  Then I set up a joke by saying, “We’re a praying family, my wife and I. When we were going to have children, we prayed for patience, tolerance, love and understanding… but God has his own way of answering prayers….”

Now, trust me, because I’ve done this literally 1000’s of times.  Something funny really is coming that has nothing to do with God per se.

For the joke to work, we could have been anything that prayed.  We could have been atheists that prayed to telephone poles.  But, these are the words that have been working for me for 20 years.

Before I could get another word out, a woman appeared at the foot of the stage and said, “You’re done.”  I walked over to her.  “But I still have 10 minutes left….” She said, “No, you’re done now, so get off the stage.” So, like Snagglepus, I exited, stage right.

I was flabbergasted (and I don’t flabber easily).  I wasn’t the only one.  Standing in the back of the room, people kept telling me I was great and asking me what happened.  “A woman told me to stop.” They couldn’t believe it any more than I could.  Who?! What woman? Her? Really?!

Later on, I came to learn that she was afraid I was about to launch into some right wing, Christian evangelical, righteous, alienating, politically incorrect sermon.  (It was a joke about while we’d prayed for patience, etc., we were “blessed” with two ADHD children.  OK, maybe this doesn’t sound funny NOW, but she messed up my timing!  If you like, you can watch it here.

A week later I received a letter from the woman apologizing for what she did and telling me I was “welcome to work for the company in the future.”  I was 99% sure she was “asked” to write the letter, but there wasn’t any sincerity in it.  I wanted to lash out (ever write a dozen angry drafts and wisely rip them all up?) but I wrote back simply that I am always extremely careful not to offend.  Preaching to folks has its place, I wrote, and I know that the stage isn’t it and would never do that.  I also mentioned the kinds of things I was up to, including adopting children for World Vision. Turns out she also adopts for World Vision.  Long story short, after a bunch of exchanged missives, we are now mutually respectful email pals!

My comedy makes fun of myself and my family.  Mostly me. Really, if anyone should be offended after one of my shows it should be me.  I can think only of one other corporate SNAFU in my 32 years of doing comedy, and it’s truly hilarious.  I’ll tell you about it next time.

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