Archive for the 'Inspiration' Category

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 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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