Halloween. Uh. Yeah.

In 1974 my mother volunteered to participate in the Nettleton Elementary School Fall Carnival.  I was in the fourth grade and thrilled.  Her role in the festivities was that of the Fortune Teller.  And now looking back I realize she stunk at it.  Otherwise she would’ve been able to foretell the forthcoming “D” I was to receive on my report card in Math a few short weeks later.

My mother was like a white Miss Cleo.

From what I remember there was a tent.

Or perhaps a classroom made to look like a tent.

And within, behindst a small table sporting a multi-colored cloth and a tired looking crystal ball, sat my beautiful 35 year old mother.  Dressed as a gypsy.  She told my fortune, (no mention made of the “D”…faker),  and I was off.  Off to play a serious game of chance under the guise of “Pick Up Ducks”.

If you don’t know what one does in a mean game of “Pick Up Ducks”, you “Pick Up Ducks”.. There are a series of plastic ducks in a kiddie pool and you pick one up.  You turn it over.  On the bottom written in smeared not-so-water proof ink is your prize.  You then hand your duck to the nearby toothless carny, and claim your treasure.

I am not, by nature, a gambling man.  But I was feeling good.  Lady Luck, I felt, was on my side.

And it was Halloween.  All bets were off for this cowboy.

Afterwards, I went “Fishing”.  A game where a sheet is hung.  On one side are a series of fishing poles on the end of which are clothes pins.  One would “cast” a fishing pole over the sheet and on the other side a small paper bag containing a myriad of treats would be attached to the clothes pin and you would “reel her in”.

As I recall my small paper bag of treats included a ring in the shape of a spider.


I love jewelry.

I recall a cake walk where I cheated to win a chocolate cake.   I don’t recall exactly how I cheated, however after my success with “Pick Up Ducks” and “Fishing”, I considered myself unassailable.

There was a bake sale.  A white elephant sale.  The obligatory haunted house where a bowl of grapes were used to represent eyeballs and cooked spaghetti were intestines.

A I groped these foods I felt as though I was being dirty at The Olive Garden.

Needless to say, but I shall, my fourth grade Halloween Fall Carnival was off the hook.

Once home I complimented my mother on her fortune telling skills and how pretty she looked as a gypsy.

Which isn’t something gypsies hear too often.

“Oh.  That wasn’t me,” she replied.

What the…?!?

Of course it was her.  She knew it.  I knew it.  She denied it.  I was scarred for life.

Oh, Halloween.  You minx.

As a young lad when choosing a costume for Halloween I always wanted to be a witch.  Always.  And one Halloween – I can still picture this – I was about five or six years old and my parents had purchased one of those store Halloween costumes with the flimsy tunic and cheap mask, in the form of a witch.  We had large sliding glass doors in our dining room which led out to a deck, and in passing enroute to some trick or treating mayhem, I caught my reflection in the sliding glass doors, let out a high pitched scream and scared the crap out of myself.  So much so I refused to go trick or treating.

I do not enjoy dressing up for Halloween.  Which people think is odd as I am in the theatre.  “What?!?  You don’t want to dress as Eve with a delicately placed leaf, or in your case, a palm frond?  I thought you’d LOVE to dress up.”



No.  I work in the theatre.  I dress up all the time.  So no thank you.  I shall pass on the sexy Little Red Riding Hood ensemble.  Even at 25% off.

However this Halloween was great fun.  But not for reasons one might think.  There were no costumes involved.  No midnight madness,  Just friends.

Halloween 2012 began last night.  I attended with friends an intimate showing of The Shining sponsored by The Big Picture House.  A scary film which I never thought was scary which takes place in a remote hotel.  And we were watching the film IN a hotel.  Creepy.

And popcorn and wine were served.


I go with my great friends Mike, Julie, Jules, Taylor and Leilani.  And several other wonderful people are there too.  Morgan, Erika, Rodney, Kelly, Haley, Lauren…a fun group.

Julie and I be scared!

Now let’s see…The Shining.

Too long.  Too slow.  Too confusing.

I glanced over at one point in the direction of Mike, Julie and Jules.

All asleep.

We loved the experience.  We just like to be in bed by 7.45pm.

I think all movies, regardless of genre, should be 45 minutes long  tops…

…and animated.


Taylor and I after The Shining watch party.

So now it’s officially Halloween, October 31st – which I forgot about until I was in Sam’s Club and all of the employees were en costume.

Earlier at work I am doing some marketing, and I happenstance upon a notice for Trick or Treat on the Square.  This is an annual event, one which completely escaped my mind, where 4,000 kids show up and Trick or Treat around Fayetteville Square and local businesses and non-profits set up booths to give out candy and information.  It’s a perfect fit for promoting Arts Live.

Candy and theatre?  Heck yeah.

Luckily I secure a spot at the last minute, thanks to the help of the Fayetteville Visitors Bureau.

So I go to the aforementioned Sam’s Club to purchase candy.  And I purchase one bag.


I’m an idiot.

With 4,000 kids coming I would’ve been better purchasing five loaves and two fish.  I could’ve made that last with a bit of divine intervention.

The event starts at 3 and by 3.45 I am running low on treats.  By 4 I am completely out and by 4.05 I am getting desperate.  Fortunately another table manned by the Mayor’s office, came to my rescue and offered me some of their treats.

Lesson learned.

4,000 ghouls and goblins line Fayetteville Square for a treat!

Afterwards I am home and quite honestly am not expecting any trick or treaters.  So I didn’t purchase any treats to give out.

I cook dinner.  Clean up.  Doing laundry.  Washing dishes.  Listening to NPR.

Y’know.  Living.

Off the hook.

Then at 8.15pm there is a knock on my door.  And I am thinking it’s a friend dropping by to borrow an egg or two, perhaps a cup of sugar.


Because who in their right mind takes kids out to trick or treat door-to-door at 8.15 in the pm?

I open my door and before me are five little ghouls and goblins of various races and hues.

And I have nothing to give them.

Literally.  Nothing.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.

I borrow a bit of time.

“Give me just one minute to see what I have.”

I don’t want to disappoint the little darlings.

And their chaperone with the cigarette dangling out of her clenched teeth looks as though she will accept any excuse to cut me.

And I tear through my rather pathetic pantry.

And this is what I find.

And this is what I give them.

I tell them it’s chocolate milk mix.

And they were okay with that.

After they departed I became suddenly paranoid I’d have an army of late night trick or treaters and desperately searched for more treats.

Fortunately I found this…

I’ll tell them they’re Jolly Ranchers with a kick.

Happy Halloween…


The Funny All Around…

As a writer a question asked of me a great deal is “Where do you get your ideas?”

I am surrounded by ideas.

Have you ever been to Walmart around midnight?  If not – go.  It is a parade of ideas free for the taking.

Life is all around us and if you take a moment, take a deep breathe and take it all in, you will find a plethora of interesting things which have stories behind them which are begging to be told.

Several years ago when I first moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas I happened to pick up the Sunday edition of one of the area newspapers.  And while casually flipping through, I found this:

There are so many things to love about this picture.  The smiling and resplendent bride in white.  The reluctant bridegroom sporting a work shirt complete with pen in pocket.  Their respective names.  A Justice of the Peace AND a Pastor officiating.  And the coup?  The final line of the notice.

After a weeding trip to the monster truck rally in Springdale, the couple is at home in Rogers.”

The old adage “you cannot make this stuff up” applies here.

As a writer I see a story.  How did these two meet?  And how did they come to this moment?  And for corn’s sake why are they proud they are honeymooning at the monster truck rally?!?  There is definitely a story to be told and this picture – this one picture – led to a series of plays about the small town of “Dupont, Mississippi”, a film short and a television special.

Small town newspapers are the best for ideas.  Especially ones published weekly.

The above article appeared in a small regional publication known for its “cutting journalism”.  Once again I was visiting this wee li’l hamlet, and picked up the paper and discovered the headline above:

“Baby Jesus, missing again”.

The article details an annual scourge visited upon this sleepy town every Christmas season when a band of hoodlums from a neighboring state steal the Baby Jesus from the town’s life-size nativity displayed in the park.  But on this particular year additional vandalism was perpetrated:  “We also regret to report there was a decapitated fiberglass cow found at the scene.”

And that line worked its way into another script of mine.

Wanna make people laugh?  Cry?  Hold up a mirror to life.

I was sleepy. Don’t judge.

And there are those who give you a creative gift without realizing.  People who are simply being themselves, loud and proud and no apologies.  The Honey Boo-Boos of the world who help me make a living by being who they are.

And I thank them.

Okay.  Don’t turn on me and don’t think me to be morbid or uncaring.

Here goes…

A few years ago I was at a funeral.  I won’t say where or for whom, but it was a family member who was dearly loved and had been ill for quite some time.  The family gathered at the funeral home for the service, and as I looked around I noticed a series of small rooms surrounding the chapel.  Antechambers.  And having read almost every Nancy Drew novel, I felt compelled to investigate.

My sleuthing revealed these antechambers were in reality traps where personnel would corner the bereaved and sell them souvenir crap of their dead loved one.

I was appalled.

I was fascinated.

I took a brochure.

Have you ever heard of Thumbies Fingerprint Cremation Jewelry?

No?  Well you have now.

Thumbies Fingerprint Creation Jewelry is precisely what it says on the tin.

From the website:

Thumbies & Fingerprint Memorial Jewelry gives families and friends the unique opportunity to immortalize the fingerprint of their loved one in a precision-embossed precious-metal charm. The fingerprint can be incorporated into a number of styles of memorial jewelry including pendants, tie-tacks and cufflinks.

My favorite Thumbie merchandise offered?  The cigarette lighter.

The Thumbie cigarette lighter. Remember your loved one by glancing at their fingerprint embossed in gold every time you light up a doobie.

Look them up.


Morbid?  Yes.

Funny?  Absolutely.

Later during the service while the organ music is playing solemnly, I glance around and something caught my eye.

A most exquisite pair of cankles.

And this gave me an idea.  A “Cankles Christmas Calendar” with each month featuring a different pair of cankles.

I pursued this idea with camera to tow in my attempt to catch the cankle in its natural habitat.  But when I discovered it was difficult to take these pictures under cover and unobserved, I abandoned the project.

As I valued my life.

Unintentional funny envelops us.

Several years ago I was driving home for Thanksgiving and as I passed through the tiny town of Weiner, Arkansas (population 714), I was compelled to pull over and pick up the weekly local newspaper.

And the headline reads, I kid you NOT; hand to God…”

“Flu Shots Given In Weiner.”


I’ll just be sick.  Thank you.

I find life funny.  Fun.

And look around, and I am certain you will do the same.

Oh, and I always laugh at myself first.  I am fully aware of my own personal ridiculousness, foibles, shortcomings, idiosyncrasies and contradictions.

And laugh.

And speaking of ridiculous – see the gallery below…

Decorating for Christmas in Amagon, Arkansas. The only decoration in town.

Happy Easter.

With ‘glow in the dark’ hands.

This album never fails to kick the party into high gear.

Because let’s face it. Hello Kitty just tastes better when slow cooked for eight hours.

Whoever thought of this outside my neighborhood market…well played.

Kinda pointless. Yet festive.

Mister Fancy Pants Chapter Four: “Mi Nombre Es Marcos…”

Mi Nombre Is Marcos

My fellow Spanish students in Spain circa 1980. I am on the right. Squinting. With feathered hair.

In 1980, at the age of 15, I went to Spain on a school trip sponsored by my Spanish class. I had been studying Spanish since the 8th grade. Perhaps “studying” is too strong of a word. I had been “taking” Spanish since the 8th grade. I was now in the 10th and after three years of Spanish considered myself fluent, as long as all I had to say was “Where is the bathroom?”, “What time does the ballet begin” and “May I return this book?” – phrases which aren’t going to be exactly helpful in touring the Spanish countryside unless I need to pee, have tickets to Swan Lake or standing on the steps of a library.

I adored my Spanish teacher, Mrs. Morris. She was just great. (I would write “great” in Spanish, if I could remember the word for it. I think it’s “grande”, which I think also means “big”. But I don’t want to write “Mrs. Morris was ‘big'” as that would infer she was fat, which she wasn’t. Hippy, perhaps, but not fat.) Mrs. Morris liked me, too. I would go as far to say I was her favorite. She may disagree, but that’s irrelevant, because this is my story.

The picture on the cover of the travel company brochure showed a group of ravishingly beautiful students and of all shapes, sizes, sexes and hues smiling broadly with their perfectly aligned, white teeth, their arms around each other internationally laughing. I would now be one of them. After a bit of dental work.

There were five us students traveling with two chaperones. We were joining a touring group comprised of similar, but hopefully more fluent, students from across the country. We were booked on an all-inclusive educational 7-day touring program, the price of which included transportation, meals, accommodations and, most importantly, a vinyl travel bag with the company logo screen printed across the front. This all-important travel bag set us a part from other travelers. It was a status symbol. It screamed “We are young. We are different. We are smart. We are worldly. So there.”

Being an educational excursion, I learned many things. I learned how very little Spanish I actually knew when a fellow student had to literally translate the two word phrase “second floor.” Second floor? I think the words “second” and “floor” are the first and second words in the Welcome To First Year Spanish textbook. A couple of years later when I went to college, and after having taken six years of Spanish prior, I took the foreign language proficiency test hoping to opt out of having to take a foreign language. I failed brilliantly and ended up in first year Spanish. (“Second? “Floor?”). I switched to French.

I learned I didn’t give two hoots for Spanish architecture or art. I was 15. What did I care Roman aqueducts constructed 2,000 years prior were still in use? El Greco? Who? All I wanted was a good taco.

I learned there is roommate hierarchy. The two other males on the trip were jocks. I wasn’t. I was second to last chair trumpet in the band. I was in choir. I played the piano. I was crafty. I ate lunch alone a great deal of the time. For some reason the jocks didn’t want me rooming with them. They didn’t say so. Not outright. But when we would gather in the hotel lobby of that particular day’s all-inclusive accommodation and the tour director would read whom would be rooming with whom that night and their names were called as roomies, there would be lots of high fives with a chorus of “YEAH, MAN!!”

I made a friend on the trip. A girl. We became very close very fast. One lovely Spanish evening we were sitting in the courtyard of our hotel and she was drinking sangria. This struck me as odd as she was underage. But then again we were in Spain where the legal drinking age is birth. We were chatting and laughing and she suddenly turns to me and slurs “You’re funny.” Whether she was being sincere or whether it was the sangria talking, it was a compliment. It was a moment of validation. And something my awkward be-pimpled self needed to hear. We made a forever promise to write each other and keep in touch. A promise forgotten the moment we boarded our respective planes home.

I learned how not to pack. It was my first trip abroad. I packed like it was 1936 and I was boarding the Queen Mary for a six month Capitals of Europe tour and rest cure. All that was missing were a team of porters, a mountain of Louis Vuitton steamer trunks and my leading two greyhounds on a leash. My father at the time owned a travel agency for which I worked a few hours a week after school. The manager loaned me her suitcase. “It’s perfect,” she said. It was green. It was heavy empty. It was enormous. And I lugged that coffin throughout the ancient cities of Spain.

Toward the end of our Tour de Spain, we took an overnight train from Madrid to the Costa Del Sol. Boarding the train we were given compartment numbers. Once again names were read, compartment mates assigned, more high fives and “YEAH, MAN!!” I was given my compartment number and with a heave-hoe pushed, pulled, kicked and dragged my ridiculous twelve ton suitcase down the narrow passageway of the train car bumping into walls, Spainards and almost causing the train to derail.

After a great deal of effort I arrived at my assigned compartment where I would be spending the night racing through the Spanish countryside enroute to the southern resort playground known as The Coast of the Sun. Once again, I was given a room to myself. “This”, I thought, “is nice.” It has never bothered me to be alone. I am quite comfortable and more than happy to go to a movie by myself. Have dinner by myself. I think of it as I’m dating myself, which is nice but I always end up paying for everything. And I enjoy traveling by myself. One afternoon several years ago my mother called to inquire what I was doing that weekend. I replied with the nonchalance of an over worked hooker, “I’m going to Paris, France this weekend.”

And that was the truth. I was. I found a killer airfare and hopped a plane for a long weekend in Paris with a 12-hour layover in Amsterdam, getting two countries for the price of one. Alone. Some would consider this pathetic and would illicit the sympathetic observation, “Oh, ze poor boys have to go to ze Paree alonze.” (In my mind the sympathetic observation would be made with a French accent.) But, several years prior I took a cruise with five friends and we all stayed in the same stateroom. Believe me, that’s a vacation video you do not want to see. I learned my lesson then about choosing traveling companions wisely. Oh…the train.

As I slid the compartment door aside and with all the strength I could muster, lunging that damned suitcase in, I discovered I was not alone. Sitting quietly and staring back at me blankly were four very Spanish, and very Catholic nuns. These nun were serious. They weren’t playing around. They were full-out “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?” nuns. Tunics, scapular, wimples. The whole nine yards. Smiling politely I took the remaining available seat. And as the train steadily clicketdly-clacked along the Spanish rails, the nuns quatro smiled politely back at me. And I at them. After a prolonged and uncomfortable silence I attempted conversation.

“Donde esta el bano y a que hora comienza el ballet y puedo devolver este libro?” (“Where is the bathroom and what time does the ballet start and may I return this book?”)

We arrived at our hotel the next morning on the beautiful Costa Del Sol with my roommate assignment being a short blonde lad from Atlanta. As I paid the bellhop a few pesos to wrestle with my suitcase, I could hear the slap of high fives and “YEAH, MAN!!” ringing in my ears as once again the jocks were sleeping together. My assigned roommate was nice enough. Very short and very blonde. I called him “Blidget”. Not to his face, though. The nuns would never approve. And although Blidget was small, he seemed feisty. Like a badger. And you do not want to antagonize a badger. Accompanying Blidget on this trip was his breast friend. She had very curly hair, was always singing “Maybe” from the Broadway musical Annie and had huge hooters. She hooked up with one of the jocks from our group. The same jock who later got a girl knocked up at our high school.

I learned women on the pristine beaches of Spain can opt to tan topless. Whilst beach combing one afternoon, I snuck a picture of a senorita sunning sans support. She was lying on her back so you’ll have to trust me she was female. I think.

Our last evening in Spain we went dancing at a local disco. I always loved to dance. In kindergarten my favorite day was Friday because it was dance day, and I especially loved Square Dance Friday. Who wouldn’t? Before dance time we had color time. One Friday I was coloring a picture of Superman rather hurridly as my six year old heart was pounding in anticipation of dance time. In my rush, I colored outside the lines which was a big and unspoken no-no. Why? It’s my freakin’ picture. But as a punishment I had to miss dance time. AND it was Square Dance Friday. I was devastated. But looking back I shouldn’t be surprised. Our teacher was a real nut job. One day she took our entire kindergarten class down the street to watch a house burn to the ground. This was an educational field trip. And the snack time menu was always animal crackers and cocktail sauce. Seriously. But I digress…

Our last evening in Spain we went to a local disco. You are already aware of my penchant for The Dance. My freshman year in high school we had a choice of taking Physical Education or Disco Dance Lessons. I choose Disco Dance Lessons and excelled at The Hustle and The Roller Coaster and The Bump. I was rather unsucessful with the whole Physical Education thing. Especially when we played Dodge Ball. Dodge Ball, for those of you who have never suffered through its humiliation, is a game. There are two teams. The object is to hit each other with a basketball. If you are hit, you are out. If you catch the basketball being thrown at you, the throwee is out. If you are the last person on your team to still be in and you catch the final basketball, your team wins. There was the excrutiating ritual of the two most popular kids being chosen as team captains and they, in turn, would select the members of their teams, and I was consistently chosen last. Dodge Ball for me was the perfect opportunity to fake an asthma attack and get to sit out. ACTING! However, one P.E. afternoon when I did play it was down to me and a final person on the opposing team. All eyes were on us. I had to pee. The opposing team member, who outweighed me by 100 pounds, locked eyes with me, self-assuredly sneered then threw the basketball at me with all of his strength, marking his kill.

I caught it. He was out. My team won. The gymcafetorium erupted in cheers as my team mates raced toward me and lifted me on their shoulders. It was like being in a parade. But I digress…

Spain. Disco. Coke. I made my way to the dance floor because the chart topper of the moment, Funkytown, was playing and the muse of The Dance beckoned and I must answer. After putting my hitherto learned disco dance skills to practice I returned to my table to find my Coke waiting, as ordered, and a business sized card. On the card were two neon colored entertwined figures with the words “Club Sexo”. And even I, with my limited knowledge of Spanish, knew what the word “club” meant. The card had written on it “Usted esta invitado a Club Sexo”. I turned to a fellow student for a translation . Through their giggles I was told I had been invited to Club Sex. I had received my first international party invitation. I felt very fancy. What will I wear? Is an RSVP required? Do I need to bring nachos? I was savvy enough to know this was just a marketing tool. Everyone in our touring group had received the same invitation. Spain is very free loving, apparently. And no one took it seriously, except for the two jocks who could be seen in the corner turning the card over and over in their hands, while giving each other high fives with a chorus of “YEAH, MAN!!”

One of the chaperones was the mother of one of the students. A short, squat overbearing woman with gigantic breats and a 1950’s hairdo. She whined a great deal of the time. Her husband wore a 1950’s Elvis Presley hairstyle and gold wide rimmed glasses. He’d never look you in the eye. I don’t trust a person who doesn’t look you in the eye. Very shifty in my book. This couple had a chicken farm. Their daughter, who was on the trip, was very sweet and their son served as a White House Page and wrote a scandalous article for the school newspaper about members of the football team abusing Primatene Mist. We had flown all the previous day and night. Madrid to New York then a red eye to Atlanta and one final leg to Memphis. We were pooped. Friends and relatives greeted us at the airport. There were hugs and kisses and reunion tears. Except for this couple. There weren’t any endearing exchanges. Nary a hug nor a welcome home peck on the cheek. No mention of being missed or how was your trip. The first thing out of this man’s mouth to his returning wife was..]

“We had a heat wave and half the chickens died.”


The Subjectivity of Humor & Stand Up

write funny scripts.

I am a character actor.

I am a humorist.

I am a comedy improv actor.

I have dipped by big toe into the waters of stand up comedy.

I have been an audience member.

And I find the subjectivity of humor so interesting.  What some people find funny and what others do not.

I think Steve Martin is a fantastic actor.  I do not like his stand up.

I think Robin Williams is a fantastic actor.  I do not like his stand up.

I do not think Jerry Seinfeld, as a stand up, is funny.

…or Gallagher, Cheech and Chong, The Three Stooges, Eddie Murphy…the list goes on…

Whom do I think is funny?  Lucille Ball, Kathy Griffin, Janeane Garafalo, Kathy Madigan, Amy Poehler, Amy Sedaris, Tina Fey, Don Rickles…

I primarily like female comics.  And no joke comics but observational comics.

John Belushi once famously stated, as did Jerry Lewis, “Women cannot be funny.”

Really?  Because the irony is I never found John Belushi or Jerry Lewis funny.  At all.

However the masses loved them.  There’s nothing wrong with their sense of humor.  Nor with mine.  They simply aren’t the same.  Although I think everyone should find what I find funny to be hilarious.

Because it is.

When I have done stand up, it has been as a personal challenge.  A test to see if what I thought was funny was funny to a random audience as opposed to a group of like-minded pals on my porch.

Before my stand up debut, I attended a few sessions of open mic nights at a local comedy club.  I wanted to ferret out the audience.  I wanted to see what the other comics thought was funny.

A lot of comics cuss A LOT in their acts, which I find very, very, very tedious.  When I would attend open mic, I would literally keep count of home many f-words and s-words  and G-D phrases were used.  In a one 90 minute set, the count was up to over 380.  Every 14 seconds.

What, exactly, is funny about cussing?  One well-placed word can be very funny.  But not 380.

I don’t find cussing clever.

And the themes of the comics tended to be:

  1. Getting drunk.
  2. Getting high.
  3. Getting laid.
  4. Self-pleasure.

Yep.  That was about it.  Every comic.  The same theme.  The same f-words.  The same s-words.  The same G-D words.

And the audience enjoyed it.  At least they seemed to.  They laughed.  The hooted.  They hollered.

And now it’s my turn.

I get 5-7 minutes.  Which seems like forever when you’re up there.  And just because you get 5-7 minutes doesn’t mean you have to use 5-7 minutes.  Better to have a great four minutes and be done than a great four minutes followed by a lousy three minutes just to fill the time.  All people will remember are those lousy three minutes.

So…any’ca who.

I stand on stage.  Alone.  Just me and a microphone.  No notes.

“Good evening…”

(I don’t ask “how are you tonight?” because every comic before me has already asked and I doubt the audience’s disposition has changed..)

Neither do I ask “Are you having a good time?”, because you are just inviting someone to scream “NO!”.  I am not stupid.

It’s like asking someone who has come to see your show, “Did you enjoy it?”  Be careful.  You may not like the response you get.

“Good evening!”, says I.  “So, I was in the check out at Walmart, of course, and I glanced at the magazines and there’s Oprah Magazine.  Y’know how she’s on the cover of her magazine for every issue..?  Well this issue has TWO pictures of Oprah.  Present day Oprah who is standing next to 21 year old Oprah and she’s hugging herself.  It’s like she’s dating herself…”

So I proceed to talk about Oprah, the Olsen Twins and Gamers.  No cussing.  No sex.  No drinking.  No smoking.  For six minutes.

Which I think disarmed the audience.  And once they settled in and began to understand what I was about…

..they laughed.

I have done stand up twice.  And may try again.

I just have to wait for the next issue of Oprah to hit the news stands.

Oprah never fails to deliver.

Mister Fancy Pants Chapter Five: “The Son of Miss Sharon”

The Son Of Miss Sharon

My mother as Romper Room’s Miss Sharon.

My family had a secret.  A secret never spoken of.  Never acknowledged.  A secret which remained literally buried in our attic, accidentally uncovered the summer of my 15th year.  Once the discovery had been made, our family was never the same.

I am blessed with exceptional parents.  I cannot imagine parents loving their child more, nor a child loving their parents more than I do mine.  They’ve always encouraged taking chances.  Following your heart.  Not living life thinking “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve.”  Better to try and fail, than not try at all.  If you’ve learned something, you haven’t failed.  The glass is always half full.  You cannot control your circumstances, but you can control your attitude.  Regrets are a waste of time.  Look forward and not behind. Valuable lessons which I applied and have served me well.

They also insisted on honesty.  Full disclosure.  I thought I knew everything there was to know about my parents.  But no.  I did not.

In a crowded, musty attic at our ranch-style home sat the ultimate “Grandmother’s Trunk” – metal and wood, gold colored, covered with tiny rivets and inside a vast selection of treasures.

Nanaw, my father’s mother, kept a trunk of remembrances.  Nanaw who let me, as a child, decorate her trailer for Christmas to my heart’s content.  Nanaw who dipped Rooster Snuff and kept the souvenir dinner glass it came in. Nanaw who kept our family history alive within this trunk.  Alive with souvenirs from foreign shores when my uncle served in World War 2.  Pictures of my father standing in front of the Statue of Liberty in his service uniform in New York, 1958.  Report cards, letters, a pair of dolls purchased in Turkey, a pocket book purchased in Africa, a menu from my father’s high school Halloween program in which sliced potatoes were called “Pirate’s Coins.”  I loved this trunk.  And it was within its deep recesses the family secret was revealed.

I made the discovery, as most are made, by accident.  One day in my rummaging, I came across a hitherto hidden cubby, the top of which was covered with a colorful graphic of a cherub.  As I brushed my hand across its top, it moved.  Lifting the top, there it was.  Still in the original packaging, five finger puppets and on the package itself, a red and yellow logo which read Romper Room.

Romper Room was a female-hosted educational television show for children which enjoyed the peak of popularity during the 1960’s and 70’s.  During the half-hour broadcast children would be taught the importance of good hygiene, being helpful, being kind, etiquette, then exhausted, everyone would break for a snack.  I had vague memories of watching Romper Room as a child.  I recalled a mirror, Romper Stompers, kids marching in a circle singing about how good they were going to be that day.

As I gazed upon the finger puppets, I assumed it was a present my parents had forgotten to give either my brother or myself.  If so, I wanted what was due to me.  I showed my find to my mother.

“Where on earth did you find this?”, she asked taking the package from me.

“In the attic.”  I explained.  “Do you know where it came from?”

My mother grew mysteriously quiet, paused, then smiled.  “Yes.  I do.”

She then took out an old family photo album, one I had somehow missed, filled with black and white pictures from my parent’s childhood.  My mother in high school looking every inch the stereotypical 1950’s teenager.  My father’s high school senior class picture.  And a newspaper picture of my mother circa 1966 sporting a Jackie Kennedy-style Dior suit.  In one hand was a Doo-Bee, in the other, a Magic Mirror.

“What’s this?”, I asked.

“That’s me when I was on Romper Room,” she said casually.

“Huh?”, I thought.

It took a few minutes for the significance of her statement to sink in.

My mother, the woman who made me mow the lawn.  Who made cupcakes resembling Easter Egg baskets for my third grade class.  The woman who dressed as a fortune teller for my elementary school fall carnival and when I went to see her in her fortune teller’s tent, and recognized her, later denied it was her.  The woman who was none to pleased when I came home with a D in math on my fourth grade report card.  The woman who taught me how to count to ten in Spanish.  This woman.  My mother, had been Miss Sharon on television’s Romper Room.


Even after I had made this discovery, I failed to fully appreciate its importance.  It wasn’t until years later, when I would casually mention the fact, that I began to realize the impact Romper Room, and Miss Sharon, had on an entire generation of children.  People were stunned with the news.

And I began to appreciate how the children of a famous parent feels.  I could now understand and relate to Suri Cruise, the children of David and Victoria Beckham and Liza Minnelli.

To many, my mother might as well be Madonna.  Or Cher.

We all have moments in our childhood which make a strong, indelible impression.  Romper Room was one such moment for a generation.  25 years after Romper Room, Miss Sharon and I were at a craft fair.  We were looking at some clothing and wanted to try something on, but there weren’t any dressing rooms.  Just a bathroom at the opposite end of the building.  When one of clerks refused to let us use the bathrooms as dressing rooms, fearing we’d steal the merchandise, the other clerk, recognizing my mother, said “No.  It’s OK.  That’s Miss Sharon.”

Fast forward several years later.   I am working with the comedy improv group Phunbags, (“We have a Ph-double D in comedy”).  I act as Emcee, direct and am a team player.  During the crowd warm up, I sometimes mention my mother was Romper Room’s Miss Sharon, which never fails to elicit an audible gasp and applause.  After one performance a man comes up, introduces himself and asks…

“Was your mother really Miss Sharon on Romper Room?”

“She certainly was”

“That’s amazing,” he said in obvious awe.  “I loved that show as a child.  I’d watch it everyday hoping she’d say my name in the Magic Mirror, but she never did.”

“Excuse me,” I said.

I stepped away and called my mother, giving her the gentleman’s name.  Tapping the gentleman on the shoulder, I gave him the phone.

“Miss Sharon wants to talk to you.”

He was visibly shaking as he took the phone.

“Hello?”, he said timidly.

And without saying hello in return, I could hear my mother say…”Romper Stomper Bomper Boo, tell me, tell me, tell me do.  Magic Mirror tell me today, have all my friends had fun at play?”

And she said his name.

Tears welled up in this gentleman’s hardened face.  He was barely able to say “Thank you”, as he hung up the phone, hands still shaking.  Through his now steady flow of tears he whispered…

“Miss Sharon said my name.”

And with that I left him alone, his shoulders shaking, choked with emotion.  Later in the evening, still weeping, I overheard him on his phone telling someone…

“You won’t believe what happened tonight…”

Mister Fancy Pants Chapter Three: “Coffe, Tea or…?”

Coffee, Tea Or…

At eighteen years of age, already having been accepted to college, I applied to be a flight attendant for Frontier Airlines. I don’t recall how serious I was, but it was moot as I was readily rejected due to height and weight requirements. What possessed me to throw my hat in the “coffe, tea or me” ring, I haven’t the foggiest idea. That’s not true.

I have always enjoyed flying. My father was an amateur pilot and had a plane himself. Two, in fact. And a hot air balloon. The bigger of the two planes seated six in club style. There was a bathroom on board. A small galley. Fold out tables and a light up No Smoking sign. When we would fly, my father would stock the galley with soft drinks, finger foods, chips, etc., which, once air born, I would serve. Unfortunately the aisle was too narrow for a serving cart, so I would be forced to walk the entire six feet from the passenger area to the galley to fetch an order of Pop-Tarts and a Fresca. It was grueling work for a 13 year old. Thank goodness I had the sense to wear flats. And although no one in my family smoked, nor any of our passengers, I felt the need to flash the No Smoking sign every ten minutes. On my father’s plane, I was an exceptional flight attendant. My passenger’s needs and safety came first. Need some M&Ms? I’m on it. Tab? Sorry, we’re out. Will a flat Pepsi do? Entertainment? Sorry, no movies on board, but I’ll be happy to hum a little “Swanee” and hula. No request was too small. No task too demanding. However, I knew in the deepest recesses of my heart that in the event of a true emergency I would be the first one off the plane. I wanted my passengers to be comfortable and content as long as it was convenient for me.

So given my previous in-flight experience, I was rather surprised when Frontier Airlines said no based upon something as insignificant as my height-weight proportions. Especially as I have flown dozens of times since and have noticed that each time I fly, the flight attendants seem to be larger and older. When a flight attendant has to walk sideways down an aisle, (and I have seen this), it’s time to rent a conference room at the Holiday Inn Express and do some recruiting.

I know flight attendants have a difficult job. Between passengers hiding bombs in their underwear, trying to open the emergency exit mid-flight and taking a leak in the aisle because the lavatory is ocupado, (for which I apologized), it’s a full day of surprises. However, given these obstacles, I have a few helpful hints for our flight attendant friends.

• Acknowledge my cheerful “good morning” when I board, and respond with a “You’re welcome” when I politely say “Thank you” for the luke warm Coke.
• I am going to pay attention to your pre-flight safety demonstration. I know you’ve worked very hard and feel disenchanted when during your demo all you see is a sea of faces buried in the in-flight magazine. I will smile as you guide me through how to fasten my seat belt. I will give a nod of encouragement as you place the oxygen mask over your head. I may even join you as you demonstrate how to use the inflatable life vest in the unlikely event we make a water landing. I am an actor. I know what it means to have an appreciative audience. I may even applaud when you’re done. Who knows.
• If I have to use the lavatory before we get to 10,000 feet, then I have to use the lavatory before we get to 10,000 feet. The plane won’t crash if I do. I promise. And I will wash my hands. I have an itty bitty bladder at sea level. Imagine how miniscule it is 10,000 feet in the air. The other option is you blotting my seat with a sponge. Your choice.
• If you find you are overwhelmed by passenger demands, I will be happy to help. After all I have experience. As long as all you need to serve are M&M’s and flat Pepsi. And I can hum “Swanee” and hula.

Several years ago I was on the jet way about to board a plane. Something, I don’t recall what, cracked me up. I was by myself, my preferred way to travel, and I started to bust a gut. Laughing uproariously. The flight attendant greeting me on board noticed and quipped, “You’re a happy fellow”. “I am. I am a happy fellow,” I replied. We chatted for a few minutes introducing ourselves while waiting for passengers ahead to take their seats. As I took mine she breezed by, “How ya doin’, Mister Happy Pants?” I laughed again and said all was wonderful. “I’ll be right back,” and she disappeared into the galley. A few minutes later she reappeared, “Come with me, please, sir.” I followed her up the aisle to First Class where she showed me my new seat. “Oh! What a treat!” I happily exclaimed. She then presented me with a Junior Pilot Certificate inscribed with my name and a pair of Junior Pilot wings. I was thrilled. And during the pre-flight announcements and safety demonstration she said, “And we have a very special guest on board this evening, our Junior Pilot, Mark Landon Smith.” There was applause from my fellow passengers, because they assumed I was a 9 year old on his first flight. I don’t think they would have been as welcoming if they knew I was 34.

That’s what happens when you’re nice. You get a certificate and jewelry. Lesson learned.

Passengers fascinate me. I am always surprised when I board a plane that there are other people on board. It amazes me each of us, without knowledge of the others, decided to take this same flight on this same day at this same time to the same place. For a few hours, we are cohorts. And here are some tips for my temporary fuselage family.

• Dear Seat Mate. Nothing personal, but I don’t want to chat. This is “Me Time.” That’s why I am wearing earbuds pretending to be listening to The Bangles. That’s why I am reading Us Weekly, to avoid you. And get the dirt on Kim Kardashian. I am a loving, caring person, but not at 33,000 feet. I am glad you’re going to visit your recently married granddaughter in Grand Rapids, and share your pride in your being elected Secretary of the Neighborhood Association. And best of luck with your upcoming hip replacement surgery. It’s not that I don’t share your joys, your sorrows, your highs and your lows. It’s not that I don’t care. Oh, wait a second. It is.
• Dear People Sitting Behind Me. That’s the back of my seat you’re repeatedly kicking. And if you don’t stop I am going to recline my seat further to the point I am looking up your nostrils and spend the entire flight singing the score of “Hello, Dolly” to you. And yes…the Carol Channing cast.
• Dear People Sitting Across From Me. The entire plane can hear your ridiculously loud and embarassingly private conversation, AND see your tramp stamp as you turn around in your seat to address your friends sitting behind you. Listening to you is like having front row seats to Maury Povitch. Although I can’t hear your entire conversation due to the earbuds, I have made out the words “bitch”, “black eye”, “knocked up” and the phrases “I need another beer” and “No she did unt.”
• Dear Passengers In General. Please come informed. All of the information you need is on the airline website. Granted you may have to hunt for it, but it’s there. It has to be. It’s the law. So don’t be surprised when you aren’t allowed to bring your medieval reproduction cross bow on board. Don’t be shocked when you are given a seat belt extender. The seat measures 17″ wide. You’re four feet wide. They are flight attendants. Not magicians. And please note there are no longer free meals, pillows, blankets, head sets, drinks or movies. So don’t act appalled when you are asked to pay $2 for a Sprite.
• Oh, and please dress properly. Things I do not need to see is the previously mentioned tramp stamp, a hint of nippleage underneath your flimsy halter, dry heels, nasty toenails or your butt crack. Nor do I need to be informed if I don’t like the aforementioned what I can do with it by the clever saying on your baby t written in curly-q lettering with glitter. Just sayin’…

A few tips regarding packing:

• You’re going away for a weekend or a week at best. You do not need a change of clothes every three hours. Nor do you need a different head band with a flower for each hour on the half hour. No one is looking at you. You’ll never see these people again so go ahead and spend your entire vacation in the same wind suit. Pack lightly and carry everything with you. You’ll thank me later. I learned this the hard way. (See chapter “Mi Nombre Es Marcos”.)
• I discovered these really nifty vaccum bags for packing my clothes. It looks like a really, really large zip lock freezer bag. You place your clothes in the bag and then roll the bag up, and by doing so squeeze out the air. What was a few minutes ago a 12″ stack of clothing is now 3″. This frees up space in your rolling suitcase for all that souvenir crap.
• There is no need to take shampoo, conditioner, soap or mositurizing cream with you. It’s just one more hassle at security and all hotels have those small complimentary bottles, which also make great stocking stuffers. You are expected to steal them.
• In selecting a suitcase, choose the one that makes you look the cutest. Before making your purchase and while still at the store, stand in front of a mirror and walk back and forth, like you’re at the airport, and see how you look. Now run back and forth in front of the mirror as though the plane is calling for final boarding and you’re late. Now sit on your suitcase as though you just heard your flight has been cancelled and you won’t be able to get out until tomorrow morning so you’ll be spending the night in the terminal and your cell phone just died. Now slowly walk by the mirror ponderously as though you are on your honeymoon and getting married seemed like a somewhat decent idea four months ago when you proposed, but you realize now is a huge mistake. But what can you do? You can’t back out now. An annulment? That was your first thought after saying “I do.” It’s not that you hate her. You don’t. She’s nice enough. Her mother drives you crazy, that’s for sure. And she wants to start a family right away. But are you ready to be a father? Remember when you were in college and the world was full of possibilities? And now that world leads to a dead end. Marriage. A mortgage. Kids. All of whom will need braces. How can you afford that? What were you thinking? You were on your way to break up with her and because you didn’t want to hurt her feelings you proposed instead? Who does that? Well, apparently you do. And now look at you. Go ahead. Take a look at yourself in the mirror. See what you’ve become. Oh…cute suitcase. Buy it.

Mister Fancy Pants Chapter Two: “What Is Karaoke?”

What Is Karaoke?

Karaoke. The Japanese word stems from the words kara, meaning “empty”, and oke, which is short of o-kesutora, meaning “orchestra”. The words together make a contradiction literally meaning “empty orchestra.” And that concludes our Japanese lesson of the day. Do Itashimashite. That means “You’re welcome” in Japanese.

A dear friend of mine worked, albeit very briefly, as what is known in the world of karaoke as a KJ. A KJ is kinda like a DJ, except without the slightly tipsy Olsen Twins screaming in your ear every ten seconds, “BEAT IT! PLAY BEAT IT!” A KJ, like a DJ, spins records. Or more accurately loads CDs or programs a computer play list. Done for the benefit of a group of druken sorostitutes so they may slur out a group rendention of “Love Shack”, because no one, no one, has ever sung “Love Shack” at a karaoke bar. Or “Summer Nights.” Or anything by Garth Brooks.

I would sometimes visit my KJ friend Dianna at work and watch her wield her KJ magic. This consisted of being hidden underneath a stairwell where the KJ booth was located, cigarette dangling loosely from her lips, furiously loading CDs, adjusting volumes, announcing who was next, cueing songs and afterwards, regardless if the singer was the next Pavarotti or whose voice gave you stomach cramps, would always tiredly mumble the same phrase into her microphone, “Awesome. That was awesome.”

I am not above karaoke. However I aware of my limitations as a karaoke artist. I know my set should never veer from George Michael’s “Faith”, the Backstreet Boys “I Want It That Way”, O-Town’s “We Go Together”, The Monkees “Day Dream Believer” and the duet “Cruisin'” by 1980’s music phenom Huey Lewis and Oscar winner, Gwenyth Paltrow. I know I can sing fairly well. I have a “musical theatre” voice. Big. Loud. And with a vibrato that sounds like a car refusing to turn over in the dead of a Wisconsin winter. No one is going to buy an album of my singing the hits of the Captain and Tennille. I know, unlike some I have observed, people aren’t there to hear me. They are there for dollar beer and their turn to sing “I Like Big Butts.”

A fan who is bewitched by my dulcet tones and musical styling.

There are those who take karaoke a bit too seriously. And it makes me sad. It’s funny, yes. But also a bit sad. I am concerned for those who adopt karaoke names like Miss Thang, Blazin’ Hot or Perfect Pitch. I am equally concerned for those who dress the part with the true belief this may be the evening when their karaoke performance propels them to stardom. I remember on several karaoke evenings seeing the same young woman. Pretty in the face. Glasses. Impeccable makeup and always dressed as though she just dropped by to sing a few before heading out to the opera. For her karaoke was her American Idol moment. I am certain in her imagination the moment she’d open her mouth to sing, the bar would come to a standstill as patrons stood hypnotized by her voice. And as she hit her final note, explosive applause and calls of “Encore! Encore!”

However, this is not what happened.

This young woman, I’ll call her “Disand” for short, (a combination of Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand), had a lovely voice. But her song selection needed a bit of attention. She would always have the misfortune of following a drunken bride-to-be wearing a faux bridal veil with twinkly lights, too tight Hello Kitty baby T, a pair of sweat pants with the word “Juicy” splayed across her hind quarters in shiny, cursive, gold letters. And who had just belted out a rather shrill version of “I Will Survive”. Always a crowd pleaser. However this did not discourage Disand. Oh, no. This only served to embolden her as she made her way to the KJ booth, carefully arranging her shawl around her porcelain shoulders. Taking the microphone she nodded to the KJ, who pressed play. And then Disand sang “Think Of Me” from Phantom of the Opera.

She bombed. Why? Song choice. Karaoke patrons do not want to hear a Broadway ballad. Harsh but true. They want “American Pie”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Margaritaville”, “My Ding-A-Ling”, “Sweet Dreams” and “Goodbye Earl.” In that order. And a jello shot special. We do not need anybody upsetting the karaoke apple cart. I do not make the rules.

When I sing karaoke, I have no illusions. I know my friends will listen for the first phrase. Maybe. Some may pretend to sing along. Applaud in encouragement. Then go about their merry business. As it should be. And when I am done I know I will hear an insincere KJ tiredly saying “Awesome. That was awesome.” Oh, and I also have trouble reading the lyrics on the screen as I have a habit of forgetting my glasses, so I spend a great deal of the time squinting, making up words, humming and finally resorting to non sensical scatting.

I have had two diametrically opposed karaoke experiences. One evening I was with a large group of friends and the place was packed. There was a good vibe in the air. An excitement. A tingle. Somehow I knew this was going to be a good evening. This was going to be my American Idol moment. Like Sanjaya. And I was right. I took the stage, nodded to the KJ and as the first strains of “Faith” filled the room I started to sing, and the place went wild. People clapping, singing along, dancing. Tears. One woman gave birth. I had them in the palm of my hand. And when I finished tumultuous applause, whistles, yelling, screaming. As I humbly returned the microphone and made my way back to my table, compliments were hurled my way, offers of drinks, pleads of “What are you going to sing next?” I would, of course, feign modesty. “Nothing more, my dear, untalented and envious friends. The Voice must rest. No, the sparrow shan’t sing again this eve.” I would then collapse upon my stool, exhausted fanning myself with a drinks special menu.

The next weekend myself and friends Jules, John, Chris and Chad, went out of town for a quick overnight mini-vacation to a nearby resort town. We stayed at this kitchy motel. A really great place with vintage decor and fresh pancakes by fireside every morning. Our room was perfect. Chenile bed spread. Pink tiled bathroom. A porch over looking a filthy pool. And over my bed hung an enormous portrait of Tammy Wynette. Heaven. Sheer heaven.

After dinner we hit the local karaoke bar. As we walked in a lady was singing a killer version of “I Love The Nightlife”. She was fantastic and the dance floor was packed. I have always prided myself on my uncanny ability to “read a room”, and this room was hot. I had “Faith” I was going to kill here even moreso than the weekend before. In my imagination I would hold the place spellbound. The room would be a-buzz. “Who is this talented stranger who just rode into town? We must take up a collection and convince him to move here and name a street after him! Make him mayor! And next spring, after the winter’s thaw, we must erect a statue of him in his honor in the town square and name of future children and rename our present children after him. Don’t you agree, Jedediah?” And then they would weep.

As there were no tables close to the dance floor, we were shown to one in a back room where there was an enormous mural painted on the wall. The mural was a rural scene. Farm houses, a well or two, a stray cow, a confederate flag and, of all things, a noose. The prefect rural accessory. I should have taken this as an omen. I turned in my song choice to the KJ.

Just as we were completing a basket of fried pickles, my name was called. I was following a gentleman who sang an incredible version of “Disco Inferno”. He was excellent and the dance floor was shoulder-to-shoulder. My heart pounding in anticipation of my unquestionable victory, I confidently took the microphone and turned to a sea of 200 expectant faces. “Hello. My name is Mark Landon Smith…” I then nodded to the KJ who pressed play. The introductory measures of “Faith” filled the room, and I began to sing. Instantly the dance floor cleared. I don’t mean it was a gradual migration. It was an enmasse stampede. I found myself staring at 200 backs. It was like I had the stench of failure and no one wanted to catch it.

For the next four humiliating minutes I sang “Faith” to 200 jaw-dropped patrons staring at me in confusion. I swear I heard one of them say, “get the noose.” The only people on the floor were my faithful friend, Jules, John, Chris and Chad clapping, dancing, and attempting to coax others to join them to no avail. The weekend before I was a star. Here I was a pariah. Watching my friends below me giving their best encouragement as I sang, completely and unquestionably bombing, it occured to me that I wouldn’t have this any other way. Jules and I locking eyes completely aware of what was happening and delighting in it. Chad looking over his shoulder, dancing and yelling, “Sing it, Mark!”. Chris doing The Charleston. And John laughing and laughing and laughing unable to move because he was laughing and lauging and laughing so hard. It was like a surreal floor show.

I finished the final note. No applause. Nothing. Not even crickets. My friends below me on the dance floor hit their final pose and nothing. Nothing. Nothing except for a long, silent pause. Then that wonderful and infectious Jules laugh. A laugh completely registering what we had collectively just experienced and knew we’d be laughing about for many years to come. We weren’t emabarrassed. We weren’t ashamed. It was fun. And funny. And the evening wouldn’t have been nearly as perfect if I had received a standing ovation.

As I made my way back to the table I realized I had learned a valuable lesson that night. Never sing karaoke where there is a mural which includes a confederate flag and a noose. Yeah. I think I can have “Faith” in that. (Notice how I worked the title of one of my Karaoke songs into that last sentence. Did you see that?)