Monday, November 18, 2013

Keep Whatever Integrity You Have Left, Don't Run for Office

Keep whatever integrity you have left, don't run for office....
(True story)
It was a beautiful mid morning in March and I was hurrying to catch up to my family and friends who were already enjoying the annual Oceanview St. Patrick's Day Parade.
I was running behind, and doing my best not to make eye contact with anyone in order to avoid the chance of seeing someone and delaying myself further with a useless "Hey! How's it going?" conversation with a random someone I know, but only see once every 3 years when I'm late for something else (that happens to me more often than it should).
As I'm hustling along, a man in a suit stops me with an abrupt, "Excuse me, can I have a minute of your time?"
I notice another man standing next to him with a clipboard in hand and a political campaign button on his shirt.
He continues, "I need your signature on this petition so I can get on the ballot to be your representative in congress"...
Now, normally I would simply tell him I'm in a hurry and can't stop, but I could tell by his aggressiveness in stopping me, this guy wasn't letting me off that easy....so I didn't let him off that easy either.
"Why do you want to run for office?" I asked.
"I'm not happy with the direction our country is heading in..." he says.

And then my cynicism kicked in.

"Well what are the chances you'll win? Do you have a lot of money? You'll need a lot of money. And if you don't have a lot of money, you'll need support from people with a lot of money. Now let's say you have that....and let's further agree that you're a good man with good and noble intentions. Here's what happens next. Let's say you win. You will then have two options in our government. First, you'll find yourself as a freshman congressman with little to no influence. In order to gain influence you'll make friends. Maybe you'll have to compromise your principles a little to make those friends...and you will. You'll find that in order to make a difference, you'll need more than one term and immediately begin making decisions that ensure you'll have the funds to win the next election. And those people you know with a lot of money...well they don't just give it away for free.. You'll owe them, but not in cash. You'll owe them in political favor.....At least that's how most of them do it. You'll pack away your great ideas on 'fixing the country', and focus on getting along with the more senior members of congress who can help you and vilifying people who don't believe agree with everything you agree with...and you'll be caught in the game...you won't be governing, you be politicking. You'll be owned...So in that scenario, I'm not interested in signing your petition.....
Now there's a possibility that you'll stick to your convictions and you won't bend. You're maybe a strong person, and you really mean what you say about doing 'the common good...the will of the people'. In that scenario, you will definitely fail. You see people like that don't last in our government. Those that somehow do are often marginalized as kooks. The rest get their one term in office and move on.....
So these are your options... Bend and sell out like the rest of them, or be marginalized as some crazy person. And you want to do this!?! Give me that clipboard...."
He looked at me with his mouth open and nothing coming out.

I went on about my day and he went on about his. I caught up with my family and enjoyed the parade.
I don't know what he did. Smart people simply don't run for office. I do know that he didn't win however...and that's probably a good thing for him.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My First Love....

    I met my first love when I was 12 years old. I remember I used to stay up late or sneak downstairs after bed to see her when everyone else was asleep. I knew I should be asleep, but I couldn't resist the amazing feeling I had when I was with her. If I felt sad, she made me smile, often laughing out loud. She never judged me. She never made me feel bad. She didn't care what I looked like. She never gets jealous. She never noticed my failings.... She even helped me find ways to enjoy them, and laugh at them. Now there are some nights that we don't get along, but those are few and far in between.
When I'm depressed, she picks me up. She has the power to heal my soul. When I'm happy, we laugh out loud together.
     I still am very much in love with her today. Not a day goes by when I don't think of her, or write something for her. She's amazing.
     You see, my first love is comedy.... I fell in love with comedy when I was 12, watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It was there that I saw the magic of Jerry Seinfeld's first Tonight Show appearance, I saw George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers, Garry Shandling, David Brenner, Jay Leno, Ray Romano, Eddie Murphy, Ellen DeGeneres, Rodney Dangerfield, and so many more....
    I know she'll always be there. If one of us gets fat, we'll laugh about it. If one of us goes bald, we'll laugh about that too.
    And the amazing thing about this love, is that she always helped me with women too. She's the best.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Rainy Night I'll Never Forget

It was Easter, 2002. My beautiful young wife, Mary Sue, and I had just enjoyed an Easter gathering with family and were driving home. At the time we lived in a small two bedroom apartment in Virginia Beach, while our first home was under construction in Chesapeake. We were pretty jacked up excited about our new home and decided to drive past it to see construction progress, which we did pretty often.
Now to illustrate how ridiculous our exuberance was about this, it was after 8pm, so it was dark, and to top it all off, it was raining. But our enthusiasm for our "home to be" was off the charts and we wouldn't be deterred. 
So we headed down I-664 to the number 12 Exit and drove into the neighborhood. It was mostly vacant lots with only a few homes under construction. Our new home was situated towards the front of a cul de sac, and was the only one under construction at the time on that street. We turned onto Tattinger Trail (the name of our new street) and slowly drove past the partially framed home, giddy with excitement. Admittedly we couldn't see much, but we didn't care. THIS WAS OUR NEW HOME! I continued driving to the end of the cul de sac and turned around once there and headed back to pass the house again to make our exit.
However, as I made my way back up the street, I noticed a car headed our way. I believe it was a red Trans Am. I moved to the right of the road to give him space to get around. But as I did, I noticed him move in the same direction, as if to block my exit. He clearly was not interested in getting past me or letting me past him. So then I shifted to the left lane to go around, but as I did another small car appeared from behind the Trans Am and effectively blocked our exit. My wife and I looked at each other, "this is not good", I said. We were both pretty uncomfortable to say the least. Were we about to be robbed or killed? Why would two cars behave in such an aggressive manner? We didn't want to have to find out.
A chill ran down my spine. Here we were, basically trapped in the cul de sac, in the dark, in the rain by two unknown people driving aggressively. In just a few seconds I had to decide what to do. Getting out and finding out what they wanted was out of the question. I also quickly eliminated going off road, even though I drove a 4WD vehicle. The lots were extremely muddy and I couldn't risk getting stuck. But I couldn't just sit there and wait, so I put the car in reverse and began to drive backwards slowly to the cul de sac. I was just doing this to buy time... to think. I gave Mary Sue my cell phone and asked her to call the police. As we drove in reverse, the two cars moved towards us, so apparently we were ALL headed to the cul de sac. As we got back there, I realized a funny thing. Because they followed me back there, the two cars were no longer wide enough together to block the now wider space in the cul de sac. There was some space to the left of the smaller white car. I decided that I was going to put the car back in drive, hit the gas hard and squeeze past them on the left. I asked Mary Sue to duck her head as a precaution and I put the car in drive. Just as I did I noticed the passenger door on the white car opening. I had to choose. Do I go through with the plan and "floor it", knowing that there wasn't enough room to pass without hitting the opening door and whoever was about to come out? Or do I let them come out and approach us?
I decided that staying and finding out what they wanted was not a risk I was willing to take. So I put the pedal to the floor and drove straight for the opening door. That night it was either gonna be them or us, and I decided, we were not about to become victims. They were able to close their door just milliseconds before I passed them. They tried to chase us but only followed us for a quarter mile or so.
That was a scary night. We never found out who they were, or what they wanted. I did ask around. They were not some kind of security for the builders. The police didn't have any answers either. 
On that night, I learned a lot about myself. I learned that when pushed into a corner, I'm bright enough to find my way out. But I also learned that if I felt danger to me or someone I loved, I was willing to run someone over to protect myself and her. I am comfortable with my choices that night.
Would I have been wrong to do so? Should I have found out what these people wanted? 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Silent heroes, we can all be one

Some people quietly get things done. 
They're the quiet, friendly type that you don't pay much attention to. They're kind when kindness is needed and when it isn't. 
They blend in the background with the rest of the volunteers at your homeless shelter. They're almost faceless. They stop to help you change your tire, they help push you to the gas station when you run out, they read to children in the pediatric wing, they show up when you need help, they offer the postman a glass of ice water on a hot day, they volunteer at the local fire station, and they take lunch outside to the guys working to restore your electricity when the power goes out. 
        They're the last to complain. In fact, they're usually the ones listening to you complain. They're quiet. They're good listeners. They're usually patient.
         There's almost never any fanfare or celebration when they step up. They're not comfortable with it. They don't self promote. They'd prefer to just do something nice because in their mind, "that's what comes naturally", "it's what people are supposed to do".
Often their ideas are swallowed up and taken as their own by others who desperately need approval of peers or parents or employers. And still other times they're generally so modest that their ideas are even attributed to others in their organization because no one remembers who really birthed them. And while it irks them a little, it's not enough to make them stop being who they are. They "need" to do good things. It's almost like it's part of their DNA. They're problem solvers, they love doing good things. They can't help themselves.
Without them, no one would be coaching your little league team while you're too busy. Without them, your kids might not have the school supplies they need. 
They are people at your road race cheering you on, that don't even know you. They are the people in the car in front of you who pay your toll.  They are the people struggling to gather resources (asking for donations) for an underfunded event at your school, or military base. They're doing a career day at your school. They're cleaning the highway you drive to work everyday. They're in the nursing home holding the hands of the elderly with no family left. These people are doing things. Maybe we all should be.
And while this note may compel you to want to thank them, it should not be all you do. And if that's all you can do. You should not. If you feel compelled to do anything, carve out time from your busy schedule, and do something for someone on a regular basis. You can do it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Outrage is the new Significance


People are so devoid of significance in their lives these days that they will look for it anywhere they can find some semblance of it. Today's flavor of "significance" comes in the form of outrage (often faux outrage). You find people outraged about all kinds of things these days. We're commenting on social networking sites, talking in coffee shops, school parking lots, at work, at school, about all the stuff that we should be outraged by. 
"Can you believe this!" 

We share the memes about things we should be outraged by, we TYPE IN ALL CAPS, to show our outrage. It's everywhere! 
And I suppose there are a lot of things that you CAN be outraged by, but isn't it uselessly expended energy? 
It gets you almost no results and doesn't add any significance to your life. I suppose we think that it somehow it might make us socially or politically conscious when we spout off... But we're really not. Our actions prove otherwise... And still no real significance.
If we really measure all the outcomes of the fashionable outrage in this quest for significance, we'll likely find negative ones (With the exception of our friends in Northern Africa, where Internet outrage led to revolution and removal of dictators). It may, in fact, give you a momentary level of faux significance, but because it doesn't last long, you find yourself soon looking for the next thing to show outrage over.
We find that most of our actual outrage results in offending friends, losing friends, being avoided on social networking sites, and nothing really good.
I can't blame people for using the expansive number of methods of communication available to them. I suppose the outrage, helps people feel like they're not sitting idly by as bad things happen. But really you are. In actuality, you're doing worse. Rather than pull people together to combat the negative things you see, you unintentionally (or maybe intentionally) separate.
What's worse is that this momentary feeling of social or political consciousness is so short that you need to find something else to show outrage over. So now you're looking for it....or maybe your FBBFF (Facebook BFF), is posting it and you're joining the party. So instead of looking for good things in life, and things that actually add significance like being involved in the community, volunteering, being active in your kid's school, you're looking for the negative in everything. What a life!
It's hard to be too bothered by this. There are big problems facing us in 2013. And maybe we just feel like there's nothing that we can really do about them. Maybe our social and political impotence, has us so desperate that we think this is "doing something". I also know that many people say "I just don't know what "I can do". I'm so busy with work, and kids, and life.... I get it, me too. 
I'm just telling you, this isn't the way.
Outrage should exist, but only as fuel for you to do good things. Otherwise, it just makes you look angry.
There are lots of ways to feel significant, mostly by showing love, not hate. Show kindness, not anger. Show compassion, not judgement. Show your joy in things to celebrate, not outrage. Let's save outrage for outrageous things.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Humor is good for the Economy

     A couple of years ago, Thursday nights at the Cinema Cafe (local movie theater in Virginia Beach) were somewhat quiet.
     The staff consisted of a guy or two in the kitchen, the manager, and a waitress or two, and they took home $30-$40 bucks in tips.
     Fast forward to today, and the wait staff takes home three to four times that amount every Thursday... What happened?
     This blog entry is attempting to discover the impact of a simple, but well executed, effective stand up comedy open mic.
     I have been performing stand up comedy for more than 20 years. However, while I take my comedy seriously, I chose a different path to make a living rather than take on the road and comedy full time. I stay local, performing at the occasional theater or comedy club, charity benefit, or comedy festival, and take care of my family and business. I enjoy the stage time and spend a good deal of time at local clubs and the occasional open mic. I am fortunate to be able to do that.
     I had heard that there was an open mic close by at a movie theater that had table service. I figured, it was close, provided a stage to tell jokes, and people would be eating and drinking like a comedy club, so why not give it a try?
     My first experience at the Cinema Cafe was good but not so good. There were about 7 people in the audience, and 9 guys telling jokes. I am hesitant to call them comics because, well...they weren't. The material was mostly blue, but not funny blue...just dirty for the sake of being dirty, and these guys would just go on and on forever with no light to signal them to end their set.
     When it was my turn to go up, the "emcee" said, "do as much time as you like, 10-15 minutes, whatever." 
     I told him I was doing 6-7 minutes and that would be all I need. I was shocked to find that the previously comatose crowd (of 7) was actually very receptive. I got great reaction and thanked them. On the way out, the manager stopped me and asked if we could talk about how to make it better in there. I reluctantly offered a few ideas, but wasn't sure he would be able or willing to do the things I mentioned. With the help of my buddy, comedian Hatton Jordan, we convinced him to make the tough choices.
     We made a few changes. We changed the structure of the show, found a local headliner (Dan Ellison) who happens to be the best comedy open mic/workshop host (and luckily was willing to run the show), limited the roster to people with mostly the best talent, and did a little bit of legwork to promote the show.
     These are not trade secrets in business, but they are rarely seen in comedy club open mics. You need talent, promotion, and professionalism to be effective. My buddy Dan Ellison added a good bit of that....and credit the Cinema Cafe for being open to change. 
     Dan, Hatton and I have been friends for a very long time, and we all credit former owner of the Thoroughgood Inn Comedy Club, Dean Speerhas, for the blueprint to be successful.
     We began promoting the show with myself and my good friend Hatton visiting the businesses within a 1-2 mile radius and sharing with them that we have a free comedy show with funny local talent and inviting them over to enjoy it. 
     Unlike most clubs and open mics, we chose not to keep bugging our friends to come to the shows, but instead to get a real audience, who wanted to see comedy, not just their office buddy who they think is hilarious around the copy machine.
Our first effort netted us 25-30 audience members. In a 150 seat theater, that still doesn't look like much, but it was 4 times the usual audience. It was our bet that if we brought them in, thanked them for coming, gave them a good show and asked them to tell friends, we might have more audience in coming weeks. It worked. Now there are an average of 80-100 people at the shows, 12 comedians and occasionally a drop in from a well known headliner who has "heard about" the room.
     The most intriguing part and frankly, gratifying part, for me is that a handful of guys with their notebooks full of ideas, jokes (some not funny) along with a willing partner (the Cinema Cafe) have created a space where people can get away from life and laugh every Thursday for free. That alone is a positive impact on society. Laughter heals the soul, they say. 
     But even more is that there is a small but profound economic impact of our joke telling efforts. 
     Out of thin air, the imaginations of aspiring comedians, and an enthusiastic crowd,  people are able to provide better for their families.
     The waitresses are able to more easily provide better Christmases for their families, pay phone bills, electric bills, rent, groceries, you name it. Out of thin air there is up to $600 a month more in some waitresses' households. That's up to $7200 a year!
     Also don't forget that there is more food and drink purchased, so somewhere in some building where this food is produced or some farm where it's grown, there is a need to produce more. It may not be a ton more, but it requires a man or woman to produce it, package it, deliver it to the theater, and cook it. There is a small economic impact.
     After the show, many of the comics, including myself, CB Wilkins, Brendan Kennedy and others head out to make fun of each other, talk about comedy, the show, and life at a local restaurant. And again, at 11:20pm on a Thursday night a waitress who's just likely finishing up a slow Thursday now has anywhere from 4 people to 12 people show up. Which means she's likely taking an extra $20-$50 bucks extra home in tip money. Once again, for many of you this may not sound like much, but it's gas for their car, a phone bill, groceries, it helps.
     So, if you don't mind sharing with your friends about the local open mic, do so. There is one in your town where they play music, tell jokes, tell short stories, read poetry, etc. Give them a shot, you might find your local talent is pretty amazing. You might find that you have a great time. And you might be able to be part of making a difference by simply enjoying yourself.
     Ours is at the Cinema Cafe in Pembroke Meadows Shopping Center in Virginia Beach at 9pm on Thursdays. Come see us, but arrive early, sometimes we run out of seats.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When tragedy strikes, we don't get it...



One of our biggest problems in the U.S. is that when tragedy comes our way, unless it involves a foreign country or other entity, we don't know how to respond. We wring our hands in fear that somehow the same thing could happen to us.
 Instead when the tragedy is of a domestic nature like Sandy Hook, we too often resort to the same things that never work to find solutions. We point fingers, focus on difference of politics, differences in faith....differences.... Maybe if we pay attention first to our common concerns, common fears, and common hopes, we will realize that we're more alike than different, and we'll keep an eye on solutions that help us realize those common concerns and hopes.... Why not? So far the other crap isn't working...

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