Saturday, January 26, 2008

Wide Grateful Eyes

I'm talking the lifestyle of it now. The sweating out the 2 days the Booker says it will take for the check to reach you. The loan here the bet there, maybe an odd job every once in a while-you get by. You do all that for stage time. You learn to go with out but brag about how much time you have. Then, a phone call.
Am I free tomorrow?
I'm opening for who? Where?
It's the sweetest thing, that call. Unexpected work at just the right time. It's a nice high to ride for a while. It gets people off your back too. Know what I mean?
The money's good. The place is the State street theater in Modesto,CA.
Oh Modesto. I have made so much fun of you!
Drew Hastings is the headliner. Big on the Bob and Tom circuit.
His manager calls. Politely and professionally he stresses the word clean several times.
I get it.
Twenty minuets. It's a God damn bank job. Easy in, do the job, get the cash and roll.
It's sweet. That comedy life style high. I once rode it. The closest I have ever come to anything like spiritual, was during that time. It also hit a considerable bottom and a nice bounce at the end. All in all, it's a roller coaster your gonna ride. You have to. On stage, people laughing at what their suppose to, when there suppose to. It's spectacular! Of course you want to get on that ride. You couldn't talk anyone out of it.
But there are times when you sweat it out. The money is short and the days are long. It's easy in summer, you can hang out at cafes all day and night. Winter, you feel homeless. To kill time you ride Muni buses grateful for the ones with heat.
Then, just when you need it, that sweet call comes. Whatever it is they want, I'll do. It's not selling out. It's paying rent.
Thats cool. Handing over a check paid for entirely on telling jokes. It feels a little like stealing but mostly it feels great!
Then it's lean again. Guest sets, Sundays at the Punchline, various one nighters, but always right there on the edge of making it.
Up and down up and down. Lots of lonely walking in Golden Gate park and hanging with friends at cafes. We were all riding that same ride. Not necessarily together, but we were definitely on it at the same time.
Days would go by with nothing but conversation in front of the Blue Danube Cafe at 4th and Clement. Everyone of us broke but cocky. Some of them smoked, others drank, most got high, all of us had visible issues. Yet, it was comfortable somehow. It was being part of something. A part of something that understood and talked the jargon.
Most importantly we believed in the same myths. Like a little tribe.
We would fall in and out with each other over small personal loans and our opinions of each others acts. When we weren't falling in and out with each other over petty insults, we got crushes over the counter girls at the Danube.
Those were the days. Living on comedy and feeling like a God for it. All of us were in poverty, reclusive and competitive. We lived for the high of the new joke and those sweet calls that kept our whole crazy life going. If it wasn't for the one dollar pork buns you could get up the street, I'm not sure how I would of made it.
Sure, this is all looking at it with the romance of nostalgia. It's a powerful thing. It's not like the scars ever fade, you just stop noticing them. Then it's easy to coat it in a layer of blurry warmth. Those days of living purely on comedy weren't awful, but they also weren't that great either. It felt like more was possible though. Of course, even a tiny sum of money from a gig felt like winning the lottery back then. Maybe thats all it was? From where we were, up was the only option. Up is still the direction I want to go in, but it's no longer the only direction available to any of us.
I miss those days. I truly do. The myth we all bought into then was that of being discovered. All your troubles were solved if you were discovered. We got over that too.
Tonight, I am in Modesto,CA at the State Street Theater opening for Drew Hastings. The call came yesterday as I was sitting at my desk looking at my mostly blank calendar for spring. It brought me back. It brought me back to those days when I didn't expect such calls. There was a stretch there for awhile, when the sweet call that meant I could survive for another month would come with startling regularity. To me, it felt as if the Universe was unfolding with me in mind. It really did. Instead of anxiety when I was down to that last Twenty dollar bill in my beat up wallet, I relaxed and trusted that I would be taken care of. I always was.
I think it was when I began to question when that call would come or not that I slipped from the palm of the universe to just another guy feeling entitled to something he didn't really understand.
Never underestimate the power of being grateful.
Thats when it dried up on me. When I stopped being thankful for those calls and started wondering when they would come.
The truth is, I would never go back to those days. They were way to hard. I think thats why we banded together in our little groups. All we would do was drink coffee and silently hope we would get a call for work before the other guys. There was also genuine warmth for each other too.
The road, the romantic notion that you can drive around the great expanse that is America and make money telling jokes to strangers, is gone. Oh sure, it can still be done, but the pay has remained what it was when I started. No cost of living raises for comics living out of their cars.
It can still be done, but it's so fucking hard when people don't know your name.
These days, I am grateful not just for those times, but for living threw them too. What made it all worth it was the precious stage time we all craved.
This show, tonight in Modesto, it's for who I was. The struggling comic getting by on equal parts denial and faith. Thats right. I just dedicated a show to myself. Myself from those days. I would of walked into this gig with wider eyes back then. I suppose, out of everything I recall, thats what I miss the most; walking into every gig with wide grateful eyes.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Memory Hole

For about two years after 9/11, I kept a stack of news paper clippings related to it and the run up to the invasion of Iraq. The stack grew to eventually take over two shelves of a book case that sat by my bed. One day the thought hit me, what are the karmic consequences of having all that information a foot from where my head is when I sleep? When I first started clipping the reports, articles and editorials and keeping them, I didn't really know what to do with them. Or why for that matter. I felt a little like Richard Dreyfus in Close encounters of the third kind. I just knew I should hold onto these tangible examples of something going horribly wrong. It was evidence.
When I decided to move the pile of paper onto a shelf in a closet, I started to go through it all. As I did I started thinking about the classic book, 1984. If I just held onto these papers, then I had prof it was said. In 1984, whenever the government altered the historical facts, they had every reference to the contrary removed from the public record and thrown down a burning "memory hole."
A quick idea came together. Why not use 1984, and these clippings in a solo performance show?
Why not indeed.
The show was performed once in Chico. I held a shoe box of press clippings and pages from 1984.
It got laughs and nodding heads from the crowd.
The shoe box got placed on a shelf in my closet and somewhere along all the moves during the last few years, I lost it.
Well, it has returned. Not as a show, but as a data base for all the lies told to push us into war with Iraq. Click the link bellow. It will take you to the public integrity web site. The have put together a list of untruths spoken out loud by top Bush officials in the lead up to the war. Not only that, but they have crossed referenced them against official documents. In most cases, they have intelligence reports telling officials that they were wrong. However, days after receiving those documents, bush and company said almost the exact opposite of what those documents said. In short, they have demonstrated an orchestrated and sustained use of propaganda for the purposes of creating public consent for war.
A conspiracy to lie us into it.

Memory Hole

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What Makes the World Go Round...

I have paid way to many damn parking tickets in this town. I swear. There ought to be a statue of me standing in front of a parking sign with my shoulders shrugged and my eyes squinting as I try to figure it out. They can cast it from my melted down car. Between insurance, tickets, gas and the need for a new transmission, I am going broke like every other American I know. You can keep the car San Francisco. I am going back to Muni. Oh sure, it's completely unreliable, there is a good chance of catching some communicable disease and you have to wait outside in the cold for it. But it's cheap. Cheaper than loosing that game of parking late at night and not thinking of what day of the week it will be tomorrow.
Now that our economy is tanking and there is all this talk of helping people out, I have an idea. Tax amnesty.
The U.S. Government can't account now for 30 Billion dollars that was shipped to Iraq. First it was a few million that went missing. Then there was the 12 Billion they actually sent in one hundred dollar bills. They wrapped them in plastic and placed them on shipping pallets, loaded the money into the back of a C-130 and by the time the plane was unloaded and ready to take off again, that money was being distributed in Iraq. No receipts, no paper work, no accountability. 12 Billion gone one day, another one Billion someone lost track of and a new grand total now of 30 Billion the general accounting office says has been sent to Iraq, we just don't know who got it.
This is the same Government that tells me I owe $2,000 more from 2006. The same government that is working on an economic stimulus plan to help the poor and middle class just kicked me in the balls.
Why do I owe the IRS $2,000 more dollars from my 2006 tax return? Even my tax accountant says I have to pay it because I failed to send in all my w-2's. Sorry. Somewhere during the half dozen moves that year, a very emotional break-up, therapy and pursuing what everyone likes to call "my dream" I lost track of things. It's no 12 Billion worth of sloppy paper work, but I would think you would be willing to cut me some slack because I am exactly the type of person you say your about to help out with tax relief. Well, give me some fucking tax relief!
I know it sounds ridiculous that I'm complaining about two grand. But this is exactly the type of thing politicians don't seem to get. You guys ship off Billions of dollars to Iraq for a war of choice and now you want to sweat the little guy for what, the cost of two machine guns? Thats going to tip the balance. I hope my name is on one of them. "This gun paid for by Joe Klocek's lack of record keeping. Enjoy."
Between parking tickets and the IRS, I can't afford to live!
Does anyone in the business of Government get this? From where I'm standing, were all living bellow the poverty line.
You get a tax break if you have kids.
You can write off tuition.
You can claim deductions for almost anything.
I am a single male with no dependants, no health insurance and I make people laugh for a living. That has to be worth something. Where is my write off for being a guy that makes people forget their problems for a while?

People are worried about on line child predators. We had more to fear from our toys in the 1970's than anything else. Shrinky Dinks. Anyone remember them? Essentially it was putting several pieces of plastic in your oven to shrink them. Yeah. Thats right. Putting plastic in a oven! That was considered a safe toy back then. Were worried about toys from china painted with lead? We put plastic in ovens! It's a miracle I'm alive.
How about a tax break for living threw the 70's? I have a bad feeling were all about to go through it again.
I remember when OPEC raised the price of oil so much, that gas stations had to ration gas. There was even a system for determining if you could get gas. If the first number on your license plate was even, there were specific days you could go to the station. Well, the Government can pass any type of economic help policy it wants, but if the price of oil keeps going up, were all still fucked. Bush went to Saudi Arabia recently. It was his first ever visit to the Kingdom. You want a sign from God how it went? First of all, the temperature dropped into the low 40's and even snow fell on parts of Saudi Arabia for the first time in 40 years. A U.S. President visits and a freak cold snap happens at the same time.
The Prez, basically went with hat in hand asking for the oil prices to be lowered. The reply, nope.
Soon as he left, the country once again returned to normal weather.

I keep trying to learn how everything fits together. The world of money is interesting to me. In a weird sort of way, money has tied the world together in a way no peace maker ever has. But it's not a good relationship for everyone. When the Fed cut a percentage rate by a quarter of a point, the stock exchange in India rebounded. Our government makes a small cut and a country half a world away rallies.
The housing crisis is really a credit problem. Banks gave people money to buy homes. The amount of interest they had to pay on those loans was ties to the whims of the market. When the bottom fell out, the cost of lending and borrowing money went up. Not to mention all the people who could no longer afford to keep their homes. Remember, we haven't seen this many people loose their homes to banks since the great depression. So it's bad. CitiCorp, one of the biggest financial companies there is announced it lost 10 Billion dollars in one 3 month quarter.
As the dollar looses value, the euro is on the rise. For foreign investors holding dollars, it is a lot wiser for them to buy euros. Problem is, this sets up a downward spiral. The actual value of a dollar buys less at exactly the time when the price of key products like oil, are on the rise.
As oil prices rise, the cost to ship products also rises. This gets passed on to you and me as higher prices. So we spend less. Less money floating in the economy means the economy slows down. When that happens, it has a ripple effect across the planet.
Since were buying less, orders to factories drop off. People get laid off. It is a down ward spiral that were all stuck in.
So here is my idea.
It's a little radical and slightly odd, but hear me out.
First, we get rid of credit. More on that latter.
Next, we assign a universal value to products that sustain individual life. Things like heating and cooking oil get a fixed price kept low by the Government. You think this sounds like Communism? Do you realize that the U.S. pays big farming companies not to grow certain crops? It's call a subsidy. We also give tax dollars to oil companies in the form of subsides.
I could use one. I bet you could too.
We put a stop to that shit right a way. No more of our money being pooled and given to companies that are already making a killing off of us anyway.
So things like bread, heat, water and oil all get a fixed price so everyone can afford to live.
Here is why we get rid of credit cards.
IT IS A SCAM! The second you buy anything with credit, you have to consider how long it will take you to pay that off. If you keep a large balance on your credit cards as most Americans do, anything purchased is actually costing you about four times what you bought it for. It is easy to loose the value of money when your not actually holding money. Thats why I say we go back to only having cash.
But lets make it easy to have cash. It would be difficult to pay for a large item like a car with a lot of money. A stack of five dollar bills that adds up to ten thousand dollars weighs a lot. Inflation, recession, depreciation also changes the value of our currency. To encourage people to have cash and to spend it at a time when the economy needs it, we make all money out of Shrinky dinks!
Think about it. When the value of a dollar falls and you need to have more cash in your pockets, we make that easier by shrinking the physical money! Eventually, how ever low the value of the dollar goes, all that shrunken money will kick start the economy going in the right direction again. Plastic is a petroleum product. So we will still be doing business with Saudi Arabia. That should make them happy, were happy and all I can do now is wait for my Nobel Peace prize in economics to show up in the mail.

Monday, January 21, 2008


It is Americas unspoken promise to all who live here and the reason people from all over the world risk everything to get here. More is the promise America makes to any and all that will sit still long enough for the commercial. Everyone wants it. More money, more food, more sex, more love, more respect, more success, more understanding, more time. More.
It is what America is all about.
It is our greatest strength and our biggest flaw.
Life Liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not the same thing as more. Trust me on this one. If more is on the table, then happiness is not. You will always chase after the next big thing, the new and improved product or that promised deeper high rather than be content with what you have. In the pursuit of more, we have also created some problems.
We have more crime than any other western industrialized nation. We have more pregnant teenagers, more people in prison, more bankruptcy's and more people without any health coverage.
We have more social problems than a lot of countries do yet about half of Americans say this is a Christian nation.
I always wonder how that squares with Christians. When I have asked, they blame our troubles on the fact that not everyone is a Christian. Iceland, Holland, Norway; all these countries are relatively agnostic and have almost none of the same problems on the scale we do.
How do you explain that?
I think I have part of the answer.
What makes us crazy is more. The pursuit of more. The idea, the dream of getting more of what you have. In some bizarre move, the Gospel of more is now being preached not in TV commercials, but in churches. Mega churches, they call them. Usually in the suburbs, mostly white middle class people attend them. The message they are getting; more is what Jesus wants you to have. Jesus wants you to be wealthy.
OK, lets forget for a moment that the only time Jesus lost his temper was at the money changers in the temple, but I can't seem to remember ever reading anything in the new testament where he said, turn the other cheek and get a Lexus. Do you?
These mega churches and the emphasis on worldly success is now the biggest growing religion in America. Of course it is! People are being told what they want to hear in a society that runs on plastic disposable income. If God wants me to be rich, who am I to disagree. And if you don't attain riches, it is because your faith is weak.
What a wonderful scam.
Jesus died for your sins. Not your investments.
How did this happen? How did religion and making money become the same thing?
Everyone not only wants more, but they want permission to have it too. I can't think of anyone better to say it's OK to buy that boat while kids starve in Africa than God.
It's Muzak.
You know those instrumental watered down versions of songs you hear? Thats what American Christians have done with the New testament. You can still pick out some of the original lyrics, like Jesus and sin and life after death, but they have put it into a new and dangerous context.
America is about to change. You can feel it as well as see the signs everywhere. Who ever becomes President next will preside over a nation in decline. We reached for more and because we thought God gave us the permission to do so, we have so overextended ourselves in the quest for more oil, more power, more control and more security that we have broken the bank.
How about that? Not only have we become morally bankrupt, but we have also become economically broke too.
The entire Iraq war is on credit. All of it. It doesn't even show up on the budget. Thats a little scary because the budget is already a Trillion dollars in debt without factoring in the expense of our little war of choice for more oil.
More More More.
We are the new Roman empire.
They, just like us, maintained military bases all over their world. They built roads to maintain control. We built the Internet. They were renown for their cruelty in sport. Do I need to keep listing the comparisons?
They too had temples and God's that demanded monetary sacrifices. They too had poor, war and the faith that their might derived from a supreme moral force that blessed them in all their endeavours.
They crumbled.
They crumbled because they too fell for the idea that more was their birth right. Rome became known as the first Christian empire too. All the legendary debauchery you see in movies didn't really come into the form we see until Rome became christian. There is an interesting phenomenon we fail to see here. When morality is made law it becomes the very thing that makes sin so damn appealing.
Remember buying beer before you were of legal age? You remember that thrill? It goes away after 21 doesn't it? Why? Because half the high of getting fucked up is in knowing that it's against the law.
More and wrong are the two biggest factors in bringing us down. We have laws for everything in this country. In the land of the free, nothing is. Now think of Amsterdam. You can legally buy and use drugs, look at prostitutes in windows and walk the streets with a beer in your hand.
Try any of that here and your busted, jack! You tell me who has more actual freedom. Amsterdam has a crime rate far bellow Americas. Yet, they are not a Christian nation with our superior morals. How do they offer sin so casually and suffer none of the social ills we do? I suspect it has more to do with a difference in philosophy. While we fill the next generation with promises of more, a selfish national philosophy, most of Europe grows up with a very different idea of society. We want more for ourselves. Everything about American society is about satisfying the desires of the individual. That is a very modern and what I believe to be accurate definition of capitalism. Then there is socialism. It's right there in the titles of our governing principles. Social-ism. They are a people who realize they are part of something greater than any one person. They realize they are stronger together than apart. They have more vacation time, more real personal freedom, and health care.
Capitalism is based on money. More money, more power. More money, more chances. More money, more control. Now that churches are getting into the act, capitalism is becoming more than just an economic system, it is being made into the model of how we should conduct out lives.
How can a system that is designed to enrich the individual first and maybe the rest of society second become a religion? The answer to that is simple. Like Atkins all meat diet, we are being told we can have it all. Not only can we have it all, but God wants us to become wealthy. I don't know about you, but if your sole reason for joining a church and attempting to communicate with God is to get rich, God might not be listening. You can't treat Heaven like an ATM machine and God as the supreme teller. If religion is to have any credibility in the spirit, then it can have nothing to do with money. They represent very different ways of living. But here in America, we have a special relationship with money and God. After all, his name is on our money. Maybe that confused some people.
In the 60's, people took to the street to fight for more rights, more education, more peace and more opportunity.
In the 70's, we all just wanted more. It was not so much a decade in American history so much as it was one long national black out. Our desire for more comfort gave birth to a plastic disposable culture.
The 80's came and more became the real word behind every advertisement and every song on MTV. people were waking up from the disco and cocaine 70's to find the corporations turning more into a boardroom mantra.
The 90's, at least the first half, were a little different I think. grunge music surprised everyone. It was a legitimate self made movement that the establishment didn't see coming. But at the height of the 90's Disney unleashed the mindless easy music of stars like Britney Spears.
If ever there was a poster child for the dangers of more, it is Britney Spears.
Today, we live in the 21st Century. A time that has long been dreamed about. Technology was to be almost indistinguishable from magic by now. We would all be going into space and the world would find balance. Thats what was imagined anyway. Instead, more has been raised from a selfish cry to a way of life that is to be admired. More is now a religion. The religion of America.
It is going to be interesting to see what happens to the idea of more in the next few years. economically speaking, we have nothing left. If our national spirit has become tied to closely with more, then we are indeed in a lot of trouble.