Sunday, March 28, 2010

Earth Hour

On Saturday evening, like all environmentally conscious people, we celebrated Earth Hour with our lights completely turned off. Even the Hopalong Cassidy night-light was unplugged. My lovely wife and I embrace the environment (and I secretly figured this would be a good chance for the environment to embrace me back). So at 8:30 pm the lights went out, but not before I lit a scented candle, fluffed up the bean bag chairs, and strategically placed my ukulele on the coffee table. Working from a template borrowed from the womanizers of old movies, the room was set for some Earth Hour romance.

After a few quiet moments in the dark, I grabbed the uke and began playing Moon River. I'd been practicing all week, playing along with Andy Williams' Fireside Hits album. This was not some jazzed-up hootenanny version designed to get a person all jiggly with a tambourine. It was a tasteful, delicate rendition, faithful to the original. Two minutes into the song, just when I think the charm is working, she says, "Hey Maynard, (in reference to Maynard G. Krebs, the beatnik on the Dobie Gillis show) are you going to plunk on that for the whole hour, because I'd like to take a nap." The mortification was akin to the embarrassment great musicians must feel when someone in the audience decides to start a book-club discussion during the performance. I can only hope something like this doesn't happen to the great guitar-playing Esteban (as seen on late night TV infomercials).

The rejection was downright pitiful. I stopped playing and was tip-toeing, dejectedly, out of the darkened room (while trying to think of a different song that might save the evening) when I tripped over a corner of the coffee table and fell flat on the floor. The table is alright, but my best paisley shirt is torn and the ukulele is in pieces, unrepairable pieces.
I don't know who to blame for this, but I may have a case against the group that started this dangerous lights-out deal. This is what I get for being a do-gooder. Next year, I'm keeping a flashlight handy, even if they say it's cheating.

If more children are born nine months after Earth Hour, they can count me out of that equation.

One more thing: The ukulele was a Don Ho signature model. It came with a string of pukka shells, and I don't think Don is available to sign another one.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Give Me The Bird

It's spring. The weather is breaking and it's time to resume my bird-walking service. It's a shame to see winged creatures cooped up in cages, so I do my best for them by attempting to simulate the experience of flying. I take them out for a nice drive. This is quite a valuable service as these poor creatures rarely get a change of scenery. My flight simulator is what some might call low-tech: the roof of my car. I strap all the cages to the roof rack and set out for a leisurely excursion of the great outdoors. It's very safe as I use extra strong twine to tie all the cages together (our secret motto is: if one goes, everyone goes ).

There are currently five lucky birds whose owners subscribe to my service. The owners and their birds have a great deal of faith in me because I'm president of the Kildare Bird Club (there's only three members, but so far, no one's bothered to check). I also wear a pith helmet with an official-looking company logo emblazoned on the front. The name of the company is Give Me the Bird. It's spelled out in black-colored bird tracks on the side of the car and elicits a variety of responses from other drivers, showing their support for the ideals of the company. It's good to know there are so many bird lovers out there.

Nobody else performs these ornithological outings, and there is no manual, so the birds and I have had to learn by trial and error. One thing I learned was not to go on the expressway anymore. I am not a scientist, but judging by the amount of poop on my roof (that stuff is not easy to clean off), I don't think these birds are supposed to fly quite so fast. And after that excursion, the birds seemed hesitant when I showed up for the next outing.

Sometimes the birds are given to fits of mass hysteria; when one starts squawking, it becomes contagious and soon they all join in until I stop the car and calm them down with some bird-soothing words. Here's the stuff that makes them nervous:

--Driving under bridges: It's the echo that spooks them.

--Driving past Morty's Mini-Golf: There's a ten-foot-tall white rooster with a red blinking eye on the sixth hole that unsettles their sense of scale.

--ABBA: They throw a fit when one of their songs comes on the radio. I'm not kidding. This is when the mass hysteria happens, and I have to get out of the car and sing Blackbird by the Beatles until they're quiet again.

--Driving past Kentucky Fried Chicken: They can smell what's cookin': not-so-lucky birds.

--Stopping to chat with Lu Lu Gilkey, my recklessly-perfumed neighbor: Her real name is Laura, but she wears tight pink t-shirts with Lu Lu spelled out in silver sequins across where it would be impolite to gawk. And she's emphatic about calling her Lu Lu. It's worrisome that another one of her lipstick-smudged cigarette butts winds up in the bottom of Sheldon's cage, necessitating the kind of explanation not conducive to instilling confidence in a business that is trying to establish a sense of credibility.

The entire flock enjoys stopping at Ron's Ice Cream Shop on Devon avenue. Ron likes the birds and sometimes gives them free broken pieces of his extra crunchy cones. Every so often, a small crowd gathers to admire the birds, and they seem to enjoy this; each one showing his good side to the audience. But we leave in a hurry if Lu Lu shows up (as she often does), before she gets a chance to steal the show by yelling "cock-a-doodle-doo" at me.

I don't take the birds anywhere near The Unbuttoned Lady, a well-known gentleman's club on Lawrence avenue. I have to be careful as some of the birds can talk, and I don't want the business to get a bad reputation from their idle gossip. And, no matter what, even if there's free offers of chips and sour cream dip and a somewhat genuine interest in joining the Kildare Bird Club, I'm not going to set foot in Lu Lu's house again. The odoriferous mixture of cigarettes, perfume, and the scented candles she calls "aroma therapy" clings to my pith helmet in an unseemly manner. Also, I'm beginning to believe she doesn't have any free birdseed what-so-ever. And the highballs she practically forces on me in the middle of the afternoon is not quite the standard I'd envisioned for a conscientious business like Give Me The Bird. In the future, it would be best to avoid Lu Lu's house during business hours.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cashiers and Old Guys

I just got back from Happy Foods, our local grocery store. It's an independent store, and small enough to kind of know their customers (three check-out lanes). There's a lot of old guys who shop at Happy Foods, and previously, I thought it was because they don't like driving over to one of the big chain stores and parking in the football-field-sized lot and shopping in the football-field-sized store. But after standing in the check-out line today, listening to the conversations between the checkers and the old men, it dawned on me that old guys shop there, not because of the convenience, but because they get to trade banter with the check-out gals. Each cashier wears a sharp-looking name tag, enabling any customer, especially an old guy, to call them by their first name. Donna is my favorite: she sometimes winks while handing them their change (which might explain the long line at her check-out station).

The checkers are all women and politely laugh at all old-guy jokes. They are really good at this; it's not an obvious fake laugh like when my lovely wife introduces me at parties and laughingly warns me to behave, and then goes off to chat with everyone in the room and leaves me in the corner alone, balancing a drink and a saltine topped with cheese and a swirly thing, where I dutifully juggle the beverage and try not to get crumbs on the floor while finishing the cracker. No, these women are some of the kindest and best actresses on the planet and laugh appropriately while performing their job, which I don't think is easy (that keyboard looks intimidating, and who in the world can remember how much the fruit and vegetables are per pound and which tomato is vine-ripened and which is not).

After listening to some of the old guy-cashier banter, it's apparent that much of it is like a comedian's routine, obviously pre-written and quite possibly, rehearsed, and there's one guy who works a little blue, inciting nervous laughter by everybody in line. I imagine some of these fellows working on their routines at the kitchen table before going out to the store. I know how it would go at my house: "How does this sound, honey?" only to be met with, "Right, Shecky, don't forget the Swiss cheese."

Yes, these checkers are masters at their craft. I give them a break and don't say anything while the groceries whisk between us, figuring it won't be long before I, too, will need them as an audience.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Comedy Commune

I have a friend, Wally Bidderman, who moved out to Colorado last summer and joined a comedy commune, and, now, made me an offer to come and live with the "Comedy Tribe" (that's what they call it). I haven't been there yet, but he says they live in tepees and make up jokes. I'm very suspicious of this; how funny can you be while living in a tepee. Tepee living has always struck me as serious business. No disrespect to the American Indian, but I never heard of any of the famous ones billing themselves as comedians. You never heard of "the Comedy Stylings of the Great Cochise," or "Geronimo and his watermelon-chopping- tomahawk, one night only at Fort Collins." No, I'm pretty sure the conditions under which the Native Americans lived didn't exactly lend itself to comedy.

But I have this offer, and it's supposed to be a real compliment, as they don't extend it to too many people. From what I'm told, some of the people there are in touch with people in the comedy industry. I'm required to let them know in the next couple of weeks, or as they put it "When the ice breaks along the shoreline." This could be a golden opportunity to hone my comedic skills (something which I didn't even think I had, but the tribe insists they can spot talent a mile away).

All they need from me are some pens and paper (no electricity in the tepees; apparently, this keeps the comedy pure). They also need some canned goods and money, not a great deal of money, but as much as I can spare. And toilet paper. I assume this is for when they go on comedy raids and TP other commune's tepees.

They are cutting edge and call their brand of entertainment "organic comedy." This sounds like an opportunity, but I don't want to go out there and disappoint the members of the Comedy Tribe with my smart-alec comments which often times are not that funny and, unintentionally, make people mad.

---Here's one of the jokes they sent me:
Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Running Water.
Don't bullshit me, there's no running water here. (This may be an insider joke).

---Here's another one:
Who left the glass bottle in the "plastics only" recycling bin?
Answer: some idiot. (I don't really get this one).

---They say this one is a knee-slapper:
How many comedians living in tepees does it take to screw-in a light bulb?
Answer: none, they don't have any electricity.

I think this organic comedy, like so many new trends, takes some time getting used to.
I'm leaning on staying put.