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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Revisited, Part One

A Father’s Wisdom: The $25.00 Monkey

Most fathers are filled with sage advice, or so I am told. My father was no exception. He was a smart guy and a funny guy. He would always have some special way to impart some wisdom to his children.

Handing down advice is common among parents in general. Presumably these lines are passed down from generation to generation. However when my father turned a wise old adage it was blatantly apparent that some phrases were Don Martello originals.

One time I was having a hard time collecting payment for an entertainment engagement. This company, a major video rental chain, took six months to write me a check for a measly $400.00. I had arranged to be paid on a “net 30” basis. In other words, I’d be paid within 30 days following the booking.

I called the company’s accounts payable department head and found that the corporate moron on the other end of the phone was very condescending. This guy would use the pronoun “we” when he really meant “you”. Dad asked me why I was so frustrated and angry. I explained that in an arrogant tone the man told me, “We don’t go calling the corporate office every time we have a problem. WE should be more patient if WE expect to receive our money”. Rather than offer some business advice, dad said that I should have angrily asked the guy, “Who is this ‘WE’ you keep talking about? What? Do you have a turd in your pocket?”

In retrospect it did provide some levity and a lesson about confidence and assertiveness in the business world. However, why would dad think anyone would keep a turd in their pocket and refer to it as if it were a person? Then I wondered, if one were to keep a turd as a companion, what kind of turd would make the best “little buddy”. Years later I pondered if this exact phrase was uttered by Trey Parker’s father, inspiring the Mr. Hankey episodes of “South Park”. No matter what sort of fecal explanations were behind my dad’s advice it stuck with me.

Thinking about it, dad had a few phrases that involved excrement. I know one of his wisest statements involved the creation of bodily waste. Without fail, the Martello family could count on dad regularly telling us, "NEVER pass up an opportunity to go to the bathroom!" OK, it is not the sort of advice you'd find from a holy man at the top of a mountain, but it was certainly good advice nonetheless!

One noteworthy little sentence came about most any time I’d make a minor complaint about…well…anything. If I was served cold food at a restaurant, if I had a headache, if I was upset the Cubs lost a game - ANY little problem I’d verbalize prompted the response, “You’d bitch if somebody shit in your mess kit!” What the hell did he mean by that? Where did this horrible phrase come from? I’m told many children of parents who served in the military have heard this one. I’ve examined this many times. I suppose this was dad’s way of saying I complained too much, but nonetheless, I believe that ANYONE would have a legitimate complaint if they found shit in their soup bowl. I’d LIKE to think dad was trying to tell me not to let the little things bother me, but he HAD a phrase for that very lesson, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” So, once again, what the hell did he mean? Was his army food so distasteful that a steaming pile of crap was a noticeable improvement?

Another craptacular sentence dad sent my way had no hidden meaning whatsoever. This was advice I could really use. “Andy”, he said, “Bullshit ALWAYS stinks! Don’t forget that.” Indeed he was right. I have never forgotten the lesson.

Leaving the dung heap behind, I am reminded of a phrase that can be found on my father’s headstone. This was a mantra he tried to live by and used it often; “Illegitimus non carborundum, est.” Roughly translated, it is Latin for, “Don’t let the bastard grind you down.” Prior to hearing my dad use this phrase the only Latin I was even remotely familiar with came from a more famous father, Mike Brady from “The Brady Bunch”. “Caveat emptor” or “Let the buyer beware” in English, is probably the most famous piece of fatherly advice ever uttered. However were my own father to have his own TV show, I am confident he’d have trumped old Mike Brady with the wisdom provided by the lesser-known $25.00 Monkey!

Dad was a teacher of speech and drama at a suburban Chicago high school. Aside from teaching he loved to direct the many plays staged at the school. One year the school was going to stage the play, “Inherit the Wind”, a play based upon the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. For those unfamiliar with the story, it is about a school teacher who was being prosecuted for teaching evolution in his classroom, violating The Butler Act. In the play an actual live monkey is used during one of the trial sequences. dad wanted to include a monkey in his production as well.

Dad, a Cleveland, Ohio native now living in suburban Chicago, had no idea where to procure a monkey for personal use. He went on a quest for a miniscule primate actor that could fulfill the needs of the script. Eventually he found a man with a monkey! In fact, this guy had several monkeys to choose from, varying in size, ability, and the determining factor, PRICE!

Being a high school theatre production, there was not much money in the budget for an A-list monkey. In fact, nobody was really certain that dad had gotten permission from the school to bring a live monkey into the production. Asking for extra cash to hire a monkey thespian was out of the question. Seeing as how the monkey needed only to sit quietly on stage for a few minutes and had no particular training requirements or actions to perform, dad opted for the monkey which rented for the sum of $25.00 per day.

Dad was DELIGHTED that he’d accomplished the somewhat Herculean task of finding a monkey in the suburbs and found enough money to accommodate a rehearsal schedule and the show’s run on the stage. Of course his delight turned to dismay once the monkey hit the theatre.

The monkey had little or no actual training of any kind with regard to working with humans. And from what I heard he couldn’t remember his lines at all! This monkey was unruly, loud, destructive and completely disruptive to the entire process. It chewed the sets, threw feces everywhere and escaped up to the rafters whenever possible. This was one bad monkey!

Furious with the quality of his rent-O-chimp, dad called the monkey’s owner and complained, hoping to get his money back or at least a coupon for a monkey to be named later. The owner was NOT sympathetic at all to dad’s problem and even told him off over the phone. In my mind the owner scolded dad by saying, “You’d bitch if somebody shit in your mess kit” but I found out later our little monkey handler had a special phrase of his own designed to shut my dad’s mouth, “Look pal, when you pay $25.00 for a monkey, you get a $25.00 monkey!”

Dad could NOT argue with the truth behind that statement and hung up the phone. He was stuck with a $25.00 monkey. He learned a valuable lesson that day and would often impart that wisdom upon his children when faced with similar “you get what you pay for” scenarios. The only problem was we NEVER heard the story behind this adage until YEARS afterwards.

Imagine the confusion the Martello children went through trying to figure out what the hell dad meant by telling us “when you pay $25.00 for a monkey, you get a $25.00 monkey.” Sure we could figure out the meaning of the phrase by examining its context, but to a kid, the idea of dad knowing ANYTHING about the price of monkeys is mind-boggling! To quote comedian Lewis Black, it is enough “to make blood shoot out of your eyes”.

Knowing now the stories behind a few of dad’s words of wisdom I understand that his use of a memorable phrase made the learning of the lesson much easier. I often catch myself saying these exact phrases and passing them along to folks in need of that special kind of advice only a father can give.

I suppose that even though my dad is long gone and in the ground, he’s still alive in the lessons he taught and the silly sentences he said to his kids. As much as possible, I don’t sweat the small stuff, I don’t let the bastards grind me down, I am very particular about where I keep my mess kit, and I am ALWAYS well aware of the price of monkeys. Thanks, dad.


Father's Day Revisited, Part Two

Father’s Day My Ass!

Father’s Day is a day dedicated to celebrating fatherhood. It is the one special day out of the year when children & moms show their everlasting love, devotion, and appreciation for the dads in their lives. Fathers everywhere can not only enjoy one day of solace, they can hold their heads up high knowing that their hard work and their willingness to take on the responsibility of being a dad will not go unnoticed. PLUS, they’ll all get GREAT GIFTS!

At least that’s what supposed to happen.

Father’s Day is and always has been a total crock of shit! Dads are often neglected and their importance in the family is usually only acknowledged when the judge is working on alimony payments or visitation schedules. Dads get no respite from the burden of fatherhood on Father’s Day. They get no special treatment, no fancy presents, and no respect. At least they don’t come close to reaching the levels of admiration, devotion and unbridled coddling as mothers do every Mother’s Day.

I’m not saying that being a mom is any harder or easier than being a dad. I’m sure that we can all pay our parents a little more respect every now and then. However, quite frankly, EVERY day is “Mother’s Day”. Moms are treated like GODS and dads are treated like “the help”. Perhaps this is a residual effect of the whole Virgin Mary thing. Regardless, dads will never rate as highly as moms on the Love-O-Meter. Moms are the apples of their children’s eyes. Dads are the ones whose arrivals home strike fear into the kids’ eyes when they hear mom bellow, “You just WAIT ‘til YOUR FATHER GETS HOME!“

This is all due to that pesky nine months of self-imposed agony and discomfort that women go through during the process of becoming mothers. Men only have to show up, plant the seed and then pay for everything. They do have to walk on a lot of egg shells for nine months being careful not to notice that their emotionally flip-flopping wives are getting fat. Being a dad is no picnic.

But does this miracle of childbirth really justify dads getting the shaft when it comes to gifts, dinners, and overall niceties on Father’s Day? I highly doubt it! I don’t want to make this seem as though gifts and dinners are the most important things with these useless holidays, but in reality, that is so clearly the case.

When it comes time to shop & plan for Mother’s Day we are ALL expected to really bring on the goods. Don’t you dare screw up Mother’s Day or you’ll hear about it for the rest of your natural life.

Kids get a reprieve from having to really pour on the happiness and the gifts for a few years. The little hand-drawn card is sweet and satisfactory early on.

The dad, however had BETTER dig deep into the pocketbook and find the cash for a champagne brunch, some jewelry, a NICE card, flowers, a day at the spa, a surf & turf dinner AND a kick-ass gift if he expects to live a day in his own house with clean underwear and without tension. He MUST find a sitter for the kids so mom can have a quiet day without having to tend to anyone. He must also shell out as few more bucks so the kids who are too old to get away with a macaroni sculpture and a refrigerator drawing can buy a suitably special and wholly impractical present for mom. No Ronco Rotisserie Grill for her, No, sir!

What does dad get for Father’s Day? Old Spice & soap-on-a-rope!

What a total sham! I know men are inherently simpler creatures than women, but come on people, the guy paid for your braces! Soap-on-a-rope? Why not just write “DIDDLY SQUAT” on a Post-it Note and hand it to him, because that’s OBVIOUSLY all he means to you!

What are the traditional gifts for Father’s Day? A necktie? A Hammer? MAYBE a Rutger Hauer video? What the hell kind of crap is this? Bring on the home electronics, the auto accessories, the Makita-Freakin’-Pit Bull for Christ’s sake! Dads want stuff to play with, things to listen to, and expensive intoxicating items to consume.

What does MOM think is a great gift for dad? “Hmmm….OOH! Why don’t you take the kids fishing or spend the day with them at Disneyland?” Yeah, mom, that’s a great idea, a DAY OFF FOR YOU!

Dads DON’T want to be spending the day with anyone, especially their kids on Father’s Day. About the only way they truly want to be out and about with the kids is if these kids are spending their own money to take dad to a baseball game, Morton’s Steakhouse or to Score’s Gentleman’s Club. Otherwise, dads just want to have one day where they can watch every inning of every game, scratch any body part without scrutiny & everything is quiet until the silence is interrupted by their own farts. If a tray of hot grilled food & a DVD copy of their favorite porno were thrown onto the floor at some point DAD WOULD BE HAPPY! I know one dad who would be satisfied if all he received on Father’s Day was nothing more than to crap in peace. Mom gets some diamonds from DeBeers and dad can’t even crap? Something’s got to change!

Moms, here’s what most, if not ALL dads want for Father’s Day. Make a list. You’ll need to remember this.

DADS WANT SEX. Preferably not with you. Sex with you is what got the poor bastards in this mess to begin with! Hell, they probably didn’t really want to be dads in the first place, they just wanted to have some sex and shut you up about the whole family thing.

If they MUST get their kitty from the same old pet store then give them the GOOD SEX. Not that tired old white-bread married sex that you’ve been giving him once every two months since your wedding day. Dad wants that hot, sweaty, who’s-your-daddy, porn star MONKEY LOVE that he had before he got married. In other words, give him that wild, reckless abandon sex you had with all the guitar players and Harley riders before you decided to, “settle down with a nice guy and have a family”.

Every thing you’ve said “no” to in the past, everything he’s been afraid to ask for because of your wrath & judgment, all the things you need a bottle of Jack Daniels in your system to even consider - those things are ALL ON THE MENU on Father’s Day. In fact that’s what he wants on his birthday, Christmas & New Year’s Eve as well and DON‘T forget to tell him how MASSIVE his penis is!

Sometime after the sex dad wants you to take the kids, the phone and all pets except the dog FAR AWAY! He won’t care where you go so long as it is not near him. The only reason he’ll be needing your services is if he wants more SEX. It might be best if you just drop the kids off at a day care somewhere and invest in one of those walkie-talkie phones so he can reach you if he needs something scratched. Write down “day care” and “walkie-talkie phones” now. Before you leave you will put the toilet seat in the proper upright position.

Next, dad wants to watch his 120-inch high-definition flat-screen television with surround-sound stereo system and 100 disc DVD changer that you bought him, with your own money. Put those on the list, somewhere after the Corvette & the X Box. Hey, you expected him to spend at least a third of his salary on a freakin’ engagement ring!

He’ll be watching “The Natural”, “Bull Durham”, “Field of Dreams”, “The Great Escape”, “Porky’s I, II, & III”, all five “Rocky” movies, and ANYTHING where buildings explode, Bruce Willis says, “motherfucker”, Mel Brooks farts, boobs bounce, and anyone ranging from Olympia Dukakis to Julia Roberts or Jessica Tandy DIES! Then he will watch baseball.

All of these viewing pleasures will be enjoyed without having to answer your questions about the water bill, yelling at the kids to stop touching each other, or taking out the trash.

At some point you will be expected to come home and check the oil of your car. SEVERAL TIMES. Then…more SEX.

If you can’t manage to find a place to store the kids, they will be expected to provide dad with not only new fishing gear, but an entire fishing weekend in Canada, complete with a brand new fiberglass boat, motor, beer cooler, & large-breasted naked stripper bartenders to serve the beer. The kids will also bear the responsibilities of baiting the hooks and removing all captured fish from those hooks.

If a gift of this kind cannot be given by the kids, porno, a Weber grill, or video games will be acceptable substitutes. Anything with kung-fu, charcoal, or lesbians should suffice.

Finally, and this is very important, dad would like to listen to his Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, KISS, & The Who music as loud as he wants without the burden of hearing about the ex-boyfriends you had that were SO into those bands you cannot listen to them anymore. He’d like to play Bad Company’s, “Feel Like Making Love” and not have you roll your eyes & give a speech about how the song is just about getting laid. In fact, what he’d really like is for you to blow him TO that song and when it is over you will stop briefly to ask if he’d like you to put on some ZZ Top next.

Now THAT’S a Father’s Day!

Or maybe you could just get him a Chia Pet.


Father's Day Revisited, Part Three

Parting Gifts

For me, there are myriad reasons why I am a professional entertainer. I’ve wanted to be one since I was 10 years old and I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. Sure, I’ve dabbled with other careers. Show biz is the only logical choice.

I’ll not discuss today why I originally got into the business. Rather, I’d like to share with you the main reason why I RETURNED to the business after a brief hiatus. This absence was NOT by choice. It was forced upon me.

I’d been romantically involved with a most unusual woman. Without sharing the gory details here, I’ll say THIS was a very unhealthy relationship.

Being with this girl drove me to the depths of insanity. She was very demanding of my time and my emotions. She had control over all the people in her life and would abuse the power often. Among the things she had over me: I owed her a LARGE sum of money, she played with my emotional insecurity to keep me in line, and I had no place else to go.

I met this girl at a time when I had very few friends, fewer romantic interests, fluctuating finances & many emotional & mental hurdles facing me. She was my BEST prospect at the time.

She was always interested in my performing, but was never impressed. She’s was drawn to my personality but didn’t like the idea of me leaving the house for any reason other than to go to a “regular job”. Her own abandonment issues prevented her from allowing me to do ANYTHING without her.

When I moved in with her I was willing to do anything to get some cash together. She got me out of my old lease, paid my delinquent bills, and gave me a new place to stay. Occasionally I’d get a gig at a party but those times were few and far between. I’d completely run out of money for necessities and borrowing any money for “frivolities” like new promotional materials & marketing was out of the question. Eventually the phone stopped ringing for Andy the Entertainer, or so I thought.

As it happened I did receive a few phone calls. I stumbled upon a notebook in a drawer. I’d never seen this notebook but it was apparent that I SHOULD have seen it before. On the pages were phone messages for me, messages from agents & private parties looking to check my availability & rates. I’d never heard anything about them. The messages were in her handwriting.

She was trying to keep me out of the business and, a few odd bookings aside, by the time I’d found this notebook I WAS out. I’d taken full-time work managing a toy store, hating every minute. I had a steady income, albeit a meager one and some insurance. That’s all that mattered.

I was not the same person anymore. I was depressed & suicidal most every day. I was a beaten and kept man & AFRAID to leave the house and interact with anyone. I was so sheltered and brittle I hadn’t even realized that I was unhappy. YEARS had gone by and I hadn’t noticed how bad things were.

I didn’t even have the strength to get angry about my phone messages. I mentioned them, but I didn’t really SAY anything about them. I just went about my existence and thought of new ways to kill myself. I was too far gone, submerged in the mire of the situation to be worth a damn to anyone ever again.

Long about that time, my dad was dying.

He’d been living with diabetes for over 20 years. I didn’t have to see the worst of the disease because he & Mom had moved to southern Ohio to “retire“. My visits to their home were rare. I didn’t have gas money for my unreliable vehicle and I wasn’t allowed to leave the house anyway. I got out there when I could, usually because one of my oldest & dearest friends managed to get me a booking out of state.

Knowing Dad was very ill I made a point to head to Ohio, borrowing even more money from my girlfriend for my weekend trip. Mom & Dad were aware of my romantic situation, but were not privy to EVERYTHING. All they knew was that I was not happy.

I’d hoped to be in Ohio a week or two earlier. The other three kids in the family were going to be there then. Dad always talked about how great it would be to see all four kids together one last time and be together as a family.

I never felt right about missing the event, but I had no money and my scheduled vacation wasn’t for a few more weeks. I tried to bump the vacation up but there was no way to make that happen. Being a retail manager of a toy store is a horrible, HORRIBLE job. I had to settle for a solo visit to see the parents.

They’d always been very supportive of my entertainment career, even though I chose not to attend college. Mom & Dad were a big part of my deciding to be a performer in the first place.

Dad was none to happy I didn’t go to school. He said I needed “something to fall back on”. I was ignorant enough to reply, “If I don’t fail I won’t NEED anything to fall back on.“

He stopped fretting over my choice when I was accepted to Ringling Bros. Clown College. He knew how hard it was to get into that school and how hard I‘d have to work. However, NOW he was concerned about my current situation. Not wanting to prod he asked if I was getting any gigs. I told him he shouldn’t worry. He worried nonetheless.

When I arrived I was completely unprepared for Dad’s condition. He was nothing like the man I knew. He was gaunt and pale. Expression was gone from his face and he was very thin. He was barely reminiscent of my father. Most of the day he’d hallucinate about other people in the room, having complete conversations with these figments. Dad was dying.

I spent as much time with him as I could & I didn’t discuss my petty problems. When he was coherent we talked. When he was out of it we didn‘t talk. During that trip, I stopped selfishly praying he wouldn’t die. Death HAD to be better than this life.

Occasionally he would tell me things he wanted me to know before he was gone. I tried to entertain him whenever possible, telling him falsehoods about my show business career.

One night, he stopped the conversation to enter one of his hallucinations. Later he slept, periodically talking to the ghosts around him. I stayed with him for a few hours when suddenly, he sat up and stared at me. He grabbed my hand, looked into my eyes and said, “Dump that bitch! She’s killing you!” He smiled and went back to sleep.

I didn’t know what to say. Dad rarely gave unprovoked romantic advice. But there it was nonetheless. He wasn’t really giving advice as opposed to using some sort if parental eminent domain clause and commanding me to improve my life. For the first time in a long time something made sense. I smiled and quietly said to dad, “OK.”

The last time I saw him alive, dad said one more little thing that clearly WASN’T a suggestion. This was another order. “Stop fucking around and get back into entertainment! It is what you’re supposed to do.” Again, I said, “OK.”

I hugged him one last time and headed for home.

I had five hours to come up with an exit strategy. Once home I began to put things in motion, unsure of how I‘d revive a floundering career. Two weeks later, the day before my “official” vacation from work, dad died. I got special permission to take an extra day off work.

Stunned, I headed back to Ohio for the funeral. I wondered if anyone was going to deliver a eulogy. Dad was not really among friends and admirers in Ohio and it dawned on me that nobody would have anything to say about him. I was wrong. A few family members were thinking the same thing and volunteered to say a few words. At the house Mom told me we could all say whatever we wanted.

Of course I had no idea what to say. I was in no condition to wax on about dad. What business did I have volunteering for such a task? I kept my panic to myself and assumed I’d come up with something later.

The night before the service I stayed up very late trying to think of something to say. I put off the task like a kid avoiding homework. 2:30 AM rolled around and I had NOTHING. I decided to go to sleep.

I was on the brink of slumber when it all came rushing into my head like a freight train through a tunnel. I grabbed a pen & began writing. I stayed up until about 4:30 AM before deciding I was finished. In all, I had about 9 pages of dialogue ready to go.

What I wrote was a variety of stories about dad. I remembered that few people there really knew him and I took it upon myself to introduce dad to the crowd. I recalled humorous stories, repeated his words of wisdom & songs he would sing. I even wore a pair of his glasses as props.

The speech was impossibly hard to deliver. I eased into the routine the more I read. In telling the stories I acted out dad’s mannerisms. It was a somber moment that was funny in spots, touching in others. Overall, a fitting tribute to a great man. I managed to get some laughs from the crowd and everyone paid attention to what I had to say. I didn’t realize it at the time but I wrote a comedy monologue about my dad. I did what I do best. I entertained a crowd of people who NEEDED some entertainment.

At the end of the speech I nearly broke down completely. I was so relieved to finish and so fatigued from grief I just wanted to leave. While exiting the lectern, I failed to fully notice a defining moment in my life.

At the conclusion of the eulogy there was a round of applause from the congregation. Not a thunderous clamor or anything, just some genuine appreciation for the stories I told. Mom taped the service and the laughter and applause was there clear as day. My personal epiphany, captured on tape.

I wasn’t worried about my future anymore. I knew everything would be fine. I was going to leave this girl and I had no question about my true calling. Near as I could tell, getting a round of applause at a funeral, as bizarre as that concept sounds, is a sign from above. I was a damn fine entertainer. Let’s face it, that’s a tough crowd!

Once again dad came through. Had he not yelled at me about my relationship and my career I might not have ever been the same. It took dad’s death and funeral to get me to be both a man and an entertainer again. Since then I’ve never been anything but one hell of a good performer.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Seriously. BBC's, "Top Gear" is EASILY one of the 10 best television programs ever made. You don't even have to like cars to like the show.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Some Bryce Canyon Photos

Yeah I'll post some here too.
I just posted a rather large album at my Facebook page
so I thought I'd post a link first.
This is from this year's trip.