Monday, June 18, 2018

Back on the Open Mic Circuit

In 1982, I started doing stand up comedy at open mics in the Bay Area at places like Cobb's in San Francisco, The Last Laugh in San Jose and other little venues from Santa Rosa to Morgan Hill and everywhere in between.

I remember a weekly open mic at a place called Emerson's in Palo Alto where the Stanford students and locals enjoyed heckling all the comics relentlessly. I also recall emceeing a show one evening in San Jose when a huge fight broke out with one comic and a crowd of young jocks from San Jose State that ended with all of them grappling on the floor in a puddle of cheap beer.

Ahh, the memories. 

I was inspired by some of the best--George Carlin, Richard Pryor (the best comic of all time, hands down) and the Smothers Brothers, just to name a few.

The stand up scene in the eighties was amazing and I got to see a lot of up-and-coming comics like Dana Carvey, Kevin Pollock, Will Durst, Larry "Bubbles" Brown, Rob Schneider, Bob Rubin, Brian Copeland, Tree, Steven Pearl and many more.

At that time, there were 3-4 comedy clubs in San Francisco that did open mic nights and comedy showcases, so you could get on stage. Sometimes it was at 1 a.m., but if you hung in there, you could at least perform for the other 5-6 comics still in the room.

Now, with a series of significant events happening in my life, I feel compelled to get back on stage. I've always believed that I could do this and make people laugh, but it's the hardest thing in the world I've ever tried to do.

But, now I am almost 60, and to honest, I don't really care whether I bomb or kill. Maybe now that I literally have nothing to lose, I will be funnier than ever. They say pain and tragedy brings out the sense of humor in some people, so I am going to find out.

I will write a blog here about my experience, including video clips, art and more on a regular basis. Follow my journey to success or failure, because either way I think it will be at least entertaining.

My last set 8 years ago shortly after I had a stroke and lost more than 100 lbs.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Boy Who Cried Cancer

To be on this planet for as long as I have, I must be a little lucky. I have seen so many people leave before their time, and it's always tough to see. Life is precious, but it can be taken away in just seconds, and every time we see some tragedy on the news, we say--whew, I'm happy that it didn't happen to me or anyone I know. 

When I found out on Friday that I didn't have prostate cancer, I was obviously relieved. But, then I felt a little guilty--I wrote a blog back when I found out that I might possibly have it and posted it on Facebook. Thanks to a lot of people who responded, I found out that it's a very curable type of cancer and PSA numbers are often all over the board. So was it a case of much ado about nothing? That crossed my mind. 

But, now that I know I don't have it, I feel a little guilty for scaring everyone. It reminds me of the old classic tale called The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Because I was a very creative kid and told my share of outrageous stories, I heard this one more than a few times. To refresh your memory, it's a short story written by Aesop. A shepherd-boy, who watched a flock of sheep near a village, brings out the villagers three or four times by crying out, "Wolf! Wolf!" and when his neighbors come to help him, he laughs at them for their pains. The wolf, however, did truly come one day and the shepherd either lost his job or the wolf ate him, I can't remember. 

But, my point is--maybe I should have waited until I got the biopsy before publishing it to the world. If I made you anxious in any way, I am sorry. But, it was real and the support I got from folks has been incredible. So many people stepped up with kind words, phone calls, private messages--I am so humbled and I love you all. 

I know now that I have a lot of wonderful friends and I need to get more involved in their lives as well. In the past, I saw that some of my them were going through times, but I was more concerned about my situation than their problems. I didn't call them, I didn't reach out. I told someone the other day that I was feeling guilty about only calling him when I have problems. And he forgave me and said. "That's why we have friends." Now I understand that. 

Thank you everyone, because this is a tough time, but I know I will get through this and not having cancer sure helps. But the big takeaway here is that I have a lot of friends--real friends and with their help and support, I can take on the world.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

One Shot of Creativity Please, But Hold the Misery!

They say that you have to experience true pain before you can create great art, but I've seen the paintings Van Gogh did after he cut off his ear and they weren't any better, although they were all excellent of course.

If I have to go through a series of personal tragedies to be a better writer, I'll pass and why does misery have anything to do with creativity? I guess it's supposed to be about the struggle.

I'd rather be a mediocre writer and live a comfortable life, as opposed to dying in the gutter like Edgar Alan Poe just to be brilliant. Well, for people who have been reading my blog or been following me through social media, last week was memorable, to say the least. I found out on Monday that my 9-year marriage was over and the next day, I got a biopsy because my doctors fear that I might have prostate cancer. The weekend before, I was hanging out with my dog and enjoying time with my wife and a little more than 24 hours later I was lying on my side while my urologist punching little flesh plugs out of my prostate.  Wow, what a turnaround for someone who thought who had it all! The message is never get complacent and expect nothing, because we're entitled to zero and tomorrow is not guaranteed.

I realize now that I do have it all, because I have great friends who are wonderful and care about me. I also know that I need to be a better friend to the people I love, because they're more valuable than anything else in the world. I was putting so much love and care into my marriage, I discarded a few people along the way and now I want them back. I know they will forgive me and some of them have done so already, but re-connecting with them will soon be something I really want to focus on now more than ever.

For an update, I still don't have my test results yet, but either way I'm ready for the next chapter. I don't know whether or not I'll be a better writer after all of this, but I do know that I'll be a better person and a better friend and maybe that's all I need. 

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Putting Things in Perspective

When something in your life goes sideways, most of us go through the three stages--panic, realization and more panic. I tell people I am going to stay calm, until there's a reason to panic, and then let the panicking begin!

It's been less than two weeks since I was told that I might have prostate cancer, but it seems like it's been two months. In just 12 days I have changed and it's all for the better, as I've become more focused on what's important while shedding a lot of the crap I was carrying around.

I've always been impatient and sometimes act a little entitled. I get surly with people who don't agree with me about the fact that I am an amazing individual. I am a bad listener at times; thinking about the next brilliant thing I'm going to say as opposed to what someone else is sharing. I get upset about little things like the person in front of me in line at the 15-limit check stand with 16 items. I yell at people who cut me out off while driving, which happens almost every six minutes here in San Francisco. I dismiss people who don't interest me sometimes and that's uncool, because everyone has something to share. Often, I forget that each individual standing on the planet right now deserves their very own piece of the whole picture, whether it's a CEO of a large company or someone with nothing.

There's an older lady down the street who is in her 70s and works part-time at Safeway. She is actually a delight and a very sweet woman. She loves dogs and every time I encounter her on our street, she wants to say hello. If you stop, it could be a 20 minute detour and to be honest, she keeps telling me the same stories. She talks about her beloved cat that died in 1998 and how she still isn't over it. She tells me about all of the other dogs in the neighborhood, their names, the breeds, their ages--she knows it all. If she ever forgets her stories, I can recite them back to her word by word.

For a while, if I saw her when I was walking the dogs, I would act like I was on my cell phone or quickly duck down another street before she noticed me. But, since my recent incident, if I see her I approach her and let her talk. Yesterday, it must have been at least 30 minutes, to the point where she said that she had places to be and said goodbye. She blew me off!

Most of us live fairly cushy lives. We have our lattes or espressos in the AM; do yoga; take Uber to wherever; enjoy good food and all of the entertainment we want is right at our fingertips. Many of us get to work virtually or only go into the job four days a week. Sure, there are a lot of unpleasant things that we have to deal with--financial issues, health problems, traffic, relationship issues, politics, even a bad hair day now and again--and that can make us snarky and depressed.

So, how have I changed?
I no longer yell at people while driving. Some guy blatantly stole a parking space from me the other day. After he did it, he looked over at me, expecting me to react and I just smiled and waved. Normally, I would have sprained my middle finger flipping him off while finding some real spicy things to share with him, but I let it go.
Also, I'm not blaming Millennials anymore for all of society's ills and last week I actually talked to one, although she was texting the entire time.
I'm more patient. I saw the movie Black Panther the other day and this gentleman in front of us at the theater kept talking, but I let it go and he eventually shut up.

I still get mad and frustrated like any other human being, but I'm trying not sweat over the little things as much anymore.

So, what's my point? It's called re-calibration--like refreshing your computer screen or cleaning your pool--now and again we have to get some perspective and come back down to terra firma. We get caught in the labyrinth and start bouncing off the walls in the same patterns and that's when it's time to shake the bottle.

It always takes something significant to change my attitude and I've always said that all my lessons have been learned the hard way. But, after this is over, I promise myself that I will never take anything granted ever again, because life is a gift and you can't take it back to Macy's (even if you have a gift receipt).

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

No More Anxiety!

Today was a big day when I found out if I need to continue on this journey or not, but for some reason, I'm not anxious about it anymore. When I found out last Wednesday that I might have prostate cancer, it hit me hard. I've been trying so damn hard to stay healthy; exercising every day and eating right, and now this thing comes out of left field? While some people have nerves of steel and can be stoic in stressful situations, I'm not one of them. I thought of crumbling like a bleu cheese, but instead I'm coming back harder than a parmigiano-reggiano.

Friday night for some reason was really tough as I made a lame attempt to shed a barrage of depressing thoughts without success. I  tried to clear my mind, but the more you try the worse it gets. But, after writing my first blog about this experience and posting it on Facebook on Saturday, all of my anxiety went away suddenly and completely.

So much that when I was waiting around for today's appointment, I still remained calm. Now, how is that happening, I asked myself?  I guess when you're in it, you just figure out how to deal. The wonderful response I got from so many of my friends on Facebook surely didn't hurt. People from as far back as elementary school shared their experiences about cancer through comments or private messages and I want to thank all of you. It meant so much you can't imagine.

So, what did the doctor tell me today? Well, my PSA number went down slightly (from 11 to 10), but not dramatically enough to bypass a biopsy. So, in two weeks, I'll be getting a biopsy to determine if I have prostate cancer or something else.

Sure, it's still scary, but now I have a lot more information and even though I'm not sleeping well, I am fine and prepared for whatever transpires. During this process, I found out that a friend of mine is also in the same boat as I am. He is getting his biopsy next week, so we've decided to start a two-man support team to help us through this ordeal.

I told him that in October when we're both cancer-free or at least on the road to remission, we can dress up as the Biopsy Twins for Halloween. Hopefully we'll be looking back on this period soon and say--it all came out just fine.

Did you read the Bobbsey Twins series when you were a kid?

Or maybe we'll go this route
But not this one

It's been an unusual week, to say the least, but something amazing has happened during that time, so I'm riding it. I think we all find an inner strength when we need it, to survive and make it to the next day intact mentally and physically, and at this point, I'm not going to argue with the results or freak out about the future.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Another Battle to Take On

I went to the doctor earlier this month for a checkup and got the requisite blood test before the appointment. When you get to be my age (60 later this year) a blood test is a big deal. How has your body held up after rigorous (or non-rigorous) activity and all of the things you've done and ingested over the years? How's your LDL, HDL, RA Factor or CBC? It doesn't matter if you feel great, it's all in the numbers. Today's medical technology is amazing, because just one simple blood test will tell you pretty much how you're doing.

The doctor told me my numbers were fine, so I thought--wow, victory! But, then a week later I got a call and he told me that he had missed one particular number that had him concerned. My PSA number went up from 4 to 11 within eight months and that's not a positive sign. In a fog, I heard the "C" word and it made my feet tingle. Any time something bad happens (even when I see someone on TV getting hurt) my feet tingle.

Oh ----, I thought here we go. Shock followed by the realization that we can't control anything in this life. With a carousel of scary things traveling through my brain, I called the urologist for an appointment. "We can't see you until late March." "But I may have prostate cancer!" I said. "Oh wait--we had a cancellation today. Can you be here at 2 p.m.?" I thought that's a little soon, maybe I should wait a day or two to process this before I jump in. But, I figured no--let's deal with this now. Let's take it on. So, I made the appointment and met with Dr. Ed Collins at CPMC here in San Francisco.

He told me some things I wanted to hear and others I didn't. For one, if you're going to get cancer, prostate is one of the preferred forms. One out of every 36 men get it, but it's treatable if caught in time. So, they are re-testing my blood and urine and I will find out more next week. It's an anxious time obviously, waiting to find out. If my numbers are still the same, the next step will be a biopsy, that doesn't sound pleasant, but what is the alternative?

No one likes going to the doctor. They stick you with needles and prod you with other devices and it's never fun, but it's necessary. This recent scare makes me think of my late mother, Ann Veronica Johnson. In the mid 1960s, she got a diagnosis of breast cancer and she was so freaked out she didn't go back to the doctor until it was too late. They gave her a mastectomy, but the cancer had already spread and by 1966 she was gone. It was a bummer, because they didn't want my brother and I to visit her in the hospital toward the end, so I only got to see her probably twice during those last two years. I can't blame her--she was obviously scared and just wanted it to go away.

I still think of her literally every day. 

So, when I got this news last week, I promised myself that I would make every appointment and take this battle head on. I have lived a good life and I love my family and I have a supportive wife and wonderful friends and I don't plan on leaving the world any time soon. I have dodged a lot of bullets in my life (I used to be 350 lbs. and had a stroke in 2009, but I lost 120 lbs.), so hopefully I don't have cancer. I have been very anxious and can't wait to find out one way or another, but I'm in this to win it and ready to do whatever it takes.

We get happy and complacent in our lives, until fate throws you a wicked curveball, and then that's when we're tested. My therapy now is to write about it, because after all--I am a writer. As long as I can write, I will tell my story and I hope it doesn't depress people. Life is a miracle that all started when you beat the other thousands and thousands little sperm cells to the egg, so the odds were stacked against you from the beginning. I am hoping and praying to look back on this frightening moment several years from now and say, "Wow that was a scary ride, but it made me a better person and a better man."


Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Teddy Turnaround, Month #1

Years ago, we started adopting senior dogs and since then it has been a roller coaster. When you adopt an older dog, you set yourself up for heart break and most people can't handle it, including me. And don't get me started about the vet bills--OMG. But, in the end, the sense of satisfaction that you get outweighs those other things.

In March, we lost our beloved Freddy, a Cairn Terrier that my wife Simone found him online. He was allegedly 10 or 11 years old when we got him, and he was a mess--overweight, overgrown and depressed. He had been in a few shelters in Sacramento and then later with the Milo Foundation in Marin, but when he arrived here he had what is known as "shelter trauma."

When Freddy became a new member of our family, I told my wife if we have him for five years that would be a miracle. So, when he passed on March 14th of kidney failure, we looked at his adoption papers and he passed one day short of exactly five years!
 Freddy was a unique looking dog who always got a lot of attention. "What is that--a raccoon?" people would ask. 
He started us on the path of adopting older dogs, which led to Teddy. The parallels were uncanny. When we found Freddy he was approximately 11 (we think, no papers) and he was originally from Sacramento. So, when we heard about Teddy, an 11-year-old Cairn also from Sacramento, we knew this wasn't random or merely coincidental. 
 When we met Teddy for the first time at a meet and greet in Sacramento, he was a mess! The people who owned him loved him so much and it was difficult giving him up. Due to their lives changing, they had to move to an apartment that didn't allowed dogs and broke and it was obviously very tough for them. But, they are happy knowing that he went to a great home! 
 Here we groomed him and did a full dental procedure on his teeth, he was a completely different dog. Now Teddy has tons of energy and wants to be walked 3-4 times a day!
 He's a little fashion plate with his snazzy new rain coat 
He is already dictating with his walks and meals after just five weeks with us. On Saturday it was his 12th birthday, so we pampered him and got him a bunch or designer treats from Le Marcel, the doggy bakery here in San Francisco, but he didn't want any of them.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Baseball Player Interview #109: Ed Roebuck

I love interviewing these old former baseball players. I tracked down Ed Roebuck (Dodgers, Phillies Senators in the '50s and '60s) yesterday on the phone and at first it didn't look promising.
Getting these guys to talk is sometimes difficult, because I call them out of the blue. I used to send letters first, but that took too long and they rarely called me.  
"How long do we have to talk?" he asked.
Not off to a good start, I thought. 
"If you want to stop talking, we stop," I said. "It's all your call and I appreciate your time."
"You writers can be a little long winded, that's why I asked. I'll give you 15 minutes and see how it goes. Okay, when do you want to do it?"
"Maybe Thursday?"
"How about now?" he said. "You know, I'm 86. I'm not going to be around forever," he said.
"So, you might not make it until Thursday, is that what you're saying?" I said.
I figured he would find that at least slightly amusing, but it only irritated him more.
Initially, he was giving me one-word answers and I thought maybe this guy is not a great story teller, it happens.
So, I was a little disappointed, but after about 10 minutes, he really got on a roll and after we were done, I looked at the clock and realized that we had talked for almost two hours.
He turned out to be a damn good story teller after all!
"If I have any follow-up questions, can I call you back, Mr. Roebuck?"
"Absolutely, but call me Ed, Ed!"
I love this gig.
Excerpts from the interview will be available soon on 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Airbnb is Not a True Community

Our recent vacation to Oahu almost went sideways by If you're not familiar with this site, they connect "Hosts" with "Guests" for a wide range of houses, apartments, condos and other housing and get a rather healthy fee. Their main competitor is, a site we have used many times with good success.

We found a condo near the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of Oahu, HI and signed up to stay there for 7 nights. The photos of the property looked fine and we knew we weren't going to get the Taj Mahal. It looked like a rather tired condo online and the price seemed appropriate based on the other condos and apartments on the North Shore listed there.

The minute we walked into the condo, there was an offensive smell that we both noticed immediately. Imagine mildew and multiply it by a factor of 10. But, we liked the condo otherwise, so we opened all the windows and turned on all the fans. One bad sign was that there were scented candles in every room, so obviously the owners of the condo were aware of the smell.

After about 3 hours in the condo, we decided that we could not stay there. So, we looked around and found another spot, after a lot of haggling and phone calls.

Once they determined that we were not going to stay at the property, they treated us like second-class citizens. They lied to us several times, did not do things they said they would and pretty much told us we were stuck with the entire fee. They told us they would cancel the reservation twice, but they did not.

The people at Airbnb were as phony as they could be. The first person we talked to said her name was "Jordan" but when we asked her name again at the conclusion of the call, she said Mary. She can't even keep her lies in order. So first off-she lied about her name.

When we asked Jordan, what if we contest this fee with our credit card company and her response was--"Oh no, if you do that you won't be welcome back into the Airbnb community?" What community? A community where you just take $$ without any oversight?

The second person we talked to was a guy named Wei. He trashed Jordan for her inattentive customer service, but then did the same thing.

I realized at that point that the people at Airbnb don't value the renters. They will protect the "hosts" because they need properties for people to offer to their customers. They could care less about us, the consumer and it became evident rather quickly.

So, we are contesting the amount for the rental with our credit card company (One note: If you ever buy something important, do it with an American Express card, because they will back you 100% on any sketchy purchase you will make). We used a VISA card and they are already hinting that they won't be helping us on this charge. I predict that they will do squat for us. Most credit cards are just loan sharks, but they don't beat you up when you don't pay. That is the only difference.

One of the worst things is that Airbnb will not let us write a review about this stinky condo. So, if anyone rents it in the near future, they will also be screwed. Airbnb will rent bad properties, because all they want is their percentage.

So, if you're looking at an Airbnb property, please be very wary. This company does not value you one iota, so be careful or stay clear of them altogether.