Dad Memories: One Blind Mouse

One Blind Mouse

A lot of the computer knowledge that most members of our generation take for granted is probably as foreign to members of the previous generation as planes are to cod. And my dad was not the sharpest cod in the drawer. I’ll excuse him the time that he accidentally deleted a document and instinctively reached toward the monitor to catch it like Coach did in Poltergeist. However, he called me in Maryland to tell me of an internet connection problem caused by the lack of a mouse pad. I thought this to be another one of his pranks and played along. But this was a joke that he wasn’t in on.

I drove the two hours north and handed him a Scarface mouse pad. It didn’t help, which was of course no surprise to me. “Well no shit it doesn’t work now. The thing hasn’t had a thing since you brought it here.” Loosely interpreted through his body language, he still blamed the mouse pad. And by now, it was of course too late as the mouse had already been contaminated from prolonged unprotected mousing and I “didn’t know shit about shit.” He bought a new mouse on his own this time.

After I rewired the motherboard in front of him to fix his internet connection issue, he was still proud of his diagnosis and problem-solving ability and convinced it was the new mouse that made all the difference. Now he could get back to his internet poker and hotornot.com.

Dad Memories: Cheaters Always Win

Cheaters Always Win

While some folks were getting their college degrees and finding a niche in the workforce, dad was hustling pool and poker toDad and Uncle Mark get his money, and not always honestly. When I came back from a two-week vacation in Myrtle Beach in 2004, I told him that it was the first time since I graduated college in 1998 that I had 2 weeks in a row without work. He retorted “Wow, Dus. I don’t think I worked for two weeks straight since 1998.” Thanks. Rub it in, pop.

My dad admittedly grew up on the other side of the tracks. He told me once reluctantly about a time when he fixed a deck to get some money from people he barely knew. After the cut, he sneezed with one hand and stuck the other hand into his lap to switch the decks in a classic misdirection move. He said it was dangerous and he was really hard up for some money at the time and didn’t speak of it with any pride. I’ve done this many a time in strip poker with varying success. When people are drunk and naked and insecure, nobody really watches the dealer. A little tip for you newbies out there.

But then there was one time that he was happy to tell me about a cheat he pulled. This time there were multiple people in on it and though it was in a game for money, that wasn’t really the point. It wasn’t about the money. It was about the funny.

He was at a buddy’s place playing poker with five other people, including his brother Mark. He and Frankie stacked a deck and planned to get this one guy they wanted to mess with to stay in and throw all his money in on a losing hand. My dad walks in the kitchen, which was just behind Frankie’s chair but off to the side. Just as Frankie says “CUT” and hands the cards over to whoever was cutting, my dad asks where the paper towels are. Frankie takes the deck in his hand and uses that hand to point in the direction of the kitchen. His hand is behind the kitchen door and out of sight for just a moment while he points and that’s when my dad takes his deck and replaces it with this elaborately planned ruse.

What was supposed to happen is that Frankie and this other guy were supposed to be in the hand, with the other guy being the aggressor and Frankie calling and eventually catching a straight flush to beat out this guy’s full house. The two of them followed the script for the most part with one exception. My Uncle Mark was trying to bluff them out. He had been dealt 3-5 and decided to protect his little blind, despite a hefty raise from someone with pocket Ks.

The flop comes up 10-7-K, giving the target of this elaborate scam top trips on the flop. Mark now has K-10-7-5-3 with no chance for a flush. He decides to bluff. Trip Ks raises him and Frankie smooth calls with a straight flush draw and the knowledge that he will get that straight flush draw, thus making it basically a straight flush already.

Mark gets pissed off at the raise and calls. My dad shakes his head and, knowing what Mark has, shoots him a look. I don’t know quite what a look of “Get the hell out of this hand; we’re fucking with this guy over here!” looks like. Apparently neither did Mark.

A 7 hits on the turn. The target now has a full house, as was carefully planned; Frankie has not gotten closer at all, but still has one card (his card) coming; and Mark has the same pair of 7s everyone else has and two cards that probably won’t play. And Mark comes out firing. This betting sequence is no longer coming from a place of strategy, but a place of anger and arrogance. Full House raises and Frankie once again calls. Mark re-raises and offers to show his penis. Again, my dad shoots the same look, but as intense as he feels he can give it without arousing suspicion. Frankie now shoots him the same look. Defensively, Mark shoots a look back that says “I GOT A FUCKING HAND, OK!” Full House and Frankie call.

Frankie’s card hits on the river, the 6 that will complete the 6-7-8-9-10 straight flush. Mr Full House has a hand that could only be beat by the 8-9 of spades OR the remaining two 7s, making it a 2 in 1,980 chance that he’ll lose. Mark’s hand can be beaten or tied by literally every possible hand. His hole cards don’t even play. This is an embarrassment. Finally, he checks to the relief of my father. Full House goes all in and Frankie calls. “This is bullshit!” exclaims Mark and throws his hand into the muck. The target shows his cards and Frankie shows one of the two hands in 1980 that beat Full House. Frankie and my dad start to laugh. Full House stands up and yells out “You fuckers set me up!” But jokingly. Five people erupt in laughter after watching this whole display. There are six people there.

“So this is what you guys do? This is what you guys thinks is funny?! You just fuck with people’s money like that shit?! You can all kiss my f*#%ing ass!” Mark grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair, knocking it over.

“What didja have?” asked my dad, coy as a fish.

“Fuck you.”

After he was gone and the money was returned to everyone but Mark – who now had store credit – Full House asked my dad what they gave him.

“I think we gave him 3-5 off.”

“Wow. Unlucky bastard.”

Happy Father’s Week 2011

Happy Father’s Week 2011

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there! I just finished watching Big Fish and bawling my eyes out, which has been a Father’s Day routine of mine since he passed back in 2005. And since way back in 2010 (not a misprint), I’ve been running a Father’s Week tradition on this website where I’ll post a different story about my father every day of the week directly after Father’s Day. Or at least when I get around to it, hopefully sometime soon. Fred Frey told me shortly after my dad’s passing that the Native Americans believe in two deaths: the death of the body – which I’m assuming you can all figure out on your own, and the death of the soul – which occurs when the last story about a person is told. So as long as people keep telling stories about a person, that person’s soul will live on. According to Indians. Which I don’t think really exist anymore. Except for those that run casinos. Which happens to be something my father could get behind anyway. So I’m rolling with it for another year. It gives me a good reason to pour some energy into thinking about my father and into writing.

Since Father’s Day 2010, I have inherited another two fathers. My mom married a man named Dennis last November. He certainly treats her well and loves her and she loves him back. But as I am 36 years old and (somewhat) independent, I don’t really call him my dad. And I think that’s a pretty well understood dynamic. Again, he’s a great guy and I suppose technically a step-father, but I’m old enough to be a father (really, a grandfather at this point), so he will remain Dennis.

The other man, however, is the father of my lovely new bride, Tom Morrison. He was not fortunate enough to have a son and though he lives in Texas, somehow doesn’t like football, but he is a man I’m happy to call my dad. Which is something I can’t necessarily say for Jenn (zing!). See, I can kid since we’re family and all. Anyway, Happy Father’s Day, Daddy Morrison.

But everyone knows my father was one of a kind and I am sorry for everyone who didn’t have the fortune to meet him. When asked who my comedic inspirations are, I list him as #1 and Paul Reiser as #2. So you should enjoy the next couple posts. Check out last year’s stories in the upper right of the page or below and be sure to check back in the next few days for some more Dustin’s Dad stories.

Inside the Head of a Performer VI: The Big Show – Part 3

Inside the Head of a Performer VI: The Big Show – Part 3
The Preparations

I had added the Douchebag Dance to the set list and really only had about 8 more minutes to fill. But I went to see Dave Chappelle at UMBC about 10 years ago and he was over an hour late. He said he went to the University of Maryland by mistake but we all knew he was high. Both could be true. For an entire hour, the poor Student Events Board president tried to convince the crowd that he was coming, but the crowd was getting unsettled and angry and were likely already drunk or high themselves. Eventually, when the SEB guy walked onto the stage, the crowd would boo him and yell obscenities. Most of the crowd left before Dave got there, including me. I was determined to be prepared with enough material to make sure that wouldn’t happen to me this time. Only I didn’t want to rehearse. Or write stuff. Or think.
I realized weeks before the show how largely unmotivated to put in the effort to prepare that I was. The stress of planning the wedding, writing my final portfolio for my MFA class and this concert was shutting me down. I would get home and turn on a basketball game and feel guilty I wasn’t rehearsing my material, editing the wedding video or a thousand other things. Something about even looking at my notes from past shows was irritating me. I was mailing it in. I already knew that I had about 4 minutes of high-brow dick jokes that have gone over well for years and a few other bits that could certainly eat up the rest of the 4 minutes I’d need. It wouldn’t take long at all to rehearse. And so I didn’t. For weeks.
“So you nervous yet?” I had to field this question about 17 times a day for a month. I had actually reached a point of nerve saturation where I could no longer feel the anxiety I originally did when I got the e-mail. And I think the longer I put off preparations for the show, the longer I put off the anxiety. I’m not proud of that, but I think with everything happening in that month, I had reached stress level shut-down mode and this was my body’s defense mechanism. Somehow if I didn’t prepare for the show, I wouldn’t be nervous about it. This was, however, at odds with my need to be prepared. The anxiety over not being prepared was beginning to mount a counter-offensive against my anxiety over thinking about the show. It was a storm cloud brewing and only a matter of time before these two fronts collided. And lightning struck about a week before the show when I heard this.

“You should put that in your act.” This is another statement I hear about 17 times a day when people find out I do stand-up comedy. Some people think it must be so easy to be a stand-up comedian. At least in terms of finding material. People will say this to me whenever ANYTHING happens. And in some cases, when nothing happens. True story: I was eating something and dropped it on the floor. “You should put that in your act.”

How – in the hell – could I put that in my act?! Sure, people laughed when it happened and I may have even said something contextually funny at the moment. But this is not a stand-up routine. And the person who said that to me was dead serious and an alleged fan of stand-up comedy. How should I put this in my routine? Should I tell people I dropped my food on the floor? Or should I actually come out with a piece of pizza and throw it on the floor? The second one would probably shock a lot of people, but I don’t think the bit as a stand-alone piece is ready for the stage just yet. At least this incident gave me the jolt I needed to start turning the flywheel.
to be continued…

Inside the Head of a Performer VI: The Big Show – Part 2

Inside the Head of a Performer VI: The Big Show – Part 2
The Strategy

If you haven’t read IHOP Part 1 yet, I recommend it. Of course I also once recommended that we lean a bottle rocket up against the rear view mirror and shoot it from the driver’s side of a moving vehicle. You’ve been warned.

OK, I’ve been in the business long enough to know a couple things. Don’t try to do something that isn’t you – AND – play to the audience. These two things unfortunately contradict each other at times like this one. But I had a plan to compromise. First of all, idiots who don’t know anything about anything and get all their life information from romanticized broadcasts of people who get paid to sell the American Dream will automatically tell you to just be yourself. Funny is funny. Granted I’m not going to try impressions of DMX or Chamillionaire and I’m certainly not going to even wade in the race pool, but I’d be a fool not to think to try to play to his crowd somehow. Potentially 1,500 people are coming to see Aries, not necessarily me – though I’m sure to have a small following too. But I doubted my name made it to the 98 Rock spots. So I started to try to think of what I had in my arsenal that would go over well in front of his fans. I wasn’t about to sacrifice my integrity and resort to low-brow dick jokes. But I wouldn’t have too much of a problem with some high-brow dick jokes. And yes, there is such a thing.

But mostly, I wanted to do something physical. I don’t do impressions, but doing some sort of physical comedy would likely appeal to the same crowd. Unfortunately, I haven’t really tried anything physical in my act since my first few months. At least not in my stand-up act. My storytelling arsenal has quite a decent artifact of physical comedy in it. The climax of humor in the Logic, Luck and Love show is a segment I call “The Douchebag Dance.” It hits every time in front of a crowd predisposed to storytelling. But that doesn’t always translate to stand-up crowds, which are much less patient and forgiving. Thankfully, Vijai and Brad gave me two venues to practice it in the weeks prior to the big show. It went over well enough and I had gotten a decent idea of what I needed to change. And that bit would take 7 minutes, almost half the time I needed to fill. Plus, it was already written and as memorized as any bit I’ve ever done. Check.

I had a good feeling based on the sheer number of people that would be in the crowd that every joke would garner at least a little laughter. One great thing about big crowds is that laughter begets more laughter. Also, people as a general rule, do not want to look stupid. And the easiest way to do that is to not get the joke. So people will tend to laugh if other people are laughing. One way to bring that to a screeching halt is to offend people in the crowd. Some people choose that as their style, such as Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Slayton, but I don’t have the personality or the testicles to go that route. So as long as everything was serviceably funny and I didn’t offend anyone, there was no way in my mind that I could bomb. Unless I got too drunk.

So my strategy was set. The Douchebag Dance was added to my repertoire and I wouldn’t offend anyone, at least not until I got them on my side. And even then, it would just be a quick jab, then a smile of retraction, more self-defamation and on to the next bit. Oh, and the more dick jokes the better. I knew this would be in front of a lot of UB higher ups, but I also knew Aries would be right after me and nobody would remember any of my crassness by comparison. I don’t have the time to speak in detail of the not-so-subtle difference between TV and live comedy, but it is night and day in terms of raunchiness. Those same people who don’t know anything about anything are probably tilting their head and thinking “wellllll, I’ve heard Chris Rock tell some pretty dirty –“ no you haven’t. It’s not the same, not even close. Sorry, but you don’t understand. Laughter begets more laughter and raunchy dick jokes are more likely to result in belly laughter than the “Ha. That’s an interesting point” intellectual jokes that will translate better on TV. But as I began, that’s a story for a different day. Just make fun of myself and I’m sure I’ll be fine.