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I heard my first Bill Cosby album when I was five.

Memorized my first Cosby routine when I was seven (it was the “Noah…Right!”).

Performed it before an audience of hundreds at age eight (I received Honorable Mention).

Once I heard those early stories of reckless go-cart racing and playing buck-buck in the projects of Philadelphia, I was hooked.

I credit much of my interest in performing and comedy to the childhood laughs that overwhelmed me as I sat in my bedroom listening to those 33rpm records on a tiny shoebox turntable with a mono speaker. I recited the routines in my head until they flowed out of me without thought or concentration, at-the-ready for a passing neighbor, my parents’ dinner guests, or a visit from extended family.

I have vivid memories of sitting in my PJs on Saturday mornings, cup of dry Froot Loops in hand, crunching away on sugary mouthfuls, just happy as a clam, while the infectious intro music of “Picture Pages” imprinted itself on my brain.

Picture Pages, Picture Pages, Time to get your Picture Pages.
Time to get your crayons and your pencils!
Picture Pages, Picture Pages, Open up your Picture Pages!
Time to watch Bill Cosby do a picture page with you!

To think of all those boyhood hours spent worshipping—glorifying, even—an alleged serial rapist now sickens me. Read the rest of this entry »

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Just before the turn of the century, I created an extraordinary opportunity for myself.

Taking full advantage of the privileges of youth, I decided to use my new home in the Tetons as the launching pad for what I would later call my “last great adventure of the 20th Century”.

GNP-GttSr-McDonaldCreekFor eight months I planned, prepped, scrimped, and saved, working a second and sometimes third job to sock away enough dough to take six weeks off (unpaid, mind you) to travel the western US and parts of Canada, free as a leaf on the wind. Well, as free as a leaf could be if, wanting to get the most out of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it had a well-planned route and a fairly rigid schedule to see everything it wanted to in the time it had.

Despite my best efforts, every time I tried to route a shorter trip the main attraction at the apogee was always just a few hours from another “always wanted to see” place. After half a dozen extensions, I had a grand loop around the western third of the US and I knew I couldn’t do it any other way. So in the late summer of 1999, maps and sleeping bag in hand, I hit the road with one close friend and one acquaintance to tackle the amazing and mostly unseen-by-me western US, an undiscovered land that held so much to see that I just couldn’t do it half-heartedly.

A testament to my organized and preparatory nature, I am proud to say that in those six weeks we travelled over 6000 miles, visiting 9 states/provinces, 17 National Parks or Monuments, and 16 cities, almost all of which I had never seen before (nor since). Read the rest of this entry »

I practice a sort of thievery.

Not a malicious one mind you, or illegal, at least not yet. And as far as I know my crimes are victimless, and if I do well, often embraced and appreciated. I never plan my heists and never know what tiny observance may spawn one as it may be years down the road that I eventually recognize my plunder. My spoils are random, and often worthless by themselves, and they’re impossible to reunite with their original owners, but nonetheless I stole them.

Yes, in truth, I’m a bit of a thief. You may even be my next victim, and there’s nothing you can do about it; I have immunity. After all, I’m writer.

One of the arcane and villainous joys of creative writing is the license it gives me to draw upon just about anything I’ve ever encountered and use it unabashedly for my own selfish purposes. Read the rest of this entry »

Note: Though I typically focus on public policy, this post is about politics, which is not the same thing and I try to avoid. However, in light of the election year, there is a valid point that I feel I must make on the principles of rational argument. I hope you will indulge me. 

Back in January 2001, I didn’t have any real problem with the Bush administration.

I mean, I didn’t like him, of course. After all, it was painful to hear him speak, so obtuse and inarticulate. I found it embarrassing to be represented on the world stage by such a tactless and ignorant buffoon. And I couldn’t believe that Americans could be so base as to (almost) elect the far-less-intelligent son of a one-term president whom we had booted out of office not 8 years prior. But all of that is actually just personal and cosmetic. When it came to policy, upon entering office, I was prepared to give President Bush a chance. After all, he had promised to be, in everyone’s understanding, a compassionate conservative, vowing on the campaign trail to focus on a strong military, education, cutting taxes, and aiding minorities. Didn’t sound so bad.

For 10 months, I just sat back and let it happen, and nothing really terrible came up. In fact, aside from a $200 advance on my next tax return (which I had to pay for later), I barely even noticed a change in “leadership.”

But in September, as you know, the proverbial feces impacted the oscillator and the bent of the administration shifted drastically. In the face of a national tragedy, an executive power grab ensued. As a nation and a culture, we’d been cold-cocked. And while we were still reeling from the cheap shot, the administration was Read the rest of this entry »

Here I am, roughly 20 years into my working life. Throughout that time I’ve been lucky enough to never be unemployed, with the exception of a couple of spread out months following the occasional change of venue.

In terms of work, I have had mostly successes, though no big ones. A few failures too. I’ve been lucky in terms of finding jobs, keeping them, and leaving them at the right time. I’ve been “responsible” with my paychecks (for the most part) and used them to build a decent lifestyle, I suppose.

Professionally, I don’t have a whole lot to show for that time though. No awards. No postgraduate degrees. Certainly no saved lives or groundbreaking accomplishments. No impressive body of work. No significant title, power, or salary to speak of. No influence at my current position, really. Half of the companies that I used to work for, the smaller ones, are now defunct  (no, not because I left) which means I can’t even get a reference out of them.

In my formative years, I always envisioned myself being more successful, accomplished, or even satisfied at this age. At a minimum, I expected that my time spent working (for pay, I mean) would be important, engaging, or fulfilling, or that my peers, friends, community, or even some self-aggrandizing organization that doles out shallow but plaque-able recognition might come to respect the fruits of my labors. But it seems that 20 years in, I’m not, it isn’t, and they haven’t. Read the rest of this entry »

Here’s a stunning admission: I have no qualifications to be a writer.

That thought alone is enough to paralyze me; is reason enough to make me want to throw in the towel. I mean, why would anyone want to read what I have written? I’ve never taken a creative writing class, or a class on writing commentary, nor blogging. In fact, aside from a one-day course to brush up on business writing and grammar, it’s been almost 20 years since I took a class that was centered on writing. That was “Freshman Writing” in college; hardly advanced training.

I’m not saying that I necessarily require more training. After all, how much training does a writer need? How much did Vonnegut have before he sold his first short story? What about Eco, or Steinbeck, or Twain? More importantly, how much training would it take for me to feel better about what I write? I have a feeling that if I re-entered academia to obtain more letters behind my name I may get caught up in that world again and possibly never leave. I could lose years (I’ve lost enough already) making myself feel better about how qualified I am to write and still be no closer to finishing a major work.

I’ve read a lot of advice to writers from other writers, tips on how to stay fresh, keep in the game, not give up and so on. It’s all very inspiring, of course. But inspiration isn’t the shortfall. I have lots of inspiration, but in its shadow Read the rest of this entry »

Something’s missing here.  You know what it is?

Accountability.

It’s something I learned about early on and is a trait I have endeavored to enhance in myself.

I think that is what the American people need most. A lesson in accountability. It seems a large portion of our eroding moral fiber is a direct result of a lack of accountability. Everyone wants to blame anyone else for their own actions. It’d be easier to immediately admit wrongdoing, and do what you can to minimize the damage. But we’d rather someone else be held accountable, just so long as it isn’t us.

And who can blame them? When Insurance, and Big Tobacco, and Big Oil, and Health care, and the financial and banking industries, and you-name-it refuse to accept responsibility for their actions, why shouldn’t we? Insurance companies fight tooth and nail against all kinds of legitimate claims.  Hospitals deny removing the wrong body parts. Chemical companies deny responsibility for poisoning our environment and our bodies. Tobacco companies deny using chemicals to make us more addicted to their smokes; deny marketing to young people and children. Hell, they even denied that smoking was bad for you!  Banks and the financial industry…where do I even start?  Time and time again we find ourselves sucking up the negative affects of their bad decisions, funding their bailout because they’re “too big to fail” and then watching in helpless horror as the captains of their miserable, greedy, manipulative industry walk away with tens of millions in bonuses after bringing the world to the brink of economic collapse.

But then, who can blame THEM? When our government is obviously incapable of holding itself accountable for anything. Read the rest of this entry »

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