The Bends

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One of the few things I like about myself is my rejection of conventional attitudes and cultural projections of what a man should be. I joke a lot that “I’m half a woman” because I’ve heard that all my life and my wife and three daughters playfully mock my lack of traditional manliness.

Recently, all five of us were walking through a big box store and saw a Father’s Day display selling gift ideas for dads. I wanted nothing on the stand. Guns, knives, hunting, fishing, conservative political books, cologne, video games, power tools and various sports memorabilia; I wanted none of it.

I do things around the house like general handyman stuff, cutting the grass and I do watch sports and like superhero things but the only time you’ll see me at a home improvement store is when we absolutely have to fix something.

I’m a reader, writer, comic book collector, vinyl record enthusiast and general intellectual pursuer.

Last week, I was on a construction site for my day job as a project manager for a communications company and my contractor and his crew asked me what I did for hobbies. I wanted to talk about my stand up comedy, book writing, online activities and music and books but something inside me didn’t want to see their eyes roll so I changed the subject and took a fake phone call, like a real man.

The thing I like the most about the four women I live with is despite their mild mockery, they’re totally accepting of who I am. In fact, it wasn’t until eight years ago when we all came together as a family, that I started being the person I wanted to be, despite the unconventional definition.

I’m never been more proud of not feeling guilty about my distance from most of the fellow men, especially those who are fathers. My situation may be non-traditional because the gender roles are, at times, thoroughly reversed, as I’m the sensitive, creative, emo one and the four women I live with like to make me cry.

One thing I’m focusing on this Father’s Day is how confident, smart, interesting and centered my three girls, aged 20, 12 and 11, are and how comfortable they seem to be with their weird dad.

When you find people who “get” you, regardless of your quirks, differences and neuroses, it’s special. My first Father’s day gift was The Bends, Radiohead’s epic 1995 album, on vinyl. That means my girls do actually listen to me, or they want something the day after Father’s Day.

I’ll keep the car gassed and my debit card close.

Here’s my second favorite band of all-time with the title track to one of my favorite records.

Happy Father’s Day.

It Was A Good Day

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One of the cool things about being a comedian, or trying to be one, is you get to meet interesting people you can’t help but root for, like AK Bjorn.
I’ve met him several times at open mics and watched him make entire rooms laugh. After talking to him, we seemed to have a lot in common. I interviewed him for the Athens, Georgia Flicker Bar Showcase, an event he’ll headline Monday, May 30th at 7pm.
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MBCBUYB: How long have you been doing stand up?
AK Bjorn: always have a hard time getting that timeline right.  Do you count first time performing? The first big crowd? First time I took stand up classes? I look at the first time I performed in front of a crowd of about 200 people and completely bombed. That’s when I decided that I wanted to be better.
 
MBCBUYB : What led you to get on stage?
AK Bjorn: There were a few factors that lead me to the stage.  First I was ALWAYS a fan of stand up.  Comedy Central used to be The Comedy Channel back in the 90s. Early evenings a show came on call The A-List.  One of the first jokes I heard that really cracked me up was from A Whitney Brown.  His opener was, “Hi, I’m A Whitney Brown, I hope to one day be THE Whitney Brown…”  In my mid 20s I got married and then divorced and some friends took me to Caroline’s in NYC.  Waiting for the show to start they advertised comedy classes.  It had never occurred to me that you could take a class on being a stand up.  So I guess the short answer is that I took stand up seriously as a way to cope with the stress of the divorce. 
 
MBCBUYB : Tell me about your first time doing stand up.
AK Bjorn: Ok, so before the classes and before I had ever been to Caroline’s I knew I wanted to try it out.  A guy I knew said that he would give me 5 min at a bar before the music started.  My biggest laugh came from, “Wow, this is the longest 5 min of my life!” They should have never laughed because I was hooked ever since.
MBCBUYB : Who are some of your comedy influences and why?
AK Bjorn: Man, that is a long list because there are so many pieces of different styles that I latch on to.  The big names like Dave Chappelle and Louis CK have a very honest and effortless delivery that I shoot for but as of now come up a little short.  Then you have John Mulaney who I listened to over and over to slow myself down when I was rushing bits.  All three are just spot on story tellers. Then you have Baron Vaughn who is a real deal performer.  He reminds me to lay everything on the stage no matter how big or how small the crowd is.  Then there is Mia Jackson and Clayton English.  Two very funny but very humble people.  I know people who get legit angry when Mia isn’t mentioned in the top 5 funniest female comics.   
 
MBCBUYB : Do you do anything else artistic besides comedy?
AK Bjorn: I play the piano, badly.  I play the trumpet, badly.  I did get into graphic design a few years ago as a hobby and that has gotten me a few bucks for gas money here and there.  I also filmed and edited two seasons of a web series called Comedians Against Humanity.  It’s comedians playing Cards Against Humanity.
 
MBCBUYB : What do you think you’ll do with comedy in the future, goal-wise?
AK Bjorn: Did my wife put you up to this? I spent a long time not knowing and just really wanting to be good at being a stand up comic but knowing that long term it’s hard to support a family like that.  If I could get a gig as a writer or producer or something like that.  That’s what Comedians Against Humanity was supposed to be for, you know? Get my feet wet, show I have ideas that can be executed and completed. 
 
MBCBUYB: What do you think of the comedy scenes in Athens? In Atlanta?
AK Bjorn : I think they both have great scenes.  Athens has become a bit of a feeder scene for Atlanta? I seen several comics get good Athens and blow up in Atlanta. Rob Haze and Caleb Synan come to mind. Both went on to Last Comic Standing.  “People” are just now realizing that Atlanta has a great scene but I moved down here from NYC about 6 years ago specifically for the scene. The creativity and range of shows that go on are incredible.  Underwear show, storyteller show, stand up/improv hybrid shows, and a slew of just regular open mics and booked shows.  I say you could put Atlanta on the same level as LA and NY.  In the same way that Athens has feed Atlanta, Atlanta has feed both of those cities. 
 
MBCBUYB : How would you describe yourself as a comedian to someone who hasn’t seen you?
AK Bjorn : That’s really hard.  If you look in a mirror and describe yourself, that can be really different than how let’s say 5 strangers describe you.  The best way I can think of Black Alt. So, not “Urban” though I have done urban clubs, and I do really well in mainstream rooms too.  I guess my material is geared towards presenting the black experience to white people so “black alternative”. 
 
MBCBUYB: What makes you laugh?
AK Bjorn : Not what, but who, and that’s my wife. Honestly, she might be the funniest person in the house.  She does impersonations, characters, one liners, all of that, but has no desire to perform on stage.  If I’m having a down day, she goes into her bag of “What makes A.K. laugh” and pulls it out in a heart beat.  It’s like I have my own personal situation specific comedian at all times.
Check out AK Bjorn Monday night at Flicker Bar in Athens, Georgia at 7pm. It will be a good day, even though, technically, you’ll have to use your AK.
Here’s Ice Cube.

All For One

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“Fifteen hundred dollars? Are you kidding me, Tom?”

She paced the bedroom in anger, looking at the bank charges on her phone. Tom stepped to the tall redhead but sighed searching for the right response. She continued.

“It was supposed to be an oil change and your stupid lefty card!”

He froze and looked down at the hunter green berber carpet. She dropped her broad shoulders and chewed on her upper lip.

“Tom baby, I’m sorry. This isn’t your fault and I didn’t mean the thing about the card. You’re….”

Tom raised his left hand and fought back tears. He stayed in guilt over the past few years of their lives together.

“Suzanne, it’s fine. It was a shakedown but I wasn’t prepared for it. Honey, I should’ve used our back channels to get the car serviced. I wasn’t…”

Suzanne stopped him by leaning in and touching his right hand. She pulled Tom in for a hug. He pulled back then moved in for a light kiss on the lips. He felt her phone vibrate against his left shoulder. She looked at the text message and then lost control of her legs, falling against their queen sized bed.

“What is it Suz?”

He took the phone from her hand and read the words.

“Going to Piedmont for the civil rights protest. I know. I know. But I’m still going.”

It was from their oldest daughter, Danielle, a law school student in Atlanta, about 30 miles from their home.

“I have to go get her, Suzanne. With her record and civil disobedience being banned in the city after the Christmas Day Massacre, anything could happen to her.”

Suzanne wiped away tears from her cheeks, her fair skin flush from emotion.

“I can’t go with you. The other girls will be home from their friends’ party in less than an hour. Plus, it’s Saturday and the family travel restrictions on people like us will put us all in holding.”

Tom walked to a dresser a few feet from their bed. He opened the top drawer then pulled five hundred dollars cash and a stun gun.

“I’ll take care of it. If something happens, I’ll go down for her and they’ll let her go on a parent violation since she’s still in law school on our dime. Then she can use her law office contacts from there. Call Joanna and tell her what’s happening. She’ll be our back channel if it gets bad. This is Plan C. We’ve gone over it dozens of times.

He walked to the threshold of the bedroom then felt her soft hands on his. He turned and kissed her. Their lips released.

“I’ll try to make this as okay as possible. Joanna will help you if it doesn’t work out. I love you.”

Suzanne pushed a button next to the light switch and their television monitor showed a picture of their daughter’s apartment.

“Tom, the security system’s been activated. She’s left the complex. It the campus perimeter is blocked, pay off a Yellow driver. They got me through the police barricade last time. He looked at her and shrugged.

“Yeah well, I’m not as pretty as you so it may take more than a twenty. I may have to say Heil Trump or something.”

They both laughed then dropped their smiles.

“Suzanne, our family is all we have, I’ll keep us as one.”

 

****blogger’s note****

This is part 2 of many more to come of a serialized fiction series about life under a Trump Presidency.

Here’s the Stone Roses.

House Of Cards

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“Hit me”, he murmured to the tall, blonde Trump Mart black jack dealer as he waited for his car to be serviced and his License and Registration Card to be renewed. Her long, slender fingers placed a nine of clubs next to his three of hearts and eight of diamonds, he made no eye contact when he mouthed “stay”.

“Runson, Thomas Runson!” The Trump Mart Registration clerk called from the other room.

The dealer showed a ten and an eight. He smiled at his bet of thirty dollars. He’d gotten lucky enough to pay for his card.

The dealer spoke in broken English, her Eastern European accent inquired, “Uhgint sir, maybay you vin your cah servishing?

He rolled his eyes, collected his debit card with a picture of the current President and namesake of the store he was inside, then replied.

“No, I don’t gamble, that much.”

As he walked to the registration counter, he recognized the clerk. His face was familiar but he couldn’t recall a name.

“Oh my God, Tom Runson! There’s so few people like you around here, these days, I should’ve known I’d run into you, here.”

Tom measured his response. If he said the wrong thing, the clerk could rescind his registration and make his life as someone on the wrong end of his state’s political spectrum, very difficult.

“Hey, it’s been a long time, what, twenty or so years?”

The man took over the conversation.

“Nineteen-ninety damn seven, Tom. I saw you at Kip Perryman’s wedding. We’re in 2020 now, old man. How the hell are you?’

Tom’s memory cleared. The man’s first name came to him.

“Good to see you, Steve. Since you hold my life in your hands, you don’t need to know much about me. Are you still married? How many kids?”

Steve ran his thick fingers over a balding head of gray and black hair.

“Three boys, all out of high school. One’s in the Army in Brownsville, Texas helping build that great wall we need. Another one’s learning electrical work over at the tech school in town. The other one’s like you. He thinks college is going to do something for him. But hell, I ain’t paying for it, he is. I’m on wife number three, but dang it if she don’t get her act together I may be looking for another one, kind of like our great President, Mr. Trump.”

Steve’s smirk was aggressive, cocky but Tom wasn’t taking the bait. Steve handed over Tom’s card.

License Number 45730829

Thomas Bruce Runson

123 Crooked Bend Way

Daily, Georgia 30715

Birthdate: September 9, 1970

Height, Weight, Eyes, Hair: 5’8 175 lbs brown hair brown eyes

Sexual Orientation: Straight

Marital Status : Married, to a woman

Political Affiliation – Liberal Democrat

Occupation: Communications

Watch List Status : 7.4

He swallowed hard, then replied.

“Good luck, best wishes to the college kid.”

Tom turned and let out a deep breath. Encounters with Trump Mart employees could hurt people with his politics and activism.

He opened the door to the garage and saw his next problem. Two mechanics stood under his Honda Pilot Hybrid, with mischievous grins. Tom shrugged and braced for bad news.

“Mr. Runson, one of these days, you people are going to learn these cars are crap. We found a crack in your head gasket, You ain’t going nowhere, today.”

Tom’s car had less than twenty-five thousand miles on it. This was a shakedown. His hands became fists and white formed in his knuckles.

“Just tell me how much you’re charging me and who’s ordering me a rental. I’m going to play cards.”

*****blogger’s note*****

Every other day for the next six months, 180 days, until the American Presidential election, I’ll be serializing a dystopian story set in the year 2020, during a Trump administration. Enjoy.

Here’s Radiohead’s House Of Cards.

Burn The Witch

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Recently, I was sitting at a table with a fellow comic waiting for our turns at an open mic. Since open mics are usually venues where comedians try out new material or work on delivery, stage presence and timing, patience is more than a virtue, it’s the two-drink minimum.

The person onstage was someone I liked and appreciated. For most of his five minutes, his material wasn’t working. That’s okay, it happens. Half of it centered around homelessness, a religious figure, ejaculate, curse words and scatological sex references. It was rough waters, poorly navigated. Fortunately his audience was almost entirely jaded, inattentive comedians who just wanted stage time.

As a non-cursing (most of the time) Christian and political liberal, society as it’s currently constructed, dictates I should’ve been offended. I wasn’t. Maybe I’ve made it to jaded comedian-level but I looked at my fellow comic at the table we shared, smiled, shook my head and rolled my eyes in concert with his then looked down at my phone until my name was called.

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These five minutes are how the internet should work, all the time. I knew the guy’s material was not a specific reflection of his overall character. I also understood that working through your bad jokes to get to your good ones are the comedian’s version of batting practice for a baseball player or chopsticks for a pianist.

But there isn’t practice makes perfect for the web, unless you were key banging before the year 2005.

My least favorite phrase or two words put together without definite meaning or application are political correctness. For years I’ve lived on an island with a few other misfit toys, declaring that political correctness doesn’t exist. It’s a lie, like the check’s in the mail and no way stud, I never fake it.

Since returning to stand up comedy exactly a year ago, after a twenty-year break, I’m convinced that “PC” should be shorthand for personal computer or where you get bad tattoos on spring break in Florida, only.

The problem with using that term is it gives anyone with a personal agenda political and emotional cover to be offended, lash out, then defend their absurdity with an almost undefinable term.

If I didn’t rise up, rush the stage and shout down my fellow comedian for his edgy material or find the nearest social media app on my phone and micro blog my outrage at his “Jesus cum joke”, then how is there such a thing as “political correctness”. Let’s not forget, I’m the liberal with a capital L, here. I’m the guy who has personally boycotted Chick Fil A for their racial and homophobia attitudes and corporate monetary policies. But there’s not a church up and running right now that would let me do a 15 minute set for their congregation. Thank God.

The last thing this world needs is more stand up comedians. I’m sure that’s what the other ones say each time I climb onstage. But what the world definitely needs is more patience with language when it’s attempted with humor. A politician saying ban all Muslims and Mexicans are rapists, have at ’em. But someone on the Twitter, the Book Of Face or any other corner of Al Gore’s internet trying to get a laugh, relax and stare at your phone until it’s over.

We need to burn the witch of outrage.

Here’s new Radiohead to make the world a better place.

Stressed Out

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targetlogo-6 Picture from Target.com

 

Balancing two floundering hobbies, writing and stand up comedy, has shown me that to truly be a successful failure, you need to expand your “brand”. So, I’m going to get into independent filmmaking. My first feature will be a melodramatic reboot of the 1952 classic, High Noon. There will be no dialogue, just me, cast with someone younger and better looking, of course, standing on the hood of a Prius hybrid in a Target parking lot, eating a veggie sub from Whole Foods, staring down people I disagree with as they walk into a Chick Fil A.

The working title is Dumb Down.

The latest fake crisis of my fellow Christians and others boycotting the red big box store for reiterating their bathroom policy of allowing transgender people to use the toilet of their choice reminds of when I was made fun of for my own crisis of conscience in 2012. Four years ago, while working for a now defunct left-leaning political and pop culture site, Sprocket Ink (may we all rest in internet peace), I wrote a column called Tastes Like Bigotry in response to the head honcho of Chick Fil A bashing same-sex marriage (and divorced people, of which, I am) and I told my readers as well as friends and family I was going break my waffle fry addiction and boycott them. Lost in the hullabaloo was the fact, and always lost in hullabaloos are facts, that Chick Fil A was giving money to multiple anti-gay groups including one funneling cash into Uganda where gays were targeted for execution.

Thus, my joke paragraph works, in theory.

What’s really at stake between us who disagree on major issues through political discourse is how we can no longer talk to each other without flushing intelligence and reason down the commode, Target one or not.

It’s an election season so that means the guy who shoved you in a locker in the seventh grade then demanded to cheat off your paper and the girl who called you fat in the ninth grade and later stole your boyfriend are posting their political opinions in meme form while screaming in all caps and exclamation points for any “real Christ followers” to sign the boycott Target petition on the Book Of Face that’s allegedly up to 900,000 Mensa members.

Excuse me while I Cheshire Cat my 2012 existence by mewing I told you so and smirking at the hypocrisy.

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The weirdness of how all of us, and notice what I just typed, all of us, act online and off  these days is the strange bedfellows it makes.

I’m a southern born, bred and living Christian who likes fried chicken and sweet tea as well a good football running game and a lazy dog on the front porch. But if you were to ask my much more conservative family and friends, I’m what’s ruining the country because you know, liberals hate the Lord and America and love the gays and the Crossfit.

I read the same book my right-winging friends do and as a result I know there’s a significant section of the tome we Baptists and Pentecostals like to call “the red letters“. Those are the ones Jesus spoke. For the unfamiliar or quite frankly, the liars who don’t really read them but say they do, no where in said red letters does the Son Of God, whom I believe existed, died on the cross for my sins and tells me that his salvation is what I need for eternal life after I pass, mention homosexuality, transgenders, liberals, Hillary Clinton, organic foods, NPR, Bernie Sanders, PBS, hybrid cars or retail store potties. The Prince Of Peace does talk a lot about loving your neighbor, being kind, finding common ground, watching your temper and not being a jerk hole on the media that are social. I’m taking liberties with the last one.

Whether any of us can agree and last night I found myself in a good natured argument with my wife about which sixteen-year-old on Chopped Teen Tournament made the best dessert, is pointless if we can’t talk to each other with respect. For the record, Jessica crushed it with her strawberry shortcake crumble and picked up the 25 grand for college.

I wish I saved my hate mail from the 2012 stroll down internet infamy lane. A lot of them came from Christians. I also wish I was good at statistics, graphs and charts so I could share how positive my experience with people who are different from me – gay, bisexual, non-white, wiccans, atheists and fans of the band Journey are in comparison to my poor record with white middle-aged suburban Christians who like a good Van Halen record.

What stresses me out the most is how serious people I’m supposed to like, love, trust and agree with take the least of things in life, so extremely serious. And I wish I could say I was better at this character flaw, too.

I’m over 800 words and haven’t done a dad gum thing to send the country down the tubes since breakfast. I don’t want to disappoint my “fans”.

Thanks, I’m here all week, try the veal but only from Super Target.

God Bless.

Here’s Twenty One Pilots.

Pretty Pimpin’ – Athens Comedy Showcase

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Few people know this about me, but I started working in media over a quarter century ago at the University of Alabama for two different radio stations. I interviewed comedians and musicians before getting involved in both art forms later.

This Monday, April 25th, my friends Alia Ghosheh and Veronica Darby will be hosting a Comedy Showcase at Flicker Bar in Athens, Georgia. I’ll be doing 10 minutes of stand up, myself. But the lineup is much better than your My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog writer.

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Opening will be accomplished author and comedian Hollis Gillespie (her books include Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch, Confessions of a Recovering Slut, and Trailer Trashed.) and the headliner/closer is Joe Gallois, a much talked about and hilarious Atlanta comedy veteran. I interviewed both and here’s how their tales of funny played out.

Hollis Gillespie:

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Joe Gallois:

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Blog:  How long have you been doing comedy and what drew you to it?

Hollis: I became a humor writer in 1993. Until then I’d been an investigative reporter and a financial reporter. I wrote an explosive expose about the horrible conditions of the Fulton County Children’s Shelter in 1992, which resulted in the closing down of a multi-million dollar county-funded facility. I was good at what I did, but I didn’t have the countenance to continue after that. I found humor to be more enriching and more effective in promoting change. It’s always drawn me. I’ve been hanging out at ATL comedy clubs since the early 90s. Before then I hung out at LA and San Diego comedy clubs.

Joe: I’ve been doing stand up for over 7 years. I guess what drew me to comedy was the idea of entertaining an audience. I’m not a comedian who has issues he or she has to work out onstage (there’s 23 other hours in the day to work on those).  I don’t have a cause or issue I’m fighting for. I just like the idea of giving an audience a memorable performance.

Blog: What and who are your influences, comedy and other?

Hollis: My earliest influences were Lenny Bruce and (sadly) Bill Cosby.

Joe: My biggest influence in comedy is Norm MacDonald.  Cause whether it was on SNL or doing stand up, he always seemed to stick to his guns and didn’t let a negative reaction from the audience dictate anything on his end.  Also while not stand up comedy, I was heavily influenced by MTV’s The State and all of their future incarnations and collaborations (Stella, Reno 911, Wet Hot American Summer, etc); they showed me that dumb humor can be done smart.

Blog:  Hollis, I’m a writer too, tell me how writing helps or hinders you in comedy?

As a writer, comedy has saved me from pitching myself face-first into a river. I’ve enjoyed a lot of success as a writer, but I’ve also watched the craft devolve — especially in journalism, where everything seems to be reduced to a list (“10 Best Bars in Atlanta!”) that NOBODY bothers to actually research beyond the first page of Google search results. For me, the trend would would be really demoralizing if not for humor. But that said, I do see a resurgence of authentic old-fashioned gum-shoe journalism lately, thank God.

Blog: Joe, are you artistic in any other ways besides stand up?

Joe: No, if I drew you a picture you’d think it was done by a 6 year old, if I sang you song, you’d think it was sung by someone who just got out of surgery.
Blog: What are your  opinions on the Atlanta and Athens comedy scenes?
Hollis: I’m new to the Athens comedy scene, so I’m looking forward to partaking in it!
Joe: I think both the Atlanta and Athens comedy scenes are top notch!
Blog: What does the future look like for you with stand up, writing, and tv?
Hollis: Here’s the thing: Tell the truth. And if it pisses people off, then you know your message is relevant.
Joe: To continue doing what I’m doing while becoming a better writer and performer; and if any opportunities arise from that…cool.
Hollis: Comedy is important. It’s the defender of expression. It will, literally, save the world.
Showtime at Flicker Bar in Athens, Georgia on 263 W. Washington Street is 7pm sharp, Monday night on April 25th.
Here’s Kurt Vile’s Pretty Pimpin’.