Sunday, May 20, 2018

I did this play called “Gatsby”

I acted in a play this month for the first time in years, brought out of retirement by the lure of a pair of plum roles called “Waiter/Policeman.” Well, I did play a third part with an actual name, but one so obscure in the show, “The Great Gatsby,” that unless you are an English teacher you wouldn’t know the guy. A self-involved, effeminate hack photographer “artiste” named Chester McKee. This guy, holding the drink:

At the drop of a hat he will invite you back to his place to see his, um, “portfolio.”

I got hooked on theater in high school, at 15. I played dads, grandpas, gamblers, lawyers, Irishmen, twins, guys with fake facial hair:

In college it was capes. Lots of capes. 

In middle age you get the parts with smoking jackets and double-breasted suits. The roles get rarer, but the clothes get better. 

Aging creeps up on you, like a critic you never noticed was in the audience until the review comes out. One minute you’re the 30 year old leading man for whom playwrights pen tons of parts, and the next you’re the character actor getting winded dancing the Charleston. 

You look around and the 30 year old guys on stage didn’t break a sweat. In between scenes, the 30 year old guys are doing push-ups in the wings to get up for the show. You’re not jealous, though, just kind of awed. You were never one to do push-ups without a P.E. teacher’s glare as the instigation.

Doing theater involves remembering taboos and traditions, like not saying the word “Macbeth.” Supposedly, if you say it inside a theater bad luck will befall you or your cast. You are supposed to refer to it as “the Scottish play.” As if the Fates can’t figure out the ploy. As if bad luck is thwarted by verbiage. 

Avoiding saying the word was tough because late in our run, our director began directing “Macbeth.” This led to many close calls like “So how are things going with Macbet—that kilt-fest you’re taking on?” And “Patrick, what are the show dates for Macb—that damned spot show thingy?”

Side note—It would fun to work spotlight for “Macbeth,” and turn it off when the famous line comes. 

I am pretty sure I said the word backstage, and I definitely watched another guy straight-up say it without even remembering not to. Nothing bad happened. But these superstitions, passed on, put you in a kind of club whose membership runs back and back through time, to the first schmuck who said the play’s name and then, probably, fell into the orchestra pit which just happened to be outfitted for a show involving live crocodiles. I am only guessing.

I got a couple of small laughs as Chester, which is the best part of doing a tragedy like “Gatsby,” in which the stage is strewn by the end (spoiler alert) with three dead bodies. Laughs in a drama are a little gift to help the audience cope. I have always felt that coping is overrated. I know I am in the minority. But let them cope if it means me getting a laugh.

I only had one quick change. I had to exit stage left, toss an armload of clothes against the wall, rip off my fake mustache, glasses, vest and gloves and then hustle across the backstage while tying on an apron and donning a different vest, all in about a minute before entering stage right. It made my pulse pound. How many things do that these days outside of politics?

When you go years without doing theater you can forget how magical it feels backstage where the lights are low, costumes are hung for quick-changes, there are prop guns and liquor bottles, fake ice cubes and cigarette lighters. The whole place smells like lumber, paint, makeup and hair spray. It’s that club thing again. We are back here, and they are out there, and what we are about to do to them they have no idea. It feels like having the password.

It is, in essence, showing off. I know that. You dress up and show off. Normal people don’t need to. Actors and politicians and preachers; we’re all in the hey-look-at-me business. Society sanctions it, so we get away with it in the name of entertainment, diversion, governance, salvation. Call it whatever, I’ll take it. Now and then.

I admit it is kind of weird to ask your wife to borrow her makeup remover, though.

. . .

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The People vs. The Lyrics Of “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)”

Column 1 since my departure from my newspaper publisher. I hope you will continue to read this column on Sundays, pass it on to your friends, and consider “leveling up” via my Patreon page, where you will find funny Patreon-subscriber-only bonus content (vintage “best of Wa” columns, audio recordings of me performing these essays and more.) 

But now to the good stuff. I’ve slipped my newspaper column-inch restraint of 400 words and just busted loose below. I feel almost as free as someone getting caught in the rain...

. . .

Let the record show that even though almost 40 years have passed since the heyday of “Escape,” the damage done to the eardrums and psyches of people who were exposed continues to this day. We, the people, hereafter referred to as Peeps, have brought suit against the lyrics in an effort to, in some small way, make amends for this egregious wrong of the past. 

Peeps: Do you deny that in the autumn of 1979 you put forth in a public venue, where even children could be exposed, the lyric “I was tired of my lady / we’d been together too long”?

Lyrics: Not at all. It’s the opening line. It expresses the dilemma, like any good song, like, I don’t know, like “You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me, Lucille.” It makes you wonder, why did Lucille leave? You get invested in the story.

Peeps: So how long is “together too long”? I’m just curious.

Lyrics: It’s just a hook, it’s not based on a real couple.

Peeps: But for the record, just your opinion. How long is too long?

Lyrics: I don’t know. Like, a year maybe.

Peeps: A year, and then it’s whoosh, to the personal ads?! This guy in the song is a piece of work. 

Lyrics: But his own lovely lady wrote the ad! That’s the twist. She was bored too. She didn’t know he would answer the ad. She was fishing. He’s not a bad guy. They were both to blame.

Peeps: Objection!

Lyrics: Objection?

Peeps: I’ve just always wanted to say that. So...they were both to blame. Fair enough. But she is the more likable of the two, because she makes clear that she wants a man who is not into yoga, and, just by inference, does not have a pony tail. And a man who has half a brain. This is clearly a commentary on the men of the time, who had embraced disco a little too whole-heartedly (Sample lyric: “Get down, boogie-oogie-oogie.”) 

Lyrics: I believe you might be over-think—

Peeps: Then the husband responds to the ad, via your lyrics, with perhaps the worst come-on since humans ventured out from caves, “I’ve got to meet you by tomorrow noon, and cut through all this red tape.” First of all, who shoots for noon when she clearly offered midnight, and second, what red tape? It’s not like what’s keeping their love apart is the DMV. “Red tape” was obviously just used to rhyme with “escape” in the next line. 

Lyrics: Look, I was on a deadline.

Peeps: How about “I’ve got to meet you by tomorrow noon, so our love can take shape”?

Lyrics: Where were you in 1979?

Peeps: “I’ve got to meet you by tomorrow noon, show you all my manscape.” 

Lyrics: Um.

Peeps: You put forth the idea, to a vulnerable public, a public which just a few years earlier had lost in Vietnam and gone through Watergate, you put forth the idea that we should be all for getting rouged on champagne and umbrella drinks and running out into the dunes to get sand all up in our butts. How do you defend that?

Lyrics: Well, you would take a towel, I would hope.

Peeps: It’s indefensible. I rest my case. 

Lyrics: Does that mean I can go?

Peeps: If you can live with yourself.

Lyrics: It’s forty years. I think people look back on it with a certain fond appreciation of its campiness, like “The Love Boat.” It was about getting to know your partner better, getting closer, realizing that what you want is right there all along if you’re just a little attentive. 

Peeps: That’s a good message, but seriously, who likes piña coladas?

Lyrics: Nobody, but my original line, “If you like Humphrey Bogart,” had trademark issues.

Peeps: I LOVE Humphrey Bogart.

Lyrics: Right?

Peeps: That’s a shame. That would have been good.

Lyrics: Yeah. Well, it worked out. It was a hit. I bought a boat. Hey, can I ask you something?

Peeps: Sure.

Lyrics: Why DID Lucille leave? I mean four hungry children and the crops in the field? That’s cold. 

Peeps: I will never understand fictitious people. 

. . .

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Goodbye to my loyal, funny readers...or is it?

If you are visiting The Wa Blog for the first time because you read in the newspaper about my column being cancelled due to budget cuts, welcome. If I have made you smile or laugh in the past weeks or years, I'm happy. 

But to paraphrase Edward G. Robinson in "Little Caesar"..."Is this the end of Rico?" Or...Waters? 

It doesn't have to be. I like writing these columns. You like reading them. Do you want them to continue? It's kind of up to you. Become my partner! If enough of you join me, together we can make the world a lighter place to live in. 

Um, so click that "Become my partner!" link up there...and thanks! 

Or at least add your email to the “Subscribe” box over on the right, and free humor will begin to flow to your Inbox weekly. I am confident my dog and I will turn you into a partner eventually. :-)

. . .

If you have not come from the newspaper link, and your awareness of me is only from this blog, here is this week's column:

This will be my last column for the newspaper due to budget cuts. As a freelancer here for over a dozen years, I can't complain. I have outlasted many longtime staffers. I began in 2005, to fill the shoes of the great humorist Dave Barry, who went off to write novels. 

Over the years I have gotten a lot of mileage out of my dog, who I could always count on to get blasted by a skunk or something similarly dramatic. “Great. More column fodder,” I would mutter while sudsing his fur. Whenever the dishwasher broke or a child went off to college or the house fell apart a little more, I have been forced, by deadline, into seeing the funny side. What a gift.

I dug back through my 700+ columns to find some tidbits to share. Enjoy:

I think our founders would be pretty proud of the country we have built
on their sacrifices, especially our amazing advances in the scented candle arena.

Do you suppose anybody ever asked Jesus, "Whoa! Were you raised in a

The camera does not add 10 pounds, and, frankly, the camera does not
appreciate your insinuation. 

I wonder if the French say "Pardon my English" after they curse. 

Isn't a double-half-hitch just basically a hitch? 

Is being a monologist the same as being half a biologist?

Why is a whole ball of wax considered desirable to obtain?

Can there be only one whereabout? 

If you can't quite fathom something, does that make it "derstandable"?

Which is easier, taking candy from a baby or falling off a log?

The best actual newspaper headline I saw last year—"Sewer water a prize for area agencies." I do not want to know what the contest was.

Don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes and you can see if he reacts maturely to your stealing his shoes. Then judge away.

Folks, I have appreciated your emails. Turns out people who read humor are funny themselves. You have made me laugh too, and that is no small thing these days. As I said, a gift. If you wish to follow my further exploits, subscribe free at

To paraphrase the Gettysburg Address, the world will little note nor long remember what I say here, but it can never forget that column about my dog rolling around in his own poo.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

“You’re welcome” or “No problem”—Which is the right response?

It finally happened. One of those signs of age which let you know, definitively, that you are losing it. 

When someone thanked me recently, instead of saying “You’re welcome,” as I have for 50 years, I slipped and said “No problem.” Like I was some kind of Millennial. Soon, no doubt, I will accidentally utter that other conversational abomination of the age, “No worries,” as if I have gone straight-up marsupial. 

That’s when you can just push me off a cliff. I only ask one favor—right before I go over the edge, let me clasp to my chest one of those people who responds to “Thank you” with “Thank YOU.” We’ll go together, and deserve it. 

Which reminds me of a joke. How many curmudgeons does it take to screw in a light bulb? Two. One to screw it in, and one to complain to him that light isn't as bright as it was when he was a kid, back when light knew some respect. 

One of these days we are going to find that the word "Please" has been replaced with "Wouldja already?" These days we are sloughing off social norms faster than a lobbyist sheds moral objections. 

And while I am on the subject of norms, may I propose we find a replacement for the celebratory word "Woo"? Yes, it meets the requirements for joyful exclamations—one syllable, heavy with vowels—but it has outlived its prime. At concerts and ball games, half-hearted "woos" outnumber full-throated ones 10 to 1. And let's face it, "Woohoo" has come to sound downright ironic. 

How about "Baa!" Somebody hits a home run, "Baa!" Great guitar solo, "Baa!" It brings to mind sheep, yes, but what's more appropriate for the political-bubble times we live in? "Baa" is a comfortable cry everybody learned in childhood, and thus easy to remember. Plus, like "Woo," it has the benefit of not meaning anything, but in a fresh way. 

Imagine the annual State of the Union address by the president, interrupted repeatedly by Congresspeople standing to clap and shout "Baa!" That I would watch.

Well, I have gotten the word from my newspaper editor that the budget has been tightened yet again, and this column will be a victim of the cuts. There is space for one more, next Sunday, a “best of” from my last 13 years. It promises to be a good one, so don’t you miss it. 

. . .

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Fed up with life’s cacophony? Strap on a raccoon

There are basically two types of people--those who write little reminders to themselves, and those who forget to. In junior high I would write myself cryptic cartoon ideas in a little spiral notebook. Years later when I came across it I had no idea what "refrigerator crocodile explosion" meant. I bet it would have made a funny comic, though. There were dozens of notes just like it, never drawn. 

Now I add ideas to the Notes app on my phone. Evidently I have not changed much since the 8th grade, because I recently found this pithy scribble from nine months ago: "Column idea: Noise cancelling raccoon." The visual is pretty great, especially when pictured in use on a plane. All it would take is one celebrity, maybe Beyonce, and we would have a monster fad on our hands. There would not be enough raccoons in the world to satisfy it.

Then would come the inevitable knock-offs; noise-cancelling possums, weasels, beavers. Their use would be met with disdainful side-glances by those who know the difference between Louis Vuitton-level mammals and Marc Jacobs-level ones. It's not about using the most beautiful animals, either, not about chinchillas. Raccoon is an attitude as much as a genus. A raccoon's very posture says "You want some noise cancelled, boss? Point me in a direction."

You can spend $400 on headphones, easy, and it is true that headphones will never claw your face or poop down your neck. But you have to ask yourself if you are the kind of person who takes pride in living your life in a way which demands your constant vigilance or not. 

I am not sure where this raccoon idea came from, except that maybe as my head has lost its insulation I have enjoyed, more and more, warm items on it. I can also endure noise less and less, as if at birth we are gifted with a finite tolerance and it gradually wears away, like brake pads. I remember a time when I could tolerate a baby crying in public. These days I am ready to strap on a raccoon in 10 seconds. On a plane, five. 

It would have to wear the little red vest, of course, "service animal" emblazoned across its shoulders. But what better service can one animal provide to another than a little peace? Sure, fleas would be an issue. I am guessing they would not be the main one. 

. . .