Tag Archives: humor

Deriving inspiration from everyday life

Juggling three balls

Me at age 18 practicing juggling. Note how the lamp is placed well out of harm’s way.

People often are amazed to learn I can juggle.

I’m not great at it. I can juggle three balls pretty well and even do a few tricks.

I’m competent with four, but I can’t do any tricks — only straight juggling. Every time I’ve attempted to toss a ball under my leg or behind my back, I’ve had to pay to replace a lamp.

Because I’m only a fair juggler, I don’t do it that often.

It’s not that I don’t like to perform. It’s more the logistical nightmare of hauling four tennis balls around. (“Is that a tennis ball in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”)

Also, I often end up dropping one of the balls and chasing it across the room. (Interestingly, people seem to be more entertained by me chasing the balls than actually juggling them.)

I taught myself to juggle at age 8. I started with two beanbags and threw them from one hand to the other, starting out slow, then getting faster and faster.

Later, I graduated to three beanbags and learned to juggle them in a circle. It wasn’t until I was 14 that I could juggle three balls in a typical cross pattern.

I can trace my love of juggling to one thing: an hourlong Jonathan Winters comedy special that aired on Showtime sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

The special was composed of four acts, in between which Winters performed standup. The performers were Pat Hazell, a magician and comedian; the Raspyni Brothers, a pair of comedian jugglers; Johnny Fox, a sword swallower; and the Pendragons, a husband-and-wife magician team.

My family taped the special on VHS, and I remember watching the tape over and over. I loved it all: the magic, the comedy, the stunts — and especially the juggling.

Hazell’s act included a neat setup where he juggled three hats, with a different hat landing on his head with each toss. He also performed comedy and sleight-of-hand.

The Raspyni Brothers tossed juggling pins back and forth while bouncing a ball to each other using only their heads. I loved their self-deprecating comedy. They were preforming this amazing feat of juggling and telling each other things like “make it look hard” and “there are literally hundreds of variations you can do [with five clubs and a ball]. But unfortunately, they all look like this.”

I knew right away that I wanted to learn juggling and magic. (I figured I already had the comedy part down, because I was the class clown at school. I imagined that if I also could juggle and do card tricks, the realms of my popularity would know no bounds.)

There’s that magical time when we’re young when anything seems possible. The world is at our fingertips, just waiting for us to reach for it.

As a child watching that special, the idea of growing up to become a comedian/juggler seemed perfectly reasonable — indeed, the ideal career path. While some people were determined to grow up to become firefighters or doctors, I wanted to tell jokes while juggling chainsaws. (Although my mom always appreciated my humor, I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about chainsaws.)

The notion somehow lost its luster as I grew older, as such dreams tend to do.

But then again, maybe it didn’t. Maybe it’s more that I gave up on that dream, because it seemed so unlikely and unachievable. (After all, how many jobs are there on Craigslist for chainsaw-juggling? At last count, not many.)

As we age, we get the notion that we need to buckle down and get to work. We learn to let go of the impossible and embrace the conventional.

An everyday job pays the bills, whereas chasing a dream may not.

The everyday road means safety, while the path to a dream may be treacherous and full of potholes.

And that’s fine. Not all of us are cut out to be jugglers or sword-swallowers. (Besides, unlike my current job, I doubt sword-swallowing offers a comprehensive benefits package.)

But we never should let go of our dreams completely. Even if we’re ensconced in our everyday lives, we should try to grasp for the impossible — to improve ourselves and grow creatively.

We shouldn’t do what I did in my twenties — which was my leave my tennis balls in the closet to languish and collect dust.

I looked for them not long ago, after watching a Chris Bliss juggling video on YouTube. Seeing the video rekindled my interest in a hobby I’d long forgotten.

I dusted them off and started tossing them in the air. I was definitely rusty — as evidenced by the first ball knocking over my alarm clock — but after a few minutes, I started to get the hang of it. Old reflexes kicked to life, and soon I was up to my old tricks (well, all two of them, anyway).

That instance of juggling brought a little magic to my evening. For a while, anything seemed possible — just like it used to all those years ago, when I was a little kid juggling two beanbags in an endless circle.

And that’s the true magic of living. It’s not illusions or sleight-of-hand or even juggling chainsaws with their blades on fire.

It’s the idea of pursuing the impossible; of deriving inspiration from unexpected sources and living the life you want to live.

It’s never settling into a rut and letting the world pass you by. It’s reaching for the unachievable; grasping for the impractical — letting your mind and spirit soar as you figure out who you want to be and the kind of life you want to live.

I’ll probably never juggle professionally. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t juggle at all.

Learning to juggle two balls, three balls, four balls — and someday, maybe even five — I’m reaching out to achieve a goal; to grasp for the impossible.

And that’s what that magic and comedy special taught me so many years ago. More so than any card trick or sleight-of-hand illusion, the true magic of life is the ability we discover within ourselves, and the skills we develop through hard work and perseverance.

It’s not technically cheating if it’s in a parallel universe 

The Colane Catastrophe

My blog header, as it appears in a parallel universe.

I was eating dinner the other night with my friend, Vanessa.

“This is really good, Angela,” I said, shoveling peas in my mouth. “You totally outdid yourself tonight.”

Vanessa set down her fork. “What did you call me?”

I looked up. “Pardon?”

Vanessa’s eyes widened. “Did you just call me Angela?”

I blinked and swallowed my peas. “Not necessarily.”

“You did. And not only that, but your face is turning red.”

“Is it?” I dabbed my forehead with a napkin. “Maybe my metabolism is kicking in because I’m digesting all this delicious food. Did I tell you how delicious it is? It’s really very delicious.”

Vanessa scrutinized me. “Colane? Do you have something you want to tell me?”

I looked at her, then cast my eyes to my plate, spearing mushrooms.

“Colane?” Vanessa’s voice took on a darker, more ominous tone.

I swallowed and set down my fork, folding my hands. “OK. It’s about time you learned. Vanessa — I have something to tell you.”

I could see her holding her breath. “Yes?”

“It’s a secret. Something I haven’t told anyone else.”

She bit her lower lip. I could see it quivering ever so slightly. “Yes?”

“It’s something that I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time, but I just didn’t know how.”

She blinked several times, rapidly. “Yes?”

I reached across the table and took her hand. “Vanessa?”

She closed her eyes. “Yes?” Her voice was a hesitant, toneless whisper.

“I come from a parallel universe.”

She opened one eye. “Huh?”  Keep reading…

Financial experts: No matter what the market, you should always buy stocks

roulette wheel

According to financial experts, U.S. stocks have nowhere to go but up. (Of course, that’s what they were saying about home prices in 2007, but best not to dwell on that.)

I walked into a local money manager’s office the other day to open an account.

“Do you have an appointment, sir?” the receptionist asked, as I walked past her desk.

I walked into the money manager’s office and sat down at his desk. “Here’s the thing,” I said. “I know you’re a money manager, so you’re probably used to working with clients who, you know, actually have money. And I don’t really have anything to my name except for a worn-out rubber vomit and a pack of gum that shocks you when you try to touch it. But I want to retire someday from this grueling, thankless career of writing comedy, so I need to start investing for the future. Does that make sense?”

The money manager clasped his hands and leaned back in his seat. “You should buy stocks,” he said.

“I’ve never been very good at earning money,” I said. “Don’t get me wrong: I’m a hard worker. I’ve spent my entire life busting butt, trying to get ahead. The problem, I’ve found out, is that hard work has nothing to do with making money. Employers used to covet a strong work ethic and a willingness to learn, but now all they seem to want are self-promoting braggarts who mask their incompetence with smooth-sounding babble. And because I was taught to be humble, I tend to labor diligently in the background while the smooth-talking braggarts take all the credit. And then they get all the promotions while I stay at the bottom, working myself to an early grave.”

“You should buy stocks,” the money manager said.

“And I don’t want to end up in an early grave,” I said. “I mean, sure — dying young has its benefits. I wouldn’t have to save so much for the future, because there wouldn’t be much of a future to save toward. And I wouldn’t have move to Florida and start eating dinner at 3 p.m., because who wants to eat dinner that early, anyway? I certainly don’t. I’d end up rummaging through the fridge at 7 p.m. and making a tuna fish sandwich with sardines and mayonnaise. And then I’d wake up at one in the morning with raging heartburn that feels like someone is running a blowtorch up and down your chest. I don’t want that to be my future.”

“You should buy stocks,” the money manager said.

“But if I do grow old, I need a retirement fund so I can actually buy food,” I said. “I don’t want to be a destitute geriatric with no teeth who gnaws on Alpo while watching Murder, She Wrote reruns. If it gets to that point, a tuna fish sandwich with sardines might be the financial equivalent of eating caviar. Not that I’ve ever eaten caviar. Why would anyone pay so much to eat something so disgusting? I feel the same way about frog legs. Although some people say frog legs taste like chicken. I guess it depends on what kind of chicken. If it tasted like KFC, then I might try it. I like chicken when it’s deep fried, but not so much when it’s baked. Baked chicken might be healthy, but it tends to be chewy and dry, and then it’s about as appetizing as my worn-out rubber vomit.”

I paused for a breath. “As you can tell, I’m not exactly a health nut, which is a personal defect I should address if I’m going to start planning for the future.”

“You should buy stocks,” the money manager said. Keep reading…

The 10 people who really rule the world

Mt. Rushmore photo with dog's face

I’m not sure how it happened, but I ended up winning the presidential election. I always dreamed of achieving great things, but now that I’m a politician, I guess I’ll have to put that dream on hold.

So I won the election for President of the United States.

I know; I was surprised, too. Especially since my campaign just consisted of me and Downstairs Neighbor Dave calling random people during dinnertime. Many folks screamed horrible, rage-fueled obscenities at us when we asked for their vote, but others liked my plan for nationalizing breweries to dispense free beer to the public.

I had planned to order some bumper stickers, but Dave spent our limited funds on a box of red, white, and blue skimmer hats. So instead of promoting a message, we simply helped people shield their eyes from the sun.

Between that and the free beer, I think that’s what won me the election.

So on my first day in the Oval Office, I was spinning around in my swivel chair when an aide appeared in the doorway. She stood there for a moment, then coughed politely into her fist.

“Mr. President?” she asked.

I leapt to my feet and straightened my clip-on bowtie. “Yes?”

She held up a clipboard. “It’s time for your 10 a.m. meeting, sir.”

“Right. I was just preparing my notes.” I shuffled some newspapers that were lying on the desk.

“That’s the comics section, sir,” the aide said.

“Right,” I said. “I was just flipping past them to get to the international news. I wanted to brush up on world affairs.”

“I see.”

“World affairs is an important topic when you’re president of the United States.”

“Yes, sir.”

I pointed to the phone. “By the way, do I have to press 9 on this thing to dial out?”

The aide motioned to the doorway. “Mr. President? Your meeting.”

“Ah, yes. Coming.” I grabbed my rubber vomit from a drawer — as well as a piece of paper with scotch tape on the end — then left the room with the aide. Together, we started walking down the corridor, tromping through the hallowed halls of the West Wing.  Keep reading…

A terrifying encounter in the dairy section

So I’m in the supermarket, and I open the cooler to get some milk. I’m not a huge fan of the stuff, but it tastes good in my morning coffee. (Along with a generous splash of Irish whiskey. Mmm. Part of this nutritious breakfast.)

Got milk? No. No, I don’t, actually. And I’m not even a big fan of the stuff. I just wanted it for my morning cereal. However, the psycho shelf-stocker at the grocery store admonished me for grabbing the fresh stuff. I even have a bruised wrist to prove it.

Got milk? No. No, I don’t, actually. And I’m not even a big fan of the stuff. I just wanted it for my morning cereal. However, the psycho shelf-stocker at the grocery store admonished me for grabbing the fresh stuff. I even have a bruised wrist to prove it.

I reach for a carton in the very back, because the milk in back is freshest.

“Hey! Hey!” a voice yells from the back of the cooler. And all of a sudden a gloved hand grabs my wrist, yanking me forward. My nose hits the cooler’s top shelf, and my glasses break in half. (Which sucks for me, because now I can’t read the expiration dates on all those cartons of milk.)

“What do you think you’re doing?” the voice snarls.

I squirm and yank my arm, but I can’t escape. The gloved hand squeezes my wrist, and I yelp. My bones feel like they’re going to break. (Which, incidentally, is why I drink milk: for strong bones. So right now, my milk-drinking habit is probably the only thing saving my wrist.)

“Let me go!” I scream, twisting and turning. I can’t pull my arm away. “You’re hurting my wrist — and your hands are cold. Help! Help!”

“I know what you’re up to,” the gruff, menacing voice says. “You’re trying to bypass the older milk, reaching into the back like that. Aren’t you? You think you’re so smart.” He squeezes my wrist harder.

“Help! Please, help!” I scream, thrashing harder. I can’t get away. Where’s a supermarket associate when you need one? Probably outside collecting carts, that’s where. Or maybe they’re announcing a cleanup on aisle four. How dare they, especially when we need them to bag groceries and ward off these crazy shelf-stockers.

“Everyone does it, you know,” the voice says. “Everyone reaches for the milk in the back. They think they’re outsmarting the supermarket and getting some sort of deal. As if we’re just going to let the old milk expire. Trust me, we won’t let it go to waste. We can’t. If we have to, we’ll sell it on Manager’s Special at a drastically reduced price.

“Oh, sure, we’ll take a loss,” the man continued. “Every time we have to sell a carton for less than full price, we take a loss. That’s why we put the freshest cartons in back, where they’re harder to reach. We need to sell as much of the older stuff as we possibly can. It’s how we keep the lights on and the refrigerators cold.”

The man yanked on my wrist, and I screamed, my face striking the cooler’s shelf again. My arm felt like it was going to pop from its socket.

“Let me tell you something, you greedy, penny-pinching, milk-guzzling bastard, you,” the man said. “When the store loses money, I lose money. Every carton of milk we sell at a discount gets deducted from my pay. So when cheap asshats like you reach into the back, you’re plucking money from my pocket. And nobody — I mean nobody — takes money from me. It doesn’t do a body good, let me tell you that.”

I was crying now, both from the pain and the fear. My entire arm was on fire … which was counter-intuitive, considering it was trapped in a cooler.

The man squeezed my arm even harder, and something snapped. He said: “Do you want to tell my kid that Santa Claus isn’t coming this year? Do you?”

“N-no,” I stammered.

“Do you want to tell him that he’s got no college fund, and no future, because his old man’s a worthless bum who stocks shelves?”

“No, sir. No!”

“Or what about my wife?” he went on. “Do you want to tell her that she’s go tot keep washing dishes by hand, because we can’t afford to replace the pump in the dishwasher?”

“My arm,” I said, sobbing. “Please.”

“Shut up!” he screamed. “Why don’t you tell my wife that she married a useless derelict who can’t afford to buy her anything nice? Tell her she wasted the best years of her life playing housewife to a filthy moron who can’t put food on the table. She should have listened to her mother and married Johnny from high school — Johnny the prom king, Johnny the hot-shot scholarship winner, Johnny the big-wheeling bastard who’s now a high-powered, fancy-pants attorney. Tell my wife she should have married Johnny!”

The man burst into a terrible sobbing fit.

“She left me last week,” he said, blubbering. “Took the train right out of town. She left a note saying she couldn’t be with a man who earned nothing, and who came home with icicle snot dangling from his nose.”

He continued to sob — and mercifully, he let go of my wrist. I slumped forward against the cooler, spilling a couple of cartons of milk. But I didn’t cry over it. Instead, I was crying from the pain — and from the man’s gut-wrenching story.

“I’ve wasted my life,” he said, letting out a low, guttural moan. “I’m not even a man. I can’t provide for my son. I have no skills, no future. I can’t even drink this stuff, because I’m lactose-intolerant. I have nothing. Nothing.”

He withdrew his gloved hand, retreating into the darkness.

As for me, my right arm hung limply at my side. My wrist throbbed in time to my pulse. I could use high doses of calcium and vitamin D right about now.

I used my good arm to grab a shelf so I could pull myself to my feet. Puddles of milk pooled on the floor.

“Go,” the man said, his voice echoing within the stark, chilly confines of the cooler. “Just go. Take your milk. Go ahead — take the one that doesn’t expire for another two weeks. Just leave me in peace.”

I didn’t say anything. The only sound came from the steady drone of the cooler’s motor — as well as the awful elevator music playing on the P.A. system.

Silently, I selected a carton of milk — one from the front of the shelf. As I adjusted my broken glasses, I saw this carton was due to expire in two days. But I figured it was the least I could do to help such a miserable, distraught soul. Life had given him a bitter dose of curdled milk. What he needed now was a gesture of kindness. (And perhaps a new career path.)

“Thank you,” the man said, retreating farther into the darkness. “Now I won’t have the loss deducted from my pay. Maybe now my son and I can afford to have the power turned on. Thank you.”

And then he slipped from view entirely, entrapped as he was by the sterile walls of the walk-in refrigerator, and also by his dismal life with its fruitless future. I couldn’t begin to imagine his despair. It probably had the rancid taste of unpasteurized, disease-ridden milk.

But how else would he feel? I thought. Sad and alone, that’s how. And hopeless … as if nothing in the world mattered anymore. Not even healthy teeth and strong bones.

I sometimes think about that encounter, and when I do, a pain shoots through my arm. It often lingers with a dull, throbbing ache — an ache that travels from the tips of my fingers to the very essence of my heart.

And miles in the distance, I’ll hear the forlorn whistle of a downtown train. Its lonely, faraway sound leaves me with a feeling of empty stillness … as well as the repulsive taste of sour milk.

The mystery of the turned-over toilet paper

I think somebody’s been in my apartment. I can tell. The toilet paper roll has been altered so that it feeds from the bottom now, instead of the top.

The Mystery of the Turned-over toilet paper

Now, I know there’s a heated, ongoing debate over the correct way toilet paper should feed. And I know there are informed, well-intentioned people on both sides of the argument.

But I’m not here to dip my toe into politics. I don’t want to have to defend my position in an emotionally charged, Crossfire-like exchange. That’s not the point.

The point is, someone — or something — has made an unsolicited alteration to my living environment. It may be a subtle modification — I admit that point freely — but I consider it a personal affront nevertheless. In my apartment, the toilet paper feeds from the top; never from the bottom.

The only other person with a key is the landlord. So he was my first suspect in this diabolical plot.

But when I hurled the accusation at him, he steadfastly denied any wrongdoing. In fact, he went so far as to accuse me of being a loony hermit who keeps his toenails in a jar and is always delinquent on the rent.

Which is an outright lie — I always have my rent paid by the fifth. I know it’s technically due on the first, but a late fee has never been assessed. Therefore, the claim that I’m “always delinquent” doesn’t pass the sniff test. (Nor does my jar of toenails, come to think of it.)

Speaking of my toenail collection, it has no bearing on this discussion — just like my preference for toilet paper rolls that feed from the top. Besides, we all need goals. Mine is to fill that jar, 10 nails at a time. (Aside, of course, from the ones that fly across the room when I clip them. Unless I’m lucky and stumble across them months later, all brown and brittle. Of course, that’s how they looked the day they were clipped.)

Aside from the landlord, I have no other suspects. I might attribute it to aliens, but the tinfoil covering my windows provides my apartment with an impenetrable layer of protection. Unless they’re using a beaming technology of which I’m unaware, they’d be hard-pressed to find their way inside.

Unless they borrowed my landlord’s key … which would make him complicit in this fiendish plot. Maybe he’s working with the aliens. I thought he seemed a little out of this world. I may have to re-examine his potential involvement.

I also must consider the inter-dimensional portal behind the TV stand. Apparitions might be coming in that way, but I doubt it. I set up the TV so that any paranormal beings will trip on the HDMI cable if they attempt to cross the threshold. I have no evidence that an apparition has tripped (a telltale sign would be an overturned TV), so I can only assume that my booby trap has been successful.

I used to think the apartment was haunted by a demonic entity. I often could hear it babbling a foul stream of sinister, unintelligible gibberish late into the night. But then I realized it was the only the upstairs neighbor watching Fox News.

So the mystery remains unsolved. I’ve installed a motion-driven surveillance system to collect video evidence of the culprit, but no movement has been captured so far except for my cat climbing atop the survival supplies.

The cat. Now there’s a suspect I hadn’t before considered. Maybe he’s the one who’s messing with me. It seems his style: creeping around all the time, acting all aloof and mysterious. He’s also well-aware of my preference for top-feeding toilet paper, and reversing the roll might be his clandestine method for driving me insane.

In fact, he’s watching me right now, as I log this journal entry. I can feel his wicked, yellow eyes boring into my back. I suspect I’m not safe.

If it’s down to him and me, then I have to be stealthy. It’s all about survival. And if he’s truly responsible for toying with my latrine, then I feel it’s only fair for me to respond in kind.

Therefore, I must concoct a plan to hide his litter box where the conniving fiend can’t find it. I’m thinking under the bed is the best place. No — he can crawl under there too easily. Perhaps on top of the fridge. No — he can jump up there in a single leap.

Damn! This enemy is versatile. Is there no sacred ground where he can’t reach?

I’d toss his litter box into the inter-dimensional portal, but I wouldn’t want to trip on the cleverly placed HDMI cable. It’s never advisable to fall prey to one’s own traps.

I know! I’ll carve a pit in the center of the litter box, then overlay it with twigs and leaves. I’ll catch the bastard with his pants down.

Well, not literally. Cats don’t wear pants. I know, because I tried to buy the swine a new pair of Levis for Christmas, and he turned them down. He said he preferred Lee’s. They fit his waist more snugly.

Ungrateful feline. He even demanded the receipt so he could return them.

The cat is still watching me. I’m sure of it. I better take my laptop into the restroom, where I can be alone. I try to act inconspicuous as I unplug the computer’s power cord and tiptoe into the bathroom, closing the door behind me. The cat’s eyes follow me all the way. He knows something is up. I usually take a Playboy into the bathroom instead of my laptop. (Because of the apartment’s bad wiring, I don’t have a wireless router. Or a functioning coffee pot. But at least the toilet paper is two-ply, so I got that going for me.)

Wait! What’s this? Someone has taken the roll of toilet paper and returned it to its top-feeding position.

I must be going mad. I better make a notation in my journal to document this harrowing event.

Outside, there’s scratching at the door. Damn! The bastard has me trapped! Unless I can somehow flush myself down the toilet, there’s no escape.

This may be my last journal entry. I doubt I’ll survive. Be sure to tell the world about me. I don’t want to be forgotten — like Joe Piscopo.

Oh, wait. There’s an inter-dimensional portal in the linen closet. I never noticed it before. I wondered why all my washcloths were disappearing. The portal must connect to the one in the living room.

Ah-ha! An escape! The cat will never know the difference. He’ll still be clawing away at the bathroom door, and meanwhile I’ll be hightailing it across the apartment parking lot, seeking refuge in the protective confines of 7-11. I’m in the mood for a Big Gulp.

But as I charge through the portal and emerge in the living room, I trip on that blasted HDMI cable. The TV and the stand both fall on top of me. I lie sprawled on the floor, stunned.

And the last sight my blurry eyes see is the wicked cat, standing before me, blocking the door outside. His tail twitches menacingly, and I know I’m doomed.

I knew it was him toying with me. I knew it.

It’s the final though that flickers through my mind before I meet my maker.

I’m glad I clipped my toenails.