Sunday, January 29, 2006

Blaze Foley

For probably 20 years, I have prided myself on discovering music that doesn't get airplay on traditional radio or TV, but is light years better than the best that top-40 has ever had to offer. I comb through liner notes from albums and CD's and see who wrote the songs, who sings backup vocals and I attend concerts to hear whose songs they like to play live. I can sniff out quality music instantly-listen to the first few lines of lyrics or melody or chord structure and I can tell you if the act has it going on or are nothing but poseurs or TV eye-candy. I can name hundreds of artists, and I use that term loosely, who have made millions from radio, TV and concerts that I wouldn't go see if they were performing across the street and they paid me a hundred bucks to walk over there. There are others that I would fly and have flown across the U.S. to see a two hour concert. You can't fake talent-it's like faking soberness if you're drunk-it can't be done. I used to have a visceral reaction to seeing lame-ass acts making tens of millions of bucks and I would watch them as one would be attracted to the carnage after a war wreck. The first time I saw Tim McGraw's video, "Indian Outlaw," I came close to having a seizure and everytime I see Shania Twain performing essentially the same song with only a change of revealing outfit, I go mental. As I once heard someone say, I know people who "could eat alphabet soup and shit better lyrics." That applies to 85% of the tripe that makes cash today. Thank god the internet and technology is making the good stuff morre accesible than ever-all people need is to be exposed to it and the majority will respond favorably. Now there will still be those who are transported by the antics and muscial stylings of morons like Cletus T. Judd, barefoot pooka-bead empty hats like Kenny Chesney and groups with cutesy names like Rascal Flatts and She-Daisy. I could throw ten rocks and hit eight people who could do better with a quill pen and a ten-minute guitar lesson-hell, I could do better!

I really got interested in music on an esoteric level when I took up the guitar at age 33. I saw a guy play solo at an outdoor venue and I vowed I would at least give it a try-it didn't look physically impossible (like dunking a basketball), and he didn't look in any way remarkable and I thought, "what the hell, if he can do it, so can I." That specific mindset had costs me tens of thousands of dollars in the last fifteen years as I have tackled with the tenacity of a pitt-bull such hobbies as playing the guitar, flyfishing, tying my own flies and building my own fishing rods, using a wood lathe to turn wooden pens, bottle stoppers, knife handles and fishing rod grips and handles. In the late eighties, I was flipping the channels and came across a show on CMT called "New Country," a poorly produced, 30-minute show which featured the type acts that top-40 country eschewed-unknown but uber-talented singer-songwriters and players doing their thing for the 20 minutes not eaten by commercials. One night about midnight, I caught the tale-end of a performance by a young Texas singer-songwriter named Nanci Griffith. She was tall and skinny and mousy and wore a plain gingham dress and the first song I heard happened to be the final one that night and most of the view was obscured by the credits rolling by. I felt at once cheated and desparate, like a crack addict who accidentally dropped most of his rock down the sewer grate. I tore through the TV directory and saw the show was repeated at 4:00 A.M. I programmed the VCR to tape it but also not trusting my programming skills, I stayed up to make sure the machine came on and captured the show. I still have that tape-the performance still gives me chills. The musicianship and the voice and the lyrics were more than awesome-I did not know it at the time but a young Lyle Lovett was singing background vocals and had written one of the songs and Bela Flack was the kid on banjo. The other players were to become Hall of Fame session players. The next day I invaded the local Peaches record store. I hated that place because it reeked of incense and the hippies that ran the place were far more interested in where to score their next bag of weed than in making sure that the albums were in anything near the proper category. When I found a Sonny Boy Williamson album in the classical section I knew I was gonna have to scour the place like a cop with a search warrant for residue to find anything by Nanci Griffith. I spent four hours pawing through every single album in every category and finally found one tucked between two heavy metal offerings and to me, it was the equivalent of coming across a winning Powereball ticket. I paid for the thing and then got on the interstate to drive to another Peaches 30 miles away to continue my quest. That store was a goldmine-I found the other 3 together in an appropriate section and headed home with the motherlode. I played the vinyl off those things and read the liner notes and the lyrics and the back cover for any nuggets I could glean. I saw her in concert several times that year and during the show she would suggest we check out artists like Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen, both of which have been favorites of mine for a long time. Through them, I have found countless others.

One of my personal favorites that I discovered early on was John Prine. He is the consummate songwriter and although he's no Pavorotti, his voice is distinct and perfect for his own stuff. I once saw him sing an entire set while chewing gum. He was once a mailman in Chicago and was discovered by other songwriters at some open mike night and it was on. He's put out almost 20 albums, none of which has sold like gangbusters but have all been critically acclaimed. Just check Amazon and the reviews-that will show you the love and dedication of his fan base. Several weeks ago, I bought his latest-"Fair and Square." I popped it into the player and it was typical Prine-fingerpicked melodies, lyrics that are always unpredictable, funny and poignant. "Twenty-four years old and he writes like he is two-hundred and twenty," said Kris Kristofferson, who along with the late Steve Goodman gets credit for discovering this incredible talent. The ninth track on the new CD is called "Clay Pigeons," which in true form has nothing at all with sporting clays or even pigeons or even clay for that matter. I played the song over and over-3 Travis-picked chords, four verses of equal length but words of such simple beauty that I was stunned:

"I'm goin' down to the Greyhound Station,
gonna get a ticket to ride,
Gonna find that lady with two or three kids
and sit down by her side,
Ride 'til the sun comes up and down
around me 'bout two or three times,
Smokin' cigarettes in the last seat,
Tryin' to hide my sorrow from the people I meet
and get along with it all,
Go down where people say "y'all,"
Sing a song with a friend,
Change the shape that I'm in,
and get back in the game,
and start playin' again."

Typical Prine at his best-except to one thing-I looked on the liner notes and underneath the title was this: "By Blaze Foley." Hell, you could have knocked me over with cotton-ball. A guy had written a song this good and I didn't know who he was? I did an immediate internet search and found out all about him-he died after being shot in downtown Austin in 1989 but to this day he was and still is revered on the same level as Townes Van Zandt was on the Texas singer-songwriter scene. Through his website I found an 1999 article in the Austin Chronicle that chronicles his remarkable life. Enjoy-Oh, and I am the proud owner of all the Blaze Foley stuff available from a quirky little site called "CD Baby." Check 'em out-they are terrific folks with mountains of good stuff.

The Legend of Blaze Foley
A Walking Contradiction
December 24, 1999:

photo by John Casner

At 39, Blaze Foley left this world with little evidence that he had ever inhabited it. He certainly never had any wealth -- he was known by his friends for using duct tape to hold most of his possessions together -- or fame -- being shot to death probably got the local singer-songwriter more press than anything he did during his life -- and his recorded musical output was sparse. To make matters worse, most of it is missing. What survived compensated the lack of quantity with quality. Just over a month before his death in February 1989, Foley recorded 15 tracks at the Austin Outhouse. This now-defunct neighborhood bar, which made Hole in the Wall seem cavernous by comparison, was the same watering spot that served as Timbuk 3's launching pad. Backed by quality local musicians, most notably fiddler Champ Hood and singer-songwriter Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, Foley put down some of the best -- but not all -- of the gems he had crafted in his years of drifting around Austin and Houston. Accompanied by a few additional studio tracks, the end product was a cassette, Live at the Austin Outhouse (and Not There).

Unfortunately, the tape appeared destined for the same sort of obscurity as Foley himself, owned only by a few music critics, friends, and the occasional newcomer to the Outhouse. The few who heard it, however, held it in high regard. One such person was Tom Tobin. Coming across a copy of the cassette in 1994, he liked it enough that, after five years of running it through his cassette player, he decided this year to make his first jump into the recording industry. Tobin, along with friend Craig McDonald, teamed up with "Lost John" Casner, Foley's friend and caretaker of the original Live tapes, to finance the cassette's reissue on CD. This month, Live at the Austin Outhouse -- minus the (and Not There) tracks -- is once again commercially available, more than a decade after Foley's death.

Perhaps as a measure of the songwriter's skills, Tobin's work in honor of Foley's memory isn't the first. Foley's songs have already been fêted on two tribute albums by Austin musicians in the past year, with a third in the works. The albums include the cream of the Outhouse crowd, including Timbuk 3, the also now-deceased Jubal Clark, and Calvin Russell, as well as Foley's hero and friend, the late, great Townes Van Zandt.

And that's not all. Van Zandt and Lucinda Williams, two towering giants of the singer-songwriter field, both paid lyrical tribute to Foley by penning "Blaze's Blues" and "Drunken Angel," respectively. He even inspired an unofficial Web page (, not to be confused with the official one promoting the new album, Considering the relatively minor impact Foley made on Austin's music scene during his life, it's taken a staggering effort to keep his slim legacy alive. Who was Blaze Foley, and why does he inspire such devotion from the few who knew him?

For starters, he was Michael David Fuller. Searching for a stage name, he played off of his love for Red Foley, and tried "Blue Foley," which eventually mutated into Blaze. Like the character in the Kris Kristofferson song, Foley was a poet and a picker, a walking contradiction, and a problem when he was stoned. First and foremost, he was a songwriter. This occupation defined his being. "I was, first off, really drawn to the songs," says Tobin when asked what made him a committed fan of Foley's despite having never actually seen him. "I think he's an exceptional songwriter. I was struck by the honesty of the songs, and the irreverence of the songs. Blaze was willing to take on institutions and make strong political statements that really reflected his beliefs. He didn't pull any punches with his songs.

"Blaze was a real craftsman," he continues. "The term "songwriter's songwriter' has become almost a cliché, but I think it was really true in Blaze's case. From the things I've read about him, he was very committed to his craft, and folks say that, at least while he was in Austin, he never held a day job, and would even go so far as to gently chide his songwriting friends who did, because he thought they were in some way compromising themselves. He, in a sense, lived for the song. That was what was most important to him."

"He had a lot of spiritual awareness," says local singer-songwriter Mandy Mercier, who was Foley's girlfriend for a while in the early Eighties. "He was very conscious of the artist's role in society, that it was a very hard one. He challenged everybody to absolutely live that 24 hours a day. But it's difficult. Like if you even had a day job, he had no patience.

"He had no patience with me, even though I was buying his beers, and he was driving around in my car," she laughs.

"There is an uncompromising honesty," says Casner of Foley's songs. "Blaze was a fighter for the things he believed in. Frankly, sometimes when he'd had too much to drink, he was a fighter for things that he believed in at the moment. There's just a quality in the way he interacted with people as well as his music; he looked into the very center of your soul and could tell if you were full of shit or not.

"It was the music that mattered to him. I think he realized that if he had wanted to, he was quick enough in terms of putting songs together that he could have made a living writing songs in Nashville, but those weren't the kind of songs he wanted to write. There's a gritty soul to his songs and the way he performed them. To be honest, Blaze wasn't always pretty. In a lot of ways he was an outcast. And [he] took that role -- the Blaze persona with all of the duct tape and all the paraphernalia and stuff. He was gonna do it his way and revel in it."

His way, and reveling in it, cost Foley. He was blunt and quite a drinker, and if he inspired love and frustration among his friends, he also inspired anger and frustration in others. There were clubs that wouldn't put up with him, and he was rather proud of being tossed out of the Kerrville Folk Festival by Rod Kennedy -- and later donning a dress and sneaking back in, legend has it.

"He was really smart and funny and mischievous, all good qualities for songwriters," says Casey Monahan, who covered Foley for years as the country and folk music columnist for the Austin American-Statesman. "I make it a habit of rooting for the underdog, and I did when I wrote for the Statesman. I tried to cover people who had been shut out of various things, often through their own doing. Blaze made some great friends while he was alive; he also made a couple of enemies. He wouldn't get gigs at the normal places, and he kind of took it as a badge of honor that he wasn't allowed to play Kerrville or the Cactus. He certainly didn't try to cover up the fact that he wasn't allowed in the better rooms and on the better stages."

Of course, Foley was hardly an original in pursuing a determinedly iconoclastic path. While it wasn't outright personality plagiarism, Foley was clearly taking his cues from Townes Van Zandt. If a gun hadn't killed Foley, his hard living might still have sentenced him to the same early death that took Van Zandt on New Year's Day 1997 at age 52. And Van Zandt himself personally helped mold the person who became Blaze Foley; not only was the hard-drinking, hard-living dean of Texas songwriters a model for Blaze, he was a close friend.

"He certainly looked up to Townes," agrees Lucinda Williams. "I think Townes was his hero. Unfortunately, I think he romanticized that whole self-destructive, outlaw lifestyle. A lot of people do when they're that age. We all went through that to some extent, but he took it a little bit further than the rest of us.

"I wrote ["Drunken Angel'] for him, although it could have been about Townes as well, which I realized after I finished the song. It really could be about anybody who was a tortured artist and somewhat self-destructive."

The two of them are intertwined in Casner's early Austin experiences:

"When I moved to town in 1980, I took a demo tape to Spellman's [Lounge]," a Fifth Street acoustic club of the time, explains Casner, "and played the demo tape and was talking to the manager. I had noticed that there were a couple of guys out on the side drinking vodka and Coke. This was about, I don't know, 12:30, noon.

"As I was finishing up talking to the manager, this guy came out and wanted to know if I knew who Townes Van Zandt was and if I liked his music. I think "Pancho and Lefty' was about the next song coming up on my demo tape. But Blaze and Townes were sitting out on the side porch, so I met Blaze and Townes together and spent the afternoon hanging out with them."

Van Zandt was also pivotal in bringing Foley to the attention of KUT's Larry Monroe, one of the few deejays who has ever played Foley on the radio.

During a columnist stint for the short-lived Austin Weekly, Monroe wrote a beautiful eulogy for Foley. Monroe described having a "vaguely negative" awareness of a drunken character who often slept under the pool table of the fabled folk hangout emmajoe's. One night, Monroe witnessed a weakened Van Zandt, just out of a week of detox in the State Hospital, struggle through his monthly rent gig at emmajoe's.

"During "If I Needed You,'" wrote Monroe, "he forgot the lyrics and faltered. Blaze glided gracefully to his side and sang the words for him, then harmonized with him as Townes got back on track. After the song, Blaze quietly sat back down near the stage. Townes grew stronger from that point, and it almost seemed that a direct energy transfer from Blaze had occurred."

"I'd seen Townes kind of crack before and not be any good the rest of the night," Monroe tells the Chronicle today, "but Blaze just rescued him that night, and I said, "Well, he's not just a drunken, irresponsible guy.' And that's actually when I took it upon myself to get to know him a little bit better. I don't think I even knew any of his music before I got to know him."

Foley's generosity endeared him to many people, but is also possibly what got him killed.

"The first night we ever stepped foot in Austin," says Barbara K, formerly one-half of Timbuk 3, "it was at Soap Creek Saloon open mike, and Blaze saw us walking in and followed us in. He said, "Wow, they look like they might have something going on. I better check this out,' and came in and heard us. The next night, we had our first gig at the Austin Outhouse, and if it wasn't for Blaze, there would have been nobody there. He brought down about 10, 15 people, and kind of got the ball rolling for us here in Austin. Before we ever knew anybody, he was our first friend.

"It was all about the music," she says of their friendship. "We were all so close to living on the street when we first moved to town. Blaze moved from couch to couch, and when we first moved to town, we didn't really have a place to live, either. We were actually camping out by Mansfield Dam back when it was free camping. There were all these people living out there who couldn't afford to live in Austin. We were living on the edge like Blaze, and we both were passionate about music. That was the only thing driving us -- we were just kindred spirits about it all."

Foley's friends claim his altruism toward the weak and downtrodden led to his death early on the morning of February 1, 1989. According to the official Foley Web site, he was murdered while trying to protect an elderly friend's pension check. A jury saw it differently, and acquitted his killer later that year on the grounds of self-defense. Foley had managed to attend Timbuk 3's Austin City Limits taping days before his death, and when it finally aired several months later, they dedicated the performance to him.

"He had sobered up," says Gurf Morlix, who played guitar and bass off and on with Foley from 1977-81, before going on to a long stint as Lucinda Williams' guitarist and producer. "He had been on the wagon for like a month and a half or something. He was at the top of his game at that point. And then like a month later, I came home one night from playing a gig and there was a message on my machine from Lucinda. All she said was, "I got something I want to tell you. I'll call you back tomorrow. I don't want to tell you on the machine.' And then she hung up. I came home and played that message, and I just sat down and started crying. I knew it was Blaze. I don't know how I knew that, but it had to be."

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Foley had intended for 20% of the sales of the original Live at the Austin Outhouse cassette to go to an Austin homeless shelter. Instead, it went toward his burial costs. Somehow, Foley managed to be a pain in the ass even in death.

"His funeral was just a chaotic clusterfuck," says Morlix. "It was everything you could expect from a sometime fuck-up. It was 15 degrees, really cold, and we left the funeral home going to this cemetery that was way out south of Congress, past Onion Creek, I think. No one knew where it was, everyone knew it was way down south somewhere, and there wasn't enough money to pay for a police escort.

"So the first four cars that left the funeral home got through the first light and everybody else was stopped. When the light turned green we were hoping to catch up with the hearse, but no one did. And then we're just driving down South Congress and after about 20 or 25 minutes cars were turning around. You'd be driving up Congress with four cars behind you and all of a sudden you'd see a party of four cars coming down Congress, and then you'd see another party coming in from some side street where they'd turned around. I think about two-thirds of the people heading for the cemetery never found it. It was perfect."

Those that did make it were each given a piece of duct tape, which was used to seal the coffin shut. Despite being six feet under, however, Foley hadn't yet had his last interaction with Townes -- if Van Zandt, who was known for yanking people's chain, is to be believed.

"Blaze's guitar was often in the pawnshops, so a lot of the shows I saw Blaze play, he was borrowing Townes' guitar," says Barbara K. "One of the last stories I ever heard Townes tell -- I'm sure this was a story -- he was talking about how after Blaze died, his guitar was still in the pawnshop, and they realized that the pawn ticket must have been in his suit jacket that he was wearing in his coffin.

"And so they went out, him and the Waddell brothers -- they were Townes' bassist and drummer for a while -- they went out to the cemetery and got some guy with a backhoe to dig up Blaze's grave. They cut open the duct tape and opened it up, and sure enough, there in the suit jacket pocket was the pawn ticket for his guitar. Who knows if it's true or not. He told it as if it were true. Now, you know, that's just one of those stories that both of them took to their graves. I would take that with a big shake of salt, not just a grain. Yep, Blaze and Townes -- they're probably still swapping that same old guitar back and forth."

"I was playing fiddle with Townes on the air on Larry Monroe's show right after [Foley] died," Mercier laughs, "and Townes started telling that story. My jaw was on the floor, and my eyes were getting bigger and bigger, and I looked over at Larry like, "Can you believe this?' And Larry, without even moving his head, he just moved his eyes left and right like, "No, Mandy. No.'"

For lovers of Foley's music, the reissue of Live at the Austin Outhouse is probably unnecessary; if you were a Foley fan, you probably got your copy of it the first time around. The reissue's real value is for those who have not yet discovered his music, or those who have just heard tell of it, or heard his friends performing covers. Yet if it weren't for the reissue, Foley's music would be nothing but a memory, like some legendary blues singer who died without being recorded. It is known that, in all, he laid down tracks for four albums. Two of them made it into print and quickly made it back out of print; Live at the Austin Outhouse was preceded by Blaze Foley in 1983, a well-done studio album recorded in Alabama featuring the famed Muscle Shoals Horns and Morlix on bass. (That bouncing version of "Girl Scout Cookies" and chorus-laden take on "Oval Room" often heard on Monroe's radio shifts come from this impossible-to-find album.) Of the four, Live is the only one for which masters can be located.

One stopgap solution to this was the two local tribute albums, produced by Jon Smith and Ryan Rader of Deep South Productions. In Tribute and Loving Memory and BFI Too (Foley always said the "BFI" on the ubiquitous trash bins stood for "Blaze Foley Inside") at least make Foley's songs, if not his performances, available to the public after a long absence.

Smith said that he came to the tribute project much like Tobin, from outside of Foley's close friendship group. Rader, a closer friend, had started talking about a tribute project among Foley's old running buddies back in 1993 at a benefit to buy him a tombstone.

"No one, of course, wanted his music to be forgotten, but I think we lost the draw -- it was the short straw kind of thing," says Smith. "It seemed like no one else was going to pick it up. It was being talked about, and Pat Mears had already recorded "Oh Darlin' for another project, and so it all started from that. I think we paid two musicians on the second CD who weren't friends of Blaze, [but other than that] all the time and the talent has been donated."

The result is the kind of tribute of which Foley surely would have approved -- not a bunch of big-name stars (except for perhaps Timbuk 3 and Van Zandt) and no slick production, just Foley's longtime friends working on shoestring budgets because they cared.

"We just rolled up a handful of snow and kicked it off a hill," says Smith. "If we'd had to pay those people -- we paid for the studio time -- but if we'd had to pay for all that other, we never could have done it. It would have been impossible for us. It's not our project -- it belongs to everybody on there."

Of course, even the best tribute album can't substitute for the real thing, and the real thing is extremely scarce.

"For a long time, I struggled with the role of guardian or caretaker of [the Live tapes]," says Casner, who made the original recordings. "One of the things that's been real frustrating over the years is that Blaze was obviously one of the better singer-songwriters that this town ever produced, but he never got the wider recognition. People were familiar with "If I Could Only Fly' from the Willie and Merle version [on the Island in the Sea album], but in terms of the things he recorded, he had recorded an album with Gurf Morlix previous to the Muscle Shoals album, had it mastered and ready to go, trying to find a distributor, but the masters were stolen."

"The master tapes were in Blaze's car, the record company had bought him this car, and he just left all his stuff in back of this station wagon, and someone broke in and stole them," Morlix recalls. "They were in a box in the back. I said, "Blaze, why do you think they stole your master tapes?' He said, "Aw, 'cause they were shiny.' You know, he wasn't perturbed by that very much. It was pretty unfortunate. It's probably some of the best stuff that he ever cut. There's a cassette tape that I've got of it, but it wasn't finished. That was it."

As for the masters to the Muscle Shoals album, there's a small problem involving the FBI.

"They did a limited pressing, I think just a couple of hundred, and Blaze probably gave 90% of them away -- in typical Blaze fashion," says Casner. "All of his friends have signed copies. Apparently, the recording studio was involved in some illicit activity and got busted by the FBI, who confiscated everything that the studio had. I think Blaze enjoyed telling people that, he'd do a song and say, "This is off my album and the FBI has the master tapes.'

"Then there was a recording going on with [noted local producer] Spencer Starnes at Cedar Creek studios that was partially completed before [Foley] was killed. I've heard some scratch mixes of that on cassette, but nobody knows where those master tapes are at. Three albums that are mysteries. And what we end up with is a fucking little cassette recording that I made on four-track cassette at the Outhouse."

Casner hopes that the lost masters can someday be found and reissued. He also hopes to reissue the And Not There tracks, the studio songs originally appended to the Outhouse tape, as a separate album and perhaps bring in a little more cash for the beneficiaries. Tobin, McDonald, and Casner expect to keep 20% of the profits, with another 40% going to Foley's mother, and the remaining fifth will, as per Foley's original wishes, go to the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless.

More Foley music should please at least one notable admirer: Merle Haggard has reportedly become a big fan, thanks not only to "If I Could Only Fly," but also to Casner's efforts. Last year, Casner learned Haggard was in town at Ray Benson's Bismeaux Studios, contributing vocals to Asleep at the Wheel's Bob Wills tribute album Ride With Bob. Casner says that until then, Haggard had only known of "Fly" through Willie, who himself had been turned on to the song by Peggy Underwood, an attorney for Foley and Van Zandt and friend of Nelson's sister, Lana.

"At that point," says Casner, "I didn't think Merle had actually heard any of Blaze's recordings. So I made a point to get over to Bismeaux and left a cassette copy of the Outhouse tapes to be given to Merle. About a month later, I got a call from Merle's manager, who was interested in Blaze and the songs.

"They called back a while later and wanted several more copies. They were playing in a club in Denison, up in North Texas, and I went up there in June of last year and hand-delivered four more copies of the tape to Merle and got to spend time on the bus. He listened to the tape, and had in fact never heard any of Blaze's recordings. He was only familiar with "If I Could Only Fly,' which from his version of the story, Willie had already done most of the recording when he heard the song and said, "You got to let me sing on that one.'"

Haggard still performs the song during his concerts, and even sent a videotape of himself performing the song to Tammy Wynette's funeral.

"When "If I Could Only Fly' was first released by he and Willie, there was some Nashville trade paper that quoted Merle saying it was the best country song he'd heard in 15 years," recalls Casner. "Blaze kept a copy of that magazine rolled up in his boot for three or four months, so he could show people. When I told that to Merle he kind of shuddered.

"For Blaze, that quote from Merle was validation that he was a real songwriter. The commercial success didn't matter. He had been validated because one of the best country songwriters of all time had made the point to say that Blaze was good." end story

Talking Dog Joke

A guy is driving around and he sees a sign in front of a house:
"Talking Dog For Sale."
He rings the bell, and the owner tells him the dog is in the backyard.
The guy goes into the backyard and sees a Labrador Retriever
sitting there.

"You talk?" he asks.
"Yep," the Lab replies.
"So, what's your story?"
The Lab looks up and says, "Well, I discovered that I could talk when
I was pretty young, and I wanted to help the government; so I told the
CIA about my gift, and in no time at all they had me jetting from
country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders,
because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping. I was one of
their most valuable spies for eight years running."

"But the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn't
getting any younger so I wanted to settle down. I signed up for a
job at the airport to do some undercover security work, mostly
wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some
incredible dealings and was awarded a batch of medals. I got married,
had a mess of puppies, and now I'm just retired."

The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants
for the dog.

"Ten dollars."

The guy says, "This dog is amazing. Why on earth are you selling him
so cheap?"

"Because he's a liar. He didn't do any of that shit."

Saturday, January 28, 2006

An Amazing Piece of Writing

I'm in awe of a lot that I read and I read copiously-the blogs and the internet have made it much easier to find pieces that you would have certainly missed had someone not pointed them your way. When James Lileks says it's good writing, it's like Emeril telling you it's good food. This piece comes from the Washington Post-it's by Gene Weingarten and it's about a comedian who performs for young children, but as you will see, it's much more. I could just link to it but I'm going to put the whole thing here:

The Peekaboo Paradox
The strange secrets of humor, fear and a guy who makes big money making little people laugh

By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, January 22, 2006;

The Great Zucchini arrived early, as he is apt to do, and began to make demands, as is his custom. He was too warm, so he wanted the thermostat adjusted. It was. He declared the basement family room adequate for his needs, but there was a problem with the room next door. Something had to be done about it.

The room next door was emblematic of the extraordinary life and times of the Great Zucchini, Washington's No. 1 preschool entertainer. The homeowners, Allison and Donald Cox Jr., are in their late thirties, with two young children -- Lauren, who is 5, and Donald III, who goes by Trey, and whose third birthday was being celebrated that day.

Tall and handsome, Don is a federal government lawyer. Short and pretty, Allison is an IT recruiter. Like most successful two-career couples who started a family later in life, the Coxes have resources to lavish on their children. When they bought this spacious colonial in Bethesda, the large area next to the family room was going to be Don's study. But it soon surrendered itself into a playroom -- filling, floor to ceiling, with entertainment for the kids. A wall unit became a storage place for dolls, games and action figures, all neatly partitioned and displayed like heirlooms. The floor is a warren of toys: There is a little girl's vanity and a tea table primly set with cups and saucers. For Trey, there is a ride-on choo-choo train. A fully functional mini-moon bounce occupies one capacious corner. In another is a wall-mounted TV.

The Great Zucchini's problem? This room has no door. Its enticing contents were visible from the room where he would be performing, and the Great Zucchini tolerates no distractions. So he asked Allison to hang a bedsheet across the open archway, which meant making pushpin holes in the sheet and in the walls. Good-naturedly, Allison obeyed. Parents almost always do.

When the Great Zucchini arrived that Saturday morning, Don had no idea who he was. Frankly, he didn't look like a great anything. He looked like a house painter, Don thought, with some justification. He wears no costume. He was in painter's pants, a coffee-stained shirt and a two-day growth of beard. He toted his beat-up props in beat-up steamer trunks, with ripped faux leather and broken hinges hanging askew.

By the time the show began, more than a dozen kids were assembled on the floor. The Great Zucchini's first official act was to order the birthday boy out of the room, because -- a little overwhelmed by the attention -- Trey had begun to cry. "We'll re-transition him back in," the Great Zucchini reassured Allison as she dutifully, if dubiously, whisked her son away.

At the back of the room, Carter Hertzberg, the father of a party guest, was watching with frank interest. He'd heard about the Great Zucchini. "Supposedly," he explained dryly, "all the moms stand in the back and watch, because they think he's hot."

Many moms were, indeed, standing in the back. And -- in a tousled, boyish, roguish, charmingly dissolute sort of way -- the Great Zucchini is, indeed, hot. (Emboldened by a glass or three of party beaujolais, moms have been known to playfully inquire of the Great Zucchini whether there is any particular reason he merits that nickname.)

At the moment, the Great Zucchini was trying and failing to blow up a balloon, letting it whap him in the face, hard. Then he poured water on his head. Then he produced what appeared to be a soiled diaper, wiped his cheek with it, and wore it like a hat as the kids ewwww-ed. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Great Zucchini was behaving like a complete idiot.

Trey's aunt saw me taking notes. "You're writing a story about him?" Vicki Cox asked, amused. I confirmed that I was.

"But . . . why?" she asked.

A few feet away, the Great Zucchini was pretending to be afraid of his own hand.

"I mean," Vicki said, "what's the hook?"

Now, the Great Zucchini was eating toilet paper.

"I mean, are you that desperate?" she asked.

On the floor in front of us, the kids -- 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds -- were convulsed in laughter. Literally. They were rolling on the carpeted floor, holding their tummies, mouths agape, little teeth jubilantly bared, squealing with abandon. In the vernacular of stand-up, the Great Zucchini was killing. Among his victims was Trey, who, as promised, had indeed been re-transitioned into his own party.

The show lasted 35 minutes, and when it was over, an initially skeptical Don Cox forked over a check without complaint. The fee was $300. It was the first of four shows the Great Zucchini would do that Saturday, each at the same price. The following day, there were four more. This was a typical weekend.

Do the math, if you can handle the results. This unmarried, 35-year-old community college dropout makes more than $100,000 a year, with a two-day workweek. Not bad for a complete idiot.

If you want to understand why the Great Zucchini has this kind of success, you need look no further than the stresses of suburban Washington parenting. The attendant brew of love, guilt and toddler-set social pressures puts an arguably unrealistic value on someone with the skills, and the willingness, to control and delight a roistering roomful of preschoolers for a blessed half-hour.

That's the easy part. Here's the hard part: There are dozens of professional children's entertainers in the Washington area, but only one is as successful and intriguing, and as completely over-the-top preposterous, as the Great Zucchini. And if you want to know why that is -- the hook, Vicki, the hook -- it's going to take some time.

Even before they respond to a tickle, most babies will laugh at peekaboo. It's their first "joke." They are reacting to a sequence of events that begins with the presence of a familiar, comforting face. Then, suddenly, the face disappears, and you can read in the baby's expression momentary puzzlement and alarm. When the face suddenly reappears, everything is orderly in the baby's world again. Anxiety is banished, and the baby reacts with her very first laugh.

At its heart, laughter is a tool to triumph over fear. As we grow older, our senses of humor become more demanding and refined, but that basic, hard-wired reflex remains. We need it, because life is scary. Nature is heartless, people can be cruel, and death and suffering are inevitable and arbitrary. We learn to tame our terror by laughing at the absurdity of it all.

This point has been made by experts ranging from Richard Pryor to doctoral candidates writing tedious theses on the ontol-ogical basis of humor. Any joke, any amusing observation, can be deconstructed to fit. The seemingly benign Henny Youngman one-liner, "Take my wife . . . please!" relies in its heart on an understanding that love can become a straitjacket. By laughing at that recognition, you are rising above it, and blunting its power to disturb.

After the peekaboo age, but before the age of such sophisticated understanding, dwells the preschooler. His sense of humor is more than infantile but less than truly perceptive. He comprehends irony but not sarcasm. He lacks knowledge but not feeling. The central fact of his world -- and the central terror to be overcome -- is his own powerlessness. This is where the Great Zucchini works his magic.

The Great Zucchini actually does magic tricks, but they are mostly dime-store novelty gags -- false thumbs to hide a handkerchief, magic dust that turns water to gel -- accompanied by sleight of hand so primitive your average 8-year-old would suss it out in an instant. That's one reason he has fashioned himself a specialist in ages 2 to 6. He behaves like no adult in these preschoolers' world, making himself the dimwitted victim of every gag. He thinks a banana is a telephone, and answers it. He can't find the birthday boy when the birthday boy is standing right behind him. Every kid in the room is smarter than the Great Zucchini; he gives them that power over their anxieties.

The Great Zucchini's real name is Eric Knaus, and the last few analytical paragraphs will come as a surprise to him. Eric is intelligent, but he is almost aggressively reluctant to engage in self-analysis, even about his craft. What he knows is that he intuitively understands preschool kids, because he's had a lot of practice. He worked at Washington area preschools and day-care centers for more than a decade.

During a brief stint as a party host at the Discovery Zone in Rockville, Eric discovered his ability to entertain as well as baby-sit. He was making $2 an hour, so tips were vital. And he found that the most substantial tips came when he acted dumb, serving up laughter along with the pizza.

Four years ago, he decided to go solo. It may have been the best decision he ever made.

The Great Zucchini's clientele is mostly from affluent neighborhoods -- Northwest Washington, Chevy Chase, Bethesda, Potomac, Great Falls, McLean, Arlington. He's been to homes the size of small cathedrals and to parties where he was only one of several attractions, including cotton candy and popcorn machines, lawn-size moon bounces and petting-zoo sheep. Most famously, he did a party at the vice president's residence for a granddaughter of Dick and Lynne Cheney.

I first met the Great Zucchini at a location he chose, a coffee shop in White Flint Mall.

"In the beginning, I had almost no clients," he said, "and I would sit at a table like this in a place like this, and if a mom would be walking by with her 3-year-old, I would pretend to be talking on my cell phone. I'd say, 'Yeah, I do children's parties geared for 3-year-olds!' And a lot of times, the mom would stop, and say . . . 'You do children's parties?'"

When he first started, he found out what other birthday party entertainers were charging -- roughly $150 per show -- and upped it by $25. That worked; it seemed to give him agency. After a while, his weekends were so crammed with parties -- seven or eight, every weekend -- he felt overwhelmed. So, applying fundamental principles of economics, he decided to thin his business but not his profits by raising his prices precipitously -- from $175 to $300. It turns out that the fundamental principles of economics are no match for the fundamental desperation of suburban parents. He still was doing seven or eight shows a weekend.

Weekdays, he mostly haunts places like this, drinking coffee and tending to his cell phone. It rings a lot. It's ringing right now.

"Hello. Yes. Okay, sure, what date are you looking at?"

He flips open the tattered appointment book that is always with him. He's got dates penciled in as far into the future as October.

"I have nothing on the 12th, but I can do the 13th at 11 o'clock. Okay, good. You've seen my show? Excellent. Sure, I remember Dylan's party. Dylan's got short hair, right? Oh. Well, I remember Dylan anyway. He's got two ears, right? This party is for . . .? He is turning, what? Six, okay. Your name is . . .? Okay. And the dad's name?"

He listens, wincing slightly at his own misstep.

"Okay, dad's not invited. We don't feature dad. Not a problem!"

Raising children has always been stressful, but these days it seems even more so, with single-parent families, two-career time pressures and a bewildering explosion of diagnosed childhood developmental disabilities. Things are hard, even if you have a nice income and a nice house in a nice neighborhood. In some ways, that can make it even harder.

I first found out about the Great Zucchini through a friend of mine who lives in Northwest Washington. She gave up a high-prestige job to raise her four young children. Because her husband has a successful career, they can swing it, if not entirely comfortably. She doesn't want her name used because she has hired the Great Zucchini three times, and, like many of the parents I interviewed for this story, is more than a little conflicted about it.

"It's an insane, indulgent thing to do," she said. "You could just have a party where you all played pin the tail on the donkey or musical chairs or something. But that is just not done in this part of D.C. If you did that, you would be talked about.

"The whole thing has snowballed into levels of craziness, and it's just embarrassing to be a part of it. I would never tell my father about this. He grew up in Arkansas during the Depression. It would physically cause him pain to know what I spent on a child's party, for some guy to put a diaper on his head."

What's indisputable is that the kids love the guy with the diaper on his head. They talk about him all the time. They repeat his dumb jokes. They recognize him on the street. They see him at their playmates' parties, and ask for him at theirs. "The Great Zucchini," said my friend's husband, who deals professionally with Washington's power elite, "is the most famous person my children know."

It is crazy, and a little unseemly, and the Great Zucchini knows that. When he was a kid in Bethesda, he says, his own birthday parties consisted of a cake and touch football with friends in the back yard, and that was just fine.

Not that he's complaining about his good fortune, or bashful about discussing it. The Great Zucchini can elevate self-confidence to amusingly Olympian levels. "Why shouldn't I charge as much an hour as the best lawyer in town?" he asks. "I am the best children's entertainer in town."

And: "David Copperfield couldn't keep these kids from running around wild. I can do that."

And, when I noted that he relies on many of the same routines, time and again, he said: "When people come to see Springsteen, they don't want new stuff. They want to hear 'Glory Days.'"

His business plan? To become the children's entertainer to the stars, a star in his own right who is flown first class to Beverly Hills, to do parties at $5,000 a pop for Angelina Jolie's kids, or Britney's.

For all his swagger, Eric Knaus is instantly likable and effortlessly charming. He's got a hitch in his smile that says he's not taking himself all that seriously. His hair is moussed into an appealing, spiky mess, like Hobbes's pal, Calvin. He speaks with a gentle, liquid "l" that tends to put children at ease and seems to work with adults, too. And he is just stupendously great with kids, which is not an inconsiderable factor for a single mom looking for a mate, or a married mom with a single-mom friend whom she'd like to set up. It happens. Eric once had a romance with a single mother he met at a party, but he isn't entirely sure he'd do it again. When they broke up, the child was inconsolable.

Eric is aware that some of his party-time demands can seem obnoxious, but he insists they are reasonable. Very short people, he explains, have very short attention spans, which is why he is notorious for shushing parents who insist on talking during his show, even to the point of ordering them from the room. As he puts it, with characteristic grandiloquence: "I have the power. I've actually said, 'Do you want me to refund your money and leave?'" No parent has ever chosen that option, not with a roomful of kids sprawled on the carpet, giggly and expectant.

This has led to the occasional testy moment, particularly with one mother not long ago who not only balked at covering a picture window with a sheet but insisted on giving her child some macaroni during a show, in defiance of the Great Zucchini's inviolable no-eating rule. ("A choking hazard," he said. "He was hungry," she said.) She not only got a dressing down from the Great Zucchini at the party but a scolding letter afterward.

"My husband threw it away," she said. "He didn't show it to me, because he knew it would really upset me."

This mom happens to be a high-profile attorney with a big-name law firm. Though the Web contains quotes from her on important public-policy matters, you won't find her name in this story about a children's entertainer. She, too, insisted on anonymity. Some subjects are just too personally perilous. This lawyer-mother thoroughly dislikes the Great Zucchini and used a potentially litigable word to describe him.

So, is she sorry she hired him?


"I have to say, he did a great job with the kids."

Both anonymous moms I talked to mentioned something curious. They were surprised that the Great Zucchini required payment in full, up front, the day the party was booked. He actually drove over, that day, to pick up their checks.

It was odd, they said -- almost as if, for all his financial success, the Great Zucchini has cash-flow problems.

From the moment I met him, there were things that puzzled me about the Great Zucchini. Unless I drove him, for example, he relied on cabs to get to all of his gigs. He'd recently totaled his car, he explained, and hadn't gotten around to buying a new one. Besides, he said, he found cabs less restrictive.

Also, the Great Zucchini didn't seem to live anywhere. He had an address in Bethesda, but he would always want to meet at one Starbucks or another. Every time I proposed coming to his house some morning, he was staying elsewhere overnight. He seemed to crash everywhere but home.

His act was never fancy, but in recent months it had lost whatever frills it once had. On his Web site, the Great Zucchini is pictured at the White House Easter Egg Roll, where he once performed in a fancy black vest with cartoon smiley faces on it. He used to wear that vest to all his performances but lost it some time ago and has no plans to replace it.

He is more than a little disorganized. He lost a glowing-thumb trick, then found it, but it was broken, and he never got a new one. At one point, he lost his cell phone. When we were together, he often commandeered mine. Many of his magic props seem to be weathered to the point of decrepitude. His dirty diaper is years old. His magic bag with a false panel -- a "change bag," in magicians' terms -- is soiled and ripped. The once-orange sponge balls he palms for an illusion are brown with use. And there's that persistent, just-rolled-out-of-bed stubble. He didn't always have that.

Some parents I talked to were worried that the Great Zucchini might be rotting on the vine. Their guess was substance abuse, or something even darker.

This was understandable, but wrong. His demons turned out to be of a different species, more benign, perhaps, but also more interesting.

Have you ever tried to peel a zucchini? It's not like a potato. The skin is pretty thick. You don't get it all with the first swipe.

Eric and I were in Arlington, at a fifth birthday party for a boy named Charlie. It was the first time the mother, Sarah Moore, had hired the Great Zucchini, and she had no complaints. He was everything she'd been told he'd be, she said, as she surveyed her post-party, preprandial dining room, aswarm with giddy kids.

"He's a big draw. You know, we wouldn't have gotten half this turnout with a moon bounce," Sarah said, completely seriously.

On our way to the party, Eric and I had been talking football, and I had said I thought the New York Giants would win their next game. He agreed but said they wouldn't beat the spread. I'd found that a little odd, and on our way back from the party I took a stab.

"You're a gambler," I said.

"I need a cigarette," he said.

We stopped for cigarettes. He took a long drag, and smiled. It was as though he'd been waiting for this release for weeks.

"Look, I'm not Mister Rogers, okay?"

Eric definitely has cash-flow problems. They stem from the fact that, for the last several years, the Great Zucchini has been in debt to bookies. "I remember the first bet I ever made," he said. "I went to buy a voice-mail system for my phone, and was talking sports with the guy at the desk, and he asked if I bet with anybody. I made my first bet that day."

What followed, he said, was years of gambling, sometimes thousands of dollars a week, invariably more money than he could afford. He once went to Las Vegas on a Super Bowl Sunday and lost $100 before the game even began. He'd bet on the coin toss. Then he lost some more. Once, he went to Atlantic City, won more than $2,400, and then proceeded to lose it all, down to his last penny. He didn't have money for tolls on the way home and had to beg the tollbooth attendants for mercy. They gave him bills, which he never paid because he owed too much to others.

When the phone rings, it's generally a mom or dad. But he always checks the number warily before answering, because sometimes it's a creditor. Court records show he has a $1,500 income tax lien against him in Anne Arundel County, a debt he said he didn't even know about until I told him.

Anyway, he said, the worst is behind him. He decided some time ago that it's a no-win deal with sports bookies. "You get in a hole, and you can never get out," he said. He has stopped using bookies.

Good, I said.

Recently, he said, he's been doing most of his betting in offshore sports casinos, over the phone.

Eric believes that his gambling helped end the best romantic relationship he ever had -- one that might have led to marriage. This was a beautiful, funny, intelligent woman who, he said, chose him over a far more illustrious suitor, pro football quarterback Gus Frerotte. But in the end, by ignoring her needs, Eric chose gambling over her. "Gambling almost becomes your mistress," he said. "It grabs hold of your soul."

He knows he has a problem, he said, and he is planning on getting professional help. Lately, though, he said he's been making some progress on his own. "I've slowed down a lot," he said. "Let me tell you what I did on Sunday. I used to lay down two or three hundred on four or five different games. Well, I only bet $100 the whole day, which is a huge step up."

A few minutes passed. We talked about women, and how both of us love them. We talked about addictions, and how both of us have had them. And then, to cement our newfound openness, Eric proposed that, in a week or so, he and I take a road trip. To Atlantic City.

Eric's personal friendships are strong and enduring. His closest friends are his oldest friends. Nights out are filled with drinking, bragging and testosterone-laced one-upmanship. With a reporter present on two different Friday nights, it all turned into good-natured savagery, a pile-on, with Eric at the bottom of the pile.

Mike Conte, a seventh-grade math teacher, asked me if I'd seen Eric's apartment yet. Funny you mention it, I said, giving Eric a glance, but no.

"Listen to this," Mike said. "The guy gets an apartment, a big apartment, and all he has to put in it is a couch and a coffee table, right? That's all he's got in the whole place, right? So, then he gets some more money, and what do you think he buys next?"

Mike paused for dramatic effect.

"A bed, you think? No. An air hockey table."

Eric raised a hand and called out to the bartender. "Could I have a little dignity and self-esteem in a glass, please?"

On these nights, Eric tends to stick to Miller Lite. He has parties the next morning, and though he's missed, forgotten and mislaid many other things in his life, he says he's never reneged on a date with a roomful of expectant 4-year-olds.

K.B. Bae, a financial adviser for Legg Mason who has been Eric's friend since childhood, told of the time the two of them were at a strip club, and Eric was taken with a certain dancer, who was both pretty and personable:

"She seems to be taking a liking to him, talking to him between dances, and he's tipping like an idiot, not understanding what's going on. The next day, he says to me, 'Let's go back to that place.' Same thing happens. The third day, Eric reaches into his pocket, and he's got this glam photo of himself, and on the back he's written this really deep stuff, 'Is this chance, fate or love?' that sort of thing. And she's dancing naked onstage, right? And he goes up and tips her with the picture. She reads the back of it, and after that, she's nowhere to be found, dude!"

Everyone laughed.

"When he goes into a house, his attitude is, 'You're lucky to have me.' When I go into a house, my attitude is, 'I'm happy to have the job.'"

This is Broccoli the Clown, ne Jake Stern, who, at 57 has been a children's entertainer in the Washington area for 27 years. He is one of the best. It was only recently that Jake saw a show by the Great Zucchini, when he met Eric to sell him some of his old magic props. Broccoli the Clown has seen a great... many characters in his career, but nothing prepared him for the disheveled package of strut and gumption that is the Great Zucchini.

"At first, I was pissed. I was sitting there kicking myself. I have full clown gear and expensive equipment, and he's got this change bag with a broken handle and a bedsheet with jelly stains on it, and he's making more money than I am."

After a while, Broccoli the Clown realized he was focusing on the wrong thing. It wasn't about the props or the costumes.

"He's got an incredible rapport with the children. I've known guys in this business who are stiff as a board. To them, it's a job, and they're bitter. They hate what they do, and they can't relate to the children. This guy relates amazingly to kids. He understands and enjoys them."

The Great Zucchini doesn't know how to juggle. But he does a bit where he claims to be a great juggler, and then fails dreadfully, the balls bouncing every which way. The kids crack up. Jake Stern, on the other hand, teaches juggling. But after seeing Eric, he began to modify his act. Now he sometimes lets the balls bonk him in the head.

"If you want to call me the poor man's Great Zucchini," says Jake, "I don't mind. I really don't. Listen, I look into his eyes, and he's a good guy. I look into his eyes, and there's almost . . ."

Broccoli the Clown hesitates.

". . . there's something almost innocent there."

On the turnpike, en route to Atlantic City, I was doing 80 mph when I whipped past a state trooper. He followed me into the next rest stop, lights flashing.

As we waited for the trooper to check my license, Eric said, quietly, "You know, if I had been driving, I would have been in real trouble."

I smiled, relieved. "I know," I said. "Your court date is November 21."

"How do you know that?"

"I ran your police records," I said.

For a moment, there was dead silence. Then: "So you didn't buy that I just really like to talk to cabdrivers, huh?"

The cop may have been 20 feet behind us, but I suspect he wondered why two guys he'd just pulled over for speeding were busting a gut laughing.

The Great Zucchini hadn't been driving because his license was suspended for nonpayment of parking tickets -- well over $2,000 in tickets that he'd simply tossed in the glove box. After the license suspension, he still drove for a while, furtively. ("Do you have any idea how careful a driver you become when you're on a suspended license?") Twice, he was stopped by the police. The second cop checked his record, found a bench warrant for his arrest and hauled him in, despite Eric's desperate, last-ditch plea to perform a free party for the guy's kid. It was in the police station, with his car impounded, that the Great Zucchini decided maybe he really ought to start taking cabs.

Eric's misadventures with traffic tickets are symptomatic of larger problems involving his inability to conduct life as a reasonably mature, moderately organized, marginally integrated member of polite society.

Take his apartment . . . please.

I did get to see it, finally. On the morning of the day I was to arrive, Eric awoke to discover he had no electricity. So he quickly had to get cash and run to the utility company. He knew exactly what to do because it had happened many times before. That's his tickler system: When the lights go out, it's time to pay the bill.

As I entered the apartment, to the left, was a spare bedroom. It was empty, except for a single, broken chair. Down the hall was the living room, with that couch and that air hockey table, which was covered with junk, clothes, cigarette butts and coins. ("You want to play? I can clean it off.") Coins and junk also littered the floor, along with two or three industrial-size Hefty bags filled with Eric's soiled clothing he'd brought back from a summer camp that he'd helped staff, three months earlier. The closets were completely empty. There were no clean clothes.

The kitchen was almost tidy, due to lack of use. There was a fancy knife set and a top-of-the-line microwave, neither of which, Eric said, has ever been deployed. There was also a gleaming, never-used chrome blender and a high-end Cuisinart coffee maker that was put into play exactly once, when a woman who slept over wanted a cuppa in the morning. Most of these appliances were purchased in a frenzy of optimism when Eric moved in almost a year ago. ("You know how when you get a new place, it's all exciting, and you say, Mmm, I'm gonna get me a blender and make smoothies!")

The cupboards were bare. The only edible thing I saw was a 76-ounce box of raisin bran, the size of a small suitcase.

The bedroom was similar to the living room, down to the Hefty bags, except there was actually something in the closet. Not clothing, though. A shoebox.

It doesn't belong on the closet floor, Eric knows that. He was going to bring it to the French Quarter of New Orleans, but that's out now. He's thinking maybe the bluffs of Big Sur. He just hasn't gotten around to it. It's been three years now, so another few weeks or months or years won't really matter, one way or another. It holds his father's ashes.

Eric doesn't know why he is the way he is. He knows he's perfectly ridiculous, and that his disability -- or whatever it is -- is out of control. We were about an hour outside Atlantic City, discussing his life.

"I make more than $100,000 a year," he said, "and I literally have no idea where any of it goes." He is simply lacking, he said, whatever mechanism most people have for dealing with the mundanities of life. His personal finances resemble his apartment: total chaos. He keeps no records. He knows he's not entirely square with the Internal Revenue Service, but hasn't a clue how much he owes. He's taking steps to negotiate a payment plan.

But it's not just about money, I said.

No. No, he agreed. It's not just about money. It's about a fundamental inability to cope. "Some people promise themselves that maybe one day they'll sky-dive, to prove to themselves they can do it," he said. "I'll promise myself that maybe one day I'll clean my house."

The devolution of the Great Zucchini's act over the last few years is not because his life has been spiraling any further out of control than it's ever been. It's just that he started his business with some discipline, but when it became clear his career wouldn't suffer because of inattention to detail, inattention to detail seamlessly followed.

I've known other men who approach Eric's level of dysfunction, including myself. I'm saved by the fact that I've been able to hang on to a competent wife. That doesn't seem to be an immediate option for Eric. He's frightened of commitment, he says, because he is terrified of making the wrong choice. The divorce of his parents, and divorces he's seen among his friends and his clients, make him particularly scared. It's odd, because he's not really afraid of much else. He's not even particularly scared of death.

Why not?

"Life is a crapshoot," he said. When you understand and accept that, he said, it eliminates fear. Plus, there's something else.

"When I was 7 years old," he said, "I was walking in the street with my grandmother, and I got kissed on the cheek by an angel."

I laughed. He did not. He meant it. He said he felt the kiss, knew instantly what it was, and believes that this angel has been watching over his life ever since. He has survived serious car accidents, he said, and as a child recovered from two broken arms that doctors said, by all rights, should have turned into rag doll appendages. He believes he is protected. It's a healthy attitude for living, perhaps, but maybe not for gambling.

Our plan for this trip was to stay a few hours in Atlantic City and go home. Eric had told me he'd bring $200 in cash and see what happened. But he wound up bringing $500. If things were going good, he said, he just might gamble into the night.

An overnight? But you didn't even bring a toothbrush or a change of clothes, I said.

"Won't need 'em," he said, if things go good.

Half an hour away, he phoned a friend and left a message: "Gettin' near Atlantic City. Gonna roll some bones."

He saw me looking at him.

"Okay, I'm seriously geeking out," he said, laughing.

Five minutes later, he made another call, and left another message.

"Gonna be rollin' some bones, baby."

We are rolling bones.

Because he likes the company of people, Eric's favorite game is craps. Craps is not a solitary pursuit, like blackjack or slots. You are throwing dice, and other people around the table are betting on your throws. If you are hot, you can gain a lot of close friends.

At the moment, Eric is white-hot, and the table is going rip-roaring crazy.

Laying down bets of $10 and $20, Eric is up a couple of hundred. Others at the table are hitchhiking on his luck, including a very large woman with a very large tumbler of wine.

Right before every roll of the dice, for luck, she hollers the same thing at the top of her lungs, a corruption of a Kanye West lyric. "I ain't messin' with no gold digger," she bellows, "but I ain't messin' with no broke nigga!" Appalled, the pit boss implores her to stop. When she refuses, he backs off. At a casino, you don't monkey with mojo.

With each cast of the dice, the large woman's sister, who is even larger, is standing behind Eric, pounding his shoulders, yelling, "Lady Luck! Lady Luck!"

Eric is up to $350 and climbing.

The women keep yelling their inane mantras, Eric keeps rolling, everyone keeps winning. The noise becomes deafening. People from other tables migrate over to get part of the action.

We are in Bally's, which is pretty indistinguishable from any other Atlantic City casino -- which is to say, it is an illusion. The rooms are brocaded and chandeliered, the croupiers tuxedoed, the waitresses sequined, all to establish an atmosphere of genteel, aristocratic gaming, but it's all in service of banal desperation. The patrons tend toward the taut and the hollow-eyed, the pale and the pit-stained, dressed less for Monte Carlo than for Monty's Steak 'n' Ribs. Eric is in a Maryland Terps polo shirt, and the large ladies are in drugstore pink, and most everyone, as always, will go home a loser.

But while you're winning, anything seems possible. Eric is at the moment a heroic character, a romantic lead, a suave Bogart or Bond, rolling sixes and nines and never a losing seven, and the cheering continues. The classy illusion holds right up until the moment that the bellowing woman falls silent, sways, hiccups, and vomits all over the table.

It's now just after midnight. We'd arrived at 7, and Eric shows no sign of tiring. He's lost some money at blackjack but is making it back on a craps table, again. Beside him is a sweet, funny, attractive woman named Mollie, in a low-cut black blouse and white pants with a big belt. Mollie's maybe 30, a businesswoman from Texas. She'd arrived with friends whom she seems to have jettisoned.

Eric is hot.

"You want to see a five?" He teases the table, which has bet heavily on five. "Is five what you want, a five?" He rolls a five. The table erupts in cheers.

"I'm a magician," he says to Mollie. "I don't know if you knew that."

"It's showing," she says. She is leaning against the table, hipshot, dangling a sandal, watching his every move.

Eric is generous with his winnings, every once in a while tossing a few chips to the croupier, tipping waitresses magnanimously. He has switched from rum-and-Cokes to coffee, to keep alert, but he still tips $5 or more. That's a signature of his: At coffee shops, Eric will sometimes leave $20 on a $5 tab. He says he does it to make the day of someone who is not accustomed to generosity.

By 1:30 a.m., he's up more than $600, and still rolling strong. "I'm going to call it a night," Mollie says. She shakes Eric's hand and leaves for her room, his business card in her pocket. Then she comes back, looks at the table and Eric. She thought she might have forgotten something, but she guessed not. She leaves again, for good.

"This is the hottest roll I've been on all night," Eric tells me. "When it's over, they are definitely going to give me an ovation."

A few minutes later he finally craps out. There is some polite applause, and someone else grabs the dice.

I tell him: "You could have hooked up with Mollie."

"What? No way," he says.

"Eric, at one point there, she was giving you a back rub."

"Well, yeah."

"You had her."

"You think, really?"


He smiles sheepishly, goes back to the table.

I went to bed. I found Eric again at 7 a.m. at another casino. He hadn't slept. He was up $1,100 but wasn't ready to leave.

The next three hours were ugly. The craps tables had cooled off ("The felt was too old, the table was hard"), and he had a couple of bad outings with steely-eyed dealers at the blackjack tables. ("Those women were cruel.") Eric finally quit at 10:30 a.m. His all-nighter had left him with a profit of $200, roughly his fee for 20 minutes of children's party entertainment. He wasn't disappointed. Life is a crapshoot, after all.

On the ride home, there was one image I could not get out of my head.

The Great Zucchini's tattered loose-leaf appointment book is filled with the names and dates of his scheduled parties, months and months into the future. He keeps no backup -- no other notes, nothing on a computer disk, nothing anywhere. If he were to lose that book, he'd have no idea where he was supposed to be, or when. For months of weekends, preschool children would be waiting expectantly in homes across greater Washington, and the Great Zucchini would simply never show.

Eric understands the importance of that book. Without it, the Great Zucchini would cease to exist, and all that would be left would be Eric Knaus. And so he carries it with him everywhere. He won't leave it in a car, in case the car is stolen. When he goes out of his house, if he absolutely must leave the book behind, he hides it in a special place no burglar would think to look.

The sight that I could not get out of my head was the Great Zucchini hunched over the craps table, lost in that flagrant illusion, flinging dice with his right hand, his left hand pressing that book hard to his chest, white knuckled, like a man holding on for dear life.

Lauren Cox, 5, on why she likes the Great Zucchini, whom she saw at her little brother's third birthday party:

"Because when the snake came out, and it didn't stop coming out? And when there was nothing in that box, and then there was jelly? He's for boys. Boys are funny and dumb, but they like trucks and trains, and I don't, and I'm not having the Great Zucchini. I'm having a party somewhere else in Virginia that's girly."

The Great Zucchini, on why he likes little kids:

"Because they are totally innocent and totally nonjudgmental, but they will say whatever they think, and that's beautiful."

Eric's mother, Jane Knaus, is a small, cultured, soft-spoken woman of 60. We met at yet another Starbucks, to discuss the enigma that is her son. I said I was trying to understand him.

"I don't know if I understand him," she said, smiling. "Actually, I don't know where he came from."

Literally, he came from Jane Cohen and Rodger Knaus, beat-era liberal intellectuals who met at Berkeley in 1963. They split to Sweden in disgust in 1968, with $2,000 between them, after Hubert Humphrey got nominated for president over Eugene McCarthy. There, they had their only child. They were back in the United States by Eric's second birthday.

Now Jane is creative services director at Montgomery College. Rodger was a PhD in mathematics whose pioneering work in early software design is still celebrated. What Jane means about Eric's dubious ancestry is that, temperamentally, from the earliest age, he fit neither parent.

Jane was a fine artist. Rodger was a scientist. "Our work required solitude," Jane said. They were eggheads, and loners. Eric was neither.

"In grade school," Jane said, "I would ask the teacher how Eric was doing in math, and the teacher would say, 'Eric likes to show off his muscles and flirt with the girls.' And I would ask, 'But how is he doing in math?' and the teacher would say, 'Eric likes to show off his muscles and flirt with the girls.'"

The most significant fact in Eric's upbringing, Jane said, was when she and her husband separated. Eric was 13. The divorce became final two years later, and the whole thing was obviously deeply painful. At 14, Eric was living with his mom in an apartment with cockroaches; Eric wouldn't let her kill them. "Cockroaches have families, too," he would say.

"Who still thinks like that at 14?" she said, smiling sadly.

Divorce is traumatic for any child, I said. But Eric had told me the divorce wasn't that big a deal, that he'd loved and respected his father, and stayed close to him. Was that right?

Jane hesitated. At the end of Rodger's life, yes, the two men were close, she said, measuredly. Eric actually quit his job when his father lay dying of a brain tumor, she said, to spend his final months beside him at the hospice. At Rodger's funeral, she said, Eric delivered an impromptu tribute so moving and heartfelt and self-deprecatory that it helped heal the wounds.


Jane took a sip of tea.

Rodger had been born prematurely, she said, with some attendant physical difficulties. He was blind in one eye, and had a palsied leg. He was not good-looking, like Eric, or affable, like Eric, or always surrounded by friends, like Eric. He drove himself to overcome his handicaps, but at a significant emotional cost. He had an incendiary temper, particularly if his peace and quiet was threatened by Eric, a rambunctious kid. When Eric's pals would come over, Rodger would lie and say Eric wasn't home, and literally slam the door in the faces of flabbergasted 10-year-olds. He would storm and rant at Eric, call him names, break objects in rage.

His violence was only to objects?

"There was physical violence to Eric. It's why I left Rodger. As Eric got older, and bigger, I knew he wasn't going to take it anymore. And I feared something terrible was going to happen, that one of them was really, really going to hurt the other. It got scary. I was a mother, and I had no choice. I had to leave, to protect my cub."

Jane never remarried, and loved her husband -- "a difficult, cantankerous, challenging, funny, impossible, brilliant man" -- until the day he died.

Jane said she has no doubts that Eric's mistreatment at the hands of his father influenced his life, though she isn't sure exactly how. She knows he's never fully accepted adulthood, growing up both guileless and naive -- still in many ways a child, for better or worse.

"Actually, he doesn't see the bifurcation. He probably feels 5-year-olds should be able to vote. He's very, very protective of children."

Jane Knaus took another sip of her tea, which must have been cold. We'd been talking for well over an hour.

"Did Eric ever mention what happened to the people across the hall?"

No, I said.

And then she told me what happened to the people across the hall.

When I picked Eric up for his court appearance on his license suspension, he was dressed in a nice pair of pants and a shirt still crisp from the package. He'd taken a cab to Filene's just that morning to buy both of them, because he hadn't a clean outfit in his house. He also bought a tie but wasn't wearing it.

Eric never learned to tie a necktie. I had to make the knot on myself, then loop it over his head.

The court appearance proved anticlimactic. Eric's lawyer -- a dad for whom he'd done parties -- negotiated a continuance.

Afterward, Eric and I stopped for hot chocolate in Rockville. One customer recognized both of us. She seemed particularly delighted to finally meet the Great Zucchini. Then we stopped for lunch. Over tacos, I asked Eric about what happened to the people across the hall.

"I don't really remember it," he said. "I told you, I don't remember anything before fourth grade."

"Fourth grade is age 9. You were 13," I said.

"The thing about fourth grade is I had a tyrant of a teacher, and my dad told her to stop picking on me, and that is why my fifth-grade teacher was important to me, and I started liking school, which is why . . ."

"What about the family across the hall, Eric?"

"I just don't remember it. I was watching a football game, maybe the Super Bowl. That's all I remember."

Not the Super Bowl. The New York Giants were playing the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday night, October 24, 1983, and midway through the first quarter, there was a sound of a scuffle, and then shots from the apartment across the hall.

Eric knew that apartment. On at least two occasions, he had baby-sat for the 18-month-old boy there, a child named Laurence. It was Eric's first baby-sitting gig, in a life that would, ultimately, be all about baby-sitting.

"I don't really remember him. He was just a baby. A lot of babies have passed through this head. All babies look the same."

"All babies look the same? You've told me you can tell, just from looking, what sort of personality a 6-month-old will have."

"I just don't remember. What I remember of my childhood was running through the sewers of Bethesda with K.B., and popping up out of manholes. We used to . . ."

"Eric . . ."

"I know you want this to be important, but it just isn't."

"I've never seen you upset before. Why are you getting upset?"

"I'm not getting upset."

The woman who lived in the apartment across the hall was a dark-haired beauty named Paula Adams. Five years earlier, Paula Adams had been a chief lieutenant of the Rev. Jim Jones, the brilliant, messianic madman who led 900 followers to a mass suicide in the jungles of Guyana. Adams survived the holocaust in Jonestown and fled to the United States with her lover, the man whose government influence had given her safe haven. His name was Laurence Mann, and he had been the Guyanese ambassador to the United States.

They had a child here, but their relationship -- no doubt haunted by the horror -- was deeply troubled. No one knows exactly what caused it, but at 9:30 on that Monday night, Mann forced his way into the apartment, shot Paula in the head, shot the baby in the head, and then turned the gun on himself. None survived.

"How can you not remember it, Eric?"

"It's easy for someone who is 35 to not remember someone he baby-sat for when he was 12."

"Thirteen. Your mother says you were really attached to that little boy. She said you were devastated to realize that a child can be unsafe in his own home. She said you never really got over it. Those were her words."

"Look, what do you want me to say? You want me to say I remember? Okay, I remember. I'm pissed because that mom still owes me $9 for baby-sitting, okay?"

We both laughed. Okay, Eric. Good one. No more questions.

Once, when Eric was leaving a restaurant, he saw a man disciplining his 2-year-old son. The kid had done something of which the father disapproved, so the father poked the boy in the face with a knuckle, so hard it left a mark. Eric says he made a scene, telling the parents he would call the cops if he ever saw anything like that again. He's stopped parents in the street to inform them that, at 3, a child is too old for a pacifier. Once, when a 4-year-old at a party seemed painfully timid, Eric told the mom to stop letting the child sleep in her bed. "How did you know he does that?" the mother asked. Eric just knew.

"At that age," he explained, "a child can't do much by himself. Making it through the night alone is a big accomplishment. You have to give him that victory."

In the two months I'd gotten to know him, I'd seen several slightly awkward encounters between Eric and a parent, but not one such moment between Eric and a child. It's tempting to imagine him as Holden Caulfield imagined himself, protector of children's souls, poised beside the field of rye at the edge of a cliff, catching them before they plummet to their spiritual deaths. But this man with the guardian angel on his shoulder; who forfeits love for gambling but looks to find it in a strip club; who can't tie a tie or remember to pay a bill; who makes a tidy living but doesn't know where the money goes; who can't recall things that deliver him emotional pain; who solemnly prays to God in the bathroom before every performance for the strength and wisdom to make the 4-year-olds giggle -- this guy has not yet surrendered himself, as Holden reluctantly did, to adulthood. He may never. Maybe it's that he's seen the alternative, and wants no part of it.

Maybe he's Peter Pan. He's even got some magic dust, until he loses it.

"If Eric ever grows up," Jane Knaus had told me, "his career might be over."

We are in the Great Falls home of Melanie and Denny Sisson, where eight children and their parents are gathering for a show. A few minutes earlier, Eric had asked me to pull my car up to the side of another one, so we were hidden from the house while he finished a cigarette.

The Sissons jokingly call their house a "bowling alley," because of the open space. It's more than 6,000 square feet of atria, solaria and balustrade, a beautiful home that is a testament to Denny's successful business as a landscape architect, which is itself a testament to the opulence of Great Falls real estate. It all dovetails nicely.

Things don't always work out so perfectly, though, even in Great Falls. The birthday girl is the Sissons' 5-year-old, Phoebe, and her guests are mostly kids from her special-needs class. Like Phoebe, these are children with developmental disabilities of varying degrees. They're a handful and a half.

A former elementary school teacher, Melanie chose Eric after seeing him perform elsewhere. She concluded he is "a true artist" who could entertain a roomful of kids equally well "in Great Falls or in the Sudan."

Eric didn't know these were going to be mostly kids with special needs, but it becomes apparent right away. They're beautiful children, and seem plenty smart, but they're all over the floor, with nanosecond attention spans. One mother with tired eyes and a wary bearing hovers at her son's elbow the whole time.

The show starts, and within seconds, Eric's got them. Instinctively, he's streamlining his act, making his gags last half as long as usual. He takes a drink of water, calling it, in a goofy, sonorous voice, "WA-WA." For some reason, this sends the kids into hysterics, so he repeats it. Hysterics, again. He does it a third time, and now they're doubled over, gasping for air. Eric looks out at the parents, shrugs, winks and says, "I'll just keep doin' this all afternoon, okay?" The parents laugh, maybe for the first time in a while.

For 35 minutes, Eric handles the crowd, improvising deftly as he goes. When one boy walks up excitedly and slugs him in the leg, he takes no notice. When another grabs a prop, Eric turns it into a joke. When he is done, he has actually worked up a sweat. Some parents applaud.

A little girl in pink walks right up to him -- she's not from the special-needs class, just an ordinary little girl with a special need of her own, right now -- and extends a forefinger, straight up in the air. It's puzzling. Eric meets her eyes. Something indefinable passes between them, something only they understand, and Eric reaches out, seizes that little finger in his big fist, and gives it a shake. The girl breaks into a grin. Then she hugs the most fabulous person she's ever known in her whole life, the Great Zucchini.

Gene Weingarten is a Magazine staff writer. He will be fielding questions and comments about this article Monday at 1 p.m. at
© 2006 The Washington Post Company

As Dax would say-"Just Damn!"

Quotes to make you feel smarter!


(On September 17, 1994, Alabama's Heather Whitestone was selected as Miss
America 1995.)
Question: If you could live forever, would you and why?

Answer: "I would not live forever, because we should not
live forever, because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would
live forever, but we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live
--Miss Alabama in the 1994 Miss USA contest.

"Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I
can't help but cry. I mean I'd love to be skinny like that, but not with
all those flies and death and stuff."
--Mariah Carey

"Smoking kills. If you're killed, you've lost a very
important part of your life,"
--Brooke Shields, during an interview to become spokesperson for federal
anti-smoking campaign.

"I've never had major knee surgery on any other part of my body,"
--Winston Bennett,
University of Kentucky basketball forward.

"Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the
lowest crime rates in the country,"
--Mayor Marion Barry, Washington, DC.

"That lowdown scoundrel deserves to be kicked to death
by a jackass, and I'm just the one to do it,"
--A congressional candidate in Texas.

"Half this game is ninety percent mental."
--Philadelphia Phillies manager, Danny Ozark

"It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in
our air and water that are doing it."
--Al Gore, Vice President

"I love California. I practically grew up in Phoenix."
--Dan Quayle

"We've got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need?"
--Lee Iacocca

"The word "genius" isn't applicable in football. A genius is a guy like
Norman Einstein." --Joe Theisman, NFL football quarterback & sports

"We don't necessarily discriminate. We simply exclude
certain types of people."
--Colonel Gerald Wellman, ROTC Instrutor.

"Traditionally, most of Australia's imports come from overseas."
--Keppel Enderbery

"Your food stamps will be stopped effective
March 1992 because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless
you. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances."
--Department of Social Services, Greenville, South Carolina

"If somebody has a bad heart, they can plug this jack
in at night as they go to bed and it will monitor their
heart throughout the night. And the next morning, when
they wake up dead, there'll be a record."
--Mark S. Fowler, FCC Chairman

Hat tip to friend , Jane Burke!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Home Again, Home Again!

I've been in our capital city of Raleigh all week doing some teaching-it's been more like boot camp for me-having to get up at the crack of 7:00 everyday. I've got to go back to work to relax. It was a fun week seeing a lot of old friends from other states and from N.C. I'll be back in the saddle tonight after a protracted nap. See ya' then.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Title for New Indiana Jones Movie

Harrison Ford is getting a little "long in the tooth" so the title of his next pic may be a bit off the wall. Thanks to Amplesanity.

Possible titles for the new Indiana Jones movie

Indiana Jones and the Arthritis Attack

Indiana Jones and the Temple of "Oops I Crapped Myself"

Indiana Jones and the Earring of Mid-Life Crisis

Indiana Jones and the Man Boobs from Hell

Indiana Jones and the Search for Ancient Egyptian Adult Diapers

Indiana Jones and the Mystical Walker of Moses

Indiana Jones and the Embarrassment of Erectile Dysfunction

Raiders of the Social Security Lockbox

Indiana Jones and the Lost Roth IRA Account

Indiana Jones and the Ever-Lasting Turn Signal

Raiders of the Lost AARP

Indiana Jones and the walk-in Bath of Atlantis

Indiana Jones and the Script of Eternity

Indiana Jones and the Lost Prescription for Stool Softener

Indiana Jones and the Quest for His True Sexuality

Indiana Jones and the Dentures of Gold

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade ... again. (Sorry, Alzheimer's joke)

Indiana Jones and the Beating of the Dead Horse

Indiana Jones & The Early Bird Buffet

Indiana Jones and The Rolling Stones

Indiana Jones and the Riddle of the Gallstone

Indiana Jones and the Search For a Much Needed Hit

Indiana Jones vs. YOUR MOM

Indiana Jones and the Curse of Incontinence

Indiana Jones and the Flatulent Demon

Indiana Jones and the Yearly Prostate Exam of Doom

Indiana Jones and the...wait, what were we talking about again?

Indiana Jones and the Incredibly Over-Thin Costar

Indiana Jones and the Search for the Midlife Crisis Earring

Indiana Jones and the Retirement Village of High Cholesterol, Osteoporosis, Hemorrhoids, Constipation and Diverticular Disease

Indiana Jones and the Miami Hooker

Indiana Jones and the Pelvis of Ramses

Indiana Jones and the Quest to Bang Marion One More Time

Indiana Jones and the Sphinx of Sciatica

Indiana Jones and the Relic of the Rest Home

Indiana Jones and the Irritable Bowel Disease

Indiana Jones and the Spastic Colon

Indiana Jones and the Dungeon of the Curmudgeon

Indiana Jones and the Ice Fishing House of Doom

Indiana Jones and the Crisis of the Colostomy Bag

Indiana Jones and the Horn of Mylanta

Indiana Jones and the Search for the Real Killer

Indiana Jones and the Disappearing Pension

Indiana Jones and You Damn Kids Get Off of My Lawn and Pull Up Your Pants!!!!!

Indiana Jones and the Mystery of the Lost Sock Suspenders

Indiana Jones and the Grey Pubic Hair

Indiana Jones and the Last Hearing Aid Battery

Indiana Jones and the Rising Belt Line

Indiana Jones and the Sandals with Black Socks

Indiana Jones and the Struggle against Rigor Mortis

Indiana Jones and the Lost Viagra

Indiana Jones and the Nocturnal Golden Stream

Indiana Jones and the Tuesday Night Bridge Game.....OF DOOM

Indiana Jones and the Golf Course of Eternity

Indiana Jones and the Underage Chat Room

Indiana Jones and the Lost Remote Control

Indiana Jones and the Quest to Get Those Damn Kids to Turn That Music Down!!!

Indiana Jones and the Hatred for the Hippies

Indiana Jones and the Scowling, Humorless Actor

Indiana Jones and all you bitches will eat your words when the movie comes out and kicks ass.

Indiana Jones and the Curse of Parenthood

Indiana Jones and the Tijuana Time Share

Indiana Jone$ and the Que$t for World Cinematic Domination by Luca$ and $pielberg.

Indiana Jones and the Constant Need to Pee

Indiana Jones and the Flea Market Phantom

Indiana Jones and the...Oh, Screw It..You'll Watch Anything We Put On the Screen, Won't You???

Indiana Jones and Times were tough and we LIKED 'em that way

Indiana Jones and the Mystery of the Post Office Queue

Indiana Jones and the Doctor's Appointment of Doom

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Dinner Buffet at 4:00 in the Afternoon

Indiana Jones and the Sinus Headache

Indiana Jones and The Quest to Reduce the Budget

Indiana Jones and the Receding Temples of Rogaine

Indiana Jones and that Smell Inside the Nursing Home

Indiana Jones and the Secret of the Senile

Indiana Jones and the last handicap spot

Indiana Jones and the pill bottles from hell

Friday, January 20, 2006

Keeping You Safe Here at Fishtown Chatter

Helful Terrorist Attack Hints-Signage courtesy of

If you have set yourself on fire, don't run

If you spot terrorism, blow your terrorism whistle,
If you are bald, yell really loud

If you spot a terrorist arrow, pin it to the door with your shoulder.

If you are sprayed by an unknown substance, contemplate it for awhile before seeing the doctor.

Us a flashlight beam to lift the concrete walls right off of you.

The pro[er way to eliminate smallpox is to wash with soap and water using at least one armless hand.

Michael Jackson is a terrorist-if you spot this smoothe criminal with dead, dead eyes, run the f@*kl away.

Hurricanes, animal corpses, dead fish and the biohazard symbol have a lot in common. Think about it.

Be on the lookout for terrorists with pinkeye and leprosy. Also, they tend to rub their hands together manically.

If a door is closed, karate chop it open

If your building collapses, give yourself a b***j** while waiting to be rescued

Try to absorb as much of the radiation as possible with your groin region. After 5 minutes and 12 seconds, however, you may become sterile.

After exposure to radiation it is important to consider that you may have mutated to gigantic dimensions: watch your head.

If you've become a radiation mutant with a deformed hand, remember to close the window. No one wants to see that shit.

If you hear the Backstreet Boys, Michael Bolton or Yanni on the radio, cower in the corner or run like hell.

If your lungs and stomach start talking, stand with your arms akimbo until they stop.

Austin is radioactive, move to Houston

If you are trapped under falling debris, conserve oxygen by not farting.

If you lose a contact lens during a chemical attack, do not stop to look for it.

Do not drive a station wagon if a power pole is protruding from the hood.

A one-inch thick piece of plywood should be sufficient protection against radiation. Always carry one!