Month: October 2014

Epilogue Cassidy Rides Again

I have a confession to make. I love nonsense. But you probably already knew that or figured it out by now. Here are two excerpts from pieces of nonsense that make a lot of sense to me. The first is from the play “The Philadelphia” from All in the Timing by David Ives, one of my favorite playwrights. The second is from an essay by the American master of nonsense Robert Benchley:

MARK: What is it? What’s happening to me?

AL: Don’t panic. You’re in a Philadelphia.

MARK: I’m in a what?

AL: You’re in a Philadelphia. That’s all.

MARK: But I’m in—

AL: Yes, physically you’re in New York. But metaphysically you’re in a Philadelphia.

MARK: I’ve never heard of this!

AL: You see, inside of what we know as reality there are these pockets, these black holes called Philadelphias. If you fall into one, you run up against exactly the kinda shit that’s been happening to you all day.

MARK: Why?

AL: Because in a Philadelphia, no matter what you ask for, you can’t get it. You ask for something, they’re not gonna have it. You want to do something, it ain’t gonna get done. You want to go somewhere, you can’t get there from here.

MARK: Good God. So this is very serious.

AL: Just remember, Marcus. This is a condition named for the town that invented the cheese steak. Something that nobody in his right mind would willingly ask for.

And now for a bit of context from Ives’ own notes about his idea for “The Philadelphia”:

“The Philadelphia was my affectionate revenge on the City of Brotherly Love after I’d spent many miserable months … such as the morning when I tried to get a cheese omelette for breakfast:

Me: I’ll have a cheese omelette, please.

Waitress: Sure, what kinda cheese you want?

Me: What kind do you have?

Waitress: Any kinda cheese. You name it.

Me: Okay. I’ll have Swiss.

Waitress: Sorry. We don’t have any Swiss.

Me: Oh. Cheddar, then.

Waitress: No cheddar.

Me: Monterey Jack?

Waitress: Just ran out.

Me: Jarlsberg …?

Waitress: What’s that?”

 

Here’s a second serving of nonsense–and this one comes from the The Benchley Roundup by Robert Benchley, my hero. It’s a passage from his essay “Carnival Week in Sunny Las Los”:

You have all doubtless wanted to know, at one time or another, a few of the quaint customs which residents of the continent of Europe seem to feel called upon to perpetuate from one century to another. You may know about a few of them already, such as child-bearing (which has been taken up on this continent to such an alarming extent) and others of the more common variety of folk mannerisms, but I am very proud and happy to be able to tell you today of some of the less generally known customs of the inhabitants of that medieval Spanish province Las Los (or Los Las, as it was formerly called, either way meaning “The The” pl.) where I have had the extremely bad fortune to be spending the summer.

Humorist Robert Benchley (1889 –1945) is often credited with creating the form known as the short humorous essay. He titled one collection of his columns Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea or David Copperfield. If you’re interested in writing humor, study Benchley. Some of his columns are dated but his flights of fancy still work and, imo, he’s still very, very funny.

 

 

 

 

Be My Ghoul

In honor of the upcoming ghoulish celebration known as Halloween, I’m posting a short play of mine, a comedy titled “Be My Ghoul.” I hope you like it.

BE MY GHOUL

CHARACTERS:

OLIVER – 30-something male, high-energy and confident
ALLEGRA – 30-something female, a bit shy and conservative
ROMERO – An “ageless” well-dressed zombie in a suit

SETTING: Contemporary small ad agency board room. Conference table, with bottled water, coffee thermos and mugs on it; three chairs in the room; a flip chart with paper on it near the table.  The first page of the flip chart is blank.

AT RISE: Oliver and Allegra scurry about, setting up the conference room table for their next meeting.

OLIVER
How do I look?

ALLEGRA
Killer, as always. You’ll knock ‘em dead.

OLIVER
Not sure that’s necessary with this client. Or even possible.

ALLEGRA
You’re so talented.

OLIVER
Why should that stop us?

ALLEGRA
What?

OLIVER
You know what. The money.  Do I have to ask again?

ALLEGRA
I won’t start off in debt. Financial problems are the leading cause of failed marriages.  I’ve seen the stats.

OLIVER
Statistics have nothing to do with the heart.

ALLEGRA
The heart has nothing to do with paying the bills. Let me put it this way, if we don’t land this next account, we’re goners.

OLIVER
As in dead meat?

ALLEGRA
The deadest. … Don’t worry. He’ll love the campaign.

OLIVER
My dear, you inspired the campaign.

ALLEGRA
You did such a great job with the nail biters group.

OLIVER
I did, didn’t I?

ALLEGRA
Getting Nine Inch Nails to perform at their closing ceremony was brilliant.

OLIVER
Didn’t do so well with the Hemlock Society.

ALLEGRA
What do you mean? Reusable membership cards is saving them thousands of dollars each year.  And those Hemlock action toys for seniors you placed in the fast food hamburger chain boxes?  Big hit.  Huge.

OLIVER
Perhaps. But organizing their Christmas Party was a disaster.

ALLEGRA
Guests should have known better than to drink from the punch bowl. I mean it was the Hemlock Society.  Hello!

OLIVER
Allegra?

ALLEGRA
Yes?

OLIVER
Would you help me with the pitch?

ALLEGRA
You know better, Olly. You’re the creative genius around here. I’m just the bean counter.  I answer the phone, order supplies, do the books.  You perform all the mumbo-jumbo magic.

OLIVER
But it’s the kind of pitch that would work better with a partner. You wouldn’t have to say much, just read a slogan or two from the comp boards.  Besides, he’s not a very talkative client.  He mumbles and groans a lot and feels a little insecure because of it, I suspect.  Nice man, though, with a great sense of humor.  They have a huge budget for the campaign and the deep pockets to back it up.  This could be the break we’re looking for.

ALLEGRA
Who is it again?

OLIVER
Mr. Romero. He’s the publicity director for ZONA, Zombies of North America.  They’re trying to upgrade their image.

ALLEGRA
And I inspired this campaign? I don’t know whether to be proud or to run for the door.

A few clumsy KNOCKS on the door.

OLIVER
He’s here. Please let him in.

Allegra opens the door and is startled by what she sees: a Zombie in a suit. He enters stiff and zombie-like.

ALLEGRA
Oh! [beat]  Welcome.  Please come in.

ROMERO
(Mumbles a greeting)

Mr. Romero leans in and kisses her on both cheeks. She’s stunned. 

OLIVER
Welcome, Mr. Romero. I trust you had an enjoyable flight?

ROMERO
(Mumbles a response)

OLIVER
I share your pain. The lines at Security can take forever.

Oliver shakes Mr. Romero’s right hand and the zombie’s arm falls off. It drops to the floor

ROMERO
(Groans)

Allegra gasps. Oliver picks up the arm and hands it back to his client.

OLIVER
So very sorry.

ROMERO
(Moans)

OLIVER
Yes, I imagine it does happen all the time. But we all have our little embarrassments, don’t we?  Sometimes I whistle when I talk.  Don’t mean to.  Never could as a kid. Now I whistle when I least expect it.

ALLEGRA
I always spill food on my blouse.

ROMERO
(Mumbles)

OLIVER
No. The campaign’s not going to cost you an arm and a leg.  Good one, though.

ALLEGRA
Could I get you something to drink, mineral water perhaps? Coffee?

ROMERO
(Mumbles)

OLIVER
I hear ya, staying awake’s not a problem. The last thing you need is caffeine.  I’ll get right to the point.

Mr. Romero sits and places his detached arm in front of him. Oliver stands next to the flip chart, ready to turn the first page.

OLIVER (CONT’D)
Our market research indicates that most people associate zombies with Latin America, especially Haiti, and not the United States.  I can imagine your organization is tired of living in the shadow of your cousins to the south.

ROMERO
(Moans and Nods)

OLIVER
We have found that one of the best ways to improve a group’s image is to tie the group to a holiday. Mothers have Mother’s Day.  Fathers Father’s Day.  There’s Veteran’s Day.  Boss’ Day.  Labor Day.

ALLEGRA
Groundhog Day.

OLIVER
Guy Fawkes Day.

ROMERO
(Mumbles)

OLIVER
I’m not sure who he was but he has a whole day to himself.

ROMERO
(Mumbles)

OLIVER
Well, no. I’m not proposing a Zombie’s Day per se.  I suspect that would be a little too ambitious at this point.  Instead, I’m proposing —

Mr. Romero raises his one good arm.

ROMERO
(Mumbles)

OLIVER
Yes. I know your group is normally associated with Halloween but that’s one day a year and there’s so much competition, what with monsters, witches, animal masks, masks of former presidents.  It’s hard for you and your fellow zombies to get the attention — and respect, I might add — you all deserve.  The Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico, for example, can last up to three days.  That’s why I’m proposing we think out of the box .

ROMERO
(Mumbles)

OLIVER
No pun intended, sir. Out of the box is, yes, well, it’s one of those common…. What I recommend is that your organization actively promote zombies during …

Finally, Oliver lifts the first sheet off the flip chart to reveal the words: Valentine’s Day.

OLIVER (CONT’D)
During Valentine’s Day.

Mr. Romero grabs his severed arm and stands. He’s heard enough.  Allegra jumps in.

ALLEGRA
Picture it, sir. It’s that time of year again.  Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  What better time —

OLIVER
What better time to crawl out of the grave and celebrate with that significant other?

ALLEGRA
And now you can. With… with …

Allegra flips the next page and it has the word “Zombieseez” on it. She stares at it for a moment.

ALLEGRA (CONT’D)
… with Zombieseez. [awkward pause]  Oliver?

OLIVER
Zombieseez. The love candy created by Zombies for Zombies.  Just for you and what’s left of yours on that special Night of the Living Dead.

Mr. Romero sits.

ALLEGRA
Remember, anyone can give decaying flowers —

OLIVER
— But it takes a special someone to give rotten candy. Zombieseez.  When you care enough to say, “Because you’re dead and I’m grateful.” Now with sixteen decomposing colors.

ROMERO
(Mumbles)

OLIVER
Yes, we took into account the special dental problems of your membership. I assure you, these candies, unlike the typical hard Valentine’s Day message candies, will be soft and chewy, almost fleshy in texture.

They’re on a roll. When one flips, the other reads.  On each page is a different saying for a piece of candy, similar to the Valentine’s Day heart-shaped message candy. 

OLIVER (CONT’D)
Be My Corpse!

Oliver flips another sheet. Allegra reads.

ALLEGRA
You Look Like Death Warmed Over.

Allegra flips, Oliver reads.

OLIVER
You Make My Skin Fall Off.

Oliver flips, Allegra reads.

ALLEGRA
Let’s Go Gnaw On Someone.

Allegra flips, Oliver reads.

OLIVER
I’ll Be Your Ghoul Fool.

Oliver flips, Allegra reads.

ALLEGRA
Let’s Share Some Worms.

Allegra flips, Oliver reads.

OLIVER
Be My Mummy.

Oliver flips, Allegra reads.

ALLEGRA
Zombies Rule The Night.

Allegra flips. They read this one together.

OLIVER / ALLEGRA
Your teeth are rotten. Your eyes are missing. Your limbs are forgotten. Let’s do some kissing.

Caught up in the moment, Oliver and Allegra embrace each other and kiss. They knock over the chart. 

ROMERO
(Coughs)

OLIVER
My apologies, Mr. Romero. But do you understand where we’re going with this, sir?  The campaign?  Love conquers all.  Love and Death.  It’s as simple as that.  And as universal.

ROMERO
(Grunts and Nods in approval)

OLIVER
It’s nothing less than Romeo and Juliet.

The zombie stands, walks over to Oliver.

ROMERO
(Mumbles)

OLIVER
I’m very pleased to hear that, sir.

Oliver extends his hand to Mr. Romero’s as if to shake on it. Mr. Romero shakes his head No and holds up his severed arm as a reminder.

OLIVER (CONT’D)
Of course. How silly of me.  It’s a deal then?

Mr. Romero nods Yes and shuffles off.

ALLEGRA
Oliver?

OLIVER
What a team! We got the account!

They kiss and separate. They stare at each other for a beat.

ALLEGRA
If love can conquer everything, even death, it can surely conquer our financial problems.

OLIVER
It’s just money.

ALLEGRA
And not much of it at that. Now it’s my turn to ask.  Will you marry me?

OLIVER
You mean be together forever?

ALLEGRA
For better or for worse.

OLIVER
In sickness and in health.

ALLEGRA
Til death do us part.

OLIVER
We’ll stay together even after death.

ALLEGRA
Yes. Yes.  Yes.  I’ll be your ghoul.

OLIVER
And I’ll be yours.

(End of Play)

Now Make His Nose Bigger

This is the blog in which I admit to being a gag cartoonist.  Because I’ve already admitted to once owning a Yugo, I have nowhere to go but up. What do you call a Yugo with a flat tire? Totaled. What do you call passengers in a Yugo? Shock absorbers. You get the idea.

Gag cartoons are known as magazine filler.  That’s pretty much how I started cartooning, too.  As part of a team of Navy journalists assigned to the Seabees, I was partly responsible for putting out a monthly magazine whenever we were on an overseas deployment.  To fill up copy space, I started drawing cartoons.  A lifelong doodler, I took to cartooning like a hungry shark at a surfing contest.

This was before they had books teaching you how and where to send gag cartoons.  Fortunately, Writer’s Digest Magazine had a weekly column on cartooning and that’s where I received my first lessons.  The process was simple.  Usually, a cartoonist would draw a batch of gags, maybe ten, and send them to an appropriate magazine.  The magazine would buy or hold what they liked and send the rest back.  I sent my first batch of cartoons to Playboy Magazine.  They were, of course, all rejected, but it was the best rejection a newbie cartoonist could hope for: a real letter, signed from the cartoon editor, and carrying the embossed seal of the magazine.

Undeterred, I sent the same batch to a new magazine looking for “Playboy-style” cartoons and they bought three.  I was on clouds nine through fifteen.  Unfortunately, the only person who could find the magazine with my cartoons in it was my grandfather, a retired Western Pacific railroad man.  He located the magazine in a cigar store in Oakland, California, stashed among all the other, ahem, adult magazines.  My grandmother cut my silly cartoons from the magazine and placed them in the family Bible. On one side of each tear sheet was my cartoon, on the other was a story about a man’s throbbing missile or a woman’s heaving breasts.

While working in the Silicon Valley during the early eighties, I joined a San Francisco Bay area group of cartoonists and writers.  A few members were stars of the cartoon universe, such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”), Hank Ketcham (“Dennis the Menace”), and Gus Arriola (“Gordo”).  Most members, however, were like me: no name cartoonists who had been drawing since they were in diapers.

Our monthly meetings usually featured a guest cartoonist, such as Garry Trudeau (“Donnesbury”) or Sergio Aragonés (MAD Magazine, Groo the Wanderer).  The cartoonist would give a “chalk talk” and draw a few ‘toons while delivering a presentation.  After, we’d hold a question and answer period.  A fellow member—his name was Art—would always ask the same question: “What kind of pen do you use?”  I suspect he thought there was magic in a specific pen and if he could find the right Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo pen, his career would be set.

So this is for Art, wherever he may be.  At first, I drew cartoons with a basic black marker pen, sometimes an extra fine Sharpie.  Later, I used a software program called SuperPaint on a Macintosh computer.  When The Saturday Evening Post bought one of my cartoons, they asked for the original.  I told them I had created the cartoon on my computer and I wasn’t sending them my machine.  The editor wrote back to tell me they had a policy of not accepting “computer generated art” but didn’t think my drawing looked as if it came from a computer.  They paid me and ran the cartoon.  No magic involved. These days, I’m back to drawing with a marker pen.

The Carmen Memoranda sketch accompanying this blog was not the one purchased by the Post; however, I’ve included it as an example of the cartoon style I employed using the computer.  The Retired Realtors gag, which I posted before, is an example of my marker pen style.

When my wife and I lived in Mexico the first time, I created a cartoon panel, “Mas o Menos,” for the local bi-lingual weekly newspaper.  Some of the cartoons are included in my humorous memoir, Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak, as, dare I say, filler. I plan to show my Mas o Menos cartoons in futures posts.

carmen2

QT_Realtors2

 

 

Give that Cartoon a Nose Job

In 1983, friend and fellow cartoonist David Boxerman and I started a weekly cartoon panel. We both worked on the gags and I did all of the drawing. The panel was titled “The New Epicureans” and was targeted for food sections of newspapers. The San Jose Mercury New subscribed to the panel from the get-go. A month after launching the panel, the food editor asked me to reduce the noses on the drawings, because, as he said, their audience was sophisticated.  Three years later, we ran a caption contest and received more than 500 entries.  After reading most of the entries, the food editor called and told us we could make the noses bigger again.  His audience wasn’t as sophisticated as he had thought. Below are three examples. One is how I prefer to draw, relying on goofy-looking characters. The other two are examples of a cartoon in which I reduced the noses a tad at first and then reduced them even more.

dujour

winecosts1winecosts4

 

Bon Appétit – Part 5, The Monopoly of Molecules

In our final installment of “The Gourmet Club,” our narrator, who is clearly on the verge of skin-deep, finishes her speech by offering what she considers to be a practical compromise.

Where was I? Oh, Gloria choking on her Clams Casino appetizer. The ambulance arrived in time, as you may recall. That wasn’t the problem. What kind of seafood restaurant puts itself on the top of a hill? Steak house, maybe. Fish? You would think you’d want to be near the water. When they wheeled Gloria out on a gurney and opened the back door to the ambulance … I think you all know what happened next. The gurney slipped away from the paramedics and Gloria, all strapped in, shot down that hill like she was doing her final Luge run in the Winter Olympics. Gloria screaming. Jack running after her. Everyone else yelling. Cars swerving to miss her. One shutters to think what might have happened had the gurney not hit that speed bump and caromed off the road and gone down a ravine.

I know this might sound self-serving but as president of the Gourmet Club I was not the one who selected the Lobster Palace that night. Ironically, it was Gloria who had insisted we eat there. Still, I certainly can understand their reticence to rejoin the Gourmet Club, so we can safely assume that Jack and Gloria will not be joining us at our next get together anytime soon or, I’m guessing, ever again, for that matter. On the plus side of things, I understand Gloria’s therapy is going well and she should be out of her wheelchair soon.

Losing Jack and Gloria is not the end of the world and might actually be a good thing for the Gourmet Club, size-wise. Without them, our club of twelve becomes a more reasonable ten. And since Jerry and Jeff are off doing their own, respective, selfish , may-they-rot-in-hell things — good riddance, I might add — we’re down to eight, which to my way of thinking is probably the perfect number for a dinner party.

And therein lies the rub.

After receiving all your food requests — Kosher, Vegan, Gluten-Free, Fruits and Nuts Only, and Not Too Spicy, I think I might have missed a couple — finding the right gourmet restaurant, well, it didn’t come easy. In fact, it didn’t come at all. I couldn’t find a single restaurant that would meet all of your — our — requirements.

So, what I am proposing is we get back to basics and return to the roots of the Gourmet Club and all eat at our own homes from now on, avoiding whatever foods we can’t or won’t eat, and forget about dining out in restaurants as a group. Put another way, ten months ago the Gourmet Club’s last meal was at the Lobster Palace, if not a high-note worth closing on, certainly an unforgettable last meal together and I think we’d be wise to end it there. Unlike some television shows that run two years after their prime, I believe it’s time to move on.

That’s why, instead of getting together for dinners out, I propose we meet here, once a month, not for a fancy meal but for a fancy cup of coffee, or a basic cup of tea if that’s your preference, at this coffee shop chain. All those in favor of replacing the Gourmet Club with a Coffee Klatch, raise your cup or say Aye.

(END OF MONOLOGUE)

Bon Appétit – Part 4, The Monitor and the Merrimack

Our intrepid Gourmet Club president is almost done with her monologue. Take another sip of coffee and listen in…

What about Gloria and Jack, you say, what have I heard? I should like to say up front, without reservation, and I’ve already cleared this with my lawyer, that neither the Gourmet Club nor any of its members is in any way responsible for the outcome of events that evening at the Lobster Palace. Food was not the only problem that night, as you might recall. It was the confluence of several bad things happening to one good person.

I mean, Hello? Friday night at one of the leading seafood restaurants in the entire metro region and not one, not one, mind you, doctor or paramedic or even a simple Boy Scout in the room. What are the odds of that? I don’t know about the rest of you but I was surprised to see how fast a person could move from being in the middle of a normal conversation to choking to death. They say a shellfish allergy can strike at any time, like a thief in the night. One minute you’re happy, well, if you don’t mind the pun, as happy as a clam and the next moment your throat is constricting, everything’s going blurry, and you can barely make out that last light at the end of a long tunnel. It’s possible to eat shellfish or even fish your entire life without a problem and then, suddenly, without warning, BAM, it’s showtime. Of what value is an allergic reaction anyway? Really? If I were God, the second thing I’d do is get rid of allergies, right after mosquitoes.  No more sneezing. What a waste of good energy. It’s not as if you feel better after sneezing. You feel better after a great meal or great sex, a sip of a great red wine, but after a great sneeze? You feel worse. Your nose is all clogged up, your neck hurts, and you start talking like Elmer Fudd.

All’s well that ends well, and Gloria was going to be okay, as it turned out. But we didn’t know that at the time. It was, quite frankly, one of the worst conclusions to a Gourmet Club dinner in our history, and that includes the awful grease fire that resulted in the couple formerly known as Ken and Marsha getting a fully loaded and updated kitchen, thanks to an insurance claim that actually paid off. What were the odds of that?

Okay, I think there’s just one more passage.