December 11 - Stay Funny

Hard Times Dining
Saturday morning began at Captain Hard Times Dining.
Or is it Captain's Hard Time Dining?
The sign out front says Capt's Hard Time Dining.
But the one on the door says Captain's Hardtimes.
Let's see what our internet says.
The url for the website is
Though the home page refers to it as Captain's Hard Times Dining.
I guess it depends on where you would like the hard times to go.
And how many hard times are occurring.
I like the idea of a captain embodying the hard times.
A surly, swarthy old barnacle of the sea.
So I like Captain Hard Times.
But nobody seems to call it that.
Most references to the restaurant make the captain possessive of the dining.
That way the hard time or hard times also falls on the dining.
Either way, I admire any business that celebrates hard times in their name.
Rarely do you see Bob Evan's Shit Happens Breakfast Specials.

Hold on.
Apparently there's a chili chain in the DC area called Hard Times Cafe.
Their mascot is a ragamuffin kid in a wash basin.
It feels like it's trying to resonate with NASCAR existentialists.
Or something.
I don't know.
Zagat gave them a Top 20.
Penthouse seems to like them.
So there's that.
I don't know how to feel about it anymore.

The Captain
Josephine Wade sat behind a plate of chicken and waffles.
An active force in the community (NAACP, Rainbow/Push, The Urban League, and much more) and a confirmed gumbo champion, she owned the room with humor and power.
Josephine Wade runs a tidy ship.
The director wanted quiet.
So Josephine yelled "QUIET!"
No dinging coffee cups.
No incessant chatter.
No timers going off.
The staff was dressed for Sunday.
They muttered obscenities under their breath.

Hard Time Dining
Chaz and I enjoyed breakfast in a booth.
A table of grey-haired Gradies slid their jibs about old stick up boys and other crazy motherfuckers from back in the day.
They laughed heartily and rapped the table.
Veruca texted me to ask them to keep it down.

A waitress showed me an ad for two types of cellphones.
"Which one would you get?"
I made a selection.
A coffee cup rattled on its saucer.
Veruca texted me again.

Petty Cash Pencil Clash
Saturday afternoon was spent at the Black Ensemble Theater.
I started to snap a photo of Veruca.
"You're going to put that on Facebook and say what a bitch I am."
So I didn't take the picture.
Instead, I did my petty cash.
Taping receipts to scrap paper.
Adding it all up.
A pencil is required.
Jerzy lent me his.
"You call yourself a PA?"
No, Jerzy.
I don't.
I call myself an unfocused humorist.
I don't know which is worse.

I should have said "I am Chicago."

Stay Funny
It was a rainy farewell.
I hugged Veruca au voir.
Jerzy and I returned the vans to Movie Movies, and unloaded them in the rain.
He split without shaking hands.
"Stay funny," he sarcasmed.
Stay fun, Jerzy.

I should have said "Stay funny looking!"

Gripes To Mike Royko At Ray's Tap
Tonight I read at the Ray's Tap Reading Seriers for Gripes To Mike Royko.
In 1993, the Chicago Tribune's Mike Royko responded to Bob Greene's letters of American Optimism, asking his readers to send in their petty complaints.  His readers inundated him with pedestrian bile and vitriol about the volume level of commercials, gays in the military, and other delights.
A savvy Wilmette garbage picker scooped up a healthy pile of these letters discarded on Royko's estate, and gave them to Chris Bower, curator of the Ray's Tap Reading Series.

I was asked to select a letter and write a piece about it.
I picked an angry rant about gum.
Last time I read at Ray's, I did a few character pieces.
My comedy comfort zone.
The same shit I'd been doing for thirteen years.
So this time I chose to write prose.
Just a straight story.
I timed it at ten minutes.
I cut a bunch of it to get it down to six.
If I spoke briskly.
I felt good about it.

The first act killed.
Everyone did comedy.
Everyone shone comedically.
The bar hooted in its own stitches.
I felt less good about my piece.

During the intermission, Ray told me how he was looking forward to my piece.
He thought the last one I did was the best.
Because it was so funny.
I told him I was going to try something different tonight.

The second act continued in the spirit of comedy.
To vary from the theme of the evening was going to prove difficult.
And it did.
I read my piece.
It was long.
It got one laugh early on because laughing during a reading had been firmly established.
But it wasn't funny.
And it wasn't meant to be funny.
But it wasn't funny.
I had unwittingly betrayed the night.
My words were less noticed than the smoke in the room.
Even the smoke was bored.
Eight minutes later, nineteen people had checked their cellphones, and politely applauded when it was over.
Afterward my friend Greg complimented me on how I held my papers.
He pointed out that they didn't shake.
Yeah, I suppose I've gotten used to failure.
It doesn't frighten me anymore.

Maybe Jerzy was right.
I should have stayed funny.

Verdict: Loss

Here's the gripe:

Dear Mike,

The most aggravating vermin on earth are the gum-chewing cretins who noisily gnaw on their cuds with a single-minded intensity that makes Mike Ditka seem placid by comparison.  These people should have their jaws permanently wired shut.
Edwin C. Kehm, Elgin IL

Here's the piece:

To Lose
by Tony Mendoza

            “So what’s your biggest fear?”
            It was a question Edwin liked to ask people while they had food in their mouth.  This time it was doner kabob, which is European for gyro.
            “Kwabbeen aw dad aw bee,” she gagged.
            He wasn’t used to an immediate answer.  Usually they mulled it over mid-chew then formulated their answer.
            Josie held up her finger then pointed it at the bulbous guy by the jukebox.  Challenging the durability of the buttons on his shiny club shirt, he had let himself go but was trying to prove otherwise.  As if a pint of hair product could distract the world from the futbol occupying his man-womb.  It jiggled as he clapped to the fade out on Bowie’s “Modern Love”.
            “Clapping on the downbeat,” she repeated.
            He frowned.
            “C’mon, no more bits.  What’s your biggest fear?”
            “I don’t know.”  Edwin’s line of questioning was diluting Josie’s enjoyment of the doner kabob.  You can’t get doner kebob in Ohio.  She took a sip of beer.  A Depeche Mode song made itself important on the jukebox.  The bulbous guy ran his fingers though his hair and made a sort of praying face.
            “Really though.  That is my biggest fear,” she reinforced.
            “What?  Getting fat?”
            “Well, no-“
            “I’ll love you no matter what,” he awkwardly interrupted.  They had just started to toss the word “love” around in their relationship, and Edwin just tossed it through a vase with the finesse of a farting chimpanzee.
            She rolled her eyes and took a large bite.
            They were in France.  She didn’t want to have dumb college quad conversations in France.  She wanted to get loaded on beer and eat stupid food.  She wanted to do dumb off campus things in France.
            He sniffed.
            “There’s so much dog shit in this town.”
            He had already stepped in it twice while his nose was deep in a Lonely Planet.  She snapped a few shots of his shitty shoes and pouty grimace. 
            “Not enough if you ask me,” she joked.
There really was a lot of dog shit in this town.  Her eyes brightened.
            “What if we put little flags in all the dog shit?”
            “What?”  He was trying to make sense of the newspaper.
            “What if we went around and put little flags in all the dog shit?” she repeated, to which Edwin repeated his pouty grimace.
            “And the flags would all say different things…”  She was on a roll.
            He rested his hands over his ears and tried to concentrate on the movie listings.  She hopped out of her seat and grabbed a handful of toothpicks from the counter.  The man at the counter frowned, looked at the bulbous guy lip syncing to “Personal Jesus” and went out for a smoke.
            Josie grabbed at the sports pages from under Edwin’s elbows.
            “Hey!” he protested.
            “Oh, so you’re into fuutboll now?” she mocked.
            “I like sports.”
            “Okay, who’s your favorite fuutboll star?”
            He looked at her like she was a child and pulled his elbows up like a slightly older child.  “Mike Ditka.”
            She tore off little scraps from the borders of the paper and folded them into acute triangles.  Edwin tried to read but couldn’t.
            “Are you actually going to do that?”
            “What should the flags say?” she offered.  He paused and wondered how the girl he had recently decided that he loved had become his annoying little sister.
            “I don’t know.”
            Josie wrote I DON’T KNOW on the little flag and wrapped it around a toothpick.  Twirling it between her thumb and forefinger, she admired it and proclaimed, “I don’t know!”
            She rewarded herself with a stick of gum.
            Edwin hated gum.  To him, gum was a device used by incessant blatherers to continually make noise for them while their brains rebooted.  In high school he had written a piece for school paper about gum.  He referred to the chewers of gum as cretins and vermin and called for their jaws to be permanently wired shut.
            He loathed the way she chewed gum.  Like a prostitute.  Gnawing on her cud.  Her mouth gaping open like a loud sucking wound. 
            But.  He was determined to not let it ruin their vacation.  Or their relationship.
            “I was thinking we could go see a movie,” he suggested.  “There’s this old slaughterhouse they converted into a museum.  Les Abattoirs.  They’re showing a film called L’oeuf de Noisette.”
            Her gum popped and smacked like wet bubble wrap flatulence.  She rolled another flag.
            “A movie?”
            She scrawled HOLLYWOOD SUCKS on the flag.
            “It’s supposed to be good,” he defended.
            Their heads remained locked downward, calmly holding their ground.
            “Ed, we’re in France.  I don’t want to spend my time watching a movie we could see at home.”
            He focused on the newspaper.
            “That’s the thing.  We can’t see this in Ohio.”
            She assembled more flags.  She chewed more gum.
            “I just don’t want to see a fucking movie when we’re in France.”
            He raised his eyes to aim them at her.
            “Well, I obviously don’t want to spend my day poking fucking toothpicks into fucking dog shit when we’re in fucking France!”           
            “Wow,” she said with distance.  The jukebox went silent.  The bulbous guy gave them a look, ran his fingers though his hair for Josie and left.  The man at the counter returned.
            “Un más cervesa, see voo pley,” she butchered.  The man at the counter looked at her with actual contempt.  Edwin grinded his teeth while Josie blew a big  pink bubble and chewed it back into her mouth.
            “So what’s Loofa de Nawlins about?  A crawdad that scrubs itself?”
            “You mean L’eouf de Noisette?  It means egg noisy.”  The man at the counter sighed.
            “Your beer,” he said in shitty English.  Josie stuck her gum under the counter and enjoyed a large warm gulp.
            “You realize your movie isn’t going to have English subtitles.”
            Edwin got up.
            “Maybe we should just meet up later,” he exhaled.
            “Fine.  See you at the hostel.”
            He hesitated before leaving.
            “I can’t believe you’re spending your time in France with dog shit over me.”
            Her small glass was already empty.
            “Ed, I don’t want to sit in some pretentious cabaret and watch somebody else’s idea of art.  I want to explore and I want to create my own.”
            Edwin’s neck elongated in astonishment.
            “Okay.  So what statement are you making with your dog shit art?”
            She cocked her head.
            “I don’t know yet.”
            “Yeah.  I know.”  He headed for the door.  “See you later I guess.”
            “Ciao!” she sang.

            They called it the pink city.  It was pink.  Pink like a hog.  Caked in dirt and hoof-deep in its own shit.  It was a filthy sow of a town.
            Toulouse was her idea.  They couldn’t afford Paris.  Besides, Paris was too obvious.  They probably didn’t have dog shit on the streets.
            She found a fresh petite sphere on a crack in the cobbles.  A bouquet of weeds framed it like an icky still life.  She inserted a flag in its north pole.  NO FAT CHICKS it boasted.  She snapped a few shots.
            A guy in a stained, tattered green T-shirt and black jeans stood in the background.  He wouldn’t move.  He was staring at her.  Josie put down her camera.  He was a young guy, thin with long dark locks and a lazy beard.  She decided that he might be considered attractive, and zoomed the camera on him to make sure.  He was smiling.
            “Okay,” she allowed herself to admit.
            He shouted French at her.
            “FRENCH!” she shouted back.
            “ENGLISH!” he responded.
            He followed her around until she started following him.  His name was Guillome.  He showed her the river.  He showed her the capitol plaza.  She showed him all the dog shit on the street.  When she pointed, he pointed too, and performed a funny disco dance.  He bought her a hazelnut crepe from a street vendor.  It was better than the fois gras whatever thing that Edwin had insisted was heaven.
            They stopped for a glass of beer.  She took photographs of the graffiti.  They ordered another round of beer.  She took portraits of him.  The man at this counter smiled.  She drank her beer fast.  The jukebox played The Stones.  She tickled his scruff.  He was in mid-sentence.  She kissed him.

            They were near a university.  The mucky streets teemed with youth.  In her jacket she had one flag and in her mouth one stick of gum.  A long log of dog shit sat fatly on a curb.  It looked like a submarine in need of a periscope.
            “Perfect!” she slurred and audibly sucked the juice from her gum.  She pulled the final frayed flag from her pocket.
            FREE TIBET.
            She squatted for the shot, but lost her balance.  The alluring cushion of her American ass became an anvil that crashed into Guillome’s skinny shins.  He toppled like a tree, bracing his fall manually.  His right palm slammed directly on the protruding toothpick and hit the warm dog shit hard.
            Josie let out a big drunken “HA!”
            Guillome screamed in agony.
            Josie put her hand over her mouth in shock. 
            He examined the damage.  His hand was smeared in Josie’s art – the toothpick planted firmly in his skin, a dog shit stigmata.  She removed her hand from her face, revealing a wad of gum resting in a mouth agape.
            Guillome winced as he plucked the flag out of his palm and let out a strange whimper.  Josie felt this a bit dramatic and pointed at the shit on his hand.  This was his cue to do the funny disco dance.  But he didn’t dance.
            “Hey!” she giggled.  “You-“
            But her sentence was hijacked by a huge burst of her own laughter.  The gum shot out of her mouth, hitting Guillome in the face.  She covered her mouth again but it was too late.  Enraged, Guillome grabbed her wrist with his good hand and wiped the shit across her smirking face.

            L’eouf de Noisette was a stroke of cinematic masturbation.  Or so said Ralph, the American foreign exchange student who sat next to Edwin at Les Abbatoirs.  The film had just let out and they discussed its merits and downfalls.  Edwin appreciated the Dadaist humor in its meta take on the daily struggles of a chestnut.  Ralph thought Dada and meta were dated and that the film offered little more than trite fluff from an immature trust fund art school dropout.
            They hit gridlock in the square.  A crowd had formed.  A Frenchman screaming at an American girl.  The American girl taking photographs of the screaming Frenchman.  Both speckled in excrement.
            “Oh my god,” Edwin gulped.
            Ralph chuckled.
            The Frenchman swatted at Josie’s camera.  She kicked at his balls.  The crowd had made a song of ooh’s, but was now growing more hostile.  Josie threw a dried nugget at a kid dressed in stereotypical punk rock gear.  His mohawked friend retaliated with spit.  Others hawked their own gum at her. It was a hail of hate.  All the while she continued to snap pictures of the filthy, frothing mob, with an actual shit-eating grin on her face.  This was Josie’s art.
            Edwin felt too many things.  Shame.  Pain.  Cowardice.  Defeat.  Envy.  But mostly defeat.
            It was like he had played a game of telephone with a genie.
            He had wished for all gum chewer’s mouths to be wired shut, not mired in shit.
            So how come he was the one that felt like dog shit?

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