Monday, December 24, 2007

Lucky as Hell

Lucky as Hell

When I'm performing live stand-up there is a segue where I say, "I'm a lucky man. All my life I wanted to be a stand-up comedian and it's been pretty good to me." This might be the greatest understatement I’ve ever made. The older I get the more obvious it has become to me how very good life has been to me. This is especially true regarding a career that has been so very full of people who have made me laugh.I fight the blues on a daily basis until the days become to formidable and then I join battle on an hourly basis. I’m a depressive and have been since adolescence. I’m sure it might be hard to believe that the same man wrote those two paragraphs back to back but they are both true. I suspect that many of my associates in stand-up deal with demons that are similar if not identical to mine. Of one thing I am certain. Neurotics prevail in my branch of show business and there are no shortage of them in film and television as well. I have been pursuing this career for decades and there is no end in sight. I assume I will continue to do stand-up until I can no longer make people laugh or I can no longer stand up. The same is true for acting. I have had a modest amount of success in television due in no small part to my friendship with the actor/comedian Kevin James. If the name doesn’t ring an immediate bell he is the star of the CBS sit-com “The King of Queens”. If you still don’t know who he is why is that my problem?I recently finished a short tour in the Northeast beginning at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City and finishing the following week-end at the Brokerage Pub on Long Island. While Los Angeles has been home for over ten years now I’m a native Long Islander and it is where I learned my craft. I was sharing the bill with Joe Curry and Chris Monte. As the evening wore on old friends began to drop in. One after another and over the week-end not less than a dozen friends dropped in several of which did guest sets. They talked about absurd jokes I had played on them and told stories I’d long forgotten. It was the greatest week-end I’ve ever known and I won’t soon forget it.I still scramble to make my bills and often have no idea of where my next paycheck is coming from. I never thought when I was younger that I wouldn’t have found more stability in my life by now but like George Bailey I had a time when I was the richest man in town.

Jewitt, Al Jewitt

Around the year 1991 I wrote a small piece about a boy I met in my first year of High school.
It went as follows.

"JEWITT ... AL JEWITT"by Jim Myers

When old friends meet, they often reminisce over their school days together. They look back fondly at memories that bring smiles to their lips, laughter and back slapping.For some, these memories are painful. Every June that a class graduates, a percentage of that class does not attend the ceremony. Some have signed up for summer school, others will be repeating the year, and sadly, there are the lost who have chosen not to pursue the elusive high school diploma.In the fall of 1961, I was attending my first year of high-school in Farmingdale, N.Y., on Long Island. At the age of fourteen I was a battered student. Just entering puberty, it had already been drummed into my head that I was lazy, not realizing my potential, inconsistent, and one of those many individuals who was harboring a bad attitude.For many students, school meant meeting a simple challenge. They understood what the teachers were saying, often they were ahead of what was being taught. These were the chosen. The herd, was this mass of students who ran to the very good, to the middle of the road, to the barely scraping along. The third group was made up of the under achievers, or as we came to look upon ourselves, the losers. Although I can only suspect it is still true today, in 1961 I can state without reservation that being a loser in High school was, "Hell on Earth".My older brother was an honor roll student, as was my father. These facts are never lost on any individual struggling in school. I came from a family of winners, so how could I be a loser? They must be right! I must be lazy! One thing was certain, I didn't like myself very much. In fact, I despised myself. Self loathing is a by-product of the struggling student.That September a school bus carried a bunch of happy screaming kids to their first day of high school. Few of them noticed the quiet blonde kid in the back who looked out the window. He wasn't watching the passing landscape. He was bracing himself for another year of disaster.As I sat in my English class, I noticed the kid seated next to me. While the teacher spoke of the requirements we would be expected to achieve, I could see that my neighbor had a paper-back book hidden inside his English text. He was reading a novel under the pretext of studying his English. It made me smile.The most striking thing I remember about seeing him for the first time, was that this is not a handsome boy. Over-weight, and be bespectacled at fourteen. Like myself, he was wagering the losing war with acne. His hair was shaved close to his head, which in itself appeared too large. Most obvious of all, was that his clothes were picked out for him by his mother. After all, how many guys made the conscious choice to wear corduroy? At fourteen, when most boys are beginning to realize that they want to get the attention of girls, this guy showed no signs of having a clue. With nothing more than idle curiosity, I got his attention with a whisper. I nodded toward the book within the book. Looking toward the teacher to make sure his secret would remain undiscovered, he held the cover of the novel for me to read. "Thunderball", by Ian Fleming. It made no impression on me what so ever.At this point, I think it is important to relate that this young man and myself never became great friends. In fact, we barely got to know one another. If anything, this is just a couple of pages devoted to influence.Relating to incidents thirty years past means wrestling with memories that are muddled. As best as I can recall, I looked up to see the homely kid from English sitting next to me in the cafeteria. Setting his tray on the table he extended his hand. "Jewitt. Al Jewitt." He spoke with the smile of someone who had said something witty. The humor was lost on me. I took the offered hand and shook it. I also looked around to see how many people might notice me hanging out with this character."Have you read, Fleming?""What's Fleming?"The smile again."Ian Fleming is the guy who writes the Bond books."Holding up the paper back I saw him with in class, I recognized the author's name."I don't read much."Admitting I didn't read was hardly considered a sin at Farmingdale High School in 1961. Indeed, in certain circles it was a badge of honor. Also, I did not want to encourage Jewitt, Al Jewitt, to converse with me. Farmingdale was, at best, a rough school. Class mates fighting in the halls was a daily event. Class mates fighting teachers was less common, but happened from time to time. While Al was over-weight, and wearing glasses, I was small. I was five feet tall and weighed one hundred and fifteen pounds. The tough guys in my school might very well decide to slap around a couple of losers for talking together. The truth was, I was so afraid of my own shadow, my very imagination conspired against me."These are the James Bond books.""Yeah, no kidding?"My eyes searched the cafeteria for threatening glares. Why wouldn't this guy go away?"Do you know who James Bond is?""No.""James Bond is a secret agent.""If it's a secret, why are you telling me?"This time, it was my humor that was lost on Al. While some memories are muddled, others are as clear as if they happened not one hour ago. Al placed his hand on the book. He looked at me for a brief second. He was making a decision. Then he slid the book across the table."I'm finished with it. We have a book report due in six weeks. I think you'll like it.""Thanks a lot." This was said with as little sincerity as I could put together in so short a phrase. I hated books. I had to carry them to and from school every day. I would read what I was told to read and come away more perplexed than ever. I could retain nothing. Now, this guy comes out of the blue, and what does he do? He gives me a book. I wanted to throw it at him.As the final bell rang, I walked down the hall toward the awaiting buses. I passed a trash can and I stopped. For some reason which I shall never know, I decided not to throw Ian Fleming away.Weeks would pass before I found myself in the trap. I had taken a nap one afternoon. When I awoke, I soon realized that my father was home. He was in the kitchen, and he was drinking. When my father drank, it was his habit to sit me and my brother down for a lecture. These lectures sometimes lasted for hours, and due to the fact that my father was inebriated, the words were abusive and constantly repeated. In those days, when dad wasn't away on business I would leave the house early and not come home until the wee hours when I knew, "The old man", was asleep. By falling asleep earlier, I was now trapped in my room. If he caught me trying to sneak out I would probably fall victim to a lecture. A fate worse than death.Not only was I trapped, I could not even turn on the television for fear he would realize I was awake. Most kids today have portable tape machines equipped with headphones, but this technology had yet to be developed in 1961. I debated the bedroom window. No. If he caught me going out the window the lecture would be twice as fierce.Like a ballet dancer I tiptoed about the room. There was absolutely nothing to do. There on my desk was the copy of "Thunderball". I dismissed the idea as soon as it came to me. I continued to tiptoe. I have no idea how long I paced that room but eventually I was sitting at my desk with the book in front of me. I began to read.Although it seemed a very short while, hours later I would hear my father retiring for bed. At this point I normally would have been overjoyed at not only missing the lecture but ready to sprint for the night air. Not so this night. My eyes began to grow tired. I took the book to my bed and read as I reclined. The following morning would mark the first of countless times I would wake with a book on my chest."Myers. James Myers."Al's eyes shined. Over night we had become kindred spirits. From hearing me say those words, Al knew that I had traveled the globe with James Bond. Joining the ranks of those who read Ian Fleming, I was now one of the elite. I gambled at the tables of Monte Carlo. I drank my martinis, and of course, they were shaken, not stirred. I carried a Baretta. Because British Military Intelligence (MI-6) denoted me with a number which began with a double zero, I had a license to kill. In that one school year, I went from being a reader of comic books, to a young man who would read five novels.It was Al who would give me the sound advice to begin with the first of the Fleming novels and read the rest in order. He would hint to me of things to come, ever careful not to give away too much. In the cafeteria we would gleefully go over the subtle nuances that marked the work of the world's greatest secret agent. We shared secrets that the passing parade of students could not possible be aware of. I grew less concerned of bullies seeing Al and I laugh together. When you are James Bond, one is not easily intimidated.I mentioned earlier that my memory of so many years ago is muddled. Therefore, I can't recall if it was cloudy or sunny that day. I came home to see my mother holding a newspaper, and staring at me. She was hesitant to begin."Jim, do you know a boy named Al Jewitt?"I told her I did."Was he a close friend?"The change in tense, from the first question to the second, sent warning signals to my brain. Farmingdale had a public golf course which had wonderful hills that were perfect for sledding in the winter. According to the newspaper story, when coming to the bottom of the hill Al was hit in the temple by the runner of another sled. Just as the technology of a portable tape recorder would not rescue me from the boredom of being trapped in my room, the molded plastic sleds of the future would not rescue my friend Al. He was killed.After assuring my mother that I was alright, I went to my room. I thought about Al for a little while. This was not the first time I was confronted with mortality. A few years earlier, another friend named Edna Hoffman had been killed by a train. I had known Edna better than I knew Al, and I realized I really hadn't known Edna all that well. I did not weep for Al. I felt bad, but only in the way you feel bad for losing someone you barely know. We had traveled in different circles. I guess you could say, our only bond, was James.Life goes on. I married young and began my family. Although, I would never pursue a higher education, the years were marked by books. As a youth I would enjoy the adventures of detectives, science fiction, and of course, secret agents. Michener would take me all over the world. Poe would take me low, and Asimov would take me to the stars. Thoreau would take me to Walden, and give me reason to ponder. I would laugh out loud with Catch-22, and I would weep at the end of The Summer of 42. Not only would I come to know and love Holden Caulfield, I would introduce him to every member of my family. I would read of insanity, love, pride, and every conceivable emotion and act. From the day Al pushed that book across the table, my life would be full of books.For the past seventeen years I have been a professional comedian. While my name is not a household word I have had a modest amount of success in a business I love. I have appeared on several television shows. Immediately after stepping off of the stage after a taping of, "Evening At The Improv", I was approached by one of the staff writers. He complimented my work by saying, "Your material is some of the best writing I've seen in quite a while." I have also written for radio. I have completed a screenplay and I am currently in the middle of another. I am writer because I read. One of the reasons I read, is because a kid I neither knew, or even wanted to know, decided to slide a book across a table.It's entirely possible that had I not met Al Jewitt, someone else would have inspired me to pick up a book. That possibility does not make me feel any less grateful. Belatedly, the living forty-four year old man, says to the spirit of the fourteen year old boy.Thank-you Al.