Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thursday, October 7, 2010

T'was the Night Before Ski Season

T'was The Night Before Ski Season

The night was crisp and getting colder, snow was on the way. I could smell smoke from the fireplaces in the neighborhood as they were lit for their first time this season. A couple of snows had already come and gone already, but this night was different; this was real winter settling into the air. Fall was becoming an orange memory, the Halloween candy was reduced to wrappers and long since discarded. The un-opened Thanksgiving turkey was resting comfortably in the freezer awaiting his debut in a couple of weeks .

I looked out into the clear night sky and watched the stars, I scanned the vast distances of the Milky Way looking for that special star, I always wondered what it may look like, I imagined a red satellite slowly traversing the heavens, or maybe a flashing streak of color like a jet at low altitude. I never saw it, I didn't really expect too anyway.

I drained the last sips from the beer bottle and tossed it away in the recycling. I gave one last look at the other beer slowly chilling in a bucket of ice next to a lone plate of warm, leftover lasagna on the kitchen table. I went upstairs to bed where my wife slept soundly.

I must have fallen asleep quickly, because the next thing I remember was waking up quickly with a start. The house was quiet but alive, I looked out the window and I could see the big flakes of snow falling in the moonlight. That’s when I heard it; the distinct sound of a bottle of beer being opened with a twist, the cap being deposited into the trash bin. I knew he was here. Without even thinking I bounded down the stairs, I felt eight years old.

Sure enough the pair of brand new skis stood by the fireplace, shiny and mounted with the exact bindings I like. No ribbons, no stockings, wreaths or trees decorated the room. Christmas was still weeks away. Yet there they were, my new skis waiting for me, waxed and ready to go for the next day. The edges were glinting in the low light, the top sheet looked like candy waiting to be eaten. I was too busy drinking in this amazing pair of skis to even notice that he was still there.

He gave me quite a start. I wasn't expecting him to still be hanging around, he was always gone! I gave up years ago trying to catch him in the act. But there he was, sipping his beer, smiling at me. Santa had not left in a puff of smoke or flew up the chimney this time.

45 years of waking up to the newest set of skis, with no one there to thank, had become my odd little tradition, I didn't think twice about usually. But for whatever reason this year I was able to actually see the legend, he was standing right there in my kitchen.

He was dressed in a red t-shirt, brown cargo shorts and work boots. His beard was trimmed and neat. His bald head was rimmed with neatly brushed white hair and was speckled with age spots, freckles and the red blotches of someone who enjoyed the sun a lot. If it wasn't for the faintest upturn of his mustache tips you would hardly know who he was. He smelled like fresh hay and pipe tobacco. I noticed then that he wasn't alone, he had two ladies with him. Young, smartly dressed gals in red pant suits. Their slight pixie-ish appearance gave away the fact that these must be his elves, but otherwise you could have passed them on the street without a second look. My complete shock and amazement must have been obvious as Santa chuckled a bit and nodded to the chair. He pulled it out slightly for me, as he sat down in the opposite chair.

Being a good host took over my thoughts and I found myself offering drinks or snacks to my new guests. The elf ladies smiled a "no-thanks" and continued to stand at the end of table as I awkwardly sat slowly down in the chair to face the famous Saint Nicholas.

Not sure what to say I was about to stammer out something when Santa broke the ice and said in deep voice tempered with a quality of kindness that I had never heard before. "Thank you for the lasagna by the way, you found my weak spot!" His eyes twinkled as he confessed his secret pleasure. I had learned this years ago in college, when I did not have the milk and cookies that was traditionally left. (He only sipped the milk and took one bite of the cookie anyway, mostly just to be nice I figured) Being a poor student I put out the only things I had in my fridge; a beer and a piece of lasagna. The next morning they were both completely gone. I began a new tradition from there on out.

My mind was full of a hundred questions, but my tongue was star struck and I could only move my mouth with absolutely no sound coming out. Mercifully Santa knew and again spoke" I know you probably have a lot to ask, so I will save you the trouble and tell you why I am here." He leaned forward across the table and looked in my eyes with stern compassion. I recognized the look from my parents when they had bad news to tell me but did not want to say out loud. "This will be the last year I can come." Santa said as if he was confiding in me a deep secret.

I was still star struck and the words and thoughts were backed up in my mind like water behind the Hoover Dam. "Santa I just want to say thanks so much for all the skis and...." He interrupted me with a gesture and said "No, it I who needs to thank you, that’s why I wanted to stick around tonight." He looked at the elves who were still politely standing at the end of the table, looked back into my eyes and continued.

“For the last few years you were my only ski delivery, I used to bring hundreds of skis to my older believers at the start of every season. But as the years have gone by the adults have believed less and less, mostly they have their own families and kids and feel it’s too silly or strange, some have had jobs and corporate positions that did not allow for believing in fairies, some have given in to the peer pressure, most have gotten too old to ski anymore. You are the last one on my list, and you are also my favorite. You have always believed in the magic of winter. You never let the pressures of growing up in the real world diminish your enjoyment of the cold and ice and snow. Your heart remains in the snow, your thoughts are always with the snow clouds, and I have always enjoyed rewarding your obsession for all things winter. We are a lot alike in that regrard. I live in the land of eternal winter, you see, sometimes it gets rough, I won't lie to you. But it's the unending love you and others like you have for season of cold quiet that keeps me going. It reminds me of why I am there. I owe you more than you could imagine, you are the last to truly believe."

I found myself nodding along in agreement. Snow was my life and love. I never stopped believing in magic and Santa Claus. Even when I was eight and my parents sat me down to tell me there was no such thing as Santa Claus. I knew better. "What about the skis I get every year?" I asked them, "Did you bring me those too?" "Well no." they replied. "We are pretty sure your Uncle Morty brings those to you." My Uncle Morty used to work at the ski resort and was the only other member of my family who went to the slopes on any regular basis. He denied it every year, but my parents were not convinced, they were sure it was him and eventually the matter was dropped. Morty was sure it was me who was providing the skis, figuring somehow I acquired them through some nefarious means and was using Christmas as a convenient excuse to "launder" the new pair every year. He was on the receiving end of many of the year-old skis I passed on to him - so he never pressed the issue.

My wife also gave up years ago; she humors me every year as I come in to the bedroom beaming with the new season’s pair. She is pretty sure it is me who buys them and I am just being silly. People on the lifts ask where I got the new skis and I always proudly reply "Santa brought them!" which, although is an acceptable response, makes my wife just roll her eyes behind her goggles anyway.

It was then, after that talk with my parents when I was eight years old, that the skis started showing up not on Christmas morning, but weeks earlier, on the first day of the season. It was our little secret; Santa was real and brought me skis every year. Every year I sent him a thank you note. Skis aside, I was truly grateful for having such a good friend, I never felt alone or lonely ever. Somewhere Santa was out there and I could depend on him, and now he is here, in my kitchen, eating my wife's lasagna.

I Looked out the patio sliding doors and watched the snow come lightly down and kiss the ground. Santa was right; snow was magic! Sure I understood it when the weather men talked about low pressures and dew points and such. On some level I knew the science behind it all, but that still did not explain the feeling I got when you opened up the front door in the morning to discover that big, pillow-top comforter of snow had been laid down on the neighborhood overnight. Light precious jewels sparkling in the early morning sun. It could only be the products of fairy magic, there was no other explanation.

"But but Santa, where are you going? W- what are...I mean...Why..." I stammered again as the news was finally settling in. Santa smiled with comfort and gratitude, his eyes twinkled again, not with the jolly happiness as he is known for, but with what seemed like a small tear glassing over his blue eye.”Times have changed, the business is rough. I am afraid it is time to outsource Christmas to the Chinese; most all the toys are made there anyway. The Chinese elves work harder, longer hours. Mrs. Claus passed away years ago and I am just getting too old. Even jolly old elves can't live forever and I am going to enjoy my last years at home. The land of never-ending winter is getting warmer and I only have so many powder days left, you know. It's time to enjoy them."

He went on, "The Chinese will only be doing Christmas, I’m afraid. They can't do these extra little touches, this was my personal project anyway - just a little extra magic for my ski friends that shared my love for the deep winter snow. I will still do some personal appearances here and there, but the all the heavy lifting and long nights will happen in China. I'm sorry, I will miss visiting you."

Santa looked out the sliding doors too, and his twinkle returned as he saw the snow collecting. We both watched the falling snow in silence for a moment. I could tell he was just as excited to see it as me. After a long pause he looked back at me and said "It's going to be a great morning, eh? What do you think, eight inches maybe?" I nodded, still too tongue tied to form an intelligent sentence.

He then looked deep into my eyes and whispered “Those skis are special..." He said nodding toward the pair leaning against the wall in the living room. "They will never rust, their edges are always sharp, and the bases will never need waxing. They'll never let you down and you will never need another pair…ever. These were my personal skis and I want you to have them now. Don't ever let the magic of winter fade my friend." His smile was etched into my mind at that moment. The obvious melancholy he felt circled the room like pipe smoke.

He grabbed my hand from across the table and gave it a firm squeeze. He took the last bite of lasagna and quietly put the fork down next to the plate. As he pushed himself away from the table he finished the last swig of beer and wiped his mustache. He looked at the elves and they all walked toward the front door together. I jumped up, I have been waiting to meet him all these years and he was leaving! I had so much to ask him still, I wanted to tell him about all those incredible days I had riding on the skis he loyally brought me. But he cut me off again as he turned back from the door. "The lifts will be turning in a couple of hours! Save a first chair for me will ya?" He disappeared into the falling snow, with the lady elves in tow. I ran to the door and saw a red, older model pick-up truck parked on the street. It shook a bit as it started up, coughing up a puff of blue smoke. There were a couple of dogs and some hay bales in the truck bed.

He winked, smiled and put his finger along his nose as he put the truck into gear and drove away. I watched them drive down the street. I turned, grabbed the skis and went running upstairs, beaming. "Look Honey! Look what Santa brought me!"

Sunday, May 9, 2010

For the peformers; The Million Dollar Business Card

Be polite, professional, and don't burn your bridges. A little lesson.

It happens after every street show, some guy hanging around as people are putting bills in your hat, "Do you have a card?" he asks me. Amazingly, on this day, I actually did have a stack of cards and some promotional brochures in the prop bag. They were even current and did not require me scratching out some phone number and writing in a new set of digits. I happily gave him a card and a brochure, he told me he was booking a garden convention show in the near future and was interested in having me do some entertaining. "Sure" I respond, "give me a call! We'll talk!" knowing I would probably never hear from him.

Most cards I passed out almost never panned out. no one ever called.( In fact after an enraged husband found my card in his wife's stuff and angrily called me to find out what I was doing with his wife...I almost gave up the practice). Seems kind of dumb anyway...passing out personal info to strangers on the street. But this was a long time ago before the internet tubes, when a business card was your ticket to bigger and better gigs and your first foot in the door.

Well this one card has turned out to be worth almost a million dollars in contracts and bookings.

and I could have still screwed it up along the way ...

I ended up going to the Garden Show in a desert town I had never worked before. It was a week long gig doing walk-around entertaining at a convention center. Boring but paid well enough.

While I was there I ended up auditioning at the local comedy club and got a booking for a later date. I never worked for the Convention guy again (He actually stiffed me for half of the check) but ended up going to the comedy club on two different dates. Well the booker of this particular club had gained notoriaty for being a complete jerk and clueless about the business of running a comedy club, (He often thought of some "funny" way to insert himself into your act, really? seriously? Ummm how about no! the act works fine without you dude...?) His ego was huge and very fragile. Many comedians would quit half-way through the week and tell him what an ass he was. I would just suck it up and let his ridicoulous ideas roll off me. I put up with the guy while I was there and just quietly became "unavailable" for him later on.

Professionalism never allowed me to tell him what I thought of him, even though it would have been pretty easy to do. This guy was famous for awhile in the comedian circles and everyone had a story about how they blew this guy off and/or told him to take a hike.The club eventually folded and I don't know what ever happened to the guy...

But before he dissappeared into the fog of idiots he did one good thing: He referred me to another club owner. This new owner did his own bookings and came from the world of Casino Shows. he made a bunch of money with a big show in Vegas and bought an old theater in Salt Lake City that he turned into a Comedy Club. He loved magicians and jugglers and had asked around about such variety acts. he got my name from the idiot in Arizona (thay were friends) and started hiring me two or three times a year. I quickly became one of his favorite acts and when another producer from Vegas was looking for a "specaility act" he happily gave him my number. I ended up signing on for a two to three week show - that actually turned into a 3 year contract making more money than I ever did before. I met other producers and agents in that show and have been working for them ever since, almost twenty years later.

Many people can trace their history back along their career to a few special agents or events. I can trace mine back to a single business card. Also by not pissing off an idiot-agent (that more than deserved it), I created a great career. I was eventually working by word-of-mouth and didn't even need to self-promote or audition anymore.

I met many comedians and jugglers over the years whose egos would get in the way, and they would tell off some agent or owner and walk out of a gig. Those guys are not working anymore.

Being professional is it's own reward.
Don't bite the hand that is feeding you.
You are never too big for a small show.
You are never as good as your best show, and never as bad as your worst.
Stay humble and approachable.
Nobody cares how amazing you are.
and as Pat Paulsen once told me:
"Be nice to everyone on the way up, because you will need them again on the way down."
He would know.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Florida; Just the Tip Please.

The flight to Orlando was packed full of kids. We had never been on the same plane with so many potential noisey bio-hazards,"Honey, did you pack the ear-plugs?" I asked quietly as we settled into our seats.

It was spring break for Summit County, Colorado and apparently Orlando, Florida has a small Disney problem that attracts the crotch fruits and their support units. I made a note to myself that Flights through Orlando should be better timed, perhaps during the super-model spring break.

The flight was actually fine and quiet, suprisingly. Regardless I was still even more convinced to get that vasectomy I always wanted. The next plane to Miami was on a 19 seat puddle jumper, the plane was small, (we even got out to help push it at one point) . Why they had such a small plane to fly from Orlando to Miami we could not figure out. Seemed like that would be a popular enough flight to warrant a plane with jet engines and a flight attendant. But the pilot was sober and there were only adults aboard so we were both glad when we finally got airborne.

Miami International Airport is known as MIA - which is also, uncomfortably enough, the designation for "Missing In Action". Of course being in Florida during February does make it hard to fly back to Colorado at the end of the week, so maybe MIA is appropriate. I am just glad we were not flying into DOA.

The internet flight and internet rental car worked out as promised without any help from William Shatner or garden gnomes. and we were on our way to the beautiful Florida Keys. I had my lovely girlfriend with me and some new snorkel equipment, we were looking forward to a great week in the sun and surf. The rental car came with an RFID Sun Pass to breeze us through the tolls (and report back our movements to big brother) so nothing was stopping us on our trip south. The next stop was Marathon!

Kim and I stayed at the Blackfin Resort last time we were there and had reservations to return. Although "resort" is a bit of a stretch. It is your basic roadside motel with a nice beach, pool and boat slips...but no bellmen or spa so I don't think "resort" is totally accurate. However it is a very nice place for the money and the staff is extra friendly. We like the maintenance guy, Barry, who lives on his boat all year and is fun to hang out with during the Blackfin's own little nightly sunset ceremony. He set us up with free Kayaks, and lobster-catching kits, and had plenty of local knowledge to help us round out our itenerary.

In the keys, addresses aren't used that much, everything is located by it's mile-marker and whether it is "bay-side" or "ocean-side." Blackfin is bay-side at MM 49.9. Marathon is pretty much half-way between Key-West and Miami and is a great jumping off point for any Key adventure. We had originally planned on staying in Key-West but were very glad to find this place. Key West is a great place for a day or two, but is almost TOO touristy and Marathon just had a better vibe and more relaxed pace for us. So we happily pulled into our motel-resort and got ready for some beach time.

Sombrero Beach in the heart of Marathon is a lovely little ocean-side beach and great for swimming. The bay-side beach at our motel-resort was also perfect for sun-tanning and beer drinking. The Motel beach is raked smooth everyday and had some lovely plastic chaises to lay-out on.

Kim is a sun-o-holic and I'm not. Our beach wear differs quite a bit. I stay covered head to toe under a big hat and Kim shows up wearing nothing but a paperback book. Like a stadium-roof in Canada, Kim's bikini top tends to appear and dissappear with the cloud cover. She actually tans nicely, I tend to turn as red as an expired parking meter if I even get close to a bright lamp. Consequently we have different goals in trips to sunny spots, she likes an unobstructed solar view and I hope to find a good internet connection. We found both at the Blackfin.

Florida was having a bit of a cold snap this February, there were some cloudy days and record setting cold mornings unfortunately. Tanning in the rain doesn't work I am told, so we had to find some other things to do. Luckily we were in the Florida Keys, a Mecca for tourists, retirees and pirates, there was plenty to do, as long as you like eating, diving, or fishing.

The diving is world class. Snorkeling at the Sombrero Reef was a highlight this trip! For 30 bucks at Tilden's Scuba Center they take you out to the most amazing reef in Florida. The locals told us about this place and Barry reaffirmed the fact that this was the best snorkeling and diving to be found in the sunshine state. I am not well versed in dive trips but Kim has snorkeled many places in the carribean and also agreed that this was a rare treat. It was like swimming in the aquarium at the doctor's office, there were so many fish and brightly colored corals I was overwhelemed with the variety of sea life; parrot fish, queen angel fish, eels, little "walnut" jelly-fish, and countless neon species filled your dive-mask everywhere you looked. Captain Billy and his crew were amazingly patient, knowledgable, and helpful to the snorkelers and newly certified divers. Safety and fun were the keywords of the trip, they took us to two different spots along the state park reef and allowed us on our own for over an hour at each locale. The half day tour is more than enough and is a must see! Tildens is located right next to our motel, and the boat left just yards from our room. Perfect trip for a cloudy morning.

Key West is the usual destination for most people, Ernest Hemmingway, pirates and drag-queens seem to be the theme here. Beautiful victorian cottages fading in the strong sun. scents of smoky barbeque and lime waft down sandy alleyways. Chickens run wild in the cobblestone streets along with six-toed cats and locals on crazy, colorful cruiser-bikes.

You can tell you have entered into another world with it's own rules and customs. A southern accent mixed with the lingo of a long life at sea fills your ears as you chat with the residents about shrimps, conchs and cocktails. Everyone seems to have been born on the very bar-stool that you now find them sitting on. T-shirts and sandals are worn with forced tolerance as if they are just one layer too many. I wouldn't describe it as a relaxed atmosphere, but it's real and unpretentious; southern paced, with a salsa undercurrent.


Our favorite stop now in Key West is a place called Peppers. It is a shop dedicated to the religion of the hot sauce. Before going in however, you have to buy an iced bucket of beers from the sport bar next door, (be sure to get some extra for your server). Then belly up to Pepper's tasting-bar and plan to spend an hour or two testing and tasting some of the thousands of hot sauces and cooking marinades that line the walls. A hot-sauce somalier will take you on a tour of your tongue, armed only with lite corn chips your server will expertly guide you through the halls of the habenero. Your palate will light up with heat and your skin will glow with saucy sweat. They will mix sauces together and paint pictures of barbeques and glazed chickens that you can't wait to go make yourself. Kim and I considered ourselves lucky only leaving with just a hundred and fifty dollars worth of delightful treasures locked away in little red bottles. Whether you are a gourmet foodie or a sunday-afternoon-chips-and-salsa-while-watching-football-guy, you absolutely have to stop at Peppers. Luckily it's just a block away from the Conch Republic where you can cool down afterwards in an open air patio, next to the marina eating some of their famous pink key shrimp.

Pink Key Shrimp

The Key West sunset is where color was invented, and the Mallory Square scene is world famous and rightly so. The sunset is a must attend mass everywhere you go in the Keys and Key West has made it into an art. Touristy but fun, it caps off a perfect day.

Buskers abound

For the foodies we found a couple of treats. Stopping at most any Miami Cuban sandwich shop, on the way out of town, for a classic Cuban sandwich piled high with pork, turkey, ham on a toasted bread with a pickle is a tradition for us now. Look for Las Olas Cafe in the south beach area!

Cuban Sandwich

Just a couple of blocks off the highway in Marathon is the Key's Fisherie, Market and Marina. MM 49 at the end of 35th St. There they have the award winning best fish sandwich in Florida - the Lobster Rueben. Barely dead lobster with thousand island dressing, sour kraut, on toasted sourdough bread. Sit up in their sunset grill and wash it down with a Key West Sunset Ale. One sandwich will feed two people nicely and is available on the internet.

For the dirt-bag tourists looking for cheap thrills you can visit the Hawk Cay Resort, they have a great pool that easily poached and a free dolphin show for their guests. The dolphins are accesible right off the walkways around the hotel and they have a couple of shows daily. Not the caliber of a Sea-World type park, but it's guilt free because you didn't pay for it. I like free stuff.

One of our favorite stops in South Florida is the one-of-a-kind Everglades. We bought some handguns and assault rifles and headed into the National Park. Winter is a good time to see wildlife in the park. We saw alligators, herons, osprey, Ibis, coots, cormorants, great white pelicans, and my new favorite bird; the anhinga. All of them were tasty and delicious and we should have brought more charcoal.


Green Heron

I joke about the guns and charcoal, but if you do want to eat alligator it is available at a lot of places including the alligator park just a couple of miles from the entrance to the Park. I've been to this alligator park a few times and I don't reccomend it unless you have never been. Then it's cool to do...once. I always leave feeling dirty for some reason. The same way I feel after visiting zoos, rodeos and Sea-World type places. I just quit going eventually. But if you have kids you have to go to an alligator farm! They will insist. I admit, too, the air-boat ride is actually a lot of fun.

After that Kim and I turned in our rental car all caked with sand and lobster juice. took the shuttle to the airport where various delays and another, un-planned night in a Marriott in Houston awaited us. Finally the cold, thin air of Colorado greeted us, and the visions of another great trip to Florida filled our memories, like the fine sand in the bottom of my luggage.