So two comedians walk into a bar

I wish I was a stand-up comedian.

I have trouble saying that, because I feel like the many or most people would reply with “you’re not funny.” And I’ve probably spent a lifetime trying to make other people laugh, and maybe I have, but the only thing that sticks in my mind are the too-serious people who reply with “you’re not funny.” And that’s probably why I couldn’t become a comic – it takes a certain amount of confidence to get up on the stage and talk to people like that. But lately, there has been something compelling to me about the whole comedy world.

Last night, I saw this documentary I am Comic on netflix.  It’s sort of about comedian Ritch Shydner, who had a ton of old Carson appearances, and then graduated into bit acting roles and staff writing jobs.  In the movie, he decides to make a comeback to stand-up after 14 years, and it documents his appearances at open mics and small gigs, both the horror of bombing in these small places where people are more interested in the pool tables and TV sets than the comedians, offset by the total high you get from running a show like that.

But the movie is more of a primer on stand-up, the process, the lifestyle, and the good and the bad, told through interview clips with at least 40 top-rate comics.  The wide swath of appearances is awe-inspiring, from household names that we forget got their start in stand-up (Roseanne Barr, Tim Allen, Jeff Foxworthy, Tom Arnold) to the current a-list (Sarah Silverman, Dave Attell, Lewis Black, Margaret Cho), and lots of other great cameos.  It talks about middling, and comedy club condos, and life on the road, and jokes versus bits versus chunks versus sets, and worst shows ever.  It’s a great movie if you’re a huge comedy nerd, and I am.

There’s a huge comedy boom going on right now.  I can’t quantify it and show you a Gartner report with pie charts or anything, but all the indicators are there:  there’s a whole world of podcasts and twitter feeds and web sites dedicated to stand-up; there are all of these shows like Last Comic Standing; there are tons of venues and shows; there are a bunch of stand-ups crossing over into movies and TV shows; there are something like 79 late-night talk shows now, every one employing a dozen staff writers and spotlighting a hundred comics a year.  It’s huge right now, which in my pessimistic mind means that there are orders of magnitude more people trying to break into the business, and I’m sure there are thousands and thousands of unemployed actors and directors and agents who are thinking “I need to start doing sets at open mics so I can segue that into a line producer job at Two and a Half Men.”  It also makes me think that if I decided today to become a stand-up and started writing jokes full-time, I’d just start to get momentum around the time 90% of the comedy clubs in the US shuttered and all of the trend-hop fans who are into Patton Oswalt today will move on to becoming professional salsa dancing fans, or whatever the hell the next trend will be.

I look at the huge growth of the comedy world as I look at the ever-dying world of publishing and wonder why the hell I got into a craft that’s so hugely unrewarding and impossible to crack.  As I try to study how to make it as a literary fiction writer, all I hear are horror stories about how there are now more MFA candidates trying to sell stories than there are readers of literary fiction, and there’s no money in publishing.  And yes, I could write genre fiction and make money writing hack murder mystery crap and publishing it myself, but you can’t choose your voice, it chooses you, and I can’t even read stuff like that, let along write it.  I write what I write, and I try to convince myself that someday the trend will change and people will trade in their vampire and zombie books for Kerouac and Wolfe.

But comedy has such an appealing ecosystem.  For one, you get up on stage at an open mic and go – there’s no trying to finagle blog followers and spamming your stuff to these lit e-journals in hopes that someone will pick it up.  You get on the mic and go, and there is immediate feedback.  I write a book, and maybe a year later, someone will read it and maybe I will hear back from them.  But comedy is immediately absorbed; you tell a joke, a person hears it, they laugh or they don’t.  And people seem to seek out comedy, go to clubs and pay money and see comics, and seek out these podcasts and XM Radio shows and live CDs.  I think in any art, there are two different cycles: either you follow the potential fans, or the fans follow you, and I feel like writing is very much the former right now, and comedy is the latter.  And maybe that’s not entirely true, and I’m sure a lot of comedians bust their asses trying to find Facebook friends and grow their mailing lists and post one-liners to twitter constantly.  But there’s not a huge audience of literary fiction fans out there eager to snap up anything you produce.

I recently took a comedy writing class, to see if I could do it.  And I found that I could and I couldn’t.  I mean, one of the assignments was to write something like 30 monologue-type jokes, which was hard only because I had to actually read the news, and I hate reading the news.  And after carving away at 30 jokes over the course of a week, I found that writers at Kimmel or Letterman have to write at least 40 or 50 jokes a day.  And their pay ranges somewhere between dick and shit.  I think I could hack away at being a comedy writer, or punching up scripts, but it’s probably as unrewarding as hacking away at user manuals all day.  And I don’t mean to knock the tech writing career, which pays more than all but the top tier of fiction writers on amazon, and gives me health insurance and paid vacation and pays me every day, whether or not I scare up sales.  But I remember that feeling when I hit ‘send’ and launched the final, final manuscript of Summer Rain to the publisher, after five years and a quarter-million words of pain and torture, knowing that it would be a 650-page chunk of my life and other peoples’ hands, and it was not the same feeling I get when checking in the final PDF of a developer’s guide for a software product that will literally sell a million times what my book does.

I wish there was a writing community more like the comedy community.  I mean, I look at stuff like the people taking UCB classes who are working with each other and building their careers and doing awesome things, and then I look at any number of literary sites where people are talking about their head shots or whether or not they should change their names to market to the Young Adult romance genre.  I’m slowly finding more authors that subvert this paradigm, but I need an order of magnitude of readers that do the same.  And lately, it’s hard to get people to pay attention to 140-character updates, let alone 140-page novellas.  But I think that will eventually change.

Oh yeah, I did standup once.  It was 1988 and I was in the Catskills and I did a talent show/open mic in some bar in East Windham, in front of maybe 20 people.  I don’t remember a single joke I did, but I vividly remember between the time I put down my name and the time I took the “stage” (really just the same floor as the bar), I went on this long walk in the upstate New York summer night, and listened to the bugs and talked to myself and tried to write a set on the spot.  I remember the smell of the August night, and the cool feeling when it was like a hundred all day and all you could really do is sit in the pool or hide in the AC of the motel, and the temp would drop to like 75 at night, and it would feel almost cold.  And I’m walking by myself, muttering “okay, no, start with that, then go into this, and then, no, then say this, and then mention I’m not from here, and go into that, and, and, and….”  And the set completely bombed; I think one joke got laughs.  But I did it.


City that never sleeps (because of those stupid reverse-gear backup warning beepers)

Good to be back.  I spent all day Friday in airports and on airplanes, immersed in the world of roller suitcases and $9 bottles of water in newsstands filled with every single tabloid featuring pictures of a recently-adultified Miley Cyrus and rumors of tattoos and nipple slips and not a single piece of readable material outside of maybe a moldy Baseball Insider hot stove report with 48 pages of circle-jerking over Jeter’s next big payday, and maybe a 4-point type mention of Tulo’s big $160-million dollar deal somewhere under the mandatory required notice of circulation numbers and where to contact the publisher on page 96.

Actually, Friday was a marathon day, mostly because I could not sleep at all in New York, even with the help of all of the various pharmacological cures my Doctor Feelgoods give me.  (One advantage to a full-bore PPO plan in the hot potato days of plausible deniability-seeking doctors who pass you off to every specialist known to the medical profession any time you have a complaint even slightly off from their knowledge core is that opportunities abound for you to drug-seek elsewhere.  Not that I doctor-surf for Oxy like a right-wing hillbilly talk show host with an itch to scratch, but every time I go to see a new specialist, he or she will immediately rattle off a script to some new wonder-drug that may or may not help my ails but will surely get them another step closer to that Aruba junket with their pharmacy sales rep.)  I forgot that sleep in New York is a careful balancing act of drugs, white noise generators, and the learned ability to tune out the sounds of a garbage truck’s BEEP BEEP BEEP backup alarm at three in the morning, punctuated with the occasional siren bouncing off the buildings.  A decade of guidos, gunshots, and garbage trucks outside my first-floor window always made sleeping an annoyance, but when I’d leave and end up in the middle of nowhere, in a hotel where there wasn’t a shouting match ten feet from my head every hour, I found myself tossing and turning like it was the day before some big event (audit, wedding, presentation, sale on some Apple product I didn’t need, etc.)

My hotel suite cost roughly what I paid for a car back in college, per night, and had the two-bed setup, each bed just big enough for me to roll over once before I fell on the floor.  I remember decades of having a twin bed like this, even on occasion sharing it with someone for various acts of fun, and I never had issues.  Now, even a queen bed is a tight fit for the mountain of pillows and blankets I encase myself in every night.  Was this trip damned to be one of those “the more that things change” reminders?  I don’t know, but I did enjoy the iPod/iPhone dock built into the clock radio.  I had some fears because most of our team was on the same floor, and I didn’t want everyone to hear me at three in the morning, singing along to some Venom song about Satanic sacrifice at top volume while playing Angry Birds in a fit of insomnia and checking my facebook hourly on my $34.95 per day WiFi connection.  The room was barely bigger than the two beds, and when I got there, I thought it didn’t even have a bathroom like one of those cold-water shooting pads you’d rent out in Spanish Harlem in the 70s when you needed to kill a prostitute, but then I saw it hidden around a corner, a low-flow den of sample-sized soaps and a toilet that took around 45 minutes to flush each time.  At least the place had a standard bible AND a Mormon bible, which made it that much easier to smash allergy pills into snortable chunks of powder.  (I took the copy of the Mormon bible, with some vague idea to either read it and write a parody, or use it in some sort of art project, although I’m sure I will forget all about this and in two years, when I’m digging around for books to dump on Amazon (probably every “get over writer’s block in 56 seconds or less” book I bought in a tirade in the last year) and wonder why the hell I had a copy of the LDS book in my collection.)

So yes, New York.  I didn’t do as much walking around as I wanted, mostly because it was December, which meant the time of year I usually spent every waking moment trying to find a heated astronaut suit on some Russian eBay ripoff so I could make the ten-block walk to the subway every day without further aggravating my constant upper respiratory infection with that wind that whipped through every seam and zipper of every coat I ever owned.  I wondered if the city grew or my memory of the city shrunk, but then I realized as I wandered up and down Lexington in the middle of the night, I realized that I never looked UP when I lived in the big smear.

That sounds stupid, but it’s true – when it’s your daily penance to hustle up and down the sidewalk from subway to work to lunch to work to subway, you keep your head down and barrel forward at top speed, cursing every mouth-breather and inbred from a flyover state that stops on the sidewalk to look at a massive foldout map and see how far they are from the statue of liberty or ground zero or whatever the hell tourist spot they are ambling toward.  Even zen pacifists that never step on ants will, within fifteen minutes on a New York sidewalk with stuff to do and places to be, turn into a bloodthirsty offensive tackle of NFL caliber and look to plow down every single person not sprinting at top speed in front of them.  This aptitude came back to me quickly, as I knocked over nuns and old ladies on the way to the subway, but I noticed this look up/look down thing when I pulled out my camera for a quick picture to prove I actually was in the city and not on some Vegas strip club junket (you need as much evidence as possible with these new expense report systems – receipts are never enough; I’ve been bringing a pro HDV broadcast camera and taking video of waiters and hotel desk clerks holding up a copy of that day’s newspaper just to make sure I don’t get burned on reimbursement checks.)

And when I looked up, I saw this massive city, buildings climbing in every direction, and not a hint of economic downturn.  I mean, you look in almost every other American city, and it’s nothing but boarded up stores, closed restaurants, vacant lots for sale that will always remain barren.  The last time I went to Elkhart, I started playing this game while driving around where I would take a shot of tequila every time I passed some retail location of my youth that was either shuttered or turned into a Mexican grocery, and within fifteen minutes, I was blackout drunk.  But in New York, there’s stores opening inside stores, every corner of office building lobbies and subway tunnel filled with people selling wares.  The only thing I saw closed were the subway token booths, which were apparently shut down so they could afford to raise prices again.  (Wait, what?)

I went back to my old office for a half-day; most of my work stuff involved training-type meetings in the hotel convention center, but on Thursday, I had a morning of open time, so I got on the 6 and headed down to NoHo to work at the old digs.  First, taking the subway brought back so many strange memories.  Just the feel of that yellow plastic card going through the stainless steel slider on the turnstile (and of course, 1 in 2 times saying “please swipe your card again at this turnstile” at the exact point you push your entire body weight against the still-locked metal bar preventing you from advancing in the rat race) – that reminded me so much of my daily trip in the germ tube to the office.  I did remember to grab onto something when the car started so I didn’t get launched across the car, but I did keep forgetting which side the doors opened on and how you needed to get the fuck out of people’s way when they needed to exit at their stop.  When I got to 632 Broadway, I was too early and locked out of the elevator, so I got to hang out in the lobby and talk to the doorman about how many tens of millions Jeter would need to get.  I also went to the deli across the street for a Diet Coke and balance bar, and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the mass of office workers getting their caffeine and bagel fix.  I always forget how personal space is a premium in the low-10000 ZIP codes.  In most other cities, you’d end up in a domestic partnership if you stood this close to other people for this long.  Here, it was standard operating procedure.

Stepping into the old office felt so — weird.  I mean, I spent every weekday of 2001 to 2007 in this place, hunched in a cube in the back corner, typing away at user manuals consuming mass amounts of Coke while downing heavy doses of DayQuil during the cold season.  (This was, thankfully, before the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 stifled everyone’s creative juices and prevented us true artists from buying Sudafed by the case.)  My old cube was still open, so I crashed there with my laptop and entered this strange time travel vortex, my muscle memory relaxing straight into the position I assumed for so many years.  And then I opened the filing cabinet under the desk, and found damn near every printout I made in those six years, carefully filed in my haphazard organizational system (files like “MIR space junk,” “fake celebrity porn,” “government conspiracies,” “failed Microsoft projects attempting to topple Java,” “standards documents I will never use,” etc.)  Talk about a mindfuck – it was like that insane recurring dream where you’re back in high school, except there’s no chance of hooking up with that cheerleader you may have secretly been into back in the eighties, before she had nine kids.

But yeah, that lack of sleep really killed me.  Thursday night, after a trip up to the Bronx to visit a guy who used to machine lower receivers for M-16s at his cousin’s bowling alley (he’s making a lot more cash now turning out bootleg $60 iPad stands), I think I went to bed around 2:00 and woke up at 4:30, unable to sleep but unable to stay awake, doing nothing but cruising various photo sites on the iPad, looking for some good Kim Jong Il snaps for an art project in the event that the shit does indeed go down in Han-Bando.  I went outside early, hoping to scare up a danish cart or cold bagel, and ran into a contingent of EMEA sales and service guys, who informed me that there were no good diners in all of the UK, so we went to one of these gastro-hipster places that probably used to be a Thai-French fusion restaurant three years ago but was now a fake greasy spoon with some of the appeal but none of the grime of its 80s counterparts you used to find littered all over the city.  We bitched about work and ordered rich food that promised diabetic comas in short order; I got 5000 calories of corned beef hash that must have contained an entire pound of butter (i.e. perfect) and got all nice and lethargic for a morning of training.

And yeah, a day of airports and airplanes.  I didn’t get the TSA Operation Grab-Ass everyone’s been talking about, but then again, I didn’t get Ebola when every 24-hour news alarmist said all five billion of us were going to get it back in the 90s, either.  I did enjoy the new (newly redone) terminal at JFK, and spent an hour perusing the used DVDs at some electronics store and almost considered dropping $60 on some super ultra 3-disc Apocalypse Now box set before I realized that the only machine I had with me with a DVD drive was my work Windows laptop, and I wasn’t even sure if Windows 7 plays DVDs out of the box without 200 hours of studying every aspect of DVD authoring and toggling a million registry settings and downloading several $100 versions of all of the crippled “lite” drivers and programs bundled with the computer.  Instead, I stuck to the kindle and got cover-to-cover on another fine book during my trip west.  I then bailed out the Toyota from its short stay at the long-term parking lot, and bumbled home the ten miles on the 880, driving like you’d expect someone to drive after being awake for 24 hours with only the good parts of a CPK Cobb salad (i.e. the meat, bacon and cheese and not the lettuce) from the Phoenix airport and two rolls of Certs to eat in the last ten hours.  I then gave the missus a $25 box of chocolates from the airport gift shop, said my hellos to the four-legged terrors, and slept a solid eight in the confines of my queen-sized cocoon.  Good to be back.


Back in the big smear

I’m in a hotel at 49th and Lex in the Big Smear, the island I could not escape for eight years but finally did. And now I’m back, for the first time since I bolted Westward to Denver and points beyond in 2007, holed up in a way-too-much-to mention-per-night suite with all the amenities except square footage. And in the city that never sleeps, I arrived an hour after everything shut down, and went to a nearby bodega to buy some days-old sushi shrink-wrapped by Chinese forced labor in a work camp in some shitbag Queens neighborhood that has smelled like rotting fish since 1927. Mahalo!

Today was quite the travel day, starting with the double-strike of the usual klaxons sounding at five AM, plus two feline monsters desperate for their morning carnage delivered in their bowls chop chop. Shave, shit, shower, pack, and into the Yaris for the quick zip to the Oakland airport, where the fun started. I got to the OAK with time to spare, fired up the iPad, and found the free wifi functioning without a hitch. You never can trust these free networks, not because of the hacker script kiddies stealing your packets and transcribing your Bank of America PIN numbers, but the more insidious corporate entities that hype of “free” wireless either as a bait-and-switch for some $29 a minute access plan that only works in 7 of the 9000 worldwide airports, and is fully incompatible with the other hucksters offering the same deal. Either that, or they have some horrid web portal that pumps ads at you at a rate causing seizure in most epileptics, in pop-ups and pop-overs and pop-unders and roll-overs and frames and banners and trays, all of them only working if you’re running Windows ME and a copy of Internet Explorer 6, otherwise it fails with some horrible Engrish error message and forever damages two dozen registry keys on your system, requiring three successive clean installs and the purchase of two new Windows full licenses. But it all magically worked on the iPad, and it even skipped the stupid Flash commercial you are required to watch, probably for some nameless corporate monster that offers business-to-business integration solutions in this modern world – you know, the kind of stuff nobody can buy or name or explain, but it’s damn important for the company to shell out six or seven figures’ worth of ad imprints so we can identify their logo in a lineup.

So I get on the plane and get headed to Phoenix, fully aware of the fact that Amelia Earhart took off from this same airfield however many years before, never to be seen again. And of course there’s some deaf-mute aging fucker spilling over halfway into my seat. He’s covered in liver spots and technically died five years ago, but he’s still alive because he’s gotta eat twelve thousand-calorie meals a day or he won’t be able to roll into High-Fructose Heaven. He’s downing homemade lard and white bread sandwiches the whole flight, Just Like Mom Used To Make, and I’m trying to read, or trying to scribble into notebooks my various ideas on how I can build my serial killer themed putt-putt course on my fortified compound in Colorado.

Here’s where the fun begins, in Phoenix. Unbeknownst to me, there was a slight drizzle off of Long Island, but it’s enough that all of the flights are stacked up and pushed out, and air traffic control is giving vague and irrational estimates to the droids at the front counter. They come online every fifteen minutes to tell everyone the flight to Newark is five minutes late, or pushed back four hours, or wait – no, an hour, and so on. It’s in that indecipherable, scratchy, and somewhat demeaning tone, the kind of announcements they play at Abu Ghraib to sleep-deprived prisoners to break their will. Only those prisoners didn’t pay $1047 for a one-way non-refundable ticket that they’ll have to eat if the plane doesn’t show, because that common perception that “oh, the airlines will put you in a hotel and feed you and give you free tickets and get you on another flight, because they HAVE TO – it’s A LAW” is of course just as big of an urban legend as the various rodentia that Richard Gere and/or John Wayne had impacted in their colons. The only legally binding clause in the ticket agreement these days is that they can charge you for any damn thing they want with nothing in return, and Never Forget 9/11, or the terrorists win. Read the fine print, although you now have to print it out yourself on your own dime with your inkjet at home, or they charge you an extra $75 documentation fee, so be careful.

I walk over to CPK and order a pizza for roughly twice the cost of a ballpark mini-pizza (I hope I can expense this crap) and wait for #32 to get magically called. A bright blonde woman who first looked twenty and then looked forty smiled at me, while juggling a small child. I noticed a lot of this phenomenon – these women who were 19 going on 37, or maybe the other way around. It could be all of the various strains of high-test melanoma from the two-barreled punch of higher altitude and unrelenting sunshine. Maybe all of the people under eighty in Arizona who weren’t trucked in by the burros to mow lawns and build crappy tract houses by the dozen are this same sort of creature, the down-and-out woman who either has their looks to go on, or knows how to brew up a mean batch of speed in her bathtub, because there’s no other way to make money out in these parts unless you’ve got fifty years of 401K and pension sending you annuity checks out of your fixed income every month. Arizona’s a place you end up, not a place you aspire to, and aside from the obviously out-of-place strangers transferring from one plane to another, you could tell on the faces of these people what the deal was. It was like looking into the eyes of a South Vietnamese mother who is trying cling to the skids of your Huey helicopter as you leave the Saigon embassy rooftop in 1975. There is no noble escape from this hellhole.

And on that day, my escape was not guaranteed, regardless of the prepaid papers e-given to me by the corporate travel agency. As I sat in the concourse, tapping away at this iPad, the flight to JFK right in front of mine boarded, got ready to push out, and then the flight crew railroaded everyone back off the flight, like the eleventh hijacker was in the back row waving a pair of mini-Uzis with extended clips and praising Allah. After everyone poured back out of the AirBus, they cancelled the flight, and I got to listen to a full load of human intolerance bitch out the ticket agents, each one blue in the face screaming about what they were going to do, every one doubting the legitimacy of any pretense that said agent’s parents were legally married at the time of their conception.

And here’s the deal: everyone’s heard an endless tirade on how the TSA is groping and prodding and touching and juggling and scanning and detaining this holiday season. But the only hostility I saw were the passengers, taking down the airline employees like a late-eighties Mike Tyson in some tune-up fight against a no-name amateur that owed their booking agent too many favors. I cleared the security area in record time, probably faster than I’d get in and out of the average Taco Bell during a light lunch hour. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t trying to carry on a fully decorated christmas tree, a 14-piece ginsu knife set, and a completely stocked 500-gallon saltwater aquarium without taking off my shoes first. People need to own up to the fact that they may be the broken gear in this machine that fails them.

But yes, I panicked a bit, wondering if my flight would likewise get shafted. And the worst of it was not the vague attempts at clarifying the situation, or the inaccuracy of the weather channel’s maps, which are generally good with a +/- 50 degree tolerance. It was the CNN loop playing above my head. I could not pop in the earbuds and launch some Slayer at max volume to drown out the propaganda channel, so I got something like this every five minutes:


[Tip: if you pair a bluetooth keyboard to your iPad, either unpair it or shut off the bluetooth before you pack it all back in your bag. I locked the machine and stuffed everything in my messenger bag, and ten seconds later, the buttons on the keyboard depressed and launched the iPad. Of course the first track in my iTunes listing is an Anal Cunt song that’s about eight minutes of feedback and verbal destruction, and of course it started playing at maximum volume. Good stuff, unless the idea of being marched off by TSA air marshals and thrown into some kind of military tribunal as a terror suspect isn’t your idea of good, in which it’s not good stuff. End of tip.]

The flight times vacillated endlessly, and finally two hours after our original departure, they told everyone to cut the shit and line up and act like human beings so they could get all passengers on the damn plane and get in the air before ATC changed their minds again, which was 100% likely. I was, of course, in group 5, the last group to board. And all of my gear was in a carry-on, which meant that right before I boarded, the flight attendants announced all overhead bins were filled and “anyone with track boards would have to check them at the gate”. At that point, me and the 47 people behind me all said “what the fuck is a track board?”, except it was a completely asynchronous event, with one person asking, no clear answer, the same thing repeated, another person asking, etc. Then a woman with a roller bag (track board, whatever) zipped past me, at which point I said “there’s no more room overhead”, at which point she snapped and said “THIS IS GOING UNDER MY SEAT” with the same level of contempt a Rockefellar heir would give a Pakistani street urchin attempting to shoot homemade crank into his unwashed scrotum.

I checked my bag, fought my way to 15C, and of course there was an empty space in the overhead above my seat. Not only that, but my winter coat, my various medications I use to sleep or not sleep at any given point of the day, four Armani suits, and a small deep-sea diving harpoon pistol were in the roller bag/track board (unloaded, of course – I read their stupid web site before leaving) and I almost knew I would never see it again, or this would doom us all into being loaded and then unloaded, to be forced to sleep in the airport for days until we got routed to Ann Arbor, Michigan on propellor planes like the ones used to kill Buddy Holly and so on. This seat was next to a somewhat less morbidly obese woman and husband, both flipping through the Sky Sausage catalog of extruded meat products and gifts, not a single one containing less than fifty grams of fat per serving. After taking off, they ordered two reubens and two cheese plates each, which were the last edible items on the “you now have to pay for your damn meal, and we’re talking Yankee Stadium prices” food cart. I managed to pay $16 for two packs of saltines and a small can of what appeared to be a cranberry/tuna flavored cat food.

Not much to report on this five hour jump, except that I have been obsessed with this Catan game on the iPad, and I finally figured out why I’ve been having the piss beaten out of me by the robot players on a regular basis. I had no understanding how harbors worked, and building a good harbor is like being an arms salesman who happens to also have been in a college fraternity with the State Department employees responsible for handing out no-bid contracts. I crushed the robot players twice, and finished my paperback book with time to spare. I did get some shit for spending too long in the head, trying to put in some new eyedrops my opthomologist gave me. (She promised me they were way better than the stepped-on codeine pills I bought in the Bahamas, from a recreational point of view. I’m sure my insurance won’t pay for a script, but what the hell.) Another tip for today: never try to put in eyedrops while on a plane that’s plummeting through high-turbulence wind updrafts on a choppy December day.

I got to JFK in record time (plus three hours), my bag was the first one off the conveyor, and I got a cabbie that realized that a flat-rate fare to Manhattan is essentially a license to speed and dodge through traffic like you’re on one of those stupid level-up missions in Grand Theft Auto and you need to get the AK and kill the Hatians in 60 seconds or it’s game over. He dropped me off at the hotel, I checked in, then I promptly ran into an old coworker I hadn’t seen in years, who was drunk off his ass and adamant to explain to some newer members of the team that I was the REAL Konrath and not that other Konrath on Amazon, and that all the real tech writing at our gig ceased when I left for the Rockies back in 07. So as much as I hate the “energy” (read: noise pollution) of the big city, in many ways, it’s good to be back.