Public Offender

You-find-it-offensive

As both a stand-up comedian and comedy club manager, I often get complaints from audience members who are “offended” by something I or one of our Punchliner headliners have said onstage. But if you ask me, getting offended by stand-up comedy is like getting burned by the sun: both are easily avoidable. All it takes is a little sunscreen and maturity. Before you go to the beach, lather up; before you go to an R-rated comedy show, grow up. (Or at least do a little research about the comedian you’re about to see.) Whether you walk into one of our adults-only comedy shows beet-red from the sun or leave it beet-red from indignation, my response will be the same: “Well, what did you think was going to happen, you freckled @#$% ?” (See? I purposely censored myself so as not to offend you.)

Although I don’t enjoy offending people, I have little empathy for people who claim to be offended by the words, ideas or opinions of others. In my opinion, being offended is not a real thing. It’s an irrational state of mind that people lacking in emotional intelligence create for themselves by interpreting the words and intentions of others through mental filters based on their personal issues, prejudices, fears and, more often than not in comedy clubs, copious shots of Jägermeister. I believe this because I find myself being offended by things people do and say all the time. Fortunately, most of the time I can catch myself immediately and calm myself down by talking myself through my upset until  realizing that I alone own my feelings. So instead of going off on the person whom I’ve allowed to push my buttons, I’ll quietly walk outside and key his car.

Part of being an adult is being able to react maturely and reasonably to ideas and opinions that differ from one’s own.  In my humble—and 100% correct—opinion, comedy club patrons who express their displeasure with a comedian’s routine by  making a big deal about how “offensive” it is are exhibiting a lack of both reason and maturity and should stop going to comedy clubs and join the presidential race instead.

To clarify, I’ve got no problem with guests who express their opinions politely. For these folks, I’ll go out of my away to be a good listener and say whatever I can to make them feel better. I’ll apologize profusely, suggest another show which may be up their alley, and reserve them front-row seats for that show. What I won’t do, however, is throw the comedian in question under the bus by agreeing with the guest’s assessment of his act should I feel otherwise. If I feel a guest’s criticisms are spot-on, I’ll incorporate those comments into the comedian’s end-of-cruise performance evaluation. If I feel the guest is off base, however, I’ll listen politely for as long as he can keep his critique civil. “I don’t find this comedian funny!” is an opinion I can accept and work with. But as soon as some touchy hothead starts drifting over into “This comedian sucks—he’s not funny at all!” territory, it takes all the willpower I can muster not to pull the pin on a snarky-comment grenade and shout,  “What’s that?! You’ll have to speak up! I can’t hear you on account of our being surrounded by five hundred other people laughing their asses of at that hilarious comedian onstage right now!”

So you see, I’ve got no problem with paying (ahem!) customers expressing their honest opinions about any sub-par comedians I have a hand in recruiting and reviewing. In fact, even when the rest of the room is rolling in the aisles, there may be one lone wolf in the crowd who isn’t buying the crap the comedian is selling and who may very well win my respect by identifying that comedian as a headliner wannabe or, as I call such acts, “The Emperor’s Closer.”

No, my beef is with folks who get on their high horse and demand to either have a comic fired or at the very least be forced to drop the “offensive” bit in question. The problem with these folks is not the feelings of anger, disgust, frustration or indignation they experience when hearing a joke or premise they disagree with; the problem is their thinking that those feelings are more valid or important than either the feelings of release and purposefulness experienced by the comedian expressing himself onstage or the feelings of joy and happiness experienced by the other three hundred or so people in the audience who are guffawing their heads off. In other words, when an irate audience member claims to be offended by a joke she is basically saying that, in her opinion, the joke, which is the comedian’s opinion, is invalid, as is the laughter response of the other audience members, which is their opinion, and so in her opinion, the only opinion that matters in this case is her opinion. Well, in my opinion, people who share that opinion should be playing in a sandbox with a bunch of three-year-olds and not taking up seats in a comedy club.

The most ridiculous aspect of such complaints is the offended customer almost always thinks the comedian offended him on purpose. Few comedians derive any joy out of offending people. Stand-ups are by nature very paranoid people and are worried constantly about not being liked and not getting booked. Besides, although a stand-up’s job is to reinterpret everyday experience from an angle the average person would never consider, his ultimate goal is to make people laugh and feel good. And so, because of that and the fact that most comedians are extremely self-centered, we almost always assume that everyone in the audience is going to agree with our point of view. So if we think something is funny, we assume everyone will find it funny. However, every journeyman comedian knows that the audience is the final arbiter of what’s funny and what’s not, so if we try a bit a few times and the majority of the audience rejects it, we’re not going to keep it in the act. Meaning, every time one or two members of an audience are offended by a bit or find it terribly unfunny, hundreds if not thousands of people all around the country—or around the globe, even—have already laughed at it as opposed to being offended by it. (Of course, hate speech is something else altogether. But that’s where the audience comes in. What these “I was so offended” people don’t understand is if a comedian is truly out of line and a joke really is in bad taste, the whole audience will, more often than not, turn on him and let him know immediately. If you don’t believe me, just ask Michael “12 Years an Outcast” Richards.)

In my opinion (the three most important words in this essay), too many cruise-ship passengers, when watching stand-up comedy shows they neither paid for nor were forced to attend, have the mistaken belief that their opinion is more important than that of the artist onstage or the other cruisers in the audience. And, in some cases, some of them may actually come to a comedy show looking for something to be offended by because the feelings of self-righteousness and outrage they experience get the endorphins pumping more than a bucketful of free ice-cream on Lido Deck. Fortunately, these folks are in the minority. Unfortunately, they can multiply like Gremlins whenever the cruise line coddles them like children instead of treating them like the adults they’re supposed to be.

In a perfect world, our ship’s Guests Services associates would be empowered to answer all complaints regarding the content of our clearly advertised “eighteen-and-over, uncensored, anything-goes, adults-only” late-night comedy shows that are “not for the easily offended” with: “Let’s see here: You know you’re someone who is easily offended yet you still opted to see an adults-only, uncensored comedy show which was advertised as not being for the easily offended, and now not only have  you been easily offended, but you also have third-degree burns all over your body from lying out by the pool all day with no sunscreen?

“Well, what did you think was going to happen, you freckled @#$% ?”

# # #

A Fun Dude Looks at Fifty

50

Sunday was my fiftieth birthday. I spent it trying out my new over-fifty pickup lines:

  • “Hey, cupcake, would you like a drink? I’ll trade you for some Advil.”
  • “Hey, hot stuff, come here often? I need to know where the bathroom is—quick!”
  • “Hey, sweet thing, do you live around here? I was hoping you could recommend a podiatrist.”

Needless to say, they didn’t work. Then again, I only tried them on my fiancée and she never listens to me anyway. But, in her defense, she turns fifty in January so maybe I should just get her a hearing aid for her birthday.

The great thing about turning fifty is I can finally read AARP magazine legally. No more hiding under the covers with a flashlight, hoping my parents don’t catch me:

“Young man, is that our latest copy of AARP Magazine you’re reading?!”

“I’m not reading it—I’m just looking at the advertisements! With a magnifying glass this big I could burn ants on a cloudy day!”

“OK, just as long as you aren’t reading that in-depth cover piece about counteracting the long-term effects of Nexium with daily calcium supplements. At forty-nine, you’re way too young to be reading such salacious nonsense.”

A scary thing about turning fifty is that both my mom and dad—still together after fifty years of marriage—are in their seventies. If all three of us live another twenty years or so—likely for them thanks to their good health and unlikely for me thanks to my smart mouth—I’ll be in my seventies while they’re in their nineties. This means I could, conceivably, wind up living in the same assisted living facility as my parents. At seventy, that would be great for me, because it’s hard to feel old when your parents keep asking you when you’re finally going to grow up and get a place of your own.

A weird thing about being fifty is how your doctor can tell you that you’re in perfect health for your age and then write you a prescription for a bunch of medications:

“Here’s a script for Celebrex, Nexium, Myrbetriq, and Linzess.”

“But, Doc, I thought you said I’m perfectly healthy.”

“You are perfectly healthy. But you’re also perfectly fifty. Which means it’s perfectly natural to have arthritis, Acid Reflux Disease, Overactive Bladder Syndrome, and occasional irregularity. So buy a pill dispenser and a heating pad, avoid fatty foods, tie a rubber band around your pee-pee, take a painful poop, and welcome to fifty, Fun Geezer!”

Of all my various welcome-to-fifty ailments the most difficult one to deal with has been my chronic acid reflux problem. This past summer, my cruise line sent me home on three months’ medical leave—or as the chefs in the crew galley called it, “Mission accomplished!”

When you’re diagnosed with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, also known by the onomatopoetic acronym GERD, the doctor gives you a long list of food and beverages to avoid:

“Sorry, Jeffrey, but no orange juice, no soda, no beer, no wine, no coffee, no tea, no pizza, no lasagna, no hot wings, no gumbo, no hamburgers, no French fries, no onion rings, no tacos, no burritos, no pineapple, no grapefruit, no strawberries, no kiwis, no milk chocolate, no chocolate milk, no chocolate sauce, no mint gum, no mint candy—no mint anything, no yogurt, no ice cream, no milkshakes….”

“Doc, are you serious? I might as well just kill myself.”

“OK, if you want. But no arsenic, no chlorine, no rat poison….”

If you want more proof that I’m fifty, look no further than the following exchange between me and my gastroenterologist:

“Well, Jeffrey, seeing how your recent bought of constipation is happening during your current course of medication for GERD, I’m going to order a colonoscopy as part of your treatment.”

“Yippee! Free butt check at fifty! Free butt check at fifty! Free butt check at fifty! Yippee!”

I can’t think of a better fiftieth birthday present than learning that my first ever colonoscopy, that coveted and fun-filled rite of passage for all newly minted fifty year olds, would be covered by my cruise line’s insurance, instead of being a preventative measure that would come out of my own pocket. Sorry to sound like a cheapskate, but why pay two grand to have a camera shoved up my butt when I can get it done for free and save my cash for all the Preparation H, Ben Gay, Metamucil, Miralax, Dr. Scholl’s inserts, bifocals, Ensure, Depends and checkerboards I’m going to need over the next ten years?

When I told my fiancée I was going to have a camera stuck up my butt, she said, “Why don’t you ask them to look for your head while they’re up there?”

I said, “Hey, I’m fifty. I made it this far without it.”

Zip Lines, Parasails and Jet Skis—Oh My!

Ambulance on Beach

Although there’s a lot to do when your ship’s at sea, new and wondrous  adventures await you ashore. Have the urge to remain on the ship and eat yourself into a coma while everyone else is wasting time in port? Snap out of it, Skipper! You’re not (just) some fat and lazy American on vacation; you’re an intrepid explorer in search of danger and excitement—so slather on that sunblock, suck up that gut and whip out that American Express card, because an intrepid adventurer such as yourself is going to want to splurge on some shore excursions for you and your family so you can actually go out and experience—not just visit—the ports. Unless, of course, your idea of a good time is wandering aimlessly around a port area that is the mother of tourist traps screaming, “No! No! No! Yes! No! Yes! Hell no! Hell yes!” to locals trying to sell you fake jewelry, cheap T-shirts, imitation leather goods, marijuana, wood carvings, prostitutes, wool blankets in summertime and Mexican wrestling masks.

So in order to help you maximize your fun in the sun, here are five of the most popular shore excursions for you to choose from:

Excursion # 1: swimming with the dolphins. Dolphin encounters are some of the most popular excursions offered by any cruise line because they allow cruise aficionados such as yourself to treat your family to an experience of a lifetime. In fact, millions of Americans are sailing to the Caribbean this year for the warm sunshine, enchanting evening breezes, sapphire waters, and the chance to swim with cute and cuddly dolphins that weigh 1,100 pounds and can crush a small child like a warm M & M. But despite what the critics might say, swim-with-the-dolphin programs are a great opportunity for dolphins, the second-most intelligent creatures in the world to bond with tourists, the least intelligent creatures in the world.

Swim-with-the-dolphin excursions have become increasingly popular in the Caribbean in the past ten years or so and the dolphins dig it, too. A former dolphin trainer, who spoke candidly with me on the condition that I twist his words around, told me that dolphins love being in captivity where they can perform the same boring tricks over and over again with overweight tourists and their snot-nosed offspring holding onto their fins as they bang their sensitive snouts on the walls of their claustrophobic pens instead of swimming free in deep blue ocean, where the only tourists they’ll meet are drunk cruisers who fall overboard.

“Dolphins are beautiful and amazing creatures in their natural habitat,” the trainer told me. “But stick them in a cage, and they become sad, frustrated and aggressive, making it that much easier for them to relate to humans.”

Excursion # 2: snorkeling and scuba diving. Snorkeling is a particularly popular activity among junior cruisers because kids are less apt to be unpleasantly surprised at how nut-tuckingly cold the water in the Caribbean can be, less apt to become disappointed or angry when unusually strong currents make it difficult to observe underwater life, and less apt to get upset when their eyes are flooded with stinging salt water because their parents were too tipsy to properly adjust their masks for them.

The primary appeal of snorkeling for parents is that it doesn’t require the expense, equipment and training required for scuba diving. But if honest-to-goodness scuba diving is more your thing, then you’ll have to get certified first if you want to dive on your own. If you’re not certified, then you’ll have to either dive with a guide or get hired as an uncertified guide for other non-certified tourists.

Shore excursion # 3: zip-lining.

Are you overweight, out of shape and afraid of heights? Then this is the excursion for you. If you don’t have fun, then your bored guides certainly will because they can definitely use a good laugh.

Shore excursion # 4: parasailing.

Each year, an estimated three to five million people participate in parasailing. This popular activity is one of the most exciting things you can do in port because it’s largely unregulated with serious accidents frequently caused by faulty equipment. There are: no federal regulations or guidelines that establish specific training or certification for parasailing operators;  no requirement for inspection of the parasailing equipment; and no requirement to shut down operations during nasty weather conditions. For these reasons alone, serious thrill seekers are sure to get their money’s worth.

If you’re still not sold on the idea of being suspended 500 above the ocean’s surface, where something as simple as a weak towline, strong winds, or a worn harness can cause a tragic accident, then perhaps the fact that there no are rules or laws preventing you from buying a half-priced bottle of tequila at the duty free shop and drinking it during your flight might seal the deal.

Shore excursion # 5: Jet Skis and ATVs. Can’t decide between renting a Jet Ski or a four-wheeler, then get a package deal so you can do both in one day. That way, you can break your neck and  your back. (And then rent a Rascal scooter back on the ship.)

So don’t just lounge around Lido Deck, nursing your strawberry daiquiri; book a shore excursion today! There’ll be plenty of time for lounging when you’re in traction in the ICU.

 

Draw the Line

Long Line

If there’s one thing cruise ship guests hate it’s waiting in line to see a free comedy show. It fact, some guests get so mad they look like they want to hit me. Only reason they don’t is the line for beating me up is usually longer than the line for the show.

In all fairness, I can see why people on vacation wouldn’t want to wait ten minutes to see a forty-minute comedy show. These are the same people who’ll wait in a three-hour line at Six Flags for a two-minute roller coaster ride. The same people who’ll camp out on Canal Street in New Orleans at nine in the morning for a Mardi Gras parade that doesn’t start till noon and won’t reach them until four in the afternoon. The same people who’ll sleep outside an Apple Store all weekend just to buy the new iPhone even though they still haven’t figured out how to use their previous iPhone. The same people who’ll, on the first night of the cruise, spend forty-five minutes in a Free Liquor Tasting line that circles the lobby of the ship just so they can down a thimble-sized sample of Baily’s Irish Cream. So, yes, I can see why waiting ten minutes for a professional comedy show would be too much suffering for their fallen arches to endure.

There’s something about lines (or “queues,” if you’re British) that brings out the worst in people. On a nightly basis I observe grown adults cut the line, save spots for friends, nit-pick about who was standing where, push and shove, scream and shout, and then become verbally abusive (or “get all Parliamentary,” if you’re British) with me or my assistants when confronted about their behavior. Other guests will refuse to join the line altogether and try to start their own line at the exit of the comedy club, refusing to move as they’re trampled by a stampede of 600 departing guests in search of free pizza and ice cream. It’s nights like that that make me wish there were more icebergs in the Caribbean.

Some of my superiors believe that turning a blind eye to such childish behavior falls under the heading of Good Customer Service. I do not. I believe that when passengers pay for a cruise they are paying to travel on the ship, paying to sleep on the ship, paying to eat on the ship, and paying to enjoy the free live entertainment offered on the ship. They are not paying for the right to interfere with our operation, supplant our policies with their own, defy or disrespect our team members or infringe upon the fun of their fellow guests through rude, selfish or discourteous behavior. For that we charge extra.

In my opinion, passengers are called “guests” for a reason: the ship is our home and they are just visiting. In my cruise line’s opinion, however, passengers should be considered “part of the family.” Fine. But if you ask me, that’s even more of a reason for us to call guests on their crap. I’d love to see our more problematic passengers try to pull the same shenanigans in the home of a close relative and see what happens. Try telling their Aunt Clara and Uncle Eugene how to run their household, spill food on their furniture, leave dirty dishes on their stairs, make noise at all hours of the night outside their bedroom door and speak rudely or disrespectfully to them or their cousins and they’ll find themselves at a Motel 6 faster than they can say, “It may be your house but it’s my vacation.”

I love my job and I love my ship. I also love the vast majority of guests who cruise with us week after week. So, please come sail with us soon. I’ll do my part to make sure you have the best cruise ever. But, to echo something we’ve all heard our fathers say a million times while growing up: If you cruise under my roof, you cruise under my rules.

Got a problem with that? Get in line.

# # #

My Two Sense

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My least favorite part of being our ship’s comedy club manager is turning over the showroom between shows. A hard partying crowd of 600 people can leave enough empty beer bottles and cocktail glasses in their wake to make the Punchliner look like Motley Crϋe’s tour bus. So in order to clean the room in ten minutes or less—and to ensure that guests waiting in line for the next show can get good seats without having to shove a fellow guest overboard—we ask the audience to exit after every performance. Not surprisingly, guests are less than thrilled by this policy, because it forces them to do two activities cruise ship passengers are notoriously reluctant to engage in: following instructions and leaving the sitting position. But I find that if I attach a free drink coupon to some fishing line I can usually coax them all out eventually.

I’ve been told I should look at it at from a guest’s point of view. And I have. Their point of view is that they have the right to ignore the rules because they “paid good money to be here.” They paid good money to fill up their gas tank—does that mean they can run a red light? They paid good money to finish their basement—does that mean they can use it as a meth lab? They paid good money for their cellphone—does that mean they can take a photo of their “junk,” email it to unsuspecting women, lose their spot in Congress and then run for mayor of a major metropolitan city? (OK, bad example.)

Not every guest gives me a hard time about our policy, but those who do make my job way harder than it needs to be. These people have been on the ship less than 24 hours and yet suddenly they’re experts in running a comedy club: “I have to leave now that the show is over and people are already lining up outside for the next one and your staff needs to clean up and reset the showroom in less than ten minutes? That makes no sense!”

“Of course that makes no sense to you,” I feel like screaming back, “You’ve never set foot in our club before! But maybe if you were an experienced crowd control expert who possessed firsthand knowledge of the type of traffic flow problems our carefully considered and thoroughly tested policies and procedures have been designed to prevent, instead of a vacationer seeing live stand-up for the first time, perhaps you wouldn’t be so befuddled. You may have paid to be here but I get paid to be here, so whaddya say you keep drinking yourself blind and I’ll keep doing my job?”

I’ve never understood “that makes no sense” as a guest’s go-to objection to our shipboard policies. Of course it makes no sense: you haven’t received the same training that we have nor are you privy to the same information we are. If you were to take a trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods, I’m sure that the machine that drills holes in the bowling balls would baffle the bejesus out of you. But to the guy who has been trained to drill the holes in bowling balls, the ball hole drilling machine makes perfect sense. And maybe if he were to drill a couple of holes into your skull, it would drain enough “stupid juice” out of your noggin so that from now on you’ll no longer demand that things make sense to you immediately and instead learn how to ask intelligent questions that might lead to you having a wider frame of reference, which will lead to better understanding of our polices, which will lead to you realizing that we have your and your fellow guests’ best interests at heart and have no intention of inconveniencing you or ruining your vacation, so please stop thinking that paying for a cruise makes you a senior vice president of the cruise line.

Similarly, when I board an airplane, none of the dials or levers in the cockpit makes sense to me. Difference is, the fact that those dials and levers make no sense to me makes perfect sense to me–because I’m not a pilot! But I’m pretty sure that if I took flying lessons for a number of years, spent thousands of hours in the air before finally obtaining my commercial pilot’s license, all that technology in the cockpit would one day make perfect sense to me. I’m also pretty sure I’d be even less tolerant of idiots that I am now:

“I can’t believe we have to wait an extra twenty minutes before takeoff just because one of the engines fell off the plane—that makes no sense!”

“Yeah, well, go Greyhound next time, jackass!”

# # #

The Book of Jobs

I saw this human interest story on TV about a born-again Christian in his 20’s who found a job at a copy center right after he found God. “Jesus helped me get a job,” the kid said, tearfully. (Which employment agency did he go through—Son of Manpower?)

Switching channels, I stumbled across some vapid teen comedy in which one kid was being razzed by his schoolmates for working at his father’s car dealership after school. “Daddy’s Boy,” they called him. The movie had a happy ending, though. His daddy beat up their daddies.

So why is it that when your dad helps you get a job it’s called nepotism, yet when God helps you get a job it’s called faith? Your old man may have connections, but the Lord can work miracles. That’s why “It’s a miracle you got hired” is rarely meant as a compliment.

In 2000, President-elect Bush deflected charges of nepotism by stressing his faith in God: “It weren’t my daddy that helped me become prez-ee-dent,” he said. “No way, José–it was God. G-O-D-D: ‘God’.”

I’m not saying you should brag if Pops pulls some strings for you. I’m saying you shouldn’t brag if God Almighty, Lord and Master of the Entire Freaking Universe pulls some strings for you. Bragging that God got you a job is like bragging that Wolfgang Puck poured the milk for your cereal. Impressive, sure, but why didn’t you just do it yourself?

I was taught that God helps those who help themselves. That’s why “God got me a job” doesn’t impress me. What would have impressed me is if the kid had said, “The Lord has blessed me with a strong body and a healthy mind, so I decided it was time to shut off the X-Box, get off the couch, and find a job!” That way, his parents’ prayers would have been answered instead.

But for me, asking God to take a break from answering prayers in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip just to help you not botch an interview for minimum-wage employment is silly and arrogant. And so what if God got you a job at Kinko’s? He made Justin Bieber a millionaire! (On second thought, that was more likely the work of God’s downstairs neighbor.)

And so what if you have faith in the Lord? You’re supposed to. That’s what good Christians do. Now, how about having a little faith in yourself? Instead of praying you get a certain job, how about working hard, studying hard, paying your dues, writing a knockout resume, preparing for the interview, showing up energized and looking sharp, and then earning the job by proving you’re the best person for the job. Then, after you get the job, you can pray that your boss’s dad didn’t get him his.

Faith in God brings inner peace and happiness to a lot of folks whose lives might otherwise feel empty and hopeless, so I can understand why good Christians are so prone to babbling endlessly about their faith. Whenever I have coffee and beignets at Café du Monde in the French Quarter of New Orleans, you can’t get me to shut up about it. And although I haven’t been to church in a long time, I’m guessing that a caffeine and sugar buzz has nothing on the Holy Spirit.

So although I understand it’s the responsibility of every good Christian to “testify,” what I don’t understand is why anyone with an ounce of self-respect wouldn’t feel ashamed to publicly credit the most powerful being known to man for helping him do things any normal, responsible human being should be able to accomplish on his own. Thanking God for curing your cancer? Check. Thanking God for keeping your children safe? Check. Thanking God that the utility company didn’t shut your lights off? Don’t thank God—thank the US Postal Service for delivering your check on time even though you waited until halfway through your five-day grace period to mail it in. (Then again, if the US Postal Service delivered your payment on time, then that is definitely a miracle—so go ahead and thank God after all.)

Yes, God does want you to find gainful employment so you can take care of yourself and your loved ones. But if you want God’s help finding a job, God has already given it to you: God created the person who created the person who created the person who created the person who created Linked-In. So log on, create an account, upload your résumé, and shut the hell up, for God’s sake!

Although it’s important to have a good relationship with God and have faith in the plan he has mapped out for you, it’s not going to hurt you to fight your own battles every once in a while. If God wanted to be your answer to everything he wouldn’t have created the person who created the person who created the person who created the person who created Google. To draw a comparison, although most of us need and crave the support of our parents and probably wouldn’t be where we are today without that love and support from our parents, there comes a time when we all have to stop having our parents support us, stop having our parents fight our battles for us and stop having our parents bail us out of trouble.

For me, that time will be next year on my 50th birthday.

Faith is not hard to understand. You love your Heavenly Father, your Heavenly Father loves you, and your Heavenly Father can fix anything because he is a master of space and time. That’s easy for me to relate to because I love my earthly father, my earthly father loves me, and my earthly father can fix anything because he has a Craftsman toolbox. And, if I were to get a flat tire and my earthly father offered to change it for me, I would love my earthly father even more, believe in him even more and be even more grateful that he is in my life. What I wouldn’t do is tell everyone I know that I let my 73-year-old daddy change a tire for me.

Meaning, just because I love my dad, believe in my dad and receive strength from my dad doesn’t mean I still expect him to solve my problems for me or that I’m going to run crying to him every time something goes wrong in my life.

That’s what my mommy’s for.

God help her.

Obamacare for the Soul

The last time I told a Wal-Mart cashier to “have a nice day,” she responded with “God bless you.” Although I’m not religious, I smiled and said thank-you. My debit card wasn’t declined, so I figured her blessing had worked.

Some might say it’s bad manners for a Christian to say “God bless you” to a nonbeliever. Personally, I think it’s worse manners to say “Have a nice day” to a cashier at Wal-Mart. That’s like saying, “Enjoy the Caribbean” to a detainee at Guantanamo Bay.

I have one friend who gets all worked up whenever I say “God bless you” after he sneezes:

“Achoo!”

“God bless you.”

“Dude, how many times do I have to tell you that ‘God bless you’ drives me nuts? Please use gesundheit instead.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m not a Christian, that’s why.”

“You’re not German either, yet you want me to say gesundheit?”

“Yeah, well, I’m against organized religion, not Germany.

“OK then, I won’t say ‘God bless you.’”

“Achoo!”

Hitler bless you.”

But why should a Christian consider my religious beliefs before saying “God bless you,” anyway? Do I consider a Wal-Mart cashier’s secular beliefs before saying “Have a nice day”? What if she’s a pessimist? Telling her to have a nice day could come off as arrogant or controlling. (And she gets enough of that already from “Skippy,” her 19-year-old, GED-toting supervisor.) Or what if she’s clinically depressed? Telling a depressed person to have a nice day when she’s emotionally incapable of having a nice day will not only ruin her day; it might also deepen her depression. So maybe I should say something neutral instead, such as “Thank-you for your service” or “I hope you get hired at Target.”

Although I’m no fan of organized religion, I’ve never understood why atheists get so bent out of shape when a good Christian says, “God bless you.” As a disillusioned Catholic, I don’t go to mass, I don’t pray much, and I certainly don’t read the Bible, so, please, bless me all you want. If you’re not going to bless an emotionally stunted sinner who tells dookie jokes for a living, who are you going to bless?

It doesn’t even have to be a blessing from “God” God. You can say “Allah bless you,” “Vishnu bless you,” or “Ron L. Hubbard bless you,” for all I care. I may not be a practicing Christian, but I am a practicing liberal, so I’ll take all the entitlements I can get, including blessings from your or anyone’s God, whether He exists or not. Being healthy doesn’t stop me from needing health insurance so why should being skeptical keep me from needing faith insurance? The way I look at it, every time a religious person of any faith says “God bless you” to me, it’s Obamacare for the soul.

Besides, the fact that I’m not a practicing Christian is precisely why I don’t mind “God bless you” as a greeting. Perhaps if I were a practicing Christian, maybe then I would mind:

FELLOW CHRISTIAN:

God bless you, brother.

ME:

What? You don’t think I have a good enough relationship with God myself that I need your help to attain His blessing? Me and the Lord are like are like this, pal—so go to Hell. And while you’re down there, be sure to say gesundheit when Hitler sneezes. “God bless you” drives him nuts.

So instead of getting angry when Christians say “God bless you,” I take it as the kind gesture is was meant to be and move on. Believe me, with a personality like mine, I get told “Screw you” so often that “God bless you” is a nice change of pace.

# # #

 

Deride the Lightning

Homer

Capital punishment is one of the most hotly debated and polarizing issues in America. For example, when Tennessee decided to bring back the electric chair earlier this year, liberal Tennesseans argued this might increase the number of innocent people on death row, whereas conservative Tennesseans argued this might increase their electric bills.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma wants to abolish lethal injection because it’s not covered by Obamacare.

Oklahoma botched an execution by lethal injection several months ago. They used the wrong chemicals so it took about an hour to kill the guy.  (In fact, while he waited, he had a new pair of glasses made at Lens Crafters.) But, although the media made a big deal out of it, I don’t think the guy they were executing really minded all that much:

“No, really, take all the time you need. I’ve got nothing planned for the rest of the day. If you want, we can break for lunch and try this again in a couple of decades….”

The kicker is that the guy never got his last meal. Apparently, he requested steak with A-1 Sauce, shrimp salad, a baked potato and dessert. But since that meal would have cost more than $15, his request was denied. Call me a bleeding heart, but if we, as a society, are going to end the life of a fellow member of society, the least we can do is send an intern over to Applebee’s for some takeout. How better to help a convicted murderer learn the error of his ways than by showing him how wonderful life can be for $8.99 on Tuesdays and Thursdays? One basket of all-you-can-eat riblets before dying and even the most cold-blooded psychopath will realize that killing is a no-no.

One thing I’ve learned is that it’s totally useless to debate the death penalty with friends who support capital punishment. No matter what you say, they always have a knee-jerk response locked and loaded:

“You know, the death penalty, both in the U.S. and around the world, is discriminatory and is used disproportionately against the poor, minorities and members of racial, ethnic and religious communities. Since humans are fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.”

“It’s right there in the Bible: ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ Kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out!”

“Furthermore, the astronomical costs associated with putting a person on death row – including criminal investigations, lengthy trials and appeals – are leading many states to re-evaluate and re-consider having this flawed and unjust system on the books.”

“If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime!”

“Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. In 2003 alone, 10 wrongfully convicted defendants were released from death row.”

“Yeah, well, I just saved a ton of money on my car insurance!”

When it comes to the death penalty, I consider myself both a conservative and a liberal: I’m for the electric chair but only if it’s solar powered.

I’m kidding. Truth be told, I’m no fan of the death penalty; because, the longer I live and work on a cruise ship, the more I want to kill somebody.

They say that the death penalty is a deterrent to murder. But if anything should be a deterrent to murder it’s plain ol’ prison. In prison, you’re forced to go “number two” in the middle of a tiny cell, on that metal prison toilet, with no privacy whatsoever. I don’t care how badly you want somebody dead; all it should take to stop you from pulling the trigger is to picture yourself dropping a deuce with a big, bald Aryan ape with a dragon tattooed to his head staring you down as you nervously try to wipe. Anytime you find yourself compelled to act-out some ultra-violent adolescent, woe-is-me revenge fantasy, just dial up that bowel-tightening scenario in your noggin and you’ll immediately switch to envisioning a better tomorrow, wherein you buy the whole world a Coke and teach it to sing in perfect harmony.

Okay, let’s say the death penalty can deter premeditated murder. But then what about crimes of passion? Who’s thinking of the death penalty in the heat of the moment?:

“Yo, play-a! You stole my cocaine, you burned down my drug lab, and you blew up my Escalade!” I should kill you, but I don’t want Al Sharpton to be disappointed in me when they fry me like a catfish at the church social!””

For those of you that think the preceding joke is racist because I made the criminal’s dialogue read like some clichéd African-American stereotype, allow me to rewrite the passage, this time making him sound like some clichéd white-trash stereotype:

“Hey, boy! You stole my moonshine, you burned down my still, and you blew up my El Camino! I should kill you, but I don’t want Nancy Grace to say mean stuff about me after they fry me like a funnel cake at the state fair!”

While we’re at it, let’s piss off some Hispanic-Americans:

“Yo, Holmes! You stole my Chiclets, you burned down my taco stand and you blew up my donkey! I should kill you, but I don’t want George Lopez to make bad jokes about me after they fry me like a churro at a flea market!”

And let’s not forget Gay-Americans:

”You bad boy! You stole my Lady Ga-Ga CD’s, you burned down my walk-in-closet shrine to Neil Patrick Harris, and you blew up my powder-blue Prius. I should kill you but I don’t want to end up on death row with a bunch of sweaty, horny men. On second thought, maybe I WILL kill you—BANG-BANG!”

The reason why I think capital punishment doesn’t deter murder is that murder doesn’t seem to deter crappy human behavior. The world is filled with hair-triggered psychopaths who could kill us in a blink of an eye, yet we continue to flip off others in traffic, steal parking spots at the mall, cut in line at the supermarket, talk and text in movie theaters, stiff waiters, cheat on lovers, and angrily tell panhandlers to “get a job!”

“Excuse me, brother, can you spare some change for something to eat?”

“Get a job, you lazy bum.”

“Careful—I could have a gun.”

“Yeah, well, if you can afford a gun, then you can afford a sandwich.”

Can you imagine how cool it would be if people stopped treating others like crap just because they were afraid to be murdered?

“Harold, I can’t believe you just tipped our waiter twenty percent for a change.”

“Beats getting stabbed in the neck with a fork, sweetheart.”

“Oh, come now, Harold. That nice young man would never do something like that. Who wants to spend the rest of his life pooping on a prison toilet?”

# # #

Gun Nuts and Love Guns

Gun Nuts and Love Guns

Although I’m a meat eater, I’m neither a gun owner nor a hunter. I’m not against killing defenseless animals; I’m against getting up at 5:00 am to do it:

 “Hey, Jeff—how about we get up at the crack of dawn, freeze our butts off and shoot at some deer?”

 “I’ve got a better idea: How about you leave me an assault rifle with a high-capacity magazine and I’ll sleep till noon, brew some coffee, scarf some Crunch Berries and then get all “Scarface” on the neighbor’s poodle that’ll be yapping its damn head off all morning?”

And although I love my country, I’m embarrassed by our incessant, ridiculous quarreling over gun laws and same-sex unions.  America is so behind the times. There isn’t one licensed dentist in all of Great Britain and yet their Parliament is progressive enough to make gun ownership difficult (Wanna kill somebody? Start a soccer riot!) and gay marriage legal. (God save the queens!)

Two of the most polarizing issues in American politics are gun rights and gay rights. Gun nuts won’t let you have their gun until you “pry it from their cold dead fingers,” and I’m pretty sure gay men feel the same way about something else.

I feel about gay rights the same way I feel about gun rights: Do what you want; just don’t point that thing at me. I have no desire to own a gun and I have no desire to have sex with a man. I would, however, buy a gun if that’s what it takes to keep me from having sex with a man.

I just wish that flag-waving fans of the Second Amendment would show a little more concern for the Constitutional rights of all Americans:

 “America is the land of freedom! Except for Muslims and butt pirates! Nobody’s gonna tell me how to live my life—hey, fella, don’t you dare marry that fella! Nobody’s going to tell me what god to pray to—hey, Akbar, don’t  you dare build that mosque next to my church! Nobody’s gonna tell my woman how she can dress—hey, babe, lose the burka so I can see some boobies!”

 “Congratulations, Skeeter, you just put the ‘dumb’ in ‘free-dumb’.”

 “But, Jeff, the Bible says Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

 “Yeah, well, the Second Amendment says muskets, not Uzis.”

 “But the Second Amendment gives me the right to bear arms!”

 “Then wear a tank top, you homophobic hick! (Bare arms—get it? Hee-haw!)”

If you’re a gun-toting patriot who wants to fight for your rights, then stand up and fight. But then, when you’re done, sit down and shut up while glitter-throwing Americans fight for their rights. You can’t be both for gun rights and against gay rights. The Second Amendment or Proposition 8—pick one and stick the other up your butt. (Don’t worry, that won’t make you gay.)

 But, Jeff, the thought of two men having sex is disgusting.

 Then stop thinking about it! Just because you find gay sex disgusting doesn’t mean you have the right to stop same-sex couples from getting married. Hell, my fiancée finds straight sex with me disgusting and yet we’re still allowed to marry.

Just because I’m for gay marriage doesn’t mean I enjoy the company of gay people. In fact, I find most homosexuals rather annoying. Gay men annoy me because I sound gayer than they do, and gay women annoy me because I look gayer than they do.

And just because I don’t have the right to discriminate against or harass my fellow Americans based on their sexual preferences doesn’t mean I can’t exercise my First Amendment rights to joke about how much flamboyantly gay people irritate the hell out of me. I can say what I want just as long as I don’t use homophobic slurs, such as “homo,” “queer” or “Clay Aiken.”

For example, the other day, a gay colleague of mine, whom I both like and respect, comes sliding down the banister of a crew area staircase, lands at my feet, and then proceeds to swish around, snap his fingers, do little showgirl kicks and sing:

It’s raining men / It’s raining men / Hallelujah / It’s raining men 

I hate it when my gay friends act like that around me. Because, for the rest of the day, I found myself swishing around, snapping my fingers, doing little showgirl kicks, and singing:

It’s raining men / It’s raining men / Hallelujah / It’s raining men 

Hey—gay or straight, a catchy number is a catchy number.

America is a great country. But I think we could be even greater. The thing that’s supposed to be so great about America is we’re supposed to be able to criticize our country without the fear of being punished for our opinions. Yet, the more a patriotic a person claims to be, the angrier he becomes when you exercise your freedom of speech as an American. Of course, the less somebody respects your opinions, the more pointless it is to argue with him:

 “America’s the greatest country in the world! Yee haw!”

 “Actually, we lag behind in many areas, such as education, healthcare and treatment of our war veterans. In fact, Canada is ahead of us in all three.”

 “Well, if you don’t like it here, then why don’t you move to Canada?”

 “Because I’m a homophobic, gun-toting American – they don’t want me!”

 I hate to sound like a broken record but if gun nuts think that freedom is what makes America so great and so different, then why don’t they think it’s great when their fellow Americans exercise their freedom to be different? I would love to see that, wouldn’t you?

 “Hey, Timmy. Whaddya say we get liquored up and go on down to that Gay Pride parade with our shotguns?”

 “Hell yeah, Bobby. We can blast the hell out of anyone who threatens those glitter-throwing Nancy boys with physical harm while they’re marching up and down Main Street in defense of their civil liberties as tax-paying Americans.”

 “True dat, Timmy. This is America; we have to be tolerant of one another or else we’re no better than Russia. Vladimir Putin banned homosexuals from the Winter Olympics and he’s a socialist, right?”

Damn right, Bobby. And if everyone on the right in this country is so against socialism, and Vladimir Putin is a homophobic socialist, that means anyone who’s against civil rights for gay people is not only a homophobe but also a dog-gone socialist. So if socialism is wrong, then so is homophobia in the so-called ‘Land of the Free’.”

 “Know what, Timmy? I get turned on when you start talking all logical and stuff and, you know, showing love and respect for your fellow human beings just like it says in the Bible even if their values and lifestyle choices differ from your own. Hell, Timmy, maybe you and I should try being homosexuals sometime.”

 “Aw, shucks, Bobby, I ain’t no butt ranger. But if it’ll help win the war against socialism, hell, I guess I can polish a knob or two for America—yee-haw!”

Why do opponents of gay marriage always seem so obsessed with gay behavior? It’s a little homoerotic, if you ask me. For example, the other, day a straight man wearing a leather vest with both an American flag and an NRA patch on it told me that he was against same-sex marriage because it’s a sin against nature (much like the grey, over-60 pony tail he was sporting). He then started playing one of those hypothetical question games with me:

“Tell me, Fun Dude,” he said. “If a gay millionaire offered you a million dollars—in cash, tax free—to sleep with him, would you do it?”

“No way,” I replied. “I’m not falling for that again.”

Fun as Ship

Dream

Most cruise ships offer lots of fun-filled activities such as Bingo, shuffleboard and trivia. Granted, these are things you can do at your local senior center for free. But on a cruise you can win prizes. And nothing says “I’m a better person than the rest of you old farts” like going home with a suitcase full of plastic “ship-on-a-stick” trophies valued at twenty cents apiece.

But if you’re too busy establishing your intellectual superiority over your fellow passengers by taking first place in “TV Theme Song Trivia,” you might miss out on some more satisfying cruising experiences (such as “Movie Theme Song Trivia”). So here are some tips for getting the most out of your next cruise:

  1. Attend the shopping talk.

The Shopping Talk is a brief (six to eight hours) seminar given by your shipboard shopping specialist “Chet,” who will provide you with valuable pointers for shopping in your ports of call. Pointers such as:

  • Only shop in an “approved” store so you’ll get the best deal possible—and Chet will get a commission, a bonus, and a hot oil massage with a happy ending.
  • Never shop in an “unapproved” store because you’ll be kidnapped by Somali pirates and/or ISIS.
  1. Choose the buffet over the dining room.

You can’t go wrong eating in one of your ship’s fancy dining rooms, where you can feast on steak, lobster, fine wine and exotic deserts; however, the high-quality food and superior service may cause you to relax and enjoy yourself (even though you’ll be expected to wear shoes). And since finding things to complain about makes cruising much more enjoyable, you’ll be better off heading up to Lido Deck where you can fight your way through the gluttonous throng in your bare feet. Besides, later on, when you’re down at the front desk complaining about the long lines and limited selection in the buffet restaurant, not to mention the fact that you paid good money for this cruise yet nobody from the Miami offices ever called and advised you to pack footwear for formal night, the Guest Services associate on the business end of your vitriol will be more likely to offer you financial compensation if you have chili-dog breath.

  1. Camp out in the casino.

Screw Las Vegas; spend as much time and money in the ship’s casino as possible. Cruise-ship slot machines are looser than a biker chick with a meth habit. Especially on my cruise line. In fact, you’re going to need a duffle bag to haul all those shiny silver dollars back to your cabin. And I’m not just saying that because the more money my cruise line makes off of delusional chain-smoking gambling addicts like you, the better chance I have of getting a raise.

  1. Luxuriate in the all-ages hot tubs.

What better way to relax on a luxury cruise liner overrun by unsupervised eight-year-olds than with a nice hot urine bath?!

  1. Book an interior stateroom.

Sure, you can spend the extra money for a balcony or at least a porthole if you want, but cruising is so much more adventurous and exciting when you cram your entire family into a tiny windowless cabin the size of your kitchen pantry at home.  You’ll never know what time of day it is when you wake up, and the lack of fresh air with five people in the room will keep things interesting. And, better yet,  you’ll be that much more excited about reaching the Bahamas.

  1. Rent a mobility scooter.

Why should old folks with bad knees have all the fun?  Rent a scooter for your cruise and skip to the front of every line.  Crew members will take pity on you and wave you past the long parade of upright losers waiting to be seated for dinner or a production show, without so much as a second glance. Thankfully, it will never occur to them that the last person who needs to be advanced to the front of a line is someone who is—wait for it… SITTING ON A MOVING CHAIR!

What does it matter if Grandma has to wait a few extra minutes to sit down for dinner or a show if she’s already sitting down?! Allowing someone to cut in front of you because they have a scooter is like trading your seats behind home plate with somebody in the bleachers because he has binoculars hanging around his neck (or something like that only funnier).

So rent a scooter. You’ll get special treatment and you can zip around the ship drunk, running into stuff and knocking over people with actual mobility problems.

  1. Use your cell phone as much as possible.

If there’s someone in your family whom you couldn’t afford to bring along on your cruise, be sure to call them every day that you’re at sea. The amount you’ll rack up in roaming charges will make it seem like you paid their way.

  1. Book a cruise with one or more “tender ports.”

When a port lacks a pier big enough to accommodate cruise ships, it’s what we call a tender port. A tender is a boat that takes you from the ship to the island in the time it would take you to swim. Tendering is lots of fun because you get to wake up early, report to one of the ship’s lounges with hundreds of other tired and impatient guests, and wait for hours on end watching CNN on the big screen with the sound off (so you can hear all the screeching babies and screaming toddlers sprawled out around you) until you decide to jump overboard and swim ashore.

Once on the island, you’ll be free to slouch around in the scorching heat for ten minutes trying to find a discount T-shirt shop with functioning air conditioning until you finally realize that you’re in a third-world country that doesn’t really have all that much to see or do so you might as well get in line for a tender back to the ship, where you can be laughed at by all the experienced cruisers who stayed on board.

  1. Purchase a shore excursion from a local vendor not in any way associated or affiliated with your cruise line so that you can either miss your non-refundable tour due to the ship arriving late or miss the ship after your tour ends because the bus carrying you back to the pier is ambushed by guerrilla fighters.

Fun times!

         10. Complain. Complain. Complain.

If you really want to have fun on your cruise, don’t spend your days laying out by the pool or relaxing at the bar. Instead, make frequent trips down to Guest Services and complain about anything that comes to mind. If your complaints are inventive enough, the ship’s Guest Services associates will often offer you financial compensation just to shut you up. If you’re unlucky enough to cruise on an awesome ship like mine, however,  you’ll be hard-pressed to find many legitimate issues to complain about. In that case, here are a half dozen doozies to get you started:

  • “The sound of the ocean keeps me up at night. Can you turn it off?”
  • “My cabin doesn’t look the same as the photo on your website. That cabin had blue carpet; mine has red. Can you please make the switch while I’m upstairs in the ship’s gift shop complaining about merchandise I bought on land?”
  • “It’s too hot on the open decks. Can you ask the Captain to turn on the air conditioning outside?”
  • “It’s too long of a walk between decks. Can you shorten your stairs?”
  • “The midnight buffet is too late at night. Can you reschedule it for noon?”
  • “I hate discos and disco music. Yet every time I go into the disco all I hear is disco music. Can I have a free cruise?”

So there you go. Use my tips and your next cruise is guaranteed to be your best vacation ever.

If not, you can always walk the plank. Make a big enough splash and you just might win a prize.