Posts Tagged ‘Hank Aaron’

Happy Birthday Hank Aaron

February 8, 2014

Wednesday February 5th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

Today is the 80th birthday of one of my all time heroic icons Hank Aaron. Boy does it make me feel old. I’m sure he’s got plenty of aches and pains of his own, but it doesn’t take anything away from the outstanding accomplishments he achieved in his amazing career. He touched the sky.

I still remember watching him hit his 715th home run on April 8th, 1974 against the Dodgers off pitcher Al Downing on a tiny black and white TV set up on an ironing board in my grandparents’ basement. They were watching another program on their own black and white TV, and they were less than thrilled when I interrupted whatever they were watching with my screams of delight.

Gramps was a sports fan so he got it at least a little, but Grandma was really into whatever they were watching and I thought she was going to find a baseball bat and start swinging at me. She’d never liked sports, and thought it was all a big waste of time. It meant absolutely nothing to her.

But what an electric moment that was. Baseball was my life source then, and all anyone talked about at school was when he would break the home run record. It was extra big in Milwaukee as he came up with the Braves in 1954 and played with them until they moved to Atlanta in 1966.

The media in Milwaukee talked about it constantly, as I’m sure they did everywhere else. That was THE baseball record, and I assumed everyone was cheering for him to break it like all of my friends in the neighborhood and I were. To us it was a Milwaukee thing, as he had played there.

I don’t think I found out until years later what a horrible experience it was for him, and all the ugly hate mail he received. I was stunned, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth even today. It’s downright embarrassing that people would behave like that, but obviously they did. It’s a shame.

White people haven’t done much to win me over as a group, even though I was born into their population. Human beings in general don’t thrill me when I hear stories like that, but I don’t see it getting any better anytime soon. Hank Aaron is great regardless of what ethnicity he might be.

From a baseball standpoint, he was the picture of consistency throughout his career. He was an all star 25 times. WOW. That alone is a staggering figure. He also has the most runs batted in of all time. There’s another monster statistic. He had 17 consecutive seasons with 150 or more hits, and his number was retired by two teams. If there was ever a Hall of Fame player, Aaron was it.

When I was in high school, he came to our school to make a speech. I don’t recall what it was for, but my friend Jeff Phelps and I skipped out at lunch and went to buy baseballs to get signed when he showed up. That was the only time I’d ever skipped out of school, but I don’t regret it.

A limousine pulled up in front of Messmer High School that afternoon, and Jeff and I ran out with our fresh white baseballs and pens in hand. There was an entourage with him and everyone was surprised to see us. He signed the two baseballs, and then someone said “OK, no others.”

That’s a memory I won’t forget, and I’ll always be a fan of his accomplishments. I’m sorry he had to endure what he did. Happy birthday Hank Aaron, your greatness is forever appreciated.

To baseball fans of my generation, this was the biggest moment ever.

To baseball fans of my generation, this was the biggest moment ever.

This was the baseball card everyone wanted when I was a kid.

This was the baseball card everyone wanted when I was a kid.

I love this quote.

I love this quote.

Self Worth

December 4, 2012

Saturday December 1st, 2012 – Michigan City, IN

   There really is no fair way to put a price on what a comedian does. Like a collectible, it’s only worth what anyone will pay for it. Just because some price guide says a Hank Aaron rookie card or a first edition Spider Man comic book has a value of several thousand dollars, it doesn’t mean I can put a down payment on a house with it. It’s not true currency, and that’s easy to overlook.

Just because I have managed to find a way to get paid for telling jokes since 1985 also doesn’t mean that gravy train will keep running into perpetuity. I need to keep securing gigs everywhere and anywhere, and that’s getting to be harder for everyone for several reasons. It’s a challenge.

In a perfect world – which it never is – I should be able to charge significantly more than most comedians working today simply because I’ve paid my dues and have the most experience. I can handle virtually any situation, and I’m not bragging when I say that. It has taken a lifetime to get to this level of expertise, but now that I’m here I see that most people buying comedy don’t care.

Price is a major issue with most people who put random shows together, and there are plenty of low priced acts who will jump at the chance to get a booking anywhere for any price. That makes it extra difficult for people like me who have come through the fire the hard way but that doesn’t change the situation. Life has never been fair, and it’s not about to start now. I’ll have to adjust.

Tonight I had a booking at a country club in Michigan City, IN. It was their maiden voyage for trying a comedy show, and the degree of difficulty couldn’t have been any higher. The show was held in a banquet room with a ‘stage’ that was basically a big wooden box that resembled a giant coffin. It was about five feet from the ground, with some extremely steep steps leading up to it.

The microphone was in a stand with an elbow in it – exactly the wrong kind for comedy. It’s a common mistake, and that’s why I carry a regular one with me in my trunk at all times. I’ve had to use it a lot more often than I wanted to, but at least I have it. ‘Regular’ people have no clue as to how to set up a room for entertainment, and that makes it that much harder to pull off a show.

I politely told the person in charge we wouldn’t be using the stage, as it would have been crazy and dangerous to climb up that high and talk down to the audience – especially without any stage lighting other than a Christmas tree about ten feet behind it. These were not ideal conditions by a long shot, and my instincts told me I needed to stand in front of the stage directly on the floor.

I have enough experience that I was able to pull off a show, even if it wasn’t the best situation to have to do it. I shouldn’t have to deal with obstacles like this so far into the game, but it never seems to end. Incompetence is everywhere, but if I complain about it I get the reputation as being ‘hard to work with’. My ass. I’m trying to be professional, so I can give people a quality show.

I feel like a plumber who gets called, then finds the job way harder than first thought to be. The plumber would charge more to do the job, but I have a set price. And If I don’t take this gig, fifty others will. Times are tight, so I shut my yap and got paid. And I earned it. But it wasn’t enough.

Blatz Off!

March 15, 2010

<Saturday March 13th, 2010 – Saukville, WI

It looks like Schlitz really is starting to happen! I didn’t know exactly what to expect on several levels concerning the initial run through of my one man show about growing up in Milwaukee called “Schlitz Happened! An Old Milwaukee Blatz From The Pabst”, but the overwhelmingly positive response it got gives me extremely high hopes. This is a winner!

It’s not a finished product yet by a long shot, but what’s there is very useable. I do know how to entertain an audience, and my lifetime of experience gives me a huge advantage of being able to go back into the archives and bring out polished standup bits which allows a freedom to experiment few others have. I can take chances because I have a backup plan.

The show was at the Railroad Station in Saukville, WI which wouldn’t have been in the top 50 places I would have chosen to get this started. Richard Halasz had booked a couple of previous shows there with Will Durst, so that’s a thumbs up for me. I like Richard and a reputable comedian like Durst wouldn’t work a place twice if there was anything shady.

I knew I needed to work the show through a few times, so where better than here to get a feel for it? The owners were all very nice people and we drew 146 people which is very respectable for a place that doesn’t do comedy on a regular basis. The club had posters up for a couple of months, but it was Richard that really dug in and didn’t let up on promo.

He mailed flyers and sent email blasts and got me a radio interview in Fond Du Lac and I really give him credit for doing a thorough job in promoting this along with the venue. It isn’t often a comedian does this good a job of behind the scenes detail work but he nailed it and totally followed through. Everyone was happy with the results and it was a big hit.

I brought my friend Russ Martin along, who was kind enough to film the show with his movie quality video camera, even though I don’t need anything that elaborate right now. I just wanted to get it on tape in case I ad libbed something that could be used in the future.

Gary Pansch also came out to support and he lit it up for a few minutes to get the crowd in a good mood. I went up and did an hour and five minutes, trying to squeeze in as many local stories and references as I could. I did some of my regular standup but it still had the local flavor to it. I added in a few things exclusively for this show and they went over too.

Was I thrilled with the show? No, not at all. Was the audience? Absolutely. They loved it, and that was my main concern. I wanted to feel it out a little first since I never worked there before, and didn’t have too much scripted. I wasn’t sure what kind of audience they drew, so trying to force a theater show wasn’t smart. This was more of a bar audience.

The sound system was popping and the stage lights were pretty bad, but other than that it wasn’t horrible at all. The physical layout of the space was nice, even though smoking is still allowed in Wisconsin bars. That was a killer, and my eyes were burning within the first ten minutes. This was a comedy show in a night club, NOT a one man theater show.

Still, the audience was both receptive and very polite. They weren’t pissy drunk and had the courtesy to sit and listen to the show. There were waitresses, but they were also polite and didn’t talk loud while taking orders or distract form the show at all. I was impressed.

I know how to read an audience, and could tell that I had a chance to do well right from the get go. I wanted to get to a lot more subtle and experimental material, but tonight was not the time to try it out. There will be other times, and I’m glad I didn’t force anything.

A few people showed up I hadn’t seen in thirty years or more. Robert Deglau and I went to the Jackie Robinson alternative open classroom school in sixth grade. We were both in the same homeroom and had an interest in radio. We reconnected by email a couple years ago but hadn’t gotten together before tonight. It was great to see him after all these years.

Jeff Phelps and I went to high school together at Messmer High School. He worked for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel as a photographer for twenty-two years before losing his job last year in a purge that took a lot of other people with him. He is a real pro and takes amazing pictures, and I felt bad he lost his gig. Times are tough for people in many fields.

Jeff and I recalled the story of when Hank Aaron came to Messmer to speak. We loved sports and wanted to get an autograph so we skipped out of class and drove to a sporting goods store and each bought a baseball to get signed. We waited for Hank’s limo to pull up and as soon as we saw it we sprinted out the side door with our fresh white baseballs.

Nobody in the entourage expected us including Hank Aaron, and we politely asked him to sign our baseballs. There wasn’t much he could do but grab the pen and sign. We both had pens with us, and we had our whole plan of attack worked out way before we did it.

After Hank signed for us, someone in his entourage firmly said “Ok, that’s IT. No more autographs.” Jeff and I smiled at each other and went back into school with our prize. We were the envy of the whole school, and we got to meet Hank Aaron before anyone else at school, including the principal. It was the only time I ever skipped out, but it was worth it.

One of the biggest mistakes I ever made in my life was selling that ball many years later when I really needed money. Boy, was I stupid. I think I may have gotten $60. Maybe $75 tops. I remember crying when I sold that ball, but at the time I really needed that cash. It’s a huge mistake, but too late to change it. Jeff kept his ball, and I’m glad. I’d love to see it.

This is the end of my fourth solid year of keeping my little diary. It may not be good or even interesting, but at least I’ve been able to keep it consistent. I’ve had experiences all over the board, and hopefully I’ve been able to entertain or inspire at least somebody.

I’m still a dented can, and always will be. I’m improving in many areas, but I still have many more that need a lot of work. Will any of this live on after I’m dead? Who cares? It doesn’t affect me at all. I’ll be dead. Right now, I’m not and I hope whoever reads this at any time gets a laugh or two, or maybe some inspiration. Another year over. What’s next?