He’s got some gig doing children’s theater (it’s a long story) and he’s starring in The Little Mermaid as King Triton. It’s the first act. He’s singing and dancing and the kiddies are filled with delight. What they don’t know is that King Triton has really tied one on the night before. He’s up there performing, poisoned to his Poseidon gills (in this case quite literally) in the fine theatrical tradition of Barrymore, W.C. Fields, and Judy Garland.
King Triton has got a problem. He’s sweating out valuable alcohol under his suit of seaweed, and starting to detox, right there under the hot flood lights. Dance, dance, dance, sing, sing, sing, sweat, sweat, sweat…start to shake, shake, shake. He can’t hold his trident steady. The corners of the room are starting to fold in on themselves, and he thinks he’s beginning to see cats walk across the stage. Oh boy.
It’s going to be very hard to choreograph a seizure into the act, even for this veteran thespian. He just has to hold on until intermission. He knows what must be done.
The curtain finally falls to many little clapping hands, and he is a green blur that vanishes. Out through the backstage door, and down across the street. He’s still in full King Neptune/Sigmund und der seamonsters costume. He’s got the crown of seaweed, little crabs in his beard, flowing cape of kelp, and still armed with trident, and he’s running down the street to the nearest dive bar. He ducks into some rundown joint in the godforsaken San Fernando Valley.
He runs in and orders a shot of whiskey. It’s two in the afternoon, Sunday, and the patrons inside are they kind that would be in a dive bar in the San Fernando Valley at two in the afternoon. The bartender looks at him, then gets him his shot. The other people in the place look at him.
“How ya doin’ there, pally?” he asks the guy closest, but only gets a slight nod in response.
Mad Dog flips the shot back. Sweet mother of Calamity Jane that’s good. He’ll take another.
The bartender pours him one, and he pulls his crab-infested beard aside and tosses it down the hole. Okay. That should hold him through Act Two. He pulls out his wallet from behind his flowing kelp and pays the tab, includes a generous tip, and leaves in a cloud of plankton. He’s got little children to delight. The show must go on.
Never mind delighting the children. This story delights me. It makes me so happy that in the history of the universe, this event transpired. If only to know that the sight of a detoxing Neptune bolting back two shots of whiskey and then disappearing went into those bar patron’s heads that Sunday afternoon. Things like that just make me happy. Deeply so.
Mad Dog was good for stuff like that.
My ex-girlfriend, Sue, and I are sitting in my car outside a hardware store in Ventura, CA. The store is closing up, and we’re waiting to pick up Mad Dog from his first night on the job as a cashier. We know Mad Dog, and we know that this going to be good. Until he finally got a job hauling ice for his Uncle Nicoletti at North Hollywood Ice, he had trouble finding suitable employment. He was a gifted, brilliant and talented young man, and bat-shit insane.
Cashiering is not going to be one of his strong suits. We can’t wait for him to get in the car and tell us what happened. But, we’re going to have to wait. All the other employees are leaving, but Mad Dog is still with another cashier and the manager is going over his receipt tape. Oh boy.
You can tell there’s some problems by the way the manager is shaking his head, and at times, just dropping the register tape to his side and staring up at the ceiling. We could see Mad Dog’s body English telegraph extreme discomfort. He’s squirming around, rolling his shoulders, and waving his fingers in silent movie angst.
“He’s trying to explain something,” I tell Sue. She starts laughing.
Understanding Mad Dog and his double-speak, took a special Rosetta Stone, one only obtained by shutting off all left brain function. You had to listen to what he was saying like you would listen to certain rock lyrics. The cryptic references would make the analytical part of your brain yield, and allow him to paint pictures, pictures that would say more, deeper, and funnier things than with normal linear speech. It was in the little cracks between the cryptic that the meaning would creep in.
Comedy is instinctive, being funny requires being intuitive, you can’t think about it. Most people like to think, and hence you find most people really aren’t very funny. It’s an entirely different part of the mind to tap into, and if you have an exceptional ability to do so, you are more than likely going to have some shortcomings in other types of ways of processing information.
Now here he was, trying to explain whatever his fuck up was, to this miserable square, a guy who clearly just wants to go home and drown away this 46 hour a week job in generic whiskey and porn. He’s not getting Mad Dog, or his explanations. Explanations that might be referencing anything from Disney to The Third Reich to make their point in a veritable kaleidoscope of concepts.
What he does get is that the register is short. And, strangely, this young man-more than likely-didn’t steal it. Afterall, he seems to have little understanding of financial transactions and hence no inherent knowledge of money’s worth. It seems like he might only have a rudimentary grasp of what numbers represent. He knows a lot about Bix Beiderbecke and the making of Fantasia, but what do those things have to do with why his drawer is short?
Okay, Mr. Manager fuck. I’ll tell you what Bix and Mickey have to do with this. Nothing, and that’s the absolute beauty of this moment. He’s an artist, see? Things like reason, logic, and common sense spell death to his craft. A bean-counting, porn-pulling pud like you is not going to understand this. Or anything, for that matter.
You like things to be how you expect them, which means you are no longer a valuable participant in this thing we call life. You have become redundant. You create nothing new. You just eat, make trash and burden the earth with the weight of your shit. You are a singular void, but a burdensome one. Dig it? A void, but a burdensome one. Two incompatible bummers rolled into one big fat bomber bummer.
The fact is that nobody knows what the fuck is going on and the whole ride we’re on is caroming off the rails into a corner pocket of black mystery. We can all pretend we understand what is “happening here,” but the godawful truth is, nobody has a fucking clue. Maybe some sages in caves scattered here and there, but not the people on the news. We are all a little freaked out, and the sooner we all admit it, the better we’ll all feel, in a strange misery-loves-company way.
So Mr. Manager Man, your reality is basically…well, a drag, and Mad Dog knows this, so he just creates his own, and frankly you’re not welcome in it.
Being understood by some one like you is low on Mad Dog’s totem pole of priorities.
We once did an act together at The Comedy Store on an open mike night. It featured nothing but inside jokes. Jokes so inside that even the two friends we had sitting in the audience that night wouldn’t even get. Shit only me and him laughed about late at night while trying to drink ourselves to sleep. It was high concept, you might say.
Well, an audience paying a twelve dollar cover and stuck with a two drink minimum isn’t the most receptive to this sort of avant-garde fare. We both got up there and played it to the max. Really sticking to the program. Nothing anyone but us would think was funny. We riffed the whole thing and really got esoteric, even between ourselves.
We were lucky to make it out of there alive. I do remember hearing some very angry patrons actually screaming at us. They were very pissed. Grab my coat collar kind of pissed. We literally had to run out of there. It was a total rush.
“What was the deal with that one character you were doing, Rocky?” Riggsy asked us on the ride home.
“Rocky, the guy from the can of wall paste,” I explained.
“Fills cracks and screw holes and won’t shrink,” Mad Dog added, “What’s not to love about that?”
Mad Dog did a good Rocky Rock Hard that night. He fucking nailed it. But I was the only person there that knew it. Had me in stitches. We kind of didn’t care about the audience. They sensed that and got pissed. They were going to make sure we cared about them. Man, that was insane. I am so glad we did that.
Mad Dog’s act is going over just as well now, but he was going to finish big. He calmly takes off his cashier’s apron and lays it across the counter. He nods to the manager and the other cashier and then starts cartwheeling. He just cartwheels across the front of the store, stops, then cartwheels back across the floor to the front door. Sticks the landing. Solid.
He’s got his arms up, Russian gymnast like, which he smoothly transitions to take a deep show biz bow, then shuffles off to Buffalo. He’s out the door in that elbow-cocked Vaudeville way of scramming.
“What the hell is he doing?”
I almost peed my pants I was laughing so hard. I was useless jelly by the time he opened the car door.
“How did your first night go?” Sue asks, with a straight face. That killed me even more. Sue was awesome like that.
“I was ready to start playing the harp on Uncle Fester’s neck muscles back there, he was strung so tight.” he says. He takes out a Tiparillo, breaks it in half, throws the other part away then sticks the rest in his mouth.
“Really sandpapery vibe in hardware world. I need to drink a gallon of varnish to take that edge off.”
I handed him a beer and we pulled out of the parking lot.
He told us that at one point he started to really freak while he was working the register and was making mistakes left and right. After a while, he just started pushing all the buttons in a giggling fit. Whatever, right? Might as well. It’s all so fucked up you might as well really destroy it.
Sue looked at me. I didn’t look back. I knew she was thinking about the sandwich incident. Me stomping one outside the mall in a temper tantrum.
“So you just flipped out?” I asked, redirecting her thoughts to what a maniac Mad Dog is.
“Oh man, I went totally presto pretendo, dig? The old fake it until I make it out of here department.” He lifted the beer, tilted it sideways back and forth, making it act like it was running away from something, then took a deep hit. “Aacha-cha-cha, me matey!” Pirate eye wink.
Sue was laughing now. She worked as a cashier, so this especially tickled her.
“So you just pretended to be cashiering, but were really just doing whatever the fuck came to your head?”
Mad Dog’s broken cigar tipped down. “Pretty much, dere. I mean sometimes I tried to do it right–”
“I think that’s great! How liberating!”
I could see Sue was glazed-over with glee. She got a kick out most kinds of strange behavior. C’mon, she was my girlfriend for three years. I’d never hang out with a chick for that long if she wasn’t totally on board.
When the cashier that was supposed to be training him wasn’t around to sweat him, Mad Dog was not only pretending to be ringing things up correctly, but pretending to be giving back correct change. He just made sure that whatever he gave the customer was more than they had coming, just to get rid of them. He moved his line along pretty quick, except for the occasional boy scout who insisted he gave them back too much. “That’s alright, it’s your lucky day, and thank Jesus for that!”
If they still insisted on giving back the money, he’d have the customer count out the correct amount and then just take the money and toss it into the drawer.
His guts started to tighten as closing time approached and it was time to face the music. He had already decided to blow the gig, so now he was just going to have to go through the formality of officially resigning from the position. In this case, by not saying anything, and just cart-wheeling out the door. Fucking bravo. Why waste calories trying to explain something to someone who could never understand?
Cartwheels are a much better investment. If you’re going to go out, go big.
And that’s the way he merrily rolled along. This guy invented thinking outside the box. I always marveled at how brilliantly demented his genius was. A greater comic I’ve never seen, known, or heard about.
And while he may have played the fool, he was no dummy. I think he had a pretty good idea what he was all about early on, and cultivated it. He read and studied a lot. The guy was a voted most talented in his high school and shit, but somehow he was never able to cop that big break.
I thought it was sad. Here was this guy with all this talent, dragging melting ice through the sweltering San Fernando Valley, and drinking to put up with it all. I didn’t feel sad about that part, since I voted for that solution myself. We saw eye-color to eye-color there. I too was once a malcontented artistic type, before I lost the art. Now I’m just a malcontent.
Mad Dog is still performing these days in various community theater type gigs. He’s still good. He’s still drinking, too. I wonder sometimes how much better he would be if he quit. I can’t lie and say I don’t want him to at least try his craft from the other side of the curtain. But, I’m the last guy to nag dudes about their drinking. If you don’t want to stop there’s nothing anybody can do. You just have to make yourself available to them if they ever decide they’d like help, and pray nothing too bad happens to them in the meantime.
Tough to let go. I know when I started to think he might be on his way out to some tragic too-early end, I started to pull away emotionally. It’s instinctive, like comedy, only this not being about funny, but about death and pain, the opposite. He seems to be okay these days, but he knows the score. Like I said, he may play the fool, but he’s no dummy. He can see this sobriety thing is just the thing his career needs to get to the next level. Pirate wink, right back to you, matey!
I know you’re reading this. And yeah, you caught me nagging.
Anyway, I’ve got plenty of good Mad Dog stories which I’ll part out as we roll along here, merrily. If he brings you one tenth of the delight he’s brought me over the years, you’re in for a good ride. He’s a character I’ve wanted to put into the mix for a while. Besides, nobody can tell Mad Dog stories as good as me. We see eye-color to eye-color on a lot of things. I’ve had the same demons hang on my chandelier. I know how they swing. Hell, we swung back at them with tennis rackets and umbrellas. Together we beat those little fuckers back into the cracks of a broken wall.
“Gotta fix the cracks of that wall, Pally. With Rocky Rock Hard’s Wall Putty. Fills cracks and screw holes, won’t shrink.”
I will always be grateful for that quality time we got to spend together. My friend. Be well. Everything is going to be A-Ok.