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Follow the wacked adventures of professional stand-up comic Richard Lett

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The Wallet

A performance of the team piece “The Voice” by Toronto Poetry Slam Team 2013 




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The Wallet

Status Update #59
“Previously on “The Wallet”. Richard decides not to complain about the exorbitantly priced coffee because it reminds him of how absurd his father appeared to him when he would do similar things of complaining to people that have no power to change them.”
As I sit enjoying my drug cocktail of caffeine and nicotine, delivered to me in liquid and gum form I watch a couple go outside and stand in the cold to enjoy their cigarettes. The smell of them when the return is something I was not aware of when I smoked, but now it is oppressive. It seems that the cold makes the smell stick to them, and when they return to the warmth it is released. Being that they both smoke, they don’t realize it makes them smell (literally) like shit. The fact that I used to smell like that (for thirty years) makes me wonder why anyone would make out with me. “Nothing worse than a reformed smoker” they use to say. The truth is the Twelth Step is to carry the message. Basically people maintain their abstinence from their addictions be helping other people stop using. When people ask me how I stopped smoking I say, well, you don’t wanna know the answer to this. I prayed. Huh? Prayed? Couldn’t you just dip me in boiling fat or something. Pull out my toenails… but pray? Yikes.
But that’s what happened. I was in Newfoundland work with a young kid Bobby Knauf and we were both smoking like chimneys. He was broke so the cigarettes he was smoking were mine. It was November 2011 and winter that weekend. (When your gig is in the middle of the Atlantic – weather is variable). The night before we heard that a colleague of ours, Stewart Silver, had dropped dead from a heart attack. Stewart was younger than me, and a chronic pot smoker. (Smoking pot, FYI, is smoking. Sorry but it’s called smoking, because it’s SMOKING.) Anyway, the next night I’m huddled on the deck of the condo smoking, and it’s so cold I can’t even finish my smoke. I toss it into the large coffee can which is over-flowing with brown spider legs of cigarettes, all my brand. I look up into the crystal clear Atlantic sky and out loud say, “God PLEASE help me stop smoking.”
The next day I flew back to Toronto and went to my doctor’s appointment to see a specialist for Vertigo. The doctor and I talked for a bit and then he said, “What’s with you voice? Have you had it checked out?” I said “Ya blah blah blah.” He said, “I wanna have a look at it.” So he takes out a scope and runs it down my nose and has a look around at my vocal chords. He says, “Oh I do not like what I see. This isn’t my specialty, so I’m going to get you seen by a throat cancer doctor, because if that’s not cancer – it will be.” And then he closes the door and says, “You’re an intelligent guy. I think I can get through to you.” He said, “You have to quit smoking now.” He lowered his voice and went on, “I loved smoking. Fifteen years ago I went from thirty cigarettes a day to none, by saying – that’s the last one. But I always said if a meteor was going to hit the earth, or I got brain cancer, I would start smoking again.” Then he pointed to his recently shaved head. ”You see this scar. I have brain cancer. I started smoking again six weeks ago.” I sat there staring at him and his scar. He stood up. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” I stood, stunned and walked to the door as he opened it. “No I’m good.”
As I stood outside Toronto General, full of rage and terror, I thought, this time I’ve really done it. They’ve already done the fund-raisers for my testicular cancer, what are they gonna say. “Oh he has cancer again, and this time it’s from smoking, so screw him.” I looked at the half a pack of cigarettes and thought I could have one more, or I could take the two hours I had smoke-free and go from there. So I took my smokes and threw them into the garbage. I didn’t smoke the rest of that day fueled by fear and rage. The next day I found nicotine gum, in my apartment. I don’t know where it came from, but I remember thinking about throwing it out about twenty times, and not doing it. So I chewed a piece, and I thought, maybe I can get through my morning coffee with one of these. All I wanted was to not smoke until I got to see the throat cancer guy so when he asked me if I smoked I could say I had stopped and he would not look at me as a moron. A week went by, I bought more gum, and waited for the call from the throat guy. I get a call from Dr. Brain Cancer’s receptionist to inform me about my follow-up appointment for the vertigo, (like I give a shit about the vertigo NOW) and I say I haven’t heard from the throat guy yet and she assures me that a referral will happen. Another week goes by. Nothing. So I make an appointment with my GP. I tell her about my visit with Dr. Brain Cancer and she is delighted that I haven’t smoked in two weeks, and says that my voice hasn’t changed, and we LIKE the voice and I’m not exhibiting secondary symptoms and although it’s always good to check it out it’s unlikely I have throat cancer. So my fear subsides. She has been talking to me about smoking every visit, so she encourages me to stay the course. Two more weeks go by and still no call from the throat guy. But I am starting to feel different. In fact within a few days after I stopped, I ran to catch a Go Train. I had six minutes from the line-up, buy a ticket, ran up two flights of stairs, run down the platform and onto the train. I sat down and thought, “Phew I made it.” And then I realized my head wasn’t pounding, my chest wasn’t heaving, people weren’t looking at me like “Is he gonna make it?”. That was in the first week of not smoking. So I did some research, and it seems Carbon Monoxide blocks our red cells ability to carry oxygen. In a few days, the CO had left my system and I simply was able to use the oxygen I already have in my body. I don’t need more – I’m just able to use what I have.
I go to see Dr. Brain Cancer, feeling pretty good that I can tell him I heeded his cautionary tale and haven’t smoked in a month. He seems vaguely pleased, (I was kind of expecting a parade. “You stopped poisoning yourself!! Bring out the band!”). He says, “Before we talk about the vertigo, whats going on with your voice?” I said “Well nobody called me, so I dunno?” “What?” he says with alarm. “Oh know – I will red flag that!” He begins frantically typing into his computer. And my fear goes back through the roof.
The next day I get an appointment with the throat guy, January 13, 2012. Friday the 13th. The day before, I phone to comfirm. The receptionist is surprized. “Oh you’re phoning to confirm. Most are cancelling because of the date.” I go in to see the doctor. He asks how long my voice has been like this. I say “Thirty years.” He asks if I’m spitting up blood, having trouble breathing, or eating. At 240 pounds – the eating is going rather well thanks. He puts a scope down my nose. “Ok – what you have is Reinke’s Edema – or swollen vocal chords. Not cancer. Caused by over use of the voice, genetics, and prolonged cigarette smoking. With the cessation of smoking it won’t get worse, or better. Pretty much stay the same. We’ll have another look in six months.” I leave the place thinking “I could smoke!” But I already have two months off cigarettes, so I stick with the plan. I went back a year and a half later, and the Reinke’s Edema is gone. I get to keep the voice that is described in the Toronto Poetry Slam team piece “The Voice” as the love-child of Tom Waits and Cookie Monster, and not die from it. And on cold gloomy days, I can stay indoors, and don’t have to unconsciously be grossing people out with the smell. So what happened to get me to stop smoking. A lot. Got the shit scared out of me for two months straight. But truthfully, I prayed to stop smoking, and then next day I did…
TO BE CONTINUED
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The Wallet

http://payup.tv

 Award-winning web series starring Richard Glen Lett

Watch all six webisodes for free at the website. Enjoy it and share it and there will be more adventures of Jack the bill collector in Pay Up




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The Wallet

Status Update #58
(Previously on “The Wallet” Richard heads out in search of a Starbucks, but the fog is so thick that even the Niagara Falls are invisible. The moodiness this evokes takes Richard back to when he worked as a driver for an escort service.”
The coffee at THIS Starbucks in Niagara Falls is $1.20 more than the same Grande Dark Roast back in Toronto. At first I think it’s a mistake, but NO that’s the price. I ask the girl behind the counter (or “barista” as they are now called) why there is such a marked difference in price and she doesn’t know except that perhaps the rent of this property might be higher. What – higher than Yonge and Bloor? Madison Avenue in NYC? She shrugs. I realize she has no say in the price of the coffee, and I am starting to behave like my father, who would challenge pump jockeys for the price of gasoline. So I sit down and watch people.
People Watching. It’s a thing. A pastime. Kinda weird I think. Defined in other terms, spying, staring, gawking, stalking and it seems not so legitimate. But when we call it “people watching” it seems cool, even refined. I love people watching. Try “I love spying on people”. Doesn’t sound so nice. I have not too much else to do. I’m bored. Oh Oh . Bored is a dangerous state of mind. I remember most of the dangerous, destructive acts in my youth began with this notion of being bored. Stories that begin with “I was bored so…” rarely end well. I take out my trusty journal and write the date at the top of a blank page. “Jan 11, 2014.” Sometimes just writing the date is all I do. I forces me into the present. The coffee shop is populated by everyone else who has surrendered to the fog. A family of five, a couple of couples, and a large group of young people who are all wearing the same t-shirts. I can’t seem to make out what the shirts say, or what this group is collectively doing today. I could ask, but I’m afraid they might try to sell me something, or ask me to sign something or give me a flyer or simply mistake my question for evidence that I give a shit – which I don’t.
Apparently I’m grumpy. Wait – I’m a drug addict. I can fix this. I take out a piece of nicotine gum, and start chewing it. I deliberately drink some of my coffee. Ah… there we go. I still don’t give shit, but I’m okay with it. (Progress not perfection). This journal makes it look like I’m not paying attention to people, but it’s a cover. I’m people watching. People watching – I realize, is very popular. Aren’t movies a form of it, or TV? Going to see a band, or a sporting event? Comedy shows… “We” seem endlessly fascinating to us. What brings people together, what splits them apart…
The husband and wife and three kids remind me of a family of racoons I watched once in my backyard in Vancouver. The mother walked from one clump of bushes across the lawn, followed by the three cubs, and then slowly at the end, the male. The communication between the adults was intuitive. The two bigger cubs are close to the mom, and farther back is the little one, wandering confused. The father’s emergence into the little cub’s view seems to straighten the little cub’s path and strengthen his resolve to catch up to the others. Was it fear or an attempt to impress the father that caused this effect? Who knows? The result – the brood held together – is accomplished.
I was that little cub. The youngest in my family of six, and the youngest of all the cousins. I was always wandering, confused. Trying to catch up. Not sure whose joke this is, but it was always true to me. The is joke is “I’m the youngest of four kids. When I became a teenager my parents said, “Here’s the keys to the liquor cabinet – do what you have to do.” I guess there was a mix of complacency in my parents, mixed with the burden of expectations of what my siblings had accomplished and the high water mark that I was to supposed to accomplish. At that point you can either try to keep up, and overtake them, or wander confused and lost until you find your own path. I became a stand-up comedian, so I think it’s clear what choice I made. I tried to keep up, but eventually surrendered to the lost wandering. I also had my Dad following up though, so I was okay. When my father died in 2006 – my wandering continued – but now there was no one following up. I was in trouble – but I didn’t know how much trouble I was in. All I knew was that I missed him terribly, and when I unconsciously look behind me, there is no one that has my back.
As the mother goes through flyers of stuff they can do instead of look at the invisible falls – I feel a little jealous of them. Especially the little one. The father notices me looking and checks me out as a potential threat. I wanna say “Don’t worry dad, it’s all good.” But he wouldn’t trust me anyway, so I pretend to return to writing in my journal.
TO BE CONTINUED
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winning poem in Van Slam poetry slam

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alone

alone

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me at the beach

me at the beach

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serious bromance with this guy

serious bromance with this guy

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COMING SOON…

COMING SOON…

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only the beginning

only the beginning

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