How To Be Deliriously Happy For the Rest of Your Life

1. Live through your children. Pressure them to be every thing you wanted to be. Didn’t make your high school baseball team? Buy a batting cage and don’t let your boy eat until he’s taken 2000 swings. Always wanted to be on Broadway? Bombard your girl with singing lessons until her vocal cords spontaneously combust. Make her tap ’til her feet bleed (or him if you always wanted a little Tommy Tune of your very own!). And document every second of it. Post pictures of the kids struggling in vain not to disappoint you, adding captions like “Future Star!” “The Next Albert Pujols!” and “Broadway Bound!” Be tough. No one ever got to the top going halfway, better to learn that early in life. Think of yourself as more of a life coach than a parent. Carry a whistle and use it to wake your child up for pre-school practice. They’ll love you for it later. If you don’t have kids, use your pets!
2. Be happy in your work. Pick a profession that fulfills you and makes your heart swell with joy when you get up in the morning. Who cares what your dream job pays, contentment is its own reward. Unless you have a family. Or you buy a house and want to avoid foreclosure. Or you just HAVE to have the $800 stereo in your brand new car, and now the payments are kicking your butt. Or you smoke and have to make sure you set aside at least $1500 a week for that purpose. Or you are responsible for a college loan. Or a combination of any of the above. Then you must abandon your dreams and take whatever tedious, soul-killing, monotonous drudgery that happens your way. And even though you’re so overqualified your nose starts bleeding as soon as you punch in, and you are surrounded by brainless, inept fellow employees who lack the imagination to even be depressed, be secure in the knowledge that fulfillment can be found in other ways. Community theater! Bowling leagues! Model trains! Cooking! Sunday morning softball! Religion! Local politics! Adult education! The latest electronics! X-Box 360! Living through your children (see #1)! The possibilities are endless to balance the 40-60 hours of mind-numbing torture with a few stolen moments of “you time” before you fall asleep on the couch and dream of the life you could have had if you just smoked less weed in high school/college/grad school/beauty school/correspondence course/rehab. Wake up, you’re late for work!
3. Take a moment to just sit back a laugh for a while. At the misfortune of people you don’t know. There are many, many ways to do this. Youtube is a wonderful source. If there’s footage of anyone in the known world taking a shot in the nuts since 1985, you can find it there. TV shows like Tosh.O take the searching out of your hands and scour the internet for you. Daniel Tosh makes snarky comments while a guy poops in a potted plant or some idiot falls out of a moving car while mooning. Laugh! You’re allowed! None of these people are blood relatives. They would laugh at you if they had the chance! (Honestly, if you’re not watching Tosh.O you’re not going to be truly happy. The guy’s hysterical.)
4. This one might be a little narrow but stick with me, I really think it works. Repeat after me: “Anne Hathaway is a talentless rat-face.” Bip, bip, bip, Rachel Getting Married, whatever…just say the words out loud. Anne. Hathaway. Is a. Talentless. Rat. Face. Now tell me you aren’t happier.
5. Eat well. Bake pies. Have a bowl of candy within reaching distance at all times. Get a deep fryer if you don’t have one already—you could stick a shoe in there and would end up tasting good. Don’t eat bread unless it’s hot out of the oven and smeared with a stick of butter. Add cheese to everything. Get a blender for banana smoothies. Add salt. Get a coffee maker that starts brewing before you wake up. Have Chinese food weekly. Bury your disappointment with your children (#1), depression cause by underemployment (#2), or your thinly-veiled contempt for bad acting (#4) with a lasagna and a few pints of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. Who cares if your backside is roughly the size of North Dakota or sometimes you swear you can feel your heart stop for a second while eating a Big Mac, what are you gonna do, live forever! Who needs those last few years, stuck in some stinkin’ rest home with tubes up your nose. If you get big enough you can always get that gastric bypass thing. Fat is the new skinny anyway. Nothing will ever fill that gaping, endless hole of darkness in your soul…but you can go down swinging! Monja, mine sweet potato!
6. This is the real one. Get a new shower-head with all the settings. How much is it, $40, $50? Best money you’ll ever spend. Trust me.

The End of Times–Tonight on the History Channel

Thanks to the History Channel, we are now well aware that the Earth will someday be destroyed. No more TV, no more Applebees Kiwi Lemonades, no more Youtube epic fails. Nothing but scorched-earth, apocalyptic doom. But to which nightmarish endgame will we eventually succumb? This is need-to-know!

Maybe supervolcanoes! Every hill over ten feet will suddenly and simultaneously shoot non-computer-generated lava from the Earth’s molten core, followed by a billowing mushroom cloud of ash and noxious gas that will travel rapidly across the lands until it hunts you down personally, envelops you and chokes you. Wanna know how you’re gonna die? Don’t fret, History Channel has a creepy looking pseudo-scientist who is enjoying this way too much, shot from below and in half-shadow, to happily clue you in. Let’s just say it would help, by about 30 seconds, if you were an Olympic swimmer. I’m a glass-half-full type of guy.

But don’t fret, the end may come from a giant asteroid instead! I’ve seen the simulated footage. You’ve got to see the size of this thing! How could it NOT slam into the Earth and leave a crater the size of Czechoslovakia, had those two nations not given up the coolest sounding country name ever? Have you seen the moon during your local news weather forecast? It’s got more pockmarks than Ray Liotta before makeup. Who cares if the average size of an asteroid after our atmosphere has its way with it is an undersized snowball. This could happen!

If the sun doesn’t explode first. Not for a while though. This is Armageddon for all the folks out there who do their Christmas shopping in June or worry about keeping their inheritance in the family. The sun is in its mellow, empty-nest stage of life. It’s taken up stamp collecting, has two fully-loaded Lincolns in the driveway and is considering early retirement. It’s house is paid off, so there’s nothing really keeping it from moving to Florida except the grandkids, but hey, I’ll still see them on holidays and it’s high time I did something for ME. I’m not going to live forever, you know, and when I go…I’m taking you ALL with me in a fiery flash of blinding heat!

But why wait for the end of times when you can have a perfect storm! A nor’easter meets a tropical depression meets a hypercane meets an extratropical cyclone from somewhere in Nova Scotia, strengthens over the Atlantic Ocean powered by hot air from right-wing radio broadcasters and lands with the full force of a heart-attack on some poor Caribbean island that should have had the good sense to pick up and move the last time this happened, proceeding to beat the living crap out it. But then! It heads up the east coast, getting closer and closer to where people wear more than just OP shorts and shark-tooth necklaces. New York City is underwater (marking the “official” death of Broadway, though it’s been dead since “Gypsy” closed)! Whales are landing in Boston Market! California is laughing so hard it sets off a chain reaction of tectonic plates and falls into the ocean! All that’s left is the mid-west, and you know how those Bible-belters vote! Dick Chaney declares himself emperor and unleashes a Zabrack Sith Lord that makes Darth Maul look like Mary Poppins!

But it probably won’t happen that way. God might end it all with a slight move of his pinky finger, making good on every religious zealot’s belief that they and they alone really “get” Revelations. I don’t know what will be worse, actually seeing the beast with the seven heads or hearing all those freaks yelling “I TOLD you so! Nah, nahnny nah nah!”

However it happens, the History Channel will be there to let us know exactly how it will go down. I think the real guilty party here is CGI technology. Without it, we would be able to say, “Yeah, like THAT might happen” and easily dismiss those creepy scientists with their talk of imminent danger. Now we can watch in living color as the skin is burned off our skeletons, the screen becomes filled with fire, fades into a white light and ends with the Earth blowing into smithereens like Luke dropped the Force on it (two Star Wars references—maybe I am a geek). Then nothing but stars. Run credits.

Boy I miss the times when all we had to worry about was nuclear annihilation. Hiding under our desks with our butts pointed toward the window. That was the life.

My First New York Show–Embarassment With a Spotlight!

I haven’t mentioned playwrighting yet, mostly because if I gave daily updates it would look something like this:

Waited again today. It’s been three and a half weeks since my last rejection. They took eighteen months to reply, then said there were too many characters. It was a solo piece. (Sighhhhhh).

Actually an online publisher recently asked for the full script of “Banshee”, so there’s that.

So what shall it be, snowdays or my first play in New York? Mainly my point about snowdays is that if you have kids it basically takes what was once a magical day of sledding and play delivered straight from God with an annoying extra day of parenting spent breaking up fights and pretending you “get” the ten-minute long joke. But kids ruined my life, blah, blah, blah—let’s get to the main event!

“Before the Parade Passes By” was the second play I ever wrote, and the first full-length. It was a “prequel” to my first play called “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (obviously I had to work on title variety) and shared a character from that play named Sidney J. Stein. I was going to play Sidney myself at first until we invited a guy named Jimmy to a reading—he stood up with his droopy sweater and became Sidney right before our eyes. We did a version of “Parade” in a big empty room on the Bard campus with Jimmy, my wife Mary El, a great actor friend Joe and our wonderful late friend Ellen. It went really well, as the 30-odd people in the crowd could attest. I was able to thank each audience personally for coming.

So when I got the letter from the NY theater saying they wanted to produce “Parade” I was understandably psyched. I was just 30, I had two whole plays under my belt, I still had my colon (I’ll explain that in another post, but trust me, I still had it). When Jimmy went down to the audition and nailed the role of Sidney, it was like everything was—dare I say it—coming up roses.

Ernest Hemingway once said if you want to make Hollywood movies, drive to the California border, toss the script over and drive away. Having a play done in NY is a similar experience, except you have to take a subway when you flee. My play is, in part, about a family who was dominated by a father who recently died. The mother abandoned her Jewish faith for her husband, so the family was raised Catholic. Sidney, who was kicked out of the home by his father as a teen, reconnected to his Jewish roots in honor of his mother and took her last name. Got it? Of course you do. You’re smart people.

The director didn’t get it. She was a Jewish woman in her early sixties who had a gorgeous, humongous apartment on the Upper West side. She did all the rehearsals up there, and served shrimp and wine. I’m sure she put her own money into the theater, and it bought her the right to direct the plays she wanted. Everything was great, except for the fact that she didn’t know what she was doing.

The play revolved around the flamboyant Sidney, his sister Jen who was trapped in a loveless marriage and his brother Christopher who was outwardly living the perfect life but was actually living a secretive lie. Sidney was Jewish by choice and his siblings were raised Catholic in upstate NY. Sounds simple, right? Apparently not. The director had the siblings smacking each other, screaming at each other, basically acting like they were extras from “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. It was Neil Simon meets Yiddish Theater meets awful.

I was embarassed for the poor actors. But then I realized it was my name under the title, and I’d better save some embarrassment for myself. I warned my wife that rehearsals weren’t going well when we went to opening night, but nothing could quite prepare her. For those of you who know Mary El, you can imagine. For those of you who don’t, let’s just say that when it comes to bad theater she doesn’t go gently into that good night—or quietly. The audible sighs, pounds on my leg and whispered statements of outrage eminating from the woman in the seat next to me were, quite frankly, more entertaining than the play and easily worth the price of admission (since I had gotten comps). After the show I apologized to the two friends who had made the trip to NY for my debut, hugged Jimmy (who managed to still be good somehow) and tried to keep a straight face as I spoke to the director: “the set really came together”, “you all did a lot of hard work”, “the menorah and yarmulkes were an…interesting choice”.

The production ran two weeks, and it would have run longer if I had let the director put more of her money in and extend it. I just couldn’t (sorry Jimmy!). It wouldn’t be the last time I did something stupid because it was the “right” thing to do. I hadn’t learned yet that compromise is absolutely essential to success. Just ask anyone successful, if they’ll still talk to you.

Facebook is Evil–We Can’t All Sing Like Judy Garland!

I have made an awe-inspiring discovery from the comfort of my couch. Facebook is evil. Yes. Evil.

I know, I know, how could something be evil if it gives so much pleasure to so many? Need I remind anybody of food? Unprotected sex? Felonious drug use? WalMart?

I shop there too. Everybody does. Who cares if they’ve undercut any possibility of a union and three people have to die in a car crash for a woman to be promoted, ketchup is $1.99!

Similarly is Facebook taking over the world, one poke at a time. Call me paranoid, but aren’t the “likes” and “dislikes” expanding into every corner of our collective consciousness? Does everybody you “friend” need to know your preference in cereal? Can anybody really have two hundred and fifty friends? How many rhetorical questions can you pose in a row before it becomes annoying?

Oh. Sorry.

I look over my wife’s shoulder as she wades through endless posts from her friends on some relative’s illness (“Aunt Lucy vomited two quarts of bile since my last post–I’ll update every fifteen minutes”), their own tenuous mental state (“I woke up so SAD today!!!!!! I think I may be ugly!!!!!! I need my friends to tell me how beautiful I am!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”), and their purple prosed beliefs in a higher power (“I woke up to the most amaing sunrise today and thought how amazingly lucky I am to live in this amazing country beneath the loving gaze of my amazing God!”)

It’s OK to believe in God, experience self doubt or have sick relatives–in the privacy of your own home! Why inflict that information on anyone else! I have my own religious beliefs. Don’t know them? That’s because I never told you! Why would I, unless we were both stoned?

But why is Facebook evil? Dumb, timewasting, overexposing, yes. But evil? Yes. Evil. It makes everybody equally interesting, or more importantly “think” they are interesting. A post is a post is a post. Anything clever or meaningful–in short, anything worth reading–is swept away in the endless tidal wave of banality. For every chuckle-worth bon mot there are fifteen proclamations of love between spouses (yuk!), twenty-five requests to buy farm animals, thirty-two mind-numbing surveys (“List 20 sexual positions nobody knows you enjoy and pass it on to all your friends’ lists so they can do the same!), six hundred and fifty two explanations about how “Cristmas was so HECTIC this year!”–“what book are you reading,” “what cartoon character are you,” “what celebrity are you frequently mistaken for,” “look at my husband’s new blog!” Well, you’ll see that one soon, and you really should check it out.

The point is the waters are muddied–forget muddied, they’re solid rock–for anyone with something really funny and entertaining to say (like Mary El’s friend David–if I had an account he would be one of my friends just on entertainment grounds, and he’s never ONCE mentioned a sick relative). If you ascribe to the belief that 95% of anything in any genre is crap (that I think I belong in the 5% is a result of pure, unrelenting self-confidence in my writing that allows me to live with the fact that I am nearly completely bald), then Facebook is a veritable cesspool of mediocrity. It’s the eqivalent of everyone in the theater getting up on stage with Judy Garland just because they all have vocal cords and the power of speech. Shhhhh! Sit down and let Judy sing! If we’re lucky she’ll do “Over the Rainbow”.

OK, I’m an elistist jerk, but I’m a *correct* elistist jerk. Facebook is lowering our collective threshold for idiocy, which if you’ve ever driven through a fast food drive-thru you’d know was pretty low to begin with. The internet used to be the wild west, an outpost for unique voices crying out in the dark (and, of course free porn). Now it’s WalMart, where no matter how big your ass is, we have a pair of pants that will fit! Facebook–where your kids are always cutest and you’re forevery interesting by virtue of simply posting.

Can you hear Judy? And where the hell are the onion rings I ordered?

Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom

"A Terrified Future Catholic"

A terrified future Catholic.

I had a college professor who once said, “Catholicism gives you something infinitely complex to rebel against for the rest of your life.”

Being a rebellious Catholic I said to myself, “What the hell does he know?” Notice I didn’t say it out loud.

But as I look back at my 12 years (!) of Catholic school, I have to say he had a point. No one taught me true meaning of wretched, bilious hate better than the nuns.

In the 1970s, there were two reasons to become a nun: morbid fear of sex and lesbianism. I mean, if you didn’t get laid during the summer of ’69 what chance did you really have thereafter? I suppose there were some authentic Brides of Christ, but in 12 years I never met one. Certainly not my principal Sister Mercedes. That was her name, I swear. She hated me.

A little background. I wasn’t a troublemaker. Quite the contrary, I was boringly, stultifyingly good–good grades, never caused trouble, barely spoke, actually. My younger brother, however, was an absolute hellion in grey uniform pants and a maroon sweater. A classmate of his was running full out to line up after recess and my brother casually stuck out his foot and tripped her. Sister Jeanne saw this and responded as any reasonable adult in a position of authority would–she beat the hell out of him. A closed-fist, old school, Mass in Latin massacre.
Amen, Hallelujah!

My mother’s cousin had lost a promising high school basketball career because a nun had broken a yardstick whacking his calf, and he was asked what he had done to provoke the poor woman. But the 70s were a more civilized, groovy decade. Nothing was bad enough to warrant such an attack on a mere child (even though the poor girl had gone sprawling headlong on the concrete parking lot that served as our playspace, and by all reports my brother laughed his ass off when she did). My father was not going to cowtow to the Catholic hierarchy, especially post Vatican II. He went to Sister Mercedes and demanded that Sister Jeanne apologize to my brother, which she did, tearfully, in front of my brother’s class. Sister Mercedes, like John Gotti or Tony Soprano, never forgot that humiliation and dishonor. She needed a scapegoat, or in more appropriate religious doctrine, a sacrificial lamb.

Enter a fat, sensitive, 7th grader with pants a slightly lighter shade of grey than everyone else (we had to find them in the husky section, often in corduroy). And enter The Hobbit.

I loved The Hobbit. I was one of those nerdy kids who actually enjoyed reading on his own. The Hobbit had it all–dragons, dwarves, elves, short creatures with hairy feet, a magic ring, no mystical, psuedo-Christian ax to grind (I’m talking to you, Prince of Narnia). The fat kid with the ripped pant-crotch was entranced.

Christmas break ended and we were scheduled to take our Hobbit test. I was actually looking forward to it. The tests were passed out, along with our scan tron answer sheets (an amazing invention that insured that teachers didn’t have to waste their time on anything as menial as grading–unless you counted the time spent hand-feeding the little buggers into the machine). No sooner had I raised my #2 pencil than all the tests were immediately re-collected and we were asked to take out a piece of looseleaf numbered 1-10. We were then given ten short answer questions roughly along the lines of, “What was Bilbo’s second counsin’s dog’s name and on what page did he appear in the standard Penguin edition?”

Two of my classmates, apparently, had stolen the answer key out of the teacher’s cabinet and distributed it to every kid in the class except me. Such was my anonymity among my peers. One of the pilferers came from a family of 19 children who had such a squeaky reputation that nuns and priests would frequently genuflect and cross themselves in the presence of their mother. She barely noticed, busy as she was trying to avoid tripping over her uterus.

But I digress. The fuzz had caught on. The nuns had played the old switcheroo game with our tests and waiting in the hallway to extract information from the defendants was Sister Mercedes. She was ruthless. Within minutes she had the kid from the big family awash in tears of guilt and announced to the class that because of his larceny none of us would be having recess for a month…unless we had passed the 10 question sham test (nobody did–I was closest with 6 correct).

While we were sitting inside during recess, relegated to whispered conversations, an idea occured to me that I should have dismissed immediately and without any further internal discussion. The idea was “this is unfair”. I know, right! Stupid, naïve fatty.

I tested my idea with my fellow classmates and found 100% agreement. Enboldened, I timidly ventured that someone should bring the fact to someone’s attention. This time I was soundly congratulated, not only for my otherworldly perceptive abilities, but also for possessing the courage…nay, the hubris…to attempt such discussion with so formidable an antagonist as Sister Mercedes.

Excuse me, what?

I had been volunteered by popular demand. In short work I had become their voice, their hope, their backbone, their unwitting fool. I sucked in my substantial stomach and asked my teacher if I could speak to Sister Mercedes. The dear woman tried to talk me out of it, but I was singleminded in my determination to slit my own wrists. I marched into the school office, waited courteously behind a woman who was signing her kid out sick while my heart pounded in my chest, and found myself face to face with destiny. In between my stammer and spittle I think I managed to squeak out that I thought group punishment was unfair. I’m sure I meant to back up my argument with like injustices throughout history (WWI pogroms, Native American reservations, letting peers pick sides during flag football), but I’m sure I didn’t get that far.

Sister Mercedes’ eyes narrowed and, I think, turned red. She cocked her habit at a jaunty angle to her white hair. “And what makes YOU so special, Mr. Petti, that you think you deserve to go outside and play when all your friends stay inside!” No, no, no…there were others…I’m their champion…I’m their hero!…they practically nominated me Pope just now in that classroom! How dare you try to sully so pure a comradeship as I have with my fellow classmates. I was practically carried to this office on the wings of companionship and civic pride! So, steeled in the adoration of my fellow man, I replied, approximately…

“Uhhhhhh.”

I never spoke so eloquently.

“Get back to your classroom immediately. I’ll be down in a minute.” Unluckily for me, she didn’t break an ankle on the way up the stairs. As soon as she entered the room, she demanded that I stand up.

“Mr. Petti thinks that HIS punishment is unfair. He thinks that HE should be allowed to go out and play while all the rest of you stay here in your classroom. Do any of YOU feel the same way?”

(Cue crickets.)

“I thought so. Do you know what that makes you, Mr. Petti? A parasite. Do you know what that means?”

“A person who’s taken a vow of charity, yet now lives quite comfortably on the money squeezed out of her lower-middle-class congregation when the plate is passed every Sunday?”

Is what I should have said. “No” was my actual reply.

“You should look it up, Mr. Petti. It perfectly describes you.”

And here I am years later on disability. I guess she had me nailed.

But I learned some important lessons, character building lessons that followed me throughout my life. Lessons like, might is right, power is meant to be exploited, and “fairness” “is” “a” “relative” “concept”. And most importantly, if you plan on taking a stand on moral grounds, don’t look over your shoulder. You’re better off not knowing how few folks are back there.

Finding a WordPress Theme is Like Picking Out Candles (and Hemingway Sucks)

“Fauna” or “Benevolence”? How to decide? It’s bad enough I have to smell cookies baking from the soft glow of my wife’s candle in the kitchen without actally EATING cookies. Now I have to smell test my blog theme? What does “Benevolence” smell like, anyway? Or “Green”? My guess is a lot like armpits and raw vegetables.

I ended up picking “Hemingway”, which looks like it belongs to Darth Vader, not a closet case who blew his brains out. But, he (Hemingway, not Darth) was a writer (much as I despise the Lost Generation and their expatriot, post-war, self-indulgent malaise–John Steinbeck would kick their asses!) So am I. Kind of. I mean I AM. Really. I’m a playwright, and I have the $2.38 royalty check to prove it!

Writers write. So I will. Occasionally I will talk about my plays, if there is a reason to do so. But mostly I’m going to write what’s on my mind, for nobody in particular. Off the top of my head I came up with such subjects as “Being Underemployed Isn’t Funny Anymore”, “Inappropriate Behavior in Applebees”, “How Catholicism Made Me the Underachiever I am Today,” and “Balding–the ‘Choice’ God Made for You.” Boy, I wish I were you guys! My dream is to have said enough funny/entertaining/bearable things to collect them into a 99 cent Kindle book, so I can make maybe $3.61 more. You will NEVER see ads on my page! Unless someone asks me–I’m too nice a guy to say no. Oh, and if I made a spelling mistake, PLEASE bring it to my attention. It’s what I deserve, and it makes you look super smart.

Welcome to my mind…. No, I didn’t mean it, it’s so hard to be ironic in print.

My play website is http://pettiplays.wikispaces.com/. I have two plays on Kindle, “Next Year in Jerusalem” and “The Measure of a Man”. Please buy these and come back. That means you, Mary El! (my wife, and probably my only reader at this point–one less candle can buy you a real live play!)

Here’s sneak preview:

Relatively Cute Applebees Waitress: Can I you get you guys anything else?
My 8-Year-Old: Oral sex.
(moment of awkward silence, everyone staring)
My 8-Year-Old: What? I said Oreos, XX.