Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 Year in Review

Reflecting back on the past year, I can report without exaggeration and with great humility that 2009 was a really decent year for me.
Since 2008 was marked by physical pain, emotional stress and many unpleasant life changes, I anticipated a better 2009.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Job-wise, I’m still at the newspaper, cranking out stories. This year brought me renewed animosity with the Powers-That-Be, and a feud with the mayor over investigative article I’ve written about pay-to-play violations. On the plus side, I have the coolest and most magnanimous editor in the world. Even though my blog contains salty language and observations that occasionally offend, well, practically everyone, my editor is a regular reader and supports freedom of speech and a writer’s free expression.
I reconnected with dear friends in northern New Jersey and connected with many more through Facebook. I also turned 40, a milestone that doesn’t bother me in the slightest, although I would like to get married again and start a family. I know, I’m under the gun on that one.
The family is healthy and happy and alive. That’s really all that counts. Like my old man says, “A good day is one above ground.” Speaking of my old man, we shared a great Father’s Day moment at Citizens Bank Park watching the Philadelphia Phillies. Even the Orioles shellacked them, it was still great to go to the ballpark with my dad. When the Phillies lost the World Series, I jabbered about the game with dad over the phone.
This year I had the opportunity to meet two authors and hear them discuss their works. In February, I met Jeff Gordinier, a writer for Details magazine whose book “X Saves the World” should be mandatory reading for people in their 30s and 40s. In November I met A.J. Jacobs, an editor for Esquire magazine whose book "The Guinea Pig Diaries" is extremely funny.
Though in 2008 I experienced severe back pain (thanks to a herniated disc), this year my sciatica barely showed up. I did experience the worst back pain in April when I was bedridden. It felt like I was being stabbed in the back with a dagger tipped with salt – a stinging, uncomfortable pain. It was the kind of pain that makes you cry. Fortunately, I became reacquainted with my old buddy Naproxen and the persistent back pain went away.
This year I also became reacquainted with my cat, Smuttynose (or Nosey for short). My ex was looking after him for a while, and in the spring he moved in. A cat is really a joy to have, especially one that follows you around like a dog.
On the publishing front, Ravaged Earth sold strongly despite not being reviewed anywhere. Reality Blurs also published an adventure, “Quest for the Lost Oasis” and two issues of “Relics & Rumors”, supplements for Ravaged Earth. Early sales were especially heavy and now the book is going into its 3rd printing.
Speaking about RPGs and gaming, I attended Gencon in August, the country’s largest gaming convention. There I met several wonderful people, including Sean Preston and Stacy Young from Reality Blurs, Shane Hensley, Simon Lucas and Matthew Cutter from Pinnacle Entertainment among others too numerous to name here. I will mention one more – “Weird Dave” Olson, a talented writer and Ravaged Earth contributor.
As far as conventions go, I also attended Pulp AdventureCon, a smallish convention dedicated to the pulp magazines and entertainment of yesteryear. I purchased a few choice books and magazines and reconnected with this wonderful literary form.
A few weeks after that convention, I attended Philcon, a science fiction convention outside Philadelphia. I spoke on the pulps and characters in gaming and literature. I also attended several panels and met wonderful people at late night parties. This Philcon was different for me because I learned much about publishing and science fiction fandom.
I also returned to standup comedy after two years, performing in of all places, a strip bar. The gig was for a benefit and included comics much more talented than me, but even after a lackluster performance, it still felt great to try out new material in front of a live audience.
Finally, rounding out the year, I had the opportunity to record lines for an audio drama, HG World. I play Thomas, a traumatized 19-year old who has his way with an older woman. The scene was especially well done thanks to superb writing, editing and acting by cast and crew. I’ve done many things this year, but voice acting was a dream of mine, one I was lucky to have fulfilled.
As I write this, I’m relaxing and listening to classical Genesis (“Supper’s Ready” off the “Foxtrot” album) and contemplating how awesome the year was.
Still, I hope 2010 brings continued luck and prosperity not only for me but for my friends and loved ones. On New Year’s Eve I’ll probably be sequestered indoors polishing off a bottle of wine I received at Christmas, marveling at another trip around the sun on a planet brimming with life and hoping never to cease dreaming.
Peace Out.

Eric Avedissian

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Standup in Stripperland

Performing standup comedy in a strip club isn’t as glamorous or exciting as one would think, especially when the audience consists of the extras from the movie Roadhouse.
Yet plunged into a seedy world of humor, beer and grinding women in Lycra g-strings was how I spent Saturday night when a comedian buddy of mine who also hosts his own radio show works part time at this gentleman’s club in Mays Landing. He’s also a former Marine and used the venue for a U.S. Marine’s Toys for Tots holiday toy drive comedy benefit.
The lineup consisted of my buddy as the MC, four other comics and me. I separated myself from the lineup because I haven’t performed onstage since late 2007.
I have a love-hate relationship with standup comedy. When I first began writing jokes and performing, I struggled with my personal life and letting go and actually allowing myself to become comfortable on stage. After a rough series of trainwrecks, I decided instead of performing as myself, I’d instead perform as an alternate persona, a clueless yet goofy comic named Lazlo. I put on a few shows as the Lazlo character and had fun on stage. Yet whenever I’m performing as myself, everything falls apart like Michael Jackson’s cosmetic surgery. What? Too soon?
So my buddy asks me to perform at his benefit and I agree. It’ll be good to get back on stage and embarrass myself in front of a new group of strangers. They might not heckle me like that fat lady with the hairy chin did last time. In every audience I’ve performed for, there’s always a fat lady with a hairy chin. That’s southern New Jersey for you.
I arrive at the gig and go on first. I figure I’d get this ordeal over with fast. I put my set list on the stage where I can see it and immediately notice my first problem: there’s a pole on the stage. It’s a gentlemen’s club, where glassy-eyed high school dropouts grind their hips and perform lustful acrobatic feats of overtly sexual physical motion, on a pole smack dab in the middle of the stage.
My stage.
For those who know me, I’m a pacer. I move when I’m on stage. I like gesturing wildly and pacing around. I think better when I’m moving, and oddly it helps me relax.
Now I see this pole running from floor to ceiling in the middle of the stage and realize I’m doomed. I might as well pack up my video camera and weave my way through the crowd of bikers, hellraisers and drunk middle aged women and vamoose into the night.
Yet I don’t. I made a promise to my friend to perform at the benefit, pole or no pole.
Besides, it’s all for those snotty little kids, right? Bless those darling angels!
So I begin my assault on the unsuspecting audience by playing up the pole. I go on stage and pretend I’m a stripper, gyrating around the pole, hooking my leg around it and grinding my pelvis about as provocatively as a wombat on Vicodin. To my surprise, a few soused grandmothers applauded. I’d hoped one of them would put a dollar in my pants. Big laughs all around.
It went downhill from there faster than a bullet train to Auschwitz.
I pulled some of my older jokes out of retirement and realized why they were retired. The new material, including Tiger Woods and his hyperactive penis, received mild chuckles from a group of women sitting in front of the stage. I even pulled out the “turtle fucking” bit, a classic that I brought back by request, but since I performed sans microphone stand, I had to hold the mike and it just was awkward.
The set was, upon closer reflection, one of the cleanest I’ve performed. I used to spout more four-letter curse words than a Tourettes sufferer. This time, it was so clean it could have been performed for the 700 Club, except the part about fucking like a tortoise.
Afterwards, my buddy said I was rusty because I hadn’t performed so long, and he was right.
Did I bomb? Not really. I did get laughs, but they were few and far between. In the end, I was about as funny as a child’s autopsy.
However, it didn’t dissuade me from going on stage and subjecting future audiences to my brand of madcap humor.
When the benefit concluded, I drowned my sorrows in a beer and chatted with a lovely woman who sat next to me at the bar.
No sooner had the thong-covered ass hit the bar stool, she introduced herself and asked me my name. Now in the world of high-stakes poker and life as a road comic, one must never begin the opening gambit by revealing your true identity. Instead of replying that I was “Rodrigo Rivera, covert spy and gentleman of the evening,” I told her my real name.
“How about I get you started by taking you in the back room? I’ll get you hot and do you right,” she said with a smile that could eat through a man’s cotton briefs. “I can do things to you.”
“What kinds of things?” I asked, hoping she'd give me a full description of debase and immoral acts for my wicked imagination.
“You know, stuff like foreplay.”
“Foreplay? I prefer fiveplay,” was my witty riposte.
“Fiveplay? What’s that?” she asked, oblivious to wordplay.
“It’s one better than foreplay,” I said, explaining the joke to her.
She held her smile, yet I saw through her heavily coiffed bangs and glittering nosering. Sure, she was in her 20s and half naked, but that’s no excuse for not understanding basic puns.
“Is this going to cost anything?” I asked, knowing such acts aren’t for free unless you buy them a lobster dinner.
“It’s $25,” she replied.
Now $25 for a four-minute couch dance was highway robbery, I don’t care who you are. Catherine Zeta Jones and Angelina Jolie could lick me head to toe but not for $25 for four minutes. That translates to $6.50 per minute, and with today’s economic situation, it amounted to a frivolous luxury. How about a “recession special” couch dance? Airlines have “frequent flier” programs. How about “frequent pervert programs” for strip clubs?
I politely declined her request and she flashed me that smile that told the world cocaine was one of her favorite foods.
“Can you give me dollar?” she pouted, crushed at my rejection of her proposition to rob me blind by sitting on my lap.
Pulling out a dollar from my wallet and thinking about where George Washington would spend the evening, I folded the bill in half and stuck it between her g-string and her toned gluteus maximus.
She then took her leave of me and danced on stage, humping the pole like a chinchilla on Viagra.
“Give me some money, baby,” she cooed, and pulled the front of her g-string out far enough to create a small pouch to throw bills in.
Acting like an insensitive prick who just flopped on stage and didn’t want anyone else on the planet to feel any joy or satisfaction, I informed her that I already gave her a dollar.
“You can give me another dollar. Fives, tens, twenties, hundreds. It don’t matter,” she smiled, as another comedian threw a folded dollar bill at her.
After she contorted her lithe body into a pretzel shape that could give a dead man a hard-on, she slithered off the stage and out of the club.
Strippers are like ex-wives. You know you’re not getting sex from them and all they want is your money.
Performing at a strip club is another career high for me. So far, I’ve performed standup at a bowling alley, a coffee house, an Atlantic City comedy club that’s now closed and an open mic venue.
The way things are going with me, I’ll be performing behind your local Arby’s or Dunkin Donuts. Check this site for showtimes and ticket prices.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Adventures in Absinthe

Absinthe is the most misunderstood of alcoholic drinks, demonized for over a century and blamed for everything from insanity, hallucinations and artistic tendencies. Once banned in the United States, absinthe is back, albeit a tamer, safer version yet one containing wormwood, fennel and other herbs. In France in the 1800s and early 1900s, absinthe was a popular beverage among the bohemians and artsy types. Painters and writers would get together, drink absinthe and do brilliant things, which gave the drink, nicknamed "the Green Fairy" its legendary cult status. Yet the drink was made illegal and thought to contain toxic properties that made those who imbibed it murderers, perverts and lunatics.
So the drink had its forbidden mystique, and was banned from sale in the United States until recently.
A friend bought a Lucid Absinthe Suprieure kit, which contained a bottle of absinthe, two glasses and an absinthe spoon. She brought it to my place and we tried the absinthe. The box's titillating text reads "Let Yourself In", almost daring you to try the strong spirit that made so many 19th century intellectuals inebriated. The black cat on the bottle is reminiscent of the Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat), a 19th century cabaret in Paris' Montmartre district. I knew that once this licorice-flavored drink laced with forbidden wormwood hit my lips, I'd have trippy hallucinations like Hunter S. Thompson on an ether binge. The furniture in my living room would come to life and talk to me like in some disturbing 1930s cartoon when anthropomorphism proved not creepy but entertaining.
Still, I wanted to give absinthe a chance. After all, it was unfairly maligned by the government, the same government that declared marijuana illegal because William Randolph Hurst wanted to kill hemp production for selfish business reasons. Maybe this alluringly sexy libation called absinthe wasn't as bad as the critics made it.

For consumption, absinthe, which has a high alcohol volume of 45 percent to 74 percent, must be diluted with water. Using the glasses that came with the Lucid set, we poured a small portion of absinthe. At first, the stuff had an anise smell, like Greek ouzo. The liquid wasn't bright green, like a St. Patrick's Day green, but a pale yellowish green. A sugar cube is placed on the slotted absinthe spoon, which rests on the glass's rim. Cold water is poured over the sugar cube, which slowly dissolves and drips into the absinthe below. The process, called louching, gives absinthe a milky color, and makes it palpable for drinking, in my opinion.

We then drank the absinthe and, much to our surprise, we didn't experience any hallucinations. We didn't go insane or paint any Impressionist masterpieces. We didn't murder prostitutes in cold blood and then compose poems about it.
Instead, the absinthe, the most forbidden and mysterious of all spirits, tasted pretty bland. It tasted like watered down licorice. We didn't even get buzzed, not even a little. Maybe we needed to add more absinthe or use colder water. Maybe we needed to guzzle the drink down quicker, not sip our glasses out of fear that the wormwood would rot our brains. The experiment into absinthe on our first night was a bust, a grand experiment into pushing boundaries and getting whacked out on thujone-laced liquor and freaking out on a psychoactive binge. We were hoping to wander the alleys at 3 a.m. muttering pig Latin and making lewd comments about Madame Pierre Gautreau. Instead, we found ourselves let down by slick marketing and delusional hopes of absinthe fucking us up.