Thursday, August 16, 2018

Better Endings Than The Ones We Presume To Write

We're All Going To Indianapolis, Bill

BURR:  ... then the guy goes, "Hey, you know; I'm sorry, man, I just got off on the wrong foot, there". He goes, "My name's so-and-so; what's your name?" ... And I was thinkin' of saying something like, 'Steve'... I wish I'd said some silly name; but I didn't think of one. I just went, 'It's Bill'. 
And he goes, "Oh, cool... why you goin' to Indianapolis, Bill?" He starts doin' this shit. And I just look at the guy, and ...I'm like -- 'Yeah; I don't have to answer your questions.' 
ROGAN:  Whoa. 
BURR:  I don't! He has no fucking authority; 'You're not a Sky Marshal; you're drinkin' booze! You're an asshole! What are you on? Are you afraid to fly? Go fuck yourself; leave me alone; right?' 
So; then he goes, like, "All right. Now -- now, I am concerned. Okay? I am concerned! Why are you going to Indianapolis, Bill?" ...He says this, right? They're closing the doors [to the aircraft]... I just started smirking... I'm sitting there, shakin' my head at the guy, right?... I'm so not worried about anything you're gonna do; all this passive-aggressive shit, just to piss this guy off... And he's askin', "Why are you goin' to Indianapolis, Bill?" I didn't say anything to him; I just kept laughing... 
... I could've squashed the whole thing, and just been like, 'Look; I'm a comedian. I'm goin' to Indianapolis; if you'd like to come out to the show--" I could have done that, but I'm a dick. I hate authority -- and this guy doesn't have any. So, fuck him. I'm sitting there with a blindfold on, laughing at him; it was driving him fucking nuts; it was great.
So then: five minutes of silence, ten minutes of silence goes by; and I'm finally thinkin' that maybe this shit's over -- or, is he just sittin' there, staring at the side of my head? -- and all of a sudden... right as I'm startin' to nod off, I just hear [whispers]: Why are you goin' to Indianapolis, Bill??

Look, man: It's 2018. The world is in the hands of inbred, malevolent greedheads, fascist land rapers and child molesters. I don't know about you, but I need to laugh.

Bill Burr is a standup comic and comedy writer from Boston, based in Los Angeles; you may have seen him as the character 'Patrick Kuby' in the series Breaking Bad, or heard him as the voice of the father in the animated series, F Is For Family.  I'm relatively confident that he will make you laugh.

A friend at the Place O' Witless Labor™, also from Boston, observed about Burr that "He's pretty funny. He's pretty angry, too." Burr is also Buds with fellow standup comedian and Podcast Impresario, Joe Rogan, whose program on UTub -- which first appeared in 2009, not long after The Crash -- now has 1,100-plus episodes.

Rogan's format is an hour-and-a-half, or longer, conversation with a fair range of guests (e.g., Neil DeGrasse Tyson; Jordan Peterson; Sam Harris; Graham Hancock; Ben Shapiro), and many fellow comics. His UTub popularity is high.

In 2014, Burr appeared in an episode, describing his taking a Redeye flight to Indianapolis for a comedy booking. There was something bizarrely familiar about Burr delivering his story, which I couldn't place -- then, a person bobbed up in my memory, like a drifting Sea Mine, someone I hadn't thought about in a long time. And when you get to be an Old, 'a long time' isn't just a trite turn of phrase.

Burr is almost a dead ringer for Mark, a fellow I once worked with back in the FedGov days for about twenty minutes, almost forty years ago. Mark was from Boston, where his father had been some kind of local notable. He called everyone by their last name (unlike the Left Coast, all of us on a first-name basis with all humanity), and had that cheerful, lean-forward, it's all fucked up, kid; you gotta laugh attitude that most Irish cops I've met seemed to have.

It's an attitude nestled in Catholicism, nourished by angry parents who survived the Depression ("You kids behave or I'll break your damn legs!" Mark recalled his mother saying to siblings and himself when growing up), motivated by fearful memory and PTSD.

It's predicated on a belief that a disappointing humankind, already marked by Original Sin, displays all the other Sins in all their forms on an hourly basis. Laughing at life's ironies, maintaining an outward display of bemused tolerance for the stupidity of human folly, is just putting Christmas decorations on a fresh grave: All the Happy-Shiny is window dressing for something dead serious and final.

Mark always referred to the palm trees lining San Francisco's Embarcadero as "those poles with the bushes on top". He had already been warned once about drinking on the job. I had a reputation for being squeaky-clean, and Mark convinced me to keep his bottle of Jameson's in the lower drawer of my desk ("Nobody's gonna look in there!"). Enabler that I was, I let him.

In those days, Federal law enforcement workspaces were relatively open 'squad bays' filled by large, heavy wooden desks, scarred with cigarette burns at the edges, and each built by inmate labor in a U.S. Federal prison. Several of us (including myself, then) were two-pack-a-day smokers; there was a constant veil and fug of tobacco smoke in the room, the fibrous ceiling tiles tinted a diseased amber color because the HVAC system in the Federal Building only wheezed like an asthmatic runner, and the windows didn't open far.

Mark's usual question, his way of asking How's it goin'? was to walk up to my desk at least two days a week at 7:30AM and say, "So, [Mongo] -- is it 'in the drawer' ?", broad smile and working-class Irish accent on full display; then, retrieve the bottle, wrap it in a copy of the morning edition of the SF Examiner, and stride off confidently to the Men's room.

Why he chose whiskey, which could easily be smelled on the breath, over gin or vodka was a mystery. But when you assume things are fucked, you act out, flip off the boss. You spit in god's eye and say Now what? Let's see where this fuckin' goes next, hah?

But, one thing Mark could do was tell a story. Watching Burr on the Intertubes, delivering his tale about the plane flight in a sharp, rapid-fire cadence, the wise-guy critical, self-depreciating didn't I fucking tell you Life was like this? humor on full display, brought Mark back into memory.

When I left The Job, the Jameson's remained in my bottom drawer. I felt guilty over my Enabler role and never tried to look Mark up, making an unconscious assumption that his alcoholism would eventually pull him under. The world moved on.

I was wrong. Opening the Googlegerät and entering Mark's full name, I discovered that he had stopped drinking, gotten married, raised a family; founded a program to teach literacy to adults who could not read; and had spent the past thirty-plus years making an astounding, incredible amount of money in real estate. Mark's experience seems to have turned out better than his basic assumptions of the world he lived in.

Sometimes, life has better endings than the ones we would presume to write; I was wrong. And I laughed.


  1. Brilliantly framed & told tale, Mongo! I'd enthuse-klickt just knowing that BB would regale me with a story about my waaayback home of Naptown, yet the art w/which you encaps'lated it as an Ausgangspunkt is what's made my day.

  2. Danke. Warum fahrts du nach Indianapolis, Willi??