Monday, July 03, 2006

I know a guy...

It was two hours before showtime and I was halfway through a shower. Suddenly, the thought occurred to me.
“Did I remember to pack pants?”
I don’t know why I had this thought mid-rinse. Why does anybody have those types of thoughts? It’s like when you’re at the airport, ready to board the plane for a two week vacation and you suddenly wonder if you turned the stove off? It’s not as if you passed a stove in the airport that triggered this thought. It just…happened. And quite often, the answer to the question that just popped into your head for no apparent reason is, “no.”
That was the answer to the pants question.
I spend about 100 days living out of suitcases. Percentage-wise, I think I’m a pretty good suitcase packer. But about five percent of the time, I show up and realize that I’ve neglected something that is vital to the show. Some items are easy to replace; socks for example. I can do without a tie for if I have to. Ditto for underwear. But shirts and pants are a different story. I usually travel in the most comfortable clothes possible, meaning a T-shirt and jeans. I often take the return flight still wearing my stage clothes if it's a morning or afternoon show. Of course, I always feel sorry for my seatmate because, whether a show is good or bad, comedy makes you sweat just slightly less than your average marathon runner.
Needless to say, a T-shirt and jeans aren’t the best attire for doing a corporate comedy show, unless the corporation happens to be the Truck Stop Owners of America. I once had to perform for a bunch of insurance agents in my T-shirt/jeans attire because the airline lost my luggage. Other than funeral home directors, insurance salesmen are the last consistent suit wearers in the world. Every other industry has adopted the “business casual” approach, meaning khakis that make all female employees’ asses look too fat and shirts with the company logo. I always thought “business casual” attire was supposed to make you feel more comfortable at work as opposed to make you feeling like a clone that could be replaced at any moment with somebody else who looked just like you.
But insurance guys still wear suits. And, judging from the tepid reaction I received when I bounded onto the stage in my T-shirt and jeans ensemble, they only feel comfortable around other people in suits. I tried to make a joke out of my attire but the audience just looked at me as if to say, “you’re not one of us.”
The audience on this particular night was Nikon Instruments, a bunch of people who sold microscopes. I assumed they would not be wearing suits. After all, they probably spent most of their day in dark laboratories where nobody could see them anyway.
But they still wore pants, thus I needed them for this job. Sure, speakers are supposed to imagine the audience in their underwear but you don’t say, “and vice versa” after that. I dashed to the bell desk at the Doral Hotel in Miami and inquired where the closest mall was. “About three miles,” was the reply.
The bell captain hailed a taxi. I dived in and instructed the driver to take me to the Dolphin Mall. “And wait there,” I ordered. Never in my life had I instructed a cab driver to wait. I thought this was something that was only done in movies. In spite of my panic, there was something cool about my instructions. It was almost like jumping into a cab and saying, “follow that car.”
The driver looked at me, sensed my panic and asked what I needed at the mall.
“Pants,” I replied.
“You need pants? For you?,” he said.
“Yes for me,” I answered. Trust me, if anybody besides me needed pants, I wouldn’t have been sweating profusely.
“Forget the mall,” he said in heavily broken English. “I’ll take you someplace closer. I know a guy.”
“I don’t need a guy,” I said. “I need pants.”
Seriously, when has a transaction that included the phrase, “I know a guy” ever included a happy ending? And yet we fall for it all the time. We all have a relative or a friend who, no matter the request, “knows a guy.” This friend/relative/soon to be enemy never misses a chance to brag about what I call his “labor network.”
“Need your satellite dish installed? I know a guy.
Want a better deal on a car? I know a guy.
Can’t get your son into Stanford? No problem, I know a guy.”
I think the only transactions that should involve the phrase, ‘I know a guy,” should be for cable, stereo equipment or any product that could get you 10 to 20 in a state penitentiary.
The “I know a guy” conversation also usually includes the tagline, “and when you call him, mention my name.” As if this is going to make “the guy” drop everything he’s doing and move you to the top of the list. "Oh you know Jimmy? Great. I’ve been waiting for one of Jimmy’s friends to call. I haven’t worked in a couple of years because he keeps forgetting to mention me."
Naturally, the “guy” the cab driver knew was accessible only by taking the most heavily trafficked streets in Miami. I nervously looked at my watch every five seconds, wondering if it would have been smarter to ask the concierge if I could borrow his pants for a few hours. Heck, this was the world famous Doral Golf Resort. Weren’t they supposed to do things like that?
“Just past this light,” said the cabbie, motioning to a red dot ahead that looked as if it might as well be in South Carolina. By the time we reach that light, I thought, the audience will be heading to their rooms for the evening.
But we made the light and the cabbie turned sharply into…The Men’s Wearhouse! This was where “the guy” was located, I thought? He knows “a guy” who works in a chain clothing store? What if I had forgotten my toothbrush? I’m sure he knows a guy who works at a Walgreens.
I dashed in, picked a size 36x32 pair of khakis (so I’d blend in with the group) off the rack and paid for them without even trying them on. I was back at the hotel in under an hour and onstage shortly thereafter. Crisis averted.
I’m heading to Atlanta tomorrow. This time, when my daughter comes into my bedroom when I’m packing, I will tell her wait for a few moments until I’m absolutely sure that I have everything. And if, by chance I forget something, I’m sure there is a guy waiting who can get me whatever I want.

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