Keepers

Not often enough read somethings, so wanted to put them on a readily accessible virtual shelf. 


THIS I BELIEVE

Robert A. Heinlein wrote this in 1952. His wife, Virginia Heinlein, chose to read it when she accepted NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal on October 6, 1988, on the Grand Master’s behalf .

Mrs. Heinlein received a standing ovation.

“I am not going to talk about religious beliefs but about matters so obvious that it has gone out of style to mention them. I believe in my neighbors. I know their faults, and I know that their virtues far outweigh their faults. Take Father Michael down our road a piece. I’m not of his creed, but I know that goodness and charity and loving kindness shine in his daily actions. I believe in Father Mike. If I’m in trouble, I’ll go to him.

“My next-door neighbor is a veterinary doctor. Doc will get out of bed after a hard day to help a stray cat. No fee–no prospect of a fee–I believe in Doc.

“I believe in my townspeople. You can knock on any door in our town saying, ‘I’m hungry,’ and you will be fed. Our town is no exception. I’ve found the same ready charity everywhere. But for the one who says, ‘To heck with you – I got mine,’ there are a hundred, a thousand who will say, ‘Sure, pal, sit down.’

“I know that despite all warnings against hitchhikers I can step up to the highway, thumb for a ride and in a few minutes a car or a truck will stop and someone will say, ‘Climb in Mac – how far you going?’

“I believe in my fellow citizens. Our headlines are splashed with crime yet for every criminal there are 10,000 honest, decent, kindly men. If it were not so, no child would live to grow up. Business could not go on from day to day. Decency is not news. It is buried in the obituaries, but is a force stronger than crime. I believe in the patient gallantry of nurses and the tedious sacrifices of teachers. I believe in the unseen and unending fight against desperate odds that goes on quietly in almost every home in the land.

“I believe in the honest craft of workmen. Take a look around you. There never were enough bosses to check up on all that work. From Independence Hall to the Grand Coulee Dam, these things were built level and square by craftsmen who were honest in their bones.

“I believe that almost all politicians are honest. . .there are hundreds of politicians, low paid or not paid at all, doing their level best without thanks or glory to make our system work. If this were not true we would never have gotten past the 13 colonies.

“I believe in Rodger Young. You and I are free today because of endless unnamed heroes from Valley Forge to the Yalu River. I believe in — I am proud to belong to — the United States. Despite shortcomings from lynchings to bad faith in high places, our nation has had the most decent and kindly internal practices and foreign policies to be found anywhere in history.

“And finally, I believe in my whole race. Yellow, white, black, red, brown. In the honesty, courage, intelligence, durability, and goodness of the overwhelming majority of my brothers and sisters everywhere on this planet. I am proud to be a human being. I believe that we have come this far by the skin of our teeth. That we always make it just by the skin of our teeth, but that we will always make it. Survive. Endure. I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching, oversize brain case and the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes will endure. Will endure longer than his home planet — will spread out to the stars and beyond, carrying with him his honesty and his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage and his noble essential decency.

“This I believe with all my heart.”


THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS
by Dave Barry

OK, fans. Time for Great Moments in Sports. The situation is this: The Giants are playing a team whose name we did not catch in the hotly contested Little League Ages 6 and 7 Division, and the bases are loaded. The bases are always loaded in this particular Division for several reasons.

First off, the coach pitches the ball to his own players. This is because throwing the ball is not the strong suit of the players in the Ages 6 and 7 Division. They have no idea, when they let go of the ball, where it’s headed. They just haul off and wing it, really try to hurlthat baby without getting bogged down in a lot of picky technical details such as whether or not there is now, or has ever been, another player in the area where the ball is likely to land. Generally there is not, which is good, because another major area of weakness in the Ages 6 and 7 Division is catching the ball.

Until I became a parent, I thought children just naturally knew how to catch a ball, that catching was an instinctive biological reflex that all children are born with, like knowing how to operate a remote control or getting high fevers in distant airports. But it turns out that if you toss a ball to a child, the ball will just bonk off the child’s body and fall to the ground. So you have to coach the child. I go out in the yard with my son, and give such helpful tips as: “Catch the ball!” And: “Don’t just let the ball bonk off your body!” Thanks to this coaching effort, my son, like most of the players on the Giants, has advanced his game to the point where, just before the ball bonks off his body, he winces.

So fielding is also not the strong suit of the Giants. They stand around the field, chattering to each other, watching airplanes, picking their noses, thinking about dinosaurs, etc. Meanwhile on the pitchers’ mound, the coach of the opposing team tries to throw the ball just right so that it will bounce off the bat of one of this players, because hitting is another major area of weakness in the Ages 6 and 7 Division.

The real athletic drama begins once the opposing coach succeeds in bouncing the ball off the bat of one of his players, thus putting the ball into play and causing the fielders to swing into action. It reminds me of those table-hockey games, where you have a bunch of little men that you activate with knobs and levers, except that the way that you activate the Giants is, you yell excitedly in an effort to notify them that the ball is headed their way. Because otherwise they’d probably never notice it.

“Robby!” I’ll yell if the ball goes near my son. “The ball!” Thus activated, Robby goes on Full Red Alert, looking around frantically until he locates the ball, which he picks up and — eager to be relieved of the responsibility — hurls in some random direction. Then depending on where the ball is headed, some other parent will try to activate his child, and the ball will be hurled again and again, pinball-style, around the field, before ultimately bonking off the body of the first baseman. Of course at this point the batter has been standing on the base for some time. Fortunately, in this league, he is required to stop there; otherwise, he could easily make it to Japan.

This is why the bases are always loaded, which is what leads us to today’s Sports Moment. Standing on third base is James Palmieri, who is only 5 but plays for the Giants anyway because his older brother, T.J., is on the team. James got on base via an exciting play: He failed to actually, technically, hitthe ball, but the Giants’ wily coach, Wayne Argo, employed a classic bit of baseball strategy. “Let’s let James get on base,” he said. And the other team agreed, because at this point the Giants were losing a hotly contested game by roughly 143-57.

So here it is: James is standing on first for the first time in his entire life, thinking about dinosaurs, and next to him, ready to activate, is his mom, Carmen. And now Coach Wayne is throwing the pitch. It is a good pitch, bouncing directly off the bat. Bedlam erupts as parents on both teams try to activate their players, but none is shouting with more enthusiasm than Carmen. “Run, James!” she yells, from maybe a foot away. “Run!”

James, startled, looks up, and you can almost see the thought forming in his mind: I’m supposed to run. And now he is running, and Carmen is running next to him, cheering him on, the two of them chugging toward the plate, only 15 feet to go, James about to score his first run ever. Then suddenly, incredibly, due to a semi random hurl somewhere out in the field, there appears, of all things: the ball. And — this is a nightmare — an opposing player actually catchesit, and touches home plate and little James is OUT.

Two things happen:

  • Carmen stops. “S-word,” she says, under her breath. A mom to the core.
  • James, oblivious, keeps running. Chugs right on home, touches the plate and wanders off, happy as a clam.

You can have your Willie Mays catch and your Bill Mazeroski home run. For me, the ultimate mental picture is James and Carmen at the moment: the Thrill of Victory, the Agony of Defeat. A Great Moment in Sports.


From “Chasing Down the Dawn
by Jewel Kilcher

I had heard that if you fast in another person’s name, it lends energy to them. I discovered the extent of Jacque’s illness while filming Ride with the Devilin Missouri. I immediately started fasting, partially in disbelief and partially in total panic. Sensing my distress, the producers were kind enough to give me a few days off from the film to let me visit her.

I arrived in town on May 23 . . . my birthday. I had been warned that Jacque’s condition might be startling to me. She had lost a considerable amount of weight since the last time I had seen her — enough to have made it impossible for her to leave the house for weeks. I told her we’d be happy to visit her at her home to make things easier for her, but Jacque insisted: she could make it to the birthday dinner that was being held for me.

I was unprepared for how sick she was. When she came to the private room at the hotel, her pink dress and white cardigan hung on her like a hanger. She looked so fragile. I couldn’t help but burst into tears at the sight of her . . . not just because she appeared ill, but because I had missed her so much while I was in Missouri. I loved Jacque. As much as I loved my own mother. More sometimes than I loved myself. She was constant and kind and wise and always there. I depended on her to explain things to me, such as life and hurt and what I could do better and how I could be more helpful to others. Her life was dedicated to service. To the aid of others. And she had done so much. She was dedicated to helping indigenous people around the world improve living conditions. She worked to integrate their wisdom into modern cultures. She encouraged religious leaders of many nations and theologies to be more tolerant and to see the ultimate unity of all spiritual disciplines. She helped and loved me so much. I was overjoyed to see her.

She sat next to me and delighted in the food, although she could not eat it. And when it was time for the gifts, she oohed and aahed over each one — then she gave me her gift: a gold ring set with diamonds and a long, liquid-blue topaz stone. I knew the ring had belonged to her. There was something about the way she handed it to me that seemed like the passing of a torch. It chilled me. If that was the case, I was not sure I wanted it, but I slipped it on my finger.

After dinner, Jacque asked me to sing her favorite song. It was one I wrote the previous Christmas, when we were all together in Hawaii. The song was titled “Life Uncommon,” and when I first played it for her, she wept. She told me, “This is a song of true independence and freedom. I have a feeling there will be a big Fourth of July even next year and you’ll play it then. Promise me you will.” I promised. There I sat, on my birthday, singing Jacque the freedom song. But none of us felt free. Jacque was throwing up every hour, sometimes more.

I spent my remaining free days at her home, singing to her, praying for her, rubbing her swollen legs and feet, and trying to believe she would get the miraculous healing she so longed for. But it was not to be.

Less than two months later, Jacque was moved to a hospice to die. She weighed seventy-eight pounds. My mom and I joined Jacque’s sons and other friends and family in her small hospital room. Jacque had been unconscious for days. But the moment I saw her, her eyes lit up. She became animated, looked straight at me, and smiled. I tried to keep my emotions in check, but on the drive home, I cried as though I’d never stop.

When we arrived at the hospice on the second day, her oldest son greeted me with a hug and a bemused “Happy Fourth of July.” It’s the Fourth of July? I’d lost track of the days. It gave me a chill in my bones. We stayed with Jacque all the day and into the evening. We sang songs and spoke to her. We took turns stroking her forehead. And then, when her breath grew raspy, we all lit candles and said our good-byes. We told her how much we loved her but that it was okay for her to go on without us. Then we waited silently for her to pass.

As fireworks began to explode in the sky outside the window, Jacque’s breath quit coming. We all sat silent. It was over. We joined hands, formed a circle around her bed, and said a prayer. Then her youngest son leaned over and whispered into my ear, “Sing her the song.” I was numb. I didn’t know if I could. My voice was trembling and I was shaking and I could hardly stand it. But somehow I found the first words.

Don’t worry, Mother, it’ll be all right…

And then the rest came, as though someone else was singing it. And amid the faint booms and explosions and fireworks, I sang the song just like she asked two months earlier. I grew more certain with each passing phrase that Jacque was still near and would always hear.

We will lend our voices only to sounds of freedom

No longer lend our strength to that which we wish to be free from

Fill our lives with love and bravery

and we will lead lives uncommon…


FROM BAINBRIDGE TO CANNES
By Katrina Miles, Staff writer, Florida State Times

Thomas Wade Jackson, 32, has always dreamed of making movies. “But I wanted to make movies about where I grew up and the people I grew up with,” he said. It was a dream that tormented the Bainbridge, Ga., native for almost two years before he was finally admitted to the Florida State film school. And it paid off. He is the first FSU student to win a Student Academy Award. His thirty three minute film – “Slow Dancin’ Down the Aisles of the QuickCheck” – placed third in the national competition.

From Tampa to Turkey, Jackson’s film has taken top prizes at film festivals all over the world. However long his dream was deferred – the years he struggled to get admitted to the film school, completing the program once he was admitted and making the short film that was to win so many awards – he said it was well worth the time. “I have a lot of life experience,” he said. He talked about getting married and divorcing young, his many jobs and life choices, and waiting so long to finally follow his dream. “And I guess I have something to write about now.”

Jackson has lived in Bainbridge most of his life, leaving only to study at Florida State (bachelor’s in creative writing in 1993) and attend the film school (master’s in fine arts, 1998). “It’s my hometown, and it’s where I intend to stay and make films if I can,” he said of Bainbridge. But he’s in Tallahassee now, doing post-graduate work at FSU. Bainbridge is a small town with a population of about 26,000. The main industry is the textile factory.

A clock tower, which rises like the sun at dawn the closer you get, is the main landmark in the center of town. “It is just a small Southern town, and I was raised there,” he said. After completing his undergraduate studies, Jackson immediately applied to Florida State’s film school – and was denied. So it was back to Bainbridge. He drove into Tallahassee daily to a job. “The 45-minute commute allowed me plenty of time to think about the movies or songs I wanted to write,” he said.

“Sometime after I applied, I got a letter asking if I would like to work on some thesis films, and I said, ‘yes,’ that would be cool,” he said. Jackson took vacation leave from his job and began his career in film, although he didn’t think of his informal training that way. “As a volunteer I was able to work as still photographer, boom operator, best boy – you name it, I did it,” he said. He applied to the school again and was rejected again. “I was devastated,” he said. “I didn’t even get an interview.” After doing his volunteer work, Jackson went back to his life in Bainbridge. And he began writing songs.

That summer he jammed when he could, and in the fall of that year, when student thesis films began screening, he was invited. “My heart was breaking,” said Jackson. “Man, I was aching – watching all these student films I had worked on – and they were so good, and the students are great. “And I really wanted to be at FSU. I kept saying to myself, ‘man I really want to be here.’ ” One day while he worked on another job – as a manager at a soap factory – Jackson got a call from the film school.

“They said if I could be there for classes that Monday morning, I was in. For me, coming to the film school, quitting my job, leaving my house – all these things – I was taking this gigantic leap of faith,” he said. “But I decided long ago that I want to tell stories that have a sense of place, I want them to be funny and I want to fill a void where there are no Southern filmmakers.” Jackson was invited to the Cannes Film Festival in France as part of the student showcase, a non-competitive event.

Furthermore, the Student Academy Award is the highest honor bestowed upon a student film production. In many ways, Jackson’s life mirrors those of the characters he creates for the big screen. They’re ordinary people in an extraordinary moment.


From “The Daily Show”
September 11, 2001 reaction by Jon Stewart

Good evening and welcome to “The Daily Show.” We are back. This is our first show since the tragedy in New York City. There is no other way really to start this show than to ask you at home the question that we’ve asked the audience here tonight and that we’ve asked everybody that we know here in New York since September 11th, and that is, “Are you okay?” We pray that you are and that your family is. I’m sorry to do this to you. It’s another entertainment show beginning with an overwrought speech of a shaken host. TV is nothing, if not redundant. So, I apologize for that. It’s something that unfortunately, we do for ourselves so that we can drain whatever abscess is in our hearts and move onto the business of making you laugh, which we really haven’t been able to do very effectively lately. Everyone’s checked in already, I know we’re late. I’m sure we’re getting in right under the wire before the cast of “Survivor” offers their insight into what to do in these situations.

They said to get back to work. There were no jobs available for a man in the fetal position under his desk crying, which I would have gladly taken. So I came back here. Tonight’s show is obviously not a regular show. We looked through the vaults, we found some clips that we thought might make you smile, which is really what’s necessary, I think, right about now. A lot of folks have asked me, “What are you going to do when you get back? What are you going to say?” I mean, what a terrible thing to have to do. I don’t see it as a burden at all. I see it as a privilege. I see it as a privilege and everyone here does see it that way. The show in general, we feel like is a privilege. Just even the idea that we can sit in the back of the country and make wise cracks, which is really what we do. We sit in the back and we throw spitballs, but never forgetting the fact that is a luxury in this country that allows us to do that. This is a country that allows for open satire, and I know that sounds basic and it sounds as though it goes without saying – but that’s really what this whole situation is about. It’s the difference between closed and open. It’s the difference between free and burden and we don’t take that for granted here by any stretch of the imagination and our show has changed. I don’t doubt that. What it’s become, I don’t know. “Subliminable” is not a punch line anymore. One day it will become that again, and Lord willing, it will become that again because that means we have ridden out the storm.

But the main reason that I wanted to speak tonight is not to tell you what the show is going to be. Not to tell you about all the incredibly brave people that are here in New York and in Washington and around the country. But we’ve had an unenduring pain here – an unendurable pain. I wanted to tell you why I grieve, but why I don’t despair…I’m sorry. Luckily we can edit this. One of my first memories is of Martin Luther King being shot. I was five and if you wonder if this feeling will pass…When I was five, he was shot. Here’s what I remember about it. I was in a school in Trenton. They shut the lights off and we got to sit under our desks and we thought that was really cool and they gave us cottage cheese, which was a cold lunch because there was rioting, but we didn’t know that. We just thought that “My god. We get to sit under our desks and eat cottage cheese.” That’s what I remember about it. That was a tremendous test of this country’s fabric and this country’s had many tests before that and after that.

The reason I don’t despair is because this attack happened. It’s not a dream. But the aftermath of it, the recovery is a dream realized. And that is Martin Luther King’s dream. Whatever barriers we’ve put up are gone even if it’s momentary. We’re judging people by not the color of their skin but the content of their character. You know, all this talk about “These guys are criminal masterminds. They’ve gotten together and their extraordinary guile…and their wit and their skill.” It’s a lie. Any fool can blow something up. Any fool can destroy. But to see these guys, these firefighters, these policemen and people from all over the country, literally, with buckets rebuilding. That’s extraordinary. That’s why we’ve already won. It’s light. It’s democracy. We’ve already won. They can’t shut that down. They live in chaos and chaos…it can’t sustain itself. It never could. It’s too easy and it’s too unsatisfying.

The view from my apartment was the World Trade Center and now it’s gone. They attacked it. This symbol of American ingenuity and strength and labor and imagination and commerce and it is gone. But you know what the view is now? The Statue of Liberty. The view from the south of Manhattan is now the Statue of Liberty. You can’t beat that.
So we’re going to take a break and I’m going to stop slobbering on myself and on the desk. We’re going to get back to this. It’s gonna be fun and funny and it’s going to be the same as it was and I thank you. We’ll be right back.


All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
by Robert Fulghum

Fulghum, Ivy Books, 1986, New York

Each spring, for many years, I have set myself the task of writing a personal statement of belief: a Credo. When I was younger, the statement ran for many pages, trying to cover every base, with no loose ends. It sounded like a Supreme Court brief, as if words could resolve all conflicts about the meaning of existence. The Credo has grown shorter in recent years‹sometimes cynical, sometimes comical, sometimes bland–but I keep working at it.

Recently I set out to get the statement of personal belief down to one page in simple terms, fully understanding the naive idealism that implied. The inspiration for brevity came to me at a gasoline station. I managed to fill an old car’s tank with super-deluxe high-octane go-juice. My old hoopty couldn’t handle it–kept sputtering out at intersections and belching going downhill. I understood. My mind and my spirit get like that from time to time. Too much high-content information, and I get the existential willies–keep sputtering out at intersections where life choices must be made and I either know too much or not enough. The examined life is no picnic. I realized then that I already know most of what’s necessary to live a meaningful life–that it isn’t all that complicated. I know it. And have known it for a long, long time. Living it–well, that’s another matter, yes?

Here’s my Credo: All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Flush.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life–learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup–they all die. So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned–the biggest word of all–LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living. Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are–when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.


“Profiles in Courage”
by Molly Ivins, from “The Progressive”

“The seventy-third session of the Texas legislature is pretty much typified by the following Warren Chisum story, Representative Chisum being the Bible-thumping dwarf from Pampa who has added such je ne sais quoi to the proceedings this year.

“The Texas Senate had a rare moment of courage early in the session when it voted to remove homosexual sodomy from the revised version of the penal code. All were astonished. Their  vision made its way over to the House, where Chisum promptly rose and introduced an amendment to reinstate the damn thing. The Housies were afraid everyone would think they were queer if they didn’t vote for Chisum’s amendment, so they did.

“Then some scholar explained to Chisum that unless he reinstated the ban on heterosexual sodomy as well, the law would be declared unconstitutional. So Chisum promptly got up and did just that.

“Whereupon we had one of the more bizarre debates in the history of the Lege, with assorted avant-garde members rising at the back mike to say, approximately, ‘Uh, Warren, uh, suppose I am in bed with my lawfully wedded spouse and I, like, kind of misaim and wind up in the wrong hole. You don’t want to send me to prison for that, do you?’

“Chisum would stoutly reply, ‘Yes, I do. It’s against nature and the
Bible.’

“So the Housis were afraid everyone would think they were perverts if they didn’t vote for it, and they did. Chisum then shook hands with his ally, Talmadge Heflin of Houston, in celebration of this double triumph, and the Speaker had to send the sergeant-at-arms over to reprimand them both.

“Because under Chisum’s own amendments, it’s illegal for a prick to touch an asshole in this state.”


Harper Lee’s open letter to Oprah Winfrey

May 7, 2006

Dear Oprah,

Do you remember when you learned to read, or like me, can you not even remember a time when you didn’t know how? I must have learned from having been read to by my family. My sisters and brother, much older, read aloud to keep me from pestering them; my mother read me a story every day, usually a children’s classic, and my father read from the four newspapers he got through every evening. Then, of course, it was Uncle Wiggily at bedtime.

So I arrived in the first grade, literate, with a curious cultural assimilation of American history, romance, the Rover Boys, Rapunzel, and The Mobile Press. Early signs of genius? Far from it. Reading was an accomplishment I shared with several local contemporaries. Why this endemic precocity? Because in my hometown, a remote village in the early 1930s, youngsters had little to do but read. A movie? Not often — movies weren’t for small children. A park for games? Not a hope. We’re talking unpaved streets here, and the Depression.

Books were scarce. There was nothing you could call a public library, we were a hundred miles away from a department store’s books section, so we children began to circulate reading material among ourselves until each child had read another’s entire stock. There were long dry spells broken by the new Christmas books, which started the rounds again.

As we grew older, we began to realize what our books were worth: Anne of Green Gables was worth two Bobbsey Twins; two Rover Boys were an even swap for two Tom Swifts. Aesthetic frissons ran a poor second to the thrills of acquisition. The goal, a full set of a series, was attained only once by an individual of exceptional greed — he swapped his sister’s doll buggy.

We were privileged. There were children, mostly from rural areas, who had never looked into a book until they went to school. They had to be taught to read in the first grade, and we were impatient with them for having to catch up. We ignored them.

And it wasn’t until we were grown, some of us, that we discovered what had befallen the children of our African-American servants. In some of their schools, pupils learned to read three-to-one — three children to one book, which was more than likely a cast-off primer from a white grammar school. We seldom saw them until, older, they came to work for us.

Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it.

And, Oprah, can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up — some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal.

The village of my childhood is gone, with it most of the book collectors, including the dodgy one who swapped his complete set of Seckatary Hawkinses for a shotgun and kept it until it was retrieved by an irate parent.

Now we are three in number and live hundreds of miles away from each other. We still keep in touch by telephone conversations of recurrent theme: “What is your name again?” followed by “What are you reading?” We don’t always remember.

Much love,

Harper


Craig Ferguson Speaks from the Heart

February 19, 2007

I want to talk about something tonight that’s been bothering me for a little while now. . . . If you’ve ever seen this show before, you know that I make fun of people on this show. I make fun of a lot of people on this show.

Now a couple months ago, Kevin Costner got himself into some kind of bother, and I made fun of him in the monologue. And then, a couple of weeks later, I meet him at this event, and I could tell he was, he was angry at me. . . . He’s a very polite man, and a gentleman, and I could see in his eyes he made a decision to not go after me, just to be polite and nice and stuff. And that kind of freaked me out. . . .

It was the look in his eye that bothered me. And I began to think, at what price am I doing this stuff? And I started to think about the effect it was having on real people, and it’s been needling at me a little bit ever since.

I’m as guilty as sin about this. I mean, I made fun of the lady astronaut wearing the diapers when she was driving.

[A round of laughter from the audience.]

That is clearly funny, that is clearly a funny thing. But at the same time, then the mug shot comes in, and I go, this woman’s in trouble, she needs help. And then I’m thinking, I don’t know how good I feel about this. And I need to do stuff that I feel comfortable with. I want to be able to be funny, but I want to be able to get some sleep. . . .

I kind of had similar feelings when I used to watch America’s Funniest Home Videos. You know, you’d be laughing at the kid falling over, and then you go, “Wait a minute, put down the damn camera and help your kid. What the hell is wrong with you?” And I think we’re kind of holding the cam – and people are falling apart. People are dying. That Anna Nicole Smith woman, she died.

[Another smattering of audience laughter. Ferguson reaches toward them with his hands, imploring.]

No, it’s not a joke. You know? It stops being funny. . . . She’s got a 6-week-old kid, or a 6-month-old kid. What the hell is that, you know?

And I’m starting to feel uncomfortable about making fun of these people. And for me, comedy should have a certain amount of joy in it. It should be about, about always attacking the powerful people – attacking the politicians, and the Trumps, and the blowhards – go after them. We shouldn’t be attacking the vulnerable people.

This is totally a mea culpa. This is just for me. I think my aim’s been off a bit recently. I want to change it a bit. So tonight, no Britney Spears jokes. And here’s why. Here’s exactly why. Britney Spears –

[Uproarious laughter. Ferguson stops, shakes his head.]

No, no, it’s the truth. Wait . . .

He tries to get them to stop.

The kind of weekend she had, she was checking in and out of rehab, she was shaving her head, getting tattoos. . . .

This Sunday I was 15 years sober.

[Finally, the audience is silent.]

So I looked at her weekend, and I looked at my own weekend, and I thought, you know, I’d rather have my weekend. But what she is going through reminds me of what I was doing . . . where I was 15 years ago, when I was living like that.

Now I’m not saying Britney Spears is an alcoholic; I don’t know if she is an alcoholic or not. But she clearly needs help. . . .

When I got sober, I was a bit older than Britney. I was 29. And Christmas morning before I got sober, I had been on an all-night bender, and I woke up in a room above a bar. . . . I woke up on Christmas morning, and you know, I was soaked in my own urine. At least I think it was mine. I can’t be certain. . . . I thought, you know, I can’t do this anymore. I’m going to kill myself today. . . .

On the way out of the bar, you know, Tommy the barman, that I’d been drinking with, you know, he was kind of playing around at the bar, he was getting drinks together at the bar in the morning. . . .

He was an Irish fellow, Tommy, and he said to me, “Where are you going?” I didn’t want to cause a fuss . . . so I said, “I’m going home.”

And he said, “To Scotland?

I said, “Yeah.”

He said, “Well, there’s no transport. It’s Christmas; you can’t get a bus. The planes aren’t running, there’s no, you can’t go anywhere.”

And I said, “Just let me go, Tommy, will ya?”

And he said, “Well, before you go, have a glass of sherry for Christmas morning.”

And I said, “Oh, all right, all right.”

So he poured me the type of glass of sherry that only an alcoholic would pour you. A Venti sherry they would call it in Starbucks.

[The audience, encouraged, is starting to respond again.]

And I had my glass of sherry, and you know, one thing led to another, and I forgot to kill myself that day. . . .

[The rounds of laughter are growing in intensity.]

Certain types of people can’t drink. I’m one of them. I threw in the towel with alcoholism 15 years ago, and I’ve been trying for the last 15 years to get little bits of it back.

And it looks to me a little bit that Britney Spears has a similar problem going on with alcohol. This woman has two kids. She’s 25 years old. She’s a baby herself. She’s a baby, you know.

And the thing is, you can embarrass somebody to death. It is embarrassing to admit you’re an alcoholic. It’s embarrassing to wake up in your pee or someone else’s pee. It doesn’t really matter. It’s embarrassing.

Now I’m not absolving this woman of her behavior. I’m not. You have to be responsible for your actions, sick or well. . . .

I have found this. You can’t beat it with money. If you could beat this rap with money, rich people wouldn’t die. You can’t. . . .

I have found that the only way I could deal with it is find other people who had similar experiences and talk to them. It doesn’t cost anything. It doesn’t cost a thing.

And they’re very, very easy to find. They’re very near the front of the telephone book.


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