In person and online! This is probably my 303rd show EVER in Vancouver, BC. There are two cities I have performed in the most: My hometown of San José and my home-away-from-hometown of East Van. The first time I performed there in April 2002 (20 years ago!) was my first time out of the States and I fell in love immediately. That’s an understatement—I fell in life with Vancouver. I have never felt more consistently understood by audiences than in that great Southwestern Canada Beacon by the Sea.
I’ve heard stories that in 1500s England they buried people prematurely due to a comatose state caused by drinking alcohol from lead and pewter cups
To eradicate these awful mistakes and to prevent many wrongful deaths they hired men to sit in cemeteries with lanterns and shovels to listen for ringing bells
These bells were tied to twine the twine ran underground to the wrist of the deceased If the person awoke inside their coffin and scrambled for escape their bell would sound six feet above and the diggers would start digging Hence, those buried alive were saved by the bell and the diggers worked what became known as the first graveyard shift The only people at that time willing to work in the dark and sleep during the day
So I’m at my new graveyard job at the mall I stock toys for the kiddies I work in the dark, like Quasimodo Because they would never hire me for a daylight position I guess I just don’t appeal to their regular shoppers and I definitely don’t appeal to the kind of people that stop by our store after spending a few grand at Nordstrom
Come see the big hairy guy Come one, come all Come down to the mall See for yourself The big giant elf
I could never dance for a dollar and I won’t give up my dreams for a job I work in the dark to enjoy the sun I plan my life during my ten minute breaks while the nocturnal animals play in the empty parking garage amongst the littered shopping bags, receipts and price tags
As the world sleeps dreaming of their designer clothes their bottled water and their beverly hills lifestyle I debate with myself whether I have time to suck down one more cigarette
If you can see the blue my collar then you must know that I have learned quite well just how to differentiate between the day walkers and those that roam the night
I prefer the light of the moon over your basic fluorescent office fixture The kind of light that assumes a distrust between you and your boss The kind of light that peeks into and around every corner
Those are the lights the stores at malls use to scare away the shoplifters and those are the lights they shut off when the graveyard shift punches in They know that something will be missing in the morning, so what’s the fucking point
The graveyard shift is creative taking what is never rightfully theirs, but obviously no one else’s either
There is always something so missing when the morning crew takes over that the customers can smell it under the hot lights of omniscience
It is the creativity born with nightwalkers
It is how much the day hates the night
You’ll never see a pigeon hanging out with an owl
You’ll never see Beverly Hills hand me her phone number as she leaves the mall with her bags of “Hey, look at me!” while I enter the mall in an air of Hey… look at me…
…We’re all the same, Beverly You look really hot in that outfit, the way it exposes your midriff and your flat, flat stomach…
I just wish you could say to me: “Hey, McGee. You look good in that dictionary, the way it exposes your ideals and manipulations, your faults and your ambitions.”
…We seem to take two different escalators to get to the same place in life I’m kind of like banished royalty and you’re upper class white trash
Day and night can never make love They can only tease each other in a foreplay they call twilight
The only things I regret at three in the morning as I solve the world’s problems and chain smoke outside the mall| are that I have no bell to ring and rainbows never come out at night
@ 1999 Mighty Mike McGee (9 December)
Written between Thanksgiving and Christmas while working at Valley Fair Mall in San José, California, as a seasonal overnight stocker inside the Warner Bros. Studio Store. An earlier version appeared in In Search of Midnight: The Mike McGee Handbook of Awesome published by Write Bloody Publishing.
Going to the movies in the ’80s was an inexpensive pastime—one I loved more than any other activity. The sitting, the popcorn, the soda, the Milk Duds, the escape, the darkness, the stories, the acting, the special effects, the dialogue and the suspension of disbelief. Holy hell, I loved every part of that experience and I still do. Then discussing the movie with friends and family, comparing interpretation and re-laughing at the funniest parts.
Watching Movies in the 1980s
Thanks to cheap movie theaters that screened second-run movies many months after their release, even my infrequent $2 allowance afforded me the ticket price and a snack. Many films weren’t released on videotape for at least a year after the film came out in theaters. Plus, home rentals were expensive and risky; if you damaged or lost a rental, depending on the popularity of the tape, you were on the hook for $50 to $150 dollars. Most video rental stores were small businesses who were lending out their property to people with kids and pets and liquids and foods. A lot could happen in three days, if the tape came back at all. Signing up for a rental account at most places required a cash deposit, a credit card number and an agreement that you would pay full price for any lost or damaged videotapes. When we lost a tape in 1989, so my mother was charged $89.95.* She paid it, then we found it a few months later buried deep in the couch.
Every single week, my brother, my best bud Art and I would scour the movie listings in the San Jose Mercury News. The Serra Twin Theater in Milpitas, California was our go-to. They always had a tiny box advert with nearly fine print listing double-features for one dollar.
One afternoon in 1988, I noticed Serra Twin was offering an unheard of triple feature that weekend. I confirmed permission from my mother, then immediately called Art to urge him to get permission and square up a ride for us with his dad. It didn’t take much convincing to get permission and to get Art and my brother to go along:
It would get us out of the house for the entire day—a plus for everyone;
Cost was $1.50 for all three movies;
We’d seen all three trailers on TV and were most interested in two of them;
The one we were least interested in was a romantic comedy that looked boring, but luckily, it was the final film in the screening. We could leave if we weren’t into it;
The grocery store across the street had plenty of cheap snacks for us to sneak into the theater.
The Triple Feature
Art’s dad picked us up and dropped us off at the grocery store. We stocked up and bought our tickets. The whole excursion cost less than $20.
The first film in the screening was Summer School (1987, 139 min.), a great lead-in to the triple-feature. Directed by Carl Reiner, and starring a rompy cast, including Kirstie Alley, Shawnee Smith and Mark Harmon, the latter of whom was so charming and fun. I really believed the dog in the film belonged to Harmon based on their chemistry. I mean, the dog is on the poster! Plus, Chainsaw’s and Dave’s horror movie sequence is legendary. I was not surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie as it had a perfect blend of immature and mature humor.
Repeat viewings since 1988: Caught it once or twice on basic cable, but not in this century.
The second film in the trifecta is the one I was most interested in seeing at the time. This directorial debut by Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire), Adventures in Babysitting (1987, 142 min.) is not the best teen comedy of the ’80s by a long shot, but it is in my personal top 5 favorite films of the genre. The movie introduced me to what a dick Bradley Whitford could play, and in my opinion, the first true cinematic representation of Thor as played by Vincent D’Onofrio, and, of course, the incredible Elisabeth Shue in her first starring role. There are some very far-fetched sequences in this movie, such as the unlikely, but entertaining Babysitting Blues performance in a Chicago blues club, but the scene also features one of my favorite all-time quotes/truths, uttered by blues legend Albert Collins: “Nobody leaves this place without singing the blues.” Put that on my tombstone.
Repeat viewings since 1988: Several dozen. At one point, I could recite the dialogue along with the movie.
*Of all things, that very expensive videotape my mother paid for was Adventures In Babysitting. She was so frustrated by that expense. We urged my mother to rent it because we wanted to see it again. We ended up watching it a lot. I’m sure we got well over $89 worth of viewings.
Rounding out the trio of films is the one I was least interested in seeing. Based on the trailer alone, I was certain that this romantic comedy was going to be a mushy, medieval vomit-fest. No part of it looked good. However, in the first several minutes of Princess Bride (1987, 138 min.) Fred Savage’s character (my age!) complains to his grandfather (played by Peter Falk, one of my faves!) that he doesn’t like the romantic stuff in the book being read to him. I like this kid! I can relate to him. This allowed me to give the film a chance and I am forever grateful. Princess Bride may be the best romantic comedy I have ever seen. Who believed Westley truly loved Buttercup? I surely did. Who knew André the Giant could be so delightful and funny? Who savored in lovingly hating the film’s antagonists? Vizzini! Humperdink! The Six-Fingered Man! Also, I just put together the fact that this film was directed by Rob Reiner, while Summer School was directed by his father. Neato! ALSO, I often tell people to have fun storming the castle! when they leave my house.
Repeat viewings since 1988: At least a few dozen times.
Serra Twin Theater
Serra Twin Theater was responsible for cementing my love of cinema with good movies and bad movies alike. Now called simply Serra Theaters, they are a much-loved home for films in a number of Indian languages.
I must also credit Serra Twin for my inexplicable love of Kevin Costner movies: In 1992, I saw a double feature of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Bodyguard for $1. It was a lot harder to convince Art and my brother to join me on for that combo, so I paid for them. I was 16 and had crushes on Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Whitney Houston.
Revisiting the Triple Feature
All three movies were released in 1987. To recreate this experience—and to properly celebrate their 35th anniversary—I will host a viewing party at my house this Spring.
I have two seats from a minivan A housemate moved out last summer and into said vehicle I had stopped them from chucking them into a dumpster They looked so inviting two perfectly plush porch chairs built for butts on long drives and lives stalled by plagues
During the warmest parts of the pandemic, they sat in my driveway Always a housemate or two with nowhere to be chatting, eating, people watching from a distance
When the rain finally came, I moved them to the covered patio in the backyard
My whole life, I have always put a second chair next to mine Anticipating the unexpected arrival of a friend or a brave stranger looking to chat The clearest visual for hope I have ever produced
As the weather cools and darkens Inside and out I only need one chair No one is coming Time to put the second chair anywhere but here A mere logical move when space is needed
“Wondering how you (Mike and/or others) have managed feeling like an imposter when sharing work? I’ve been out of the game for a while and never truly got IN the game and sometimes it feels like I’m sort of a wannabe. It doesn’t help that I did a deep dive into the all-consuming parenthood adventure and it’s so much harder to find even basic words some days. Not necessarily looking for validation, but definitely some advice on navigating the ebb and flow of creativity.” —J
I have been thinking a lot about this subject lately. Over the last decade, I have spoken with very dear friends of mine who have accomplished a variety of successes in terms of their art and/or their careers, and all of them have confided in some way that they still struggle with bouts of imposter syndrome. Most of them find that no matter how “successful” they might be in one aspect of their field, from time to time, they still feel as though it’s unearned, ill-gotten, or fraudulent. I feel it as a “comedian in poet’s clothing,” especially as a spoken word artist/slam poet approaching the worlds of publishing and academia. I’ve never fully felt as though I was universally accepted as a good poet by everyone who has heard me, but that’s life. Not everyone ever will. It’s good to have some folks who are critical of your work, because it forces you to take a third look at what you are creating. To ask yourself why you created it in the first place. To ask yourself about its place in the world. But that imposter feeling is critique on our character and the artist in us. It probably stems from our own self-image and a large part of our identity. So much of it probably comes from guilt and a need to have a simplified self-representation; ‘I am [insert role/artistic identity here]. I am wholly THAT and I must eat, breathe and sleep THAT, because it is what people expect of me. It is what people need from me.’
Guilt may be one of the most destructive forces against even the inception of art. How many folks have given up being an artist because their parents wanted them to be a doctor? How much art never had a chance to exist in the world because being a lawyer pays so much better? I believe that our perception of being unworthy of utilizing the time necessary to create art is influenced by the guilt we may feel because that time must be borrowed from our responsibilities. On top of that, when we do finally borrow time from our commitments to others, we then judge our art to an unfair higher standard. ‘I used this time to make this, but was it a wise use? Will my commitments suffer because of this piece of art? If it is seen by others as poorly made art, then I have wasted my time, and I have now less time for my commitments.’ This is a fallacy. If the desire to create exists, it is imperative to your mental health—and the health of those you are committed to—to create. To be an artist. To identify with art and generate it at a rate that fits your desires. It is also imperative to study the difference between what is good art and what is bad art, and in my convoluted opinion, more importantly, what mediocre art looks like. The world can handle good and bad art. One we hang on the wall, the other ends up at thrift stores. Mediocre art gets saved in garages and attics because, you know, so-and-so made it and they put a lot of time into it and… I don’t know what to do with it.
It comes down to time management. I always have to ask myself: Do I have the time to do both things AND can I negotiate the values between responsibility and desire? How do I destroy the guilt I feel when my desire to create is as strong or stronger than my commitments to others? Can I make a commitment of my desires and create a balance between them and my responsibilities?
I am a funny person. I am a serious writer. I love to cook. But really, deep down inside, there is a huge part of me that wants to dance. If in ten years folks were to say, ‘yeah, you know Mighty Mike McGee, the funny, dancing poet,’ it’s because I managed my time and did what I NEEDED to do. In my 20s, no part of me was prepared to let that become part of my identity. There was no way anyone was ever going to see the dancer waiting to be born. Because I was stuck on this notion that I had established everything I was going to be. I was a stand-up poet. A funny performance poet who only did just THAT. I could dip into just stand-up comedy, or I could slide over into straightforward poetry, but I should not delve into anything else, because. Because? Because what? Because I might jar someone else’s perception of my identity? Because I might have to explain my newly restructured time management to folks?
So if you’re a mother, that becomes a major role for you and those around you. If you were writing before you became a mother, you may find yourself at a crossroads and find it difficult to maintain the practices of writing while also keeping up with the responsibilities of motherhood. If you are a firefighter and you decide to venture into theatre, it pits your identity as first responder, maybe even a selfless hero, against your desire to express yourself and to be seen doing it. Nothing of who we are now should be a hindrance to the fact that our identities are far more fluid than we tend to recognize and that our future selves should only be dictated by responsibility and time management.
It’s becoming more and more unusual and even uncomfortable to me that the things we DO must become the thing we ARE. I “am” a poet, but it really isn’t my identity. I am a primate called Mike who writes all sorts of things (including very long responses to FB posts.) I like words and I play a mean game of Scrabble. I can live without poetry, I don’t want to, but I could stop writing. Over time I do believe it would have a negative impact on my life. As a baby poet in my 20s, I wrote A LOT of poetry. I was hooked. From 1998 to 2003, I wrote about 300 “poems.” Now, I write maybe a tenth of what I did back then. I was confused by this. I recently took a long foraging look into those old poetry files to see what I was writing. I wanted to figure out how in the hell I wrote so much, but just couldn’t be bothered to spend that much time on it now. What I realized was that 90% of those poems were mediocre at best. I was still learning. I was exploring and experimenting. I was falling in love with words and letting them fall in love with me. I was having fun and letting it all out to see what would stick. I discovered that I have 20 more years of experience at not just writing, but at being a better judge of my own work. Twenty more years of being constructively critical of what I can make. In 2001, I would write something, share it with friends and read it at open mics and wonder if it was any good. I don’t wonder 90% of the time now. I am confident that I have developed the skills needed to be a good writer. There is and will always be room for improvement and change. Much like my identity, there will always be shifts in what I need to develop further as an artist. But what there isn’t room for any longer is guilt because I just don’t have time for it. There is writing to be done. Between laundry and gigs and bathing and Scrabble and feeding my cat and visiting loved ones, there is so much writing to be done. As long as I am honest with myself and my work, I cannot be a fraud, because no one else is me.
I highly recommend that you gift yourself whatever amount of time you can every day in doing something with words. You know what inspires you so immerse yourself in those things regularly. Make it inclusive! Bring your family with you if you can. “Fam, I love words and I want to fall in love with them again. Will you join me on this romantic journey?” Re-evaluate your desire to create and explore the idea that the time you spend on your expression is just as valuable as the time you spend with your commitments. You getting better at your craft is a boon to those around you as well. No one else is you, so how can you be a fraud?
As a show host, I’ve introduced countless performers over the years. I often ask them to provide me with a couple of sentences that gives the audience a bare minimum of insight into who they’re about to experience. Most performers give too much to read from the stage and I am often forced to edit as I read, denoting the most interesting points from their autobiography.
Three years ago this month, I asked the incredible hip-hop performance poet Kojo Opong-Mensah to write down a line or two about himself before I introduced him as the headliner for my weekly literary open mic in San José. I handed him a napkin and a pen and he went to work. Add to mind he was already a favorite performer among the regular attendees, so I didn’t need much.
I returned to Kojo’s table a little while later and asked him for the napkin, which he returned to me, folded neatly. I put the note in my shirt pocket without reading it. When it was time to bring Kojo to the stage, I pulled the napkin from my pocket, opened it and laughed like a burst of backfire. I expected to read something biographical and self-promotional, but I read this instead:
Being the finest bio I have ever read on stage, it is now framed on my wall.
Noticed some friends posted this “challenge” on social media. Figured I would join in the fun. (Since I am single, I will have to compare myself to a 9″ by 12″ veggie lasagna with zucchini “noodles.”)
How’d you guys meet: I make the lasagnas. First date: There have been SO many lasagnas! How long have you been together: Never more than a week. Married: Not yet legal. Age difference: 45 years and counting. Who was interested first: Me. Who is taller: Me, for once. Who said I love you first: ME… Every. Single. Time. Most impatient: Me Most sensitive: Me Loudest: Me Most stubborn: The lasagna. Very hard to convince it of anything. Falls asleep first: Me, especially after eating the lasagna. Better morning person: The lasagna. Better driver: The lasagna. Funniest: Me, but the lasagna seems to get my jokes. Where do you eat out most as a couple: Wow. Okay! Who is more social: ME! Who is the neat freak: Me Where was your first kiss: Just outside the oven. So hot! How long did it take to get serious: About 1 hour at 375F (190C). Who picks where you go to dinner: Me Who is the first one to admit when they are wrong: The lasagna. Who cries more: Me Who has more tattoos: Me Who sings better: The lasagna. Hogs the remote: Tie! Spends the most money: Me 😦 Did you go to the same school: Not yet legal. Where is the furthest you two have traveled together: Where do I begin!? Who drives when you are together: We use public transit and Tupperware. Post a picture of you and your Valentine: Not yet legal.
One of my favorite song discoveries of the forsaken-year-that-should -never-be-rementioned-by-number (last year) is this 2013 disco-punk rework by The Avalanches. They took Hunters & Collectors’ 1982 song “Talking To A Stranger” and avalanched it into “Stalking To A Stranger.” Both links will take to you their respective 7+ minute videos, of which the latter is also remixed to splendid effect. Both songs are dope and the remix introduced me to veteran Australian new-wavers Hunters & Collectors, and for this I am glad.
In 2005, I appeared on an episode of Russell Simmons’s Def Poetry Jam on HBO. It was an incredible experience. To hear Mos Def say “from San José, California, give it up for Mr. Mike McGee” at the beginning of the clip is still pretty cool. However, my first “appearance” on HBO actually came fifteen years earlier—and 30 years ago today.
January 5, 1991 was the dead center of my freshman year of high school and a week before my 15th birthday. I was in the midst of trying on my new high school uniform: class clown. There was nothing classy about it, pure and simple, as it required an obnoxiousness I had yet lowered myself into (much like Arnold did at the end of Terminator 2—obnoxiousness being a vat of molten metal that would kill some portion of my self-respect), but it was all I ever wanted. I was never going to be popular for sports, academics or good looks, which was fine since I had no patience for any of those traits, as it was. For many months, maybe even a couple of years, I had dreamed of being a well-liked funny person who gets paid to be well-liked, funny and a person.
On this particular Saturday evening, during a break from Desert Storm news coverage, my mom and I were watching Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold on a live HBO call-in special hosted by a very pre-Today Show Matt Lauer. They kept an 800 number on the screen and I had nothing better to do, so I set out to get stand-up comedy advice from 1.2 of the biggest names in comedy at the time. I sat at the phone, finger-dialing the push-button numbers over and over, a skill I developed through dialing radio stations for prizes. I was used to waiting for the busy-signal, hanging up and dialling again. After about 26 minutes and several hundred busy signals, it paid off and the sound of the line ringing on the other end was exhilarating. My mom’s eyes were bugging out of her head. After a dozen or so rings, a staffer answered, took my name and told me I had time for one question, so what was my question? I want to know how to become a comedian! They put me on hold and my mom’s head volleyed the tennis match between me and the television. The audio on the line switched to a live, undelayed feed of the conversation with the trio on TV. After a moment, Matt Lauer answered and prompted my question, “Mike from San José, California, you’re on live with Tom and Roseanne. What’s your question?” I am proud of and love representing San José, California however I am capable.
I could have sworn the conversation lasted about nine minutes. It was actually only 59 seconds.
Everything is on YouTube now, right? It had never occurred to me until recently to search online for video of a show that surely has no business existing beyond 2001. Well, thank you to the person(?) who made sure I could relive an actual moment of my life that has had a strangely wonderful impact. The video here starts a few seconds before my call, but the entire episode is there for your viewing… pleasure?
It has replayed so differently in my head over the years. I forgot that this call-in show followed Roseanne’s HBO comedy special filmed at T**mp Castle in Atlantic City. I don’t remember repeating myself so nervously or stammering at all. I only remember most of what they said to me on the phone. I realize now that I also never saw their reactions during our conversation because I was frozen, staring at our apartment wall the whole time. My mom tried to keep up with my live conversation and the tape delay on TV. They answered my question and hung up. I spent 30 minutes or so dialing that onscreen number and I only remember it because I got lucky and someone answered. These days, it is funny to think that, of all the people in this video, Tom Arnold is now the most likeable personality of the three.
I give Roseanne and Tom a lot of credit for boosting my my teen spirit. But at 14, I was probably already on my way to being a well-liked funny person.
For as long as I can remember, I have been deeply fascinated with calendars. I am sure it is based in part on my deeper fascination with time itself—as a concept, as a construct, and as a constant. I think it may be the false sense of predictability calendars offer—they give a glimpse into the future, but aside from holidays and plans, that glimpse is ultimately always a bit empty and never guaranteed.
Several years ago, I discovered the concept of re-using calendars thanks to their predictable repetition. So far, mine is a new, strange, tiny collection. As years come to an end, I take down the calendars off the wall over my desk and the one in my kitchen, then pack them away to be used again. On the back, I write the coming years in which they will sync up again, giving them the potential for future use for anyone who comes across them.
For example, in place of a 2011 calendar, you could have used any Gregorian calendar from 2005, 1994, 1983, 1977, 1966, 1955, 1949, 1938, 1927 and 1921. That is a great line of available calendars. I am trying to track down a copy of a 2011 Betty White calendar I used to have so that I can use it in 2022. I recycled mine before I fully understood I’d be able to re-cycle it in eleven years. To be clear, your holidays and time changes won’t always line up, but the days and dates will be just fine.
Due to 2020 being a leap year in which February 29 landed on a Friday, this year’s calendar is only reusable three times in the next 96 years, in 2048, 2076, and 2116, when leap day returns to Friday. And only four calendars from the 20th century could have been used in place of one from 2020—those from 1992, 1964, 1936 and 1908. This is the same story for every leap year, they’re spaced apart a minimum of 28 years.
It’s a simple fascination that I don’t spend too much time on. I do wonder, though, if it is possible to build a permanent collection so that I have all the calendars I will ever need. Then again, do I really want a complete collection? There is something so morbidly finite about that.
Here are my two resources on this subject. The best, no frills site for quickly looking up which calendars to reuse is whencanireusethiscalendar.com. And one of my favorite sites to waste time on all thing time and dates, and even repeating calendars is timeanddate.com
I do think it would be a nice trend to write the future years of re-cycle on the backs of our calendars from now on. Even if you don’t keep them, a like-minded collector will be glad you donated them to a thrift store. I now have a 1993 calendar I plan to use in 2021, 2027 and 2038.
To be honest, I am seriously considering burning my 2020 calendar at 11:59pm on December 31. No one should ever have to spend another calendar year with 2020.