Chuckles the Depressed Clown

Chuckles Depressed Clown

Years ago I was traveling from Philly to L.A. on business and found myself seated next to an unremarkable gentleman – mid-40s, clean-shaven, tall, closely-cropped hair, dressed casually but in all regards neat and presentable. One is captive on a plane and I hoped he understood the difference between friendly and intrusive.

Half an hour later this is what I knew about him. He was a clown who went by the name Chuckles and made a modest living working birthday parties, fairs, etc. Over the past year he had become involved in a legal contest with a rival clown, Lord Chumley, who he’d accused of stealing his make-up.

Chuckles explained to me at some length that every clown develops his/her unique look, as individual as a fingerprint. For one clown to steal the look of another clown was egregious. At this point he’d produced a very slick portfolio containing dozens of photographs showing him in full clown regalia – his make-up was so absolutely generic that I could not imagine anybody stealing it unless the aim was to resemble every other clown in the world.

But, as it turned out, larcenous colleagues provided only the beginning of a sad tale Chuckles told with hideous, obligatory persistence worthy of the ancient mariner. The crux of it was as old as time, love gone wrong, a broken heart. It turned out that Mrs. Chuckles had been wooed by a juggler and abandoned my traveling companion, leaving only a note. As Chuckles began to launch into this part of his story he gradually lost all semblance of composure and soon was crying convulsively, unable to complete a sentence without gasping for breath once or twice between sobs.

I am comfortable with the dark side of humor; but, one has limits. Certainly there was something deliciously ironic about a clown named Chuckles entangled in a copyright dispute with another clown, so shattered by romance on the rocks he could not contain his despondence; yes, but there was also something creepy and disturbing about it – and the flight was long. So, feeling only slightly guilty, I excused myself and found another seat, two rows further back.

For the balance of the trip I watched Chuckles make balloon animals which were passed from one person to the next and retained as desired. I suppose he made about fifty before becoming so lightheaded he had to take a nap. Dachshunds, hippopotami, giraffes, alligators, whales – he really was quite remarkable…and I thought to myself, this is a metaphor for life.

A colleague steals your act, a juggler steals your girl – if you’re the clown for the job, you don’t let it get you. You lace up the inflatable shoes, stick on the red nose, and make your goddamn balloon animals just like any other day. You rock, Chuckles.

But what I remember most from that trip is what happened after we landed. Row after row of passengers stood up, collected their carry on articles from the overhead compartments, and gathered themselves for the walk ahead. The kids, sure, I got that, and the teenagers too. But even the hot shot executives, smart as could be in 3-piece suits with leather attaché cases – they too all had their souvenir, brightly colored balloon animals tucked neatly under their arms, like irreplaceable, collectible artifacts. They looked absolutely preposterous, of course, especially because, without exception, not one of them was smiling.

It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World

Indian colorful religious celebration

Americans have a provincial view of the world revolving around exploitation; that is to say, other countries exist only to the extent that we consider them useful.

Johnny and Ginny Lunchbucket think of China as the place that produces freighter loads of shabby merchandise we consume, India as the place to call if something breaks, the Middle East as a gas station with uppity attendants, Europe as the place with painting, sculpture, and whatnot, and South America (including central America) as our source for drugs and black market plastic surgery.

Johnny & Ginny Lunchbucket consider Canada the go-to place for criminals fleeing justice, while Australia, which was founded by convicts, is roughly equivalent to Cuba in terms of inability to hold interest. Africa, the very wellspring of humanity itself, has failed to capture the imagination of Mr. and Mrs. Lunchbucket at all – to them it is somewhere in-between an outsized petting zoo and a sweet background for Land Rover commercials.

Why review this discouraging self-portrait of complacency and dim-witted myopia? Simple, it helps us understand how much is to be gained by stretching outside of our collective comfort zone and looking at life through the eyes of our fellow global citizens. The potential for benefit is enormous, and nowhere is this more evident than in the world of mental illness.

Mr. and Mrs. Lunchbucket would be surprised to know that mental illness is thought about, and spoken about, very differently throughout the world, and the accompanying insights can be instructive. For example:

The word for Paranoid Schizophrenic in Japanese is  ohayōgozaimasu – which literally translates – “more dinner guests than plates”.

The word for Bipolar Disorder in Chinese (Mandarin) is xuěbēng – which literally translates – “poo-flinging monkey living in dark cave”.

The word for Compulsive Gambler in Vietnamese is tôi bi lac – which literally translates – “fascinated by slow lizard”.

In India, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is known by the Hindi phrase subaha acchā – which literally translates “charming child enjoy chasing mouse under elephant”.

In Norway the term for Depressed is eg har sakna deg – which literally means “as special as a day-old herring” but here is synonymous with the word “normal”.

In Germany the idea of Morbid Obesity is expressed by the phrase kern en zee meer be hilf lixh ziyn – which literally translates “schnitzel enough to strain the stitching on a brand new pair of lederhosen” although the figurative meaning is “yaba-daba-doo!”

This is merely the tip of the iceberg – speaking of which – the Inuit culture – once called Eskimo – has over 200 words for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder!

Perhaps by seeing how other cultures approach mental illness, we can gain some much-needed perspective on it. Sarong!

Dealing With The Loss Of Mental Illness

Waving goodbye to mental illness

All good things must come to an end, according to the sage of old, but did you know this also applies to bad things? That’s right! Here’s the shocker; when it comes time to bid a fond adieu to your particular mental health challenge, you may find yourself dragging your heels, gnashing your teeth, dotting your tees, and crossing your eyes.

Ridiculous, you say? Stifling the urge to cough derisive laughter up your sleeve? Well don’t let a little counter-intuition embolden you overly; allow me to share a personal vignette for illustrative purposes.

As many of you know, Bipolar Disorder is my particular albatross and it ruled and wrecked my landscape like a series of Old Testament plagues. For years, life was defined by my relationship to this demon and I graduated from mere survival to combat to mastery until, at last, it lay in a heap at my feet, vanquished.

(Aficionados will point out that Bipolar Disorder is incurable. While true, I must add that one can reduce it to inconsequence and insignificance so that, for all intents and purposes, it is neutralized.)

When Bipolar Disorder was in full flower it made me zany, newsworthy, and interesting beyond my wildest dreams. This splashy, sensational illness became something like a really bizarre, all-consuming hobby with a huge payoff, continued existence! It even provided the subject matter for my first book, Invisible Driving, the original bipolar memoir. There were times I wondered what I did for entertainment before the onset of my “fine madness”.

Seventeen years in therapy raced by until, before I knew what hit me, sanity arrived and with it, the challenge of adapting to normal society as an insider. No longer shivering in the rain beneath a tattered blanket, marooned on the outskirts of town, I bravely faced a life of acceptance.

The thought of being ordinary was oddly unnerving. It was then that I experienced what trendy psychologists in California refer to as “the wrong goodbye”, grieving for the loss of mental illness.

Remarkably the process broke out over the classic 5-phase grief confrontation process identified by Kübler-Ross in 1969.

1. Denial – I refused to believe that insanity had abandoned me.

2. Anger – I was furious at losing my most marketable attribute.

3. Bargaining – I furiously crafted disingenuous deals with a deity I did not believe in.

4. Depression – I tried to rekindle the illness by immersing myself in depression.

5. Acceptance – Began insisting on being accepted as a sane person and threatened insane reprisals if I was not. 

Only by going through this 5-step process in good faith did I come to understand that saying goodbye to insanity can be a good thing; and that sanity can be a lot more messed up than one might imagine.

Texas Introduces Whites Only Death Penalty

whites only death penalty

In what has been called, “a milestone of reverse discrimination”, “social engineering at its absolute best”, and “political correctness on steroids”, the Texas Department of Corrections announced today that the death penalty will now be reserved exclusively for white inmates.

Bubba “Bar-B-Q” Brewster, Warden at Armadillo Flats Supermax Security Center & Rehabilitation Facility explained, “We have learned that it is simply impossible for a black man to get a fair trial in America. Prejudice, stupidity, racism, and xenophobia taint the jury pool until impartiality is an unrealistic expectation.

“Now, 77% of Texas prisoners are African American while African Americans constitute only 11% of the state’s population. When a playing field is that far from level, you’ve got to take the death penalty off the table.”

Chauncy Frampton, President of the Texas ACLU, vowed to take on the case, maintaining it denies African American prisoners the “right to a speedy death”, guaranteed by the Constitution. In an almost instantaneous rebuttal, designated prisoner representative Antwan “Pig’s Foot” Cleveland said, “Tell that white devil Frampton we don’t need his help.”

Jesse Jackson, currently recording the collected works of Dr. Seuss, could not be reached for comment.

The Great Internet Quote Quiz – Redux

On The Internet All Statements True

The Internet is awash in quotations of debatable merit; some are attributed, some are unattributed, many are inaccurately attributed while others are obvious fabrications. I would like to help separate the flotsam from the jetsam. Below you will find 20 insightful Internet quotes. Can you identify who really said them? Good luck!

1. “Being average is a very special gift; find awesome in mediocrity. Do not let anyone talk you out of your right to be ordinary.”
a.) Pema Chödrön
b.) Zig Zigler
c.) Anthony “Tony” Robbins
d.) Taz Mopula

2. “Why is it called the age of communication when nobody listens?”
a.) Roman Polanski
b.) Werner Herzog
c.) Lina Wertmüller
d.) Taz Mopula

3. “At what point does communication become air pollution?”
a.) Lady Gaga
b.) John Tesh
c.) Britney Spears
d.) Taz Mopula

4. “In the future, everyone will be obscure for 15 minutes.”
a.) Gallagher
b.) Judy Tenuta
c.) Barry Sobel
d.) Taz Mopula

5. “Getting noticed is not the same thing as doing something noteworthy.”
a.) Charlie Sheen
b.) Glenn Beck
c.) Stephenie Meyer
d.) Taz Mopula

6. “TV was once exciting. Every new technology shows promise before plummeting to meet the level of its user.”
a.) Donald James Reum
b.) Chauncy Entwhistle
c.) Lance Incubator Smythe
d.) Taz Mopula

7. “How can you cut through the clutter when the clutter goes all the way through?”
a.) Jeff Beck
b.) John Cage
c.) Terence Trent D’arby
d.) Taz Mopula

8. “Click here if you are gullible enough to believe that clicking here will actually make a difference.”
a.) Deepak Chopra
b.) Oprah Winfrey
c.) Dr. Wayne Dyer
d.) Taz Mopula

9. “Humans can repair mechanical problems; but machines cannot repair human problems, only manifest them in new forms.”
a.) Felix Wankel
b.) Dean Kamen
c.) Ron Popeil
d.) Taz Mopula

10. “New app enables users to bravely condemn global injustice and insult authority figures without budging from Barcalounger!”
a.) Rhonda Byrne
b.) Mark Zuckerberg
c.) Ellen DeGeneres
d.) Taz Mopula

11. “Instant, universal communication has made it impossible to know if anyone is saying anything valuable.”
a.) Howard Stern
b.) Rush Limbaugh
c.) David Letterman
d.) Taz Mopula

12. “Never confuse fame with artistic quality, or wealth with value. Society gets what it wants, not what it needs.”
a.) Kanye West
b.) Heavy D
c.) Wu-Tang Clan
d.) Taz Mopula

13. “The only thing worse than obsessing over your press clippings is believing the ones you wrote yourself.”
a.) Nicholas Cage
b.) Lisa Lampanelli
c.) Al Pacino
d.) Taz Mopula

14. “Is the Internet merely a mechanism by which alien life forms can quantify human gullibility and fatuousness?”
a.) Elmo
b.) Kermit
c.) Cookie Monster
d.) Taz Mopula

15. “Technology has democratized the tools of creativity, resulting in a tsunami even more cretinous and loathsome than anticipated.”
a.) Gene Simmons
b.) Criss Angel
c.) Ozzy Osbourne
d.) Taz Mopula

16. “Artificial intelligence will soon be the only kind remaining; thus conclusively proving the failure of human intelligence.”
a.) Ray Bradbury
b.) Stephen Hawking
c.) Douglas Adams
d.) Taz Mopula

17. “If technology makes our lives any more convenient, even breathing will become too much of an effort.”
a.) Steven Jobs
b.) Don Cornelius
c.) Bill Gates
d.) Taz Mopula

18. “Our ability to broadcast the wretched detritus of daily life is no argument for doing so; restraint is increasingly precious.”
a.) Paris Hilton
b.) Rupert Murdoch
c.) Anna Nicole Smith
d.) Taz Mopula

19. “The Constitution has been amended. It now only guarantees your right to pretend that privacy actually exists.”
a.) Duane “Dog” Chapman
b.) Julian Assange
c.) Rose Mary Woods
d.) Taz Mopula

20. “Is a reality small enough to fit conveniently into the palm of your hand even worth having at all?”
a.) Leonard Hofstadter
b.) Howard Wolowitz
c.) Sheldon Cooper
d.) Taz Mopula

(Answer key will appear in tomorrow’s blog.)

1-Sentence Stories – Redux

Write First Decide Not To Later Edit Later Still

1. Despite a manly thrashing from Ernest Hemingway, meted out with pugilistic zeal, the mime refused to speak.

2. Garrison Keillor inhaled deeply during a monologue; passed out, and awoke hours later in a pool of his own gravitas.

3. Charles Bukowski stared at the woozy, waving label and understood at last that Blatz Beer was both a product name and a promise.

4. It had become impossible for Gertrude Stein to pretend she didn’t enjoy rebuilding automatic transmissions.

5. In the midst of an ether-induced hallucination Hunter Thompson lapsed into sincerity and was inconsolable for weeks.

6. Despite assembling a stable of star performers, William Burroughs eventually abandoned his cockroach racetrack.

7. Laughter ensued when the actual Rolling Stones were accidentally enshrined in Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and nobody knew the difference.

8. In the course of attacking and robbing Brad Pitt, hardened New York City gang members observed that, even with a gun to his head, the tabloid staple was unable to act scared.

9. Elton John purchases movie rights to 50 Shades Of Gray for 20 million dollars before realizing he has misread the title.

10. Charlie Sheen becomes stuck entering a revolving door when the other Charlie Sheen chooses that precise moment to exit; firemen are summoned.

Research Links Mental Illness And Bad Luck

pawn shop2

Lord Chumley Frampton, Dean of Statistical Analysis at Basingstoke University, stunned the mental health community recently by announcing that his team of researchers had located a quantifiable connection between mental illness and bad luck. While a relationship has been suspected for decades, Lord Frampton is the first to isolate it.

The following comments are excerpted from Lord Frampton’s prepared statement.

“People erroneously believe that bad luck is a natural force, like gravity, over which they are powerless. But our research indicates that in fact bad luck is like a cloud of metal filings always in our midst, which can be attracted simply by waving a magnet in the air. Moods, behaviors, attitudes, expectations and even wardrobe can take the place of this metaphorical magnet, summoning the four horsemen of bad luck into our camp and challenging them to do their very worst. It is almost as if we manufacture our own fortunes.

“What amazed the team was an astounding correlation between the presence of mental illness and a propensity towards bad luck. Bear in mind that we did not initially target the mentally ill. Over time, a rapidly growing mountain of anecdotal evidence caused us to shift our focus. Here are just a few of the findings that led us to our hypothesis.”

Schizophrenics are 10 times more likely to sit on a porcupine than the average citizen. While there is no science to suggest that schizophrenic porcupines are 10 times more likely to be sat upon, we do suspect it. The number of schizophrenic porcupines sat upon by schizophrenic human beings in a given year is statistically insignificant.

Clinically Depressed individuals are 17 times more likely to be struck by lightning. (Remarkably, only one out of every three who are struck even notice. Another third are actually pleased to have had their world-view validated.)

Bipolar Disorder sufferers are three times as likely to hit the lottery. This seems lucky; except that, those who do are thirteen times as likely to lose all their winnings on mad spending sprees, thus rendering them far more miserable than they were to begin with.

Narcissists are five times as likely to have a mirror shatter. Our researchers believe that this is because they are five times as likely to be in front of a mirror in the first place.

Those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are six times as likely to step on a crack, and 19 times as likely to do it over and over and over.

Addicts & Alcoholics are 19 times more likely to crawl under a ladder and have a large can of paint fall on their head. (Well over 50 percent of those who do decide to spend the night there.)

Excited by these breakthrough discoveries, Lord Frampton says he and his team will next be looking for connections between mental illness and the Law of Supply and Demand.

“Everything happens for a reason; often it’s a very bad reason.” Taz Mopula

Glad To Be Imperfectly Awful

Mondrian Broadway Boogie Woogie 

For reasons we might want to explore at some other time, I spent over 30 years toiling in the corporate vineyards as an advertising copywriter – an occupation which enjoys a level of social prestige roughly equivalent to that of garbage collector, lawyer, and snake oil salesman – although to be sure – the latter group is begrudgingly afforded a modicum of respect since almost everyone abhors a squeaky snake. I know I do.

But I digress. Writers, as you know, are a disreputable lot. As a rule they live in culverts, subsist on scraps of food left by others in greasy spoon diners on the outskirts of town, frequently showing up for work with three days’ worth of stubble, pockets crammed with losing lottery tickets, reeking of bourbon and cheap cigars. The men are even worse!

As a bipolar dipsomaniac with a chronic attitude problem that includes contempt for authority, you can imagine I lost and found and lost employers the way others misplace car keys. Some jobs were submerged deep within the bowels of soulless corporations shamelessly exploiting the witless populace, while others resided in neurosis factories referred to as advertising agencies where paranoia, throat-slitting, and British wardrobes were passed off as creativity.

One commonality of all these dreadful coalmines was the professional category known as “artist” which, in this case, means “graphic designer” which then meant person in charge of taking words, setting them in type, and embedding the result in a breezy assemblage of photographs, colorful shapes, and visual irrelevance thought to aid the sales process we served; striving ever more valiantly to separate the unsuspecting from their treasure.

Artists – graphic designers – are almost the antithesis of writers. As a rule, they are cheerful women who bring an ideal suite of qualities to their task – wonderful sense of color, design, ebullience, responsibility, method, quiet productivity and an almost depressingly relentless optimism. Meet Charity Vanderbilt.

Charity Vanderbilt invariably looked as though she had been peeled from the pages of a clothing catalog. Her attire was not flashy, it was impeccable, precise, tight, ratcheted down with control as rigid as any painting by Piet Mondrian. Just five feet tall dripping wet, (why she insisted on having her height measured after showering I cannot tell you), she had a sing-song, high pitched voice that resembled a Warner Brothers cartoon character far more closely than a person.

Charity walked with quick, short steps as though a string between her ankles dictated the precise length of every stride.

One day, Charity revealed something I found completely stunning. She said that the gas gauge in her Volvo had broken and she left it that way on purpose because she “enjoyed the mystery and excitement of not knowing if she was about to run out of gas.”

I thought of my own life, a cavalcade of catastrophes including prison, mental hospitals, manic depression, alcoholism, divorce, lost jobs, small fortunes washed away with the dirty dishes – I thought of how I was trying to outrun my curse and find order, stability, responsibility – even some peace of mind.

Then I thought of Charity Vanderbilt, whimsically setting a little booby-trap for herself, to make her life a tiny bit disordered, a tiny bit surprising, a tiny bit interesting. In the oddest way, it made me feel sorry for her and grateful to be me; imperfectly awful.

Admire Doctor King’s Dream? Then Wake Up!

Lena Horne  Lena Horne                 Kate Smith  Kate Smith

Lenny Bruce practiced a confrontational, political form of comedy that relied heavily on shock. He had a famous bit on the subject of racism he directed towards all white males in attendance. It went like this.

Imagine you are shipwrecked on a desert island with no hope of rescue. The island has everything you need to survive so it is reasonable to believe you will live out your days in comfort.

Now, imagine you are offered female companionship but must choose between Lena Horne and Kate Smith. (Stage pause.) If you choose Kate Smith, you’re a racist.

If you find this offensive; congratulations. It’s sexist and chubbyist. (If Lena Horne and Kate Smith are unfamiliar names, I will tell you that they were both singers. Lena Horne was light-skinned and could have passed for white but chose not to.)

There are actually only two kinds of racists; those who admit they are racists and those who don’t. Xenophobia is ancient and primal; our knuckle-dragging predecessors were ruled by fear and regarded the unknown with suspicion. But this explains, it does not excuse.

The essential goal is to admit, understand, and continually beat back our racism on a daily, case-by-case basis. Thus begins the dream.

Ultimately the Mississippi redneck attempting to justify racism is indistinguishable from the Vermont college professor boldly declaring he does not see color. By lying to themselves they both lie to us.

Everybody loves Doctor King’s dream, but few of us acknowledge that racism begins at home.

Help The Cause Of Mental Health Awareness

Invisible Driving Cover Framed

When I sat down to write Invisible Driving in 1990 there was no way to know that this simple act of literary recklessness would hurl me down a path of mental health advocacy ultimately culminating, 22 years later, in the conclusion of this sentence.

Such is life in the land of Whackadoomious. Prior to writing the very first bipolar memoir, I had labored valiantly to keep my mental illness under cover, hidden from the pitchfork-wielding town folk who welcome the mentally ill with the same enthusiasm they shower on seven-year locusts. Going public as a bipolar bear gave me what I call “confession Tourette’s” – I went from “lips are sealed” to bipolar blabbermouth.

Essentially, I wanted to educate the public as much as possible and, I dared, even defied, any of them to look down on me. I had a big, fat surly attitude back then. In time, I actually came to a point where I condescended to square shooters because I believed – without mental illness as a teacher – their life experience was, quite frankly, inadequate in comparison to mine.

But that’s just me. For every passive-aggressive exhibitionist nursing a grudge, feeding a habit, and putting a resentment to bed, there are 100 nice, quiet Whackadoomians who would prefer to recover and strive towards mental health in quiet anonymity and fuzzy slippers.

I would like to make it clear that I do not condemn this stealth, but, and this is a big but, (stop that), I will say that – if you want to change minds, spank stigma, and educate the not-so-great unwashed – and I know you do – the best way to do it is by example.

Make yourself a teacher, a model, and show them that folks like us are – candidly – just like them. To paraphrase Hemingway, “Living well is the best revenge.” To paraphrase Napoleon, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Finally, to paraphrase Taz Mopula, “Since you’re going to be jealous anyway, you may as well be jealous of yourself.”

Action Ideas for Mental Illness Awareness

As you know, I’m a practical – problem/solution – kind of guy. So, here are a few action items that could kick-start the knowledge building process.

1. Annual Mental Illness Memorial Day Telethon – Hosted by Charlie Sheen

2. Mental Illness Trading Cards containing profiles of famous mentally ill people in history.

3. “Halfway Home” – a board game based on Monopoly in which players take turns trying to escape from a Halfway House so they can return their dysfunctional families.

4. America’s Got Illness! In this homage to American Idol, mentally ill contestants would answer questions and disturbed celebrity judges would try to guess their disease.

As good as these ideas are, I’m still going with suggestion number one. Make the stigma-waving public watch as you rise from the ashes and enjoy a life that is better than theirs. If they learn a thing or two, great. If they don’t, the main thing is – you’re doing just fine without them.