Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Chapter Two.

     (I've decided to publish my memoir, "Making Sh*t Up; An Improvised Life" right out here on the blog, unedited, warts, body hair and all. You probably didn't need that last descriptor. I'm actually a little grossed out by it myself.  Also, a qualifier:  I'm sure vegans, as a subculture, are way less batshit than they used to be. Anyway, here's the second chapter...)

Chapter Two
Dear Chronology: Fuck You

Neither of these motherfuckers is me. But I personally believe I favor Sam Jackson.

 This memoir will not be chronological. I don’t think chronologically, and neither do most people, actually. If Quentin Tarantino has taught us anything, it’s that it is okay to jump backwards and forwards in the story. Sure, you may get lost for a second, but pretty soon something really funny or hyper-violent is going to happen which will grab your attention. Just like real life. So fuck it. This is about the time I was in a relationship with a vegan.
     Now, in order not to offend any vegans, let me say this up front: MEAT. IS. AWESOME!!! So, now that the vegans are gone, I’ll continue.
     Here’s what I learned from dating a vegan: if you are not yourself a vegan, don’t date one. Because dating a vegan is, in my mind, a lot like it would be dating a Nazi, just with less regard for hygiene. She was cute, had a sharp wit, and was for some strange reason attracted to me. (Not strange. I made her laugh. There you go.) The first time she told me she was a vegan and I asked what that meant, she explained that she didn’t eat any kind of animal protein, nor use products produced by or from animals. “So, you’re like a vegetarian?” I innocently asked.
     Her response should have been my first clue that the relationship was not going to last. Her voice dropped down from a natural soprano to a bass so low it was nearly beyond the range of human hearing. Like if Barry White and Darth Vader had conceived a child. Her blue eyes turned completely black, and I swear on my life she sprouted these small goat horns on her forehead. The sky clouded over, and her reply of “We are NOT vegetarians!” was accompanied by an unnaturally long peal of thunder. Just as quickly, everything went back to normal and she was cute and blue-eyed again. But in literature, we would call that episode foreshadowing.
     I’ve always had something of a “live and let live” attitude about most people’s lifestyles and personal choices. As long as what you’re doing or believing isn’t intentionally hurting somebody else, and as long as you don’t try to force feed it to me, then we’re cool. Be straight, be gay, be ultra-conservative or super-liberal, or somewhere in between, be pro-gun, pro-choice, anti-nuke, green, pink, whatever. I may not agree with you, but we can sit down over a beer or a glass of wine or a cocktail and talk, like people used to do before Facebook and Twitter and Snap Chat fucked up that kind of social networking for everybody. (I just this second realized there might actually be a group of people of whom I am intolerant – people who don’t drink. I’m NOT talking about recovering alcoholics. I mean people who just don’t drink. Why in the hell, unless you are one hundred percent certain that you have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, would you NOT drink? Drinking is awesome. Still, I vow right here and now to try and find common ground with those people, because that's just the kind of person I am.)
     The problem with my vegan girlfriend was that she was completely intolerant of anyone and anything that did not fit in with her lifestyle. I don’t mean “annoyingly” intolerant. I mean “Westboro Baptist Church” intolerant. Going out to dinner with her was like volunteering to sit as an audience of one for a two-hour diatribe on my entrĂ©e choice. “Have you ever seen an industrial beef plant?” “Do you know they immobilize calves for their whole lives to make veal?” “Do you have any idea how many growth hormones and steroids are used in commercial chicken?” “Have you ever heard a lobster scream in pain?
     It didn’t stop with the food I was eating. “Proud of that leather jacket? Killing a cow is just as bad as murdering a person.” “People who wear fur are just evil.” “Are those chess pieces made of ivory? Why don’t you just hang the elephant’s head above the door?
     I wish that every person in the world had the capability of being completely honest on the first date. Completely. Including me. I wish I’d had the courage to say, “Hey, I’m Larry. My dad committed suicide when I was thirteen and my mom is an alcoholic, so I have some real anger and abandonment issues. Also, I like steak, science-fiction novels and edgy standup comedy.” Do you see how liberating that would be for both parties?
     I wish my first date with the vegan had gone something like, “Hey, I’m a vegan, and an animal rights activist. I like obscure eighteenth century literature, and also I’m completely fucking insane.” Because armed with honesty, I could have set the expectations for the entire evening. I could have responded, “Well, hey, great. Here’s what we’re gonna do on our date. First, I’m going to take you to this great Indian restaurant that specializes in vegetarian dishes. After that we’ll hit this independent bookstore I think you might like, then we’ll drive over to the SPCA and play with some puppies. And at the end of the evening, I’ll drive slowly past your house, push you out of the car, burn rubber out of there and never fucking see you again. Let’s go!
     She used to watch me sleep. This creeped me out more than her extremist vegetable worldview. You know how you’ll just be lying in bed at night, and that inner sense of self-preservation screams at you to wake up right now? I’d open my eyes, and she’d be sitting up in the bed. Watching me. Not watching me in a “this-is-the-man-I-want-to-spend-the-rest-of-my-life-with” kind of way. It was more like a “maybe-tonight-is-a-good-night-for-a-murder-suicide” kind of way.
     Ultimately, I don’t think it was our differences of opinion over the consumption of animal
protein that caused us to break up. I think that, more likely, the breakup might have been 
caused when she caught me in bed with another woman. Actually, I don’t think even that was it. But I do think the large bag of Ultimate Cheeseburgers from Jack In The Box on the nightstand next to where I was having sex with another woman might have been the last straw. I’ll never know for sure. I only know to stay away from vegans.

Next week, Chapter Three: Farm Life, The Switch, and Psychological Torture

Friday, October 23, 2015

The First Chapter.

     Some of you are still waking up, so you didn't see my post from last night (at which time I was very tired and a little drunk, in my defense), but I decided to put my memoir right up here on the blog. I'll be posting one chapter a week, and my hope is that, if you enjoy these words, you'll pass them on. Let us raise a collective middle finger to publishers who bet only on sure things; instead, I'm asking you to invest your time and eyeballs in what I hope - at the very least - is an interesting thing.

     And so (deep breath): here you go...

    Making Sh*t Up:
    An Improvised Life
Larry Brantley

This book is dedicated to Ella Lane Brantley; my daughter, my Boo Bear, my Songbird, my theater-loving, Broadway-aspiring, crazy beautiful light of my life. Chase your whimsies, baby girl. Always.

P.S. Don’t read this fuckin’ thing until you’re at least eighteen years of age. I’m serious.

Love, Dad

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “WOW – what a ride!”
– Hunter S. Thompson

                                                                       Chapter One
Introductions, Comedy, Tragedy, Team Sports, and a Dangerous Disrespect for 
Hi. I’m Larry. I make shit up.
     Most of the shit in this book is not made up, though some of it may be exaggerated for comedic effect, or if exaggeration makes me look wise, brave, or attractive. I really am a working actor. I really was on a 90’s era family television show called Wishbone, and that show really did win a George Foster Peabody Award, The Television Critics Association Award (twice), and four Emmy Awards (though, to be truthful, they were Daytime Emmys, so take that into consideration). I’ve really been in more commercials than I can remember, mostly for my ability to look confused, or defeated.
      I really did start doing stand-up comedy at age 16, three years after my father honest-to-God blew his brains out in a shitty little trailer in Conroe, Texas, which coincided with my mother becoming a raging alcoholic. (Which, for the record, was the only applicable lesson of physics that ever stuck with me: that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.) I really was the class clown in every grade and in every school I attended, because humor (or so I have been told by people with letters after their names and couches for you to lie on) was, and remains, my coping mechanism. And whiskey. Good whiskey.
     Why did I start this page with “I make shit up?” The first reason is it’s an attention-grabber. At least, it is in my head. The second reason is that making shit up is how I survived childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. I even wound up making a living at it. When your life starts to suck at an early age, the two things you need most – even more than comic books and rock n’ roll – are humor, and a hell of an imagination. The humor allows you to have something akin to a social life; people are more apt to let you hang around if you’re funny. (Counter-point: you wind up being “friends” with girls when you’re funny, which guarantees that you will at least be around girls, even while you are not getting laid by those girls.) And the imagination gives you some place to go; some place that cannot be invaded, or conquered, or dismissed by any person, or any event.
     Humor and imagination; these are the seeds of a life.
     Where to start? Let me say right off the bat that I don’t want to write a whiny, bitchy, oh-feel-sorry-for-me-because-of-my-shitty childhood memoir. I really don’t think my childhood was better or worse than a lot of childhoods. My dad wasn’t the first dad to ever commit suicide. My mom wasn’t the first alcoholic. My family has never been the first at anything. We have always been a middle-of-the-road kind of people. If we’d ever had a family motto, something like “That’ll Do” would have rung true. Growing up I was extraordinarily ordinary. With one minor exception: I was funny.
     I believe children tend to gravitate to what they are naturally good at. As a kid, there were plenty of things I naturally sucked at. At the top of this list would have to be Team Sports. My experience with little league baseball taught me, at an early age, that if ever there were an alien invasion of Earth, and the invaders were roughly the same size and shape as baseballs, that I would be of no use whatsoever in defending the planet. I couldn’t hit a baseball if it lay down in the dirt and begged me to, and then insulted my family just for extra motivation. I had the eye-hand coordination of a blind alcoholic with Parkinson’s. Little league basketball was no better. Evidently, running up and down a court while dribbling a ball and trying to shoot a basket was, for me, the equivalent of running the Boston marathon in clown shoes while shot-putting a watermelon. My coaches said sports would build character. Since I always ended up feeling like a tool, I suppose they were right. But that wasn’t the kind of character I wanted to be.

I was, however, pretty kick-ass at having my picture taken.

     I can’t remember the first time I purposefully made somebody laugh. I can tell you that it was probably when I was very young, but old enough to understand that falling down stairs or running into a door or fart sounds were funny. That was when I found something I could do, something where other, more physically coordinated people didn’t have to depend on me. I could be funny all by myself. I suddenly had an identity that was all mine: Class Clown.
     My family most definitely did not appreciate my burgeoning sense of humor. Especially my younger sister. I like to think that the reason she has grown into a well-adjusted, independent, strong-willed person is because of the shit I did to her when we were kids. If the stuff that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, my sister should be She-Hulk. We get along great these days, amazed as we are that we survived our parents and each other. But holy crap, did we used to fight. I don’t mean the regular sibling rivalry stuff, either. I’m pretty sure we actively planned each other’s deaths more than once when we lived under the same roof.
     She spent a night over at my house a while back, on her way home to Oklahoma City. I told her I was going to crack open a couple bottles of wine to loosen her tongue and tell me what she remembers about me specifically from childhood. In vino veritas, baby. I expected her stories to be unflattering (for me), and I was not disappointed. I hadn’t even gotten the first glass of cabernet down her gullet before she reminded me of the time I fired a gun inside the house (I’ll get to that), or the time I humiliated her by informing one of my little league baseball team mates that she had a huge crush on him. Evidently, in addition to becoming a novice comedian, I was also a fledgling asshole.
     But you want to hear about the gun, right? This happened on a night when my mother and new stepfather were out on another personal challenge to drink Montgomery County dry. My sister had a friend over staying the night, and I was the responsible one in charge. (That sentence right there should give you some indication of the depths of my mother’s alcoholism; she actually thought it was okay to give me responsibility for two younger human lives, one of which didn’t even belong to us.) My sister and her friend had retreated to her bedroom, and I had cable television all to myself. Around about midnight, one of my favorite Clint Eastwood films of all time came on: Magnum Force.
     Some time in the second act, when Dirty Harry was beginning to suspect that cops might be responsible for all these killings in his town, I decided he needed a partner. I walked over to my stepfather’s gun cabinet (which was never locked), and withdrew his snub-nose revolver. I opened the cylinder, ejected all the shells, flicked my wrist to snap it back shut, and went skulking around the house looking for dirty cops. I checked every corner, moving stealthily and slowly, until I got to the hall bathroom. I wheeled into the doorway, paused just long enough to catch a glimpse of my bad-assedness in the bathroom mirror, and that’s when I saw him: a rogue cop, five feet in front of me, and drawing his piece with bad intentions. But I had the drop on the sonofabitch. I sighted in on his dirty cop head, slowly squeezed the trigger – and fired a .38 hollow point slug right through the bathroom window.
     Knowing that you are about to be in deep, deep shit before you are actually in it is somehow a more terrible feeling. I put the gun back in the cabinet, went to my room, and knew that I would have to talk to my mother in the morning. I had done something incredibly irresponsible and dangerous, there was no covering it up, and the next morning I approached my mother and did what I needed to do.
     I lied my ass off.
     Looking back, I see now the dumbass story I concocted could only have been accepted by a mother who was very hung over, and loved her kid too much to let him get in real trouble. Still, she called the sheriff’s office (did I mention she worked for the sheriff’s office at this time?), after I told her that I fired through the bathroom window at a prowler. The deputy came out, took my statement, knew I was lying through my teeth, and let it go because he was doing my mom a solid. Nobody got killed, and in Conroe, Texas, that was usually cause for dismissal. That was the last time I ever handled a gun in my life, except for a brief stint in the Army where it was required. I will never have a gun in my house, because I have a child. And, while she is a girl and has zero interest in guns, she also has some floatie toys from my gene pool – and she likes to make shit up, too.

     Next Week: Chapter Two: Dear Chronology - Fuck You.