Tuesday August 20th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL
There’s nothing sexy whatsoever about the daily grind of self employment. I suppose mopping floors at Walmart is no barn dance either, but at least there’s a steady paycheck involved. It’s not a wealth maker, but it’s there. My grandfather always made me promise I’d opt for the safe life.
As much as I wanted to please him, that just wasn’t in my psychological makeup then. He kept his mouth shut and plowed through thirty years of a civil service job he totally hated dispatching garbage trucks and snow plows for the city of Milwaukee. He was miserable, but he got a check.
The only time I saw him happy was after he retired. He was in his mid 60s, and he got involved with the senior center circuit and started his short lived entertainment career. He would take roles in their various plays and musical productions, and he was like a kid with the keys to a toy store.
I never saw anyone love the entertainer’s life more than Gramps. He would take any kind of an instructional class he could sign up for if it had to do with anything close to entertainment or the arts. He took a creative writing course once and would pay me ten cents a page to type what he’d written in longhand. I don’t recall his stories being all that memorable, but I was teenager then.
I wish I could read those stories now, and get more of an insight as to what was in his head. He forced himself to squelch his creative urges for decades to opt for the safe path of having a job to feed his family, and I don’t know how he did it. I know why, but not how. It must have been hell.
It was especially disappointing for him, as nobody really thanked him for it. My grandmother’s personality and his were like oil and water, and she hated anything to do with show business. She never went to see any of his shows, and in fact made fun of his desire to be the life of the party.
My father and uncle both took the civil service route and they hated their lives as well. Gramps and my father never saw eye to eye, nor did he and my uncle. I was the only one that he thought had a clue to what he was doing, and I went to see his shows all the time. It was torture for me to sit through senior citizen revues as a teenager, but I knew it made Gramps happy so I showed up.
He LOVED it when I showed up, and would show me off to anyone who would listen. He was definitely the kid in that scenario, and I let him have his moment in the sun. He sacrificed almost an entire lifetime of doing what he despised just to get that chance on stage. That was his reward.
Today I got up extra early, and started answering my huge mountain of emails. At 7:40 I had to do my weekly radio bit with ‘Stone and Double T’ on 104 The X in Rockford, IL and then I took the rest of the morning to rework my comedy class outline in order to record my lessons on video for an online course. Nothing sexy there, but it had to be done. Then I returned some phone calls.
Most of those calls were concerning shows I’ve got coming up – many of them door deals with no guarantee whatsoever that even one person will show up. I’m hoping to scrape some kind of a living together out of all of it, and after a lifetime of slugging I’m still surviving week to week.
Sometimes that struggle gets me so down I don’t feel like getting out of bed. I gave everything I had to be an entertainer, and have no wife and kids or retirement plan to fall back on when life gets hard – and it totally is right now. I’m out there dangling by myself, wondering if I made the right decision. For me, it was the only decision. There’s nothing sexy, but I’m still in the game.