A rollicking account of a paralyzed Gen Xer coming of age in the oft-times sordid Hollywood rock scene of the 1980’s
So there I was, dicking along in life, figuring my embarrassing juvenile criminal record automatically sealed upon the day I turned eighteen. Wrong! One needed to apply and then have a hearing before a judge. A year after beginning the process, I received a letter informing me that my juvenile idiocy no longer existed. From that day forward, I could legally answer “no” to the question, “Have you ever been arrested or convicted?” About a month after learning I was never arrested or convicted, the Berlin Wall came a-tumbling down to signal the West’s Cold War triumph over them commie bastards; thanks in large part to the leadership and resolve of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Regan, and Pope John Paul II. But probably the most important world event to occur during the last quarter of 1989, after almost ten years of fruitless struggle, was that I learned to roll a joint with one hand. It’s all in the preparation.
Truth be told, I had cut way back on pot and drinking, and hardly ever did any blow. I did have my moments, but I worked out incessantly, ate right, and around the same time of becoming Mr. Cue, I began walking with the assistance of a leg brace and walker. The happy trails back and forth within my apartment were set in motion during clinic at Rancho Hospital, when the beyond-beautiful physical therapist, Jan, prescribed me a leg brace intended solely for standing exercise. I would meet with Jan a few times a month, where she’d assess my improvement then add some new goals and exercises to the routine. She was a positive and eager taskmaster, who I always wanted to make proud.
Because my leg brace was intended for standing, it was lightweight and flimsy. It broke regularly, and set me back weeks while it sat at Rancho’s orthotics department waiting for repairs. When my leg brace broke for the umpteenth time, just days after getting it back from the shop, I became fed up and found a much closer repair place, North Hollywood Orthotics. The owner, Emery, said my brace was too flimsy for a burly manly-man such as me. A very generous and caring person, he built me a super-heavy-duty, nearly indestructible brace for about a quarter of the going price; fucking Jews compassionately undercharging me for stuff. I liked him and dropped by the shop every so often to visit and share a sandwich from the kick-ass deli next door. Three decades later, I still got a soft spot in my heart for Emery, and that masterpiece of a leg brace still holds me up whenever I let it.
After five years of being exiled from the Rainbow, I finally made it back inside. On my very first visit, a smoking-hot blond waitress, Bella, asked me if I was an actor. I looked her right in the eye as my inner-actor proclaimed, “Yes, I am.” Unfortunately she wasn’t hitting on me, merely inviting me to an acting workshop loaded with kooky cripples. If she was going to be there, I wanted to give it a shot; acting, too. The workshop was the lovechild of serious actor Otto Felix. But at times, he played goofy rolls, like the mellow motorcycle cop requesting a hotdog from Cheech or Chong in the classic film Up in Smoke.
The workshop was newly formed, and during my first few weeks, we brainstormed for a group name. Otto liked the acronym H.A.P.P.I. (Handicap Artists, Performers, and Partners Incorporated). I hated that fucking rainbows-and-lollipops name, so I lobbied strongly for G.I.M.P. (Great in Motion Pictures), or D.R.O.O.L. (Dudes Rolling Onscreen or Location). Strangely, they settled on H.A.P.P.I., which I wasn’t about. Otto was a passionate and focused man who busted his ass, schmoozed, and charmed endlessly to get us seemingly never-ending auditions for commercials, films, and television. The very first month at H.A.P.P.I., I got a part as an extra: “guy in wheelchair playing basketball.”
My next big break came in the form of a callback from the TV show China Beach.
I think Ma was far more excited than me about the Vietnam-War-set medical drama, with ultra-lame dialogue that I could never quite envision myself reciting with a straight face. As a shitty actor, I’m fairly sure I bombed the audition. But Otto was convinced the part would have been mine if I had not told the producers I wasn’t willing to cut my hair. Even more so after I said to him, “I’m just doing this acting shit for fun.” Otto then gave me a high-energy, heartfelt lecture about how acting needed to be a burning passion. It all worked out. Because if I had landed the part, I would have missed getting the regional commercial, “Hey, take a look, ‘mon.” I played a gimp DJ drumming on the Yellow Pages of a now-defunct Baby Bell, and made 10k for four hours’ work. And I kept my hair.
Early on at H.A.P.P.I., disabled comic Gene Michner wheeled up to introduce himself. I had fond memories of his performance at Rancho Hospital during my rehab stay, so I told him how funny he was. We soon became pretty good friends, and I’d drive him around whenever he wanted. Along our travels, I’d often tell him jokes I had made up. Without fail, he’d claim it to be an old one. And I’d get bummed. One day, I borrowed a show video, and eight years after seeing him at Rancho, it was virtually the same act. Gene wasn’t home when I returned his VHS, but his roommate loaned me a video of a more recent show. I was shocked when I saw that Gene Michener had worked at least five of my – previously pooh-poohed – jokes into his set. And they got huge laughs. I never told him I knew, but persuaded him to get me on stage so I might give standup comedy a try.
Wheelchair-bound Gene had a bit: “I’m not a standup comic…” Whenever I mention to someone my comedic past, almost to a person, I get, “Yeah, but you weren’t a stand-up comedian.” Too easy, but I actually stood – using my leg brace with a walker – while doing comedy. After purchasing a 1989 Isuzu pickup truck, and storing my wheelchair in the bed, requiring a short – clinging to the vehicle – walk to the cab, I began walking longer and longer distances with my walker. It got to the point where I would often just leave my wheelchair in the carport. That pickup and a clunky Brother word processor were essential elements to my getting into the comedy game. I never would have driven bug-eyed Michener around Southern California in a car, and the cutting-edge word processor was a writing godsend for a quadriplegic.
Gene hooked me up with my first-ever gig, at the Comedy and Magic club in Hermosa Beach. I got a five-minute slot, and after the MC’s introduction, I did an exaggerated Frankenstein-foot-slide to make my way ever so slowly to the microphone, where I spent a moment getting situated, then looked at my watch and said, “Well, I guess that’s all my time.” The generous laughter directed my way reeled me in. I actually got a decent amount of love for the first three minutes, but then smashed into a wall after a joke bombed and engulfed the room in silence. Despite the last two minutes feeling like forever and a day, I got hooked on the conditional love pouring forth from a room full of drunks.
Something unbelievable happened. I was paid fifty bucks for my fourth comedy gig. My third show was an open mic at the Long Beach Comedy club, where I always seemed to do very well. The club’s bartender also promoted shows far and wide in bars looking to offer live entertainment. After my decent set, she offered me a paying gig for the next night. A week into the comedy game, I stood on the stage of a hinterlands’ Red Onion, believing myself the funniest guy who ever broke his fucking neck. She’d call two or three times a month to offer ten minutes on a stage fifty miles away, and I’d make enough dough for gas and drinks.
Besides the occasional audition, and infrequent paid gig, I’d perform at up to five open mics per week. I must say, the worst thing about doing comedy was the hanging out with comedians. The funny, happy-go-lucky ones were few and far between, while the rest were the mentally defective types who took everything from this perpetual class clown far too seriously. I never did figure out why someone with no sense of humor chose comedy as a goal.
For a few years, I spent a lot of time at clubs watching other “up and comers” die slow, pathetic deaths on stage. And for some reason, along the way I made a few comedian sworn enemies. It might have been due to my heckling them. I never set out to heckle; I considered it interaction. I actually enjoyed it when people responded to something I was talking about on stage. Even if they were giving me shit, at least they were paying attention. But some “comics” seemed genuinely surprised – straight into anger – when their joke’s set-up question got answered differently than they had scripted it. Until another funnyman made their hatred of Raz known, I rarely talked shit or said a peep whilst they bombed on stage. But once we went to war, it was on and I was merciless.
There was an extra-shitty comedy club, the L.A. Cabaret in Encino, which became my home base. The cheap-ass owner, Ray, barely opened his wallet for talent, so he preferred comics like me who worked for free. A Ventura Boulevard location and gimmick promotions kept patrons trickling in. One of those promotions was “The Funniest Person in the Valley” contest. Ten weekly preliminary contests drew large numbers of friends to vote for a favorite “comic.” After making the finals of the illustrious competition, I started getting booked into that shithole pretty regularly. But there was no rhyme or reason to what time slot a comic got booked into. Once a month, I’d call in and then, after a prolonged period on hold, would receive whatever spot was open at that particular moment on Ray’s calendar page. The weird thing was, with the talent available, he could have put some funny shows together. Instead, there’d be a funny one, followed by four idiots in a row, another talented person, two room-clearers, and so forth.
Soon after becoming a regular at the Cabaret, I pitched Ray for a show during “National Disability Month” and got a Wednesday night for me and some gimp comic friends to do as we wished. The best part of the deal – we got to keep all the ticket money. Our flyer promised, “All proceeds go directly to the disabled,” which we gladly pocketed. The show, billed as “Comics on Wheels; and Other Modern Appliances,” featured some truly funny folks. Headliner Gene Michner, along with Danny Woodburn, Nancy Kennedy, Henry Holden, Slick Trenier, Paul Ryan, Christopher “Stick” Sylbert, Frankie C., and yours truly put on a well-received show to a packed house. Ray was so pleased with the turnout, “Comics on Wheels” rolled on semi-regularly until we hit an uphill stretch.
When my newest business venture began greedily consuming most of my time, I quit doing open mics and driving fifty miles to do ten minutes for gas-ish money. But I still performed an L.A. Cabaret set every week. One morning, I was super busy, and after waiting on hold for more than an hour to book shows, Ray’s secretary came on the phone to blow me off with a “You’ll have to try back next week.”
Angry, I slammed the phone down, took a breath, and then called right back to leave Ray a message. Later that day, by sheer coincidence, while at a print shop owned by one of the Cabaret’s bartender, Ray called in and my print dude told him, “I’m just sitting here with Raz Cue.”
A few seconds later, I’m on the phone hearing Ray ask, “Raz, did you tell my secretary I’m a moron?”
I told Ray, “No, I said you’re a fucking moron,” which left me lots of time to concentrate on other interests.
I’ve got less forgive and forget in me than an East Coast mob boss has for rats. Even though he called the cops on me over a measly forty bucks and cost me thousands, believe it or not, for a time I actually hung out with Mike Jagosz again. I know, right? A year after Mike totally fucked me over, I received a letter from his lawyer requesting my witness testimony regarding his drunken valet encounter at the Rainbow. Mike’s phone number was on the letter, so I called to say, “Dude, you fucking called the cops on me. You need to die.” I wasn’t buying his feeble excuses. But when he mentioned having some killer buds, I drove over for a smoke. But more importantly, to act like I could be persuaded to forgive while doing payback reconnaissance. I even surprised myself when I convinced dumbass Mike to start a grow room at his new house, using equipment left over from my abandoned grow.
Unlike the anonymous pussy way he did it, I would wait until a few days before harvest to personally walk the cops to Mike’s grow, laugh in his face, then tell him “Fuck you, motherfucker!” With my plan in motion, and everything going great, I laughed a little bit inside each time I saw his pot plants’ progress.
One day, Ma said to me, “I can’t believe you’re hanging out with Mike again.” I grinned and told her my dastardly plan. She got one of her disappointed mother scowls, and gave an inaccurate assessment of my character: “I can’t believe you’re that mean and spiteful.” It truly made me feel like shit, so even though there were only a few short months until Mike would taste the pungent asshole of payback’s bitch, I immediately quit hanging out with him.
A few months later, I received a phone call from Mike’s sobbing girlfriend, begging to know, “Why’d you do it?” After calming her down long enough to find out that Mike was in jail for growing pot, I convinced her I didn’t do it. I needed to talk to him before one of us ended up dead, so I made her promise to call me when he bailed out. It really looked like I was the informant, because it was the end result of how I planned it out. And exactly what he did to me. Fortunately, there was lots of circumstantial evidence pointing to my innocence. And because I really hadn’t called the cops, Mike mostly believed I had no part in it.
I kept Mike in my sights until 99 percent certain he wouldn’t come a-gunning for me. I never did forgive him for calling the cops on me. So after shit settled down, I once again quit hanging out with him. But the whole situation made me absolutely believe in karma, and I changed my behavior accordingly. All I needed to complete my ethical evolution was learning to truly distinguish right from wrong while it hid away within the morally convenient gray area where justification is easily found. I’m just trying to be a better person. My name is Raz.