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Stranger than Fiction

By Mark Nizer

Here I sit on US Air #1181 to Boston still spinning from last nights dizzying events. Being on the road can be grueling and strange events happen in some of the most harmless looking places. (Overheard at the counter at Little Rock, Arkansas Waffle House: "Does this look infected to you?.....ever since I got out.....". I never fail to cringe at the bizarre qwerks and lifestyles of some of our neighbors. Well here's a bizarre, ironic and too true story.

After my annual visit with Trixie in Muskogee, OK I'm driving from Tulsa to Jackson, Tennessee for a gig that night. After a leisurely breakfast at Denny's (12pm) and a stop at the local mall to pick up some gummy bears, a jumbo pixie stick and a troll, I realise I've miss calculated my driving time. The contract wants me there at 5pm for a teaser (NOT) and the show starts at 6:30pm. At my current speed my ETA is 6:15pm. So I break out the fuzz buster, polish my shades and buckle up. I shadow some idiot doing 80mph+ for about an hour and things are starting to look pretty good. The 2 speed traps were easy to find with this guy in front blazing the trail. So I've gained an hour and I'm thinking I'll make it by 5:30pm. I exit onto the home stretch, a two lane road, 55mph and no one around. So outta nowhere some State Trooper hits his instant on....I get a seconds notice slam on the breaks and knock 10-15mph off my velocity. I look at the speedometer, I'm still going 70mph.....oppps!!!

Before the I even pass him I pull over, right as he hits his lights. There goes my time savings. I stash my radar detector, still glowing red from his evil satan controled rador gun, and grab my license, car rental certificate and show contract and get ready to start schmoozing my way outta this as quick as I can.

"I'm sorry I was speeding, I'm late for this show and there's 500 people waiting for me." I blabbed, as my temples are pounding with adrenaline. "My plane was late" I'm looking for anything now, trying to find common ground with Mr. Leather here.

"Step out of the car please" he demands. "Don't you have any shoes?"

"Sorry" I run back and grab my boots.

We get in his mustle mustang. As he holds my license in his hand he explains the fine is $50 plus $100 court fees and since Tennessee and California don't have a exchange policy I'll have to pay him cash on the spot or.......

Before he has a chance to finish I blurt, "Can you give me a break, I'm trying to get to this show, I'm just trying to make a living." I thought appealing to his mid-western work ethic might bond us. I was wrong.

"Hey you were going 71mph, it's right there" he said pointing to the radar screen.

I'm thinking, I don't have $150 on me and he's going to drag me to his little jail or ATM and this is going to take all night. Not only will I be late, I'll be too late.

Well, I figure I'll go for broke; bring in the big guns....

"I'm a juggler!......(nothing)....I've been on Arsenio Hall....." I mumbled unsure if that was a good thing.

As his head rose off the ticket starting to take shape, he said, "Are you the guy that bounces the balls off the piano".

Boy I can't tell you how many people have mindlessly confused me with Dan Menedez. Sure we're both men, juggle and have arms and legs but we look about as similar as Dana Carvey and Kojak. I hate nothing more than being confused as "that guy on TV.....you do chain saws right?".

"That's me" I proudly declare, "I got the piano in the car, here I'll show you."

I bolt outta the car and grab a brochure from my flight bag. While he stares at the pictures I point out the Arsenio Hall credit at the top of my TV shows.

"I just had my manger print these up." I said, sounding more and more like a used car salesman about to sell the biggest lemon on the lot.

I opened the trunk and point at my black anvil prop case in the bottom of the trunk. "The pianos in there" (yeah, like I really have one). "Here, I'll show you".

I grab 5 silicone balls from my bag and start force bouncing them on the side of route 100 east. Cars zoomin' by and I'm thinkin', if this works this is gonna make a great story for Two Ply.

"Watch out for those cars" my concerned friend says.

"Here have a T-shirt" I said completing my schmoozing presentation with a tacktfull gift....not a bribe....no no. "Got any kids?......"

"Yeah"....he began.

"Here's one for him" I said, sealing the transaction.

He hands me my license and papers and says "I love that show, slow down and get goin'."

Nuff said I jump in the car and peel out to Jackson. Thanking my lucky troll that people have no clue when it comes to jugglers.

I made the show, got paid and saved $150 bucks. Next time I see Dan Menedez I'm gonna by him an adult beverage.

PS: You can own a "Mark Nizer: Bribe your way out of tickets T-Shirt" identical to the one endorsed by the a Tennessee State Troopers association. See details in this issue.

The moral to this story is: If you must speed be ready to pay the price.....a T-shirt ,10 throws and your dignity.

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Copyright Mark Nizer 1996 ©

Notes from my Travel Log

by Mark Nizer

It's snowing and has been for 2 hours. I just finished doing my show in Montreal, Canada for a year, and am driving down to New York City where I lived. My two seater sports car is not doing very well in the snow. I notice there are no other cars on the road, and just then I realize why; I'm now going sideways at 60 mph in over 8 inches of fresh snow. The highway patrol stops by and recommends I discontinue my travel for the night until the local plow is out of the shop, and can plow the road. He recommends I stay at the local ski lodge. Funny though, I don't see any mountains. I pull up and I'm in front of an old house that looks like a combination of the Adamms Family and the Bates Motel. I register by handing this smelly guy who is (lets be kind) dentally challenged, $25.00 in cash (it was actually $22.50 but they were cash only and no change). "Let me show you to your room" he says, as I walk through what is obviously their living room, dining room and hallway. My room looks more like a torture chamber. It has 10 bunks with old yellow stained mattresses, no window and a bathroom down the hall that I'll be sharing with my hosts...."oh goody".

I realize that the white tank top (more like yellow) this guy is wearing has a stain (perhaps gravy) on it. I am now meeting the family, and yes, they too, all have the same gravy stain in the same place. Perhaps it's a style or just a eating disorder I have yet to experience. It is the middle of winter, the height of the ski season and yet I am the only guest at this "hotel"? There is a TV in the heated room and the whole family and I sit down to watch TV. American Gladiators is on. The youngest says this is his favorite show; suddenly his mother smacks him in the back of the head...."shut-up Louis" the guest gets to decide what he wants to watch. The room becomes very quiet as everyone turns to see my decision....like what am I gonna say, "no, I want to watch Americas Most Wanted to see if your family is being profiled". I agree with Louis and quietly sneak off to bed, hoping I will survive the night.

I've been struck by lightning twice. Both while cruising at 30,000 feet in a jet liner. The first time was aboard a...well, lets just a budget airline; plastic boarding passes and all the peanuts you can eat on a cross continental flight. I'm sitting at the window when suddenly "BLAM" outta no where the plane fills with white light, the right wing drops and the stewardess screams and runs toward the back of the plane. Well that feels safe; the women next to me grabs me; with a "I don't want to die alone" look in her eye. I slowly lift up the window shade expecting to see a mess of wires and wreckage where the wing once was. To my surprise there is wing there and it looks fine. I'm gonna live! The weeping stewardess returns looking more lie Tammy Faye than the highly skilled avionics expert she was moments before. We land without incident. A month latter the same things happens on a different airline, everyone screams, I sleep thru it; although my dreams are disturbing.

I'm picked up from the airport by two nice coeds. We load my bags into their car and drive an hour into a two hour drive and stop for lunch. The excitement of arriving at Wendys apparently is too much for my host as she accidentally locks the keys in the car. We're an hour from anything, the show is an hour from here and starts soon. What are we gonna do? Luckily, in my travels, I have been schooled in the finer art of breaking into cars. Option one; smashing the window, was out. As was option 2; a coat hanger thru the side window, as it was a new car and had no door lock knobs. A quick scan of the Wendys kitchen and a slightly modified spatula handle and click we're in the vehicle and back on track. My host are very pleased, although they no longer leave me alone with their vehicle.

It's 11pm in Iowa. I am done my show and starving. I have no car and the only food available is a candy bar vending machine 1/2 mile down the road or a Chinese food place; that for a fee has agreed to deliver. My first clue should have been chinese food in Iowa. That should set off a red flag in anyones' head; but my current weakened state left me incapable of rational thought. "Yea, I'll have the egg drop soup and the stir fry" I ask. "No! We out of egg drop soup...sweet and sour?" "Yeah, OK that's fine." Forty-five minutes latter I'm paying this man for my food. He looks to be of Irish-Russian decent; red flag number 2...he's is not chinese. He hands me a brown bag and hurries off. Well to my surprise the food (I use this word loosely here) has been merged into one handy container and looks like he scraped whatever he could find off the grill and behind it onto a plate. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, none of the material was recognizable. He also has forgot to include any tools to get this substance from the cardboard box container to my mouth (yes I am still planning on eating this). Now I know how Captain O'Grady felt eating ants after being shot down over Bosnia. Sure it tastes weird but when your hungry your lizard brain kicks in and you'll eat almost anything. I eat the food with a combination tooth brush and rolled up TV guide cover; feeling more like a caveman than a homosapien in a civilized society.

The next day I am sick.

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Copyright Mark Nizer 1996 ©


Mean People Suck...but good people win...sometimes.

by Mark Nizer

You see 'em everyday. The guy that cuts you off, the bully you grew up with, the idiot that's speeding, the rude customer pushing ahead in line. They are there and like a black hole they suck in all the good and spew out the bad. I have made it my mission in life to help the mean people repent or at least have a less stressful day.

 

The Driver

I'm in Boston, Massachucettes notoriously the worst drivers (or best if you ask them) in the country. They are so mean and aggressive. You only use your turn signal to baffle and confuse the other drivers. Signalling your intentions is a easy way of saying "block me". After growing up in Boston it took me a year getting used to driving in California. I couldn't figure out why everyone beeped and pointed that middle finger up at me at four way stop signs. Was it some sort of congratulations, a hand signal that I was number one. Oh you're supposed to take turns at these red hexagons....I thought it was, he who pushes in first or has the most worthless car; and I had both. Now that I am a impeccably courteous driver, I return to Boston and am eaten alive by the other competitors. I am merging into a tunnel with 6 lanes down to 2. A huge pickup squeezes in making his own lane and shoving his 5 tons of steel into traffic. I look at him as he laughs and pushes onward. Just when I am resigned to this mean guy sucking so much.."Twang" a semi-truck breaks off his entire side mirror. I do the math. 100 tons into 5 tons equals 95 tons of me laughing so hard I can barely drive; although he is now following me and very possibly looking for his hand gun. Note:mean people have more hand guns than nice people. I escape.

 

The Passenger

Manhattan, NY in line at the airline ticket counter. I've been standing here for 30 minutes gnawing my finger nails off, hoping to still make my flight. The stress is high. Behind me I hear a commotion and see a very small german lady who I recognize from her many appearances giving sexual advice to complete strangers, demanding she be next. Gee, I thought this was a line; we take turns....or is it based on physical strength or in this case ego.

"Do you know who I am?", she squeals.

"A really uptight grumpy person?", I counter.

"I am Doctor (rhymes with tooth weisenheimer), she says, "and I am in a hurry".

"Thats great, we have something in common," I say, "me too."

The single employee working as fast as she can, is able to explain that we still live in a free society and she will have to wait, just like everyone else. Wow! Look how much heat is coming out of Dr. (ryhmes with tooth's) head. That can't be good.

It's my turn. I approach the counter and empathize with the ticket agent and try to relieve some of her stress. She appreciates the releaf. I move to the side and Dr "Tooth" comes to the counter.

I am "Dr. Tooth" she exclaims, "and I need my ticket."

"Do you have some ID?", she asks with a slight grin.

"I don't have my wallet...I'm Dr. (ryhms with tooth).

Ego check!

Note: Mean people never relize they are mean.

 

The Bully

We all knew him. He's the guy that burnt down your tree house, put the fire cracker in the frogs mouth and punched you for no reason. In my case he was called Lewis Sney and for my childhood he was the bully. He was bigger than all of us (held back in school perhaps) and took great pride in destroying the harmony the neighborhood could have had. Sure I spent most of my gym classes with my shorts getting pulled down around my ankles; but this went beyond childhood abuse. This mean person took 20 years to get his payback. On my last visit home I saw him. He looked like Jaba the Hut with feet. At first I was scared and looked around to see if I could make to my yard in time; but then I caught myself. I'm in a car, he's old and we're grown ups. All the anger and inner hate he had was now on the outside.

Revenge has been sweet: He's now 40 years old, lives with his Mommy and weighs in around 300 pounds. Being a drug dealer has not helped make him rich and powerful as he had seen on Miami Vice and those years of twinkie abuse have taken there toll. But despite how mean he was; I can't even go up to him and enjoy the moment. I wasn't scared; I felt sorry for him. Mean people need love to; maybe if I had let him pound on me a little longer as a kid he could have worked thru his anger.

The next mean person I encounter I'll just tell them " I feel sorry for you, break off thier side mirror, give them some sexual advice and a pack of twinkies.

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Copyright Mark Nizer 1997 ©


Making it Count

by Mark Nizer
"It would be so nice if you weren't here."
Charles Groden (spoken to him as he arrived at a gig)

I walk on stage and there is 500 screaming students all psyched that I'm here and going to perform for them. It's a small school and I expected 75-200 people to show. The next night I'm at a large school (name not included to protect the innocent) I walk out in the state of the art performing arts stage to a sparse crowd. They have some 20,000 more students on campus and yet a relatively small turnout.

The secret to the amazing crowd, the night before, is the result of the programming board, lead by the Director of Student Activities, getting everyone on campus to know and feel lucky to see this "one time performance". I thought this phenomena may have been a fluke. But the next season this same programmer moved to an even smaller school. When I came in to perform the next year the crowd was not as big...they were bigger! Some 200+ over the room capacity filled the aisles and out into the hall. They are a fantastic audience, from the moment I begin until the two standing ovations I feel like a star...(luckily I'll be at a brain damage show the next night and will check my inflated ego at the door).

Now, I realise that every school is different and each has their own style. But to see this work again and again is not just luck but a careful and interesting science.

Leadership
Like the captain of a ship the director has got to lead by example. He surrounds themselves with good people who in turn are hard workers and they recruit others. One of the main rewards for student board members is the feeling of accomplishment as a show comes together and all the advertising and planning pays off. This begins to build as one successful event leads into the next and the excitement grows.

Demand the best
I know everyone who worked for this DSA knew he was a tough boss. Never let anyone do something half way or let it go unfinished. Delegate tasks but give them to those who excel in those areas. In other words don't let the shy introvert introduce the performer. If this was Eddie Murphy coming to perform would you have done things different?

Excitement is catching.
Just like the common cold, excitement is catching. I remember one school that printed up 1000 ping pong balls with my name, show time and the words " What can you do with this" on them. The gave them out everywhere and by the time I arrived they were all over campus......"What's he gonna do with those?" could be heard everywhere.

The little things
The little things really make a difference. A performer is away from their home eating fast food and always rushing around. A small act can make the difference between another day on tour and a memorable day in your life. One of my favorites was a greeting card left in my hotel room before I arrived. It said "we're glad you are here" this made me feel welcome and also conveyed that they had planned ahead enough to have check my room and leave it there. I went to sleep that night feeling great.

Make it happen
This is the rule I live by. You arrive at the event, which is scheduled in a old theater. No one knows how to run the sound system ,if it works at all, and there are no lights at all. We have 120 minutes to "do it".

Many people initially react to a problem with....."we can't", "I don't know" or "we don't have that". I know this show is going to go on and there is a way to solve the problems. The challenge is to do it fast and the best way we can in 115 minutes(5 minutes off for typing time).

It turns out the sound system is broken so we snag a yellow pages and catch the local music store minutes before they close. I rent a basic but good system and will have it in 45 minutes.

Next there are no lights in the entire building. Apparently they were removed for renovation and not returned yet. The solution...."everyone run back to your dorm rooms get every desk lamp and extension cord you can find."

114 minutes later I slide out on stage into a circle of some 15 desk lamps all daisy chained around me. The sound system works great and the packed crowd is treated to a fun and impromptu performance.

Try to think of the problem and what the easiest and best solution will be. Situations like this looked bleak and I was worried the show would suffer. As it turned out is was even better than I had hoped.

Read the rider
A very obvious point but overlooked so many times I can't count. I think many people assume the other person is going to read it. Most riders are written very precisely. Each note is there for a reason. For example, my rider asks for "a grounded power supply stage left". What I am really asking for is a single plug to plug in my electronics for my show. I have a power strip with me so I only ask for "a power supply". It has to be grounded or else there will be an annoying buzz through the sound system during the show. It has to be stage left or else my electronics, which have to be on that side, will not reach it.

It's not just a show; it's family
Some of the best situations I've performed in have left me with the feeling I am leaving a group of good friends after the show. Each member of the board, the director of activities and the tech crew have all come together. It feels good and it makes my job the best there is.

See you out there!

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Copyright Mark Nizer 1996 ©


The Wonders of the Web

What It Can Bring to Campus Programming

by Mark Nizer

The World Wide Web (WWW) is now widely used on virtually every college campus in the country, if not the world. Many campus libraries have fast Internet connections and color computers that students can use to "surf the Net". With the availability of this new technology, is it possible to take advantage of it for programming new events and promoting those that you already have planned? You bet!

When we consider the World Wide Web, most of us think of the graphical interface aspect of the Internet that allows the viewing of text, graphics, animation, sounds and even movies that are located on other computers that are also connected to the Internet. Because Universities are typically part of the Internet (i.e., they have a computer as a server on the Net 24 hours a day), they often have very fast connections (typically a T-1 line that enables the viewing of large complex files almost instantly). The rest of us peons have to twiddle our thumbs waiting for that exciting graphic to load, just to see that it's a picture of some sunlight-challenged guy named Sherman hunched over his Unix work station in his parents' basement. With a T-1 connection, though, you are able to access any site on the Web with very little time spent waiting. Many campuses extend these internet connections to offices and even dorms on campus.

"OK Mark, I think I got the idea," you say. "But what good is it? Aside from checking for the latest shots from Mars (http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/photo_gallery/) or downloading a pre-written term paper from the Library of Congress?"

Well, the Internet actually offers tons of cool college related links.

Many college agents are now online and offer a rich array of content for surfers. One site, College Programming Network (http://www.active-media.com/media/cpn), offers a listing of many college booking agencies with links to those agencies that have web sites on the Net. When visiting these sites you can check out their performers, learn about the agency, check tour schedules and availability, e-mail them and even request press information and videos. Many of these sites also include links to their performers with home pages. They often include specific tour schedules, cool photos, information on their acts, sound files you can download, and samples of their material. You can also send fan mail and even watch interactive movies. Shameless plug!... at my site: (http://www.silicon.net/media/nizer) you can even win a free gift!

College Programming Network also lists performers' home pages directly. Any performer or agent who has a web site and wants to be linked can do so for free. (CPN also links the viewer to the NACA home page and other cool college related links.)

The great thing about the Web is that it is easy to update and add to pages. You can always find the latest information on a performer and see where they are. Say you have a last minute cancellation and need an act. You could log on and check to see which performers are going to be in the area and e-mail your request to the agency. E-mail is often a great time saver, as it takes only moments to transmit and can be sent even when the agency may be closed. So you can work at your convenience and not only between the hours of 9-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Other resources include the NACA home page (http://bbs.naca.scarolina.edu/). Although this site is relatively new, it is growing. The page is set up like a mini-college campus, with information offered under a variety of categories, ranging from a Visitor's Center (information about NACA) to a Theatre (links to artists' home pages, grouped according to performance category). There is also a Kiosk (listings of regional conference schedules and future National Convention and Regional Conference dates and sites) and an Administrative area (names and addresses of NACA leadership). Other information areas are also part of the page. Through the NACA BBS (dial 803-749-3818 for a 9600 baud or less modem or 803-749-3817 for faster modems), you can access text files from Programming magazine, as well as student and professional chat areas and forums. You may also reach these files and areas by using a telnet or web browser application and entering the folowing URL: telnet:\\bbs.naca.sc.edu.

The MasterCard ACTS home page (http://bbs.naca.scarolina.edu/mcacts.htm), which can also be accessed from the NACA home page, promotes a great program that awards scholarships and cash to talented college students and their schools. You can find out when the next regional competition is, learn how to set up a contest at your school, see information about past winners, read rules and regulations, and find out about video entry procedures and participating schools. This is one of the best chances to expose your campus' talented students to performing and get some great exposure at the same time.

The Web also offers resources that list colleges and universities. Among them is http://www.globalcomputing.com/universy.html, where you can check out your rival schools' home pages, their upcoming events and perhaps join in a block booking of a nearby artist.

Those who book big concerts may want to check out Pollstar, the Concert Hotwire (http://www.pollstar.com). It offers a host of information on upcoming tours and events.

Campus Activities Today magazine (CAT) (http://www.cameopub.com) maintains a monthly online magazine, including articles, reviews, interviews and other content.

The Web will change the way we look at the world. Right now, it offers virtual color "brochures" and fast easy access to communication and information. In the coming months and years the Web will be changing

dramatically. As access speeds increase, live video and movies will be common. You'll be able to view (with no waiting) promo tapes and music videos that you can save and view again. CD quality sound bits are already available but are a drag to download. MIDI has made downloading huge sound files a breeze. With the addition of Java Script and Macromedia Shockwave, true interactive sites will prevail. Dramatic interfaces with the look and feel of real 3-D controls will zip you around 3-D worlds (see http://quicktime.apple.com/) and interact with your input.

Just for the record, I believe the web will replace television. There -I said it. In 10 years we can all look back and see what a brilliant observation I made or what a bozo I was. ... We'll see.

PS: You can access all the URL's in this article from my online Library

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Tales of the Surreal

PERSONAL INJURY ASSURANCE

One sure thing when you're on the road performing is that Murphy's Law is in full effect. Things go wrong and people get hurt. Since I travel alone the "people get hurt" is always me!

My contract rider asks for a wine glass to be supplied for me in the show. I balance the wine glass, full of water, on top of 8 cigar boxes stacked in a precarious pattern. Then, I balance the whole stack on my chin. After 5 seconds, I let the stack fall and catch the wine glass (usually). Well, this particular school didn't read the rider and were scrambling to come up with a "wine glass". They searched back stage and found a very old and fragile martini glass. I balanced the small glass on the stack and let it fall. As I caught the glass it disintegrated in my hand. The resulting cut ran 3 inches across my palm and yes, "I'm a bleeder". This happened 15 minutes into my 1 hour plus show. So I buck up and duct taped my hand together. As blood ran down my arm I entertained the crowd and created a beautiful red collage on the floor. Denny Dent eat your heart out.

PERSONAL INJURY ASSURANCE (TAKE 2)

As I'm being introduced, I'm warming up in my dressing room. To make more space I closed up a folding table and propped it up against the wall. Of coarse the table falls overs as I'm stretching in a backbend. Luckily it doesn't hit the floor since my face is there to stop it. "Ladies and Gentlemen MARK NIZER." Slightly stunned but thinking I'm OK I run on stage. All is well except I can't believe I'm sweating already and I've only been on a few minutes and the crowd seems unusually quite. I wipe away the sweat and realise why they are quite. I'm sweating blood. The gash across my hairline is dripping blood down my face. Duct tape once again curbs the flow until I get three stitches after the show.

HEY BARRY, I THINK I'M BLEEDING

Last summer I opened for Barry Manilow for 3 weeks. It was a great experience and everyone was great to work with. We had a very hectic schedule. Waking up in one city and flying on his private jet to the next venue just hours before curtain. After I did my 30 minutes I would practice back stage. There was always enough space between the back curtain and the stacks of road gear. So there I am bouncing a soccer ball on my head while juggling 4 rings. The last catch is done by pulling all the rings over my head while bouncing the ball one last time very high. This time it bounced off the mark and went way out in front of me. Being the determined performer I gave it my all to run forward and catch it. Unfortunately I failed to see the large black steel pipe sticking out from a lighting truss. I didn't catch the ball but I did catch the steel pipe in my skull. After I woke up, I had blood flowing from a large gash in my head. The techies summoned the house doctor who said I had to go to the hospital for stitches. "Not an option" I said, knowing if I agreed, I would miss our plane that night and miss the next gig. In a flash of brilliance he tries a new untested approach. He uses super glue to fasten the two halves of my wound back together. That, 10' feet of gauze wrapped around my head and a strategically placed Barry Manilow base ball cap and I had the complete medical travel package. 1 hour later I'm sitting on the jet onto the next adventure. I have a head ache.

DEER HUNTING WITH NO LICENSE

I'm going from Detroit to Pittsburgh to catch a plane home. It's 3am, I'm on a major highway, I'm engrossed in a novel. I'm driving? Yeah I know what your thinking reading and driving what kind of a psychopath would do that? Well it was a really good book. A couple of hours pass then "BLAM" out of no where the windshield explodes with a horrific noise. I slam on the brakes and pull over. Thinking the worst "I've hit a homeless man" I am relieved to find a huge chunk of fur on the front bumper. Either I hit a large dear or a homeless man wearing a cheap fur coat.

The highway patrol comes and fills out the paper work. "Happens all the time" he explains, as he helps me pull the front fender off so the car is drivable. I don't tell him I was reading. As matter of fact I've never been able to finish that book or read any book while driving. I stick with Readers Digest on airplanes.

I'm going to just make my flight and must rush to return the car. I pull into the rental lot strategically with the good side showing. I hand in the paper work and dash for the plane. Buy the time I get home to Los Angeles there are several inquiring messages from the rental company. My AMEX covers everything.

PS: I never found the deer's body, and like to think he walked away from the accident. Deers don't need their entire body and have extra legs for this exact occurrence. Next time, I'll be sure to get a hunting license and gun. It'll be much less stressful. I wonder walk book I should bring?

LOOKING AT THE MOON WITH THE MAN ON THE MOON

I'm in Bora Bora on a cruise ship. Buzz Aldrin is aboard as a guest lecturer. We are backstage after a farewell show. It's like a scene from the Love Boat television series. We are on deck, it's night, there is a beautiful full moon. I think back to Buzz Aldrins lecture the night before; where he discussed his historic moon walk as the second man on the moon. "What a beautiful moon" I declare, with the appropriate awe and respect. "Yeah, I've been there" he says with the perfect amount of satiric intonation. I try to grasp the enormity of the situation. I'm on a ship in the middle of no where with one of a handful of people in the world that have been to the moon. I look at this unassuming man and think wow this guy has actually been there. That same night, I watch horror movies with Vincent Price; but that's another story.

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Can I watch TV or do you want me to put pants on?

In a world of instant TV stimuli and mega-events (even though there are now only 4 Spice Girls) Performing Arts are sometimes lost in the crunch. TV has become the opium of the masses and the Roman Coliseum of our age. Violence although fake; is so pervasive and over done that a guy tap dancing on stage or playing the Cello seems benign. If that hits home with you then you've never seen YoYo Ma kick ass on his cello. Does TV really entertain ? Doesn't it really just shut off your brain so it can vegetate. I'm all for Vegetation; but the real rush of entertainment is to be there in the middle of it all. Watch as it happens right in front of you. Compare a 60 minute episode of 90210 to a live performance of "Cirque de Soleil". Sure you've learned a new zip code and your able to attend the event in your favorite ripped boxer shorts but was your brain really getting the kick it needed.

I've attended many good and bad Performing Arts events. The opera "Nixon in China" had me snoring like a baby in 10 minutes. I can't sleep with the TV on. There's so much "excitement" I'm afraid too... I might miss the blue light special on Home Shopping Network or the latest on Monica's blue dress. But to me, 60 minutes of bad performing arts is better than 30 minutes of TV any day. The problem with performing arts is, you have to leave your couch. It involves putting on clothes and coordinating with friends (if you have some) and making the effort.

When I see a great live performance my scalp tingles. With TV, it only does when the Selson Blue commercial is on and I feel guilty for not washing my hair. Sitting thru the few bad performances is worth that euphoric feeling when someone gets it right. Whether it's a solo singer who touches my emotion with a amazing song about freedom or a tap dancer doing something with their feet I can only dream of, there out there waiting for you.

So exactly what is a performance art? Is it a guy pulling up a 10 pound cinder block with a piece of rope tied to his most private part ? Yes it is, if you put music and lights to it (on the stage, not the part). Is it a grown man juggling 5 ping balls using only his mouth ? Is it a ballett dancer doing a double tour into a bucket of jello.. Yes! Yes Yes!. Performing arts is anything that makes you think, makes you feel and is best tasted live and in person. Sit close, sit often and have a big serving. My secret weapon in judging good performing arts is the scalp test. When I see someone truly kicking some performing butt my scalp actually tingles. If I get the scalp tingle it is the best feeling. I have never had a scalp tingle while watching a re-run of TV.

I must admit that some movies, when viewed in a great theater, have made my scalp do it's thing. But at a cost of 25 million and filled with careful editing and special effects it is processed and "fake". To me, the amazing thing about live performance is the truly miraculous things we can do with no special effects. Sure the script may be a little rough or the performer may have some less than stellar moments, but the unexpected and spontaneity is what makes it so great.

I worked with the Red Elvis's last night for a Parents Weekend gig. They are the remaining members of Limpopo. When I went on, there were some 1500 people packed into every seat. In one of the most bizarre events in my career, as soon as the Red Elvis's started playing 1440 people stood up and filed out. It was like some sort of anti-russian protest. My first guess was that the parents thought the music was too loud, although the sound in the main speakers was turned OFF and only the monitors were playing. The more I thought about it, I realized the parents were scared. Scared because, they had never heard of these guy, were playing music they never heard before and they looked different. Well, if they had dared to experience something new they would have been treated to one of my most recent "scalp tingling" events. In front of a small crowd these guys put on a show that everyone on campus would have loved. One was the best guitarist I have ever seen. A drummer with a cool fuzzy shirt had amazing skill and hand flourishes. The bass players fire red engine hair was the perfect showcase for his animated face and infectious personality. The lead singer did a satirical Elvis bit that even Elvis would have appreciated, complete with karate kicks and pelvis gyrations.

Dare to try new things. Attend an event you normally would not and skip a night of bad TV. A night of live theater is worth five 90210 re-runs. Believe me I checked.

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Copyright Mark Nizer 1999 ©

Travel Secrets

Airline travel has become a part of everyday life. What was once reserved for special occasions and corporate executives is now very ordinary part of or lives. Everyone flys. But are you really getting the best deal and service. I've boarded flights that I paid $208 for and the guy sitting next to me paid $1200. Many travelers throw away money by not knowing their choices. Airline travel has become a tough and grueling business. Where frequent travelers are packed on crowded flights with less and less service and tougher regulations. In my business, performing at 100's of universities a year, I fly as much as 27 times a month. To survive this and come out on top you need to know the rules. It's a game, with winners and losers. To win use the following travel secrets I've collected and you'll be flying in style at a great price and with minimum stress.

Who's paying for it?

Many business travelers care only about service and schedules since their company pays for all their travel. Many buy full faire tickets that can be changed for no fee. These are very expense. A full faire ticket can run as high as $1800.00. Most of us don't work for Money-r-us Inc. and the bottom line is very important to you.

To use a travel agency or not

Travel agents are very useful if you fly often and your travel is complicated. They know which carriers fly which routes and can price a certain market and find the lowest faire. A good travel agent will quickly learn what your preferences are; what seat you like, what times you like to travel and your preferred airports. Travel agents used to be free ;getting paid a small percentage of the ticket price by the airlines. With this in mind, remember a travel agent made more money if your ticket was more expensive. New airline pricing changes have cut travel agency commissions to a set amount. This was good for travelers because it reduced travel agencies from being motivated to book you an expensive fare and increase their commissions. Because of this cut in commissions many travel agencies have changed their fee policy and now charge a fee for each ticket purchased. Typically, $25 per ticket. For most people this is well worth it because of the knowledge and service they provide. But if you travel often, to many different cities and buy a lot of separate tickets, this can add up. When I'm touring, I may book 15 tickets in a month. That's $375 in service charges alone.

Many travel agencies don't recommend or price Southwest or other discount carriers. Either ask or call them directly. Discount airlines often have better deals than the major airlines. However they often have several connections or stop overs and have few or no meals. As you learn more about the airlines and their routes you can often find a carrier that will service your itinerary with no or only a single connection.

If you are sure of your travel plans, try using a ticket broker. They offer very reduced fares and often need no advance purchase. Cheap Tickets is a good example of this. They supply great fares but very little service. And when things go bad your on your own. One time they forgot to include the ticket in a FedEx I needed that day. That was in May and I have never heard from customer service (it's an answering machine, staffed by 6 people); despite my telling them I was writing an article on travel and including this information. Never the less I use them for 80% of my air travel. If you do use these services book your ticket as an e-ticket (e for electronic) this will save fedex fees and lost tickets.

Food

Fewer and fewer airlines are feeding their passengers. Those that do have cut back on choices. "Do you want water with that plastic cup?" When you book your flight ask if they have any special meals. Often you can get diet, low salt, vegetarian or kids meals with nothing more than asking. These meals are better than standard meals and at no additional cost.

Airline Travel Kit

Put the following items in your travel to insure a smooth trip.

Ear plugs and eye covers; so you can get some sleep. Request a window seat so you can lean your head against the wall. If the flight is lightly booked; after the doors to the aircraft are closed, get up and move to a empty row of seats in the back. After take off you can stretch out and sleep in comfort. Better than first class and same price as coach. Make sure to grab a pillow and blanket as you board. It is usually hot when boarding a plane but gets very cool as the flight reaches altitude.

Headphones. These are great for two uses. Often you can use them to listen to free video programs. They are more comfortable and better sounding than the ones the airline supplies. The second use is to wear them and pretend you are listening to a intriguing program when you are stuck next to a chatty passenger set on telling you their political views or why they were wrongly convicted for 4 hours.

Carry chewing gum if your ears are sensitive to air pressure changes. If they are, chew it during takeoff and 1/2 hour before and until landing.

A good book. Always have something to read. You'll be standing in line, waiting and bord. You'll breeze thru this time engrossed in a good book. Don't read "Great Airline Disasters".

Hurry up and wait

Always leave extra time going to the airport. There is nothing worse than hitting a traffic jam and watching your flight take off over your head as you finally approach the airport. Re-booking and pleading for mercy from the airline is not pretty. I arrive at least one hour before a flight and an hour and a half for larger airports. Leave even more time if you have to park your care or do any special changes to your ticket.

If you have luggage to check, check it curb side with the skycaps. They are much faster than going inside and waiting in line and many can print boarding passes and give seat assignments right there. Tip them a dollar per bag and tip them when you give them your ticket and ID. This lets them know up front you appreciate their service. Skycaps are paid very little and rely on tips for their salary.

Airlines used to allow 3 bags checked and no carry on or 2 checked bags and one carry on. Weight limits of 70 lbs. per checked bag and strict size limits on carry on baggage make packing for your trip critical. Many airlines have reduced the bag check policy to 2 bags. Charging $50 for each additional. Also if you have additional bags and are checking in at the curb the skycap will have to take you inside and stand in line to pay the fees and check the bag.

Always call ahead

Before you leave your house or hotel. Always call the airline and confirm your flight and that it is on time and the weather looks good. Also make sure they have a phone number for you that they can call if something changes. I use my cell phone for this. I have been saved many times buy a call from the airlines and been able to make other arrangements before even arriving at the airport.

When trouble happens

When trouble happens. Remain calm. Remember getting pissed off at the gate agent and counter personnel will only make them not want to help you. Lose the attitude and get to a phone and make a reservation on the next flight. If you have a cell phone use it and get in line at customer service or any check in counter. If you use a travel agency call them, otherwise, call the airline directly. If a flight is delayed find out why. If it is weather delay see if you can reroute thru a city without weather problems. If it is a mechanical delay try to get a realistic estimate of when it will be fixed. See if there is another flight that will still get you there and expect the worst. Many times a airline with a mechanical problem will re-book you on another carrier to get you where you are going. Making the back-up reservation when problems arise is useful when the flight is actually cancelled and all the passengers start scrambling for seats on the next flights. Be ready to go to the nearest counter and service desk and set-up your new flight. If they are out of tickets on that flight explain you already have a reservation and give them the record information. Read your book some more.

Enjoy.

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