How Does One Work This Hard Without Pay?

Truthfully, many days I have no idea.

If you don’t get paid in money, appreciation will sometimes sustain you.   If you work for children, their engagement in what you’ve created must sustain you, because kids don’t often express appreciation except directly, by involving themselves in the thing you offer them.   Their parents won’t usually express appreciation either.  You are, as far as they can tell, in that harried moment when they pick up their kid and you are almost done putting things away, a retired guy who provides an hour of day camp their kid seems to like.  No artwork to clutter up the refrigerator, that’s a plus, I suppose.  Disable the counter on youTube, if you can, no point to see that not everyone clicks on the animation links you send.  The workaround of uploading the clips to google drive will eliminate the counter, so that’s a plus too.

If you can manage to sustain your enthusiasm for an idea that might well be excellent, and highly useful, but that has not brought you any variation on a livelihood, then you are remarkable– possibly remarkable as an idiot.  Possibly something more admirable, but the jury is out, and while they are out– and, in fact, not planning to return unless subpoenaed, say by an article in the New York Times about this little one man organization that managed to talk its way into the conversation about public education– well…

So after a long day of incrementally useful futility you go to dinner with a friend and wind up having an extended three way chat with a lovely young waitress from Bangkok.   She lingers a long time at the table as the restaurant begins to empty.  She is pretty, and animated, and bright– her smile actually casts a delightfully warming light on to your face.  She laughs an easy laugh and answers questions with great seriousness, then laughs again.  The restaurant is empty and they are starting to put the chairs up.  You eventually take the hint and hit the street, she waves goodbye as you go.  

“Shall we see if Jackie’s at one of his haunts?” asks your friend and, although you’ve heard his sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes aggravating tales of Jackie Mason’s coffee klatch, the odd, shifting collection of night crawling characters the monologist assembles around him as his impromptu court, you’re hesitant.  

“Where are these haunts?” you ask, and it turns out one is less than a block away, so you agree to go to the closest one.  As you walk you’re hoping he’s not there.  The place looks fairly empty and he doesn’t seem to be there.

“There he is,” says your friend, spotting him with a few others at a large table in the back.  “You want to go in and meet him?”  I really don’t, I tell him to go on in and say hello.  He promises not to stay long.  

I walk in behind him, intending by my presence right there to hasten him along.  I am standing back from the table as he greets each of the odd-looking people around Jackie.  Naturally they invite him to sit, and I am in turn invited to sit and I figure, what the hell, might as well sit as stand waiting for the politeness to end.   It is fairly boring chitchat among strangers and then, after I mention a nearby kosher Italian restaurant that serves food during Passover, Jackie asks me “are you Jewish?”

I nod, shrug,  “vhud den? Are you?”   He nods, acknowledging with a deadpan expression that this is possibly a clever reply or at least a convincingly Jewish reply.   The disjointed conversations continue, then heads turn to him as he begins an extended monologue about performing for the Queen of England, he’ll be performing for her a record seventh time in May.  

“Nobody has performed for the Queen seven times,” he says and then adds “Danny Kaye has the record, he was there six times.”  He then describes what sounds like a horrible scene:  no pay, you can’t look at the Queen directly, you have to wait for her to address you before you can speak to her, the long line the performers have to wait on line to shake her hand after you’re done performing.

 “The second time I’m standing there for a half hour and I start thinking — what the hell am I doing here?  They’re not paying me, she’s saying the same thing to everyone, I’m waiting to shake her hand and hear the identical speech she’s giving to everyone.  Exactly the same speech.  ‘Oh, you are the most marvelous performer I’ve ever seen.  Thank you so much for coming.  I’ve never enjoyed anything more.  You are a unique and gifted genius.’  And each one of these unique and gifted geniuses are floating on air, quoting her, ‘the Queen said I’m a unique and gifted genius!’.  They’re too stupid to realize she’s saying exactly the same thing to everyone whose waiting on line to hear the same exact line she’s been saying for the last fifty years.  It’s like she’s memorized a script, it’s the same exact line down to the syllable.”

“Maybe it’s a robot Queen they programmed to shake hands and deliver the speech,” I suggest.

“The same exact speech,” says Jackie.  “So the third year I decide to hell with this, and as soon as I get off the stage I tell the driver, they give you a limo and a driver, no pay, but your own limousine.  So I tell the driver ‘I have an emergency’ and I know he’s not going to ask me what the emergency is: I have a stomach problem, I have two seconds to live, I have no blood sugar, an internal hemorrhage, an aneurysm, projectile diarrhea — an emergency, let’s go.  And he takes off immediately, back to the hotel.  So I don’t have to stand on line for a half hour to be told, along with all the other unique and gifted geniuses, what a unique and gifted genius I am.”

“Sounds like the only reason you’re going back is to break Danny Kaye’s record,” I suggest.

“Do you like Danny Kaye?” he asks me, with his most serious face.  

“Yeah, I used to watch his movies with my grandmother, she loved him.  He was a very talented guy,”  I say and then conversation flits briefly over several of Danny Kaye’s movies, Jackie tells everyone what a huge star Kaye was, which leads him to nostalgia over the many great comedians of the old days, guys like Sid Cesar, a real genius, truly one of a kind, the kinds of comics the world will never see the likes of again.

Toward the end, as this restaurant is starting to close, after they’ve heard that I am not in show business, Jackie asks me if I was ever married.  I tell him I wasn’t.  “Are you a homosexual?” he asks.  I tell him no, not as far as I know.  It doesn’t occur to me until a minute later, as we’re all shaking hands on the sidewalk by the waiting cab, that I could have said “why? you asking me for a date?”  

My friend laughs when I tell him this missed rejoinder, and wishes I had said it.  “That would have been great,” he says as we head up Ninth Avenue.  We talk about that odd group around the table for a block or two.  Then I show him the new website I am still not done figuring out how to get to show up when one types in  He expresses appreciation of the great improvement.  It really does show at a glance what my program is all about, he admits.  He congratulates me, tells me it’s great.  

That will be my pay for the month, more than likely– that and getting the website to display when you click on the link.  

So, if my coffee breaks go on for longer than most people’s, you will have to understand– or not– it isn’t only that I’m lazy and prefer play to work.  I have a really, really hard job and I am obliged, at the moment and for the foreseeable future, to do it for free.

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