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So there I was, sitting under the hot lights, when suddenly Vicki Lawrence leaped to her feet and started yelling at me about the death penalty. This happened in Los Angeles, on the TV show Politically Incorrect. People yell a lot on that show. One time I was on there with Micky Dolenz; he yelled at me, too. Back when I used to watch The Monkees on TV, I never dreamed that one day, one of them would be yelling at me personally regarding current events. This is a great nation.
Guests are encouraged to express strong views on Politically Incorrect, because it makes for better entertainment. The host, Bill Maher, could name any topic at all—say, monetary reform in the 17th- century Netherlands—and we guests would immediately be at each other’s throats over it, even if we were not totally certain what “Netherlands” are.
I was on Politically Incorrect because I was on a book tour. You go on whatever show they tell you to go on, in hopes that the host will at some point hold your book up to the camera, causing consumers all over America to rush to bookstores to purchase it. You will basically do anything to get your book on TV. For example, a few days earlier, I let a total stranger commit a major act of gel on my hair. This was on The Today Show, in New York. I was sitting in the makeup room, drinking coffee, trying to wake up, and the makeup person, after studying my head, called the hair person over, pointed at my hair, and said: “See? This is exactly what I was talking about.”
Then they both laughed, and the hair person, before I knew what was happening, applied 37 pounds of Industrial Concrete Strength gel in my hair, and thus I appeared on national television looking like Eddie Munster. This would have been fine if the reaction of the world at large had been to rush out and purchase my book, but the actual reaction, to judge from the people I know who saw the show, was to ask: “What happened to your hair?”
But getting back to Vicki Lawrence: She was yelling at me about the death penalty, and I was yelling back at her, while simultaneously—and I am NOT proud of this—holding my hand over the mouth of another guest, Sol Wachtler, a former chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals who got into trouble over a woman and went to jail and, needless to say, wrote a book. I was silencing him so that I could better express my very strongly held views on the death penalty, although now I honestly cannot remember what those specific views were.
I do remember that before the show, when I was in the waiting room with Vicki Lawrence, somebody brought up her hit song, “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” which has an extremely complicated plot. I have never met anybody who understood what that song is about, so I figured this was my big chance to find out.
“What is that song about?” I asked Vicki Lawrence.
“I have absolutely no idea,” she said.
Here’s a coincidence: Vicki Lawrence was once a regular on The Carol Burnett Show, and earlier that same day, I met: Carol Burnett! Yes! A comedy goddess! A star who, in my mind, is bigger than all the ex-Monkees combined. She and I were waiting to appear on the early-morning news show on Los Angeles TV station KTLA. I still don’t know why Carol Burnett was there; I don’t think she has a book out. I do know that we were both preceded on the show by a lengthy live news report in which the reporter wound up stripping down to her bathing suit and—I am not making this up—taking a shower with a live iguana. I don’t know whether the iguana has a book out, but I would not bet against it.
The next day I was on a show called Home & Family, which is broadcast from a house on the Universal Studios lot, just a short distance from the house where Tony Perkins stabbed Janet Leigh to death in Psycho. I found myself sitting on a long sofa with—these are just some of the people who were on that sofa—two co-hosts; Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner; an Italian cookbook author; two large spherical home-improvement contractors wearing matching bright-yellow overalls that would be visible from Mars; two women who wrote a book about something like how to feed a family of 117 people for 23 cents a day; and a complete set of quintuplets.
We did not, to my recollection, discuss the death penalty, but we did change locations a lot; every now and then, for no apparent reason, we’d all jump up and move, herd-like, into another room, where we’d watch somebody show us how to do some Home and Family thing such as baste a turkey. For all I know, that show is still going on. After a while, without being formally excused, I just sort of drifted outside and left, moving briskly past the Psycho house.
Yes, the book tour was a lot of effort, but it definitely increased the overall public awareness of my name. I know this because my last appearance was on The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder, and at one point, when we came back from a commercial, Tom Snyder, who was not joking, introduced me to the audience as “Chuck Berry.” I was not offended; I’m a big fan of Chuck. But if he has a book out, I want a piece of the royalties.
Let’s Get Physical I turned 50, which is really not so old. A lot of very famous people accomplished great things after 50. For example, it was during the post-50 phase of his life that the brilliant physicist Albert Einstein produced the vast majority of his drool.
But still, when you’re 50, you’re definitely “getting up there,” so I decided I’d better go in for my annual physical examination, which is something I do approximately every seven to nine years. I keep my physicals spaced out because my doctor, Curt, who is ordinarily a terrific guy, has a tendency to put on a scary rubber glove and make sudden lunges at my personal region.
Also Curt has some ladies who work with him—and again, these are charming people—who belong to some kind of Druid-style cult that has very strict beliefs under which they are not allowed to let you leave the office with any of your blood. They get you in a chair and distract you with charming conversation while they subtly take your arm and insert a needle attached to a long tube that goes outside to a 50,000-gallon tanker truck with a big sign that says “BLOOD.” When they’re done draining you, they don’t even have to open the door to let you out; they just slide you under it.
Somehow I got through my physical OK. But then, about a week later, Curt was working late one night at his office—perhaps going through the Official Catalog of Supplies for Doctor’s Offices, which lists needles in sizes ranging all the way from Extra Large to Harpoon, as well as an extensive selection of pre-1992 magazines with the last page of every article torn out—and he happened to glance up at his framed copy of the Hippocratic oath. This is an oath that is named after an ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who is considered the Father of Medicine because he invented the following phrases, without which modern medical care would be impossible:
—“Do you have insurance?” —“We’re going to have to run some tests.” —“You may experience some discomfort.” —“We’re going to have to run some more tests.” —“The tests were inconclusive.”
Anyway, Curt was looking at the Hippocratic oath, which all doctors are required to take, and he noticed the sentence that says:
“And I swear by my Lexus that if a person comes into my office for any reason, whether it be for a physical examination or simply to deliver the mail, I will find something medically wrong with that person.”
And so Curt, realizing that if he let me get out of my physical scot-free, burly agents of the American Medical Association Ethics Unit would come and yank his stethoscope right out of his ears, called me and told me that the cholesterol level in my blood was a little high. I tried to argue that this was no longer my problem, since all my blood was in the possession of the Druid ladies, but Curt insisted that I had to change my dietary habits.
To help me do this, Curt sent me some informative medical pamphlets that explain to the layperson, via cartoons, what cholesterol is. Technically, it is a little blob-shaped guy with buggy eyes and a big nose who goes running through your blood vessel, which is a tube going to your heart, which can be seen smiling in the background. Sometimes the blob guy gets stuck, causing him to get a grumpy expression and have a balloon come out of his mouth saying, “I’M STUCK.” If too many cholesterols get stuck, your blood vessel looks like a New York subway train at rush hour, and your heart gets a sad face, and surgeons have to go in there with a medical device originally developed by Roto-Rooter.
To prevent this from happening, you need to be very careful about your diet, as follows:
FOOD GROUPS YOU CANNOT EAT: Meat, milk, cheese, butter, desserts, processed foods, fried foods, foods with skins, restaurant foods, foods your mom made, foods from packages, foods shown in commercials, foods containing flavor, foods being carried around on trays at wedding receptions, appetizers, snacks, munchies, breakfast, lunch, dinner, take-out, drive-thru, piña coladas, any food with a phrase such as “GOOD LUCK HERB!” written on it in frosting.
FOOD GROUPS YOU CAN EAT: Water (unsweetened), lowfat celery, wood chips.
This diet has been difficult for me to follow. The worst part has been giving up cheese. I love cheese. I’m the kind of person who, merely while rummaging through the refrigerator to see what else is available, can easily gnaw his way through a hunk of cheddar the size of the late Sonny Liston. But I’ve been pretty good so far, and I’m hoping that my blood cholesterol will be a lot lower, if I ever develop blood again. Curt wants me to come back in and have it checked. He’ll never take me alive.