My John Pinette Story

I need to share my John Pinette story.

Somewhere around 10-13 years ago, I was enjoying a night with friends at the Pour House in Chicago, one of my regular hangouts. We became good friends with Al, the owner, and often went to after-hours bars with him. He knew a lot of people. On this particular night we went to the Golden Dragon, a Chinese restaurant in Olde Town that was situated very near Zanie’s Comedy Club. We’d been there before and were always treated to incredible Far East delicacies, and great liquor. The owner of the Golden Dragon was a character in his own right. He was a smallish Asian man who clearly loved America. If memory serves, he wore a plaid cowboy shirt. Some would consider this the shirt of a Wicker Park hipster. And one might’ve considered him as such if he weren’t wearing it because he actually wanted to be a cowboy. Even better, however, was his belt buckle, which he loved to show off. It was a functioning single-shot pistol that snapped into place. I only have his word to go on that it was actually a working pistol, but according to Al, his word was good.

On this night as we walked into the restaurant, however, it was impossible to miss the enormous human frame that was John Pinette. I didn’t know his name at the time, but I absolutely recognized him immediately from the final Seinfeld episode. Plus, he happened to appear on the Tonight Show just days earlier. I never watched the Tonight Show, but I randomly caught his set the night he performed. He was hilarious. Most of his jokes revolved around his weight, but he did it with such ease that it almost seemed as though he was making fun of someone else. Someone not in the room. I became a fan instantly.

It was well after 2:00 am and the restaurant was closed and essentially empty. Other than the four people in our group, the only people in the place were Asian John Wayne, a couple cooks we couldn’t see, John Pinette and another individual with Pinette. The two sat across from one another at a long table. I vaguely remember Al later whispering to me that the other individual was the owner of Zanie’s. I can’t be sure, but after doing some research I believe that person might have been Rick Uchwat, the founder of the club. Uchwat is about as highly regarded as they come in the comedy world. This article shortly after his death three years ago illustrates as much. 

As our group, led by Al, walked into the restaurant. Asian John Wayne saw us and immediately smiled and raised his arms as he walked quickly over to embrace Al. Any pretense of his forced cowboy swagger was lost in his enthusiasm to greet his friend, and he pranced gracefully through the tables to lead us the rest of the way inside. John Wayne recognized me as well from a past visit, but at this point I had already recognized John Pinette and was distracted, somewhat rudely, from greeting John Wayne myself. I wasted little time, having had plenty to drink myself at this point, I quickly spoke up. I remember it distinctly, in fact. Al and John Wayne were still exchanging how-do-you-do’s, and we were only about halfway inside the place, but I stood directly to his left, about 10 feet away.

I looked over at him and said, “Sir, I saw you on the Tonight Show the other night and you made me laugh out loud. Thanks for that.”

He looked right up at me with a twinkle in his eye. He smiled wide, those pudgy cheeks straining to points on either side of his mouth, and he responded with a truly sincere, “Thank you. Thank you. That’s sweet of you say.”

This is the smile and rotund, cherub face I remember from that night so long ago.

This is the smile and rotund, cherub face I remember from that night so long ago.

And with that we were quickly invited to join him and Uchwat (assuming that’s who that actually was that night) at their table. I took a seat to the right of Uchwat. John Pinette was sitting across from both of us. He was truly larger than life. At this point I don’t remember exactly what my other friends were doing. But I believe Al and John Wayne were chatting at the bar. I definitely remember that one of my friends had too much to drink and stealthily slinked his way to a booth and closed his eyes. And I think our fourth sat across from me, to John’s left.

John Wayne would shout some orders to the kitchen in Mandarin or whatnot, and for the next hour or so we were treated to platter after platter of delicious Far Eastern delights. I don’t remember what we talked about, but we were there for what had to be the better part of three hours. Without warning there suddenly appeared several bottles of Jägermeister. We each essentially had our own bottle and were instructed to pour ourselves shots at will. We did. Then several already rolled joints made their way onto the table and we were instructed to light up a fresh one at any time. We did.

I sat across from John Pinette for as long as I could that night. I laughed and I laughed and I drank and I drank and I passed joints to him and laughed some more and I took joints he passed to me and laughed and drank some more. Naturally, the amount we imbibed that night prevents me from clearly remembering the intricacies of our conversation, but the details of what we spoke about aren’t important. What I took away from that night was the way he welcomed us to his table with zero hesitation. Almost as though he’d been waiting for us. He talked to us all night like we were old friends. He asked us questions about ourselves, he told us stories about filming the final Seinfeld episode. We told him stories about little league or some such trifle and asked him about life on the road. But we never stopped laughing. I don’t remember a single joke he said that night, but I remember laughing almost non-stop.

The set that he performed on The Tonight Show was my introduction to him as a stand-up, but of course I knew him from the final Seinfeld episode. Since that time I’ve heard quite a bit of his comedy. I recognize that I’m biased based on this experience, but I might argue that he is one of the funniest comics of this era. As I mentioned, much of his comedy revolved around his weight, which was very significant, and sadly undoubtedly contributed to his early demise, but there’s no questioning the level of talent this man possessed. Not to mention that he was an amazing singer. To put it crudely, he was simply funny as shit. But moreso, in my mind, he’ll always be the warm and inviting gentleman who seemed genuinely interested in talking to us as much as we were interested in talking to him.

I thank you, John Pinette, for making me laugh when you were on Seinfeld. I thank you, John Pinette, for making me laugh when you were on The Tonight Show. I thank you for making me laugh when your bits find their way onto the comedy station I sometimes listen to as I try and fall asleep at night. But I especially thank you, John Pinette, for making me laugh like an insane man that night when I was lucky enough to sit across the table from you. The world just got a little less funny with your passing.

 

Little Boys Messin’ ‘Round With the Girls Playin’ Double Dutch

As the weather begins to turn nice, and then lousy, and then nice again, not only am I reminded of the Will Smith song Summertime (hence the title of this post), but I’m also reminded of something that my fourth grade gym teacher used to say to me, “Mike, you jump rope well. Perhaps too well.”

I’ve never really understood exactly what he meant by that. But thinking about it triggered the thought that I just don’t see kids jumping rope like I used to when I was a kid. I grew up in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood and every single day of the summer there were girls (and boys) who would be playing some form jump rope, either single rope or double dutch. I never did much of that, really. But my block was crammed with kids. Every summer night was spent playing Ghost In the Graveyard, some form of tag (freeze tag, TV tag, catch-one-catch-all, and so on), Mother May I, Simon Says, or some other game that involved at least a dozen kids ranging in age from seven to eleven.

While all of these games certainly exist in some form or another, there was a game known as Chinese Jumprope that was always played on my block. Do kids still play this? It consisted of a simple elastic rope held around the ankles of two stationary individuals standing about four feet apart. The object was to jump: in, out, side-by-side, on, in, out. In otherwords, you jumped with both feet landing on the rope, then both feet outside the rope, then one foot inside and one out, then the other foot inside and the other one out, then both feet back on the rope, then back in, than both feet out again.

Follow that?

The trick is that every time one of these circuits was completed you’d have to add an element. Snappies (snapping fingers while jumping), clappies, double-clappies, rolling of the fists, and whatever other crazy things we might think of. The holders would spread their stance making the width of the rope larger, then very small. The rope starts at the ankles, then the knees, then the thighs. Theoretically it was supposed to go all the way up to the neck, but clearly that never happened. It was a true test of endurance, coordination, and hops. I directly credit this for the leaping ability I had later in life that made me a pretty decent volleyball player. And in fact, one of the drills I did regularly during volleyball practice resembled this. Plus I had to wear ankle weights. When I was around 18, I could fly, thanks to these drills. (It helped that I was 6’2″ and only about 150 lbs.)

Anyway, I hope this game still exists. Of course, it’s probably around in video game form, which would defeat the whole purpose. But as video games become more interactive perhaps we’ll see it again.

What I wouldn’t give to be ten-years-old again for a day.

A New Slazenger 7 Video

Despite our inactivity, my band Slazenger 7 has a new video up and running on YouTube. This video is for our anthem titled “Chicago.” Guitarist Todd put this together a few weeks ago, though we shot the footage in drummer Matt’s basement well over a year ago. It’s a pretty good piece of work, in my opinion. How it hasn’t caught on nationally (or at least city-wide) I’m not sure. Once it starts playing, if you click on the vid it’ll take you right to YouTube, where you can rate the video or leave a comment. I invite you to do both.

Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy.

Wolfmother at the Metro

Last night I saw the band Wolfmother at the Metro here in Chicago.

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For those of you not familiar with Wolfmother, I suggest you acquaint yourself with them, because they’re the future of rock ‘n’ roll. Lead singer Andrew Stockdale has a voice similar to that of Jack White of the White Stripes and the Raconteurs, only better. Bass player Chris Ross thumps his instrument with a perfectly subtle intensity that matches the manic, yet flawless, drum beats laid by Myles Heskitt. Ross also plays an organ/synthesizer that helps give Wolfmother their ultra-unique, mind-melting, driving rhythm. I’m pretty sure that if you were to blast Wolfmother from your car speakers, regardless of the quality of your stereo, the sound alone would actually start every parked car you drove by.

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Until last night, I wouldn’t have thought that so much noise could be produced from only a guitar, a bass, and a drum set. I mean these guys were loud. But remarkably, not distorted. I’m not kidding when I say they’re the future of rock ‘n’ roll. Their songs are melodic, but hard. They encompass elements from so many eras of music, but clearly they’re probably most often compared to bands like Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. For whatever reason, when I look at Stockdale I see this generation’s Marc Bolan.

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After the show, Stockdale actually came to the edge of the stage to talk to some girls that were there. In fact, there was one girl in particular who was flirting with him pretty hard. We later saw her still trying to get close to him as her boyfriend looked on, clearly agitated by the scene unfolding before him. But while he was still at the edge of the stage, I decided I’d had enough drinks to go and say hello. So I did. I put out my hand. He shook it. I said, “That was one of the greatest rock shows I’ve ever seen. Thanks.” He said, “Thanks, mate.” Then turned back to the girl who was trying to get in the pants of a rock star.

For the record, in case you’re keeping track at home, that’s two hands belonging to rock stars that I’ve shook.

1) Rivers Cuomo
2) Andrew Stockdale

Don’t be jealous. It’s unbecoming.

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Let me just reiterate how good these guys are live: These guys are really good live! If you have the opportunity to see them any time soon, jump at it, because I’m pretty sure it won’t be long before they play exclusively stadium and arena tours. If ever there were a current band who fits into the “arena rock” category, this is it.

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The other really cool thing about the show is that it was free. It was sponsored by Jack Daniels, and the only way to get tickets was to get them one way or another from the Jack Daniels people. The four of us won tickets when we went to see The Tallest play at the Abbey Pub a couple weekends ago. The Jack Daniels girls happened to be there that night giving out shots and whatnot, and they had scratch cards where Jack drinkers could win tickets to the show. As it happened, we won.

We didn’t win the acoustic guitar they were giving away though. That would’ve been awesome.

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I apologize for these pictures. Obviously they’re just cell phone pictures taken by a guy who wasn’t sure if he’d be kicked out if he got caught taking pictures with his cell phone. That guy was me, by the way.

Anyway, to wrap everything up:

Wolfmother = awesome.
Free tickets = awesome.
Jack Daniels = awesome.
Cell phone pictures = crappy.
The Metro = awesome.

I think I can still taste the Jack & Cokes I had last night. So clearly it’s been a good morning.

Is it White Sox apathy? Or can a Cub fan really be sort of happy for them?

I’m guessing this will be my last post about the White Sox for awhile. They won. The World Series is over. Sadly, so is the baseball season.

It’s sort of hard to believe that I live in this city and am as big a baseball fan as there is but yet I don’t really care that the Sox won. I was really wondering how I’d react to this. As a monumental Cub fan, I didn’t know if I’d be jealous, angry, happy, sad, or what.

I realize now that I’m just apathetic.

No, I guess that’s too strong a word. Because it’s not like I didn’t care at all. I wanted to see them win for the sake of my parents, who both root for them.

And don’t get me wrong, I was pulling for the Sox. But I was pulling for them the same way I was pulling for the Red Sox last year. I don’t have anything invested in them, but it would be nice to see them win it. Oddly though, I could have said the same about the Astros.

I’m sure there are a lot of Sox hating Cub fans out there that are pissed off and angry. I’m sure there a lot of Cub fans who would say that I’m not a true Cub fan because I don’t despise the Sox. My dad is a Sox fan. So I grew up with a sentimental attachment to them. My heart is always with the Cubs, and as I said before, you may love the Cubs as much as me, but there’s no one out there who loves them more. But it’s impossible to discount sentimental factors here.

Ironically though, I probably have more reason to be a Sox fan than most of the fans that have jumped on the bandwagon in the last two months.

I remember going to a game at old Comiskey over 20 years ago. I believe we were sitting in the bleachers with my cousins and uncles from my dad’s side of the family when my dad took a hit from a pigeon square on the shoulder. I mean this pigeon just unloaded, and I was sitting right there and received some residual splashes. I cried like a little bitch. I guess I should have known then that I could never grow to love the White Sox, because they remind me of pigeon shit. But my point is that I was raised to root for the White Sox. But the Cubs were the team that I connected with.

My dad would come home from work early some summer afternoons and I’d be sitting and watching the pregame show with Harry Carey and my dad would ask if I wanted to go to the game. We’d hop on the el and get there shortly into the first inning and basically have our choice of seat. This was before the Cubs fan base exploded in 1984. This was in the days of Dave Kingman, Rick Ruschel, Ken Holtzman, Bobby Murcer, Bill Caudill, Bruce Sutter, Bill Buckner, Ivan DeJesus. I even remember Bobby Bonds as a Cub for a short time in 1981 (but that’s mostly because one of my first baseball mitts was a Bobby Bonds model). The thing is, my dad was a Cub fan, too. He’s one of the few people I know who is so even keeled and non-judgemental when it comes to any sort of favoritism, that his personality allows him to have a connection to both teams. When it comes down to it and the Cubs and Sox face off, I think he finds himself pulling for the Sox pretty hard, though.

A lot of it comes from my grandfather, his father-in-law. He was the biggest Cub fan I knew and ultimately the reason I grew to be the fan I am. But he was also such an amazing person that my dad, a lifelong Sox fan, grew an affinity with the Cubs based solely on his love, respect, and admiration for my grandfather.

So, although I wish it were the Cubs that just won the Series, I’m not jealous. Actually, not even in the least. I’m no more jealous then when the Red Sox won last year. I’m no more jealous than when the Yankees won any of their championships. The White Sox might as well be a team from Milwaukee, as far as I’m concerned. I’m happy for them, and for my dad. And I guess I’m even happy for my Uncle Joe, who I think might truly hate the Cubs. But alas, we can’t all be perfect.

Granted, this all might be a different story had the Cubs been in the playoffs this year. And don’t get me started on what it would be like to actually lose should the Cubs and Sox ever face off in the World Series.

But for the next year, the Chicago White Sox are the world champions of Major League Baseball. And they deserved it. They looked pretty phenomenal.

Take a cue from that, Cubbies, it’s time to step up and play like professionals.

And in one final note, I’d like the record to show that I actually picked the Sox to win their division way back before the season started. The proof is here in the yearly Negative Waves baseball preview. (Note that with the exception of the Astros, I also picked every other playoff team as well.) I wonder if anyone can find a single prognosticator that picked the White Sox to finish higher than third place, let alone win the division and beat the Red Sox in the first round of the playoffs.

Cub fan and a Sox man.

Last night the Chicago White Sox clinched a trip to the World Series. This is seriously an amazing feat, considering they haven’t been there since 1959 and haven’t won one since 1917. But the side effect of this is that the Cubs are getting as much press for not getting there as the White Sox are. People keep wondering if Cub fans are upset that the Sox are the team bringing a Series to this city. Why are we focusing on what Cub fans think? Why aren’t we focusing on the fact that the Sox are where they are?

I’m a Cub fan. You may be as much a Cub fan as I am, but there’s no way you’re more of one. I cried in 1984 when they lost. I shed a tear again in 2003. I’ve taken pilrgimages to follow the team. I’ve had glorious summer days ruined because the Cubs have blown a lead going into the ninth inning of a game. When the Cubs and White Sox play their cross town series, I’m always hoping the Cubs rub the Sox so far in the dirt that they can taste Chinese food.

But now the fact of the matter is that the Cubs are at home, like me, watching the White Sox. I find it ridiculous that people think that because I’m a Cub fan I shouldn’t be rooting for the Sox. Who thinks this actually makes sense? If I were a Cub fan living in Utah or New Mexico or someplace, then that’s one thing. But I happen to be a Chicagoan. As I said in a previous post, I love Chicago. If the Sox can win this World Series, I’ll be ecstatic. That’s not to say that I’ll have the same enthusiasm as a true blue White Sox fan, but that goes without saying.

Plus, as a Cub fan, I can’t possibly root for the St. Louis Cardinals. I hate the Cardinals. And though I’m intrugued by the Houston Astros, I can’t root for them either. These are two teams who are in the Cubs division, and therefore are rivals. True rivals. The Cubs and White Sox aren’t rivals. They just compete for a fan base in the same city.

I’m sick of this crosstown rivalry thing that goes on between Cub and Sox fans. It’s fine to have an allegience to one team rather than the other, but for god’s sake, why does it seem that so much hate can be spurned based on our team affiliations.

So here I am, in late October, and I’m rooting for the White Sox to win the World Series. If they don’t win, I won’t be that upset. They’re not my team. Let’s say for a minute that the Texas Rangers were in the Series and were playing the Philadelphia Phillies. I’d be rooting for the Phillies because Mike Schmidt was my childhood hero and therefore I became a Philly fan. But if they lose, I won’t care.

Same goes for the White Sox.

Let’s take note for a second that one of the most beloved Cub fans of all time was the late, great Harry Carey. Let’s not forget that before working for the Cubs, he was the announcer for the White Sox. In fact, it was on the south side that he began singing the seventh inning stretch that we all revere to this day. And before working for the White Sox, he was with the St. Louis Cardinal organization. I figure that if a guy like Harry can put aside regional differences, so can I.

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If he were still alive, I have little doubt he’d be pulling for the Sox.

(Holy cow, do I miss Harry.)