Dad, Peter Ueberroth & John Mitchell

Dad, Peter Ueberroth & John Mitchell

My Dad is a retired schoolteacher and for as long as I can remember his summer job has been caddying at an exclusive golf course on Long Island. Over the years he has caddied for everyone from Bill Clinton to Bill Murray to David Dinkins.
One summer while I was still in college my Dad caddied for Peter Ueberroth who, at the time, was the commissioner of Major League Baseball. My Dad, in the course of talking to him, mentioned that our family are huge Mets fans.  Ueberroth generously offered my Dad his private commissioner’s suite for a game at Shea!
Feeling like we had won the lottery, we excitedly rounded up a group of about fifteen people; family and friends. I remember the little old lady who lived a couple doors down from us, Delores, came too. She was a huge Mets fan and would sit out on her stoop smoking cigarettes and listening to the Mets games on transistor radio.
The commissioner’s suite was amazing. I remember big televisions, big leather chairs, an open bar and a never ending supply of hot dogs and hamburgers. It was nothing at all like sitting down with the riff-raff in the regular seats.
I don’t remember who the Mets were playing or even if they won but I remember feeling like royalty sitting up there and watching the game from a completely different vantage point than what I was used to. The baseball purist in me preferred the regular “open air” seats but for a one time experience, this was amazing.
When the game ended we took an elevator down to exit the building. An usher took us toward the door and I realized we would be exiting from the same door the players exited from. Fans would wait outside the doors, hoping to get players to sign an autograph. Suddenly, and I’m not sure why, an idea hit me. I saw the fans lined up outside the door and I told my brother, Dave, and my sister, Trish, to address me as “John Mitchell”.
John Mitchell was a rookie pitcher who the Mets had just called up from the minor leagues. He was around my age at the time, about twenty-one, and nobody really knew who he was or what he looked like. So when we walked out toward the fans my sister and brother asked for my autograph, which I politely signed as “John Mitchell”. They then informed the other fans “That’s John Mitchell!” and the word spread pretty fast because within seconds I had about fifteen or twenty fans surrounding me asking for my autograph.
I signed hats, yearbooks, shirts. One woman even took off her sneaker and I signed that. In the midst of this wave of humanity surrounding me I looked up at my family and friends off to the side stifling laughter as I dutifully signed John Mitchell’s autograph for one fan after another.
It was a rush to be putting one over on people, wondering whether I would be busted at any moment. What made it even funnier was the fact that, standing about twenty feet away from me was a real Mets player, a relief pitcher named Jeff Innis, and he only had about four autograph seekers while I had a mob.
Realizing that the jig might soon be up my Dad came over and nervously said “Um, John… we should go. The car is waiting.”
I signed a couple more items, apologizing and explaining that “The car is waiting”. Luckily, the fact that we had to walk a half a mile to my Dad’s Dodge Dart, which was parked under a bridge to avoid paying for parking, seemed to go unnoticed by the throngs of fans for whom I had just signed. No Major League Baseball player, even a rookie, would have to park a half a mile from the stadium or drive an off-yellow Dodge Dart.
That was my night in the commissioner’s suite at Shea Stadium, which is right now in the process of being demolished with the opening of brand new Citi Field set for this spring. I will miss Shea and the many cherished memories from a lifetime spent attending games, but none moreso than the night my Dad took us to the commissioner’s suite and I left as John Mitchell.

Amman Walks Into a Bar

I am in Amman, Jordan for the inaugural Amman Comedy Festival. A comedy festival in the Middle East?! Who’da thunk it? Well, luckily Dean Obeidallah, an Arab-American comic and good friend who I started in comedy with fifteen years ago, thunked it with some well connected contacts in Jordan.
I am having an incredible experience over here. I am not a particularly well informed individual so I go into most experiences with a relatively blank slate and an open mind. Granted, the Middle East does trigger certain notions, as evidenced by the countless “Be careful! Be safe!” warnings I received from well intentioned friends before my departure, but I really wasn’t concerned for my safety.
I’ve lived in NY my whole life and I’m sure some people think of NY as horribly unsafe and dangerous but I know that’s false, so I happily accepted the invitation to perform on the festival and see another part of the world. Not just another part but a part of the world that Americans are so often programmed to think of as unsafe or, even worse, enemy territory.
This, it turns out, could not be further from the truth. The people have been incredibly welcoming, kind, warm and generous. A city worker from the mayor’s office, Mouayyad, was assigned to me as my personal chaperone. As he said “Mr. Ted, anything you need, please ask me. I am here for you. Whatever you need.”
Today I asked Mouayyad and his driver, Hassan, to please take me to the Dead Sea, about an hour from Amman city center. The three of us embarked on a  bizarre little road trip that I couldn’t have dreamed up in a million years.
It was incredible. It is the lowest elevation in the world and the water has such a high salt content that no marine life can live there. The waters and mud are said to have restorative powers so I took a dip and applied a mud facial. I honestly felt invigorated afterwards, like my skin was smoother and rejuvenated.
Mouayyad tried to tell me something about the Dead Sea’s history. I think he was trying to explain something about Sodom and Gommorah but in his broken english it came out “You know men… ummm, gay? Ummm, men fucking men?”
“Yes, yes. Of course.”
I couldn’t really make out what came after that but I’m assuming it couldn’t have been good. Something about “God not being happy”. Probably not pro-gay, I’m guessing. That said, Mouayaad has been a great guy, very gracious and couldn’t be more helpful, aside from his history lessons.
On the way back we got pulled over for speeding by the Jordanian police. Mouayyad and Hassan had to get out of the car and talk to the officer at his car. I was in the back seat and pulled out my iphone to surruptiously take a picture of the proceedings but one of the cops saw me and was not pleased. He started shouting something in arabic and Mouayaad had to calm him down. I thought my iphone might get confiscated but fortunately nothing happened. I smiled stupidly and gave an apologetic nod. But I got my picture, which I will post soon.
The comedy crowds here have been amazing. They are incredibly  grateful that comedians have come from around the world to perform in their city. And, to my surprise and delight, they are wonderfully astute and savvy comedy audiences. They get everything, even the most subtle nuances that I assumed might not go over. Once my Barack joke about “Once you go black…” got a rousing ovation I relaxed and realized “Wow, they got it.” I didn’t even have to finish the sentence.
I have learned this time and time again in my travels but it’s a lesson that apparently needs to be reiterated time and time again; people are people. We share the human condition and we share the same basic wants, needs and feelings. And increasingly, due to the internet, we have a shared frame of reference.
As I stood on stage tonight and looked out at a packed house of hundreds of middle easterners laughing I had a moment of pure love for humanity. I thought to myself “I am standing on stage in a middle eastern country making a roomful of people laugh, smile and feel good”. What an overwhelming feeling of joy and gratitude to be able to do what I do. As I watched the other comedians, too, I was so proud to be one of the very first selected to bring standup comedy to Amman, Jordan. There has been such a special, vibrant energy surrounding the entire proceedings.
We met the crowd afterward to meet and greet, take pictures and sign autographs. The genuine outpouring of love and appreciation was so beautiful. It is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.
As I sit in a hotel room on the other side of the world from my home; on foreign soil-”enemy soil” we americans are often led to believe- I give thanks. I have never felt more loved, appreciated, more at home, than I did before a crowd of middle easterners who were so excited to watch live standup comedy for the very first time in their beautiful city of Amman, Jordan.
Salam a Lakem, Amman!

My Week With Barack

I’m voting for Barack Obama for President of the United States of America. I think that he has taken the high road throughout the primaries and heading into the general election. The tone of his campaign has been inclusive and decent throughout, which for me has been such a welcome breath of fresh air after eight years of the Bush administration which fostered a tone of suspicion and fear of everyone and everything. Living in that America has taken its toll and I am inspired and energized to see a new face for America, a new tone coming from our leadership which has already trickled down and inspired countless people to get involved.
One of those people is my sister, Amy. She volunteered to make calls on behalf of the Obama/Biden campaign. Another is my friend Dan Allen, who volunteered to go down to Florida and donate his time and considerable organizational talents to the campaign. Inspired by them, I volunteered to phone bank in New York last Tuesday and Wednesday, reminding people to get out and vote and get involved to help in whatever way they are able.
On one memorable call a little black girl of about twelve or thirteen answered the phone.
“Hello?”
“Hi, my name is Ted and I’m volunteering for the Barack Obama campaign. How are you tonight?”
“Fine. For Barack Obama?”
“Yes.”
“Not McCain.”
“No, not McCain.”
“Good. I’m for Barack Obama.”
“I am, too. That’s why I’m calling. We’re making sure that people are going to vote on November 4th.”
“Um, no offense but… is you white?”
“Yes. No offense but… are you black?”
“Yeah.”
“I’m white and you’re black and we both like Barack.”
“Yeah. Do you know him?”
“No, I’m just volunteering to make phone calls for his campaign.”
“Will you see him?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well if you do see him can you do me a favor? Can you tell him that Victoria loves him?”
My heart got full.
“Yes, Victoria. If I see him I will tell him that Victoria loves him.”
“Promise?”
“Yes. I promise.”
That call alone made it worthwhile and underscored the beauty of Barack’s campaign. A thirty-nine year old white guy talking to a young black girl and making a genuine connection (not in a Dateline NBC way, either). I can’t tell you how many times that has happened since I decided to get involved. It’s beautiful and touches me deeply.
As fate would have it, my schedule took me to Hilarities in Cleveland, OH on Thursday of last week. With Ohio being a crucial state in the campaign my plan was to do some research and volunteer during the day while I was performing there for the weekend. I immediately got the information I sought before even boarding my plane at LaGuardia airport. My flight was packed with people flying from NY to Cleveland to volunteer for the Obama/Biden campaign. They gave me all the info I needed. It was amazing, there was a palpable energy on the flight; I have been amazed again and again by the deep desire people have this year not only to vote for change but to get involved. Again, this is a marked difference than past elections because of who Barack Obama is and the fact that he can inspire and appeal to our better nature. I have had a genuine feeling, or perhaps realization that “This is my country. This is our country. It is my responsibility to create the country that I would like to see, to lend my voice, my time and energy to help make that a reality.”
On Friday and Saturday I went to the Obama campaign headquarters in Lakewood, OH, a suburb of Cleveland. One of the campaign organizers, Alex- a young guy from Brooklyn, gave me a quick training on canvassing. I would be going door to door armed with addresses of Obama supporters, making sure they are planning on voting and that they were aware they can vote early. In two days I knocked on over eighty doors and it was an incredible experience. Again, the thirst for change was palpable. Granted, these were Obama supporters or leaning that way, but what I learned from going door to door is that a lot of people are struggling just to make a living wage and pay bills.
I listened to one guy who drives for a car service and is recently divorced. His house was foreclosed on and he lost the other job that he had so it looks like he’s going to have to declare bankrupcy. I said “I’m sorry that things have been so hard. Hopefully better days are on the way.”
After two days of knocking on doors, I learned that Barack would be coming to Cleveland for a huge rally on Sunday and Bruce Springsteen would be opening for him! This whole weekend felt surreal and the opportunity to hear The Boss and Barack live would just take it to a whole other level.
I left my hotel around 10am to head over. The rally wasn’t going to start until around 4pm but I wanted to get there early to get a good spot. As I walked down the street a girl approached me.
“Ted Alexandro?”
“Yes”. I figured maybe it was someone who had seen my show over the weekend or perhaps my Comedy Central Presents, which aired Friday night.
“Do you recognize me?”, she asked. She took off her ski cap and sunglasses. Her face was familiar but I still could not place where I knew her from.
“Jessica! Oh my god!” It was a girl I had done theater with in high school! I had not seen Jesse in about twenty years! She and I had done “Bye Bye Birdie” together; she was Rosie and I was, yes, Conrad Birdie.
We hugged and laughed and could not believe the bizarreness of it. She said “I just saw your special last night, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have even recognized you with your short hair and beard!” She and her mom were there for the rally so I got on line with them and my day with Bruce and Barack turned into a twenty year reunion, as well!
What a great thing to catch up with my friend. We told the story to the people who were on line around us and everyone was like “Oh my god! It’s so romantic! Are you single?”
Jesse explained that she is happily married with two kids and I said I am happily single with no kids. But it was just such a fun vibe and we made friends with a bunch of people. There were two great girls, Suzy and LaQuilla, who have been organizing the “Get Out the Vote” effort on their college campus. They were there with their boyfriends. There was a young couple, Tara and Chris, who came down together to hear Barack speak. Then a bunch of comedian friends, Josh Sneed, Chad Zumock and Wix Wickman met up with us, too.
It felt like the Wizard of Oz, we kept making friends and adding to our group as we headed off “to Oz!” Only this time the Wizard is for real because we ARE the wizards, lead by one very gifted wizard named Barack Obama.
We made our way through the airport level security, going through metal detectors and getting searched and patted down. Then we walked toward the stage area. I could not believe it, we were at the front of the stage, about twenty-five feet from the podium. We would have front row seats to see Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama! We were all so excited and giddy! We kept saying “If these were actual tickets they probably would have cost $5,000!” It was such a fun, silly, communal vibe. We all sang along with the music being pumped in. “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”, “Celebration” and Aretha’s “Freedom” got us all going. Me and this older black guy were singing “We’re getting ourselves together, we’re gonna polish up our act!”
He said “We’re showing our age now!”
I said “That’s okay. Barack’s one of us, too.”
After a few hours of waiting and restlessness a few local politicians took the stage. They gave their speeches and got the crowd going a bit. Then came the big stuff. The Boss! Bruce Springsteen took the stage and the crowd went nuts. We had to explain to Tara and Chris who Bruce Springsteen was earlier in the day but by the time he took the stage they were both giving a nice loud “Bruuuuuuuce!” as he took the stage.
He played about five songs including “Thunder Road”, “The Rising” and “This Land Is Your Land” and he was fantastic. My favorite part was his speech in between songs, making an impassioned and eloquent case for change, for Barack Obama. Bruce said “I have been singing about America for 35 years. I’ve written songs about the American Dream and the American reality and the distance between the two. I believe Barack Obama has been taking the measure of that distance his entire life and dedicated himself to bridging that gap.” It was beautiful, tears streamed down my cheeks.
After Bruce’s final number he said “Ladies and gentleman, the next President of the United States of America and the next First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia and Sasha.” The crowd erupted and it was mayhem. The place was electrified and there was a palpable feeling of history in the making, regardless of whether Barack wins or loses. Our little group was excited and exchanging wide eyed “Can you believe this???” glances.
Barack spoke beautifully for about twenty minutes. It was great, worth the wait and then some. He is graceful, comfortable and genuinely likeable. I watched as a comedian and was impressed with his timing and improv skills, too. Two things stood out in particular; at one point he said Dick Cheney had just endorsed McCain/Palin, saying he was “delighted” to do so. Obama said, mischievously, “I have never seen Dick Cheney delighted but apparently this did it”, and he laughed to himself. Shortly after it began to rain and Barack said “See what happens when I mention Dick Cheney and George Bush? But don’t worry. Sunshine is on the way.” He is a smooth operator, in the very best sense. And again, he brings people together and inspires people towards their best selves, towards creating our best country. I believe he will restore our country and our standing in the world community, both of which have been so badly damaged.
After he spoke, Barack worked the lines at the front of the stage, shaking hands and saying “hello” and “thank you”. Jesse’s mother, a Cuban-American and recent Democratic convert, got to shake Barack’s hand. “God bless you”, she told him. “Thank you, God bless you, too”, he replied.
As the rally concluded and we all hugged and said our goodbye’s, aware that we had shared an historical, special day that none of us would ever forget. I was reminded of a line in the movie “Rachel Getting Married”.
“This is what heaven looks like.”
I agree, and I will add “This is what America looks like.”
Please get out and vote November 4th!