Talking to Johnny about talking to Johnny

When I was a kid, I used to fall asleep to the sound of “The Tonight Show” (starring Johnny Carson) drifting in from the living room.

At age 10, not only did I have a huge crush on Johnny Carson, I also knew I wanted to be famous.  I would lay in bed and fall asleep while having imaginary conversations with Johnny.

Our conversations were always the same.  I would tell Johnny that I used to lay in bed as a child and fall asleep having imaginary conversations with him.  And he would chuckle. (I realize that this is the conversational equivalent of the infinity mirror trick)

To achieve fame in the pre-Kardashian ’70’s, one had to be talented at something.  Being famous for simply being famous wasn’t a thing yet.  I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to be famous for.  At this point in my young life, I was no prodigy.  In fact, championing mediocrity was looking iffy.

I tried all forms of dancing.  Tap (too clutzy), ballet (the pre-teen me looked like a ball wearing a tutu and wading boots), and jazz.  Now jazz was something I could sink my teeth into.  The music and costumes were fun, and I thought I was great.  Anyone who knows me (or, let’s be honest, has spent ANY time sitting/standing/walking near me) can attest to why the word “grace” has never been used to describe me.  Had my ability matched my enthusiasm, I might have had a shot at greatness.  Let me just add that parents may be doing their children a disservice by telling them they are outstanding at everything.  Be honest.  If it sucks, put an end to it.  Your kids may or may not thank you, but their future friends and family will.

I learned some funny skits during summer camp, and in 6th grade, my friends and I would practice at home and then convince our teachers to let us perform them during the last class of the day.  We gained enough popularity to be invited to other classrooms, and our fan base extended to 5th graders as well.  I was on my way to stardom!

In 7th grade, I auditioned for the high school musical, and scored a couple parts in “Oliver!”  One as an orphan boy, and the other as one of Fagin’s boys.  I had to sing, dance, and hide my boobs.  I had dated one of the “Olivers” (in a genius move, the director had cast twins to play the part), and had a huge crush on Fagin, so my excuse for not giving an award-winning performance may have had something to do with boys and my level of distraction.

In 8th grade, I had to give a demonstration speech in English class.  I had no idea what I was doing, so Dad taught me how to deliver a speech that was guaranteed to grab and hold my audience’s attention.  I was entertaining!  I had discovered I could make people laugh, and it was like a drug.  Unfortunately, “Stand-Up Comedian” was not one of the booths at Career Day.  I wondered if I would have to settle for being a funny nurse/teacher/homemaker…

By 9th grade, I had discovered “Saturday Night Live”.  I would tape episodes on my Panasonic cassette recorder and replay them over and over.  I couldn’t get enough of Steve Martin, Bill Murray, John Belushi and Eddie Murphy.

My first comedic love was still Johnny Carson, but I was branching out.  And now there was a GIRL on the scene! I had always loved Lucille Ball.  She was beautiful, graceful, talented, and could completely rock physical comedy.  But Gilda Radner had my attention.  She was skinny and awkward and I loved everything she did.  I practiced imitating Roseanne Roseannadanna, Emily Litella (never mind), Baba Wawa, Lisa Loobner, and Judy Miller (who I think I identified with most when I would have those late-night convos with Johnny).

In the ’80’s I became a singer.  I sang backup for Pat Benatar and Joan Jett.  I performed duets with Steven Tyler, Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty.  I harmonized with Glenn Fry and Michael McDonald.  I rocked out with Brian Johnson, Robert Plant and David Lee Roth (okay, I was really just lusting after Eddie…but I had too much respect for Valerie, so I quit the band).  Then one day, standing in front of the mirror wearing sensible underwear and singing into my hairbrush…I realized I would never achieve rockstar status.  I allowed one lone, dramatic tear to roll down my cheek (can you picture the MTV music video?), then I gently laid the hairbrush on the bathroom counter and walked away.

Over the next two decades, life happened, as it so often does.  I became locally famous for driving a big yellow truck full of kids to school.  I sang and made corny jokes.  I stirred a few political pots.  I wrote a handful of editorials during a turbulent school year.  And I started writing on Facebook.

And in the middle of it all, Johnny died.

I hope that this writing thing actually takes off.  If for no other reason than to be a famous dead writer who gets invited to sit next to Johnny on his late-night afterlife talk show.  I will tell him that when I was alive, I used to fall asleep talking to him, about being a child and falling asleep talking to him, about talking to him.