Tommy Dash is fed up being a flip phone comic in a TV writers room of iPhones and Androids. 4,157 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Greetings from Gardena! Specifically, the Normandie Casino just off the Harbor Freeway. More specifically, the Crouching Tiger Lounge of the Normandie Casino just off the Harbor Freeway. I’m waiting for a spot at a $1-5 seven-card stud hi-lo table to open up. The woman said it would be 15 minutes, but we’re looking at an hour. Meanwhile, she asks, would Mister Tommy like to play Texas Hold-‘em while he wait? “No,” I said, “Mister Tommy came here to play poker, not this Ponzi scheme with chips where everyone at the table gets to see 70 percent of the fucking deck.” Then she pointed to a spot at the $25 blackjack table, and I didn’t have the heart to explain to her that’s where I go when I’m down to my last $50. Then she pointed to the Crouching Tiger and gave me two drink tickets. It’s 10:00 am, so that should keep me till 10:10.
I got a grand in my pocket, and that’s not counting my Tip and Blow Fund, in case my former dealer, Flacco, returns my text and shows up. Which raises a philosophical question: Is he ever really your “former” dealer? Which raises another question: If your dealer marries your uncle’s daughter, is he your second cousin, or are you just drug related?
The lounge has wi-fi and, my hand to God, there are eight guys at the bar playing Hold-‘em online. One of them is in a full Batman costume, wearing a name tag that reads, “HELLO. My name is MR. AFFLECK.” Seriously, you’re playing online poker while sitting in a casino. I’m sorry, I need to feel the cards in my hand, the chips on my fingers, the Purell in my palms between deals. I, too am online, but only to catch all of you up on why we are dispatching today from Gardena, Monte Carlo without the Board of Health.
Two days ago, I was given the week off. Yes, given. I need to point out that I have done nothing wrong. And I need you to believe me. Yes, I need you to believe the guy waiting for Flacco to show up with some coke.
I cannot remember the last time I walked into a card room with $1,000. With a G. There is a good reason for that. It’s never happened. Shit, I’ve lost a grand. I’ve lost $2,500 when The Horseshoe was stupid enough to give me markers on a declined Visa. That was a long time ago. Pre-Flacco. Not today. If I lose the grand, I’m gone. If I’m winning, I’ll stay till I make a grand. Then, I’m gone. This is a business trip. I am trying to recoup the two weeks of AFTRA audience warmup pay I am losing because I was given the week off after I did nothing wrong, and next week, when I guest star on I Don’t Get It. $500 times two = One G. This is as close as I come to long-term financial planning.
I didn’t get the entire week off. I worked half a day Tuesday, then I went to the Verizon store, and when I came back to the building, around 5:00, Hector, the security guard who I love, told me to wait until Mimi, Danny Musselman’s longtime assistant, came down.
I like Mimi. She’s no Janice, but she knows how to pretend to be happy to see someone, which is pretty much the whole assistant mission statement. Well-meaning gal. Not an intellectual. Danny told a story in the room last week about a few years ago, when he buzzed her and asked, “Mimi, can you get me Governor Schwartzenegger?” And she said, “You mean on the phone?”
When Hector told me I had to wait, I did my best Cheech impression, which is not much, and said, “I’m in deep shit, amigo…” He said, “No, you’re good, bro. They wouldn’t send her.” No? Danny Musselman wouldn’t send his assistant to take me upstairs so he could fire me?
Ten minutes later, Danny Musselman himself comes down. He’s got a script in his hand. He’s smiling. Maybe he’s one of those guys who smiles when he fires you.
Turns out he’s not.
“Okay Dash, here’s what we’re gonna do,” he starts. “Here’s the book for next week. Your pal Beck just finished it. There’re changes. Take the rest of the week off. You’ll be paid. Take this home and don’t use it as a coaster. You’re in this episode, remember? And forget about the warmup. We’re gonna need someone next week when you’re working, so we might as well get ahead on that. You know Cory Kahaney?”
“I know Cory. Funny,” I say.
“Good. Well, she’s in from New York and she was great to my dad and I’m gonna try her at the taping Friday and if she works out, she’ll do next week before she goes back. Does that sound like anything?” Again, he smiled.
Believe me, I never expected to be talking to Danny Musselman in the lobby, so I hadn’t envisioned any scenario with him. I had come up with one with Mimi: Me asking if there was any chance for a reprieve from the Governor, and her saying, “You mean on the phone?” And I certainly hadn’t expected this conversation. And if you’d given me a million choices, I never would have come up with Danny asking me, “Does this sound like anything?” Frankly, I was still fixated on the phrase “You’ll be paid.”
I’m sure Danny expected me to say, “That sounds great.” I’m sure he hoped I would say something appreciative and brief. I know he wanted this exchange to end because he clearly started leaning back toward the stairs.
Here’s what I said, which was probably a mistake. “I know you have to run back up and apologize for hiring me.”
That’s when Danny Musselman got angry. “Hey, Tommy. Give me a little fucking credit. I heard what happened. And I’m sorry they’re fucking two years old. I don’t have time for this shit, and I really don’t have time for THIS shit. Go home. Go to a strip club. Go donate platelets for Lamar Odom. See you at the table reading Monday.”
Then he went back upstairs.
Can I tell you something? That Lamar Odom platelets line is, going away, the funniest thing Danny Musselman ever said in his life. I like to think I had a little to do with it.
Meanwhile, you heard the man. HE heard what happened. HE was sorry they were two years old. He. Was. Sorry. Somebody apologizing to Tommy Dash! I really should retire right now. But I’ll just take the week off.
That was the hostess. It’ll be another 20 minutes for the 7-stud table. Here’s another three drink tickets. That should be enough to get me through telling you about the thing that happened that I had nothing to do with.
Ahem… I have been a stand-up comedian for just shy of 35 years. I have performed all over the United States and Canada, and if you count the time I talked my way out of illegally driving a rental car into Mexico, all over North America. I have told jokes as far away as Perth, Australia and as nearby as Winchell’s Donuts on Crenshaw in Inglewood. I’ve opened for Dennis Miller before and after he was funny. But apparently, nothing I’ve ever said has been considered as stop-you’re-killing-me! hilarious as when I simply take out my cellphone.
Okay, I have a flip phone. It’s an LG VX3450, also known as the “peanut” or the “clamshell.” Not known by me, others. I’ve had it for about 10 years. The model has been discontinued for about nine. I like it. It doesn’t take pictures because I don’t want your fucking picture, and I certainly don’t want mine. I still have it because it works, and I don’t like change. If you know anything about me, and Christ, by now you should, you know two things: I don’t like the way things are, and I don’t like change.
Look, I’m not gonna cop the line I heard some guy say on the radio the other day, that making fun of someone’s cellphone is the new racism. It’s a good line. It’s the literal definition of “amusing.” It’s “a musing.” But everyone needs to calm down. My phone is old. I get it. The first time you and your high-tech fuck buddies see it in the writers room, you lose your shit. I follow. But every time? And they all laugh. Even the girls. Both of them. Well, Missy Friedman I understand, because that’s the way the wind is blowing. But Cindy Winter? Really? Cindy? That as disappointing.
And if I dare send a text and have to tap each key a few times to get the right letter, sometimes more because the 7 sticks? Forget about it. They’re dying. Like it’s a bit.
Then the jokes come. And come. And come. Some are good (“What is that? A Luddite 2000?”) Some are lame (“Where’s the rotary dial? Did you upgrade?”) Some are really good (“If you need to recharge the battery, I’ll let you borrow my jumper cables…”) Many I don’t get (“Is there an emoticon for Larry King?”). I don’t mind the jokes, because that’s the business I’m in. And at least they’re jokes. Not this lazy crap that pretends to be a joke. So he’s like… So she’s like… And then he’s like… Give me a fucking break. What adult talks that way? Do you think Obama meets with Kerry and says, “How did it go with Putin?” And Kerry says, “So, I went in, and he’s like, ‘What’s up?’ And I’m like, ‘What’s up with you?’ And he’s like, ‘Like, are we talking about, like Ukraine?’ And I’m like, ‘Like, duh….’”
And this isn’t Tommy Dash drinking bitters. Every week, just before they run off the final script revision, Danny turns to Jake Satinsky and asks, “Jake, did you take all the ‘likes’ out of this?” He knows.
So, I don’t mind the jokes. And I don’t mind some of the shtick. For instance, when my LG VX3450 is on the conference table and somebody calls and it vibrates and fucking Beck and Carey and Dellaferra shake the table violently. Or when I get a call and I take it out of my pocket and one of the other writers says, “Hello, President Carter?” Or “Hello, Mr. Bogart?” Anybody old. Everyone gets in on that. Even the black guy, Curtis Clethan. Last week, I picked up my phone and he says, “Hello, Mrs. Tubman?” And Satinsky tagged it with, “Can you talk?” Now, that was funny.
And I don’t mind when I come back from the bathroom and fucking Beck or Carey picks up a scotch tape dispenser or a wastebasket, puts it to their ear and whispers, “I have to go. The other writers are coming.” That’s all fine, and it’s a bit of attention, which is more than I’d been getting and why broken people like me get on stage to begin with. So, that’s something. And believe it or not, some of this nonsense happens when Danny is in the room, which shows the other guys are growing some balls. Even Danny has chimed in twice when I pick up my phone. The first time, he said, “Ahoy!” which the others loved because it was a Mr. Burns reference from The Simpsons. The second time, he said, “Watson, come here, I want you!” Which dropped me.
You may ask, “Who the fuck would be calling Tommy Dash?” Fair question. The first couple of times, it would be my ex-wife or my daughter Janey. I mean Abby. One time, it was Janice, congratulating me on going three days at the show without an incident. After that, it was either fucking Beck or Carey because they were bored.
I repeat: All of this – the jokes, the shtick – I don’t mind. What I do mind is when I go to the bathroom and forget to bring my phone and come back to find the keypad has been locked. Or the background wallpaper has been changed to a kitty. Or vibrate is turned off and the ringtone is now some Belgian police siren on high. Or my contacts have been updated to include AARP, CEDARS SINAI and JDATE. When that happens (always when Danny is not in the room), I calmly hand the phone to Cindy and say, “Fix this for Grandpa, would you?” and stare at fucking Beck until she’s done. A stare that is never returned.
What happened Tuesday, two days ago, happened after I returned from my post-lunch trip to the bathroom earlier than anticipated. I walk into the room, and fucking Beck looks up, throws my phone to Carey, who throws it to Dellaferra, who throws it back to fucking Beck, who throws it to Missy. Who throws it to me. But she’s a girl, so the throw is short. Or, depending on your point of view, perfect. It lands in Cindy’s grande caramel macchiato. Plop.
You would not believe the screams that came out of those seven fucks. I forgot to tell you this, but at the taping of the second episode three weeks ago, we had Carl Reiner do a surprise walk-on. Danny called in every favor. Carl Reiner (93!) came out unannounced, just before the end of the second act, put his hand on Clark Keegan’s shoulder and said, “What did I come in here for? Oh, I remember… Lose my number.” That, Carl Fucking Reiner, that did not get as big a response as my phone bobbing in Cindy’s macchiato. I mean, table pounding screams. Even the black guy. And what could be funnier than that? Well, me fishing the clamshell out, of course. And what could possibly be funnier that that? Well, the lank strand of caramel sauce that hung on the hinge as I opened the phone and looked up for the napkins and paper towels that others might have tossed my way.
And what could possibly, possibly be funnier than that? Well, the writers assistant, Filson (who I haven’t bothered to mention because he is a useless little fag, and you can’t say “fag”) mincing in and saying, “Oh my!”
I untucked my shirt and tried to wipe the thing off. Good luck. And then I opened the backpiece and had to shake out whatever Starbucksom and flotsam had found its way to the battery. I said nothing. By then, everyone might have begun to try and settle down. Missy might have said she was sorry and Jake Satinsky might have begun to offer a suggestion by addressing me as “Dude.” I don’t know. I was gone by then. I could hear them laughing as I waited for the elevator. Laughing hard. I was pretty confident that they weren’t laughing over anything any of them had written. I was as confident of that as I was that I had behaved in exemplary fashion, a fashion that has never been in style with me. I had behaved, okay I’ll say it, well enough to get fired with severance.
I asked Hector the security guard if he could look up the nearest Verizon store. He didn’t have to. He told me there was one on Sunset and Vine, but then I remembered there was one in my neighborhood on Fairfax, just off Melrose near the Improv. But then I remembered Sunset and Vine is 90028, and there are at least four strip clubs around there. I knew there was one on Hollywood between Vine and Ivar, and another on Sunset between Schrader and Hudson. So, as funny as the Lamar Odom line was, when I came back to the building and Danny Musselman handed me the script and said, “Go to a strip club,” he was clairvoyant. And about an hour late.
When I walked into the Verizon store and showed Jerry, the sales associate, my phone, he reacted like Nancy Grace when you show her a kid’s autopsy. The great news: I was eligible for an upgrade! And had been for eight years. There would be no $299 reconnection charge, which was dynamite because I owed $297 for the last four months of outstanding bills. Jerry showed me the only flip phone they still offered, some piece of shit from Samsung with GIANT NUMBERS FOR OLD PEOPLE and a clock that doesn’t light up and isn’t able to be displayed in analog, like the LG VX3450. But I really had no choice, just as I had no choice but to get current on my bill. While I drove to the ATM on Sunset and LaBrea to grab $500 ($300 for Verizon, $200 for upcoming reconnecting fees with some pole dancers), Jerry was busy trying to find my billing access code, which I had forgotten. That took us a while. We tried my birthday, the last four digits of my social, the last four of my home number. After a half-hour, we figured it out together accidentally. I kept asking him, “Did you try ‘cock?’” And he would say, “Cock doesn’t work,” or “I can’t do cock,” or “It won’t accept cock.” It was a damn shame there was no one in the Verizon store to hear this. Finally, I said, “I don’t get it. Whenever I have to come up with a four-letter password, I always use, ‘cock.’ Always.” And Jerry said, “Let me try something….” Bang! He’s in. I said, “What did you do?” And he smiled, “2526. It’s the phone keypad equivalent of ‘cock.’ C-O-C-K!” We high-fived, which I never do, and Jerry says, honest to God, “My apologies, Mr. Dash. I feel like such an amateur. Cock should have been the first thing I thought of…”
Are you way ahead of me here? Is that a scene for a future episode of I Don’t Get It, or what? Clark and Morty going to the Verizon store to get him a new phone. Come on! You just do that exchange verbatim. And remember, we’re on a cock-friendly network. I wrote it down on a napkin at the strip club so I could remember to tell it to Danny when I got back to the office. And I was going to give him the idea whether he fired me or not. A little thing I like to call fucking largesse. All of which meant I get to write off the strip club as a business expense when I file my tax return. Of course, I wasn’t planning to file a return, but it may be worth it just for that.
Look, I don’t want you to think that I’m some indolent skeeve who went to a strip club rather than go straight back to work from the Verizon store. I did go straight back to work from the Verizon store. Technically. After we had the access code breakthrough, I asked Jerry if he could recover the numbers in my contacts. He said it was doubtful because the LG VX3450 was so outdated, but he did find that I had signed up for and was paying (or not paying) for something called “backup assistant.” A couple of customers who missed the cock exchange walked in and Jerry said if I left the new phone he would be able to see what contacts he could restore. But it would take an hour. Did I have any errands I could run in the meantime and be back in an hour?
Folks, I have been justifying my behavior now for the better part of four decades. I’ve been known to reach over the bar and pour myself a bourbon from the speed row and tell the bartender he looked busy and I was helping him out. On a few occasions when my daughters were still in the house, a child support payment might have been two twenties stuffed in the pocket of a couple of robes from the Nikko. The good ones. You get the idea. But I never, never, had the presence of mind to equate going to a strip club with running an “errand.” Come on. If it isn’t an errand, what is it? If not then, when? If not me, who?
You know what I just realized? Danny didn’t say, “Go to a strip club.” He said, “Go back to the strip club.” He wasn’t clairvoyant. I just didn’t lint roll off all the glitter.
The strip club was okay. I hadn’t been to this one in a while. Same girls, but they’ve added a fresh fruit plate to the menu, so I’ll probably be back. When I returned to the Verizon store, Jerry said he’d been able to restore my contacts, he just didn’t know how recent the list was. I scrolled down and saw the name of this scumbag with a room in Claremont who had booked me for the weekend, three shows for $500, then added a show and paid me the same money. His reasoning, “Well, you were already here…” I wound up taking one of the monitor speakers from the PA. It’s still in the trunk of my car. That was at least a year ago.
You know who else was in my contacts? Flacco! I had deleted him six weeks ago when I got the gig at the show and Danny gave me his speech of having to behave. But he’s back. Again, proving my point. He’s never really your “former” dealer. It’s more of a hiatus. I waited six hours to call him, so it at least qualified as an ethical dilemma. We met at the Carl’s Jr on Fairfax and Olympic and I told him I’d been in L.A. so long I remember buying my shitty burgers from Carl Sr. Flacco said, “No shit?” Know your audience. (By the way, Flacco has weed now. And he’s thinking of adding a fresh fruit plate…)
That was Tuesday night. Wednesday, the day kinda got away from me. I got up around four and called Jerry at the Verizon store and told him I hated the Samsung flip phone. The numbers are too big, the vibrate function sounds more like a floor buffer or an old hooker gumming you, and there’s no bowling game. Jerry, and this is why he’s a professional, suggested I go on eBay, punch in LG VX3450, and see what comes up. Spoiler alert: I got two coming in 3-5 business days, Gladys! $80! And the contacts will transfer because of that backup assistant shit. So, forget the crack about the day getting away from me.
I hadn’t been on eBay in years. What do you think I could fetch for that monitor in my trunk? $150? I’d have to post photos of it. Great. Now I need to borrow a phone with a camera.
Here comes the hostess. No hi-lo 7-stud since 2002. Would I like to play California lowball? Five card draw, worst hand wins. Not that you would know it, but this is Tommy Dash’s game…
Greetings from Carl’s Jr on West Artesia and Normandie in Gardena! Flacco just texted me he’ll be here in 20 minutes. An hour ago, he texted me he’d be here in 20 minutes. I got up from the table, where I’d played for 45 minutes and was up $80. So, the new flip phones are covered.
Over an hour sitting in a Carl’s Jr parking lot and I haven’t scored. Somebody contact the Department of Records…
That call was from Danny Musselman. He’s not in this batch of contacts, but I recognized the number. Sonny Regal, the guy who plays the old comic Morty on I Don’t Get It is struggling with a scene in which his son tells him to stop trying to chat up the hot young Selena Gomez-type actress who is guest-starring on the kid’s show. The show within the show. “He doesn’t like being cranky with the kid all the time, and I don’t blame him,” Danny says. “Do you have anything?”
“What if he says, ‘Son, if you don’t think she wants to talk with someone who’s known Nick Clooney for 40 years, then she and I really do have nothing to talk about.”
“That’s fucking great,” Danny said. “Can you get up here and do that for him? We’re on a dinner break.”
“You do it,” I said. “That guy doesn’t even know me.”
“Hey, dicklick, Sonny asked me to call you. Can you be here in an hour?”
“Hour and a half.”
Danny chuckled. “Yeah, pick up a new lint brush. I promise you’ll be out of here by 4:00.”
I texted Flacco and told him forget it. I was back on the Harbor Freeway when my Samsung gummed. I assume it was Flacco replying, so I didn’t check until I hit my first light on Sunset. It was a text from Danny Musselman. “If anyone asks, you have the week off…”