Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Code Of The Jacket

The Code Of The Jacket
We had a deep freeze here in Los Angeles this past week.  For not one, not two, but four or five days the temperature hovered around a life-threatening 45 degrees.  There was a panicked mob of personal assistants clearing all of the canned goods from the grocery stores, which were promptly returned after the mob realized canned goods are not organic and were probably made by some evil 1% corporation.  Then there was a run on the prepared soup, pre-mixed salads, and soy burgers at Whole Foods.  Then there was a short period of texting, but everyone was driving their car speeding towards home so it was OK.  It was such a terrifying ordeal that Governor Moonbeam nearly called out the National Guard - luckily he “found a mellow patch,” and Martial Law was averted. The worst part of the Los Angeles 2012 Olympic Winter Games?  I had to wear a jacket.  That’s right, a JACKET.  For several days.  In a ROW!  Madness!!!  If I wanted to wear a stinkin’ jacket all the time, I’d move back to Ohio and go to Browns playoff games in January! (That’s the most obvious joke on the blog; a Cleveland Browns playoff game?  At HOME? What is this, 1988?)  However, wearing this jacket (pictured below) while watching the chaos of winter in LA brought me to an understanding, and it was this: very few in this “me first” town live up to what I call The Code Of The Jacket.

Loyal readers are aware that I have been overseas numerous times, doing shows for the military.  Despite performing for audiences who are fully trained to use the weapons in their laps, I survive and keep getting asked to return.  On one of these trips several years ago with Steve Mazan (of “Dying To Do Letterman” fame) as well as Award Winning Comedian Don Barnhart (who I believe is in the process of legally changing his first name to “Award Winning”) and funnyman Warren B Hall, the airline lost my luggage.  OK, this happens, but you have to understand that we were at the termination of what was roughly a 6,487 hour trip, which finished in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, a country so poor they can barely afford vowels.  The temperature when we landed was six degrees, and I had the shorts & t-shirt I was wearing and not much else.  It was also 2AM, and our contact informed me that the BX at Manas Air Base was closed until morning.  Despite the tingly shrinkage issues, I soldiered on, made it through the night, and purchased a bunch of new stuff the following morning.  The folks at Manas were kind enough to lend me a heavy duty winter coat, which was fantastic until I had to turn it back in as we left Manas and headed towards now closed K2 Air Base in Uzbekistan.  
The trip to K2 was supposed to be a short flight (we weren’t on Delta so there was no connection in Detroit, which we would have missed anyway), so I figured that while on the plane, I would simply tough it out and wear the fleece sweatshirt that I had purchased, then borrow another winter coat once we arrived.  Beautiful plan, until our plane was reassigned to a combat mission and we disembarked to stand on the tarmac, waiting for another to arrive.  Along with several dozen soldiers, we stood on tundra that made Lambeau Field seem tropical and waited.  Then we waited.  After that was some waiting.  Then for fun, we waited.  Now, we were standing next to military folks, who were heading to K2 and points south in Afghanistan where they would likely be shot at, so there was no way I was complaining.  On all of these trips my motto is “If they can do what they do, I can never miss a show even if I’m so sick I have a fever of 104 and am hurling into the desert on the side of the road in Qatar and the base doctors give me an official diagnosis of ‘Dude, you’re sick.’”  (A wordy motto, to be sure, but a true story, for another time.)(If you don’t believe me, Barnhart, Mazan, and Hall can confirm)  As I stood there, turtling as far down into the hoodless fleece sweatshirt as possible, an unknown soldier in full battle rattle and a ski mask appeared and tapped my shoulder.  When I turned to face him, he wordlessly handed me the above pictured jacket.  I asked if he was sure, saying I didn’t want to take a jacket from someone else, and he waved me off, again wordlessly.  I put on the jacket, which is warmer than it appears, and eventually another plane arrived.  
Upon landing at K2, we went to the arrivals building to do paperwork (military folks know that I really mean “we went to the arrivals hut and stood around for awhile, waiting for the guy with our paperwork to get out of bed and arrive”).  Once inside, I removed the jacket and began asking around to see whose it was.  It belonged to no one, apparently.  After about ten minutes of questioning the soldiers, I stood on a bench and loudly asked “Who was it that gave me this jacket?  I want to thank you and give it back!”  Nothing.  No response.  I asked if anyone had already left, thinking maybe I’d missed them, and again no one said anything.  Eventually I realized that I wasn’t getting an answer because these folks in the military live by a code.  Now when I say “code,” I don’t mean a secret James Bond decoder ring code, like if I say “To my old getaway driver, the white ferret is correct, and haha balls,” and someone in Russia knows exactly where I’ve hidden the detonators.  No, not that kind of code, although that would be cool, wouldn’t it? (By the way, to the Turkish gentleman I know only as Winston Churchill I say “Captain Funky just passed Uranus.”)  No, it’s a different kind of code, the kind you live your life by, a Ghandi-esque thing, and their code is simple: help people.  That’s it.  That’s all it takes.  No grand gesture, major life involvement, or government program needed.  This soldier, whoever he or she was, saw someone who was cold and gave them a jacket to keep warm.  Humbling, to say the least.
It is amazing how an act so small can have such a profound and far reaching effect.  Every time I wonder if what I do matters, I remember that soldier, and it reinforces my positive energy and my belief in living.  To this day, whenever I wear that jacket in this desolate, arctic village of Hollywood, I think back to that night, and I wonder who that soldier was.  I wonder if they came back from their deployment in one piece and now lead a regular, humdrum life.   Do they go bowling on Tuesdays?  Are they getting enough natural fiber in their diet? Do they remember that one episode of Cheers where the guys took Diane to the opera?  I wonder if they’re out there now, reading this, and if someday I’ll get to meet them, thank them, and give them back their jacket.  Of the many items and souvenirs I’ve brought back from trips to the Middle East and Southwest Asia, The Jacket is one of my most prized possessions.  It reminds me of all that is good and right in the world, and how every single day is a miracle.  It also makes me think.  Every time I pull that jacket out of the closet and slip in on, I wonder: Am I living up to The Code?  
How about you, can I help you in some way?
Tell you what, loyal readers, here’s my self-challenge goal and my offer to you: I want to help 100 people by the end of the month.  Go “like” my Facebook Fan Page HERE, and leave me a message saying how I can help you.  If I can help, I will.  If I can’t, I’ll do my best to pass you along to someone who can, or at least try to point you in the right direction.  All I want back is that you in turn help someone else.  That’s it.  
The Code Of The Jacket.  Pass it on.

Help say thank you to our military men and women by purchasing my comedy DVD on my website HERE - as I have for nearly a decade now, I donate a portion of every DVD sale to a military charity.  I’ve recently switched my donations to “The Wounded Warrior Project,” which helps those injured in battle with just about everything upon their return home.  Just my way of saying Thank You.