ESSAYS

Deduct THIS!

Although I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, healthcare is way too expensive this country. Somebody asked me what I would do if I won the Powerball. I said, “Go to a doctor out of network. And then when he says, 'Would you like me to write your prescription for generic?' I’ll say, 'No. Name-brand, baby—I’m a baller!'” 

As a middle-aged person, I live in constant fear of unexpected medical expenses. I sleep with my alarm clock on my chest just so I don’t throw my shoulder out shutting it off in the morning.

My deductible is so high, I’m afraid to engage in any leisure activity that can lead to injury. So, whenever my younger friends say, “Hey, Jeff, we’re going skiing—wanna go?” I say, “I’ll go, but only if I can watch your stuff while you do it.” 

“Hey, Jeff, we’re going bungee jumping—wanna go?” 

“I’ll go, but only if I can watch your stuff while you do it.” 

“Hey, Jeff, we’re going to an orgy—wanna go?” 

“I’ll go, but only if someone can watch my stuff.” 

My deductible is sixty-nine hundred dollars. That means the insurance company won’t help me with my medical bills until I’ve spent nearly seven grand of my own money. That’s like a friend who owns a moving van saying, “Sure, I’ll help you move. Just meet me at your new place with all your stuff. Once you get your furniture up the stairs, I’ll help carry the baby clothes and picture frames.” 

The reason my deductible is so high is I have something called an H.S.A. or “health savings account.” The purpose of an H.S.A. is to make sure you have money in the bank in the case of a medical emergency. That way, if you ever need a costly medical procedure, you can afford to pay a foreclosure attorney to help you keep your house. 

I have chronic acid reflux disease, so my biggest fear is that Congress will eliminate protection for preexisting conditions, forcing me to pay for treatment on my own. Because then I’ll have no money left for food, rent or hair-care products. 

I’ll be the first person to become homeless due to heartburn: “Can you spare some change?” 

“You’re not going to spend it on drugs, are you?” 

“Oh, yes, I am, sister—on Prilosec.” 

They say that the biggest cause of bankruptcy among American families is emergency room bills. You can go to the ER just to get checked out for a minor injury and wind up with a bill for ten grand. But even try to talk to the Billing Department about it, and you’ll get the mother of all runarounds: 

“Ten grand? All you did was asked me where it hurts.” 

“No, sir, we also gave you Ibuprofen.” 

“You charged me ten grand for Ibuprofen?” 

“No, sir. Five thousand for the Ibuprofen and five thousand for the water.” 

“You charged me five grand for water?” 

“No, sir. One hundred for the water; forty-nine hundred for the Dixie Cup.” 

Even routine doctor visits cost too much. I met with my care provider for ten minutes to discuss how my acid reflux medication is working and the clinic sent me a bill for six hundred dollars. 

I was like, “Six hundred dollars? I saw a nurse practitioner, not ‘Hamilton’.” 

Turns out that three hundred was for the consultation fee, and then another three hundred for something called a “facility fee.” I said, “What’s a facility fee?” 

They said, “That’s what we charge you for using the office you met the doctor in.” 

I said, “Three hundred dollars to meet my doctor in her very own doctor’s office? I could have rented the banquet room at Olive Garden for three hundred dollars. At least then I could have gotten a new prescription and breadsticks.” 

“Jeff, how was your doctor’s appointment at the Olive Garden?” 

“Great, my doctor told me all the foods I’m not allowed to eat, and then I ate them all right there, right in front of her.” 

Speaking of healthcare, we all know how hard a nurse’s job is, right? But ever wonder how hard their lives are once they go home after their shifts? Like, what kind of backtalk do their kids give them? “How many times do I have to tell you kids not to leave your dirty clothes lying on the floor for me to pick up?” 

“Oh, really, Mom? You spend all day wiping the butts of strangers, now all of a sudden my dirty tube sock is too much for you? Why don’t you pop another Vicodin and chill, Nurse Jackie?” 

Due to the high cost of ambulances, more and more people are taking Ubers to the hospital. That must be fun, huh? To have your Uber driver call to ask where the heck you are while you’re lying in a puddle of your own blood, watching the angels hover overhead. “Hello, Gustavo? Yeah, you can’t miss me. I’m the one lying in the street with my left leg at a right angle. What am I wearing? Bloodstains and tire tracks. Just look for the City Bike hanging from the street lamp. What happened? I got run over by a Lyft driver. But the joke’s on him. I’m taking an Uber to the hospital. Five stars if you can get me there before I bleed to death. Yes, don’t worry—I’ll put some plastic down on your seat. I just got hit by a car; I wouldn’t want to get hit with a five-dollar cleaning surcharge, too. Just because I might be paralyzed for the rest of my life doesn’t mean I don’t care about my rider rating.”

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

I’m a veteran of the United States Military. I’m not saying that to impress any former or current members of the military. I’m saying that to embarrass anyone who has ever been turned down by the military. That’s right, they didn’t take you but they took me. 

I like telling people I’m a veteran because I love the look of surprise on their faces. Their mouths say, “Thank you for your service,” but their eyes say, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” 

I served in the Army from 1983 to 1989. For those of you who served in the Marines Corps, that’s six years. 

I know what you’re thinking: “But, Jeff, aren’t you worried about offending Marines with that joke?” Of course not. Marines are tough. Marines don’t get offended by stupid jokes they don’t understand.

The minimum age for enlistment into the Armed Forces is 17. I don’t know about you, but I sleep much better at night knowing our country is being protected by the same kid who struggled to make me correct change at Cold Stone Creamery. 

Basic training, easy for a 17-year-old. Basic math, not so much.

The maximum age for enlisting into the military is 35. There’s a reason for that. Because, that’s the age at which most people start thinking clearly, and thinking is not an attractive behavior in a new recruit. 

You tell a 17-old private to “take that hill,” and he’ll say, “Time to get me some!” You tell a 35-year-old private to “take that hill” and he’ll say, “I dunno. Sounds like there’s a lot of shooting going on up there and that can’t be good. Besides, my rucksack is heavy and I just went to the chiropractor. Isn't there another hill I could take around here? Maybe one with a Starbucks on top? If you want, I can take the hill for an hour or two but then I gotta get to yoga class.” 

Think about it. You have to be 25 to rent a car, yet seventeen to fight for your country. The same country that won’t let you rent a car until you’re 25. Hertz is like, “Seventeen? We’re not trusting you with one of our Hyundais. Come back at twenty-five with a fully developed frontal lobe and a credit history.” 

But the Army’s like, “Seventeen? Why don’t you take this five-million-dollar tank for a spin? Feel like crushing some rental cars? There’s a Hertz dealership around the corner.” 

My nephew joined the Army when he was 17 and served two tours of combat duty in Iraq. The hard thing about having a war hero as a nephew is, I no longer qualify to give him life advice.

“You know, Champ, you really should change the oil in your car every three thousand miles.”

“Oh, really, Uncle Jeff? How often should I clean the firing pin in a gas-operated, air-cooled, belt-fed, M60 automatic machine gun?”

“I dunno. Every 3,000 miles?” 

One time, right after my nephew started going to college on the Army’s dime, he said, “Uncle Jeff, can you drive me to class tomorrow?”

And I said, “You know, when I was your age and I didn’t have access to a vehicle, I could navigate the entire Cleveland Public Transit System without a route map.”

He said, “Really, Uncle Jeff? Well, when you were my age could you drive an up-armored Humvee through the streets of Baghdad with one hand while firing an M-16 with the other?”

I said, “No.”

He said, “Then maybe you should just shut the hell up and drive me to class, Uncle Jeff.” 

I know 17 is too young because that’s the age I was when I enlisted. My Dad gave me an ultimatum: Either join the Army or get a summer a job. And I thought, “If I get a job, I’ll have to get up early and be on my feet all day, so I might as well take the easy way out and join the Army. Wow, with these kinds of decision making skills, it’s a shame I’m not allowed to drink or vote.” 

I enlisted at 17 because I thought the Army would make a man out of me. Instead, the Army taught me how to make my bed, polish my shoes and iron my clothes. Everything my mom was trying to teach me for seventeen years.

That’s why women love a man in uniform. They know he know he can do chores. 

And when they say that women love a man in uniform, I think what they mean to say is women love a man in a certain type of uniform: soldier, fireman, cop. No woman looks at a guy in Dairy Queen uniform and thinks, “Let’s get this party started, Blizzard Boy!” 

The reason I joined at 17 was, I was obsessed with becoming a manly man. My goal at seventeen was to dropout of school and become a Green Beret, thanks to that Sylvester Stallone movie Rambo: First Blood.  I sat in a darkened movie theater and shouted at the screen: "Get 'em, Rambo - kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out!"

My gung-ho attitude have impressed the Vietnam veteran sitting behind me, because he tapped me on the shoulder, raised his hand towards me and said, "High-five, young lady!"

Most teenage boys are obsessed with becoming manly-men. That's the main reason Army recruiters have a job: "Tell me son, would you like to learn how to blow stuff up?"

"YES, SIR!!"

That's why there's nothing more frustrating for an Army recruiter than a teenage boy who isn't obsessed with becoming a manly man: "Tell me, son, would you like to learn how to blow stuff up?"

"No, sir. I'd rather learn how to bedazzle my uniform so I can turn olive drab into "olive fab."

"In that case, son, the Air Force recruiter is next door."

I went to basic training the summer between my junior and senior year of high school thanks to the Army’s Split Option Program created for high-school kids who wanted a head start with their military careers. I went back to school that fall with a bald head and a skinny body. My fellow students treated me like a hero. “Oh, Jeff, you’re so brave. Oh, Jeff, you’re so courageous.”

Turns out, they thought I was dying from Leukemia. 

I was like, “Guys—I spent the summer going through Basic Training for the Army. And my teacher was like, “Make a Wish is such an amazing organization.” 

I wasn’t the smartest 17-year-old to ever put on a uniform. Back then, the Army had the stupidest recruiting slogan ever and yet I still joined: “The United States Army: We do more before nine a.m. than most people do all day!”

Even at 17, I was smart enough to know that wasn’t a good thing. Lucky for the Army, though, I had a slogan of my own playing in my head: “The Army: Because you can’t live with your parents forever.” 

“We do more before 9 AM than most people do all day.” You’ve got to give the Army credit for thinking that getting up early was the main selling point of military life.

“Son, have you thought about joining the Army?”

“Yes, sir, but doesn’t the Army make you sleep in and relax all day, doing whatever you want?”

“Not at all. We make you get up at 4AM and then squeeze in eight hours of work into the four-hour period before breakfast.”

“Oh, in that case, sign me up, Sargent Carter—golly!!!” 

“We do more before 9am than most people do all day.” Recruiting people by telling them how hard the job is? Maybe Amazon should try that approach in their warehouse worker recruiting videos: “Amazon: working for us might kill you, but you’ll go straight to Heaven courtesy of free two-day shipping.” 

An alternate Army recruiting slogan when I joined was, “Be all you can be.” In my case, that slogan was right on the money. First, K-Mart rejected my application. Then, McDonald’s rejected my application. And then finally the Army said, “Well, kid, looks like this is all you can be.” 

I love talking to other veterans because most veterans have a tremendous sense of humor. The other night, this older gentleman who had retired from Army Intelligence said, “Jeff, I love your comedy, but why didn’t you stay in the Army?”

I said, “Because something inside me told me I needed to become a comedian.”

He said, “But you enlisted in 1983. Had you stayed in, you’d be retiring in three years as a sergeant major with a forty-year pension.”

And I said, “But then you would have seen a different comedian tonight.”

And he said, “See? Everybody wins!” 

The thing most people forget is leaving the Army wasn’t entirely my decision. The Army had something to say about it. You know it’s time to return to civilian life when you tell your platoon sergeant you’re thinking of re-upping and he says, “Aww—how adorable!” 

Besides, once the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, I thought, “Well, they don’t need me anymore. My work here is done. Now that I’ve helped two presidents defeat communism, it’s time for me to make drunk people laugh in strip malls."

Sometimes I wish I had stayed just to see what rank I would have obtained after 37 years. At the rate I was going, I might have made corporal by now. 

You know what’s weird? When I was an immature 17-year-old, I often behaved like a mature fifty-four year old. And now that I’m a mature 54-four-year-old, I sometimes behave like an immature seventeen year old. I went to Honolulu recently and took a tour of Pearl Harbor. For some reason I got so mad upon seeing all the Japanese tourists who were walking around taking pictures of Pearl Harbor that I decided to exact vengeance, in the name of America, against the sovereign island nation of Japan, for the infamous events of December 7th, 1941, by jumping into the frame of those poor people’s photos.

After a few minutes, an elderly retired-military docent asked me what I was doing.

I said, "Sir, I am proud veteran of the United States Military. However, I am way too young to have ever served during World War II. But I am the only vet who can honestly say that he "photo-bombed the Japanese at Pearl Harbor!"

He then smiled, raised his hand towards me and said, "Hi-five, young lady."

Public Offender 

As both a stand-up comedian and comedy club manager, I often get complaints from audience members who are “offended” by something I or one of our Punchliner headliners have said onstage. But if you ask me, getting offended by stand-up comedy is like getting burned by the sun: both are easily avoidable. All it takes is a little sunscreen and maturity. Before you go to the beach, lather up; before you go to an R-rated comedy show, grow up. (Or at least do a little research about the comedian you’re about…

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A Fun Dude Looks at Fifty 

Sunday was my fiftieth birthday. I spent it trying out my new over-fifty pickup lines:

  • “Hey, cupcake, would you like a drink? I’ll trade you for some Advil.”
  • “Hey, hot stuff, come here often? I need to know where the bathroom is—quick!”
  • “Hey, sweet thing, do you live around here? I was hoping you could recommend a podiatrist.”

Needless to say, they didn’t work. Then again, I only tried them on my fiancée and she never listens to me anyway. But, in her defense, she turns fifty in January so maybe I…

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Zip Lines, Parasailing and Jet Skis -- Oh, My! 

Although there's a lot to do when your ship's at sea, new and wondrous  adventures await you ashore. Have the urge to remain on the ship and eat yourself into a coma while everyone else is wasting time in port? Snap out of it, Skipper! You’re not (just) some fat and lazy American on vacation; you’re an intrepid explorer in search of danger and excitement—so slather on that sunblock, suck up that gut and whip out that American Express card, because an intrepid adventurer such as yourself is going to…

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Next Stop Danger Island! 

You can read all the online articles you want about the crime and violence in popular ports of call such as St. Thomas and Jamaica, but I’m here to remind you that St. Thomas for one is actually part of America. That means it’s no more dangerous than, say, Camden, New Jersey.

But just because some ports have dangerous areas doesn’t mean anything’s going to happen to you. Sure, you might get shot or stabbed at an ATM but at least you’ll have pretty coconut trees to look up at while you’re lying on the…

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Book It, Danno! 

Regardless of how much money you have in the bank or how big your yearly vacation budget is, getting the lowest possible fare on a cruise is always a plus. That way you’ll have some money left over for plastic surgery so that you can shake those IRS investigators off your tail before boarding a luxurious ocean liner bound for the Cayman Islands. Unfortunately, finding good deals can be tough sometimes because a luxury cruise to a popular destination can be a little pricey, so here are six tips to help…

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Cruising for Beginners 

Ever wonder why your Facebook friends can’t stop blabbering about how much fun they had on their latest cruise? They want to make you feel bad, that’s why. They know you haven’t cruised before so they keep filling your newsfeed with posts and photos reminding you about how much they enjoyed themselves in order to make you feel that much sadder about your own miserable existence.

But why get sad when you can get even? Now it’s your turn to book a cruise, have some fun, and then spend the next six months…

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Love at First Fight 

I’m engaged to a beautiful and intelligent Croatian woman with whom I argue a lot. When people ask us how we met, we tell them it was love at first fight.

And, boy, how we fight. If we lived in Israel, Israelis and Palestinians alike would be knocking on our door, shouting, “Give it a rest already!”

Our latest fight was particularly bad. But, like most of our fights, I have no idea what it was about or how it got started. All I know is Chris Brown called me the next day and said, “N****, you better…

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Draw the Line 

If there’s one thing cruise ship guests hate it’s waiting in line to see a free comedy show. It fact, some guests get so mad they look like they want to hit me. Only reason they don’t is the line for beating me up is usually longer than the line for the show.

In all fairness, I can see why people on vacation wouldn’t want to wait ten minutes to see a forty-minute comedy show. These are the same people who’ll wait in a three-hour line at Six Flags for a two-minute roller coaster ride. The same people…

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My Two Sense 

My least favorite part of being our ship’s comedy club manager is turning over the showroom between shows. A hard partying crowd of 600 people can leave enough empty beer bottles and cocktail glasses in their wake to make the Punchliner look like Motley Crϋe’s tour bus. So in order to clean the room in ten minutes or less—and to ensure that guests waiting in line for the next show can get good seats without having to shove a fellow guest overboard—we ask the audience to exit after every performance. Not

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The Book of Jobs 

I saw this human interest story on TV about a born-again Christian in his 20’s who found a job at a copy center right after he found God. “Jesus helped me get a job,” the kid said, tearfully. (Which employment agency did he go through—Son of Manpower?)

Switching channels, I stumbled across some vapid teen comedy in which one kid was being razzed by his schoolmates for working at his father’s car dealership after school. “Daddy’s Boy,” they called him. The movie had a happy ending, though. His daddy beat

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