”Jeez, Allison, you kiss your mother with that mouth?”
“No, I eat her pussy with it.”

Sometime in June of 1993, with only days remaining before graduation, and under unremembered circumstances, I sat in the cafeteria with a bunch of girls I’d never sat with before nor would again. Among them, a girl named Allison Crist, whom I barely knew despite us both being on the Track team and six years in the same school (no, we weren’t equally dumb, needing six years to complete four years of High School; Junior High was in the same building). Summer was already upon us and one of the guys working on a construction project outside walked in to use a vending machine. Topless, cut, maybe 22, ponytail because of course. I don’t remember her actual reaction, but Allison made some sort of verbal grunt, just like I’d heard guys do a million times when seeing hot girls. I was 18 and realized for the first time, “Wait… women can get horny?”

She then made some off-color remark that I also don’t remember, but something very on brand for her. I didn’t know her well, but well enough to know she wasn’t particularly lady-like. To which one of the other girls asked her the above question, to which Allison gave the single greatest comeback that I have ever heard. Thirty years on, it remains the undisputed champion. It was fast, natural, shocking, hilarious, perfect.

A month or so later, I visited the house in Ocean City where she was living with a bunch of other girls for the summer. They were doing some work in the attic, accessed by a hatch in the ceiling, and I was asked to help them down. As Allison’s legs swung through the hatch, I could see straight up the leg of her shorts and, well, straight Up, as she wasn’t wearing any underwear. I had a choice to make- keep my mouth shut, enjoy the view but also not embarrass her, though risk her realizing later what I must’ve seen, or be a gentleman and let her know she was on full display. “Thanks for not wearing underwear today,” was my gentlemanly salutation, and with a yelp she vanished back through the hatch with a speed I can only describe as unworldly. To her credit, she didn’t punch me square in the face later.

Anyway, this week’s entry is not about fond memories of teenage upskirts. I like that I’ve been including old jokes here and that particular comeback of hers, I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought of it over the past three decades. It still makes me smile.

No, today I want court controversary by making a shocking confession- I love parmesan cheese. I was pretty late to the game. It was a staple in my household, but so shredded it’s virtually powdered. That’s common in the US where we don’t really do cheese, but I never liked the consistency. Later, I would find I liked it when it was properly shredded, but it wasn’t until I went to a restaurant in Verona, Italy, and it was served in small chunks as an appetizer, that I would truly come to love it. I was in my forties and realized for the first time, “Wait… you can just eat cheese?”

And so it was, a few weeks ago, that I found myself drawn to a stand outside my local liquor store that was there to sell, and only sell, two kinds of cheese. I couldn’t tell you what the other cheese was as I only had eyes for the massive wheel of parmesan. There was one person ahead of me in line and I listened with a smile while the salesman went through his pitch. Although it has never been my intention, I have been in Sales practically my entire professional life. I’m certainly not the type who can sell anything to anyone, but I’ve met many who can. True Salesmen. Not to be sexist as I’ve met women in Sales as well, and while I’m certain they exist, I’ve never met a woman who burns for sales the way I’ve known many men to do. The kind of guy who reads books about sales techniques while on the beach.

This cheese salesman was clearly one of those guys. When he told the guy in front of me that, included for free with purchase, was a special bag, worth fifty crowns ($5), that would help prevent mold in the refrigerator, I nearly laughed out loud. It was a paper bag with a slight coating of wax.

When it was my turn, I got a free sample and immediately made up my mind to buy, now it was just a question of how much. I liked the guy but his enthusiasm to make a sale clearly affected his judgment, since looking at me he’d decided I must be the type willing and able to drop thousands on cheese. I declined his first offer of half the wheel (and I mean wheel; this thing wouldn’t have looked out of place as a spare tire) and, using his giant blade, he marked a slice half as big as the last. Still way too big, I shook my head no, and he marked a new slice, this time a quarter smaller than the last. Still too big, I shook my head, so he lifted the blade to mark a smaller slice… and brought it down exactly where it had been. I chuckled and said okay, spending too much money on too much cheese.

One might think that being able to see the tricks behind sales would make me less likely to fall for them, but it’s the opposite. Well, it’s not that I fall for tricks. I know what’s going on and they make me laugh when I see them in practice, making me say yes as if in appreciation of a trick done well. It’s like when my first marriage came to an end. I hate money (or at least I hate worrying about money, never wanting too little nor too much) and I hate things (as in the acquisition of things and brands), putting me in existential conflict with my first wife, and when it came to an end I didn’t want to fight about either. I told her I didn’t care about our stuff and she could have it all. Then I realized I was about to live alone for the first time in my life, with no possessions, no savings, in a foreign land with no family and no friends. I said, “Wait, I’ll need some stuff,” to which she replied, “Too late, you already said I could have everything.” Ah well, I ended up with our TV stand, a new TV and some old plates we never used.

The only thing I wanted to replace was our Hästens bed. I loved that bed. They are wicked expensive, though, and while I didn’t want to be stingy- I spend a third of my life in bed, after all- I wasn’t sure I was prepared to drop that much cash on a bed for myself. I made a plan to visit a few different places, shop around, decide which bed was best for me. I started with Hästens. The salesman showed me a few models, asked which kind of mattress I preferred, I said firm. He checked his computer and damn, wouldn’t you just know it, they only had one firm mattress in stock, I’d better decide fast if I wanted to order. I chuckled and ordered immediately. “Yeah, it’s expensive, but the good news is, you only buy one,” he said. Again, I laughed, and said no, this would be my second. And my last. Took several years to pay the damn thing off.

What does all of this have to do with comedy, you ask? There’s a great deal of salesmanship in standup as well. Jokes are often not good enough simply on their own, they need to be sold. Did you have a hard time coming up with a comedy topic this week, you ask? First of all, bite me, you’re not right. But you’re not not right, either. I hadn’t intended to take a break but I’ve been so focused on work I only have one gig in June and I’m not sure when I’ll be on stage again. My mind isn’t in much of a standup mode, but I do want to keep writing.

Still, there is something to be said of my appreciation of sales in comedy, too. I like seeing the tricks in action, particularly during crowd work when it’s done well. Those jokes that the crowd thinks are spontaneous but have been worked on for years. The body language used to punctuate a punchline. The way a comic will laugh at their own joke the same way during each and every set.

A rookie once asked Colin Quinn, “If I believe in a joke, should I need to sell it?” He replied, “There’s only one comic I know who doesn’t need to sell his jokes, and that’s Todd Barry. If you’re not Todd Barry and you believe in your jokes, why would you not want to sell them?” It’s good advice from one of those comics I like very much off stage and not at all on. Quinn is like Norm Macdonald to me, who in turn is like Frank Zappa to me. People I should love, in theory, but never enjoyed in practice. Although my latest wife will never stop trying to sell Zappa to me.