Stupid Human

My Stupid Human Trick

The summer of 1996 was largely the same as every other one I spent during my college days. I worked a summer job at an oil painting warehouse, touching up hundreds and stretching thousands of ‘original’ oil paintings from China. I ran a few times a week, and would have a few beers every so often exploiting my newfound ‘legal drinking age’ status. 

This was the precarious and gentile days just before the internet and cellphones swallowed up all of our lives. Like normal people then, I kept up with classmates by writing letters. Every so often I mixed in a rare, awkward phone call. 

With three months away from Kansas City and locked in on the East Coast, I would take some road trips around Massachusetts and New York. I’m not sure when the idea hit me exactly, but I felt this summer was the perfect chance to achieve a life long goal: to appear on David Letterman.

My trick

It was a trick everybody back in Kansas City was more than well versed in. Without warning, with drinks present or not, I’d break out the trick. I stopped traffic during drawing class once, and surprisingly, only got kicked out of one bar for doing it. My trick was that I could jump rope my arms.

I added more than a bit of showmanship to the routine, adding a nonchalant ‘nothing up my sleeves’ before performing every time, played more to groans than delight. I would then clasp my hands, twist my shoulders and elbows in unnatural ways, and then proceed to step through my locked hands, twist them unnaturally behind my back, and pull them over my head. 

It looked horrifying.

During the long stretches of boredom summer heat makes you feel, I got the idea to try to get on Letterman. He was an idol of mine, The 12:35 time slot fit my natural rhythms perfectly, a dash of late night absurdity when I was young enough that sleep was largely unnecessary.

Writing Letters

During the long stretches of boredom summer heat makes you feel, I got the idea to try to get on Letterman. He was an idol of mine, The 12:35 time slot fit my natural rhythms perfectly, a dash of late night absurdity when I was young enough that sleep was largely unnecessary. 

I wrote my first ‘Dear Dave’ letter as simply as every other letter from his mailbag. I explained my trick and quickly described how it’d fit on Stupid Human Tricks. After a couple of weeks, there was no reply. With nothing but time on my hands, I wrote a second letter. Still, there was no response. 

Now well past mid summer, I wrote a third letter, probably a bit more feverish in tone. My chance was starting to slip by. After a few weeks with no reply, I finally got desperate. I drew a little flipbook, and sent it off to the home office. About a week went by when something happened. My mom alerted me to a message on the answering machine. I ran to the phone and pressed play!

The Message

“Hello Michael, this is so and so from the David Letterman show” I don’t remember her name, but clearly she was young and probably an intern. “We received your letters…” Letters! They received and read them all! “…and we decided…” We? We! I imagined Dave and the staff writers gathered around a table with my letters strewn about. One writer may have been flipping my flipbook as they decided! “…that it’s an ability and not a trick, so we can’t use it on the show” 

There was apparently no debate over the ‘stupid human’ part.

I admit I was a bit crestfallen. There would be no trip to Letterman, no chance to be an idiot on late night TV. I got over my disappointment and gleefully relayed the absurdity of the exchange to my friends across the country. Either way, I’d be packing my bags for Kansas City soon and time dashed any hopes of continuing my crusade.

Back to Kansas City

I flew to Kansas City in mid August. It’d give me a week to figure out what I was doing with school. I stood around the sparsely populated baggage claim area. Kansas City, as little of a destination as it is today, was less in demand in the mid 90’s. I looked across the area waiting for my overpacked bag to drop down on that ever rotating ring. 

It was then I saw an older man in a suit, seemingly lost. Who wears a suit to visit Kansas City? The glasses, the hair, that smile that never could be washed off his face – Larry ‘Bud’ Melman, that’s who! 

Larry Bud Melman on Late Night with David Letterman

Larry ‘Bud’ Melman

For those of you reading this who never had the pleasure of watching Letterman when he had his fastball, Larry ‘Bud’ Melman was the aloof old man played for laughs in odd situations and skits. Whether he was handing out towels to travelers at the Port Authority to bringing his acting chops to any offbeat sketch, Melman brought his infectious laugh, humor and embarrassed charm to everything he did. He was more than a cog in the absurd Letterman world, he was a beacon bringing total enjoyment to every line he often stumbled through.  

I introduced myself to Larry, he was warm, friendly and wasn’t upset about being recognized. I talked to him a for a bit, and he revealed he was in town for the KY 102 Elvis Parade. He was going to be the Grand Marshall! The Elvis Parade was a Kansas City tradition. It was a time when there was nothing else going on in downtown that a radio station could throw a wild, dumb parade for the day of Elvis’ death. The event featured a concert, Cadillacs filled with Elvis impersonators, songs, floats and everything that makes Fat Elvis the American Legend that he rightfully is. It was a big, dumb spectacle of excess and stupidity, correctly absurd to be held in a city with no right to claim Elvis as its own. 

The Moment I Didn’t Know Would Happen

Realizing the opportunity I had right in front of me, I told Larry my quest to get on Late Night. Amused and more than curious, Larry asked to see my trick. Right there, outside baggage claim at KCI Airport, I jump roped my arms for Larry ‘Bud’ Melman. He was delighted! He let out a trademark laugh, and yelled in the friendliest manner only he could, “That’s great! And I think Dave’s stupid for not putting that on the show!”

Here’s some of that old Late Night magic, with a healthy dose of Larry “Bud’ Melman as Elvis himself:

This is the happiest moment I ever had at KCI Airport. It’s now being replaced by a new terminal, all modern, slick and streamlined. Friends disagree, but I’ll forever miss every little quirk of this old, outdated monstrosity. Godspeed, original three ringed terminal!

KCI Airport was the best