In the summer of 1973, I had finally reached escape velocity and got out of Michigan, after seven years. I had loved East Lansing and my rock and roll band "The Pillowcayse," but a love affair with my college sweetheart gone bad and not making much money for too long (that will happen when you don't have a job) had landed me in Lansing, the armpit that is just the other side of the college town, and many, many smiles away from the storybook, enchanted town that is East Lansing and Michigan State University.
My big fat friend J. R. had come to Michigan to free me, and after three months of drinking goodbye to our fraternity pals and girls and other assorted nuts, we had left late one night in his sports car with my dog "Goopie", my nine-year-old kid brother, a couple ounces of home grown pot, a pile of green tomatoes, and whatever else we could fit in the crawl space behind us.
We were pulled over almost immediately, the cops took our pot, and let us go. We were thrilled we weren't arrested. Fifteen minutes later we were screaming, "Those cocksuckers took our reefer! " We had to ride twenty hours to Colorado with nothing but booze. We got to Denver with much fanfare (ours, not theirs), and then, after crashing with and sponging off six guys from our home town of Oyster Bay who shared a condo in Cherry Creek in Denver for a couple of weeks, we decided that if we were going to stay there we had better get jobs.
Denver was booming, and in less than an hour we had jobs breaking up and pulling out new cement sidewalks and driveways that had cracked, and loading the chunks into our truck, keeping in front of the form setters and cement-pouring crews that were hot on our heels. Man, did it suck. Fat J. R. was (is) a lazy bastard, and I would literally do three times the work he did, just to fight the boredom.
After a few backbreaking weeks, we took our paychecks and went and bought the tools we needed to set forms and quickly taught ourselves how, by watching our foreman and insisting he let us give it a shot whenever there was an opportunity. We got real good real fast. And it wasn't easy, because J. R. would roll a few huge joints and we'd smoke them on our way to work, driving in the crisp clean Denver morning mountain air in an open borrowed jeep as the sun was coming up at 5:30 a.m. Stoned out of my head, I somehow learned to make a sidewalk.
A few weeks after that, two more Oyster Bay guys moved out to Denver, moved in with us (that's ten, if you're keeping score), and got jobs working with me and J.R. The four of us became a formsetting crew, bossed by Carl, a 21-year-old foreman whose head I'm sure is still spinning.
One day, J.R. and I were cruising back to the pre-fab King Bee Construction Company office, and just before we got there a few twenty-foot two-by-fours flew off the back of out eighteen-foot flatbed truck, with our foreman in his pickup behind us.
When we pulled into the yard, Carl walked up to us and said, "Jack...J. R...you have to make sure you lash down the loose wood in the back of your truck. That's really dangerous when stuff falls off of there. Somebody could get hurt."
We kind of nodded. Harry, the head guy (who we called "H"), overheard what was going on and came over.
He said, "Carl, that's not the way you talk to New Yorkers. They didn't hear a word you said." Harry turned to us and said, "Listen, you two jerk offs. If one more scrap of wood ever blows off of that truck, I'll ram it so far up both of your fucking asses you'll get splinters in your tongue."
We said, "Got you, H." And the communication was complete.
Soon, it seemed every few minutes one of us would say, "Where's the hammer?" (or where is some other tool). If you're not a professional carpenter or electrician or whatever, you've probably noticed that when you fix something or work on something you spend most of your time looking for the tool you just put down a few seconds before. And we were far from being professional. Especially when we discovered that if we went out and got bombed, work the next day would only suck the first hour or so, then our heads would clear, so we started going out every night. With a hangover, even more tools get lost.
Being not very good at what we were doing, and being groggy, we were also smacking ourselves pretty often with the hammer, or the sledgehammer, or slipping with this or that and hurting ourselves with amazing proficiency. And every time somebody said, "Where's the hammer?", one of us would inevitably say, "If it was up your ass you'd know where it was."
And after somebody yowched! in pain, one of us would say, "Your face is killing me." Not sometimes. Every time. Like clockwork.
Eventually, I got so fucking sick of hearing those two stupid retorts that I said, "All right, enough. We're giving those things numbers. From now on, instead of, "If it was up your ass you'd know where it was," we'll say "Number One," and instead of saying, "Your face is killing me", we'll say "Number Two."
And we did it. And just as quickly, we added more numbers. And we used them. We knew them and used them so much it used to freak people out. When I got back to New York and Chris Bates and I started up "The Off Hour Rockers,", "The Colorado Number System" became a staple in our lives. The fans of our band would run and fetch me an ice cold Budweiser when I'd call out "39." When an ugly girl came within sight, I now would say "87" instead of "Hey, Bates, there's your sister."
A fan of the band worked at a print shop and blew up "The Colorado Number System" to 3 feet by 2 feet. And I was such an asshole that when I produced my first comedy LP in 1979, "What Did You Expect," I folded up a thousand of those fucking blown-up Number Systems, shipped them to the pressing plant in Nashville, and had them insert them into the albums before they wrapped them in the plastic. I swear to God.
I hope you like it... it was a lot of fun for a lot of years.