Comedian George Lopez has been through a lot -- from a successful career as an entertainer through a kidney disease and everything in between. In "I'm Not Gonna Lie...And Other Lies You Tell When You Turn 50," Lopez opens up about life. Here's an excerpt.
Introduction: Counting Fairways
I did it!
I hit the number.
I turned fifty!
Without a doubt, my biggest birthday ever.
I’m not lying: Reaching fifty meant a lot to me.
For starters, it meant I wasn’t dead.
Most people take turning fifty for granted. Not me. I nearly died when I was forty- four. Kidney disease. I survived that, but it was touch-and‑go all the way. In fact, I’d call my forties a touch-and‑go decade. I was blessed with a lot of success, including an ALMA Special Achievement Award for television, two Grammy Award nominations, and a sitcom that ran for six years. But I also got a kidney transplant, went through a divorce, and had two TV shows canceled. I’m not sure what stressed me out the most. Probably the divorce. It was not what you would call amicable.
So, yes, at times my forties were rough. But if I had to pick the one decade when I was the most nervous, that would be my first, also known as my childhood. Talk about a shaky start. My father took one look at me and left. That’s not true. He waited two whole months and then he left. It took my mother longer. She gave it a shot, but she was young and troubled and not fit to be a mom, so she handed me off to my grandparents when I was ten.
Growing up, I lived in constant fear of death: I was deathly afraid of pissing off my grandmother. For some reason, she was always agitated. No matter what she was doing, morning, noon, or night, if I approached her and started to talk to her, she would say:
That was her catchphrase. It didn’t matter what I said to her.
Never “Yes? What is it? What can I do for you?”
No. She’d say, “What now?”
And I would get intimidated and say, “I forgot.”
Then she’d say, “Well, if you forgot, it must have been a lie. Because you never forget the truth.”
My grandmother was right. So that’s why I’m not gonna lie. Anymore. Not at my age. I don’t have that good a memory.
Thinking back to my childhood, I realize my grandmother did not make my life easy, because everything with her was a labor.
“Can I have two dollars?”
“Um . . . just . . . I need two dollars.”
“To buy a car.”
I wish I had been smart enough or brave enough to have said something like that, but I wasn’t. I can pretend that I was this fast—
“Grandma, can I have a dollar?”
“To go to college.”
Yes, I walked on eggshells a lot in my childhood, but I had good times, too. But even though I felt the most nervous in my early years, my worst decade was definitely the years forty through forty-nine. I was very glad to see that decade come to an end. I spent my whole forty-ninth year waiting for the calendar to flip to that magic number.
In fact, the closer I came to turning fifty, the better I felt. It was almost like a cloud lifting. Sure, I experienced a little bit of dread and anxiety. But mostly I felt excited. Then about a week before my birthday a sense of calm came over me. I knew I was gonna make it. I was so ready.
The night before the big day, I flew to Las Vegas and checked into my favorite hotel. I had a nice quiet dinner with a couple of friends and turned in early. I was so excited about my party I couldn’t sleep. I tried counting sheep, but that never works. I always seem to conjure up these big, nasty, belligerent sheep. I tell them to jump slowly over the imaginary fence and they refuse. They glare at me. That first sheep looks about the size of Babe the Blue Ox. He looks at me and smoke starts pouring out of his snout, and he says to me in Spanish, “F___ that, puto.” Then he rounds up all the other sheep into this sheep gang and they charge at me, crashing right through the fence.
Forget sheep. I needed something more soothing.
Cars. I love cars. I closed my eyes and thought about all the cars I’ve owned in my life.
I remembered one of my first cars, an old clunker that sounded like it had emphysema every time you hit the gas. That was only one of its quirks. This car made me crazy. For one thing, it never turned off when you turned it off. It just kept going, like it was alive. It growled and shrieked, and the hood shook as if the car were having a seizure. I’d lift up the hood and look down at the engine, nodding and pointing as if I knew exactly what I was doing, even though I had absolutely no clue. Other guys would gather around and they’d all nod and point at the engine, too. They didn’t know anything, either. We’d just all nod and point at the carburetor and battery and hoses like we were a pit crew. Eventually, the car would just stop on its own. We’d all walk away, still nodding like we fixed the thing, saying a bunch of made‑up car talk.
“Yeah, see, I knew that would happen. Air gets caught in the air conductor valves and causes the engine cap to virtisify. . . .”
“Definitely. Plus the igniter switch deadens the pressure. . . .”
“Oh, absolutely. Plus a gas bubble fornicates the air hose. . . .”
“That will mess you up.”
The car had other issues, too. It played only one radio station— all polka music— because the knobs kept falling off. Oh, and the side mirrors were held on with electrical tape. And the locks didn’t work, either, so whenever I got in I was sure I’d find some crazy bat- shit guy living in the backseat.
You know what? Forget counting cars to fall asleep.
Then it hit me.
The perfect thing.
I decided to picture myself walking down all the beautiful courses I’d ever played. I’ve played most of the best courses in the world. I knew this would work.
I settled into the king-size bed in my suite in Vegas, got really comfortable, closed my eyes, and pictured historic St. Andrews in Scotland, site of several British Opens and one of the most gorgeous courses ever. Some people call St. Andrews the “home of golf.” I can believe it. In my mind, I saw the entire breathtaking course, every hole, imagining myself strolling down those gently rolling green fairways, each one bordered by castles. I saw myself walking onto the first tee with my buddy, mentor, and golf companion, the great Lee Trevino. I felt totally relaxed. I stabbed my ball and tee into the grass, stepped back, and caught Lee’s eye. He was standing off to the side. He grinned and nodded. I smiled back. I took a practice swing, stepped up to my ball, took a breath, exhaled, and swung.
The ball shot off my driver and rocketed right into the middle of the fairway.
Oh, man. There is nothing sweeter than the feeling you get when you hit a good golf shot. It’s better than sex. At least, I think it’s better than sex. I’m fifty. I don’t remember.
After I hit that drive, I looked over at Lee. He gave me two thumbs up. He’s seventy- three, wise, and full of life. I picked up my tee, slid my driver into my bag, and Lee and I walked down the fairway through the hazy Scottish sunlight and into a cool, craggy shadow cast by a medieval castle. We walked for a good fifty yards before Lee finally spoke.
“Golf or comedy?” he said. “If you had to choose one, which would it be?”
I didn’t hesitate for a second. “Golf.”
“Absolutely. Now, if you were Richard Pryor—”
I took two more steps down the fairway at St. Andrews and drifted off into a deep sleep.
When I woke up, I was fifty.
Everything seemed different. The air seemed fresher, the light in the room more vibrant. I lifted my hand and felt a tiny pulse of energy shooting through me like a charge of electricity. I felt wiser, more distinguished, more intelligent. Fifty was going to be great!
I lounged around in bed until noon, kinglike. I got up, slipped on my robe, padded to the minibar, and poured myself a birthday cocktail—cranberry juice and vodka.
This is the perfect morning pick‑me‑up. You cleanse and get buzzed at the same time. Some bartenders call this cocktail “Sex on the Beach,” which is one place I would never have sex, because I’m a clean freak and I hate the idea of sand all up in my culo.
I drained my drink and started to get ready for my big day. That night I was hosting a birthday party for twenty of my closest friends from the old neighborhood. I couldn’t wait to see them and celebrate. This party was very special to me, because I don’t usually celebrate my birthdays.
Growing up, my birthday was no big deal. It was just another day. And a birthday party? Nope. Never had a birthday party. Ever. Not one.
On my birthday, my grandmother and grandfather would say, “Hey, happy birthday.” That was it. Celebration over. No cake, no candles, no balloons, no hats, no pony ride, no clown, and no bouncy thing, unless you count when my grandmother knocked me down and I hit the floor and bounced right back up.
And no presents.
If I was out shopping with my grandmother anytime during the month or two before and I saw a toy or a jacket that I wanted, I’d say, “Can I have that?”
She’d say, “All right, but that’s for your birthday. Make sure you remember that when your birthday comes. You want it?”
I’d scrunch my forehead and think about this carefully. I felt like I was on a game show. “Okay, yes; wait, no; I don’t know; okay, yes, I’ll take it.”
“Good. Now I don’t have to buy you nothing for your birthday. Cross that off.”
So when I turned fifty, I finally decided to throw myself a party. I wanted to mark the day with my best friendsfrom my childhood, some of whom I hadn’t seen in thirty
years. This seemed like a great idea when I thought of it.
I don’t know what happened.
Those guys got old.
One guy who used to have hair like Tony Orlando’s turned completely bald. He looked Asian. I kept staring at him, thinking, “How the hell did that happen?” Another guy had a bad back. He could barely walk. We had to help him out of his chair every time he got up. Another guy was so heavy he wore suspenders and a belt to keep all of his jiggling fat inside his clothes.
“Really?” I said to myself. “At fifty? Damn.”
The worst was my best friend, who, as a kid, was the neighborhood stud. I can’t explain what happened to him except that it was scary. He looked like an aunt. A Mexican aunt.
I knew I didn’t look as young as I once did, but these guys looked like hell. I didn’t look like them, did I? I wanted someone to tell me I looked great, but nobody said anything. Maybe they couldn’t see, either.
As the party went on, I thought, “I’m fifty, but I can’t have aged that much.” And then I whispered a prayer:
“I know I’m not the most religious person in the world, but please don’t make me look like an old Mexican lady.”
We had a great time. We shared a lot of laughs and memories, and shed a few tears. Then, when it was time to call it a night, they all went into the same room. Twenty fat, bald, ugly guys and a Mexican aunt sharing one room with twin beds. Damn. I went back to my room, thinking, “I grew up with guys who can’t even afford a hotel room in Vegas? They practically give those rooms away.”
When I woke up the next morning, my world changed.
Everything felt like it was going downhill. It began when I realized, I’m no longer fifty. I am now in my fifties. This is horrible.
I’m fifty going on fifty-one.
The run‑up to fifty wasn’t that bad.
Turning fifty sucked.
It was like I’d arrived at the door of this hot new club, Studio 51, and I’m standing outside nervously, and the bouncer says, “I don’t know if I can let you in.” And I peer inside, and I say, “Hey, this place is nice. I’d really like to get in. I know people in there. Come on. I’m George Lopez. Let me in.”
The bouncer looks me over and says, “Okay, you can go in.”
I stride in like I own the place. Feels great at first, but the deeper I get inside the club, the darker it gets. My legs feel wobbly, my face starts to sweat, my hands feel clammy, my vision gets blurry, and my heart sinks.
I’m not gonna lie.
I was fine with fifty.
But being in my fifties?
That could be the end of the road.
Copyright © 2013 by George Lopez. From the book I'M NOT GONNA LIE...AND OTHER LIES YOU TELL WHEN YOU TURN 50 by George Lopez, published by Celebra, a imprint of New American Library, division of Penguin Group. Reprinted with permission.