John Mulaney
Stranger Danger
The greatest assembly of them all, once a year, Stranger Danger. Yeah, the hottest ticket in town. The Bruno Mars of assemblies. You are gathered together as a school and you are told never to talk to an adult that you don’t know and you are told this by an adult that you don’t know. We had the same Stranger Danger speaker every year when I was a kid, his name was Detective JJ Bittenbinder. Go ahead and laugh. His name is ridiculous. That was his name. It was JJ Bittenbinder. He was from the Chicago Police Department. He was a child homicide expert and… Oh, gee. Very sorry, Radio City, did that make you uncomfortable? Well, guess what? You’re adults and he’s not even here. So try being seven years old and you’re sitting five feet away from him. He’s still got blood on his shoes. And he’s looking at you in the eye to tell you for the first time in your very young life that some adults find you incredibly attractive. And they may just have to kill you over it. Okay, c’est la vie, go be kids, go have fun. Bittenbinder came every year. By the way, Detective JJ Bittenbinder wore three-piece suits. He also wore a pocket watch. Two years in a row, he wore a cowboy hat. He also had a huge handlebar mustache. None of that matters, but it’s important to me that you know that. He did not look like his job description. He looked like he should be the conductor on a locomotive powered by confetti. But, instead, he made his living in murder. He was the weirdest goddamn person I ever saw in my entire life. He was a man most acquainted with misery. He could look at a child and guess the price of their coffin. That line never gets a laugh. But once you write it, it stays in the act forever.

So Bittenbinder came every year with a program to teach us about the violent world waiting for us outside the school gym, and that program was called Street Smarts! “Time for Street Smarts with Detective JJ Bittenbinder. Shut up! You’re all gonna die. Street Smarts!” That was the general tone. He would give us tips to deal with crime.

I will share some of the tips with you this evening. “Okay, tip number one. Street Smarts! Let’s say a guy pulls a knife on you to mug you.” You remember the scourge of muggings when you were in second and third grade. You know how a mugger thinks. “Man, I need cash for drugs right now. Hey, maybe that eight-year-old with the goddamn Aladdin wallet that only has blank photo laminate pages in it will be able to help.” “Let’s say a guy pulls a knife on you to mug you. What do you do? You go fumbling for your wallet. And you go fumbling for your wallet. Well, in that split-second, that’s when he’s going to stab you. So here’s what you do. You kids get yourselves a money clip. Okay, you can get these at any haberdashery. You put a $50 bill in the money clip then when a guy flashes a blade, you go, ‘You want my money, go get it!’ Then you run the other direction.” And our teachers were like, “Write that down.” We’re like, “Buy a money clip. Engraved, question mark?” You go home to your parents. “Hey, Dad. Can I have a silver money clip with a $50 bill in it, please? Don’t worry. I’m only going to chuck it into the gutter and run away at the first sign of trouble. The man with the mustache told me to do it.”

“Tip number two. Street Smarts! Let’s say a kidnapper throws you in the back of a trunk.” This was at nine in the morning. “Let’s say a kidnapper throws you in the back of a trunk. Don’t panic. Once you get your bearings, find the carpet that covers the taillight, peel back the carpet, make a fist, punch the taillight out the back of the car, thus creating a hole in the back of the automobile, then stick your little hand out and wave to oncoming motorists to let them know that something hinky is going on.” Can you imagine driving behind that? [imitates a thud] I think they’re turning left.

“Tip number three. Street Smarts! You kids have no upper body strength.” And we were like, “We know but, hey.” “If some guy tries to grab you, you can’t fight him with fists. So here’s what you do. You kids fall down on your back and you kick upward at him. That’ll throw him off his rhythm.” That was a big thing with Bittenbinder, throwing pedophiles off their rhythm. “He’s not gonna know how to fight back with two little sneakers coming at him. If the Lindbergh baby had steel-toe boots, he’d still be alive today. Street Smarts!”

Yeah, he was not a “spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” kind of guy. He was more like, “Brush your teeth. Now, boom, orange juice. That’s life.” Bittenbinder, he didn’t want us to not get kidnapped. He wanted us to almost get kidnapped and then fight the guy off using weird, psych-out, back-room Chicago violence. Like here’s what he wanted to see on the news. “We’re here with seven-year-old John Mulaney who fended off a kidnapper earlier today. How did you do it, John?” [imitating Chicago accent] “Well, thank ya for askin’. I used the Bittenbinder method. When I saw the perp approachin’, I chewed up a tab of Alka-Seltzer I carry with me at all times. This created a foaming-at-the-mouth appearance that made it look like I had rabies. Now I’ve thrown him off his rhythm. Then I reach into his jacket pocket where I had planted a gram of coke and I went, ‘Whoa! What the fuck is this?’ And he goes, ‘That’s not mine. I never seen that before.’ I go, ‘Boo-hoo, it’s in your jacket. You’re doing two to ten and your kids are going into Social Services.’ Now he’s cryin’! Then I grab a telephone book and I beat him on the torso with it. ‘Cause as any Chicago cop will tell ya, a phone book doesn’t leave bruises.” “Well, that was seven-year-old John Mulaney, currently being sued for police brutality.”

Bittenbinder told me things that haunt me to this day. He came one year for assembly. He goes, “Okay, when you get kidnapped…” Not if, when. “Okay, so when you get kidnapped, the place where the guy grabs ya, in the biz we call that the primary location. Okay. Your odds of coming back alive from the primary location, about 60%. But if you are taken to a secondary location, your odds of coming back alive are slim to none.” I am 35 years old and I am still terrified of secondary locations. If I’m at a place, I never want to go to another place. I’ll be at a wedding reception and someone’ll be like, “You coming to the hotel bar after? We’re all gonna get drinks and keep the party going.” I’m like, “Nah, sister. You’re not getting me to no secondary location. You want it? Go get it!” Street Smarts! Stay alert out there. I thought I was going to be murdered my entire childhood. In high school people were like, “What are your top three colleges?” I was like, “Top three colleges? I thought I would be dead in a trunk with my hand hanging out of the taillight by now.”