C.J.
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“Clock’s ticking,” said Joe Minjares, knocking on a booth at his Minneapolis restaurant, Pepitos. “I’ve got to get that transplant. I met one guy who got it. He’s really happy.”

Minjares seems mostly happy despite pulmonary fibrosis, which has advanced from the diagnosis six years ago to the point that he needs a portable oxygen tank. A stand-up comedian and actor who once moved to Hollywood to chase fame, Minjares is still playing most things for laughs. “The one thing I do use this for,” he said, adjusting the nasal cannula, “If I get a complaint, I come up [he started to make deep slurping noises], ‘Can I help you?’ And they feel sorry for me. It’s working for me.”

Jokes fail the father of five, granddad of 12 and great-grandfather of five when he talks about his family. He and his wife, Sue, have shared a 53-year relationship, with one hiccup he addressed in our interview, of which this is Part 1.

Q: Do you notice people treating you differently?

A: Sure. Especially the ones who haven’t seen me with the Apollo 1 backpack and umbilical cord. [He touched his portable oxygen tank.] I feel like an astronaut.

Q: Does this make you go to church more?

A: It makes me think about God more. Makes me take a longer look at my grandchildren. I’ve got great-grandchildren and they come over and it makes me a little less nervous around them. It makes me want them around more. It makes me understand when my father was dying how sad he was. I was out in California. I said, “Dad, what’s wrong?” He just said, I’m sad. I’ll never see my grandchildren grow. I don’t take anything for granted, C.J. Little things are really cool. You’re the second C.J. who’s been after me, you know. You’ve been trying to get a hold of me. There’s another C.J., she walks the streets here. She’s been after me. She dropped off a little heart she cut out because she heard I was sick. I would’ve laughed that off a year ago. I’m not laughing it off now.

Q: If you had it to do over again, the hiccup in your marriage would not have occurred, right?

A: No. She basically said, You know what, go grow up. [They separated but never divorced.] I don’t know how she did it. My wife — [he grew emotional]. Now that I’ve had a chance to reflect on everything, since this began, I couldn’t have done anything without her. I was a jerk. I was a big baby. I was a spoiled brat. I was everything Donald Trump is rolled into one Mexican. I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I’ve always been driven that way. She was mature, I wasn’t. We’ve been together 53 years. I’ve always taken the lead in pushing forward. She’s always had the confidence in me — if I made mistakes I could bounce back. That’s why this thing here has got her more scared. For me, I’m not afraid of dying.

Q: Have you heard from Tom Arnold?

A: Oh yeah. He’s doing really good now. Being a dad has really been good for him. Of course, now I hear Roseanne’s going to start her show up again. I’m curious to see that. Maybe I’ll get a part in that.

Q: When they came together, what did you think?

A: I actually knew Roseanne before he did. The first time she came to town to do stand-up, I had to pick her up and [take] her to the club. I was going to open for her. On the way I say, “Where are you going after today?” figuring she’s going to say, I’m going to Detroit and do the Funny Bone or whatever. She said, I’m going out to L.A. and I’m going to become a star. I looked at her and she said, Don’t look at me that way. I know I am. I thought OK, fine. The next time I see her she’s on the “The Tonight Show,” so. ... She liked Pepitos. She used to come in here whenever she was in town with Tom, they would have beer fights, of course. He actually asked her to marry here at Pepitos. That whole thing [their relationship] was crazy. But she got me into two episodes of “Roseanne.” She let me read for the part of [a character’s] boyfriend. A lot of things have changed since the mid-90s. When I walked in to read for the part, they looked at me like “A Mexican? Are you kidding me?” They let me read it anyway, but it never happened.

C.J. can be reached at cj@startribune.com and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.