And The Livin is Easy

Remember when we were kids and thought that pistachio nuts were red? Then we found out it was because they were being doused in the cancerously delicious dye Red 40.

That was sure fun.

On lazy summer evenings, during that magical time when moon and sun simultaneously rise and set and your soul whispers that anything is possible, we’d hop on our bikes, with little red-stained fingers, and happily cruise along in the mist coming from the truck spraying for mosquitos.

So many memories and upper respiratory infections.

Twas a simpler time when it was safe to be outside from dawn to dusk. Just hanging out on the curb, waiting for your dad because he promised you could spend the weekend with him. And you’d just wait and wait and wait until the night was as black as pitch and your mom would finally make you come inside because he didn’t show.

Oh, those carefree days of childhood.

Up from San Antone

From the time I was old enough to sneak into bars, all I’ve ever wanted to do was be a stand-up comic.

Life changed during the summer of my nineteenth year on this planet when the comedy boom of the 1980s hit and Jolly’s Comedy Club opened in my hometown of Amarillo, Texas.

That’s right, the Amarillo.

The one from Route 66 and Amarillo By Morning. It’s actually mentioned in a lot of country songs because it just sounds like the name of a town that you’d hear in a country song. A dusty, little cow town on the plains of Texas. I-40 runs right through the middle of it, leading anywhere but there…which is exactly where I wanted to be.

I hated small-town life. Dreaded the thought of getting stuck there, marrying a feedlot cowboy, and then dying. And not necessarily in that order.

My first time on stage during that open mic, Tuesday, June 22, 1987, 8:15 p.m. central time, (every comic can tell you their comedy anniversary) I knew things would be okay. It didn’t matter that there weren’t a whole lot of laughs, cause I was saved. No cowboy husband or a job slinging hash for me.

Onward and upward!

I performed secretly for months before telling my ridiculously overprotective, single mother and older brother that I wanted to drop out of Jr college and go on the road telling jokes. They took it surprisingly well. Probably because I prefaced it by saying, “I have something to tell you. I’m a lesbian.”
After a really long and incredibly awkward pause when it seemed like they both might burst into tears, I said, “I’m kidding, I’m going to be a professional comedian.”

“Thank you, Jesus,” was their heartfelt response.

That was when my brother revealed he’d been worried that I might not be straight because my roommate and best friend at the time was a hefty girl who played catcher on our church softball team.

If he’d ever paid attention to the way I played right field, his worries would have been laid to rest much earlier in the season.

As it turns out, my friend wasn’t gay either. She was just chubby.

And, by the way, my family doesn’t think that there’s anything wrong with being homosexual. It’s fine. Just as long as it’s not one of us for cryin’ out loud.

Anyhoo, after religiously doing open mics and not getting laughs for another year or so, it seemed like the perfect time to hit the road. So, I then quit my high-powered waitress job at the Red Lobster, even though I’d just gotten my year pin with the diamond chip in it. (See how serious I was?)

By the way, when I say there weren’t any laughs when I first started I’m being only slightly self-deprecating. There were some but just not very many. As is the case with most new comics. Usually the audience members were people I knew. Some of them I’d grown up with, gone to school with, and worked with. Most of them just sat and stared.

Thanks, guys.

It isn’t easy trying to chase a dream when it feels like nobody’s rooting for you. It hurt my feelings at the time, but I’ve come to understand this; it isn’t that people don’t want you to reach for the stars because they don’t like you. Nope, that’s not it at all. Sometimes they don’t want you to do it because it means that they too will have to try.

And who wants to do that? I don’t blame them. Trying is hard.

Don’t let anyone kid you. It’s nothing like not trying.

And, so began the journey. July 3, 1988, I quit my day job and hit the road in my 1974 canary-yellow Ford Pinto. I was twenty-two years old, had zero money in my pocket, and even less of a clue about how the world worked. I know: awesome game plan.

It’s always felt like I was raised twice in my life. First, in a small town by a nice family who didn’t drink or smoke and a grandfather who was a Methodist minister. Then again in green rooms, showrooms, and comedy condos across the country by comics who drank, swore, did drugs, and fornicated with cocktail waitresses in the bedroom next to mine.

I must tell you, it’s made for an interestingly boring life.

Just Take it Easy

If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s this; sometimes you just have to say to yourself, “Well, I guess this is what my neck looks like now.”

So It is Written

As a younger woman, to be famous was what I wanted. Now, it’s to grow vegetables.

In a cottage by the water, with a mop of graying mermaid hair, I shall write silly stories, tend my garden and talk to tomatoes.

A feral tabby will lounge on the porch, ignoring me, and never come inside because neither of us wants that, and then slip away at the darker stage of twilight to do whatever it is that wild cats do.

I’ll drink red wine from a mug and gaze at the moon and do it all again the next day.

The People in Your Neighborhood

I’m terribly fond of our mailman. He always has a smile, asks about your day, and addresses everyone in the complex by their given name. It feels very small town and comfortable in this sometimes-lonely big city.

We all adore Jamie.

Occasionally, on my afternoon walk, I’ll see him on a different block in the neighborhood. He’ll give a wave and yell, “Hello, Miss Rebecca!” or if a parcel gets delivered while I’m out, “I left you a present.”

If three days pass and Jamies not around, it does not go unnoticed. A low-grade panic sets in and my 70-year old neighbor, Jackie, and I will start trading texts and worrying that he may have gotten a new route and what if the little dude with the enormous straw lifeguard hat takes his place. The one who never makes eye contact and just carelessly lobs packages at your door without thought or backward glance.

Then the next day, like magic, he’ll reappear. “Well, look what the cat dragged in.” I’ll say casually like we barely even noticed he was gone.

That’ll teach him.

Recently one of my neighbors started giving him a bottle of Gatorade a few times a week. So yesterday I gave him a banana.

“I’ll see your high fructose corn syrup, Nancy, and raise you potassium.”

I’m not romantically interested or jealous, I just don’t want him to like her better than me.

Also-ran

In my early twenties, I was dating a comic who was a few years older and still lived at home with his family.

For a road comic that’s not unusual since you’re gone all the time. Seems silly to pay for an apartment where you’ll rarely ever sleep, even if you can actually afford the rent.

My things were at my mom’s place in Texas. I’d stay there when not traveling around the country in my Canary Yellow Pinto, telling jokes from behind chicken wire for gas money.

Now why, you may ask, would there be chicken wire?

So that we wouldn’t get hit with beer bottles.

And why would I do a show where someone might throw a bottle?

Because it paid fifty dollars.

It was nice being at my mom’s because we could hang out and I was able to live and eat for free. It was quite an advantageous arrangement for us both, regardless of what she might have to say on the subject.

Although I love my mother dearly, alas, I wasn’t “in love” with her (don’t feel bad, she knows), unlike my boyfriend who definitely had an Oedipus Rex thing going on with his.

It felt creepy and hurt my feelings to always come in second to his mom, but I tried to be a good, mature girlfriend and overlook this since he was super hot.

Whenever the disturbing “Why can’t you be like my mama?” stuff would rear its freak head, instead of voicing my concerns or getting angry, I’d deal with it by shoving down the rage and letting it eat away at the lining of my stomach, the way the good Lord intended for us to handle conflict.

But, as with most troubling things in life, there comes a point when enough is enough. A time when both your pride and leaky gut tell you, “That man gots to go.”

We were working a week together at the comedy club in his hometown. Instead of staying in the luxury of his childhood bedroom, we opted for the hotel provided by the club. One night after the show, while lying in bed, he let me know that he’d like for us to go to his parent’s house the next day so that his mother could put make-up on me. Wasn’t this a lovely idea? And, she was happy to do it, because they’d already talked about it of course.

But of course.

Ever wondered if it’s a good idea to tell a woman in your bed that you’d like your mom to give her a makeover?

Now you know.

I would’ve preferred to crawl into bed wearing a Richard Nixon mask with her picture paper clipped to it.

Well, as you can imagine…This and that, back and forth, blah, blah, blah.

I ended the relationship shortly thereafter. No regrets on my part. Life lesson learned. This will happen when you love a man you can never truly have because he loves a woman he can’t have since she’s already married to his father.

Sweet Dreams

For several weeks now I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night with the same bad song on rotation in my brain.

Not sure what time it happens because I refuse to check. That’ll just lead to a headcount of the hours already slept and then how many are left until I have to get up, and all the while Look Away by Chicago will be the dreadful soundtrack.

Around week two and a half, worry began to set in. Why was this happening? I’d lie in the dark wondering if perhaps it was some sort of a psychotic break, but then comfort myself by saying if it was I probably wouldn’t realize it because pretty sure if you’ve gone mad you don’t know you’re mad, you just are.

The next morning I googled psychotic break. I’m fine.

Since the song is about some heartbroken dude who can’t stop crying and doesn’t want his ex to know, but yet all he talks about is the goddamned crying, I thought maybe it might have something to do with a past relationship.

Unfinished business mayhap?

Maybe I’d hurt someone terribly and this is my “Tell-Tale Heart” karma where, instead of the beating of a murdered man’s heart coming from beneath my floorboard, I’m being tortured by a power ballad.

Probably not. Although that would be cool.

Intellectually I realize that on a subconscious level the repetition of the song most likely represents the repetition of my days being quarantined. And, the fact that the song is shitty means I’m finally ready to rejoin society.

Come Again?

People frequently mistake me not talking as me listening. It’s why I’m a good bartender. That, and I can mix a martini that’s so delightful you will be tempted to ask for my hand in marriage.

My first “real job” after I stopped working the road was at a neighborhood Italian place in Los Angeles County.

It was a tiny white building with giant red awnings that shaded the front windows. A billion twinkling Christmas lights covered everything like English Ivy while empty Chianti bottles, from their perch on the window sill, peeked out from beneath as if to say, “What the fuck you lookin’ at?”

When I called to inquire about the position, a woman with a thick, unrecognizable accent answered the phone. My guess was Russian. For some reason whenever I can’t place an accent I immediately assume the person is from Russia. They rarely are. I also sometimes think people sound like Count Dracula, which isn’t a country or an accent, and usually not correct either.

The dining room felt warm and lived in, like a grandma’s house, the air heavy with smells of garlic, freshly baked bread, and an occasional whiff of mildew.

It was decorated by the owner, Tony, who enjoyed gluing stuff to the wood-paneled walls. My favorites were an old Army shovel and the right half of a broken beer mug. Inside the mug was imprisoned a tiny clown wearing a top hat and playing the accordion. He stared straight ahead with a big smile on his face that didn’t quite reach his cold, dead eyes.

I totally feel you, buddy.

The ceiling was painted light blue, like the heavens, with cotton candy clouds and half-naked cherubs flying around playing the harp.

Directly above the bar was Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, exactly like in the Sistine chapel, except for God’s disproportionately long index finger and Adam’s nether regions which looked disturbingly lobsterish, or lobster-y, or however you’d say his junk resembled a lobster.

A large antique mirror covered the back wall and with the soft red and amber glow of Tiffany lamps, the ambiance was a combo of an old west saloon and a house of ill repute.

I learned a lot working that bar. Most notably, I look amazing in brothel lighting.

It’s true what they say about folks treating their bartender like a shrink. And, I guess if you think about it, it makes total sense even though it doesn’t.

Six days a week at 4 p.m. I’d open the doors to find my regulars impatiently waiting to get started drinking and bending my ear. Sometimes they’d knock on the front window in hopes of being let in early. You could hear them all the way in the kitchen where I’d sit and pretend I couldn’t hear them.

By the way, no judgment if you need a cocktail in the afternoon. It’s a little too early for me but I get it. Besides, pretty sure that 4 o’clock counts as 5 o’clock and if it doesn’t then it should.

Once a customer asked Tony if we had a restroom, to which he replied, “No. We shit in the street.” That job was a good fit for me. Although, I stayed way too long – as one will do when hiding from whatever it is that one is hiding from.

Most of the pressing issues my crowd wanted advice about were just common sense things. Stuff adults should know and it annoyed me that they didn’t. A fact that was never hidden and also, unfortunately, not a deterrent.

My sage advice was usually along the lines of “Grow up and pull your head out of your ass.”

Perhaps not the guidance hoped for but I suppose is what’s to be expected when a disenchanted comic is your bartender, and your bartender is who you’ve chosen as a mental health provider.

It Stands to Reason

Much of my day is spent at the kitchen table periodically staring out the window. My apartment, in this tiny 16-unit complex, is on the second level and sits at the end of the 15 steps it takes to reach the top floor. I’m aware of how many stairs there are because I count them whenever going up or down. It’s not OCD, just seems like information I should have in case there’s an emergency or someone were to ask.

My view is of the courtyard, which reminds me of the one from the 1990’s soap, Melrose Place. Only without the pool, wealthy neighborhood, and good looking tenants. But we do have wild jasmine that grows in the spring and summer, so that’s cool.

From my perch, it’s possible to see and hear all the comings and goings without being spotted. Which I would find disconcerting if it was someone other than myself lurking in the shadows.

Fortunately, I’m harmless just curious.

And, if I’m being honest (which I am, cause why wouldn’t I be?) I’m not really looking to see, just looking to look. Killing time and daydreaming.

My computer is on the dining table which is why I’m also there. It’s where I like to write, or pretend to, depending on which way the wind is blowing.

I never sit at my desk. I’ve tried but it reminds me too much of school or a job. Nothing will ever get accomplished if I feel like it has to.

A kitchen feels good and familiar. Plus, that’s where I keep the food.

Once I watched as an older neighbor was taken away in a body bag. He’d only lived here for about a week and we never met, but it was still sad.

What I’m waiting to see is someone tumble down the stairs. Not because I want them to get hurt but because it just seems logical.

For 17 years, I’ve seen people carelessly bound up and down with hands in pockets, wearing flip flops, arms full of laundry and talking on the phone that’s tucked between their shoulder and crook of their neck, and yet not one face plant or even anything close.

It makes sense that at some point this lucky streak will come to an end.

Since I have nothing but time these days I’d like to see it when my theory is proven correct.

I’ll keep you posted.

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