Oh Well, Fuck That

As a young comic, I periodically worked as the opening act for a very funny headliner who happened to be out of her mind.

It was 1992, and at the age of twenty-six, I’d been on the road for about four years. Just your typical painfully shy, nice girl from a small town, trying to find her comedy voice while hoping that no one was looking.

Wasn’t much of a drinker, had never done drugs, and really didn’t think other people did either. Because surely everyone had seen Scared Straight, the anti-drug movie, in junior high school like I did, right?

Yeah, I was that guy.

She was a few years older, had a Marlboro Red voice, and a shock of curly blonde hair that she’d cut with nail scissors when it made her mad. And, also, was one of the funniest comics that I’ve ever had the displeasure of working with.

Please don’t get me wrong, when I say displeasure I simply mean that it was not a pleasure.

We were friends but hated each other and she was addicted to pharmaceuticals. Which wasn’t the cause of her crazy, it was merely an added bonus.

Sometimes she would try to get me to pimp drugs for her from stage. Before the show, she’d say, “Ask if anyone has Percodan or Tylenol 3 with Codeine. Just tell them I hurt my back.”

I never would, so at some point during my set, I’d hear her scream from the rear of the showroom, “Ask them!”

Then I would say,” Oh yeah, that’s the headliner. I’m supposed to pretend she hurt her back so that someone will give her drugs.” The audience would laugh and then afterward somebody always would.

So, as it turns out, I pimped drugs for her.

Percodan and having a conversation with me during my show were two of her favorite things. If she didn’t think I was doing well I’d hear a gravelly, “Wrap it up. I’ll take it from here.” Or, if she just wanted me to tell a certain story, “Fuck that. Tell them about us staying in that haunted hotel in Santa Fe.”

A whole lot of time was spent fighting with each other while I was trying to work. But the crowds loved it as if it were some sort of a special Punch and Judy bonus show.

Punch and Judy are puppets that were on Saturday morning television in the 1970s. Mr. Punch would beat the crap out of his wife, Judy, and other random puppets, including a baby puppet.

Somehow that show does not seem nearly as light-hearted now that I’ve described it.

By the way, If you’ve never had the pleasure of spending any quality face time with addiction, let me tell you, it is the opposite of lovely. It’s sort of like hateful, self-loathing, and mean, all rolled up in a big old sweaty ball.

I said sweaty ball. Hehe.

To be fair, she wasn’t the only one dealing with demons back then, I had plenty myself. Most comics do, it’s just that mine were more genteel, preferring the sweet solitude of my cranium so as not to disturb anyone but me. Because that would be rude and my demons are nothing if not ladylike.

So, she was addicted to painkillers while I was addicted to men who didn’t find me funny or talented and just really seemed to enjoy saying so at the drop of a hat. (Who doesn’t love a good daddy issue, right?)

That said, allow me to tell you about the time we stayed at a haunted hotel in Santa Fe.

It was after a gig in Albuquerque and the man I was seeing at the time (we’ll call him, Mr. You’re not funny, Becky) had flown in for the week. The three of us decided that when the shows were finished we’d drive to Santa Fe and spend the night in a haunted hotel.

You know, as you do.

The hotel’s centerpiece was a Victorian mansion called The Staab House. It was built in 1882 by an old Santa Fe Trail merchant named Abraham Staab.

Now, I’m not sure how you amassed your fortune but Abraham amassed his as a major supply contractor for the U.S. Army during the Civil War. He then built the beautiful three-story brick mansion for his wife, Julia.

How do I know all of this? Because I researched it and then copied and pasted.

Mr. and Mrs. Staab were the parents of seven children and incredibly wealthy. The ballroom in their home (because they had a ballroom in their home) was one of the social entertainment centers of Santa Fe society.

You are correct, they do indeed sound like douche bags.

But, never fear, the fairy tale lifestyle eventually came to a screeching halt after their youngest child passed away. Julia then became very depressed, took to her room, eventually went mad, and now haunts the place.

My goodness, I do love the idea of taking to your room and going mad. Although it doesn’t really work in this day and age. Trust me, people just assume you’re hungover.

Touché, assholes.

Imagine how dreadful it must have been for Abraham trying to comfort his wife after the loss of a child. “We shall be fine, my dear. There’s still six left. Six is a lot. Believe me, I pay to feed them, it’s a lot.”

While checking in, we asked the man working at the front desk to tell us some of the ghost stories. They were typical; glasses flying off shelves in the bar, people seeing or hearing Julia in her suite, and sometimes, if guests left clothes lying around their room, they would come back to find them neatly folded, and at the foot of the bed.

The last one really didn’t sound too scary, especially not to my boyfriend, pretty sure he thought that’s how it worked anyway. Yep, every night a spirit would cross over and pick his shit up off the floor, or fold his laundry and put it in a mystical little thing called a dresser drawer.

Oh, and isn’t it interesting that broken glasses always seem to get blamed on ghosts and never the bartender who’s been shooting Jägermeister since noon? (Which, by the way, tastes like an old lady’s house smells.)

Before going to dinner that evening we decided to leave some shirts on the floor, just in case. When we returned, ta-da! They were folded and at the foot of the bed. Well, of course, we all freaked out and ran to ask the guy at the desk if the staff had done it. He assured us they had not.

Then my boyfriend made the two of us swear that we didn’t do it.

“We swear!”

Which made him super excited because of his love of ghosts and Bigfoot and all things ridiculous.

We stayed awake through night in hopes of witnessing something supernatural. Which did not happen because the next day my friend admitted that she’d paid to have it done after we’d gone out.

Our little excursion then ended, the way they usually did when the three of us traveled together, with him driving and screaming, her in the back seat crying and chain-smoking, and me on the passenger side, gently cradling my ulcer.

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 fond 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 could 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.

Ah, the 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.

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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