No Cream No Sugar

There’s a quality that certain people possess to which I find myself inevitably drawn. A mysterious “something” that’s hard to define, and so I call it the “I’m going to grab a coffee. Can I get you something?” mystique.

It encompasses many things and doesn’t necessarily have anything at all to do with coffee. However, if you’re courting me, showing up with a cup so strong that my eyes water works just as well as flowers for no reason.

My theory is that a person who thinks, “Since I’m getting coffee, I should see if anyone else would like some.” is also a person who asks about your day because they’re genuinely interested. These folks hold the door at the bank, so it doesn’t slam in your face when you try to enter behind them. They make sure you get to your car safely, notice your haircut, ask specifics, and let it be about you sometimes. They’re the people who make eye contact when having a conversation instead of looking around to see if anyone more important is in the room because they think you’re the most important person in the room.

These are the people I want to be like and around more often.

“Narcissist” is a word that I try not to use because of its overuse. But since it is a word and does apply here, I feel justified in using it now, and so I will. I once worked with a narcissist. After 30 years in show business, there’s actually been tons of them, but one stands head and shoulders above the rest in my mind. The Big Bad John of the self-obsessed, if you will. So bewitched was this man, by the sound of his own voice that while droning on about his wonderfulness, he would gaze longingly at his reflection in the mirror with a flirtatious smile. As if thinking, “Who is this dreamboat?” So, I would say, “Would you two care to be alone?”

This man never tired of talking but had no interest in listening to anyone else do so. He turned and walked away in the middle of something I was saying on more than one occasion. When called on his rudeness, the unconcerned response would be, “I thought you were finished.”

Here’s an excellent way to tell when someone has finished speaking – they will no longer be talking.

With age comes wisdom and less tolerance for nonsense; therefore, the behavior I’m willing to accept and to whom I give my time has changed greatly. My tribe is smaller these days but filled with souls who “talk to and not at,” show an interest in what’s going on in a world other than their own, and of course, always think about me before making a coffee run.

The Other Shoe Dropped

At around 11:37 p.m. last night, I stopped at the Rite Aid near my apartment to pick up a few essentials. Despite the fact Los Angeles County is larger than North Carolina and 9.8 million people live here, the sidewalks roll up at about 10:30 p.m. Hence, if you’re a creature of the night, like myself, there are limited options when you need laundry detergent or a double scoop of Thrifty Ice Cream after that. Therefore, the drug store is your destination.

I was there buying a frozen cheese pizza and bottle of red wine, and since I’m a grown woman, there will be no explanation or apologies for my sophisticated palate and penchant for eating dinner at midnight.

The store’s security guard was behind the counter flirting with one of the cashiers as I waited in line to pay. He was a handsome kid in his late twenties and appeared to be in fairly good shape. He asked the girl why she thought he was a “leg man,” and she giggled. I wasn’t trying to be nosy; I notice stuff. My grandma Mourer used to say, “You are the most observant child.” Occasionally, she even meant it as a compliment.

After the guard finally grew tired of the flirtation and decided to come out onto the floor to do his job, I could see that he was wearing black socks and Nike shower shoes with his uniform.

To clarify, shower shoes are similar to flip flops but without the straps that go between your big toe and the weird long one next to it to help keep them on your feet. Instead, there’s a fat strap that goes across the top of your foot that really doesn’t do much of anything that I can tell because I’ve never seen anyone wearing shower shoes where at least three inches of their foot wasn’t hanging off the front, scraping pavement, while the back half of the sole was riding up on their heel like spurs on a cowboy boot.

It’s kind of like wearing only half of a shoe. Not only are they uncomfortable, but incredibly impractical. It’s hard keeping them on your feet in the best of times, like when taking a shower at the gym, so you don’t get other people’s foot goo on yours, which is what they’re made for, let alone trying to stop someone from running out of the store with a six-pack of Coors Light stuffed down their pant leg. Yet, it is the footwear that this gentleman had chosen for fighting crime.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the plan is to kick them off at the first sign of trouble and go after the perp wearing only socks. Have you ever tried walking on a linoleum floor in stocking feet? Even if you can remain upright, you’re not going anywhere fast.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I just happened to notice.

One Non Prom

1984 was my senior year at Tascosa High School, which is located in Amarillo, Texas. Amarillo is where I was born and raised, and by the way, has been mentioned in many a country song because it just sounds like the name of a town that you would hear in a country song. I’ve said that before but felt like repeating it because it’s a good line, and what if someone didn’t get to read it the first time I wrote it.

I wasn’t a typical seventeen-year-old girl all aflutter about boys or going to football games or dances. Well, maybe the boy part, but attending school or any of its related functions did not hold my interest, which was a big factor in my being grounded my entire freshman year. There were many reasons for house arrest, including my hard head and sharp tongue, but basically, it was because neither my teachers nor my mother seemed to care that I already knew everything.

That isn’t an exaggeration either it was actually the entire school year. My sentence wasn’t handed down all at once. I was just never able to make parole. Which, unfortunately, helped prove my mom correct – she could indeed play the game longer.

My next three years of academia, if a public school can be considered academia, went a little more smoothly thanks to the lessons learned during my incarceration, which were “think before speaking because some people obviously don’t appreciate dry humor.” and “the importance of sitting quietly and pretending to give a shit even when you do not.”

Senior prom rolled around one month shy of my 18th birthday and seemed juvenile. It was only 26 days before I would be a grown woman, and so it seemed silly to go. Besides, I was bashful and awkward and pretty sure that no one would ask, which they didn’t, but it’s fine because that’s what helped me develop my theory that not going to the prom is a way more interesting rite of passage than going.

Imagine how many great love songs or works of art we’d have been denied if everyone fit in as a kid or went to their prom. Thank heaven Vincent Van Gogh was a redhead, which is never appealing to girls in their teens, so you know that guy didn’t go, and if he had, there might not be The Starry Night.

There had been talk about perhaps going as a group with my best friends Jo and Jonathon.

Jo and I had been friends since the 6th-grade. She was a tiny little cowgirl and was funny and sweet, with some rough-and-tumble thrown into the mix. Her older brother was a bull rider, so she spent a lot of time at rodeos and around cowboys. My mom always compared her to a Banty rooster, roosters used in cockfights because they’re scrappy and will fight to the death. That may not sound very flattering, but actually, it is and was a pretty accurate comparison. “Give in” or “Back down” were not phrases in Jo’s vocabulary.

We met Jonathon during sophomore year. He was our gay friend that we didn’t believe was gay despite having met him in drama club or the fact that he was designing his own clothing line at fifteen years old and wanted to be known only by his first name, like Cher.

We ended up not going as a group because Jonathon was asked to the dance by some random girl who also had no gaydar. I don’t know her name or anything about her, really, except that she didn’t lose her virginity on prom night.

Jo went with a guy that we knew from church. Hers, not mine. Jo’s family belonged to the Church of Christ, and mine were Methodist, but I’d tag along with them most Sundays because her parents would take us to eat at The Sizzler afterward.

Church of Christ is hardcore. They are rivaled only by the Pentecostals and those religions where you have to marry your grandpa’s best friend when you turn twelve years old or get your period, whichever happens first. So, I’d sit in Sunday school every week and listen to them tell me I was going to hell because I wasn’t baptized in their church, but then I’d get chopped sirloin and fries when it was over. So, it was totally worth it.

Initially, it was a shock because Methodists are a very mellow people who like to think we mind our own business. After all, it doesn’t count if you say it under your breath or out of the corner of your mouth. We enjoy a nice brisket and macaroni salad. And we love God, but come on, let’s not lose our minds about it. We sit quietly with hands folded, paying attention during the sermon so that we can be out of there by noon, and we just pray that nobody goes up to the front to accept Jesus during the benediction because that’ll tack on at least an extra 20 minutes.

May God be with you. And also, with you. Gotta run, see y’all next week.

On Prom night, I volunteered to work my boring part-time job at a clothing store in the mall and learned a valuable lesson that I wouldn’t really understand until years later. A dance is just a dance; it only lasts one night. But a job, no matter how boring, is something that, for the rest of your life, can be used to get you out of going to all kinds of undesirable functions like brunch and Christmas at your boyfriend’s parent’s house.

Hey, I Know You

Here’s a sentence that I’ve said many times in my life, “I don’t know because I don’t work here.” Perhaps it’s my stern resting face with severe glasses combined with good posture and a confident carriage. I’m not sure, but whatever it is and wherever I am, people usually assume that I’m in charge and are forever asking me questions and where things are located.

I don’t really mind and try to help when at all possible, “Let me think, if I was paint thinner, where would I be?” Because even at the hardware store, I look like I’m steering the ship, and not many things make a girl feel sexier than looking like she knows her way around a claw hammer.

And so, I’m always having these sorts of conversations with strangers as I try and navigate my way in this world-

“No, I’m not the owner. Just here having dinner.”

“I don’t know if they’re hiring. You should ask the chick with the name tag.”

“Tell you what, if they let me make my own cocktail, it would be my pleasure to get you another one too.”

In my twenties, I was having dinner at a Bennigan’s in the same strip mall as a comedy club where I was working. Bennigan’s was a popular chain restaurant in the 1980s and 90s. They were decorated by someone who decided it would be better to paint everything kelly green and glue random crap on the walls, like old rugby cleats and rusty trombones, instead of having a design plan or choosing an accent color. It was America’s original casual dining concept and was fun. It felt kind of like eating in a storage unit with dirty shoes hanging next to your plate.

On my way to the restroom, I saw a group of people staring, and then a woman waved and motioned for me to come to their table. We made pleasantries for a minute as I waited for them to ask, “Aren’t you a comedian?” the woman instead asked if they could have their iced teas refilled. And I said, “sure, I’ll tell your server.”

Because again, it’s no big deal, but moving forward, please let the record show-

“I can’t validate parking.”

“I’m not your kid’s principal. And yes, I’m sure.”

“No clue where that book is located. Check the card catalog or Dewey Decimal System.”

And, “I’m probably not allowed in the kitchen, but I’m sure someone would be glad to bring you more bread.”

Once at a brunch buffet, a man got extremely annoyed and marched off in a huff when I couldn’t tell him if the gravy was gluten-free. He didn’t seem to believe that I wasn’t managing the line, but it worked out for the best because it looked like he’d had enough gravy in his lifetime. You’re very welcome, chubby guy’s arteries.

I also get accused quite often of being an undercover cop. And it’s a good thing I’m not because apparently, I would be terrible at it. More than once, I’ve been sitting in my car, minding my own business, when suddenly tap, tap, tap on the window. “You a cop?” Nope just listening to NPR.

One time before a show, I was taking a picture of my name on a comedy club marque when a man suddenly began walking towards me very aggressively and asked if I was a police officer and had just taken his picture.

“No, I’m a comic and took a picture of my name.” I said, pointing at the sign.

He then barked, “If you’re a cop, you have to tell me. If I ask, you have to tell. Those are the rules.”

Really? Those are the rules? “Look, mister, I was only educated in the Texas public school system, but I’m fairly certain there’s more involved in undercover work than just the honor system. And in fact, in Texas, pretty sure they just make it up as they go. So, walk away before I haul your dumb ass downtown.”

The job that I have that no one seems to believe that I have is stand-up comedy. I’ve heard this a million times. “Seriously? You don’t look like you’d be funny.”

So, guess I don’t look like I’m funny but do look like I’m in charge of gravy.

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.

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