Head in the Clouds. Nose in a Book

Whenever I hear anyone say that they were poor as a child but didn’t realize it because they were always surrounded by so much love, I don’t believe it. It’s a beautiful sentiment, but how could you not know? I was also raised in a poor but loving household and was well aware of it every day. And, on the off chance I might happen to forget for a moment, there was always a rich kid, usually a cheerleader with a cute button nose and the bosom of a 20-year-old Playboy bunny, who was more than happy to jog my memory.

Love is a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t make you not hungry or forget that you’re wearing hand-me-downs and that your mom, who isn’t a beauty operator, cuts your hair. I’m not saying I wasn’t happy; I’m just saying that I knew. But perhaps it isn’t fair to judge since, unlike myself, not everyone has been fifty years old since they were seven.

As a single parent and sole provider, my mother made sure her children never went without basic necessities, but there wasn’t much “extra” anything at our house. I suppose I could say there was “extra love,” but that would sound just as ridiculous as someone saying they didn’t realize they were poor despite having worn milk cartons as snowshoes.

The one thing that my mom rarely said no to when it came to spending money was books. She’s an avid reader, and it is from her that I inherited my passion for reading. I adore books: the way they look and feel and especially how old ones smell when you fan their yellowing pages under your nose.

When I get a new book, my ritual is the same today as when I was a little girl. First, it’s gets set somewhere in plain sight, usually on the coffee table. I want to be able to see it but won’t read it right away. It’s fun knowing that it’s there, waiting.

When the anticipation becomes too much, the front and the back cover get read. Then, if there’s a dust cover, I read the inside flaps with the information about the author. Most times, it’s boring stuff like how they reside in West Virginia with their spouse and a parrot, both of which are named Hank. But sometimes it’s about their work process and cool facts like how they hated crying babies and mainly survived on hamburger meat, green peas, and coffee – that was Will Cuppy. He wrote a weekly column for the New York Herald in the 1930s and one of my all-time favorite books, The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody. A hilariously wry book of stories where he humbles historical figures like William The Conqueror and Lucrezia Borgia. Who doesn’t enjoy a funny Lucrezia Borgia story, for crying out loud?

I then read the page that lists any other books the author has written and think, “If I like this one, maybe I’ll read one of those. But what if I do and it’s not as good? That would be sad. So, maybe I won’t. Relax, Pedigo, you don’t have to decide right now.”

Then next is the one with all of the publishing information on it. Not sure why I read that page. Maybe it’s because sometimes I get to say, “Hmm, I wasn’t even born when this was copywritten. Interesting.”

Even though it isn’t at all interesting.

Then onward to the dedication page, where I’ll ponder if these people truly appreciated the gesture and what they did to deserve it, other than having to live with a moody writer who ate a shitload of green peas.

Then I read the forward unless, of course, it gives too much away, and then I’ll stop and go back and read that after I’m finished to see if I agree with the pompous opinion of the writer of the forward. I usually do.

And, finally, when there has been enough word foreplay and my brain is sufficiently aroused, I will begin chapter one.

Yes, that seems like a lot, I know. But it’s not if you’re a reader because readers are hardcore. We like to read. In the 90s, I continued to work for a comedy club that wouldn’t move me up as a performer or pay me more money, and I did it simply because in the condo, where the comics stayed, there was, for some reason, a collection of The Alphabet Murders by Sue Grafton and I wanted to read them all. Which I eventually did, and then told the club booker that “F is for fuck off.”

It’s hard for me to comprehend when a person says they aren’t a reader. A man once told me that while we were at dinner. He used those exact words, “I am not a reader.” I, was suddenly tired and remembered that I needed to get up early the next morning. Because that’s a deal-breaker for me, I could be attracted to someone who can’t read but not to someone who chooses not to.

Books and being able to escape into their stories are how I survived adolescence. They let me know there was a big colorful world out there, not just the grey one where this misfit kid hung her second-hand hat. It’s why I became a storyteller. I enjoy the thought that maybe one of mine might make someone as happy as the ones I like have made me.

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.

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.

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