~ So the day is finally here. After weeks of time slowing down to the point where tasks at work that used to fly by simply dredged. After many endless mantras of 'this will NEVER end.' Here we are: Verena and myself, at the club. Inderjit, Stafford's place. Well, not his place, but his bi-monthly open-mike.
“There's no way I can go after you,” I'm saying. “You're a pro.”
“Oh yeah, a real pro,” she replies, stirring her drink.
“Your car has heated seats,” I point out, “that's show-biz living.”
“It's a totally random selection each hour,” she says. “When you sign up determines the hour you go on, or if you're early enough, you can choose, but normally not. We'll probably be separated by like, ten people. It'll be fine. No one will remember a thing.”
“That's not true,” I reply. “I'll remember stuff.”
“Your set?” she asks.
“Of course,” I scoff.
“Well then, that's all that matters,” she says and leans forward (I swear) to pet my hand but thinks better of it. Goddamn, I am so awful. But my nervousness is genuine.
Not that there's any doubt that I'll go through with this, it's just so new. I tell myself that it's just like learning a new job. People will show you things and then you'll catch on. There's always an awkward transition and before you know it, you're bored of the whole thing.
I see Linos come in from the front room. He got a beer at the outer bar and Sam is with him. They look around for a table, and there are two right by us. I get nervous because he inspired some of my routine. I'm not going to make fun of him or anything but . . .
“What's up?” says Linos, raising his hand.
I wave back and say, “Hey man. Sam.” I gesture to the empty table. “Have a seat.”
“You do go to a lot of shows,” says Linos.
Verena stands up because her drink is empty. “He's actually going on tonight,” she says and smiles at me. “No backing down now, I'll be right back.”
“My co-worker,” I explain after she's gone. “She's real into comedy. Performs all the time. We made a pact to play here tonight. Her friend runs this whole deal.”
“Cute,” says Linos. “Don't worry, I won't move in on your game. And Sam's married.”
Sam holds up his ring like he was a guard showing off muscle.
“Ah, she's got a boyfriend,” I say resignedly.
“Who is he?” asks Linos. “There's gotta be something wrong with him. He's not here. Working?”
“Working,” I confirm. Then I think for a moment. “You know what? I've never actually met the guy, or seen a picture of him.”
“You think she's making him up?” asks Linos, starting to chuckle.
“Get this,” I say, “he's a professional photo-journalist who is always,” . . . Linos starts laughing louder as I go on, “always on location somewhere, doing something amazing. Right now he's documenting immigrants in California who work for anti-immigration politicians.”
“No fucking way is that real,” Linos says. “She's makin' it up. That's like, grade-school level lying.”
Sam moves his chair closer. “But isn't it worse if she's lying about it?” he asks. “I mean, wouldn't you want her to tell you she's single if she really was.”
“Goddammit he's right,” I say, pointing at Sam.
“He always is,” says Linos.
Verena sits back down. “Are you sharing your routine with them?” she asks. “Must be pretty good.”
“Um, we were just speculating on the architect's idea of what a comfortable room should be,” said Linos. He stuck out his hand. “I'm Linos, and I find boring things very funny.”
“This is Sam,” I say, introducing him.
“Hi, I'm Verena,” she says.
“Well, it's very nice to meet you,” said Linos. “So, both of you are going up tonight?”
“Any idea when?”
She shakes her head.
“It's random,” I say, “but we'll both be going up within the next hour.”
Verena is looking around. “What's up with the architecture?” she asks.
“Well,” says Linos. “Thereby hangs a tale. First of all, the mirrors on the side walls are clearly meant to create a more spacious feeling, but the mirrors on the columns simply create spacial distortion. I wouldn't point this out unless you asked because, in my opinion, it becomes impossible to unsee.”
I glanced at the pillars as he said this. Anytime a server walked behind one it was like she vanished through a suspended water bubble. Although my eyes were clearly doing their best to discriminate the background against objects - when I wasn't focusing on things - the pillars stood out like twisted puzzle pieces.
“I'm assuming the lights will get dimmer,” Linos continues, “but that's just the start. The way this whole room was designed is skew-wise. It's a style I would call Zhalkavian, and yes I know that sounds like a bad sci-fi alien but it's really Czech, so, you know, comedians don't have to make fun of absolutely everything.”
“But what does it mean?” I ask. “Is it like a Tryphon Design?”
Verena looks totally lost.
“Are you going to talk about Tryphon Designs in your act, buddy?” asked Linos. “Because I'm no Leno, but that'll fall flat . . . unlike a Tryphon Design.” He slaps his knee is slow motion. Behind him, Sam suppresses giggles.
“How are you feeling after that anyway?” Linos asks.
“I feel totally normal, man,” I say, and wave at him, “now tell us about your . . . Zhalks, or whatever.”
“Zhalkovian Tilti,” he says, accenting, “is what this room's drunk designer was thinking of but didn't bother to research. It's supposed to lead the eye in a never-ending Mobius Strip type thing if you were to look at a wall. But your eyes get tired of doing that really quickly so you'd concentrate on whatever you came in the room to do, have a conversation, eat a meal, see a show,” he gestures to the stage. “That way, you have the feeling or, interior knowledge, of infinite space without having to rely on cheap visual stunts like mirrors.”
“But mirrors aren't always stunts,” I say, “and one could easily argue that designing a room to fool your eye is just as much a 'cheap stunt.'
“The room is supposed to be used as a room, and the design helps with that,” Linos counters. “Likewise, when a mirror is being used as a mirror, then it's not a stunt.”
The lights dim and all conversation quiets down and Stafford goes up and doe five minutes before reading off the first few names. He’s not bad, although his self-deprecating persona doesn't really fit with someone running a show. Maybe comedians are used to that, though. Your stage persona isn't who you are in real life. It seems to me that people are too sensitive nowadays to tell the difference, but I'm open to pleasant surprises.
He reads the names of five people who are then instructed to stand in a line by the stage and introduce themselves to each other so they would know in which order to stand. I like it.
It's gotta be so hard to be the first person up there. I sense a certain reluctance from the crowd to laugh. The first girl has timed her set for laughs, but the laughs don't come. One of her punch-lines leads us to the conclusion that she’s a lesbian. Hardly shocking. I don't mean that she looked like one (although she did) but that: what sort of payoff was she expecting? The next guy has a similar problem, his attempted payoff was that he moved to this city for the only reason for people to move to this city . . . unexpected rehab. No one laughs. Then he stoops to making fun of the hot girls up front and tells them he would waterboard them. Although he really meant motorboat, so that was kind of funny. Anyways, he didn't seem like the kind of guy who would be feeling any shame at all after this. The guy after him said he would smoke meth in the van with a corner of the room that seemed to find him really funny. I am unable to stop killing fruit flies. It seems like they’re not bothering anyone else.
After that, it’s all just a blur. I'm surprised that no one came up with the same jokes or premises. Although, maybe if the foundations were deeply explored, more similarities would surface. I guess it isn't that surprising, after all, most bands don’t accidentally come up with the same songs.
Pete shows up and Linos waves him over right away. Then Verena gets called, and I’m not in her batch. Of course, as smitten as I am with her I pay very close attention as if she were a pro. Compared to me she is, but some of these people probably do this several nights a week.
As far as audience reaction was, she did just fine. Although it was pretty obvious which bits were new and which ones she had worked on. I guess I would have preferred an entirely new set because it seemed like she fell into her old material out of awkwardness and wanting something that worked. But I swear, even if I did not know her at all, I would think she was better than most of them here.
She comes down from the stage and we have no time to talk because the rest of her group went and then I get called. It actually happens. I’m the last group before the first break. So what does that mean? Are people paying more attention? Or less? I keep reminding myself over and over that none of this matters.
Every trace of our universe ever existing will vanish. As it expands faster and faster, galaxies will pull themselves apart approaching the speed of light. Whatever advanced computer we upload our consciousness on, will be consumed by the invisible monster of dark matter.
That's how I start I think I remember.
But none of that seems important in light of the fact of everyday people who get together to conspire to make our lives a living hell. Yes, you asshole who's telling the gas-station cashier that he should register to vote, I'm talking to you, and I wouldn't be, if you weren't in my way.
– A little something like that.
Someone outta choose who to get rid of. Say what you will . . .
and that led nicely into my 'Baby Hitler SIDS Time Traveller' bit. Which is what the track will be labeled on my special. Otherwise, you’re just going back in time to kill a baby . . . dropkick motion . . . - It was a ginger anyway, better luck next time. The world is not kind to red-headed men. At least women can get away with calling themselves ‘strawberry blonde.’
‘I’m a strawberry blonde.’
Meanwhile all the men are thinking ‘Hmm, she’s got boobs, which means she might sleep with me, so I’ll just stay on her good side. Yep, [earnestly nodding] strawberry blonde is totally a thing.’
Have you ever seen what color a strawberry is? Nature doesn’t do light reds. Except for sunburned skin. Another characteristic of blondes. ‘Hey, I’m a sunburned blonde’, ‘Oh really? I couldn’t tell due to the redundant nature of your statement.’
There was a bit more, but it's blurry. I mean, my sight got blurry and the mirrors caught my attention. I think I stood there drooling and gazing at them. From on stage, there was near perfect symmetry in this room that Linos had taken such care to criticize. My eyes crossed and the vision in the mirrors doubled and doubled again into numberless versions of themselves.
. . . dimensions un-notateable in mathematics. Every artifice created by human hands reveals our cosmic abortion in all its blended and chewed up glory. I wonder how easy it is to become a substitute teacher? (Got the most laughs from that line, although there are few memories to compare it to. When did this become the past?) Probably pretty simple. Our schools are atrocious. What am I doing up here when I could be regaling young minds? Thanks for your attention, goodnight!
I stepped down from the stage on the opposite side of the one I got up on, just because I saw a stairway. Disoriented, I tried to locate my table, but I kept bumping into people. A line of bald children stood in front of me every way I turned like they were painted on a pair of glasses or something.
The one in front said, “Some of us are open to learning.
He grabbed my hand and said, “Great set buddy, come here often?”
I vaguely shook my head. Words were hard.
A bald child stood underneath him and opened his mouth as if to chomp on the person's arm, but I yelled something and the child looked at me like I was the weird one. “Life outside the mirror is scratchy,” the bald child said to me.
I bumped into someone else, it was Stafford, making his way to the stage to announce the break, he shook my hand and said, “Dynamite debut buddy, stick around, I'll have a drink with you and Verena.”
“Sure, thanks for . . . the invitation,” I said.
He pointed behind me and Verena was waving me over. Linos, Pete, and Sam were getting up. It was a race to the outer bar which would be flooded by everyone refilling their drinks. I got up to them and Verena gave me a surprisingly strong hug. I'm not saying she looks like a weak girl, although she does, and I'm so glad she pulled away when she did because I felt myself getting hard right away. Thankfully, it died as soon as her touch left me but I was reminded of various first and second dates I'd been on when just holding hands with a girl was like flying to the moon.
She told me how great she thought it was and I shrugged it off, “Obviously needs more work,” and I kept trying to steer the conversation to her set, which was much more professional, but Linos kept tugging at my arm. At first I thought he was one of the bald children, but when I saw it was him I caved. “What? We're in line, booze will come, my friend.”
“No,” he said and pointed upward. “The lights.”
I looked up and too late, thought he was trying to trick me into entering another Tryphon Design, but what he was pointing at was the underlying pattern on the roof in between the light fixture.
“How often have you been here?” I asked.
“A few times,” he said.
“So you've seen this before,” I said.
“Never,” he replied.
Drawn in between the light bulbs embedded in the ceiling was a giant red scimitar. We were standing by the handle, but the whole thing was impossible to miss on one glance.
“You've just never looked . . . right?” I asked.
“It wasn't here last time,” he said. “It wasn't here tonight, and now it is.”
“So . . . maybe something broke in the ceiling,” I said.
“Have you been visited by anyone wearing this emblem?” he asked, like a school principal.
“What, fuh, no,” I said, feeling the need to lie for some reason.
Linos caught on right away. “We're going to meet again, before the next time you perform.” He scribbled things on a piece of paper that he then handed to me.
I gulped. “Mmm-hmm,” and took the paper. “No, uh, excuse for the phone dying?” I weakly smiled.
“Let's just get a beer and relax,” he said.
I glanced around for Verena who was talking to someone else in the line next to us.