Friday, November 21.
My fifth performance and it was crap, my worst ever up to that point. It had been a month since I’d first performed and nothing had been as good as that first, fiery performance. In fact, Roger had rested me the previous week. This week I was on the verge of the flu, but I had promised myself that, if offered, I would never not take a slot – not after barely surviving that first show. So, I went to the eye with a sore throat and lousy material. It was the fifth time in a month I had tried to write an entirely new act and the effort was exhausting. The other comics were repeating. They couldn’t have cared less about new material and returning patrons.
And everyone else killed that night, so I assumed I would too. But I crapped out so miserably, I wanted to die.
Of course, everyone had bad nights. No big deal. Better luck next time.
After the show.
Jack and Mike headed to the eye’s front door.
“Lakewood or Sandbar?” I asked.
Jack threw Mike a look. Mike glared at me.
“Y’know,” he said, “you don’t always have to hang on us.”
Jack grinned, glazed over. I was dumbfounded.
“I mean – Jesus!” Mike continued. “You’re like a fuckin’ shadow! You’re always there!”
“I – ”
“It’s annoying,” he said. “We’re trying to do stuff here! We don’t need some kid hanging on us all the time!”
“Fine,” I muttered.
“No offense, there – ” smirked Jack.
And they were gone.
And I drove home blurry through pummeling rain. On the radio, a dead and brooding Jim Morrison moaned Riders on the Storm.
So, what did I care? I was sick, anyway. I didn’t want to go out. Why was I putting myself through all this bullshit? What did I have to prove?! No – no – it wasn’t personal. I had to keep reminding myself. It was just how the cards fell. Do the work. Just do the work. Keep at it. Keep practicing. If I could just figure it out – if I – if things would just fall into place – but – Jesus – kick me while I’m fuckin’ down, why don’t you?! Ah – shit – I didn’t know these guys. Not really. Okay. I got it. Who wants a kid next to them at a bar?
The next morning was drizzly and gray, and I felt like a film was covering my body.
I drove Dad to his office, but I shouldn’t have been driving. He was absorbed in yesterday’s paper – and as I came off I-75 I heard myself trying to talk, trying to croak out words about the night before.
“Last night – last night – ” I mumbled. “Didn’t go so – ”
And suddenly, I was stuck there in the intersection – at Hopple and Central Parkway – where traffic merged from five different directions. With maybe half a year of actual driving under my belt, I should’ve focused on the turn, the turn, but I was too busy trying to talk about the night before. And then the light was red, with me stranded in the intersection, still trying to make that left – and cars coming fast on both sides, honking – COME ON! MOVE IT! OUT OF THE WAY! ASSHOLE!! And then Dad woke up.
“What’s –?! What are you – ? Make the turn! Make the turn!”
“I – ”
“Come on! Go! Move!”
I lurched forward past the intersection, completely overshooting the entrance ramp to his office building.
“What the hell are you doing!?”
“Trying to get in,” I said.
I backed up, nearly hitting a guy on a motorcycle behind me, and then swerved into the exit-only side of the lot as another car tried to leave. The car honked, pissed. But I managed to edge past him, up the narrow ramp. Dad was livid.
“What’s the matter with you?!” he said, getting out of the car.
“Sorry. Sorry,” I said, “I had a bad – ”
“Fine,” he said. And he slammed the door and went into the building.
Dr. Weiss studied me.
“How many other comics are there?”
“10? 15? I dunno.” My voice was muted. “There’s seven or eight main guys – another five or six drop in, drop out.”
“And how many are in high school?”
“None,” I said. “Just me. The next youngest – I think Mike Irwin’s 21. Then they go up in the mid-20’s, 30’s, 40’s – ”
“So there’s a minimum four year difference between you and all the other comics?”
“And who’s the audience?”
“Businessmen. Tourists. Locals. College students. So?”
“So,” he said, “the audience relates to the older comics. They have the same experience.”
“So, I should quit?”
“Do you feel like quitting?”
“Then what should I do?”
“Stop trying to compete with the other comics. You can’t. It’s not a level playing field. If you were all boxers – they’d each have fifty to a hundred pounds on you – you wouldn’t be allowed to fight them.”
“Most of ‘em do have fifty to a hundred pounds on me.”
“So how many 17-year-old high school students are there?”
“That’s your competition.”
“I’m the only 17-year old comic at the club. Probably the only one in Cincinnati.”
“So what am I supposed to do with that?”
“Of course. You own the field. At least until some other 17-year-old with balls as big yours come along. Then you’re going to have competition.”
I sat up, startled.