By January of ’81, I had clear goals and focus. I knew what I wanted – and more importantly I knew I knew what I wanted. I was conscious, suddenly, that most of my peers seemed to be drifting. That they weren’t driven by anything. Didn’t have plans or goals or dreams. Sure, maybe, they were good people. But they were just going about business. Shapeless. Formless. They were going off to college, to parties, excelling at whatever they excelled at, I supposed. Wrestling, golf, shopping. What did they look forward to? What did they enjoy? Who were they? Maybe they didn’t need focus, like I did. Maybe, for them, what they had was enough.
I had focus, goals, and a clear path in front of me, and was thrilled to have it. I wanted to be the best stand-up in town, in America. I wanted to be on Carson, wanted my own sitcom, maybe join SNL as a writer, performer. Make movies, win Oscars. Get attention and love. And I was enjoying the road to get there.
I had clarity.
And, perhaps, just a smidgen of arrogance.
The eye. Thursday night in late January.
Plrknib did well, and I had been building in some new camp and school bits.
Mary DeAngela waited for me at the bar. A tiny, hot, Italian woman in her 50’s, and a regular at the club, she was dating one of the newer comics, Rodney, a friendly, big, black guy. I’d seen her eyeing me the last few weeks, even when I wasn’t onstage – grinning, hungry, excited.
“You’re so funny,” she said waving a bottle of Heineken like a magic wand. “You know that? You are so funny. Do you even know how funny you are?!”
“Thanks,” I said.
“No, I mean it!”
“I don’t think so. I don’t think you know. You’ve got something.”
She took a long swig and stared at me, eyes half-glazed.
“Your jokes are okay. They’re okay. They’re fine.”
“But you – could do anything.”
Rodney sidled up next to her with more drinks.
“Am I right?” she asked him.
“You’re right,” he said.
“Of course I’m right!” she said. “I’m having a party Saturday. You have to come. You absolutely have to meet my daughter, Ann.”
“She’d just love you. She’s an absolute doll! You have to come.”
“Okay. Can I bring – ”
“Bring whoever you want. The more the merrier!”
Saturday night in richy-rich Indian Hill. There had been a blizzard the last couple of days, and massive snow banks enveloped the neighborhood. Ms. DeAngela’s house was still decked out with Christmas and holiday lights. Dave had come with me. Ms. D greeted us at the door.
Rodney and a bunch of eye comics were already there, as well as a mix of Indian Hill housewives, bearded Mt. Adams artists, and various men and women in sheer black dresses, turtlenecks and African kufis. The booze was flowing but my newfound d.w. eye instincts were on alert, yelling don’t do it, don’t drink, don’t drink. But as Ms. DeAngela reminded me, I wasn’t at the eye.
“For God sakes! It’s the holidays!”
Dave, beer in hand, was already prowling.
“Look at this place,” he said.
It was something: huge, posh, artsy, unkempt. And then, casually, Ms. D nudged forward the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen.
“This is Ann,” she announced. “Isn’t she a doll?!”
She was a doll. Sixteen going on twenty-one. Blonde, blue-eyed, giant white teeth; a teenage Jessica Lange. I’d never seen a girl like her in Wyoming. And if her mother was embarrassing her you’d never know it. She wasn’t running away or telling Mom to stop. She seemed to like the prompting. She smiled intimately at me, almost the same way her mother had at the eye. And even though she’d never seen my act, she looked like she’d been in the audience since day one. At least for the good shows.
“Nice to meet you,” I said. “Your mom’s told me a lot about you.”
Oy – how lame was that?
“She’s told me about you, too,” she said. And her mother beamed.
I should say – I had given up any conceit of ever being cool – or approaching anything even starkly resembling coolness – long ago, probably around 8th or 9th grade. I’d been resigned to the fact that I’d never be a Prep or an even middling athlete, if that was your definition of cool. I wasn’t going to be in a rock band like Jay Anderson, who, at 15, could actually play an electric guitar behind his head, or Dale Snow, who played drums and smoked pot and just was cool.
I never had the heart or stomach to achieve 24-hour pothead cool. I wasn’t savvy or intellectual enough to reach the subgenius, nerd-hipster cool of Mike Rosenberg or Frank Troller. And I certainly didn’t join the Poker-on-Fridays-Risk-the-Rest-of-the-Weekend-Dweeb-Club with any aspirations of it ever leading to the remote nether regions of cool. Even after we got an actual, live radio show and became the Six Pistols, it didn’t quite seem cool to me. It was a goof, a diversion, a means of surviving the painful, post-middle school experience.
And stand-up, initially, had been no different. I was aware that – okay – when I did this thing and it worked – there would be some per se impressiveness to the sheer act of doing. But I had never considered myself the transformed cool man because of it. I didn’t view Jack or Mike as cool – and they were performing stand-up, too. If anything, comedy had simply brought me to a more consistent level of “okay, so now I don’t have to worry about everything so much” in my life. Sure, things had picked up. But inside, I still felt like shy little me.
But here was this girl – who’d never seen me before, never seen my act – and she’d already decided: I was cool. Cool cool. I didn’t have to move or speak or do anything! I was simply and unmistakably cool. And nothing was cooler.
And she was a knockout.
“Refill?” she asked.
I followed her to the kitchen, a mess of bottles, ice, glasses.
“What are you having?” I asked.
“Rum and Coke.”
“You have Pepsi?”
She went right to the rum, knew where everything was.
“Your mom’s okay with that?”
“She taught me how to mix everything. She’s cool.”
Mom’s cool. Yeah, she hangs out, smokes pot. Sells pot. Yeah, she’s doing thirty in Leavenworth. That’s how cool she is…
We sat out on Ann’s back deck with our drinks, freezing, watching the light snow falling, our breath frosting in the air. Our conversation was meaningless. How do you like school? Thinking about college? What do you want to be? How much do you hate this town? The night was perfect and deep and surreal. Breathlessly simple. She liked me. And if the gibberish coming out of my mouth was even slightly clever, she smirked and smiled. It was a new world after all.
“Y’hit the jackpot, my friend!” said Jack.
“What’s up with the mother?” asked Mike.
“Forget the mother,” said Jack.
“C’mon – fixin’ him up with her daughter?! What’s that about?”
“She likes me,” I said. “She thinks I’m cute.”
“You ask me,” said Jack, “the mom wants to date you. You could be workin’ a twofer here!”
“Oh no – ”
“If I had a daughter?” said Mike, “I’d keep her as far away as possible from guys like us – ”
“And she’s practically givin’ her to you!” said Jack. “That’s crazy shit! Coupla superfreaks! Hey – she got another daughter?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Where’s the dad?” asked Mike.
“Dead,” said Jack. “In the backyard, pushin’ up daisies. Maybe that’s what they go for!? Mom picks ‘em out – brings ‘em home – BLAMMO!”
“Maybe Dad was a comic? She’s got a thing for comics – ”
“It’s curious!” said Jack.
“So, what’s next?” asked Mike.
“We’re going out,” I said. “Saturday.”
“The three of you?”
Zantigo’s. Mike and me.
“You think I’m funny?” I asked.
“Here we go.”
“Serious – !”
“I mean – do you think I’m funny? Or do you think my bits are funny?”
He shrugged, big beef burrito half in his mouth.
“I mean – anybody could do my jokes – ”
“You’ve got parents. You could do my parents jokes.”
“They’re not my jokes. My jokes are me. Your jokes are you.”
“I know. I know. But – look – if I’m really funny – then I can do any joke, right? I could read the phone book and it would be funny, right?”
“But if a joke is good – if a joke is so good that anybody could do it – ”
“So, stop doing jokes. Do the phone book, and you can test your theory.”
“Yeah – I don’t wanna test my theory.”
“Or play off the audience more. Ad-lib. I’m trying to do that more. You should do it anyway.”
“Yeah. I know. I know. I try. Sometimes.”
“I don’t know what you’re worried about. You’ve got great material. Your act is solid. Yeah, you gotta keep working and writing. But your material is good. You’re a good writer! So, what’s it matter?”
“Listen – a lot of good people have a hard time writing bits. I have a hard time writing bits – and I work at it. Bill, Rico, Jack – these guys aren’t writers like you and me. They have a really hard time at it. But Driving, Smoke Alarm – those are good bits.”
“Yeah – ”
“And Scrabble is killer. A home run!” He looked at me, sincerely. “You crank stuff like that out, you got nothin’ to worry about.”