Sunday, January 31, 2010

Grisly Man.

The beard endures.

It was supposed to be gone by now - last Friday to be exact. But here I am, 9 days later, still looking like Randy Savage. You see, a few days after Thanksgiving I made a pact with myself: no shaving until I am paid to tell jokes in New York City. I didn’t tell a lot of people about this plan because I was too worried of going forever without pay and looking like I spent the last four years living in solitude on an island talking to a volleyball.

So when I was offered a chance to perform in Manhattan on Friday night and get a cut of the door, I was understandably siked. Thinking that my beard was facing its imminent demise, I started to let people in on the pact. But I forgot to take into consideration that this was New York City and nothing is ever as good as it seems. I wasn’t paid and I didn’t shave and I can now floss my teeth with my mustache.

I’m glad I got that out of the way because I don’t feel like complaining. I had two shows this past week at the Grisly Pear in Greenwich Village and they both went great. I didn’t get paid, but I was compensated with two shots of invigorating, dream-chasing adrenaline, right in the vein. After shows like the duo at the Grisly Pear, I start to think this whole becoming a successful stand-up comic thing may actually be possible. Good stuff.

The first gig was on a Friday night and the house was packed. The Grisly Pear is on MacDougal Street, steps from Washington Square Park and as such, many, many opportunities to purchase marijuana. The Grisly Pear, you may have noticed, is clearly a pun for Grizzly Bear but with the odd misspelling of Grizzly. The word Grisly means “causing a shudder or a feeling of horror” so the bar’s name, taken literally, conjures up images of murderous, maniacal fruit. Comedy at the Pear is held in the back room behind the main bar. There is a small stage cluttered with karaoke equipment, and an ancient projection television, the ones where the picture all but disappears if you sit within 30 yards of the screen.

Thanks to the enterprising of my roommates, I had a small brigade of fans for my first show, and none of them knew how close the show came to not going on at all.

I was offered the gig by my friend Fabio Ianella, a fellow comic and one of the co-founders of Brooklyn Underground Comedy. But Fabio was putting on the show as a favor for a friend of his, who had booked his first show at the Pear and then decided he wasn’t going to show up. Rather then abandoning the show, the friend asked Fabio to run it and Fabio in turn asked me to be on the bill. The deal was half the door for each guest I could bring in, and at a $10 cover with around 20 people there for yours truly, I was standing to make a nice little bounty for 10 minutes of work.

At least these were the terms that Fabio was given by his friend. When we met with management, it was obvious they had a different idea. I was told that there was a $10 cover and no drink minimum, and this is the information I relayed to my friends. The boss’ at the Pear however, wanted to up the cover and enforce a two drink minimum. Now all the comics were put in a precarious position; either impose the house rules on their friends after telling them otherwise, or accept no pay in exchange for the bar waiving the cover charge. Or stand our ground and not do the show. Not surprisingly, there was a near-unanimous decision among the comics to work the show for free. I was actually in the minority. I wanted to enforce the rules and get paid, figuring they’re going to drink regardless of a minimum. But I was overwhelmed. If it weren’t for all my friends who made thier way down, I like to think I would have marched right out of there, taking with me every salt shaker and beer mug I passed.

But that’s New York. Your dreams really can come true here, but you’re going to get fucked along the way.

I went up there and I killed. I don’t feel false modesty is needed here. I’ve been willing to detail my many failures and epic bombs, so it’s only fair that I get to tell you when I really nailed it, and that first show at the Grisly Pear I was on fire. I’m finally getting a working set, jokes I know I can use at booked shows which in turn frees up open mics for new material and experimentation. This development pleases me.

Karaoke was scheduled for after the show, but none of us stayed. Which was fine; I wasn’t much in the mood to give the bar any more business.

I was back there in a few days anyway. The following Thursday I did the Comedy Party USA. It’s co-produced by Michael Reardon, another comic who moved to New York City from the Boston area. Mike and I met at our Alma Marta, Salem State College, where he co-founded Salem State’s venerable improve/sketch comedy troupe, Grandma’s Third Leg. I was a member of the troupe for two years, but after Mike had graduated. He had never seen me do stand-up before so when he booked me he was putting his entire reputation on the line. Not really, but I used it to pump myself up before the show.

The crowd at the Pear on Thursday was considerably smaller, but the energy was better. Everyone was killing. People were cracking up at the setups. It was one of the shows were I sit the audience dying to get on stage, worried I’ll get up after the buzz fades. The energy never waned that night. It was top to bottom excellent, the best show in my three months in New York.

Afterwards, all of us in a joyous mood, we drank. One woman, severely intoxicated, passed out in a booth and had to be picked up and carried out onto MacDougal Street by the bouncer, and then literally held up by the bouncer and a waitress while they waited for a taxi. Eventually they called off the taxi and ordered an ambulance. The medics dragged the poor woman in the back and sped off. We watched the whole scene, and then perhaps felt bad for drinking more. But we did, late into the night.

Comedy was good to me this week. Sure I didn’t get paid, but I’m feeling good about this again. Recharged. And of course, I still have the beard. Could be a while longer before that’s gone.

I must say, I look rather imposing with the beard. Violent maybe. I wouldn’t approach me on a desolate, midnight subway. I’d stay away from the grisly, grizzly man.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On Patience.

This isn’t going to happen overnight. I know that.

It doesn’t change the fact that I want it to happen overnight. I hate waiting for things; if everything went as planned I would wake up famous on Monday, strung out on Tuesday, re-invigorated on Wednesday, revered on Thursday and retired on Friday. What I would do the following week is anybody’s guess.

Getting anywhere in this business is a tedious process. I know there are exceptions. For the thousands of comics grinding it out at open mics and bars for years there are few who explode to the top in months. I’m with the former group. Clearly.

I don’t mind the hard work, I really don’t. And I don’t mind a methodical approach as long as I am certain it’s going somewhere. In other words, I wouldn’t mind slumming at mid-afternoon Monday mics for four years if it meant I’d be on Letterman in the fifth. But sitting in dingy clubs while the sun is still out, buying beer for stage time, telling jokes to the same comics over and over – is really hard to do if you think it won’t lead to something more. It all seems so long, and I’m not a patient person. I’m afraid that if I’m stalled in a year, I’ll compulsively move out of New York City and rewrite my personal history to convince myself I’ve always wanted to be a magician.

I opened a show a few months back. The headliner for the evening was a hilarious woman, clearly on the way up. Before the show, we chatted for a while and she was wonderful. She was gregarious and casually funny, not the forced funny that so many comedians embrace when off stage (see: Quinn, Gregory R.) After watching her set, it was not hard to see why she was making great progress. Over neon-colored fancy drinks, I discussed the set with the booker, who remarked off-hand that it was incredible how far she came so fast.

“To think she is at this level after only ten years,” he said. “Comics would kill to be that good in ten years.”

I nearly vomited in my Margarita. Ten years?! Was I mistaken in believing that this was a considerable amount of time? I was under the impression that ten years from now I would be weighing the financing options on my second yacht. In ten years I will be whispers away from presidential eligibility, which I haven’t ruled out yet. If in 2020 I’m still working bars, please, find me and euthanize me immediately, or failing that, hand me a brochure for pharmacy school.

Apparently, ten years isn’t that long in comedy time. And if it takes me ten years to make it, I’m sure I’ll look back in forty years and remark how fast it all went by. But for now, it seems forever. Please forgive me 30-somethings who may be reading this, but 34 seems so old. I know, I know: I will scoff at the idea when I read this then, but consider that when you and I were 14, we looked at 24 years old like they were hopeless curmudgeons. I know I did. I have this complex where I always feel older then I am and that my best days are perpetually behind me. I remember swimming on Humarock beach as a child. I was hit by a monster wave and once submerged, noticed I could not pull myself from under the water. I distinctly remember thinking – at eight years old – that if I were to die I had lived a full life and it would be my time. I was a weird kid. Eventually my cousin pulled me from the water; leaving my submersion time at…oh I don’t know… 13 seconds.

My sense of urgency may be exaggerated, but I know I don’t want to wait ten years. But I will if I have to. I know I will.

I’ll go twenty, thirty years until I get there. I’ve never committed to anything in my life but for jokes, I’m a lifer.

I just want one moment. I want one undisputable accomplishment that I can look at and say “yeah, I made it.” As long as I get there it’s worth waiting for. It’s worth working for and paying for. Just one.

Because I really don’t want to be a pharmacist.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Amongst 20 Million.

A comedian was riffing the other night.

Riffing: - verb. 1. Making it up as you go along; improvising, usually inspired by the surroundings, other performers, technical difficulties, etc. 2. What comedians do when they haven’t prepared any material.

He was doing a pretty good job of it. The subject of his riff was the comic before him, a pre-operative, male-to-female transsexual. The riff was relatively good natured; nothing like the usual mean-spirited vitriol that comedians often engage in when referencing other comedians.

(We comics are ruthless assholes – we will viciously ridicule another comic if we think it will get a laugh. Nothing is off limits. Jerry Seinfeld wrote in his New York Times obituary for George Carlin: The honest truth is, for a comedian, even death is just a premise to make jokes about.)

I wish I remembered the riff-ers name, so I could give him some credit, but I have forgotten it if I ever knew it. I also don’t remember exactly what he said, suffice to say it rang very true to me. I’ll paraphrase.

It says a lot about New York City when you can hear someone say they’re getting a sex-change and not think it’s strange at all. I was like “yeah, I know three other transsexual comics, what else you got? Oh, so you’re a comedian and you have a brain disease? Join the club!”

I collected a few nuggets of wisdom in this riff. First, it does say a lot about New York City. I came from a relatively small town. Plymouth's population hovers around 55,000 - about half the population of the Brooklyn PathMark on weekends. An abundance of transsexuals is just something you don’t encounter in Plymouth, especially ones comfortable enough to talk about it in a public setting. But in New York City, regular encounters with transsexuals is not only not strange, it’s almost boring. What else you got? Twenty Million people shuffle through the Greater New York Area every day. It takes a significantly odd calamity to stick out in that mass; sexual reassignment surgery isn’t even close. There are people who would bemoan the lack of individualism, of course, but there is a certain comfort in the anonymity. And if that gives conflicted souls the courage to be themselves, them I am all for it.

It’s not like that back home. When I was a child, a homeless man became a local celebrity. I remember him distinctly. He had long red hair and always wore a green flannel jacket. We would spot him at grocery stores and gas stations, endlessly searching the parking lot for cigarette butts with a few puffs of tobacco left in them. All the kids knew him. A homeless man in New York City wouldn’t get recognition unless he fell on the subway tracks.

The other part of the comic’s riff that stayed with me was his last line. Oh, so you’re a comedian and you have a brain disease? Join the club!

First off, I realize he is implying that transsexuals have a brain disease. I think he meant brain disease in a broad way, meaning less like an actual affliction and more like you and I would say “issues.” I don’t think too many transsexuals would argue they didn’t have issues. I mean, isn’t that the whole point? And most importantly, the transsexual comic’s whole style was self-deprecating. Most of his jokes were about the problems he faces with his sexual idenity. So saying brain disease was right in tune with the comic’s act.

And anyway, the point that stuck with me was the response, the Join the Club line. The comic basically said it’s nothing unique to find a conflicted comedian. It’s virtually a prerequisite of stand-up comedy to be someone who has serious issues. Laughter has always been medicinal, and never think otherwise – comedians are telling jokes for themselves first and foremost. It’s the best way we’ve found to deal with our problems. Most of us have been doing this all our lives, making jokes out of anything that scares us, or harms us, or threatens to get in our way. Comedians are lucky enough sometimes to get people to pay to hear their issues, but even then. We’re telling the jokes for us.

So it’s nothing unusual for a transsexual to gravitate toward stand-up comedy. It’s a good fit.

Think you’re a woman living in a man’s body? Having surgery to turn your penis into a vagina? Just another premise to make jokes about.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Texting on the Toilet (and Other Handy Tips.)

Being a temp is an exercise in manipulation. I should know.

My shift is 9 and ½ hours long, with a preposterous 1 hour break for lunch. Of the remaining 8 and ½ hours, I am tasked with maybe 90 minutes of actual labor. That, my fellow math-majors, leaves a full 7 hours of the clock to chew.

The thing about temp work, is that it’s so temporary. I know! While this seems immediately obvious to all of you, when I got this job I started spending money like my position terminated only upon my death, like a supreme-court justice. Now, I’m kind of broke again, and I can’t afford to lose it.

Temps are hired to fill a short-term need. Diane from HR is having a baby, Walter from accounting is having hip-replacement surgery, Morty from sales is entering a Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation program. Whatever. The point is the temp is only needed until the regular employee can come back. After that, unless you can establish some sort of legitimate worth, it’s out the door you go. So it’s vital to always look busy.

Not an easy task for a temp. Fortunately, I have discovered several shortcuts. And I can think of no better use of this blog then to share my wisdom with you all. Not unlike what Jesus might have done.

Always take the long way. Let’s say you’ve just had a cup of water over by the copy machines. Now you’re only 20 or 30 steps from your desk, but we can make this journey take 40 minutes. First, remember the elevator? That thing is important, better make sure it still works. Go ride it up to the 11th floor. Get out and walk around, feigning confusion. Head back into the elevator, but don’t press for a level. Just stand in there and see what that hell happens. Maybe someone on a floor below will call for it and bring you down, maybe not. Life is a great adventure. Ok, you are back in the copy room. Relax, have some water. Now it's back to your desk to get some work done. Woah, not so fast! Make sure to tie and retie your shoes 11 times. Safety first, Commando!

Walk with intent. Sure, you’re just walking around the office trying to see if you can catch any thong-sightings. But do it like you mean it! People will be less apt to trouble you with actual work if you look like you mean business. Always walk with your upper body forward, never slouched back. Make sure your hands are clenched and your gait rapid. Every so often, stop in a random section of the office and throw your hands up in disgust, resting them ultimately on your hips as you shake your head. People will assume you were up to something important.

Always sit down to go. For ladies this is (usually) a no brainer, but men have a hard time with this. For some reason, it’s considered unmanly to sit while men do number 1, but believe me, men will embrace thier feminine side when they see how much time can be wasted on the toilet. Based on a recent University of Southern California study, a sit-down “go” takes an average of 42.4 seconds longer then a stand-up “go.” (Note: no such study exists.) Assuming you use the bathroom 17 times a day, that’s over 12 minutes of time wasted! Isn’t that worth your whole company thinking you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome? And while you’re sitting…

Text on the Toilet. My personal favorite. We all love to text. I’m constantly texting: I text my friends, my family, my pharmacist. But you don’t want the corporate brass to think you have all this free time on your hands. What better place to hide your texting then in the relatively private confines of the bathroom? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Fuck Reading. Texting is the new newspaper; the new bathroom reader. Get with it. But make sure you put your keys on silent, or people are going to think some weird things are going on in there.

Always act like people are wasting your time. While you’re constantly walking around, people will assume you’re not busy (the nerve!) and ask you to do them a favor. Master this reaction: Take your index finger and your thumb and squeeze the bridge of your nose, clenching your eyes. Look down, and if you can pull it off, grit your teeth. Tell them you’re really swamped, but you’ll get to it as soon as you can. Then go sit near the freight elevator for 45 minutes. When you return, act like it was a real hassle and your afternoon is ruined. Then give them the first-aid kit.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Don't Gentrify Me.

It was the middle of the day and I was meeting a friend for lunch. We were going to Park Slope for some sushi. My friend parked her car a block or so down the street, walked over to my place and then frantically called my cell phone. There is a disturbing gentlemen down here she said. Could you kindly come right away? At least I think that’s what she said. It was probably closer to: Get your fucking ass down here now!

Well I got my ass downstairs, toot sweet I might add, and my friend was standing over by the street sign looking perturbed. Before I could get a few steps from my front door, I was approached by an old black man. He clothes were in tatters and the smell of alcohol preceded him. He squared me up.

“And you can get out of here too, you patronizing cracker!”

Then he spit on me.

It was a not a direct hit. It grazed my left shin, and slowly dribbled down my pant leg, terminating on the pavement. I think, in the man’s defense, he was aiming for the ground in front of me. I did what I always do when I am confronted by adversity: I backed down like the spineless coward that I am. I think I actually thanked the man for spitting on me. The man shuffled down the street, sipping his disheveled forty and cursing.

My friend, who is a bit of a firecracker, looked like she was going to chase him and tackle him like a security guard running down a trespassing baseball fan. I asked her if she was all right. She was not spit on, but the man did insinuate that the only reason she was in this neighborhood was to “get some of that black dick.” She doesn’t really like coming to Crown Heights anymore.

This has been the only trouble I’ve gotten myself into in New York, and in reality it wasn’t that bad. But I thought about it a lot. The man was clearly disturbed. Drunk, old, probably homeless. But his animosity had to be coming from somewhere. It doesn’t take a sociologist to see it was coming from my race. He didn’t just spit on me, he spit on me because I am a patronizing cracker. It's clear. I don’t belong in Crown Heights.

I don’t imagine this man goes around spitting on every white man or accosting every white woman; I think it had to do with where I chose to live.

Unlike its bordering neighboroods, Crown Heights hasn’t been gentrified yet. But it soon will be. The gentrify-ers are coming; the real estate agents and brokers have their eyes on it, salivating as they imagine the rent they can levee on trendy hipsters looking for some phony street cred. Then the coffee shops will come in, the clubs and the underground music venues right behind them. And of course the organic supermarket; that will be the crown jewel of the new Crown Heights.

There are many types of gentrification. Often in New York City, an influx of artists is the catalyst. Wikipedia describes this type of gentrification as such:

…an artist colony in the city is transformed from a poor to a rich neighborhood when artists and sub-culture aficionados (e.g. hipsters, hippies, et al.) live in poor neighborhoods of devalued real estate, because of the low rents, central locale in the city proper, and "gritty" cultural “sense of authenticity”, of being true to life. As the bohemian character of the community grows, it appeals "not only to committed participants, but also to sporadic consumers" who eventually economically push out the earlier arrival sub-culture aficionados. Hence gentrification’s economic eviction of hippies from the East Village, Manhattan, New York City, in the 1960’s.

I’ve described this happening to the Village in Manhattan in my post, That’s New York For You. I believe I have mentioned it often. Gentrification is a very hot word in New York City. Virtually everybody deals with it, has strong opinions on it. You hear the discussions in subways and bars and office rooms. Because gentrification is a rapidly moving socio-economic phenomena, there are people who remember the neighborhoods the way they used to be. And I can’t imagine they like it. Often the neighborhoods the artists congregate in are ethnic enclaves, and the arrival of the typically white, suburban middle class taints the character, perverts the heritage. And, of course, raises the price of living. The natives move on to another neighborhood, waiting for it to happen all over again.

Crown Heights has remained relatively untouched. But then again, I came here. Perhaps I’m an indication. My roommates and I are the only white people on our street, maybe for many streets. And we look like hipsters. Our scraggly beards, our argyle sweaters, our fridge full of ironic malt liquor.

And maybe that old man who spit on me has seen this before.

He knows the signs and he wants us out. It is patronizing for us to assume that it’s OK to live here.

But I’m not an apologist. I may be a pussy, but I like to think I hold people accountable (at least from the relative distance of the internet.) No matter what we may symbolize to this delusional old man, what he did to me and especially to my friend was abhorrent, and it makes me lose my empathy for him. The anger is noble; the way it so often manifests itself is shameful.

I try to keep my wits about me when I walk alone. But I would be lying if I said I’ve ever felt unsafe on my street. The neighbors are all friendly, they all keep to themselves. They say hello when we pass. It’s unfair to make a judgment on Crown Heights based on the actions of one drunk. But it’s hard to ignore.

The trendsetters are coming to Brooklyn. That's for certain. Who they may ultimately displace is unknown.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

In my Grandmother's Basement.

The nipples are lonely. I can see that.

They are attached to no other decipherable body part. They do not appear to be mounted to breasts. They float waywardly on vicious strokes of brown, orange and yellow as if they have been thrown into an angry ocean. Each one is without a counterpart; they are cyclopic nipples. The one to the left, by the door, may be attached to a torso. In the corner of the frame there appears to be a bellybutton. But I can't be sure.

I do not understand contemporary art. Each of the paintings at the Tangine is of a single nipple, over a backdrop of merging colors. I'm sure there is some theme at work here, some demonstration of considerable talent. But to me, they're just nipples.

The Tangine is an Indian restaurant on Ninth Avenue, mere steps from the Port Authority Bus Terminal and a place that sells slices of pizza for 99 cents. It is here, in their decrepit basement, amateur comedy is thrown forth. The walk to the Tangine is jarring. It's only a few blocks from Times Square, certainly the most garish section of New York; a neon testament to excess. Once you leave the permeating glow and head west however, the streets turn dank and gritty, the light dissipating. This is the section of Manhattan known as Hell's Kitchen. Across the street from the Port Authority two lines form, one for admittance to a soup kitchen and another for a homeless shelter. The vagabonds cluster, protecting themselves from the cold. Hell's Kitchen isn't as bad as it once was (according to Wikipedia) and like many other parts of the city it is being rapidly gentrified. But walking down these streets, you would never guess it. The juxtaposition between Hell's Kitchen and mid-town is astounding. It's crazy to think that here, while hundreds wait for a bowl of soup and a cup of coffee, thousands are a few blocks away, paying $11 for a beer.

The first time I went to the Tangine was over a month ago and I was certain I was in the wrong room. It wasn't your typical comedy haunt. The Tangine is tiny, and adorned in a way that befits an Indian restaurant. In addition to the aforementioned nipple art, there are low-hanging lamps which do a pitiful job of illuminating the room. Most of the chairs are couches or ottomans, all red and orange, all ornate. There is a tiny bar up front. It’s just the type of bar I have come to hate, filled only with decorative bottles of liquor and drinks that glow. Here, it’s impossible to get a Miller High Life or Coors Light, but there is a wide selection of exotic, foreign beers which will undoubtedly taste awful and require financial aid. Tending bar was a trendy and sheik looking woman with a sign above her that read: Stop Bitching, Start a Revolution. I can only assume they mean stop bitching about the prices.

Round the corner of the bar are the stairs and the passageway to the Your Grandparent’s Basement open mic. The title is apropos; the room is quite literally a poorly furnished basement. Several old leather couches scatter about. Crude Christmas decorations -shabby lights and plastic streamers- hang on the walls. The microphone is at the front of the room, yards away from the crowd. I’ve done this mic twice and although I enjoyed it both times, I didn’t do so great at either of them.

The host is an amicable chap, goes by the name of Calvin. Calvin was good enough to refer me to his temp agency, which has since set me up with the only steady work I’ve had in months. Just another juicy tidbit for Gregory Quinn Trivia Purists. The first time I did Calvin’s show, the comics were heckled by a stray cat who managed to get stuck in the walls of the Tangine basement. It howled the whole night, and just about every comedian made reference to it, though none of us did anything to help the poor feline. We just riffed on it, as its screams and meows filled the silence of our failed jokes.

Last week at the Basement was more of the same. I started off strong but finished with a dud, which of course is not the proper way to structure your set, but they way I always do it anyway. I try to rectify it. If one joke kills at the beginning of a set on a regular basis, I’ll move it to the end and try it as a closer. But the second I do this, the joke ceases to be funny. It must have something to do with my delivery. Perhaps I am fuller of zeal at the beginning of my set, and it compensates for weaker material. All things to work on my friends.

I helped myself to 99-cent pizza after I left the Tangine. Hard to resist such a deal. The joint was hopping, clearly much of the clientele were the same patrons of the soup kitchens and shelters, their one slice of cheese pizza the reward for an entire day’s haul of cans.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

On Looking Back.

This article is only tangentially related to stand-up comedy, so you’ll have to indulge me. My good friend, Stephen MacDonald, drunkenly remarked on Friday night that blogs are by nature self-indulgent and their authors typically ego-maniacs. But mine, he said, managed to avoid that. Then he vomited into a grocery bag and left it in the living room. Anyway, what I’m trying to explain is that the following blog is very self-indulgent. I’m sorry, Steve.

One year ago today a chapter of my life came to an end. On January 10, 2009, I rode the Bolt Bus from Penn Station in Manhattan to South Station in Boston. I hopped a ride to Plymouth, and my mother picked me up at the “Totem Poll” rest stop off Exit 5 on Route 3. That was it. When I pulled home, it was twilight, and it was snowing. I went to bed only a few short hours later. The next morning I began looking for a job; a few weeks later I was employed and thoroughly immersed in a routine. It was all over.

I spent almost the entire period from September 6, 2007 until early 2009 scattered around the country. I lived in and traveled through 41 different states. I spent at least a week in five different time zones. I slept in state parks, high school gyms, college dormitories, homeless shelters, motel rooms, hotel rooms, Denny’s Parking Lots, Catholic Churches, Methodist Churches, Presbyterian Churches, cargo vans, youth hostels, Hawaiian beaches, and one drunken night on a park bench. During this 16-month stretch I spent no more then a handful of weeks at home. It was great.

I never meant for it to stop. Sure, this lifestyle was persistently infuriating. I never had any money, all my relationships were fleeting at best, and I never had an idea what I would be doing further than a month in the future. But still. For all my bitching (and I bitched a lot) I knew while it was happening I would one day look upon this era as the happiest in my life. And I was right; even a year later, I look back to it with hopeless nostalgia.

But a year ago today, I willingly ended it.

Money wasn’t the reason I stopped, by the way. I mean, I was broke, but money – or specifically the lack of it – never stops a drug addict from getting their fix, or a compulsive gambler from placing their bet, and I was every bit addicted to the road as they to their vices. I would have found a way. And it wasn’t homesickness. Hey, I love my family-Love Them. But I have an excellent family. Tops. The whole time we never ceased to stay in touch, never didn’t call on birthdays, never didn’t know what was happening in each other’s lives. They visited me. They sent me cookies, drove thousands of miles to take care of me when I fell alarmingly ill, flew out to Colorado and took me and my friends to dinner. And of course, they sent me unfathomable amounts of money. I never felt that homesick because there was no need to; I was close to my family.

No, there were only two reasons: I wanted to be with Lauren and I wanted to be a comedian. Now, I have to make it very clear: I don’t resent either of those for coming home. Not a bit. I’m sure it’s no revelation, (nothing I say is, but whatever) but the best parts of our lives often look that way from a comfortable distance. As great as it was, I couldn’t do it again. It was the perfect time for me because it was the only time. I was eager, idealistic, and had a robust ability to function after a night of excess drinking. (A skill which, it seems, has completely abandoned me.) If I didn’t go on the trip I would have regretted it forever and if I hadn’t stopped when I did, I would regret it all the same.

I wanted to be near Lauren. I wanted the relationship to be tangible. My mother, or my father, or my brother, or my step-father - these were all relationships that prospered in the abstract, they were easily sustained via phone calls, and postcards, and emails. But my relationship with Lauren required we be near. It needed more. For those 16 months, I did just about everything I could possibly do to ensure she never spoke to me again, (or sliced off my genitals) but she never wavered. She’s a better person then I ever deserved, that’s always been pretty obvious. I fractured our relationship, and it needed to be repaired. That just wasn’t going to happen from a payphone in Louisiana.

And I came home so I could move to New York, if that makes sense. The traveling bug, the endlessly itchy feet, is an obsession that started in college. My senior year I traveled to New Orleans on an alternative spring break and I was hooked. It was an incredible week of my life and I knew I had to have more and more of it. But stand-up comedy, and performing in general, is a dream I’ve harbored since I was a small child. Whatever psychological demons may push me to perform have been in me since as long as I can remember. Abandoning them, which I would have if I continued traveling, was something I couldn’t allow myself to do. I didn’t want to betray my 8-year-old self, who had every intention of being famous.

As I got older, and the skills I didn’t have became apparent, I would modify my career itinerary accordingly. It became clear I couldn’t sing; rock star was out. I couldn’t dunk a basketball; athlete was out. I got to college and realized I couldn’t act; movie star was out. But -as it always is- failure was a constant boon to my sense of comedy, and I never stopped thinking I wasn’t funny enough. Stand-up comedy is the only shot I have, which is for the best, because I love it. It’s clearly me. And the proprietors of it, the helpless neurotics and wise-ass instigators, are my perfect match. Whatever level of success I reach, if I’m working open mics till I die or I’m hosting SNL, I know this is what I want to be doing.

So I had to give up traveling. I would never get the experience and practice on the road that I could get in Boston or New York. Traveling is too much of a commitment to focus on anything else. I needed to dedicate myself to comedy. Ultimately that meant living in my mother’s basement and being a working stiff, but that was OK.

A year later I find myself living in Brooklyn. I’m domesticated here. I have a 9 – 5 now, I pay my rent, I make myself dinner. But after that is done, I’m out there, going for it. I’m in the clubs with derelicts and dreamers and dick jokers - my people. My friend Dillon moved to New York recently and he told me that living in this city was a dream come true. He said one day we’ll look back and realize this is the coolest thing we've ever done. I don’t know, maybe he’s right. Check back with me in a year.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Oh, Good Blog-fellows.

I really don't belong here. I just can't stand it.

I'm not talking about New York City specifically, more the North East in general. And I mean Northeast in broad terms. I don't want to live anywhere north of Atlanta and west of Illinois. Disqualify the Midwest as well. The Wild West? Maybe South Texas. No way, no how the following: Texas north of San Antonio, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana,Utah, North and South Dakota, Minnesota (holy shit, especially Minnesota) and Wisconsin. The Pacific Northwest? Never been there, but I'm going to be cautionary here and cross it off. How about the South, you ask? Deep South I'll consider. I'm talkin' real deep, though. Arkansas and Kentucky, forget about it. Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana? Sometimes, although I'm only goin' as far north as Jackson, and I would need a big-ass coat to consider that. So what do we have left? By my estimation, this leaves the Southwest and Florida as the only hospitable areas in the lower 48.

I really, really hate the cold. Now is not a good time in the U.S. for me and my brethren. Take a look at the national map on Winter is marching inexorably south. Nipples are hardening all over Dixie. Today, Birmingham, Alabama was colder then Boston, Ma. Get your aerosol cans out; global warming is taking forever.

New York, for its part, has been glacial. The wind howls through the skyscrapers in Midtown, Manhattan. Luck would have it that I started my first real New York City job this week, an employment that requires me to walk to the subway at 7am. At this time, the cold is downright insufferable; the jarring, needling air pierces through my pitiful mittens and useless toboggan. Areas of my body that I had no idea could feel cold are freezing. I actually thought to myself that I really should invent knee warmers. I’m considering wearing a retainer to keep my teeth warm.

My new job is not without its perks. Besides the obvious financial compensation (and I am being handsomely compensated, toodle ooh) I get to work inside, where it is gloriously heated. Not all people have the same luxury at work and for this I am grateful

One man for whom work brings no relief from the cold is a dude who works on the corner of Varick and Canal. He is the AM New York Newspaper distributor and we have become regular acquaintances. Absolutely no one wants this tabloid. It’s free, but the pedestrians avoid him like the guy outside baseball stadiums handing out bibles. But yours truly has always been something of a philanthropist, so I gladly take my free copy of the rag. And the hander-outer - as they prefer to be called - has noticed this, and has started to give me 4 or 5 extra copies of this paper, on the house. I take them, we exchange pleasantries, and then I walk around the block and discard all of them in the garbage. And every day it goes like this. He gets rid of his papers, and I feel good about myself for doing a good deed. It’s a win-win.

Sometimes, however, the AM New York is quite good. Today’s headline was about California Chihuahua refugees, fleeing to New York to escape a "death sentence." Apparently, they are executing Chihuahuas left and right in California. The picture on the front was the Taco Bell Chihuahua wearing an “I ‘heart’ New York” t-shirt and in boldface next to him, the phrase, “Yo Quiero New York.” Now even with my minimal grasp of the Spanish language, I can tell that foul play is amiss. His shirt is proclaiming he loves New York, but the boldface maintains he only likes it. So either the Chihuahua has a commitment problem or he is being misquoted. (Damn Liberal Media!) Always something to discuss in AM New York.

The other day, I made the terminal mistake of walking to an open mic after work. Despite my detestation for the cold, I hate spending 2.25 for a subway ride more. Of course, because I’m an idiot and lack the ability to count upward, I got myself hopelessly lost. By the time I got to club, I had left frozen body parts scattered all over the East Village. I thought I might not be able to go on stage considering I had discharged with my tongue and burned my hair for warmth. But I persevered and went on. We comedians are a strong bunch.

Well, good blog-fellows, it is time for bed. But I only hope I can sleep, for the radiator, over which I have no control, is working at full steam and my room is unpleasantly hot. My how I hate the heat. It’s so hot that…

Monday, January 4, 2010

Alas, Satellite.

Earlier today, I returned to the Root Hill Café for their monthly open mic.

This mic routinely features musicians and poets, so I felt compelled to try something a little different and do some storytelling. Storytelling is actually a common pastime in the south, and there are annual conventions at places all over Dixie. I went to one such convention a few years ago in Whitesburg, KY, and enjoyed it enough to try my hand at storytelling intermittently since then. I read this story at an open mic in Hyannis, MA, although the version below is significantly different. The Root Hill Mic only allots 6 minutes, so I had to cut the original story down about 1700 words. I thought it might be fun to share the story with you all.

This story is about a man’s tepid relationship with his first car. The title is in homage to Pat Frank’s post-apocalyptic novel Alas, Babylon. (Homage is just a word you use when you don’t want to say “ripped off from.”)

This story is semi-autobiographical. I have fictionalized several parts of the story, as well as changed names and locations. The car though… the car is 100% real. And Mom, I repeat: a lot of it is made up; don’t get upset over the references to underage drinking. Everyone who knows me remembers I didn’t drink in high school. I waited until college to start my illegal drinking.

Alas, Satellite. By Gregory Quinn.

The knee-high grass lacerated our bare calves as we made our way across the precarious dunes. We were going the long way. Too many sections of Amber Beach were full of too many bathers; there weren’t a lot of good places for a couple of 16-year-olds to have a drink.

Just across the sand was a lingering salt-water marsh interspersed with dilapidated, useless docks. After this, it was a short walk down Franklin Ave to the Point, an eternally eroding cliff at the tip of Amber Beach. 50 feet below in the crashing tides, fallen rocks congregated with harbor seals and pot smokers and underage drinkers.

It was the summer of 2001.

I had finished up a morning shift at the local General Store. My friend Kessler met me as I counted the draw. He had a devilish grin on his face; an impish, half-smile indicating he was about to make me do something devious. He led me to out to the trunk of his car and revealed his bounty - a fresh six pack of Natural Ice.

When we finally reached Franklin Ave we turned left and headed for the point, and there on the front lawn of an ancient, wind-weary beach house was my future first car. A 1974 Plymouth Satellite, 500 bucks.

It was four-door and faded brown. The passenger side was facing the street, the molding on the driver’s side was missing, and on the fender there was a large hole surrounded by what could have been decade-out rust. In resembled - in what could be described more tactfully but never more honestly - a giant turd. I fell in love with it instantly.

Kessler, who had abandoned any pretenses of hiding his drinking, took a sip of his warming Natty Ice and said: “that car… is fucking sweet.”

Looking at it then, I thought of my dad - a real kind of car guy. We could spend weekends working on it together. Fix the Landau roof and replace the molding. It would need a new paint job. Blue, for sure. Red, my dad would say, will only attract the cops.

Two weeks later the Satellite was mine. Kessler and I took it for illicit test drives around Amber Beach, thinking we were so cool. Everyone else’s first car was generic; faceless. Their ’88 Camry’s and their ’92 Civics were interchangeable amongst the masses. But not mine - mine was distinct, like a first car should be. 1974 – 2001: 27 years. In our own twisted logic, Kessler and I maintained, “Over 25, it’s a classic, over 30, an antique.” My 1974 Plymouth Satellite. Classic.

Things didn’t go as I planned. I started driving it to school and discovered that my fellow classmates didn’t share in my first-car romanticism. To them, the Satellite was only distinct because it was a laughable piece of garbage. I was constantly ridiculed. I never had the skin to handle it. I started to long for the days my mom stayed home so I could take her 1986 Volvo Station Wagon to school. I remember my senior year. The senior superlatives were coming up, and amongst the categories was worst-car. I became ill with the thought of winning the “award.” The idea of having to walk down the bleachers in front of my howling classmates made me want to faint. I made plans to go Marlon Brando on the event and have a Native American woman accept my award. In the end, I underestimated my class’ sense or irony; they gave the prize to Erik Fulmar and his pristine Mustang. He was an ass hole.

One afternoon that same senior year, I discovered the Satellite covered in a barrage of egg shells and sticky yellow yoke. I was mortified, not because of the damage done, but because I was clearly going to have show someone of authority the car. The Vice Principal took a look, and he immediately assumed it was a random act. Someone just saw this ridiculous car and thought: wouldn’t it be clever to egg it. Nonetheless, my mother insisted I file a police report. Now, I would have rather let bygones be bygones then do that, but my mother won out.

The police officer arrived and got me started on a pile of paperwork while he accepted all my mother’s offers of coffee and bagels. As much as I dreaded this whole ordeal, I did enjoy feeling notorious. After being as absurd as possible, (Suspect allegedly infiltrated school property and vandalized said automobile is a I sentence I actually used) I handed in my report and to my horror the officer said he would need to have a look at my car.

My first thought was to steal his gun, shoot the officer and my mother, than make my escape to Mexico (In my mother’s Volvo, naturally.) Instead, I showed the officer the way to the car.

“I fail to see the damage.” The office said.

“If you look here, you can see where the egg yoke stained the paint.” I said as I tried to point over a softball-sized hole to a stain that was barely noticeable.

“Well…I can’t file a damage report if we can’t discern which damage was caused by the incident, and which was preexisting. It looks to me, that most of these blemishes were caused by other factors. Honestly, the car’s not valuable enough to make any effort to find the assailant. Understand?”

I understood.

“It’s valuable to us,” my mother said. She was only trying to help, but it merely riled me more. The officer apologized and exited, and to no one’s surprise, nothing ever came of it again. I had fantasies of sleuthing around and seeking retribution, but I never did a thing. I just hated the car.

My dad, though, he loved that car. In didn’t occur to me when I was younger, but my initial attraction to the Satellite, (and my overemphasis on the importance of first cars) had nothing to do with me loving it, but my own desire to please my father, who really did love old cars. All the things I hastily assumed I loved about the Satellite, were actually what my father loved about it.

And boy, did the Old Man love the Satellite.

I would spend the entire day trying to convince myself the car didn’t exist, only to hear my father rave about its limitless potential. The problem was it never reached this supposed potential. Every dime earned went to fixing shit I didn’t care about. The money saved for the paint job? New radiator. The money for the stereo? New fuel injection system. The money for the roof? New tires. Always those goddamn tires! New front tires, new spear tires…new snow tires! New tires are a grim symbol of adult reality.

That my father’s endless hope for the Satellite was met with apathy by his son was a serious blow to our relationship. My father was justifiably annoyed with the lack of gratitude I showed for all the hard work he did. I wanted to spend the time with him, but not if it meant working on the car. In that case, I would prefer to be alone.

Plans to fix up the car were halted as my family’s finances deteriorated. Money was put into cars only if absolutely necessary. At this point it was all my father and I could do to keep the Satellite from exploding. For the last 12 months of the car’s life, I used two feet to drive: my left foot would ride the break as I gave it gas on stops; otherwise it stalled, leaving me at the mercy of anxious commuters.

When I went to college I left the Satellite at home. The car lived out its days rust-collecting in the driveway before we had it junked. It was an ignominious exit. I went out with friends for the night and when I returned it was gone. Maybe I was relieved. Maybe regretful, after all, the Satellite did have potential. I don’t really remember how I felt, but to this day I’m certain of one thing. My dad was heartbroken.

I don’t have a car now. I live in New York City - I don’t even have a Metrocard. But I got wheels back home, left – once again – to die in my mother’s driveway. That car, a 1996 Geo Prism, has taken me around the country and back a few times. I suppose it was junk too, but I loved it. I got it a few years back for nothing. My grandmother had passed away, and I was bequeathed the Geo.

It was very much an old-lady-who-only-drove-it-for-church-and-groceries type of car. When I got it, it had 50,000 miles despite being a decade old. Everything about it was odd. There is no name on the trunk of the car, no Geo Prism in writing, no Geo symbol. There was nothing at all; as if even the car is embarrassed to admit what it is. We made a good match.

The color was unfortunate. Light Blue like the sky, only gayer. The rear of the car was emblazed with a giant pink breast cancer magnet that my grandmother left there. The trunk looked like a banner at a women’s rights parade. Driving the car during this period was a virtual admission of having a vagina. But I didn’t have the heart to rip the ribbon off – who would? Eventually, it rotted away.

Driving cross-country, I thought endlessly about how lame a road trip car the Geo was. I wanted to be in a classic car, goddamnit. Then I would recall the opportunity I was missing.

On the road one night I gave Kessler a call.

“I wish I could be there with you, man.” Kessler said.

“It would be nice to have some company.” I said

“You know what would be really sweet though? If you made this trip in the Satellite.”

I had thought that myself many times. I spent a few sleepless nights in the Geo, thinking of the space I would have if I were in the Satellite. I could have danced in that thing.

“Oh well,” Kessler says. “It’s too bad.

Yeah, it’s too bad