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.

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