Friday, November 1, 2013

Robert Nelson, Storyteller, Pt 2 of 4, "Road Rage"


I hate airports, even nice ones. The same goes for hotels ... they all suck.

I never liked being on the road. Always traveling to some goddamn place to do some goddamn show. Just give me the goddam check and let me go home.

It’s particularly difficult for me to travel because I have a peculiar abrasive quality about me. I don’t get along well with people I first meet. They immediately don’t like me. My wife says I act as if I’m better than everyone else. I don’t think that's true, though in most cases I am.

I remember I once landed in Pittsburg (appropriately named) ... the airline, of course, lost my luggage. I do the wait wait wait, blah blah blah and the “It’s a big propcase with stickers all over it, you can’t miss it shit”. I got the same ol’, same ol’,“We’ll get it to you as soon as” and the “Here’s a number you can call that will always be busy or we’ll never answer”.

Problem was, the gig was several hours away at Grossingers up in the Catskills. I was showcasing for the east coast college circuit … which meant I was the one paying all the bills. Leaving the delivery of my prop case up to an airline delivery guy was like trusting Gazzo with your jokebook.

Reluctingly, I leave, propless, in a rental car.

Several hours later, I’m completely fucking lost going up and down dark unmarked roads in the Catskill mountains trying to find the goddamn hotel. I swear to God, in the middle of all that madness, I drove right onto a golf course. I turned around when I saw the flag for the 15th hole. Shit!

It’s way past 2 am when I finally find the hotel ...
they politely tell me there are no rooms available.
I show them my reservation and they say “check-in time is noon”. Fuck! 

I sleep in the backseat of the rental car. I wake up freezing, aching. Nothing sums up the glamour of show business like watching the steam of your own urine as you pee in a parking lot at dawn. 

My breakfast is a bag of peanuts from the vending machine. 

I have no room, so I have to call the airlines from a payphone. Seventeen quarters, two hours and forty three minutes later, I find out they have my case! I beg them to leave now, my sound check is at 10. I’m first up.

I go back to the front desk and tell them where to send the delivery guy if he shows up and I’m not there. I threaten to sleep in the lobby and look like ten pounds of Young Raoul’s shit in a five pound bag. They offer me a storage room to just get rid of me … I accept.

I fall asleep hungry on a bare mattress and wake up in a panic just after 10. 

I rush to the hall … on my way I see another juggling act warming up. They are the “All American Mini-Circus” from Baltimore … never heard of them, the girl juggler had a great ass though.

The sound guy pushes my sound check back … they always do that to jugglers, they think juggler’s don’t talk. They are serving box lunches back in the exhibit hall but I can’t go because I’m first up and I still don’t have MY GODDAMN CASE! 

I pace back and forth backstage … once in awhile I go outside to stare at the parking lot. “I’ll bet it’s a white van … it’s always a white van. Is that a white van? Shit, no it’s just the greens keeper.” Apparently, some tire tracks over on the 15th hole were keeping him quite busy that morning.

No word … and it’s pushing noon.

I approach the Mini-circus jugglers and introduce myself. A very polite young man introduces himself as ‘something or other’ and then introduces his hot young girlfriend as Mardene. 

I ask whatshisname if I could borrow some juggling stuff for the showcase while trying to figure out a way to look at Mardene’s butt again. They give me some balls, clubs and even a six foot unicycle … they save the day and I pull off a weak one, but better than nothing.

Coming out from backstage soaked with flop sweat, I see my prop case being delivered ... it has only 3 wheels. A guy is dragging it toward the stage.

I lug it shaking and rattling to the front desk to get a room. I’m so hungry I feel the amalgum ringing in my teeth. I just want to get rid of this fuckin’ box, eat and sleep. 

As soon as I get in the room, my agent calls.

He’s booked a last minute show in St. Louis ... I have to leave immediately to make the plane back in Pittsburg. 

Waaa? 2 hours back to the airport! … IF I don’t get lost! … IF! 

I checkout and drag the crippled case back to the rental car. 

No time to eat. I see a discarded box lunch in the lobby on my way out … it only has a bag of peanuts left. They tasted like bile … good though.

My brain is spinning … Gotta make the plane! ... Gotta make the plane!

Stomach growling, looking back and forth between the speedometer and my watch. I make some rough calculations.

I need to average 72mph …
It was gonna be close. 
An hour passes … I know where I am. No cops yet.

I reached the city limits with 20 minutes left before my scheduled departure.
Traffic starts to slow … Oh No! 

Jesus Cheerist ... they’re starting to board!
Sign says “Airport 3 miles” … All right, I’m close!

I screech up to curbside check-in and unload my (now considered overweight and oversize) 3 wheeled prop case. I hand the skycap a stack of tickets, “It’s in there somewhere”, I tell him, “I gotta go return the rental car, I’ll be back” ... 17 minutes left.

I drive to return the car to Avis … there is no one behind the counter … no airport return bus either!

I spy a guy washing cars at the end of the lot ... 
I drive straight up to him and speak my over anxious unintelligababble. He jumps in the drivers seat. We speed back to the airport as I fill out a "Rapid Return" form for the first time. 

We pull up to curbside with 7 minutes until takeoff.

I pull out my wallet, take out $10 and offer it as a tip. 

He refuses saying “No problem man, it’s part of the service”. I guess they do try harder.

The skycaps sees me and is waving the tickets. I jump out. 

Monitor says my flight leaves from Gate 25.
OK, Run!

Pre 9-11 security run ... whoosh!

Get to Gate 25 … nothing … no one! Whaaa?Check monitors again ... Gate change to 26!Agggh, Run!

One gate more ... door closing … Wait!!!!

Agent stops closing and opens the door. With a smirky smile he says, “No problem, plenty of time, sir!” 

Breathing hard .... eyes wild … I get on.

I run the gauntlet of accusatory stares for my lack of punctuality as I find my seat.

I sit, start to relax … only an hour to Atlanta with plenty of time to eat before my connection. 

Yeah, eat … (quick check for wallet) …

FUCK! it’s not there … PANIC… (look through everything at frantic pace). 

Try to retrace my steps.

I remember the refused tip in the rental car. FUCK! FUCK-FUCK-FUCK …FUCK!

No money … no credit cards … no food!

Then, just when I’m down about as far as a juggler can go, a flight attendant offers me some peanuts! I gag reflexively but ask for 2.

I get to Atlanta but I have no way to buy food ... it’s all around me … a conglomerate of fast food franchises hearded together like the cattle they fed. I weigh the consequences of robbery vs. cannibalism.

Weakly, I pull out the contract info. on the gig my agent had given me ...the student activity office is closed, so I call the listed “home” number.

“Hello! My name is Robert Nelson, may I please talk to William Shitforbrains.”

“Oh, you must be looking for Billy ... he was here Thanksgiving and we expect to see him again @ Christmas but he goes to school in St.Louis.”

This kid gave his HOME# … his real Home! (as in where he grew up with his goddamn parents!) What a fuckin’ retard!

I scramble for my life: 
“Ma'am, my name is Robert Nelson, your son hired me to perform tomorrow at his college… he is my only contact ... I have lost my wallet, all identification … I have no credit cards … I have no money ... I will be arriving in St. Louis at 11 on flight so and so this evening .. I have no place to stay … I have to go now they are boarding my flight.”

Another bag of peanuts later, I land in St. Louis. 

I get off I see a sleepy eyed guy with his girlfriend … her hair is everywhere.

“Are you William Dumbfuck?”, I ask. 

“No, I’m his Sigma Alpha Male roommate … his mom called and woke us up.” 

Cold stare from the girl.

“Billy's playing miniature golf and should be back by midnight or 1.”

We drive silently to the frat house … I’m in the back of a convertible with my three wheeled prop case. I watched as restaurants of all sizes and shapes fly by … I wonder if I could ask this guy for some money … just a hamburger maybe … see, there's a place right there ….

The hostile couple drop me off in the front of the frat house ... a keg party is underway. 

I dump the box on the lawn and go inside … semi-drunk obnoxious males litter the place … I make my way surreptitiously toward the kitchen ... I’m thinking, FOOD!, FOOD! 

I run inside … the refridgerator is full of beer … fucking beer! 

What’s the only edible food they’ve got … You guessed it … peanuts! 

A huge bowl of PEANUTS!

… this is where my story starts.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when you just can’t take it anymore.It’s a different situation for everyone, I’m sure.
Maybe it was that bully in grade school who did it to you … possibly, an angry parent pushed too much … perhaps it was a noisy neighbor or simply a nagging wife … whatever … you go just a little over the edge … and then you...SNAP!
The chaos all around me … looking at that small round table … that huge bowl of peanuts ... that was MY moment. I just lost it.
The loud blaring music continued all around me but I heard nothing anymore.
Drunken frat boys and their sycophantic pledges became like crickets in the background.
I felt my coping composure collapse. My sanity imploded upon itself. I became socially numb.More to avoid eye contact than anything, I opened the refrigerator door and pretended to look inside.
The stacks and stacks of horizontally placed beer stared back at me. There were no bottles … just those big 12-ounce cans. Individually balanced on top of one another so as to maximize beer storage capacity per cubic tallboy.My options gone … I started to drink.

Quickly, I discovered that with my head tilted back, I wouldn’t have to look at anyone or anything, especially that bowel of peanuts.I skulked backwards to the side of the fridge and wedged myself in a broom closet sized niche between it and the back door. This became my womb for the next hour or so. I came out only to suckle more beer.

I don’t remember the actual time when Billy Alsodrunk showed up after his miniature golf game, but I do remember his surprise to find “The Butterfly Man” at his frat house. I kind of also remember him being even more astonished that I was even drunker than he was.

"Man, I thought you were coming in Tomorrow at 11am."
"Rebashlatz mick allen shuh!"

Dude, we got no room for you tonight.

"Waah! Shich me con beshsheet coroge bunshh."

Things got kind of blurry around this point.I kinda remember a fight broke out … I’m pretty sure I started it.Some big guy said something to me about my head while I was talking to Billy WhatthehellamIgonnadowiththisdudenow.

Honestly, I have no recollection of who he was or even what he looked like. I even don’t remember what exactly it was that he said to me. What I do remember is how unfortunate it was that he was so much bigger than me.

It had to be the way he said whatever it was, that made me take a long swig of beer, smile (grit my teeth really) and spit a mouthful of beer into his face. As his hands rushed up to wipe it off, I hit him in the gut.
I tried to run but apparently, I didn’t get very far. The next thing I remember it was dawn and awoke laying face down near a pool of vomit on the back porch of the frat house. No worries though, the vomit was probably mine. It looked very peanuty.

 It was very quiet; the loudest sound I heard was the pulsating in my own temples. I had a headache, sure, but I didn’t feel that bad really, considering someone had just beaten the crap out of me a few hours ago. Maybe it was because, at that point, there wasn’t much crap left in me.

I made my way indoors to find a bathroom and, hopefully, some aspirin or Tylenol. Cautiously, I tip toed to avoid empty beer cans. I certainly didn’t want to wakeup anyone up who might want to finish me off.

A door opened behind me causing me both mild heart failure and a slight loss of urine.I whirled to find Billy Lookedworsethanme standing there in his underwear. I fear the worst and imagine a Lambda Theta Epsilon (whatever) gang rape. After all, it was pledge season.

He grabs some clothes and keys from his room and hustles me out of the frat house licitly split. We throw my abandoned 3-wheeled case into the back of his beater station wagon and head for the motel. On the way, I beg him to stop for food … I’m ready to blow this motherfucker for a cheeseburger.

The golden arches of McShits appeared like Shangri-La in the distance. He graciously buys me several burgers & mcbreakfasts at the drive- through. On the way to the hotel, I started to force feed myself and unluckily catch a glimpse of myself in the rear view mirror.
Food was splayed all over my face, hands and lap. My loss of dignity was all too apparent. Ashamedly, I stuffed what was left of the half-eaten food back into the bag as we pull up to the motel.
It’s early am but Billy Ibegyouplease gets the clerk to allow me an early check–in. I look forward to gorging, being alone and getting some rest … in that order.
Billy You’vegottomekiddingme bids me adieu with a

"I’ll be back in 4 hours to pick you up for your sound-check."

Wow, a whole four fuckin’ hours... in a one star hotel ... with all this fine cuisine … all this … just for ME? What a privilege it was to have chosen such a rewarding profession.

But sometimes, it’s all about the show, isn’t it? The show can make it all worthwhile. All the crap you have to go through, all the bullshit of traveling and lugging heavy shit everywhere … all of it can disappear when it’s “Showtime”.

I get only a few hours of gaseous bloated stomach slumber when Billy Ican’twaittogetridofthisguy picks me up from my fast-food franchise decored motel room.

 As he drives me away from the slowly decomposing stench of my own reality, he tells me the show’s in the cafeteria … big fuckin’ surprise.
College gigs seemed always to put my kind of act in the student cafeteria. I hated performing there but, in a way, I was also kind of grateful.
Good jugglers had to be in the gym.
Personally, during a show, I’d rather smell leftover meatloaf than the sweat of a jockstrap.

Towards the end of my college career something miraculous happened right around the $1750/show mark.
It seems that, at that price, you get some sort of platform with curtains or, at least, plastic flags.
Apparently, jugglers share the same career benchmark as used car lots.

As we carry my three-wheeled case inside, Billy I’mnotreadyforthis says he hopes it’s OK that a student film class uses my show as their mid-term video project.

Grimacing internally, I don’t complain, still needing Billy Gotthewallet to stay happy and food friendly.For the next several hours adolescent would-be Altman’s and wanna-be Coppola’s cage me inside a full 3-camera, head-phoned electronic wire maze all connected to Herr teacher/director’s 18-wheeler size communications truck outside.

I tried everything to be left alone. I tried to look busy preparing for the show, stretching, even something I never did before … practicing.Nothing worked, that is, until Dale Jones showed up.
Dale was a young, very professional local juggler. He was also a good friend and while we spoke, they mercifully left us alone.
Dale was unique in the juggling world at the time because he had only one good arm. His other arm looked more like a fleshy, elongated lobster claw. He could juggle by grasping a small tennis racket in it and bounce the balls to his good hand … it was his hook, so to speak.
Like I said, Dale was a pro, so I asked for any local humor stuff … blah blah blah … at the end of which he quite unexpectedly says to me,

"Hey Robert, if you think you can work me into the show, I’ve got this new Christmas bit I just wrote for a big gig and I’d like to try it out before I do it for real … Whatdoyasay, it’s only about 4 minutes long?"

I nod OK, just as my apathetic, white, urban middle-class, 18 to 22 year old crowd starts to filter in.
Of all the audiences in the world, I don’t think you could find, in one place, a greater concentration of indifferent dipshits.

The student film crew all take their places and freeze.
I thank everyone for coming...

Right off the bat, some guy yells out,“Gallagher was sold out”
 It gets a laugh.Great! All the shit I’ve been through … all the 3-wheeled, lost wallet, peanut beating crap I had to take to get here ... and NOW THIS!

I respond … foolish me." Oh yeah, How much did he cost?"
 Him: "$17.50"
 Me: "How much to get in here?"
Him: ".75 cents … and worth every penny!"
Audience laughs again … the bastards!

OK!! … So you wanna play?!!! You want a piece of the Butterfly Man, eh?!!! OK, kiddies … Let’s dance!!!
A vein in my forehead starts to bulge. I tell them what I really think of them … their fraternities … their college … and then … for some reason … I say something to a guy in the front row who has purple socks.
Everyone laughs … but … one woman’s laugh is way louder than the rest … it sounds more like a very amused hiccup.
“Whoop” … “Whoop” … “Whoop”

Her laugh makes everyone laugh.Like a comedy virus, “funny” spreads throughout the room.
Everything in my act starts working better than usual.They love everything I say and do … and then, I try a callback ... I mention the purple socks guy again.Again … that peculiar laugh!
 “Whoop” … “Whoop” … “Whoop”

 The place goes berserk with delight. I have so much confidence, I decide to find out who is laughing like that … make it part of the show, you know.I stop ... listen intently... wait ‘til it’s silent then say,
“Can you believe it … purple socks!”?
Again, a big,
“Whoop” … “Whoop” … “Whoop”

I look around trying to find the laughing culprit … I scan the audience … nothing …Another purple socks comment, and I see why. The laugh is coming from behind the camera on my far right.
When I move … she moves.She’s slightly bent over, looking into the lens but I can see her lurching shoulders when she makes the sound.
“Whoop” … “Whoop” … “Whoop”

Then just before it actually happened … I felt it.
The energy in the whole room changes when … bang; the sound of the steel exit doors open the door to the parking lot and in bursts Herr director!!!
The truck and monitors are visible for a second … then SLAM the doors close behind him.
With a brisk walk and a stern look, the teacher-director crosses the entire length of the cafeteria and heads straight to Camera #1.
He bends over and whispers something to the girl. She stands up and hands him her headphones. He takes over behind the camera as she skulks away.

The audience & I watch this whole scene go down … nobody had made sound the entire time.
The comedy bubble just burst … the pin prick of reality had left everyone in a laugh-less void.
The cameras were still rolling.

I guess it was up to me to bring it all back again.Or was it?
Was I responsible for what just happened?

I stop the show and got serious. It shocks me more than the crowd.
Me (talking to camera 1): “Now wait a minute here, that young lady was simply enjoying herself … and all of us were enjoying her laughter with her.Now, just because she enjoyed herself, you’re going to ruin her day, possibly her career and maybe even her entire life. Well, I’ll tell you this … Then thinking to myself: Uh, Where do I go with this? … I got nothing.I panic … Then, out of nowhere, I pull something out of my butt. “You know ladies and gentleman … about 10 years ago when I was just starting in this business, a little boy came up to me after a show and said
“ Mister, when I grow up I want to be a juggler just like you.”
I smiled at the little boy and told him,
“Son, when you grow up, you can be anything you want to be … just believe in yourself.”
 But, then, as I reached down to shake the little boys hand, I noticed he had only one good arm … (deliberate pause here)…Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you tonight … that little boy 10 years later, doing his first performance in front of a live audience … please welcome … Dale Jones!”

I knew Dale was a pro and would be ready to go on … I figured I’d apologize for my fabricated intro. later.
Dale gives me a brief incredulous look as he takes the stage.
I disappear into the back and watch.

 You could feel the emotional charge in the air. The audience had been way up … then totally bummed … now, thanks to me, they were supposed to be pulling for a cripple.
Me, I just felt relieved to be offstage.

Along with everyone, I watched as Dale masterfully executed a new routine. His discomfort with the new material made him look a little nervous and that just added credibility to my bullshit introduction.
His routine finishes and he gets a standing O.

I smile as I take the stage. I’m thinking maybe Dale won’t be pissed … after all; it’s kinda hard to be pissed when your getting a standing ovation, isn’t it?

 Dale hustles his crap off but not without shooting me a semi-dirty look when his back is to the crowd.
Oh well, I think, there will be other crippled friends in my life.

 The hard work over, I went back to playing funny man again … but the audience wasn’t going up as fast or as high as before … that laugh was missing. We all missed it.

Then, I don’t know why … maybe just to get back at Herr director for ruining my moment in the sun, I turn and face Camera #1,

"I think you should give that girl her camera back."

 What are you doing, Robert?This guy’s the TEACHER! Audience tentatively cheers but there’s no movement from Camera 1.I move to the side … he follows me with the camera but does not respond.

"Come on … she’s learned her lesson …how about it?"

 Damn, he’s not saying anything … I should’ve just finished the show.!
The audience gives a rather under enthusiastic applause, fearing another meltdown.

"So you’re not gonna move, huh?"

Man, I almost had THEM … Wha’ am I gonna do? Wha’ am I gonna do? The hunched shoulders show no emotion they just follow my every move behind the camera.

"Trying to make a point are we?"

Jesus! …Do SOMETHING … somebody, DO SOMETHING!Motionless shoulders stare back at me.

"OK, We’ll see about THAT!"

Without really thinking, I grab an 8-foot bullwhip from my prop stand.I walk around the back of hunched shoulders prancing, threatening, menacing.Where is THIS going? …You have no fucking idea, do you?

I crack the whip in the air… KKKKERACK! Herr teacher’s shoulders un-hunch and he shoots straight up to a standing position.

The crowd roars with pre-cripple enthusiasm.Now what …? With a look I usually get only from women, Herr director glares back at me.
I spy a cigarette pack in his shirt pocket. Thank God and cancer!

"Ladies & Gentlemen … I’d like to show you how to quit smoking in just one move."

I take a cigarette out of his pack and stick it up my nose. It gets a decent laugh.I take another and place it between his lips.

"Whatever You Do … Don’t MOVE!"

Herr director is petrified. So is the audience. So am I.
Just don’t hit him … remember that kid in Florida.
While pretending to be judging the distance, I step back and crack the whip twice. My hands are shaking … I have no confidence. The audience senses my fear. A line of sweat appears above Herr director’s lip. The cigarette is shaking between his lips. We are all anxious to see how this is gonna end.I go for it. I let fly. I pray for blind luck.

The cigarette flies out of his mouth. I can’t believe it!
The audience applauds wildly.Then … from way in the back … like a laughing nightingale singing away all my fears … I hear,
“Whoop” … “Whoop” … “Whoop”

What a beautiful sound even an ugly laugh can make.
-The Butterfly Man -2006

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