Today was a Good Day

Myq and Zach about to battle. Nick Shaheen took the pic from stage.

It’s been tough few weeks for a lot people I know and love. For me, too, by the transitive property. But yesterday was a great day. So I’m going to tell all y’all about it. Why? Because I want to.

Started the day with huevo rancheros (sans tortilla). It’s taken awhile, but I’ve finally perfected the taste of Los Angeles in my South Carolina kitchen. Every morning, it takes me back to one of my other homes. It’s a bittersweet sort of happiness, but worth experiencing. On the sweet side of it, it makes me think of breakfasts with my writing buddy Karen Barna. Who is awesome. On the bitter side, makes me miss all my LA peeps.

I wrote. Right now I am carving out rough drafts, which is my favorite thing, as well as working on an adaptation, which is fun, too.

Learned a great piece of news about a friend. Their business, not mine, so I won’t go into it here, but after so much sorrowful news, it was wonderful to get a beam of sunshine. It brightened my entire day. It makes me so happy when my friends are happy.

I did the Cross Fit with BOTASTIC at Jason Tsai’s direction and felt like I was going to die. Nothing like almost dying to let you know you’re alive.

Then I had lunch with Kate Sullivan, who is a DELIGHT, and super smart and charming and she studies fascinating things, and it’s no wonder my boy Brenden fell in love with her and made her his bride. Again, nothing makes me so happy as when my loved ones are happy.

Wrote some more and did the business emails. Working on putting a comedy tour together, writing stuff, etc. I love getting stuff done. Feels good.

Getting ready for comedy, I listened to Michele Scheve interview Tom Emmons and Art Sturtevant on Asheville FM. Art and Tom are a part of my comedy family and this year they got into Laugh Your Asheville Off, hence the interview. It was so great listening to them! Michele is an excellent interviewer, and Tom and Art played off each other very well. It also reminded me I need to be recording my sets. As they talked about the importance of recording yourself, I made a solemn vow to start doing just that.

I then went to comedy at Independent Public Alehouse. Not just a regular old show, but an amazing awesome show put on by Nick Shaheen. Myq Kaplan, Zach Sherwin, and Micah Sherman had once again rolled into town, and once again I got the honor of opening for them, along with my buddy Andy Cummins. (My third time!) It was great seeing them again, and Myq and Zach celebrated the success of selling Ruthless with me. You gotta love it when biggest, best and most talented comics are also the nicest. I heart those guys!

I got to hang with my girl Courtney Steadman, who I love and adore, and I participated in the following conversation.

Fray Forde, my comedy son, arrived with Lil’ Scovel, aka, Chaz Scovel. Courtney and I were talking with Myq Kaplan. I introduced Fray and Chaz to Myq, complimenting their comedy as I did so. Fray immediately downplayed it, while Chaz said that he needed more praise than I’d delivered. Myq commented about how they went opposite directions on that, and I put my hand on Fray’s shoulder and said, “And that’s why I love Fray. He’s a better person.” And Chaz rejoined, “And that’s why I’m a better comic.” Myq mimed dropping a mic. End scene. (I love stand-ups.)

I heard word from Art he was about to perform in front of 500+ people – his show at the festival hit maximum occupancy. I was so happy for my boy Art!

My set went pretty well.

I forgot to record it.

(I did, like an idiot, forget I wasn’t hosting, and got all hosty at the end. Totally screwed up my dismount. In my defense, I host a lot. Still though – sorry rightful host and MC Nick Shaheen!)

After I got off stage I had several people give me compliments, which is the best.

Asheville comic Jason Webb was feeling very slappy last night. He said once I've been doing comedy for one more year, I'll get to be included in the slapping. Pretty exciting stuff. (Please note, all people in this photo are adults at a show in progress.)

I then got word from Cary Goff I could perform in Asheville. Cary is not just one of my favorite comics but one of my favorite people and it’s always great to share the stage with him. It was sad to leave the show at IPA, but performing twice in one night is super great, and I am all about super great, so I drove on up to Asheville. I paralleled parked like a boss (as I usually do), but on this occasion, a large group of women were coming up the street. I saw them watching me and I heard one say, “Look at her parallel park!” So I made eye contact with her and bowed. They all applauded. It was amazing.

Once at the Disclaimer Lounge, I discovered Josiah Duckett, who can’t do a Manchester accent even though his parents are from Manchester, was hosting. (Manchester is my best UK accent, so I like to torment him with it.) I watched the audience for awhile before I got on stage, trying to figure out what the people wanted. It was a pretty quiet group. I decided on my Ambulance Men 5K set, which went really well. It felt good to have solved the question of what it was they were in the mood for.

I forgot to record it.

Later on, I wound up having an impromptu dance party with two random women at the bar. There was no music, so we chanted, “No music, no music, we don’t need no music,” and danced to that. After we were done dancing, they told me they really liked my set AND mentioned sets I’ve done in the past, which kind of blew me away.

I then got to see Cody Hughes perform. Cody is a genius. A year ago he hid himself away in Chicago, so it’s been a long time since I’ve seen him perform. Last time was in Madison, WI, actually. Last October. It had been too long since I’d seen the man in action. <3 me some Cody.

En route to the after party, I discovered book blogger Tez Miller had found the Ruthless book trailer. I didn’t even know Simon & Schuster had uploaded it already. So that made me feel kinda famous and stuff. And I’ll be honest, I’m never adverse to feeling a little famous and stuff.

Following that, I got to hang out with the Toms (Emmons and Scheve) as well as Art. It had been a minute since I’d caught up with Scheve, who is always fun, and we all got to read a giant article written about Art in Asheville’s paper. So good to see one of your own celebrated.  As a side note, a Greenville stand-up would have to set themselves on fire to make our paper. The Greenville News is the worst.

Got home a little after three.

You’d think you couldn’t improve upon that day, but upon waking I learned from Courtney that after I left the IPA show there was a rap battle. As much fun as I had in Asheville, I found myself awash in regret. Not only was there a rap battle, but Andy and Nick got to join Myq and Zach onstage for it. I could have been up there!

And then Courtney said, “They dedicated it to you.”

I was like, “WHAT???” And then, remembering these are comedians, I said, “Was it mean or nice?” Courtney said, “It was nice. Myq rapped about how sweet you are.”

Which just goes to show, Myq Kaplan doesn’t know me very well, and in the middle of a very bad few weeks, you can have a good day.

In Celebration of Gary, Gary Who Loves Rainbows

College Disneyland and the players as we first found them. By the end, there were nine of us in the line.

On Monday, I went up to visit my niece Courtney and her boyfriend Cole. They attend Appalachian State in Boone, NC and both live in an apartment complex that functions as a College Disneyland. This apartment complex is a vast and fantastical place, designed for and used exclusively by college students. This College Disneyland status is especially true in front of Cole’s place, which faces a parking lot cul-de-sac. It is used for the parking of cars, shenanigans, and mayhem.

As we parked in front of Cole’s, we saw three shirtless college guys standing in a line, their hands clasped in front of themselves like soccer players facing down a penalty kick. A moment later, we saw why they felt the need to protect themselves. A guy on a balcony a football field away had an industrial strength slingshot, loaded with a water balloon. Soon enough and a player was hit on the shoe. He then “drank ten” as BOTASTIC would say. (At parties, BOTASTIC likes to encourage people to “drink ten.” The definition of “drink ten” is open to interpretation.)

A storm was brewing. Right after our arrival, the skies opened up, releasing a downpour. The game continued. Courtney and I, deeply similar creatures in many ways, looked at one another and said, “I want to play.”

At that point, Gary arrived, fresh from the gym. Gary is a big, affable dude who works out a lot, knows everybody, and is both hyper masculine and easy going. In case I am not painting a clear enough portrait of who Gary is, let me explain Gary’s job. He works for the apartment complex as the garbage collector. Why? Because this job allows him to scavenge all the unopened beer bottles and liquor that the residents leave behind. Primarily at the pool, but also everywhere else. In fact, as he got out of his car, he displayed his newest prize – a bottle of his favorite amber.

Courtney hassled Gary into joining the game with us. Another neighbor, who happened to be wearing a water balloon fight t-shirt with a target on the back, didn’t want to join. When he learned Courtney’s aunt was playing, he was shamed into it. Two girls from a few houses down, Emily and Emily’s Friend, also wandered out into the downpour in order to stand in a line and let somebody sling missiles their way. These people were not previously acquainted with one another, but at college Disneyland, this hardly matters.

Courtney and me. I am displaying my usual gravitas. Please note, that shirt is normally light gray.

There was a break in the action to fill more water balloons. One of the original players, Drew, yelled, “WE SHOULD HAVE A PARTY TONIGHT!” Gary said, “It’s Monday.” Drew replied, “I WORK AT SEVEN WHO CARES.” Drew was pretty drunk.

As the balloons were filled, the sun started to break through on the horizon. College Disneyland sits on top of a hill, with remarkable views all around. The golden sunset, filtering through the clouds and the rain, was a gorgeous sight. Emily and Emily’s Friend said, “YOU GUYS. THIS IS AMAZING.” They were not wrong.

Ammo replaced, we once again took our spot in the parking lot. I keep checking my back, looking for a rainbow. I knew it was coming. It had too. The rain was too intense, the skies too dark, the sun too bright for there not to be a rainbow. While I checked for the rainbow, Courtney loudly and aggressively talked trash to the water balloon slinger, who kept missing us.

Finally, the rainbow burst into being. I yelled, “Look, you guys, look! Look at the rainbow!”

Giant Gary turned to take it in, and that’s when I learned just how much Gary loves rainbows. Everybody was enthused about the brilliant rainbow, but Gary was seriously freaking pumped.

All the while, Cole took pictures of the event from his own balcony.

The game continued, the rainbow got even brighter, and then a second full rainbow joined the first. This was too much for Gary, Gary who loves rainbows. He shouted at Cole, “HOW’RE THOSE RAINBOW PICS COMIN’, BRO?!”

How’re those rainbow pics comin’, bro.

Never in the history of the word “bro” has “bro” found a better sentence to be in. It was beautiful. It was magical. It was delicious. I looked at Courtney, who was similarly savoring the taste of this gift from heaven, and said, “‘Merica.” She agreed. “‘Merica.”

It was then that the water balloon slinger, perhaps responding to Courtney’s harassment, launched a perfect shot straight into Drew’s bare stomach. He went down, rolling in agony on the asphalt. It seemed overdramatic. Then he moved his hand away, revealing a fairly horrific contusion. It had a white center surrounded by a dark red welt that was already turning purple. “I’m so glad I’m drunk,” said Drew. “Otherwise this would really hurt.”

After he got back to his feet, I wisely addressed him, a sage elder. “When you wake up in the morning, there’s going to be a moment where you don’t know what happened. And then you will say, ‘Oh, that’s right. Water balloon.'” Drew thought this was way funnier than it actually is. The rest of us, many of whom were stone sober, all gathered to take a good look at Drew’s hematoma, and then, without a word, we disbanded, each wandering away from the line. Thanks to Drew’s sacrifice, we suddenly understood the game we were playing, and just as suddenly, decided we’d had enough.

All good things do come to an end. Including Gary’s rainbow. But Gary wasn’t content to let the dream die. Unconvinced his bro had taken an adequate rainbow pic, Gary grabbed his phone and went chasing after the rainbow. I told him it was fading, there was no point. Gary begged to differ. “NAH, MAN. IT’S BRIGHT AS F*** OVER HERE!”

I walked a little way, following Gary in his pursuit. And lo! Gary was right. The descending leg of the rainbow was still bright as f***. For a moment, I watched him as he took pictures, unapologetic in his enthusiasm. We could all be more like Gary, I think. Because if you can’t get excited about a double rainbow while standing in the rain in the middle of College Disneyland as water balloons are slung at you from a balcony 100 yards away and you’re with one of your favorite people in the whole wide world, then I don’t know what you can get excited about, because life doesn’t get much better than that.

The Shame of Insects

Fourteen years later, and this photo is still stress inducing for me. I got the ant induced PTSD, y'all.

I wish this was a fun, clever, pun-ny title, but it isn’t. I mean it literally. As in, being ashamed of insects.

Over the weekend, I heard friends bonding over millipedes. Millipedes have gone wild in South Carolina this summer. It reminded me of a similar phenomenon back in LA in the early 2000’s. Ants were everywhere in Los Angeles, absolutely everywhere. At the time, Evan and I were living in an apartment in Hollywood. I loved that place. It was big, bright, clean and airy. It had been remodeled right before we moved in, but it still had its cute retro kitchen. All kinds of fun.

But it had ants. Initially, it had ants in the way one thinks of ants. A trail of ants to the sink, a trail of ants on the floor. And then there was was one day when I noticed way too many ants near the closet. Inside the closet were coats and a container of cat food. But not an airtight container of cat food. I opened the closet door.

Horror show, you guys. Complete and total horror show. If someone put this scene into a movie, you’d say, “This is ridiculous, impossible! I don’t believe it!” But it wasn’t impossible. It was real. There were rivers of ants running down the coats and into the cat food. Rivers. There was so many of them clumps of ants would just go into free fall.

I literally went into shock.

Here are the signs of shock:

  • decrease in blood pressure.
  • rapid, weak, or absent pulse.
  • irregular heart rate.
  • confusion.
  • cool, clammy skin.
  • rapid and shallow breathing.
  • anxiety.
  • lightheadedness.

I had them all. And I am not, in any way, shape or form, a pansy. But my brain took one look at the rivers of ants and it said, “Nope. I’m done. Checking out.”

But I couldn’t check out. I was home alone and who would you call for such a thing anyway? So I got to work killing ants. I had no bug spray, so I sprayed them with Windex and wiped up huge masses of them in paper towels, then put them into plastic bags. It took time, a lot of time, to kill them all. At least an hour. Maybe two hours of doing nothing but killing ants. I went through an entire bottle of Windex and switched to a different cleaner of some sort.

When I was done, I was covered in sweat and felt like I’d run a marathon. Evan got home from work and, I strongly suspected, didn’t really understand what I’d been through. I don’t know if anybody ever could. I’d lived a scene from a B grade horror movie, one without enough sense to show a little restraint.

Thing is, there is someone I could have called – my landlord. She was a nice Irish woman named Gráinne. And if you’re wondering if I avoided saying her name like the plague, yes, yes I did. “It’s your birthday? Well, have a lovely birthday…you…lovely lady, you.” But I didn’t call Gráinne for help, and not just because I couldn’t pronounce her name. It was because I ashamed of my insects.

Here’s the thing. I kept that place clean. Maybe not immaculate all the time, but generally speaking, definitely tidy and frequently actually, for real clean. And yet I felt that I was culpable for the ants. Somehow, those ants were my fault.

Somewhere along the way, I decided to ask somebody else about it. “Do you have ants?” I asked. Their eyes went wide. “YES! Yes I do have ants!” As it turned out, everybody in Los Angeles had ants. Everybody. It became my favorite thing to start a conversation with, because people were always so relieved – nay, absolutely thrilled – that they weren’t alone in their shame-inducing ant infestation. It became an instant bonding point. Frequently, people would say, “I thought it was because I was dirty.” And I’d happily reply, “Nope, it’s not you! It’s everyone!”

And that’s the thing about shame. It does not survive exposure. It’s a lot more like cockroaches than ants. Once you flip on the light, shame goes running. Here’s the other thing about it. Everybody has ants, metaphorically speaking. Whether it’s things you’ve done or things that were done to you, everybody has ants. And cockroaches. And it’s not fun to turn on the light. There’s that moment in the dark where you know, you KNOW, once you flip the switch, there’s going to be that unpleasant moment where the cockroaches are out in the open. But then they scatter. It’s worth flipping on the light.

The End of an Era

I've always loved the little purple pom-poms that are the flower of a chive.

Two weeks ago, I hired a guy to weed my yard. I hired him because he was an ex-con who needed work, because my garden had become a neglected mess. I carefully went through every plant with him, naming what was a plant and what was a weed. “This is salvia,” I said. “This is chive. This is quince.” A couple of days later, feeling low, sick, and tired, I took a nap. When I woke up, I realized the ex-con had started weeding while I slept. I looked out the window. He had torn up all of my plants. Plants I put into the ground in 2005. He left some iris. Two of the quince. Everything else he taken out, in a misguided attempt to do an A+ job.

It was devastating.

Grief does not come all at once. It isn’t tidy. It is a long timeline of events, some of them on delayed release. Time bombs. The destruction of my garden from 2005 was a time bomb. It forced me to remember, in vivid detail, what my life was like then. “Remember,” said the bare dirt, “all your hopes and dreams from back then? Yeah….not so much, these days, huh? Not so much.”

I bring this up now because in a weird way, the end of the garden feels like a symbol of a larger era coming to an end. I won’t name too many names here, because it’s their business to promote and make public, not mine, but many of my best friends have gone or are going. I miss them. A lot. The older I get, the more single I get, the more I value those friends you can call at a moment’s notice and know they will be there for you. I’ve missed Dan Dinger, who is in New Hampshire now, for some time. Alrinthea Carter moved to Greenville, but that’s farther away than you’d think. Lisa DeWaard is in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The good thing, the blessed thing, is that it has always been good fortune, not bad, that has moved my friends on to bigger and better things. Sometimes they don’t even move away. Sometimes they just have kids, which is a lot like moving to a whole other planet. I am glad for all of them. Tremendously glad. But then there are days where, because you’re human, you miss people, and feel a little sorry for yourself. And that’s when you’re glad some people are still trapped here indefinitely, thanks to the tenure system. (Mwa-hahahaha to you, Tamara McNealy!)

Jackie Onassis once famously made the comparison between the Kennedy era and Camelot. It is easily torn apart intellectually, but within the context of the quote it makes perfect emotional sense. (You should look it up, if’n you’re curious.) It resonates with me. Back when my garden was alive and thriving, in its prime, this house mirrored its exterior. There were marvelous parties and friends, visitors and cocktails on the porch. The foundation was not solid, but you’d never know that from the fun that was had, from the friendships that were made.

It has been strange, too, how even though a lot has changed, so much continuity has been preserved. I mean, Evan and I still had our traditional New Year’s Party in 2013, despite everything. (We have always enjoyed our traditions.) But now, with so many people moving on, it finally feels like the ground has shifted beneath my feet. I’ve become aware of the ways in which this house, this town, pin me to the past, and that this isn’t a good thing. All the same, I have nowhere else I want to go, and more importantly, nowhere else I can afford to go. So I am here. But I sense perhaps not for that much longer. Less and less ties me to this spot, and the winds of change are on the move.

This afternoon, I noticed the chives were making an effort at coming back. They’re hardy little plants, it’s not surprising it’s making a go at it. All the same, it felt like a little miracle, looking at its progress. If somebody else winds up living here I hope they take better care of the chives than I did. They’re really cool plants. Pretty little purple pom-poms that bloom on and on, and the rest you can put on a baked potato. How great is that? Pretty great.

Why You Should Buy Your Daughter a Horse* (*But Only If She Loves Them)

Sometimes horse shows look like this.

A lot of my friends have kids. Specifically, I have a lot of friends with daughters. Some of those daughters show promising signs of horse craziness, a mental illness I encourage wholeheartedly. As someone who rode before she walked, I’d like to explain to my parent friends why they should stop complaining about the cost of horses and embrace the path of the pony.

Your daughter will learn to be assertive. Horses weigh in the ballpark of 1,000 pounds. Whether you’re leading the horse, picking up its hoof, or jumping a cross country obstacle, you have to be the leader. If you fail to lead, the horse won’t follow.

Your daughter will develop a work ethic. Horses require a tremendous amount of time and effort. You can participate in horses by simply showing up, taking a riding lesson, and leaving. This is a crap way of doing horses. Get your daughter into a barn where she’ll clean stalls, sweep aisles, and wash buckets. She will come to understand the satisfaction that comes with getting her hands dirty.

Your daughter will learn how to cope with trauma. Horses hurt themselves continually. Safest paddock in the world and horses will still find a way to cut themselves. Your daughter will get used to seeing blood and injuries and she’ll learn how to treat those injuries. Horses freak out, sometimes for no apparent reason. Half a ton of freak out results in an adrenaline rush for all involved. Horses hurt people, including your daughter. She will learn what pain is and how to cope with it. This is a good thing. If your daughter spends fifteen years in horses, she will bring Navy Seal Team 6 level inner calm and confidence to the direst of situations.

Your daughter will develop humility. So much can go wrong dealing with horses, especially at a horse show. Competing horses offers an almost endless array of humbling experiences. Your horse will humble you, your competition will humble you, injustice will humble you, but most importantly, your own weaknesses will humble you. Your daughter will come face to face with her impatience, anger, pride, and envy. Horses force you to deal with the reality that the world is a deeply imperfect place and that you are a deeply imperfect person.

And sometimes horse shows look like this.

Your daughter will learn how to be tough. For example, a typical horse show requires waking three hours before dawn and a mini-road trip before launching into twelve hours of heat, dust, and exertion, all the while coping with anxieties, hopes, and expectations. (Sometimes you deal with rain and mud instead of heat and dust.) Invariably, something will go wrong and your daughter will be forced to deal with adversity. Stamina and fortitude are required. Luckily, these are skills that can be developed. They are worth developing.

Your daughter will know what it means to earn a victory. Even the most naturally athletic rider in the world on the best trained lesson pony has to put in some work before effort is rewarded. There are very few short cuts when it comes to horses. Money can buy great horses, but even great horses don’t ride themselves. Putting all the  pieces of the puzzle together and feeling the power of that – the power of success, especially success earned through grit – is a great thing to teach your daughter.

Your daughter will know what it is to be responsible for another life. Horses require care taking. So do dogs and cats and birds. But horses REALLY require care taking. When a kid who loves horses gets to have a horse of her own, there is no greater thing in the world to that child. It is a sacred and solemn oath she makes to that horse, to love it and care for it and tend to its needs. She learns to be a protector, an advocate. She will put the needs of her horse before her own. She will be exhausted, covered in sweat and dust and filth, dehydrated and hungry, but she will not feel any of that – not until her horse is bathed and watered and fed. Only then will she realize her own state. She will experience true selflessness.

Your daughter will grow rhino skin. Horse trainers are notoriously tough coaches. I do not advocate leaving your child to the wolves. If your trainer is too hard on your kid, move on. But if she stays with horses for any length of time, she will have clinicians that are certifiably insane. She’ll run into judges who dislike her without apparent cause. Even in the best case scenario, she’ll have lessons where she is continually critiqued. Cheered on, too, but also critiqued. She will learn how to take notes and not have it hurt her feelings. She will learn how to apply a note. She will learn when to ignore a note and trust her own gut. She will learn how to better herself with the help of others without losing her own unique identity.

She will learn a healthy perfectionism. The best rider in the world still has skills they can improve. There is no perfect in horses. There is always something new to achieve, new to work on. There is a wonderful addiction to improvement that happens, and this process of learning, achieving, and learning anew is something she will bring to other areas of her life. Better yet, your daughter will learn that hard work does pay off. The greatest rides of my life are some of my most magical memories. In short, she will learn to embrace the challenge of excellence.

Finally, if your daughter truly loves horses, and you get her a horse, and encourage her to compete, she will not get pregnant or wind up addicted to something before age 18. I am giving you my personal guarantee on this. This magic formula doesn’t work if she doesn’t really love horses. Plenty of kids like horses well enough, and might dabble in them some. DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY ON DABBLING. Riding lessons are fine and good, horse camp, too. But seriously, horses are EXPENSIVE. Do not go all in unless your kid is all in. But for the driven, truly horse addicted girl, a life in horses = no pregnancy, no addictions prior to age 18. Guaranteed. Also, all the above mentioned benefits. Well worth your investment, my friends.