Okay, enough farting around. Time to get nitty gritty.
“Enough comedy jokes,” in the words of Steve Martin, who I seem to be quoting quite a bit lately.
Missouri and Oklahoma were fun, getting stopped in Dickens County was interesting, facing off with the security guards and the cops was fun. Yeah, getting a drunk driver arrested before she killed someone scored me some cosmic points.
(I’m making an assumption there. I could be wrong. Whatever God there is might be looking down at me and thinking, ‘You fucking little tattle tale. You nancy little Mama’s boy.’)
But Saturday got down to the barbed wire. The afternoon session was why I had driven 1160 miles to get to Midland. To see my school chums…sure…but to sell them a shitload of books.
The incredible lady organizing this whole shindig – Laura Wallin Stanley – wanted me to do a reading at the lunch. I said sure and asked her what she wanted.
“Whatever,” she said.
Soooooo…this is a casual gig?
Brad and I hung out for a while and then just…sorta…gathered people around. I think Laura maybe screamed once or twice and I went around and dragged people over, but that was about it. And yet, when I finally looked at the audience, I was shocked. There were probably 20 sitting there. It was the largest reading of the tour.
And the scariest.
Holy balls, I shouldn’t have agreed to this.
See, the problem is that they all knew me.
Some of these people had known me since elementary school. For a 43 year old man, that’s a helluva long time. These people knew all the secrets. They remembered the pissy little boy and young man who was scared to death of the world and so shouted at it and screamed at it and wanted to kill it.
And they were sitting, staring at me.
Like they expected something.
“Uh…so a priest, a rabbi, and a prostitute walk into a bar….”
No, no, wrong speech.
Actually, I just started talking. I don’t really remember my words. I don’t remember if they were meandering (I assume) or goofy (I know) or insightful (I freaking doubt).
What I remember are the nods. I remember nearly everyone agreeing with me, to some degree, when I talked about the ups and downs of fighting cancer. They were with me when I talked about the frustration and anger and rage and exhaustion and everything else the chemo and cancer left on my doorstep.
Then an amazing thing happened. Other people started talking.
Nearly everyone at that reading had a cancer story. Their mother or sister, their brother or cousin. The husband or wife, their lover, their child.
Cancer had touched everyone. And for every section of my book I read, there was at least one person who’d had that same emotion or situation.
It was astonishing. And gratifying.
Chris Mitchell, my friend who’d hosted the first of these readings in Columbia, had said something to me weeks earlier that struck me again – hard – that afternoon.
“You’re dangerously close to helping people with this book.”
What’s funny is that I’m not a helper. I’m a cynical old bastard (honestly…the plate on my car says, ‘Cynics.’)
It wasn’t that I was helping people, it was that we were all helping each other. And taking great comfort in each other’s company.
It wasn’t just cancer, though. David LeMaster, one of the most brilliant and underrated playwrights in America today (and it kills me he’s a ‘Doctor’ now. I remember this skinny, geeky kid in 7th grade…although he seemed sort of Doctor-ish then, too!) talked a tiny bit about his Parkinson’s.
The talking, the Kumbaya moments, weren’t about fighting cancer. Or Parkinson’s. They were about fighting for control; fighting to keep The Other from controlling us, however The Other is defined.
Maybe it’s cancer. Maybe it’s Parkinson’s. But maybe it’s an addictive personality that forces us to suck down meth or heroin. Maybe it’s depression or feelings of helplessness.
I wrote a story once (‘The Falling,’ in Bare Bone issue #5 if you wanna dig it up) that looked at the people who jumped out of the World Trade Centers during the attacks. I couldn’t understand why those people had done that. It’s a horrible way to die. Staring at the street for 70 or 80 stories.
But what I realized it was those people’s way of controlling The Other. In their cases, The Other was the terrorists. Those people who jumped controlled their destiny. They chose how they were going to die.
And talking about the cancer and Parkinson’s and whatever else was our way of controlling The Other and deciding how we were going to live our lives in the face of whatever The Other was.
(wow, that was fucking heavy…can someone pass me a shot of Jack? And then a beer back?)
And not to be too mercenary, but I sold a ton of frackin’ books, too!
When you can help people and make enough to hit the strip club that night, that’s a damn good day!
So afterward, I went back to my skanky hotel and basked in the glow of feeling like the trip had absolutely been worth it. I mean, yeah, seeing all my friends and catching up and screwing with the security guards had all been great.
But this extra little bit made everything so much better. So perfect. I could have ended the day right there and been perfectly satisfied.
But there was more.
There was the dinner and a night full of…well…mostly telling that damned security guard story!
By the time Brad, Harvey, and I got to the bar that night, everyone knew some piece of it.
A couple days ago, a Midland High school graduate (as opposed to Lee High School, we did both reunions together) even told me their side had heard something about it.
Hah. Heheheee. Bwaaahhhaaaaaa!
That ain’t nothing but funny.
So Saturday night involved lots of retelling of the story.
And yeah, I can admit that every time I told it, I told it better. It’s not that I lied, I just figured out how to tell it better.
Yeah, that’s what we’ll say. But there may have been some embellishment that had me facing something more than two wussed-out security guards…something like the entire D Company of Texas Rangers.
* shrug *
What’choo gonna do?
So Saturday night was about fun.
But it was also about one’s sins. Atoning for the past and trying to wipe the slate clean. To a number of friends, I called it cleaning off my internal desktop.
I was not a brilliant friend when I was younger. I was hot-tempered, quick to anger, quicker to jump the wrong direction, quicker still to end everything badly in an explosion of verbal, if not physical, violence.
There were people I had treated like crap on my shoe. Worse, maybe. And I wanted to fix it with them. Maybe this is getting older, feeling the pinch of a close hug from the fucking Reaper, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just seeing things differently.
Kelly (for whom I drew Van Halen logos because she turned me on to what became my favorite group all through high school) was one. Angela was one. Brad, as brilliant of friends as we’d always been. Harvey, to a smaller degree. Amy and Debbie, to a degree. A few others.
What I realized, as I clicked off those miles toward Midland, was that all the bullshit that had meant so much to me back when had been crappy bullshit.
I mean, if it’d been cool bullshit, interesting or important, that’s one thing.
But it was stupid. Stupid enough that it has faded into the haze and mist. I can’t really even remember any of it. One of those I apologized too, a woman who has turned out to incredibly cool and mature and intelligent, said she didn’t even really remember anything like what I thought I remembered.
So maybe I’m atoning not for my actual sins, but my perceived sins. Maybe they’ve grown larger in the passing of time. Is that possible? Could I have focused on them to such an extent that I actually grew them?
But the night wasn’t completely about sins. It was mostly about connecting with good people and having a damned good time. It was about laughing so hard beer came outta my nose. It was about wondering if I just laughed so hard I peed myself when Karma Hancock started talking about learning hip hop dance moves cause she lost a bet with her students. It was about remembering why I’d always loved Jody Gregory when we debated various Rush albums.
But it was bittersweet, too.
Because I knew, as the night ticked down, and as Brad, Harvey, Amy, and Debbie, and I closed the bar that it would be a while before I saw these wonderful, crazy, goobers again.
I love all of them, and a couple more who were unable to make it this weekend. These were the people I grew up with, the people who helped me figure out who I was and who tried to make sure that who I was was who I needed to be.
The flaws I have are because I didn’t listen to them closely enough.
So thank you Harvey and Amy and Debbie. And even Brad (hehehehe).
And then the lights went down. And then the music went silent. And then we left.
Wait! Eddie Van Halen. I forgot!
Okay, so everyone who knew me back in the day knew I was a freak for Van Halen. My notebook, my locker, my car, my room at home…all covered in pix of the boys (this is original Van Halen, not VH2 with Sammy). I even spent an entire semester of algebra drawing Van Halen logos for Kelly D. because she got me hooked on the band…and I was failing already anyway so what the hell?
Actually, as I think about it now, it was more than a little creepy.
So turns out Steven Quiroz, a percussionist from way back in time, spent the last bazillion years working for Hard Rock Café. He’s also got a great band that’s played everywhere and opened for everyone.
And he and Eddie Van Halen are…I don’t know…best buddies or something. There was something about trading a guitar for a leather jacket. Steve’s got a picture of Eddie hanging on his damned refrigerator! I mean, come one, how pedestrian is that?
So that’s it. There is no slam bang end to this story except that a friend of mine is friends with Eddie Van Halen.
That’s so cool.
‘Cause you know I was in love with Valerie Bertinelli. Maybe Steve can introduce me to Eddie…who can introduce me to Valerie.
I know Eddie and Valerie are divorced…and they probably don’t talk…but dude…Valerie Bertinelli!
Steve, call me!