Thereâ€™s an expression I canâ€™t quite remember that I want to use to describe my life now; some bullshit about a light in tunnel. At the end of a tunnel, I think.
In my memory or imagination, the tunnel is dark but harmless while the rubble filling it is unnecessarily hazardous, like spikes at the bottom of a cliff. The path to freedom is indefinite at best, and non-existent at worst, which manages to be crazy depressing despite the tunnel and situation being hypothetical as fuck. Real or not, itâ€™s so vivid in my imagination that I can see it. I can feel its walls suffocate me and I know its slow doom in my heart.
But in the distance, thereâ€™s always a light at the end of the tunnel. And Iâ€™ve learned that no matter how exhausted or defeated you are, you always move toward the light. Because the light is hope. And hope is incentive enough when youâ€™re trapped in a vacuum.
Not to sound dramatic but, comedy is like that. Thereâ€™s this beautiful light at the end of this almost everlasting tunnel. If you can get there, itâ€™d be a good day, but not too many people can get there.
Hereâ€™s the twist.
Though thereâ€™s only the one light at the end, thereâ€™s also a billion doors to the side of you, alternative exits, where at any point you can just be like, â€œPeace out, Comedy. Iâ€™m gonna start a life that a real person lives, so fuck all this rubble. Thanks for the memories.â€
Comedians never go for these doors though, even if the doors would be good for them, healthy. In their minds, they only lead to more unappealing caves to traverse; ones lacking an abundance of booze, weed, titties or laughs to help make the dark seem not so bad. Healthy relationships, stable living and daytime work replace nighttime staples and problems. But a cave is a cave, no matter what itâ€™s filled with.
Itâ€™s a pick-your-poison kind of thing, Iâ€™ve decided.
For the past four years, all I ever wanted to be is somewhere else, some mystical new place thatâ€™s bigger and better than the place I was at. Bigger and better than Othelloâ€™s, and the experimental comedy scene it houses. Bigger and better than the Loony Bin Comedy Clubs, and the people who pay me to joke. Bigger and better than the crowds whoâ€™ve booed and the crowds whoâ€™ve laughed, and the crowds who simply clapped because I was more likable than funny in the beginning.
I wanted to be some place bigger and better than me. And thatâ€™s why I have to go; even itâ€™s for a little bit. I say goodbye to my family and friends, promising to have fun, promising to be safe. Because in the morning, I leave for Chicago.
Tonight, with friends, I say goodbye to the bartenders that populate this quiet, weird place. They, in turn, either pour me free drinks or make me promise to come back. Because Norman is home for me. And me, Iâ€™m just a scrawny Odysseus that canâ€™t foresee the freaks that will beset my path back to this place.
A thirteen-hour drive and a day full of shitty dietary decisions pass, before Leah and I arrive in front an enormous smoke stack spilling itself into the air.
This is Chicago? It looks shittier than I imagined. This is the place Farley started? The place Jordan played? The home of the Cubs, Obama, hotdogs, and pizzas?
Itâ€™s a giant smoke stack?
Another hour passes and we actually reach Chicago. I feel dumb.
Leah points at a skyscraper and says, â€œItâ€™s the vagina building,â€ referencing an architect’s supposedly non-phallic design that seems just as dick-ish as any of the buildings surrounding it.
Either way, I imagine a giant baby popping out of the roof, only to do its best Godzilla impression, destroying the city before our adventure starts.
The delirium of a long drive fades away and common sense returns as we navigate through the busy streets only to pull into comedian Derek Smithâ€™s apartment complex where will stay for the next ten days.
â€œWeâ€™re going to Mullenâ€™s,â€ he says before I can tell him how overwhelmed I feel about this cityâ€™s size and brightness.
The open mic starts with more comics than crowd; the comics sitting politely in the front, and the crowd consisting of five guys in the back of the bar who are talking over the amplifiers with ease. Iâ€™ll be the first to admit, I havenâ€™t learned a lot in this life. But I have learned itâ€™s possible to be disinterested without being douchey. This is a concept they fail to grasp as they grow louder and chodey-er, also with an ease that befits their doucheiness.
No big deal. As shitty as the ambiance is, itâ€™s nothing I havenâ€™t seen before and itâ€™s not the worst place Iâ€™ve ever been. I sit somewhere in the middle, growing drunk off of overpriced beer, happy to be far from home and completely anonymous.
A guy displaying his hatred for pregnant teens leaves the stage dejected and with little fanfare from anyone.
A girl is up next. Sheâ€™s tiny, cute, and her Carolina accent only serves to make her seem more cute. But sheâ€™s also brash as she addresses the douche bags in the back.
â€œHey big boys. Get up front,â€ she says as she begins to lead a chant that takes them off guard.
I hear the tallest of the assholes begin to chant back, â€œSuck my dick. Suck my dick.â€
His voice is a little muffled, and no one hears him.
But I am no one, a scrawny modern-day Odysseus.
â€œFuck you,â€ I say, offended.
â€œWho said that?â€ he says like a giant Cyclopes.
â€œNo one,â€ I donâ€™t say, sitting quietly in my seat, hoping that this passes for chivalry in todayâ€™s modern world of pussies.
Heâ€™s a lot bigger than I am, and Iâ€™m a little too old to even fantasize about slow-motion jump spin kicking him in the temple. Also, Iâ€™m still a little intimated by the cityâ€™s people if not by the cityâ€™s comedy. Are people tougher in Chicago? Would jump spin kicks even hurt them? Do I really want to die only two hours into the trip?
Either way, the guy gives up on finding me. Then gives up on being an asshole. The group leaves for the patio, reformed from their old ways for a night. And the show goes on as I sit, waiting for my turn to tell a few jokes to maybe take a few steps toward the end of the tunnel.
A year ago, Iâ€™m in Norman, driving a girl home from something. I donâ€™t know what to call it, really. Itâ€™s early, and neither one of us wants to call this a date because if this were a date, it would be the worst fucking date ever. And naturally, no one ever wants to admit things this awkward ever occur outside of bad dreams.
For her part, sheâ€™s pretty, kind and as far as I know smart as well, preparing for a career in health. What does a guy like me bring to the table? Cool Asian hair, apparently. I know that sounds conceited, but the only reason I think I have cool hair is because sheâ€™s brought it up multiple times to the point that I can tell itâ€™s really all sheâ€™s into: hair that I was born with and continue to have. So, I got that going for me, I guess.
This may speak for our lack of chemistry, but she might not to blame. I think for a second that itâ€™s entirely possible that I hate everyone who likes me while being attracted to girls/women who will ultimately regard me as a solid friend at best. I decide to try to make this work or, at least, make the most of things.
â€œSo,â€ I begin to say. I donâ€™t know what Iâ€™m going to say because I donâ€™t have anything to say. I just know I should say something.
â€œI read your novel,â€ she says.
This takes me off guard. She knows I write and months ago had asked to read some of my work. I had given her a copy of my graduate novel and forgot, because it had been so long.
â€œOh,â€ I say, feeling a bit nervous. â€œUmmmm. What did you think?â€
â€œItâ€™s pretty interesting.â€
â€œPhew. Thanks,â€ I say feeling relived.
â€œToo bad it isnâ€™t for anybody.â€
â€œLike itâ€™s too weird. Itâ€™s not really for anybody normal. Are you gonna try to sell it? I canâ€™t picture anybody buying it.â€
Before I can decide how I feel about the words that are coming out of her mouth, she grabs my mp3 player and starts flipping through songs to listen to.
â€œAll these bands are weird. You donâ€™t have anything I like,â€ she says.
â€œUhhhh. You can turn on the radio. Itâ€™s cool. I donâ€™t care what we listen to.â€
â€œNever mind. I found something,â€ she says, pushing a button as she smiles.
The track begins to play and I recognize it immediately, tensing up as I drive.
â€œUhhhh. Can you change it?â€ I ask.
â€œNo. I never heard you play drums. I wanna hear what your band sounds like.â€
â€œUhhhh. Okay,â€ I say, feeling even more nervous.
Two more awkward minutes pass before I ask, â€œWhat do you think?â€
â€œIâ€™m not that into it.â€
Weâ€™re nearing her apartment now, probably ten minutes away.
â€œSo. What do you want to do with your life?â€ she asks. Itâ€™s an easy question to answer.
â€œComedy,â€ I say.
â€œOh. Really?â€ she says, sounding surprised. â€œYou really wanted to be a comic this entire time?â€
â€œYeah. I do comedy every night. Why wouldnâ€™t I want to be a comic?â€
â€œI mean youâ€™re good, but you really want to be a comic. I didnâ€™t know that.â€
â€œYeah. I love it, a lot.â€
â€œI know you do, but you canâ€™t be a comic. Nobody can.â€
â€œOkay. Why not?â€
â€œYou just canâ€™t. Itâ€™s stupid.â€
We pull into her apartment complex, and I drive her all the way to her doorstep not saying a word. She opens the door then steps out.
â€œSo. You want to hang out more?â€ she asks.
â€œNah? Iâ€™m good.â€ I say, shaking my head. I canâ€™t envision myself watching her shit on the things I care about anymore and this is politest way I can think to say that. â€œI think Iâ€™m gonna go home.â€
â€œFine!â€ she yells immediately then slams the door in my face.
â€œWhat. The. Fuck,â€ I mumble to myself as I pull away, a gang of thoughts running through my mind.
Thought number one: I should like people who like me even if itâ€™s mega awkward. Thought number two: no I shouldnâ€™t. Thought number three: I know when I like someone, because I start doing stupid things immediately. Like hitting my breaks and stopping my car in the middle of traffic to wave hello to them on the street. Or showing up to a semi-formal event in basketball shorts on a whim because I was jokingly invited to tag along, thus leading security guards to think Iâ€™m some sort of robber. Or the thousands of things that I accidentally do that make me seem weird for no reason, but canâ€™t help doing.
I do none of those things around her.
For a moment, I think about comedy and wonder if Iâ€™m wrong about that too. But comedy is like a date.
I know Iâ€™m into it because I do stupid things when itâ€™s around.
In Chicago, we sleep at Derekâ€™s apartment, an unassuming tiny two-room box nestled by Bucktown alleyways. Itâ€™s a cozy a place that houses him and his girlfriend Laura on a typical week. This is not a typical week. Not only have Leah and I come from Oklahoma, but also Derekâ€™s sister has decided to surprise him with a visit on the same night. The number of occupants grows to seven if you take into account the recent additions of Bella and Joanne, two asshole pugs that piss, shit and vomit everywhere I decide to step or rest my face.
Tensions are high when Saturday rolls around, and someone decides to pick a fight, though Iâ€™m not sure it wasnâ€™t me.
â€œYouâ€™d beat me. But Iâ€™d lose by less than you think,â€ I say to Leah, having been goaded into a drinking contest that neither one of us will win.
Thereâ€™s no shows for us tonight, only a roast that Derek is preparing material for. The fact that he is the only one performing tonight means thereâ€™s no reason for Leah and I not to settle our argument regarding how little I can drink.
â€œI wasnâ€™t going to drink tonight but now I might,â€ I say to Leah, trying to see if she really wants to turn this casual day into some sort of dark challenge.
â€œDo whatever you want, Nghiem,â€ Leah says, which I hear as, â€œJimmy, youâ€™re a pussy and should die.â€
â€œIâ€™ll show you whoâ€™s a pussy,â€ I say.
Seven shots of whiskey in, and I feel like I can keep going, though even in my hazy state I know I need to slow down. Not that it will do any good at this point. I donâ€™t know it, but Iâ€™m already done. This realization will wash over me several hours from now when I fall into bed and try to remember where this night went wrong.
Leah, for her part, has kept up with me every step of the way but shows no signs of slowing down. This will be an interesting night.
Inside the 7-10 Lounge, I sit at the bar, burying my face into my folded arms as my stomach prepares to force out all the bullshit Iâ€™ve let into my body.
â€œGet your head up, kid,â€ a name-less woman says before nudging me a little. Iâ€™ve known her for only a few hours, but right now sheâ€™s my best friend. My actual best friend is currently sick like me and starting arguments in the next room. â€œIf you put your head down like that, theyâ€™ll kick you out of the bar.â€
â€œBecause it makes you look drunk.â€
â€œUggghhhâ€¦ I am drunk.â€
I look up to find the bartender staring me down.
â€œSeriously. If you put your head down again, weâ€™re going to have to kick you out. Just keep it up, man.â€
â€œIâ€™m not drunk,â€ I say. â€œIâ€™m tired. And Iâ€™m not drinking anymore. Can I justâ€¦ Can I just put my head down for a second? Iâ€™m really, reallyâ€¦ sleepy, okay?â€
â€œNo. We will kick you out?â€
â€œBecause it makes you look drunk.â€
â€œI am drunk,â€ I mumble.
â€œHeâ€™s with me,â€ says Name-less. â€œWeâ€™re bowling. Weâ€™re going bowling. Come on.â€
She grabs my arm and pulls me toward the direction of some bowling lanes in the back of the venue, which I didnâ€™t remember existing until now.
â€œSeriously, kid. Thatâ€™s the law. If you look drunk at a bar, the bar gets in trouble,â€ she says.
â€œThatâ€™s stupid. You canâ€™t get drunk at a bar?â€
â€œYou can. Just not this drunk.â€
â€œI can lay down in Oklahoma bars.â€
â€œNo you canâ€™t. Come on. Weâ€™re bowling.â€
I sit down next to some lanes as she puts on a pair of bowling shoes. I donâ€™t really want to bowl and currently have no interest in the roast thatâ€™s happening in the adjacent space either. For a moment my mind wanders, thinking of all the shitty things that have happened this year; from the assholes who robbed me outside of an open mic to the hailstorm that totaled my car to the death in the family that sent me into depression.
Shivering and shaking, I will myself back into the present. I look up to find Name-less on the ground laughing, having tripped over the railing of a ball return. I throw up my arms immediately and glare at the bartender across the room.
â€œWhat the fuck! I canâ€™t be so drunk that I lay me head down, but she can be so drunk that she falls over a ball return?â€ I ask.
The bartender shrugs but otherwise ignores me.
â€œThatâ€™s a double standard man!â€
â€œHey, James. Shhhh,â€ says Name-less. â€œDonâ€™t be an asshole.â€
I get up to leave as she continues to giggle on the floor.
My mouth is salivating like crazy now. Pools of spit have been collecting in the crevasses between my gums and cheeks so frequently that Iâ€™ve been pacing back and forth from the bathroom to the sidewalk for the past two hours, stopping periodically to cough over toilets, trashcans and pavement. I should stick my fingers down my throat, vomit and be done with it, but Iâ€™m in Chicago. And logic tells me I donâ€™t throw up in Chicago.
On the way to the bathroom, I stop by a trashcan near the kitchen and begin spitting violently.
â€œYou okay, sweetie,â€ a waitress asks.
â€œYeah. Iâ€™m totally fine,â€ I lie.
â€œSome guy said you told him that youâ€™re in a drinking contest to the death. â€œ
â€œUmmmmâ€¦ I donâ€™t remember that.â€
â€œOkay. So youâ€™re good?â€
â€œGood? Iâ€™m great. Canâ€™t you tell?â€
â€œActually, I can tell youâ€™re not. Everybody in this bar can tell. Youâ€™re wobbling and spitting everywhere.â€
â€œDamn. Good point.â€
â€œItâ€™s cool. Everybody has nights like this. I just wanna make sure youâ€™re okay. So are you?â€
â€œYeah. Iâ€™ll be all right. I just need to go the bathroom.â€
She forces a smile, but I can see the concern in her eyes. â€œYou sure?â€
â€œOkay,â€ she says then turns to leave.
â€œHey,â€ I stop her. â€œWait a second.â€
Inside the bathroom, I find myself staring with dull eyes at the dirty mirror above the urinal. Is this how I really look? I wonder.
Until this point, Iâ€™ve typically looked young for my age, which is 26 on the cusp of 27. I know I look young, because suspicious doormen card me everywhere I go before reluctantly letting me into their bars as if they know theyâ€™re being duped some how. Examining my reflection now, under the harsh florescent lights, the haggard lines on my face make me look a million years old. And I feel like Iâ€™m falling apart, in more ways than one.
â€œImma done with this,â€ I mumble to myself. â€œIâ€™m fucking done with everything. Iâ€™m out. Peace, tunnels. Peace.â€
And in that fleeting moment of defeat, itâ€™s like I donâ€™t exist anymore. Iâ€™m gone. Itâ€™s just as well. Iâ€™ve already forgotten the things I wanted out of life. Itâ€™s like my recollection only has room to carry the things I want to say to my dad, things I shouldâ€™ve said when he was alive but didnâ€™t. Iâ€™m so drunk and gone that I decide to tell him now, but only in my head of course. Itâ€™s the only place I know I can still find him.
â€œHey Dad. You there? Itâ€™s been nine months, and it still hurts like this. Why does it still hurt like this? No answers. The monk had a thousand answers to a thousand questions that I never asked but can he really tell me anything I want to know? Like, if I told you I loved you now, would you hear me? If you can hear me, I know you can see me right now. And I know I look like a bum. I know. But I wonâ€™t always be bum. I want you to know that. I guess I never pictured myself as the type to settle down, get married or have a kid. Or even the type to get a normal job. But then again, I guess I always thought youâ€™d be around to see if I did, to watch. I guess I wanted you to be around, to meet everyone I cared about. Or I guess I just always wanted you to be around. Itâ€™s okay. Iâ€™m okay. Iâ€™ll be okay. I remember when I first started stand-up; you seemed really excited for me. Iâ€™m glad for that. Iâ€™m glad we could share that. But I donâ€™t know what Iâ€™m going to do now. The worldâ€™s shitty. Itâ€™s too shitty. Whatâ€™s the point in making people laugh if I canâ€™t laugh anymore? I donâ€™t know. I guess I donâ€™t know whatâ€™s going to happen. I hope I wonâ€™t always be like this. I actually feel a bit better. Whether Iâ€™m done or not, I feel better. Fuck. Iâ€™m going to get better. Watch. It should be a good show, I think. Whatever I do. Oh yeah. One last thing: I. I love you. Everybody does. Always have. I love you.â€
I feel someone tap my shoulder, so I turn around. A man is holding a stick of trident gum in my face.
â€œHey, Buddy,â€ he says. â€œI saw you throwing up back there. Youâ€™re gonna need this later.â€
The gesture would almost be nice if I wasnâ€™t certain he was just in the urinal next to mine, holding his dick.
â€œDonâ€™t mention it,â€ he says as I make a mental note to throw away the gum after he turns around.
I decide to step back into the party. Around four oâ€™clock, the show ends. A sober Derek takes us home.
â€œThat roast was so fun,â€ he tells the crowded car of drunk, tired passengers. â€œSo much fun.â€
Six months prior to Chicago, Iâ€™m on the 22nd floor of giant tower in Oklahoma City, in an office full of men and women in suits.
â€œYou doing all right?â€ my boss says.
â€œYeah. You know. Work sucks, right?â€ I joke.
She doesnâ€™t say anything, slightly confused.
â€œYeah. Iâ€™m doing good,â€ I say.
â€œGood. Good. Sit down.â€
â€œDo you know what this is about?â€ she asks.
â€œI kind of got a warning. You want me to take a fulltime job, I think.â€
â€œPrecisely. I donâ€™t know if anyone told you, but the job weâ€™re offering is a good one. It doesnâ€™t pay a lot right away and the work is hard. But if you stick with this company, down the road you could be making six figures. How does that sound?â€
â€œThat sounds amazing.â€ The pitch is a sirenâ€™s call.
â€œHereâ€™s the thing. This job will be your life. You wonâ€™t be able to do the things you do at night. I know you had other plans for the future. Or you had no plans for the future. It doesnâ€™t matter. What Iâ€™m offering is a good start. With this kind of security, you can get loans to buy a house. Youâ€™ll have everything you need. Itâ€™s a good life.â€
I pause for a moment, weighing the pros and cons of the situation.
â€œWhat?â€ she asks.
â€œSo I wonâ€™t be a comic anymore?â€
â€œA comic? Is that what you do? Hmmm. I donâ€™t think so. No.â€
â€œItâ€™s been kind of a tough year.â€
â€œI know it has. And though Iâ€™ve known you for only a short time, Iâ€™m sorry itâ€™s been so rough. But thatâ€™s why I think you should take this job. Itâ€™ll be good for you. Itâ€™ll be a new start.â€
â€œWhat are you thinking?â€
â€œI donâ€™t think I can. â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry? I thought I heard you say no.â€
â€œI know a lot of people have trouble letting go of things. But I really think you should take this job. The economy is bad and what weâ€™re offering would make the job worth it.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think so. I mean, itâ€™s been a rough year. I canâ€™t. I canâ€™t say goodbye to too many things all at once. I donâ€™t even want to. It wouldnâ€™t be worth it all.â€
â€œWhat? I donâ€™t understand.â€
â€œI canâ€™t take your job. Itâ€™s like Iâ€™m quitting everything.â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry to hear that.â€
â€œYeah. Iâ€™m sorry too. Can I still keep the job I have?â€œ
â€œI donâ€™t know. Is that a factor? If I took away the job you have now would you take this one?â€
â€œWhy would you doâ€¦ No.â€
â€œOkay. Well, I guess everybody has to make there own decisions.â€
â€œYeah. I feel good about this one.â€
â€œAre you always going to feel good about it?â€
â€œI hope so.â€
â€œOkay then. Goodbye.â€
I leave, hoping to always remember this. Hoping Iâ€™ll always be this person.
I open my eyes to find myself on Derekâ€™s futon, Bella and Jonnie cuddled beside me. Every morning in Chicago starts like this; kind of sweet with a touch of awful.
â€œWhatâ€™s that smell?â€ I ask. â€œWhy am I wet?â€
I get up to find shit and piss everywhere. Itâ€™s a familiar feeling.
To the side of me thereâ€™s a growing pile of soiled comforters that the dogs continue to ruin. The mound has gotten so tall that it feels like it takes up half of the apartment.
â€œGod damn it, guys.â€
The dogs see my anger and clumsily run away.
Iâ€™m still stressed from Saturday. Nothing has been resolved, and I need to get it together.
â€œHey,â€ I hear Leahâ€™s voice. Sheâ€™s just woken up.
â€œWhatâ€™s up, man,â€ I say.
â€œGet ready. Weâ€™re doing something todayâ€
â€œWhat are we doing?â€
â€œAnything. Itâ€™s too cramped in here.â€
I look at the pile of ever amassing shitty sheets.
â€œFuck, yes,â€ I say. â€œLetâ€™s get out of here.â€
Leah and I walk a couple blocks toward the train station with a loose plan to look at art near Millennium Park. Iâ€™m assuming the art will amaze me. Everything amazes me. Itâ€™s been few days, but the hotdogs still amaze me. The crowdedness still amazes me. The train that weâ€™re walking toward will inevitably amaze me.
Inside the train, Leah and I are separated. She sits down near the entrance, and I sit down across the way. Itâ€™s the only available seat. Once seated, the train begins to move so quickly that I become terrified like a child on a rollercoaster. Leah sees my face and laughs. Sheâ€™s probably amused at how naÃ¯ve I still look. Iâ€™ve been doing this the entire trip, flipping out at the most mundane things.
When she looks away, I start to send her a text from my phone.
â€œIâ€™m on a rocket ship to an art museum!â€ I begin to write, which is a message so dorky that thereâ€™s only a couple people on the planet that Iâ€™m comfortable sending it to. Leah is one of them. And for a moment, I wonder how. Luck, I guess.
Itâ€™s the summer of 2006, and I wander Gaylord Hall, the University of Oklahomaâ€™s journalism college, like a ghost. For two years, I had told myself that I wanted to be the best journalist ever, a modern day Upton Sinclair or a real-life Ben Urich. Abandoning that ambition now, all I want is to belong somewhere.
Still, I know this isnâ€™t home for me anymore. And when Iâ€™m in a more honest mood, I know it never was. Journalism was just something I was good at, but never really loved. Regardless, I have I nowhere to be so I might as well be here.
Fortuanately, itâ€™s not all gloomy. Thereâ€™s a corner of the building where the faculty stores all its television equipment; what the students lovingly refer to as â€œThe Cage.â€ This would be just another boring room, except thereâ€™s a girl who works there thatâ€™s entertaining, if not crazy as fuck.
I randomly talked to her once about drums, the differences between Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith, and other unimportant things. She promptly became one of my favorite people.
I decide to head that direction.
As usual, sheâ€™s sitting behind her computer, either looking angry or bored out of her mind. Also, true to form, sheâ€™s dressed like a hangover feels, which makes me think sheâ€™s always hung over.
â€œWhat up, Kajajjajajbjla,â€ I say, intentionally mangling her name.
â€œThatâ€™s very clever Nggajgajg,â€ she replies.
â€œDamn. I got nothing.â€
â€œThatâ€™s what I thought. At least my name is pronounced how itâ€™s spelled. Yours is all fucked up.â€
â€œHow do you say it again?â€
â€œKayajanian. Leah Kayajanian.â€
â€œYeah. Exactly how itâ€™s spelled. Yours has too many letters in it to be Nim.â€
â€œFuck. Youâ€™re right,â€ I joke.
â€œNo. Iâ€™m not. Stop being weird.â€
â€œWhat are you doing?â€
â€œBuying a smoking a jacket. Iâ€™m wicked excited about it. I found one for cheap. And itâ€™s paisley.â€
â€œWhat did you say?â€
â€œNo. Wicked excited.â€
â€œYeah. Iâ€™m starting wicked here in Norman. Iâ€™m coining it,â€ Leah says feigning pride, which forces a smile out of me. â€œOh. Check out my nose.â€
â€œWhat about it?â€
I see nothing and shrug.
â€œItâ€™s really big,â€ she says.
â€œNo itâ€™s not.â€
â€œShut up. It is. And thatâ€™s not my point. Look.â€
â€œWhat? I donâ€™t see anything.â€
â€œFuck. Itâ€™s really big today.â€
â€œYes! I hit my face on a bathtub. Itâ€™s all swollen. You canâ€™t tell?â€
â€œDude. My nose is big in general, but itâ€™s not this big. Not all the time. You really canâ€™t tell?â€
â€œItâ€™s not even big.â€
â€œItâ€™s cool man. You donâ€™t have to say my nose isnâ€™t big.â€
â€œShut up. Itâ€™s fine.â€
She shakes her head as I wonder if our conversations are ridiculous or just feel ridiculous.
â€œIâ€™m gonna go smoke. You wanna come?â€ Leah asks.
â€œYeah. I guess,â€ I say like I might have some other place to be.
Truthfully, if she said, â€œHey. Iâ€™m gonna go shred papers,â€ or â€œIâ€™m going to redub the movie â€˜Spawnâ€™ for work. Do you wanna come?â€ I would still say yes. I know because I have had nothing to do for weeks and those situations have already come up.
We grab a bench outside, and she starts to smoke.
â€œHey. Guess what?â€ she says.
â€œIâ€™m doing stand-up for the first time tonight.â€
â€œThatâ€™s random. Really? Like comedy?â€
â€œYeah. I always wanted my friends to do it. Theyâ€™re really funny. And they say theyâ€™ll do it then act like pussies and never do. I decided, Iâ€™m just gonna do it. Thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m into now. Not giving a shit.â€
â€œReally? Thatâ€™s fucking awesome. Can I come?â€
â€œYeah. Sure,â€ she says. â€œI guess.â€
I suddenly realize that Iâ€™ve just invited myself.
â€œOh. Itâ€™s cool if you donâ€™t want me to,â€ I say. â€œI donâ€™t want to make you nervous.â€
â€œNo. I really want to you come. I think it’d be good to have someone there with me. And I didnâ€™t tell any of my friends Iâ€™m doing it, so I definitely want you to come.â€
She pauses for a second.
â€œNot that youâ€™re not my friend,â€ she says.
â€œFuck. That sounded shitty. You are. Iâ€™ve just known other people way longer, and theyâ€™re really my friends. Fuck. That sounds shitty too. What an asshole thing to say?â€
I laugh. â€œItâ€™s cool. I get it. I guess Iâ€™m not your friend.â€
â€œNo. Thatâ€™s shitty. You are. And I really want you to come. So how about that? You want to come?â€
â€œOnly, kind of now.â€
â€œHave you ever seen stand-up?â€
â€œLive? No. I heard Mitch Hedbergâ€™s album once.â€
â€œDude. I love him. You should definitely come then. Itâ€™s always really fun.â€
â€œFine. Iâ€™m in.â€
Inside the train, Leah gets my text, looks up and cracks a grin. I shrug. And the train and everything else continues to move fast. Why does it move so fast?
Ten days passed in Chicago before Leah and I headed home. And despite quitting comedy in the middle, I performed every night, happily even. And I remembered why I love it. Because itâ€™s the world around the stage that sometimes doesnâ€™t make sense. And I donâ€™t really live in the world around it. Thatâ€™s not my home.
Leah drives the entire way back as I relax in my seat, free from all tunnels. I donâ€™t know if I made it out. I just donâ€™t believe in the notion anymore, putting my faith in open spaces filled with things and people I love. And for the first time in a long time, I feel completely fine. Good even. Great. Iâ€™ve finally returned to the home that I was searching months for.
â€œHey,â€ Leah says and points at the shape of the roads. â€œThereâ€™s a vagina in the road.â€
(c) James Nghiem All rights reserved. Contact James through the emailz!