Thirty Minutes in Winnemucca, OR I Visit Café Gratitude and Start Thanking People Like I Won an Oscar

Text conversation with Mom:

Mom: Got my tax refund so if you need more help let me know

Me: No, I actually think I’m gonna be ok.  Save some to come visit me please!

Mom: Do not worry white man, I will have money now

Me: hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

***

As soon as I walk into Café Gratitude, I know I’m too sarcastic for this place. I’m only here because it’s across the street from the Melrose Gallery, where I work, and my boss sent me to pick up lunch.  I peruse the vegan menu, knowing that it doesn’t matter what I order.  It’s not going to be what I really want – a hot pile of meat. [Insert generic dick joke here.]

On the Café Gratitude menu, all the food items are listed as self-affirming sentences.  Some of the choices are a breakfast dish called “I am great”, a porridge called “I am bright-eyed,” and a dessert called “I am mystical.”  I can’t decide what’s more annoying – the affirmations themselves, or the fact that they’re not grammatically consistent.  Some end in adjectives (“I am extraordinary”), some end in nouns (“I am joy”), and some end in verbs (“I am honoring”).

What kind of asshole needs this type of validation when ordering lunch?

I look around to make sure I’m in a real place, and I didn’t wander into some sort of sketch comedy set background.  I’m having one of those crisis moments when I feel like reality is a parody of itself, and everyone around me is an actor.

“Can I help you?” the cashier asks.

“Sure,” I say.  “I’ll have the ‘I am dazzling.’”  I giggle.  “And the ‘I am magical,’ please.”  Then I crack up laughing, and the girl just stares at me, obviously unaware of how hilarious her life is.

***

Facebook message sent from Amanda Webb:

Between approximately 4am and 5:30am CST lots of love and positivity went your way…I just figure you’ve got stuff too, and you don’t even know when people are saying good things about you, or thinking them, or when something you wrote or said one time makes me feel better about myself, or the world. I wanted you to know, in case you needed to know.

***

Back in August, just a month after moving to Los Angeles, I lived in the same apartment building as my friend Doug.  He did stand-up for a bit after he arrived in L.A. in 2005, but he had stopped for some years before starting up again when I moved into town.  One Saturday morning, he dropped by to check in on me.

“How was the hotel last night?” he asked, meaning the open mic at the Hollywood Hotel.

“It was dead,” I said.  “I always feel like it’s dead in the late show.  I guess I did okay.  There were a couple people yelling shit at me.”

“Yeah,” he said.  “But good comics know how to adjust to the atmosphere.”

“True.  Sometimes the crowd’s just dead, though.  I mean, I’ve seen some really good comics have bad sets.”

“I guess,” he said.  “But we’d be able to handle if we had more experience.”

Experience? Who’s this fool talking to?

He pointed at me, then at himself.  “We’re not good yet.”

I take a slow breath.  “I don’t like that you said that.”

“Well, it’s true,” he laughed.  “We’re not good.  I’m just being humble.”

After he left, I sat and mulled over the conversation, letting it fester and run through me like a cancer.  About an hour later, I stomped upstairs and pounded on his door.

“Oh, hey,” he said when he opened the door.

“I got something to say to you.”  I stepped into his apartment.  “I’m a good fuckin’ comic.  And you’re not allowed to tell me that I’m not.  I’m not saying I’m the best, and I’m not saying I can’t get better, but I’m good at what I do.”

“Geez, calm down,” he said.  “I was talking about myself, too.”

“You can think whatever you want about your act,” I said.  “But don’t bring me into your negative bullshit.  I really don’t need that right now.”

“Okay, God.  I was just kidding.  Sorry.”

“Yeah, well, try to remember, I left my whole life to move here and do this.”

***

Comment left on my blog post by Erin Baird:

I believe in you, and I will never forget where you’re from, where I’m from. It never leaves you. It resonates. You may find yourself waitressing at a shitty Mexican food restaurant, wondering if you have the strength to muddle through another day in hopes that someone will take you and your talents seriously (this is currently my life to a T by the way), but I believe that someday it will all be worth it, because we are strong, talented women who DON’T TAKE SHIT FROM NOBODY.

 

And I’m done with my feminist Oklahoma rant. It’s just that all day I’ve been thinking “I just feel like no one understands.” And then I read this, and it made my day. Cheers, Leah, I want nothing but the best for you.

 

***

 

I’m running errands on a Saturday morning when my phone rings.  It’s one of my best friends, Angie.  She and a bunch of our crew are in Memphis this weekend to celebrate her 30th birthday, but I couldn’t make it due to lack of funds, or, in layman terms, I’m a broke-ass motherfucker.  “Hey Lady!” I say when I answer.  “Happy birthday!”

“Thanks!” Angie yells.  She’s on the phone with me for all of two seconds before another friend of ours, Amber, snatches the phone away from her.

“Why didn’t you tell me you got a job?” Amber asks.  “I gotta read about you getting a job on Facebook?”

“Are you being serious right now?”

“Yeah,” she says.  “You’re supposed to be one of my best friends.”

I roll my eyes the way you do when you’re arguing with a nagging aunt that didn’t get your thank you card in the mail.  “I didn’t tell anybody,” I say.  “I mean, I called my mom, and I texted Rockey.  That’s it.”

“Exactly! I don’t even get a text?  You can’t add my name to the send line?  How hard is it to add a few more people?”

“Honestly, I can’t tell if you’re fucking with me or really mad at me right now.”

“Uh, I’m being serious,” she says.

“Well, then I’m sorry,” I say.  “I didn’t think it would bother you.  And I really, really wish I could be there with you guys right now.”

“Me too,” Amber says.  “Have you noticed I’ve been checking you in with us on Facebook?”

I laugh.  Right now, according to Facebook, I’m at on Beale Street in Memphis.  “I wish.  So how’s the weekend?”

While she talks, I park my car by the curb and grab a few shopping bags from the back seat.  My eye catches an orange object nestled by my back tire.

It’s a bouncy ball.

I reach down to grab it and less than a second after I scoop it up, a stream of gutter water runs down the curb.  A moment later, and it would’ve been gone.

This is no accident.

***

Text from Oklahoma Comic BradChad Porter:

At Bison Witches with Lizardman and Amanda Webb.  We all agree you’re an idiot.  I love you.  I miss you right now.

***

 

“I found a bouncy ball today,” I say after I jump into the passenger’s seat of Fernando Sosa’s car.  We’re carpooling to an open mic in Pasadena.

 

He shrugs.  “Is that a thing?”

 

“Yeah, it’s a really big deal.  I never told you about the bouncy balls?”

 

“Well, I know you write your initials on them and leave them places.  Wait, did you find one with your initials on it?”

 

“No,” I say.  “But that would be so cool.”

He nods.  “That would be amazing.”

“Well, it was cool to find this one, too.  I find them all the time, but this is the first one I’ve found in L.A.  It means I’m supposed to be here.”

He gives me a skeptical look.

“What?” I ask.  “Okay, it’s weird, I know.  But it’s not an accident.  I was talking on the phone, and I grabbed it right before a bunch of water washed it away.”

“Who were you talking to on the phone when you found it?”

“My friends.  They’re all in Memphis, and they called to say they miss me.”

“Okay, you’re right.  That’s pretty cool,” Fernando says.  “Man, you have really good friends.”

“I know,” I say.  “I’m really lucky.”

***

Facebook comment from my best friend, Rockey, after I told him to stop “liking” all my status updates:

 

You don’t own me or my FB account! Also, stop writing things that I like. Btw, I like your shit b/c I feel bad for you. It’s usually pics of you doing stand up to an empty room. I sometimes think that you built a stage in your own garage, and you have your roommates take pics of you to make you seem like you’re cool.

 

***

It’s Thursday, two days after Valentine’s Day, and I’m driving nine hours to Winnemucca, Nevada to do 30 minutes in Winners Casino.  I get a speeding ticket near Hawthorne, putting my net profit from the gig at negative 50 bucks.  I got this booking because a friend of mine is headlining the show, so he hooked me up with a sort of “audition” for the booker.  It’s not a practical move, but I know this going in.

 

To be honest, I’ll drive for three days if it means there are people ready to laugh on the other end.

 

The crowd’s relatively small, but they want to laugh, so they laugh easy.  I’m doing a solid job.  A little tough at first, but I don’t think that’s entirely my fault.  The host brings me up after giving announcements, which he does by asking the crowd, “You guys have anything you think I should announce?”  He apparently forgot the first and only rule of announcements: know what the announcements are.

Twenty minutes into my 30-minute set, I decide to play around with some new material.  I tell a joke I’ve been working on in L.A.  I can’t get it to hit in front of the crowds of L.A. comics, probably because it’s a simple set-up, a silly punchline, but here in Winnemucca, Nevada, my instincts kick in and say, “Tell it.”

And those instincts were right, because the joke kills.  It’s moments like these that I think of when someone tries to make me feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.

After my set, I head over to the casino café to cash in my free meal voucher.  While I sip on some tea and wait for my burger, Brian, the cashier, chats with me.

“I saw a little bit of the show,” Brian says.  “I was in the back.  I only got to see you for a minute, but from what I saw, you’re funny.”

“Hey, thanks, man,” I say.  “That really means a lot.”

“Yeah, I had to come back here to work, though.  You didn’t make fun of me after I left, did you?”

“What?  No.  Why would I make fun of you?”

He shrugs.  “That’s what the comedians normally do.  I mean, look at me.  I’m a walking joke.”

I look in his eyes.  “No, you’re not,” I say.  “Don’t say that about yourself.”

***

Facebook message from Colin Newman, my editor, after I sent in one of my posts:

Fucking awesome and heartbreaking…I’ve had one of those “hopelessly declaring your love to someone” kind of moments…well, I’ve probably had a couple, but I’ve only had one where I really really meant it. Her response: “You don’t mean that, you’re just a romantic. Ease up on the vodka.” I did mean it. I wasn’t drunk. Fuuuuuuccckkkk…still breaks my heart just thinking about it.

Thanks for that – and for the record, I have no doubt that in 10 years you’ll be driving around in your imported luxury conversion van with a vanity plate that says “DUES_PD”.

 

***

When I first started doing stand-up, all my friends came to watch me at an open mic, and they laughed at unfunny things because they just couldn’t let me die up there.  I’m hard enough on myself and smart enough to know that I didn’t earn their laughter.

The last time my friends all came to see me was over Christmas, when I went home to visit.  They sat front and center in the middle of a room full of people, and I made them laugh for real.  I’ve been doing this long enough to know the difference.

Stand-up isn’t an easy thing to learn.  There’s no road map of lesson plans, no syllabus, no one guiding you, save a few old headliners who give you snippets of advice if they like you.  The only way to get better at it is to do it, and you have to learn as you go.  And you have to learn to be your own teacher.

It’s a system of checks and balances, a delicate back and forth between one person and an audience, and the way you interpret that interaction dictates your next one.  It means that I fail sometimes, and I succeed sometimes, but either way, I am the only one responsible.  There’s no one else to blame.  There’s no one else to credit.

I’m not an old comic, by any means, and I’m still not quite a professional, but I’m not a rookie, either.   I’m learning my own hard-earned lessons, one at a time, and I’ve racked up more than five years of them.  Whether or not you think I’m funny, my experience means something.

And I’ve done the road enough to know that this is how comedy works: if you’ve been doing it for less time than I have, I demand exactly five years worth of your respect.

It’s rough starting stand-up in L.A.  I get that.  If I had moved to L.A. alone years ago with no experience, my entire self worth might have hinged on whether or not a bunch of other comics at any given open mic deemed my jokes funny enough to laugh at.

But I didn’t, so it doesn’t.

I’ve had an unbreakable support system behind me from the very beginning, but I no longer need other people to remind me that I’m funny when I have a bad set.  I gauge my own laughs.  I fix my own fuck-ups.  I trust my own instincts.

I validate myself.

***

Facebook message from Mindie Dieu:

 

Hey Leah-
Saw your post on passing up a job you needed bc it interferes with comedy.

Something will come up. It will. You can do this. I really admire you for pursuing this dream. And I’m proud of you for sticking to it.

Take care,
Mindie

***

 

As I wait for Café Gratitude to prepare whatever the fuck I just ordered, I realize I forgot to order my boss’s iced coffee.  I step back in line behind two men who are looking over the menu.  One of them turns to me.  “If you know what you want, go ahead,” he says.  “We’re still deciding.”

It’s Jason Schwartzman.  I’m pretty sure he knows the exact moment that I realize it’s him because it’s the moment I stop acting like a normal person and just stare into his eyes.

Now, I like Jason Schwartzman, and if I weren’t the type of person who goes completely retarded upon meeting famous people, I probably would’ve been able to tell him that.  But because I’m me, I just stare at him for way too long, walk past him, and then creepily whisper, “Thank you, Jason Schwartzman.”

It’s weird, though – during the moment we spent staring at each other, I swear it seemed like he was searching for something, waiting for some kind of recognition.

Huh, I think.  Maybe even Jason Schwartzman needs to feel validated every now and then.

It’s at that moment that Jason Schwartzman leans in behind me, places the menu back on the counter, and walks out without ordering a goddamn thing.

I smile.  Maybe not.

My old friend, Generic Vegan Hipster Cashier, stares at me from behind the cash register.

“Can I get an iced coffee with cream and sugar?” I ask.

She nods.  “Absolutely.  We have a goat’s milk or an almond milk – which would you like?”

“Uh, I guess almond?  Whatever.”

“Okay, and for sweetener, we have an agave guava, a honey infused—”

“You know what?  Just give me whatever most equals sugar,” I say.

She traipses off to make the coffee, and I look back over the menu while I wait.  I notice that, of all the self-affirming menu items, there isn’t a food item called, “I am funny.”  I guess even the people at Café Gratitude know that the only judge of funny is the laugh.

When my order is ready, I can’t get out of there fast enough.  For one thing, the internet’s not working on my phone, and I need to tweet about seeing Jason Schwartzman.  On top of that, though, this place just feels icky.  I don’t need a café menu to tell me why my life is interesting and magical, and I definitely don’t need a pretentious vegan café to remind me what I’m grateful for.

***

Thank you, Friends, for the good thoughts, prayers, chants, karma, sacrifices to Satan, meditations, Facebook messages, blog comments, random texts, and the stories.  Thank you for the money, Mom.  Thank you for checking me in, Amber.  Thank you for all the rides, Sosa.  Thank you for the bouncy ball, Universe.

Thank you for reading this. Thank you for believing that I know what I’m doing.

Thank you for everything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Comments
  1. One day I will be in line at a trendy, overly-priced vegan cafe, you will have long forgotten me, but I will recognize you and say, “Thank you – Leah Kayajanian.” And you will say, “I was in life in front of you, dick. No cut-sies.” You will then turn to Rocky, and in an aside that is loud enough for me to hear will say, “Fuckin’ red-headed people.”
    I will run out of Cafe Optimism crying, and between sobs say to myself, “More like Cafe Stupid-ism.”

    • I meant “line” instead of “life” in the first quote I attributed to you. But in all seriousness, I’m proud of you. You have a unique voice and perspective, which is something that will serve you well, and separate you from the rest of the comics in LA. Although I miss you terribly, I still laugh at the memory of the first time I met you and you drunkenly told me you thought I was funny. It meant a lot to me then and it means a lot to me now.

      I’m not a deeply religious person, but I think thing happen for a reason (not just the random cause and effect reason you can attribute to anything). Give it some time, focus on the positive and everything will work out. I’m not sure I ever told you about the time I quit my job at ExxonMobil to go to school at OU, which I then hated and started working part-time at Abercrombie&Fitch. It was easily the worst part of my life to date, I hated the shallow people I worked with, I hated that I had to drive to Norman to make minimum wage, I hated that I wasn’t doing comedy. One day, a particularly douchey manager at A&F told me to refold a wall of women’s jeans, I walked out. Just quit on the spot. TWO HOURS LATER, as I drove around Norman wondering what I was going to do with my life, I got a call from a friend I hadn’t talked to in over year, asking me to submit a resume to the Governor’s office.

      So, when shit gets bad, just know that you just have to hang in there and that something great is right around the corner. I believe in you Leah. Don’t tell the other guys, but you are the most talented comic to come out of OKC. And I love you.

  2. I sacrificed a goat for you last night. Hope it helps. The prince of darkness sends his love. We dipped a bouncy ball in the goat blood and flung it west. That’s gotta be worth something, right?

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