Chris is trembling violently, but he pulls it together enough to look at me, holding one clenched fist in the air. “Puh-puh-puh-puh-lease, L-L-Leah, I n-n-need to g-g-go in.” He says the sentence through gritted teeth with a stutter that he doesn’t have in real life.
“Okay,” I say, turning the car off. “Your call.”
We get out and make our way into the ER. Chris’s gait is determined now that he can see what he imagines is his salvation, and he’s even self-aware enough to make a joke about it. “I l-l-l-ook like such a c-c-crackhead right n-n-now.”
I laugh. “Yes. Yes, you do.”
Chris is not on crack. He is, however, very drunk and very, very, very (like astronomically) high from drinking a shitload of vodka Redbull and eating an entire weed brownie.
He had come back to our hotel room from one of the Bridgetown Comedy Festival’s famous after parties around 2:30 AM, talked to me before laying down, and a few minutes later, I woke up to him crumpled on the floor in the fetal position, begging for his life. I’d tried to talk him out of going to the hospital, but he wouldn’t listen.
I’m on the fence about whether or not I’m being a good friend. On one hand, I’m bringing him to the ER in the middle of the night, but on the other hand, I can’t shake the feeling that a real friend would sit him down and say, “Look, you’re just fucked up, and it’s gonna suck for about two good hours, but you ain’t gonna die.” That’s what my friends would do anyway.
But here we are, in the waiting room with a few other scattered patients. I wish I’d brought a book with me. Chris is normally great company, but right now, he’s kind of stuck on a loop, repeating the phrases, “This is n-n-n-not g-g-good” and something that sounds like “Mermermer d-d-dying.”
An hour passes before the ER nurse calls Chris’s name. He stands, all six-foot-five of him, and takes the slowest steps I’ve ever seen to get to her office. Seriously, if I tried to recreate how slowly he walked over there, I don’t think it’d be humanly possible without drugs.
The nurse waits patiently, not even changing her expression. Meanwhile, I’m behind him laughing my ass off. “Oh come on!” I want to yell at her. “You know this is funny!”
“So what kinds of shows do you watch?” Christina asks. It’s February, a couple months before the Bridgetown Festival, we’re sitting in a diner in Culver City, and I’m wishing I could eat this French toast without her in front of my face.
She wants me to talk about TV dramas because that’s what she writes, and she’s waiting for another opening to talk about herself. “Do you watch Breaking Bad?”
“No. Well, I’ve seen a few episodes.”
She bristles, shaking her head. “That’s a great show! How far did you get? You have to give it past the first season.”
I sigh. “Yeah, okay.” When people want me to like things, it makes me want to hate those things. But this girl doesn’t know that about me because she doesn’t know me.
Christina’s a temp where I work. I’m here eating with her because I’m a comic, and she’s a writer, so she felt those two “careers” were close enough for us to have a lot in common. It takes about five minutes of sitting before the obvious truth sinks in between us – we don’t like each other.
Problem is, we’ve already committed to this brunch (not my idea), so we’re in this thing now, and we’re both just trying to get through it.
The worst moment between us has already happened, minutes after we sat down. We’re talking about living in L.A., and she’s asking me what I’ve been doing to “get myself out there.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I’m really not that good at networking. I don’t like doing that stuff because I feel like when I talk to people, it should be genuine. But when I get involved with people here, I feel like everybody’s trying to get something. I just don’t see the point in having conversations with someone just because I think they can help me.”
She scoffs. “Well, listen – I’m pretty sure you have to schmooze to get anywhere in this town.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not like that,” I say. “And I’m not going to do that. And if I got something that way, I wouldn’t be happy.”
We stare at each other, and it’s suddenly very uncomfortable in here.
I didn’t mean to, but I’ve called her out. My blunt words had just sliced through what she’d been doing with the last ten years of her life. What she’s doing now, really. I mean, she had probably even looked at this lunch as some kind of opportunity. She can’t get anywhere by talking to me, but she doesn’t know that going in. Maybe I know a guy that knows a guy who can get her script in front of the right people.
But I don’t know a guy. I’m just me. I check my phone for the time. Thirty more minutes.
“Did you go to the after party?” Steve asks. It’s Friday morning in April, Day Two at the Bridgetown Festival, and I’m in my hotel room getting ready and talking with my two hotel-mates, comic friends.
“Nah,” I say. “Didn’t make it. By the time I got back to the hotel, I was exhausted.” I’m not exactly lying – I was exhausted. Then again, I had no real desire to go to the after party in the first place. I should go. I know I should go – after all, even the people who run the festival billed it to us as a place where some “industry” will be, a good networking opportunity.
To be completely honest, I can’t even believe I got into this festival. Sure, I’m funny enough to get in—then again, a lot of people who didn’t get in are funny enough—but until I received the email saying I made the cut, I’d been under the impression that you had to know someone to get on the lineup. And like I said, I don’t know anyone. I just sent in a good clip.
“So how was it?” I ask.
“It was hella fun! Danced my ass off,” Chris says.
“I got drunk with the guy who books Conan,” Steve says.
“Well, that’s good. Right?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “I have no idea what I was saying. I’m a little worried about it.”
“I’m sure you’re fine. I never know what to say to those people.” I sigh. “I just feel like I’m supposed to be talking to people, but it feels…I don’t know…icky.”
“Everyone feels weird,” Chris says. “Chances are, they’re thinking the same thing you are. You should stop worrying about it and act like yourself.”
“Yeah,” I say. “But maybe that’s the problem.”
“Here, wear this,” Rebecca says. She hands me a wrap scarf thing-y that she had on over her hoodie, and I put it on to shield my head from the rain. It’s Friday afternoon, and Rebecca and I are walking down a winding road through the woods, making our way to Portland’s Japanese Gardens.
Rebecca’s not a comic – leave it to me to make friends with the only non-comic on a weekend when I’m supposed to “network.” She’s a bartender-slash-tailor-slash-designer from Brooklyn, and she came to Portland with her friend, an NYC comic, because she felt like getting away.
She has a sultry voice, curly hair, and she reminds me of my friends from home because she’s an easy person, and I don’t feel like I need to impress her. When I talk to her, I don’t feel like she’s looking over my shoulder to see if there’s a more worthwhile person to talk to in the vicinity.
We take a break from our walk and head over to a log overlooking the mountainside. I watch as Rebecca carefully empties tobacco from her cigarette and fills the shell with some weed that one of the festival drivers had given her the night before.
“Wow,” I say. “You’re good at that.”
“Thanks.” She lights up.
Despite the constant smeary drizzle, it’s beautiful here. I feel like I haven’t been outside in months. I spend most of my time in cars, at work, or in dark rooms and bars telling jokes to a slew of bored-looking comics waiting to go on.
Even though it’s so peaceful where we are, I have a ball of anxiety churning in my gut. In a couple hours, there’s an event for comics. I check my phone for the time, do some quick calculating, and realize I’m probably going to be at least an hour late. Shit, I suck at making it to these things.
When we get to the gardens, though, when Rebecca and I follow the designated pathways, each one leading us to a mini pocket of hidden beauty, when I start to feel like a little kid exploring the woods in the back of my childhood home in Massachusetts, I forget about the time completely.
After more than an hour passes, I get anxious again for the briefest of moments, and then it suddenly hits me that the reason I feel anxious is because I don’t want to be trying to network right now. I want to be right here, where I am. I want to enjoy this.
In fact, I’m so lucky to be here in Portland, walking around with a new friend, taking pictures of Japanese Gardens that I got to see with my eyes in real life, up close.
This moment right here. This is the reason I want to be a comedian. I want to live a life like this.
On my last full day in Portland, I opt out of any festival activities, guilt-free. Instead, I walk around a street market with Rebecca, get my tarot cards read by a 15-year-old in a tent, head to my final festival show, where I close out with a great set, and finish the night at an open mic.
If you ask all the other comics what Bridgetown was like, they might talk about how it’s a big non-stop party. They might talk about having a drink with the guy from Conan. They might talk about what so-and-so did when blah-blah-blah, or how drunk they got that one night.
Here’s what happened to me in Bridgetown – I had three really solid sets, I saw beautiful parts of a city I’ve never been to, and I met a cool girl from Brooklyn who reminds me of my best friends.
Maybe this kind of behavior won’t get me famous, but that’s okay. I'd rather be the person who drives you to the hospital in the middle of the night when you’ve had too much weed.
I’d rather be known for that.
After a brief lecture about the dangers of mixing Redbull and weed, the nurse sends us back into the waiting area, warning us it might be another few hours before she can get Chris in a bed.
In the next half hour, he fades in and out. I’ve been where he is, so I know that 95% of what’s wrong is that he’s having a panic attack, and because he’s so high, that’s making all of the things going on in his body escalate to epic proportions.
“Oh my God,” he says at one point. “Leah, I’m gonna be sick.”
“Well, uh, can you make it to the bathroom?”
“Right now!” Then he holds one hand up over his mouth and flails the other at me.
I run to the desk, and the night attendant, rushed, hands me a barf bags. As soon as Chris gets a bag in his hand, he fills it right to the top.
“Wow,” I say, “that’s crazy. That bag had the exact capacity you needed.”
He gives me a dirty look.
“I mean, it’s not a centimeter less than it can hold. That’s amazing. Don’t you see how amazing that is?”
He looks pitiful, sitting there holding a bag of his own vomit.
“Uh,” I say to the attendant, “what should we do with this?”
The attendant rolls his eyes and walks out with a pair of gloves on, takes the bag of puke, and heads back to wherever they put all those nasty things.
I plop back down in the chair next to Chris. "Feeling better?"
He glares. I shrug. But sure enough, about five minutes later, he turns to me. “Leah, I think I just want to go to bed.”
“Yeah,” I say. “That’s because you’re drunk and high.” I stand up. “Come on. Let’s get the fuck out of here.”