Bouncy Ball # 97 - Kite-Flying at the Beach - Story by L.A. comedian Nevin Sharma
"Yeah, I guess anywhere is fine. This whole thing is the beach so...really...park wherever."
It's a gorgeous day, and I'm doing something. Normally, I don't have to do anything. I got laid off from my job at the end of December, so I've spent most of my time these last few months doing a lot of nothing. It's both liberating and frightening. On the one hand, I have no obligations, no commitments, no responsibilities, but on the other hand, I have no obligations, no commitments and no responsibilities. I have to create these things. On my own. It's hard. Yeah, wittle baby doesn't know what to do with his life.
What have I decided to do with this freedom?
Fly a homemade kite.
I was tired when we got to the beach. I had been up till 5:30 the previous night because I underestimated how long it would take to make a fucking kite. Turns out it was more involved than I thought. A hacksaw made an appearance. Who knew?
I don't know why I decided to make a kite. I suppose it was just something to occupy my time. Maybe I just needed to do something tangible. Something real. Something with my hands, mannnnn.
Anyway, Lee and I grab the delicate kite made out of thin dowels, electrical tape, a trash bag and some rope and make our way down a steep path towards the beach. No sooner did my foot hit the sand when I heard it:
One of the sticks holding this kite together, the kite that I stayed up till 5:30 AM making, the kite that represented the only tangible accomplishment from the last 4 months of doing nothing, had snapped. It's over. All that work for nothing.
"I blew it. I blew it before we even started. Goddamn it."
"No, I think we can fix this."
Lee runs back up to his car. I stand by the shore looking out at the sea, a bouncy ball in my pocket reminding me that in order to give this bouncy ball a story, I have to do something. But I don't do anything.
And even if I do this, nothing will change in my life. Even if we do somehow get this kite off the ground...who cares? It's a dumb kite. There's some jackass 5 feet away from us with a kite he bought from the store. It's flying! What's the point of trying to fly a kite anyway? This is stupid.
Lee returns with the most bizarre thing I've ever heard of someone having in their car. It was a roll of those produce bags they have at the grocery store. You know, the ones you put things like ginger and parsley and shit in? It was perfect.
He quickly tied a strong, secure, boy scout style knot to re-connect the two pieces that had snapped. We were back in business. As we were attaching the flying line to the kite a strong burst of wind violently took hold of the kite, and I heard it again:
Fucking - Snap.
The stick that was holding the kite together horizontally had also snapped.
Fuck internet kite building websites.
Lee is still optimistic. "No we're good. This thing has to fly. We came all the way out here."
Fuck Home Depot.
Lee refastens the broken stick, and we try to fly this thing again. I hold onto the kite as Lee starts running down the sand. The kite catches some wind, but it doesn't take off. He tries running again. It doesn't take off.
"This thing might just be kicked, dude."
We decide to try one last time. We catch a little gust of wind, and the kite takes off. It's not impressive. But it gets off the ground. The kite is at least taller than us, which feels like a victory.
Then it catches some more wind. Now this kite is getting pretty high. This kite is actually flying! Holy shit! THIS FUCKING KITE FLIES! It's getting up there now! It's high! It's SO high! OH WOW! AWESOME! I find myself yelling - like straight up hootin' and hollerin' - in actual un-ironic excitement louder and with more earnestness than I can ever remember. Lee stands there looking at the kite far above him, one hand holding the string and the other raised high above his head in triumph. It WORKED! I can't believe it worked!
When that kite came down, we tried to get it to fly again with nowhere near the success of that flight. It was pretty beat. We sat down on the beach and looked out at the ocean, both of us exhilarated. Something amazing had happened. As I sat there on a Tuesday, a work day, a gorgeous work day, on a beach, looking out at the ocean, I felt like I had it together. I don't know why. In real life, I most certainly do not have it together. But for some reason.
In that moment.
I felt all right.
I left the bouncy ball at the beach.
I had done something.
Bouncy Ball # 98 - Rhonda
"That's the Zorthian family ranch right there," she says, turning to me like we'd already been having a conversation, and we're not complete strangers.
"Yep. They have a farm in the Foothills of Altadena. They come to this ceremony every year." She has shoulder-length gray hair, and she dresses like my mom - t-shirt, sneakers, jeans, sunglasses.
"Wow," I say. "That's so cool."
"My son is out there." She points to the colorfully robed men and women in front of us, wearing funny hats like scholars in a college graduation and leading animals in large ornate cages to the center of Olvera Street.
Right across from Union Station, Olvera Street is the oldest part of downtown LA. The area, settled by Spanish colonists in the late 1700s and remaining the center of the city after Mexican Independence, still exists today as part of the El Pueblo De Los Angeles State Historic Park. Along the old cobblestone road, nestled between buildings, Mexican merchants sell everything from food to sandals to posters of Marilyn Monroe with a "Day of the Dead" skull as her face. It's less than a mile from my house, but I never even knew it existed until a couple months ago, when I was desperately searching the internet for things to do for this bouncy ball bullshit.
Sosa and I had come here because it was card number 1 of the 50 "City Walk Adventure" cards we'd received when we won the city scavenger hunt the week before. As we approached the lively historic square, we'd noticed a banner raised at the entrance: "The Blessing of the Animals."
"The Blessing of the animals?" I'd read. "That's crazy that something is actually going on here. I feel like we were supposed to come here today."
After wandering through the heart of the cobbled marketplace, we'd run into a roped off section. A young guy herded us to the other side of the rope, and having no idea where we were going, we weaved through people with dogs on leashes, carrying cages with cats or bunnies, and found a spot near the edge of the crowd gathering on the sides of the street, a stage set up at the far end of the area.
That's where we ran into Rhonda.
"They've been coming to this for 60 years," she continues.
"Wow," I say. "And, uh, what exactly is this?"
She laughs. "It's a ceremony. The Blessing of the Animals. The Catholic church blesses all the animals around Easter."
But as she's explaining, a young woman takes the stage and starts speaking into the mic. Sosa ushers me over to a short wall, and we stand on it to see - the best view in the house.
"Welcome, and thank you for coming to this year's Blessing of the Animals," the girls says. She explains the ceremony - a centuries-old tradition - and introduces the Archbishop of the Catholic church, who walks out past the Zorthian family ranchers, waving at all the people gathered on the sidelines. A mariachi band announces his entrance, and they play while he makes his way to the stage.
"This is amazing," I say to Sosa. "I mean, we just accidentally found this."
Again, Rhonda appears next to me on the wall. I don't notice she's there until she starts talking to me, again as though we're mid-conversation. "You know," she says, pointing again at the colorful group in the center of street. "That's the Zorthian Family Ranch. It's a ranch up in Altadena."
I smile. "Oh yeah?"
"My son is out there," she says. "You see the guy in the funny hat?"
Almost all of them are wearing funny hats. "Oh sure," I say.
"That's him! He's an artist. It's an artist community. They've been coming to the Blessing of the Animals for the past 60 years."
I get the feeling that she doesn't recognize me from literally minutes before. But she's dead on with her factual information. Just after she relays these tidbits to me, the lady on the microphone says, "We'd like to welcome the Zorthian family, who's been attending the Blessing of the Animals for the past 60 years."
The Zorthian family starts leading their animals toward the stage, where the Archbishop dips a large wand into a bucket of holy water and sprays it out onto all the animals herded in front of the stage.
"There's plenty of water for everyone," the emcee reminds us. After the Zorthian family and a few other families are recognized, she invites the public to walk their animals past the stage. "We'll be here all afternoon," she says, as people lead their dogs and cats, their beloved pets past the Archbishop to receive his blessing.
I turn to the lady next to me, but she's disappeared. "She's gone," I say, nudging Sosa. "I was gonna give her a bouncy ball."
"We can find her."
We wade through the crowd over to where the Zorthian family is gathering, letting children pet the animals. Sure enough, the lady is there, off to the side, beaming at her son.
I walk up to her. "Hi," I say. "Can I give you a bouncy ball?"
"Oh," she says, pleasant. "Are you part of the Zorthian family?"
Again, she doesn't recognize me. "Oh no," I say. "I just want you to have this. I believe it's good luck."
A huge smile comes over her face. "Thank you so much. That's so kind of you."
Bouncy Ball # 99 - Hula Hoops
It started with a hula hoop - I saw it leaning against a the wall on a patio during this Easter BBQ, and I'd gone over to ask if I could try it out. I couldn't do it (I've never been able to), so I handed it off to Katie, who kept it going for about 20 seconds and then stopped on her own, but I think she could've gone on forever.
Now there's a circle formed around person after person attempting to hula hoop as the rest of us cheer them on. Just minutes before, we'd all been separated into small groups, having our own conversations. Separated.
A lot of people try. Most of them are comics. Rick gives it a try, his beer in hand. It's such a ridiculous visual, I wish more than anything that he's secretly good at it, but after two turns, the hoop falls down around his ankles.
And so on and so on until finally, a girl gets in the center and shows us all up, clearly the best one. I give her the bouncy ball like it's a prize for the contest I'd accidentally created. She's thrilled.
"I can't believe you started all this," Jeff says.
I shrug. "I told you. I'm magic."
And then I laugh. While it's true that I believe I'm magic, I don't really believe that getting a party of people to hula hoop is magic - it's just a thing I can do. I learned pretty early on that you can start a dance circle or a competition or pretty much any spontaneous event by simply loudly declaring that it's happening.
Bouncy Ball # 100 - Hawaii Meets Austria in Australia - Story and photograph by Adair of Dootle Photography
“Oh, please don’t jump!” my co-worker said under his breath.
I was sitting on a giant rock slab on a cliff overlooking an ocean in Manly, Sydney enjoying the view with someone who worked in a couple of the previous U.S. Presidential Administrations. It was one of the few moments of free time I had when I was working abroad, and I’d been invited to take a ferry to Manly. So far, we’d seen the Pacific Ocean more turbulent than it is in Hawai’i (where I live), a ton of sunbathers, three tween boys playing in some rough surf, and a dead possum. After walking past the beach and hiking upwards, we found ourselves on a giant cliff with one other person—the possible jumper.
She stood on the edge of a cliff, reddish-brown hair blowing in the wind, tank top, jean shorts, and flip-flops, her back to us, looking at the water. When we’d first made our way to the giant rock slab, she had been sitting on it and gave us a nice smile when we sat down. She seemed a bit teary-eyed, which was the reason for our alarm when she got up and stood on the edge.
“That’s just what we need to end a nice day,” I replied.
To our relief, she turned, gave us a bright smile, and walked towards us. Both of us, I am sure, gave an internal sigh of relief.
“Hello,” my co-worker said.
“Where you from?”
“What are you doing here?”
“I was here for an internship, but I am taking six weeks to backpack across Australia before heading back to Austria. You?"
“We met though work and decided to take a short detour.”
After chatting with her for a while, we found out that her name was Maria, that she was from a small town in Austria, and this was her first time being so far from home. She seemed ready to go back, but also excited to finish her last three weeks of backpacking. My hiking companion had initiated the conversation, to my surprise, given his previous stature. This sort of ease of conversation with anyone and everyone was not what I had become accustomed to in my job.
After talking to her for a bit, we got up to go. We had to catch the ferry back so that I could get to the airport and head home. As we stood, I pulled the bright yellow bouncy ball Leah had given me out of my bag. I had taken it with me to Sydney with the idea that I would give it to someone while I was there. I had originally thought about giving it to my hiking companion, but decided that Maria should have it. I admired her for backpacking across Australia with no plans in place. Backpacking was something I had always wanted to do, but had missed out on in my younger years because I spent my money impractically. And now I am at a point in my life where backpacking extensively is not an option.
“Maria, do you want a bouncy ball?
“What?” she replied, confused.
“A bouncy ball. A comic friend of mine in LA is on a mission to have a new experience every day. When she has this new experience she gives a bouncy ball to someone who was part of that experience. She asked her friends to help her out, so I have one. Her name is Leah Kayajanian. See, it’s right here on the ball.”
I pointed to Leah’s name.” “This was a new experience for me. Would you like the bouncy ball?”
“Sure!” she said with a giddy laugh. “Thank you! It is the type of ball that bounces high, right?”
“Yes, it is. I hope you enjoy the rest of your travels!”
As we turned to leave, I felt bad for not giving the ball to my hiking companion, who had looked curiously on as I passed it to Maria. I wished I had had two - I would have given one to each. As we walked back down the trail to catch the ferry, I felt silly apologizing for not having another one.
“That’s ok,” he replied, bounding down the trail.
He probably wouldn’t have wanted a bouncy ball anyway, but I like to think that he was playful enough that he would have enjoyed having a bouncy ball as much as Maria. One can hope—a bit of playfulness makes the world a better place.
Bouncy Ball # 101 - The Taco Table
Tuesday night, I'm driving down Glendale, and I see the taco table set up next to the car wash. They've been there every night for a month or so - just three guys wearing red aprons, a rack of juicy meat upright next to the grill while two of them cook at a frantic pace, and the third takes the orders from the line that's always forming in front of them.
Every time I drive by with Sosa in my car, he points at them. "I love that," he says. "That, to me, is real American, you know? They just say, 'I'm gonna set up right here and work all night to make money.'"
I make a last-second decision and pull into the car wash. I stand to the side and watch the guy over the grill. He never looks up to sigh, to pause. He never stops moving at that same pace. He cooks the meat. He fills the tortillas. He wraps them in aluminum foil. And then repeat.
How exhausting that must be. Eight hours every night. I see them there setting up at 6 PM, and I see them when I'm driving home late after mics.
Standing there in front of this taco grill, I feel silly. This is real work with real results - feeding people for money to feed their families. I'm exhausted and I work hard, true, but I don't have anything tangible to point to, no concrete evidence of my blood, sweat, and tears except for a silly blog about fantastic things like trying to find magic in reality.
They hand me my bag of carnitas tacos, and I leave a bouncy ball on the table.
Bouncy Ball # 102 - The Return of the Workout Room
It's my worst nightmare. I'm standing in my own garage with a microphone in my hand, a crowd of comics, people I respect, in front of me, my neighbors who hate me glaring at me from across the street, and here I am, frozen, stoned out of my mind, and having possibly the worst set of all time.
Now, I've had terrible sets - don't get me wrong - and a lot of them have been more silent than this. But this one is bad because of a number of different contributing factors, which I will list below like the obsessive neurotic comedian that I am:
1. As I mentioned, we're at my house. After D3 shut its doors, I'd offered my place as the new location for the show. It's kind of perfect, actually - we open up the doors to my garage, drop some chairs in my driveway, set up a mic, and voila, a comedy show happens. And it's a successful show. Though I'm the last comic on the lineup, everyone who performed before me was hilarious, and before I'd stepped foot onstage, I was so proud to have helped pull this off.
2. I also mentioned I'm stoned. I'd eaten way too much of an edible. This isn't particularly out of the ordinary - I'd gotten onstage the same amount of high before, but it had never affected my performance so severely. But tonight, maybe it's my paranoia about my neighbors hating me, maybe it's all the anxiety I carry around, or maybe it's simply the weed, but I'm standing there, speechless, and I can't think of a thing to say even though I have a set list in my back pocket.
3. There was supposed to be an open mic at the end of the show, but because I'm so freaked out about my neighbors, I announced at the start of my set that we couldn't do the open mic, so all of the comics that came to support the show and stayed to the end of it wouldn't be able to do time. And on top of that, I'm wasting seven minutes saying absolutely nothing. It doesn't occur to me until after I get offstage that at the very least, I should've given up my time to people who actually have things to say.
I'm so embarrassed after my set, I shut myself in my room and don't come out. When I do come out, everything is locked, cleaned, put away.
Okay, so I didn't handle that well. On the surface, it's an easy enough fix. The next morning, I wake up and send personal Facebook messages to all the comics who attended the show and didn't get time, and we booked them for the following week. All of them responded that they actually enjoyed the show, and they didn't hold a grudge against me.
The second thing - no more weed. Not forever. (I don't believe marijuana is a bad thing, and I think that alcohol is 200 times more dangerous.) But personally, it's starting to cause me more anxiety than it alleviates, which is the reason I usually eat it in the first place: to calm down. And it's been about 14 years of smoking weed, so maybe a break would be a nice exercise in control, another thing I can do to better myself during this bouncy ball project.
But that's the problem - this project has always been about making myself a better person. And while I feel that in some ways I've been successful, I always immediately notice another area that needs fixing. It's like I have this bucket that leaks, and once I find the hole and patch it up, the water leaks from another part of the bucket. I never fix it all.
First it was my broken heart - I had to mend that. Then my broken friendships and relationships. Then my sense of self-worth. Then my body, which I'd worked on and took care of with the diligence of a serious athlete. Then it was my soul - trying to make myself a better person by confronting things that I'd like to change in the world. And then it was me trying to deal with this bouncy ball project itself - trying to manage my time around that, my full time job, and standup.
And after all that, there's still a leak, and it's the place I thought was the strongest hold, the place I thought would never give out from under me: standup comedy.
Bouncy Ball # 103 - Sofiya
The next morning, I'm at work, but it's hard for me to concentrate. I'm thinking about quitting this bouncy ball project. While I like doing it, the time I spend on it is taking away from standup, and I'm just not sure that's the best decision to make. I don't know what else to cut out.
I can't cut out exercise because now that I'm quitting the pot for awhile, it's the only activity that can keep me level-headed and sane. I consider spending less time on my relationships with the people I care about the most, but that seems like it will only make me more miserable, and it's just plain unfair to me. I absolutely can't cut any more time away from standup, so it's looking like my only option is to quit this project. It'd be one thing if it made a difference at all to anyone, but it seems to be mostly for me with no real tangible results.
That's exactly what I'm thinking when my friend, LA Comic Sofiya Alexandra, tags me on Facebook, and I click on a link that brings me to this:
"Cookie/Life/Ethnicity Update" - Written by Sofiya Alexandra
I had a bunch of cookies I baked for SURPRISE! left over, and having been reading Leah Kayajanian's amazing bouncy ball adventure blog, I was inspired to connect with other people and to sort of use the cookies as my bouncy balls, my way to connect with people.
I gave some to my grandfather in the hospital (he doesn’t count, I watched him have penis surgery, we’re pretty connected), then offered some to a couple of white nurses in their 40s (waved me away like I had the measles), then 3 older white women and an older white man working the hospital sign-in desk (only one woman took a cookie, almost reluctantly - the others looked suspiciously at me and the cookies), the young Mexican woman valet outside the hospital (she was very excited and took 4 when I told her she could have multiple), then the young male Mexican valet (pretty excited, took 3 and shouted ‘Cinnamon!’ when he smelled them).
Then, when I was driving down Walgrove to my house, two middle-aged Mexican workers in orange vests were planting flowers in a median, and I rolled my window down and told them they were working too hard and to have a cookie (very excited for the cookies, but nervous about other cars approaching, so he only took 2 at first, then 4 more at my prodding, and then passed 3 more to his friend, who exclaimed “Orale, Orale!” and made me laugh).
That night, when I was driving to my writing partner’s house, there was a familiar silhouette of a homeless man at the 10 exit on Crenshaw - I take this exit every day at the same time, and there are about 5 different black homeless men who share it, one at a time. I sometimes have money for them, but sometimes not. Mostly not, to be honest, and I always feel awful after regardless of the money.
It’s a very long light to sit out while looking at another human in a desperate situation while you’re in your warm car, thinking that you’re a piece of shit who should volunteer more. This time, I rolled my window down, thrust the tupperware at him and said, “Hey, I don’t have any money, but do you want some cookies?” He came closer and cocked his head, “Did you bake these?” “Yes!” I laughed. “Then hell yeah!” he said, and reached out for a couple. “Take as many as you want!” He double-fisted that tupperware and it was awesome. I asked him his name as the light changed. “Moochie!” he shouted and waved goodbye.
I didn’t solve homelessness or anything, but the brief cookie moments of connection I shared with people yesterday made my day better, so thank you Leah, I think I will definitely do this again. It helped me step out of my own life, full of grandfather worrying and career worrying and self worrying and think about strangers. I think we all need that. And IMPORTANT QUESTION: why were the only people not into the cookies white? TAKE MORE CHANCES, WHITE PEOPLE
To anyone who doesn't believe there's magic in the world, that's okay. I used to think so, too. But time and time again, the Universe has sent me messages at the exact moment I needed to receive them. And in all that time, I've never received a more clear message from the Universe than I got from Sofiya's story - it's tangible evidence.
What I'm doing means something to one person. That's enough for me.
Universe, I got your message, loud and clear: STAY THE COURSE.
Sofiya, I owe you a bouncy ball.
"Thanks for having me on the show," I say to Steve.
"Thanks for doing it," Steve says, shaking my hand. "Hey, so I read your last blog. Are you really done with the thread about the guy?"
"Yep." I'm hesitant to give up anymore information. Talking to Steve is a chess match - he's always looking for places where your defense is weak, a back way in to personal information that you forgot to guard.
He shakes his head. "But you don't ever tell us what happened."
I shrug. "That's because nothing really happened. There's not really much to tell, other than what I said. It's not a thing anymore."
"So you're not going to talk about it?"
"Well, there's just not much to talk about," I say. "I mean, I write about how I feel when I feel it. So I started writing this blog when I was upset, but that's not the case anymore. I got other stuff going on."
"I'm just saying," Steve says, "as a reader and a fan, I feel cheated if you don't tell me what happened."
"But why do you need to know that?"
"Because look," Steve says, "you hooked me at the beginning because you're all upset about this guy, and now you're fine, and you just expect me to be fine, too, but you're the one who introduced the story. How are you going to keep that part away from the readers? You're robbing us of a happy ending."
"But that's not what the story's about. Why does the happy ending have to mean it's about a guy?"
Steve holds his hands up in surrender. "Look, you can do what you want," he says. "I'm just telling you how I feel."
I shrug. "Okay. Thank you. Noted."
I don't say what I want to say, which is this:
You've followed me this far into a web of insanity. Don't you trust me to lead you out of it?
Bouncy Ball # 92 - Crestwood Park
"Oh my God, this is the longest detour ever," I say. "I mean, are we even still in California?"
"There's a sign," Sosa says, pointing to an orange construction sign, a big black arrow prompting us to make our third left.
We'd just left Crestwood Park in Brentwood, where we attended a fundraiser carnival for the school where I work. Nothing of interest happened at the carnival.
On the way out, while we climbed some concrete stairs to the parking lot, I remembered the bouncy ball in my purse and placed it on one of the concrete steps. Halfway up the staircase, I passed an old lady with her hand on the railing, taking each step one at a time, and I ran back down to grab the bouncy ball.
"Oh my God," I'd said to Sosa while we walked to my car. "What if that old lady stepped on my bouncy ball and fell? That would've been a terrible story."
We followed the route back to the 405 freeway, but the on-ramp we needed was closed, a bright orange detour sign pointing us in a different direction.
That was about ten miles back.
"Why do I even trust these detour signs right now?" I ask. "How do I know they're leading anywhere?"
Sosa laughs. "That's a good point. What if the construction workers were bored, and they just pointed us in random directions? They're like, 'Just get the fuck out of here.'"
"That's what it feels like," I say. "Look, there's another sign." We approach yet another intersection, the orange sign pointing left. The only problem is, there are two possible lefts you can take, one sharp left that turns onto a two-lane highway, and one soft left that leads down a hill. I take the sharp left.
"I don't think this is right," I say. "Everyone else went the other way."
Sosa shrugs. "Well, turn around."
I pull off the road into some gravel, turn my car around and head back to the intersection. "No fucking way," I say.
At the light, there's another orange detour sign, pointing back the way we came.
"How is that even possible?" I ask. "Are we in a maze right now? Did we switch detours halfway through our detour?"
Sosa and I crack up laughing as I take a left at the light. "All right," I say. "I'm giving up." I map out the directions on my phone, and it leads us
toward the 101. Within two miles, we both recognize our surroundings.
"We're in the Valley?! We're in the fucking Valley right now? How is that even possible?" It's like we'd found some secret chute that sucked us through hills and woods and gravel roads and spit us out nowhere near where we started.
I get on the freeway. "Well," I say, "I definitely know the way from here."
I'm at work one morning when I get a Facebook message from my comic friend, who lives in Chicago. "Hey, if I don't actually give the ball to someone, does it still count?"
"Sure, it counts," I say. "Anything counts." I don't care what my friends write about the bouncy ball - I'm just happy they're writing something. "Drop the ball near where you saw it, if you want to feel justified."
"Thank goodness," he replies. "Because I saw an old lady fall down on my way to work, and I really wanted an excuse to write about it."
Huh, I think. That's a weird coincidence. Just a few days before, I'd almost made an old lady fall by leaving a bouncy ball in her path, and now a friend of mine will be dropping a bouncy ball in Chicago in the spot where he saw an old lady fall.
Stories of Bouncy Balls Past - Logan Airport
I'm in the shuttle on the way to the Logan Airport, helplessly watching the minutes tick by. 30 minutes until my flight departs, and we're not even at the terminal. We've been stuck in traffic for a few hours now. I'm about to miss my flight.
This is already an unplanned trip. I flew in to Boston the day of my grandpa's funeral, attended the night service and the graveside memorial ceremony the next morning, and then immediately turned around to fly back to L.A. Tomorrow morning, I'm supposed to be in my car driving to Oklahoma for the holidays.
While we finally pull up to my terminal, I'm on the phone with some guy from Orbitz, who's not really helping me. "Never mind, I gotta run!" I hang up and burst through the airport doors.
There's a line in front of the airline desk. I make eye contact with the first security guard I see. "Help me!" I yell. "My flight leaves in 20 minutes! I checked in online!"
He actually rushes over and helps me - I really have no idea why. He grabs my luggage, throws a tag on it, and points to the security checkpoint. "Gate 12," he says, shaking his head. "And you'd better run!"
But I'm already running, my back to him, shouting, "Thank you!" over my shoulder while I take my shoes off, one at a time, mid-stride. I reach the security checkpoint - there's no line, just one girl in front of me.
"I'll give you a million dollars if you let me go first," I say.
She laughs. "Just go!"
I toss my stuff on the conveyor belt, check the time. 10 minutes until my flight departs.
The guard gestures for me to walk through the metal detector. I rush through, but it beeps. "Oh my God," I say. "I don't even have anything."
"Check your pockets," the guard says.
I reach in my pocket. There is something in there. I pull it out. "It's a bouncy ball!" I hold it out in front of the guard. "What do I do? I don't even need this!"
He rolls his eyes. "Just hold it in your hand."
So I clutch the ball in my hand, holding my arms up over my head as they x-ray me. 8 minutes. There's no way I'm making this flight.
Still, I grab my shoes, my backpack, and run down the terminal in my socks until I land in front of Gate 12, out of breath, 7 minutes before the flight is supposed to leave.
But they're not boarding the plane. The gate is full of passengers, and they're all staring at me. Probably because I look like a crazy person.
I walk up to the help desk. "Excuse me, is there a problem with the flight?"
"We'll be boarding shortly," the lady says. "The flight crew got held up in traffic."
I sit down and put on my shoes, exhausted, sad, and a little bit confused. In all my years flying on planes, I've never been delayed because a flight crew got stuck in traffic. I pull the bouncy ball out of my pocket. Did I make this happen? Did I stop this plane?
Am I magic?
I'm on my drive home from work when I receive a Facebook message from one of my LA comic friends. It's about another bouncy ball story that I'm waiting to receive. "Hey btw, what I wrote was incredibly sad, so I scratched it."
I'm bummed, but I don't want her to know. It's not her fault that I can't distribute bouncy balls at the rate I'd set for myself. "That's cool that you wrote something," I respond, "even if no one sees it. And you can always try it again if you want."
"Well I still have some balls," she writes. "Maybe I can try to make it fun and less sad this time."
"Some of my stories are pretty sad, too," I say. "Just so you know."
Bouncy Ball # 93 - Evan
Wednesday night, I'm at the House of Pies with a group of comics after the mic at the Hollywood Hotel. One of the comics, Evan, announces that he's going to try the apple pie with a slice of cheese on it.
"Is that a thing?" I ask.
They point it out to me on the menu.
"Oh cool! I'm gonna try that, too."
Evan and I get our pie before the rest of the food. It's delicious. I pass it around the table, offering bites to all the other comics.
After a while, there's a lull in the conversation, and right then, I miss the easiness of my old friends, how silence is rare, but when it happens, it's never accompanied by the sudden panic that sets in over a group of comics, whose biggest fears are appearing as awkward as they feel.
I loudly sigh. "You guys," I say. "I just feel like, well...why is everyone here always so...I don't know."
I continue. "It's just that my friends are always giving each other shit, you know? I mean, my old college friends. Not that you guys aren't my friends."
They all stare at me.
"I mean, they made fun of each other, you know? It was easy. And I feel like there's just not that easy feeling here. Why are we all so polite?"
"God Leah," Ryan says. "Sorry we're not as good as your real friends."
I know he's joking, but I immediately feel bad. "No, no, that's not what I meant," I say. "It's just..."
But I don't know what to say. I don't know what I mean. I can't tell what's bothering me sitting at this table, but there's something just a little off about it. I feel disconnected and isolated, even here with five other people.
"I still have your ball," my friend Megan says. "I haven't done anything yet, but I promise I will."
"Ha!" I laugh. "There's no rush, really."
"No, I have the perfect thing," she says, "but I'm afraid to do it. It's dumb, but I've never done it before."
"Really? Wow, I can't wait."
"Yeah," she says. "I thought about what I wanted to do, and then I got this idea, and now I can't think of anything else."
Bouncy Ball # 94 - Meah
I've been driving around for over an hour trying to find something to do with this goddamn ball. I pass by a shop with the sign "$6 haircuts." I'd do that, but I don't have six dollars. I only have two dollars.
I'm running out of daylight and options. Finally, frustrated, I pull into a gas station. I take my last two bucks, and I go in to buy a Powerball ticket. I get a quick pick number from the friendly cashier.
"Can I give you a bouncy ball?" I ask him, holding a large yellow one in my palm in front of him.
The cashier grabs it. "What is this?"
"It's just a bouncy ball," I say. "They're for good luck. I like to give them to people."
He smiles, turning the ball in his hand. "You know," he says, "it's crazy you gave me this. I have a son, and he loves these. He plays with them all the time! I'm going to give it to him, if you don't mind." He examines the writing on the side. "What's this say here?"
"It says my name," I say. "Leah."
"Oh, I see," he says.
I glance at his name tag. "Is your name Meah?"
"Wow," I say. I start to leave.
Me holds the ball up. "Thank you so much for this. My son, he will love it. Really, it's perfect."
On my way to my car, I hold my $2 slip of paper, and I think about odds. What are the odds that this is a winning ticket? One in a billion? And what are the odds that I randomly give a bouncy ball to a man who's son collects bouncy balls? One in a million? One in a billion? Once in a lifetime?
I'm walking out of High Fidelity at the end of The Casual when I run into a comic friend on the sidewalk. "Hey," he says. "I'm glad I saw you. What's your email address? I got a bouncy ball story for you!"
"Oh great!" I say. I rattle off my address and run to catch up with Sosa, who's walking ahead of me on the sidewalk. "He's got a story," I say. "Thank God. He's saving me."
I wait, but I don't receive an email.
On Sundays, I record a podcast with my friend Andy. It's his baby - I'm just the co-host that tries to keep him on topic when his ADHD sees some shiney conversation nugget off in another direction.
The podcast, called "People We Know," is about fictional characters. Every week, Andy invites a guest to come talk to us about their favorite character from a movie, a book, a TV show, really anything.
I'm an interesting addition to the podcast, mostly because I'm notorious for not seeing movies or TV shows that apparently everyone else in the world has seen. For instance, I've never seen "The Godfather." (GASP!)
So most of the time when we record, I'm just sitting there with nothing to add to the conversation because I have no idea what super-villains Spider-man has encountered, and Andy can stay on this topic for hours.
Today, though, we're talking about Scrooge McDuck of "Ducktales" fame with LA comic and my good friend, Greg. I still don't know shit about the topic, but since I know Greg, the conversation is easy, smooth.
"So why do you think you connect so much with Scrooge McDuck?" Andy asks, laughing at the absurdity of it. He's asked this question in different versions several times, but I get the feeling he's looking for something deeper than what Greg's given.
"Well, I don't know if I connect with him," Greg says. "But I like the show because it's a treasure hunt. You know? I just like that idea of looking for treasure. The adventure of it."
"We should go on a treasure hunt," Andy says.
"Hell yeah," I say. "I'm in! For sure."
"All right," Greg says, "Let's do this. We just need a map."
"But where can we get a map?"
I shrug. "Maybe we could go to a thrift store or an antique store and look for one."
"No, no, no," Andy says. "That's not how it works. The treasure map has to find you. You can't seek it out."
Later, after we're done recording, Andy, Greg, John, and I are in John's kitchen, eating donuts and discussing whether or not there's a Higher Power.
We're not arguing about it, though we have different opinions on the matter. Andy and John are Atheists, Greg and I aren't necessarily religious, but we entertain the idea that there's something out there, something supernatural, something magical.
"I just think there's some connection between all of us, you know?" Greg says.
"I agree that we're all connected," John says, "but I just think of it like we're all made out of the same thing. That in itself is fascinating enough to me."
"Yeah," I pipe in. "I guess that's true. But don't you ever feel like you can manipulate things? You know, like if you wake up and you're in a good mood, then your day goes better than if you start out pissed?"
"Oh sure," John says, "but that's really more about your psychological mindset."
"I guess," I say. "But I mean, I just feel like I'm able to manipulate things that I shouldn't have any control over. I can make things happen. What comes to me is a direct result of what I put in the world."
Bouncy Ball # 95 - My Neighborhood
After work one afternoon, I walk around my neighborhood with a large trash bag. I scour the fence lines, the sidewalks, the edge of the streets, picking up any trash I find. I don't live in the nicest area - within one block, I've filled an entire bag.
Why am I doing this? Well, during Week 12 of this project, one of my guest writers had referred to dropping her bouncy ball on the ground as "creative littering." I never thought of bouncy balls as litter for some reason, but I guess they are made of rubber, of plastics and man-made chemicals that take years to decompose.
I figure that by the end of this, I'll have released close to 200 bouncy balls in the world. So, in an effort to make right on what I'm putting in the world, I picked up well over 200 pieces of litter around my block.
During my short neighborhood cleanup, I only have one interaction. A man pulls up next to me, parks his car, and smiles. "Thank you for doing that," he says.
"It's nothing," I say. After all, I'm just cleaning up to make up for the messes I've made, the debris like fragmented pieces of my life, my friend's lives, scattered around the world.
Late Friday night, I receive a long text message from an Oklahoma friend and this picture:
"Can't find the contact case to take out my contacts," she writes, "but instead I find a Leah Kayajanian bouncy ball under my bed, and it isn't the one you sent. I checked my purse to be sure. I can't reach it with my arms, so it's stuck there for now and I am bored, so I decided it's cool, like a magic charm somebody put under a bed to protect someone in a movie."
"That's exactly what it IS!" I write. "I put it there in my dream."
I text that because I know she'll like it, the idea of me sending good vibes her way in the form of bouncy balls. She likes things like that. But I also text it because I believe that it's true. I believe I did put it there somehow, that the earth has rotated in such a way that my existence made that circumstance occur. And even my existence is against the odds - I was born because my grandmother survived the Armenian Genocide and came to America, an 8-year-old orphan.
Whatever the reason for it, the fact that I exist has put bouncy balls out in the world in certain spots that seem inevitable, like points on a treasure map that only appear in a certain light, like pieces set up on a chess board that show up and disappear when you let your guard down, like points of connection between me and the world.
Between me and you.
Bouncy Ball # 96 - CityHunt Scavenger Hunt
"I just want you to know," Sosa says, "none of that was fun for me."
I laugh. "Really? I had fun. You didn't like it?"
He shakes his head. "It was definitely more stressful than I thought it'd be. I thought it was gonna be just a fun game thing, but that's not what it felt like. You were really serious about it."
"Oh, I'm sorry! Was I being obnoxious?"
He sighs. "No, but you wanted to win."
Sosa and I just met back at the rendezvous point to find at least 8 teams had finished this scavenger hunt before us, including several teams of older ladies who'd also apparently stopped and done some shopping along the way.
Technically, it doesn't matter if we finished first, just as long as we finish in the allotted three-hour time span. Sosa and I spent two and a half hours running up and down Hollywood Boulevard to find certain stars on the Walk-of-Fame, to count the stairs leading up to the entrance of the Dolby Theatre, to find the answers to questions on random plaques outside the Chinese Theatre. I'd mostly just asked him to Google things, rushing from one place to another while I went over and over our clues.
Now we're sitting on a bench, our scorecards turned in, waiting for the remaining teams to finish. "I'm sorry you didn't have fun," I say.
"It's not that," he says. "I just felt like we weren't on the same team. Like I was just there to Google things."
"You helped a lot!" I say. "You pretty much found all the answers, actually."
He shrugs, takes a sip of water. Once all the teams return, the scores are tallied, and one of the women in charge of the event stands front and center. "Okay," she says, "I'm going to name the top ten teams."
"Huh," I say, looking at the bottom of our stack. "Ours is on the bottom. See where I wrote stuff on the back?"
Sosa turns to me. "Wait. Did we win?"
"No way," I say. "There's more than ten papers in her hand."
But as she counts down, naming the placing teams, she gets closer and closer to ours until it's the only one remaining in her hand. "And the first place team has a very appropriate name..."
Sosa and I exchange a look.
"It's The Winners!" the lady says. That's the name we chose: The Winners.
Sosa jumps up. "Yes!" he says, incredulous. "We won!"
We high five. The lady hands us a paper bag with some silly prizes: a couple of boxes that I assume are candy and two medals that say, "Winner," which we put on right away.
We're both ecstatic. We can't believe it. Sure, it's just a silly scavenger hunt, but we WON! We won because we were fast and diligent and competitive.
On the drive back to my house, Sosa goes through the bag and pulls out the prizes. One of the boxes is some hard candy - he opens it, dropping a few pieces in my hand.
"What's this?" he says, pulling out the other object.
It's a box of cards, slightly bigger than tarot cards. The front says, "City Walks: Los Angeles: 50 Adventures on Foot."
Sosa unwraps the plastic, opens the box. "Oh wow." He pulls out the cards. "Look, Leah. They're all different maps to places in LA where you can walk."
He hands me the deck, and I pull out card number one. On one side, there's a map of Olvera St., the oldest street in LA. "Oh wow, I have this on my list of places to go." I flip it over - there are directions that include historical landmarks, facts, places with stories and history.
"You can use these for your bouncy ball things," Sosa says.
"Holy shit," I say. "That's exactly what I'm supposed to do with them."
"That's why we won," he says. "You were supposed to get these."
I'm speechless. I guess Andy's right. You can't look for a treasure map. A real treasure map finds you.
The Bouncy Ball Project, Week Thirteen: Bad Vibes and Brushes with Death, But the Pool Is Still Half Full
Bouncy Ball # 86 - "Kensai and the Lighthouse" - Written by Anthony Cavazos
I’m a recruiter for a big, flagship state university, and my job takes me to various places around the country, spreading the good word about what a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree can do.
Often times, I find myself in vacation destinations spending half of my day in a suit and the other half in beach clothes. Sometimes, I find myself on military installations – places that kind of feel like home when your parent spent 32 years in the military. The Exchange, the Burger King, the Class Six: they all look the same on nearly every base.
Before the security checkpoint, there’s a visitor’s center where you can “apply” to get a permit to be on base. We pull into the full parking lot and enter the building.
“What number did you get?”
“387. What number are they on?”
Lauren, a friend and coworker from another department, looks down at her phone. It’s 6:10, and we have been flying and driving since 11 AM. Neither of us has eaten since 9AM.
“My stomach is starting to eat itself,” Lauren says with a whimper.
“Lauren, this place is open 24 hours, we can just come back after we grab some dinner. We don’t have to sit here starving.”
“No, we need to just get this over with. I’ll stop whining. I’m going to wait right outside the door and get some fresh air.”
We step outside and families of soldiers are trickling in to get their numbers, wait an eternity, and finally go about their business inside the base. I noticed an old, wrinkled sticker on the door – a pistol with a slash through it. No guns allowed.
“Hey, Lauren, this is kind of haunting. Remember the shooting spree that happened here about 4 years ago?”
“No, I must have blocked it out of my memory.”
“Some army medic or something just declared jihad on the soldiers and shot and killed like 15 of them. They were being processed to go to Iraq or Afghanistan – probably just standing in a line like this. Ugh. I’m creeped out.”
After an hour and a half, the automated system in a robotic, yet slightly female voice (like Siri) calls out, “Now serving…three…hundred…eighty seven.” We approach the counter. The E-3 behind the desk asks to see our car rental agreement, Lauren’s driver’s license, and our Education Fair invite. The process takes all of 90 seconds.
“Oh my god… let’s get off base and get some food.”
Lauren’s a military brat. Her dad was a Lt. Colonel in the Army. She knows bases and military installations better than I do. I chide her about food selections that are always available on base.
“You don’t want to get some Burger King or Anthony’s Pizza? Maybe a Robin Hood Sandwich?”
Lauren rolls her eyes and says, “Ick.” She checks her phone for restaurants near our hotels. We're staying in two different hotels. Our departments have different reimbursement policies – I had to stay at the Holiday Inn Express, which was cheaper than Lauren’s selection, Shiloh Inn. Lauren taps her phone a couple of times and makes a decision.
“There’s an Old Chicago right between our hotels. I haven’t been to an Old Chicago in years. And I want a big ass mug of beer.”
“Let’s do this.”
We pull up to the Old Chicago. It’s like every Old Chicago ever, which is great when you have been on the road for weeks. Just like a military base, you pretty much know the lay of the land in a chain restaurant, and you know what to avoid.
Lauren pulls me immediately to the bar, and we sit. The bartender walks up and asks if we are having food.
“Yes, but first things first. We want beer.”
The beers show up, and I try to order something sensible – instead I end up with a pile of pasta in an alfredo sauce. Lauren orders a salad. Good for her. That will offset the beer she’s chugging. I throw down my first 24 oz mug. I ask for a second.
A young Asian guy with a backpack walks up to us. He can’t be more than 17 years old, but here he is in the “restricted area” at the bar.
“Hello, my name is Kensai (KEN-say). I am selling sun catchers to raise money for my church. We are the Generation Peace Academy. We are followers of God and we do public service around the world. Your purchase will go towards…”
I interrupt, “Did you say your name was Kensai?”
“And you’re into peace?”
“Okay, so if I buy something off of you, you’re going to work on peace?”
“If I don’t, will you go to war?”
“No. I hope not.”
“Cool, well, you’re lucky I’m into this peace thing you’re promoting. How much are your sun catchers?”
“They range in price from fifteen to sixty dollars.”
“JEEEESUS CHRIST! That’s a lot for a sun catcher. Did you make them yourself?
“Do you know the people that made them?”
“Umm. No. They… they…um… well, they just come in a box and we grab 20 of them and put them in our backpacks…”
“So you have no idea who made these?
“I can check. Ahhh, here we go… they were made in the Phillipines.”
“Are you from the Phillipines?”
“Then we still don’t know who made these.”
At this point, Lauren is annoyed by both of us, I’m sure. “Stop messing with him.”
I oblige. “I tell you what, Kensai. I want a fifteen dollar sun catcher. What are my options?”
Kensai holds up a lighthouse suncatcher. It is a nutty turd compared to the more ornate ones behind it. I peek inside the bag and see one with hummingbirds dancing in a circle around a flower.
“How much for the hummingbird one?”
“Are you shitting me, Kensai? Show me another fifteen dollar one.”
“This is it.”
I begrudgingly pull out my wallet and give Kensai fifteen dollars.
“Thank you and God bless you.”
He hands me the ugly, dumb lighthouse. Complete with “MADE IN PHILLIPINES” sticker.
“Hold on, Kensai. I want to give you something, too. It’s a big bouncy ball. I don’t care what you do with it. Give it to someone. Keep it. Throw it down the street. Just promise me you won’t throw it in the trash.”
Kensai looks me straight in the eyes, waiting for a punchline. “Wait. You’re serious.”
“Yes. The ball has my friend Leah’s name on it. Check out her blog sometime. You’ll understand what is happening here.”
“And keep working on that peace thing. I’m counting on you!”
Kensai moves along to the next couple, probably lamenting that this interaction took way too long – it’s late and he probably has school in the morning.
We tab out. I chug my beer and we head to our hotels. I joke that my hotel was cheaper, so it was probably full of hookers and pimps. Lauren picked her hotel based on how it looked on the outside… buyer beware. When Lauren picks me up from my posh Holiday Inn Express, she tells me all about the Shiloh Inn.
“First, the pool is half full. Second, there is ‘crime scene tape’ surrounding the hot tub. Third, I’m pretty sure someone was murdered in my room. There is a red stain in the bathroom with drips all the way to the door. The manager swears it’s hair dye. I got tired of arguing and went to sleep.”
I thought it was funny that Lauren is a “pool is half full” person rather than “half empty” considering the night she had.
We're at the Ft. Hood Education Fair bright and early. I see the usual recruiters from the various schools – Phoenix, Grantham, Dallas Community Colleges, Thomas Edison State College. Hundreds of soldiers walk through the fair, each of them with stories of staggered education. Some of them have a dozen transcripts from a dozen community colleges attended while they were deployed or relocated to another base. The event is a dream for a military friendly institution like mine. I spoke to dozens of soldiers planning their futures, their second careers, or perhaps careers as officers in the US Army.
On Wednesday, it's time to leave. Lauren and I laugh one more time at the road that leads out of Ft. Hood: Tank Destroyer Boulevard. As we enter the intersection, I look to my right and see a Humvee barreling over a curb towards a motor pool. I think it's a little odd that they're driving kind of crazy on post.
We leave Killeen, TX. Lauren heads to the Austin airport. My wife is en route to a conference in San Antonio, which happens to be my next recruiting destination. I wait for her at a beef jerky place (Robertson’s) on the side of I-35. She picks me up at 3:30.
Just forty five minutes later, we received a news update on our phones: Active shooter at Ft. Hood. Multiple soldiers wounded, dead.
My wife and I are in complete disbelief. I grab my phone and hammer out a text to my boss that Lauren and I are far from the shooting and okay. Details emerge – the shooting occurred at Tank Destroyer and Motor Pool Rd, just 1000 feet from where Lauren and I shook hands and cracked jokes with active duty soldiers.
My mind swirls with images of the happy soldiers we had just spoken to. Was one of them the shooter? Were they victims? Could I have done anything differently? Will I be emailing and phoning the dead about a Criminal Justice Bachelor’s degree? Will I be phoning a family in mourning to talk about something as mundane as educational goals?
I try to clear my thoughts so I can focus on our drive to San Antonio – the first thing that enters my temporarily emptied mind: that stupid-looking lighthouse sun catcher.
I mumble under my breath, “You’ve got a lot of work to do, Kensai.”
Bouncy Ball # 87 - Just for Laughs Showcase
"They were picking up checks during your set," Sosa says, trying to keep pace next to me while I rush down Sunset.
"That doesn't matter," I say. "I just fucking sucked, okay? I sucked. That's all. It wasn't the checks, it wasn't the crowd, but I SUCKED."
I'm staring straight ahead, my arms crossed, briskly walking toward my car. We approach an intersection, the crosswalk light counting down, "6...5...4..." I step out into the intersection, but before I take another step, a Mustang barrels around the corner, missing me by inches.
"You almost just died," Sosa says.
"Yeah, well, that doesn't fucking matter. I'm not doing anything with my life anyway."
Sosa doesn't respond, just walks next to me in silence. He knows I'm not mad at him. I'm not mad at the crowd, or the checks, or the club, or the circumstance. But I'm fucking livid at myself for blowing an opportunity in a place where you just can't afford to blow opportunities.
We'd just left the Laugh Factory, where I auditioned to be in "New Faces" at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal. I didn't bomb during the audition. I did fine. If you said, "Leah, go be a comic in the most average way possible," then I absolutely nailed it.
But to me, that's worse than bombing. At least if I bomb, I can look at my set and say, "Well, they hated me the entire time." When I just do fine, that always means I had potential to do better, and the decisions I made onstage weren't the right ones.
I was fine. And fine is forgettable.
"I can't keep doing this," I say, as we climb up the last hill where I parked. "It's not even fun anymore. Nothing about that was fun. And if it's not fun, then why the hell am I putting myself through this?" I open my purse and violently knock a bouncy ball out of it. Sosa doesn't notice I dropped it, and I don't even look back as it bounces down the hill behind me.
I feel sorry for whoever finds it. It's full of my wrath.
Bouncy Ball # 88 - Cashier at the Convenience Store
"Well, I just put my hand in bird shit," I say, turning to Lindsay to show her the white streaks on my fingers. "Motherfucker."
She laughs. Lindsay lives in Seattle, but she's working in LA this week. I'd picked her up to drive to Malibu so we could watch the sun set over the water. I'd gotten about a block from my house before I had a panic attack about driving, and then I'd pulled off the road.
"This is the second time I've gotten shit on this week," I say. "Last night, I stepped in a giant pile of dog shit just before I left for the showcase. How's that for symbolism?"
"Man," she says. "What did you do to put bad vibes out there?"
I shrug. "I don't know. Something. What does it mean that I keep stepping in shit? What is the Universe trying to tell me?"
"I'll look it up." She takes out her phone and Googles various different forms of "what does symbolism of repeatedly stepping in shit mean."
"Well, I'm not seeing anything," she says. "Oh, wait, here's a thing about what it means in a dream." She clicks on the link. "Oh wow, it means you're gonna be filthy rich." She reads the section out loud to me - apparently, dreams of feces represent wealth.
"Okay then," I say. "I guess I'm gonna be filthy rich."
We get back in the car, and during our drive to Malibu, I actually believe I'm going to be rich. I promise to pay off Lindsay's student loans. "I'll buy you a house, and you don't have to work," I say.
"All I need is a hundred thousand," Lindsay says. "And 30 grand a year for living expenses. I can take care of the rest."
"Only 30 grand?"
"Well, I don't want to take advantage of you."
"But I'm filthy rich, Lindsay! I'll set you up."
We sit in silence for a few seconds, and then the slow sinking reality hits me, and I start laughing. "I'm never gonna be rich," I say. "There's just no way!"
Still, later that night I buy a scratch ticket from a cashier in a gas station. I exchange the ticket for two dollars and a bouncy ball.
I scratch it as soon as I get home.
Bouncy Ball # 89 - Sosa - In Recognition of Our Valiant Efforts
"It's cool," I say. "I can just fry them."
Sosa ignores me while he gets down on his knees, poking his head in the back of the oven, trying to find the pilot. "It's gotta be back here."
"Really, it's not a big deal. It's gonna take forever to cook anyway."
For way too long, Sosa and I have been trying to complete a task that should've been much easier - making dinner. I'd volunteered to cook my favorite meal from when I was a kid - baked pork chops with Oven Fry coating and rice pilaf.
My dad used to make this for me and my brother when my parents first got divorced, and every time I make it, I remember standing next to him, watching him while he dipped the pork chops in a beaten egg, then the coating. My job was to pour more coating on the plate between each piece of pork.
I've made this meal so many times, but tonight, for some reason, we keep encountering weird unforeseen obstacles. For one, we had to make a last minute venue switch from my place to his because my roommate was already cooking a lot of stuff on our stove.
But when we get to Sosa's place, there are numerous other small issues, most of which have to do with the oven. The pilot light isn't lit, and we don't know where it is.
I Google a few things and finally stumble on a video that shows us how to get to the pilot. We can't get the door off the oven, so Sosa has limited room to squeeze in and light it. He has to use a short match, which he holds with tweezers.
"It says to use a long match," I say. "Be careful. I smell a lot of gas."
He sighs. "I'm not Clark Griswold. Relax."
He leans in and lights the pilot. "Yes!" he says. He grins at me when he pulls his head out. He replaces the racks in the oven. He puts down the lid on the stovetop. Then he goes to turn the oven to the correct temperature. "Shit, it went out!"
Again, he lights the pilot. Again, it goes out. The third time, it stays on, and we're thrilled, but then we realize that the knob to set the temperature has absolutely no numbers or markings on it, no indication at all for what temperature you might be setting the oven.
"Here seems right," he says.
Could be 100 degrees, could be 500 degrees.
Shortly after we light the pilot, the smoke detector goes off. While the oven preheats, it goes off in two minute intervals until Sosa knocks it off the ceiling. "There," he says. He shakes his head.
"Why is this so hard?" I ask, laughing.
I turn on the burners to cook the rice, but the stovetop pilot light had somehow gone out, so Sosa relights it. We hear a loud shrieking of an alarm and look around his studio apartment, confused, until we notice a second smoke detector, which he also knocks down.
I put the pork chops in. After five minutes, I open the oven, but there's barely any heat at all, so I turn the dial what I believe is a reasonable amount. A few minutes later, I open the oven again, and the pork is already sizzling, the bread crumbs turning deep brown even though the meat isn't cooking.
It's almost ten.
"We're going to eat this dinner," Sosa says. "We're winning this. This is going to happen."
The rice pilaf cooks without a problem, and I wait a half hour before pulling out the pork chops. We're sitting with our plates on our laps cutting into the meat when I realize it's not done, so we put it back in the oven.
This happens three times. The third time, I've cut my pork chop up into bite-sized pieces, so when I take it out, the temperature cranked who knows how high to ensure it's cooked, it's dry and overdone. Sosa's is slightly better.
"This is still a victory," he says, while we chew our overcooked meat. We're not even hungry anymore - we've filled up on bread and rice pilaf - but both of us know we have to eat this. It's the principal of the thing. We finish what we start.
It's 11:00 PM. It took us three hours to make a 45-minute meal.
Bouncy Ball # 90 - Stays in a Drawer
This bouncy ball represents me taking a break from stand-up. After my JFL showcase, I don't get onstage for a week.
I haven't taken a break like this since I moved here three years ago.
"I can't even work out," I say, sitting shotgun in Sosa's car. "Because my stupid arm hurts."
"You just need to give it time."
"I know it's crazy, but working out, that's all I have control over. That's all I have." I fight back tears. "I feel so purposeless."
"It's okay for you to feel bad right now," Sosa says. "But you'll figure it out."
"I think I put something out there in the Universe."
"What do you mean?" Sosa asks.
"I mean, everything keeps going wrong, and I feel like I must've done something to cause it. There's a definite point where everything just started going to shit."
"But what would you have done?"
"I don't know. I keep trying to think of it." I look down at my hands. "Maybe it's because I said I wanted to die on Monday. But I was just mad, you know? How do I reverse that? 'UNIVERSE, I DON'T WANT TO DIE!'"
"But maybe you didn't do anything, Leah. Maybe things just happen because they happen."
"I guess," I say. "Or maybe...well, the only other thing I can think of is I never sent that story to my Dad."
"You know, in my blog? I wrote a letter to my dad with the story I wrote about him, and I put a bouncy ball in the envelope. But I still haven't sent it."
"Well then send it," he says.
"Yeah," I say. "I guess."
Bouncy Ball # 91 - Rachel's Place
"I want to talk about your blog," Rachel says.
I'm at Rachel's place for a delicious brunch. There's several comics here and some people I've never met - Rachel's roommates, friends. Ten of us sit around the breakfast table and enjoy brioche french toast, breakfast potatoes, eggs, mimosas. It reminds me of the brunches I used to have with my college friends.
"I love the part about the thread," Rachel says. "That was so good."
"Really? Thanks! That was my favorite part!" I say. "And thank you so much for your story. It's really, really good. I think I'm gonna post it Monday."
"Oh I was just happy to be done with it."
I laugh. "Yeah, that's how I feel every week."
"I had that bouncy ball in my purse, and I felt like it was burning a hole in there. I was so aware of it. I kept thinking, 'I have to get rid of this thing.' And then I finally did, and it took me another week to write the story."
I smile. "Wow. Thanks so much for taking the time to do that."
It hadn't occurred to me until just now that these people distributing these bouncy balls, these people writing these stories, aren't necessarily doing it because they want to - they're doing it because they want to help me. It's a burden.
And I feel like an ungrateful asshole. If Rachel and Anthony and everyone who's submitted a story can take the time out of their lives to risk looking like a weirdo by handing a bouncy ball to a stranger, if they can write such interesting and heartbreaking stories for no reason other than because I asked them to, then I can keep going, despite all the obstacles I run into. Even when it's no fun, when it's a burden.
Though the Universe has been mysterious in its intent this past week, this message comes through loud and clear:
I am not purposeless. Because of them, because of YOU, I'm not.
Bouncy Ball # 92 - Santa Barbara - Written by LA Comedian and Writer Rachel Mac
To read more of Rachel's incredible insights, visit her blog, "Rachel Tells It Like It Is." I read every post.
On Saturday I drive to Santa Barbara. Specifically, I drive to Westmont College, a small Christian school rather reminiscent of my own alma mater, though mine was in the suburbs of Chicago and Westmont is a hike away from the beach. I go to Westmont to see Pete and Linzi, two of the people I admire most in the world. They had been my mentors back in the Midwest but have since relocated.
Today is not an ideal day to visit, but I have been meaning to visit since October, and the school year is almost over. Tonight is Westmont’s Spring Sing. Because conservative Christian colleges do not allow their students to drink, smoke, or have sex, and because the majority of the students do actually abide by these rules, the students need other activities to occupy them. At my college, we had Class Films and the Talent Show, but apparently Spring Sing is greater than all these.
Spring Sing is a Westmont staple. The dorms are divided, male and female, and each of these groups has to create an 8-minute song-and-dance routine, often with elaborate costumes, non sequitur story lines, and Westmont-related parodies. They do not permit any profanity, any overt sexual material, any titillating dancing. Despite the censorship and the rigid guidelines, some of the routines are hilarious, and many are artistically impressive, especially since they’ve only had a few weeks to prepare and these kids are studying theology, not theater.
I sit with Linzi in the VIP staff-and-faculty seating at the Santa Barbara Bowl and remember that this is where I come from. We open meals and meetings and events with prayer. We don’t use any euphemism for penis let alone penis itself. We are believers in good, clean fun. I look around and feel very safe. I know these people. They are the people of Wheaton College. Of Praise Fellowship Church. Of any evangelical institution.
For years after college I felt like I had only left college yesterday. It had been such an important time, and I made deep friendships, and I kind of felt as if the person I had been in suburban Illinois had remained the same even as I moved out to California and started doing stand-up comedy. But when the senior girl prays to open up Spring Sing, I ask myself, “When was the last time you went to church? When was the last time you prayed?” It’s been a long time. Perhaps because those things really don’t matter all that much to me anymore. This is where I come from, but it’s no longer where I belong.
Pete gets to the Spring Sing earlier than Linzi and I do, for he has cameos in two of the acts. Before it starts, alone in the car, Linzi asks about the guy I’d been seeing back in November. I had called her and Pete one night, slightly hysterical, contemplating losing my virginity. I had called them because I wasn’t ready to lose it, and I needed their logic and their Christian worldview to strengthen my own decision to wait. But a couple months later, these reasons faded. I tell Linzi what had happened. She is not surprised, and perhaps not even disappointed, though it is not the decision she would have made for me.
“Don’t lose any of yourself,” she says. I listen closely but it is difficult for me to understand. I don’t know how the spirit and the body go together. I don’t know what I think about sex. My ideas about sex had been closely linked to my ideas about God, and now that I’m unsure about him, the same uncertainty follows in regards to my vagina. Maybe they shouldn’t be so tied together, but they are nonetheless.
Even with my v-card already punched, Linzi still encourages me to be prudent in my sexual endeavors, perhaps to return to my chaste ways if possible. She knows that most won’t agree with her. She says that most of my LA friends will encourage me to go out, explore, have fun, be safe, be wild, get that D. “But what you do with your body matters. Sex isn’t purely physical, Christianity aside.”
After Spring Sing, Linzi and Pete and I sit in their living room, eating cold pizza. I tell them that I’ve joined Tinder, and I bust out my phone to show them how it works. I’m sure that mingled with their amusement is horror and disappointment, but we don’t talk about it. They are exhausted, and after making up the couch for me, they go to bed. I lie down and return to Tinder, where you make your romantic judgments instantaneously, swipe no or yes, left or right. Swipe right and you could be sexting in mere moments! Suddenly all of it sickens me, and I turn off my phone. I am no longer made for a community that prays before meals and gets worked up over a swear word. But I’m not quite sure if that means I’m ready for sex with men I met on an app.
In the morning I leave early, before Pete and Linzi wake, and I place a bouncy ball on my pillow.
The Things I've Left Out - Bouncy Ball # 17 - Annie G
I stuff my clothes into my backpack, checking over my shoulder to make sure Annie's still sleeping. Her eyes are closed, so I drop a bouncy ball into one of her boots.
She won't find it for another month or so, but she won't let me tell her where I put it, either. Another one of the reasons I like Annie - she wants to figure things out on her own. Like me.
I slip out the hotel door, anxious about getting on the road quickly. I have to be back in L.A., I have to write my blog, I have to do the podcast with Andy, and I have to do all this today, without much sleep.
I haven't figured out how to balance my life yet.
While I drive home, the sun climbing up the sky to reflect on the ocean to my right, I listen to a podcast. They're talking to the show's guest about how he'd met his fiance.
"She told me that she didn't want to date," he says. "So I said, 'Ok. That's cool.' And then we just started hanging out as friends."
"See," the host says. "That's how you do it, Ladies. When a man says, 'I don't want to date right now,' just say okay and be super chill. No pressure, hang out as friends. And eventually, they'll come around."
My vision blurs as my eyes tear up. "Oh my God," I say out loud. "I should've just been chill. The whole time. I was never chill. It was my fault."
Ok, Guys. Real talk time.
When I started this bouncy ball project, one of my reasons for doing it was because I had just ended an ambiguous "relationship" with a man, and I was having trouble getting over it. I imagined that if I wrote about it, the man who broke my heart might show back up in my life, and I could write about that when it happened, and this story would be like "When Harry Met Sally."
But he never showed up.
For the first month of writing this, I brought him up a lot because everything I did reminded me of him, so I wrote about it because that's how I deal with things. I'm weird like that - I don't talk much about my personal life, but I will write about it and post it on the internet for literally hundreds of people to read.
Over the course of the last three months, I've stopped wanting to write about him because, well, I got over it. And I did it the healthiest way possible - by analyzing a recurring pattern I've been running into with the men in my life. I meet someone I like too much before I even really know them, I have unrealistic expectations about the relationship, they don't feel the same way about me because they don't really know me, and I end up hurt.
That's the pattern. I've gone over and over it, but until recently, I've missed the obvious - it's my fault that I get hurt. Every time, it's been a result of me believing I could manipulate reality rather than adjusting to it, adapting to it, or accepting it.
Unfortunately, none of this makes a very interesting read, so I've spent the last few weeks trying to tell you guys what you all probably knew - that I shouldn't want to be with someone who doesn't want to be with me and that my attempts to write about men I've "fallen in love with" have done nothing but romanticize what was never there in reality. I'd hoped the story would be more entertaining then that, but it's just not.
When you unravel a ball of thread, there's nothing in the center but the end of that thread.
I like that metaphor - the thread. Picture this: I'm holding the end of a ball of thread that's just been unraveled to it's center. I hold my end up to the sky and open my fingers. The wind takes it. It flies away.
The story still moves forward because the story is not the thread. The story is me.
That's the difference between reality and fiction. In fiction, the story can be anything, and what happens makes it interesting. In reality, the story is the people, and they're unpredictable, and they can change infinitely, go anywhere.
Bouncy Ball # 79 - Grand Canyon Shuttle Driver
Sosa and I get on the shuttle bus and take a seat halfway down. The driver, an old man, sprays down the windows at the front of the bus with cleaner, wiping them with an old rag. "We'll be leaving in about five minutes," he says.
There's a passenger sitting with his foot up on the seat in front of him. The old man points at his foot. "Sir, please put your foot down," he says. "People put their hands there."
The man puts his foot down. "Sorry."
I turn to Sosa. He's smiling. "So great," he says. He likes it when people get called out for being disrespectful, and I like watching him like it.
The old man greets a few new passengers as he wipes down the last of the windshield. "I see you opened a window back there," he says. "That means that I'm going to have to shut the AC off. Either you can have AC, or the window open, but you guys can't have both."
"Yes!" Sosa says.
I laugh. "He reminds me of my grandpa."
"I see another person opening a window back there," the driver says. "That's fine. I'll turn off the AC. But it looks like you got your fingerprints smeared all over my windows. I just cleaned them."
"I love this guy," Sosa says.
The shuttle driver takes his seat at the wheel and speaks into a microphone as we lurch forward. "Every year, people come from all over the world to see the Canyon. All kinds of people. They come from Europe, Asia, Canada, all over the United States. And I'm pretty sure some of them come from another planet."
Bouncy Ball # 80 - The Grand Canyon
"This is so great," I say while we hike down into the Canyon. "So much better than being in L.A. right now."
I work at an elementary school, so I'm actually on Spring Break. I haven't had a Spring Break since college, and even back then, I never went anywhere during my breaks. Mostly, I just slept and drank and slept and drank.
Sosa stops to take a video of the scenery, layers of colossal jagged rock pocked here and there with desert vegetation, pine trees, and giant rock formations that I'd want to play on so badly if I were a little kid.
"You know," I say, "I don't think I'm as afraid of heights as I used to be."
"Yeah." I pause to take in the view. We're on a skinny dirt pathway with no rail, our shoes crunching against the sand and gravel. "Maybe it's because my feet are on the ground. I always feel better when my feet are on the ground."
"Let me carry your backpack," Sosa says.
"You don't have to do that. I can carry it."
"I know I don't have to." He holds his hand out. "We'll take turns."
"But really, I'm fine. It's not even that heavy." I'm not used to letting men hold things for me.
"Just give me the backpack, Leah," he says, shaking his head.
So I do. He carries it all day, and I'm preoccupied with it because I didn't need him to carry it, because I didn't want him to think I expect things like that from him. Every hour on the hour, I turn to him. "You want me to carry that?"
"No," he says. "I got it."
Bouncy Ball # 81 - Excerpt from "Planes, Automobiles, and the Bouncy Ball Project" - Written by Antoinette Dieu
(For the full story and more of Antoinette's adventures, check out her blog, "Wild Okie.")
Spring break finally got here. Finally, finally. Finally!
I had a plane to catch for our Monday flight out to Louisiana to visit my in-laws. G and I hauled our luggage to the local stop, hopped a bus to Seattle, caught a plane to Dallas and then Shreveport, and then rented a car to get around. All told, we spent from about 8 a.m. until about midnight in transport.
And yes, I agreed to go visit my in-laws. I like them. They are fun, including my husband's grandma, my mother and father in law, my sister in law, Stashia, and niece (who we call Ladybug on the 'net). We haven't seen them in 18 months and hadn't met Ladybug yet, and we had a week for break, so why not?
It was a great week. One of the highlights was participating in "The Bouncy Ball Project". I have a friend, Leah Kayajanian, who is a stand up comic in LA. Straight up. If that doesn't make you fear/respect/lust after her, you should also know that I met her in grad school. She's a great writer. So when she asked if I'd like to participate in her Bouncy Ball Project, I agreed.
Leah is one of those people you would be like if you had the guts to abandon everything you used to be to become the person you want to be. She's smart, funny (obvs), hard working and I imagine her as something close to Cobie Smulder's character Robin Scherbatsky, drinking whiskey and chasing wild men. I would've driven to LA to get the bouncy ball, just to tell a good story and toss a ball out to the mercy of the universe. She has her name on all of them, too. I think that takes a certain amount of chutzpah, to say, Yes, I'm littering in the technical sense, but I'm really just spreading good plastic vibes. Call me sometime.
I got the ball in the mail and promptly stuck it in my pack. The trip for this ball looks like Louisiana, so off we went. Now, I just had to find the right moment to release the ball and make Leah proud. Actually, I needed to find the right moment, release the ball, photograph that puppy, remember details and write something really pithy about it later to make Leah proud. Damn.
It happened that on our second day in Bossier City (next to Shreveport), we decided to take a family road trip. All of those people I mentioned, plus G and me, all piled in a huge SUV. I think it was the luxury version of the Exxon Valdez. I LIKED it. Smooth ride and as a bonus, I got to sit next to the baby and be silly with her the whole way there and back. We went to Natchitoches, Louisiana, where they filmed the movie "Steel Magnolias". Aha! Strong southern women overcoming obstacles and living in community with one another. Perfect.
It was in the low 60s. After Ellensburg with its snow still on the ground, that's a warm spring day. I got Stashia and Debbie (my mother in-law) in on the plan, which seems appropriate. Yes, my accomplices in creative littering were my sweet, thoughtful, church-going in laws. You'd think that these traits would work against the bouncy ball project, but you would be wrong. These women are sort of hardened criminals, prone to gleeful ball tossing at random intervals.
Nobody would suspect them.
We pulled around the side of the Steel Magnolia House and snapped a few pictures like normal tourists. I tucked the little yellow ball in a bed with a bunch of colorful petunias and hoped it blended in. Then we took off, giggling. Not having sirens and cops and handcuffs was a bit of a letdown, but you can't have it all.
The rest of my adventure will have to wait until I have a little more time and energy.
Oh, and if anyone finds that ball, it wasn't me who put it there, despite photographic evidence. It's got Leah Kayajanian's name all over it.
Bouncy Ball # 82 - Ray
"This is my tenth time doing stand-up," Ray says. "And I don't know if I'll ever stop being this nervous."
The audience, full of comics waiting to get on at the Improv open mic, applauds. Comics aren't necessarily nice people, but we're pretty supportive when someone tells us they're new to stand-up. I have a theory it's because stand-up has ruined our lives, so we want to encourage other people to do it, too, to share in our misery. Kinda like what I hear about having kids.
"I don't know if I'll ever be funny doing this, but I like coming here every week," Ray continues, his voice cracking. "I can't think of my jokes right now. I'm drawing a blank."
"You got this!" someone shouts out from the back of the room.
Ray looks out toward the voice. "I really can't think of what I came up here to say."
It strikes me to see someone so new up there, the Improv logo blazing behind him. I try to imagine it's me, that I've just started doing stand-up. I try to put myself back in that head space - the anxiety, the panic, the insecurity. But I can only remember that because I know it happened. I can't remember the feeling of it, how it feels to be afraid of what people think.
In that way, Ray is brave, and I am not. Like I heard on "Game of Thrones," you can only be brave if you are afraid.
"I can't go on at the Ice House anymore," Ray continues. "I don't ever tell any jokes there because I can't think of any. So I just get onstage there and do what I'm doing now - just ramble about how I can't think of my jokes."
"Tell us a joke!" someone shouts. "You can do it!"
Ray looks up at the red light bulb on the beam just under the ceiling, indicating he has a minute left. "I think that's pretty much all my time." He starts to put the mic back in the stand.
"Ray!" Jamar yells. He's the host of the Improv open mic. "I'm not letting you get offstage until you tell us a joke."
"But..." Ray says. "Really, I don't want to take up everyone's time."
The crowd starts clapping, shouting. "You can do it! Tell us a joke, Ray!"
Even I cup my hands around my mouth to yell, "You got this!"
Ray stares. "Really, I, uh, don't know what to say."
We clap. We woot and holler. We pound on our tables. We chant his name. It's actually a beautiful moment, the way all of us, usually so self-involved and preoccupied with what's going on in our own minds, rally together in this second to get behind this guy. I don't know about everyone else in this room, but I need Ray to tell his joke.
"Come on, Man!" Jamar says.
"Okay," Ray says.
We stop pounding. We stop clapping. A sudden silence takes over the room.
"I used to be homeless," Ray says. "I lived on Skid Row. But I would trick real estate agents into showing me really nice places in downtown L.A. by pretending I was a writer for Warner Brothers. Man, you guys, some of the views that I've seen of this city..."
He continues, "One time, I was in an elevator with this lady, and we were going up to the Penthouse of the Ritz Carlton. And she turns to me and says, 'So who do you know?' So I told her I knew Mike Espy, you know, like the Espy awards? And she believed me! She brought me up to the penthouse, and I walked over to the window, and you guys, I could see the whole city below me."
Bouncy Ball # 83 - Natural History Museum - "The Silk Road" Exhibit
"Would you like to touch a silkworm cocoon?" a young museum guide asks as we approach. He's standing next to a display case housing actual silkworms.
"I have a dumb question," Becky says. "Are these worms considered insects?"
"Yes," Sten says. "They're moths."
I've just met Sten - I made a last second decision to meet Becky at the Natural History Museum's Silk Road exhibit, and Becky brought Sten with her. Sten's her girlfriend. Or a girl she's dating. Or person she's interested in. Or a person in an open marriage that she's fucking. Or they're friends. Or they're close enough to buy a museum membership together. Or whatever. I'm completely exhausted trying to pin down their relationship, but luckily it doesn't seem to matter to either of them.
I like Sten immediately because she's a know-it-all, and she shares random science and history facts through the entirety of our tour. Becky and I know literally nothing.
"That's not a dumb question at all," the museum guide says. "Silkworms are not actually worms. They're caterpillars. And if you look really closely, you'll notice at the front of their bodies, they have six tiny legs. These are their actual legs, their insect legs, but they don't use them to get around. They use those pods." He points out the small circular "feet" on the caterpillars underside, which inches them forward.
I bend down over the glass to get a better look at the silkworms. Sure enough, there are six tiny insect legs. "Wow," I say. "I never knew that." I should've paid more attention in science class. (This is a thought I have at least once a week.)
The guide hands Sten a cocoon, the outside white and soft like a cotton ball, hard in the center. Tufts of white thread are sticking out on one end, raw silk fibers. We pass it down, all three of us running our fingers over its exterior while the guide explains to us that for over two thousand years, China was the only place that new how to make silk. They kept the silkworm a secret from the rest of the world for that long.
"Two thousand years?" I ask. "Really?"
"Yes," the guide says. "Can you imagine?"
I can't. I'm transparent. Everything about my life is out in the open. Everyone knows all my tricks. Everyone knows how I spin silk stories out of raw thread.
At each stop on the exhibit, I'm struck by the fact that so many years ago, people still existed, and really, they are the same as we are now - the world was just much bigger to them.
I think about merchants on long desert safaris, trading Chinese silk from Xi'an for exotic foods and spices in Turfan. I think of their relief when they reach the gates of a new city, hear the bustle inside, and the comfort washes over them because they know that whatever happens on the journey back, they've made it this far. There are people here.
On my way out, I walk down the ramp outside the front of the building and drop the bouncy ball behind me, right in front of a woman who's peddling bags of chips from the inside of a baby stroller.
Bouncy Ball # 84 - Anahit
"Miss Kayajanian? Leah?"
It's rare that people pronounce my last name right on the first try. I look up from the Cosmo magazine I'd picked up from the rack in the "quiet room" at this day spa. I don't read Cosmo, but I also don't go to day spas, so I figured why not see what all these pampered women are doing with their day?
I'm here because Sosa did a comedy show for the people who run this spa, and he got paid in a gift certificate. I signed up for an 25-minute massage ($80 for "non-members"), and I arrived early to take advantage of the "amenities" the place also offers.
As far as I can tell, Cosmo magazine has no actual information in it. Up to this point, my afternoon at the day spa really only made me feel more alienated from other women because I just don't understand any of this stuff and because I am completely unable to relax.
I had gotten in a hot tub for about five minutes. I tried to clear my mind, but I can't stare at walls without my mind telling me I'm wasting time. I drank 17 cups of infused water. I used every single free product they had in the spa (I took a shower to do this, even though I'd showered earlier that day). I stared at a bowl of cucumbers with the sign "Refresh your eyes" underneath, and I thought about how if that sign weren't there, I would for sure have just started eating the cucumbers.
I stepped on a scale that didn't work to see if I'd gained any weight. When no one else was around, I stood naked in front of the mirror, and I realized that I spend way more time doing this than I'd like to admit. I never look at my face, but I always look at my body because it's been my work of art, my magnum opus.
So what am I gonna do when it all breaks down?
I stand up, tighten my robe. I see a middle-aged woman at the doorway, a warm and welcoming smile.
"You speak Armenian?"
"No," I say.
"Ah," she says. "Your last name. I thought you were Armenian. It must be your husband's name."
"No," I say. "It's mine. I just don't speak it."
"That's okay." She wraps her arm around my shoulder like it's the most natural thing in the world, and I feel so safe, I want to turn to her and say, "Mother?" Instead, I look at her name tag.
"Is your name Anahit?" I ask.
"Yes," she says.
Anahit, Anahit, Anahit. I keep saying it over and over in my mind. It's an Armenian name. I love it. When I look it up later, I find it means "moon goddess," "healer," "water and wisdom," "fertility."
I've never had a massage. My whole life, I've been hesitant to let people massage me. I still cringe when acquaintances of mine rub my shoulders - I hate that. Don't do that to me. I know you mean well, but I hate it.
But I don't hate this. In fact, I'm surprised at how sore and beat up my body is. Some of it, I was aware of going in. For example, my left elbow has been aching for two months straight, and I've been waiting for it to just go away even though I have awesome health insurance.
I also have crazy tension in my shoulders - the yoga instructor who comes to our school tells me that every single week. Also, my ribs on my right side have been hurting the past few days, I think because of the 30 Day Ab Challenge, which I finished in February, then decided to do again in March with Sosa.
Still, there are other pains in other places. There's a sharp pain deep in my lower back. It hurts so much that whenever Anahit's hand comes close to it, I brace myself. I feel like one false move, and she'll pop my entire spine out of whack.
Afterwards, when Anahit walks me out, she puts her arm around my shoulder again. "You need to come in for longer," she says. "You need to get better."
I know I'm not coming back. My life doesn't really have a place for luxuries like this.
Bouncy Ball # 85 - UCLA Medical Center
"What did he say?" Sosa asks.
"He said that it's from working out too hard." I'd just come from the doctor, who'd diagnosed my sore elbow by backing up Sosa's suspicion that I've over-exerted it.
"Yes!" Sosa says. "I told you. You need to rest. You can't keep doing that."
"I know." I sigh. "He says no working out my arms. No carrying heavy things. He told me I shouldn't even twist door handles."
"You're not gonna like this," Sosa says, "but I don't think you should do that two-minute plank today."
"Oh come on!" I say. "It's the last thing on the last day! I'm not gonna just stop now!"
"I knew you wouldn't," he says. "But you should. Leah, the doctor told you not to open doors. You want to rest on your elbow for two minutes?"
"It's the last day," I say. "After this, though, I'll definitely rest."
"Fine," he says. "But you can't keep going like this. Your body can only take so much."
About the Bouncy Ball Project
I have in my possession 190 bouncy balls. I'm on a quest to give all these bouncy balls stories.