“So how long you been doing standup?” he asks.
“Oh God.” I sigh. “8 years.”
“Oh wow,” he says. “I mean, you seem like you’ve been doing it for awhile. You always make me laugh.”
“Well thanks.” I don’t take the compliment too seriously. After all, he’s a newbie comic at my house for The Workout Room, a comedy show that my friends and I produce. Though he seems genuine, this musician-turned-comedian might just be trying to network. During the course of the last five minutes, he’d slowly started grilling me on the standup comedy scene in L.A.
“How often do you get onstage? Do you get up every night?”
I shrug. “I used to. But lately, I’ve had to cut it back because I started working on this other project, and it’s sort of a time suck. I’m almost done, though, and then I’ll go back to hitting up mics every night.”
“What’s the project?”
I laugh. “Oh man, I don’t even know if I could explain it. It’s kind of weird.”
“Aw, really? You’re not gonna tell me?”
“It’s hard to explain. And it sounds crazy.”
“Well now I’m really interested.”
I pause, look into his eyes. He seems genuine. “Well, when I started back in January, I was going to do a thing everyday that I normally wouldn’t do, right? And when I did that thing, I’d give someone a bouncy ball and write about it.”
He furrows his brow. “What?”
“At least that’s what it started as. But then it turned into something else.”
“Wait, you give people bouncy balls? But why?”
“Because I believe they’re magic.” I laugh. “I don’t even know if I could explain that. I give people bouncy balls, and then I write about our interaction.”
“So you just write about giving people bouncy balls?”
“Uh, well. Kind of. It’s more like I’m trading a bouncy ball for a story. And I gave myself six months to find stories for 190 bouncy balls.”
He shakes his head. “Bouncy balls? That’s, uh, I don’t understand why.”
I narrow my eyes. “I told you that at the beginning of this conversation. Remember? I said I had a project, and it was hard to explain, and you said you really wanted to hear about it.”
He laughs. He doesn’t seem to notice I want to punch him right now. “You’re right. I guess I just don’t get it.”
“Yeah, I guess not.” I don’t argue with him anymore because there’s no point. I should’ve just told him I’m writing a book and left it at that.
On one hand, he has a point. If I can’t explain what this project is about to strangers, then maybe it’s a ball of chaos that didn’t really need to exist in the first place. I actually consider giving him a bouncy ball for pointing out how arbitrary and seemingly pointless this whole thing has become.
But I don’t give him a bouncy ball because I’ve learned the difference between the people who accept them with joy, and the people who look at them as a dumb toy, as ridiculous, as a burden to bear.
That’s why I didn’t bother to explain what I mean when I say bouncy balls are magic. That’s why I didn’t bother to tell him that they find me in dark places to brighten my path, that I can make them appear for other people like me, that they connect me to the world, and they create stories by simply existing in a place and getting picked up by the type of people I like best, the type of people who pick up bouncy balls.
That’s why I didn’t tell him that I asked my friends to find their own bouncy ball stories. I didn’t tell him how the bouncy ball itself isn’t important, but the people holding it make it interesting. I didn’t tell him that when I asked my friends for stories, the bouncy balls became like a talking stick, and when they held them, it was their turn to share stories of the things they were afraid of, the things that haunted them, the things they faced down, their love and love lost and fears and insecurities.
I didn’t tell him any of this because I knew he wouldn’t get it. Some people just don’t.
Bouncy Ball # 152 – “Dixie’s Lapdance” – Written by LA Comedian Katie Merriam
"Are you drunk?"
“No,” I answer the Russian-accented voice on my phone. We’re standing outside of Cheetah's, a strip club in Los Angeles. Not a real strip club - the girls never take off their bras and underwear - they just dance on poles. The club should be open. Despite the neon sign blaring that very fact, the door’s locked. My friend, Jason, who came with me, wants to leave. I decide to call.
In a matter of seconds there's a loud CLICK, and the door beneath the open sign swings out to reveal a mountain of a man in all black. He regards us with a cross-eyed expression before stepping out of the way so we can sheepishly walk past him. It's only at that moment that I realize how depressing and desperate it must look to call a strip club and complain that we can't get inside.
The room is doused in red fabrics and lights. We sit down at the bar where a woman stands staring at us. Her hair looks like it's been intimate with peroxide for decades. Her makeup says she cares what people think - her expression says everyone can fuck off. She takes our drink orders. A long mirrored stage stands empty against the echoing beats from the DJ. A pole waits silently at the tip of it, like a platform "Prince Albert".
I get up to pee. The room is covered in curtains, making it hard to tell which ones lead to actual doors or hallways. I pull back curtain number one and am immediately confronted by the smell of musky gym socks and trucker jizz. Or maybe that's just Axe body spray. The small room has a red pleather couch along all three walls and a coffee table in the middle. I feel like someone’s about to grab my shoulder and tell me I shouldn’t be in here.
When I come out, women have manifested from somewhere to walk around the room in bras and panties.
A woman with exceptionally large chest baggage makes her way to the stage. My compadre Jason and I watch her dance and put money down. It's times like these that I feel the need to support my fellow females - as if all the lascivious men are there to degrade her, but I'm there to appreciate who she is as a person. Like I’m going to change her life by slipping money in her threadbare thong. I'm going to cure misogyny by participating in it. She slinks offstage as more patrons begin to flow into the club, and it's clear that the clientele ranges from greasy to extra greasy.
The woman with large breasts comes up behind us.
"Hi, I'm Dixie - how are you guys tonight?" (By ‘guys’ I think she meant ‘marks.’)
We both smile a little too big and say we're great. Jason compliments her dancing a little too vigorously.
She ignores it. "Well I also do private lap dances if you want. Twenty dollars a song, but if you want me to do you both at the same time, it's forty dollars a song.”
$40 for 4 minutes or $40 for 2 minutes. Seems to add up. Jason and I look at each other. I tell her we'll think about it, and she leaves. She smells a little too much like that red pleather couch.
We watch the girls work the room. Some are timid, but some, like Dixie, are on the clock, doing their job. It's not something I could ever do. Not as a moral issue - I just don't like people looking at me.
The second time Dixie comes around, we decide to get lap dances. She takes us straight to curtained room. The musk room. The room of too many body smells. The room that never gets hosed down. You get it. We go in and sit down like kids getting on a sticky roller coaster.
"Who wants to go first?"
I point to Jason.
Dixie begins. She leans over him, hands placed on either side of his head on the couch behind him, rubbing her chest in his face. He blushes. His hands are firmly placed by the sides of his legs - he's done this before. She turns around and slams her ass down on his lap, once, twice, three times. I guess that's sexy if you have an appendage there that responds to hard friction? SLAM, RUB, SLAM, RUB, SLAM. She bends over in front of him and shakes - flesh wiggling for viewing pleasure. She turns around and gives him another tit facial. He giggles. The song is over quickly, and she moves to me.
"You're a girl, so you can touch." She grabs my hands and holds them against her bra, squeezing her chest, and I laugh from embarrassment. I want my hands back. Dixie seems to enjoy my discomfort, a perk of the job. The movements are more languid than slamming as her breasts slide against my face. The song is finally over, and I wonder if she's showered recently.
We dig for our money and hand it to her. She thanks us and walks briskly out of the room, leaving us alone. For some reason this is the moment when I am most terrified of this spunky space. Maybe this is when we get whacked. As in dead.
I leave a bouncy ball on the table. It's not the first time they've seen a ball, or a rubber, but maybe the first rubber ball. The Bouncy Ball Project sends its regards.
I just got a smelly lap dance, and it was strange, and it made me feel uncomfortable. Not for myself, but for the person who does this for money. My beliefs on feminism should allow for women to work their sexuality for profit if they want. I don't like slut shaming. I hate when people try to minimize a woman because she has had lots of sex, or shows her body often. But there's something extremely sleazy about this process that I don't even want to really acknowledge. It feels like judgment to acknowledge it, and I don’t want to judge anyone's decisions. What do I know about why or how they made them? Then again, maybe this is just another byproduct of a misogynistic society. But how can you get mad at a cow for selling its milk if people are willing to buy it? I don't pretend to know anything.
Besides, the ball had Leah’s name on it.
“So how’s the blog coming?” Becky asks. We’re at a sex storytelling show at Busby’s East on Wilshire, chatting during the intermission.
“Ugh. I hate it.”
She laughs. “Yeah, you seem tired.”
I try to wrap my sweater tighter around me to protect me from the cold air pouring on us from the air vent. “I haven’t even really been doing it,” I say. “I just…I just couldn’t anymore.”
“Well I think that’s what makes it interesting. When you write about that.”
I smile. “Thanks. But honestly, I feel like it’s made me a worse person. Like over the last six months, I’ve become shittier than when I started.”
“Well maybe it didn’t make me a worse person. Maybe it just made me more aware of the things that are wrong with me.”
“What do you think is wrong with you?”
“Well, I’m insecure. There’s that.”
“But that comes from somewhere,” Becky says. “You didn’t just decide to be that.”
“I know.” Pause. “Also, I can’t just let things be how they are.”
“You’re not the only one who has that problem.”
“Yeah, but I feel like I take it further than most people. It’s like I have good intentions, and so I act on them, but the more I act, the worse things get. I can’t just leave things alone. I make things worse.
“I get that,” Becky says. And we turn to the stage while Dixie, the host of the show, introduces the next act.
Bouncy Ball # 153 – Written by LA Comedian Becky Klueger
“You are actually not a terrible person. You are a well-intending person deserving of love and respect.”
That’s something I started telling myself recently because I don’t believe it. I have never believed anything close to that.
I’ve never hit anyone who didn’t hit me first. I’ve never murdered or raped anyone. I call people back. I have tons of friends who love me and show up for me when I need them. People have told me they can’t imagine their lives without me. Even most other stand-up comedians seem to like me, and they are a judgmental people. But at my core, I think I’m a piece of shit, and it doesn’t take much for me to start thinking I should kill myself.
I’ve heard before that “recovery is an inside job,” but I never really believed it. I thought if I could just get a good enough girlfriend, get successful enough, get enough stuff, a sweet enough apartment…THEN I’ll feel like I’m enough. But now I have a law degree, I get laid plenty, I have too much stuff, I get tons of validation, and I still hate myself.
It must be an inside job. FUCK!
My therapist has been trying to get me to tell myself positive affirmations for a while. When I do it, there’s a voice in my head that says, “This is so gay,” which is weird because I think being gay is awesome and my favorite thing about myself besides my TV.
A few weeks ago, I got really sick and was bed-ridden. All that time alone made it so that I could hear my thought patterns more without the ability to go out and distract myself. I noticed how down I was on myself for being sick. I felt like it was my fault.
Why? No fucking reason, I dunno, everything bad just must be my fault.
After 5 days of being sick, I remembered how my therapist told me about positive affirmations, how I should write them myself because if they’re directly related to my specific negative messages, they’ll be more effective. So I told myself, “It’s ok to not do anything when you’re sick,” and then I started crying. Hard. I started crying again when I later told my therapist about it. She guessed that I cried because, “that was a loving and nurturing thing to say to yourself, and you don’t have much experience with that.”
I expressed to her that I’m willing to do more positive affirmations. She asked me to try to come up with some more, but I just couldn’t do it that day. I felt too vulnerable. I felt like I would just fall apart if I said, “I’m not a bad person.” It’s like the only way I’ve ever known to keep myself together is with self-loathing.
Intellectually, I know I’m not a bad person. In therapy and reading Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in their Struggle for Self, I’ve learned that I internalized my mother’s voice. We all self-parent in some way, and my self-parent is a “negative introject.” When I was a kid, to love myself was to abandon my mother and lose what little parental love I got. Today, to love myself is to abandon my inner negative introject. That’s why it’s so hard for me to say, “I’m not a bad person,” even with (or maybe especially with) my therapist.
But it’s gotten too miserable to be miserable. There’s a saying: “When the pain of staying the same is greater than the fear of changing, we will surely grow.” I think I’m there, and it’s terrifying.
I think of myself as a pretty honest person, but the truth is that I’m not a very authentic person. No one really sees this inner struggle because I’m constantly hiding it by trying to be funny and cool.
Cool is the most appealing, yet the most false of all the false gods. Everyone loves something cool. Think of every Quentin Tarantino movie - I want to be all those characters. But I can never get cool enough to like myself because I’m getting validation for a false bravado. Still, I’d rather be known for saying things like, “Say ‘what’ again! I dare you! I double dare you, Motherfucker! Say ‘what’ one more goddamn time!” instead of, “Your #1 job today is to love and take care of yourself.” But I guess I’d also rather be known for being authentic and loving than pretending to be a cool black guy from a 90s movie.
So here’s the new thing I’m doing for the Bouncy Ball Project: I’m going to rerecord over my negative tapes with positive affirmations. For the first time in my life, I’m really going to try to love myself.
So far, I’ve given away 153 bouncy balls of the 190 that I said I’d give away.
Then again, technically, I’ve left some bouncy balls that I haven’t recorded for whatever reason. I left a bouncy ball at the horse race in Santa Anita when I went with James back in February and picked the winning horse three out of four times.
I left a bouncy ball by the basketball shooting game when I went by myself to the arcade and played until I beat Sosa’s high score of 55.
I gave a bouncy ball to a woman who worked at my school, who retired after 38 years. “I’ll keep it forever,” she’d said.
I left a bouncy ball in a box for one of my co-workers when I helped her pack up her stuff on her last day. I wanted to give her magic to take with her while she left to pursue her real career, something I hope to do one day.
I gave a bouncy ball to my friend Simon before a huge audition, and he got a callback.
But I never sent my dad the bouncy ball I said I would send him. I threw the letter in my recycling bin and returned the ball to my tub full of balls, so I’ll have to subtract one from my total.
Still, I’ll give myself a bouncy ball for completing this:
And one for finishing this:
And one for this motherfucking bitch thing that I can’t believe I did:
So a little bit of math here…add 8, subtract 1…brings me to a grand total of 160. 190 minus 160 – I still have 30 bouncy balls to give away by July 8th.
Bouncy Ball # 161 – Written by LA Comedian Brent Schmidt
Since Ball #69, the orange bouncy ball has rested on the small desk where I spend most of my time. I've been constantly aware of its presence. How could I not? It is essentially a creamy orange eye, everyday attempting to stare into me. I knew of its need for a story, but nothing seemed quite good enough. The orange bouncy ball traveled with me on a couple of journeys, attempts at stories, but inevitably it ended up back at its home between my laptop and stacks of variously colored Post-It notes.
My failed journey to Mt. Wilson with Leah for Ball #27 was right around the time I started work on a large project. I've kept up with her journey and its impacts on her as I trudged through my own. Every time I sat at my desk to think, the orange bouncy ball would catch my eye and elicit a brief panic about my so far shirked responsibility. Then it would remind me of Leah and what the project means.
I finished an early version of my project, the first time in my life I had ever started something and actually seen it through to the end. The orange bouncy ball had been with me the whole time. As my bouncy ball deadline loomed, and I faced another failed story, I had a realization: the orange bouncy ball should spend the rest of its days at my desk. There it is. An answer. An end.
But that still didn't feel right. I wasn't given the ball to find a way to pat myself on the back and keep it. It was meant to go to someone. I decided to reread some of Leah's stories, hoping to find inspiration as to what I should do with this fucking orange ball, and a common theme in the project made the real recipient of my ball apparent.
Anyone that has really jumped headlong into a project, especially something creative, knows that you go through cycles of arbitrary insanity. Detachments and disillusions from your project and your life repeatedly throw you into strange, dark corners of your mind. I would find myself stuck for days, chasing my own thoughts in circles like a dog chasing its tail. Roughly midway through my project, after a couple of consecutive nights of potent song lyrics mixed with dredged up memories causing me to publicly cry into my laptop, I ran into a friend who I will refer to as Caitlyn. I told her what I was working on, and she offered to join me at my regular coffee shop, as she was also working on a project. I happily accepted the offer.
I try not to focus on the idea of cool, but being around Caitlyn has always made me acutely aware of what a square I am. She challenges me and has been unfortunately good at figuring me out, although not as entirely as she thinks.
Over the ensuing couple of months, we spent countless hours in our neighborhood coffee shop, always in the back room and, on the lucky nights, wedged around the small table under the tree house (I write in fantastical places). My productivity took a hit, but that was of little consequence to me. Sure, writing took a bit more time, but I was no longer alone in the battles against my own mind.
We would sift through problems and solutions for our projects, our lives, and the world until the baristas kicked us out as they closed. Then we would walk to her house to sit on the porch and continue our search for answers to whatever our pondering and frustration deemed worthy questions. Equally as important as our endless dialogue was something that I rarely share with someone: comfortable silence. Minutes would pass without a word being uttered, quiet crackles of cigarette drags the only breaks in the eerie quiet of pre-dawn Hollywood. Physically next to each other, we would be on separate worlds, but I was comforted by the notion that, no matter where I went in my mind, I could speak up and not be alone. Eventually a "What are you thinking about?" from one of us would break the silence to bring the other back to the relaxed discussion of absurdities.
Caitlyn helped me understand that your accomplishments are yours, but the people with whom you share the time and experiences leading to your accomplishments are just as important. The people that are willing to deal with your specific breed of insanity and help you search for answers to impossible questions are a greater treasure than the solutions you may find together.
I don't know if I would have finished my project without Caitlyn. I don't know if we will ever again spend that much time together. I do know that I can't thank her enough for the time she has spent with me.
I also know that she is the only person the orange bouncy ball was ever meant for.
Bouncy Balls # 162-176 – The People Who Get It
The first person I encounter as The Strider is my neighbor, Rob. He’s in his front yard messing with his gate when he sees me walk to my car Saturday afternoon.
“Oh hey, Leah,” he says, and then he stands with his head cocked, confused.
“It’d be weirder if I explained,” I say.
He laughs. “Hey, you dress up like a luchador, I work on my motorcycle at midnight. Everyone has their thing.”
I smile while I get into my car. I like Rob.
I pick up Brent, who I’d coerced into joining me on this, one of my final adventures. He’d offered to come with me on a quest, and I’d said, “Actually, I’ll be going to the beach to give away the rest of these bouncy balls if you’d like to join. Also, I’ll be dressed like a superhero.”
I had a feeling Brent wouldn’t mind walking around with a ridiculous person. I was right – his only comment was, “But I don’t have a superhero costume to wear.”
So here we are at the Santa Monica pier, walking the sidewalk toward Venice Beach.
“I don’t know how to give these to people,” I say, carrying a bucket full of much more than the 30 bouncy balls I have yet to give away. I’d say I have close to 100 in here, but we’ve already made it past the Ferris Wheel I’d ridden with Sosa months ago, and I’ve only given away two. “You got any ideas?”
Brent shrugs. “Nope.”
“Well I guess I just have to approach people.”
I walk over to a woman and her daughter sitting on a bench. “Hi. Can I give you a bouncy ball? I believe they’re good luck.”
The woman looks me up and down. “No,” she says in a thick accented voice. “We don’t want that.”
I shrug. “Okay.” And Brent and I continue to walk toward Venice.
“I think they don’t trust me,” I tell him. “They probably thought I wanted money.”
It’s then that I remember that not everyone in the world enjoys receiving a bouncy ball from a 32-year-old in a superhero costume. I realize that if I’m going to give these away here, I’ll have to reserve them for the people who initiate a conversation with me.
And we do find those people along our path from the beaches of Santa Monica to Venice.
There’s a man standing by a wall strapping on a sequined USA helmet in preparation to ride his sequined USA bike. He accepts a bouncy ball on the condition that Brent and I answer a question.
He looks into my eyes. “What is two times two?”
I can’t stop staring at his chin, where there is a tiny circular tuft of gray hair sticking out of a small indentation. “Four.”
“It depends on what number you assign to two,” Brent says.
“Ah, yes!” The guy’s eyes light up while he explains some weird number theory. I don’t know what he’s talking about, but it involves aliens. After his explanation, he opens his palm, and I place a bouncy ball in it.
There are others, too.
There’s the homeless man who asked me if I was Batman. “No,” I say. “I’m The Strider.”
“Do you have any change, Batman?”
“I have fifty cents. And I also have this magic bouncy ball I’d like to give you.”
As we walk off, we hear him yelling, “I lost my ball! Hey Batman, I lost my ball!” Looks like I’ve provided him with a seemingly crazy mantra that’s actually not crazy at all.
There’s the three Australian surfers who tell me they like my outfit, and when I give them each a bouncy ball, one of them says, “See, compliments pay off.”
There’s the guy dressed up like a leprechaun advertising some weed store, who’s yelling something at me from across the boardwalk, and when I walk over to him, my hand outstretched with a bouncy ball in it, he cowers away and apologizes.
“That guy was afraid of me,” I say to Brent, and we walk on.
There’s the guy in the Henna tattoo booth. When I explain to him that I have magic bouncy balls, he trades me one of them for a sample tattoo, a bouncy ball emblem he draws on my right ring finger. “Every superhero needs a symbol,” he says.
There’s the man who asks what I’m up to, and when I hand him a bouncy ball, he looks at it intently. “What is this?”
“It’s a bouncy ball. It’s magic,” I say.
“No, it’s not.”
“Yes it is.”
He shrugs. “Okay.” And then we part ways.
There’s a little girl in a lamb costume. Her dad chases me down because she wants to see my mask. I give her a bouncy ball. “I like your mask,” I say.
And so on and so on…
One trip down to Venice Beach and back, and I’ve given away at least 15 of these to the people who get it. I’ve lost track of the exact count.
Still, the whole day is anti-climactic, just as I’d predicted it would be. Because the thing is, I’m not afraid of walking around in public wearing a superhero costume. It’s just not a big deal to me. That’s not what I mean when I say I’m afraid of what people think of me.
And besides, even if I were afraid, I’d still do it.
See, I’m just now realizing that this entire bouncy ball project has been misguided. At the start, I made it sound like I’d go on adventures and learn something about myself, that I’d face down the things about my life that needed changing.
But that’s never been my problem. For one thing, bouncy ball or not, every single day, something interesting happens to me. Every day, I do something I wouldn’t normally do because that’s the type of person I am, and that’s really the type of person I’ve always been.
My problem is not that I don’t do things out of fear. I always do things, especially when I’m afraid of them.
My problem is that I can’t let things be. My problems has always been that I try to manipulate the world around me by acting, I try to change things that I have no control over, and I put so much pressure on myself to do this, I lose sight of the reason why. I over-do it in every direction until I make the things I love become my burden rather than my joy.
I did this to stand-up – I put so much pressure on myself to do well at auditions, at The Comedy Store, but in doing that, I forgot why I love stand-up. I forgot that it has nothing to do with success, and everything to do with what it feels like to make people laugh.
I did this with my relationship – for so long, I’d wanted the chance to show that I would be a good girlfriend, and when I was given the chance, I spent too much time trying to make things perfect. I spent too much time trying to create a fantasy of what I believed meant happiness, and I forgot to just enjoy the moments of it. I forgot to be grateful for them when they happened, and now I just have fading memories of wispy moments I wish I’d enjoyed more.
And I did this to bouncy balls. Before this year, they brought me luck, they brought me joy, and time and time again, they appeared in my life enough to make me believe in magic. And I’ve almost ruined that magic. Today, they have become such a burden on me that I’m walking down Venice Beach dressed like a superhero, desperately trying to give them away.
So the reason I’m dressed as The Strider is probably not what you’re thinking. I never had any intention to feed the homeless dressed like this – I feel it would be arrogant. I’ll feed the homeless when I can, dressed in my regular clothes.
I never had any intention of fighting crime. I never had any intention of rescuing strangers.
I’m wearing this costume today because as I see it, there’s only one person I actually can rescue, that needs a hero to relieve her burden.
It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and I’m about to pick Sosa up to drive him to the airport. I know that it’s probably torturous to try and be friends with your ex-boyfriend, especially so soon after it ends. I know it’s probably a bad idea, but the thing is, I don’t think of him as my ex-boyfriend. I’ve tried, but my mind just doesn’t fit him into that category.
He texts me, asking me to grab his iPod from the console of his car.
When I open the cover and look in, I see an assortment of things: a few pictures of his cousin, some tools I don’t understand, his iPod…
And five bouncy balls that I’d given him over the course of the past six months.
Some people, they just get it.
“So as a person who reads my blog,” I say to Brent, etching a note out on the back of a CVS receipt, “do you think I’m cheating?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know.”
I’m leaving the bucket of bouncy balls on the wall dividing the Boardwalk from the beach. I place the note inside: FREE MAGIC BOUNCY BALLS. PLEASE TAKE ONE.
“But am I a failure?”
“I don’t think so,” he says.
This is what I mean when I say I’m afraid of what people think of me – I’m afraid people will think I failed. I’m afraid they’ll think I’m a quitter. I’m afraid they’ll think I don’t work hard enough, that I don’t deserve the things I get. I’m afraid the people who’ve read this blog will think I tricked them.
I’m afraid, but I leave the bucket full of bouncy balls alone on the wall anyway. I don’t know how many are in there, but I know it’s well beyond the number I needed to reach 190.
Besides, I still have two left, and those are the two quests I’ve been dreading the most.
“Let’s go in,” I say to Brent, and as we head toward the water, I feel nothing but a peaceful sense of relief.
Bouncy Ball # 67 Revisited - Ferris Wheel at the Santa Monica Pier
"Oh my God, we're stopping. Of course we're stopping at the top. Of course."
I peek over the edge of our gondola at the people passing below, and then pull my head back, rigid and upright with fear.
Sosa laughs. "Wow, you're freaked out right now."
"I'm fine if we're moving," I say. "You know, I used to be in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program - I told you that, right?"
"One time I took my little sister, Faithann - that was her name, Faithann Destiny - on one of these Ferris Wheels. And she was like 11 years old. And she fa-reaked out! She just screamed the entire time. I mean, she screamed so loud, they actually stopped the ride to let us off!"
"Oh my God," Sosa says.
"Right? And the thing was, I was actually really scared, too. But I had to pretend I wasn't because I was the adult, you know? So I had to sit there like, 'Everything's totally fine, Girl. We're gonna be okay.' But in my head, I'm like, 'Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God we're gonna die.'"
I feel our gondola lurch, tilting back with our weight as we move again. "It's weird. I just pretended I wasn't afraid because I had to for her."
Bouncy Ball # 148 - Written by Oklahoma Comedian Steve Reynolds, AKA "Wampus"
So Leah Kayajanian, Bouncy Ball Project creator, gets her friends to give out HER bouncy balls and then write about THEIR experience? That's like Herman Melville saying, "You know, I wrote a hundred chapters of this book about a whale. Why I don't I let 15 asshole friends add a chapter each to it?" Or someone saying "My goal is to lose 100 pounds. I lost 25. Now I'm gonna get 15 suckers to lose 5 pounds each. Same thing."
That was my initial reaction. Now I see she's writing more emotionally honest and interesting things than before, and it's merely briefly interrupted by someone else. Fine.
I got a green bouncy ball in the mail was green on St. Patrick's Day. How cool is that? It says CHINA on it, and it came from a giant box shipped from a factory in a mid-sized industrial boom Chinese city specializing in novelty items that its workers regard with detached disdain for the American maniacs on the other side of the world playing with these things. Probably. I’m guessing.
Getting it, I tried to figure out who to give this ball to. I tried to understand the spirit of this project. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and interact meaningfully with someone and bridge our differences. But my way is not, cannot be, giving a ball with Leah's name on the side to someone to enhance a relationship or to reach out to someone with a sweet and good gesture. I gave it to my 4 year-old son instead.
I know it's hip now to whine about your young children and say they're assholes and a burden. I can't. My son is 4 and right now is so amazingly sweet it hurts to know the rest of the world isn't. Besides, he lost his last bouncy ball a while ago (don't be sad - I doubt he even remembers it). Every kid needs a bouncy ball.
I tell him that I have a surprise for him. "Oh what, Daddy? What do you have for me?" That's verbatim. It's fuckdiculous how he speaks.
"Close your eyes and hold out your hands."
He shuts them, sort of. Kind of squeezes them shut and blinks a lot; he still hasn't mastered shutting his eyes. I put the bouncy ball in his hands.
"A ball!" He's excited. Everything at this time in his life is exciting. I could've put a clump of lint from the dryer trap in his hand, and he'd dig it, but it's a ball.
"It's a BOUNCY ball," I say. He starts bouncing it in the kitchen. And he's four and uncoordinated, and the ball's running under the cabinets. And now I immediately fear he'll have to go through the Pains of Being Bad at a Sport like I did.
In fifth grade, I was on a basketball team that had a coach who promised everyone would play two of four quarters every game. Guess what happened during our last game of the season? He played me ONE quarter. The fourth quarter came, and he called out the lineup. My name wasn't on it. It was pure humiliation. I asked him to put me in, and he flat out said no. My teammates knew it was going on. One friend talked to the coach about it, but no.
I was the worst player on the team for sure, but I wasn't like someone who brought the team down bad. In fact, I can still remember the quarter I played was the best for us score-wise. But this asshole dad broke a promise he made to 10 year-olds because he thought it was going to make a team win. I had to sit on a sideline and watch a game with everyone looking at me KNOWING I was so bad it was worth losing your fucking integrity about it.
We lost anyway. After, I had to go through the handshakes and listen to the final speech by this guy. I walked silently to our car and got in with my mom and dad. I sobbed. Hysterically. It was such a soul-killer. I was not good enough. I was different than other kids. My parents tried to say something at first but gave up. (A few years ago, my mom asked me "Do you remember when you cried and cried after a basketball game?" Oh you mean the day my childhood died? Yeah, sure do.) The coach called my parents that night to apologize and explain, but he didn't apologize to me.
Now I worry about the moment my son will realize that life and his innate predisposition in its hierarchy can flat out suck. Will it come from a game? A girl? A boy? A teacher having a bad day? The next 9/11? Finding out about Santa? That's the stress of parenthood. When something as sweet and innocent as a bouncy ball can lead you onto a path of wondering what and when A Cold Hard Fact will hurt your child.
But I know there is some karmic balance in this world. It's sometimes imprecise. Imagine a goddess called Zoso, The Hurler of Karma. She hurls Karma Bolts from the sky, like drone strikes that kill groups of craven terrorists who kill people in malls, but sometimes they take out Grandma's 90th Birthday Party. Her bolts of "Hey, You Let Someone In Your Lane Efficiently, You Get Extra Smiles Today" hit the mark more often than not. I just hope my son can avoid dwelling on Cold Hard Facts and think about The Game of Good Stuff instead - the time you concentrated on a drawing and it was better-looking than ever before. The joy in a new hide-and-seek spot. Shit like that.
I work at an elementary school, and the kids are out for summer break. It's pretty quiet around here, so most of the time I just look for random tasks to do to keep myself busy. Today, I'm cleaning out my desk drawers. Tomorrow, I'll probably file something or re-stock the supply closet. The sky's the limit.
In my top desk drawer, nestled way in the back beneath a ball of rubber bands, I find what appears to be a silver coin, but when I pick it up, I see it's plastic. On one side, it has this famous quote: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
I've always had trouble with the first part - accepting the things I cannot change.
I flip the coin and see the letters "CoDA." I Google the acronym - it's for Co-Dependents Anonymous, group that the website describes as a "fellowship of men and women whose common purpose is to develop healthy relationships."
As I peruse the website, I notice a list of "Patterns and Characteristics of Codependence." I brace myself. I just have a feeling that everything will absolutely apply to me, and I'll start having to attend these meetings. It's like when you have medical symptoms and go to Web MD and decide the hard lump on your elbow is definitely elbow cancer.
But as I read through, there are some things I identify with, but many things that don't describe me at all. There are some things I recognize as old patterns I used to follow that I have since identified, modified, changed.
I keep the coin in my purse now, amidst the colorful bouncy balls. Partly, I keep it to remind myself to accept the things I cannot change, like its presence in my purse will soak into my skin through osmosis.
Mostly, I keep it because I don't know who it belonged to, but I think this plastic chip connects me to the person who received it. I think of the relief that anonymous person felt walking into a meeting where there are other people who struggle with this, other people who thought there was something wrong with them before they knew they weren't alone, other people looking for connections just like you and me.
Bouncy Ball # 149 - Written by Producer, Filmmaker, and All-Around Good Guy, John Veron
When I was a kid, I wanted to feel the Holy Spirit so bad. I grew up in a feverishly Catholic family, and Catechism classes, Bible Camp, and youth group were all regular parts of day-to-day life. Maybe some people in that environment can sneer their way through it until they’re not being forced to go anymore, but not me. Everyone looked so damn happy was the thing. I didn’t understand what it was they had that I didn’t, but I knew I wanted it. So I prayed and prayed, and I took confirmation, and I played in the church band, but nothing. No Holy Spirit, not a twinge of whatever Presence the other kids were feeling. By the time I was 16 or so, I’d stopped believing at all. I still don’t.
But that hasn’t stopped me from hauling my heathen ass out to a church in East Hollywood on a Wednesday evening for Mass, on what I learn upon arrival is the Feast Day of St. Barnabas.
As I walk in, I notice something: this Catholic Church is 95% Southeast Asian. Out of a crowd of about 200, I’m one of five white people, including the clergy. As I walk down the aisle to the nearest vacant pew, everyone turns. Everyone. I’m living the Filipino version of that scene in Animal House where the guys go see Otis Day and the Knights in that bar.
I’m feeling way out of place, but it’s not really about being a minority in this situation. I feel like an interloper, like I’m wearing my outspoken atheist past on my forehead. Any minute now, the priest is going to stop in the middle of the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, walk down the aisle, and tell me that he’s read my file, and I’m going to have to leave. But I settle in and fall into the call-and-response of Catholic prayer, asking a Holy Mother I don’t believe in to pray for me. Each time I do, a neon sign flashes in my head. It reads “liar.”
As the service goes on, something happens. Maybe it’s the familiar, mantra-ish cadence of the liturgy, or everyone’s hushed reverence (which, I don’t know what I expected - it’s fucking church, after all), but I find myself feeling a bit meditative. I listen closely to the Gospel and the homily, and I try to wring out some wisdom from them. Mostly, though, I think about all these people doing the same thing, seeking comfort in something larger than themselves, and how sure I used to be that they were idiots, and I had all the answers.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think they’re wrong about Jesus being God or me going to Hell because I don’t feel bad when I diddle myself. But that’s not such a bad thing to be - I’m wrong about shit all the time. And maybe the Church I grew up in gets up to some pretty despicable shit from time to time, but these people aren’t screaming about the evils of homosexuality or trying to take away women’s rights. They’re hearing about St. Barnabas, a guy who’s mainly known for working his tunic-wearing ass off and getting next to no credit for it, and how they should be kind to other people and treat them with love, even if there’s no reward and no one to see. It’s pretty hard to hate on that without feeling like an asshole.
Towards the end of Mass is a section called The Sign of Peace. The priest says “Let us offer one another a sign of Christ’s peace,” and everyone shakes hands with the people around them and says, “Peace be with you.” None of the old Filipina women around me speak English, though, so we’re all smiling and shaking hands with each other, hoping that communicates what it needs to. They smile, and I smile back, and I think it does.
Mass ends, and everyone gets up to file out. I put my bouncy ball on the pew and head back out into Los Angeles.
I got some iron-on letters so I could put my superhero name, The Strider, on my costume. It took me three weeks to complete this simple task. Maybe it's just one of those tasks that you put off forever and then once you do it, you wonder why you just didn't do it before. Like a phone call to a family member. Or that old picture you've been meaning to frame.
Bouncy Ball # 141 Revisited - Taylor
One of my oldest and best friends, Taylor, sent me a beautiful bouncy ball story a few weeks back, and I added it to my last post. It was about a visit she made to her father's grave. She left a bouncy ball there.
A few days after I posted her story, Taylor texted me. She was at Jazz in June, an outdoor mini-music festival in Norman, Oklahoma, where I'm from, where she still lives. Where we became friends.
Her step-son, Hunter, randomly found a bouncy ball there, so she thought of me immediately and sent a pic, proving yet again that I am correct, and there is much magic in the Universe.
I believe that ball appeared from Taylor's dad, to let her know he heard her.
I'm at Flappers, standing outside the Yoohoo Room chatting with a couple of other comics. One of them is teaching us a new word he learned - sonder.
"It's like when you realize that everyone else is the main character in their story, too, and you are a background character in so many other stories."
"So wait, what is that from?" I ask. "What kind of word is it? Is it a verb?"
He sighs, looks it up on his tiny computer phone. He hands me the phone - it's a definition on some guy's Tumblr page called "The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows":
sonder n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
Bouncy Ball # 150 - "Myron-Byron" - Written by LA Comedian and host of radio show Crab Nation Ryan Pfeiffer
Everybody in my life is fucking crazy. My best friend tells me that lunatics swarm around my head like hungry shitty gnats. Crazies tend to gnaw at my sanity, but a lot of times they're way fuckin' fun to drink with. I guess that's why I bought this dude a $3 Modelo.
This guy was a loony asshole, but I felt bad for the drunk. For sure, he was lonely, and probably no one gave a shit about him. His skin was old newspaper, and he smelled like he didn't have a house. Myron or Byron was the name he gave. I was high off my ass from hitting a hand-held pot vaporizer that I was given for my 41st birthday, so I don't quite remember. Nevertheless, I was locked into sharing at least one drink with my new buddy.
The bar at which we were perched was like a Pier 1 Imports drizzled with crust. It was actually quite shitty, and you could tell management was way chill about switching out the urinal cakes. But it was right next to my gross gym where I had just been elliptical-ing. I really wish I could remember the name of the stinky dive because they featured good ole white bar napkins. These days, most drinking establishments have trendy black bev-naps, which are impossible to scribble notes on, unless you have one of those rare pens that shoot out white ink.
My new friend Myron-Byron told me he was the oldest of twins. He said his brother got tangled in the umbilical cord during labor. The doc had to work his Mommy's womb like a lazy Susan to get anything out. FYI, "lazy Susan" were his exact words. M.B. plopped forth first, which he says is the reason his slightly younger bro hates him. I had only shared a few minutes with this lout, and I’m quite certain there are a myriad of reasons anyone could hate Myron-Byron.
I think, because I bought him a beer, the poor fellow felt like he owed me a good story. So the rosy-cheeked Skeksis told me about Pearl Harbor.
During World War II, M.B. was stationed in Hawaii while he was a zygote. When the enemy planes approached, Myron said that you could discern between the Japanese, German, French and Italian fighter planes if you squinted hard enough and focused your eyes on the cockpits. The German pilots all had tiny mustaches just like Hitler. The Frogs wore berets, and the "zipper-heads" (AKA the Japanese) of course all had narrow tiny eyes.
His bullshit racist tale about the Second World War just kind of petered out into a disappointing slurry of jibber-jabber, and my frail fucked up friend carefully rested his face on the neck of the Modelo. He took a nap while I whipped out my phone and read about how the Chicago Cubs were poised for yet another “rebuilding season.” I wondered if Myron-Byron felt like he was re-building or just kind of done.
While M.B. battled windmills behind his yellow lids, a cute California-looking lady busted out an acoustic guitar. She was good, but no one at the crappy watering hole really paid her any attention. The surfer babe performed some Pink Floyd covers, which eventually snapped my dying, drunk friend from his dream Odyssey.
Myron told me that he loved “Dark Side of the Moon” but hated “The Wall.” I suggested to M.B. that most Pink Floyd fans like their entire catalog. How do you hate “The Wall” if you’re a Pink Floyd fan? Also, I mentioned to my boozing pal that my Father totally digs Pink Floyd and that I even bought my Dad “Wish You Were Here” one year for Christmas. Myron-Byron didn’t seem to give a shit, as I think his drink was all gone.
Suddenly, I started feeling like one of those asshole pear-shaped tourists in the Smokey Mountains that feed black bears from their coolers. It’s all fun and games until you run out of sandwiches, and I had not a dime left in the afternoon drinking budget. But before I abandoned M.B., I wanted to leave the dude with something. After all, Byron-Myron entertained my stoned ass through a whole beer. But I had no cash to spare since I was on my to a marijuana dispensary that doesn’t accept credit cards. I didn’t have any food to offer, which would have been nice for Myron, as I’m sure he exists off complimentary happy-hour treats.
And then, light bulb motherfucker!
I reached into my gym bag that my mother sent me two years ago for my 39th birthday. It’s a killer backpack. But it boasts many separate zippered compartments, which means I have to search extra hard when I’m looking for shit. Finally, I pulled out a bouncy ball.
I placed the rubber orb in front of Mr. Sauced and told him to play with it every now and then. I floated him the idea of maybe finding a partner for a game of catch. Cuz fuck it, right? It’s a ball. Balls are fun. No one has ever been gifted a ball and then felt “bummed.”
I'm walking with Sosa. We're in Burbank by Flappers, near the malls and chain restaurants. People swarm all around us.
"Imagine we're in a movie," Sosa says. "Okay? Now imagine the camera switches off of us and onto these people." He points to the group of teenagers in front of us. "The guy in the hoodie. He's the story now."
"I like that," I say.
"And it switches again. Now it's this couple in front of us. It's a whole different story. We're just extras in the background."
Bouncy Ball # 151 - Written by LA Comedian and my old friend Doug Dixon
“I need to give you this,” I say to Taylor as I pull a bouncy ball out of my pocket.
“O...K,” he responds like I imagine most people in his position have responded. We are at Marshall Brewery in Tulsa, Oklahoma where Taylor works as a brewer.
“It’s for a writing project for my friend, Leah. She’s a comic. If you go to her website, it’ll make sense. I just need to leave this somewhere here.” Taylor’s eyes light up; he’s on board. He takes the ball and walks it over to a closet full of merchandise and places it on top in what looks like an old timey spittoon. “This won’t go anywhere for at least ten years.”
I’m visiting my hometown for the funeral of my uncle, who died at the age of 71. He had been fighting cancer for four years. Well, I say "fighting cancer" in the same way Michael Spinks "fought Mike Tyson." It's not so much a fight as it is a long drawn out ordeal that leaves the victim looking like they chose poorly at the end of the third Indiana Jones movie and the surviving family and friends, the spectators in this cruel contest, looking not much better.
I recently learned that death row inmates in Japan are not informed of their execution date. One day, they open your cell door and tell you it’s time. That’s it. It sounds barbaric on the surface until you stop and consider that none of us really know the day we are going to die, either. We are all marked for death, and it is coming for us in all shapes and sizes at any moment. It’s up to us to figure out what to do with the time we have. I have been repeatedly reminded of this “Coors Light Cold Hard Fact” since December 26, 2013.
I had seen a grim yet vague post on Facebook from a high school friend. It has since been deleted, but it was along the lines of, “There are no words. RIP.” The condoling comments rolled in, all from people I knew. Shortly thereafter, I got a phone call from Eric Marshall, longtime friend and CEO/Founder/Brewmaster of Marshall Brewing Company. I knew enough not to answer the phone since I was at work and whatever news was on the other side of that phone was probably not going to be good.
Then, Eric texted me. Our friend Niles had passed. A dog bite, a rather routine borderline benign thing for a veterinarian, had developed into a strep infection. He died relatively suddenly on Christmas morning. He was 31 with a wife and young boy.
Death, it turns out, has no concerns with our plans big and small. It is an MRI detecting a lump on a woman’s breast. It is a fault line under Southern California deciding to shake a few people off like fleas. It is a newly sober comedian Sam Kinison getting struck head on by a drunk driver on his way to a gig (I randomly visited his grave site in Tulsa on this trip).
I have thought about Niles every single day since learning of his passing, which, as of this writing, has been 179 days. And I keep asking myself “why?” Not why did he have to die, but why do anything? What’s the point if we’re all going to die? Take me for example: I have had a long term love affair with exercising and eating right. But why do it? Why eat a carrot instead of a donut if I’m just going to die? Why go run a few miles when I could just sit on my ass?
Because that’s what death wants me to do. Its specter wants me, and all of us, to give up and cower under life’s perceived futility. It wants us to shun the beauty that life can be and spend our remaining days in despair. If life is the opposite of death, then we must always embrace life and its beauty because death, for a lack of better words, is a real bummer.
Every laugh, every smile, every learned hobby, every warm embrace, every impromptu road trip, every marveled sunset…is a middle finger to death. That’s all this thing we call life is. It is why Leah and I tell jokes on a stage in front of strangers, and it’s why Eric and his crew brew their beer.
We can live to be 71 or 31; it seems so random and cruel. To paraphrase the great philosopher Blondie: “One way or another death is gonna find ya, it’s gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha.” Our goal, both personally and collectively, is to find ways to spread life’s joy and turn down death’s horrible song. It’s our charge.
Oh, for the record, I’ll still eat the shit out of some donuts.
"Hey, Leah." The voice, almost a whisper, comes from the booth behind me, startling me.
I turn to see Tommy, the Comedy Store manager grinning at me. "Oh hey, Tommy," I say, a little nervous. This is the first time I've stepped foot in the club since early May, when I left a show before going on (see Bouncy Ball # 117). At the time, I didn't know if I'd ever come back, but here I am.
"I'm gonna try and get you up this week," Tommy says.
"Okay. And I'll try not to get pissed and leave."
I feel like I need to explain it to him. "You know, I only get mad when they're rude to me."
"That's because you're smart," he says. "You can see it in your eyes. You have a fire in your eyes. It's the most interesting thing about you. It's what I like about you. I can pick you out of a crowd from across the room."
I smile. "Thanks for saying that."
I suddenly wish I had a chance to take so many things back - this blog, this project, the weird and ridiculous announcements about quitting things or doing things or not doing things that I say I'm going to do. I wish I could be undercover again, without the pieces of my life in the open. I wish I could switch the camera, handing off the story to a new main character, but it's too late - all I can do now is fantasize about what I'd do if I had a do-over.
If I could, I'd go back and approach my life in the past 6 months the way I approached the open mic at the Comedy Store, before I got passed to Friends and Family. For two years, I just showed up, waited, kept my eyes forward, did my time, and walked away with a determined slow, but steady and quiet resolve.
Just act. Quietly. Without making declarations about my intentions. With enough faith in myself to know that I have a plan, I know exactly what I'm doing, and I don't need validation from anyone else.
Bouncy Ball Project Progress Report
Days left before my birthday: 16
Bouncy Balls left to distribute: 38
Friends who owe me bouncy ball stories: 14
30 Day Arm Challenge: on Day 24
30 Day Squat Challenge: on Day 24
30 Day Plank Challenge: on Day 24
Progress on running 3-5 miles a week: Swear I'm gonna run this afternoon.
Progress on learning to Moonwalk: Look, maybe I'm not a dancer.
Fears left to face: 3 (what other people think of me, failure, and heights)
Places left to hide: 0
The Bouncy Ball Project, Week Twenty-Two: Anti-climaxes and Revisiting Our Losses, OR I Make Things Worse Because Apparently That's a Thing I Do
Bouncy Ball # 141 - Written by the talented and amazing Taylor Seabolt
Peach? I think he liked peach.
I am surrounded by every kind of fake flower in every kind of fake color there is at Hobby Lobby.
Peach was the color picked last time. It turned out pretty good. I’ll just go with peach. This decision should not be this difficult...
I haven’t visited my dad in 6 years and 12 days, which is terrible I know. I drive from Norman to south OKC, only a 15 minute drive, making me feel even worse. I decided not to tell my mom or sister about my visit. Not that I didn’t want them there. I just didn’t want anyone there.
I park my car and make my way to where I think he is. He is NOT where I thought he was. I do, however, find my Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Pat and Uncle Able. Basically everyone else in my family.
I remember now that he is up on the little hill away from the others. I start crying before I even approach his grave. I was somewhat expecting this, but not to this degree. Someone had already brought him flowers. My mom and sister, of course.
I get all my stuff out (flowers, scissors for trimming, a foam ball, a trash bag, and tissues). I sit down next to him. This makes me feel extremely dramatic, but I can’t help it. I cry and apologize. I apologize for not coming sooner. I apologize for not being stronger. I apologize for not calling my mom more often and a lot of other things. I then start to fill him in on the other things that are going on. I tell him about the Spartan Race I had just done, my crazy food cleanse I did, my unfulfilling job...etc. I also tell him about how I now have a little pseudo family of my own and about how I am a stepmom. I wished that he could have met Michael and Hunter. I said how Hunter is playing baseball and that I tell him the tips and tricks that my dad had taught me when I played ball. I tell him how I have grown into a strong and independent woman, just like he and my mom taught me to be, and that I think he would be proud.
I am pretty sure at this point I have no more tears left. I have spent the last 20 minutes telling my dad all the things I am sorry for and all the things that I think matter. But I know that none of it really matters. I didn’t have to come here to say any of this. He sees me, he watches over me, he probably rolls his eyes and shakes his head at me. (A lot). But it feels nice to be close to him for a tiny bit. I place a kiss on his headstone and leave my bouncy ball and promise to not be such a stranger from now on.
Bouncy Ball # 142 - Al
I look out at the road with an emotionless face, vacant eyes staring ahead at the curves of the 101 Freeway South toward home.
I suppose I shouldn't be driving. I'm not drunk, but I ate a marijuana edible about three hours earlier, thinking by now it would've made its way through my system. I'm not driving recklessly or acting strange, but inside I'm panicking about a tightness in my chest, my heart pounding its way to a what I believe is a certain heart attack.
That's the real reason I'm regretting my decision to drive. Because I'm freaking out, and I'm not alone. I have a passenger, a 22-year-old guy named Al, who was at my friend's birthday party in North Hollywood. I'd offered him a ride, and while that's a very small event, it counts for today as my bouncy ball thing.
Really, I don't know if this is the most interesting thing that's happened to me today. Probably not - I did a lot of other random things. I went to breakfast with a couple of old Oklahoma comic friends. I drove one of them back to Irvine, a two hour trip in the middle of the afternoon. I cleaned my house and completed my arm challenge, squat challenge, and plank challenge for the day. I held a python to finish up last week's bouncy ball tasks. I went to Target to buy some stuff for my superhero costume, but they didn't have what I needed. I headlined a comedy show my roommate put on in our garage. And finally, I went to a bar in North Hollywood for my friend's 22nd birthday.
Any of the things I've done today had potential to become a bouncy ball story. Any one of them. Because as I'm starting to gather, none of what I do matters unless I make it matter, and it's really up to me to find the meaning in the moments that I live.
"So you write a lot of standup?" Al asks.
I keep my eyes forward. "Well, yeah, I do that. And I also write other stuff."
"Like what kind of stuff?"
"Um, well, I guess memoir-type things?"
"That's cool," he says. "What about?"
I sigh. Here we go. "Well, right now, I'm writing a book based on bouncy balls."
"Oh really? What do you mean?"
I ease my grip on the steering wheel while I exit off the freeway. "Well, I think that bouncy balls are magic. Because I always find them. So I feel like finding them is a sign from the Universe." I laugh at how ridiculous that sounds.
"Huh," he says. "You know, I always find dimes that are heads up."
"You know," I say, "my friend Erin told me one time that she always sees one shoe off to the side of the road."
Al laughs. "That's a cool one."
"Yeah," I say, but I'm wondering now if there are lots of people in the world who encounter one silly thing over and over again throughout their lives, one thing that sticks out, one thing that they always notice.
Bouncy Ball # 143 - Pupuseria in Grand Central Market
"Wow," Katie says, taking a small sip of her cocktail. "I'm really sorry that happened to you."
"Well, thank you." I stir the ice in my own drink with my straw. "But I think I'm okay, you know? I'm mostly just mad that I can't say anything."
"Why can't you?"
I shrug. "Because it would end up hurting other people if they knew."
Katie shakes her head. "Well so what though? You can't talk about it?"
"What would I even say?"
"Maybe you could write about it," she says. "That seems to be the way you usually talk about things."
"True," I say. "I guess I could." But I know I'm not gonna write about it. Some things, I'd like to try and keep to myself.
I actually only told Katie the story because she'd shared something with me about her past, and I could tell she felt a little exposed, just leaving such a big, impactful detail of her life hanging out there in the open like that. I felt the least I could do is share something from my past with her.
Katie and I had stopped in this bar to have a drink and take a break during our Adventure Walk. She'd agreed to go with me on one of the adventures in the cards Sosa and I won a few months back, and it led us downtown to something called the Broadway Historic Theatre District.
I chose this card because it brought us past the Grand Central Market, and I'd never been there.
So earlier today, for the first time, I ate a pupusa - pork and cheese inside a flat, soft tortilla. It was incredible. I sat next to Katie at a crowded counter amidst the hectic atmosphere of the market, and I had my first experience eating this delicious Salvadoran staple.
When I left the bouncy ball on the counter at the pupuseria, Katie snapped a picture of me without me even realizing.
Now at the bar, I'm looking back on the day's experience.
Is it enough? Even though we're here today, it's not exactly how I'd planned. I was supposed to have my superhero costume complete. I was supposed to have a mask that covers up the bump on the bridge of my nose and a black cape that Meredith made, which would billow out behind me while I stood proud, my head tilted to the side, my arms out wide and resting on my hips.
But instead, I'm just me. I'm wearing worn out jeans and a faded purple tank top. I'm full now, but since eating that pupusa, I haven't changed in any significant way. I haven't forgotten the things that happened to me in the past. In fact, it only takes a strong drink to get me to share my secrets, tell all my business, live everything out in the open, wear my heart on my sleeve, completely transparent.
There's no costume that can hide you when you write your whole life honestly.
"Hey," John says, walking up to my front steps, where I'm standing to greet him. He's here to support The Workout Room, the comedy show my friends and I started running from my garage after Dangerfield's 3 shut down. "So tell me, are you making yourself into a superhero?" He laughs.
"Oh yeah," I say. "Is it too obvious? It's too obvious, isn't it?"
"Well, there's some pretty strong foreshadowing. Have you seen the documentary about real life superheroes? It's on Netflix."
"What? No. There's a documentary about it?"
"Yeah, it's a really great story. You should check it out, especially if you're going that route with your story."
"But wait, it's the same thing? Real people who turn themselves into superheroes?"
John looks concerned. "Wait, you know that's a thing people do, right?"
I shrug, stepping down into the gravel of my front yard. "Well, I think I knew that it's been done before, but I didn't realize it was a big thing. It's a big thing?"
John's eyes get wide. "Somebody's got some Googling to do."
I sigh. "I told you I don't know things. You know that." John is the producer of the podcast I co-host, called "People We Know." It's about fictional characters, half of whom I've never heard of. I'd say I spend 90% of our recording sessions either asking questions like, "Now, I'm sorry, who is the Undertaker?" or staring off into space while the host Andy and our guest of the day nerd out about that one scene in that one film that only the two of them saw.
I never know anything about anything. That's kind of my thing. And the only thing I know about superheroes really is that I'd like to be one.
"Well I still think you should do it," John says, "if that was your plan."
"But is it unoriginal now?"
"It depends on what you're going to do with it."
"Well, I wasn't gonna go fight crime," I say. "I was just gonna do silly things. It's more about not caring what people think of me."
John nods. "Really, you should still do it," he says. "That's different." I can tell he feels bad for deflating my big ending, but I've already started deflating it myself. I've already started to doubt the validity of what I've foreshadowed.
Bouncy Ball # 144 - Jeremy
Sunday at the Silverlake Lounge, and Mario lines up a row of whiskey shots, gesturing for me to take one. James and I grab a shot glass, Mario grabs one, and a guy who'd been sitting at the opposite end of the bar slides down toward us. "Let me get one of those, too," he says. Mario pours, slides it over to him.
The new guy clears his throat and delivers some eloquent rhyming toast like he's rehearsed it several times. We clink glasses, throw the shots back. I don't even flinch.
"My name's Jeremy," the guy says, reaching out to shake my hand. Within a minute, he's telling me about the screenplay he plans to write: a half Mexican half Caucasian man can't find a job, so he decides to run for President of the United States.
He tells me about last week, when he wrote some amazing script coverage that his boss took credit for. "They'll respect it more if it comes from me," his boss had said. "It'll look better professionally, and it'll be good for you in the long run."
"What a dick," I say. I shake my head. "You can't get caught up in that. He'll just keep doing it."
"No, he won't," Jeremy says. "Because I quit."
"Oh awesome!" I give him a high five. "Good for you to stick up for yourself like that."
"Yeah, I feel pretty good about it," he says. "And I'm thinking I'll have more time now to really start working on what I want to do."
"Oh, yeah," I say, "for sure." But I'm thinking about a month from now, when money gets tight for Jeremy. I wonder if he'll regret his decision, or at the very least, look back on the moment that forced him to make the decision and try and avoid that moment in the first place.
Maybe not. Maybe it's good enough for him to know he did the right thing, no matter what kind of mess it's caused in his life.
I give Jeremy a bouncy ball. The next day, Jeremy, my newest Facebook friend, comments on my post: "A certain bouncing ball almost got me arrested."
Apparently, he'd played with it like a hacky sack, then kicked it into oncoming traffic. A cop car pulled up to him, and inside, there were "two hot police women." He'd said, "Wow, LA has some fine looking police officers," one of them told him he needed to work on his game, and they drove away.
Later, he found the ball in a pile of trash.
I keep reading the post and thinking, "I am the cause of that chain of events."
"Man," I say to Jonathan, who's sprawled out on my couch staring at his phone while he waits for The Workout Room show to start. "Have you ever heard of people in real life turning themselves into superheroes?"
"I mean, you know those people in real life that get dressed up like superheroes and go out into the world?"
"Ugh, oh yeah," he says.
"What do you think of that?"
He rolls his eyes. "I think it's the extreme end result of the quirky hipster movement where everyone's just trying to be ironic all the time, and they're like, 'Hey, look at me. I'm wearing a costume.'"
"Huh," I say. "Because I was gonna do that."
"Oh," he says. "Well, uh, I mean, you should."
"I have to," I say. "I've been hinting at it for like three weeks now." I sigh, smack my forehead with my hand. "Man! Everyone's gonna think I'm so stupid."
Bouncy Ball # 145 - Greg
I made a trade with a my friend Greg. I gave him a bouncy ball, and he drew me a picture of a three-legged dog. "Because I think people should go through life like a three-legged dog," he'd said. "Whatever happens, you just keep going. Like that dog. He lost his leg, but he keeps going."
I chose a superhero name.
That's a fucking badass name. Don't act like it's not. I would've tried to make it my nickname, only I know from experience that if you try to give yourself a nickname, all your friends will resist it and make fun of you mercilessly for thinking it was a cool name in the first place. Haters.
I've loved that name since I first heard it, on the first movie of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy - it's the first name given to the character who will later be known as Lord Aragorn II. (I feel like I should get points for even knowing that detail, since I know so few things about nerd stuff.)
I Google the name one day, but the definition isn't surprising: "a person who walks rapidly with long steps." Even that in itself is appropriate, I think. I'm one of those people who is always rushing to get to the next place, even when in reality, I have all the time in the world. Even when most of the time, I'm just rushing to wait, missing all the beautiful things that you can only notice when you take your time to get somewhere.
Bouncy Ball # 146 - Written by my friend, LA comedian Megan Rice
There are a lot of things that freak me out. If I had to pick a top three it would be: heights (I am afraid that I might jump off a tall building. I don’t want to kill myself, but I’m scared of what’s keeping me from doing it. Nothing weird about that.), scary monsters (I don’t actually believe in monsters, but I do have to sleep with my feet covered up out of fear one will eat my toes. No, there is nothing weird about that either.), and singing in public. When Leah asked me to do something for the Bouncy Ball Project, I knew exactly what I had to do. Since I am way too afraid of heights to do anything involving that, and it would be almost impossible to find a scary monster, I had only one option: Karaoke.
I know that seems weird to a lot of people. But let me explain. I have a terrible voice. It’s that simple. I understand that issue doesn’t stop most people from singing into a microphone in front of a bunch of hammed ladies and gentlemen, but I have an exceptionally terrible voice. I know this because my best friend's mom told me I ruined Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” for her after I sang it ONCE in the car at seven years old. I now invite you into the 6-week process that was me performing karaoke for this first time.
My first order of business to fulfill this awful nightmare was to get a buddy. I needed someone who would laugh at me, lie to me about this being a good idea and have no idea just how bad my voice is. I picked my friend Wendi. The following is an account of our first two failed attempts.
Attempt #1: Wendi told me there was a pretty good karaoke bar by her house that had cheap drinks (necessary) and loads of weirdos. That sounded perfect. So over to her house I went. I arrived around 6pm. We drank a whole bottle of Pumpkin Spice vodka (not recommended), ate an extra large pizza/chicken wings/kimchi and were asleep by 10:30pm. Needless to say we never left her apartment, and karaoke did not happen. I fully admit that I was fine with this. I wasn’t ready. I needed more time. And more pizza.
Attempt #2: This time we were serious. We decided on Happy Endings because I figured that would be the most stereotypical karaoke scenario I could find in Hollywood. I was mentally prepared and ready to do this. I got there about ten minutes before Wendi and noticed through the window a lot of bodies jumping around in strange ways I did not understand.
Fuck. It was line-dancing night. Wendi got there, and we considered finding a different place. But, Dude, we stumbled upon LINE-DANCING. This was a beautiful gift we could not walk away from. I don’t want to take away from the point of this story and bore you with tales of jean-kini (a girl line-dancing in a bikini made of – you guessed it – jean), the fact that everyone just instinctively knew every dance, or that Wendi and I joined in. (We basically hamboned the entire time. Turns out we’re real good at that. Not so much at following line-dancing directions.)
Okay. Now that we’re covered the failures, let’s get to the meat of this thing. My success? I feel uncomfortable calling it success, because there was nothing successful about it.
I left Workout Room last Wednesday and headed to the Smog Cutter. If you haven’t been, you’re dumb. It’s an amazing bar with bartenders who are so annoyed to get you a beer, I think they would rather you just not pay them and leave. Wendi was supposed to come meet me, but got booked on a show, so my friend Rick kindly stepped into the role of karaoke buddy.
The last time I was there on a Wednesday night the place was packed. I mean sardine can packed. Which I thought might make it easier for me. A busy place, loads of people talking, no one paying attention to me.
We walked in, and there were roughly ten people inside. TEN!!! Ha! Perhaps the good folks at Smog Cutter were warned I was on my way. There was no hiding behind a crowd here. I’d already had more than a few beers at Workout Room, but that was nowhere near enough. I grabbed the giant songbook, ordered a shot and a beer and got to work.
The selection was not as great as I had hoped for. They didn’t have a single No Doubt song. Are you kidding me?! Plan B: Song # 1101-08. Ace of Base “I Saw The Sign.” I forced Rick to put his name on the list before me, figuring it would be a nice gesture to the patrons of the bar to hear an actual good song done well before I ruined everyone’s night. We sat back for a few songs. Unfortunately, no one was embarrassingly bad. That really pissed me off. Didn’t they know how big of a deal this was for me? I needed someone to shit the bed before I did.
Alas, it never happened. It was all perfectly mediocre karaoke. Rick’s name was called and up he went. Bob Seger was an excellent choice, and the other ten people at the bar seemed to agree. As the song ended I stood up and got ready to ruin all these nice people’s evenings. Apparently the rest of the bar could sense what they were in for, and over half went out for a cigarette as soon as I grabbed the mic. Dicks.
You’ll notice that the story of my first time singing isn’t all that exciting. Or interesting. That’s because it wasn’t. The song started. I sang. It was over, and I walked off stage. Just like most things in life, it was entirely anti-climatic. I didn’t ruin the song for anyone; Ace of Base already did that 20 years ago. I did badly, but so what? I didn’t jump off the roof of a tall building or lose my toes to a scary monster.
One fear down, two to go.
Back when I first moved to L.A., I ran into a friend of mine who'd moved here from Oklahoma a couple years before I did. He was standing behind me in a Coffee Bean on Sunset Blvd. He'd tapped my shoulder, and I turned around, my mind blown, trapped in that moment when you know the person in front of you, but can't make sense of seeing them in this new environment.
We stood on the sidewalk catching up, drinking our coffee. Mostly, he just tried to calm my panic from not having any real prospects, not knowing anyone, not feeling financially stable. I told him that I felt better because I just got a job at the California Pizza Kitchen. It's not my dream job, but it's something.
"I've been reading your stuff on okc.net," he'd said, referencing the website I used to write for.
"Aw, thanks! Wow, you read them?"
"Oh yeah," he said. "One day I read a bunch in a row. Not only are they written well, but I think you should know, you as a character are fascinating."
"No, really," he said. "You just have the best intentions all the time, and you try to do these things that seem like they should work out. And they only end up spiraling into a worse situation."
And I'd laughed and agreed and thanked him for reading. And later that day, I realized that while I was standing on the sidewalk talking to him, I was supposed to be bringing my social security card in to California Pizza Kitchen and signing some new hire paperwork.
And the very next morning, I got fired from the job I desperately needed even before I started working there.
Bouncy Ball # 147 - The Ride Home
"Oh my God," I say. "I don't even want to tell you what it said. It's seriously so embarrassing."
"Now you have to tell me," Sosa says. "It's too good not to."
"Okay. But I mean, it's really so embarrassing."
"Okay, well she told me once that felt like a can of soup on a shelf. Like she was just sitting there, you know? And it didn't matter. So I made her a thing..." I throw my head in my hands. "Oh my God, it's so embarrassing!"
I'm having this meltdown in the passenger's seat of Sosa's car. I'm not supposed to be talking to him since we broke up and I wrote about it and posted it online for everyone I know to see, but who else am I gonna call to pick me up in the middle of the night because I ate too much of a weed cookie, and I can't drive home? Who else would I call that wouldn't be annoying or judgmental about it?
Right now, I'm relaying the horrifying story of what I did today. In an attempt to make things right with a friend of mine, I'd written her a three page apology letter and made her a ridiculous almost-collage in a cheap black picture frame. For what offense, you might ask? For inviting her to come with my friends and I on a trip and then politely telling her I changed my mind, and I'd rather she didn't come.
I know. That's a mean thing to do. I had my reasons for doing it, and I maintain that it was actually the right thing to do in the situation (though the more right thing would've been not to invite her in the first place).
"Just tell me!" Sosa says.
I pull my hands away from my face. "Okay," I say. "I put a picture of a can of soup. And at the top of it, I put the words, 'You are not this...'"
"Okay," he says. "That's not too bad."
"Oh, there's more," I say. "At the bottom, I put the words, 'You will always be this...'"
He smiles. "And did you put a picture there?"
"And what was it a picture of?"
I sigh. "The sunset."
I see him cringe. "Oh man! Why? Why, Leah? Why would you do that?"
"I don't know!" I say. "It's so corny! Why did I have to say anything?"
He shakes his head. "Because you didn't want her to think you're a bad person."
"I know, but really in this situation, I was a bad person. And I just made it worse." I clap my hands over my face again while Sosa laughs.
"A sunset? Really? Oh, it hurts."
"I can't just let things be," I say. "Why can't I just let things be how they are?"
Bouncy Ball Project Progress Report
Days left before my birthday: 23
Bouncy Balls left to distribute: 43
Friends who owe me bouncy ball stories: 18
30 Day Arm Challenge: on Day 15 - halfway there
30 Day Squat Challenge: on Day 15 - halfway there
30 Day Plank Challenge: on Day 15 - halfway there
Days in a row without contact with Sosa: 14
Progress on running 3-5 miles a week: Ugh.
Progress on learning to Moonwalk: Don't even ask.
Fears left to face: 3 (what other people think of me, failure, and heights)
Number of times I've wished I could quit this shit and just go back to being some guy's secretary who also does standup: 300,000
Bouncy Ball # 135 - Meredith
"It'll be so easy," Meredith says. "It won't take long at all."
"Okay. So you really don't mind helping me? I didn't know who else to ask."
"Not at all!" she says. "I'd say the first thing you want to do is figure out your name and get the basic pieces of what you want to wear. We'll go from there."
"Thank you so much for helping me be ridiculous." I leave her apartment, but when I get to my car, I realize I forgot something and have to run back.
She answers the door.
"Here," I say. "I forgot to give you this." I hold out a bouncy ball.
She laughs, takes the ball. "Thanks."
Bouncy Ball # 136 - Australian Mike
"So what do you do?" Mike asks. He's uncomfortably close to me, his hand brushing my arm.
"Well, I work at a school," I say.
"She's a comedian," Lindsay pipes in, like she's my manager.
"Really?" Mike turns to me.
"Yeah, I'm trying to be a comedian," I say.
"Trying to be?" he asks. "Why trying to be? Either you're a comedian or you aren't."
"Well, everyone here is trying to be something. It seems ridiculous to say I'm a comedian in LA. I'm not famous."
"She will be," Lindsay says.
"Ah," Mike says. "So you're a famous comedian. Will you tell us a joke?"
"Yeah, tell us a joke," his friend says. He nudges me. "Let's hear what you got."
I sigh. "This is not a good place to tell a joke."
"Because we're on a patio," I say. "It'd be awkward for everyone." Lindsay and I are at a frou-frou West Hollywood restaurant called "Sur." She'd made reservations before flying in from Seattle. Apparently, this restaurant is the setting for a reality TV show called "Vanderpump Rules." I know nothing about it, but Lindsay is super stoked. She's seen a couple of people from the show, a real LA experience for her to take back to Seattle.
On our way out to the patio, we'd picked up a few middle-aged Australian men who are here to kick off a week-long 50th birthday celebration for one of the guys, Mike's friend. Not to sound conceited, but I feel like this is more than a little bit about the tight blue dress and heels I'm wearing.
I don't give a fuck about reality TV shows, but I'd been pretty stoked for a chance to dress up all nice for once. For the three years I've been in LA, I can count on one hand the occasions I got to get gussied up. It's not that I'm one of those people who love to get dressed up - quite the opposite, in fact - it's just that every now and then, it's nice to feel sexy. Maybe I just need to prove to myself that I still got it. Oh God, am I that cliche?
At any rate, I've managed to pick up a 50-year-old wealthy Australian man. He pours half of his wine in my glass. I look at Lindsay, shrug, and take a sip.
"We're going to Vegas tomorrow," Mike says. "You girls should come with us."
"Oh right," I say. "I'll just not go to work and go to Vegas with you. That's a responsible decision."
"You wouldn't have to pay for anything. We'd put you up. We could go see some shows. Give you some money to gamble with."
"Huh," I say. "Not to split hairs, but it sounds like I'd be a whore in this scenario."
Lindsay laughs. Gussied up or not, I'm still me.
"Oh no, no, no!" Mike says. His friend puts up his hands in that, "Whoa, whoa, not me" gesture, and heads back in the restaurant, but another guy from their table comes out to join us.
"So what did you do while you were here?" I ask.
"Today we went to some shops in Santa Monica," Mike says. "And I held a snake. You got the picture? Show her the picture."
The new guy pulls out his phone and scrolls through, finally landing on a pic of Mike, a giant yellow spotted snake draped over his shoulders.
"See that?" Mike says. "I'm afraid of snakes."
"Me too!" I say.
"You know what? I've bungee jumped and been sky-diving and all that, but I've never been as scared as I was holding that snake."
Later, when I find Mike and give him a bouncy ball, he looks at it and says, "But when do I get your phone number?"
I laugh and turn to run out the front door. Over my shoulder, I hear Mike. "What the hell am I supposed to do with this?"
"What are you talking about, Kayajanian?" Ryan asks, walking up to the bar where James and I are chatting.
Ryan's drunk. Then again, all of us are. Mario keeps pouring shots of whiskey, and it seems I have nothing better to do this Sunday than to pound them down.
"I was just telling James that the other day, I felt a ball of energy in my hand."
Ryan laughs. "Oh shut the fuck up."
"No really," I say. "I felt it! I channeled a bunch of energy through my body, and I was holding it out in my hand like this." I hold my hand out like a wizard casting a spell. "The energy poured out of me. I felt it."
"That's like every teenage boy's dream," James says.
"You're crazy," Ryan says.
"No, I'm not," I say. "I felt it."
Bouncy Ball # 137 - Dodger Game
"Man," I say. "I should've brought my glove."
Monday night, and Lindsay and I are in the left field bleachers at Dodger Stadium, watching the home team play the Chicago White Sox. I'd gotten the tickets weeks before - Sosa was supposed to go with me - but Lindsay filled in at the last minute.
"Yeah," Lindsay agrees. "I'm a little scared of getting hit by a fly ball. I don't think I'll be able to see it."
"Naw," I say. "It's easy. Soft hands."
I don't have any particular attachment to the Dodgers. I actually don't even have any team gear to wear to the game. I should've taken the Dodger cap that Sosa tried to give me last year, the one he bought for his Halloween costume when he dressed up like Benny the Jet from the movie "The Sandlot."
"Where do I keep track of balls and strikes?" I ask.
Lindsay leans over my scorecard. "There's supposed to be boxes."
"Well that's bullshit." I'm attempting to keep score during the game, but I'm a little rusty. I haven't watched a baseball game in years. "Did you ever keep score?"
"Yeah," Lindsay says. "My dad taught me."
"Mine too!" I say. "When I was 8, my dad took me to a Red Sox game, and he taught me how to keep score. It was like the most fun I've ever had in my life. But we never went to another game." I nudge Lindsay, smiling. "Actually, that's what this whole thing is about. We're at this Dodger game because of my dad issues."
Lindsay laughs. She tells me about her dad, how he would watch the games with her on TV, and they'd keep score together. She tells me about the year her dad coached her softball team, and they won the championship, coming back from losing their first five games. I'm fascinated by her stories because I don't have stories like these.
Later, after the Dodgers win, and we're riding on the Dodger Express heading back to the Metro station, I realize that I still have a bouncy ball in my pocket. "Shit, I forgot to leave my ball."
Lindsay looks around the bus. "Maybe you could give it to someone here? Whoever's wearing the most Dodger stuff?"
I look around at the weary passengers and shake my head. "Nah. It doesn't really matter anyway. I'll just leave it on the seat."
For the rest of the bus ride, I sit in silence and think about how I used to be so obsessed with baseball. It was my favorite sport. I collected baseball cards and could rattle off facts from baseball history, all the record holders, all the most famous players and moments. When I was in 7th grade, I actually played Little League baseball instead of softball. I was the only girl in the League.
Over the years, I kept track of the Red Sox less and less, and I only knew how they did every season when I'd get the recap from my dad on the phone. That was how we communicated before we couldn't communicate anymore - we'd talk about all sports, we talked about the weather, but mostly, we talked about the Red Sox.
And now, today, I'm suddenly realizing that I don't care about baseball much at all. I like to play it. I like sitting in the bleachers and keeping score. But I don't really care about it half as much as I'd pretended to all those years.
"You're like The Hulk," Sosa used to tell me, joking.
It's pretty accurate, though. When I'm angry about something or emotional, I can't even see straight. I don't go on killing sprees, but I do struggle to contain my physical self, which is no easy task. It's like trying to hold a tornado inside my skin.
He used to tell me that I look like a superhero. My muscles, my body. He said he could picture me in a mask and cape, standing proudly at the top of a cliff, looking down on the world.
A couple Halloweens ago, inspired by this suggestion, I'd actually dressed up like Super Girl, but I'm not so great at costumes. I'd ordered one online at the last minute, and when I got it, I saw that unlike the photo, it was a cheap piece of shit. It didn't even fit right - the top was too big, and the cape hung weird off my shoulders. Meredith had stitched it up for me to make it fit a little better, but I hated the costume. For one thing, I saw a picture on Facebook of a drunk hot blond girl wearing the same exact thing. For another thing, everyone else in our group that Halloween had amazing elaborate homemade costumes. Meredith was David Bowie. Her friend Lora was Bjork in the swan dress. Doug was a very convincing Lemmy from Motorhead, and Sosa was Benny the Jet Rodriguez from the movie "The Sandlot."
I'd spent much more time on Sosa's costume than I did on my own. He didn't usually get dressed up for Halloween - it's a little silly for him - so I'd had to talk him into it, but he started to get excited about it when the two of us spent the day tracking down a perfect white baseball jersey, picking out the blue iron-on letters, arranging them in a perfect line on his back. He had the shoes, the rolled up jeans, the baseball shirt to wear underneath the jersey, and the Dodgers cap.
He looked exactly like him.
I knew he would. That's one of the first things I said to him. "You look like Benny the Jet Rodriguez. I had a huge crush on him when I was a kid."
He gets that a lot.
And that was one of my favorite Halloweens, despite my half-assed superhero costume. Because after 20 years of pining for him, I got to walk around with Benny the Jet Rodriguez.
Bouncy Ball # 138 - Jay Dee
Last week, an old comic friend of mine sent me the message below, so I traded him a bouncy ball for this story:
Random thing I wanted to share with you - I was at my day job about 5 weeks back and saw a bouncy ball nestled between a bunch of rocks in our parking lot. It was bleached by the sun, and the once vibrant red stripe on it was a dull pink. I thought of you immediately and felt like I needed to rescue it. I picked it up and put in in my desk drawer. The very next day a co-worker brought her 3 year old daughter to the office. When someone brings a kid by my office, I usually feel like some kind of dipshit for having nothing to offer the kid. This day was different. This little girl's eyes lit up at this haggard looking ball that was being offered up to her. Had I not thought of your love of bouncy balls, then I wouldn't have thought to pick the ball up, and thus would have been a dipshit that day. Thank you for keeping me from being a dipshit.
P.S. 3 year olds are old enough to know better than to put a small bouncy ball in their mouth right?
Bouncy Ball # 139 - Josh
"Hey Josh," I say, catching him in the hallway by his locker. "You were great in the talent show. I just wanted to tell you that it takes a lot of guts to do what you did, and not a lot of people could do that. I'm proud of you."
"Thanks," Josh says, staring at me with his big blue kid eyes open wide. "My dad told me it takes a thick skin to do that."
"Your dad is very right," I say.
Josh is a sixth grader at the school where I work. The Student Council had put on a talent show, and Josh chose to do standup as his talent. He'd never done it before. I don't even know that he watches a lot of standup - he doesn't seem too familiar with it - but when I asked him why he chose standup for his talent, he'd simply said, "Because I like to be funny."
I have to be honest - I'd been a little stressed about his performance. I'm not a teacher at the school, but I love interacting with the kids, so when the StuCo reps asked me to work with Josh, I jumped at the chance. Only problem is, I forgot the one thing that I've always known about standup - you can't teach it.
So there I was, listening to this sixth-grader tell me some joke book jokes, trying to tell him how different it's going to feel when he's out in front of the entire school. I didn't want him to get hurt. I wanted to protect him.
"The main thing to remember," I'd said, "is to be confident. You have to believe that what you're saying is funny. If you go up there, and you don't feel like your jokes are funny, the people in the crowd are going to notice that. You get what I mean?"
"Yeah," he'd said, his eyes spacey. I knew in that moment I'd done all I could do.
They'd asked me to perform on the talent show, too. They told me it would be nice for the kids to see me up there, that I might make them feel less nervous by my example. What they neglected to tell me was that I was the only adult on the lineup (save for a group of teachers wearing matching shirts who went up and sang a song at the end), so I went on third and did two minutes of what I could only hope were both kid and parent-friendly jokes. It was a ridiculous situation, going on right after a 4th grade girl who did the robot and an anxious 8th grader who performed a hip hop routine.
Still, I had a pretty good set. And I was more nervous about Josh.
He came on a few kids after me. He strode up to the stage, and I could tell he was nervous. But he didn't hesitate. In fact, he didn't even start with a rehearsed joke. Like a real comedian, Josh got onstage and came up with a riff, an off the cuff comment that made everyone laugh. "Hi, I'm gonna do standup," he said. "I guess you could say I'm Leah's apprentice."
It was his biggest laugh, and I couldn't have been more proud of him in that moment. Because you can't teach standup - it's something you have to dive in and learn as you go. And without my help, Josh decided on his own to start his set with an unrehearsed joke because he just KNEW it was the right thing to do.
I'd been wrong to worry. I should've had more faith in him than that.
Bouncy Ball # 140 - Joel
"Just don't make any quick moves," Joel says. "But really, it should be fine. I don't want you to feel nervous. Nothing's gonna happen."
"Okay," I say. "I know. I'm fine. I'm just scared."
"Just let me get him used to it for a minute," he says, pulling his ball python Dr. Mambo out of his aquarium and wrapping the snake's body around his arms. "You want to hold him in the fattest part," he says. "I just don't want you to be freaked out. But let me make sure he's calm."
I take a deep breath.
"So when I hand him to you, just support his body. You know what a snake feels like?"
"Okay, so you know they're not slimy?"
He starts to hold the snake out toward me, but then pulls him back a bit. "Oh, and make sure you pet him toward his tail. Don't pet him in the opposite direction."
"Okay," I say.
"But really, I don't know why I'm explaining so much," Joel says. "Nothing's gonna happen."
I laugh. "It's cool."
"I'm so sorry," Joel says. "I feel like I'm making it worse by over-explaining. I always do that. I explain too many things, and I just don't want you to have a bad experience."
"It's fine," I say. "Really, you're not scaring me."
"Okay." Again, Joel moves the snake toward me, and I try not to show my discomfort when he places it in my hand. I'm pretending I'm fine, but I'm completely frozen to the spot. The snake freezes, too.
"How come he's not moving?" I ask. "Can he feel my fear?"
"Huh, that's weird," Joel says. "I don't know. Here, let me take him back for a second." As soon as Dr. Mambo is in Joel's hands, he slithers, he sticks his tongue out, he does all sorts of snake things. "Okay," Joel says. He hands Dr. Mambo back to me.
Again, Dr. Mambo freezes the second he's in my hands. His head is up, but he doesn't move at all. I try to hold him differently, and he squeezes my arm a bit, but again, Joel has to take him back, and again, he seems to know Joel, confidently twisting around his arms.
The last time I hold Dr. Mambo, he's a little more easygoing. "How do you know if he's about to strike?" I ask, while he slides his face against my forearm.
"You don't have to worry about it," Joel says. "But he'll pull his neck back just underneath the head."
I'm much looser now, moving my arms around, shifting positions. I pull the snake up to my face and look closely at his head.
Really, it's another anti-climactic moment. Yes, I'm afraid of this snake, but it's not like I wasn't gonna hold it. I don't think I'm any less afraid of snakes now that I've held one, but that won't stop me from holding another snake if the opportunity arises in the future.
And truly, nobody cares that I'm holding a snake. Why would they? I don't even care. I had this crazy notion that doing this would be representative of me facing down my fears, but the truth is, I've never let my fear stop me from doing something. I'm not a person who does things like that.
This is easy, I think. Maybe part of me even wants this snake to attack me. At the very least, it would be a much more interesting story to tell. But here I go again, trying to blur the line between reality and fiction. It's strange, really, how much you can manipulate if you try. I've found that simply by acting, I can cause a chain reaction that seems almost unreal. By doing something crazy or ridiculous, I can create a ripple effect in the world, a tangible one that I can see. It feels like I can be anything, even if it seems fantastic. Standing here with this docile snake weaving around my arms, it seems like the only thing I can't control is other people.
At the exact moment that thought crosses my mind, Dr. Mambo freezes and cocks his head back. My heart skips about 12 beats. I don't breathe.
"Okay, oh shit, I better take him," Joel says, wrapping his hands around the snake's body. "It's not a big deal," he says, but I notice his sense of urgency while I stand there frozen, not moving, feeling so alive in my fear.
And at the same time, feeling invincible.
"So where are we going this weekend?" my friend Katie asks. I'd invited her to come along for some of the LA Adventure Walks on the cards Sosa and I won a few months back.
"I'm not sure yet. I'm thinking somewhere downtown."
"Cool," she says. "I'm excited."
"Me too. Hey, weird question."
"Would you be weirded out if I'm wearing a costume?"
The Bouncy Ball Project, Week Twenty: The Montage Part Where the Main Character Starts to Change Her Own Life for the Better
Bouncy Ball # 130 - Playing Catch
"It looks like you're releasing it too late," my friend Tom says.
"Uh, yeah, I know that." I pull my arm back again and try to whip the softball forward, but it flies high and to his left. He chases it down and catches it in the air. "Motherfucker! And THAT one was released too early, in case you thought I didn't know."
"Well, I know what I'm doing wrong - it's not like I don't know. I'm having trouble finding the release. And it's frustrating."
He tosses the ball back to me, and I feel it snap into the web of my old high school glove, the one that used to feel like an extension of my hand. If you're into labeling high schoolers, then I guess I would've been considered a jock, which I've noticed is actually kind of a rarity among comedians. I hear lots of them scowling onstage, talking about how they hate sports or how they just don't get them.
I've always loved sports, and I used to be pretty good at them. In fact, compared to other comedians, it seems like I had a pretty good run in high school - I don't look back on it like a point in my life that scarred me, I had a lot of friends, and I genuinely enjoyed all the activities I pursued. I was the Senior Class President (though I did literally nothing in this position) and the Basketball Homecoming Queen (though I knew my best friend at the time deserved it more). In the world of comedians, though, I keep quiet about these things. I get a feeling it will make me an outcast in what, if you pay attention, seems to be a group proud to consist of high school outcasts.
My main sport had been softball - I was a centerfielder, an All State centerfielder actually, and to this day, I think I can catch absolutely anything that's up in the air. I made flashy catches, sliding in between other players, jumping up a chain link fence, diving in the dirt and popping up to throw out the runner on second. That was my thing, and I loved it.
It's the closest I've ever come to feeling like a hero.
Throwing, though. Well, that's a different story. I don't know when I lost it, but I noticed it my last year in college. That year, I took an intramural softball class because I didn't need any more credit hours, so I filled my schedule with things like "Intermediate drums," "Ballroom dancing", and "Softball."
My friend Lindsay took the softball class with me. On our first day, we played catch, and I swear to God, I couldn't hit anywhere in the vicinity of her. I threw it over her head. To her right. To her left. Between her legs.
She thought I was fucking with her. "Leah, what's your problem?" she said, annoyed after running to the fence to retrieve the ball for the 500th time.
"I honestly don't know," I said. "I forgot how to throw!"
And since then, every time I've tried to play catch, I've had the same problem. It's a psychological thing. I researched it, and turns out I'm not the only has-been that suffers from this affliction. There was a great baseball pitcher that tore a ligament in his arm, and once he came back to the Major Leagues, he couldn't throw a strike to save his life.
He never recovered.
Again, I wind up to throw the ball, firing it as hard as I can. Again, I release too late, and the throw goes down and to the left. Tom can't get his glove down in time to stop it, so for the 500th time, he has to jog back to the brush and get it.
"I'm sorry!" I yell, throwing my glove onto the grass in front of me. He walks toward me, meeting me in the middle.
"Listen," I say. "I could toss it to you slower and get it there, but I don't want to do that. I want to throw it hard because I feel like it'll get in my head even more if I over-correct the other way."
"Okay," he says. "I think you're right."
So we break. Determined, I clear my head of all thoughts. "Don't think, Leah, just throw," I tell myself, and I wind up and burn it in to his glove. There it is.
I'm not perfect after that. I overthrow several more times, but they start to become fewer and further between. I don't let myself over-analyze it. In fact, I don't let myself think at all. I'm so tired of thinking. I just want to do what I know my body knows how to do. I just want to remember the way it feels to do something I used to be great at.
I become a machine. Snap! The ball hits my glove. Pop! It's in my hand in less than a second, and Whoosh! I release, burning it into my friend's glove with that loud familiar snap I used to love.
I knew it was in there all along.
Stories of Bouncy Balls Past - Santa Monica Beach
"I don't know what to write about," I say, my face leaning into my hand, propped up on the patio table.
"Write about your dad," Sosa says.
I shrug. "I don't know if I want to write about that."
"Write about how you feel about the Just for Laughs audition thing."
I sigh. We're sitting at a table on the Coffee Bean patio. In two days, we will stop talking to each other. It's already a little rocky. We're technically "just friends," broken up, but we've spent the past few days together, probably a bad decision for both of us.
"You can write about me if you want," he says.
I almost roll my eyes, but catch myself. "I'm not writing about you," I say. "There's nothing to say about that."
I continue to stare at my notebook while he stares at me from across the table. A few minutes go by.
"Hey," he says. "Let's go to the beach."
"The beach," he says. "Let's go. Right now."
"But you don't like the beach."
"No, I want to," he says.
I love the beach. It's possibly the only place in L.A. that brings me peace, but I haven't gone as much as I'd like. Months ago, when Sosa and I had visited the Santa Monica Pier for Bouncy Ball # 67, I told him the beach reminds me of my childhood in Massachusetts, weekends spent with my Dad's side of the family. I'd told him the smell of the ocean feels like home to me, no matter where I am.
He must've remembered.
Later, as we take a seat at an outdoor restaurant table, a Michael Jackson song plays loudly, on cue for us. Ever since he taught me how to Moonwalk, MJ seems to follow us, playing whenever and wherever we're together.
Sosa points to the air like he's pointing to MJ's voice. "Crazy!" he says.
"Yeah," I say, but I don't really notice these things anymore. I'm used to strange magical things happening around us. Like for instance last Friday, when I pointed out the window at some vibrant pink flowers on a wall next to the freeway, and as we passed, we saw that it was in the shape of a heart. Or the Christmas where we saw Santa Clause drive down Vermont Street in a sleigh. Or a few days later when Santa Clause popped into the coffee shop where and waved at us (we would later always refer to this as "the time we saw Santa twice"). Or when both of us saw an actual face in the moon at the same time. We'd see these things together, and no one else seemed to see them, and that's the hardest thing for me to let go of - these moments when things are magic, when perspective shifts, and we become little kids together.
But now I'm starting to realize that I see lots of magical things, with or without him there. I'm starting to realize that feeling of wonderment, that feeling like you're a little kid, that's a feeling that I create.
It doesn't come from both of us together - it comes from me. I'm the magic. I'm the adventure. I think I'd just always wanted to share it.
I leave a bouncy ball in the sand on the beach. I don't even know if he notices me dropping it.
Bouncy Ball # 131 - "The Wooden Box on Top of the Dresser at My Parents House" - Story by my friend Meredith Petro
For 18 years, I never questioned where home was. I was taught to remember and recite my home address in Kindergarten, and from then on out, Home was not only where mom, dad and sister lived – it was 519 Marbrook Lane, Avon Lake, Ohio 44012. Home had a landline phone number I could call from the school phone booth when I wasn’t feeling well, and Home was surrounded by many other homes in which my friends resided.
Home had a distinct smell, especially the basement. Home rumbled in summer thunderstorms and caught winter snowflakes on its window screens. Home threw the most wonderful Christmas Eve and birthday celebrations. Home had an expansive yard, which housed a corkscrew willow to climb, a corkscrew willow to shade my bedroom window, a garden frequently ravaged by rabbits and deer and, for a certain stretch of time, the most awesome swing set complete with monkey bars and a tire swing.
Home sweet home.
Home was still Home even when I ran far away to pursue my wildest dreams in a far away land, which was not yet a home, or my Home. Home was where I flew after my first 3 months in Los Angeles when all I wanted to do was move back. Home is where my aging family could still all assemble – no matter how much time passed between these gatherings, we all knew where to meet up again. Home housed all of my special things that were still special but did not make the journey to the other side of the planet with me - breadcrumbs leading me back to my past. Home was what I saw when the car pulled down the snowy driveway en route to the Cleveland airport for the last time from this location. Ever. And Home was what was sold when my parents reluctantly had to move south.
Home is where the heart is.
The first time I flew into Columbus I wasn't flying Home - I was flying to a house filled with people and things I knew, but in a different place. My walls were still pink in my new room in this new house that I would never live in, but the dull ballet slipper hue was doing a hack job at imitating the hibiscus pink that coated my Hawaiian paradise in my Home. Each time I visited the house, less of the breadcrumbs remained, and the path Home seemed to dissipate more and more. It wasn’t until a few years later when my mom was very sick that the house started to feel like Home. A different Home. But Home. Home was where my heart and soul was, the people I cared for the most, not just the colonial aluminum sided structure that we had left behind up North. I wanted to go Home; I needed to go Home. My heart ached to be Home.
Home is where our journey begins.
I’ve had many apartment homes in Los Angeles during the near decade dance I’ve been choreographing. I’ve had everything from a 3 square foot bathroom to being without a working toilet/refrigerator/furnace (at least temporarily). But I finally feel at home amongst the fruits and the nuts; I can’t imagine several days without sunshine and the feeling that my level of crazy is in the normal range amongst my fellow city citizens. I am also building a new Home with my new family- a man and a dog – on top of a hill.
Home used to mean only one place, but now it means many places and many things. A multiverse of Homes, all orbiting around me. I dropped the bouncy ball in the wooden box on top of my old dresser in one of my Homes before returning to another Home; and hopefully it will be carried to the next Home, wherever that should be.
Bouncy Ball # 132 - Newport Beach
I didn't see any whales. Dolphins, yes. Plenty of dolphins. About 30 of them swim and play next to the whale watch tour boat, jumping out of the water in pairs, a perfect arc in the air before diving in. It's like they're putting on a show for us - they swim with us for almost 15 minutes.
It reminds me of when I went to Point Dume in Malibu with my friend Brent back on St. Paddy's Day for Bouncy Ball # 68.
"I'm not a big fan of dolphins," Brent had said.
"What? Why not?"
"Because everybody loves dolphins, and there's just so much other shit out there that's cool. I mean, dolphins are cool, but I don't understand why they get all the attention."
At the time, I'd thought it was ridiculous. "Oh come on," I'd said. "So you're saying you don't like dolphins because everybody else likes dolphins, so you have to be the guy who doesn't like dolphins."
But now, watching them play next to us, while it's amazing and beautiful and something I've never seen in person, there's definitely a small part of me that feels like they're trying too hard to please us, like they need our approval.
Whales don't need that shit. They don't need it so much in fact, they never come near my boat.
On the walk back to my car, I look at all the beach houses and daydream about living near the ocean. "I'm going to live in one of these one day," I say out loud. "It's gonna happen."
I pass one house in particular that strikes me - it's like a house on a residential street with a short wooden gate surrounding a lawn of lush green grass. It's like my childhood home in Massachusetts - the colonial style siding, the shutters painted white - but at the same time, it's on the ocean.
"That's the one," I say. "I'm going to live in a house like that."
I drop my bouncy ball.
Bouncy Ball # 133 - Mom
"So how's your dad?" my mom asks. I'd called her today, the first time since Mother's Day.
"Oh God," I say.
"Well, I don't know. I don't know what's going on there. It's just impossible to carry on a conversation with him on the phone." I sigh. "I don't know if anyone's checked on the two of them or anything. It just kind of sounds like they won't let anyone in that apartment, and they're just holed up down there, waiting to die."
"Oh wow," my mom says. "That's too bad."
I can tell it really affects her, thinking of my dad becoming such an old man. They're both turning 68 this year, but if you saw the two of them in person, you'd guess my mom at about 55 and my dad at about 85. The years have treated them so differently.
"Well," my mom says, "meanwhile, I'm feeling pretty good over here." She's proud of her health and energy, as she should be.
"That's because you're a Maxwell," I say. "And I'm lucky because I got all the genes from that side of the family."
"No, really Mom! Have you ever noticed that everyone on our Maxwell side of the family is stubborn and competitive and fights beyond what's reasonable?"
"Huh," she says. "Well, you know, you're completely right."
"I know I am."
"Just the other day, I was talking to Felicia, and she was asking about you. I said I don't ever worry about you because you're so independent and strong and tough. And you know what she said? She said, 'That's just like you.'"
"She's right," I say. "I am just like you. I'm exactly like you. And you're exactly like me. I like that. The only thing is, you have low self esteem sometimes, and I hate that because there's no reason for it. You're better than that. And I want you to know that and believe it because you're the only person in the world who has been there consistently for my entire life."
I don't usually say things like this to my mom. Usually, I'm making fun of her for some weird thing she says about Jesus, or I'm loudly ranting about my job, making sure to put "fuck" in every other sentence.
But today, I think that I've been focusing so much on what I don't have, maybe it's time to recognize the things I do have.
Besides, I'll be seeing my mom in July, and there will be plenty more things to make fun of her for in person.
"Okay, listen," I say to James as he shuts the passenger door of my car. "I'm gonna be really blunt here. Can you take it?"
He shrugs. "Yeah."
"Like I've ever been any other way." I laugh. "But really, here's the thing - I'm gonna need you to be my best friend in L.A. because you actually know me, and we've been friends for a long time, and I could really use an old friend right now."
He seems confused. "Um...what did I do?"
"No, you didn't do anything. I'm just saying it all weird and loud like this because I'm an asshole. I haven't been a good friend to you since you moved here, and I'm sorry about that. It's completely my fault."
It's true. James moved here in January, right at the start of the Bouncy Ball Project, and I'd been too wrapped up in other things to be around.
"Oh," he says. "Well okay. Cool."
"Cool." I get on the 5 freeway and head south. I'd called James earlier and asked if he'd run some errands with me. He was the the fourth in a series of phone calls I made in an effort to make my life better. In fact, I start filling him in on this very plan.
"I don't know if you read my last blog," I say, "but I'm trying to make myself a better person. And actually, sometimes that means I have to be an asshole."
I exit toward Echo Park and follow Glendale Blvd. toward the CVS by my house, the very CVS where I'd made James come with me back in February, on Super Bowl Sunday, so I could steal some Chapstick for Bouncy Ball # 24. "You won't believe what I had to do earlier," I say. "It's terrible."
"Well, I'm going to float the river with all my college friends in August, right? And awhile back, I invited another friend, a girl I work with who I don't know that well, to go with us because I thought she'd have a good time. But today, I decided I shouldn't have invited her. It's not because I don't like her - it's because I just want to be with my old friends right now, you know? And if she came, I'd be worried the whole time about entertaining her."
"Yeah, I get that," James says.
"So you know what I did, though? I called her right before I called you, and I uninvited her. I just told her the truth. I said I shouldn't have invited her in the first place and that I was really sorry about it. Oh man, it was awful. I could tell I hurt her feelings."
I shake my head. "But you know what? It was the right thing to do." I turn on Temple Street. "Well, I mean, the right thing would've been not to invite her in the first place. I just got carried away with trying to do new things with new friends that I didn't think about the fact that maybe I'd really need to see my old friends and relax. They're my family, you know?"
"For sure," James says. "I think you did the right thing."
"Yeah, but I'm an asshole for doing it. But I think that's the point. Sometimes I'm just going to have to be an asshole and except that everyone can't like me all the time. I'm going to have to accept that I can't please everyone."
As I pull into the turning lane on Beaudry, I continue. "I just started thinking today about what it means to be someone's friend. Because I posted this blog last week, and I guess it was kind of sad, but after I posted it, so many people called me or messaged me or texted me. And I'm not just talking about people from Oklahoma. People from L.A. did."
I take the left turn. "It's not that I care really if my friends read this blog, but with her, it's like she didn't know anything about me. She didn't WANT to know anything about me. Because if she ever wanted to know what was going on with me, she could've just read it."
I pull into a parking space in front of CVS, and we get out of the car. There's a man sitting by the wall asking for some change. He's there most of the time. Sometimes I give him a dollar, and sometimes I don't have one.
"Can you spare some change?"
James pats his pockets. "I can in a minute." Inside, while I'm picking out my items, James goes to the ATM and buys one giant Reeses peanut butter cup. I know he doesn't really want or need it.
Back at the car, I toss my stuff in the backseat. "You want to do one more errand with me?"
"Sure," he says.
"Okay. But it's kind of weird."
"I'm cool with that."
Bouncy Ball # 134 - James - Chinatown Revisited
"I want to tell you what I'm going to do with my blog," I say while James and I rush down Broadway toward the Plaza in the center of Chinatown. I'm carrying a cup full of change, mostly pennies. "Because it's really a book."
"Then tell me," James says.
"But I also want it to be a surprise."
"Then don't tell me."
"But I want to," I say. "Because I'm worried it's a stupid idea."
"Then tell me."
I tell him.
"I really like it," he says.
"My problem is, I'm not sure exactly how to make it connect, you know?" We cross the street at a crosswalk, and I look between buildings until I see a familiar path. "Here," I say. "It's here. There's the Bruce Lee statue."
"Oh cool," James says, and we walk over so he can take a picture. Next to us, two old men play Chinese chess on a bench. I wonder if they're the same two old men who were here three Saturdays before, when Sosa and I came to this very same place.
I lead us down the cobblestone path to the wishing well Sosa and I had come to weeks before, the one where I tried and failed at getting money in the bowl so I could make a wish. There are several different bowl options where you can throw your change. I aim for the "Your wish" bowl dead center, but James hits it within about a minute and then moves on to the others: "Peace," "Wealth," "Prosperity," "Health," and of course, in the cavern way in the corner, "Romance."
As we toss coin after coin, a family with three little girls walks up next to us and speaks in a language I don't know. I reach in my cup and pull out a handful of pennies, dispersing them evenly between the three girls.
In a few more tosses, I make it into the "Your wish" bowl. "Yes!" I yell, and I give James a high five.
Since I have so much change, we try for all the other bowls. Both of us make it into every single one, but the "Romance" bowl is impossible - it's broken.
"Wow," I say. "How about that symbolism? It wasn't broken a few weeks ago."
"I like it," James says. "It's like, 'Someone please fix the bowl in the fountain so we can bring love to the world again.'"
I crack up laughing.
"So," James says. "Did you wish for super powers?"
I shrug. "Can't tell you or it won't come true."
Later that day, I'm hanging out at James' apartment. There's a novice tarot card reader there, and she decides to read my cards for practice.
"One card, three cards, or multiple cards?" she asks.
"I don't care," I say. "Whatever's easiest."
"Okay, I'll start with one." She hands me the deck. "Hold these and think about your question. Put all your energy into the cards."
I do. "Okay." I hand them back.
She spreads them out. "Pick one and hand it back to me face down."
I choose one close to the right.
She flips it over.
It says this:
James and I exchange a look. "Oh. My God," I say. "That's pretty crazy."
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.