Bouncy Ball # 185 (or something like that) - Written by Oklahoma City Comedian Brian Rundus
"Hey! Rundus is next!” I can hear Leah’s voice through James’ phone speaker. “Where are you guys?"
"Uhhh,” James says, “like right down the…right around - we're close! Almost there!"
It’s my first time to do comedy in the epicenter of entertainment that is The City of Lost Angels. James sets the phone down. I'm in the driver seat doing my best to weave through the endless stream of cars ahead like some hungry snake trying to get through the thorn bush to the coveted egg of destiny. I have a nervous tension that I always have knowing I have stage time coming up, and on top of that, we’re running late, and I'm in Hollywood, not Oklahoma City. As far as mile markers on my life's journey, this is HUGE, and I just might miss it?!
We turn a corner, and I see it! The Hollywood Improv! Lewis Black is on the marquee! This shit just got real! I pull up to the curb. As I get out, James points to a doorway. "You better get in there, dude!"
I jog up to the counter and ask where the stage is only to be told I went in the wrong door – Gah! The ol' one-door-two-places trick! I finally get inside, and I see Leah standing in the hallway. We make eye contact. As we hug, we hear, “And next to the stage… Rundus!”
I've been in the club 7 seconds tops. I rush onstage, greet the emcee, take the mic, exhale for the first time since I got out of James' car, and look into the crowd.
"Hi! I'm Brian Rundus from Oklahoma City. I got lost in your big city last night and pulled over to ask a man where I was. The man said he wanted to fuck me like an animal. I said, 'Excuse me?' It was then I realized I was in the industrial section of Los Angeles. That's right kids, I gots Trent Reznor jokes!"
And then I heard it – a couple laughs. A COUPLE LAUGHS! I wrote that silly joke riding into L.A. thinking of something relative to say on stage about the city, and it's a dumb joke. Totally dumb, but it’s fun and silly, and they got it.
I wasn't there to Lewis Black them or amaze them at my correlations of life's bigger questions. I have them for 2 minutes, so that's it - just be funny. You don't “Totally destroy a crowd" or "Kill a crowd" (terms used for doing well in comedy - in Oklahoma, we say "Show 'em your butthole” and “Don't eat a dick”) on a two minute open mic. You just get some laughs, or you don't. I did my jokes, I got my laughs, my butthole was seen, and no dicks were eaten. Mission accomplished.
The second my set was up, I exited the stage to see Leah and James. We left the Improv to venture to the next open mic. Total time in and out of The Hollywood Improv? Approximately 3 minutes and 45 seconds.
Leah led this comedy troupe to a string of open mics. We hit each one, and I enjoyed the fact that in these open mics, there would be comics who had Comedy Central specials or worked on various shows. I had the sense that I was near "The Biz.” I don't get that sense in Oklahoma. I like this feeling - it feels productive and forward-moving, like you might get seen by someone that likes what you do and could actually put you to work doing what you LOVE to do. Key word is work - you might actually get work out here in entertainment.
As I was walking with my OKC friends in the streets of Hollywood, I couldn't help myself from catching glimpses of them and recollecting back to when we would wait for the sign ups at The Loony Bin years before in Oklahoma, chasing the notions of being comics doing gigs in other cities and seeing that Hollywood sign in the Hills.
And here we are still chasing. But tonight, my friends, we are IN Hollywood, and hey...look over there...it’s the Hollywood sign!
I'm back from this Vision Quest now, in Oklahoma, but I know where I want and need to be to pursue my goals. And as I make the moves to get there, I think back to those earlier Loony Bin days. It seemed simpler then, cuter, more huggable. But I like where it’s going for all of us.
So I’m going to head up to the Loony Bin now, set the green ball near the entrance to where these great friendships and passions for stand up comedy began, and maybe another aspiring comic will pick it up and bounce it while they go over their set before a nervous open mic.
Or maybe someone will step on it, roll their ankle, and bust their ass – whatever. It's still comedy to me.
Bouncy Ball # 186 - The Baldwin Hills Staircase
Five times up. That's all. Just five times up this son-of-a-bitch outdoor stairway to the sky.
It's one of the two daunting tasks in the way of me "finishing" this bouncy ball project.
It's not that I don't think I'm physically capable - I know I can do this. I went up four times not too long ago, so really, what's one more time?
The problem is, Sosa's coming with me, and I have this sickness that makes me psychotically competitive. Today, even though I don't say it out loud, I'm secretly trying to make it up faster than Sosa, one of those wins I can file away in my brain and retrieve when he's shit-talking me during our next competition.
We start our first ascent at 10:30 on the 4th of July, weaving around the slow people in front of us. I break away right off the bat. This is not surprising - every time Sosa and I have tackled this stairway, I beat him on the way up, and he beats me on the way down. The key is to get so far ahead of him on the climb that I don't have to worry about hearing his footsteps tumbling down behind me, always there at my heels no matter how fast I think I'm hopping down.
The third time up the stairs, I'm getting tired, and the heat's getting to me. My thighs are straight up burning. My stomach aches as I clear the third landing and near the top.
On my fourth time up, it occurs to me that I'm far enough ahead to beat Sosa in the end.
On the fifth and last time up the stairs, I pass him while he runs down, and when I get to the top, my bouncy ball tucked in my sports bra, I swallow the puke that rushes up to the back of my throat, and I stare out onto the city, waiting for him.
Less than a minute later, he barrels up the last staircase.
"We did it!" I say.
He smiles, out of breath, and gives me a high five. We both make our way over to a short wall to rest.
"That wasn't as bad as I thought," he says.
"No," I say. "I mean, the fourth was the worst. On the last time up, I pretended I was Frodo carrying the ring."
He laughs. "That's a good idea."
"I just didn't want to stop climbing. I'm afraid that if I do, I won't ever start again."
It occurs to me that he's completely unconcerned that I beat him to the top, that this, for him, is not about beating me. It's about finishing. In fact, there are people at the bottom of the stairs right now looking up, taking that first step to what I've already completed five times. There are people down there who will climb up just once and feel the same sense of accomplishment because it's a challenge they've never faced before, and the number of times they complete it is irrelevant to right now, this moment.
The point of this is not that I went up these stairs five times in a row slightly faster than my friend. The point is, we both made it up here. We're both here, right now, looking out over this city three years after we moved here. I should stop looking at the top as though it's the only important part when really, it's the reward. All the stuff that builds character happens on the way up.
It's about climbing. Because when I climb, I never stop. I just keep stepping, one step at a time, with purpose, moving forward resolutely with nothing to push me but the belief that I'll make it to the end.
And then after that, it's about making it to the end, stopping for a minute or an hour or a day or a week to breath it in, to enjoy it, and then realizing that this, in fact, is not the end at all.
And then looking for more stairs to climb.
Bouncy Ball # 187 - "Relevancy" - Written by one of my very best friends, Dr. John Moring
I’m a worrier. I don’t know if I’ve always been such an anxiety-stricken person, or if this is more of a phenomenon within the last ten (or so) years. In any case, graduate school had a way of fostering, and even applauding, such neuroses. The only thing that has changed since graduating is the content of my worry. Really fucking great. So now I’m 32 years old, relatively fresh out of graduate school, and I find myself searching for relevancy. And what the hell does that mean? I have several guesses, most of which are career-related.
When I received my bouncy ball, I initially thought it was a daunting task. I considered how to do justice by the ball. I would either win the Nobel Peace Prize or speak with the Dalai Lama and discover life’s secrets. But instead, due only to time constraints, my bouncy ball accompanied me on my way to St. Louis to visit good friends that I met while living in San Diego. The Nobel Peace Prize will have to wait…
During one of our nights in St. Louis, I was rather drunk. Ok…I was wasted off my ass after sharing a 24 pack of PBR between three people. Due to the lovely effects of alcohol, I don’t remember the specifics of our conversation. Nor do I remember specifics of the rest of the night, which I was told involves me inappropriately touching a straight man on the streets of St. Louis. (I’m telling myself that he liked it.) I do, however, recall the overarching theme of the conversation. That’s what matters, right?
My friends are pretty much rock stars in their accomplishments, have promising career trajectories, and they’re just awesome people. I'd die for these broads. Drunkenly talking to them, I brought up my own feelings of anxiety, insecurities, and concerns of relevancy.
The conversation led me to think about the definition of relevancy, the subjective nature of the word, and the purpose of such concern. I realized that my feelings of irrelevancy stem from my uncertain future and how I tend to compare myself to others.
As for my future, who the hell knows what’s going to happen? As sad as it is, I can’t control very much in this world. I might choke on a Flaming Hot Cheetoh and die in about 3 minutes. And comparing myself is always going to be a losing battle that just leaves me feeling miserable and inadequate.
Because, “If you want it, you’ve lost it.”
You see, I focused so much on wanting “relevancy” that I lost the meaning and enjoyment of what I do. The concern of being “relevant” so badly minimized the purpose, meaning, and enjoyment of the reason I even went to graduate school in the first place. It’s made the last year less about my true values, and more about the end-goal. It’s de-concentrated my hopes and aspirations into nothing but, essentially, a stupid job.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I’m giving up, quitting, and living off the grid someplace in rural Texas. (I hate rural Texas towns, anyway. They truly scare me.) Nor am I changing my goals...yet. Instead, I’m aiming for a more balanced approach. I need an approach in which I can enjoy life, enjoy the challenges that come my way, and notice and appreciate my success. Instead of living a life full of misery, I’m giving myself a fucking break.
I didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize. I didn’t volunteer at a homeless shelter. I didn’t even donate money to a charity. But I’m not comparing myself to other contributors of Leah’s blog. I am however, noticing my improvement and recognizing that somewhere in St. Louis is a bouncy ball with Leah’s name on it. And maybe that bouncy ball will help someone find their own meaning of relevancy.
"I thought we agreed not to talk about this," Lindsay says. We're sitting on my front porch staring up at the stars.
"Yeah, sorry," I say. "You're right. I'll shut up."
We're both a little nervous about tomorrow's daunting activity, but we're also doing an impressive job of pretending it's not going to happen. That's our strategy - don't think about it until we're in the middle of it.
"Can you believe you're almost done with this bouncy ball project?"
I sigh. "No."
"Did it go by fast or slow?"
"Both. When I was in the middle of it, I hated it so much, I just wanted it to end. But now it's pretty much over." I look down. "I wanted the end to be really good, but it's just an end."
"I think it's a good ending," she says.
"I guess. Really, though, I failed."
"I didn't do what I originally said I would do. It wasn't how I meant it to go."
She shrugs. "You gave away a lot of bouncy balls, Lady. And I think the end will be really good."
"It could be," I say. "But I feel like I need to say something profound. I want to make it interesting for other people to read."
"Oh," I say, laughing. "I was talking about the end to the story. Not the actual thing we're going to do."
She laughs. "Okay, well I thought it wasn't about the story. I thought it was about you. And the thing we're going to do is a good way to give away your last bouncy ball."
"Yeah, that's true. You know, maybe I should stop looking at it as a story."
"Maybe," she says. "Because it's your real life. And you do a lot of things."
Bouncy Ball # 188 - Written by my roommate, LA Comedian Erika Curry
I commute via train to work 5 days a week. The only refuge I have in my 2 hour round trip is the quiet car. Ahh, my safe haven. Train 682, my quiet sanctuary. No talking, no cell phone use, no listening to anything without headphones. It’s the closest thing to peace I can find in a moving vehicle in California.
One Friday, after a particularly bad day at work, I board my daily asylum. A man with flames on his bald head, an open backpack full of what might have been all of his possessions, and a broken left foot is making loud conversation with no one in particular. Topics of his discussion include in no distinct order: pussy, the cruelness of Orange County jails, partying, and drinking (evidently they are different). I put in my headphones and hope he’s getting off at the next stop, or the conductor will intervene. The conductor makes a pass, but walks right by the man. HE SAYS NOTHING! The train car is full of annoyed, oblivious and passive passengers.
I have to do something.
When I was younger, every Christmas day, my entire family used to go to a movie. When I was 7 years old, it changed the way I look at things forever. I told everyone in the family I wanted to see Addams Family Values. Then, my older cousin and life idol, Andrea, chose Mrs. Doubtfire.
So I said, “Me too!”
My dad pulled me aside and gave me a small lecture I can’t forget. He said, “Erika, in life there are leaders, and there are followers. Be a leader. Choose your own path.”
At 7 my life flipped. Had I disappointed my dad for choosing Mrs. Doubtfire? I had to be a leader, but I also wanted to see Robin Williams in a dress again.
From then on, every decision I made came with my dad’s voice in my head. I chose to be a leader everyday to the best of my abilities. I led countless organizations in high school and college, I got a minor in Leadership (really valuable to perspective employers and totally worth the extra $10,000 in student loan debt), and I was on the right path in life.
And then, in 2010, I moved to California. I don’t know if it was the post-college shock or the lack of accountability of knowing everyone, but I stopped inserting myself into leadership positions. I stopped applying my best decisions to everyday life. I quit a job with less than 2 weeks notice. I stopped standing up for the little guy, and I stopped putting other people before myself. I stopped mentally campaigning for Homecoming Queen of the Universe. I’ve noticed a change in the way I view things.
Not today. I have to do something. I have to be a leader today. I meekly approach the loud man in the quiet car, “Excuse me, sir, are you aware you’re in the quiet car? There is no talking.” I point to the sign.
The stare he gives me is full of confusion and fury. “Get the hell out of my face.”
It’s better than I expected. I didn’t fix the problem, but I did something. I stood up for everyone in the quiet car, and I stood up for myself. I put my headphones in, drop my pink bouncy ball in his open backpack and walk upstairs. I get the silent nod of approval from the other regular commuters who chose not to act.
But I did. I tried. I failed to change his behavior, but at least I tried.
Do you hear that dad? I’M TRYING MY BEST.
I can pinpoint the day that I became afraid of heights.
I'm six years old. I'm at Canobie Lake Park in New Hampshire with my Dad, my stepmom (at the time, my dad's girlfriend), Audrey, and my brother.
"I want to do that," I say, pointing above our heads at a ride that's essentially like a ski lift - mini carts hanging on a wire that run from one end of the park to another and back again.
I'm not sure why Audrey volunteers to ride with me. Maybe she doesn't. Maybe my dad suggests it, and she's still trying to impress us kids, to make us think she's cool. Nevertheless, a few minutes later, Audrey and I strap into the car, and as we lurch out into the open air, she sucks in a deep breath.
I remember pointing, leaning over the railing in front of me to wave. "Look, there's dad!"
"Oh my God, sit back!" Audrey says, putting her arm in front of me and gently pushing my body to the back of the cart. "You're gonna fall out!"
Her face is white, pale. For the entirety of the ride, she's so frantic and nervous that it starts to rub off on me, and by the time we get off, the girl that leaned out, unafraid, to wave at her dad below has disappeared. I'm now frantic, tense, paralyzed with fear, and like Audrey, I'm so relieved to have my feet on the ground. Because now I'm afraid of heights.
I'm not saying I wouldn't have been afraid of heights after that point. I'm saying that the fear wasn't in there to begin with - it came from somewhere. Someone taught me that.
That's the thing about fear, about insecurity, about comparing yourself to others, about all that negative bullshit - when it's in there, when we have it, it's there for a reason, and unless we first admit it's a problem, we're helpless to start getting over it.
Before I started this project, I always made the mistake of just letting the time pass without processing all the emotions and feelings and insecurities involved with it. Turns out, I can't skip over the hard part. As much as I'd like to believe myself a superhero, I've done only harm by forgetting to face down what makes me human, what makes us human.
We can't will ourselves to get over something we're afraid of facing from the past. We have to let it run its course. We have to fight it. Or we have to learn to accept it. We're still afraid. That's what makes us human.
We're afraid, but we're standing here saying, "I'm scared of this, but so the fuck what? I'm doing it anyway."
Maybe this is an obvious truth to everyone else, but it's something I'm just now learning, something I just now came to on my own. In fact, maybe that's the sole reason I can cite in claiming that for me, this project has not been a failure. It's a small reason, an inner epiphany, but I can't see how I could've gone on like I did if I'd have known how scary and unpredictable this ride would've been - all of it. The Bouncy Ball Project. Los Angeles. Standup comedy. Pursuing my dreams. Remaining true to myself. Going all in.
Bouncy Ball # 189 - Written by LA Comedian Travis Clark
It’s around 3 AM in the middle of nowhere Arkansas when we get pulled over by the police. I’m standing on the side of the road staring into the cop car’s flashing blue lights. I’m not thinking about Leah or the bouncy ball. All I’m thinking is, WHY THE FUCK DID I AGREE TO GO ON THE ROAD WITH A GUY WHO TAKES HALF AN OUNCE OF WEED ACROSS STATE LINES?!
I didn’t know he had that amount of stuff in the car. Now I’m facing a $2,000 fine and possible jail time for shit that isn’t even mine. Hell, I don’t even smoke weed.
For some unknown reason, the cop decides to give us a break. If the owner of the weed just dumps it all out on the side of the road and throws his pipe into the woods, he’ll let us go. With hesitation, the guy does it. The cop lets us back into the car and says, “I hope you’re better comedians than liars.” I found this offensive because 1) he’s never seen my act, and 2) I never lied to the guy.
The cop drives off while we’re still on the side of the road. That’s when Captain Tokes-A-Lot says, “I’ll be right back. I gotta go get my weed.” Fucking what? We just got out of going to jail for your bullshit. He won’t listen to my pleas, so I threaten to beat him up. I’m screaming and punching the seats in his car. He finally abandons the idea of getting his ditch weed and gets back into the car. That’s when he reveals that he had been shoving weed in his shoe the whole time the cop was watching.
Have you ever wanted to murder another person? That's the rage level I’m at. Keep in mind I’m a recent vegan, and I’m trying to live my life in a way that doesn’t hurt other living things, but this is too much. I try to fall asleep to calm down. I wake up less than 2 hours later to see the guy who almost got me thrown in jail smoking weed and driving.
Let me be clear - I don’t care about pot. You want to smoke it? Okay. You want to drive while high and have enough weed in your center console that I could go to jail for it, too? Super not okay.
For the next 2 days, me and the other guy on tour plead with the Weedmaster to get his shit together. He doesn’t. He continues to sneak weed, get more weed from people at the shows we’re at and pout anytime we tell him he’s acting like an asshole. We keep traveling with this guy because we don’t know what else to do. Everyday, I’m in a panic, and I can’t sleep. I have a house and a wife and a dog that I may never see again. The other guy literally throws up blood from stress, and the potsmoker just keeps not understanding the issue.
We arrive at the hotel, and I Google Alabama pot laws on my phone.
Turns out, Alabama makes Arkansas look lenient. In Alabama, if you have any kind of marijuana “concentrate” it is a Class C felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to a 10-year prison sentence. The word PRISON almost hits me in the face when I see it. This guy has two containers of “wax,” and there’s no fucking way I’m going to prison for this bullshit. At 4:40 AM, I walk down to the front desk of the hotel in Calera, Alabama.
The man behind the counter seems surprised to see me up. “What can I do for you this morning?” he asks in a calming Southern drawl.
I tell him I need a cab ride to the airport. He asks me when. I say, “Now.”
I go upstairs to the hotel room and quietly start piling all my things in the hallway while everyone in the room sleeps. I even zip up my suitcase outside the room so no one hears it. I go back inside the room one last time and wake up my only ally on this trip. I tell him I’m leaving. He understands. He says he’s going to do the same in the morning. I say goodbye and head back down to the lobby. I book a flight on my phone as I wait for the cab to come get me.
At 5:15 AM, a handsome older Southern gentleman walks through the front doors of the hotel. He looks a bit like Don Knotts and has the deep soothing voice of an airplane pilot. This is my cab driver.
We talk the entire 45-minute car ride to the Birmingham airport. I tell him I’m a comic, and he lets me know what a fan he was of guys like Carlin and Pryor. We talk about comedy, life, family and spending time with loved ones. He used to be in the Coast Guard and lived in Ventura, California for several years. He had a son that was an airplane pilot.
The more I talk to this guy, the more at ease I feel. I get a little emotional when he asks me where I’m going. My voice quivers a bit when I say the word “home.” Next thing I know, I've explained the whole situation and just how snakebit this whole “tour” had been. I finish the story just as we pull up to the airport. I go to pay him for the cab ride, and I feel the bouncy ball in my front pocket of the hoodie I’m wearing. I had honestly forgotten about it.
“I need to give you something,” I say. I hand him the bright orange bouncy ball. “I was supposed to give this to someone and write a story about it. I could have literally given it to anyone in the world, but I think I’ve been waiting to give it to you.”
He takes it and thanks me.
“Well I sure do appreciate it,” he says with a genuine smile. He adds that he hopes I’ll come back to Alabama some time soon under better circumstances.
“We’d love to have you,” he says as he shakes my hand. He wishes me a safe flight, and I head into the terminal.
By 1:40 PM, I’m finally back home with my wife and dog, both of whom are thrilled to see me.
Bouncy Ball # 190 - Matt
"Okay, so we're all connected now," Matt says into my left ear. "We're gonna go over a few things about the jump."
I like Matt. He's just the right amount of professional and joking. It must be an odd job, tandem skydiving instructor. Not only are you jumping out of planes all day, but you're also trying to calm down a bunch of nervous, unpredictable strangers on the way up. I look over at Lindsay, but she's facing the back of the plane, listening to her own instructor.
"In about two minutes, I'm gonna open this door!" Matt yells. "And then I'm going to put my foot on the step outside. And then you're going to put both your feet on that step and stand up. Okay?"
"Okay!" I thought I'd be more afraid than I am now. Honestly, I'd rather be out free in the sky than trapped on this tiny plane for another second.
I listen, nodding, alert like a soldier taking orders, while Matt shouts instructions. I keep looking at Lindsay, but her eyes are focused forward. Shit, is she even gonna say goodbye to me?
"Okay, go ahead and put your goggles down! They'll be really tight around your face."
While Matt adjusts my Goggles, I wave my arm in front of me. "Hey! Lindsay!"
She turns around, her goggles suctioned to her face.
"Well," I say. I laugh. I don't know what to say. I feel like I'm in a familiar movie scene, and all I can think to say are unoriginal hacky lines. "I'll see you down there?"
She nods, smiles. She seems calm.
Matt puts his foot on the step. I put my left leg out first, then my right. I feel a push from behind, and we're standing, the wind whipping against our ankles, trying to knock us over.
Matt puts his wrist camera in front of my face, and I give a thumbs up sign like an asshole, and then he pushes me, and then I'm spinning, and then I'm flat...
And then I'm flying.
THE BOUNCY BALL PROJECT - PICTURES - JAN.-JULY 2014
Poem about The Strider from "The Fellowship of the Ring" by J.R.R. Tolkien
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
Completed workout plans:
And, of course, bouncy balls go on their own journeys:
“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."
"You know," I say. "I've quit things before."
"What do you mean?" Sosa asks.
"I mean I always talk about how I never quit. But that's not true. I've quit things. I quit playing softball after high school. I used to be really good at it."
"Oh, well that's not really quitting."
"I quit playing the drums. Got bored and didn't want to anymore."
I look at him. "I quit trying to learn to Moonwalk."
"Oh that's right," he says. "You DID. I'll give you that one."
Bouncy Ball # 124 - Guy outside of Vons
I'm rushing to Vons in the few minutes I have between work and an open mic to grab some groceries for the week. As I pull in, I see a man in a wheelchair at the entrance holding a cardboard sign: "Anything helps."
Perfect, I think. I didn't give away my stupid bouncy ball yet today, so I can just buy this man some food. I buy two sandwiches and an orange and put them inside a small bag with a bouncy ball.
He watches me walk up without changing his expression. I suddenly notice he's not the only homeless man at this entrance. There are a few people across the street and an older man sitting on the concrete right next to us, watching our interaction with slight interest.
"Would you like some sandwiches?" I ask.
"Yeah, sure," he says. "Thank you so much. God bless."
Once I'm in my car, I hear the other guy ask, "What'd she give you?"
"Couple sandwiches. You want one?"
His buddy declines, so the man rolls back over to the entrance and lifts his sign, my bag of sandwiches resting on his lap.
It occurs to me then how far from noteworthy this little interchange has been. In my fantasy world, I'd believed that giving this man a bouncy ball with some food might make me feel a little more connected to the world around me.
But in reality, I don't feel connected - in fact, I couldn't have been less invested in this. I mean, I didn't even realize that there's more than one hungry person sitting here. I'm obviously not the only person that stopped to give him something today, but I'm the only one who stopped so I could have a thing to write about.
I'm the only one who saw a man in a wheelchair holding a sign begging for help and thought to myself, "Perfect."
Bouncy Ball # 71 Revisited - Dad
"YES, IT'S PRETTY NICE OUT!" I scream into the phone.
"What's that?" my dad mumbles on the other end of the line.
"I SAID IT'S PRETTY NICE. THE WEATHER. IT'S BEAUTIFUL." I turn to the group of comics gathered outside the entrance to the Improv and mouth an apology.
"Well, I'm running out of things to talk about," my dad says.
We've been on the phone for almost 30 minutes, most of it consisting of him asking me the same questions and me trying to offer a new answer every time at the absolute highest decibel of volume I can reach. Some highlights from our conversation are when I yell, "ADAIR IS HAVING A BABY! SHE'S IMPREGNATED! I'M SAYING THAT MY FRIEND HAS A BABY IN HER! MY FRIEND! A BABY! SHE'S HAVING A BABY! A MAN MADE HER PREGNANT!"
And then when I'm walking down Melrose, and my dad asks if I could "use some money."
"YOU DON'T NEED TO SEND ME ANY, BUT I COULD ALWAYS USE MONEY!"
"I SAID THAT'S THE STORY OF MY LIFE! I NEED MONEY!"
"What's the story?"
"I'M SAYING I'VE ALWAYS NEEDED MONEY. ISN'T THAT THE STORY OF YOUR LIFE, TOO?"
These are how conversations go with my dad. This is part of the reason why I haven't talked to him since January - because it's nearly impossible to carry on a conversation. He can't hear very well, he's speaking to me on a cordless phone from the 90s, and he has Parkinson's, so his voice is starting to give out, making it difficult for me to make out what he's saying.
I called him today because my uncle asked me to. Otherwise, maybe I could've gone forever without talking to him.
Bouncy Ball # 71 was supposed to go to him. In March, I put a bouncy ball in an envelope along with a story I wrote about him in 2010 for okc.net, a website I used to write for. The story was nice - it's about how I feel like my dad contributed to my sense of humor, how my penchant for telling stories and making people laugh comes from him. When okc.net published it online, I sent the link to my aunt and asked her if I should send it to my dad.
She told me not to send it. She told me he was old and hard of hearing and while maybe my intentions are good, he might get confused by it, or my stepmom might read it to him and take offense to the way she's portrayed, even though it's not about her.
So I didn't send it in 2010.
And though I had the best of intentions to send it back in March, it's still in an envelope on my night stand. Not because I'm afraid of what he'll think about it - because I know it doesn't make a difference one way or the other. He can't read it - I don't think he can see well enough to read. (Or he refuses to try. Not sure which is most true these days.) He can listen to it if someone reads it to him, but my aunt's right - my stepmom wouldn't want to read it out loud and probably would take offense to my portrayal of her.
I can't read it to him over the phone. That's obvious.
The only option is maybe I can read it to him in person, but I'm not sure it'll even get through in person, and that's another 400 dollar plane ticket that I can't afford. And really, why am I trying to fix things anyway? Why is this all on me? Why am I making yet another attempt to connect to someone who just stopped trying to connect to me?
I had a great dad from when I was born to when I was 11 years old. And then my mom moved us to Oklahoma. And then my dad stopped putting in a lot of effort to see me. And then he got diagnosed with Parkinson's. And now we're here.
The truth is, I haven't talked to my dad since January because he hasn't tried to call me, either, and I was doing a little experiment to see just how long it would go if I didn't call him.
"You called me this time, so maybe next time I'll call you," Dad says before he hangs up.
"YEAH," I yell. "MAYBE!"
Bouncy Ball # 125 - Godzilla
"Close your eyes! Quick!" Sosa says.
I close them.
"All these people," Sosa says. "They have no idea."
He wants to save them all, but he's not the type of person who will yell out, "Close your eyes, Everyone! They show Godzilla in this Fiat commercial!" in a crowded movie theater.
Sosa saw the movie already yesterday, and his biggest complaint was that they showed Godzilla in a car commercial during the previews, ruining the suspense they built up about what he actually looks like with all the sneak previews, trailers, and during the film itself.
"You can open them now," he says.
And 45 minutes later, when I see Godzilla for the first time, I know I'm the only one in that theater to have that experience the way it was supposed to be.
Bouncy Ball # 7 Revisited - Jules
I can see her in my periphery, coming toward me with that stupid rolled up mat. I try and will my shoulders to touch the floor, but in the position we're in, I just can't get them down.
Jules leans her pregnant belly over my face while she places the mat underneath my head. "You're getting closer," she says, I'm guessing because she knows how badly I want to punch her right now. "Remember, it takes time."
Back in January, for Bouncy Ball # 7, I attended a free yoga class that my work offers to all our employees for the first time. I've attended every week since then, and during maybe the second week in, Jules told me I don't pull my shoulders back naturally, that I should work on that.
"Try to think about it," Jules had said. "Sit with your shoulders back just while you're typing. Once you're used to that, you can push your shoulders back while you're driving. And then you can gradually think about it more and more."
I don't do anything gradually - instead, I obsessed over putting my shoulders back, standing up straight. I DID think about it when I wrote emails. I DID think about it while driving. I think about it when I'm sitting. I think about it when I'm standing. I think about it a lot.
But for the past month, Jules has said the same exact thing to me. "You need to get those shoulders back."
A few weeks ago, I got flustered. "I'm trying," I said, but I really wanted to scream at her. "CAN YOU AT LEAST ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I'M TRYING?"
She'd nodded. "Yes, but remember, you're retraining your muscles to correct what's happened over years and years. It takes time."
Bouncy Ball # 126 - Kristin
"I didn't want to tell anyone about it," Kristin says. "I basically just told you and a couple other people."
"Yeah, I get it," I say, taking a sip of my water. "Comics are weird about things."
Kristin lives in Denver, but she's in L.A. for tonight's callback audition for the prestigious Just for Laughs festival in Montreal. She's grateful and shocked and nervous and excited all at the same time, and I'm glad I can be here to at least listen, if that helps.
"I know," she says. "And honestly, I can't even believe it. Leah, the night he called me, I was doing a show at a lesbian bar, and I went up onstage just not giving a shit. I mean, I wanted to make them laugh, but I didn't worry about what I was gonna say. So I had a really great set, and then I get this call about auditioning. I took it as a sign, you know? The fact that I was just having fun, and then this just happened for me without me looking to get it."
"I think it was a sign, too," I say. "I believe in signs. I think you're going into this the right way."
I can already tell she's much better off than me going into my first round audition back in April, Bouncy Ball # 87. She's looking at it like a bonus, a fun set that she gets to do rather than the end-all opportunity to prove that she deserves to be here. That's how you should look at things like this.
That's how I should've looked at it.
I give Kristin a bouncy ball for good luck even though I know she doesn't need it. Sure enough, the next day, she texts me that the bouncy ball was super lucky. But it's not the bouncy ball - it's her. She doesn't need bouncy ball magic because she has plenty herself. It's real, tangible, undeniable. She glows from it.
Bouncy Ball # 127 - Joe
"You're too quiet," the girl sitting across from me says. She doesn't move her face when she talks, so it looks like the words just fall out of a hole.
"You're too quiet. We don't know what you're doing."
"Oh." She's right. We're at my friend Joe's apartment in the middle of an intense game of Settlers of Catan. If you don't know the game, yes, it's nerdy, but not D&D nerdy - it's a game like Risk. Joe's been asking me to play for awhile, but I couldn't make it for the past few months.
I'm here tonight, at least physically. Mentally, I'm distant. Because I'd eaten a weed brownie before I got here, rendering me socially awkward and quiet in a game where I'm trading cards left and right without explaining what I'm doing to any of the other players.
Do you guys remember Bouncy Ball # 102? Where I ate a weed brownie and froze onstage during The Workout Room, a show I run at my house? Do you remember that I "quit" smoking weed after that?
Well, I failed. I quit for two weeks, and I started again.
I attempt to explain my card shuffling. "I traded three bricks for a rock and three bricks for a wheat, and I'm buying a development card."
That might be all I say the entire night until right before we leave, when someone starts a philosophical discussion about the nature of free will and the possibility of a unifying force. I catch the end of a sentence, a sound byte:
"...the alternate version of me where I believe I'm a super hero..."
I perk up. "You believe you're a super hero?"
He stares at me, a little taken aback, probably because I interrupted him, and this is one of five sentences I've said all night. "Uh, yeah?"
"Oh," I say. But I'm thinking about how, not even two weeks ago, I used to believe that, too.
Bouncy Ball # 128 - Him
I meet him on a Monday night at the Coffee Bean where we used to go write. I'm surprised how agreeable he is about meeting there after all that went down, after we'd crushed our relationship and our friendship to a bloody pulp.
"I made this for you," I say. "You know, because of the connect-the-dot squirrel you always talk about."
It seems so dumb to me right now that I think he might laugh, but he doesn't. His eyes light up. "Thank you so much! I love it!" He stands, hugs me, kisses me on the cheek.
"Really? You do?"
"It's perfect," he says. "You made this?"
I shrug. "Well, I just put it together."
"I love that it has a bouncy ball in it. It makes sense."
It is perfect. It's both of our ways of finding meaning in life put together. Because to him, life is a connect-the-dot squirrel. When you're in it, you can't see the point of all the separate dots and events that happen, but at the end, if you look at it all together, it's a complete squirrel.
And to me, life is dictated by bouncy balls, and they appear in the Universe like separate dots to tell me to keep going, to finish my squirrel.
To finish the story.
Ok, guys. Real talk time.
I haven't been honest with you about a lot of things. In fact, I lied to you from the very beginning.
When I started this project, this is what I said:
"I'm not looking for meaning. I'm not looking for a common thread or theme to come out of this, though I'm open to the chance that I could find one. There's no big plan for the end, and I have no delusions that this is going to make me understand the meaning of life. When I turn 32 and finish this quest, I'll just be 32. The only thing I'm looking for are stories, and in those stories, tiny connections with other people."
When I wrote this back in January, I may have even convinced myself that it was the truth, but it's not. And for the past couple months, I've been lying to all of you, yes, but it's because I've been lying to myself, and it took me this long to face myself down and admit it.
The truth is, I WAS looking for meaning. I WAS looking for a common thread. I DID have thoughts about what would make a great end to this story, and even when I started writing it, I didn't think of it as a blog - I thought of it as a book. Still, I diligently set about completing this colossal task I placed on myself, and I would like to say, in my defense, for about two straight months, I did a new thing every single day, and it was expensive, and it was difficult, and it made me anxious and tired all the time, but I fucking did it.
After that, well, I did the things I wrote about doing, of course, but I stretched the limits of the plan I'd laid out for myself partly because I was exhausted, partly because I felt like I didn't have enough time for standup, and mostly because of him.
See, about a month into this project, I started talking again to the guy who'd broken my heart, the "him" I've referred to over and over in this blog. It was innocent enough. Not only had I been in love with him, but he was also my best friend in L.A., the person I'd spent all my time with, so I mistakenly thought a month was enough time that I could talk to him again. After all, I had so many stories to tell him. I'd had so many adventures already and so many more to come.
And we picked back up right where we left off. We were inseparable, best friends again. It was like magic - he seemed so impressed by my fortitude in starting the Bouncy Ball Project, he seemed so surprised at what maybe seemed like a transformation in me, that soon enough, just like that, he wanted to try a relationship.
And so we did. While I didn't foresee that happening, I think a part of me believed that I was starting this project as some weird attempt to get him back, and when he came back, I thought it had worked. And I really really thought I was magic. For a moment there, I had everything in the world at once, and I believed that bouncy balls made it happen.
It didn't work out with us. It ended almost two weeks ago. It's the reason my last blog is so sad. It's the reason this one is so late.
The actual story is nothing new - you've heard it before. If you're the kind of person who needs to know things like that (Steve), let's just say that I was very insecure in our relationship, and he was unsure if he really wanted a relationship, and those two things just can't ever fit.
Because while there were great times, while we got along so well and agreed about so many things, while in theory we should be good together, gradually the same problems that we'd had before crept back into our relationship because we never really dealt with them. We never changed anything. We simply said we changed and rushed back into things, hoping that the past would stay past.
I don't regret it. I would do it over and over and over again because I got to know what it feels like to be in love with my best friend, and that's so rare, I'm lucky to have experienced it at all. I've never had that before. I don't know if I'll ever have it again. But I do know that I'll never settle for anything less.
So you guys, I'm admitting to you right now - this has been about a man. I don't like that it's the truth, but I can't lie to myself anymore. When it ended, that's when I realized that I'd been lying to you and to myself. That's when I realized that what went wrong in our relationship really points to a bigger problem - what went wrong with ME.
See, even though I spent a good part of the time doing new things, meeting new people, I didn't actively change the things about me that need changing, the things I've carried around inside that I need to either address or let go, the things that stop me from being the comedian, writer, and human being that I want to be. I didn't address these problems, but instead sat passively by waiting for magic to happen to me. It's easy to sit back and read the symbolism around you. It's easy to read magic into things and let the Universe tell you what to do. It's expensive and time consuming and exhausting, but easy nonetheless.
What's hard is to change your reality, and as far as I can tell, the only way to do that is to act with intent, with purpose.
I read a book on screenwriting called "Save the Cat" that broke down the parts of a movie into structured sections. If this Bouncy Ball Project were a movie, then this week's blog would be the part that the book calls, "The Dark Night of the Soul." It's where the main character hits bottom. It's the point where everything seems hopeless, right before the beginning of Act Three.
Interestingly enough, when I Googled "dark night of the soul" to make sure I knew what I was saying before writing this, I found that the phrase is a spiritual term that crosses the boundaries of several religions, and it means, "a lengthy and profound absence of light and hope."
I read several mystical websites that describe what it feels like to be in the dark night of your soul, and they all described exactly what I've been going through for the past month with my relationships, with writing, and with standup. Several things struck me about this concept. For example, TheMystic.org (yeah, yeah, I know, eat a dick) points out, "The dark night occurs after considerable advancement toward higher consciousness." The site goes on to explain that it's the necessary last state before a final transformation where "In a sense your ego recognizes itself - in the dark night - to be the disease."
I have been the disease. I have been my biggest problem.
The dark night of the soul exists in movies and in real life, and it means the same thing in both. I've thought many times over the course of my life that it's "like a movie," but now I realize that OF COURSE it's like a movie. Or more accurately, movies reflect real life. They're structured, pared down, shorter versions, but they ring true, even if they're unbelievable. And unbelievable things happen in real life. Bouncy balls appear.
So, you guys, I'm going to finish. In the last five weeks of this project, my Act Three, I'm going to first try and clean up all the messes I've made in these past five months. That means that maybe I'll be able to fix some things (I have a few ideas already), that means I'll again try to learn to Moonwalk, but it also means that I'll need to accept that there are things I cannot fix, let them be the way they are, and move on.
After I do that, I'm going to work on bettering the negative things about myself that I've let eclipse all my positive qualities. That means that maybe I'll have to change my way of thinking - for example, I need to re-evaluate the me that is always me, and the person I am when I'm in a relationship and get lost in it.
But that also means that I'll have to embrace some of the qualities I have that I've thought were bad and recognize that they're not bad at all. I'll have to figure out how to let my weirdly romantic overly passionate heart keep going because while it causes most of my suffering, figuring out how to harness that intense passion and aim it in the right direction could be the difference between being good and being great.
I have a hunch that my passion, my fight, and the intensity with which I love are not what I thought they were - huge weaknesses. In fact, I think they might be quite the opposite. I think these things might be my super powers.
And finally, after I work on myself, I'm going to try and tackle just a few of the injustices I see in the world around me. I know I can't change these things, but I think coming at them from a genuine place rather than a place of "I need to find something to write about" could make a tiny difference and return me to my original goal, which was to connect to other people.
I will write about my progress and post it weekly for these last five weeks until my birthday, July 8th. If you'd like to continue reading, please do. If you feel tricked by me, and you don't want to read anymore, I understand. Please just know I'm so grateful that anyone has read this at all - none of you had to. They're long posts, so much longer than 140 characters.
If you've contributed a bouncy ball story, please know that you helped me immensely. If you have a bouncy ball and haven't yet found a story, please know that I'm still here waiting whenever you're ready to send it in, and if you're never ready, that's okay, too.
But also know this: I'm not going on for you. I'm not going on for "him." I'm going on for ME. I'm doing this for me.
I promise to you that there will be adventures ahead and lots of references to super heroes.
And yes, there will be bouncy balls.
Bouncy Ball # 129 - Sosa
I put all the stuff he left at my house in a plastic grocery bag. I don't know when I'll talk to him again, but I know it can't be anytime soon. Because even though he's the person I most want to tell my stories to, he's the person I most want to hang out with, and he's my very best friend in Los Angeles, I love him, and I'm devastated that it didn't work between us.
Because Sosa is "him." They are the same person.
I put a bouncy ball in the bag and hang it on my front gate.
Bouncy Ball # 118 - Chinatown
I stop for a minute to consult the map on the back of the adventure card. "There should be a plaza thing coming up in about a block."
Sosa and I start walking again, up the sidewalk in Chinatown, past the shops with Chinese trinkets and bonsai trees. A card had led us here, card #2 of the "LA Adventure Walk" set we'd won for coming in first place at the Hollywood Scavenger Hunt.
We're making our way to Chinatown's Central Plaza, hoping to see the "Chinese seniors playing xiangqi (Chinese chess)..." that the card mentions. Because of all the time we've spent playing non-Chinese chess lately, it seems like that's the place we're supposed to go.
I'm always looking for the connections in things.
In another small shop along the sidewalk, my eye catches something, a wooden squirrel toy on display atop a table of toy-making kits for sale - pop out pieces of notched wood that you can put together to make one of your own.
"Look at that squirrel," I say to Sosa.
He nods, uninterested. "Yeah. But look at this one." He points to a much more elaborate wooden tank.
"Yeah," I say, but I'm distracted by the squirrel, frozen back in time for a minute to this same place a million years ago, I think. This same spot. I'd been here before with the guy I haven't spoken to. Yes, that's right. I'd come here with him on a day just like today, and I'd pointed to this very squirrel, and I'd said, "That's your squirrel!" because he always said that life was like a connect-the-dot squirrel. He always said that once you connect all the pieces, you can see the full story.
"I think I'm gonna buy this," I say. I have the idea that maybe I can put this squirrel together, finish the story of that guy once and for all. I have the idea that maybe it's a quest I need to complete, like a passage to mark my official move from the past to now, the present. I feel like I must have changed so much from that day in Chinatown with him to today, in Chinatown with Sosa.
About a block down, we reach the Central Plaza, and sure enough, the first thing we see are two old men sitting on a bench by a Bruce Lee statue, playing what I can only assume is Chinese chess. I pretend to take a picture of Sosa, aiming my phone over his shoulder to capture evidence.
As we walk away from the men on the bench, a record plays from the windows of a nearby record store. Ah, yes. I've been here before, too.
Around the corner, Sosa and I come across a wishing well. Nestled on top of a jagged rock fountain with tiny rivers snaking through it, there are different red signs set up in front of bronze-colored bowls. One says, "Peace," one says "Your health," one says "Wealth," one says "Prosperity," one says, "Your Wish," and one says "Romance."
"Isn't that crazy?" Sosa says. "Romance is the hardest one to get."
He's right. All the other bowls are various distances, some close, some far, but the "Romance" bowl is nestled inside of a small cove. To get a coin in there, you'd have to keep it low enough to get underneath the top of the cove, but high enough that it makes it over the bowl's rim. You have to throw it just the perfect distance, too, so you don't put too much in and overshoot the bowl, hitting the back of the cove, or so you don't undershoot, not putting enough momentum behind it, and miss the whole thing completely, your coin dropping with a plop into the water before it even gets close.
I pull all the pennies out of my change purse and give half to Sosa. I hit dead center in the shallow bowl for "Peace," but the coin bounces out.
It doesn't feel right to aim for "Wealth," so I spend the rest of my pennies trying to get in the "Your wish" bowl, but none of them make it. Sosa, on the other hand, keeps making it. So far, he has two.
"I'm gonna try with nickels," I say, plopping a couple in Sosa's hand. He makes it immediately. He now has three wishes. He's a motherfucking genie over there.
But me, I suck. I don't make any of the nickels. And then I try with dimes, but I still can't hit it.
In the end, Sosa gives me one of his three wishes, and I have to make do with this borrowed wish because I've used up all the ones I've ever had.
Bouncy Ball # 119 - Long Beach
"Why are those ships out there?" I ask, pointing to the ocean. "Are we under attack?"
"Maybe they're oil rigs?" Lindsay says. "I have no idea what those look like though."
We're at Long Beach, our feet in the water, staring out into the ocean on this beautiful Sunday.
"You think it's okay if I leave a ball on this beach?" I ask.
"Yeah, why not?"
"Well, I mean, I don't want to purposely throw litter on the earth. It seems a little wrong. Right? I don't know."
Lindsay laughs, probably noticing all the bottle caps, plastic bags, and cigarette butts poking out of the sand bank next to strands of dry seaweed. "I think it'll be fine," she says. "Someone will pick it up."
"Of course," she says. "If I found a bouncy ball on this beach, I'd pick it up."
I smile, looking out past the trash to the infinite wall of water. "I know," I say. "That's why I like you."
Bouncy Ball # 120 - Bill Burr
Monday night, Sosa and I see one of our favorite comedians, Bill Burr, at Bob's Espresso, a quaint little coffee shop in North Hollywood.
Even though he's just telling jokes in a coffee shop, Burr delivers, his set thoughtful and smart and funny and terrifying and completely engaging all at the same time. He talks about the fight he had with his wife just before leaving the house. He talks about his issues with authority figures. He makes an actual case for what he called the best and most just way to commit genocide and get away with it.
After the show, I feel silly waiting in line to talk to a comedian. It's always a weird transition - for almost every moment of my life, I'm a comedian, but when I meet someone like Bill Burr, his experience and career well beyond the scope of the most I'd ever dream of achieving, something I've only wished for, in those moments I'm not a comedian at all, and I lose my identity. I don't know who I am when I'm not a comedian.
It's my turn to talk to Bill. I ask him to take a picture, and I'm nervous while we pose, waiting for Sosa to open the camera on his phone. After the picture, I hold out a bouncy ball.
"Here," I say. "Can I give you this bouncy ball? I like to give these to people."
He grabs it, raises an eyebrow. "Oh, you do?" he says. "Well I guess I'll take it, but I don't know what I'm supposed to do with it."
It's a very Bill Burr response, so I know I shouldn't take it personally. After all, he's right - I did just hand him a small burden that might fit into his jean pocket, but not without poking into his thigh for the rest of the night.
It actually reminds me of the ball I'd given to Marc Maron, another older comedian I admire. Marc had said, "Thank you, that's very nice of you," but his expression betrayed his slight irritation. It seems as far as old comics go, they don't really enjoy receiving these.
And I gotta say, standing here in front of Bill Burr and forcing him to take this orange and cream swirled ball, I feel pretty damn stupid right now.
Bouncy Ball # 121 - Lindsay
"You know what I have?" I say, my arms wrapped around my knees. "You remember when we went on that float trip? It was a long time ago, on Memorial Day weekend. Remember? I made you guys all those puffy paint shirts."
"Oh yeah," Lindsay says. "I think that was back in 2006. No, maybe it was 2007. I was already in Ohio."
"Well I had one of those disposable cameras that weekend, and I never got the pictures developed."
"Really?" Lindsay asks. "You still have it?"
"Yeah, it's somewhere here."
"We need to take those in tonight and get them developed!" she says.
Lindsay is working in LA for the week, but she lives in Seattle. We met our freshmen year in college at OU, 14 years ago.
It seems surreal the way time moves in relation to old friends. The time that goes by between visits seems like no time at all, so while your faces get older, while your priorities change, and your life story veers off on unpredictable curves, you can always come back to where you've been by spending just an hour or two with a good old friend. In a way, it's comforting. In a way, it's terrifying, especially when you start to wonder if in all these years, you've really changed much at all.
An old friend is a time machine. And sometimes they bring you to moments you'd most like to forget about yourself.
Like this one:
During our sophomore year in college, Lindsay and I were roommates, and during a particularly rough patch in my life, when I was having trouble controlling my emotions, I'd hit myself in the face repeatedly until I gave myself a black eye.
I get that it's not a normal thing to do. I'm not saying I'm proud of it. I'm just saying it happened, and since then, I have learned that I have problems controlling my emotions. Sometimes, I feel like I just can't, and it scares me. And at the same time, it seems like there are so many people in the world who are able to control their emotions just fine, so that makes me feel like either there's something really wrong with my brain chemistry, or I'm making this all up and not working hard enough at trying, though that doesn't really fit in with my character, either - just giving up a fight. But when do you need to? When do you look for help?
That was twelve years ago, when Lindsay found out that I had given myself a black eye. That's an embarrassing thing for someone to know about you. I'm embarrassed that I'm writing it now, even 12 years later, even with the perspective of time passed and in the interest of being honest, being transparent in this blog.
But Lindsay's always known it.
There aren't a lot of people that know about the craziest things about you, the things you're most ashamed of, and love you just the same as though it makes no difference at all.
I find the disposable camera tucked in a box on a shelf in my closet, and Lindsay and I drop it off at CVS. They don't have a one-hour service, though, so the photos won't be ready for a week. I order doubles like I would if we were in the 1990s right now, and I promise to send them to her once I get them back.
"I'm gonna give you a bouncy ball, too," I say.
"But you already gave me one," Lindsay says. "I thought you weren't giving people two."
"Well, that rule went right out the window pretty quickly," I say. "I've had to make a lot of changes just so I could keep doing this shit."
She laughs. "So how many people got two?"
I shrug. "Well...actually just one other person. Sosa. He has like three now, I think."
"Wow. Just me and him?" she asks.
"Just you guys."
Bouncy Ball # 122 - Jonathan
"Oh my God!" Jonathan says, his contagious youthful excitement spilling out of him while we paddle out into the middle of Echo Park Lake. "It feels like we're in a movie right now. Doesn't it feel like that?"
"Yes, it does," I agree. "But actually, I feel like that a lot."
"Yeah. It seems like I live a lot of movie moments."
"That's cool," Jonathan says, steering us toward the giant fountain.
"I don't know," I say. "I wonder what it's like to live in reality." I look out over the lake. "I think maybe a lot of people here feel like that. Sometimes, it feels like this entire city is a movie, and everyone who lives here is acting in it all the time."
Jonathan laughs. "It's totally like that."
We paddle around for a while. At one point, we're off near the bank when we see something floating in the water. "Oh my God, please tell me that's not a bird head," Jonathan says.
"Let's check it out."
We try to steer ourselves closer, but it seems like after we get within a few feet of the object, our wake pushes it away from us, so we never get close enough to see what it is.
"Oh my God, what if it's a bouncy ball?" Jonathan asks.
"Well, that's the thing. It could be," I say. I've been here before, very early on in this bouncy ball project. I'd come with my friend James, and during our ride, I'd tried to toss my ball to a kid on another boat, but my throw had been shitty. Just like all the coins that I tried to make into the "Your wish" bowl in Chinatown, the ball had plopped into the water, coming up short.
As I relay the story to Jonathan, he lets us drift into another boat, tied to the dock.
"Man, you suck at steering," I say.
He laughs. "I think we have to back up."
As we start to peddle backwards, I nudge him with my elbow. "Guess sometimes you gotta move back to go forward."
"Ugh!" he says, rolling his eyes. "Come on!"
I laugh, and we drift backwards.
And we drift.
And we drift.
And we drift...
Bouncy Ball # 123 - Andrea
It's about call time for my show when I'm walking down 1st Street in Burbank toward Flappers, and I see her from half a block away. I see hair first, fiery red, then those giant blue eyes, eyes that you can see are unmistakably crazy when she's close to you.
She stares at me. "Hi Andrea," I say.
She scrunches her brow. "Oh my goodness. Leah?" She pronounces my name like the Star Wars Princess. "You remembered my name?"
"Of course," I say. Actually, I'm surprised I remember it, too.
I met Andrea at an open mic that no longer exists, at the Bliss Cafe on Vine Street. When I'd first moved to L.A, I could walk there in five minutes from my Hollywood apartment, which is probably one of the few good things I could say about that mic at the time. While the cafe was cute, and they made great sandwiches and breakfast burritos, it's not an ideal place to do standup. On top of that, because its location in Hollywood, a lot of crazy people came in. And I don't mean crazy like go out with the girls and get hammered. I mean like literally crazy.
But what makes someone crazy?
The last time I saw Andrea...God. It had to be about a year and a half ago on Vine Street. That's why it's so weird to run into her here today.
I don't even know Andrea that well - she's not a comic. I don't actually know her story - I've pieced it together by bits of terrible things she's told me about her past. That's sort of her thing. She'll square you off in conversation, lock right in by looking into your eyes, and never let you go, trapping you with horrible stories about date rape and death and snakes coming out of your face. Happy things like that.
Today, Andrea tells me that she moved to North Hollywood because she couldn't afford her Hollywood rent anymore. "The new place is 500 bucks a month, all bills paid, but there's a catch."
"Uh oh," I say, looking over my shoulder at the club. "There's always a catch."
"My roommate is the most annoying man I've ever met."
"Oh no!" I'm relieved. I thought it would be much worse. "Annoying like how?"
"Well, he has some brain damage, so I will say that. But he seems perfectly fine when you talk to him. You can't tell anything is off about him, you know? And then he'll just start these arguments with people. He yells at our landlord. He fights with our neighbors. He chopped down a tree."
Andrea tells me story after story about her brain damaged 65-year-old roommate while I glance over my shoulder every few seconds. I can see the club, but I don't know how to leave.
Andrea shakes her head. "Anyway, how's comedy going for you?"
"It's good," I say, happy for the out she's given me. "In fact, I gotta go to a show right now. Can I give you this bouncy ball?"
"What is it?"
"A bouncy ball. Like a toy. You can bounce it."
"Oh wow," she says. "Thank you!"
I walk off, head into Flappers. My friend Jeff is the MC of tonight's show. He
goes through the announcements onstage. "If you want to order a drink," he says, "there's a small light on your table. Just push it on, and a server will come find you. It's magic, you guys."
He pauses. "Naw, I'm just kidding," he says. "Magic doesn't exist."
We're walking around in Chinatown, Central Plaza, the cobblestone path leading us through the small alleyways.
There's a record store close to where we're standing, an old phonograph set up outside to play to the plaza, but it's late in the afternoon, so there aren't a lot of people here to hear the old love songs drifting out above us, the pops of the record. A few families scattered about, off in the distance. We can see them, but we can't hear them.
The record pops while one song ends and another begins. Nat King Cole's syrupy voice oozing out, filling up the air around us.
"I used to walk with you...Along the avenue...our hearts were carefree and gay...How could I know I'd lose you? Somewhere along the way."
"Oh my God," I say. "I love this song. It's so beautiful."
"What is it?" he asks. "How do you know this?"
"I can't remember, but I know how it goes."
"The friends we used to know...they smile and say hello...no love like our love they'd say. Then love slipped through our fingers...somewhere along the way..."
"It feels like we're in a movie," he says.
"I know," I say. "It's kinda weird." The scene around us is fantastic, magical. I'm a magical person, and magical things just happen for me, like they do in the movies.
On the other hand, I know it's not real. It's delicate and fragile. It can crumble into a million pieces of dust with just the slightest pressure from any direction. That's the problem with scenes like this, pieces of real life that feel like you're in a movie - they're not real enough to be sturdy.
He lifts my arm up over our heads, and he twirls me. I spin around twice.
Much later, when he tells me that we spend too much time together, I will look back on this moment and wonder if this were one of those times. I'll wonder if in this moment, he'd wished he was somewhere else.
For me, though, I could've twirled for the rest of my life. If it's true that you see flashes of scenes from your life before you die, I think this one would make it to my reel.
"So now I look for you...along the avenue...and as I wander I pray...that someday soon I'll find you...somewhere along the way..."
And I'm twirling. And the record pops.
Somewhere along the way...
And it skips.
And it skips.
And it skips.
And starts over.
Bouncy Ball # 111 - “How to Not Help People” - Story by comedian Seth Joseph
Let me begin by saying at no point during these two stories will you think I am a helpful person.
I live in Chicago and work in a Evanston, a college town a half hour’s drive north. It’s a nice place and reminds me quite a bit of my own college town, Norman. It doesn’t have a giant football stadium that I know of, but it does have neighborhoods of small, well-kept houses, just like Norman. It’s one of those little neighborhoods where I first failed to make anyone’s life any better.
On Fridays I work later in the day, so I don’t go to work until 11:00 in the morning. This particular Friday, I have extra time and take a detour through some of the quaint little streets off the main drag. I’m listening to The Rachel Maddow Show podcast on my phone, resting on my lap as I drive, and thinking about the locally made vegan breakfast sandwich I will purchase at Whole Foods on my way to the office.
I should mention that, in many ways, I’m an insufferable liberal cliche. Like a really over-the-top one. Sometimes it bugs the crap out of me. I can’t imagine how it must be for people around me.
As I’m driving, I see an old woman pushing a grocery cart on the sidewalk. It’s full of a bounty from Trader Joe’s, judging from the bags. She’s wearing a conservative sort of coat, which makes her slight frame look unnaturally top heavy and bulky. In place of matching pants, she’s got on a pair of black and fluorescent pink tights and silver sneakers that looked like they originally belonged to either Jem or one of the Holograms. Put together, she looks like the embodiment of not giving a fuck.
I’m applauding her in my head as I roll down the street, when suddenly she falls forward, straight onto her face. Not even in a funny way, but in an “oh my God, she might be dead” kind of way. I pull over, put on my hazard lights, and then turn off the podcast I was listening to.
Yep, I turn off the podcast before I get out to see if she's hurt. What’s more, I leave the phone in the car when I jump out. Because why would a person need to make a phone call in a situation where someone has been injured, right?
Once I’m out of my car, it becomes clear that the woman is not dead. She is, in fact, pushing herself up. And then she starts talking.
“Oh, thank you for stopping, but I’m okay!”
Midwestern people are like that. Most gunshot wounds go unreported out here because nobody wants to make a fuss. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m fine. But thank you for checking. You’re a nice man!”
What the fuck? Just how midwestern is she? “You’re sure?” I’m still standing in the street, closer to my car than the sidewalk.
“Of course, of course. I’ll be fine.” She’s up now. She’s tougher than she looks. “You have a great weekend. You’re a good man.”
What the fuck just happened?
I get back into my car and drive away after turning the podcast back on, of course. I’m bewildered by what’s happened. I feel like I should have done more. Or, more accurately, done something. Above all, however, I regret that I didn’t have the rubber bouncy ball Leah had sent me. I would have given it to that old woman so her experience was as unnerving and confusing as mine had been.
It’s another Friday in Evanston. I’m leaving work, listening to Slate’s “Political Gabfest” on my headphones, walking to Whole Foods to buy some ingredients for my wife to make brunch the next day.
See above, re: insufferable liberal cliche.
Walking to the store, I pass a man panhandling outside, but then realize that as someone about to buy brunch materials from Whole Foods, I am morally obligated to give this guy the change in my pocket. I turn back, digging the change out, and put it into his cup. He says something, but I can’t hear him over Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson arguing. I don’t really want to hear him.
After I enter the store, I feel like an asshole. A story creeps back into my head that I heard from one of my grade school teachers. She was in a third world country, about to give money to a beggar when her guide stopped her and said, “Don’t you dare give hope without love.” I feel like that’s what I had done to that guy. I didn’t care about him - I just wanted to feel better about myself. That realization makes me feel worse about myself, which I don’t care for at all.
I resolve to do something about it. While in the store, picking up bread and frozen spinach and sausage and whatnot, I also buy a meal for the man who I had so callously disregarded. Vegetable chili, a turkey sandwich, and a piece of chocolate for dessert. I just wish I had that rubber ball with me so I could put it in the bag for him.
I pay, put the food into a small bag with napkins, and spend another 30 seconds trying to decide if I should take my headphones out or not. Out, I decide.
Then I'm out the door, around the corner, heading straight for the panhandler's location, bag in hand…and he’s gone. Was he run off? Did someone give him a dinner already? Was the change I gave him enough to pay for a 40 oz? It doesn’t matter. He's gone, and now I'm stuck with a turkey sandwich I can’t eat because I’m a vegan. I look around Evanston for another 10 minutes, cursing the city for not having more homeless people. In the end, I throw the sandwich away.
The chili is pretty good.
Still need to figure out what to do with that ball.
Bouncy Ball # 112 - The Baldwin Park Stairs
What a stupid fucking idea, I think while I trudge up the Baldwin Park Stairs for the fourth time in a row. I don't even know how I'm moving right now.
Sosa and I discovered the stairs about a year ago, and since then, we've gone several times, but the most we'd ever completed in a row was 3 times up. Today, even though we're way out of shape, we're going up 4 times.
At the top, I throw up. Just a little. I sit next to Sosa for a few minutes, neither of us talking while we catch our breath, then he looks at me. "You ready?" And just like that, he's heading back down.
I watch him bound down in front of me, but I don't even care that he's ahead. I'm just happy I don't have to go up again. As I take the last few steps to the bottom, I realize I forgot to leave my bouncy ball at the top. No way I'm making it back up.
I notice a young athletic guy with a small backpack getting ready to go up.
"Hey," I say. "I'm sorry to ask this, but can you take this bouncy ball up to the top for me?"
He looks very skeptical. "What?"
"Can you bring this up to the top? I forgot to leave it there, and I can't go up again."
"Uh..." He looks up the staircase. I can see he's thinking of just running away from the conversation.
"I mean, you can do whatever you want with it when you get there," I say. "You can throw it in the trash if you want."
He points. "There's a trash can over there."
"No, I don't actually want it to go in the trash," I say. "But I just want it to get to the top somehow. I meant to leave it up there to say like, 'yay, I made it,' you know? But I forgot."
He sighs. Of all the people who've received my bouncy ball, he's by far the most put out by it. It's not even that he doesn't want to carry it - it's like he doesn't trust me, like he thought maybe I rolled it in some biological warfare virus.
He takes it, though, and he heads up the stairs. I turn away so I don't have to see him do what I think he's gonna do - toss it to the side at the bottom.
Bouncy Ball # 113 - John
I'm watching a Netflix documentary called "Inequality for All" about the disparate wealth distribution in America when my best friend John calls. He starts talking to me about our other friend's wedding next year. "I told Lindsay that if I fly to Puerto Rico for her wedding, I'm not getting her a gift. That's her gift."
I crack up laughing. "How'd that go over?"
"Hard to tell," he says. "I told her she better have an open bar, too."
We're joking, yes, but in reality, neither of us know how we're going to pay for this. John just received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, and I have two Master's degrees, but as far as finances go, we're the poorest of our friends. While it seems easy for the rest of them to travel for various reunion events and weekends floating the river, it's always a struggle for us. Specifically, it's always a 400-dollar plane ticket that I have to put on credit.
"I don't think I can make it to float the river," I say. "I just don't know where I can get the money."
"I get that," he says. "If it weren't in Texas, there's no way I'd be able to go."
We talk about our debt for awhile - mainly just stressing back and forth to each other about the horrifying mountain looming above us: our student loans. I think I'd sooner be able to climb the Baldwin Park Stairs 25 times in a row than come even close to paying them back.
"And it's not like I want a lot of money," John says. "I just want to have a career. You know?"
"It's crazy you just said that," I say. "I said that exact same sentence like four hours ago. I just want to work on my career, but I'm not even close to that. And I'm broke."
I wish I could pay John's debts for him. Or at the very least, I wish I could say something that offers some sort of silver lining, help him make a plan to get out of it.
But the truth is, I'm in it, too, and from the inside, it seems like there's no real way out. Both of us have put everything we have into a long shot, and even if we attain our careers, which is all we want, it's unlikely that we'll be able to relieve ourselves from the burden of our education.
Before I hang up, I say, "I know it's hard, but you're gonna have to keep going. That's what keeps me going, knowing that you're out there, too."
On Week Fifteen of this bouncy ball project, I'd included one of my friend Sofiya's stories, a post she'd written inspired by my bouncy ball shenanigans. In it, she gives cookies to strangers. At the end of that post, I'd written, "Sofiya, I owe you a bouncy ball."
I still haven't given her that bouncy ball.
Tuesday, I get a text from Sofiya. "I found this in my front yard yesterday."
I swear I didn't put it there. I don't even know where she lives.
Bouncy Ball # 114 - Chef Marilyn's Soul Food Express
Sosa and I find a to-go only soul food joint on Crenshaw, and we order a la carte meals of starchy sides and fried chicken, food we thought was impossible to find in the obnoxiously healthy L.A.
At the cash register, I drop a dollar and a bouncy ball in the tip jar when the cashier isn't looking. She hands me my change, and then she looks directly at the bouncy ball on top of the bed of dollars in her tip jar.
I remember the guy at the stairs, how annoyed he'd been. Before she can say anything, I grab my leaking bag of fried chicken and candied yams and run away.
Bouncy Ball # 115 - Guy at Vons
"Can you spare a couple quarters?" he asks. "I'm trying to get a dollar for bus fare."
I pull a couple quarters quarters from my change purse.
"Oh, thanks so much," he says.
At the time, it's a non-event. It doesn't occur to me to give the guy a bouncy ball, mainly because I resent myself when I do anything that seems kind for the sake of the bouncy ball project. The way I see it, I should be doing these things anyway.
When I leave the grocery store five minutes later, I pass the same guy in the same spot, and I smile.
"Hey," he says. "Can you spare a couple of quarters? I'm trying to get a dollar for bus fare."
I laugh. "You already asked me."
"Oh," he says. "Well, you get old, you start to forget things."
I wave and continue walking, but when I reach my car, it occurs to me that I have a dollar. If he's trying to get a dollar, why don't I actually give him a dollar? Why had I only given him 50 cents?
I walk back to the man, a dollar in my palm. "Excuse me," he says, looking right at my face, just like he had the first two times. "Can you spare a couple of quarters? I'm trying to get a dollar for bus fare."
Again, he doesn't recognize me. It's been literally five seconds. I drop a dollar and a bouncy ball in his palm. "That's three times, man."
Thursday night, I do a show in Iglewood at a small theatre. It's 11:00 PM when I'm walking across the parking lot to my car.
I look down in front of me.
"No," I say. "No way. Come on." I do a slow circle, looking around for clues of how this got here, but there are none. It's just me in a parking lot in Inglewood, alone.
Just me and this creepy magic bouncy ball.
Bouncy Ball # 116 - Audrey
Audrey is a 7-year-old girl who's recovering from neurosurgery for a condition called Chiari malformation, where the skull doesn't provide enough room for the brain. Unrelated to her Chiari malformation, she also has autism and suffers from seizures.
My friend Amanda told me that Audrey loves receiving letters. She asked me to send her a hot pink bouncy ball with a letter because pink is her favorite color. If you'd like to send Audrey a letter, contact me, and I'll be happy to forward it to her.
Bouncy Ball # 117 - The World Famous Comedy Store
"Hey," I say, crossing paths with tonight's Belly Room booker down by the back entrance to the club. "I'm one of the development spots on your show tonight."
He doesn't seem too pleased about it. "They didn't tell me they put anyone on tonight. They usually send me an email."
I sigh. "Well, I mean, they told me to come here. 10 p.m. Belly Room."
He turns away, and I slink off to the Green Room.
His reaction is not unusual. It happens just about every single time I report the store for my "development spots" in the Belly Room. See, I'm in what they call the "Friends and Family" group at the Store, a highly coveted position that every comic who goes to the open mic hopes to attain. One of the steps up the ladder before becoming a paid regular, and one of the comics who gets to have their name on the wall.
Getting this was a big deal to me. For two years, I signed up for the open mic every time I could. For two years, I waited along with all the other comics for them to post the list. For two years, I watched my name make it on the list, then slowly move down toward the end of the list. Then one night, the club's manager called me over when I got offstage after a pretty good set and said, "Leah, you don't have to sign up for the mic anymore. You can just call on Monday and give your avails."
"Uh. What does that mean?"
He'd laughed. "It means you passed the open mic. You're a non-paid regular."
It was one of the biggest thrills of my entire comedy career. Not only was I one step closer to having my name on the wall, not only could I call in and get booked for stage time at the club, but on top of all that, I did it the hard way. I never once thought it was unfair.
That was back in November 2012. Now it's May, and I've been coming in almost weekly, either trying to get on in the Original Room by checking in with a surly host on Monday, or coming in on a weekend night for what they call "development spots." Essentially, that means they put two or three of their comics on a show in the Belly Room, a show that an outside booker, someone who doesn't work at the Comedy Store, has booked.
Save for two of the bookers, they've all been complete assholes to me when I check in. One night, I came in, and the booker argued with me for several minutes. "No, you're not on the show," he'd said, pissed. "Well, they said I was. Not sure what to tell ya." And back and forth like that for a few minutes before he dragged me downstairs, demanding someone vouch for me. The GM brought us to his office and had to point out the spot where my name was written on the list.
The booker had shaken his head. "Well, I can't put you on before midnight."
Cut to tonight. It's a Friday night, I've worked my incredibly stressful day job all week. I'm exhausted. I have a headache, and I haven't eaten since noon.
Upstairs in the Green Room, the booker walks in and pours a flask-sized bottle of vodka into a Big Gulp. A girl enters, presumably a comic on the show. "Do you have the lineup?"
"Here," he says. He hangs a list by the door. "There it is." He leaves to go seat the showroom, and I don't bother to check the list. I know my name's not on it.
The girl checks the list. "My name's not on this," she says. A few minutes later, two other women walk in, check the list. Their names aren't on it, either.
I stand up and walk into the showroom, find the booker. "Hey," I say. "Just so you know, there are three comics back there who aren't on the lineup you posted."
He rolls his eyes. "Oh, Sam? She's always complaining."
"No," I say. "Literally three comics."
Again, he walks away. I check the time. Almost 10:30, and the show hasn't started. Shit. He's gonna put me on at 1:00.
I make a final attempt to figure out when the fuck anyone is getting onstage, since the lineup in the back is obviously not real. "Hey man," I say. "I didn't drive here. I got a ride." (That's true, by the way.) "Do you have any idea when I should tell him to come pick me up?"
He narrows his eyes. "I got three of you Store guys to put up. They double-booked the room, and the show hasn't started yet. Tell him midnight."
I'm getting real sick of being barked at. "So you don't even have a lineup?" I ask. "Why don't you have a lineup?"
His nostrils flare. His eyes get wide. Oops. I did it. I hit his trigger.
"I told you midnight!" he yells. "And you're asking me if I have a fucking lineup?"
If you're unfamiliar with comedy shows and how they work, the booker usually has a lineup and usually doesn't bite your head off when you ask him about it.
But at the Store, it's different. Because they don't want you on their show, because the club is making them put you on.
I walk off and find a spot on the couch in the back of the showroom. Every 15 minutes, the booker walks by, glares at me until I look at him, then quickly turns away to snub me. I know what he's planning on doing - putting me on last because I dared question his methods.
But he said midnight. I sit and wait until midnight. I sit there for an hour and half of mediocre standup. I'm not exaggerating - three of the people that go on to a completely full crowd are great, but the rest are inexperienced. You can tell they haven't done it very long by their stage presence, their jokes, their mannerisms. This is also not unusual - this is a "bringer" show, which means the people who book it only book people who promise to bring a minimum of five audience members. To be booked on a bringer show, the quality of your performance is irrelevant, and it shows.
Midnight comes and goes. At 12:20, after the booker gets onstage and tells the crowd they can "leave if they want to - it's been a long night," I suddenly realize that this booker, this drunk guy who thinks he's teaching me some kind of lesson by making me wait to go on in front of what's left of this poor, exhausted crowd, has no power over me.
And then I do something that might be unheard of as far as spots at the Comedy Store go. I leave.
While I wait for my ride out front, I bounce a ball on the wall that wraps around the club, thinking about what the Comedy Store claims to be versus what it actually is.
If the Store claims to be some kind of gatekeeper, the place where talented comedians season their acts and become great, how can it be that and also rent out their rooms to bookers who book inexperienced comics, people who don't have ten good minutes? How can they put their name on a show that people come to watch expecting to see quality comedy, but instead ending up sitting through a lot of amateurs, all the while believing this is the state of LA comedy? The Store claims to play a huge part in developing great comics from local talent. But how can it be both things?
I'd been ecstatic to make it through the open mic, but almost every single time I've asked to go onstage since then, someone has treated me like shit. Sometimes, it's a 40-year-old drunk. Sometimes, it's a 22-year-old prick. Sometimes, it's a booker who has never even done standup.
Look, I didn't join the goddamn military here - last I checked, stand-up was autonomous, independent, free. When the Store passed me to do spots, I didn't know that meant I had to let people disrespect me on a weekly basis, or I wouldn't have signed up. And I swear to the Universe, if one person comes at me with, "You gotta tough it out," I'll lose it. Because - and this is no exaggeration - I'm the fucking toughest person I know. I can tough out any punishment, I can push through any adversity, I can overcome any obstacle, I can run up the Baldwin Park stairs four times, I can go to the same open mic for two years, keep my head down, and do my time without complaining, and I can outlast anyone, as long as it's fair, as long as it's justified.
This is not justified.
I'm not trying to say, "How dare you treat ME like that?" What I'm saying is, "How dare you treat ANYONE like that? We're just people trying to be something. What gives you the right? How DARE you give hope without love?"
I'd been so hopeful when I first got passed, but over the last six months, I've tried to dismiss the ball of discomfort in my stomach that shows up every time I'm supposed to go on at the Store. I've started to think that I hate stand up. I certainly hate it on these nights.
Tonight, I realize I don't hate standup. I love standup. I hate what The Comedy Store is doing to it in the Belly Room, making it an exclusive club where funny doesn't matter, but cool or money or the semblance of power or networking does. I hate what standup's become here, in these old rotting halls, where the ghosts of talented comics past haunt the Belly Room while a guy who really wants to be an actor tells a hacky joke about dick size to a room full of people he'd coerced into coming in exchange for ten minutes of stage time he's not qualified to perform.
I see my ride pull up to the curb, and I drop the ball behind me, letting it bounce into the crowd, milling around the wall where my name will never appear.
Bouncy Ball # 104 - Tim
He's mid-conversation, but I tap him on the shoulder anyway. He turns, greets me with that fake smile.
"Hey Tim," I say.
"I didn't mean to interrupt. I just saw you over here, and I wanted to give you this bouncy ball."
He reaches out to shake my hand, but I just palm the ball into his. "It's good to see you," he says. He turns to his brunch companion. "Michelle, this is Ally. Ally, this is Michelle."
I laugh. Of course he doesn't remember me. "Actually, I'm Leah."
His eyes get wide for a second while I watch the recognition cross his face. "Oh, of course, Leah. Yeah, I'm so sorry. You look like a comedian named Ally. Have you lost a lot of weight?"
I shrug. "Yeah, I guess." I'm not offended that he forgot me. I don't know him well, and I probably do look different since the last time he saw me.
I can feel his nervousness. I'd run into him a couple times before, and I know my presence puts him on edge. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy making him uncomfortable.
But that's not why I'm here, giving him this bouncy ball. I'm here because I've been carrying around this grudge for awhile, and since I ran into him today, I take that as a sign it's time to let it go. He wasn't there to taunt me or to threaten me. He didn't even know I was there - it was me that had the problem with being in the same room with him. It's me that needs to let it go.
See, I met Tim back in 2011 when we'd worked together at a Midwest comedy club. He was the headliner, and I was the middle act. It was my first time as a middle act (I'd always been an opener), and let's just say I wasn't ready for it.
In plain terms, I sucked. And Tim didn't like me because I sucked. Every night, he had to follow me and get the crowd back. He had to clean up the mess I'd created. Months later, when I heard from another friend of mine that he was telling everyone in the Midwest how awful I was, I distinctly remember thinking, Well, fair enough.
It should've ended there. But it didn't.
Just before I moved to L.A., Tim headlined the Oklahoma City Loony Bin. The last night he was in town fell on the same night my friends roasted me at the club. Incidentally, it was also the same night they gave me the 250 bouncy balls with my name on them, the very ones I'm distributing now.
My roast ended just about an hour before the regular show, so Tim walked into the club while my friends and family were still in the lobby. That night, he told one of my friends that the only reason I got booked to middle that week we worked together was because I fucked another headliner.
That's right, on the night of my roast, at the comedy club where I started doing standup in 2006, Tim walked into my house and told my friends that I fucked my way to the middle.
In the days after my roast, I found out that Tim had told a lot of people that very same lie about me. And it hurt. I confronted Tim about it. I sent him a Facebook message calling him out. He sent a message back, not five minutes later. It said, "I'm sorry. You're right. Full apology."
It didn't make me feel any better.
I know Tim feels bad for what he said about me - he's since sent me messages trying to help me meet bookers in L.A., congratulating me for getting on a festival. But the effects of what he said about me have lingered, eating away at my insides. It's the reason I don't like to ask people for help. It's the reason I am cautious and untrusting of other comedians. It's the reason I started looking at comedy as a way to prove myself rather than what it used to be - the thing that made me happiest.
"Well, I'll let you get back to your breakfast," I say. "I just wanted to come over and say hi and give you that bouncy ball."
"Well thank you, Leah. It was really good to see you."
"Yeah," I say. "It was good to see you, too." And I actually mean it. Because it's not an accident that Tim is here. It's not an accident that I'm giving him one of the bouncy balls that my friends in Oklahoma had given to me.
I'm supposed to give him this ball. And I'm supposed to forgive him. And I'm supposed to let that go and move forward.
Sometimes I find stories for these bouncy balls. Sometimes the stories find me.
"I feel like there's a trend in television and entertainment now where the bad guy is the hero," Andy says. "It's all about the anti-hero. But I miss the good guys. Why can't we have a good guy to look up to?"
"Exactly!" I agree.
"We need a hero," Andy says.
At that point, Andy, John, and I exchange a look as we all simultaneously break into that Bonnie Tyler song from the "Footloose" soundtrack. "I need a her-OOOOO!"
It's my favorite moment of all the podcasts we've recorded, but no one except for the three of us will ever hear it - a couple days after recording this segment, Andy decided to cut it. It was a smart decision - the segment had nothing to do with our podcast, which is a lighthearted show about fictional characters.
While I agree that it didn't belong, I'm glad to know there are other people in the world who miss having good people in movies, in books, on TV. It's like all our heroes are flawed, and good characters are cliche, outdated, a thing of the past. Today is all about Walt from Breaking Bad and almost every character in Game of Thrones, who make us want to watch to see how bad they can get.
"I wish there were a movie about Jules after Pulp Fiction," John says. "Him as the shepherd, wandering around the world and righting wrongs like Kane from Kung Fu."
I think of Sosa. He loves the end of Pulp Fiction, where Samuel L. Jackson's character says, "I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd."
Andy reads my mind. "Fernando would love that."
"He could play him in the movie," John says. "Sosa could totally play the shepherd. I'd watch a movie starring Sosa as the shepherd."
Bouncy Ball # 105 - Server in that BBQ place near my house
"That is so infuriating." I fork a chunk of cornbread in my mouth. "Oh my God, this is so fucking good."
"Right?" Sosa says. I don't know if he's agreeing with me about the cornbread or my righteous indignation. Probably both.
We're at that BBQ place on Temple, just a block and a half from my house, the one I always said I wanted to try. While we devour the delicious pulled pork, hot links, and cornbread in front of us, Sosa fills me in on this week's news. I'm not proud of this, but on any given day, I have no idea what's going on in the world. I'm not sure if this is indicative of my busy-ness or of my narcissism. Probably both.
Today, Sosa fills me in on Donald Sterling, the owner of the L.A. Clippers, who's leaked racist remarks had come out in public earlier in the week.
"And how much money does that guy have?" I ask. "A hundred million dollars?"
"I don't even know," Sosa says. "Probably more."
"It makes me sick," I say. "He doesn't deserve that. Why do people like that get all the money?" I gesture at the food in front of us. "And why can't I even eat in this restaurant without worrying about whether or not I can afford it?"
This is not rare, he and I eating and talking about injustice in the world. It comes up a lot, actually. It's not that we believe we deserve more money. It's just that it seems like the people who have all the money aren't good people. It's just that it seems so unfair, so unjust, so wrong.
I leave a bouncy ball on the table in our restaurant, and the server calls after me before I walk out. "Excuse me! You left this!"
"Oh, it's for you," I say. "It's good luck."
"Oh," she says. "Thank you."
As Sosa and I walk out onto the sidewalk, I laugh. "She's probably thinking, 'There'd better be a tip and not just this ball.'"
"I'm serious," I say. "That's what I thought when I waited tables. People would leave cards about Jesus, and I'd be like, 'Yeah, that's nice. There'd better be a tip in here.'"
Bouncy Ball # 106 - Chess
"I hate to say it, but I think I might have you."
Sosa's staring at the board, studying his king. "Yeah. If I move here, you'll come take the pawn, and I can't go anywhere. That's check mate."
I can't hold back my smile. It's my first Chess win. Sosa taught me to play a couple weeks ago, so I bought a ten-dollar board at Rite-Aid, and since then, I've been obsessed with it. Over the past few weeks, I've downloaded two apps on my phone, I've played during every moment of free time I have, and I've even watched the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer.
Sosa's pretty obsessed with it, too. For a few days now, he's been waiting for his new official Chess set to arrive by FedEx, which he purchased after we played several games with the cheap plastic pieces that came with my set, and he'd picked up one of my pawns, saying, "These pieces are so light."
"Yeah," I'd agreed. "It's like they have no heart."
I like Chess because it makes me think. But maybe even more so, I like Chess because it's such an apt metaphor for so many things in life, and the writer in me can't stop seeing the parallels. Even in this game, the way I win seems symbolic of something. Sosa had been distracted on the other end of the board taking all of my important pieces, but I'd snuck in a back way when he didn't expect it.
Since that first win, I haven't won another game. Maybe Sosa's playing tougher, I don't know. I know why I lose, though. At first, it was mostly because of stupid mistakes and bad decisions. But even when I stopped making those mistakes, in the end, he always gets me because I'm playing on the defense the entire time, just trying not to get taken.
Like they say in the movie Bobby Fischer, it's about taking risks. You can't just play on the defense, protecting yourself from things that happen. You have to make things happen.
Bouncy Ball # 107 - A random city street
Davey growls, waking me from a restless haze, and I sit up. A man walks by on the sidewalk next to us and peers in, curious. Not a threat. I check the time. 1:30 AM. Must've fallen asleep again. I've been here for two hours now.
I'm sleeping in my car, parked on a random city street in L.A. I have Davey Dog with me. He's sitting shotgun. He spent the first few minutes staring at me expectantly, like we had a destination other than this, but now he's resigned to the fact that we're staying in the car.
Why am I sleeping in my car? Well, to be honest, I have no idea. I'd say I did it because it's something I wouldn't normally do, and I needed a bouncy ball thing, but that's not true - the bouncy ball was an after thought. I'm pretty sure that this is actually a mini meltdown.
Maybe the real question isn't, "Why am I sleeping in my car?" Maybe the real question is, "What happened before I ended up here?"
Monday nights at the Comedy Store always make me feel unsettled. Tonight was no different. I'd walked in and saw that the host was the guy who doesn't like me. I know he doesn't like me because every time I check in with him, he has a sneer of disgust on his face, and he doesn't look at me - he looks over my head for more important people.
So when I saw him hosting, I knew there was no way he was putting me up. I didn't even bother to check in, just sat in the back for the duration of the mic and then stood up to leave. As I was walking out, he was outside talking to another comic. "Oh," he says with disdain when he sees me walking toward him. "I guess you want to check in, too?"
"I, uh, what? I guess?"
"Of course," he says, scowling, and walks back into the showroom.
What a dick. I wasn't gonna ask him shit.
I thought about leaving right then, but something was bugging me about the way he'd said that. It's like he was looking for someone to shit on, and I crossed his path.
You know what? That's not okay.
I headed back into the club, spotted the host's stupid face in the middle of the room and walked right up to him. "Hey," I said. "I wasn't even gonna ask you to go on. I was walking by because I was leaving."
He sighed, annoyed. "Well, everyone's been checking in with me all night. I wasn't trying to sound rude."
"Well, I wasn't asking," I said. "Just wanted to tell you that." I turned and walked out of the club.
After that, I started thinking about what really happened in there. I'd watched the host greet several comics, and he was kind and smiling with all of them. I watched them all walk around the room giving hugs and high fives, and I sat by myself in the back, talking to no one.
I'm not a weirdo. I'm not awkward. I'm not an outsider. In real life, I talk to people all the time. But for some reason, the comedy community, especially in the Comedy Store, makes me feel like a freak. It's like they hate me, and I don't really understand why.
Maybe I'm not spending enough time there. Maybe I'm spending too much time playing Chess and writing blogs and giving away stupid bouncy balls. Maybe I have to cut more things out of my life. Maybe I have to give up more to get something. I decided that I had to spend more time doing standup and less time doing the things that made me happy. But within an hour, the weight of that decision hit me. It hit me that I came close to sacrificing my moments of happiness for a place and a group of people that make me feel less-than.
And then I packed up my dog and drove down the street. And then I found a spot by the curb, and I shut my car off, and I went to sleep.
I still can't say why sleeping in my car made any sense to me. My best guess is that it's a reminder of all the things I do have - a house, a place to sleep. It's a reminder of how much worse it can be. I'm sleeping here to remind myself that being miserable in this moment is a choice, and when I have a choice, it's not worth giving up the things that comfort me, the things that make me happy. It's to remind myself that what the Comedy Store makes people believe - that to be a standup, you have to be miserable - is just plain wrong.
Bouncy Ball # 108 - Bartender at Flappers
"Ok, so now you get to hear my spiel about how I have this drink ticket, but I don't have any cash to tip you. Is it okay if I still order a drink?"
The bartender laughs. "It's no big deal."
"I'm so sorry," I say. "I hate that I can't tip you."
"Really, it's fine," he says. He gets my whiskey and ginger ale.
"Well, can I give you a bouncy ball?" I hold one out in my hand.
"Really? Sure." He grabs it. "You know, I actually prefer this to money?"
"No, really," he says.
I walk into the showroom and take a seat in the back while the rest of the comics in this Uncle Clyde's Comedy Contest go on. I'd gone on first, but felt like I should stay to the end, even though I can tell I'm not gonna place.
I didn't have a bad set - not at all. But there was nothing particularly memorable about my set either. The truth is, I don't feel connected to any of my jokes right now, so in my mind, it really doesn't matter what I do. And I think that reflects onstage - I get laughs, but I'm like a machine. I'm not engaged in my own act. I'm just pumping out punchlines that I think a crowd of people will laugh at.
After all the contestants go onstage, the host introduces the show's headliner - an actual booked comedian who was there to entertain the crowd while they tally up the contest votes. "Please welcome to the stage the very funny Alex Ortiz!"
My head snaps up. "Holy shit," I say out loud. I remember Alex - he used to headline at the Oklahoma City Loony Bin. I'd seen him on that stage so many times. I'd never talked to him, but I feel connected to him now.
The second Alex steps foot onstage, you can visibly see the difference between him and all the contest comics that had gone on before. There's an easiness about him. He's a club comic, the real deal, and he looks like the stage is his home.
Seeing him up there, I remember the excitement I felt watching the headliners in Oklahoma. I remember watching them and wanting nothing more than to be that.
And yet, here I am, years later, jaded in Los Angeles, thinking that you have to know someone or tell some weird quirky hipster jokes. But Alex reminds me that funny is funny no matter where you are. He reminds me that L.A. is not better than anywhere else. He reminds me that I have something that no one can take away: experience.
That's it. I've put the years in. I've done the clubs. I've done a festival or two. I've gotten the audition that everyone wanted and did a fine but unremarkable job. I hit a wall suddenly, a wall that only I know I've hit, and now, sitting here in the back of Flappers, I know exactly why.
I've been trying to do standup like I thought it should be rather than what it means to me. In Oklahoma, I took risks. You never knew what I was gonna do onstage.
I've finally figured out what's been so wrong with my standup. And of course, I can explain it with a Chess metaphor. I fixed all the things about myself that I thought were getting in the way, I put myself on guard, and I've even stopped making bad decisions, but in the end, I'm doing safe comedy. I'm doing passable comedy. I'm not taking any risks.
To be great, you have to take risks.
Bouncy Ball # 109 - Story written by Amanda Webb
I’ve been planning the weirdest adventure.
I’m hanging out near rainbow stacks of cookie boxes while my friend helps her daughter sell girl scout cookies from a stand/folding card table. Kiera is 10 or 11. Her limbs are long and thin, like she’s been growing in a rush. Her mom says “Kiera’s a good salesperson! If she’d just stop touching customers.” I don’t comment, but her words fully click into place when I see Kiera’s 60lb frame lean heavily into the action of dragging a very large man by his extended and obviously reluctant arm towards her table. "Let go of him! Stop touching customers!" her mother and I yell from opposite directions. Kiera’s got a full sales patter down-repeatedly clasping her hands behind her back to innocently ask those in her path “What’s your favorite girl scout cookie?”
Later, Kiera plops down on the bench next to me, where I've been playing with my phone. She pulls her knees up to her chest and casually asks me if she can come over to my house. "Sure!” I answer automatically, only after a pause thinking to ask if her mom is coming, too. I know that Kiera likes my cats (she can’t have any, because her dad is allergic), and I have hula hoops she has seen but not had a chance to play with.
Through sporadic bits of conversation, my friend and I discover that her daughter isn’t planning an afternoon visit or a sleepover, but an actual stay with me. The time period is completely indefinite, and I never ask. Her mom and I keep joking about the hypotheticals, as Kiera works her way back and forth between us, quickly finding solutions to anything in her way. Once school is out, of course! It's okay that my house is gross, and doesn't have room, she'll help me clean it! (I don't even let most people in my house right now because it's embarrassing and makes me feel judged.) I try to imagine the scenario: how long could I get away with a minimum of discipline through fun scheduled activities like hula hooping, swimming, catnipping cats, and whatever else 10 year old girls still like to do?
I get a text the following Monday, from the same friend, saying that on the drive home from school, her daughter asked from the backseat, "Have you asked Dad yet about me staying at Amanda's?" I laugh and text back that I'm going to borrow Kiera because she said she'd help me clean. "For about 10 minutes she will, then she'll watch cartoons," her mom counters, but adds "At least they'll be cartoons you like."
Thanks to that one comment, I realize the idea of hanging out with a 10-year-old girl is really growing on me, in no small part because none of my friends will watch these cheesy foreign shows that are my favorite thing, and I bet Kiera will. I message her mom curiously about some logistics. I'm beginning to think, "This is pretty crazy, and definitely not something I'd normally do… maybe that's a good adventure for a bouncy ball.”
Of course, it hasn’t happened yet. School won’t be out until the end of May, and Leah will probably be done by then. So, no, I have not “borrowed” a child, or stretched the limits of my minimal ability to discipline, or even shared space with a child. I’m sure when that happens it will probably be a more exciting story of mayhem and deep inadequacy on my part, but I’m tired of always waiting for something in the distance. Maybe you’ll get to read that story and maybe you won’t, but I liked sharing this one. You can imagine what awaits me. Right now, technically, this bouncy ball is in limbo. Kiera can have it as a prize and memento if things go well, but if it's a disaster, the ball goes to her mom for succeeding where I have pathetically, immediately, failed.
Amanda, it seems like you believe that you haven't found a story for your bouncy ball.
But the truth is, you've found the story. The story is you.
Bouncy Ball # 110 - 8th Grader at my school
"You know what I hate?" she says, pushing her long brown hair back behind her shoulders.
"What's that?" I'm sitting in the Board Room at the school where I work with one of our 8th grade students.
I'm usually sitting behind a desk doing stupid administrative work all day, but every now and then, I get to interact with the kids that go to our school, and it's always the highlight of my day. Today, I get to work with an anxious but charming 8th grade girl who's going through a bunch of impressions she's planning to do at the Talent Show. Her teacher had sent her to me because I'm a comedian, and she thought I could help with some stage advice.
Her impressions, by the way, are fantastic.
"Well you know, like, sometimes, I'll be doing an impression, you know?" She speaks at an almost-frantic pace. "And sometimes, people who are watching...well, maybe they've heard the impression before or something, you know? And I'll do it, and then they just won't laugh." She shakes her head. "I hate that."
I smile, stifle a laugh. "Well, I hate to say it, Lady, but you're just gonna have to deal with the fact that they're not always gonna laugh."
"But it's so awkward," she says. "I don't want that to happen."
"Well, I'm not gonna lie, it's gonna happen again. And you'll just have to keep going."
"It's so frustrating," Sosa says.
Again, we're sitting in a restaurant eating, talking about all the injustice in the world. Tonight, we've covered racism, homophobia, and the unfair economy of the 1%.
"It's like we're all just pawns," Sosa says. "And we don't matter. We're just pawns to them."
"We're not pawns," I say. "We're shepherds."
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.