The Bouncy Ball Project, Week Eleven: Spencer Goes to Silver Dollar City, and I Pick Back up On that Thread Steve Asked About
“How’s the bouncy ball thing coming?” Steve asks while we wait outside the Comedy Store.
"Man, I'm tired. It’s hard trying to do something every single day.”
“Yeah, I bet. I can’t wait for you to pick back up on that thread,” he says, a knowing smile on his face.
I know exactly what Steve means by “that thread.” He means the thread about the guy. He means, “When are you going to get real again and tell us what happened with that guy you wrote about?”
Because whether I like it or not, I’m the main character of this bouncy ball shit, so it’s silly of me to believe I can gloss over personal things. I’ve passed that point by starting this in the first place - either I have to put it all out there, or hide it away.
But what's the best way to tell the people who read this that I’ve boxed myself into a corner here?
“I’m interested in seeing where you go with it,” Steve says.
Yeah. Me too.
Bouncy Ball # 73 – Giannetta
“I’d like to share with you guys today,” she says, taking a seat onstage at this Christian open mic. “I want to talk about following God. Because when you’re younger, and you want to follow God, everyone is behind you. They say, ‘Go out in the world and share God’s light!’ But really, they want you to be successful.”
“See, I grew up in Virginia, and when I was in high school, I was an egghead. When it was time to go off to college, I applied to all these schools that I couldn’t afford, but I prayed to the Lord for an answer. I remember being in church one day, and I heard God’s voice speaking to me. It was so clear. He said, ‘Go to New York.’ And a few days later, I found out that I got a scholarship to an Ivy League school in New York.”
She switches the microphone to her opposite hand.
“So I went to New York, and I was in my third year studying. And then I heard God speak to me again, only this time, he tells me I have to go to Arizona and be with a Native American tribe! And I was like, ‘Come on, God. Are you sure?’ But that’s what God wanted. So I left school and headed out to Arizona, and I had no idea what I was doing. I just basically showed up and said, ‘The Lord told me to come here.’”
Giannetta tells a series of stories just like this – moments in her life when God personally told her to follow him in a direction that she hadn’t intended to go: Arizona to Oregon to Africa to Australia to L.A. She talks about how every time she calls her mom to tell her about God's work that she's doing, her mom says, "That's nice. Have you found a job yet?"
It’s interesting, the difference between saying you have faith and actually living that faith. It takes a bold person to look someone in the face and say, “The Lord sent me here.” To a much smaller degree, it’s how I feel when I look someone in the face and say, “Here’s a bouncy ball. I believe they mean things.”
When Giannetta gets offstage, she sits next to me.
“I liked your share,” I say. “Can I give you this bouncy ball? I believe they’re good luck.”
“Uh, okay?" She scrunches her brow, confused. "So what, you just carry these around with you wherever you go?”
She laughs, turns away.
Oh yeah, I think. Cuz I’m the weird one.
Stories of Bouncy Balls Past
I used to be in love with a guy named Kevin Smith. He never answered the phone when I called him. He never responded to texts. Weeks would go by without me hearing from him.
During that point of my life, I was also getting my Master’s degree, and part of that process required me to write a book. Since Kevin consumed my mind, I ended up writing him as a character in that book. And I also wrote about bouncy balls because they are wherever I am.
One Monday night, I was at a bar just blocks from Kevin’s house, and I texted him, asking him to come meet me. My plan was to tell him I wrote him in my book – I had the first 100 pages printed out neatly in the backseat of my car, ready to give to him. I think I believed that it would convince him to love me.
He didn’t even respond to my text.
When I left the bar, I drove straight to his house. I parked my car in his driveway, and with a bravery I never had when I was sober, I marched up to his front door carrying the pages of my book, knocked once, and busted into his living room.
He was right there, sitting alone on his worn old couch watching TV. I noticed his phone right next to him on the end table, screen face up.
“Oh hi,” he said.
I walked over to him, slammed the stack of papers on his coffee table, said, “I wrote this book about you, Idiot,” and then turned around and walked right out the door.
The next morning, I found a bouncy ball nestled in the joint of my car's windshield wiper. Kevin had left it.
He'd read my book.
Bouncy Ball # 74 – Branson, Missouri – Written by Spencer Hicks
A "Baby Moon" is a made up thing. So is a "Push Present." These are two things created by the Baby Industrial Complex to get unsuspecting husbands to spend money - money that could otherwise go toward buying for diapers, daycare, or saving for college.
As an unsuspecting husband, I took my wife to Branson, Missouri for a "Baby Moon." Aside from my wife, unborn child, and in-laws, I also brought a limited edition Leah Kayajanian Roast bouncy ball.
I have a shit-load of bouncy balls that say, "Leah Kayajanian - Roasted! - 6/19/11." After I found the box of balls in my garage, I took a second to read the date again.
2011? That can't be right. Where the fuck has the time gone?
I felt a pang of nostalgia. Making funny videos. Hanging out in the back of a comedy club. I feel a camaraderie with Leah. It's a feeling only war veterans and comedians can feel. It's a camaraderie that comes with seeing and doing some unspeakable shit together, and living to tell the tale.
Driving to Branson takes 4 hours according to the GPS. It takes about 5 and a half if you have a pregnant woman with you.
We meet my wife's family at a two-bedroom, one-bath cabin just down the road from Silver Dollar City. I'm not pleased with the arrangements, but we're poor, so I ready myself mentally for the horrors that are going to take place in that bathroom with five adults and two children.
I've been to Branson before. I don't remember it being the Disneyland of Tea Party whackos. Every radio station is either Right Wing talk, Gospel, or rebroadcasts of church sermons. Every truck has the sticker of Calvin pissing on Obama, or something about guns. It upsets me that I'm putting money into this economy.
I bring my green bouncy ball to Silver Dollar City, unsure of what I'm going to do with it. I want it to have a great story. In my mind, I'm going to somehow use this bouncy ball to save a life or thwart a terrorist attack.
Leah always had great stories.
It stays in my pocket as my wife and I search for rides that a pregnant woman can enjoy. These rides are limited to Tea Cups, Carousel, and that swing ride that just spins ya in a circle for 30 seconds.
I should mention that I'm cranky. The smell of my in-laws shit lingered throughout the cabin the night before, and I didn't get much sleep. Also, I hate crowds. My wife has trouble figuring this out, "But you perform in front of crowds all the time. How can you hate crowds?"
There is a big difference between being a part of a crowd and being in front of a crowd. Crowds rape and pillage, crowds riot, crowds are only as smart as their dumbest members. Being in front of a crowd, you are still an individual, and you get to amuse these animals with your thoughts and jokes. Comedians understand this. We've done unspeakable things to get the approval of crowds.
My wife and I get to the park at 10 a.m., but after riding three rides, dealing with the dumbest people in America (seriously, I witnessed one little boy fall down and scrape his knee and his dad came and prayed over it, which if you ask me, isn't as effective as a kiss on your boo-boo), and watching one shitty magic show, it's about 2 p.m. The shuttle to take us back to our cabin leaves at 3 p.m., so I convince my wife we've seen everything Silver Dollar City has to offer.
As we walk toward the front of the park, I realize that I haven't saved the world with the bouncy ball in my pocket. Exiting through the gift shop, I pull the ball out and place it in a display of polished gems and colorful marbles. My hope is that this ball will find a new life. I hope it finds a better story than I can provide, a story worthy of its name.
Bouncy Ball # 75 – Lady at the cafe
“Oh my God, Sosa!” I say. “The lady behind you has a bouncy ball on her table.”
He waits a few seconds before turning to look at the table behind us: two older ladies pointing at a laptop opened in front of them. One of them has a small pouch on the table, a blue swirling ball resting on top of it.
Sosa turns back. “Oh my God, that's crazy!”
“It means we’re supposed to be here right now,” I say. “I think I’m supposed to put my bouncy ball next to hers.”
“How are you gonna get the ball on her table?”
I shrug. “Well, I guess I’ll go talk to her. Isn’t that what this is about?”
I stand and walk over to her table. “Excuse me,” I say.
The two women look up at me.
“This is weird, but I just noticed that you have a bouncy ball on your table, and I collect them. I mean, I think they’re good luck, and I really like them. And I see you have one, too, so I was hoping that maybe I could give you another one?” I hold out my ball.
“Well,” the woman on the right says, “let me show you what this is.” She picks up the bouncy ball and uses both hands to twist it, separating the ball into two halves. She holds one in front of me. “It’s my lip balm."
“Wow.” I laugh. “Well, I’d still like to give you this bouncy ball.”
I wonder how many bouncy balls I’ve seen from a distance that were actually not bouncy balls at all.
Bouncy Ball # 76 – Raul
“How come you’re not talking?”
I look up at the middle-aged man in front of me, one of the volunteers. He has dark hair and a mustache, and he's wearing an apron over his white t-shirt and jeans.
“No one’s talking to me,” I say.
“Well why not?”
“Probably because I don’t speak Spanish.”
“Oh, you don’t?" the man says. "You must be white.”
I laugh. “Well, I’m Armenian.”
“That’s white,” he says.
“It is? Man! Okay, I guess I’m white then.” A woman walks up next to me and holds out an open bag, nodding toward the crate of half-rotted onions in front of me. I pick out the best six I can find and put them in the bag for her. She smiles and walks off.
We're at the St. Francis Center on Hope Street in downtown L.A., volunteering for the food pantry program, giving out groceries to needy families in the area.
“I know Spanish from working around other Mexicans,” the man says. “My name’s Raul Rodriguez. I’m Mexican, but I was raised by Germans.” He speaks in German.
“Wow,” I say. “You know German, too?”
“So what do you do for a job?” Raul asks.
“I work at a school.”
“What kind of school?”
“An elementary school,” I say, “for kids with learning disabilities.”
He smiles, points to his chest. “That’s me!”
“Oh really? Are you dyslexic?”
“I have brain damage.”
“I survived cancer. I’ve broken 20 bones. I’ve been shot three times. I was run over by a police car. I was in a coma. Let’s see, what else? Oh, I was stabbed 17 times.”
“My God! How are you still standing here?”
He shrugs. “I’m a miracle.”
“So are you married with kids?” he asks.
I laugh. “No and no.”
“How old are you?”
His eyes widen. “You need to hurry up and have kids!”
“Well, I have some time.”
He shakes his head. “Well, I guess I had my first kid when I was 30. I have three girls.”
“How old are they?”
“My oldest is 24, but I met her when I was 21. She had to find me because I was in prison.” He looks at me, ashamed. “I was a bad boy.”
“What about the other two?”
“The other two are 12 and 18. I’ve never met them.”
“How do you know they’re yours?”
“My girlfriend was pregnant when I went to jail. And the other girl went to jail when she was pregnant. I don’t have a good memory because of the brain damage, so I can’t remember her last name.”
“But the oldest found you?”
“Well,” I say. “That means something.”
He smiles. I rearrange the boxes on the table in front of me, and he disappears for a few minutes before popping up next to me again.
“You need to have kids because it’s your purpose,” he says. “That’s a woman’s job.”
I roll my eyes. “Really? That’s a woman’s job?”
“Yes. You need to have a baby inside of you to learn to appreciate life.”
“Do you think you can appreciate life without having a baby inside you?”
“No,” he says. “Not fully.”
“So men can’t appreciate life?”
“No. Men don’t know anything.” He draws his hand up and counts off on his fingers. “Women live longer, they have more orgasms, they’re smarter, there’s more of them. Is that it? I think that’s it. And all that’s because they know what it’s like to have life in them.”
“I feel bad for men,” I say, “because they can’t show their emotions.”
“I show emotion,” he says.
“Well, you’re the exception. I think a lot of men feel like they can’t show their emotions because they were raised to believe that it’s a form of weakness. So then they hold them all in until they murder something.”
He laughs. “That’s about right. What’s your name?”
“That’s a pretty name.”
“Thank you,” I say. “It means weary.”
“It’s like Star Wars, right? Princess Leah.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot. But I’m as far from a princess as you can get.”
“No,” Raul says. “You’re very beautiful. Are you a lesbian?”
“That’s good,” Raul says.
“Why is it good? Because it’s easier not to be?”
“Because it’s good for a man and woman to be together.”
“Well, I don’t believe that one is better than the other.”
“Really? But you like men?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Then that’s good.”
“Well, I disagree that it’s good. I don’t think it matters one way or the other.”
“But what if we both see the same woman and think she’s cute? Then I say, ‘Look at that woman,’ and you’d be looking at her, too!”
“So? What’s the difference?”
“Then you’d be hitting on her, too.”
“Maybe, but she’d either like me or she’d like you.” I shrug. “Or I guess she could like both of us.”
Later, when I give Raul a bouncy ball, he says, "You gave me something, so now I have to give you something.”
“No, you don’t. You talked to me. That’s good enough.”
Stories of Bouncy Balls Past
I used to be in love with a guy named CP. He took hours to respond to my texts. Months would go by without me hearing from him, but then he’d contact me out of the blue saying he'd be in town for a few days, and would I like to meet up?
I met CP because I worked with him on the road. He lived in Chicago, and I lived in Oklahoma, but I did see him occasionally, when comedy would bring us into each other’s radius.
One of these times was in October 2011. I was in Chicago checking out the comedy scene, so CP picked me up for lunch one day, and we ended up at a hole-in-the-wall Chicago hot dog joint.
After we ordered, we sat down in a booth at the back of the room to wait for our food. As I swung my backpack off my shoulder, the zipper came loose, and about ten bouncy balls bounced in every direction around the restaurant. CP cracked up laughing, watching me frantically chasing them, my cheeks flushed.
When I finally collected all the loose balls and sat facing him in the booth, he said, “What the hell do you have in that bag?”
I shrugged. “Nothing.”
Bouncy Ball # 77 – JP – D3’s Last Stand
“You guys mind if I get real tonight?”
That’s how Ryan started his set at tonight’s Workout Room Comedy Show, the last ever show at D3.
Ryan’s drunk. He describes his set tonight as a “meltdown,” but really, he’s just being honest about how he feels.
“We don’t even really know each other,” Ryan says to us, an audience of his peers. “I see you guys all the time, but we don’t know anything about each other. Jeff, if I die tomorrow, would you care?”
Jeff shakes his head.
“See?” Ryan says. “The only reason I don’t quit doing this is because you guys won’t quit. Let’s all quit. You want to?”
And we laugh.
Because the truth is, we do kind of want to quit. We all fantasize about quitting this stand-up crap to lead a normal life, but we never say it for fear that the Comedy Gods will hear it and think we don’t want it bad enough.
Even though it’s the last night at Dangerfield’s 3, this is typical of what goes on any given Wednesday night here – it’s the place where people get angry or sad, where comedians drop their acts to say what’s really on their minds.
Compared to every other place in L.A.’s vast comedy history, two years as a comedy venue seems insignificant, but D3 isn’t special because of its success as a venue, because of the atmosphere, or because of the quality of comedians who perform there – D3 has always been special because of what it’s not.
First of all, it’s not a comedy venue at all – it’s a guy’s apartment. He turned the front into a homemade stage, set up some chairs, and hung some black fabric on the wall, and just like that, D3.
And because it’s a guy’s apartment, and because he’s welcomed open mic comedians into his house for two years, there are roaches climbing the walls, and there is a constant reek of marijuana absorbed into the carpeting next to giant stains of spillage from mics and shows past, from crazy people and homeless people wandering in the door.
On top of all that, D3 is controversial in the L.A. open mic scene, so much so that a sect of comedians won’t go to the room in protest of the man who runs it, JP. I’m not about to get into details about the incident that caused this rift because it's all based on what other people say and because my opinion on the matter won't change a goddamn thing.
I’m surprised at my sadness when I walk out of D3's gated door. JP’s on the sidewalk talking to a couple other guys about his upcoming plans after he’s released from the burden this place.
“Thanks for letting us do the show here," I say. "Actually, hold on…” I dig through the front pocket of my backpack and pull out a bouncy ball. “Here, I want you to have this.”
“Wow,” JP says, half-joking. “I consider this an honor.”
Say what you will about the man, but this guy made a stage in his house, a place where comics dropped their acts and got real, he opened his door to a bunch of rude, messy, drug-addled comics and people who wander in from the street, and he did it in spite of the fact that he lives in a city where half of the comedy scene hates him so much, they want nothing more than to ruin his career and his life.
I can't think of a damn thing more punk rock than that.
Stories of Bouncy Balls Past
I used to be in love with a guy that I refer to simply as “him.” He always answered the phone when I called him, and if he missed my call, he called me back, even when he was pissed at me.
Almost a year into our friendship, I sent him a video of a bouncy ball with our initials written on it. “LK loves HIM.” In the video, I turned the ball in my fingers so he could read what it said, and then threw it out into the street, my movie capturing bouncing down a hill toward the L.A. skyline.
“Wow,” he’d said when he saw the video. “Thank you. But it makes me feel kind of bad.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I’m not putting any bouncy balls in the world for you. Because I don’t want that.”
And so I thought I knew how this story went because of bouncy balls past.
I had a broken heart before he did anything to break it.
Bouncy Ball # 78 – I-40 Eastbound
We hit the traffic jam just after we cross the Arizona border. People are getting out of their cars to walk over to the shoulder, trying to look ahead to see what’s going on.
“I’m gonna get out,” I say. Sosa gets out, too.
Here and there, a few scattered pedestrians walk by, stopping to chat with each other about what might have caused the jam.
“Bad accident,” a woman says, pulling a German Shepherd puppy on a leash behind her. “One still stuck in a vehicle. My cousin is up ahead, and she saw the wreckage.”
“Where is it?”
“Just right up the road there,” she says.
I shield my eyes with my hand. I see flashing lights of emergency vehicles.
“Three dead already,” the truck driver behind us explains, sauntering over to my car. “I heard it on the radio.”
45 minutes later, we’re back in our cars, drifting forward one at a time until we pass two totaled pickup trucks and what looks like the remnants of an R.V., smashed to pieces on the side of the road. Three people died today traveling on this same road, probably on their way to see the same thing we’re going to see – The Grand Canyon.
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.