Bouncy Ball # 97 - Kite-Flying at the Beach - Story by L.A. comedian Nevin Sharma
"Yeah, I guess anywhere is fine. This whole thing is the beach so...really...park wherever."
It's a gorgeous day, and I'm doing something. Normally, I don't have to do anything. I got laid off from my job at the end of December, so I've spent most of my time these last few months doing a lot of nothing. It's both liberating and frightening. On the one hand, I have no obligations, no commitments, no responsibilities, but on the other hand, I have no obligations, no commitments and no responsibilities. I have to create these things. On my own. It's hard. Yeah, wittle baby doesn't know what to do with his life.
What have I decided to do with this freedom?
Fly a homemade kite.
I was tired when we got to the beach. I had been up till 5:30 the previous night because I underestimated how long it would take to make a fucking kite. Turns out it was more involved than I thought. A hacksaw made an appearance. Who knew?
I don't know why I decided to make a kite. I suppose it was just something to occupy my time. Maybe I just needed to do something tangible. Something real. Something with my hands, mannnnn.
Anyway, Lee and I grab the delicate kite made out of thin dowels, electrical tape, a trash bag and some rope and make our way down a steep path towards the beach. No sooner did my foot hit the sand when I heard it:
One of the sticks holding this kite together, the kite that I stayed up till 5:30 AM making, the kite that represented the only tangible accomplishment from the last 4 months of doing nothing, had snapped. It's over. All that work for nothing.
"I blew it. I blew it before we even started. Goddamn it."
"No, I think we can fix this."
Lee runs back up to his car. I stand by the shore looking out at the sea, a bouncy ball in my pocket reminding me that in order to give this bouncy ball a story, I have to do something. But I don't do anything.
And even if I do this, nothing will change in my life. Even if we do somehow get this kite off the ground...who cares? It's a dumb kite. There's some jackass 5 feet away from us with a kite he bought from the store. It's flying! What's the point of trying to fly a kite anyway? This is stupid.
Lee returns with the most bizarre thing I've ever heard of someone having in their car. It was a roll of those produce bags they have at the grocery store. You know, the ones you put things like ginger and parsley and shit in? It was perfect.
He quickly tied a strong, secure, boy scout style knot to re-connect the two pieces that had snapped. We were back in business. As we were attaching the flying line to the kite a strong burst of wind violently took hold of the kite, and I heard it again:
Fucking - Snap.
The stick that was holding the kite together horizontally had also snapped.
Fuck internet kite building websites.
Lee is still optimistic. "No we're good. This thing has to fly. We came all the way out here."
Fuck Home Depot.
Lee refastens the broken stick, and we try to fly this thing again. I hold onto the kite as Lee starts running down the sand. The kite catches some wind, but it doesn't take off. He tries running again. It doesn't take off.
"This thing might just be kicked, dude."
We decide to try one last time. We catch a little gust of wind, and the kite takes off. It's not impressive. But it gets off the ground. The kite is at least taller than us, which feels like a victory.
Then it catches some more wind. Now this kite is getting pretty high. This kite is actually flying! Holy shit! THIS FUCKING KITE FLIES! It's getting up there now! It's high! It's SO high! OH WOW! AWESOME! I find myself yelling - like straight up hootin' and hollerin' - in actual un-ironic excitement louder and with more earnestness than I can ever remember. Lee stands there looking at the kite far above him, one hand holding the string and the other raised high above his head in triumph. It WORKED! I can't believe it worked!
When that kite came down, we tried to get it to fly again with nowhere near the success of that flight. It was pretty beat. We sat down on the beach and looked out at the ocean, both of us exhilarated. Something amazing had happened. As I sat there on a Tuesday, a work day, a gorgeous work day, on a beach, looking out at the ocean, I felt like I had it together. I don't know why. In real life, I most certainly do not have it together. But for some reason.
In that moment.
I felt all right.
I left the bouncy ball at the beach.
I had done something.
Bouncy Ball # 98 - Rhonda
"That's the Zorthian family ranch right there," she says, turning to me like we'd already been having a conversation, and we're not complete strangers.
"Yep. They have a farm in the Foothills of Altadena. They come to this ceremony every year." She has shoulder-length gray hair, and she dresses like my mom - t-shirt, sneakers, jeans, sunglasses.
"Wow," I say. "That's so cool."
"My son is out there." She points to the colorfully robed men and women in front of us, wearing funny hats like scholars in a college graduation and leading animals in large ornate cages to the center of Olvera Street.
Right across from Union Station, Olvera Street is the oldest part of downtown LA. The area, settled by Spanish colonists in the late 1700s and remaining the center of the city after Mexican Independence, still exists today as part of the El Pueblo De Los Angeles State Historic Park. Along the old cobblestone road, nestled between buildings, Mexican merchants sell everything from food to sandals to posters of Marilyn Monroe with a "Day of the Dead" skull as her face. It's less than a mile from my house, but I never even knew it existed until a couple months ago, when I was desperately searching the internet for things to do for this bouncy ball bullshit.
Sosa and I had come here because it was card number 1 of the 50 "City Walk Adventure" cards we'd received when we won the city scavenger hunt the week before. As we approached the lively historic square, we'd noticed a banner raised at the entrance: "The Blessing of the Animals."
"The Blessing of the animals?" I'd read. "That's crazy that something is actually going on here. I feel like we were supposed to come here today."
After wandering through the heart of the cobbled marketplace, we'd run into a roped off section. A young guy herded us to the other side of the rope, and having no idea where we were going, we weaved through people with dogs on leashes, carrying cages with cats or bunnies, and found a spot near the edge of the crowd gathering on the sides of the street, a stage set up at the far end of the area.
That's where we ran into Rhonda.
"They've been coming to this for 60 years," she continues.
"Wow," I say. "And, uh, what exactly is this?"
She laughs. "It's a ceremony. The Blessing of the Animals. The Catholic church blesses all the animals around Easter."
But as she's explaining, a young woman takes the stage and starts speaking into the mic. Sosa ushers me over to a short wall, and we stand on it to see - the best view in the house.
"Welcome, and thank you for coming to this year's Blessing of the Animals," the girls says. She explains the ceremony - a centuries-old tradition - and introduces the Archbishop of the Catholic church, who walks out past the Zorthian family ranchers, waving at all the people gathered on the sidelines. A mariachi band announces his entrance, and they play while he makes his way to the stage.
"This is amazing," I say to Sosa. "I mean, we just accidentally found this."
Again, Rhonda appears next to me on the wall. I don't notice she's there until she starts talking to me, again as though we're mid-conversation. "You know," she says, pointing again at the colorful group in the center of street. "That's the Zorthian Family Ranch. It's a ranch up in Altadena."
I smile. "Oh yeah?"
"My son is out there," she says. "You see the guy in the funny hat?"
Almost all of them are wearing funny hats. "Oh sure," I say.
"That's him! He's an artist. It's an artist community. They've been coming to the Blessing of the Animals for the past 60 years."
I get the feeling that she doesn't recognize me from literally minutes before. But she's dead on with her factual information. Just after she relays these tidbits to me, the lady on the microphone says, "We'd like to welcome the Zorthian family, who's been attending the Blessing of the Animals for the past 60 years."
The Zorthian family starts leading their animals toward the stage, where the Archbishop dips a large wand into a bucket of holy water and sprays it out onto all the animals herded in front of the stage.
"There's plenty of water for everyone," the emcee reminds us. After the Zorthian family and a few other families are recognized, she invites the public to walk their animals past the stage. "We'll be here all afternoon," she says, as people lead their dogs and cats, their beloved pets past the Archbishop to receive his blessing.
I turn to the lady next to me, but she's disappeared. "She's gone," I say, nudging Sosa. "I was gonna give her a bouncy ball."
"We can find her."
We wade through the crowd over to where the Zorthian family is gathering, letting children pet the animals. Sure enough, the lady is there, off to the side, beaming at her son.
I walk up to her. "Hi," I say. "Can I give you a bouncy ball?"
"Oh," she says, pleasant. "Are you part of the Zorthian family?"
Again, she doesn't recognize me. "Oh no," I say. "I just want you to have this. I believe it's good luck."
A huge smile comes over her face. "Thank you so much. That's so kind of you."
Bouncy Ball # 99 - Hula Hoops
It started with a hula hoop - I saw it leaning against a the wall on a patio during this Easter BBQ, and I'd gone over to ask if I could try it out. I couldn't do it (I've never been able to), so I handed it off to Katie, who kept it going for about 20 seconds and then stopped on her own, but I think she could've gone on forever.
Now there's a circle formed around person after person attempting to hula hoop as the rest of us cheer them on. Just minutes before, we'd all been separated into small groups, having our own conversations. Separated.
A lot of people try. Most of them are comics. Rick gives it a try, his beer in hand. It's such a ridiculous visual, I wish more than anything that he's secretly good at it, but after two turns, the hoop falls down around his ankles.
And so on and so on until finally, a girl gets in the center and shows us all up, clearly the best one. I give her the bouncy ball like it's a prize for the contest I'd accidentally created. She's thrilled.
"I can't believe you started all this," Jeff says.
I shrug. "I told you. I'm magic."
And then I laugh. While it's true that I believe I'm magic, I don't really believe that getting a party of people to hula hoop is magic - it's just a thing I can do. I learned pretty early on that you can start a dance circle or a competition or pretty much any spontaneous event by simply loudly declaring that it's happening.
Bouncy Ball # 100 - Hawaii Meets Austria in Australia - Story and photograph by Adair of Dootle Photography
“Oh, please don’t jump!” my co-worker said under his breath.
I was sitting on a giant rock slab on a cliff overlooking an ocean in Manly, Sydney enjoying the view with someone who worked in a couple of the previous U.S. Presidential Administrations. It was one of the few moments of free time I had when I was working abroad, and I’d been invited to take a ferry to Manly. So far, we’d seen the Pacific Ocean more turbulent than it is in Hawai’i (where I live), a ton of sunbathers, three tween boys playing in some rough surf, and a dead possum. After walking past the beach and hiking upwards, we found ourselves on a giant cliff with one other person—the possible jumper.
She stood on the edge of a cliff, reddish-brown hair blowing in the wind, tank top, jean shorts, and flip-flops, her back to us, looking at the water. When we’d first made our way to the giant rock slab, she had been sitting on it and gave us a nice smile when we sat down. She seemed a bit teary-eyed, which was the reason for our alarm when she got up and stood on the edge.
“That’s just what we need to end a nice day,” I replied.
To our relief, she turned, gave us a bright smile, and walked towards us. Both of us, I am sure, gave an internal sigh of relief.
“Hello,” my co-worker said.
“Where you from?”
“What are you doing here?”
“I was here for an internship, but I am taking six weeks to backpack across Australia before heading back to Austria. You?"
“We met though work and decided to take a short detour.”
After chatting with her for a while, we found out that her name was Maria, that she was from a small town in Austria, and this was her first time being so far from home. She seemed ready to go back, but also excited to finish her last three weeks of backpacking. My hiking companion had initiated the conversation, to my surprise, given his previous stature. This sort of ease of conversation with anyone and everyone was not what I had become accustomed to in my job.
After talking to her for a bit, we got up to go. We had to catch the ferry back so that I could get to the airport and head home. As we stood, I pulled the bright yellow bouncy ball Leah had given me out of my bag. I had taken it with me to Sydney with the idea that I would give it to someone while I was there. I had originally thought about giving it to my hiking companion, but decided that Maria should have it. I admired her for backpacking across Australia with no plans in place. Backpacking was something I had always wanted to do, but had missed out on in my younger years because I spent my money impractically. And now I am at a point in my life where backpacking extensively is not an option.
“Maria, do you want a bouncy ball?
“What?” she replied, confused.
“A bouncy ball. A comic friend of mine in LA is on a mission to have a new experience every day. When she has this new experience she gives a bouncy ball to someone who was part of that experience. She asked her friends to help her out, so I have one. Her name is Leah Kayajanian. See, it’s right here on the ball.”
I pointed to Leah’s name.” “This was a new experience for me. Would you like the bouncy ball?”
“Sure!” she said with a giddy laugh. “Thank you! It is the type of ball that bounces high, right?”
“Yes, it is. I hope you enjoy the rest of your travels!”
As we turned to leave, I felt bad for not giving the ball to my hiking companion, who had looked curiously on as I passed it to Maria. I wished I had had two - I would have given one to each. As we walked back down the trail to catch the ferry, I felt silly apologizing for not having another one.
“That’s ok,” he replied, bounding down the trail.
He probably wouldn’t have wanted a bouncy ball anyway, but I like to think that he was playful enough that he would have enjoyed having a bouncy ball as much as Maria. One can hope—a bit of playfulness makes the world a better place.
Bouncy Ball # 101 - The Taco Table
Tuesday night, I'm driving down Glendale, and I see the taco table set up next to the car wash. They've been there every night for a month or so - just three guys wearing red aprons, a rack of juicy meat upright next to the grill while two of them cook at a frantic pace, and the third takes the orders from the line that's always forming in front of them.
Every time I drive by with Sosa in my car, he points at them. "I love that," he says. "That, to me, is real American, you know? They just say, 'I'm gonna set up right here and work all night to make money.'"
I make a last-second decision and pull into the car wash. I stand to the side and watch the guy over the grill. He never looks up to sigh, to pause. He never stops moving at that same pace. He cooks the meat. He fills the tortillas. He wraps them in aluminum foil. And then repeat.
How exhausting that must be. Eight hours every night. I see them there setting up at 6 PM, and I see them when I'm driving home late after mics.
Standing there in front of this taco grill, I feel silly. This is real work with real results - feeding people for money to feed their families. I'm exhausted and I work hard, true, but I don't have anything tangible to point to, no concrete evidence of my blood, sweat, and tears except for a silly blog about fantastic things like trying to find magic in reality.
They hand me my bag of carnitas tacos, and I leave a bouncy ball on the table.
Bouncy Ball # 102 - The Return of the Workout Room
It's my worst nightmare. I'm standing in my own garage with a microphone in my hand, a crowd of comics, people I respect, in front of me, my neighbors who hate me glaring at me from across the street, and here I am, frozen, stoned out of my mind, and having possibly the worst set of all time.
Now, I've had terrible sets - don't get me wrong - and a lot of them have been more silent than this. But this one is bad because of a number of different contributing factors, which I will list below like the obsessive neurotic comedian that I am:
1. As I mentioned, we're at my house. After D3 shut its doors, I'd offered my place as the new location for the show. It's kind of perfect, actually - we open up the doors to my garage, drop some chairs in my driveway, set up a mic, and voila, a comedy show happens. And it's a successful show. Though I'm the last comic on the lineup, everyone who performed before me was hilarious, and before I'd stepped foot onstage, I was so proud to have helped pull this off.
2. I also mentioned I'm stoned. I'd eaten way too much of an edible. This isn't particularly out of the ordinary - I'd gotten onstage the same amount of high before, but it had never affected my performance so severely. But tonight, maybe it's my paranoia about my neighbors hating me, maybe it's all the anxiety I carry around, or maybe it's simply the weed, but I'm standing there, speechless, and I can't think of a thing to say even though I have a set list in my back pocket.
3. There was supposed to be an open mic at the end of the show, but because I'm so freaked out about my neighbors, I announced at the start of my set that we couldn't do the open mic, so all of the comics that came to support the show and stayed to the end of it wouldn't be able to do time. And on top of that, I'm wasting seven minutes saying absolutely nothing. It doesn't occur to me until after I get offstage that at the very least, I should've given up my time to people who actually have things to say.
I'm so embarrassed after my set, I shut myself in my room and don't come out. When I do come out, everything is locked, cleaned, put away.
Okay, so I didn't handle that well. On the surface, it's an easy enough fix. The next morning, I wake up and send personal Facebook messages to all the comics who attended the show and didn't get time, and we booked them for the following week. All of them responded that they actually enjoyed the show, and they didn't hold a grudge against me.
The second thing - no more weed. Not forever. (I don't believe marijuana is a bad thing, and I think that alcohol is 200 times more dangerous.) But personally, it's starting to cause me more anxiety than it alleviates, which is the reason I usually eat it in the first place: to calm down. And it's been about 14 years of smoking weed, so maybe a break would be a nice exercise in control, another thing I can do to better myself during this bouncy ball project.
But that's the problem - this project has always been about making myself a better person. And while I feel that in some ways I've been successful, I always immediately notice another area that needs fixing. It's like I have this bucket that leaks, and once I find the hole and patch it up, the water leaks from another part of the bucket. I never fix it all.
First it was my broken heart - I had to mend that. Then my broken friendships and relationships. Then my sense of self-worth. Then my body, which I'd worked on and took care of with the diligence of a serious athlete. Then it was my soul - trying to make myself a better person by confronting things that I'd like to change in the world. And then it was me trying to deal with this bouncy ball project itself - trying to manage my time around that, my full time job, and standup.
And after all that, there's still a leak, and it's the place I thought was the strongest hold, the place I thought would never give out from under me: standup comedy.
Bouncy Ball # 103 - Sofiya
The next morning, I'm at work, but it's hard for me to concentrate. I'm thinking about quitting this bouncy ball project. While I like doing it, the time I spend on it is taking away from standup, and I'm just not sure that's the best decision to make. I don't know what else to cut out.
I can't cut out exercise because now that I'm quitting the pot for awhile, it's the only activity that can keep me level-headed and sane. I consider spending less time on my relationships with the people I care about the most, but that seems like it will only make me more miserable, and it's just plain unfair to me. I absolutely can't cut any more time away from standup, so it's looking like my only option is to quit this project. It'd be one thing if it made a difference at all to anyone, but it seems to be mostly for me with no real tangible results.
That's exactly what I'm thinking when my friend, LA Comic Sofiya Alexandra, tags me on Facebook, and I click on a link that brings me to this:
"Cookie/Life/Ethnicity Update" - Written by Sofiya Alexandra
I had a bunch of cookies I baked for SURPRISE! left over, and having been reading Leah Kayajanian's amazing bouncy ball adventure blog, I was inspired to connect with other people and to sort of use the cookies as my bouncy balls, my way to connect with people.
I gave some to my grandfather in the hospital (he doesn’t count, I watched him have penis surgery, we’re pretty connected), then offered some to a couple of white nurses in their 40s (waved me away like I had the measles), then 3 older white women and an older white man working the hospital sign-in desk (only one woman took a cookie, almost reluctantly - the others looked suspiciously at me and the cookies), the young Mexican woman valet outside the hospital (she was very excited and took 4 when I told her she could have multiple), then the young male Mexican valet (pretty excited, took 3 and shouted ‘Cinnamon!’ when he smelled them).
Then, when I was driving down Walgrove to my house, two middle-aged Mexican workers in orange vests were planting flowers in a median, and I rolled my window down and told them they were working too hard and to have a cookie (very excited for the cookies, but nervous about other cars approaching, so he only took 2 at first, then 4 more at my prodding, and then passed 3 more to his friend, who exclaimed “Orale, Orale!” and made me laugh).
That night, when I was driving to my writing partner’s house, there was a familiar silhouette of a homeless man at the 10 exit on Crenshaw - I take this exit every day at the same time, and there are about 5 different black homeless men who share it, one at a time. I sometimes have money for them, but sometimes not. Mostly not, to be honest, and I always feel awful after regardless of the money.
It’s a very long light to sit out while looking at another human in a desperate situation while you’re in your warm car, thinking that you’re a piece of shit who should volunteer more. This time, I rolled my window down, thrust the tupperware at him and said, “Hey, I don’t have any money, but do you want some cookies?” He came closer and cocked his head, “Did you bake these?” “Yes!” I laughed. “Then hell yeah!” he said, and reached out for a couple. “Take as many as you want!” He double-fisted that tupperware and it was awesome. I asked him his name as the light changed. “Moochie!” he shouted and waved goodbye.
I didn’t solve homelessness or anything, but the brief cookie moments of connection I shared with people yesterday made my day better, so thank you Leah, I think I will definitely do this again. It helped me step out of my own life, full of grandfather worrying and career worrying and self worrying and think about strangers. I think we all need that. And IMPORTANT QUESTION: why were the only people not into the cookies white? TAKE MORE CHANCES, WHITE PEOPLE
To anyone who doesn't believe there's magic in the world, that's okay. I used to think so, too. But time and time again, the Universe has sent me messages at the exact moment I needed to receive them. And in all that time, I've never received a more clear message from the Universe than I got from Sofiya's story - it's tangible evidence.
What I'm doing means something to one person. That's enough for me.
Universe, I got your message, loud and clear: STAY THE COURSE.
Sofiya, I owe you a bouncy ball.
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.