"So is it always this crazy here?"
I knew he was gonna talk to me. I saw it in his eyes the moment he walked by. "I don't know," I say. "I've never been here."
"Seems a little overwhelming, you know?"
"Yeah. I guess. I don't like the band."
"Wow," he says, leaning in too close. "That's a little hyper-critical."
I'm at Bootie LA, a mash-up dance party at the Echoplex, and I'm definitely one of the oldest people here within a 50-foot radius.
During the band's third song, it had dawned on me that I didn't like watching live mash-up bands. Is this what we do now? I think. Is there any better way to drain the soul out of music?
I pull my face away from the guy's whiskey breath. "I mean, they're fine. I guess."
"Okay, okay," he says. "So what do you do?"
"Like as a job?"
"Yeah. Or I could guess. You know what you look like you do?"
"No, but please tell me. This is gonna be awesome."
"A physical therapist," he says, spraying my face with whiskey spit.
"Wow. Never got that one before."
"You look like a healer. Can you heal me?" He gestures wildly, sloshing his drink on my arm.
"Sure, yeah. I'm a healer. I heal people."
I've moved as far away as possible, my back pressing against the bar. I'm stuck.
"Are you gonna tell me what you do or what?" he says.
"You keep spilling your drink on me."
"Yeah. You've done it twice."
"Well how is that my fault?" he says. "You know that people are bumping into me."
Bouncy Ball # 24 - CVS Security Guard
Super Bowl Sunday, I'm at CVS to steal some Chapstick. Why steal? And why Chapstick? Well, because I've actually never stolen a thing in my life and because every time I tell people that they say, "What, even Chapstick? Who pays for Chapstick?"
The closest I'd come to stealing had been months ago with him - we were standing in the back of a full coffee shop, and he was demonstrating how easy it easy to take things.
"Watch," he'd said, lifting the lid of a glass dish and grabbing a blueberry muffin.
No one noticed.
"See what I mean?" he said, holding the muffin up like it was the Ten Commandments. "I could just take this right now. No one cares." He tried to hand it to me, but I won't take it.
Today, though, I steal Chapstick. It's uneventful and easy. I put the Chapstick in my pocket and walk through the self-checkout to buy some cough drops. Simple. I leave, but then I have to double back in because I almost forgot why I'm doing this.
"Hey, guys," I say to the two security guards by the door. "Can I give you this bouncy ball?"
"I give them to people. It's kind of my thing."
The other one grabs it, looks it over. He points to the date written on it, underneath my name: 6/19/11. (All of my bouncy balls say "Leah Kayajanian - Roasted! - 6/19/11".)
"Is this your birthday?" he asks.
"Yes," I say. "I'm three years old."
Bouncy Ball # 25 - The Number Two Bus
I'm sitting by the window on my first L.A. bus ride, riding down Sunset from Echo Park to the Comedy Store.
A woman carrying four Vons grocery bags gets on at Alvarado. She's unkempt, her hair matted, her shirt torn. She has a tattoo on her left breast. I try to read it, but can only make out the first letter, a "C." She sits down in a seat by the front, and the woman in the row behind her gets up and moves, I'm guessing because of the smell.
The Vons lady waves at the woman, and then she turns back to the front, her chin lifted, proud. When she gets off the bus a few stops down, she tells the driver, "Thank you, Sir, and have a good night!" She's the first person who even acknowledges him.
We pass by the Vista movie theater, its marquee a poster for the movie "Her." I'd gone to see it with him, just before we stopped talking. I take a blurry photo of the poster through the bus window.
I'm starting to see why people hate riding the bus. Besides the inconvenience, there's a graveness to it, a weighted sadness that's palpable - it runs between all the passengers like a thread of darkness while they calmly listen to their iPods, clutching their belongings.
I hear a woman behind me moan, "Oh my God" for no apparent reason.
After I posted my last blog, I'd talked to my best friend Rockey about including my memories of him in my writing. "It's not about him," he'd said, "This is about you going on adventures. Soon, you won't even think of him at all."
Rockey's right, I suppose. But I've been purposely cutting him out of my writing when he is ever-present, and there's a dishonesty in that. Because really, every time I'm standing still, my mind goes right to him.
With every bouncy ball I put in the world, I don't know if I'm letting him go piece by piece, or if I'm trying to re-find my best friend like a city-wide game of hide and seek that only one of us knows we're playing.
I hear the woman behind me sigh, "Noooooooo," and I turn around to check on her, but there's no one there.
At the Highland bus stop, there's a middle-aged man on the bench just outside my window. He catches my eye and waves at me. I wave back. He traces both hands down the sides of his face. "Your hair," he mouths, and then he gives me a thumbs up. He slides his hand down the center of his face. "Your nose," he mouths. Thumbs up. I smile. He pats the seat next to him. I shrug. We lurch forward, and he blows me a kiss.
Few stops down, the bus starts beeping to indicate the handicap ramp is coming down. The people in the front of the now-packed bus groan.
It's a very old woman with a walker. She makes her way up the ramp and into the aisle. Before she says a word, another woman in the front seat says, "Don't even look at me like that. I'm not giving you my seat. You're not the only one with problems."
"I didn't ask for your seat," the older lady says, positioning herself in the center aisle, holding on to the strap for balance.
"You were gonna ask."
"No, I wasn't. I don't want your seat. I can stand."
A young guy taps the older lady on the shoulder, and gestures for her to sit in his seat. She smiles, sits with great effort.
"I'm sorry," the woman in the front says. "But you gotta understand, I've been around too many people who are faking it. And you're not in that bad shape. You're still young."
"What? You don't look a day over 60!"
The old woman laughs.
And we ride on. From the outside, we're just a big mobile box, an obstacle for all the other cars on the road that pass by. When I'm in my car, I never think about how there's a small world in this box, life stories colliding, forced to stand jammed next to each other, forced to exist together in this moment.
The inferno, I think. Everybody gets on. Nobody gets off.
At my stop, I leave a bouncy ball on my seat.
Bouncy Ball # 27 - Brent
Brent looks over at me, my hands gripping the seat, my eyes fixed straight ahead. "Are you okay?"
"Well, actually, I'm a little freaked out right now." I'm riding up to the top of Mt. Wilson with Brent.
We'd smoked weed beforehand, a terrible decision on my part, because once we start to ascend Mt. Wilson, I remembered that I am deathly afraid of heights, and now I'm super paranoid on top of that because 1) he's driving, which means I have no control over the situation, and 2) I have not told anyone where I'm going, so this is the perfect way to murder me.
My eyes dart around the car. Metal water bottle. That's what I'll use to hit him over the head if he tries to kill me. I look over at Brent and immediately feel bad for coming up with a survival plan - he wouldn't hurt anyone.
"I'm just afraid of heights," I say.
"You're fine," Brent says. "I got this. You trust me, right?"
I hesitate. Do most people trust that easy?
"Yes," I say. "I trust you."
"Okay, then just know that everything is gonna be fine."
Brent is a good driver. He goes slow. He uses both hands on the wheel. The best possible person, I think, to drive a neurotic stoned woman with trust issues up a mountain on a foggy night.
But as we climb further, the mountain is covered in a dense fog, so much so that we can barely see the road in front of us. We're only going 20 miles per hour, but I'm completely on edge.
"As long as I can see the center line," Brent says, "we'll be okay."
We drive a little more until we find a clearing. "You want to go back?" Brent asks.
"How far are we?"
"We're really close."
"And how do you feel? Do you feel scared at all? Do you think you got this?"
"Yeah, I got this," he says. "I'm not scared."
"Okay." I sigh. "Let's go to the top. We've come this far."
I hold my breath for the entire rest of the drive. When we reach the peak, we can't see anything but a haunting cloud cover. "Please just pull over for a second," I say. "I want to put my feet on the ground."
Brent pulls off to the side in front of some sort of building, and we get out of the car, the fog rushing around us. "Man, this sucks," he says. "I'm sorry. I really wanted you to see this."
"It's okay," I say. "It's not your fault. And this is an experience, for sure."
"Yeah, but you're scared."
I feel bad. "Look, man, I'm just afraid of heights. I just am. I wish I wasn't scared, and I'm sorry I got so freaked out. But I'm still here, you know? I'm trying."
"Yeah," he says. "Well, I wish you could at least see the view."
"Maybe it's more poetic this way."
We're standing next to the most fantastic view of Los Angeles, and we can't see a thing.
Bouncy Ball # 28 - Mike
"I love your shoes," I say to the tall guy standing by the Green Room door. "I used to only wear checkered Vans."
"Yeah, aren't they great? And they're so comfortable."
"I'm Leah," I say.
We shake hands.
"Oh," he says. "I'm here with Neko. What about you?"
"I'm here with this girl," I say, gesturing toward Katie. "She works for Comedy Central, and she invited me."
Katie and I are at a taping of the Comedy Central show "@midnight," a social media based sort-of-game-show.
Not only did I get to attend, I got to watch from backstage where there was free wine and food and a bunch of people who believe they're super important. We spent the taping in the Green Room, watching the show on a live feed and eating fancy meat from trays.
I'm loving this. There is nothing better than being a nobody at the VIP party. You just slink around like a criminal, go into rooms that you're probably unwelcome in, and fill your stomach and pockets with as much free shit as you can. The first thing I'd done backstage was shove a banana in one of my coat pockets and a bottle of water in the other.
At one point, I'd actually leaned over the food table and unknowingly knocked over the Creative Executive Producer's glass of wine with my pocket banana. Katie had grabbed the wine just before it spilled , and when I turned back around, oblivious to the damage I'd caused, she was smoothing it over. "She's from Oklahoma," she'd said.
Later, when I tell Mike I'm from Oklahoma, he says, "We were there! We stopped in Oklahoma City for the night. We went to that big store...what's it called? With the hunting and fishing sport stuff?"
"Yeah, Bass Pro!" he says. "We went there, and we went to Toby Keith's restaurant."
"Dude, I know exactly where that is! That was such a big deal when we got that Bass Pro." I laugh. "What did you think of Oklahoma?"
"Well, like I said, I went to the Bass Pro and the Toby Keith's. Is that pretty much what it's like? There was a lot of Duck Dynasty stuff."
"No, that's not what it's like," I say. I pause. "Actually, yes, that's kinda what it's like. That and not that."
Bouncy Ball # 29 - Gust
"Here, just take this bouncy ball," I say. "I'm sorry."
"It's not me that has a problem with it," Gust says. "It's the hotel. You can't be doing that stuff because they got cameras up everywhere around here. And when stuff like that goes down, they come down hard on me."
"I understand completely," I say. "I'm so sorry. I accept full responsibility for my actions."
I'm here at the Hollywood Hotel, one of my favorite L.A. open mic spots, apologizing to Gust, the barkeep and the man responsible for keeping the comedy going down in this hotel basement. I've known Gust since I moved here two and a half years ago, and he likes me. Or at least he did before five minutes ago, when I'd stripped down to my underwear onstage during my open mic set.
Here's what happened - my original bouncy ball plan got derailed, so I had to come up with a new one fast. You know when you're trying to come up with an idea, and the only one that keeps popping in your head is the absolute worst idea, but you can't think of anything else?
My mind went right to "Take your clothes off onstage." I don't know why, but from the second I thought of it, I couldn't stop thinking about it until I did it.
They'd called me up early. "I can't believe I'm doing this," I'd said from the stage, "but I'm gonna do standup in my underwear."
The words had come out weird, breathy, nervous, but I didn't hesitate. I pulled off my shirt, tossed it on the ground, unbuttoned my jeans, and yanked them off.
Every eye in the room was on me. A girl took out her cell phone and either captured me in a photo or on video.
There was a moment, just one moment where I started to think, Yeah, this is bad. Right when I pulled down my pants, I heard my friend Megan's voice from the crowd. "Leah!" she'd said. That's all, but I could hear the subtext. "Leah, you don't have to do this."
But the thing is, I did have to do that. I had to do it to prove to myself that I could do it.
Yes, I'm trying to find stories and yes, I may have gone too far, but after all this shit, I'm still a comedian, and I still know deep down that the best way to get comfortable onstage is to make yourself uncomfortable and work your way out of it.
My stunt didn't last long. As soon as I'd pulled my pants off, I heard Gust yelling at me from the back. "Please put your clothes on, Leah!"
"Oh come on," I said. "I saw a guy up here naked before."
"Yeah, and I almost got shut down," Gust said. "Please put your clothes on."
"Fine," I said. "I guess that's good enough. Is that good enough?"
The crowd clapped.
"So I'm not Jewish," I said, launching into a bit while stuffing my leg in my jeans. "But people guess that I am all the time." I did all my time and stepped offstage wearing jeans and a bra, my shirt and shoes in hand.
Bouncy Ball # 30 - Cashier at the pizza place by the ArcLight
"Goddamn it," I say, making yet another circle around the block.
It's 11:00 PM on a Friday night, and I'm in Hollywood looking for a parking spot near the ArcLight Cinema. About a month ago, a comic friend of mine told me that the pizza place by the ArcLight had phenomenal cookies. I'd written it on my list of possible bouncy ball quests, and tonight, it's just the easiest task to complete. I'd gone to work, then the Improv, then did a show on the Westside.
I'm starting to hate this bouncy ball shit. So far, this project has done nothing but suck away my time.
I find a spot on Vine. I dart out of my car, across the street, and sprint up Vine, down Sunset. When I walk into the pizza place, there's a pastry counter just inside the door.
A snobby man with hipster glasses (and I guess cool hair?) looks me up and down. "Can I get you something?"
"Yeah, I heard you guys have this chocolate chip cookie with rice crispy-"
"We're out," he says, cutting me off. "This is all we have."
"Oh, okay." I look at the pastry display. I see a chocolate chip cookie with bacon on it. "I guess I'll have this."
"The bacon?" he asks. I swear to God, his voice sounds disgusted.
"Yeah, that one," I say. "Sure, whatever."
He rolls his eyes and gets my cookie with so much attitude, I'm almost impressed by it. I have no idea why this guy's being such a dick about a cookie. It's not like I walked in five minutes before they close. And even if it were five minutes before they closed, all this motherfucker has to do is slide a goddamn stale cookie in a sleeve and run my credit card.
When he's hovering over the credit card machine, I drop a bouncy ball in his tip jar. It lands with a thud just as he turns around.
Rushing down Sunset toward my car, I break off a piece of the cookie, shoving chunks of it in my mouth while I mumble to myself. "Goddamn motherfucking prick thinks he's better than me."
I don't even taste the cookie. This is not about enjoyment anymore. In fact, I don't know what this is about. I'm annoyed with myself for putting myself in this situation. I'm annoyed that I have five more months of this goddamn bouncy ball project. I'm annoyed that I'm in Hollywood right now.
I don't know if you guys have ever angrily wolfed down a chocolate chip cookie while walking down a city street, but if that happens in your life, there is a part of your brain that says, "Hey, I think something isn't right here."
I'm not learning anything from this. Yes, I'm doing a bunch of things, but I'm still just me doing these things.