"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?"