"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."