Sunday, August 26, 2012

Beauty

Let's call her Lana.  She was Beauty.  Around the time I started high school I auditioned for a play at the Chattanooga Little Theater (as it was then called) titled The Masque of Beauty and the Beast.  I got the role of the banker.  Remember the banker in Beauty and the Beast?  Neither does anyone else.  My character was little more than a plot point, so after a scene or two I went backstage to a tiny little alcove and happily worked the tape recorder that triggered the musical cues, never to be seen again by the audience until the curtain call.  A future Public Radio announcer was Beast, and girls in the audience always wanted to talk to him after the show.  We got a lot of letters from children who saw the play (presumably these letters were school assignments, but we enjoyed them anyway) and Lana got a lot of mash notes from young boys.

Lana was indeed a lovely young woman with a stage presence like a steady candle flame.  A willowy blonde, she wasn't quite to my boyish tastes (I was more drawn to Beast's outgoing girlfriend and the heavyset bookish girl who played Beauty's narratively nonessential sister) but she was an ideal icon of storybook beauty.  In real life she had a kindly sass and a willingness to engage others, qualities I admired and envied.

Years later we met again.  She was answering phones for a mail-order company where I was wasting time as a security guard.  An obscene caller had been terrorizing the operators by calling up and asking them to have sex with him.  Lana brought this to an end by replying to his request with "Yeah, sure.  Where are you?  Let's do this."  He never called again.

Enter the Age of Facebook.  Someone started a memorial page for the deceased graduates of our high school.  Someone else reported that Lana had committed suicide.  I tried to verify this, and was able to find a death notice.  I cannot and will not square what I know of her life with what I read of her death.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Blogging Behind Your Back

Let's call him Steve.  He was a pink-faced, bleach-haired college boy with hellzapoppin' energy.  Everyone in attendance at the coffee shop open mike standup comedy scene was grateful for his presence.  He spat out his anecdotes about fast food mishaps with an idiosyncratic flair, one arm gesticulating, both feet shuffling, a spastic marionette with a voice that sliced through aural clutter.  His twisty punchlines within punchlines unfolded in startling directions.  Fast food joints were a recurring subject, though he had less fat on him than I had in my knuckles.  Most of the regular or irregular performers at the Wednesday night open mikes could charitably be called weak; a few were solid.  Two regulars could really deliver the goods.  Steve topped them all, while inspiring them to fresh heights.  Steve was a comedy machine.  An HBO special someday?  Not too farfetched.

He repeated his material from show to show, but hey, who didn't?  That's how comics refine, and besides, for us regulars it was like hearing favorite songs.

Steve was really supportive.  I tried my hand at standup, and after my first night he told me I delivered the strongest first standup session he'd ever seen.  Maybe he said that to all the boys, but it made me feel floaty.

(Side note: one thing I learned from doing this is that when you do some weak standup, and a solemn-faced young woman approaches you to say "You were really funny," what she's really saying is "I am really lonely."  So be nice to her.)

I remember once he introduced a friend of his at the open mike, and proceeded to hang his head in embarrassment for said friend as the friend (oh, let's call him Chuck) delivered a puzzling attempt at humor.  He was a likable, gangly guy, but his jokes seemed like improvised remarks in the noble tradition of Mort Sahl only dumb.  I only remember one thing he said:

"It's hard to be a Christian in the South!  Everybody takes the Lord's name in vain!  Why don't they take someone else's name in vain instead?"  This is an oldie but a goodie on the Christian Comedy circuit, but that first line was perplexing.  Did Chuck mean southern Saudi Arabia?  The Southeastern US probably presents fewer challenges to Christians than anywhere else in the word 'cept maybe the Holy See.

After a while we began to wish Steve would cook up some new material, even if it wasn't as strong.  Once Steve delivered a new joke, but I'd first heard it from my friend J'miza.  I recounted this to J'miza, who muttered "That nigga loves to steal jokes."  (Steve's whiteness might bear a mention here.)

The open mike shows and I drifted apart as I got more involved in community theatre (tediously documented on this blog's back pages) and I didn't see Steve for a while.  Eventually my friend Chauncey told me, "I saw Steve doing a show out of town last week.  He's still doing the same jokes about fast food."  I began to wonder who had written Steve's original material.  Had a ghost writer crafted the stuff?  If Steve wrote it himself, why wasn't there more where that came from?

And then, years later, I got a Fecesbook friend request from Steve.  I accepted, and discovered that:

  • He's a defense attorney
  • He's a Ron Paul fanatic
  • His Fecesbook posts aren't jokes.
I found his Paultard banner waving a bit tedious, but my own idées fixes are probably less than delightful to some of my FB friends.

He offered up a free downloadable album of his comedy.  I eagerly downloaded it, but found it less delightful than I'd remembered.  I find recordings of most standup to be a bit underwhelming (Minnie Pearl is an exception for some reason) so it may just be the lack of his physical presence.  I noticed, though, that a spirit of "Afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable" rippled through the comedy; not consistently so, but it was there.  A lot of ethnic humor that didn't engage other cultures; not that a comic can't play that game, but a white male child of privilege might want to be thoughtful about it in a way Steve didn't seem to be.  Some slut shaming.  Some virgin shaming.  Some low-on-the-economic-totem-pole shaming.  All's fair in comedy, or so I thought in the mid-Oughts, but it wasn't sitting too well with me half a decade later.

And my lack of laffs wasn't directly tied to my politically correct objections; heaven knows I can still enjoy some down and dirty comedy.

I wound up deleting most of the album.  I kept a few golden bits to remember him, and then, by.

Steve posted an article about how his firm, with himself involved, got a man off charges of murdering his wife.  Were they saving a poor man who'd lost his spouse, only to be falsely charged with her death?  Or were they getting a killer off?  I don't suppose I'll ever know, but I suppose it was their job either way.

Anyway, this past week saw Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day.  For the benefit of the not-impossible future reader of this epistle who isn't a scholar of corny sociopolitical brouhahas, the owner of Chick-Fil-A came out and said that he donates a portion of profits to anti-gay causes.  His choice, but some gay rights supporters called for a boycott, and in return conservative person Mike Huckabee called for "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day."  It became a thing.  Lots of anti-gay types, many of them politicians, showed up at their local branches of Chick-Fil-A to gobble down some mall food and photo-op it up.

Steve, who had seemed to be slightly sympathetic to bullied gays in his standup, posted something to the effect of "This Chick-Fil-A food is as delicious as freedom!  Long live Christianity and Chick-Fil-A!"  And no, it wasn't a joke.  He didn't go for that brand of irony.  Fed up, I commented "Kil Mor Homos" in response.

He deleted my comment, and I finally defriended him.  Was I trying to goad him into giving me an excuse?  Maybe.  I'm sure he'll be fine.  I'm sure I will too.  It's a long way from being the most regrettable relationship conclusion in my 38 years on this earth.