I’ve always written to work through things; I may not have all the answers when I’m finished (or even any answers at all), but at least I get a story (or a poem) out of it!
Last month was a crazy time for me, and writing this helped me figure out a lot of what was going on in my head as well as my priorities. Long story short, unlike for my main character, my crisis moment was averted. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy.
P.S. Photo of the Brooklyn Bridge courtesy of Andrew C. Mace.
The Ha-Ha Machine
He stepped onto the stage, taking care to place one wing-tipped shoe in front of the other, in sequential order, until he was standing dead center. A blinding spotlight encompassed him. It lit up the whole world around him. The wood creaked under his weight, its worn exterior bearing witness to the many people that had walked across its planks. Dents and scratches marred the surface of the stage; to his right, a few of the boards were lifting at the corners, revealing the hollow shell underneath. There was even a missing plank; the hole where it should have been lay just behind the crushed red velvet curtain. The sagging, discolored mass was riddled with holes, and barely held back on either side by fraying gold-plated ropes.
Feeling his eyes adjust to the light, he took a deep breath, prepared himself for his bit. It was amateur night, and like the wood he stood on, he was worn, had definitely seen better days. He’d been in this race for almost five years now; it was a wonder they still let him in the club, a wonder that any of his material was still relevant enough to illicit a few laughs. Over the past half decade, the Cave had become a second home to him – if he was really being honest with himself, it was one of the only ones he’d ever known. Countless nights he’d passed out by the bar and woken the next morning to find that he’d been carefully placed on one of the couches in the back. It was the most care he’d ever gotten, and much more than he was sure he deserved.
He looked up into expectant faces, and thought about something the guy before him had said: “Dying is easy. It’s comedy that’s hard.” Truer words had never been spoken he thought and launched into a not-quite-new, but not-quite-dead routine.
“So I was walking down Main St. the other day…”
Several bad puns and awkward silences later, the light near the back of the bar flashed red. His time was up. The audience seemed relieved, if the chorale of “boos” and the refusal of those in the front row to meet his eyes was anything to go by. Placing the mic back in its cradle, he slouched off towards stage left. His feet dragged along the decaying wood. As he stepped out of view and into the comfort afforded by the sagging curtains, he realized something everybody else seemed to already know: he was washed up. It was time for him to make a less than graceful final exit.
Seeking solace in the only way he knew how, he made his way to the back of the Cave and sat at the far end of the bar.
“Hit me with a little bit of the good stuff Johnny,” he murmured when the barkeep turned in his direction.
“Sure Mikey.” And then, almost as an afterthought, “Hey, it wasn’t so bad tonight. Maybe those guys up front just weren’t smart enough to get it, eh?”
He looked up, and the most sardonic of smiles played across his features, “You know it, Johnny-boy.”
When the whiskey hit the back of his throat, he felt the burn all the way down to his toes. It didn’t faze him, and it certainly didn’t stop him from ordering another, and another, and another. Somewhere through the fuzz, he thought that tomorrow he’d wake up to find himself on the yellow paisley couch around back. It was a thought he couldn’t bear.
Picking himself up from off the bar, he started towards the door.
“Mikey. Mikey! Where ya headed man?”
He turned to face the bartender, and though it took him a minute, his brain processed the concern in his friend’s voice.
“I just need some air,” he slurred, “I won’t be a minute.” And with that, he turned and walked out the door.
The night air hit him squarely in the face, sobered him up just enough to put a dumb idea into his head. Slowly, dragging himself along walls and railings he made his way to the suspension bridge four blocks away. It was a big grey and metal contraption; he walked that bridge every day of his life – it was the shortest way from his childhood home to all the schools he’d attended, and when he’d moved into that shabby little one-bedroom ten minutes away from his parent’s place, he’d walked the bridge to get to his dead-end job as a flyer distributor. He also walked it to get to the Cave. That bridge had witnessed him at his best, and at his worst.
Using the railing as his guide, and putting one wing-tipped shoe in front of the other, he made his way until he was dead center. Drunk as he was, he managed to climb up until he was standing with his back against a cold metal beam. The wind whipped his hair back and fro, but he was too far gone to care; his fingers firmly gripping the beam, he looked down into the inky water below him. It was far down; he remembered reading once that, at road level, the bridge was about a hundred feet above the water.
He tore his eyes from the black depths and lifted his head; he felt the wind in his hair, felt like he was finally doing something right. He laughed. If only the crowds could see him now; he was sure he’d get more than awkward silence, more than a myriad of “boos.” Now, the whole expanse of the ocean was his audience, the bridge his stage.
He took a deep breath, prepared himself for his bit. And let go.
“So I was walking down Main St. the other day, and I see a lady standing by her dog, and he’s licking himself. I think, man I wish I could do that, right? And I guessed I musta said it out loud, cause next thing outta her mouth is, ‘You might want to pat him on the head first.’”