The Attack of the One Hundred Toaster Robot: A Short Story
The Comedian met Charlie at an International House of Pancakes. He'd been on the wagon for ten years. He was Charlie's A.A. sponsor. He liked to meet with his young charge at least once every two weeks face-to-face: to talk, to see how he felt about things, answer any questions he might have, and to see if there was anything more he could do to assist Charlie's one-day-at-a-time recovery. That kind of thing.
Their get together ended like this. The Comedian said, "There was this television series on cable. I forget the name but it was a really cool cops and mobsters tale. It was a limited-run series. Anyway, there was this scene between a Mob lawyer and a cop. The two of them were old friends from around the way. They were at a bar, talking. The Mob lawyer said, 'So why'd you kill the comedian?' Not referring to me, of course. And the cop said, 'Cause I didn't like his jokes.'
Our Comedian laughed at that. "I love that line." He laughed some more. "Good a reason as any to kill the comic."
They got up to leave. "Put your wallet away, son," the Comedian said. "Your money's no good around here." The Comedian paid the bill and left a hefty tip for the tired-looking young woman who had been their server.
The Comedian got on a bus. His next stop was his agent, Sid Hoover. He didn't have an appointment. He waited outside until the Sidster was ready for him.
When he walked in, Sid said, "And what is your complaint?"
"You say that every time I come by," the Comedian said, "and its always the same: I'm just checking in."
Sid relaxed and became something like a human. The Comedian wanted to know if there were any new bookings on the horizon. As a matter of fact, he was on his way to a gig. He was just making a few stops first. He had some leisure before GO-TIME!
Sid had a few possibilities. He mentioned the name of one particular venue as a strong possibility for the near future. The Comedian whistled in appreciation at that. "Whoa! We're coming up in the world, aren't we?"
They talked about Sid's family. The Comedian listened as the Sidster unloaded on his two ex-wives. Sid was thoughtful enough to ask about the Comedian's mom. The Comedian gave a slight, sad smile, bobbed his head up and down and said that she was about the same. About the same. Surviving. Coping.
Their meeting ended on this note. "Sid, let me ask you something."
"Do you think I'd be good hosting a talk show?"
"You wanna host a talk show?"
"Well, maybe, no, not necessarily, not right now anyways. I wouldn't dismiss the idea out of hand, if the opportunity came up."
"That's good to know." Sid was looking at the Comedian, lolling his head from side-to-side, shutting his right eye.
"What are you doing?" the Comedian said.
"Trying to picture you in a suit and tie."
"Well, how do I look?"
"Hmm... nice, broad shoulders, trim. Held yourself together well over the years. Yeah, I guess you could do a suit some good, if you ever wore one."
"So you wouldn't dismiss the idea out of hand."
"Remember that comedy troupe we had in college?" Sid said.
"Back in the Stone Age."
"You were a performer and did most of the writing. You gave up all the good lines and kept the scraps for yourself. You were always the star of that show, but you never made it seem that way. You made the rest of us look really good. That's a talent you have. You were always a great facilitator. You got the chops. So to answer your question, at long last, No, I wouldn't dismiss the idea out of hand, now that you mention it."
The Comedian leaned forward. "Do you think I could get as big as Jay Leno."
Sid deadpanned it. "Yes, I think you could be as big as Jay Leno. Bigger. The Biggest."
The Comedian smiled. "I see its time to take my leave," he said, rising.
"Thanks for stopping by."
At the door the Comedian said, "Bye, Sid."
Sid waved from his desk. "Make an appointment next time, Boy-O. I'm a busy man over here."
Damn you! You're gonna pay for that with your life!
He exited the building. Turned left and walked a block. Turned right and walked another block. Crossed the street. Went down the steps into the subway. He got on a car. Next stop: Mom.
Mom was a hoarder. Well, she certainly struggled with the issue. She was the daughter of a man who'd abandoned her and her mother and little brother, when she was six years old. She married a man who'd went on to abandon her and her son, when the Comedian was eight.
He just went to the store one day and never came back. Frantic, his wife and son had went around to all the hospitals, all the jails, all the morgues, to friends, anybody who knew him. Nothing.
Mom had been devastated. Just went to the store one day and never came back.
The fact hadn't done the Comedian much good either. Just went to the store one day and never came back.
Mom had always been a bit of a pack rat, but she went full blown after her husband walked out.
A fellow got on at the next stop and sat down next to him: a muscular, dark-skinned black man with dreadlocks. He pulled out a tablet and started watching a seventies Kung Fu flick: Born Invincible starring the great Carter Wong.
Dig the introduction to the picture: You see a very young boy wearing weighted rings around his arms and legs going through forms. Looking on, is a white-haired man, his Kung Fu instructor.
Then a voice says: Of all the mighty Kung Fu styles that have been developed in various parts of China, the one recognized as being the most difficult and the most deadly is the Tai chi technique. Anyone who wishes to learn it must devote his life to it, and must start as a child, preferably at the age of three. He must bathe in the secret lotions, take the special pills, and hold to a rigorous diet for thirty years. The Earth's fundamental forces are tapped via the eight octagrams. The whole body is in balance. A change in emphasis in one part of the body will affect a countering change in another part. The routines are incredibly difficult to learn, and few even qualify or have the strength to learn Tai chi Kung Fu.
The introduction goes on, giving more demonstrations of the power of Tai chi Kung Fu. At the end of the thirty-year period, upon successful completion of training, the learner's body is transformed. His hair turns snow white; his voice becomes high-pitched; his skin, while retaining its suppleness, becomes impervious to weapons.
Then, you get a shot of white-haired Carter Wong, seated in meditation. He opens his eyes, as if startled and goes through some forms.The voice says: He who would attack the Tai chi Kung Fu must expect to die. No normal fighter has ever beaten the technique, and many have died trying. And yet the Tai chi expert is not completely invulnerable. There is always one weak point, both in the learner and in the master. With the body's 108 strategic points, the vulnerable point can be moved at will: sometimes the soles of the feet; sometimes the throat or armpit. Yet out of reflexive habit, the Tai chi expert will usually tend to use the same place, in moments of stress, to place the weak point---a habit which can be fatal.
"Best intro ever," the Comedian said to Dreadlocks.
Dreadlocks looked up and smiled. "Yeah, I probably seen this one a thousand times."
The Comedian said he'd seen Born Invincible a thousand-and-one times. It was a mutual favorite, no doubt about that.
They went through their favorite lines from the film. The Comedian like the scene in which Carter Wong meets with one of the teachers of the Leiping Kung Fu School.
CW: Are you the teacher of the Leiping School?
YMT: Yes, my name is Yu-Ming Tu.
CW: Chi-Tin-Pah. Did you kill him?
YMT: Yes I killed him, in a fair fight.
CW: Damn you! You're gonna pay for that with your life.
YMT: Maybe, but perhaps with some luck, I'll locate your weak point.
CW: Right, try it!
Then Carter Wong did that funny thing he did with his hands and your heard this whistling sound.
Dreadlock especially like the scene which immediately preceded the last fight of the movie.
CW: Well now, by yourself?
WLC (Wah-Lu-Chen): I'll be enough.
CW: Well I promise, you won't go back.
WLC: We'll see.
Then Carter Wong did that funny thing with his hands, you heard the whistling sound, and then its: Let's get ready to rumble!
"Now, that young guy in the last fight scene..." Dreadlocks fast-forwarded the movie to the last fight scene, "should look familiar. You know where he's from?"
The Comedian shook his head.
"He went on to star in the flick The Mystery of Chess Boxing."
"Five Element Kung Fu," the Comedian said.
"No, that's not him," the Comedian, disbelieving, said.
"It is, look." Dreadlocks minimized that screen and pulled up the other film. "Look real hard at the gray-haired guy in the beginning. Look at the shape of the face."
The Comedian moved his face near the screen. "I'll be damned. That is him, the Ghost-faced Killer."
"And the rest is hip hop history," Dreadlocks said. This was a reference to one of the most successful hip hop acts of all time, the Wu-Tang Clan. One of its members called himself the Ghost-faced Killer.
He wondered if the Comedian knew the reference. He did.
The Comedian said, "You know, when I first saw Born Invincible, I was glad for Carter Wong."
"Well, if you look at his movies, up to that point," the Comedian said, "you can see that Wong had been the victim of bad Kung Fu choreography."
Dreadlocks said, "I know what you mean. That stuff they had him doing before was rubbish."
What they were saying is that in his previous movies, Carter Wong was doing Kung Fu that looked clunky and ungraceful; it was not pretty to watch.
"Lo Lieh had the same raw deal," Dreadlocks said, "before he got Executioner from Shaolin."
In that one, Lo Lieh played a similar white-haired, physically invulnerable Kung Fu master with only one weak point.
"Which do you like better," the Comedian said, "that one or the remake of it, Fist of the White Lotus?"
They discussed the merits and drawbacks of each.
The Comedian let Dreadlocks be after that. He got out his earphones and plugged them up to his smartphone, to listen to some music: more of the catalogue of the singer from Canada, Bjork, whose voice the Comedian thought hauntingly beautiful.
As the Comedian approached her door, he took a deep breath, determinedly put on a smile, and told himself to 'buck up.' He rang the doorbell and she answered it.
He hugged her and said, "Hi, mom. How are you keeping?"
"Hi, son," she said, responding only to the greeting, not the question.
She got him inside and offered him some "fresh-baked cookies and coffee."
"Come sit at the dinning room table here," she said, ushering him over.
He could have used a machete to cut a swath. He removed some periodicals from a chair and put them somewhere, and opened up a space on the table, for a plate and a coffee cup.
"Thanks," he said. Macadamia nut. Yummy! Coffee: hot. Nothing like a good, hot cup of coffee. With or without "fresh-baked" cookies.
Mom always claimed that she had baked the cookies herself. That was a lie, as it always was. The cookies were store bought. They were a brand he liked to buy himself. And he could see the wrapper, sticking out of the kitchen trashcan, from where he was sitting in the dining room.
She always claimed that the coffee was fresh-brewed. It was instant. You could tell from the taste. And yet she persisted in the fantasy.
What was that about?
Guilt, he supposed.
"I'm doing a show tonight," he said.
"Aaaaahhhh." It was always that or something like that. Sounds not words.
"Have you ever been to one of my shows?"
She screwed up her face. Now just give me a minute to think, she said. Now, she thought there was the time, back a few years ago, just before Easter.... No, no, no, that was when she had her gall bladder taken out.
Wait, wait now, she had it. Four years ago, right after Christmas... Before Christmas.... Or was it New Years? Wasn't it the year before Dick Clark died? How sad, she said: Dick Clark dying. She had grown up watching Dick Clark hosting American Bandstand.
The Comedian said that it was, indeed, very sad about Dick Clark.
"I remember it was a cold night...," she said.
Mom was trying so hard. If she could only settle on a day, the Comedian would agree to it. She couldn't, but, mercifully, her efforts petered out. Mom didn't get around much. Often had her groceries delivered. He thought she might also have a touch of agoraphobia, to go along with her hoarding.
He asked her how her new medication was working out for her.
She said oh, okay, I guess. But she thought it made her a little bit delusional. But she wasn't sure.
The Comedian said that that wasn't good. He mumbled something under his breath, that she might want to see her doctor about that, letting his voice trail off....
The visit ended with the Comedian kissing and hugging Mom at the door, promising to see her again real soon.
Comic Book Dude
The Comedian needed cheering up after his visit with his mother. He knew just the place: his favorite comic book shop, run by his old friend, the Comic Book Dude. The place was called The Worlds of Marvel and D.C. Universes!
He walked through the door to see the Comic Book Dude at the ready, behind the counter as usual.
"How's it hangin'?"
"Still don't know what that means," the Comedian said. "But I'm surviving. How 'bout you?"
"Living the dream."
"Let's see what you got here," the Comedian said to himself and began roaming the aisles.
The Comic Book Dude ran his shop like this: Every comic book he sold was ensconced within a plastic sleeve. You did not try to remove the books from those plastic sleeves. You could buy them, of course; or, if you preferred, you could simply rent or borrow them, for up to two weeks for fifty cents a day. The shop had a café at the back, where you could get yourself a Danish or big cookie or slice of cake and something to drink (coffee, tea, juice, etc.) and read a few books at a table. You could spend hours there, if you wanted, reading the comic books, put them back, and walk out without buying a thing, and the Comic Book Dude wouldn't care; not only does he not he care, he encouraged the practice.
The Comic Book Dude is from a wealthy family. He never goes into details, preferring to leave it at that. As a consequence, he didn't have to work hard to support himself. Actually, he didn't have to work at all. But comic books are something he's always been interested in; and having the shop made him feel like a productive citizen offering a service.
It was, perhaps, precisely because of this relaxed attitude, that his bottom line was always so fantastically in the black.
"People read comic books for different reasons," the Comic Book Dude had told the Comedian, one time. "Not everybody is obsessed with collecting them. Some people just like reading good stories. Some people just find them amusing. Some people read them for ideas."
"What kind of ideas?" the Comedian had asked innocently, at the time.
"Ideas. All kinds of ideas," the Comic Book Dude said. "Don't analyze me, boy!"
The Comedian read a lot of comic books. He read everything. He assiduously kept himself broadly appraised of happenings in the Marvel and D.C. universes, like other people kept up with current events in the real world.
Yes, he read everything. But he only bought books featuring the Joker, Batman's nemesis. Any and every book in which the Joker was featured prominently, the Comedian wanted.
The Comic Book Dude came over to him. "We got a shipment of Joker books in."
The Comedian said, "Yeah?"
"In the back. I didn't even get around to putting them in plastic sleeves yet. Want to take a look?"
"You know I do."
The Comic Book Dude handed him a pair of plastic gloves to use.
The Comedian went through the boxes, skimming, scanning quickly, sorting out what he wanted. A half hour later, he had put aside a stack of thirty or so books he wanted. He asked Comic Book Dude to hold them for him; he would be back for them in a few days.
As the Comedian was leaving the shop, Comic Book Dude asked him, "Why are you so obsessed with the Joker?"
"I'm determined to find out what he thinks is so funny."
Hi, Marc with a 'c'!
The Comedian looked at his watch. Why doesn't he catch a meeting while in the neighborhood? Yeah, why doesn't he do that. He found a pastry place on the way, and picked up some sweet rolls and things for the group.
There were some new faces tonight. Looked like five or six. You are all welcome, brothers and sisters in the loving embrace of a Good God!
Everybody settled down, took their seats, and the newbies got up and did their thing.
"Hi everybody, my name is George Pillar, and I'm an alcoholic."
In unison the group said, "Hi, George!"
George told his story and another got up.
"Hello there," this one was a little shy. "My name is Tony Fitzsimmons and I'm an alcoholic."
In unison the group said, "Hi, Tony!"
He told his story and sat down.
Another one got up. "Hi everyone, my name is Nancy Davis and I'm an alcoholic."
In unison the group said, "Hi, Nancy!"
She told her story. As she was telling it, she oozed sensual allure. The Comedian found himself unable to take his eyes off her mouth. She sat down.
Another one got up. "Hi, folks." Never trust anyone who calls people 'folks.' "My name's Barry Swinton and I'm an alcoholic."
In unison the group said, "Hi, Barry!" Even one such as him deserves God's Grace!
He told his story---he was some kind of salesman, the Comedian thought, you could tell---and sat down.
Another one got up. "Hi everybody. My name is Marc---Marc with a 'c'---Robards and I am an alcoholic."
In unison the group said, "Hi, Marc!"
But the Comedian, funny man that he was, was alone in saying, "Hi, Marc with a 'c.'" That's what made him the Comedian.
The Comedian did not 'share' this time. He probably would next time. Others shared and before you knew it, the meeting was over.
Everybody stood around afterwards, eating sweets and drinking coffee. They offered each other strengthening words of encouragement. Routine and formulaic at this point. But no less comforting and reassuring because of it.
Bust a move!
The Comedian left the meeting feeling the urge. He was going to get himself a woman and bust a move!
He took a cab to a three-three-and-a-half star hotel he knew. He paid and tipped the driver, walked into the lobby, and went up to the attendant at the desk. He had no reservation and he had no intention of paying.
The Comedian gave his name and asked to speak to the manager. The young woman at the front desk rang the manager up on the phone, listened, and handed the receiver to the Comedian. The Comedian spoke for a minute or two, and then handed the phone back to the attendant, who listened, hung up the phone, and handed the Comedian a set of keys to room 444, four flights up and down the hall from the elevator when you get off.
He thanked her and proceeded. He had no luggage, of course. He wasn't staying over for any length of time.
In his room, he dialed up a discrete service he knew. Ran by a woman whose eldest daughter had accompanied the Comedian to the senior-year high school prom. He told Madame Babushka, herself, what he was looking for; and she told him that the girl would be sent right over.
She had unnaturally black hair and pale skin. A slightly ghostly pallor. She rather resembled the lead singer from Evanescence: with a vaguely feline mystique. She had a nose ring and tattoos on her arms. She said her name was Jhanette Winters.
He got her inside, they sat down; and he offered her some fruit juice, which she declined.
"So...," the Comedian said.
"So...," Jhanette Winters said.
"Tell me about yourself."
"Is that supposed to be foreplay?"
"Well, I can't just jump right in from a dead start, can I? I have to warm up, ease into it."
"You're a slow starter, then?"
"You could say that."
"And a strong finisher?"
The Comedian colored. "Is "Jhanette Winters" your real name?"
She laughed. "Why do you think I would need an alias?"
"Oh, I don't know... no reason... I just thought--"
She raised a hand to cut him off. "Let's get this straight. I am a sex worker because I want to be. I'm not some 'fallen woman.'" She rose, but not to leave. "I am good at sex; I know how to satisfy a man and I enjoy it. And I really enjoy getting paid for it."
She was sitting on his lap now. She had made an adjustment to the top of her dress so that her bare breasts could get some air. She pushed him flat on his back and leaned over him. "Now kiss me!"
What ended up happening, was that the Comedian took Jhanette Winters out for ice cream. They had a nice chat and made a new friend. He paid her off for the evening and put her in a cab.
But before that point she had asked him a question. "What do you do for a living, by the way?"
"I'm a stand up comic."
"You don't seem like a comic."
"Well, I'm not one of those guys whose 'on' all the time. But when I'm on stage, I'm 'more fun than a barrel of monkeys.'"
"Nowhere to go but up, right?"
"What do you mean?"
"You're a pretty somber guy. You know that?"
"Its the darkness of the world. But never fear, I'll harness a lot of that for laughs. Its what I do. Its what most comics do."
As the cab drove away, the Comedian raised his right hand to eye-level and said, "Well, old buddy, I guess its just you and me tonight."
The Comedian hadn't known why he didn't 'man up.' There was no physical problem. When you got right down to it, though, sometimes he got to thinking about things so much, that he didn't act.
He went to an all night convenience store and bought a naughty magazine. He went to a Chinese-American take-out shack and got some dinner. He took the magazine, the food, and his right hand back to the hotel.
Okay, with that done---the food and that other business---the Comedian saw that he still had time for a nice nap before he had to be at the comedy club. You know, he wished he'd brought a change of clothes along. But, how could he have anticipated? His actions had been so impromptu.
Still, this hotel had a Laundromat on the premises. There was a hotel robe in the closet. He got out of his clothes and put on the robe. He went to the front desk and got quarters for a five dollar bill. He found the little laundry room, bought a box of detergent from the vending machine; and washed and dried his clothes in forty minutes.
He went back up to his room, set the alarm on his smartphone to wake him in three-quarters of an hour, put his back on the bed, and closed his eyes.
He woke, dressed, and called for a cab. He told the driver to take him to the Ventricular Parabolic, the funky name of the comedy club.
He got out, paid and tipped the driver, and headed inside, stopping for a minute to have a word with a young man of medium height, crew cut, and the physique of a fireplug, who was working the door.
His name was Bruno Fiorello. He was the Comedian's godson. The two men embraced. The Comedian cuffed the back of Bruno's head and kissed him on the forehead. He asked the young man how he was doing and if he was keeping out of trouble.
Bruno called him "Godfather," making the Comedian feel as big as Vito Corleone.
Bruno was in his second year in law school. Three years ago, Bruno had been trying to get through college, working a crappy job at a pet store to try to pay the bills. The Comedian had gotten him this job, at a significantly higher compensatory premium; and a much better position suited to the young man's skill set: built like a pro fullback and strong as a bull.
Bruno was the son of the man who managed the hotel, where the Comedian had planned his failed assignation. That is how he had come to be in a position to avail himself of those accommodation gratis. It was nice to have a lot of money, he supposed; but it was much better to have a tight web of interconnecting friendships.
The Comedian had asked his godson, once, what kind of law he wanted to go into. Waiting for an answer, the Comedian had had a hand behind his back with his fingers crossed, thinking to himself: Don't say corporate law! Don't say corporate law! Don't say corporate law!
Criminal law, Bruno had said. He figured on being a defense attorney, do plenty of pro bono work, uphold the little guy. Down the road, he said, he wouldn't mind being a judge...some kind of Superior Court judge or maybe federal appeals.
When Bruno had said that, the Comedian could have kissed him on the mouth. But he didn't cause that would have been awkward for both of them.
Bruno asked the Comedian if he was on tonight, calling him 'Godfather,' as he did so, making the older man feel like Vito Corleone.
The Comedian called that a big affirmative. Bruno wished him luck.
The Comedian thanked him, gave him another hug, and slipped a hundred dollar bill into his shirt pocket. He told Bruno to enjoy his youth, to be good but not too good, and not to do anything he, the Comedian, wouldn't do, and went inside.
He raised his head, nodded, pointed--one finger or two--, hand-waved, gave a thumbs up, and otherwise acknowledged people he was familiar with. What's up? What's happening? How's it going? How you? What's going down? What's good?
He got into the back, where there were a few other comedians, who had either gone on already, or were, like him, preparing to go on. What's up? What's happening? How's it goin? How you? What's going down? What's good?
The Comedian bro-hugged a couple of the guys---palms clasping, shoulder-to-shoulder contact; and cheek-kissed some of the gals: his colleagues. He asked how the crowd was tonight. Some said okay. Some said same as ever. Some said they were 'live, man.'
He slipped away and down a hallway. He met up with a young man named Pete, who was sweeping the floor. An aspiring comedian himself, he was picking up a few bucks janitorial, working his way through school.
The Comedian tried to take him under his wing, teach him a few moves. He greeted the young man, asked him how he was doing, and if he was keeping out of trouble. The Comedian received polite, ritual, formula responses to his polite, ritual, formula questions.
In a moment of warmth, the Comedian took the lad's face in his hands and asked him if he was ready. Pete said that he was. Oh no, he wasn't going on stage tonight or anything like that.
The Comedian was asking him if he was ready to do the job he was paying him one hundred dollars for: to literally push the Comedian onto the stage when the time comes. The Comedian said, "Good man," and slipped the hundred dollar bill into his shirt pocket.
"Stand by and be ready," the Comedian said.
"Right," Pete said.
The Comedian took the stairs down to the very basement, where he could be solitary before going on. He picked up the jump rope and started jump roping. He stretched, keeping his knees locked, touching his toes and reaching for the sky. He tried to touch each knee to his chest in repetitive succession. He lunged from side-to-side, stretching out his legs. He cracked his fingers, his neck, his spine; he would have cracked every bone in his body, if he could have.
He did push-ups. He shadow boxed.
Tonight was the night when his nerve would fail him. He would not be able to go onto the stage. He would surely collapse into a puddle of twitching protoplasm.
He never thought he would be able to hit the stage one more time, before he hit the stage one more time. He always thought he would die of dread first, before he failed to die of dread first. He never thought he would be able to do it again, before he did it again.
Maybe he should seek some help for his condition. Some therapy: hypnotherapy, aromatherapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, French Fry therapy. Something.
Or maybe he should focus on writing material for others. Maybe his pen was mightier than his microphone-sword.
He left the basement, found Pete, and they took their positions behind the curtain next to the stage. Pete had his hands on the Comedian's back. The emcee was telling the audience to give it up for the comic who'd just left the stage. The Comedian applauded himself for the hysterical woman, who reminded him of Barbara Streisand.
Okay, the emcee was talking about the Comedian.
The emcee was telling the audience where the next comic up hailed from.
The emcee was reminding the crowd what a well-known favorite the next comic up was.
The emcee was pointing out particulars of the Comedian's resume.
"Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for [...]"
Out of there like a rocket from a silo. He'd have to tell the kid not to shove so hard.
Pete gave the Comedian such a head of steam, he came running out onto the stage. Bam! On goes the automatic smile. Every specially whitened tooth showing.
The Comedian lassoed the emcee and bro-hugged him. The two men pointed at each other like: You the man! No, you the man!
The Comedian said, "Heeeeeey! How's everybody doing tonight?"
The crowd roared something indecipherable. Something to the effect of: Very well, thank you. But with more mob-crowd, cacophonous bombast.
Let me get loosened up, now.
He called for another round of applause for the Barbara Streisand lookalike who had preceded him.
The crowd obliged.
He walked around in circles. As a matter of fact, he thought it appropriate to give another round of applause for all the comics who had made us all laugh tonight.
The crowd obliged.
This move was part generosity. But mostly stalling for time.
The Comedian had never been a pure stand-up comic, per se. His act was part philosophical speculation, self-indulgent monologue, extemporaneous political theorizing, one-liners, stories. Basically, he did whatever he felt like: small-scale magic tricks, for instance.
This had not gone over swimmingly at the start of his career. But in time people had gotten to be okay with it. He might talk about anything that occurred to him. He might dissect the Ten Commandments, one commandment a night. He might do news headlines. Funny sayings, words, and mannerisms, animal behavior, crime, the sayings of Buddha, television programs and movies.
He might even talk about his day, if there had been a discernible theme which it had vibed to. There had been no discernible theme to this day. He was just a broken man dealing with a lot of other broken people, who, like the physical infrastructure of America, needed shoring up. The Comedian liked to think that by giving to one another, in even small ways (perhaps especially small ways), with kindness and generosity, that we shored one another up a little bit each day.
That is what the Comedian liked to believe.
Wait! Sure, that was the theme: Giving. Giving with an open heart. And receiving with humility and gratitude.
He got into it and carried the crowd along with him. They were eating out of his hand. What had he been worried about? They were on his side. Anything he said, anything he gave them would be alright, because whatever he gives, he gives them all of him. They know that.
And why shouldn't they? These are his people. He is them and they are him.
He was talking about the giving and receiving of gifts. He was talking about, now, in the context of weddings.
"You know how people who are arranging their weddings will 'register' for the exact kinds of gifts they want you to get them?" he said to the crowd.
Of course they did. Some of them had, doubtless, done it themselves. They got ready for it.
The Comedian was ruminating on this, genuinely disturbed by the practice. Weren't you supposed to get someone a gift that she would not ordinarily get for herself? Wasn't it the thought that counted? Both the consideration of getting a gift at all; and the creativity you show in what you pick out? Have you really given me a gift, if you have merely given me what I have designated?
Wasn't the issue the love with the gift is given and received? The Comedian was being serious now. He had a tendency to really hang on to, really drag out a somber, contemplative mood.
"On my wedding day, I wouldn't care what my friends and relatives bought me," he said. He gave examples of all kind of seemingly silly things one could buy him, getting his loving gratitude in return.
"I wouldn't care if I got a toaster, ten toasters, a hundred toasters," he said.
"You know what?" he said to the crowd, seeming to have just been struck by inspiration.
"What?" the crowd said.
They were in call and response mode now.
"You could buy me one hundred toasters, I wouldn't care."
"Oh yeah?" the crowd said.
"Yeah, and what's more, do you know what I would do with one hundred toasters?"
"What would you do with them?" the crowd said.
"I would make a robot out of them."
"What kind of robot?" the crowd said, well-trained as they were.
"A one hundred toaster robot. And then..."
"Then what?" the crowd said.
"I would make a movie about it called The Attack of the One Hundred Toaster Robot. And after my film became a global smash hit, I know that people would want to see how I brought the magic to the screen, so I would make a documentary about it called Behind the Scenes of the Making of The Attack of the One Hundred Toaster Robot.
"And when I'm chilling out in the backyard of my mansion, with all the money I made from The Attack of the One Hundred Toaster Robot, eating grilled shrimp, dipping my toes in the pool, eating sweet potato ice cream, or sweet potatoes and vanilla ice cream---that sounds good, actually, sweet potatoes and vanilla bean ice cream---I would get a call from some production assistant like: 'Mr. Robert Rodriguez would like to interview you for his show, The Director's Chair on the El Rey network.
"I would be like: 'Let's do it!' Then I would sit down with him and he would say, 'You know [...], may I call you [...]?' I would say: 'Sure, Bobby,' and I would ruffle his hair like he was a kid.
"And he would say: 'When I was watching The Attack of the One Hundred Toaster Robot, I said to myself, now there is a film made with the spirit of creative independence and originality. That film is the best of what filmmaking is supposed to be about; something that honors the principles of moviemaking without being bound by them; something that stretches and then shatters the boundaries of conventionality. That is a movie that upholds your faith in what movies are, what they have been, what they could be, what they are becoming....'
"And then I'd have to tell 'Bobby' to stop it," the Comedian said, "because he's giving me a swelled head. Then I'd tell him: 'Aw shucks, Bobby. Listen, you keep on making your little films, you'll get there someday."
There must have been some hardcore Robert Rodriguez fans there, because that one made the crowd laugh positively uproariously.
"But seriously, folks," the Comedian said, "Robert Rodriguez is an amazing filmmaker with a fascinating story. He says that he made his first film, El Mariachi on a seven thousand dollar budget. And, get this, he sold his body to science to get the financing."
He waited for his people to take that in. Some of them probably already knew the story.
The Comedian said, "I would love to ask him about that," still being relatively serious. "I mean, how did he ever come up with the idea to sell his body to science. Does he have special immunities that make his body a valuable object of scientific study? Can anybody sell his body to science for a little extra cash?"
"But in any event, I would have to give the man a pound and a bro-hug for that and just say, 'That's way hardcore man!'" The Comedian was talking directly to his people now, rhetorically asking them how far they would go to hold onto their dreams.
"Is there a mountain high enough?" he was saying. "Is there a river wide enough? Is there a valley low enough to keep you from pursuing your dreams?
"You know what?"
"What?" the crowd said, not missing a beat. God love them!
"That guy is like Wolverine from the X-Men. 'Yes, you can coat my bones with Adamantium. If I live, I'm making El Mariachi!" For effect, he flexed his forearms, like Wolverine, as though he expected big metal claws to come out. He made a clicking sound with his mouth.
The crowd liked that one: Robert Rodriguez as a combination Wolverine/Francis Ford Coppola.
Almost time to get off now. Never overstay your welcome. He quickly wrapped up his original narrative thread concerning The Attack of the One Hundred Toaster Robot. He said, "Thank you very much everyone, you've been a fabulous audience. God Bless!"
They clapped for him. He bowed and smiled. He remembered to be humble. They kept clapping. They didn't want to let him go. He kissed his palms and showed them to the crowd, sending them his love.
They rose to their feet, clapping for him. The Comedian closed his eyes and let their love wash over him. You like me! You really like me!
But they did not love him, the Comedian, nearly as much as he loved them, his people, his family.
They kept clapping for him. He started shaking hands with some of his people. He bowed, nodded, and pointed at people. Thank you! Thank you so much! God Bless you all! Tears started to come.
The emcee came back on the stage. He said give it up for The Great One! He and the Comedian bro-hugged again. The Comedian made ready to get off the stage, finally, but the emcee held his arm.
The curtain rose and the people behind it, along with the audience in front of him, said, "SURPRISE!"
Balloons fell from the sky. A banner was unfurled. Where did the party hats, streamers, and noise-makers come from? Holy cow, Batman! It was the Comedian's birthday.
The emcee bro-hugged him again. Everybody was there: Charlie from A.A., the sensuous Nancy, a new member over at A.A., his agent, Sid Hoover, that guy, Dreadlocks from the subway, the Comic Book Dude, his godson, Bruno of course....
And look! Its Madame Bubushka and she brought along Jhanette, who winked at him.
He was spinning around, greeting everybody, telling them how surprised he had been, thanking them so very much....
"You killed tonight, son," someone said. "killed!"
The Comedian turned around and hugged his Mom.