Saturday, March 15, 2014

Devotion (Earth, Wind, and Fire)

At the age of twenty-two, I seemed awfully young but felt I lived enough for ten people. I had done enough damage that it was time to say goodbye to some vices in my life. These were big steps for me. I never thought I would do it. It went from bad, to worse, to straight up fuckery. My life had become a pattern of bad choices, bad people, and always peering over my shoulder. The true friends I had were gone. They couldn’t handle me or what had become of my life. Who needed Shakespeare in the Park when I would arrive? Now here I was, getting my crippled sea legs to walk on land again.
It was July of 2007 when this transformation occurred. They said drink as much coffee and smoke as many cigarettes as you want. I never smoked really, so I just loaded up on coffee. Hell, it was still better than the speed I had taken to lose weight. Sitting at the diner, I was slurping down another cup of coffee. I had just done a comedy spot and was crying because I was having trouble getting my rhythm onstage sober. Oh and everyone decided to remind me what an asshole I was when I drank. Far from the child my mother raised and lost, I bemoaned my life to a group of new friends. They knew Bill and Bob, friends of mine along the way. As they entertained my young and stupid, the song “Devotion” began playing. A drop top with an ethnically ambiguous couple drove by. The song was slow, smooth, and relaxing. It was serenity and peace, something you don’t know after your 8th cup of coffee.
 “Isn’t that the Temptations?” I asked.
“No, it’s Earth, Wind, and Fire. Of course a young, white girl would get them confused.” The black queen said sipping his coffee. He eyed me up and down with a mix of curiosity and contempt. His voice was low and languid just like the music. He said his name was Lenox just like the Avenue. Lighting his cigarette, he puffed into the night. Adding to the smog that was New York in the summer, I could feel us all reaching an early grave. Our stupid choices hadn’t killed us, maybe all the second hand smoke would.
“They all wear similar outfits and have Afros. How the hell was I to know.” I replied.
To my pleasant surprise Lenox laughed. “This is very true. However, they would know how to do their lipstick and keep it in the lines.” Damn that hurt.
“Snappedy snap!” Someone yelled. It was a Puerto Rican kid who’s name I didn’t get and who disappeared after that night.
The whole table laughed now. “Maybe a more neutral shade is all I am saying.” Lenox said taking another puff of his cigarette. As a black queen, he fearlessly rocked pink. He styled hair and was obsessed with clothing. “However, I will forgive this. We could still possibly be friends. However, if you had confused the Supremes with the Vandellas, there would never be a chance, Child.”
Time went on and that summer scene became a mere memory. Things got worse as I really had to come to terms with who I was. Instead of being cool and tough like the potential girlfriend to The Marlboro Man, I was more or less a dork. I had no skills when it came to men. The fact I had left a man who hit me and made me give up my dreams also left me with some trust issues. It also left me doubting my talents as a ventriloquist and comedian. Of course there was the fact I was always on thin ice with my boss…..
Things got better. People began to see I was growing up and doors began to open. I saw I was a good puppeteer and could do shows for all ages easily. That it was okay to be sensitive, hell sometimes it is one of my best qualities. I am coy as hell when it comes to dudes, and sometimes they think it’s adorable. I also had friends who for the most part obeyed the law. So yeah.
Then things got real. Some of my friends didn’t leave the lifestyle. I saw them continue to be tornados in the paths of those they crossed, and continually screw up their own lives. The rest of us grew up as they stayed jogging in place. Then there were those who experienced the joys of homelessness and jail. Finally, there were those who the lifestyle claimed. Yes, I know people who have overdosed, been murdered, or have taken their own life. Oh and in between there I experienced money problems, career uncertainty, and things not happening on my clock.
However I refused to give up. My puppets became my children and my career my only lover. Through dedication and hardwork, I got on national television not once but several times with my kiddies. I began doing shows for all ages. People recognized me on the street or at gigs from being on TV. I wrote and published a book. As a writer I managed to get my work into places deemed hard to break into and cliquish. As a comedian, I began to do well in front of audiences I never dreamed would like me. I also started doing shows for children in hospitals with my puppets. My same boss who wanted to fire me most of the time years earlier gave me an amazing opportunity because of my writing. I went from looking like hell to selling my own calendar on my website. If I ran into the old April on the street, I probably wouldn’t know her. If I did recognize her, I would probably try to lose her like a welfare mother does her sixth kid that she gets care giver money for.
However, I ran into the old April in several different ways this week. Some of it has been people from my past popping up. Some desperately want to leave the life style but keep getting sucked in. I want to help them, but they don’t want to do what it takes to get out. There is a part of me that feels guilty for not being able to help them. However, I feel selfish because I was able to get out.
This week I also counseled a friend of mine trying to exit a toxic, abusive relationship. She’s got some wreckage in her life. Her best friend and roommate hates her currently. It’s not her fault. The relationship is like a drug. I was there for the both of them. My friend who was in it telling her it’s like a drug, and it’s going to be a while before she feels okay. Also telling her to keep ignoring her ex’s pleas to come back. And her bestie telling her that my bud’s conduct wasn’t personal. The relationship is like a drug. I was also able to tell them there was life afterwards and the answer was to chase your dreams. I know because that’s not only what rescued me, but it’s what pretty much kept me from killing myself.
Last night a comedian friend confided in me he stopped drinking after his life got too crazy. He was feeling good but riding the rollercoaster. I basically told him his comedy would only get better, I know mine did. What I also told my pal was he wouldn’t have to become entangled with crazy women anymore. Oh, and he wouldn’t have to be humiliated the way he was ever again. I encouraged my friend to write more. It would cure his sleeping problem and would keep him sane. I know it’s what helped me, kept me sane, and kept me from blowing my brains out.
Sometimes I beat myself up for not being exactly where I want to be. But I am where I am supposed to be and am doing just fine. If I continue to walk into the light I have a shot of getting there. I can also tell people hell is hot as a mutherfucker, I have been there. I can also tell them that they can get out, I know cause I did.
This morning I was messaged by a booker I worked with during my exit from that lifestyle. He told me he had been following me and how proud he was of all I was doing. That is when it hit me. If I didn’t take the journey I did and didn’t get out, none of what I am doing would even be remotely possible. These days, my big worry is my DVD taping at The Metropolitan Room. Liza Minelli and Joan Rivers perform there. I am sweating to make it all come together. As I headline theatres and chase my punchlines, I am only getting funnier.
My naysayser may call me names and my enemies may use this as ammo against me. Truth be told, for as dysfunctional as the old me was, she is always going to be a part of my fabric. I am not ashamed of her. If anything, I am proud. And haters, please tell me something I didnt know about myself. Those I know who are struggling to get out or lost to the lifestyle, my victories are not merely for myself but for them as well. Just like I want these things for myself, so would they.
In my mind’s eye, I see Lenox with his cigarette, puffing away. I don’t know what happened to him. Word on the street was he fell back into drugs and was homeless last time I heard. In my mind though, he is still robust, funny, and on point. As he ashes his cigarette in my flashback, he quips like he always did, “Fag, they call this that in England.”
Then I hear his deep laugh. The sound always gives me comfort. It is bright and clear as ever as spring is now trying to make an appearance. I say winter is like an ugly girl at a party who is just dampening the place and just won’t leave. Lenox somewhere agrees. He taught me Earth, Wind, and Fire were different from the Temptations. He taught me to keep my lipstick within the liner. As the sunlight hits my skin, I hear “Devotion” from an ambitious, open window. Someone with cabin fever is doing spring cleaning. They are throwing out the bad and keeping the good. It is a sign of growth. It is something we should all do at all times of our lives. It is something that I did once upon a time that changed everything.

 “Thru devotion, blessed are the children.”
I Came, I Saw, I Sang: Memoirs of a Singing Telegram Delivery Girl
Come see me at the Metropolitan Room April 22nd at 7pm

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