Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Escape From Toms River

Years ago, as a mere neophyte in the comedy game I took gigs anywhere that I was booked. Hungry for stage time, money didn’t matter. There was many a time I lost money getting to a gig, and this inspired some interesting fights with my parents where they yelled, “WE ARE JUST CONCERNED ABOUT YOUR FUTURE. YOU ARE GOING NO WHERE FAST!”

Mind you, most parents aren’t thrilled at the prospect of their kid becoming a professional ventriloquist. They were happier with that than the original plan, and that was to become an acrobat in the circus. Yes, I wanted to become an acrobat. I was a skilled tumbler as a child but after injury continually sidelined me I picked up a puppet. Oh what tangled webs we weave.

Anyway, most of the time I just performed for the sake of food because I rarely ate in those days. Comedy was my only love. I wasn’t jaded then by the politics and sexism involved in the game, nor did I know to be. Heck, I was so unspoiled and humble I would even do a check spot because it meant getting up. Looking back, not having awareness or standards in some ways was a very beautiful thing.

Through craigslist, I got a gig at a fundraiser for a 7 year old girl that had a genetic illness that was killing her, and treatment was expensive. The family couldn’t afford it, so it was going to be a night of music and variety. I asked if there was pay because I always did, plus it was a long way away. Yes, Toms River, the small town one meets before going to Atlantic City. Maybe they would even have food. They had neither, it was a benefit. These days I would probably say no, but then stage time was stage time so I went.

When I got on the bus immediately I knew this was going to be a strange night. In those days, I always travelled with radio blasting in my ear. The bus driver, an old black man resembling Uncle Remus, turned around and told me he could hear my radio. The strange part was, for as loud as my radio was, it’s not like anyone but him was complaining. He remarked that my “white noise” was going to interfere with his driving. Later I understood why. Uncle Remus was a terrible driver, and he needed to concentrate all he could. Yes, it was one of the bumpiest, most terrible bus rides ever.

After getting off the bus, I was so dizzy I was afraid I was going to vomit. While AC was only a stones throw away, this little hamlet seemed peaceful as opposed to the glitzy, sometimes seedy gambling capital of the Eastern Seaboard. People were probably kind and hard working…….boy was I wrong.

Of course, later in life, against my better judgement, I would date a man from Toms River. He’s currently in prison. Don’t feel bad. Prison is better than Toms River. He’s moving up in the world.
However, I had yet to experience the culture and high society of Ocean County. The man who organized the event said it was walkable. So I began to walk. In the darkness, I only saw a handful of streetlights and became rather nervous. That is when a cop car began to follow me.

At first I thought nothing of this cop car following me so close. Maybe he had things to do. But when I turned the corner, he turned the corner. This literally happened for five minutes. I knew I was an outsider in a small town. Still, there are times where outsiders are picked up because the good old boys feel they need taught a lesson, and cops are notorious for hating blacks and women……especially in small towns.

I picked up my step and began to run and the cop car proceeded to follow me. I was lugging May Wilson in tow, suitcase and all. My heart beat as I ran into a 7-11, sweat pouring down my brow. The cop car pulled in. I figured that I would just get arrested peacefully.

Instead, the cop got out of his car. He resembled a mall cop more than regular patrol, and had the look on his face like he was confused as to why I was so frightened of him. “Officer, I…..”

“Are you okay?” The cop asked, confused, his gut hanging over his belt buckle. I wanted to tell him he had only been stalking me for a few blocks and I would get arrested peacefully. Then he went on to tell me how good the donuts at the 7-11 were. Yes, he was going to the 7-11 to get donuts and we both happened to be going the same way. Suddenly, I knew this town was perhaps the safest place ever to commit a felony. All I would have to do was race walk away, and not do it in the vicinity.

So I asked the cop where the venue I was supposed to perform at was. He gave me a look of utter cluelessness. Why would Barney Fife know the town he patrolled ever? I got into the 7-11 and asked the middle eastern man behind the counter whom the cop called Akbar. Apparently, Akbar knew where the venue was. Akbar revealed he lived a few towns over. Yes, Akbar was the one who didn’t scare me in a cop car but would be collared as a terrorist by anyone else. We like Akbar.

The venue was five blocks down, and I figured the night could only get better and perhaps this show was going to be a good one. When I caught sight of the venue, it was glowing the embers of a crisp, early spring night. A sign said, “Help Save Little Kayla.” It had teddy bears and other things on it. This benefit was a darling idea.

But then from the inside I heard the symphony of heavy metal music, and a singer yelling, “DIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!” So much for saving Kayla. Wasn’t this because they wanted her to LIVE?

As the melody of the prose of the lyrics caught my ear, I saw two of Toms Rivers finest scholars, Plato and Socrates, on the side of the brick wall. Both were taking turns banging their head on this brick wall. I watched in utter shock and horror as both of this young man approached this mind reducing task with Herculean effort.

Plato said to Socrates, “I bet you that if I hit my head hard enough, I won’t crack my skull and won’t get knocked out.”

Socrates remarked, “Oh yeah, you are probably going to get knocked out first and I’m just gonna keep going.”

Both Plato and Socrates engaged in this intelligent, top of the bell curve discussion and proceeded to bang their heads against the wall for about another minute as I watched astonished. Mind you, I grew up with some geniuses but these guys were of the special, gifted variety. Just then, Plato caught sight of me and asked, “What the hell do you want looking at us all stupid?”

Not even getting into the irony of the statement, I asked if this was the benefit for poor dying Kayla just to make sure I hadn’t entered some parallel universe. Yes, the one who fate maligned when these two able bodied individuals were turning themselves into vegetables.

Socrates, who’s one brain cell appeared to sometimes work told me it was, and Kayla’s stepdad was in a heavy metal band and all of his friends were playing. Okay, so at least these people were using their resources and attempting to do something nice. Granted, file it under fail, but they were attempting which there was something to be said for that. But then Socrates asked, “Which one of us do you think will go longer without getting a concussion?”

Yes of all the eternal questions one could ponder such as the existence of God, the possibility of world peace, or even the end of all war, there was this. Oh this world was beyond fucked. Fucked up the asshole. And the odds of these two reproducing someday were quite good.

I just smiled and said, “Be careful.” Then I went inside. What else could I do?
Once inside, the band onstage was yelling, “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!” 

Years later, a club owner I worked under told me when a comedian kept yelling that in their act they didn’t have jokes. And apparently when a band yells at onstage they don’t have lyrics. Perhaps they could have benefited from a session with my club owner friend and wrote something meaningful, but in the words of my mentor, “You can’t fix stupid.”

Two girls, high school age were talking. I overheard one mention she had a baby. Quickly I did a double take. While this was not the epicenter of new aged philosophical discovery, it also appeared that at 23 I was already at advanced maternal age. I saw Kayla’s mother wandering around for a minute. She looked to be a little older than me. Kayla was 7. Dear God in heaven, these people weren’t just white trash. This was a snow covered landfill.

I found the event organizer who was in fact very nice. He had heard about Kayla’s plight through mutual friends, and the reason he was able to even put on the event was that he wasn’t from the town and therefore had the only brain in the box. Unlike Socrates and Plato, he spent his time writing music and had performed earlier that evening. I had a feeling his songs had words in them, and not, “FUUUUUUCCCCCCKKKKKK!!!!!” OR “DIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!”

The event organizer told me Kayla’s bio dad was nowhere to be found. Who knows what might have happened? They may have lost him accidentally when his skateboard went too far off in the distance. Either way, Kayla’s stepdad was picking up the slack and raising her as his own. Granted, while Albert Einstein was not to be found in this quaint hideaway, at least their hearts were in a good place. 

Seconds later, the event organizer pointed out little Kayla’s stepdad. He wasn’t onstage playing, but rather, he was with the rest of the Darwin Award nominees starting a makeshift mosh pit. And the band onstage continued to yell, “FUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!” That is when Kayla’s stepdad stage dove. I took a deep breath. In Toms River, this man was not just a knight in shining armor but a prime catch.

Finally, it was my turn to go on. The room full of heavy metalers looked at me as if I was an alien from another planet. This was going to be interesting. I did some material and to my surprise they gave me polite chuckles. I wasn’t going to hope for a miracle and plus they had seen metal all evening, so polite chuckles would have to do. However, if one isn’t careful polite chuckles turn to silence and that is when I decided to hit them hard and went blue, very blue. This was no time for a clean set.

May Wilson took them home, and they LOOOOOOVVVVVVEEEEDDDDDDD the dirty, shock worthy stuff. As a matter of fact, they laughed really hard. I was surprised that it went over as well as it did. Then I got off the stage. It wasn’t my best work, wasn’t my worst, but I lived. And in comedy, sometimes that is the best you can hope for.

When we got offstage, Socrates and Plato, now my friends both ran up to me. “That was good.” Plato said.

“You thought so?” I asked, now somehow caring about the opinion of two people who I would have probably tutored in high school.

“Yeah, you were good. The last comedian totally ate it.” Socrates told me. “I mean, he fucking sucked.”

“Really?” I was now curious.

“Yeah, he was really bad. So bad we chased him off the stage after the third joke. Not even letting him finish. I mean, it was awful. And then another dude was supposed to come perform, but they saw him being chased off and he ran out scared. You lasted. You’re alright.” Socrates explained.
“How did you chase him off?” I asked, now curious.

“Oh, we got on the stage, told him to get off, and then ran after him so he would get off.” Plato informed me. They had literally chased him off the stage. The fact I had lived through this set was a bigger miracle than I thought.

The conversation with the scholars made me need some air, so I went outside. Standing was a crowd of young women, all who had pitch black hair that looked like it had been sexually assaulted by the nearest can of tar. Their faces had cheap, drug store makeup, and they had so many piercings they would make a metal detector have a wet dream. As for the tats, they weren’t just body art, but you could get Hep C just by looking at these ladies. But by the way Plato and Socrates approached them, these honey traps were akin to Miss America.

One gave me an up and down look of contempt, probably because she felt my lack of trailer park chic made me inferior. Then one whispered to her friend, looked over at me, and went inside. Whatever it was, it was a series of one syllable words. Oh well.

Just then, I was approached by an evil, inbred clone of carrot top with a vicious mop of red hair, a scowl, and crooked teeth rotting out of his mouth.

“You want to know what I thought of your set?” He asked.

“No.” I replied, knowing it wasn’t good and I really didn’t want to talk to him.

“I thought you sucked.”


“You were way too shocking and too dirty.” He told me. Wow, and this was from someone moshing to a band that kept yelling, “FUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCKKKKKKKK!!!!!” The standards in this town were quite strange.

“Do you want to hear anymore?” He asked.

“No.” I said and walked away. This was definitely my cue to go.

“I have more to say to you!” He called. And I kept on walking.

After my strange evening, I made my way to the bus depot. The streets were dark and I wasn’t afraid of getting killed, but being kidnapped by some of the mutants I had just met. I had also lost my way so I called a cab from a number I had scratched down on a piece of paper before I left my house.
The ride was short and the cab driver was nice enough. He mentioned he had a wife and three kids, and I figured this town wasn’t all mutants. Maybe I was going to be okay. Just as we got to the bus depot, the driver mentioned it was going to be a while before the next bus came and wanted to know if I wanted to talk.

I said sure. So then he asked what my financial situation was. When I mentioned broke he offered me $50 for a blow job. Something told me for as much as the money would have been great, getting out of this situation alive would have been even better. So I jumped out of the car and ran like I saw Godzilla. He drove away, probably a tad upset that his manhood was crushed. But rest assured, if he went a little ways up some of the women at the show would have given him what they wanted. After all, they probably needed the money to feed their throngs of children out of wedlock. Then he would forget about me because they are the standard of beauty in Toms River. 

At the bus depot there were two other people. One was a big black dude and the other was a short, fat white woman. I asked them when the next bus out was, and they said it would be a while. So we began talking. The black dude revealed he had just gotten out of the Ocean County Jail and since the moment he got arrested, all he wanted to do was get out of Toms River. Now he was trying to make his way back to Paterson, an even bigger shithole. But alas, that was his shithole.

The woman revealed she had been in and out of mental institutions for the last three years with various bouts of bipolar and schizophrenia, and was now looking for employment. Despite the fact I should have been afraid, these were the two most normal people I had met since I had come to town. She lamented that she didn’t know how to explain the gaps on her resume. So the ex-con and I began to brainstorm ways to help her. It was team work in the most surreal scenario ever.

The ex-con suggested making up places of employment and using friends as references. It had worked for him. I suggested saying she was caring for a sick relative, and was the only family member they had to do so. She remarked both were good ideas. Then we talked about the importance of helping others.

Just then a ragged kid approached wanting to know when the next bus out was. All he wanted to do was get out of Toms River. He wanted to get to New York to the Salvation Army. Note, the Salvation Army is no great shakes, but it is still better than Toms River. The kid was worried he missed the last bus out. We told him he still had time.

Finally the bus came, and the kid didn’t have enough money to get to NYC. I had $40 on me, and the ticket was $20. Looking at the kid, desperate and ragged, knowing that like the three of us he just wanted to get out of Toms River, I said, “Here, I am your guardian angel right now. Take it.”

“Thank you! How will I ever repay you?” He replied, speechless at my generosity. Note, I am not normally that generous. I pity the fool that is stranded in that town.

“Do something nice for someone else and don’t be a dickweed.” I replied, and off we went.
And whenever something good happens to me out of no where, or someone does something nice for me, I believe in my heart it’s karma coming back to help me for the young man I took pity upon as we all worked to escape that ever hallowed layer of hell before one reaches Atlantic City.

]Moral: Sometimes a crazy night produces a great story, and when in doubt, help someone else because it's the right thing to do.


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