Category Archives: Comedians

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Rolling With Golden
Part Four

by Daniel Weizmann

The wannabe comedian thinks he’s a hit. His has-been talent agent isn’t so sure. 2,779 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


When comics say, “I started at the bottom,” they are talking about a place called The Wellington, a three-star steakhouse piano bar on a lonely stretch of used car dealerships deep in the San Fernando Valley.

“One time only,” Roy had said, “and don’t get any funny ideas about me managing you.”

As we entered, Roy eyed the schlocky place like a battlefield. I signed my name on the clipboard list (Number 8) and sat next to him at the bar with the Thursday night lushes. I said, “Looks like comics aren’t exempt from the two drink minimum.”

Roy gave me an uncomfortable smile. He was too big for the room. He said, “I’ll drink yours.”

The restaurant hostess — a sandy-haired college girl in a tuxedo vest and a collarless shirt — was doubling as emcee for the night. She balanced a round plate of drinks with one hand and held the mic with the other, giving it all a little too much enthusiasm for the defenseless dinner crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen… Our first act… The hilarious Krembo!”

A WASP-y guy in his forties came up and relieved her of the mic, started right into bits about traveling in Amsterdam. He was dying, not a giggle or a guffaw in the place, and I was cringing — he was truly awful. I couldn’t stand to look directly at him but, just as I bowed my head, Roy somberly put down his vodka gimlet and leaned into me, whispering ardently, “Look at the talent up there. I don’t know what it is that makes someone a superstar, but he’s got it.” Now I had to shut my eyes to keep from laughing out loud. “No, no, Tommy, this guy has got the magic.”

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Rolling With Golden
Part Three

by Daniel Weizmann

The has-been talent agent starts to school the wannabe comedian. 1,890 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


As much fun as I was having bodysurfing this glamorous riptide, I knew all along that I was in danger of losing sight of my mission. Being inside the gates of Castle Roy was not enough. Yet as badly as I wanted to tell Golden about my secret act, show him my voices, solicit his advice, I also knew that the second I brought it up, the dynamic between us would change forever. In fact, he could fire me for it, guilt-free. Hollywood was full of wily entrepreneurs like me trying to sneak in the back door. So I held back, waiting.

I drove Roy down Wilshire in the bumper-to-bumper afternoon. He was oblivious, sitting in the back of the Benz, yelling at somebody on the cell, throwing his pauses like punches. “I have…the receipts. Yes. All…the proof…you need.” Roy grunted. “Well you tell him…it’s worth it…to ME.” Then he hung up with an exhalation of great disgust.

We approached a red light. I I flipped down the sunblocker, the glare was killing me. I knew that, when it comes to fame, there’s no sneaking in the back door, no ginger pussyfooting around the dream, protected by your irony and your patience. No way. You go for it. You skate out onto thin ice.

So I said, “Roy, you know I never told you this but I was on TV as a kid.”

“No kidding,” he grumbled.

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Rolling With Golden
Part Two

by Daniel Weizmann

The wannabe comedian goes to work for the has-been talent agent. 1,955 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


It was the good life. Castle Roy was drunk with color, lush green grass and gently bowing palms, wild purple jacarandas, blazing orange and blue birds-of-paradise, and everywhere unrestrained bougainvillea surging over the balconies. The place could have given the Garden of Eden a serious run for its money.

We worked in the guest house just behind the pool that looked like the cottage of the Seven Dwarfs if the Seven Dwarfs had been sportin’ major bling. This bungalow alone was bigger than many shameless American homes, and it housed the laundry room, Roy’s working office, a two-car garage, as well as the furnished studio apartment where I had been living for almost three months. Behind the garage was a storage space with a coin-operated Madame Esmeralda Prediction Dispenser. She was out of cards, but I still had one question for her: Will I be able to turn Roy Golden into my own personal Jewish Yoda, master of the comic pause?

In the office, Roy conducted his business from a throne — an actual throne that had been given to him by the Princess of Estonia. The whole place was plastered with awards, trophies, heads of the hunt. And there were at least a dozen framed gold and platinum records.

But the best was this one framed photograph up there, my all-time favorite: Roy yelling at Johnny Carson backstage, with a sheepish-looking young Barbara Streisand giggling in the background. Johnny had his hand up as if to say, “Hey, wait a minute, Roy.” But Roy was pointing, furious, absolutely undeterred. What a photo! You couldn’t tell what was happening exactly. Was Roy protecting Barbara Streisand or interrupting her? Was Carson deferring to Roy or avoiding him? And who the hell had the balls to yell at Johnny Carson in the first place?

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Rolling With Golden
Part One

by Daniel Weizmann

A wannabe comedian meets a has-been talent agent. 2,923 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


I first met Roy Golden while I was driving for the Bel Air Continental Livery Service. Roy was a routine airport pickup. That was 70% of the gig. Dusk was just starting to fall on LAX as I pulled into Arrivals and parked. I opened the dash and fumbled around for a Sharpie; I had thrown a paperback copy of Erich Fromm’s Escape From Freedom in there for a little light studying, in case it would be a slow night. I grabbed a slice of cardboard from under the passenger seat and wrote down the name: G O L D E N. Then I got out and popped the trunk, grabbed my hat, and walked down to the Baggage Claim exit with the dopey little cardboard square and held it up like an Olympics judge as I watched humanity pass me by.

Cardboard in hand, I adjusted my driver’s hat and posture in search of a convincing stance, but I knew I looked ridiculous. Anyway, what difference did it make? The limo job was supposedly just supplementary; in six weeks I’d be graduating UCLA with a useless B.A. in Psych. Then I’d really be in trouble because I had no real plans of any kind. Everywhere looked like the outside. From my vantage point at LAX Arrivals, the rushing travelers cut around me like a stampede. Still, I couldn’t be so self-righteous, because I harbored a secret: I was an addict. But I wasn’t addicted to any of the usual things, that would have been too easy.

Sometimes, on my nights off, I’d sneak out to amateur hours around town and do celebrity voice impressions.

Could there be a more stupid, more harmless, thing to lie about? It wasn’t even like I was that good at it: I bombed ritually. I had the voices down pat, but I didn’t have the vibe. Something was missing — what, I don’t know — yet the more I tried, the more I sucked. “Amateur” was written all over my face.

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Cain And Abel
Part Three

by Daniel Weizmann

The Nash Bros either thrive or merely survive their appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! 2,119 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Fans and cheerleaders: Do you ever marvel at how they share our world? Incredible to think that while most of us live our humdrum lives, they are out there — the superstars — mythical, rolling, unhinged. And why do they do it? They do it so we don’t have to.

Marky and Sean met on the lot and rode to Kimmel’s in a Lincoln stretch. Marky felt cooler than he had all day. Plus, he acted kinder. He asked Sean, “Hey, man, you gonna do that patriot missile gag with Kimmel, the thing with the somersault?”

Sean was humbler. “I don’t want to hog up all the space.”

“No, bro. It’s a good bit. Do your thing.”

And then it happened so fast. They were whisked through the Green Room and pancaked, and led out on the air. The band played a brass version of the pair’s biggest hit to date, “Girl You’re The 1 (For Me, For Me)”. Kimmel’s audience ran a little older but they still went ape-shit when the Nash Bros crossed the stage. Jimmy did a little mock shock at the amplitude of the girly screams. The familiar tingle of stage energy dueled with Marky’s waning inner heat. Then there was a third Marky, a phantom in the wings: watching, sober, attentive. But every smile was in place, as Kimmel stood up to fist-five them with both hands as the horns blasted big ending punches.

The crowd would not stop screaming.

“Will you calm down?” Kimmel finally admonished, setting off another wave.

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Cain And Abel
Part Two

by Daniel Weizmann

One of two brothers hosting a hit TV show can’t accept that they no longer have equal roles. 2,679 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Fan Club members: It is you that keep the dream alive. And that is why you must know that there was no formal ritual between the brothers. They rehearsed at noon five days a week, talked on the phone four to thirty times a day, met their press agent every other Thursday, and socially were almost inseparable. Even the many girls they took out, they did so in pairs, occasionally shooting each other a deeply knowing look mid-date to signal the switching of seats and intentions. Sean rented his own place in the Los Feliz Hills to be nearer the Burbank studio and liked to sleep late. Marky bought athree-bedroom oceanfront condo in Manhattan Beach, which was a good investment and, besides, what was the point in being a pop star if you weren’t going to live on the beach?

After dinner at Mom’s, Sean headed home to get some beauty rest before the big television interview. Marky, on the other hand, hopped in the Benz and was heading for his beach pad, intending to catch some Zs as well, when he remembered that it was Sunday, and that meant poker night at the shared apartment of Tom and Shanahan, his old high school pals. Marky was already in the old neighborhood, so he skipped the freeway onramp and maneuvered into the parking lot of the Hawthorne Arms, ready for action. He walked the dank stairwell to Tom and Shanahan’s second floor pad, and held his pop-star-ness in check. He lapsed into a joke fantasy, rare but recurring, that he was not and had never been in showbiz. Sean’s bro — the tax accountant. Or Sean’s bro — the sportswriter. If only he had been too fat, early balding like their Old Man.

“Dude!” Shanahan called out. “Total surprise.”

“Yo!” Tom said, his back to them, pulling a twelve-ouncer of Olde English Malt Liquor out of the fridge. “Do I hear Marky?”

“The man arriveth!”

Marky shrugged, then sat in the breakfast nook with the five neighborhood buffoons in Old Navy duds and hand-me-downs, some sporting baseball caps on their $20 haircuts. The homies looked happy but tired. Marky feigned a “long, hard day,” too.

“What’s up, superstar?” Tom said, high-fiving.

“Dude,” Kev said, cracking a beer, “aren’t you on Kimmel tomorrow night?”

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Cain And Abel
Part One

by Daniel Weizmann

Two brothers have a hit TV comedy-variety show – and a less successful relationship. 2,271 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Dear Fan Club Members: They say these things don’t happen overnight. But they kinda do. The fun began at three in the afternoon in Hanger One right on the Fox Lot when 21-year-old heartthrob Marky Nash sat on the edge of the newly reconstructed stage thumbing tweets to the base on his iPhone to tell us that Season Two is coming. After a breakneck rehearsal sched, he was psyched to get back to where he belonged: the spotlight. Behind Marky sat his blond baby bro, 19-year-old Sean Nash with his feet up looking all sanguine ‘n’ shit. That’s when the Producer and the Other Producer — whose names we can never remember! — huddled with the Bros. One Producer was older, tall, skinny, full of jagged grey competence in white sneakers. The Other Producer was husky in a Dodger’s cap and Cal State t-shirt, looking like a disgruntled dirtbiker.

It was lecture time as the stage crew slid gels into the footlights and wheeled the giant behemoth TV cams into place.

“This,” the Producer said, “is our moment.”

“And you boys have what it takes to answer the bell,” the Other Producer added.

“You are already stars,” the Producer said. “Don’t believe us? Google yourselves.”

“But Season Two is a major test,” the Other Producer said.

“For everybody,” his partner added. “Not just you guys.”

“And I don’t have to tell you we have competition,” the Other Producer said. At this, the two men paused, arms akimbo, Old Jew and Junior Jew, staring down the Nash Bros for dramatic effect.

“Meno?” Sean asked, sitting up.

The Producer said, “Meno Dalmucci’s variety dogshit debuts day after tomorrow in prime time opposite you guys.”

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Tyrannis Rex
Part Two

by Richard Natale

The screenwriter of the studio mogul’s biopic works on Act One. 2,036 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Hollywood – 1969

Weak, Dave, weak. Just like your ex-wife said. Or soft, as Jules used to say. Driving out the front gate was like stepping from inside a fun-house mirror. He felt a headache coming on, the kind he used to get when he worked at Hollywood mogul Jules Azenberg’s Argot Pictures – like a nail being hammered into old plaster, making a hole twice its size and sending dust flying everywhere. He never did work for anyone remotely like Jules after leaving the movie business. Television was a completely different animal. Writers like Dave were hired for a series episode for one reason only: to fill in the intervals between commercials. There was no pretense of making art, or quality entertainment. It was called programming for a reason. The beats were all laid out; writers merely inserted new words inbetween. No one expected Dave to pour his heart and soul into a teleplay the way he had with a movie script in the vague hope that a scintilla of what he’d written actually made it to the screen intact. It never did but it never stopped screenwriters from trying. Keeping that kind of delusion going took a great deal of energy. And Dave had paid for it with big plaster cracks.

The next night, over dinner, Dave and his friend Joel Rodgers discussed Azenberg’s offer to write a warts and all biopic of Jules’ life and career.

“You said yes, I hope,” Joel said.

Dave nodded, but couldn’t conceal his unease.

“Good. For once in your life, maybe you’ll be smart,” Joel chided him. “Take the money and run.”

“It’s not that simple, Joel. It’s just that I’ve never been a leech.”

“It’s a wonder you’ve survived,” Joel chortled. “In this town you need to be either a leech or a lemming. Or a rat. So tell your agent to squeeze that little fucker’s balls until he screams. Then, once you have your money, write whatever the hell you want. He gave you permission. Now call him on it.”

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Lenny’s Last Laugh
Part Two

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

Hollywood’s best P.I. McNulty helps a comedian corpse get one best laugh. 1,848 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


“Okay, let’s do this,” McNulty said aloud as the sun slowly rose over the San Gabriel Mountains.

Seated in a florist’s van rented from a movie vehicle supply house, Hollywood’s most in-demand private eye waited to see if the first minor obstacle, namely getting screen siren Eden La Peer’s actor fiancé out of the house, had been successfully handled. The answer came shortly after 7 a.m. when the gate to their Beverly Hills home opened and the fiancé’s Jaguar convertible headed off to Palm Springs for a two-day gig that McNulty had arranged through a TV producer who, like most people in the industry, owed the P.I. a favor.

So far so good, McNulty thought.

A few minutes later, the florist van rolled up to the gate intercom and buzzed.

“Yes?” a woman’s tinny voice asked.

“Floral delivery for Miss La Peer,” the uniformed driver said.

The gate opened slowly. But, before the van moved, the side door slid open and one of McNulty’s men hopped out wearing a rented security guard uniform. His job was to keep any unwanted visitors from passing through the gate while the van headed to the house.

A few moments later, the van driver carried a large floral arrangement wrapped in clear cellophane to the front door. McNulty followed but hid himself off to the side. The door opened and Eden La Peer was standing there in a low-cut satin nightgown, her hair tousled and her eyes sleepy from the early hour.

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Lenny’s Last Laugh
Part One

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

Hollywood investigator McNulty must fulfill a comedian’s final wish. 2,287 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Lenny Hazeltine was dead.

“How dead was he?” echoed the voices of a phantom TV audience in McNulty’s head.

So dead he stopped getting robo calls from politicians.

So dead Nigerian Princes quit emailing him.

So dead his three ex-wives stopped suing him for more spousal support.

Yes, Lenny Hazeltine, one of America’s most beloved funny men, was truly, absolutely and undeniably dead. Not that he wasn’t used to it.

“I’ve died so many times on stage,” he would joke, “my undertaker’s on speed dial.”

But now, in the truest sense of the word, Lenny Hazeltine, the man who claimed he’d been cited by the Center For Disease Control for spreading infectious laughter, was dead. And that was bad news for McNulty, Hollywood’s most infamous private eye. Not only because a close friend had passed away, but also because the day had finally come when McNulty had to make good on his marker.

The IOU had come about a few years earlier when Lenny, one of the more notorious and self-admitted degenerate showbiz gamblers, invited McNulty to sit in on one of several underground poker games that had become a high-stakes pastime among A-list celebs, high-rollers and other moneyed mucky-mucks. McNulty’s invitation was a so-called “bonus” after he’d saved Lenny a bundle in outrageous spousal support from his second wife. To prove that she had been the unfaithful party, McNulty’s team of Nerd Ninjas had hacked into her cell phone and downloaded explicit photos and videos of her and a soap opera hunk engaged in a catalog of Kama Sutra positions.

“They were tied up in so many knots,” Lenny joked, “the Boy Scouts awarded them merit badges.”

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Mae And Billy

by Matthew Licht

Billy Wilder wants an older and isolated Mae West to star in his next film. Or does he? 2,062 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


He was on a drive down the street where dreams die whole. The diminutive movie director steered his serious white car towards the stately Art Deco pile at 570 North Rossmore Avenue that had been named for black birds in trees. He didn’t need a map of the movie star homes. Rabenswald, he thought, as he looked for the doorbell. He’d been in Hollywood over twenty years but still couldn’t desist from mental translations. He wasn’t born into the German-speaking world by accident. Billy Wilder had never really left Berlin.

He was on his way up to Apartment 611 to see Mae West. She’d lived there for decades, resolutely in Hollywood — hanging on, hanging tough, out of the limelight, nebulously entrenched in the collective imagination. The easy life at a ranch or a beach or a mountain resort was unthinkable for the sex goddess. For Broadway Mae had been bound for Hollywood the instant she froze, hands on hips, at the center of a pitted nickelodeon stage near Times Square and demanded her spotlight. Shadowy stagehands did her bidding and swung their beams her way. Light was the semen and ovum of her showbiz. Stars are born from light. They burn and shine and can’t last forever. Actors who are really stars illuminate till they burn out. What’s left, on reflection, is ashes, smoke, in her case, a nostalgic perfume.

Billy knew a thing or two about stars, even though he never took any astronomy classes at any fancy-pants East Coast college. He knew sex, power, mystery. He was a writer, basically: a storyteller who made his creations reflect the world’s darkness under brilliant piercing light. His imagination cut through the shadows and fog of the erotic swamp.

So Billy rang her doorbell and lit a fuse.

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The Larry David Code
Part Two

by Steve Young

An escalating mystery threatens to end the increasingly difficult sitcom industry. 3,189 words. Part One. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


That day, I set out to find Larry David. I had seen Curb Your Enthusiasm enough to know what Larry’s house looked like but how to get there was the problem. I GPS’d “Larry’s House” but ended up at Larry The Cable Guy’s mansion. I headed down to Sunset to meet with my undercover celebrity map guy. I followed the map’s directions to an inconspicuous mansion sitting in the middle of a drive-thru cul de sac. If not for the fifty-foot hedges sculpted into the shapes of some of Larry’s top neuroses, I might have missed the house altogether. Shame and Paranoia flanked each side of the massive front doors.

On Larry’s front step was a stack of old People magazines. I picked up one and walked towards the threshold. I hoped that my magazine delivery ruse might get me through the portals and I would soon meet the man who had changed television. I swallowed hard, unsuccessfully attempting to dislodge the ever present glob of anxiety-generated saliva that seemed to have taken up permanent residence in my throat. With a deep breath that seemed to carry a toxic mixture of excitement and nervousness, I raised my hand to knock. But before my fist reached it, the door opened.

As if I had just become Curly (it could have been Shemp, but definitely not Curly Joe who ended up on Abbott and Costello’s show), I ended up knocking on Larry David’s head.

“Is something wrong with you?” he said. “What are you trying to do? Who are you?”

People magazine delivery boy.”

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The Larry David Code
Part One

by Steve Young

A great sitcom writer has disappeared. Who or what caused it? And why? 2,449 words. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


BAM!

Was that a backfire or a punch thrown by an animated super hero? Perhaps I was in an Adam West Batman episode. I had no idea what was real and what was a cult classic.

Bam!

Of course it could have been both a backfire and a punch happening simultaneously, a contrived scenario much like the moment a sitcom character alludes to “the one thing that would never happen,” and much to the surprise of the viewer – wait for it – it does. You never see it coming, that is, unless you’ve ever seen any film or television show.

Bam!

No, that was definitely a backfire. I have got to find some mechanic I can trust.

Christ. I’m staked out in front of the mega-mansion owned by Larry David, the celebrated star/creator of Curb Your Enthusiasm and co-creator of Seinfeld, just hoping I might be able to snag that long-awaited magazine interview we’d arranged. Now I’m stinking up the driveway with explosions produced by a running internal combustion engine that occurs in the air intake or exhaust system rather than inside the combustion chamber. Wikipedia is such a great source for car repair information.

I turned off the engine and jumped out of my car. My heady prudence came coincidentally from my friend Prudence who once revealed to me the secret that had prevented me from putting courage ahead of safety: “The only thing worse than an unemployed writer? An ignored unemployed writer.”

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Does Carol Burnett Come With Salad?

by Jim Piazza

What’s worse than writing for the worst TV show? Writing for dinner theater. 2,182 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


“I knew Bret was gay!”

“You don’t know anything,” Mickey snapped.

“He blew me a kiss last night!”

“Actors do that all the time.”

“In a deserted parking lot at two in the morning?”

There was a pause on the other end of the line. “They gave you a car?”

Mickey may have been dying, he may have been richer than Dolores Hope, but give anybody else a dented Volvo rental or a day-old donut and he wanted one, too – with sprinkles.

While Mickey was enduring the final days of a mysterious cancer in New York, I was trapped down in Neptune, Florida, with the Sam Shepard send-up we’d written together. It was my first foray in theater after four years of uncredited script-polishing in a forgotten woodshed on the Paramount lot. I was eager to see my name on something besides a summons from Traffic Court. The play was purposely “so bad it’s funny”– but nobody seemed to get it except us. Even the Alaska Rep passed despite Mickey’s marquee cred: three Oscar noms, two Tonys and a Pulitzer.

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Paradise
Part Two

by Howard Rosenberg

A stand-up comedian reviews his painful adolescence and the person who caused it. 3,308 words. Part One. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


Kansas City – 2016

His name is advertised in white lights on a marquee out front, under the heading, COMEDY COLOSSUS. Mainstream sexy is what they want on this circuit. A lot of it, and he delivers. It’s been a nice run so far, the kind of good crowds and boisterous laughs that promise a return gig. But he knows that won’t happen.

He hasn’t been to Kansas City for two years, not since the funeral. And this is his first gig at Chez Vegas. It’s a booking he sought, inexplicably drawn back to Kansas City like a criminal to the scene of his crime, while hoping this would compel him to take care of unfinished business he’d put off far too long. He hadn’t known the unfinished business would devastate him.

He knows the Chez Vegas terrain by heart, could chart and navigate it blindfolded. The pattern for these smallish clubs and their flashy decors rarely changes, whether the curtain he stands behind is red, green or polka-dot.

The smug superior stiff-upper-lips will drink and laugh the least. But he can count on a spillover of loud boozy conventioneers up front along with screaming Hadassah ladies and their husbands who always hang on his words. The closer they are the better, so he can absorb their energy. He knows a few will push hard to meet him afterwards. They’ll want to buy him drinks and, thinking they’re hip, bore him with their own favorite dumb jokes and bleed out their life stories like hemophiliacs. Yeah, sure, Kansas City hip; last month Toledo hip, and before that Louisville.

Hurling insults from the back of the room will be the hecklers: gutless, talentless and mindless with bull’s eyes on their foreheads. They sicken him, but are easy to top and humiliate when they get out of line. Which is why he always hopes they do. He pictures pulling a trigger and blowing them away, all of them, the entire fucking room, thirty seconds of euphoric release.

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Paradise
Part One

by Howard Rosenberg

A stand-up comedian is booked into his hometown club which stirs up memories. 2,380 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Kansas City – 2016

It’s hot, as July nights always are in his hometown. Hot and sticky, the air stagnant and wet, as if he is bathing with his clothes on. It reminds Davey of his childhood, age six or seven perhaps. They would flee their sweltering second-floor flat and join neighbors on the grassy slope of Gilliam Park, reclining on a blanket under the stars with a thermos of iced tea while hoping to catch a breeze. Their rumbling window air-conditioner cooled erratically even when working, and a new one wasn’t in the budget. Not that Davey cared. Drifting off in the park was his air-conditioning as a young boy.

“Thanks,” Davey tells the driver named Pete who wears a Kansas City Royals cap backwards, a retard look for middle-aged white guys. Davey peels off a ten, and Pete accepts the tip with eyes forward, right palm up; he never says much, and his shoulders slump. Davey doesn’t care about him at all, but wonders if anyone could be content driving a town car for a living at age what, forty or forty-five? He decides Pete is dead man driving. Reality check: Pete’s passenger is dead, too.

He puts the driver out of his mind, slings his vinyl wardrobe bag over his shoulder and approaches the rear door of Chez Vegas, a popular nightspot in the sprawling upscale mid-town district known as County Club Plaza. It’s been dark for hours, yet the heavy hair presses against his unshaven face as he jabs a red button, enunciates his name clearly into a small rusted speaker and is buzzed inside where the plunge in temperature brings immediate relief.

Stranded in the middle-earth of show business, he’s been at it for 10 years, so he knows the drill. His drill: slip in and disappear into a dressing room, this one next door to a kitchen whose pungent smells of nachos and spicy fried foods escape through the vent and almost make him gag. As always, he’ll avoid contact and be invisible. Then wait behind the green curtain with his opening joke on the tip of his tongue until he hears his name announced followed by applause.

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