Thursday, September 1, 2011

Leisurely Check Out Time

Looking at the bank I once cleaned. Three stories. Five nights a week for six months. A solo gig.

Banks are among the worst places to clean. Bathrooms especially. It's amazing how awful they can be. Piss on the floor. Shit smeared on the seat. Used toilet paper crammed in trash bins. Bloody tampons spilling out of dispensers. Soiled diapers. People on bank business really let it go. Maybe it's payback. Maybe they don't care.

This bank's bathrooms were pretty bad. The employee break room as well. Garbage shoved into overflowing cans. Soda and coffee splashed on the wall. Half-eaten fast food on the floor and counters. I usually started here. Get the worst out of the way. Cleaning this night after night coarsened me. I hated people I never met. I had yet to develop empathy for those just as trapped as me.

The tellers' area was a sea of crumpled paper. Their trash cans also spilled over. I had to segregate official garbage from crusty wrappers. Customer account numbers and balance statements went in a locked dumpster. A co-worker at another bank was fired for not doing this. Part of me pined for dismissal. But I had to help feed my kids. So I dutifully segregated.

It's night. The bank's lights are on. A lone pick up truck near the side entrance. Some poor soul is in there cleaning. An asshole perhaps. A drunk. Pill head. I've worked with them all. Some probably saw me as an asshole. Fair enough. But I never worked fucked up. I wanted to finish the job as quickly as possible. Once done, I'd take a few swigs from a pint. Sit on my car hood. Stare at the building like I'm staring at it now.

I'm tempted to walk over and peek inside. Just thinking about that place saddens me. My fingers stiff from years of mop handles and hauling trash. My arms bigger but sore every morning. Knees worn. My body reminds me what cleaning did to it. It has no interest in looking back. I lower the hotel room's shade. Pour myself a drink. Sit in the dark. Ponder what's next.

I haven't performed since March. Spent the summer writing. Digging, clawing, scratching it out. I'm not as far as I'd hoped. Some really good stuff. Fresh patterns of remembrance. But short of my stated goal. So the work continues. Wherever I happen to crash. Whenever I have the fuel to face myself.

I'd like to get back on stage soon. Just to riff. No bits or routines. A general premise then zoom. Off to the races.

A year of stage diving freed me. The tightness felt when I first returned gone. I'm even nostalgic for the Village Lantern. But only with Ray Combs as emcee. Ray's room crackled with various energies. It was never boring. Offensive, tasteless, amateurish, yes. But always interesting. Those were wild nights.

Louis C.K. recently featured the Lantern on his excellent FX show. Louie set the Lantern in deepest Brooklyn. His caustic friend, played by Doug Stanhope, drags Louie to where the "real" comics play.

That the Lantern is around the corner from the Comedy Cellar, Louie's home base, didn't diminish the segment. He accurately captured the Lantern's mood. Stray laughs. Loose deliveries. Scattered people murmuring throughout. It took me back to this Lantern set.

As I've said, this was a breakthrough for me. Save for the opening lines, everything was improvised. It was a rainy night. Small crowd. Every comic struggled. Even Ray.

I felt comfortable. In the flow. The ending joke surprised me. I have no idea where it came from. That's the beauty of improvisation -- a measure of your frantic mind. Well, mine anyway.