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ROAD TRIP
By Kurt Weitzmann

 

Winnemucca Outhouse

   For every comic with a modicum of self-esteem opening a one nighter for a stranger in Winnemucca is easier to say no to than a prison gang rape. I try to tell the pushy little freak on the phone that I don't open one nighters in ... where is this?
   "It will be fun", he says. "I have pot", he says. I tell him I don't smoke. I can feel his disappointment. I am an empath. I actually start to feel sorry for the guy. I know he's not gonna find another comic in San Francisco to drive him to the depths of Winnemucca and back. And something tells me there is an adventure connected to this rude and unexpected phone call from headliner X. I say yes with an inaudible smirk.
   Why can't this be fun? A road trip. My friend Scott Canzano has always wanted to go to Winnemucca- really. He'll go. THIS WILL BE FUN! It took me about 3 days to realize the subtle insolence of that conversation. The more I ran that smarmy little voice in my head the more I realized that Mr.. X must think he got one over on me. Jesus, I even agreed to pick him up at the Reno greyhound station. He had no idea I was doing this for a lark - a story. In his eyes, I had meekly fallen into the role of eager young opener mesmerized by his seasoned comic telemarketing skills... Who was this guy?
   The night before the gig I slept all of three hours tossing with dark thoughts of impending doom. 'What am I doing? Why did I agree to this public humiliation, this brutal flagellation of my self-respect? Opening in Winnemucca? And what is this anxiety?' I was beginning to convince myself that what started out as a little private masochistic joke really could end in tragedy. To get to Winnemucca from San Francisco one must drive over the infamous Donner Pass, and all night long I had nightmares about a faceless comic taking bites out of my frozen liver and spleen while he juggled them with a feather and a bowling ball. But I think my biggest fear was that absolutely nothing might happen.
   I had to wake up an hour early in order to pick up my fourth passenger. My buddy Christopher volunteered to join us as a distraction to his otherwise miserable life. Christopher is a lot of fun and a good person to have along if one wants an uncomfortable situation to escalate. I never really figured it out but I think his long history of violence has something to do with the world owing him a pony. A good deal of my anxiety had to do with the possibility of him callously telling the headliner the truth about his act, or sending Scott into a silent rage for 6 hours of hard driving.
   We miss all traffic, get over the pass and reach Reno without incident. To my surprise Christopher and Scott seem to be getting along. We eat, lose just enough money gambling to say we did it, and head over to the bus station to pick up roady the clown.
   

At the Station

Although I don't even have a description of him, I just naturally assume he's the lanky 40-year-old lad with the long, early Duran Duran mullet molesting the teen-age girl in the corner. Although he sees us instantly, It takes him about five minutes to finish his conversation before walking over and acknowledging us with a witticism that I will chivalrously spare the kind reader. He turns and puts his hand up - a good bye from across the room and the poor girl waves back meekly, thinly veiling a mixture of relief and disgust. Who the fuck was this guy?
   Rudely ignoring the two civilians, our new friend wastes no time in establishing the Alpha comic. Have I ever played here? Ever played there? Do you know so and so? This ritual is not unlike a dog smelling another's butt. I must admit that his knowledge of shit holes and road hacks made me want to roll on my back till he was done sniffing my crotch, but instead Christopher saves me by starting a violent one sided argument over who would ride shotgun.
   Back on the road the rubber popped against the cement, loud enough to keep me awake, steady enough to put me to sleep. This was the part of the trip I liked the best. The trivial conversation had ended a while ago and our tete-a-tete on the "art form" had faded uncomfortably about three miles back. Now I was safe to turn up the music and try to ignore my new passenger.
   The headliner: We disliked him instantly. His conversation ranged from comedy advice to sleazy road conquests, and it was not more than ten minutes into the trip before his tedious diatribe turned to LSD and his performances at the rainbow gatherings. "I'm only telling you guys this 'cause you seem cool. Do you guys know Kevin Meaney?... Well, he's the only famous guy I've ever tripped with. You know his act? That thing about his mother? Well I do that at the gatherings but I change it to a hippie mom. They love it."
   We could now add thievery to his crimes against humanity and, if my instincts were correct, I was pretty sure that his act could also be found near the top of that list. He stole from the only peripherally famous person who would trip with him. By the end of our adventure this would be the least of his breaches in drug decorum.

   Discreet is good. Sometimes better than no drug habit at all. There is nothing worse than a hack without a drug habit. They are always rudely uncomfortable with the smell and general disarray of the car, or spend the trip quietly pitying you in pleasantly hostile silence. The megalomania, and it is always present in the case file of a shameless road hack, is much easier to stomach when connected with drug use. But alas, the days of drug habits were all but over in the late 90's. Prozac had virtually destroyed the cocaine traffic in comedy circles. As a lot of the old time comics had gotten writing jobs and Day jobs as script readers, the high of cocaine and road dust had been replaced by power and money rushes. Hangovers interfere with meetings. People had even stopped selling themselves. They now sold what the widest demographic would most likely perceive to be themselves.
This guy could have been an enjoyable anomaly... if he wasn't such an
asshole.
   Throughout the ride he kept calling me Mike, and by the time we got to Winnemucca I had stopped correcting him. As we pulled into the parking lot of Winners Casino the awkward silence was deafening. I felt
responsible. But all in all the two hour drive from Reno was uneventful. Christopher had not smashed the headliner's face into the dashboard, and once we were out of the car we were all just happy to be in Winnemucca. Jesus, this guy was an asshole!

You want me to sleep on what?

   We check in and there is nothing to do except lose money till the show. If you've never been to Winnemucca- don't. But if you do you'll find that people are nice in Winnemucca. They have to be. For one simple reason: guns. Nowhere else in my travels has the double entendre of the phrase 'simple people' been more apparent. With ignorance comes a refreshing lack of cynicism, and there is a certain personality trait of endearing innocence that comes of inbreeding.

   Mike, the house MC, is a great guy; a transplanted LA cowboy; a
know when to walk away, know when to run kinda fellow. Whatever past I assume he's hiding from in Winnemucca is far behind him and he seems to be having a blast. This is no small feat in a one-casino town in northern Nevada. We like Mike. Ironically, our headliner can't remember his name either, and constantly refers to him as "that MC guy". Mike hates our headliner too, but peripherally, with the quiet annoyance of a 300 pound biker getting one too many mosquito bites.
   My time on stage is well spent. I actually have a lot of fun. The crowd is surprisingly worldly, dare I say hip. This is good news for me but rather bad for X the unknown, who condescends to simplify. It's a weird act, an odd combination of the offensive and the cliched. It's mostly made up of the difference between boys and girls, drug references, and creepy quips on masturbation. I can only assume that the jokes about living with his parents are 20 years old, but I have my doubts. The audience doesn't really buy it. I just wish they had spent the day in a car with him. I think they would have been a little harder on him.

I can hear you breathing out there.

   After the show he critiques my act as we 'cash out' our checks. In between asking me if I want to trip with him and explaining to the teller that he doesn't have an ID, he tells me that I look very natural up there-"like you're just talking".
   Back in our room Scott, Christopher, and me compare notes and confer that it's not just us; that he is, well... Unfuckingdefinable is what he is! And clingy. He want's to trip with us! Scott and Christopher actually consider it and go to his room where he offers them a hit for free that's been in his bag 'for about a month', while he intends to do some from a sheet of 20 he just happened to bring with him. TWENTY! What the fuck is racer X doing with twenty hits of acid at a one nighter in Winnemucca? And what is this empty crack vile doing in his bathroom, Scott wonders - and why do we get the shitty acid?
   I'm getting ready for bed watching comedy central when my new guru knocks. He is still trying to talk me into tripping. All I want to do is sleep; kill him, then sleep. As if just to prove that my distaste for his sense of humor is well grounded, he laughs out loud at every shitty joke coming out of the box. Not wanting to be rude, I figure I had better add to the conversation. Something on the tube prompts me to make an off-hand funny about Vince Champ the comic -slash- serial rapist. He suddenly gets serious and replies to my rhetorical Quip: "awe dude. C'mon. There's not one comic who hasn't thought of doing that."
   What do you say to that? My frozen smile could not have hidden my disgust. "Every comic has thought about putting on a ski mask, walking into a practice room, and raping a co-ed?" I say as lightly as possible.
   "No, dude. But you know what I mean". This just kept on getting better and better. This guy was a piece of fucking work!
   After promising him I would try and convince 'what's his name and the other guy' to drop acid he left for the casino, and just as I was finally drifting off to sleep my comrades returned. We again compared notes and quickly locked the door. After hours of unnerving harassment it seems that Scott had finally just lied and said he dropped. And so we spent the first few hours of restless sleep hiding from the tripping-monster who occasionally knocked and kicked at our door, until Christopher rushed out in the hall way in his underwear and threatened to kick his ass. Fear and loathing in Winnemucca. Jesus.

This is my new favorite Dinner


   The next day at breakfast I am affronted with an account of his evening. "I went to a night club, asked this girl if I could eat her pussy. She said no. I gave her a massage at the bar, but she wouldn't let me see her tits. Then her boyfriend she's been seeing for about a week showed up. He was cool. Oh, could you drop me off in Sacramento?"
   It is very bad form to leave the headliner in Winnemcca. It just isn't done, so I tell him to meet me at the car in an hour.
   As I'm leaving my room, suitcase in hand, I can't help but notice security outside my neighbor's door. Trying to look natural I ask with a light chortle, "Someone lock himself or herself out?"
   "We have to get into this room." is the gruff official response from officer friendly. It looks like I might be testing that theory about prison gang rape after all.
   Down in the lobby I tell Scott and Christopher the situation and they contend that there is absolutely no question but to leave the guy here. Besides, they just dropped their acid. I say we give him till five after, all the time wondering where this loyalty was coming from. I think that I just really couldn't believe this was happening. It did make sense, after all. We had no idea what he said or did last night or to whom. Just one question really remained: drugs or rape? Or both?
   At twelve sharp he saunters up to the car. "What room are you in?" I ask.
   "89." he says.
   "Good". I give the boys a knowing look of relief and shake my head as I get in the car.
   Not his room. What were the odds? He sleeps the whole trip back. Thankfully, the acid that Christopher and Scott took didn't even work and I was done baby-sitting.
   As we pulled away from the Sacramento greyhound station I felt like an exorcism had taken place. I could almost hear the departing bus choke, "come into me, come into me!" Was he real? Or was he just a spectre, the culmination of all that is wrong with stand up comedy. Every time I tell this story to another comic I fully expect his face to turn white and hear him gasp, "Neal Graham?... Why, he died 30 years ago in a brothel in Winnemucca. They never found the body".


THE END ?



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