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STOCKTON IN THE MORNING

By Kurt Weitzmann

 

Don Messier must die ... I Trace these words mechanically on a napkin over and over, like a literary mantra. It's 1:30 am on Sunday July 4. I'm sitting in a 24-hour Denny's in Stockton, Ca. It's a full moon. I sit with my third cup of coffee and a dinner salad- the two cheapest items on the menu. The busboy just gave his last robotic greeting before going home to treat his shitty complexion and quietly masturbate himself to sleep. It will be a long time before I sleep, and after spending an entire night in a Denny's I may never masturbate again.

It all started, appropriately enough, at the Alameda County fair. I do not know but I assume that Alameda is the poorest county in California. I do not like the term 'white trash' because I find it to be extremely racist (I prefer the term 'non ethnic compost'), but if the work boot with the laces untied and the jeans tucked in fits, wear it.

I was there to compete in a comedy competition. Not to win, mind you. Believe me, I had no delusions about performing in this venue. I'm originally from a very small Fellini film in upstate New York and so I know first hand that in rural America there is a very fine line between 'local color' and fetal alcohol syndrome. The thought of going on stage in front of a bunch of corn dog munching young-country cow tippers who consider lynching a vegetable was not only frightening but a trip for me down memory lane - in steerage.

How empty my life had become. I actually had nothing better to do on a Friday night than drive fifty miles to perform eight minutes of family-style humor for the fully matured versions of the people who used to beat me up in high school, at a competition I had no expectations of winning! I felt like I was driven somehow. Chasing myself like Martin Sheen going up river, except I wasn't gonna get to kill anybody.

As I walked through the gates of the fair my memory was jarred by the smell of cotton candy and pig shit. My olfactory synapses forced a pavlovian response of pure dread. Was I molested as a child at a county fair? No, at that point I was relatively sure that all my repressed memories were good ones.

The waitress is eyeing me suspiciously. She is curious about what I'm writing on the borrowed reservation records. She hates me. This place is packed! I think the 60-year-old woman with platinum hair, painted eyebrows, and platform shoes is coming on to me. More coffee...must...stay...awake.

I walk blindly through the fair, up river towards the stage. ("Don't get off the boat. Never get off the boat") Past all the sideshows: Bubba the book burner, right-o the fetus- saver, Half man half pedophile; past the rodeo clowns, animal husbandry, NRA petitions & kettle corn; a button supporting the death penalty- "cause if it's good enough for our lord…”

-Gosh bless the frig out of America ! I get through the gauntlet and reach the stage. There is a floorshow of talented Aryan adolescents lip- synching Michael Jackson songs as a prelude to the comedy. They end with a rap number and it's time to dance, clown, dance!

I do not place in the competition. My "I hate truckers" bit and my "Jesus as a fry cook" routine didn't fly for some reason. Don Messier pulls me aside. He is a notorious booking agent known for double- booked hell gigs, nonpayment, and substance abuse. Comedy bookers are the vilest of creatures, second only to club owners in their pathetic cruelty. Sadly, most are living their glory days vicariously through hackneyed road acts, magicians, and jugglers. At first I thought he was going to reprimand me for calling the Pope a pussy. But instead he says I'm very funny. "It's just too bad the judges were from the church." I don't know what he means by this, but I assume it's a joke. I'm probably wrong. He offers me a gig the next night - Tonight? Or was it last night? - in Stockton Ca. It's a long way from San Francisco but I need the money, and what could be worse than this? It's a forth of July weekend and the crowd will be drunk, but I prefer rowdy to apathetic. I say yes.

 

Stockton California is halfway between a city and a town. It has the scary "Yer not from around here" feel of a small town, with all the racial tension of a big city. People move slowly throughout their day, then lock their doors at night to watch the gang related violence on the local news. Once a cow town, it was built up as an industrial city. But this was too foreign a concept for California and it failed miserably. 1/4 Mexican, 1/4 Vietnamese, 1/4 Aryan right, and 1/4 missing children, this city-town has one of the highest crime rates per capita in the country. In short a good comedy town!

There is a man sitting next to me sorting lottery tickets at four in the morning. Pure poetry. I have decided to have my wake at a Denny's so as to make it as depressing as humanly possible. To mix pathos with grief, as if to say, “there is life after death, it's just not worth the wait”.

After a long 10 hours at my day job I jump in my Toyota and head, yet again, upriver- closer to Messier. Just outside of Stockton on I-5 a big rig drops a series of 3-foot long heavy metal bars in front of me. I am unable to steer free due both to my inept driving skill and my deep resolve to the pathetic lot that is my life.

My future in comedy passes before my eyes. My car is my comedy lifeline (and the only thing I own worth more than 50 bucks). The realization that my entire career pivots on the reliability of a hundred-dollar car transporting me to horrible one nighters is almost too much to take. I drive the last two miles to the gig listening to love songs on the AM radio, mourning my evil co-dependent sadomasochistic relationship with my car. In the parking lot the transmission is spewing liquid. A complete loss. ...It's gonna be a great show!

The interior of the club looks like the set of The Accused, but with sexier pin-up girls on the wall. Just as I am contemplating my Carmenesque song of death on the achy brakey dance floor I am informed that the gig has been cancelled. "I got this gig yesterday", I mumble in shock. Now it all made sense. This is why people kill rooms full of strangers at fast food restaurants. FUCK DON MESSIER! Fuck him hard!! Fuck him with the fist of every retarded character actor from the 1950's. Fuck him with Tore's dead fist!!

A racial incident has just broken out and the tension in the room is horrifying. Tension in a Denny's? It's a full moon in Stockton Ca. on July 4th. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of black youth. The police are on the way.

I call Messier. He's at the fair overseeing the Goddamned semifinals! "I should have won! I'm funnier than all those bastards! THEY SHOULD ALL DIE!!!!". His wife does not seem impressed and hangs up on me.

Stuck in Stockton. There is not a single garage open at 9:00 on July fourth. The smallest add in the yellow pages has two numbers. A home number? Looks like it. A woman answers. The mechanics are at the races. Horses? I dare not ask.

The police arrive. They burst through the door like the Keystone Gestapo. I envision them all getting out of the same sidecar. The room suddenly reminds me of a classroom whose teacher has just come back. Maybe Denny's should take the lead from our countries junior highs and install metal detectors.

Maybe the lady knows a tow company. She does. She sounds nice. I bet she bakes pies (not like the pies at Denny's). Her disembodied voice suggests in a trailer park twang that I tow my car over. I envision torn upholstery and scattered, crushed beer cans, all washed in an electric- blue glow from the TV reflecting off the dirty trailer drapes and this gives me pause. But I am desperate and anything is better than sitting outside the bar and listening to the joyous young laughter that will undoubtedly end in date rape.

I've been here for six hours and this is the first time I've heard "Piano Man". That's somehow disappointing. Denny's is slipping.

I have my car towed to a place that looks eerily like the Manson compound, or the setting of a really bad farmer's daughter joke -one that ends in tragedy. Tex Watson, back from the races, looms out of the shadows into the stark moonlight.

"Better lock her up", he drawls in a monotone.

" You get many people breaking into cars way out here?"

"Not when the first amendment is still in effect", he retorts, patting the ominous bulge beneath his denim jacket. I didn't see the sense in correcting him.

After paying the tow guy, I have enough money left for a taxi, coffee and a dinner salad, and a one way bus ticket back to San Francisco. Most people my age have at least one major credit card- not me! For the first time in weeks I realize how much of a failure I really am. I want to call my father collect to tell him he was right, and that I still hate him. Well it's a good story anyway, right? Years down the road I can tell it to my kids during beatings.

There is a pale light glowing on the horizon and my sentence is almost over. Tore is crawling back into his coffin. The distant gunplay is subsiding. My taxi is here. Greyhound is now open and I can't remember ever going two hours early to a bus station. I can't wait to get there. My eyes well up as I walk through the door. I soak in the comfort of a plastic chair and blankly stare into the empty 5-inch TV screen. Since when is a Greyhound station safer than a Denny’s?

 

The bus is almost full but no one sits next to me. On my way out of town I see a sign which reads: "If you lived here you'd be home by now". If I lived here my brains would be splattered all over the walls.

DISCLAIMER: Any resemblance to persons living or dead is extremely unfortunate.

 






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