It had been another one of those nights; the kind of night that left him feeling like a dried out husk, with everything moist and human drained out behind him on the sidewalk in a line leading back to the comedy club.
He was a comedian, though, as he joked to himself, that was like calling yourself a doctor if you killed people for a living.
That was the kind of joke he enjoyed, but it never seemed to work on the crowds. Those blank faces, staring up at him on the stage, waiting for him to say something that would make them laugh, that would make them forget their own miserable, boring lives for a few minutes. They came for entertainment; they came for escape. But all he could offer them was a spotlight aimed straight in to the darkness they were trying to forget.
He knew what they wanted. He had seen those acts, those jesters that danced around and tickled your funny bone. They were the class clowns, the comedians that wanted nothing more than to bring a smile to every face in the room, even when they weren’t performing. They usually succeeded too.
But they didn’t do anything deeper. They didn’t make anyone rethink their lives, didn’t make anyone re-examine the way they live and why they live at all. That’s what Ron tried to do. But usually all he succeeded in doing was making everyone in the dirty little club more miserable than they had been before he started – including himself.
The streets of New York were made for depression. Not to cure it, but to augment it; to amplify it until it’s not just a whisper in your ear anymore, but a cacophony. Every slick sheet of pavement, every aging tenement building with with walls blackened from decades of soot, every steaming manhole cover made Ron feel even emptier, like someone was scraping out his viscera with the side of a spoon.
Whoever romanticized this place had obviously been in love or high on cocaine.
Ron heard footsteps behind him; quick ones, like whoever it was actually had somewhere to be. By comparison, Ron realized his own steps were slow and shuffling, and he could only imagine how he looked — a poster boy for Prozac, no doubt. It was a thought that just made him sink deeper in to himself, his steps slowing even further.
The steps approached from the rear and passed him on the sidewalk, then stopped.
“Hey, you’re that comic right?”
Ron looked up. The man with quick steps was standing in front of him. He was well dressed, an executive type.
“Sometimes,” said Ron uncertainly, bracing himself for whatever was coming next.
“You were great, man. I loved that bit about the guy, you know,” he made a gesture like rolling dice next to his groin while pretending to hang himself with an invisible noose.
“Oh yeah, thanks man.” It was a bit about a guy dying while performing sexual asphyxiation, then having to explain himself to Saint Peter at the gates of heaven.
“Great stuff, dude. Love it!” And with that the man was gone, quick-stepping his way down the sidewalk with impeccable posture.
‘Great stuff.’ The words resounded in his ears, drowning out the chorus of self-hatred that had preceded it. Suddenly, the scraping feeling stopped and he felt full of… something, like cotton candy.
Ron hated cotton candy, but to imagine being stuffed with it like an edible man-shaped teddy bear was not entirely unpleasant.
And suddenly the street looked different. Where before he only saw slick black pavement was now a thrumming, busy promenade, alive with cars and with lights dancing across the surfaces of pot-hole puddles. And the buildings — before he saw age, but now he saw history. He thought of all the people who had ever lived in them, all the laughter and children playing, running out the front door with a ball and a mitt, just like he had done once, long ago.
Realizing that he had been slouching, Ron pulled back his shoulders and straightened up, relishing the cracks that popped their way up his spine. With quickened steps, he continued on his way down the sidewalk, whistling “New York, New York” as he went.
Photo by Dude Pascalou