So tired when I got to the restaurant today. It's been a long week, and the night before ended in way too much drinking and some weird rotten dreams that were hard to shake off. I emerged from a weird single-guy crash pad, fifteen years too old for that kind of morning, and ended up at the restaurant.
She was pregnant. Not dangerously so, but there was a baby bump. She had a black shirt on with some cool artwork. The place was an old-man diner with a patina of neighborhood hipster cred, a fresh coat of paint over decades of grease spatter, the same c-grade home fries on the same griddle from back when there were working poor people and they lived above and around buildings like this, before it was all record stores and tattoo places and vegan cupcake bistros, before it was crumbling husks and crime, before before.
She looked tired, she wasn't all that friendly. But she had dark hair and dark eyes, and the kind of face that looked like she played in a bad ass band around 1994 or so. She was a type, and it was a type I forgot was on file in my head, but I fell in love with her in two seconds flat.
I asked about the breakfast special. She said "it's only good till 11." "But the sign says it's good all day Saturday," I protested. "It's Thursday, hon," she fired back, and it was. I felt dumb. I have to know what day of the week it is. If it had been Saturday, I would have been in the wrong city entirely. I knew it wasn't Saturday. But it felt like a Saturday. The 2pm breakfast run, the slight hangover, the weird sense of playing hooky from life. Every day's a Saturday when you're fucking off hemorrhaging money on the road to comedy.
I had eggs and homefries and toast. I had goetta, Cincinnati's weird breakfast meat that's kind of oatmeal-y and that I think to myself "well, goetta, you're no scrapple" even as I wish I had seconds and thirds. I drank more coffee than I needed, even though I had a thermos full in the car. And I watched the waitress, the love of my life, the one I was really waiting for all this time. She deftly got a beat-up homeless man to pay up, cleaned out the pie cooler, small talked with the cook.
I pictured her telling me all these stories when she got home and kicked her shoes off while making a "phoo!" noise like a worn-down steam engine. I would rub her shoulders and listen to her talk about work and embellish her stories a little bit, and I'd try to get a little handsy and get something going, and she'd smack the back of my hand and tell me I was crazy, don't you see how tired I am, and I look like a whale, but she doesn't and she knows I know she doesn't, and we get all naked and re-enact what got us into this mess in the first place.
And our kid is a totally average kid but we do really amazing things that no other dumb hipster parents have ever thought of, like play it Replacements records and teach it that TV is dumb before we give up and let it watch all the Yo Gabba Gabba it wants if it just shuts up. She gets the band back together and they practice, like, once a month and they're definitely gonna book another show really soon now even though they don't know who anyone that works at the bars even are any more.
And I don't give up comedy, not really, I just quit going on the road or doing shows or writing any new material and I start getting really long-winded and repeat my stories a lot at the bar after open mic, when I still go. Eventually we move to the suburbs because we didn't really want to, I mean, look at all these white people, am I right, but our dads told us that the amount of house for the money, we'd be stupid to pass that up, and we swear we're gonna keep shopping local and going to the northside and keep our privilege in check check check check
check comes to $9.71. I blink. She gets me more coffee. I go to tip her $5, then make it $4. I don't wanna come off weird. I leave the love of my life behind as I emerge into the afternoon sun. I hope she can come to terms with my departure.
I realize that I'm in a zone where there's no parking from 3 to 6, and that it's 3:20, and that I should have gotten a ticket. I look on my windshield. No ticket. Today is my day for dodging bullets, I think, and I go record shopping to help heal my broken heart.
Tonight at 9:00, I will raise a glass and toast Eddie Werner. I will be timing it to coincide with an open mic in Kent, Ohio, where some people who knew Eddie will be briefly remembering him. I've got an alarm set to remind me.
Eddie Werner committed suicide. He was nearing middle age, rode a motorcycle, and he was a small part of the open mic comedy scene in northeast Ohio. By all accounts, he wasn't very good at it. Most of us aren't, ever. That's nothing to be ashamed of. A lot of people enjoy fishing, or golf, or square dancing, and look like fools to everyone else while they have their fun. I have an unreasonable love of old video games, and I'm awful at nearly all of them.
I met Eddie once. I doubt it made an impression on him. It was at an open mic Mandi Leigh put on, in Akron, at a dive bar called Old Haunts. That place is my kind of septic tank, from the punk rock and death metal show flyers stapled blithely to the wall, to the gaptoothed drywall and cheap leaky plumbing in the horrific bathrooms. There was a tiny stage, an unattainable roller derby bartender, and I don't think the air conditioning worked.
Eddie sat next to Jerry Jaffe. I don't remember if he even went up, and if he did, I don't remember his set. Mike Szar and I drove to Akron, did the mic, Matt Brady gave me some Atari games for my collection, we took a picture with Yusuf Ali, got great hugs from Mandi, and drove home. We probably ate shitty turnpike food. Eddie barely registered. It didn't seem like his kind of bar, but then again, I didn't know a thing about him.
I still don't. But I'm upset at his passing. I didn't lose a friend, but I feel that everyone who goes up, who gives it a try, and keeps coming back, is a part of the same tapestry. Comedy gave me a sense of community, as well as a creative outlet, almost as soon as I started pursuing it. It's a shock to me that someone could come into the fold, be present enough to be mourned by so many of our mutual friends, and find nothing in that association worth living for.
I nearly died in 2004, and I now live with an aortic dissection that's almost certain to shorten my existence. I've also gone through bleak periods of life when it seemed impossible that anything good was going to come along. I had bad luck, made terrible stupid mistakes, and dealt with depression and self-doubt. But there's always been a desire for more. Nothing has snuffed out, at the very least, a curiosity to see what happens next. It's frightening enough to imagine someone living without that -- actually experiencing that void is something I can't comprehend.
So toasting a dead man I didn't know at an arbitrary time is a dumb, empty gesture. But so is getting on a stage and making people listen to shit you wrote. So is collecting records or superhero toys or guitars. So is making friends with a bunch of people who are gonna die anyway, and making new finite broken people that are gonna grow up and die too. Where do you draw the line?
The toast is for Eddie. I hope his time with the beautiful finite broken people who do comedy in Akron and Kent and Cleveland made him feel better. I hope it helped a little. But it's a toast for me, too, and for those people. It's a toast to the fact that when I feel anchorless, a night like Old Haunts happens -- a random, unremarkable night -- and I can think of a dozen tiny, gleaming points where I interacted with my friends and was glad to be on this side of the dirt, laughing and drinking and gossiping and writing and taking dumb pictures and making enough dumb, empty gestures to fill up another colorful day. And then I'm fortunate enough to go to a home, and be loved and missed, and chided like a dirty pet raccoon that wandered off for a bit, and sent to bed content.
Please, reach out to someone if you feel as empty and wound down as all that. We'll try our best to help. There's so much good and light, and so many reasons to see what comes next.
Where I write about the stuff I do when I'm out doing the stuff I do.