On Thursday night, I spotted Cathy from Survivor All-Stars, with Rob C., from the same show, at the hotel bar, the meeting ground where everyone ends up after the evening’s shows. Inwardly, I was clapping my hands cheer leader-style, twirling my skirt, pinching my cheeks. Star struck in a way that only Ted Koppel or Bruce Springsteen or Howard Stern could deliver, I weaseled over, invited the pair to our table, and told them I’d love to find them something on one of our networks. Rob’s eyes brightened and he whipped out his card. He seemed younger, more fresh-faced in person, bite-sized, and I immediately forgave his chicanery on the show. I had Scott take a picture of us.
“Yeah, I’m ready for an adventure,” Cathy said in a voice with a little too much punch, a response that had probably been played a hundred times since she arrived, but she sold it and I bought.
Scott, Paul, Steve (Paul’s new boyfriend), and I wove our way through the drunken gauntlet; I paused for a second to leer at Drew Carrey’s calves, and went upstairs to a private party. One of the Imponderables, a Canadian sketch troupe, walked into the bathroom while I was mid-piss, grabbing a bottle from the bathtub filled with ice and beer.
“No worries, man, just here to get a beer,” he said, forgetting his “eh?”, when I craned my neck around to see who came in. I could tell he was drunk, drunker than I was, if that possible, but I wasn’t so wasted that I didn’t have good aim into the toilet bowl.
“It’s cool.” I shook the dew off the lily and went back into the hotel suite, finding the party had turned a odd corner in the few minutes I was gone, and I saw a gathered storm of five or eight midgets, I couldn’t quite count them because they were moving around the room so quickly, getting lost here and there among the tall. They were a group called Mini Kiss, dressing as the make-upped band, playing Beth, milking the last, I hope, of dwarves as a punchline. I spotted Ron Jeremy with a fistful of pretzel sticks, somehow it all making sense, and I stumbled my way back to Scott, Paul, Steve, a couple of agents from William Morris, and a man with a simple, sweet smile who reminded me of a more handsome John C. Reilly. He stood on one foot then the other, looking for an entry into the shorthand conversation we were having. I introduced myself. His name was Elliot.
Paul and I huddled with Steve, and debated whether Elliot, who turned out to be a piano player, was gay. We all took one final look over at him, sized up the red patterned shirt and beige pants, and we looked at each other, shrugging an Oh, well. Finally, Paul said, “This party is bizideous.”
“Bizarre and hideous.” Paul said, smirking.
“How much will you give me if I get the midgets to jump up and down on the bed?” Geoff Wills, the number one concert promoter in the business asked me, his eyes unfocused. I didn’t really want to see them jump on the bed, or anywhere else for that matter, but I waved a Canadian twenty at him, playing along. “You’re a cheap fuck,” and he slunk to the ground, the liquor winning his fight to stand upright.
I held my bottle of warm Bleu, its label nervously peeled off by me during conversation, held it up to study its final contents, made the decision to go to my room, enough being enough, and started to make my good-byes. I shook hands with those I shake hands with, hugged those I cared about, and told the piano player it was nice meeting him.
“Where are you headed?” Elliot asked.
“Not another party?”
“Only with my pillow.” I walked out, two midgets a few paces in front of me, heading toward the elevator. “Damn. It was hot in there,” I said, making empty talk but it was met with two small scowls. It had been a long night.
I fell asleep that night, after writing a drunken letter and saying a drunken prayer, while Alfred Hitchcock Presents was nibbling in the background.
* * * *
My waitress on Friday morning was a stout woman who might have seen forty but she had a liquorface, one that added a good decade to the map of crow’s feet and sadness that she wore. I ordered a Diet Coke and headed to the buffet. Foreigner’s I Want To Know What Love Is played on the overhead muzak. When she brought my drink, she absently sang, “To change this lonely life,” under her breath, harmonizing with the song, as she put the glass on my table.
My thoughts wandered to a scene from Miami Vice that featured the song during a scene of a beautiful young woman being given a lethal dose of heroin, and I smiled when I involuntarily sang back, “I want you to show me,” after she left, knowing we both liked a tired power ballad. I stared at the oefs and bacon, the eggs a dark yellow from languishing in the sterno tray, shifted them around on my plate, forcing them into my mouth, the Diet Coke washing the food down while I tried to focus on the New York Times in front of me. The way my stomach felt that morning is the reason alcoholism was never an option for me.
I didn’t leave the hotel for the entire day on Friday, limping from table to table at the bar, engaged in inane conversations, enjoying the whispers in confidence of those who once ignored me, listening to Andy Kindler give his yearly speech in which he tears apart Comedy Central’s programming choices, and Jay Leno’s lameness. It’s the most well attended event of the festival each year, an insider’s perspective to what most consider one of the lowest rungs of show business – comedy.
I called Scott around six and he was in a panic. He had just agreed to fill-in for Carson Kressley, whose flight was grounded in New York, and Scott had to pull together Buddy Cole for an impromptu performance with Caroline Rhea.
When I got to his room, it was a solo chaos show of flinging clothes and pointless searches for God knows what. He does that when stressed out – literally going in circles until I have to scream at him to stop. I looked at the schedule, saw he had a conflicted performance on the other side of town, and told him.
Waste paper baskets flew, clothes entangled themselves in mid-flight, and the screams of “MOTHERFUCKER. GODDAMMIT. FUCK,” could be heard on the neighboring floors. I called his manager, who was already working out the conflict, and told Scott he couldn’t leave the room until he collected himself.
Both performances were terrific, Scott felt better, and we took a residence in a prime spot at a table in front of the bar. Paul, Steve, Scott, and I were drinking beers when Elliot approached. He was sheepish. We invited him to join us, he pulled up a chair, and we all learned he was following his dream in jazz music as well as doing volunteer work with animals. And taking tap lessons. And part-time, he gives professional massage. And more jazz talk. Everything he said, he had the most earnest look on his face, his eyebrows turning upward, his smile widening whenever we responded. I started to get super drunk, my tongue thickened.
Rick came over to talk to me, congratulate me on my gig, and I told him we’d love to use Tim or Drew for one of our showboat shows on Animal Planet. Rick is a manager so successful he built a full-scale baseball field, complete with bleachers, in his backyard in Beverly Hills. His neighbors are thrilled, especially when he has night games under the daylight inducing floodlights.
A slurry Rob C. and Cathy came up to our table and introduced me to Shii Ann. We had made some small talk before, in the elevator the day before, but Rob was saying what a great guy I was, and I took the opportunity to take a picture of her with me trying to figure out how to work my cam-phone. She was patient while I fumbled with its little buttons until I finally got the shot. She kissed my cheek and said she’d love to talk about doing something for the network.
I noticed I was sliding further down my chair with each beer and I was doing more harm than good by staying at the bar. After saying my nighty nights, I went upstairs. Elliot asked if I was going to be around tomorrow. Yeah, sure. Good night.
My room was freezing and I crawled under the covers, wrote a drunken letter and said a drunken prayer. I spun around the dial to find something not in French, and landed on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, one with Brian Keith playing a cruel husband to a long-suffering wife.
* * * *
Saturday morning, well, at one hungover o’clock, I stumbled downstairs, my hat pulled low, guzzled two Diet Cokes, and ate some toast slathered in butter. I slunk back to my room. Scott called, wanting some help with his new Buddy monologue. On his balcony, I had him run through it, rearranged a few of the punchlines, wrote a joke. He wanted to study it and I left again for my room. I fell on the bed, CNN’s John Kerry profile putting me back to sleep, a sleep filled with dreams I don’t remember. I woke up around five, took a shower, and headed out to New Faces, the annual showcase for brand new comics. Typically, they’re awful and this year was no different.
I grabbed a cab back to the hotel, during the quiet hour when everyone was at shows, and sat at a table, by myself, to order some dinner. I was fiddling with my silverware when Elliot came up from behind and said, “Is that Terry?”
“Hey, Elliot. Have a seat.”
He tentatively sat down. I asked him if he wanted anything, his brow furrowed, and he said he’d like a Heineken. He looked sad and I asked him what was wrong.
“I’ve been feeling very lonely since my cat passed on. When I broke up with my girlfriend, I found a place that I am rebuilding, and my cat came with me. He was a monster. Weighed twenty eight pounds and I could hang him upside down by his feet. He loved it! He was the greatest…” His eyes watered.
I was mid-burger and told him about Bob, showed Bob’s picture to him, and congratulated him on his volunteer work at the SPCA. We talked about the deal humans strike with their pets, how we get the best end of the bargain, and then I told him of Billy. I put down my burger, no longer hungry, looked at him, and held back a big fat tear that was on its way down my cheek.
Just then, Paul and Steve passed by, looking for Scott, I told them he was studying. They joined us. The talk turned small, all the big topics tucked in for the night, and we made our way to see Scott perform the monologue. It still needs a lot of work. We piled into a cab afterwards and headed to the hotel. In the cab, I told Paul how much I enjoyed hanging out with him, and when we arrived at the hotel, we all split up. As I headed to my hotel room, Elliot called after me, “It was really nice getting to know you, Terry.”
“You, too, Elliot. Keep up the good work.”
It was only midnight, I had slept most of the day, but somehow I had to wake up the next morning at 6:30 for a flight. I took my time, writing a sober letter, and saying a sober prayer. I said, “Oh, I get it, honey bunny. You want me to have a little taste of you wherever I go. He sure had a lot of you, didn’t he, babe? Thank you, Bill, thank you for everything.” With that, I kissed his picture goodnight, and slept.