Last weekend I did a comedy show in Stockton, CA, a town about 5 hours from here. I was anxious to drive up there myself and nervous about doing 2 shows in a night. The guy that hired me had a whole evening of comedy and his naughty hypnosis act planned. I wanted to do a good job.
All week leading up to the trip I was unusually nervous. By the time I got there and checked into my room my heart was pounding and I couldn't seem to settle down. Performance anxiety, self-doubt, being away from (what isn't even my) home, alone. All this worked me up.
The day of the show was a long one. I was up at 6am and we drove 45 minutes to be on Good Day Sacramento, which was cool and exciting. Then we drove back, ate lunch at the bar where the show would later be, and I went back to my hotel to go over material. I felt shaky and sweaty. After the appearance on GDS, calls started coming for tickets the show. To see me. More pressure. I'm not gonna make it.
Nervous dumps before the performance
In a large back room of a sports bar where the show would take place, the crowd started rolling in for the 7 o'clock show. The room had its own bar and a bartender, Adam, with whom I chatted briefly as I sat and waited for it all to begin. I asked him what was in the jar on the counter. "Sangria," he said. "Wanna try some?" I said yes and it was pretty good. Didn't really want to drink before the show.
The crowd looked tough. Middle aged. Old and tired. I'm in trouble, I thought. But I won them over and killed. Adam watched the set and asked where in Jersey I was from. He'd spent some time living in South Amboy, so we hit it off and started talking about the Garden State. Didn't hurt that he was tall and cute, although he mentioned right away that he had a fiance. Oh well. Not like I was gonna move to Stockton or anything.
I was milling around in between shows and I found I kept gravitating to the bar. Adam asked if I was a Bruce fan and that set the two of us bonding over The Boss. Shows we've seen, songs we love, records we own. He put a Bruce tune on, asked if I wanted another drink. I was sticking with water. There's a special kind of connection you feel with someone who's shared your home state. Whenever I catch myself getting excited to meet someone in LA that's from New Jersey I think of The English Patient. Juliet Binoche's character Hannah explains to the embittered and charred Count Almasy played by Ralph Fiennes that "There's a war - where you're from becomes important." He hates that. I get that. Living in LA it seems that where I'm from is more important than ever. So I felt a connection to Adam. Everyone else in that bar was a stranger to me, but suddenly I didn't feel so alone.
My second set wasn't as successful as the first. The crowd was much younger and for whatever reason, less responsive to me. It wasn't a total bomb, but I was struggling up there. It was late. I was tired and spent. I came off stage and slumped in a chair against the back wall, feeling like a loser and watching languidly as the second hypnosis show began. I felt like crying and like the lonliest girl in the world. Just then Adam came walking by on his way to the back storage room, and in this magical, miniscule nothing little gesture, he placed a cup of red wine in my hand. "Thanks doll," I said, but the exchange for me was so moving it lives with me still, a week later.
One could argue that he was simply a bartender who saw my set and knew I'd felt beat and thought I could use a drink. But to me it felt like understanding and connection. A shorthand than only comes from knowing somone a long time. The movement was so fluid it's as if I raised my hand in anticipation of the glass before it even got to me. It wasn't about sex or lust or hooking up or anything like that. It was simply that invisible, inexplicable connection you sometimes feel toward a fellow earthling. Maybe that's what God is.
Call me melodramatic, vulnerable, sensitive, a wreck. I'm all those things. I'm also lucky enough to be someone who can recognize and relish the magic in a tiny gesture. For it is the stuff of which butterflies in the belly are made.