the short story project


Matrinna Woods

The Comedian

     Is there nothing funny about a terminal illness? Anything? Anything at all? There has to be. As a matter of fact, there is. And if you can’t find a joke or a punchline somewhere in that situation, may God have mercy on your soul. Ah, I guess I’m supposed to think that way. I mean, I have been making a great living telling jokes on stage for the last 20 years. And I’m not just a halfway decent comedian by trade. I’m a born one. Only a born comedian could see the funny in that whole thing.

     So, as I wrestle within the anxiety brought on by the small confines of the claustrophobia-inducing space of this CT machine, an IV pierced into my arm, and the very intimidating part of the machine looming above me, seemingly ready to suck me into it, where I’ll be consumed in an abyss of nothingness, this 20 something running the show lifts me up to get a good image. And I think: if the lift malfunctions, I could be crushed to death while trying to figure out how to save my life. That would be one way to go.

     Anyhow, where was I? Oh yeah, what’s funny about a terminal illness…natural born comedian, etcetera, etcetera. The fact of the matter is, nothing is funny about a terminal illness. It’s quite sad, actually. It’s sad that I can’t stop being Alford the comedian long enough to let this all sink in. Instead, I try to find material in a tenuous situation like this. We’re literally talking about life or death and I’m thinking about shits and giggles, which is the very thought process that makes —you guessed it— great material. Does that make me a piece of crap? Who laughs at terminal illnesses?

     What about my wife?…Well, she was soon to be my ex-wife right up until I was diagnosed with this terminal illness… And the vagueness behind my continuing to name it as a “terminal illness” is not some intentional thing I’m doing to be all mysterious. It’s just the fact that I tell jokes for a living and, in my opinion, when you find out that you have a terminal illness the medical classification ceases to matter. If your illness is terminal, you’re headed to one destination and there’s nothing you can do about that. But one thing is for certain, the medical terminology won’t do you any good. But it’s cancer.

     Now, instead of making arrangements to divvy up our belongings in a divorce proceeding, which would have been amicable. And I’m being serious for once when I say that. We both know. We either married the wrong person for the right reasons or the right person for the wrong reasons. Either way, we were going to need time apart to figure this whole thing out. And this is what we learned after years of counseling and about $20,000 in fees. Instead of a divorce, we’re having to have those difficult conversations like what to do with all of my stuff if I die.

     I married her because she helped me with this thing that was really pissing me off. Okay, that’s not the only reason I married her. There was a courtship and dating. Being the knight in shining armor that I am, I was a complete gentleman during the whole thing. It was long after the wedding, about 7 years into it, when my career really took off, that I became a cheating S.O.B. Uh, what was it that she helped me with? Oh, yeah, well there was a noise complaint for my hotel room. They made it seem like I was having a party in there. I was up around 8AM listening to some music, prepping for a gig I had going on that night. I was in Atlantic City. And some jerk must have been up all night long, partying and doing God knows what. The jerk calls hotel management on me. Because of one lousy wireless speaker, there’s a knock at the door and I didn’t know what the heck was going on.

     There she was when I opened up the door. She was the hotel manager. Of course, she locked into the customer service mode and was polite about the whole thing, but I still was sort of pissed. I nearly slammed the door in her face, but I left the iron face-down on the ironing board, which is what I was doing while I was rehearsing and trying out new material. The thing started burning the covering on top of the ironing board and she noticed the smoke. As the hotel manager, I expected her to be all uptight about a thing like that, but she smiled and told me to turn around because my ironing board was burning. I got all upset and left her at the door, which was somehow propped open for her to have a front row seat watching me scramble to unplug the thing before it went up in flames. She stands there watching me. I get the thing unplugged and I fold the ironing board and slide it into the closet, bitching and moaning the whole time about how those things should have a safety mechanism, which they do now. Had I known, I would’ve patented that idea. Can you even do that? Can you patent an idea?

     She watches me as I’m trying to stuff the damn iron back onto its shelf in the closet without the cord being all tangled and dangling to the floor, you know, just the way I had found it. For the life of me I couldn’t get the damn cord back in the neatly wound little ball that I found it in. I didn’t want to say to hell with it because I knew she was still there and I didn’t want to look like a slouch in front of the hotel manager. I was thinking that I’d fumble around with it a few seconds and eventually she’d walk away and go do whatever hotel managers have on their daily agendas, but she stood there and watched. Then it was as if she’d had enough of watching me struggle and took pity on me. She came into the room and helped me with the damn God forsaken cord. She was patient and all, showing me some stupid trick to folding the cord just right so it wouldn’t fall to the floor, but I’ll never remember it.

     To fill this embarrassing moment, I asked, “So that’s how you do that? Do they teach you that in hospitality school? Where do you go to learn something like that?” I was joking but I didn’t know if I had delivered it well because she didn’t smile. All she said was, “Have a nice day.” Then she walked away.

     I wasn’t going to let her go that easily so I asked, “Have a nice day? Why do people always bid farewell like that? Have a nice day? Have a nice 24 hours? What about the hours after that? What if I want to have a nice 48 hours? Then what do you say to that? Have a nice two days? You have a nice next couple of hours, okay?”
She turns around and says, “Have a nice whatever you want, sir. Just please keep the music down until the afternoon.”

     At this point, I was just giving her a hard time. I was bored. What can I say. “Oh yeah? What if I say I don’t want to keep it down until the afternoon?”

“Then I’m going to have to ask you to upgrade to a suite where there is a sound proof feature or—”

     “Or else what?” By this time, I was almost completely smiling. I saw her getting about as wound up as that cord on the iron. I was even partially showing my big crooked but very white teeth. I was hoping she would notice that I was screwing around with her. I walked toward her slowly and she took a stance with her arms folded.

     “Or else I’m going to have to ask you to leave, if you don’t want to upgrade, of course. We have other guests here and it’s been a very busy—”

     “Ask me to leave? What if I ask you to marry me? You’re beautiful.”

     “Marry you, the careless, easily agitated guy who just destroyed my ironing board over there? I’m supposed to marry you right on the spot? Marry you? Ha! Have a…have a whatever you want to call it. I’m leaving.”

     “You’re smiling. Are you single? I’ll buy you ten more of those if you have a coffee with me,” I shouted.

     A beep from the machine pulled me from my winding thoughts. There’s a famous street in San Francisco that winds and curves. That’s how my thoughts have been these days. Never on a straight path. So, what will I do with my things? I have nice things, but I’m not materialistic. I have a lot of junk. Someone once said that you should never give away anything that you wouldn’t want or wouldn’t want to be given. Maybe that isn’t the exact quote but that was the gist of it. But if I’m giving it away, of course I don’t want to be given it. I think the point was not to give someone your trash out of respect for them. But it’s all subjective. What I think is trash, someone else may have a better use for.

     Why do I like comedy? I think that it brings people joy. But if you really want me to get deep into it, explain why I’m so passionate. I think comedy is joy. Comedy is happiness. I think that we come from a spiritual world where we know nothing but that feeling you get when you laugh, I mean really laugh at a harmless joke. And we only get to experience that but a small portion of the time that we’re here. Most of it is arguments, divorces, grief, stress, worry, anxiety, and even depression at times. I think that’s why people turn to drugs and substance abuse, even some comedians. But, for me, comedy is the drug. Life is…man life is tough. I guess it’s human nature to want a quick fix to the pain that is life. Now I’m getting all metaphysical, but this is what I believe, my personal dogma.

     Comedians, we’re just people born to give you a laugh while you’re along for this crazy ride. I mean God is all places at all times, unless you’re an atheist, then He’s not. But that’s funny too. If God is all things then why can’t God be pure comedy. Yup. God is all things. God is comedy.

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