Across the Table: Tales and Inspirations from a traveling #cardmonkey.
Now available at Lulu.
Thank you for your support, I hope you enjoy it.
Across the Table: Tales and Inspirations from a traveling #cardmonkey.
Now available at Lulu.
Thank you for your support, I hope you enjoy it.
Charlotte. My hometown is green and peaceful. There are tons of memories, and there are people who respect and love me in abundance. I love it, and I find solace there. Like a cemetary.
Los Angeles. Is smelly, and dangerous. It’s full of risks and overwhelming challenges. There are no guarantees, and fewer promises. Its hard. Like life.
Like a new life.
And then it was simply time to start. The house lights went down, the stage lights came up, and we simply did our jobs. Some of the memories are faded, but there are some crystal-clear photographs in my mind. I had the advantage of seeing the stage and the audience through the entire program. I won’t be able to fully capture the experience of being there, but I can give you my perspective, and my feelings. Here’s how the show looked to me, sitting up in the box, stage right.
Tuba Heatherton opened with the Monday Night Tease theme song, and Lili took her place in the MC spot. She’s funny, brash, offensive, and the best damned MC I’ve ever worked with. Bo Toxic got things going with leather and Joan Jett. All punk attitude and heavy-metal sexuality. Oh Olive reprises a Charlie Brown number, portraying Linus … I’ve never seen a ‘security blanket’ live up to its name quite like that. As she walked off stage, she screwed her thumb into her mouth and ruined my childhood.
Rob … Rob the Balloon Guy. I’m not going to describe this act, because you need to see it live, and i hope you’ll get the opportunity. I’ll just say that this creative use of folding chair and balloons will never be outdone. I’ve seen it three times now, and I laugh myself to tears every time. Caramel Knowledge portrayed Nick Fury like Samuel L. Jackson only wishes he could, and Egypt Black Knyle closed out the first half with ‘Question of U’, one of my favorite deep-cut Prince songs. (Christ, I miss him.) In the midst of all the awesome shenanigans, Patrick the Bank Robber ‘called’ Lili to wish her a fond farewell. It was funny .. but i could feel her holding back emotions.
Intermission and i got a few minutes with Andrea, which helped me focus. The show was reportedly going as well as I thought it was, and she seemed quite happy. I probably wasn’t good company, because … well, reasons.
My friend in atheism Heather Henderson opened set two with an unabashed act as a nun, using multimedia and ‘Dear God’ as her music. This was the point when the show really pulled me in. Eddie kept checking to make sure I was cool … love that clown. Nikita Bitch Project did her killer Godzilla act, Eddie owned the room in the way only he can, and Sheila Starr Siani put me in a spiritual mood with another powerful Prince song: ‘Thieves in the Temple’.
Interlude, only in my head. This is a room full of love. Everyone here is supportive and giving and SO enthusiastic about everyone else doing well. No thieves in this temple, Sir. It’s brimming with love and talent and beauty.
Matt Finish closed out the musical numbers with the most erotic version of ‘Dontcha’ I’ve ever witnessed. The attitude, the confidence, the magnificence of his performance made me almost wish I didn’t have to follow him. Seriously, people, do you see how beautiful he is? How flawless his body is? I’m supposed to go and be vulnerable and peel off my own shirt after that guy? I … can’t. I’ll do a few card tricks and pay tribute to Lili and get everyone really happy and use my skills as a speaker and magician and just … not do the Naked Truth. I’m ashamed.
Later, in a quiet moment, I asked Matt why he didn’t write anything on me. His reply was: “No one has ever said anything that could hurt me.” Damn, son.
I was introduced. I don’t remember walking on … I know I did card tricks and I remember realizing that I had to do ‘Naked Truth’. This room, this moment, was exactly the reason i created the thing in the first place. I need to give this to Them. I need it for me, and I’m the only one who can do this. I stripped. I stood, sweaty and nearly naked under unforgiving lights and my music played and I stretched out my arms and I let them come. And I felt fear in the mass of people around me. And sharpie ink stings my skin, so I felt each word burning. And they wept, adn i found my voice trying to comfort them. “It’s alright, I’ve got you. I see you.” And some couldn’t come, it was too much, too real, so they stayed in their place and lent me strength and some came after and told me their words. They were not ready to burden me fully with them, but I had helped in the simple act of helping the others, and they could bear their burden a little easier.
Maybe it sounds woo and new-age or silly. But I can just tell you it was real. To everyone in the room, and especially to me, with my shoulders heavy and my skin on fire, it was real. It was love.
They gave me their fear and they gave me their pain and, when they were done, I spoke and lifted the hearts back to celebration. Couldn’t tell you what I said, but the right words were there for me. (On stage, they always are.) Eddie unleashed a barrage of balloons and the music came up and there was dancing, and Lili was snapping selfies with everyone, tears in her eyes and that dangerous grin she has.
I said goodnight to my friend, and wished for a bit more time. So many things to talk about, but –
We danced, and then we feasted, and we bragged and we complimented and we took photos and made silver until the wee hours. The doors closed, and we solemnly walked toward new adventures.
I cannot imagine how she feels, I can only try to be a friend and a comfort. She’s not done, not by any means, just because this chapter is closed. Lili and i spent most of the next day discussing everything: the past, the future, how to survive the present … she recorded some of it. You can listen in here.
Monday Night Tease affected thousands, changed the world for the better, and we put her to bed right. I’ll carry this honor and tell this story for the rest of my life.
And I swear it’s all true.
September 24, 2017
Festival in the Park is a yearly artisan even in Charlotte. Arts and crafts, live music, and variety acts. For the past twenty years or so I have participated at the ‘Magician’s Stage’ in one capacity or another. I started off in my early magic days, doing two twenty minute spots as part of the local magic club.
The stage has changed locations, management, undergone blistering heat and flash flood. One year the chairs and the stage disappeared under water in less than thirty minutes …
The stage is humble: just a wooden platform with the Festival banner as a back drop. Two floodlights on a metal pole are the entirety of the lighting. No sound system. Our hall is a cathedral of trees. It’s very green. This little grove sits in a small hollow, just off the main path. The sides of the hollow dampen the noise of the crowd and the live bands.
It’s really a magic place, all by itself.
Over the past three days we gave hundreds of audience members pure magic. I stood, bathed in sweat, pouring out my heart to several packed ‘houses’. All through the hot afternoon and into the dark of warm fall nights. They stayed, and they helped, and they gave us ovations and cheers. We danced together.
This was my last year with Festival in the Park. Next fall I will be living across the country. I know I’ll miss it. I know I’ll cherish the memories. I saw some friends I haven’t seen in years. I reconnected with some very precious souls that had been lost to me.
It was magical, it was beautiful.
It was green.
Monday, September 4, 2017
I left my house in Charlotte early Monday morning; I was traveling from Charlotte to Phoenix, and from Phoenix on to LAX. There was a long layover in Phoenix, and it turns out it was a good thing that there was. The flight out of Charlotte was delayed, and then delayed again. I was starting to get nervous about the timing when the person in charge of the gate announced that the “mechanical issues had been fixed to satisfaction”, and we would be boarding right away.
A side note: if you happen to find yourself working the gate for a major airline, please do not announce that “mechanical issues have been fixed to satisfaction”. There’s really no need for the last two words of that sentence! Just tell us its “fixed” and don’t let our imaginations get away with us. Thank you.
The flight to Phoenix was fairly uneventful, which all good flights are, and I was able to nap for a good portion of the way. In Arizona, even though my layover have been cut short, I still had plenty of time to get from one end to the other. Phoenix has a nice, comfortable, small airport. Along the way to my gate, I came across a site that I had not seen before. Now, I’m all for being comfortable while traveling, and I’ve seen people traveling in pajamas, in shorts, etc. The young lady going from one gate to another in Phoenix, however, was wearing a bright blue string bikini. She had sandals on, she had her backpack on her side, and she was rocking her beachwear un-selfconsciously. Took me a second to reconcile what I was seeing. Hey … more power to you, miss.
I got to the gate I Just as they’re beginning the boarding process, and I settled into my seat. Quick hop over to LAX, without issue or mechanical problems … little blessings. I had only my carry-on, so I got straight out of the airport. The timing was great: Eddie and Lili were fairly close to the airport, and traffic was not horrible. (“Not Horrible” is about the best you can do around LAX.) It’s honestly like coming home when friends come to pick you up at this airport. Eddie and Lili have been big supporters of mine for years, and they are the essence of what Hollywood means to me. Artists living on their own terms, confident without arrogance, loving and supportive of others, respectful across a multitude of different scenes.
We went to grab some food (naturally at Shin Ramen), where we were joined by Tim, the owner, and his partner, Sarah. We relaxed, and we joked, we talked about the upcoming show and what was to be expected. Everything was sold out: all the standing room only spots were filled, and it looked like a great night was ahead.
While we were laughing there, Lili received a call from Brookledge. Erika was throwing a showcase for Puddles Pity Party, and we were invited to come and see the show. Lili explained that we were getting ready to prep the Three clubs for the Monday night show, and she just really couldn’t get away, but she offered the spots to Eddie and I … I’m thinking so that she could possibly have some time alone in her venue, after getting the basic setup done.
We moved on to the Three Clubs, set the tables, lights and sound … Eddie inflated a few dozen balloons for the finale … and then left Lili to the final details. Eddie and I went over to Brookledge, said ‘hello’ to some friends, then settled in the back of the theater to watch Puddles’ show. If you’ve not seen his act, or only on YouTube or America’s Got Talent, you haven’t gotten the full effect. Seeing him live, with the heart that he pulls out, and everything about his character, from his body language and from his powerful voice and the rawness he puts into the songs he chooses … it is soul moving. He brought me close to tears several times during his act. Seriously, if you get the chance, take it. It’s a great show.
About three quarters of the way through Eddie gave me a nudge and pointed to his watch. We quietly left, arriving back at the Three Clubs to find the crowd was already moving in. I took my place over on the side of the stage and started talking myself into a good, peaceful spot for my own act. Lili was at times frantic, at times a bit sad, at times a bit gruff. She’s running the show, after all. It’s her baby, and this was its final public offering. Through all of this, there was not even a moment when she was not professional. She was in control, she had everyone’s spirits lifted, she had everyone exactly in their place and she guided the show as if she’s been doing it for 14 years.
Sitting there, watching the people, I thought about the journey of the day. I woke up on the East Coast, in my little house, and in just a few short hours i had packed in one adventure after another. And the show hadn’t yet started. Happiness is the Road, indeed. Life is funny, yo.
Just before we got to places, Andrea came in and found a decent standing spot near the cameras. Having a friend there who was not in the show was comforting at a level I can’t express.
Here We Go
To be continued …
Chicago, September 2017
Walking back from dinner, looking at all these old buildings, the old shops, the heart and soul of Chicago that still beats in the middle of everything. I’m anonymous. No one gives me a second glance. I made a few new friends in the pub I had dinner in, did a few card tricks and made some people laugh. None of them knew me before tonight, but I gave them a little joy for the end of the day. The gift that I got from them is bigger than the gift I gave them. Sometimes I feel a little selfish that way.
There was a time when I wanted to be a “star”. I walk out on these big stages and I feel I could hold my own up-against the best of them, but I simply never followed the paths that led toward fame, and so it hasn’t happened to me. I have a good life, a great life – and I don’t get bugged by idiots (much) while dining out or walking in the street.
I do the show I want to do, when I want to do it, and I’m free.
The fans I have are loyal and awesome, and I would be happy to relax and have a drink with most of them. There’s a lot of love in my corner. In these things, I am wealthy beyond my wildest dreams.
Have you met my friend, Lili? We met five years ago at the Magic Castle, when i gave her an elf boot. She was with her boyfriend, Eddie. It’s hard to tell a story about Lili without mentioning Eddie, because they have the kind of loving, amazing relationship I want to have when I don’t grow up. And while it may sound funny, this story is about Lili and her show. Lili, her show and me. One of the … nah, screw that … the single biggest honor a friend has ever bestowed on me.
Lili is raw talent and relentless truth. She loves to bring laughter to an audience, in a multitude of different styles. She’s an inspiration, she’s a no-nonsense confidant, and she’s a friend.
A really large door closed for Lili last Monday, September 4th: After 14 years and hundreds of shows, Monday Night Tease at the Three Clubs in Hollywood came to an end. This was Lili’s show, her heart and soul for many of those years. It started, basically, about a month ago, when Lili called.
“I’m going to shut it down”, she said “Enough is really enough. Maybe January or February, we’ll have a big blowout last show, bring back in some acts that I love and really go out of style.” What could I say? I was really stunned. This was her baby, her job. “What will you do?”
“I don’t know!”, she replied, laughing kind of hysterically, “I just know that it’s time. Close this door and maybe bust out some windows.”
I grabbed my calendar. Looked at the dates at the beginning of the year. “I don’t want to throw my ego around,” I said, “but I would really like to be a part of that, if it’s possible. You don’t even have to put me on stage, I just want to be there for the last show.”
“I know that I want you on the stage, and I know what I want you to do. I’m thinking that the last show needs ‘The Naked Truth’. It says what i want to say. I want to tell you that I haven’t made any final decisions, but that’s not even true. I know that I want it to be done; I’m just really terrified to do it”
I was as comforting as I could be, but my head was in a whirlwind. Some things just seem so solid, but the last couple of years has shown me what that means and what it’s worth. I was flailing for the right things to say, but really, I thnk just being an ear was all she needed.
And we talked. I know we talked for two hours or more that time. I was sitting on my back porch looking out as the sun went down on my side of the country. Maybe this was the universe pulling all the puzzle pieces a little closer together.
So, okay. Monday Night Tease is going away. She’s not passing it off anybody else because, in her words: it’s her baby, she doesn’t want to watch someone else run it. That’s so valid. The two have become synonymous. I’m not concerned about her next steps, though i know she is. I know Lily well enough to know that she’s got strengths and talents and drive and she will absolutely find the next thing and make it her own.
For now I’m left with: I’m going to be in the last show of Monday Night Tease. Getting Nekkid and offering my skin as a canvas for a very important event. Forgive me for the direction going to take on this right now, but the blog is in fact, all about me. I know there will be lots of stories from different perspectives about this, but this one is mine. The fact that I was asked to be in the last show of this tradition give me a huge burst of self-esteem. Lately I’ve been thinking about how much I’ve been underestimating myself. I’ve let other people, people that purport to love me, make me feel bad about myself. And on purpose, in order to keep me under some semblance of control. Discovering this made me sick, but here was at least a partial remedy, and a huge one. I am valued by my friend, who isn’t hiring me just because we’re friends, but because my act moves her. I must be worth something.
I’ve worked very hard to get here. Not just learning card tricks and magic, but learning the actual work behind the show. My act, my show moves people. It saves lives. I say that a lot, because sometimes I have to try to convince myself, but I’ve got letters and deep, intimate conversations where random strangers told me time and time again that what I’m doing has immense value in peoples lives. And so it seems it was with Lili. She’s been at this for a very long time and she knows quality, She knows potential, this was not just a fluke, or a favor for a friend. She would tell me straight up if I was not worthy of being in this show. So once she asked, I jumped at the chance. This was sincerely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Of course I agreed to keep it a secret until she decided to announce it herself. It’s her show, it’s her announcement. I gave her as much encouragement as I could, told her that I loved her, and I was right behind her whatever she decided. We said goodbye and hung up.
Shortly thereafter, I went and made some tea, came back to the back porch and watched the stars come out. If the show was going out, if my friend’s show was closing, indeed I was going to do my part to make sure that it was going to go out with joy and style.