Tag Archives: Courage

Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love.

The Monday Night Tease Adventure, Part Four.

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.

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My Green Grove

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.

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More Things in Heaven and Earth

The Monday Night Tease Adventure, Part Three.

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 …

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Be a Star?

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.

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.

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Summer Camp

I do one 'kids show' a year, and I wish I could do many more, as long as they were as gratifying, as heartwarming, as the Charlotte MDA Summer Camp. Every summer for the past 11 years, I've been invited to entertain the campers and the counselors one evening, and every time I leave, I'm struck by how lucky I am to have been there.

The children and youth that attend have various forms of muscular dystrophy, but their enthusiasm is unmatched in any audience I've had the privilege to work for. Yes, it's your typical summer camp. There are multiple activities and campfires and sing alongs and home sickness and stomach bugs and everything that makes camp a silver memory that many of us treasure for our lifetime. It's so much more than that, though. As you might imagine, working with the individual challenges of each camper is a daunting endeavor, yet it's done with humor, energy, and style. So much grace …

And there's love. Man, the love in that place is so thick you could spread it on toast. The staff and the counselors bring their best for the campers and everyone looks out for everyone else. Maybe I'm gushing a little, but I'm sincere.

The past three years I arrived wrapped up in my own troubles, and they vanish within the first few minutes. I leave invigorated, happy, and hopeful. And moved. Lifted so high, emotionally.

I'm not …. writing about this to brag, or promote my image. I want to impress on you the value of giving of your ability. Taking your talent, your time, your vitality and using it to enrich the lives of those who need it and see so little in their world. It could be anything, any cause, listen to your heart. Believe this: it's been worth any 'sacrifice' I've had to make in order to be there.

The love you need is where you plant it.

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Joy in the Moment

There are days I wake up and feel like Sisyphus.

Do you know who I mean?

Sisyphus was an ancient mythological figure punished for all eternity to roll a boulder up a steep mountain, only to have it roll back down to the bottom when he reaches the top. Albert Camus called him an absurd hero; he struggled perpetually and without any hope of success.

That describes me on some days. Broken promises, lack of perceived ‘progress’, low bank accounts and good old self doubt are my boulder. I struggle daily to push it forward and upward, only to watch it roll back at day’s end. In the reality of my profession, the boulder is mine. I am aided and supported by an amazing set of friends and family, but the responsibility is on my shoulders. Sometimes this burden is crushing.

When times like this occur, I stop and breathe. I count my blessings and I look at my situation from a different attitude. Picture Sisyphus smiling.

The idea is so simple: here is Sisyphus, the wretch, interminably pushing his boulder up the hill, watching it roll down and repeating.  In my mind he was always completely defeated, hopeless.  And then, as I read Camus’ book on the ‘Myth of Sisyphus’, everything about the picture changed.  Imagining Sisyphus smiling, embracing his situation as his reality, not wanting a different past or a different future, but accepting the present, the scene totally rearranged itself.  He was no longer hopeless, but happy in his acceptance of the situation.

He must, in order to accept the absurdity of the situation, adjust his attitude and fulfill what has been put before him.

On the road to your dreams, there are certain absurd truths you must acknowledge. You must work as hard and as tirelessly as you can. There is no guarantee of success, but the burden and the struggle contain a successful measure of their own. To simply be doing what you love, and to master it, may be enough. Our ultimate fate is all the same, so why be miserable? Live your passion in the task at hand, and find satisfaction in your minor successes and your crushing failures.

Like Sisyphus, some see no other option than the mountain and the rock. Burdened with obligations, lack of control, hopelessness, low expectations and no alternatives, they continue to toil in dead-end jobs and uninspiring environments.

You, however, can see opportunity in obligation, freedom in failure and hope in hopelessness. You are unique, as are your burdens. Keep shouldering on, and be thankful for the journey.

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Renewal, Part Three: She

Arriving in LA on Sunday night I had dinner with Lili VonSchtupp and Funny Eddie, my best friends. I was so relieved to finally be with them that i must have babbled all night. We had Asian food and went on a pie quest, then I stayed the night at their house and spent the morning in a very long discussion with Lili about a million things. She had to focus on the Hollywood Burlesque Festival that week, so this was really our only chance to catch up. It was awesome, but far too short. I love these people. They are heart and soul to me.

May 22nd – 23rd, 2017

Monday I started my week at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, CA. My … 14th(?) engagement at that amazing establishment. I was greeted with ‘Welcome Home, Mr. Hannibal’ as I was ushered in the front door.

Yeah, welcome home, indeed. The old familiar sights, sounds and smells … here I am, once more. Home, showplace, playground. The happiness in that place, the magic .. I’m rambling. Four shows a night, late close-up. I love my work and I was especially ready after my long weekend at Beyond Brookledge.

Just before my first show, I was asked to help facilitate a proposal. This happens every so often and I was really happy to oblige. I had the couple seated at my table and … you can view the results here: The Proposal.

I stepped out into the main bar area, after. Pretty good crowd, especially for a Monday. There was a young woman called Monique there with some friends. Now, I’ve known Monique for a few years; she enjoys the Castle and she likes the Hannibal show, and so she’s often on my guest list when I’m in Hollywood. We’re casual friends. The group spotted me and said hello, they were in great spirits and really happy to be there. Who wouldn’t be. Monique asked if she could buy me a drink and I told her to surprise me. A few minutes later, the valet brought a tasty beverage back to my dressing room. Nice. Welcome home, right?

I make my living primarily by reading people. Little signs and body language broadcast how the act I’m doing is going over … when it’s time to do a move. So tell me: how did I miss the (now obvious) signs she was sending me?

I got a text from her, asking if I’d like to hang out after I was done for the night. A bite, or maybe a movie at home? I let her know how late I’d be getting out (around 1AM) but if she was still interested, sure.
I thought nothing of it. A friend wants to hang out a bit. Cool.
“Why don’t we meet at your apartment?” she suggested.
I thought nothing of it. My place is close to the Castle, so sure. Cool.
We met at my place and we drank some wine and watched part of ‘Chef’ and talked about … various topics. She touched my knee, my arm. She laughs easily and honestly. Her smile is almost always there, and genuine.
I thought nothing of it. This was pleasant. She’s interesting. Maybe I should ask her back to the Castle later this week, see if she’s interested in me. She’s really pretty and I really like her and maybe I have a chance of … romance? Cool?

Let me stop. Yeah. There’s a happy, affectionate, intelligent woman in my apartment at 2AM, and there because SHE asked ME … and I’m wondering if she MIGHT be interested in me enough to meet up later for a dinner date at work. How can I be SO bright and SO dim at the same time?

Finally, she recognized (thank God, who knows how long I might have remained oblivious) that I just wasn’t getting it, so she told me flat out. “Listen, I think you’re really beautiful, and I’ve been physically attracted to you for a really long time and … I’d like to stay the night, if you’d like that, too. Nothing has to happen, I’d just really like to keep talking and fall asleep together.”

I still came close to not understanding. My brain just didn’t process …
Look, for a few years I’ve been shown by several people I really cared about that I’m just not that physically attractive to them. Verbally, casually … and I get it. My girth does not lend itself to the typical Western social norm of ‘attractiveness’. Plus: I’ve been through some big storms, lately. Sex has been used against me as a weapon and as a punishment. I had completely convinced myself that … in a purely sexual sense, that that part of my life was over.

And she put her hand on my face and she looked into my eyes and I saw real desire. She wasn’t acting. More, she was leaning in to kiss me.
There was a spark I haven’t felt in a very long time, and we were kissing honestly, deeply … and I let myself relax into the moment. That also hasn’t happened in a very long time. She was warm and soft. I could smell her skin, and lightly, her cologne and a vague hint of whiskey. Her kiss tasted of wine and a sweetness I don’t have words for.

She stayed.

She stayed well into the next day, until she had to leave: her family was coming into town, and she had some prior commitments. I watched her ride away and wondered in my betraying brain if I’d ever see her again.

I busied myself about my week. The Castle rocked every night and I was in my element, taking the people on my magical 20 minute journeys. I had a giant of the industry compliment me publicly on how I handled a particularly tough crowd. (Read: drunk) I was loving every minute of it.

I had an extended day with my friend Lindsay, who is nearing her one year wedding anniversary and happier than I’ve seen her in awhile. Lots of conversation, lots of jokes back and forth, lots of catching up. We had dinner at the Castle (with a rainbow of Macarons for dessert!) and watched Murray Sawchuck’s show (dazzling, but I was disappointed he didn’t do his signature CD act) then off I went to work while L enjoyed the rest of the artists.

Wednesday I joined my friend Andrea Marie for food in Hollywood. We eased our way past the colorful people on Hollywood blvd and to our chosen restaurant … which was closed while they shot a show on the street it was on. Welcome to LA. We Ubered (it’s a verb, too) over to Toi and had a splendid Thai dinner among the sights. Seriously, check it out sometime. Again, stories of Faire (AM is a Rennie, too), catching up and an all around great evening. I could get used to this city, you know? Afterward we headed over to the Castle where she met up with some friends and I did my ‘job’.

My LA friends really have a way of bringing my joy to the surface, and I treasure them all.

And Monique, you ask?

We had ourselves a nice, though brief, romance. We talked. We shared. Talking on the phone, texting back and forth. We made plans for part of the weekend, and we hoped for more time together. As it turns out, because of Memorial day, I had an extra day on the apartment, and so we had our first actual date. (May 29th) I took her to 25 degrees for my traditional Orange Whip and truffle fries, then to the final night of the Hollywood Burlesque Festival. Lili had asked me to do a number in the final show, so here we were. My friends: Monique is an absolute delight. She understands my passion for my work and my humor. She literally spreads joy everywhere, and her laugh is never far away. Beautiful, sophisticated, yet not afraid to be vulnerable and honest with me. It was a great date.

For my act, Lili wanted ‘Bookends’ (the elf boot story) I wasn’t sure it was the proper thing to close a burlesque festival, but I trust Lili so of course, that’s what I did. My last act of magic in my whirlwind two weeks in Cali, and it went over huge. Laughter, tears, people’s hearts were moved, and the woman who was there with me was looking on with adoration.

We went back to my place for the final night, and talked into the wee hours, and loved, and held each other.
The next day we soberly said ‘Farewell’ and parted. There’s a whole country between us.

But we communicate every day. And when she knows I’m going through rough experiences, which of course I still am, she calls and gives me her time. She heals my hurts. She posts her affection for me publicly on her social media. She tells her friends about me. She makes art for and about me. She’s still interested, and I finally understood. We don’t (as the saying goes) ‘complete’ each other:

“Two beautiful, whole people. Two people who worship love and sow joy. Two complete people with beautiful scars that fit together … beautifully.”

We are making plans to be together soon, in North Carolina, so she can see Christopher’s hometown. Did I mention she likes Christopher a little better than Hannibal? Seriously. We aren’t labeled: For now we are simply taking it as it comes and patiently enjoying each other. As it should be.

My friends and fans have noticed that I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time. I’m wearing it proudly, and it’s easing the journey.

So, there you are. Renewal in three parts. My twelve days in California renewed my purpose, my heart, and my motivation.

I feel beautiful, again.

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