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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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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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… or Not to Be?

The Monday Night Tease Adventure, Part One.

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.

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Self Blocking

I consulted friends on this and we all agree: there’s a story I want to tell, and it’s the truth, but it has potential to drive an even bigger wedge between me and my estranged children. They are all adults, and responsible for how they react to things, but fear has me stagnant.

I’m going to relate the entire story of the closing of Monday Night Tease from my perspective, and in doing so i must include a certain story, because it’s powerful and relevant and can help other people over their own hurdles. And it hurts me, still. I’m going to tell it. I just don’t usually struggle this hard with the keyboard.

Why am I afraid? I was accused of cheating (among many other things), it was read into the record in court that I had ‘multiple affairs in multiple cities with multiple women’ and it was presented without evidence, because it isn’t true. I was cornered by a friend during a wake and repeatedly pressured: “You can tell me. You cheated, didn’t you? It’s okay, I won’t say anything. Seriously. Seriously. C’mon, tell me, I’m your friend. Are you telling the truth? Really? Really? C’mon …” relentlessly until I had to forcibly remove myself. He would not accept my “No, I never cheated.”
No one from my former church family reached out to me. Not to get my side, not to comfort me, not even to say “I believe you’re guilty, but I care about you anyway. How can I help?” Not. One. No, they all believed the lies and rumors and I lost them.

Part of me fears the loss could happen again, but …

Shit. I’m a writer.

Damn the Torpedoes. Full Speed Ahead.

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Renewal, Part Two: Phantom Theatre

I awoke in time for a quick shower and change of clothes before heading down for a very special showing of Michael Whelan‘s artworks. I’ve been a fan Mr. Whelan’s work since his epic painting for “Bat Out of Hell II” graced that album, not to mention the “Dark Tower” series. There were champagne toasts and speeches, but I was wrapped up in the paintings … a nice lady was also inspecting the art and we had a brief chat about heart and art and the journey between. Later I found out this was none other than Olivia De Berardinis, whose amazing pin-up paintings and drawings I’ve admired since I can remember. I was a bit starstruck.

After a decent time spent in the gallery, we made our way down the street to dinner. I manged to overcome my anxiety of new people in small crowds and made a few new friends. The food was excellent and, even after the stress of travel and the long day, i was able to relax and get into a good mindset for my spot later. And then … things started turning, and slowly started getting real.

I’ve mentioned being starstruck and how it doesn’t happen to me often. I’ve tasted a little bit of fame, so celebrities are generally not intimidating to me. Then Paul Reubens (the artist who created and performed Pee Wee Herman) walked into the party. I was floored. Here’s an artist who created work on his own terms and gained the world through a character he invented … lost it all and, through sheer determination, made an inspiring comeback. I’m not stretching to say that he’s been a hero to me. I waited until he had said hello to friends and ate his dinner, then approached him about taking a picture … I didn’t want to interrupt his evening, but I really wanted to talk to him. He was at once shy, reserved and (conversely yet simultaneously) commanding of the entire room. He was a perfect gentleman as he declined taking a picture with me. He explained it just wasn’t a good moment for him, but possibly later in the weekend would be better. No problem, I totally get it. I was happy just to have a few words.

I left a bit earlier in order to get prepared for my performance. Erika had asked me to perform ‘The Naked Truth’ to close the evening show, and I was more than happy, though suddenly nervous. Lots of people I admire and respect and I was going to … yeah. What was I thinking, right?

The closing show for Friday was in the Chapel. All the usual accoutrements of an old Spanish chapel, including a thirty foot gold wall behind the pulpit, which I dubbed the ‘Papel Climbing Wall’. Well, I thought it was funny. Performances were accompanied by Kristian Hoffman (incredible), and began with a moving performance of Act 5, Scene 5 of Macbeth by Lindsay Benner (serious chills – she walked down the aisle of the Chapel in a robe, holding a candle and mesmerizing us all). 12141609_892943894076628_7503997406796079952_n

The act just before me was Prince Poppycock, an operatic harlequin.  The Prince absolutely blew me away with (among other songs) the most powerful rendition of ‘Rock N Roll Suicide’ since Ziggy himself. No exaggeration, the voice, the affectations … this was a broken heart proclaiming victory for all it was worth. I really shouldn’t be brought to tears just before a Naked Truth show.
(If you are unfamiliar with the Naked Truth, I describe the show here: Exposed.)

And then I was on. I stumbled through ‘Kate and Edith’ while staring out into the blackness. With the lights in the Chapel dimmed, all I could see was the spotlight, the stained glass, and a void. I had forgotten how much I rely on eye contact during this piece to flesh out the humor. One cannot mug to a black mirror. It wasn’t badly relieved, but after the high caliber of acts before me, my ‘fraud’ feeling was loud and harsh. About halfway through, I realized I had failed to prep anyone to lead the audience up … I was on my own in the dark. I very nearly fled to the backstage, and it was only the anxiety of how I might be viewed following that escape that kept my feet glued. I set up the audience for what was about to happen, and the silence was just heavy on me. I had no idea of how they were taking any of this (or honestly, if they were still out there at all). So I stripped, and I cued the music … raised my arms and … nothing happened. I could sense no movement, no sound for at least 20 seconds, which (trust me) is an eternity standing in terror in a spotlight. Then, from behind me, Poppycock stepped up, grabbed a pen and began writing, and the audience moved. I was suddenly completely surrounded and pens were moving furtively over my skin. People were frowning in concentration, some were crying and clumsily hugging me. I knew of only three specific things:

Poppycock finished and stood close by in support.
Jeff McBride came up and wrote many words .. completely covering my right shoulder. He wrote in a flourish, sober but whimsical, and honestly only Jeff McBride can accomplish that.
Through a trick of the reflections, I saw Paul Reubens’ face in the second row. He didn’t come up, but I could tell he was moved. I had his silent support.

When they were finished, I turned slowly to show the entire canvas, took my bows and left the stage. The response was loud and prolonged, and I shuddered my way back up toward ‘normal’.

Epilogue. 
I put on pants, leaving  the majority of the writing exposed, and followed Erika to a small room. For the next hour or so the audience came through in small groups and talked with me about the act. Some had questions, some simply wanted to let me know how they felt. They brought me water, and one brought me a bit of ice cream. It was surreal and beautiful. At some point I got fully dressed, because I was catching a chill. The ‘comedown’ from a Naked Truth show can be brutal, but I wasn’t alone. There was love in every direction.
Paul Reubens came in last, and alone. We spoke for over half an hour. He told me his feelings about what he saw. As private an individual as he is, I don’t feel comfortable sharing everything that was said without his approval, but he admired what I did. We spoke of art and fame and obesity. He was kind and open. I gained a friend.
As he was leaving, he paused and said,
“How about we take that photograph now?”

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The Naked Truth 5/5/16

Atlanta, Georgia.

I had an audience of about 40 people. A little above intoxicated, for the most part. Friends, loved ones, strangers.

The ‘Liar!’ portion of the show went beautifully .. new additions of ‘Rugby’ (a multiple card selection) and ring-linking were quite well received.

As I (kind of) expected, this audience had deeper-seeded issues. Some of the language in the photos below is pretty harsh.

For those new to this: I spoke to them about my own issues of body image and being in the middle of a crowd of people. I asked them to think of their own issues and one word or phrase that causes them shame or sorrow. A label unfairly placed on them that mutes their music or shames their spirit. I asked them to give their pain to me, for a little while. Write down their word or phrase on my skin and leave it behind for as long as they could. I took off my clothes and and let the crowd surround me, writing on my skin. I didn’t run or cower, though my mind was screaming at me to do so.

They wrote, they purged, they wept.
Two souls left me messages: one wrote, “You are love” and the other wrote “You are beautiful”. It humbled and renewed me.
The results are below. Probably NSFW.

Photographs by Megan sky.

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