Gary had enough. One day he just up and decided he had had enough. He determined that nothing short of a drastic change in his life could lift him out of the doldrums that fate had recently assigned him. Here were his options: (1) Buy a gun and patrol the slums of the city as a vigilante, a one-man dispenser of justice, maybe becoming a local folk hero in the process; (2) Quit his accountant job, empty his bank accounts, get in the car, and drive north until all the roads end; (3) Rent a bungalow in Belize, get a pet iguana named Oscar, and write poetry about the romance of revolution; or (4) Live life to the full, in all the wrong ways, and wonder with a pathological curiosity whether alcohol poisoning or STD will win out in the game of death. Ever the contrarian, and always trying to think outside the box, Gary opted for yet another alternative, one that had not originally made his mental list.
Of all my friends, Gary is my least favorite, and I have lots of friends. I’m not saying he’s an asshole, yet if he’s not going to return my favorite barbecue spatula and even lie about having it, I’m also not saying he’s not an asshole. Still, my former next-door-neighbor has had no small measure of heartache in recent years, so I can’t begrudge his increasingly odd behavior. His wife and daughter left him to join a cult in Oregon. One year later his beloved uncle, a man who practically raised him since he was twelve, died from autoerotic asphyxiation gone wrong. (A concerned neighbor and the police found the hairy old coot dangling from the ceiling of his garage by a pink and orange chiffon scarf. Evidently an animal enthusiast, he was wearing nothing but Leopard-spotted bikini underwear and snakeskin cowboy boots.) Yeah, given these “slings and arrows,” Gary was a veritable Job, though I would never make biblical references around him; he became quite hostile to religion after what he described as a “bible-thumping snake charmer” led his family astray. Whether these challenges justify the course his life would take, though, I’ll let you judge.
When Sherry Mistress of the Night stepped out from the curtains, the sea of intoxicated and horny males spilled out of dark corners in the “gentlemen’s” club, a pathetic display of Redneckville. These guys went absolutely bonkers, cat-calling and jumping up and down like chimpanzees in a zoo. I don’t normally go to such places, but tonight was different. My friend Geoff convinced me I would have a blast; if nothing else, I could make fun of middle-aged men standing around the stage, gawking like fools, making complete asses of themselves. Sensing my discomfort at the strip show, Geoff chuckled nervously: “This is so stupid, you just have to laugh at it, eh?” If he really thought it was so stupid, I thought, why then did he have a protrusion in his trousers? (I wasn’t looking at his crotch per se, mind you, but happened to notice it when he reached for his wallet to buy another drink.) Then I found out the real reason Geoff wanted me to come tonight.
“Take a close look at that gal up there, Jimmy Boy!”
I did, but was still puzzled. Where was Geoff going with this? “What?”
“She has a nice, fake orange tan. I’ll grant her that,” I joked.
“She’s kind of big, huh?”
“Yeah, I’d say so.” Geoff had a mischievous smile that didn’t seem to bode well. “Her feet are kind of big too….Oh my gosh, dude!”
“Yep. She’s a he.” Geoff took a swig of his imported beer.
“Get out of here!” I exclaimed. I had never seen a shemale exotic dancer before, other than in a photo or on TV. I’m a fairly liberal guy, and I don’t judge other lifestyles just because they might be different than mine, but it was still quite a spectacle. I endeavored to mask my shock.
“You like this?” I asked.
“Well, I think it’s interesting to watch, from the standpoint of oddities in the world,” responded Geoff, no doubt accommodating his response to my tone of befuddlement and disgust. “I’m just curious. That’s all.”
I knew Geoff was lying. What would Alice, his wife, say about his “curiosity,” I wondered. I didn’t want to rain on his parade, so I didn’t bring up Alice at this moment.
I pulled out my glasses to take yet a closer look at the dancer. She stood there topless, with all her, or I mean his, wares on display. You could certainly tell that the body was masculine, despite the boob job. So I looked closer at the face. Suddenly, there he was: Gary!
Geoff called out to him. “Hey, Gary, come over here!”
He walked over and greeted us. “Hi guys! Don’t have much time, here. As it’s show time, you know!” He smiled.
“You look good, Gary. Life’s been treating you well? I had no idea you’d be here.”
Gary glanced at Geoff. “You didn’t tell him?”
“I guess I got distracted by the performance,” said Geoff sheepishly.
“Geoff’s a regular here. He’s seen my stuff.”
“You’re stuff?” I queried.
“I do a stand-up comedy routine between stripping acts. Been doing it for a few months now. I’d prefer a bone fide comedy club, but you take what you can get.”
“I never realized you had a funny bone, Gary. That’s great.”
“Yeah, who knew? I just started coming up with silly observations, you know?”
“And it just evolved into an act. A friend of mine heard me ranting at a party and suggested I do stand-up. Here I am.”
“He’s really good,” Geoff weighed in. “Tell him the one about…”
“Yes, well, you’ll have to excuse me as I’m scheduled to start, and the owner likes to run a tight schedule. You’re staying for my act, right?”
“I wouldn’t miss it, Gary.”
“Did you enjoy the shemale strip show? Pretty freaky, huh?”
“Yes, it’s different,” I said.
“Definitely!” exclaimed Geoff, lying again.
Later that evening, during closing time, I was able to chat with Gary at length about the adversities in his life and his road to recovery through a career in comedy.
“It barely pays the bills. That’s for sure. But it’s part of my healing process.”
He went on to explain that he tried to reconcile with his wife and daughter, but they would have nothing to do with them. I still think Gary’s decision to quit his high-paying job, sell his car, and live in the basement of a nightclub just so he can do standup on the weekends is a bit strange. Moreover, his material is rather mediocre, dependent on swear words and rude gesticulations. I suppose he’s adjusting his act to the venue. At the end of the day there are arguably weirder things one can do with one’s life.