“Are we in a movie right now?” I’m interrupting. I’m always interrupting. Not something I particularly like about myself. I try to work on it then forget and lapse back into it. One of these days I’ll lose that last ten pounds and learn to shut the fuck up for the duration of a sentence. This time it’s Lisa I’m cutting off and to make fun of sensitive moment.
The sun is setting on the Pacific as we drive up the coast to San Luis Obispo. The mountains are bathed in that dusty golden hue while the ocean stretches out forever. A reminder that if we haven’t run far enough away from less than stable upbringings back East we’ve at least run as far as this continent will allow. The way the light filters through hazy air and dirty car windows gives off the ambience of some indie film where two people in a car talk a lot about whatever and nothing really happens.
This is only our second road gig together and the first where we don’t have to worry about freaking out any other comedians in the car with a menagerie of topics that, aside from childhood horror stories, usually includes starting a cult, serial killers, lamenting the comedy industry, being broke, and classic rock. Also how fucking dumb everyone else is. Of course not us though. We’re geniuses. Obviously. Lisa’s talking about her strained relationship with her father and “Dust In The Wind” comes on the radio. I can’t let the moment pass without being commented on.
“Are we in a movie right now?”
We burst out laughing, making fun of ourselves swapping “I had a shitty childhood” stories over such a cliched soundtrack, even if it was by sheer coincidence. It’s great when the universe plays little jokes that way. This random mess lines up long enough to make something truly hilarious. Nothing is funnier than what happens in the car. You try to recreate that kind of laughter on stage but it rarely comes close.
We get to the show. It’s in the basement of a bar. I think I’ve done a gig here before. The place seems kind of familiar. If it is the same spot it’s definitely been rearranged. I ask the bartender about it,
“Did this bar used to be called something else?” She just moved here and doesn’t know. Doesn’t really matter. Every place used to be called something else. We make small talk with the bartender, she’s leading an interesting life. Loves to travel, lacks stability and doesn’t have any solid plans for the future.
Lisa get’s up to go use the restroom. I order a drink. The bartender sets it down and asks me if we’re together. Any time I do anything or go anywhere with any woman there’s someone somewhere to make the implication that we must be romantically involved. I’d expect it to be coming from other guys, but it’s typically other women. The bartender doesn’t mean anything by it, she’s just making conversation. After all we just heard all about her life and there’s only so many questions to ask someone you’ve just met. And the idea of some comedy couple riding around doing shows in little towns on the coast together probably seems interesting to her. But that’s not the case.
“No we just work together sometimes.”
“Oh I just saw the ring and wondered.” she motions to my wedding band.
“Yeah, I’m married. My wife’s at home.” The other thing that strikes people as oddly as not being involved with the girl you show up with is that your wife is at home while you’re out on the road with a woman who isn’t her. I tend to forget that trust is a rare commodity. Sometimes I wonder how far it can be stretched. I don’t know if I’ve ever trusted anyone as much as my wife trusts me. The next day Lisa and I disappear into the desert for a couple days to perform at a this sort of hippie festival far outside the reach of cellphone service. Last my wife hears from me is, “I’ll call you when we get there.” as I leave the house. Then nothing for forty-eight hours.
The festival, aside from the comedy portion and a few rock bands was mostly centered around EDM DJs, Techno for you old fogies. Not usually my cup of tea. If we’re being honest I’ve spent infinitely more time deriding the genre than actually listening to it at. I used to work in customer service selling tickets to EDM festivals. I always wondered what the appeal was to standing around in the middle of nowhere listening to loud repetitive shit in front of a bunch of blinking lights while stoned out of your gourd. I thought it was for morons who didn’t know how to spend their time very wisely. Then I found myself standing around in the middle of nowhere listening to loud repetitive shit in front of a bunch of blinking lights while stoned out of my gourd and it all made sense.
“You having fun?” Brad, another comedian and friend of mine, asks as he dances by.
“Did you ever think you’d get to see so many lasers in your life? We’re really lucky to be alive for this.” I think he took it as a yes.
We stayed in a teepee. A no bullshit, honest to god teepee. I don’t know if that counts as cultural appropriation, and I don’t really care. It’s not like we wore the damn thing around acting like jackasses. It just turns out that it’s a very efficient and aesthetically pleasing form of temporary shelter.
“Eight year old me would be so excited about this.” Lisa’s review of the lodging upon arrival. I’m sure thirty-something Lisa is equally as excited. It’s nice when you realize you’re doing the kinds of things you hoped you’d do when you were younger and full of your dreams.
On the ride out we were talking about about Keith Richard’s autobiography and I was lamenting the end of the rock star era.
“It’s kind of a bummer reading about all these crazily extravagant and amazing stories about those guys speeding down the coast to Morocco or flying around the world to play shows, record albums, get high and socialize with brilliant artists. Nobody lives like that anymore. It’s all moments staged for Instagram now.” Completely unaware of the irony that we’re currently speeding through the desert to do shows and a bunch of drugs with brilliant artists. We certainly aren’t The Rolling Stones and the Mojave ain’t Morocco but it’s good enough for me.
It’s getting dark and the stars are starting to peek out so I put Shine On You Crazy Diamond on the stereo. Perfect nighttime desert music.
“You got Meddle on there?” It’s kind of a deep Floyd reference even for a fan, but I've got it.
“Yeah, I got Meddle.”
“Put on, One of These Days.” I queue it up, Lisa cranks the stereo and starts driving like she’s trying to win The Le Mans from all the way out here on this this twisting desert road. It feels like we're driving in a spaceship. Why is it that dangerous behavior makes you feel more alive? The closer you come to losing life the more you can feel it. I bet twenty thousand dollars feels a lot more like twenty thousand dollars when it’s all riding on black.
We get to the festival campsite and check in before anyone else in our group. The organizers at the gate tell us just to go ahead and pick out a teepee. We park throw our stuff in our chosen wigwam then start exploring the grounds while waiting for our friend and fellow comic, Harry, who booked us and helped set up the stand-up portion of the weekend to arrive.
“It’d be great if we had some mushrooms.”
“I’ve got some edibles.” I offer, “They’re not as strong as mushrooms but if you eat a whole cookie it gets you kind of close.” So we each eat a cookie and keep wandering around. There are already a few folks dancing around and kicking up dust as the DJ booth gets warmed up. It looks like a UFO crash landed in some rancher’s peaceful desert valley. I like it. I’ve long been a fan of the look of artificial light on the trees at night.
“I don’t have cell service do you?” Lisa asks. I check my phone.
“How is Harry supposed to find us?”
“Maybe we should wait for him at the Teepee.” So we head back and bullshit for awhile over my phone still playing that Pink Floyd album. Then it gets quiet as the cookies kick in. I never realized how good this record is, I keep thinking to myself while thinking about everything else and staring up at a swirling pattern on the teepee wall. The music plays for twenty minutes or years. It’s hard to tell at this point. Even that stupid blues song, Shamus, the one where they let the dog sing, sounds great. Two angsty white nineties kids from the middle of nowhere high out of their minds while listening to Pink Floyd in a teepee. At some point during Echoes Harry walks in on the cliché.
He’s with his longtime friend Aaron, who is not a standup but that doesn’t stop him from being one of the most naturally and subtly funny off the cuff people I’ve met. He and Harry proceed to also get a little too stoned as we go out exploring more of the festival grounds. Lisa at this point has claimed the top bunk after succumbing to edibles and exhaustion. Did I mention the teepee also has fucking bunkbeds? The three of us are all too high to properly orient ourselves and end up walking around in circles looking at the same four or five things. But it’s hard to recall if we’ve seen any of this before or if we’ve just seen things that look like this stuff? Either way we’ve got nothing else to do and absolutely no chance of finding the teepee on purpose so we keep on taking the same tour. There’s plenty of very relaxed chilled out types to stop and talk to. Everyone is really excited for the weekend. I think I’m excited except at some point over the last twenty years I’ve forgotten exactly how to work that emotion. Eight year old me would know what to do.
Eventually we stumble upon the teepee. Lisa is still in bed, can’t tell if she’s asleep or catatonic. “Meddle” is still playing on the phone.
“Jesus Christ, it’s been on loop this entire fucking time! We’ve probably broken her brain.” I change it to a different album. Harry, Aaron and I start talking about music.
“You guys ever listen to shit to fall asleep?” Harry asks us.
“I usually smell it.” Aaron says so nonchalantly and with such perfect delivery that I am now dead. I don’t know why but it still ranks in the top funniest moments in my life. It’ll never be as funny to anyone else and impossible to recreate, just dust in the wind.
The next day the other comics show up, friends I haven’t seen in awhile along with new faces and acquaintances I should have taken the time to get to know better years ago. The show goes better than you could expect considering we’re performing for a group of people frying on acid, or on their way up or down from various other substances. After the show a bunch of our group splits up several hits of acid. Lisa and I split a bag of mushrooms and another cookie. We dance around, stare lights, have clumsy conversations about comedy, and mingle with some strange burnouts who have been hitting this lifestyle a little too hard and too long.
At some point we’re all gathered in a little tent on the outskirts of the main DJ area. Our friend Barbara is asking about a bright light she sees on a nearby hillside.
“Is there a house up there? That light is so bright.” No one else is sure what she’s talking about. She insists that someone on the hill has a very bright porch light. We all swear there are no houses on that hill.
“Wait, are you talking about the moon?” Aaron, a different Aaron than the one who smelled shit earlier, says. Barbara realizes that she has in fact been mistaking the moon for a house on a hill. It must be pretty good acid. The mushrooms aren’t bad either, I’m convinced the floor is changing colors. My friend Joe dances over, he’s sober and disagrees. I guess it depends on how you look at it. Change your perception, change your reality but not necessarily anybody else’s. By the time I’m done watching the floor do its chameleon routine I look up to see that my friends are gone. Except Lisa who is sitting across the tent in a camping chair. The place is now swarming with a bunch of earthy hippies. This girl with far away eyes slinks up next to me and starts asking about my outfit. It’s a knock off of one of the outrageous custom embroidered suits made by Nudie Cohn for the likes of Gram Parsons, Glen Campbell, Hank Williams and Roy Rogers.
“What’s the story with this jacket?”
“I wanted it. So now I have it. What’s the story with your tank top?”
“Same thing. I wanted it. Now I have it.” She slides in closer. I’m not often hit on, at least not obviously enough that I can usually tell. Which is a good thing because I can barely take a compliment without feeling like an awkward fool. I have no idea how to shake off this hippie. This must be what it’s like for women anytime they leave the house. Constantly trying to politely shoot people down without causing a scene. I haven’t had that kind of practice so all I can come up with is,
“Well, I gotta go over here now.” I stand up, wobbly, and go over and sit by Lisa. “Hey, I think our friends left.” Lisa looks up and around the tent.
“It’s gotten really Manson-ish in here.” I look around and she’s right. It looks like a documentary about the late 60s. Except Lisa who sticks out like a sore thumb in a baseball cap, athletic pants and track jacket. She looks like an off duty FBI agent.
“I’m going back to the tepee.” She gets up to leave.
“You need help finding it?”
“No, I’ll be fine.” Thank god she says that because I don’t think I can walk. Eventually the freak scene gets far out enough that I decide I’d better find out.
I manage to pull myself up and go look for our group in the crowd of dancing maniacs. They’re nowhere to be found so I head out toward the tepee and quickly realize that had she needed help finding it I would have been of little use. Eventually I make it to the camping area and hear familiar voices. Everyone we’re there with is inside making fun of Lisa for being dressed like a cop. I walk in and sit down to join in on the razzing.
“Yeah, she looks like Sandra Bullock in the scene from some movie where she plays a federal agent on her morning run that’s supposed to symbolize her also running from her demons or some shit.” Everyone bursts out yelling and laughing. I didn’t think it was that funny.
“Oh my god, I was just talking about Miss Congeniality right before you got here!” Brad shouts. Good one, universe.
Lisa drags herself into the top bunk and the rest of us drag ourselves out to go wander around. We end up outside of the festival grounds in a dried up sandy creek bed tossing a glow in the dark frisbee around. A completely meaningless and beautiful moment. A soft pause in the usual stream of life’s bullshit. Then we become endlessly fascinated with burying the glowing disc in sand and brushing it off of the top like archeologists discovering an alien artifact. These kinds of moments are generally reserved for childhood. Pretty soon we’re distracted by clouds.
When Lisa and I take off around eight the next morning everyone is still awake and finally starting to come down from the acid. I feel bad not having been able to text Sarah the entire weekend. She must be worried sick. I leave to meet up with a bunch of comics, some she knows, some she barley knows, to sleep in a teepee and do standup in the middle of a desert, then doesn’t hear from me for days. I expected a barrage of upset texts once we got back into service but only get one.
You guys having fun? How was the show?
Trust is a rare commodity but her and I apparently are swimming in it.