Basement Laughs

Friday started too early and ended way too late. I didn’t get much sleep Thursday night; kept waking up every 30 minutes or so because I was worried I would over sleep. I finally gave up around 6am and putzed around the kitchen reorganizing things until Gus and Bobby showed up around 7. Once they settled into their work for the day. I ran over to Chase-Pitkin for paint and brushes to start working on the porches. It took me about an hour to find the right National Trust shade of white, there were 32 to choose from.

On the way back home I stopped at The Bagel Shop for breakfast. There is nothing like a fresh bagel in the morning! I had given them up living in Charlotte. No matter how many different places I tried down there, no one could get it right. Most places served what amounted to a crusty ring of Wonder Bread.

While waiting in line, I noticed my old friend Emma Statt at a table in the back corner of the shop. Emma was the most successful “lazy” person I had ever me. She wasn’t really lazy, she just seemed that way if you couldn’t wrap your brain around her thought processes. Emma developed her own outlook on the world when she was very young, and determined that performing tasks superfluous to her goals was inefficient and beneath her. Growing up, this was most obvious with homework. Emma concluded that is was a tool to aid in the understanding of a topic provided for those who needs additional assistant/practice outside of the classroom. Since she was so stinking smart, Emma rarely felt the need to utilize this additional tool. You can imagine the problems this caused with her parents and teachers. Her theories on efficiency reared their heads again in college, three semesters in she quit. Emma just woke up one morning and determined that since she was going to be a writer, there was no point in continuing to “waste” time and money jumping through other people’s hoops just for a piece of paper that really only amount to a receipt.

We all thought she was nuts. Surely she would come to her senses and return to school. Emma still hasn’t found a reason to complete her degree, and since she has published two volumes of poems, a collection of short stories and a novella, we really don’t expect her to now.

Once I had my bagel and OJ in hand, I wandered back to Emma’s table.
“I heard you were back!” she called out. “It’s about time! You know we had a pool going? 75-1 against your return.”

“I was pretty vehement about getting out of this place, wasn’t I?”

“Everybody has a bug in their butt about something at 18. We all outgrow such things though. That’s why I bet on you moving back before our 10 year reunion. Won $757. Thanks.”

Emma didn’t bet often, but when she did, she bet big and never lost. Sports, cards, trivial pursuit, human nature; she always picked a winner. We spent the next 30 minutes catching up over lox w/ a schmear.

“So,” Emma asked, “any plans tonight?”

“Hadn’t given it much thought yet. What do you have in mind?”

“The Cellar Club. They have a great comedy show Fridays. It will be great fun, most of the old crowd turns out each week.”

“Sounds like a plan. So where is this place?” I asked.

“Remember the old Seneca Flour Mill? Well, they rehabbed it and the club is in the basement. I’ll meet you at the towpath entrance around 8pm?”

“See you then.” I wandered back home the long way, none too excited about starting to paint.

The day flew by from there. It was 6pm before I knew it and Gus was telling me they were heading out, but would be back on Monday to check over their work. I finished painting the pole I was working on and went next door for a shower.

Logan was washing down one of the pack boats when I walked over. “Mind if I use your shower?” I asked.

“Go ahead.” He replied without a glance.

When I finished with my shower, Logan was just coming in. “I ran into Emma Statt this morning. We are meeting over at The Cellar Club at 8pm. Interested?”

“Nope.” The word came out like shotgun fire. “Have fun,” he added almost as an after thought.

I am such an idiot! I am using this guys shower every day, we have had dinner every night this week…and for all I know there is a seriously pissed off girlfriend somewhere in town. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? Of course a gorgeous, witty, employed guy would have a girlfriend. He had just been too polite to tell me I was being a pest. That’s it! I have to have a bathroom fully functional ASAP!

Around 7:30 pm, I headed down the canal to where it crosses the river, just north of the falls and the mill district. The old Seneca Mill was at the top of the falls and fronted on the canal and the river; prime real estate in the 1800s. Emma was waiting at the top of the limestone steps that lead beneath the mill.

“Now that you are here, let me warn you...” Emma was infamous for providing “plot twists” to real life. She routinely left out small chucks of information until the last possible moment before others not having that knowledge becomes an issue. “the ‘Marys’ are going to be here, and they haven’t changed a bit. Still vapid, still self-obsessed. It’s a train wreck waiting to happen,” She said with a sly grin. “Still up for this?”

“Absolutely!! If the comedian stinks, at least I will have them to amuse me!”

The Marys were Mary Catherine Norbett and Mary Elizabeth Cromwell, no relation to the Protestant Cromwells. They had been best friends since birth, literally; there mothers shared a hospital room. They both came from gobs of money and still lived with their parents in their family “estates” on Locust Hill. They had been our nemeses for as long as I could remember. It was going to be just like old times; they would be elitist twits, we would laugh our asses off.

We paid the $5 cover and descended into the basement. It was cold and damp and smelled slightly stale. Emma had a reserved table to the left of the stage. We sat across from each other leaving a vacant seat on either side.

“Mike Vale and one of his buddies should be joining us. They are on an off week this week,” Emma shared.

Emma and her info. leaks again. I hadn’t kept tabs on Mike in years. Not since we stopped playing G.I. Joes together. Our mothers traded Christmas letters every year, but that was all I had heard from him in easily the last ten years. While we were in high school, he along with a neighborhood kid’s dad bought the local service station. Last I heard, he had bought out his silent partner and was sponsoring regional race teams. If memory serves, he still races on occasion himself.

Emma ordered us a round of Jameson on the rocks from the bar, good Irish Catholic gal that she is. I followed with a round of Guinness, draft of course. Somewhere around quarter to 9, Mike and his friend, Ben Holitz, arrived. I jumped up and gave Mike a huge hug. This was the man who had introduced me to the art of creating G.I. Joe casualties by leaving duplicate figures in the grass for our fathers to run over with lawn mowers. He also found a use for the Barbies people insisted on giving me, hostages complete with magic marker cuts and bruises.

After I let go, we all sat down and made the basic introduction. It was almost time for the show to start, so Mike and Ben went over to the bar to grab a pitcher and some wings. Emma very quickly grabbed my arm and filled me in on Ben.

“Okay. Ben isn’t just Mike’s friend, he’s his best driver. He comes from a big deal family in Virginia; lots of land, lots of money. You know the type. Well anyway, he was disowned! After undergrad at UVA, he had the audacity to get further into racing instead of going to law school. They had supported his “little hobby” since he was 10, but when he decided to be the first Benjamin Thomas Holitz in 200 years not to be a lawyer or politician, they cut him off.” Emma explained.

“Holitz, as in the biggest political family in Virginia? That would make his father the Lieutenant Governor, his uncle a federal judge, his grandfather a Senator…I’m speechless.”

“Well stay that way, he never talks about his family. They are coming back. Pretend I said something witty.” Emma said, completely out of character. I was totally at a loss, Emma didn’t play stupid games like that. ‘Pretend I said something witty’ what the hell was that. Apparently, my emotions were running across my face, cause when Mike sat back down he asked, “Constipated?” We all roared with laughter while the house lights dropped and the show began. 

The MC for the evening was a self-proclaimed soccer mom; who cussed and drank and smoked her way through the intro, making jokes about her failed marriage, dating in your late 30s, and may particular fave, scaring other soccer moms by providing red bull and power bars when it is her turn to bring snacks to her son’s games. The best part of her bit was the commentary it elicited from the Marys. 

“Her poor little boy! It must be such a burden to have to raise your own mother!” 

“Surely the boy would be better off with his father!” 

“Women like her are ruining it for younger women! Guys keep dating these divorcées, who are obviously used to rejection, just so they can continue to avoid committing to a decent, stable girl their own age.” 

Then from somewhere in the back came, “Divorcées have nothing to do with why you two psychos can’t get a date!” The entire room erupted with laughter. Well, everyone except for the Marys, who took that opportunity to perform a synchronized hair-flip and saunter off to the ladies together. 

“I see the Marys are still victims of others ‘improprieties’” I say. 

The first comic was a short, pasty, hairy, Jewish guy from Yonkers. His entire set was predictable: jokes about having no rhythm and being persecuted by “the Man”, and of course he threw in lots of Yiddish in case we forgot in the midst of all of his Jewish jokes that he was in fact a Jew. We were grateful when his set was over and we were able to talk freely again and grab another pitcher from the bar. 

Between comics, the Marys did a lap around the room. They paused at our table and prattled out their harpie chorus: 

“Why Mike”

“We almost didn’t see you there.”

“Oh and Ben is here too! And to think…”

“We almost walked right past you.”

“Why are you hiding over here?”

“We have two empty seats at our table.”

“You really must come sit with us.”

“You simply can’t waste an evening by yourselves.” 

Really! They stood there in front of Emma and I and spewed this malarkey! Mike chugged his beer and quickly poured another. Ever since 6th grade when he and Mary Catherine “dated” and she decided to throw him over for his best friend without actually telling him it was over, Mike has had no patience for them. And from what Emma has told me, they paid him no mind until his name stared appearing in the papers. 

Ben calmly removed Mary Elizabeth’s hand from his shoulder, where it had been floundering like a fish out of water, and said “But we aren’t alone. We have the best to girls in town for company.” At which he shifted his chair towards mine and slide his arm across the back of the chair. 

Mary Elizabeth went absolutely white and then slow the crimson rose up her throat and neck like a thermometer. “Well. When you tire of listening to them talk about books and dead people and old houses and the South, you know where to find us.” 

Ben leaned back, grinned, and started whistling Dixie, and the Marys stomped off to their next victims. I took us all until the intro for the next comedian was finished to stop our laughing. 

The headliner for the evening was funny enough to headline a mill cellar, but you won’t be seeing him on HBO anytime soon. He yucked it up over differences between the west coast and east coast, picked on people when jokes failed, slugged down half a bottle of tequila, stumbled around a lot. Towards the end of his act he was picking on this one young looking guy who was obviously out with his girlfriend. The guy was a good sport about it, but it was obvious that he was beginning to tire of the jokes about his age, innocence, gullibility, etc. Finally, after ordering the poor guy a shot of milk, the comic asks him what he does for a living. “I’m a United States Marine, sir” he replied with a hint of a grin.  

The comedian nearly fell off the stage. “Oh, God!! I’ve been picking on you all night and you probably know 50 ways to kill me with your bare hands!” 

“Actually, 57, sir.” 

It was brilliant! The room laughed more at the Marine’s jokes than any others all night. After the show, we climbed into Emma’s Mini and the guys into Mike’s Tahoe and headed over to Perkins’ for some late night eats. Perkins is a late night ritual in Brighton. After every school dance, play, date since junior high school, that is where everyone goes to end the night. There is just something about a plate of chocolate chip pancakes after midnight that I can’t resist. We sat in a booth at the back, as far from the mob of 15-year-olds that arrived just before we did as we could, and chatted away for nearly two hours. 

Emma, since she lives in the über-trendy arts district downtown, drove home alone and I got a ride with Mike and Ben. We reached Mike’s house first, were Ben and I said good night to Mike and got into Ben’s Silverado. Turns out Ben lives just the other side of the park from me in a new condo development on the canal. 

When we reached my house, Ben walked me to the kitchen porch and said, “I’ve really enjoyed talking with you.” I know I blushed like a school girl. I am such a dork! But he continued anyway, “Would you be interested in breakfast in the morning?” 

“A girl’s gotta eat.” Again! Could I be a bigger dork!? “What time?” 

“I’ll stop buy with bagels and coffee around 9am?” he said, blue eyes glowing in the porch light. 

“Til then, …then.” Apparently I hadn’t gotten all of the dorky out of my system yet.