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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Revisited, Part Three

Parting Gifts

For me, there are myriad reasons why I am a professional entertainer. I’ve wanted to be one since I was 10 years old and I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. Sure, I’ve dabbled with other careers. Show biz is the only logical choice.

I’ll not discuss today why I originally got into the business. Rather, I’d like to share with you the main reason why I RETURNED to the business after a brief hiatus. This absence was NOT by choice. It was forced upon me.

I’d been romantically involved with a most unusual woman. Without sharing the gory details here, I’ll say THIS was a very unhealthy relationship.

Being with this girl drove me to the depths of insanity. She was very demanding of my time and my emotions. She had control over all the people in her life and would abuse the power often. Among the things she had over me: I owed her a LARGE sum of money, she played with my emotional insecurity to keep me in line, and I had no place else to go.

I met this girl at a time when I had very few friends, fewer romantic interests, fluctuating finances & many emotional & mental hurdles facing me. She was my BEST prospect at the time.

She was always interested in my performing, but was never impressed. She’s was drawn to my personality but didn’t like the idea of me leaving the house for any reason other than to go to a “regular job”. Her own abandonment issues prevented her from allowing me to do ANYTHING without her.

When I moved in with her I was willing to do anything to get some cash together. She got me out of my old lease, paid my delinquent bills, and gave me a new place to stay. Occasionally I’d get a gig at a party but those times were few and far between. I’d completely run out of money for necessities and borrowing any money for “frivolities” like new promotional materials & marketing was out of the question. Eventually the phone stopped ringing for Andy the Entertainer, or so I thought.

As it happened I did receive a few phone calls. I stumbled upon a notebook in a drawer. I’d never seen this notebook but it was apparent that I SHOULD have seen it before. On the pages were phone messages for me, messages from agents & private parties looking to check my availability & rates. I’d never heard anything about them. The messages were in her handwriting.

She was trying to keep me out of the business and, a few odd bookings aside, by the time I’d found this notebook I WAS out. I’d taken full-time work managing a toy store, hating every minute. I had a steady income, albeit a meager one and some insurance. That’s all that mattered.

I was not the same person anymore. I was depressed & suicidal most every day. I was a beaten and kept man & AFRAID to leave the house and interact with anyone. I was so sheltered and brittle I hadn’t even realized that I was unhappy. YEARS had gone by and I hadn’t noticed how bad things were.

I didn’t even have the strength to get angry about my phone messages. I mentioned them, but I didn’t really SAY anything about them. I just went about my existence and thought of new ways to kill myself. I was too far gone, submerged in the mire of the situation to be worth a damn to anyone ever again.

Long about that time, my dad was dying.

He’d been living with diabetes for over 20 years. I didn’t have to see the worst of the disease because he & Mom had moved to southern Ohio to “retire“. My visits to their home were rare. I didn’t have gas money for my unreliable vehicle and I wasn’t allowed to leave the house anyway. I got out there when I could, usually because one of my oldest & dearest friends managed to get me a booking out of state.

Knowing Dad was very ill I made a point to head to Ohio, borrowing even more money from my girlfriend for my weekend trip. Mom & Dad were aware of my romantic situation, but were not privy to EVERYTHING. All they knew was that I was not happy.

I’d hoped to be in Ohio a week or two earlier. The other three kids in the family were going to be there then. Dad always talked about how great it would be to see all four kids together one last time and be together as a family.

I never felt right about missing the event, but I had no money and my scheduled vacation wasn’t for a few more weeks. I tried to bump the vacation up but there was no way to make that happen. Being a retail manager of a toy store is a horrible, HORRIBLE job. I had to settle for a solo visit to see the parents.

They’d always been very supportive of my entertainment career, even though I chose not to attend college. Mom & Dad were a big part of my deciding to be a performer in the first place.

Dad was none to happy I didn’t go to school. He said I needed “something to fall back on”. I was ignorant enough to reply, “If I don’t fail I won’t NEED anything to fall back on.“

He stopped fretting over my choice when I was accepted to Ringling Bros. Clown College. He knew how hard it was to get into that school and how hard I‘d have to work. However, NOW he was concerned about my current situation. Not wanting to prod he asked if I was getting any gigs. I told him he shouldn’t worry. He worried nonetheless.

When I arrived I was completely unprepared for Dad’s condition. He was nothing like the man I knew. He was gaunt and pale. Expression was gone from his face and he was very thin. He was barely reminiscent of my father. Most of the day he’d hallucinate about other people in the room, having complete conversations with these figments. Dad was dying.

I spent as much time with him as I could & I didn’t discuss my petty problems. When he was coherent we talked. When he was out of it we didn‘t talk. During that trip, I stopped selfishly praying he wouldn’t die. Death HAD to be better than this life.

Occasionally he would tell me things he wanted me to know before he was gone. I tried to entertain him whenever possible, telling him falsehoods about my show business career.

One night, he stopped the conversation to enter one of his hallucinations. Later he slept, periodically talking to the ghosts around him. I stayed with him for a few hours when suddenly, he sat up and stared at me. He grabbed my hand, looked into my eyes and said, “Dump that bitch! She’s killing you!” He smiled and went back to sleep.

I didn’t know what to say. Dad rarely gave unprovoked romantic advice. But there it was nonetheless. He wasn’t really giving advice as opposed to using some sort if parental eminent domain clause and commanding me to improve my life. For the first time in a long time something made sense. I smiled and quietly said to dad, “OK.”

The last time I saw him alive, dad said one more little thing that clearly WASN’T a suggestion. This was another order. “Stop fucking around and get back into entertainment! It is what you’re supposed to do.” Again, I said, “OK.”

I hugged him one last time and headed for home.

I had five hours to come up with an exit strategy. Once home I began to put things in motion, unsure of how I‘d revive a floundering career. Two weeks later, the day before my “official” vacation from work, dad died. I got special permission to take an extra day off work.

Stunned, I headed back to Ohio for the funeral. I wondered if anyone was going to deliver a eulogy. Dad was not really among friends and admirers in Ohio and it dawned on me that nobody would have anything to say about him. I was wrong. A few family members were thinking the same thing and volunteered to say a few words. At the house Mom told me we could all say whatever we wanted.

Of course I had no idea what to say. I was in no condition to wax on about dad. What business did I have volunteering for such a task? I kept my panic to myself and assumed I’d come up with something later.

The night before the service I stayed up very late trying to think of something to say. I put off the task like a kid avoiding homework. 2:30 AM rolled around and I had NOTHING. I decided to go to sleep.

I was on the brink of slumber when it all came rushing into my head like a freight train through a tunnel. I grabbed a pen & began writing. I stayed up until about 4:30 AM before deciding I was finished. In all, I had about 9 pages of dialogue ready to go.

What I wrote was a variety of stories about dad. I remembered that few people there really knew him and I took it upon myself to introduce dad to the crowd. I recalled humorous stories, repeated his words of wisdom & songs he would sing. I even wore a pair of his glasses as props.

The speech was impossibly hard to deliver. I eased into the routine the more I read. In telling the stories I acted out dad’s mannerisms. It was a somber moment that was funny in spots, touching in others. Overall, a fitting tribute to a great man. I managed to get some laughs from the crowd and everyone paid attention to what I had to say. I didn’t realize it at the time but I wrote a comedy monologue about my dad. I did what I do best. I entertained a crowd of people who NEEDED some entertainment.

At the end of the speech I nearly broke down completely. I was so relieved to finish and so fatigued from grief I just wanted to leave. While exiting the lectern, I failed to fully notice a defining moment in my life.

At the conclusion of the eulogy there was a round of applause from the congregation. Not a thunderous clamor or anything, just some genuine appreciation for the stories I told. Mom taped the service and the laughter and applause was there clear as day. My personal epiphany, captured on tape.

I wasn’t worried about my future anymore. I knew everything would be fine. I was going to leave this girl and I had no question about my true calling. Near as I could tell, getting a round of applause at a funeral, as bizarre as that concept sounds, is a sign from above. I was a damn fine entertainer. Let’s face it, that’s a tough crowd!

Once again dad came through. Had he not yelled at me about my relationship and my career I might not have ever been the same. It took dad’s death and funeral to get me to be both a man and an entertainer again. Since then I’ve never been anything but one hell of a good performer.



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