I hear my train arriving as I attempt to push through the turnstile at the Sedgwick “L” terminal at speed. The tattered black nylon strap of my computer bag (man purse) hooks around one of the turn poles, promptly seizing my momentum at the neck. I play a quick game of tug-of-war with the turnstile. The first, second, and third pulls are met with absolute resistance. It's then I realize that the aluminum rod that has been tumbling and clicking through countless clockwise revolutions for the past 20 years is not about to make an exception for my bag just because it's 3 degrees and I'm about to miss my train. A game of wits is where I find myself the victor as I slide the strap the additional two inches off the pole with my gloved hand. Look who's laughing now, Pole.
I hear the doors open on the train as I traipse up the slush-covered stairs of the terminal. The amount of Chicago snow that finds its way into heated indoor areas in January is almost awe-inspiring. And somewhere between the sidewalks and the elevator or the floor of a taxi or your walk-in closet, the white snow is converted into what can be best described as a dog shit margarita. Simply replace the triple sec with hobo urine and replace the lime juice with your seething abhorrence of people who live in places with palm trees, and voila! You have a Chicago Margarita. Don't worry, the booze is in there, especially if you are trudging through the streets of Wrigleyville.
I am a writer who doesn't read. I am a comedian who doesn't like telling “jokes.” I'm a compromise. I'm the 50-yard line. I'm good enough.I make it up the stairs and onto the train platform just in time to watch the doors close. This moment is the most hellish. I am physically in front of the train and I'm not allowed inside. A stainless steel train with glowing yellow windows sitting in front of me filled with warmth and light. And here I stand; wet gloved hands slumped to my side, standing in the grey starless winter night. In reality, those people who made it into the train were still just as miserable as me. After all, they are standing in a big rolling blender of dog shit margarita, but in that moment each window into the train car looked like a fucking Norman Rockwell painting.
I see the people on the “L” car see me as the car begins to roll forward slowly. Some stare at me with the “there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I” look you give to television commercials at 2am soliciting money for children in Ethiopia. The kind of commercial you momentarily think, “I'm going to call that number, give 15 cents a day, and help that fly-covered child with the big belly.” Then you get sidetracked with thoughts like, “Jesus, I think that fly is crawling on his eyeball. Why don't they swat the bugs away? I would definitely be swatting…I would at least try to catch the flies and eat them. Ugh, but it's hard enough to catch a fly in the First World. I mean I'm a full-grown man and I couldn't catch a fly with my hands if my life depended on it. I would probably—” and by that point you have accidentally fallen asleep with a bag of Triscuits on your chest.
The train rolls out of the station and I am left alone in the terminal. I am four blocks from Second City. That's where I just was, caught in a heated debate over whether—if removing all historical connotations—the N-word was actually a funny word. I argued that syllabically, yes, it is funny sounding in the same way lupus is funny sounding, but trying to convince others of this is tricky. This argument lasted 45 minutes, which is exactly 45 minutes longer than that conversation needed.
I love Second City but I'm not really an improv guy. I don't have the acting chops. I was never a theatre person and I can't sing. I love doing standup but I'm a stronger writer. Am I really a writer if I don't read? Am I a comedy writer? If I'm just a comedy writer then that means I'm a humorist. Humorist is a funny word, which is ironic considering the majority of people who identify themselves as such are rarely funny. I don't know what I am.
I'm in the middle, maybe.
I am a writer who doesn't read. I am a comedian who doesn't like telling “jokes.” I'm a half brother. I am a stepson. I'm not young, not old. I'm an addict not currently addicted. I'm a compromise. I'm the 50-yard line. I'm good enough.
But I don't want to be in the middle.
And I don't want to be on this train platform. I wonder how many of my idols stood on this same platform, leaving Second City, headed towards North Chicago. I wonder if Tina Fey, Chris Farley, John Belushi or Conan O'Brien stood here wondering why the fuck they abandoned a traditional lifestyle to stand on a stage pretending they were Donald Duck being waterboarded by Dick Cheney.
But they probably did. They probably wondered if they were just lost in the ether, doomed to work as waiter staff at Ed Debevics or spend the remainder of their summers in Orlando, grinding through Tony and Tina's Wedding for tourists 14 times a week. Doing anything in their power to make a mark, no matter how infinitesimal.
That's part of the human experience, I guess; we don't want to be forgotten. We don't want to be lost, even after death. We empty the blood out of our bodies, refill the body with preservatives, put our bodies in an airtight box, then a cement box, then bury it, then place a giant rock on top with our names etched into it. Just in case anyone needs us for anything again, we are safely secured and labeled within the earth for later use. It's like thumb tacks: no one wants to throw them away but no one will ever use them again. They sit in that drawer with the other shit in the kitchen you won't ever use again. Honestly, clothespins? Who are you, Joan Cleaver? You live in a condo building on the 17th floor, get with the now. And that's what a graveyard is: the Western world's junk drawer.
I lose track of time thinking about how to best work Western World's Junk Drawer into my standup act and the Purple Line train approaches before I have adequate time to fully form into an ice sculpture. The Purple Line is not my train. I've been waiting for the Brown Line train, the train I take every day. All I know about this Purple Line train is that it's warm, it's inviting, and I don't know where it is going. I climb on, slush through dog shit margarita to a vacant seat and sit down. The woman sitting next to me looks up from her iPad and smiles, “Cold out there.” The man sitting across from her chimes in, “Oh, I've seen worse.” I find myself agreeing with both positions.