March 4, 2010
The early part of my childhood was spent right down the road from here. Baldwin Township. I’m a mile and a half away from the Presbyterian church where I was baptized. It was there that I was cleansed of my original sins. Now I’m at an open mic comedy show in a bar called Duke’s Station collecting a few more. Stack them up. As long as I keep them organized, I think I can fit a couple in without it looking messy.
A 65 year-old woman is performing comedy for the first time in the background of my nostalgic mind.
“When I was little, my Father told me that they only had sex in Europe,” she recalls.
Joyce is her name and she looks as though she’s had a hard life. She’s got a poof of dyed-blonde hair and coke-bottle glasses. She has the posture and blank face that says she could have been a nun if some different choices were made. Her Pittsburgh accent lets the audience know that she’s homegrown. She’s rambling; much like your grandma would at a Thanksgiving dinner. There is some laughter though. I can’t tell if my attention span has been permanently damaged by my I-pod or if this woman’s set is just as random as it seems.
“I’m hangin’ onto his leg and I won’t let go. So we go crashin’ into the gift table and we knock over all of my friend’s daughter’s baby shower presents,” she says.
I’ve got a rapidly emptying bottle of Miller Lite in front of me. The last few sips are going to be tepid; I know this. But I paid $1.50 for it, so it damn sure is going down the hatch. My throat is still dry from a dismal set that I just had. I was the first comedian to perform at this particular open mic. It’s not the best spot, but at least it’s over with.
“Then I took Bill, that’s my husband, down to the old Montgomery Ward to get his teeth pulled. I think it was on 12th street back then.”
The laughter is growing now. No one really knows what to make of it.
Duke’s Station is actually an old passenger railway car that was abandoned many years ago. Some inventive Pittsburgher decided to resurrect the useless vessel, adding chicken wings, a row of Plasma TV’s, and kegs of beer. That seems to be enough medication to bring any forgotten structure back to life. Throw in a back-room where the locals can play video poker while enjoying a comedy show and you have yourself a respectable business.
“So this female stripper corners me in the bathroom and says, ‘Well, whatd’ya want me to do?’ And I was cryin’ at that point so I told her I didn’t know.”
The sparse audience has turned into a cohesive unit. As if in unison, glancing at one another with confused smiles, everyone shares the same thought: I don’t know what the hell she’s talking about. But it’s funny!
There is a foggy curtain of cigarette smoke filling the air of the back-room. It’s like a speakeasy for smokers. A place they can go to enjoy themselves freely, away from the sensitive lungs of others. The glowing embers and soft ashes falling from the little paper wrappers filled with tobacco are making me uncomfortable though. This place could go up in flames at any time. The entire room is covered in wood paneling and loose insulation. It’s like a Swedish sauna except the air is filled with Parliament smoke instead of fresh Nordic steam. This is a fire marshal’s nightmare and a pyro’s wet dream.
“So he’s standing there with his ‘Mr. Wiggly’ hanging out in the breeze. And it had all sorts of tubes and wires coming out of it, you know, because of the car accident.
I crack a smile, put my head down and laugh. There’s a mural on the wall to the right of the stage behind the karaoke machine. On it large black musical notes are painted on an off-white background. In the middle of that over-sized measure there is a cartoon train that has been derailed and left in a haphazard pile. Beneath it are the words, “All aboard the party train.”
“Then Ron and his dog go out lookin’ for my dog and they get lost in the woods too! I went over to the neighbor lady’s, her name was Debbie. Her son and my son were friends. And I says to her, I says, ‘If you find these two dogs, give ’em some water. If you find Ron, give him a beer!”
She wraps up her set to applause that sounds earth-shaking, relatively speaking.
Judging from the 7 minutes of information I heard about Joyce that night, it’s safe to say that her life has been harder than most. Filled with lost dogs, car accidents and tragic baby shower pratfalls. But even though her life had been derailed more than a few times, when the party train pulled into the station, she always had her ticket ready.
All aboard, Joyce. All aboard.