The DJ in the adjacent room pumps his LMFAO track up a little higher just as I hit my first punchline. The bass thumps rattle the memorabilia on the wood panelling of the show room. Audience members check their phones for updates. They sit uncomfortably in chairs that look like they were stolen from an abandoned Cracker Barrel. I’m already dead in the water and I’m not even wet yet. The distractions. The noise. The apathy.
I look around the wall hangings. There’s a tin sign telling me to “Chew Pap’s Long Cut Tobacco.” It has a picture of a red wagon. There’s another sign that says “People eat People’s Meat.” It has a picture of a fat pig with the word “People’s” branded on the side. There is a Steeler pennant, a Roberto Clemente poster, an Elvis dish, a picture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They are all blanketed in wisps of Pall Mall smoke and shaking slightly from the heavy synth loops coming from the other room. There are a lot of people having a good time over there. And the migration of the audience is almost complete. A few stragglers remain, looking at their watches and getting their checks. I’m not even on my second joke yet.
My fiance and my friends are out somewhere right now, having a good time without me. Why, Sweet God? Why do I put myself through this? I’m standing in front of a group of strangers, talking about all of my deficiencies as a human being. It’s an exercise in humiliation. I think about quitting, right there on stage. I contemplate placing the mic onto the waitresses bus-tray, finally realizing that this isn’t sustainable, that this can’t go on any longer, that I can’t do this. I look towards the wooden rafters for mercy and I see something else. It’s another mural tucked away in the upper corner of the room. It’s Doug Shedden.
Who the hell is Doug Shedden? I think to myself. I ask the question out-loud to the audience. Even Mike Wysocki shrugs his shoulders. But suddenly, the former Penguins Center’s steely-blue eyes catch mine. They expose my weakness but let me know it will be alright. “I’m Doug Shedden,” he says to me. “And I never quit.”
It gives me the strength to plow ahead. And I do. I will.