Tensions flare, and a relationship turns tumult, when the dreaded K-word appears…
by: Alan Swyer
Trying in vain to wipe the sleep from his eyes, Adam Shore shuffled into the kitchen of his Silverlake bungalow, where his girlfriend was breakfasting on granola and green tea. “Anything special you’d like to do today?” he asked drowsily.
“Move,” Evie replied.
“Back to New York.”
“Is there something wrong with L.A.?”
“Then what’s not right?”
“What’d I do now?” Adam wondered aloud, his fogginess giving way to bewilderment. “I didn’t forget your birthday. Or to pick up the dry cleaning. Or —”
“It’s not something you did.”
Adam paced for a moment before facing Evie. “You’re talking kids, aren’t you.”
“Can’t put anything past you.”
“You know I can’t handle the responsibility. Or feel comfortable with ’em. Or —”
“That’s your prerogative,” interrupted Evie.
“Yeah, but —”
“Thank heaven I didn’t give up my little place in Brooklyn.”
Knowing that Evie was hardly given to rash statements or decisions made in haste, Adam did everything short of begging to forestall her departure. First came an attempt at charm. Followed by solicitousness. Then, while she was packing, he resorted to a monologue she had seen him do at comedy clubs and on television. “You won’t believe this,” he began as though addressing an audience, “but not long ago I fell in love. Think that’s great? Well, not necessarily if you’re a comic. What’s funnier, to hear I wake everyday with a smile on my face? Or take my wife, please?”
When the attempt at the routine fell flat, Adam turned to another one of his shticks, doing a pratfall, which engendered not a smile, but a frown.
“Adam, please,” said Evie.
“You know this stuff is funny, you used to always laugh.”
“I’m not laughing now.”
“Then maybe it’s time for me to get corny. This might hurt a little, a dentist says. Okay, answers the fearful patient, only to have the dentist announce, I’m having an affair with your wife.”
Seeing Evie remain stone faced, Adam continued. “How about the poor schmuck’s tombstone that reads ‘I TOLD YOU I WAS SICK?’”
With still no response from Evie, Adam persisted. “What do you get when you try to cross a bunny rabbit with a pitbull?” Adam waited a moment before supplying his own answer. “A pitbull who doesn’t need lunch.”
When, having been worn down by three more hackneyed jokes, Evie begrudgingly giggled. Adam beamed. “See!” he exclaimed, “you still get a kick out of me.”
“Who said I didn’t?”
“Just not enough to put aside my hopes and dreams.”
“You can’t write children’s books in L.A.?”
“I can write anywhere.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“It’s not just children’s books I want.”
“But didn’t you like seeing L.A.’s comedy scene from the inside?”
“And our trips to the beach?”
“And the Sichuan and Ethiopian and Oaxacan joints we hit?”
“And the two of us get on great, don’t we?”
“Much of the time.”
Despite Evie’s grimace, Adam continued undaunted. “I don’t understand why you’re making such a fuss about a little thing.”
“What little thing?” Evie asked.
Evie studied Adam for a moment, then shook her head in disgust. “You’re right,” she exclaimed.
“What’s that mean?”
“You really don’t understand.”
It was at a funeral for a childhood friend named Jeanie, who had moved west to pursue an acting career that was cut short by a freeway accident, that Evie first met Adam. “I thought it never rains in California,” she quipped as she, like him, was trudging through a thunderstorm from the mortuary parking lot to the chapel.
“If you believe that, I’ve got some nice swampland in Florida to sell you,” replied Adam.
“Share my umbrella?”
“You don’t mind?”
“You caught me in a rare moment of generosity.”
Evie studied him for a moment while walking. “You’re funny.”
“Now if only SNL shared your feelings.”
At the repast following the funeral, Evie found herself standing next to Adam in the buffet line. “So how’d you know Jeanie?” she asked.
“She was in an improv workshop I taught.”
“You’re an actor?”
“I’ve got a SAG card, but I don’t know if I’m an actor. Rumor has it I’m a comic.”
“I’m Evie, by the way.”
“You’re a mind-reader as well as a comic?”
“I asked somebody. I’m Adam.”
“Who just dropped a Brussels sprout on his foot.”
“So tell me, would you fly to Paris with someone who drops Brussels sprouts on his feet?”
“Is that an invitation?”
“Just a question. But how about a drink somewhere when this is over?”
“How do I know you’re not a serial killer?”
“Good question,” said Adam. “So is that a yes or a no?”
“What if we wind up getting along?”
“I guess we’d be in deep shit.”
What began as a whirlwind out of left field meeting during Evie’s brief initial stint in Southern California intensified thanks to calls, texts, and Instagrams in the weeks and months that followed, plus enough coast-to-coast flights by both of them to make airline stocks skyrocket. During that period, Adam gave Evie a crash course in comedy, introducing her, with the help of Youtube, to Godfrey Cambridge, Burns & Allen, Ernie Kovacs, the “2000-Year-Old-Man,” and other heroes of his from once-upon-a-time. Evie reciprocated by bringing to Adam’s attention some favorites from her world of Children’s Literature: But Not The Hippopotamus, They Came From Aargh! Bill & Pete, and Bedtime For Frances. Soon enough, both became enamored of treats found away from their respective home turfs: Evie with Persian ice cream at a storefront on Westwood Boulevard, Adam with cheesecake from Junior’s Deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn.
By the time October came around, Adam found himself unable to sleep nights until he at last got up the nerve to broach a subject during a call. “Want to try something weird?” he asked Evie one evening.
“Weird good, or weird not so good?”
“How about moving in with me?”
“I thought your friends said you’re relationship-phobic.”
“Maybe you’re the cure.”
“Maybe?” asked Evie.
After Evie, having finished packing, declined his offer of a ride to the airport and headed off in an Uber, Adam went into full hermit mode. Day after day he refused entreaties from friends and business associates via phone, text, and emails. Shooting baskets with a comic named Lieberman held no appeal. Nor did coffee with a gag writer named Peretta, or lunch with actor pal Rudy Hernandez, or a drink with a guy who did stand-up named Pickens, or a movie with his screenwriter buddy Maloney, or even a let’s-catch-up session with his hyper-kinetic manager, Sam Werth.
Surviving on deliveries from DoorDash, Postmates, and Uber Eats, Adam alternated between pouting, doing push-ups and crunches, taking cat naps, and listening for hour after hour to James Carr, Howard Tate, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Thelonious Monk.
Late on a Thursday night, in an attempt to pull himself together, Adam thought of all the ways he was better off living alone. But all he could come up with was that he no longer had to turn off lights left on by Evie, or that he wouldn’t find pots of water smoldering on the stove while his distracted ex-girlfriend was reading in another room. He aso wouldn’t have to worry about a flooded counter top, which happened on occasion when Evie wandered out of the kitchen while filling a pot with water. Those irritants, however, seemed no more consequential than the fact that without her around he could listen to “Hit The Road, Jack” or “Rescue Me” at full blast any time of day or night, or watch sports on television instead of being sociable, or even leave the bathroom with the toilet seat up.
Most importantly, it took an almost Herculean effort for Adam to resist the ever-increasing urge to reach out to Evie by phone, text, email, or carrier pigeon.
What Adam didn’t know was that his erstwhile lady friend was also virtually in hiding. Throwing herself into the book she was writing — the third in her series about a rascally opossum named Otto — Evie emerged from her tiny apartment only when necessary, ducking overtures from friends and family.
On those occasions when she did return someone’s call, text, or email, Evie was uncharacteristically laconic and reluctant to engage.
“Aren’t you hungry?” her friend Angie asked on a Tuesday afternoon.
“Aren’t you lonely?” an ex-college roommate named Doris wondered the next evening.
“Aren’t you horny?” her neighbor Lorna inquired a day later.
To those and other questions, Evie’s answer was the same: “Not really.”
All the while she, too, did her best to suppress the desire to resume contact with Adam.
Frustrated by his inability to reach his client in any of the usual ways, which meant he couldn’t nudge, push, or fulminate, Sam Werth decided to forego the use of smoke signals and show up at Adam’s house unannounced.
There he rang the doorbell incessantly until at last it was opened a crack. “I’m not here,” Adam mumbled.
“Then the pizza I’m holding is leaving with me. And so is the beer.”
The door opened a little wider. “A pizza from where?”
“Vito’s. With pesto and fresh ricotta.”
“You know how to get what you want,” said Adam, opening the door.
“That’s what makes me such a good manager.
The two men went into the kitchen, where Adam grabbed plates and napkins while Sam opened two bottles of Corona. The two men ate in silence until Sam wiped a pesto stain off his shirt. “So how much longer do you plan on licking your wounds?” he asked.
“As opposed to?”
“Making us both some money.”
“I feel like shit.”
“Then use it.”
“You know as well as I do, all comedy is based on a man in trouble. Think it’s funny to hear someone say, I feel peachy today? If somebody were to say that on-stage, you would want to smack him.”
“Still, my ass. Every good bit you’ve ever come up with is autobiographical.”
“You don’t like the topical stuff?”
“Not as much.”
“How come you never told me.”
“I did. A bunch of times.”
“But I never heard it.”
“Because you didn’t want to.”
Worn down by the persistence of well-wishers, Evie agreed to meet Angie for lunch at a Shanghai restaurant in Brooklyn Heights. Evie tried to eat but the food seemed tasteless, the conversation forced, and Angie’s suggestion that they amble toward Kustard King for dessert was spurned.
Worse was the stroll Evie took with her neighbor Lorna, where everyone on the street seemed to fit in, except for her.
More painful still was the dinner party Doris persuaded her to attend. The air of festivity seemed oppressive, chit-chat over cocktails was an ordeal, and most excruciating was the realization that there was an implicit attempt to fix her up with the only other unaccompanied person there: an investment banker named Jon Davies who talked relentlessly about how he took Elizabeth Warren’s attacks on Wall Street as a personal attack. When Davies, with his preppy accent, asked what Evie thought, she shrugged. “I’m with Liz,” she announced before heading for the door.
Surprised by his own nervousness, Adam took the stage one Thursday at an open mic night at a comedy club, then gazed for a moment at the crowd. “You won’t believe this,” he began, “but comics don’t like each other. In fact, despite the way we tell each other, I love your work, or You killed ’em tonight, we’re really seething, monstrous, deeply unhappy people who, without our monologues and our jokes, would likely be psycho-killers. Can’t you see Louis C.K. climbing a water tower with a rifle? Or Dave Chappelle going postal at the Superbowl? We’re dangerous people. Frightening. Terrifying.”
Pleased by the laughs he was getting, and the thumbs-up he received from Sam Werth, who was standing at the back of the room, Adam continued. “But who do you think comics really hate? They can’t bring themselves to despise the late Robin Williams, just like they can’t loathe Mel Brooks or Whoopie Goldberg. Why? Because they’re iconic. So who do they hate? Any guesses?”
A few names were shouted out by the crowd — Chris Rock, Steve Martin, Mitch Hedberg, Jim Gaffigan — but Adam shook his head.
“No,” he said, “not the ones with real talent who deserve the credit and the money they make. Who they really hate are the creeps just above ’em in the pecking order, the stinkers on the next rung of the ladder who are doing just a tiny little bit better than they are.” Adam paused for a moment, then smiled. “But right now you’re probably wondering why I keep saying they instead of us, or maybe me. Am I right?”
A few responses came from here and there around the room.
“The reason is simple,” Adam declared. “I’m too busy hating myself because I let the best girlfriend I ever had get away. Want to know why?”
“Yes,” was the answer from those who spoke up.
“Because of the K-word. Anyone know what that is?”
“Kangaroo,” joked one guy. “Kabob,” yelled another. At the sound of “Kerfuffle,” Adam replied, “Somebody went to college.” When he heard another shout “Kugel,” he shook his head, then asked, “Like my grandma made?”
Finally a woman stood up and said, “Kids.”
“Bingo!” Adam declared. “Now tell me truthfully, can you folks see me with kids?”
“No!” the audience blurted out as one.
“I have trouble with goldfish,” Adam whined. “With potted plants. With watering the lawn I don’t have. I’m somebody who forgets about stuff at the dry cleaners for weeks on end. And she wants me to consider diapers? What if… what if I wound up with a daughter who wants to go to the park? Do I let a sweet little thing enter the ladies’ room on her own? Or take an innocent darling into…gulp…a public men’s room? Instant nervous breakdown for yours truly.”
As laughter rang out around the room, Adam held up his hand for them to stop. “But maybe I’m lucky,” he then said. “Considering her name, can you imagine a couple going through life as Adam and Evie?”
Sam Werth smiled as the audience responded with cheers and applause, then he headed backstage to rendezvous with Adam. “You killed ’em!”
“It wasn’t too whiny? Or confessional?”
“Who’s the guy who used to get laughs talking about how his mother’s kitchen was enveloped in a perpetual cloud of smoke?”
“And about getting suspended for pirating the high school newspaper?”
“And defined Jewish foreplay as twenty minutes of begging and pleading? Whether or not you want to accept the fact that it was great, I’m heading home before I turn into a pumpkin. Talk in the morning?”
“You’re sure you’re not putting me on?”
“You may be a pain in the ass, but I’m proud of you,” replied Sam, who headed for the door.
As Adam stepped out of the comedy club and started toward his Cherokee, a cute blonde in a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt smiled. “You were awesome tonight,” she stated.
“Want to grab a drink or something?”
Adam shrugged. “I’m a little down.”
“Bet I could help.”
Adam studied her for a moment. “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me in a while.”
“So we on?”
“Maybe some other time.”
While Evie, in her Brooklyn apartment, was yielding to nostalgia the next morning by checking out comedy clips of Ernie Kovacs, Burns & Allen, and Stan Freberg on Youtube, her ex-boyfriend Adam, dressed in sweatpants and a faded Solomon Burke t-shirt answered a call from Sam Werth.
“Want the good news or the bad?” asked Sam.
“I’d rather have a hot fudge sundae.”
“At 10 AM?”
“Life’s unpredictable, so start with dessert.”
“Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but you just got an offer to do a television spot?”
“Is that the bad news?” asked Adam. “Or the good?”
“The fact that you always say you hate New York in the winter.”
“Is it Seth Myers? Samantha Bee?”
“You should be so lucky.”
“You’re not gonna tell me it’s SNL —”
“Exactly yes? Or exactly no?”
“Exactly no,” said Sam. “Ripa and Seacrest.”
“So I should tell ’em no?”
“Don’t you fucking dare!”
Three days later, armed with groceries, Evie was walking back from Whole Foods with her neighbor Lorna when, to her surprise, she spotted Adam standing in front of her building. “To what do I owe this?” she asked.
“Somebody’s craving Junior’s cheesecake.”
“Not the person who introduced you to it?”
Adam smiled. “Her, too. Buy you a slice?”
Evie faked a frown. “That’s all you’re offering?”
“Well, how about a life together?”
Evie thought for a moment, then nodded. “Let me put the bags away, then we’ll talk about it while we’re walking toward Junior’s. Give me three minutes.
While Adam waiting outside, Evie and her neighbor headed into the building.
As they pushed the button for the elevator, Lorna spoke. “I thought you ended it because you wanted kids.”
Evie sighed. “Know what?”
“I guess Adam will be my kid.”
Alan Swyer is an award-winning filmmaker whose recent documentaries have dealt with Eastern spirituality in the Western world, the criminal justice system, diabetes, boxing, and singer Billy Vera. In the realm of music, among his productions is an album of Ray Charles love songs. His novel ‘The Beard’ was recently published by Harvard Square Editions.