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Mike’s old Nike shoes, scruffy slippers, squeaked nervously onto the stage. The audience sat impatiently in worn chairs upholstered with dingy, crimson fabric. There were miniscule lights flickering amongst them, little distracters of the digital age.
The microphone let out an exhausted wheeze as he took hold of it. The intimate theater was cool and dark. If it were not for the stage lights, that is. The powerful spotlights beat down on him like the unforgiving sun of a desert. He felt an icy trickle of sweat slide down his collar.
Swaying uncomfortably back and forth, he began, “So today my friend came here to visit her long-distance boyfriend- she’s from Boston.”
“So we get together for coffee, and of course she starts complaining about him. ‘I’m just so tired of him pushing me around all the time.’” His hand started quivering.
“So I said, Chris, he’s from New York.”
Stony silence. He wiped his nose on his sleeve for what felt like the thousandth time that night.
“C’mon now, I’m not listening for any pins here! I…”
And the night really started to drag along, with Mike Hertz pulling the comical reins with all his might.
“So you know, I dropped out of high school to be a comedian. Kids really judge you in high school. They loved making fun of me. Now I get to do it myself.”
A few chuckles arose, but that was about it.
“I’m my own judge now. I’ll tell you right now, I’m fat. So there. I beat you to it.”
After the show, Mike trudged back to his apartment in the slushy January snow. He zipped up his jacket and stared down at his feet. He wasn’t a fast walker. Not because he was always pondering deep thoughts, he just wasn’t too fast.
It didn’t take too long to reach home. He only made one stop, as he did every Friday, and then continued onwards towards his humble abode.
He entered the lobby uneasily, carrying a small Chinese takeout bag, which he was careful to keep hidden in his jacket. Upon entering a vacant elevator, he let out a deep sigh of relief. Reaching his room on the third floor, he slammed the near-plywood door behind him, dragging his feet across the ‘Welcome’ mat and kicking off his shoes. The bag was placed in the bottom drawer of his nightstand.
Flopping on his twin bed, Mike flicked on his TV without a second thought. It was the “Very, Very Late Show.” The place felt like an absolute meat locker. Where were his friends? Well, he didn’t really have too many. However, he did attend a Christmas party recently. He thought back on it dolefully.
People were milling about, talking and nibbling away. He felt pretty out of place, but he tried to converse.
“Hi, I’m Mike,” he said in an unnatural pitch, voice quivering in between tones best fit for a horror movie.
“Hi, my name’s Seth. How are ya?”
Their small talk babbled on painfully until Mike mentioned “The Femur.”
“That place? I used to go there in college, but my wife’s not comfortable being in that… area so late at night,” noted Seth cautiously.
“Oh, well I do stand-up there.”
“I would have never guessed.”
Slowly he made his rounds around the room, trying to find common ground. There really wasn’t any. He had no wife or kids to drone on about. He didn’t have any witty jabs planned out to poke good-natured fun at politicians.
“Why don’t you try out some new material for us,” ventured a fetching woman in a red cocktail dress.
Mustering up the best of his courage, he put some new jokes out for a test run. A few people laughed and went to grab drinks, but others, including the woman, just grinned uneasily and tried to avoid eye contact. As Mike nervously ran his chubby fingers through his hair, chin length, and chestnut brown, he noticed when the human amoeba politely expelled him from its clutches.
He would have thanked the host and left, but the host was nowhere to be found.
The dismal reverie lingered for a while, tugging at his insides. By the time he’d had enough, the bottom drawer had been thrust open.
Like many mornings, he woke up around mid-afternoon. These days it was all he could do to avoid mirrors, because his own reflection disturbed him. His eyes were alien in appearance, as though retreating in a watery twinkle. Last night’s show was alright, he mused. He made the crowd laugh. Maybe they’d start to warm up to him. They would eventually.
At around 10:00 PM that Saturday night, Mike Hertz was due to appear at “The Femur.” The sparse audience observed apprehensively as a disheveled gentlemen stumbled onstage.
“I don’t get no respect!” He slurred. Some people edged their way out the door, as not to provoke him.
“I’m like Dangerfield, No respect! You’ll just get up and leave, like I’m a television show… Like you can just change my channel when you feel uncomfortable.”
Shortly after, Mike collapsed, and a few people got out their cell phones to call for help.
When the authorities came, all they found was the frozen, bruised statue of Mike. He was all alone, as he had always been.