Smuggled Beer, Stolen Kisses [Memoir—Listen on iTunes and SoundCloud]


The Improv is a fairly famous LA comedy club on Melrose here in L.A. where hundreds—thousands—of comics have sometimes bombed and sometimes soared to new heights on its' stage over the years. I've been to the Improv countless times, but rarely for the laughs.




For me, The Improv belongs to that period in the mid-eighties when I was in the last stages of a long, flagging relationship with an old boyfriend. For once, the nomenclature fits; I was twenty seven when we met, Ben was twenty five years older than me. Hardly a 'boy' friend, some might say. We were living together, fast approaching the suffocating, seven year itch mark, and I was twitchy, longing to find a way out, but lacking the guts to get out. Telling myself staying was the more noble course, that I didn't want to hurt him, that I couldn't leave after everything I'd done to get there, that he deserved better. What a load of crap. I was just a little coward. A passive aggressive whiner.

Instead of breaking up, I took to going out with newly made acting friends after class. The acting class that he encouraged me to take. Every week I'd rehearse with that week's scene partner, relishing in the commitment to characters I would never be in my real life. In my early thirties, I was too old to be the pretty, young ingenue — and probably not quite pretty enough — so I was Rowena, the prostitute in Biloxi Blues. Doris the aspiring actress and model (okay she was a prostitute too) in The Owl and the Pussycat. But I was also Lizzie, the plain girl and potential old maid, in The Rainmaker, and Laura in The Glass Menagerie. Roles, assigned by my acting teacher Aaron, that maybe represented both sides of my Gemini coin. Maybe he was trying to help me figure out who I really was, the good girl or the whore. Did I have to choose? Could I be a little bit of both, a little bit neither? I loved that class though, sitting in the tiny theater with its ratty seats, it walls and floors painted black, embraced by the darkness, mesmerized by Aaron as he preached that underlying every scene we would ever perform, was sex. Sex. I guess we have Oscar Wilde to thank for that.

Every week after class, instead of heading home to Ben, I'd join Aaron and the group of the other actor wannabe's, my fellow thespians, and head out to The Improv. Juiced up after a night of performing with and for each other, we skipped the comedy club and grabbed a table in the back of the crowded bar, high on being in the zone, eager to keep talking about the scene work, Greg's sense memory exercise and Rosemary's new head shots. I'd only ever have one drink because they were pricey and I had to drive back to the Valley but I always felt just a teeny bit drunk, and out of control. It was a heady brand of intoxication that would never show up on a breathalizer.

There really is nothing like the camaraderie of show people and that's who we thought we were. It's gone now, but there used to be a small dance floor towards the back, sometimes we'd do that too, finding ourselves boogying on down to 'It's Raining Men' alongside regulars like Dennis Miller, Sly Stallone and David Morse from St. Elsewhere. Upstairs there was a private room into which the popular young star of a widely watched TV family sitcom occasionally disappeared. God knows what he really did in there but the word whispered at our table was cocaine.

A good night meant sitting next to Iyan who spelled his name with a Y, Iyan. Tall, skinny, and unlike Ben, about my age. Iyan was a musician with long, straggly sometimes blond, sometimes jet black hair, who had a habit of showing up to class with his sleeves rolled up and his shirt unbuttoned over his bare chest. He wasn't built or anything, it's not as though he had six pack abs. He was everything that Ben, my buttoned up boyfriend with the thousand dollar suits and monogrammed shirts, wasn't. He was young and he was poor. While most of us ordered off the menu, Iyan would pull out a beer from the smuggled stash he hid in his backpack beneath the table. Did I want one? No, I didn't want one. I was too much the conventional chicken shit, afraid of getting caught.

When the action at The Improv dwindled down, Iyan would walk me to my car, and we'd sit parked in a corner of what is now the Fred Segal lot. Neither of us wanted to go home. He had a girlfriend he was finding problematic; I had Ben. We sat in the dark, heads resting against the leather bucket seat backs of my VW  bug, leaning towards each other over the stick shift, faces close, and talked, flirting and skirting around each other. While we made out a few times, melty hot sessions fueled mostly by being forbidden, it was Iyan who usually pulled away. Sitting there together in the dark, it was clear, he wasn't going to be the one to make me decide should I go or should I stay. 

From start to finish, Ben and I would end up being together for seven years. Paul Simon famously sang 'there must be fifty ways to leave your lover.' Wouldn't it be dandy if it were really that easy?


Originally published 10/19/2014


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