I stand alone in the stifling wings; craning my tension tightened neck, I search expressionless faces of front row patrons. Tonight’s comedy warm up act might be my big break. I dream of one day seeing my name up in neon lights. Inwardly, I am fear ridden with self-doubt and feel rounds of nausea; the audience will never suspect a thing.
“Ladies and Gentleman, please give a warm Tennessee welcome to a newcomer with a bright future-Ms. Patsy Lynn!”
Intentionally, I trip as I saunter onto stage in rhinestone-studded pink cowboy boots. Waves of spontaneous laughter feel like warm embraces of affirmation.
“I’m worried! He said I have a bright future. Why did he signal the stage hand to dim the lights?”
A round of belly laughs lessens my anxieties. They lean back in their Opry seats, prepare to be entertained, and I aim to please.
“A funny thing happened to me on the way to the Ryman. I forgot my pepper spray. No, seriously, it’s not Music Row alley muggers that make me nervous. It’s my competition!”
My fifteen minutes stand up routine is grueling; the overrated underarm deodorant is failing me fast.
Don’t lose your grip. You’re funny. Look at them; they really like you!
With peripheral vision, I see my idol. He makes his way to the side curtain, waiting shoulder-to-shoulder with Mel Tillis. It is my time to step out of the spotlight.
“You’ve been a great crowd! My mother thanks you; my father thanks you. My creditors thank you, and I thank you! Good night and God bless.”
The people packing the Ryman Theater have not come to see me; yet, their reception is warm. Applause is addictive. I’ve received a strong dose of admiration; an adrenalin rush is heady. The stage beneath my feet vibrates with a band’s rendition of “Dixie;” I dance a two-step, side stepping for the celebrity.
The emcee courteously claps, then points in my direction. “Let’s give her a big hand!” Grinning, he puts his hands in crisp jeans’ pockets and looks slyly toward the wings. Turning his attention back toward the waiting crowd, he momentarily pauses. Ceremonially, with outstretched arms, he prepares to introduce the night’s main Opry attraction.
The crowd begins to cheer and chant.
“Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!”
“Direct from Yazoo, Mississippi-Mr. Jerry Clower!”
He meanders to center stage as multicolored floodlights enfold him.
I may have a bright future, but Jerry has already reached the pinnacle of success.
Applauding, the crowd gives the country boy a standing ovation. Fans from a myriad of backgrounds clap, stomp their feet, hoot-and-holler. The man of the hour is about to fill their humdrum lives with homespun humor.
Once inside my small dressing room, I lock the door, and relish the clicking sound of bargain-priced boots on mosaic-tiled floor. Lowering myself into the vanity table straight back chair, I look into the lighted mirror. Emotionally, I morph into six-year-old Patricia Lynn standing in front of my bedroom looking glass.
I rehash the school day before… The kids say I talk funny; they laugh at me. I want them to stop. I tried to tell them! My words came out, “Thop it!” They laughed and made funny noises. Like snakes, they hissed in my face. “Ssss, Ssss!”
A firm rapping on the door jolts me from painful self-talk reminiscing. I wipe away shed tears; standing upon shaky limbs, I go to unlock the door. An Opry gofer says, “Patsy, there is someone here who’d really like to meet you!”
“Hi Paaa…tsy, Juuu…st want to tee…l you how muuu…ch I liii…ked your shhh…ow!”
I stand speechless, staring into compassionate eyes of Mel Tillis!
He laughs heartily, sensing my shock and verbal paralysis.
Daughter Pam steals him away, to attend an Opry Legends awards banquet.
In my wildest dreams, I could never have even fantasized that I, lisping little “Patricia Lynn Punchinello,” would receive accolades from stammering super star “Mel Tillis!” I only know that the emotional trauma, of being the brunt of jokes, motivates me to earn my living by making people laugh. I aspire to always leave them laughing, until my dying day, when they carry me away.
I’ve become a master of practical jokes. I dread the thought of people grieving as I pass over into glory land. It would be funny, if not fitting, for sanctimonious pallbearers to slip on a proverbial banana peel!
Authors note: * Fiction/ “Always leave them laughing when you say goodbye (George M. Cohan 1878-1942)
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