Six weeks into a brutal ten-week winter tour of the Midwest, he checks into the Fargo Travel Lodge. The roads are beginning to ice up. He took the bus from Madison, timing his arrival so he could grab a pre-show nap. He takes the nap, wakes up an hour later and checks the paper. His set at the Giggle Hut or Chuckle Coop—whatever it’s called—is at eight-thirty. Just enough time to shower, early dinner and maybe catch a movie.
Problem is, the movie theater’s a mile away and he’s on foot. The only movie playing that he hasn’t seen is Schindler’s List. There’s heavy buzz about ‘List. He needs to see it, work a few references into his act. The only thing he knows about the movie is that it’s set in World War II. There ya go—a war picture: guys in foxholes, bang-bang, bomb-bomb—joke heaven.
He grabs a burger. The comely waitress at Bennigan’s across the road will not be joining him back at the Travel Lodge for a pre-show quickie. He sets out for the mall on foot. It is twenty-one degrees outside. This morning’s now-frozen rain coats everything like Varathane. Cars drift across medians and collide with oncoming trucks. By the time he gets to the mall, the temperature reads eighteen degrees.
Two hundred minutes later, he steps out into an eleven degree night, numb with depression.
He only has only minutes to get to the club. His heart feels frozen and dead, head full of concentration camp horror. Ice skates would not be out of place here. The north wind begins to pick up. The mercury soon hovers just above zero. He tiptoes down the side of the road as if barefoot. His halting gait on the treacherous ice reminds him of the unforgettable little girl in the movie: a lone blot of doomed color.
He takes the stage ten minutes late, still in threadbare jacket. His shriveled gonads click like a pair of chilled ben-wah balls. Despite the weather, there is, astonishingly, almost a full house. His body core temp warms into mere hypothermia. He begins to shiver like a junkie forty-eight hours into withdrawal. But the only synapses revived are those serving sensations of pain. His brain has not yet defrosted. He mangles every joke in his repertoire. Then he tries to riff on the movie he’s just endured. When they start to boo, he makes the mistake of turning on the audience. He directs improvised barbs at them. But they are hardy native North Dakotans fortified with liquor. They answer his insults by hurling bottles, glasses and chairs at the stage.
He hobbles back to the Travel Lodge. It is now nine degrees below zero. He crawls into bed.
He wakes the next morning with pneumonia and moderate to severe frostbite. He spends a week in the hospital. The outside temperature never rises above zero. He bails on his remaining bookings and returns to Los Angeles a broken man, heavily in debt.
After a year of working at Thrifty as a stock clerk, he is fired. An old lady asks if the tube of Vagisil she is holding “works.” He replies: “It keeps my cooter pretty crunchy!”—which doesn’t even make sense, but has the percussive C-words of a good punchline.
Four months later, his meager unemployment about to run out, he gets a call from a friend of a friend about a possible gig at a nationally-syndicated radio network. It’s a job writing and performing comedy. Getting paid for what he loves to do and what he’s good at. Lunch with the head writer is arranged.
He does not dazzle at the lunch meeting. Some common ground is established: they’re both from the Irish-Catholic School of Comedy as opposed to the Borscht-Belt School. But he needs this job too much. He tries too hard.
They finish eating. Head writer picks up the check. They walk back to the network building in silence. Head writer readies his “don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you” farewell.
The elevator door opens.
Head writer boards the elevator, about to deliver the kiss-off.
Our guy stands there, ready.
Head writer holds the door for a second. Our guy stares at the floor.
The head writer hesitates just long enough for our guy to notice the brand name of the elevator—SCHINDLER.
“Hey,” our guy says. “Schindler’s LIFT.”
Head writer looks down, shakes his head.
Our hero climbs aboard and ascends.
Robert Morgan Fisher’s fiction has appeared in The Missouri Review Soundbooth Podcast, The Huffington Post, Psychopomp, The Spry Literary Journal and many other publications. He has a story in the forthcoming Night Shade/Skyhorse Books Iraq War anthology, Deserts of Fire. Robert holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, where teaches for Antioch’s online I2P Program. (www.robertmorganfisher.com)