I scored a stand-up gig opening for a local headliner at a comedy club in Orange, New Jersey. Calling it a comedy club was generous — it was more of an abandoned event space in the basement of a family restaurant. The stage was a small wooden platform, like a children's sandbox turned upside down, surrounded by a bunch of scuffed and chopped banquet tables. Still, rumor had it that it was packed every weekend with intelligent excited crowds.
I hadn't met the headliner yet––some local guy named Rob. I was prepared to react indifferently, but he made a big impression on me when he walked into the prep kitchen, a.k.a., our green room, and his first words to me were, "Can you get me a Coke, please?" I was instantly offended and intrigued.
I said I didn't work there. I was a comic on the show. He scanned me up and down. "Oh…" he replied, without apology.
My set went over badly. The crowd wanted me to talk more about blow jobs, and less about my seventy-five-year-old mother sending me her first email with the entire thing written in the subject line. After a strained thirty minutes of comedy—which could have been confused with giving a thoughtful speech—I left the stage to polite applause that sounded almost mocking, and I headed straight to the back bar to order a drink. The bartender bought me an Absolut and soda and toasted my set.
"You're very smart!" he said. I'd heard it a hundred times before, and it still didn't sound like "funny" to me. That being said, I was happy for the free booze and a compliment of any sort.
I wasn't looking forward to that long bus ride home, with nothing but idle time to review every excruciating detail of my pathetic life as I stared out a grimy window at the industrial wasteland that is New Jersey.
Rob's big closing joke was a really offensive, wince-inducing dog-farting joke, but the crowd howled in response. Suddenly I knew exactly how I could turn my night around. I'd resort to my fallback feel-good plan. I needed to sleep with Rob. Extra bonus: He had a car.
He left the stage to wild applause. I could tell he was pretty proud of himself, which was going to make my mission easy. I strolled into the prep kitchen and supplied the perfunctory post-show adoration. "That was great, man! Love that closer! You're like Chris Rock up there. Hey, can I catch a ride with you back to the city?"
He said, "Yeah, sure I guess," and walked away. I assumed I should follow, and I did.
His blue Datsun was well lived-in to say the least. It took him a solid ten minutes to clear the passenger's seat of scraps of paper, balled up T-shirts, empty food containers, and a little stuffed bear. Did he even have an apartment?
The Holland Tunnel felt like a corridor into a better night, a better life. It spit us out in Tribeca, and on the corner of a thin street we passed what looked like an old bar with warm orange light pouring out of its windows. It was getting late, almost last call, so we took our chances.
I found him irresistible as we conversed in a way you can only with a one-night stand. Someone you have no investment in.
"Really? Your last two girlfriends were underage? Good for you! Get 'em while they're fresh and young! Your dad's in a mental institution? Hey, not everything is genetic! Your grandfather was in the SS? What a coincidence—I am Jewish."
His contemptuous tone gave everything a "been-there-done-that" edge. He came off like a typical angry man. He wasn't apologetic, or a mama's boy, or even nice. I had to admit, I kind of liked it. It made me feel like a delicate ray of sunshine in comparison.
It was closing time. Finally, he asked me the question I had been avoiding since I moved to Manhattan. "Wanna come back to my place in Queens?"
I deflated. Queens was a solid twenty-minute drive away. Talk about a foreplay buzz kill. How would I get home? What subways were even out there?
Who was I kidding? We both knew I was going. I was desperate for connection, even if it was fraying, tenuous, or located in Queens. Like a junkie, when my narcotic of choice wasn't available, I took what I could get. And it was perfect timing––checkmark on the fresh bikini wax.
Twenty minutes later, we arrived at the house where he lived. We crept down the brown sisal-rug stairs to his bachelor pad in the basement of a Greek family's home. His place wasn't terrible; it was clean, and there was even a minimal attempt at décor: a coffee table with a magazine on it and a framed picture of a sports car. However, the vase of silk flowers standing on a rattan end table didn't make any sense. They were so out of place that I couldn't help but think there was a webcam stashed in the bud of a rose.
"I have something special to show you," he said flirtatiously and swung open the unfinished wooden door to his bedroom.
In that one moment before light revealed the inner contents of his boudoir, I envisioned many things. Another man? A harness? A bunk bed?
To say I was stunned by the actual contents would be putting it lightly. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, especially from a grown man, or at least one in the same room with me. Rob's room was full of—and I mean covered with—Garfields. Stuffed ones, ceramic ones, bronze ones, Garfields in a variety of poses on a special Garfield-only shelf. There was Golfing Garfield, Pool Hall Garfield, Garfield avec un beret, and Angry Garfield. Plus a huge one, twice the size of me, adorned with Mardi Gras beads, propped up on his bed. There were so many of them, frozen in orange and black-striped action, it was chilling. I didn't quite get it. If I performed well, would I win one?
The sight of this altar to Jim Davis's dynasty killed any sexy, warm, or even safe feeling. Then I had what I refer to now as a Keyser Söze moment, where I reflected on our night, the things he said, and started to connect the dots. The dog fart joke, the stuffed bear in his car, the fact that he dated much younger girls, that weird comment about my having a tail . . . Since I didn't have a coffee cup, my jaw dropped.
"Um . . . well . . . how did . . . what's up with all the Garfields?" I asked. I knew I should at least show him the same acceptance he did for me, but he was thirty-seven years old for God sakes! Clearly he hadn't gone through anything.
"Oh, I've had them since college," he explained, tossing it off as if amassing a huge stuffed animal collection was a perfectly normal collegiate activity. I was hoping for more of a "They were left to me by my sweet crazy aunt when she died, and I have to display them to keep my inheritance, or even, They're a childhood collection that is now worth millions!"
My mind flashed again to our conversation at the bar. He mentioned he was from Boston, that he'd gone to Boston U, then moved to Providence for a while, and then moved back to Boston, then to Manhattan, then to Brooklyn, and now Queens. All I could picture was him wrapping each precious Garfield in newspaper and gently placing them in a cardboard liquor box time after time. I felt cheated and a little ill. He wasn't a sexy man, he was a fucked-up man-child. To top it off, I was in Queens.
I tried to work with the situation. "Can you take a few of them out of your room? They're creeping me out a little." He did, without question, almost as if he had done it before for other trapped desperate girls who were trying anything to make the love den less infantile. He removed the big cat from the bed and carefully selected two other ones from the top of his dresser, setting them neatly on the sofa in the next room. When he returned, he flung me onto the bed and pounced. At least the Garfields were working their magic on one of us.
Turns out the only thing bigger than his Garfield obsession was his penis. It made perfect sense. Only a thirty-seven year old guy with a dick that big could get away with a bedroom full of stuffies. I had never seen one that big before and wasn't sure how to approach it. It looked fake, or like it could strangle me. I'm sure it was nicknamed Odie. Without warning, he threw on a Magnum condom and just . . . stuck it in.
The next thing I knew we were having the world's worst, most unskilled sex I had ever experienced. Basically, he lowered his head beside my right ear and pumped furiously like a jackhammer. Like Odie in heat. It took a few moments for me to even catch up to what was happening. It felt like he was punching me inside. Like he was fucking a stuffed Garfield, and not even the favorite in his collection. I imagined that under his bed, I would find a bounty of old, mutilated, sticky orange and black cats.
More important, had he ever been with a woman before? What past girlfriend would put up with this? The sex was so empty and mechanical that I actually started making life resolutions in my head. Tomorrow, I'm going to go to the gym, cut down on the drinking, stick to a disciplined writing schedule, get out of debt, get a better apartment . . . Tomorrow is a brand new day. I still have my whole life ahead of me. It's not too late.
I turned to look at him—at least I could do my job—but his eyes were shut. He had a tight smile on his face as he continued to thrust at a sprinter's pace. He was lost in some fantasy world. A world of no Mondays and endless lasagna.
And then it was over. He rolled off and wiped perspiration from his forehead. I felt like I had been duped by a distracted carny running a crappy and dangerous ride at the county fair.
"Do you want me to go down on you or something?"
Yeah, or something, I thought.
"No . . . I'm good." I smiled with fake reassurance. Bad missionary-style sex is one thing. Bad oral sex would be unbearable. I didn't feel motivated to give him useful tips and guidance. Let the next girl deal with it.
He actually wanted to cuddle, and I let him. He wasn't bad at it. Clearly this was more in his wheelhouse.
Emotion swelled in my body as he spooned me tight, and I was surprised that I had to choke back tears.
Tomorrow was a brand new day.
Ophira Eisenberg is a stand-up comedian, writer and host of NPR's weekly trivia show, Ask Me Another. She has appeared on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Today Show, Comedy Central and VH-1. She is also a regular host for The Moth. Follow her on Twitter (@ophirae), tumblr and Facebook.