I came down to New York City, all alone. Wife and kids couldn’t join, and it was a very short visit. And the funny thing is that I thought I would have the time of my life, all alone in the Big City. The drive down was extremely relaxing. Quiet. I caught up on some Howard Stern. But being without my wife and kids got old very quickly. Correction: It didn’t get old – it got pointless.
There is a definite convenience to being alone. I can move at my own pace, which, generally speaking, is faster, more erratic, and relentless. On the drive down, I took a detour to fly my drone at a beautiful cliff I have always wanted to explore. Once in New York City, I spent the day just walking the streets, literally from one end of the city to the other. Over 16 kilometers in total.
But it all just felt totally… pointless. I had seen many of the sites before with my wife and kids. Some experiences were totally new and interesting. But experiencing them without being able to share them with the people I love most was like making a hole-in-one while golfing solo. Totally awesome, but meaningless. Certain experiences are meant to be shared. And I have come to the realization that at this point in my life, as a married man, father of three, my life experience as a whole is meant to be shared with my wife and kids. Otherwise it feels pointless.
It’s not biological ‘family’ per se that gives life meaning, but ‘family’ as a concept. Family can take on various forms, from a pet, to a close circle of friends, to a community. But without any of that – without a receptacle for sharing in life’s experiences, experiences become pointless.
After the first day, I stepped back into the small studio apartment I was staying at. The silence was suffocating. It didn’t help that the television didn’t work. But it wasn’t the silence in the ‘audible’ sense that was suffocating in any case. It was the existential silence that was suffocating. Like a thin veil of plastic wrap draped over your face, then covered in water. The freedom to do anything, in the absence of someone to share it with, I had become a lost soul wandering the desert.
My wife convinced me to take advantage of the moment. It was, after all, the last night of aloneness I would have for a while – even if I didn’t want it. So I decide to go see a comedy show. It’s blistering cold. The wind is howling so hard it’s making the window frames whistle. I eat some dry, flavorless chicken breast I just cooked, then head out. And apparently I was one of a few crazies that decided to brave the elements. I get to the comedy venue, and I am literally the only paying customer there. I had purchased my ticket online, and I had already ordered one of the minimum two drinks I am required to buy. So I sit there, just hoping that some people come. Stand-up in front of one person is not stand-up – it’s therapy.
A few people show up, and by the time the show starts, we are a whopping group of 12. For field of 6 performers! It was awkward. And when I say it was awkward, I don’t mean “food in your teeth” awkward. I mean dirty-toilet-paper-hanging-out-of-the-back-of-your-pants-all-day awkward. In a way, the awkwardness kind of added to the fun. And it turned out to be a true human condition learning experience.
The host was undaunted and absolutely killed it. He embraced the awkwardness, maintained his energy, and took advantage of the intimacy of the crowd. Of the three comedians that managed to kill it despite the circumstances, they had one thing in common: They adapted to the embarrassingly small venue and still connected with the crowd. They could read the crowd and react accordingly, without relying on rehearsed responses to anticipated responses that were not coming from the crowd of this size and composition. The comedians who didn’t quite kill it (and I totally understand why) were intimidated. Paradoxically enough, they were not intimated by how big the crown was, but by how small it was. They could not get lost in a forest of people they were performing before. They had to make eye contact with each of us on a personal level, and truly feel and fear our judgment.
And the eyes… It’s all in the eyes. The ones who nailed it had energy in their eyes. They had a sparkle. You could see that they were working in real-time… Assessing the crowd and responding to it. The ones who stumbled had a hint of death in the eyes – a certain robotic “just get through the routine” look that they couldn’t manage to hide. Again, it’s totally understandable under the circumstances. If I were them, I may simply have not taken the stage. But they did. And they, like I, will have learned something from the experience.
Good comedy, like all meaningful life experiences, is in the eyes. It’s in human interaction, personal connections, bonding with another human, if only for a 15-minute set. I was happy to get out of the apartment and remember that I was not alone that night. And I am going to appreciate the endless noise that goes hand-in-hand with my particular family situation, and be sure to embrace it for what it is.