Windowless Room, Silverless Fish
by Matt Runkle
1. The House
As a comedian, I’m well aware of the sacrifice I make. Even the most genius of jokes is doomed to not hold up. Watch:
There’s this glass house, and yes, it’s Christian, but it’s done, supposedly, in a loving way. Who cares, right? I mean, I’ve never been much for roadside attractions. But I guess people love it. There’s something on the Internet about it every day, and it’s made me start to wonder what’s inside.
My own house, the one I live in, an apartment, is devoid of windows. The silverfish scurry, screaming, in my wake. My boyfriend says he likes it this way, the world growing steadily uglier and uglier since antiquity, the discarded, tarnished energy collecting like grime.
I’m trying to develop an act based on discomfort. I want to elicit the type of laughter—terrified, cramped—the type that comes from sorrow.
That’s what they mean when they say I brought the house down.
I watched a documentary about lights over Phoenix. One woman said the lights, which were amber and had floated silently above her, were aliens’ tentative attempts at saying hello, their way of letting us know they’re here without freaking us out. I know it seems obvious, but I was struck. It’s like the fish noticing the humans. The babysitter’s face when she hears the words I’m in the house.
My act has been getting a lot of laughs. It’s been described as feminine, organized, composed of longer stories. My boyfriend’s routine is more frenetic and influenced by weed. Really, though, I think people prefer to see some effort.
We’re both performing this Friday at the Moment. It could get a little competitive.
I think I’m going to tell the one about his ex-boyfriend, how he goes to the same therapist as me. Okay, how does this sound:
I just turned 30. I know, I know, I’m floundering. I mean you turn 30, you reach the very furthest corners of the room that is your brain, and then what do you do? You greet those corners, right? You scrape them squeaky-grimy with a little dab of spittle on your finger. You keep them laughing for the hour or the decade they need to be kept that way, and then once they don’t know why they’re laughing anymore, you throw yourself before your dour enemy, tragedy, the victorious ally of time.
2. The Moment
My boyfriend’s ex-boyfriend’s name is Jack, and he’s staring at me like his pupils weigh fifty pounds. I didn’t invite him, and neither did my boyfriend, I believe him when he says this. When it comes to ethics, he’s fathoms beyond my therapist.
I look at Jack and understand: all the neon colors that thrash beneath metallics, pinched along the same bright latitude of the eye. I’m warming to him, believe me.
They just, unthinkingly, announced my name.
Welcome to the Moment, I tell them. Thank you for coming out tonight. Even through the barrier glare, I see my boyfriend hunched over his notes. His stonerism, pure poseury.
Jack, I say into the mic, because he’s huddled up next to my boyfriend and laughing. Jack, I say again, then Jackmeoff. The cheapest sort of humor, no? The kind that survives.
I’m hit with a feeling of comfort amid the encroaching unease, a warmth beyond the sound of a distant honking horn. The Moment is a really nice place, I say, deciding to embrace that comfort. Maybe I should leave the house more often.
I don’t know why I bother living with my boyfriend. I once dreamt something insane draped over him as he straddled me. He hunched and bucked and it billowed like a heat mirage.
How could I have forgotten my fishdom, my goal of wriggling Henry David Through? Life is tricky like that, the various things that mesmerize. You stand transfixed, watching nodules of rice that sink in cold water, when really each is as unique as a fly being tied.
I told this to my therapist, who wrote it down. Then looked at me like she already knew.
When will you start keeping track of the things that pass you by, she said.
Can you believe it? I came to her asking for direction.
Nobody’s entirely in their element, she continued. Some creatures live their whole lives as fish out of water. Let yourself have some imagination. Pretend you’re a child, for once. Either that or retired.
I bet you tell the same thing to Jack.
Damn straight, she said. You’re the one who recommended me to him.
As usual, my therapist has handed me a punchline on a platter. And whether that platter is glass or Carnival glass or flaking silver plate remains to be seen.
As of now, here at the Moment, unnatural laughter all around—and don’t get me wrong, Chaucer, it’s refreshing—, I’m already planning a road trip, a solitary pilgrimage inside that house of glass.