It often requires distance to understand a moment’s significance. Maybe it takes days or even years. But then there are those rare lucky moments when you’re zapped to attention right on the spot. You can put a pin in the exact point in time the sea change occurs, when the tectonic plates shift beneath your feet. Even while you continue to participate in the scene you see that things are different.
There was a moment in 2010 when I remember being keenly aware of the mechanics revolving around me. It occurred to me that I was a tiny bit more grown up. Funnily enough this revelation had nothing to do with things you might expect. It wasn’t related to the fact that I had moved to New York 5 months earlier, or that I was living with my boyfriend. It wasn’t about my attending grad school at Columbia or the fact that I’d been financially independent from my parents for a little while now. No, those things just sneaked in and commingled with reality until they became normal. The moment I felt the kick in the pants shift was a blustery New York day just before Christmas.
My dad came to visit me that December for the holidays. The city was frigid. There wasn’t any snow yet that season but the environment was toying with the limits of just how cold it could get before ripping the sky open and dumping flakes of frozen water on our heads. One night, towards the end of his visit, my dad, my boyfriend and I made our way up Broadway. I was bundled as well as I knew how but my body still felt like frozen cardboard that might snap in half under too much pressure. Nevertheless we chose to walk. The holiday city was traditionally whimsical and Lincoln Center was lit up and gorgeous. Finally we reached our destination, it was Stand Up New York, a comedy club on the Upper West Side, and we blundered numbly inside.
The club was cozy and dimly lit. Rich red velvet paper, decorated with repeated comedy/tragedy mask cut outs, coated the walls. One ring of stools circled the stage followed by several small round cocktail tables. There were two raised sections to each side with a few more tables. It was intimate. Even in the back row you had a great view of the stage and could interact with the people on it. We had tickets to see a string of comics perform, none of whom we’d heard of. After ordering a bucket of beer the three of us settled strategically at a third row table. This was as close to the stage as we dared sit while hoping to avoid heckling.
Several comedians said their bit and in general the show was hilarious. Even the MC, by far the most ruthless of them all, was surreptitiously endearing as he grinned through his comedic insults. Finally, the headliner, whose name escapes me, strolled onstage. He was an African-American man with large round eyes and a very expressive face. He used his hands and every muscle in his visage to deliver his jokes. Clearly a seasoned stand-up he spoke in a strong, confident voice and came across friendly and conversational.
-Here we go.-
This man’s main joke, the pillar of his performance, the joke that he returned to again and again throughout his set, was about the word “pussy”. He expounded on the word’s beauty and its sonorous quality. He luxuriated in the sensation of it rolling off his tongue. He reprimanded society for connoting it with vulgarity. He pondered its etymology. He bowed down at its altar. And of course, he gleefully sang its melodic song, again… and again… and again… and again.
Pussy! Puussy! Puuuuusssssssy! P-p-p-puusssssyyyy!
There’s that shift. I was actually hyper aware it.
It’s far from original for a man to focus on female anatomy as a source of humor. But as trite and clichéd as it sounds this particular performance was actually side-splitting. In the small theater the word relentlessly bounced off the walls, reverberating back at the audience with even greater force than when the comic first released it from his lips. My dad and I were cracking up. We had tears streaming down our faces, prompted no doubt as much by humiliation as by laughter. I swiftly initiated a strict no eye contact with dad rule. Since we sat next to each other this was fairly simple to uphold. Both of us kept our eyes glued directly on the performer for the entire set. We were just casually and heartily enjoying a vagina joke together. No big deal.
Yeah, that moment struck me. Sitting there in that dark New York comedy club with my dad, my boyfriend, a bucket of beer, and a room echoing with pussy laughter, there was a shift. And the thing is, it wasn’t actually THAT awkward. I may not have been able to look my dad in the eye or even to specifically refer to this joke after the show, but we were both definitely having fun. In doing so we tacitly admitted to each other that we had grownup lives outside of our parent/child roles, lives where we found this funny.
It wasn’t actually this moment that caused the shift in our relationship. Like everything else it had started some time ago and progressed gradually without our noticing. This moment just made me realize it. We were a little bit more open and easy.
I guess I’m an adult kid now. Hopefully this doesn’t mean I’ll be taken off our Verizon family plan….