Smiling on a Cloudy Day

I saw comic AJ Finny at Stanford’s Comedy Club in Overland Park last night.

I first met AJ at the Uptown Arts Bar during their 2nd or 3rd commemoration of the Berkley Human Be-In. It had to be the Be-In because I was wearing my Hippie Clothes, meaning for sure the tie-dyed jeans I got from some parking lot vendor at a Grateful Dead show when I did the Southern States Tour in 1988, the Steal Your Face t-shirt my most recent wife bought me because she knew I was a Dead Head though she never really “got” it—Big Red Flag, fellas—and a purple silken scarf I wear on my head bandana-like. There was a time when all my clothes came from parking lot vendors and I had a pile of tie-dyed tees stacked, folded, to my waist. I’m a short guy, but that’s still a lot of colors.

AJ complemented those jeans as I passed which—being half-bard and all—I could not let pass without pausing to reminisce about the Tour while trying to remember at which venue I bought them. I am not usually talkative amongst people I don’t know. But get me started about one of the topics which have caught my fancy for more than a minute and you’ll never get me to shut up. It’s embarrassing.

AJ and I fell to talking about all things psychedelic and I asked how many shows he saw. He regretted he had been too young when Jerry’s death parked the bus, but he really dug the culture. We hit it off immediately, both being what some call Sixties Freaks, and not always in a complimentary fashion. The biggest difference was AJ started a generation after I did. That makes him something of my spiritual … not son … but nephew. Or much younger cousin.

I first saw AJ perform the previous New Years, also at the Arts Bar. His exuberant performance sprinkled stories from his 12-Step experiences and the road that brought him there. “I’m part Irish, part Native American,” he confided to his audience, “Or, as my AA sponsor calls it: a Natural.” His manic pattern wove a tapestry of yarns seamlessly from anecdote to anecdote that kept us all in stitches. Every comic fabricates his own, unique perspective and AJ’s trippy perspective on incidents common to us all draped around his stage presence with shimmering synergy. I don’t know his influences—any artists incorporate everything we experience either consciously or un into our work—but aspects of his act reminded me of Cheech & Chong, of Gallagher, of Carlin in his Toledo Window Box Period.

At the Be-In it took a minute talking with him before some synapse connected and I exclaimed, “You’re a comic!” He smiled. “You played here New Years’ Eve.” He confessed it was so and with promises to connect on social media we each returned to the circles we were running before my loud psychedelic jeans that people tell me men my age should hide made tangential connection. Dead Heads won’t need an explanation of the experience—everyone else should willingly suspend disbelief. In the interest of narrative.

Since that chance meeting AJ has generously blest me with tickets to his shows when he is in town. My work schedule sometimes makes it impossible to take advantage of the tickets, but I always make the effort. I enjoy his show that much. When I do avail myself of his generosity I feel it’s the least I can do to patronize the venue, to do my part to make it worth their while to book him. From each according to his Ability. I’ve got this down pat.

In principle I hate buying liquor in bars. That’s because bars use alcohol sales to cover every other expense, so mark-ups verge on obscene. By the time I buy two drinks I’ve bought the bottle. I know how long I had to work to pay that tab. I remind myself bars are selling a social experience. It’s not my natural habitat, but if I remain calm I should make it out alive…

Beyond my miserly attitude toward money in general, in particular I hate spending money in Kansas. Because Brownback. Kansas is the toxic petri dish of Sam Brownback’s Great Conservative Experiment of giving businesses the farm—so to speak—eliminating all their taxes and regulations that they might flood the state with thousands of new low-wage jobs thus invigorating the economy. Since Supply-Side Economics has never, will never, and can never work the Legislature balanced the budget piling regressive sales taxes on the backs of the Working Class. I hate there being any possibility I might contribute to the success of such an oppressive economic program.

I eschew spending money in Kansas. I’ll work there all day but wait until I’m back in Missouri to buy anything. Gas. Food. Anything. But I was willing to make an exception to support AJ’s work. It takes cajones for any performance artist to work without a net. It deserves encouragement.

AJ enjoys a special relationship with Stanford & Sons Comedy Club in all of its many incarnations, taking the plunge as a comic at a Stanford’s Open Mic and returning to them like Disaster Area to Milliways.

I saw him at the Wyandotte County Stanford’s once. That was at the Legends Outlet Mall, up by the Kansas Speedway. Or, as I like to call it, BFE. Up in the northwest tentacles of Kansas City, Kansas reaching the Legends from my home in eastern Jackson County, Missouri, feels arduous to me. It’s only 37 miles but geography conspires to funnel westward traffic through a concrete Gordian’s Knot called the Downtown Loop. Cars have been known to disappear never to emerge again.

With no traffic it’s a 50 minute drive at posted speeds. In theory. During stretches when every employed person in the Metro jams onto the highway it can take well over an hour. I’ve driven in much worse traffic than Kansas City but it’s maddening. Particularly during high-density periods.

I remind myself in 1928 the drive just from Blue Springs to neighboring Independence along RD Mize Road took an hour each way. All day, by horse and wagon. Perspective.

When I went to the Legends I invited my cousin and his wife to join me. Griz is my only local relative. His mother, my aunt, is only a couple years older than me. She was always more like a big sister than an aunt when we were growing up. That means Griz is my daughter’s age and when I hang out with him I really feel my age! I was relieved they both laughed enough I didn’t feel like I was recommending Henny Youngman.

I also caught his act when Stanford’s operated out of the Uptown Theater’s Conspiracy Room on Broadway. But this newest Overland Park location was the best yet. It’s near where I’ve been working the past few months. It feels much more accessible.

Last night AJ’s show was all new material. New to me. He’s broken out of the regional confines, toured nationally, done television and film and kept that sharp, twisted perspective that drowns his audience with laughter. I laughed so hard I sounded like a stranded heffalump.

It’s been a rough two weeks and I didn’t know until the last minute if I’d be able to use the tickets, but I needed a laugh. And AJ delivered.

Thanks a million.

About Mark Matzeder

By education a filmmaker, by trade an electrician, by avocation a writer and sometime scholar. Occasionally I wring an essay out of some observation I have made or experience I've had and share them here. Sometimes I'll share short fiction. Sometimes a poem. But mostly it's just my spin on this strange trip.
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