Community Support, Panic Attacks, and A Visit to the Mercury Cafe for Drunken “History of the West”
First, it’s Friday night and I’ve spent the day fighting a panic attack. I left work early, laid down on the floor of my bedroom and cried. In a private local women’s group on Facebook, I posted to express my current anxiety and my unease with how to deal. I’m 35. I can’t bang my head into a wall so hard I see stars; though it would certainly shake me out of the madness, it wouldn’t help halt my mounting list of concussions. What can I do during a panic attack that doesn’t require harming myself? As I submitted the post for approval, I heard back from Embur with her address to come see her.
I met Embur back when I first moved here when I had attended an event thrown by the local circus community. If friendship-at-first-sight is a thing, I felt it for her. We’ve crossed paths in smaller settings since that time and shared brief moments of acceptance and admiration for each other. Somehow, I knew I could turn to her. As I made my way toward her place in a few layers including my winter coat and fleece-lined leggings, I was greeted by her on the steps outside her apartment building wearing a hoodie, short shorts, knee-high leg warmers and the barest feet. She took me in and asked me to tell her what was going on with me; she looked me in the eyes and remarked on how beautiful she thought I was; and she talked to me about me moving into a downstairs apartment like I was her best friend and she wanted me near.
She shared what was going on in her life, too. She cried and I laid down against her leg and held her just so slightly that she would know she was safe to keep talking. We didn’t speak too much about our community or about our shared passions with circus even though that’s how we came together. Our sharing of interests in shared space, our sense of community toward one another, developed a foundation for friendship. It made us not strangers in a world of strangers.
Then, it’s Saturday night at the Mercury Café – inside the entrance, I’m greeted with choices: ahead of me is a staircase and on the door to my left is a sign about “the show outside and around the back door”. I haven’t shaken the panic, but I push myself forward because I prioritize my passions and attending this show is one of them. I make my way around the building in the cold of night only to determine it’s the wrong show. I need to take the stairs to the second floor.
I ascend into the expansive ballroom filled with several rows of chairs in the front by a nice-sized and well-lit stage, about fifteen tables behind that for patrons to eat, and more space to stand around in the back. Josue grabs two extra chairs from storage so a couple of elderly women could sit down, as the room packed about 200 people that night. A cute waitress with a half-shaven head finishes taking an order and heads toward the bar while another with hideously hip “mom jeans” and a crop top delivers drinks to a table. It felt surreal and dizzying, with synthetic roses interlaced across the ceiling and the perfect string lights hanging from one end of the room to the other, hues of reds and yellows, and so…many…people. This is my racing heart filled with tears over things that haven’t happened yet, an anticipatory anxiety that unfairly steals me from the present and all the beauty I could experience around me.
The well-known historical figure, Calamity Jane is hosting this evenings Wild West edition of Drunken History – and she’s straight out of a western film with her hat, chaps, and accent as she introduces each of the comics. As I survey the room, I notice quite a few comedians I know by name. I wondered which of them were performing and how many, as such a huge group of them attended. I catch sight of John Beakes dressed to the nines and carrying a fancy cane, and I exchange hello’s with a favorite of mine, Kona Morris.
As the night goes on, I realize that only Andy Hamilton, Kona Morris, John Beaks, Cody Ulrich, and Calamity Jane performed, but many more comics came to watch and support the show. I wonder about this community – how deep are their relationships to one another? Is there a lot of drama and infighting like we have in the circus community? Are there people who always see one another – similiar to Embur and me – but hardly utter words to each other? How is the web of their society weaved and what are the untangleable tangles?
Some of the comics that night didn’t feel as up to the cuff as they wanted to, some were drunk enough to get a fact wrong enough to notice (ahem, Kona, I love that you drove yourself crazy over saying that “a greater number of Americans died in the Mexican-American War than World War I or II” when you meant the percentage. It’s a spectacular charm of yours to take Drunken History with utter seriousness), and some were just…more “gone” than you would expect for the quality of venue, with Andy Hamilton doing his entire historical retelling without his pants and John Beakes handing out train whistles so the audience could mimic trains in his story. Somehow the natural depravity of Drunken History elevates the credibility of the Mercury Café. What a special place to recognize and embrace the brilliance of Goldfish Entertainment’s Josue Flores and this fantastical world that realizes the nostalgia of a better time in cultural history when people knew to laugh, dance, sing, and play to their heart’s desires without concern for societal norms.
With the setting quite spectacular and a packed crowd, I wondered if this was a “pressure’s on” sort of night for these comics. I wonder how doing Drunken History in a bar backroom brewery on a 4-foot high stage with hardly any other comic buddies showing up for support compares to this event. There had to have been more comics in the audience than comics that took the stage…and they were watching, intently. Tonight seems like a bigger deal than a garage show. I could sense that something was different, but I wasn’t sure why. Is panic a feature that permeates a comic’s life as it does mine? Is material at the heart of the success of a comic, or can anxiety alter the performance of their work, such that the delivery of a joke towers in importance over the content of the joke? I can see and feel the love and support of their community as the performers of the night battled their fears in pursuit of their passion.
And, what about me? Will I find success if I can deliver myself in full, be my authentic form, despite these panics? The women’s group had gotten back to me. I had comments from several sympathetic locals; stories of ways in which these women had also adapted to or failed to adapt to their anxieties; countless ideas on ways to cope; and several phone numbers or offers for me to message them if I wanted to talk, rant, or cry to them personally.
I feel my community around me, the circus community and the online women’s’ group. I recognize that my social circles will step up to support me – no matter what tangles have come to be tangled, no matter who we are, no matter how little we really know about each other. The value lies in sharing something, in being part of a community in some way. Within the circus world, we can’t help but notice our brethren who are willing to play, and train at what is essentially play, with such unexpected vigor in adulthood. In the women’s group, we are all locals and we are all women, but we are women who want to support other women and learn and grow from them in a safe space.
I need to allow myself to get help from my communities rather than isolating myself until I’m a perfect and complete version of myself that doesn’t even need support just as these comedians push themselves forward to greatness with a wingspan of support from their fellow comedians. Allowing themselves to falter in front of the world, feeling celebration when they succeed, and knowing that no matter what happens that night, their people will show up for them and applaud. It’s with this community support that they, and I, will flourish.