“Whew — what a night,” my customer said, tilting the seat back.
Robin stretched out, as supine as one can get while sitting in the shotgun seat of a Ford Taurus. She seemed positively beatific, her eyes shining and happy. I glanced over and thought, My God, this woman looks like she just had the best sex of her life. She had been out with her husband, so, theoretically, that was within the realm of possibility. But then I remembered what was up.
“So, Robin,” I said, “tonight was the big night, huh? How’d it go?”
“Jernigan, it was unbelievable! I killed. I mean, I had worked hard preparing a lot of new material. But you never know until you get up there.”
“Man, you should have been there,” said Pete, her husband, beaming with pride as he leaned forward from the center of the backseat. “It was her best show yet. Don’t you think so, honey?”
“Definitely, no question about it. Jeez — they were laughing at the setups.” Robin let out a delighted sigh, still dewy eyed and smiling like she had awoken to a pony on Christmas morning. Maybe a unicorn, too. “God, it was like being in heaven.”
For years, I’ve been driving Robin and Pete, a couple with two charming little girls. They live in the New North End in a beautiful home on a quiet and shady residential street. He runs a successful consulting firm specializing in the support of nonprofit organizations; she’s a stay-at-home mom.
I’ve seen certain couples grow defensive and turn inward on achieving this version of the American Dream. Their world outlook begins to constrict and calcify; their desired life becomes a battle to maintain, often at the expense of those who are culturally or economically on the outs: We’ve got ours, and we’re not going to give it up.
Robin and Pete appear blissfully untouched by that symptom of affluenza. To me, it seems they view their many blessings, material and otherwise, as an inspiration to engage more fully in their community, in the lives of their many friends. A few times I’ve driven Pete’s employees home from a company function or night out on the town, and, to a person, they express an admiration for their boss and his wife that could not be more genuine.
A few years ago, a spicy fillip came into this couple’s otherwise conventional middle-class life. On reaching her forties, Robin felt the need for, well, I guess some form of personal expression, and needlepoint was not going to cut it. Nope, standup comedy was just the ticket for this still-feisty chick.
When Robin first told me about this aspiration, my head spun. For the neophyte, standup comedy has got to be — no holds barred — the most terrifying form of stage performance. Think of it: Even if you’re a terrible singer, the audience will generally applaud, if only out of pity. But when you’re a (would-be) comic and bombing up there, there’s no fake laughing. The standup comedian lives or dies in the spotlight. As they say — death is easy; comedy is hard.
Vermont standup venues are scarce, but Robin has thrown herself into every possible gig that’s come down the pike. As her act has steadily improved, she’s gained a bit of a following and recently was invited to become one of the “Vermont Comedy Divas.” Apparently, for a local comedienne, this is a major honor, like being knighted by the queen of England. And tonight she had just nailed her maiden performance as a certified Diva.
I’ve not had the chance to catch Robin’s act live — she performs mostly on Friday and Saturday nights, which are my bread-and-butter taxi times — but she’s always funny in the cab, and I’ve watched a bunch of her performance videos online.
She usually comes onstage wearing her actual wedding dress, because, as she explains, “I’ve been busy and really need to do the laundry.” (If another woman has gotten greater use out of her wedding dress, that’s a story I’d like to hear.) Robin’s attitude — persona, if you will — is gracious, good natured and weary. On stage, she projects an endearing quality, which she uses to great comic effect. Not for her is the angry, foul-mouthed shtick so common among modern comics, male and female alike.
My favorite joke is one about her and her husband at a friend’s party, where they snuck upstairs for a quickie. “Which is unusual,” she shares innocently with the audience, “because our fights generally take longer than five minutes.”
So, while not nasty, Robin is quite mischievous.
Turning onto Shore Road, I said to Pete, “So, that was great — you made the show tonight.”
Pete said, “Are you kidding? Unless there’s a business thing I just can’t get out of, I never miss her gigs.” He gently placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “Somebody’s gotta give her pointers after the show, you know.”
This is a man who loves his partner. I drive guys all the time without their wives, and a lot of them bitch about “the old ball-and-chain.” Sometimes they just do it because that’s what husbands are expected to do — typical man-to-man horseshit, I’m sad to say; other times, it’s indicative of a real lack of affection and respect.
When I’m alone with Pete, on the other hand, his words about his wife reflect only the deepest appreciation. His attitude is How the hell did I hit the jackpot? What stroke of mad luck hooked me up with this lithe, leggy blonde, this unbelievable wife and mother? It’s enough to renew your faith in the institution of marriage.
I turned into my customers’ driveway and shifted into park. Robin said, “Jernigan, I just don’t want this night to end. How’s about I ride around with you in the cab for a while?”
“Hey — that’s all right by me. Pete, what do you say, brother?”
“No way, man,” he replied, chuckling, the love lights aglow in his eyes. “This girl’s coming home with me.”