Island of Doom
During the majority of the 1990’s I worked all over the
country as a professional comedian and I use the word “professional” not
only because I earned my living that way, but also because I
always made a concerted effort to carry myself in a professional
manner. But no one is perfect.
I regret that the names of certain people and places will have to be omitted
from this story due to my lack of knowledge relevant to the statute of limitations
laws within the state of Massachusetts.
I will concede that one summer night, not long ago, I was booked to work on one
of the two small islands off the coast of Cape Cod. I prefer not to disclose
the name of the island; but it wasn’t Nantucket.
The gig was at a club in Edgartown and I was working with two other comedians.
We’ll call them Jimmy and Mike.
The three of us walked off of the ferry after a calm twenty-five minute boat
ride. Enough time to catch up and share stories of recent shows and of life in
general. We walked onto the dock past a couple of kids diving for coins - a scene
that one might expect to find coming off of a ship onto Jamaica or Haiti, except
that these kids were undoubtedly enrolled in private schools and had their own
sonar equipment to help find any of the coins that got away.
There are not a whole lot of starving children hanging around those. There is
no “bad side” of the island, unless you want to count the nude beach;
a beach to which no one was willing to provide me with directions, incidentally.
We quickly spied a cabbie holding a sign that said “Comedians.”
People love comedians until hit with the disappointment of meeting us offstage.
Comedians have a normal side; what a letdown.
We passed sand dunes and tall green grass waving in the warm summer breeze alongside
houses, all of the same color. Benjamin Moore, I can assure you, did not get
his start anywhere near Cape Cod or the islands. Houses on the Cape are not painted.
They are all left au-natural in order to achieve that gray sea-worn look that
New England is famous for. I had a friend who lived in New Hampshire who tried
to achieve that look with his house. He sided it and then refused to paint it
in an attempt to get that same Cape Cod look. Whether he used the wrong type
of siding, or just wasn’t close enough to the sea air, his house just kept
getting browner and browner.
“That’s just a stage it has to go through,” he convinced himself
for more than a year and a half. He finally broke down and covered it with paint
when his wife was all but out the door.
We arrived at our hotel and checked in. The headliner, Jimmy, got his own room
while the opener; which I was, and the middle act shared a room.
It was a nice little club that sat approximately a hundred and fifty people or
so and it would end up being packed to the gills that night. Mike and I arrived
early enough to enjoy a beer and a nice meal of fresh seafood before the show.
My act went well that night. I did my twenty minutes and then introduced Mike
to an appreciative crowd. Comedians have good nights and bad nights. Sometimes
we blame an audience for a bad show that was entirely our fault, but one can
never underestimate the importance of the mood of the crowd. A good comedian
can usually bring a sluggish crowd around if he’s on his game, but a crowd
that starts out strong can mean a magic night for a comic. Without exception;
the more energy a comedian gets from the crowd the better he is going to perform.
There are just no two ways about it.
Many comedians, including myself, also enjoy repartee with the audience. Repartee,
by the way, is not heckling. A heckle is an aggressive remark made in a competitive
It has always been my theory that hecklers fancy themselves the funnyman of their
group of friends and that they become envious seeing so many people focusing
on someone doing something that they had always dreamed of doing, but lacked
the courage to try. The heckling is an attempt to massage their ego, even if
it means making a fool out of themselves and receiving lifetime’s worth
of verbal abuse in one night.
Heckling is not fun. It’s not generally fun for the comedian – whether
he’s being viewed as winning or not - and prolonged heckling is never fun
for the audience. Audiences enjoy a jab thrown here and there, but some hecklers,
primarily the drunk ones, don’t know when to quit. They seem to be convinced
that the audience paid a cover charge to see their pitiful attempts at outwitting
someone who makes a living at being funny. In those cases, the audiences are
robbed of hearing material that the comedian has labored over; material that
the comedian has spent countless nights on stage working out the kinks to determine
the best wording and the right timing.
These points become null and void if the comedian sucks, and there is no shortage
of pitiful comics making their way around the circuit.
I walked from the stage to the bar and ordered another beer and a shot of Cuervo;
no salt, no lime. A single shot of Cuervo after a successful show has been a
“Hey, I really liked your show,” the bartender told me as he put
down my drinks.
“Thanks a lot,” I replied. I tipped my head back and poured the tequila
slowly into my mouth. I chased it with my beer as he watched.
“You really like that stuff, huh?” he asked with a dangerous look
in his eye.
“What’s not to like?” I shrugged.
He smiled as he walked away.
After the show ended, and the majority of the crowd filed out, I was still at
the bar. My friend the bartender was taking good care of me (two more Cuervos,
which I hadn’t asked for, and several more beers, which I had requested)
and I was speaking with a very attractive waitress. Doing very well, I might
The bartender came over, grabbed my empty beer glass and stuck it under the tap.
“No thanks. I’m all done,” I told him.
His eyes scanned the room and then he assured me, “You’re going to
How could I argue with that kind of logic?
He put the foaming beer down and told me he had something else for me as he reached
under the bar. He came up with a jelly jar filled with, what looked like, cloudy
“Try some of this,” he suggested.
“What the hell is that?” I demanded.
“It’s booze,” he said, obviously confused by my question. He
took another quick look at the jar to as if to make sure he hadn’t grabbed
the wrong item. Apparently the type of people he generally favored with such
an offer didn’t tend to make a whole lot of inquiries.
“No, you’ve got the wrong guy. I don’t play with that stuff.” It
was true – that stuff scared me. People have died from drinking moonshine.
The lucky ones just go blind.
“It’s not that bad. It’s not as bad as tequila. Have one shot,” he
coaxed as he poured some into a shot glass.
“My friend drinks this stuff whenever he comes in here,” the waitress
Great. That was all I needed. The waitress had some macho, alcoholic friend that
guzzles this garbage like chocolate milk. My male ego had now entered the fray.
I took the glass in hand.
“Why not?” I mumbled as I surveyed my drinking area. My beer was
just beside my empty left hand - I would need it the moment this vile liquid
was down my throat.
I threw down the shot and chased it. The moonshine immediately evaporated every
trace of moisture in my entire body. I became aware of every inch of my esophagus
as the moonshine burned slightly all the way down, and then I could feel it land
in my stomach with a thud that no liquid should ever make. But the worst thing
was that in some sick and moronic way; I liked it.
“That was horrible,” I admitted. I pointed to Mike who was sitting
at the other end of the bar talking to a young lady and paying no attention whatsoever
to what was happening at our end. “Give him one of those suckers,” I
instructed the bartender, who was more than happy to oblige.
He put a shot glass down in front of my friend and poured.
“What’s this” the comic asked.
“Steve wants to buy you a shot,” the bartender told him.
He took one look at the jelly jar and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, to anyone
who was keeping score, that he was far smarter than I.
“I’ll drink that only if Steve does one more.”
The shot I had just downed must have started to kick in. Otherwise I have no
explanation for why I said, “Okay, set ‘em up.”
The second shot was not quite like the first. It hit me like a house landing
on my head. I quickly realized that within five to ten minutes I would become
a blithering idiot. I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself in the club
that I had just worked, so I decided to call it a night and go back to my room.
I excused myself, with some difficulty, and walked out the door into the soft
cool New England breeze. The hotel was, oddly enough, situated right in the middle
of a very quiet and residential area, which is probably why the show had to be
over by ten o’clock and patrons had to be out of the club no later than
eleven. Many parts of Martha’s Vineyard turn in early and enjoy quiet evenings
and this was one of those sections. Not at all a good place for a twenty-one
year old comic bent on moonshine.
The sky was clear, the stars were brilliant and the salt from the nearby sea
filled my nostrils. The hotel was surrounded on all sides by wealthy homes and
was no more than one property back from the ocean.
The moonshine was really kicking in now and I decided to head for the beach.
A nice walk on the beach with the calming sights and sounds of the waves breaking
on the beach might help to sober me up a bit.
It would have been a two-minute walk if I had walked down the hotel driveway
(which ran parallel to the beach), took a right onto the little country road,
and followed it down to the beach. A two-minute walk. Two minutes, I reasoned,
was far too long to wait. Recalling my high school science teacher’s dissertation
on the shortest path between any two points, I opted for a straight line, which
resulted in my taking a shortcut through someone’s back yard. I was very
happy with myself as I staggered through this person’s property.
Then I hit the underbrush. It started out light; just heavy grass and then some
kind of hedge-type vegetation.
When I got to the thorns it became extremely annoying. That’s when I considered
turning back, but as I surveyed my surroundings and progress, I decided that
I should just push through. It became very dark very quickly as I made my way
farther away from the hotel. Occupants of the houses had long since gone to bed
and turned out their lights. No need to keep outside lights burning all night
in this quiet little neighborhood, it couldn’t have been safer. I glanced
back at the hotel and determined that I had passed the point of no return.
The thorns seemed to go on forever and they just kept getting worse. They started
down by my ankles, but eventually started tearing my Levis to shreds all the
way up past the knee. I kept going.
My legs were bleeding. I kept going.
I was drunker than I had ever been in my life. I kept on going.
It was pitch black and I couldn’t see anything aside from the stars and
a hint of a crescent moon. I kept going.
There was no more land. I kept going.
I had walked off a cliff.
True, it was a small cliff, but it was a cliff just the same. I ended up free-falling
for approximately ten feet before I hit the slope, which forced me into an involuntary
head-over-heels roll down the embankment and subsequently into a river.
I stood up in the middle of the river, feeling no pain. The water came up to
my knees and I was covered from head to toe in mud, seaweed, and gook. It was
the dirtiest slimiest river I could have ever dreamed of. If not for the slight
current and long narrow appearance, I would have had to describe it as a swamp.
I decided that maybe the beach was not such a good idea.
I wasted a good thirty minutes trying to scale the levee, which, from water to
thorns, stood approximately eighteen to twenty treacherous feet, almost all straight
up. I finally became discouraged and took the long way around.
On my way back to the hotel I was struck with a brilliant idea. Through the cobwebs
in my intoxicated skull I remembered someone telling me earlier that this hotel
had a pool. Beautiful. I would just take a quick dip in the pool to clear my
head and to clean my body and clothes of all the muck. I had a new mission: Find
The hotel was made up of one long two-story structure that formed an “L” shape.
The club was in the short side of the “L” and the other side was
made up of rooms, but the hotel also included a number of small buildings in
back of the main structure. Each small cottage-like structure housed two separate
rooms side by side and it was obvious that the pool would be located in amongst
those cottages, although it was not immediately apparent where.
I staggered around undeterred for some time before spotting a small building
abutting a large rectangular fence. My intoxicated brain put two and two together
and came up with seventeen. I deduced that this building was most certainly the
cabana, which would lead to the pool.
I approached the building and opened the door, which, in my defense, was carelessly
left unlocked, and then I walked into pitch darkness. From somewhere deep within
the dark murkiness I heard snoring.
I had walked into someone’s hotel room.
My brain was too fuzzy to immediately recognize this tragic mistake so I just
stood there gaping into the darkness trying to see what kind of an idiot would
fall asleep in the hotel cabana. As my eyes began acclimating themselves to the
darkness I spied the small college refrigerator on the bureau. That’s when
I realized how hungry I was.
I lumbered over to the refrigerator and opened it up. The snoring had become
little more than comforting background noise that I was barely aware of. My priorities
had changed. Inside the refrigerator was a half-pound of sliced ham - perfect.
Somehow, through my stupor, my morals seeped back to the surface and it occurred
to me, as I stood there holding someone else’s cold cuts, that if I took
the ham out of this man’s room it would be stealing. I didn’t want
to steal anything, so I began to eat the ham one slice at a time at the foot
of this stranger’s bed. He snored; I chewed. Occasionally I glanced over
my shoulder at the figure sleeping happily, but I felt not the smallest sense
of paranoia as I defiled the sanctuary of his sleeping space. I felt sure that
if he woke up he would sit there and listen very calmly to my sad story, after
which, he would be more than happy to ration his ham with me.
When there were three slices left I decided to be fair to this man who had shared
so much with me. I put the three slices of ham back into the refrigerator and
noticed that the cellophane was now caked with mud. I saw the mud dripping from
the handle of the door of the refrigerator and then the muddy footprints all
over the carpeting. Until that moment I had completely forgotten what I looked
like. If my gracious host had awakened he wouldn’t have seen anything that
resembled a human being.
I slipped out of his room and stumbled back to my own. Not having my key, I was
forced to pound on the door until Mike finally woke up to let me in.
He screamed when he saw what was at his door. He was still shaking noticeably
when I finally emerged from the shower.
It has been a number of years since my island adventure and I never went back
for more moonshine. It didn’t exactly hook me in, but I often wonder what
ever happened to that jelly jar and if it is still being pulled out from beneath
I’m not proud of that episode, but I will reiterate that every word of
it is true, from the first to the last.
I have long since recovered from the thorn inflicted wounds and the cliff inflicted
bruises, and even from the dreadful hangover that lasted for more than a day.
But somewhere on this Earth lives a frightened shell of a man who has sworn up
and down to his friends and family that one moonless summer night on Martha’s
Vineyard, some kind of swamp monster broke into his hotel room and ate nearly
all of his ham.
He doesn’t tell the story anymore; he is tired of being mocked, but he
feels a strange kinship to those who believe they were abducted by aliens. He
knows that there is something not quite human lurking out there in the night,
hungering for sliced ham.
I’m willing to bet that he doesn’t sleep as well as he once did;
and I guarantee that he never sleeps without checking the door lock several times.
There are by the way, two very important morals to this tragic tale of human
frailty. Never, never, never drink anything that is served out of a jelly jar
and don’t ever go to sleep with your doors unlocked.
You never know when I’ll be performing in your hometown.
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