Don’t call me Ishmael. Call me Zany. A perpetual comic performer. Onstage and off. I still dare to march to a bizarre drum beat, even in my reckless uh middle age. I refer to my eccentricities as Eskew-tricities.
My lifelong tenure as a warrior fighting gloom erupted as a kindergartener in Grand Island, Nebraska, when I thought it would be interesting to wear mismatching socks. By second grade I found it fun to constantly change my hairstyle throughout the day. (I hereby hesitantly confess that I still do that).
Throughout my elementary school daze, instead of blue jeans, I begged to don dress slacks. Plus a vest with a Windsor-knot necktie; sometimes an ascot with matching belt and suspenders. Indeed, that proved to be dangerously unpopular around some of the more macho moppets.
Desperate for a way to turn funny-peculiar into funny-ha-ha, young Eskew came to his own rescue by becoming class clown. What else? As a self-mocking free spirit, I turned bullies into buddies. Whew!
When it came to manly sports, I was thoroughly unqualified and assuredly uncoordinated. So bad in gym for instance that once, during an obstacle course session, the bewildered teacher allowed me to crawl under a stationary horse fixture. Everyone else was required to leap over it.
I was so fat that I got stuck under the horse fixture. I screamed “oink-oink!” Two would-be bullies greased my body and pried me loose, laughing too hard to even consider hurting me. Thank God the jocks got the joke.
Before leaving high school, I willed my athletic abilities to the opposing teams of Grand Island Senior High. After I graduated, our sports teams soared to unprecedented heights. Who’d a thunk it?
My only hope for glory had always centered upon my successes on the high school stage. Mostly comic of course, focusing on fat-chat standup routines. This led to many gigs in Grand Island and its surrounding counties. My reign as a fat but funny freak had made me famous. Or was it infamous?
However, by graduation time I had lost 50 pounds and completely reinvented myself. The new me finally ventured toward New York. Now considerably slim, I felt devastatingly handsome for the first time in my life.
This time my Eskew-tricity manifested itself in my inability to stop looking at my own reflection in a pocket mirror that I carried. Bizarre even in NYC for the year 1969 BT (Before Texting). Nowadays everyone is so busy looking at their phones that no one would even notice my narcissism. (FYI: My love affair with my face eventually expired. I haven’t looked in a mirror for 30 years).
In NYC’s Greenwich Village district of 1969, I fit right in and felt like a stud. I became a popular barfly at a shabby little shack named Village Gate. It functioned as a crude precursor to today’s comedy clubs. I briefly became one of the club’s performers.
An African American headlined the club. Having appeared on The Tonight Show numerous times, Erwin C. Watson enchanted those members of his audience who were not in a stupor.
Mr. Watson appeared at 8 and 10 p.m. and had ‘em howling from his opening line: “My name is Erwin C. Watson. The ‘c’ stands for colored.” In 1969, that was both funny and unoffensive to many.
His proved to be a tough act to follow; in addition, I swiftly deduced that when I lost my fat, I also lost my funny. No one got me. I may as well have been speaking in tongues.
Frustrated that very few of these fools laughed, my fractured ego prompted me to shout mediocre clichés: “Is this mic on? This is my ‘A’ stuff folks. Whadayawant me t’do? Literally bite a bullet?”
Soon thereafter, I exited the Village Gate stage forever, with best wishes to the masterful Mr. Watson. I returned to Grand Island with my tail between my legs, a little dog leaving a big mud puddle.
A thousand years later, I’ve continue to ooze out my funny-ha-ha/funny peculiar combo. Let’s face it, it’s me. But please blame my idiosyncrasies on the proper source — family genes.
Yup, I’ve come by all my Eskew-tricities honestly. I recently discovered an Irish adage boldly stated on the cover of me sweet old grandpa’s diary:
“I know I’m different, but I’ll try to be the same.”
(Oh, full disclosure: I lied like a trooper over ridding myself of my obsession with the pocket mirror. I’m still fascinated by the fool who keeps staring back at me. Such a cutie!).
— Steve Eskew
Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. When asked to take over a theater column at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa, he began a career as a journalist. This led to numerous publications including theater and book reviews, profiles and Steve’s favorite genre, humor writing. Look for his new blog ESKEWPADES coming next month.