For my birthday this year, I put together a rafting trip and rented a cabin in the wilderness and had a guys trip where we spent a lot of time trying to fart around, near, or on each other. I guess we did other things too. It was three friends and my brother, and I was ecstatic to have him fly in and join us. He’s had a rough life, but he’s doing well now, and I count every chance I get to spend time with him as a gift.
Farts are a universal language with males, even with my friend Corey, who has never once farted in front of any of us, or any girl he has dated or even lived with. But even though he may not speak the language, he understands it. And it’s a solid channel of communication, especially since a lot of guys don’t open up emotionally. I don’t think I’m blowing any perceptions away with that statement that American men hold things in (not including farts, unless again we’re talking about Corey). But there are exceptions. On trips like this weekend’s, in between the whiskey, rafting, and farts, feelings and deep, dark, stories sometimes slip out.
In the summer of 2011, I was gearing up to pitch my first TV show. I had created a character named Skweezy and had a bit of success on YouTube. Viewers weren’t quite sure what to make of Skweezy, but from time to time I let slip that there may be more behind him then met the eye, and on those occasions industry people would email Skweezy to sniff it out. One such instance was a guy who, at the time, had a show running on MTV and his agent wanted him to bring some potential new concepts to the table. He was a big Skweezy fan and once he realized it was a character, he looked me up and asked to meet.
The guy’s name was Jay, and we met and he realized I wasn’t too crazy and pitched me the idea of turning Skweezy into an animated show. I can’t remember if I liked the idea of that initially, but by our second meeting I had convinced him to make it a hybrid of animation and live action. Kinda like a fucked up Bobby’s World. And so we went to work creating Skweezy’s cartoon universe. The first step was figuring out characters. Many of them were pulled from the world I had already created; we fleshed out Crazy Jose, J Felon, etc. We also created some new characters, like Frank and the ghost of Michael Jackson. All of a sudden, I was yanked into the riptide and was being represented by one of the biggest talent agencies in the world. They set up an audition for us to pitch to an animation house to partner with, and Jay and I met up with a guy named Chapman, who was their point person. We met, we talked, we met again, we waited, we met a third time, and then they told us they were pumped and wanted to join us. It was exciting times. Chapman promised to have three different styles of sketches for us to choose from and we would go from there.
Once we picked the style we wanted, we got to work putting together what’s called a show bible. Jay and I wrote, and the animation house created style frames to show off key elements of the world. Our bible consisted of a full presentation with a world summary, character breakdowns, episode summaries, artwork, etc. After many drafts, we worked the written content into something we could swirl together with the art, and our bible was complete. We showed it to our agency, they liked what they saw, and they began setting up meetings with TV networks to see if we could sell “The Adventures of Skweezy Jibbs.”
At the time, I was four years in to working my day job at the Apple Store. I enjoyed many of my coworkers, I got paid alright, I got a buzz off of the excitement at the store, and I was able to walk to work. It wasn’t all bad. But that environment was also was slowly driving me insane, as anyone that works in retail or the service industry can attest to. It made me start to hate people. But by then I knew I was going to be a star. I knew it. Forget all those other actors and comedians who had pitched dozens of shows and had dozens of false starts. I was gonna knock it out of the park on my first pitch. I was destined to hit a motherfucking grand slam. After the all the shit I had been through growing up, I had paid my dues, and it was time to get mine.
So I was already plotting my exit one day when, halfway through my shift, I got a text from my brother. You need to call mom and dad. I stepped into the back hallway and called home.
“Hey,” I said when my mom picked up.
“Oh, hi,” she responded, nonchalantly.
“Uhhh, I just got a text from Dan saying I should call?”
“Oh, yeah,” my mom answered, still speaking in a tone that made it seem like she was about to ask me how to get into her email again. “Aunt Lorrie’s dead. Steve killed her.”
I don’t remember what I said next, but my mom followed it with, “Steve’s dead too. He shot himself through the heart. This all happened about a week ago and they just found the bodies. I guess that’s why we haven’t heard from her.” Just like that, our family dropped from seven to five.
Steve was a fucking mess his whole life. After getting into trouble up in Chicago, he came to live with us one summer so my mom could get him into some sort of Christian rehab farm and he promptly crashed his car directly in front of the highway patrol office while drunk and got thrown into jail. Once he got out, we sent him right back up north. To add to the mess, he and his mother had an emotionally incestuous codependent relationship, and that was probably the longest he had been away from her, and he was unable to function without her throughout his adult life. Even at the end of his life when he was well into his forties, he lived in her basement and never strayed far from it.
Based on what we could find out from investigators, mother and son had increasingly bad fights revolving around her trying to discuss what would happen after she would die. She had become so scared of trying to talk to him about her getting her will together that she had to have other people around when bringing it up because he would become unstable – even violent. The investigators assumed that’s what set him off the final night of their lives right before he shot her in the face. The crime scene was pure chaos, but they found paperwork scattered around the table crusted in blood. And there was a lot of blood. From the knife markings on her hands and throat, police surmised that the gunshot wasn’t fatal, and Steve had grabbed a kitchen knife and slashed her until she was dead. He then shot himself through the heart. A week later the smell was so bad the neighbors called the police.
My dad took nearly a dozen trips from Florida to Chicago that summer to clean up. Since Lorrie and Steve were hoarders, there was a lot to clean up. It shook our entire family, and it put us through some tough times. Stress tested already strained relationships. I became upset and hung up on my mother once when I told my her I was having trouble dealing with the trauma and her irritated response was, “Why are you upset? You didn’t even know them that well.” As if I didn’t have the right to feel bad about a family murder suicide because I didn’t have enough hours of facetime clocked with them or something.
It was already a lot to process, and then my agent booked us to pitch to MTV, Adult Swim, and Comedy Central, and all of a sudden I was a rowboat in a maelstrom of stress. Tragedy pulled from one side, and the pressure cooker of “this is my shot to make it big” pulled from the other. All that heaviness crushed any patience I had for inane customer interactions at my day job and one day I snapped. I was at the store and some asshole came in, stormed up to me, put his phone in my face, and whined “Fix this.” Without caution or pause, I threw my EZ Pay to the floor and marched to the break room. I didn’t bother going back out for an hour, but he was such a self-absorbed asshole and the store was so chaotic that no one even noticed that I had thrown my little fit and that was just as telling that I needed to fucking leave. I quit the next morning.
We didn’t sell the show. Days turned into weeks and I had to get a day job again, and I did. I put myself back in the grind and more “big breaks” came and went, but before I knew it I was well past thirty and the toxicity of Hollywood was making me sick to my stomach. I didn’t want to be there anymore, so I left. I lived on, and did new things, and met new people, and got older and I realized it’s experiences like this past weekend that are what life is all about, and that’s why I make them happen as much as possible. But this isn’t an essay on cliched philosophical meanderings.
And so the other night we’re all sitting on the deck staring off into the wilderness and during a short break where we weren’t farting at or on each other we talked about all the fucked up shit in our lives and we’re all cracking up about such things because what the fuck else can you do but disarm the horror with humor. And then, in the same casual way my mom does, my brother brought up Steve’s dad Lou, and how he had been a hoarder, and an abuser, and that’s probably why Steve killed him too. Which was news to me.
“Huh?” I said.
“What?” he asked.
“What do you mean, Steve killed him too?”
“You didn’t know that?”
“Fuck no,” I said with a startled laugh.
“Oh yeah,” he said with an awkward laugh of his own. “I guess they were always suspicious about the way Lou fell down the stairs in his own house and broke his neck, and how Steve was acting all weird about it afterward. They just didn’t know for sure until after he killed his mom and himself and then it all made sense.”
The banter stopped. Tragedy plus time equals comedy, but although this was old news, there isn’t anything innately funny about a murderous family member and it was also new news to me since my parents had never bothered to tell me that cousin Steve was a little more trigger happy than they had first let on. The fellas and I all sat quietly for a moment, sipping on whiskey and puffing on Cubans. I stared into the stars, eyes fixed on a satellite passing overhead. And then one of us ripped a fart that sounded like a screaming goat and we all erupted into laughter once again.