I moved to San Francisco on November 4, 1979. I remember the date because the first day I did stand up for real was November 4, 1974, and the day I married my first wife was November 4, 1981. Just a coincidence. But an odd one.
When I left Milwaukee, I was working on stage maybe six times per month. All the showcases in the city had pretty much dried up and every time I drove down to Chicago, they put the Wisconsin kid on either first or last. Cannon fodder for the crowds. Understandable. They were going to give the prime spots to the locals and I hadn't shown much to make them question that philosophy.
But the first week I was in San Francisco, I got on stage eight times. It was comedy Valhalla.
The problem was, you couldn't eat stage time, and my landlord refused to accept "exposure" or "stage chops" for rent, so I had to get a job.
Got one as a busboy at a seafood restaurant at Pier 39, Dante's Sea Catch-a tourist trap that encompasses an entire pier on the northeast side of Fisherman's Wharf. It was a busboy job. Just what you would imagine. Cleaning up people's leftovers. And I mostly worked lunches to keep my nights free, but the nighttime was where the money was. Another comedy conundrum.
All I remember from the place were the great employee meals-which meant free soup or chowder and half price on sandwiches and entrees. And getting fired. On Christmas Eve. For being vague. That's what the general manager said. That I had a "vague" attitude.
I still don't know what she meant. I was busing all the tables and doing my job. I kept obsessing about the dismissal reason and never quite reconciled what it was that I was doing with how I got canned. But I've been canned before and I'll be canned again. So it was another piece of cast iron to install in my belly in the whole learning-how-to-deal-with-rejection thing that one comes to know and breathe and live in this odd business.
I didn't miss the gig but I missed the honky tonk nature of the pier. I know it's a postcard sort of touristy piece of noisome business and every true San Franciscan has to take an oath to hate the Wharf, but I always liked it. The vibe, the feel, the excitement of the tourists who love the city. It was always fun to be part of the excitement and the lights and the energy of the Wharf.
Funny postscript here. The lady who fired me was in line at a show at the Punch Line on Battery Street a couple of years after I was fired and asked for me to comp her in because it was a sold out show. I just looked at her. I could not believe the person who had fired me on Christmas Eve now wanted a favor, and-like a schmuck-I put her on the list and got her into the show. I don't know. I guess my theory is revenge is a dish best eaten by the next guy, who probably will choke on it anyway.
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