Tithes of The Jester

These encrypted text files were recovered from the harddrive of one Helen Nero, whose current whereabouts are unknown. The content indicates that these were meant to be published on a public blog, but investigation has failed to find evidence of it within any database other than the harddrive. The files are dated from April 8th 2014 to February 17th 2015, though a number of them are too corrupted to read or recover as of this write up. This evidence is only authorized for internal use.

First Entry: Introduction

I dedicate this blog to my sister Joany, a magnificent woman that died doing what she loved: getting plowed by a train. Har har. Perhaps that was in poor taste, but she would have appreciated it. I know. Though Joany and I grew up in a God-fearing household, our first and most precious faith was that of comedy. We weren’t allowed to do much of anything outside of our parents’ watchful eyes, but in-between reciting half-remembered hymns, we would trade dirty limericks consigned to our hearts. Halloween was the night of apostates and heathens. My sister and I prepared our Jerry Lewis and Rodney Dangerfield costumes months in advance of that night, squeezing through the ground-level window of our shared basement bedroom. We both threw up in the backyard after trying to gorge on our haul before our parents could find it, and they both got a front row seat as they sat in two plastic lawn chairs in the dead of night. After that, our singular shaft of light was bricked up. Wherever you are, Joany, I pray that you’re getting a good laugh in at their expense.

We had a favorite comedian, my sister and I, a gentleman that went by the name Ronny Thomas. The point of this blog is to chronicle this man’s career, a sort of retrospective for my own Pete Rose of stand-up. Like many an artist, to describe Ronny as “underappreciated in life” would be a gross understatement, especially considering his falling out. He was a true pioneer of comedy, swinging a sledge through every convention and taboo, blazing a trail for all jokesters that came after. None have surpassed him, and very few have approached. More than some simple court jester, Ronny was a tortured poet that could spin his demons into punchlines. He never learned how to turn them away. Soon enough, my format will be a quick summary of some landmark performance, interspersed with personal comments on his technique. Sadly, much like the library of Rome, the vast majority of his tapes have been burned. However, it is this very obscurity that makes this endeavour all the more enticing.

Second Entry: Open-Mic at the Laugh Track

Though not his true first performance, Ronny’s Open-Mic at the Laugh Track bar and grill is certainly what kick started his career. Ron had his pal and colleague Glen Samson film the whole thing on a cheap Nikon that could barely pick up anything over the crowd. Glen was not much of a cinematographer, but you can still see the light glaring off of his fat chrome dome and terminating in his long black beard. Even this early on, it is clear just how much he has refined his carefree midwest baritone while rattling off each line. Much like a wave, he regiments the audience into alternating tracks of reverent silence and raucous laughter.

He recounts his time in the navy, mesmerizing his interlocutors with a demonstration of the bobbing bulkhead that was his ship. Closing his eyes, he slowly nods back and forth, absently describing the juxtaposition of the bellowing hull and his sharp, creaking wood bunk bed. Entombed with a bunkmate sporting a deviated septum, he spends hours admiring the yawning ocean through the safety of his porthole. The ripe, salty smell of his waterlogged home mixes with odious rust and an ever-present taste of mist. Chaotic fractals expand and contract in the sickly green sea foam, suddenly squished when they smash against the daily patrol of his vessel. Entranced in the overwhelming monotony of his career as a seaman, he poses the audience a question: what makes a boat more than just a vehicle? What gives it the potential to be a home? It’s not the fact that you can sleep aboard it, eat in it, or shit in it. Ronny certainly did all three while he lived out of his dad’s ‘borrowed’ car. There is such a thing as a houseboat, but it seems absurd to propose a houseplane or housecar. The closest thing to a housecar might be a winnebago, a “mobile home” that is literally mobile, but such a thing only seems like a home from through the wide goggles of retirement tahitian treats. Perhaps it’s the age and prestige of a boat? It traces through our history back to admiralities, Ulysses, pirates and buccaneers. Then again, maybe all that’s required is some would-be captain to push an ironing board out his window so that he might consign a mutinous third mate to the shark-infested waters of I-75.

Needless to say, Ronny was a fantastical character both on the stage and in the tale, often mocking the audience with the pure absurdity of his supposed history. Sometimes the most ridiculous assertions are borne out of an essential truth. He did have a turbulent life, though exaggerated, filled with tragedies and betrayals. At the age of seventeen, he ran away from his home with his father’s car. He never returned to his family, enlisting in the navy after seven months of sailing the east coast. The car likely sat in some impound lot until it was tightly compacted into but memories and cubic scrap, all while Ron was off discovering himself. From the very beginning, he was preoccupied with homes and how they are constructed. In later interviews, his philosophy suggested that belonging and becoming were both central to any conception of humor. Though he refrained from fully revealing his childhood until he came out in ‘95, that distant stare in his hazel eyes said he was well-versed in the painful truth of reality.

Fifth Entry: The Bread and Circuses Special

**Note to self: Detective Allen called again last night and requested I come into the station for further questioning. She doesn't have the evidence to arrest me right now, but I doubt they’ll be happy chalking up an entire town as a missing person’s case. Why can’t they accept this as an act of god? Were they this desperate to pin Centralia on a black-lunged coal miner? Whatever the legal situation, I must remember to encrypt these blog entries before I send them off to Jerry**

Ronny hit the ground running with his first televised special, and it would probably still get reruns on Comedy Central if things had turned out differently. It’s still up on YouTube, it has a good few million views, though whoever posted it elected to disable comments. When he walks on stage, deep purple suspenders against a black leather vest, you could swear that his downfall would not come in a million years. His broad chest rumbles like an upright bass, heaping praise upon his current host city, he cites the local dish that gave him indigestion and their very tall building that always seems grander than the last. For just a moment he allows himself a hearty chuckle, still pensive in the blaring light on his circular stage. Then, like a crack of thunder, a snap resonates throughout the theater.

The audience draws in their breath.

They must exhale, one-by-one or once again in sync, yet the complete illusion of silence remains. All eyes are on this jovial, bearded medusa. Only his voice can pierce the veil, and he is well aware of it, so he begins a close circuit around the stage.

Has the audience ever been to the Galapagos? If it hasn’t, then it should, because the isles are beautiful breadcrumbs of Pangea. He’s been there twice, and was only able to enjoy their natural majesty the second time around. He doesn’t bring them up because of Charles Darwin, Ron was never an educated man, but a personal experience instead. That first night, he had been fast asleep in his bunk, perhaps the preliminary sign of anomaly. The sudden roar of crashing waves and the once passive, yet ever present atmosphere of salt now bombarding his nose. One moment ago he was on that familiar vessel of his ship, and then he was teleported to a life raft out of sight and out of mind. Was this another rat in his boot? Another cruel prank from his begrudging brothers? No, he shook that thought away. Even they knew that stranding their comrade at sea would spell the end for their service as well. There was nothing in the boat except his damp body clinging to his navy-issued pajamas, bones shivering in the restless wind. Whatever teleported him here, were it a man, intended for him to die.

It occurred to him that the night sky was sparse, only a few faint stars hung like dying christmas lights, almost as if they were choked out with the light pollution of an invisible city. Even moreso, he had a terrible urge to piss. Rose up on his knees, he fiddled with his pants until he could get a clear shot over the rim. Nothing came out. A haze of paranoia enshrouded him, tempting him to look over the edge. He needed to know, for sure, that he was absolutely alone. Squinting, he could make out a solid black object that stood stock still beneath the water, more solid than anything for miles. Gradually, imperceptibly, it rose and emerged from the water, just licking the air as each grueling moment ticked by.

It is a tall, skinny pyramid that culminates in a nasty point.

It’s a spear that twists around from it’s deadly edges, ready to kill.

It’s a spire with a steep roof that pushes up against the raft.

It’s a dozen spires, spaced out like a menorah bookended by opposite horizons.

Each of the wicked nails are a yard lower than the last, all of them emanating out from the one towering above Ron’s head. He couldn’t shake the image of teeth from his mind, a giant mouth dark and drooling, ready to swallow him like Jonah’s whale. As he saw an identical row emerge from the sky, about to clench together, he knew that was beneath the firmament.

He was beneath another ocean.

The first thing to hit him, after the brutal sun that was baking his flesh, was the smell of his own soiled uniform pants. Sat up, he saw his raft about 10 feet in on the beach, caked in seaweed while a horseshoe crab hovered near it. Over the course of the next hour, he scoured the shore of what he came to understand was an island, eventually lucking upon a few surveyors that knew a little English and had a surplus of drinking water. The good samaritans took him to the mainland, Ecuador, and the gracious gift of a cold shower.

The rest of the set focuses on how Ronny made his way back to the U.S. and that the navy didn’t even notice his absence. In later interviews he would concede that he had jazzed up a story about him taking a vacation to South America after his first tour. Some of his navy buddies and official records corroborate the fact that he was on leave, but no one was with him during his trip that could disprove what he saw. I can’t help but suspect something. You can’t tell me what killed him was a robbery, and you can’t tell me that nothing happened during the defining trip of his life. My sister was determined to know exactly what information was worth him dying over it, and I owe it to her to see this project through until I find out for sure.

Seventh Entry: The Blue and Red Meat Special

I could find only a few minutes of this special on some less than reputable video hosting platforms, and only one set-up and punchline allowed on YouTube. For this post, I’m going off of a few descriptions from forum posters that supposedly saw through back channels. A lot of details vary across the accounts, so I’m just gonna stick to what is consistent running through each. The grey market is far out of my comfort zone, but if you can somehow find a working copy for me, then I will revise this post for the public. I will provide a transcript YouTube clip here, since it will be a good opportunity to analyze Ron’s joke structure:

My sister and I were never all that close as kids. She was a bit of daddy’s girl, as much as that prick could be called ‘daddy.’ When I left home, for years we were total strangers, until she called me up on a lark. She couldn’t have picked me out of a lineup, but she looked me up in the yellow pages, and I gotta admit I’m thankful. I love Vicky, even if it’s hard to not get annoyed with her little quirks. She’s obsessed with her dogs, and they always bark while she’s on the phone, and I think she can parse about half the things I say. A year after we got back in touch, she calls me about every week on Wednesdays. She gets it in her head that I’m married, and it seems like her mutts barked extra loud every time I explained that I wouldn’t marry a woman if she were the last one on earth. She was planning a trip to come over and pay me a visit, wanted to get something for my ‘wife,’ so she badgers me.

‘Is she a brunette?’ Nope.

‘Does she have straight or curly hair?’ Neither.

‘Does she wear hats?’ Not last time I checked.

That’s the interesting thing about the way we speak, ‘cause it’s hard to really tell someone when their premise is mistaken. If I try and tell her flat out that my wife just doesn’t exist, she’s either too stubborn or too earnest to take the hint. Eventually, I gave up, let her entertain her little fantasy until she got a bucket of cold weather on my doorstep. Otherwise, it’d be like telling the guy with extra long sleeves that he ain’t Napoleon. In the end, she showed up with two little white busts, one wearing grey curls and the other a bright red afro.

There are a few theories as to why this sole joke exists unperturbed for the viewing public, but none are conclusive. From what I can deduce, there is nothing else within the special about Ronny’s sister or his family, so maybe it’s just inconsequential. Then again, one could easily see the idea that the joke expresses, namely the imprecision of language. Those few implacable souls that report their own viewing to the one time event describe it more like performance art with a comedic bent. A lot of people attribute such a performance as a signature of Andy Kaufman, but he owns a deal to the forgotten king. Ron even experimented with some prop comedy. He took raw, ground meat out of shirt pocket and shoved it in his mouth bef∎∎∎ ∎∎ ∎∎∎∎∎ ∎∎∎ ∎∎∎∎∎∎

Note: the rest of the entry is illegible.

Tenth Entry: The Agony of Knowing Special

Note: The text corruption continued on from entry seven into three-fourths of entry ten, only this last section was salvageable. The information here has little, if any, relation to Mr. Thomas, but it is crucial in understanding the identity of our suspect.

Joany, do you remember the day I told you my name, the name that I picked out for me?

We were born in Candide, Georgia, fraternal twins handed off to a thin-lipped couple with calloused knuckles and weatherbeaten brows. I never did figure out if they were our biological parents, but I guess that was never important, because we were the spawn of the church. One male and one female fashioned into a dual vessel for their god. Considering everything I know now, I suppose we weren’t the worst off in terms of children raised in a cult. They wouldn’t dare touch us, not even with some twisted affection or cruelty. Had there ever been a social worker to check on us, they wouldn’t find any bruises or scars, at least none of the physical wounds. The physical was meaningless to them. The words they spoke, tongues far too long, bulbous, and twisting to even fit in their mouths, would lash our minds into a frenzy of maddening guffaws.

I think what stuck out most about the church was it’s mundanity. We had the standard Gideon bibles with not a word out of place. We had a half-tonedeaf choir full of aging mothers that crowed at the behest of a smiling old organist. We had a plump preacher that knew the names and troubles of every member in his congregation. We even had potlucks where everyone would line up on creaking benches and dig into chili as mosquitos dug into them. A stranger could have walked in on any given Sunday and seen the picture of protestantism, except for the ever-turning red pillar sticking out of the dais. Maybe the stranger would then notice that none of the older attendees had all ten of their fingers, or that the preacher had a glass eye, or that my sister and I were the only children in all of the pews. On the other hand, maybe he wouldn’t see any of it, his brain failing to register the angry, pulsing tube of crimson inching him ever closer to its undulating membrane.

What have I seen in this world that even begins to resemble it? There were some paintings I saw not so long ago that brought it back to mind, but I can’t bet my life on those capturing anything but a tenth of it. Although it seemed solid according to it’s rough-hewn texture, it failed that designation on a few counts, first and foremost with its constant shifting between rounded marble curves and brutal angles. You might picture something like sculpter-less clay, but the way it moved was far too animal for stop-motion to recreate, and it was hungry as well. I saw my arm bitten off at the elbow when I stuck it in, and your jaw chatter with just the back teeth in your bisected face. That never happened, though. We were both fully intact, dew soaking into our clothes on a spot of grass where a church had never been built. We became wards of the state with no documentation of the first 12 years of our lives, but we were together, and things were okay for a while.

That was the day that I whispered my name into your ear, as we both sat in disbelief of our childhood nightmare. “Helen” was the name I chose, because it called to mind a woman with strength and pride, just as your name originated from “Joan d’Arc.” That was the first day of my real life, and had I known what would become of you, I would have savored your time in that life all the more.

Eleventh Entry: The Lint Trap Special

Ron took a plane trip from his home in Massachusetts to the cabin of a young man living in the Schwarzwald. Albrecht and Ron would live together for many years before they were wed, and their lives would end on opposite sides of their shared bed. All of that would come later. His interest in this first trip was singular. The two of them had met each other through an online support network for aquaphobics, and Albrecht was the German kook that prattled on about fighting the ocean. Ron liked to chat with him for the sake of a laugh, until something in the man’s story stuck out to him. Once he had earned Albrecht’s trust, he told Ron about the true origin of his fear. At twelve years old, his family decided to take a vacation in Spain. His father rented out a sailboat for them to take out to sea, but his father was a proud and stupid Prussian that had never stepped onto a boat before. When a storm hit them a mile out from the coast, the man had no clue how to navigate anywhere but further into danger. Dry land vanished in a split second, a concave whirlpool enveloped the horizon in spiteful inky waters, while the clouds above them shifted into a bulging eye. Desperate for salvation, his father tried to fire off a flare to signal a passing ship, but the storm just sucked the red flame into its pores. The charcoal iris could not have been 10 yards from the trough of the pool, static sparks sprouting and whipping at him, growing wide in ecstasy as its undertow tongue wrapped around the vessel. The pressure punched the air out of his prepubescent lungs as the sea itself swallowed his sisters, mother, and father into pitch. Albrecht should’ve died. Albrecht had died. He could feel his chest collapse, his eyes burst, his bones bend and warp him into a demented abomination. He woke up the next morning in his family’s hotel room, soaking wet and alone.

This tale put Ronny on that plane.

He had no clue what “fight the ocean” could mean, were it even possible. Did he plan on sucking all the water from the sea with a gigantic straw? Was he a cartoon super villian too stupid to see this would end all life on earth? As the hours passed, his mind kept returning to one line from a song by America. The ocean is a desert with its life underground and the perfect disguise above. You must have thought about what that means, right? He didn’t think the water was the disguise in question, but the persistent fantasy that we could ever tame it. Great Britain sang out to the world that it had conquered the sea, but at most this relationship was symbiotic, a truce to enact their shared hatred for humanity. The world could not truly become global until people were able to jump from land to land in great metal leviathans, though these too are easily devoured by the salivating maw. It’s ridiculous that we even have a word for “aquaphobia,” humanity has always lashed out at its terrible mother like a fussy child.

You see the holes in his theory, of course. Phobias are explicitly a psychological phenomenon based in panic caused by an external force, and no amount of rationalization can supersede its status as an internal mechanism. Moreover, Albrecht told Ron that many human societies have not only relied upon the ocean for food, but staked their culture in an intimate relationship to it. The Polynesian people integrated the ocean in the most basic fabric of their lives. They knew that the sea and the stars were linked long before Europeans proclaimed mastery of both. Yet they were still killed, their civilization devastated by the tides of colonialism, their own lands becoming open air prisons and tourist traps. Did the ocean stand up against the brutality of men? No, it saw only a few morsels to fold into its never-ending feast.

"Fighting the ocean” is not a literal altercation with the body of water, but a radical change in the thing’s ontological status. I don’t have to tell you the church never really disappeared, but we didn’t have the words to describe precisely what happened. You told me once that you followed the preacher to his house, and you saw what was actually behind his glass eye. He was boiling a pot of water in order to disinfect it, and you spied on him through the kitchen window. There wasn’t an empty socket or a scar, but an inset patch of skin that clamped down on the facsimile like rudimentary jaws. They loosened their grip so that he could hold it between his fingers, before it swiveled to stare back at you. It’s redundant to say that wasn’t natural. It wasn’t natural either when we felt the words of our parents sting us up and down our backs. I’m no longer in the business of making such determinations, and I’ve been out for a long time. Albrecht and Ronny devised some kind of plan to “kill” the not-ocean that haunted them, and it must have been in a similar way to how we “killed” the church. Maybe they even succeeded at it, I don’t know, because he never described the plan in detail. All my life I have avoided the ocean. Though I’ve never read a fan experience anything similar to those two, I can’t help but suspect that something would be waiting there for me.

Last week, I went back to Candide. It has a different name, and it’s in a different state, but I recognized every landmark the moment I drove in. There was the park with the rusty merry-go-round, the one you spun so hard that I fell off and had to get stitches. There was the mural of a tall and spindly tree that you and I helped paint on the side of the Elementary school. There was the pizza place where mom and dad would take us for our birthday, ordering our standard jalapeno and red onion pie through a stare at the waiter. The church has been rebuilt. It’s now a baptist church, and it has a more modern design, but I knew those poppies that sprouted up around the porch. I took a peek inside and saw the dias, and it was empty, The plump old woman at the front desk spoke to me for a few minutes, enough for me to lie and say that I was moving to town, enough for me to see that she wasn’t missing any fingers. I want to take this as a good sign, but I know that you would call me naive if I did. I told her that old joke about the eucharist. It’s the one where you ask why you never have any cheese with those crackers and wine.

‘Cause Jesus shows the whey.

Thirteenth Entry: And We Are

This is the most infamous act in Ronny’s entire career, and it certainly doesn’t have any clips online. Even amongst fans it’s treated as an urban legend. It took place the night Ronny died, four hours after an unidentified assailant shot him twice in the heart and once in the brain. It does exist, even if there was no house where I could search for that worn-out tape. Maybe it’s in that same place where we left the church and Ron left the ocean.

He didn’t look dead. We didn’t see any bullet holes to indicate the occasion. It’s hard to tell for sure with the consideration of talented makeup artists. His beard conforms to that sly, yet friendly, smile. His eyes and tongue are still sharp as a tack. He runs through his standard fare for the first half-hour of the special, while the audience booms with laughter. He pulls out the joke about convincing the navy captain he could read lips, the joke about how he accidentally bought a riding crop from a German sex store, the joke about his love of lunchmeat and the ways he sneaks it past his vegetarian husband. After he’s sure he’s got the whole theater buttered up, that’s when he breaks out his new routine. He begins to describe his childhood, all the way back to his first memories that consist of his father berating his mother. Ronny was only three years old, his sister only one, when his mother died of lung cancer. His father later told him that she smoked a pack everyday because she was so ashamed to have a freak for a son. Though he knows in hindsight that his father’s abuse was more likely the cause, he only found out what his father meant when he collected his medical records to enlist in the navy. Soon after he was born his parents had him get sexual assignment surgery in order to ‘correct’ for irregular sex chromosomes. He never knew his mother, but he wondered if she really agreed with the procedure.

He is silent for a while, trying to recompose himself. He raises his head and looks straight into the camera before him, segueing into a monologue about some other kids that are suffering for no fault of their own. Unlike his father, their parents never touched them, but they are kept prisoner in their own house. Their parents are nothing but corpses, husks of true people devoid of any emotion, and their children cannot live like this. It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a certain character of person, else a whole town could be worse than nothing. When the camera switches to a long shot of the stage, his head is already looking straight on without any sign of movement.

The only sanctuary they find is in each other’s humor, so I wanna say something to them tonight.

You girls have a choice to make. I can’t tell you what to do, but I know that this cannot continue. You two are no different from any other kids, any other people, and you deserve to choose what road you take. What you gotta do, regardless of what you do, is way too much to ask of any kid.

I’ll leave you with this old joke that Yogi Berra would tell, though I have no clue if it’s his to claim:

When you reach a fork in the road, you take it.

Ronny Thomas’ body was found the morning after he was shot, his slippered feet within the line of sight of his husband’s corpse. His eyes were open and glazed over like marbles, while his mouth was stuck in the iconic grin that defined his career. Only dead for 18 hours, Ronny’s body was bloated and seemed to be in a more advanced state of decomposition than his partner. The coroner examined Albrecht’s body and he died instantly upon the first bullet passing through his frontal lobe and out his corpus callosum. Ronny had the exact same wounds as his husband, but they were all determined to be inflicted immediately post-mortem. Dissecting his lungs, they found that they were engorged with saltwater, as well they had trace fibers of seaweed and small shards of obsidian lodged in the tissue. The ultimate cause of death was suffocation via drowning.

None of this was in the official coroner's report.

Tomorrow I’ll be boarding a flight to a big city, the sort of place I never dreamed of visiting, let alone living there. We talked about it, a few times, my current destination. We were gonna be twin comics, taking the world by storm like none before us, and we would have made Ronny proud. Now it’s just me, though I’m not alone. Even though I doubt myself all the time, I’m gonna try my best to keep going and ape your self-confidence. Really, it’s no different from stage fright, you just fake it until you make it.