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I'm the Bitch

If Paul Bunyan fucked Santa, Harry Hickstein would be the result. Harry stands well over six feet, has a beer gut that would make even the hardiest German beer drinker jealous— which he hides under a long, yellow, bushy biker beard—and a deep, gruff voice that drowns out even the loudest outboard motors. By comparison, I stand at a hair over five-ten, and back when I new Harry weighed a whopping 120 lbs. I don’t think I could have grown a beard back then if I had soaked my face in Rogaine daily.

Oftentimes, comedians will tour together, hitting the road for a week or two, and working all the same gigs. This keeps expenses down by splitting gas costs, as well as sharing the time behind the wheel. I rarely hooked up with anyone to hit the road; no one was willing to travel as extensively as I did. It’s just as well; being in a car together for ten or more weeks in a row would undoubtedly bring people to blows.

On occasion, over Winter Breaks during college, I would hook up with a few acts for a week or two and hit the road. Harry was one of those acts. He always used to joke, “You know, Ian, I don’t mind people knowing we’re traveling together; I guarantee, no one thinks I’m the bitch!” Mr. Big Stuff, his nickname, liked to say this as often as possible in front of people or onstage; it always got a good laugh. I always knew he was joking but I also made sure he knew I carried a six-inch hunting knife in my bag…

Truthfully, Harry is a great big teddy bear, who gets his biggest thrills by making people laugh. He often forgets how big he is and how he appears to strangers. We hooked up for a week long gig in Wisconsin during one of the coldest spells to ever hit the Midwest. Harry, who lives in Kankakee, Illinois—about an hour south of Chicago—picked me up and we headed north to Oshkosh, Wisconsin; where it was a balmy twenty-eight degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. With the wind chill, it was more than sixty below. It is absolutely ridiculous what conditions comedians will drive in to play a gig, even if it’s in Oshkosh or Fargo or International Falls or any other place where a witch’s tit wouldn’t go. (Oshkosh is Florida compared to Fargo and International Falls.) As we headed to the gig, I couldn’t help but think about my college peers, who were all partying with babes busting out of their skimpy bikinis down in Cancun (that was back before high school students turned Cancun into a party spot, when it was just college students). Me? I was a biker-wannabe’s bitch, traveling in a car where a dogsled would have been a more appropriate vehicle.

The next day was much warmer; the thermometer ascended all the way up to fifteen below. Harry and I headed down to Madison for the next gig. On the way, we came across a car with a serious problem—it was on fire. A flame was shooting from underneath the car, back to the gas tank. Due to the high rate of speed the car was traveling on the Interstate, the flame couldn’t quite ignite the gas tank. That same speed also kept the flame from reaching the engine, as the wind knocked it back; however, when that car stopped, its occupants needed to get out quickly.

In normal winter conditions, everyone on that road would have hailed the driver of the car and let him know his car was on fire. In the blistering cold, though, people just couldn’t be bothered. Harry took it upon us to save the people in the car. He sped up along side it, where we quickly discovered the occupants to be a little old man with his even littler wife in the passenger seat. The man could barely see over the steering wheel (that’s why senior citizens signal left all the time; they’re not signaling, they’re simply trying to pull themselves up with the turn signal rod, in order to see what the hell is going on!).

I rolled down the window and signaled to the old-timer. He finally rolled down his window and we started to shout back and forth. At seventy-miles an hour, we could not understand each other. We needed him to slow down some but we didn’t want him to slow down too much because the car could go up in flames in a matter of seconds. (This is back before there were cell phones, for all you young whipper-snappers.) He finally figured out that I wanted him to slow down enough so I could tell him something. He started to do so, when I leaned back to tell Harry what was going on and warm up my frozen face. The old man got a look at Harry, panic flooded his eyes, he rolled up his window and floored it. He must have figured we were scamming him to rob him and that Harry was the muscle. Figures, no one listens to the bitch.

Harry quickly realized the guy was heading for an exit. If he slowed down, it could be all over for him and his wife. Harry floored it and raced past them. He got into the exit lane and wouldn’t let them over, speeding up and slowing down with them. They sped up and raced to beat us to the next exit. Harry blocked them again. This went on for several miles of exits, along with Harry honking and yelling out his window at them. It didn’t help at all that he was the one talking to them now; I had a much better chance of getting them to listen.

The old man started to honk to get help from other drivers but no one cared. A few people did slow down, but once they got a look at Harry, they drove away. (Fortunately, this all happened close enough to Madison where they had a third lane to help lessen traffic congestion.) Finally, the little old lady rolled her window down. This is where Harry’s booming voice came in handy. “You’re car’s on fire! You’re cars on fire!”

The woman said something to her husband and he started to slow down. “Don’t slow down!” barked Harry.

He turned to me, “Shit, what do we do?”

“We need them to slow down enough to run over some snow on the shoulder without losing control, but not enough to let the flame catch the whole car.”

“Good thinking.”

He yelled out to them, “Switch with us and slow down a little! My friend will tell you what to do next!”

We swapped lanes and they got over into the right lane. Smoke started to fill the car as they slowed down. They still weren’t quite sure what was going on. It was my turn to yell again. “Keep slowing down, then run over some snow just off the shoulder!”    

The old man nodded and did just that. The snow put the flame out but then he pulled back onto the shoulder to stop the car, which was now full of smoke. Harry stopped fifty feet in front of them and parked. As we got out of the car, we could see a much smaller version of the flame reignite under the carriage. The old man got out of the car, holding the keys. He shrugged, still unsure of the situation. Harry began to run to him, “Get away from the car! Get away from it!”

The old man fumbled with his keys and shook as he panicked, trying to get back into his car. He was trembling like a leaf and his keys fell to the street. I semi-yelled after Harry, “Ah, Harry, slow down. Harry, slow down!”

I was able to beat Harry to the old man. The two of us then showed him what had become a good-sized flame under his car. He got his wife and we hurried to our car. We dropped them off at a service station, then continued on our way like nothing had happened.

“You know, I think that guy had Parkinson’s or something, he was shaking so bad.”

I stared at Harry.

“What?”

“Harry, you scared the hell out of that guy; running toward him, telling him to get away from the car. Do you know what you looked like? That’s why he was shaking.”

Harry thought for a moment and then let out a guffaw that shook the ice off the outside of the car. “I never thought of that! Geez, I hope he was wearing Depends!”

I laughed and the two of us headed into Madison, Batman and Robin. Hey shut up, I’d rather be Robin than the bitch, okay? Although that’s probably not much of a step up…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Site design by Ian Coburn

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