Mike stepped into the bar and searched the room for a familiar face.
“Of course, you’d wear the damn thing!” came a voice loud enough to be heard over the music. It came from his right. He turned to the sound and spotted Andy, along with Sarah and Rhonda seated at a booth against the wall. A cheesy grin, as large as Andy’s matching one, spread across his face as he walked towards his friends and fiancé. The bar was half full for now, but would soon be at capacity. It was open mic night, and they were always crowded on open mic nights.
“I had to rock it! It’s a rule. At least you get to see it before it goes back home with me tonight.” He ran his fingers down his right arm, caressing the soft leather of The Jacket as he spoke. Although there was plenty of goading in his tone, the true affection he held for The Jacket didn’t escape Andy’s ears. “How long has it been with me? Sarah’s 32nd birthday? Shit. That’s almost 2 years now!” he continued.
“I hope it stays with you another 2 years.” Sarah chimed in. “Whenever he has it, he wants to wear it. It’s ugly as hell and I hate when he wears it out around me.”
“Tell us how you really feel.” Andy interjected. He focused his attention back to Mike. “I can’t wait to wear it next month.”
“We’ll be holding your funeral next month too, if you think you’re wearing that to our wedding! No way!” Rhonda said.
“He’s not babe, because he’s not winning it back tonight.” Mike said. “I don’t know what you have planned since you can’t sing or dance but I can’t fucking wait to see you up there.”
“Same! Sarah blurted out. “He’s kept it secret from me, too. I have no idea what he’s going to do.”
Andy stood up. “You’ll find out soon enough. I’m going to sign up. If Annie comes by, I’ll take that chocolate stout I like.” he said and walked away.
“I don’t know what you guys see in that thing.” Sarah said. “It was a fad in the 90’s but, come on, guys! It’s 2023.”
“Yeah! So it's throwback. Vintage. Classic!” Andy said.
“Classic?” Sarah said as she shot him a look of disgust. “A leather 8-ball jacket will never be a classic. Don’t kid yourself the way Andy does.”
“You two will never know what this jacket means to us. We’ve had it for over 16 years. It’s brought us both good luck and fortune.”
“The magic leather jacket.” Rhonda muttered.
“Not magic. I told you plenty of times. I don’t think it’s magic. It’s more like a lucky item. Whatever! I love it and so does Andy.”
“You’re damn right I love it!” Andy said as he returned to his seat. “That’s why it’s coming home with me tonight.”
Mike was about to respond as Annie appeared at their table. “Hey guys. How we doing tonight? Ready for a drink?”
- - -
“Okay, you’re up after the next person. You going to let us in on what you’re doing?” Mike asked Andy.
“You’ll see soon enough.” Andy replied.
“You think it’s top 3 worthy?” Mike asked.
“That’s for the crowd to decide. Top 3 gets me back The Jacket, so I’m making top 3.” Andy said.
“How you feeling, baby? You nervous?” Sarah asked.
“More than a little, but it’s for The Jacket. No pain, no gain. Right, bro?” he asked Mike.
“Damn right! I jumped off the Stratosphere in Vegas to get this back in my possession.” Mike said.
“Behold! The power of The Jacket!” Andy boomed. “It forces us to push past our fears.” He pointed back and forth between himself and Mike. “Although, you’re still a chickenshit when it comes to heights.”
“Well you’re still a wimp when it comes to spiders, but you held that tarantula way back when. All for The Jacket.”
“That’s the only positive I can see about that ugly ass thing.” Rhonda said.
The bar patrons started clapping and broke the group’s conversation. The young blonde woman who had just been belting out “Let It Go” stepped off the stage. The crowd continued to clap as she wound her way through the crowd to her table.
“She was damn good. Looks like you might be shooting for 2nd or 3rd.” Mike said once the applause died down. “Man, this is a big crowd tonight! You going to be able to follow through?”
“I’m for real getting scared.” Andy said. There was a shakiness to his voice. The realization of being on stage was starting to make his stomach heavy. He felt a lump in his throat, as well. He had never been a shy person but public speaking or speaking to a large crowd was something he always had troubles with. There were a few instances in his life where he had to speak to a large group, and while he made it through, they were full of stutters and nervous pauses. He grabbed his half full beer and gulped it down. Annie was at the table to their left. “Annie.” he called.
“What can I get you?” she asked as she shuffled over to them.
“I’m up after this guy. I need some liquid courage. A shot of Tequila please.” Andy said.
“I’ll take one, too.” said Mike.
“Ooh. What are you singing?” Annie asked.
“I’m not singing.” Andy replied.
“Nobody knows what he’s doing. I’m starting to wonder if he evens knows himself.” Sarah said.
“Well, I’m intrigued. I’d have never pegged you for getting up on the stage.” Annie said.
“It’s all for The Jacket.” Andy said with a beaming smile.
Annie chuckled. “You mean this one?” She pointed to The Jacket which Mike still wore. “Why on Earth? Never mind. Let me get you guys your drinks.” She said and walked away.
“They just don’t get it, bro.” Mike said.
“No, they don’t.” Andy agreed.
“We get it, but you’ve got to agree that the damn thing is beyond ugly.” Rhonda said.
“Would a mother call her baby ugly?” Andy asked. He looked at The Jacket and smiled again. “It’s colorful. It’s comfortable. It’s beautiful, and I can’t wait to have it back.”
“Make top 3 tonight and you’ve earned it.” Mike said with encouragement. Although he was at risk of losing possession of The Jacket, he admired his friend. They had been pushing themselves and testing their boundaries for over a decade in the name of The Jacket. He felt much of their successes came from the challenges they’d made throughout the years.
Annie arrived again with their shots. “Here you go guys. Good luck, Andy!” she said.
“That was fast. Thanks Annie.” Andy replied.
She knocked the table three times with her knuckles and walked off. A moment later, the crowd was applauding again. The man on stage had finished the poem he had prepared and was stepping off stage.
“It’s go time!” Mike said while raising his shot glass. “Cheers bro!”
“Cheers!” Andy repeated as he lifted his glass.
- - -
The small spotlight put out a lot of heat. This was the first thought Andy had as he looked out at a crowd of blurry faces. His heart was beating fast and his mouth felt dry. His legs had a slight tremble and he reminded himself to not lock his knees, a piece of advice given to him years ago by an early mentor. He let his years of sales experience take over. This was essentially a pitch anyway in his mind. If he could deliver it the way he planned, he felt he had a good chance of regaining The Jacket. He grabbed the mic.
“Hey everyone, I’m Andy.” His voice was quiet but controlled. “I’m going to tell a few jokes tonight.”
“Woohoo!” Sarah cheered. Rhonda and Mike followed with their owns exclamations of encouragement.
Andy smiled and relaxed a bit.
“I’m going to tell you all up front the same thing I would say to a woman willing to have sex with me for the first time. It’ll be over fast and keep your expectations low.”
The crowd laughed. Not the entire crowd, but a fair amount. Andy relaxed some more. He was feeling comfortable.
“Hopefully this will end the same as most of those encounters.” He paused a beat. “Uncontrollable laughter.” he said.
The bar laughed again. Louder this time.
“I’m just kidding guys. Women aren’t willing to have sex with me.”
The laughter was nearly deafening. Andy smiled and stood tall with a newfound control of his legs. He was cruising through the pitch. Zoned in.
“I’m an honest man, but I lie.” he said. A few chuckles were heard. “Show of hands. Who else is honest, but tells the occasional lie?” He raised his hand. Hands started raising among the crowd. He paused for a few seconds, pretending to scan the room.
“Everyone who has their hands down. You’re all fucking liars. The ones who raised their hands are lairs too, but their honest.” The crowd laughed but they had died down.
“Speaking of lies. I want it to be officially known that I do not permit anyone to ever swear on my soul. If you’re a smart crowd, I’d recommend you all do the same. I mean, just imagine. You died and you’re hanging out in Heaven. You can freaking fly. You eat like royalty and don’t gain weight. Down on Earth, your dipshit grandson stole 10 bucks from his mom’s purse. When he’s confronted about it, he thinks if he swears on grandpa’s soul that he didn’t do it, he’d be believed. Next thing you know, bye bye Heaven.” He snapped his fingers.
The crowd started laughing again. He waited a moment for them to stop.
“I banged my funny bone the other day.”
A couple of giggles could be heard amongst mostly empathetic oohs and hisses of pain. Andy pointed toward where he heard the giggles and chuckled into the mic. “Haha. I’m with you all. I think it’s hilarious when it happens.” He paused. “To someone else.” The audience laughed. “I can’t help but laugh.” He laughed again. “When it happens to you, though. Not so funny.” He rubbed his elbow and made a pained face. The bar started laughing again.
“Oh boy, it’s awful but it’s not the worst.” He paused a beat. “No. Nothing is worst.” Another pause. “Than stubbing your fucking little toe.” He dragged out the last line.
The crowd roared with applause. “Damn right.” someone shouted.
“It always seems to happen when your hands are full or you’re going to the toilet in the middle of the night. BANG! The nerves send those pain signals from the toe straight to the brain. Not before a quick pit stop at the mouth where you unleash a string of profanities that would make the devil blush, though.” More laughter and clapping could be heard.
“Nobody’s immune to it either. I remember when I was younger and my sweet old grandma stubbed her toe. Well, let me just say that was the only time I ever heard her use foul language. It’s also the day I learned 2 fun new words.” The crowd burst into laughter.
He smiled and set the mic in its holder. “That’s all I have guys. Thanks!”
The audience clapped and whistled as Andy headed back to his group. He felt good. He gave it his all.
- - -
“All right, it’s time!” Andy exclaimed when he noticed the emcee step to the mic stand. Within moments, the volume of the crowd had died down to whispers. Most of the eyes in the room were focused on the stage.
“Okay everyone. We have the votes counted and ready to announce our winners. Let’s give all our performers another round of applause first. It was a great evening. Right guys?” the emcee said.
The room filled with applause and cheers. People banged glasses on their tables. It was a satisfied audience.
“Coming in 3rd place and winner of $10 toward their tab tonight. We have Andy and his 2 pump stand up!” said the emcee.
Andy shot out of the booth and jumped up and down, over and over, in excitement. “Yeah!” he cried out. It was deafened by the sound of the crowd’s clapping.
Later, many of the open mic attendees would laugh and call his reaction overzealous. They didn’t know the real stakes, though.
So did Mike.