An Autograph From Lewis Black at the Peoria Civic Center
The man on the floor is having a seizure. He writhes and groans. He shudders in rhythm. Both arms flop back and forth over his face and knock his cap off. His hooded sweatshirt rides up, exposing a pale muffin top. A woman wearing a red dress stands next to him and verbally reassures us as we stand in line waiting to get an autograph from Lewis Black. The janitors emerge and crisscross through the lobby. They roll yellow trashcans and mop buckets back and forth. They ignore the man on the floor.
My friend Heather steps away from the line of people and shakes her head. “I need to go,” she says, and I follow her with my eyes as she walks across the carpeted floor and disappears into the women’s restroom, but I don’t really follow her. I wonder if I should check on her, but I don’t want to lean into the bathroom and call her name. I don’t want to lose my spot in line.
The woman in the red dress kneels over the man on the floor. She inspects him. His breaths seep in and out through clenched teeth. People around me whisper about seizures, biting down, putting a belt in this guy’s mouth.
“It’s okay,” says the woman to everyone. “He has a condition. This has happened before.”
I wonder what I can do to help without losing my spot in line, but some guy in a flannel shirt solves the problem for us and calls an ambulance. He describes our location within the theater lobby to the dispatcher, who seems particularly interested in types of medication.
“Is he on medication?” asks the Good Samaritan on the phone.
“It’s something that starts with a Z,” the woman says. “I can’t think of it. It’s been a while since he’s done this.”
It now occurs to me that I’ve been clutching my ticket in both hands, and now it’s wrinkled from my sweat. The ticket I had printed off to attend the show, that I would get signed by Lewis Black because the merch table ended up selling nothing but overpriced crap. A sheet of paper quartered by fold lines, cluttered with faded advertisements and a hazy barcode because my printer is low on color ink. It cost $70 to sit in the front row. This is what Lewis Black will put his autograph on. I’ll end up throwing it into a folder or stuffing it in a box. I won’t frame it. Every time I would pass by a framed autograph from Lewis Black I would remember the man on the floor rocking back and forth. But I don’t want to lose my spot in line.
We ease forward and I look over my shoulder at the restrooms, looking for a sign that Heather is okay, but she’s not there. We inch closer to the man, now more reminiscent of someone taking a nap than someone whose body has just betrayed him in a public place. I don’t hear his name as we approach, not when the EMT bends over and attaches a mask to him, when she asks if he knows where he is.
An usher takes some items from the woman in the red dress and walks to the front of the line. He returns the items to her, now signed, but Lewis Black does not venture from his table to see what’s happening. The EMT asks the man questions and fills in the gaps for him when he mutters either the wrong answer or no answer at all. “You’re at the Peoria Civic Center. You were at a concert.” The woman in the red dress does not know the name of the medication and the man on the floor does not know anything at all.
We pass by the unfolding tableau, seeing it from the opposite angle as we near the autograph table. The man on the floor stirs a bit and the EMT presses her hands against his shoulders and urges him to lie still. The guy in the flannel shirt looks up and down the line of people, maybe searching for the spot he gave up when he left to help.
“Can we take you to the hospital?” the EMT asks the man on the floor.
The woman is now on her phone and says, “No. That’s up to his parents. I’m calling them right now. They can probably come get him.”
“Ryan,” the EMT says to the man. “You need to go to the hospital.”
We move further along, the man and the woman and the EMT behind us now. I stop looking back and face the front of the line, finally catching a glimpse of Lewis Black, hunched over a DVD case, scribbling his name on it with a marker. Then I see Heather waiting at the front door, facing the windows, staring into the dark outside with her arms folded. I want to give an assuring wave, but I don’t know if she’ll see me in the window’s reflection. I don’t want to call her name in front of everyone.
Lewis Black signs my ticket in permanent marker. It doesn’t look much different now than it did before. Still just a wrinkled piece of paper. Something suited to live its life on a closet shelf. I tell Lewis the show was great and then I go to Heather.
I tap her shoulder and she jumps. “You okay?”
“My dad was epileptic,” she says. I nod. I’ve never known an epileptic.
I look back once more at the man on the floor and the woman in the red dress. She’s explaining something to the EMT that I can just barely hear as we walk out. I look down at the ticket again and back up at the woman. She talks and waves her hands. “I don’t remember the exact name. It’s something that starts with a Z. This has happened before.” The man in the flannel shirt is now the last person in line.
John Milas lives in Illinois where he works and studies creative writing. His writing has appeared in Hypertext Magazine, Glass Mountain, and Eunoia Review. He loves chili peppers but does not recommend eating whole, ripe habaneros.