imageI spent the morning of my 31st birthday (February 26, 2013) running the stairs of the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California. Actually, I only spent around one hour and 49 minutes running up and down the stairs. In that time I completed 31 ascents from the Bowl’s orchestra pit (section 24) to the nosebleeds. A straight line from pit to top is about 168 steps. So, I made it up 5,208 steps of various sizes (not counting the ones on the way down).

My friend, comedian Danny Jolles, made the 7:45AM call-time and took his own route up and down what the Bowl had to offer. My friend/comedy partner/and sometimes savior, Greg Burke, missed the start of the fun but arrived around the halfway point with his camera. So there may come a day when you can watch me do a little bit of birthday stair-climbing. (Before Greg arrived, I shot some shaky footage of me running, as well as cutaways to me revealing a birthday candle to mark each time I made it to the uppermost plateau.)

Why did I do this?

Well, I can say that I like running stairs—and I do. It’s challenging and a great workout—and planted somewhere in my unconscious is the image of the character Shute, Louden Swain’s wrestling nemesis in the ‘80s flick Vision Quest: Shute is climbing the bleachers of a stadium, carrying what looks like a fallen redwood stretched across his shoulders. He looks grass-fed and, ultimately, Christ-like with that log. (*Spoiler alert*—Shute will be sacrificed, so that Louden may ascend.)

I like ascending. If I do it enough times—if I make it up enough steps—it feels like a kind of meditation. The music shuffling on my iPhone fades. The pain in my hamstrings fades. The fantasies in my head fade.

The one about climbing so high I reach the walls of some monastic order. The porter, bald and convincingly celibate, welcomes me inside, but I’m like, “Nah. My car’s parked down in the lot. It’s a rental…And the next time I run up here, you don’t have to go to the trouble of opening the door. It looks heavy.”

Then there’s the Incan fantasy, where I lead myself to the slaughter, one step at a time (wearing my yellow Vibrams). I lay myself on the sacrificial altar, and when it comes time for the high priest to cut out my heart, I give him this cool look, and hop to my feet to bang out the first of a dozen or so burpees. Only on my last jump, suspended a few feet above the altar, my heart bursts through my chest, and the high priest and his attendants struggle to catch my ever-pumping corazon. I have no idea if my organ donation brings forth a prosperous year—because the fantasy breaks down and is pumped into my bloodstream long before the answer comes.

But an unrelated answer does come. An answer to what, I’m not sure. By the time it does come, reality has faded some too—I’m no longer a struggling comedian or even the weirdo wearing a rainbow beanie and foot gloves, charging up and down the Bowl, while the crewmen prepare the place (justgood enough) for the next concert or concert season… I’m nothing. But I’m a kind of nothing I can deal with. And that “knowledge” (or the endorphins) propels me through the day.

I like telling people about the Bowl. Most don’t know you’re allowed to run there in the first place. You are. It’s a public park. Go for it. (Go early, when there’s still a chill in the air. It’s wonderful to feel the temperature change. You wonder, is that me or the Sun doing this?)

And I like being able to tell people that I ran it 31 times—which is another reason why I did it: to be able to say, “Hey, I did this on my birthday.”

Fifteen days before my b-day I jacked my knee with a combination of morning Bowl-running and evening Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Over a week later I saw an orthopedic surgeon, who, at 6’9,” made me think one of the dumbest thoughts I’ve ever had: “Isn’t he too tall to be a doctor?”

Dr. Giant saw nothing wrong in the X-ray of my knee, which was feeling much better at the time. He said it could be what’s called a plica, which is an inflammation that comes about through overuse of the knee. Oh, like running stairs non-stop for an hour at a time?

To be sure he prescribed an MRI, which I managed to schedule the day before my birthday. Day-of I wrapped my knee. (I’m still waiting for the MRI results.)

It’s no great feat what I did. Other people do this kind of stuff—only way harder—all the time. But it was at least a moment in time where I felt accomplished and lamely heroic. “Lou, imagine if your knee had snapped in half…Would that have stopped you from getting your 31 in?”

It’s this kind of pathetic manmade heroism. You set goals you know you can reach, with the idea that if you can be “brave” here and push through the low ends of the pain scale, you may be brave elsewhere, when it’s truly needed down the line.

In my case, I was kind of working it in reverse. Because I’d already had the opportunity to be a hero. I’d had the chance to go all the way, but I didn’t. And it happened at the Hollywood Bowl.

I flew in to LAX from stairless Brooklyn (via JFK) on January 8, 2013. A few mornings later I was at the Bowl, feeling at home. I trotted down to Section 24 and noticed a pair of black panties lying on the ground at the threshold of one of the box seats and my walkway. The ground was wet with morning dew, and I imagined what concert had inspired the woman wearing those drawers to take them off. Had she thrown them at the band, only to have a member throw them back? Were there even any concerts in January? Or maybe she and a lover had fucked at the Bowl, after the workmen had left?

I touched the guardrail that would separate future audiences from the orchestra pit and took off running up the stairs. (The first trek up always feels like a bad idea. It takes me a few to get warm.) On my way back down to Section 24, the panties were still there, although they seemed to be what I can only describe as “filled.” It was like an invisible pelvis was wearing them.

It was early. I hadn’t run these stairs in over a month. I was winded. My eyes weren’t to be trusted. So I just hopped over the panties—the hop was unnecessary—touched the guardrail and jogged back up to the top.

On my return I noticed that the pelvis had somehow become visible. It looked like flesh—legless and sans torso, but flesh! I was too creeped out to reach down and touch it, so I just tapped the guardrail and took off running up the stairs. Not the way women run up stairs in horror movies when the killer’s chasing them—not like that. Because I wasn’t scared. I actually halted on one of the lower plateaus, jogged in place for a bit, and looked back at the strange form wearing the black panties.

“Where are the workers?” I thought. None were in sight. They were on break, I guessed. “What’s going to happen when I reach the top of the Bowl, and then come back down to Section 24?”

A thigh!

I hopped in place, foot to foot, keeping my heart rate up. There it was, a thigh sticking out of one of the underwear’s leg holes. The left one. The thigh was toned, hairless, feminine. I’d seen ones like it before, on the legs of girls I’d been with who played coed soccer for ZogSports, or were trying out “this CrossFit thing,” or were ashamed of their thickness. Yes, it was a beautiful thigh.

Recognizing the pattern, I made sure to touch the guardrail again—this time with a pitter-patter, just to be sure. Then I darted back up to the top, where it took me a few more seconds to catch my breath. I couldn’t wait to see what had appeared on the figure while I was gone. Back down I went.

A bellybutton!

There was a bellybutton above the elastic waistband. And above the navel a scar from a piercing given up years ago!

And it was here that the thigh—well, the three-piece unit of thigh, pelvis, and navel began to move. To contort. But not in a painful way. It looked like it was waking up. I could imagine the rest of its body covered by a blanket—it wasn’t 8:00AM yet. How long would it take to wake the whole thing up?

Guardrail touched. Top step mounted. I almost tripped on the way down.

An ass!

Both cheeks! What form! So the panties were boy shorts. A little on the tight side—but with such a tiny waist and athletic booty, sizing must be difficult.

The ass and the thigh stirred, pushing itself over into what would be described as a facedown position (if there was a face). A little wedgie with no fingers to pick it out. God, it looked like some twisted madman had taken apart an Olympian!

Guardrail. Up the stairs—the last flight I had to walk. I picked up the pace again on the way down.

The thigh had grown a knee!

After the next trip, a left flank appeared. Later, a breast. Without areola or nipple. Those appeared on the next two passes. What a tease!

I tried to keep a steady pace, but I had to stop halfway up the stairs to take a breath and stretch out my left leg. I wondered what would happen if I just went back down. So I did.

Nothing happened. Nothing changed.

I was feeling the onset of exhaustion, when I decided to touch the figure. I squatted. My knees cracked. I reached out and noticed the nipple, which had appeared atop the areola only minutes before, was fading. It was as if it was being airbrushed out of existence right before me. When it was gone, the areola followed.

I took off running up the stairs, busted my ass on one of the flights with the longer steps. Palms scraped and breathing heavily, I hobbled the rest of the way up. I made sure to touch the top—I even dragged my feet across it. Back down I went to find the areola in tact.

There was no half-assing this. It was all or nothing.

I touched the guardrail and struggled back up the stairs, then struggled back down. All that for a nipple to reappear!

The form tossed and turned like it was still sleeping. Maybe it was dreaming up the rest of its body.

Rail. Up again, I climbed. Down I limped.

The other knee…!

I managed another 168 steps up, but it was torture. I stopped so many times I wasn’t sure if the ascent would count. But when I came back down, there was an ankle waiting for me to look at.

I leaned my ass on the guardrail and watched the figure that was somehow coming together, as I was breaking apart…

And just like that, the ankle I had struggled so hard to make appear started to fade.

My hands were already on the guardrail, but I took them away anyway, gave it a second, then slapped them back down on the railing. I marched up the walkway to the first of the stairs. I looked back to see the shin disappearing the way things disappear in dreams.

At the top of the Bowl, I looked down at Section 24. My eyesight is shit, but I wasn’t expecting to see anything from up there. And when I finally made my way back down, she…I can’t really call it a she. Whatever. She was all gone. Even the panties. There was nothing left. It was a kind of nothing I couldn’t deal with.

I sat in the driver’s seat of my rental car and wondered, how many more times would it have taken to make this woman appear? How many more steps would it have taken to wake her into this world.

I’m afraid I will never know. But I tried 31 on my birthday just to see if it would do any good. 5,208 steps…

I should have kept running the stairs until my leg snapped, or I completely disappeared.