Artist’s Date 16: There’s Always A Story

My friend Debbie called last Thursday to see if I would accompany her to Story Club.  It meets the first Thursday of every month at a bar called the Holiday Club.

Debbie is newly sober.  She knows that I don’t drink and wanted a little moral support.

I’d never been to the Holiday Club.  I had driven past it several times and liked the way it looked – kind of 1950s and kitschy, at least from the outside.  Inside, it’s like any other bar.  Pool tables.  Bad lighting.  The stench of beer oozing out of upholstered booths.

There’s a back room, too – where Story Club meets.  It was packed.

We found seats at a table with three other women.  Introduced ourselves.  And not another word was spoken between us for the next 90 minutes.

So while technically NOT an Artist’s Date, as I did not go alone – I’m counting it anyway.  I traveled outside of my sphere.  I opened my ears, my eyes and my heart to new input.  It was fun.  And it left me thinking, “Maybe…just maybe…”

Here’s the set up:

Perky blonde hostess with knee-high boots, a filthy mouth and a good dose of chutzpah – the creator of Story Club and Debbie’s writing instructor — brings four writers to the stage to read and/or perform their writings.  In between the featured performers, three audience members are invited up for Open Mic.  Their names are drawn from a clear, plastic pitcher and once chosen, they have eight minutes to try out what they’ve been working on.  Between performers perky hostess engages in improv storytelling.  “That reminds me of…”

The stories were small.  All of them.  Like the stories I tell.  Breathing life into the seemingly mundane.  Honoring the miracles, the sacred, around us at every moment.  But with attitude.  And swearing.

Amy, a self-described “tall drink of water” read her piece standing practically spread eagle.  She couldn’t raise the microphone. 

She told a story about her grandparents and the Baskin Robbins ice-cream shop they owned.   About the day she tripped on her words and asked her grandfather for a penis-butter sundae, to which he replied, “That will be right up.” 

I didn’t get the joke until much later, when Debbie pointed out the opportunity for a pause in the storytelling – to let the audience digest, laugh at the joke.  Penis-butter…That will be right up.  Good one.

She spoke of her grandfather’s passing and how it felt like he was “just away” – for a really long time.  Perhaps tinkering with tools in the basement.  About her grandmother claiming her brain was leaking into her ears and that that was the reason she couldn’t hear.  The first part was true.  But even after surgery to “stop the leaking,” she never regained her hearing.

There was a story was about a couple of summers spent selling educational guides door to door.  One about a theatre major’s dashed dreams, made worse by her high-school boyfriend dumping her for God after a summer at Bible camp. 

And a drunk-a-logue.  A story nearly each of us can tell.  Too much alcohol.  Bad behavior.  Different from my own stories only by the addition of poop – her shitting the bed, which she recounted in rich detail.  I thanked God I don’t drink anymore.

Open Mic was made up of stories about fraternity life, applying for a job as a pimply, high-school student, and one by Joe.  Older than most of the audience, Joe wore washed-out blue jeans and a belt cinched under his belly.  He had a large head and a lumbering walk.   

He stepped on stage, opened his mouth, and was transformed.  Immediately.  He was a presence.  A natural born storyteller.  He didn’t read from a piece of paper like the others.  This was his story and he knew it by heart.  He took us to varsity water-polo practice circa 1979.  To the state championships.  And he introduced us to the coach, and to his 16-year-old self.

He looked different when he stepped off stage, less schleppy.  He returned to the table across from ours, and we looked at one another, nodded and smiled.  Like the time I literally ran into Richie Havens after a concert.  I was leaving through one door while he was being ushered out through another.  We stopped in front of each other.  Put our hands in prayer before our eyes, greeting Namaste –I see the God in you, said “thank you” and continued to walk.

It was kind of like that with Joe.  That shared sense of “I see you.”

The show ended with three of the four storytellers performing as a Beastie Boys cover band, She’s Crafty – inspiring a couple of men to rise from their barstools and dance.  I wanted to dance too, but didn’t.  Not until I was walking back to the car.  I felt it in my body…a sense of joy.  And of possibility.

On the ride home, Debbie and I talked about what she is learning in writing class.

She told me about convention.  How we think in groupings of three. That three is pleasing to the eye and to the ear.  We talked about timing –making room for laughter and reaction.  And about balance –finding the right ratio of levity to heaviness.  We agreed it is easy to lean on profanity.  And poop.  To lean on style rather than story.

I thought about my old roommate Mona.  She used to tell me I should sit on a stage cross-legged, smoke cigarettes and tell stories.  I wasn’t so sure then, but after Thursday night I am considering it.  Sans cigarette.  And in a different position, as sitting cross-legged for an extended period of time hurts my hips – although it probably didn’t when she first made the suggestion 20 years ago.

A couple of weeks ago I was working at Weight Watchers.  A member of my team asked me a simple question.  I responded with a story.  She laughed and said, “Of course there’s a story.  There’s always a story.”  I nodded in agreement.  “Yes, Nancy, there’s always a story.”

Post Script:  I’ve come to enjoy the one-ness of my Artist’s Dates.  I missed it on Thursday.  I missed being alone with myself.  So Saturday afternoon I took that time.  Riding my bike, inviting the universe around me to fill my senses. 

I picked up pickled ginger and fish sauce at the Asian Market I discovered on a previous Artist Date.  I rode along the lake and marveled at the blue of Belmont Harbor.  Turquoise, really.  That it doesn’t look quite real.  I marveled at how slowly my cruiser bike takes me when riding into the wind.

I stopped for a gelato at Paciugo.  A piccolo cone with three flavors – sea salt caramel, black pepper olive oil and toasted coconut.  I greeted a pit bull and rode along side streets, admiring the homes on Hermitage, thinking “I’d like to live in one of these.”  I watched the wind create mini tornadoes of trash, swirling cyclones of winter’s residue.

And I heard the same words over and over in my head.  My own voice saying, “Let me take care of you.  Let ME take care of you.”  I said ok.

A story in everything.  I just have to look for it.

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