Thursday, June 9, 2016


By chance one day while driving around in the Ford Focus I had NPR on the radio and their program the Moth came on. I hadn't really heard about it before but I became entranced in the stories I was listening to on that short drive to the supermarket. It was so compelling I had to sit in the parking lot to listen to the entire program. I was hooked. When I got back home I started doing some investigating and found out about their StorySLAM events. It scared the you-know-what out of me but I'm a firm believer in confronting one's fears.
They were going to be holding a slam in New York at the Bell House in the Gawanos area of Brooklyn. These events are always centered around a theme and the theme for this one was going to be Grudge, a topic I knew I could relate to. So in secret, without telling anyone, I began practicing my five-minute monologue. You're not allowed to read your story or show up with any notes. The best stories are those that look unrehearsed where you're talking with the audience not at them. I have incredible stage fright. I could get the piece I wanted to tell together in my head but whenever I tried to say it out loud I'd get totally tongue-tied. I didn't give up. I kept my stopwatch app on my iPhone handy and plowed on. If I could get past the first couple of sentences I seemed to relax a bit and the story seemed to flow better. The pillows in our apartment in the city seemed to like it. I found myself mumbling it on the subway. A fate that made me miss my stop more than once and one time I got off the train three times in a row quickly having to jumping back on because none of the stops were mine.
I also learned you have to be quick on the pick-up for tickets. I missed the boat for tickets to the event and had to go standby. I was the only standby to get in by showing up an hour early and spending an hour before that at the café at the Museum of Morbid Anatomy where I drank way to much lemon tea.
Here's the routine: If you want to tell your story you have to fill out a consent form that you fold and drop into a bag. Once the event starts the MC does a little warm-up along with an outline of the rules. He then announces the judges, three groups of three who come up with a name for themselves like "The Miscontents" or "The Miserable Threesome". They're given cards with numbers that they flash after each contestant has finished their story. There's a board on the stage where their scores are recorded for each of ten storytellers lucky enough to have had their name pulled from the bag.
I dropped my name in the bag and then proceeded to have an urgent need to pee from the tea at the Morbid Museum and the ginger beers at the Bell House bar. I sat through the first five contestants crossing and re-crossing my legs before they finally announced an intermission. I dashed to the bathroom.
The second half of the show was a little less tense, I could uncross my legs but the panic was still there. The storytellers in New York are professionals. I'm thinking these are people who make a living up on the stage or they're writers for the late shows and SNL. When the MC read the name of the final tenth storyteller and it wasn't my name I was a little relieved and disappointed at the same time. But I think there might be a next time.
Oh, by the way, the winner on the Grudge competition was a woman who told her story involving growing up in Fort Atchinson, Wisconsin on a corn farm and attending bible camp where the prize for the kid who read the most books during the summer was to be the thing she wanted most, an American Doll. There were so many grudges present in that story. Congratulations, Bree.
Here's what you would have heard if I had been picked:
Aunt Agnes had this horsey laugh that exposed a set of jagged rotting teeth the result of a long love affair with candy. She was my mother's oldest sister and in fact the oldest of nine siblings. They weren't Catholic. They were farmers and breeding was a major component of farm life. It also became the ticket my Aunt Agnes was going to use to get out and off of the farm. At a very young age she found and married my Uncle Pat, a man who would later turn out to be a card-carrying pedophile.  None-the-less, they married and Aunt Agnes was able to move at least a hundred yards down the hill in front of my grandparent's farm.  They immediately started breeding and produced a son, LeRoy, the first grandson and heir apparent to the family fortunes whatever they may be. He turned out to be a gentle somewhat reserved man who took his comfort in religion. He married the choir master at our church and quickly produced three of his own children before he reached the age of twenty-five when he unexpectedly died. At which point the choir master and her brood promptly left my Aunt Agnes and Uncle Pat's compound never to return. I'm going to chalk this up to Uncle Pat's roving hands. In the meantime prior to my cousin LeRoy's early demise the rest of the siblings started their own breeding efforts, my mother being the first spitting me out making me the second in line of the next generation. You'd think that with all the millions of possible names out there and a pinch of imagination they could have been more creative but they named me LeRoy too. I believe this was strike one against me with my Aunt Agnes. She didn't take kindly to any pretenders to the throne.
After my cousin died leaving my Aunt and Uncle childless and empty nesters my Aunt took to a new tack of respectability. She joined a pyramid group. She did relatively well amassing a closet full of toxic chemical cleaning liquids, dozens of those furry covers you tie on the top of toilet seats and a ton of beauty products I'm sure were all tested on endangered species.
At Christmas, one of the many holiday extended family get-togethers it became her pride and joy to hand out trinkets she had pilfered from her closet of goodies to all the multiplying nieces and nephews. My brother and I amassed a very nice collection of nail clippers while my sisters unwrapped their share of rhinestone studded plastic combs.
It was at Thanksgiving that all my aunt's sisters and sister-in-laws gathered in a room separate from the men and drew little sheets of paper from a passed hat to see which holiday they'd be hosting that year. We kids always crossed our fingers hoping that Aunt Agnes would pick one of the lesser holidays out of the hat, one that might not require our participation.
Later on after I went to college (strike two, this was supposed to be LeRoy One's honor) my attendance at these events was less mandatory. But one Easter in either my sophomore or junior year I found myself home on spring break at the same time the family was to convene for the Easter holiday. There wasn't anyway out. I'd have to go. It was warm for Easter that year so I put on a polo shirt with the collar turned up and tied a cotton sweater around my shoulders.
The meal was a walk-through buffet with all the standard fixings: over-cooked meat in an electric heated roasting pan, mashed potatoes and gravy, Boston baked beans, an exotic Jell-O salad with carrots and marshmallows, nothing green. I had put enough on my plate to make sure none of the aunts could come around and chastise me for not eating enough. On my way to the tables that had been set up for dining I had to pass through my Aunt Agnes and Uncle Pat's favorite room, their bar. They had festooned those little multi-colored twinkling lights to the ceiling, hung a cat clock on one wall with the eyes that swung back and forth and a swinging tail that ticked off the seconds, and on the rest of the walls from floor to ceiling nailed plagues with the worst politically incorrect sayings possible. Their wit consisted of sayings like, "What's the cheapest meat? Deer balls they're under a buck" or "How do you know when you're getting old? When you start having dry dreams and wet farts."
After enduring the insults on the wall, especially the ones turning homophobia into a joke, I found a room with one of the long dining tables and sat down next to one of my sisters thinking it would be a safe place. At some point during the meal my Aunt Agnes entered the room asking who needed seconds and how was the Jell-O. At some point I looked up and caught her eye. She was giving me the once over. Strike three. She wound her way around the table until she was directly behind me and in between asking my Uncle Milo what she could get for him she untied my sweater and put it on the back of my chair and then turned down the collar on my polo shirt. She patted me on the shoulder and went on collecting empty paper plates and glasses.
I sat rigid in silence, fuming, angry and embarrassed. I vowed not to take another bit off my plate and never to come back to one of these family reunions.
Long after my Uncle Pat had passed away and Aunt Agnes had been placed in a nursing home on her long journey into dementia she'd call our house at all hours of the day and night looking for my mom but willing to talk to anyone who answered the phone and in a voice distorted by pain her tongue swollen from sucking on hard candies all day long she'd say "My mouf herths thoogh muts".

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