There were two good things about my apartment in Virginia:
The rent was only $175 a month, and Brad the landlord never came over. Ever. Or so we thought. This seemed ideal at the time, as I was using the living room as a painting space in addition to training live chickens to play keyboards in the living room. The less company, the better.
But like so much else in the world, the good and bad parts of that situation were horribly entangled.
We’d moved into the place in a hurry in the dead of an unusually cold winter – which served to keep the smell down.
But along with spring rains came this smell. This creeping, gnarly smell would wind its funky hand into the house and right into our nostrils like filthy phantom fingers picking up a bowling ball. It reeked of sloth and despair – powerful and pungent and musty all at once, like manure without any of the fertility or any potential.
You’d think you’d drowned it out or think it went away, but it was just always there, a brown undercoating that informed colors and flavors and wormed its way into your freaking dreams. Sometimes a homeless teenaged kid would sleep on our back porch under the window. One rainy morning I heard him say “Oh GOD it smells bad out here.” It happened whenever the air was especially humid, right after a rain, or on foggy mornings.
During the time that I was in Royal Quiet Deluxe (chicken band), I was invited to a large dinner with the Reverend Al Sharpton. Everyone had to go around the table and describe who they were and what they did. I was neither an accomplished member of the community in Norfolk, nor was I African-American. Everyone else at the table was both. I just kinda ran with a description of the band.
It did not go well. At all. In fact, the evening rippled throughout my life for about ten years, causing tremendous embarassment in a comic book store this summer.
Here’s a video of me telling the story on stage at The Moth:
I think I’ve just about milked this chicken band thing for all it’s worth now …
It’s been a couple days now, and it keeps happening — and at the oddest times, too. Sometimes I can control it and sometimes I just let it happen, let the people on the subway stare. My breath hitches kinda funny, hiccups, and my throat and voicebox shake like a bus on a bumpy road. My eyes tear up every time and I’ve just sort of stopped wiping it away.
I can’t tell if I’m happy or sad when it happens, mostly I’m just swallowed up by the enormity of the feeling. It’s like being a particle of plankton and getting swallowed up by a gigantic, benevolent whale.
America elected Barack Obama to be the President of the United States on Tuesday night, and the emotional aftershocks just keep coming.
So along with the spontaneous, random sobs of joy and relief, I’m having this recurring hallucination. Or maybe it’s a daydream. But whatever.
Every time I see, hear, or imagine somebody doing something incredibly well, that person has Barack Obama’s head.
My friend Jim O’Grady is a Moth GrandSLAM contest winner — a great storyteller and a great guy. He’s been a reporter for the New York Times, and works for some mysterious think tank that he says is “physically located on Wall Street, but in no way associated with finance.”
The thing about these story shows is that they let anybody onstage, which gives the show its spirit and beauty. It keeps it from being the province of writers and actors and “who do you know” and lets the voice of the people come through. It also allows people to weep onstage and do some lame standup comedy from time to time. It’s always a crap shoot, and the surprises are the best part.
Jim’s reliably awesome — he has his nights when he kills, sure. But even when he’s not at his best, he’s still really really good, and whenever he gets picked to come to the stage the audience is in for a treat.
Here he is at a Moth StorySLAM this summer, on the theme of “Respect.”
Today is national fix-the-country day, and it’s gonna be a long one. No matter what side you’re on, you’re probably sick of the campaigning by now. As a little distraction from all the election-related news you’re sure to be drowning in, I thought I’d post a video of me telling the story of Royal Quiet Deluxe, (chicken band) at The Moth.
The story links to one of our recordings, made with a primitive drum machine, delay/loop pedal, and my tireless prattling.
The following track, though, is a different sort of sound collage. We recorded it on the front porch of Tim’s parent’s place out in Botetourt County, VA, one hot summer evening. You can hear crickets and locusts in the background, something I think is pretty cool. I am playing the typewriter as percussion here, Tim is playing guitar, and the chickens are pecking and vocalizing. Tim mixed in a recording about Exotic Newcastle Disease in Southern California that was recorded over the telephone many years later, and presto — you have:
There’s one more story in this saga. I’ve told it onstage at a Moth event recently, and I’m waiting to get ahold of the video so I can crunch it and post it here — and I’m working on the text version for those of you that want the full-on boxed-set experience. Suffice it to say that while the Internet has helped me find a whole new audience for this band that I never thought existed, I am 100 percent positive that the Reverend Al Sharpton still thinks the whole concept of Royal Quiet Deluxe is the stupidest thing he’s ever heard.
You can see a story by The Moth’s Jim O’Grady here:
I was at the O’Reilly Media-sponsored Web 2.0 Expo here in New York last week. While I wouldn’t exactly call it fun, I learned a lot. Here’s a few observations:
*** The term “Google-juice” sounds really, really gross
*** The word “leverage” is vastly overused. It’s not a verb, people. Every time you say it, an IQ point dies.
*** People love to talk about the “Wild West” mentality on the Internet. Meaning, I think, that there are no rules or ethics online. The real Wild West was about gunfights, cattle theft, drinking whiskey in filthy saloons and dying during childbirth. Making baseless claims anonymously in your underpants is the opposite of tough. There’s a big, big difference.
*** Being articulate, intelligent and well-read and being a Top Digger are not the same thing by a damn sight. I’m not going to name names, but a certain social media expert should be aware that they speak Portuguese in Brazil — not Brazilian.
*** There were a lot of people asking “how can I leverage the power of Web 2.0 community to ‘go viral’ and drive traffic to my market share, incentivizing revenue generation through targeted content promotion?”
Nobody asked “how can I make content that’s actually good?”
I’m one of those people who tries to keep my Inbox relatively clean. I fail miserably, but at least I want it to be more uncluttered than it is, and I think that aspiration counts for something. However, one battle front on which I am an unequivocal victor is that of the Spam folder. I manually delete that shit before Gmail even has the chance to do it for me. When empty, the Spam folder displays the text “Hooray, no spam here!” and I think, “You’re goddamn right there isn’t.”
But once in a while, the universe sees fit to bestow upon me a piece of electronic junk mail so wonderful and perfect, so beautifully off-kilter in either its subject line or content, that it gives pause to my ‘delete’ finger. Case in point, this message that I received yesterday:
Such a simple and perfect non-sequitur.
Or is it?
One day later, I received this little nugget from a different address:
What seemed at first like total random word generation has suddenly turned into a somewhat linear pseudo-narrative! Whatever the fuck nekkid Britney did in that video to expose the secret trifecta has apparently caused her untimely demise, and set off a chain of events that will undoubtedly lead to the King of Pop having one of his plastic ears bitten off on pay-per-view. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for the next installment of this saga to get caught in my mail filters.
(NOTE: Yes, I blurred the links. And I deleted the messages after I took the screenshots. If we click on spam links, even in the name of investigative internet comedy-journalism, then the terrorists have won. Besides, whatever they linked to could never be as good as the stories y’all are forming right now.)
“Culture Shock” was the theme for last night’s Moth, and man, was I ever ready. I’d written, edited, rewritten, and I felt like I had a fairly solid story — unless someone else had also worked as a kangaroo shooter in Western Australia, I had the topic pretty well locked up. So yeah, I was psyched, that combination of anxiety and jittery and *pow* that usually makes something happen.
I was pretty tough to be around, I’d imagine, especially to a good friend who came out to support me. I couldn’t help myself, I was a rubber band ball made out of thrashing fire ants — couldn’t focus on sentences, couldn’t relax into his jokes or anything.
I did my first storytelling show last Monday at a small venue called the Coraline Cafe, way out in Brooklyn. I’m not sure where, exactly, but at one point I was afraid that I was going to be asked for my passport. There were only five folks on the bill, and for once, one of those people was me! After a few months of writing, rewriting, and trying to get onstage at The Moth, I finally got a chance to get up and tell a tale.
I told a story about a drunk man and a drunker pit bull fighting over some cans of Old English in Richmond, VA a few years back — astute readers of this blog will remember that story from here. And I mean, I was nervous, don’t get me wrong — but once I got up there that nervousness just kinda turned into energy, and I went with it, just kinda pushing the parts that needed pushing.
Two and a half servings of bourbon didn’t hurt, either, but I had to cut myself off at a full stop by pouring the last half into a plant. There’s nothing worse than a slurred blatherer, apart from someone who used to be fat and/or geeky in high school and isn’t over that shit yet.
But yeah, it was awesome! People laughed at the parts I meant to be funny and laughed at the stuff I ad-libbed. So I’ll take that as a good sign. The compliments felt genuine. I mean, if someone was kissing my ass because of all the pull I have in showbiz, they’re just horribly misguided.
So now, just as soon as I click “post” on this post, I’m off to the train to try and get onstage at The Moth again. I’ll post the story tomorrow for you guys, but for now, I got to keep it bottled up. I’m nervous, but the good kind. The kind that means something crackly’s about to happen, one way or another. Like one story is about to turn into another. And man, I live for shit like that.