Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Coming Ashore

It may be time to bring out the hook.

I've been going to Secretly Y'All, Tell Me a Story at Balliceaux for nearly four years now and I have heard some stories that have blown my mind.

There have been some duds, sure, but all and all, it's been fascinating to hear people unload snippets from their pasts.

But where storytellers once respected the warning bell, they frequently ignore it now. And when the final bell rings, meaning they are through, they continue to talk.

Some even needed a third bell and that still didn't shut them up.

As if all that rule-breaking wasn't enough to warrant the hook, tonight for the first time, a guy got up to tell a story, admitting it had nothing to do with tonight's theme.

Alright, kids, you've finally gone too far.

Tonight's theme was "the river" and the door proceeds were going to benefit the James River Association, the worthiest of causes and we heard some good tales in its honor.

Toting a paddle, David's was called "Buzzards Watching" and involved a canoe trip in which the canoe wound up wrapped around a rock, a problem only until they stood on it and popped it back into shape like a Tupperware bowl.

"Island Refuge" told Kyle's story of falling in love with the water, making it his life's work and then having an awful experience that scared him off it before his eventual return to it. He'd brought a broken paddle, part of the story.

Before introducing the next storyteller, co-host Colin quipped, "Apparently it's a prerequisite to bring your paddle tonight."

The most life-affirming story came from Mike with "The Romance of a Broken Compass," the saga of him and his wife taking a 30-year old canoe down the inter-coastal waterway over 81 days.

He said they did it because it was "absurd fun," despite her grandmother worrying that they'd have to poop in a Cool Whip container along the way.

Wanna hear the most romantic part? They talked non-stop the entire way.

For sheer emotion, Amanda's "Mushy Sand" took the heartfelt prize and was the same story she'd used for her personal essay when she applied to the University of Richmond.

P.S. - It got her a full scholarship.

It was about being at the river with her Mom, brother, his friend and his mother when she was in third grade and realizing that her mother was in love with the woman and the journey she took to work through that.

Daniel from southside got the most laughs with "Destiny Comes When She Pleases" about being at the 42nd Street island and seeing a woman straddling a log between two rocks, presumably to ride it down the river, something they apparently do on southside.

At least that's what he thought until her boyfriend started calling Destiny back. She finished grinding into the tree, convulsed and returned to her boyfriend.

"Let's all stay on the north side of the river," host Colin instructed.

The first day of Fall and a tubing trip as the sun set were the setting for Fieval's story, "Between the Nickel Bridge and Belle Isle," about her ex trying to shore her up as she got tired and scared on the river and why this was a really bad idea.

For the sheer visuals, Charles" "Inappropriate Raft Guide" story, which involved a 500-pound woman,her young son and a raft that flipped as they went over a break in the dam, took the cake.

When they surfaced, Charles saw the kid moving downstream in the raft and the guide straddling the woman, paddling her as if she were a raft.

If you saw that in a movie, you wouldn't believe it could happen.

During intermission, a friend asked if I was going to share a story and I responded with an adamant no.

"You wouldn't?" he asked incredulously. "But you tell stories all the time."

Like this, sure, out into the blogosphere,  but certainly not in front of 110 people.

During the second half, names of eager storytellers were put in the hat and drawn for a chance to share their river tale.

A regular at almost every event with a story for any theme ("I almost didn't put my name in the hat because I feel like I'm an addict for this"), Wendy's involved the role of the river in childhood and contemplation.

Nurse Lilly was the first to invoke the Amazon River and her trips coordinating Patch Adams clown trips there, one of which involved a 70-year old woman who went swimming in the Amazon, got swept away and wound up with splinters in her legs when men dragged her into their canoe to save her.

"I'm really a great swimmer," the 70-year old insisted. "It was the current."

It's always something, isn't it?

The next story was called, "The First Time I Went to a Strip Club" and was being told by a Secretly Y'all virgin who claimed not to know that the stories after intermission had to follow the evening's theme.

His didn't and we had to listen to the saga of his stint with VCU's security detail and a planned trip to a strip club, which he didn't attend because he split his pants at the seam "wide enough to birth a  baby."

You can imagine how awkward this segment of the evening was. And no hook in sight.

Fortunately, redemption came courtesy of Andrew,  a recent addition to the James River Park System's staff who began by commenting on how much Richmond drinks when we're at the river

The park saw 600,000 visitors this season and the staff goes through and sorts recycling from every one of those trash and recycling cans, not a pleasant job.

"Don't bring glass," he said in his sternest voice. "Don't do that!"

He readily admitted his story ended up less what he intended to share and more of a public service announcement to be mindful about taking out whatever you bring to the river.

I thought the same thing when I was at Texas Beach yesterday and saw four glass Mickey beer bottles and a 40-ounce bottle sitting in the sand.

Some people were apparently raised by wolves.

The evening's storytelling closed with Chris, as perennial a storyteller as anyone, with the cautionary tale of an ex-friend he referred to as "Professor Gross" and "Mr. Know It All."

The ex tried to repay Chris' generosity in letting him stay over by making a meal out of seafood from the manager's special section of Community Pride ("the worst grocery store ever"). Because nothing says thanks like two-day old seafood.

By the story's end, the ex friend was serenely swimming away after leaving Chris and a friend trying to recover from an overturned canoe in the river.

He even told us the friend's real name so we could all avoid him, too.

So as usual, we heard some great stories, poignant and funny, cautionary and romantic.

We also heard the bell ring repeatedly on far too many of the storytellers. Time to start playing by the rules, guys.

Don't make me turn this car around.

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