Monday, July 8, 2013

Don't Question Yourself?

Who hasn't had a close call?

I might have had a few, but I sure as hell wasn't getting up on a stage and telling a crowded roomful of strangers about them.

Nope, I was perfectly happy in a second-row seat with a friend at my side for Secretly Y'All, Tell Me a Story, the bi-monthly event that allows me to eavesdrop on the lives of people I don't know.

Tonight's storytellers apparently had loads of friends and it was soon standing room only when the show belatedly began.

Pre-intermission, the stories have all been vetted for their IQ (interesting quotient) and theme-appropriateness, while post-intermission, any Tom, Dick or Harry can put their name in the hat for a chance to share their close call, this month's topic.

A girl with the somewhat unfortunate nickname of Sharky began with her tale, "Puff the Metal Dragon," one that included her Italian father's dreams of her becoming an opera star and ended with her father and Peter of Peter, Paul and Mary scraping her off a sidewalk in Manhattan after she passed out.

As one who fainted as recently as February, I can assure you it takes two people to lift someone who's gone down.

"Almost Firing" from Emily was a saga of working for a crotchety 85-year old and an unfortunate date with her 29-year old coke-sniffing nephew.

The old lady's ignorant assumptions about the Interwebs were hilarious.

Brook's "Cruise Ship" was both hysterical and horrifying; after missing the ferry back to the ship after an excursion to a topless beach, Brook's Dad proved his superior parenting skills by being able to toss his infant up through a porthole on the ship as they tried to catch up with their boat.

That's "Dad of the Year" material right there.

Between listening to the parade of storytellers, I glanced up through the skylights in Balliceaux's ceiling to admire the pale blue sky I could see through it.

Almost 9:00 at night and still plenty of light outside. You gotta love it.

Jimmy called his story "We Didn't Start the Fire but We Did Smash the TV" and it was about how his high school posse wasted many a night tracking down discarded idiot boxes that they then smashed with baseball bats.

Looking around the room during his memory, I saw most of the guys in the room smiling in appreciation at the thought of guys with bats bashing TVs.

As my friend and I agreed, it's difficult to imagine a gang of girls even conceiving of this plan, much less in delighting in it vicariously.

Circus animals run amok pervaded Jeff's "The Elephants are Coming!" about trying to impress the cool girl from high school and instead being knocked into by a camel, only to end up facing a charging zebra.

No high school crush is worth that kind of terror, if you ask me.

Richard's story was called "7-11" but he got a big laugh right off the bat by admitting, "Despite my supple skin and youthful demeanor, I'm actually 46."

Despite his advanced age, he had impressive comedic timing and tossed off one-liners effortlessly.

"I don't know if some of you know this, but back before Richmond had bike lanes and food trucks, it was actually the murder capital of the country."

Ah, yes, memories...

His story of being drunk at 19 and attempting to pass out daffodils to strangers in the Harrison and Grace 7-11 parking lot resulted in a punch in the face, a stab in the heart and a life lesson.

As long as we learned something, the blood was worth it, right Richard?

Spencer closed out the first half of the evening with his story about "Al," a bi-polar anti-hero who self-medicated using only the pharmaceutical manual and a half-retired doctor who had no problem calling in prescriptions from the golf course.

During intermission, an older couple strolled in, the kind (like a train wreck) that you can't not look at.

She had a blond crew cut (with black roots), a white tank top, black bra, black leather shorts and platform shoes on.

He looked like what Elvis what would look like today if he hadn't died on the toilet.

Jet-black hair, muttonchops, white jumpsuit and studded belt, but with everything drooping after almost 80 years of hip-swiveling.

He got in the bathroom line behind me and eventually asked me when the band was starting.

Turns out they'd come for the RVA Big Band, not to be the intermission entertainment, so I assured him they'd be on in half an hour.

I talked to a musician during intermission and she put voice to something I had noted during the first half.

It's that generation-specific habit so many people have of raising their voices at the end of a statement.

So I decided to hike up a mountain?


Where's your conviction, man? Where's your statement of fact, woman?

Why is it okay to make every fact sound like you're not sure you know what you're talking about?

Anyway, I was just glad that someone besides me had noticed what an unfortunate and pervasive verbal tic this is.

During the break, those brave souls (no doubt aided by an hour and a half of drinking) who had a close call to share were invited to put their name in the hat for a chance to be chosen to take the mic.

First called was Ashby for his "My Second Circumcision" story but, alas, he was not in the room.

The crowd clamored to find him because the pretext was too enticing to let go.

We moved on to Joe's "Never Been Born" in the interim, hearing of how his Commonwealth's Attorney father had sat up all night waiting for a criminal named Percy to hunt him down.

Obviously, Percy had not succeeded (he was literally across the street at his girlfriend's house, no doubt taking care of that business before the other) or Joe would not have been standing in front of us tonight.

Ashby had finished feeding his nicotine habit by then and proceeded to go way over the 5-7 minute time limit to tell the painful tale of riding a bike with his brother and almost falling off, a circumstance that may or may not have sheared off his twig berries.

Eventually, he was jumping out of moving cars or throwing up in them, but that's a story for another day.

Liz closed things out with "Taxi Style," a story that would have struck fear into the heart of any parent in the room.

Traveling Europe alone with a backpack, Liz had little success finding a cab or bus once in Croatia to take her to her hostel.

She ends up settling for the offer by an non-English speaker in a company car, only to be terrified as the car is driven way out of town, past all signs of civilization.

Steeling herself to jump out of the car (a recurring them tonight, but then again, if jumping out of a moving vehicle isn't a close call, what is?), she told herself, "Okay, one, two, three, go or they're going to kill me or do other things I want no part of."

This is the part where parents would cringe, I think.

Luckily, they were up to nothing bad and eventually deposited her at her far-flung hostel, located in a remote forest where she arrived relieved and desperately needing wine.

But then, what close call doesn't need a good stiff one by its end?

That's only a metaphor if you want to see it that way.

As always, I delighted in hearing everyone's stories of life gone down a crooked path.

We've all been there.

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