Story Value

random musings and episodes from the life of a 40 something comidienne/corporate refugee/mom - since whatever doesn't kill you provides excellent story value.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

In Which He's Just Not That In To Me

We all remember that first unrequited love. Mine was Stephen Lebay -- a 7th grade hottie. For months I stared at him in home room, imagining what it would be like to be his girlfriend. I would go home and daydream about him while listening to Stevie Nicks belt out "Sarah" in her most excellent gravelly voice on my FM clock radio. I'd just mentally replace "SueB" for all the Sarah parts ... "SueB, you're the poet of my heart -- never change, and don't you ever start ..."

Our young love was one of endless possibility, if only Stephen had an inkling that I was alive. Each morning I would make meticulous preparations to be irresistible. I'd spritz on the Love's Baby Soft, curl my bangs, apply my most delicious flavor of Bonnie Bell lip smacker and don my matching Levi corduroys and tabbed sleeve sparkle shirt that buttoned at the elbows. For added pizzazz, I might even add my piece-de-la resistance ... rainbow "Mork from Ork" suspenders -- Nanoo Nanoo, meowwwww!

I'd make my classroom entrance, dropping my pencil near his desk or finding an excuse to ask some ridiculous question about homework or bus schedules. Stephen was always pleasant and even made eye-contact (rare in 7th grade boys). Clearly he was smitten with me. He just didn't know how to make the first move.

I was sympathetic to his awkwardness and so concocted elaborate plots and situations to make it easier for him to ask me out. I learned his class schedule and placed myself in his path wherever possible. I executed the umpteen chess moves to be seated at his lunch table and I schemed to bump into him outside of school -- not easy.

Stephen lived on the opposite side of town from me, and so one day I hatched a plan with my friend Laurie Peterson to "study at the town library". Instead, we took Stephen's bus to his neighborhood. She and I walked his block about 40 times before he rode by on his bike and said hello.

"What are you guys doing here?" he asked.

Spying a house for sale, I answered "Oh, my parents are thinking of buying that house and I just wanted to come by to check it out myself."

"Really?" he asked.

"Well, um yeah." I replied, chewing on my hair.

"Oh, how big is your family?" He asked. "That house only has one bedroom and won't sell."

"Oh yeah totally, I know." I said "We're totally planning to add on."

"Ok, good luck!" he called as he sped off. I felt like a jerk.

About three weeks later, my friend Laurie decided we should take the direct route and offered to pass Stephen a note, telling him how much I liked him. Her plan was to pass this to him the day before Christmas recess.

On the big day, I was giddy with nerves and anticipation. Laurie and Stephen shared a class right before lunch and I raced to meet Laurie afterwards at my locker.

"What did he say?!" I squealed, getting ready for the best Christmas ever.

"Um, he likes you ... just not that way. He likes you more like just a friend." Her reply sank in my stomach like a cold stone.

"Oh, OK." I said, at a loss for words since "whatever" wouldn't be invented for another decade.

In that moment, as I was marinating in disappointment, I realized (at some level) that I knew Stephen wasn't into me all along. I just hoped that if I made myself fetching enough, available enough, if I executed all the right text book moves -- I could create interest and affection where there was none. I thought that with enough hard work, creativity and sparkly lip gloss I might be able to control the outcome. Wrong. Wanting it does not always make it so.

It's a lesson worth remembering 27 years later. Last night I auditioned for America's Funniest Mom for the 5th time in 3 states over 3 years. I looked my best, had great material and performed a really solid set. The audience loved me. The producer could not have cared less. As he made his way through the crowd to tap a few of the moms for post-set interviews, he gave me only a passing glance; looking through me with that vague unseeing stare I remember too well from 7th grade. I had that same cold stone in the belly feeling. I have been here before.

All the hours I have spent strategizing hilarious parenting jokes, clever essay answers, wardrobe, timing and even peeling with a banana with my feet don't matter. I am just not what he is looking for. This is another outcome I can't control with preparation and hard work. It's time to move on before I just seem (more) pathetic.

I know I'll get over it, but today is my day to feel rotten. Right now I'm going to go think about people who have no legs so I can stir up some gratitude. That and I'm going to go buy "Sarah" on I-Tunes. Maybe I'll find Stevie Nicks doesn't have a gravelly voice at all & it was just my clock radio all the time. You learn something every day -- except on the days you don't.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

In which I am longing for Freaky Friday

It is Tuesday here in Boston ... which is Wednesday afternoon in Auckland. Hey! It is a dreary, grey, dismal November afternoon; dark before 4:30. I am sitting atop the 34th floor of the Prudential Tower, looking out upon a sea of greige office cubes. You can't even see through the windows, as we're locked inside a battleship grey fog bank. The office is reflected in the windows, giving the space an eerie, fluorescent-lit sheen. Most folks have gone home, but a few sit fixed in their 6 x 6 pens, tapping away at Excel spreadsheets, sending urgent requests for budget reviews, and scheduling umpteen Sarbanes Oxley compliance procedure meetings.

I'm not a prisoner, per-se. They do say, however "if you marry for money -- you earn it." The same goes for work. In my experience, for any high-paying office job, you often have to check your creativity, your personality and sometimes your soul at the door. No, I'm not a prisoner -- I'm a corporate call girl. No kissing and leave the money on the dresser please.

Some days, I am satisfied with the exchange. Today however, I am longing for some soul release. I open several computer Windows and surreptitiously surf the net. My goodness, how did we waste time at work before the Internet? I suppose we talked to each other. So glad that's out of vogue.

I pop over to my good friend Violet's blog for escape -- where I find plenty.
I have known Violet since we met in French class detention in 1981. There she was, dressed in a whale belt, kelly-green corduroy skirt, and 5 layers of top (turtle neck, polo shirt, 2 oxford button-downs and a Fair Isle sweater wrapped jauntily around her shoulders). Hey, we were having an energy crisis. Violet wasn't there "doing-time," she was there voluntarily showcasing her ability to conjugate obscure French verbs.
I, in contrast, was there because I had chosen to decorate my French instructor's motorcycle with floral garlands and tinsel. When he said he was a "flower-child" I took him at his word. I was such a 9th grade bad-ass that my belt featured kissing terriers instead of whales and I brazenly opted for only 3 layers of shirt.

Surprisingly enough, Violet and I were united by a love of mischief and she gave up her spot as teacher's pet to become ensnared in a crime caper of epic proportions. As partners in crime we became life-long friends. That is a story for another day.

Fast-forward 25 years ... and the tables have turned. Violet is the antithesis of the goody-two-shoes I met in 1981. She is the anti-me, living a free-spirited life onboard a 45 foot sailboat in Southern California. She's a rock n' roll goddess, artist, writer, actress and amazing tarot-card reader. She has a wild cast of colorful characters in her life who are engaged in a never-ending series of episodes worthy of their own cable channel. For me, she's the road not taken -- my "what if" personified.

We talk -- never often enough. 3,000 miles, adult responsibilities, 2 children (mine), partners and husbands, jobs and lack of funds and time conspire to keep us apart more than I'd like.

So many days I really miss her. I miss her ability to be totally in the moment, ambling down the street, taking in every sight, sound and smell to see what strikes her fancy. I miss talking about anything and everything from the philosophical to the ridiculous. Being with her makes me more myself. It brings out the best in me, in terms of openness, creativity and just being (vs. constantly doing). Visiting her is like visiting Technicolor Oz.

I wouldn't trade our lives -- but I certainly miss having her as more of a regular fixture in my own. Reading about Violet's adventures and her hyper-intelligent, keen and hilarious stories was like a cool drink of water for me today.

Today I am wishing I were her for just one day. I imagine waking up to sun and salt air on the boat and zipping around the coast taking in music, art and more than a few exotic cocktails. I am totally romanticizing her life, but that's he fun of it. My creative soul has been feeling parched and I would love to see the world through her eyes for a little while just to re-juice my batteries.

Even though we're often oddly in-synch ... I doubt she's having the same thoughts today. If so ... there's a 1/2 completed spreadsheet, an ergonomic chair, and 2 hungry boys looking for dinner here waiting for you sistah - Rock on!

Monday, November 27, 2006

A few things to be thankful for

On the heels of Turkey Day weekend, I couldn't help but to consider a few things that sparked my gratitude over the holiday. I won't be all "Andy Rooney" about them all but:

1) I'm thankful I don't have a camera phone (or, if I do, that I am unaware of its existence). Believe you me, I am ALL for convenience and the ability to snap hilarious instant photos. I am a life-long fan of the Polaroid instamatic. I do, however, think we were a little choosier about our pictures when there was film involved. As I was forging my way through an endless human ocean in New York City over the weekend, I was struck by the number of people who just randomly thrust their camera phones through the crowd in every random direction -- snapping photos of store displays, steaming man-hole covers, hot dog carts, shopping bags ... you name it. I might not have noticed, except the camera phone frenzy presents a new etiquette dilemma. Ordinarily, I would wait to cross in-front of someone snapping a photo or would, at the very least, make an effort to duck, bob, or weave to avoid being in their picture. However, when you're on a sidewalk crammed to the gills with people and 98.3% of them are constantly waving their arms in wanton directions to snap pictures at every conceivable angle, you can't help but to be part of the action. Look for my ear, neck and ankle on the internet. I have to believe those shots would be slightly more interesting than the man-hole cover.

2) I am thankful for traditions. As goofy as they sometimes are ... and as much as we sometimes rail against our being required to be someplace we'd rather not be, doing something we hope no one sees us doing, occasionally with some people we would ordinarily cross the street to avoid ... Traditions are the glue that holds family and friends together.
We all need a sense of what is expected from us and how we are "to play the game." When you have traditions - especially long standing ones - everybody knows how to be with one another, and that is priceless. In my own family-of-origin, the traditions died out with my grandmother. Now every family member is cast out in their own orbit. These days we're so respectful of one another's boundaries and independence that, without the expectations of a strong family matriarch/patriarch or a brave soul willing to be the emotional family center -- we just carry on in our own way, wistfully wishing "someone" would bring us all back together.
Fortunately, the family I married into is long on tradition. I see how much that anchors the family and how much my own children love being a part of it all. I can't wait to be a bossy old matriarch myself and making up my own bizarre traditions. Its time for the flaming breakfast whiskey shots and then ... the traditional running of the monkeys!!! Bring it on.

3) I'm thankful for my children pointing out what has become invisible to me. Over the weekend, we took the kids and cousins to a theme restaurant in NY. (For those of you contemplating theme restaurants; a word of advice -- "don't") This particular restaurant was a haunted mansion with all sorts of interactive creatures -- mummies, The great and mighty Zeus, a Sphinx, a Werewolf, etc. Who wouldn't want their $ chicken nuggets served by a Werewolf, really? Burger King, take note.

This dining experience was definitely oriented to the under 10 set. We also paid a $/pap "entertainment charge" to see actors put on little skits throughout the meal.

I didn't pay much note to the performances, but my 7 year old was completely offended. He turned to me in moral outrage -- "Mom, they said the "c word", the "s word" and were insulting people!" Granted, the "c word" is "crap" and the "s word" is "stupid" ... But there they were -- calling the audience members "stupid morons" calling one another "ugly" yelling "what is all this crap?! and commanding everyone to worship Zeus instead of Santa because he has "zits on his back."

Not my bag, but I thought the kids would enjoy it. I should have given them more credit. You know what - that is just genuinely unpleasant & not redeemingly funny or clever enough to warrant the ugliness. It just goes to show you that even kids know entertainment value. I'm thankful they won't be asking to go there again :) Not having to be the bad guy ... priceless.

Another Thanksgiving under (and over the belt) :)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Kramer's a racist - Not that there's anything wrong with that ...

Well ... of course there's lots wrong with that. And how ironic (in more than an Alanis Morrissette kind of way) that less than 24 hrs after my post about being a squeaky-clean wussy comic ...the news shows are filled with cautionary tales about a comic who crossed the line. Between Michael Richards' awful rant, John Kerry's joke that wasn't and Studio 60's plot implosion... November has been a tough month for comedy.

Forgive my lengthy diatribe on this topic ... it's so close to home that I can't help but speak my virtual mind.

I saw the actual rant on You Tube (link above) and I watched the bizarre and addled apology on Letterman. I can't help but feel bad for Michael Richards. I think he honestly shocked himself with what came out of his mouth. I don't know that he even knew he had all that hatred in there.

We all have our "stuff" -- biases and prejudices formed by a combination of ignorance, fear and negative experience. More often than not, we keep this stuff bottled up inside and deny it exists.Usually, we're just highly-evolved enough to realize these feelings (irrational or not) are inappropriate and we keep control of our impulses rather than rant or act out. I'd like to meet the person who is truly unbiased down to the core -- I doubt they exist.

Our dirty little biases stay tucked away deep inside our subconscious until something potent -- like rage (or alcohol) triggers what we don't even consciously know is there. If we're lucky, our rant happens in an acceptable context -- with close or like-minded friends or in private.

These biases and rage triggers are even sometimes put to "constructive" use. Think about any major military action -- that's when racism and bias are in vogue (locally if not globally). Watch footage from Iraq - our soldiers are make tons of racial, cultural and ethnic slurs in the name of attacking the enemy. If those same soldiers made those same comments here at home & out of uniform -- we'd be horrified. Because they are under duress, and vulnerable in the middle of conflict - it becomes acceptable & even desirable to objectify the enemy and attack. Wonder how those poor folks are going to switch off that trigger when they come home?

I don't think Michael Richards was doing mortal combat on the stage of The Laugh Factory. But, as a comic, I know he was vulnerable out there and the hecklers were messing with his head. Public speaking (and mortification during speaking) is a fear worse than death for many -- even seasoned comics.
Those hecklers got to him on stage & his primal "fight or flight" brain went into a rage. Michael's brain reacted with the words that would be most powerful and defeating to the hecklers.
He lost control, went way over the line and -- unfortunately -- he did it in a room full of people he was supposed to entertain.

Is it acceptable?- No. Did the Hecklers have it coming ?- No. There were about 200 better ways to handle and defuse that situation. Is Michael Richards a secret racist and awful human being that hates African Americans? Probably not. Its always a lot more complicated than that.

You watch him on Letterman and he's obviously rattled by the whole experience. He hasn't processed this or gotten a handle on his reactions. His entertainment career is going to be seriously compromised -- especially on the heels of Gibson. No more lovable, insane Kramer. His punishment will be the loss of his career -- we have no tolerance of this behavior in comedians ... which is also ironic, because comics are usually the only ones allowed to speak the unspeakable.

Everyone is morally outraged, but I think this raises some interesting issues. Its easy to be your best self when things are going well -- but under pressure and extreme stress - what seeps out? What do we each have there deep inside? We're all human and all flawed and shouldn't really forget that.

I recently saw Crash - which was a phenomenal movie about race and the complexities we all have as human beings. Our morals and values are sometimes relative to our situation and circumstances. I don't think any of this excuses Michael Richards ... but I think if we were all honest -we'd be a little more compassionate.

I don't think his behavior is admirable or excusable -- I do think it's explainable and ultimately forgivable.

I have never been heckled ... but I am beginning to think my probable reaction of bursting into tears and running away from the stage might be a preferable YouTube clip.

Here endeth my dissertation.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A wussy says what?

Who you callin' a wussy?! That'd be me -- only because I'm too chicken to call my self a ussy with "p." That's right, and I nearly blushed as I typed that.

I am not de-pressed ... I'm re-pressed - extra starch please ... and I'm finally full-on ready to accept my uptightness. This is an amusing attribute for a stand-up comedienne. Maybe I could get on stage & start a bunch of jokes and then stop short of the punch line ... Substituting "well .. you know" with a wink.

It's been an interesting journey, developing my comedic voice, point-of-view and stage personality. I spend many, many nights in the back of dark, seedy barrooms standing elbow-to-elbow with a gaggle of 20-something boys who do very dark, twisted, raw material. I stand in the back, laughing until I snort out loud (and sometimes pee a little) at their filthy, disgusting, funny as H.E.- double carrot-sticks jokes. Last summer, I went to see "The Aristocrats" - Penn & Teller's movie about the dirtiest joke ever told. I sat in the theater laughing my tushie off at stuff that would make a depraved pimp wince.

I don't say this defensively, as much as with genuine curiosity. I don't think I'm a prude -- just inhibited. My comedy type must be AB positive or whatever the blood-type is for "Universal Recipient" ... I'm just a more restrictive comedy donor.

I don't work dirty. I don't swear in my act. Some jokes are suggestive but never raw. The odd thing is - I don't consciously edit myself .... writing jokes that I then kill as "too nasty" of off-color. I just don't think that way. I haven't thought of my material as playing-it-safe or felt that I wasn't taking big enough risks.

Some other comics ask if I keep my material clean to get more lucrative corporate gigs. Nope. I would love some corporate gigs -- not just because they are more lucrative, but because I survived the corporate world for nearly 2 decades ... and that's where I get some of my best material. The bar-room crowd doesn't always get the cube-as-veal pen analogy -- but the veal would.

On Saturday night, a comedy friend of mine wrote me a new routine-closing bit that called back to another joke of mine. He nearly wet himself with laughter because he thought that if I went raunchy on this last line, it would kill the audience because it was so totally unexpected. I gave it a shot and it did well ... but I felt kind of like a fraud.

My buddy thought I was a little too apprehensive with the line. Maybe. I don't know. Half of me wonders what kind of state I would have to be in to write totally uninhibited material ... the other half realizes that this WASPy suburban mom ain't gonna come up with a Dave Chappelle or Sarah Silverman set. I will appreciate both but -- I just gotta be me ... even if I am too "Leave It To Beaver" for some.
Heh, heh, heh ... she said Beaver ... heh, heh.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Shhhh "it's" in the garage

When my kids ask me -- I can hold my hand to heart and say "I never, ever bought drugs." That either makes me REALLY virtuous ... or a total mooch. Since I don't want to jeopardize any future opportunity of becoming town dog-catcher, I'll leave you to guess.

Yet, I now possess something that would make a Glaucoma patient happier than a Thanksgiving Day Sale at Lens Crafters.

You see, my friend Nila moved back to Singapore and didn't want to carry anything along that might harm her immigration status.

I found her giggling uproariously behind a tree as she enjoyed a last little bit of Americana at her farewell party. She stumbled forward to give me a big good-bye hug and thrust the crumpled Gap bag into my arms.

"Oh my God, I can't bring this back to Asia ... give it a good home!"

Never one to turn away orphans, I eagerly adopted Nila's cast-off.

We sped home to relieve the sitter ... before I had to pay her in empties, and I tucked my new charge safely into a cabinet in the garage. I peeked in once before closing the door and the scent brought back hilarious sense memories. I snickered in the dark garage and then skipped upstairs with a new bounce in my step.

"It" has been with us now for two months and I haven't paid a single visit. Not that I don't think about it often.

Believe you me, I am no model of self-restraint, I have just been enjoying "It" differently. Just like vacation brochures offer the thrill of glorious possibility that is often better than the actual event -- my little cabinet friend has become "mother's little helper" just by being there.

On those days nothing goes right and the children are revolting -- I'll look at my husband with a conspiratorial smirk and say "I'm going downstairs ... heh-heh-heh."

Bad day at the office and I'll throw out ... "Time for me to go clean the garage ... boooh yeah!!!"

It makes me feel all tingly just thinking about it. If I actually partook .... then it would end with the same disappointing thud you get when you open your last Christmas present.

Its irreplaceable. I mean, I have no idea where I could ever get more once it was gone. OK, that part is a lie -- but I'd probably have to pay for it, and I'm not that kind of girl. I have principles to uphold.

Lately however, my double-stuffed life is pushing me closer to shoving my face in that plastic bag until I pass out.

Last night as the phone rang off the hook and the kids bounced off the walls ... I yelled "No Woman No Cry, Mon!" at my husband and told him I was garage-bound for real.

"And what makes you think it's still there?!" He yelled back.

I stared at him with saucer eyes and stumbled to the couch. That is a possibility too awful to contemplate. And this Buffalo Soldier is not going to look.