Back in October, I decided to get up on stage and tell one of my favorite Halloween-ish stories. This was for the October edition of True Stories:NSFW, a no-holds-barred storytelling series held in East Nashville. I was a mess. At one point, the sound of my amplified voice unnerved me so badly that Kristen, who runs the event had to get onstage and tell me no one could hear me and I needed to step closer to the mic. My hands shook so badly I could not flip the pages of my story. I was awful and decided performing was not for me. A month later, the creator of the event, Kristen, put out a call for storytellers. November's event was a little over a day away and she needed people. I told her I'd do it if no one else signed up but...
"You're in!" she messaged.
Oh...What have I gotten myself into? For the next day and night, I found the story in my files that best fit the theme and began to practice. By the time I had to get in front of the dreaded mic, I'd nearly memorized it. Not only did this one go over better, I had fun! I signed up for another event the next week, and it got easier. Yay me!
Stories reconnect us with our ability to relate to each other as fully vested people.
The current pop-talk is how we're all connected, we are one, blah blah blah unitycakes. The problem with buying into the collective thing is we then lose sight of individuals. We cease to see and to some extent respect people for who they are. We don't listen or learn as profoundly from the experiences they share. To wit: The snowflakes get lost because we're too enchanted by the snowballs.
Stories take us out of ourselves. We can't enjoy them if we insist on creating our own first-person shooter of each narrative. We have to take in the teller and understand his or her point of view in order to make sense of what they're saying. To attend a storytelling event is to watch people reveal themselves. It is an act of bravery on the part of those who choose to share and step towards bettering ourselves when we listen. You have to allow yourself to think and feel and experience outside of your own skin.
November's TS:NSFW event turned out to be a powerful evening. I met some really great people and heard stories that I am sorry most of you reading this missed. The stories contained a meddling mama and a feat of derring do to avoid explaining What That Man Was Doing In My Apartment, romantic misadventure as someone dated the only sexually inhibited Brazilian woman to register with OKCupid, love with a roller derby diva, and one woman's first experience with BDSM.
I loved all of the stories but I have to admit that the last one, the BDSM piece, was the one I expected to make me uncomfortable. Sexual content doesn't bother me. Given my druthers, I'd just assume everyone do a George Cuckor-like pan to curtains gently billowing at an open window while we draw out own conclusions, but I'm not going to fall over in a dead faint if it gets more explicit than that. One the other hand, violence can send me into another room. I'm not just talking about blood and gore. People hitting each other can make me flinch.
The BDSM story was less about the mechanics and not really so much about the degree of titillation the teller experienced. For her it was an intellectual and emotional journey and she spare nothing in that regard. I was frightened by what I heard and moved by her willingness to take her story where she did. It's not something I would ever try, but it made me see more clearly why someone would choose that path. I'm grateful to her for sharing her story. I'm also grateful to the people in Nashville who host these events. If you're in Nashville, you don't want to miss these gatherings. If you live elsewhere, consider finding out who's telling stories in your city!
Okay, so here is my story, a tale of desire gone off the rails and how a little death onstage helped my friend, Helga, feel much better. I call it:
Desire is a great topic. It drives us to do what we might not do if we thought things through. Desire is often the root cause of chaos and creativity. Desire keeps things interesting.
Desire is what drove a standup comedian in a large city in Tennessee to mercilessly twit my friend – we’ll call her… Helga. Helga was and is very pretty. She’s the model of blonde, Nordic beauty. Blue eyes, almost white hair, perfect figure and great cheekbones. On the night in question, which occurred sometime in the late eighties, she was also broken hearted over her latest romantic disaster, we’ll call him Brian-the-Bastard.
The day this happened, I had planned on going to the local comedy club to cheer for my friend, Kenny, who was going to be playing that night. So I was torn. Be a good friend and shoulder to cry on for Inga? Break my pact with Kenny and miss his show? Maybe I could see the show AND comfort Inga.
I have to admit. Helga was easy to corral into doing what I wanted. She had lost her will to do anything except be gently nudged along like a helium balloon : "I have a studio class. Three hours of naked hippies making minimum wage while we try to draw them and not look at their junk. Come with me” ::sniffle:: "Okay" ::sniffle:: "PeTA is protesting the corn dog bar at Jones Hall. Let's go watch! " And so on.
I gave Kenny a heads up and he promised to bring his best ten minutes. He was determined to get a smile out of Helga. Comedy plus chivalry. It might bring out the best in both of them. What could go wrong? What could go wrong?If you have to ask that question, you haven't thought things through.
We went to the club and were seated at a table in the front of the house, dead center with the stage. As the house lights went down, I saw some of the comedians take quick looks out into the place. I figured they were looking for friends or likely hookups after the show. Kenny saw me and gave me a thumbs up. Yay, Kenny!
The first two comedians were pretty good. One was a smiler. The next one got a few laughs. Then Kenny came out and killed. We’ve known each other since senior year of high school and he’s always been funny, but that night, I think sending him on a mission to be a hero for a pretty girl tripped some switch. He was so good. I was so proud of him.
A few minutes toward the end of his set, I saw someone peeking out from the side of the stage. He was trying and failing to make eye contact with Helga. Over the course of the evening, she'd gotten tipsier and tipsier. So, I was not sure if she really didn't see see him because she was impaired or if she was just not having it because of Brian-the-Bastard.
So the peeky guy started waving at people in the audience and then a second later I saw what looked like a stuffed animal peeping out next to him. People started to giggle at them.
Here’s the thing. I'm a big believer in respecting the people you share a stage with. I also hate it when people mess with my friends. So I made this snap judgement about him. This guy? The one over there sucking attention away from my friend who was having a great night? He’s a throbbing, gnarled, pathetic little scrote troll. I don’t care who what his story was, he upstaged my friend and I don’t like him.
Kenny soldiered though his remaining minutes, thanked everyone as they cheered and laughed, blew a kiss at our table, and left the stage.
Next up was evil little scrote troll. And he was a ventriloquist. The stuffed animal turned out to be his partner.
I hate ventriloquists. To me they rank somewhere between public masturbators and adults who steal foul balls from kids at baseball games.
So Scrote Troll, oh, let’s give him a name. This is getting rude. We’ll call Scrote Troll… Richard ….Rick…Rick Short. So Rick came out and introduced himself then he introduced his little friend, who had the same name as Helga’s most recent ex.
“Hi! I’m Brian.”
Yes, the show business gods were smiling on us that day. Brian focused his beady little stuffy gaze on Helga and proceeded to rattle off every blonde joke ever. Meanwhile, Rick Short was all but undressing Helga with his eyes.
I tried to get his attention. I shook my head and mouthed, “no” and “stop.” “Please, stop.” I got that he thought Helga was pretty. He wanted Helga. He desired Helga. And he saw me declared me the DUFF, for those of you who don't have teenagers, that's the designated ugly fat friend who was trying to block him because I wanted some of that hot puppet action for myself…
Ugh. Give me a moment, please.
Did anyone else…? You know he probably uses voices during, and … ick. Just ick.
So Rick Short and Brian stepped away from the mic and started approaching Helga. And he, well, the puppet and Helga start to argue. I watched a woman who was in the process of getting a smart person degree and two minors in Russian and Japanese argue with a puppet.
Who wasn't so smart? Rick Short saw Helga’s flared nostrils, dilated pupils, and furrowed brow and he seemed to think, “She wants me.” Kenny and I shook our heads at each other. Surely this guy is just being a big tool for laughs.
Brian kept talking to Helga. She told him to go away.
I glared at Rick Short, who shrugged and made a helpless gesture that suggested he had nothing to do with any of this. He was just the guy with his hand up the puppet's butt.
What happened next was such a thing of beauty, it deserved Wide World of Sports slo-mo replay archival hall of fame treatment.
Brian leaned in and demanded a kiss. Helga paused for a moment, looked blearily at Rick, leaned in to Brian and then yanked him off Ricks arm and began to pull him apart. She didn’t scream. She didn’t say anything. She was almost too calm as she removed Brian's head. I think it was at that moment that the Desire Switch in Rick flipped off and he realized that there were other small, soft things belonging to him that were in easy reach of this insane blonde Nordic woman.
He took two slow steps backwards and then bolted toward the stage exit.
Helga lazy wrist-tossed Brian’s head after him and laughed.
Up to now, the audience was quiet. Then they started to laugh and a few people cheered. ::shrug:: It's a tough town.
Then Helga had what I think might have been an Eva Peron moment. She threw Brian’s arms in opposite directions, stood up and pageant waved to everyone as she wobbled toward the door.
I grabbed for my purse and asked to settle our tab, apologizing the whole time because my desire to see someone shred a ventriloquist doll was overcome by my fear this could have negative repercussions for Kenny. After all, he put me and a plus one on the guest list. The guy at the bar told me it was on the house.
Someone tossed Brian's head toward us. I got some applause for catching it.
“Trophy?” I offered it to her.
She took the head, impaled it on a coat hook, turned and waved one more time to her adoring crowd, and lurched out to a standing ovation.
“Come ON!” she yelled from the sidewalk as I said a quick GoodbyeThanks!” to Kenny.
It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last, but it was certainly the most memorable time I saw someone lose their head to desire.
copyright 2015 Jas Faulkner/Zen Dixie