Tell me a story
Thanks to Mom and the ritual of bedtime storytelling, one of my earliest recollections is drifting off to sleep hearing “Charlotte’s Web” read aloud, chapter by chapter, and the building excitement anticipating how the story might unfold. I didn’t know it then, but those stories would become the building blocks of a lifelong passion for the spoken word. These days, of course, I make a living (of sorts) telling true stories about the world that I inhabit here in the Upper Delaware River region, with my trusty sidekick (Dharma the Wonder Dog), who often provides fodder for the next chapter of my moderately interesting life.
I’ve even been known to regale a small crowd with some of those stories without the assistance of a keyboard or paper, by speaking extempore, with little or no preparation—flying (as they say) by the seat of my pants. “Oh! You should do stand-up,” I’ve heard on occasion, or “When are you going to do a one-man show?” which is flattering and frightening all at once.
In fact, after much cajoling, I did do an evening of unscripted short stories a few years ago, which went over pretty well and led to more questions. “Have you heard of “The Moth?” folks often ask. “You remind me of them.” Having heard that on multiple occasions, one would think that my interest would be piqued enough to Google the group, but no… I’m stupid that way. Finally, while actively in the throes of planning another evening of public storytelling, (stay tuned), “The Moth” flew into town.
The town was Hurleyville, NY and the venue was the incredible Hurleyville Arts Centre, which has been on my must-see radar for over a year. “The Moth” is a non-profit group based in New York City “dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling,” I read online. “The organization presents a wide range of theme-based storytelling events across the country, often featuring prominent literary and cultural personalities.” That list includes actress Molly Ringwald, author Salmon Rushdie, activist Al Sharpton and musician Moby. “What a roster!” I wheezed, in the general direction of the dog. Unsure why anyone would lump me into a group like that, I read on, scanning a list of unfamiliar names as well. Among those names were the three storytellers on the bill at the Arts Centre: Adam (the nerd) Wade, Peter (the stoner) Aguero and Ophira (the magnificent) Eisenberg.
The show was beyond sold-out and there was a waiting list at the door, but the amazing staff was expecting Dharma, and we were ushered into the stunning theatre before the general public. Feeling special, I took my seat and showed off. “That’s right,” I said to no one in particular. “I’m special, uh huh.” As the audience filtered in, I saw many familiar faces, and as the lights dimmed, the storytellers entered, beginning the evening with light repartee. “Since we’re starting a little late,” Aguero announced, “the cool folks at “The Pickled Owl” have told us they will be staying open after the show, so go across the street and support local.” Only in the Catskills. The program of short stories, built on the theme “Resilience,” consisted of two acts, the first more lighthearted, the second delving a bit deeper into the psyches of the performers themselves. Each was expertly crafted, laced with humor and pathos and delivered (IMHO) with such style and panache that I was dumbstruck—no mean feat.
“When we are all in a room together,” Aguero said as the others nodded in agreement, “and not connected to the Internet, it’s more immediate and becomes a shared experience.” As Eisenberg shared her hilarious tale of losing a finger tip to a meat grinder, I gasped and took note, since my own story of cutting off a digit was on the docket for February, and I was convinced that someone would accuse me of plagiarizing. So (argh) back to the drawing board for me. Each of the three had a unique perspective, and rapt with attention, I was sorry to see the evening draw to a close. During the “meet and greet” after the show, I caught Eisenberg and wailed about my missing finger and (now) missing story. “What are the odds?” she laughed, petting the dog and forgetting my name. “We should go on the road together.”
“I wish” I mused, massaging my once-severed finger. “Maybe I should stalk her. It’s been a while since anyone took out a restraining order against me.” Learning that “The Moth” was inspired by novelist George Dawes Greene, who wanted to recreate “the feeling of sultry summer evenings in Georgia, when moths were attracted to the porch light, where he and friends gathered to spin tales,” I drifted away from Hurleyville lost in thought. Aguero’s description of his childhood home (“an albatross of a house, built on a foundation of terrible memories”) still haunts, inspiring me to continue telling my own stories, drawn to this group, like a moth to the flame.
For more on the venue, visit www.hurleyvilleartscentre.org. For more on “The Moth” use “The Google,” as Mom would say.