I don’t know whether to give a shout out to Wally Lamb or Spandau Ballet (I think they were first) but this much is true: I am now officially a Moth Addict.
I went again, last night to the event at Housing Works on Crosby Street. After the excitement of last week’s performance, I came home and Googled The Moth to find out when I could do it again, and found out I only had a week to prepare. The theme was listed as “Summer Of Love,” so I really couldn’t use the same story I used last week, which is funny but true. That’s what the guy up on stage said last week, the story has to have a beginning, middle, and end, and it has to be true. But so many of the stories that were told were so heavily embellished and worked on that at least for me I found it hard to believe they were true.
So I thought of that, making something up; but I already know I’m not good at making things up, I had a friend who once told me I was a terrible liar “I can always see right through you, it’s pathetic” he’d said. So I have to stick to the truth, rather than risk sounding pathetic.
Not that the people telling the stories were pathetic, most were very funny indeed, but I thought the purpose of The Moth was to tell a story, not use the stage as a proving ground for stand-up comedy.
Anyway, yesterday I got up early and before I got lost in the world of facebook, on line shopping and looking at websites that may be harmful to my computer I wrote out the story I was going to tell, the story of my summer of love; 1972, when I fell in love for the first time. I wrote it and rehearsed it and ran out to buy a pair of brand new sneakers to wear and came back and rehearsed it some more. Then I left early for Crosby Street because I know the Bookstore is a small venue and I wanted to at least get a seat this time. My friend Lexie was coming to support me, and that was great, as I noticed last week that half of the people that went up on stage were alone, and I didn’t want to be one of those people. So I saved a place in line for Lexie, who always shows up at the last minute with a smile on her face and love in her heart.
When they started the MC announced that “Summer Of Love” was too restrictive, and they’d opened it up to just “summer,” and people started telling all kinds of crazy stories that just happened to have happened in the summer. There were a lot of laughs, and I started getting anxious about my story, which rather than being funny is a sad, rather poignant story of young love. I started debating with myself if I should go to my Nixon story, after all this was a different crowd and it felt really good to hear the people laughing last week; and besides, the Nixon story did actually happen in the summer.
My stomach churned and I asked Lexie, who read the story (I had the print-out in my pocket) and she said, “Tell the love story.”
Two of the best Moth stories I’ve ever heard were not funny, they were moving. One was told by an ex-NYPD detective, about the mother of a dead criminal who has no pictures of him and wants his mug shot as a memento, and one is by my wife’s boss, Andrew Solomon, about going to Afghanistan and talking to musicians who were not allowed to make music for the time the Taliban was in power. It’s easy to make people laugh, you make funny voices and say outrageous things; but it is much, much harder to make people cry or reach into their well protected emotions for a visceral reaction.
At points I wanted to stand up and shout out “But is it true?” If I did that, I stood the risk of ending up like my friend Andy Kessler, rest his soul; who was interviewed by New York magazine a few years ago and just complained about how kids now days just are “Doing it all wrong.” I loved Andy, and there was nothing I could do to assuage his (sometimes) surly disposition, but I at least could make him laugh and cry on occasion.
So, I kept my mouth shut and waited, and by the ninth person, I figured I wasn’t going up anyway, and relaxed. Then the guy called the last name and it was me. So I went up there and told the truth.
There was very little laughter, and a big gasp at the punch line, where my girlfriend’s mother told me she’d taken her to the gynecologist to get fitted for a diaphragm just before she left for college, but I got really good applause at the end, and a high score (9.3, 9.6, 8.0), and got lots of high fives and whispers of “Very moving story,” all from women, but it felt very good indeed to stick to the truth.