A little over a year ago I went to my first MOTH, my friend Lexie asked me to go with her and told me what it was all about. She told me they loved drug stories, and I’ve got plenty of those.
On a lark I dug out a short story I’d written sometime ago, and read it on the way to the Bell House in Brooklyn, where the event was being held.
I put my name in the hat, or paper bag rather; they use some kind of shopping bag to draw the names out of. After I did this I turned to walk away from the stage and collided with a young woman holding a large cup of beer that was approaching the stage to sign up. The beer spilled all over her and there was nothing I could do about it. She glared at me so angrily that I slunk away as fast as possible without offering to replace the beer.
To my surprise and shock my name was called right after the intermission, and I had to go up on stage in front of 600 or so strangers and tell the story. When I was done I was so nervous I started to bolt off the stage and the MC, Peter Aguero, had to call me back to pick a name out of the bag, the way it’s done. You can always tell first time storytellers by the way they fly off the stage when they finish.
The crowd laughed through my whole story, I had to wait for the laughter to die down before saying the next line and I hoped I wouldn’t go over the 5-minute time limit. No need to worry, I told the story so fast and breathlessly I was off before the first toot of the oboe they were using to let you know the time is up.
I told my wife, the lovely Danusia about it, calling her on the phone from the bathroom after I got off the stage, and she said: “that’s fantastic!”
Of course after hearing of my experience she wanted to try it, after all she is an actress, writer, and storyteller and I told her she’d be great.
I went back for a second helping a month later, this time at Housing Works Bookstore on Crosby Street. David Byrne was in the audience and I came in second place, not too shabby for a novice. There is a whole subculture of MOTH storytellers and they all know each other.
Danusia went to her first one at Housing works shortly after, on what she described as the “hottest day of the year.” She came in third that night.
I went back to the Bell House a couple of weeks later, on my birthday, and went up again. I tied for second place with my friend Dennis the fireman, whom I’d invited. It was crazy that we both got picked; some people go all the time and never get picked.
That was the last time I went, work and themes I could find no story for kept me away.
Danusia went again in the winter (on the coldest day of the year) and won. She was going to a grand slam.
The Grand Slam was last night, and Danusia knocked the ball out of the park.
It took work, she’s been rehearsing the story and re-writing for the past two weeks, and I had to hear many versions of the story, but all the work and re-writing was worth it.
Danusia was up against some stiff competition, out of the ten story tellers six had already participated in Grand Slams and one of them, Mathew Dicks I believe, has already has already won one.
Mathew went up first, usually the host (who was Dan Kennedy last night) draws the first name and then the storyteller up on stage draws the next name out of the bag. For The Grand Slam each storyteller picked a number from the bag at the sound check and that was their position.
Position is very important at the MOTH, being first is the worst spot. The judges don’t want to give too high a score right off the bat, so unless you have a story that absolutely will blow everybody away first is bad. But Mathew is a wonderful storyteller, very smooth and polished with a poignant but funny tale about being a schoolteacher and reaching unreachable kids. He set the bar high.
Danusia was in the sixth spot, right after the intermission and she was so nervous she got up to go to the bathroom during the break and I started getting antsy when I saw Dan and the producer (Jennifer Hixton) getting ready to take the stage and Danusia was still upstairs in the Green room. Which BTW wasn’t even green and was hot as hell.
I needn’t have worried, the second half started out like the first half, with a violinist, a talented young woman named Mazz Swift played a little something before Dan took the mike. Danusia was back in her seat just in time. She actually opted to stand, ready to take the stage and one of her friends sat in her vacant seat.
Danusia told the story of the first and only time she served on a jury for a criminal trial, and it starts out funny, with her describing how she tried to get out of the commitment and failing, the crowd couldn’t stop laughing, more laughter than anyone else had elicited all night, and there were some pretty funny people up there.
I think it has a lot to do with her delivery and personality, as sort of wide-eyed innocence wrapped in matter-of-fact rebellion.
Then suddenly the story changes, when she realizes she is not who she thinks she is and has to think twice about a decision that could put someone behind bars.
With tears in her eyes and a quavering voice, she brought the story home with the acceptance of the others on the jury whom she’d judged so wrongly. The applause was thunderous, and she topped all of the scores so far.
Like I said, the competition was fierce and the remaining storytellers, especially a nice Orthodox Jewish guy named Eli Reiter (who is actively looking for a nice Jewish girl) who told a story about a close and loving relationship with a Palestinian fellow whom he worked with. It was touching and sad given the current political climate in the Middle East.
The first time I went my friend Lexie asked me if I was nervous.
“Of course not,” I lied.
“Well I’m nervous for you,” she said. And last night I was nervous for Danusia. Every time another storyteller’s scores came up I prayed they wouldn’t beat Danusia, and I kept a running tally (you can see the scores written on a big sheet of paper on an easel up on stage) and the only one who came seriously close was Eli.
At the end Dan Kennedy was reading prompts and keeping the crowd occupied while Jennifer tallied up the scores, and I watched her hands intently. When I saw her draw a heart in front of Danusia’s name I was able to let my breath out. She signaled Dan and tapped on Danusia’s name.
The room went wild with applause, and I’d never felt so relived in my life. It is a moment to remember.
Now it’s my turn to work hard and win one of these slams myself. In the beginning of the show Dan talked about how it’s not about winning, it’s about WINNING! And the only way to win is the way Danusia did it, with hard work and perseverance.