The theme was “Mama Rules.” My mother died a long time ago and my memory of good stories about her is fuzzy at best, so I wasn’t even planning on going. But it was close, I looked it up and the event was going to be at the Museum of the Bronx, just a short bus ride away. I told Danusia about it but lamented I didn’t have a good mother story.
But she reminded me of a story I have about a mother, it doesn’t necessarily have to be about your own mom. It’s a pretty dark story, and it was certainly going to be different than most of the paeans to mom of mom-child conflicts or funny moms that were sure to be up on stage.
The thing I was counting on was that a lot of Moth regulars were not going to make the trek up to the Bronx, so there wouldn’t be a huge crowd or a lot of people putting their name in the shopping bag. That’s right, they use a canvas shopping bag that says “The Moth” on it to pick the names out of.
The quality of the story telling might also not be as polished as downtown, I was counting on a win. Danusia was certain I had a killer of a story.
As we were getting dressed for the bus ride across the river I remembered something- Yankee Stadium. Was there a Yankee game tonight? Because if there was, it was going to take the bus a couple of hours to cross the Macombs Dam Bridge.
I looked on line, and sure enough, game time was 7:05 PM at the Stadium. Damn.
“Change of plans, honey, we’re taking the D train. According to Google maps the D train would put us within three blocks of the Bronx museum. That was if it were running local, which it wasn’t. But it would leave us where the bus would have left us.
At any rate, we made it to 161st street on a D packed with Yankee fans on their way to the game. We made 15 minutes early. At least we didn’t have to wait in a line around the block to get seats, there were going to be seats for everyone.
While we stood in line I noticed a young woman talking loudly to a couple of friends, and she looked familiar.
“Jackie?” I asked.
“Oh my god, Xavier!”
Jackie and I were in a non-fiction writing class together a few years ago.
“Are you reading?” She asked.
“Telling,” I said. “You don’t read at the Moth, you tell.”
“Whatever. You know what I mean.”
I could tell by the creased piece of paper in her hand she was putting her name in. I used to do that, bring my story printed out and read it over and over trying to memorize it. But you really can’t do that; the crowd is just way too distracting. If I don’t know the story and how I’m going to tell it by the time I get to the door I should just go home.
We were both excited. The room fit a few hundred people and every seat was taken. I showed Jackie the ropes and we filled our releases out and put them in the bag. Danusia is friends with the host, Peter Aguero, and went to chat with him. Peter doesn’t remember, but he was hosting the very first time I did a Moth and encouraged me to come back.
“That was a great story,” he said to me after that show. “You should come back.”
And come back I have. This would be the seventh time I was putting my name in the bag, and I’ve gotten picked 4 times already.
The first person up was a forty something Asian woman who did a sort of stand-up comedy take on her mom taking her to a Ferdinand Marcos rally where they were almost trampled.
The second person was a young girl who announced she was “15 and very scared.”
There was a thunderous round of applause and after hearing that, I leaned over to Danusia and said, “She just won the slam.” She got a 9.2, a 9.5 and a 9.7. She was a tough act to follow.
There were three more unmemorable stories after her, two men and another woman. Every time someone reached into the bag for the next storyteller my heart and teeth clenched up, I’ll never get used to that feeling.
The break came and I chatted with Jackie and went to the bathroom.
Jackie is a big girl that wrote a lot about fat camp and dieting when we were in class together. She’s very smart and funny and her stories were funny, so I knew she’d do OK if called.
That’s exactly what happened after the break, she was the first one called.
She was pretty funny, telling of a contentious family dinner in L.A. with lots of cursing and self-deprecation. We all laughed, she has a great delivery. When she was done, she picked a name out of the bag, and when Peter read it out, it was mine.
I thought that was pretty remarkable coincidence, two people who knew each other and hadn’t seen each other in a few years follow one another on stage randomly.
I went up to tell my story, and the thing about my story is that it’s an addiction story that involves an abandoned building and where the mother in the story isn’t introduced until the last minute.
I got a big gasp out of the audience when I said the punch line. I’ll take a gasp over a laugh any day. It’s not too hard to make people laugh, but to make them gasp…
I was in second place now with an 8.3, 9.3 and 9.7.
I was happy to come in second, but then a woman went up and told a very smooth story with a sort of raucous punch line and she knocked me out of the second place box. Oh well.
But I felt good, Peter told me it was a great story and told the audience that he liked how I structured it- everyone was wondering wheat my story had to do with motherhood when I let them have it.
On our way home we had to ride the D train with all of the drunk assholes from the Yankee game that was just letting out. While we were waiting for the train we ran into the woman who’d topped me and we started chatting with her and her friend. She was very nice and told me she liked my story too. A couple of people were on the platform were also at the show and they congratulated the both of us. That felt good. Hearing that gasp at the right moment felt even better.