I give a little to you, I give a little to him, I give a little to her

I had two encounters with comical anger on Saturday:

Item the First: chauffeuring Liz B. around on Saturday, I thought I’d lucked into a parking lot on the far end of Newbury St near the public gardens. I saw a car pulling out of a spot and swerved across an open lane to take it. I was just wondering how to correct my initial approach when an SUV barreled toward me in reverse, rocking to a halt a few feet away.

My eyes had glossed over the SUV without pause when I first saw it: a double-parked vehicle with its hazards blinking on Newbury St on a Saturday doesn’t merit the evening news. But apparently he’d been waiting for this guy to pull out. Yet here I was, already in the spot.

It had been so long since I’d contested a parking spot with someone that I wasn’t sure of the procedure. Am I in the right here?, I wondered. Should I back out? Is he going to give up?

SUV precipitated the decision for me, not by rolling down his window to scream obscenities but by opening his door. However, he was in such a hurry to get out and confront me that he forgot to remove his seat belt. He wrestled with the strap while standing next to the open driver side door, lips creased in a snarl. I already had one hand on the stick shift (D to R) and the other up in an “easy there, killer” open palm.

Seeing me reverse, the driver gave a curt nod and a “move along” gesture with his hand. I didn’t linger to watch the aftermath.

I don’t know how that would have gone down if he hadn’t become tangled up in his seatbelt on his way out the door. Check that: I know I wouldn’t have started a fistfight on Newbury St over a parking spot. But that moment of pure slapstick defused the tension for me. I recognized the man for what he was – someone very vested in a Lockean notion of property rights re: parking spots; he had mixed his labor (waiting with the hazards on) with the soil (nine feet by four next to a meter) and expected it to yield fruit. My life is richer for avoiding crazies, not confronting them.

(And I shouldn’t call the man “crazy” based on twenty chaotic seconds of interacting with him. He doubtless had a different anecdote to share that evening: “So I’m circling Newbury St for, like, twenty minutes looking for a spot. Then I see a guy pulling out, so I park right in front. But then this prick in an Audi swerves across to try and snatch it from me! I’m sittin’ there, in plain daylight, and he tries to poach that shit. So I get out to give him a piece of my mind, and he backs right the fuck down.”)

I ended up parking two blocks away, just over the Pike. Added maybe five minutes to my walk.

Item the Second: I took Liz to see ImprovBoston’s mainstage show that evening. Afterward we lingered in the bar, chatting with the performers and house staff. I introduced Liz to Narragansett, Boston’s answer to PBR (which I hadn’t thought needed answering, but hey).

A woman in platform heels and a colorful, ill-fitting outfit walked out of the back hallway, probably coming from the Cabaret studio. She stepped outside to light up a smoke. Another woman followed her in short order and conducted a brief, quiet argument with her. This second woman then came back inside, to where Natalie B. was working the bar.

“Do you guys serve alcohol here?”, she asked.

Natalie nodded.

“Lemme get two raspberry Stolis and lime.”

“We don’t actually have hard -” Natalie began explaining.

“Okay, two Coronas.”

“We don’t -”

“Two Heinekens, then.”

Natalie, an adorable ball of energy, smiled and gestured at the fridge behind her. “We’ve only got a few beers stocked here. Harpoon, mostly.”

The woman got a few Harpoons and some bottled water and vanished. Twenty minutes later, the 9:00 show let out. She and a similarly dressed crew emerged, tottering and shrieking, to wait in the lobby for their ride.

“And they don’t even have fuckin’ Heineken,” the original woman was explaining. “They’ve got some bullshit beer. What was it? Fuckin’ O’Doul’s?” She asked this of Ted, possibly the nicest human being on the face of the planet, who was reading a book behind the cash register.

“It’s Harpoon,” he explained.

“Harpoon? Whaddaya, whaddaya.” If I hadn’t suspected they were out-of-towners before, the Brooklyn accent and the ignorance of Harpoon proved it. The Brooklyn ladies waited in their swarm until their stretch Hummer pulled up on Prospect St.

I don’t have a lengthy explanation for the above; sorry.


all of this makes me love you more

The older I get, the more I believe that the secret to staying young is finding excuses to party.

This Friday, I went to the Yelp Elite Event for January at Revolution Fitness, a gym within walking distance of my office. Revolution has done its best to combine the “basement gym” look with the “boutique gym” feel. The layout ranges from intimate studios for the de rigeur yoga and pilates classes to a row of fluorescent-lit weight racks in front of mirrors. And there’s a room off to the back with reinforced rubber walls and a mess of equipment that you can just play with. Like a 150-lb tire to flip end over end, or rings to hang on, or medicine balls that you can fling at the wall while screaming. You’re encouraged to experiment.

Saturday was the Snowflake Social, hosted in Arlington. Friends and locals threw a party to raise money for Haiti, dressing up in formal wear and dancing the night away. I posed for prom photos, slow-danced with several friends and drank at the Elks bar. We retired to a friend’s house afterward to have a few more drinks and chill out until the evening crept up on me.

As grown-ups, we look for reasons to put on nice attire and go out dancing: weddings, family affairs, holiday parties and school reunions. If we brought that same questing sense of experimentation to everything we did, how much quicker would it go, and with what energy? Crank up Shaimus and dance with your baby on your hip while you put away the laundry. Invite half a dozen friends over to write with you. Title the next work meeting that you’re responsible for “Awesome Fiscal Responsibility Fun Times 2010.” Smile at strangers. Adopt antiquarian politeness. Open your face to the world.

(This is more a reminder to myself than the rest of you, but let me know if it works)

I’m calling all the shots tonight, I’m like a loaded gun

My big project for the spring has kicked into full gear.

Rehearsals start next week for ImprovBoston’s Comedy Lab show for April 2010: Discount Shakespeare: As You Like It In Forty-Five Minutes. I held auditions the Sunday and Monday after New Year’s, watching 30 people try out for 10 roles. Rachel V. and I whittled the cast down that Monday evening, over a bottle of red wine and a sea of headshots.

This is my first full directing project since Dial [Ankh] For Murder in college. I think I’ve learned a lot since then – most importantly, how to unclench a little and not make people cry – but I’m still a little nervous. Fortunately, I’ve prepared a checklist of crucial steps to directing a good show, and I think I’m hitting most of them.

  1. Secure Rehearsal Space Early. Boston’s a theater-heavy town, so if you don’t have a studio that can accommodate a dozen people early on, you’re not going to find one. Fortunately, IB and other locals have been generous.

  2. Use The Internet. How did people produce shows before Google Calendar, Google Groups and Google Docs? Did they use Sharepoint? Microsoft Outlook? Lotus Notes? I can’t imagine those working nearly as well.

  3. Do Your Own Publicity. ImprovBoston’s a great venue, and part of a thriving artistic community, but their budget’s limited. Fortunately I have access to a lot of different soapboxes. And I’m pretty shameless about promoting shows, like the one I’m directing, Discount Shakespeare: As You Like It In Forty-Five Minutes, premiering on Wednesdays this April at ImprovBoston.

  4. Relax. Better shows have come together on smaller budgets at the last minute. You don’t need absolute control over every detail. Especially when you’re working with grown-ups instead of college kids; that helps tremendously.

  5. Pick an Assistant Director Who’s Your Opposite in Key Aspects. Rachel gets calm when I get fidgety, inquisitive when I get naive, probing when I get blase, and enthusiastic when I get tired. She’s not all of those things all the time, mind, but she seems to live on a cycle opposite me. Which will help.

  6. Have Fun. It’s a community theater adaptation of a Shakespeare comedy, not Operation Overlord. Enjoy yourself, Professor.

I think that covers it. If I missed something, let me know so I can start panicking.

my face woulda been beet red

On Monday night, I stayed out way too late at the ImprovBoston Fun(d)raiser at the Estate in downtown Boston. Rather than narrate a party you didn’t attend in droning detail, I’ll call out some of the local and rising comics who performed. Keep an eye out for these names.

MC Mr Napkins, a/k/a Zach Sherwin: hilarious, Jew-froed indie-rap backpacker / comedian / anagrammatist from the Boston area. I’ve heard that he’s moving to the West Coast soon to try and Break In, which would be awesome.

“Street Cred” was one of the two songs he performed last night.

Tony V: legendary local on the Boston scene. A foul-mouthed but friendly old man.

The following video’s old material, but it’s indicative.

Myq Kaplan: really clever local comedian with a quick delivery. He’s going to be on the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien tonight (Wednesday the 16th). But I already saw his material. Except for the swearing.

Shane Mauss: if memory serves, he did a bit for The Waste Land Comedy Hour Starring T.S. Elliot that went over like a Stratus off a cliff. But the material in this show was all fresh and he delivered it pretty well. Shane has already been on Conan; he is supposedly coming out with a comedy album soon.

and then this dangle got all up in my rotisserie

The Power of Positive Thinking
I dropped my camera on a kitchen floor on Friday night, taking it out to show to Lisa F. It slid a short distance, popping the battery compartment open and sending the battery flying. I reassembled it and turned it back on: worked fine! Still snapped pictures and everything.

Only later did I find that, when I switched from Take Pictures to Review Pictures mode, the camera would now wait about ten seconds before retracting the lens. This is a minor annoyance but, on the grand scale of Things That Could Happen When I Drop My Camera On Linoleum, is relatively minor. Fortune smiles upon my amateurish, grainy Facebook pics.

Spatula, Proctologist, Space Station, Etc.
Why did I have my camera with me this entire weekend? For ImprovBoston’s first annual Boston Improv Festival, which I went to most of the parties for despite only seeing one show. Will Luera, Dan Binderman, Becky Pineo and Kate Garvey* did one hell of a job putting this together, and the results kept shocking us. I had never seen the theater so packed on Saturday, not just from the out-of-towners (troupes from as far as Canada or Mexico) but from locals new to the theater. This weekend made me proud to be associated with ImprovBoston, however tangentially. I hope the theater made a truckload of cash.

I first hit up the Wednesday BIF afterparty at Asgard, snacking on comped quesadillas and watching the Mexican improv troupe lead the entire bar in a rousing chorus of “El Rey.” Misch texted me for Friday’s afterparty at Becky’s house, though she neglected to provide me directions (Lisa F. came through). I stayed there until at least 3:30, wandering the mansion Becky lives in and catching up with improv people from all over. Saturday I wanted to leave early, but then I ran into Dr. Grace at Tavern on the Square, followed shortly thereafter by the rest of ImprovBoston. So what could I do?

I only saw one show, so I made it count: Spinning Hardcore, Anna W. and Kristen A’s world-famous air-guitar punk-rock ensemble. They reduced an audience to helpless, disbelieving giggles, including several people who’d never seen them before (jaded New Yorkers, even). Following them: Focus, a four-woman improv show that delivered a note-perfect satire of The View. There was the elderly retired lawyer, the saucy comedienne, the Ivy League lawyer and the Christian mom: each fully realized and often hilarious. They discussed DJ AM’s death, historical trivia about Boston and President Obama’s speech to school children, telling them that they each had something to contribute (“well, that’s ridiculous“).

* I’m doubtless forgetting someone important.

don’t get me wrong

Games People Play
I hadn’t seen Melissa and John in too long, so they obliged me for a drink at Drink, where Aaron served us a variety of historical cocktails. Mine were all whiskey-based; Melissa and John’s were primarily gin-oriented, if I’m not mistaken. We talked about Chicago and reminisced on the virtues of Boston. We also spent a lot of time talking about WoWcraft (their obsession, not mine) and tabletop gaming ( … okay, that one’s mine).

Despite the lateness of the hour, I stopped off at The Cellar for the vestiges of Sara F’s goodbye party. Only the hardcore drinkers had remained: Lisa C., Meghan O., Robert W., Taylor, Rachel R. And of course, me, who didn’t even have cab fare home.

The conversation turned to the games men and women play when courting each other. “Say you give a guy your number,” Robert posed. “And he doesn’t call you back for six, seven days. Would you still pick up?” Which is a valid question, of course, but exactly the wrong way to phrase it. If you asked a guy, “Say a girl is really hard to pin down and flirts with you but is never available; would you still be interested?”, he’ll answer no. When in fact the accurate answer is yes. Guys respond to that behavior like catnip. We just don’t like to think we do.

I wished Sara F. nothing but success in San Francisco*. She mentioned – completely unprompted – that she reads this weblog. And she makes a living writing blogs! This makes Sara Faith Alterman the Greatest American Hero.

Roll The Dice, Man; Roll The Dice
I had some folks over to roll dice on Labor Day. Auston, David F. and David M., Pete and Christine indulged my first halting steps with 4th edition. Despite nearly killing everyone in the second go-round, everyone had a blast.

Only this morning did I realize I had an entire fridge of Diet Coke left. I bought a twelve-pack of the stuff – typical gaming fuel – but forgot to offer it to anybody. People went in and out of the fridge all day, but were either too health-conscious or too waist-conscious to tap into the soda. And I almost never drink the stuff. Long story short: could anyone use some Diet Coke? I have some.

That evening I went to jiu-jitsu for some actual melee. Despite the soreness of not having really worked out for over a week – and taking several breakfalls from the head sensei – I enjoyed the exercise. One of the reasons I agonized for so long about moving to Chicago was due to feeling in a rut here in Boston. An easy way to change that up is to shake up my schedule, which is hardly fixed. So I’m going to be teaching jiu-jitsu on Sundays and studying on Mondays now. That, plus the move to the downtown office, should spark some interesting developments.

Put Your Picture On A Stamp
Here’s a brief glimpse into how my mind works:

Because I regularly send a modest check to the Institute for Justice** every Christmas, I get on a wide variety of conservative mailing lists. Yesterday’s came from the Law and Economics Center, urging me to write a check to help their efforts at “educating judges in sound economics, science and constitutional principles.”

From the letter:

For a small organization, they’ve attracted a good deal of attention. They’re often criticized in the New York Times. Al Gore attacked them in his latest book. Senators John Kerry and Russ Feingold tried four times to cripple the Law & Economics Center and failed every time. […] The New York Times, Al Gore, John Kerry, Russ Feingold. I suspect you’re thinking that the Law & Economics Center must be doing something right!

I have no love for the Times, but I dislike the presumption that the enemy of my enemy is my frenemy. So into the trash it went. Except for the enclosed Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope. I feel it’s a shame to waste the stamp. It already has my return address typed on it, so I could just get a blank label and use this for something else. But how often do I mail something? There’s the rent check, of course, but oh fuck what’s today’s date.

And that’s what found me scrambling for my checkbook on a Tuesday evening to mail a rent check eight days late. I would have used the SASE, but I didn’t have any sticky labels.

* Which I knew you couldn’t call “Frisco,” but apparently you can’t call “San Fran” either? “SF” is okay.
** Which has the coolest name of any think tank in DC. I expect to see Batman’s name on the letterhead. I challenge you to find a better one.

living the good life

Papers, Please
Neither of the last two times that I’ve been in a liquor store have I been carded. The law, as explained in the little plastic inserts over the “Take A Penny / Leave A Penny” trays, says that anyone under thirty could get carded. So I either look thirty, or look enough over twenty-one that the liquor store owners don’t care. And I know that’s not really a law; it’s just there to give the proprietors a gauzy veil of protection in case someone gets huffy over being checked. “I don’t look twenty-one to you?”

Straight Outta Second City
I recounted this to Erik V. at Serpico’s housewarming on Saturday. Talking about the flexibility of entry barriers, he mentioned a time that he and his improv troupe got turned away from a club. “No Identical Outfits,” the sign out front said. But someone talked to the bouncer and convinced them that an improv troupe would not be rolling with the nilly*, and in any case had the troupe name on their shirt for easy identification.

“I can see that causing trouble for naive college clubs,” I speculated. ” ‘We’re the Latin Kings! Gallia est omnia divisa in tres partis!’ ”

Serpico and Kim’s new place is awesome, by the way – a two bedroom in a building we looked at before moving into Union Square. They’ve done a lot with the space they have, setting aside the larger room for an office and guest BR and turning the smaller into a cozy master BR. One sectional couch and one three-seater frame the coffee table (perfect for gaming) and TV, and massive DVD shelves flank the opposite corner. Serpico showed off the kitchen island, which he’d bought and assembled the day before, with fatherly pride.

Tell Me A Story
As threatened, I told a story for Jess Sutich’s recurring ImprovBoston show, “A Night of Oral (Tradition).” Four other ImprovBoston regulars and I told stories to a house of … ten people? Maybe a dozen.

Everyone else told stories ranging from knowing chuckles to laugh-out-loud hilarity, ranging from David Mogolov’s improbable howler regarding impromptu bathroom breaks on road trips to Christina S.’s touching story of feuding cousins. My story – involving South Philadelphia strip clubs and family – did not get quite as many laughs. Well, the first part of the story did. But I played to a silent house for the last four to six minutes or so. Then again, the story didn’t really have a punchy ending or a lot of hilarious twists to it. And two people independently came up and said my story was “well told” or “well structured.” So format I have. I’m going to pick a funnier one for next month (a story where I nearly died) and see if that makes a difference. You should come see it; it’s cheap.

* By which I mean the nine-milly.