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Darci Ratliff Founder and editor of online magazine Kittenpants, producer for stage and screen, former writer for the Comedy Central Insider, quoted in both Maxim and Jane: DARCI RATLIFF can do it all, and does do it all (on or before the third date). Buy her book, If I Did It at kittenpants.com.

Recent Work By Darci Ratliff

What I imagine you’re thinking right now is, “Sure. This kind of thing happens to all of us. We’ve all made a porno, we’ve all watched it with our mothers, and we’ve all practically forgotten about it, because of how completely common and universal an experience it is.”

Right? That’s what you’re thinking? You guys?

Well, if that is not what you’re thinking, then I guess this one is for you–the minuscule fraction of the population that has yet to experience the joy of watching (on a giant screen, with your mom) your peers get naked and pretend to make sex.

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1. To see all 30 stories, start here.

For anyone who hasn’t figured it out yet, today’s the last day of this story-a-day challenge (MATH!). As I have done every day of this challenge, I woke up this morning without any clue as to what story I would tell.

Before I begin, I just wanted to say thanks to those of you who have followed along, cheering and commenting–some of you even participated! And extra thanks to Brad Listi, for putting up with my daily emails and for posting a couple stories that were less than awesome on your awesome site–all for the sake of my personal writing challenge.

See you guys in 2012!

 

Day of the Donkey Punch

I made it all the way to the end before I had to explain the donkey punch.

Puberty: The Movie was as juvenile a script as its title suggests. It was chock full of funny, grown up, dirty words said by children (which made them even funnier). In one scene, an 11-year-old actor was asked to say the line, “Donkey punch that bitch.” Out of context that seems uncalled for, but I can assure you, it was almost completely called for.

Parents were informed during casting that the movie would require some potty-mouthing from their children. Only a few objected and passed on the project. The rest gave the material a thumbs up and issued their sons and daughters a license to swear.

A few weeks before shooting began, we gathered all the child actors together in a small theater space to read through the script together. The moms watched as their future superstars pretended their little hearts out for us. When our lil’ guy got to the “donkey punch” line, the directors and I held our breath and waited for them to continue.

“What does donkey punch mean?” he asked, nervously. He knew that whatever it was, it was dirty.

We looked back into the expectant faces of six teens and tweens, staring at us, waiting for an explanation. One of the moms chimed in from the sidelines: “Yeah, I’d like to hear what it means, too.”

As producer, one of my jobs was to keep the talent happy, and in the case of child actors, that means keeping the parents happy. There was no way I was about to explain the mythical donkey punch to a room full of children and their parents.

“It’s probably best that you don’t know.” I said, and we moved on.

I continued to dodge that bullet over the next few weeks. But as the fun of filming wore off, the moms in the green room became less accepting of the “best that you don’t know” line. When I was in the room and I heard someone–anyone–mention the dreaded donkey punch, I found somewhere else to be, quick.

I can’t say it was best for them not to know what it meant, but I am certain it was best for me.

My last day on the set was maybe my least favorite. The small Massachusetts town in which we were filming had been hit by a record-breaking blizzard. All weekend long the entire crew both began and ended our 15-hour shooting days by digging our cars and trucks out of snowbanks. When half the city lost power and parents wanted to take their kids home to safety, we said, “No,” which I’m pretty sure was illegal. And the built-up stress on set led to a pretty ugly blow-up between one of the directors and me.

Well, he blew up. I walked outside, lit a cigarette and prayed that he would get hit by a bus.

I did not wish hard enough, so we made amends and wrapped up all the producery business I had stuck around for. Then I said my goodbyes and headed to the green room to grab my coat and my keys. No amount of icy highways had kept me from the set, and none were going to keep me from getting back home to New York, either.

Our costume designer was leaving the green room as I approached it and she laughed a little when she saw me. “Have fun!” she teased.

I stopped her. “What did you do?”

“I just explained donkey punch to all the moms,” she said, smiling, and left me to manage the fallout.

So close! I almost made it! I suddenly knew exactly how those buddy cop characters felt when–just two days before retirement–they got handed some dangerous murder case! I took a deep breath and entered the room.

The moms saw me and began to circle. I was very quickly surrounded by stage moms who all of a sudden cared what garbage we had been making their kids say on camera.

“Is that a real thing that people really do?” one Mom began. She didn’t even bother saying “donkey punch”–one look at my face and she knew that I knew that they knew.

“No. It’s not a real thing,” I assured them. It’s a silly made-up expression that seventeen-year-old boys think is funny to talk about. But no one really does it.”

“Is that your target audience? Seventeen-year old boys?!” another mom asked, accusingly.

“Kind of?” I answered. “You’ve read the script, right?” (HAD SHE READ THE SCRIPT? My guess is no.) “Besides, I think it’s funny, too. I mean, your son is eleven, and his character is so sweet and innocent. And then he says something so shockingly inappropriate. That’s the joke.”

She thought about this for a second, but was still concerned. “I’m just not sure I want my son to think that this is an okay thing for a person to do to someone.”

“Right.” I said. “That’s called parenting. That’s your job. My job is to get a pre-teen to say ‘donkey punch’ on camera.”

And with that, I left the room, the set, the state of Massachusetts and the stage mothers of Puberty: The Movie speechless.

 

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

Day 29! Day 29! I’m so close I can taste the end of this silly experiment, and it tastes deloycious!

Today’s story is one I’ve told too many times before–another from the set of Puberty: The Movie. Hold on to your drawers. It’s about to get shitty in here.

 

The Shit We Do To Make Movies

Every once in a while, someone asks me about the movies I’ve worked on. Often they want to know, “What exactly does a producer do?” I tell them there are different kinds of producers, but on the low-budget, independent films I’ve worked on, a producer’s role is to do “whatever needs to be done.”

Sometimes it’s kind of cool. A producer is like a boss and it is sometimes fun being the boss. It includes being part of the casting process and putting together a crew and making some major decisions about the script and the locations and it can be pretty fun stuff.

But being the boss also means being responsible for everyone and everything. If something needed to be done and no one else could do it, I’d have to. I tried to remember how fun those casting sessions were while I was cleaning off tables, running errands, making sandwiches and acting as a human suggestion box for complaints.

On the set of Puberty: The Movie I tried to absorb all the drama to protect the directors so they could work. I couldn’t shield them from all of it, but I could sometimes postpone their involvement until our nightly production meeting. Those meetings lasted as long as the day’s shooting, making sure none of us ever got any sleep, which led to more and more mishaps.

By the second day of shooting, I had completely lost my cool. I vaguely remember biting the head off our Assistant Director in front of the rest of the crew. In my defense, she completely fucked up. But in her defense, no one should ever have to hear, “YOU’RE NOT HERE TO THINK, YOU’RE HERE TO DO WHAT I FUCKING TELL YOU TO DO!”

Not cool, boss-lady. Not cool.

The next day I got all yelly again, this time with our Unit Production Manager, who made the small mistake of forgetting to call in all of our extras and the giant mistake of interrupting me while I was talking. That was the same day I realized that I hadn’t peed in 24 hours. It’s a fucked up thing to sit on a toilet and realize that the last time you urinated was “this time, yesterday.” But bathroom breaks were a luxury I couldn’t afford on day three. That’s how crazy day three was.

After the fourth day, I took a break from the shoot to go back to my regular day job. By that time, the eight hour round-trip drive and three days of full time employment was like a vacation. I still took calls all day and night, and continued to work on administrative aspects of the production, but at least I could sleep in my own bed and urinate on my own schedule.

It was during these first few days away from the set that I took a breath and realized that I needed to learn to keep my cool. I didn’t want to be the person who yelled all the time. I wanted to be steady, unshakable and in control. So I made a promise to myself that I would roll with the flow, no matter how totally insane the flow rolled.

Frankly, the degree to which things were falling apart had long since passed “shocking” or “upsetting” and were instead becoming “hilarious.” Once I was back on set, I was Ms. Cool, rolling with the punches (there were literally punches!) and calmly taking on whatever problems arose.

Until shit happened. Literally. Someone took a shit. In a middle school. On the floor of a janitor’s closet.

We were filming for most of the weekend at a junior high school in Sharon, Massachusetts. Our directors had to beg for permission to shoot there, but once granted, they opened the doors for us and left us to our own devices. We’d need to return to the same location two more times, so we had to be on our best behavior and leave everything just as we found it, so as not to lose our privileges.

I don’t remember who found it–the production crew, when not on set or running an errand, spent most of their time exploring any open door they could find. All I know is that in the evening on our second day at the school, two of the kids from the art department found me to report that there was shit on the floor of the janitor’s closet.

Human shit?” I asked.

“Has to be,” one of the kids confirmed. “There haven’t been any dogs here today, and besides, it’s too big. Want to see it?”

I could already feel the barf forming. I did not want to see it. If I saw it, we’d have two messes to clean up. I didn’t lose my cool (or my lunch), but I did wonder who could have done it and why. The janitor’s closet was right next to the boys’ bathroom. Did somebody open the wrong door and just run out of time?

But the real question was what to do about it. The one thing I knew for sure is that it had to be cleaned up before we wrapped for the day. And I couldn’t in good conscience ask one of the production crew to clean it. We were already overworking and underpaying them all–I refused to ask them to do a job that a toilet had already turned down.

But I couldn’t do it myself, either. Until that moment, I had been a real go-to gal. I was up for whatever challenges faced me. No job was too big, too small, or too humiliating. I was willing to get my hands dirty. But not this dirty. This was a line I couldn’t cross. I could take a lot of shit, but I could not clean it up.

I found Eric, one of the directors. I laughed a little as I explained our predicament and he made, I thought, a pretty reasonable suggestion.

“Start at $40 and go up in increments of $20 until someone agrees to clean it up.”

We were so low on money, but this seemed like an extremely affordable plan. I was about to spread the word when Steve, the other director, came around the corner and asked, “Where’s the shit?” Eric and I pointed at the closet door and Steve went right in, without hesitation.

A minute later he was carrying a wad of paper towels into the bathroom. Then he walked out, clapped his hands together the way you do to communicate “It’s finished” and headed back to the set.

“Let’s wrap this up!”

The shit was all we talked about the rest of the night; we all speculated about which one of the crew members was responsible for leaving it, and eventually agreed on a suspect. But we never mentioned it to him. The shit was a punchline to countless inside jokes for the rest of production and since, but as far as I know, no one has ever brought it up in front of the probable culprit.

Of course, no one has actually talked to that guy since production, either. I mean, shit in a closet once, shame on him, but shit in a closet again, and shame on everyone for letting him into our closets, right? I’m pretty sure that’s how that saying goes. I’m from Texas.

Steve told us later that the shit was full of rocks. ROCKS! And that it was still warm when he cleaned it up. I was really proud of him for stepping up that day. When I was refusing and Eric was bargaining, Steve sailed in and TCB’d like nobody’s B. And that, to me, is what makes a great filmmaker.

I don’t know if Dennis Weaver shit in a closet while filming Duel, but I’m almost positive Spielberg wouldn’t touch it if he did.

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

I’ve got three more stories to tell, and I’ve decided that they will all come from the set of the first movie I ever produced. It was called Puberty: The Movie and it is still technically in post-production, nine years after we shot it.

I recently spoke to one of the writer/directors on a podcast and we cracked each other up, talking about this project that almost killed us both. And even though I could probably talk about it forever, because the whole thing was basically a 24-hour emergency for three-and-a-half-weeks straight, I will try to concentrate on three major events, starting with the time I almost manslaughtered our star.

 

Killing Joe Lo Truglio

We should have known things would fall apart.

I was anxious the day I picked up the stars of our little movie. It was the night before we were scheduled to begin principal photography, and I was to drive our leading man and lady from New York City to the small town of Sharon, Massachusetts. I picked them up just after dark and we began the four hour drive, excited to finally get to the set. But I was anxious.

I was anxious because, as producer of this film, I needed to be a leader. I had never produced a feature film before, and I was a little bit terrified that that fact had escaped no one. I hoped to make everyone feel comfortable in my capable hands; to project a level of confidence and professionalism that screamed, “DON’T WORRY! EVERYTHING’S COOL! SHE’S TOTALLY DONE THIS BEFORE!” And I’d be flying solo with our film’s stars for four hours in my little car. That’s a lot of one-on-one-on-one time in which I’d be wearing my “Best Behavior” hat–the worst-fitting hat in my metaphorical hat collection.

I was also anxious because I was still a little bit star struck. Our movie’s lead actor, Joe Lo Truglio, is a super friendly, funny and warm guy. But when I picked him up that night, I had only ever spent an hour or two around him. He wasn’t my friend Joe, yet, he was a former star of MTV’s The State and Wet Hot American Summer –two of my favorite things, ever, and having a former star of MTV’s The State and Wet Hot American Summer in the front seat of my car was still a tiny bit hard to believe and totally fucking awesome. Especially since he turned out to be super friendly, funny and warm.

But I was mostly anxious because just a few days earlier I received a disturbing piece of information about my driver’s license. Apparently it had been suspended, both in New York and Connecticut. The story behind this is a really long one, so let me see if I can sum it up briefly: thought I took care of a ticket; turned out I was wrong; both states suspended my license without notifying me; insurance company discovered this and called to let me know they were canceling my policy.

It took years to straighten it all out. It was still very much un-straightened-out by the time we began principal photography on Puberty the Movie, which meant that the film’s two lead actors were being driven from state to state in an uninsured car by an uninsured driver with a suspended license. I was an outlaw; a rule breaker. I could have been arrested! I was paranoid.

I was anxious.

My anxiety intensified just outside of Mystic, Connecticut, when one of my passengers asked me to make a pit stop. Both Joe and Caitlin, his costar, were deep in conversation when I exited and I had to repeat myself a few times to get their attention.

“Um… Guys? GUYS? The car’s not stopping.”

“What do you mean it’s not stopping?” Joe asked. I tried to mask the abject terror on my face as we approached the intersection ahead.

“It’s not stopping. I’m pressing the brakes and it just keeps going.”

It was late and the exit was deserted, luckily, so I ran the stop sign and merged back onto the highway. I managed to stay out of the way of other cars as I called my roommate, Andrew, the only other person who had driven my car for the past year. He had no knowledge of any problems with the brakes, or anything else, for that matter. But he put me on hold and called his older brother who apparently knows more about cars than either of us.

As I waited for him to return to the line, I weighed my options. I could try to pull over on the side of the road and stop the car, but then we’d be stuck on a dark highway. Maybe a police officer would see us and offer to help. And maybe that police officer would ask for my driver’s license and insurance information. And maybe Joe and Caitlin would watch, helplessly, as I was handcuffed and carted off to a Connecticut jail (probably a really nice jail, but still…).

Or, I could exit the highway again and try to make it to a service station. But the next intersection might be more crowded. Had I watched enough Cannonball Run movies to successfully navigate a runaway car through a busy intersection?

Andy’s brother didn’t have any advice for me, so I decided to chance it. I don’t know how much is “enough” but I have seen a lot of Cannonball Run.

We all held our breath as I exited and rolled into the intersection. We were facing a red light and oncoming traffic from both sides, but the cars were few and far between, so I went for it anyway. I ran the light, turned right in front of one car, then immediately left in front of another. As I pulled into the gas station on the corner, I kept my foot pressed down on the brakes, but the car wouldn’t come to a complete stop. So I threw it into park and, with the engine revving loudly, turned the key.

DON’T WORRY! EVERYTHING’S COOL! I’VE TOTALLY DONE THIS BEFORE!

We solicited the help of a young kid who worked at the station, and who promised he could fix me right up when his shift ended at midnight. We decided to kill some time at a Friendly’s restaurant across the street. It was freezing outside, but I wasn’t ready to call in the cavalry just yet.

The three of us ate some food, played some cards and talked a lot. I assured them both that everything was going to be fine; that we weren’t stranded in Mystic, Connecticut and that I hadn’t almost killed us all with a Toyota Echo named “Magic Bobby.” I put on a brave face and pretended to have my shit together, but my shit was far from together.

After hours of Friendly’s coffee, several hands of poker and a few trips to the gas station to check the progress of our young handyman, I had to admit that we were stuck for the night. It had begun snowing and we’d missed the last train out of town. I left the car at the gas station and checked us all into a Howard Johnson’s within walking distance.

The woman who checked us into the HoJo was named Sparkling Water. She told me about her Native American heritage as I paid for the rooms, while Joe sat at a small table meant to keep children occupied while their parents checked in and out. He had a blank piece of paper and a pencil cup full of used crayons. When I walked over to give him his room key he handed me a drawing–a small car with a stick figure poking out one window, shouting “Help me!”

I said goodnight to them both and went to my room to call the film’s directors. Just after “Hello” I began to sob, uncontrollably–I was simply exhausted from wearing my brave face for so long. It’s the worst fitting face in my metaphorical face collection.

We were back on the road the next morning–in somebody else’s car. But in the weeks to come we’d look back on that night as one of our more fortunate ones. It was the only night I had to deal with one emergency, rather than twelve. Compared to the rest of the shoot, that death drive was practically a vacation. Or maybe it was just an omen of a shitstorm on the horizon.

We should have known things would fall apart. And maybe we did know. But even now I don’t suppose I would have done things any differently.

Except, maybe take the train.

 

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

I can’t believe I’m only three days away from finishing this. I also can’t believe it’s so late and I’m still trying to figure this thing out. Today’s story is about a rock band and my dad and a telephone.

It’s not as exciting as it sounds.

 

Rock and Roll Calling

When eBay was new, I signed up like everyone else, looking for random pieces of pop culture nonsense. I bought an E.T. bumper sticker and a Chewbacca iron-on. You know–the essentials.

I also bought a cassette tape for $3 that had all the original members of KISS leaving outgoing answering machine messages. I guess this was a real KISS Army product that fans could buy in the 80s, at the height of the hilarious-answering-machine-messages craze. (Am I the only one who used to wish for that “Crazy Calls” tape so I could use that awesome “wait for the beep” rap on our answering machine!?)

When I got the KISS tape, I had just moved into a new apartment in Connecticut. I had a new phone number, and new voice mail system. When someone called, they’d hear me pick up and “transfer” the call to my new personal assistant, Paul Stanley. Then they’d hear:

Hi, this is Paul Stanley. Leave a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. Maybe I’ll call ya. Bye.

The first voice mail I got was from my dad. It began with him speaking directly to my mom, as if my voice mail recorder was just a fly on the wall, observing a totally normal conversation that everybody’s dad has with everybody’s mom.

“Who is Paul Stanley? Linda. Linda. Linda! Hey, who is Paul Stanley?… I don’t know–some guy named Paul Stanley… It’s on her machine… No, first it was her and then it was some guy who said he was Paul Stanley… I don’t know who it is, I thought maybe you would know… Well, I don’t know either…”

And then: “Hey, there. It’s your Dad. Call us back.”

I love that he felt the need to identify himself. As if anyone else would have a five minute conversation about Paul Stanley on my voice mail.

When I called them back, the first thing he asked was, “Who’s Paul Stanley?” Even after I explained, he had no idea why I would let “this Paul Stanley character” leave my outgoing voice mail message. He wrote it off as another one of those “weird things” I did that he just didn’t get.

I should have known he wouldn’t know anything about KISS. He’s always been a fan of music, but KISS was not really his scene. My dad used to play guitar in bars for beer money, in the late 60s when he was living in San Francisco and fresh out of the Navy. But he was oblivious to everything beyond his scene.

Once, in high school, I was watching a documentary about music in the 60s and Jefferson Airplane was on the screen when my dad walked into the room. He looked at the TV and said, sort of nonchalantly, “Oh, I remember those guys.”

At first I was not impressed. Of course he remembered those guys. They are famous.

But after a few angsty remarks from me, he explained that he remembered “those guys” because he knew those guys. Sort of. My dad didn’t recognize the band on TV as psychedelic rock pioneers, Jefferson Airplane. He recognized them as “those guys”–a bunch of hippies who played some of the same San Francisco bars he played.

“But we didn’t really run in the same circles,” he said. He then lowered his voice to a whisper to explain, “I think they did drugs.”

“OH, YOU THINK?!” I replied, trying not to sound too terribly smart-assy.

Who knows what other rock icons my dad traded guitar picks with back then? He could have shared a green room with Steve Miller or peed in the urinal next to Sly and/or The Family Stone. And no one will ever know, because they are all just a bunch of “those guys” to my dad, who preferred the music of Gordon Lightfoot and Judy Collins.

I bet if James Taylor had left my outgoing answering machine message, my dad would’ve laughed his ass off.

 

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

Took the red-eye flight back to NYC and arrived home around 6am. Slept all day, hoping maybe I’d dream up a real good story idea. Now it’s 11:20 and I’ve got 40 minutes to make magic happen. The page is blank. My brain is blank. To be honest, I don’t know what I’m about to write, if anything. I’m just going to start typing and see where that gets me.

 

It Was Weezer!

I’m listening to an old Frank Black album and remembering the first time I heard it. My friend John and I were driving back to Brooklyn, where we shared an apartment at the time. We had driven to Texas to visit friends and family for Christmas, and I had picked up this CD at a used bookstore. My car stereo broke on the way home, so we had to listen to music through a battery powered portable “jam box” we picked up somewhere in Arkansas.

John was always my favorite road trip partner. When we lived together we spent a lot of time in the car, from short day trips to overnight mini-vacations. One key to our road trip success was that we were always in good music-sync, meaning we always agreed on what music to listen to at any point during the drive. We didn’t have iPods back then, so we’d spend hours putting together a travel kit of essential CDs–a mix of indie rock, weird prog rock, an assortment of 80s New Wave bands and five years of 70s “AM Gold” compilations.

Usually by the end of the trip, though, we’d get bored with all of our CDs and start making up other ways to entertain ourselves. This included making up our own songs, our own jokes and our own travel games.

The songs were ridiculous a cappella anthems full of silly pop culture references. There was one about Blossom and one about Bill Cosby. The only one I really remember was called “Bebe’s Kids” –a song that simultaneously honored and (unintentionally) insulted the stand up comedy of Robin Harris. We sang this one in harmony and ended it, as we did all our songs, with “Sha la la la.”

The jokes we made up later became published articles–I guess cracking each other up was the best way to workshop our material. Like our celebrity knock knock jokes that kept us entertained from Ohio to Bedford-Stuyvesant:

Knock knock. Who’s there?
…Wiliam Shatner. William Shatner who? William Shatner mouth.
…Tempest Bledsoe. Tempest Bledsoe who? Tempest Bledsoe much she passed out.
…Ed Begley. Ed Begley who? Ed Begley, Jr.

The best were the games, though. John came up with this modified 20-questions game, in which one of us would think of a band and the other would have to ask questions to try and guess it. And John played it pretty sincerely, asking smart questions that would narrow down his options until he guessed the right band. Whereas I would try to think of the most unhelpful questions in the world, like “Does anyone in the band have brown hair?”

After days of driving, this is the kind of thing I found hilarious.

I also liked to trick John by making him guess his own bands. John had been in more than 20 bands in half as many years, so I would pick one of them when it was his turn to guess. He’d ask questions like, “Is it a well-known band?” and I’d answer, “Everyone you know knows this band.” It would take him forever to figure it out, and even longer when I did it again on my next turn.

But I think we both share our favorite round of this game. John was trying to get me to guess and had given up on me asking the right questions, so he was just giving me clues. He said things like, “popular early 90s band,” and “very influential,” and “people don’t always admit it, but everyone has their first album.”

I perked up at the last clue, and said, in all seriousness, “Oh! I’ve got it! Is it the California Raisins?”

I don’t know if the hilarity of that moment really translates well here. I guess to a couple of music nerds, the very idea that The California Raisins were an “influential” band was more than we could take. I could barely keep a straight face through “raisins” and started to laugh so hard that I began to cough. I couldn’t breathe. I was afraid I was going to pee my pants. John was crying, he was laughing so hard, and looking at him made me laugh even harder. I had to pull over and park so that we didn’t crash the car. John, who could barely speak, managed to choke out the words, “It… was… Weezer!” before collapsing into laughter again.

I’m sure it’s not the first time someone confused Weezer with The Raisins. Right?

I eventually managed to get it together enough to drive the rest of the way home. But it was the end of our game. John put something in the jam box–maybe even this Frank Black CD–and we headed for the Williamsburg Bridge.

 

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

Headed home from Seattle’s annual Drunksgiving celebration. Thought I’d squeeze out a quick story before I leave for the airport.

 

The Kevin Situation

I had a temp job once, in publishing. I spent a whole summer editing college textbooks for a university publisher that had offices on one floor of a Radisson hotel. That meant we enjoyed all the perks of a desk job (sitting down, internet access) plus all the perks of a hotel job (round the clock bar access and a pool). Plus, it was a temp job, so I didn’t have to care if I lost that job. (For the record, I did–lose the job, not care.)

Most of us in the office were temps, and new to the job, so the first week was pretty quiet. But after a couple of group lunches, we found that most of us got along pretty well, and shared more of an interest in boozing it up than editing textbooks. Long “margarita lunches” were soon supplemented with “smoke breaks” at the hotel bar. Often a few of us would hit a happy hour after work, and on more than one occasion we’d close down the bar.

I’m not bragging about the drinking, by the way. I barely drink at all anymore. I don’t think it’s super cool to drink on the job or relate to a group of people solely through alcohol.

But things were different in my twenties. I was moving all over the country–a new state every couple of months. I was single and going out all night, every night, hadn’t become boring yet. The three months I worked in publishing were the booziest three months of my life.

One morning I came into work still drunk from the night before. I wasn’t hungover. I was still drunk. The one guy I didn’t really like in that office noticed my sunglasses were staying on indoors a bit too long and made some sort of wisecrack.

“Shut up… Kevin,” was the best I could come up with in response.

The thing is–that guy’s name was not Kevin. I forget what it actually was, but I know it wasn’t Kevin. And “Kevin” didn’t like to be called Kevin, even after I rationalized, “Well, you look like a Kevin to me.”

I noticed that the more I called him Kevin, the more he hated it. So, of course, his name would be Kevin forever, as far as I was concerned. I’d catch the other folks in the office laughing to themselves when I’d say something like, “Hey Kevin, I’m getting some coffee–you want some?” Kevin would just make an angry noise and try to ignore me, but every once in a while he’d snap and raise his voice.

Stop calling me Kevin!

That day I took a long lunch with the rest of my office buddies, including the IT guy. I wasn’t driving (mostly because I was drinking, but also because I didn’t have a car), so I rode back to the office with the IT guy and he got me stoned in the parking lot. I told him about “the Kevin situation” and he laughed, and then joked that he should change that dude’s computer login so that he’d have to log in as Kevin to make it work. I begged him to do it, for real. He laughed and agreed.

Always make friends with the IT guy. Always.

When Kevin came back from lunch he sat at his desk, confused, entering his password over and over and becoming frustrated at the error message that kept popping up. Finally, he announced to the room, “My computer’s not letting me log in!”

“Are you sure you’re signing in with the correct name?” I asked, sweetly.

It took him a second to understand what I meant. But when he figured it out, he was furious. He stared at me and huffed a little, but I just smiled and pretended to be working on something of my own. He then reluctantly typed in the name “Kevin” with his password and cursed loudly when the login was successful.

We all tried really hard not to laugh–you could see he did not find it funny. Some giggles escaped a few of us, despite our best efforts.

I finally saved up enough money from that job to buy a car, which would have ended my drinking, one way or another. The same day I was planning on purchasing an old Nissan, I was called into my boss’s office to find out that my position there would be ending in a week. I was not surprised. I hadn’t actually had any work to do for days, and I’m guessing the few permanent positions were being given to one of the less-wasted employees.

I went to lunch with the gang, had a few drinks, and decided to move to Los Angeles. I spent the rest of the afternoon making arrangements–I had stopped even pretending to work at that point.

I don’t know what happened to “Kevin.” He had only signed on for the summer and was returning to school full time in the fall. I do know that for the rest of his time at that company–even after I left–he had to sign in as Kevin every day.

 

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

It’s Thanksgiving. It’s time to express gratitude. It’s time to drink cocktails all day, play poker all night and put gravy on absolutely everything.

And then when everyone has gone home with their dogs and kids and empty casserole dishes and Ziplock bags full of turkey and crescent rolls, it’s time to write a story because you promised you would. So this is that.

 

Whose House? Rerun’s House.

Barmacy was an East Village bar that had an old-timey pharmacy theme. During Happy Hours you’d get a little medicine cup with every drink you bought which you could later turn in for a free drink. The bar had a pinball machine and a photo booth and a big back room with plenty of seats, which is sometimes hard to find in a New York bar. We used to drink there all the time.

One night my good friend and former roommate, Consuelo, invited me to meet her and some other friends at Barmacy. One of us, I can’t remember who, knew the guy that was DJing there that night and it seemed like as good an excuse as any to meet up for a drink. The music he was playing was old 70s R&B, and even though we generally preferred to settle in and drink, that music made us want to dance.

After a few drinks too many, I wandered onto the dance floor and showed Consuelo how I could do the “Rerun dance”–a wobbly jumparound nonsense dance made popular by Fred Berry, who played the character Rerun on the 70s sitcom, “What’s Happening.” Consuelo joined me in her own version of the Rerun and we kept it up as long as we could until we both started laughing so hard we had to sit down.

But we couldn’t stay down. Every fifteen minutes or so, the music compelled us to get back on the dance floor, and within seconds, we were Rerunning our hearts out. Then more laughter, then sitting, then another round of drinks, then back to the Rerun.

We knew we looked ridiculous. We were making each other laugh, and that’s all that mattered. But then, the DJ put on an extra-long, extra hot R&B jam and stepped out on the dance floor himself. He was a tall, slender, extremely attractive African American guy in his late 20s, maybe. And he danced so fucking smoothly. He was just fluid and cool and hard not to watch. I noticed most everyone had stopped dancing and just sort of stood there watching him move.

And then without warning or fanfare, he looked at Consuelo and me, winked, and did fifteen seconds of the best goddamn Rerun dance I have ever seen. We clapped hands over our mouths and just watched, wide-eyed, until he resumed his regular smooth dance moves. As the song came to an end, he left the floor without a word and resumed his DJ duties.

That Rerun was just for Consuelo and me. And it was the best. Ever.

The bar that used to be Barmacy is now called Otto’s Shrunken Head Tiki Bar and Lounge. I pass by it every night when I walk home from work. If you ever go there, I beg you–I dare you–to go to the back room, put on any song in the jukebox, and Rerun your heart out, no matter who’s watching.

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

ONE WEEK LEFT! This Thanksgiving-Eve, I find I am thankful that I haven’t thrown this laptop across the room in frustration; that I’ve somehow summoned the strength to write every single day, despite all obstacles, like traveling and vacation and not-feeling-like-doing-shit. I’m even more thankful that this nonsense project is almost over. But mostly I’m thankful you guys have come along for the ride. If I can just find seven more stories to tell you, we’ll be done with this thing and you won’t hear from me until 2012!

With that said, today’s story is about reggae. Sorry.

 

One Woman, One Cry

I have a rule for friends who visit me in New York: you are welcome to crash at my place, but count me out. Count me out of your trips to the Empire State Building, getting tickets to see Wicked, or eating at that restaurant you heard one of the Sex and the City gals likes to frequent. For you, your trip to New York is a fun vacation that you want to cram a million things into (so’s your mom!). For me, it’s Thursday. I want to get Chinese food and eat it in my pajamas. I know that seems boring compared to a harbor lights tour, but trust me, I’m super into my pajama-dinner plans and I’d rather skip whatever non-pajama plans you have in mind.

It started when I first lived in New York in the late 90s. I had an open door policy to all my friends from back home, who could all of a sudden afford to come to New York, as long as they weren’t paying for a hotel. And I loved playing host to them. But by my second year in the city, I spent nine weekends out of ten turning the sofa into a guest room. And my friends thought the perfect way to repay my kindness was to buy an extra ticket to a show or a Yankee game, when all I wanted was some alone time in my own apartment.

So I started giving guests the speech: “You can stay at my place. You can come and go as you please. If I’m going to dinner or a bar, I’ll let you know and I’d love for you to join me. But please don’t ask me to go shopping in Soho or visit the World Trade Center (or, later, Ground Zero), or join you on your walking tour of Seinfeld landmarks. Make yourself at home, and leave me the Hell out of your plans.”

Most of the time, that worked. But once, in the summer of 2003, an an old High School friend flew in with her husband for their first visit to the city. The speech failed, I broke my own rule and I paid dearly.

They planned their trip around a concert in Coney Island. They had a last minute cancellation in their party, so they asked if I wanted the extra ticket. I did not. I already had tickets to a Chinese food pajama party of one. So I made an excuse and did my best to get them on the correct subway in time for the show.

They ended up in Queens. In my defense, they were pretty stoned. My friend’s husband had smuggled a small bag of pot and a pipe underneath his ballsack all the way from Colorado (I guess he had not heard that you can buy it in New York pretty easily. It’s like Beetlejuice-you say it three times and it just appears). As soon as they got to my house from the airport, he retrieved his supply and offered me a hit, which I declined, because pot already smells like balls without actually being enclosed in balls for four hours. He didn’t mind (his balls, I guess), so he toked up early and often, and maybe missed a couple key instructions about which train to take. Anyway, they missed half their concert and I felt a little guilty for leaving them to their own devices after only a few hours in New York.

The next night they had another show to attend, and this time they bought an extra ticket, just for me. The show was at a club in Park Slope, Brooklyn. There was no easy way to get there by train, and to get a cab to take you there, you sort of had to be able to tell the driver how to get there. I knew they would have trouble, and I felt guilty about the previous night’s events, and they bought me a ticket and it was Friday night, what the Hell–I agreed to take them there.

We got to the club and it was packed. I was already miserable. Everyone in the room reeked of pot and patchouli and body odor, but it wasn’t my nose that was horrified. It was my ears. The opening band was playing reggae music. I looked at my friends, dancing and delighted from the moment they walked in.

“IS THIS A REGGAE SHOW?!” I asked in a panic.

The terror on my face was easy to spot. They seemed surprised by my reaction. They confirmed that they had, indeed, bought me a ticket to a reggae show and I started doing the math in my head. Forty minutes for this band, a twenty minute DJ break before the headlining band, another fifty minute set–I was about to be subjected to almost two hours of reggae music! Sorry, Marley-heads, but I didn’t sign up for that!

Ska, maybe. I could do an hour or so of good ska music. But not reggae. My rule of “count me out of your plans” is nothing compared to my rule of “count me out of your reggae shows.” I tried to force a smile, but I wasn’t feeling it.

But I didn’t want to spoil their evening–they were very clearly “feeling it.” So I found a seat on the curb outside the club and spent the evening playing around on my phone and chatting up the revolving door of reggae fans who came outside to smoke a joint.

I’ve since lost touch with that couple, which is sad, because despite their love of reggae music and ballsack marijuana, I thought they were pretty cool. Sometimes when I’m walking home late at night, I’ll pass by a bar that’s blasting reggae so loudly I can hear it from the street. I stop for a second and wonder if maybe they’re inside, dancing in circles with their arms over their heads. I think about stepping in to take a look around, see if I can spot them in the crowd.

Then I come to my senses and hurry the fuck home.

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

 

Ladies’ Night

I’m in Seattle with three of my best girlfriends. I had to decide whether to go home and write today’s story or stay out and drink. I decided to do both so I’m writing this on my phone at a bar in Columbia City.

As we drink and retell old stories of our debaucherous youth, they remind me of another night when I lived here years ago. I spent a summer sleeping on my friend Carol’s couch and freelancing for a nature photographer in West Seattle. We frequented this bar called the Cha Cha Lounge around the corner from Carol’s apartment in Capitol Hill. And when I say frequented I mean it. Every day I’d get off work at 4:00 and head to the bar. It didn’t open until 4:30 so I’d usually have to wait at the coffee shop next door until it opened. I’d drink gin and tonics until Carol and our friend Sally got off work and they’d find me in a booth waiting for them.

That bar was amazing–pitch black and divey with painted Mexican wrestlers on the tables. I’d rack up the gin and tonics and we’d play credit card lottery with the bill–meaning one of us would open a tab with a card and hope that after several rounds, the bartenders would forget to add a few of our drinks to the total.

One night a bunch of us girls were camped out at a booth in the front of the bar. One of them recognized a guy from her office–George–and invited him to join us. By the time George sat down I was about eight drinks in and I decided he was super cute. My friends were impressed with how hardcore I was at hitting on him, buying him drinks and charming him with delightful drunk talk.

“You’re picking him up like a dude picks up girls!” Carol said more than once. I wasn’t the only drunk one at the table.

Carol and Sally are telling me I was drinking Chi Chis that night–some girl drink specialty of the bar that came in a fancy glass covered in fruit and umbrellas. That may be the case. I don’t remember. I do remember that after several hours of drinking I switched to strawberry margaritas, for some reason. I wasn’t in the best decision-making condition.

Carol and Sally and the rest of the girls saw me moving into closing position and decided to head home so I could make this thing with George happen. I had been sitting down for hours and hadn’t noticed that I needed to pee. So I excused myself and stopped by the bar to send two more drinks to the table and then headed for the bathroom.

There were three people waiting in line and after standing there for 15 seconds I realized I was going to barf. I agonized over which would be more rude-asking the people in line if I could cut in front of them, or barfing on the floor in front of them.

I finally decided I couldn’t wait. I wasn’t going to make it. I turned to the guy at the front of the line and said, “I’m so sorry, but do you mind if I go ahead of you? I’m totally going to vom-”

As I said the word, I did the deed, yakking up a couple pints of alcoholic fruity nightmare. Just then the bathroom door opened and the guy in line said, “Oh, no. You go right ahead.”

I stepped in and closed the door, washing my face and checking to make sure there was no barf on it. I was embarrassed and felt bad for the bartender outside cleaning up my mess. But I was more concerned about maintaining some level of dignity and poise in front of George.

“He won’t be able to tell, right?” I asked myself out loud. I looked down and noticed the large pink stain on my powder blue wool sweater and panicked. I tried rinsing it out in the sink but the water just made the stain bigger and more prominent. I had no choice but to return to the table, quickly putting on my coat as I got there.

George politely pretended not to notice and asked if I felt like getting out of there. I did feel like getting out of there. I felt like it a lot.

As we walked back to Carol’s apartment, we made small talk and pretended that nothing horrifying and humiliating and pukey had happened. I started to believe that maybe George hadn’t even noticed–that I had succeeded in shielding him from my upchuck adventure.

Sally and Carol were sitting in the living room when we walked in and I quickly shed my coat and slipped into Carol’s bedroom to change into a clean shirt. But in the 10 seconds between taking off my coat and closing the bedroom door, Sally’s eagle eyes focused on me and she yelled across the living room, “Is that barf on your sweater?!”

Sally could always be counted on to point out whatever shameful secret you were trying to keep. She’s kind of great that way.

Annoyed, but not defeated, I changed clothes and joined them in the living room. Sally and Carol excused themselves and left us the futon–Carol quietly reminding me that there were condoms in the desk drawer beside it.

“Didn’t Carol barf out her bedroom window that night, so that she wouldn’t interrupt you guys in the living room?” Sally just asked us.

I never knew that little detail until just now. Thanks for being a friend, Carol!

In the morning I saw George for the first time in the light of day. He was cute, but not as attractive or charming as the previous night’s alcohol intake had made me believe. We walked to the fire escape and had a smoke and then he began to make the awkward and somewhat obligatory “I’ll call you” speech. Before he could form the words, I stuck out my hand to shake his and said, “It was really nice meeting you.”

We both knew that “It was really nice meeting you,” meant “Best of luck, but I hope to never see you again.”

And I never did. Until…

Two years ago I visited Carol and Sally and we went to our favorite karaoke bar. When the karaoke emcee called “George” up to the stage, Carol stared at him trying to figure out why she recognized him. After a few minutes, she turned around to face me, wide-eyed, and excitedly exclaiming, “Puke on your shirt guy! Puke on your shirt guy!!”

Puke on my shirt guy, indeed.

I pretended not to recognize him and focused on the strawberry margarita in my hand. Some things never change.

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

Forget about the Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton. This is a story about Denton, Texas’ most hardcore annoying-people flipper-offers.

 

Generally Speaking, Shut the Fuck Up

I moved back to Texas in 2005, after the death of my father. At first it was temporary–I had planned to take three months off from, well, everything. I drove from Seattle with just enough belongings to get by for a while and the idea that I’d help my mom get through Christmas and a move to a new house, and then allow whatever emotional breakdown I had been postponing to takeover for a bit.

But three months became four, became six and all of a sudden I was a Texan again. I began dating a guy I knew from college and doubting whether Seattle was the right place to be. I considered coming back to New York, but I knew I didn’t want to move there without a job or place to live already lined up. I had done that twice before, and didn’t feel the need to pay those dues again.

I started working for the Dallas Observer, writing blurbs about upcoming local events, and blogging for Comedy Central–both jobs bringing in just enough money to pay for beer, cigarettes and the gas I’d need to get them. I was in my mid thirties, living with my Mom, hanging out with my friends from college and in a relationship I knew was going nowhere. It was time to get serious, get a job, get a place to live and get my shit together. So I did.

I settled in Texas because I had to do something, not because it felt like home.

Even though I lived and worked in Dallas, I spent every weekend in Denton–the college town that serves as my “hometown”, for lack of a real one. I’d sleep at my mom’s and drink with my friends, play poker on Fridays and see a band or a movie on Saturdays. It was a comfortable rut that I looked forward to all week long.

But there were times when I felt out of place. I felt like I was standing still while the rest of the world moved forward. I didn’t know why I was in Denton, but I didn’t have anywhere else I wanted to go. Nothing I was doing felt particularly special, and I thought I might be disappearing.

One night I went to a bar called Hailey’s just off the town square, to see my friends’ band, The Baptist Generals. Hailey’s isn’t my favorite place to see shows, but it was full of familiar faces and I was having fun drinking and catching up with old friends.

The Baptist Generals play music that is often melancholy and quiet, emotional and intimate. So intimate, in fact, they sometimes set up off stage and play on a large area rug in the middle of the dance floor. They were headlining that night, so the rug came out around midnight, after three other bands had performed. The crowd had ample opportunity to pour two-too-many drinks down their throats and were gathering around the band as they set up their instruments, talking loudly over the background music coming from the sound booth.

When the band started, a lot of us got quiet. For the record, THAT’S WHAT YOU DO. Etiquette dictates that if you want to keep talking or keep drinking or check your phone, you move to the bar or another room or outside or fucking Hell for all I care. It’s considered extremely rude to stand in the middle of a crowd of people trying to listen to a band and chit chat at top volume. Contrary to what some of you may think, the playing of live music is not a Being Loud Contest between you and the band.

Some bands are often too polite to mention this to a chatty crowd. The Baptist Generals are not. After the first song, the band’s front man joked about the conversations going on around them. After the second song, he wasn’t joking anymore. In the middle of the third song he put down his guitar and announced to those of us who were listening that they were leaving.

But they weren’t leaving us, they were leaving them; they were leaving the people who preferred to drink and talk and check their phones. Knowing that they couldn’t bring alcohol out of the building, he announced that the band would set up on the street outside and finish the show for anyone who cared to see it. And with that, the band picked up their instruments and walked out.

A few minutes later, a crowd of forty or so gathered in the street to watch one of the greatest indie bands of this decade play a set filled with compelling and raw and heartbreaking and beautiful music on a dirty sidewalk next to a dumpster. There was no bitterness or anger at the folks who remained inside–if anything we were all grateful they didn’t come along. The banter was lighthearted and funny–I remember laughing a lot. And I fought every impulse to take pictures, choosing instead to live this moment rather than record it.

I also realized that, at least for the time being, I was home. I was where I was supposed to be. I was in Denton, Texas, surrounded by familiar faces, and nothing had ever felt more special.

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

It’s been 20 days and I’ve written 19 stories so far. Some days the stories get better. Some days you’re on vacation in Seattle and the stories get drunker. Or I get drunker and the stories get shorter. Or you get shorter and Seattle gets sometimes. I THINK YOU ALL KNOW WHAT I MEAN.

Here is the 20th story I’ve written, on the 20th day of this damn project.

 

Party Down

Sometimes when I take a shower, I start thinking about something and working it out in my head and later realize I have been in the shower way too long. I am often running late to things, and I know that my shower philosophizing is partly to blame.

Like, once I couldn’t stop obsessing about the song “We’re an American Band.” I kept wondering about the lyrics. Does it go “We like to party down/We’re coming to your town,” or is it “We’re coming to your town/We like to party down”?

Because if it’s “We’re coming to your town/We like to party down,” that’s like an invitation. They’re saying, “We’re coming to town, so you know, hook us up! Come party with us! We love to party.”

But if it’s “We like to party down/We’re coming to your town,” that’s more of a threat. They’re warning you, “Hey, we totally party wherever we go, and we’re coming to where you are, so watch out.” I eventually had to get out of the shower and look it up.

Once they invent Google Shower, I am never coming out.

 

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

This is one of my favorite stories. I’ve told it a hundred times, but never documented it completely in writing. I guess Day 19 is the day to do that.

 

Long Time Caller

In the summer of 2003, I went on a short tour with my friend Jon, a.k.a. Corn Mo. He was opening for The Polyphonic Spree as they played a handful of dates on the East Coast. I was driving him from gig to gig and filming his performances for a TV pilot some guy in Illinois was putting together.

In North Carolina, Jon rented his own car and the morning after the show, headed on to finish the tour while I drove back home. Touring had been fun, but my regular life was calling me back to New York. We both had a long day of driving ahead of us, so we left pretty early in the morning.

About an hour later my cell phone rang. It was Jon. I answered, but got nothing but static. I hung up and tried to call him back, but again, static. I hung up again, thinking that if he had something important to tell me he’d call me back.

He did; about fifteen times in a row.

We weren’t getting any better reception, no matter how many times he tried. Keep in mind that it was 2003. However terrible you think your cell phone reception is now, it was a thousand times worse back then. Plus, I was in the hill country of Middle of Nowhere, North Carolina. And this was kinda before texting. I mean, people could text, but most people didn’t, as a rule. It was still kind of a mystery back then.

So our only real option was to keep calling each other until we were connected. My phone kept ringing every 30 seconds or so. Twice a minute I’d get a call, pick up, yell, confusedly into the phone and disconnect, each time more frustrated than the last.

“Hello? Jon? Can you… Hello? Are you there? [click] Fuck.”

“Hey, Jon I’m… Hello? Hey I’m gonna try to… What? Hello? [click] FUCK!”

I became worried. Jon clearly needed to speak to me. What if he left some of his equipment in my car? What if he was stranded somewhere? I became paranoid that whatever he needed was going to require turning around and heading back in the opposite direction, meaning I’d lose at least a couple of hours in the process.

I took the first exit I saw, assuming there’d be a gas station or rest stop nearby. I thought I’d find a pay phone, or something resembling civilization, where cell phone reception might be better. Instead, I saw signs informing me that the nearest town was 25 miles east. I sighed and headed east, still answering my cell phone every minute or so along the way.

Finally I made it to the town, if you define “town” as “a strip mall across the street from another strip mall.” The strip mall on the left had a convenience store with a pay phone in the parking lot, so I turned left and parked. I picked up the world’s most disgusting pay phone receiver and dialed Jon’s number to see how much a long distance call would cost. It was almost $4, which I didn’t happen to have in quarters, because I never needed change because it was 2003 and I had a cell phone.

I went inside the convenience store and waited in line at the counter. My phone rang a couple of times while I waited, so I answered it in a whisper-yell, still trying to let Jon know I was going to call him from a land line, and still unsuccessful. Finally I got to the counter and asked the clerk if I could have change for a $5. He didn’t want to give it to me, so I explained that I needed it to make a phone call, and that it was urgent. He was less than sympathetic, I’m guessing because I was holding a ringing cell phone in my hand. I bought some gum and he gave me change for a dollar and four ones. The look on his face told me that was as good as it was going to get.

I left the store and looked around. I noticed that there was a laundromat across the street. “Change machine!” I thought, and hopped in my car.

The laundromat was empty, save for the old lady who apparently ran the place. I found the change machine and as I approached it, noticed a hand-written sign on a piece of notebook paper taped to the wall beside it.

CHANGE FOR CUSTOMERS ONLY

I ignored it and started stuffing dollars into the change machine. I figured if the old lady had a problem, I’d just pretend not to speak English. As I waited for the quarters to drop into the coin cup I silently practiced what I would say to convince her. I turned to leave and noticed the old lady giving me the stink eye. She could tell I was not a customer. I guess the fact that I wasn’t carrying any laundry gave me away.

“America! Good times thank you!” I said with an awkward smile and a thumbs up. I hurried out of the store.

The pay phone near the laundromat was cleaner, but didn’t work at all. It was just as well–I had noticed the laundry lady was now glaring at me through her front door, and I was anxious to leave her stink-eye stare behind. I got in my car and drove back across the street to the first pay phone.

Have I mentioned my cell phone was still ringing? It never stopped. Never. About forty minutes had passed since Jon’s first call, and I had been trying to answer ever since. I was beginning to lose my mind.

I put sixteen quarters in the pay phone, one at a time, and dialed Jon’s number. I heard a busy signal, because of course I did, because he was STILL TRYING TO CALL ME. I tried again. Do you know how long it takes to put in 16 quarters, one at a time? WAY TOO LONG. Irritated, I quickly punched in the numbers and mis-dialed the last one. I let out a frustrated yawp and tried again, and mis-dialed again AND STARTED TO TALK VERY LOUDLY TO NO ONE!

“FOR THE LOVE OF… COULD YOU JUST… AUUUGHHHHH!”

Finally, I stopped freaking out. I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Then I calmly vowed to survive this.

I put 15 quarters into the pay phone and slowly, deliberately dialed Jon’s number. I waited for the phone in my pocket to stop ringing, put in the last quarter and held my breath.

It rang. He answered. I could hear him.

And suddenly, a wave of relief washed over me. I could hear him! We were connected. And I knew everything was going to be okay. Whatever problem he was calling to tell me about didn’t matter. The 45 minutes of infuriating Nokia tone didn’t matter. The convenience store jerk and the stink-eyed laundry lady didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that I drove 25 miles out of my way, or that I was standing in strip mall parking lot in Bum-Fuck, North Carolina, holding a filthy phone receiver to my face. All that mattered was that I was talking to my amazing, wonderful friend, and that he could hear me. We were connected. Everything was going to be okay.

“Hey, Jon.” I said, with relief.

“Hey, Darci!” Jon greeted me, as if he was surprised to hear from me.

“That was crazy, right?!”

“Yeah!” Jon confirmed.

“So, what’s going on, buddy?” I asked.

Jon replied, “Oh my God. Darci. I just tried the new McGriddles sandwich from McDonalds and it is amazing. Amazing! You have to try one. You have to try one!

McGriddles.

That’s why he was calling.

In his defense, his call was legitimately urgent. He needed to reach me before 10:30, so that I could try the McGriddles before they stopped serving breakfast. That’s just a totally valid course of action that I’m sure would hold up in any court. I mean, it’s not like I can go to a McDonalds any time, in any city, every single day.

I promised him I would try the McGriddles as soon as possible and thanked him for the heads up. We said good bye and I put the disease-ridden phone receiver back on its cradle.

As I walked to my car, I took my cell phone out of my pocket and turned it completely off. I threw the phone in the back seat and drove back to New York, back to my regular life.

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

 

The Truth About Eatin’ Shirts

Has this ever happened to you? One of my best friends likes to take things that I say to her as a joke and then repeat them to other people as if I was serious. She thinks that it’s HILARIOUS. I would probably agree, if it didn’t make me seem like such an an idiot.

The most famous of these incidents occurred sometime around 2000, when I was living in Greenwich, Connecticut. I had just bought a car, so it only took me about five minutes to get to my office in Stamford. I started coming home at lunchtime whenever I could. And one day, while home for lunch, I called her (in Seattle) for a chat.

She asked what I was up to and I told her I was eating leftover spaghetti. Later, as I was ending the call, I told her I had to go so I could change clothes. She wanted to know why, so I explained to her that I had worn a nice, white blouse to work, because I had a client meeting later that afternoon. When I came home to eat leftover spaghetti for lunch, I took off the blouse to keep it clean and threw on the t-shirt that I had worn to bed the night before as a temporary replacement.

I have boobs. Boobs are notorious for attracting foods like spaghetti sauce and salsa to white shirts.

Anyway, I made a joke (A JOKE!) about it, like, “You know–had to put on my eatin’ shirt!”

Now, keep in mind that I was talking to one of my oldest friends–someone who knows me. She knows that I don’t actually have a shirt–one shirt–that I only wear while I eat. She knows I was kidding around and pretending to be some sort of yokel to make her laugh. And she did laugh. And I laughed. We both got a really good laugh! And then we hung up and she continued laughing with other people.

The way she tells the story is this: “My friend Darci said she has an eatin’ shirt! She wears it so she doesn’t get food on her work clothes.”

WILLFULLY MISLEADING MISREPRESENTATION OF FACTS.

The way she describes it, one would imagine I have a ratty old cotton shirt falling apart from years of use, covered in food stains of every color and crumpled in the corner of my bedroom gathering flies.

The truth is, I changed into a tee shirt one time so I could eat spaghetti.

And she knows that is the truth. But it’s so much more fun to say things that aren’t technically lies and let the people fill in the blanks with a funnier version of events.

When she told her coworker, who had never met me before, about “Darci’s eatin’ shirt” they both laughed about it for days. Then her coworker took a picture of my friend holding a chicken leg and making a crazy face. He had that photo put on a t shirt with the words “Eatin’ Shirt” on the back. He gave it to her for her birthday and she wore it around the office. EVERYONE LOVED IT.

Everyone but me.

TO THIS DAY, whenever I meet one of her Seattle friends for the first time, they light up at the sound of my name and ask, “Oh! ‘Eatin’ shirt,’ right?!!!”

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

WHAT DAY IS IT? WHERE AM I? Oh, I can’t believe I am still doing this. Another story? EVERY DAY? Sorry, other stuff I have to do. You’re gonna have to wait FOR-EV-ER…

So, I think it goes without saying that as soon as I get a time machine (or TIME CAT!) I am going to tell “October 31 Darci” that this write-and-finish-a-whole-story-every-single-day may seem like a fine idea, but that there will be certain days (or weeks) in which writing anything, of any kind, anywhere is like THE WORST. And then I’ll tell her not to walk near Avenue B and 12th Street last Tuesday because there will be more than one dead rat’s carcass in the intersection and experience has shown us we can only handle one at a time.

Today’s story is about something that happened at the second truck stop to employ me. (Remember what happened at the first one? Scary!)

 

 

You Are a Stupid Henway

The second time I worked at a truck stop it was one of those 24-hour places with a sandwich counter and a gift store attached. In the two years I did my time there, five different managers came and went. Plus, there was a six month period with no manager at all, and a month we closed for remodeling in which I was basically in charge.

With very few exceptions, the job sucked.

CONS:

  • Minimum wage!
  • Graveyard shifts!
  • Brown apron and matching brown scarf thing!
  • Interacting with people! (As a rule, people are stupid and mean!)
  • One of the gross old managers quit in the middle of the night and tried to kiss me on his way out the door! Then he wrote “For a great BJ call Darci” and my phone number in the men’s bathroom (a fact for which he had collected zero evidence, but a fact, nonetheless).

PROS:

  • The store was a quarter-mile from my house.

Even though we went through store managers like Charlie Sheen goes through “rough patches,” the upper management personnel stayed the same. I guess if you could make it to the District or Division level at this company, it somehow became bearable. Our Division manager was named Rod and he was super tall and slim and he dressed like a rich old cowboy and his voice was low and husky all the time. All the time! Like, on the phone, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to hear him ask, “So… what are you wearing?” Except that he was also super serious all the time, and wouldn’t have asked such an inappropriate question.

One night during a rainstorm, we lost power in the store for about 10 minutes, which was kind of a big deal. It’s not like at home, where a power outage means you miss 10 minutes of TV and have to stand around making awkward chit chat with your roommates. It’s serious. You have to secure the store and make sure people don’t steal shit (like your ass-virginity) and keep everyone calm and engaged while you all wait for the power to come back. And then you have to run around resetting alarms and lights and gas pumps and emergency locks. You have to check all of the hundred machines that are used to charge fuel purchases and print lottery tickets and make root beer.

It’s a lot. Especially for a twenty-year-old who was left in charge overnight.

After all the running around and checking and resetting I headed into the office to complete the “shift change” process, which meant counting all the money in the registers and balancing the books from the previous shift. More importantly, it meant sitting around doing math instead of dealing with customers, and it was my favorite part of the job for both of those reasons.  But on this particular night, Division Manager Rod called the office to speak to me in his husky sex-voice about the power outage.

He asked if I had reset the fuel pumps. I had.

He asked if I had checked the back doors to see if they were still locked. I had.

He asked if any customers had caused any problems. I assured him they hadn’t.

He asked if the refrigerators were running. I hadn’t checked.

“Oh! I knew I forgot something. Hang on,” I said, as I jumped up from the desk and ran out of the office. I went into the back where we stored all the food –the burger patties, the cheese slices, the buckets of pre-made tuna salad–all of it. I opened and closed each refrigerator door to look for the light, feel for the cold and listen for the hum of the big industrial machine. Check. Check. Check. All of them seemed to be in working order.

I then ran back into the office and picked up the phone receiver. “Yep. All of them are running fine.”

“Well, then you better go catch ‘em!”

I had just been totally and completely 100% duped by the oldest phone prank in history.

Rod laughed for about ten minutes while I hung my head in shame and said nothing. In the history of that joke, no one has ever so fully committed to being as fooled by it as I had.

No one ever falls for that joke! Rod was probably expecting a half-laugh/half-snort out of me when he asked. But instead, I literally checked to see if the refrigerators were running.

I repaid him on his next visit with a prank of my own. In my training, I had learned the importance of the suggestive sell–the idea that if a customer asks for something you don’t have, you should suggest an alternative, instead of giving him a flat out, “No.” The company was pushing this as part of a massive customer service initiative, and Rod was in store making sure employees like me were taking it to heart and really using it.

So when a college kid came in looking for rolling papers, which we did not sell, I gave Rod a nod (rhymes!) as if to say, “Watch this.”

“We don’t have rolling papers, sir, but if you want to buy a 12oz can of Coke, I can show you how to make a bong.”

Rod choked up the coffee in his mouth and looked at me , wide-eyed. The kid just laughed and said, “That’s cool, thanks anyway” and left.

It’s a good thing he didn’t call my bluff. I don’t know how to make a bong out of anything.