This article appears in the February 2012 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit Lou.com.
I had prepared a story about my family’s old Brooklyn block, filled with Russian immigrants, Orthodox Jews and us yuppies. Life there had been nonstop culture shock. For example, there was every kind of canned fish but no salsa. Cats weren’t allowed in our building so we smuggled ours in via a meowing cardboard box. Also, our upstairs neighbor would sing Balkan karaoke all night long.
During breaks at a bank where I work, I wrote my story, practicing it just a few times so I could remain spontaneous. At Headliners, I was third. Onstage I inhaled once, deeply, and began:
“The broker, Nancy, seemed nice enough, except she didn’t know much about apartments and was all kinds of frazzled. She also had a side business, selling cat hammocks.” Beat. “From organic cotton.”
Warm, lovely laughs followed.
The Moth happens the third Tuesday of each month, and it’s cool because you can’t use notes and the stories should be true and your own. Even cooler: You don’t know if you will be among the 10 selected once you drop your name in a hat. Also — and this is key — everybody is there to see the Moth; you’re only the form it briefly takes. Somehow, this relieves much of the pressure.
In my allotted five minutes, I talked about the local dress shops and their ridiculously Old World pieces. I did a too-long spiel about the salsa. I recounted how I carried that cardboard box of cats. (After me, one older Louisville man explained how he and his friends used to throw rocks at black kids and how he felt ashamed. Wow. And I wrote about salsa.)
One reason the Moth works is because it promotes community. It is the cure for isolation, the iPad’s antithesis. When you’re there, you take part in what seems like an ancient form of group entertainment: storytelling. When you put your name in the hat, you go from being a culture consumer to a creator.
Soon my allotted time was done. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.
I cut to the conclusion: I moved out of the apartment, defiantly holding a cat carrier in each hand, like, “Take that, bastards!”
At show’s end, three audience-member judges tallied scores for the 10 performances. The winner was a man who said he and some boyhood friends once accidentally started a forest fire after literally smoking newspapers. I didn’t finish in the top three, which was disappointing. I think running too long hurt my score.
Or maybe they just hated cats.
Illustration Courtesy: Carrie Neumayer