This was a pretty full weekend. But in terms of pure storytelling potential, I'm not sure anything can top Saturday night, so I'll just start there.
Neil and Nate have been giving me their copies of Time Out magazine. As I flipped through last week's issue, I saw a booklet for a series of cultural events entitled "Walls and Bridges." It was sponsored by a French cultural institute, and the Saturday event sounded right up my alley:
Overboard: An Evening of Music and Storytelling
96th Street in Manhattan. The Brooklyn Bridge. The Atlantic Ocean. The Berlin Wall. The winter you read Nietzsche. Your summer of love. The day you picked up a trumpet for the first time. The minute you understood you couldn't come home again. What's your rupture?
An evening all about befores and afters, heres and theres, right and wrong sides of the tracks. Novelists, non-fiction writers, actors, dancers, choreographers, will come to the stage and tell you the story of this particular place in the world or that decisive instant in their life; a physical border or a turning point.
This will be a night of music also, as Ned Rothenberg's saxophone and Guilherm Flouzat's drums lend their eloquence to the narratives.
Cool! And free! I was in. Despite the fact it was pouring rain, I set out by myself for the venue, a small gallery and creative space called The Invisible Dog in Brooklyn. I'd mapped it out and realized it was a pretty easy subway ride, with very short walks on either end.
The place was packed. Since I was alone, I found a seat on the second row. The first performer may have been my favorite. He was a Mexican-American man who told a hilarious tale about the night he turned 40 and decided to climb the Brooklyn Bridge with his best friend. It was exactly what the evening had promised: a well-told reflection about a symbolic farewell to his youth. Another writer spoke of his religious journey, the loss of his childlike Orthodox Jewish faith that came when he began to grasp the horrors of the Holocaust. As he read, he snacked on a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, representative of the dietary (and other) restrictions he left behind -- restrictions he looks back on with nostalgia. Being able to eat bacon is, after all, pretty cold comfort if it accompanies a loss of faith that there is a benign order to the universe.
One woman spoke of a project to memorialize victims of gang violence in Mexico; a man told of shortages in the Eastern Block after the Cold War ended.
Then a tattoed, tough-looking man with a mustache took the stage, joined by his shorter, nerdier friend. "Hi, guys, I'm Dan, and this is my buddy, Salty."
Salty waved to the audience.
"So, since tonight is all about boundaries and borders, I decided it would be interesting to do something that pushes the boundaries a bit of what we'd normally do at an event like this. All right, so, I'm going to stand here, and for the next five minutes, Salty is going to slap me. Pete, can you time this?"
After a few good whacks, accompanied by gasps and cheers from the audience, Dan's cheeks were blazing red. He seemed to be reaching his pain threshold.
"OK, Pete, how we doing? How much time we got left?"
Pete checked the ticking timer on his iPhone. "Looks like you've got about three and a half minutes left." The crowd moaned in sympathy.
Am I really sitting in Brooklyn watching a man get slapped? Let me just pull out my camera in case somebody thinks I made this sh*t up.
Other lowlights: a dance routine that involved only one hand. The right hand, in case you're wondering. A mime performance that was so esoteric it sent the French girl beside me into silly giggles. (This is the upside of going to things yourself: it's easier to keep a straight face.) A long and convoluted story about Ambien told with "trance-like" music in the background, as the writer lost and found and lost her place again on her iPad. (Maybe it was supposed to be nonsensical, like a dream?)
One guy's techno dance tale left me itching to lean over to one of my neighbors and whisper, "Is this reminding anyone else of 'Now is zee time on Sprockets when we dance!'??"
Between each of the four sets, the drummer and saxophone would treat us to a frenetic, cacophonous interlude with all the resonance of cats fighting in an alley. I'm sure it was actually quite delightful for those more accustomed to spontaneous bursts of jazz. It started to feel like Chinese water torture to me.
As the program ended and I left, walking back out into the pouring rain, I just laughed -- at myself and at the whole experience. It was exactly the sort of thing I'd hoped to take advantage of in New York. I'm not sure I'll be heading to Brooklyn to watch a man get slapped on a Saturday night again any time soon. But I'm glad I did it once.