Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Whole Night Out



The crazy ideas happen all at once.

It’s a Saturday, midday in early January. The day’s been cold but not, like, freezing. I’ve somehow coerced Shawn to hang out at Starbucks with me, which is diabolical on my part because he doesn’t really like Starbucks, and at some point, I’m going to need him to take off so I can futz around with my novel for a few hours while swimming in my haze of chai. It’s Saturday, so I’m vaguely thinking ahead to FaceOff, the 10:00 improv show I almost never fail to attend, and maybe – in the distant reaches of my mind – Rocky Horror. My attendance at Rocky wanes in the winter, because the show is downtown and I am not. Walking from there to home takes about three hours, which is fine in the spring or summer or fall but ball-frostingly cold in the winter. Riding a bike is so much easier – only a half hour – but I use Hubway, the shared-bike service in Boston, and while Cambridge still offers Hubway in the winter, Boston proper does not. Neither does Somerville, where I live, which means I have wheels for the middle part of my journey from Rocky to home. It’d be like only watching The Two Towers, only with considerably fewer Ents.

Anyway, back at the Bucks, where Shawn is reading the local scene paper and I’m probably letting my eyes glaze over to an AV Club article about a long-gone TV show in which I barely have interest. “Hey!” he says, jolting me out of my vague captivation with the intricacies of Gilligan’s Island or Get Smart or something. “MIT is doing a sci-fi film festival!”

I blink. “Like a 24 hour thing?”

“No, just overnight. They’re starting with Tremors and ending with … whoa, they’re ending with Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie.” For those who need a refresher course on my love of MST3K, I got a box set for Christmas, another one for Recalcitrant Shopping Day, and picked up a Tom Servo tattoo last year from one Kelly Barr, Wonder Tattoist. “It’s at 4:00 in the morning.”

The cogs start turning in my brain. Is biosteampunk a thing? It should be a thing.

“I want to see that!” I actually said, “I want to go to there,” but 30 Rock is over and I should learn how to deal with it.

“You know,” Shawn says, a glint in his eye, “you could see your FaceOff show, then Rocky, and still make it to MST3K.”

“My thoughts exactly! Oh my God, you should come with me to all those things!”

“The fact that I don’t like improv that much, or Rocky, or staying out late, or MST3K since the 90s isn’t cluing you in to the fact that you’ll be doing this alone?”

“It’ll be fun! Who doesn’t love exhaustion in the name of having a good time?”

“Me! Most people!”

So this was to be a solo venture. But first, Shawn returned home and then came back to that same Starbucks, where I had successfully futzed around with my novel for hours. He had returned with my gloves and hat.

“I don’t need my gloves and hat. It’s super warm out!”

“It’s 37 degrees out. Your sense of warm is relative. Plus, aren’t you going to be walking across the Mass Ave bridge at 2 AM?”

“Um, no. I’ll grab a cab from Loews to MIT. I’m not dumb!” Note my use of subtle foreshadowing.


But first, domesticity: there was a sale at the local Newbury Comics, where we picked up some CDs despite the fact that I don’t have an optical drive. (I got comedy CDs: the new Maria Bamford and The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. I like funny things from prior decades.) Then, skiddle-dee-doo, off to Central Square, supped at Mary Chung, whose title by all rights should be in the possessive but isn’t, and I headed out into my Whole Night out packed with starch and duck sauce and joy.

My first of three theaters was ImprovBoston, my secondlife home. I’ve haven’t been to the IB as frequently as I’d like to be lately, for a lot of reasons but mainly because I don’t work there anymore. But I almost always make it a point to see a late show there Saturday night, because it’s good to laugh on a Saturday and because I’m nearly 39 and I like to start my night at 10. This night started with an improvised stand-up show called Tight Five, in which a bunch of comedians have to make up a new set on the fly, given prompts by the hosts. I very much enjoy jam shows like this, in part because it takes the concept of standup shows and makes things seem fresh and fun, and in part because standups are hot and the whole night is sort of one long erotic cabaret.

I fled IB under cover of the night. It was 11:30 PM and I was running a little late. Next stop: CVS, where I picked up my Rocky Horror essentials: a big-ass Red Bull and a 5 Hour Energy Drink. My heart doesn’t like Rocky Horror. Usually this would also be the time where I purchased some Red Vines or Twizzlers or something, but I’ve been off sugar snacks since January 6, so thanks but no thanks, CVS. (I got trail mix and a couple of protein bars.)


Recently, I passed my 500th viewing of Rocky Horror, because I’m psychotic. There was a whole ceremony. My friends Mark and Kurt came. Shawn brought his Mom. I got to be a part of the virgin ceremony, which was fun, but not nearly as sexy as that last show at the Harvard Square theater where I got to switch clothes with a chubby college guy. Some people call it obsession. I call it honoring the stuff you love. My friend Alonso once asked me if my repeated trips to Disney parks was “chasing the dragon,” always searching for that same elusive high I got the first time I went to Disney World, way back in 2007. I don’t know if it’s quite that. Rocky is a cumulative experience for me by this point. I first realized I was gay when I saw the movie on my bleary TV set with my uncle and his then-girlfriend when I was fifteen, and every time Meat Loaf strides on screen, that revelation hits me anew. Watching it with the first guy I was ever in love with in high school. My whole 20s was going every Saturday night with Tracey. That last Harvard Square show with Vickie. My times at the Chelsea show with Duncan and Marty and Jeff. All those memories come with me, along with my actual affection for the film, and the callbacks I’ve learned and made up. It’s never short of a thrilling time for me, every time.

The show ended at 2 and I headed out into the dark Boston night, where the bars are just closing and there’s a weird amount of traffic around Boston Common. Way too much traffic to get a cab. And besides, it’s not that cold out, I can just walk. I’ve got my audiobook of The Red Badge of Courage (because what warms you up faster than Civil War battlefield depression?), and even though I don’t have my heavy coat, I now have my hat and gloves, and well, oh wow, this walk over the Mass Ave bridge is a little cold, like Jack London “To Build a Fire” cold, and goddammit, my phone picks now to run out of juice, and I’m cold and bookless and there’s still half a mile to go? What accursed wretch made me do this, oh btw it’s me.

By the time I got to MIT, my ass felt like those Christmas-themed Popsicles that are still in the freezer at Easter and now they have an ice rime. The front doors loomed, monolithic and imposing, gateways into regions of knowledge I have only glanced off. My biggest terror at this point is that the doors will for some arcane reason be locked, that the movie is playing in a different building and I can’t get there from here, that they’ve somehow canceled the movie altogether and no one told me and I can’t check because my phone’s dead.


Then I was in the main lobby, and it was empty enough to echo with the sounds of my footfalls. And warm! Oh, it was like lying down in a giant, freshly-made croissant. My 21st century eyes scanned the wall and there, just off MIT’s Infinite Corridor (which runs, seemingly eternally, through the heart of MIT’s main building), was an outlet. With no shame or hesitation, I plopped down on the floor, plugged in my phone, took off my jacket and arranged myself a little picnic: one energy bar, some trail mix, a bottle of water and my 5 hour energy drink. It was nearly three-fifteen by now; my movie wasn’t starting until 4 all the way at the other end of the Infinite Corridor, but I had time for a little picnic. Mere weeks before, Shawn had given me my best Christmas since 1990, and one of my favorite things was a book by Lawrence Block called The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons, which he had self-published and released on Christmas day. In the midst of my weird, wild night out, I loved taking that half-hour to just sit and eat and get warm. Sometimes when I write about my big events, I forget to talk about the quiet moments. Those three chapters and vaguely healthy snacks made the night all worth it.

Soon enough, I was on my way, trundling along that Infinite Corridor all by myself. When I got there, Aliens was still playing, and a part of me lamented not having gone to the rest of the SF marathon. That ended, though, when I stretched fully out on a couch and waited for Aliens to be over. As much as I would have enjoyed seeing Sigourney Weaver bitchslap alien ass at 2:00 AM, this was better.


The theater opened on Aliens’ credits, and immediately started in on Pharrell Willaims’ “Happy” video, which they played on endless repeat while we all got situated. Why that song? Why just that song? The young women selling the tickets informed me that they’d be serving breakfast foods before the film; for me, that amounted to a sort-of warm Eggo waffle and some orange juice. Bliss? Somehow yes.

I settled into my super hard seat, and it’s only now that I remember I saw A Late Quartet, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, in this very theater, probably in this very seat. The tragedy was still in the future at that point, though; I only had happy memories here at that point, notably seeing my 498th Rocky Horror during the summer. As for MST3K: The Movie. I was going for the experience, having remembered this particular MST3K not being as good as I wanted it to be. Happily, my memories proved faulty. I’ve been on a long journey with MST3K, from watching alone in my little rooming house to making it the central part of Geek Sleepover with Dave and Tracey and Shawn, to rediscovering it later with my buddy Dennis. I have a Tom Servo tattoo. I let the film wash over me, and laughed at all the jokes I’d forgotten, and really just relaxed as we marched toward six AM, and the close of my Whole Night Out.

or so I thought!

One of the principal attractions of Whole Night Out was the fact that I could take public transportation at both ends. I could get one of the last trains to Rocky at night and I could catch one of the first buses to home in the morning. But as I stepped out of MIT into the first light of dawn, I checked the bus schedule on my phone and saw, to my dismay, that bus service in Central Square doesn’t start until 6:45 on Sunday. Drat! The walk from the front gate of MIT to Central Square – about half a mile – is nothing on warm days, but somehow, the coming of the sun had not warmed Cambridge, and the dull freeze soaked into my bones at once. As quickly as I could move, I made my way toward central, wondering how quickly frostbite set in, irrationally hoping that the gym would be open at 6:00 on Sunday so I could at least take a shower. No such luck! The only things open were the CVS…

…and the Starbucks, beckoning me inside like a benevolent siren. I collapsed in a chair, warmth prickling into my skin like tiny needles, and eventually grew mobile enough to get a hot chai and some oatmeal. It was six-fifteen AM. The bus wasn’t coming for a half hour. That was plenty of time to get some writing done. Plenty of time indeed.

So in that last half hour out, as exhaustion gripped me and the cold worked its way out of my hollow places, I opened up my laptop and got to work.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

In and Out


“So, the conference is in Boston?”


“And I live in Boston.”


“I just want to verify once again that you want to put me up in a five-star hotel three miles away from my house, and pay for my meals and transportation so I can attend a conference in the building in which my actual office is.”


“I’m not going to ask twice!”

Guys, I asked twice. Maybe three times. I mean, last year, my company set me up at the Taj, which used to be the Ritz, which is an even fancier hotel than the Westin I stayed at this weekend, but I was sick the whole time and it didn’t count. I mean, I love staying in hotels. Nice hotels. Fancy hotels with soaps in the shape of leafs (which, b t dubs, do not turn me into a tanooki when I unwrap them; whatevs, Westin). Quite a lot of my life has been desperately wanting to have the means in which to live as a fancy gentleman, which is obviously why I chose to pursue writing hard-to-classify novels as a passion. Now, thanks to the soulless faceless one percenters, I get to pretend I’m rich and get my Starbucks paid for without climbing the corporate ladder all that high. Thanks, America!

How’s the depression, no one asked? You know, it’s depression. Wanna hear something weird? When I was at the Drive-By Truckers show, I was having a blast, an absolute blast, but I found myself not connecting as fully or as deeply as I usually do. My whole self wasn’t given over. And it wasn’t the band or the people I was with. The part of me that feels everything awesome all the time seems to be … not in hibernation, but in intermittent hiding. Looking back at the show, I keep remembering a time or five when things finally hit me. I was here. This was real. I was happy. And I screamed or shouted or cried or danced, and lived my full self in those moments. Then it flipped away. This happens sometimes in my every day life, but when it happens during big moments or important times (like when it happens at Disney World), it’s the most frustrating. I want to be in it, and I can’t, and it’s like wanting to run with two broken ankles.

But it’s getting better, always better. With my work conference so close to my home, I’ve been able to have my cake and eat it too, except that I haven’t had any cake since January 6th and I might have to murder someone for a fucking slice of Duncan Hines (seriously; there were trail mix bars at the meetings and, oh yeah, piles of candy I can’t even, and I wouldn’t allow myself the ones with chocolate in them. I AM GOING TO PUNCH A BABY KITTEN.) Shawn came over on Tuesday and we had snuggle times, then I went out to karaoke last night and killed “Solsbury Hill” and “Sex On Fire.” (PS the night might have had its own triggers, but what the fuck, I’m going to acknowledge my brain weirdness, but I don’t have to be a slave to all of it). Back to the gym today and launched into some article writing, with a few hours set aside for the novel later tonight.

I think a part of me firmly believes that my depression will just evaporate if I have some goddamned cookies, but I’ve come this far, and if a part of this is withdrawal, then I’m going to shake until it’s over. I’ve got a Month of No Starbucks coming up in March and if I’m going to survive, I need to make a stand somewhere. I’m tempted to laugh at myself regarding my stupid addictions, but even though it’s not, like, meth, this still feels real.

Wow, this was supposed to have a whole theme and through-line and it so does not. Next time. Now I’ve got other stories to write.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Shape I’m In

There was a chunk of years – 1999 through 2006, roughly – when I was given to daily, public introspection. Everything I did, thought, said, or experienced was fascinating to me. I kept a daily journal and I treated it like storytelling. I wove tales about me and my friends, sometimes gave over to hyperbole and embellishment, and made sure my life was given a structure. That’s what nonfiction is, especially when it’s memoir: a way to give the messiness of life a through-line. I put my life online, first under an alias and then out loud and public. And then I stopped.

It wasn’t a conscious decision to stop. I just got too busy with my actual life to document it. One of the things people used to say to me is that my life was “so fascinating; I don’t have that interesting a life, so I don’t journal.” My response was always, “Well, no. I don’t have that interesting a life either. I just make it look like I do.” Neat nouns and vivid verbs, that’s what I was taught in high school, and always make sure your conversations read well.

But as I’ve indicated, my life didn’t stop when I stopped writing about it. What kind of sucks is that the last two years were among the best of my life. 2012 and 2013 were an explosion of fecundity for me. My writing, my comedy, my Disney life, my friends, my obsessions, even my boring day job – everything got better. And it just kept getting better. Never once did I feel like it could get worse, because I kind of don’t believe in that. I believe we have peaks and we have valleys, but it’s all a part of some grand tapestry that makes up who we are. Besides, my dreams came bundled with an abundance of drive and ambition: I wasn’t just whiling my day away, wanting things to get awesome and not doing a thing about it. I was out there every day, busting my ass making sure I made manifest the things I wanted in life. I wrote novels and nonfiction books. I took my sketch comedy team to New York City. I became a stand-up performer. I became a host and producer of a comedy night in a bar. Everything was great and everything was perfect until it wasn’t.

You don’t see harbingers until later, I think. The bar I hosted a show in had a fire, then water damage, and then the owner had a stroke. That night was put on hiatus; only later, online, did I find out the bar would be closing permanently. Then …

Okay, making this a list sucks. It’s not a list. It’s my life. My sketch team imploded. Duct Tape Revolution ended. Not organically. Not well. And I did it. I stopped it. I broke up the band, for reasons I don’t want to dive into, but they seemed like good reasons at the time. Most days, they still seem like good reasons. Do I regret it? Every day. Would I change what I did? I don’t think so. Am I sad? Yes. I’m sad.

Breaking up the group happened as a major confluence of negative events tornadoed into my life. Philip Seymour Hoffman died. He died. He overdosed on heroin and he died. He won’t make any more movies. I had to give up my hope of someday meeting him in person and shaking his hand. For so long, he was my favorite actor, and always remained in the top 2. I had a crush on him and he died. Looking in from the outside, it’s almost ridiculous of being this thrown and tormented by the death of an actor I never met, but it fucked me up.

Then I got sick. It wasn’t the worst sickness, just a bad cold, but it drained me and I had to give up my routine. No gym. No Rocky Horror. No karaoke. No work one day. Around this time, I found out that one of my jobs would be dropping me in a couple of months – a thing I’d known logically for awhile, but hadn’t yet accepted emotionally – and that I was going to have to get one of my teeth yanked, probably. Am I having the worst tragedies in the history of the world? No. I’m still writing, I have a new comedy night at a new bar, and me and my sweetie, Shawn, just passed our fifteenth anniversary. I have my Disney friends and I travel the country seeing Drive-By Truckers and I’m on a new diet and exercise routine that seems to be working. I’m fine. I’m fine.

Except: goddammit, I’m used to better than fine. I’m used to awesome. I love awesome. My three-week deep depression seems to have lifted, but I’m still not over stuff. And I know that it’s going to take awhile to get over stuff. To live through the bullshit of a normal life. I can do it. I’ve done it all my life. My life has been a series of getting through a lot of bullshit so I can do great things that matter. Eventually, the residual sadness will also depart, and I’ll be great again. That will happen. It’s just not happening yet, and that makes me sad, too. Knowing that you’re ready to be back on top and you can’t quite get there yet is its own special version of hell.

So yeah. That’s the shape I’m in. Better days ahead, right?