Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

That Story I Promised

But first, some news: In the past week, I added 6,000 words to "How to Love God and Not Be a Jerk." (Which makes a total of 17,500 rough words for what I hope to be a slim 40,000 word book. I also calculated that, in my tiny handwriting, a single page of notebook paper generally contains 400 words.) And an agent has requested a fifty-page sample of Travels With Ritalin. So that's nice, and we'll see what happens.

Now, on to the story that won the Moth slam on October 30th. The theme, since it was Halloween time, was "tricks and treats." (This could actually be considered an alternate version of the story, since I'm not operating from a transcript, but simply re-remembering it as I more or less said it.)

We were raised poor. Daddy was a printer, and mom was a nurse, and we lived on 28th street in Tucson, which, if you know Tucson from back then, was a block from the barrio. We learned early on that some years we were going to have to delay Christmas until Dad could gather up enough money. One year all we got was blank tape cassettes to play with. We never went hungry, but we weren't living high. Lots of oatmeal, lots of rice. That kind of thing.

So in junior high school dad actually decided to buy me and my twin brother a pair of bikes. We couldn't get new bikes, but one night after dad got home from work we all got in the station wagon, went to a used bike store in a cheap part of town maybe three miles from where we lived, and picked up two used bikes for a hundred and fifty dollars. A hundred and fifty dollars! This was an unbelievable amount of money. We had never received such an expensive gift.

We were so excited, we couldn't wait to ride them, and dad said, "Do you want me to put those in the car or do you want to just ride them home?" And we said, "We want to ride them home!" And he said, "Okay, but be careful. This isn't a great part of town, and you don't have locks, so don't stop anywhere." We promised we wouldn't, and dad drove off.

Actually we had locks, but they were at home. I don't remember why.

Now this was the first era of videogames, and as my brother and I biked home, we passed a convenience store that had, visible from the window, Asteroids. My brother and I looked at each other. We had about a dollar. That was two doubles games.

We knew we shouldn't stop, but we were in junior high and we were idiots. So what we told each other was, "We'll just keep an eye on the bikes in turns, you know? When you're playing, I'll watch the bikes, and then when it's my turn, you watch the bikes." Perfect! And that is why, at night, in a bad part of town, in a place crawling with homeless people and no-good kids, my brother and I leaned our unlocked hundred-dollar bikes against a parking lot sign and went in to play a dollar game of Asteroids. It made sense at the time. I still cringe when I think about it.

The plan didn't work out like we expected. It turns out that Asteroids is a rather engrossing game, and neither one of us kept our eyes on the outside. And we were good---it took us about twenty or thirty minutes to burn through those four quarters. And then, flushed with contentment, we went outside---and the bikes were gone.

If y'all have never been the victim of crime, it's a little hard to explain how hard it hits you. We just stood there stunned, waiting for the scene to make sense. We looked at each other: what the hell do we do? And with a sinking feeling in our stomachs, we realized we were going to have to walk home ---three miles, through a bad part of town---and tell Dad what happened.

Now, we were good kids. Conscientious, religious. And we loved our dad. But we had no idea what we were going to tell him, because we knew how much this had cost him, and we knew how stupid we'd been, and we knew he deserved better. We cried, we prayed, we tried to console each other, but it was miserable. The walk home felt like a forced march.

And I guess at that low point, a few miles in, that's when I decided I was going to lie to my father. I proposed this story to Dan. We were good friends with our next door neighbors, so I said, "Let's pretend we were at our next door neighbors this whole time. We rode the bikes home, stopped at their place, and decided to keep the bikes there for the night."

"Why would we do that?"

"Because...because they have a covered shed, and we heard it was going to rain."

This was an idiotic idea, and my daddy was no idiot. (He has a Ph.D. in Medieval Spanish Literature, which is why we were poor.) The whole thing was full of holes. It wasn't going to rain---this was Tucson, for God's sake---and we had a covered shed too. But the thing is, I had a reputation for being kind of dominant, and I was also sort of scatter-brained. If anyone could pull off a story this idiotic, it was me. Obviously, of course, this still didn't explain why the bikes would wind up missing, but honestly, we were both so tired, and so sad, and so overwhelmed, that I think my idea was just to give us time to rest before we told Dad the truth.

So we finally made it home. I was the guy in charge of our lie, and I was the guy who had to ride point and open the door. I swear I stood on the stoop for a whole minute working up the courage, because the light was on behind the curtains and we knew Dad was up reading. But eventually, with hands shaking, I opened the door.

Dad was sitting there, reading the Bible. And there, in the middle of the living room, were our bikes. He looked up and said, very quietly, "Put those in the back. And lock them up."

We did. And I never forgot to lock my bike up after that. But in a way, it almost didn't matter. Because no matter where I was after that, I always felt a little bit safe.

(The end. Click on the comments for Author's Notes.)



Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

AUTHOR'S NOTE: There is a modicum of exaggeration in the story---for example, while we were poor, we actually moved three times, and kept getting farther and farther from the barrio. But in five minutes you don't have time for nuance.

But there is one actual lie in the story, which is that I never actually thought about lying to my father, and never proposed doing so to Dan. And under normal circumstances, I would never have added that section. The problem was, the theme was "tricks and treats," and if I hadn't added a potential trick inside the story, I figured the audience would see the ending coming from very far away. On any other night, with any other theme, such a feint wouldn't have been necessary, and I wouldn't have added it. I just have to get that off my chest, because I'm so very conscientious.

By the way, my dad had never done anything like that before that night, and has never done anything like it since. And yet, when people ask me, "What's your dad like?", this is the story I like to tell.

11/05/2006 1:38 PM  
Blogger Jason Rohrblogger said...

Great story, Dave. I didn't see the end coming, so it was very satisfying. Great fathering on your dad's part, too. Lessons my father taught me:

a) How to lie to the cops
b) How to shoot stuff
c) Ways to smoke pot

11/05/2006 2:09 PM  
Blogger Angieb303 said...

I don't guess you told either of my classes this story. It's a great story. Made me tear up a little. Aww!

11/05/2006 4:23 PM  
Anonymous ktelqueen said...

wow.what a story.i mouthed 'oh no' early on with great expectation of concern..and then a barely audible 'yes' when i got to the bikes in the's 4:23am and i'm glad i stayed awake to read this.

11/06/2006 3:25 AM  
Anonymous YCRT said...

Much better story with the "what can we tell Dad?" angle...that's what I would have been thinking. I literally felt nauseous thinking back to how I felt when my bike was stolen in 6th grade.

11/07/2006 10:45 AM  

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