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!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Dignity: A Steal at Two Dollars

Last night I went to the Moth Story Slam. I haven't been to a Slam in a long time, but the pre-Valentine's Day show is usually called "Love Hurts," and it's usually loads of fun. It's a can't-miss theme, and everyone has a story.

A number of friends couldn't make it, so I arrived alone and discovered that the place was as packed as it could possibly be: not only was every table filled, but it was standing-room only from the moment you opened to door and shouldered your way to where the seating even started. As usual, however, there were a few folding chairs on the actual stage, and one was untenanted, so I sat there. Note that this put me up on the stage and in full view of everyone, including the host.

The host was Andy Borowitz, who's a hosting staple of many a Moth show, but he's better known for a number of other achievements: he created TV's The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, co-produced the movie Pleasantville, writes the website The Borowitz Report, and is a regular contributor of humor to The New Yorker and Newsweek. He is also a genuinely sweet guy, without even a whiff of arrogance to him. Because we're both involved in the storytelling scene, our paths have crossed a number of times, and we're evidently well-disposed toward one another. I can even say, without an ounce of exaggeration, that he agreed to friend me on Facebook.

So Andy's hosting the show, he's doing his opening riff, everyone's happy. But after the first story, something odd happened. One of the reasons they have actual hosts is that you need someone to say stuff after each storyteller's performance to sort of kill time while the judges are deciding on the score. On this evening, the obvious topic was love, so in the lull, Andy asked a fairly typical host-y question: "Who here has plans to do something on Valentine's Day?" And in a jam-packed cafe with over a hundred people, maybe five people raised their hands, and no one seemed loud or excited.

Backtracking, he said, "Well who here is single?" And--in another odd turn--almost no one raised their hands. I, however, raised mine. And everyone saw it, including Andy, who must have seen me as a kind of salvation. Quickly he switched to Plan B.

"Dave!" he said. "This is Dave Dickerson, everybody. Dave, are you single?" I nodded, and he said, "Well, this it Valentine's Day, love is in the air, and we're going to find you a woman tonight. We're going to make Dave a match! Right, everybody?" Cheers, applause.

I'm not particularly sensitive about being single. But this was starting to feel a bit like charity. Public, onstage charity, with every good intention in the world but with a distinct bouquet of humiliation to it. I may be a little hazy about the actual timing (they were videotaping it, though, so there's a visual record you could check with), but the next thing I remember--in the lull after the next story--Andy had invited me stand beside him at the mike and was doing a Dating Game-style interview with me. "What's your favorite band?" (Elvis Costello.) "What's your favorite movie?" (The Apartment.)

Then he asked me, "What would you do on an ideal romantic Valentines Day date?" And I drew a blank. I don't know any cool clubs, don't know any nice restaurants, and it suddenly struck me that I didn't even know how to play this. The other two questions had been simple information, easy to answer. But with this question, I was suddenly being asked to put something on the table: some sort of pitch, and I didn't know how real this game was. Did I want to meet someone? Sure! That would be lovely. Would this work? Didn't seem likely, but was it worth torpedoing? Or would the smart play be as the innocent victim of the host? If I'd been arrogant enough to take the mike and riff, I might have been able to say something that would have the sort of shape I like to convey, instead of being defined by someone else's questions. But I felt it wasn't my show, I was being a good sport, and this was all so odd I couldn't get a read on what I wanted to say. I was torn between the desire to say something absurdly off-putting ("I know this great tattoo parlor...") and something actually earnest (which would be "Let's go to Vintage, at 9th and 50th." That place has been good to me recently). I think, in retrospect, I should have said something absurdly romantic ("After a massage at a day spa, we'll hop a jet to my castle in Romania"), but all I said was, "I think it's too late to book Singapore." Lame, and not a proud moment.

Then--the oy becomes veyer--he announced that at the intermission, women who were interested in dating me should write their names down on blanks at the front table, and after the intermission we'd sort them out in some fashion.

I think he was actually expecting to do some sort of Dating Game back-and-forth, but honestly. I get a hundred hits on my site a day, and even then I'm lucky if I get one or two passing comments from anonymous people who aren't even onstage. I knew no one would sign up. And sure enough, no one did. What I wasn't expecting is that Andy announced it. "We have zero sign-ups!" (Pause for laughter.) "It's time to sweeten the deal. Remember that Dave is a regular contributor to This American Life and used to write greeting cards for Hallmark. Ladies...?" He also name-dropped my blog.

By this time, I had realized something else: I was not only onstage, but people were looking at me even when there was a performer on. So every shift in my chair, every distracted expression, was presumably being observed and judged, and I kept second-guessing my own unconscious behavior. Did I just touch my nose? Is that what normal people do or did it seem gross? Should I have my arms crossed? Lean forward when I laugh? Am I relaxed, or do I look like a tense person who's trying too hard to be relaxed and how do I fix it if I'm doing it wrong? And why the hell do I even care? The answer to that last is because, romantic that I am, I couldn't help thinking, Maybe this might work! Wouldn't that be a nice and unusual surprise? Of course, what would make it a surprise is the same thing that runs the lottery: the odds were impossible. Fortunately, by the sixth or seventh performer, Andy went with Plan C: there was a couple there who'd just gotten married who had met in person for the first time at the "Love Hurts" show a year ago. He brought them onstage, they were adorable, genuinely nice, and impossible for even New Yorkers to resent. That was good theater. And I was translated into the realm of (I imagine) the embarrassing misstep from earlier, passed over in polite silence for the remainder of the show.

Except for one final mention: the Moth was selling a collection of "Love Hurts" stories on CD, and it was announced that, this night only, it was retailing for $10 instead of $15. And Andy said, "And for another two dollars we'll throw in Dave." So now I know my estimated worth. As far as I know, no one took them up on the offer.

When the show was over, a few of my friends said, "Dave, you should totally hang around by the bar and I bet women will want to talk with you." This seemed highly unlikely, and after the public de-pantsing I'd suffered (with a good will, mind you, but why prolong it?), I was ready to simply cut my losses rather than move from Temporary Butt of the Evening's Pity to the realm of Saddest Possible Optimist.

The evening had a series of saving graces, however. First, Andy bought me a drink. That's never bad, even though The Nuyorican doesn't actually serve whiskey, and should be burned to the ground for that omission alone. Then, as it turns out, a friend of mine for (gulp) 18 years was in the audience: Mr Tex (Mike Reiss) from the National Puzzlers League. I'd met him before (I blogged about it recently), but now he and his wife have officially moved here, as of a month ago. And two more cool things happened. The first was that Mike said, "How do you know Andy?" It turns out that he and Andy worked on the Harvard Lampoon together, some twenty-plus years ago, and have been friends ever since. Mike's wife Denise took a picture of the three of us together: Producer for the Simpsons, Creator of Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and me: The Moth Story Slam's unofficial Mascot-cum-Pinata. Coolness by very intense osmosis: only in New York (or certain parts of L.A.). After that, I actually got to hang out with Mike and Denise at their really gorgeous apartment and had a wonderful time. I apparently even drank some scotch that came from Conan O'Brien--and I say this, not because I'm into name-dropping, but because it gives a sense of how strange it was that I was even there, and the kind of odd notes that kept being rung the whole way through. Not a bad evening, all around.

But I know one thing: if I get picked at next year's "Love Hurts" Slam, this is the story I'm going to tell. And I think someone--Andy, the Moth, perhaps the universe itself--owes me at least one more drink. I will also accept sex.



Blogger Beth Gigax Bates said...

The oy becomes veyer? Oy vey. It hurts. I can only hope that one day I can achieve such literary brilliance.

2/14/2008 12:12 AM  
Blogger Jas P. said...

These are the blows of the chisel by which God makes us perfect.

Still, if all's well that ends well, all is well and will be well.

Fab story, Dave.

2/14/2008 10:58 AM  
Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

Blog posts are, almost by definition, first drafts. In retrospect, I see now that I should have said that the oy had become more gevalt-worthy.

2/14/2008 1:05 PM  
Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

Thanks, Jim! Storytelling compliments from you are particularly nice to hear.

2/14/2008 1:06 PM  
Blogger Jason Rohrblogger said...

Per your last paragraph I will buy you a drink. You'll have to buy your own sex, though...

2/14/2008 1:51 PM  
Blogger Laura Rebecca said...

Oh, God -- what an evening. But, it sounds like you handled things very gracefully. (AND you got to meet Mike Reiss!)

When I lived in NY, I went on a lot of bad dates. As I suffered through each one, I used to think to myself, "Well, at least I'll get a good story out of this." It sounds like you've adopted a similar philosophy -- and I'm grateful. I always enjoy reading your posts.

2/14/2008 5:00 PM  
Blogger Cass said...

you know, any woman who may have wanted to meet you might have felt just as self-conscious writing her name down at the bar (being watched by everyone around her) as you were sitting on stage! i'm just saying, from a woman's point of view, this is one possibility.

andy and the moth owe each of them a drink as well, for missing out.

2/15/2008 12:59 AM  

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