I’m a Podcast!

RISK! is a live show and podcast “where people tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public” hosted by Kevin Allison, of the legendary TV sketch comedy troupe The State. The award-winning live show happens monthly in New York and Los Angeles. It’s featured people like Janeane Garofalo, Lisa Lampanelli, Kevin Nealon, Margaret Cho, Marc Maron, Sarah Silverman, Lili Taylor, Rachel Dratch, Andy Borowitz and …

ME!

It’s finally happening.

I’ve been wanting a writing retreat for years now. I’ve made plans, I’ve gotten offers for places to stay, but somehow something’s always come up. Or I’ve put it off. Or maybe it just wasn’t time.

Well, now, it is time.

I have taken a week off from work, promised to be completely unavailable to any and all clients for a full 10 days, and tomorrow I am flying my happy writing butt to Paris.

Eee!

I’m going over with a couple of friends, including CC of Niagara-ish Falls fame. She’s turning 30, so we’ve used that as a brilliant excuse to fly to Europe and spend a week writing and drinking wine and staring at France from a cafe window. Seriously that’s the plan.

No museums, no churches, no tour busses. A laptop, some brie and a big vat of Bordeaux. Bring it.

God, I may have to start smoking again.

What She Told

I first heard the story of my dad trying to shoot my mom when I was about 9 or 10 years old. My parents had been divorced for a few years and although Daddy was never around, I remember hearing stories about how awful he was on a pretty regular basis. There were some kind of innocuous stories like the one about how when they were dating, Daddy gave Mom flowers every December for her birthday, but after their October wedding in 1966, she got nothing that year, or any birthday thereafter. Then there were other, more serious stories.

Naturally, daddy was an alcoholic, and the stories of how his drinking led to all sorts of havoc were the more severe of his offenses: frequent unemployment, constant relocation, infidelity, and occasionally a real doozie like “the time the gun jammed.”

These stories got to me for a variety of pretty obvious reasons – my dad was an asshole alcoholic who didn’t support his family (before or after the divorce) and my mom was so emotionally broken that she stayed in a marriage for another six years with a man who drunkenly attempted to shoot her while she was 8 months pregnant with the first of their two children. Then, of course, there was the fact that she stayed in this marriage and had a second child … for me.

Why did she live with a man like that? “I knew you needed a daddy, so I stayed.”

How could she bring another kid into that situation? “I didn’t want you to grow up an only child, so we had your sister.”

The “Sibling for Susan” story was one that really stuck with me. I had just turned three years old and that year for Daddy’s birthday, Mom allowed him to have sex with her. “We only did it once that year and Amy came right on time – nine months to the day.” It was a helpful way to remember which day in December Daddy was born.

But what really got to me, especially as I got older and understood that she didn’t have to tell me these stories, but that she was choosing to tell them, was the why of it all. As a mom who always said she only wanted the best for me, what was the benefit of my hearing how awful my dad was and how miserable my mom’s life had been with him?

Like I said, with the exception of a couple of day trips to visit and greeting cards for birthdays and holidays, Daddy was pretty much absent for my entire childhood. So, he wasn’t a real person to me, so much as he was an ogre in all of Mom’s stories, an ogre who, ostensibly loved me.

The only positive thing I ever heard about Daddy came as a tagline to all Mom’s stories of abuse, chaos and turmoil: but he loved you very much.

“Susan, it was the cutest thing. Your Daddy was working for the radio station and he was promoting a fundraiser for the March of Dimes. You were only three years old and he recorded you to put you on air. I can still hear your little voice:

My daddy is going to walk … to the beach. Won’t you please give a dime so he can take one more step? Thank you.

I remember it clear as day – you said it just like that, ‘walk … to the beach.’” We had the recording on one of those reel-to-reel tapes and I loved listening to it over and over.”

“I wanna hear it.”

“Oh me too but, it’s destroyed. I wanted to take it with me when we left your daddy, but he wouldn’t let me. Now we’ll never hear it again. After we moved out, he burned our house down with all of his stuff inside. He knew I wanted those reels and he just burned them up in that old house. There was so much of your stuff in there – pictures, toys, baby clothes – and now it’s all gone.”

“Why did he do that?”

“To get insurance money, I think. I just have no idea why he wouldn’t have taken that stuff out first.”

“I hate him.”

“No honey, don’t say that. Your daddy loved you very much.”

I wish I knew what Mom intended by telling us these stories … and why she always added a “you meant the world to him” or a “I never saw him so happy as the day you were born” to the end of each one. If he loves me so much, why did he burn up my stuff … sleep around on my mom … break her heart … make us have to leave? Why isn’t he here?

Maybe Mom thought that if we hated Daddy, it wouldn’t hurt so much that he wasn’t around. Or maybe she wanted to make sure that she was the favorite parent. “She turned us into man-haters,” my sister Amy once said to me, which is true. But I also know it’s so much more than that.

I just wish I could figure out what.

 

 

Here’s a story …

One November evening back in 1970, my mom and dad went to the State Farm Insurance building in downtown Jacksonville for their big holiday staff party. Mom wore her new gown that she made herself. The fabric was a navy satin with dime-sized red polka dots all over and it was the chicest dress at the party. Daddy wore his best blazer and his widest tie, looking as handsome as ever. When a photographer asked them to pose for a shot for the company newsletter, he said they looked like they were made for each other.

Later in the evening, they were having a great time chatting with their friends Liz and Gene when Mom excused herself from the circle. “Y’all know how it is when you’re pregnant,” she said as she and her 8-months-pregnant belly made their way down the hallway of darkened offices to the bathroom.

Once Mom got back, Daddy and Gene were gone and Liz was talking to some other woman. She joined the women’s conversation, assuming the guys had gone to get drinks. And, a little while later, when Gene returned with a cocktail for Liz, he told her that Daddy had run into a golf buddy at the bar. So, the four of them continued talking until Mom had to excuse herself again.

“Sorry, y’all. This baby is just sitting right in the middle of my bladder,” and she headed back down the hallway. But before she got to the bathroom, she spotted a couple making out in the shadows of one of the dark offices.

Daddy had already had plenty to drink before Mom caught him with that “blonde hussy,” but once she confronted and embarrassed him, he proceeded to get shit-can-blind drunk to the point that Mom had to physically assist him into the Volkswagen Beetle before squeezing her fat belly behind the wheel to drive them home.

Once they got back, Daddy got a second wind and started yelling and threatening Mom, and at some point she ran away from him and hid in their bedroom closet. He stumbled around punching walls and screaming her name until he made his way to the back of the house where their room was.

When he opened the closet door he saw Mom in the corner first, then he shifted his gaze to the rifle that was leaning next to her. Too paralyzed to move, Mom watched him pick up the gun, and point it directly at her heart, the barrel practically resting on her pregnant belly.

Daddy pulled the trigger that night, but by some miracle, the gun jammed and Mom was able to run out and hide in the hedges, where she shivered in the cold, autumn night, until Daddy finally passed out and she was able to go back inside and fall asleep in the bed next to him.

Two weeks later, I was born.

 

Barbershop Stories: Fakin’ da Funk

Guess who’s featured in the second installment of D Frizzle’s Barbershop Stories. That’s right. Me. Me in a line up with Jim O’Grady and Cammi Climaco. I haven’t seen the other guys yet, but I’m sure they’re amazing.

Come through!

The show is on Tuesday, August 21st at 8:00pm at DeLuxe Gallery in Fort Greene, Brooklyn which is located at 704 Fulton Street between South Oxford and South Portland.

Come to the second installment of Barbershop Stories with tales about times we’ve been Fake(d). From trickery and deception to lies and fraud- we’ll be sharing it all! Peeps will be putting in corn rows and trimming corners on some ‘dus while serving up some empanadas and chicken wings. Don’t be a perpetrator and come thru!

Featured Storytellers:

Jim O’Grady– Writer, Moth StorySLAM Winner & WNYC Radio Reporter

Susan Kent– Writer, Storyteller & Host of ‘Tell it Brooklyn’

Cammi Climaco– Visual Artist & Host of ‘Ask Me Stories’

Rick Younger– Comedian, Actor & Singer

Featured Slam Poet:

Ja Poet

Hosted by:

Dawn J. Fraser (dfrizzle)

Mike Brown

Location: De Luxe Gallery – 704 Fulton Street – Brooklyn, NY 11217

Doors: 7:30pm – Show: 8:00pm

FREE!

BYOB! (You bring alcohol, we’ll bring the mixers!)

More info about BSS can be found at http://www.barbershopstories.com/

BK is in the House

I never realized that my city and my mom shared the same initials until almost a year after she died. And it’s weird to me because I used to forge her signature a lot, so you think I might have noticed once I moved to Brooklyn and started incorporating BK into my personal vernacular.  You know, as in:

“So, Susan where do you live?”

“BK, yo. What’s up?”

That spells "blood" - I am fiercely hood.

I say forge because that’s the technical term, but Mom knew I did it. She was actually pretty impressed with my ability to copy other people’s signatures as it reflected that a little part of her was inside of me. For many years after we moved to Fitzgerald, Mom worked as a legal secretary and part of her job was to be able to sign the attorney’s names for them. That way she could type, process and file court documents without ever having to bother a lawyer. It was an efficient way of handling the routine clients, if not the most ethical practice when it came to operating a law firm.

To save time at home, Mom handed her personal signature duties over to me. She let me sign my own report cards, initial tests and notes from my teachers, write my own absence excuses, and I filled out and signed her checks when I needed to get cash. I naturally had a similar writing style to Mom, but there were a few letters that I had to work at to get. I remember practicing her signature over and over at my grandma’s dining room table to get the capital B and K just right. Mom would see my notebooks and give me feedback on my progress. “Oh, this one’s pretty good,” or, “See here?” taking the pen from my hand and demonstrating, “The K’s actually more like this.”

I got really good at imitating Mom’s handwriting and took care of all the paperwork duties until I finished college and was no longer asked for my mom’s information along with my own on official documents. After that, I never really needed the skill again. But still, more than ten years later when I sign my own name, I sometimes slip and use Mom’s capital K.

Now that she’s gone, I can’t see or write or say BK without thinking of her. And now that I’m in the throes of DPC Year Two, I can barely type this sentence because I keep breaking down and sobbing after every fourth word. Sigh. I miss her, you guys.

What really sucks about missing her, besides the non-stop breakdown-o-rama that has become my life, is there’s such a huge part of me that knows I never really had her to begin with — at least not in the way I needed her. And now that she’s gone, I know for sure that it’s never going to happen.

 

You down with DPC?

When Mom first died, part of my initiation into the DPC (Dead Parents Club) was to have lots of conversations with people who had also lost their parents. It’s not so much that it was required of me, as it just kept happening over and over again.

Once you join the DPC, people come out of nowhere to reveal that they lost a parent, or in some cases both, so you commiserate over how fucking hideous it is. The problem though, is that most of them have been in the DPC for years and have become adjusted to the new being inside of them that is their grief. So, they sometimes forget what it was like when it first happened.

Here’s how most of those conversations went:

Them:  Susan, I heard about your mom. I’m so sorry.

Me:  Thanks. It sucks balls.

Them:  I know. I lost my [parent] too. How are you holding up?

Me:  Well, you lost your [parent]. You know. I’m more profoundly sad than I could ever have imagined was possible. I don’t have kids but I feel that the inconceivable love people feel when their child is born is in direct proportion to the paralyzing pain you feel when your parent dies. I never knew I could hurt this much.

Them:  (Usually handing me a tissue and shrugging.) Yeah. That’s never going to go away.

Almost two years in, I can tell you that it doesn’t, but what the bastards failed to mention is that it does get better. Or, maybe not so much better as different and more tolerable.

I really don’t know what people are thinking when they say that cruel shit. Perhaps when their parent died no one warned them about the everlasting sorrow and they’re trying to give others the leg up. All I know is that the last thing you want to hear when you’re in the initial throes of overwhelming despair is that it’s never going to end.

Luckily, I do have a few friends who have given me the “real talk” version of life in the DPC, so I know that as I approach year two, I’m moving into the reality phase of my mourning. Year one you are so focused on making it through year one that you hardly realize it’s passed until it’s over. As year two begins, you start adjusting to life without your parent in a real way.

The heavy, soul crushing, knee buckling pain has subsided and you only cry that way when you see a pen cap, or a discarded Macy’s bag, or some other previously innocuous item that all of a sudden triggers a memory of your 9th Christmas or the time your Mom stayed up all night addressing your classmates’ Valentine’s Day cards.

They tell me that the second anniversary is the toughest. That’s when you move from grieving the loss into accepting the reality and the finality of your parent’s death. When you truly understand that the relationship you had with your mom is all the relationship you’re ever going to get with her. So, I have that to look forward to this December.

What fun.

But, they also tell me that after that, after you honestly comprehend at your core soul level that your mom is never coming back, in year three things start to get easier, which is what I have to look forward to this January.

And that is what I, as an official DPC Affiliate, intend to tell all new members.

 

The Year of Susan Springs Along

Guess who got motherfucking fan mail from The motherfucking Moth.

WHAT?

That’s right, kiddies. Susanita here just got herself a little old email directly from the Senior Producer of The Moth telling me what a great job I did at their StorySlam back in March.

I loved it and have thought of it quite often since.

Shut the front door. The story was about one night when I had to wake my mom up to take me to the hospital. It was an emergency situation and a pretty intense, kinda hideous time. Erica shot a video of my performance, but I’ve been hesitant to share it with you guys. Not that I wouldn’t tell you anything I would tell to 300 strangers in the West Village, and I’ve actually told you the same story before, I just was a lot more explicit with the details in the live version so … I’m being weird about it. I don’t know. Anyway. Back to this email.

“Very beautiful and honest, and a POV that we don’t often get to hear. I truly appreciate that you shared it.”

Actually, my Moth fan mail came in yesterday afternoon and I couldn’t even process it. I read it on my phone while I was tutoring at The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, and I am pretty sure I went into shock. It wasn’t until I re-read it today that the twitterpating excitement set in. But I’ll be honest, there was a bit of “you know that’s right” in there as well. (Shout out to Dr. E, my current therapist for helping me work out that self-confidence thing.)

The thing is, I’ve known that something like this was coming for a while.

(Seriously, you guys. If you have not signed up for these emails yet, you have not lived. You also have not lived if you’ve never shelled peas, but that’s another story.)

In the month since I received this email from my pal The Universe, things truly are blowing up. I’ve been working super hard on Tell It: Brooklyn (Last month was SRO, bitches!), I’m writing and performing new stories each month, I’m going to other storytelling events, making local writer pals and harassing nice bloggers on the B69 bus.

"Hey, I follow you on Twitter. Have a Tell It: Brooklyn notebook."

And now, I’ve gotten fan mail from The Moth. But here’s the problem.

There’s a typo in the subject line.

It’s not like the capital O is all I can see, but I definitely took note of it the six or seven times I read through the email. The thing for me was, it reminded me of how when I was a kid, Mom would buy my sister’s and my holiday gifts in pairs. One would be pink (my sister’s), one would be blue (mine) and the blue one would always be flawed. Always.

Whether it was a rip in the teddy bear’s seam or a chip in the porcelain doll’s leg, there was always something wrong with the blue one. So much so that it became a running joke on holidays. It even began to spill into my non-blue gifts. Over the years, I got tons of presents that were marred in one way or another, but I loved them just the same. I mean, I was bummed out that I never got a flawless gift, but I still enjoyed them.

You can tell he's a solo present cause there's no blue.

What his good ear looks like.

What his right ear looks like.

What his left ear looks like.

What his left ear looks like.

It wasn’t until years later that I thought Mom’s mean ass might have been doing it on purpose. Seriously, what are the odds of years’ worth of blue gifts being damaged AND my other presents too? Come on …

Anyway, the point of all this is that in my excitement about The Moth’s email, I kept getting distracted by the stupid, insignificant typo. When it made me think about mom’s flawed presents, I began to understand that in a way, this fan mail is another one of them.

I thought about all of my stories and realized that my best, most moving, most powerful ones are about my relationship with Mom – my broken, flawed, could-have-been-but-didn’t-quite-make-it, relationship with the person I loved more than anyone else on the planet. In fact, the story I told at The Moth is about one of the toughest experiences she and I ever shared together.

The truth is, if I hadn’t had my broken, flawed, could-have-been-but-didn’t-quite-make-it, relationship with Mom, I would never have been on stage at The Moth in the first place. So, that’s why I’ve decided to embrace the capital O and think of it as a little wink from Mom who I know is a lot more supportive of me from wherever she is now, than she was ever able to be when she was here.

So, I’m dedicating this Moth performance to Mom – who had a pretty hideous experience that night too.

Here’s the video.