This picture was taken as I walked home last night, in the 54-degree weather, in my hoodie, zipped up for the cold, somewhat satisfied that fall had finally descended even if I liked the sensation of wearing my hoodie open, though the seasons had apparently decided to skip that this year, jumping from 80 to 58 in a single day, as, really, New York weather is prone to do.
The late-night walk home feels cathartic when I can do it. A way of getting in touch with the city, of feeling people and places around me, of feeling that nice, reciprocal energy that I’ve spoken of in the past, the feeling that New York City surrounds you pleasantly, a sort of mastery, the feelings someone gets knowing their conscious mind doesn’t have to walk them home.
I didn’t have anything to do that Sunday evening before I went to ASSSSCAT (people have pointed out to me that there are four “S”es). I had said good night to my friend Frank (more on that later) and he had asked me “What are you doing tonight, bro?” and I had no real response.
“ASSSSCAT, I guess.”
It’s worth mentioning before I get into this, a few things.
The first is my reluctance to do things non-social on a weekend evening. As I’ve mention before in these pages, weekends for me growing up were a time of terror, the period of social judgment. If I had a friend to see, to hang out with, I could escape my house. But if I didn’t I was trapped inside my parents’ apartment, with the cat I was allergic to, the room that belonged to me that I spent no time in after the age of 13, the books I stopped reading around that time–I was paralyzed in my own emotions, sitting in somewhere that seemed to have no place for me, just feeling on display as unwanted on a weekend night.
I’ve carried this feeling, irrational rejection, around with me since then and it has affected my life in all sorts of ways making me a more social person, for better or worse, following such times. It also means that I try to find something to do on weekend evenings very diligently.
It’s also worth noting the specifics of ASSSSCAT, also mentioned in these pages before.
A Sunday show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, it features two showtimes of a rotating cast of improvisers and a special guest monologist. The first show is 10 dollar at 7:30 and is mostly filled with toursits and people on dates and such, while the second show is free at 9:30, but requires waiting in line for some period of time between 1-4 hours, a sprawling block party of an experience, filled with the young and reckless, people un-considerate of their jobs (or lack of jobs) on the Monday morning to follow. It is always a wilder crowd and, touted, a better show.
Finally, the UCB itself is usually somewhere I associate mixed feelings with, a place of rejection and acceptance for me. As I continue to throw myself at-and-into improv comedy (as my friends probably patiently wait for me to emerge), it’s strange to think that something that has you saying yes and accepting each other by nature could also be a place of profound no’s and judgment. I’ve been rejected from almost as many classes as I’ve signed up for at the UCB, or at least it feels that way. And within the strange world of my blogging and strange social presence, I am never sure in that strange place who thinks what about me, who I am to these people: a reality-show novelty? another depressed/creepy improv nerd? just some guy? What does it mean that the office staff chanted “UCB” on the street to get me to notice them? I think too much about these things.
Enough, enough with this self-reference.
The point is that I go to ASSSSCAT at 9:30, more often than not on these Sunday evenings of my partial employment and uncertainty.
There, I see improvisers I know who may be friends of mine, or acquaintances. There, I see girls I’ve tried to flirt with, girls who’ve flirted with me, girls who’ve tried nicely to reject me, and girls who aren’t sure what they want. There, I wait in line and talk to people, in the cold or other weather.
There, I see an improv show and then go home. And if I have enough energy, I have a walk, in the 11:30 hour.
I don’t know how to judge the importance of all this to me.
I wish I could say it’s a place I think of sentimentally like The Magnet, where I go when I am feeling sad, for comfort and fun, but it really isn’t. Neither is it some sort of partially-stifled addiction like my forays to Magic: The Gathering venues, where I feel dirty and stupid afterwards.
It’s a pace of some tension and strife, some comedy that breaks that tension. A place of tenuous community, almost like a mixer or a party for those waiting in line.
It’s aspirational for me. How many times I’ve wanted to be up on that stage as a special guest monologist, or wanting to be good enough to play with people I respect.
It’s strange, is what it is.
In it, is wrapped up all those things, my anxiety from my youth, my complicated relationship (mostly in my head) with UCB, the possibility of meeting someone friend or otherwise.
And, of course, the tension of the suspension of adulthood. The feeling that everyone going to that 9:30 show is somehow making a conscious choice to say “fuck it”.
An improviser called the audience “cretins” last night and they cheered raucously, even when pointed out that they were called so.
In going to ASSSSCAT, I acknowledge my life’s incompleteness in it’s various ways: social, emotional, structural, professional.
And then, if I’m lucky:
I take that nice, long walk home.
In my preparations for my trip to Paris, I started a French class at “FIAF” or the Alliance Francaise.
I took notes on my phone the first class, feeling cool as I held down “e” on my iPhone for accents egues et graves.
My teacher, a nice woman who looked like she could be sitting at Les Deux Magots reading “L’Etranger”, was amazed at my note-taking but demanded paper for next week.
I couldn’t blame her. Usually, I use my phone in classes as an excuse to not be present, to check my email or otherwise.
However, in this class I felt energized as if rummaging through my French class past in all earnestness. I gave myself a fist pump when I remembered the past participle of an irregular verb (“j’ai… voulu?” I asked tenuously) but was horrified when I couldn’t even remember how to say “2012”, my numbers having left me, fallen out of my brain somewhere between the not-giving-a-fuck of high school and the film-shoot-wrap-parties of college.
The class itself was interesting, a mix of people ranging from 40-year old civil servants with a passion to escape their lives (a la improv), to nascent art appraisers, to a businessman who kept taking calls during class and who I felt was going to get a long string of French expletives toward the end of our class.
Lots of pretty girls, as could be expected. A couple photographers, looking to brush up their skills in case French Vogue called.
A sense that everyone was there for fun.
Being in a classroom like that felt good. Reliving that sense of achievement of being called on by the teacher, of being recognized. Of having a structure in which one could be deemed “good” in their lives. In improv and sketch writing, all that is relative, and funny one day could be passe the next. It felt nice to get back to sentence structure and some certainty.
I ate Babybel cheeses wrapped up in wax and French Vanilla coffee from the deli across the street during my break.
I asked a question about “donc” v. “alors”.
I strolled down Fifth Avenue as I walked down after class.
Is this the beginning of my life Parisien?
Or je ne sais… quois.
Nous allons decouvrir, mais oui?
…And that birthday dinner with Frank.
Frank’s father, Michael Orio, was a constantly presence in my childhood. I would sleep on the Orio’s couch nearly every or every other weekend, during our LAN parties playing Counterstrike at the local Microchip Cafe followed by our Sunday-day excursions to Chinatown for 69 Bayard Restaurant and DDR at Chinatown Fair (now closed).
As I slept on his couch (as I would at my own home, unbeknownst to him), Mike would descend from his room at 7 or 8am to the living room where I was to read The Economist and when he saw me stirring (or sometimes at random) he would rail off a string of nicknames for me, seeming disconnected from reality.
“It’s Nick the Greek!” He would announce. (I am Jewish.) “Nick the Greek! The Greekus! Nickus the Greekus! He’ll kick your ass!”
All of this without looking up from his Economist as I rolled around on the couch.
Frank, his son, when he’d come down would be “The Big Man”.
“The Big Man! It’s the Big Man. Watch out, he’ll kick your ass.”
These memories from my childhood and adolescence are vivid even to this day, as much as I would say, “Goddamit, Mike” when he’d wake me up.
He and Sophie, Frank’s mother, were the only adults I was comfortable enough around to call them by their first names for a long time.
We went for his birthday out to Two Boots brooklyn, invited by Frank. Everyone ate pizzas, much to my chagrin as Frank managed to eat both accumulatively an entire pie and a full entree with two sides.
That bastard still loses weight eating all that and complains about how he “can’t get higher than 165”.
What I ate, despite my inital skepticism that a pizzeria would have anything to offer, was the strangely named by delicious “Dixie Chicken” w/ julienned vegetables and sauteed broccoli.
The dish became much better at the end, when, caving to pressure, I put pizza cheese on top of my remaining chicken to absorb some of the experience.
I miss pizza, sometimes. Maybe soon I’ll allow myself to have it.
It was nice to see Mike, with his shock of grey-white hair, the family gathered round.
And Frank and I walked out as I ate a piece of dark chocolate bark from my bag as a sort of cross/charm to ward off the eating of more birthday cake.
And I didn’t stay on his couch because Frank was getting up at 5am to train clients at Crunch.
“I guess I’ll go to ASSSSCAT.” I told him.
And there I was.
TWO BOOTS OF BROOKLYN
“Dixie Chicken” w/Julienned Mixed Vegetables + Broccoli w/Garlic- $12.95
2nd st bet 7th and 8th Aves, Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY
R to 4th Ave-9th St, FG to 7th Ave-9th St.