Snapshot – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory for July 2019’s theme “Snapshot.”

Tonight, Nashville, we looked at snapshots.

Our first expression of romantic love led to our mint bush dying with our relationship, and to the haircut that would turn our life around. We got 13 likes—and even he thought we pulled it off.

We played the game of “Who’s driving my Lincoln” and took a trip with an armful of 71 - Snapshotkeys to the world. But a growing oil spot and growing symptoms led to the loss of a Lincoln and a life that were ours.

We helped raise him, but how do you explain leaving to a 4-year-old who leaves you out of his prayers. We had to leave again after talking about the Big Bang and the girl—and his father missed it all.

She was good at sports and was happiest winning. We weren’t…but we learned when to cheer and to boo. Later we learned about “Pretty Girl” and threats…but now you can see the kindness in her lines.

We decided to fight the universe and chose lots of injections against medical advice Despite problematic side effects—we have increased various personal maxes.

We were fanatic for wrestling—but were better as a commentator. We wanted to be a writer—but we got removed from the gig. And someday someone will take a picture with us.

We drove to the home of our father’s mother—the matriarch of a family of vets and a pacifist Baptist minister. She has a life story of the worst life has to offer. We missed the moment by an hour and a half, but left the sweet pie on her grave.

She could ring a chicken’s neck with her thumbs and was proud someone made a better section of the paper. We dreamed of modeling in New York City, but identified as a hillbilly. We miss her warnings at Big Rocks—amoeba warnings just aren’t the same.

Traveling taught us that Latin is better for Harry Potter than for socializing. We toured the “drunken sticks” and rode with tangoing gauchos—and learned that important things don’t always require language.


Our thanks to all our storytellers—Matthew, Tom, Sally, Genevieve, Matt, Barbara, Colleen, Brad, and Karla. Join us August 26 for “I Was Never the Same Again,” stories of the moments that have changed us. Submit your story idea here!

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Courage – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from June 2019’s theme “Courage”. 

 

Tonight, Nashville, we shared tales of courage.

We counted noses and found Toby dead…until he wasn’t. After a panic attack in knee-deep hair, we learned you have to mow the pastures. But now we can throw dead squirrels by the handles.

We moved to New York City with no job and two roommates who wouldn’t kill us. We had an exciting internship and gave tours of crying places; but, despite it all, we grew up there.70- Courage

We didn’t have language for it, but we attracted friends who were “off to the side.” Interviewing their stories helped us become visible—and we earned the pin.

We knew the rules, but we were strangely jumpy and sleepless that night. The ground-shaking steps produced concurrent fear and courage, which led us to feel sympathy for our biological systems and acknowledge the value of bear mace.

We didn’t know we were hit, but we were visited by a self-serving ex, a protective sister, and friends who dug in. After crying alone at our desk and watercolor tutorials, now life is messier…but it’s ours.

We were too shy to ask for a Taco Bell refill, but we explored the American side of Uganda. We endured a bargain haircut from a non-Bar-Mitzvahed beard butcher, and congratulated ourselves on how far we have grown.

We bravely weathered a terrible hurricane singing over the howling winds, while our brave prince prepared to do what had to be done—however ridiculous it may have been.

We endured two years of tormenting till pillow punching lessons and an angelic choir ended the torment. Then we met a new bully at a new school, and waited for the hit that never came. And 30 seconds changed the rest of our lives.

We knew something was wrong, so we researched the disease and decorated the walls. We took the longest ride of our lives, throwing up till we got the great news. But now we can tell her story.


Thanks to all our storytellers! We’re looking forward to our next night of stories for “Snapshot,” where we’re telling stories based on personal photos. Submit your story idea here!

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Whoops – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from February 2019’s theme “Whoops.”

Tonight, Nashville, was a big “Whoops!”

The apex of our athletic career came crashing down in a humiliating case of the yips. After being exiled to right field, we now avoid throwing darts and skipping rocks, and the only throwing we do is up.

In college the only thing that kept us going was skiing. A relationship she wanted to be more casual than we wanted only made it worse. But after an apparent third strike with a cautious brunette, and many years of happily married, we’re going home to her tonight.

Our efficient moving plan was upended by an all-expense paid trip to sing “Ring My 66 - whoopsBell.” We consulted a higher authority, frantically packed boxes and cars, and arrived late for our departure. But thanks to a suitcase in a wheelchair, we made it.

A precisely-measured 3’ 10” hole led to panicked gasps, screaming “Steve,” 11 hours in the ER, an unnecessary pregnancy test, “Broken Femurs United,” and a gay fan club.

Our final summer with our best friend since conception involved estimating the odds of two gorings, turning as red as our neckerchiefs, and imitating a Mexican game show host in a gynecologist’s office—but we earned a B+!

We took a 7th grade field trip to a sulphur processing plant with an eyelash-eating girl, an exquisite farter, a Liberace fan, and a frighteningly beautiful pigeon-toed gazelle. But a disdainful sniff that released a slow-motion snot rocket still makes us cringe.

Playing basketball at 55 was a mistake. Playing kickball was a bigger mistake. Not listening to our brother was a mistake. And we’re afraid that admitting it in front of him in public could prove to be the biggest mistake of all!

The relationship between the jello-shot queen and the tie-died pot distributor started with a rescue kiss and led to whip-its and tequila in a hot-tub in a country commune…and a long smelly drive home.

Our first time on public transportation alone led to missed stops, looking for change in cinderblock buildings, and carrying a soda bladder on the bus. We may be a tonta, but we made it home.

Whoops, Nashville!


Thanks to all our wonderful storytellers—Ty, Malinda, Rob, Steve, Sarah, Bill, Jackie, Holly, and Tom! Join us next time for “Sorry”. Got a story? Let us know here!

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The First Time – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from January 2019’s theme “The First Time.”

Tonight, Nashville, was our first time.

We spent our first Southern Christmas without oddly wrapped socks or a “What’s-a-Jew-65 - The First Timeto-Do Party.” But we helped Nanny with the gravy, opened an athiest’s search for Jesus, and cherished her favorite cookbook.

We went to our first Hanukkah party on a jaded road trip with a pornstar, where we had a God-arranged date to Abilene, and got a goodie bag from a surprising place…that seemed to surprise no one.

We had our first psychedelic experience at the legendary hippy refugee camp, where our spiritual awakening turned out to be hurling zucchini; and we left the disappointed Deadheads to go listen to CSN in the a/c.

We remembered our first images of beauty, when we saved our lunch money for a magic hair potion and learned that being “black black” wasn’t attractive. But in time we learned to wear our natural hair and agreed with his compliments…even if he was kind of stupid.

We took our first joy ride in a stolen family minivan, when we tore up the yard and raced around at an astonishing 15 miles-an-hour! But our new sense of self nearly cost us our greatest ally—and it wasn’t worth it.

In our first year of teaching, a gallon of cheese balls revealed that 7th graders lack integrity. We struggled through a culturally insensitive kimono hole and gave Spanish instructions about finding trash—only to hear again that fateful chant.

After growing up in a very Baptist town with no bars or Catholics, we experienced our first Mass, wearing highly inappropriate footwear and being inappropriately grateful for the moon-sized wafer. But we have learned to receive a gentle blessing and say, “Amen.”

For the first time we took charge of our own happiness and reversed societal roles—then hid in the Phantom’s darkness. Rereading the Instagram led to a roller coaster ride of emotion, but now we are content waiting for the right person.

The first time we had a gun pulled on us we were on beach just 50 miles from horror, when a creepy soldier invaded our space and questioned our vocabulary—and we came to wonder, “What is an acceptable reason for war?”


Thanks to Natasha, Paul, Josh, Sally, Emma, Deena, Karla, Brad, and Jenny for such great stories! Join us February 25 for our next night, with stories on “Whoops.” Got a story? Let us know here!

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Something Unexpected – The Understory and Next Theme

Here is Rob McRay’s understory for our November 2018 theme “Something Unexpected.” 

Nashville, tonight was unexpected.

She used to hug strangers in the stuffed-toy aisle, wear hair helmets, and take naked 63- Something Unexpectednursing home strolls. But when the pinpoint was gone, she could still sing that love song…and we missed the crazy.

We loved Hee Haw and theme parks and trivia on the Nashville channel, and dreamed of DJ glory…till the cheese slipped off our cracker, and we were married by Fat Elvis—who turned out to be our teenage crush.

In the Swipe Life of Vancouver, we met a girl who liked “chocolate”, and invited her to come dodge bachelorette parties on Broadway. But on a Sunday morning in a month that sucks, three bullets made us choose how to live and give.

We wanted to seize the day before the day ceased, but we ran out of our flip flops when a face in a ski mask was no nightmare. Fear followed us to Marrakesh and Caroline’s, but supportive friends and tapping pressure points helped us “Fear not.”

In the conciliation-present house, where the baby got the balcony, we were really scared of the attic door knob and Mom’s ugly crying. But we peeked out from the covers to watch our gun-toting grandpa free Coco—who needs to learn to meow!

Our two-year-old refused to swallow her breakfast, and we had a flashback to cat pee under the floorboards, and meat-eating flies in the chimney, and mold forcing us out of the nest. But projectile eggs helped us see we were parenting ourselves.

In Colorado we searched for legal brownies and found a kite store, where we remembered a boy who wouldn’t let girls fly kites. And everyone enjoyed our niece’s butterfly kite—everyone but the child!

We saw the most beautiful girl in the world, but she was waiting for someone special. We got revenge with the “sucko monster incident.” When we learned the revealing truth, we were too absorbed with our own pain to hear hers.

We spent Christmas with our family and a boyfriend whose breathing we couldn’t stand. But we were pleased with the kale-induced body changes that improved our highly toxic wasteland. And we are still loving our 4-year-old present.


Thanks for Daniel, Cindy, Marilyn, Ty, Shana, Rebecca, Gayathri, Brad, and Karla for their stories! Join us December 10 for 9 true stories of “home.” Submit your story proposal here!

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All In a Day – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from Monday’s October stories on “All in a Day”. 

What a day, Nashville!

We spent the day at the beach on a “real vacation,” where we took pictures while 62- All In a Daythinking, watched a hippy resuscitate a shark, and thanked a redneck for finding our son. But our breathing returned to normal watching the sun set over the marsh.

We spent our 18th birthday scraping ice, breaking up, causing a traffic jam, and losing “Big Dog.” But an ugly cry in the shower and a family dinner at Cheddars helped…a little.

It was the first day of school after the year of heartbreak and choosing the guy in the red flash truck over our best friend. But the coach encouraged us to jump off the pedestal into a new school—where we broke up again.

The day started without our tea and with a rush to get to work—where we got a call that stunned us into vulnerability and a surprise offer from the boss. But the bigger surprise came when our office bestie gave the watch he loved to the person he loved more.

We made a lasting impression on the day of our flu game of marketing, when we shipped a transcendent Brad Pitt meme that was shockingly misinterpreted as a bomb threat—but at least we didn’t go to federal prison.

We spent the day driving four hours to Memphis and back to decide against buying a car from a guy who switches license plates and sells dope. We made it back safe…but missed a good time at the dog track.

We spent the day leisurely paddling down the Harpeth, until a low guttural nowise led to multiple efforts to rescue an uncooperative calf. We adopted our T-ball-ready stance…and watched as Coach carried it to safety—but that doesn’t prevent someone from claiming to be a hero.

One June day in Chicago we got all busted up running into fences, falling off chairs, breaking beds, and frantically searching for an armed toddler—who was having a party with the Chicago police.

What a day, Nashville!


Our thanks to Annette, Kristen, Jacquelyn, Tamara, Kristen, Steve, Jeremy, and Becca for such wonderful stories! Join us November 12 for “Something Unexpected.” Got a story? Pitch it here!

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Nashville – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our 5-year anniversary theme “Nashville” in September 2018. 

Tonight, Nashville, we were in Nashville.

In Nashville, we got to know our 101-year-old spitfire Gram—shopping for the Lexus of 61- Nashvilledouche bags, discussing proximity theories, and revealing descending dove tattoos. And in the end…we fed the ducks.

In Nashville, we arrived with a dream and discovered how much we love salsa dancing and matzah ball soup. We fished our keys out of the dumpster and attended a barbecue party for the wrong Mark. And we learned to be careful about bragging too soon.

In Nashville, we left a boring party in a strange part of town, when Cinnamon Girl ran low and a call for help didn’t help. But T with his slim jim overcame our stranger danger, and we stared the handshake that connects.

In Nashville, we came for her dreams but found long days and abusive nights and sleeping alone at the holidays. We finally left when the flinching fear became reality. But we’ve found family and learned to love the place we hated…boots and Elvis statues and all.

In Nashville, we took our master’s degree in sewing and made clothes for elite families and costumes for a burlesque show. Then shopping for notions led to Dolly’s designer and a very challenging career. And we learned to be very careful where we stick the pin!

In Nashville, we met a friend who almost drank himself to death, and almost drown in the park, and almost died of some duck disease…and we still don’t know the answer to his question.

In Nashville, we saw her gliding in an angelic sundress through the ethereal light—and we forgot our raisin’! But our baby-doppelganger plan didn’t work, and now we dream we don’t have to observe the 500-foot buffer zone.

In Nashville, our glowing reviews slowly unraveled before our eyes. The mysterious bad guy from “Taken” helped us make our home, and we shared the struggle of our precarious status. But a new job and a new guy led us to like our new self better.

In Nashville, we met him on a blind date…with someone else, while we were semi-engaged…to someone else. Twelve dates, countless romantic letters, and 62 years later we said our final good-bye here—and through it all we listened to the music of the moonlight.


Thanks to all the storytellers for a wonderful night—Rose, Rob, Ty, Annette, Mercedi, Christy, Sally, Iisha, and Emily! Join us next time for stories that take place “All in a Day”. Got a story? Pitch it here!

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Almost – The Understory and Next Theme

Here Rob McRay’s understory from August 2018’s theme “Almost.” 

Almost, Nashville, almost.

We almost hugged a biker cop the night we almost got a D.U.I.—on our scooter—when 60-Almostour legally sufficient lie could not cover for our irresponsibility.

We almost didn’t get to fulfill our drinking fantasies in the only country that gets attacked by aliens. But a D.M.V.-like bureaucrat suddenly gave us a break for his lunch break.

We were almost about to be kind of a big deal, working with a director we’ll call “Andrew” on a British-Chinese-South African documentary about America. But the doomed negotiations with communists did lead us to a new friendship—and that’s kind of a big deal.

We almost bled when we were bullied, and unheard, and got a ticket to eternal torment for lipstick and rap and failing to obey men. But a light took us to a new place, and now we love life and pranks and our son…and the next adventure.

We almost got the girl, when we visited the solitary trailer with unrealistic expectations of the “Number One Crush.” After nearly getting shot by Redneck Rambo, we returned home alone to the strains of “Love Fool.”

We almost gave up on our novel about 7th-grade Abbie’s almosts. But minor accomplishments led to an Abbie-like editor whose decision to publish encouraged us to never give up.

We almost kept our secret in the basement of our souls, when we were invited into his “special club.” We told no one to protect our parents, until our husband revealed it and our mother apologized she couldn’t protect us.

We almost won a dream contract from that label, but our geek army playing anime conventions were told “Asians don’t sell.” But we won a Supreme Court case and inspired a generation of kids to fight for the voice of our community.

We thought we almost died from chlorine poisoning, which led to compulsive handwashing, and tapping on tiles, and an irrational fear of decapitation or being stabbed by a toy. But Lawrence died, and we smoked, and it stopped—and even after the swine flu, we didn’t have to worry about Chucky.

Almost, Nashville.


Thanks to all our tellers—Steve, Caroline, Pratik, Joshua, Kerrie, Simon, Raj, Kat, and Drew! Join us for our 5th year anniversary September 24 for our annual theme “Nashville.” Got a story? Let us know!

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Regret – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory for July 2018’s theme “Regret.” 

Nashville, tonight we had regrets.

We celebrated our 20th anniversary in a bubbling fish tank, where we enjoyed a large red Cosmo that sent our body on journey past the potted plants and the upright Sunday School teachers, with a stop at the gravel lot. We released the shifting anvil and collapsed in a vague resemblance to the ending we had hoped.

In our Ralph Lauren High School we choose one crush between rival brothers. We became a thing at the playground when we were scared to speak our truth. And we wish we had known it was okay to say, “no.”

An ill-fated ski trip with no conditioner led to an ill-conceived plan for an eternal, growing, secret, half-pound golf ball. But our decisive aunt shuttled us to the E.R. salon, where our elaborate like finally hit the floor.

A leap of faith led to an encounter with Barney, Floyd, and Aunt Bee, three ambulance rides, and membership in the Sufferers Club. And maybe we can finally say that we no longer regret our biggest regret.

After repelling on our first date— “Not-Naked & Afraid”—we married our Indiana Jones husband. He took us camping in Destination Hell, ignoring warnings, and waivers, and mating gators, where we became “Cybil of the Swamp.” But never again!

We roomed with A.A.R.P. aunt, who thinks we’re not that young. Despite that April night when she selected the only channel she knew and we watched 2 ½ minutes of rhythmic body parts, she’s still the best roommate we ever knew.

She was bilingual, and we were…dangerously equipped. We awkwardly used the present tense, and confused fear and feces. But that was nothing compared to ordering male-member soup from the star QB waiter—and everyone who loves the Lord knows about it!

At the nursing home with Great-Grandmother Bitc— …uh, Great-Grandmother, we met him eating flesh-toned paste by himself. We became pen pals, till 12-year-old life intervened, and we never answered his last letter. And now we just want to say, “We’re sorry, Mr. Kimbrell.”

We celebrated her bachelorette party with a cucumber massacre, and Wishbone advice, and sober streaking with former home-schoolers. We escaped the cornfield led by Pregnant Rambo…but Mom is glad we would never do anything like that.


Thanks to all our storytellers—Rebecca, Jacquelyn, Cynthia, Melissa, Ty, Steve, Mary Margaret, Elly, and Alexandra! Join us August 27 for our annual partnership with The Porch Writers’ Collective. Our theme is “Almost.” Get in touch here with your story proposal! If you missed the stories, check our podcast page in a couple weeks to catch up on all the goodness!

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Pratik Patel – Report Card

Here’s Pratik Patel’s story from June 2018’s theme “Parents.” 

When I was a senior in college, I was paid $50 to write an essay for an international student’s English class assignment. I don’t want this to be an exposé but rich Arab students at private colleges can buy off assignments if they have the means for it. They usually have the means for it. $50 was a sizable amount of money for me back in 2005. I also wanted to fancy myself as a writer so getting paid for my so-called skills seemed like a good way to test them out.

I wrote this story in which my dad pulled a prank on me by scaring the hell out of me about my 2.43 GPA on my high school report card. Throughout the story, he pretends I have bad grades. But I don’t have bad grades! I have a 3.61 GPA! And everybody ends up happily ever after at the end. It had sentences like this:

  • My father caught me examining the envelope, and put the most horrible thought into words. “Your report card for this semester.” My father had said it in the simplest way possible. In spite of the simplicity, I felt the vibes of unpleasant intonations disguised in that statement. I was trying to get my client a good grade.
  • My father could’ve been a great suspense director if he chose to. But instead of applying that talent to celluloid, he preferred to practice it in real life.
  • And this was how I ended the story. I pulled out my report card from the envelope. My father had neatly circled the GPA. In large, bold, black letters, right in the middle of the red circle, imprinted was the number 3.61. He had also left a little note for me: “Just having a little fun!” That is my father.

I re-read that story recently and honestly, I’m not impressed with my writing skills. But back then, I was pretty impressed. So impressed I submitted it two months later for an online writing competition. Mostly for kicks. It was 2005 and the Internet was still trying to find its identity. It was acceptable, fashionable even, to submit stories for online competitions nobody had heard about.

Now you’re probably wondering if I’ve spent time in pIagiarism or copyright jail. I have not. I got away with it OK? And I hope my … client got away it too. Ok, I admit that my ethics are really really … questionable, at the very least. I took money under the table for completing another college student’s English assignment. And then I published it online under my own name. If you think I’m a small-time criminal, I won’t take offense. We’re on the same page.

So anyways I submitted that story for the writing competition. And to my surprise, it won Story of the Month. I was pretty psyched. So psyched I shared it my with father. And he loved it too! So much that he shared it with his friends and colleagues. They replied back to him with nice things about my writing. Nice things like:

  • This is the most successful part of any parent’s life, when they are respected for the good cause which their children have done.
  • Another said: When you look back, you probably must’ve even recollected that particular day and would have developed a feeling of nostalgia!!

My father was an instant hero amongst his own posse.

He emailed me later. He said: “Pratik, it is excellent work done. You should try to pen more and more stories like this. Thank you a lot for centering me in this story. In fact, I lived up all those moments. I kept on smiling while reading it, and everybody in the office kept on asking about it. Keep it up.” Unlike me, he was never good with words.

It had taken $50 and two small-time crimes for that email to land in my Inbox. That email should’ve made any son proud ….. Right? But it didn’t. The trouble, you see, is the story I wrote about my father was … fictional; it wasn’t true. He never played a prank on me. He never pretended I have bad grades. It never happened. In real life, I got yelled at for my average GPA; occasionally, I got smacked. By the time, I graduated high school I knew I wasn’t ever going to live up to his expectations. And it got worse in college.

I shared that story with him for a purpose. I wanted him to know what was going through my mind when I was a student. I wanted to see if, given the opportunity, would he feel sorry for what he made me go through? I wanted him to wonder if setting such expectations was worth it in the end. I wanted a reaction. Any reaction. Any reaction but compliments for my writing. I just wanted an honest moment of truth. It hurt that he never gave me that. I was disappointed all this passing of time hadn’t softened him. And most of all, I was disappointed that my story wasn’t able to get through to him.

I thought that by sharing it with him, I would get closure so we could start from a clean slate. He’d say “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have let you go through that.” And I’d say “I’m sorry I didn’t live up to your expectations.” And then we’d move on with life. Maybe even become good friends and save the father-son relationship for another time. But that hasn’t happened.

And so, here I am, left with as many unanswered questions as I had since I shared the story with him. I hope I find some answers eventually. You know, just so I can write another story about it. And if I do, it’s OK if I’m not paid $50 for writing that story.