Things I Never Told My Parents – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our record-breaking night at February 2018’s theme “Things I Never Told My Parents.”

Nashville, tonight we are really glad are parents weren’t here!54-Things I Never Told My Parents

We never told them of our break from the rigid rules of the all-girl school to throw an all-girlfriend party, complete with bilingual education in the use of contraband and marital education watching unimaginable things in a decidedly unromantic movie.

We never told of skipping school to sneak into the cow pasture, or bribing Queen Betty with shoplifted goodies and facing legendary African discipline, or guzzling a large wine glass of…not-wine. But we learned our lessons and became our parents’ pride and joy.

We never told of going to Bonnaroo without A/C, observing dead-head bongs and landscape paintings on inappropriately free canvases, where we engaged in an act of cultural defiance involving sophisticated daisies—which led us to the profound discovery that we would rather be fully clothed.

We never told that we investigated the legality of our parents’ marriage, or that we used the imaginary story of our grandparents’ marriage to deflect unwanted advances, or that we knew the truth of our mom’s mom’s plot to snare our dad’s dad.

We never told of how preaching our grandmother’s funeral led to discoveries of useless floppies, and handwritten records of grandfather’s…compulsions, and tales of the horny bugger’s conquests. And we’re certain that Mom still wouldn’t want to know!

We never told of our Jeckyll-and-Hyde youth in the Flatbush fish tank—of the gangster threat at the off-track betting parlor, or the whack from the camp survivor, or the assault from the street punks—or of our life with the Huxtables and Yiddish raps.

We never told of flipping off the universe and luring death into the mosh pits of anarchists and the tense world of colored bootlaces, and landing in a dangerous fight between commies and skinheads—but we were more afraid of losing our mother.

We never told of how our drama teacher, who sacrificed God’s gifts to help young thespians, promoted us from lip-syncing “Happy Birthday” to performing as a singing rat—when performance-anxiety-induced pit stains led us to a novel first use for feminine hygiene products.

We never told of a moment in the dark in a funeral parlor 63 years ago, or of being afraid of what others would think, or even more of what Dad would do. But we can now say that secret is no longer in those shadows, and we are free from the fear…and we can now say, “Me too!”

A special thanks to all our exceptional storytellers—Annette, Anna, Gayathri, Jeannie, Elisa, Steve, Melissa, Sally, and Amanda! What a night! Join us in March for “Ouch.” You can request a story slot here.


OMG – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from January 2018’s theme “OMG!”

OMG, Nashville!

There in the fancy spa was the one destined to be our friend. So, we streaked from the aloe chamber to the steam bath—and celebrated her birthday in our birthday suit.

We went from a wedding reception with cupcakes and sober dancing to a weird rage 53-OMGparty, with siblings who hit each other’s crotches and freeze placentas. And, while watching a water bottle crash to earth, we tilted over the precipice of adulthood.

Scotty’s friends had come and gone, when we found a giant pig regally strolling through the living room. But with our best Shakespearean monologue, we banished the swine into the darkness!

We pursued the life-long goal of double-dating with Mom and her date’s son, which took us from a tennis stud with whispering hair to a tinder match with a scrub, and a shocking Facebook encounter—OMG! WTF! LOL—which somehow didn’t keep our parents apart!

We spent Easter season in Italy. We didn’t know what to do with the ash on our scalp. We scored Catholic Super Bowl tickets at the Vatican. And we closed the season by sharing a plate of chic-pea bread from Nono.

She had always had a past we did not want to know, but when we heard her voice this time, something was different. As she sat in the dark shadow of death, we frantically summoned the Law—and we will never know if we really helped.

We practiced law low-bono for free plumbing and AK-47s. But after our attempt at Matlock failed, our improperly dressed client caused us to question who was actually selling themselves.

Our anxiety rose as we signed the waivers, donned the identity-marking vests, and learned the 3-step rescue plan. But an autograph for his daughter revealed that we had helped change what is underneath his tattoos.

“I am up for anything” proved to be ill-advised words as we entered the Japanese equivalent of an American pub, where we dropped the loin cloth and exchanged nudity for inebriation—and found life-long friends.

Thanks to all our storytellers—Melissa, David, Madison, Marilyn, JW, CJ, Simon, Anna, and Bill! We will be back at Douglas Corner Cafe on Monday, February 26 for our theme “Things I Never Told My Parents.” Gotta story for that? Let us know here!

54-Things I Never Told My Parents

That Was Awkward – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our December 2017 theme “That was Awkward.”

Tonight was…well, awkward.

We planned our wedding in great detail…except for one crucial document. But we finally 52 - That Was Awkwardcelebrated with a church full of unenthusiastic strangers.

We attended the funeral of our political Protestant grandmother, who was noticeably dead in the pink casket. After uncomfortable memories over casserole with cousins, we learned the palpable presence of absence.

We stalked a tall handsome stranger with our love-struck friend…for a long time. Then we attended his Bollywood wedding, where we were the focus of the entire village’s sympathy!

O.J. inspired us to grow from a ghoulish child to the coolest kid. And we inspired more girls with Diet Coke explosions, self-electrocutions, and…well…wheat germ jizz.

We had an out-of-body experience in the “Not-a-Diary-Queen,” and had to confess to the church—“I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see!”

Eight hours into an eleven-hour trip, we plotted revenge…leading to the exchange of sexy, stolen merchandise for divorce-friendly yoga pants—and a thoroughly confused teenager.

We wore rubber gloves and wrote romantic novels and took leaning graduation photos…and somehow grew from the devastation of unrequited 8th grade love to the confidence of an adult with fond memories.

Regrading silence as an invitation to blurt out hair-brained remarks, we compared a tumor-inspired necklace to shrimp cocktail, which led to an awkward volleyball game about aquariums and Blackfish and beluga whales.

Tonight was awkward.

Thanks to all our storytellers—Rob, Darlene, Brittany, Christy, John, Ty, Bekah, and Deepa! Join us on Jan 22 for our 2018 launch theme “OMG!” Pitch your story here!


When I Was Young – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory for our November 2017 collaboration with One Voice Nashville on “When I Was Young.” 

Tonight, we remembered when we were young.

We remembered life as a Neanderthal hunter, chased by mating German Shepherds, and dragging home a decapitated deer—where we expected a family celebration, but instead got solitary confinement.

We remembered the day Poseidon died on Easter Sunday, and we led black-clad funeral goers in a deeply meaningful memorial—despite the rib-cracking laughter of the Wicked Witch of the West!

We remembered growing up in the One True Church in the universe of Texas. Then we discovered that people existed elsewhere, that filmstrips were not the source of undeniable truth, and that mother was right—we might be wrong.

We remembered the tough love of Coach Dad—and the life lessons learned from the agony of scoring the losing goal, and the ecstasy of scoring the winning goal.

We remembered visits to Papa Donny’s house, and touching toes on the tree swings, and fireflies in a mason jar, and delivering gingerbread boys—and the origin of a Christmas tradition with the aroma of a childhood where you know everyone’s name.

We remembered the year of opportunity, when we crossed the wood-plank bridge one step at a time through eternity, and Mr. Mittens taught us we need help to reach our dreams.

We remembered with gratitude her long walk on Christmas Eve to swap four chickens for a few groceries, a little red truck, and a small doll—when it was too cold to sing, “Hard times come again no more.”

We remembered a lesson learned from a girl long ago—and now we are Moises’ super-hero—and he helped us recover the brick from the depth of our fear.

We remembered a hard summer mixing mortar with a perfectionist father, and guilty trips to the V.A., and a special gift full of pictures…and stuff…and the story—and you have to remember the story.

Thanks to all the storytellers–Richard, Qu’ana, Kathleen, Michael, Annette, Kathy, Gabby, Jan, and Jeff! Join us December 11 for our theme “That Was Awkward.” Got a story? Let us know here!

52 - That Was Awkward

Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from October 2017’s “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.”

Tonight, we had very good ideas.50-Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

We went on a church retreat where we engaged in eye-language and observed flies in the disco ball, while bug-eyed from the grass-green banana bread.

We rebounded to an overly-dependent rich-kid musician, who saw our color. And we spent evenings with loud volume, until he fulfilled his dream…and we moved on to find our own.

In Louisiana we enjoyed a swamp tour and ate at a genuine crawfish joint, where a personal crawfish tutor failed to warn us of the danger of a Cajun-contaminated crotch!

Our friend got creative with scissors, and then persuaded us that a pillow would fix everything—but the angels were busy, and neither glue nor pencils could hide it from Mom.

We attempted to spend the night in a Bath-and-Body-Works factory, where we sought weapons of opportunity to defend against maniacal Milo—the Spawn of Satan!

In high school we wrote about teetering the wire of indecency and tried to persuade our friends of the greatness of a song about being pooped on. Despite our different tastes, we grew up and grew together.

We worked the wedding reception in cool clothes from the craft store, where tossing table cloths led to confessions about crashing chandeliers.

We made a sleepy road trip to Hueytown and back, where we watched  the sun rise over the golden gopher and had a shocking encounter with a Talladega pit crew.

We rented a room with Red, who like to talk and talk about cartels and construction. And after secret clicking codes and White House correspondence, we escaped—only to have to break back in.

Well, they all seemed like good ideas at the time!

Thanks to all our storytellers–Wendell, Leah, Shana, Alex, Lily, Sally, Lizzy, Kate, and Deepa! Join us for our November 13th night, in collaboration with One Voice Nashville. Four slots will feature people under 20, and five slots will feature folks over 65. Join us!

51- When I Was Young

Nashville – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory for our 4 year anniversary theme “Nashville”. 

Tonight, we experienced Nashville.

One day in Nashville, despite the dissected frog smell, we briefly considered going out 49-Nashvillewith the upright breathing suitor—and after the mass destruction of fleas and the death of a stranger, we lamented letting a good one get away.

On night in a Nashville park, at a candlelight vigil for peace, we broke up a fight over Jesus between two guys named moth-…well, one of them was named Tommy—and his story helped us understand.

We wanted to make it in the Big Apple, so we left Music City. But after struggling to shave, we returned to cry…and despite a new look at the old places, sometimes we miss the magic.

We began creative writing in Nashville, which took us from the “ass-end of Appalachia” to lightening haiku. But listening to a friend’s funeral story brought us from a lack of faith to an unexpected place of comfort.

At Nashville’s Tennessee Pride, we learned of sausage and sewers, and heard watermelon sounds through the flapping doors. And after a day of the tired owl’s silent signals, we succeeded—and dreamed all of night of sausage patties.

We attended a convention in Nashville where the crowd stood, and we paused—and we were grateful for a lunch in the yard.

We saw the Nashville skyline and it amazed a small-town girl. We roomed with a fellow Jack Johnson lover, and discovered new people and new ideas. And a view of the skyline through the clouds led to negotiating a separation…and staying.

We left home in Oklahoma to come to Nashville, but texts from a no-good husband sent us back home to file for divorce. But after a breakdown by a broken car, and some time with family, we came back to Nashville—and were glad to be home.

In Nashville, we found polite Publix shoppers…and body-slammed a disabled employee…and Music City alchemy eased the chain around our neck.

That was our night in Nashville.

Thanks to all the storytellers–Brittany, Elisa, Matt, Rachel, Rob, Amberly, Jeff, Sarah, and Dana! Join us October 23 for our next theme: “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.” Got a story? Pitch it here!

50-Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Words – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our August 2017 partnership with The Porch and Parnassus Books, “Words.” 

Tonight, Nashville, we encountered words.

We remembered breaking rules as we explored the words of Mormonism, communism, 48-Wordsand Dave Matthews, hiding banned books and forbidden CDs, and hoping that the old version of us would be as proud of the new version as we are.

We house-sat a haunted apartment with a psycho kitty, and had expensive drinks like more successful writers—and encountered a mystical moment in which our words can bring us together.

We sobbed alone in a crowd, when a red-haired stranger in 9C offered sympathetic words; and, in a conversation about family, funerals, and grief, we learned that loss is worse when it’s felt alone.

We moved from a Deliverance-like neighborhood to a Leave-It-to-Beaver household. Then one day a depression-induced death led us to a life driven by those words…and the choir on #7 confirmed that we have not lived in vain.

A prudish student reacted to “fowl” language, and then read her story about going up the Space Needle with her dying fiancé because he enjoyed it. And now we can feel something weird in our chest.

We came crying to work after the wolf in shepherd’s clothes had hurt us again. But the stickler boss with the pony-tail gave us strength and hope, and taught us the words—“I am not your property!”

Regrading silence as an invitation to blurt out hair-brained remarks, we compared a tumor-inspired necklace to shrimp cocktail, which led to an awkward volleyball game about aquariums and Blackfish and beluga whales.

We were childhood friends, and he dated the one “who used to be mine,” and we talked about kisses, and he wanted to bring mother back. And we shared many moments when we didn’t need words—because we already know.

We moved from the cuteness of “Waspberry Wipple, Pwease” to the confusion of “wunning for our wives.” But a life-changing moment on a brick patio in Spokane led us to declare that our favorite color really is blue!

Thanks to all the fantastic storytellers–River, Christy, Kristen, Michael, Jeff, Jim, Melissa, Leslie, and Elly! If you missed the event, be sure to look for the stories on our podcast (you can subscribe on iTunes).

Our 4-year anniversary theme is “Nashville” on September 25 at Douglas Corner Cafe. Got a story? Let us know here!


Different – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our July 2017 theme “Different.” 

Tonight, Nashville, we were different.49-Different

We broke free from a life-time of well-ordered good behavior, and the forced conformity of red aprons and charted gardens, and asserted our difference head to head with the district manager…and made Mary Kay cry.

We played a different instrument from a different part of the country, singing songs about the difference between Coke and Sprite…and we had a child with a different number of chromosomes. But in the end we learned to love in the present, and discovered our souls are all the same.

We discovered what it means to be a different lawyer in a man’s world, where we needed more make-up and higher expectations. But we learned that a brilliant woman in court is as intimidating as a typing monkey.

The threat of lip-reading classes lured us into a life of espionage, with blue plastic glasses and snacks under our desks, spying on opera-singing neighbors and a Cuban spy named Oscar who just thought we were weird.

Expanding cracks and internal debates led us down the slippery slope from gender isolation to loss of community to the rather different notion that we’d rather have compassion.

We had a different experience of Sadie Hawkins, and then a long-distance relationship led to dinner with our cigar-smoking friend—and to exchanging the European engagement ring for the love of our life.

We grew from being a disheveled mess with an undomesticated pin, to a “hot mess mom” who missed vaccinations and had birthday disasters and pajama day errors and burning sage…and a diagnosis that helped us accept our difference.

We learned that it is hard to be more different than an emotionally crumbled, gender fluid, Latinex, unicorn, atheist, church worker. But we helped a New Orleans conference with other whack-a-doodle liberals be a little more inclusive.

We tried to convince Dad of a different reality—that the gay hockey player from Spanish class in our basement at 2:00 a.m. was all a pain-induced hallucination. But the interrogation on the hot porch convinced us that this was all going to be a bad dream.

Thanks to all our excellent storytellers–Rebecca, Irene, Kristen, Laurie, Pam, Heather, Barbara, LynnMarie, and Kathleen! Our next Tenx9 will be at Parnassus Books on August 28. The theme? “Words.” Got a story? Let us know here!


Show & Tell – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our May 2017 night “Show & Tell”

Tonight, Class, we had “Show and Tell.”

We showed a metal lizard that almost changed our life…until an encounter at Dead Man’s Tree revealed it was not gold—and we were a doofus.

We showed little Sarah with the frayed edges, the only one we trusted when Angie left. And years later, when he also left, we curled up again by our lifelong best friend.47-Show and Tell

We showed our hands that bounced her while we walked miles and miles, and that shook her bottle and beat her back…and raged at God. But they also showed her every day that she was loved.

We showed a black flag which we discovered after beer with Hungarian metal heads and kissing border guards and a subway ride to Ost-Berlin—where we learned that lonely figures are trapped between the armies.

We showed Beulah’s aging scrapbook, and told of Mom’s scrapbook full of boy pictures, and our own scrapbook with a “love-a-lint campaign.” And we are destined by the stars to be the keeper of the memories.

We showed our Turkish “football” jersey which we purchased from peddlers like flies on a dog turd. And we found the value of Caucasian Drivers Licenses and a Tennessee Drinking Licenses.

We showed a piece of Duplo and remembered Julie, and signing number songs and the biology of flies—and fleeing the torture. We have lost her, and found ourselves…and we don’t know how it ends.

We shared her perfect horse skull—which we found in the deafening hum of a slave cemetary, having become one with the land. She was present at bonfires, and presided at ordinations, and still whispers of the seasons to come.

We showed the food bowl that once belonged to a spherical mass of angelic fur—the “rabbit of the Andes”—whose birthday had been spoiled by a dead orphan bunny and our misunderstanding of the point of our ethics exam.

That was tonight’s “Show and Tell.”

Thanks to Wendell, Christy, Jeannie, Jordan, Amber, Irene, Caren, J.W., and Evert for your stories! Our next night is June 26 in partnership with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. Got a story? Let us know here!

48-People Move

Do No Harm – The Understory

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from “Do No Harm: Stories of Healthcare,” our April 2017 partnership with Meharry Medical College. 

Nashville, tonight we encountered episodes in health care.

We discovered a troubling cyst, but left the patient as we dashed home to find a crying daughter and a disintegrating tutu. We hitchhiked to the rehearsal, and in spite of everything, it all had a happy ending.

We encountered a blue-eyed Ryan Gosling in a psych ward and his imaginary social SPECIAL-Healthcareworker. And we learned never to assume—especially if it involves assassinating a president.

Maurine would always leave against advice—but this time the blood pressure was too high and the heartbeat was too low. And she said, “I’m gonna die.” “Not today,” we said…but we were wrong.

She had ADHD, made no eye contact, gave short answers…and slept with a knife. On-again-off-again treatment and heavy drinking led us to wonder how we can “do no harm” when the system harms.

We faced a birth defect with no benefits, but the Affordable Care Act spared us from an illness without insurance. We watched the vote with anxiety, then relief, and a conviction to help others.

We graduated from “My dad can remove your brain” to campaigning to close the coverage gap. Then we went from cocktails in Frisco to shocking results and unemployment…but with more hope than Bruce had.

We left Chicago’s winter for Lima’s beauty. But at the campsite we presented a mind-boggling health plan to a 10-year-old boy who could no longer play. And we wondered how to do no harm when we will kill him either way.

Life changed when a frustrating, troublesome young woman, whose life had led from pregnancy to addiction to rape to desperation, told us “you don’t want to know.” And she was right…but now we do.

We went to a…gynecologist with really good shoes…who…uh, opened up a sink hole…and…gave a… procedure…that I’m pretty sure men are not allowed to talk about, much less laugh at, and certainly not summarize…so let’s just leave it at that.

Special thanks to all our tellers–David, Lloyda, Kristen, Michael, Tamkeenat, Theodor, Veronica, Christy, and Stephanie. A wonderful night. Be sure to join us Monday, April 24th for “Trouble”.