Stories and sweat mingle at Moth Mainstage event
Patrons fanned themselves with programs and grumbled about the heat, yet even so, no one seemed inclined to leave before all 5 storytellers shared their personal experiences, which were connected by the theme “Under the Influence: Stories that Shape and Shake Us.”
With the Ragbirds’ Erin Zindle seated on one side of the empty stage - to open up each half of the show by way of her violin, and to cue storytellers who might be taking too much time - and Detroit’s Satori Shakoor assuming MC duties, the evening’s first storyteller was Erin Barker, who told about how she learned, at age 12, that her mother was having a baby, and that her beloved father was not the dad.
“I didn’t want to have anything to do with this baby that had broken my father’s heart,” said Barker. “I made a commitment, in that moment, to hate this baby for the rest of my life - possibly longer. There was just one problem. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried hating a baby, but it is real hard.”
Next, Peter Aguero related a searing account of taking care of his wife, who suffers from epileptic seizures.
"For about 30 minutes (after a seizure), she’s like a computer rebooting," said Aguero. "She starts to come back online. But for those minutes between when the seizure’s done, and until she starts to come back, she is a dead bag of meat. And every single time, I’m convinced that this is it, and I’m never going to see her again. That wherever she goes when she has a seizure, she’s never going to come back. Every time.”
Brian Finkelstein told the crowd about his 4-year term as a suicide hotline operator - a job he seemingly pursued because of his own failed suicide attempt years earlier, when he was a heartbroken teenager in San Diego.
“I sat in my VW Fastback, and I drank half a bottle of tequila,” said Finkelstein. “ I took the gun and I shoved it in my mouth. And I will say, I bet you (suicide hotline boss) Glenn doesn’t know how good it feels to take a loaded gun and stick it in your mouth. And it does. Because for a second, you think, ‘I have some control over this life that we have no control over. At least this - I can make this decision.’ The thing about tequila, it tends to make me a little dramatic, and I threw up. On my suicide gun. In that moment, I knew this was ridiculous. And it snapped me out it. I had this moment of, like, ‘Oh, what am I doing?’ And I knew that I’m not the type of person that’s going to pull the trigger, which I needed to glean out firsthand.”
Ellie Lee’s story concerned how her volunteer work with homeless women and her love of animation led her to make an animated documentary about them. But the way wasn’t smooth. After investing years of time on the film’s 1,000 drawings, she was in the process of moving back to her parents’ home when a rainstorm caused something terrible to happen.
“We’re driving, and there’s a really sharp left turn,” said Lee. “And during the turn, my mom hit a pothole. Which would have been normal, but there was something wrong with the trunk. The trunk pops open, and all of the artwork slides out. And I remember looking in the rearview mirror, just frozen and freaking out. It took us about 10 minutes to wrap back around. There’s no shoulder, and it’s dangerous, and I’m getting out of the car, of course. The cars have been repeatedly running over all the artwork in the rain, and I was trying to salvage what I could, but as I picked up some of the drawings, they just melted in my hands like pulp. I drove back with my mom, we drove back to her house, and I was sitting on their living room couch, just staring at a piece of lint on their carpet for four hours.”
Finally, Michigan native (and sometime “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” panelist) Tom Bodett talked in part about how he’d loved playing war as a kid.
“Nobody had to tell me that warriors were alpha,” said Bodett. “Warriors they defend the territory, they kill the food, they get the girl. And then the next day, we’d go out and we’d play at these wars that we watched on TV - the wars that our fathers and uncles had fought in and won, right after the war that our grandfathers had fought in and won. And this is just what men did. And it didn’t really feel like playing so much as practicing.”
Patron Dave Herrington, of Port Austin, thought the first story was the evening’s best: “I just thought it was entertaining and interesting. It had some humor. Honestly, I thought the other stories were kind of downers. I was hoping there would be a little more humor in the stories. But I enjoyed (the show).”
“I was surprised at how much you can squeeze into 10 minutes,” remarked Dexter’s Susan Aramaki.
Roseville’s Edward Mitchell appreciated the fact that audience members could talk to the storytellers afterward, which he did - to say “thank you.” “You feel compelled by a story,” said Mitchell. “You feel taken by it. It takes you somewhere. It’s like going on five little rides.”
“The one about the suicide hotline made me cry,” said Waterford’s Martin MacDonald. “ The thing that got me was when he said, ‘This happened 20 years ago, but I think about (a woman Finkelstein spoke to on the hotline that committed suicide) every day.’ Because I know what that’s like.”