Fresh Ground Stories: Unexpected Gifts – Getting what you didn’t know you needed

Hi Guys,

I hope you can join us for our next show on Thursday, March 23. The theme of the night is “Unexpected Gifts – Getting what you didn’t know you needed.”

I think the most important things I’ve ever received were things I didn’t want at the time. I don’t think I’ve ever uttered the phrase, “The Gift of Unemployment.” And I wasn’t jumping for joy the last time I left an ex’s house with a box of socks, some floss and a toothbrush. In fact, I would say it’s only been in the last year or so where I can see the upside of a lot of things in the past I was forced to accept.

Being a single parent was never on my bucket list but it made me find a perseverance in me that I never knew existed. Bombing all over America as a comic seemed pretty horrible at the time but those lessons were a blessing when I was onstage two years ago at TEDxOlympia and 900 cell phones went off simultaneously during an Amber Alert.

Of course, there are other smaller gifts that have meant just as much. Once after I said something snide and thoughtless and my friend Sarah forgave me almost immediately. That may not seem like a big deal but it was the first time in my life that I realized maybe I don’t have to be perfect for people to love me. I’ve known Sarah now for 26 years and I’m excited I get to see her in a couple days when she comes down to Olympia for a conference. She has long since forgotten what I said or that she forgave me but I haven’t.

My mom’s not around anymore so I can’t thank her for teaching me to breathe from my diaphragm. And my dad’s long gone so I can’t thank him for all the inedible dinners he cooked and all the stories I got out of them. Both those things seemed like tremendous burdens at the time. Now that I’ve lived through them, I’m grateful for a voice that can reach the back of the room and for the desire to learn to cook so I never have to eat blackened moose nuggets ever again.

I can’t go back and tell most of the people connected to those memories that I see things differently now but every now and then I can get onstage and tell a story about it.

And that’s what I’m hoping some of you guys will do. Tell us about a time when you were given some kind of gift, whether it was an experience or something physical, that either surprised you or, looking back, turned out better than it seemed at the time.

Remember to keep it clean, practice out loud on friends or pets, and make sure it’s under 8 minutes. Here are the Rules & Guidelines for telling a story at the show:

I hope to see you at 7pm on March 23rd at Roy St Coffee and Tea.


Thank you!

Thanks to everyone who came out to the show last Thursday. We had lots of tellers and some great stories were shared.

You know I love our first-timers and we learned a lot from them this month. Jonathan admitted that he was possibly the first man on the internet to post a fake photo of himself. It’s a dubious honor but it led to a great story and I’m pretty sure that if I ever see a photo of him online that it will absolutely be the real Jonathan.

Taylor announced during her story that women’s faces are surprisingly soft and I found myself wishing I could remember the first time I realized that myself. Jeff told a great story about how crafty a young man can be when he’s drafted into the service. Turns out if you get in a fight standing in line waiting for the doctor they won’t send you to Vietnam. Good to know! If we ever reinstate the draft I will instruct my son to punch someone as soon as possible.

Captain Jon (an actual captain, not a Love Boat Gavin McLeod kind of captain) showed us that you don’t need peyote to feel connected to the universe. Instead, you can sail across the ocean alone staring at your wake. Jon doesn’t know this but one of my favorite books as a kid was Joshua Slocum’s “Sailing Alone Around The World.” Slocum was the first person to sail around the world solo and to a young man growing up in Alaska it seemed like the perfect way to escape the tundra. So naturally, I was totally charmed by Jon’s story. I’m glad he found us.

The tape recorder did its job so if any of the tellers want the audio of their story just send me an email. I only give the audio to people who told a story that night and it’s only of their own story. Most people don’t want their lives on the web so I never hand out the audio to anyone but the original teller.

Our next show is March 23. The theme is “Unexpected Gifts.” I’ll get out the official invite as soon as I can.

One last thing before I let you go. Every now and then someone tries to talk me into changing the rules or the format of FGS. I do occasionally make small changes to help the show run smoother but I’m not going to change the main rules or basic format. I produce the show that I want to see and if you want something different you’ll have to go somewhere else. Rules on subject matter will remain the same. No politics, sex, music, standup or poetry. There are many reasons for these rules but the biggest one is that I’m simply not interested in running that kind of show. There are many places in Seattle you can go for those things and I encourage you to do so.

That’s all for now. Thanks again to everyone who shared a story or supported those who did. You guys always make this my favorite day of the month. See you on the 23rd.


Lots of cool shows coming up

Hi Everyone,

Just a quick note to say that in addition to our show next week on the 23rd there are some other good shows coming up soon.

Seattle Words ‘n Music  4 is happening Sunday, February 26th at The Jewelbox Theater in Belltown. One of our regulars puts this show on every few months and uses storytellers he finds at FGS. It’s a great way to bring our tellers from a coffee shop to a theater stage. There’s also musical acts between stories which makes it different from any other storytelling show I’ve seen. I’ll be hosting and joined onstage by FGS alumni David Schumer,  Tracey Croisier, Terra Lee Dennis, and Chris Spengler.

The last one sold out so they’re doing it again on the 26th. For more info or tickets go to their website:

Here’s a clip from their December show:

If you want a chance to tell a story yourself there’s a new open mic now in Tacoma called Something To Tell. It’s run by another FGS regular, Big Tim. Their next show is this Friday at B Sharp Coffee. The theme is: Love Is An Amazing Thing – Stories Of Love and Life. I’m sure we all have a love story after Valentines Day, right?

I’ll be telling the story of my first girlfriend and The Thing I’ll Never Do Again. (actually that could probably be the subtitle of all my stories)

Here are the links to the show and the event:

Something to Tell
Friday, February 17 at 7 PM – 9 PM PST

One last show to tell you about and then I’ll let you get back to your lives. This Friday, the Seattle Storytellers Guild will be having an open mic after their show, “Loves Lost and Found” Not only are SSG shows great for meeting new tellers but it’s also a good place to practice your stories for other shows like The Moth, AGTV, or FGS.

Here’s the info for this Friday’s show:

February 17 7:30-9:30 pm

Haller Lake Community Club
12579 Densmore Ave N

I hope all this hasn’t worn you out and that you can all make to our show next week on the 23rd 🙂

Write me if you have any questions.


Fresh Ground Stories: Figuring it out – Stories of discovering something about yourself

When I was growing up my mother used to yell at me for my lack of chutzpah. She was a chain-smoking actress from New York and when she got in these moods she always sounded like a Broadway agent from the 40s. “You need moxie, kid. Da world don’t owe you nuttin’ and if you don’t take what you need that’s just what you’ll have – nuttin'” Then she would cough into a Kleenex and I’d run in my room and look up “moxie.”

It was clear from the stories my mother told me of growing up in the Bronx that she would do whatever it took to get what she wanted. This usually took the form of creative storytelling, or what most people would call lying.

She signed off on Boy Scout merit badges I didn’t earn. She invented accomplishments for my college applications that I couldn’t possibly have achieved. (Pomona College once wrote and asked me for a copy of my latest play. Not only had I never written a play but I ended up writing them back and telling them all my writing had been destroyed in a fire.) Frankly, I’m surprised my mom didn’t tell them that I was taking time off from singing with the Bee Gees to pursue academic interests.

Whenever I would tell her how embarrassing it was that she would make all these things up about me she would she said the same thing, “You’re going to die with your secret.” Dying with your secret was the worst thing that could happen to a person. Every couple of days I would get in trouble at home because I suffered from low moxie and I would sit in my room wondering how I could be related to someone so different from me. If there’s a gene for towering confidence and zealous self-promotion I didn’t have it. In my head I equated all these traits with strength and lack of them with cowardice. I don’t think the word “introvert” had been invented yet.

Years later, in an effort to prove to myself what I wasn’t a coward I started doing standup comedy. It probably would have been smarter to start off with something less scary like bullfighting or crossing Niagara Falls on a tightrope but I was 28 and figured it was now or never. Over the next few years I would take a few days off from my day job every month and hit the road. I did well with comics in the room but not so good with normal people. By normal people I mean coal miners in Butte, Montana, cowboys in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and roustabouts in Spearfish, South Dakota. I didn’t bomb so much as evoke pity. Sometimes waitresses would hug me afterward and ask if I was ok.

Once, after a particularly rough time on the road I went back to my day job and wondered if I was cut out for comedy. It seemed to require a level of ego and confidence I didn’t’ have. Luckily, friends who did have that confidence often asked me to write for them. A week after I got back from my last trip to the Shangrilaff in Pawneewatucket, Illinois, my friend Craig asked me to write some sports jokes for him because he was going to be a guest on the Howard Stern show. One of the jokes I wrote for the show got a huge response in the studio.

The joke was about quarterback Troy Aikman who had just suffered his 7th or 8th head injury in a row and was going to be out for the next two weeks. Here’s the line that cracked everyone up. “Aikman’s head is so soft last week he got a concussion playing duck-duck-goose.” I’m pretty sure this is still the cleanest joke ever heard on the Howard Stern show and I was proud to find out it got such a good reception.

Later that day I was walking around downtown Olympia on my lunch hour and stopped into a little shoe store to see if they had anything on sale. The World’s Greatest Anonymous Joke Writer might need a nice pair of shoes for all the A-list rooms he was soon to be working.

I walked in and started browsing the shelves looking for a pair of shoes I could afford on $9/hour. The young woman who worked there walked up and asked if she could help me find anything. I looked over and for a moment I thought I was looking at Stevie Nicks. Sure, it would have been a much younger and darker-haired version of Stevie Nicks but for a split second I thought I was staring at the lead singer for Fleetwood Mac. She had long, flowy hair, long flowy skirt, and a long flowy voice.

To a boy who was coming of age in the early 80s Stevie Nicks was just about the prettiest woman around. It was always hard to tell exactly what she looked like because in every video she was always dancing around in gauzy, lacy, scarfy things and covered in doves. But whatever she looked like under all those birds I was sure it was sexy.

Unable to stop staring, I grabbed a random shoe off the rack and said, “Uh, do you have this in a ten?”

“Let me take a look,” she said as she floated into the back room in a swirl of cottony blouseyness. A minute later she came out with a box and brought me over to a chair. As she slipped the first shoe onto my foot she said, “So what do you do when you’re not looking for shoes?”

Was Shoe Store Stevie flirting with me?! I knew that telling her I worked at an office supply store down the street selling pencils wasn’t going to get me an invitation to sing “Leather and Lace” with her after work so I decided it was time to release a lifetime of pent-up moxie.

“Well, actually, I’m a comedian.” I paused for effect. “In fact, I just got some material on the Howard Stern Show.”

Shoe Store Stevie reacted like I’d just torn the wings off an angel. Her head snapped up and she said, “Howard Stern is vulgar and crude!” Then she got up, strode across the room and started organizing socks by hemp content.

“No, wait. It was a really clean joke!” I said as I hopped across the room in one shoe. “Remember in school when we played duck, duck-”

She spun around and walked to the other side of the store and began rearranging a table of gluten-free sandals. I stood there with one shoe on and one shoe off for a couple minutes trying to explain the joke. Finally, I waddled back to my chair, put on my old shoes and shuffled out of the store.

For the next two weeks I wrestled with what to do next. Usually, I would turn something like this into a self-deprecating story of How Life Sucks. But this time I wanted to do something different. I wanted to stand up and make a scene. I knew somewhere in my DNA the withered alleles of courage and confrontation were struggling to assert themselves.

Two weeks later, standing on a corner waiting for the light to change, I saw Shoe Store Stevie standing on the opposite corner. I knew immediately that this was my chance. Seize the moment! Carpe Cojones! I waved my arms like a maniac to get her attention and yelled, “Hey! Remember me? It’s the Howard Stern guy! Right over here being vulgar and crude!”

Her eyes got real big, then real small, and then she walked quickly down the street shaking her head. At first I felt horrible. If I had seen someone do what I just did I would have thought they were insane. But then I remembered that I was changing my life. I was becoming the man of action will I was meant to be. I wasn’t acting like a jerk. I was fulfilling my destiny.

A week later I saw Shoe Store Stevie again. She was wearing the same outfit: loose cottony flowy stuff with velvet pants under the skirt. This time she was standing across a smoke filled room in a jazz club downtown. I didn’t have the courage to walk up to her so I walked slowly across the room a few tables away and gave her my most devastating smirk while trying to look as tough as possible.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen me when I’m trying to look tough but I basically look like I’m auditioning for a boy band. In my head I look like Johnny Cash but to everyone else I look like an extra from a Backstreet Boys video.

After that night in the jazz club I started seeing her everywhere. In the library, at the park, in various coffee shops. And every time I’d smirk, nod my head and tap my chest as I mimed the phrase, “Remember me? Duck-duck-goose guy?” All of it from at least 30 feet away. But every time she saw me she’d do the same thing. Her eyes would narrow, she’d shake her head, and then walk away.

This went on for over a month. I finally had to quit because it was exhausting trying to be this abrasive. I wasn’t even hurting from her words anymore. I was hurting because I was failing at confrontation. How could I call myself a man if I didn’t go out of my way to hurt someone who had hurt me?

And that’s when the universe decided I was ready to learn my lesson.

A few days later I was standing behind the counter at Bigelow Office Supply rearranging the pen display for the 10th time that day when Shoe Store Stevie walked in. I couldn’t pretend I didn’t see her because she walked right up to me.

When she got to the counter she said, “I need a good pen. You got one?”

I looked at the all the pens next to me trying to decide which one would hurt the least when she stabbed me in the eye. I said, “You, uh, you can try some of these if you want” and slowly pushed the display toward her. I slid a pad of paper across the counter toward her as I leaned back as far as possible. I wondered if she was going to recite something from the Bible before she killed me like Pulp Fiction or if she was just going to flick her wrist and send a gel pen into my larynx.

After a few scribbles on the pad she put the pen down in front of me and said, “I’ll take this one.” Then, “Hey, aren’t you the comic who came into the shoe store a couple months ago?”

I said quietly, “Yeah, that was me.” I might be a complete failure as an American male but I wasn’t going to run away from my punishment. I deserved everything I was about to get so I leaned forward and waited for a slap, a stab, a rant, whatever it was that was coming my way.

But looking at her up close I got a funny feeling in my chest that quickly sank into my stomach. This was the woman in the shoe store but it wasn’t the woman I had been making faces at all over town. I’d been jumping around and thumping my chest like a monkey at the wrong woman! Somewhere in Olympia there’s another woman who also looks like Stevie Nicks who’s been telling her friends about how sad it is that so many mentally ill people end up living on the street.

I’m pretty lucky I get to say that I’ve been friends with the real fake Stevie Nicks, whose actual name is Angela, for the last 15 years. We see each other around town all the time and she’s engaged to a great guy who has probably heard this story a hundred times because she loves to tell it. I never saw Stevie Nicks #2 again but I’m glad all I ever did was act like a nut at a distance. I hope that I confused her more than scared her.

What I know now that I didn’t know then was that moxie comes in many forms. This year I told some people in Seattle that I would go out into the community and talk about what it’s like to live with depression. They want me and others to come out of the shadows and show people that you can live with anxiety, depression, bipolar, and all kinds of other stuff and still have a good life. It scares the hell out of me that people at work can find some of the stories I’ve told on the Internet. I worry that if I ever have to look for another job those stories could be held against me. But I keep putting them out there because they need to be told.

I grew up thinking I was a coward because I talked my way out of fights and was uncomfortable with the idea of getting even. I don’t believe that anymore. I don’t have the kind of courage it takes into get into a boxing ring but I do have the courage to stand up in public and tell stories about all the mistakes I’ve made to let people know they’re not alone. I’m not sure my mom would be impressed with that but I’m not the kind of guy who cares anymore.

And that’s the kind of story we’re looking for at our next show, February 23, at Roy Street Coffee and Tea. The theme is “Figuring it out – Stories of discovering something about yourself.” Tell us a story about a time when you figured something out about yourself. What happened and how did you change? Were you surprised? Were you scared? Were you ashamed? Do you miss anything about the old you?

Remember to keep it clean and under 8 minutes. Practice out loud in the car or in the living room on the cat. Let me know if you have any questions. I hope to see you on the 23rd.






Naturally, 30 seconds after I hit publish I realize I forgot to thank someone.
Thank you Anika for the write up of FGS in Evergrey. I turn down almost all offers to promote the show because I only want people finding us if they’re looking for us. The worst thing that could happen is if people show up to Roy Street just because it’s a night of free entertainment.
But your short write-up was perfect so thank you for the shout out 🙂