Wet from the blattering rain outdoors, they gathered in a glowing gallery storefront to tell lies to each other.
It’s 4:18 a.m. and I just got up to write.
It’s become a more usual ritual. Sometimes I rush home, race to my computer to sit Snoopy-style on my bed and type away the day’s events.
I type the homeless man who sang so sweet, the acrobats who twist and twirl. I type the student’s troubling question or just what I saw when I was out on my bike.
But some days, the bike has a flat. Some days the homeless were uninteresting and the students just wanted their grades. Some days I have nothing to write, so I storm and fret and set the alarm for 4:30 so I can get some sleep before forcing myself to put up something before 6 a.m. post time.
I have bad dreams when this happens and usually wake before the alarm.
Maybe they were lies. Maybe they weren’t.
Free from the blattering rain, in a room filled with $600, $700, $1,200 photographs and a little fat dog who would nip if you skritched a second longer than he wanted, the storytellers stood up one by one and maybe told lies.
It’s another storytelling event, one of the many series that have cropped up in bars, galleries, bookstores, museums and really any open space where you can wrangle some chairs, beers and a microphone stand.
They have themes, gimmicks. The one I run wants stories about neighborhoods. Another just wants drunk tales. Another, stories first told to the reader by someone else.
Some square people off in essay duels, some want personal stories of woe. Many want personal stories of woe.
The one in the gallery space I keep describing because I like the sound of the word “blattering” wants either truth stories or lies, and the audience votes after on which it was.
I have a collection of Ben Hecht stories no one else does. I went through Hecht’s papers at the Newberry Library and paid $13 to have the staff Xerox me 30 pages and one folder of his personal clippings of 1001 Afternoons in Chicago.
They’re the ones that didn’t make it into the book version of the column. They’re the ones that came after or that just weren’t good enough to make it into Pascal Covici’s 1922 collection.
Sometimes, at 4:42 a.m. like now, I flip through for inspiration. Not to wow me with awe and wonder, but to remind myself that I’m not doing so bad, that Hecht had days he punted it too.
The storytellers talked about wedding mishaps, awkward trips, terrible dates. Lots of terrible date stories.
One man told a story of a deer loose in a church in the ring of parks around Cleveland. I thought he was lying because he didn’t know the Cleveland park system was called “Metroparks.” He called it “the Emerald Necklace.”
Each story ended with a Q&A where smartasses like me would try to trip them on details like Metroparks, followed by a show of hands voting for truth or lie.
It was a true story each time. The host said that’s never happened before.
All my stories are true. The tedious ones, the boring ones, the ones where it’s like, “We get it, Dailing. The homeless man was a good singer.”
At 4:49 a.m. in a room full of artwork, dirty clothes and bookshelves, knowing you’re telling the truth doesn’t help.
The stories were wonderful. I raced home to come up with some lies (or not) that I’ll submit to see if they’ll let me be the one fielding the smartass questions in a month, in a room full of expensive photographs and bitey dog.
My lies flowed freely last night. But when it came time to write this site’s 472nd truth, I stormed and fretted and set the alarm for 23 minutes ago.
25 minutes ago.
Some days Hecht punted it, wrote stories that amounted to “I like jazz” or “Did I mention I know Sherwood Anderson?”
Sometimes he would just people-watch like I do, or repeat the tales of the ‘20s literati at the Dil Pickle Club. Debates were the thing then. Storytelling now.
And some days I punt it too, where it gets to be 5 a.m. and I look at the now 800 words and prepare to say good enough.
Or maybe I know how good this is. Maybe I know I can get some storytellers to relate and get the rest to picture a messy bedroom, a bitey dog, a glowing gallery filled with people telling lies, or maybe truths.
Maybe I’m pretty happy with how this turned out.
What do you think? Show of hands.