Wednesday, July 3, 2019By:
“Here, take some ice.” I glanced up from my notebook. I was leaning on a short metal pole under a bus stop overhang, the heat and humidity surpassing “oppressive” on a one-way street to “miserable.” There was a man in front of me, shorter, older. His balding head was glistening where he had dumped some ice to cool down. He was gesturing to the clear plastic bag he held in his other hand, half filled with ice and water. “It is hot, this will help!” His voice was heavily accented, somewhere Mediterranean, I figured. He had a few other dusty bags and an oil painting of a birch forest with him. I thanked him for the ice, put away my notebook, and dumped some of the freezing water over my hair. He was right—it was hot, and ice is amazing.
As I waited for my ride, I talked more to this man. “No no no… A child painted this. I am going to fix it. Don’t you see that it is bad? I am an artist. Well, I am retired now, but I have been an artist all of my life,” said the heavily-accented man. “I sell them at flea markets,” continued the (soon to be) self-proclaimed King of Flea Markets. “I get there first. Then I can get the good stuff, and sell it early with my paintings. That is the trick! Nobody buys after eleven, so then I go home. The Fairfax flea market is best. The people there want to buy things, not just look.”
My friend pulled up, and I climbed into his old blue pickup as I said goodbye to the man, whom I learned was from Morocco and spoke at least six languages (“We had to learn all of them just to get by!”). We drove west, out to a town that was a strange mix of country (we saw a few kids in muddy clothes toting fishing poles and tackle boxes) and yuppie (the common-area grasses were all finely mowed, and the outlet stores weren’t even on Google Maps yet) to watch a multi-group improv competition. For three hours, we watched thirty people make fools of themselves on stage. There’s nothing quite like unscripted comedy, when the performers can’t help from laughing along with the audience, when the next scene could be about “wombat windows” or “donkey pants”. There’s also a huge difference between performing and observing. Three years in my college improv group has left me embarrassed in front of hundreds of people, seen me rolling around on stage with laughter, caught me in a dress pretending to be a newswoman. But many of the times I’m on stage, I’m not thinking about what the audience is seeing—I’m engrossed in what’s going on right in front of me. Who I am right then and there, and what I need to do next. Watching improv, all I need to do is laugh. Laugh more, and louder, even if no one else does, because I know how discouraging it can be when you’re on stage, staring into silence.
It’s okay if people glance your way, curious as to why you’re laughing so loud. Step outside of your comfort zone. Stop to talk to the Moroccan man at the bus stop. Have a trumpet-guitar-recorder-harmonica jam sesh in the grass. Get on stage and embarrass yourself in front of everyone you care about. Wear a bright-orange bucket hat, because you should never take yourself too seriously. Life’s a lot more fun that way.
“Wow! But what did you actually do this week?” Alright. I get it. Here ya go: I finished up a multi-week cycle of microchip characterization tests at work (woo!), suited back up into my bunny suit to load another set of microchips into the testing fixture, made an incredible amount of plots and graphs, played multiple games of trivia but didn’t quite take the win in any of them, watched a bunch of congresspeople throw baseballs at each other, and flipped a staggering number of crepes.
Enjoy the snow (if it’s snowing when you’re reading this),