Strauss shares his tale of OCD, mushrooms, and cacti

Adam Strauss is a stand-up comic from New York. But right now at S.F. Marsh, you can see his one-man autobiographical show, The Mushroom Cure, which focuses on his personal struggle with OCD. Funny, vulnerable, and engaging, Strauss is willing to laugh at his own flaws, share painful moments, and offer up his darkest fears in what feels less like a monologue in front of an audience than it does an authentic self-portrait in progress. He reminded me of a younger, more intense Marc Maron with a bit of Paul Rudd thrown in. I was moved by his honesty and impressed with his stage presence. He’s a talented performer who doesn’t seem like he’s performing. Which is the best kind, right?

Don’t be fooled by the title–it’s not a tale of how to successfully treat a seriously disabling condition with psychedelic fungi, though that is a major plot point. It’s a man trying to find his way who allows us to watch part of that journey.

Definitely a thumbs up. I hope to see more of Adam Strauss in the future.

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A spa by any other name…

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mole rat
the lowly mole-rat

Names are important. When you’re in the market for a product–any sort of product–the name is likely to influence your decision, whether you admit it or not. Would a Jaguar still be the epitome of luxury cars if it were a Mole-rat?

Some companies choose a perfectly good name, but circumstances can change a name’s ability to draw customers. Take, for instance, Isis Skin & Body. I’m sure when the marketing department suggested the name of the Egyptian beauty queen, everyone thought it was a great idea. Who could have predicted that the name ISIS would become synonymous with terror?

When I was a kid in the 70s, my mother was often on a diet. One of the many tools she used to try to lose weight was an appetite-suppressant candy that she ate with warm water. It was called Ayds. Then in the 80s, AIDS became a killer epidemic of vast proportions. Ayds the diet aid limped along for a few more years before its inevitable death.

And then there are those names that should never been chosen in the first place. From a recent Mental Floss post, I learned that in Ghana one can drink Pee Cola and a spicy gravy product called Shitto. (And English is Ghana’s national language, so it’s not something that got lost in the translation.) In the same article, you can read about Barf detergent and Fart bars.

Shakespeare (via Juliet) famously posited: a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But I counter with this: any food labeled “Shitto” is fighting an uphill battle.

Mortified mines those embarrassing teen years

mortified logo

Mortified founder David Nadelberg had a stroke of genius, and we are the lucky recipients.

Twice now I’ve gone to the New Parish in Oakland to see people get on stage and reveal intimate details of their younger selves. And it is hysterical. It’s called “Mortified,” and you can see it either in San Francisco or Oakland every month. It’s also periodically in Chicago, L.A., and other cities, but we have two opportunities to see it here in the Bay Area.

I first heard an excerpt of the show on “This American Life” some years ago, but I didn’t realize it was something I could see live right in my own backyard. It’s been going for eight years and seems to be picking up steam.

According to the program, “All excerpts shared on stage are 100% real.” However these are not just people reading straight from their high school diaries without any focus or practice. The Mortified crew works with the brave souls ahead of time to mine the best stuff. And they do a good job. Both nights that I saw the show, the readers represented a nice variety of teen angst, from the young boy who had no friends and loved the TV character Mr. Belvedere to the girl who recounted her early sexual experiences.

mortified bookTo add to the hilarity, a clever comedic improv band picks up on the funniest parts and turns them into songs on the spot.

Apparently there is also a book, a documentary, and a podcast, so there are many ways to be Mortified.

I highly recommend this unique form of entertainment. I just wish I’d thought it up.

Writers With Drinks is a winning combo

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Charlie Jane Anders

 

It was a no-brainer as far as I was concerned—Dave asked me if I wanted to go to a monthly literary event dubbed “Writers with Drinks.” Two of my favorite things together? I wouldn’t miss it. So that’s how I ended up at the Make-Out Room in San Francisco last weekend, where for the last 14 years, Charlie Jane Anders has emceed this unique gathering that on any evening might include erotica, literature, stand-up comedy, science fiction, poetry, or essays. With her pink hair and sparkly party dress, she was clearly having fun introducing guests with wacky made-up bios.

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Octavio Solis

 

 

 

A diverse audience of Bay Area book lovers drank beer, cocktails, and wine as they cheered on January’s eclectic lineup that included stand-up comic Stefani Silverman, writer and storyteller S. Bear Bergman (founder of children’s press Flamingo Rampant), playwright and director Octavio Solis, poet Sandra Lim, novelist Tim Johnston, and Joshua Davis, who wrote about his incredible experience teaching a robotics class in Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream. (His reading from it intrigued us, so we bought a copy of his book, which he signed.)

Drinks w writers S. Bear
S. Bear Bergman

I had a great time and got to see performers I would probably never would have come across otherwise. Good job, Charlie Jane! This could become a habit…

Ginger’s gift

hammock Dave & Tucker
Dave and Tucker enjoy the hammock.

When Dave’s dad was alive, he had a substantial hammock that was the picture of leisure, situated as it was in a generously portioned and perfectly manicured lawn. Transplanted to our backyard, it kind of dwarfs our little patch of grass, but it’s a wonderful reminder that we live in a climate where we can enjoy our backyard year round.

Because it’s only yards away from the French doors that separate his office from the backyard, Dave has taken advantage of the hammock several times, whether he’s taking a well-deserved break from work or just enjoying the beautiful weather. Our daughter Kylie has read books out there, chatted on the phone, and got in some important cuddling time with our cat before heading back east for school.

But until last weekend, I had yet to experience the hammock. When I realized I had an unscheduled afternoon, I decided to seize the opportunity to test out this recent addition to our backyard. It was sunny but not sticky hot, with the occasional breeze swirling by. It was quieter than it had been in a few days that had been filled with family celebrations. Kylie was back at college, and Ginger had gone home too. (Ginger is Dave’s sister’s dog, who was a guest at our house while her adult companions were in Greece.)

So I headed out the back door, ready for my virgin voyage. As soon as I’d swung my legs up, I detected a foul stench. I peeked over the edge and saw the flattened brown remains just below. My gaze crossed to my sandals (still on my feet),  which were now smearing brown on the forest green fabric of the hammock.

“Shit!” was the only appropriate response. Apparently Ginger had left a little souvenir.

I disembarked, hosed off the bottom of my sandals, and scrubbed the offensive smell off the otherwise pristine hammock. Then I inspected my sandals more carefully and realized I needed some sort of tool to dig out the grooves on the soles. Luckily, I have an old toothbrush for just such emergencies, and I put it to work.

But I still smelled dog poop. Was it just stuck in my nose—an olfactory hallucination sparked by that image etched on my memory?

No. It was my foot. Somehow I’d missed the spot where the sandal had rubbed against my skin. Although I know it was just a tiny patch that was easily wiped, I felt thoroughly dirty.

Refreshed and ready to try again after my shower, I carefully stepped to the side of the now-flat brown spot under the hammock and reclined into optimum relaxing position. We live in a pretty quiet neighborhood, but that afternoon, three pre-teen girls were enjoying the warm weather by taking a series of selfies on the deck of the house behind ours.

“Okay, now let’s take one with our elbows like this!”

I tried to be all zen about it. After all, it’s not like it was in the middle of the night and they were doing something awful. But their squeals of laughter were not conducive to the idyllic afternoon I had imagined. Maybe if I turned and faced the other direction, I’d hear them a tiny bit less, I thought, as I pivoted around to place my head where my feet had been. But the pivoting was not successful. I found myself toppling headfirst to the grass below. Fortunately, I didn’t hit the metal rod that gives the hammock its structural integrity.

Unfortunately, I had not cleaned up the dog poop from before.

After emerging from my second shower of the day, I decided to abandon the hammock dream. At least for now…

Marsh Berkeley offers Josh Kornbluth and the Piper

josh kornbluthI’m a big Josh Kornbluth fan.

I remember seeing him in the basement of LaVal’s Subterranean Café back in 1989 when Dave and I were the only ones in the audience besides his director. That was his first show, Red Diaper Baby. From there, he went on to the Marsh in San Francisco to develop several more one-man shows, including Haiku Tunnel, which was made into a full-length feature film, a project that included his brother Jacob, who incidentally just won an Emmy.

Since then, I’ve seen every new show of Josh’s, whether it was at the Marsh in S.F., at the Ashby Stage as part of the Shotgun Players’ line-up, or at the Jewish Community Center. (I even saw him perform at a Berkeley High fundraiser when my daughter went to school there.)

Right now he’s developing a new show, and I was lucky enough to see him at Marsh’s Cabaret in downtown Berkeley. (It was so nice to be able to stay in my hometown and not battle the bridge to get to the Marsh in the city…) His process is to  in front of an audience while he works on a new piece. So even though what I saw this past Thursday may be quite different from what he comes up with for his show, I got to see the seeds as they were sprouting. And Josh is so much fun to watch, whether he’s talking about his dad, past jobs, his (relatively recent!) bar mitzvah, or even taxes.  I’m excited about this particular show because it draws on rich material—his experiences as a volunteer at Zen Hospice in San Francisco. If anyone can handle such sensitive material with grace and humor, it’s Josh.

Go see it now while it’s in development and then again next year when it hits the main stage. I’ll definitely see it again.

But wait, there’s more!

The night after I saw Josh, I returned to the Berkeley Marsh to see Jinho Ferreira (aka the Piper) perform a one-man show he wrote called Cops and Robbers. Oakland born-and-bred alternative hip-hop artist and member of Flipsyde, Ferreira decided to go the police academy and graduated four years ago. According to his website:piper

The paradox of being a member of the Black community and a hip-hop artist, while simultaneously working in Law Enforcement, served as the inspiration to write Cops and Robbers.”

The show is particularly relevant after the recent cop shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. (He even made a reference to the case, which he must have added long after the show debuted.) He is a skilled performer, becoming 17 different characters and conveying each one’s point of view. Because the content is so serious, he did what he could to add a bit of levity via a female news reporter character; but that character didn’t work as well as his others. The show was not biased toward any one point of view—the circumstances were painted in all shades of gray. The piece doesn’t take any easy ways out and offers no solutions, but it raises important questions that unfortunately have to be asked.

Literary Death Match does Oakland!

 

 

literary_death_matchLiterary Death Match is the brainchild of Adrian Todd Zuniga, who has hosted it now in 55 cities across the United States. I saw my first one at the Elbo Room in San Francisco last year as part of Litquake. This time it was at Oakland’s Shadow Ultra Lounge. Dave and I arrived about twenty minutes before the show was supposed to start, and there were no tables left on the main floor, so we wandered up to the more lounge-y area off to the side where there were at least some comfortable cushioned benches.

We’d already had cocktails at home with some friends, so Dave sipped water while I nursed a Corona. I’m sorry that I can’t report on the cocktails that were especially for this event, but the mango mimosa sounded good… 

Our charming host introduced the three judges, then brought out the first round of competitors, who were both young poets. The first one, Tim “Toaster” Henderson, recounted the saga of (Keen-wa?), who had the rude habit of cupping, then slapping women’s breasts. (Don’t worry, the offender was the recipient of some poetic justice.) The second contestant was Jaz Sufi, whose bio describes her as “a performance poet and amateur dogwalker.” Her poem was harder for me to hear because there was a table of folks who waited until she was performing to loudly rearrange their chairs to squeeze one more at their table. But I do know it started and ended with “Praise the white girl.” And there was a pumpkin spice latté and some Uggs in there somewhere…

The judges gave their critiques in completely different styles, using varied random criteria, which is all part of the fun. Activist/author Joshua Safran devised a “Lake Merrit” alluvial scale and measured performances in centimeters. He also handed out personalized awards that he partially created on the spot from his pockets. Sonya Renee Taylor, poet, activist, and founder of The Body Is Not an Apology, usually started with the contestants’ appearance and how they used their space. Karinda Dobbins, a local stand-up comedian, found characters or situations that she could relate to and then shared her personal connections with the crowd in a random, comic way. For instance, when a character was described as having big, hard teeth, that reminded her of her ex-girlfriend.

While our host shared fun literary (and not-so-literary) facts about authors, the judges huddled to make their decision. I did not know that Lord Byron carried on an indelicate affair with Caroline Lamb (wife of William Lamb, who would be England’s prime minister) in which she sent her lover a token of her affection by post—one of her own bloody pubic hairs.

Between the two rounds, there was some unfortunate noise that was intended to be musical entertainment, but I found it pretty painful.Mac Barnett

Round two featured one of my favorite children’s authors—Mac Barnett (who also happens to be an alum of my alma mater, though he graduated decades after I did). As a New York Times bestselling author, Mac was certainly the most commercially successful of those competing and, in my opinion, the most entertaining. He read aloud his hysterical children’s book Guess Again and invited audience participation. He is just a funny, charming guy!

His opponent was Oakland-based writer Nancy Davis Kho, whose blog Midlife Mixtape is “for the years between being hip and breaking one.” Her humorous essay purported to be parental advice. Both competitors gave terrific performances, but the judges went for Nancy’s account of teaching her daughter to drive that also involved her husband’s colonoscopy—a pair of comic elements that is hard to beat.winner!

The final round was less about the writers and more about just having fun, as it involved audience members drawing book titles Pictionary-style. All the books were written by Bay Area authors, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I only knew one out of four (Packing for Mars, by the lovely and hilarious Mary Roach). The big winner of the evening was Nancy Davis Kho. Although the real winners were the audience.

It was a fun Wednesday night. I hope Literary Death Match returns to the East Bay. Considering the great turnout, I imagine it will.

Nancy Davis Kho gives a great account of the evening from her standpoint on her blog at http://midlifemixtape.com/  (It’s also where I snagged this photo of her winning. Thanks, Nancy!)