I performed in the dark. Without amplification. The results were surprising.

The worst experience I ever had while telling a story was on election night 2016 at a live show of Slate's The Gist. I was telling the story about my run for the Presidency of my college when things started to turn in the election returns and eyes quickly shifted from me to phones. 

Trump was winning. The world was ending. People were literally hugging one another in the audience. And I was still blabbering onstage. There was a moment in my story when I nearly said, "I should stop. This is ridiculous. You don't want to laugh. I want a hug, too."

I persevered, but I'm quite certain that no one has the faintest recollection that I performed that night. Deservedly so.   

My second worst onstage experience was during the Mayor's Charity Ball years ago. I was emceeing the event, and while the entire evening was lovely, but no one was terribly interested in what the emcee had to say. It was nearly impossible to get anyone's attention, and once again, I'm fairly certain that no one has the faintest recollection that I was even there. 

I thought that last night might go just as poorly. I was scheduled to tell stories at a benefit for a local television network, but strong wins from the Northeaster had knocked the power out about an hour before I was set to perform, depriving me of a microphone or any light save candlelight. The room, which I have performed many times as a DJ, minister, and storyteller, isn't easy even with a microphone. It's long, cavernous, and unforgiving. 

Trying to get the attention of 200 people with no amplification in the dark was not going to be easy.

One of the organizers proposed that we just scrap my performance. People were laughing, drinking, and having a good time already. No sense in disturbing their fun in these conditions.

"Yes!" I thought. "Cancel me. This isn't going to work!"  

Ultimately it was decided that I should give it a try, so reluctantly, I slid two wooden boxes over to the center of the room, climbed atop them, asked a few people to point their cellphone lights at me, and I started speaking.


Instead of telling three stories covering 30 minutes, I told two stories that filled about 15 minutes before my voice wasn't going to allow me to tell a third. Though I didn't capture the attention of the entire room, I managed to grab a sizable portion and made them laugh with two stories that I punched up on the fly.

I wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible either. People listened and laughed.

When I was done, I sat down beside a woman who I know but hadn't seen in years. It turns out that she hosts a show on the TV network now with three friends. She asked me appear as a guest.

As I was leaving the building, an attorney stopped me in the lobby and asked if I would be willing to consult on storytelling and communications with his firm.

Someone in the parking lot then stopped me and thanked me for the laugh. A tree had fallen on his house that night, and he was heading home to inspect the damage. "I didn't think I'd be laughing at all tonight. I really appreciate it."

I'm constantly counseling people to say yes when an opportunity presents itself, even when that opportunity is less than ideal. I know people who would've refused to perform under those conditions last night, and honestly, I wouldn't have blamed them. It was an awkward, almost impossible situation. Had they asked me to cancel my performance, I would've happily obliged.

But I agreed to entertain an audience, so when they proposed that I give it a shot, I said yes. I stood up on those precarious wooden blocks, spoke with all the volume I could muster, and told two funny stories 

It wasn't perfect, but people laughed and enjoyed the performance. I received an offer to appear on a television show, an offer to consult at a local law firm, and I brightened the evening of a man who was having an otherwise very bad day. 

Not bad for performing in the dark, without amplification, under the light of a handful of phones. 

Awful human being alert

It's hard to believe that someone could be as lacking in self awareness as the woman who wrote this letter to advice columnist Dear Prudence. 

How could anyone read this letter and not think they are coming across as an classist, elitist, repulsive snob?

Dear Prudence,

Recently my friend Amy made a new friend, Mary. I’ve met her a few times, and while we were polite to each other, she isn’t someone I’d care to interact with more than necessary. I don’t seek her out, nor do I invite her to social events. Mary has slowly become part of my circle of friends. She has made a few comments intimating she’s upset that she hasn’t been invited to some of our get-togethers, but she is in a very different financial bracket than the rest of us. The restaurants and events we choose to go to are pricey. I recently hosted a dinner party for my friends and their plus ones, and Amy brought Mary. I didn’t want her at my house. We’re not friends, and I don’t enjoy her presence. I’m hosting another dinner party for the holidays, and I know Amy will bring Mary. I do not invite people I don’t want to be around to my parties. How do I politely tell Amy to stop bringing Mary?

—She’s Not Invited; She Comes Anyway

You can read Prudence's response to the letter here.

I broke into the Brooklyn Navy Yard and committed a crime (I think)

I went to Brooklyn at the end of August to record a podcast at Slate. 

Slate moved its offices from a fairly convenient location in Manhattan to a terribly inconvenient location in Brooklyn that I had been to only once before. So I plugged "Slate Magazine" into the Waze app on my phone and was off. 

By the time I arrived at the destination indicated on the app, two things were apparent:

1. This was not the Slate offices.

2. I had to pee so badly that I thought I might pee my pants.

My GPS app had brought me to a blighted section of Brooklyn featuring razor wire, graffiti, boarded-up buildings, and not a single person walking the streets. But I assumed that I was close to my destination. Perhaps a block or two away, so when I saw all the free parking spots on the street, I took one, thinking it would be a five minute walk at best to Slate. 

I also had to pee so badly that I couldn't stand the thought of driving around to find the place. Even if I had to walk a little ways, I assumed that I could find a place to pee on the way. 

Boy was I wrong. When I emerged from the side street onto the main thoroughfare, I saw a single gas station and block after block of empty buildings, chainlink fences, and walls. Not a retail establishment, restaurant, or coffee shop to be seen.

I waddled to the gas station. It was my only hope.

When I entered, I saw a woman speaking to the gas station attendant, who was standing behind nine inches of glass. I also saw a small door marked restroom behind the glass as well.

My salvation. 

I waited patiently for the woman and the attendant to finish their conversation, but when it became apparent that it might never end, I interjected.

"Excuse me. Could I use your restroom. I'll buy stuff if I can. Lots of stuff."

The attendant replied, " It's out of order."

"Out of order?" I asked. "Then how do you pee? Or where do you pee?"

"It's out of order," he repeated.

"Yes, but you must pee, I said. Where does that happen?" 

"Sir, there's no bathroom here."

"But there must be," I said, "You can't go all day without peeing."

"He said there's no restroom," the woman shot back at me. "Leave him alone." 

I would've loved to have engaged further with this woman, but realizing that I was not going to be able to use a restroom here and knowing how dire my situation was becoming, I left. 

I stood outside the gas station, just a week after US Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte got in trouble for (among other things) peeing on a gas station in Brazil and wondered if I was about to do the same thing. There was no place to pee anywhere, and not a single tree or area of concealment to be seen.

Then I looked across the street and saw them. Three thin saplings. A tiny stand of trees. All that I needed to pee. 

The only problem: The trees were standing just inside the entrance to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, an imposing brick entrance festooned with a guard shack and a sentry. There was no way I was going to slip through that entrance and make it to the saplings without being seen.

Then I caught a bit of good luck. A delivery truck pulled into the Navy Yard and stopped at the sentry post, creating a barrier between the sentry and the saplings. If the truck remained in place long enough, I could duck into the entrance of the Navy Yard and into the trees unseen. 

There was no way the guard wasn't going to see me emerge from the stand of trees a minute or two later, but that was a problem to solve after I had relieved myself. 

I went for it. I ran as fast as possible with a bursting bladder across the road and through the large gates of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, veering off after about 15 feet into the trees. I could barely contain my bladder for a second more. As soon as I was secreted behind the stand of trees, I  peed onto the vine-covered brick wall, keeping the trees between me and the sentry.

One of the happiest moments of my life. 

When I finished, the truck was gone. I emerged from the stand of trees and was immediately spotted by the sentry, he rose from his seat. I tried to look confused, held up my phone as if to imply it had misled me (which it originally did), and exited the Brooklyn Navy Yard while offering gestures of confusion and apology.

The sentry appeared annoyed but allowed me to pass without comment. 

A few minutes later, after speaking to a Slate producer on my phone, I began the 25 minute walk to Slate in the 90 degree heat rather than driving my car closer to the offices, which turned out to be a terrible decision.

But it gave me time to ponder this:

Had I been a woman, I would've been in a lot of trouble. A woman could not have peed in that fairly exposed location behind those tiny trees. A guy needs the smallest sliver of privacy in order to pee. Essentially, a man need only to turn his back in order to avoid exposing himself while peeing, whereas women require a hell of a lot more privacy. 

Then I thought about all the times I have peed against trees while playing golf. All the times I have stepped off a trail while hiking or hopped off my bike to pee a step or two into the woods. All the times I have disappeared into a stand of trees a a park to pee. All the portable toilets in the parking lots of Gillette Stadium where I am able to pee without touching a single thing other than my pants.

Men have it good.

We have it very, very good.

I found enormous sympathy for womankind on that walk to Slate, realizing that had I been a woman, I I might well have peed my pants. 

There are solutions to this problem for women, including devices like the GoGirl, which comes in a lovely shade of lavender, but the image of a woman holding a GoGirl against her groin as she pees seems even less discreet than a woman dropping trow in order to pee.  

It's also bizarre. Rachel, my Boy vs. Girl podcast co-host, has agreed to give one a try.


I also thought that the Brooklyn Navy Yard is not nearly secure enough for my liking. Had I had been an evil doer with more nefarious purposes, I wonder how much damage I could've done had I been armed with more than a full bladder. 

Mike Pesca's favorite sentences of 2015 (and mine)

Back in January, Mike Pesca of Slate's The Gist discussed some of his favorite sentences of 2015. When Pesca attributed the sentence to someone., I included the attribution. 

  • Bill Raftery on how he enjoys learning something and immediately sharing it: "That's why I went into broadcasting rather than espionage." 
  • "It's easier to condemn than to figure out the charge."
  • "They're against changing the flag because that's against they're identity. I don't mean the flag is their identity. Being against change is their identity." - Mike Pesca 
  • "Grief is our compensation for death."
  • "Some voters do not share democratic values, and politicians must appeal to them as well." 
  • "The tradeoff of living in a country where California gets to set the standard on auto emissions is that Texas gets to set the standards on textbooks." - Mike Pesca
  • Frank Luntz, acknowledging the anxiety of Trump voters: "But they're also out for revenge."
  • "Bravery is easy when you defend yourself from other. Humanity is more difficult. It's when you defend others from yourself." - Nino Markovich of Montenegro 

Like Pesca, I am a serial collector of words, sentences, dialogue, images, and ideas. You can't write five novels, three musicals, a magazine column, and a blog post every day for almost ten years without being a good listener and connector of ideas. 

 Inspired by his list of favorite sentences, I went to my Evernote to recover some of my own favorite sentences from 2015:

  • “What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.” - Don Draper
  • "In a world where superheroes, and more importantly super-villains, exist, being a glazier must be a great job." - Michael Maloney
  • "He was the fourth of three children."
  • "Whisper to yourself what you love most, and that's how you can be brave." - Clara Dicks
  • "The saddest of all the ribbons is the white ribbon." - Matthew Dicks
  • "You make me want to come to school every day, and that is what every teacher should try to do before everything else. All the other stuff isn't as important as that. Just fill the classroom with hilariousness and love." - a former student (currently in eighth grade) writing to me
  • "None of us marry perfection, we marry potential." - Elder Robert D. Hales
  • “I trust my story. I always betray my heart with my tongue.” - Clara Dicks while reading Neil Gaiman's Instructions

Presidential Job Application Question #3 (with my answers): What’s your greatest political triumph?

Slate's John Dickerson recently published a piece entitled:

The Presidential Job Application: Seven questions we should ask anyone who wants to become President.

Over the course of the next seven days, I plan on completing Dickerson's application by answering each of the questions. I've always wanted to be President, so perhaps my answers will be so impressive that a grassroots campaign supporting my candidacy will ignite.

Answers to previous questions:

Question #3: What’s your greatest political triumph?

In the spring of my freshman year of college, my friend, Chris Johnson, sat down next to me in biology class and told me that I should run for President of the Student Senate. He was running for Vice President and wanted a running mate.

We were attending Manchester Community College at the time. I was managing a McDonald’s restaurant - working 50 hours a week - while taking a full course load. I had no extra time to devote to anything else in my life.

I also only had about half a dozen friends on campus and knew nothing about campus politics.

And the election was a week away.

Still, I said yes.

In a debate against my Presidential opponents, I was asked how I expected to find to find the time to be President with my enormous school and work load. I said that I had asked my father the same question when deciding if I should run, and he had said, “Great men don’t find the time. Great men make the time.”

The answer was received with one of the only rounds of applause that day.

Of course, my father had said no such thing. I hadn’t spoken to my father in more than ten years. But when I wished that I had the advice of my father, I imagined what he would say, and if the advice was good, I followed it.

I lost the election by a handful of votes to a woman named Jane.

Political career over.

Except that Jane did not return to the college in the fall in order to serve her term (medical issues), so the Vice Presidential winner (not Chris) assumed the presidency. Chris was then asked to join the Senate in the now-vacant Executive Senator position, and he convinced the Senate to open up a second Executive Senator position for me as well. A month later, when the Treasurer resigned, I took her place.

My political career was born.

The most important aspect of this political triumph was my decision to treat all of the candidates for President with dignity and respect. At least one other Presidential candidates did not, and as a result, he was never even considered for any of the available positions when they opened up that fall. I became known as a person who could deliver an excellent speech, listen to others, and campaign hard without attacking my opponents. Those skills became desirable when there was a vacancy to be filled.

In the end, I was probably better off serving as Treasurer than President. I was incredibly busy that year, and the Treasurer’s position – while taxing – was not nearly as time consuming as the President’s position. I managed to lose the election yet reap the benefits of political office, including leadership retreats to Washington and New York, an office on campus, and the camaraderie and friendship that our political team enjoyed, and I had the opportunity to learn under the tutelage of our Dean of Students, Alfred Carter, which has served me well in life.   

Politics is famous for dirty tricks. But sometimes the high road pays off. 

This is the real reason you go shopping before a snowstorm

Daniel Engber of Slate offers an explanation as to why people behave like idiots before a snowstorm, rushing off to a grocery store that will undoubtedly be open at some point the next day.

The word is hunkering, in the specifically American sense of digging in and taking shelter. It’s the anxious form of self-indulgence, where fear is fuel to make us cozy.

I agree that hunkering is part of it, but I also think there is something even larger at play:

People want to be involved in momentous events. They want to feel like they played a part in a historical moment. By role playing panic – which is essentially what a person does when he or she is willing to wait in an endless line for milk that will be readily available in 24 hours – people feel like an essential part of the oncoming snowstorm. They are like actors, committing to a part that their friends, colleagues and the local media have been undoubtedly hyping for three days.

It’s no fun to be liaise-faire. Being able to remain calm in an actual emergency is a skill that is valued by all, but remaining calm in a fake emergency is no fun for anyone involved. It just makes the people pretending that they are in the midst of an emergency feel stupid or angry or both. It’s like when little kids are running around the playground, pretending that a dragon is chasing them, but one kid just stands there and shouts, “There is no dragon! There is no dragon!”

But there is no dragon, people. New England just experienced one of the worst winters in terms of snowfall ever, yet in my part of Connecticut – which received near-record snowfalls – there was never a storm that kept the roads from being cleared and the stores opened within 24 hours, and most of the time, considerably less than that.

In most cases, the roads were impassible for a few hours at best and the stores never actually closed.

My wife and I never went shopping before a storm this winter – despite the fact that we have two small children who drink a lot of milk and eat a lot of bread – and we were never wont for either item. If you don’t have enough food in your house to survive 8-24 hours, the problem isn’t the storm. It’s with the way you shop for groceries.

If you’re looking for something to panic about, why not make it climate change. I realize that it won’t allow you to go shopping (which also plays a role in the pleasure of pre-storm pretend panic), and you won’t find yourself in the midst of the pretend panicked nearly as often, but at least you’ll be panicking over something that is real and worthy of your concern.

Storytelling on The Gist

If you’re not already listening to Slate’s The Gist, the daily podcast hosted by Mike Pesca, here’s another reason to do so:

I’ll be appearing on The Gist as a part of a new project that seeks to teach the art of storytelling to listeners. Whether you are telling stories at a dinner party or the water cooler or on the stage, our goal is to explore how stories are found and crafted and perhaps help people become more engaging and interesting conversationalists.

In addition to all that, we are accepting story pitches from listeners, and one lucky person will have the opportunity to work with me to perfect their story and ultimately perform it on stage. 

You can listen to the first episode here, or by subscribing to The Gist in iTunes, or by listening through Soundcloud here.

My segment begins at the 9:40 mark.


Slate might actually be stealing my ideas. Not really, but you have to admit that it’s getting a little suspicious.

About two weeks ago, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post accusing Slate of stealing my ideas. On the same day, Slate published pieces defending skipping and arguing that climate change skeptics can no longer use the word skeptic when describing themselves because it’s simply not true.

I had previously published blog posts that were eerily similar.

But like I said, my claim was tongue-in-cheek. I didn’t really believe that there was an editor at Slate scouring my blog for interesting topics for his or her writers. I still don’t.


But I couldn’t help but notice that David Shiffman’s piece “I’m Not a Scientist” Is a Dangerous Cop-Out, which argues that the Republicans can no longer claim ignorance in order to avoid taking a position on climate change, is eerily similar to my blog post from a month earlier “I’m not a scientist” is a perfectly acceptable response to climate change questions, as long as you’re willing to acknowledge everything else that you are not.

Just look at the similarity in argument and even word choice between Shiffman and myself.

Shiffman writes:

When politicians say “I’m not a scientist,” it is an exasperating evasion. It’s a cowardly way to avoid answering basic and important policy questions. This response raises lots of other important questions about their decision-making processes. Do they have opinions on how to best maintain our nation’s highways, bridges, and tunnels—or do they not because they’re not civil engineers? Do they refuse to talk about agriculture policy on the grounds that they’re not farmers? How do they think we should be addressing the threat of ISIS? They wouldn’t know, of course; they’re not military generals.

More than a month earlier, I wrote:

Despite the sudden and overwhelming use of this sound byte [I’m not a scientist] as a means of doing nothing about climate change, I’m willing to accept these Republican’s admission of ignorance as long as they are willing to also admit that they are also not economists, military strategists, healthcare policy professionals, gynecologists, teachers, and Biblical scholars.

If these white men (because they are almost all white men) are unwilling to accept the findings of the vast majority of scientists who assert that climate change is both real and man made because they are not scientists themselves, then they must also renounce themselves from decisions involving the economy, monetary policy, the military, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, abortion, contraception, education, and any policy enacted in accordance or alignment with Biblical principles.

Eerily similar. Right?

Despite the similarities, I don’t think that Slate editors are stealing my ideas. I have an enormous respect for the work that Slate does, and I recently began playing a small role in Slate’s podcasting empire. I am a tiny fish in an enormous pool of ideas. People have similar ideas all the time.

I guess I’m just quicker to the idea than these particular writers at Slate.

Still, it’s oddly coincidental. Right?