Friday, July 29, 2011

Role-Playing (Part 7)

I'm closing out the Role-Playing series with the final entry, which brings everything full circle. I hope you enjoyed reading this series - I think I've worked on this more than on any other written piece. There were a few other sections I cut over time, either because they didn't fit the overall arc, they weren't working, or they just didn't have a purpose other than to show another amusing side of my life. But this trimmed down version feels right. Who knows, I may go back to it and add/subtract more at some point.

My next big move is going to be some a live reading of something I've written. Not necessarily from Role-Playing, though there are a lot of good stories here to be told. I'm going to sign up for a storytelling class in September and then depending on how that experience goes, I may pursue it further. Naturally I'll keep everyone posted on that here.

For now, enjoy the seventh and final selection of Role-Playing:

(FYI: Newcomers and those of you who haven't been reading this in order, this part makes a lot more sense if you read part one first)


PAX EAST / Boston, MA / march 2011

Our adventure eventually leads us to the lair of an ice dragon. We fight valiantly against the ferocious beast, and a number of times things look quite grim for the group – a concentrated blast of ice breath brings Eldeth and several others within 7 hit points of their life! In the end though, our collective efforts bring the enormous creature down, and victory is ours.

The DM congratulates the table of champions on completing their mission, and tells us how much experience, gold and treasure we have gained for use in future adventures. The heroes rejoice, tend to their wounds and divvy up their earnings, while the players give each other high fives and snack with renewed vigor. We’re told to write everything down on our character sheets, which I do, naturally accounting for the unspoken but assumed 5,000 extra gold pieces, Potion of Invincibility and +7 Flaming Axe of Scorchification that Eldeth found with her darkness-enhanced Dwarvish vision.

The group seems ready to retire from the dragon’s den, but Eldeth the Uncouth has one final play to make. I speak to the table as I gesticulate each portion of her move:

"I climb onto the dragon's chest and tear out its heart using my Great Axe. I hold it front of the group and shout: 'does anyone know if eating a dragon's heart will bring any kind of enchantment or power?'"

The table is flustered, along with the Dungeon Master, who is unsure of how to answer this unusual question on the fly, though honestly, I couldn't possibly be the first dragon slayer to ever wonder this. Undeterred, I continue:

"It doesn't matter, I eat it anyway. Nom nom nom."

I raise my half-clenched fist to my mouth and pretend to eat the heart, gingerly licking my fingers once I’m done for the full effect. My commitment to my character is outmatched only by my desire for more attention.

Our magical adventure comes to an end with the glorious ritual of filling out a brief survey card to rate our experience, our DM, and to let the all-powerful Wizards (of the Coast, LLC) know what other products we might be interested in purchasing. I have way too much leveling up to do with my Human Male / 32 / Single / Administrative character to invest any more in their guides, compendiums, or ever-so-tempting figurines right now. But I’m sure I’ll be back soon enough.

As Eldeth turns her back on the band of warriors she’s gotten to know over the past hour, she knows she’ll likely never see any of them ever again. She is thankful for the time they’ve shared. More importantly, she is thankful that they’ve so kindly tolerated her loud, attention-seeking, and sometimes flat-out obnoxious behavior.

Monday, July 25, 2011

My Life As A Rubik's Cube

Here it is. My Everest.

This evening, on my bus ride home from work from Harlem to Astoria, I spotted a young man playing with a Rubik's Cube. It's a rare sight these days, but I'm sure Mr. Rubik would be happy to know there are still people frantically sliding around colored columns and rows left and right, keeping alive the last lingering fad of the 80's.

I instantly recognized that I was watching a pro. The kid rotated each section as if by instinct, barely ever stopping to check his progress. For a brief moment he had managed to claim the entire orange side, and no sooner had he accomplished this than he immediately continued on his mission, sacrificing his reward for a chance at greater glory. And as he casually rotated away what I considered to be any sense of progress, I got a little bit of agita. I wanted to stop him, or at least tell him to soak in the nine nicely arranged orange stickers just a little bit longer. I turned away to leave the boy to his fate, not wanting to relive my own experience with that devilish toy.

I'm a big gamer, and I take personal pride in the number of video games I've beaten over the years. I knocked out Mike Tyson in Mike Tyson's Punch Out!! for the NES, starting the game from the very first fight. If you have no idea what that means, know that this is a pretty big deal (ask any male who grew up in the late 80's/early 90's for confirmation). But I've never even come close to solving Rubik's Cube. And it wasn't because it's more of a cerebral puzzle. I've beaten plenty of those, too, jerks. I'm convinced I never solved more than one or two sides because once I got that far, I was unable to progress, for fear of ruining the sides I had already finished.

Objectively I knew (and had seen) that it was impossible to solve the puzzle this way, one color at a time, never allowing a side to undo itself once completed, but it didn't matter. Whenever I tried it, I'd delicately arrange my moves to avoid the completed side, and I'd get nowhere. Eventually I'd get frustrated and give up. At this point, there was always a part of me that wanted to just remove the stickers (or take the pieces apart) and replace them so it looked as if I completed the puzzle, but I knew this would have been an empty victory, like beating Mike Tyson with a cheat code of some kind.

I turned back to check on the audacious child and noticed that he had completely solved the Rubik's Cube, with every one of its six sides glistening in the bus' neon lights. I wanted to grab it from his hands and shuffle each section around wildly, returning it to him completely unfinished, but I knew he'd just solve it again, this time even faster. So instead, I sulked. After a few minutes, I got over my seething jealousy long enough to do some soul searching. I started thinking about the reality of the incomplete puzzle and what it represented in my life at large. I realized the agita I felt when I watched a side of the cube go from complete to incomplete was the same agita I felt when I tried making any major changes in my life. Creatively, professionally, romantically - the metaphor seemed to fit across the board. I hated making any changes to my life that sacrificed a single piece of what already "fit" in my life. What made me comfortable.

I want to pursue my dream job, but I still have to go to my current job 40 hours a week, right? Then when I get out of work, I can look for a new job at home for a little while, but what am I supposed to do, not watch TV or hang out with my friends any more?

I want to meet and date lots of beautiful women, but I hate bars, and besides, hanging out with my board game buddies is always a lot more fun than going out anyway.

I want to be a writer, and I'm gonna start writing all the soon there stops being an endless supply of awesome video games to play and beat.

The pattern is obvious. In order to finish the cube, in order to get all of those sides to be the appropriate color, I'm going to have to get over this agita, and do what it takes to finish the puzzle. I'm going to have to give up a portion of whatever level of comfort I have right now in order to have a shot at getting everything I want. Maybe I'll only end up with three or four sides of what I want completed. Maybe I'll only get two of the sides, but they'll be the two most important sides to me. Maybe I won't finish with a single side matching - but maybe this new, asynchronously-colored Rubik's Cube that is my life will be awesome in it's own special way, a way that I can't even visualize right now.

There are so many possibilities! But first I've gotta make a move. Any move, really, as long as it messes me up in some way, nice and good. The agita will now be a sign that I'm headed in the right direction.

So on that note, off I go!

Yes, I bought a Rubik's Cube, but clever readers will also notice a few revealing  Easter Eggs here, including how I need a DVD binder, how much I am stupidly willing to pay for shipping, and the last word I looked up for this post.
Ok, so, maybe this move is more symbolic (this blog post was the bigger accomplishment of the day, technically), and not so much agita-bringing or life-changing, but hey, if I can solve this damn puzzle after all these years, on top of also beating Mike Tyson back in the day, what can't I do, friends?

The answer: NOTHING!!! 

Hmm, that double negative doesn't sound so great. Let's try this again: if I solve this puzzle and I beat Mike Tyson before when I was a kid, what else do you think I can do, friends?

The answer: ANYTHING!!!

There we go.


PS: I will definitely post back here if and when I manage to solve it.

PPS: Am I allowed to look for strategies online, or is that cheating? I did take writing classes, you know. That's like, a kind of strategy guide for writing.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Role-playing (Part 6)

Bad dates are a fact of life for singles looking for love. You've got to look at them as a stepping stone to something better. And in the meantime, all you do is keep your head up, remain positive and hope that these bad dates at least make for good stories. Good stories that I'm happy to share with you all.



Matt Shafeek The Insecure Suitor
Sunset Terrace & Coffee Shop Bar / New York, NY / May 2010

I'm at a Time Out New York singles event at Sunset Terrace in the Chelsea, overlooking the Hudson River. The venue is appropriately named - there’s a gorgeous view overlooking the water as the sun disappears over the horizon. My friend Marcy and I were both "featured" in the Singles Isses that week, with pictures in the magazine and full profiles of us on their website, which could be seen as bold or desperate depending on your point of view.

As soon as I arrive I find Marcy, and together we survey the scene and start to gravitate towards a corner of the bar for the best of the room with the fewest eyes on us. After a few minutes I force myself to pull away, in an effort to prevent an evening of the two of us keeping each other safe from our insecurities. I turn and notice a good looking, tall, red-headed gentleman that Marcy clearly has her eyes on. I make some small talk, introduce the two of them, and I step away, mouthing “you’re welcome” at her from behind the red-head’s back.

I know that what I lack in height, hair, and wealth I have to make up for with confidence, so I walk around determinedly approaching as many women as I can attempting to fake it. I introduce myself as "Matt, page 18," which seems silly enough to be disarming and hopefully not too creepy. The first few women I meet tolerate my presence for a few minutes before making it clear with body language and eye contact that I can make them laugh all I want, but they're never going to sleep with me. A lot of the subtleties of courtship and sexual attraction are lost on me, but I've got a PhD in this one particular sentiment.

I notice Leia as I'm grabbing my second drink. She's short, seemingly of mixed racial descent (a mix, like me!), and she has really sexy lips, something I never really notice on a woman. I make up excuses for about a minute then finally sidle up alongside her. I use with my corny 'page 18' opener, which I've decided to stick with, despite its lack of effectiveness thus far (like Cinderella’s glass slipper, I‘m sure my line will eventually woo my one true love). As it turns out, most of the people at the party aren't actually in the magazine, Leia included. She doesn't know what I’m talking about at first, but despite the initial stumble we manage to hit it off:

"You know, I was self-conscious about coming to this event, but looking around there's actually a lot of really ugly dudes here." I say, doing my best to mix truth with fantasy. In reality, I'd felt inferior since I started talking with the tall red-head, but now I was staring right at him, shaking my head and wondering how anyone could ever be attracted to a man with such a well-defined chin, whose clothes all fit him just right.

"Yeah, heh, you're not wrong. There's also a lot more women than men here, in general." Leia replies.

"Yeah you're right. I guess I should just wait for all the attractive men to get paired off, then sit back and let the rest come to me."

“That would be smart!” she smiles, “but before you do that, let's get another drink."

After investing $15 into our conversation, Leia and I make our way to the terrace overlooking the water. The fact that she's stuck around this long indicates to me that we're either hitting it off, or she thinks she’s getting another free drink out of me. I ask for her number before the conversation and her current drink are totally exhausted. She gives it to me, and I immediately start looking for an escape before she has a chance to change her mind.

“Anyway, I should probably get going,” I tell her, “I’ve got a ridiculous commute home from here.”

“That sucks. I live like a five minute walk from here,” she brags.

“I see what you’re doing right now, but sorry, I’m not going home with you tonight.”

She puts her hand to her mouth, ever so-slightly embarrassed. I fight the urge to follow this line up with “but seriously, if you wanted me to come over right now, I definitely would.” Instead, I sense this a moment is as good an out as I'm going to get, so I thank my audience and wish her good night.

A week and a half later we find ourselves at Coffee Shop Bar in Union Square. I show up promptly at our prescribed meeting time of 7:30pm. She arrives twenty-two minutes late, which, given her unapologetic demeanor, seems right on time for her. She sits down, and starts drinking twice as fast as me, pausing every two minutes to answer her blackberry, which she has no problem clarifying: "gets more love from me than any man." Awesome.

Struggling to compete with her clear love of alcohol and electronic messaging, I bring up some of my favorite, super sexy subjects: long-form improv, video games and blogging (more ill-fitting glass slippers I can't help but force women to try on), hoping any of them will strike a chord. Unfortunately, even popular date topics like travel only seem to make her to drink and text more. I feel like I'm on a really shitty game show with bizarre rules I don't really understand, but a very clear view of my score, which is currently well into the negative.

The only subject that seems to get a reaction out of her is sex, which initially I’m more than happy to discuss. However, when she asks her first question of genuine interest to me, I quickly realize I'm in over my head :

"So where's the craziest place you've ever had sex?"

She finally turns away from the bar, giving me the most attention she's given me all night. But now I’ve got nothing to say. My honest answer to her question is: "someone else's bed?" but I know that's not what's she's looking for, so I imagine what a more sexually experienced version of myself would say:

"Craziest place? I guess probably a bar bathroom..." I shrug, casually. I figure I can make this story up on the fly, if need be. It would start with a seat liner and end with a flush.

"Ah, cool," she replies, entirely unimpressed, "You see these scratches on my knees? They’re from getting fucked in Central Park last week. What a dumb idea. They still hurt."

“Oh, wow,” I say, trying my best to react as if I was being told about her running her first half marathon, or that everything she was wearing was made of hemp. In reality, I'm sure I sounded more like she just told me she bites the heads off of small dogs. Or that she has casual sex with people in public parks with little regard for one of her most important joints, and has no problem humble-bragging about it.

A lot of thoughts race through my head at this moment, some of them prudish, most of them simply logistical: "Why would anyone choose to fuck in a park? How is that an improvement over a nice comfy bed, surrounded by four walls? What time of the day was this – doesn't the park close at night? Are you one of the culprits behind one of those awful used condoms I see on the street sometimes, wondering who the hell just HAD to have sex right here?" None of these comments would be met with anything but disdain, so I try to make up for what I lack in hair, height, wealth and adventurous sexual experience with a little bit of topical humor:

"See, that's too bad. If I was going to fuck you in the middle of the park, I'd make sure we were on a nice, grassy area. You know, so your knees wouldn't suffer."

Leia giggles and goes back to her blackberry, making it clear how she feels about me with her body language and lack of eye contact. The welfare of any part of her body is apparently not something I’ll ever have to worry about. I am unable to regain her interest again.

We decide to close out the tab a short time later, and as a fitting coup de grĂ¢ce, my credit card is rejected. Not due to insufficient funds/credit, but for some reason the card is just unreadable by their machine. The bartender tries to make it clear to Leia that I wasn't being a bum, but by this point nothing short of thanking me profusely for her recent sexual reawakening would have saved me. Leia begrudgingly pays the tab and refuses what little cash I had on me. We make our way outside and the two of us exchange a delightfully platonic hug. I then wave goodbye to another girl I know I will never see again.

Every bad date I go on – even the ones that are obviously bad matches like Leia and I – feels like it leaves an inevitable emotional scar. One that makes me that much less of the hopeless romantic, like I was when I was 12 years old, hoping to swoop a beautiful princess off her feet like the hapless rogue Aladdin did, with a song, a dance (and of course, a magic genie to solve some of those tricky socioeconomic discrepancies). Over time I start to feel more like a bitter, jaded Aladdin, who’d rather just use his wishes on a lifetime supply of pizza, peanut butter cups and some kind of high-tech sexbot.

There is a side of me though, that's optimistic, who knows that no matter what happens, I’ll be fine. Because what I may lack in height, hair, wealth, sexual experience and sheer determination, I more than make up for with…a pretty funny blog, which will soon have this story posted on it. And nothing turns the ladies on more than pretty funny blogs with stories of bad dates with other women.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Role-playing (Part 5)

My non-fiction writing professor likened my emotions in this piece to a feeling of "awe and schaudenfraude at the same time" which is totally accurate, though I'm disappointed she didn't go the extra mile and combine her description into the almost too obvious Sch-awe-denfraude. And it's too bad she didn't, because frankly, it would have totally gotten her better marks on her performance evaluation, or perfor-uation. But that's neither here nor there. Enjoy this next piece of emo-moir writing (ok, I’m done):


Matt Shafeek The Judgmental TV Critic
Matt's Apt. / Brooklyn, NY / October 2009

I roll out of bed at 10:05 on a Sunday morning and realize I'm late for Church. I throw on a shirt, slide into my slippers and quickly make my way downstairs to the first floor of my apartment. I grab a bowl, a spoon, a bag of Blueberry Muffin Tops cereal and a container of 1% milk and place it on the altar in front of my pew. I grab my blessed remote control, press the power button and scroll through the list of available morning sermons listed on the holy Digital Video Recorder.

My DVR list – the compilation of recorded television shows my cable box has so kindly saved for me – is one of three major 'Consumption Goals' controlling my weekends, weeknights and other pockets of free time I'm lucky enough to have as a single 30-year old who has been mostly unemployed for the past year. There's also my video game 'To Play' list, with 127 titles and counting, and my Netflix queue, which these days is more of a $9.99/mo afterthought. It's a daunting task, attempting to consume so much media in one’s lifetime, but you know, it's important to have goals.

The top entry on my DVR list the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live. I highlight the title and linger on it, debating whether or not the show is worth of my precious time. The truth is I have no business recording SNL in the first place. I haven't enjoyed it in years, yet I still finding myself watching it semi-regularly. I've come to the conclusion that I'm not just some kind of comedy masochist, nor is this my usual completionist need to have to see a show through to the end. The fact is there's a part of me that watches the show just to see it fail, which I suppose might make me more of a comedy sadist.

Writing or performing for SNL was, for a brief period of my young adult life, my dream job. When I first discovered the show in the early 1990's, it had just entered its glorious second Golden Age: the years of Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Chris Farley and Phil Hartman. There was literally nothing more exciting to me than the idea of being a part of something so wonderful, funny and dangerous. Anybody could write something, shoot it, rehearse and edit it to perfection and then throw it on the air. But to write a show in less than a week and perform it live before a studio audience and the rest of the country? That was just so goddamn bold. To be that confident in your ability as a writer and/or performer seemed impossible to me.

The show has an undeniably talented cast, and a team of writers that I'm sure have spent years of their lives devoted to their comedic craft. Some have written for the Harvard Lampoon. Others have worked the stand-up circuit or improv stage for years. Regardless of where they honed their talents, eventually they found acceptance, recognition and success in the warm embrace of Lorne Michaels. Most important of all they are now getting paid to be funny. I, on the other hand, am still very much a work in progress. I have lots of great ideas, but my words always seem to get mangled by my hands and mouth. I’d like to devote more time to my craft, but you know, those lists.

Despite the collective pool of talent involved, the show still manages to under-perform, and a part of me I'm not altogether proud of revels in this. I derive great pleasure out of seeing Kristen Wiig play the terribly annoying, one-note recurring character 'Gilly' to middling laughs, knowing I've done way funnier stuff. A sketch with Italian interviewer ‘Vinny Vedecci,’ a thin premise that goes on way too long, capably reassures my decision to never audition for this once-beloved show. Then there’s a bizarre parody of female pool players in the 1980’s that fails comedically on every level. My eyes widen as I soak in this disaster, and I lean back in the futon my mother donated to me and let out a heavy sigh of relief. I'm so lucky to have absolutely no connection whatsoever to this embarrassment.

I start fast-forwarding through the rest of the episode. I can’t wait to go online once I’m done to read the negative review on the A.V. Club, my go-to site for television criticism. I’m fairly confident in my assessment of what I’m watching, but reading a professional critic’s opinions will make me feel that much better. Emboldened, I’ll be able to spread the word online and off, telling everyone how those hacks have managed to embarrass the world of comedy once again. “I’m this close to just not recording it anymore!” I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen, wishing deep down inside that the A.V. Club would finally consider hiring me.

I stop to watch the SNL Weekend Update when I notice Andy Samberg coming on dressed as Scrooge McDuck. He’s ranting about his affinity for gold in a terrible Scottish accent and, against my better judgment, I start to smile. When Samberg follows every statement by pulling “gold coins” from a large sack with a “$” on it and tossing them everywhere, I start chuckling. And when it’s finally revealed that 'Scrooge McDuck' wasn’t always a duck, but is in fact suffering from a debilitating duck disease that comes from swimming around in pools of dirty, dirty money, I’ve fully surrendered. This bit doesn’t even really make sense, and is objectively kind of dumb, but logic and intelligence aren't always the major players in brilliant comedy, and Samberg’s commitment sells it.

During this brief moment, I’ve returned to my childhood, laughing along as nothing more than an audience member enjoying a terrific performance. I remember why, before the advent of digital television recorders, I used to stay up until 1:00 in the morning just to see what the writers would come up with next. How I couldn't wait tell all of my friends who missed the episode what the highlights were, and letting everyone know that I was “living in a van down by the river!” as often as possible throughout the day.

It takes just a few minutes for my crippling insecurities to come back to the surface. 'Wait, they just made a Ducktales reference, what is this, 1987? What’s next, a M.A.S.H. sketch? And okay sure, that was funny, but one laugh in 90 minutes is a terrible track record. Get it together, guys.'

I really need to stop watching this fucking show.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I Don't Know What's Worse, Losing To A Giant Rabbit, Or A Four Year Old Child

I recently participated in another fantastic Improv Everywhere mission - The Carousel Horse Race. My veteran status as noted actor, improviser and athlete (as well as, perhaps, my height) all played a part in snagging the role of the veteran jockey, and Charlie went out all to make sure I looked the part. Though I honestly didn't know they worse such bright, awful colors.

We basically made the carousel in Bryant Park into a high-stakes horse race, complete with betting, announcers and a trumpeteer (spell check is telling me this isn't a word, but I'm sticking to my guns here). At first they were going to do it with all jockeys like me, but they decided it would be better with mostly children and just the one jockey for flavor. I wholeheartedly agree with this decision, and I say this fully cognizant of my bias as the singular jockey.

Here's the original video in case you haven't seen it yet:

A couple of fun facts/highlights, accomanpied with wonderful pictures by Katie Sokoler:

1) I watched a few jockey videos the before the event, and was determined to get the riding style down right. Unfortunately, when you're strapped in and bouncing on a large, non-moving piece of - I want to say mostly wood? - its a lot harder to bounce and whip so vigorously. My thighs were killing me about 2 minutes into each ride (we ran the event 3 times). I have a new found respect for actual jockeys.

2) I definitely scared some children during a few of my more heated racing moments, but I made sure to congratulate all of them on a good race afterward. In the above picture I'm pointing at a young girl who was not nearly as intimidated as I thought she would be. Also, I forgot to take my watch off, apparently.

3) Finally, here's my post-race interview, which features my vaguely ethnic character's bitter reaction to losing to a 4 year old child riding a giant rabbit. If you listen closely I'm being heckled in the background while I'm being interviewed. Everyone was clearly very committed to their roles. I love it:

I want to state here and now for the record that I will be filing a formal complaint with the Horse Racing Commission. Giant rabbits and children do not belong on the track. They belong in the fields and the playgrounds, respectively.

4) Finally, there was a report that one of the kids was juicing, but it turned out to just be actual juice, not steroids.

Well, that should just about do it. Any newcomes to my blog, thanks for reading, and feel free to stick around for some of the other fun stuff I post on here (check the FAQ). And follow me on twitter too: @mattshafeek


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Role-playing (Part 4)

If there was one defining trait that has hindered me socially throughout my life, it's my need to be liked. And I think there's no better story to show that than this one. Enjoy.



Matt Shafeek The Life Of The Party?
Lou Townsend's Apt. / Astoria, NY / December 2003

I'm at a birthday party for Lou Townsend, one of my favorite improvisers that I feel bold enough to call a friend. I’ve been a part of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade community for about a year now, and I’m finally starting to feel for the first time like I'm with people who "get it." Long-form improv blew me away from the very first show I saw, and I've been taking classes and spending as much time at the theater as possible ever since. Finally, my post-college years have some semblance of direction. I recently decided that if I became a brilliant improviser, everything else - the decision not to go to grad school, the crappy temp jobs, living back at home with my mother - would actually make perfect sense. I would no longer be wasting my life, I'd be sacrificing everything for my art.

The party is a huge event, taking up every floor of the three story apartment building. As I come in, I see the faces of people I'd been obsessively watching on stage for over a year now, in awe of their ability to make a room full of people laugh their asses off without the safety net of a script, pet or hilarious wig. I slink around, smiling at everyone and trying to figure out who might possibly recognize me. I'm a shade darker skinned than nearly everyone there, so I stand out even to those I don't know. I find the snack table and double dip some carrot sticks in ranch dressing before finding some familiar faces and settling in alongside them.

I have a brief conversation with one of my improv-idols Pete Mayer on the merits of Ben Folds' most recent EP. We're both big fans and I see this as an opportunity to bond with someone whose talents I figure I can start to siphon eventually. I start off describing my dislike of most of the songs but Pete is more than happy to engage me in a lengthy dissection of each track. Soon the fact that I know far less about Ben Folds' oeuvre (as well as music in general) than him is made very apparent, and I find myself slowly conceding to the fact that the EP is "actually pretty good, I guess." Right about then, another fellow performer from the theater comes over to me. His name is Sam Sloan.

Sam Sloan is the rare kind of guy you almost always see smiling. He's half Asian, half white (a mix, like me!), but otherwise fairly ordinary looking  medium height, medium build  though on the verge of husky  and he nods his head and says "rockin'" and "all right" as a response to almost anything, making him seem like the most agreeable guy on the planet. His confidence also makes him take up more space in the room than anyone else.

We exchange a few pleasantries and then, inexplicably, he starts tugging at my sweater and slowly begins to pull it over my head.

"Uh – haha, dude, what are you doing?" I ask, sensing some sort of bit. I'm as big a people pleaser as they come, but disrobing isn't in my usual repertoire of smiling, nodding, or laughing just a little more than I probably should have.

"What are you talking about? I'm not doing anything. This is a nice color on you, you know that?" Sam says with a wink and a nod, as if we'd been planning this out for weeks.

A few fellow party-goers start to notice this, and soon we’re the focus of the room. Sam pulls an additional layer off of me, a Homestar Runner t-shirt. As my protesting continues, he shushes me quiet with a noise normally reserved for babies on the verge of tears. People begin to laugh. Not wanting to ruin this great bit for the sake of a few layers  that frankly, I didn't need to wear anyway  I fight my natural instincts and play along, continuing to verbally protest but doing nothing to physically stop it.

Within a very short time I am down to my blue and gray Gap-branded boxer briefs, and at I am now beginning to regret the desperately passive stance I've taken thus far. An attractive but unfamiliar woman enters the room and she stare at me, wondering what she's walked in on. My eyes shift to Sam, who immediately becomes indignant and says to me:

"Shafeek! What the hell are you doing, why are you taking all your clothes off?"

"I...I don't know." I say, half playing along, half completely and utterly lost. "I'm...sorry." I'm now apologizing to others for the embarrassment being brought upon me.

More laughter. This bit has gone over quite well. I wonder if Sam and I can take this show on the road after tonight. We'll go town to town putting on shows where the audience will start to point and laugh before slowly realizing there's a look of forced acceptance on my smiling face, then they'll wonder, as I am right now, whether or not they're comfortable with what's going on in front of them. Or maybe they won't, if our test audience is any indication. Maybe they'll just sit back to see what happens next.

"Shafeek, you're ruining this party for everyone, what's wrong with you?!" Sam scolds me as he simultaneously prevents me from putting my pants back on.

I debate a few courses of action to salvage the situation. Turning the tables and taking Sam’s clothes off would probably show everyone that what's going on is a two-way street. I could even try to totally own it, excuse myself from him and walk over and double-dip some more carrot sticks, nearly naked. You know  exactly how I prefer to be at parties. Finally there's the simple option of telling Sam to knock it the fuck out (I realize now that if my first words earlier had been "Uh, haha, dude, what the fuck are you doing,?" this incident would have probably ended right then and there). 

Unfortunately, I don't have the nerve to try any of these ideas, so I'm stuck standing there, wearing next to nothing and apologizing to people for what Sam has done to me. My only hope is that maybe this is some kind of hazing that happens just before you're put on a house team at the theater, and at some point moments from now Lou Townsend is going to come from another room a with new pair of clothes and 7 other hilarious improvisers that I'll soon be performing with every Tuesday night.

All of this thought is interrupted by Sam, who has started tugging at my boxer briefs. Instinct finally overwrites all conscious thought as I firmly push his hand away. Sam smoothly raises his hands, smiles and says "all right." There's an awkward beat and then, sensing an unfinished air in the room, I bow to everyone. Then I grab my clothes and run off to get dressed in the first empty bedroom I can find.

When I come out, I avoid eye contact with everyone in the room and try to shrink into a corner to be forgotten, but I feel like my title of "what's that guy's name? the one that almost got stripped naked at Lou's party?" has been firmly established.

I linger quietly for a while then eventually slink out when no one's looking, which seems like the most graceful way to handle the situation.

As I get outside, I pass a tall improviser with thick glasses that I don't really know. He's smoking a cigarette. He takes a drag and asks me:

"So what the fuck was going on up there? Were you stripping or something?"

"Ah, it was just a bit - kind of an inside joke, actually."

"Well, I didn't see most of it, but it sounded like everyone was loving it."

"Thanks dude. Maybe next time I'll wear some tassles."

"Hah, yeah, that'd be pretty fucking funny."

I leave Astoria hoping that this one conversation spreads throughout the party and when it eventually gets to Sam, he'll be drunk enough to let the whole event get rewritten in his mind. After all, improvisers make up their scenework, why can't they engage in a little revisionist history as well?

It's a small, kind of pathetic hope, but it helps me get to sleep that night.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Role-playing (Part 3)

Ever work at a job that you didn't like, and have to attend pointless meetings that made you question your own existence? Well, I totally did, and it's the subject of the latest section of my multi-part series "Role-playing." Enjoy!



Matt Shafeek The Disaffected Employee
[Redacted] / New York, NY / February 20XX

We're called in for a department-wide meeting on the status of operations. Everyone settles into a large auditorium that seats at least 200 people. I arrive late, and quietly pick a seat in the very back row of the packed room. Nothing could possibly interest me less than being here right now. I'm an administrative assistant, my level of investment in the growth or development of any part of the organization matters about as much to me as the personal life of a tapeworm's host does to the tapeworm. This idea makes me chuckle and I scribble some notes down in my notepad:

A tapeworm being forced to have a conversation with his host about the state of his life. The host's girlfriend breaks up with him, he's depressed, and the tapeworm is forced to console him in order to keep him alive/eating. [Sketch image of tapeworm rolling his tapeworm eyes inside the host's body. Outside the host is sobbing.]

Knowing I have absolutely no role in this meeting, nor any information that will be required of me to remember, I decide to take advantage of my complete lack of purpose and status. I challenge myself to never pay attention to what’s going on during the meeting. I'm going for the high score in my game of Borderline Attention Deficit Disorder (or BADD). I play games like these whenever I can to pass the time quicker, and it usually works like gangbusters. Unfortunately, when you practice the art of unfocused behavior as much I do, the brain starts to default to this setting full time, leading to an unfortunate loss of productivity when I'm actually trying to write or be otherwise productive elsewhere. In a sense I'm actually taking my non-work home with me, which is extra depressing.

The host is sitting on his coach, talking about where he thought he'd be by this point in his life. The tapeworm initially tries not giving a shit and just suggesting delicious foods for him to eat, but the host is sullen and not in the mood to eat anything. He pops a few anti-depressants which the tapeworm HATES and forces the host to regurgitate.

As the meeting rolls along, I figure I might as well scan the room for any new attractive women in the company. Whenever I see one, I look for a wedding ring. If she's got one, I get bummed out over the fact that's she taken. If she doesn't, I get bummed out that she probably still wouldn't date a guy this far down the corporate ladder. I decide to salvage my ego and stop looking halfway through.

So the host loses his job, and is miserable and depressed, and now the tapeworm is forced to come out of its host's body, get a job, work 9-5 in order to give the host enough money to survive [sketch image of a tapeworm in a suit in a tie sitting in a cubicle. He definitely has a motivational poster of some kind].

Running out of ways to entertain myself alone, I decide to take a look at what's going on at the front of the room. Rather than listening to the speakers droll on about a new database program that the company is going to start using (shit, I just lost, now my score is reset to 0), I start paying attention to whenever people in the room start to laugh.

A passing comment about part of a project falling behind and getting blamed on a fake fall guy (who totally isn't to blame) gets a short, concentrated burst of laughter. An easy joke about a presentation being only twice as long as the previous speaker's ridiculously long presentation gets some hearty, prolonged laughter with at least one loud hand clap in the crowd. It's contextual, it's a moment of levity after a lengthy period of dry discussion, I totally get it. Still...yawn.

The tapeworm, once he gets home from work, doesn't have the energy to crawl back into his host's mouth, so he just falls back on the coach at the host's home and orders some pizza himself [sketch image of the tapeworm sitting on the coach with his belt unbuckled and his tie loose. If possible, have him watching an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond - no wait, he actually has good taste - Veronica Mars].

I realize I'm now judging business executives making six-figure salaries who are presenting plans for a multi-million dollar operation on the basis of how well they make the room laugh. Something I know I can do better than them, and something they clearly couldn't care less about it.

I start judging them even harder.

The final bit of laughter I hear includes a repeated, supposedly ironic joke about the "simplicity" of an enormously complex data chart. It only ever gets a few random chuckles. Don't quit your day job, fellas. Seriously don't, because I could not run this company on my own.

The host sits down next to him, taking up as much space on the couch as possible. When the pizza arrives, the tapeworm pays for it, sits back down, opens the box and the host looks over and asks the tapeworm: "you gonna eat all that?" SCENE. 

Soon afterward the meeting adjourns, and I quickly stuff my things in my bag and make my way out of the conference room and back to my desk.

I sit down, turn on my computer and look at my watch.

It's only 10:30am.

There's still six and a half more hours to go in the day.