Bay Area native Beth Lisick has written five books, performed at museums, helped launch the Porchlight Storytelling Series, and acted in indie films. But she’s also done a lot of embarrassing crap. Her new book, Yokohama Threeway and Other Small Shames is a witty collection of her 50 lamest moments, from the silly to the sincere. Below is an excerpt of just three cringey bits.
It’s the third or fourth stop we’ve made after our show here in New Orleans, the place after the place where the Etch A Sketch played a role in our bar brawl. The black-and-white hexagonal tiles are grimy and the grout is caked black. I’m staring down at my pink flip-flops, my anklebones doing a Butoh-wobble as I hover and pee, when a credit card is passed underneath the stall. Atop it is a tiny sprinkling of white powder. This is drugs. This is something I don’t do.
Recently, a close friend was telling me about a friend of hers whose overseas volunteer job had gotten gummed up because she’d had to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, which labeled her as manic. This woman was 46 years old and had never been diagnosed as having any kind of behavioral disorder. As we ate our burrata or whatever it was – some soft cheese at a semi-Italian place – we expressed our mutual disbelief.
“Oh my god,” I said. “I’m sure if I went through that, they would say I was manic, too.”
My friend paused for a beat and then looked at me like I was smoldering, like I was just about extinguished, and said in the lame sarcastic cadence of a TV character 30 years her junior, “Well, yeah!” Like the same annoying way people say, “Just sayin’!” I hadn’t expected her to agree with such alacrity.
I get excited sometimes. I believe in the power of an affectionate greeting for one whom you have not seen in a while. And when I get on a roll, a tequila and chitchat roll, I am sometimes possessed by a strange surge of energy that makes me incapable of disengaging until the night is definitely, for sure, as announced by everyone else, over. But I honestly don’t think I’m manic. For instance, I don’t not sleep. I have only stayed up all night a handful of times in my life. Yes, there was this one time when I was lying in bed trying to conk out and my brain couldn’t stop repeating BILL HEEHAN, BILL HEEHAN, BILL HEEHAN, a pseudonym a friend had made up to write record reviews in the ’90s. And one time, after a long flight to Nairobi, I heard the voice of my British hostess echoing the phrase “BIBS AND BOBS” approximately one thousand times as I lay on a single futon in the dark. But on the whole I do not conduct my daily life under the sway of any unusual brain chemistry surges. I generally feel centered, if slightly pumped. I don’t need drugs. The thought of me on drugs scares me.
So there I stood in the grimy bathroom stall, looking at the credit card attached to some anonymous hand, and I grabbed it and I snorted it, up my right nostril, the larger opening of my deviated septum. Then I danced and ate beignets, went to sleep on a hardwood floor, and woke up covered with red welts. Those lasted until Georgia.
I stepped up to the sink in a public restroom where a woman was having trouble getting the automatic faucet to recognize her presence and dispense water so she could wash her hands. She kept violently thrusting her hands forward and sighing loudly. A little more drama than seemed necessary, but I got it. I hate when those things don’t work. The crazy dance you’re forced to do. She switched over to the next sink and put her hands under the thing. That one didn’t work either. Trying to be funny, I said, “Whoa. Maybe you’re invisible!”
The woman whipped her head around and I could see tears in her eyes. She had already been crying. I started to say something like, “I mean, they’re so annoying!” But she cut me off. “Oh, that’s cute!” she railed. “You think a woman my age likes to be told she’s invisible?!”
She was about 60. Natural gray hair in a short bob. Purple cardigan.
I was so surprised by her reaction that my reflexes took over. The same thing happened that always does when a stranger yells at me in public: My eyebrows lifted and I chuckled lightly in her face.
“How can you be so rude?” she said, bewildered and upset. “What’s wrong with you?”
I wanted to explain my joke, that we were all ghosts and the machines didn’t recognize any of us. But I walked out instead.
I was working at the local independent weekly doing ads for nightclubs and theaters. And by “doing ads” I just mean making sure all the performers names were spelled right and all the prices and times were correct. (“So you’re sure the band is spelled Harry Pussy? Like it’s a dude’s name, not like a bush? Okay, and is the admission still three dollars or a canned good at the door?”)
The main advertising guy at the paper was really into PROMOTIONS. PROMOTIONS were cool events you could do with the advertisers to make them like you better than their sales rep at the other weekly paper and ADD VALUE to the relationship. I got my first idea for a PROMOTION when I saw that Julia Sweeney was doing her one-woman show God Said “Ha!” at a local theater. She had been on Saturday Night Live, right? Well, it just so happened that one of our other advertisers, a nightclub South of Market, was co-owned by another SNL alumnus, Rob Schneider. I approached my boss with this amazing idea. What if, after Julia’s opening night performance, we threw an after-party at Rob’s club and they both were there? We could ADD VALUE to our advertising relationships with a couple extra column inches of space, some deli trays, and a drink special, and make a happening out of it.
All parties agreed. I think Julia’s manager told her that Rob wanted to host a party for her, while the nightclub manager was telling Rob that it would be a good night of business for him. The theater had 400 seats, so if half the audience came, we’d have a successful event. Not to mention the crowds who would show up off the street when word got out that Julia “It’s Pat!” Sweeney and Rob “Down Periscope” Schneider were partying in the club. When Julia’s show was over, I rushed across town to make sure everything was ready for the party. I was a little concerned that it took me 25 minutes to get there and find parking, and for the first time, it dawned on me that the average theatergoer, no matter how much they adored Julia Sweeney, might not want to drive from the Marina to South of Market at 10 p.m. on a weeknight.
The club, one of those cavernous black boxes, was empty, which was okay. It was still early. A bartender directed me to a low-ceilinged room upstairs that was also painted black and had large mirrors plastered across two entire walls. It looked like either a place you would do a lot of ecstasy and watch yourself dance for hours or a barre-less ballet studio for goths. Definitely a location where you would never dream of eating the sliced salami, whose bits of white fat glowed eerily under the blacklight. I checked in with my client. Rob hadn’t been seen yet.
Two smartly dressed moms from the show finally wandered in, with their purses strapped diagonally across their bodies as they clutched onto them with both hands. They gave me an earful about how far the party was from the actual event and what a hell of a time they had parking in this terrible neighborhood, and when you enter the club there was no indication that this room was even up here, and now they weren’t sure they wanted to stay. Patiently I listened as I watched the lights strobe across their faces. They were right. This was a garbage idea. If only I could stop Julia from coming.
Within a half hour, a handful of people arrived, and that’s only if you’re not counting the thumbs on your hands. Rob had been spotted earlier, but had bailed for other parts of the club when he got a load of the scene. And then Julia showed up. She was exhausted from performing, but put on a cheery face for about 30 seconds, until it dawned on her what was happening. The way her expression changed, as if it was her fault that no one had come, was devastating. She kindly chatted with a few people until the manager dragged Rob back in and here was my moment: They exchanged an awkward hello, Rob made a joke about how lame it was, and Julia laughed nervously.
I had orchestrated a night where two former TV stars said hello to each other in a dark room while nine people watched. To stand there and watch her, a woman I had just seen perform a beautiful monologue about losing her brother to cancer before going through cervical cancer herself, to see her standing around a dirty, loud nightclub trying to be gracious because some dumb 26-year-old wanted to please her boss. I built that. I couldn’t apologize enough.
You can hear more from Beth when she reads on Sunday, Oct. 13 at Edinburgh Castle at 4 p.m. as part of Litquake (check out all her Litquake appearances here) and on Thursday, Oct. 17 at Mrs. Dalloway’s in Berkeley at 7:30 p.m. She'll also be at Creativity Explored on Saturday, Oct. 19 from 3-5 p.m. for her Tell You What zine release party. These are all free events.