David Litt on The Moth Mainstage at Royce Hall

The Moth has been hosting storytelling events for 20+ years, and the thousands of storytellers who have graced their stages are proof that every story is unique, and that the best stories come from our personal experiences.

In this story, as told by David Litt, we hear a humorous tale about what it’s like to work in the White House, and to finally meet the President of the United States.

The details of the experience, both the settings and the conversations, give us a sense of what it must have felt like to work in the White House. But in a normal context that we can all relate to, it is also about wanting to excel in your career, while also dealing with imposter syndrome. We’ve all made blunders in our life, and looking back they can be much funnier than they were in the moment. You may have a story about an event that didn’t work as planned, but in hindsight, makes you laugh.


In 2008 I was one of those young people who became obsessed with Barack Obama. I was a senior in college at the time, and after I graduated I drove out to Ohio, and I worked on his campaign, and after the campaign I drove to Washington because – hope and change.

And two years later, the White House actually hired me. They hired me to write speeches. And people would hear about my new job and they would say, ‘wow, you must be really good’, and I’d say, ‘I don’t know, I hope so’. And they thought I was pretending to be humble but I was entirely sincere.

It’s not that I didn’t think I had any talent whatsoever, it’s just that I knew there are 300 million people in America, and some of them are babies, but a lot of them are adults, and it just seemed unlikely that I was the best ‘we the people’ could do. So everyday I walked through the gates of the White House absolutely sure somebody had made a mistake.

And while this was going on my friends and family were equally sure they now had direct access to the President of the United States. Like I’m sitting in my White House office, and I get a text from my sister Rebecca, and it says ‘how come the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t have a mailing address?’

Now even in the best of circumstances this is a disturbing question to get from a family member, but if you work in the White House you want to know the answer to this kind of stuff, and I have no idea, and it’s like this with everything.

I mean suddenly everyone has a law that only I can get through Congress. Everybody has something wrong with Obamacare that I need to know about. Mostly, everybody has the same question. They all want to know – have you met him yet, have you met Obama yet – and I say no, I haven’t met him yet, and I get this look, and it’s a look I soon learn means, you may be 24 years old and working at the White House, but you’re still a disappointment to your family and friends. And I have to say I totally get it.

I mean everybody thinks that the White House is either like the TV show The West Wing where everyone’s hanging out with the President, or it’s like the TV show Scandal, where everyone’s having sex with the President. But if you’re looking for a Hollywood analogy, the White House is like the Death Star. What I mean by that is just that there’s thousands of people, they run around the hallways, they’re all just trying to make sure their little bit of their job works well.

And just because Darth Vader is the public face of the organization it doesn’t mean that every stormtrooper gets personal one-on-one time. So I try to explain this whole Death Star thing, and it doesn’t work, I still get that disappointed look. And frankly, nobody’s more disappointed than I am. I mean, nobody wants me to meet the president more than me. And there’s two reasons for this.

The first is kind of corny, but it’s true. I moved to Washington because I thought, I don’t know what it is, but there must be something I can do for my country. I want to be the kind of person where the President of the United States is just a little bit better at his job because I’m in the room.

And the second reason is I would really like Barack Obama and I to become best friends. And now I’m not saying that every White House staffer imagined that they would become buddies with the president. I’m just saying that none of us ruled it out. Like you would hear these stories you know somebody got a fist bump in the hallway, or someone else got invited up to play cards on Air Force One. And the moral was always the same. Any moment could be the moment that changes your life forever.

Now my first chance at a life-changing moment came in November 2011 when I was asked to write the Thanksgiving video address. I will say up front, if state of the union is all the way on one end of the presidential speechwriting spectrum, happy Thanksgiving America is kinda on the other side.

But as far as I was concerned, this was the most important set of words Barack Obama would ever say, and so I threw myself into this. I mean, I wrote, and I rewrote, and I made edits, and then I made edits to the edits, and finally the day of the taping came.

And I went to the diplomatic room which is one of the most beautiful rooms in the White House. It has this wraparound mural of 19th century American life. And the advice I always got was, you have to act like you’ve been there before. So I’m standing there, trying to act like I’ve been there before, and the woman behind the camera takes one look at me and goes, ‘this is your first time here isn’t it’, and I crack immediately. I’m just like, ‘yes I have never been here before, please help me.’

And she says, ‘don’t worry.’ She explains her name is Hope Hall, she films the president all the time, she’s gonna take care of everything. All I have to do is wait. So I wait, and I wait, and I wait, and I wait. And just when I’m wondering is this whole thing a nightmare, is it a practical joke, somebody gets an email on their blackberry, and they say, ‘okay he’s moving’, and then there’s kind of a crackling in the air, and a minute later President Obama enters the room.

And he’s standing up, so we all stand up. And he sits down, so we all sit down. And he looks at the camera to start taping when Hope stops him, and she says, ‘actually, Mr. President this is David. This is the first video he’s ever written for you’, and President Obama looks at me, and he says, ‘Oh, how’s it going David?’

I had exactly one thought in that moment. I did not realize we were going to have to answer questions. And I have literally no idea what I said after that. I mean, I actually blacked out. Like I went home for Thanksgiving and my family was like, ‘so have you met him yet?’

And I was like, ‘yeah.’

And they were like, ‘what did he say.’

I was like ‘how’s it going?’

And they were like, ‘what did you say.’

And I was like, ‘I don’t know, I blacked out.’

And I get that disappointed look. And I can’t blame anybody, because if I’m gonna be the kind of person who makes the president a little bit better at his job when I’m in the room, I am going to have to deal with questions more complicated than how’s it going.

And at the moment there’s no indication that I can do it. But I make a promise to myself. I say, if I ever get another shot at a life-changing moment I am not gonna let myself down. And I didn’t know if it would ever happen for me, but in fact, it happened just a couple weeks later.

I was sitting in my office. I got a phone call from the chief speechwriter at the time, a guy named Jon Favreau, and he called me up, and he said ‘Betty White is turning 90 years old, and NBC is doing this special where different famous people wish her a happy birthday in these 30-second skits, and you’re pretty funny, and no one else wants to do it. Want to give it a shot?’

And I said, ‘absolutely.’ And again, I understand the State of the Union is over here, and happy birthday Betty White is over there, but this was my Gettysburg Address. And so we had one week to make it perfect.

We started off. John and I came up with a joke for the president. We were gonna have him fill out a birthday card, and then while he was filling it out you would hear his voice on a voiceover say, ‘Dear Betty ,you’re so young and full of life I can’t believe you’re turning 90. In fact, I don’t believe it. Please send a copy of your long-form birth certificate to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC.’

So we feel good about the joke ,but we still need a birthday card. So one day that week I go to CVS near the White House. It’s a half block away. I grab a birthday card that I think it’s gonna be pretty good. And then right when I’m about to leave, I realize we don’t actually need one birthday card, we need two identical birthday cards, because we have two different camera angles.

We don’t want anyone to know that the president has already written his birthday greeting. And I think, yes, this is how White House staffers are supposed to feel. I mean, I’ve saved the day. And so I walk back to that to that Hallmark rack and I get an identical card. And I ring it up, and I go back to my office, and I’m feeling really good.

And then the last thing we need, we need some way to end the video. And so what I come up with is, we’re gonna have the President put in headphones, and then he’ll listen to the theme song from the Golden Girls, which is Betty White’s most popular show.

So I find the perfect pair of headphones that go over the ear, they look great on camera, and I listen to the Golden Girls theme song on repeat just to get in the mood. And then finally, on Friday I get the call. Come on over. No here’s what they don’t tell you about having a meeting in the Oval Office.

When you have a meeting in the Oval Office, you do not just walk into the Oval Office. The first thing you do, you wait in this kind of windowless chamber. It’s a little like a doctor’s office, except instead of last year’s Marie Claire magazine, they have priceless pieces of American art.

And instead of a receptionist they have a man with a gun who in a worst case scenario is legally obligated to kill you. It turns out this little room is the perfect place to second-guess every life choice you have ever made. And so I’m sitting there with Hope Hall, the videographer, and I’m just thinking, do I remember how to explain the joke, are both of the birthday cards in there.

I check my pants pocket. Are the headphones still there. Are the headphones still there. Are the headphones still there. I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown when finally one of the president’s aides pokes her head out and says, ‘okay he’s ready for you go on in.’ To my credit, the first time I entered the Oval Office, I do not black out.

I can remember this very clearly. Right in front of me, I can see a painting of the Statue of Liberty that was done by Norman Rockwell that someone has told me is valued at 12 million dollars. And behind me, out of the corner of my eye, I could see the Emancipation Proclamation. Not a photocopy of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation.

And I can feel the message that this document is sending through the room. And that message is, ‘I’m here ’cause I freed the slaves, what are you doing here?’ And I look across the desk at the President, and I realize he may also be wondering what I’m doing here. But I feel great. I mean, I’ve spent an entire week just practicing how to explain this one joke to the President.

So I step up. I look at him. And I open my mouth. And what comes out is like I’m trying to ask for directions but in Spanish. Like the nouns and the verbs are there but there’s nothing in between them. I just say, ‘Betty White, video, NBC very funny, everybody laughs, está bien.’

And the President gives me kind of a confused look, and Hope, the videographer, jumps in and explains everything and rescues me, but I’m a little concerned, because I am here to show the President how professional I am, and in my professional opinion, we are not off to a great start.

Still, I’m not that worried, because I have that second birthday card in my pocket. And so I’m gonna get a chance to show President Obama how I saved the day. And as soon as Hope is finished filming, even I am surprised by how confident I sound when I walk up to the desk and I put my hand down and I say, Mr. President, I’m gonna need to take that birthday card and replace it with this identical birthday card because we don’t want anyone to know you’ve already written your birthday greeting.

And President Obama looks up at me and he says, ‘we’re filming this from all the way across the room?’

And I say, ‘yes, that’s right.’

And he says, ‘so no one’s gonna see the inside of the card.’

And I say, ‘yes, that’s right.’

And he says, ‘so I can just pretend to write in the card? We don’t actually need another one?’

And I say, ‘yes, that’s right.’

And I put the card back in my pocket, and it’s strike two. But I’m not giving up yet, because I made that promise to myself, and besides, I really do feel good about the the ending with the headphones. And so the moment Hope is done filming her second camera angle I walk back up to the President, and I reach into my pocket, and I pull out what looks like a hairball made out of wires.

I don’t really know what happened. I guess somewhere in that waiting room I have just worried this thing into a hopeless tangle. And now I don’t know what to do, so I just hand the entire thing to the President the United States. Now, if you work in the White House, you will hear the phrase, there is no commodity on earth more valuable than a President’s time. Which I always thought was a cliche, until, I watched Barack Obama, untangle headphones, for 30 seconds, while looking directly at me.

And he untangles and untangles, and when he finishes he looks at Hope and just goes, ‘shoddy advanced work.’ And he does it in this way that lets you know that A. he’s only joking, and B. he is not even a tiny bit joking. And I’ll tell you, my heart just sinks. I mean, this was my third chance to make a second first impression on the President, and I let myself down. And all I want to do is get out of there.

And President Obama says something like, well would it be funnier if I bob my head in time to the music. And I say, ‘yeah that would be funnier’, but my heart isn’t in it. I mean, I know I don’t belong there, and the president looks into the camera to tape this final scene, and then suddenly he stops, and he says, ‘well wait a second, if I’m going to bob my head in time to the music, I need to know how the music goes.’

Does anyone here know the Golden Girls theme song? And President Obama looks at Hope. And Hope doesn’t say anything. So I look at Hope, and Hope doesn’t say anything. So President Obama looks at me. And suddenly I know exactly what I can do for my country.

And so I’m standing there in the Oval Office, with the Emancipation Proclamation right behind them, and I look our commander-in-chief in the eye, and I say, ‘bump bump bump bump thank you for being a friend, bump bump bump bump travel down the road and back again, something, something, you’re a pal and a confidant bump bump bump.’ But he looks kind of amused, so I keep going. So I’m like, ‘if you threw a party invited everyone you knew’, and that’s when he gives me a look that’s like okay, President’s time.

But it works.’ President Obama bobs his head in time to the music and Betty White gets her card, and NBC gets their special, and I leave the Oval Office that day with my head held high knowing that the President of the United States was just a tiny bit better at his job because I was in the room.

And people still ask me after that, they still say, have you met him yet, have you met Obama yet?’ And I can finally say, ‘yeah actually I have’, and then just to myself I think, not to brag or anything, but technically, I’m thankful he’s a friend.

Thank you very much.

[Note: all comments are my opinions, not those of the speaker, or The Moth or anyone else on the planet. In my view, every story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these posts is to inspire storytellers to become better storylisteners and to think about how their stories can become more impactful.]

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Journey Jamison on The Moth Mainstage at the BAM Harvey Theater

The Moth has been hosting storytelling events for 20+ years, and the thousands of storytellers who have graced their stages are proof that every story is unique, and that the best stories come from our personal experiences.

In this story, as told by Journey Jamison, we are taken into a scene that few of have ever experienced, especially at the age of 15. But in a broader sense, I’ve heard many personal stories about how people reacted during an emergency, and you may have such a story to tell. The details that Journey provides bring audience members into her experience as the scene plays out.

But there’s also a larger story at play here, as Journey realizes how her training prepared her for that situation, and in turn, she was able to provide that same training to the victim’s family, thus bringing that wisdom full circle. Think about how story worthy experiences from your life contain such a circular narrative.


When I was nine years old, my best friend died. We’d spent the entire day together at an amusement park and she’d been struggling to breathe. So when we got home her dad tried to get her as much help as she could, but it just wasn’t enough, and at three o’clock that morning, she died of an asthma attack.

It was always really hard for me to deal with because I’d helped her with her asthma before, and I just felt like I could have done something. So five years later, when my mother and I found ourselves at a grassroot gunshot wound first aid training, I was immediately intrigued. Now, some of you might be thinking, “Gunshot wound first aid, what?”

But I’m from Chicago, and the lack of resources in our communities makes that training so much more important. We don’t have any trauma centers on the South Side of Chicago where I’m from. So I knew the importance of this training and I paid attention. I sunk my teeth in, I got trained two months later, and I’ve been doing workshops all over the city. Yeah, I know how to apply an occlusive dressing with a credit card, but I was still just a regular teenager.

And so, the following summer, I was coming home from my very first day. I come home, I turn on the TV, I crank up the AC, just like any other day, and then I hear it. Back to back gunshots that sounded like they were right next to me, just back to back, to back. And I just thought to myself, “Is this real? Is this serious?”

You hear all the time about gun violence in Chicago, but I’d never come face to face with it like that before. So I jump in gear. I know that I have this training that I can help people, but I know that the first step to being a first aid responder is knowing that the scene is safe and prioritizing my own safety.

So I glanced out the window, and I’m staring almost like I can see through the window, and I’m like, “What is going on?” I’m seeing people who are kind of running away from a gas station and towards my apartment complex. And I knew I had the tools to help. And I never imagined going outside and putting myself in danger to help anybody.

But it turns out that I didn’t have to, because seconds later, my back door flies open, and a young man, 19 years old, comes in holding his neck. It’s bleeding. And he’s just saying over and over again, “I’ve been shot, can you help me, can you help me?” And without hesitation I just said, “Yes.”

And from that moment, it was autopilot. I lay him down on the floor. I’m asking him questions about who he is. I asked him first, “Can I call 911 for you?” ‘Cause we emphasize that a lot in our first aid trainings. That you had to ask for consent for people because they’re their own person, bodily autonomy.

So I asked him, he says, “Yes.” I get on the phone with the operator. They’re giving me a bit of a hard time, but I put my feelings aside and prioritize the safety of the wounded. They say they’re sending a person on the way. I say thank you. I go back to Peta. I’m asking him more questions about who he is, I want him to feel safe.

He tells me where he’s from – the same apartment complex that I’m from – Oakwood Shores. He tells me he wants to go to college, that he’s 19, that he’s confused. And then I kind of realize I’m taking this all in. I’m 15 years old. I’m home alone with a man who’s been shot in the neck, and I’m giving him first aid. I should probably call my mom.

So I take out my phone, and I guess you can call it a mother’s intuition, because as soon as I am about the press call, my phone rings. It’s my mom.

She’s like, “Hi Journey.”

I’m like, “Hi mom.”

She’s like, “What’s up?”

I’m like, “Mom, you are not going to believe this. There’s a man, he’s in my house, fire, gunshot wound. He’s on the floor, I’m giving him first aid.”

She’s like, “Are you serious?”

I’m like, “No mom, why would I lie about this?”

She’s like, “Okay, okay, okay.”

And I can hear the car unlocking, and the car starting up, and I’m like, “Okay, she’s on her way, good.”

So for a second there, it’s just me and Peta, and I’m trying to examine exactly what is happening. He has two wounds. An entrance wound and an exit wound. The bullet went through his neck and up through his jaw. So I’m trying to apply pressure on both sides to get his blood to clot so the bleeding can slow down.

A few seconds later, my mom comes. And you would think that she might be like, kind of hysterical, kind of crazy, but she’s not, because she’d been through the training too. And for a few moments, it’s calm. Peta is calming down, his blood is starting to clot, the bleeding is not so drastic, and it’s calm. And then somehow, some way, people start to flood into my house. Bystanders, I guess, who had seen what was going on.

And my mom, she does a great job at keeping Peta’s privacy. Keeping questions away from him so that he’s not getting more stressed out – shout out to my mom, she’s in the audience – and so we’re just kind of juggling this thing, me and my mom, we’re doing this together, I’m taking care of Peta’s body, she’s taking care of Peta’s surroundings, and then the police come.

And I feel like it’s not a secret that black and brown people are not trusting of law enforcement, quite frankly, it just makes us anxious. And my mom, she didn’t want that kind of energy in our house, she was trying to persuade them like, “There’s no crime scene here. Can you wait outside? It’s very crammed in our apartment.”

But eventually she gave up her battle when they threatened to arrest her. And so eight police officers crowd into our tiny apartment, just watching me apply pressure to this young man. And after the police come which, after the police come, after my mom gets there, the fire department finally gets there. Not the ambulance, but the fire department. So that just gives you a glimpse of what healthcare is like in Chicago. The ambulances don’t really come to our communities that fast.

So the fireman gets there and he’s coming in to check Peta’s vitals and I have my hands over his neck, and he says, “You need to take your hand away.” And I was so overwhelmed and I just had all these feelings of doubt and I just reluctantly pulled my hand away, and just as I thought would, he starts bleeding again.

And I’m just looking at the guy like And then another fire man comes in and he says, “Actually she needs to put her hand back there, you’re doing a good job. And I looked at him and I said, “Okay, I knew it.”

So I am continuing to apply pressure and keep my hand on his wound while they’re taking his vitals and preparing him to get in the ambulance. So then, a few, maybe five or six minutes later, the ambulance does come. They take him on a gurney. They take him away. And luckily my mom was able to get some information from his mentor who was there, so we could follow up with him later.

So my mom, she rushes all these people out of our house, and I go outside, and it’s so chaotic. The ambulance is there, the police is there, my neighborhood is there, the news station is there, and they’re kind of looking to me like this “Shero,” and I’m kind of very overwhelmed, and so instead of fielding questions, I took my story with me, and my experience with me, and I come back inside. I closed the door, I wash my hands, I grab my cell phone and my keys, and me and my mom get in the car. I zone out and I’m just replaying in my mind what just happened.

Then I snap out of my trance, and the car stops, and we’re at the beach. And I’m just like, “Oh my God, what is going on?” And she looks at me and she’s like, “Come on,” and I’m like, “Okay,” and we proceed to join a group of women on the sand doing yoga. And my mom just looks at me in her tree position, and she goes, “Self care.” And I was like, “Okay,” and I was just so grateful, that I had a mom who emphasized that a lot when I was growing up, and that I had the opportunity to really process what just happened in my life.

So, that happened, and then I resumed my life as a normal teenager. I go to camp. Conflict resolution camp, by the way. But I go to camp. I go to camp in Maine. And then I come back, and I’m in the car with my mom and she’s like, “Hey, I got in touch with Peta’s family, and, you know, he thinks you saved his life.”

And I never thought about it like that. For me, I was just in the right place, at the right time, with the right information, and I did the right thing. But to him, I saved his life. So that’s what it was.

So few days later, I see him. I visited him and I said, “Hey, look I know it was really cool that I was able to help you, but I was trained to do that, and I was equipped with the right tools, so how cool would it be if you were equipped with the same tools, and you can help your mom, or your brother.

And he’s like, “That sounds pretty interesting.”

And I’m like, “So do you want me to like, I can set up a training. I can set up a workshop. I’ll come to you.”

He’s like, “Aight, bet.”

So about two or three months later, we were able to train his whole entire family of about like 25 people ranging from three years old to 60 years old. And we trained his whole family in his apartment, and it was the most empowering thing for me.

And maybe some of you are saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry, this young girl had to go through that.” But it’s not something I feel embarrassed about or sad about. It was the most changing thing that I’ve ever been through. And it’s shown me the circle of change. You know, you go to school, and you learn about stories, and you learn about how there’s a plot, and that plot is like a hill, it starts the beginning, and then the rising action, and the climax, the falling action, and then the resolution.

But change, instead of it being a hill, it’s like a circle. And me training his family was this entire experience coming full circle, because I started at a training just like that one. And so maybe he could do something like I did, or I could do more things, but it was so empowering for me as a 15 year old girl to have that kind of experience.

So it changed my life for the better, and it showed me that I can change the world if I wanted to. And I guess it just kind of made me feel like I didn’t have to be afraid anymore of where I’m from and my community. I didn’t have to fear walking outside because I was empowered with the tools that I had. Sorry guys. And I thought about it, and I hear all the time, “Children are the future.”

And I’ll tell you guys, I’m a child, I’m a teenager, and it’s super intimidating. You know it’s like 400 years of slavery, an eternity of sexism, it’s intense, and you guys are like, and you guys are like, “It’s you, it’s you,” and I’m like, “Oh my God,” but this experience showed me that I don’t have to be the future, because I can be right now.

Thank you.

[Note: all comments are my opinions, not those of the speaker, or The Moth or anyone else on the planet. In my view, every story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these posts is to inspire storytellers to become better storylisteners and to think about how their stories can become more impactful.]

Learn more about the coaching process or
contact me to discuss your storytelling goals!

Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates!

Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

Peter Aguero on The Moth at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Moth has been hosting storytelling events for 20+ years, and the thousands of storytellers who have graced their stages are proof that every story is unique, and that the best stories come from our personal experiences.

In this story, as told by Peter Aguero, we hear a tail about family, and strife, and redemption, all within the context of a difficult Christmas. Not a classic holiday story that is filled with good times and cheer, but one that involves the heart. And a connection to family. And love at its deepest level.

Many personal stories are told from a similar point of reflection. Remembering a time in the past when life was difficult and their path forward was unknown. And how tapping into love was central to that future path. Such stories can help folks who are currently living in tough circumstances, as well as remind any of us who have come out the other side to reflect on, and thus to appreciate, the love and support that we encountered along the way.


(minor edits were made to improve readability)

This is a reading from the book of Peter chapter 19 verse 2. I was nineteen years old and I just finished my first semester at college. And I got home with my bag of laundry, and things weren’t looking too good for me and my mom.

I walked into the house, and she had told me over that semester to expect some changes when I got home, and it didn’t really hit me until I walked in the door and the first thing that I saw was that her upright piano that she had had since she was a kid was gone. She had sold it. And I walked through the foyer into the living room and there was just a broken couch, and a television on top of another television. One had a working picture, and the other had working sound.

And all the other furniture was gone. My dad had taken it four years ago when he had left, and for some reason the impressions from his lazy boy were still there as some kind of reminder of what a dick he is. I walked through the living room and through the dining room, and the beautiful dining room set that had been in her family for generations was gone. It was a dark mahogany set, really ornate, with these beautiful carved chairs and a glass breakfront, and a buffet table, and that was gone.

And I walked upstairs to put my stuff away, and her bedroom door was open, and the only thing left in the room was her bed. Her bedroom set was gone. There’s nothing more depressing than a bedroom with no furniture. You can see all the little dings and mistakes and tears in the wallpaper that are hidden by things.

Then I saw in my sister’s room. It was still a shrine to my sister after I moved in with my dad, with her Pepto-Bismol pink walls and her canopy bed, and her toy box. Like she liked she was gonna move back and become a little child again. But she wasn’t.

My bedroom was just the way it always was. Covered in posters, with broken particle board furniture and water bed, for some reason, with a broken heater, so you had to put quilts on top of it so you wouldn’t get arthritis. She couldn’t sell any of that anyway.

I had told my mother for years after the divorce to just sell the house. It was too big for the two of us after my sister left, and it was especially too big once I was gone, when I went to college. And the bills had to have been killing her. But her stubborn Polish pride kept her in the house.

I guess she wanted to show to the outside world that everything was okay, but on the inside it was just kind of decaying around her. But she wasn’t able to really deal with it in any kind of a real way. There was just selling things and and taking it day by day.

She was a nurse, she still is, and at the time she was working on the weekends doing 24 hour shifts at a dual diagnosis psychiatric drug unit, and during the week she took a job at a perfume counter in the mall to make some extra money. And she doesn’t like people telling her when to take a break, so that wasn’t gonna last long.

This was a strong big-headed pumpkin-headed Polock. She got home that day and she was happy to see me. Not as effusive as usual, but you know, she made dinner. She made a tomato casserole that she always made with canned tomatoes Wonder Bread and American cheese. Like yeah.

And we sat in the kitchen on the two chairs at the kitchen table, because the other chair I broke, and the other chair I also broke. And we ate our food, and we talked about College that semester being over, and she said, “Peter, we can’t really have much of a Christmas this year. There’s not gonna be any presents. I got your sister a little something because she doesn’t live here anymore, but we really can’t afford any presents.”

I said, “Are we gonna have a tree?”

She said, “We really can’t afford a tree. Decorations? I don’t have time to decorate.”

I’m, okay, you know, all right, okay.

So she said, “I got an idea. I thought this would be funny. Why don’t we, over the next two weeks, cut pictures out of catalogs and magazines of things that we would give to each other if we could.”

And we laughed about it, you know, and then we cried about it, and then we laughed about it again. Because if you don’t laugh about it you’re gonna eat a bullet.

So the next morning she went off to work, and I decided I was gonna throw myself into Christmas. And I decided I was gonna go get a tree, and I was gonna make this the best Christmas I possibly could.

So this is down in South Jersey, small town, and this is before Walmart and Home Depot and outlet stores are down there, so there was one Christmas tree farm, the Debolt Christmas Tree Farm. So I went over there figuring they’d give me a deal because I used to date their daughter, but turns out they didn’t give me a deal, because I used to date their daughter.

And a tree was like 60 bucks. Screw that. So I went back home and I got a hacksaw and I cut out a tree from my side yard. And it wasn’t even like a pine tree. It was some kind of stunted maple tree. And I brought it in the house, and I put it in the tree holder, and there it is in the stand.

And I went up in the attic. And I got the box of decorations and ornaments, and I hung about – there were about six branches – I put about 20 ornaments on each branch. And then I just took the tangled lights, and I just threw them on it, and it was beautiful.

It was really kind of nice. She came home, and she was, I guess, happy, and that was how that was. And I just started throwing myself into this project. I’ve given my mother everything I possibly could give her for Christmas.

You know, she always wanted a forest green Jaguar convertible. So I cut out one of those, and then Jacuzzi had a shower called the Jay Dream with about 20 nozzles, and a little dude that made sandwiches. And I cut out one of those, and gold and diamonds and jewelry, and a new vacuum cleaner, and everything she could ever possibly want in the world.

And I really kind of sunk myself into it. I’d go over hang out of my friends houses and take their mom’s Currier and Ives catalogs, and get all these catalogs and magazines, so I could give my mom the best Christmas ever. And I felt like I was in a kind of bizarro O’Henry novel, and one that he never should of written. And that just kind of consumed me over the next couple weeks. And I figured, this is sad, but this is beautiful, and we’re
going to connect over this, and it’s gonna be okay. It’s gonna be fine.

It was one night, in between coming home and Christmas, and the two of us were sitting watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, and one of the TV’s was on cable and the other was on broadcast, so the video was a little ahead of the audio because the audio was on broadcast, but you know, you just pretend you’re in Japan. It doesn’t matter. So we’re watching that, and my mom was so distracted, she was there, but she wasn’t there.

And you know my mother and I were like partners, when my parents marriage broke up. She still feels guilty to this day about maybe making me grow up sooner than I did as being the man of the house or whatever. We were friends, and roommates, and partners. It was me and her against the world. And she was the one I always loved coming home to, and the one that would let me get away with anything, and the one that would always be proud of me when I did something right, and would take a day off from work and drive to the zoo with me when I did something wrong.

And she was not there anymore. This house was crushing her. Just crushing her. And all because she couldn’t see the option of getting rid of it. And it was killing me man. That’s my road dog, that’s my mom, that’s my girl. And I lost her. She just wasn’t there anymore. And it was just killing me. Her eyes were just empty. She was in another world. And she was worried about things that she couldn’t figure out how to fix.

So on Christmas Eve I went with my buddy Brian. We got drunk on a jug of Livingston Cellars wine and went to midnight mass, because when you’re under 21 and Catholic, that’s where you go to see your friends, because you can’t get into the bars yet.

And it was great, mass was awesome. My mom didn’t go to midnight mass anymore, because four years before, when my dad left us, it was during midnight mass. What a dick. As the priest was walking up, he stood up and walked out in front of everyone that we knew. Everyone she grew up with. Everyone I grew up with. Everyone we went to school with, and went to church with, and hung out with.

They all saw our family crumbling in front of us on it so my mom doesn’t… my dad’s a dick… I mean, is he here tonight? No he’s not, cuz he’s a dick, such a dick. So my mom doesn’t go to midnight mass anymore.

I got home that night, and the next morning I woke up late, and I brought my little bundles of pictures tied up with scraps of ribbon, and I put them under the tree, and I waited for my mama come down. And I heard her stirring upstairs, and heard her come down, and making coffee. And she came downstairs in her big red Sally Jessy Raphael morning glasses.

And she came down with a cup of coffee and she looked at the the things I was offering her, and she just like oh oh oh oh oh wait a minute, and she went back upstairs, and she was up there for a couple of minutes. How long does it take to bring down some papers? I hope she’s okay. She have diarrhea? It’s Christmas, I don’t know, post-traumatic whatever.

But any way, she comes back down, and we start to exchange our gifts, and she’s opening up a car in a vacuum in the shower and gold and a brand new piano and a bedroom set and a beautiful picture of a dining room set that would be at home in the White House. I tried to give her everything that she had had to get rid of to keep this life together.

She wanted there, more than anything in the world, she wanted there to be some stability for her kids to have a place that was always going to be home. The home that we grew up in. And it was killing her. And I was trying to do anything I could that would maybe make that better.

So she’s just looking at these things, and just smiling and laughing, and then I started to open up mine. And there’s three of them, and there’s one, it’s a picture of some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and a picture of some Homer Simpson slippers, and a picture of a karaoke machine. All from the same Rite Aid catalog.

It was up in her bathroom, upstairs, because she completely forgot. This thing that I really thought it was a one sided thing, and she’s laughing about it now, over there, that’s hilarious, yeah wave. So she went upstairs to make breakfast in the kitchen and I sat there and it was just kind of, I don’t know, I don’t want to be too silly about it, was I got a needle piercing me in the heart, thank you Madison, it was it was just this life that we had, that was the two of us was, just gone.

She would have done anything for me, and she still was, but it just wasn’t working anymore. And she forgot this thing, because the house was killing her, money was killing her, and everything was killing her. There’s nothing I could do, just nothing.

So I went upstairs, and she didn’t make pancakes. My mom makes really good pancakes. She fries them up in bacon grease, and they’re all crispy around the edges, and she makes me one that’s as big as the frying pan and cuts it out to look like Pac-Man and puts it on my plate, ever since I was a little boy.

She’ll give me a second one if I wanted. But this day, there was no Pac-Man face. Just silver dollar pancakes. And they were all burnt. And we sat there eating these burnt pancakes, wondering what the hell was going on with our lives. Today, 14 years later, if you go to my mother’s house where she lives with her new husband, you can go down in the basement and you can see a million boxes.

And you walk past the Ark of the Covenant and you go over in the back. And if you were an archaeologist you could look at the strata of our lives and pick out which year these things happened. This is when Peter quit football, and this is when Michelle had epilepsy growing up, and this is when their dad was a dick. That’s all of them.

And then there’s one box, if you look at it, in Christmas in 1995, if you dig into it, you can see a little velvet bag with a bunch of small pictures cut out of catalogs and magazines. And right underneath of that was stuff that took place a couple months later.

I got my belated Christmas present. It was a picture that my mom sent me when I was away at school of her standing in front of the house with a for sale sign in front of it. And she decided to sell the house. And she moved into a small townhouse. And she took a little hit on her pride but I got my girl back.

Thank you.

[Note: all comments are my opinions, not those of the speaker, or The Moth or anyone else on the planet. In my view, every story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these posts is to inspire storytellers to become better storylisteners and to think about how their stories can become more impactful.]

Learn more about the coaching process or
contact me to discuss your storytelling goals!

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Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

Phyllis Bowdwin on The Moth Portland Mainstage

The Moth has been hosting storytelling events for 20+ years, and the thousands of storytellers who have graced their stages are proof that every story is unique, and that the best stories come from our personal experiences.

In this story, as told by Phyllis Bowdwin, we hear about a time she encountered an abusive mime, and her decision to then cut this person – so to speak – down to size. In one sense, it’s a strange story, but the underlying theme of someone not being respected, and then discovering a new side of themselves during the experience, is a common one for personal storytelling.

Note the passion in her voice and the vivid descriptions that she offers. You feel as though you were there in the crowd watching the event unfold. Now, think of your own life. Was there a situation or event in which you discovered something different about yourself? Maybe a newfound strength that you could rely upon going forward. Such stories inspire others to ask that question about their life.


It’s 1979, and summer in New York City. That was 38 years ago, when I was being interviewed for a promotion from secretary to coordinator of daytime casting at ABC.

I wore my new silk blouse, matching slim skirt, and two-inch yellow sling back heels. I thought I was ready. Although there was some who thought I wasn’t tough enough to hold onto a job like that.

And somewhere in a tiny corner of my mind, there was a part of me that suspected there, that they might be right. I even had a secretary come up to me and say, “Phyllis, you’re too nice.” To which I responded, “Thank you.”

In any case, I was meeting a friend for lunch across the street before my two o’clock interview. And when I got there, I found hordes of people spanning the length and the width of the sidewalk in front of the building, three people deep.

But I found a gap, cut through it, and when I got into the center of this human oval, something came up behind me, grabbed me, prevented me from moving, pinning my arms to my sides. And I looked over both shoulders to see if I could find out what it was, but I didn’t see anything, so I started to struggle.

And the more I struggled, the tighter the grip became. And then I looked to the sea of faces for some clue, some information that would help me to understand what was holding me, what was going on, but they were just placidly chewing and eating their lunch and staring at me.

Suddenly, the pressure was released and a set of rough hands groped me in every part of my body and then pushed me in my lower back. I stumbled forward almost falling, but I regained my balance and I turned around to find a six foot mime leering at me.

He was in full dress with the beret, the face paint, the polar shirt, the suspenders, the black pants, and the very comfortable sneakers. He was beckoning to me and slapping his behind, inviting me to hit him, and I took the bait.

I wrapped the strap of my purse around my hand, and I went after him and I swung, and just as my purse was about to connect, he bounced to another side of the oval and leered at me again, and beckoned me a second time, and padded his behind and wagged it at me as an invitation to come and try again, and I did.

And this time, I swung so hard that when he darted out of the way for the second time, the momentum pulled me forward, and I almost stumbled and fell. And then the people started to laugh,
and I was feeling like a real fool.

So when he beckoned me for the third time, common sense prevailed. Slim skirt, heels, sneakers, I’m outmatched. “You got it,” I said, and I turned and walked away and tried to go up those stairs to get into the building when he rushed up behind me and grabbed my behind and squeezed it, and then darted to safety down further in the oval, and people started to laugh.

And I just stood there as waves of humiliation and rage ran through my body. And I’ve finally got myself together, got up the stairs, got into the building, got to the cafeteria where they was serving my favorite, turkey tetrazzini.

And I went through the motions, paid for my food and sat at the table, but I couldn’t eat or speak, I had just been blindsided, bullied and blatantly violated by a strange man in the street with the approval of hoards of other strangers.

And I was very sure that they had rewarded him handsomely for what he had just done to me. And the thought that I had no way to protect or defend myself, made me feel so powerless that I wanted to cry, so I just sat there.

Then I remembered something that I might have at the bottom of my purse that I bought from a 99 cent store 4 months prior as a joke. And I started digging down into my purse, and the minute my fingers touched that cold, hard canister, I realized that I might have some options after all.

I picked it up, I wrapped my napkin around and then I said, “Got to go,” and turned and got back outside to see if he was still there, and of course he was. And I worked my way to the front of the crowd, because it had swollen to five people deep, to see what he was up to.

And just as I looked up, a beautiful blonde in a pretty, red dress cut through the crap, just as I had, and just as she was about to mount this terrace, he snuck up behind her, and as she raised one foot, he insinuated his way between her legs and stood up, essentially mounting her on his lower back like a rider on a horse.

He reached under her dress, grabbed her legs and proceeded to gallop around the oval with this woman’s hair flying, arms flailing,
holding onto her purse while trying to keep from falling backwards. When he let her down, he promptly lifted her dress up over her head and held it there to the hoots and the whistles of the men.

And when he finally let her go, she staggered into the building and quickly disappeared. And I said to myself, “Is this 1979 in New York City, or have I been dropped into “The Twilight Zone”?

How could this be happening? Where are the police?”

And as I said that, this elderly gentlemen, tall, handsome, distinguished man, stepped into the oval with an old woman in tow, she was holding onto the back of his jacket, and he strolled over to the mime and she peered out at the mime, cringed, and darted back.

And I said to myself, “Now, what did he do to this old woman that would have her cringing at the sight of him?” And sure enough, the old man started shaking his finger in the mime’s face, and the mine feigned innocence. The hands and shoulders went up in the air like he was the victim. And he put on this terrible, sad face and mimed crying and someone in the crowd yelled, “Boo boo, leave the mime alone.”

And the crowd picked up the chant, “Boo boo, leave the mime alone.” And the old man looked up startled into the hostile, menacing eyes of the wolf pack, consisting of executives, clerks, messengers, a UPS driver, a postal employee, even a hot dog vendor selling his food, was enjoying the spectacle.

And the old man shook his head sadly. Gently took the old woman by the hand and led her out of the crowd. And that’s when I got it. This was nothing but a big show. This was theater in the round, and every unsuspecting woman who cut through the crowd became a player, whether she wanted to or not.

She became the catch of the day on the mime’s lunchtime menu,
subject to any form of abuse he chose to cook up to feed vicariously the appetite of his patrons. And so when he started looking around for a new player, I stepped back into the human arena and waited.

He spotted me, he came towards me, and as he got closer, his eyes narrowed, and I couldn’t tell whether it was because of his recognizing me from before, from what he had done to me, or whether he was strategizing how he was going to launch this frontal attack because his MO was to play dirty pool, and sneak up behind the woman and catch her off guard.

But when he got two feet away, I lifted my can of pepper spray and I sprayed him in his face. Yes, yes, and his eyes got wild and he reached for my throat, and I took two steps back, and I sprayed him again and again. I sprayed him like a roach.

And then he began to cough and wheeze and sneeze, and he started staggering towards the street, and his loyal patrons pardon and let him go. He wound up on the hood of a parked car and I stood there and enjoyed watching him wheeze and sneeze.
And I was doing that, something karate-chopped my right hand. It’s another mime.

And this one is twice the size of the other one. And this hulking Goliath of a man is glaring at me like he wants to kill me. And we both hear my canister rolling slowly, but noisily down the sidewalk and he lumbered towards it. And I whirled around, and I went after it. And the two of us scrambled to get to that canister,
and I got there first.

And he moved towards me, and I took a wide stance and I got all the way down and I started rocking and I said, “You want this, motherfucker?” “Come and get it.”

He stopped cold in his tracks and we looked at each other, both knowing that if he ever got his hands on me, he could break me in two. But that day I had had enough and seen enough pushing and grabbing and groping. That day I was prepared to die. And I wasn’t leaving the planet alone, I was taking him with me.

He must have seen it in the rockin’ already in my eyes because they was saying, “Kill the mime.” Because he backed up, turned around, and disappeared back into that crowd. And by now, the spray is starting to spread to his patrons and they are coughing and wheezing and sneezing and quickly disperse without leaving a dime in his beret.

So I dropped my canister back in my purse, and I stood up, only to realize that I had bent the heel on my shoe. And I had split my seam on my skirt all the way up to my behind, and I had an interview at two o’clock. So I hobbled back across the street, and I got on that elevator and got to my office and grabbed my scotch tape and my stapler. I rushed into the ladies’ room, locked the door, took off my skirt, turned it inside out and pinched that seam back together.

I pinched and stapled and pinched and stapled until I got that whole thing closed.Then I taped down one side with the scotch tape, and the other side, and then one going straight down the center in the hopes that no one would ever know what had just happened across the street.

I went to my desk and I reached in my bottom drawer for a pair of flats that I always keep there, and put them on, and waited for that call from personnel. And when they called me, I went upstairs, marched into that office and aced that interview and got the job.

Oh yes.

Oh yes.

And that was the day that I got in touch with my other side. Now, she doesn’t make many appearances, but she’s available on an as need basis. And I call her my quiet fire.

And we both thank you.

[Note: all comments are my opinions, not those of the speaker, or The Moth or anyone else on the planet. In my view, every story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these posts is to inspire storytellers to become better storylisteners and to think about how their stories can become more impactful.]

Learn more about the coaching process or
contact me to discuss your storytelling goals!

Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates!

Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

Liel Leibovitz at The Moth from The Avalon Hollywood

The Moth has been hosting storytelling events for 20+ years, and the thousands of storytellers who have graced their stages are proof that every story is unique, and that the best stories come from our personal experiences.

In this story, as told by Liel Leibovitz, we hear about a boy growing up who finds out that his father is really a bank robber. It’s not something that most of us can relate to. But there is a larger story about the stereotype of what it means to be a man, and Liel’s journey to deciding what that would be for himself and his son.

We’ve all had relationships with our parents during our younger years, and for those who decide to raise a family of their own, there is that ever present past alongside the desire to make our own child raising decisions. Think about your own experiences, then as you listen to Liel’s story, and review the manuscript, identify the story blocks that you could develop to craft a story of your own.


I grew up in Israel in the 1980s, and my father’s mission in life was to make sure that his only son – me – grew up to be a real man. And so, as soon as I turned four, every Saturday he would take me shooting, which was funny because my arm was exactly the size of a Smith & Wesson .45. Two or three years later, when I was six or seven, my father would take advantage of Israel’s surprisingly relaxed car rental insurance policies and he would rent a car to take me on driving lessons, which were terrifying because even sitting in his lap I didn’t reach the wheel.

And every two or three weeks, there was a special treat. We would stop the rental car by the side of the road and my father would make me go out and change tires, whether the car needed it or not, because in his mind knowing how to change a tire was the epitome of manhood.

I really hated changing tires, and I really hated spending these Saturday afternoons with him, but he didn’t care, because he was inducting me to the International Brotherhood of Macho Men. Every chance he got, he would take me to the movies to see his heroes – men like Sylvester Stallone or Chuck Norris or Burt Reynolds. I didn’t mind these guys too much, but they were not my idols.

My real idol was a real live person named the Motorcycle Bandit. He appeared on the scene shortly after my twelfth birthday, robbing bank after bank after bank all over Israel. He was in and out of the bank in under forty seconds, never leaving behind any clues to his real name or identity, and he just drove people insane.

He got so popular that Israel’s most famous comedy sketch show – sort of the local version of Saturday Night Live – devoted an entire episode to the bandit, speculating in one bit that he probably never robbed a bank in Jerusalem because he didn’t particularly care for that
city. So you can imagine what happened the next day, when, in an apparent tribute to his favorite television show, the Motorcycle Bandit robbed his one and only Jerusalem bank.

People went insane. Women who worked at banks would write their names and phone numbers on little notes so that if the sexy heartthrob robber happened to hit them up, maybe when he got off work he would find their number and give them a call.

But the people who loved the bandit most were us teenage boys. For us he was a complete hero, and on Purim, which is more or less the Jewish equivalent of Halloween, we all dressed up like him – in a leather jacket and a motorcycle helmet and a big shiny gun.

So about a year and a half later, I’m thirteen and a half, I’m walking home from the eighth grade, and no one’s home, so I sort of mosey over to the kitchen to make myself a snack. I hear a knock on the door, but it’s not a tap-tap-tap. It’s a boom-boom-boom. I open the door, and there are three police officers standing there. They’re not looking at me, and none of them are saying anything.

Finally, about half a minute later, one of them looks up and says, “Son, we arrested your father a while ago with a motorcycle helmet and a leather jacket and a big shiny gun.”

And I remember my first thought was, NO WAY! You think, you think MY DAD, with a beer belly and the receding hairline and the terrible jokes, you think THAT GUY is the Motorcycle Bandit? But in the hours and the days and the weeks that passed, I learned that he was.
The real story, as I soon came to learn, began about two years earlier when my father, who was thirty-five at the time and the son of one of Israel’s wealthiest families, was summoned by his father to have “the talk.” Now, if you’ve watched a couple episodes of Dallas or Dynasty or Knot’s Landing, you know “the talk.” It’s when the rich guy calls his wayward playboy son over and says, “Son, it’s time for you to grow up and be a man, take responsibility for your life and get a job.”

My father didn’t like that at all. So he stormed out of my grandfather’s office, and he hopped on his motorcycle – because, of course – and he drove to the beach, and he’s sitting there watching the sun set over the Mediterranean, and he’s thinking about his life. My father grew up in the sixties, so he believed in sayings like “do what you love” or “follow your heart.” So he decided to follow his heart, and his heart led him to robbing banks.

Now, as it turns out, he was good at it; he was great at it; he was an inventor, an innovator. He was the Elon Musk of the stickup job. And later I learned how he did it, and how he did it was incredible. He would rob a bank in under forty seconds, he would run out, jump on his motorcycle, drive around a corner, up a ramp he had custom-built, and into a van, where he would pause, and like some mad philosopher king, he would ponder this seminal, existential question of bank robbing, which is, “Where’s the last place you would ever look for a bank robber?”

And the answer is – and now is the point in the story where any of you contemplating this line of work may want to pay attention – the answer is that the last place you would ever look for a bank robber is the bank.

So my father would take off his jacket and his helmet and tuck the gun back into his pants, and walk out of the van calmly, around the corner, and back into the bank, which at that point was a crime scene sprawling with police officers. One of these police officers would inevitably run up to my father and say, “You can’t be here, sir, this is a crime scene!”
And my father would look at him with this dopey look and say, “Oh, can I please just make a quick deposit? My wife will kill me if I don’t”, and the police officer would say something like, “Sure, but be quick about it,” and my father would walk up to the bank teller and deposit the same exact cash he had robbed three minutes earlier. This being the 1980s and computers were still kind of new, he made the cash virtually untraceable.

It was a work of genius. He was so good at it, and he became so popular, that eventually he got cocky. He robbed one bank a day, and then two, and then two banks in two different cities. One time he was riding in a cab on his way to the airport when the urge struck. He told the cabdriver, “Would you mind stopping? I promise I’ll only be a minute.” It was literally true, he was only a minute. He robbed the bank, hopped back into the cab, drove to the airport, and flew off for an all-expenses-paid vacation in New York.

But you know how this story ends. Eventually he was caught. And after he was arrested, life got really weird, in no small part because Israel, as you may have heard, being a small state surrounded by enemies, has its own ideas about prison. And one of them is that prisoners get one weekend out of the month off to go home on vacation. The logic being that since the country only has one really secure airport, if you want to go ahead and try to escape through Gaza or Syria, you know, be our guest!

So every fourth Friday, I would go to the prison to pick my father up, and we would go out and have ourselves a weekend on the town. People would come up to him and high-five him and pat him on the back and say things like “Bandit, we love you, you’re cool.” But to me he wasn’t cool. And he wasn’t even the bandit. He was my dad, who had just done something so incredibly stupid that it landed him with a twenty-year prison sentence.

But even weirder than that one weekend a month together, were the three weekends a month apart. Because here I was, and it was Saturday, and there’s no shooting practice, there’s no driving lesson, no changing tires, no Burt Reynolds, and I didn’t know what to do.

So one afternoon I got dressed, which, by the way, was also an ordeal, because when the police searched our house, they took not only all of my father’s belongings but, because we were more or less the same size, also all of mine. So I put on one of the few outfits I had – which was this really ratty, disgusting purple sweat suit with the Batman logo up front, which I assume the police thought no self-respecting bank robber would ever wear.

I walked out and started walking around town, literally looking for a sign. And then I saw it. It was a sign above a theater advertising an all-male Japanese modern-dance show. And I thought about it for maybe five seconds, and then I did something that I’m pretty sure my father would disown me for: I bought a ticket, and I went in.

And I loved it. Here onstage were these amazing, elegant, graceful men, and guess what? They weren’t punching each other in the face, they were not riding Harley-Davidsons, they were dancing. And yet they were so secure in their bodies and their masculinities, and I thought to myself, “If that’s another way of being a man, what other ways are there?”

And thus began a two-decade-long process of trial and error – of trying to figure out what kind of man I wanted to be. And look, some of the things I learned didn’t surprise me at all. I love bourbon, and I’m the kind of guy who would watch as much sports as you would let
him in a given day.

But some other things were really surprising. Like some French poets moved me to tears. And even though bourbon was great, you know what else tastes really good? Rosé wine. And even though I’m really, really good at changing tires, if I get a flat now, I’m calling AAA. I didn’t share any of these insights with my father, because for one thing he’s not really the kind of guy who’s into insights. But, for another, by the time he got out of prison, I was already a man in full – it was too late for him to shape who I became in any meaningful way.

He still comes to visit from time to time, in New York, where I live with my family. And on one of these recent visits, he and I are sitting in my living room, not talking, as men do, not talk. And my son comes prancing into the room – my three-year-old boy. Now, that boy looks exactly like me. Just as I look exactly like my father.

And if there’s one thing in the world that boy loves, it’s his older sister. And if there’s one thing in the world that his older sister loves, it’s Disney princesses. And in prances the child dressed like Princess Anna from Frozen. I look at my son, and I look at my father looking at my son – who, by the way, looked amazing in this light green taffeta with a black velvet bodice and some lovely lacing – and I know that my father is judging me.

But you know what? I don’t care. Because at that moment I realize, strangely, that by going to jail when he did, he didn’t just free me up from the burden of this macho nonsense, he also freed up my son to grow up as a happy boy who can pretend to be whoever he wants to be, even – or especially – a pretty, pretty princess.

And I can’t tell you how grateful I am that instead of going through life mindlessly as two tough guys, my son and I are free to become real men.

[Note: all comments are my opinions, not those of the speaker, or The Moth or anyone else on the planet. In my view, every story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these posts is to inspire storytellers to become better storylisteners and to think about how their stories can become more impactful.]

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