This past weekend I was part of the Inaugural Wine Country Spoken Word Festival in Petaluma, CA. The smoke from the devastating and deadly fires was in the air. The festival produces decided not to cancel the festival despite the fires, reasoning that since everything else had been canceled, people needed something to do.
There were many artists who participated and every one I heard/saw was fantastic. I can’t name them all here, because I’m lazy, but the festival culminated in a show at the Mystic Theater with myself, Steve Connell and Sarah Vowell.
And I’m not gonna lie. We rocked. It was one of the wildest mixes of hip hop slam poetry, storytelling, and hilarious tales of a sad sack cartographer that you will likely ever encounter.
But here’s the thing. There were three hundred people in the audience. Some of whom had lost their houses. They lost everything. Except the clothes on their backs and, oddly, their tickets to the show.
My job is standing on stage and saying words which I have organized in a manner intended to make you laugh. I’m not curing cancer. I’m not flying a tanker plane dropping fire retardant. I’m certainly not a firefighter parachuting into an inferno. I say words.
Your house burns down. Your whole neighborhood is gone. Forty people are dead. And your reaction to that is, in part, to come out and support the Wine Country Spoken Word Festival, to support Dave and Juliet in this endeavor because you know it will help your community be stronger in the future and despite your present tragedy you want to make sure your community thrives. Because next time it’s going to be someone else’s time for tragedy and you want a compassionate infrastructure in place so you can aid the next person. You people are heroes.
But you came for another reason, too. You also came to hear me talk. Yeah, you knew this was eventually going to be about me. You came in the midst of chaos to listen to Steve, Bil, and Sarah say words in the hope that we might take your mind off your loss for 120 minutes. That is a humbling and tremendous honor.
I work hard at my job precisely because I want what I do to be useful. I’ve had some people say some remarkably wonderful things about how my stories impacted their life, but I won’t ever forget that as your houses burned you came to see me. Okay, you came to see Sarah Vowell and Steve Connell, but I was in the mix. And that is humbling. I’m not going to say, “If even one you laughed just once. If even one of you forgot your troubles for one second…” cause we all know I’m too vain for that. I mean, I was there, you laughed. I had you for at least a few minutes. But that’s precisely the thing. You are heroes- the very heroes Steve described- and you needed a minute to just be human. To just be a laughing fool in a dark theater. A nameless moron without a worry in the world looking to bask in the revelry of Bacchus for a brief respite. And morons and fools are my demographic, baby.
Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your dedication to your community. Thank you for supporting the festival. Thank you for Petaluma’s outstanding outreach to evacuees. And thank you to the people who couldn’t come because they were fighting the fires.
Steve said something to the effect of, “…It is our job as people, in times of need, to say to those around us,’I got you. Until you can get yourself, I got you.’” For that show we had you. Steve, Sarah and I had you, but I want you to know that for the rest of my life whenever I doubt my usefulness I’ll remember, well, first, what a lady in Pigeon Forge, TN, said about my stories, cause it’ll never be beat. But right next, I’ll remember that in your time of need you came to me and that I made some heros laugh. And that will hold me for a long, long time.