Thursday, September 20, 2007

There Goes The Neighborhood

So Davy Rothbart's "There Goes The Neighborhood Tour" was in New York Friday Night. So Chris, Abbi and I met up after work, and headed down to the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater on 26th Street.

I'd texted Davy earlier in the afternoon to call off the shoot. We were gonna' do a bot of meet and greet, but decided that -- since we're going to Pittsburgh together in November -- we could hold the thought 'til then.

The event was sold out. We were surrounded by thirtysomething literate-types as we waited in line near next to Gristede's.

"These are our people, man!" I told Chris. "If we can get these people in every town, we're golden!"

The venue was kinda' sketchy: dusty, black walls, exposed plumbing, rockity theater seats. I loved it. It felt vital, collegiate, like there was nothing to lose.

I coaxed Abbi and Chris into the front row. There was no stage, per say, just 3/4 of a rectanglular space without seats. So our feet were basically on stage. When the lights went down, we never fully faded into theatrical blackness; our reactions would be part of the show.

Davy walked in from the wings, unloaded a thicket of Xeroxed pages onto a pair of barstools, and began reading.

Davy and his brother, Peter, put on a hilarious show. It's basically a rock 'n roll reading that happens to be comedic. Found Magazine is, well, a magazine full of found objects: love letters, receipts, photos. Many of which are humorous, especially out of context. Peter brings the music, like his boy band send-up based on an actual love note, "Booty Don't Stop."

Davy also happens to be a marketing genius. He effortlessly weaves his mailing list and promotions for upcoming shows, back issues of the magazine, books, and CDs into his shtick. The amazing thing is that the whole thing feels so earnest and real, not commercial.

At the end of the show, as Davy was thanking a few people, he mentioned his buddy, "This American Life" producer Alex Bloomberg, and congratulated him on his recent marriage. Then he looked at me and said, "And thanks to Benjamin Wagner who's about to get married." That little gesture made me feel pretty special. Later, when someone told me that This American Life host Ira Glass seated behind Abbi, Chris and me, I exclaimed to Abbi, "Ira Glass knows my name." Which, as ridiculous as it sounds, is kinda' the beauty of this whole Mister Rogers-inspired journey of mine.

Later that night, I met Davy at The Park, a scene club on 18th & Tenth. I thought I was meeting him and a few friends. I walked into a table of twenty. Davy -- bless his heart -- introduced me as "The deepest guy I know." I pulled up a chair between a Pakistani journalist and Random House designer. I talked about God, Britney Spears, and "The Secret Lives of People in Love." Like I said to Chris, these are our people: the ones who burn for conversation, substance, solutions. The ones who want to change the world.

Well after midnight, I peeled off as Davy's friends tumbled out of the club towards its next destination. In the few minutes there as the party dispersed on the street, a fellow reveler told me, "Oh yeah, Mister Rogers used to come into the country store I worked at during summers."

"Bartlett Farms," I said.

"Yeah," she replied.

'He still up there connecting us,' I thought from the backseat, smiling all the way up Tenth Avenue.

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