Whoever said life was like a box of chocolates got it all wrong; it’s more like a shoebox of old, discarded memories that when opened, oftentimes, simply make you laugh.
But before I could live vicariously through the memory of others and laugh my way through the night, I had to pay my dues…or so it seemed.
“Whose got prepaid?! Prepaid?! Anybody with prepaid tickets?! Who paid?!” yelled the bouncer guy one too many times.
I sure didn’t. Which is why I found myself 30th in line – according to my guesstimate – outside the Make-Out Room on 22nd Street, standing underneath a drizzling rain that went snap, crackle, and pop on my black five-dollar umbrella.
Just to see Mortified? I thought. Just to hear random strangers take the stage and recount their teenage trials and tribulations?
This better be good. I was now 11th in a line that went stagnant for another 45 minutes.
“…And these are the breaks!” sang Kurtis Blow from inside the Make-Out Room.
“Break it up! Break it up! Break it up!” I finished the song’s next line in my head.
But in what became a 180-degree turn of fate – at least for me – a woman approached the bouncer guy with two comped tickets she wasn’t going to use. Someone must have been listening.
“People like Grant say I have pussy lips,” I heard the first reader, Alessandra Rizzotti, say as I walked in and found a prime spot to sit at the far end of the bar. An audience that filled in every corner of a narrow dance floor, and even sat atop the booths lining the walls, erupted in laughter.
Jen Anthony read from her diary as a photo of her 13-year-old self with thick-rimmed glasses smiled back at the audience from a large screen. “Dear Diary, today wasn’t a very good day, I looked in the mirror.”
“Awwwww,” went the crowd in unison. “I’m getting tumors, ulcers, and arthritis from working so hard,” she continued.
And what better way to showcase how grandiose our problems seemed in adolescence than through poetry gone Mortified?
“This is what you’re fighting for Ladies!” said the host, as he waved a plastic fireman dog stripper in the air, the prize for Mortified’s poetry slam winner for worst student poet. From where I sat I could see the plastic dog mechanically sway its hips and open up his vest.
“I liked big words so I would put them into poetry,” said Amber Milner, standing tall at 6’2, as she brought the microphone close to her lips, channeled a hoarse voice from within and began:
…complete sadness and utter joy [long pause]
they do not come sold separately [chuckles, chuckles, chuckles]
they are packaged as one…
“Your consolation after I win this thing will be to touch these!” said Milner, signaling hear breasts to her contender Sarah Alterman, who wrote to her imaginary boyfriend at the age of 16 (amidst “ohs!” from the crowd) :
I’ve drunk sunshine with my hair…I’ve traced the masterpiece of our love with my pinky…To say I love you is the shallowest and deepest understatement that could come from my lips.
“My fictional boyfriend dumped me,” recalled Alterman. “I made him up and he dumped my ass!”
And again, the audience roared in laugher. But after a strong applause in the other direction, Milner won the poetry slam.
And so it went, on behalf of all teenage kids who have longed for popularity, for sex, and understanding, the readers of Mortified took turns at the red-curtained stage and recounted our memories, our deepest darkest secrets, and our sinful desires.
The night ended with the innocence of Leonard Hyman, who at the age of 17 so yearned to delve into the sexual universe and find his place within it.
“She wants it, I want to give it to her, but what is it?