by Matt Mayer

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Most Charitable of Beggars

A woman walked onto a crowded subway car. Wasting no time, she was already speaking highly of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost as she cleared the closing doors, blessing the entire car. She placed her laundry bag on a clear section of bench; one can only assume the clothes in the bag were as ratty and torn as the shirt on her back.

Boisterous and lightly coated with a veneer of joy, she offered up a unique rendition of This Little Light of Mine peppered with interjections of "Holy Ghost!" and "Church!" The woman made sure to sing loud and proud towards both the north and south ends of the 4 train.

Predictably, at the end of the song, she reached into her own back pocket and pulled out some change. With the mineral-colored pieces of metal in her hand, she walked swiftly from one end of the car to the other, requesting more pieces of metal. She rattled off generic labels like an auctioneer to get the attention of innocent bystanders: "Young man, young lady, thank you young man, young lady, young lady, mister, thank you ma'am, young lady, miss, young man, mister..."

As she completed her collection of payment for services rendered, she picked up her laundry bag and paused to make one more charitable contribution. She made sure to lose her temper at a man near the door who had ignored her entire show, like so many others had. He now knows how hard it is to do what she does, how long she was in the military, and what kind of a person he really is. She's got a little light, and she let it shine all over the unsuspecting man.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Coming 360

Sometime in 1995 or '96, I made the conscious decision to become my own polar opposite. Uncomfortable with my body, my friends, and (most significantly) my social status, I wanted to be a different person. I wanted to crawl out of my own skin and find somebody else's to live within.

This is the thing that has affected my life most, both then and now: my self-loathing in middle school; my love for who I am now, peppered with an understanding that I could love myself more if I were more like the me I used to despise. Essentially, I was two completely different people for the first and second dozen years of my life, and now I am moving back towards center.

A chubby, intelligent and diligent child, I played videogames, read comic books, and did my homework. Sports were a weak spot for me. I always wanted to be better at them than I was. Food was a weakness. My room a safe haven. Sweatpants were my only clothing bottoms. I ate my boogers.

Plenty of fodder for the average, or even below-average bully. I had them all trying out their best stuff on me. All I wanted was for people to like me. That made it worse. I would go home crying every day. I would constantly be putting myself into situations where I would be harassed or attacked. I became indignant. This couldn't be my place in life.

So, I changed. I changed everything. I stopped reading comic books (and regular books too). I stopped doing my homework. I started playing more sports. I cut my hair. I wore jeans. This didn't matter. My place in the Mahwah school system was forever etched. I had been too resistant to accepting my fate and had thus sealed it in the school scriptures. This change did not matter to the outside world until I entered ninth grade and left everything I knew by going to a different school system.

(On a side note: I am very glad that my change did not grant me entrance at The Cool Kids' Table, because it was not my place. I didn't know at the time, but it was the wrong thing for me to try to do. I'm glad my experiment failed. Because of its failure, I ended up where I did for high school. And for that I will be forever grateful, for reasons that will not be explored in this blog.)

Nobody at Bergen Academies knew the former me, except my current roommate and best friend, Mark, and a small handful of others. So, I was able to trick myself into believing that the new me was the real me. My shallow choices called for a mutiny and left the actual real me on a desert island with a pistol and a single bullet. The first mate became the captain, and the ship took a whole new direction.

I went from the top of my class (or near it), to the bottom of my new class. I cared about clothes and lacrosse and having crushes on girls (but never doing anything about that because deep inside I was still shy Matt). I feigned confidence and acted popular. I was a social climber. I was the opposite of who I had been 3 years before. The 180 was complete.

I lived my life in that way to some extent for the next 8 or 9 years. I was an attention whore; I wanted to be friends with the popular people; I spent more time getting ready to go out at night than I actually spent out. There were parts of me that resisted. Parts that were still me, the real me. I did community service; I didn't drink until I turned 21; I definitely still played videogames; I was really shy around girls, even ones who liked me; I was picky about my real friends, the ones who I let really close. But mostly, it mattered more to me that I got an A in Cool than an A in English 101. I got a C- in that, by the way. Somewhere inside, I knew all along that I was doing the wrong thing, and the parts of me that were deep down underneath this new outer coat were trying to escape to the surface. I started out one way, made a U-turn and have been slowly turning the car around ever since.

The real movements back towards the original me started happening around the time of two major events. I started dating my current girlfriend, Sarah, and I started doing long-form improv.

Sarah is a grounded, intelligent, beautiful girl. She represents both sides of the spectrum well. In many ways, though not in all ways, she is where I want to be. I know that more and more everyday.

Improv comedy, more specifically long-form, and even more specifically the UCB community drew me in. I was and continue to be compelled by the art. I believe that that is significant to this story: the beauty of loving the people you're working with for everything they do, not just the stuff that immediately SEEMS brilliant on the surface. The more easily recognizable thing to me in terms of how it plays into my current pitch towards the past, is that that person I used to be would be 100% accepted by this community. If I had not changed one bit from before I got indignant and had found long-form some time along the way, I would still be as accepted in this community as I am now (if not moreso ... but that's a blog for another time). The most important part to recognize in all of that is that this is the community I most want to be in, period. I spent so much effort trying to be somebody I am not only to end up in the same place I would have wanted to anyway.

I am not going to give up everything that I have become since that fateful 3-year transition, as there are positives I have found, but I am happy to find a place where I feel comfortable picking up things I used to love. I dropped those things for the wrong reasons, and now thanks to this community and how accepting it is and how it's made up of people who I believe I really relate to deeply, I don't have to be afraid. Afraid to read comics, or obsess over a videogame, or geek out about books for a while. I'm doing all of those things right now, for the first time in a decade.

Thanks. Seriously. Thanks.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

volleyball gripe

stop interrupting my volleyball games because you want to play. i don't want to play with you. unless, of course, you're good.

i'm okay at the game. i played around with it for a couple years in college. i'm not amazing, but i can bump, set and spike. and, in my opinion, that's the only way the game should be played.

i hate it when people see that you're playing volleyball and just assume you can stop the game you're playing to let them play. the worst is that they get mad when you make them wait, for any period of time. i guess they figure since the play stops every 30 seconds or so that it would be easy to let them hop in. and i'm happy to do it, if they're not going to ruin the game.

i'm usually pretty nice and relaxed about stuff like that, but not during volleyball. because the difference between the two kinds of games is absolutely massive. it's like having a hamburger from mcdonalds or a hamburger from five guys. when you know that five guys is available, you will NOT settle for a mcdonald's burger.

it's a really interesting thing. you're so dependent on the play of the other people in the game to make it fun WITH you. a lot of sports you can just play one on one and have fun. or play with almost anybody because it's just fun to use your own skill set. hockey, basketball, soccer to think of a few like that. just a couple other bodies and you'll have a good time because you can see how you're shooting it or handling it. in volleyball, if you like to hit, you can't do it if nobody can set. if you like to block, you can't do it if nobody on the other side can hit (and therefore have a second person who can set).

in that respect it's like improv. it is way more fun to improvise with people you can trust to play well with you. improvising is only as fun as you and the people around you make it. you can't just ignore other people you're doing it with and be a ballhog. it just doesn't work. you need to set each other up and work together to have fun.

i love both things for that reason.

although, i will say that i enjoy jamming and playing with new people in improv, no matter how long they've been doing it. so in that respect it is very different. but, i guess i don't want to do that all the time.