Falling Down Laughing

Testing out the disc golf course, before my fall.

Some people wanted to hear about my night out at the Fairfield Comedy Club to see Mike Birbiglia. This is what’s known as a folo-up in the world of archaic newspaper lingo. (That’s spelled correctly. I spelled it normally and my old editor emailed me and pointed out that it’s folo. Their need to correct astounds me.)

If you’re not interested in hearing about it, stop reading now. I get it. We’re all a little envious when we hear people are getting out, but don’t hate me. This is the first real night out I’ve had since the pandemic began. I’m usually cooped up at home like everyone else.

And it really wasn’t all that fun, and that had nothing to do with Mike Birbiglia. In fact, it was the comedy night that almost wasn’t.

I was supposed the meet the Curmudgeon in his office parking lot at 6 p.m. We planned to grab cheeseburgers and shakes at a 50’s-style drive-in en route to the 7:30 p.m. show. When I arrived at his office, the Curmudgeon was nowhere in sight. I called his phone twice and he didn’t answer.

After a few minutes, he emerged from the first floor of his office building, looking sweaty and disheveled. “Come on, let’s go,” I said. “What’s taking you so long?”

“It’s a long story,” he said. “But I’ll be out in five minutes and I’ll tell you all about it.”

After getting into the driver’s seat, he said, “I fell while I was running. I tried to swoop around two guys walking with their backs to traffic on a busy road. I went up onto a grassy area, and caught my foot on a vine. Before I knew it, I was on the ground and my face was an inch from the pavement. I’m lucky I didn’t break my shoulder.”

“Did the guys stop and ask you if you were OK? I asked. “No, but there’s no way they didn’t know I fell,” he said. “They had to have heard it.”

Once you know someone isn’t seriously injured in a fall, it’s hard not to laugh. Last month, I fell while walking out of the Dollar Store holding nine red, white and blue balloons. The first thing I did when I hit the ground was look up to see if anyone had seen me or was having a laugh at my expense. Fortunately, I heard no one laughing and I managed to hang onto all of the balloons. But I’m sure it was a comical sight.

I told the Curmudgeon I’d understand if he wanted to skip the show, but was relieved and grateful when he told me that he’d press on. This was the first thing we were doing as a couple in nearly eight months, and I was looking forward to it more than anyone really should.

But I’d have understood if the Curmudgeon wanted to take a pass. Besides being incredibly painful, falling is scary. Besides the Dollar Store tumble, I’ve taken three bad falls while hiking recently, catching my foot on roots concealed by leaves.

The worst occurred while we were out scouting the town’s disc golf course for an upcoming fund-raising tournament. As we approached a raised wooden tee box covered in bright green astroturf, I tripped on a root and pitched forward, slamming onto the platform with my left shoulder, hip and knee.

I hit the ground with such force that I couldn’t move for several minutes. When I finally tried to get up, I needed the Curmudgeon to help me off the ground.

The physical pain was the least of it. I felt my heart racing for almost an hour. The adrenaline was still coursing through my body, and of course, I played out all the various scenarios that could have happened in my head: I could have broken my neck or hit my head.

I need to be more careful, but I come from a long line of women prone to falling. My maternal grandmother once fractured her arm falling in her backyard garden, and my mother has broken her nose and foot in separate tumbles in recent years.

I’ve been fortunate . . . no broken bones yet. But falling is no joke, and you can bet I’m more cautious when I go hiking.

Speaking of falls, Mike almost wiped out about midway through his set. He took a step backward and nearly fell on a makeshift stage under a tent. He said he’ll always remember our show because he almost met his maker during the performance.

I did not laugh uproariously during the show like some people, who almost sounded as if they’d been planted there, but I had a big smile on my face and so did the Curmudgeon throughout the show. I felt good to be outside at night under the moon with other people who wanted to be entertained. It felt good to see people, albeit from a safe distance.

It also felt good to laugh or giggle at Mike’s observations, including: “I wonder what the woman next door thinks when she looks out and sees all these people and tents in her backyard.”

Or my favorite stemming from his role as the husband of Brie Larson’s character in “Trainwreck.” After the movie came out, someone wrote, “In what universe would Mike Birbiglia be married to Brie Larson?” He noted that life’s not fair, pointing out that the film’s director Judd Apatow is married to beautiful actress Leslie Mann.

In what universe would they be a couple? a troll asked.
Leslie Mann and director Judd Apatow attend the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Though most people were in twos, threes or fours, there was a woman seated nearby by herself. She laughed loudly and clapped her hands at nearly every joke, and I was impressed that she went solo. I’m not sure I’d have the courage to show up to a comedy show alone, but then again, I think I was nearly 60 before I went to the movies by myself.

Maybe she tried to drum up someone to go with her and couldn’t find any takers, or maybe it’s just something she really wanted to do and thought, “The heck with it, I’m going.” Or maybe she just needed a night away from the people she’s been locked down with since last March.

Yes, that’s probably it. Alone time with a funny man. It doesn’t get any better than that.


Just for Laughs

Mike Birbiglia’s poster for his comedy show, “Working It Outside.”

I love stand-up comedy.

Years ago when my kids were young, I’d wake up very early and watch HBO or Comedy Central shows to start the day. I told a few moms at the bus stop what I was up to, and they looked at me like I had two heads, but I didn’t care. I love to laugh.

I think I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: laughter is good for you, though admittedly there’s been very little to laugh about lately. Laughing releases endorphins that reduce stress and make you feel good.

You don’t have to actually laugh to get the benefits. Just smiling makes people feel better. Try it right now. Smile. Don’t you feel better? Some people walk around with a straw between their teeth to force themselves to smile, but I can’t be bothered with that. I’ve got enough problems with grinding and clenching my teeth.

I’m not just spouting off about this stuff. Years ago, I wrote a piece about the benefits of laughter and how little adults do it every day. On average, most kids laugh about 30 times a day, while adults laugh a meager three times. Pathetic, but it’s probably less what with Covid-19 and the upcoming election weighing on our brains.

I’ve asked the Curmudgeon to go to comedy shows with me three times during our very long marriage. The first two were for Jerry Seinfeld at Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard, CT. The third was last week to see Mike Birbiglia, a comedian who stars in the HBO comedy special “The New One.”

The HBO show is all about new parenting and it is hysterical. After watching that show, I became a little obsessed, watching everything Mike has on his website Birbigs.com. https://www.birbigs.com

One of his funniest bits is his take on attending mixers at his all-boys’ Catholic high school in Massachusetts. As a veteran of those horrid dances, I could definitely relate. His experience as a sleepwalker and the lengths he goes to to stay safe at night is also hysterical.

But it’s also Mike’s support of fellow comedians during the pandemic that earned him a special place in my heart. To support comedians that were out of work due to club closings, Mike began a podcast “Working It Out” that featured famous comedians, including his buddy John Mulaney, a fellow Georgetown University grad.

The banter between Mike and John got me through a particularly boring hike during the height of the shutdown when walking was the only thing we could do. I laughed during that hike and was enormously entertained by two guys Zooming in their apartments. For that, I’m eternally grateful.

Mike is performing his last outside socially distanced show at the Fairfield (CT.) Comedy Club on Wednesday, Oct. 28th. Fairfield is practically in our backyard (well, not really. It’s an hour’s drive in the best of conditions, but close enough that it wasn’t impossible to go).

When he announced his final outdoor show on Instagram, I told the Curmudgeon I was ordering two tickets.

“I think I’ve got a haircut that night,” he said. “Not sure I can make it.”

Seriously? I told the Curmudgeon to change the appointment and he reluctantly obliged. But he’s not excited about going to the show and is already planning his escape. Did I mention how much I hate feeling like I’m dragging someone to something?

“I don’t think he’ll perform for more than an hour, so we should get home at a decent hour,” he said. “I should be able to catch the end of the World Series if there’s a Game 7.”

Really? Is there anything worse than planning your exit before you even arrive? We’ve all done it, I suppose. But this isn’t exactly torture, unless it’s freezing outside. I’m hoping for temperatures hovering in the low 50s or else I’ll never hear the end of it.

Just to be on the safe side, I bought an extra large fleece blanket that we can spread across our laps so we look like Ma and Pa Kettle. I’m also considering wearing my plum-colored fleece Patagonia pants, though I’m not sure they’re meant to be worn out of the house.

I don’t have the heart to tell the Curmudgeon that Mike has scheduled three virtual shows in late November that folks can watch in the comfort of their living rooms. You buy tickets to the show at the “Nowhere Comedy Club,” and after it ends, even get a question and answer session with Mike.

The virtual shows are Nov. 27th, 28th and 29th https://www.birbigs.com/tour-dates. It’s too late for us – we’re watching Mike in the great outdoors unless there’s a downpour. But do yourself a favor and watch one of his virtual shows. It will remind you just how good it feels to laugh.

Glory Be

The beloved – and often maligned – morning glory.

My sister-in-law Ann asked if I plan to plant bulbs this fall.

The pandemic inspired me to amp up the backyard gardener in me, bravely planting two large raised vegetable and herb beds outside my kitchen in deer country. The results were mixed: tons of cucumbers and tomatoes, yet only enough eggplants to make one decent pan of eggplant parmesan.

A case of Lyme disease that wiped me out, and the drought didn’t help. When one of my sisters saw the garden for the first time in late August, she asked if I had a watering system.

“Yeah, me and the hose,” I said. Fortunately, we were around most of the summer, giving me the time to fuss over the garden and keep an eye on pests. Still, I never got any of the cabbage or broccoli I planted because it was devoured by insects early in the game.

That’s one of the reasons I don’t take gardening seriously or have any intention of planting bulbs: I don’t have the patience, and am all about instant gratification. Planting bulbs involves a huge measure of trust and the grace to patiently wait for blooms in spring.

I’ve never been terribly good in the waiting department, am easily discouraged, deplore doing things twice or feeling like I’m wasting my time. Just the thought of tunneling animals eating or tearing up bulbs is enough to snuff out any desire to plant bulbs, but I admire people who do.

Barbara in her dahlia garden. Below, some closeups of her gorgeous blooms.

My friend Barbara cultivates dahlias and sells some of them in front of some of the shops lining our quaint New England downtown. Her blooms are spectacular, ranging from dainty miniatures to dinner plate blossoms close to a foot wide.

But she’s got to wait almost the whole summer for her dahlias to bloom, knowing they’ll vanish with the first frost. I’m in awe of her skill and dedication, but I’m not sure I could do that. As I said, waiting isn’t one of my strong suits.

Inspired by a local dahlia farmer with 600 plants, Barbara fell in love with the flower about five years ago. This year, she planted 60 dahlias in her sunny side yard next to a plot of zinnias and cosmos. Looking at her colorful dahlia garden, it’s hard to choose a favorite.

Yet dahlias seem like an awful lot of work to me, requiring even more attention than roses. There’s the staking and supports, and the need to dig up the tubers every fall lest they fall victim to frost and headed for the compost heap.

Which leads me to the following conclusion:

In the world of gardeners, there are those who plant dahlias and those who don’t. To test my theory, I asked a few veteran gardeners if they plant dahlias and they said, “No! Too much work.” I admit I felt a little validated and slightly less lazy.

Dahlia growers fall into the category of serious gardeners who spend the bulk of the winter poring over seed catalogs, plotting out their gardens and then pulling out the seed trays in March to get the ball rolling.

And then there’s the rest of us, those who buy plants at garden centers and plant them nilly willy in hopes of some semblance of order or cohesion. We’re always slightly unsure about our gardening knowledge, wondering when it’s OK to cut back hydrangeas (spring) or how to properly prune rose bushes.

We’re the ones buying hanging baskets of petunias and snipping off the plastic hangers to plunk them in our front planters We’re also the ones who hail the arrival of morning glories, wondering how they ended up in our gardens.

Though purists might view morning glories as unwelcome intruders and tear them out – they are, after all, categorized as invasive weeds – I love them. They’ve overtaken a corner of my back garden, covering a beach rose bush given to me by a good friend several years ago.

I don’t remember planting morning glories, though I may have dropped some seeds several years ago when the kids were little and I was in a perpetual fog. But my patch of magenta morning glories is an unexpected delight, mainly because they’re pretty, require no care, appeared out of nowhere and are still going strong in mid-October.

To me, they’re perfect: free, pretty and requiring absolutely no care. I’ll take that any day of the week.

Famed American artist Georgia O’Keeffe painted morning glories. This is one of her best-selling paintings.

Ring of Fire

Our new outdoor fire pit, just waiting for its inaugural fire.

Some people baked bread during the pandemic. We built a fire pit.

It was my son’s idea. After weeks of home confinement, one of my neighbors hosted a socially distanced get-together around her backyard fire pit in May. My son returned home from it bent on installing a fire pit in our backyard.

The only problem is it took all summer to build, so we haven’t used it yet. They say if you build it, they will come, but so far they haven’t and heaven knows when they will.

The idea was that everyone in the neighborhood would host a backyard bonfire to touch base and break up the monotony of home confinement. But so far, there’s been exactly one bonfire, the one that sparked my son’s insistence that we needed one for outdoor socializing.

First world problems, to be sure. But could it be that some people enjoy sitting outside around a roaring fire at night more than others? I suspect it’s a little like camping or traveling around the country in an RV: it might be heaven for some, but others, not so much.

My sister was smart when it came to her fire pit. She bought a sleek propane model that doubles as a coffee table on her deck when not in use. But my son was adamant about wanting an authentic wood-burning pit for his ring of fire. Like his new-found love of barbecuing and growing a scraggly beard, home confinement has brought out his inner cave man.

What I’m learning is he’s something of a procrastinating perfectionist. When I try to help to speed things along, he excoriates me for sloppy work.

“You can help if you want, but please be careful,” he begs. Yes, he often sounds like the parent, but he’s been like this since he was little. And he does have a point: I have a history of making mistakes in the name of speed.

To his credit, his attention to detail has been impressive. We drove about 40 minutes to a quarry to handpick stone blocks for the fire pit in June. When the stones didn’t arrive as promised the following week, we were told they were on back order so we selected something similar to get the project rolling.

Installing the tiki torches around the perimeter.

Siting the fire pit was another matter. My son selected what looked like a level spot in our back yard and began stacking the stones. But as the sides grew, he discovered that the ground wasn’t level and his fire pit was crooked. I’d see the fire pit half built and then voila, it was disassembled. This must have happened at least three times.

I won’t go into all the options he considered for leveling the ground. Let’s just say at one point asphalt and concrete were mentioned and quickly dismissed by me. In the end, he leveled the ground the old-fashioned way: with a shovel and a tamper. But it wasn’t a quick process, not by a long shot.

Once the pit was in place, it was time for the crushed stone surrounding it. He rented a U-Haul pick-up truck to pick up setting sand and pink-tinted pea stone from the famous Stony Creek Quarry in Branford, CT., home to the pink granite that lines the base of the Statue of Liberty and much of New York City.

The only problem is the truck had a maximum load of one and a half tons, meaning he had to make several trips. When the truck was still in our backyard the following day, I asked when he intended to finish getting the stone.

“It’s stuck out there because it rained and the grass is wet, but don’t worry. I got permission for an extra hour from U-haul,” he said.

He wanted to plant small trees to designate it as a separate space. We visited four nurseries before he found what he wanted: six small aborvites that will one day grow 20 feet tall. And last but not least, we needed to get tiki torches for the perimeter. No stores around here had any in stock, so I ordered them from AmazonPrime.

When I saw him scrolling through Amazon for torches later that day, I told him I’d ordered them.

“Without consulting me?” he said. “I had something very specific in mind.” Again, I just wanted to move things along. I told him to cancel the order and get something he wanted, but he demurred.

“It’s OK,” he said. “I just wish you’d have asked me.”

So the fire pit was finally finished. The next day, we walked outside to admire the pit only to discover mole tunnels running through and around it. He wants to insert stakes in the ground all around it to block the moles, but I’ve got visions of people tripping over the stakes at night.

So for now, the fire pit sits unused and waiting for its first official lighting. Only time will tell when if and when it will ever happen.