It’s 7:30 yesterday and there are about 30 people packed in the windowless concrete basement of Word Bookstore in Greenpoint, one of the most well-loved independent booksellers in Brooklyn. They’re all here to share a personal story about their most magical, comedic, essentially New York moment in under five minutes–or alternately, to gawk at those who’ve got the cajones to do so–for an event called, fittingly, “The Five-Minute Series: I Love New York.”
The scene, a lone microphone sitting in front of a makeshift projection screen, smacks of stand-up comedy. “There’s a bucket over here,” announces Ben Scheim, one fourth of Chairmen of the Bored, the Brooklyn-based planners of kitschy events like this one. “If you wanna put some dollars in, that would be radical.” This will be the first of several uses of “radical” over the course of the night.
To keep things running smoothly, a member of Chairmen of the Bored (or COTB) is posted in the rear with a flashlight and a sign that reads, “One Minute Remaining.” There is also a bingo element–next to the stage hangs cards with words that might appear in any worthwhile New York story. They include, but are not limited to: “pimp,” “Gowanus,” “Fung Wah,” “condoms,” “Hasid,” “Anderson Cooper,” “Carrie Bradshaw,” “my Italian uncle,” and “Staten Island Ferry.” If at the end of the night, we’ve heard them all, it’s free beers for everyone, or something to that effect.
Mark Jaffe, another COTB member, begins. “The theme of everything I wanted to talk about,” he says, “Was either a ‘Fuck you’ or ‘Fuck yeah'” to New York. This little dichotomy will prove to be the tone, if not the literal refrain, of every subsequent story.
Music writer and occasional Voice contributor Jayson Greene relays the details of a subway ride next to a dude with an “Isaac Hayes beard” who repeatedly sings an inaccurate description of the location of the G-spot into a tape recorder. Greene connects this experience with a second, in which a complete stranger double punches him in the sternum at Starbucks.
Another Starbucks mention–the brand name should’ve been on that bingo board–comes from Chris Sifflet, an employee there, who relays an angry, gag-worthy tale of defecation in which a patron writes “POOP” on the coffee shop’s bathroom wall…in poop. He also manages to name check “Carrie Bradshaw” in the process.
Five speakers in, a room that was “packed” is now more of a fire hazard, with the audience trailing up the staircase to places where you can only hear what’s happening onstage. What’s happening: Brooklyn native Ben Popper, sporting a beanie so tiny it’s almost a yarmulke, recounts defending himself with a spork against a mugger. Or as he tells it, “I just stabbed him with something that was 70% spoon!” Adam Berkowitz puts on a non-fiction skit about a Hasidic Jewish guy approaching him on the street and trying to convince him to come back to his “Mitzvah Mobile” for shabbat. Further tales of subway bonding over a Game Boy, being stuck in a vertical turnstile with a non-English-speaking elderly woman, and the various horrors of the Astor Place Starbucks ensue.
At the end of the night, after 13 storyteller turns, the basement empties and its population shuffles over to Word’s neighboring bar, Alligator Greenpoint, no doubt to continue telling obscene and fascinating stories. No time limit there.