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As I drove by the Swedenborgian Church around the corner from my place in Normal Heights, I saw people entering for some event that included balloons and a huge cake. It was a safe assumption that this was a party and not a religious gathering.

I got home, parked, grabbed my camera, and headed over. As I made the trek, I thought, If there is a God, I wonder how bad it looks that it takes a party to get me to enter a church.

Instead of the collection plate that’s passed around during services, it cost me $15 at the door. Considering there was a great variety of catered food, the entry fee was worth it: one table had cold cuts, fruits, and various cheeses, and another table had a large assortment of wines and cheeses.

And the stories people told — they were not the normal stories I hear when I’m at a party. The event, called Dime Stories, has been going on for years, and I had found my way to their fifth birthday celebration. Local writers come up with a piece that’s three minutes long. It can be any type of short story; the only requirement is that it be told within three minutes.

Author Amy Wallen runs these gatherings with an iron fist…well, a plastic timer. That may sound a bit harsh, but if you don’t rein these writers in, you might end up listening to a story that’s longer than you want to hear.

I talked to a tall guy named Simon, who told me it was his 68th birthday. I asked if he played basketball and found out he wrote a story to tell about the Harlem Globetrotters. He told me that when he was younger, he saw a movie they did and read stories about them. I told him I had just finished reading the Pete Maravich biography. Since he hadn’t read it, I told him I’d give him the book.

Every time I walked by writers who were discussing things they were writing, it was always something interesting. And nobody was pretentious. It was a great crowd.

I went over to talk with Amy and had a plate full of food. She reached over and grabbed a carrot off the table. I said, “It’s easier to use a plate.” She smiled and said, “I just pick at the food. I don’t want anyone seeing me with a whole plate.” As she looked around at the crowd, she guessed, “Maybe they’re doing the same thing, and that’s why they’re all just hovering around it.”

I didn’t care what people thought as I grabbed two more brownies and headed in a different direction.

Most of the people were dressed up. I did see a guy who had a T-shirt with the Pink Floyd prism going into a trailer. I tried figuring out what it meant but had no clue. I finally asked him, and he said something about the shirt’s design belonging to a bluegrass band. I told him about a band someone told me about called “Hayseed Dixie.” They do bluegrass versions of AC/DC songs. He had heard about them. Both of us discussed the hundreds of T-shirts we have from bands we like.

After an hour of socializing and eating, we sat down in the pews and got ready to listen to the stories.

Amy went over the rules, playing the sound effects that let you know your time is almost up. If you go over three minutes, the crowd is treated to the sound of crickets as you try to finish.

One guy, who looked a little like Alan Arkin, read his story fast. I had the feeling he was trying to fit it all in under three minutes. And he did.

One woman read a story about her first car. She wanted a Volvo but ended up with a Buick Electra that had an eight-track stereo. She said the air conditioning didn’t work, and in Las Vegas, there were times when it was hotter than Satan’s crotch.

As she finished her funny piece, Amy got ready to introduce the next reader. She suggested others should try to work “Satan’s crotch” into their stories.

One woman got the three-minute buzzer going with a story she read about a sister who had contracted cancer. I felt horrible that time ran out on such a sad, powerful piece.

Before Simon got up to read his story on the Globetrotters, I told him he should have “Sweet Georgia Brown” playing in the background. I then thought about going home and getting my basketball, to spin it on my finger while he read. I figured that would take away from his story, which was interesting. He talked about inner-city kids playing basketball and rich people that go to the games.

A guy named Alex got up and read a story he wrote about King Kong. It had the crowd in stitches. He would sarcastically talk about all the damage King Kong would do, and the people capturing him would talk about how that’s the perfect creature to bring into a big, crowded city. The best line was when he talked about the heat in the forest as they searched for King Kong. He said, “It was hotter than Satan’s crotch. But it was a dry crotch.” The crowd erupted in laughter.

When I talked to him later and told him how great his story was, he said, “I’m like a poor man’s Orson Welles.”

Someone else told me he was part of a group called the Drunk Poets Society, which meets at Winstons in O.B.

The funniest story of the evening was told by a woman who wrote about going to the bathroom at work and having her boss sit in the stall next to her. People often talk about the Seinfeld where Elaine was in the bathroom and ran out of toilet paper. Well, the story told on this night was ten times funnier.

When she finished, I went to grab a glass of wine. I talked a young guy into opening up the champagne. He looked at the bottle for a second, and I said, “Do you know how to open it?” He smiled and said, “Of course. I’m Irish.”

I talked to the woman who wrote the bathroom story, telling her it was the best of the evening. I asked her how hard it was to edit it down to three minutes. She told me an interesting story about the editing process and how Playgirl bought a story from her but edited out the part in which the woman has an orgasm.

After finishing my glass of champagne and hearing a few more stories, I ran home and got my Pete Maravich book. Because so many people had stories to read, I had plenty of time. When I returned, I handed the book to Simon, and as he thanked me and started to talk basketball, I overheard a woman onstage talking about finding a locust shell on a plum tree.

I left the church wondering where these talented writers come up with such interesting short stories.

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amyliz Dec. 2, 2009 @ 1:30 p.m.

If you can keep a basketball spinning on your finger for a full three minutes I hope you get nominated to the Globetrotters. Do they even exist any longer? Thanks Josh! This is great.

I hope folks will come out to read/listen/balk at DimeStories this Friday, Dec 4th 7pm at The Ruby Room in Hillcrest. It's not a birthday party, so no cake, but our regular monthly prose open mic. And, we have started Audience Choice Awards, so when someone like Beth reads her hilarious bathroom piece you, Josh, can vote for her recorded piece to be posted on the website, and maybe it will even make it to podcast on iTunes or be selected as one of the public radio pieces. We record every event! Check out the website, find us on Facebook, Twitter, and in person.


AvenueZ Dec. 2, 2009 @ 2:13 p.m.

Greetings from the infamous "woman who wrote the bathroom story," otherwise known as Beth Ziesenis. Thanks for the compliment, Josh. :) Glad I ran into you at the event, and hope to see you at others.


Josh Board Dec. 2, 2009 @ 3:22 p.m.

Amy, it's really not that hard to spin a ball on your finger. But, after a minute, it starts to slow down. And, you have to slap it a few times with your other hand, to get it going faster. I just didn't want to take anything away from Simons piece. And I thought it would look bizarre, me standing there doing that (especially since I'm most comfortable doing it with my middle finger). And yes, the Trotters are still around. They come to the Sports Arena at least once a year. They even have a few women players now.

Beth, you are an amazing writer. I'm sorry I didn't put a segment of your story in my write-up. I'm looking at 1,000 word count on this, and just didn't have the room.

Would you be so kind as to put it up here? Log back on, and put your story (it might take two or three posts). But I'd love for people on here to be able to read it.

I hope someday I'm half the writer you are. Your stuff is great.


AvenueZ Dec. 2, 2009 @ 3:43 p.m.

Wow, Josh. With compliments like that, I'll even reenact it for you. (Not really.)

The Best Laid Plans of a Professional Meeting Planner The toughest part of putting on a convention for 5,000 is not the 15-hour days that start before 5 a.m. or the angry exhibitors, lost packages or empty coffee urns during the morning rush.

No… the toughest problem I encounter during a 5-day conference is finding a private place for a bowel movement.

At the last event, I scout out the perfect remote bathroom. As soon as the keynote speaker starts, I slip away. Soon I am dedicated to my important task.

And then the door opens. “Beth, are you in here?” KATE! Kate is my arch enemy. She revels in causing me pain at work. And she has found me at a most vulnerable moment.

“Hey, Kate. I’ll be with you in a minute.” Kate enters a stall. “Can we meet about my speaker luncheon?” she asks as she unzips.

I’m at critical juncture. I shift on the seat, hoping for a sneaky hiss instead of a humiliating blurt. No luck. “Um, sure. Half an hour? In the staff office?”

She answers, “I have time now. I’ll walk back with you.” What? She is waiting for me here in the bathroom? Part of the women’s code is that we quietly excuse ourselves when one needs privacy, just like we “spare a square” under the stall when we run out of paper.

I struggle to find some inner fortitude that will stop this bowel movement. I clench. I grimace. I pucker. Kate, of course, is taking a polite, professional pee, releasing an efficient, melodic stream and tearing off an eco-friendly, modest toilet paper ration. I’m making noises and emitting smells that would keep the audience in a Will Farrell movie in stitches. My bowels are unstoppable, the culmination of unrelenting stress, late nights and 3 bags of Flaming Hot Cheetos. There is plopping and splashback. And oh yes, there is odor.

I can’t stop it, so I try to disguise it. I shuffle. I cough. I rattle the toilet paper roll. “Why don’t you head over to the staff office and grab the menu from my desk?” I plead.

Kate is finished, washing her hands. “I’ll wait for you – no problem.” Kate’s enjoying the fact that she’s breaking the code. I picture her leaning against the vanity, practicing the perfect knowing smile. Bitch.



AvenueZ Dec. 2, 2009 @ 3:44 p.m.


With one last humiliating rumble, toot and splash, I am thankfully done. I stand quickly and dodge my body from side to side to set off the automatic flush. Two-thirds of the evidence whooshes – more humiliation with the 2-flusher. I think I hear Kate chortle.

I exit the stall, wash my hands and try to hide my scarlet face. She smiles and smirks simultaneously. I couldn’t hate this woman more.

We walk together in silence, and I pause at the door to let her go first. As she passes, I see her well-ironed white skirt. She has a spot in a horrible place, a most embarrassing revelation that she is female. According to the women’s code, I’m supposed to whisper this critical fact to Kate. I open my mouth to let her know, then stop. She breaks the code; I break the code. Now we’re even. I effortlessly mimic her smirk and start our meeting.


amyliz Dec. 2, 2009 @ 4:07 p.m.

Or you can go to the DimeStories website and hear Beth's recorded reading of the piece from the birthday party.

www.dimestories.org Home page right hand column in all her glory!


amyliz Dec. 2, 2009 @ 4:16 p.m.

Josh, you taking me way too seriously. I know how a ball is twirled on one's finger. I was giving it a three-minute pun. I was joshing you.


jfkali Dec. 2, 2009 @ 5 p.m.

I am still laughing at Beth's story. I have to go to one of their events. Sounds like alot of fun.


sattin Dec. 2, 2009 @ 6:44 p.m.

If I had been in Beth's shoes in that stall, I would have SOMEHOW held it in. It would have taken a super-human effort, and perhaps I would have exploded, but, trust me, I would have succeeded. And as for the treatment of her tormenter, Beth absolutely positively did the right thing! I'm sure her only regret was not being able to see Kate's reaction when she discovered the spot on her skirt! Aaaaah, the sweet "smell" of success!


magicsfive Dec. 2, 2009 @ 7:25 p.m.

OMG Avenuez you are awesome. that was so great. the reader should pay you to write. i am your new biggest fan. no pun intended. ;)


rickeysays Dec. 2, 2009 @ 7:34 p.m.

Sometimes trying to be a "lady" doesn't pay. You should have approached this like the average guy. First warn her that you're about to put a hole in the ozone layer, and she probably doesn't want to be around for it. If that doesn't do it, challenge her to a "most-vomit-inducing-noise" contest.


KarenBP Dec. 2, 2009 @ 8:16 p.m.

i mean BETH!!!!!!!!!!!! (My middle name, how could i switch your name like that?!)

That was perfect! Great story, Beth.


Josh Board Dec. 2, 2009 @ 8:43 p.m.

As great as Beths story was to read, imagine how funny it was hearing her read it, emphasizing just the right parts; the facial expressions...it was an awesome experience.


magicsfive Dec. 2, 2009 @ 8:59 p.m.

i just listened to it. this may be my favorite blog yet. :)


bloggurrl Dec. 3, 2009 @ 2:02 a.m.

My friend told me I HAD to read these comments, specifically Beth's story. She KNOWS first hand, that I would've handled this pretty much the way Ricky suggested. I am not the woman who can hold her guano until the time and place are just perfect. I'm certainly not proud of this. I feel a twinge even typing now, because of those nitwits in my past who've suggested a 'real lady' would never pass a poo anywhere under any circumstances. (I recall my cousin telling me in disgust of the first time her boyfriend slept over her house. "And he took a crap in my bathroom!!" Uh, did you want him to go fertilize your garden instead?)

So, you BET I warn my pals (even my cousin) with a quick, "Sorry, but you don't want to go in there right now."

Women can be sooo catty, but this may be the worst. I couldn't do that to another woman if I TRIED. I have no desire to, either. !?!

This sort of reminds me of the people who pound on your walls or door when you're having obviously great sex.
Really, who in this situation is the idiot?

This was a great chuckle. I'm imagining Margaret Cho telling this story in concert. Whee! I'm glad to learn I'm not the only chick who occasionally sinks a shiznit!


PistolPete Dec. 3, 2009 @ 9:23 a.m.

(I recall my cousin telling me in disgust of the first time her boyfriend slept over her house. "And he took a crap in my bathroom!!" Uh, did you want him to go fertilize your garden instead?)

Heh heh heh! The first thing I tell any of my lovers is that I'm human. I s***. I fart. I burp. I stink. It's only human if they are too. I'm always farting in my GF's general direction. She farts in mine now too! :-D

The pull-my-finger while perusing potato chips in Ralph's is the best though.


AvenueZ Dec. 3, 2009 @ 10:20 a.m.

My mother is completely mortified about this story. She won't even let me say the word "f*rt." Not kidding. I'm 41.


Josh Board Dec. 3, 2009 @ 2:57 p.m.

Well Z, my mom didn't care for that word. And neither do I. I think it's gross, and it's rarely funny. What I'd tell your mom is...where Beavis & Butthead would giggle and say those words, you are just cleverly telling a story, that is probably exaggerated for humorous punch (much the way David Sedaris makes up half of what he writes -- but we love it anyway).


jocelynhughes Dec. 4, 2009 @ 5 p.m.

Josh - Thanks for supporting Dime Stories, great article! I'm also glad you enjoyed "Buick, baby" i.e. Satan's crotch. I had fun writing/reliving it. Best, Jocelyn


Josh Board Dec. 5, 2009 @ 11:06 a.m.

Joycelyn, The Buick story was great.

I did feel bad I didn't stay to the very end, because I understand Amy read her story near the end. I would've liked to have heard it. I once heard her read a short story about a child that found a finger and brought it to a science fair. It was outstanding.

Although, one thing I did find odd about it all.

Sometimes she would try to "one up" the people that did their stories. Maybe when you're hosting an event, you feel that you have to give the crowd "something" every time you go to the mic.


ReaderRabbit Dec. 9, 2009 @ 1:56 p.m.

I'm with you Josh. I, too, have left that DimeStories event before all the readers were finished. It is excruicatingly painful. For every one decent story read by a writer, there appear to be fifteen that blow with a capital B.

If I ever get cancer and have only one month left to live, I'll attend another DimeStories event, because I'm virtually guaranteed that each new 3 minutes will feel like an eternity.

DimeStories is a place for people who like to hear themselves read, not for people who like good writing!


Josh Board Dec. 10, 2009 @ 12:21 a.m.

I disagree, Rabbit. I've seen these DimeStories three times, and always enjoyed the stories. Sure, one or two might not be great, but 80% of them are.

And, to say that it's people that like to hear themselves read...well, using that logic..what do you think of people singing? Are they singing just to hear the sound of their voice? Especially at karaoke. Why do I need to hear some woman sing Crazy or Endless Love? Just to be impressed with their voice? With their rendition?

People do these things because they enjoy them. And people enjoy hearing them.

And there's something interesting about telling people to write a 3 minute story, and having them share it with the group.


AvenueZ Dec. 10, 2009 @ 3:37 p.m.

ReaderRabbit, I love to go to the readings, even if I have nothing to read. Sure, not every piece tickles my fancy, but they always have wine and cheese, and frequently chocolate -- I'll endure almost anything if chocolate is involved. And I can give any writer who's brave enough to read in front of dozens of strangers the courtesy of 3 minutes of my attention. I'm frequently rewarded with some of the best prose I come across these days, read by some of San Diego's most amusing/engrossing readers. I'd say that's a great way to spend a Friday night.

You might try attending a DimeStories showcase -- I think they're once a quarter now. These stories are hand selected, the best of the best. If I remember correctly, you have to sneak in your own chocolate. But still.



bluenwhitegokart Jan. 1, 2010 @ 3:49 a.m.

I remember back in the day (early '90s) that there was only one open mic in San Diego county (disclaimer: that I knew of). I went to a few, which was no small feat, given that I lived in Vista, and it was somewhere downtown and didn't let out until around 10:00 pm. It's not just hearing the sound of your own voice; it's actually quite cathartic. Reading what you've hopefully put your heart and soul into, putting it out there into the public space, risking having that child you've given birth to meeting with apathy - or beaten with sticks - can be liberating, in an AA 5th step kind of way. Just the act of getting up in front of an audience, more frightening than combat for some of us, facing possible embarrassment and/or rejection, once done, can be a kind of freedom.


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