It’s Not What You Know

“Jenny, never forget that even more important than having talent,” my grandmother once told me, “is knowing talent.”
I hesitantly nodded my head in agreement, not fully understanding what she meant.
She continued, “That way, you can surround yourself with rising stars, wait until they get famous, and ride their coattails to success. Then, at the pinnacle of their careers, you write a crushing tell-all book about them, and laugh all the way to the bank.”
My grandmother grew up during the Depression, so she understood that sometimes you have to do whatever it takes to get by in life, ethics be damned.
With that in mind, I’m excited to give a shout out to one of the most remarkably talented people I know – Jen Benka – and share the details of an upcoming reading she has in New York City.
[Photo by Captain Semantic]
Among so many other things, Jen is an amazing poet and an outstanding performer, and on May 1st she will be reading from her recently published book of poetry, A Box of Longing With Fifty Drawers.
Jen Benka
Monday, May 1, 2006 at 8:00pm
The Poetry Project
St. Mark’s Church
131 East 10th St. (at 2nd Ave.)

In fact, those of you who just met Jen* at TequilaCon also know that she rocks a fake tattoo like nobody’s business, and can hold her own in the face of an overwhelming volume of blog talk, which says a lot.
So – if any of you will be in the NYC area on May 1st, her reading is not to be missed. This may be one of your remaining chances to see her perform before I write my scathing unauthorized biography and she ends up on the front page of The Star where a “close personal friend” reveals that she is the reason for the breakup of Brangelina.
And if you aren’t able to attend, but still want to check out her work, you can pick up a copy of her book here. It will only go up in value once the scandal hits.
An excerpt:

an unsolved mathematical equation:
land plus people divided by people minus land
times ocean times forest times river.
escape and the delusion of discovery:
across the mad ocean to the rocky shore
step foot onto land call it yours.
promised land lemonade stand.
auction block stew pot.
the dreams:
of corn field wheat field tobacco field oil
of iron cage slave trade cotton plantation
of hog farm dairy farm cattle ranch range
of Mississippi Mason-Dixon mountains
of territories salt lake lottery gold
of saw mill steel mill coal mine diamond.
topographic economic
industry and war.
a box of longing
with fifty drawers.


*Occasionally, I like to call her Vivian.

Bobcat Toe Bones, or How I Learned to Love the Worm

Dream Sequence #1

April 23rd 10:00am EST

[rubs eyes]

Oh man. What a crazy dream that was. Everyone was there!

There was Amanda, Ashbloem and Lillet, Barbara, Brandon, Colin, Cupcake and her friends, Curly, Dustin, Elle and her husband, Heather, Jenna and her friend Lulu, Jessica and her friend Leslie, Jill, Kat and her friend David, Michelle and Toby, Sandra, Sarah, even my good pal Vivian was there!

Oh, wow. And in my dream we were getting tattoos. How weird is that?

[looks down at arm]


What the-?

What is that?

[looks closer]


Oh my god!

Is it possible? It is! It happened – it all really happened!

Dream Sequence #2

April 23rd 10:00am EST – my actual dreams as recorded on the back of an envelope by Vivian’s futon.

1. I am drinking beer while sitting on the grass with two neighbors. Don Knotts sits next to me and asks if I have a bottle opener. We chat for a while. He is nice.

2. A blonde woman I’ve never met before gets into my cab. As soon as we get close to my neighborhood, she jumps out of the cab, takes her shirt off, and runs down the street.

3. I adopt two enormous primates – like baboons with gigantic fangs – one of which has no legs. I instantly regret my decision, but feel it’s too late to change my mind.

So what am I trying to say with all this? If these were my actual dreams post-TequilaCon, do you have any idea how fun that evening must have been? Let me begin:

Chapter One: The Preparation
I arrived in New York on Thursday night with a full schedule planned for Friday. My friend Vivian and I met up in the West Village with Jessica and her friend Leslie. From there, it was lunch, and a casual stroll through the area. Jess had never been to New York, so Viv was playing tour guide. We walked through the Village, Chinatown, Little Italy, SoHo. While in SoHo, we passed a store with skulls and dead animals and hides in the window, so of course we had to stop.

We went in and found bin after bin of bizarre items like dried puffer fish with pasted on googly eyes, artificial sharks teeth, and of course, bobcat toe bones for $3 each.

[Sidebar: I am seriously considering either changing the name of my blog to Bobcat Toe Bones, or starting a band by the same name.]

Just as we were leaving, we spotted a rack of suckers (I was later viciously ridiculed by the East Coasters for calling them suckers. “They’re lollipops!” they all screamed! To that I say, who are you people, Alfalfa and the Little Rascals Gang? “Well, gee Miss Crabtree, I brought you this lollipop ‘cause you’re my favorite teacher!” No wait – maybe you’re Willy Wonka? “I want a snozzberry lollipop and I want it right now!” I say it’s a sucker.)


Never one to pass up candy, I grabbed a couple, soon realizing that they were special “lollipops” – ones with bugs inside! There were crickets, and scorpions, and of course… tequila flavored suckers with an actual worm inside. YES! Icebreaker #1 complete! Jess and I bought a handful of them and headed out.

Earlier in the week, I had sent an email to Vivian that said simply: I need to find a store that sells temporary tattoos. I’m not exactly sure how or why, but Vivian knew exactly where to go – the stripper store. Just past the rack of CD’s like “Music to Strip By,” and “Sweet Sounds of Lap Dance,” she found a huge rack of temporary tattoos. I grabbed an assortment of fun and badass tatts and off we went. Icebreaker #2 complete! Now I would have a reason to manhandle every single blogger in the room – yes!
Chapter Two: The Worm Has Turned

Viv and I headed to Stout around 7:00pm and immediately ran into Brandon, Kat, her friend David, and Jill. They had scoped the place out and were on blogger lookout. After discovering that there was an amazing almost private room in the basement, we relocated to the lower level and staked our claim.

Bloggers began filing in and the party started going full force. I could tell this group needed no icebreakers, as the stories and drinks were flowing freely. At one point, I saw a man in a suit and tie sit down and I thought, “I don’t recognize him. Did I hire a consultant? I totally don’t remember doing that.” But then I heard someone say, “Hey – it’s Dustin!” and all was well. Brandon was a bit upset about the delicate 10:1 female to male ratio being disturbed, but seemed to recover quickly.


[Dustin, me, Brandon]

As I tried desperately to meet all the people who were there, I realized that it was probably time to bring out the props. I whipped out the bag of tequila-pops and set one down on each table. Assuming they would sit there merely as a conversation piece, I started to walk away from one of the tables when I heard the alarming crinkle of plastic. It was Michelle’s husband, Toby. My god – he’s really going to try it, isn’t he?


[Michelle and Toby]

Once I overcame my initial shock, and calmed down my stomach after Michelle’s description that, “It smells just like smoked Gouda cheese,” I felt a challenge coming on.
How many licks would it take to get to the wormi-roll center of a wormi-pop? We would soon find out.

Having never met Michelle or Toby before, I thought it might impress them if I pretended to bite into the sucker. Unfortunately, the tequila-pop I had selected had a worm very close to the surface, so pieces of dried worm flaked off into my mouth. I freaked out.


Since the flavor of the candy was unbearable, we decided to just see who could dissolve theirs first in a cup of water. Again, I was defeated as Toby proudly displayed the full wormage of his tequilapop. I tossed my sucker aside and ordered another beer.


Chapter Three: Tattoo You

Once the novelty of the worm pops had worn off, I looked over at Vivian and said, “Is it time for tattoos yet?”

She checked her watch and gave me the thumbs up. I pulled out another bag with the stripper tattoos and set up shop. It was a high class operation, involving alcohol wipes,


… precise timing,


[Kat, David]

… and a very steady hand.


Soon enough, this mild mannered group of bloggers turned into inked up bad asses.



The whole attitude of the evening changed at that point – people started doing shots,

[Brandon, Kat, Colin, me, Ashbloem]

… eating like savages,


… and pawing at each other like wild animals.


[Jessica, Colin]

It was an out of control orgy with no regard for consequences… exactly what I had always dreamed it would be.

For me, the signal to the end of the evening was the bartender’s cry of last call, followed by the crashing of glass on the floor. Vivian and I cleared out our tab, said goodbye to the few die-hards who were heading next door to another bar, and hopped in a cab. During the ride home, my hand traced the tattoo on my arm, a temporary reminder of an unforgettable evening.

And all kidding aside, it was a spectacular night, I met some outstanding and talented people, and I can’t wait to do this all over again! And a special thanks to my friend Maggie for recommending Stout – it was a perfect location, and that basement bar is the best kept secret in New York… oh wait. Not so much anymore…

If you haven’t had enough, there are more photos here, and for a fair and balanced account of the evening, check out the sites of some of the other attendees above. I’m sure there will be many more stories to come!

TequilaCon ’06…

…has come to an end.


I Get Allergic Smelling Hay

Okay, just finishing up my packing for TequilaCon. Do I have everything?

Let me just make sure:

– Black sequined tube top
– Camouflage Daisy Dukes
– Platform wedges
– Heart shaped purple sunglasses
– Binaca
– Ibuprofen

I think I should be set!

Well, I can’t even express how excited I am to be heading off to New York for the weekend. Old friends, new friends, lots of blog talk, and perhaps one or two arrests.

For those of you who aren’t able to make it, you will be sorely missed. But if TequilaCon ’05 is any indication, Brandon and I will talk about all of you at least once during the evening, but only with complete love and affection.

So start saving now for TequilaCon ’07, because next year, there will be no excuses. You know who you are.

All right, now there’s just enough time to clean the litter box, drop bills in the mail, and gather up my whore eyes kit. Stay tuned for photos and stories!

Here’s where we’ll be – hope to see you all there!
Stout NYC
7:00pm – ?
133 W. 33rd St., New York, NY
Between Sixth and Seventh Aves.

Nostalgia: The Discovery

“Don’t forget to take all your junk by the laundry room,” my mother yelled, just as I started to pack my things in the car.

As is our holiday tradition, at the end of each festive celebration, I am forced to take back trunkloads of things I have been storing in my parents’ house for decades.

At Christmas, it was boxfuls of old photos and yearbooks, and a vegetable steamer that still remains in my trunk. This Easter, it was my Jack LaLanne Power Juicer with booklets containing over 100 heart-healthy recipes, and a large cardboard box labeled in blue permanent marker: Jenny – Nostalgia.

I set the box on the island in my mother’s kitchen and gently lifted the lid, the dried masking tape snapping off in the middle with a puff of dust. Immediately, I was struck by the smell. It was the earthy scent of old paper and velvet ribbons, the smell of the back aisles of a thrift store where they keep all the musty books and record albums.

For over an hour, my mother and I sifted through old awards and citizenship certificates, elementary school homework and creative writing exercises. Without thinking, I started making little piles of certain items and pushing others to the side.

“You’re going to write about those, aren’t you?”


Through this brief journey to self-discovery, I remembered how much I enjoyed telling stories and drawing pictures as a child. My first true novella, which I shall share with you someday, was aptly titled, “The Bird.” I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I can tell you that it involved love, mystery, fear, abandonment, and fierce loyalty. And squirrels.

But to begin, I would like to provide a glimpse into the difficult family life that shaped me into the woman I am today. I don’t talk much about him, but I have an older brother, Matt.


Digging through the archives of my youth brought a lot of memories to the surface.

Fortunately, I documented most of them, with illustrations.

This first piece, entitled “Matt the Greedy,” was created in December 1977, when I was six and a half and he was nine. My mother had given us a carton of malted milk balls to share. I’ll let the drawing explain the rest.


As you can see from my detailed drawing, my brother has hoarded almost all the malted milk balls, leaving me with only one. He is smiling with eyes closed, like the contented cat that swallowed the canary. I, on the other hand, am featuring a prominent frown and sad eyes.

I’m sure some people may take pity on my brother, given that he has such a deformed club arm, but even with his disability he had no trouble gathering up all the malted milk balls and leaving me with but one.


As I grew older, I learned to express my anger and frustration by writing scathing and poignantly crafted letters, taping them to my brother’s bedroom door, then knocking and running away. Below is one of my finer works from this period – circa 1978.


Yes, open it up, won’t you, Mr. X-brother?

[click to enlarge]

Zing! Touché! Indeed, the pen IS mightier than the sword!

Surprisingly, my wicked words did not break his spirit, and eventually he grew up to be a doctor. Though the memory still stings, slowly but surely, through the years, he has been able to repay my malted milk ball debt in free eye exams and a standing offer of a 10% family discount on Lasik surgery.

And Now, A Message From Sally Struthers

For less than the cost of a cup of coffee a day, you could help Mr. Lionel Richie get the prosthetic arms and legs he needs so that he can live a normal cat life. Won’t you please open your hearts and your wallets?
Miss Dionne Warwick, however, is a lost cause. You really have to want to be helped.

God Grant Me the Serenity

Addiction, thy name is ringtone.

Boogie Nights

It was Friday following a long workweek, and after a casual dinner in the neighborhood, Natasha and I decided to get one quick drink before calling it a night. We stopped at a local bar we used to go to, because with its diverse crowd and good dance music, it was always good fun.
As we walked in and our eyes adjusted to the soft lighting, it became apparent that the once diverse crowd had shifted to an almost exclusively gay male one. What also became apparent was that the dance floor had been converted to a stage. And on that stage were scantily-clad male dancers.
“Uh, Nat?”
“Yeah. I know. ”
“No, but are you aware that-”
“Kind of hard to miss, Jen.”
“Holy crap!”
It’s difficult for me to write these next words, so I will try to be delicate. You see, although I won’t be coy and pretend that I have never seen a male exotic dancer before, I just had never… Here’s the thing. It was very apparent to me, and everyone in the bar, that the dancers were enjoying their work. I mean, that their work was making them happy. What I’m trying to say is that these men enjoyed dancing very much, and it showed. And we shall never speak of this again.
“Nat! You can’t leave me here!”
“Jenny – seriously, I have to pee. It’s a one-person bathroom – what do you expect me to do?”
“Fine. Go. But make it quick!”
Trying to appear as though I had a purpose other than leering at the twenty-something man on stage dancing to the pounding techno beats, I ordered a scotch that I neither wanted nor needed.
Natasha joined me at the bar a few minutes later, and wisely brushed off the bartender when he asked her what she wanted.
“Okay, let’s get out of here now.”
“But, I just ordered a scotch.”
“So drink it and let’s get out of here.”
“What the hell are we doing here?”
“Look, Jenny, we didn’t know. We couldn’t know. How could we know?”
“We couldn’t.”
I took a sip of my drink, turned back toward the stage and said, “He really is incredibly attractive, though.”
“Yeah, but is he even old enough to be in here?”
“God, I feel like a letch.”
“You are.”
“Shut up – you’re a letch, too, then.”
“I just needed the bathroom. You’re all bellying up to the bar watching strippers.”
“I don’t see you leaving.”
As the dancer gathered up his tips and stepped off stage, he flashed us a smile. Sensing what was about to happen next, I grabbed Nat’s arm and told her to look like we were deep in a serious conversation. It didn’t work.
“Hello, lyadies. How are you doink tonight?”
My expert linguistic skills told me that the handsome young entertainer was Russian. He was still in his tiny Speedo when he sidled up to Natasha and me, and put his arms around us.
I burned Nat a wide-eyed stare and said, “Uh, fine. We’re fine. And you?”
“Vyery good. I see you girls comink here before? What’s your names? I’m Nikolai.”
In stressful situations like this, it is at exactly this moment when Natasha’s survival instincts typically kick in. Sometimes she just slyly walks away, but often, she creates a distraction with a prop of some sort. Once, after accidentally spilling wine all over the table of people next to us in a restaurant, she grabbed our friend Dee-Dee’s glasses and put them on before turning around to ask our wine-soaked neighbors, “Oh, sorry! Did I get ya?”
What the hell did you do that for?
I needed a disguise.

This time, it was my scotch. Just as Nikolai’s hand settled on my shoulder, I felt my drink being ripped from my grasp. Natasha grabbed my scotch and stretched across the bar to get another straw. Then, like an alcoholic possum, she remained motionless at the bar, a white-knuckled grip on the glass.
“Hi, I’m Jenny and that’s Natasha. Yeah, um, we’ve been here before but not with… not with the dancing. Is this new?”
“Uh, I think maybe ees new. I’m dancing here Friday night for last few weeks.”
“Okay, well, uh… that’s cool. It was nice to meet you, Nikolai.”
And with that, he walked off to chat with a rowdy table of men toward the back of the bar just as another dancer was getting ready to go on stage. The next dancer strutted in wearing white fur chaps, a white fur vest, and a cowboy hat. He carried a toy horse with him.
“Dear god, we’re in trouble. And yet, part of me so wishes I had a camera right now.”
Nat’s eyes lit up, “I have a camera!”
“You’re kidding! Ohmigod – you totally need to take a picture! No wait – you can’t take a picture! Do not take a picture. No. Wait. You have to take a picture. But don’t make a scene – turn off the flash.”
As the dancer galloped around the stage on his toy horse, I watched carefully, waiting for just the right pose. “You have to be discreet about it. Okay, do it now. Go!”
Natasha is a woman of innumerable talents, but discretion is not one of them. She held the camera at arms length in front of her and about six inches above her head, looked away, and then snapped a shot.
I was horrified as I saw a red beam shine directly on the cowboy’s face, at which point he stopped dancing, turned to Natasha and smiled.
“Oh shit. Shit. He looked right at me.”
“He did? Oh crap. Oh. Okay. Grab your coat – we gotta go. We gotta go now!”
Natasha fumbled to put her camera away, and just as I was about to grab my coat, I stopped. “Wait, Nat. You can’t just take his picture and leave. He posed for you. You need to give him a tip.”
No way!
“Seriously, Nat. Give him a dollar!”
“You have to.”
“Nat, you took a picture of a stripper and he smiled for you. Give him a dollar!”
“I said no!”
“Okay, look. I’ll give you the dollar. Just take this dollar and go give it to him.”
“Jenny, no.”
“Natasha Louise! You are going to take this dollar, and you’re going to get up there, and you’re going to put it in that man’s underwear right now!”
“No! And that’s not even my middle name.”
“It isn’t? Well, it should be. What’s your problem, anyway?”
“I don’t… I don’t know how.”
“What do you mean you don’t know how? You just go up there and stick the dollar in his pants.”
“Have you even been paying attention? That is not at all what’s happening up there, Jenny. People are pulling the dancers’ underwear out like a cash drawer and stuffing the money inside. We’re talking full frontal view. I mean, what the hell kind of elastic do they even have on their underwear here?”
“They’re special stripper underwear, I guess. Okay, here’s the deal. I’ll give you five dollars, plus the one dollar if you just put this dollar in his pants. Just hand it to him.”
“I’m not doing it!”
Suddenly, Natasha grabbed the wad of bills from my hand and held it over her head, much like she had held the camera that had caused this whole problem in the first place.
“Christ, would you stop waving that money around? Give it back! What’s wrong with you?”
As if on cue, Nikolai bee-lined over to Natasha and her fistful of dollars.
“Oh shit, Nat. Put the money away. Put it away! He’s coming over here!”
At that point, Natasha shoved the money down the front of my shirt, grabbed my drink again, and stared at the bar with roadkill eyes. After quickly retrieving the bills from my bra, I exchanged a few more pleasantries with Nikolai, but he left abruptly once he could see what cheap bastards we were. As soon as he left, I whacked Nat on the shoulder and grabbed my coat.
“Nice frickin’ move, Nat. Here’s an idea – why don’t you take some more pictures of strippers, not tip them, and then wave a wad of cash around like you’re Dean Martin? Let’s go.”
“We can never come back here.”
“No kidding. Except maybe sometime on a Friday.”

External Monologue

“I don’t think it’s a big deal at all.”
“No, it’s not a big deal. Not a big deal at all.”
“I think he was making it out to be a big deal.”
“Well, it wasn’t. Wasn’t a big deal so I don’t know why he was making such a big deal about it.”
“I think I’m done. We’re done, right?”
“I’m done.”
[sings] “Halle, halle, hallelujah. Halle, halle, hallelujah. Halle, halle, hallelujah. Halle, hallelujah!”
“I always liked that song.”
“I like that song a lot.”
“Does the bathroom in here work?”
“I don’t know if the bathroom in here is working.”
“Is it working?”
“If the bathroom isn’t working, we’ll just go straight home.”
“I don’t know if it’s working. We should ask if it’s working.”
“If it isn’t, we’ll just go home, all right?”
I often wish I were better about cooking dinner at home. It would be so much healthier, and I’d certainly save money. But if I didn’t go out every now and then to enjoy a hamburger sandwich at a diner with my fellow Chicagoans, how would I ever witness the above conversation, which occurred between a 40-ish man… and himself?

Next Week on Run Jen Run

“Okay, do it now. Go!”
“Oh shit. Shit. He looked right at me.”
“He did? Oh crap. Oh. Okay. Grab your coat – we gotta go. We gotta go now!
“We can never come back here.”