french countryside

19 March 2015. Dijon, France

I was looking over a wide assortment of pastries behind curved glass when the barista said, “Bonjour.”

I was in the train station in Dijon, about to take a train to Geneva, and was looking for a delicious way to start off my day. I had been practicing for this moment for the last 15 minutes.

I was in France and was ready to try using French. Partly because I was hoping I had learn something on this trip and partly because I didn’t want to get another rude response back.

In both France and Italy I had experienced a little bit of frustration whenever I would ask, “Do you speak English?” People would begrudgingly respond, “A little bit,” or, “Yes,” or, “If I have to.”

I know it’s a stereotype for Americans to come to Europe and be mad that people don’t speak American, but I had tried to be nice in all of my encounters. But I wanted to try so I told myself I was going to make the attempt to speak in French.

I figured something as simple as a transaction, such as this, I could actually pull off.

After the barista started with, “Bonjour,” I responded with “Je voudrais pain au chocolate et de l’eau.” Phonetically, the way I said it, was “Jay voo dras pawn ah choc-o-lat et de lay ooh.”

The barista smiled and replied, “Your French is very good.” And for a split second I thought, “Wow, it is really good because I understood that!” And then realized she said it in English and was making fun of me.

I smiled and said, “Merci.”

While she got my food, I realized that your French has to be really, really bad if, when you speak French, they respond to you in English because they’d rather have to speak English than hear you butcher their language.

Truth be told, I wasn’t that upset. I had practiced my French like I wanted to, I got my pain au chocolat, and I had discovered an effective way to get French people to willingly speak in English to me. Not bad for a single transaction.

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darkened alley

14 March 2015. Monza, Italy
Read Kidnapped in Italy? Part 1.

Paola lived at an apartment complex off a side street in Monza. The door was inset 3 or 4 feet from the sidewalk, giant slabs of concrete the color of carbon copy paper holding the whole thing up.

I walked to the front door of the complex and took out the key that she had made specifically for me just earlier that day. She normally didn’t have a spare set but she thought it was about time to get keys made for when she had guests over.

I tried the first key and it didn’t even fit into the lock. Naturally I wasn’t going to get the right key on the first try, so I tried the second.

This one fit but did not turn the handle at all; it wasn’t like it was getting caught, it just didn’t work. I tried both of the keys again but to no avail.

On the outside, I tried to stay calm and collected. On the inside, I started to freak out a little bit more. It was now close to 02:00, and Paola or not, without a way to get into her apartment complex, I was left on the streets of Monza during the witching hours. And given that it was Europe, they might have actually had witches.

So I sent Paola yet another message to say I was locked out. Yet again, sent, delivered, unread.

As I stood befuddled with her keys in my hand, I noticed the apartment listing board on the left side, containing the names and apartment numbers of the tenants who lived there. The board was filled with Italian last names so it read more like a menu in Little Italy than it did a listing of people who lived there. There were buttons next to each name that you could ring so they could let you in.

Paola’s last name wasn’t on the list.

At this point I would have thought surely I had gone insane, but fortunately, the night before, Paola had shared a story about the board.

She told me about how she had moved in not too long ago and she had realized that her name wasn’t included on the listing. A few days prior, she and her mom had done a test to find out which buzzer was her’s. They had gone through and buzzed every single door to find out which one buzzed her apartment.

She had found out which one it was, one of the ones on the right side, somewhere in the middle. She had put her name on top of it using a sticky note. The next day, the note had been taken down and she had learned that it was the buzzer to the super’s room but one that she could hear ring in her own apartment.

I remembered the story and remembered approximately where she had pointed, but not exactly which button, so I was going to have to guess. I knew it was 2:00 in the morning and I was likely to wake up a few unhappy neighbors, but I didn’t really have any other options.

I prepared myself knowing that I may have to speak Italian. I don’t really know any Italian but I did remember that Paola had told me that that “prego” basically means everything polite: please, thank you, sorry, etc.

I decided that if I got the wrong person, I’d just say “prego” and move on. I took my first guess and pressed the third buzzer down from the top. There was no response. I buzzed it again, still no response.

So I tried the second button down and there was a long pause. I started to press the button again when a woman’s voice came on that was definitely not Paola (it was much older and very tired sounding). The voice startled me and in my nervousness, instead of saying “prego,” I said the other ‘p’ word I associate with Italy: “Parmesano.”

There was silence on the other side and I decided not to say anything else and just moved on.

I tried the fourth button down. After 20 seconds or so I heard a man’s voice say “ciao” or something, I didn’t know, he said something in Italian and I was nervous.

Realizing that I’m an idiot and can’t speak any Italian, I replied in English, “I am locked out. I am staying with Paola and I’m locked out of the front.” He said something else in Italian, so I tried again, this time even dumber, “Paola, friend, here to see her. Locked out.”

It’s at that moment that I got a buzz on my phone. I took a look and saw that my messages had been read on WhatsApp and I had just received a message from Paola that just said “Wait a secondl.”

At this point I felt a bit relieved. Paola was now up and she hadn’t been in a car crash, kidnapped, or otherwise killed.

Of course it was 2:00 in the morning, I was tired and had been working myself up the whole time about possibilities of what happened, so my ridiculous possibilities weren’t yet completely exhausted.

“What if it’s not just Paola? What if there are kidnappers that are back at her place and I’ve now woken them up and the guy that was on the buzzer is one of them and now they’re going to come and get me as well.”

I decided to take a couple steps back from the door, thinking that if someone opened the door and it wasn’t Paola, I could just take off running.

I still didn’t know what the gun laws were in Italy but I hoped they didn’t have a gun and, at worse, had a knife and that’ was something I could run away from.

I heard someone on the other side of the door, so I took a few more steps back to the point that I was standing in the middle of the street, ten feet back from the door as it opened.

On the other side was Paola with clearly disheveled hair and grogginess in her eyes.

“Drew I am so sorry. I fell asleep.”

I peaked behind her to make sure there was no one standing behind in the hallway making her talk. The hallway was empty.

“Oh it’s no problem. It’s fine,” I replied as I walked toward the building. “How did you wake up?”

“The buzzer I guess, I don’t know, I guess it works for both my apartment and my super’s apartment. I heard the buzzer and woke up and checked my phone and saw all of your messages and I’m so sorry. I wasn’t feeling well so I laid down to take a nap and then slept through my alarm.”

“It’s OK,” I said as I walked slightly on heightened pins and needles until we got back to our apartment, just making sure that again, there was no one there waiting for us.

We got to her apartment which was as it had been when I left earlier that day: no kidnappers in (or out of) sight.

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darkened alley

14 March 2015. Milan, Italy

A few days after my getting murdered scare (and by “getting murdered scare” I mean “me being an idiot”), I found myself at Teatro EDI Barrio’s, south of the Milan capital.

I had just finished watching an improv show which had been a lot of fun. It was entirely in Italian, which I know very little of, but I was still able to get a general sense of what was going on based on years of experience seeing and performing improv.

They had a second show that evening I wanted to see since it was going to be short-form improv, but the trains in Milan only run until midnight and I didn’t want to get caught an hour away from where I was staying in Monza with no real way of getting home.

Because of the weirdness of the trains late at night, Paola told me to get to Sesto station where she’d pick me up and drive the rest of the way. So I sent Paola a message on WhatsApp to say I was leaving, and then left the theater to catch a bus to get to the subway station to take a subway to get to Milano Centrale to take to a train to get to Sesto where Paola was going to pick me up.

If you’ve never used WhatsApp it’s a phenomenal app. It’s basically like text messaging but you can text any person in the world, regardless of where they are, with no fees. It’s also different in that it gives you three levels of notifications for each text you send: when it has been successfully sent to their server, when it has been successfully delivered to the recipient’s phone, and when it has been read by the recipient.

I completed my various transfers and was on the final train to Sesto when I decided to see where I should meet Paola when I arrived. I sent off the WhatsApp message and saw that it had been sent and delivered, but not read. The same was true of my previous message.

I thought little of it, assuming she was driving to the train station to meet me and was being a good driver by not texting and driving.

I arrived at the station just after midnight and sent Paola a third message to say I had arrived. Like the previous two, they were sent and delivered, but not read.

I thought maybe her phone had died and that she might already be there but just unable to communicate, so I walked around trying to guess what kind of car she drove. After about 10 minutes of creepily staring into strangers’ car windows, I decided she wasn’t there.

I started to worry a little bit about how I was going to get home. I pulled out my phone and entered Paola’s address thinking maybe I could walk to her place. Distance: 8.1km. Being a typical American, I had no idea what that was in freedom units, but according to Google Maps it was a 90 minute walk. In a foreign country. At 00:15 in the morning.

I looked around to think about what to do when I noticed the train board. I thought all the trains stopped running after midnight but there was one last train from my location to the Monza, Italy stop, which was only five minutes away from Paola’s place.

The only problem was that it wasn’t going to arrive for another 35 minutes, but given the alternatives, it didn’t seem so bad.

I sent Paola another message just to see if she was on her way, but also to let her know that I had found a train I could take instead. Sent, delivered, unread.

I had to wait. While I waited, a couple of things happened.

First, I saw an Italian couple get into a pretty heated argument. They were arguing very loudly in Italian, gesturing violently, and at one point I was fearful that one might start hitting the other.

They moved around while arguing, taking turns leading in a potentially dangerous tango of domestic violence. As they moved from the parking lot to the waiting area to the parking lot again, all of the other patrons would casually move away.

The whole thing seemed pretty intense but no one else seemed to be bothered. And to be fair, I don’t speak any Italian, so it’s possible that they were just having a normal conversation and speaking with their hands. A lot.

Eventually they went away and that’s when the second thing happened: I started to think.

The whole thing seemed a bit worrisome, so I worried some.

A number of thoughts started to go through my head because, aside from the getting murdered scare, which again was all in my own head, Paola was incredibly nice, sweet, very accommodating, and not one to just leave me stranded at a train station with no message.

I started to think through the possible scenarios of what could have happened.

The most logical explanation was that she probably fell asleep and didn’t hear her phone buzzing. That’s almost certainly what happened.

And yet… there were other possibilities. None of them good and none of them things I was happy that I thought about.

Ridiculous Possibility #1 was that she hadn’t gotten into a car accident. She didn’t drive a lot because she didn’t own a car; she had a bike that she used instead and tried to rely on public transportation. She had her sister’s car for errands that she was running that day and had agreed to pick me up because she thought it would make things easier.

It was possible that she wasn’t used to driving and my texting had caused her to get distracted and she had run into a pole and was crumpled behind a wheel somewhere.

Morbid I know but it got worse.

Ridiculous Possibility #2 was that she was kidnapped. I don’t know what it is about my paranoia with being violent crime in Italy, maybe I saw Taken and confused Paris with Milan, but I thought maybe she was out walking alone and was kidnapped and that’s why she wasn’t able to answer.

Ridiculous Possibility #3 was that she had a pulmonary embolism and was in a hospital or dead.

Of course they were awful possibilities, and again, I was 99.9% sure that she just fell asleep.

But, of that .1% of the other three options that remained, as morbid as it was, I hoped that it was the pulmonary embolism.

My twisted thinking being: if she was driving along and my text had caused her to crash, I would be at fault, which is terrible of course for her, but also not great for me and my conscience.

But the worst case scenario would be if she was kidnapped because the kidnappers would see on her phone that someone had been texting her and was expecting to come over, and they’d have to come after me to clean up loose ends. And I don’t have a certain set of skills like Liam Neeson.

All highly illogical things but when it’s midnight in a country where you don’t speak the language and you’re waiting for a train, you think about a lot.

Eventually the train came and I got on, took it to the Monza stop, got off, and sent Paola another message to let her know that I’d gotten off of the train and that all was OK. Or so I thought.

Continue to Part 2 >>

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royal villa monza italy

13 March 2015. Monza, Italy

The sun had finished it’s job for the day as the night sky overtook Monza.

Paola and I were walking along the Royal Villa of Monza, an enormous building that once served as the home of the royal family of Savoia. That is until King Humbert I was murdered there.

Paola had offered to give me a tour of the Italian city while we waited for her sister and her friend to meet us for dinner a little later on. We were going for pizza, the Italian staple, as I wanted to see how it compared to what I knew to be pizza based on my experiences in New York and Chicago.

As we rounded the corner of the Royal Villa we took a right. Along our left was a nice lighted path, so cool that I had decided to take a picture.

A Lighted Path

Around that time, as I stopped to get out my phone to snap the image, Paola got a phone call. She picked up and “ciao’d,” as they do in Italy, and started speaking in Italian. Finishing my picture, I started to walk down the path of the lights when Paola motioned over to me.

It seemed we weren’t going to be taking the lighted path I had snapped a photo of, but rather we were going further to our right, into a lightly forested area. That lightly forested area quickly became a heavily forested area, with the tree branches above obstructing any lights coming from the night sky.

Before long, it was pitch dark and I couldn’t see anything.

I’ve never been much of a fan of the dark. I blame my two older brothers, one who made me watch scary movies like It and Candyman at far too young of an age. The other who used to “prank” me by jumping out at me. I’m not entirely sure where a “prank” becomes psychological warfare, but when you’re 8 years old, the two seem pretty interchangeable.

Paola and I continued to walk towards the black and I started to get just a little teensy bit nervous. There was, of course, no real reason to be nervous at all. I mean, I knew Paola.

If I was there with a stranger at this point, I probably would have freaked out, considering she was on the phone next to me speaking in a language I didn’t understand, in a country I’ve never been, heading into the darkness of a forest.

But Paola was someone I knew. She was the ex-girlfriend of a friend of mine. She had lived in New York for a while. I had hung out with her on a number of occasions. She’s actually one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She was the person I was staying with while I was in the Milan area. She’d offered to take me on this tour…

We continued walking and my heart started beating a little bit faster. With each step we took, we were getting a little further into what I was starting to assume was a murder forest.

Paola, unaware of my increasing heartbeat, continued to talk on her phone, and the paranoia started to slowly set in.

Wait, did she get a phone call or did she call someone?

Initial thoughts of “This isn’t safe for either of us” turned into, “Maybe this just isn’t safe for me.

Maybe she’s on the phone with Italian hitmen who are planning on shooting me (or stabbing me, depending on how strict Italian gun laws are), and stealing my kidneys.

It was completely irrational, of course… Or was it? Had the breakup between Paola and my friend not gone that well. Was this a long seeded plan for revenge? Or was this an anti-American thing?

It was my first day in Italy, the first time I had ever been, and I was fairly certain that Italians didn’t really care one way or another about Americans. But maybe they weren’t over World War II or had been offended by the success of The Italian Job.

We continued to walk further into the darkness, my heart racing faster than Usain Bolt. I was moments away from turning around and running when Paola wrapped up her phone call.

“Oh, that was my sister. She’s going to be a few minutes late so we can walk a little bit further,” she said, as we made a right down a moonlit path.

In front of us was a clearing and within a few seconds, I realized that we were just on the backside of the palace.

“On this side, you can see there’s a restaurant in here,” Paola continued, pointing. “You can kind of look through the windows. It’s kind of cool. But this my favorite view of the palace, from the back. Anyway, what were we talking about before?”

And just like that, everything seemed normal again. We were no longer in murder forest and Paola was no longer a potential kidney-harvester.

We picked up our conversation where we had left off: on her possibly wanting to live in an RV for awhile because then she could drive to wherever she wanted and sleep.

After all that worrying, I wasn’t murdered in Italy. But I might get kidnapped

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11 March 2015. Geneva, Switzerland

I looked out over the empty row of seats. The lights were down, and the title of my presentation displayed on the screen in big, bold, blue letters, “The Humor Mindset.”

I had just finished a technical run through for a talk I was giving tomorrow, as part of an internal TEDx event at Procter & Gamble in Geneva.

Meeting the Speakers (Round 1)

I started to walk off stage, and handed the clicker to Kevin, the next presenter doing their walk-through.

Kevin and I chatted as the tech people swapped out presentations and had a couple of laughs. He found out that I did stand up and improv comedy, and said, “Oh, I could never do that. It’s so nerve wracking.”

“It’s something you get used to once you do it a lot,” I responded and didn’t think anything of it. We finished our conversation, and I headed towards the back of the room as Kevin started to click through his slides, getting used to the microphone.

On my way back, I ran into Luvuyo, another speaker on the event the next day. We chatted about our excitement for the talks and how we were happy to have arrived traveling in from far distances.

I headed to the back of the room, where I chatted with Derek, another speaker, one who I had shared the car ride over from the hotel. I remember when we had gotten to the office, we had to go down one floor and could either take a flight of stairs or an elevator.

Derek had a small carry on with him, so I had joked that with him and his suitcase, we’d better take the elevator rather than the stairs.

All normal conversation among speakers before a big event.

Meeting the Speakers (Round 2)

Later that evening I returned to my hotel room. I wanted to run through my presentation a few more times before heading off to dreamland. But before the rehearsing I decided to do a quick check on emails from the day.

The email sitting atop my inbox was from Gaby, one of the organizers of the event. It included the list of speakers and their bios. As I read through each one, I thought back to my encounters that day.

Kevin Richardson

Kevin, who I had talked to after my tech rehearsal, was Kevin Richardson, also known as the Lion Whisperer. If you’ve ever seen the video of the man getting hugged by the lion, that’s Kevin Richardson. He helps raise lions starting while they’re young and they treat him as one of the pride.

I thought back to our conversation, about how he said stand up and improv comedy was scary. I thought to myself, “This is coming from a guy who lives with lions.”

Luvoyo Mandela

Luvuyo, who I had talked to on my way back, was Luvuyo Mandela, of the Mandela family, the great grandson of Nelson Mandela.

He’s working to develop responsible, manageable and sustainable interventions to enhance corporate social responsibility solutions (among many other incredible things) in South Africa.

The man who I had joked with about traveling a far distance had come nearly twice as far as me and was a Mandela (South Africa’s version of the Kennedys).

Derek Redmond

Derek, the one who I had ridden over with and had joked probably needed to take the elevator because he had a bag, was Derek Redmond, former Olympic athlete.

Specifically he’s the Olympian who pulled his hamstring in the 1992 Olympics in the middle of a race. And, if you’ve seen the video, you know that he gets up to finish the race on one good leg and his dad comes down to help him across the finish line.

He’s since gone on to play for the international basketball team for Great Britain, win Celebrity Gladiators, and more.

Meeting Them As Humans

I sat in my hotel room, surprised and humbled. Here I was, just a guy from Ohio, talking about humor, sharing the stage with the Lion Whisperer, political royalty, and an Olympic athlete.

First, I thought, “Wow. I’m really happy that I met them first, before reading about who they were, because I had a chance to treat them like actual people, like they actually are. We joked, I wasn’t in my head about what I was going to say, and we connected as humans.”

My second thought was, “I wonder how much of an idiot they think that I am. I had ‘re-assured’ Kevin that stand-up isn’t that scary. I had talked with Luvuyo about having a long flight. And I had joked with Derek about not being physically able to take a flight of stairs.”

The next day we had a phenomenal event. All of the speakers (not just those listed here) had incredible stories to share. I mentioned at dinner how I was happy that I met everyone before I saw their bios, so I could meet them as people and not as their resumes, and they agreed. We shared recaps of our day and what we had learned. Then we all ate fondue.

speaker dinner

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best tweets 2014

2014 was a slow year for me Twitter-wise, with only 123 tweets (down from 323 tweets last year). On a positive note, Twitter now shares more statistics, so I know those 123 tweets led to 25,535 impressions, 59 retweets, and 70 favorites.

Here are my top 20 tweets from 2014:

Of course if you want these nuggets of wisdom puns in real-time, follow me on twitter @drewtarvin.

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performance review 2013

For the third year in a row, one of my goals was to perform at least 100 times. Last year I hit 133 performances, the year before 119. This year it was 102.

Here are some stats regarding the performances:

  • 54% of shows were shortform improv, 5% of shows were traditional longform improv, 23% were musical improv, and 17% were stand-up.
  • I had 14 shows in July (my busiest month) and only 4 shows in September. I averaged just 8.5 shows per month (3 less shows per month than last year).
  • I performed for approximately 6,100 people in 2013, including 1200 people at the Gilda Club benefit and 5 at an early ComedySportz show.

And finally, a show breakdown by team:

  • ComedySportz – 56
  • Mint Condition – 23
  • Stand-Up – 17
  • Other – 6

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best tweets 2013

Ignoring retweets and direct messages, I tweeted 323 times in 2013. 99% of those tweets were puns. Here are my 20 favorites from the last year:

  1. Composers are unsung heroes of music.
  2. I bet Ford Mustangs get stolen a lot. It makes sense for a muscle car to get jacked.
  3. In highschool I was like butter on bread because I was honor roll.
  4. When deciding between a life of poetry or a life of crime, you have to weigh the prose versus the cons.
  5. Yo momma so FAT her max file size is 4gb.
  6. I got kidnapped because I was too lazy to try to get away. If only I had ran some.
  7. If I perfected cloning, I would be beside myself.
  8. I overcharged a man for a fishing rod that I claimed was magic. He bought it hook, line, and sinker.
  9. “Does this abacus work?” “I wouldn’t count on it.”
  10. I’m so hip, old people break me.
  11. Age before beauty, alphabetically speaking.
  12. I can’t believe I didn’t win that essay contest; I’m at a loss for words.
  13. I can’t stand when my legs fall asleep.
  14. Do you buy used prosthetics from a second hand store?
  15. A girl called me at 3am last night, drunk, wanting to go look for treasure. Just another booty call.
  16. Sure worldwide is impressive, but what about worldlong?
  17. “Whatever, you’re not my real ladder!” -What I say whenever I use my step-ladder.
  18. “We should become pathological liars.” “Let’s not and say we did.” “That’s the spirit!”
  19. I’d like to cancel my trip to this restaurant but I have my reservations.
  20. I thought I could sit on a bench. Some guy told me I couldn’t. I stood, corrected.

Want to read new puns as they come out? Follow me on twitter.

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