Lisa Crystal Carver
Providence RI

Lisa Crystal CarverLisa Crystal Carver is a fearless cultural adventurer, an endlessly optimistic raconteur who’s always followed her own idiosyncratic path —ever since the fateful day she first took the stage at age seventeen as leader of the infamous anarcho-performance troupe Suckdog. From there it was one adventure after another, some more harrowing than others but all grist for Carver’s incisive, easy wit and droll, conversational tone. Her new memoir Drugs Are Nice [Soft Skull, 2005] chronicles her early years, starting with the day her drug-running, grifter father told her he’d killed a man and ending with her working her way back to her own version of normalcy.

The “reading” at AS220 is anything but normal, but that’s hardly a surprise. Lisa’s co-conspirators for the day (her friends Rachel and Erik) are stuck in traffic, so we play Lisa’s version of Truth or Dare until they show. The Doctor is in, and she’s asking questions we may not be all that comfortable answering. Embarrassing, embarrassed confessions have a way of tumbling out when Lisa’s in the room. Even better if the answer is unsettling or awkward or just plain icky —because our foibles, our flaws are what make us human. They can even be beautiful if looked at through the right lens.

In this way, Lisa’s interest is humanist and brilliantly democratic. “See?” she seems to be saying. “We’re all the same under the skin, equal. We’re all freaks in our own special ways.” She doesn’t sit in judgment. Rather, she helps us illuminate all the dark spaces we’re afraid to look at. And shealways shares her own stories first, with the same unflinching candor that she expects in turn. And that’s what makes her so refreshing. She’s like your psychotherapist and agony aunt all rolled into one ebullient package; the Cookie Mueller for our apathetic, post-irony generation. And she doesn’t have time for all that bullshit Gen-X pose. She’s not post-modern or post-anything. She doesn’t subscribe to any philosophy other than her own. In her warts-and-all confessional zine Rollerderby and again inDrugs Are Nice, she seems at home everywhere —even if, sometimes, her fearlessness is feigned and she’s really just making it all up as she goes along. She’s her own muse, wildly optimistic even at the worst of times.

After all the confessions are blurted out, the rest of Lisa’s troupe finally arrives. They end up acting out scenes from Drugs Are Nice. Lisa acts as MC. There’s copious amounts of ketchup blood and bad fake French and death by potato peeler and a date with GG. Erik, who’s playing GG with unerring accuracy, right down to the leather jacket and jockstrap ensemble, won’t sit in the puddle of ketchup leftover on stage from the death-by-peeling incident. “GG wasn’t afraid of any damn ketchup!” someone from the audience yells out. Chagrined, Erik sits in the goddamn ketchup. Rachel plays Lisa. She and GG half-heartedly make out, until he gets annoyed and cuts open her white flapper dress. Afterwards GG goes to heaven and comes back with angel wings and a halo. We all have a moment of silence for poor old GG, before chaos erupts again.

There’s never a dull moment when Lisa’s around.

Afterwards I buy a copy of Drugs Are Nice from Lisa. I tell her how much I miss Rollerderby. “So do I,” she says, a bit wistfully. Suddenly an old friend tackles her in a big hug and, not wanting to interrupt, I turn to leave. Rachel and Erik and Co. are having a smoke out in the chilly Providence air. “You guys get hazard pay for this?” I ask. “Nah,” Rachel says. “In real life I’m a biologist. So, I love getting to act out once in awhile.”

We all have Lisa to thank for that.