Franklin Park Reading: One Shock of Recognition
Last night at the Franklin Park I got to read with the big guys and when it was all over I was up there with everyone else buying their books, getting their autographs. Sam Lipsyte wrote that it was great to hear my work and to steer clear of Envelope Face- a rather terrifying character in my short story, “The Cat.”- the one I read at Franklin Park.
For a while I didn’t think I would read it. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I’d ever get to the stage. There was our host Penina Roth finishing her introduction of me and there was me for struggling to get by people, over people, through people and finally onto the stage. There were a lot of people- young people mostly– so they must have been used to this with their grandparents.
“I’m coming!” I called out to Penina. “I’m almost there. Any minute now!”
When I finally got to the stage, I began to talk without a microphone and someone called out, Can’t hear you!” So I reached for the microphone- I hate microphones. I’m just not a microphone kind of guy. I can’t explain it- we just don’t get along- for me it’s basically something else to think about while reading on stage. But I did grab for it and before I knew it I was holding it in one hand while trying to keep my book from popping out of my other hand and then looking for what page the story was on. But I just couldn’t find it. I knew it was there someplace. Then again could this have been the one copy of my book they had forgotten to print “The Cat?” Well, there was always “The Cruller” I thought. If not “The Cat,” “The Cruller;” that’s what I always say. Sometimes even both.
What worried me was that I thought I only had ten minutes and I know I had already used up a minute or so getting to the stage, more than a few seconds fiddling with the mic, and now a minute or so looking for the elusive stray Cat— What did any of this have to do with Literature? Nothing- Unless of course it was performance literature.
Anyway, I found it. It was still there. Looking at the dim skinny print of my table of contents I mistook p. 47 for p. 41. A 1 can look awfully like a 7 for an old guy wearing bad drug store glasses. “Ah, here it is,” I finally announced: ”The Cat.’”
Every time I read this story I think I’m grabbing that damn cat all over again and tossing it out the bathroom window. But, alas, it always comes back- and I’m glad. Otherwise, there’d be no ending- or at least the wrong one. How many lives does this story have anyway? It seems as if I’ve read it at least 9 times already—
Anxious to get started, to keep that rather new stiffly- spined book open with one hand, holding the mic in the other, bad glasses, my book part in shadow part in light- I began strong, deliberate steady—“. . . and when I asked who it was they said, ‘Us,’ I said as if not only the “U” was capitalized but the “S” as well.
Then it happened. Do I dare mention it? Did anyone know I actually skipped a whole line- that my eyes landed on the wrong place somehow and poor “tangled hair” lost a whole line of dialogue? So be it. There was no turning back- the runner stumbles he goes on, the skater flops on his ass he gets up and does a triple Lutz (no pun intended Gary). And it did go well after that. I felt that nice feeling- that euphoria really of finally being in control-of my story, my characters, the audience, even, yes even the microphone although that seemed to come much later when
I found just the right distance between mouth and mic not to keep hearing that angry feedback all the time. When it was over- making sure not to mumble or slur that last important line- the one that leaves everything ambiguous and open ended- I received some very nice applause and one or two cat calls- so to speak- and then made the same arduous, treacherous- perhaps even more desperate- trek back to my table.
Funny, how I still thought about skipping that line- how I thought people would look at me on the way back with a look of pity in their eyes- like man, nice job but if you only hadn’t fucked up that line. No matter how good you were after that, we were just stuck on that one line. Like what the hell was that last line anyway?” But that was just me all the way. Perfectionist or Paranoid, no matter- it’s what others thought (I know the damn story already) that really matters and all night these young people- people so much younger than I am- really thanked me and said I was, yes, “awesome.” “Awesome” coming from this generation, when it comes to important things like writing- is, well, awesome. One kid named Adam leaned over my booth and said,
“You know I’m so glad you were here and I’m so glad that I was here to see you.”
I swear, he actually said that. Ask my friend Danny DioGuardi- he was sitting right next to me- I checked with him that I heard it right as I jotted it down in my notepad (actual pad not computer).
But hey, no matter what I might believe, this evening was not only about me- the two young women, Catherine Lacey and Christine Vines, were very good and very funny and of course the big guys- they were so good that the longer I listened the more I began to feel that euphoria begin to dissolve- they’ll all forget me now I thought to myself- any minute now they’ll forget I was ever here or worse than that they’ll suddenly remember– they’ll see me waiting on line at the men’s room and say to themselves, to their girlfriends, their boyfriends, “Hey that’s the old guy who skipped a line when he was reading.”
But when it was all over something strange happened. Oh yes they all loved Sam and Gary- they bought their books and had them signed and after I did the same- I waited on that men’s room line waiting- waiting to hear it but it never came. But when I sat down again, a young woman named Courtney leaned over to me- and I wrote that down too- “leaned over”- And said,
“I really enjoyed your reading.”
“You did?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “You have real presence up there.”
Then it was true. They still remembered me! At least Courtney did. I was still a part of that great night, that special night in a bar (and beer garden) in Crown Heights, Brooklyn- part of that circle of great writers.
I thought of Herman Melville who once said- speaking of his friend Hawthorne- “For genius, all over the world, stands hand in hand, and one shock of recognition runs the whole circle round.”
Or what Julia Jackson said in “The Outlet,” how “two talented hot ladies and three talented and hilarious Woody Allenish- voiced men showcased the wonders of short fiction.”
Either one sounds good to me.
But maybe the quote I just came across recently by William Carlos Williams might sum up this evening best for all of us-readers and audience alike:
“To eat, to drink; the wines, the delicious flesh, the poets— all good things of the world— these we must learn again to enjoy.”
Keep having those evenings-
Keep spreading the word-
The world needs it.
Don’t forget me.