Click HERE for my first assignment for Electric Literature‘s blog, The Outlet / Dish. Apart from getting soaked while leaving the bar, almost getting caught in a dangerous hail storm, taking the wrong subway train and having to walk 20 blocks after getting off at the wrong station, it was a lot of fun. I must say, being there on an “official capacity” gives a lot of leeway for talking to people, particularly people you fancy. And, writers love the attention.
P.s. If you’re too lazy to click on the link, here is “HERE”:
Ok, so writers may have moved enmasse to Brooklyn “for more space and less rent when Manhattan dropped the ball” (said Nicole Brydson of Brooklyn The Borough), and Brett E. Ellis might still complain that Jay McInerney is the only writer still living in Manhattan – boo fucking hoo – (and he’s tucked up with his cocoa and animal crackers by 9 o’clock at night), but I hate getting to events in Brooklyn (n.b.: I live there). Streets are as confusing as the Dublin or London suburbs, and I’m not being nostalgic here. After getting on an express A train, which then started roaring towards the Far Rockaways like psilocybin taken by mistake, I finally found my way back to Franklin Ave.
Two Coney Island Lagers and three cigarettes later, I was human enough to start rubber necking. The crowd was settling into its red wine and beers in a relaxed, “we might as well, it’s Monday,” fashion. With its pleasant terrace, brick interior and various nook-like bars, Franklin Park Bar is semi-reminiscent of Union Pool, but with a blessedly lower quota of check shirts, fake prescription vintage glasses and ridiculously large Grizzly Adams beards. (Perhaps it’s Union Pool’s Daddy?) Here, beards are trimmed, and people are in “I came straight from work” clothes, albeit: “I work in publishing, wear a corduroy blazer, skinny jeans, slim ‘60s tie and dirty white sneakers (and, by the way: I’m cool).” Demographically closer to 35 than 22 (thank God!), it was a youthfully mature Brooklyn bouquet, and a half-decent racial mix for reading events so well-attended by whitey.
While waiting, lurking at the bar, jobbing writers compare notes:
“It’s this anthology called Best of the Web – looks pretty legit.”
“Is that like Best American Short Stories? We should nominate each other.”
“So, what have you been up to? Teaching going ok?”
“Pretty fucking overworked.”
The evening’s theme was “identity crises.” Alyson Gerber (calm, and beautifully Jewish on her Brooklyn debut) opened the proceedings, reading from her novel, Gracie Garber Loves Goys, a comic exploration of the adolescent Jewish female psyche (there’s still territory to be mined that hasn’t been annexed by Philip Roth-landia). The pathos/comedy revolves around the collision between Lr. East Side, Yiddish Gracie, and her WASP boarding school of flat-chested trust-fund blondes. Gerber was reading, “Please help me, Daddy! I need to get rid of my enormous breasts,” (paraphrase), when she was drowned out by a hail storm of the kind of proportions my friends in Lawrence, Kansas, pray for, so that they can replace their car with insurance money for hail damage. The audience rushed to the glass door to gape. Gerber admirably displayed no authorial ego-tantrum at the interruption, quipping: “Please don’t blame the Jews for this one.” A break was called.
I had earlier accosted Michele Carlo, a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, at the bar, asking: “So, do you know any of the readers?” “I am one of the readers!” she said. A frequent contributor to NYC’s storytelling community, Carlo performed–rather than read–a section from her recently published memoir Fish Out of Agua (Citadel Press Books). For me, this description of falling between the races on “Kill Whitey” day in a Bronx High School in the 1980s (simply because she was a Puerto Rican girl with red hair) represented some of the most accurate, and humorous, racial acumen that I’ve heard in writing in a long time. At times, people were nervous, and nervous while laughing their asses off, and that’s how you know it’s good.
Shelly Oria (who curates the Sweet! Actors Reading Writers series in the East Village, and has a list of publishing credits as long as my arm) read three beguiling shorts. Her take on identity crisis was mediated via “carrying bags of purchased happiness,” and a boyfriend called JoJo who comes home one day as Dora. Our waitress, with long, red hair and Cleopatra bangs, enjoyed the performance; I noticed her laughing to herself as she passed, burdened with a stack of empty pint glasses, which tells you: (1) this is a literary joint; (2) the waitress is intelligent, and cool; (3) the writer is good; (4) the waitress is hot.
James Hannaham, of McSweeneys and Michener Center fame (oh, money of UT Austin, how we love to hate you!) read from his new novel, God Says No. His performance was polished, but the three ladies were a hard act to follow. That said, we always like pieces that involve a penis sucking machine, semi-expired tranquilizers, a blowjob in a waffle house loo, and lines like, “I love chocolate chubbies” and, “slabs of fat.” I don’t know if it was because I preferred the earlier readers, or was too plain lazy by the end, but I didn’t ask Hannaham (decidedly non-corpulent) for a sound bite.
Anyway, this isn’t that kind of dish.
P.S. Nicole Brydson, editor and publisher of Brooklyn the Borough, was spotted, but could not be photographed, as my flash died after ten minutes.
All these writers have a shit-load of publishing credits.
Penina Roth (ably and warmly) curates Franklin Park Reading Series since March 2009. (For more information and submission guidelines, email firstname.lastname@example.org)