Auspicious start: the Happy Endings reading was a starred pick in Time Out!
Happy Endings has a strictly enforced premise: we were all supposed to take a public risk, for real, that is not a stunt. There are very few things I’m afraid of that would translate to a performance: it is difficult to find the dramatic impetus of not washing your hands often enough.
In the weeks leading up to the event I surveyed all of my friends and a fair few strangers to get advice on what I should do. To introduce my set I read out a transcript of all the suggestions people offered (noting names, occupations, and geographical distribution).
The main theme my friends arrived at was some version of nudity, including from Stella read without a shirt on and from Ayun put on tassels and twirl it baby! But in my childhood I was a medical curiosity: being naked in front of strangers is not frightening.
The audience laughed the most at Byron’s suggestion, particularly when I added and he told me not to say that on stage. Also at James’ comment, which can be paraphrased as be wrong for once in your life. Neither option were helpful from a performance perspective, nor do they reflect my deepest fears.
So what did I do? What risk did I take? What scares me, in a profound and paralytic fashion?
I made a telephone call.
Specifically, I called my in-laws, for the first and presumably the last time in my life.
The ensuing conversation involved even more compliments and kindness directed at yours truly, amplified by a microphone and overheard by a jaded NYC audience.
I was literally hopping up and down with anxiety by the end of the exchange.
After the reading Johnny Temple showed me a picture of his baby son holding Lessons in Taxidermy. People from the audience came up to tell me that they were a cancer-slash-writing support group. Coincidentally, I knew one of the women from our mutual association with various sketchy dot.com companies years ago.
I told a selection of friends and strangers a story that used the phrase waiting on line, only to have KTS furrow his brow and point out that I have forsaken my colloquial heritage.
Then we made a list of words that we children of the rural Pacific Northwest cannot pronounce (including but not limited to rural, roof, wolf, sword….
At some point as the crew moved from club to bar the bouncer I had the, er, encounter with a few years ago recognized me and leaned in, scowling.
I offered him a huge smile, and a little finger wave to remind him that, yes, I can in fact take him down.
Some highlights of the tour so far:
I stopped on a street corner in Soho to talk to a stranger wearing a suitcase as some kind of performance art, and within about two minutes figured out that we have many friends in common.
On the only free evening in NYC, being poisoned by a glass of wine (Byron would like to believe the hot bartender slipped me something so she could have him to herself)
Extremes of weather, from snow drifts in Buffalo to balmy sunshine in NYC. It was in fact so warm that Byron, who had only packed longjohns, used a pair of nail clippers to take the legs off his undergarments.
Standing on a street corner in Manhattan, I heard a violent impact and turned to watch in wonder as a bus kept driving after hitting a small car, metal grinding down the entire length of the vehicle.
Walking toward Time Square I watched a tour bus run over a police car — and keep driving, with police running along behind shouting for it to stop.
What NYC looks like (trust me):
Marisa and I went to Brighton for a few days to catch up with The Gossip. playing at a small dirty pub with Kid Carpet opening. It was an excellent show, as always. They are the only band that make me want to dance (not that I follow through on the urge, though I did nod my head, which is a really extraordinary amount of movement for me at a show). I would strongly suggest that you see them live if you have the opportunity before they graduate to stadiums.
After the show we huddled in the green room and I offered up suggestions of hotels to band members who didn’t want to crash with friends, then sat in the back of their van navigating through a town I do not know.
The desk clerk was charmed by the post-set dishevelment of the group and offered his demo tape. Later we split up and took Beth to dinner; it was strange and interesting to sit and catch up on all the scandals from home.
It would be very convenient if all of my friends could just… move here.
Now I’m preparing a feast; I was up all night baking pies and wore an old tattered Smithfield shirt in tribute to Stella and Al, since I won’t be able to see them until this weekend. The turkey is in the oven, the table is set, and Marisa is teaching my son how to make candied sweet potatoes. I fly away on tour at some point in the middle of the night.
This has been a terrific week — hope to see many of you on the road.
These are soon! Come see me read ~ and in New York, I’ll have to take a “personal risk” — hmm.
Mon., Nov. 28, 7pm–BUFFALO, NY, Talking Leaves, 951 Elmwood Ave.
Wed., Nov. 30, 7:30pm–NEW YORK, NY, Happy Endings Reading Series, 302
Thurs., Dec. 1, 7pm–BALTIMORE, MD, Atomic Books, 100 W. 36th St.
Stella has a great card with the caption If you want to know how he’ll treat you, ask what he thinks of his mother. I think it would be safe to extend the concept to friendship; if you want to know whether a new person is a good prospect or a potential catastrophe, they will usually tell you all that you need to know within five minutes.
I have a marked love of disorderly behavior and impulsive, charming people, but if someone tells endless stories about treachery and deceit, I pay attention. A stated history of failed friendships, matched with a conviction that other people are at fault — when I hear these stories I know that no matter how much I enjoy the person, they will eventually grow to hate me.
This does not worry me or change my behavior; I just enjoy the person until the inevitable break. I can’t be tempted into a fight, not even to defend my own reputation. I shrug and move on.
This has only happened twice in the last five years, because it does not mesh with my own pathologies. I am well aware that I am often silent and withdrawn, happiest either alone or performing. It can take years of acquaintance before I feel even remotely capable of real conversation, no matter how much I like the person.
This means that I am perceived to be prickly, standoffish, or any of the assortment of gender based insults. But I am also very loyal, and have several deeply meaningful friendships that have spanned decades and all manner of chaos.
If someone has reached their late thirties without ever maintaining a close friendship for more than a year, it would seem to be a pattern. Certainly nothing to pass judgment on, or even change. Just something to notice.
I have a panoramic photograph of the 351st Infantry Regiment during training at Camp Dodge, Iowa, before they were shipped off to fight in Europe.
They are standing in orderly rows, hats correctly aligned, except one man in the very back row who shoved his hat back and stared at the camera with a half-smile.
They are all so young.
My son bought a poppy with his cake money; he told me that injured soldiers used to sew them out of silk, and they are red because of the blood in the trenches.
Happy Armistice Day.
A former housemate (from thirteen years ago) just sent email saying he saw one of Byron’s projects on television and on Wired news.
Interesting coincidence: the former housemate now works in the computer industry and is married to a writer. I never would have predicted any of us would turn out the way we did. Let alone run in paralel.
Particularly when I evicted Byron.
One of the great mysteries of life in a British market town is the relative lack of consumer goods. This is not a criticism; I moved here on purpose, and one element of the decision was a desire to escape the rampant commercialism of my homeland. I detest all aspects of shopping.
But when one needs to purchase essential goods, like underwear or shoes, it would be nice to have more than two choices.
This is entirely separate from the perplexing point that many items are not adjusted for currency. Something that costs ten pounds here is often ten dollars back home, and the exchange rate is in my favor.
I am also baffled by the fact that every other European city I’ve visited is affordable (and often cheap) compared to the UK.
Last night we went to see a documentary about a Portland band. Before the movie started I wondered if I would feel morbid nostalgia for home, but luckily, there were only small glimpses of bridges. The strongest response we both had was a sincere rapture over the tambourine boy. I particularly liked his spectacles.
But perhaps the film kicked off something in my mind, because I woke up this morning with a compelling need to purge the last of our boxes. We’ve been here sixteen months and we are not completely unpacked; partly because we have run out of cupboard space, but mostly because I do not want to make decisions about what to keep.
I was sufficiently paranoid to bring all of our tax documents and identity papers in my carry-on luggage, but there they have sat, in the suitcase under the bed. The boxes represent a similar lack of planning and wealth of resources. Byron found a tape of Beth doing Straight to Hell eight years ago, the soundtrack of our impoverished early years in Portland, and I wiled away the day sorting through the detritus of an abandoned life.
This morning my son woke me by reciting the poem he learned in school yesterday:
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.
By god’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.
And what shall we do with him?
Of course, my son is a stoic, so he delivered the lines in a weary voice.
Tonight there will be a bonfire on Midsummer Common and we will sit on top of my narrowboat to watch the fireworks.
My favorite local bike mechanic has moved from the market square and is now a mobile vendor. Right now he can be found on Queen’s Road near Burrel’s Walk. You know, just off Garret Hostel Lane.
If you need to buy a bicycle or get any repairs done, definitely consider the trip. He is one of the best I’ve ever known, and I do know an awful lot of bike mechanics.
I often just, well, talk.
It seemed excessive to use more blood and gore than was strictly necessary, and besides, how many words are there to describe excruciating pain? I wouldn’t read a book that was gross and depressing. I wouldn’t lead a life ruled by those themes.