#152, Attend a poetry reading
Last night I made the trip over the hill. I wasn’t really feeling it. Some days even your happy list needs a bit of a shove. It’s easy to become complacent. It’s easy to put your feet up and turn Netflix on and watch an episode you’ve seen three times before. It’s easy to get dismayed thinking about traffic and waiting in line and sitting with strangers and trying to find parking and say forget it. It’s easy to say no, no, no.
But 2016, is not my year of no.
So I jumped into traffic, I circled the place three times, I parked in a school lot, I stood in line for an hour, I sat next to a surly looking stranger, and I said yes to a new experience. And I wasn’t a bit sorry.
It was fantastic.
Never mind that most of the people were much younger than me. Never mind that their t-shirts bore the names of hip-hop bands I don’t know and slogans that I don’t understand. Never mind that I was continuously bumped in line by a guy who looked like Peter Frampton wearing a baby blue bow tie, a fedora, and what looked like pajama pants with suspenders.
It was fun and it felt quintessentially LA.
While I stood waiting, I eavesdropped on the conversation of the guys behind me. They were in their mid twenties and they took turns complaining that they had no money. They were sure to add that money didn’t matter much to them, “but eating spaghetti for eight months when you can’t even afford Ragu can seriously fuck with you.”
One guy from Brooklyn was fascinating and told how he had travelled for 28,000 miles around the world. He said that you can really never flop at someone’s house for more than three days because they get sick of you. He said that if you’re young and on a journey, most people will let you hang with them because they are hungry, even starving, for your stories. He said that the Bedouins have it worked out. If you can stay for another day they will serve you a half cup of coffee- meaning that you can continue to fill your cup there. If they serve you a full cup, you have met your limit and you must leave the following day. No awkward conversation has to take place.
Mostly the guys discussed how to gracefully get out of bed in the morning after scoring with a girl they didn’t much like. Or, more difficult still, how to slip back into bed with a girl you do like so she doesn’t know you were out all night. (Apparently, removing your clothes in another room and slipping into the shower is the preferred method.)
I was amused when one of these determined girls called while the guy was telling his story and he told her, “Oh man, I should have invited you here with me tonight. It’s cool.” I wanted to laugh out loud when I then saw a shocked look on his face. Apparently, she thought she should have been invited too and was on her way. He sulked while the other guys chided him for leaving himself wide open.
This conversation was a sharp contrast to the chatter of the two plump girls in flowered dresses with coordinating shrugs, who were standing directly in front of me. They discussed what they were going to wear to a club this coming weekend and one said, “I DO NOT need to have my hooters on display.” The other one said, “But you want to look sexy right?” The girl replied, “I always look sexy.”
They were so cute, though their outfits were clearly from the career section of the JC Penney catalog. They talked tough, but their conversation was mostly about boys and how to make them return your calls. (Apparently acting casual and leaving a message with a question about your car making a funny noise is pretty effective.) They told stories of long glances and hands that brushed theirs, and they wondered what it all meant. Whenever they had something risque to report, their conversation slipped into Spanish, and they looked furtively from side to side as if a priest or an angry parent might step in and scold them.
I know this is weird, but I like waiting in line. Waiting is my super power. I can out-wait most people. I don’t get bored. I don’t get tired. I like hearing different voices. I like observing different walks of life.
Liking different voices, in fact, is what brought me there in the first place.
It was Open Mic Night at Da Poetry Lounge. I tried to get the kids to come with me, but I’m sure they imagined a bunch of old ladies reciting Wordsworth and fanning themselves, so they had opted out.
This was not that.
It was more like a scene from a rap battle in 8 mile. The voices were strong and loud and fresh and the poetry was empowering and skillful and mesmerizing. The Facebook people who love posting the video from Texas where the students don’t know the names of our most prominent elected officials, have not been among these young people. These young people have pride and strength and they are not blind. They are not dumb. They have something to say.
Each poet got three minutes at the mic. When the wordplay was especially riveting, the audience (half of whom was sitting on the stage), snapped their fingers in appreciation. There were both men and women, some speaking about race and drugs, some offering words of love. One guy and his guitarist, they were called Black Noise, got up and sang a song that was part folk and part R&B. Another featured artist, came from Georgia and gave a booming and wild and hilarious rant about why she hates her period.
I only stayed until 11:00 pm. There was a second half to Open Mic Night, but I have to get up to make kids breakfast and assemble school lunches, so I headed out.
I was so glad I went. Never have I spent $5 and been so enthralled with performances or so grateful to hear artistic voices being let loose like firecrackers into the hush of a sleepwalking world.
As I drove on to the freeway at Highland, passing club kids on the curb with cardboard signs, I couldn’t help but think about Dylan Thomas and remember that we must “not go gentle into the good night, but rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
304 days to go!