No writer, you see, wants to discuss writing or literature after a reading. Most of the time, readings leave writers on edge, or leave the writer contemplative and waiting, patiently, for some armchair critic to skewer his or her art.
Public readings of your work, of your poetry and prose before a group of mostly faculty and friends, can sure take the fun out of writing. And we'd come to the bar afterwards not to offer up critiques, not to celebrate, but to unwind. Poetry and prose readings, well, take an emotional toll on a writer's friends and family, too.
His father squinted in the bar's orange glow, reading the dedication in his son's masterpiece. His mother glanced around the bar in near silence, radiating her satisfaction at having raised such an asshole of a child. His girlfriend sat across from me, and we did the smalltalk thing, and she rolled her eyes when I rambled on about something she clearly wasn't interested in discussing.
Nobody else at our table was drinking, save for Fatsuit McUmmings, his parents, and myself. And while his parents drank their beers with the class and dignity that comes from having put a son successfully through college, the pair of us writers drank in that great Oxford Fucking Ohio tradition --
Cold cheap beer, straight from ancient plastic pitchers.
* * * *
You see, in the Land o' the Buckeye, from the banks of the Ohio River to the dirty waters of Lake Erie, from James Thurber to Rita Dove to Sherwood Anderson, poetry and prose readings are best followed up with Pabst Blue Ribbon and the best onion rings in town.
Places that serve nice sipping wine after a reading, complete with plates of expensive cheese and crackers and hors d'oeuvre platters, are reserved for literary critics, pompous novelists, and the young twinks and college girls they pay to suck them off in between lectures and workshops. Writers, artists, and scholars should, at all costs, avoid such high-and-mighty events. Blowjobs mean nothing anyway, other than an excuse to keep on a-pounding away on writing and drinking.
Why waste a good bottle of wine recovering from a reading anyway? Who wastes good booze on artists? A good Merlot is best held for private moments with lovers, for a rainy evening alone with just a copy of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal or while dreaming about Chicanas, reading José Antonio Burciaga's essays aloud in the dark.
No, after a reading, after any performance, one should hit up a saloon and drink until the madness of literature is gone. Trust me. I'm a librarian. And librarians know (or should know) these things.
* * * *
Whitman never did this, here in Oxford Fucking Ohio. He died a century too early, without ever having -- GASP! -- heard of that academically-neutered beast we now call Comparative Literature. Ginsberg never sat in this tavern, never stared into the rafters filled with hockey sticks and old jerseys. Allen never howled in the men's room, never gargled semen in the dark corners of the alley outside.
...Well, dude, it's not hard to imagine either man drinking away a Wednesday night with us. And, well, they probably would've been awestruck by Fatsuit McUmmings' reading, too, would've been honored to drink cheap beer, to swap stories...
William Carlos Williams would've been content, to set his Modernist doctor's bag at the end of the peeling hardwood bar for a bourbon. Carl Sandburg would've felt at home singing folk songs, performing Good Morning America into the wee hours of the morning. The floorboards reek of Bukowski and Céline, Albert Camus prowls the shadows. I can smell Steinbeck in the hair of the women from the trailer parks and the flophouses, smell Mark Twain on the college girls and alumni...
When in bars, all men are writers and all writers end up drunk off realistic daydreams of the everyday world...
* * * *I was, obviously, still lost in that madness of language, still trapped inside the insanity of wordsmithing, storytelling, and other everyday nonsense.
Thank you, cold cheap beer. Seven dollars and fifty cents for one whole pitcher of some bland ambrosia called Bud Light.
“Okay now,” the shift manager hollers at me from behind the bar, “You're drinking that pitcher way too fast. Don't make me cut you off...”
"Wha...? Uh...why, hon?"
"Because you look seriously drunk."
She wouldn't have cut me off, of course. Though the sight of me, the Cuervo-guzzling librarian, drinking beer is about as rare as seeing the face of the Virgin Mary in a lump of dogshit.
* * * *
“Why the fuck do you drink so much in that place?” many folks have asked me here in Oxford.
“It's so... weird in there, the people are weird, they let in scary people...”
Well, maybe it has to do with the fact that some of those guys cooking in the kitchen sometimes graduate, sometimes write grand novellas and poetry and short stories, those guys who represent the best the ol' Local U has to offer, men who understand that art is made through the toils of the everyday and not through the whimsical nostalgia of the Academy.
Or maybe it's guys working at the door, spinning yarns about hot women and police raids, maybe it's the hot female bartenders who, well, tell stories about trips to China or about catfights in redneck saloons or who, well, occasionally play grab-ass with certain librarians of ill repute.
Hell, I could write a novel myself about last Saturday night alone, about being felt up by a gay man, about being told that, wow, I'm apparently pretty well-proportioned in certain places, about whispering into one sister's ear, half-joking, that I'd love to take her home and break her in half and whispering into the other sister's ear some drunken nonsense about taking her home, too...
Yes, I behaved very badly last Saturday. But it'd make a great story someday. Maybe I'll write about it...
Daydreams whilst drinking cold, cheap beer, straight from the goddamn pitcher. How sweet it is, sometimes, to be free to dream, to write, to think.
Shit, dude, you do get a lot of decent essays outta this fucking place, don't you?
* * * *I stared down into my almost empty pitcher. Lost. My mind, lost.
I'd been hitting the Bud Light just a little too quick. For all the liquor I can drink, beer is my kryptonite.
“Hey! You're usually not this quiet!” Fatsuit McUmmings' girlfriend says. “So what did you think of ____'s reading?”
I really didn't know how to answer the question. My mind, lost...
I'd been thinking again, daydreaming within the madness. Singing the body electric within my own mind, absorbing both my song and my surroundings like a sponge.
And I was praying that, yes, by having helped Fatsuit McUmmings edit his work before its final presentation, by showing up to bear witness to his artistry, I'd helped keep the world from having to see another greatest mind of our generation destroyed by madness...
* * * *
“So how do you think your image around town as a 'playa'... not 'player' but 'playa' ... librarian,” a colleague recently asked, “...reflects upon your colleagues and this institution...?”
Well, somebody's gotta do it.
What do I think? Hey, don't hate the playa, hate the game. Blame Archibald MacLeish, too, for setting such a miserable example as to the risks librarians are supposed to take, the games they're supposed to play with writers, artists, researchers, and other madmen of knowledge.
He's the former Librarian of Congress, the one who cleaned up that bureaucratic clusterfuck back in the 1940s, the one who won all of those Pulitzer Prizes as a poet, the guy who hung out with the likes of Hemingway and FDR yet never went to Library School, the one who, well, tried to make modern librarianship a part of the modern literary establishment...
MacLeish wasn't much of a drinker. And, well, I do have an ALA-accredited master's degree, which makes me, technically, a librarian. MacLeish never bothered to waste thousands of bucks on the parchment...
MacLeish never lived in Oxford Fucking Ohio or worked with its hard-drinking patrons, either. He's also been dead since the 1980s...
And I don't see too many other librarians – we, the supposed gatekeepers of literature, of the various records of humanity and society – out at 11 o'clock on a Wednesday night, drinking with the folks who will one day produce our next great wave of great books.
All library usage is, at the end of the day, a local phenomenon. How better to understand the natives than to simply embrace them as friends, compatriots, even, at times, lovers? Why hide behind something as silly as a degree and a job title, when it's just as easy to wade into the jungle, to ravage the tender brains and bodies and souls of those asking to be played or who beg for the sweet, satisfying release of knowledge, accomplishment?
* * * *The party broke up with a whimper and a few hugs. Fatsuit McUmmings and I were the only two left, so we moved our discussion to the bar. The shift manager had just punched out for the night, was just beginning to nurse her first drink.
She joined us, stirred her cocktail, and, as usual, giggled for no reason whatsoever.
I wonder if she was thinking about how much of a fucktard some librarians can be sometimes, especially when drunk on beer? Or if she was thinking about Fatsuit McUmmings, how unliterary he can be when he's got a few pitchers in him, about how, well, he never seems to forget that writing's his real job and that working his way through college as a cook is just, well, a research grant with a bit of beer money thrown in for good measure...
She does this often, just gets these sparkles in her eyes and laughs at the strangest things. Her full-time job, besides working at a bar to pay for school, is as a visual artist.
Pfft. Artists. And their sparkling giggles, their whiskey-cokes, their smiles and their art.
Madness. Sheer madness, built upon the insane foundations of knowledge...
* * * *
“So what'd you think? Holy shit, dude, you wouldn't believe how nervous I fucking was...”
“You did great, man! Now, it's smooth sailing until graduation. And I loved how the e.e. cummings - influenced poem turned out...”
“Fuck! I'm just glad it's over. Man, I'm so ready to graduate it's not even funny.”
And then, after the booze kicked in, after our egos had been greased down to an honest purr, then could we discuss writing and literature. And, yes, it was intermixed with crude comments about women's breasts, with references to the overrated genius of guys like Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, critiqued some of the mixed-media, post-modernist absurdism that's blanketed the literary landscape for the last few years...
Mostly, however, we talked tits.
Tits are wondrous things. There isn't a straight man in the world who doesn't marvel at both their purpose and their aesthetics.
Yes, motherfucker, yes! We can, yes, still write about tits in this grand Information Age! We can sculpt them from paper and clay, from stone and atop a laptop keyboard! We can drink and be merry and puke in the alleys, be failures and martyrs and cocksuckers. We can do lines off our cable modems, carve sonnets and sestinas and novels into the backs of the spiders of our World Wide Web...
What good is information technology, after all, if we forget that knowledge itself is the key to our own madness, to building our beautiful creations of song and word, that all else is gimmickry and whiz-bang farts into the bedsheets of humanity?
"Hah. Uh, yeah. The librarian's fucking wasted!"
Goddamn writers, librarians, and their swinging cocks full of jism, knowledge, Carl Sandburg's “The Fog,” and jokes about fucking your mother in the ass. Just keep the pitcher's flowing, and neither will have anything to bitch about...
Hey, don't hate the playa. Hate the game, baby, THE GAME!
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