I cursed myself as I surveyed the room, “why didn’t I wear something else? Why did no one tell me tonight’s look was Derelicht,” or as I put it homeless chic.
I should’ve known better because in fact I already knew. I had encountered this crowd before on Valencia, in Dive bars, at the corners of certain streets shouting out their performance poetry; why didn’t I drop by Goodwill and pick up an Amish-made dress; that would’ve been perfect.
My friend Lynn whispered, “quick, I’ll poke some holes in your sweater, or rip your pants.”
“Lynn, this event is being filmed,” and so I found the hosts of the evening and introduced myself, one of them actually looked disappointed to meet me.
After some words of welcome they handed me a bright red ticket, “alcohol, to calm the nerves.” I was thrilled because my nerves needed some liquid poison.
Along with the ticket came a book for me to sign; I was in a book!
I stood there and tried to think of something pithy and brilliant to write, “To Evan, Samantha Rubenstein”
I tried not to think about what I had just written; tried not to think about the filling room; tried not to think about my black dress pants and animal print sweater – all this trying forced me to the makeshift bar.
Handing over my ticket, I happily ordered a Vodka Soda.
“You can only get beer with that.”
“Not even wine,” I smiled.
“Sorry, only beer.”
“Oh ok,” I stood there, “it’s just I’m not really a beer drinker. I like it sometimes, like on really hot day, but anyway I’m so excited for tonight, you know, I’m one of the readers,” the congrats I received sent me straight back to my leather wallet for a peeled out five.
“One vodka soda please.”
I sat there in my fold-out chair, next to one of the other readers and a woman wearing bright red pants and a shirt that had so many holes I wondered if she was being ironic.
“Have you done this before?”
“Yea, I’ve done this a few times.”
Downing my drink, I gave up on the chit-chat; it didn’t feel natural; a second Self had floated up out of me and was watching me try to be myself, “so awkward right?”
I had this sinking feeling, not like my feelings sunk, but that my Self was. Why had I been so confident, I didn’t even practice my piece; why had I not realized that being chosen was a big deal, and as I looked around the room I noticed that people were having to sit on the floor.
Finally, the readings began; being competitive and terrified I had been secretly hoping that everyone would be terrible; then my terror wouldn’t be so bad; however, girl one was extremely funny, even performing her piece.
Then girl two arose and broke all of our hearts with her own heartbreak, it just got worse.
“Oh my god,” I thought, “why was I picked?”
I had written the piece years before and submitted it on a whim. I wanted to run up to the host and tell them what I had recently written was so much better, let them know that going on stage would be a betrayal of my true art (an excuse I had used years before on an English Professor for a late paper).
The cruel minutes ticked by, “we were only halfway through?”
During intermission I stood with Lynn, while she pinned a purple flower in my hair, “there,” she said, “I brought this from home,” and I gave her gratuitous hug.
Lynn and I decided to pass on a second drink, “let’s wait ‘til after,” so I went back to my chair and took deep breaths to calm my pounding heart and skin-ripping impatience.
The band came on with a steel drum and a tenor singer that moved like liquid; then a girl with sticks of dynamite taped to her smoked a cigarette and said, “I’m depressed.”
Suddenly, I felt a large palm on the small of back, pushing me toward the stage. Without taking a deep breath I glanced down and clasped my two hands together; one held the other and they agreed not to publicly shake.
My legs couldn’t do the same so I continually transferred my weight between the two; the constant movement kept them distracted.
I stood very close to the Mic, and heard my voice ring out, shaping my words to fill the audience’s ears; it felt like it would never stop; that I would always be standing there in front of a crowd, forced to hide my shaking.
Time, the illustrious deceiver took hold, and I fell into forever, not knowing how long it all last; the glory so short and fear it’s opposite, “be wary of it,” I told myself, but I was enveloped by it.
Applause shattered time, and there I was again, calm, staring out into the crowd, smiling my big foolish smile I get when I’m so happy I can’t stand it.
People came up and congratulated me, or just said hello, and I saw that the host was right; it was a good group of people.
“So my clothes weren’t so bad?” and the previously disappointed host gave me a hug goodbye, “I thought your story was beautiful.”