Without Bart, I had to get to San Francisco hours early for the reading I was in. For a 5:30 call time, I was at the Embarcadero eating vegan doughnuts, sipping coffee and journalling by 3. I finally commuted deeper into the city, back to the Mission and a neighborhood I once lived. Behind me, there was a junior high school aged boy who wouldn’t stop talking; he was so bright and alive, yet he monologued confidently as a prison lifer. All attitude and energy and not one fuck was given.
I was a half hour early to the hood and took a walk. The bookstore I thought I might burn some time in was now a hollowed empty shell. As was the other bookstore a block down where years ago hosted a open mic and readers series. That’s history, and the place is now dark and shuttered. No one buys books anymore. A bookstore, you stay. What’s that?
I was here for Litcrawl, part of the Litquake literary festival. I got to the bar minutes before the host of the show and one of the festival organizers. While they set up mics and prepped the live on-line stream, I chatted briefly with a friend who showed up. She stopped by to visit before heading off to her own event later that night. We sat and talked a while. I kept thinking about how she once came up as a potential match for me on this on-line dating site. She never responded and we’ve never talked about it. Its a secret I’m supposed to keep or pretend never happened. I guess I also pretended not to hear her but briefly mention some project she was doing with her sweetie, how she tilted her head phototropically on that word and I also didn’t hear her say she was going to the bar to get a drink. She said this twice before getting up. I didn’t want to drink. What I wanted, I couldn’t get.
Another friend and co-feature for the night showed and sat across from me. He and I performed together years ago, before his marriage and daughter, before he was a published author and teacher. We talked but briefly before the reading began. And it was a solid one. Equal female to male readers and everyone was on point. The room, since tonight was a special event, was packed. Standing room only from what I could see at the mic. And folks appeared to listen and be attentive, those closest to the action. It was a great night. My friend shared something new and the two women who ended the night were both excellent. The woman who finsihed the night touched me greatly with poems on her mother– this before she herself began to choke up with her last lines.
The reading finished even if the night was far from over. People crawled out of the bar to the next closest venue, event. I gave copies of my chapbook to the other readers that night and passed out hugs. I sold enough books to get a burrito and some chips, then walked down to the bus stop for the commute home. I wanted to hear some more work, but not having Bart made getting around an ordeal. It would take two hours between leaving the bar and opening my front door.
At the bus stop, a man stopped me and said he enjoyed my poetry. What to do with a compliment? I thanked him, paused to see if there was anything else I need to do or say, but he just stared and I nodded and pushed on to the drug store for corn chips and aloe water. When the bus arrived, the same man got on after me. We talked since we were both heading to the transbay terminal and the same bus back to Oakland.
Turns out he is a reverend and author. He reached into his satchel and pulled out a novel he’d published, set in Oakland. We signed and traded books and talked. Truthfully: I interviewed him, uncomfortable as I was with silence hanging between us since we were travelling together and, well, “He started it.” He seemed quiet as I naturally am. But the conversation was cool. We got in the long line for the bus back to Oakland and waited for a half hour. Here, he turned to the man behind us and asked if he could take our picture. Then we stood quietly next to one another, reading each other’s books. I began his– its not bad. I don’t want to describe it as Ghetto/Urban Fiction, but what else to say? The cover has a hooded out of focus man holding a gun out towards the reader from beneath huge block lettering of the books title, as if the letters were bars, falling to enclose the character or crush him.
Reading the book and noting how one scene flowed into the next, I wondered if the author mapped out his story or just sat and wrote and let it happen. I didn’t ask. The answer is another question: “Why am I not writing a book right now?” Earlier, at the bar with the woman I knew, I mentioned how playwriting seemed like my next logical move. She looked at me and smiling longingly. She told me how while she was unemployed, no writing took place. She promptly disarmed all my excuses that kept me from sitting and thinking and working.
The bus was bloated and left several dozen people still in line as it pulled off. But the trip was peaceful and smooth. Strangers were talking and laughing. They had to, standing so close with one another. The man, Rev. Author, found a seat behind me. When I got off, we shook hands and I promised he’d see me again. I meant it. I was down to visit one of the churches he volunteers for. Both popular and legendary churches in the east bay, and despite my church upbringing, they’re churches I never thought to visit. Until now. And after reading a chapter, I was down to finish his book. Never would have touched it if I hadn’t met him…
I climbed the hill back home and saw the moon was full. My best friend sent me a few texts. He couldn’t make it to the bar and listened to the live stream of the show on line. It was a good night.