Posts Tagged ‘ghosting’

I feared I would be late to the lounge for the 7pm reading, but as usual I was compulsively early. I sat at the end of the bar, not recognizing the friendly couple next to me until they spoke, we all but arriving together, and me knowing them from a reading in my neighborhood a month prior. He, too, was published in the journal we were both there to read for. I ordered a beer, though I wanted nothing except to get down to the work. They ordered food, getting bar food so expensive and modest they may as well had burned a twenty dollar bill, the smoke fulfilling the same hungers.

I followed them upstairs to the performance area, which I hadn’t known existed. A huge wood ballroom with a red carpeted stage and DJ Booth set up, several tea candle lit tall tables. A huge dance floor. A bar in the corner. Two tables set up with merch in the back. On the wall between the stage and bar, a youtube video of commercials from the 1970’s was projected. The room was too big for the people in it. As soon as we entered, the couple I was with was approached by another couple they both knew and that couple invited us to join them. The man from the second couple was introduced to me as a teacher, about to do intro to poetry class for high schoolers. Though listening to him as he talked …scared me for the sake of those kids.

By some miracle I wasn’t self conscious being the odd man out. The unpaired black thumb at the table. How I am usually the unpaired black thumb at any table. I joined them and remained cool. It didn’t take long before the event started, and the man I knew got up to read first. Then a cartoonist was invited onstage to talk about his work while his strips were projected onto the wall. I was next, climbed onto the stage and faced the room.

From the stage, the room was huge, nearly cavernous. I thought of every Backpack MC’s I’d ever seen who’d stalk the stage like a caged animal and demand the audience to come up front and be with her. Support her. Feel her. I wanted to encourage everyone to move towards me since the room felt so distant and distracted. It was quiet, or perhaps I just couldn’t hear anything. I looked best I could through the spotlight and saw a group of friends standing at a tall table. More people were crammed into the distant booths well across the room, almost too far for me to underhand throw a tennis ball. Even the pair of couples I sat with had shrank in the distance to the size of large paperclips. I read three poems. Could anyone hear? Am I doing this right? At the end of one poem there was a huge lag between my voice and any response. They clapped automatically after I stopped talking. I read a poem I thought was funny and it was greeted with stoic silence. This was the reading I’d been most looking forward to, yet it flamed out before anything sparked. I finished, came back to the table with the couples. One man gave me his fist, which I should have met mid-air with my chin. A woman leaned forward and asked: What were the little houses?

The little green houses? I asked, of the poems title.
Yeah.
Monopoly houses.
She leaned back and said, Oh.
And in the ensuing silence, I thought: Didn’t I explain that? It isn’t in the poem? Um, damn.

The night went on like that. So little energy so much time. It was as if there were a rushing river between the stage and audience and nothing could be heard over the noise of the moving water. What could I have done better? Differently?

When the event broke for music, the dj climbed the stage and got in position. I passed off my drink ticket, grabbed a complimentary journal and escaped out of there quickly, thanks to Lyft. The driver barely spoke to me. I tipped him well for leaving me alone.

The next reading the next night: I didn’t want to go. I nearly skipped it, but decided, stop being a hater, stop being negative. There could be a huge blessing in the middle of every room you avoid.

I tried to be late, and couldn’t. I burned time in the courtyard of the Asian Art Cultural Center. By the hour of 7, most of the venues were closed. A woman entertained her two toddlers, a couple of friends sat talking. Then I grabbed a bench at fountain stocked with a half dozen coi and tried to breathe. When I finally made it to the gallery, it felt quiet and warm. The audience sat zombied and waited while music played. I couldn’t immediately sit down and though I saw one person I wanted to say hello to, I instead looked at the art on the wall. The host came over and greeted me. I said all of nothing. I considered the art for a long time before the event finally started. Why did the room feel so… Heavy. Warm. Inactive. Narcoleptic. A toddler took over the back rows of the event, trying out non-sense language on a pre-teen girl who’d been cuddling her stuffed Pikachu doll. He touched it lovingly before the event started. The host tried to shake the room slightly, telling them its okay to move and speak as if this were church, though no one did.

I was introduced after a pastor blessed the room, then after a woman who dismissed herself as a poet– yet read beautiful little poems.

The crowd was larger than I expected, 25, 30 people I’d guess. I refused the mic though cameras were set up to record it. I used my voice to fill the space and read three poems.

What did I see? People were with me, with warm listening eyes. One or two actually smiled to the degree I thought they really heard what I was doing. But most, yeah, stared like zombies. I appreciated one woman to my left who listened actively. One bearded brother in back I seemed to mostly read to. He would have been cool talk with afterwards. I thought of the old David Letterman show, how he would keep his theater close to freezing, he once said because when its colder audiences are more active and lively. I went back to my seat, feeling guilty somehow. I regained my seat and the main event started.

It wasn’t late, it wasn’t quite 9, but I was so distracted and nervous, I had to leave. Two women flanked either side of the performance stage, and I knew they were waiting for a signal from the reader to dance. I awaited for the same signal, but ran out of patience, got up as to take another photo of the room, then wandered over to the bathroom.

When I left the bathroom, I left the gallery, its resonating silence reaching even out to the street. The sun had just set. Though my legs felt stiff and achy, I ran away from there pretty quickly, not totally clear as to what was wrong with me. Both readings in their own way were gorgeous ceremonies, if just church quiet. I paced the bus stop, nervous. If I didn’t want to be there, where did I want to be? And with whom?

The Empty Room

Posted: May 26, 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Eye of Horus

On the way to the hospital, I walk past Mosswood Park and was compelled to visit the amphitheater. Speckled key lights of sun were spilled randomly along the ground. When was the last time I was here: the late 90’s men’s group meeting? I was quite fond of those Sundays when a bunch of male artists got together to talk openly about whatever and one of the first meetings we had was here, along the stone steps. Or was I last here for a video shoot? The small stage held young dancers that afternoon and we’d set up now antiquated video cameras and lights to record it while the producer marched around hugging a clipboard like a flattened teddy bear. Today there was a man stretched out sleeping soundly on the concrete steps, his arms folded, and beneath a baseball cap he snored gently. A woman walked her 10-speed down to the first row and sat on the concrete with a book. On the ground were the ashy remnants of a fire; hunks of blackened wood freckled with bright white papery ash. I just stood to look at the place through memory, then turned and pressed on to the hospital.

I didn’t want to go and yet pushed myself uphill. I chose not to think any names of the people I’d lost to this building or the promise I made to myself how I’d never come back. I took the hill slowly, mournfully despite the day being so lovely and warm. I was here because I’ve known Say 20 years, if not more. He’s been a lifelong sufferer of Sickle Cell. For whomever I’ve lost over the years to death or indifference, his friendship has remained steadfast, even as I’m often not the best friend in the world due to my chronic introversion. But when I talked to him yesterday, he surprised me saying he’d had his hip removed. I found myself half listening while unboxing a new external hard drive as he explained he’d been released from the hospital only to be rushed back when he found his body’s new problems. Between the last time we talked and this, a distance maybe of two weeks, he’d suffered more problems and pain on top of whatever the sickle cell crisis had put him through. I told him I’d be by after work tomorrow and this is why I walked up the hill to the hospital, finding a gate surrounding and securing the main entrance. Its’ been that long, huh?

I walked around the corner then up to the new entrance. The hospital smell leaking out of the doors out onto the now valet-parking controlled driveway. As I walked up, no one was manning the area, and several cars sat quietly. I walked in, approached the desk and waited. No one was in a hurry to speak or help me. One guard patiently finished his call, (the other was talking with a female employee) then called me over. I gave Say’s last name and he gave me a visitor’s sticker and directed me to the new elevator bank. I went up to the 10th floor, down towards Say’s room and found it empty. I stood in the middle of the room. The room felt cold and empty — so desperately empty– even with me in it. The bed was unmade, the sheets like frozen waves of snow. The pillow wasn’t on the bed, but rather on the chair across the room. There was a table swung away from the bed and near the window. His dinner sat sealed and sweating in front of his open laptop, the wallpaper image of an Egyptian eye of Horus. I looked back to the open door and the hallway where no one and nothing moved. Silence. No nurses, no sounds of TV’s in neighboring rooms. The white board on the wall offered scant information made in blue and black markers; Say’s name, a short list of goals, his projected release date, which when I looked at my phone appeared to be the next day. The television was black. Outside, the city was only light adjusting for the evening while a vein of cars ran along the freeway. I stood uncertain of what to do. Time stopped and I felt at a loss and weird. I took out my pocket notebook, tore out a page and wrote a note. It seemed important I end the note with I Love You, which I did, even as I feel myself a bad friend having never done quite enough. What could I do? I tore it out and first lay it on the top sheet of the bed, balanced between two waves of bedding. I looked around again half expecting the entire building’s lights to click off. I picked up the note, then wriggled it into the keyboard of his laptop. His dinner sat sweating beneath a plastic bowl cover. Everything seemed to wait, yet nothing was happening nor seemed about to happen. I looked up at the clock again, sucked gently on my lips, then walked out.

Closed doors down the hallway towards the left. A long hallway with some opened doors on my right. I walked back to the elevator. I pulled off my visitor’s sticker as if it might sting, rolled it like a joint and plopped it in the trash. Twenty feet down from the elevator bank, a heavyset young man sat across from a patient. That man very well could have been me. The patient he looked over at without speaking, unseen by me, was my mother. However many years its been, I’ve never left.

in your silent room
a shivering bed awaits
a heart holds its breath

Nickie-Terry
There were several strikes against this poetry event having any audience at all.  The first was it being scheduled on a Saturday afternoon at 3, when other even main event readings I’ve attended don’t begin filling up until after sundown, irrespective of the day of the week.  Second: beyond being asked by the events organizer a week prior, I saw no advertisements or announcements.  Third: they were asking $15 per ticket.  Fourth: it turned out to be the first warm spring day of the year.  Who exactly wants to be indoors listening to poetry on a Saturday afternoon?  Besides me, I guess.

Since these readings never start on time, I killed time in a new bookstore across the street, empty of any life, including the behind the counter staff who could barely keep their eyes open.  When I made it to the venue, I was incredibly surprised.

There were about 20 or 30 people, mostly middle aged women, already seated in the arc of folding chairs along the right side of the room.  The stage was just the carpeted floor crowned with four large speakers on risers, and five abstract paintings aligned on the wall.  There was a vinyl poster advertising related events on its own stand on the floor. A comically large orange wingback chair on stage and a mic.  I immediately recognized the woman I’d been talking with over the phone who came over to me, “we’ve been waiting on you,” grabbed my wrist and led me deeper into the far side of the room where a jewelry case was open, across from  three folding tables aligned with an assortment of food, sandwiches and cake and a cooler of juice and water.

I was introduced to one young woman poet, then another.  I knew the third woman and fell immediately into her arms, having not seen her for years.  While still embracing and admiring one another– her seemingly a foot taller and more muscular than I– I heard my name screeched, turned and saw the only woman I will name here, Nedra.

Nedra’s gravitational pull drew me away from the other woman mid-sentence, where she held me and surprisingly kept saying the words, My Baby, as I lay in her arms.  She reminded me of every aunt I’ve known and loved, with long curly hair waterfalling her shoulders.  A oceanic blue dress hung over her bubbling frame like a choir’s robe.  She propped herself on a single crutch which clattered to the ground as she turned and recognized me.  I immediately picked it up and faced her.  I made sure to introduce both women, even though they knew one another.  I’ve known the first, taller woman from poetry events since the mid 90’s.  Nedra and I though, went to high school together.

I distinctly remember her, though we never spent any time together as friends.  I remember, if you want my honesty, her looking at me from the height of an insurmountable crush.  A crush I could never awaken for and return.  We had no classes together and neither am I sure we were in the same grade.  We would pass one another in the hall and could recognize each other.  She was not someone who caught my attention. But until now, had we ever really had a conversation?  Her words surprised and comforted me and I emerged from the embrace and she swept over 30 years in a breath, moving to New Orleans for a while then back here to California where she’d gotten married (she but briefly pointed to the side of the room where her husband sat).  My own 30 years I kept silent about.  Its too much, too much to exchange in passing as one would business cards.

The show started quickly.  I’d say, before 3:15 everyone was asked to take their seats and they did and we started.  The show was hosted by Percy Mae of whom a couple of things need to be said.  First: she was introduced to me slightly bent over a walking stick.  Her hair was short and cloud silver.  She wore a blue housedress and simple house-boots, these soft, cottony black moccasins.  A modernized, remixed Moms Mabley, the huge orange chair was for her.  She would host the show and introduce performers, spit jokes and keep the audience engaged between acts.  A superb hostess really.  But she couldn’t be real.  To look in her face, however black cracks or not, to see how she’s dressed amidst these other wopmen dressed as if for church, Percy Mae is someone in performance.  That performance is extraordinary with her never breaking character, nor revealing even a crumb of artifice. Only if she’d snatched off her wig and revealed a cancerously ravaged scalp would I even begin to wonder if she was real.  Even then I’d compliment her genius for taking it that far, cutting her own hair down for ‘effect’.  Her performance, hands down — real or not– was the greatest of the night.

Otherwise, the afternoon was poetry as theater; taking the words and imagery of poetry and performing it, staging it, like mini-one act plays.  I was continually asked if I had music-cues, which confused me.  I just wanted to be heard.  The first young woman recited strong, confident poems about woman-hood and pride.  The second performer was also a playwright.  She was fun, using several instrumentals on cd and dancing in chorus with herself.  Using a gold butterfly cape with an immense wingspan.  Her poems stood from a confident place of femininity and were in character as a woman in the club flirting and being flirted with.

I was introduced as the evenings hunk– Percy’s words, not mine.  I was the only male poet. I read three poems to an attentive room of primarily women and the poems felt good to do and were received well. The woman organizer who closed the event’s poetry section, used props as well as music. Bringing out a couple of towels (one for Percy Mae) and shower caps and doing a poem about being a bathroom superstar.

There was a break for food and most of the people stood and lined up at the tables across from me. I didn’t eat and didn’t get in line. But Nedra came over to me, said I should get some bread pudding since she made all the deserts. I didn’t move; I wasn’t hungry or felt like snacking. But I looked up and Nedra brought me a bowl of banana pudding with a blue plastic knife in it, no more forks. How long has it been since a woman brought me… Anything. I took the bowl and added to it, slicing a chunk of cake she’d also made while she watched me, then sat down and ate as she made her way back across the room to her seat and the second half of the show started.

An older man put down his walking cane and expertly covered The Four Tops and the Temptations to a CD of instrumentals. A young girl, a teenager, rapped some original pieces while her mom circled around her as paparazzi and filmed her set. Both were superb. Another young woman, mostly huge Diana Ross hair and a matchstick body sang gospel. Also wonderful.

And I began to feel antsy, wanting to leave. I enjoyed the music even as my heart compelled me to escape, to return to my nothing at home. From where I sat in the room, I’d have to cross between performers and audience. I’d have to await courage and the right moment. I wanted to say goodbye and be polite since everyone was nice and loving to me. But more than that I felt nervous and anxious. I don’t know why. The Event Organizer cleaned up the food area, stuffing the garbage can. I watched as Nedra stacked three desert containers and carry them across the gallery then hand them to her husband who turned and walked outside with them. The Event Organizer wiped down the food table and as she crossed the room returning to her seat near the sound system, I followed her, letting her lead me to the exit.

The gospel singer with the hair began to sing a Janet Jackson song, Let’s Wait Awhile. Nedra turned her head away from me. Curly hair fell before her face in a veil. I spun on my heels and went outside.

Unlike the hundreds of times I’ve ghosted a poetry reading or event, this was the only time I was ever followed out.

I made it half a block before my name rose behind me. I turned and in the middle of the sidewalk, in flowing blue fabric, stood Nedra. Obediantly, I lowered my head and fast strolled back to her, hearing my name a second time. Not from Nedra, but from another woman standing across from her leaned against a parked car– who helped her shout my name down the street, and who smiled and nodded and ‘uh-huhed’ as I came back.

We stood and hugged and promised to keep in touch. Her mascara matching her dress, but unable to hide everything beneath the surface of her expression. I asked her to friend me on Facebook, wanting her to write me, to exchange stories over the last 20 years. She looked at me with what I could only describe as tenderness and said she enjoyed my poetry. To say: my last sight of her had to’ve been in 1986, a couple of lifetimes away from both of us. Between us was a gigantic What If. Did the woman standing beside the car see it? All the decisions neither of us ever made. Could I have used her friendship when my mother died, when my identity was shattering? Could she have used mine? She was a strange alternative life I never got to know. The babies, the memories, the friendship that never happened and we never knew spun around us in the wind, all empty and lifeless like ashes or leaves. She said she’ll be in touch. She’s always throwing parties or bbq’s, she said. And I never attend any, as I’m always alone, as I was the rest of that night and weekend. I couldn’t imagine travelling all the way out to where she said she lived, attending one of her gatherings, dateless and car-less, pretending to be normal and sociable. She promised she would look me up. I told her I’d appreciate that and how it was good to see her in person. After all these years. I touched her arm, exchanged a few words like you’d take specific coins from someone’s palm, turned and walked off into the sunset.

Image

Jimmy (not pictured) sent me this email:

Party After Art&Soul Saturday. At my spot, 8pm. Potluck is cool. Incidentally, where you been??? I’m sorry, that’s inerect language. I shoulda said ” where you been …at! Ah knows mah Anglish purty damn good.

I called him during a break at work.  The last time I spoke to and saw him was last month at Geoffrey’s.  After a while, Jimmy said: So, you coming to the party.

I don’t know, I said.  I hate parties.  We’ll see.

Nobody’s seen you since Geoffrey’s.  Man, you tore it up.  You must explain to me how you feel more comfortable on stage than being at a party.  That’s where all the fun is.

I don’t know, I said.

Jimmy is in his 70’s.  We met at Laney college years ago in the television production department.  He is still producing a locally made talk show which I’ve hosted and interviewed guests a couple of times.  I told him I’d rather skip the party and just come talk to him personally sometime next week.  He said that made no sense to him. He stopped compulsively talking long enough for me to explain myself.  I couldn’t.

Geoffreys is a social club available for parties and special events.  The last time I was there was an anniversary party for Jimmy’s talk show, Oakland Is.

That night, some councilman was hosting a book signing in the main room, in another a dj was setting up for a birthday party.  Our group was given a small room next to the birthday party.  There was the briefest sense of urgency to finish our ceremony and performances since we had no mic and would be competing with music.

There weren’t many of us: 20?  A five man doo-wop style group performed. One brother did a vocal solo, another did a dance solo.  The lead singer of the group gave Jimmy an honorary plaque for his work.  I stood and read some poems.  The music began pulsing in from next door. I raised my voice above it.

The audience was just folks, like reading for a family reunion.  A group of women sat against the wall in folding chairs listening.  I paced and read loud, slow and clear.  Three tables were set up in the room and I walked around them.  The reading went fine.  I read for about 7 minutes and it felt good.  The audience seemed to really be with me.  But what about when it was over?

Everyone got up, began snapping photos, then mingled.  I knew a few of the people here, naturally.  But I felt useless as an asshole on a jar of peanuts.  Some people came up to me, smiled.  Others  walked around me snapping photographs.  Jimmy started talking about crashing the birthday party, bringing his talented group into the pool of strangers growing next door.  I felt anxious.  Now that I was finished reading, I didn’t know what to do with myself.  People began gathering in circles, talking.  And I ducked into the bathroom, came out and saw everyone’s back turned towards me, and I disappeared.

Two men from the doo-wop group were standing near the stairs leading out onto the street.  I felt obligated to say something since I could do nothing else but walk past them.  I liked their music and told them so. They seemed to stare through me, taking my complement like a ticket for a show they’d never attend.  I walked out.  I walked home.  I never said goodbye to anybody, I was just gone.  Apparently, there is a name for this and its name is Ghosting.

And I did it again, for a different audience, event and reason roughly three weeks later.

This time it was the closing event for Beast Crawl, a literary pub event in Oakland.  The Host reached out to me weeks before and I was more than happy to do it.  Turns out, that same weekend a friend of mine I went to school with and who now lives back east in Staten Island, returned to the Bay Area with his wife. He’d never seen me read and didn’t know my work, so they wanted to see me.  My best friend gave me a lift to the bar and we arrived just minutes before start time. I bought him a whiskey sour for his trouble. 

The Host wore exactly what I almost wore that night: blue jeans and a huge white dress shirt that flowed around him like a sacred dashiki.  He pointed to a table set up in the back room where I could put whatever books I had back there, then went back to setting up the mics.  I made my way to the area, but somehow felt too bashful to put any books out.  I leaned against the wall with my friend and waited to see what would happen.

The room filled.  People sat on the floors, lined the bar and took up all the seats in the back of the room.  I think I was second or third to read.  I got on stage.  From that vantage point, you can intuitively feel what is happening in the space.  And the room felt fatigued.  It was hot, late in the day after an all-day spoken word event.  If there was any juice left, I wouldn’t be able to tap it.  I tried. What I wanted to share was too much about language.  What the room needed was fire and I couldn’t ignite it.   I read my first poem and wanted to run.  I wished I was my younger, more aggressive self.  Back then I could galvanize then make a room explode, as a preacher might with a sermon — but that’s writing to emotion.  Lately I’ve felt myself writing to language.  I got off stage feeling vaguely defeated, somehow.  Did I really read my full time or was I pulled down early?  I returned to my corner, stood next to my friend.  A tall skinny brother reached past his girl friend and handed me a five dollar bill for my book.  My best friend smiled.  Yet what I was thinking: I wonder if he did that just to be nice?

My friends visiting from back east wriggled through the crowd and came to me.  We watched the remainder of the show and the performers got better and better.  I kept re-arranging my set in my head.  I wish I’d done this, I should have done that…

The reading ended.  The crowd began rippling.  My best friend had a date and left, so I stayed with my friends from back east, both of whom wanted to leave and smoke out with me, but also wanted to be respectful of whatever it was I needed to do.  I myself didn’t know.

One of the performers, this remarkable woman who worked with music, gathered a lot of people around to buy her CD.  She went from performer to business woman like you’d flip on a light. My friends looked at me.  I looked around the room, yet beyond the Host, didn’t recognize anybody and no one seemed to see me.  People began passing money to the woman with the CD’s.  I turned to my friends: “Tell you what,” I said.  “Follow me to the door.  If anybody says anything or stops me, we’ll deal with that.  Otherwise, we can leave.”

Carefully, I walked past the women at the bar, stepping through people standing and talking.  I wanted to be a different man, for the women– for myself, even. I wanted to say something to the Host, who is a far more efficient mingler than I’ll ever hope to be. But my heart couldn’t stay.  I made it to the door, past the security dude and back out onto the quiet street.

I didn’t want to be in the bar.  I wished I was the kind of brother who DID, but that brother is not me.  I didn’t know where my heart belonged.  I should have said something to the Host, but I couldn’t go back inside.  Selling books didn’t mean that much to me.  The five dollar bill, the support of my tiny clutch of friends, was more than I even expected. I was… happy?

You ready to go, my friends asked.

I sighed: Yeah