Several have asked about my recent reading at the Mashuggah Cafe in St, Louis last week, so I thought I'd drop a line and share my perspective of the crime scene at Noir at The Bar. Now mind you the reading part was less important than one might think in comparison to actual space and time occupied at the little cafe on Delmar in the University City part of town that night.
I should point out first, that I had my reservation about going at all. I don't like readings. They're usually so fucking pointless and boring. But this one seemed more along the lines of, I don't know, "my kinda folk," and that's what convinced me to do it. Still, the reading part nagged me, worried me a little, not fear of public speaking but a worry along the lines of lost in translation. Something changes when fiction is read aloud, a certain dynamic, or delivery that might best be suited best for actors rather than writers, Never the less, I went anyway, for reasons, at first, selfish, I suppose, like any other unknown writer would justify the acts of performing and wagging their little tail for the treat of applause and acceptance. "I need this, it'll be good for me, get out there and meet some people." Is what I told myself. And that's what I did.
Now I won't go on about geography, travel, and hotels, because anyone whose driven the length of Illinois, or width of Kansas or Nebraska, or Texas, as I have will know, there's not much to say about it, externally anyway. But the time and space I will entertain.
The space, The cafe, Mashuggah they call it, and I don't know what it means and don't really care, but it's good cafe, with wear and character that probably comes from generation of students that passed across the wood floors with their shoes full of hope and possibilities, that only the youth can understand with all their limitless passions and certain hopeful beliefs of a world that only exists for that short 4 year, ok, maybe 5 or six year period, maybe longer because some never leave that comfortable nest. I'm wandering away here. The cafe, was a tiny little coffee bar, with patina and an assortment of beers I gathered from observation. And really good coffee.
There was art on the walls, some local, some good, some not so good. I noticed some good photography and a sketch by Picasso that caught my eye early on arrival. It looked original, although I'm sure it wasn't, in the company of the Boulevard of Broken Dreams poster upstairs and flowered water color that might have come from a child.. Maybe though, one never knows anything for sure. A hand made Bob Dylan discussion group sign, of wood, I think, hung proudly above the quiet patrons focused on their laptops. I spied a few screens and most were writing something, word doc pages, and reminded me of my own twenty something days in university town cafes like The Deadwood in Iowa City, only then, it was a pen, notebook, pitcher, and an overflowing ashtray at the table.
The tables were unstable, and the chairs an assortment. Posters of local bands and other events were cloaked in the mystery from their designs and clung to a cork board outside the surprisingly clean restroom. This I took in, in the afternoon, the reading was at seven, but I wanted to case the place and neighborhood first, so I did and felt very old and out of my element among the afternoon crowd of students. But that's alright, I was there once upon a time, in a different space and time, but I was there all the same. I get it.
Seven PM, maybe a little after, because I'm never too eager to make a mistake these days, so I plan my arrivals and departures carefully and for effect. The effect being one of never being around one place too long, so as your presence lingers longer than it should. Another is, I know myself, and I can can come across as a bit gruff and intimidating sometimes, but I'm actually pretty passive and accessible when you get to know me. Anyway, my wife and I left the hotel at seven and we walked the the three blocks or so. It was a warm, balmy evening with rain in its future, and the atmosphere was a little different. Gone were the students, and learners and their plans, replaced with doer's and worker bees of the community and the writers that I'd be reading with, and wanted to meet. No. I really did. For the writing business is a lonely one, and I was aware of some of these writers and their activities over the years. I was hungry for stories, not from their pages, but from the trenches. The real stories. In all honesty, I don't think very many writers really give a shit about another writers work, when their in the same but opposite trench together. Under that somewhat equal and level playing field. they want to know about each other, the writer.
So here we are, all smiles and hand shakes, a group of wordsmiths' on their way somewhere. To where? who knows, but on their way in their, our, minds anyway, and that's always a good place to be. All were younger than me except one veteran of the biz, and all were full of giddy and life for the moments they were allowed to wave their achievements. Our host for the evening, Scott Phillips and Jed Ayres, were already there. Scott, a man of notable writing achievement, seemed quiet and reserved and that most likely comes from years of stupid questions asked by writers of lesser notoriety. Writers who want something form him, most likely help, help from his coat tails to his shoulders. Help he probably has no desire and very little power to give and I don't blame him, for he knows, as I know, and every writer eventually learns, that at the end of the the day, it's all about the writing and the writer, and nothing else. There's not anything anyone can do for a writer outside an honorable mention here and there and among the right people. That's all, but you can't ask for that, no, no. You have to earn it. Again, it's all about the writing.
Jed, in my opinion and that's gathered in short, but seemed like a man of infinite kindness and generosity and good man to have for a friend. I knew this when he insisted on paying for the books I brought him as a gift and his manners toward my wife, and the way his eyes saw you, listened to you, in conversation. I knew he either had proper upbringing, and by proper I don't mean money, but proper as in good parenting. Or, a really shitty up bringing that mixed with his intelligence, made him humble, honorable and reliable, for through some freak of nature it happens sometimes that people become the very thing they we're denied as a child. Either way, a gentleman and a scholar, probably of the street, and og his own doing, but that would be even better.
The reading, I won't say much about it, because it's one of those, ya had to be there things. The guys from KC, fine writers and fine young men, full of enthusiasm and good intentions, and read some fine and impressive copy. The kid from South Africa, another, good man, and I'm always pleased to meet a foreigner traveling abroad. The local guy, was about my age but had written for more than I and seemed very at home and use to it all. I on the other hand had stopped writing in the early nineties to focus on a more "tangible, profitable and realistic career," so I thought, but that didn't pan out either. So I returned to writing, around 08, feeling like, fuck it, if I die broke, at least I die rich with leaving something behind other than a tombstone. Writing is what I've always wanted to do. To be a writer, at some point meant a lot to me, and I wanted that feeling for love of what I do back in my life and it is.
It has nothing to do with fame and money, and I don't know why people insist on putting those two together, because they're not same thing and very rarely, accompany on another and even more rare is that the accompany a writer. I mean shit, it is a very very small club, of rich and famous and writers, face it. What I brought home from this trip is this; I write, and I came to read, because I'm on a road with fellow travelers, passing by, a road home, so to speak. A road to a place I want to be, a place warm, and satisfying. A home where I've never been, where I belong, where their's a warm fire and comfortable cat purring on the hearth. A cozy home after a long jounrney through the winter of life, and the slipperss fit and the coffee is good, and there's art on the walls and in my heart and in my mind. Home, like a good cafe