Tripping the Light
To get somewhere, you have to go there. So we flew out to Baltimore, rented a car. My daughter reading the directions we’d printed off the internet. Through the darkness and the many long winding streets and highways we finally arrive at Don Eminizer’s house. Well, our flight was delayed three hours at a Detroit stop-over, so all in all we got there pretty late.
Doesn’t matter, Don’s the nicest guy you’d ever wanna meet. Invites us into his home, fills us with great food and drink. And we talk and drink long into the night. He and his band, 99 Burning, got a big gig coming up tomorrow in Baltimore, but Don’s focus is all on his guests. Making us comfortable, happy, sharing the visions of music, writing, and a better world that’s possible through those mediums. Touching people and spreading the dream. It’s a great time, a great night, to meet this man in person, hear his words, his ideas. Gives me a copy of his book, Midnight in America, and his latest cd. Also a book by Bukowski. Wants to give me more, but it’s like his generosity knows no limits.
Somehow I wake up in the morning, and we drive to New York. It’s calm, peaceful and we don’t have to hurry. Somehow we find our hotel in Newark, through the maze and madness that is east coast traffic and concrete highways going every direction at once. Change clothes, take a shower, try to find a bus to the city. The hotel shuttle driver drops us off at the terminal. He’s supposed to go to the airport, but we’re the only ones on the shuttle, and he’s nice enough to skip that. People are friendly, kind, that’s a good thing.
Some guy at the bus stop asks us where we’re headed. Tells us to get on this bus, directly to the New York port authority terminal. It’s ridiculous, but he’s interesting, somebody to talk to. We get off at 42nd Street and it’s great, the exciting, electric New York feeling is all around us. Early evening, people from everywhere scurrying to and fro in the cold wind.
My daughter wants a falafel, good idea, but we settle for gyro’s and like they’re saving on portions for some unknown future. I don’t get it, but the lamb is tasty anyway. Then tee shirts and souvenirs at the shop next door. No, I don’t wanna buy a camera at half-price; and yes, I speak Spanish. We’re looking for a tee shirt for my daughter’s little girl – mas pequeno, por favor.
Thing is, we gotta get down to the Village, find the KGB Bar. Don’t know where the fuck that is, so just get on the subway heading downtown. At Washington Square, a guy says “that’s east side – nice little fifteen minute walk.” Sounds like a New York mile to me. Nice area though, the beat atmosphere still surrounds this place, at least to an outsider. Every few blocks we ask somebody where we’re going, most of ‘em don’t know, but we’re going there anyway.
Finally find the place and we’re actually early, nobody there. Walk around looking for souvenirs. Come back and see a couple a guys chatting outside on the sidewalk. Tap the guy on the shoulder, ask “what’s your name.” “Tao” he says. So I say to the other guy “you must be Zachary German.” “Yeah” he says. But still a half hour before the club opens. I go over to the bar across the street, get a couple of beers, sit outside watching, smoking a cigarette.
This tall young fellow comes over to our table. Levi Asher, I can’t believe it. He’s on his way to the Pen world voices conference on 92nd Street, but came all the way down to 4th just to say hello and chat for a few minutes. Pretty nice thing to do, and a very likeable guy. It’s a pleasure, an honor to meet him. But he has to catch a cab, and me and my daughter go over to the KGB. A fairly good crowd inside, I see Lee Rourke and he recognizes me, introduces me to his pretty girlfriend, and to Tony O’Neill’s lovely young wife.
Tony’s buying a round of drinks, and a fellow comes up asking when the reading’s gonna start. “Waiting for a crowd of a couple of thousand” says O’Neill “but if that doesn’t happen, maybe fifteen, twenty minutes.” An exciting atmosphere, Rourke’s come all the way from London to read from his new book. I’ve come all the way from Dakota to hear him. O’Neill asks about Joe Ridgwell. I tell him, he’s a good guy, fun to talk to. Rourke says Ridgwell’s got drawers and drawers full of writing. Great stuff just lying around, waiting to be read.
O’Neill needs a refill on his drink. I get the round, pay with my credit card but the bartender’s waiting for his tip. “Can’t you put it on the card” I ask. He’s not very happy so Tony gives him some money. Tell him “hey, I bought you a drink but it cost you more than I paid for it.” Then it finally quiets down and the reading begins.
O’Neill’s up first, reads a chapter from his latest book, Down and Out on Murder Mile. It’s great, just what you’d expect from this marvelous writer who looks like a young Shakespearian actor with an Irish accent. The words are powerful, meaningful. I steal a copy of the book, later get O’Neill to sign it. He writes “don’t piss off the bartenders.”
Tao Lin reads poetry from one of his new books. It goes over very well. After that there’s a break and I go outside for a smoke. A guy outside’s wearing a bowler hat and spats. Ask him if he’s a mime. “No, a poet” he says. From LA, moved to New York. I run into Kathy Polenberg, a great artist-poet from New Jersey. Gives me a charcoal portrait of me done on a small round canvass. It’s amazing. I can’t believe it – she’s captured my image so true and stark. It’s who I am – and now looking back at me.
My daughter calls me on the cell phone. Lee Rourke’s reading from his book, Everyday. I grab a chair beside his girlfriend. It’s great stuff, captivating. Could go on forever, but it’s a short story and Lee finishes and comes over. “That’s fucking great stuff” I tell him, and I’m not exaggerating. Just the truth.
Zachary German is the last reader, reads a series of short poems that everyone enjoys. Then more and more drinks, don’t know from where, but they keep coming. Jackie Corley, the editor of Word Riot, comes over. She’s so young. I’m amazed. Everybody being introduced to everybody else. And they all have books they’ve just published. Jackie’s is The Suburban Swindle, but it’s not out yet. Kathy has a poetry book called I’m Your Field Trip. I swipe a copy. Try to steal Rourke’s book from his coat pocket, but it’s the only copy he brought with him.
A guy in the corner is sitting by the video poker machines. Says he’s Chris Killen. “No shit” I say, but it’s too unreal. Chris Killen from Manchester, England, just happens to be at the KGB tonight. Unbelievable. I take a few drinks outside and grab another smoke. O’Neill and the crowd are crossing the street. “We’re all going to the Mars Bar” he yells back. So I join them.
Much much later catch a ride back to Jersey with Kathy Polenberg and her husband Howie. He’s the designated sober one, but even at that, it’s impossible to find our hotel. So we just get off at the closest one, use the facilties, and catch a cab. Ivan, this ancient black guy from Guyana takes us home. And it’s no problem. You just gotta go someplace if you wanna get there.