ou dont know books unless you know Powells, okay, thats not the
slogan, but whatever. Thats something my English teacher in high school
used to tell me when hed get me high in the teachers lounge. All the
English teachers were stoners in that high school—what do you want, I learned Ïom potheads, at least they knew books.
So anyway when things get stressful at home I hop on an airplane and head North. Thats what I do. I go to Portland and eat some three buck Spicy Mac and Cheese at Bistro Montage and I drink Rainer pounders and then I shoot pool with the staff until Powells opens like nine in the morning, I dont know what time the place opens, who cares.
This was a special occasion anyway, Dirk and Scott and William were there. They didnt tell anybody. This was a stealth reading. I knew because I'm Frank. People need to realize that about me. I know because I'm Frank.
Yeah, okay, strike that last line. I was just saying that. I thought maybe it would mean something but it doesnt . Thats a problem, isnt it. Heres my character, let me draw myself: sort of not as tall as William, whos taller than me. Sort of not as balding as Scott, hes got more forehead than me and it burns easily. Sort of not as charismatic as Dirk, that guy leads cults. What do you want? My eyes are bloodshot, even my therapist says so. Nosehairs stick out of my nose. Ive got armpit rash and I'm always itching them. When I walk, its a kind of shuffle. My beard is what you might call full, if I had one, and I don't, but in its place Ive got a ton of nicks and cuts and Band-Aids.
Thats an overstatement about the nicks and cuts. Thats hyperbole. Thats exaggeration. My skin is fine like a bottom.
Thats bullshit too. I cant help it. Hold up a mirror. What do you see? What do you see in your mirror?
Okay back to the story: it was to be a stealth reading. I dont know if theyd been to Portland or not, who cares. They were back or they were there for the first time and Ive got connections. I know a guy who owns dogs. I know a Student Union and I know for a fact its got couches and I know for a double fact its okay if they slept there, say if they spent all their money on wine or whatever they spend all their money on. I know other people too: I know a guy who lives in a house and a guy who owns a house and women I know some women and I know a woman who owns a house and I know an old lady. Whyd they want me at this stealth reading? I know them, who knows. Portlands a real pretty city. Do you want me to ramble or tell what happened?
What happened is this. We took acid. We took mushrooms. We took a whatever, it was stuff in somebodys bag, we didnt care. It was warm. Real warm. We parked someplace in Sellwood and hiked down the railroad tracks and picked bunches of blackberries and put them in huge containers and set some little sticks we had on fire and drank beer and ate berries and extemporized. William has the transcripts, he took copious notes.
A train rolled by and that interrupted things and it got dark slowly in increments that lasted forever. Somebody took out a ukulele, maybe this was William, he stopped taking notes and played songs. People joined us, a bunch of hipsters from Reed College, they had nice voices and sang songs and then disappeared, maybe they went to a party. Giant animals came and cuddled with each of us, we went off in separate directions, another train passed and stopped, it parked in our driveway and a mariachi band disembarked, played for us canciones de Mexico, handed us fortune cookies, then rode off in their train. The blackberries did a dance. The darkness split up into pieces, fragmented entirely. We fell asleep like dominoes and every one of us was double five.
We woke up and the sun was way up in the sky high up. We were late for the reading. The reading wasnt at Powells, I hope you didnt think it was. Powells is just this great huge bookstore and we spent three or four hundred dollars each there, either before or after the reading, I dont remember. Just say we browsed for hours and bought like were starving and left with bags too heavy to carry, we had to hire porters.
This actually was why the reading was a stealth reading. We needed a tax write-off to get to Powells and buy books. Its not sexy, its not hip. But thats the way it was. We had a solid reason to be there, we went, we bought books. All this only need be mentioned. You dont need to see it happening. The stacks are high at Powells. If you were to see us there, it might bore you. We stood and thumbed through new books. We stood and thumbed through old books. We smelled books. We drank coffee. We went from the purple room to the blue room to the pink room. Thats what we did. It lasted forever, I cant remember if it happened earlier or later in this narrative, it doesnt matter I tell you.
Now about the reading. Thats why were here, fictionally and otherwise. There was a reading. It took place about three on a sweaty day. The day wasnt sweating, we were. Roses were in bloom not far from us. We were under the Burnside Bridge. A bunch of punks were skateboarding. We didnt have an audience at the start. The Columbia flowed behind us, its salmon dying.
Dirk took the stage first. He read silently, without moving his lips, for about forty minutes. It was beautiful.
Scott read next. He played an air guitar and not so much read as recited Kafkas “Letter to His Father. I dont know why he picked that one. His eyes were closed the whole time. The sounds of the skateboarders began to slow at some point during his recitation.
I took the stage next. I did hopscotch routines Id been working on. This wasnt poetry, this wasnt fiction. Or was it? I thought of it as mood movement. As I hopscotched I sang a poem Id created in the shower one afternoon in San Francisco. It was a short song, a line or two, I cant remember what it was now. But people clapped when I ended. There was a breeze.
William took the stage next. When I say stage, I dont mean stage, I mean concrete. This wasnt a stage. Somebody handed me a cigarette, which I didnt want. I took a Lemon Drop from my pocket instead. William read. He read a long poem hed written backwards. Then he read it side to side. Then he read it upside down. All the skateboarders by now were clapping in rhythm to his poem. When he started to read the poem upside down, William began doing a strange dance. Hed shuffle three steps to his left, then shuffle three steps to his right. Then hed do it again. Then hed throw his arms in the air and look up, as if searching for God in a bridge. Then hed shuffle three steps forwards and then hed shuffle three steps backwards. Then hed throw his arms to the ground, as if coaxing a mint plant to sprout. All this time hed read his poem upside down.
Not a lot of people know about this reading. It was a secret reading. When it concluded, we drove out to a BBQ joint I know on 82nd Street and ate chicken, hot and spicy, then we went to Bagby Hot Springs to soak in the water and come clean.
at Illinois State University
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