The Unknown: The Red Line.
  You don’t know books unless you know Powell’s, okay, that’s not the slogan, but whatever. That’s something my English teacher in high school used to tell me when he’d get me high in the teacher’s 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. That’s 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 Powell’s opens like nine in the morning, I don’t know what time the place opens, who cares.

This was a special occasion anyway, Dirk and Scott and William were there. They didn’t 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 doesn’t . That’s a problem, isn’t it. Here’s my character, let me draw myself: sort of not as tall as William, who’s taller than me. Sort of not as balding as Scott, he’s 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. I’ve got armpit rash and I'm always itching them. When I walk, it’s a kind of shuffle. My beard is what you might call full, if I had one, and I don't, but in its place I’ve got a ton of nicks and cuts and Band-Aids.

That’s an overstatement about the nicks and cuts. That’s hyperbole. That’s exaggeration. My skin is fine like a bottom.

That’s bullshit too. I can’t 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 don’t know if they’d been to Portland or not, who cares. They were back or they were there for the first time and I’ve got connections. I know a guy who owns dogs. I know a Student Union and I know for a fact it’s got couches and I know for a double fact it’s 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. Why’d they want me at this stealth reading? I know them, who knows. Portland’s 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 somebody’s bag, we didn’t 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 wasn’t at Powell’s, I hope you didn’t think it was. Powell’s is just this great huge bookstore and we spent three or four hundred dollars each there, either before or after the reading, I don’t 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 Powell’s and buy books. It’s not sexy, it’s not hip. But that’s the way it was. We had a solid reason to be there, we went, we bought books. All this only need be mentioned. You don’t need to see it happening. The stacks are high at Powell’s. 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. That’s what we did. It lasted forever, I can’t remember if it happened earlier or later in this narrative, it doesn’t matter I tell you.

Now about the reading. That’s why we’re here, fictionally and otherwise. There was a reading. It took place about three on a sweaty day. The day wasn’t sweating, we were. Roses were in bloom not far from us. We were under the Burnside Bridge. A bunch of punks were skateboarding. We didn’t 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 Kafka’s “Letter to His Father.” I don’t 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 I’d been working on. This wasn’t poetry, this wasn’t fiction. Or was it? I thought of it as mood movement. As I hopscotched I sang a poem I’d created in the shower one afternoon in San Francisco. It was a short song, a line or two, I can’t 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 don’t mean stage, I mean concrete. This wasn’t a stage. Somebody handed me a cigarette, which I didn’t want. I took a Lemon Drop from my pocket instead. William read. He read a long poem he’d 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. He’d shuffle three steps to his left, then shuffle three steps to his right. Then he’d do it again. Then he’d throw his arms in the air and look up, as if searching for God in a bridge. Then he’d shuffle three steps forwards and then he’d shuffle three steps backwards. Then he’d throw his arms to the ground, as if coaxing a mint plant to sprout. All this time he’d 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.
Audio Button
Read 4/20/99
at Illinois State University
772K RealAudio Clip

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