Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Amy Tan is my new BFF

What a great time at the Makeout room last Saturday night. Amy Tan rocked the house and apparently gets free clothes just like any other great rock star. Oh wait. She is a rock star. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The event started with Rabih Alemeddine reading from his forthcoming novel, The Hakawati. I can tell you the high praise it’s receiving is no hype. It is some seriously good writing. Rabih read about Osama and his gay uncle, Jihad. I’m not making this up. Only Rabih could. Also in the literary mix were pigeons, the sky of Beirut, magic, locusts, sorcery, Shiites, and an old building with no elevator. Like all cities, Beirut has many layers and Rabih read to us about the Beirut of its people. Which reminds me: Rent control. Let’s keep San Francisco of the people as much as we can. Rabih will be on tour (like any good rock star) in April to support the publication of The Hakawati. Keep your eyes open.

Peter Plate was up next, reciting Chapter 18 from his latest novel, Soon the Rest Will Fall from memory. We cracked up at Peter’s story. Santa, in a stolen suit, three days out of San Quentin and fresh off a tiff with a hooker on Geary, robs a medical marijuana club at Seventh and Market. Only in San Francisco, folks.

Stephen introduced the next writer, Jerry Stahl, by saying it was his book Permanent Midnight that made him want to be a writer and isn’t sure he’ll ever forgive him for that. Jerry read us a love story (despite the “hardass intro”) because sometimes "you have to show your heart a little." The first sentence of that love story is, “I did not mean to sodomize Dick Cheney.” It is the opening story in Sex for America. If you want to find out how it unfolds, pick up a copy. Apparently it only took him six hours to write. Six hours well spent. Also, kudos to Jerry for braving the dizzying lights of the Makeout room. He gave the front row (I was one) a vomit alert. Thanks Jerry, for not getting sick on us and I’m sorry you’ve been audited every year since that story came out. You deserve better. Then Peter Plate came back and gave a brief history of rent control in San Francisco. I swear, that man is a walking library. Basically what it boils down to is, San Francisco adopted rent control in the 70s and money-grubbers have been trying to overrule it in this overpriced city ever since. If any of you happened to be at the meeting hosted in part by the SF Tenants Union at the library that afternoon, you noticed that more than half the people in the room were elderly. And I’m not talking about elderly who are hobnobbing with Barbara Bush either.

Next up was your friend and mine, Bucky Sinister. Poor Bucky took some heckling from the crowd when he read his first piece off his iphone. He defended himself by saying he no longer had the brain cells he used to and certainly not ever as many as Peter Plate. He also set it up for those born in the eighties, “There used to be this thing called the Berlin Wall.” For his next piece he returned to paper and read from his most recent book All Blacked Out And Nowhere to Go, a poem called Elegy for the Old Hunts, about the donut shop in the Mission that used to stay open twenty-five hours and it was a tear jerker. If that seems like a contradiction, you just haven’t read it.

One half of the All Star Minstrels, otherwise known as Dan Weiss, sang to us about missing his dog, his cat, everything. Next month, both halves of the All Star Minstrels. Then Justin Chin hit the stage. I'm embarrassed to admit I had a scuffle with Stephen which caused me to miss the first few minutes of Justin's reading. I had to hide my head in shame and laughter. Sorry Justin, we’ll try to be better behaved next time. It’s hard to fix a mike and a rug at the same time. What I did hear though, I loved. What I learned: you shouldn’t ask Gertrude Stein for directions because eventually you will need to get there. Wise words.

And then came Amy Tan, the only Progressive author (so far) who has also been on the Simpsons. Amy gave us insight into her mind via her closet— things that she wouldn’t normally disclose unless under hypnosis (her words—not mine). Upon the straightening of her clothes she realized “I buy the same things over and over again,” and suddenly my mind flashed on the three black cardigans in my own closet. Later at the Uptown, it was revealed to me (by Rabih) that Amy Tan carries a whole medical kit in her fancy evening bag and if someone came up (theoretically) and stabbed me, Amy could suture me up in a second. I asked Amy if that was true, “Well, I’d snap a quick picture first,” she quipped. Let it be known that Amy Tan has many skills, writing being only one of them, but I hope she never has to stitch me up.

Stephen Elliott closed the evening by saying, “You all just participated in democracy. Wasn’t that easy?” It was, so we’ll see you next month when we’ll welcome Jane Smiley, Michelle Richmond, Yiyun Li, Charlie Anders, Jeff O’Keefe and don’t forget, both halves of the All Star Minstrels.

In closing, I’d like to take a moment concerning the rumors that a certain reclusive and perhaps curmudgeonly author from New England will be gracing the Progressive stage this season. At this point I can neither confirm nor deny, but you are well advised to stay tuned to this station for more information.