Wednesday, July 23, 2008

First there were grapes, then a dinosaur

The first reader was Tara “Who’s that hot chick walking down Valencia Street?” Jepsen. Before reading she told us a story about being a kid in San Francisco with her father. They’d visit Tara’s uncle, who lived on Fell Street in the original Grotto location. All the residents were all a little Cu-koo (her words, not mine) thanks to the punk bands they were in and the heroin they were on; the two go hand and hand. Her father used to shield young Tara’s eyes from all the riff-raff going in and out of the building. It was good to hear that her uncle is now sober and living in Green Bay. And Tara ending up completely unsullied by the events. Happy endings all around. Anyway Tara read this wicked piece about Paloma and Irma, two young women causing a ruckus while demanding respect for the girls at a strip club in North Beach. If you need more Tara catch her show Getting In on the Ground Floor and Staying There at The Center for Sex and Culture.

Before introducing Frank Portman, Stephen told us we were free to bring our own folding chairs, “so you’ll always be guaranteed a seat.” Also the floors had just been cleaned. So what’s your problem? Frank read a piece from his novel King Dork about how shockingly little French Tom Henderson knew even after years of classes. He could only discuss the activities of his friends, Claud and Jean, in present tense. I’m sure they were your French class friends too. I myself remember them fondly, if a little dimly. Au revoir, Claud and Jean. Au revoir.

Upon his arrival at the Makeout Room Neal Pollock told me how much he enjoyed being back in San Francisco, where writers are actually appreciated. “In LA," he said, (where he lives now) "writers are considered to be one notch above drug-addled pan handlers.” But he and his wife wanted to raise their son in a place that’s calm and quiet and that has good values and clean air. I think it’s working because Elijah Pollack’s insightful maxim upon being told nobody’s perfect: Everybody’s perfect. Neal also told us a story about his very open-minded SF cab driver. Judging by the groan from the audience I’d say the squick factor was about an eight. Up on Dublit soon. And don’t say you weren’t warned.

Next we had W. Kamua Bell. He’s voting Obama. McCain: the name just sounds like he’s already been president. He thinks we should just build McCain a library and send him on his way. Sounds like a good plan to me. Minus the library actually. The All-Star Minstrels were up next and sang about watching the tall grass grow. Looks like these two have already quit their day jobs.

Po Bronson, co-founder of the Grotto, illuminated the stage next and in a quiet voice read from a work in progress, which came out of this article in New York magazine. He’ll be finished in a long time or two weeks depending on how you look at it. His piece had to do with why white parents don’t talk about race to their children. When he was finished he got a rock and roll scream like he was Ringo, Paul, George and John. Even the rowdy Pentecostals next door got drowned out.

Ethan Canin, the other Grotto founder, concluded the evening reading and by then we were just stunned by the talent in the room. Ethan urged us all to vote yes on the ballot measure to name the sewage treatment plant after George Bush and then read from his just-out novel, America, America, which is about a liberal senator running for president in 1972. Sound familiar? It should. But remember, this is fiction, not truth, so don’t expect Nixon in the White House at the end of that book, or maybe do. I haven’t finished it—please nobody spoil it for me. Next month on the 16th we’ll welcome Jonathan Franzen, Michelle Tea, Matthew Eck, Tom Barbash and Davy Rothbart. It’ll be just two days after I come back from an east coast visit, so I won’t have as much time to fulfill my life’s mission of putting posters up on every pole in San Francisco. You guys will have to pay extra attention to those emails Steve sends out. Thank you to Vivian for giving me the dinosaur, to Eric Tang and to my homonym twin for the pictures.