Here’s evidence that April is the cruelest month.
A few years ago, when the city was flush with dinero, some civic-minded art administratrix decided to promote poetry in Denver as, besides being Shakespeare’s cruelest month, April is also National Poetry Month. At taxpayer expense the Mayor’s Commission on Art, Culture and Waste of Money, mailed out some deluxe color promotional materials attesting to the importance of poetry in our lives, complete with a list of venues and April literary events scheduled in the Denver-Metro area. The postcard caught my eye as I’ve been involved in the poetry world ever since the last wave of beat sensibility in Denver adopted me in the mid-Seventies - not to brag, but I’ve won awards, appeared (even centerfold-ed) in lit ‘zines, and hosted hundreds of readings for Denver literati these thirty-five years.
When it comes to poetry, a great influence upon me was Larry Lake, publisher of Denver’s Bowery Press. Larry published my first broadside (a poetry tradition in Bohemia for centuries) and my first book; he also instigated my ordination as a minister in The Temple of Man. Aside from matters related to love and family, these two events were pivotal in setting the course of my life’s journey. Over the years my relationship with Larry was like the weather: some days beautiful and some days stormy; after all we both sought the attention of the same muse. Towards the end of his life – Larry died young in the early Nineties – he and I were estranged for reasons of anger and art and alcohol, and, in an attempt to do right by Larry after his death, I wrote a story for the stage, Not Just Another Hose Job, a bit of creative Irish non fiction that celebrated some of Larry’s virtues, offering the short tale as an answer to the question: What’s so good about men, anyway?
Hose Job almost wrote itself in one sitting, start to finish, on my piece of shit Millennium PC one winter afternoon as my wife skied with friends at Mary Jane. I had the house to myself, a state of being (Step One) required for my writing, and hoped to write something new for an open mic night that for reasons of cabin-fever and ennui, Marcia and I had been attending on Thursday evenings at Michaelangelo’s on Broadway. Although the evening spotlighted singers, guitar players and songwriters, my stories had been well received; consequently, I write the six and half minute narrative about Lake with the attention span of folksingers in mind: (short not long), and my tale of payback and comeuppance is so well received upon first reading that I think the folksingers might parade me down Broadway on their shoulders. Everybody loves it.
Knowing its effect on a live audience, I am looking forward to sharing it at some other venues, and that is where the city’s effort to promote poetry comes in, for on the Mayor’s postcard is mention of an open mic night at a club in North Aurora, The Kasbah, and I decide to attend this new-to-me poetry event. The verbiage of the listing reads Signup and Reading at 8.
Now Marcia and I had been attending the Michael Angelo evenings as a “date night” of sorts, but for sundry reasons she decides not to make The Kasbah reading with me, although she whole-heartedly encourages me to go. “Everyone loves your story. Go, tell it in Aurora. Have some fun without me,” are her parting words, as to a place I’ve never been, I head, on this April night.
Because I like to arrive early for events to check out the vibe, I enter the strip mall door of The Kasbah at 6th and Chambers at 7:30. The place is bigger than I would have guessed, with a dance floor and stage centrally located. I’d guess the occupancy limit would be two hundred. From north to south the club is restaurant seating, a stage and dance floor horse-shoed by cocktail table seating, a bar, more restaurant seating, and kitchen, with a DJ booth opposite the stage by the front door.
I take a stool at the bar and scan the scene. There are probably sixty people in the Kasbah, all of whom – with the exception of me, one of the bartenders, and the female half of a couple seated opposite the stage – are African American. Thirty or so adults are working out on the dance floor as a gentleman with a wireless microphone leads everyone with his voice and by example. I’m not sure if it’s a dance class or an exercise class but everyone is having fun despite the accompanying retro Seventies disco music.
Over the wishes of Donna Summer (Love to love you Baby), I order some brandy and ask the bartender about the poetry reading, wondering if, perchance, I got the night wrong. She tells me the dance class is over at eight and that’s when the poetry begins. I realize there’s much to The Kasbah and am reminded very much of The Mercury Café as both are cabarets with a dance floor, host poetry readings, offer classes, and provide a stage for locals. Its monthly calendar seems as eclectic as the Merc’s. Hell, the dance instructor, in his enthusiasm and sales pitch for continuing classes reminds me of Tiffany Wine who leads the Jitterbug and Lindy Hop classes at The Merc. I feel strangely at home. I have a second brandy and await the arrival of the poetry host, a woman I am told, who runs “The Show,” a phrase which incites a shiver of my intellect, as such words are generally not used to describe an open poetry reading.
At eight, the dance class ends and the Kasbah goes from being lively to practically empty as the dancers take their lactic acid build-up home with only a few poetry lovers newly arrived to take their place. After an hour of waiting with the host still a no show, the bartender introduces me to the club manager, a nice enough fellow, who tells me he’ll hook me up with a slot once Taboo arrives. In an aside to the barkeep, he indicates he too is irritated at the late start of things. I order a beer and intend to nurse it as I’ve now been at the bar over an hour and half for an event that was supposed to begin an hour ago. At 9:30, the DJ announces that soon things will be getting under way as Taboo is on her way. “Woo woo Taboo,” I mutter to myself, wondering at the lurking disdain in my invocation of her name.
A little before ten there is a flurry of activity in the room and the disco music ends. Soon a young woman taps me on the shoulder, and asks, “Are you the guy who wants in my show?” to which I respond, “I’m the guy who wants to sign up for the open reading that was listed in the Mayor’s guide to April poetry events.”
“What’s your name?” she asks.
I tell her, “Eddie.”
“Just Eddie?” she questions, and repeats. “Really. Just Eddie?”
Now I have a lot of names by which I am called:Ed Ward, Ed, Eddie, Edwin, Eday, Ward, Edwin Forrest, . . . but I feel no need to bring my reputation to bear on my signing up for Taboo’s open reading.
“Just Eddie” I say.
She tells me I am second on the list as she unashamedly rolls her eyes, turns away and sashays to the stage, with sashay being a euphemistic description of her locomotion. Her outfit is over the top provocative. Other descriptive adjectives come to mind, among them slutty and whoreish: turquoise cowboy boots, spidery fishnet tights, a leather skirt short enough to not cover the junction of her thighs and the lines of her booty, and a ghost of a see through blouse highlighting her cleavage.
Taboo begins with a whine about the unfolding of the night’s event without ever mentioning that the evening is already two hours behind schedule. She apologizes for the small turnout as apparently an upcoming Slam team, Café Nuba, is hosting tryouts in downtown Denver. She offers this as an excuse for the many empty seats in The Kasbah. “Anybody who is anybody is at Café Nuba,” she adds, an ignorant dis on those who have come to listen or read.
“How will we ever fill an hour as I only have three poets on my list?” is the questions she answers herself: “Well, I guess, I’ll just have to carry the night,” before breaking into motion and poetry.
Instantly I am reminded that there is very little new under the sun. On my barstool, I squirm, for her poetry is banal, sophomoric and uninspired, mostly a hiphop indictment of the men in her life. Apparently she hates her former paramours after sex with the same fervor used to seduce them. Blah, blah blah, men are bad, men are dogs, men are fog that blocks the light. I stop listening and settle my tab with the bartender and move away from the bar. I intend to support with my attention whoever is signed up to read before me and sit at a cocktail table near the stage. When I tune back in, Taboo is still going on about the lice in her life, the balls she would break, etcetera and I again stop listening. I’m enjoying the buzz of two brandies and a beer and I review the text of Not Just Another Hose Job. I’m chuckling to myself at one of the more humorous moments in my story when a young man at the table next to mine interrupts my reverie.
“Hey, man, are you just gonna take it? I mean, she’s mocking the shit out of you.”
I snap my attention back to Taboo. She’s talking about the Virgin Eddie in the house, a reference, apparently, to my never having been at The Kasbah before. She’s making sure that everyone knows that she can not attest to my ability as a poet, that she is reluctant to let me on stage, but “Hell, how bad can one man be?” she asks, as she ends her “first set of my show” with her final wham-bam-hate-you-man sham of a poem.
I take the stage. The audience seems interested in me as I am a bit of exotica here in East Aurora. Hell, I’m white, I’m old, and apparently I’m interested in poetry, as is the audience. When I introduce my piece as an answer to the question: What’s so good about men anyway? I am warmly received, especially by the stage-left, front row table of listeners, a dozen or so middle aged women. They laugh and snicker as one comes out of her chair to high five and bait me: “Tell us man, what is so good about men?” All clap and woo-woo her friendly query.
I stand and deliver my well-rehearsed story as Taboo, disregarding me, works the room greeting people in the audience. About three minutes into my story, I can’t help but notice the stage lights blink on and off as the disco music blares loudly for a couple of beats and my microphone cuts out momentarily. As everyone in the room is laughing at my recount of Larry’s behavior, I can’t help but think that the light and sound blip was an accident. Past the stage lights, however, I spy Taboo exit the DJ booth and realize the glitches were at her instigation. She stands staring at the stage, her arms akimbo. Her body language implies that I am guilty of some faux pas. She points her right thumb stage left as if to say Get Off My Stage. I ignore her. I press on with my narration, as the audience, beguiled, is leaning stage-ward, wondering where my story will take them. They are engaged, amused, smiling and laughing, unaware of the exasperated Taboo in the back of the room.
Taboo renters the DJ booth and now my mic is dead. As audience members groan dismay, I continue narrating my piece as if the mic is still working although I boost my volume. Taboo and a posse of poseurs rush from the back of the room and assemble stage left.
“Give me my mic,” she demands. Again, I ignore her and step off the stage closer to the twelve top that has been applauding my tale and finish my telling with the dead mic in my hand as Taboo takes the stage with her friends, all of whom are giving me crap for not having stopped when Taboo demanded it of me. “Fuck you old man!” and “Who do you think you are, Grandpop?” and other such ageist remarks are mouthed and spoken.
As Taboo, furious and threatening, approaches me and the front edge of the stage I let the microphone slip to the club floor, playing out the cord as one would a fishing line, before dropping the cord completely. Taboo reels it in from the stage, and once she has the mic and its power is restored, she begins to abuse me.
“Twenty minutes of this old man reminiscing has slain me,” she announces, as she pretends to die and folds her body, crumpling to the stage. “How dare you go on and on for twenty minutes with your old man memories on my stage. This is my show!” she questions and exclaims while prone on the floor, as if speaking from the grave.
Now I’m tempted to retake the stage and pretend to urinate on her, thinking it might revive she who has been slain. You know, unzip my pants and wag my hands as if they were holding my penis. Maybe pull a pants pocket through the zipper and wag the cloth like a fire hose. You know, extinguish her pain at having had to endure my six minute tale; instead, I turn my back on the irate Taboo and address the audience with my indignation, starting with the twelve top: “Have I slain you?”
No one answers. In fact, all avert their eyes, unwilling to take sides or voice their feelings. A minute ago a dozen women were laughing with me and now Taboo has put them as well as everyone else in the room between a rock and a hard place. Side with me and offend Taboo (whose show it is after all) or lie to themselves and side with Taboo. After all, my six minutes of humor were hardly twenty minutes of poor performance. Hell, when in the story Larry Lake exacts his revenge, everyone listening had expressed a collective sigh of amazement and delight, for I had delivered on my promise to answer the question: What’s so good about men, anyway? I walk the room asking everyone with my eyes and the supplication of my hands and the shrug of my shoulders if Taboo’s assessment of my narration was correct. Everyone chooses silence. All eyes look away. None will affirm that I’d been treated rudely. I menace the room, puffing up with adrenaline and bluster and indignation. My one hundred and sixty pounds appears now closer to two hundred. I turn back to Taboo, proffer the peace sign, and head directly to the DJ booth to raise a passionate ruckus. I slam open the door and stare at the three men inside, one of whom is the manager I had met earlier.
“What was that all about?” I ask. “My piece was six minutes, not twenty, and your host heard not a word of it. Everyone in the room loved my story. Ask them, I dare you. In thirty years of running and reading at open mics I have never seen anyone treated so disrespectfully. Really, is this what The Kasbah is all about?’
The soundmen avert my stare and are silent. My indignation possesses the booth and the manager attempts to diffuse the situation with an arm around my shoulder and a whispered offer: “Let me buy you a drink.” He knows I’ve been rudely treated by Taboo, but he won’t apologize for her or himself. “Please, tell me, what are you drinking?”
Calling his bluff and raising the stakes, so to speak, I tell him, “A triple Grand Marnier, that’s what I drink,” knowing that’s about a thirty-dollar pour. He guides me back to the bar and tells the bartender, “Give him what he wants. On the house.” I am handed a snifter full of orange liqueur, and I tune back into the room.
Taboo is on stage rapping another diatribe about the failings of men, elaborating all the short-comings of the men she’s fucked, mocking their penis and brain sizes, belittling all her former lovers with adjectives such as effete and puny and limp.
I’m inspired to rebuke her, and with a new nickname I brand her. “Stop being a snitch, Snitch. No one wants to hear you gossiping rudely ‘bout your boy toys.” The Kasbah goes eerily silent again, a quiet broken by my replay: “Snitch, stop snitching on your boy toys. Ex lovers deserve better!”
The audience does not know whether to laugh, groan or cry. The tension in the room is palpable. How can such a heckled taunt as mine – true as it is – be dealt with? Well, rashly is the answer, and before I count five there are three rather thuggish twenty-something year old bouncers (former linemen at Aurora Central or card carrying ganstas, I can’t tell) aside me, one of whom tells me I’m going to have to leave.
“You mean, I don’t get to finish my drink?”
“That’s right, you’re out of here, Pops. It’s a wrap. Right now. Case closed. You’re out of here.”
Dramatically and slowly I raise my snifter high above my head and pour the liquid contents on the floor, intending that the splash-back finds its way onto all six Nike sneakers that surround me.
Unceremoniously I am boxed in, shepherd-ed toward and out the door, bullied towards my car, and threatened with an ass kicking if I do anything but drive away, never to return. When one of the young men guarding me looks a little too close to violence, I bluster all three: “Touch me and I own The Kasbah. You have no idea who I am. And you can tell Taboo – as the Irish say – It is death to be a poet, death to love a poet, and death to mock a poet. I pity your ignorant allegiance to that ego of excuse for poetry."
April can, indeed, be cruel, but not as cruel as the comeuppance I will exact one day upon Taboo, starting with this retelling.
Larry Lake - ink on paper - Michael Bergt