Like most people, and especially most people, I hate going to readings. A reading is an empty concert, the improv comedy you see because your boyfriend is in an improv comedy troupe, the phallo-phobic bachelorette party (no strippers, no penis stuff!). No penis stuff? When there’s no penis stuff, and the bride-to-be is doing her best to sing karaoke with the vaginas around her, and nobody is eating from the plates piled high with tempura, except you, who eats quite a bit of tempura and tries to do a comic rendition of Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Puff the Magic Dragon”, that’s a reading. A reading has no penis stuff.
A reading is the man who makes “music” every five minutes by turning on a tiny bit of static. Everyone waits for the static, claps. The reading is the clapping. The reading is the static, or the waiting for the static, I also hate metaphors, and having to wait for them. I have hosted readings at a place called The Lucky Cat. I have read in readings at a bar called The Ding Dong Lounge. The names alone let you know you’ll be waiting, know you’ll be clapping, that you won’t be lucky, that you’ll have to get emails with the words “ding dong” in them. We are at Happy Ending, but we are not happy. And we will not be happy, happy in our bodies or in our minds or in our hearts, until this reading has ended. We may be bemused, grateful for the little bits of life or joy that a writer forgets to remove from his work. We are here because we are writers or dating writers or friends of writers who want to guilt their writer friends into some future birthday requirement. Thanks, martyr friends. We will be at your thirtieth birthday parties. We may even bowl. Without you, there would be no electronic music, no experimental theater, no readings.
The best reading I went to, I missed. I missed seeing one of the only people I enjoy seeing read, one of the only people in the city who can read. I caught the other guy, the guy who had the reading series named after him. I caught his final attempt at levity, the audience’s final attempt to laugh, a self-deprecating vow to quit smoking, him thanking everyone for coming. I walked into everyone’s relief.
“I missed it!” I shouted. I was not drunk. I confessed missing the reading to the readers themselves, the editor of the anthology (I was in the anthology), the guy the anthology was named after. I helped the host blow out the candles. The writer I’d meant to see and a few of his groupies went downstairs, got drinks on the house. I bought a bourbon and ginger ale (my signature reading drink, not on the house), and settled into some literary gossip. Had everyone seen how Lorrie Moore had screwed over a hot Jewish Brazilian writer in The New York Review of Books? They had. Did everyone know that the writer who had committed suicide a year ago had once slept with my friend? They did not. A groupie tried to explain that So and So had gone to Brown.
“Going to Brown is not gossip,” said my favorite writer. He’d gone there. We compared George Saunders and Sherman Alexie. I called someone “overlauded”.
“Overlauded,” I said again. I liked the sound of it. I hadn’t had to sit through two hours of readings about the quirkiness of the inhabitants of the city of New York, but here I was, drinking bourbon, dismissing people who’d managed to get their short stories published. One of the groupies produced the controversial review (did he carry around The New York Review of Books?) and I studied the photo of the hot Brazilian Jew Moore had destroyed. Was I hotter? I was half Brazilian and all Jewish and on a barstool surrounded by men. Penis stuff. Happy Ending.