By Cindy Bailey 1.29.05
I had to attend the Indie Mag All-Stars party Saturday night at the Make-Out Room. Sponsored by Kitchen Sink , Clamor , Bitch , and LiP magazines – let me interrupt here to say that with names like that, how could you not be curious and go? – the event was the closing party for the Independent Press Conference, which took place here in San Francisco the week prior. But it was also a reading, open to the public and free (and we all like “free”). It had two main appeals to me. One, it offered the chance to check out the words behind kick-ass independent publications (in addition to the sponsors, there was Watchword Press , Instant City , and other magazine). Two, it was at the Make-Out Room. (I just love those plush, red-velvet curtains, the low lighting, and full bar.)
I arrived at 8 for the 8:30 readings, which was perfect. The place was full, but not yet packed. There was still a chance of finding a seat. At the end of the bar, closest to the stage, I spotted two barstools. One had a jacket draped over it, so I sat on the other. I hadn't been there long before a middle-aged man with glasses and what appeared to be cream cheese on his face walked swiftly toward me.
“That's my seat,” he said.
“OK, no problem,” I said and stood up.
I looked around for another. The man watched me looking around for another and then pulled his jacket off the other barstool and said, “You can sit here.”
Uh, OK, whatever.
“But you have to buy me a drink,” he said.
And moments later: “No, not really.”
So that's how my evening started. But it got better. This man, John Smith (not his real name, but the one he gave me when he learned I was writing a review of the event), told me about “Writers with Drinks,” the popular, invitation-only reading series put on by Charlie Anders, who is also the publisher of other magazine. Mr. Smith pointed her out to me, over by the pool table where the magazines were on display: “It's the guy in the black dress and red purse. Can't miss him,” he said.
I spoke with Charlie briefly. She told me a little about her event, gave me a copy of other , and told me she had just finished a novel. Where do people find the time, I wondered. She then pointed me to Antonia Blue, publisher of Kitchen Sink magazine and the one in charge of the evening. Antonia readily admitted that running an independent publication was fun but a whole lot of work. Many involved in Kitchen Sink , for example, also have day jobs, which is really impressive when you consider the quality of their publication (KS was nominated for an Utne award in 2004).
But anyway, let's get on with the show –
Emcee for the evening was Erik Rehill of the band, Conspiracy of Beards, and also a writer. When he jumped on stage in his trendy suit, Mr. Smith said to me, “Oh, look, it's Kramer,” referring to Erik's hair, which yes, did have a Kramer-like quality.
Erik did a fab job of emceeing. He was comfortable in front of the mic, spoke clearly, and kept his intros short and meaningful. He had no problems with crowd control either, especially when the alcohol had been flowing a while and folks around the bar were getting obnoxious. “Hey, Shut Up!” he told them, and mostly, they did.
In all there were nine readers. All had interesting ideas to share. Some were thoughtful, some analytical, some poignant, some humorous. Some were fiction, but most were nonfiction. I could sense that the pieces would make really good reads over a cup of Joe at Maxfield's. But on stage, unfortunately, the energy often fell flat. I blame the bar noise for some of that. But also, I understood that this was not some flashy hip-hop poetry spoken word performance thingy, after all. It was a reading of some fresh, independent voices – if you listened very carefully.
Some highlights for me included Lynn Rapoport's rich, colorful descriptions of the street, the scenes, and the characters that make up the neighborhood she loves: the Mission District. Her piece (from Instant City ) was a personal response to the independent film, “Mission Movie,” made by Lise Swenson last year, and spoke poignantly and in detail about the neighborhood. She talked about “the midnight artist who built an igloo under the freeway” and how she moved here “before the boom… when you could still say with a straight face, ‘I can't pay more than $300 a month.' ”
Lee Skirball, one of only two males in the line-up, humored us with his piece, “Dying on a Budget,” from Kitchen Sink , opening by revealing he worked as a writer for the funeral page (not to be confused with the more glamorous obituaries) of a major newspaper. It was recession-proof, he said.
At this point (fourth reader in), my “primo” seat at the bar was no longer. The crowd had grown restless and thirsty. The best place to get the bartender's attention, apparently, was directly in front of me, blocking my view.
By the time I returned focus on Lee, he was talking about Cosco and the size of toilet paper and being an animal, and I knew it all related somehow, but obviously I missed some key segue. But hey, the story became more enigmatic this way.
After Lee, Carla Costa got up to read her Kitchen Sink piece and that was it. The noise from the back of the bar had pushed all the way forward and swallowed the stage. All I heard was, “The media is bad.” Then, an amazing thing happened. People in the back started “shooshing” loudly, and the folks around the bar actually shut up and listened. Just in time for Carla's closing sentences. (I learned later that Charlie started the “shooshing.” Way to go!)
The last reading I wanted to highlight was Suzanne Kleid's. She read her first published fiction, “Yours for the Taking,” from other magazine, and as she described it: “It's about drunk people fucking and solving problems with violence.” Her story made you sit up and strain against the bar din to hear it. It didn't hurt, either, that Suzanne had a charming presence on stage, to which a mild cold and a slight stutter only added. At one point she read, “…teach breast-feeding to women whose babies continue to die,” and paused and then said, “Sorry,” as if to apologize for her story's character's lack of sensitivity. We let out a brief laugh, and then she said lightly, “Hey, don't laugh at that,” and continued her story.
A couple more readers and then sha-bang. It was done. Erik got on stage and told us to “take off our clothes and stay a while,” and so we did. Stay a while, that is. Here was the evening's line-up.
Check out these writers!
• Rachel Fudge reading her work from Bitch
• Liv Leader reading her work from Clamor
• Lynn Rapoport reading her work from Instant City
• Lee Skirball reading his work from Kitchen Sink
• Carla Costa reading her work from Kitchen Sink
• Brian Awehali reading his work from LiP
• Suzanne Kleid reading her work from other
• Claire Light reading her work from other
• Lisa K. Strom reading her work from Watchword Press