Last month, after finding a last-minute cheap flight to the states, our favorite expat, Justin Maurer made it up to the Vol. 1 stage, and told this story about his distaste for doing readings.
I hate giving readings. It is one of the most uncomfortable, embarrassing, and awkward moments for me as a person, a human bug living in an ant farm of six billion writhing maggots. That’s not really how I feel about humanity. I love people.
The last time I was asked to read was at an art gallery in Portland, Oregon. It was to present a recently published book of short stories on a local micro press called Future Tense Books. I was of course, a nervous wreck. I picked out a nondescript blue dress shirt to wear, and a pair of plain black dress shoes. While flossing, my neglected gums bleeding, I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘You look nothing like a writer, you faggot.’
A jekyl and hyde like take over coated me with green bile on one side of my face and clownish girl make up on the other. The mean one continued…
‘That’s right you whimpering baby. You’re going to read them a true story. Boo fucking hoo. You’ve published your shitty vignettes and now you’re going to read them to a bunch of toilet drinking queers who will clap politely when you’re done, then a fifteen year old girl and a fat gay man are going to ask you to sign their copies. Brav-o my boy. What a champ.’
The clownish girl took over, ‘Hey, I’m trying to stay positive here. Everyone else just gets of work and drinks. They drink themselves into a stupor and complain about how they wish they could quit their jobs and travel. Well, I travelled a little; wrote a couple of things. It’s better then not doing it. My humble exploits surely were worth cataloging.’
Green bile man took over, ‘Fuck off, you pussy. Why don’t you write a real story? Like someone with balls would write. Something Bukowski or one of the Russians would write. Come on, Carver, Hemingway, those guys had balls. What do you have? A giant pussy. ‘
‘Easy tiger,’ the real me came back and I recognized myself again in the mirror. ‘Hey now, you beautiful man, let’s go get us a cup of coffee.’
I strutted into my favorite coffee shop feeling good about myself. If the cute girl with tattoos was working I would surely invite her to ‘my reading.’ Love the sound of that, ‘my reading.’
‘Hi there. How are you doing? Long shift, huh? Well, I’m reading down the street if you want to come and have a drink after you get off work? Yea, I’m pretty nervous, but I’ll be fine. Oh yea, I’ll have the same thing, double short latte, thanks. Naw, no soy for me. I’m a milk man. I breast fed until I was about fifteen years old did you know that? Naw, just kidding. Alright, see you down there. Your hair looks good by the way. Of course I noticed.’
I jangled the bell adorned glass door ajar and pushed it forward with my free right hand thinking, ‘Great you idiot, now she might come. Way to go.’
I booked it down the street and the coffee overflowed out of the mouth hole on the black plastic lid onto my left hand.. I hadn’t fastened the lid with enough gusto. ‘Motherfucker,’ I mumbled to no one in particular.
I got to the art gallery and there was already quite a few people there. They had read the writeup in the excuse for a weekly newspaper that some pretentious cock declared I was Portland’s best young writer or something pathetic like that.
I downed the coffee not caring that my tongue was becoming increasingly scalded. The roof of my mouth also felt the backlash of my wincing tongue, it’s tip gorging into the strange valleys that exist for some reason on the ceiling of the mouth.
A smiling friend appeared, patting me on the back. ‘Dude,’ he exclaimed. ‘Ready for your big debut?’
I said something to the effect of ‘No.’
At book readings everyone is seated with a drink in their hand, some of them with crossed legs. They stare intently at the reader or check text messages on their mobile phones. Their laughter is the only solace that you are doing something right, and most of the time it’s unpredictable because your comic timing is far from well oiled.
People in different regions of the United States tend to laugh at different parts of the same story. I have tested them. This makes me uneasy. For that reason I do not like standing in front of people when the sound of my voice is the only noise in the room besides a cough or mobile phone ring. Perhaps the tick of a clock or a bartender dropping a plate of glasses that causes everyone a welcome disturbance because they are allowed to look in another direction at the same time and give a knowing look to their neighbor.
I explained this in a spew of incoherency to my companion and friend and he assured me that everything is going to be alright. I told him I disagreed, and I hated to tell people personal details about my life, people that I do not know, people that are trying to pry into my conciousness and soul. He told me ‘You need a shot of tequila my friend.’
We popped around the corner to the bar where the bike messengers hang out wearing their man purses and flaunting their facial hair. The bar was indeed full of young men with beards and matching nautical star tattoos. Their keys were fastened to their belt loops with some sort of mountain climbing device, and their bike locks were fastened to their messenger bags, which was strange because all of the bicycles were parked outside. In Portland, people foolishly trust others.
‘Ok man, one shot of tequila and you’ll be fine. Good to go.’
We downed the clear liquid with the ritual of the salt and the lime, and I did feel a noticable improvement to my psyche. I don’t usually drink before readings, but today was an exception, the presentation of my new book. Yes, I was going to be fine. Just fine.
We walked around the corner and the art gallery owner found me.
‘There you are, everybody’s waiting, you better get up there.’
And so there I stood, in front of gazing expectant eyes. A herd of animals staring into the headlights transfixed to my incoming jalopy; a piece of shit Toyota Corolla.
‘This guy looks like Jeff Daniels or Owen Wilson. Surely he’s going to make us laugh. DH at the weekly paper said Justin Maurer is this town’s best new young writer. Oh, that Dave Humperdink never lies.’
There it was. Go time. Do or die. Read or stutter or vomit. Unfortunately my body was going through some sort of strange internal turmoil. It wasn’t my mind this time, but it was my walking corpse, my oyster, the insides of my digestive system.
It began to rattle. I began to sweat. The coffee pooled with the tequila and declared world war three. With technology and advanced weaponry, this world war was far more lethal and terrifying then the first two world wars combined. It was official. North Korea had pushed the red button. Nukes were flying towards Tokyo and impending doom was near. The border of South Korea began to mobilize and US forces were ready to go in, but first we had to fire nukes of our own. Bish bam boom, the nukes soared off of the aircraft carriers and destroyers. Out of the submarines, nukes shot out of them too. We’re going to use all of our capabilities to blast Kim Jong Il into utter submission. His people are going to be burned alive.
In my lower intestine, it rumbled. Kim Jong Il’s missles were nearing Tokyo. The well dressed young audience did not know what was occuring inside my body. Noxious gasses, heartburn, fire and brimstone. This was armageddeon, judgement day. The angel of death was gonna fly in at any moment with his corn harvesting device and harvest some heads. Some heads are gonna roll tonight. It’s here, impending doom. You are done young author. You are finished young musician. You are executed. You look just like your dad. You sound like him too. You’re uptight and serious. You are a loser. You are about to shit yourself.
In the end, I finished the story. The crowd applauded politely. I said thank you, copies of my book were available for a mere five dollars at the table minded by the guy with glasses and his girlfriend, also bespectacled.
World war three never happened. Crisis was narrowly averted. I saved the world, I got the girl, and most importantly; I didn’t shit myself.