The Judas Cow

The Judas Cow began life in the early 2000s as a live trio hitting some of the more prominent rock clubs around Columbus. Their style, a distinctly Midwestern, mid-tempo blend that falls somewhere between Americana and Tom Petty, seems to lend itself just as much to quiet listening sessions around the house, however, and many of us eagerly await some official recorded output.

Led by singer-guitarist-songwriter Kevin Spain, formerly of beloved local group Silo The Huskie, they would at long last release an EP in 2006, Last Summer. Prior to this, the band had circulated some demos by hand, passing Sharpie labeled discs out around town, and it’s impressive to hear how polished these songs became in the finished product. Of course, playing out constantly does help with that process. But bass player Ryan Haye had only just picked up the instrument shortly before joining the group, and you would never guess that in listening to this EP.

Some Spirits With Your Meal

Though always a guy who kind of believed that ghosts exist, I’ve also been one who certainly never wished to encounter any. And thus far I haven’t. But I would eventually find myself in the middle of exactly one good ghost story, which stemmed from working at the former DaVinci’s Ristorante, located on the corner of Henderson and Reed Roads.

Desperate for cash one year near the holidays, I took a second, part time job waiting tables at the restaurant, an experience I found enjoyable enough. The owners were pretty chill for an upscale Italian place, my coworkers were cool, the pay decent and we even got to eat whatever leftovers were to be had at the end of every shift. There were a couple of weird features to the building itself, however, including a massive upstairs that wasn’t used for much of anything that I could see, a really deep elevator in the kitchen, and an insistence that the bread makers for some reason plied their wares in the basement.

But I never really thought much about these features, nor the constantly flickering lights. There was this hall area in between the dining room and kitchen where we servers would hang out during lulls in the action, because it allowed us to keep an eye on things while remaining out of the way. The light globes in this hall would often either brighten or dim for no discernible reason, usually a handful of times a day. I just chalked this phenomenon up to bad wiring and never commented on it to anyone, or asked if they’d noticed this, until one day when a few of us were hanging out in the hall and it happened.

“What’s the deal with these lights?”

“Didn’t you know?” one of my coworkers replied with an amused smirk, “this used to be a funeral home.”

And as it turns out, this is true. The DaVinci’s Ristorante name first surfaced in 1974, diagonally across the intersection from here, and moved to this corner in 1982. In so doing, it displaced a funeral home. This would explain the wide, recessed elevators, which needed the extra space for moving coffins. Also, I am told, the basement bread making room used to be where they embalmed people, which adds a whole other layer of creepiness to that space.

Still, though now hearing for the first time that this place is allegedly haunted, I can’t see any proof of that apart from maybe the lights. Until, that is, the day of the 26 top.

The numbers associated with this party are forever etched on my mind. By this point, I’d been working here a few months, well into the new year, and most afternoons I was saddled in the smoking section with Karen, the two of us, who could handle the somewhat smaller room in tandem, even though it was routinely packed. This was mostly due to the popularity of our buffet, which made serving here a breeze, even if it did cut into to the tip making aspect substantially.

Despite being packed, what we didn’t experience very much of at all were large parties arriving out of the blue. Typically these were scheduled well in advance and were slotted into one of the banquet rooms, which a couple of old ladies almost always handled. On this particular day, however, in the middle of our lunch rush, we got a phone call requesting 26 seats in our smoking section.

Karen and I scramble around moving some things, securing a couple of extra tables, and while we’re able to assemble a large enough surface in the middle of the room, it seems that, with every other chair in our section accounted for, currently in use, we can only come up with 17 seats. This prompts a question I haven’t had to ask before, namely, where do we keep spare chairs around here, anyway?

She explains that I have to take the elevator up to the attic, a space hinted at but never seen. Once there, I will need to cross this spacious room, and that I will find the spare chairs stacked up in neat rows along the far wall. Okay, simple enough, no problem. I duck into the kitchen and climb inside the elevator, shut its massive door. Press the up button and wait…but nothing is happening. I keep mashing this button, with similar results, and eventually give up, attempt to reopen the door instead. Except this also appears to be stuck, malfunctioning, refusing to budge. As it so happens, amusingly enough, there’s a tiny window in the door, and at this juncture I begin rapping on it with my knuckles, pounding on the door, waving in the window, attempting to get the attention of the cooks I can see from here, or anybody else who happens to drift past. All to no avail.

By my watch a good five minutes have now gone by. I’m laughing in disbelief of this situation, but figure that if nothing else, Karen will come looking for me when the party arrives. And yet with nothing else to lose, in a desperation move, I press the up arrow again, and now for some reason it’s magically working.

So up to the attic we go. Now the door’s functioning freely too, another miracle, although any potential good cheer drains from my face the instant I swing it open. For right outside the door, inches in front of me, legions removed from the far wall where the remainder of our spares are stacked, there’s a single column of exactly nine chairs. Spooked beyond belief, particularly in consideration of the dingy space behind them, I pull these chairs toward me and get the hell out of there without ever stepping off of the elevator.

This little episode demonstrates to me that ghosts can have a sense of humor, and might even be helpful. That they were detaining me on that elevator long enough to perpetrate this prank. And a few years after working there, in 2006, when hearing that this location would close and that they were opening a smaller café up on Tremont, my first thought was wondering: will the spirits follow them there? Either way, I came away from this experience believing that ghosts do indeed exist, and all the more convinced I hope to never lay eyes on any.

Starliner Diner: It’s All About Potato Crispiness

While we’re on the subject of Hilliard, the beloved Starliner Diner recently reopened in a new spot, basically around the corner in this quaint suburb’s “old downtown” area. I haven’t had a chance to check out the latest digs just yet, though I certainly intend to. They turned this process around with admirable haste, when you consider the establishment only closed its doors at 5240 Cemetery Road on May 8, and patrons were left jonesing for their fabled huevos rancheros not even a month before the downtown spot – at 4121 Main Street, the site of Hilliard’s post office many a decade ago – was fully operational.

I’m sure they will import the menu and most of the fanbase, but its legendary charm is a dicier topic. “Is it me, or is this one of these fucked up places that only seem to exist in Columbus?” a friend once remarked, when I brought him to Starliner for the first time, and you would be hard pressed to summarize it better. Where to even begin describing this establishment, at least as it existed until May 2016? The fare is considered mostly Cuban, yet the décor is outer space themed kitsch with, like, a scoop of Elvis and then some other bizarre relics thrown into the blender. Some would call it Americana, but that’s just plain laziness – if anything, it reminds me of someone’s house you’d see in a British movie from the 60s, except with a bunch of crazy American and Mexican decorations thrown in, from the space exploration mural with the free floating astronaut painted along the top half of one wall, a paper machier (I’m guessing?) spaceship dangling from the ceiling, lime green, with a bunch of other futuristic designs painted on it in purple. Hanging elsewhere from the rafters, in a line from the front, plate glass window wall back to a small counter with a refrigerator behind it, there’s lamps, disco balls, and giant Xmas decorations of varying sizes and styles; on one wall, an enormous assortment of clocks, except not a normal looking timepiece in the bunch – we’re talking ten and twenty point stars, or branching off other weird shaped tentacles. With, quite naturally, an Elvis painting smack dab in the middle, as if to break up the monotony. One huge, thin, striped rug covers the entire floor on this half of the room, mostly a dull grey cover, and my favorite artifact of all might be this demented portrait of a dad and two kids seated at this dinner table while mom serves these ingrates with a crazed smile. Walls colored the most incongruous colors imaginable, visibly abutting and clashing with one another, weird furniture, and a window where you can watch the chefs in action further dot this landscape. These surreal touches extend even down to the presentation of your check, which is quite naturally brought to you on a Las Vegas tray depicting that city’s famous strip skyline at night, poker chips superimposed upon one of the corners.

But of course, nobody would really care about any of this if the food wasn’t awesome, and as would befit a restaurant that has been named “best breakfast in Columbus” on countless occasions, the Starliner never disappoints. Still, having been here enough times to notice a few key differences and catalog the patterns, I must say you would be slightly better off in choosing your spots wisely, attempting to drop in when this always popular landmark is maybe not quite so busy. Because it all comes down to potato crispiness.

Our last two visits, I must admit, while leaving satisfied overall with the experience – even the lengthy wait by now is an expected part and parcel of every meal here – something nagged at me after the fact, a disquiet I couldn’t initially identify. Eventually, I realized that what was slightly off about these recent Starliner excursions was that the potatoes were not quite as crispy as I’d grown to expect. And as the potatoes were a treasured centerpiece of many a breakfast on the menu, this was a central failing which might possibly serve to undermine the entire operation. Don’t get me wrong, these potatoes were not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it was only that the texture didn’t pop like it should. Furthermore, I concluded that the reason for this, most likely, was that the cooks were rushing the tickets slightly to accommodate these masses, who’d flooded the place in large part specifically for these potatoes.

History will someday document whether this shift in location proves beneficial to the Starliner or otherwise. But for now, I would like to go on record urging you to choose less busy hours for reasons that have nothing to do with wait time – and the cooks to slow down a little bit, because we’re not in that big of a hurry, and another thirty seconds for these potatoes might mean the world.

 

 

Ruminations On Trueman Boulevard

Bummed out as I’m sitting at the Starbucks inside this newly constructed Target, on Trueman Boulevard in Hilliard. Just watching the traffic zip up and down this fairly inconsequential street is enough to give me a bad case of the blues, thinking how it was deserted just a handful of months ago, and that the relentless march of progress cannot be stopped.

Before wrongly accused of hypocrisy – I’m guilty of biting the hand from which my food is delivered, sure, but not hypocrisy – let me state for the record that I work here. I sit at one of these tables every morning that I’m scheduled, for breaks and lunch, at these windows facing the street. And while watching interiors of cities as they are transformed and repurposed can be a thing of beauty, a marvel to hold up to the light and admire, something about plowing that which was formerly frontier will always bring out the inner treehugger, somehow, even when one wasn’t entirely sure such an inner voice existed.

Since the Target went up, they’ve built another strip mall on this road already, in between the Home Depot and Cheeseburgers In Paradise. A Radio Shack sits there, who knows what else. And of course this line of concrete shopping options will likely extend north clear up to Davidson Road, soon enough, where Trueman truly ends. In time, who knows, I can see Trueman being expanded until at least Hayden Run. As will Britton someday, too, Trueman’s vaguely parallel counterpart on the other side of the I-270 outerbelt.

Such developments are tolerable when population and lack of space demands it. But sometimes you can’t escape feeling certain acres are bulldozed specifically because they are new, because formerly occupied plots are considered passe. Such as, one other restaurant sitting across the outerbelt, one of those carbon copy “western” steakhouses (I can’t keep them straight, can’t remember which franchises I’ve frequented and which I haven’t as they all look exactly the same), sits deserted, it has been for a couple of years now. Texas Roadhouse was lined out the building when I was dating a girl in this neck of the woods eight years ago, but at present there’s nary a soul dining there. And a Chili’s just closed at this exit as well, demolished and replaced by another goddamn CVS – a development which would otherwise be deplorable, except that I happen to kind of respect that they at least used an existing retail space rather than dropping a bomb in some field on the edge of town. All of these establishments existed along a busy corridor, Cemetery Road, which is itself an exit off of I-270, yet none of those could survive. And even so, they’re still building a bunch of new restaurants along this stretch? I guess the failure of past tenants explains why movers and shakers involved with some of these newer companies declined to take over shuttered locations, but I wonder what makes them feel so confident about their own demographic studies and carefully razed coordinates.

Cooper Stadium

The place had no personality, not even after they yanked out the artificial rug, and yet you tended to admire that it was placed in that neighborhood at all – in the rundown, semi-residential district of Franklinton, just west of downtown proper. Built in 1931 to house a St. Louis Cardinals farm team, it once served (and presumably continues to serve) a litany of teams, sports, and events, and yet it will most likely always be known as the home of the Columbus Clippers minor league squad for over 30 years.

They used to send me free tickets 3-4 times per season, although I never figured out why. Was this a normal occurrence for anyone else? Then again, these were usually accompanied by coupons for additional cut-rate seats, so perhaps it was all some zany marketing ploy. At any rate, I attended my first game in 1988, the last in 2006, one of their final summers in the stadium before moving uptown to the much more opulent digs found in Huntington Park. The ’88 affair was a treat our little league coach sprung on the whole team, at a time when the big stars on the roster – Columbus’s, that is, not our own basement dwelling club – were Turner Ward and Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens, a night where I was considered a tremendous dork by pretty much everyone for scoring the game in my program.

Not much had changed by opening day 2006. Though still the kind of dork who will score the game in his program, and prone to attending games alone if nothing else is going on, this time around I do manage to rope in a couple of friends, Kyle and Jim. Another contest for which they had mailed me free tickets, and found the club giving out small, inferior cowbells at the gate, along with fridge magnets with the team schedule, Sean Henn was considered their ace and would take the hill. The only players on the roster I’ve heard of before, aside from Henn, are Eric Duncan and Melky Cabrera, although in recently completed seasons we were all treated to the likes of future breakout stars Chien-Ming Wang and Robinson Cano on a regular basis.

We down hot dogs and cheap beer before the game even starts, then settle into our seats. I had forgotten all about my previous visit, however, a night where I drank just two draft Michelob Amber Bocks here at the game, yet somehow ended up barfing my brains out – and an identical dosage of the same toxic potion nearly has the same effect on me this otherwise fine night. Maybe they are being sent leftover dregs from the Budweiser plant across town, or maybe they suffer storage issues at this site. Maybe I am the only person drinking Amber Bock (well, no, Jim also partakes, and voices no complaints) and as a result it is spoiling. But something funky is certainly going on with this draft – and only here, for I don’t have any problems downing it at, say, Studio 35. As a result, I’m bolted to my seat like a seasick landlubber for what turns into a 13-1 blowout in the Clippers’ favor, against the Scranton Red Barons.

As far as routs are concerned, it’s interesting enough, for the offense is scattered liberally throughout the frames. But really, the most compelling aspect of this particular outing might have been the hot dog race, or at least that and its attendant juvenile humor. A familiar sight at many a baseball field, this race featured three characters dressed up as wieners, although in a somewhat inspired twist, two nice looking females, attired as ketchup and mustard bottles, respectively, are holding the finish line tape.

“If I was one of those hot dogs, I’d be working on either ketchup or mustard, one of the two,” Kyle notes.

“Both!” I say, “I’d have ketchup on one side, mustard on the other!”

“You have to leave your costumes on, though,” Jim elaborates with a laugh, “that’s my fetish.”

“You can take your spouts off, that’s it,” I suggest.

 

 

 

January 8, 2003

Very odd. Walking home from work and I get about halfway up my road, almost make it to the house, and I look up to see this strange light in the night sky. It resembles a spotlight and appears to be originating from somewhere over in Grandview, from the land as opposed to the air. But for one, it’s much more powerful than any spotlight I’ve ever seen – the light, which remains steady as opposed to sweeping, nearly spans the entire horizon from west to east – but also, as bizarre as this seems, it bends at about a forty-five degree angle. In other words, from wherever it’s originating, this beam climbs at a perfect diagonal, then bends at this forty five degree angle and continues overhead straight across town to the east side. To put it more clearly, it’s shaped like a rainbow, except the rainbow isn’t curved, it kinks inward at a sharp angle. Also, this band is monochromatic, the vaguely bluish white of a flashlight.

Once home, I first run upstairs, but can’t get a good look and return to the front yard. By now the angular rainbow shaped beam is falling toward the south at a slow but constant clip. To put it another way, it’s like the St. Louis arch had been directly overhead, then slowly toppled over, toward the southern horizon. Whatever the case, this bizarre spectacle eventually disappears from my line of sight behind some buildings, and I retreat indoors.

Watershed

When I once remarked that I liked local band Watershed, a friend of mine agreed that they were good but that all the songs tended to sound the same after a while, and that they weren’t very original to start with. But I don’t know. Though seeing them play live twice and admittedly walking out in the middle of their set the first of those occasions, I have to kind of disagree with his assessment. And I know that they never were considered cool enough among Columbus’s taste making elite, so my support for them is surely a real eye roller. But I still think they were better than many of their massively hyped contemporaries, and I wasn’t alone in believing this. After all, Sony signed them to their Epic label at a time this was considered a very big deal indeed, releasing both a live EP and full studio album by the band.

Three Chords And A Cloud Of Dust, the live one, is a fascinating document just for its liner notes alone. Though owning this CD for a while now, I always forget that it was actually recorded in Columbus, at the Newport Music Hall, on January 14, 1994. The marquee depicted inside the disc has Watershed’s name in lights playing the Newport this particular Friday, with another local staple, Ekoostik Hookah, booked for the following Wednesday. Thank yous take up an entire page of the packaging and amount to a virtual C-bus who’s who of people and places, from music venues such as Bernie’s to the Used Kids record store to popular DJ Andyman at independent radio station CD101, musicians such as Willie Phoenix, hometown heavyweight champion Buster Douglas, and everyone else they loved down to the “sandwich artists” at a treasured Subway franchise. Naturally, the roll call would not be complete without a “fuck you” to Michigan basketball players Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard; meanwhile, at the other end of the emotional spectrum, on an opposite page this EP is dedicated to Terry Paul, who died the morning that show was recorded, without whom “the Newport will not be the same.”

This being 1994, there is no mention of a website. Similarly documenting these times in telling detail would be the subdued, black and white packaging, the presence of Spin Doctors producer Frankie LaRocka as co-helmsman (he had also kickstarted that band’s major label career with a 6 song live EP), and of course the songs themselves. Written by frontman/guitarist Colin Gawel and bassist slash forklift driver (according to the liner notes) Joe Oestreich, brought to life on stage with the assistance of drummer Herb Schupp, true, these aren’t the most groundbreaking songs then in existence, maybe, but certainly are catchy and played with a ton of enthusiasm. They call to mind a mix somewhere between the Smithereens and that loping, distinctly Midwestern take on punk rock – slower, less obviously snotty, but just as angst riddled. Gawel’s voice is perfectly pleasant and serviceable, although I find myself enjoying the moments he passes the torch briefly to Oestreich on a couple of tracks. The best selection of the set is one such number, How Do You Feel, which somehow adds an almost No Depression-esque Americana twinge to the proceedings, has a great opening riff and catchy chorus. An audience singalong in the closing moments doesn’t hurt, either.

They probably could have stood a little more variation in tempo on this selection, but you know it translated even better live than it sounds on here, and anyway, after a handful of listens most of these numbers are going to be stuck in that hummable place in your head exactly as they are. So consider this a job well done. I don’t really get nostalgic much for bygone eras, although listening to this does fill me with equal parts sadness and fascination, that a major media corporation was willing to spend money on these guys, and had faith that they just might be the next worldwide phenomenon.

Arlington Cafe

My jaw nearly hits the floor to see this place now. Can there possibly exist a more indelible message that nothing ever lasts? My friends were mostly never fans of this fabled club at 1975 West Henderson, whereas I was an early convert, yet what seemed immediately after ascending to its all-time apex and winning over even those staunch holdouts, doors began shuttering and cobwebs descended from the rafters.

Arlington Café was always a bit of an anomaly, but made its idiosyncrasies work. Situated at the end of a shopping center counting Kroger as its anchor tenant for eons, in front of a sleepy, upper middle class neighborhood populated with stuffy senior citizens, by day this bar was a dark dive which working class drunks were fond of slipping off to for their liquid lunches. Then come nightfall, shortly after the DJ slid into his glass lined booth and began cranking out modern dance mixes, it came alive with a completely different and still younger clientele, albeit one all the daytime regulars felt perfectly comfortable rubbing elbows against, having perhaps never left themselves even after the final happy hour bell finished ringing.

Much of this was attributable to at least four distinct moods to be found within its cavernous interior, and perhaps as many as six. Achieved effortlessly, I might add, a natural extension of its contour, flowing with contrivance. Contrast this against busted downtown experiments like Long Street, a much ballyhooed dance club which hit everyone over the head with all their themed rooms, tallied some staggering crowds in the early going, and soon bit the dust. Meanwhile, Arlington Café thrived, expanded, even, as it annexed the shops in front and added a second, massive dance floor.

There was even this cool, long, almost impossible to believe and semi-secret tunnel which had for some reason been carved in between the Kroger and the cafe’s western wall, leading interested seekers from the shopping center’s front parking lot around to the bar’s rear entrance. That side of the club, once indoors, also featured a vaulted glass ceiling – various people through the years told me this was retractable, even, though I never witnessed such and doubt that tidbit’s veracity – towering above a smaller dance floor or two, a horseshoe shaped bar, and seating on a couple of different levels, while the eastern, more spacious room beyond featured all of the same, pretty much (minus the vaulted ceilings) but with a larger dance floor where the DJ plied his wares from a walled in nerve center, and there were also scores of pool tables, along with the juke for non-disc jockey curated nights. And in later years, after the businesses in front were annexed, still larger dancing regions existed for would be booty shakers, in front of those pool tables. Giants TVs mounted everywhere, of course, and the lighting I recall as being colorful, neither too bright nor too dark regardless of the hour or day. But mostly what I remember are the forever changing vibes, dependent upon whatever moment you chose to show up.

 

 

Larry’s Open Mic Night

Does anyone else remember open mic poetry night at Larry’s, an OSU campus institution? For all I know, it may no longer be there – or maybe it is, and open mic night is still going strong as well – but my wheelhouse with this establishment was Monday nights in the late 1990’s, back when it was unquestionably one of the best kept semi-underground secrets in the university area.

It took me months upon months of reading about it in The Other Paper and Columbus Alive, their local happenings listings, before I finally worked up enough nerve to head down there one night in November. A cold night with bitter wind whipping around me, I walk/half jog down E. Woodruff Avenue and around the corner to this joint, grabbed a seat, timidly, at the bar. I order a Rolling Rock and survey the scene. Part of my reservation, I must admit, was hearing rumors now and then that Larry’s was secretly a gay bar…which itself was often countered by others insisting, no, the regulars just like to spread rumors that it’s a gay bar to keep it from being mobbed by frathole clowns and underage drinkers like all the other watering holes on campus. At any rate, my first impression is that Larry’s looks like your run of the mill dive, which I’m sure is just how the regulars like it. A cozy, almost coffeehouse vibe pervades this place, actually, and I can imagine becoming a protective aficionado myself after a few visits.

The guest of honor this particular evening is an out of town poet named Pamela Steed Hall. Open mic night runs from 7-9, and it seems that I’ve arrived just as festivities are about to begin. Mrs. Steed Hill takes the stage first, although it’s really just a cleared out section of the normal floor in back, and begins reading a number of selections from her recently published poetry collection. Her reading style is only okay, in my estimation, but the writing itself can only be described as awesome.

Following her, the host of this event – a funny, old school hipster guy with graying hair and one seriously dry sense of humor – gets up to read off a winning raffle number, with the prize being some underground poet’s chapbook, also recently published. Though this poetry night is partially funded by the Ohio Arts endowment, they also sell tickets for $1 each, by appearances a weekly ritual. When the graybeard had made his rounds moments earlier, I too had shelled out for a single entry, figuring why not support the arts, eh? The result for this particular drawing makes someone else happy, but not yours truly, which is to be expected.

Once this is finished, a number of local amateurs take turns upon the microphone. I wanted to see how this thing went before working up the nerve to perform myself, with an eye on possibly doing so the next time I visit. It turns out there’s a totally quotidian process involving a lined sheet of notebook paper on a table, and the first number of poets to sign it per night get to recite, with everyone else left off and missing their chances at immortality, at least for another seven nights.

First up among the locals this time around is a tall bearded lad named Colin Dearth. Reminiscent somewhat in appearance of Jim Morrison, Dearth approaches the podium accompanied by this short, pale and skinny sidekick named Victor. Much like those old silent movie actors, Victor says nothing but cracks me up anyway with his facial expressions, at one turn silent and brooding, the next smiles – not to mention the pressing question of what is he doing up there, anyhow, itself a riotous concern.

Even more hilarious is Dearth’s choice of material, though. He (with possibly an assist from Victor) had picked out a recent sports page article from The Columbus Dispatch to read, a piece celebrating the OSU basketball team’s most recent victory, and now Colin begins reading it. Reads it with a passion, too, particularly the catch phrase “ball in the basket,” which crops up at least three times in the piece. Grinning coyly, Dearth raises his voice every time it occurs during the course of his recitation. A sample:

“I’m real proud of our team,” coach Jim O’Brien said, “they played real well and put the BALL IN THE BASKET.”

Throughout, meanwhile, Victor either makes his mournful faces, or nods when this central slogan rears its head.

Dearth leaves the podium after threatening to get up again next week, and Victor trails dutifully behind him. Up next is a somewhat serious cat in glasses, balding despite his young age, name John Glover. “I’m going to read two poems. One is 19 lines long, the other is 4,” he explains, then does just that. His style I would characterize as decent though unremarkable. Following him is a serious scholar with greyish black hair and beard, even thicker glasses than the host. This would be Frank Richardson. He recites slowly, in a deep, resonant voice, and his poems are long, crammed with all manner of obscure and forgotten words. Good stuff.

The middle section is for the most part boring – a black girl, Rita Baker, who’s too singsong-y for my tastes, then a flat out dull 60’s leftover named Elizabeth James. After that you have some kid named Dale Williams, whose reading abilities are strong even while employing only so-so source material, and Barbara Goodall, a grandmotherly old lady who fares about average, though better than expected.

Two final poets close out the night in strong fashion. Ken McCauley, a college age white boy whose style and material were both excellent, has one especially good piece about an existential type character being “discharged from the bus” as it comes to a stop. I’m taking a wild stab here that this one is highly autobiographical. Then there’s Christopher Apple, who in my mind had the greatest poem I heard all night. He’s a serious looking black kid with melodic, poetry slam worthy flow, and tonight’s highlight was a selection titled Something. The repeating refrain to this long, cleverly worded poem is, “something…I don’t know,” a phrase he returns to often.

The following Monday, I work up enough nerve to head down there with the intent of reading my own stuff. Technically speaking I haven’t written any poetry, ever, but do have a spiral bound notebook of crappy song lyrics, which will suffice. The whole point of this exercise is to force myself to get up there on stage. Giving speeches back in school, or getting up in front of a crowd to sing or play an instrument never really bothered me, but this seemed more personal somehow and I could feel my heart speed up just to think about it. So I stop at the Wendy’s next door first, for a bite to eat but also to steel my nerves before entering that shrine of the spoken word.

Colin Dearth is actually the featured performer this week, which suits me just fine – I find his material excellent (no mere sports page recital this time!) and his delivery even better. Plus, as an added bonus, he typically launches into extended monologues between each selection, and these might be the cream of the crop. He talks about his first poetry reading ever, which seems to be a significant instance of synchronicity relating to my own struggle, squirming in the chair, that he would broach this topic. That night, the occasion of his maiden recital, he had staggered in wasted, possibly not even aware a poetry session was underway, and stumbled up to the podium to recite a few insane lines off the top of his head. Since then, his approach has become slightly more refined. Warmly reminisces about recitals past, here and elsewhere, of “blowin’ a doob in back” before making his way to the stage, and once reading from a room in the rear of the building via a walkie talkie placed on the podium. All in all, I felt I could have listened to him read and talk for hours.

But of course, I have bigger fish to fry – namely, getting up and reading my own singsongy stanzas. After Dearth is finished, they have anyone interested waltz up and sign in, with only the first twelve earning a slot tonight. Initially I’m thinking to myself, in copout escape hatch fashion, “hey, I’ll wait and see if there are any slots left after everyone else signs up, then maybe add my name to the list.” But after a tortured second or two decide, screw that, I’d come here to read and would not be denied. Good thing I make that call when I do, too, for I wind up being exactly the twelfth person to put my name in the proverbial hat. Yet when the slots themselves are assigned, I am saddled with an early one, either second or third, which is fortunate in the sense that I don’t have an opportunity to lose my nerve.

Everything and everyone else is pretty much a blur. I remember clutching my blue notebook with these two typewritten sheets inside, the ones I’d transcribed to my computer and printed earlier to avoid fumbling through handwritten pages. I remember cautioning everyone before I begin, too, with the disclaimer that this is my first ever performance. They applaud before syllable one, then, which does help ease the nerves a bit. And my delivery is without question a wooden monotone, although the words themselves are not bad, as I rattle off the lyrics to Vibraphone and Fall Away Like Dust. Then it’s over. People clap and I hustle back to my dark back corner – and as I pass his table in front, Victor gives me the a silent thumbs up and nod of the head, which is all the approval I need.