Thursday, July 11, 2013

Your Grandmama and Dick Butkus at Broken Mic

I made it back to Broken Mic for the first time in a few months.  I've been working a lot, often on Wednesday, and taking a night for myself is taking a night from my wife and kids.  I'm glad I made it.  Being around writers, whether you agree with them in content or style or not, is good for my energy.  It always makes me want to work and reminds me I am more than a guy who does a job for money.

I attended the local Slam Championships back in May when Team Spokane was selected.  They will represent us in Boston for the National Championship.  Individual slams take place every other Sunday throughout the year with the best performers making it into the finals.

It opened my eyes.  It's a whole different game.  I've always been a critic of "Slam Poetry" primarily for the fact that it calls itself poetry.  Poetry is something different: written for the page to be read when the writer is absent.  Slam is written to be performed aloud by the writer in three minutes or less.  That's a whole different art form.

But I thought: "I can do this.  It will be hard, but I can do this."  Everything I've ever read at the open mic I had written previously to be read from the page.  Never before had I written something specifically to perform in front of people.  I've written to a specific length, but never to a specific time.

Last night was the first time I brought something to Broken Mic written specifically for the time and place.  I won't call it a poem, rather a script.  The open mic suggest a 3 minute "time guideline" that often is run over.  In truth, the event has to end at 9.  It's an all ages thing in a bar, so minors have to get out.  If your piece goes 4, 5, 6 minutes or more, you're robbing time from another.  Every night, some people are trimmed from the end of the program because of time.

So, starting with an emotion I began to feel as I headed of to my last job (hell no, I don't want to go back) I wrote a 3 minute piece and memorized it.  To this day, I can scarcely remember anything I've written.  Fake Flowers is about it.  I just don't do that.  But I did it.  I repeated it over and over before sleeping Tuesday, timing myself and finding the results between 2:40 and 3:30.  You need to factor in some stammer time.  You may pause to remember a line or read more deliberately than intended.  You may have to stop for laughter.

I had it nailed as I drove downtown, but nothing prepares you for having a room of people staring at you and hearing your voice over a mic.  But as Kurt Olson put it last night, when do you have 40-50 people actually listening to you?  Behind a bar or table-side, I'm comfortable talking with people and feel very natural.  But until you've spent a lot of time on stage, you are understandably rattled.  So I didn't know if my memory would fail or if I'd bring the personality I wanted to the piece.  Of course I had a copy on me.  I had to look for the third line, but after that I nailed it.

But it's terrifying.  Someone should monitor our vitals over the course of the night.  Heart rate, adrenaline, sweat, facial color.  Before, during and after.  I don't know how they decide the order of the readers.  It's not the order in which you signed up.  Half the readers read, then they have a featured reader and a break, then the second half.  It seems to me they bracket the first and second halves with someone they know and fill the middles with the unknowns.  Yet my first time there they just threw me on first, which was a bit of relief.  Just throw me in the water with no time to think about the sharks.

I find myself going through rapid cycles of emotion.  I never know if I'm reading next.  Naturally, I'm excited to do it, nervous about my performance, anxious I might forget and proud of what I wrote.  I feel all this in the moment before someone does or does not call my name.  (Awesome that this is the only place in the physical world people will call me Eighty Six.)

I am relieved every time another's name is called.  For 3 minutes, I don't have to worry about reading.  I can make no mistakes during that time.  But as that reader finished, my pulse increases, my nerves begin to rattle. If I took the mic at this moment, I'd be tight as a drum skin and shaking like a willow.  I need to calm myself.  I take deep breaths and try to be zen.  Paper in hand, I get ready to stride confidently to the front of the room.

Then they call another's name.  The cycle repeats.  In 3 minutes I'm vibrating again, wanting to be next so I can finally relax but knowing it will be easier to just sit and wait.  It's exhausting.  The constant up and down.  I've been trying to describe it and hope to get it into a poem.  It's something like sound waves, the rapid oscillation.  The effect compresses as the night moves on.  The later it is, the more sure I am the next one will be me, which is some relief.  I know it's finally coming.  This is like the Doppler effect, perhaps, where the sound waves are compressed and increase in perceived frequency because of velocity.

We're approaching 9.  I know they ask people if they'd accept being cut.  Typically they ask people they know are understanding.  I haven't been here in months.  I don't know what side of that line I'm on.  Tim asks me quietly how long my piece is.  I hold up 3 fingers, happy I timed it.  I've walked in here with 4-5 minute pieces before and felt guilty about it.

So I did it pretty strong.  As I said, I had to check my sheet for the third line.  That was all nerves, not memory.  I came off fairly natural, though I was certainly stiff.  I mostly looked up at the lights and over people's heads, but did look down into faces as I moved on.  I delivered the last lines the way I wanted.  I got some whoops, as you always will, at the dirtiest parts and when I said "selling pot".

Relieved to be done, I could have taken a nap right there.  One more person read and we were done.  I'm not sure what to think about my second-to-last placement.  I'm sure they deliberately finish strong, but I don't know the psychology behind the selection of the reader just before.  Nerve racking, though.  I'd almost rather be first.

I want to condense these thoughts into some verse, but that will come later.  Until then, here's my script.  I'll call it a script, because poems are something else.

Hell no, I don't wanna go back
I'm choking on post-its, staples and thumbtacks
This train is off track
The discipline's slack
From HR to PR, FNGs to presidency
You have no spines in your backs
Our competition's on the attack
And our whole business structure is cracked
We aim to be 5 star
But the sky is clear and blue
It's high noon
Day dreaming like the last day of school
Fornication, inebriation
But I need some production from my work station
I don't know if your money's delivered by elves
But my bills just don't pay themselves
Looking over the fence for greener grass
Shoulder-deep in my pocket and I can't find cash
Just sweat and lint
My glasses are losing that rose-tint
Getting that happy-feet syndrome
I'd rather be home
I'd rather be gone
Rather be fed to ants than be here
I don't care
Put me back table-side in the food and drink biz
At least I know how that is
Do it right, collect more tips for the night
Screw up, crumbs and pennies in your cup
So while you're in you cube, typing reports for the shredder
I'm serving kobe beef and aged cheddar
And while you're calculating profits, losses and risks
I'm stirring shrimp bisque
Shaking martinis with twists
But that game's gotten old before
Give it a few months and I'm staring at the door
Thinking, why am I in here banging my head
On the wall serving water and bread
To the boozed-up and brain dead
When I could have a career instead?
But office, hotel or barber-shop
Casino or truck-stop
Hu-Hot, astronaut or selling pot
Cafe or race-track
Or if you go to work flat on your back
It all sucks
They never have enough bucks
Enough pay
Enough sick days
The right perks
And every single day is berserk
The wrong benefits
And the shoe won't fit
I'm filled with apprehension I'll never live to see my pension
And I just can't get gay
About this 401k
I'm giving myself a permanent vacation
Because I get no satisfaction
No warm and fuzzies
No joy
So hell no you can't employ
The EI to the GHTY 6
I'd rather lube your grandmama with chap-stick
I'd rather turn butt tricks for Dick Butkus
I'd rather visit my sister for Christmas
This company and I, we're finished