Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Dates With Hannah Tinti

Date: February 22, 2011
Author: Hannah Tinti
Venue: The Stone
Neighborhood: East Village
Celebs Present: Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Amy Hempel, A.M. Homes
Free Drinks -- none
Q & A -- none
UE Check Number -- benefits expired

I met Hannah Tinti about three years ago when she sat down next to me at the KGB bar. I asked her if she was a writer and she said she was. She told me her first name and I told her mine. We started chatting. Because of her youth and because on a given night, the fourteen-seat bar at KGB may well have eight or nine writers in the chairs, I figured she was some MFA student with maybe a half-finished novel on her computer. So I breezily started pontificating on some writing related topic or another. She had come to hear her friend Said Sayrafiezadeh read, so we probably talked about how great his "When Skateboards Will Be Free" is.
But then the reading started and a writer, not Said, took the podium.  I remembered hearing Hannah read from her novel "The Good Thief" at McNally Jackson a few weeks before. I was talking to Ren's mom!
At the next intermission, I tapped her on the shoulder and said, "I know your last name."
"No, you don't," she said.
"Yes, I do."
"What is it then?"
"Look, we're two people who've just met in a bar. No sense dragging our resumes into it," I said.
Hannah was fine with that and we talked a little more before she excused herself to go say hello to Said.
Meeting Hannah was like I'd sat down at a bar next to a young, black man with a bandana around his head and upon learning we were both guitar players, started telling him how I like to play my solos. But then I realize, half-way into the conversation, that I'm talking to Jimmy Hendrix.
I've gone to a lot of Hannah's readings since that first meeting when I'd just started this going to readings project and she's always been pleasant and gracious. Well, I am a One Story subscriber, but even beyond that, it is fitting that as this "In the Front Row, On the Dole" thing winds down, I do a post about Hannah.
She's probably been wondering why I haven't. I've got the "My Date with Jonathan Galassi" and the "My Date with Andre Aciman" posts so Hannah's is overdue. Maybe it took a while, Hannah, but your post is the first with a poem. 

Hannah Writes All Night

Hannah writes all night.
At the Stone
the new kid, shot in the back.
Oh, for testosterone’s tumult
she has the knack.

Hannah writes all night.
Sure, we were getting bored
us boys, stuck with a dick.
Filling bottles at crazy angles,
changing size like an accordion’s
a neat enough trick,
but Ren makes it fun
to have a prick.

Watch out, Lou Reed.
Step back, Laurie Anderson.
Hannah’s breaking out the uke.
The loveliest thing in a gal
makes Hannah the best kind of pal
before we perish in a ring of desire
Hannah writes all night
and her boys take us higher.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Upswing in Police Beatings Key to New Optimism in Ukraine

Date: June 28, 2012
Authors: "Voices of the Financial Times" featuring Simon Kuper and Emily Stokes
Venue: Book Thug Nation
Neighborhood: Williamsburg
Free Drinks -- Six-Point in cans
Q & A -- none
UE Check Number -- benefits expired

"A good way to get despondent is to look at Ukrainian statistics."

"It's an excellent sign that Ukrainians continue to report police beatings."  

 --- Financial Times, Simon Kuper's "Opening Shot" column, June 23/24

Was feeling blue again. Tossed newpaper with report on grain output into trash. Headed to bar to get loaded. Saw cop beating old lady. Saw cop steal old lady's loaf of black bread. Drank two quick vodka shots. Found dime in dust under bar. Dropped dime into Soviet-era pay phone to report attack. Lost dime. Drank two more vodka shots. Stumbled out of bar to go to police station to report beating of old lady.

Cop car pulled over as I crossed Taras Shevchenko Square. Cops broke four of my fingers in attack. Other injuries.

Pulled myself up out of gutter. Spirits soared. Had second attack to report. Stopped at next bar. Used bar coasters to staunch bleeding from head. Didn't use newspaper lying on bar because feature story was about increased productivity of Black Sea fisheries. Must keep spirits up. 

Left bar to drag ass to police station. Saw police attack neo-Nazi skateboarders with trucheons. Be still my joyous heart.

Cops saw me, beat me. Ambulence medics said to leave bar coasters on head. Important not to rip off scabs from first atttack to ensure quicker healing from second beating.

Saw Hordiy at next bar. Hordiy said coasters imbedded in my head will make excellent resting place for his Baltica beer bottle once he has a few vodka shots. Buys two for me.

Half-crawled out of bar with three police attacks to report, two on me and old lady's. Between free vodka shots, Hordiy's half-full Baltica beer bottle sticking to my head on coasters with drying blood from second attack, if sober, would have jumped for joy. Staggered, instead. Am estatic to have Hordiy's Baltica bottle stuck in head as evidence of second police atttack. Broken fingers will prove first attack. Missing loaf of black bread, wounds, will prove attack on crone, probably lived through Great Patriotic War.

Difficulty walking, but heart swollen with happiness. Head swollen, too. Glad Hordiy's Baltica bottle not sticking out of heart. Plan to burst into police station just as cops are eating old lady's loaf of black bread. Will immediately issue drunken denunciation of police for stealing old lady's bread. Will not forget to report attack on her.

Excellent opportuntiy to witness, and report, likely third police attack as result of reporting other attacks. Picture vodka shots to be consumed upon release from hospital after wounds heal from third (police station) attack. Though recent Ukraine law requires hospitals to post mortality rates at each bedside, plan to not read them. Must keep spirits up.

Wondered about stats citing high rates of despondency among fellow citizens despite having so many attacks to report.  Will ask hospital to save Hroidy's beer bottle and contents in case new tractor factory report issued or police attacks decline. Must keep spirits up.

Plan to maintain good mood even when government releases latest reported police attack totals. Proud to have contributed to likely upswing, as repeat beating victim and witness. Surviving Great Patriotic War no joke. Won't sweat police report stats. Won't sweat coaster residue in hair. Hospital will probably lose Hordiy's Baltica bottle and contents. Must keep spirits up.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Gideon's Mom Has Got It Goin' On

Keith Gessen Preps For Artic Trip, Scribe to Forego Sauna, Gym, Locally Sourced Produce: Former Slum Goddess of the Lower East Side, Marco's cousin, Emily Carter, now in New Haven.

Row, Dole covers N+1 Lollapalooza like a pilgrim on his knees except for bike part and #6 train ride.

Date: June 26, 2012
Authors: Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Marco Roth, N+1 lauch event for the summer issue #14, "The Arkward Age" with Dushan Petrovich,Yelena Akhtiorskaaya and editor Keith Gessen.
Venues: 192 Books, KGB
Neighborhoods: Chelsea, East Village
Free Drinks -- beers distributed to friends and family by Marco, but not enough for entire audiece. One Baltica buy-back from Lou at KGB.
Q & A -- no, mill-around substituted by 192 Books event authors
Book signed -- no  
UE Check Number -- benefits expired

"Jews and culture,
Jews and culture,
Any time or weather,
You can't have one
without the other."

-- tune of "Love and Marriage"

At 192 Books last Tuesday night, after I'd been talking with Ellen Lewis, the mother of one of the authors, Gideon Lewis-KrausS, I introduced myself to her son and said, "I'm hitting on your mom."
"Go for it," he said. "She's single."

It was all glib, of course, but I'd always wanted to chat with someone who knew where Elberon, N.J. is. Ellen's grandparents lived there.

I joked that after I'd been hanging out at her house in Bernardsville, N.J., Gideon would walk through the living room and say, "Mom, who's that guy that's been sleeping on the couch the last few months?"
"I thought he was a friend of yours?" Ellen would say. 

So many threads of my going to readings project combined Tuesday night that I felt like my head was going to explode. Way back, say 6 pm, before the 35 instances of kismet occurred, I just wanted to run into the novelist Josh Cohen at Gideon's reading at 192 Books. I'd met both young writers when Josh read at KGB a few months ago.

Josh and I are both from cities in New Jersey with boardwalks and have family members who were in the Shoah. Me, by marriage, Josh, by parentage. He was a great audience for my stories about being a gentile son-in-law in a family of surviors.

Example One:  "Selling communications devices to survivors and their families is like selling candy-flavored liquour to kids. Both tap into primordial urges."

Example Two:  "I told the writer Andre Aciman, author of the brillant memoir, "Out of Egypt," how handy this book of his is in maintaining my status as the preferred gentile son-in-law. Maybe preferred is too strong, let's say equally tolerated. My competition, my brother-in-law, is younger, richer and better-looking. The only way I can keep up  with this guy is by repeating a performance based on the final chapter of Andre's memoir, "The Last Seder." 
This bit, if  slightly scripted by now, repeats what happened the first time I read the first few paragraphs of the section. I cried. Andre's book is about his family's expulsion from Alexandria in the early 1960s. Anti-semitism had something to do with it. My brother-in-law is a Harvard law grad. I also started bawling when the father in Andre's novel "Call Me By Your Name" discusses his son's gayness with him. If Raun gets appointed to the Supreme Court, I'll have to add the part from the novel to my reportiore. 

I'd enjoyed talking with Ellen before the reading. After Gideon's hilarious and profound 12-minute recitation from his new book, "A Sense of Direction," I wanted to talk to her even more. Gay husband, gifted writer son, Elberon, the UK, the Ukraine, that is, this is a lady I could dig a chin wag with.

Beyond that, although Josh was absent, the whole audience at 192 Books, made up mostly of friends and family members of the authors was just the kind of listeners and readers I'm trying to reach. I felt like I'd been invited to Ellen's house for Thansgiving dinner and it had been a good party.  

There are two things you need to grow and to mature as an artist. People who expose you to works of art and people who are an appropriate audience for your own work, who get your jokes. The people who have performed both of these vital roles in my life have always been predominently, though not exclusively, Jewish. I want to say thank you.

When I was sixteen and hanging out at my doubles partner's house in Elberon, I asked his friend, a jazz flute player, "Who should I listen to if I want to get into jazz?"  He said, "There's this trumpet player, Miles Davis. Check out this record of his "Kind of Blue." Thank you, Nathan.

I don't mean to idealize the 192 Books audience. They did scarf up all the beers, but Marco was giving them out so I can't blame the audience members.

I'm not bitter about Marco overlooking me in the beer distribution part of his reading. I'm sure if he could have, he would have done a "loaves and fishes" thing, but he couldn't turn two six-packs into a case.

If Josh had been there, Marco would probably have given him a beer. But that would have been OK with me. Talent has its prerogatives. I would as much object to Marco giving Josh a beer instead of me as I would have raised a fuss that time Susan Sontag cut the line to get into the Mary McCathy memorial.

At the 192 Books reading, Marco said that instead of an arkward question and answer session, people could just hang out after he read (he went second) and ask the authors whatever they wanted. The excerpt from his soon-to-be-published memoir, "Misimpressions," like Gideon's, was partially about a trip and having a dad who might have been gay. Both writers killed.

I don't remember the last line Marco read, but it was a perfect conclusion. Patti Smith said a rock concert should be like a prizefight; it should end with a knockout. That's a good rule for readings, too. Whatever that last line of Marco's was, it rang in the momentary silence of the bookstore like a perfect last note.

Ditching the questions and answers at readings isn't a bad idea though when I went to Marco's cousin's reading at Word bookstore a few months ago, I asked a good one. Marco's cousin is the writer Emily Carter, who read that night from her reissued classic "Glory Goes and  Gets Some."
I loved Emily's fictional stories of Lower East Side depravity, so familiar a mise en scene as to be practically Currier & Ives. Who hasn't stolen tips off the bar to buy drugs? Anybody ever heard of punk rock? "Why don't you learn to dance, you limey bastards" and so on. I wonder if Johnny Thunders was Jewish?

I asked Emily in her post-reading questions and answers period if she was sad about the Mars Bar closing. She said she was, though I think  she added that most of the Mars Bar era was after her down and out on the Lower East Side period.

We chatted in front of the store when she went out for a smoke. I was going to try to stay in touch with her, but she was living in Minneapolis and even though the St. Paul writer Trish Hampl is my artistic goddess, the Twin Cities seem far away. Well, if I can't get adopted by Gideon's family, I can always try Marco's. Maybe I'll even get a beer at Marco's next reading when his book comes out in the fall. It will probably be at Housing Works or McNally Jackson. If I sit next to Emily, I bet I could get one.

N+1 Lollapalooza Tour Stop #2 -- KGB

After I left 192, I went to KGB to catch the tail end of the other N+1 event that night, the launch of its latest issue. I got there too late for the reading itself, but I did run into Keith Gessen, like Marco, an N+1 founder.

The coincidences, or cosmic concurrences, continued at KGB because I first met Keith at Emily's reading. Of course, I pitched him about my Row, Dole thing to no particular avail. You don't ever want to have a conversation with an editor in which it seems you want something. I used to do that, before I met Ellen, my new Trojan Horse. 

The only time I ever got this right was with my acquaintance, Cheston, the managing editor at Tin House. I told him about a story I wrote, "Passing for 62" that is about a topic of mutal interest (tennis, sort of). I said it was already published on somebody else's site (Mr. Beller's Neighborhood) and that he should check it out.

This is the way to go, as opposed to groveling and begging, because the story is already published so whatever editor you're blabbing about it to, doesn't have to do anything. He can just check it out or not. It is a much easier email to send saying, "looked at it, liked it" than "pretty good, not right for us." Plus, the editor doesn't even have to send the first email, though he might feel sending the second one is the least he can do for the poor schmuck with the going to readings project.

Keith told me about his upcoming trip across the lower, recently melted, Artic. He pointed out that his trip would be less work than Ian Frazier's trip across Russia by a lot.

The funny thing that happened when I was talking to Keith was
I quoted the story about Joseph Brodsky's poem addressed to Ukrainians on the eve of their independence to him without realizing that I learned it from a New Yorker story he wrote.

Well, I hope you were flattered, bro, because Lore Segal (see earlier post) told me I was a good reader. And even though my main connection to Russia and the Ukraine is that my paunch is from drinking Baltica at KGB, it was a good story and I remembered it.

Incidentally, Segal is a writer who escaped Hitler in the kinder transport thing. She played AAA hockey in Massachusetts and said "If Gessen could skate better, he could be more than an enforcer." She is a special lady, a gifted writer, and was a pal of  the writer Alfred Kazin, who, like Ellen's kid, Gideon, was one of these writer-walker dudes.

Not too many people know it, but Segal also played drums on the early Heartbreakers' records so Emily's "Glory Goes and Gets Some" milieu is familiar to her, too.

Last Tuesday night I was "In the Front Row, On the Dole" and things just clicked. Sorry you missed it, Josh. And I hope KEITH GESSEN  ticks off your Google Alert, bro.