This weekend my wife and I flew up to San Francisco for Litquake, the literary festival/pub crawl where writers from all over the country come to share their work and join a community of scribes who usually only communicate over social media. We stayed with Joe and Justine Clifford, and I read at their event Lip Service West, which tells real and gritty stories. I told a story about trying to find a way to convince a mental patient to willingly enter an ambulance in order to find a higher level of care, but I think next time I read in a bar I’m going to tell the story of how I got in a fight with a little person in St. Petersburg, Florida, or how I almost got in a fight during a community theater presentation of Macbeth in South Beach. Of course, when you read in a bar, you have to expect anything, and I’ll tell that story a bit later.
This was my second reading in San Francisco, and the last time I drove up the coast I wrote about trying to rediscover the California Dream for the LA Weekly and then read at Lip Service in the Tenderloin. San Francisco has always been one of those cities I’ve felt at home in — a sort of Boston transposed to the West Coast. The landscapes are stunning, and there is just so much water everywhere. I was able to shoot some solid pictures, and the Cliffords took us to Telegraph in Berkley, where I was able to find some colorful moments. It was cool to hang out with Joe, who is the author of books like Junkie Love, Wake the Undertake, and the newly released Lamentation.
The reading on Saturday during Litquake took place in the Mission, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite parts in San Francisco. There is just so much life down there. The streets are crowded and filled with people crawling to the next pub or looking for the next best restaurant. In fact, last time I was there, Joe Clifford and I actually saw a guy being arrested outside of pizza joint because he pulled a gun on someone.
I almost made us late to the reading, because as Joe, Justine, and Heron were walking quickly to get to the venue, I was stopping everywhere to take photos of the murals. Everywhere I looked, there was another incredible piece of art. Check out the images below:
The reading took place at a bar called Blondie’s Bar and No Grill. I’ve read at bars plenty of times in the past, and I know that almost every time something is going to be different and out of the ordinary, especially for a literary event. Honestly, that’s how it should be. Literary events can be so freaking boring, and it would ensure for more interesting readings if the crowd was more involved or if the groups of people grew rowdy. So you always have to be prepared for that when you’re reading.
The crowd at Blondie’s was fantastic, however, and they were ready for a reading — some raw and gritty stories — and they had a ballot with some fantastic writers, including Tom Pitts (who read a story about shooting up mice shit), Joe Clifford, Sarah Heady, and Renee Pickup. I’ve been looking forward to this all week, and Joe Clifford asked me if I wanted to be the first to read. Some people have a hard time reading first, but I honestly don’t mind it, but this time it was different. (Some of these pictures didn’t come out great because of the lighting. Some photos were just unusable, including some of the other readers. Sorry guys!)
There was a stage in the bar with a mic, and when Justine Clifford stood up on the stage to introduce me, she realized that the mic wasn’t really working unless you literally spoke with your lips touching the mic. Even then, it wasn’t really working. The bartender yelled out: “That’s the highest it will go.” I realized we were stuck. So I just went right up to the stage and read my story at full blast. I wasn’t sure if anyone could even hear me, but I went for it. I heard some laughter, and I have one freaking loud voice, so I knew that people would get the gist of my story.
Meanwhile, Justine Clifford is sprinting down Valencia, bobbing in and out of the traffic, trying to look for a mic or a PA system to help amplify the voices. And by the time she returned, I had finished my story and a new PA system was being set up for Renee. (Sorry you had to run for no reason, Justine!) The reading from there on out went on great, and I was glad that I was the first one to go, because I have a loud voice. But Joe Clifford felt bad, and he gave me an opportunity to close the night, so I read my poem Chinatown from The Rattling Wall Issue 3.
For anyone who reads their writing in front of an audience, then you know that feeling when you have everyone completely engrossed in your work. I looked around the bar as I was reading “Chinatown,” and I could tell I had everyone. They were into the dream that I had tried so hard to create. There is no better feeling. Writing can be so very lonely, and it’s a blessing to have an opportunity to connect with an audience. Thanks to the Cliffords for bringing me down. And thanks to everyone in that bar.
Well, I’m inspired to continue to write, and I’m making a lot of progress with new stories. Stay tuned. Thanks for reading. And always, your comments are appreciated.