There was a strange jelly bean shape on the wall. It looked like a globular cello. I looked around the room, while playing catch up with my friend Zooey. Some seats were filled, others held feet or coats.
My thoughts on the Bowery Poetry Room are mixed. Though I have constantly read wonderful things about it, every time I make the trek over to the East side to get my poetry readings on, there is always some lame jazz band, or 15 dollar cover charge for a no-name comedian. Which would be fine…if it wasn’t…a poetry room. In any case I always seemed to miss the good performances, and so I never actually went in. Albeit why I always seemed to miss the good performances.
So on this particular muggy day, I finally discovered a 3 dollar cover charge for the night, after 10 PM. I invited Zooey along and so we sat in the webbing of overstuffed cafeteria chairs. I can’t say I was expecting anything, I’m not some blind hopeful expecting any backwash leftover from the ’60s beatniks. Instead, these people looked like the East melding with the West- Village, that is- with some, fuck-it-this-was-on-my-floor smushed in-between. No one looked particularly like Bob Dylan’s offspring (probably for the best; I was never particularly a fan of the Wallflowers), or quoted Ginsberg. Instead, (supposedly) true to my generation was the first act: a group called the OMG Girls. I heard the beginning notes of a song, and turned to Zooey with angst. “I swear to God if I hear fucking Bohemian Rhapsody once more time, I’m hitting someone. I love Queen, and I don’t mind that song, but really. Enough for one lifetime”.
When two seventeen year old girls (approximately), climbed on stage, hula hoops in hand, and plastic ukuleles I knew this was going to be…where are the words? They strummed and shakingly sang “Something” by The Beatles (not Queen), one girl obviously star struck by the general nature of it all. I gave them mental congratulation on having the guile to get up there in the first place.
Then a man started up the stairs very slowly; looking around at the stage like something had frightened him deep down in his core, only to start grabbing at his stomach and letting out low grunts. He turned to himself and said, “will you please say what you’d like to say?” He then turned to himself and answered in mostly gruntish, “I don’t want to talk. I’ll talk when I want to talk”. He did this for his full allotted six minutes until the buzzer went off, and he told the audience that this was how he should speak all of the time, because it gets people to listen. Kind of like his landlords, who are all addicts. Of GREED, he told us. The audience hollered in agreement.
Next, an Asian man wearing baggy army pants, a yellow button up shirt, and beige cabbie hat came to the stage. As soon as he started talking, his left arm would start at his hip, then jut out suddenly with his fingers curled and his thumb out like he was busy hitchhiking. His other hand grabbed at his t-shirt, as his mouth gaped sideways as he formed his words like they were difficult to make out, even for himself. “Ome eople caw me cr-ea-eative. Ov-ers caw me duff-ent. Ov-ers caw me, bow-hee-me-an, bow-hee-me-an,” and as he stuttered, the lights flicked off and a spotlight erupted on him in the middle of the stage. “Bow-hee-me-an…WAPSODY!” At that moment Bohemian Rhapsody blared through the speakers, and everyone in the audience was in shock. Rather than singing, the man started to shake his arms wildly, gesticulate, and only half attempt lip-synching. His eyebrows rose and fell, and his arms went out, then back, then out in hailing position again. The audience didn’t know what to do. I knew this was karma getting me back for ever insulting his majesty, but the rest of the audience couldn’t figure out what to do. Except join in.
As the guitar part started picking up to the “he’s just a poor boy from a poor family”, the guys surrounding the bar dove down on their knees singing in time, the lesbians in the audience swung their guitar around standing atop their seats; some quiet bystanders just clapped or drew out their lighters. Finally, after the major guitar breakdown, everyone in the room started head banging. People jumped off of their seats, one girl shook her boobs wildly from the floor, one guy took half of his shot, then let the floor take the other half. Some people leaned into the aisles and did the wave, and other stood in it waving their arms methodically back and forth in a drunken haze. Zooey and I were in shock. I knew the gods would find some way to smite me, but this?! This was too good. I was enjoying Bohemian Rhapsody more than I ever have. Yes. More than when I first saw Wayne’s World. When the song ended, everyone gave a standing ovation.
The guy hosting it came on stage with the biggest grin you’ve ever seen. “Who needs to play instruments, or even sing a song? You just need to emote.”
A younger man got on stage, with torn jeans and an attractive face, but with a lean to his spine that added years. He spoke of all the times he’s been arrested- 3- and how he had to leave each respective country after the happenings. The second time, he told us, was from chalk paintings on a brick wall. 23 hours in prison later, he left France and wound up in New York City with only forty dollars to his name, and the F train to call home. The third time he got arrested it was for lying down on the subway. Its people like him that make me realize how resilient people can be, how much we can put ourselves through, and how much we believe we deserve to be put through. He told a series of New York stories- about the homeless man who asked if he could lick his asshole? And the “woman on St. Marks who was bent over, carefully inserting a straw into her ass;” the guys next to me looked at me and said, ‘Hey, want a sip?’”
Next was the man angry at everything, screaming so loud into the mic that you could hear your internal parts bleeding out. He asked the everyday question of If you ever had the chance to fuck the Pope in the ass, would you wear his hat? The Wicked Witch of the West who had been sitting behind Zooey and I the entire set was cackling away again at everything funny, and everything not even close. He yelled the response: “The answer is as obvious as a Werewolf in a tracksuit in the 80’s. Fuckin’ yeah you would wear his hat.”
One of the women who works at the place came to the mic in just rain boots, sweatpants, a button up jacket, and only a bathing suit top showing off her carved ab muscles. She sang an old show tune, as her stomach quivered in its awkwardly toned quality, making the song better and yet distracting.