As I stepped into Franklin Park on a Monday night, to attend its monthly reading series, it became apparent that I was missing something, a book. It seemed everyone was carrying a book with them as if to prove their “literariness”, on top of looking like extras from Portlandia or Mystery Train. Luckily I had disguised myself as a hipster that night and was allowed in, but I had an overwhelming feeling that everyone there had a manuscript being read by a top notch editor, a short story being nominated for a prestigious award or a piece of work being created in their head as you sat there and sipped your drink.
My 21-year old sister at one point leaned over to me and said “I’m like the youngest one here.” I hadn’t noticed the age of the crowd. Perhaps I’m now of that age where age doesn’t matter or maybe I’m on the old side too. Though I looked around and did feel like most of these people probably had real jobs and weren’t wearing a long shirt to cover up the busted zipper on their jeans because this was one of their few remaining “good pairs of jeans”.
But who cares, there was a free raffle and $4 draft beers. It kind of reminded me of Bookslam that I used to go to in London. Well known authors, poets and musicians would get up on stage and do their thing, in between sets there was a DJ so you didn’t have to manage large feats of literary concentration and there was food and drinks. Proof that books and booze go together.
I went up to the bar because it was my round and when I came back my sister filled me in on the people sitting next to us. The man was an editor, and looked the part in a suit and thick black glasses. He said in the past 7 years New York readings like this one have really taken off. He was chatting to a blond woman who was nervous and we assumed she was going to read that night. She was asking him whether to go for comedy or drama.
We unintentionally eavesdropped and decided from the way she sounded that she probably wouldn’t be too interesting. However, when she got up on stage, she proved herself to be the most interesting and funny out of the five readers (and one of the readers even had an impressive published resume: Paris Review, New Yorker, McSweeneys, etc.). We felt bad for judging her based on her accent. As Staten Islanders (though ones without SI accents) we should have known better. I’d also just been telling my sis about Scroobius Pip (who I saw perform at the first Booklsam I ever went to) and how he’s a spoken word artist from Essex and Essex is basically the Staten Island of London.
It seemed like everyone was there with a few friends or a partner, so I didn’t feel too comfortable going up to chat to anyone. Though I did make uncomfortable eye contact with a guy who watched me as I slapped my itchy ankle tattoo through my boot. But I don’t think that means instant friendship. Later, on line for the bathroom I realized two of the readers were on line with me. I didn’t know whether I should talk to them or not but luckily one was already being chatted to and the other one was a few people behind me. Quickly that idea banished from my head, as I swear I recognized a girl I went to college with. She had been in my creative writing class and had ridiculous talent. Though we never talked, we had been “facebook friends” but then I deleted her because every post of hers made me admire and dislike her in one intense jealous burst. I hid behind my bangs which wasn’t necessary as I was pretty sure she wouldn’t have recognized me anyway.
That made me want to skedaddle, but the bar also cleared out pretty fast and my sister and I had plans to go to The Ginger Man anyway. . . But next time, Franklin Park, I will be prepared, I will carry a book under my arm, bring my own literary entourage and if she’s there, I will talk to my talented college classmate.