(There's a bunch of photos that go with today's entry as well, except my camera doesn't want to play nice today. Or more specifically, my memory card doesn't want to play nice, thank-you-very-much Palm "Our Stuff Just Keeps Getting Shittier With Every Passing Year" Corporation. Anyway, I'll be sure to let you know once the photos are actually up.)
So, regular readers will know that last night was the first-ever live Chicago event sponsored by the much-loved Bookslut.com (which, by the way, just got named one of the best litblogs in America by Forbes magazine). And regular readers will also know that I was a little nervous about attending last night's event, because I've got a little crush on Jessa Crispin, editor-in-chief of Bookslut, and that I have this pesky habit of making a complete jackass out of myself when meeting people I have little crushes on. (I think Ira Glass is still considering getting a restraining order on me, for example, and of course the less we talk about the time I met Liz Phair, the better.) So my plan, then, was just so simple - show to up the Hopleaf in Andersonville, where last night's show was taking place, slouch down at a back table, enjoy the show, and maybe introduce myself to her afterwards.
So I make my way up to the Hopleaf, although this time by train instead of my usual bicycle, because we were in the middle of a rainstorm. And I get to the Hopleaf just a little bit early (7:10, for a 7:30 show) because of course I always have to scope out a seat right next to the stage at events like this, because of my hearing problems. And it turns out that the Hopleaf has actually added an entire second story to their place since the last time I visited, which is where the actual event is being held, up in a "banquet" room with a closeable door. So I make my way up there, open the door...
And there's Jessa and one of her friends. And me. And no one else. In this big empty room.
Well, fuck. So much for my plan.
So I say that lame thing that everyone says in that situation ("Uh, is this where the show is?") and Jessa says yes, and I ask if we can smoke in the room and she says she doesn't know, and then I ask where the authors will actually be speaking, so that I grab a seat close to it, and she points out the corner of the room where they'll be doing so. And then I slip down to the first floor for a cigarette (just to be safe) and to wonder if I should actually formally introduce myself or not. I mean, after all, Jessa Crispin has access to Technorati just like all the rest of us do; God only knows if maybe she had come across yesterday's entry herself, and is now actually keeping an eye out for Jason Pettus, just so she can tell him off for writing about her in such a creepy way.
And so eventually I go back up, and it's getting close to 7:30 now, and the place is rapidly filling up. And as you can imagine, every single fucking person in attendance is young, hot, sexually ambiguous, and dressed much hipper than I'll ever be able to pull off. Hooray, Bookslut! Man, I miss the days when you could show up to a literary event here in Chicago and be surrounded by young, sexy slackers, who are just as likely to fuck you as they are to punch you in a drunken rage; as much as I love Gaper's Block, for example, it's hard to deny that the majority of people at their live events are always quiet married couples, doing their fuckin' "Really Simple" shit and growing their windowsill gardens, and dreaming of the day they can move to Wisconsin and start an organic form, or whatever the fuck it is that those married, mentally stable people do. It's nice to be at a literary event again where I can sexually fantasize about all the boys and girls sitting around me, and know that half of them are sitting there fantasizing about me right back, and that if I had the money to actually get drunk, there would probably be a 50/50 chance of actually getting laid by the end of the evening. And then we'd sit around in our afterglow reading quotes from fuckin' Soft Skull books to each other! Hooray, Bookslut!
So then the event finally starts around 8:00 (because, it turned out, that two of the authors got stuck in Cubs traffic), and I learn that Jessa does not have a Texan accent like I thought she would have. And then the first of three authors for the evening gets up and reads - Daphne Kalotay, author of the story collection Calamity. Oh, and I should mention that I had stopped by Borders that afternoon, just to read through the first couple of chapters of the three books that were going to be featured. And Ms. Kalotay's book is actually pretty great, although not the kind of stuff I usually read by choice - they're a bit more delicate than what I'm used to, set on the east coast and featuring academic pursuits of the arts as a prominent running theme. But they're also quite creepy, very visual, and with this quiet sense of menace to them all; kind of like Lisa Zeidner's fantastically creepy Layover but not quite as creepy. So she read a story from that, and that was great.
So then after that was Andrew Winston, author of the novel Looped, which tells the separate stories of five or six different couples in Chicago in the year 2000, framed by a device of making their stories constantly interact with each other's in random ways. To be frank, the writing is not that spectacular in Looped (Mr. Winston is a former magazine editor, among everything else, and it sometimes shows); the plot, however, is fantastic, just this incredibly complicated jigsaw puzzle that Mr. Winston somehow not only holds all together, but actually makes very entertaining very quickly into it. And so he reads an excerpt, and that's great as well.
Oh, man, and then there's Shalom Auslander, author of the story collection Beware of God. Oh man. Mr. Auslander is a product of an orthodox Jewish upbringing, and has rebelled against it pretty much the loudest and most hardcore way possible; he's written a whole book of scathing satires about orthodox Jews, like Jonathan Swift on fucking crack, man (with my favorite still being "Bobo, the Self-Hating Chimp"), which has somehow turned out to be hugely popular and Mr. Auslander a real media favorite. (I'm told he's a popular contributor to This American Life, but of course I don't listen to NPR myself.) So then he reads two short pieces, which are definitely the highlight of the evening, and make almost all of us in the audience pee in our pants by the end.
And speaking of end, that was it - four stories by three authors, and suddenly Jessa was jumping up in her chair and telling people to drink more and to have fun. Hooray, Bookslut! God, it's about fucking time we had a fun literary event here in Chicago that was run by someone who gets the point - that half the fun of these events is the authors, and the other half is sitting around gabbing with your friends, and hitting on strangers. The 75 minutes the show lasted turned out to be almost perfect, in my opinion - just long enough to get across a couple of longer narratives, and have them really connect with the audience, but short enough that everyone's not shifting around in their chairs by the end and wondering when they might be able to slip out unnoticed and go to the bathroom.
And then who should I run into but my old friend Katherine Hodges, who in her usual way had not known that Hopleaf had a second floor, with it not even occuring to her to ask the bartender where the Bookslut reading was, and thought she was at the wrong place, and wandered around the neighborhood for awhile, and then had some falafal, and didn't make it until 8:30. Ah, good ol' neurotic, charming Katherine. So we sit around a table for a bit after the show, talking about the upcoming show she's hosting at Quimby's on August 20th, and this trip she's making out to Portland soon for a major small-press conference, and her boyfriend's obsession with James Bond movies, and the like.
And eventually we both decide to take off, so I say, "Okay, Katherine, but first you gotta go up to Jessa with me, so I'll have the courage to actually introduce myself."
"Oh, cool," Katherine says. "I wanted to meet Jessa too, but didn't have the courage either."
So we walk over with our stuff and I say, "I just wanted to introduce myself before I left. I'm one of your readers. I'm sure you get this all the time, but I just really love your website."
Jessa smiles and says, "Oh, thanks!" And puts out her hand.
"Oh, oh," I say, shaking it, "I'm...um, Jason Pettus."
A mischievious smile spreads across Jessa's face. "Ah, yes," she says, "I believe I read something about myself at your blog today, right?"
"Oh!" I nervously laugh, turning red. "Well, yes, that is to say...How did you know about that?"
"Oh," she says, waving her hand, "one of your readers sent me an email today about it."
GODDAMNIT! I swear to fuckin' God, you people are going to be the death of me yet.
"I wrote you an email before the show," Jessa says. "Didn't you get it?"
"Yeah! I just told you not to be nervous, that's all. That I'd hope you come up and introduce yourself."
"Oh, well, okay. Okay. Oh, this is my friend Katherine..." and then I let the two of them talk about Katherine's upcoming show at Quimby's, which really is going to be pretty great - Thax Douglas, the guy who runs Thisisgrand.org, Wendy McClure and others. Oh, and yours truly as well.
And then suddenly it dawns on me. "Hey, Jessa," I say. "If you read today's journal, then you know about my arts center, right?"
"Right. I'd love to talk more about it."
"Oh, well...okay! But I'll warn you upfront, we're still looking at at least another year before it opens."
Jessa smiles again. "That's okay. I love speaking in theoreticals."
Oh my God, geekgirls are the best, man! So anyway, that's my night of meeting Jessa Crispin for the first time - which actually didn't go nearly as bad as I thought it was going to, and which may actually lead to us getting together soon over coffee or cocktails, to talk about the center and to shoot the shit and I'm sure to gab on and on about the books we love and why we love them. And hey, I got a great literary event out of it as well. And hey, the entire thing was free! Or as Jessa told me that night, "The whole point of this was so that I could sit in a room and hear some of my favorite writers read from their work. If I was in this room by myself, I'd be just as happy - the 100 other people here are just a happy side-effect."
Well put, Jessa.