Open Mic: It’s Hard Out Here for an Author
A Short Story by Lukas Sherman
Written using the suggestion "Curb"
Originally featured on 05-31-2007
As part of our series "Endings"

“Give them a big hand folks! That was Sun & Moon Tea Party. Next up is Ms. Nola Gates. Come on down Nola!”

A pale, blonde girl in baggy cords and an “Impeach!” t-shirt takes the stage, self-consciously touches her hair and quietly starts to read.

“This is called ‘If Guns Were Rainbows.’ It’s about the war and about how we have it within us to cause a revolution of consciousness. If guns were rainbows, then we would be filled with the shrapnel of divine light. If tanks were unicorns…”

I stop listening and go back to my hot beverage. It’s open mic here at Jahva, a sort of reggae coffee house, though the only people I see with dreadlocks are white. There is a huge Bob Marley mural on the wall, the faint smell of ganja and Jamaican themed drinks. I’ve been nursing Jamaican-me-hot soy milk lattes for over an hour waiting for my turn. I wish they had something stronger, like a good Shiraz. I think I’m number 14 and this girl is 11. The things I have to go to get heard. I’m pretty sure Hemingway never had to sit in a hippie coffee bar. If he did, he would have showed them a thing or two. The bell tolls for thee potheads!

The girl finishes up. “Thank you. Love.” She flashes a peace sign and sits down. Three guys take the stage. One in a brightly colored, floppy hat grins and says, “Hey brothers and sisters. This is something new for you. We’re called Hack Attack. You’ll see why. Check it.” The guy with the soul patch begins vigorously strumming a guitar, his companions begin to play hacky sack. They seem to be swaying somewhat. Wait. Is this interpretive hacky sack?

What next? A bong orchestra? A bongchestra, if you will. I should patent that.

I go back to my notebooks. I haven’t quite decided what to read tonight. It’s not really my crowd. I was thinking more a Left Bank cellar type atmosphere or an absinthe bar. I don’t know if they’ll really get what I’m trying to do. My friend Ted, who does collage poetry using old copies of Penthouse Forum, is supposed to be here, but I think he ditched me. I made a goal to hit an open mic once a month and, well, this was closest to my house.

My literary career has yet to ignite in the blaze of genius and book groupies that I envisaged. The website I set up,, has not been a roaring success. I was pretty excited when I got 22 hits last week, but my brother called me later and told me it was all him. Jerk. And my ‘zine, V-neck Sweater, is on indefinite hiatus, after a fall out with my co-author Virginia, who just wanted to do stupid comics about near sighted ghosts. So I’m taking it to the streets. Or something. I wish they scouted writers like they scout athletes or musicians. I think I’d be a good “discovery.”

Hack Attack concludes. “You’ve been a beautiful audience.” They collectively raise there fists. “We have t-shirts and CDs.”

The shaggy, dashiki wearing MC says, “Great stuff. Here’s, um, Nightwing. Nightwing?” Nightwing is a balding, overweight guy in a Zeppelin shirt. The shirt doesn’t quite cover his hairy belly and I fell a little sorry for him. He does a little bow.

“Greetings and salutations. I am honored to be reading for you tonight. I drove here from Coos Bay to be with you. My first poem is called ‘Why do you cut your alabaster skin, my darling?’”

I tune out immediately. There’s too much feeling in writing these days and not enough guts. That’s what I feel. Name me one writer that’s interesting, that gets in fights and drinks too much and has affairs with countesses. They’re all wanky, over-literary douchebags like that Safron Foer guy. Bukowski used to do his readings drunk. And then screw the girl he met there. And then write about it! And then lure new girls with that story. Now that’s fiction! I considered getting drunk, but I’m on some painkillers for a bruised back right now.

“This is another poem about cutting and the failure of psychology…”

Good lord. I’m out of my element. I scan the room looking for a comrade, a kindred spirit. The barista is rather attractive, with a sort of boho European look-dark hair, lots of bangly jewelry, a scarf. Women do like writers. Perhaps…

I return to my notebooks. Hmmm. The one about the blind matador? The blood and sand might repulse the vegan crowd. Too virile. Maybe the romance with the Russian ballet dancer/spy? Probably too sexy. I get an idea and quickly write a few things down. I wore my tweed coat with leather elbow patches tonight. I hope they like it. I thought it looked professorial. They might associate it with “the man.” Well, I will expand their minds. They’re into that, right?

“And for my third…”

“Oh, sorry, Nighttrain…” The MC is next to him, smiling genially and holding the sign up sheet.

“Right. Only two tonight, man. Sorry. Give it up for Nighthawk!” A few of the audience members make bird noises. “Next up, we have David Turner Marquette. Let’s hear it!”

That’s me. This is my time. I put my glasses on and walk with a calm, though confident, stride towards the stage. The lights are brighter than I thought. There are maybe 15 people in the audience. But none of them have heard me before. Maybe they’ll be able to tell their grand children about this night. I take a deep breath and lean towards the microphone.

“Hello, I’m David Turner Marquette. I have a zine called “V-neck Sweater.” You might still be able to get back issues at Powell’s. Or you could just talk to me. Anywho, my story is called “Curb Your Ennui.” Check it. ‘I sat at the open mic, drinking my coffee and waiting my turn…’”

Read More By Lukas Sherman

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