Diana was a poet. I'll admit right off the bat, though, that I'm not perfectly sure what actually makes a poet. But if all it takes is a will then Diana definitely was one. She was driven to write words down on paper. And although most of her compositions weren't really written in any style I preferred; some of it was actually quite good. Then again, my opinion of her work was probably a little biased.
She was a cool chick when I met her and a cool chick when I left her and, somewhere in between that time, we had a relationship...which was closer to when I met her. And when I met her; D was working in a privately-owned record store. More specifically, she co-owned a privately-owned record store with her husband. One of the last great record stores this country ever saw as all this happened just before (digital music i.e. MP3's), once and for all, replaced CD's and vinyl and rendered record stores obsolete. And when I met her, I was a huge fan of this record store and a loyal customer. Typically, I'd stop in there every payday to buy a few discs but knew that I was truly addicted when I found myself stopping in there at other times and spending money on music that I knew should have been set aside for bills. The music was addicting and this store seemed to be the perfect environment for harboring these addicts the same way an opium den kept the lights down low and the rooms filled with mats and pillows. But rather than low lighting and pillows, the record store (D's record store) supplied their customers with the means to listen to any CD before they bought it; a feature that more mainstream establishments couldn't offer due to their sterner return policies.
And it was on some really random day, before we even knew either of the other one's names, that Diana and I got to talking...about music, of course. The girl, beyond knowing her shit (which, let's face it, was sort of her job), also had great taste. She had way better musical taste than myself. I just didn't know it at the time or quite possibly just refused to believe this. But due to this great knowledge of music and eclectic taste of hers; she was able to make some great recommendations to me that I happily purchased and then took home and happily listened to. The albums she recommended were so good, in fact, that owning them and listening to them and finding this new resource in this person who was Diana and who was also an incredibly beautiful, bleach blonde who often wore horn-rimmed glasses (a personal fetish of mine) only increased the grip that this addiction to music had over me. And that grip tightened and squeezed me until, shortly after Diana made her first recommendations to me, I found myself in that record store in the afternoons and evenings sometimes three or four times a week!
It was her as much as it was the music though. And even if it didn't start out that way; it definitely became the case...quickly. But she was married and so, to me, it was nothing more than a flirty sales experience and a jack-off fantasy. And, to her, I'm sure that I was nothing more than someone halfway intelligent to help her pass the endless hours she was required to stand behind that counter. That is, we realized that these little talks of ours were good for business and we mutually respected this.
Then one day, perhaps a few weeks down the line, as I was leaving the record store one night, she passed me a poem. At first, I didn't know what it was. Just a folded up piece of paper that she'd handed me and told me not to look at until I was back in my car. And I was intrigued. But I also became a little bewildered when I did get back to my car and discovered that this piece of paper wasn't actually a note but was actually a poem and one of such an abstract variety that I couldn't make heads or tails from it. It was handwritten and went as follows:
At the table
I sit alone drinking black coffee
Roasted chicken, beets, onions, garlic, ginger, carrots, mushrooms,
Sitting on a yellow vinyl seat
Pulling the fat from the meat
At 8:30 pm discreetly
Wondering if you know
How well you have trained me
Well, whatever. The girl felt like expressing herself...to me. And I thought it was pretty cool she felt comfortable enough to do so. There was nothing about the poem that was particularly worth reading into. If it was supposed to be charged with some degree of intimacy and somehow dedicated to me then something about me also didn't want to see it in that light. I felt it would cheapen it somehow. So the only question that seemed to remain was; now what? Certainly, I'd be expected to say something about it the next time I saw her. To not say anything would be rude. But to just be like, “Oh, hey. Nice poem,” without anything else to back it up...well, that might be taken as rude too.
So I wrote her a poem back. That's it. That's the solution I came up with. And it wasn't a love poem or anything. It was about as abstract as her own, in fact. Probably even more so. For some unexplainable reason though, despite the urge to buy new music practically strangling me, I didn't return to the record store for over a week. Was it out of embarrassment? And, if so, which one of us was I embarrassed for?
Oddly enough, when I finally did return to the store, she wasn't even there. Sometimes she just wasn't and it wasn't a big deal. It's not like I had the days and hours that she worked memorized or anything. But perversely, her absence caused me to feel like I was missing something from this particular record buying experience; something that just new music couldn't quite replace. I thought about asking Duncan, one of their only two paid employees, when she was scheduled to work next but just couldn't bring myself to do it. I wasn't a stalker after all. Not that I thought she'd take me for one even if word did get back to her. But I still had my...pride? Dignity?
I went back two days later during the daytime and she was working but helping another customer with something; the only other customer, luckily, in the store just then. We quickly made eye contact and smiled at one another but didn't say anything just yet. And I found myself absolutely anxious to talk to her and wished for nothing more than for that other customer to leave...now! Even though I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that she'd be with me in no more than just another minute.
“How's it goin'?” she made her way over and smiled again when that other customer finally did leave.
And now, I wanted to barricade the door before anyone else could come in here!
What the fuck had happened to me so suddenly?! I honestly couldn't figure it out.
“It's goin' alright.”
One week later, we smoked a joint behind the store together.
Two weeks later, we were meeting regularly when she got off work.
Three weeks later, we were making out with ever-increasing friskiness.
And just over one month after I passed her that poem, she moved in with me.
Fate had obviously taken a strange and surprising twist. But fuck it. We were in love. The girl had moved in with me and had lived with me for a couple of months already and almost never a night went by without one of us passing the other a love poem. It was a pastime for us. As was; drawing, reading, writing, cooking, wine drinking, pot smoking, fucking, and, of course, listening to music. The poems, however, she took more seriously than any of these other activities. Well...maybe with the exception of the fucking. But she was always writing. All day and all night. The very amount of what she produced in a single day was staggering. And I'd go so far as to say that it impressed me. The quality of the work, though, I probably grew to be overcritical of as, night after night, the very amount of time dedicated to the readings of these poems was practically as staggering as the volume itself. And sometimes...I really just wanted some peace and quiet.
Then one day, perhaps about three months into us living together, Diana came home one night all excited with some important news.
“I'm opening for Jerry Stahl and Lydia Lunch next Saturday night.”
Her face was straight and her demeanor; composed. But the intensity with which she said these words was amplified and she gazed straight at me with those deep, blue eyes. Her pupils; little, black pins.
“Who's Lydia Lunch?”
I wasn't trying to put her out by asking this question and, thankfully, she didn't take it that way either. She knew I didn't know people.
“Um...she's like... You ever hear of that band 'Teenage Jesus and the Jerks'?”
“Well, she was in that but now she's like doing all this spoken word stuff.”
“Cool. And who was the other guy?”
“He's the guy who wrote 'Permanent Midnight'.”
“Oh. I mean, I've only seen the movie but very nice. How'd you arrange that, may I ask?”
“I know a lot of club promoters and stuff through working at the record store.”
“Sweet. Well, I'm proud of you. Where's it gonna be?”
“The Orpheum. In Ybor City.”
“Oh, wow. Look at you,” and I smiled.
“You're gonna be there, right? I seriously don't think I could do it without you.”
“Of course, I will be.”
Good for her. Good for her going out of her way and going out on a limb to make stuff happen. It's the only way to make stuff happen, really. But...what did I think about her going up on stage in front of a bunch of people and reciting her stuff? Well, I had mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, I really was proud of her. But, on the other, I guess that maybe I just doubted the... Well, not so much the quality of her work but let's just say; the intrigue, the appeal, the ability to amuse and entertain people who would no doubt be paying a certain amount of their own money for a ticket to this thing. How would they react to her particular brand of poetry? Would they laugh? But maybe they were supposed to laugh. Perhaps Diana didn't actually take herself as seriously as I thought she did. But would they 'boo'. Could people really be so dickish? Of course, they could. And I guess I just worried that they'd hurt her feelings somehow. Her very soul up there under the lights; so naked and vulnerable.
When the night of the show arrived, D and I got together with our mutual friend, Tina, and together we all rode down there in Tina's car. It must have been like a Thursday or something meaning; it was busy but without the complete pandemonium of an all-out Friday or Saturday night. Which was nice. It made parking less of a hassle than it would have been and, once inside the Orpheum itself, getting a drink wasn't going to be such the chore that it could have been either. At least, so I thought. The place was pretty crowded though. Surprisingly crowded for a spoken word event on a Thursday night. There was a short line outside even and a guy with a cashbox standing at the door.
“Hi, Tony!” Diana breezed her way by everyone there waiting with Tina and I in tow.
“Hey, sweetie. Good to see ya tonight,” Tony was a short, middle aged guy with greasy grey hair and a vaguely Greek appearance.
“Thanks so much for getting me in. You have no idea how much this means to me.”
“Anytime, doll. Anything for you.”
Tony wasn't hitting my girl with these terms of endearment though. Neither was he being pervy or creepy and I definitely would have picked up on it if he was. Rather, it seemed as if he talked to every female this way...every female he'd ever come into contact with. It was natural for him. Women were not to be taken seriously and Diana was no exception.
“Is it alright if my friends just come in, Tony?”
And to this, he just sort of rolled his eyes and motioned for us all to pass.
Thanks Tony, ya creep. The way I see it, you just bought me my first beer.
“Hey! How's it going?!” we were almost immediately greeted by Duncan and Sharon who both worked at the record store part-time. They'd obviously come down to show D their support. And, since we still had about an hour to kill before Diana was supposed to go on, the five of us sucked down a few bottled beers in a dark corner while watching the people stream inside and make straight for the bar themselves.
The Orpheum was a fairly big place that offered a stage at one end that was only a foot higher than the audience and large enough for a rock band to play on although crowded and uncomfortably. Running abut the stage was an expansive dance floor that I'd once seen completely covered while a DJ was spinning on a Saturday night. Then, after a small step up, there was a circular bar with plenty of space to move around in and plenty of tables set up in this section as well. And it was in this section, in one of the corners, that we now stood.
And I was nervous. I was nervous for her and I wondered if any of the others were feeling the same way. They all seemed to be acting perfectly normal, though, while I felt myself sweating and just knew that I looked clammy and suddenly felt an incredible urge to shit.
Somewhere into our third beer and right around the time Diana was scheduled to perform (if perform is the right word to use when someone is doing spoken word), Tony found her and pulled her away for a second where they talked privately a few feet away. Whatever he had to say, however, didn't take more than half a minute and when Diana came back to the group, she was neither smiling nor frowning. She never smiled nor frowned, though, and her eyes never conveyed any emotion either. In fact, the only indications that Diana had any different moods at all...any ups or downs; were the varying degrees of intensity in her deep and sultry voice.
“Almost time?” I asked her sort of digging for whatever information Tony had conveyed without trying to sound too nosey.
“Almost,” she replied in a seductive tone that seemed sort of out of place, “But there's somebody else now. Somebody's actually going to be opening for me.”
“Yeah. Ya see that black guy over there with the dreadlocks?”
“Well, I'm pretty sure that's him. Tony said he drove all the way over here from Orlando on a moment's notice so...I don't know. I guess we'll see if he's any good or not.”
Then, not more than five minutes later, a sort of MC type character walked out onto the stage and grabbed the lone microphone from its stand and inadvertently caused it to create that hollow, echoing sound that was followed by high-pitched feedback. Then...“Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls. Please. Don't be shy. Come on down here and gather 'round. We have a great show lined up for you tonight. Jerry Stahl and Lydia Lunch are here. So thanks for comin' out. But we're gonna get things started right now with a guy who just drove over here from Orlando. And I mean just,” the MC looked over at the dreaklocked guy now standing in the first row, “Isn't that true, Patrick?”
To which the black guy replied but, being still so far from the microphone, all mostly anybody could see were his lips moving.
“Five minutes?” the MC was still addressing him. “He just parked his car five minutes ago everyone. So give it up, please. How about a big round of applause for the outstanding playwright and poet Mr. Patrick...Scott...Barnes!”
The entire place was pretty much dark aside from the single, white spotlight over the mike and I'd say the building was at about half capacity. The entire dance floor; now filled with standing bodies all facing the stage. Our little group, however, unanimously and subconsciously had chosen to stay at one of the high-top tables up by the bar. And, since our section of the room was indeed that one step higher than the sunken dance floor itself, we could probably see the stage better than anyone else in the crowd down there trying to get all up close and personal.
Patrick, the black guy, thanked the MC with a quick handshake. He then stepped up onto the stage and, rather than instantly grabbing the mike like the racist in me expected him to do, Patrick left it right in the stand and opened up a thin, paperbound book.
“Good evening,” he spoke to the crowd in a loud, clear voice as the spotlight shone down and something glowed purple behind him, “My name is Patrick Scott Barnes and I'm a native Floridian. This poem is called 'A Native Floridian Remembers'.” He cleared his throat and then commenced, “Love bugs messin' up windows. Too much damn rain. Humid summer days. Forest fires smokin' up everything when it don't rain. Family picnics at Wekiwa Springs. 85 degree Christmas weather. White folks catchin' skin cancer tryin' to get a tan like mine. Corrupt votin' elections. Dumb asses votin' Jeb Bush twice for governor. Too many mosquitoes. Too many folks talkin' about how they did it up North and too many damned Confederate Flag wavin' rednecks. This is the Florida I always remember. Wages ain't shit. Generations and generations of one black neighborhood not getting along with another black neighborhood. Folks still complainin' about Shaq. Riots in Miami. Boomin' car systems bumpin' bass. Resident discounts at theme parks. Food costin' too damned much at theme parks. Football practicin' in 90 degree weather. Hurricanes. Tropical storms. Tornadoes. Hail. (Thought my grandma was cussin' when she said that word.) Lightenin'. This is the Florida I always remember. Alligators. Black snakes. Pelicans. Black snakes. Seagulls. Black snakes. Sharks. Black snakes. Manatees. Black snakes. Racist Republicans. Black snakes. Punk ass Democrats. Black snakes. Too many black snakes. Kill one of these so-called endangered species and yo' ass go to jail. Beautiful beaches. Picturesque parks. Orange trees. Palm trees. Sink holes. Floods. Oak trees fallin' on people houses when it rains. Black snakes. This is the Florida I always remember. Ain't no place like home.”
And the way he read it was really funny; with the attitude and accent of an angry black guy. I knew there was something there though. Something deep. This act of Patrick's wasn't a comedy routine. Shit. It wasn't even an act. And for maybe the first time ever, I began to realize the true magic (not to mention just the meaning) behind a spoken word event such as this.
Patrick went on to read several more before someone must have signaled that his time was up. And they were great. Every poem was both funny and compelling and, probably most important to somebody up on stage, really entertaining! So obviously, I was sorry to see him step down since I'm pretty sure that he could have been a one-man act and kept us captivated all night. But I was afraid to see him step down because I knew that she was going on next. My heart was pounding.
All I could think about was a poem she'd been reading to me lately that included a line like, “Throw down your false religion!” And I hated it. I told her that it sounded ignorant and insecure. So what if some people's religions are stupid? Who the hell was she to say her way was any better? In fact, the very line reminded me of the omnipotent, Old Testament God that was jealous enough to tell the Israelites, “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Please don't read that one, Diana. And please, don't read the other ones that are all about your vagina either. The rest are okay but please, just none of those.
“How 'bout it?” the MC guy asked the crowd just after taking the stage once more, “Patrick Scott Barnes, everyone. Give it up. Thank you, Patrick. And next up, we have a girl. She's a local girl but I'm not gonna lie. Other than that, I really don't know anything about her. Please, another nice round of applause for Ms. Diana Ferguson!”
“Thank you,” she whispered in my ear just then, “This never could have happened without you.” And I wondered, for only a second, whether or not those whispered words had been a spontaneous gesture. But no. Of course, they hadn't. Surely, she'd planned this all out.
She kissed me then and held my hand as she moved slowly away until our arms were outstretched...and only then did she let go. She wasn't scared though. That much, I was also sure of. It was all a dramatic play and it was all premeditated.
“Thank you,” she spoke into the microphone as the generous amount of applause died down, “My name is Diana Ferguson.” Her deep, sexy voice echoed through the room. The spotlight shone down and blue on her pale, moon-shaped face.
I recognized her first poem the instant she began to read it. I knew the verses and just hoped that people would take her as nothing more than some sort of feminist.
“My pussy wants to meow,” the walls resonated with these words and, pausing theatrically, she even gave them time to sink in, “Mmm. My pussy wants to come.”
According to D, I was the first guy to ever give her an orgasm so... Who knows. Perhaps I was actually the inspiration behind these lines. Sweet Jesus, so I only had myself somehow to blame. And she was looking at me! Or at least in my direction. Probably, I should have felt something like gratified although that's not exactly the emotion that I kept coming up with.
Yet, at the end of each poem, people applauded politely...nervously. She did well, though, and I guess I was proud of her in the sense that the girl had balls for getting up there and expressing herself. For turning part of her dream into a reality. I certainly couldn't have done it; anxious as stage fright always made me.
“Alright,” the MC guy stepped back on stage once again when she'd finished. Before he said anything else, though, he gave her a strange look. Then...“Diana Ferguson, everyone. Give it up one more time,” to which the audience did graciously. And then something weird happened...
Jerry Stahl (who was due up next) stepped up on stage before he was even introduced and gave Diana a weird look too. At first it appeared to be a gaze full of bewilderment but it quickly turned into a loaded look that seemed to say, “Get the fuck off my stage, bitch.” To which she was, of course, oblivious.
It was Jerry who was out of line though. In fact, before the MC guy could even say his name, he'd taken the microphone out of its little holder on the stand and began to speak. “Hi. I'm Jerry Stahl,” apparently he was going to introduce himself, “I've got a new book out called 'Perv'. It's a love story.”
I hated this guy already with his black, leather jacket and premature grey. He was a hack. That's what I thought of him. One of those little no-talents who, somewhere along the way, just happened to get lucky.
By this time, thankfully...less I thought some sort of scene should ensue, Diana had floated down from the stage. And just from the way that she seemed to hover all the way across the dance floor and back over to our table, I knew that she was presently in a state of ecstasy that would probably last the rest of the night. Good for her. She deserved to be. Just like Jerry Stahl deserved to get his fucking ass kicked.
“Alright,” his amplified voice reverberated through the room while he held the mike like a weapon, “Now, how many people out there have ever smoked crack?”
What? Seriously? Who the fuck was this guy and what was his fucking problem? Crack? Even if anyone in this audience of uppity, spoken word afficionados had ever smoked crack, nobody in their right mind was about to admit it in front of all these other people. Nobody except me. Not that I'd ever actually smoked it myself...but somebody needed to do something. The very question seemed to have caught the audience off guard as a whole and had rendered them silent and uncomfortable. So I hooted.
“Oh yeah, that's real funny, man,” Jerry burst out at me sarcastically. Then, as if addressing everyone else in the whole place besides me, “Everything's a joke to some people, ya know? Well, let me tell you something, funny guy. There's nothing funny about crack cocaine, okay?”
And then Jerry Stahl, holding the mike in one hand and his own book in the other, proceeded to read a funny story about it. An excerpt from his book that just happened to be a comical anecdote about smoking crack. So go figure. But what a fucking douche. And I hoped just then, more than anything, that he'd just be hanging around the bar later so I could approach him and make yet another comical, crack comment.
On top of all this, his story was boring and hard to follow. So, just to be a dick, I went back to the bar and ordered another beer. Technically, I suppose, this wasn't against the rules or anything. But, since the general mood of the crowd tonight was considerate and therefore silent, I was the only person up there ordering a drink during an act thus far and I knew that something about seeing me do it pissed Jerry Stahl off real bad...and that made me happy.
Then, after what seemed like an hour at least, when his reading was finally over, the MC came back out to introduce Lydia Lunch...and she wasn't much better. That is, her attitude wasn't. She spoke to the crowd as if from a very high horse which, in all actuality, was indeed nothing more than a very low stage and her poetry, as I took it, was nothing more than a bunch of penis envying, feminist bull crap that, in itself, reminded me then of a story Diana told me once about a Tori Amos show she'd gone to and dragged her ex-husband along. Apparently, she was performing in an intimate venue not unlike the one we were presently standing in and, right around the time that Tori took a break from playing to let the audience know that the females were indeed the stronger of the two sexes, Diana's ex stood up from their table almost directly in front of the stage, flipped Tori the double bird, and held both those middle fingers up and in position as he casually left the room and left Diana still sitting there. And for some reason, I revered him for this. Mostly because it's exactly what I wanted to stand up and do to Lydia Lunch at the moment. And it's not that I didn't have the balls. I just couldn't leave Diana sitting there on her special night. Even if she was surrounded by other friends, I felt it would discredit her somehow.
But, rather than just sitting there myself and enduring Lydia's reproachful tone, I did take notice of something I could do. Something other than standing up and rudely and ordering another beer. Been there. Done that. And I wasn't about to label myself a one-trick pony. No sir. But I had noticed Patrick Scott Barns sitting by himself. After his bit, he'd come up to the section of room where our own group had congregated and there he was just a couple tables away. He was nursing a beer and looking about as bored as I was. He looked like he was only sticking around because etiquette told him to do so. So fuck it...
Not that I wanted to embarrass Patrick or anything or make him look bad in any way but...if he had nothing to do with it. I'd just look like some crazed fan who'd come over to pay him an untimely compliment...which I sort of was. So I just went for it.
“Hey, man,” I crept across the two tables and over to Patrick where I spoke in a low but audible voice so that he could hear me over Lydia's blabbering. It's not like I could whisper in his ear exactly without making the both of us feel perfectly uncomfortable. “Hey. I just wanted to say thanks for the great reading and I wanted you to know that I thought yours was the most compelling performance of the night.”
To which he nodded his head at me in appreciation and put out his hand for me to shake...which I did. Patrick didn't want to be bad-mannered though. And he certainly didn't want to ignite the scathing gaze which Lydia, up on stage, was beaming over at us.
So I'd officially managed to piss off Lydia and pass Patrick a compliment at the very same time. Damn, I'm good.
I left him alone after that and went back to sit by Diana.
When Lydia's act was over, the whole place seemed to sort of sigh and relax a bit. The tension had been released and nobody felt, any longer, like they might be called out publicly over the PA for not standing at attention to absorb every single last word she spoke up there. People were now free to get beers whenever they pleased and interact with one another verbally. And I thought, just then, how ironic it was that, at rock concerts, it could be irksome to try to convey a short message to the person standing next to you because the music was so loud. But this...this had been even worse.
“Well,” Diana leaned herself into me lovingly. And, before even suffering through any of my reviews on any of the acts this night, she said, “Looks like Patrick and I sort of killed it.”
“You did,” I replied, “You really did. You guys really were so much more...interesting than those other two. And I think everyone else thought so too. So congratulations, honey. You really impressed me.”
Unfortunately, Jerry Stahl never came back out for a drink...and neither did Lydia. They were too good for us, obviously. Their absence did cause me to wonder briefly, though, just how a pair like that was actually touring. And I don't mean like; how exactly they were selling enough tickets to tour. They were both published authors and I guess their names did get around. They were probably hitting only the most populous areas in the country and I never doubted for one second that either of them had their die-hard fans out there. But more like; I wondered just what sort of hotels they were staying in. Were they nice? And how far were they from here? And I wondered how they were getting from place to place. Because, there's no way they were taking a plane. And it's not like their acts required any equipment that would necessitate a big truck. So were they just minivan-ing it? And, if so, then I guess I gained a decent amount of respect for them too. Because they were living the dream. They were working artists. And they were making it happen no matter what it took.
Later on, once everyone in the house had had more than a few beers in them and the place had turned back into mostly just a bar again, Patrick came over to me with the very thin paperback he'd been reading from on stage. And, just based on his body language, I could discern that he wasn't looking to schmooze or small talk. Rather, he merely asked me my name and wrote a personalized autograph on the inside cover. Then he handed it over to me, patted me firmly a couple times on the shoulder, and left the building.