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Poetry in Los Angeles


by: Kevin Salveson




Poetry in Los Angeles is dead again.  A ragged sheaf of notes and a symbolic spiral notebook were abandoned in a dumpster behind the Jons on Sunset but no one was surprised.


The disappearances had become more frequent as Winter set in and the guerrillas abandoned their camps.  Today roving bands still stalk the jungles but their supplies are low and their feet are blistered from the rotten boots while one or two of the prevailing warlords still ruthlessly plot against each other. Jeeps roll in and out of the gates at the capital compound but the insurrectionists have found that their inability to negotiate with each other and build a base has doomed them, so those planted on the inside who had clung to the axles under the supply trucks are later betrayed by their higher ups who use them as just another few cards to play while they desperately try to claw their way into the game.  The prisons are full of those who were hauled away for lack of the right credentials or whose homes were raided after dark.  The rains came early and the tents in the tightly wound vines of the foothills leaked.  Insects crawled out of their nests in the dirt and bit the soliders as they were sleeping.  Weevils fattened in the rice bags and it was too wet to stop the bread from rotting within two days.  Desertions were frequent. 


So the Imapala Cafe goes the way of the Atomic Cafe, which itself lost too many free electrons to stay stable.  That radio activity which once had at least a short half life is now simply a dead isotope. Not too many weeks back I swung into that orbit, but there wasn't a full football team enough to toss the pigskin of poetry/performance around.  Instead, Hope A. racheted out a half hour of "he doesn't deserve me" milksop & camphor sapporics, soporifics and some phonics. This is the exact torture that everyone fears from open readings but we survive such torture, pesky as cigarette burns, yielding confessions for our own turn to act the junta general and trip the switch hotwired to everyone's testicles.


We offer our ideas scribbled onto the backs of overdue DWP bills stacked to the ceiling.  Still, the veterans, looking weathered and less than fit, hold up the only possibility left: that of the survivor. Demoralized but still alive is the best we can hope for.  By this I mean that Bill McC. showed again.  My sad sac story elicited his saintly donation of $5.00 after I took the stage and asked "is it possible to make money as a writer in LA?"  I wasn’t interested in wastng my time at the typewriter for ten hours daily for less than six figures.


He answered that question fairly and told me how he had arrived in LA in 1931 with 10 cents in his pocket.  He bought six glasses of orange juice, which he said they squeezed right in front of him.  The next day he ate two steaks & a glass of milk from Mussos, then ran out on the bill into the office next door where he hid on the top floor until darkness.  After that it was a train to Santa Barbara and luck: a job.  So he stayed.  


Bill's signature poem is "Dirty Old Man", in which he exhorts the audience to tell him that he is a dirty old man.  He is. His best poem involves a stripper, and he never fails to have a fat old woman on hand with tassels on her tits to do the dance of which he speaks.  


This is as good as a poetry reading can get without it becoming something else.  


Perhaps he gives hope to those love poem reading confessioneers, who come to socialize with their peers, those lot sharing the hope that by overintellectualizing their unlovability (at least they’re aware of it, you see) they might appear lovable and find love.


Lob (the inexplicable moniker of the m.c. this evening) sports his toy tounge piercing and "Christianity is stupid" t-shirt while reading rhyme-clever poems about how clever he is in order to show how clever he is.  


Several others read their  poems (which are not memorable), then there is a band with too many jangling guitars.  Four guys with big amps is three too many.



*     *     *


Coming home, I stop at the Alemeda Chevron.  With the five dollars I buy a bag of Fritos chili cheese flavor corn chips (6.5 oz - the highest volume per penny of all the many 99 cent bags).  


A panhandler asks me for money but I gave him some chips and told him I'd be out of my own place in two days.  I needed $580 in two days.


"You're welcome to join me," he said.  "Bring a banket, a cup and your visa card, because we don't have any place to sleep, and we don't take American Express."


-August, 1996

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