AWP: Off-Site Party at the HIDEOUT

February 12, 2009

posted and written by Caroline Picard



Plenty of you probably know this, but at the moment the literary world of Chicago is in marvelous tizzy about the American Writers & Writer’s Program Conference that is, as we speak, taking place at the Hilton on 720 s. Michigan. I’ve been there all day — it’s probably the best excuse I have for my recent delinquency at blog posts. Nevertheless, if you’ve any interest whatever, I suggest coming to check it out. On Saturday the book fair portion is open to the public and it’s astounding just how many indy presses are out there making good things happen.

Come and find us! We’re not on the map, but we’re at table 366 in what I believe is the Northwest corner (?) not sure about that though…I’m pretty sure but not totally sure.

I’ll try and post a couple of updates over the next couple of days with favorite conversations, but for the moment, I’m going to post what I plan to read at THE HIDEOUT tonight, as part of MAKE Magazine’s showcase reading/band/dance party extravaganza. That way, if you can’t make it, you can be there in spirit; or even, if you’d rather, you can read along with me, at 8:30 chicago time and it’ll be like you’re there too.

What I’ve chosen to read is an excerpt from a novella I’m working on; I’ve posted other excerpts in the past. The gist of the story is this: younger brother drops out of school in the early spring semester because he just lost his youngest brother and mother and father in a car accident. He leaves school to go to Philadelphia, where his older brother, Fletcher lives. This story takes place on the evening of his arrival. He has not had a chance to go back to his brother’s place yet, and so continues to cart all of his earthly belongings (what fit neatly in 2 duffel bags and a backpack) throughout the city, as he and his brother trot around to various bars with the hipster company his brother keeps. thus…that’s the premise. They have not yet spoken about the deaths in their family.

Tobias, the younger brother, is at the Trocadero, having just stumbled into their annual karaoke contest.


When Tobias finally makes it to the edge of the stage, to put his name on the list, it is two in the morning. The master of ceremonies tells him that they’re not taking any more singers, but Tobias, using whatever wit hasn’t already soured from liquor, promises that he has the best karaoke song that anyone has ever seen. “Way better than Whitney Housten, I swear.”
“Alright then,” dude says. “I’ll put you on last, but you may not be eligible for any prizes.
“That’s no problem. I really just do it for the art anyway.”
They smile at each other.
“So you’ll call my name?” Tobias asks.
“Totally. Just hang out around the stage and we’ll get you right on in about fifteen minutes or so. Say, are you old enough? How old are you?”
“Man, I’m getting old,” the dude says. “Kids are looking younger and younger every day.”
“I hear you,” Toby shakes his head. “I can’t get over the freshman in college!”

On stage at last, Tobias blinks in the lights. It is impossible to make out any distinct features and his heart is in his throat. He feels it beating there, feathery and wet. He feels very dry. This has happened before. When he used to sing in front of his family, he would get the same way, even when he was six. He will sweat like crazy after, probably for the next few hours, just a compulsive bleeding of water from his pores. For the next few minutes however, and with the exception of the back of his throat, he will only feel dry. He adjusts his grasp on the microphone.
And the music begins.
In theory, he doesn’t entirely trust his voice. But after the random interaction with the Master of Ceremonies, after the whole long day—rousing himself at five in the morning the sky still dark and heavy with the last of the night, picking his bags and getting to the train station, leaving college behind without so much as a farewell to anybody, he feels like he’s got to go balls out and sing the bejesus out of this stupid song. Don’t cry for me Argetina. He feels his arm, the one that isn’t holding the microphone moving. It rises out, as though to grasp at the audience. He imagines Madonna. He closes his fist on the people he imagines out there, and pulls them into his solar plexus. The truth is I never Left You. He waits. All through my wild day—he isn’t thinking of the words, but he’s comfortable as hell somehow. More comfortable than he’s been in ages, maybe since puberty, but he can’t help thinking it’s got something to do with the accident and not having parents anymore. He knows that everyone in the audience will like this song because it titillates their irony button, but he means it, and probably that’s why they’ll like it even more. My mad existence. I kept my promise? He’s raising himself up on the balls of his feet, he means to pirouette; he’s taking up the whole stage, feeling the extent and bounds of his whole bulky teenage body—what has been foreign to him for so many years now, it seems to be coming back together and he loves it and he loves the audience and he thinks maybe instead of getting married he’ll be an actor, go on star search and become a celebrity that they put on cigarette boxes. He does a John Travolta move, and then all at once surprises himself on his knees, Don’t keep your distance, not afraid of the possibility of his voice cracking, he’s sure it’ll be better if it does and when he does he knows it is better and he just goes all out, almost like he’s about to cry and loving every moment of mockery, making a mockery of himself in front of so many people in such a concentrated way, especially after he just made such a giant sad pathetic show of himself in front of everyone else he knows at school—leaving them. Leaving his professors who liked to tell him he had so much promise. He sings that promise here, because in front of a room of strangers he has nothing to answer to.
Philadelphia must indeed be a promised land, he thinks, a place where your brother can’t take care of you at all, because he doesn’t know how to make you a stupid meal and tuck you up in bed because he’s not your mom, it’s nevertheless a place where no one cares dick from Adam and he can carry all of his stupid bags around the whole stupid town and it still means something. He hopes Fletcher is crying. He hopes that he is devastating Fletcher with his over-the-top earnestness to such an extent that Fletcher is stealing away to the gross man-trough bathroom and crying his fucking dumb ass eyes out.
Tobias smiles, suddenly at home in the world.
And then the song is over.

He wins one of the prizes. Since he went last, after the  competition is called, they give him a booby prize. He gets two free tickets to a boxing match which one of the bartenders offers up—he is that good.

And then, outside, on the stoop with all of his dumb bags all over again, everyone else inside because they aren’t ready to leave yet, Tobias just starts to cry. Finally. And he can’t get up even though he feels stupid crying in the midst this city, and all its people—all its pretty people with funny clothes and fancy tattoos and stylish jokes—all of his fans, he can’t help but cry and when he finally does he can’t stop until Fletcher finally finds him in the eaves of a doorway to a store that’s closed for the night. And then Fletcher finally hugs him and tells him that it’s going to be alright. I promise, buddy, we’ll get through this.
Tobias almost believes him too, until he feels a strange pressure on his thigh and pulls away, disconcerted by his brother’s erection.
“What the fuck?”
“Oh.” Fletcher is drunk. He’s slobbering drunk, but he’s laughing. “I’m so sorry dude.” He shakes his head, he’s laughing so hard he’s crying himself. Fletcher looks at his pants. “It was a joke. It was a joke like ages ago. I took a Viagra on a dare. It’s got nothing to do with you.”

One Response to “AWP: Off-Site Party at the HIDEOUT”

  1. Not that I’m impressed a lot, but this is more than I expected when I found a link on Furl telling that the info is quite decent. Thanks.

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