Diner Dharma

BLACK BEAR DINER, Woodland, CA  –  October 14, 2018

Black Bear Diner swells the heart of America with much more than cholesterol. Spreading actual joy on toast in fifth gear flurry, and this is not about the Black Bear Diner. This is about intelligent survival. The economy of thrivance. The yang. Here people hear and gleam and this work is HARD, did it for years myself, high-adrenaline grind that leaves you aching and breathless and often underthanked and just scraping along. So to wing it like you’re dancing, not just one or two but dozens of ardent folk, all in rhythm, all in swing, is a lesson to everyone in living beyond the pale, beyond the grind and into the fine. Or should be. This is a huge and really busy breakfast joint, and people come here, run here, drag themselves here to get what they need, what they crave and require to start their day or just keep living. Yet this staff gives them so much more than necessities, just by being, and being, and being, skirting that zen space of yes I am and yes you are and yes and welcome and thank you and it’s real. It’s real and it keeps everyone that much more alive.

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NEW SERIES  ::  I will be starting a new queer talk and reading series in Oakland on Wednesday, November 28, which at first will happen quarterly. Each event will feature two speakers from different parts of the queer spectrum, who will speak on a topic of their choice based on their queer perspective and experience, and also read creative work to complement their talk. The series is focused on inclusivity and interest in the multiplicity of queer perspectives, and toward that end will be called

#we - Edwardian Script 250 inverted blk

For the first event, I will introduce the series with a talk called “Marginalizing Marginalization”. I know it’s unusual for a writer to initiate a series by featuring themself, but since I will be asking queer writers to compose talks that might often be of a very personal nature, I thought it appropriate to be the first to do so, as well as give folks a sense of why I’m starting the series, and what I hope for it.

Our second feature for the debut of #we will be noted transgender writer and activist Julia Serano, who will address the topic of on who we consider to be legitimately queer/LGBTQ+, and the often arbitrary nature of said criteria, in a talk titled “Queer Posers (or perhaps they aren’t actually posers?)”. She will also read from her novel-in-progress, Posers.

The events will be free of charge, and a hat will be passed to show appreciation for the readers.

If this sounds of any interest to you, please please please come check it out. Address and deets on the Events page.

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BRITE SPOT, Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles  –  October 22, 2018

I worked in a diner for fifteen-plus years, and if there’s one thing I learned, it’s that people eat, like every day. That’s commonly called survival. We gotta eat things if we wanna stay alive, and most of those things are or were alive. But diners themselves, they’re more about evolution. They allow the genes to learn, the chromosomes to thrive. Here in Brite Spot, piping Marvin Gaye and David Bowie through our hungry consciousness, collective by nature, the fealty to art and love and forward motion bides in every crease of red sparkle vinyl, in every scratch of time-worn formica wiped and scrubbed for decades. Those decades a nanoflash or less in the cosmic timeline, and even within that the Spot has a new owner, smaller menu, shorter hours, but it shines nonetheless, and all that really means is that we have to compact our evolutionary leaps into the time available. In the midst of that, trucks rumble by, and people laugh, and eyes light up, while all those pies, cased and creamed and luscious, perch there waiting to send some eager, unexpecting homo sapiens spinning and grinning toward a new species.

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UPCOMING EVENTS  ::  I said I wouldn’t do an readings after the (fabulous) great weather for MEDIA West Coast Tour (see Reflect below), but I lied. I lied to myself. I always do.  ::  On Thursday, November 8, Babar in Exile honors the dead once again with Babar de los Muertos as usual at The Octopus Literary Salon. I’ll host along with the endless Paul Corman-Roberts. Both featured and open mic readers will be asked to read at least one poem by a departed Latinex writer, and we are featuring an all-Latin cast with Josiah Luis Alderete, Michelle Cruz, Gonzales, and Chris “L7” Cuadrado. We are muy emocionado to say the least!  ::  Saturday, November 10 I’m muy emocionado tambien, except mostly in English, to be featuring at The Art House Gallery and Cultural Center in Berkeley with the fab jazz-poetry band COPUS, along with the equally-but-fab-in-a-different-way experiguitar-poetry duo LOAN with Tongo Eisen-Martin and Steve Peck. Also an open mic for music, poetry, and whatever. Roikin!  ::  I wouldn’t normally say this, but the very next day, on Sunday, November 11, at The Art House Gallery and Cultural Center againmost importantly I’ll be emceeing a fundraiser for Julia Vinograd, Berkeley poetry stalwart and icon, who was recently diagnosed with cancer and will need all the help we can muster. It’s got about fifteen readers, a few musicians, and an open mic, and if you’re in the area I urge you to stop by, even just to donate. They’re asking $15-150 at the door, and of course if you really want to be there and really don’t have $15 to spare, come by anyway and just let us know.  ::  Finally, on Wednesday, November 28 I’ll be hosting and speaking at a new queer talk and reading series of my own design, #we, at The Octopus Literary Salon. That’s described in detail above, and you can find deets for all of these, of course, on the Events page. 

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TOM’S RESTAURANT, Portland, OR  –  October 25, 2018

Tom’s Restaurant on a rainy day is a nest of caring. Portland so quiet today, first rain and a deep quiet throughout, almost a city at rest. Tom’s Restaurant also quiet, though the hum of human perseverance vibes the windows and walls. Big windows looking out at 39th and Division, two sides, two streets intersecting, as so many lives intersect here, and this diner is made for rain, for the whoosh of busy rainy streets. The perfect sound for these walls. This city made for rain, by rain, with rain, as the trees and leaves and roots everywhere, everywhere sing, Good food! Eat here! Drink here! Good place! The rain, the city, the restaurant merge in the leaves, breathing with us, drinking with us, sighing with respite and nutrition. The nutrients of Tom’s Restaurant seep into the earth, into the air, into our cells, pulsing, pulsing with the people who make this world, not those who plan and pummel, but those who build, who move, who root and branch and leaf, who pull power from the rain.

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REFLECT  ::  Read with close to a couple hundred other poets last month, depending on how ya count em. First was the 11th Annual Beat Museum Poetry Festival the last Saturday of September, with 70+ poets over a weekend, yoiks and that was just the beginning, then Alt Beast, in Mosswood Park, North Oakland, near my house, with 30+ on the first Saturday of October, then the 11th Annual Davis Jazz and Beat Festival on the second Saturday, what is it with elevens, at that I was the only poet in a slew of jazz bands, yoiks, then to cap all that Festivality there was Lit Crawl SF on the third Saturday, with hundreds of poets who knows how many, what is it with Saturdays, and festivals, and elevens again, cause the day after that I left for Los Angeles and the great weather for MEDIA West Coast Tour 2018. That was to celebrate the new gw4M anthology Suitcase of Chrysanthemumswith reads in Venice, CA, Los Angeles, Portland, OR, Seattle, then back to Oakland and San Francisco, each with 8-10 poets each and not many repeats, are you tired yet cause I’m exhausted, all from Oct 21 through Nov 2. That’s right, folks, you count ’em all cause I can’t, more than a gumball machine of poets and twice as chewy. Pithy. Gumbally. Much of it’s a blur :P, but I did blog the reads for great weather and had a grand time doing so. If you wanna check out some very odd poetry reporting, you can find all of them by clicking here. You can also click on links to individual tour blogs this month on the Fresh Words page. NOW you’re exhausted. (Yay.)

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TWEDE’S CAFE, North Bend, WA  –  October 28, 2018

Fame does not a diner make; nor does a diner make fame. Fame is made by bullshit, and a diner is made by itself. Stopped in Twede’s Cafe in North Bend, Washington, “famous” for being the town diner in the Twin Peaks universe, to see if it’s really (or still) a diner (or maybe to just grab some lunch after a hike with a friend). And ya know, there are people there working day by day to make a daily wage, a daily grace, and whenever possible, a daily joy. Or so it seems. Sincere cheer appears beneath, or alongside, a layer of swag and media, and ya know, the answer to my inquiry seems to be both yes and no. It really is a diner, and a really good one at that, near as I can tell, with the requisite genuine elation to be and to work there, and, judging from my and my companion’s experience, along with my perception of those around us, terrif well-prepared fare (it passed my litmus test of French dip, fries, and slaw with flying tastebuds), but at the same time it’s something else as well. Separately, but at the same time. That’s that layer, or film, or experience of media, celebrity, history, familiarity which wraps the actual diner like a transparent second skin that doesn’t quite fit, that phases in and out like a specter from another reality. This goes beyond the physical reminders – Twin Peaks memorabilia on the walls, flashy “cherry pie and a damn fine cup of coffee” t-shirts, a blurb on the menu, and a couple of menu items, including of course Twin Peaks Cherry Pie (why not Norma’s Cherry Pie, I wondered) – to a weird sensory overlay, a trick of memory, almost a double vision that puts you in both places at once. One sits there in a specific tension, not a physical tension by a kind of deconstructionist tension that takes the diner apart around you and (maybe, sort of) puts it back together. David Lynch must love this shit, and it is essentially his handiwork, O man of power, to have taken what was most likely a great old diner – and we all know those to be sacred spots on the earth – and made it into something not quite a diner anymore. A loss of innocence, perhaps, or a loss of identity. Who knows, really. I found the experience somewhat discomfiting, but that French dip and slaw really were damn fine. It’s possible that I’m using a bit of hyperbole in describing all this, by the way, mostly to delineate the fine points, and I don’t fault Twede’s one iota for using their notoriety as marketing – they absolutely should. Perhaps the only moment I felt it intruded was as I stood to go to the register (the register) to pay, when the (very nice) waiter walked by smiling and said, “There’s swag at the front, pens and stuff.” I replied, “I’m good, thanks,” in my typical curt manner. But I did take a pen.

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REFLECT  ::  One of the best things about going on the annual gw4M West Coast Tour is that I get to check in with old friend old and and young up and down the Pacific Coast. Haven’t done one of these in a while, so rather than bitch about the nightmare of contemporary air travel, which I’ve done well elsewhere, here’s a shout out to the fine folks whose faces warmed me along the way. Was jazzed to see Lew and Natalie Bolf at Beyond Baroque in Venice, stopping in for a poetry and Loranger fix. I actually know Lew from Detroit Catholic Central High School (Class of ’78); he had just come in the day before from our 40th Class Reunion (which I missed due to poetry), and claimed that he was checking me off for his yearbook, despite the fact that he and Nat have shown up for the reading several years running. They joined us all afterward for a really good and festive meal at Superba (bad name, great food), and some excellent conversation and catch up time. Glad to see yas, folks! Also present was Amy Kriser Cohen, old compadra from NELP whom I haven’t seen a few years, who sat with me and got to hear the commentary track (ahem), inspired me to read an ancient poem from the day, and best of all reconnected a few days ago in San Francisco for a much bigger dollop of excellent conversation and tea. Yay Amy, let’s talk more soon! Far too briefly, also caught old buds and partners in crime Graham Green, just laid off as a lighting designer from CNN after 17 years (duh, guys), and Greg Allen, roommate of yore and long-ago elf at George Coates Performance Works who now captures motion, though in what kind of jars I can not imagine, both of whom stopped into Beyond Baroque (to commit some kind of crime, I assume), but couldn’t stay after. I did enjoy a brief chat with them before the show with my mouth full of sandwich. Next time I’ll book an extra hour, guys. Was happy to hang and read again with old pals Rich and CLS Ferguson, Alexis Rhone Fancher, and the fab and theatrical Christian Georgescu, and to meet Yan Sham-Shackleton, Daniel DissingerTanya Ko Hong, and Doug Knott, great writers all if the truth be told and I insist that it is. Also terrif to see Daniel Yaryan at Stories Books, missing him after he made the leap from Santa Cruz to LA this summer, for a brief but welcome chat as he had to scurry off to family as all good dads do. Then uuuuuuuup to Portland for a gracious few days stay at the home/loft/home of Mae Saslaw (Mae Saslaw! Mae Saslaw!), who has flipped from acrobatics to mineralogy in a flash, or perhaps is performing mineralogy from a high wire, which is entirely possible. Lovely lovely lovey to see you, Mae! Right along with the righteous and awesome Lily So Too, who’s been surfing the rough tides of Portland with every skill she has. Thanks for sharing yourself, Lily, and for your openness and tenacity. What a life! At the read at the awesome Waypost, met up with cousin Dave Shermer and his partner Sheila (great to see you both!), catch up with rockin Portland poets Dan Raphael and Christopher Luna, and make the excellent acquaintance of Laura LaHewKelly TerwilligerPattie Palmer-Baker, and the rad Sossity Chiricuzio. Also in attendance, Amy Kriser Cohen’s sister Wendy, whom I met that very night and whose last name I didn’t catch, but with whom I had a great chat; she and her two sons enjoyed the reading greatly, as did, whaddaya know, everyone, because it was an electric frickin reading. Thanks all! Skip and a puddle jump to Seattle brought me to the arms of Lauren Holloway, full of vim from finishing up the new Seattle Black Panther Tribute Mural with her students from Franklin High School in West Seattle – this is an exciting project that they’ve been working on for a couple of years, and which is being unveiled on November 9 with all due ceremony and celebration. Lauren took me on a gorgeous couple hour hike on Mount Teneriffe, east of Seattle and at the western edge of the Cascade Range, on a misty, drizzly morn and it was gorgeous. Stopped for lunch afterward at Twede’s Cafe in North Bend, WA, for a delicious meal and somewhat multi-dimensional ambience (see above). Thanks, sister, for such a sweet time. Had time to squeeze in a great dinner with friend Willie Jarrett, who does valuable data work for the Madison Clinic at Harborview Medical Center – delicious time, Willie! Also got to hang and dine with the really actually fabulous Mary Mackey whilst in the Emerald City, and I know, I see her all the time back home in East Bay, have brunch and chat with frequency, but it’s rare for me to get to hang with Seattle Mary Mackey, who is, of course, an entirely different person. Also had the distinct pleasure of meeting six new writers up there, who in turn had the distinct I’m-not-sure-what-it-was of having me host them for the reading, but was most glad to make the acquaintance of G.G. Silverman, Jenny Montgomery (in from Missoula, MT!), Josh AnthonyCarol Guess, Bryn Gribben, and Shannon Bushby (Seattle via U.K.) – where does Seattle get all these writers, and what do they do with them when we’re not around? Finally hopped home to Oakland (well, flew), but sometimes travel doesn’t stop there, and it didn’t because we had two more reads on the tour. At least at the Octopus in Oakland there were a bunch of familiar faces, friends even, instead of all those strangers like Seattle had…  😛  Seriously though good to be on home turf and great to read with a powerful group there and exchange some hangs and chats with great weather editor David Lawton, my walking partner Cassandra Dallett, Cathyann Cusimano up from Mountain View with lots of nrg, Carol Dorf in from fab Berkeley, Kit Kennedy over from Walnut Creek, and the real Mary Mackey, really the real one. Also glad to meet the terrific Heikki Huotari, in from Marin County, I think, who read with mathematics and grace. And finally finally finally, because this is not over until I say it is, had a finally reading in what’s left of San Francisco at the Mission‘s Alley Cat Books, totally in the middle of the Dia de los Muertos Procession, amidst drumming and shrieking skeletons, with one more chance to hear Kit Kennedy and Dave Lawton, to bask in the beauty-words of William Taylor, Jr., and to thoroughly enjoy meeting Zoë Christopher and Calder G. Lorenz, who read splendid writing splendidly.  ***brief pause for a deep and well-deserved breath***  And neither last nor least in any way, this trip afforded me the chance and time and excellent fortune to hang a great deal with Jane Ormerod, co-editor and founder of great weather for MEDIA press and without whom this marvelous tour and writer-rodeo would not exist, and Pete Darrell, non-editing pillar and book sherpa for great weather and Jane’s partner in, well, quite a bit, and without whom the version of Jane in this dimensional continuum would not exist. Great job both and mega-cheers to all!

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QUINN’S PUB, Capitol Hill, Seattle, WA  –  October 27, 2018

Not exactly a diner, stumbled low blood sugar into Quinn’s Pub on Capitol Hill in Seattle for a desperate burger and fries. Unbeknownst to the bedraggled traveler, it was Halloween Saturday, big costumed night out, and on top of that it was raining like madness and every place was packed with drenched witches, aliens, zombies, Pee Wee Hermans, and the like. Quinn’s was no exception. I asked the hostess if there was any chance of a table for one, rather than a bar seat so that I could do a little work while eating, jostled by dripping sailors and monsters even at the maitre de podium, and despite a reasonable wait list, my generous and accommodating host said, wait just a minute, and had a two top set up for me in the center of the place. Why I received such exceptional treatment I can’t imagine and may never know. Nice vibe place despite the loud crowd chaos, lots of polished wood and glass and a twenty foot ceiling to accommodate a mezzanine. It took me a minute to not find my glasses, fussing and hoping I’d left them at the hotel (I had), squinted at the menu long enough to make out the word “burger”, then got out my work and squinted at that, and waited for my server. And waited. And waited, more and more desugared and disgruntled. The only server I could discern was cavorting with all the tables around me, but not even glancing my way. I couldn’t even manage to flag anyone amidst the costumed melee, and after close to twenty minutes I was officially pissed, put away my work, and started on with my coat. The hostess happened to be walking by and asked what was up, and I told her that no one had been to my table and I was hungry and leaving. I was interrupted by a man directly behind her, who apologized profusely and said it was his fault, and offered any dinner I wanted on the house. I told him I was starving and didn’t want to wait, and he promised to rush it through, so I asked for a burger fries and salad and felt mollified. As it turned out, 1) this fellow was the owner, and a very attentive one that that, 2) the food came out lightning fast and perfectly cooked, and 3) he continued to apologize every time he walked by until I practically begged him not to. In the end, I was actually mystified why, with all that business, he’d spend so much attention on a single tired traveler, and I blessed him for that. The food was amazing and, despite that glitch in the chaos, the service was exceptional and thoughtful, and I brought my touring companions in a couple nights later for a well-paid repast. As I finished my meal that first night, about twenty-five people in varied and elaborate costumes marched in with, yes, marching band instruments, surrounded the center tables where I was sitting, and struck up a rousing, brassy tune that filled the pub with sound. Next to my table danced a witch with long metal fingernails playing a washboard expertly. The tune was booming and raucous and well-rehearsed and goddamned beautiful and patrons were howling and dancing and shrieking with laughter, and the song built and built and crescendoed for minutes and left everyone charged and changed and cheering wildly.

Eat well, my lovelies. It’s November!