My Warehouse Reading

Most Tuesday nights at The Warehouse, a dingy bar in the arts district of Tallahassee, the FSU English department hosts a reading from either graduate students in the Creative Writing department or established writers visiting the program. The graduate student readings always include a prose reading and a poetry reading. I'm a Lit major. But I'm a wannabe Creative Writing major. So, this past summer, when the organizers were short a prose reader, they asked me if I'd like to read.
     At first, my impulse was to say No. Why would I, a Lit major, want to risk ridicule and embarrassment in front of my discerning (and often judgmental) colleagues? I told them Maybe and hung up the phone. As I sat in the pool reading postmodern poetry and thinking it over, I remembered a story I had just written and sent to a friend in the Creative Writing department. She replied with, "PUBLISH THIS NOW!" so I figured it'd be good enough for a reading.
     Plus, what better way to advertise myself as a possible transfer into the Creative Writing program? If the audience liked what I read, they'd be more inclined to welcome me in. (This dream has since been deferred by time constraints and a Master's thesis I'm not willing to abandon.)
      I told the organizers Yes, and thank you for the consideration. In the ensuing months, I expanded my story by a few pages, tightened the prose with the energy only an impending public reading can inspire, and got a photo snapped of me swinging a driver and wearing my catfish hat.

Since I had no real writing credits, I went golfy with my bio:
2007 club champion at Winter Pines Golf Course in Winter Park, Florida, Paul "Catfish" Haney finds much of his inspiration for writing out on the links. He plays a controlled fade, has an all-world short game, and, as a rule, when it comes to the professional tours, only roots for Americans. In case the golf thing doesn't work out, Paul is also working on his Master's degree in Literature at FSU.
      I wasn't too nervous in the days leading up to the reading. In cases of public speaking, I always remember the advice Terry Henderson, my Freshman Speech teacher at Valencia Community College, gave me: Be Confident. Be Prepared. And Don't Sweat It. So I summoned my confidence, rehearsed my story a few times, and got on stage in pretty good shape. And after I launched into my story and heard laughter from the audience at the right moments, any remaining nerves fell away and I felt comfortable up there, like the speaker from my story.
     Eric Lee, the PhD candidate whose poems have concrete images, narrative progressions, and lots of humor, was slated to read after me. Beforehand, he requested that the hosts set up the recording equipment and make a podcast of the evening. I said, "Yeah. Podcast!" So they recorded the show. But for the podcast, they had to cut out Emani Jerome's vulgar introduction of me (something about rusty cars, cocaine, and glory holes), and had chopped off the last two minutes of my story (don't ask me why). When you click on this link below, check out Season Six, July 19, 2011. My reading starts about 5/6ths of the way through, at about minute 50:00. (I won't speculate on why we got 50 minutes of Eric Lee but couldn't finish my 15 minute story. Nope. Not speculating.)

And here's the remaining part that you didn't hear:

“I’m leaving a note for Mrs. Shoene,” Mr. Commando said from behind the desk, raising a pen in his right hand and giving it a demonstrative click. He licked the tip and scribbled on a piece of paper, mumbling as he wrote.
The intern slapped his thighs in frustration. “You all did a great job today. I hope you discovered, and I think this is Stoppard’s point, that words are continually flowing through our minds, and this unconscious outpouring creates meaning as much as . . .”
The bell rang. I reached down to get my things and saw Rickie dash out the door, yelling “Poop” on his way out.
Kevin darted after Rickie, his bag slung over one shoulder, the handle of a tennis racket sticking out, yelling, “Hey, wait up!” Mr. Commando muttered something underneath his breath and scribbled with more vigor.
“…A conscious flow of words,” the intern finished, then exhaled and thanked the students moving by him toward the door.
I stood and put on my backpack. Alice looked at me through her thick glasses as she exited the classroom, and I heard her laughter down the hall; Jacob, holding a water bottle, stuck his finger in my face as he walked by and said, “Next time Paul Haney;” Virginia avoided eye contact with me and moved past with her pony tail swishing behind. I nodded goodbye to the intern whose wet spots had almost reached his elbows. He gave me a thumbs up, the motion jostling his locks, and turned to face Mr. Commando who had set down his pen and was glowering with crossed arms.
Going out, Ron Wright turned to me and said, “I don’t know what he’s writing in that note. I hope we don’t get in trouble. We didn’t use any bad words.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it, Ron,” I said, putting my hand on his shoulder. “The words don’t mean that much.”
I was almost right. That day, the words meant nothing; the space between them, the stillness that surrounds, everything, or less than nothing.