'Great set, man.'
'Thanks. Buy my shit on iTunes! I'm living in my van.'
He hid his little brown bag just outside the door and walked into the open mic like a bulldog in heat. “I’m a poet.“ His sleeveless arms swung loosely. “Let me at the mic.” he said. In his mind he was Muhammed Ali about to step into the ring with Joe Louis or George Foreman or one of those guys. He picked up the mic and the room fell into a silent and heavy attention. He swayed, gazing deep into the floor with the mic pressed into his lips. He began to speak…
“yeah. Ah. Yeah”
“Ah. I said.”
“I came from the streets.”
He suddenly looked up. “I need a beat. I can’t do this without a beat.” Everyone stared blankly. “come on, somebody,” he begged. “I need a beat. Can’t somebody give me a beat?”
Finally a bearded young man heeded the call. He said, “I gotcha” and the crowd parted to make way for the Beat Boxer. He took his seat next to the poet and started to beat box a simple groove into a microphone. The Poet resumed his deep downward reverie. We sat entranced in the primal beat box. The Poet spoke:
“yeah. Ah. I said.”
“in the streets. Ah.”
This went on for a long moment until The Beat Boxer stopped and looked up sheepishly at his Poet. “That’s all I got.” His voice was a meekly apologetic wiggle. The poet looked at us all and caved in.
“I can’t do this.” He said and sputtered out of the room. The Friendly Chap Running the Open Mic smiled unperturbed into the mic.
“Okay so our 8th performer didn’t show up, so if anybody has anything to to share, you can have this slot. Anybody?”
I was standing meaninglessly in a dark corner next to a lady with a Big Bright Shiny Baby. The Poet blustered back through the door smoking a cigarette. After a moment of silence, he said- “I don’t belong here, do I?”
“Well, it’s a kind of ‘anything goes’ type of place, so you fit in as much as anyone else.” I replied. He surveyed the room.
“I’m the darkest person in here. Everyone is whiter than me. You’re whiter than me.”
“Let’s put it to the test.” I said, “We’ll compare our arms.”
We put out our arms and sure enough, he was darker than me. But not much.
'You’re right” I conceded.
“But,” He said, “I’ll bet my ass is whiter than you.”
I laughed. “I’ll take your word for it. Don’t show me!” But before I really knew what was happening, I realized that he was showing me his ass. Not straight on. He dropped down one side of his pants and pulled up his shirt and exposed his left butt cheek.
“Yep, you’re right again.” I fluttered in nervous laughing. (secretly I thought, “It’s whiter than my arm, but my ass is probably whiter than that.” But I didn’t say it because I was afraid that this conversation would go further.)
“You wanna see again?” He offered. I said no, but he dished it out anyway. I tried to change the subject.
“Have you lived here for awhile?”
“'Bout a year.”
“Yeah. I had to get my 2 daughters out of the city.”
“Oh! We were just in Brooklyn. I can’t remember the intersection… but we played at the Jalopy Theater. Do you know it?”
And before my eyes, his gaze glazed. His face became stark and devoid of expression. He exhaled a cloud of Parliament in my face and slowly backed away- speaking in a solemn tone: “I can’t smoke in front of a baby.”
He looked horrified as he backed into the door. The Friendly Chap Running the Open Mic said- “Cigarettes have to stay outside!” He looked a little worried- like he was calculating just how he would enforce the rules if he had to. But The Poet just said “I know.” and vanished into the night.
Who is the hero of the Open Mic Night? Is it the timid soul longing to burst into the world? Is it the repressed soul critically looking out at the scene and condemning all those acting out? Is it the Friendly Chap with the big smile hanging heavy under the serious eyes? Is it the bearded young Beatboxer? Is it The Poet? Is it the Meaningless Observer in the dark corner? Is it the Big Bright Shiny Baby? Or is it the mic, standing like Zeus on top of Olympus, kissed by every shade of humanity- timid, profane, sweet songstress, gutter punk, praised and cursed, whispered to and screamed at, rich and poor, young and old, all that stuff. It stands with an open face and magnifies impartially. It summoned us all together from the farthest reaches of our scattered worlds, and it stood silently as we dispersed again. It is nothing but what we made it, and it does not judge.