[Applause. Swaim exits as two uncommonly handsome, classy gentlemen take the stage.]

CORNEL BONCA: Hello, I'm Cornel Bonca, book editor at OC Weekly.

JOEL BEERS: And I'm Joel BEERS, theater editor of OC Weekly.

BONCA: And it's our pleasure to announce the nominees—and the winners—in four very important categories.

BEERS: Best Theater and Best Stage Performer . . .

BONCA: . . . and Best Local Bookstore and Best Literary Figure.

[Hold for applause. Two faint handclaps are heard.]

BONCA: Evidently, the only two people who actually read the book and theater reviews in the Weekly are here tonight.

BEERS: Glad to see you, Mom and Dad.

BONCA: Joel, do you know why they have the book editor and the theater editor presenting their awards in tandem?

BEERS: Don't know, but I'm guessing it's because in our visually dominated, image-is-everything society, no one gives a shit about dinosaur mediums like theater or books, as evidenced by the fact that both of our titles are buried in the Weekly's staff box every week, somewhere between assistant to the assistant to the secretary to the music editor and the 158 unpaid interns.

BONCA: Not exactly. It's because books and theater represent two of the last intellectual and creative bulwarks in the war against the imagination.

BEERS: Oh, yeah. That, too.

BONCA: It's their very place on the margins of cultural awareness that makes literature and theater so vitally important and capable of the most sublime subversion.

BEERS: Riiight. Cornel, what's the last play you watched?

BONCA: Does Cats count?

BEERS: Just what I figured.

BONCA: Okay, what's the last book you read, Joel?

BEERS: Does Harry Potter count?

BONCA: Not really.

BEERS: I got to Page 512 of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.

BONCA: That was just the first footnote.

BEERS: It did seem painfully long and uncomfortable—kind of like a typical Shakespeare production.

BONCA: Look, I like theater. I just can't afford theater. In addition to my work at the Weekly, I'm an English professor at Cal State Fullerton.

BEERS: And I can't afford the price of a new book. In addition to my work at the Weekly, I do absolutely nothing.

[Suddenly, the purple curtain behind our presenters is raised as if by the very hand of God. A very earnest, agitated young man walks onstage, clutching a slender volume.]

BONCA: Hey, it's Victor D. Infante, the Weekly's poetry guy!

BEERS: The Weekly has a poetry guy?

INFANTE: This is bullshit, people. You guys get all the glory, and my passion—poetry—is ignored. What do theater and books have that poetry doesn't?

BONCA: People pay for it?

INFANTE: Yeah, that's just what I'd expect from a fiction guy. I can't believe you buy that bourgeois crap. Like a writer is only significant if he's endorsed by a major corporation or a university. Yeah, I'm talking to you, establishment swine!

BEERS: People want to see it? Kind of?

INFANTE: Poetry is the song of the people! It was here long before books and way before theater.

BEERS: Well, that's debatable, Victor. Some theorize that theater began in prehistory during annual springtime fertility rituals. Tribes would dose on hallucinogenic mushrooms and get all freaky, dancing around an enormous phallic symbol.

BONCA: Sounds like a typical poetry reading in Laguna Beach.

BEERS: Ba-da-bing!

INFANTE: Hey, Ginsberg was published out of the back of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's bookstore, and he was stoned! All of the good poets were lit. Milton was stoned. John Donne. Shakespeare. What say you now?

[BONCA and BEERS look at each other.]

BONCA: Can't argue with that.

BEERS: You're in.

INFANTE [stunned]: Oh . . . Thanks.

BONCA: Now go stand in the corner.

INFANTE [enthusiastically]: Can do!

BONCA: Now, back to the real awards. Here are the nominees for the title of Best Literary Figure. And I'd like to begin by saying that none of the usual suspects are here. Not Geoffrey Wolff or Michael Ryan, the big-time stars of UCI's creative-writing program; not the best-selling writers—T. Jefferson Parker, Elizabeth George and Jo-Ann Mapson—who are purveyors of what's essentially TV in print; and not the I-am-liberated-by-my-anger-into-political-consciousness spoken-word coffeehouse poets, whom I'll let INFANTE get all aerobic about.

INFANTE [jogging to the podium]: Did you call me?

BONCA: Yes. Now go away, toad.

INFANTE: Done and done!

BONCA: The nominees are . . . Suzanne Greenberg—a fiction writer, essayist and poet—is the youngest, least heralded yet most promising of the cache of writers teaching in Cal State Long Beach's master's program in creative writing. She's also the lone woman. Her most recent works —not yet collected in a single volume; some enterprising publisher ought to snap them up—which have been published from here to Washington, D.C., do for Southern California suburbs what Raymond Carver did for the 'burbs of the Northwest. Heartbreaking evocations of the tenuous ties that bind.

[Applause.]

BONCA: Next is Stephanie Brown. Brown, in her everyday guise of an Orange County public librarian, published a striking first book of poetry, Allegory of the Supermarket from University of Georgia Press, in 1999 that nastily skewers Orange County—particularly South County and particularly Newport Beach—in a voice that starts out flaky and almost Valley Girl and then drolly and menacingly moves in for the kill. A witheringly sharp, angry imagination.

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