7: Peculiar Achievement in All Things Egghead
Photo by Jack GouldANNOUNCER: Once again, OC Weekly editor Will SWAIM!
[Huge fanfare. The audience rises. The music swells. A sharp light glances off shiny brass in the orchestra pit.]
SWAIM: Now is the time in the show devoted to honoring the cultured and braniac-ed.
[Loud sounds of rustling from the crowd as many audience members bolt for the doors.]
SWAIM [jiggling the keys to the locked hall doors and wagging his finger]: Uh-uh-uh. Now, why don't we all just sit down, relax and get culturized. C'mon, there we go. C'mon, it's not going to hurt. . . .
MAN IN AUDIENCE: Culture kill my brother!
SWAIM: Yes, yes, but those days are behind us! It's time to forgive and forget! Besides, the person who claps the loudest during this segment of the show will receive a special scratch-and-sniff Joey Lawrence poster!
[Ooohs and aaahs.]
SWAIM: Look, I'll prove you have nothing to fear by giving a shout out to some of the cultured places named by our readers and staff as being this year's best. . . . Places like, well, like the UC Irvine Library! The university boasts the largest library in Orange County, with two facilities on campus and one at the medical center. As Eastern European as it looks, the fortress-like Science Library houses one of the largest science, technology and medicine reference collections in the nation. I don't know what any of that means, but I think it will come in handy if you ever bruise your schmegecky. The main library has been recently refurbished and retrofitted. There are plenty of comfy seats in which to read in a peaceful setting, even if your student days are happily behind you, which reminds me, I'd like to give a big shout out to all the staff and faculty back at Al Goldstein Famous Editors School. How's it hanging guys?!
SWAIM: Now, let's say you want to go someplace, have a nice drink and take a book.
SWAIM: No. seriously, I've heard of people who do this. The kids call it "reading." Well, if you wanted to do some of this "reading," you might think about doing it at a great coffeehouse/ bookstore called The Library in Long Beach.
[Mutterings from the audience.]
SWAIM: Now, yes, it's called the Library, but it's not actually a library. Well, except that there are books there and a lot of people go there to read, but it's not a library.
WOMAN IN AUDIENCE: He's trying to hypnotize us!
SWAIM: No, no, no. Well, yes, yes, but not right now. Look, the Library has been around for eight years. A guy named Gary Paterno filled a couple of storefronts with antique couches and frayed carpets, lined the walls with volumes of good cheap books—from a buck to $5.95 —of every genre and began to brew pots of java. The Library feels like an authentic parlor—funky but somehow always fresh, too. It has become a genuine meeting place, not only for the regulars in the neighborhood but also as a rendezvous point for outsiders. From dawn till nearly midnight, the Library serves small meals, pastries and ice cream in addition to a full caffeinated menu. . . . Doncha see? You can go there, have a nice meal, a good talk, and never read word one!
SWAIM: Awright! Now we're getting somewhere. So, let's say you want to go somewhere, another coffeehouse to hear some poetry.
[Giggles from the audience.]
SWAIM: No, I mean it. Say you were in the mood to go somewhere and sit and listen to someone pouring out their soul in verse.
SWAIM: No, seriously, there are people who do this.
[Hilarious gales of laughter.]
SWAIM [above the din]: The best place to do this on a regular basis is at Penguins Hooked on Macaronics.
[Laughter stops at once.]
WOMAN IN AUDIENCE: He istrying to hypnotize us!
SWAIM: Penguins Hooked on Macaronics takes place at the Gypsy Den Central and is the largest, most upbeat, friendliest poetry reading in the county. Poet Jaimes Palacio's wacky hosting style and affability attracts some of the highest quality open readers and most talented featured readers from Southern California and beyond. Besides, you can heckle the hell out of him and get away with it.
[Ooohs and aaahs.]
SWAIM: And how many times have you found yourself just hot for a magazine . . .
[Audience cheers in recognition.]
SWAIM: . . . to read?
[Crowd is suddenly, preternaturally silent.]
SWAIM: You know, sidewalk newsstands are a part of sidewalk culture. This being Orange County, there aren't many sidewalk newsstands to speak of. Each of the major chain bookstores have fabulous newsstands, including papers from all over the world and obscure magazines on horse-breeding, transmission-fixing and British fiction. But each of the three sidewalk stands we honor this evening is remarkable for its ability to transport us to another place: The Eastern Newsstand—near Sears in South Coast Plaza—is laudable for its expansiveness. Bring coffee and something to eat; the browsing could take wonderful hours. West Coast Newsstands across from UC Irvine has an actual exposed-to-the-elements magazine rack, and these odd advantages: it's adjacent to a Diedrich Coffee and within a 25-second walk of Alakazam Comics, the outstanding children's bookstore Whale of a Tale, and Ray's Pizza—perhaps the best New York City-style pizza in South County—and Z-Pizza, the Californiest. For the real urban feel, we like the Laguna Newsstand on Forest Avenue. Just off PCH, next door to the Best Bar for Drinking & Shouting, the newsstand is like a piece of NYC —except, of course, for the beach a few feet away.
[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.
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.
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.
INFANTE [sprinting to the podium]: Did you say poetry?
BONCA: Yeah. You got a problem with that, Homer?
INFANTE: No, siree. Go with the flow—that's my motto.
BONCA: Then why don't you flow over to the corner?
INFANTE: Just watch me!
BONCA: Next we have Aimee Bender. A mid-1990s graduate of UCI's MFA program, Bender is already the author of two best-selling books: the story collection The Girl in the Flammable Skirt and her recently released first novel, An Invisible Sign of My Own. She's an original stylist who sees blind lust, weirdness and the possibilities of beauty everywhere and is most intriguing when she sees them all in the same moment.
BONCA: Jay Gummerman is a San Clemente resident, another UC Irvine grad and author of We Find Ourselves in Moontown, a book of short stories, and the novel Chez Chance. A quietly stubborn innovator who's got Kafka and Pynchon under his belt and in his bones, Gummerman isn't particularly concerned with the audience's pleasure but rather writes fiction about as visionary as you're going to get when you tend to set your work in the smog-clogged motel corridors around Disneyland.
And the winner is . . . Aimee Bender!
[Applause and applause.]
BONCA: Aimee couldn't be with us tonight, as she has hightailed it out of Orange County and settled in Los Angeles. Why she'd want to do that is anybody's guess. Our loss, certainly. We accept her award on her behalf.
BONCA: Next we have the award for the Best Local Bookstore. Now, nobody's dissing the big superstores here—I go to Barnes & Noble and Borders as much as anybody: when you've got selection, you've got selection. But it's also nice to go to one of the five nominated stores we're about to honor.
The nominees are . . . Lido Book Shoppe of Newport Beach. It's a tiny nook of a bookstore hidden away on a walkway near Via Lido. Lido Book Shoppe has great taste, only carrying high-quality fiction and nonfiction, and is one of the few places in OC that carries a large array of literary quarterlies, European magazines and newspapers.
BONCA: The Bookman in Orange and Bookman Too of Huntington Beach. In business for only 10 years, the Bookman, located just off the 55 freeway at Chapman, has already tripled in size, its vast stock of mostly used books swelling to the point that it leased out a big new space in Huntington Beach known as Bookman Too. Both stores are packed tight with everything from classics to works of technical engineering. A browser's dream. They've also got a new website up so you can order online at www.ebookman.com.
[Applause. Whistles. Cries of "Hooray for the website!"]
BONCA: Read It Again of Costa Mesa is a plucky little 5-year-old used bookstore. It's just coming into its own. Prices are good, and in a neighborhood whose other used bookstores sell nothing but romance and genre crap, they carry a surprisingly strong fiction and classics section. Nice staff, too.
BONCA: Latitude 33, in business for three years now, isn't big, but whoever does their ordering really knows books. It's terrific on contemporary fiction and nonfiction, travel, poetry, art and architecture, children's books, and classics. The first high-quality literary bookstore in Laguna since the demise of the late, lamented Fahrenheit 451. Finally, finally.
And the winner is . . . the Bookman! The Bookman's Orange store is as close as OC is likely to get to such great urban independents as Portland's Powell's Books or LA's Wilshire Books. It's not there yet, but it's our best hope. Thank you, Bookman!
SWAIM [from off-camera]: We go now to Rebecca Schoenkopf on location at the Bookman in Orange. Rebecca?
REBECCA: Hi, Will! I'm here at Bookman in Orange with the very nice owners of this much-beloved bookstore. Congratulations!
BOOKMAN OWNERS: Thank you so much! This is really . . . !
REBECCA: You're welcome. Okay, are we done here? I'm gonna need that trophy back. Thanks. Okay, let's blow.
[Screen goes black.]
[Applause. Infante takes this as a cue to come back to the podium but is driven back by Bonca, swinging Bender's trophy over his head. Beers moves to the podium.]
BEERS: It's my honor to announce the nominees for Best Theater. We have four nominees, representing the county's professional, amateur and collegiate houses.
First, the professional. The Laguna Playhouse has taken great strides over the past five years, transforming its image from a glorified community theater into a legitimate powerhouse of a professional theater.
BEERS: South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa has been doing its thing for 37 years. No theater in the county —and few across the nation—has a better reputation for developing and producing new plays.
BEERS: The UC Irvine Theater Department ranks among the top of this county's very fine collegiate departments. Its graduate program ranks in the Top 10 nationally, and the quality of its shows—and its
BEERS: Finally, representing our so-called amateur theaters is the Rude Guerrilla Theater Company, based at the Empire Theatre in Santa Ana. In only three years, this company has aggressively carved a niche for itself as the most adventurous, risk-taking small theater in the county. And the winner is . . .
[Drum roll. No drums appear anywhere else in this production, but they appear here. One camera pans the audience. Another camera settles on the face of Albert Camus. Yet another on the twitching, nervous mug of Pirandello.]
BEERS: . . . South Coast Repertory!
[Cymbal crash! Orchestral music rising up and over the stage! Applause!]
BEERS: Sure, SCR gets loads of money, and the bulk of its audience—and donor base—sums up why R. Crumb once called this county a "vortex of evil." But the theater has done a wonderful job dancing with its private devils for so long. It has, generally speaking, the best plays, the best people and the best facility. Add it up, and that equals the best work.
Here to accept the award is legendary Scrooge performer Hal Landon Jr.
HAL LANDON JR.: On behalf of South Coast Repertory, I want to thank OC Weekly and its readers for honoring this theater that I and so many others have given our blood, sweat and tears to during the past 37 seasons. Well, to be honest, some gave more blood than others. Some seem to have given only sweat. And there was one person who cried all the time. But generally, it has been a pretty good mix of the three bodily fluids. I won't turn this into the kind of self-serving opportunity I fear other theaters might, but I felt it was important to take a moment during a recent performance of Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr. Sloane—which runs through Oct. 22 on SCR's Second Stage—to accept this shiny tribute, so that each of you readers —whether you voted for SCR or have never heard of SCR—will know that we're here for you.
[Audience breaks out in blood, sweat and tears as Landon exits the stage.]
BEERS: Now, the nominees for Best Stage Performer. To be eligible for this role, the performer must work on local stages and live in the county. The nominees, in reverse-alphabetical order, are: Linda Gehringer. This Laguna Beach actress has performed at the Laguna Playhouse, Grove Theater Center and South Coast Repertory, in addition to her frequent TV and film work—she was Jack Nicholson's shrink in As Good as It Gets. But it's on the stage where she's most at home, whether playing a character bandaged from head to foot in Peter Hedges' Good as New or Tricky Dick's unfortunate congressional opponent, Helen Gahagan Douglas, in Keith Reddin's But Not for Me.
BEERS: Jay Michael Fraley. The versatile Mr. Fraley has performed on stages from San Clemente to Santa Ana. Equally at home playing a bloodthirsty scoundrel in John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore or a Christ-like prophet in Corpus Christi, Fraley brings honesty and commitment to every role.
BEERS: Richard Doyle. One of the original founding members of South Coast Repertory, Doyle makes his home in Irvine. He's done much of his work at South Coast Repertory—his performance as a British officer in The Interrogation of Nathan Hale in 1995 still elicits shivers—and was a frequent fixture on Cheers as well as in films like Air Force One.
BEERS:.Mark Coyan. A longtime fixture with the Hunger Artists in Santa Ana (where he rocked as Gregor Samsa in an adaptation of Kafka's Metamorphosis), Coyan has recently made inroads at South Coast Repertory, where he performed in Howard Korder's Hollow Lands. He brings an intensity and sense of physicality to his roles that are always fascinating to watch.
And the winner is . . . Linda Gehringer!
[Swelling music. Heads turn, all looking for Gehringer. Several attractive women rise tentatively and then sit down again.]
BEERS: First off, she has the best legs of the bunch. Second, she's just a very, very good actress. She's magnetic, personable and very talented. Thumb through the program before the curtain rises, and if you see Gehringer's name, you know you're guaranteed to enjoy something about the evening.
Linda Gehringer couldn't be with us tonight, so I'll accept this award for her and take it home, and when she calls me asking for it, I'll pretend I don't know what she's talking about. Good night!
[BONCA and BEERS leave the stage, hoisting the trophies above their heads to thunderous applause. The applause dies. After several moments, Infante, in the manner of a beaten pet, approaches the podium.]
INFANTE: Um, if it's okay with everyone . . . I mean, I don't want to bring anyone down or step on any toes, but I thought, if it wasn't too much trouble . . .
VOICE OFFSTAGE: Get on with it, tool!
INFANTE: Right! The nominees for Best Street/Coffeehouse/Small-Press/Slam Poet are . . . Derrick Brown. Brown has led an industrious career in the Orange County arts scene. From humble beginnings performing stage-magic tricks and reading silly rhyming poetry for kids at Christian youth summer camps, Brown has developed into one of the county's most renowned and impressive poets. Among his recent accomplishments: he was ranked the No. 2 performance poet in the country at the 1998 National Poetry Slam, a feat not besmirched by the fact that this year's Laguna Beach team came in somewhere just ahead of Alaska, Cape Cod and, I don't know, Narnia. Which is okay, y'know? It's good that the Anaheim Angels had a better year than the local poetry-slam team. I mean, it was getting pathetic. Mo Vaughn down at the Laguna Beach Brewing Company, trying to bust a rhyme—ended up busting an ankle. Sad, really. Among Brown's other accomplishments this year was his ongoing variety show with poet/multimedia artist Buzzy Enniss, Drop Dead Theatre, the only theatrical production daring enough to include poetry, video clips of sock monkeys and a heartwarming tale of a dog dying at Disneyland. Furthermore, his band, John Wilkes Kissing Booth, kicks ass. He lives on a boat.
MAN IN BACK OF HALL: What about Lee Mallory?
INFANTE: Jane Cassady's a little new to the scene, having only started writing in January, but the girl's got more talent than Irvine has closeted liberals. Her first poetic hit was a killer vignette about picturing herself "a sort of housewife to the Revolution" and greeting the Revolution at the door with an Utne Reader, saying, "There, there, you big, strong Social Construct, you." A self-described postmodernist—which evidently means she makes references to The Smiths and Kant in her poetry—and a student at the Laguna Beach Art Institute, Cassady is one of the freshest, most innovative poetic voices I've heard in years.
MAN IN BACK: Give us Mallory or give us death!
INFANTE: Look, pal, when you're getting 15 frigging press releases a week from the guy, you can give him an award. Next, we have Paul Suntup. Suntup, who was born in what's been called "the Laguna Hills of South Africa," has distinguished himself by serving on two Laguna Beach slam teams, including this year's—which would have been better if it had, well, a girl on it. And, hey! It wouldn't have hurt if the city of Laguna Beach had chipped in to fund it a bit, but sources say former Laguna Mayor Steve Dicterow's exact comment on the subject was, "Talk to me about it after this Festival of the Arts thing is over"—like letting one arts organization suffer is a good way to deal with another leaving. Well, guess what, Steve? Rumor has it that the Laguna Slam's moving to Long Beach as soon as they nail down a venue. Maybe they should rename the high school football team "the Wylands" because pretty soon, that's all Laguna Beach'll have left.
INFANTE: What? Oh, yeah: Suntup. Starting off as a kind of romantic, lightly surrealistic poet, Suntup has blossomed into a latter-day Frank O'Hara—a wildly surreal visionary. In addition to his Slam work, Suntup is one of the directors of the Five-Penny Poets reading series, along with Mifanwy Kaiser, Michael Paul, Mindy Nettifee and, um, me, which brings a lot of those muckety-muck literary poets into town to read. Yeah, that's right. I'm a closet snob. That's right! I'm a fraud!
[Poet Charles Ardinger, wearing his trademark waistcoat and fedora, leaps to his feet in the audience.]
ARDINGER: You're not the fraud! I'm the Fraud!
[Artist Phish Blackler holds up a tape recorder that plays a recording of Ardinger saying, "You're not the fraud! I'm the Fraud!"]
INFANTE [regaining his composure]: Marcia Cohee. Not one of the flashiest poets in the county, Cohee is more than just a talented writer. She is the ground for the entire scene, a meditative earth mother resting within the quiet confines of the venerable Laguna Poets reading, the oldest weekly series in California. In an alternate universe—or maybe Russia —Cohee would be one of the best read and most famous poets. Her work is elegant and lush and delves deep into environmentalism and women's issues with an unparalleled grace and a commanding knowledge of mythic symbolism. In fact, Cohee's so good I wouldn't even put her on this list at all, aside from the fact that major publishers have been blind to this titanic literary presence. Sure, they'll publish Jewel, who can't spell Charles Bukowski's name right in the introduction to her book, but they overlook this amazing presence whose works weave Orange County into a world of wilderness and coyotes. Sigh. And the winner is . . .
[INFANTE goes to open the envelope when suddenly Lee Mallory appears onstage, grabs the trophy, and runs, screaming, "IT'S MINE! MINE!" Before he gets to the door, he's pounced on by three burly security guards, who wrest the trophy from his hand.]
INFANTE: Ahem. And the winner is . . . Marcia Cohee!
[Cohee makes her way to the podium and takes the trophy after Infante wipes Mallory's blood from it.]
COHEE: I'm amazed to find out I'm a slammer. I have never sought the title of an old-lady slam poet. I'm in complete shock. Thank you!
SWAIM: Marcia Cohee, ladies and gentlemen! You know, I've always been one for Milton when it comes to poetry—Milton who wrote "Hide me from day's garish eye/While the bee with honied thigh/At her flowery work doth sing."
[While Swaim pauses, the camera swings vertiginously to the audience deep in slumber.]
[The audience rouses itself.]
SWAIM: [With finality.] And now a short film on Orange County's Best Bee guy.
[A screen rises behind the stage. The house lights dim. The words "Bee Movie: A film by Len Acnob" appear.
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