Dispatches from Atlantis #14
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Dispatches from Atlantis #14

The Night I Saved "Lydia Vance"

 Paul Corman Roberts
 Paul Corman Roberts
Dispatches from Atlantis #14
by Paul Corman Roberts  FollowFollow
Paul Corman-Roberts had coffee and donuts with Eldridge Cleaver in 1995 and once pulled a graveyard shift at a Circle K during the Rodney King...read more riots. He misses working in theater.
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Dispatches from Atlantis #14
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I was introduced to Bukowski's ex, Linda King, in early 2006 by Neeli Cherkovski, before she moved from LA to the Bay Area. She was in town visiting her grandkids, and stopping by to have lunch with her old friend Neeli from the DeLongpre days in the Seventies. Her depiction in the novel Women was very much at odds with the laid back, polite woman standing in front of me that morning. But the warm smile seemed familiar, something I had seen in a time machine perhaps.

I wouldn't think of her again for four years, when I was alerted to the fact that she had relocated near the Lake Merced area of San Francisco to be closer to her family. With her arrival, she was dropping in for readings at Modern Times and the Beat Museum and as I was helping a group of poets to produce a new submission based reading series "Anger Management" it occurred to me "hey, why don't we grab a few features to make sure we have a loaded lineup." My co-producer HK Rainey wholeheartedly approved of this strategy, and I immediately reached out to Linda.

Of course she didn't remember me. "I meet so many damn artists, it's hard to keep them straight," she admitted. But she found the theme of the reading, writings from or about anger (or both) to be highly appealing, and agreed to open the event which would take place at the Kaleidoscope Free Speech Zone just off the corner of 24th Street and Bryant in the deep Mission district. She wanted to read first in the show so she could go home early, and while normally this wouldn't endear me to the poet, we were talking about a woman on the verge of turning 70. I prefer an early bedtime myself these days.

In addition to Linda though, the lineup of writers performing for this event had me jacked: Tony DuShane, Jesus Angel Garcia, Lauren Becker, Alia Volz - and it didn't end there. I had been watching over the past few months how big lineups of writers could turn out big crowds and we wanted every decent submission for the event to get its moment.

We had 19 readers booked. BIG mistake. As we got closer to the event several readers expressed to me their doubts about this arrangement. I tried to assure these readers that everyone was only going to read for no more than seven minutes apiece. Debbie Kirk fumed at me that "no one does just seven minutes!" She backed out of the lineup on the day of the reading asking that one of the troupe readers, my buddy Adam Laxton, read in her place instead. I tried to tell myself this was not really going sideways.

The night of the reading arrived. Our musical guest was my neighbor Cindy Emch's happening little booze band Vagabondage, so I car-pooled into San Francisco with her. We arrived to find most of our talent thronging the sidewalk outside the Free Speech Zone. The strategy of booking a large lineup had paid off with an enormous standing room only crowd. The reading was jammed with readers who were regulars at Quiet Lightning and the 16th and Mission Thursday Street Showcase. And it was a Thursday night.

Linda King arrived as the band was setting up, and I re-introduced myself to her and told her she would be on right after the band, and people whispered and pointed at her. She had that aura - this was Buk's ex. So many wanted to fetishize her, and I realize that now, I was doing something similar by wanting to brag I had had her on MY bill.

As the band made its way through a three song set, I was informed another feature, Pam Benjamin had dropped out. The hazards of fielding a marathon lineup were beginning to clarify themselves. Just as I was starting to wrap my head around the show beginning, an old friend, Matthew Decoster called me over to say something.

"See that guy there?" he pointed to a rumpled looking reprobate who might be referred to as a "Goth" with all his black clothing if he hadn't had a near mullet and a hipster mustache.


"He's been hitting on Jess over there and I don't think he's getting the hint."

Indeed, the singer for the band Fox & Woman appeared to be getting a strong dose of unwanted male attention from an obnoxious drunkard who wasn't much interested in hearing "no" for an answer. I could see him trying to talk to her back, but then he quickly relented. The last thing I wanted to do was have some kind of harassment intervention at the show.

"Okay," I sighed to Matthew, "let's both keep our eyes open and keep each other posted." He agreed and we got the reading going with Linda, who recounted stories of what a prick Bukowski was and read very astute poems which occasionally burst out into angry cries, rhapsodizing: "DON'T SAY: I LOVE YOU ANYMORE! Say something kind." I was so stoked with Linda's set I quietly ignored the fact that it had gone on for 15 minutes.

H.K. and I found ourselves juggling the set with writers coming to us saying "Can I read in the first set instead of the second set please" and we found ourselves asking other writers to change their positions in the reading order to accommodate these requests, which some were okay with and others seriously rolling their eyes. I was beginning to wonder if this was any way to run a reading.

Suddenly a small projectile crossing my field of vision diverted my attention. Was I having an acid flashback? I paused unsure of what I may or may not have just seen. Soon enough another one came by and I was alert enough to track it this time. It flew in the general direction of William Taylor Jr. who had just delivered a blistering ten minutes of his own. He sidestepped the mini-projectile, and I saw him giving an exasperated look across the room. I looked back to see the owner of Green Apple books, grinning madly and nodding in Taylor's direction. Did he just...? Yep. Not one minute later the bookstore owner clearly sent another spit wad flying across the room in the middle of another writers performance and it was clearly directed at Taylor.

The spit wad assassin's wife, unfortunately another one of my readers for the evening, quickly hustled him out of the venue and out of the show for the rest of the night. (Thankfully she came back later to read her bit, leaving her drunken husband on a barstool for fifteen minutes.) But the second half of our show was shrinking with each successive set.

Despite this, the reading had been going fabulously. The crowd had been completely fired up by Linda, Amy Glasenapp, Andrew Paul Nelson, and Jessica Loos. Our first reading like this one had been hugely successful, and now it was looking like this one was going to be even more successful. I was perhaps, liking too much how full and responsive the SRO crowd had been, and as we rolled toward the close of the first half, I was feeling pretty full of myself.

Then I saw what time it was. It was five minutes after ten and we were only half way through. As poor HK implored people to hang in for the second half, I watched over half the crowd empty out the Free Speech Zone doors never to return on this night. "16th and Mission reading getting started now," someone's shrinking image said to me.

"Where is everyone going!?" one of the featured readers demanded of me. Why had I thought Thursday was a good night for this event again?

Vagabondage played a three song set to half the people they had played for previously. When they finished and took their seats, there were still plenty of seats to be had. I could feel the wrath of some remaining writers trained clearly on my neck. Our videographer Evan Karp looked like he would rather be at 16th and Mission, and the show had gone so long that his camera battery had died. I could well understand why the readers felt robbed of their audience, but they were game and finished out their sets like the honorable artists they are.

By the time I closed out the show with my own short proxy reading, we had reached midnight. It was like we had done two separate shows, with two separate audiences, except the second half readers had been to both shows without any of the benefit. I was feeling depressed about this turn of events, because I felt sure I had let writers down. I saw poor Cindy desperately wanting to get back home and waiting for me to give her a ride. After saying my good night and settling up with the venue host, Cindy and I made our way back to my beat up Corolla parked outside on 24th Street.

As I unlocked my car, I could hear Cindy say "hey" and saw her looking down the street. Half a block down, I saw two people walking toward us. As they approached, I realized one of the figures was Linda King, and next to her was the creepy looking Goth guy with the mullet.

"Oh my god, oh my god!" Linda cried out. "I can't believe you're still here! We need help. Our car has been stolen!"

Linda had left the reading three hours ago, and she explained that she and her son (!) had been wandering lost on the streets of the not-so-safe-to-wander-on-at-night streets of the Mission District ever since then.

"We've looked all over for our car and we can't find it anywhere. The scavengers are starting to close," she said nervously. I could tell she was on the verge of tears. Cindy and I looked at each other wordlessly. No way could we leave this woman and her drunken son out on these streets at this hour, even though they lived nearly seven miles in the opposite direction we needed to go.

Thankfully Cindy knew a few clutch shortcuts and it took us no more than half an hour out of our way. Still, listening to Linda and her son in the back seat of my car, it was clear they had been arguing with each other for hours about the car, but were so thankful and relieved to even be IN a warm car at this late hour taking them to a place where they didn't have to worry about getting beaten and robbed. Her son was laughing giddily, and said it was a good thing he didn't feel like barfing any more. Cindy and I were happy with this news as well.

We saw Linda and her son into their home, and then shook our heads and laughed all the way back to Oakland about how we just "saved Lydia Vance."

The next morning I managed to message Linda on Facebook and she explained to me that her daughter and son-in-law had gone back out to the Mission district and almost immediately found her car, on South Van Ness Street just near 24th. In other words, about a block from where Cindy and I had found Linda. It turned out her son had not only been sloshed when he arrived at the reading, but also when he drove Linda to the event and parked their car. Upon getting even drunker, he had not the faintest idea where he had left their wheels. It turned out they had been up and down streets covering an area of at least 36 square blocks...and their car had been right there the whole time.

Linda claimed to be embarrassed, but she also implied it was not the first time they had lost their car; that this was a kind of pattern for this particular segment of their family. She and her son lose the car; her daughter and son-in-law wind up finding it. When I told Cindy, she laughed, adding "so it's not really that we saved them so much as we unwittingly participated in their lifelong co-dependency." I had to laugh and admit that was true, but then, isn't that what the small press has always been about one way or another? I was honored in my own dysfunctional way to be part of that kind of bridge that spanned back to Delongpre and even beyond that.

Also by Paul Corman Roberts



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