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The Public Reading

VerbSap contributor Randall Osborne recently gave a reading at the San Francisco-based writing center 826 Valencia of his story At The Chosen Point Of Entry, Finding Loss, which won second place in The San Francisco Bay Guardian’s 2006 short-fiction contest.

In the following letter, published with the author's permission, he describes the event—his first public reading—providing rare insight into the glamorous lifestyle of the rising literary star.


Dear Laurie,

Thanks, yes, the reading seemed to go well enough. I counted attendees but lost track between 65 and 70, because they moved around. Standing room only.

There was no microphone or lectern, so we had to almost shout the stories, but our audience proved attentive and respectful. The third-placer in the fiction contest went first, and her story was funny. I went next. I said something like, "Uh, my story isn't funny, but I do have a funny story I can tell," and reeled off a very brief, somewhat funny story... the sort of comedy club thing at which I am hopeless. They seemed to like it.

I got through my part of the actual reading OK, though I sensed that my voice and hands were a little shaky, and at one point I read the word "interior" for "inferior," thus blowing a good sentence. I didn't go back and fix it because I didn't want to stammer and appear foolish, and for the next few lines I kept thinking, "Should I go back?"—thus almost losing completely my rhythm and composure, such as it was. But I finished without a great deal of sweaty gasping. Success!

Afterward, five or six people came over to talk while I held down the corner of the wine table with my butt. Alexandre Mas, who won first place, told me he had never read in public before, and he was very nervous until he saw how natural I made it seem. (What?) A tall, serious fellow who looked like Jeff Goldblum said my story was "Nabokovian." (What?) A woman and her boyfriend said I should consider moving to Oakland. The north part, since fewer people get shot in north Oakland, which seemed like a plus.

Outside 826 Valencia after the reading, a woman with a British accent invited me to go for a drink with her friends at the Lone Palm, a bar on 22nd that I've been much intrigued by. It's across the street from a pretty good French restaurant. There's a neon palm tree sign over a recessed, very private-seeming doorway. But I was starving to death. I hadn't eaten in 12 hours, and I didn't want to go to the Lone Palm with strangers, drink on an empty stomach, and make a fool of myself in a place I'd never been, before stumbling into the rain and finding nowhere to get nourishment because of the lateness of the hour.

So I begged off the Lone Palm (probably a mistake). I scurried to the Last Supper Club, farther down on Valencia, where Leo, a cartoonist who writes children’s books and paints murals, was bartending. He'd just been off for three days. "And you hurt your finger," I said. His right middle finger was bandaged all the way down to the second knuckle. Leo said, "It's an ongoing condition. I have bar rot, so I went over to the free clinic to see if they could do anything about it."

I had never heard the horrible phrase "bar rot" before. Citric acid from lemons and limes gets under the bartender's cuticle, eats away the protective skin, and allows infection to get in there. Leo has bar rot in the one finger only. He said he started to get it in another, but that finger for mysterious reasons stopped rotting.

While I sat there drinking Prosecco, allowing the bubbles to go up my nose and thinking about Leo's rotten finger, I noticed a few seats away a guy who is always at the bar in the Last Supper Club, or has been at the bar almost every time I've been in the place. He vaguely resembles Nick Nolte, but spends more time on his hair than Nick does. Blow-drying it, specifically. He usually drinks dark beer, and his grin is somewhat startling because he is missing one, maybe two teeth on the left side, but after you see the grin a few times, it takes on a sort of craggy appeal. The first time I talked with him, he said he was waiting for his laundry, and he lived on the other side of the city, and usually went to a different bar, where they serve Shepherd's Pie. He nodded a lot. The night of the reading he nodded a great deal also, but he was talking to someone else and I don't like saying this, but I was grateful.

After several glasses of wine and then dinner (which consisted of organic greens in a big porcelain bowl—"Isn't the bowl usually wooden? Didn't you have wooden bowls here before?" Four glasses of wine, I think—swordfish with olives and tomatoes, and sautéed spinach), the Last Supper Club was closing. The manager came over and put a black hat, like a fedora, on my head and said, "Don't forget your hat!" I'd never seen it before. I situated the hat at a jaunty angle, and people at the bar applauded.

My new headgear provided important protection from the rain, which was pouring torrentially and which I stood in, or under, becoming otherwise soaked during the five minutes that elapsed while I tried to wave down a cab. Right now, the hat is over there on the table. Fun night.

 

Randall Osborne lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is finishing a collection of stories.

Randall's most recent work in VerbSap is The Lake.

 

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