7/20/2019, 8 PM (3rd Saturday)
WHO NEEDS HEALING Open Mic
“Night of the Living Dead”
Hosted by Alysia Varges
@ Hanuman Lounge, 208 Bay St, 2nd Fl (Staten Island)
[DISCLAIMER: The photos that appear in this recap are part of an influencer campaign testing out the latest Instagram filter known as *CPCPQ. Please see end of article for more details.]
Before we begin, let’s address the 800-lb gorillephant in the title: “MORTIM” is not a typo.
On a day that was as hot as wearing high-octane gasoline draws in hell, during a time when events were getting cancelled clockwise and counter-clockwise, it was reasonable for one to have doubts about tonight’s open mic at Hanuman Lounge, the yoga studio located above the Every Thing Goes cafe. (I’ll spare you the heatwave-related joke that references Bikram yoga.) Even at the late afternoon time of 5:45 p.m. (palindrome meridiem), the oppressive heat wasn’t breaking; the evening was starting with a “real feel” of 103 degrees.
But a late-breaking report revealed that Hanuman Lounge now has air-conditioning. So while the excessive heat made the triathletes punk out, forced the OZY Fest goers to capitulate, got parts of Red Hook to shut things down like blue laws on a Sunday, and convinced me to cancel a trip to Shoprite for sale-priced almond milk, the “Who Needs Healing” show, a monthly open mic with featured artists, went on as planned.
And apparently, even if Hanuman didn’t have A.C.–and everyone was packed into the intimate space, burning up–the show would’ve continued. You know, artists and their pain–always believing supreme discomfort and self-inflicted punishment is essential to the creative process.
Upon arriving at Hanuman, it didn’t take long to process: There was no A.C. and everyone was packed into the intimate space, burning up. This was a situation you could see coming from a block away: all of the power on this stretch of Bay Street was out–a mini-blackout. The light of candles, emanating from a makeshift memorial constructed near a neighboring doorway, provided some illumination.
A cellphone flashlight was used to illuminate the complete darkness, which carpeted the staircase. It was spooky. I gingerly navigated the steps, following the lead (I couldn’t see) of open mic’er Comfort Cat; her spunky nature comforted me: if anything out of The Walking Dead went down, I had faith she’d play the role of Michonne–weilding a guitar instead of a samurai sword. You could not have planned a better power failure on a night that was dedicated to the theme: Night of the Living Dead. And death was in the air–the rest in peace candles outside on the sidewalk and the second-floor’s intercom system, which was dead; in lieu of the buzzer, you had to call a phone number taped to the door and say the magic words: “New shit!” and then someone would come down to let you in.
When Hanuman lets you in, take off your shoes before you come in their house. I complied, as I had no qualms about being sneakerless and sockless–despite the elevated room temperature–extra fragrant moisturizer allowed me to be barefoot without worry. It did cause some worry, initially, when an anonymous voice passed by in the pitch-onyx dark and said, “I have to get out of here; it’s too hot.” But The Universe wasn’t having any of that: I could hear the host, the lovely Alysia, plugging my August 2nd feature at the St. George Library, which effectively ended any second thoughts about staying. I put the kibosh to any plans of sneaking out, back to my air-conditioned home, and asked Alysia to add my name to the open mic list. Then, like all the other artists present, I found a seat and made myself uncomfortable.
Appropriately dressed in all-black, Alysia (who moonlights as a badass library employee when she’s not hosting) did a pop-up library-ish storytime: a children’s book about a zombie. The book by Kelly DiPucchio, Zombie in Love, is about Mortimer, an undead soul who is searching for the love of his life, his soulmate. The story tells about Mortimer’s romantic efforts and the varying outcomes. Alysia, like any great storyteller, stopped on a cliffhanger to introduce one of the feature artists. (This effectively forced everyone to stay until the end of the open mic. One person screamed: I NEED TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED TO MORTIMER!)
Featured artist Neeks opened up with a poem about social media obsession; she equated stressing out over an “Instagramable moment” to being a new kind of living dead. For some, this piece may have felt like a “sitting in church and the preacher’s sermon is about me” moment, as they were forced to come to terms with death: no working electrical outlets meant that their phone would eventually die and leave them Instagram-less.
Neeks, who had the support of family in the audience, shared heartfelt material. She read “Unedited shit!” which came with a warning that it might make her and Mom cry; it was about her Dad, a 9/11 first responder, and his battle with PTSD. The disease and its threat of death was a visitor that came into their home and “got comfortable.” If you’re like me–a sucker for lines that reference religion–you would’ve felt your brain snap its fingers when she said, “I stopped believing in God after 9/11.” After Neek concluded her feature and was returning to her seat, the host asked her to tell everyone how she could be found on Instagram.
Next up was Julie the Loon, who not only looked and sounded like Julie Bentsen, but also plagiarized verbatim one of my favorite poems by Ms. Bentsen: the one about the doctor who keeps telling her to “stop smoking,” the doctor who doesn’t realize that smoking has nothing to do with “a lack of intelligence” and “everything to do with self-punishment.” Normally, I don’t care for when Julie “L” takes credit for the work of Julie “B,” but there was that one part which is like the greatest-sounding plagiarism ever: Julie’s description of 5,000 ft tall Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, carved out of pure black onyx, who make no sound when they walk. And while it’s never revealed in the poem, one can’t help but to wonder what sound the doctor made when he discovered that both Julies are the same person, and both have the same two major habits: 1) yelling “New shit!” at open mics, and 2) smoking cigarettes purchased by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Although I don’t smoke, when the host announced that a short break would be taken shortly, to cool off, I thought about going outside with the smokers. It works on your nerves: sitting in triple-stage darkness, while a poet does poetry about giant mutant ninja turtles that can’t be seen in the dark, and who as rapper Lil Wayne once said: like “real g’s” they “move in silence like lasagna.” Like adding to your sauce, a little of the water you boiled your pasta in, The Universe would later make it all come together with cosmic synergy, by “randomly” placing a guy with a TMNT baseball cap in front of me.
Next on the open mic was Marcus, who pondered topics such as context, emotional responses to one’s phone, and questioning if his poem was even a poem. But there wasn’t time to answer that question because there was a bigger problem to fry; according to Marcus, “There’s a problem in society…the problem is people.”
The next feature, Zack Katz, is not one of those people. His perfect blend of humour, sentimentality and insight will make you feel like giving someone a hug afterwards. A “consensual” hug of course, as Thomas Fucaloro (the regular host of “Who Needs Healing”) always points out. Rumor had it that Thomas was hiding out from the heat in three possible sighting locations: 1) his beard, 2) his sister’s wedding, 3) on the moon.
Zack, who admitted “I call myself a poet sometimes, but not on dating apps,” shared a poem about gratitude in which he said, “Thank you to the moon for showing me that there is darkness even in light.” And in keeping with the unwritten rule of open mics–you can’t do a poem about gratitude without doing one about depression. Zach asked the audience, “On a scale of dirty laundry piled on your floor…how depressed are you?” And since depression and the “first taste of rejection” are concentric circles–you can’t discuss one without the other–the FOMO is real for those who missed out on present-day Zach revisiting the memory of 12-year-old Zach: a bat mitzvah, Samantha, the DJ following 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” with Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This,” and “the epitome of middle school romance”–only getting a cheek, when what you really want is some lip.
Zack also did some “Nay kaka?” about dating Anxiety,
and when he finished–as he was spelling out his Instagram handle–the power came back on! It was as if The Universe said, LET THERE BE LIGHT…for an Instagramable moment like this.
Matthew Gaffney, another feature, sang thoughtful lyrics over his acoustic guitar playing: “I hope it goes okay / I know we won’t be safe.”
After the song, there was a moment of absolutely refreshing honesty when Matthew said, “So, I don’t know what that song is really about.” However, he knew exactly what the next one was about: a love song about the survivor of a zombie attack. After Matthew’s set, the break finally arrived. The mounting anxiety–of not being able to see in the darkness without the eerie Stephen King-glow of a cellphone screen–dissipated once the lights came back on. I no longer needed to take a non-smoker’s smoke break, so I stayed in the lounge and did some earhustling; if you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s semi-Yiddish for eavesdropping.
By the way, random earhustles make for great first line writing prompts:
– It’s coming from the floor!
– Anti-christ turning water to wine.
– Yoga is a form of penance.
(Note: It may have been “yoga is a form of dance,” but you can’t ask for clarification when earhustling because people will then know you’re listening to their conversation.)
– I meet so many people from I.S. 24. / It’s the only school I look back on fondly.
– Puberty, it was so painful. I was a loser.
– I had a crush on her…she’s like 50. I still have a crush on her.
– People really like my sick voice. / It’s sexy.
– If you’re used to a salad fork.
– It’s a long story, but it’s one of the best days of my life.
– Scum bag ex-pats.
The earhustling break also covered topics such as Alfred Hitchcock, washing dishes, French class in college, and the grates and vents of 1850s very flammable Victorian plumbing.
After the break concluded, John came to the stage donning a Bob Dylan-like harmonica and performed the song, “Mercy Now,” written by New Orleans songwriter, Mary Gauthier. The lyrics were soul-searching, fostering a sort of post-apocalyptic contemplation:
I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now…
People in power, they’ll do anything to keep their crown…
Yeah, we all could use a little mercy now / I know we don’t deserve it but we need it anyhow…
And to show how art affects different people differently–what one person thinks is “hell,” another person thinks is “hallowed ground”–look at the post-performance feedback John received from the host: Alysia thanked him for performing a song “that was very relaxing”; this is the same song that Rolling Stone Magazine named, inaccurately of course, one of the 40 Saddest Country Songs of All-Time.
The next open mic’er, Giuseppe, who was accompanied by the guy in the TMNT baseball cap, announced that it was his first time performing at “Who Needs Healing” and that he would be doing a cover. Unfortunately, he didn’t mention the artist or name of song. I figured I’d be able to easily garner that information later on, by googling some of the song’s more distinctive lyrics. But when I searched for “I’m an asshole, but I’ll never do you wrong,” I got results such as “I Acted Like An Asshole For A Week To See If It Would Make My Life Better”; “Why Being An Asshole Can Be A Valuable Life Skill”; “Why You’re An Asshole (And Why That’s Just Fine)”; “What To Do When You’re An Asshole.”
Fortunately, I had a back-up. But, typing “If the bad boys are what you want, I can show you bad” into the search box, didn’t help either; all I got was 40 different results on “Reasons Why Good Girls Want A Bad Boy Who’s A Nice Guy.”
Full Disclosure: I scrolled through all the reasons…it’s how I stumbled on what I was looking for: the song is “Cleveland, OH” by John Floreani (from his solo project, Little Brother).
M.A. Dennis shared his piece “that appears in the latest issue of Good Housekeeping.”
He also shared a poem dedicated to the dead, which is published in The Monitor, a newsletter by homeless and formerly homeless New Yorkers; the poem, about Dennis’ former roommate at the Keener Men’s Shelter, is entitled “Harlem Died.”
Before leaving the stage, Dennis addressed the question everyone was thinking, “the 800-lb gorillephant in the room” if you will: How did you get your piece in Good Housekeeping magazine? Answer: “Scotch tape.”
In a sort of role reversal, Comfort Cat now followed behind M.A. Dennis. “I was thinking about doing one about death, but I’ll think I’ll do one about blood,” Cat said before launching into a song that began with “I’m an artist at my easel…” As the song progressed, punctuated by Cat’s signature growl, it became clear she was singing about something no Dutch Boy has ever experienced:
I feel it creeping down my thigh / and I just can’t contain it anymore
Cat earned extra credit for singing a part of the song that isn’t part of the song, as if it was part of the song:
What’s the fuckin line i wrote?
Comfort Cat will be featuring at the Mother Pug Saloon, next Saturday, July 27th.
And it was truly a night for unexpected happenings, as Rickie Lee came to the stage sans saxophone. Rickie, wearing a NASA t-shirt, was in attendance to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the July 20, 1969 moon landing–not with an original work, because according to Rickie that would be “dry as a bone”–but by sharing a passage from Norman Mailer’s book, Fire on the Moon, in which Mailer remarks, “the very concept of landing on the moon was blasphemous.”
The next open mic’er, Morningstar (sporting a MOON LANDING top), almost committed blasphemy by not sharing her amazing rendition of the James Dickey poem, “The Moon Ground,”
which originally appeared in a 1969 edition of Life Magazine. Yes, O Brother!, O Sister, Morningstar could be forgiven for not revealing “the secret of time” or the whereabouts of the moon-themed Oreos, but to deny the people the oration of words that evoke “solemn stillness,” words with luster that “shimmers” long after the open mic has closed, words like:
We are here to do one thing only / and that is, rock by rock, to carry the moon / to take it back
Yes, only a blasphemer would’ve denied us that. Thankfully, at the penultimate moment, Morningstar heeded the sanctified wisdom of the O’Jays and decided to “Give the People What They Want.”
Last but not least on the open mic list was Dan, who spends “a lot of time walking in the woods and writing haiku.” He closed the show with some absolutely wonderful, traditional haiku; by traditional, meaning about nature and fully in line with Japanese aesthetics–none of that blasphemy that Americans such as myself are guilty of: referring to our 5-7-5’s as haiku, when more often than not they are actually senryu.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “senryu” as: a 3-line unrhymed Japanese poem structurally similar to haiku but treating human nature usually in an ironic or satiric vein.
I pondered this, my disrespectful American appropriation of the word “haiku,” as Dan’s words painted images of fallen, rotten trees crawling with termites. Dan’s final offering was a senryu (which still managed to deftly incorporate the nature-element of a traditional haiku):
walking with the moon
otherwise I am alone
tonight I don’t mind
Dan’s senryu was followed by a quite audible gasp from the audience, as if they were collectively saying: THAT WAS IMPRESSIVE.
Alysia came back up to thank everyone for coming out and sticking it out, for toughing it out through all the challenges that arose through the night. Alysia even shared a challenge from earlier in the day, which she had fought to overcome: “I got called a fuckin asshole by some teenager.” And while there was universal disdain throughout the room for that disrespectful-ass teenager, I thought about them on the way home.
As I walked down Bay Street, hearing Nas blasting from an SUV and seeing someone with an impromptu bbq grill set up on the sidewalk–just normal, old shit in Staten Island–I thought about that teenager’s rudeness as I composed a “haiku”:
rude teenage poet
calls senryu a haiku…
sorry not sorry
(BUT WAIT! you say? I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO MORTIMER! Well, next time, bring your ass to the open mic and you’ll find out.)
[*CPCPQ – Crappy Phone Camera Picture Quality]