Thursday, December 6, 2012

Words in Bars with Blackened Fish

I’m sitting on a bar stool amidst a body-to-body packed house at Enterprise Fish Co. at five p.m. Next to me is a couple on a date spearing oysters; the girl half giggling in an eerie piano key tinkle and every time she moves her head a waft of overly sweet perfume floats over to me. On the other side is an old man enjoying the happy hour scenery and the flirtations he has with the gracious Swedish waitress every time she comes to give him his chowder or a refill on his vodka tonic.

“Give a little bit….give a little bit of your love to me…”

A dim song from my youth in the 1970s starts up from the sound system competing with all the young and preppy Santa Monica-ites in the bar, competing as well with the soccer games playing on the overhead televisions. I whip out my small orange notebook, elbow up to the bar, take out the ponytail to let my hair down, unwrap the scarf from my neck, order a Cuba Libra and start to write new bits of my novel feeling exquisitely invisible and entirely visible simultaneously.

It’s been a while…

…like many romanticized ideas in my life, it started with Jack Kerouac and my early teen visions of the flannel-backed poet sitting at an aluminum counter in some Denver dive diner at 3 a.m. with Allen Ginsberg. I knew that if I had been alive in the glorious Beat days, I would have been sitting there right alongside the boys discussing philosophy, sex and books over scrambled eggs in ketchup bought by the hustle up of each of us of a few coins from the pockets in our tattered pants and that the conversation alone would be more belly plumping than the food. Something became inherently linked for me back then between eating at bars and words – an ironic stark comfort in laying down naked bare prose alongside drunks, loners, strangers and the hungry all beneath either an omniscient neon glare or its juxtaposition: a red-bulbed sort of dark and dim room.

My first attempt at this endeavor included a male poet friend who I would meet in the lounge of the now defunct St. James after work every weekday for a month in my twenties. We would sit silent and pass a spiral notebook back and forth while sipping dirty martinis and write exquisite corpse pieces without uttering any real words. The silence was indicative of our real unrequited relationship so I quickly decided that my writing in bars fantasy had to become something undertaken alone.

I spent a good part of a decade sitting at a solo chaired table at Peabody’s coffee shop where I would sip a cup of cappuccino tortuously slow because it was all I could afford and get miles out of the customers who would go in and out and help me fill my notebook with frantic observational poems. Sometimes my brother would accompany me on his roller blades and leave me alone to channel Henry Rollins while he enjoyed the girl scenery downtown in his prepubescent ten-year-old days.

In my early thirties, every trip to San Francisco included a visit to Vesuvio, where I would write for hours, letting my surroundings disappear into the smoky North Beach atmosphere.

There was something about being out in the open and rolling the pen across paper that made me feel alive as a writer and part of the world; as if my creativity was being constantly fueled by the never-ending parade of anonymous humanity right in front of my face yet still somehow separated by the steam rolling off of my cup.

When I started to get published and became a mom, my writing habits changed. Most of the time I wrote at home, late at night once my daughter was put to bed, or in the wee hours of morn before the real job began its toll on day.

But after arriving at the beach last year and beginning to work on the long overdue completion of a novel, I decided to take inspiration from my friend Dan, who spends alot of his time penning work at local bookstores and coffee shops. He told me that sometimes the best ideas come from actually just sitting in a crowded place and being part of the energy of the world going by.

I wanted to find a place that would be all my own and not a typical café because in L.A. they are full of every other one of the million people trying to be writers. So I discovered the fish company down the street from my house where I could sneak in alongside the crowd at happy hour and eat a blackened salmon Greek salad and disappear amongst the pick up lines, the inebriated frat boys, the cheeky staff, the scents of fried food and fish and the clinking of glasses – a place so removed in ambiance from anything I would normally choose as a place for me that I could simply fade away into the crowd, nothing between the blank paper and me.

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