I don’t know why we even bothered going to the Fountainhead that night. Just from past experience, we both knew it was going to be a mediocre program. Bianca even joked about it while driving to the club.
Open Mic Night At The Fountainhead is a time when obscure, unknown, unheralded, “uncorrupted” local poets can take the stage and show the world why they deserve to be less obscure. It’s the one night out of the week when new voices can be heard without the threat of censorship.
That’s the theory, anyway.
It never seems to work out that way. The reality is that each night brings the same old crowd of preening, melodramatic, spoiled children. They stand on the stage and they try to howl like Allen Ginsberg. Each week, they make the same simplistic political statements, the same shallow observations, and smirk at the same dirty jokes. They utter the same nasty words without understanding just what made those words nasty in the first place. The men jerk off to their whore/Madonna complexes while the women desperately attempt to prove that they haven’t been imprisoned by their own freedom.
Yet, Bianca and I continue to go if just out of some desperate hope that maybe the idealization will turn out to be true. Like a 1940s communist trying to explain away the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, Bianca and I continue to go the Fountainhead in the hope that this will be the night that some stranger appears on the stage and shines the light of poetic enlightenment across our lives. Each night, we hope to see the birth of art and each night, the child is lost.
The last time we went to Open Mic, it was to see Michael Aldren read his latest. (Aldren’s a pretty lousy poet who’s still quite a bit better than me. If you’ve ever read any of Mike Aldren’s poetry, you know why this is a pretty depressing thought.) We sat in the back of the room, drinking our beers and smoking our cigarettes and listening to Aldren rant like some second-rate Ezra Pound. After about five minutes of this, I leaned over to Bianca and whispered, “Do you really want to be here?”
“Good Lord, no,” she whispered back.
“I don’t feel right walking out on Mike.”
Even as Bianca said this, Mike Aldren started to do a bizarre little jig on the stage as he recited a poem about – well, I’m not sure what it was about. I think it may have had something to do with football if just because of the frequent use of the word “punt.” Then again, Aldren may have just been hard pressed to come up with a rhyme for “cunt,” another word that seemed to be liberally sprinkled through this latest poem.
Watching this spectacle, Bianca said, “Let’s get the Hell out of here.”
As we walked out of the Fountainhead, we had the misfortune to run into Jordan Blask and his whole Underground crowd, who were in the process of walking into the Fountainhead. Since Jordan has been trying to get into Bianca’s pants for as long as I care to remember, he immediately struck up a conversation with her. And since Bianca refuses to believe that Jordan is trying to get into her pants, she allowed him too.
As they talked and laughed and gossiped, I balanced myself on the curb of the street and waited. The conversation consisted of the same banal flirtations that always seem to fill the air whenever Jordan sees Bianca and I had no desire to listen to any of it. I stood there with my hands firmly planted in the pockets of my jacket, feeling dwarfed by the neon decay and dull rumble of Dallas.
As I stood there, I thought about the fact that the city’s Art’s District will soon exist in name only. Dallas, of course, has never been about art. Despite popular belief, Dallas isn’t about money, either. It’s about showing off money. It’s about creating the impression of money. It’s about facing all the so-called “great” metropolitan centers of America – New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore – and demanding to be acknowledged as an equal. Dallas, I thought to myself, wasn’t so much a city as it was a gigantic insecurity complex. The city was all about presenting a good surface and what happened underneath that surface was hardly relevant. As art is all about digging underneath the surface, the Art’s District has always been something of an afterthought in Dallas, a stretch of urban decay that was allowed to exist only so that the city could claim to have an “art’s district.”
While these thoughts played in my mind, I saw her.
Across the street, she was perched up on the tips of her toes and waving. A tall, almost waif-like figure with thick, blonde hair that reached down the entire length of her back, she couldn’t have been any older than seventeen. A long, red dress formlessly cloaked her body and the end result was that she somehow seemed to be both chaste and lustful at the same time. I want to remember her as being the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen before or since. She wasn’t but that’s how I want to remember it.
Watching her wave, I realized she was looking straight at me.
I pointed a finger at my chest and mouthed, Me?
She nodded. Her red lips moved, forming words that I couldn’t hear over the conversation stagnating behind me.
I held a hand to my ear and shrugged.
She sighed and smiled somewhat crossly. Now opening her mouth much wider, she again spoke to me.
Just as before, the words dissolved before they reached my ears.
I smiled and shrugged before shouting, “I can’t hear you!”
Raising her left arm, she made a wave-like motion.
Again, I shrugged.
She gave off a good-natured sigh before cupping her hands to her mouth. Leaning forward, she shouted at me.
And again, her words did not reach me.
I shrugged and mouthed Sorry.
She lifted up her left arm and repeated the previous motion. She stared at me, expectantly.
I smiled apologetically and shook my head.
“I’m sorry! I can’t hear you!” I yelled at her.
Before the girl could respond, I felt a delicate hand brushing across my back. Behind me, Bianca laughed her sweet, little laugh and asked, “Are you ready to go?”
“Yeah,” I replied, still watching the girl across the street.
“Friend of yours?” Bianca asked.
Bianca arched an eyebrow in response before asking, “So, are we going or are we going to spend the rest of the night learning sign language?”
I looked back at the girl across the street.
“Charlie?” Bianca asked.
The girl shrugged.
“We’re going,” I said.
I gave the girl a final apologetic shrug.
The girl smiled.