Wednesday, April 06, 2005

An Illuminating Book Burning at the KGB Bar 

A couple of years ago I met a girl who worked atop the bar at the Village Idiot. Okay, I guess her official job was behind the bar, serving drinks, but she enjoyed herself much more on top of the bar, dancing and encouraging bad behavior in others, so that's where she spent her time.

I think her name was Lucy because all the other bartenders called her "Loose." She was pretty and smelled the way a girl should smell when she's covered in bourbon and sweat and money. She was a terrific bartender but she wanted to be a poet. There were rumors I knew a couple of writers and artist types, and so she asked me about where she could meet New York City poets. I threw out a couple of suggestions, including the KGB Bar in the East Village.

"Oh, that sounds perfect," she said. "Can you take me there?"

I knew that if I said yes she smile and give me whiskey, so that's what I did.

A few nights later we stumbled up the stairs of the KGB Bar during a reading by Neal Pollack. It wasn't poetry but it wasn't your ordinary literary reading. There was a guitarist and a drummer. Neal looked drunk. His shirt said, "Don't Mess with Texas." He sang a song with the chorus, "I wipe my ass with your novel."

Lucy bought a second round of bourbons and put her hand on my knee. "This is perfect," she said. Yes. Yes it was.

The climax of Neal's show involved a mock reading of Jonathan Safran Foer's critically acclaimed novel Everything is Illuminated.

"Wrong, Jon. Nothing is illuminated. Everything is fucking dark!" Neal shouted. "I'm going to destroy your book!" He began to tear pages out of the book. Then he invited the audience to participate, passing the book around for us to destroy. The binding was wrecked, the cover shattered, the pages scattered across the bar.

"We should burn it," Lucy suggested. I told her that I agreed. I hadn't read the book (still haven't) but I was caught up in the hate-fest. If you're going to go in for neo-fascist book destruction, might as well go all the way and make this party into a real book burning. But somewhere between getting out my lighter and putting flame to paper, I realized that this would probably get us thrown out of the bar. And between neo-fascism and a good place to drink whiskey, well, I chose the whiskey.

This disappointed Lucy. Nothing turns a girl on like a decent disrespect for the norms of civilization. I tried to explain that it was the booze rather than good manners that stopped me from burning Illuminated, but I think this did more harm than good.

Nice to see the New York Post continuing the Pollack tradition by offering more than a dozen reasons to hate Jonathan Safran Foer.