Speakeasy: The Last Night of an Orlando Poetry Night

Tod Caviness

Last month, I attended the last night for Speakeasy, one of Orlando’s longest spoken-word nights. Originally, the poetry nights started as The Backroom Words. Then, when Tod Caviness took over, it ended as Speakeasy.

Tod ended the night with these words.

The good news is, I won’t have to give the sex talk. By the time my kid starts making midnight milkshakes, they’ll have fleshbots for that sort of thing. Or third grade sex ed, or Broad City reruns. In any case, I plan on being senile.

 

The bad news is, senile or no, I will one day have to tell him about Speakeasy. He’ll be timehopping around Twitbook and there will be these pictures. Dad with heavy eyelids and a toothless smirk. That parody of a Wal-Mart greeters’ grin on the kid with the dirty blond hair. The goateed stick figure in a Jesus Christ pose. Dudes dressed up like homeless samurai. Things that allude to worse behavior than there actually was; faces that beg for names. And let’s face it, I can barely remember your names as it is.

 

Compounding the problem will be the fact that I’ll have to explain poetry to a human being who communicates entirely in emoticons, as we all will one day.

 

Crazy smiley face / microphone / LOL, he’ll say. Pot leaf / questionmark?

 

No, I’ll say, we weren’t on drugs. OK, some of us were on drugs. Look, forget it. Before we get into the drinks, the post-show meltdowns, the onstage meltdowns, the endless hangovers, you have to know there were easier ways to get all these things. Even in a place where that let the weird kids on stage six nights a week, we were the weird kids. Watching the regulars ignore us and sneak past to get to the bar was making love in a restaurant and seeing everybody else just sit there playing with their food. Some nights, I almost wished I could join them. Because not only was the sex that bad, it was metaphorical. Unlike the kind the people at the bar would be having.

 

What happened was, we all had this problem with words. They could be as meaningless back then as they are now, but we loved them all the same. The easy words like booty and ribcage. The difficult words like democracy and alpaca. We spent our days herding these little wayward fuckers around. Taking them in and tending their wounds after the 6:00 news had kicked them in the teeth. Put a gun in their hands. And then, once a week or once a month we’d get together and make them march in straight lines. Sent them to war on each other’s hearts and groins. Shoot the shit like any other barfly, only with armor-piercing ammo.

 

Okay, he’ll say. But goatee smiley face / dick pic / questionmark?

 

Look, kid. It wasn’t all pen strokes and politics. Sometimes the best times had nothing to do with poetry. And you really shouldn’t bring that up. Your Uncle Trevor has been reviewing septuagenarian erotica ever since that Tribune / Pornhub merger. I don’t even think he can stand to look at his own penis anymore, let alone Lindsey. It doesn’t help that the Pierres wrote, shot and starred in most of those movies.

 

But I like to remember the old gang the way they were. Patrick, back before his job with the L.A. paparazzi turned him illiterate. Curtis, whose last book of poetry was composed entirely of made-up slang. Jesse, whose scathing critique of it was the last thing ever published in English by the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Joe, who’s still trying to maintain a decent poetry scene in Brevard County despite the fact that it’s underwater. Brendan, before Michael Bay got the rights to his latest young adult trilogy.

 

And Butch? Well, Butch is actually doing alright since he started writing episodes for that new Star Trek series. And he’ll continue to do alright as long as those checks keep coming in and that video of the 12 Step Aside Program stays hidden in my safe.

 

As will happen anytime I speak continuously for more than 30 seconds, it will take my son awhile to pause his game of Angry Birds vs. Duck Dynasty on the VR interface, and notice that I’m still talking. With luck, he’ll catch me before I slide fully into senile reverie and ask me: Pointed finger / open book / gravestone / questionmark?

 

And I’ll smile like any man who no longer has to get up to pee. Well, I’ll say, yes and no. It’s true your Dad doesn’t write much anymore. But it’s also true that I never really stopped.

 

You see, I’ve always been shitty with endings. The tidy little moral. The awkward feedback after the mic drops. Wrapping things up in a bow made of fortune cookie slips so I could make it to the bar for one last beer. So the last night, I said, fuck it. I wrote a story that I never finished. The thing just kept on going as the bullshit at the bar became the verses, the private jokes the chorus. The line breaks measured in hugs and bathroom visits, the background music pacing out an unconscious rhythm. I add another few pages every time I visit that bar, even if I have to edit out the parts with Will Walker because the last coherent word that dude said was in 2018.

 

If I’m lucky, he’ll still be paying attention. If I’m lucky, he’ll be scrolling through his infinite pages of little faces, looking for the one that gets my goat, that pisses me off, that makes me laugh. And all the while, I’ll be looking at his.

 

Fuck it, I’ll say. Let’s go to Will’s.

 

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Drunk Couple Arguing at Lake Eola

Lake Eolo Fountain at Night

After leaving Downtown Orlando’s Beth Burgers, I walked to Lake Eola. Because I photographed a nightclub earlier, I was carrying my gym bag containing camera equipment.

I sat on a park bench. I stretched out both my legs and arms. Then, I drifted into relax mode.

About thirty minutes later, a young white couple appeared on my right. I guessed both ages early to mid-twenties. Dude’s brown hair wasn’t shoulder-length. Yet, it wasn’t short either. He wore a baseball cap, sweatpants and t-shirt. I really couldn’t see clothing colors in the dark.

The young lady I guess had blonde hair with the patch of another color mixed in.

The young lady walked towards the lake.

“Come on,” Dude said.

“I’m tired of you ordering me around,” the young lady said. “Would you please go away?”

She was almost crying.

This went on for awhile. As he continued ordering her to come on, Dude’s behavior was kind of pissing me off. Yet, I remained quiet.

I keep wondering why the fuck do young girls fall for guys like this.

Dude gave up and walked away. Then, turned and started yelling for her to come on again.

As he walked off, the young lady walked farther down the lake’s edge behind him.

Next, a white guy who appeared to be in his early thirties sat beside me. He wore jeans and t-shirt. I noticed an ink spot by his right eye.

He told me the couple was on the other side of the lake arguing. Now, he was out to protect the Damsel in Distress.

“She told me he knows Taekwondo,” the guy said. “I know street fighting.”

The couple argued some more. Damsel in Distress complained about being ignored. Then, Dude tried explaining. By this time, I figured Dude was afraid for Damsel in Distress and didn’t want to leave her alone by the lake. I didn’t blame him.

Yet, I could’ve sworn I heard him say something about an earlier conflict with “homeless niggers”.

With me being black and walking around with a gym bag at night, I guess some folks would assume I was homeless. Was his mentioning “homeless niggers”  for my benefit? And was he including white Street Fighter too?

Next, Dude walked off again.

“That’s not right, man,” Street Fighter said.

“Shut up,” Dude said.

The shouting match continued until Dude threatened to kick Street Fighter’s ass. Street Fighter challenged him. Dude started walking towards him. Street Fighter quickly began walking away.

Damsel in Distress tried calming Dude down.

“No,” she started yelling. “Don’t.”

Thinking a fight was about to throw down, I put my cell phone on video. Yet, because Street Fighter walked away, nothing happened.

Dude turned and started walking away. Now, Damsel in Distress finally looked at me for the first time.

“You find this amusing for your laughing soundtrack?!” she yelled at me.

Let’s see. Drunk white people was arguing in front of me at Lake Eola. A guy who claimed to be a street fighter turned out to be a loud mouth pussy. Plus Damsel in Distress’ idiot male friend was all hyped about kicking some guy’s ass, someone who might have been mentally ill and homeless. Oh no, I didn’t find this amusing.

Speaking of kicking ass, Damsel in Distress said she was going to kick mine. Now, what would make a young white girl say she would kick a full-grown, black man’s ass? I guess I was just going to sit there, let her swing at me and not beat the fuck out of her.

Dude didn’t say anything to me. He kept walking and Damsel in Distress followed him. If Dude really did know Taekwondo, I didn’t think he was scared of me.

Still, thanks to crazy white folks, a black man couldn’t enjoy peace and quiet at Lake Eola. It was bad enough a Confederate soldier statue stood on the other side of the lake. Now, these crazy white folks fucked up my Zen.

I kind of had an idea what caused the argument. Damsel in Distress didn’t get the attention she wanted. Because of that, her panties got all twisted. Drunk and pissed off, the whole world now had to pay attention to her. It wasn’t a coincidence she happened to stop near me. Was I supposed to be like Street Fighter and play Captain Save-A-Hoe? I didn’t know. I did know when a woman hits age forty and continues this; it ain’t pretty. Watching a grown-assed woman throw temper tantrums is not a beautiful sight.

Because my Zen was interrupted, I stood up and walked away from Lake Eola.