A Literary Trip Out at July’s Franklin Park Reading Series
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1. Small Demons maps, French fries, and Guinness makes three servings of literary awesomeness. 2. Omid Fallahazad, writer; Rashin Fahandej, Artist and Filmmaker; Katherine Toukhy, Artist and Educator. They’re great at candid photos!
Last night, Penina Roth and her gang hosted another installment of the venerable Franklin Park Reading Series. Polly Bresnick, Matthue Roth, Rupinder Gill, Eric Sasson, and Mark Leyner read five tales to the theme of “Travels & Journeys,” that weren’t transatlantic trips or epic American road trips. Instead, we were treated to cross-cultural journeys, mistranslations and misperceptions; for good measure, we also had a sexcapade or five. Co-sponsored by the new literary mapping outfit Small Demons, last night’s reading wasn’t like any trip I’d ever been on.
1. Host and curator Penina Roth, doin’ her thang as always. 2. Polly Bresnck, reading about peacock avocados. 3. Anus!
The seats filled up quickly while fab interns Erika Anderson and Francesca DeMusz handed out Small Demons’ “Off the Page” maps, which plot literary destinations along with a quote from a famous writer. On the LA map, I was particularly happy to see Bret Easton Ellis’ La Cienega Boulevard, and on the New York map, Sylvia Plath’s take on The UN. Soon the lights were killed and Polly Bresnick took the stage, drawing our attention to the projector, where several lines of Ancient Greek appeared, “in case you forgot yours.” Bresnick read from her work “Old Gus Eats,” a visual mistranslation of The Odyssey. It was unclear if Old Gus, or Odysseus, was stuck on a ship or chasing “peacock avocados” while randomly calling out “Anus!” Some phrases visually translated better than others, like “vulva Oedipus,” and others were more poetically licensed, but to no less an effect. Example: “Can you please manage your optimism?”
1. Matthue Roth wins for Best Writerly Facial Expressions forever. 2. Emily Ludolph, a fiction writer and Playing on Air intern, with Alexandra Wong, a prose poet and Editorial Intern at Columbia University Press.
Matthue Roth stepped to the mic next, and read from a recently anthologized story about bullies. Roth has a charm about him that entices you, no matter your literary proclivities. Roth’s story — which followed a Russian Jupiter (a.k.a. Zeus), whose neighborhood is renamed from Rushing Waters to Russian Vodkas — wouldn’t be the first story I’d read by choice, but Roth’s passion and love for his characters shone through his masterful delivery. Jupiter and Vadim grappled with “The America evaporating from the air” by cooking up some drugs rendered from wintergreen Lifesavers. Soon, Peter-Pyotr, who’s an “asshat” about his Jewishness, arrives and headlocks Jupiter, forcing him to snort his own product. Let’s say things don’t go so well.
1. Rupinder Gill and Indian Rumspringa. Also pictured: Erika Anderson, tweetin’. 2. CROWD!
Rupinder Gill and I have a lot in common. We both have parents from Asia — hers from India, mine from China — whose parental trump cards were not about hills in the snow, though mine never “made toys out of mud.” Gill’s excerpt from her memoir, On the Outside Looking Indian, focused on her childhood in a “Bombay rooming house in suburban Canada.” While American kids’ summers were spent with “Mother [making] a glazed ham,” Gill’s was in the TV room with aunts, uncles, grandparents, nephews, nieces and siblings watching Welcome Back, Kotter. Growing up Indian at home and American in school, she was bound to run into some cultural pickles. Her “pre-pubescent Achilles heel” concerned an anthologized poem in elementary school. “So let’s remember Jesus / as he lays in the hay … The problem is I did not believe in Jesus, and I did not know that.” You don’t have to be Indian to have your own pre-pubescent cringe story, but your grandmother probably never soothed you with this platitude: “May you be drowned in cow dung.”
1. Eric Sasson: “By the way, ‘Notes on a Scandal’ is playing.” 2. Mark Leyner: “The Sugar Frosted Nutsack is the story of a man, a mortal, an unemployed butcher.”
After the crowd mingled to The Smiths’ “I Know It’s Over” (playing from Mark Leyner’s Sugar Frosted Nutsack mix during the break), Eric Sasson read from his collection, Margins of Tolerance. “How many of you here have heard of Grindr?” Sasson asked the crowd. A few hands went up. “Ladies, the guys who have their hands up are straight.” I wasn’t sure where this was going, but Sasson’s reference became clear when he began reading about Hunter and Andy celebrating their fourth anniversary. Through Grindr, they found a hunk of a dude named Marcel, who couldn’t pin down Andy’s ethnicity or race. “‘I’m confused,’ Marcel says, ‘The Philippines are in Asia, right? Where are Filipinos from?’” Marcel says all of this while disrobing and endures Hunter’s lesson on the difference between Asian and Oriental. Sasson’s story was the most sex-filled Franklin Park reading ever, but it wasn’t smut. While Andy enjoys, and endures, Marcel’s humiliating sexy talk, Hunter refuses to participate. Later, we find out it’s because Hunter had been seeing Marcel on the side. Sasson ended his piece with this: “the lust will return to haunt them … to remind them that they are alive.”
Mark Leyner is a force. After introductions, Leyner — looking possessed in the spotlight — wordlessly toasted us with his whiskey, and began reading with the conviction of Mussolini, which rendered his jokes all the more affecting. “A terrarium of three teenage girls… their only powers being acne, big tits, t-shirts reading ‘I don’t do white guys.’” Leyner read five sections from The Sugar Frosted Nutsack, which occurs in an alternate reality with gods like “Bosco Hifikepunye, the God of Miscellany, including … Chicken Tenders, Sports Memorabilia, SteamVac Carpet Cleaners.” Between each section, Leyner wiped his brow of sweat and re-focused on the task at hand: gods who have it in for us humans, and sometimes want to have sex with us. “Gods find our existential angst to be super sexy, pain makes us hot, hot, hot. This is the good news.” I’ll definitely be picking up Leyner’s book, if not to read about Ike’s prophetic dreams of his own assassination, then to know why a goddess’s perfume smells like a “warm halal truck.”
by Rupinder Gill
by Matthue Roth
by Mark Leyner
by Eric Sasson
by Polly Bresnick