Getting Creepy at LDM NYC #42

1. The handsome crowd at LDM chillin’ hard. 2. Todd Zuniga and a NERF gun; Jon Freedman, The Rejection Show; Megan Neuringer, actor; and David Rees, Artisinal Pencil Sharpener and guy who made a cartoon called Get Your War On. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Tuesday night saw the 42nd New York episode of the illustrious and hilarious Literary Death Match, which was held in the event’s original location, at the Lower East Side’s Back Room. My cohort Ryan & I arrived a good hour before show time, to ensure we’d get decent seats. Experience has taught me that LDM events tend to fill up fast. Plus, the night’s readers — muMs, Leigh Stein, James Sprang, & Sarah Rose Etter — and judges — Jon Friedman, Megan Neuringer, & David Rees — were sure to draw a crowd. Fortunately, The Back Room is ideal for loitering. Ryan sipped beer from a mug and I spilled a good portion of the ginger ale from my teacup into my lap, because I have the fine motor skills of a 4-year-old. We also got a chance to talk to NYC’s producer, Erin Valerio, about the line-up, and to LDM creator and host, Todd Zuniga, about L.A. (his new hometown).

1. muMs (or Arnold “The Poet” Jackson from HBO’s Oz) reading about loiterers between the subway cars. 2. Leigh Stein, who channeled an alternate version of herself as a woman with a Russian accent who’s got the hots for Gary Shteyngart.

The LDM website reported that the show would start at 8:05 sharp. Well, you may be able to call Zuniga a lot of things, but “liar” is not one of them — the show started right on time.

After the introductions, muMs went up first. His poem was called “Warrant,” and was about something I, as a small white female, will likely never experience: Being stopped on the subway by a policeman for changing cars. His writing had a nice conversational quality to it, and his reading style was dynamic and polished.

Leigh Stein went up next. Her piece was quite different from her novel, The Fallback Plan — it was a “book report” written by a Russian woman about Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, and came complete with a rather stellar Russian accent.

The judging went down like this…


Friedman noted that he was the Paula Abdul of the judging panel, since he was scoring for literary merit. Also, the only “warrant” he has is the Cherry Pie album.

Neuringer (performance) thought muMs did a great job reading in the dark, and appreciated the fact that he used words she could understand.

Rees took his role as “intangibles” judge seriously, and went on some pedagogic rant about the intangibles of life. He said that his task was, ironically, to loiter in the space between the subway cars that was muMs’ poem. (Which reminded me rather unfortunately of that Dave Matthews Band song.)

1. Judges deliberating while Todd Zuniga gets ready to toss Rees’ book at someone. 2. Anne McDermott, a memoirist; Lauren Defranco, a former TV reporter for WABC; and Amanda Smith, a marketing person at Special Risk.


Friedman thought Stein’s piece was original, in that it was Shteyngart fanfic, and thought that a phrase from it — “magnificent brassier” — would make a magnificent potential album title.

Neuringer appreciated Stein’s accent, outfit, and also liked that she made herself laugh while she read the line, “I want him to blow his blurb all over my heart.” (Writers: When soliciting other writers for blurbs, please take a tip from Stein and use this specific phrasing. It will surely earn you the blowiest of all possible blurbs.)

Rees went on another glorious rant, but this time it was about the Soviet Union and bread lines, and ended with a writhing, emaciated cat.

In the end, mass transit trumped Mother Russia; muMs was crowned winner of Round 1.

1. James Sprang, who was the most animated of the bunch. 2. April Pierce, a researcher at Oxford University; with Carina Klutter, a project manager at Parsons and a philosophy student at the New School.

Round 2 started off with James Sprang, who’s fresh to New York from Florida. His piece was a memorized “rant” about corn and people, in which he compared the two and advised us that we should tell people “I’m a city boy” when asking for directions. The result was a demonstration of spoken word done right, with the body movements and vocal rhythms mirroring the content of the words.

Last to compete was Sarah Rose Etter. She had told me during the break that her story would be creepy, and it was. But what she forgot — or was too humble — to mention was that “Head Meld” is also heartbreaking, and strangely beautiful. The fact that Etter manages to be both creepy and heartbreaking in the same short little story is exactly why I’m such a huge fan of her work. Creepy and heartbreaking are adjectives that I aspire to achieve on a daily basis, after all. Her performance did the story justice, and was read in a tone that fit both the wonder and desperation of the narrator.

1. This was the final round. It was an author name shuffle. It got rowdy. 2. Yay Sarah won yay!

Judging for Round 2…


Friedman said that there are no cornfields on 42nd and 7th.

Neuringer liked that Sprang pocket-jerked himself off when he was talking about shucking corn.

Rees welcomed Sprang to NYC, and informed him that every night here would be exactly like this one. Then he said that Sprang did something unforgivable, but he also did something that was the least he could do. The unforgivable: He was speaking about corn, which is the “most unsettling of all Mother Nature’s products.” But this was alleviated by the fact that he made eye contact with each judge while performing, thus acknowledging the “true audience.”

1. Sarah Rose Etter gettin’ crowned. 2. We present Three Sexy Badasses: Cathrin Wirtz, a lit scout at German Book Office NYC; Mira Ptacin, Founder and Executive Director of Freerange Nonfiction Reading Series, and Elissa Bassist, editor of the Funny Women column at The Rumpus.


Friedman said that this story should be in the dictionary under “Relationship.”

Neuringer said Etter’s story was “good-emo,” like in college, “before HPV occurs,” and then wondered that since the narrator in Etter’s story experienced a chest pregnancy, did that mean she could have a chest abortion? If so, Neuringer would do that.

Rees said that he perceived the story as an extended metaphor about human emotional attachment, and this is something he is not interested in, nor experienced, so he zoned out. But then he was brought back in by Etter’s pronunciation of the word “hexagonal” — hecks-a-gone-ul — which caused him to dock a point, because it’s his favorite shape (and, not coincidentally, the shape that makes up most pencils). “But she’s from Philly!” someone in the audience protested.

1. Sarah Rose Etter and muMs rabble-rousing.

Creepiness managed to beat out corn for this one, and thus Sarah Rose Etter was the champion for Round 2.

For the final round, muMs and Etter engaged in Literary Death Match Word Jumble, which seemed to be some new form of foreplay. Attractive female volunteers from the audience — Cathrin Wirtz, Elissa Bassist, Courtney Maum, Jennifer Sky, & Mira Ptacin — were given letters that spelled out scrambled author names. muMs and Etter had to rearrange the women/letters to spell out the proper author names. They deciphered “Poe” and “Nin” easily enough, but as the names grew longer, the contestants faltered. “Rand” caused Etter to scream, “Why am I freaking out?!,” and originally spelled it as “Darn.” But she came back with “Plath,” which involved a lot of women/letter shoving, yet still didn’t eat up much time. And so, because of the women shoving, Etter was crowned champion of LDM.

Like all episodes of LDM that I have experienced, this one featured some damn fine literature, plus plenty of references to sexual acts. Therefore, it was an A+++ evening.


Text by Julia Jackson, who is the editor of Electric Dish. Find her on the internet here.

Photos & captions by Ryan Chang, who is the Staff Writer for The Outlet. His fiction and essays have appeared in Art Faccia and Thought Catalog. He is in the internet here and here.

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