THE FIRST READ
I knew that if I wanted to become David Sedaris, I’d have to let the entire audience see me completely naked. All eleven of them. That’s what they say you should do when you speak in front of a crowd, right? Let them see you naked? Or maybe it’s the other way around. Although I’ve spent the better half of my creative career as a copywriter for world-renowned brands, I still find myself having difficulty discerning everyday colloquialisms. I attribute this to being raised by a Vietnamese mother who refused to admit she knew how to speak English. Her English was great. Regardless, you’re supposed to share your work and hear yourself say the words out loud. My friends signed me up because I was too much of a wimp to do it on my own. When it was my turn to read, I walked towards the stage wearing nothing but a smile and quickly realized I misunderstood this cultural trope too.
I settled into the middle of the makeshift stage, but only after catching the heel of my shoe in a fracture in the wood. I didn’t fully trip, but the sound it made was so crude, it seemed to shriek at me, “Boo, get off the stage!” In all honesty, I don’t know how the hefty gentleman who read before me survived. I could feel the plywood droop under my weight. The whirring sound of the barista grinding coffee seemed to register at 140 decibels, the equivalent of a Boeing 747 jet engine. It momentarily broke the awkward silence, sending me a moment of relief and the celestial scent of perfectly ground Sumatra Takengon Mahara coffee grounds. I turned to realize I was too short for the microphone. The host ran up and came to my rescue. He would look at me, adjust the microphone, look at me again and lower it some more until he felt satisfied with the result. It was as if he was checking my height to make sure I was tall enough for the rollercoaster ride. Trust me, I wasn’t. I had to tilt my head as far back as I could to reach it, which was exceptionally more awkward than the blaring sound of the coffee machine. I opened up a printout of my story and read it from start to finish, using as much charisma as humanly possible. I read each sentence as if it ended with an exclamation point or two. SO. MUCH! EMOTION!! I thought that maybe if my story wasn’t all that great, I could win them over with my enthusiasm. When I finished, I crumpled up my printout and looked directly at each set of eyes in the audience. They looked back at me, wide-eyed with indiscernible sentiments. I couldn’t read them, much like the everyday phrases I’m also unable to seamlessly grasp.
Did I say too much? Did I say too little? Was I speaking in Vietnamese the whole time? I don’t know, I think I blacked out. Wait, did I really black out? I chugged so much pinot in the parking lot it’s totally possible. All of their faces were totally cryptic and starting to blur; except for my two friends. They gave me the thumbs up, pumping their arms in the air with smiles that expressed the same joy as receiving a box full of Corgi pups. Finally, the jury of hipsters gave a verdict of mercy; they began to clap. I walked off the stage, wearing nothing but a half-forced smile.
The reading went as well as it could have. I felt relieved, somewhat proud and secretly drunk because of the wine I chugged in the parking lot, plus two complimentary cocktails that were pretty much the grown-up equivalent of blue ribbons for participation. I’ll take it. This experience made me realize I had a lot of work to do. I didn’t invite anyone to come except for the two friends who signed me up. They beamed like parents at their kid’s Christmas recital. If they could have it their way, they’d place a crown on my head, a sash across my chest, a few dozen roses in my arms, and parade me down Lankershim Boulevard waving at the line of traffic. I couldn’t trust their excitement; they would have been proud whether I uttered a single word or not.
After the event, I tried to mingle a little, taking in compliments and small bits of praise from strangers. It was like I just performed at the school talent show. They gave me sincere looks with furrowed brows that said, “Oh my god, you did such a good job! But honestly, you are no David Sedaris.” I felt like such an amateur. And I was. But, I took those nuggets of affirmation like a stripper stuffing dollar bills into a plastic shopping bag.
I could feel myself losing my buzz, so I made my way to the bar where I was sure I’d find my friends. I shuffled through the crowd like a kid lost at the mall. After I almost made it through the forest of giants, I looked up and there stood a man so unconventionally handsome, I shied away like a sweet maiden in a Jane Austen novel.
He walked right up to me and said, “And, so… How does it end?”
“How does what end?” I responded.
“Your story, how does your story end?”
I stopped and gave it a quick thought. My response started out slow, but quickly started to build up steam, eventually railroading off into the western frontier.
“Well, I don’t really know how it ends, per say. But I’m guessing it’s some sort of “happily ever after” situation. But not in the “glass slipper” sort of way. More like in a Hunter S. Thompson, guns blazing, quaalude-induced escape from LA to the desert. I imagine ghetto birds flying above and police cars tailing me in a v-formation. There’s a dead hooker in the trunk of my 1980’s convertible and bricks of cocaine are flying out, bursting onto the pavement. Of course, my dogs are in the backseat. Goggles, whose 13 and a dumpster dog, he has an AK-47 and he’s like, blasting the police behind us. You know, that kind of “happily ever after.” We’d get away of course, drive off into the sunset. But like, we’d need fake identities and stuff.”
He looked at me with bewilderment . Confused, dazed, perplexed, and showed on his face. He went through one emotion to the next, trying to comprehend and digest my response. As he went through those emotions, I did as well.
“So, you don’t believe in love then?” he finally asked after his facial expressions had morphed though a dozen emotions .
“Oh no, I absolutely believe in love,” I responded, “the whole “happily ever after” thing is a direct result of love. A whole trajectory of events driven by love. I mean, what would you not do in the name of love?”
“So then, are you looking for love?” he asked.
“I’m not so much looking for love at this very moment as I am looking for a cocktail,” I said.
We spent the rest of the night together in this totally undescript coffee shop in North Hollywood. There was something about him that made me unscramble my thoughts and express them in successional run-on sentences with flowery description that ultimately just ran on and on . It was as if he was the personification of my first public read. I was intimidated by his unconventionally good looks, but he was also just a guy, lost in so many ways. I realized there was no reason to have fear over something that I wanted so badly, whether it’s love or becoming David Sedaris. I would rather put myself out there and face the hipster jury than never even trying. What is the worst that can happen? EmbarrassmentWhen I was finally able to get over myself, I began to feel the joy of what I accomplished. I looked at my friends sitting across the way with obnoxiously exuberant smiles, and I was full of gratitude. I was full of gratitude and full of wine. I got my buzz back again. Finally, I could truly smile.Without feeling naked anymore.