I should have known it would come to this.
The whole child prodigy thing wore out its overdressed expectations after high school graduation. Failure was imminent, if not obvious, all dressed up like door No. 3, with me all dressed up as a little boy lost hoping to just take the money and run. Barring a sponsor of unimaginable tolerance, this stumble would be forever. Indeed, it has been.
But there was a time when none of that meant anything at all, when poetry and rhythm meant everything they shouldn't mean: hope, transcendence, meaning. Jack Kerouac and F. Scott Fitzgerald shared a bed and no one was the wiser. Cracked open like a treasure trove of bright lights and bright thoughts, I was momentarily unstoppable in those early years of independence. Not that you, or anybody for that matter, cared, but I did. In the hair-manipulated hue of today, I can joke (even write a column) about it. But at the time, I thought of myself as a pamphleteer for all that needed to be said, crying myself to sleep and speaking to no one. I'd sneak polemic essays under my professor's door and fashion innumerable crosses to tie to my back. He'd call me Kant, and I would think it was funny. Really.
These days I'm hard-pressed to recollect yesterday's lunch order, let alone a Dostoyevskian point of futility. These days I watch The View. I suppose it's all a process, but so is death. Death and bleach.
Anyway, it's precisely these Dawson's Creek sorts of fears that plague me as I drive to the Broken Speech Poetry Slam at Stardust on a self-critical Thursday night. I've long since given up on poetry, following a series of personal obsessions that I thought warranted rhyming words. Rhyming is nice.
I did, however, win the school poetry contest my senior year of high school by writing about scraping against the stalactites and stalagmites lining the path to hell. "And so are the tears of god," I lamented, obviously in need of therapy (or a stylish lobotomy). Regardless, the teacher loved it, probably a little miserable herself at the lot of upwardly mobile Boca Raton spawn with premature checkbooks seated before her. I didn't think much of it, except that I wanted to kill myself and that Morrissey was really cool.
But of the smattering of predictable malcontents occupying the Stardust showroom, I'm thinking far too much. The first instinct is one that I learned after high school: Are they cute? Are they gay? The second is, shamefully: Do they know who I am? This is a peculiar tendency not aimed at the effect or answer you might think. Anonymity would be nice if sincerity was the name of the game. I hate not knowing if they know me or not, and I should just probably assume they don't, because if they're, like, into sincerity, then they wouldn't. But I digress.
Immediately, I'm snapped back to a time when I actually cared about "things" myself. A reasonably cute undergrad of a boy, a boy with a bowl cut, takes the stage with unexpected verve. He's pulling the whole "slam" motif of piling words in varying states of awkward rhyming intensity, speaking as an actor of heavy, if oblique, moods, and decrying the end of the world. I used to be him. His girlfriend is sitting next to me, and will later awkwardly make out with him from behind.
I'm impressed in that snobbish way that needs to be impressed until the next poet comes on and gives a speech about what he never thought he would become, and what pedestrian traps he fell into. Nobody in the room relates, save me. But if I wanted the story of my life, I'd write it my own head. Things are looking bad. Star Trek-loser bad.
That is until undergraduate No. 3 takes the stage, all Strokes haircut and uneven, rebellious demeanor. In a way I fall under his slam spell, despite my better senses. He's cute and named "Shrek" for no apparent reason. His pseudo hip-hop intensity is hard not to admire obviously intelligent in that charts-and-graphs way 18-year-olds can be, he flips into a reverse-race 40-acres-and-a-mule rhetoric while proclaiming himself a messiah, or a sacrifice, or something. Did I mention that he's cute?
"That was pretty awesome," I pretty awesome in his direction, noting to myself that I'm the only one with a beer.
"Uh, thanks." He doesn't give a shit who I am, or drink beer.
Thoroughly slammed out and slightly ashamed of my ageist voyeurism, I decide to hop into waters more familiar Lava Lounge, a gay bar. And this is where my theory is born. (And you'll pardon me for so depressing a column, won't you?) It goes something like this: Youthful poetic idealism spins itself threadbare, turning inevitably into the furthest possible thing from poetry altogether some stereotypical dry read of everything you never wanted to be. Like I said, a process. But so is death.
Surrounded by people more my age, I'm immediately drawn to nothing of consequence save my own assumed personal distance. A couple of drinks and absolutely no poetic realizations later, I'm entertaining a Louisiana redneck in a cowboy hat who likes my shirt. Idealism has given way to simple ideals.
"It's not like I want to fuck you," he assures, his boyfriend's eyes rolling.
"Uh, yeah. Me neither." I have no idea why I'm even in this predicament.
It's sort of an early Gay Days affair, and I neither know nor care whether the boys surrounding me are actually from here. In fact, I neither know nor care anything at all. The gay-bar ethic is the greatest surrender of all. You have your outrageous queens, your standard jock fare, your local celebrities and your older folk just hanging on, each of them probably idealistic, driven and excited at one time in their lives I mean, you really have to be to even toss yourself through the closet door but each of them now looking around the room trying to figure out where they fit in.
And while having a juvenile, rowdy time with my new redneck friend, throwing back shots with names like "Dirty Girl Scout," I can't help but wonder where all the poetry went. I should have known it would come to this. But I didn't.