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A Typical Literary Soirée


I am veritably shocked by two galette references. Even as we are settling into our seats it is evident that at most three conversational topics are currently being discussed by an entire auditorium of attendees. One of these is about the weather.

Here is an audience of infirm cat-ladies. Coy, presumptuous valetudenarians, artfully unassuming yet on the prowl for ‘enlightening’ conversation, famous personality, free food. Full of frothy persiflage with just a hint of salacious innuendo which, at their age and station, is enough to rouse the blood. One can’t say they aren’t readers—alone at home under pale lamplight for hours each day, they tear through books with aplomb—but do so with a conniving (or is it banal) efficiency one finds in microwaves and German engineering.

The seasons are changing (from cool to cold), and the tissues are out.

Again, and this is increasingly startling as the years pass, I find I am by far the youngest person here. I don’t know how this keeps happening. Once in a while I’ll be outdone by the young, precocious protégé of a white-haired wealthy patron, usually a girl, a pale reader just like her benefactor. She’ll be soft-spoken and nearly entirely unattractive save for a slight sparkle of the eyes, a lambent glow of the cheek (she is beautiful, really). Why do I attend these things? There’s nobody even remotely hip here and all the hip people must be somewhere else, at an underground reading maybe, some not-so-well-kept secret only I have the maladroit awareness to have missed.

It is warm in this room, and I’ve taken off my coat and gloves and scarf, and curled into my chair.

I am here because I love these events. That is what they are to me. Events. This is as glamorous as it gets on my budget. And regardless of audience, these are personal engagements. Sometimes the voices are so good, melodious or soothing, unique and grated, informed, world-weary, gracious, composed. It is a treat to watch a person perform, on a stage, just for you. It feels, sometimes, like a massage. There comes a slight tingle, a creeping smile, your soul arches its back and stretches longingly, in the style of those impertinent expectant felines one sees in carpeted apartments, filled with books and lamps and upholstered furniture and old ladies.

A man, or woman, on a stage, declaring for your benefit, luxuriating in a turn of phrase, making things up, inhabiting character, transforming it for you. I don’t feel lucky watching tv, or even when watching most movies. But here I feel lucky. I feel as though I’ve happened upon something unawares, something close and magical, which in my cushioned seat can close my eyes and greedily conspire—I am the only one in the room.

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