Happy Ending and a train story

June 26th, 2007 | Uncategorized


If you’re in New York and have nothing better to do, come to my reading tomorrow night (6/27). I’ll be part of the Happy Ending Reading Series at the Happy Ending bar. It looks like it might be kinda groovy, like there are musicians as well as writers performing, and it’s in a bar and stuff. I’ll be there with Eliza Griswold, Jean Thompson, and a band called One Ring Zero.

The host Amanda Stern (and she does sound quite stern) forces the readers, in addition to reading, to “take a risk” and do something they’ve “never done before onstage.” That should be interesting. I wonder what I’ll do?

There’s one way to find out. 302 Broome St., between Forsyth and Eldridge (J, M, Z, F to Delancey or B, D to Grand St.) 8pm Wednesday, June 27. The bar has a pink awning that says “health club” on it. “HE” is stenciled on the front door.

Here’s a movie I made on the Acela this afternoon, traveling from DC to Philadelphia. That man next to me doesn’t speak English very well and didn’t understand that we were on the Quiet Car, so he couldn’t use his cell phone. So he made a call and was talking to someone and the conductor had to try and make him stop but the guy couldn’t really understand what the conductor meant. It’s his first time on the train! He kept asking me about food…it took him a while to get it that he could leave his seat and walk around and go to the dining car. I felt bad for him. The world is complicated enough even when you know the language.

Later I found out that the man is from Haiti and he’s on his way to Boston to visit his mother, whom he hasn’t seen since he was four, THIRTY YEARS ago. He was a bit worked up about this prospect and eager to talk about it. He also showed me pictures of his two kids. He misses them so much that he kissed their photographs.

My movie shows none of this epic drama, unfortunately. Just the guy sleeping, and the conductor taking a break with a cup of coffee. And me looking rather disheveled because I haven’t had a shower today. Why bother? I figured I’d wait until before my reading tonight at the Free Library of Philadelphia. You should come to that too! 7pm, 1901 Vine St. I’ll be all clean.

Okay, now here I am arriving at my extremely fancy hotel this afternoon. Unshowered, clutching a plastic laundry bag bursting with mini-comics from MoCCA, and dragging my suitcase which has developed a disconcertingly loud squeak. This is embarrassing enough in airports and train stations, but at The Four Seasons I was afraid they were going to call security.
4 Seasons

29 Responses to “Happy Ending and a train story”

  1. Duncan says:

    Mais Alison, vous ne parlez francais? Cet Haitien, il parlera francais, n’est-ce pas? (Comme vous pouvez voir, je ne parle pas francais non plus!) Quelle dommage…

  2. a different Emma says:

    Stalling the shower saves water. Good job!

  3. Feminista says:

    OK Duncan,please translate,s.v.p.

  4. --MC says:

    I think Duncan was asking if Alison could talk to the Haitian guy if she knew French. (I’ve been staring at Piaf lyrics all morning and as a result fancy I can understand the language myself.)
    Have you ever sung a capella onstage before? It’s a rite of passage.

  5. Rose says:

    I’m psyched for the happy ending reading tomorrow!! It does indeed hold the promise of grooviness.

  6. sunicarus says:

    Speaking of Edith Piaf…

    MC, have you seen this?


    Alison~ wonderful facial expressions in the train story film…one can see the caution you used trying to not disturb your travel companion’s slumber. Then you pan back and end with a delightful, genuine smile.

    Just took the train last night to go to the Ravinia in Chicago to see the “Indigo Girls”. Trains offer great people watching opportunities! The trip from Ravinia to board the train was not unlike the running of the bulls, however.
    My compadres and I were nearly trampled. Luckily, there was plenty of wine to go around and after the concert, most everyone was in very good spirits. (pun intended).

    Enjoy the happenen’ reading. Do something spontaneously out of character.

  7. xckb13 says:

    “But Alison, can’t you speak French? That Haitian [speaks] French, doesn’t he? (As you can see, I don’t speak French at all!)
    Too bad…”

    Looks fine to me, Duncan! Although you got a little fancy with your verb in the second sentence…il parlera = he will speak, il parle = he speaks

    Although in Haiti, French is largely the language of the elite, and the language of everyday life is Creole.

  8. Feminista says:

    xkcb13–You’re right about French and Creole.About 7 years ago, I taught a Haitian student in an advanced intermediate ESL class and got her a Creole dictionary at Powell’s. Hey,they even have Bosnian dictionaries there, whichsurprised my 2Bosnian students. (I told them “Powell’s has everything.”)
    **Shameless plug for indy bookstores**

  9. yeah, I heard the guy talking on the phone and it must have been Creole because it sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. Maybe he spoke French too. But I can barely manage English when speaking to strangers on trains, let alone my painfully rudimentary French.

  10. Laura says:

    I was in the audience at the Free Library tonight. I enjoyed the presentation very much and have been reading your work for as long as you have been creating it. I was impressed by how well you handled the man in the audience who knew your father. I’m sure you were surprised but your response was elegant in its honesty. Well done.

  11. riotllama says:

    I wish the free library would find someone who can introduce you decently. that was 0 for two.

  12. bellemalheur says:

    the sheer joy of your face at the end of the video is quite priceless.

  13. van says:

    AB, haven’t been around long enough to know if your reply’s last sentence was a glib self-deprecation, but if I sat next to you, I’d defintely want to do some heavy duty listening! LOL

  14. kellan says:

    In case anyone is interested, I am hereby changing my “handle” to something easier to wrap a keyboard around than xckb13 – so sorry to Liza, Feminista, et al. for all the confusing consonants!

    On a different note, I can’t believe I’m being forced to miss all of these readings. DTWOF Deadheads for the 2009 book tour, anyone?

  15. Ginjoint says:

    Ooo! One Ring Zero! They recorded an album (“As Smart As We Are”) of songs with lyrics written by authors. One of the writers who participated was Margaret Atwood, who also performed on stage with the band in Toronto. She played a truly funky instrument called the theremin. Here’s the YouTube link:


    Also…sunicarus, I wanted to see Indigo Girls last night, but I had to work. How was the show, and the atmosphere?

  16. Erica says:

    No softball, so I can go to your reading tonight!

  17. JK says:

    Yeah this happy ending deal seems neat. I just hope a) it’s not too hard to get in and b) the drinks aren’t $14 each : )

  18. --MC says:

    Sunicarus — not yet. I’ll probably watch it on video someday, even though it’s playing at a theatre five blocks from my apartment. That’s how I am; the closer the film, the less likely I am to see it (the same theatre had “Pan’s Labyrinth” for MONTHS, and I still haven’t seen it).

  19. sunicarus says:


    I don’t know if you’re familiar with Ravinia but it is a gorgeous venue. Usually, I would be out on the lawn among the giant, established trees but this was a special occasion and I was in the pavillion. I notice that the pavillion audience was quite “well behaved”at first (perhaps because the Chicago Symphony plays the pavillion), but when “Chickenman” came on I had to rise and dance. The lawn folks were much more uninhibited~dancing, singing,etc. What I like about IG is the sense of community and utter joy that emerges when they jam. Truly moving. Emily on the banjo and Amy on the mandolin…Wow! Also, Brandy Carlisle was the opening act and an artist to watch out for. She sounded like she was channeling a bit of Janis and a bit of Johnny Cash with a hint of Mama Cass. This was my introduction to her and she is just an incredible vocalist. So, as you may be able to tell, it was a fantastic show. Are you a Rufus Wainwright fan? He’s coming to Ravinia in August. Well worth checking out.

    MC~”The closer the film, the less likely I am to see it.” Okay. What if it’s playing across town? ;o) Yeah, I don’t get to the theater as often as I used to either. I’m afraid I’ve fallen into a Netflix mode of operation.

  20. Josiah says:

    Three points:

    1) My wife and I are going to be at the Happy Ending thingy tonight — no carnation, but I’m wearing a Keith Haring peace T-shirt, so if any blog folks want to introduce themselves I’ll be easy to spot.

    2) I’ve had the pleasure of playing the theremin as background music to a live sci-fi radio drama. (In the 1950s, the theremin was the sound of outer space.) It’s amazingly groovy and extraordinarily difficult to play with any sense of musicality.

    3) Dunno if it ups my wannabe dyke cred any, but I’ve got every Indigo Girls album and I’ve seen them in concert twice (and I almost never go to concerts, so that means something). Once was way back in the ’80s, in the “Closer to Fine” era, and the second time was in the ’90s at Lilith Fair. I suppose I’m due to see them again before this decade is out…

  21. Ginjoint says:

    Sunicarus – thanks for the report! Yes, I’ve been at Ravinia a couple of times; it is lovely.

    The other day, “Closer To Fine” was on my car radio, and I was merrily singing along (loudly) as I made a right turn in the outside lane of a double right turn lane. Someone in the inside lane honked at me. I snapped my head around and furiously yelled, “IT’S A DOUBLE RIGHT TURN LANE, ASSHOLE!! PAY FUCKING ATTENTION!!” Then, without missing a beat, went right back to singing – “I go to the Bible, I go through the workouts…”

    Well, how would Jesus drive in downtown Chicago?!

    Josiah – how the heck does a theremin work, anyway? It looks like you just wave your hands over it and weird sounds result.

  22. sunicarus says:

    Hey, Ginjoint.

    “Well, how would Jesus drive in downtown Chicago?!” lol. This may be a rhetorical question, but I’m going to answer it.

    Yell at the top of his lungs, “JESUS CHRIST! YEAH, THAT’S ME. PAY FUCKING ATTENTION!! or maybe a simple, “Oy Vey.”

  23. Josiah says:

    Yep, Ginjoint — “waving your hands over it” is the basic principle behind a theremin. The theremin uses the same technology that opens the doors at your grocery store when you step near them — a technology invented by Leon Theremin, inventor of the eponymous instrument.

    The operation is both simple and complex. There are two antennas on the device, one vertical and one horizontal loop. Each antenna is part of a variable capacitor. Moving your hand near the vertical antenna controls the pitch, and moving your hand near the horizontal loop antenna controls the volume. You don’t actually touch either antenna. The challenge is in learning where different pitches are in the air, and moving between them consistently. I definitely did not have the pitch control that the fellow from One Ring Zero had tonight. Yes, I went to the reading at Happy Ending — I’ll give a full report after Alison does, assuming that she does blog the event — and heard what may be the first time that a Neil Diamond song had been played on the theremin. I also met Alison (yay!) and bored her talking about the theremin and its inventor. (Leon Theremin’s life story is great, too — did you know he gave Lenin theremin lessons, and invented the electronic bug? — but it’s 2:17 now and I’m going to sleep, so I won’t bore y’all about it now.)

  24. Doctor E says:

    An Indigo Girls concert is a little TOO MUCH community for me. I find pep rallies and such upsetting. When too many people are focussing too much energy on… focussing their energy it makes me nervous. Different strokes…

    I saw an interesting use of a theremin at a Victor Wooten concert. The percussionist had one, and ran it through some distortion boxes. He made no effort to play it melodically, he just waved past it, quickly and rhythmically. The effect was sort of like when early rappers would scratch on a vinyl record. Theremin as percussion!

  25. Andrew B says:

    Hey Alison, you never told us what you did that you had never done before onstage. “One way to find out”? Aw, come on. Some of us aren’t famous authors who can jet down to NYC any time we feel like it. We have to, you know, clean out the ash trays in the celebrities’ Prius stretch limos.

    Isn’t the theremin the instrument used to make that woo-woo noise over the chorus of “Good Vibrations”? Before this thread, that was all I knew (believed?) about the theremin.

    Imagine seeing your mother for the first time since you were a toddler at age 34. That story reminded me a little of the Edwidge Danticat piece in the second to last New Yorker. There obviously are many reasons why an immigrant might be unable to see her kids, but the effects of immigration policy on families should not be forgotten.

    Speaking as the sort of person who would have been giving that guy dirty looks for yapping on his cell in the quiet car, there is a lot to be said for the enforced sociability of public transport. In a car, it’s all too easy to maintain one’s self-righteousness at a satisfying level. Trapped in a long metal tube, you have to deal with people.

  26. Andrew B says:

    Oops, got it, smelling salts. Didn’t mean to rush you — I just got a little confused about when that talk was actually going to take place.

  27. Ydnic says:

    I think the sounds that trains make are very comforting. I loved hearing the squeaky rhythms in the quiet car.

  28. kate says:

    you make me laugh

    the still of you at the end of your movie is way too cute–looks like you are a naughty child getting away with something

  29. kate says:

    oh gosh, i just saw the comments on the indigo girls and i have to defend them a bit–i just went to their concert with brandi carlile at the chatauqua in boulder and found it to be a truly amazing experience (and i’m not a concert-kind of person either). possibly being at the chatauqua added to the experience but in any case, it was the best “concert” i’ve ever attended.