Scene: Slake reading at Stories Bookstore, February 19.


It's another night of readings to promote the second issue of Slake, a formidable L.A. quarterly of literarian writing, bold pix and graphic pictorial storytelling. Rain falls on the humbly arty Echo Park stretch of Sunset Boulvard.

Deb and I park right in front of the bookstore. Before we enter, Deb buys a batik scarf (happy birthday, Patti) next door at a clothing outlet for local designers. I walk in circles like a man.

Stories Bookstore is a small, rough-hewn space where bohos can browse or spill coffee on their laptops. Humans are present. Stubbled Slake editor Joe Donnelly looks like a mountain man in a plaid shirt; he says he hates camping. Other Slake editor Laurie Ochoa smiles with generous amusement the way she does. Pulitzerian restaurant crit Jonathan Gold calmly holds his space with half-open eyes. Jonathan & Laurie's small son runs in circles like a child. Humor genius Jerry Stahl skulks between the racks.

Slake utility infielder Craig Gaines totes a standard black music stand in from the wet patio (where readings are held in dry weather) and puts it next to a little P.A. I wipe off the raindrops with a napkin.

Liz Garo, co-proprietor of Stories, is helping out behind the nosh counter. She has logged decades in club booking, but says she still doesn't know what she's doing after two-plus years in the bookstore biz. It looks pretty together to me, except nobody's tending the front register half the time.

Eight contributors are slated for brief excerpts. Between, Joe and Laurie inform the mini-crowd of our amazing virtues. The Slake job is bringing out the Jewish mom in Joe, who is Irish. He kicks the bucket. I mean he kicks the bucket of beers into a more accessible position.

The mini-readings ensue.

I bumble about cheap tequila and excrement; Deb says I went too fast. Amy Scattergood quietly reads her vivid poem about a missing person; Deb likes her. Jackie Gorman, who had a job counseling the dying, tells a sad & real story; she says a diminished sense of smell helped in her work. John Albert relates the impact of Van Halen on late-'70s youth; he looks good for a guy who crushed his tale of hepatitis in the first Slake.

James Greer makes a lot of Parisian references; I reflect that he didn't have enough time to contextualize his semi-fantasy. Hank Cherry drawls about his Katrina experience; I forget to ask if he's deliberately dressed like Jack Nicholson in "Easy Rider" (sans football helmet). Butch waif Laurie Wheeler's voice and poetry vibrate with young excitement. Joseph Mattson, comfortably confrontational at the mike, takes us smackdab into an opium den.

All good. This Slake sh*t is no crap.

After it's over, elegantly frayed Brit poet John Tottenham totters in blinking. You slept through another one, bro.

On our way out, I bring a copy of William S. Burroughs' "Junky" up to the register. No one's there.

The next Slake reading is right now, Saturday, February 26, at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz 90027; 5pm; free (but shell out $20 for a Slake if you feel like it). The readers are Elizabeth Banicki, Ben Ehrenreich (hi Ben), Yxta Maya Murray, Harry Shannon/Joe Donnelly, Sam Slovick and Justin Warfield. Space is limited; RSVP here.