early spring

Chilly LA, Hotel Cafe

–Sunday, March 30, 2014, Hotel Café, Los Angeles—

by Josephine Johnson

On a crisp, clear Los Angeles evening, the sun hangs low illuminating, if not warming, a group of plaid, leather and glasses-clad event-goers waiting to enter the Hotel Café.   The line stretches from the back entrance, around the corner and down the alley. It’s after 6 and these keen language-lovers are ready for Conrad Romo’s monthly showcase, Tongue & Groove.

 

Once a month, Romo curates and hosts a night of prose, poetry, short stories and music at the Hotel Cafe. Tongue and Groove regularly highlights a mix of literary up- and-comers as well as veteran writers. Most events also feature a lyric-driven, literary-focused songwriter.

 

It’s a hot ticket. And devotees are willing to wait outside in the chill because they know the warmth that awaits within—ah, well-crafted prose, tight turns of phrase—the heat of savory language.

 

The line grows.

Hotel Cafe, Tongue & Groove

the house fills

 

Snippets of conversation sift and filter: “…Oh yes, Maria’s in New York, now…on a new doc project…talked to Tim yesterday, says she’s doing well”… “for sure a new script with a great team”…”what he shared was focused, best work yet”…”I’m here for Lauren, so happy she’s reading tonight…”  These bits, lilting and laudatory and largely without pretense convey the ethos of the evening: Friends, colleagues, language aficionados checking in and hanging out to support and encourage each other.

 

And then Conrad passes by. With a mop in hand. His pace quick and deliberate. Eyes wide. He chats briefly, smiles, and ducks back inside, clearly focused on the evening ahead.

 

Laughter, conversation continue, the line lively. Eager.

 

Conrad Romo, Tongue & Groove

Conrad Romo, Tongue & Groove

And then the backdoors open. It’s time.

Quickly, the house fills.

 

Inside, candles and low-lit incandescents understate the club’s classy black wooden chairs and tables, crimson walls and mahogany bar so that all eyes are focused on the front stage brightly lit and ready for readers, writers, musicians.

 

Romo decisively takes the stage, introducing each performer. Songwriter Amilia Spicer begins with an original on an abalone-inlay Taylor guitar. With a breathy yet powerful, Emmy Lou-like voice, her music evokes a time gone by. Spicer’s are story songs with each verse a compelling scene in the drama unfolding. And on stage she is at home, a calm master fully in control of her craft. Spicer expends no unnecessary energy.

 

On this night, March 30 the last Sunday of the month, writers Lauren Eggert-Crowe, Michele Matheson, Marley Klaus, David Kendrick and J. Dylan Yates all deliver engaging and powerful prose and poetry, but Michele Matheson and Marley Klaus are the evening’s standouts.

Amilia Spicer

Amilia Spicer

 

Michele Matheson reads a scene from her 2006 novel ‘Saving Angelfish’ in which the protagonist, a near-hopeless junkie, Max, is shooting heroine in the

bathroom while her boyfriend lingers just outside, the door ajar. Matheson immerses herself in the dialog between these characters. The boyfriend asks ‘what would love do?’ Max seated on the toilet and focused solely on the needle puncturing her vein replies in soft annoyance ‘I don’t know’. Pause. Then through Matheson’s voice the boyfriend replies resolutely, calmly ‘love would save me from you’. And he leaves.

 

The audience is so still that the needle could be heard crashing to the apartment’s dingy bathroom floor.

Michelle Matheson

Michele Matheson, Tongue & Groove

Matheson hit a vein with her character and struck a nerve with the audience. In a bigger sense, this scene could be about any moment someone chooses to walk away from a person, place or situation that is no longer good, loving, wholesome or supportive. Matheson poignantly captures the difficult necessity of saving one’s self first. How very hard it can be to choose to leave.

 

When she finishes, the audience breathes an audible, heavy sigh and praises her with vigorous applause.

 

Then Marley Klaus takes the stage.

 

Klaus lightens the mood with a short story about accompanying her 15 year old son to Ozzfest, a heavy metal music conflagration that ignites each summer in the SoCal desert. Her writing is sharp, comic delivery impeccable. She marvels at how 60,000 people can converge for a day in July in a place that she notes ‘spontaneously combusts in the summer’ and of course ‘everyone is wearing black’. Yet she’s determined to provide a much-desired experience for her son and ensure his safety while doing so. Klaus commits to the festival regardless of the death-spraying death lyrics in which everything must die, bleed, kill, die, die. With her wry, analytical humor she surveys the number of ‘fucks’ uttered in one song, one performance, one set length of time; she

Marley Klaus

Marley Klaus

comically describes the near-horror of multiple trash cans catching fire; she details how gallantly her son reacts when two drug-addled concert-goers fall at their feet and begin having sex: “Mom, I think we should stand over there.”

Klaus weathers the angst-y onslaught of all that hormone-fueled death metal rage and emerges as a victorious post-apocalyptic super Mom. She knows for certain she’s forged a new bond of understanding when her son looks her in the eyes and fiercely thanks her. He gets it. His Mom is truly hardcore-awesome, waaay beyond Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Mad Max and Thunderdome.

 

The audience laughs, cheers, applauds wildly, ready to shake fists, scream, burn and fuck something.

 

Romo’s next installment of Tongue and Groove is slated for the last Sunday in April—April 27 at Hotel Café in Hollywood. Rumor has it, he’s planning a similar literary showcase for the OC beginning sometime later this year. Contact Conrad Romo for more info.

listening crowd

listening crowd