I imagine my friends say that I should put myself out there and try new things, but that’s a lie. Nobody’s ever actually said that to me, it’s just something that appears in my head whenever I turn something down. It’s what FOMO really is.
For once, I listened to that voice and said yes to something new. Or least something so deep in my past that I forgot that it wasn’t new.
Karan asked me out. I’d met him once in passing, and he was cute, quirky, and so I thought why not… Try something new.
That something new was Slam Poetry night. As I sat there, waiting for him to arrive from work, I realized that I had actually left Bangkok in 2022 and time-traveled to some shitty time-capsule from 1994. I’m sorry, I tried to be non-judgmental… but the first three bursts of that awful organ intro from Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise meant that suspending my judgment and sarcasm would be for naught.
There was simply no way I was going to get through any period of this evening without eye-rolling, sarcastic asides and generous amounts of vodka.
Now, I could have had a great time. Once I had accepted this was not for me and I was going to go full throwback into my nineties teen personality, zippy barbs and all, which was a nice reminder that, as dark and sarcastic as people think I am, I’m practically Pollyanna now compared to late-nineties Justin. There was just one problem: Karan. He was serious as a heart attack about this whole experience.
Now, that could have been dealt with and I could have tolerated it, except for the fact that he went totally off the rails. Just little things that piled on top of one another and therefore made me completely unable to take him seriously.
The first was his stage name: I had seen it written on his poems and asked him who had written the poems he had written, and he said, “Oh, me! That’s my stage name, Near Death.” But he spells it “Neredith.” Immediately in my head, I flashed to That Thing You Do!
Now, I don’t know if any of you have been to a poetry slam, and if you haven’t, bless your soul don’t ever go! In theory, I support it. In practice, it’s insufferable. But even though I think it’s a gargantuan waste of time and a needless ego-stroke, I respect people who use it as their outlet. That’s fine, I just can’t get with that program.
Some of the poems were really good. There was a gal who gave an excellent poem and performance about how shut down she felt in lockdown. One guy gave a really excellent poem about what it was like to be a person of color who engages with law enforcement in the US and compare it with law enforcement in Bangkok, really excellent.
It was during that last poem that problem number two with Karan… excuse me, Neredith… reared it’s ugly head. He’s a heckler. The host of the Slam had encouraged the audience to clap and shout encouragement to the performers, now I noticed that most of these people were following the rules of 1990s coffeehouse slam nights by snapping their fingers and occasionally shouting “go on” or some other quick encouragement.
Karan had mistaken the host’s statement as permission to talk over the performer and during that gentleman’s extremely moving poem about the kind of harassment he experienced at the hands of police, Karan started shouting “take off your shirt!” and “show me those big strong muscles”.
What. The. Actual. Fuck.
I’m not someone who shrinks in their seat when someone near them does something embarrassing, but I really considered it at that moment. I finally hissed “shut up” to him but quickly realized that that would do nothing to dissuade “Neredith” from expressing himself. This continued throughout most of the performances.
Now we come to the third problem. Karan’s performance. Now, I am not someone who will usually judge someone on whether their performance is good or not good: it’s art. Did you like it or didn’t you? However, there is a point where you have to admit something is wrong.
His first poem wasn’t bad (that’s right, everyone got to do two poems, ugh) although it was extremely overwrought, kind of like something a thirteen year-old-girl would write after listening to Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie for 4 days straight. That’s fine. Not as moving as the girl or the guy he would eventually heckle, but fine.
When he went up for his second poem, I noticed he left all his poems in his seat. He got up on the stage, told everyone he didn’t feel like doing any poetry and decided to sing a song a capella.
That’s right, he went to fucking poetry reading night and decided to sing. And not well.
I’ve been singing for almost 30 years, I know when someone sings well or could use more practice, and Neredith could use some serious practice.
After his incredibly long song, people politely clapped and he sat down beside me beaming with pride that he had thrown a spanner in the works.
And then came the last thing that irritated me.
Slam Poetry is a competition (which is really the primary force of why I hate it so much, art should never be a competition) and, in a surprise to nobody but himself, Neredith did not win any prizes. That’s right. He believed that he should have won and was extremely put out that he didn’t get any recognition.
Finally, after three hours of poetry and two bottles of vodka, I crawled out of there and we headed to my usual spot. Honestly, I was practically praying for them to be playing Justin Bieber or Kim Petras just so I wouldn’t have to hear anymore Karan.
As he sat there complaining, the other shoe dropped.
I looked at him straight in the eye and said, “How can you be surprised you lost?”
“Well, my song was great!.”
“Yes, but you sang on SPOKEN WORD POETRY NIGHT! Open Mic night is on Wednesdays.”
“Well, I’m opening them up to new forms of artistic expression!”
“That’s fine. You can fight the system, break the rules and do something crazy… but don’t expect to be rewarded for it. The people who won prizes won prizes for POETRY. For being good and supportive audience members and for being real and authentic!”
“How can you say that? My character is real and authentic!”
“I’m just saying, don’t be an anomaly and do things to make yourself stand-out and then get upset when you’re not the most popular.”
I haven’t seen him since that night… and I am now an extremely nit-picky about spelling.