The confluence of BEA and warm weather a couple weeks ago made it easy for me to justify going out every night. It would’ve been a crime if I didn’t attend the rooftop parties with free food and drinks or the happy hours planned by co-workers, an even bigger transgression if I didn’t develop plans for a friend visiting from the opposite coast. I wasn’t afraid of appearing curmudgeonly if I resisted any of these invites — I was afraid I’d be missing out on a good time.
I rode that residual wave into the following week, just as I was beginning to ponder if I was putting my other interests on the back burner. Shit, have I even checked to see if there any readings going on? I thought. Then an opportunity revealed itself — a McSweeney’s book release party in Brooklyn, with hors d’œuvre and complimentary beverages from Brooklyn Brewery. With the veneer of a regular night out, it seemed like the best way to reintegrate myself into a scene that I had fallen out of touch with.
The evening’s host was Cabinet Magazine, an artsy quarterly that focuses on conceptual art and literature. Located in Gowanus, their building has an industrial Williamsburg-style feel to it but with the more bourgeois sensibility of Park Slope. I had to enter from the side via a large alleyway, where attractive young hipsters smoked cigs and took swigs of their beer. It was pretty warm inside, due to the potent combination of a small space filled with too many people. A bar in the back served wine and a table to the side by the merch stand featured buckets of ice cold beer. Chicken kabobs and desserts covered a couple additional tables. I cracked open an IPA and creeped back towards the bar to flip through old issues of Cabinet. This ostensible office felt more like a rec center or performance space; more bohemian than business
Eventually a few of my friends arrived. One of them introduced me to some more of his friends, and I tried to juggle the new names and faces as I fetched more drinks. I was enjoying myself, but things still felt more akin to an average night out. This wasn’t regimented like a reading, where people are usually quieter and the atmosphere more subdued; there was greater emphasis on the social component. I still didn’t know who was even reading, only that it was an illustrated book with some accompanying poetry, packaged by a notable independent publisher. I did know that it was $27, which, even for a beautiful collector’s-style item, struck me as a bit much. People wouldn’t be deterred from buying it, though; the older folks easily forked over the cash, while the younger ones could divert their funds since they didn’t have to buy any beer.
When the poet Matthea Harvey and illustrator Amy Jean Porter finally revealed themselves, the free booze was already having an effect on me. Harvey took command of the floor, explaining how much of the text for their book, Of Lamb, was cribbed from an old biography of poet Charles Lamb that she acquired at a sidewalk sale. She informed us that she would be reading Of Lamb in its entirety, thanks to the projections on the screen next to them. Except for the occasional laugh, we stood quietly, gawking at the surreal images juxtaposed with the sparse prose. On one page, the text reads, “Lamb in the midst of the lake, destroyed the rainbow,” while the image features a blue incarnation of a lamb in a tub, wrestling with an unwieldy, hybrid shower curtain/rainbow. It’s like a found poetry version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” reimagined as a psychotropic interspecies love story, which is to say it’s thrillingly beautiful.
Once they finished, we broke way for more booze and some macaroons. One of my friends bought a copy of the book for her other friend’s birthday. Things pretty much picked up where they had been left off before the reading. The smashing of a lamb piñata briefly disrupted the socializing and covered the floor with candy, but it also signified the end of our time at Cabinet. As we walked back to the alley and into the cool night air, someone suggested that we head over to the Brooklyn Inn. We all agreed enthusiastically. A bitchin’ night on the town, not without its powerful, culturally enriching moments.