Lit Crawl: Postcard From New York City

Suzanne Pettypiece

To get to Home Sweet Home, the basement-level bar located just off Delancey Street, we had to first sidestep mounds of fishy-smelling garbage bags and maneuver through a pack of wine-wielding hipsters spilling from an art gallery the size of a small U-Haul truck.

A crowd—larger and younger than the one at the Bomb event, most of the people sporting oversized plastic-rimmed eyeglasses and thrift store threads—had already begun to cram into the small space for the reading by the time we walked the five short blocks. With no standing room left, we found a place to sit on the concrete floor, close to the mike stand and practically beneath the turntable.

At 8 PM, right on schedule, the thumping dance music softened and the lights dimmed. A disco ball hanging just overhead splattered the audience and walls with red dots. Author Tao Lin—whose new press, Muumuu House, hosted its own event, Cash-Money-Obama Millionaires—stood up from where he was sitting on the floor, just beside the towering DJ booth, and gave us our first sign that we were about to be served from a nontraditional literary menu.

As the first reader, Matthew Di Paoli, a recent Columbia University MFA grad dressed in suit and tie, began reading a passage from his novel-in-progress about a sexually aggressive man in Iceland, the attentive half of the audience shushed those chattering in the back (who, in their defense, were most likely unable to hear or see). True to the format, and a feat for most authors, Di Paoli wrapped up in just under three minutes.

Next up was artist and curator James J. Williams III, also in a suit. He sauntered up to the turntable with a vintage attaché case and pulled from it a vinyl record. Accompanied by the sounds of an unrecognizable folk song, flames were projected onto a screen suspended behind an air duct plastered with band stickers and graffiti. The film progressed through images—of two finger puppets working out a relationship problem, a man singing the Carpenters song “Superstar,” then ballerinas—as Williams pulled from envelopes notes he said were from a time capsule.

Following Williams were excerpts from stories with traditional, linear narratives: one about a sucking kiss, another about a gang of friends responsible for teaching the protagonist the “knack of having a good time.”

Last to read was Tao Lin, author of Cognitive–Behavioral Therapy (Melville House, 2008), who spent his three minutes telling us about his favorite kind of smoothie: coconut avocado.

As we pushed our way out in hopes of catching a third event, the resurgence of the dance music threatened to squash any hope of conversation, but still people lingered to congratulate the readers.

Next we headed to nearby Fontana’s, the bar where the Lit Crawl crowd was to gather after the individual events that took place throughout the city.

We noticed that what at first glance looked to be a modestly sized space opened up into a cavernous back room, just in time to hear the last of the New York Tyrants reading. A mid-size crowd—whose members were somewhere between the age of Bombs and Gigantics—peered upward, intently listening to a voice droning from above. We peeked around the wall just in time to catch the Tyrant himself, editor GianCarlo DiTrapano, bark his thanks from a stool perched on the balcony and invite everyone to stick around and drink. A backlight made it difficult to make out anything except his silhouette, and although I missed the reading, I got a sense of what the New York Tyrant is about: stories that are concise, humorous, and sometimes surreal.

It took about ten minutes for the attendees of the other four events to make their way to Fontana’s, but it was clear from the size of the crowd that everyone was ready for more revelry in the name of literature. As Diner and Persepolis played silently on video screens in the background and indie music laced with punk grew louder and louder, those responsible for contributing to New York’s literary scene partook in what Lit Crawl was meant to offer: community and celebration.