A crowd of family, friends, and St. Louis literature lovers filled Left Bank Books in the Central West End to share this festive occasion with Curtis and Walrus. The air was brimming with excitement as folks milled about enjoying wine and delectable hors d’oeuvres (prepared by local chef, Ashley Nanney, owner of Feed Your Vitality) while they waited for the reading to begin. Soon enough, the man of the hour made his way to the podium.
Author, Curtis Comer, started the event with a demonstration of his distinctive and disarming honesty. He informed us that he wrote (Not Quite) Out to Pasture after having been laid off and that his former employer was the shop across the street. He looked over his shoulder out the window, tossed up his hand insouciantly and said: “Let’s give ‘em a wave!” We all chuckled.
Curtis smiled with us and began to read an excerpt from his essay: “Learning to Shave.” With a pleasing, tranquil, and conversational manner, Curtis transported us back to his youth and brought us into his childhood home as he walked from kitchen to living room and back again in search of a “yes” from his parents.
…getting [my parents’] permission to do anything…was like pulling teeth. My mom and dad became a veritable Abbott and Costello when approached for something that required a decision. I remember one night when my friend Kevin invited me over to his house for dinner. While it sounds simple enough, I knew that I would have to jump through hoops to get permission to leave the house….
“Mom, can I go to Kevin’s for dinner tonight?”
“May I?” she said, barely looking up from the skillet on the stove in front of her.
“You want to go, too?” I asked.
She narrowed her eyes, and I smiled sheepishly.
“May I go to Kevin’s for dinner tonight?” I repeated, careful to correct my grammar, lest the queen snap.
“Did you ask your father?” she inquired, her eyes back on the skillet.
Without a word, I turned and went into the living room where my dad was parked on the sofa in front of the television.
“Dad,” I asked as I stood so that I did not block his view of the screen, “can I go to Kevin’s for dinner tonight?”
Dad didn’t give a rat’s ass about grammar, so I didn’t bother with the thee’s and thou’s that are so important to my mom.
“Go ask your mom,” he said, his voice tired from a long day’s work.
“But she said…”
“Go ask your mom,” he repeated….
…Dad relented in the end, and after a brief exchange of volleys between the kitchen and living room had been hurled over my head, I was allowed to go have dinner with my friend. I felt that I had won a small victory…There was something else though, something more important than just the freedom of movement I craved. What I wanted my parents couldn’t grant me, though, because what I really wanted, what I really couldn’t wait for was the ultimate passage into manhood. I wanted to shave. (pp.153-155)
Curtis gave voice to his stories in such an effortless way that his words danced off the page. His familiar tone was captivating. We all knew this story in one way or another. What kid hasn’t had to jump through hoops to get to a “yes”? Curtis has a knack for finding significance in the mundane – reminding us that once upon a time those moments mattered. In fact, (Not Quite) Out to Pasture is a book made up of significant moments.
Next, he read an excerpt from “Hair Apparent”:
“Look at this!” exclaimed Tim. His face was red. There was fire in his eyes. He thrust his fingers at my face. They held a tiny, nearly invisible thing so offensive it might as well have been a poisonous viper.
Another gray hair.
For a while now, offending gray hairs have been creeping into Tim’s hairline and causing him great distress. I, too, had noticed that, for at least the last two years, gray hairs had been invading my temples like marauding hordes from the Far East. Even worse, I’m now forced to shave every morning because those damnable gray hairs have sprouted up among the naturally brown hair on my chin. Where I once would have skipped a day “just because” now I’m forced to shave every morning or risk looking like some sort of parody of a depression- era hobo. (p.13)
Curtis took us from the moment as a kid when he couldn’t wait to shave – a magical milestone – to a moment in the present when shaving has become a daily tedium imposed by Father Time. Curtis’ readings imparted a certain sense of closeness, an intimacy that was endearing and hard to resist. His book is written with a carefully crafted conversational flow. Hearing him read out loud was a treat – it was as if we were granted the unique opportunity to be inside his head – his gentle and humorous self-deprecating tone and the brutal honesty of his prose coming together allowing us to share his memories with him.
Just as with his opening, Curtis ended with his exceptional flair for frankness. Among other questions during the Q&A, Lisa Miller, owner of Walrus Publishing, asked Curtis if it was hard for him to make the switch from writing pornography to fictional novels to non-fictional essays? Curtis exclaimed, with strident certainty that: “it’s NOT porn, it’s erotica! And, yes, it’s easy.”
The afternoon was rounded out with a heartfelt speech by Lisa Miller sharing with us her feelings of being truly privileged to be able to connect with, work with, and know such excellent authors and lovers of literature. “You who are here today, you are a part of the St. Louis Literati. Thank you for showing your support today by welcoming another voice into the remarkable St. Louis literary community.”[wp_eStore:product_id:5:end] [wp_eStore_cart_when_not_empty]