Punctuality and Charles Bronson: A Review of Tuesday Funk

Hopleaf can hardly be missed. Walking along Clark Street’s northern parts, it’s the bar with wood panels and groups of people having fun, as it’s an Andersonville go-to if Hamburger Mary’s isn’t your style. The inside of the bar is a bit of a maze, but as long as you follow the signs leading you up the stairs to the performance space, finding Tuesday Funk is easy.

This was a rare occasion for me in that I’d never attended Tuesday Funk before. Series and events like 2nd Story, Two Cookie Minimum, and Guts and Glory are absolutes on my calendar, and I have Reading Under the Influence on lockdown, but this always escaped me.

The room has exposed brick walls adorned with retro beer advertisements, windows with neon signs overlooking Clark Street, a mic stand in one corner, and in the opposite corner a small cove that was the smallest bar area I’d ever seen, manned by one person. Whether or not beer ads and the backs of neon signs are your thing, you’d have to admit the place had character.

It’s a known fact that most readings never start on time, but surprisingly Tuesday Funk began at 7:30pm on the spot, just as the event page said, even giving us a two-minute warning. Hosts Andrew Huff (editor of Gapers Block) and Eden Robins introduced the event as the 74th edition of the monthly series, describing it as, “Where good writing and good beer mix.”

First at the mic was Noël Jones with her short story, “Oblivion.” In the piece, Carmen is desperately trying to adjust her New York City way of life to Chicago’s urban yet Heartland-mentality. She goes back and forth on whether she prefers NYC’s brisk pace or Chicago’s relaxed ways, ultimately reminding herself of why she moved – Seth. He was worth the move, and even though she felt alone in Chicago, she was alone with him. Seth called it being “alone together” because, “That’s what we all are anyway.” Jones read it in a satirical, yet thoughtful voice, giving her reading an ethereal air about it that kept the story’s flow steady. Though airy, it didn’t bore me and it held the room’s attention.

Next up was Lori Rader-Day with the second chapter of her novel The Black Hour where Amelia, who Day described as a “victim of violence,” has returned to her position at the college she works at for the first time in months, and has been sent grad student Nathaniel as an assistant. Though it’s mostly against her will, she takes him on anyway. Despite the heavy nature of the story – Amelia had been shot and it is inferred she’s addicted to pain killers – Day’s reading of it kept the story light with a little black comedy, so it wasn’t too burdensome on the night.

To level out the longer stories, host Eden Robins read her own piece, a flash essay if such a term exists (and if it doesn’t, it does now), about Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree – which just celebrated its 50th anniversary – and how most people think it’s either about love or about a selfish monster. As Robins put it, the answer is in the title – the story’s about giving. The tree gives and gives and is always happy, even when all that’s left is a humble stump.

Mark Turcotte took the mic next and told the stories of Dottie and Abraham. After a bit of humor, saying, “I did bring the funk, but no in ways anyone needs to know about,” Turcotte delved into Dottie’s life as a waitress and single mother in the late 1950s, caring for her daughter and mother-in-law. As Dottie drove them home, Abraham was driving around listening to Hank Williams and causing a good amount of his own trouble. Turcotte brought an oddly wistful voice to the piece, which didn’t exactly fit the story and its content, but nonetheless kept my attention.

Around 8:30 came the ten minute intermission, and with that came the realization of what made this reading series different from the others I’d been to up until that point – there was light. Walking into the room for the first time, I experienced an odd sensation because while most other readings are in bars too dark to see in without a lantern, this one was in a brightly lit room. There was no adjusting my eyes to any darkness, and I didn’t squint every time the screen on my phone lit.

It doesn’t matter too greatly in the long run. “The room was bright. Big deal.” But I feel like to a certain degree, it breaks up the monotony of the overall literary event atmosphere of “dark room with candles and uncomfortable chairs.” It’s a break in the cliché, and that’s always appreciated. It’s got a friendly, welcoming feel to it, and has a close family of regulars (a number of the patrons knew the lone bartender’s name and vice versa).

At the end of the ten minutes, host Andrew Huff took the stage and read a short poem about our Autumn in process, ending with, “Ebola is less frightening to me than anti-vacciners,” and afterward Dmitry Samarov read from his new memoir out of local publisher Curbside Splendor called Where To?

Samarov’s performed at a number of local events ranging from book releases to the Paper Machete, so I knew to expect some good Chicago stories. Out of the vignettes about his days as a cab driver, the first called “Incentive Fare” dealt with driving as part of Chicago’s Mobility Direct Program, a cab service for the impaired and disabled, and how an incentive fare was implemented for the Checker Taxi drivers to motivate them into the service. “Charles Bronson” was a tale of driving two scruffy bros from Lincoln Park to River North, talking about Charles Bronson with the kind of lore and wonderment we all use today when talking about Chuck Norris. In end, Samarov muses, “It’s good to know the younger generation hasn’t forgotten the heroes of the past.” Samarov was definitely the best part of the night.

(Other quotes worth mentioning:
“You know Charles Bronson lost his virginity at 5 ½ years old?”
“I punched a kid in the face because he said Creed was lame.”)

Closing out the night were Paul McComas and Maya Kuper, performing two songs and two scenes from their play Unplugged, about Dana, a 27-year-old rape survivor and musician. Beginning with the song “Fireproof Storage,” the audience is asked, “Whatcha gonna do when your fireproof storage burns down to the ground?”It’s an angry song dealing with the loss of security, innocence, and friends. In the following scenes, Dana contemplates her current place in life and the symmetry of nature. It was odd to see segments of a play performed at an event mostly aimed toward written-for-the-page literature, and was the proverbial sore thumb of the night, but that’s not to say it was bad. The emotions of the character were easily captured, helped along by McComas’ and Kuper’s talents.

Overall the night as a whole was okay. Maybe it’s because I’ve been spoiled by the debauchery I’ve seen and heard at other readings around town, but this is more of a low key affair with a mature crowd. Even the drinks ordered were more mature. I sat right next to the one-man bar cove and didn’t hear any shots ordered. One guy even chased his beer with a glass of water. This is not an event to get fiery drunk at, but if you need a night to relax and hear some thought-provoking prose, this would be the place, and if there’s one thing we all need, it’s a bit of relaxation.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 stars

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