This is an excerpt from the up-coming memoir by Kathy Life, “How Life Began: A Story of Hope, Love and Huevos Rancheros at Life Café in the East Village of New York City”
We didn’t sell much on poetry nights because everyone was focused on reading and listening and because writers, like artists, didn’t have much money to begin with. But the readings were good for us; they put the Cafe on the map. Our name got spread around word of mouth and the readings helped to build a reputation and to build the business.
An Excerpt From Suburban Ambush by Robert Siegle:
“Patrick McGrath recalls the importance of Life Cafe before it became, as he puts it, ‘deeply uppified,’ and our open mike poetry Tuesdays. He said it was through Life Cafe, for example, that Rose, Texier, and McGrath formed the friendship that led to their work together on Between C & D. ‘I just opened up to something,’ Catherine Texier says, ‘I felt it. There’s this sense that people are reading what you’re writing and you’re reading it aloud, and it creates an environment and gets you immediate feedback – and an impact in terms of stimulating us. We were there and part of a ferment.’”
At the real crazy readings, during the course of the night, I had to step outside to take a break and get a breath of fresh air, as it was so intense and smoky inside. One evening I escaped for a few moments just outside the door on Avenue B. The towering canopies of the American elm trees in Tompkins Square Park opposite us were lit from above. I looked up beyond them and saw a huge full moon early in its rise. That was when I picked up on a distinct sense of uneasiness in the streets. I looked around and saw there were more crazy people, drug addicts and drunks wandering around than usual and they were more animated. With a brief sense of relief, I realized none of them noticed me. But then I heard shouting and yelling followed by loud howling from deep within the Park. It was like a zombie movie in our backyard. It was primeval and menacing.
I moved closer to the Café door. So, okay, I said to myself – which is worse; stay out here and maybe get attacked and dragged into the park by a pack of blood crazed werewolf zombies, or go back inside and into the cozy reality of our known craziness? Sounds a silly choice to have to make, like a joke I know, only it wasn’t.
The realization hit me; there was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Even packing it in for the night and going “home” meant walking through the crowd in the Cafe to get to the back where we lived. Once there I’d be pretty much trapped by the noise and the energy out front. I felt like I was between two dark and crazy worlds and the only place to go was to fall through the dark vault that I felt was opening up beneath me. I shivered, and shook the thought out of my head. “Get a grip girl and get back in there!” I told myself. I was needed in the Cafe to manage the floor. I focused on that, took a final deep breath and dove back into the mad melee. I think that was a deciding moment in my life; no matter how crazy it got, I wasn’t going to give up. This was my place, and my place was here, no matter what.
Tune in for Part 3 of Zombies and Poets of the 1980s Lower East Side, coming soon