I am not Little Suzy Homemaker.
Check out one of my more disastrous kitchen escapades here.
Or my leap into needle arts here.
I wasn’t even very good at stocking a lemonade stand. The only good thing to come out of that was a poem I turned into a children’s book, “Sal and the Entrepreneurial Spirits.” (Yes! They’re for sale!)
So anybody who knew me knew I was out of my mind the day I said, “Oh, maybe I should run a coffee house / art center!”
I don’t drink coffee, and as for art, I can barely draw my name.
So there I was in 1989, single and wanting to meet people.
I don’t drink much in the way of liquor, beer, or wine (maybe oNew Year’s Eve, every ten years or so), and I don’t smoke. Oh, and did I mention that I’m awkward in social situations? So the bar scene was OUT.
What was a gal to do?
Using my philosophy, best described as, “Step off the cliff and grow your wings on the way down,” I decided that if I provided musicians and poets with a weekly open mic, I’d soon be surrounded by the kinds of peeps I was most drawn to — creative folks who needed a place to mingle and share their art.
What was I thinking?
At the time, I was president of my local art society, and I cajoled the membership into allowing me to use our building to embrace the performing arts. They didn’t like it much, but I was their president, so …
My first night, I dragged out the banquet tables, used every table cover I could lay my hands on, topped them with little votive candles in little glass … glasses, and put down a small throw rug to define the performance area. I set a four-legged stool on the rug and turned out the overhead lights. Voila! Instant coffeehouse.
My friend Elaine and her husband Drew, and my former fella Jack and his new wife Georgia were the only comers. Fortunately, both guys were exceedingly talented musicians, and Elaine was an English teacher who had a great store of poetry, and I write poetry, so we made a decent night of it.
The five of us talked up the CAMS Acoustic Coffeehouse, and within a month, we had wannabee musicians, tentative poets, and a couple of real hitters joining us to swap our talents.
Some nights it was SRO. Others we nudged each other to stay awake. But word spread, and soon we needed a larger venue and a sound system. It was working!
At the height of CAMS’s popularity, we even had a spontaneous “mosh pit.” People actually surged the stage (my Dad built it) and passed performers overhead, hand over hand, to the back of the room. We were happenin’, man.
And then there were the poets … who could clear the room in five seconds flat. Not the good ones, mind you — we had a good number of talented wordsmiths — but the chronic ones who thought “poetry” was another way of saying “personal journal,” and turned up to share the worst of their pain in front of total strangers.
Many of them started their sets by informing us, “I wrote this on the way over,” and, as if on cue, every seat in the house emptied in a flash. I was left to brazen it out, watching nervous not-really-poets hold their newly penned works in their shaking hands.
All these years later, I feel like I know what they were going through, trying to find a compassionate ear in the audiences of local open mics.
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