‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Do you ever get things stuck in your head? You hear a word and then you roll it over and over (and over) on your mental tongue? It’s not as predominant now, but when he was secretary general of the United Nations and his name proliferated, Boutros Boutros-Ghali lived with me on a regular basis.
Well, the other day (maybe a couple weeks or more now), I was doing a tiny bit of cleaning and sorting, and ran across a stack of my college papers. (And my college bills. In some sort of celestial synchronicity, my tuition deposit was received 39 years ago this very day. Are you ready for this? My first semester of college, minus that $100 deposit, cost $1,332.50.)
And one of those papers, typed on my Sears Corrector typewriter, was entitled “An Evening at Brillig’s.” (Although a handwritten addendum changes the title to “An Evening at the Symposium.”) So now I’ve been living with Lewis Carroll rattling around in my head.
I barely remember Brillig’s, and while I have a vague sense of the interior, I can’t even tell you what it was. A coffeehouse? Well, thanks to the Miracle of the Internet, I have answers: it was the Brillig Works bookstore, and according to the Boulder Daily Camera in 2014 (in a very long but interesting article on a 1970s Boulder that was rather more conservative than now), it became a “landmark social hub on University Hill.” It was most recently Brillig Works Bakery and Cafe, but I believe Google is telling me it’s permanently closed.
I wouldn’t have remembered this assignment at all, had I not found this 2 1/2-page paper. It was for my first of many writing classes, English 119, Introduction to Creative Writing. It was taught by Michael Hall (not the actor), and I was from Gunnison: he had long, below-the-shoulder hair and didn’t look a thing like my dad or his colleagues at Western Then State Then College.
[That class had an early brush with celebrity, too: some glamorous girl wearing leopard-print leggings (think back: this was 1981, and no one else was wearing these) sauntered elegantly into the classroom, and then came a red-haired boy who laid immediate claim to Glamour Girl by kissing her. Her name was Eve; his was David James Redford, and yes, his father is who you think. Jamie and I ended up in about three writing classes together, but he was a rather indifferent student who didn’t often make it to class, even if I saw him on the stairs right before.]
Michael Hall’s 119 class must have included a requirement to attend a reading. Since then, I have been to many, many (many) readings, but this was my first. It was my second semester in Boulder, so I wasn’t quite as wide-eyed as I once was. (It seems improbable now, but Jeff Ruffe and I ran a red light in his VW Bug that first fall, because we had never seen a signal dedicated exclusively to a left turn lane — and the straight-ahead light was green, so we debated and decided it was okay to turn. Fortunately, we didn’t have to try to explain that to a cop.)
But I hadn’t spent much time on Boulder’s vaunted “Hill,” and the world of poetry and especially poets was still quite new to me. And I can remember all that as I re-read my long-ago report, but what surprises me now is the self-confidence, possibly even arrogance, with which I approached this completely-new-to-me assignment.
Here’s my first paragraph: “I knew it was going to be an unusual evening when they couldn’t even decide where to hold the reading. I had assumed, since the readings take place every Thursday, that there was a set and standard procedure to be followed. I was wrong. And this was only the beginning.”
There were three poets that evening, and clearly, none of them impressed me. Maybe with reason: I detailed that the poet scheduled to read first had lost his poetry and was AWOL looking for it. The thing that impressed me most about the second poet, who ended up going first, was that “according to the label on his jeans [I had selected a seat right behind him], his legs were 10 inches longer than his waist.” That may not have been all that was long about him: I studiously detailed his obsession with one of his body parts. My summation on his presentation (remember, this was my first reading and I believed these people to be “professionals”): “I found Gerard to be boring, and felt he read about five [poems] too many.”
The next reader had already irritated me by talking through a fill-in presentation (to cover for the lost poet) and then expecting us to sit respectfully in silence as we waited for something else to happen. And it must have been a sex-soaked evening, based on what I reported of her work as well.
The first, now third, reader finally materialized, and while I never heard him read, I didn’t give his appearance a very good review: “He was very scruffy-looking, wearing a really tacky green suitcoat from World War II and needing a shave.”
And then I informed my teacher, via this essay, that I “made my escape” during a book-signing intermission (clearly, long before the days where I felt an urge to support poets by buying something at every reading) in order to make it to a poker game at 9 p.m., where I lost 36 cents.
There’s no grade on my paper, but here is Michael’s hand-written note: “Good humor and use of examples. Well written review.”
I don’t know. I don’t recall finding any further reason to visit Brillig’s, even if it was a “landmark social hub.” I do recall one of my later writing workshops adjourning on a regular basis to Tulagi’s, another famous social landmark on the Hill, but I think my brush with “professional” poets during my college years began and ended with this one night at Brillig’s.
Clearly, nothing about the evening impressed me, and I can feel disdain seeping through my pages. Maybe it just comes with the age: my friend Scott a few years ago reported that when his daughter Kelby moved back in with them at around age 20, he and his wife Jenny became “the stupidest people on the planet.”
But if you’d asked me before I uncovered these college papers, I wouldn’t have recalled feeling that self-confident. And maybe I didn’t feel that way in person, but put me behind a keyboard and there I was, freely passing judgment on people with a lot more life experience than me. (Maybe not good life experience, as I re-read the snippets of their poetry — it doesn’t seem like I picked the most inspirational reading I could have.)
Have a frabjous day, everyone — and don’t let the Jabberwock bite.