I’ve been owin’ Owen Egerton a debt of gratitude for some time. He has been a creative force in Austin for a long time, starting out with Comedy Sportz, and hosting One Page Salon “the best reading series in Austin” per the daily rag, for going on nine years. As a published author, comedian, screenwriter, and many other hyphenates, he begins each OPS with a funny opening and a reading from an author who can’t be there… because they’re dead. I started attending at the new venue last month, so it was good to be back again. And here’s an accounting of tonight’s episode on the anniversary of MLK’s death. I learned that from a U2 lyric. Which is a fancy word for music words.
After the dead writer, he does an introduction and sort of interview–asking each three questions–with the first of the five people who read a page of a work in progress. By turns, the readings are funny, sad, powerful, moving, or sometimes all of the above. It’s a simple but powerful concept that took a hit during the pandemic but carries on. OPS, and more so Owen, have encouraged me to keep writing and revising my book. For a change, I figured I’d multitask and blog while at the event and finish up at home. So here you have it.
I showed up late after just finishing a bike ride. Not feeling great after my near mandatory nap, Owen referred to reading his own work, which I missed along with the first guest reader. Except his reading wasn’t new, it was from his 2013 book, Everyone Says That at the End of the World. And I have yet to read it, having caught only one of his books, so I will need to get on that.
I find a chair at at a table with someone working on a laptop, but not there for the event. Now the Writers League director is asking Owen one of his own questions (“What’s your favorite secret place?” and is plugging her group. A bar / coffee place called Radio is the new host. Highway 71 traffic roars in the background. The yellowish globe lights strung overhead sway in the breeze. The sound guy, with his portable mixer, asks if he can take the vacant chair. “Of course,” I say.
Sound guy leaves. The next reader gets brought up to raucous applause instigated by the host, is introduced, interviewed, and begins to read. Owen is a strawberry blond Scottish-American fireball of creative energy in a tight blue blazer and tie, and even tighter jeans. He bounces off the stage like the Tigger that he is, comes to the back where I’m sitting, and I gesture for him to take the empty chair next to me. He sits. We watch. Wordless, taking in the words of the writer on stage.
Soon, it’s break time, Owen’s favorite part, he says, because that’s when you’re supposed to mix and mingle. I’m feeling shy and need to go inside to do a fluid exchange and hear a guy all casual like say, “Yeah, I was on Friends.” I look, and it’s Tate Donovan, with a dog. “Who is that?”, you may ask. I’ll tell you.
Years ago, he–an actor and director–and I were at another OPS and, for some reason, at the break started chatting with me. I didn’t let on that I knew who he was, trying to play it cool. But I remember shaking in my bike shoes trying not to freak out that I was talking to a guy who was in The OC and Argo and had made me just one degree of separation from Jennifer Aniston, whom he dated.
Anyway, he had just moved from New York and we talked about him having a hard time biking because it was hilly (the well-heeled live in the hills on the west side of Austin. He asked me back then, “Are you a writer?” I paused a moment, realizing the portent of the moment and said, “Yes.” Because Owen always says, “If you write, you’re a writer.” But bladder duties called and when I returned with a cafeteria blue plastic cup full of water, Tate and his dog had gone. That’s Mister Donovan to you and me. But it was a nice coincidence to see him.
The break is over and Owen returns to his schtick of announcements and thank you’s and improv comedy. He brings up the director of the Writers League of Texas which is now a permanent partner in the event. He drops in a mention that he and his family are moving to Boston, which I’d heard by text from Dave, a regular, writer, a New Yorker who I’ve seen at OPS ever since I started going. It’s sad, but it’s for a job. It’ll be a different event without the founder and host there.
The last reader is Stephen Harrigan who has written 12 books and has a Texas Medal of Arts and other accolades. His favorite place is Luby’s. His favorite fictional place is París in a Hemingway book. His most painful or healing moment in writing is from an essay about his mother being killed in a plane crash. His work in progress is about growing up Catholic in the 1950’s and a historical accounting of something called the Fatima letter but is also a memoir, like my book-in-progress.
The mostly white, older crowd peppered with young folks is rapt while he reads. Attentive, reverent even. The only other sound besides the wind is the bus boy collecting empty glasses and the never-ending traffic. The writer gets a laugh reading about the mother Mary. As a kid, he hoped for her to visit him. He finishes, and Owen takes a slip with a phrase from the reading from the Writers League woman. At the end he’ll pick a title for the night to name this One Page Salon.
The last reader is a band which is two people: a woman playing banjo and singing and a guy playing a saw with a violin bow. Little Mazarn. I’ve actually met them through an ex boss and her husband. The lyrics come out of her voice are plain but soaring, and the banjo music is spare and the saw is haunting. It’s a small strange world. The winning phrase comes from the singer/banjoist: “It’s like Barton Springs, but dirtier.” You had to be there.
Then all of a sudden, like the last page of a good book, One Page Salon is over. Except for more chillin’. Dave sees me in the loo and tells me to hurry up. I take a shot of the upside down grackle in glass. He comes outside and, in his New York accent says, “Let’s sit.” He talks my ear off about his book for 15 minutes, his wife adding the occasional comment. They go to pester Owen and I see two regulars, a guy and a woman who remember me, which is nice. I tell them my Tate Donovan story. The guy is tipsy, and she’s not, but they’re friends, so they hug, and he leaves. I see the musicians and smile and nod. If they remember me, they don’t let on and keep going.
The place is closing early so I head out. Then I see a sign that I took a picture of. It’s in my very first blog on January 6, 2016. Another small world thing. I take the photo again. Same except gas is up. And now I’m home finishing this. Creative juices do come from being around other creative people. Whatever your outlet, do it without regard for the end product, if it will be “successful” or make a profit. Do it regularly, if not every day. Maybe later it’ll make money or make you famous or help someone, who knows? But do it. As a WLT card I have says: “Have the courage to tell your story.”
To Owen, whom I met in the 2000’s as an audience member of Mister Sinus Theater, where he and other comics would make live jokes at bad movies. You made a nice comment about my fifth blog ever, titled Sunsets, Quakers and Yoginis (oh my!) back on January 18, 2016: “Great stuff. I do love those Quakers.” That meant a lot to me, man. Thanks for all the encouragement over the years, for me and so many. You’re a scholar, a gentleman, and much more to so very many. My book (or books) may never see the light of day. But one thing’s for damn sure: I’m a writer. You had a hand in that. And can you remove it now? And go wash that thing? Thanks a ton, dude. Best wishes to you and yours.
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