Michael Wertz

Gary Lutz gave a reading at Richard Hugo House on January 19, 2004. Here's what he thought of his time here. We miss him already. —Eds.

I'm no traveler (I've barely ever gone anywhere), and I'm no writer (my paragraphic fidgetries are sufficiently obscure and submarginal that I could never get away with authorial behaviors in public), so I rarely give readings, and when I do, I expect heckling, eye-rollings, oblique threats, theatrical exoduses.

I'd never been west of Chicago. So I was afraid of flying to Seattle to read at Richard Hugo House, even more than I was afraid of almost everything else.

I arrived at the Pittsburgh International Airport (from the dun-colored, low-slung town in western Pennsylvania where I live) seven hours in advance of my flight. I don't know why, except that the most traumatic episode of my life had taken place in that airport 997 days earlier, when I had dropped somebody off who was leaving my life for good, and I'd never achieved closure, just various, ever-widening forms of aperture or emotional orificing. So maybe I just wanted to haunt the place retributively for a while. But the automatic doors that led from the long-term parking lot to the terminal wouldn't even open for me—I tried three sets of them. The sensors, I guess, failed to detect sufficient bodily or characterical presence. Then a happy-looking couple materialized and the doors parted, and I rushed in behind them. I wasn't surprised that I set off the alarms at the security checkpoint—I felt almost phosphorescently guilty in general. An officer hustled me aside for exhaustive explorations. He was a ruined-looking man in his 50s, and he spent a goodish amount of time feeling around in the inner pockets of my sports jacket without ever peering into them. (I had some earplugs in there, and some aviatorial medicaments—oblivionizers, stupefacients—swaddled in a handkerchief.)

At last he said, "You're okay"—a compliment I have yet to stop treasuring.

I spent the next six hours eating and drinking stupidly, buying and trashing newspapers, taking jittery pisses in many a men's room, sitting forlornly at various boarding areas, then walking around some more, hoping to look lost or abandoned, but not knowing exactly what I was proving, especially since I knew the plane I'd be getting on would most likely be going down. Snow was already falling steadily. I found a table near McDonald's and chewed all my pills.

Of the flight I remember little except that the movie was Radio and the couple sitting to my left kept rousing me from my narcosis so they could go to the bathroom. They always left and returned as a couple.

I hope I wasn't talking in my sleep. One of my big fears is that in my sleep I "open up" and give untidy, exploded views of my psyche.

As for Seattle, I hadn't read up on it, but I must have held a lifelong conviction that all of the West was sun-dinged and flimsy and tentative—teetered by earthquakes, thinned out by serial killers. I have only a punctured knowledge of geography, but it seemed to be my understanding that a volcano was operational nearby and the streets might be lava-paved and unstable underfoot.

It was only in the hotel, though, the snug, redoubtable Vance—in the shower closet of my room—that I felt something about to give way beneath me. There was something spongy and unsteady about the flooring in there. I tried to be quick about things.

Seattle! I felt cozy in the time zone, and for all its shimmer, the city was reassuringly solid, expansive, generous in its skylineal facetings. I was delighted that the daily newspapers cost only a quarter and that the panhandlers were so forthright about their desire to get drunk. (I am accustomed to the roundabout pleadings of bums in the East.) My only gripe is that very late at night, when, panicked about the next night's reading, I decided to cheat on my six-month-long sugar-free diet, I wandered for blocks without finding a convenience store. I blundered finally into the Greyhound terminal and bought Hostess cupcakes from the vending machine there, even though I hate Hostess products, and carried them back to the hotel to gorge cheerlessly at the sink.

But my audience at Hugo House the next evening—they were about as sweet-natured and gracious as anyone could ever hope for, and I wish I could thank them all. recommended

Gary Lutz is the author of Stories in the Worst Way and the recently published I Looked Alive (Black Square Editions).