The scent of coffee wafts through the air as Steve Brogdon gives the microphone a tug to make it a little taller.
“There,” he says to me, “is that good?”
I thank him, then awkwardly clear my throat. Though I am not nervous, since I am among friends, I still want to sound prepared and professional.
“Three strings walk into a coffee shop,” I say, and I can see eyes rolling from the crowd seated before me. I like to open with a joke before getting to my more serious material, and my “three strings” joke is, well, a great joke.
I pause and make eye contact. Not only do I consider uniform eye contact the mark of a good public speaker, I am happy to look at the people around me, as I have, in the past year, forged friendships with them, thanks to Open Nic Nyte.
Originally organized by Rhonda Ragsdale, who goes by the pen name Lisa M. Pyre, Open Mic is now largely run by Brogdon and Sterling Jacobs — a long time area artist, poet, and, if he will accept that I am calling him this in the most flattering way, eccentric. I think I can get away with calling him that, since I feel a fair amount of eccentricity myself, and I own that and let it feed my artistic expression.
We are all eccentrics when we stand before the microphone.
Open Mic Nyte takes place on the last Monday of most months (breaking for the holidays) at Mojo’s Coffee Bar and Cafe. It is sponsored by the Happyland Music Alliance and always has a featured artist.
You might be surprised how many painters, sculptors, charcoal drawers, graphic designers, actors, performance artists, fine art photographers, singers, dancers, conceptual artists, poets, novelists and musicians live in the Ada area.
I feel happy to be in their midst as I tell my jokes, read from my notebooks and show off some of my photographs. I finish and say, “Thank you. Thank you very much,” doing my best Elvis impersonation. The crowd — sometimes 12 to 15 of us, sometimes nearly 30 — applauds.
Jacobs takes the microphone and thanks me again. We’ve been friends for years, but Open Mic has taken that to the next level.
He introduces my next-door neighbor Jenn Nipps, who reads the next chapter in her newest novel. We all listen as she spins her story.
Since my younger days of reading Henry Miller, Albert Camus, Anais Nin and Jack Kerouac, I’ve dreamed of being part of a café culture, of having a venue to share our ideas, feelings, and creations.
Timothy, who did not wish me to use his last name, is next, and to our amusement has crafted for himself a tinfoil (actually aluminum) hat. He smiles as he dons it, telling us what many of us already know, that he is a bit of a conspiracy theorist. He talks about the moon landings or the shape of the universe. He shows us his codexes — small notebooks he’s been curating for most of his life. I can relate, since my own Open Mic kit includes some very similar notebooks.
He is welcome among us. The Vietnam veteran and his poetry are welcome among us. The guitar-playing college kid is welcome among us. The middle-aged novelist and the geriatric poet and the awkward teenage author and the pottery-making recluse and the young actor are all welcome among us.
You are welcome among us, even if you just want to watch and listen.
By the end of the night, nearly everyone has taken a turn at the mic.
So... Three strings walk into Mojo’s Coffee Bar and Cafe.
The first string says, “I’ll get us some coffee.”
He approaches the barista and says, “Three coffees, please.”
“Sorry, but we don’t serve strings,” the barisat replies.
Stunned into silence, the string sits down.
The second string sees this and defiantly approaches the barista.
Without hesitation, the barista says, “Look, I told your friend, we don’t serve strings!”
The third string is having none of this, so he bends himself into a loop, takes out a comb and teases and rats his end.
He approaches the barista and says, “Three coffees, please!”
“Look, I told your friends,” she says. “We don’t serve strings. You’re a string!”
“I’m a frayed knot!”