Porch Light Storytelling Series

Swedish American Hall
2172 Market Street
Music 7 pm/Stories 8 pm
Tickets: $12

Next month's Porch Light will be on October 10 as part of LitQuake's week-long extravaganza of events. Check out the LitQuake calendar for details.

Porch Light Storytelling Series
By Cindy Bailey 9.19.05

With a theme of “Utilities Included: The Roommate Show,” I expected to hear a lot of roommate bashing on Monday night at the monthly Porch Light storytelling series held at the Swedish American Hall (upstairs to Café du Nord). But it wasn't like that at all. Sure, there were a couple of crazy, abusive roommates in the tellings, but mostly what showed up on the stage was a lively, diverse mix of stories, from prison roommates to traveling-across-the-country-in-a-van roommates to finding the perfect roommate only to have it end sadly.

That's what local literary divas Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte , founders and hosts of this monthly event, are so good at: putting together an eclectic mix of storytellers for an evening of fresh entertainment. Here's what I mean by eclectic: Monday night's line-up included a book store manager/author, a bus-driver, an ex-bank robber/writer, an assistant sommelier, a comedian, and an oral historian. Each had ten minutes to tell a tale without notes or memorization, and damn if every one of them wasn't so natural behind the mic that you felt as if they were at a casual cocktail party, just telling you their wild story.

Porch Light recently celebrated its third anniversary (in July) and was filmed by KRON TV last month, which may have explained why the house was packed – as opposed to just full. A rough count put my estimate around 170, but it could have been more. I even spotted travel writer Jeff Greenwald in the audience, possibly scoping the event for next month when he'll be telling a tale of his own for Porch Light.

The evening began as it usually does, with soothing ballads from the musical guest of the month. Twenty-four-year-old singer/songwriter Ryan Auffenberg from St. Louis, Missouri provided that for us, lending us his beautiful voice and soulful lyrics, playing on both piano and guitar.

Beth and Arline then hit the stage and introduced Marc Capelle , Porch Light's piano man (if he's playing while you're telling a story, it means you better wrap it up). After a short introduction, the readings began.

Here's a roundup:

Bookstore manager/author Alvin Orloff started us off with a story (in fast-paced delivery) about his now ex-roommate of 16 years, Tyler, the trust-fund artist/circuit queen wannabe who complained about everything, forcing Alvin to develop a permanent Pollyanna voice inside his head to counter.

Comedian Kevin Avery ragged on his recent ex-roommate. His anger still fresh, he enthusiastically recounted her various shortcomings and admitted to us, “Ah, this feels really good.”

Freddie Brooks , the sommelier, told the most moving story of the evening. In careful detail, he recounted his search for and finding of the perfect roommate, someone who satisfied all his fussy requirements, only to have that roommate mysteriously and sadly pass away. His delivery, filled with emotional pauses, was powerful.

Then came intermission, time to buy drinks at the bar in the back and, if you're brave, put your name in the hat so you can tell your own story on stage after the break.

The name drawn was Greg Gaston , who told his three-minute story of getting mugged and then going back home to find his muggers using his money to buy drugs from his roommates. A good one!

Oral historian Lani Silver used the roommate theme only as a hook into a whole other story, one in which she humorously described her startling transformation from a bridge-playing, bridesmaid dress-picking, Vietnam-war supporting Republican into a radical activist after witnessing the conditions in apartheid-era townships in South Africa.

Bus driver and Porch Light regular, Kelly Beardsley , who comes off to me as the most natural storyteller of the bunch, told an animated tale about getting stopped by cops in Alabama while driving cross country in a van with her roommate. “We bought some American flag stickers so we'd blend in.”

Joe Loya , writer and, oh yes, ex-bank robber, talked about a very violent prison cell roommate who also happened to be “really sentimental and sweet,” posting a picture of multi-cultural babies on the wall (his “little peoples”) and building a shrine to the Virgin Mary out of candy only to have that turn into a vibrating mound of ants.

All in all, a fabulous, lively night.