Nightlife for many is a means to an end. Most truly do not want to be bartending or waitressing deep into middle age, although both are rewarding and noble professions. The business is full of dancers and singers and actors and artists and writers and even an Olympian or two. The hours and cash allow aspiring nobodies to cast, practice, and hone their skills on their way to becoming somebodies. The list of important cultural figures who worked in the biz before they “made it” runs from Dustin Hoffman and Debbie Harry to Bruce Willis and Lana Del Ray…and so on.
The thing about working in nightlife to become a star is that you have to enjoy the trip as the percentage of those who have their names put up in lights is unfortunately small. Hospitality employees need an exit strategy, a plan B. Juliet Escoria, or Julia to those who worked with her in clubdom, was always a writer but now she is a published writer, with a new book and a reading tour which has brought her back to NYC. She will read from her collection of short stories Black Cloud along with Shane Jones, Julia Fierrro and others tonight from 8 to 10pm at the Franklin Park Reading Series (618 St. Johns Place) and again Friday, June 13 at Mellow Pages Library (56 Bogart St, 1S). Readings are the polar opposite of EDM, although both require listening—you sit and open your mind to the author’s ideas, and have the opportunity to meet and discuss after. It’s all very civilized… a welcome change from club banging.
I caught up with Juliet and asked her all about it.
So what’s your book about?
It’s a collection of short stories. I mean, like short-short, as in you can go through them in a few minutes, and there are also pictures. So I feel like people who don’t read all that much might even enjoy reading them. The stories are about drugs and mental illness and bad relationships and feeling alienated from yourself and the world around you. They’re more true than I’d like to admit to my parents.
I’ve seen some of your videos. How do they relate to the stories?
I started the project because I had this idea in my head of a music video, but for stories. At first I was just going to make a couple, but then it morphed into what it is now, which is a video per story (I’ve made nine so far, and have three to go). I liked that idea because I hadn’t seen it done before, and also because it seemed ambitious in a way that appealed to me. I see them as an extension of the stories, in that they are able to expand on emotions or themes that the stories can’t do on their own. There’s a truth to the axioms “A picture speaks a thousand words” and “Words can only say so much.”
What is your history in nightlife?
I moved here, went to grad school, graduated, and got a job doing adjunct work at a university. The thing is though, I couldn’t pay rent. College adjuncts get paid shit, which is pretty fucking sad. I got a job waitressing at a nightclub in addition to the teaching. I had waitressed all through undergrad and I’d enjoyed it, but it was different now that I was older, in that I didn’t have the patience to deal with the customers anymore. I quickly got fired for having a “bad attitude.” In the winter, they needed help with coat check and took a chance on hiring me back. I loved doing coat check because it was all the aspects I liked about nightlife — leaving work with cash in hand, the music, getting dressed up, the late nights — without any of the bullshit like having dumb drunk girls screaming at you about how they want their Patron. And in coat check, my “bad attitude” was helpful. When people lose their tickets they have a tendency to get really belligerent about it, so it’s useful to be assertive.
How’d you leave the industry?
I went through a bad break up, which forced me to reevaluate my priorities. I loved living in New York, but I was working all the time and I ended up deciding that being a writer was more important to me than being a New Yorker. My reality is that I could be one or the other, but not both. I ended up moving back home to California and really forcing myself to dig my heels into the writing thing. It was a sacrifice, but it seems to have paid off.
What can a person expect from a literary reading?
There’s all types, and in New York there’s generally multiple going on a night. Some of them are terrible—boring, pretentious, lifeless. And some are great. I’m fortunate enough to have two going on this week that I feel fall into the latter category. I’m doing one tonight in Crown Heights called the Franklin Park Reading Series, which is probably the best-known reading series around right now. It’s run by Penina Roth, who has been able to put together great shows every month for several years now. The readers she selects are really diverse, and the audience is big (like 100-200 people) and generally on the younger side and very supportive.
On Friday, I’m reading at Mellow Pages, which is a lending library and reading room that’s run out of an art space in Bushwick. This place came around after I left New York, but it has quickly become essential to the indie lit community. The space is really warm and down-to-earth and welcoming. They have readings there several nights out of the week, and it’s a good place to find books that you might not normally hear about.