Laughing, Can't Stop

Can't sit still either.

A night of drinking, socializing and listening to live music by some of the Bay area's best singer/songwriters, including my old pal Ronny Elliott. That's what I thought the deal was last Thursday when I walked into Tre Amici @ The Bunker, an intimate coffee bar in Ybor City that offers tasty appetizers and a thorough wine menu.

But there was a catch. Something I didn't realize until after I arrived at Tre Amici and downed my second fat glass of red. Turned out the event was in honor of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, part of the Daniel Pearl World Music Days, and would include readings of Pearl's work, plus a lecture on promoting tolerance — proceedings I wasn't exactly geared to appreciate, considering my alcohol intake had started hours earlier following an office pumpkin-carving contest.

We were read a Pearl story about a lost Stradivari and then one about the production of caviar that had appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Fine articles, but both were a bit lengthy. The one about the fish eggs made references to the female anatomy, eliciting polite chuckles from most of the attendees and inappropriate guffaws from my drunken ass.

Truth be told, had I known the music would be prefaced by a reading, I would have arrived just in time for the music. Because for reasons beyond my control, I can only sit still for about 10 minutes while someone reads to me. Then I get antsy. Start tapping my foot, rocking back and forth in my chair, glancing at the wine list, making funny faces at the person sitting next to me.

"Stop," Ronny said under his breath. But it was no use. We both started giggling during the fish eggs story. I put my hand over my mouth and held my breath. Looked like Ronny was doing the same thing, his face dark red from lack of oxygen. We finally got ourselves under control, but not before the entire room had witnessed two grown men, seated right in front of the person reading, behave like bratty schoolboys.

Luckily, the readings ended before I made a complete fool of myself. During the well-meaning but yawn-inducing talk about promoting tolerance, I ducked outside for an extended smoke break. While enjoying my bummed cigarette, it dawned on me that years of sitting through church service is what had forever soured me on live readings.

When I was growing up, Sunday was my most dreaded day of the week. The Mormon church we attended held three-hour services, and I loathed every moment. Listening to people stand in front of the congregation and read from the Good Book held about as much appeal for me as algebra homework.

Every week I would make 15-minute trips to the bathroom, much to the chagrin of my mom. On several occasions, Dad was sent out to find me. We would then talk baseball or something for a few minutes before finally returning to the service — because my dad really didn't find church anymore exciting than I did.

By the time I had reached high school and had taken to serious partying on Saturday night, church had become a battleground for my Mom and me. Within the first 10 minutes of the service, my head would start bobbing, and Mom would reach over and slap my leg. A few more minutes would pass, and I would lean my forehead against the pew in front of us. That's when I'd usually get a swift kick in the shin. This went on for the entire service.

Basically, for the first 18 years of my life, I attended three hours of church every Sunday. A decade later, anything that even resembles church function, such as a talk or a reading, makes me anxious. Luckily, last Thursday quickly transformed from something recalling Sunday school to lively poetry readings by Venus Jones and Lori Karpay, who was accompanied on percussion by her hubby, Harry Hayward.

Next, we were treated to impassioned sets by Rebekah Pulley, Lorna Bracewell and then Ronny, who debuted cuts from his upcoming album, Jalopypaint. He later got back up behind the mic, at my request, to perform "Tell the King the Killer is Here." An account of a wired Jerry Lee Lewis driving to Graceland and threatening Elvis Presley with a gun, Ronny sprinkled the song with plenty of expletives, thoroughly removing any church taste that might have been left in my mouth.

Tre Amici, 1907 19th St., Tampa, won our Best of the Bay critic's award for Best New Open-Mic Night. The event starts at 7 p.m. every Thursday. For more info, call 813-247-6964 or go to yborbunker.com.

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