As far as opening lines go, yup, that's an attention-getter. But it's hardly an auspicious beginning to a serious poem. When it's being shouted in a sing-song rhythm that would translate to paper as something like, "Maaahh diiick HURTS!" that elicits more titters of derision than oohs of admiration, it's a big ol' clue that you're not in for an evening of restrained, neo-formalist literature. And when it's followed by a barrage of words that includes "staff," "manhood," "anus," and "pussy juices," delivered enthusiastically (with accompanying hand gestures) as you're trying to sample a starter of mussels steamed in a red wine-garlic-tomato broth, for instance, or a main course of scallops with wild mushroom sauce, it's downright unappetizing.
That was the scenario that greeted my husband and me at the Wet Olive, a martini-tapas-cigar bar that opened several months ago on Federal Highway near East Oakland Park Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. Before arrival, we had tried to come up with similarly comparatively suggestive eatery names -- Weapons of Ass Destruction, as a matter of fact, took top honors. The friend who had recommended the restaurant had discovered it while attending a Covenant House-sponsored social gathering there. Which is why we were first gratified and amused, then horrified and dismayed, and ultimately irritated and insulted, that we had stumbled into the Olive during an event of an entirely different nature: ePoetry night.
Despite the name, ePoetry is about erotica, not electronica. Created and promoted by writer/orator Randolph Dukes via readings and a website (www.feel-ePoetry.com), ePoetry is a slam of a frankly sexual (as opposed to sensual) nature. Thus, there are trash-talking mistresses of ceremonies; audience sections bearing labels like "missionary position"; helpful safe-sex dudes passing out Rasta-colored Lifestyles condoms; and competitive spoken-word performances about genitalia, the best of which are rewarded with bottles of Bacardi O.
Had ePoetry been only about the equivalent of a Sex and the City episode set to a rap cadence, we might have coughed up enough bills to cover a complete three-course meal. But ePoetry is also, apparently, about being black -- which, at the risk of blowing my cover, I confess I am not. Nor was anyone else in my party, a fact that led the MC to term us "the white folks by the window" who, she intimated, looked intimidated.
I realize this little tidbit of discrimination might sound trivial or even somewhat deserved because, well, we are white and as such can have no real understanding of the black experience. But turn it around -- a party of black people is publicly acknowledged as being different -- and you'd see a lawsuit launched faster than a burned coffee drinker can say "McDonald's."
Nor did the attitude end there. Throughout the evening, whenever something happened in the restaurant -- a glass breaking, someone laughing too loudly -- both audience members and poets would turn around and glare at us. At one point, the first poet to perform actually shushed us when we weren't talking and admonished us again when someone's cell phone -- not ours -- rang loudly, interrupting a performance.
Eventually, of course, we felt more compelled to leave than welcome to stay, which cut short, after martinis and appetizers, the would-be review I was trying to research. We debated the next move over massaman curry at a Thai eatery down the street -- is it fair of me to publish a write-up anyway?
Certainly, the owners of the Wet Olive may not embrace the anti-white sentiments that were expressed the night we chose to dine. But in much the same way that the adult in a house is responsible for minors who are drinking, for example, I suggest that proprietors who host groups that express racist attitudes are guilty. Which, in my opinion, leaves the "white folks by the window" free to draw just about any conclusion we see fit.
And besides, we did manage to suck down a few drinks and a trio of starters along with the discriminatory vibe. Even disregarding the unpleasant emotional experience, the lack of attention to detail -- martinis that promised pineapple slices but provided chunks of canned fruit soaked in vodka; roasted red pepper hummus that tasted more like it had been mixed with flakes of red chili pepper; crab-and-mango spring rolls that had a nice, rice-paper crunch but apparently no mango -- warned us away from repeat visits.
Long waits between courses (if you count martinis as one course and appetizers showing up 45 minutes later as another) also didn't enthrall us. Plus, we could never quite nail down the identity of our waitress. A tall blond would take our drink order; a shorter brunette would serve it; then they'd switch again. And the kitchen worker who brought us the food didn't even have the sophistication to remove his latex gloves before dropping off a platter of baby greens with prosciutto, goat cheese, and cherry tomatoes.
Sum it up in MC -- Mastercard, not mistress of ceremonies -- terms. Driving to the Wet Olive: 5 bucks. Hiring a baby sitter: 50 bucks. ePoetry night cover: 7 bucks. Walking out of the restaurant hungry, dissatisfied, and downright angry: 80 bucks. Buying dinner next door: 100 bucks. Never again having to hear "Maaahh diiick HURTS"? Priceless.