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Chuck Palahniuk talks pussy at the Pratt

October 14, 2013
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chuck palahniukThe Writer’s Live Series at the Enoch Pratt Free Library this past Friday was a cult pajama party more than it was a writer’s talk. Of course, featuring Chuck Palahniuk, anything less weird would be wrong. I won’t go so far as to say that it was like a Fight Club meeting since no blood was shed, but many people were dressed in their finest sleepwear, and there certainly was a lot of talk about pussies and balls, though not  that kind. Every attendee was given a beach ball to inflate at the entrance and a couple of glow sticks to put inside. During the long wait for Chuck to show up, Chelsea Cain, a fellow writer of all things weird, instructed us from the podium to write an adjective, a noun, a place, a name, a number, and a body part on our balls with Sharpie.

After an hour and a half, the man himself came in, wearing a red satin bathrobe with an ascot. The room went nuts. This was his only stop in the East Coast for the tour, so people came from all over to see him. He greeted us and reminisced about his previous stay in Baltimore. “Last time I was here, someone crocheted me a human skull.” The evening got underway with a reading of his short story “Guts,” one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever listened to. It’s a story of a teenage boy’s masturbatory experiments gone wrong, and it’s even worse than you can imagine. The event was deaf friendly, with a sign language interpreter signing along with Palahniuk. He was probably the funniest part of the whole talk, and I learned that the American Sign Language for jerking off is just what you’d think it would be. “The poor signing guy,” he says at one point, glancing over at this guy describing a thirteen year old boy shoving a carrot up his ass.

In between readings from the other authors Monica Drake and Chelsea Cain, we had a couple ball mix ups, where everyone threw their balls in the air. When the frenzy subsided, everyone had someone else’s ball. The purpose of the ball mix ups were a mystery until the very end, where it turned out to be a giant Mad Lib which wasn’t that funny. Drake’s reading was told in the format of an “I’m sorry” confessional, presumably to a partner of some sort. Cain’s involved a prop of a baby doll. She told us a tale of a baby that wouldn’t stop crying and the wonderful, caring, hardworking mother who just couldn’t take it anymore and shook Baby. She buries Baby, but if course it comes back and cries for food. She kills it several more times, and it keeps coming back and crying until one time it comes back while Mom is watching daytime TV. She sees Baby, runs into the kitchen to get a cleaver, but Baby is not crying. Baby is entranced by the TV, and the moral of that story is that mothers have a very good reason to let their children watch TV.

In the midst of all this, Palahniuk asks the crowd, “Do we want questions, a reading, or pussy?” As if we had any choice. Everyone shouts, “Pussy!” And pussy it was. Palahniuk, Drake, and Caine got a bag full of 150 stuffed kittens and tossed them out into the crowd. Palahniuk said that we’d understand if we’d read his new book, Doomed, which the tour was promoting. That was the only mention of it. It was refreshing, not being hit over the head with promotional stuff the whole time. When he got to the Q&A, it was funny, as one would hope, even though the questions for the most part were pleas for writerly advice and enlightenment on plot points. One guy asked him to play the game of Marry, Fuck, Kill with the three people on the stage with him (Caine, Drake, and a man who was helping to throw stuff at the crowd). He seems stumped for a moment, but then goes on to give a piece of advice that he says all writers and politicians know. “Never answer the question they asked. Answer the question you wish they’d asked.” He goes on to tell a story about Max Brooks, author of World War Z and how he turned the story of his mother’s battle with cancer into a story about the zombie apocalypse.

The feeling of the event was like a showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was cultish and rowdy and nothing like a typical writer’s talk. Palahniuk is not the typical writer, so it works. Love him or hate him, he does have a poetic way of writing about dicks and gore.

Courtesy photo