Smile Politely

Pygmalion LitCrawl: Choose Your Own Litventure

Ok folks, here’s how this works. You want to know more about your readers at the LitCrawl, and they want you to come hear them read. I have to facilitate this, so we’re going on a little literary adventure, CYOA-style. They’ve each written about themselves and chosen their favorite “certain death” (ish), and I’ve written you in and out of these situations. It’s long. It’s kind of amazing. It will be fun.

But if you’d rather skip all that, there is a real schedule at the very bottom of the page, which is linked to each author’s description. Jump down and click links? Or face multiple near-traumatic deaths while learning about your potential entertainment? Reader’s choice. 

Saturday afternoon, your ears ringing from myriad incredible bands performing behind the High Dive, you decide that you need a chair, some shade, and a drink not served in a SoloCup: not necessarily in that order. You could go home for a nap, but the LitCrawl sounds like it offers the perfect solution.

Consulting your handy-dandy PygFest schedule and map, you see that the first hour offers three choices: Exile on Main Street, Memphis on Main, or Mike & Molly’s. Having wandered toward the train station while reading, you decide it’s been too long since you bought a record anyway, and walk toward Exile.

Oh, right, the inimitable Jessica Hopper from Pitchfork just finished her reading. Crap, you should have left earlier. Now everyone is exiting en masse and trying to get in the door makes you feel like a salmon. You’re not even really sure who this John Dudek guy is anyway, and you can’t see anything through the throngs of people.

If the only things worth it in life are worth working for, throw some elbows to see John Dudek at Exile on Main St. at 4 p.m.

If you’re too tired to fight and are willing to let the stream carry you back out to the sidewalk, scroll on.

You relax and go with the flow, sliding into Memphis on Main, and ordering a mason jar cocktail, singing an old song by the Odds as you lift it to your mouth. A sign near the stage pronounces that your host is a genderqueer mutant biker from the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Central Illinois. As ze takes the mic and reads something so mellifluous that your hurricane itself starts to weep, you think, “Smile Politely was right – this is definitely better than staying in.”

If you choose to stay and risk weeping along with your beverage, listen to Scott Nelson at Memphis on Main at 4 p.m.

If you think you’ll head home and watch Netflix until the inevitable, keep scrolling.

“Nah,” you think, “I can’t deal with beauty before my second drink, maybe there’s something left on Netflix.” Feeling your brain cells and soul die just a little bit, you slide out and amble down the Historic Limestone Sidewalk, when a tall and hairy young man takes the stage at Mike & Molly’s beer garden. You ask yourself (like his father so many times before you) does he own a comb? He does, but a number of its teeth are missing from banging it like a drumstick against the rim of his bathroom sink, while Stevie Nicks belts the words to “Silver Springs” and the shower’s warming up. If you actually worked up the gumption to ask him, he’d get real defensive and snap “It isn’t even a comb anymore!” Sometimes poems are funny and a little sad like that.

If you’re responsible for the small (inanimate) casualties of your day-to-day, check out Zach McVicker’s do at Mike ‘n Molly’s at 4 p.m.

If you would rather take a long walk out into the Great Corn Sea, scroll towards the waves of tassels.

The call of the corn is too strong, as it sometimes is this time of year, and you seem to remember an inexplicable patch of it behind the copshop on 1st. As you walk by Exile en route to the walkway under the railroad, a wild female appears, a cloud of day-whiskey and Ari by Ariana Grande pulling you out of your maize-induced trance. You watch as she approaches the giant Rolling Stones record and climbs on top, then scans the crowd on her tiptoes. Someone coughs. You feel her eyes pass and you dread that she may call you onstage to sing a song or stand in as the subject of some magic trick. “Is my mom here?” she demands. Silence. Satisfied, she clears her throat. She begins: “This is a true story.”

If you’re curious to hear what her mother can’t, eavesdrop on Lindsey Gates-Markel at Exile on Main St. at 4:15 p.m.

If the truth is always simply too much for you to bear, risk calling your own mother and keep scrolling.

It’s been nearly a decade, and you’re not sure your mom will even pick up after the way you left, but you pull your phone out of your pocket and stare at it while your feet take you north, back to Memphis. Apparently a Texan has flown in to read a story about a 39 year-old fireworks fanatic lamenting the loss of his thumb in an M80 accident. It’s clear the author has amused himself with it, probably because he knows the ending and you don’t. Unfortunately, you think there might be special effects, because you definitely smell smoke.

If you’re curious to discover how many more fingers are lost to incendiary devices, check out Blake Kimzey at Memphis on Main, 4:15 p.m.

You don’t trust that smoke smell since the Great Ban of 2008, so maybe get out, get out now, yelling FIRE! by scrolling down.

You could yell “FIRE!” but if you’re wrong, you’re humiliated, and if you’re right, well, the people who deserve to live will be the ones who figure it out for themselves. Still, you hightail it down Market, hoping the buildings will shield you from the flame, and end up back at the beer garden. A gay man wearing short shorts reads a gay short-short piece about a circus stunt gone wrong. He promises not to go over the time limit and seems likely to keep that promise.

If you decide the man wearing seasonally inappropriate attire is worth listening to, cruise by Mike & Molly’s at 4:15 p.m. to time Peter Kispert.

If the cold he must be feeling is too much of an antidote for the fire you just feared, peek around the corner by scrolling on.

You creep around Jon’s Pipe Shop to see if Memphis is burning, but the angle is bad and you have to keep walking until you find yourself back at Exile. A high-strung lady in bright red lipstick trips on her way in, and tries to play it off with a “ta-da!” In her defense, she did spend most of the day inside the Book Fair, working the Rose Metal Press table, and her eyes have not yet adjusted to sunlight. You overhear her tell the emcee that she’ll be reading “true notes” on “serious subjects,” but for some reason you don’t believe her; you’ve always liked klutzy liars, though, so maybe you’ll stick around.

If you decide to try to sort out fact from fiction, stay at Exile on Main Street to hear Kathleen Rooney at 4:30 p.m.

If you choose to trip your own way further down the uneven bricks to another venue, continue on by scrolling down.

Distracted by your utter lack of both sitting and drinking, you don’t notice the curb and unexpectedly turn your ankle as your foot slides down into the street. With a miraculous recovery, you take three or four running steps north and end up back in front of Memphis on Main just in time to hear the author at the mic say, “This reading will be either fiction or poetry, or maybe nonfiction, and will likely feature Kanye or buffalo, wrestling or video games, Stand By Me or nostalgia. Possibly all things previously mentioned.”

If you decide you’re into any of these things, ice your ankle at Memphis on Main at 4:30 p.m. and see what else Aaron Burch is into.

If you’re not into any of those things, you may already be dead. Maybe you shouldn’t really be attending a Lit Crawl and should scroll on to take your hollow shell somewhere else.

Struck by a sudden feeling of emptiness, you realize that lately pursuits of the mind are holding less interest for you, but at least Mike & Molly’s has a ton of good whisky and you get to walk back over the Historic Limestone Sidewalk. As you slide up to the bar, you overhear a conversation between two drinkers. “What kind of fiction do you write?” “Um, literary, I guess” “Hunh.” “Yeah, that’s not a very good answer. I guess I write about lust and the male mind.” “That’s not much better. What are you, some kind of pervert?” “Um, no, but sometimes I do write about perverts. But I don’t really think of them like that.” “Was that supposed to be a better answer? Because it was kind of worse.” “Yeah, it was the worst.”

If you want to stay and watch the pervert try to get off the stool without falling in the hole he dug for himself, join Adam Prince at Mike & Molly’s around 4:30 p.m.

If you decide perverts are not for you, especially ones with really bad posture, head to the head despite the strange noises coming from back there.

You inch away from the pervert at the bar, but the sounds you are hearing from behind the bathroom door suddenly register, and you think perhaps this was not an escape at all. Retreating away from the hallway, you think some record-buying was what you set out to do in the first place and there’s no time like an hour ago than to not be here. At Exile, a mysterious man stands in the back of the store, pretending to shop in order to avoid making eye contact. You wouldn’t think he was anything other than a shopper, but he keeps repeating, “I may or may not have books for purchase,” whenever anyone walks within hearing.

If you buy most things on the downlow, you might as well stay and inconspicuously get a book from Sean Karns at Exile on Main St. at 4:45 p.m.

If you think some Memphis Moonshine will scrub between your ears as well as a new book could, just keep on scrolling.

Slightly disturbed by the murmuring, and not even sure that there is a reader, you decide some Memphis moonshine is in order. A woman who looks like she stepped out of the 1950s laughs as she approaches the stage. She’s a poet, you can tell, from the way she stands up straight. A novelist would slouch. You can’t bear rhymes and flowery crap, but she looks across the audience and sighs in relief. “Thank God there are no children here,” she says. “I hate having to censor my fucking language.”

If you decide to see how many more f-bombs this poet can drop, swear by Kristen LaTour at  Memphis on Main on Saturday at 4:45 p.m.

If you choose to go buy more knitted underwear at the Made Festival, continue scrolling.

You are over so over profanity and choose to leave rather than sully your ears. Cruising by a stall of the MADE Fest, you ask if there is any wool in the knitted briefs, and the girl assures you there is none. That’s good because you’re allergic to wool and it’s warm out, so you consider wearing these like a bathing suit. It’s a music festival, and no one said anything yesterday. The restrooms are thankfully quiet this time, but your attention is diverted by a short woman with spiky blond-grey hair. She’s sitting in the corner looking casual, approachable, maybe like your favorite aunt or your one friend who is older than the rest of your friends. When she stands to read, you guess that her poems might be about the suburbs and dogs, but then you catch her eye and sense something deep, dark and strange milling around in there, and you stop in your tracks.

If you decide to sit and stay for the strange, pause for Donna Vorreyer at 4:45 p.m. in Mike & Molly’s

If alcohol poisoning seems like a better option, take a drink every time you see a beard, and keep scrolling.

The sounds suddenly rearrange themselves, could you possibly be hearing the Altgeld bells? Impossible, but a quick look at the bar clock reveals it is seven minutes after 5 o’clock, which means it is time to get out of here. Really out. You’ve been walking in circles without meaning to, and you’re determined to break the cycle. But circles remind you that you’ve been wanting a scarf. You never got that drink, but at least it’s cool in downtown’s chic boutique, and it’s one of the three choices for 5-6 p.m.: Circles Boutique, Blind Pig Brewery, or Cowboy Monkey.

Opening the door, you see a slightly tall, ambiguously Asian man drinking bourbon from a flask and announcing it into the microphone, because, as he jokes, he’s watching his figure. “Just kidding. Well, not really,” as he nods and winks into the full-length mirror. His next announcement is that he will be reading voice-driven flash fiction about meditative moments that hurt the narrator’s feelings. “Hopefully they won’t be boring, but at least they will be short.”

If you want to give the not-that-funny guy a chance, come to Circles at 5 p.m. unless you’re Michael Derrick Hudson, because while David Yee doesn’t believe in violence, he might punch you in the face.

If your name is Michael Derrick Hudson, or a scarf isn’t worth it, keep on scrolling while whistling, because that is super-innocent.

Your ears prick because your name IS Mikel Derek Hutson, and that is really weird because you don’t know this guy. Turning on your good heel as fast as you can, dropping your wallet as you go, you run a few doors down to the Piglet only to almost trip over a brunette sitting near the entrance. Her combination of attire and grooming make you think she is either a hippie who has cleaned up for the evening or an east coast preppie who doesn’t care enough to wear makeup. You assume that her bright skin and wide smile mean she’ll be reading a story about how the illness of a family pet complicates the blooming psychology of an eight-year-old girl, but instead she reads the beginning of a story about a young woman weighing the pros and cons of being branded and the knots in her hair no longer seem so surprising.

If you decide to allow this girl the chance to surprise your suppositions based on her appearance, find Kristen Walters at the Blind Pig Brewery at 5 p.m.

If that reminds you of your own ideas regarding permanent body modification, scroll on.

You think about heading towards the tattoo parlor on Church Street, but a cacophony pulls your ear down the pedestrian path of Taylor Street. From the outdoor seating of the Cowboy Monkey, you can hear faint echoes of the bands a few block away. Every third song, a gaunt man in a Penny Hardaway jersey and 90s Orlando Magic shorts picks up a stringless guitar and begins to drum on it wildly, albeit skillfully.

If you believe this man’s percussion enhances the long-distance listening experience, encounter Eric Sirota at Cowboy Monkey at 5 p.m.

If not, scroll down in hopes of proceeding to a venue whose name includes neither primates nor morally ambiguous heroes of the American West.

Musing on why a place called Cowboy Monkey would serve nachos, you decide you want some. Reaching for your wallet, dammit, your wallet is not in your pocket. You re-trace your steps and walk into Circles with a fist partially-made in case you have to defend yourself, when the Asian guy surprises you with a “What are the chances? Wild!” and hands you back your wallet. Meanwhile, a neo-punk with a Southern drawl is saying something regarding a tragic story about happiness without conflict in it and how she hopes it will make you laugh.

If you begin to laugh nervously and contemplate whether the half-shaved head works for or against her, ponder Jac Jemc at Circles at 5:15 p.m.

If you begin to laugh nervously which makes you contemplate the food truck parked outside, scroll over for some mozzarella sticks.

Well, at least you have your wallet back and that means you can order a basket of mozzarella sticks from the not-at-all-suspiciously-unknown foodtruck. It’s fusion, the sticks are probably supposed to smell like that, but thinking maybe you should settle your stomach with a beer, you pop into the Blind Pig Brewery. In the dim gloom, you see a tall, bearded man in a t-shirt murmuring some very dark things in a fragile-seeming voice. He seems nervous, but non-threatening…you think. There is something on the floor before him like blood or dark water, you cannot tell from this angle.

If you decide to investigate the source of Colin Winnette’s puddle, enter the Blind Pig Brewery at 5:15 p.m.

If you choose to live the unexamined life, hurry past.

You repeat your mantra to yourself, ready for any time you think a feeling, even fear or disgust, might be coming, “Feelings are boring; tacos are awesome.” Drink AND food can be had at the Monkey, so you turn the corner into something that looks like equal parts Big Tent Revival and all-ages-hardcore show. The poet at the mic reveals that highways, vinyl, and being Filipino in the middle of White America are at the heart of his work.

If you think, “Finally! A philosophy worth hearing, AND tacos!” take a seat at the Cowboy Monkey at 5:15 p.m. to hear Jim Warner.

If it’s time to rid yourself of all your half-drunk drinks, risk the Pygmalion Potties set up by PNC.

Your bad ankle buckles as you step into the john and you’re flung forward, head-first into the drink. As you fall, you see a “Bonnaroo 4-EVA” graffiti and you know you’re about to meet a fate worse than death, but an attractive stranger catches your good ankle and pulls you out before walking away. You need to be somewhere clean, quiet, and good-smelling, so you think maybe you’ll see who’s reading at Circles. Slicing bee hives in half? Scuba diving with giant manta rays? Poking around with evolution? You think perhaps the porta-chemicals have messed with your hearing, but no, this woman says she writes about her myriad interests, from the scientific to the sensual.

If you could use some eclectic entertainment after the day you’ve had, consider Charlotte Pence at Circles around 5:30 p.m.

If what you really need, again, is a drink, keep on keep on keep on scrollin.

Savoring the fresh air, you walk up the alley behind the store to the back entrance of the Blind Pig, but before you get there, a guy with a cooler stops you and offers you a homebrew bottle for a dollar. The bottles are sealed, and he’s drinking from one, so you figure, eh, and hand him a buck, risking home-brew botulism is part of the experience. Suddenly you are whipped in the face by a man’s ponytail, but before you can orient yourself to the danger an apology is trailing away into the distance, and you think this guy must be from Chicago. You want to murder him but he carries a book of perfectly square trim, and it holds an unfamiliar power over you, like the sound of distant math.

If you decide to ask this philosopher what the world was like before we were born, inquire of Ryo Yamaguchi at the Blind Pig Brewery, 5:30 p.m.

On the other hand, the sun is setting and the crickets are coming out, and the chirping is calming, so maybe you should scroll on.

The chirping, the chirping, it’s like beautiful music on a late summer’s evening and you decide to stay outside to enjoy it. Looking down, you see a cricket jump on to your shoe, cute! And another. And another, and ahhhhh! they follow you, covering you as you run the last few feet to Taylor and the Chango Vaquero, when did you start thinking in Spanish and you stop because you recognize this tall skinny dude from the bookfair, and remember wondering, “Why are people letting that 16-year-old kid drink beer at the bookfair? Someone should be a good influence on him.” Now he’s unfolding a piece of paper with words on it as if he’s planning to read them at the microphone right there in front of you. You think, “Hmmm, this could be weird. I think I like weird.”

Shit just got weird. If you’re gonna just go with it, see if John Milas can keep your head from spinning at 5:30 p.m., Cowboy Monkey.

On the other hand, you’ve been trying to piss for 15 minutes and there is clearly something wrong here. Perhaps a trip to Cowboy’s indoor restroom will lend some clarity after a scroll.

You slip down the long hallway and face an amazing number of bathroom doors. Choosing at random, you’re in a room with several stalls and a mirror that reveals zero crickets chirping on you. Locking yourself behind a door, your screams are drowned out by the clamor of a T-Rex putting its head over the unit and trying to reach you. You open the door, get on the floor, and run until you hit the City Building. All you wanted was a scarf, damn it.

You open the door into Circles to see a tall, broad-shouldered man had just finished bumping his way through a set of folding chairs to a podium. He looked up hopefully when you took your first, automatic, step inside, and now you’re frozen, uncertain, seeing in his eyes the question that all the decisions of your life have come together to ask in this moment: Do you belong here?

If you do, confirm it to Nolan Grieve at Circles Boutique at 5:45 p.m. and buy your scarf afterwards.

If existential crisis leads you to flee Circles and steal the first bicycle you see, continue on by scrolling down.

Nothing makes sense anymore, nothing means anything. If there are dinosaurs at CM, then there are no rules, AND you need something faster than your poor, sore, twisted feet. You grapple with the chain locking someone’s bike to the tree when there’s a bike rack right there fer crissakes and that someone starts hollering. You pretend drunk and stumble back into the Piglet.

Another brunette, neither old nor young, with no particular style or image, fumbles her way to the mic. As her voice fills the room, your mind goes blank, and it seems as though you are being lulled by a magic flute. A FLUTE OF MAGIC. Her words unfold around you and you feel you are being transported to another world, a world very much like this one but in which people have a lot more feelings.

If you are ready to enter the other world and have all the feelings, keep listening to Roya Khatiblou enthrall the Piglet at 5:45 p.m.

If you choose to stay in the real world, where bus drivers are pretty sloppy drivers, just saying, scroll one more time.


Oh my god, why would you think that? About the bus drivers? Trance-states suck, man, you have had enough near-death experiences on your own, you do not need to be imagining harmless, law-abiding, responsible pedestrians being… no, just stop. It’s all just trauma, you should have picked one reading and stayed at it and not been so indecisive just like your mom… no, stop. You know what? You’re probably just hangry. Or Hungrinsane? Is that a thing? Nachos are a thing. There are no dinosaurs at the Monkey, but there ARE fajita tortas and some dude named John McCarthy.

So that was an eventful two hours, but at least you sat, drank, ate, and got out of the sun. Maybe you’ll continue to relax and actually laugh at the Mortified show at the Art. Maybe back to the music, Wild Ones are playing. Maybe…maybe you’re done making choices for a while and will just have another margarita. Maybe…

Pygmalion’s LitCrawl is presented in two blocks: Downtown East from 4-5pm and Downtown West from 5-6pm. All times mentioned above are approximate, but the lineup is listed below:

4-5pm Downtown East

Exile on Main Street 

John Dudek*
Lindsey Gates-Markel
Kathleen Rooney
Sean Karns


Mike & Molly’s

Zach McVicker
Peter Kispert
Adam Prince
Kristen LaTour


Memphis on Main

Scott Nelson
Blake Kimzey
Aaron Burch
Donna Vorreyer


5-6pm Downtown West

Circles Boutique

David Yee
Jac Jemc
Charlotte Pence
Nolan Grieve


Blind Pig Brewery (Piglet)

Kristen Walters
Colin Winnette
Ryo Yamaguchi
Roya Khatiblou


Cowboy Monkey

Eric Sirota
Jim Warner
John Milas
John McCarthy*

*indicates the author did not submit a description, but I’m sure they’re still cool. 

Pygmalion encourages you to drink responsibly, and not in order to numb your feelings from sequential near-death experiences. Near-death experiences are neither guaranteed nor expected when attending the LitCrawl. The above is a work of promotional fiction, there were no crickets or dinosaurs experienced in this sober reality.

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