Here's one: A lawyer, a witch, and an artist walk into a bar ….
Well, actually, it was a lawyer, a witch, and an artist who invited The Man Who Came to Dinner — to this week's dinner.
We gathered at the home of John Bovio (artist, writer, performer) and Kira Louscher (witch, tarot reader, candle practitioner). Their place doubles as Head: A Store for Art, on Valencia between 16th and 17th streets. John met me at the door for a brief tour of the stairwell, which he's converted into a funky minigallery.
“A lot of this stuff is made from 'recycled' or found materials,” John explained. “I have a couple of homeless guys with carts that bring me things.”
Upstairs the gallery expands throughout their very spacious apartment. “We've got a lot of eye candy here, so feel free to look around,” invited John.
Next door in the parlor we found several hundred additional pieces of art, along with the other dinner guest, Matt Gonzalez (lawyer, public defender, candidate for district attorney in November).
“What the fuck did they do to this street?” I asked, looking out the window onto Valencia. If you haven't seen it yet, a bizarre miscarriage has recently turned the once efficient thoroughfare into a vast center-divide flanked on either side by a single-lane parking lot.
Who do I call?
John headed off to the kitchen to work on our dinner, while Kira, Matt, and I settled in to get to know each other.
Matt — cerebral, soft-spoken, almost languid — was nothing like I expected a criminal trial lawyer vying for the top local seat to be, and his manner was a sharp contrast to John's almost frenetic energy.
I learned that this group is bound by a very unusual tie: the often-overlooked beat poet Jack Micheline.
Until his death one year ago, Jack remained a prominent figure on Valencia Street: writing, drinking, and screaming. He lived next door to Head in the Curtis Hotel. Before Jack died, Matt had taken on the project of publishing what would turn out to be Micheline's last collection of work, sixty-seven poems for downtrodden saints.
In his slow, measured voice, Matt explained Jack's appeal by quoting from his work:
“Everybody lies to you. Your brothers lie to you. Your parents lie to you. The rabbi lies to you. They all tell you that you should be a certain way. Forget them. You got to be your own person. You got to do what you want to do.”
“It was a beautiful message that he had a wonderful way of conveying,” Matt reflected. “Because that's kind of what he did. He decided to go be this fucking poet and run around. And what do you get as a poet? You don't get anything. He ends up on fucking Valencia Street in some overpriced room that doesn't even have a bathroom. And yet he still had this positive message.”
As I sat quietly in an old velvet chair, forming a clear, if fictional, picture of Jack Micheline, I was reminded of the poet Allen Johnson, who wrote, “I'd always thought I'd wind up alone, but it was only just my own private joke I didn't really mean it.”
With Jack's ghost sitting among us, we turned our attention to the resident witch to inquire a little about her practice. In her authentic Chinese dress and Judy Jetson bubble sneakers Kira also seemed unrepresentative of her industry's stereotype.
Explaining her business, Kira said, “It's difficult to accept payment for that kind of thing because the magic is really in you.”
“What do you mean by that?” cross-examined Matt.
“Well, your subconscious and your higher self determine what you are and what your reality is, so it's kind of difficult to take that kind of responsibility for other people.”
“I'm asking,” explained Matt, “because she's been lighting candles to see that I beat Terence Hallinan in the upcoming election. So I want to make sure that it's going to be handled.”
“Oh, it's handled,” answered Kira, with eerie self-confidence.
John returned with a plate of excellent bruschetta: big slices of toast with basil, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella, all from Lucca, just down the block.
“Is that official yet?” I asked Matt about his candidacy.
“It's fairly official,” he confirmed. “We filed an intent to run and opened a bank account.”
Matt acknowledged that his chance of winning isn't huge. “I'm not the candidate on the right. So I'm not the candidate that everybody wants. I'm essentially undermining Hallinan's claim to being a left progressive. I entered the race just out of principle really — to try to push him to the left and to tell as many people as I could about some of the things he's doing which I don't like.”
Just then, John called us all into the kitchen for some serious Italian cooking, and, for starters, served up a nice homemade eggplant soup with a “spicy finish.”
Matt predicted, “I think if there are only two candidates, I could win. If somebody enters from the right then Kira's really gonna have to take care of me.”
As we all turned to Kira, I joked, “Kill the people on the right.”
“But,” continued Matt, half kidding, “I can't really get things off the ground until the comic book is ready.”
John, it seems, is designing some campaign propaganda in comic-book format that pits Matt Gonzalez against renowned street fighter Terence Hallinan.
“I think I'm in good hands here,” joked Matt. “I've got the tarot card reader. I've got the fucking comic book writer.”
“Tell me,” I asked, “what percentage of your net worth are you risking on this campaign?”
Just then the doorbell rang and we were joined by some unexpected guests — Matt's brother, Chuck, and Chuck's girlfriend, Liz. The pair make up two-fourths of local band Lessick's Kid, named after one of Micheline's short stories.
The main course was a fresh angel hair pasta with John's own roasted red pepper and tomato sauce. Some fresh bread and a salad rounded out the meal.
After dinner Chuck and Liz broke out their guitars and favored us with a few fine tunes, several of which were Micheline poems set to music with Jack's permission before his death.
Kira, we realized, had long since disappeared, and was apparently preparing her tarot cards in the other room. As John served up a mixed berry mousse cake, which Matt had brought from Sweet Temptations, I yelled down the hall, “Hey, Kira. We see some dessert in your future.”
“Careful who you're making an enemy of there,” counseled Matt.
Kira rejoined us to prognosticate on my person. Much like my first tarot reading experience, most of the cards did not suggest roses and sunshine. The difference was that Kira went on to offer some very specific, spot-on commentary on me and my life — past, present, and future. It was actually a little too close for comfort.
Matt, my new lawyer, intervened on my behalf. “Now, Kira, with all respect, he came in here tonight and he gave us a bunch of information about himself. How do we know you're not just gleaning from what he's already said?”
It was too much. Kira the Good Witch finally bubbled over, proclaiming — to everyone's delight — “Matt, you're such a fucking lawyer!”
As the evening wound down I once again posed the question to myself: What do you get when you mix a lawyer, a witch, and an artist?
Well, I got a goopy handmade spice jar and a fix-your-life candle from Kira, an elephant drawn on a piece of wood with a bent nail for a trunk from John, a copy of Jack Micheline's book from Matt, and, all in all, an awfully enjoyable evening.
By Barry Levine
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