Marie Lecrivain reviews Adrian S. Potter's Survival Notes
published by Cervena Barda Press
Writers write whenever and wherever they can grab a moment: In between sleep and wake, anonymously in their heads among the great uncaring and unwashed, and in the case of Adrian S. Potter, most likely (as I imagine) on the backs of beer-stained cocktail napkins and ragged bus passes during Happy Hour at his favorite dive bar.
Survival Notes is a collection of short stories and essays written by a man who, with a combination of sarcasm, a touch of machismo, and hard-won humility, navigates his way through people's attempts to reconcile themselves to Themselves. In this vein, Potter resembles Ernest "Papa Bear" Hemingway, though, thankfully, he does not drag the reader into the tenth circle of literary Hell with his quest for the perfect sentence.
No, Potter employs the "Art of Listening" (coincidentally, this is also the title of his first story), which, as any writer practicing his craft knows, is the one of three essential components needed to distill the Truth from the elements around him. In case you were wondering, the second and third are a well-developed inner vision and a whole lot of Jack Daniels. I am, of course, joking, and, yet, this observation is not far off the mark. As a bartender and a frequent bar patron, Potter instinctively knows that the "water of life" a.k.a. alcohol, is the universal solvent used to abrogate the everyday barriers put in place by polite society to unleash one's inner demons/angels.
In "Fighting Instinct," Potter shares one woman's dissolution through copious drinking from "angelic" = sexy to "demonic" = bitch:
She ordered a shot of Patron, so I poured it. I tried to flirt, but she wasn't the talkative type. "Don't blame me, it's my nature, she explained. I'm just a shy Libra." And that was okay with me, because between her platinum wedding ring and astrological sign, conversing with her seem like it might cause trouble.
...Soon, five or six other shots joined her private party, and she became thoroughly smashed. As attractive as this woman was, she was a nasty beast of a drunk. She became obnoxiously loud, foul-mouth and rude to customers.
..."Ma'am, please stop harassing everyone," I said in a friendly but firm tone, "I think maybe you've had enough to drink tonight."
"Fuck you," she roared. "I want another shot, you sonuvabitch." Her voice was shrill, causing other people to look. I hate it when drunks make scenes in public; it's the type of thing that makes us good natured alcoholics look bad.
And this is only the first half of the story! What happens afterward is the direct cause and effect of not only the unleashing of inner forces within the woman in question, but also -- within those near and not so dear - that are in proximity to her as the events unfold.
It's no secret to the public at large that alcohol is one way to obtain release...and there are other ways. Repeated exposure, indirect, or direct, to violence and pain, specifically inflicted against the object of one's desire. In the story, "Domestic Silence," Potter reluctantly shares one couple's frightening and co-dependant bond reinforced through spousal abuse. Potter sets the story against what becomes his waning love for jazz...the price he pays for his non-intervention:
I don't know much about this family, but I am well versed in the music. I've lived here for two years, long enough that I can now determine the topic of their disputes by what record is playing. Miles Davis' Kind of Blue means that the husband is releasing the frustration of financial woes onto her fragile ribcage. The swinging melodies of Duke Ellington are reserved for senseless shouting matches, the type of overreaction that's typically brought on by male jealousy...I don't even have to explain the subtle iron when songs from Coltrane's A Love Supreme filter from underneath their doorway.
And finally, there is the unleashing of the writer's own inner conflict: admitting to those truths he avoids; the loss of those qualities that were precious to him because he was foolish enough to let someone else impress her priorities over his, as in "Selective Memory," a painful and well-articulated testimony about the time, though it didn't seem important, when one woman's innocuous action permanently shifted the author's consciousness:
...You informed me, me, complete with a visual demonstration, that if I sprinkle a couple of pinches of salt on my cocktail napkin, then it would never stick to the bottom of my beer mug.
At the time, it was the coolest thing ever, but now I hate you for teaching me that little trick. There are countless friends and lovers and classmates that I've long since forgotten...But, I still remember you.
It may be that a writer-bartender like Potter can function as a sort of low-level hierophant to those who are struggling to stay afloat. Survival Notes, like that all-important hottie's phone number hastily jotted down on a Cosmo-stained cocktail napkin, could very well be the key for anyone who delves within its pages to summon the courage, take deep breath, and then, place a call to make a date -- with themselves.
review by Marie Lecrivain, executive editor of poeticdiversity
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