Reading Aloud in Starbucks by Alonzo LaMont

I first met Alonzo LaMont when both of us were involved in a program call The New Day Campaign, a series of events to help de-stigmatize mental illness and addiction sponsored by  local artist Peter Brunn. Alonzo LaMont read part of his one-man show called B-Side Man which dealt with his musings over life, career and the tragic death of his son.  I was struck by Alonzo’s wit and his willingness to share his very moving story as part of the campaign. 

The other day in Starbucks I came upon a rare sight indeed. A mother (I assumed) was reading ALOUD to her young son. Everyone else had their laptops propped, and they were entranced. Full-blown hypnotics, caught in a cult of self-divinity. Drenched in — the look. You know that look. You’ve seen that look. It’s where someone’s face is ever-so-delicately lit by the glow from the gadget. One dare not speak. One dare not interrupt. It’s a life and death scenario. Chances are that illuminated face is more serious, more intent, more purposefully driven than all the other faces you may see on any given day. The glow from the gadget produces the Starbucks Rapture Face. Those faces and all that purpose must surely be engaged in some higher conflict, some deeply internal mystical adventure. If you’ve ventured into any Starbucks in the last — I don’t know how many years — you’ve probably also caught those same faces and busy-bee facades. How could you not see? They’re practically etched into our consciousness. Those faces say “Do Not Disturb. Can’t you see I’m exploring a higher realm?! I’ve a screenplay. Things for my calendar. Recipes. Flirtations. And all manner of correspondence to respond to!”

Alonzo Pic

And then there was the mother I saw reading aloud. She was breaking the code. I stopped by and complimented her on creating such a rare sight. She explained that her oldest had read this same book and didn’t like it. She wanted her youngest to have a more genuine connection to what the book had to offer. I told her that my mother used to read quietly to to me, and usually not in public. But I didn’t want to intrude any further so off I went. She started up right where she’d left off, and her child’s gaze went back to the pictures and the words his mother was illustrating.

I believe we’re conditioned to witness everyday scenes pass before us in a particular slideshow. It’s only when one of the slides goes off the rails that many of us ask, “What was that?”. For instance, if you’re a bicycle rider and during your commute someone pulls up next to you and actually speaks. More often than not, other riders wear the dour countenance of children forced to eat their asparagus before they can leave the dinner table. A supermarket shopper in the same aisle who says “Hello” makes us practically shout “What’s that all about?”. Expressions of greeting or warmth feel ancient and out of place. For most of us, our everyday life becomes a bunker that requires an ever-watchful mental sentry to fend off the slightest gesture of welcome. And to be extra vigilant for those who could be leaning towards conversation. At my job many folks devote their lunch hour to fitness. Fluorescent sneakers proliferate, gadgets are checked, and if they’re walking with a friend— apparently the act of smiling breaks some kind of unspoken treaty.

And yet, through all this….I found a woman reading aloud. It could be years before this occurrence re-appears. Civilizations may rise and fall. A tree may or may NOT grow in Brooklyn. Laws of Physics may be broken. But, perhaps another person will read aloud, and the glory of hearing language and storytelling will make someone else appreciate one of the “lost arts.” Perhaps another person will have their day filled with the brilliance of such a small but powerful moment. Books and reading continue to do that. Language and ideas and sharing have always existed in these kind of sacred ways.

We just have to keep an eye out.

Alonzo LaMont, Jr. is a Playwright who’s had his work produced in D.C., Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, New York, Amsterdam, written for network TV, won grants, gotten awards, been on the big stage, the little stage, and all points in-between. He’s taught college, served as an invited guest on arts & writing panels and workshops, but is happiest creating, directing & crafting freelance projects. His most produced plays include: “That Serious He-Man Ball,” & “Vivisections From The Blown Mind.” “He-Man Ball” was published by the Dramatist Play Service, and “Vivisections” was published by the Theatre Communications Group “Plays In Process” series. Alonzo performed his latest play “B-SideMan,” at The Tank in New York City this past November, and also performed “B-Side” at the Charm City Fringe Festival this past December in Baltimore, MD.

Alonzo directed and co-wrote “Telling: Baltimore” in 2014, (“Telling” is a national organization that presents the stories of Veterans who’ve participated in military service) and he continues to work with the Baltimore City Dept. of Health writing scripts for their “Waxter Wisdom series.

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