Anger, stress, anxiety. These emotions are no good. I was slaving away at a job that I took for the ease and mindless nature of it, and not to be harassed on a daily basis. I took the job for the freedom from stress in the workplace so I could work on my writing. My sick days piled up as I stayed home from work repeatedly to write and eventually I just decided to move on with my life. I had a steroid abusing boss with a peanut for a brain and was frustrated immensely with how I ended up in this pickle. So upon being terminated for failure to show up, I headed out into the world ready to represent myself for the first time as a Writer.
I spent the week leading up to Bel Chere 2013 at WALK (West Asheville Lounge and Kitchen) writing handwritten Poetry on Demand for the beautiful lady bartenders. Each of them a perfect representation of the original and free spirit of West Asheville. They gave me great words, phrases, and themes to practice with, and almost stumped me several times. Almost. Wait. Let me back up a bit…
Upon being terminated from my day job, I immediately found myself worried that I would allow the negativity and bad vibes of being unemployed and bitching about my previous employer to ex coworkers to swallow me. I could not have this. I deleted most of the social media cloud noise of prior coworkers to remove their poisonous feeds from my thoughts, grabbed my typewriter, and started traveling with it.
I went hiking, typewriter slung over my shoulder, looking for inspirational places for writing, photography, and to basically find my muse in the Blue Ridge Mountains and nature. I took my typewriter to the top of Rumbling Bald Mountain in Lake Lure, to DuPont State Forest, and to Montreat College and the Lookout Trace hiking trail. On these hikes, I encountered some amazing people. I came across families and friends out hiking on hot summer days, attempting to reach a summit or waterfall before the afternoon rains. I saw true bewilderment in their faces when I pulled out my 1964 Smith-Corona manual typewriter, whom I lovingly named “Cassandra” after the Trojan War’s mythological character who had the gift of prophecy, but cursed in that she would never be believed. I saw grandparents that had not seen a functional typewriter in years, childlike glee and wonder emitting from the eyes of the elderly. Adult children satisfied with the invention of the computer melted at the sight, and the glazed-over purity of simpler times overtook them. Finally, the grandchildren looked at Cassandra like an alien artifact. The hilarity of their expressions to watch a child see something new and unique in this world for the first time.
After these great hikes, I spoke to a friend about how exhilarating it was to take my typewriter out with me, and the desire to do it more often. They said, “You should take it with you to Bel Chere next weekend, find a corner to set up in, and make some fucking money, man.” This idea was quite simple, but I did find comfort as a writer in my anonymous behavior and idiosyncrasies. For several years, my Facebook and blogging pictures were taken from the character “Cabbage Head” from Kids in the Hall, and sitting out on a corner with my typewriter at a huge festival like Bele Chere was light years away from my comfort zone of sitting at the corner of a bar top writing in my moleskin. This decision could bring notoriety, sobriety, and the headache of having to put more professionalism into my chosen passion of writing. But, the idea burned away at me while I slept, and I began to make preparations to bring it to fruition.
My buddy, Wes, was a bartender at WALK and the standup Bass player for the band “Go-Devils,” and I enlisted his assistance in making myself a portable writing desk I could carry on the go. I gave him some measurements, and began coming into WALK daily to kick ideas off of him for what it should and could look like to make Poetry On Demand a possibility.
The creeping desire of notoriety kept me awake at night, and in the week leading up to Bele Chere, I had wonderful grandiose dreams about the open road, festivals, and Poetry On Demand spreading from Asheville to the entire nation, if I could somehow turn this simple idea into something greater. My new lover would be the road while my mistress and muse would be the new amazing people and poetry I sent out into the great big world.
I met Wes to help construct my harness with which to carry my typewriter around. He had a great serving/rolling tray, and I brought over a few backpacks that we chopped up for the straps. I sat and watched in awe as this mad scientist surveyed his materials and went to work with saws, scissors, straps, paint, screws, and even an old rock-and-rollers belt with the silhouettes of naked ladies on them. He was better than MacGyver because he didn’t need any stinking duct tape. We analyzed our baby, put the typewriter on it, threw it over my neck, and took a quick photo of the genius of it all before we headed out.
I stopped by the sporting goods store and picked myself up a tiny folding chair that had a curved handle like a cane and found my way to WALK to do some drinking and socializing in an extremely comfortable environment that I had written in for over a year. I typed out a few practice poems for patrons, had a lovely dinner with an old friend, and packed up my gear and headed to the downtown festival. As I parked my car, I looked over my materials and setup one last time, took a deep breath, and began walking down the street like a crazed lunatic with a tray holding a vintage typewriter swaying back and forth and bouncing off my belly. I had no sign that first night, and success depended on me talking to people to let them know what the fuck I was doing. Asheville is a strange place, full of weird and crazy artists, and nuns riding around on 8-foot-tall bicycles, but I got some serious bug-eyed views that I just ignored and just kept walking toward my destiny.
My first paying customer was a good old-fashioned country girl and her redneck man sitting outside the Yacht Club. She asked what I was doing and how much. I let her know it was Poetry On Demand and given any word, phrase, or theme, I would type her out an original poem on the spot. Her topic of course was Nascar. I thought for about 15 seconds, pulled out my cane chair, set my typewriter tray on their cooler, and wrote a quick, funny ballad to Nascar, canned beer, and American freedom. She loved it and gave me two bucks.
Her beer-guzzling man decided to give his two cents as payment as well. “Kerouac would roll over in his grave if he saw something like this, selling poetry on the street,” he spouted at me with the scent of Budweiser on his breath.
I replied, “Kerouac begged, borrowed, and stole to make his way in the world, and I am just trying to make an honest buck. Thank you for your input though. You all have a great Bele Chere.”
I shook their hands as I folded up my chair, slung the typewriter back around my neck, and headed down the road…for the first time in my life a paid Writer.