I took my $2 and, in hindsight, I should have kept it as a prize, but instead just tossed it in my silver tin can and wondered where I would go next. I walked through the crowded streets of Bele Chere saying “hello” and posing for pictures the majority of an hour. It was getting dark, so I decided to find a barroom for my setup. The Bier Garden, being a well-known haunt for me, was the logical choice. I knew it well and would never wander Bele Chere without adventuring there. This was the last time the festival would be held and I wanted one more crazy night in the Garden.
Fortunately, it wasn’t too busy yet–no line at the door, and even my favorite corner seat at the bar was open. I had been coming into this place for years; the bar itself was huge and the place had hundreds of beers to drink, along with about 40 on tap, and if you went through their entire beer list within a year, you received a plaque on the bar top. I knew most of the names–people that had come and gone and spent their unemployment checks on beer while they worked on the New York Times’ crossword puzzle, watched sports, or had the same conversations day in and day out. I was a regular at one time, sitting in whatever open seat I could find on most nights, writing poetry in my Moleskine or typing it into my Blackberry. The Garden reminded me of the show “Cheers” with the amount of regulars that once haunted the place and how we all knew each other with an awkward proficiency.
I set my tray holding Cassandra on the bar top, ordered a beer, took it down in two big gulps, ordered another pint, and waited for someone to come over and show interest. The bartenders looks intrigued and asked me what the fuck I was doing. They were not shocked by much working in this place, and after I explained, they just smiled and went back to slinging cold drinks in warm, freshly-washed pint glasses.
They had Wi-Fi, cold beer, and good air conditioning. I was a little tired, sweaty, and wanted to relax a bit from walking around the festival for the last hour. I checked some emails, posted a couple pictures to my blogs, posted a quote to social media, and typed some notes and ideas on my typewriter.
Before long, with only three or four DINGS from Cassandra, my first interested girl walked up.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Poetry On Demand. You give me any word, phrase, or theme and I will type you up an original poem for a minor donation, if possible,” I replied.
“A donation? You’re charging to write poetry?”
“Yes, I’m a local artist just trying to get by.”
“We are all just trying to get by,” she said with a snort before she proceeded to lean over my shoulder and rudely tap Cassandra’s keys at random like some upset 3-year-old child whose mother will not give them a candy bar at the grocery store checkout line. She walked away and rejoined whatever circle she came with. I didn’t even bother to react to her behavior. She was drunk, it was Bele Chere, and this was Bier Garden; debauchery leaked from the ceiling and the kegs on tap.
Next, I had a group of women come over with big smiles, asking me what I was doing and what was going on with the typewriter. I explained, and their grins widened, a total swoon-fest for the sexy, turquoise Cassandra sitting at the ready for their request. I wrote all five women an original poem on demand. The crowd grew and, before I knew it, I had typed out 10 poems. I received no money, but three free pints of beer did come my way. Some girl also pulled her boyfriend over; I wrote a poem about Jerry Garcia for them and he gave me a small joint that I happily tucked away in the left pocket of my Goodwill grey vest.
The most memorable customer of the evening was this tiny, sexy girl named Stefanie. She was wearing short-shorts with a white flowery shirt tied up near her breasts allowing her tanned midriff to show. She had her long dark hair in pigtails and wore a tan and black fedora and strutted a million-dollar smile.
She asked me about what writers I liked and I told her I loved Bukowski.
“Oh my God!” she exclaimed. “I love Bukowski! What’s your favorite of his?”
“I don’t know, I’ve read so much of his work.”
She looked at me suspiciously as if I was full of shit like most people who claim they have read Bukowski.
I suppressed a smile. “My favorite novel of his is ‘Women’ and ‘Post Office,’ but I have most of his published poetry on my bookshelf at home, as well.”
Satisfied with my response, I typed her a poem on demand, something about Gilligan and Mary Ann and typed the Charles Bukowski quote at the top of her poem: “Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.” She took it, freshly-pressed and signed, and ran back to her friends without reading it. I emptied my pint glass with ferocity and ordered another one of my free beers I had waiting. Stefanie returned a few minutes later and planted a huge kiss on my cheek. I found out later she was friends with an ex-coworker of mine and (unfortunately) had a boyfriend. She was just dressing up for the weekend and, contrary to her appearance, was quite a respectable young woman. What a shame, I thought. She was so very hip and sexy. But I had other things to concern myself with, as I was on a vision quest for Poetry…not for Pussy. Like Bukowski said, “Any asshole can chase a skirt. Art takes discipline.”
The rest of the night was a blur of people paying me and handing me a cascade of free beers and shots quickly poured down my throat by poetry customers and onlookers alike. It was exactly what I expected coming into Bier Garden; like some refreshing mountainside waterfall washing over me, I was cool and refreshed with life. Invigorated.
I eventually packed up my gear, left the Bier Garden behind, and stumbled back onto the streets. I had about $60 in my vest pocket along with a joint. It was midnight now and I lit the joint in a back alley before making the long journey back to my WALK. I wanted to share the tale of my first day of Poetry On Demand with Wes. My last stop for the night before WALK was the tiny Craggy Brewery.￼ A woman at the bar requested a poem and bought me a drink. I was remarkably intoxicated and stoned by this point, and every word on the poem had a typo and must have looked like a page out of the beginning of the book “Flowers for Algernon.” I do not recall if I retyped her another one, as she looked quite dissatisfied with what I produced. I do remember saying, “I promise Poetry On Demand, not necessarily good Poetry on Demand.” She laughed and offered to buy me another drink. I declined, finished the last sip and began the two-mile trek back to West Asheville Lounge and Kitchen and to my car.
A sense of pride was quickly growing when I carried my typewriter into all the familiar places that were becoming new again. The bar rooms and street corners I had swaggered around for years held a new possibility and a smell of ingenuity in every intoxicating breath. Cassandra and myself were welcomed with open arms at every bar I went into that first day. I was beat and wasted from the day, but with a smile I strolled into WALK, shook Wes’ hand, and ordered a PBR.
“How did you fare today, my man,” Wes inquired with a look of concern.
I pulled out a wad of cash and told him my tale of the day and adventures. We discussed the future and where, what, and how to make it better the next day. We both agreed that a “Poetry On Demand” sign properly displayed on the tray was a necessity to make the process a bit smoother and clearer to onlookers. I thanked Wes for the help before I packed up to chill out and get some sleep.
I was too drunk to drive very far, so I pulled my car over a block away in a local neighborhood, smoked the remains of the joint, rolled the windows down to cool off that hot July evening, and fell asleep in the backseat. My makeshift bed in my Honda Civic was cramped, but I rolled into a ball and I slept peacefully, dreaming the kindest dreams that night.
I woke Saturday morning with a stinging headache and the pouring rain coming in on me through the open car windows. The cold rain water was running down my face and it felt nice to have relief from the heat. My only concern was if it was going to rain all day.