As I’m nearing my 500th post, and re-entering the job market as a writer after a 20+ year detour, I’m sharing a few stories of working for small publications in the early 90s, on the east coast. Blog title HT to Modest Mouse.
Randy said my apartment looked like a gay lived there or a Republican, which wasn’t good by how he said it even though he himself was gay, likely not a Republican but a bartender instead.
The bar was down the hill from my apartment and we went back to my place after closing, the staff, sometimes the band, and I tried to keep it down because my 80 year old landlord Jules lived upstairs with his wife Mabel, but he was dead-drunk and listless by that time of night, they never said anything.
I typed in the dark by the window and the glow of the streetlamps because it had an urban feel to it, like a real city with car alarms and shootings, a drink by the manual typewriter and a messy stack of rewrites, the type sometimes drooping by the angle of the roller like it was falling off the page.
But I was living in Allentown, PA and Allentown was dying, fast.
Enter Christopher Cross my first day, moving in. He just stopped me on the street and asked Are you an artist, which made me pause (come-on line? bum? drug dealer? gay? am I an artist, really?).
But I said I am — in fact I’m a writer and he lit up, said he’s starting a paper and looking for writers. The paper was about all the great cultural things going on in Allentown. It was called Excitement! and yes, it was in italics like that, with the exclamation point too.
He had bad skin, skin that’s an off-color like there’s a problem with the organs, a bit bluish-green, and pock-marked. But his daughter was sick, he was raising her on his own, and his eyes went soft in a way I believed him, like this paper was his one big thing now. And I really wanted to be published, so I got his number.
He said I could pretty much write whatever I wanted and what ideas did I have. So I turned to beer, because I liked it, and did an interview with a guy who was running a small German brewery called Neuweiler.
When it was published, I got a bunch of copies and read and reread it. I didn’t like it so much, but it seemed better somehow in print. Or worse, I couldn’t tell.
I had about four jobs at once, then. One of the other jobs was at a theater in town where I took care of the visiting actors: pick them up at the bus station, tend to their needs, make them feel at home in Allentown.
An older actor came into the bar one night when I was waiting tables and sat, alone. I told him I was a writer and published, gave him the paper. So he read it while he was eating and set it aside and I asked what he thought and he shrugged, It’s fine — it’s not what he said I remember but the way he looked at me, which said more.
Just because you put something in print doesn’t mean it can stand up, doesn’t make it better because it’s been published in bulk.
But writers and artists live in a world of constant self-doubt; it’s two arguments going on in your head at all times, and you only make it by squashing the side that’s telling you to stop, by feeding the mad part, by stuffing more into it to keep it going.
And like the messy stack of rewrites I came home to every night, having my name in print helped me believe, despite.
When we were out on Valentine’s Day, Dawn said it’s a life where you will never be really satisfied, like other vocations. And she said she understands (because she really does), and she let me have her story idea.