Before I tell you about what happened—or rather didn’t happen—this weekend, early last week Make Literary Magazine published a piece I wrote about spending time at Jinx Coffee in the late ’90s. I’ve logged a lot of time at a lot of coffee shops but that one was probably the one that mattered most.
Also: This coming Friday will be the last day for Hard Boiled Coffee. I worked there for a year and drew over a hundred coffee bags. Gregg Wilson was probably the best boss I ever had. He plans to keep roasting his coffee but the shop is history. I’m hoping he can keep it going and add new blends like the one I did an illustration for above. Drop him a line and order some! Now to last weekend: I’d been asked to be part of the Book Fort at Pitchfork Music Festival. The plan was for me to sketch at all the readings and to have my own table to sell books, prints, whatever other crap I could haul, and to offer portraits on site. The Thursday night launch party went pretty well. I managed sketches of all eight readers.
The next morning I packed up all my stuff and took two buses to get to Union Square Park. It was around 90 degrees by the time I got there around 1pm. I had directions to get to the vendors’ entrance and walked half the perimeter of the park to get to it. It turned out this was the VIP entrance and I’d have to go all the way back around. Not a promising start.
Inside the grounds of the festival I made my way to the Book Fort tent. By now I was red-faced and freely pouring sweat. The sun has never been my friend. I sweat at the drop of a hat and summers have been a trial to me my whole life. I set up my stuff while drinking bottled water after bottled water and wiping the sweat away with the towel I had the foresight to bring along. At the other tables friends and acquaintances from small presses were doing the same thing. Everyone wondering aloud whether we’d survive the heat, whether this was worth it.
Eventually the festival opened and a few concert-goers began to wander through the tent. Most were just killing time while waiting in the long line for free t-shirts some business was silkscreening on-site. My mood kept darkening as the minutes crawled by. I’ve never had much use for outdoor festivals and watching the revelers wander about only made me think bad thoughts about them and about myself.
One of the things you have to do if you wanna get by on artwork is sell it at places where people are. Craft fairs, outdoor markets, and the like are good places to make some money if the public likes what you’ve got to sell. I’d done well at a couple of these while gritting my teeth through the constant smiling and good cheer required to get through them. Unfortunately this day things weren’t going well so I couldn’t pretend to be having a good time. In the 3 hours or so that I lasted I maybe talked to 3 people about my work and didn’t sell a single thing. When a late arriving vendor arrived to share my table I took it as a cue to leave.
By that point I wasn’t even acknowledging the wandering browsers but just staring off into the distance. I feel badly for letting the folks who invited me to be part of their event down by leaving but know that I would’ve been a useless burden had I hung around. I realize that pulling a stunt like this will make it less likely that I am invited to be part of other such events in the future but have to acknowledge and accept when a situation becomes untenable. Life always reminds us of our limitations and I have to stop putting myself in situations where I’m bound to fail. This is the second time this summer I’ve bailed out on a public event. I should take it as a sign to stop doing them or be a lot more selective.
As soon as I packed up and left I felt the bad feelings start to ebb. I felt like a flake and a failure but that life would go on eventually. The further I walked from the fairgrounds the easier it got to breathe and the more relieved I was.
Volume 1 Brooklyn invited me to be part of their Saturday reading. The theme was book tour stories. I have no blog anymore and didn’t go to the reading but thought I’d share what I wrote with you (this is an expanded and rewritten section of the book tour diary I wrote for them last year):
Book Tour Stop in LA
Last fall I turned 44, published my 2nd book, and went on my 1st—and likely last—book tour. On a Friday in October that tour took me to Los Angeles.
I fly into LAX in the morning and wait at the Alamo rent-a-car complex for Brian and Susan to show. They’re two of the other Curbside Splendor writers on this leg of the tour. We’re going in on a car for the drive north to San Francisco and Portland. After the agent takes down my info so I can officially be one of the drivers, Susan and Brian go out to get the car while I wait for my brother Max to swing by to pick me up. I stand outside in the parking lot as a parade of Ubers drops off passengers. Both the books I’ve written are about my time as a cabdriver and with each successive unmarked sedan I see passing through, the industry I was part of for 12 years recedes incrementally into the past. A few feet away a couple taxis sit idling. Will they go the way of the payphone? It sure looks like it from here.
Max takes me to a gourmet burger joint in back of a liquor store near his Redondo Beach apartment. We sit at a picnic table in back of the store parking lot and eat what amounts to a whole Korean meal wedged between a bun and a beef patty. Then, after showing off the nearby views of the Pacific, he drops me downtown at the Last Bookstore. It’s an old former bank and I kill a little time wandering around inside. Upstairs, bankers’ offices have been converted into artisans’ stalls. There’s a tunnel made of glued together old books and the bank vault’s filled with sci-fi paperbacks.
I have drinks with my ex-wife, Deborah, who lives around the corner. We’ve been divorced for over 10 years and it’s a relief to finally have a friendly conversation without any lingering resentment or regret over what happened between us.
We head over to the bookstore. The staff seems only dimly aware that there’s any sort of event going on within the hour, but eventually chairs are set up and a few people filter in. Several of my current girlfriend’s friends who now live in the area show up. Also my very first serious girlfriend, Eva, and her husband. We were together 25 years ago when I was a art school freshman and she was a high school senior.
I get through my reading, do sketches of Brian, Susan, and Erika reading, then sign a few books from the varied representatives of my past lives who formed much of our modest audience.
Piling into the behemoth Ford SUV we rented, we drop Erika off, then Susan and I head to my brother’s place where we’ll be crashing. She takes the armchair while I take the couch. We agree to get on the road by 5am so we can make it to Marin County for tomorrow afternoon’s reading. After tossing and turning for awhile I wake for good around 2:30am. I take a shower, grab my book, and tiptoe out of the darkened apartment. There’s a McDonald’s a block away, so I take the hulking Ford through the drive-thru, then spend the next hour reading parked in front of Max’s place. Around 4am I try the front door of the apartment and find it has locked behind me. I text and call Susan several times to let me in but there’s no answer. Finally, after texting Max for the door code, I get back in. We pick up Erika and Brian and are en route to Marin before 6am.
Despite sleeping maybe 2 hours I drive the entire way. As the only former cabdriver along for the ride everyone just assumes it’s the natural order of things.
We arrive at the rich people’s mall where the bookstore is with about half an hour to spare. We read to 3 older ladies who just happened to be browsing in the store. One of them leaves halfway through because there are too many curse words for her taste.
We drive back south to San Francisco for another reading that night. There will be a few more people in the audience. A few even there intentionally to hear us read. The giant SUV will come in handy when the friend Brian is supposed to spend the night with refuses to answer his phone due to some sort of anxiety freakout and Brian has to sleep in the car on the streets of San Francisco.
But that’s a story for another time.