When I’m at the bar with a pen in one hand and a drink in the other, the plan is to put words on paper as fast as I can. I know from years of experience that my senses are only going to stay sharp for so long.
If I stick to beer and pace myself, I can easily last for a couple of hours. If I’m drinking whiskey, my clarity window is much shorter. If I’m foolish enough to start doing shots, I might as well put away my spiral notebook and watch sports with the rest of the dullards.
For the last few years, I’ve been sharing the fruits of my labor with the entire world, or at least with the 30 or so people around the globe who actually read my blog. I try to clean up the prose to some extent though I’ve found that proofing my own work is close to impossible. Fortunately, I have a few helpful friends who alert me to my more egregious typos.
The masochists among you who read my blog and keep coming back already know what to expect. For the rest of you, Poison Spur is a mishmash of mini essays, short stories, random musings, and extremely bad poetry. The latter, I’m happy to say, is in mercifully short supply. My aspirations to write any but intentionally silly verse fizzed a long time ago.
I didn’t always write in bars. Back when I first took up scribbling in notebooks on a regular basis, I couldn’t afford to. I was fresh out of college and working a dead-end retail job so I wrote in cafes. The house coffee and cigarettes (I smoked back then, a lot) were both cheap, which allowed me to hang out and fill the pages of a notebook for next to nothing. I felt so bohemian back in the mid to late 80s and even sported a beret on a couple of occasions. Fortunately, there are no photographs of me looking that retarded.
I eventually moved up to the Bay Area and got a better job, but still did most of my writing in cafes. It wasn’t until late 1993 that this changed. I had relocated to Amsterdam in the hopes of living the dream of the American expatriate. It was going be just like Paris in the 1930s, but with the bonus of bering surrounded by six-foot blonde women.
I didn’t really know anyone there except for the others at the hostel with whom I’d go out and get trashed with on a fairly regular basis. The rest of the time, it could get a little boring when I would go out on my own for a beer. I couldn’t amuse myself by eavesdropping because the conversations were in Dutch and I could only understand the odd word here and there. I suppose I could have restricted myself to the more touristed areas, but that had all the appeal of being an expat at Epcot in Walt Disney World.
To combat the boredom, I wrote. Lacking the talent and determination of say, Henry Miller, most of what I churned out was pretty forgettable and I’m not too upset that most of the notebooks from that era have been lost in the intervening years. I do remember one passage I wrote after stopping by the American consulate that day for no particular reason. The embassies are all down in the Hague, but there are a bunch of consulates for A-list countries along the sides of a plaza behind the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Although the Cold War had recently ended, I imagined two shadowy figures exchanging code words before engaging in some act of espionage.
“My dick is cold,” said one.
“Yes,” said the other. “But my ass is warm. Let’s go somewhere and talk about it.”
OK, I admit it. John Le Carre I ain’t.
For the most part, I wrote about the stuff going on in my head. Considering I had plenty of time to just hang out and think, there was never any shortage of material.
Starting a new life in Europe failed to materialize and I found myself stateside again within six months. Out of recent habit however, I continued taking a notebook with me whenever I would go out for a drink. That practice has continued until today.
It’s been my experience that bartenders really don’t care if I sit there scribbling away as long as I continue to buy drinks and tip a reasonable amount. The same can usually be said for other bar patrons. Usually. One notable exception occurred at a bar in SF’s Noe Valley neighborhood back in 1994 or 1995. I was probably drinking a Red Hook (my preferred poison at the time) and smoking a cigarette (my other preferred poison, then allowable in bars) while writing away. One of the regulars did not approve and came over to tell me what’s what.
“You think you’re going to be a famous writer, just like…” and then he stopped and I could see his mind racing. Comparing me unfavorably to a famous writer required that he name one off the top of his head, not easy for someone who probably hadn’t cracked a book since high school.
“Just like Aaron Fucking Spelling,” he concluded.
There are some forms of stupidity so formidable and monolithic that there is no choice but to stand down. I closed my notebook and did not write another word for the duration of the evening. He had won.
And looking back, he was right as much as I hate to admit it. I doubt I’ll ever be famous. Many try, but few succeed and I don’t try very hard. That said, I have no intention of giving up. There’s a satisfaction in writing that the Noe Valley cement heads of the world will never understand. It’s taking the fleeting ideas and daydreams that float around in your head and turning them into something lasting. It takes a lot of work no matter how talented you are because you want the words to be as good as they can be. Sometimes the effort pays off and you’ve created something you can be proud of. You’re not just some wannabe. No one may ever want to publish it, let alone pay you, but that doesn’t matter. You’re a writer. Just like you’ve wanted to be since you were a kid. Just like every soul courageous enough to bare his or her heart upon the printed page for all the world to see.
Just like Aaron Fucking Spelling.