Let's reach back to August 13, 2005, when I was on the first legs of my journey through Alaska, touring with my collection, Ella Bandita and Other Stories.
This road trip was shaping up to be an exercise in humiliation until Joe showed up. For instance, in Homer, at my first open mike, I had right in front of my stage the Christian kiddie contingent. They were there to play cards, talk loud, and make smart-ass speeches after different musicians played just to show how cute they were, while the folks that were actually listening attentively were behind them.
I was lucky though, they got even more obnoxious when the guy after me went up to play his guitar and sing.
At the Land's End in Homer, my first night was the exact same time and date as the post-Memorial service for Drew Scalzi, a former state Representative, so everyone there was going to that. One couple tried to get me to go upstairs, have some food and drink and let people know I was there, but there's just something about going to somebody's funeral, especially someone that I'd never met, to hustle some business that is...distasteful to say the least. The same couple came down and bought a book - probably out of sympathy because nobody showed up that day, and the wife suggested that I should come in the winter, people are looking for things to do during that time.
The next day, a couple of acquaintances and a couple of total strangers showed up. I sold two books and all I could think was that it was a mighty fine thing that I did not pay a dime for that space and that my beginner's luck had run out, and I'm back in the time and space of being a novice...again.
I packed up the brown beast (that is burning oil, but other than that is running beautifully) and headed for Seward.
It seems like every year I decide to do something different that I know nothing about, just so I can be a novice all over again. Perhaps Zen Buddhists would applaud my embrace of Zen mind by constantly being a beginner; but given that I learn by making many many mistakes, the novice/beginner period can be agony.
In Seward, at the Resurrect Art Coffee House, I had set up a tableside storytelling for the sake of promoting my book. The owners are every artist's dream come true as they support the arts and would let me do whatever I wanted - so I set up for three days, hoping positive word of mouth would help.
Day one, told several stories and sold...nothing.
Granted, I'm sure it could have been worse, I could have been insulted on top of it. But to be in a place for four hours and have people nod politely at my efforts is...awful, humiliating.
Why would any sane person put herself through all this?
It didn't help that I had a Homer friend tempting me to go back to Homer, go charter fishing and party. It was so demoralizing, I almost went, but I made a commitment and as much as it hurt, that commitment must be kept. I gritted my teeth to bear it on Thursday, where at least the day would be mercifully short.
Told two stories to four people...sold two books. I perked up a bit. I've survived painful learning curves before and it was always better. I even sold two more books to a waitress and one of her followers at the bar where I refreshed myself with a beer after hiking.
And then came deliverance...
Friday brought the arrival of Joe, who has absolutely no boundaries, and therefore, no inhibitions. A born balls-to-the-wall salesman type. For those who know Joe: after fishing in Bristol Bay, his dreads got inflected with fish bits and he said every morning when he woke up his head smelled like fish and he couldn't take it anymore, so he shaved them off, along with his beard - and damn! – now he looks like a respectable young man.
He listened to a couple of stories, and even stopped being a smart-ass half way through the first one. A Colorado woman who calls herself "Soozie Creamcheese," bought a book, and the two over-friendly studs I'd met at the youth hostel bought none. And Joe took it upon himself to take a few books and go to the bars. He took four and within 45 minutes, came back with forty bucks and left with ten more books. By the time people were only caring about getting drunk, he sold seven. While I stayed put, told more stories, and sold two more.
I'm busting my butt telling stories and recommending myself to strangers and this is Joe's sales pitch: "Dude, you should really buy this book...." usually to a female.
And it works.
I just might have to pack up Joe in my luggage...
Thank God for good friends.