My new Starship Records salary meant that I grossed my monthly rent in a single week. Jody and I had money in our pockets for the first time, a little breathing room. But if there’s on immutable law of finance it’s this: money abhors a vacuum.
SCAD’s financial aid adviser called to tell me that I was ineligible for any loans or grants based on my new annual salary. “But my salary is exactly the same as a year’s tuition,” I said.
“That’s right, so you don’t qualify for aid.”
“But there’s more to consider than just tuition: supplies, books, rent, food, clothes….”
“You make too much money, I’m sorry,” she said.
“So I give you every single dime I make for tuition, and then how do I eat?”
“That’s a problem,” she said. “Maybe you can talk to your parents.”
Jody’s and my little nest in the Victorian attic was under assault, too. The owners had been pocketing all of the rent money over the last year, and their lender wasn’t having any more of it. The landlady told us that we could stay while the bank tried to sell their newly repossessed property, but there was no guarantee that the new owners wouldn’t evict us. One by one our housemates split and we were left alone in an empty house with a broken front door. Occasionally we could hear strangers rummaging through the empty apartments beneath us, looking for something to steal.
Jody found us a new place: hardwood floors, thirteen foot ceilings, a bay window overlooking Forsyth Park. Our new apartment was beautiful, but the rent was 50% higher. Between my lack of financial aid and our new place, we were back in the hole.
Our new landlord, Charlie, offered to help me move all of our crap. He surveyed the stack of boxes, the kitchen table, dresser, and shelves. “This won’t be too bad,” he said, and then he pointed to our couch. “Does that pull out?”
“That’s going to be a pain in the ass getting down those stairs. You sure you want to take it? It’s pretty ratty.”
“I’d feel guilty just leaving it,” I said.
“Let’s just throw it out the window,” Charlie said, so we opened the attic’s big dormer window and shoved the couch to its death. The beast hit the sidewalk with a satisfying crack. We shoved its entrails into the alley and headed over to the new place.
“So what do you do?” Charlie asked.
“I’m an art student and I manage a record store.”
Charlie laughed. “Every artist has a hyphen. I’m a property manager-writer.”
“Yeah? You having any luck?” I asked.
“I have a producer interested in staging my play off-Broadway.”
“That’s so cool. I’d love to be a writer.”
“So why aren’t you?” Charlie said.
“I’m an artist.”
“So that’s my thing.”
Charlie parked his truck in front of my new apartment and cut off the engine. “You can do both. Write if you want to write.”
“I don’t know. It seems like the world only lets you have one thing,” I said.
“Miles Davis: musician-painter; Martin Mull: actor-painter; Sam Shepard: actor-writer. Stop me any time.”
“I guess,” I said.
“The world needs more writers,” Charlie said. “Do it. I’ll read your pages if you want me to.”
And so I set out out on my first sustained attempt at shoe gazing and typing. Charlie wrote a play so I would, too. I took to wandering around Savannah’s historic district during my free time, disappearing into my barely adult mind, trying to find something meaningful to write about. I picked up a Vera Lynn 78 at an old junk shop and watched the tourists swoon along River Street. I visited the antiquarian bookseller and dreamed of rare editions I couldn’t afford. I drank.
My favorite spot was a little bar on River Street named Savannah Blues. They attracted a lot of artists from the Rounder and Alligator labels, so I’d sit and listen to journeymen while I drank tequila shots and Budweiser because they were the only things I knew how to order. Sometimes the artists were more fucked up than the audience, like the time Lazy Lester stopped in the middle of his set to announce, “I came here. From all the way over there. And when I’m done here. I’m gonna go back over there.”
But more often the crowd (including me) represented the drunk in the room. Roy Bookbinder played a brilliant set of fingerstyle blues, then took a little break. I stumbled up next to him at the bar and said, “Great set, Roy. How long you been playing?”
“Oh, since 9:00 or so,” he said, and then he wiggled his glasses like a vaudevillian.
“You’re funny! That’s funny! I’m going to buy you a drink!”
“No, thanks. You don’t need to do that.”
“No, no. I’m going to buy you a drink. Bartender….”:
Roy turned his back to me. “Go sit down,” the bartender said to me.
I carried a notebook everywhere, trying to make it happen. I tried to fictionalize Lee G.’s and my summer nights hanging out on the skeleton of the old trestle bridge. I moved us to the fair, that magical mix of hustlers and convicts manning rides that were one loose nut from disaster. At the typewriter I struggled to write a love story based on Sherri, the only relationship in my rear view mirror.
Charlie looked at my pages and said, “I see what you are trying to do. All of this is based on you, isn’t it.”
“You must be a Bukowski fan.”
“I don’t know who that is,” I said.
“Barfly. Did you see that movie? You’re trying too hard to write. Check out Bukowski, you’ll see what I mean.”
Goddamn, was Charlie right. Buk just laid it out there, no bullshit; well, a lot of bullshit, actually, but not in his lines. They were clean and straight with simple word choices, and fearless. Bukowski may have recreated himself as the semi-fictitious Chinaski, but he kept the failure and the vomit and the shit stains. That much honesty on a page embarrassed me. I didn’t know why the hell I thought I might be a writer. I shoved the pages into my dresser drawer.
A week or so later I arrived home to Jody and a stack of paper. “You want to tell me something?” she said.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“I don’t know,” Jody repeated.
“What are you upset about?”
“What do you think I’m upset about?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“I don’t know,” Jody repeated. We stared at each other. She patted the stack of paper. “Do you want to explain this?”
“I tried to write a play,” I said.
“You know what I mean.”
“I really don’t.”
“You still love her.”
“It’s just a play,” I said.
“Fuck you. Fuck you til you bleed,” she said, and she swatted the stack of typing paper. Pages flew around the kitchen like leaves blowing in a strong wind.
“It’s just a play,” I repeated, but it was too late. The door slammed closed behind her, and I was alone: a shitty writer in an apartment that I couldn’t afford.