Summer of 2003 was not a good one for me: I had lost my first love, caught my first pair of handcuffs, and was just generally blowing it all around. I had been an adult (on paper, at least) for just a handful of months and I had already begun to muck things up pretty badly. In hindsight, however, it may have been one of my better summers out of the ensuing decade. Not to say that this one was good, because it totally fucking wasn’t, but the sad reality is that I was merely getting started with my misadventurous journey, the trend of which would be things growing ever worse (and never better).
I had turned eighteen with little fanfare, from others or myself. The only thing that seemed to change for me when I hit that dull milestone was that I became a little more aware of the fact that I was expected to figure out what I was to do with my life, or at the very least make the appearance of doing so. But I didn’t really want to get a haircut and I wasn’t really qualified for a real job, so I had to pick something that was more aligned with my lifestyle back then.
Basically, something that would complement the odd hours I kept and the bad habits I was into, but also had some semblance of respectability. The obvious choice was to become a writer. It seemed to me that writers were encouraged, perhaps even obligated, to live a reckless existence, and I, all of eighteen whole years, was already way ahead of the curve on this one. Yes, I thought to myself, I will make a fantastic fucking writer.
Which both was and was not the case. Words always came naturally to me, and I am still of the opinion that every ounce of wisdom I had at that time (likely around forty) was something that I aped from Chuck Dickens or Ernie Hemingway or any of the other cats I read religiously. I was a bookish youth and pretty quick on the upswing, so how hard could becoming a writer be, really?
Here’s the bottom line: What the fuck does an eighteen year old have to write about? Think about it: What kind of life experiences are they to draw from in their attempts to lay some real heavy pearls of wisdom on their audience? They don’t fucking have any, man. At least I didn’t. There are exceptions, of course. Artie Rimbaud was a bit beyond his years, for example, but he also had older gay men to show him the ropes*. I didn’t have any older gay men or mentors or other writers around that I could talk about the craft with, so all of my own literary education was autodidactic osmosis: I learned how to write by reading writings by those who knew how to write.
Did you read that right? Good.
Thus, I started out with the typical teenage subject matter: sex relations (or lack thereof), isolation, heartbreak, boozing, society, etc. I was, essentially, laying down kneejerk reactions in rhyme to everything that I didn’t like or thought was unfair, which as it turns out was basically everything. One would think that this would have given me a lot to write about, but it didn’t. I came across like an emo nihilist most of the time, a charming little one trick pony that you’d feed a carrot to once in awhile but wouldn’t dare be seen at the track with, dig?
Most of the poems from that very early period are almost unreadable to me now. Indeed, if I weren’t such a stickler for posterity and a documentarian of artistic development, I would have torched them a long time ago. The following poem is an exception of this early period. I still dig it in spite of all its pockmarked holes, and my best friend and artistic cohort, Morgan Drolet (you should check his brilliant WordPress out too, by the way), has told me that it’s one of his favorite pieces. If nothing else, it signaled a departure from the mostly self-absorbed, internally struggling lines that I was habitually laying down. It also proved prophetic of an obsession (both figuratively and literally) for shoes that would develop some years later and remain unabated to this day.
Shoes are a lot like poems to me. I have a lot of them and I almost never throw them away, even if some of them are hidden in the corner of a closet so I don’t have to see them. Some are really old and still fit fine and look fantastic, while others have aged terribly and make me feel silly for ever having worn them in the first place. My favorite pair changes all the time, and there’s always hopes of that next best pair on the horizon. But the old ones, especially the ones that are totally fucked, will always hold a special place in my heart– and my closet.
*Perhaps not the best choice of words, but you get what I mean.
These shoes have been through
two one night stands,
and too many goodbyes.
Cut up like a Thanksgiving turkey,
covered with holes,
thirteen if you care to count;
One for every streetlight rendezvous
or hurried farewell
when I’ve only begun to say hello.
These shoes are none the better
for the wear.
But then again,
neither am I.
these are the best shoes I’ve ever had:
black fade to purple fade to brown,
soles ground down,
I remember the day I got these shoes.
It was a day in August
A picture postcard southern California day,
a sleeveless T-shirt day.
I was in between girlfriends,
who are more difficult to pick than shoes,
but I didn’t need a new girlfriend,
I needed new shoes.
At the swap meet,
the merchants lounged behind their wares,
looking to make a buck,
peddling sunglasses and lawn chairs and bootleg action figures
assembled by pequeño hands
belonging to pequeño boys.
But there was one solitary shoe vendor:
a balding Hispanic with a hard-earned gut
and a well-deserved toothless grin.
He needed teeth.
I needed shoes.
Four, eight, nine, eleven, three:
everything but twelve,
or even thirteen,
which would suffice;
I was needy.
An inquiry, a checkerboard smile, an affirmation:
my size, my color,
right in front of me.
I never notice the obvious.
Thirty bucks on the tag,
thirty bucks in my pocket.
I contemplated haggling,
but decided against it.
If I knew then,
what I know now,
I could have gotten him down to twenty-five.
I’m sure of it.
two one nights stands,
and too many goodbyes
are worth bargaining for.
But he needed new teeth
and I needed new shoes.