Since I began self-publishing, my primary marketing effort, which doubles, in my mind as a public art performance, consists of sitting in a café each morning with my wares beside a sign, personally drawn and lettered by S. Clay Wilson of the Checkered Demon commanding “Buy Bob’s Books!”
Some weeks, I sell one or two. Others, I get stories I would not, unless I sat there. Public art usually raises thoughts and feelings in its audience, but, in my case, the experience is more apt to be mine, with no one else aware of significance occurring
U, a novelist, who relishes bitter tales that mirror his life within the trade, rushed in as I was packing up.
He had hoped to catch me, he said, because he still had not bought The Schiz. Only, while he had caught me, he could not buy it because he had not brought cash. Why he had not brought cash if he had hoped to buy my book, it did not occur to me to ask. “And,” he went on, “you don’t take credit cards.”
“I do take credit cards,” I said.
This did not lead to my seeing his.
Instead we settled into a conversation involving his gastro-intestinal system and my cardio-vascular one. Then to raise his spirits I repeated a story I had heard a few days before from another writer burned caustic by the game. It seems a college professor of his, a nationally acclaimed novelist, whose first three books, a half-century ago, we had rushed to read, but who had fallen so far from my awareness I had not believed him alive (In fact, I needed to confirm this with Google) continued to write and publish, but only through a house that appeared to exist only for that purpose.
Thus refreshed, we engaged the remainder of our day.
A second morning, exiting a second café, I stopped at a supermarket seeking a half-pound of king salmon, three organic bananas, and two non-fat yogurts. I was sampling the free macaroni salad, choosing it over the potato, when I clicked eyes with the fellow across the bowl. Glasses, grey-white beard and pony tail.
T had run a Chicago Legal Aid office in the since-dynamited Robert Taylor Homes, domain of the Cobra Stones, when I had been a VISTA-lawyer, working with other street gangs on the South Side.
He said he had come to the café a half-dozen times, so he could buy my book.
I said he should tell me when he would be coming, and I would meet him. Now, though, all copies were in my car’s trunk.
He received this suggestion with equanimity, though it was one I had made before.
“But here, I have had the pleasure of your company,” he said, “plus macaroni salad.”
The Lord, I did not say, works in mysterious ways.
Instead I noted that the young men killing each other in Chicago today were probably the grandchildren of the young men killing each other when we had labored there.
“Or their great grandchildren,” he said.
The third morning, back in the first café, my display attracted a stranger, S. Glasses, grey-white beard and pony tail. (This is not poor, repetitious characterization on my part. This is Berkeley, and I am with glasses, grey-white beard and might be pony-tailed, if I was not bald.)
He examined Cheesesteak.
“Good title,” he said.
But he was more interested in telling me how, in the 1970s, UC, Lawrence Lab, and crooked judges had stolen from him an invention that would have made him half-a-million dollars.
This was a harrowing story and, quite likely, full of truth. But I found myself thinking only, Gee, if he had received his half-million, he might buy my book.
A magnet draws iron particles.
Focus defines us.