Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Chapter 24 - Ft. Meyers Blues

It’s hard to look straight into the light of the facts. Hurts.

The show in Bonita Springs was a bust. It is painful to watch a man hustle the shlubs out of thousands and thousands with jewelry made in China. They of course believe he has made it himself. This I watched with mounting anger as our booth remained empty. The shlubs next to us selling the wooden roses also did well.

I have to believe that most people who come to a craft show believe this stuff is made by the vendors. J says no. They don’t care. They let themselves believe it is made by the vendor but if they were told, “This necklace was assembled by a prisoner in China” -- they would probably shrug and buy it anyway.

The wooden roses people and us did not hit it off from the start when, popping our chewed up EZ-Up the younger shlub daughter stood back and mouthed “Oh my God!” while J watched her. J told me about it and I looked over and said, “You mean that shlubby girl with the buy/sell?” loud, so that she would hear me. After that I leveled as many insults as possible in their direction and put up a partition so we wouldn’t have to look at them. At one point I heard someone say, “You make them yourselves right?” Shlub answer: "No. They are made in Oklahoma City."
“I see,” said the person making a hasty exit and passing our booth without a glance.

The crowd was an especially stupid one, even for Florida. Dull, Midwestern, A lot of Michigan plates, Ohio. The only people who bought from us at all were Canadian and thanks to them we made a little over our booth $150 after two days of this awfulness.

Now it’s the wait game for a few days, waiting to see if we can get into what we have been told is a decent show -- Artwalk at Baywalk -- at the last minute… It is run by TNT promotions and I assume they let all the same buy/sell assholes in at theirs too so expectations are not too high.

Florida has put the dagger in our spirits, especially this particularly nasty and crude section around Ft. Meyers. Sitting here at the Stare-bucks on College. Morning, cool and clear. It would be alright but J is sick with the same stomach flu I had a few days ago. I almost went to the hospital thinking my appendix was on the verge of popping, fever and everything and then finally it broke and all the poison in me leaked out. Fucking awful being sick and living in a van. Especially in this area where people gawk at us.

Yesterday I read an interesting article in the Ft. Meyers rag, News Times I believe it's called, about the mushrooming homeless problem in the Ft. Meyers beach community. Apparently there is a little mission that provides them showers and hot food and the community is up in arms about it. A police officer was quoted as saying, "They know our guys by face and we know them by face." One of the homeless was interviewed and he told the paper people were migrating to the area because downtown Ft. Meyers was "downright dangerous". This the paper attributed in large part to "restless youths". I smiled at the choice of words. Wouldn't want to offend any of the parents of these wayward young people. Probably very upstanding people in the community. It all trickles down from the top...

J suggested that this climate of meanness might be a more national one than I am allowing and perhaps she is right. Still, there are always little sparks of promise from the very young. Toward the end of the two day show in Bonita Springs a little girl scrutinized our stuff with her mother in tow. Looking from the Coke can earrings to the bolts to the roof flashing necklace and saying, "Mom, I think that much of this stuff is made with recycled materials. We should buy something." Mom bought something and put a smile on all our faces.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Chapter 23 - Climbing Out of a Sump

I watched as he pulled book after book out of his white bag, then a cigar, a newspaper, a pack of cigarettes and more books. They were wonderful things with titles like "The History of Myth". I had to force myself not to introduce myself and say that I liked to read too. It seems such an odd thing that this should be such a distinguishing trait, a remarkable feature, a thing of such rarity that I heard two younger guys in Wal*Mart the other day talking about a girl they knew as being "a reader". This was not said with a great deal of awe or much respect. In fact it could even have been a cut coming from the two in question, though a dumb one indeed, but it might have reached vernacular street level at this point, used to label those alien types who sit for hours on end, quietly absorbed in something without a mute button. Just being sick these last couple days made me realize the woefulness of our plight, the strangeness, just how much we stand out...Doubled up in the back of the van last evening with the awful abdominal pain I watched as people would look into the van and see the dogs, sleeping comfortably, fur moving from the air conditioning sneer or shake their heads and then one of them, a vacuous blonde, peeked closer and said, "We should do something. They look like they might be dying..." I had reached bullshit critical mass so I reached out and smacked the back untinted window (one side of our van is tinted but we never got to the other) and she reared back in horror when she caught my eye glaring at her...
And J had reached her critical mass last night walking back to the van from Wal*Mart where she went to get some dog food. A Puerto Rican youth, she said, was very dramatically looking our van up and down, shaking his head, laughing, etc. So she did the same to the kid saying, "At least I can change what looks dumb about me."

"Fuck you bitch," she said he said which was really like saying, "You're right cause this is the only thing I can think of to say."

We do these things when all sense might say to let it go out of a basic desire to preserve some of our dignity. So I do believe it is time we get a place somewhere, just to get out of the public eye for awhile. The believe anything you tell it fucking stupid public eye. The same public eye that watches as my dog Hank get's into it at the dog park with some wierd jackal/pit bull looking dog creature after the other comes snarling up to fuck with him. Hank backs him off with his Dog of Chuckie routine then goes back to drinking his water. "Is your dog fixed," asks the female monster truck aficianado.
"No," I say. "He was never broken."
"No. He's hasn't been fixed."
"That's why. Mine is and he always messes with dogs that ain't."
"I thought getting them fixed was supposed to make them less aggressive."
"It does, but they gotta be around other dogs who are fixed..."
Oh I say like that has explained it all perfectly and walked past her to the back of the dog area, away from the eyes of the other dog parkers at the picnic table...

So when, a little bit ago, here at a table in the Flying J restaurant, I saw the man in his fifties with a spoof worker I.D. badge that says: Mr. Personality. A leather top-hat and all those books I felt a little better about being who we are. He is obviously not concerned in the slightest what people make of him and he is making his time here on earth as fulfilling as possible.

J wakes me up from these misanthropic reveries by mimicing the lyric "The moment I wake up, before I put on my make-up," from the song blaring from the overhead speakers --- adding that it is her most hated lyric in pop musicdom...

She cuts me little bits of meat that I sneak from her plate, unable to even think of getting my money's worth for the buffet. I am beginning to feel better. At least not throwing up anymore and bowels not wracking me. Health is such a wondrous thing and it is sad to think of people in an endless loop of pain. I fing it very telling to read the critics of suicides, usually saying they take the coward's way (H.S.T dances to mind), for in so saying they are saying they could handle whatever pain he was handling, that they are stronger, more courageous, on a higher moral ballfield.

Which reminds me of a dream I had of Thompson last night, actually it was a cartoon rendering of the gonzo icon holding up the American flag...

Friday, February 17, 2006

Chapter 22 - Cape Coral Cuts

The next day, Thursday we did even worse than the first. It was awful and anger burned in me for the promoter Rhonda who uses only little bitty signs as advertisement and charges those high fees. I was fooled by her and no self respecting artist or crafter will do her shows indiscriminately anymore because now all she attracts is buy/sell. I think discerning show goers know this by now too.

At the end of the show though I talked with a gentle, somewhat frail looking man who was selling things he made with his own hands, beautiful little things that looked like a symmetrical bunches of circular wire, slinky's, at first glance but with a little manipulation turned into coasters, bracelets, candle holders...He mentioned a few unscrupulous promoters up New York way to watch out for and then told us of a show he had just minutes before gotten into in Naples. Only 150. We called and the woman told us there was a one day spot left so after the Flamingo Flea market today (where we actually did as well in one day as two days at Coral-$130) we headed over to have a look. We did a walk through and saw all the same type of things you see at a low end craft show but we are going to do it anyway.

It at least turns out that the promoter for this advertises on the radio and newspapers. We'll see. If we make our money back and a little more it will be okay. Worth taking a risk for that one special person who buys three or four hundred worth.

Highlights- *I nearly trapped a granny in the EZ-Up booth as she was passing under unbeknowst to me while I was dropping it. Last year I tripped an old woman in Home Depot and accidentally bumped a woman in a wheelchair on an incline without her brakes on. I caught her just before she toppled over. You really have to tread lightly when you're down here. Especially if you're me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Chapter 21 - 100% Handmade Bullshit

Florida crafting is a hard go, especially if what you do is indeed made by your own hands and not the hands of a hungry child or factory slave. At the show today at least 50% of the vendors buy their stuff wholesale and sell it as if they made it. They lie outright and their deception causes mistrust in people who have believed that what they are getting is not mass produced. I listened with mounting anger as a shlub vendor across from us went on about how she invented her "hair fancies", little curly colored pipe cleaner things that hold pieces of hair. I saw another woman on Pier 60 in Clearwater with the exact same thing. Well, she wasn't directly across from us, she was kitty corner. Right across from us was a Mayan or Mexican playing renditions of "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You", "Feelings" and the ubiquitous (at these sorts of shows) "I'd Rather Be a Hammer than a Nail" on the pan flute. We definitely felt like the nail at this show and the pan flute, if not quite the hammer, was certainly the countersink tool.

Right next to us was a woman selling table cloths from France and wooden roses. Pretty enough but they were exactly the same things the woman sold next to us at a small farmer's market in Phoenix Arizona a few months ago. And this craft show touts itself as featuring only things that are handmade by the crafter. Of course if Rhonda enforced this she wouldn't have enough vendors to do as many shows as she does so she looks the other way a lot. And I hold nothing against her for this. She always sees to it that we have a good spot and today I saw her give me a look of anxious hope that we do well. She is an old pro, having started as a crafter and she knows where our stuff will do well.

Naturally it went badly today. 80 bucks. A nice day. A first rate booth spot. A decent crowd. But all shlubs, mouths full of hot dog and kettle corn and gyros meat, heads as dull as TV. And a lot of TV must be consumed by the over fifty crowd, actually it could even be considered as the official "pasture" that they have been put out to after a life of mindless routine. But one has to wonder if some of these vacationing midwesterners aren't glued a little too tightly to the old pasture. I watched as two women in their late 60's scanned our booth briefly, muttering "That sure is diffarent" as they shambled past. There was a loud crash a few booths down. Somebodies display had tipped over and they hurried over to it, craning their heads for a better look and shoving handfulls of kettle corn in their mouths

To be sure some of these people come to these shows just for the action. It's hard to believe it's only a few miles from the Bell Tower show where we did over 1,500 in two days. At least the weather is nice and we are getting a lot of stuff made. The rust pendants looking good, more bolt jewelry, a long copper chain necklace that I pieced together link by link after winding wire around a long bolt and cutting them off the coil one link at a time. A form of prayer that the rosary may have it's roots in.

* J created a scenario worthy of Spinal Tap where a few angry crafters get together to complain to the promoter that the Mexican guy is "flute synching" his music.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Chapter 20 - Flea Bitten Again

Another bad day at the Flamingo Island, Bonita Springs Flea Market. We had such hopes for this one. Fri. Sat. Sun. Having heard such magnificent things about it from other vendors at Fleamasters but it is just a shlub show. Still managed to make 40 bucks, one twenty dollar purchase of a chip crusted hostess set going to another vendor. And they are mostly very nice people, if a little odd at times. Top highlights of the day to report:* A woman came frantically at me asking just as frantically if I knew where the bio-freeze person was. I said I did not. Thought she was just crazy and thought she was dying and thought somebody at the flea could cryonically freeze her body. Why not, they do just about everything else at these things. Later I passed a small aisle space like mine that advertized as such, some kind of pain cream.

Another vendor, a woman in her fifties, once a cupcake, now with enhanced frosting going, came down to M's booth next to me and said she had taken naked pictures of herself and she was going to show them to T, the vendor at the end.

We are going to try to gear up for the Wednesday show in Cape Coral and then maybe get a place in Jacksonville and try Ruby Lane, an online jewelry store. If it is a phenomenal show we will stay on the road doing them. This is extremely hard on us both though and it is nearly impossible to get any real work done. Today J got us lined up for some big, good, top twenty art shows though, so coming up with the fees will be the main problem since jurying in shouldn't be that hard, as whacked out as some of our stuff is. They will jury you in if your stuff is very different from the pack and looks appealing. It has to look like it won't sell, as J said recently. I can do that quite successfully, although even my most out there stuff sold at Bell Tower. The thing I really want to do, for Cape Coral, is take cement mix and mix that with some of the white beach sand around here and dye it different colors, break it up and use it for beads and belts. Nobody doing that as far as I know.

Still no word from the editor of New Times. He probably read my email and hit the delete button by the second snort. None of these "alternative" newspapers ever really take a chance, although they think they do. Just following a well worn format. Don't offend the advertisors for fuck's sakes!! I suppose they are just worrying about their jobs, in this time of open season on any journalist with a half a sack.
Although I thought maybe, since I read some pretty gutsy reporting by one of the reporters in said pub.

Gotta go make jewelry.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Chapter 19 - Our First Ever "Good" Show!

Since our T-mobile email account got shut off due to lack of payment this blog had to go on simmer...

In the Wal*Mart I put the hat on. As a whim at first, to make her laugh, hopefully, cheer her up, but then I looked in the little mirror and found it not only fit better than any hat I had ever had on my head, it actually looked good on me.

It was a straw cowboy hat, stained dark caramel. I wasn't fond of the Panama Jack logo on the front band but I knew I could with a little wire work handle that...So I walked, sauntered, actually more ambled through the Wal*Mart aisles, ripping the tags off the back as I went and immediately noticed an improvement in how I was viewed and recieved by the shoppers. People politely moved aside, said excuse me, even smiled. I was suddenly transformed into a trustable, congenial, respectable person. Goodness and frank hard-won wisdom in my head and heart. A cowboy heart that everybody can relate to. Very few people in fact have had a bad experience with cowboys. True, most of them are movie experiences but Hollywood is such a part of our emotional and psychic landscape now that it is experience nonetheless.

I didn't know for sure what it was but there was a difference and then I saw J at the end of an aisle looking for the Wal brand stew that the dogs love so I walked toward her, saw her look toward me and register something then go back to looking at products. When I got up close I looked over her shoulder and she moved away and I moved closer until she finally looked up at me and instead of laughing said I looked really good in the hat. Later she told me that she got a good feeling from the cowboy heading toward her up the aisle and was happy that it was her husband.

I bought the hat and it seemed to be a charm of good fortune. That night (Wednesday) we went to the Bell Tower shops on Tamiami trail in Fort Meyers and I waited with J to pay Rhonda and get our booth assignment. We arrived early but she was already beset with artists and crafters and she with clipboard in hand was handling them with the efficiency and aplomb that always made me like her last winter when our product was handmade soap, even when we had a bad show. In line with the rest was R, our old friend from Colorado who does amazing artistic sculptures with silverware. He got his assignment and we said hello and J and he went to catch up on things while I waited nervously. After all the people who had juried in months before were assigned their booth spots Rhonda dealt with the late stragglers who were paying cash and taking whatever space we could get. Turned out good for us though since she had an odd space where no EZ-UP 10X10 could fit, right in from of Chico's, a clothier favored by many upper middle class women. I took great care to set the bricks and boards in a less uniform, more artistic way, staggering and going up in unusual tiers. I took them down once when I wasn't sure did it all over again. All the other crafter tents were set up and I was one of the last out of the place.

The show fee was $275 and I had to pawn a guitar to do it but when noon the next day rolled around we had made it back. It turned out to be a wonderful show, for us, but not for many others. We couldn't attribute it to any one thing. I thought maybe the rusted wheelbarrow that I found two days prior, out in a swamp while walking the dogs, might have made the difference. It was so rusty it fell apart in my hands and I brought some big hunks of it to the car. J was in tears about our situation, my insanity and how little product she thought we had. I handed her a tiny piece of the rusty wheelbarrow, with little flecks of blue and ochre and yellow in it. Look how beautiful, I said. She turned it over in her sore hands.

"That's right honey, we're dying of hunger, we don't have nearly enough product to do a show and you find rusty pieces of metal." She began to cry again.

I put the piece of metal away and later, in the Wal*Mart parking lot I laquered it with her nail polish. She looked at it again. "Let me see that. Holy shit, it is beautiful." A half hour later she had set it in a complicated and wondrous copper wrap. We did a few more and the day of the show they were a huge hit. Along with my nut rings and nut and bolt bracelets and everything else in our booth. We made over 600 the first day and over 850 the second.

During the show R had come over from he and A's twisted silverware booth and I excitedly told him that I had found the answer. I showed him a piece of the mashed up rusty wheelbarrow.

"What...rust?" he said in his deadpan manner.

Yes, ahhh rust. Beautiful corrosion, sweet, wonderful rust.

But we agreed that it wasn't just the rust. It was part display, part that our jewelry is so different that people were buying it just because they had seen the other stuff so much.

And, we both agreed, it was part, a good part, the hat. It eased people up and they lingered at our booth. The congenial, simple honest cowboy, making art out of rust and bolts. How much more American can you get than that?

And while today we only made 25 bucks at the Flamingo Flea in Bonita Springs that we had heard such wonderful things about, we are paid up mostly in our bills, and we are amping up for another CE Rhonda event this Wednesday. Our dogs are eating again, getting lots of beach running and life is momentarily sweet. For the record this is our best show after over a year and a half doing them. One time in the West Village doing soap we made a grand during a one dayer and this was before noon and then it stormed so the show died. But now for the first time we know what crafters mean by a "good day". Not phenomenal or even great. In the heyday a few years ago a "good" day would have been 1000 or more per.

A cool breezy night outside Starbucks in Bonita Springs. Dogs at my feet. A coffee on the table. And I didn't even have to fish out an old cup to get the 50 cent refill.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Chapter 18 - In A Hurry

No time to write this. The Border's is closing in a few. Day went well with nearly 90 bucks profit. Good for a flea. Now in Tampa area where we will regroup and try to get into an Community Affair craft show this Wednesday. We know the promoter so it might be possible at this late date.

I made the first of my nut rings, using a nut from the hardware store and some 16 guage brass wire. It was a beaut and it sold immediately. I made four more. Hope they go over.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Chapter 17 - Mt. Dora Art Fair vs. Renningers Flea Market

While I sat behind the big wood tables at the Renninger's Flea Market one of the biggest art fairs, excuse me ART FAIRS, in the country was happening a mile or less away. I was careful not to set up too "creatively" per our new strategy (ie that the shlubs will just walk past anything that does not exude cheap)but I could not resist tilting the wide heavy table forward with some of the bricks we use in our display and then I had to put down the black tablecloth and why not just go up one tier with bricks and our orange crackle painted wood shelves and before you could say "dat's diffarent"I had a really cewl display. I did not expect anything since it was raining like you would imagine inspired Stevie Ray Vaughn to write some of his best songs, I mean pounding rain, loud with wind attached. The tin longhouse style roof resounding.

Made about 45 bucks and the people were very nice, got some hearty, sincere compliments to which I responded equally heartily, if not as sincere, since most of the compliments were aimed at J's stuff, and the day was a good one. We also had some time apart which was nice for both of us. J ran errands to the hardware store and I made the beginnings of a necklace since I will be taking over the offline selling and marketing while J will be entering our stuff on Ruby Lane and Ebay. That means I have to fill a booth with all my stuff. I was eager. She was skeptical. I told her it would be no problem. She pointed out to me that very little of what was in the booth was done by me and that it took me forever to make something because I never had a plan and just liked to play all the time. I pointed out right back that that was because I did all the driving and the loading and unloading and dog taking care of while she had all the time in the world to make jewelry and believe me it was not play what I had to do. Soon we were again lost in argument, butting heads and pulling in opposite directions. When she left I set out to prove her wrong. I had all the bead boxes and tools with me. The wire and the time, sitting there while all the shlubs (at least they were nice shlubs here) walked past and stared at our stuff thinking perhaps, "that ain't old or used or made by a machine..." I set to it. I needed to fill a booth dammit. By the time she got back at 3:00 I had a third of a very interesting looking necklace going...It didn't look good.

We managed to get out of there before 4:00 and were able to get to the ART FAIR without paying one of the many wealthy homeowners up and down the blocks holding signs that advertised parking for five dollars. It was a far better showing of talent that either of us had anticipated. There were some honest to goodness painters there, along with the shlub painters with their sailboats and coconut trees and photos that had been touched up to look like paintings. Also there was some real art jewelry and we saw for the first time the bar. We are close. Looking for booth designs also we realized it will not take much more than imagination to put a knock out one together.

You can't know unless you have done this for more than two months in a row what an intense strain on the system it is. In a way it is wonderful. If you are making a good living and have a big enough vehicle, not too big though since they know well how to Roger the shit out of what they deem tourists. From the RV parks to the turnpikes to the pumps the RVers feel the tentacles reaching out, trying to connect like some giant merchant lampry sucking greenbacks out of their precious piles.

Our pile is a hole.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Chapter 16 - Coconuts: Nature's Perfect Asswipe

Our day of rest. Foggy but warm out. We have managed to save a few bucks by eating only peanut butter and Wendy's chili and other veggies bought at the flea market. We will head north and hit a flea market or farmer's market somewhere, probably in Mt. Dora. Our spirits are high since looking at the magazines on beading and jewelry in Borders yesterday. Our stuff is top shelf and we will find our people. It may be online but we will find them.

Last night I walked the dogs in the huge field next to the Sams and suddenly was hit with an emergency need to crap. Too much fast food. It was bad and I wondered if I could take another step. I headed slowly in the direction of the waterway, a river of some kind that winds along the edge of the field, dark with the lights of houses on the other side. I made it to the tree line and let loose listening to the quiet conversation of a couple on their porch across the river. They may have heard me since they stopped talking. I had no paper on me so I reached out and used a coconut. It worked fine. There were a pile of them around me so I discarded that one and picked up another. That one worked well too. And then another. It felt like I had lightened my load by five pounds and I completed our walk in fine spirits.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Chapter 15 - It's a Sin to be Poor

Our last day was okay for a flea market. 70 bucks. J sold a bunch of the hair pins to shlubs. For the first time the reality of shlub being a world wide phenom set in when I saw three midwestern looking dumpy older women walking towards us. I guessed Minnesota, maybe Iowa until they passed, speaking French.

Shlub: (n) A person of very low grade taste; opinions formed by Fox news, Clear Channel, USA Today, People magazine, Rotary and other Shlubs. Usually travel in small packs where so they can quickly form a circle, small heads turned in and huge behinds pointed out for protection.

So we got to hang out in Lauderdale, sleep at the Sams, meet all kinds of interesting flea market people and now we are heading north. Probably to Jacksonville. Haven't decided yet.

We changed our minds about Key West since it looks so shlubby. Everything of the artisans, esp. the jewelers, laid out flat on small tables, a trick that says to people "Cheap!" If you set up a fine display they will walk right past your booth, dismissing you as too expensive.

Found out today that the jewelry category is full in all the ACE (American Craft Endeavors) and Howard Allen Events so those are out. I can't say I am too sad about it. Don't much like those shows even though they can be big payoffs. We will try to get into some last minute Chamber of Commerce type things. One more night at the Sams and we are out of here. The east coast is too crowded for my blood. Too many people forced to live the consumer dream and hate you if you are out of step with it. Got treated actually better in the red state of Arizona than here. Snide looks at our vehicle and the canopy and tables strapped to the top. The L.A. perfect sickness has sent its contagion ripples all across this land. Smell it. Dread it. Try to kill it. The awful sinfulness of it. Yes indeed. It's a sin to be poor, in the land of the white collar whore.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Chapter 14 - "How Much For Dee Dog Mon?"

Had to walk Hank to the back fence of the Thunderbird Swap Shop to squirt crap three times today and twice had people ask if I was selling him. One was kidding, one not. It would be like selling my child and it is sad to think how short dog's lives are. I have had so many people get tears in their eyes while petting ours and know they have lost a loved member of the family, sometimes years earlier. They are the world's greatest human companions and man's best friend doesn't do it quite enough justice. Which reminds me of the vacationing Ohio steelworker in the Keys last year at this time who had a golden pup of his own. He helped us get our broken down van going while his pup played with our two. It was a male and he noticed that Hank had not been fixed. "I'm not going to fix Charley here either. I mean, if a dog is man's best friend, what the hell kind of person has his best friends balls cut off?"

Did okay today, not great but I found a nice dresser and a table that somebody had thrown into the dumpsters in back so made 50 on that and another 10 on earrings. Tomorrow is the best day so if we do well we will head down to the keys to try the Big Pine flea and hopefully be let in to the Sunset Celebration on Key West. Then maybe, maybe we can crawl out of this sink hole and start doing real craft/art shows. At least get a roof over us that isn't canvas.