This morning I shall feed two birds with one oyster cracker. The story below is about a time during a past Christmas season when I went out peddling my own books. My wife and I had a twelve-year old and a yearling to wow with Christmas gifts, but neither dime nor dollar in the money bowl. Yesterday we received another solicitation from Chase in the mail telling us to open a checking account with their bank. They will deposit $200.00 as a free gift. That is one hell of an oyster cracker!
Chase as door to door salesman. Peddling other people’s money, gobs of it, for some nefarious reason of which we can only guess. “Here’s 200 clams. Not a painting. No book to read. Direct deposit with us and you’ll be able to stuff a whole tub with oyster crackers.” Why their offer grinds at my insides, I don’t know. Perhaps my success at repetitive failure from hawking creative writing and painting has finally caught up with my mortal pride. Yesterday I wrote about how local artists everywhere need to boycott galleries, museums, any third party advocates who claim the secret knowledge of appraising art for the people. They have taken away our right to peddle, to personalize, to self-portraiture. The middlemen of art have taught the people to beware of the unrepresented artist. He can’t have anything you want. He’s up to no good, and lacking any real talent, we can assure you…
I need to connect to people. I don’t want Rita the gallerist. Neither does Rita. Rita needs Rita and the painter gives a piece of himself to Rita to help Rita find Rita. How much is that worth? Not a penny more than a gifted $200.00 deposit and a new pleather checkbook from the galleries of JP Morgan Chase. Hurry, this offer wont’s last. We’ll hold death’s door open to the working class, but only for a limited time.
We will turn down Chase’s money offer. The company will not suffer. No top executive will marvel at the surprisingly high cost of rope at his neighborhood home center after bombing another marketing plan. I will never again peddle my books to the middleman. He is just that. A “middle” man. Keeping the “low” low. False praising the “high” highly. The middle secures more antidepressants, and easy admittance into the chowder house of our choice. Hence the painting above and the story below.
Rather Have An Oyster Cracker?
Two thousand-thirty-five years ago Christ was born in the land without snow. He was a dark-haired baby who didn’t wear diapers. Christ was a baby and all babies live peace. Besides hitting his mother when he wanted her to play with him, he was very peaceful. Kings brought the divine child presents, not one of them a small plastic toy phone. A variety of presents, but not one that a child would want to play with. Frankincense and Mir? Don’t ask. Just receive and smile, smile and receive, and make sure the gifts are big enough not to get lodged in your new savior’s throat.
This Christmas more than one person will drive forty miles to purchase a popular candle holder. When my oldest daughter was very young, she was taught to give nothing besides love and attention, and occasional crayon drawings of devotion. Slowly, gradually, over the past couple years, Santa Claus has left her heart. It is only a matter of time before Christmas makes her deeply and hopelessly frazzled like the rest of us.
This Christmas I am depressed. I’m out of the kind of work that writes you a check for the holidays. Joy has left my body. I have no way of knowing if I will ever be able to help support this family financially. And because of the money problem, I start to wonder if I am husband or father, or anything good at all. Money is the sickness of our hearts. It is the sole cause of any depression that exists where no tragedy has occurred. Because of money I did something yesterday that I thought I would never do. I went out peddling my books all over three counties. I took a day to do it. I had to ask my wife to take off from work. I borrowed a car. It had an American flag attached out the back window waving “I am tasteless” to the cold, bright December morning.
I drove to every bookstore and library in Central New York. By the end of the day I sold to three stores and involuntarily donated one set to a library. I walked up to the head librarian embracing my precious books. He received me quite cordially. Of course then I expected him to escort me over to the money box and pay me for my efforts. No way. Patiently I waited while he talked about the lack of arts and culture in the Mohawk Valley. “One bookstore,” he complained, “in a county of 250,000. Can you believe it?” Yes I thought, but here, let me put my hand out again, palm up, and hope that you get the hint. Nothing. Instead he stepped into his office and came out grasping the local swap sheet, suggesting that I advertise my books with the used cars. Then he offered me a book signing, but recanted, saying that in the past those only worked well with children’s book authors. Then I imagined that he would prefer to ram the heel of his boot against my skull rather than pay me the paltry sum necessary to justify my existence as a writer. Culture or no culture. I should have killed him on the spot and fished through the petty cash box myself.
Now the thought of peddling my own books was and is a personal nightmare. Total desperation made me do it. Man will succumb to anything when the money is tight enough to cheat his own children. Except work at a dollar store. No. I won’t do that. So what if an offer has already been made…? No. I will very calmly open up an artery before dehumanizing my existence at a dollar store.
After a day driving in and around Syracuse New York, I discovered the worst hole in all of the world to raise a sane family. You drive around for a full morning in it, penniless, in a borrowed car and see for yourself what an incurably sick and twisted, groaning hell of a city it is. Two of the bookstores on my list of ten were abandoned. Two more sold only pornography. Two were consignment, and the second one of these wouldn’t take my books unless he could get the whole set for fifteen cents.
Yesterday I lived the life of a traveling salesman in America. Except I was selling a product which I made myself. Of course one couldn’t eat my product—strike one. Nor was it something quite like holly leaf wrapping paper sold at a huge profit for charity. Strike two. Encyclopedias might have brought better luck, if I went door-to-door with the volumes I researched, wrote and published myself. Strike three and out. Actually lying prone in a basement beside a gassed Willy Loman.
A few years ago my chef left the restaurant business to peddle oyster crackers for an upstart company. Up before dawn, he drove his car over two hundred miles every day except Sunday. Boxes of light, airy oyster crackers stacked to the ceiling in the back seat. He peddled throughout a business world that he convinced himself was in sufficient need of better oyster crackers. The best oyster crackers. In fact, over time, he couldn’t understand how restaurants stayed in business without his delicious oyster crackers in stock.
Once he got me to try them, while he stood at my side waiting for affirmation. Holy God, the ironic, blind arrogance of despair! Every time he said “oyster cracker” I envisioned spiraling rounds of slow-motion bullets busting out the back of my skull. His behavior was beyond delusional. It was insane, maniacal—an oyster cracker… Jesus Christ! Yet I played along, chewing for his benefit, although at the time I felt like striking him down and stuffing his mouth full of oyster crackers. He wanted to sell them to everyone. He was preaching the Word about oyster crackers. Each book that I wrote and got published, no matter what value its content, was written with the dreams that appear while walking alone at night in fear of death. I collaborated and created with the body which houses my soul. It was all that I had then, and all I have now. For $12.95 I will share its story with you. That’s all the Word I know.
You say sure? As long as it’s told over a bowl of steaming hot seafood chowder? Fine. Just try to ignore the steady stream of bullets drilling holes into my head. Promise me you’ll crush those crackers quickly and take the soup onto your lap. I’m spilling blood.
Why this staunch, masochistic refusal to become equally excited over my own creations? How can man live a whole life never to stand up and lustily sing his own praises? Even if he foolishly sings to some greater power beyond him… It has got to be more stimulating than worshiping oyster crackers, right? I mean, how could my old boss become the apostle of a dry cracker company without having committed suicide yet? Hasn’t he already gone way beyond the point of just considering it? Unless the crackers are laced with enough extra preservatives to fool the rest of us into thinking that he lives, I tell you that he must be dead already. A soul must die each moment an oyster cracker gets believed in.
To tell the truth, I hate my books. I despise them. I hate the product that I wanted to sell yesterday, during a weak moment when I thought my children needed toys for Christmas.
Privately, however, I intend to sing my praises while the rest of mankind watches me bleed. But I won’t be singing for your money. I will sing, but know that I know it’s not what I write into books that makes me praise-worthy. I am 100% man. I am a man. My blood heats up my wonder and desire. I can be squeezed until warm blood spurts out of my pours. But I will continue to sing while bleeding. I believe that every man’s blood is my own blood. And every man should sing the song of watching it flow. I am singing for me and for you, even if I know that you, if given the choice, would choose a low-sodium oyster cracker over the intactness of my blood and its systems. Translated into easy, easy easy…
But would rather have an oyster cracker.