A Duel, No Winners By Ben McCoy

on Feb 17 in Article, Blog Salon, Mapping, Special Presentation by

Ben McCoy

Almost as a reflex, I was callous, cruel, and dismissive. I was sitting on my usual throne, which is to say, a barstool. The bar was pretty empty, as some places are before 5 PM.

A mid-to-late twenties girl came in (I call her a girl instead of a woman because she was wearing corduroy pants and a t-shirt she probably thought was ‘dressed up,’ with a sweater) and sat two stools from me.

After ordering her drink she began fiddling in her purse when an old guy, probably late fifties, early sixties, comes over and just immediately plops himself down to her left, and says, “Here, let me get that for you.”

I thought he was talking about her drink, and realized instead, he was trying to help her hang her jacket on a hook underneath the bar. The old fart couldn’t buy the young lass a drink, but could hang her jacket up. Chivalry isn’t dead, you guys, it’s piss broke and has arthritis.

I felt bad for the girl. I can’t really say they were having a conversation because that would imply two people were talking. It was monologue, set on blast. You’d think it was spoken word night or something. Judging her facial expression and luminous, nervous eyes, I could see she was regretting her choice in drinking at this joint, and was probably also a Pisces and felt guilty for wishing the guy would stop talking at her and just go away and probably felt really sorry for him, and subsequently, herself.

I hear the guy start to brag, “Oh, I’m an author. I’m published.” He says this, and even looks over to me, as though both her and I are going to go STARK RAVING WILD at the mention of this, ripping our respective tops off, and pulling each other’s skirts down and start making out.

Because I’m not a Pisces, I say, “Big deal. So am I. Who isn’t these days? I mean, who really gives a shit? “

It’s as if I slapped him in his droopy face and challenged him to a duel. He was silent for a moment and then said, “I’ll be right back.”
He walks out of the bar in a huff and a few moments later, the girl thanks me and says she was hoping he’d finish up his diatribe and go back to his corner of the bar, but she ‘s always been ‘too nice,’ to people. How quaint, I think, and can tell she’s going to bore me just as much as he was her.

About ten minutes later the guy returns with a bag in his hand. He comes up to me and the girl and says, “Here,” and pulls out two books from his bag, “These are my books.”

“Oh my god!” I squeal, laughing in his face, “Are you serious? Did you seriously just walk back to your apartment and grab your books just to prove to me that you’re published? Dude, seriously, who cares!”

Once again, he is stunned, as is the girl.

He puts his books back in his bag, “Well…. I was going to give them to you.” He says, defeated, and slinks back out of the bar, like a mouse who just had to chew it’s leg off to hobble away and out of a glue-trap.

Look, I don’t need you to tell me that the scene above is pretty sad. What’s truly tragic is that I am fully aware that I could be looking into a smoky, stained crystal ball — a prediction of my own future. Lonely and broke writer goes into bar, tries to re-live old and better times, spouting out former glories like, oh I don’t know, writing a book.

I was published for the first time last year in an anthology. It’s an anthology and I have a short story in it, so it’s not the biggest deal, but I was pretty excited about it.

Wanna know how much money I got for it?

$80.00. Eighty dollars.

The book goes for $21.95 in Canada and $19.95 in the US.

I have been writing and performing for over ten years. I studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and I have toured the country and parts of Canada twice with different literary and performance art groups, reading and performing my own original material on stage. I’ve performed in bars, theatres, alternative theatres, art galleries, ball rooms, college lecture halls, and hotel banquets.

A live reading or performance can pay anywhere between $40.00 (and two drink tickets) to maybe a hundred-ish. There are a few events that I have done that have had government funding for the arts and those events can pay a little more than a hundred bucks a reader or performer. While I am thankful for both the funding and the event and those who organize them, I would have to get booked several times a month for it to even come close to covering my rent and bills, as opposed to the more realistic booking of, maybe, a few times a year.

Now let me get honest with you for a minute. I have pulled off some truly spectacular performance pieces, one person shows, etc and I’ve done some good writing here and there I think, but I’d be a total jack-ass if I didn’t admit that I have had my fair share of seriously bad performances.

When you know for a fact you’re going to get a tiny wrinkled wad of cash, when your bank account is as fat as Nicole Richie’s collar-bone, your bills are piling up like court-dates for Lindsay Lohan, and you’ve spent a decade quitting or getting fired from day jobs because you valued being an artist, a writer, a performer, and wanted to live passionately, every time you step on stage or sit down to write, it can feel like flirting with your own personal apocalypse. Winking, blowing kisses at your own risky demise. Cultivating your very own car-crash, for all to see. Someone, pour me a drink!

Success, or the phantasm of it’s potential, is the carrot dangling over your head. As I get older, the allure of being a New York Time’s Bestseller isn’t seeing my name in print, or my photo on the back of the cover, or being ‘immortalized by your art,’ or even reaching an audience; it’s the very real need for an apartment, food, clothes, shelter, health insurance, a savings, and retirement fund. And, oh, I don’t know, it might be nice if I could enjoy the luxury of a vacation.

Art however, is it’s own fickle luxury. A youthful, sexy lover, he is as undependable and unreliable as he is dangerous and attractive. You can spend your entire life being committed and monogamous to his whims, to support the actualization of his ideals, to clothe him (and he can have expensive tastes, being cultured and so aesthetically developed), to feed him (and of course, the drinks for him and yourself, of which you will need plenty to numb the anxiety and stress that is his constant entourage); yes, you can and sadly, probably will, spend the rest of your life devoted to being an artist, a writer, a performer.

Let’s just hope that one day, when arthritis and age rack your body, when physical ailment looms around every corner, when a pension would be nice, lets just hope that you’re not hobbling into some dive bar at 2 pm and shoving your meager and obscure life’s work, a physical tomb of words, memories and experiences that demanded the whole of your youth and mid-life, a life’s work that you cannot trade in for any semblance of security, warmth, health, or nourishment, let’s hope you’re not clutching at your achievements and waving them vainly into the face of a culture that just doesn’t care.

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About Ben – Ben McCoy is a writer, and performer. McCoy has toured with Sister Spit, and was nominated for a San Francisco Literary Foundation of the Arts award. Like most people with an internet connection, Ben’s writing has appeared on the HuffingtonPost. Currently Ben is a contributor for Ironing Board Collective.

Current Projects – Ben McCoy will be the feature writer/ performer for SOMArts Feast of Words, Tuesday March 20th.
The theme for the evening will be “I Am Crime,” which is fitting since McCoy’s scathing wit and humour is completely criminal.

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