That year I wore a yellow t-shirt and white Asic Tigers with red and blue stripes every chance I had. America hadn’t gone to war yet, Conor Oberst was still in Omaha, and at times my phone would ring telling me there was a show that night at the Sokol Underground.
Use the Internet and watch it become even more amazing than it already is. Used together with a little improvisation, you can get almost anything you would be consuming back home—music, movies, books, food, clothes. Almost everything. Where I live the foreigners talk a lot about missing good avocados. You get over it.
It was us against everything. Against the adults. The older kids. The younger kids. Against age. Against time. Against not having enough money and not being able to really work for it, but not really wanting to work. Always music and always loud. If we couldn’t change the landscape where we lived, we could change the way it sounded.
I was excited until I got in the truck and sat down next to a man I didn’t know. He was in my uncle’s truck, in my uncle’s clothes, spoke like him, held the steering wheel like him, even had the same lumps in his arm. But he had shaved, and without his mustache he wasn’t him. I wasn’t comfortable around him until it grew back.
Now it’s nighttime and the tall-boot girls pop out of the dark doorways like it’s a shooting range—except they aren’t cardboard cutouts and I don’t have a gun—as I go up Hooker Hill. They go “woo, woo! Hey!” Just last week a U.S. soldier was arrested for trying to burn down one of the brothels when the deal went bad.
Sometimes the air smells of jasmine; sometimes it smells of rotting octopus. Boxy, red and white Toyota taxi cabs lurch and speed past. White paint stencils on the streets say LOOK TO THE RIGHT so you don’t get run over by a laughing Hong Konger coming down the wrong side.
For the artist working a day job there is the constant battle between life and work and there is not enough time for both. You’re never going to conquer that city, but there is a very real chance of it conquering you.
There comes a time when you have to stop believing in the men you read in your 20s. Miller, Hemingway, Fante, Bukowski—strong writers, bad with women. Not role models. You have to confront the cowardice within you that says hold out for the person that can save you from yourself. That person isn’t out there. There isn’t anyone who can do that. It’s better to make the decision to stay and love someone.
The longer I lived there the harder it became to work. When I first came to the city I wrote about all the failed artists I had met, and then it started to happen to me. I made friends quickly and they were fun, interesting. Nearly every night I wasn’t working I was asked to meet for drinks or dinner or some other amusement. I talked a lot about saying no, but ended up saying yes far more.
In the comments section of one of my previous essays, “Barb Lee Stanwick” wrote “Bart is a really promising writer. Even though he doesn’t have any books out (what’s with young writers today? I’m kidding)” and this is my response to her, and for any readers of mine who want to know why I haven’t published anything yet.