Down to the Last Bite: Mustard, Ketchup, Sauerkraut

Rest assured that there will always be something that comes along to steal your thunder. Trust me on this one. Just know that whether this is a person, place or thing is up to the stars. But either way, no one is above the fringes of disappointment. No one gets away without a scratch and, to be clear, in the case of life against life, no one walks away unscathed. However, in the course of your life, whether you go or stay, quit or stand, there is always the option to improve and endure.
Some people look to endure and move on. Some people find that pain is too unbearable; therefore, they never dare to venture to places outside of their safety.

I know this because I’ve seen this up close and personal. I have been met with rejection. I’ve been called stupid. I’ve been called a liar. I’ve been counted out and cast away, rejected and, in some cases, I’ve been ejected as well.
I have lost plenty of sleep and blood and sweat because I worried, wondered and lost myself to my own, sad or tragic assumptions. I know this is true because I know this is me. Then again, I also know that we all go through hard times. The differences between us are A) how we handle these disappointments and B) do we handle them well?

This brings me back to a moment of rejection:
It was one of the few mild days before the birth of the winter months. My memory of this day is not because the day was special or because something positive happened. Instead, I remember this day because I was standing on a corner near Columbus Circle waiting for an appointment with someone to discuss my writing.
To be clear, this was early in my decision to write on a daily basis. For the most part, I was frightened to hear what people might say or think and, of course, I was petrified to hear from the critics or the social and the educational snobs. I was afraid that someone would tell me, “Go away kid. This dream is not for you.” Or, in full disclosure, I was most afraid that my fears of not being “good enough” would be validated by someone out there in literary land.

At best, I was told that I was raw. I was unfiltered. At worst, I was told that I had no idea how to write and that my prose was clunky to say the least. I was told that I would never find success (as a writer) and that I should probably stick with things that I know more about, like filling my body with tattoos or speaking with an accent.
I was told that my grammar was poor and that my sentence structure was equal to a kid in grade school. Yes, this hurt. But no, none of this ever stopped me from doing what I love to do. Nothing prevented me from moving on or doing what I call “training.”
And that’s what this is: Training.
That’s what I do. I train myself on a daily basis. I write my thoughts down before the sun comes up. I make my way through the day and do my best to take on as little damage as possible. I live and I laugh and I love and I learn.

I have come to the understanding that there will always be someone who looks to point out the flaws in your life or the cracks in your story. There will always be a critic or someone who loves to tell you how “You’ll never make it.”
Quite often, this has nothing to do with anyone other than the critics themselves because let’s face it, who are they? Who is anyone other than just a person?
But sticking with the critics; what have they tried? How have they dared?
How have they bared their soul or revealed themselves in a truthful or humbling way? Or wait, no. How many times have the “critics” left themselves open to interpretation without mercy or remorse?
See what I mean?
To me, this is what it means to be an artist. It’s to open your soul to the universe and let chance take a spin with what you’ve got. And me, this is my art. This is my life and this is my way of training myself to meet today and every day that comes after.

Nevertheless, I recall that afternoon where I was waiting near Columbus Circle. I remember the meeting which was short. I can remember my intention, which was to book a reading of my poetry and to discuss a published short story. And I had hoped that this meeting would go well – which it didn’t.
Not at all. In fact, the meeting went as poorly as I could think; whereas, here I am in my adult life and therefore, I never expected to be spoken to like a child or degraded. And this is what happened. I was spoken to as if I was an unworthy piece of flesh, wrapped up as a useless blood-bag and filled with bones to hold me upright and straight.

I was told no. But more than just a “no,” I was told that plainly and clearly, “No one knows who you are and no one cares.”
This was not about my talent or the lack thereof. This had nothing to do with my hopes and dreams. Instead, this was more about a man who imposed himself in a way that was cruel. But to him, he was simply “Being honest.”
Okay, then. Fine.
I needed to clear my head after the meeting and took a walk along Central Park West. I thought about the poets who inspired me and the writers who openly discussed the painfulness of rejection letters which came in waves of pain like a swarm of cold-blooded assassins who resuscitate you, just to kill you one more time. I was told that I should forget about the idea of being “a writer” and just stick to what I know.

I was wearing a pair of my loose jeans which were somewhat saggy. I dressed as me, in a t-shirt and my blue Converse Chuck Taylor’s and why not? This wasn’t a job interview. So, I dressed comfortably. Besides, this is art we’re talking about – not to mention the man who I met with about doing a reading had pink hair. So, how could he judge me – which he did.

I didn’t mind that he was somewhat abusive. I didn’t mind the way he spoke to me; nor did I mind that he was somewhat feminine and that his banter with me was aggressive; as if he had been bullied by people like me before. Therefore, because of who he was and how he lives; and perhaps, due to the chip on his shoulder, he chose to be the aggressor in the conversation. Or, maybe he was simply doing his job. Maybe I was having a bad hair day. Maybe he didn’t like the color of my sneakers. Either way, what’s the difference?
All else are just thoughts of unresolved tensions in my head which do nothing more than cause me to look back at either me or my past and find regret.

The answer could have been anything. Yet, the answer was still an answer. So, regardless of how nice he was or wasn’t and even if this person was sweet as pie, the answer was still no. Since then, I have never reached out to anyone to do a reading.
I took a walk along Central Park West and thought about what exactly transpired. I thought about the steady stream of rejection letters. Then I thought about the critics and the people who laughed or made fun of me. 
Rather than complicate my heart with the degenerative sludge that complicates the masses, – or regardless of the harsh words used to describe me, which only serves to keep me still; I decided to step away for a minute.

I approached a hot dog cart and stood with my loose shoe-laces and baggy jeans and t-shirt with a NYC hot dog in my right hand and a can of Coke and a few napkins in my left.
I started looking around and at the people who walked by me. I looked around at my City and thought about the people who had sought to find a place of asylum or refuge.
I thought about my literary heroes and the people who I knew lived in a down and out life – or those who lived in railroad apartments or tiny studios or felt the sting of homelessness. I thought about the people who lived and bled and never shied away from the challenge to create or destroy. 

I thought about the artists of this great City and how there are millions of us here; still looking for the answers to help us pull off a trick.

Jim Carroll once wrote, “Ah, the City is on my side.”
I suppose it was. But I know that my City is on my side as well. On a day when rejection hit me hard and in the face, I took a bite from the flavors of my culture. I bought a hot dog with mustard, ketchup and sauerkraut. Then I looked around. I looked up at the tall buildings around me. I looked at the people and thought to myself, “You know what? You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.”
So, go on, son. And write on.

It’s been a while since I had a hot dog from a street cart – or, should I call them what us native New Yorker’s say?
Okay then. I will.
It’s been a while since I had a dirty water dog. But hey, I think Jim Carroll was right when he said “The City is on my side.”
She’s on my side too. I know this because she’s still with me.
Always was. Always will be.

3 thoughts on “Down to the Last Bite: Mustard, Ketchup, Sauerkraut

  1. I heard the poet Robert Bly talk about how he gets devalued by people in regards to his poetry.. I find it astounding that an art form which is all about expression needs to comply to a certain preapproved form, but then again its helpful to know that some criticism says volumes about the critic and perhaps not as much as the piece of work or person being criticized.

    Oscar Wilde said it well
    A critic is someone who know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.

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