SOMEONE ELSE’S BIG BREAK: AN ESSAY BY DANGER SLATER
I’m a security guard. This is my day job.
Believe it or not, writing weirdo Bizarro horror books doesn’t *quite* pay the bills. Shocking, I know.
I always assumed I’d end up rich and famous someday. It seemed inevitable. I’m smart(-ish) and ambitious(-ish) and have a lot of (arguably) good(-ish) talents. I always thought, with all these innate advantages at my disposal, it would only be a matter of time before EVERYONE else noticed how AMAZING I was too.
I was like: charter me a jet and fly me to a resort in the Maldives and serve me up a big ol’ bowl of smoked caviar for breakfast, or whatever the fuck it is rich people eat for breakfast.
Why would I waste my time TRYING when I was JUST THAT DAMN GOOD?
Turns out, I’m poor. Like no-health-insurance-or-gas-in-my-car-poor. I live in a small apartment with my girlfriend and her kids. We can’t even afford HBO. People are always going on and on about “last night’s Game of Thrones” and I never have any idea what they’re talking about. Didn’t some dude bang his sister or something? See, I don’t even know!
So earlier this summer, I was working backstage a three-day bluegrass music festival. I was in charge of checking wristbands; making sure only the “right” people got through to the greenroom area and everyone else kept on moseying along. It was an easy gig, all things considered. I didn’t have to do all that much. But these were LONG days. BORING days. And I had several of them in a row.
So about 45 hours into my 60 hour weekend, this guy came up to me. A young dude. Maybe in his mid-20s. He looked like approximately 75% of the people I’ve met since I moved to Portland last year – lopsided man bun on the top of his head, wide bushy beard like an overgrown hedge, pants as tight as lizard skin. He was the kind of person that would normally fade into the walls. Generic. Forgettable. Another dude in a sea of dudes.
He slowly stepped up to me.
“Hey man, I’m in a band,” he said.
“That’s great,” I laconically replied, completely disinterested because EVERYONE at this entire festival was in some kind of band.
“We were playing an acoustic set on the side of the trail to the main stage earlier this morning…”
“Oh right, I saw that when I was heading down here,” I said. “You had your CDs out for sale and everything.”
“Those were demos, actually,” he told me. “We couldn’t get on the bill for the festival, so we figured we’d just come out and play anyway. Fuck it, right? What’s the worst that could happen? They make us stop?”
“Fair enough,” I said.
“Hey, so I was wonderin’, do you think I can maybe get backstage?” he said, eyebrows arched up expectantly, like a kid asking for extra dessert.
This was it. My time to shine. I was gonna lay a big fat GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE on this guy. This was why they hired me.
“Well, you see, that’s the problem,” I said. “The reason I’m standing here to make sure that only people with a black wristband get backstage. And your wristband, unfortunately, is light blue, and light blue means general admission. So, as I’m sure you already knew, that’s a no-go, buddy.”
“Right, I know that’s,” he said. “But there’s a dude hanging out back there right now who hosts this radio show… I was hoping to get a word with him. Chat him up. Maybe slip him one of the demos. I don’t know, man.”
“Unfortunately, I want to get paid at the end of this weekend, so I gotta do what they asked me to do.”
“C’mon, man, there’s gotta be something you can do for me?” he said.
“Alright, I’ll tell you what…you can stand here, right OUTSIDE the backstage area, and when I see the radio dude you’re looking for, I’ll give you a little nod and you can chat him up on his way back to his camp.”
The guy in the band seemed okay with this. He had little recourse. I wasn’t about to let him backstage. Like I said, he had the wrong wristband. I was the wristband police. I was the fucking Governor of Wristband Island.
For two hours he stood there, stretching his neck up, trying to see over my shoulder towards the greenroom, trying to spot the elusive DJ getting drunk at the open bar, back there with all the headlining acts.
And I watched him. I spent two hours watching him. I spent two hours watching him and thought: There’s a reason there are no rock star novelists. Music is easy. Music breathes. A song will float by on the breeze as light as the air itself. It will bounce around inside your head and find its way into your limbs and live in your bones. And that’s a beautiful thing. But reading…shit, you have to give up part of your life in order to let a book inside you. Reading is sacrifice. It takes time to consume, and even more time to settle. Trying to get someone to read a book (trying to get someone to read one of MY books) is like asking them if they want to enter a committed relationship. As such, us writers have to sneak in slowly. Quietly. The seeds we sow we rarely see harvested. When the person on stage finishes playing a song, the crowd erupts into cheers and applause. When someone finishes reading a books, they close the cover, and put on a shelf.
At times being a writer feels like a curse. Like a burden I’m always dragging around behind me. It feels a lot less like what-I-do and a lot more like who-I-am.
And then there was this guy in front of me. Tenaciously standing there. Audaciously waiting. Doing what he could, doing ANYTHING he could, to find an in, even though there was a wall in his way. I WAS HIS WALL.
And then I thought: Life is fucking hard enough, ya know? If we have nothing (and we often have nothing) there’s always that ONE THING we cling to. You know that thing. I know you do. It’s that blind, vague, pointless hope. That stupid little light inside, that for whatever reason, doesn’t let us quit. Goddamn, sometimes it goes dim. Sometimes it feels like it goes out completely. And then there it is again. It’s the foolish notion that someday we will receive our reward; that caviar breakfasts are just on the other side of that horizon.
And that’s it, right there. Being an artist in a nutshell. More than being an artist. Being a goddamn human being. It doesn’t matter if you’re smart(-ish) and ambitious(-ish) and have a lot of (arguably) good(-ish) talents. This shit is HARD. Every day, it’s HARD. And if you want to do something important with your life, you got to hold onto that hope, as stupid as that may be.
“Hey listen,” I eventually said to him, leaning in close and putting my arm around his shoulder, my voice going low in his ear, barely above a whisper. “Around the other side of the mainstage here, if you come up through the woods, I saw a hole in the fence that looked just big enough for a person to squeeze through. Now I’m not telling you to go through this hole. I would NEVER tell you to do that. In fact, were I to notice such a hole, I should probably tell one of the event organizers so that they send someone over there to close it up. But as it were, since I have to stand here and check wristbands and there doesn’t seem to be any of the event organizers around, if someone were to come up through the breach in the fence, and I happened NOT to see it go down, well then…there’s really not too much I can do about that, is there?”
The guy’s face went wide. A sloppy smile, pinching up around the corner of his eyes. Then he walked away.
I didn’t see him for the rest of the night.
But the next morning, I bumped into him at his camp. He was eating breakfast with the rest of his band. Nothing fancy. Just a regular breakfast. Orange juice and granola bars. I walked over towards him to say hi.
“So how’d your evening go?” I asked.
He threw his arms around me and gave me a giant hug, picking me up and dropping me back down in one jovial motion. “Dude!” he exclaimed. “It was incredible! I got to talk to that DJ guy and we’re going to be performing LIVE on the radio tomorrow! This could be it! Thank you so much!”
I waved his off his gratitude with a dismissive hand. “Don’t thank me,” I said to the guy. “I didn’t ‘let you in’ back there. YOU found the hole.”
I don’t really know what the point of this story is. Did I do a good deed? Yeah, maybe. Maybe I’m owed one. Maybe one day karma will smile upon me too.
Or maybe I’m just shitty at my job.
Danger Slater is the winner of the 2015 Ultimate Bizarro Showdown and author of Puppet Skin and I Will Rot Without You and other books. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his blue-haired girlfriend. By night he works as a security guard and by day he pours his soul onto the page while hiding under a blanket. He loves drinking broccoli juice and making googly eyes at strangers.