“The new phone book is here! The new phone book is here!”
LAST WEEK I PAID NEARLY $60 TO HAVE A HARD DRIVE DELIVERED TO NEW YORK CITY BY NOON THE following day. My 1st mistake was trusting the bankrupt U.S. Postal Service to make it happen. Instead of refunding my money for not following through on their promise, I was lied to, interrupted by and hung up on by more than one USPS employee.
But that’s yesterday’s news. Today we climbed aboard a wave of optimism and excellent customer service. Because today we actually received a package EARLIER that we’d anticipated. Of course, it was delivered by UPS — who’d promised to get my shipment to Austin by Dec. 20.
Today is Dec. 15. A whole 5 days early. And during the holidays, no less.
And those 2 boxes The Man In Brown left on our front porch this afternoon were no ordinary boxes. Inside those boxes were the culmination of an idea, a spark of creativity that occurred nearly 20 years ago — a seemingly innocent way to kill some time at a West L.A. bar that would eventually lead to articles in Maxim, five-figure book deals, lots of laughs and an archive of nearly 600 barstool poems written by me and my friends and a whole bunch of long-lost strangers who eagerly joined in some mindful fun one night many moons ago.
What the UPS man delivered today was the first 25 copies of the book I have finally finished. An anthology featuring 169 of the surviving barstool poems — 13 chapters comprised of 13 poems.
To understand a little bit about the journey that culminated in those packages at the door today, allow me to give you some backstory:
— (1992) My roommate Jon Congdon and I, neither of us having written much in the way of poetry, mindlessly stumble onto this great time killer one night at the SF Saloon, only to realize not only was our newly-dubbed “Barstool Poetry” cracking each other up. But we were also meeting every female in the bar, each of whom wanted to know what the hell we were doing over there.
— (1996) After a few years of busting out the Barstool Poetry, I’d collected a couple hundred booze-stained poems. My friend Carver suggested I put together a collection of the best barstool poems we had and try to get them published.
— (1997) An introduction from my writer friend Meri Danquah leads to a connection with SuperAgentSteve, who loves Barstool Poetry. But instead of publishing “The Best of…” featuring the poems I’ve already collected, Steve thinks we should pitch the big publishing houses on the idea of me traveling around in my VW bus, going to bars and getting people to write new poems. More than half of the 10 editors SuperAgentSteve sends my proposal to love my pitch . . . “only, poetry doesn’t sell,” they tell us. “Got any more ideas?” So we go back to the drawing board, write a new proposal and BLAM! . . . no less than 3 NYC publishing houses get into a mini-bidding war for my new take on this idea: 100 days of barhopping around America in my VW bus, talking to anyone and everyone about love, marriage, fidelity, commitment. My girlfriend of almost 2 years, who I’ve convinced will get an answer re: marriage from me by the end of the trip, is not too excited about the idea. But Bantam Books is. They give me a $55,000 advance.
— (1998) My brain is spinning and sputtering as I try to get my head around the 100-day barhopping vision quest I went on last year, which took me to over 150 bars in 42 states (plus a night in Vancouver). I write and write and write. Some of it I like. Most of it I don’t. And then my sister Tracy gets paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident. My editor at Bantam tells me to take as long as I need to finish the book.
— (1999) I take her literally. Progress is slow. I get offered another writing job creating my own show for this new thing called the internet. Frat Ratz becomes the top-rated show on the well-funded, ill-fated DEN.net pre-YouTube video site.
— (2000) Bantam cancels the book and wants their money back. Yet I am relieved. The project had become an albatross. Too many stories. Too much self-doubt. Gobs of great material. Too many choices. Abject failure. No excuses.
— (2001) My girlfriend’s dad puts a gun to his head the day before he’s set to go on trial for molesting his grandchildren. Nearly 6 weeks later, Tracy commits suicide by rolling her electric wheelchair into our family swimming pool. Less that 6 months later . . . 9/11. Not a good year.
— (2002) I decide to try and write a poem every day for an entire year. Mostly to document a year that promised to be interesting, in light of everything that had happened the previous year(s).
— (2003) The girlfriend and I, after thinking we’d have things figured out back in 1997, finally come up with an answer re: marriage. It’s not happening. We break up. I take off on a long road trip in that same VW bus. This time I don’t have a finish line. Instead of 100 days, it’s open-ended. And I’m not getting paid to write a book, I’m getting paid to write a blog about my adventures traveling around the country doing good deeds. (At the late, lamented TheGreatestYearOfMyLife.com.)
— (2006) After a friend stumbles onto an old journal and reads all 126 of the poems I wrote in 2002, I decide to raise money for a volunteering trip I want to take to post-Katrina New Orleans by editing, designing and self-publishing most of the ’02 poems in a book called Poetry For People Who Don’t Read Poetry.
— (2008) Emboldened by my experience self-publishing my very personal book of poetry, I decide I want to revisit the Barstool Poetry anthology idea. I begin the long process of organizing, culling, inputting and scanning the hundreds of poems.
— (2009) About 200 of the poems we had saved are lost when the backpack they are in is stolen. The unwitting poetry thieves broke into the old Volvo I was carsitting for my friend Cutter, smashing the passenger window one night while I worked around the corner at my friend Victor’s medical marijuana dispensary on Sunset Blvd. in Silverlake. (If you ever make it to Sunset Junction Organic Medicine, tell ’em Bob sent you.)
— (2010) All the decent, surviving barstool poems have finally been scanned. I commence laying out the book, inputting the text, writing the intro and the prose to introduce the 13 different chapters. And most importantly, I enlist a commitment from my soul brother from another mother, Ernie, to cook up some cool napkin doodle art to go with my 13 chapter intros. Plus, the new 21st century girlfriend is oh so encouraging. (Thank you, Tamale.)
And here were are, at the tail end of 2011, and I am just now — TODAY! FINALLY! — holding the finished product in my hand. A book that I’m jacked to have completed, eager to promote and itching to sell.
Now do you understand why I was so excited when the UPS guy showed up 5 days early this afternoon?
The Barstool Poetry book — the first of many, hopefully — is finally finished.