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Tookie Junior & The Thoughtful Ponderance

After last night’s entry I ended up letting myself go crazy in my apartment for another ninety minutes before I finally followed my inclination and ventured out to grab something to eat, get a few cups of coffee, and do some writing at the 76 Diner.

While there, I learned what true writer’s block is . It isn’t being unable to write a blog or getting stuck on how to remove a character from a certain situation. What I experienced was a true blank, as I was unable to even do free-form stream of consciousness writing in a moleskine I had no intention of ever showing anyone other than myself and maybe one or two other people. My brain just shut off, and I sat there tapping my pen and saying yes to one refill of coffee after another. I found myself in a diner at half past midnight with nary a thought entering my cranium, except for the one time when I glanced up at the television on the wall that was airing a replay of Larry King Live on CNN and realized that King in a red dress shirt looks like he’s playing the role of the Devil in a Woody Allen film.

Then, one of the staff at the 76 stood directly in-between myself and the hunched-over demonic visage of King and asked “are you an artist?”

I wish I could convey his delivery to you in words, because it was part of what made the experience so weird.

“Uhhhh…..” I replied, followed by literally thirty seconds of silence. “I suppose? Really I just do this for myself…I don’t intend to show anyone. Just do it to…sort of clear my head. You know?”

“I hear ya,” he replied. And suddenly he was gone; disappearing into the bustle of the late-night Saturday diner rush.

The hesitation in answering the bus boy’s question was equal parts the disarming nature of it and that I legitimately didn’t know how to answer it. But it did get me thinking.

In order to answer that question, I have to ask first what I consider an artist to be. It’s obviously open to individual interpretation, but I consider an artist to be somebody who creates art, which I personally define as creative output that not only connects to an audience but also achieves an eventual permanence in culture(s) and/or its genre. It’s a definition that’s ultimately moot to anybody other than myself, and I don’t fault anyone who would argue my definition as faulty. In truth, the standards and qualifiers I set to define someone as an artist aren’t meant to put a limit on how others should identify themselves. They’re the standards I set for myself. Just as I don’t consider myself a writer because I classify a writer as somebody who has concrete output that he’s willing to share with the outside world and/or for whom writing his is primary interest or career.

So allow me the indulgence of engaging in that fantasy everybody has where we send ourselves back in time to respond to a question or statement the way we should have responded rather than the way we actually did.

As I was mumbling something in Latin and crossing myself to prevent Larry King from entering my heart and making me do evil things, a waft of purple smoke enveloped the entire counter. When it cleared, a lanky African-American bus boy stood in front of me. He stood up straight with his hands behind his back; his right hand holding his left wrist at the bottom of his spine. He looked at me and cocked his head slightly to the right in a sort of manic curiosity.

“Are you an artist?” he asked.

I put down my pen, straightened up, and examined him thoughtfully. “No,” I replied, “I’m not an artist. Or a writer. I hope to some day be either…or both. But if that day never comes, I won’t be disappointed so long as I end my days sober and, at the very least, made the effort to become a better man than I once was.”

The bus boy nodded his head thoughtfully at the response. Then he smiled and disappeared in a puff of glittery fairy dust.


In all seriousness, the question did spark a halfway decent writing session and some helpful self-evaluation. As I was pondering whether or not I should thank him for asking me the question regardless of his intent, he suddenly appeared again and in unsolicited conversation told me that I can tell people that I met the nephew of Tookie Williams.

Yes, Tookie Williams. He claimed to be his nephew.

“I’m not a Crip though,” he added.

Without even thinking I responded “well, neither is he. Not anymore anyway.”

The friendly exchange between us ended with that statement. He went on to start unsolicited conversations with other patrons, including one I overheard where he told a customer that was literally still taking his coat off about a solar flare that was going to hit the Earth in 2012 and knock out all of our electronics and communications. Then we’d only have three days after that until all the grocery stores ran out of groceries. Thankfully, he provided some semblance of sanity by waiting thirty seconds after his rant to add “well, at least that’s what I heard on the radio anyway.”

Still, his contribution to my creative endeavors, my moleskine journal, and this blog cannot be denied. Nor can I, of all people, lay judgment at his feet for being batshit crazy. After all, I was the one alone in a diner at 1:00am on a Saturday night, writing furiously and drinking tiny cups of coffee like they were shots of Jaeger.

More later…

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