I wish I could tell you I got drunk and yelled at the customers. I wish I could say I kissed the hostess and knocked over a few chairs as I walked out. But that would be another story, a story were I wasn't so humiliated.
That night the audience clapped for the winner and I squeezed my huge crossed arms into my chest. My nostrils flared out like fox ears and I would have burned them all alive like Jesus, as a child, in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.
I was robbed and humiliated in the worst way. Every week this downtown bar & grill hosted a poetry competition. Each Monday a cook from the kitchen would call us into a corner of the room they called a stage.
The first week I was there on a whim. A friend told me the B&G paid fifty bucks to the weekly winners, and she and I promptly drank the purse once it was placed into my hands.
I should have seen the signs that things were going to go bad on the night of the final competition. By the time I found out about the contest half of the ten weeks was already over. I won four of the competitions in a row, and on the last open round the bartender wiped off his bar with a dirty rag and told me I could not compete. He shrugged.
"Sorry, that's what the manager told me."
So I showed up the night of the finals, where I was four of the ten winners, when the cook came out and called two of us into the corner. Only one of the other winners showed. She was one of those nasty Phish hippies with her hair bound up in dreads like matted dog hair. I knew I was a chinch.
When she took the stage her hands shook. When she started reading her voice cracked and she could barely speak above a whisper. I was planning on giving the final prize, two tickets to merlefest, to my parents for their anniversary. Then I took the stage.
My delivery was perfect. The boom in my voice carried to the back of the restaurant. All the patrons stopped eating and watched as I delivered my sermon. When it was over everyone clapped like it was their child on the stage. The cook came back up. He told the audience to applause for their favorite piece. A mild applause broke out when he called my name. Then it happened. All the dishwashers and staff came out of their hiding places and it sounded like a riot when the cook called up the hippie. My jaw dropped at the injustice. I knew none of these people could hear her poem because I could barely hear it when I stood behind her.
I walked out without the prize, but with one of the best lessons I have ever had as a writer. Talent gets you nothing but a punch in the face from time to time. If I were to show people my files of rejection slips as thick as volumes of A Remembrance of Things Past they would ask me why I still bother. But I am a hard headed old fool. You have to be if you're going to write fiction. If you want to write great fiction you make the same mistakes over and over.
When people ask me about my writing I tell them I am the best writer they will ever know. This statement may never be true, but maybe I am. The reasons I say it is because when you learn to take a punch you learn how to throw a few back.