Bookstores, in my long experience are very tolerant of eccentricities. There's a lady where I now work, will tell you everything you need to know to survive a week alone in the Senora desert. There's someone who's pickling plums. Let's face it, bookstores are feed-lots for hobbyhorses. Perfectly harmless, most of us.
Bookstores are also always in the way of finding new ways, or more recently employing old ways to share our enthusiasms with the otherwise unsuspecting public. Here then yet another bit of recycled media: blackboards are trending.
Long established as something of a fixture in the new wave of coffee and bubble-tea now awash across college-towns and the more upscale or dowtownish of neighbourhoods, what are now called "wet erase boards", I've only just learned, would seem to be all the rage. Many a saucy barista, having invented some elaborate new combo of espresso shots, soy-milk and anisette, now announces the concoction of the day on a blackboard in the window and or on a sandwich board out front. Bookstores are now on-board, including the one where I now work. I think the idea a splendid one. We've progressed from one or two discreet little boards describing the week's new arrivals and upcoming events to a couple of great big numbers, nearly the size I remember from the front of my elementary school classrooms.
We're quite lucky to have an artist in residence, dear M., who not only "letters" beautifully -- to use a verb likewise from my childhood -- but who has something of a genius for reproducing the covers of forthcoming titles in a beautiful and immediately recognizable way. Not only are his drawings clear and quite charming, he also does a pretty mean free-hand rectangle. No mean feat, that.
I was asked if I would draw dear Ogden Nash for the other board, to announce our upcoming evening of the same. Seemed to me a capital idea. Dear M. agreed to letter it for me, as nobody wants to see my primitive scrawl a foot high. Size wouldn't help my legibility much anyway. Two things I hadn't considered: first, I very rarely have drawn anything on such a scale, and secondly I almost never draw in ink, let alone the weirdly fluid markers used with these wet-erase-boards. I draw, I see you might almost say, in number two pencils. I've been know to make finished drawings in ink, as required, but really I'm a doodler by nature and practice and that means stubby pencils and scratch-paper often as not. I almost never use color, for which I have no eye, and anything like paint seems to require a kind of manual dexterity wholly other from whatever it is I have. Oh dear.
Also, turns out the "wet-erase" thing means dampening a rag and then rubbing and smudging until finally clearing the whole damned thing and starting over. This I did no less than three times. (By the time I was done with it, my "eraser" looked like a clown's dinner-napkin at a fish-fry.) I learned that hesitations with the marker still in contact with the board means making a puddle. I learned that blue works better for glasses and the tie and purple looks better for the pomaded noggin of the poet. I'd made a little preliminary pencil sketch -- natch -- but I realized on my third attempt to reproduce it on the blackboard that I had to rethink a bit. I remembered my high school art teacher and mentor, Griff. I remembered him telling me, when I was trying to do something, anything, with watercolors, first that I was "still thinking with a pencil" and then, shaking my grip on the paintbrush until it loosened a bit,
"You're fightin' the paint, man, stop fightin' the paint."
New medium, new ways in. Anyway, I tried. Once M. had lettered the thing, I didn't think it looked half bad. Perhaps not my finest hour, but, hey, I tried something new, me who doesn't do that sort of thing.
And it's all for the good of poetry, man. Check it out.