So now I’m an “underdog”, too. Brilliant! I shall pay attention – and take good notes.
Eric Freeman is an Asheville “underdog”.
A genuinely brilliant acoustic guitarist (blues, country, ragtime), he has tremendous integrity and a really sweet, shining presence – and he’s gorgeous to boot. He’s got “star” written all over him.
But it doesn’t always work out that way, right? Things sometimes just plain fail to come together somehow for all kinds of talented people, but being black and poor and unconnected in a new town…who knows what lies ahead for Eric?
Eric arrived here about a month ago. with a suitcase and his guitar and I think no money.
(15 years earlier, I got off the Greyhound bus with a great new rolling duffel bag – my moving van – and $100, both from my men’s group back in Chicago. The guy from the bus who took an interest in me dropped me off, by God – it just hit me – in the exact spot where we are staging Eric’s flash mob tomorrow, because my friend Tom said the Co-op “has the best bulletin board.”)
Eric has been playing at a coffeehouse – the Straightaway Cafe in Black Mountain – but my GPS made it look way south of Black Mountain, and the one night I tried to round up people to go, when I got no bites I just went to bed early.
At 7:30 on Sunday March 8, Eric opens for Abby the Spoon Lady – with the Tater Boys – at the White Horse Black Mountain. How totally funky is that show, huh? That could start to open things up for him, especially if we pour a lot of excited fans into his set that night.
But let’s ground ourselves back in the here-and-now. Eric is broke. He’s $35 shy on his rent. I very sadly told him today that I couldn’t help.
I am happy all the time these days – 24/7 – and have amazing excitement about what my friend Kerstin calls my “enormous entrepreneurial dreams” (which happen to center around “storytelling dance parties” and “storytelling dance coaching” – the Thursday party is my big pilot).
But today I have $.40 and my checking account is overdrawn. Having chosen to leave Earth Fare three months ago for this dream business, it hasn’t yet yielded a dime. I’m two months behind on my rent and have been served eviction papers. I went to Eblen Charities today, where I have been told they will help you if you have the eviction papers in hand. But Panchita and I had been chasing reporters all day to get stories about the Thursday benefit – and by the time we got to Eblen it was 4:53. There were young, poor families lined up on both sides of the hall. The lovely, sweet young woman with a clipboard said, “We close at 5 – and we have many people waiting. Come back tomorrow – early if you can.”
“I can’t come early – Susan Campbell’s 9:30 ecstatic dance class is like family for me and Pancho – she’s the little mascot of the class, they all love on her. And then we have a flash mob.” She gave me an odd little look. This story may have been a first for her.
“OK, in the afternoon you’re going to be dealing with a long wait.’
It all kind of took my breath away. Janet in our building office had told me I could head off trouble if I got $100 in last Thursday – this is Monday. I feel absolutely certain that I will not be evicted (I bet Eblen will save the day). By a month from now, my new little business will be bringing in a little money – and by a year later will actually be a big business bringing in a lot of money, for me and others. (I really, really want to be a rainmaker for other talented people I believe in – like Eric.)
But for about two minutes – outside again by my car – I felt genuinely lost, vulnerable and alone. I smoked my last half-cigarette – and it was very good.
Something in me said, “Pay attention! Pay attention! This state will soon pass for you, but for way too many people this is just life. This is an extraordinary experience of being an underdog – let it shape you, so you never forget it.”
A few days ago, there was a guy with a sign asking for money when I pulled off US 240 , going west, at Montford Ave. I was way over in the right lane, making a right turn to go to the Visitor Center – to see how they could help me bait the hook for the New York Times to come here to cover a magical grocery store within a magical town. These guys with signs at the side of the road sometimes annoy me: they’re in the way, someone might hit them – and there never is time to fish money out before the light changes. It’s stressful and I sometimes resent them.
Even though I was way over in the right lane, when the guy made kind of pleading eye contact with me, I so heartfully yelled, “I really wish I could help you buddy, but I don’t have any money either.” He saw me smoking. “Do you have cigarettes?” “I have ten to last me ten days until my Social Security check comes – I’ll give you two. Come! Come!” When he came over to the car to get the cigarettes, I felt great to have something I could give him. We both smiled really big. We were both happy. It was a kind of little cigarette party. I cried. I’m crying now.
Whew! I guess I needed to get that off my chest. Every time someone asks about the Westgate Earth Fare contingency fund – to which the checks that people send the accountant will go – I say, “It’s so that no Earth Fare worker lives out of their car.” Without this fund, I feel sure that someone will. Not once, when I have said this, have I consciously realized that this person could be me.
I’m so blessed to have a few friends who would never let me live out of my car, if I told them the truth about what was going on. Each time I think about living out of your car, I think about my buddy who lived in his car for a week last winter (in the fucking winter), before he came to stay with me for a few weeks. He was so tricky that it took me a few days to realize that’s where he was staying. He always said it was “fine”. We are survivors, aren’t we?
I want our “Underdog storytelling dance party” on Thursday to nail down my love for my underdog brothers and sisters to where I never, ever lose it again. As much as possible, I want my heart to stay permanently open to “my people”. I do believe that all of us dancing together will help. When I have gotten mentally tight, stressed, tense – dancing almost always takes me right back to my heart.
So back to the dance. At 12 sharp, Eric is playing his guitar at one of those little tables in front of the French Broad Food Co-op on Biltmore across from the Orange Peel. Beforehand, I will get with the really very cool and funky store manager (Tom Kilby tells me they worked together at Earth Fare – cool, this may mean something extra to him) – to make sure Eric doesn’t get accosted for playing music, and having a tip jar, out in front of the store.
After Eric just plays by himself for a minute or so, this 73 year old white guy is once again typecast as some uptight, preoccupied guy who pays precious little attention to this brilliant young starving artist. Having walked by, I perfunctorily back up a step or two to drop a buck (if someone gives me one) in Eric’s jar – or whatever, guitar case. Then I pick up my step again to leave. But something hooks me before I get away. I slowly come back – and, little by little, start to move. Then somebody else stops their forward momentum and gradually starts to move, while I continue to get freer and freer. We are all in by the end of the first song. Then we really have a blast during the second song with Eric. Not only self-expression, but lots of connection and love – love of ourselves, of each other, of Eric. No need for play-acting – breathe, relax your body, feel your feet on the ground, let your body get loose – let your heart do what it so naturally does.
And people, people, people – this guy has got to pay his rent! Everybody – maybe exquisitely built into your dance itself – drops in a buck or five. Unless, like me, you don’t have a dollar until March 3. We without a buck will give Eric an extra wink.
It’s supposed to be sunny and warm tomorrow. I’m gonna wear a killer orange t-shirt (bought from Goodwill for a gun-control rally) – under a dreary sweatshirt. At some point in my dance, I will get feeling free, strip it off and reveal my true colors – maybe throw the clunky old sweat shirt in the air somewhere in happy exuberance. I promise to stop the clothing removal at that point. (Little Panchita is saying, “Good luck. That’s not where he stops when he’s dancing in the living room.”)
At the end of the second song, we abruptly just go back to what we had been doing – and head off in different directions. I dunno, I don’t think I’m really a purist about these things. I don’t dig the idea of just disappearing back into greater Asheville. After hanging out and breathing for a minute or so, I’m gonna go back by Eric and party with my peeps!
And then two days later – Thursday at 7 p.m., just as the Dance Party Benefit is getting started, in the beautiful Battery Park Apartments lobby (1 Battle Square, across from the north end of the Grove Arcade) we do it all over again!
Here’s the info on the Thursday party.
Questions about today? text me at 828-582-9822. I will be in Susan Campbell’s 5 Rhythms dance throwdown from 9:15-10:45.