“If you’re going to be crazy, you have to get paid for it or else you’re going to be locked up.” – Hunter S. Thompson
“Labor was the first price, the original purchase – money that was paid for all things.” – Adam Smith
“The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.” – Robert Benchley
I awoke early and noticing it was a beautiful spring-like morning, I decided to take a day off from underemployment and spend it walking about town. Leaving my apartment, I ran into my landlord, who reminded me that I was late on my rent. I told him I wasn’t going to pay February rent, but that I really loved the apartment, the general conceit of its aesthetic, and the narrative flow of its layout, and that I was totally blogging about it all the time, which was good business for us both. He seemed unimpressed, but I told him “what are your options? You expect everyone just to hand over rent every month, just arbitrarily on the first?” How presumptuous. I mean, I was living there, isn’t that half the work? And, plus, as soon as my novel got big, he could, like, turn it into a museum like Dostoevsky’s place. Who the fuck expects to be paid regularly, and in a timely fashion, for providing goods or services? Like, what world is this guy living in, right? Like, some utopian paradise or whatever where effort was compensated?
I hit up my local Starbucks for a coffee, ordering my usual venti Pike Place. When the pretty barista with the weird perm who always played Tom Waits told me it cost $2.57, I told her that I wasn’t going to pay but I would tell everyone I know how much I enjoyed the coffee, and that I always mentioned it on my blog, and that Tom Waits is the best, and wasn’t my enjoyment and celebration of the coffee enough for the both of us, and then I complimented her hair. She was aces about it.
My coffee was warm, the sun was shining, and I had some new shoes on that I needed to break in. The shoes were custom made for me by this great little cobbler around the corner from my place. I didn’t pay him for the shoes, but I’m sure to make note of his location when asked about them, and of course it’s up on the blog. I took a long meandering walk from one neighbourhood to another, and decided to grab some lunch at a little café that had just opened that a friend had told me about. I had a phenomenal sandwich: grilled mahi mahi on fresh sourdough, with a cilantro jalapeno pesto aioli and grilled peppers. On my way out, I complimented the chef on an outstanding effort, and noted that while I did not intend on paying I would totally blog about it later, and it would reflect well upon him that I had eaten there, and that one day, if he continued to work really hard, he would eventually be paid for his food.
I wanted to share the day so I figured I’d get ahold of my buddy, who would certainly be in on celebrating a day of underemployment. Unfortunately, my phone was out of minutes so I dropped by the Bell Store. I let them know that I didn’t have the cash on me to pay for additional minutes, but as soon as I got some grant money I was expecting that I would probably send them a bit. And, I would totally tell everyone I know that they were better than Rogers, and that if people saw me using Bell, then it would be good business for Bell. And plus, I used to volunteer my time at this poetry journal so why did I have to pay for my phone, am I right?
They reluctantly gave in, because my argument got louder and more self-righteous the more I repeated it. I texted my buddy, and he met up with me down by the university where we both got our MFAs. Suddenly, it started to rain, so we decided to catch a matinee at the varsity cinema. My buddy didn’t have any money either, but we explained to the usher that we were both artists, and that we could identify with all the work and artistic sacrifice that went in to making the film, and there was no one else in the theatre so what did it matter if we snuck in, and even if we didn’t like it we would totally say nice things about it on our respective blogs, and in our Huffington Post columns.
The movie was horrible, but we blogged complimentary things about it on our smartphones as we left the theatre. The rain had cleared and the spring-like day had returned and as I always feel like a pint or two after a matinee we made our way down to some recently opened brewpub that had all local and organic beers. It was a cool little place, filled with the smell of fresh hops with good music and cool local artists on display, and we each ordered a stout that had hints of cherry and vanilla. The beer was so delicate, so expertly crafted, that you could taste the artistry of the brewmeister in each sip. We must have had about six or seven each, because day quickly gave way to night, and we were both happily eleven pm drunk at about only eight o’clock. Bloated by cherry stout, we decided to head elsewhere, figuring a walk would do us both some good. We didn’t pay the server (who was excellent by the way: informed, knowledgeable, courteous) but we left a note letting her know that if she emailed us her address, we’d each send her a poem written about her, as well as a lifetime subscription to our zine. Oh, and we’d totally blog about it and tell everyone how great the place was.
Back out on the streets, we felt invigorated and eager for some live music. We had overheard a table at the brewpub talking about some next-big-thing indie band that was playing at a club a few blocks over, so we went to check them out. We walked in without paying cover, letting the bouncer know that we were artists too, and we didn’t have any money, because the grant system is rigged, and our agents were getting back to us soon, and we had maybe, probably, had a guy who was going to option our zine, and as soon as that came through, we’d pay every time we came back to the club, which we’d certainly blog about.
The band was great. Must have been about fifteen of them, playing a kind of alt-country, bluegrass, garage pop, a genre of music I had been championing for years. After the show, we visited the merch table where we each grabbed a tee shirt and a CD, and promised to send them copies of our first novels whenever they were published in exchange, and that they were awesome, and we’d blog about the show for sure. The lead singer and the drummer were working the table, and for some reason seemed kind of pissed that we didn’t want to pay.
My buddy was all, “did you get paid to play here tonight?”
And the drummer was all, “like, of course.”
And I was all, “then you should be happy that someone wants your art, man.”
And he was all, “dude, c’mon, I got a mortgage and kids.”
And my buddy was all, “then why don’t you get a day job to support your debt and do your art without expectation of compensation on your own time so that the rest of us can enjoy your efforts without paying to do so?”
And the lead singer was all, “we gotta pay for gas to get to our show in Montreal tomorrow.”
And I was all, “Montreal’s awesome, I know a guy there who will totally blog about your show if you let him and his buddies in for free and give him a CD and a shirt.”
And he’s all, “dude, we can’t just give you our merch.”
And if I’m all, “if I’m not getting paid for my art how can I pay you for yours, smart guy?”
I mean, sure I had gotten like 25K from a grant a few weeks back to write about the alt-country, bluegrass, garage pop scene, but I had already spent that on my MacBook Pro, a trip to Mexico, my Honda Civic, and other various important expenses, so what’s his problem?
After getting beat up a bit in the alley by the drummer, the bassist, and the thermin player, my buddy and I were pretty tired, but we needed a drink or two to calm the throbbing pain of our heavy bruising. It was past closing, but I knew of this little after hours place in an art gallery, so we grabbed a cab and headed down to the next neighbourhood over. We ran from the cab without paying, because those guys make enough money without needing our twelve bucks. The after hours was really sweet, and it turned out the artist currently showing had had a vernissage earlier that evening and was still there. We hit the bar and grabbed some beers, paying with our smiles and good intentions, then went to track down the artist, whose work was like wax sculptures duct taped to old 78s then digitally photographed. Really cool. I liked one in particular a whole lot, Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” covered in what appeared to be a melted candle, and photographed with a fisheye lens. Really cool, but when I grabbed it off the wall to take home the artist totally freaked. I told him that I’d hang it prominently in my apartment, and that whenever anyone came by I’d tell them about him, and that I’d use it as the basis for the cover of my novel, and that he would be featured on my blog, but he didn’t seem to care at all.
Soon after they kicked us out, and the whole walk home my buddy and I talked about what an asshole the artist was, and what jerks the band were. We parted ways eventually, and when I got home there was a rejection notice about my grant in my mailbox. According to them, they didn’t see the artistic merit of a novel based on my experiences as a young blogger in a big city who went for a walk, then to the movies, then to a brewpub, then saw a band, then went to an afterhours, infused with a healthy subplot about zombies. I sat down at my MacBook to write an angry letter to them, detailing the flaws in their bureaucracy, how decisions on art can’t be made in offices, how art couldn’t be held back by government or good taste, how the whole system was a mess, and how I was totally going to blog about it non-stop.