Saturday, January 22, 2005

Freak Magnet!

If you manage to set yourself up as a successful Boho freelancer/self employed artist, you will attract an amazing array of people from all walks of life to bask in your glory. Say what? Take my word for it, people will be attracted to your good thang, offering everything from sublime lessons in human dignity, to blatantly vampiric attempts to hi-jack your time and energy.
With a bit of practice, it becomes easy to recognize the latter—within minutes of meeting the vampiric leach, they attempt to wrangle the discourse to a place where you are somehow in the position of owing them something; most often a deep discount on your product or service. You’ll see a red flag, and you will get rid of them asap. Try adding a 50% “asshole fee” to your usual rate. When they get ugly, be sweet as pie but stick to your guns. And remember, you don’t owe them a thing.
The other sort, offering the sublime lesson, a peek into the bottomless well of the beauty of the human spirit, can be a real pleasure. They will probably try your patience a bit too, but it’s worth it. My rule of thumb is to attempt to offer the same basic respect to any person I come across in the course of my business. Easier said than done, but something to aim for.
As a self employed freak magnet, it’s been my great pleasure to encounter quite an array of swashbucklers. How about the charismatic actor who financed his theater company (and his t-shirts) with a successful drug dealing operation? He did quite well with it, but I guess his success was tempered by the little fact that he was a junkie…
One of my favorite encounters with an unusual person came early in my “career”, when I maintained a screen printing operation at Warehouse Artist Studios in Eugene, Oregon in the early ‘80s. One fine rainy morning, when nothing much was going on, a slightly bellicose balding guy named Abner Burnett stepped through the door and asked how much I would charge to print one t-shirt. Sorry, minimum order is two dozen. OK, how much for two dozen?
Abner ends up ordering something like 2 shirts. He understands that the economies of scale are not working for him, that with set up charges, these will be very expensive shirts, but he doesn’t seem to mind. I wish I could remember what the design was—it may have had something to do with his beloved Chevy Vega (those were great cars, right up there with the Ford Pinto!). As Abner cuts me a downpayment check, he notes that he lives off a trust fund, and is bored, and is really glad he met me. Great.
When will the shirts be done? I can print them on Tuesday, I’ll call you when they are done.
Arriving at the warehouse on Tuesday morning, I am less than thrilled to find Abner at the door waiting for me with a curious half smile on his face. This is the first time I think, “axe murderer”. Turns out Abner wants to watch me print his shirts. He wants to learn about screen printing. Usually, it unnerves me to have a customer watch a production run, but hey, it’s only two shirts. And, Abner said he wants to learn about screen printing. He said the magic words. I love teaching people how to screen print. I figure it’s like teaching a poor man to fish. Or, it’s like giving someone a lesson in a tool that can be used to exercise your first amendment rights. So I am into it.
As I set up and print his job, Abner opines, “Mr. Lafler, I can tell that you are independently wealthy”. I bark out such a hearty laugh that I almost botch a print. “What makes you say that, Abner?”
“Well, you just leisurely hang out at your studio every day, doing just what you want.”
The fact is, Mr. Burnett, I am here in the studio to try to scrape together a couple bucks, with which to buy some burritos, beer and a can of food for Ed, my cat. If I make some extra cash, maybe I’ll publish a comic book or two, but independently wealthy? Ha!
Abner pays for his shirts, and he’s gone. I enjoyed the encounter, but I also was happy that it’s over. Or so I thought. Abner started showing up at my studio almost daily, to “learn screen printing”. He would stand there, half glassy eyed, issuing a series of loosely related comments that weren’t quite non sequiturs. One day I tried to leave, just to shake him. “Where you going?”, Abner wants to know. “I’m going to get some screen printing supplies”, I say. Abner wants to drive. Oh hell, why not? I don’t have a car.
Although I didn’t exactly like Abner, I was just a bit fascinated by him. What the hell was he up to? What was his story? He kinda gave me the creeps, but he exuded a thickly benign sense of serenity.
The jig was up one day when he came in, affable yet strangely agitated at the same time. What’s up, Abner? “Mr. Lafler, I’m a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, and I didn’t take my medication today”.
Okay. That explained a lot. Abner came around a few more times, then I guess he lost interest. As mentioned, he made me rather nervous, yet I was curious enough about him to indulge his presence. I like to think he was just another manifestation of Buddha nature, come to teach me a lesson, or something like that

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