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  • I will preface this piece by first addressing Tony G.

    Joke ‘em it they can’t take a fuck! You write some of the most compelling and well-constructed stuff I read on Cowbird. Keep pounding that keyboard, man!

    I am as far underground and outside of the margins as a writer can be. The editor of an artsy-farty literary rag told me in a rejection letter that I ought not to brag on being a subterranean outsider. Perhaps he was right. I still consider it a positive thing. But I am not as invisible as once I strove to be. Not by any standard or definition. If you Google me I can be found.

    My anonymous, underground status was something I worked hard to achieve. I traveled the Dirt Circuit working Renaissance Faires. If anyone asked what I did for a living I said I was a writer. I’ve been scribbling since I could hold a pen. I wrote reams of news and advertising copy during my dozen year broadcasting career. I wrote singing, dancing, dueling outdoor spectacles and all of the promotional material for the biggest Renaissance Faire in the country. I filled stacks of legal pads with stories and poems. But I wasn’t a writer. I was an itinerant entertainer -a traveling showman, a factotum. I cultivated a few specialized outlets for my unique and varied talents. At some shows I held entertainment contracts. I told Flipped Out Fables. I was the Town Crier and led the Royal Parade.

    At other shows I worked games. Test of Strength. Archery Range. Vegetable Vengeance. That’s the renfaire spin on the old carnival dunk tank. It was my favorite to work and to this day is the most lucrative game at any Rennie faire that has one. An obnoxious, but entertaining clown insults people while his assistant, a brassy, sassy buxom young lass then sells them rotten tomatoes with which to pelt the clown.

    Working Veggie Vengeance put me off tomatoes. I didn’t even eat tomato sauce on pizza for three years. My palms were as sore and bruised as if I’d been catching hundred mile an hour fastballs barehanded. I was constantly finding tomato seeds in places they ought not be.

    The upside of it was the money.

    One weekend of dodging, catching and occasionally being soundly pasted by rotten tomatoes, in addition to paying the clown’s exorbitant fee, keeping him in rice, beans, gasoline and the occasional sushi dinner until next weekend, will also cover the costs of the rotten tomatoes, the salaries of the buxom young lass at the counter and the strapping young lad stationed in the crowd for security.

    Insulting people for entertainment, for laughs and ultimately for money is an art form. Think of Don Rickles. The clown must be funny. Not mean. Never mean. Don’t go for the obvious. Leave the easy ones alone. Be creative in what you choose to mock about your potential customers. Always finish with the audience and the insulted person laughing and feeling good about the experience.

    There are only two rules to the game. Two bucks buys five tomatoes. Tomatoes must be purchased before being thrown. If you miss him or if the clown catches the tomato you lose!

    Before I began rambling I mentioned that I was a hard guy to find. That’s still where I’m going with this. I was anonymous. In the annals of the Benevolent Order Of Scurrilous Monks I am called Brother Nom de Plume. I was under the radar and off the charts for decades. No one could find me. Not ex-wives nor kids nor process servers nor the IRS. I conducted all my business on pay telephones. Remember them?

    Then I discovered the life work of Antonio Gattorno along with the woman who would become my best friend, my collaborator and my life partner. I became obsessed with telling Gattorno’s story and sharing his paintings with the world. I had to climb out from under my rock if I was going to do the project any justice. I had to get legit. I had to transform myself from a hippie gypsy to a fine art expert. I had to become a real writer.

    I collected rejection slips from the finest publishing houses on the planet for years. I self-published GATTORNO: A Cuban Painter For The World in the summer of 2004. I curated an exhibit of Gattorno’s work at the Lowe Museum in Miami, Florida in the spring of 2005. The London Book Festival awarded my book first place in the Fine Art genre in 2008. In 2009 I won the Eric Hoffer award for excellence in independent publishing.

    When I began researching Antonio Gattorno he had no presence on the Internet. He had a verifiable provenance. His career and his contributions to his country and his art were duly noted in the contemporary media. But Gattorno was missing from the art history books. He had, as Ray Neighbor might say, pisadeared. I spent countless hours in museum basements, newspaper morgues and library archives.

    I was invisible online as well at the time. I belonged to no writer’s groups. I had no interest in work-shopping my manuscript. I did not employ an editor. I hired a publishing house with an impressive catalog of titles. I treated the project as if it was a television show, a theatrical production or an indie film. I had experience with those.

    What I did not know about the publishing business would have filled a very thick book. It still will I reckon. But I accomplished what I set out to do. I became a real writer. I discovered then wrote a book about a painter with an important and indisputable provenance. Gattorno was a lost Master of the sort that folks with initials behind their names and university tenure dream of discovering.

    I didn’t write a bestseller. Oprah was not interested in making it one of her favorites. Critical acclaim and literary awards gave me priceless street cred as a writer that I would not have earned any other way. They did nothing to help sales.

    I have a garage full of books. Greenleaf Distributing, the main supplier to both chain and independent booksellers, picked up the book upon release but dropped it after a couple of years because it was not selling at the rate they required.

    I didn’t need the awards to justify the incredible investment that went into writing and publishing the book. I did it because I felt I had been given a sacred trust. I was compelled to do it by the quality of the paintings and by the power of Antonio Gattorno’s story.

    The recognition of the book by critics and awards committees is sauce for the goose. It’s icing on the cake. I accomplished my goal but I never doubted my ability to do so. I would like to see those pallets stacked high with cases of books sell out and pisadear before I die. If they don’t I reckon they will make one hell of a funeral pyre.

    I post on Cowbird because I enjoy the forum. I dig discovering writers and storytellers that are often as far off the radar as I am. I welcome the opportunity to share Gattorno with a new audience. I'm pleased to have a new audience for my fiction and poetry. I am not interested in compromising my own artistic integrity or censoring my writing to conform to anyone else’s standards. I won’t lower my bar. I won’t apologize for my work. Don’t ever apologize for yours.
    ************************************************************************************************************* Unca Crusty Bobo hurls insults and catches tomatoes at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival in Largo, Florida. Spring,1996. Photo by James T. Jordan
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