Last May, I stood in a Newport restaurant overlooking Yaquina Bay, reading from Gimme Refuge: The Education of a Caretaker
, my new book about serving as caretaker of a national wildlife refuge. The event marked, by my loose count, my 300th literary gig in Oregon since 2002.
Behind me, a local fisherman interrupted, demanding to know the employment of everyone in the audience. When some offered vague answers (such as "magic fairy" or "retired"), he said he didn't trust people who wouldn't define their job. He concluded his harangue, promised to buy everyone a drink, and left. The drinks never arrived. I later discovered he thought my book was about promoting a series of marine refuges, or reserves, for Oregon (a proposal generally loathed by the state's commercial fishing community). That's how drunk some people get at literary events in Newport.
Driving home that night, I ranked the incident as one of my Most Memorable Literary Gigs in Oregon. Not the best, mind you, but rather one of the bizarre, unpredictable, or failed gigs that have become disembodied legends to me. Really, these gigs, in bookstores, bars, museums, libraries, barns, closets, wherever, whatever, make all the relentless and unpaid touring worth it in the end, even when you don't sell a single damn book, which is exactly what happened in Newport.
The fisherman story made the list, but I've had many others. Here's a roundup:
1. Estacada: after a presentation on Vortex, the 1970 state-sponsored rock festival held in McIver Park, a man who attended the event invited me into the woods to tell his story. I went.
2. Toledo: After giving a lecture about the filming of Sometimes a Great Notion in Lincoln County, I was summoned to a nearby bar where a man allegedly had a fabulous tale about Paul Newman. He did not. He wanted a beer.
3. Portland: I was heckled in a church by a die-hard basketball fan as I read from the epilogue of Red Hot and Rollin', my book about the Portland Trail Blazers' 1976-77 NBA Championship team. Basically, I was saying I loved that Bill Walton, hippie-led Zen team, and could care less about the current lineup, or the franchise for that matter. Fortunately, the poet Walt Curtis publicly defended me as only Walt Curtis can. "Matt Love is a visionary for Oregon!" Walt screamed from the front row. Well, maybe not so much, but it was nice hearing that accolade from a true Oregon literary visionary. Later, the heckler approached me when I was talking with readers. I found out he hadn't read the book. I said, "C'mon, man, you have to read the book before you rip me." He didn't say anything and left. He didn't buy a book.
4. Roseburg: I have the distinction (or so I like to claim) of being the only Oregon writer who has ever performed at the same venue where the loincloth-wearing, bow-hunting rocker Ted Nugent once played — Douglas Country Fairgrounds.
5. Madras: I drove all the way from the coast in winter and found the entire audience consisted of two octogenarian women wearing shawls who knitted through the presentation. But one of them knew Tom McCall.
6. Tillamook: I made my presentation in a library's utility room and stood next to a mop.
7. Nehalem: After reading a particularly painful passage from my book about the refuge, a pastor from the Sanctuary of the Shores Ministry came forward and offered me a blessing. I accepted and immediately felt better.
8. Pacific City: As I read an essay about the renowned Oregon politician Bob Straub, thanking him for defeating a proposed relocation of Highway 101 down Nestucca Spit, an elderly man approximately four and half feet tall walked right up to me and said, "Bob Straub was an asshole!" Then he turned around and left.
9. Portland: After a gig at a bookstore, a woman came up while I signed books, stared at me for a second, and asked, "Do you remember me?" It took me all of two seconds to remember her name, the bar, the band, the amount of whiskey... 21 years ago, I think. She bought a book.
10. Astoria: A transient came into a bar where I was holding an event and offered me a bag of psychedelic mushrooms in exchange for a book and said I should buy him a beer. I declined the bag but bought him a draft. I didn't sell a book.
11. Veneta: At the Oregon Country Fair I read to an audience almost entirely "asleep" or "dazed" on cushions. I didn't sell a book.
12. Lincoln City: At a book fair, I sat next to two pirates in full costume, including cutlasses and eye patches. They were promoting a book about how to talk like a pirate and didn't break character for four hours. They directed most of their conversations toward me. I sold a couple books, and they went through a boxful.
And finally, perhaps my most memorable Oregon gig doesn't even count as an official gig because I never read! At another event in Lincoln City, I was bumped from a Peace Day lineup by a mediocre mime troupe called Whirled Peas. My then-girlfriend joined me that afternoon, and she didn't seem all that convinced when I told her the indignation sat fine with me. "We'll laugh about it later," I said. And I do. You must laugh if you want to remain sane and still fit to gig.
Last November, I finished my tour for Gimme Refuge and announced my retirement from gigging. I've got a couple new books coming out in the fall and will have to come out of retirement to aggressively promote them. There's no other way to get the word out as an independent press. At least that's been my experience with Nestucca Spit Press.
So, it's time to get back out on the Oregon road... and who knows what the hell will happen.