On occasion I dabble in philosophy and academia, and the future of art and art criticism have long been a fascination for me, especially as an active fiction writer.
Art struggles in our postmodern world, where genius has been pronounced dead and mediocrity and irony congratulate one another on their empty existence. A trip to a modern museum of art leaves most of us scratching our heads in confusion. Cutting-edge art and literature have lost their power over our collective imaginations because they can no longer speak for us in any meaningful way. Avante-garde art and literature have sadly been relegated to PhD’s and ever-narrowing groups of intellectuals who “get it”, never bothering to ask if it’s worthy of being gotten in the first place. Art has become an inside joke about an inside joke that fewer and fewer people are interested in hearing.
A Heart Blown Open has been nominated for Book of the Year by Foreword Reviews. It was chosen from among 1,300 entries from small and academic publishers. The winner will be chosen on June 28th by a panel of 60 liberians and booksellers.
It has also WON the Silver Medal Award from Nautilus Books, for 2013.
On January 21st, I signed a contract with North Atlantic Books for my third book, called “Turning the Key: How Emotional Struggle becomes Spiritual Liberation”.
Turning the Key takes a step-by-step approach to what has become a vexing problem in spiritual circles. While we are more and more familiar with popular ideas of Enlightenment and spiritual Awakening, life still comes at us full-force, and hope can turn to frustration as the gulf between our spiritual belief and our everyday life seems to loom ever larger.
What is missing is integration. If Awakening truly transforms every part of the life of a person, where are we getting stuck? How can things like anger, shame, envy, and jealousy continue to arise? How do our relative egos relate to Emptiness, and what does this mean for our intimate relationships, our emotional bodies, our views of the world and its problems?
Turning the Key represents the next generation of spiritual books, because it is not content to merely talk about Awakening and spiritual life. These topics are addressed, of course, but within the context of creating lasting change, through the integration of spiritual insight into the flow and flux of everyday life. Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi and I talk about how a well-trained meditation students may learn to be non-reactive to emotions, but they seldom learn how to transform negative emotions (and the ego that holds them) as part of a more deeply integrated, lived spirituality.
This book describes, in great detail and with many exercises for the reader to follow, precisely what this means. Part discussion on these intricate topics and part experiential guide, Turning the Key offers a one-of-a-kind take on Enlightenment, emotional maturity, and the integration required to take one’s seat in true liberation.
Stay tuned for excerpts!
Q: How did you and Jun Po meet?
We first met in Boulder, in 2007, at a weekend conference on how Integral Theory had changed/affected out lives. Jun Po, recently in remission from Stage-4 Throat Cancer treatment, was remarkably candid about himself and some of the mistakes he’d recently made in his life, not a common experience one has when talking to a “spiritual teacher”. They tend to be long on teachings and short on personal revelations that might put them in a bad light, but not Jun Po. I was intrigued.
Q: How did you come to write the book?
Jun Po contacted me in the spring of 2009, and asked me if I was interested in writing his life story. I said, “maybe…”. He flew me to a retreat center in Massachusetts, where he told me his life story over two days, then asked again if I was interested. It was the most remarkable life story I had ever heard — this guy has done everything from trained with the who’s who of spirituality in the 20th Century to served time in Federal prison — so I readily agreed to write the book. (Eyebrow-raising excerpts can be found on the madness of his upbringing, on his experimentation with LSD , on amazing experiences in India, and on meeting the Dali Lama).
Q: How long did it take you to write this book?
I started the book in July 2009, and finished the first draft in May of 2010. After critical feedback on the manuscript, I decided to completely rewrite it, which took another year. From then, it was off to the publisher for editing (big thanks to Manny Otto and David Wright), and finally came into print in February 2012.
Q: What was the hardest part of creating the book?
There were two hard parts. The first was that when I was first offered this book in the summer of 2009, I realized that it was a story more extraordinary than I had ever heard before. Denis Kelly’s life is like a Hunter S. Thompson bioptic that somehow ends up with a Zen master at the end of it.
Amazing. But how does one afford to take a year, or two, off of life to write a book, full-time? Although I was living in Boulder, CO, I still owned and was renting a house in Philadelphia. I sold the house in August 2009, and used the money to live on while I wrote the book. I’ve never regretted that decision, even though the chances are slim I’ll ever make that money back.
The second hardest part was when, in the summer of 2010, the book was rejected by a major New York literary agency because the writing wasn’t strong enough (detailed here). I nearly threw in the towel and decided to give up on my dreams of writing, but after a long night sitting with it, ultimately decided to “double down”.
Q: It’s an unusual format for a biography, and reads more like a novel. Was this intentional?
Very much so. Most biographies are written by journalists, not fiction writers. I wanted the book to recreate the emotional and situational elements of Jun Po’s life, so that the reader got as close to possible to experiencing what his life was like instead of merely reading about it, Wikipedia style. I labored to get inside of his mind and emotional state, and to create the scene and setting of his life events so that the reader would have a deeper and more emotional experience.
I’m happy to know that many people have been deeply touched by this approach, so much so that I’ve been approached while having dinner, by complete strangers, who have told me how much they were inspired by the book.
Q: Did you find that your own spirituality or view of the world conflicted with Kelly’s?
No — Jun Po showed me the missing pieces in the my own practice. I had been trying to “get away from” my ego and “negative” emotions in my practice. His teachings showed me I had everything I needed to transcend — and include — all of myself on my spiritual path.
Q: So you became his student before writing the book. Didn’t this create a conflict of interest?
No, because I distanced myself from him for the two years I was working on the book, and also collaborated many of the stories in the book to get differing opinions on what happened. Most importantly, Jun Po was not eager to cover up or hide the places in his life where he made serious mistakes and had large breaches of integrity; those, in fact, are some of the most interesting and telling points of the book. Part of what makes him unique is his willingness to discuss the places where he made mistakes, even big and embarrassing ones.
Q: What kind of feedback have you gotten?
Amazing feedback so far. People are loving the book, and I have been stopped dozens of times to hear how touched people have been by the story, which is immensely rewarding. Comments can be found here: http://www.keithmartinsmith.com/store/a-heart-blown-open/ (look in the upper right corner) More are on Amazon, too. We haven’t, as of yet, had much critical reception (from professional reviewers), but Jun Po is a relative unknown, as am I. It will likely take time for the book to spread.
Q: How is the book doing?
Well, given what I said above (Jun Po and I are relatively unknown), it’s doing great. The book is selling consistently well, which indicates that since we’re not doing much promotion or high visibility interviews, it must be spreading word-of-mouth, the biggest and best way for a book to get out there.
Q: What are you working on now?
Since A Heart Blown Open is all about how Denis Kelly went from being a drug manufacturer and federal prisoner to a Zen master and innovator, the next book is a non-fiction work all about his unique contribution to Zen. It’s kind of the “sequel”, if you will, since it is the actual teachings of Jun Po minus the life that inspired them.
Q: Had you written a book before? Or a biography for that matter?
My first book is a collection of short stories called The Mysterious Divination of Tea Leaves. I had never written a biography until A Heart Blown Open.
Q: I read your blog post about the typo on the cover of your first book. Is A Heart Blown Open typo free?
Haha! No! The first edition, in fact, misspelled Eckhart Tolle’s name on the back cover as “Eckart” Tolle (no “h”). This was corrected in a second printing, which should be hitting bookshelves about now. So … do you have a first or second printing of the book?
Q: What universal takeaway should a reader expect from reading the book?
Anyone seeking true emotion freedom in their lives — freedom to truly show up as a partner, parent, friend — will be inspired by the book. Kelly’s life isn’t just an exploration of how to “wake up” and attain spiritual liberation, but how to live that liberation in the mess of daily life. That means viewing what used to be “problematic” emotions like anger, shame, and jealousy as gifts that can teach us how to truly live and love. My own takeaway from the book can be seen in my first reading of it at the Boulder Bookstore.
The last few months a strange thing has happened. I’ve been interviewed, quite a few times in fact. This is an interesting turn of events for a number of reasons.
The first is that it’s never happened before, which makes the experience a novel one, to say the least. Second, and perhaps most importantly, I’m being interviewed about A Heart Blown Open, which was published in February. What’s strange about this is the biography, unlike Walter Isaacson’s wonderful tome about Steve Jobs, is about someone who is very much alive and well and able to speak perfectly well on his own.
The third thing that makes it interesting is my naiveté. I’m green with envy at writers that have personal publicists to help fine-tune their messaging. I’ve read these publicists are masters of spin, not only with the media but most importantly with the talent they represent. (So, for instance, it’s never ‘what could be done better next time is X’, but instead a bit of a compliment sandwich, like ‘that was wonderful! It might be helpful next time to mention your website. Great job on that last question – that was a tough one!’). It would seem we writers are a sensitive lot.
As my own underpaid and rather unskilled publicist, I must listen to my own interviews to pick up on things that went well while grimacing at the things that sounded great in my mind, but were somehow lost on the journey to my mouth. This, I don’t mind admitting, is a humbling process. It probably doesn’t help that my girlfriend and partner-in-crime is so damn fluid and seamless in her interviews (my favorite is this one, where she’s interviewed by a kinda crusty old guy on a San Francisco TV station, about her book for women, and knocks it out of the park).
The first time I was interviewed, for Westworld Magazine here in Colorado, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. It was over the phone, thank goodness, so my nervous pacing went undetected in a way that would have been a little harder to mask in-person (where I might have knocked over a table or two). The interviewer asked great questions, but after I got off the phone I realized that I had never considered how I might present the book to someone who had never heard of Jun Po or me, and didn’t know much about Zen. Jun Po’s life story is amazing, but the truth is he’s not well known, nor am I, nor are the intricacies of Zen, beyond what most people get from pop culture (“dude, does that mean you’re like zoned out all the time, and shit?”). It was something I was going to need to consider.
By the time I made it to Vail to do a little spot on Vail TV in May of 2012, I had found a message to relay (I made a few blunders, like saying Jun Po was raised in poverty — he wasn’t — but oh well). Since then I’ve been interviewed on Buddhist Geeks, The New Man, and Integral Life (two of three forthcoming), and the results have been, well, mixed. So when the time is right, I’ll put on my publicist hat, and give myself a big, fat compliment sandwich. After all, we writers are a sensitive lot.
My experience of the creative process is one that is often painful, perhaps because I’ve spent much of my life producing writing that falls short of what I see in my mind and feel in my heart.
The curse of writing is the compulsion to do it; like a lust, it compels me to continue to strain and struggle to take something that exists in such Platonic perfection and translate it through the muck and mire of my brain and experience. The curse is also that feeling I get, deep in the belly, when what I tried to write comes out in a way that is strained, contrived, dull, or cliched. It’s like looking for something familiar in the fog; you know where you’re going, but can’t see it or how to get there. That feeling of being maddeningly far from your destination while knowing exactly where you want to be can generate a feeling I can only describe as despair.
Heres’s an example from “A Heart Blown Open”. In an earlier draft, I had ended a powerful scene like this:
Twenty years later he saw Silvia working as a bank teller and she seemed, in her conservative pantsuit, as far removed from the magic of the 1960’s as if that had been in another lifetime. Kelly certainly was changed from the mid-1960’s, the last time she had seen him. He was wearing the modest clothes of a Zen priest, his head and face cleanly shaven. Only his eyes might have seemed the same or given some indication of the man she had once known. But their eyes had never met, and Kelly had done his banking and been on his way. Some things, he knew, were best left in the past, where their magic remained forever undisturbed by the passage of time and the changing of perspective.
Word came to him a few years later that Silvia had lost a battle with cancer, and that her unique expression of humanity had returned to the source. He sat with the news, thinking about how she had saved his life and his sanity, and realized that although he hadn’t seen her in 20 years, he would miss her terribly.
The passage above made me wince every time I read it. It was so far from what I saw in my mind as this passage played out; I felt Kelly’s heartbreak as if it were my own, and knew it was something that touched at the very core of what it meant to be a human being. There was a universality to this experience that I had utterly failed to capture, and it was maddening. Because of the discomfort between what I felt and what I had written, I labored on this paragraph stubbornly and relentlessly, sculpting and fine-tuning until I came up with something a little closer to that Platonic perfection:
After that night, Kelly and Silvia’s paths crossed less and less, and by the late sixties he had lost touch with her completely. In 1982 he went into a bank in San Francisco to withdraw cash and was astonished to see Silvia standing behind the counter in a conservative pantsuit working as a bank teller. Her hair, once magnificently long and as dark as a starless patch of the night sky, was short and graying. He looked at her for a long moment.
Kelly too was much changed from the days of a shaggy beard and shoulder-length hair, and only his eyes might have given some indication of the man Silvia had known so many years before. Yet their eyes never crossed, and Kelly did his banking and left. As he stepped out into the gorgeous California morning, he knew that some things were best left in the past, where their magic remained forever undisturbed by the disillusioning passage of time and the changing of perspectives. Silvia and Kelly’s bond belonged in another era, in a different world whose time had come, and gone.
Word came to him a few years later that Silvia lost a battle with cancer. He sat with the news of her passing, remembering how she had saved his life and his sanity, and felt the depth of sadness in a world where nothing could be held and where everything slid inexorably, and inevitably, to ruin.
When I finally got these words to come through me, I felt the magic of what I do for a living. I had managed to steer myself out of the fog and to that perfect dwelling sitting right in the center of my being; the words came tantalizingly close to capturing an Ideal. For that day, at least, magic had won.
Whether I experience writing as a curse or something magical largely depends on the day, the weather, the stars, my karma, God’s will, or some other vector that I don’t seem to be able to capture, manipulate, understand, or control very effectively. So I slug through it day after day, and let passages like this one inspire the many other passages that have me gritting my teeth in frustration. Perhaps this is why we writers are stubborn, reclusive folks. Perhaps, too, this is the very thing that stands in our way. Either way, the compulsion to write beats its relentless rhyme inside of me.
I’ve talked quite a bit about the process of becoming a published author, a process that for me was littered with rejection letters. In my late twenties, I even resorted to taking a few years off trying to get published so that I wouldn’t have to create new work while getting constant rejection on the old. There’s nothing like the not-so-implied message of “your work sucks” to really dampen your creative energy.
In the summer of 2010, after I finished what I thought was the final draft of A Heart Blown Open, I sent it off to a major literary agency to seek their representation. My whole strategy hinged on them picking up the book, which meant they would be willing to walk the manuscript through the door of a major publisher. Money and fame were imminent, I thought (writers tend to bounce between megalomania and a pathological lack of self-worth).
A few weeks after submission, I got an email from the agency, saying exactly this: “…although we’ve both been really intrigued by such a ripe story, I’m afraid I just didn’t fall in the writing as much as I’d hoped. The story has all the details and events, but seems to have a… ‘and then, and the’..type of quality without really transporting to the reader into time and place. Much of this feels like a recited life and not one that leaps off the page into contemporary biography. And without these elements, I’m afraid it will be a very difficult sell in this incredibly volatile publishing market…”
I read those words, and looked around me. The sun was close to the mountains outside my window, in a clear blue sky. It was warm, and a window air conditioner rattled in the next room. A copy of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind sat to my left, a pad of paper with my scribbled handwriting to my right. The apartment was otherwise still.
After that pause, my world imploded around me like a slow-motion reel of a submarine being crushed in the darkness of the ocean’s bottom. I could no longer breath. Another rejection — how many did that make? 305? 320? 400? I’d lost count. And not just any kind of rejection, but one that explicitly said that it was the writing, not the story, that was causing them to pass on the book. I wanted to throw up, scream, weep, but all I could manage was raspy breathing. I limped out of my office into the living room, noticing sunshine streaming in from the window, a world away from my reality. I sat down hard enough on a chair to nearly break it, too upset to do anything but collapse into a stunned, embittered silence.
What am I doing? Who am I kidding? Why do I think I can pull this off? I’m no writer, certainly no fucking artist, and don’t have the talent to do this sort of thing. I’m kidding myself, wasting my money and time, living an adolescence fantasy into a depressingly real middle-aged failure. Who the fuck am I kidding? I should grow up, give Jun Po his life story back and tell him to find a real writer who has the stones to pull it off.
As I sat thinking these things, and worse, I looked up from the floor. My dog, Amia, was sitting ten feet away from me, staring lovingly. Her ears were flat against her head and mouth pulled down, and her entire body was quivering. She was the very picture of the emotional devastation I was feeling. She looked pathetic and, I realized after a moment, funny. She was reflecting my own intense heartbreak, feeling my pain inside of herself, and unintentionally mirroring me. Amia looked as sad and pathetic as I felt: in an instant, I burst out laughing at my own ridiculousness. Okay, I thought, maybe this isn’t the end of my world. Maybe it isn’t as bad as she looks.
That night, I went out and got staggering, stinking drunk to blow off the steam of the rejection. With a crushing hangover the next morning, I sat down at my computer with a cup of coffee and glass of water, a handful of aspirin scattered along side the computer. I opened A Heart Blown Open. The writing wasn’t good enough. Okay. I would see what I could do about that.
The book’s first sentence read: “A few weeks after his 28th birthday, Denis Kelly was sitting on the floor of a friend’s beach house in full lotus position, both feet tucked onto the top thigh of the opposite leg.” I considered. Yeah, that was a shitty start. After a few moments, I deleted the opening sentence, and typed: “Denis Kelly was about to commit ritual suicide.” I allowed a guarded smile. That was better.
And it came to me as the first aspirin went down: the agent had been right — I had been cutting creative corners, being lazy with descriptions, and not giving the book my full potential. I realized that part of me had been holding back so I could tell myself, “Yeah, but I didn’t really try” when rejection inevitably came. Part of me was terrified of that rejection, and had come up with a brilliantly self-defeating strategy to live with it: don’t really show up. Don’t try as hard as you can. Over the next nine months and maybe 1,500 hours, I labored over every sentence, every paragraph of that book, until it was the best I could do.
This time I held nothing back, and if the writing wasn’t good enough now, I could at least say that I could do no more, write no better. This was me at my best, and there was no more to give. I put everything into this book — time, money, sense of self, purpose for being, and every single ounce of talent I had. At 38 years of age, I finally became a writer, finally understood what that meant.
I found the perfect home for my book with a small but dedicated publisher, and A Heart Blown Open is now out in the world, for better or for worse. In fact, my first review, in the Huff Post, came out just today, and it didn’t say the writing sucked.
Whatever else the book may be, it is the very best of me.
And I still have a dog who sometimes gives me those sad, sappy writer looks, because sometimes I’m still a sad, sappy writer.
Some things don’t change.
In the winter of 2009 I sat in my cozy farmhouse, overlooking the Rocky Mountains with a package ripped open in front of me, literally sweating with pride. I assure you, it is not easy to sweat with pride, but I managed it. You see, my brand-new book was in-hand, freshly shipped from the publisher. It was a moment I had waited my entire adult life for — to be published, and to have the book, real and tactile and an undeniable manifestation of my hard work, in my hands. It was physical proof of the ten years of sacrifice and belief in myself, against the hundreds of rejections I’d received and doubt (mine and others) I’d endured. I ran my hand over the cover, delicately.I put the book to my nose and inhaled deeply. I took a few photos of myself with the book, using Photobooth on my Mac, like a proud game hunter standing with animal he had vanquished.
About an hour later, I saw it.
My pride and feeling of accomplishment imploded. I stared sweating again, this time from an impossible combination of intense feelings. One ugly letter stood out across the cover of the book, glaring at me like a broken tooth. U. Ken Wilbur. As in, Ken Wilber.
I could not believe my eyes. A thought tumbled through my mind, Am I always to be the punch line of the universe? What have I done to be denied even a singular victory of perseverance and self-belief? And then, somewhat less profoundly, You’ve got to be fucking kidding me… There were copyeditors, editors, assistant editors, designers, all supposed to catch this sort of thing. How could this happen? And the image I approved, and the one still currently on Amazon, had the correct spelling.
I had one of the longest, most emotionally confusing nights of my life. The next day, I balked. I complained. The publisher shrugged, saying they had no intention of eating the cost of their first run, and that my contract was clear: I had the final word. They had sent me their final draft, where someone had “corrected” Ken’s name, and I’d missed it. “Sell out the first printing,” they said, “And we’ll fix it on the next run.”
Now anyone who appreciates fine automobiles knows how luxurious and spectacular an Aston Martin can be (stay with me – I’ll get there). When painted a sleek silver, the car looks like something straight out of a James Bond movie (where they are, in fact, often featured). Getting my first book published was like earning a car this magnificent after a decade of toil, having it be delivered to my driveway, and then noticing that it had a bright yellow door.
The typo wasn’t just anywhere on the book, like the title (where I might be able to, with some convincing, claim artistic license). No, the typo was at the top, center, and of the name of the most notable endorser I had gotten for the book (Ken, I might add, never received a copy in thanks, for obvious reasons).
In the months afterwards, every time the book was mentioned or I was talking about it, I always felt like I had an Aston Martin with a yellow door. “But it’s a beautiful car,” I could hear someone saying, “Fast, sleek, amazingly well made — a true work of art. You’re so blessed to have it. You should be proud.” But all I would see was that damn yellow door, and grit my teeth in frustration.
Now, almost three years later, I’m still on that first printing of The Mysterious Divination of Tea Leaves, which means that yellow door is still with me, to this day. But I have come to appreciate the book, and its many flaws, inside and out, typographical and creative. I have come to be proud of it after all, the letter u be damned, for it serves as an important reminder.
I probably shouldn’t judge my own book by its cover.
But just for the record, here’s the cover I did approve, wonderfully typo-free (go ahead, click on it, and notice that gorgeous letter “e” right where it’s supposed to be):
I went to a show in Denver last weekend, a great event by the band Beats Antique (highly recommended). I decided that I would wait to get my ticket until I got there, for absolutely no good reason whatsoever. Sara, my girlfriend, had a ticket from a friend, so we only needed one ticket total for our group of 5. We had a great dinner, drove to the venue and parked, and made our way to the sales window.
They were sold out.
That wasn’t the worst of it. It was about 15 degrees outside, and now I had to walk the streets with the other poor souls looking for an extra ticket. My friends went in; Sara, dressed scantily, was kind enough to shiver with me in the cold. I asked the groups of people who passed for an extra ticket, but there was no luck. After a half hour, frozen, we gave up and got a beer at the Cheeky Monk just up the street.
“I really want to go dancing,” Sara said next to me at the bar, chattering, too cold to have a drink. ”I want to dance.”
“Me too,” I said, guiltily. ”You should just go in without me,” I offered, but she merely shook her head.
A Russian Imperial Stout warmed my belly, and I soon felt emboldened to try again to find a ticket, to join my intrepid friends inside dancing, laughing, and having the kind of fun I really, really wanted to be having, too.
Sara and I walked the two blocks back to the Fillmore Theater. At least a dozen people were still looking for tickets, many of them the same people who had been looking when we’d left a half hour before to warm up. Sara offered an incantation of some sort, her unbridled optimism, and an assurance we’d find a ticket. Me? I grumbled and cursed under my breath, sighed, and fought competing waves of anger and disappointment. ”It’s useless,” I complained, darkly.
“We’ll get a ticket,” she countered.
“Let’s cross the street,” I mumbled, “Over there, where at least I’m not standing with another half dozen people who are all looking for tickets.”
We crossed the street, and I held up my hand with my pointer finger extended, in the universal symbol of “need one ticket, man”. A young fellow, dressed warmly and in a vaguely hipster kind of way, approached us.
“You guys need a ticket?” he asked helpfully, his blue eyes not entirely eager to meet mine. He had blonde stubble on his face, a red jacket, and a gentle demeanor that nevertheless seemed a little shifty.
“Didn’t I see you out here earlier,” I asked, my East Coast city skepticism immediately on guard. Scalper. Watch out.
“Nah,” he said casually. ”Just got here. I won an extra ticket earlier this week. You seem like nice folks, thought I’d give it to you.”
Sara beamed at me and squeezed my hand. ”See?” her smile seemed to say, “The world is beautiful and hopeful!” My guard dropped, and effusive optimism rushed in.
“Well, she has a ticket and has been nice enough to freeze with me,” I gushed, pulling out my wallet. ”How much?”
He pulled a ticket out. ”40 bucks,” he said, taking the money.
“Thank you,” I said. I offered my hand, which he reluctantly took. ”My name is Keith, this is Sara.” His eyes, still not wanting to meet mine, darted briefly between us.
“Travis,” he said. “Enjoy the show.” And then he was gone, off into the crowd and not, I should note, into the line to get inside.
Sara and I, now smiling and ecstatic, waited in line, then were patted down, showed our IDs, and finally stood at the entrance of the Fillmore, promising warmth, music, and libations galore. The man taking our tickets was very short and his face hidden in a coat twice his size. He scanned Sara’s ticket.
I handed him my ticket, and noticed as I did so that it said “Halloween Gala” on it.
It was not Halloween.
I felt my heart sink. Sara and I exchanged a look, and I knew I’d been had. My East Coast cynicism had tried to protect me, but I had gotten all soft and New Agey, and actually taken someone at their word. What an ass I was. Out forty bucks, and “Travis” was no doubt long gone, or should be if he knew what was good for him.
The man scanned my ticket, and it made the electronic equivalent of the sound of nails on a blackboard.
“No good,” he stated, holding the ticket as if I’d rubbed my ass on it.
“Look,” I pleaded. ”I just bought that from some dude on the street. He scammed me.”
“Please let us in,” Sara begged. ”It’s freezing!” The man hesitated. She turned on her charm, and stepped fully into his view. She smiled; a radiant, full smile that was like an invitation to someplace warm. ”Our friends are inside. We just needed one ticket. Please? Be an angel for us, please?”
The man looked at the ticket and then at us, his small face framed in a billowing hood. He offered a kind of sigh. ”Don’t buy tickets from scalpers,” he said, paternally, but with little enthusiasm, perhaps because he had already decided what he was going to do.
“Go ahead,” he said. I grabbed his shoulders and squeezed. ”Thanks, man,” I nearly shouted through chattering teeth, “You’re a life-saver.”
“You’re an angel,” Sara declared, hugging him, and a small smile cracked the stoicism of his face. We stepped inside, into warm, pulsing bodies, and music that moved like a living thing.
I was scammed, yes. But in a way, I wasn’t. Travis, or whatever his real name was, sold me a bad ticket that was nevertheless a good one. Kinda like he was a bottom-feeding scam-artist, and an angel. Ain’t that something?
Oh, and the show? Yeah, it was amazing.