I’ve been a rogue, in the classic sense, my entire life. I’ll risk pedantry (and just basically lookin’ like that d00d) and offer the definition I’m inferring: a person whose behavior one disapproves of but who is nonetheless likable or attractive (often used as a playful term of reproof). Doesn’t mean I’m a jerk who flouts the order of things. I just walk in the door lacking understanding how the rules should apply to me. I ain’t proud of it. I ain’t ashamed.
As I mentioned in my interview with my man S.W. Lauden, over at Bad Citizen Corporation, “My parents were out of the picture. I had no adult supervision that gave a shit. I could go where I wanted, read what I wanted, and develop my own ideas about life.” I was a wanderer, always searching for what I was made of. Generally, my founding thought was, “I can do that,” usually followed by “AW, hell naw! I really can do that!” I always leapt without looking, be it finding classic Apple II units somewhere on the South Side of Chicago and programming them at the age of 11, DJing with an old Gemini mixer with a short in the fader at 14, or performing stand-up at 17, trying hard as hell not to sound just like Eddie Murphy. And I really – REALLY – loved Eddie Murphy.
Along my meanderings, I acquired legitimate skills – at least legitimate enough to get my foot in the door. Intellectually, I was nimble enough to learn how to stay before someone would figure out I was green as monkey shit. On stage, in front of a paying crowd. On screen, with a bunch of lines. Even at a partner’s desk with none of the professional veneer required, shootin’ the shit with someone who breathes rarefied air. I had no college, no training but on the job. I never knew anyone and rarely had the hook-up, but there my young dumb ass was, always right up in the mix.
I was annoying as shit.
When you’re new, folks who have been waiting their turn check you for your dues. And, if you haven’t quite paid up to the degree acknowledged by experienced consensus, you get the treatment. You’re known as Fish. Young Buck. Junior. Snot nose. The FNG. One mistake and you’re done. Young dumb ass gonna get everyone killed/fired/kicked out of Zanies in Old Town. And then I’d make it a little bit and prove to everyone they can get off my neck and wind up doing well. And then the winds would blow, and castles made of sand fall into the sea, and fate would assign me a new challenge.
Then I’m the FNG all over again. Man, I got decades of bein’ the snot nose.
Some time ago my publisher, Craig McNeely of Double Life Press, connected me with the prolifically gifted Eric Beetner. We hit it off and he was kind enough to invite me to perform at Noir Slam, at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. I offered a brief reading from my debut novel, A Negro and an Ofay. Once again I’m the new kid, with an uncorrected advance reader copy, standing with all these brilliant authors with deep histories in the genre. Beetner. Anonymous-9. Christa Faust. Craig Faustus Buck. Shit! I got noooooo fausts in my name. Not one!
I’m all grown up now, and I understand both sides of this rogue business. In acting and stand-up, I encounter young bucks not unlike my younger self and my response to their eager ignorance is pretty much the same as the old school cats back then: “Slow down, junior.”
Except Noir Slam ain’t some open mic night. These are professionals, with years of work and millions of words to their credit. This is a packed house, full of book lovers and genre loyalists. Everyone in there was for real. I hadn’t been nervous about anything in a long time, yet there I was surrounded by folks who stand in good stead. And me, with my little ol’ novel with the edgy title. F*ck was I thinkin’?
In that moment, I realized that I finally developed some damned compunction. A pricking of the conscience. Maturity. Everyone was lovely. Not an author in the room passed me without being warm and welcoming – and these are people who write about folk who rig cars to kill other folks. It was all death and dismemberment and crime and rock ‘n roll, and love. Last time I had to catch my breath after a performance was when I was 18 and I just got off the stage at The Funny Firm, my first time playing a real comedy club. Got through it by the skin of my teeth. This time, I basked, even within quiet embarrassment. Unlike that night on the mic long ago, I encountered only smiles and nods of approval. Good people. Good words. Good work.
I’m still processing the experience, but this time, I’m not using my intellect. I’m not trying to be crafty enough to fake it until I make it. Folks who been doin’ it, and stay doin’ it, welcomed me into doing it. I remember what it’s like to be brand new, except in this era of my life I’m not pretending I know. Not in front of these sweet souls. I’m finally enjoying being the young buck. Green as monkey shit.
Pardon me as I wipe snot from my nose.