29 Nov 2010

Diary of a Billsticker – Washington DC and Baltimore, USA

29 Nov 2010

There might be lots of good reasons for going to these two cities to do a poster run of Kiwi poets. A person has to have clear intentions and I always try not to get sidetracked. My job is to try and make people feel better and not to spit and moan all day about what is going wrong. There’s lots of spitting and moaning in these places.

Poem posters I was carrying included works by Tusiata Avia, Mariana Isara, Frankie McMillan, Janet Frame, Sam Hunt, and Brian Turner. I only carried a poem of one American with me, Robert Creeley. I find Mr. Creeley pretty hard to leave behind, but I generally think I should put up the works of Kiwis. We know lots about the Americans, but they know little about the Kiwis and our dreams and desires. They’ve never really had a mutton pie to speak of.

I am writing this on the 37th anniversary of the shooting of John F. Kennedy. I think you could count the number of Americans on one hand who know who the Prime Minister of New Zealand was in 1963, or any other of our Prime Ministers for that matter. It’s strange because we’ve had a wee few disasters in Aotearoa this year and now I find more Americans know who we are. But it’s a painful way to define a country.

As you might imagine, it’s hard to put up a poster in the centre of Washington DC. In that area, I think you could most probably be arrested for farting. I’d never take Harry Sparkle with me there to poster, because we’d end up in some exotic pokey in South Carolina or somewhere, or maybe in Florence, Colorado. I prefer to Super Max my McDonalds these days.

My spirits were lifted for a moment in DC when I saw a Shepard Fairey ‘Obey’ poster on an under bridge, but in the few square miles around the White House everything has been swept scrupulously clean and the lamp-posts are steel with deep corrugations, so you can’t really put anything on them. America is very concerned and anxious about terrorists right now and so even though you may come to do them a kindness, this can be misinterpreted. It’s all in the way it’s written up and I’d hate to be shot or arrested for putting up a poster. But I swear I am the person in New Zealand who has heard more than any other “you can’t put that there.”

Nowadays I like to think I’ve settled down, but I remember a (good) time when the Phantom Billstickers business card had on it ‘we just don’t know any better.’

But this poster run looked good because just as I left for a true ‘neighbourhood’ in the North West of DC, the Otara Millionaire’s Club (OMC) came on the radio blasting ‘How Bizarre.’ It’s a great thing when you are in America and you hear Kiwi music on the radio, you always feel proud. I put up their posters.

‘How Bizarre’ is a funky little song and it’ll loosen up your poster stapling muscles and dissolve some of the armour that may separate you from true living. No longer roiling in your chains you may go forth, and so, with breathing changed, I walked the neighbourhood affixing righteously on to those cherished wooden lamp-posts. The ones I have come to know and love so well in America.

“Oooh baby…”

Yes, Kiwi music does a lot of good in the world and I think now we even have more musicians than sheep.

“Ooh Baby (ooh baby)
It’s making me crazy (it’s making me crazy)
Every time I look around…
Every time I look around…
Every time I look around…
It’s in my face…

How bizarre
How bizarre….”

So I talked to lots of people on this run and including some other guys putting up posters (they were wanting to buy junked cars for ‘up to $200’). I put some posters up right outside the local police station (and could barely stop) and had a very friendly conversation with a cop doing so. There are too many big things in North West DC for the cops to worry about other than someone adding some beauty to a lamp-post and I must say the police station is bigger than the interisland ferry. One day these police stations will be bigger than the North Island and things will be worse….

“Oooh baby…
It’s making me crazy…
Every time I look around…
It’s in my face….”

Washington DC is where the Beatles gave their first concert in the USA in February 1964. They opened with Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.” I think they blew the room down. These things are in my mind as I poster. Two days before they were on the Ed Sullivan show and blew America away.

Anyway, next day it’s was Baltimore’s turn. I love Charm City as it just kind of feels to me to be naturally worn in. There are a lot of reasons you could come here too. There are strong references to Baltimore in at least two Bob Dylan songs, this being where Hattie Carroll was murdered and also where ‘Miss Mary-Jane had a house in Baltimore.’ Gram Parsons wrote a fine song called ‘Streets of Baltimore’ and Tim Hardin penned ‘The Lady Came from Baltimore.’ So the city stands up lyrically. I postered in the Hampden district where the streets smell of ketchup from all the restaurants in the area. I just love the wooden lamp-posts. Once again I met plenty of people and was therefore given an opportunity to talk about Kiwi poetry and music. Oooh baby…

There’s a ‘zine from Baltimore, actually, that features some fine writing and great poetry. It’s called ‘Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore’ and is probably the best ‘zine I’ve seen for years. It is dead close to the street and dead invigorating to read. Google it and have a read, it’s worth it.

“Oooh Baby…
It’s making me crazy…

How bizarre…”
Keep the Faith,

 

Jim Wilson

40b 40d 40f

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