I Am Somebody
I was stretching in the parking lot at Clifton Park, feeling elated having walked two miles at my normal old man gait, and climbed two bluff roads up and down, and encountered five chickens walking in a row, as if in a parade, Two middle-aged ladies were holding their ski pole-style walking sticks, and when they saw me, they waved.
“Gene!” one of them exclaimed.
There was no denying it: I am Gene.
“Baldwin!” I am Gene Baldwin—I can’t recant.
Once, when I was giving a talk on Indian artifacts to a third-grade class in Chicago, an adorable little girl raised her hand and said, “Can I have an arrowhead, Mr. Bald One?” She was a logician, you see.
“Jones! Jones Baldwin!”
Oh-oh, I thought, old girlfriend from high school whose fanny I slapped, bill collector, feminist who equates me with Harvey Weinstein, online date chat that involved naked pics.
“You write for the Telegraph!”
I WROTE for the Telegraph. Then they decided I wasn’t talented enough, world class writers that they are. They said they no longer used freelancers or some such excuse, but I knew the real reason.
I was not good enough for America’s paper.
(Many call the paper the “Alton Tell-a-lie,” but I won’t. Sure, in 1984, they wrote a cover story about my New York play. The headline read: “W. Eugene Baldwin, A Poet Comes Home.” They misspelled my fucking name, and my father loved it.)
“I love your articles!”
I asked, “Who are you?”
One of the women said, “We’re nobodies.”
As artists go, I think I am as much a regular guy as anybody. I have known some jerk artists in my day, particularly in the theater. I have stood next to egos taller than the Empire State Building. Rhymes with “dammit.” Never mind. The shorter the actor/writer, the taller the ego.
“They won’t use you because you’re a Democrat,” the second woman said. I didn’t correct her on that one.
Then who should drive up, but Stevie, the elderly woman who for years ran Stevie’s Fish Stand out of an airstream trailer next to her house. One of my last articles for the more talented than me “Alton Telegraph” was about the Mississippi River flood which engulfed Stevie’s house, and the kid volunteers who showed up to sandbag. Readers loved that article.
Stevie knew the ladies, so the four of us chatted, and somewhere in the chat was, “Gene is the best writer.” I’d like to tell you that the ladies cussed out the Telegraph and vowed to cancel their subscriptions, but they didn’t. They are polite Midwesterners, after all. It ended there.
But I drove home, knowing I was somebody, and gosh darn it, I was good enough.
Just not for the Alton T——-H. Rhymes with “grapes-of-wrath.”