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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tour Whore, October 28, 2012

Pride and prejudice
by Cameryn Moore

Last weekend I was out on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans, just as I will be by the time anyone reads this, plying my trade, as it were, with the Sidewalk Smut. My two-night run of slut (r)evolution isn’t for another week, and sidewalk pornography is bangin’ business here, in the middle of one of the busier nightclub streets of this 24/7 party town. 

As usual, tourists from around the world are astonished, in that loud, tipsy way of people given license to drink on the streets. They are amazed at what I do, and proclaim it a marvel of this debauched city. “Only in New Orleans!” they yell appreciatively and stagger on down the street, narrowly missing the puddle of puke that one of their debauched colleagues has neatly deposited in the gutter. When a partier does stop and talk, I will happily correct their assumptions and tell them that Sidewalk Smut in fact happens anywhere that it’s warm enough and I have time enough on my tour. But if they don’t stop, I let them roar and let the mistake go. Let them think I’m from here. I’m fine, in fact I’m kind of flattered, about being considered part of the local color, a quick Instagram on a score of smartphones, a drunken tweet featuring my tits and the typewriter.


When I first started, I felt like a complete carpet-bagger on this street.

The locals, now, they know that I’m not from here. It’s taken two years of being in New Orleans, five nights over the past 10 days of working the same spot, for me to feel just a little bit at home among the poets-for-hire and the tambourine lady and the gutter-punk banjo player and the cupcake girl. When I first started, I felt like a complete carpet-bagger on this street. And even though there are no other writers of erotica on this stretch of sidewalk, even though I try to be uniformly friendly, some of the habitu├ęs of this street still slew sideways glances at me, at my blatant signage, my even more blatant cleavage, and they doubt the artistic merit of what I do.

This year, one of my fellow sidewalk typists stood for a moment reading my work, after he had packed up his own stand. “This is actually really good,” he said, unable to hide the surprise in his voice, and accepted with pleasure my offer of any piece of his choosing from the stock I had on display. A day or two after that, another local resident—not a busker, just someone who lives in the neighborhood—read each piece on the wall, and then turned to me with a serious, slightly patronizing look. “You write really well,” he said. “But you could go further. What else do you want to do with your writing?” 

I looked at the man, stunned for a few silent moments, and then plucked one of my slut (r)evolution cards out of my typewriter case and silently handed it to him. I do not gloat over my awards in general, but in that moment, while he was reading the text in the laurel wreaths, I was particularly glad that they were arrayed along the top of the postcard, that I had them on hand TO SHOVE IN HIS CONDESCENDING PIEHOLE.

What else to do with my writing? Sidewalk Smut is “what else” I’m doing with it!

I get that he was complimenting me, trying to encourage me, perhaps, playing Captain Save a Hack to my hapless self, but I was seething; I could almost feel my brains simmering on a low flame. What else to do with my writing? Sidewalk Smut is “what else” I’m doing with it! I am thinking about that all the time! Do you think I am not fully aware that typing half-pages of pornography for strangers on the sidewalk is insufficient either to make a living or express my creative soul?  Do you think that, as a writer, I am not thinking every day about how I can turn to best use whatever talent I have?

“Best use”, yes. … there, perhaps, is the point where this smirking hipster and I might begin to strongly differ. He did not see Sidewalk Smut as “best use”, or perhaps he just figured that someone who has resigned herself to doing pornography on the sidewalk for strangers, surely that person has reached the bottom of the barrel, they are only thinking about filthy lucre at that point. In his eyes, I am doing the writing equivalent of $5 blowjobs. Maybe in some people’s minds I have always been doing that. In any case, “best use” must not be a consideration for a person such as I. 

Other exchanges are echoing in my head now, too. The people who ask, in all seriousness, if I’m ever going to do, you know, a “regular” play. The reviewer who said Phone Whore was pandering, milking the cash cow of sex. My husband expressing, as a side thought, how he did wish I would write something that he could tell his colleagues about. Last year while busking on Frenchmen Street, I overheard one of the sidewalk typists talking to some of her customers about me, a little too loud to be casual, “I could do that, but I’m a real writer.”

Now, lending even half an ear to societal expectations and social norms and other people’s prudery or envy or ignorance is a sucker’s game at best. So whenever I feel the pinpricks of pride leaving hot little dots of sweat on my brow, I know that’s my cue to pull back and take a deep breath before taking any action.

It’s a cue to remind myself: no one else gets to set my terms. That is my job. I can decide the value of my work, my time, my experience. I may not always be able to get that value, but I know it, I have researched it, and I know what I want, down to the dollar, down to the minute, down to each warm, fuzzy Facebook exchange. This is my choice, to put myself here, do this work now, whether that’s selling smut by the half-page or sexual empowerment theater by the hour. This is worth it. This is what I’m doing with my writing.

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