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SMUT STAND REPORT: June 3, 2015 (Oxford)

I need to get a few staged shots of me having a shit day out at the typewriter...

I need to get a few staged shots of me having a shit day out at the typewriter...

WHEN: 3 hours (4:30-7:30pm), June, 2015. WHERE: two locations in Oxford, UK. ("Two locations" will become relevant in a second) OUTPUT: one piece of microsmut.

Let today be a lesson to anyone who thinks that Sidewalk Smut must be easy, that it's so fun and sexy and glamorous, that I must be raking it in hand over fist. I know it may seem like it sometimes, but as little as I want to dwell on it, tonight's session must be written up as an utter Shit Show.

I did take the steps of checking into local ordinances around busking, as one or two of my informants had suggested that this might be a problem. On the city website, indeed, there were detailed directions about how to apply for a busking permit, which I could not follow because I would not be able to wait the requisite 14 days for turnaround. I called the office, and when I explained the situation to the gentleman on the other end of the line—that I'm a Fringe performer and I write stories for people on my typewriter—he said that he did not think that I needed to go to any trouble for that.

All fine and well, but then came the problem of selecting location. My venue liaison suggested Cornmarket, but several of my informants thought it was too mainstream. Other people suggested Cowley and East Oxford, one stretch in particular, as being pretty hip. I went for the hip stretch of road, looked up the bus route, and set out.

First of all, today was the day of getting lost, with a 13-pound typewriter and a folding chair slung over my left shoulder and a wooden tray table in my right hand. I don't have data, when I'm not near wi-fi, so I take care to jot down writing directions. But if they're wrong, owing to new construction? I'm fucked. I probably walked an extra mile trying to get to the bus stop, which was already nearly a mile away from my billet. For a change the sun was out, so I was sweaty and pissed.

Took the bus, got to the location, got out, and then just… looked. This was not any kind of bohemian, come-and-hang-out neighborhood. Not at 4:30 on Wednesday afternoon, and it didn't pick up at all for the hour and a half that I sat there. But I could tell as soon as I laid eyes on it. Foot traffic was moving at a brisk clip, there were no natural outdoor hanging-out spots. I sat at a picnic table in front of a closed Japanese restaurant for 15 minutes, watching the street move, to see if there was anything there, and there just wasn't. There was no scene, people were just passing through. I had said, though, that I would set up there, so I set up the stand on a patch of artificial grass in front of a closed storefront between that Japanese restaurant and a hair salon, and just started typing. I made myself do it, though I could feel the environment's utter indifference.

Being ignored out on the Smut Stand is a very uncomfortable feeling, even when I keep reminding myself that it's a good discipline, just creating these short pieces, or when I look up and see someone almost walk into a lamp post from surprise and remember that I am adding a note of surrealism to people's day. Those are all fine and well, but the main reason I set up the stand is to interact with people—either to hand them a card or sell them some smut or just have a good conversation—and when I get no interactions, when people are just staring as they walk by… I start to feel like a zoo animal. I can almost feel the glass wall between us, and I didn't put it there.

After more than an hour there, I was like, huh, maybe The Big Society has a back beer garden that they would let me sit in? The Bell's courtyard had been nice, in Bath, and they had been super chill about it. So I pick everything up and lug it across the street. I ask the bartender, they say, gotta check with the manager, of course, I say, of course. One of the bartenders leads me out back, and I explain what I do, and the guy just looks me up and down blankly, not even cracking a smile, and says, "I don't think so." Okay, um. I can't bring myself to set up again at the old spot, so I hop the next bus into the city center, drop another four quid on a day pass (saves 20 pence, shoulda got it coming in, I DIDN'T THINK I'D BE MOVING MY PITCH THOUGH, oh well).

I have a vague notion of heading over to the Red Lion, where I had sat out yesterday before my show and had a half-pint. It was pleasant enough, the vibe out back was nice. On my way there, I walk down Cornmarket, the same bit of promenade that my venue liaison had suggested, and NO HELL NO. All mainstream stores and harried-looking tourists and sketchy lads weaving around drunkenly on too-small bikes. I walked up to the front entrance of the Red Lion and saw a sign that I had not seen yesterday, because I had come in through the back gate: "smart/dress attire required". Or some shit like that. Fuck. That is not a good sign. Literally. My heart was already in my stomach, but I had to go ahead and ask. The manager, oh lord, how he grinned when I told him what I did, but he said they could not have any performers in that weren't on the schedule. But I'm not performing, I said. "I know, but …" and he shrugged.

So. So. It was a long haul back to the billet, and it was only 6:45pm. My professional pride refused to allow me to give up, when I totally wanted to, like, an hour and a half before. I could not walk around forever looking for a spot, not with all my gear hanging on me. I was not going to find Oxford's smut spot tonight, I just had to pick a spot. So I settled on the wide opening of the little alley that leads to the White Rabbit, where I went for post-show drinks the night before. I remembered a fair bit of foot traffic passing through there, and it had the extra bonus of being right behind the Red Lion; if they wouldn't let me out onto their patio, I would HAUNT THEIR PATRONS with mystery typing noise.

But no. All traffic was on its way somewhere else. This alley was not for hanging out in. One Frenchman in a straw hat and a hipster beard and an ill-fitting linen jacket decided to throw down for a bit of tit-focused medium-core microsmut, and one nice student-looking chap handed me two pounds after taking my picture, but that was IT. After 45 minutes of that, and knowing it wasn't going to get any better, I said fuck it, packed up my shit for the second time tonight, and trudged off to try to find a bus. Once on the bus, I started feeling it, the only thing that would make my Smut Stand Shit Show even shittier: yes, my period was starting.

After another mile-long walk back from the bus stop, my perfect storm of a smut session would be complete.

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