Eds. Note: I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Doug Piotter at the San Francisco Writers Conference. As he humourously explains below, this writing stuff was a new experience for him. But he is well on his way with his darkly comedic memoir Monumental Meltdown: Chronicles of a Miscreant, which is in the final stages of development. He was kind enough to share his experiences and his unique perspective on one of the best writing conferences in America. Enjoy. (Doug is pictured above “blending in” while touring the Louvre in Paris).
By Doug Piotter
I recently attended the San Francisco writer’s conference, a stretch for someone who only just learned the difference between a noun and a verb. At $369 a night the fancy host hotel atop of Nob Hill was miles north of my price range, so I booked a modestly priced apartment at the bottom of the city just a brisk thirty-minute walk away. On my first day I stepped over a pile of human feces and around the camper I suspected was responsible for the installation, then through the entrance of the building.
I had “arrived.”
I’m used to doing laps from my refrigerator to the couch and back with plenty of sustenance along the way, so this was definitely an advanced walking regimen. San Francisco is a great walking city with plenty of beautiful architecture to admire. But it’s also the land of no grocery stores. I Imagined one over the horizon, a mirage. I was hungry all the time.
It was mid-February and a balmy 75 degrees. The humming birds were a little disoriented and looked as though they had just been kicked out of a bar, not realizing it was already time to go to work.
Day One: Eating my fingernails and looking lost, with my i-phone in my pocket I studied my old school paper map, then scaled the city’s vertical face to reach the pinnacle at the Mark Hopkins hotel.
Soaked in sweat, I tucked in to the complementary breakfast that was included in the $745 conference price tag.
There were no steaming piles of biscuits and gravy. This was an arty crowd. The theme for this meal was miniature: miniature pastries, miniature yogurts and miniature coffee. Confused, I looked around and saw only full-sized people everywhere. I launched myself into trendsetter mode and took five of everything, which saved me from engaging in the oh-so-painful “what are you writing” conversation that was sucking all the oxygen out of the room. Plus, I was taught it’s not polite to talk with my mouth full.
I brought extra pens because I knew as a writer I would have no excuses and have to write. I suspected the information would come fast and furious.
Off to the day’s activities I drank in the information with my insatiable thirst, one presentation after another as I drifted farther and farther away from that slam-dunk book deal and my interview with Terry Gross.
How can one cozy up to these literary gods?
I decided to read late night in front of a panel of agents. The agent ringleader was a female Simon Cowell clone who knee-capped all who dared step forward and bare their naked souls. I got less than two sentences out before she right-sized me for all to see. I thanked her for her service and slunk off in the wrong direction into the night. My public shaming caused me to work up a mighty appetite. My blood sugar was low, so I went to the hotel bar and ordered the cheapest thing on the menu, a gilded hamburger on an artisan bun and a glass of cranberry juice. With tax and tip: $50.
“How’s that hamburger tasting?” the bartender asked.
“It taste’s like $50,” I replied.
I calculated that my three $17 bites would provide just enough calories to hoof it back to my temporary digs.
The next day while retracing my steps from the night before, I was surprised not to find the streets littered with the corpses of hungry tourists who had lost the fight.
Back at the event I listened to the keynote speaker drone on about her personal accomplishments in publishing while poking a stick at her pie chart. Man, could I have gone for a piece of pie right about then. Apparently one has to have ink running through their veins and shit whole sentence structures in order to be published. A ride in a SpaceX rocket to the moon would be a more viable alternative. Two more presentations before lunch had used up my $745 upon which the conference was over and my hotel entry badge was no longer valid.
I had become an ordinary loiterer.
The multiple thimbles full of coffee I drank at the keynote breakfast were talking to me, plus the older I get, the more like a leaky faucet I become, so it was off to Grace Cathedral for some inspiration and a toilet.
The holy grounds of Grace Cathedral is a beautiful concrete Notre Dame rip off located high on the hill. It’s also home to the holy grounds of Peet’s coffee and one locked bathroom that said, “piss off.” I met an incontinent tourist from Milwaukie cursing God.
“I feel your pain brother but I don’t think God’s here right now or the bathroom would be unlocked,” I said. “Hope that’s helpful.”
Sure stained glass is beautiful, but the inside of a urinal would have been a sight to behold. I wondered how much time in jail “public urination while sober” carried as I desecrated a quiet corner on the church property and solidified my place in Hell.
Justice was served in the form of my return flight discount airline seat. Row 30, seat C is also known as the toilet seat.
“Would you like a savory snack?” the stewardess asked with a shit-eating grin on her face.
It’s hard to believe, but I actually didn’t. Food and toilets don’t mesh.
“Thanks, but not hungry,” I said.
I would be content listening to the rhythmic swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, from the steady stream of high flyin’ shitters.
My personal hang-ups aside, It was a magical experience, and for anyone who aspires to be in print, one not to be missed. I made many personal connections and hopefully some lasting friendships.
It was well worth the price of admission. The organizers, volunteers and presenters did a tremendous job, and I will gladly save my nickels from swinging a hammer so I can attend again next year.
For a taste of Doug’s unique talent, listen to his public reading of some of his manuscript here:
Remember friends, you read him here first.