I WON’T DENY IT. HAVING A FEW COPIES OF OUR 1ST BARSTOOL POETRY BOOK sitting nearby at all times in the cab makes me a little nervous. A quick glance at the cover reveals why. Handwritten titles like “Wonder Bra Beauty,” “A Cunning Linguist” and “Her Tongue Was In 3 Mouths” have the potential to piss off the prickliest of prudes.
But then there are customers like the 4 UT frat boys who caught a ride downtown with me last weekend.
Justin, the SAE in the front seat who’s ridden with me more than once, was explaining to his buddies how the guy driving them to 7th & Trinity was more than just a cab driver.
“Dude, Bob has written a book,” Justin said as he reached to his left and grabbed a copy of Barstool Poetry to hold up. “Check it out.”
As the kid in the middle of the backseat took the book from Justin, I tried to give them a little background on the thing.
“It’s a bunch of poems written on cocktail napkins,” I told them as we rolled southbound down Guadalupe. “And I didn’t write all of them. Or even most of them. They were written by me and my friends and a bunch of complete strangers over the years. I just came up with the idea with my friend Jon and put the whole thing together.”
The guys in the back were only half listening to my explanation. They were too busy thumbing through the book. Finally, the kid in the middle found a poem he wanted to read out loud – a proposition that always makes me a little squeamish. While many of the poems are clever, funny, even haunting, some of them are, well, downright bad . . . if not a little offensive.
“Okay,” the kid in the middle piped up, “this one is called: ‘Too Big For Linda.'”
I turned down the Zeppelin blasting from the stereo. The cab grew quiet. The floor was his.
Linda weren’t no
She was willing to rock
to and four
If the day’s meet special
was more than she could
With that, the frat rat reading the poem and his drunk brethren all cracked up. We’d stumbled upon just the right bawdy bad boys to appreciate the likes of “Too Big For Linda.” (They’d probably like “Neon Noodle Dick” and “My Scrotum Is a Walnut” too.)
A brief, ersatz poetry slam had just broken out in my cab. It wasn’t the first time. And I suspect it won’t be the last.
More than one BobCab customer has heard about my long, strange history with Barstool Poetry. Last week I picked up a Boston lawyer from the airport who was curious about the book sitting next to me. The $50 cab ride to The Domain was plenty of time for me to give him the lowdown.
“So about 20 years ago I’m at a bar in West L.A. with my roommate Jon,” I told the guy as I drove north on 183. “We were surrounded by pretty girls, but didn’t have the balls to get up and talk to any of them. So I took my pen, grabbed a cocktail napkin and jotted down a title – something I thought might crack Jon up. Then I slid the pen and napkin in front of him and said, ‘Write a poem to fit that title.'”
“Okay,” said the lawyer, not quite sure what to make of the idea.
“Jon’s a creative guy,” I continued, “so he’s into it. He gives me a title as well. So the two of us spent the next several minutes hunched over, writing our poems, then reading them out loud to one another. We both liked the creative challenge and it was fun trying to outwit the other guy with our clever titles. Basically, it was a way for us to stay busy because we were too wimpy to get up and approach the females in the bar.”
“Instead of watching ESPN or playing Jenga,” the lawyer added.
“Exactly,” I answered. “Killing time in the bar. But this was years before you saw Jenga or Uno or any other game in a bar. And this was way more fun, way more creative. So we kept doing it all night long. And in the course of swapping titles, writing poems, reading them out loud to each other and cracking up, a funny thing happened – at some point in the evening, every female in the place wandered over and asked us what the hell we were doing.”
“You met every girl in the place without ever leaving your barstool?” the lawyer asked.
“Riiiiiight,” I said. “And that’s when the lightbulb went off – ‘Hey, we need to do this the next time we go out.’ So we did it again . . . and again . . . and again. We handed titles to inquisitive strangers. Bartenders and cocktail waitresses joined in. We even turned it into a drinking game – ‘Ask that girl over there to pick the best poem from the last round.’ The author of the best poem gets a free drink from the losers. Not only is it a great ice breaker, but it’s also an excellent way to give your creative muscles a light workout. Especially when you’re hammered. It was money from the get-go.”
“Brilliant,” replied the Bostonian, who was no doubt familiar with Boston’s booming bar culture and clearly had an eye for a good idea.
“We did this for years with various friends and strangers,” I continued. “And at the end of the night, I was always the guy who gathered up the poems and took them home for safekeeping. After several years of this, I had accumulated over 550 poems. So finally, after lugging these damn things around for almost 2 decades, I decided to publish a book full of Barstool Poetry last year.”
“And now you’re selling the book out of your cab in Austin,” pointed out Captain Obvious.
Despite our lengthy ride to The Domain, I failed to fill the Beantown patent lawyer in on just how long and strange this journey with Barstool Poetry has been.
A few examples I didn’t share with him:
More than 15 years before I finally published the anthology, I was introduced to a young book agent in Del Mar who loved the Barstool Poetry concept.
But instead of publishing the poems I’d already accumulated, SuperAgentSteve had another idea: What if I took a road trip around America in my VW bus, going to various bars for 100 consecutive days and getting people from all over the country to write fresh new barstool poems?
I loved the idea. And so did more than half of the 10 New York City book editors SuperAgentSteve sent my book proposal to. But after kicking my proposal to their editors upstairs to get final approval for a sale, the unanimous response we got back was: ‘We love the idea – but poetry doesn’t sell. We love this guy Bob’s writing though. Does he have any more book ideas?'”
This led to me ditching the Barstool Poetry angle and re-tooling the idea. Our new spin – which ended up getting me a $55K advance from Bantam Books – still had me going barhopping for 100 straight days in my VW bus. Only instead of getting people to write poems on cocktail napkins, I was now talking to my fellow barflys about love and marriage for 3+ months, all in hopes of solving my “commitment issues.” By the end of the road trip, I was supposed have figured out whether or not I wanted to marry my girlfriend or not.
What happened when I got home from that little adventure could fill another book or 2. But the bottom line is, while that crazy road trip yielded an abundance of writing material – and killed a whole bunch of brain cells I’ll never get back – the resulting memoir remains unfinished for a myriad of reasons.
But without Barstool Poetry, that project and the life-altering road trip it led to never happens.
I wasn’t quite finished with Barstool Poetry though.
In 1999 I pitched – and sold – a story idea to Maxim magazine about ‘the greatest idea ever for meeting women in bars.’ (That’s a blurb for my article right next to Rose McGowan on the cover.)
Several years later I was at a meeting with a literary agent at UTA, one of the top shelf talent agencies in Hollywood. My meeting was for another project, but somehow the subject of Barstool Poetry came up. Upon hearing the premise, the agent immediately perked up.
“I LOVE this!” he told me. “This would be a great reality show – you going to bars all over America, getting people to write Barstool Poetry. Let me call our reality TV guy.”
Within minutes I was meeting with UTA’s top reality TV agent, who ended up hooking me up not with a TV network but a new Hollywood-backed website looking for cheap reality programming. But when I found out just how little these guys were willing to spend on the idea, the project fizzled. Barstool Poetry was back on the bench.
Until last year, that is. After lugging around my Ziploc bag full of crusty old poems for nearly two decades, I finally decided to take matters into my own hands. I whittled my collection down to a manageable cluster of just over 150 barstool poems, learned how to use Adobe Illustrator and cranked out a book.
And to give each copy its own individual touch, I’ve included 13 blank napkins at the back of the book. Waiting for new titles, new poems.
During the year or so since I’ve had the book in my cab, I’ve sold several copies, both to my Austin regulars and to various out-of-towners. I sold a copy to a visiting M.I.T. professor. I sold a copy to a video game developer heading to a Radiohead concert with his wife. One of my regulars who bought the book said she and her friends entertained each other by reading poems out loud during a 5-hour drive across Texas.
One of my favorite locals – a medical supply salesman named Dave – was such a fan of the book that he wanted to help us throw a Barstool Poetry event in Austin. And that’s how Barstool Poetry Book Party #1 came to fruition at Star Bar last November.
More than 50 people showed up on a balmy Thursday night – most of them locals I’d met through driving my cab. We asked everyone in attendance to contribute at least one title-on-a-napkin, which were placed in 1 of 3 big bowls.
The attendees who felt like writing a poem could reach into Bowl #1 and pull out a title that they didn’t write. Once they’d completed their poems, the novice poets were asked to drop their masterpieces into Bowl #2 – which also served as a place where people could reach in and grab a poem to read. If they liked what they read and thought the poem was worthy of inclusion in the next Barstool Poetry book, our guests were asked to put the poem in Bowl #3.
By the end of the night, a whole bunch of drunk BobCabsters got on the mic and read a colorful cross-section of poems written that evening. It was the closest I’ve ever come to attending a poetry slam. Besides the impromptu poetry slams in my cab, of course.
All of which leads us to this: Tonight – Friday, Jan. 25 – we’re hosting Barstool Poetry Book Party #2. This one’s on the Eastside at Violet Crown Social Club. (At the corner of East 6th and Waller.) We’ll be unveiling our latest Barstool Poetry book, a collection of 50 poems, all of which were written last November at Star Bar.
We’ll also be showing up at around 9pm with napkins, pens and our 3 big bowls, inviting everyone to contribute titles and poems. If all goes according to plan, by 10 we’ll be diving into the first of several 10-15 minute blasts of poetry reading bliss every hour on the hour for the rest of the night.
And hopefully, by Saturday morning our hangover will be a little more bearable due to the fact that we left Violet Crown with a whole new batch of barstool poems for our next book.
Hope you’ll join us.