A St. Pat’s Day scramble off the train, green-clad men and women who will be yelling or crying outside a bar in a few hours stand outside the station, happily planning their assault on Wicker Park’s alcohol reserves. Some gutterpunks smoking cigarettes and playing with their dogs hold up a sign that they need money to kill Donald Trump. An actual homeless man sits in a closed doorway, shaking a cup, his voice weak from the hunger the would-be Trump assassins play at.
And a young woman holds CDs.
“Would you like to buy my poetry?” she asked.
The stack of CDs in her hand — not her band, not her hip-hop, not bootlegs of “The Dark Knight Rises” like the last guy I wrote about hustling discs on North — was poetry, recorded spoken word edited with music and sound. Poetry with the name of the album hastily Sharpied on the disc, poetry in a green sleeve with a black square of construction paper taped to the outside and a self-designed logo more tenderly handwritten in silver marker.
“Thank you for stopping. It’s been a long day,” she said, a little too weary for 20 years old.
Janelle used to be a paralegal. She hated it.
Now she spends a couple hours a day on that street corner, working the crowd with her boyfriend’s words. They collaborate on this. He used to have an officey-type job he hated as much as Janelle hated her paralegal gig.
Words were their passion, not office work. So they quit.
They did it, just walked. Both of them.
“We traveled a while, formed a publishing house,” Janelle told me as the workers and green-clad future drunks filed past us on the street.
The house is called called JAT. Their shared initials. Now they sell CDs on the street, ebooks online. 10 bucks a pop for lines of thought with a construction paper and silver Sharpie logo taped to the outside.
“There are so many people here who are like freelance writers or artists or, or glassblowers,” she said. “We want to show them you don’t have to do what you’re told.”
The poetry on the album is good. I’m fussy about poetry, fussy to the point of snobbishness, but I liked it. Lots of stuff about entrepreneurship versus hustling, and naturally about following your dreams.
The title of this story is taken from track 6.
I hope it works for them. As tempting as it is to harp on their age, I won’t chalk their move to naïveté — the verse on the album alluded to lives a lot harder than anything I’ve ever had.
They quit their jobs and sell albums by the train station. I won’t call them heroes and I won’t call them fools. Whatever definition of success they’re working toward, it’s different than mine, than the Trump assassins’, than the green-clad drunks’ or the weak-voiced old man’s, shaking his cup for passersby.
Whatever their definition of success, they’re working toward it. I hope they get there.