Category Archives: Selling Jewelry

Still Breathing

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For two months I sold my jewelry and shiny rocks (and my book and the hats I made and my Rubber Tramp Artist stickers) at a farmers market in a small southern Arizona town. The market was held on Saturday mornings, from 9 am until noon. Minimal produce was sold there, but vendors offered bread and sweets made from scratch; jellies and jams produced locally and in small batches; hand-made soaps, lotions, and balms; and more craft items than you could shake a stick at.

Most of the people who visited the market wear elderly, although plenty of those folks were healthy and in good shape. A few children came through with their parents and grandparents, and teenagers were seldom sighted.

There wasn’t much money in the town, and many days I earned my dollars one bracelet at a time. I was grateful for every little sale that helped me get by, and I often looked at my sales in terms of $2 sacks of ice.

I saw many of the same people several times over the two months I sold there. I think some people saw the market as their weekly social event. Some folks stopped and looked at my wares every time they were there (perhaps wondering if I’d gotten anything new) and others bypassed me after the first time they determined I had nothing of interest to them.

I saw one man a handful of times at the market during those two months. He was an older man with grizzled stubble on his unshaven face. He wore a ball cap advertising his status as a Vietnam era veteran and worn work clothes. What made me remember him wasn’t how he looked. What made me remember him was the same joke he told me every time I saw him.

Good morning, I”d say when he walked up to my tables. How are you today?

I’m good, he’d say enthusiastically. I woke up breathing this morning! At my age, that’s a good thing!

At that point I’d say something positive like Oh! That’s great!

I tell my wife, he’d always continued, “Honey, no matter how much I love you, if I wake up and I’m not breathing, get as far away from me as possible.” That would be enough to put anyone in a bad mood. Then he’d laugh at his own joke, and I’d laugh too, mostly just to be polite.

I never saw him with a woman, and I never asked him where his wife was on any given morning. If she was dead and he wanted to pretend she was still alive, that was ok with me. I wasn’t going to force him to admit anything to me.

I wonder if he made the same joke to every vendor or if from one visit to the next he forgot he had used it on me already. He never bought anything from me. After he made his joke, he moved on.

He seemed like a nice man. I was always glad to see he was still breathing.

Antonito

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One year I went to the tiny (population 781) town of Antonito, Colorado for Labor Day weekend. The town was hosting a free music festival in the park and for a ridiculously small fee, I was able to sell my wares all weekend.

I arrived in town early Saturday morning and found the festival organizer among a group of men setting up the stage. The organizer showed me where I could put my tables. I unloaded the tables, my hemp jewelry, my shiny rocks. I arranged everything nicely on the tables and waited for the crowds of music fans to arrive.

The first band took the stage. A few of their friends stood around to listen. The next band took the stage. Fans from Santa Fe had made the drive to the festival, including the grandmother of one of the band members. At no point during the weekend were there more than a dozen people in the audience for any musician. I quickly understood why the vending fee was so low.

A family set up a table perpendicular to mine. They sold water and sodas cold from an ice chest and homemade burritos wrapped in foil. Otherwise, I was the only vendor at the festival.

I made a little bit of money, despite the lack of attendance. Mostly I sold shiny rocks to people living nowhere near a rock shop. I sold a few necklaces after I offered people great deals, and I sold some bracelets too. I suppose I paid for my gas to get out there and the breakfast I ate at a restaurant on Sunday morning.

One of Antonito’s claims to fame is being the childhood home of Indiana Jones from the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie. Of course, Indiana Jones is a fictional character, so he never had a childhood, but in one of the movies, a young Indy is shown in front of a house. That house stands in Antonito, CO. I didn’t care enough to find it.

My favorite part of my two days in Antonito was Saturday morning’s Labor Day parade on the town’s main drag. The number of observers of the parade was slightly larger than that of the music festival. There weren’t any floats in a New Orleans sense, but some people stood in the back of slow-moving pickup trucks and waved to their neighbors. Someone from the Forest Service had dressed in a Smokey Bear costume and stood waving from the back of a government truck.

I stood on the sidewalk and watched the parade go by. It was pretty short. The whole thing passed in under ten minutes. But wait! There’s more, or at least the same thing all over again. When the parade got to its endpoint, all the vehicles turned around and came back down the main drag from the opposite direction. I guess when a parade’s that short, once isn’t enough.

I took this photo of Smokey the Bear,

Accusations

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The group of vendors I sometimes sell with on the side of the highway is a varied bunch. Some are serious business people with huge selections of merchandise displayed on multiple tables. Others are just passing through, trying to sell a few things in hopes of earning enough gas money or beer money to make it down the road. Some vendors hand-make everything they sell, while others buy mass produced items and sell them at a big markup. Some vendors are honest about their products and others, not so much. Common lies involve saying a stone is turquoise when it isn’t and telling a potential customer an item was made by the vendor (or a member of the vendor’s family) when the item was actually imported from a developing country.

I don’t believe in lying to customers, but I don’t narc out other vendors when I hear them doing it. Do I think lying to customers is wrong? Yes. Do I think it’s my place to police other? No.

Loyalties are ever-changing among vendors. Two people may be friends today and enemies next week. Folks get mad at each other over parking and (real or imagined) lying and taking up too much space.

I try to stay on friendly terms with everyone, although there are certainly some vendors I don’t like much. I have no use for bossy or nosey behavior, and many vendors act in those ways. The most common nosey question is How are you doing?/How did you do today? What people really mean is, Are you making/did you make any money? When I’m asked how I’m doing or how I did, I start rambling about the beautiful weather or seeing my friends or meeting nice people. Only the boldest of people (or those with no capacity to pick up on my social cues) go on to actually verbalize the word money. (The last time another vendor actually asked me if I was making money, customers approached my table in the nick of time, and I was able to ignore Nosey Nelly until she got bored and wandered away.)

Some of the vendor grudges are old. One woman has been despised for years, long before I crawled out of the sage and joined the community. Part of the reason she’s despised is because she makes a lot of money. She’s a good business woman who knows what merchandise is going to sell and how to talk to customers to get them to buy. She also exhibits unpredictable behavior. One day she’ll be someone’s bosom buddy and the next she’ll scream curses at the same person. The only thing she loves more than being the bearer of bad news is getting other vendors all riled up with negativity and too upset to sell.

This woman has gotten a little nicer since her husband died and she’s all alone in the world, but we’ve all seen her turn against a friend with little provocation. Anyone with any sense treads lightly around her.

The funniest altercation I’ve seen her involved in happened a few summers ago. I don’t remember why people were mad at each other or who was taking what side. I do remember the despised woman was pissed at one of the vendors who drives in from out of state.

This guy allegedly sells pain pills along with his glass pipes, chile powder, osha root, and the baskets and purses he says his wife makes (despite the “Made in Mexico” tags still attached to them). I’ve never bought pain pills from him. (For the record, I’ve never bought pain pills from anyone, even a pharmacist.) I’ve never caught him in the middle of a pain pill transaction. I’ve never heard him offer to sell anyone pain pills, but I’ve heard the word on the street, and the word is he sells pain pills.

It was a hot summer day, and there weren’t many customers. Trouble tends to start when there aren’t many customers. Customers keep vendors busy, and when there aren’t enough of them, some vendors get bored and start picking fights.

The despised woman looked over at the out-of-state vendor and out of nowhere started yelling, Drug dealer! Drug dealer!

Without missing a beat, the out-of-state vendor yelled right back at her with his gravely, Spanish accented voice, Weetch! Weetch!

She had no response, just sat back down behind her table and waited for a potential customer to come along.

Turtle People

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It was a hot summer afternoon at the Bridge, and Tea and I were talking between potential customers. A couple of young people (maybe early 20s, maybe late teens) came up to our tables sitting side by side.

Hello. How are you? Good prices on everything, we told the young people.

It seemed they were lookers, not shoppers, but it was a slow day, and we were happy to have new people for company. Where are y’all from? we asked.

One of the young people was a woman, a young woman, maybe even a girl in many people’s eyes. She had shoulder length dark hair and carried a guitar. She explained she and her companions lived at a local shelter for runaways and other young people who were having problems and could no longer live with their families.

Tea felt a connection with the young people because 50 years ago, she’d been a teenage runaway. After her beloved mother died, she’d been forced to live with her father and a stepmother who didn’t want her around. Life in her new family became too difficult and she’d bolted. Her experiences on the street gave her an understanding of the lives fo these young people, despite the decades stretching between them.

I felt a kinship with the young woman with the dark hair and guitar. She admired the hemp jewelry I’d made and had for sale. She was interested in my van, especially after I told her I lived in it.

Oh! she said with a smile. You’re one of the turtle people. You take your home with you wherever you go!

She wanted to travel too, she told me, when was 18 and on her own. She would be 18 soon, she said wistfully.

I encouraged her, told her if I could thrive living alone in my van, she could too. She could take her guitar on the road and busk to make enough money to see the world, I said.

In repayment of a debt, I’d recently been given a big bag of beads and pendants carved from bone. In the bag, I’d found several pendants shaped like turtles. I quickly realized that soon after I put a handmade hemp necklace adorned with a turtle pendant on my table, it sold for $20. People love turtles on hemp necklaces.

On the day I met the young woman with the dark hair and guitar, I had a necklace adorned with a turtle pendant on my table. The young woman admired it, but said she didn’t have any money.

What about a trade? I asked. Do you want to trade for it?

She said she didn’t have anything to trade, and I asked her to play her guitar and sing a song for me. I’ll trade you the necklace for a song, I told her.

She looked young and shy as she sat on the floor of my van where the side doors were open to the world. She adjusted her guitar and said she’d sing a song she’d written herself.

I didn’t hear the traffic on the highway or the conversations between the other vendors and their customers while the young woman gave her song to me. My ears listened only to her guitar and the words of joy and longing and promise she sang to me. I heard only her beautiful song.

When she finished singing, all of us who’d listened to her told her she’d sounded wonderful and thanked her for her gift. I got the turtle necklace for her. She placed it around her neck, and I fastened it for her. We were both smiling and a little teary when we said goodbye. I watched her and her guitar walk away and disappear.

I’ve thought about that young woman as the years have passed. She’s turned 18 and is in her 20s now. I hope she was able to get a van and take her guitar and lovely voice on the road. I hope she’s seeing the world. I hope she’s happy, joyful.

I wonder if she still has the necklace I made. I wonder if she thinks of me, her turtle sister.

 

Mean Lady

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When Mr. Carolina and I left Milton and his community, we really didn’t have anywhere to go. Mt. Shasta had been the light at the end of our tunnel of plans. Since neither of us wanted to spend a cold winter in Northern California, we knew we had to hit the road and head south.

After bidding adieu to friends old and new, our first order of business was to get some fuel in the van’s tank. The few dollars worth of gasoline Milton had put in two days before was nearly gone from the driving from the camping spot to the church with the community dinner, back to the camping spot, back to the church for the clothing giveaway, and to the camping spot again.

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I made these hemp bracelets with malachite stones. These are not the bracelets I was trying to sell in Mt. Shasta. These bracelets are no longer available because they have all been sold.

Since Mt. Shasta is a woo-woo little hippy town with shops selling crystals and new-age books and jewelry, I thought I might be able to sell some of the hemp bracelets with healing stones that I’d made. I decided to walk from store to store on the town’s short main drag of local businesses and try to make some money for us.

I went into several stores. Nobody was buying. Oh, the people in the shops liked my bracelets, but they all had reasons they couldn’t buy: the busy tourist seasons was over; the person authorized to buy wasn’t in; my jewelry didn’t fit with the other inventory in a particular store. Everyone was really nice, but I was getting discouraged.

I hadn’t given up, though, and I walked into yet another shop selling shiny rocks and angel figurines and books on spirituality. An older woman, plump with long grey hair, was sitting at a desk at the back of the store. I walked up to her and explained I wanted to sell bracelets I’d made so I could buy gas for my van and get out of town. I told her the bracelets were made from hemp and showed her that each one sported a healing stone. I told her the name of the stone on each bracelet and showed her how the slip knot clasps on the bracelets worked. She wasn’t super encouraging and didn’t even smile at me as I went through my spiel, but when I paused for breath, she asked how much I wanted for the bracelets, which was farther than I’d gotten with any of the other shopkeepers.

I explained I usually sold the bracelets for $4 each or three for $10, but since I really needed gas money, I’d sell them to her for $2 each. I felt a little sad to sell the bracelets off so cheaply, but I wanted to contribute to our getting out of town. Besides, I had more hemp and drilled stones, so I could make more bracelets.

The store owner’s attitude wasn’t making me feel any better. She acted as if she didn’t really like my bracelets much at all. She acted as if she were doing me a huge favor by taking the bracelets off my hands. In a way, she was doing me a favor, but I knew she was going to sell the fruits of my labor at a profit.

The shopkeeper picked out sixteen bracelets she wanted to buy. I was ecstatic! She asked me if she could write me a check. I explained again that I needed the money to put gas in the van, told her that I wasn’t from Mt. Shasta and didn’t have a bank account, so I really needed cash. She acted entirely put out, but rounded up $32 in paper currency for me.

I was feeling really good. Not only had I earned enough money to get us out of town, I’d found someone who liked my work enough to pay me for it and sell it in her shop. I was all smiles when I reached into my pocket and pulled out one of my business cards. (Yes, it’s true, I was living dirty and broke in my van, but I had business cards to hand out.) I want to give you this, I said to the woman as I thrust the card at her.

I don’t want that, she all but sneered at me. It’s not like I’m going to order anything from you.

My bubble was burst. It was all I could do not to cry as I took my money and left the shop.

I tried to sell the remaining bracelets at a few more stores, but no one was buying. We used some of my earnings to buy a fast food lunch and put the rest in the gas tank before we headed on out of town.

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I made these bracelets from hemp. The stones are turquoise. These are not the bracelets I tried to sell in Mt. Shasta. These bracelets are no longer available because they have all been sold.

 

I took all of the photos in this post.

That’s Ms. Coonie to You, Sir

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It was late afternoon and I was at the Bridge with the Jewelry Lady. I’d spent the day at her house, then we’d gone out to the Bridge in the relative coolness of the evening. There weren’t many customers out there, but the Jewelry Lady and I set up anyway.

Three cute little girls under the age of 10 stopped at my table. They were sunburned and windblown, and I could tell the littlest one was extra spunky. I asked if they were sisters, and they said they were cousins.

The girls asked about my bracelets. I said they were $4 each or three for $10.The littlest girl couldn’t afford that price and asked if I had anything for $2. I told the girls they could all pick out a bracelet for $2 each.

As I talked to the girls, their answers were yes ma’am and no ma’am. I said, Y’all are so polite. Y’all must be from Texas. They said they were from Texas.

The girls’ grandpa had been hanging around, and I’d figured out he was one of those old guys who thinks he is funny when he is really obnoxious. When I told the girls I was from Louisiana, he said to them, You hear that? She’s a coonie!

Coonie is a shortened (and more polite) version of coonass, a somewhat derogatory name for the Cajun people of Southwest Louisiana. I am Cajun, so that does make me a coonass, but not everyone from Louisiana is Cajun, so not everyone from Louisiana is a coonass. This man was making a mightly assumption about me and my place of birth. (Since I don’t have a Cajun accent, he was not basing his assumption on the way I talk.)

More importantly, coonass is one of those words people within the group can call each other, but outsiders should not use casually. And for a Texan to call a Cajun a coonass or even a coonie, well, them’s fightin’ words. But I played it cool and didn’t say, I’d rather be a coonass than a fucking Texan! After all, he had three sweet little girls with him.

I finished my transaction with the girls, and as soon as the family walked away, I said to the Jewelry Lady, did you hear what he called me! Of course, she’d never heard of coonies or coonasses, and I had to explain the whole thing to her.

According to http://www.acadian.org/coonass.html

Coonass is a controversial term in the Cajun lexicon: to some Cajuns it is regarded as the supreme ethnic slur, meaning “ignorant, backwards Cajun”; to others the term is a badge of pride, much like the word Chicano is for Mexican Americans. In South Louisiana, for example, one can often see bumper stickers reading “Warning — Coonass on Board!” or “Registered Coonass” (both of which generally depict a raccoon’s backside). The word’s origin is unclear: folk etymology claims that coonass dates from World War II, when Cajun GIs serving in France were derided by native French speakers as conasse, meaning “dirty whore” or “idiot.” Non-French-speaking American GIs allegedly overheard the expression, converted it to the English “coonass,” and introduced the term back in the United States. There it supposedly soon caught on as a derisive term among non-Cajuns, who encountered many Cajuns in Gulf Coast oilfields. It is now known, however, that coonass predated the arrival of Cajun GIs in France during World War II, which undermines the conasse theory. Indeed, folklorist Barry Jean Ancelet has long rejected this theory, calling it “shaky linguistics at best.” He has suggested that the word originated in South Louisiana, and that it derived from the belief that Cajuns frequently ate raccoons. He has also proposed that the term contains a negative racial connotation: namely, that Cajuns were “beneath” or “under” blacks (or coons, as blacks were often called by racists). Despite efforts by Cajun activists like James Domengeaux and Warren A. Perrin to stamp out the term’s use, coonass continues to circulate in South Louisiana and beyond. Its acceptability among the general public, however, tends to vary according to circumstances, and often depends on who says it and with what intention. Cajuns who dislike the term have been known to correct well-meaning outsiders who use the epithet.

 

You Need Some Hemp (to Go with That Tie-Dye)

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When I sold regularly at the Bridge, I often saw people wearing tie-dyed t-shirts. One of my marketing ploys was to yell out as these people walked by, You need some hemp to go with your tie-dye. Often the person wearing the tie-dyed shirt ignored me or laughed and kept walking. But sometimes the person in the tie-dye actually came over to my table and looked at my merchandise, and sometimes the looker turned into a buyer.

One Labor Day weekend, I saw a young man across the street walking toward the Bridge. He was wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt, so I hollered, You need some hemp to go with your tie-dye. He hollered back that he didn’t have any money. On a whim, I told him that if he came back, I’d give him something.

He probably didn’t believe I was actually going to give him something, but he and his friends did stop at my table after walking out on the Bridge. There were four of them, young people in their mid-20s. They worked for AmeriCorps or some other service organization and had decided on a whim to go camping on Labor Day Weekend. Once they’d gotten out in the wilderness, they’d realized they’d forgotten both the food and the drinking water. However, someone had packed booze, so they’d basically spent the last couple of days drinking tequila. Now they were on their way to town where they would go to a restaurant so they could finally eat.

They didn’t sound drunk, and they certainly weren’t obnoxious. They seemed to be really sweet young people, and the story of their weekend amused me. I ended up giving each of them a bracelet.

They couldn’t believe I was giving them something so nice for free. Usually when I gave away a bracelet or a shiny rock (to a little kid or because it was someone’s birthday or because I was feeling generous toward someone who didn’t have any money for a souvenir in the budget), I was met with disbelief. I guess it’s not often a business person gives away her or his wares to a stranger.

These young people loved my bracelets and each carefully chose his or her perfect one. Then they said they wanted to give me something. I said it wasn’t necessary for them to give me anything, but I did concede that I like trades.

One of the women gave me a pair of earrings made with little stones of snowflake obsidian. (To read about another experience of mine with snowflake obsidian, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/01/04/snowflake-obsidian-2/ .) I didn’t (and don’t) typically wear earrings, so later I passed them on to a lady vendor friend I suspected was involved in an abusive relationship. I hoped the snowflake obsidian could help her break patterns that were no longer useful to her.

Then the guy in the tie-dye said, And we wanted to give you this, and held out his clinched fist. I instinctively held out my hand—cupped palm up—to him. He opened his fist over my open hand and deposited a good size bud (of marijuana, for anyone who needs it spelled out).

I was surprised, but quickly closed my hand around the weed. I didn’t want to be showing off the fat bud in my hand  in front of God and everybody .

When people asked me if I smoked (marijuana or cigarettes), I always said no. I’ve never been a pothead and particularly don’t like coughing or feeling paranoid and stupid. As a homeless woman on my own, I needed to be alert all the time, so I wasn’t drinking alcohol or smoking poet or doing anything to make my brain sluggish. Also, because I was homeless, I knew I ran a greater risk of a cop hassling me and using my homelessness as an excuse to search me and my belongings. I didn’t need to be caught with anything illegal.

However, I had the bud in my hand. It seemed wrong to hand it back. I could tell these folks really wanted to meet my kindness with kindness of their own. So I smiled and thanked them and wished them a safe journey.

As soon as I saw them drive away, I walked over to a vendor friend who I knew smoked weed.

I have something for you, I said.

I held out my closed fist to him just as the young man had done to me. My friend held out his open palm to me. I put my hand over his and opened my fingers. You should have seen his smile when he saw that bud in his hand.

Mean Daddy

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It was another slow, cold day at the Bridge. I noticed the family—Mom, Dad, young teenage daughter—because their clothes said they had money, and they were actually stopping to look at the merchandise on vendor’s tables.

I told the mom about my bracelets and necklaces (handmade by me from hemp, able to open and close completely). The mom liked my jewelry and wanted her daughter (between the ages of 12 and 14, I’m guessing) to like it too. The daughter, however, was at the age and the stage where she didn’t want to like anything her mom liked. They wandered away, and I was disappointed I hadn’t made a sale.

Before long, the daughter was at my table alone. She asked me a few questions about my jewelry. Then she saw my hats. She really liked the hats. I even pulled out my back stock so she could choose from everything I had available. She picked out a cute one with a pompom on top. I told her it cost $10.

Her father was walking by, and she demanded, Dad! Buy me this hat! (I admit, she sounded like a real brat.)

Her dad said, No!

The girl said, Come on! It’s only $10. Buy me the hat!

Her dad sneered, This is just a knit hat. You don’t need this.

He said just a knit hat the same way someone might say just an old boot or just a pile of dog shit. He obviously felt great contempt for that hat I’d made with my own two hands. I stood there wondering if he realized I was the person who’d made that just a knit hat.

I could understand if he didn’t want to buy anything for his daughter because she was being a demanding brat. I could understand if he’d already bought her a lot of stuff on this trip and didn’t want to spend any more money. I could understand if the girl had plenty of things and needed nothing more. But the guy could have been nicer to his daughter and to me. (How about: This is a nice hat, but you don’t need it, and I’m not spending any more money until dinner.)

The girl kept pleading, and the man turned to me in exasperation and demanded, Will you take $5 for it?

Time froze. On the one hand, at $10 per hat, I’m not paying myself minimum wage, as a hat takes me more than an hour to make. At $5 per hat, I am paying myself a seriously pitiful wage. On the other hand, I’d only made $3 so far that day, and $5 was better than no dollars. Besides, a teenage girl liked a hat I’d made, and that was pretty cool. So I sighed wearily and agreed to take $5 for the hat.

The dad pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket. I saw a $100 bill in his hand. He fished a twenty out of the pile and asked if I could make change. I signed wearily again and said yes.

As I gave him the last of my change, he said gruffly, I don’t know if I’m going to get out of here with any money left.

Isn’t that what vacation’s for? I asked brightly.

(I don’t believe vacations are primarily for spending money, but that man had just shown me he actually had plenty of money to spend.)

To read about other hemp jewelry customers, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/05/we-feel-for-your-situation/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/10/red-letter-day-2/ , here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/09/26/turtle-ass/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/03/17/how-much-are-these/ here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/11/12/hard-times-on-the-highway/ and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/12/09/selling-hemp-again/

Tourists and the Crisis Hotline Call Boxes

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Within the last year, the DOT installed crisis hotline call boxes on the Bridge. It was a long time coming. Every time someone committed suicide by jumping from the Bridge, there was an outcry that something needed to be done. One idea offered was to install nets to catch anyone who jumped. Another idea offered was to install phones to connect people with suicidal thoughts to the suicide prevention hotline.

I think people who truly want to end their lives will find a way to do so. However, I also think we (as a society) should do whatever we can to help people who are thinking about committing suicide. Many people having suicidal thoughts need counseling or other assistance, but don’t truly want to die. I’m not opposed to the crisis hotline phones, although I’m not sure they will actually keep anybody from jumping. Until statistics on how many lives were saved through the use of the phones are published in the local paper, we’ll probably never know if they are successful.

In any case, I am glad the phones provide an immediate way for folks who are considering jumping from the Bridge to get counseling from someone with training.

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This call box is out on the Bridge. In addition to the message “YOU ARE LOVED,” someone has also written on it, “Somewhere in the world someone is drinking coffee and smiling.”

When I left the Bridge over a year ago, the phones were in the process of being installed. Since I’ve been back, I’ve watched tourists notice and react to the phones.

Some people are confused by the phones, probably because they don’t much look like telephones. There’s no receiver and no keypad. There’s simply a button to push to connect to a counselor, and a series of holes which make up the speaker. I see people noticed the phone across from the vending area, do a double take, then stop and exam the phone while trying to figure out its purpose before moving on. I guess “call box” is a more accurate term for this equipment, but most of us vendors still call them “phones.”

Some people think the call boxes are pretty funny. When these folks realize what the call boxes are for, I hear them laughing, see them pretend to press the call button. Some of these jokesters (usually older-than-middle-age, ostensibly white men) pose in front of the call box and have someone in his party take a photo.

I don’t think the call boxes are funny. I don’t think suicide or attempted suicide is funny. As someone who’s struggled with (lived with, fought against) depression and suicidal thoughts for over 30 years, I don’t think anything associated with jumping off the Bridge is funny. I’ve been at the Bridge in the hours after someone has jumped, and it’s awful—sad, depressing, demoralizing, sobering. There’s nothing silly or lighthearted or funny about it.

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This call box is the one closest to the vendors. Friends of someone who jumped wrote their words of love and grief on it.

One Sunday at the end of November, the call button on the phone directly across the highway from the vendors was pressed twice.

Business was excruciatingly slow that day. It was cold and overcast, with few tourists and fewer shoppers. I was still at the Bridge less because I actually hoped to sell anything and more because I wanted to spend time with my vendor friends.

Out of the quiet of the day, I heard what I thought was a cell phone set on speaker ringing. The sound was louder than it would have been if someone nearby had actually had their phone set on speaker and was waiting for the person called to answer. I looked around to try to find the source of the sound.

No one else seemed to notice it.

I continued to look for the source of the sound. I glanced across the road and saw an Asian tourist family—a mom with two kids under ten years old—hanging around the crisis hotline call box. The mom looked confused, but the kids were giggling. I realized the ringing was coming from the call box.

I began screeching, They dialed the suicide phone! They dialed the suicide phone!

Vendors turned to look at me. I was pointing at the tourist family and still screeching, They dialed the suicide phone!

The crisis counselor came on the line and asked how she could help. The tourist mom said, Wrong number! quite loudly, and we all had to wonder how one could dial the wrong number on a phone that only connects to one place.

Hours later, only three vendors were left, and two of us were packing to leave. As Tea helped me fold my tablecloths, the other vendor told us that some kids had pushed the call button on the crisis hotline call box as they walked by. Sure enough, I could hear the ringing, then the counselor’s voice. The other vendor said the cops would be sent out if no one responded to the counselor.

What a waste of time and money and human emotion it would be if first responders were dispatched to look for a potential jumper or a body that wasn’t even out there. So I hurried across the street to talk to the counselor on the other end of the line.

When I walked up to the phone, the counselor was saying, Are you there?

I explained I was a vendor and one of us had seen some kids press the call button, but everything was ok. She thanked me, and I went back to finish packing before the snow started.

Wouldn’t you know, the car full of kids (teenage boys) who’d pressed the call button stopped on the highway right in front of the call box. One young man got out of the car and stood next to the call box.

I started screeching, Don’t press that button! as I stalked across the road. The boy looked confused and a little frightened.

I forget what I look like to other people. Here I was, this short little woman with fleecy, black sweatpants peeking from beneath a light summer skirt that didn’t match my heavy, multicolored wool sweater, the hood of the jacket under the sweater pulled up over my handmade wool hat that didn’t match anything I was wearing. And not only was I wearing weird clothes, I was also yelling and walking toward the kid. No wonder the young man looked concerned.

As I was repeating, Don’t push that button! the young man said, They (his friends, I presume) wanted me to hear what it said.

By that time I was standing in the road in front of the car so the boys couldn’t drive away until I was finished with them.

Do you know what that it? I asked him as he climbed back into the passenger seat.

He said he didn’t know. I told him it was a suicide hotline phone and if someone pushed the button, the cops would come out.

About then, I saw a truck hauling wood approaching in the lane behind the car full of young men. Tea saw the truck too and started shrieking at me, Blaize! Get out of the road! Get out of the road!

I yelled across the street to her, I see it! It (meaning the truck) can stop!

Then I turned back to the car full of young men and said, Don’t fuck with it! (meaning the crisis hotline phone.) I stepped up on the sidewalk and let the car full of young men drive away, then waved at the confused people in the truck as they slowly went past me.

I don’t have a job description at the Bridge, but if I did, I guess I’d have to add “crisis hotline call box monitor” to it.

IMG_3875

This is the call box that was getting all the attention.

Selling Hemp Again

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I’d been back to selling hemp jewelry regularly for over a month, and not a single person had snickered when I said the word “hemp” or asked about smoking a necklace. I was beginning to think people had become more informed, that maybe hemp had taken a step or two into the mainstream. However, on a cold afternoon, I found there were still misperceptions about the fiber.

The first shoppers were a mother and teenage daughter, both tall and blond and from Oklahoma, it turned out.

(Sidenote: The majority of people from Oklahoma I’ve met at the Bridges act as if they are on their first trip away from the farm. Old people, middle-age people, young people, kids…trying to get any sort of conversation out of folks of any age from Oklahoma is usually like trying to pull teeth out of a firmly champed shut mouth.

Me: Where are y’all from?

OK Tourist: (Long Pause) Oklahoma.

Me: Oh, cool. Are you enjoying your vacation?

OK Tourist: (Long Pause) Yes.

Me: I made all the jewelry on the table.

OK Tourist: (Long Pause) (Silence)

Me: All the bracelets and necklaces are made from hemp.

OK Tourist: (Long Pause) That’s…in-ter-esting.

It’s maddening. And forget about making a sale to 95% of Oklahoma tourists.

Of course, there have been some exceptions. There were two lovely fat women who bought four necklaces from me one summer afternoon and offered to take care of my not-very-nice ex-boyfriend if he ever bothered me again. There was the rock guy I met at the Bridge who eventually supplied me with ammonites, and the fused glass artist I bought pendants from. There seems to be some sort of renaissance of cool going on in Tulsa, and in fact, all the folks I just mentioned did live in Tulsa. The visitors from the rest of the state seem to have a very difficult time mustering up any personality.)

So the mother and daughter walked up to my table and were exhibiting enough personality that I didn’t immediately peg them as Oklahomans. (Maybe they were from Tulsa.)

When I told them the bracelets and necklaces were made from hemp, they started giggling. The mom said to the daughter, I’ll eat it and you can smoke it!

I said, You can smoke it if you want to, but it will probably only make you cough. If you want to get high, Colorado’s right over there, and I pointed in the general direction of the state where recreational marijuana is legal.

That’s where we just came from! the teenager exclaimed. She (the girl gestured to her mother) kept saying she was going to buy me a brownie. (More giggling…)

You have to be careful with those brownies. They’ll get you real high, I told them. I think I scandalized them a little. I don’t think they planned to talk to someone with real life pot brownie experience.

They giggled some more, and I asked them where they were from. They said Oklahoma, and I realized they were more interested in giggling about hemp than buying any. I didn’t even try to explain the differences between marijuana and hemp. It seemed like a lost cause.

Not very long after that a young man in his mid-20s was at my table with his mother. When I said the bracelets and necklaces were made from hemp, the young man picked up a necklace and sniffed it. I’ll give him credit for doing something I’d never seen anyone do before.

I might have given him a strange look (although I swear I was trying to be cool), because he said, You said it was made from hemp, that’s why I smelled it.

Natural hemp (undyed and not manufactured to be totally uniform and soft) does have a particular scent, a bit like hay, I think. But I don’t know if that was the smell the guy expected to encounter or if he expected the necklace to smell flowery like marijuana. I didn’t ask. I was too cold and too tired to go into educator mode.

 

To learn more about hemp, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/11/19/hemp-2/.

To read more about customers, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/05/we-feel-for-your-situation/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/10/red-letter-day-2/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/09/26/turtle-ass/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/12/14/mean-daddy/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/03/17/how-much-are-these/, and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/11/12/hard-times-on-the-highway/