On Not Being One of Those People

We all have recurring dilemmas in our lives. One of mine reared its unattractive head last week.

I was having a conflict with a former business associate because I’d ended the association. It got personal and it got very ugly. I pulled back from the increasingly bitter exchange and tried to think about it calmly.

Naturally, I wanted to see myself as a blameless victim. But it didn’t quite work. I don’t care whether you divvy up the percentages showing me to bear 20% of the blame or more or less; the fact is, I bore some responsibility. At some points, I hadn’t acted well and I felt uncomfortable recalling my behavior. Sic transit total victimhood.

Fortunately, it was a Saturday and we were in the thick of one of my favorite events, the Texas Book Festival. Moving through the free-for-all of tents and exhibits, I bumped into the Typewriter Rodeo. This is a group of young writers with manual typewriters, quick fingers, and even quicker wits who’ll write you a new, fresh poem for nothing. Or for a tip, if you’d like.


You step up, you tell one of them who the poem is for, and you go on to describe whatever underlies your request — a mood, an occasion, a relationship. It’s kind of unnerving because it can be so damned revealing: Who are you and why are you here? You’re telling that to a total stranger who has fingers poised, ready to write the verses of your life. It’s part art, part therapy.

“I think I’ve acted like an asshole recently,” I said to David Fruchter, who was commandeering one of the keyboards. (David, it turns out, hosts a weekly radio show, Slappy Pinchbottom’s Odd Preoccupation, Sundays at 4 pm on KOOP 91.7 FM.) “And you know,” I told him, “I don’t want to be an asshole.”

He nodded — like this wasn’t a strange request from a woman he’d never met before. Then he bent over and started typing. Minutes later, he gave me this poem on a gold rectangle of paper:


How to live life without being an asshole


the first thing to know

is that every single one of us

is more than capable

of serious — i mean SERIOUS


no one is exempt.

and realizing that, about yourself

(and everybody else)

is a big step toward prevention

(which as they say is worth a pound

if not a pounding!)

paradoxically, forgiving your own

inner asshole

can be the best way to quiet it down

and taking a moment every day 

just to sit

and watch your thoughts go by

can be a big help

too …


I took my poem, read it, left a tip, and walked away. I knew the Typewriter Rodeo served other purposes for other people — like romance and sentiment and whimsy. For me, it helped calm me down a little and made me think about how I could be a better person.

Self-reflection, a little judgment, humor, ideas on how to live better. Good grief, what a deal. I’m thinking Typewriter Rodeo should be on every corner of the universe.

(Copyright 2014 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read If Writers Competed in the Olympics: A Horror Story


6 comments… add one
  • LB Link

    Saw a guy with a typewriter on a corner in NYC years ago doing this. I love it.

  • Cousin Maria Link

    Yeah; great stuff…but I’m not there yet. I’m going to comtemplate my inner SAINT, so I can feel superior for awhile, in light of the election results. I realize that makes me an a-hole, but now I know how to deal with that. Mille grazie!

  • Sidney Thompson Link

    What a hoot! Think I will frame this and hang by my bathroom mirror – good way to start the day.

  • This is a riot. I love the concept and what he wrote.

  • Chris Link

    I definitely enjoyed this story and the poem. I have heard of this type of typewriter poetry & was at the Texas Book Festival, but unfortunately did not see this group of poets. I will look for them next year.

  • Typewriter Rodeo should definitely be on every corner. What a cool thing. Sorry you had to deal with the former associate, though. I’m going with: It’s all their fault.

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