Some people believe you can tell a lot about a person by the shoes they wear. I believe you can tell more about a person by the t-shirts they have worn. This is the story of my life, as told by the t-shirts I have worn.
Originally posted as T-Shirt of the Week: WEEK 10 (August 19, 2007)
By comparison to the other shirts that have been featured in T-Shirt of the Week, this one may seem a bit boring in appearance. But as is the case with many things in life, appearances can be deceiving, because this shirt represents one of the more interesting chapters in the story of my life. This is a long one, so be prepared.
Prolog: By the late 1990s I was financially bankrupt, literally. I had spent ever penny I had, and charged even more pennies that I didn’t have, while I was in Los Angeles trying to make my blaxploitation documentary. Seriously, I was so broke and so in debt that in 1999 I was forced to declare bankruptcy. Because of my dire situation, if someone offered me a job that seemed remotely legal, I would take it.
Knowing the situation that I was in, my good friend Bryan offered me a job writing press releases for this huge spring break event in Daytona Beach, Florida. A plane ticket to Florida was provided for me, as well as a hotel room and the promise of money, so I hopped on the first flight to Daytona Beach. Unfortunately, it turns out that the people that had planned this big event, which included a concert by Wyclef as well as another one with Scarface, were complete idiots. Long story short—since this is just the intro to the actual story behind this shirt—the assholes who put on this spring break event lost a ton of money, and ended up not paying anyone the money they were owed. Myself and five other guys wound up fleeing Florida in a stolen rental van, while I eventually made my way back to Portland, but without getting paid.
Story of the Shirt: While there’s more to that particular story—including Nigerian gangsters, a surreal conversation with Wyclef, and one of the worst cases of diarrhea I’ve ever had—the facts I’ve just recounted are the most important for setting up the story surrounding this shirt. You see, because of the fiasco in Florida, Bryan felt he owed me. So when the Stand Up for Steel tour started, he called me because someone wanted to document the whole thing.
Stand Up for Steel was a movement that started in the 1990s when foreign steel companies began “dumping” their product at cut-rate prices. Steel companies in the United States could not compete with the pricing that was going on, and thousand upon thousands of people in the U.S. steel industry were getting it in the ass because of this. This led to Stand Up for Steel, a national movement that was centered around steel plants and mines throughout the country that was meant to educate the public about what was going on, and convince President Clinton to enforce regulation that would benefit the American steel worker. There were a series or rallies that took place, primarily throughout the Midwest, which was to end with a huge rally in front of the White House, where these massive sheets of steel where to be symbolically dumped, each with thousands of signatures showing support for steel workers from all over the country.
Because the average American didn’t know about what was going on in the steel industry, someone—although I’m not sure who—wanted to make some sort of documentary that could educate the uneducated masses. It was never all that clear to me, but I got the impression that this documentary was going to be run as some sort of public service announcement/infomercial. Bryan approached me about making the documentary before the whole series of rallies kicked off, but because of bureaucratic bullshit, the deal didn’t come through until near the end of what was nearly two months of events.
Bryan finally assured me there was money, I called my friend Matt who was a camera operator and was as broke as I was, and we hopped on a plane to Detroit to begin working on the Stand Up for Steel documentary. We spent less than 24 hours in Detroit—the most depressing place I’ve ever been—before we flew to Chicago. There were only two events planned for Illinois, both nearly a week apart, so Matt and I had some time to kill in Chicago (in January, which was really cold).
I had some friends in Chicago, and they invited me to a special screening of a documentary about filmmaker John Waters. After the screening I overheard my friend Liz talking to some woman who was telling her how she had been exercising so much recently, and just wanted some guy to notice her ass. A little while later, Liz introduced me to that woman (we’ll call her Nancy). The moment Liz walked away, I said to Nancy, “I couldn’t help but notice your ass from across the room.”
Now, I’m not sure what emboldened me to say such a thing, but the end result was that most of my free time in Chicago that week was spent having sex with Nancy. In the meantime, the organizers of Stand Up for Steel had me and Matt staying at the Hilton in downtown Chicago, a great hotel, very expensive, and more than either of us could ever afford. The problem was that our per diem money had yet to come through, so all of our meals were room service, which was really adding up over the week. I wasn’t spending that much time in the room, because I was getting ass on the other side of town, but Matt, who somehow scored some weed, was spending all of his time getting high, ordering room service and watching porn on pay-per-view. When it came time to check out, the bill was astronomical, and for whatever reason, the organizers of Stand Up for Steel had fucked up, and the credit card was not authorized. There was no way the Hilton was going to let us leave without settling up the bill. In fact, they weren’t even going to let us get our rental car out of the garage, for fear we were going to skip out on the bill. The manager so was worried we were going to screw him that he didn’t want me leaving his sight. I assured him that we would wait until the money came through before leaving. In the meantime, I explained that Matt would need the car to run some really important errands. I told Matt to secretly sneak all of our bags and equipment into the car, and to wait for me with the engine running. I waited about ten minutes, and when the manager turned his back to answer a phone call, I took off like a bat outta hell. To this day, I don’t know if the bill was ever paid.
From Chicago we went to Minnesota, where I experience cold in a way that I did not know was possible. After Minnesota the whole Stand Up for Steel tour took a two-week break, and after much debate it was decide Matt and I should fly back to Portland, and then join up with the tour in Washington D.C. We returned to Portland, and Matt began editing together the footage we had. Someone decided that it was not financially feasible to bring us out for the big rally in D.C., which always struck me as stupid, but that’s how it went down.
Matt cut together a short teaser trailer that looked beautiful, and then President Clinton waved a magic wand that partially solved the American steel problem, which then killed the need for the documentary. Matt and I got the call telling us to not bother doing any more work, which was fine with us, because we were starting to worry we might not get paid. Fortunately, for all the hard work we put in and all the freezing cold we endured, we did get paid, I got laid, and I have this—the most patriotic shirt in my entire collection—to remind me of the whole experience.