Meatballs & Microphones: A True Story about Small Kitchens and Big Dreams (Free Chapter)

Frank moved to Vancouver to make it as an MC. But for now, he is stuck working in a kitchen and dealing with childish corporate politics. With the help of a street performer named West Kid, Frank learns just what it will take to rise to the top. But when a highly embarrassing video of him goes viral on the internet, Frank quickly finds out that being famous isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

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SIXTEEN

City of Destiny had become a popular local song. It was getting played on college radio around the Greater Vancouver Area and even got the attention of the famous Vlad the Impaler of the StompOut Gang. He had offered Decible a spot on his upcoming Canada wide tour, and of course, that meant I was invited too. This had been my dream for as long as I had been rapping. And it had finally come true. I was going on tour.

The only problem was that Vlad was asking us for five thousand dollars to cover transportation and room costs. Between us, that would be twenty-five hundred each…and I had none of that. I needed a way to come up with some cash, quick.

After what my drug dealing had caused, I knew that avenue for profit was closed. Even if I could, I didn’t want to. So, I came up with another idea. I was going to go homeless for the summer. I decided that if I saved the eight hundred dollars worth of rent I would have paid my old Indian landlord, over the four months of summer, I could afford to pay the sum Vlad was asking for.

And so, that’s what I did. At the end of May, Matty came by my house and helped me put the little possessions I had into a storage unit.

“You sure you want to do this?” asked Matty, as we settled back into his civic after putting the last of my things away.

“No guts, no glory,” I responded, with a confident smile. I couldn’t let him know how unsure I was…shit, I couldn’t even let myself know.

He gave a little chuckle. “Okay, well…where to? Obviously not home.”

I got dropped off at a nearby Boston Pizza and chilled at the bar for a couple pints. I was eerily relaxed despite the fact I was officially a homeless person. I watched the basketball game on the television and when it was over, I headed back into the streets to look for a good place to camp out for the night.

I wanted to stay somewhere in the suburbs where it was quiet and void of other homeless people. There was no way I was going to be sleeping with the rest of the dirty homeless population over on Hastings Street. Besides, the ‘burbs had more parks and grassy fields which, in my mind, would be far more comfortable than sleeping on the concrete in a piss smelling alley. I figured somewhere close to the SkyTrain would be ideal.

It didn’t take too long before I found my spot. It was perfect. At the foot of a large grassy hill, used as a dog park during the day, was a baseball diamond. There was a dugout with a long bench in it that I immediately imagined as my new bachelor apartment. It had a wood panel roof to block the rain and was surrounded by a chain fence to keep me hidden from anyone on an evening stroll or any kids sneaking out to smoke a joint.

Proud of myself for finding my new home so quickly, I went back to Boston Pizza and ordered some dinner. Now that I didn’t have to spend money on rent, I had a lot more expendable income. I didn’t have to eat potatoes and ramen noodles anymore. I didn’t have to budget and count every cent anymore. Most importantly, I didn’t have to live a life of compromise anymore. I sat at that bar, scarfing down a large pizza and sipping on a frosty pint, completely guilt free. It was amazing. When I had eaten and drank my fill, I paid up and headed back to the diamond so I could pass out while I still had a buzz going.

By the time I returned to the dugout it was dark out. The night was a cool one, far more frigid than any sleeping condition I had been used to previous. I entered the dugout and removed my backpack, which would be acting as my pillow. I tried to find a comfortable position on the bench and figured out that it was not as wide as I had originally assumed. The only way to sleep on it with moderate comfort was to sleep on my back, looking straight up. I resigned to that fact and tried to settle down.

But just before my eyes started to putter closed, I noticed something glowing in the moonlight between the chain diamonds in the fence. I recognized the thin strands immediately. It was a spider-web.

Spider-webs are synonymous with spiders.

I shivered at the thought of what creepy crawler might be with me in my sleeping quarters. My eyes darted from left to right. And that’s when I saw it…Its back was plump and round, its legs flickered slowly. The arachnid hung on a thin string of web dangling from the wood plank roof, just between my eyes, only a foot above me, like it knew the exact blind spot of my vision.

I froze, terrified. Who knew what kind of venomous juices were lurking in that juicy blueberry behind its head. I stared back at the creepy creature and held my breath without so much as a twitch. Then, I slipped off the bench, grabbed my backpack and ran out of that dugout as fast as I could.

I gave myself a vigorous pat down to make sure I wasn’t carrying any members of the spider’s family with me. Once I felt safe, I decided to set up camp on the side of the hill, behind a tall evergreen, to be hidden from any cars driving along the side street a few feet above me.

The night had gotten colder, to the point I started to shiver. I removed the sweater I had stuffed in my backpack and draped it over me as I lied on the hill. The sweater itself didn’t cover much of me, but I wrapped it around my head and shoulders so that the warmth of my breath would stay trapped in the fabric and keep me at least a little protected.

For about an hour I lied there in the black of my sweater mask, closing my eyes, trying to drift off to sleep. Every now and then I would hear a car drive by above my head, the heavy rubber of the tires crushing tiny scattered pebbles as they passed before the silence of the night would roll in once again, leaving only the faint chirps from crickets that seemed to be coming from all around me.

As I finally started to nod off, I heard rustling in the branches of the evergreen tree above my head. In just a quick second, I was completely alert and awake, fearing what other night critters might be lurking about my sleeping quarters. The rustling morphed into the soft shuffling of grass. It was getting closer with each brush. Slowly, I turned on my belly and slid my face from out the warmth of my sweater mask, taking a look up the hill. There, staring back at me with a pair of beady, glowing eyes…was a racoon.

I froze, as did the racoon. We continued to watch each other, perfectly motionless as we anticipated the other’s next move. Then, after some moments had passed, the animal broke eye contact with me, seemingly no longer conceiving me as a threat, and puttered off along the hill at his own leisure. I wasn’t sure if this gesture was him welcoming me to the hood, or if he was on his way to get some boys to come back and chew my face off in my sleep. But I was too tired to give it much thought and I rolled over, wrapping the sweater over my face once again.

With no more distractions, I finally fell asleep.

The sun was high up in the sky and burning bright when I woke the next morning. As soon as I opened my eyes, I could feel its warmth radiating on my skin, like mother earth herself was rolling over and wrapping her gentle arms around me. The first breath I took was deep and fulfilling. I hadn’t filled my lungs up with so much air in a very long time. I contributed it to the fact that I had slept outside; surrounded by fresh, breezy air, as opposed to the stuffy basement apartment in Burnaby. Even the usual morning pain in my lower back ceased to exist. I wasn’t groggy or disorientated either. In fact, I felt great. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face if I tried. My first homeless night had been a success and an exciting adventure at that. I felt like Tarzan; one with the animal kingdom.

Stuffing my sweater back into my backpack, I got to my feet and gave myself a quick dust off before I headed up the street to the corner gas station, where I grabbed a coffee and headed to the SkyTrain station to get to work.

******

“Why are you so happy today?” Gwen asked, accusingly, from the other side of the pass bar. The lunch rush was over and she was no longer screaming at me for her food. “You get laid or something?”

I wiped down the hot window and grinned. “There’s more to life than getting laid, Gwen…”

“Not for Gwen,” said Chef Will, who had come down from the office just in time to catch the end of our conversation. He gave her a playful wink and said, “I heard you slept with Dusty from the Granville location last night.”

“Who hasn’t Gwen slept with,” added Sammy, cutting lettuce beside me.

She smiled. “Maybe one day you’ll get your turn, little Sammy.” Then she walked off into the dining room, while Sammy looked down at his lettuce, blushing.

Chef Will nudged himself between me and Sammy and flashed me a devilish grin. “I’ll tell ya, Franky,” he started. “One day, I’m going to stick it in that girl…It’s going to be awesome.”

My face scrunched up like I had taken a swig of lumpy milk.

“So, Martin’s on vacation,” he continued. “Do you think you could work a dinner on Saturday?”

I winced. “I have a show on Saturday. I’m playing the Richmond Night Market.”

He gave a nod of validation and turned to Sammy. “What about you, Sam?”

“Can’t,” said Sammy. By this point, his cheeks were back to their usual shade. “I’m his DJ.”

This was true. Now that I had become more known in the scene I was starting to get booked for shows without the aid of West Kid or Decible, so I recruited Sammy and Sherry as my team. With a properly equipped DJ like Sammy, who had all the little tools and trinkets, and a mega talented vocalist like Sherry, who sang like a fucking angel, my shows had stepped up in quality big time.

We were getting booked at all sorts of different spots; from back alley lounges in Gastown where patrons wore cocktail dresses and sipped martinis, to Veteran bars where we couldn’t wear hats because the old-timers found it disrespectful. It didn’t matter to us where we played, just as long as we were getting heard.

None of these shows paid, but they were great spots for me to sell my mixtape. I was starting to see how West Kid could make a living off hip-hop alone. To come up with five hundred bucks a week, all you had to do was sell seven mixtapes at ten dollars every day. We had shows and open mics lined up pretty much daily and so my numbers were getting pretty close to that mark. The thought that soon I would be able to finally quit the restaurant and do hip hop full time was always in the back of my head.

That day after work, I had no shows or open mics to prepare for. I had the day all to myself. Usually, when I had some downtime I would hide in my room, binge-watching Netflix or rubbing one out to some porn, but now that I was homeless I needed to find something else to do with my time.

I grabbed some tall boys from the liquor store and headed down to Coal Harbour to sit and watch the water for a bit. I had been on the West Coast for two years and had yet to just relax by the water and take in the gorgeous scenery. I figured now was as good a time as any.

There is something truly peaceful about having no plans and nowhere to go. It forces you to just be present in the moment, like a branch on a tree, or a blade of grass blowing in the wind. Many people will tell you that a successful person must lose themselves in their work, be constantly on the grind and always making moves, that the merit of their character is judged by the possessions they acquire and the names in their datebook. But I’ll tell ya, as I sat there on that bench, sipping my beer, overlooking the calmly drifting waves of the Pacific Ocean and the vast mountains of North Vancouver in the distance, with nothing to do and nowhere to go, I felt pretty fucking successful. I felt like I had discovered what life was really all about.

When the sky became orange and the sun dipped below the horizon, I headed back to Burnaby to once again set up camp on the side of my hill by the baseball diamond. I hoped that if I got to sleep before the night got too cold, I would just sleep through the worst of it.

But that night I was hit with a hard realization.

As I lied on the hill, I felt the pattering of rain start to fall on my midriff. I removed my sweater mask and sat up. Before long the pattering had turned into a pouring and I was soaking wet. I grabbed my backpack and ran for shelter, the closest of which was under the awning at the corner gas station.

I squatted by a trash can, waiting for the downpour to subside. But it showed no signs of surrender. It rained for hours, all through the night. Realizing it wasn’t going anywhere, I tried to find a comfortable to position under the awning in which to fall asleep, but nothing worked. I barely slept at all that night and cursed myself the whole way through for not taking the rain into consideration. It was time to revamp my plans.

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