Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Tears Tip Eastward Once Again

Two weeks ago, on one of my first nights in San Francisco I saw a girl crying on the MUNI. She was in the next tramcar, wearing a long, stylish leather coat and blubbering into her cell phone. I couldn’t hear what she was saying but she was clearly shattered, distraught, and somewhat frantic. The image remained with me. After all, it’s humiliating to cry on public transportation, especially in front of all the put-together strangers in San Francisco.

This morning the crying girl on the BART was I.

A vague anxiety about returning home has been hovering around the periphery of my consciousness since the Pacific Northwest. It passes through phases, ebbs and swells. Last night around midnight it bloomed brutally. Princess that I am I had finally gotten used to sleeping with just the one flat pillow I’d brought with me from Chicago. Suddenly, last night it seemed insubstantial and horribly uncomfortable. Exhausted and achy from several days of long, hilly bike rides, due to be up and traveling in five hours, predictably, sleep seemed out of reach.

“Life is empty.” I said to Lynn from my mattress on the floor when he walked in around one from Raf’s birthday party.
“Do you really think that Abby?” he said consolingly, shoving the mess of shrink wrapped yellow “Live Strong” Lance Armstrong bracelets that, much to our glee, had arrived in the mail that afternoon, off his sleeping bag next to me.
“Well it isn’t always.” I conceded dolefully “But when it is, it’s unbearably so.”

The crisis is manifold, complex and like most things worth getting upset about, mostly impossible to understand. I don’t ever want to work again. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. I feel only tenuously connected to anything in this world. Worst of all, I’m finding this out a few years too late.

Lynn woke up early with me and helped me carry my bags to the station on Market st. The air was cool. An old man stood just inside the station entrance playing guitar; his song incredibly lovely. I’d spent two days last week down on Fisherman’s Wharf busking for money on a borrowed guitar (with little success, I have to admit) and I felt that broke as I was, it wouldn’t be proper to leave town without giving him a dollar. Every now and then I receive these little hints that Karma or Causality might actually exist. When I got to the turnstiles they were taped open. It seems I had the great fortune of traveling on “Spare the Air Day” meaning free train rides between 4 and 9 am. Have I mentioned I love San Francisco?

Deeply pained, I hugged Lynn goodbye, ran down the stairs and jumped right on my train. I’m not sure what set it off, fog perhaps, the train map on the wall, but I started to cry. It was quick and tasteful-just a few silent tears. Truly, a fraction of the deluge I wanted to be washed away in. I wept because I am returning home with a more acute feeling of venturing into the unknown than I had when I left two months ago. What kind of sense does that make? Plainly, It’s terrifying.

The tour already seems like ancient history, a troubling sensation in and of itself, and I was just starting to get used to life in San Francisco. Cooking for the boys, visiting friends, writing, staggering up those hills feeling full of wonder. It seemed that in San Francisco my thoughts came to me prepackaged in poetic form. I began thinking in verse, an adaptation heartbreaking to sever.

I’d been taking it pretty east, a little too easy, in fact, right up until the very end. Lynn’s parents were in town visiting the last few days and with their typical generosity took me along on all sorts of family outings and out to family dinners. The other day we did something very important. We took a bike ride down through the Presidio, over the golden gate bridge and into marine.

I refuse to believe that there is a single person I know who hasn’t at some point, if only for a flickering instant, considered jumping to her doom from the Golden Gate bridge. Sam, a San Francisco native, says that idea is mostly urban legend. “Where did you hear that? That lots of people kill themselves that way?” he wanted to know. “Are you kidding?” I answered, eyes widening. It just is that way. Everyone knows it. It’s got to be one of the most Romantic ways to go.

Half way across the bridge I paused and climbed off my bike to gaze down at the foamy rocks below. It is really rather windy up there and it occurred to me that perhaps many people have been in the process of contemplating jumping and then the wind came along and made the decision for them. All in all we rode a good 25 miles through Sausalito, Tiburon, all around the bay, and then took a ferry home. My borrowed bike I’d been living on for a week had a rock-hard seat and snarky gears. I struggled nobly and my ass is ruined.

There is something inexplicably divine, almost holy, about biking on those hills. You move on a continuum of toil and redemption. You struggle up feeling like your lungs will burst, your legs drop right off your body like some consumptive insect, and then you crest and the way down is delicious in perfect proportion.

Retuning home I cooked the leftover Indian food I’d grifted from a catering gig I’d worked the night before. An Indian wedding party that had me scrubbing pots caked with charred korma until two in the morning. The work was exhausting and the night didn’t end until 3 am when I trekked back to the restaurant to collect my pay and my bike. All the prostitutes were out on Polk at that hour. Most of them trannies. My feet ached from standing on my feet in dress shoes for 12 hours, my arms sore from hefting dishes, carafes and garbage. While climbing onto my bike and huffing back to Chinatown I passed by a prostitute, a little girl who couldn’t have been more than 12. A total Jodie Foster Taxi Driver deal for real, and felt suddenly that any complaints I might have were wholly inappropriate. A bunch of thugged out dudes in a BMW idling at the intersection hooted and called at her “Hey little one! Come ‘ere little one.” My heart broke and I had trouble sleeping that night too.

Direct flights were decidedly out of my budget and I had to stop in Denver. On my first flight I had the uncomfortable experience of sitting next to a girl who by all surface accounts was just like me. About my age, similarly dressed, she read a hardcover copy of Anna Karenina (one of my favorite books) and clicked away on an ibook identical to mine. I’m nothing. Nobody. Just like everyone else.

Towards the end of our flight we encountered some of the worst, most prolonged turbulence I’ve ever suffered through. The plane dipped and jerked, metal cabinets in the kitchen rattling and slamming. My stomach fluttered through my body, exploring the outer reaches of my trembling fingers and toes. I closed my eyes, tried to breathe deeply and remind myself that I’m not scared of dying. I like to think that I’m not scared of dying; rather look forward to it actually, but in that moment my will to live betrayed me. It was really, really scary.

Right after 9-11 I found myself morbidly and obsessively consumed by the curiosity of what those final moments before a crash must be like on board. Probably everyone has this fantasy in some form or another my fantasy was clean and romantic (until the flames and fuselage that is,) and involves nice things like holding hands with the stranger next to you, making last declarations, confessions, resignations. Now I understand that you probably don’t have the stomach or the presence of mind for such profound, Romantic niceties. In reality people are probably screaming, vomiting, shitting, scrambling like crazed animals. Given a choice, I’d take the Golden Gate route in an instant.

Weeks ago, on our way from Olympia to Portland we gave a lift to Allen’s friend, the rock star Anna Oxygen, a lovely and inspiring woman. “Sometimes, when I get back from tour,” she admitted, “I need to be alone for a good two weeks before I can see anyone.” At the time that struck me as a lonely prospect. I’m the kind of person who can’t stand to be alone, so scared of being alone I often conspire to avoid it, even if I end up feeling lonely in the presence of other people. Which is why I’m so astonished to find myself wishing I had the luxury of doing that, at least for a few days but I’m still adrift, without a home, without space of my own. I’m going to try hard not to act like a weirdo when I get back. All told, I’ll probably fare better than I fear but a heads up from the heart just incase I don’t.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Greener, Warmer, Colder Grass

When we were in Omaha Nebraska this 17-year-old kid told us the following joke:

So these three guys die and go to hell. The Devil asks each one what he would like to experience for the next 1000 years-whatever they desire they will have their wishes. The first guy says “I love food, I want to sit around and eat the most delicious food in the world forever.” The Second guy says, “I love bitches. Just lock me away with the finest women and I’m set.” The third Guys says, “ I love to get high, give me a never ending supply of the craziest weed.”

Wishes granted.

1000 years later the devil unlocks their chambers and checks in. The first guy rolls out miserable and sick. “Ooooooooh” he groans, “I’m sooo full, I can’t eat another bite again.” The second guy runs out haggard and weary “Shit” he pants, “I’m all worn out, I’m sick of fucking.” When the door opens on the third guy he dashes out franticly hollering, “Hey, anybody got a lighter?”

What can we learn from this story (besides that stoners are morons)? First, I’m smoking a lot of pot these days. Second, be careful what you wish for. Which brings me to some truths about San Francisco. My brother once said he doesn’t feel particularly sorry for hurricane victims in Florida. “It’s the price they pay Abs for living in paradise. Every now and then, it gets fucked up. That’s the gamble they make. The rest of us, we take our horrid weather one safe, predictable, miserable winter at a time.”

Callous but true right?

San Francisco seems like a dream until you realize it’s a weird dream realm in which, predictably, something is just a little bit wrong. Today, as I sat on a bus ambling down the Embarcadero it finally occurred to me what it is.

You can’t go swimming.

It’s always “nice” here, meaning about 70 degrees all the time all year round, but when is it ever sweltering enough to deeply, truly enjoy a dip in a pool or lake? For that matter, when is it ever cold enough to appreciate the coma inducing halcyon of wriggling under the covers next to the warm body of your special person while the fierce February wind leaks through the brick walls of your frigid loft?

The answer to both is Never.

And now you know why I’ve lived all my life in the Midwest and on the east coast. Because you need to be careful what you wish for and as much as my general mood and emotional stability might improve with regular exposure to sunshine and inoffensive climes, I’m not sure I could handle the loss of Romantic environmental extremes. These stupid things matter. They shape who we are and the moments that define us. They make love matter; stand out against the icy pallor and languorous torpor. Without the miseries of snow and humidity we might as well be robots. We might as well be Californians. There. I said it. Sorry.

I really do love San Francisco. If this city can just show me one day warm enough for sweaty fucking or cold enough for desperate cuddling, I’d be convinced and mark my words, I’d be here in an instant. Until then, I’m kind of eyeing poor, embarrassing, modest Chicago and like a total masochist, thinking it might be kind of nice to get on get home and complain about the heat, the sleet, the snow, the wind.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Chimeras, Those Warm San Franciscan Nights

The year is something like 1994. I must be about 14 years old. It's mid July. I remember gravel and curbs made of rotten logs. Sunshine. The sound of car wheels crunching the gravel. Backpacks zipping and unzipping, pens being uncapped and recapped. Paper flapping. Camera's clicking.

It's the last day of summer camp and all the girls are crying.

All day Wednesday, as I moved through the brisk San Francisco sunshine, that memory consumed me. I wondered if I was reliving a version of that childish bereavement- knowing that I was in the act of stowing a set of experiences in the past. This time around, however, there wasn't much fan fare.

We played our final show at the Stork Club in Oakland that night. Friends from virtually every phase of my life came out and it gave me a curious joy to introduce them and see them getting along. Around midnight, Sam reminded us that Cinderella style, we were about to be stranded on that side of the bay if we didn't run for the last BART. Goodbyes, ergo, were rushed and incomplete. Sam, Lynn, Becca and I rode the train back to San Francisco thinking maybe we'd meet up with the band for a drink but that didn't happen. I left a message for Devon. Some time later, as we sat in a taqueria, he called back to say they were at a bar but leaving soon.

"Yeah, gimme a call tomorrow if you find my missing jean shirt."
He'd been hounding me all day for that shirt as he swore I was the last person he saw wearing it, which I did, for about one hour when I was shivering in the van during a late night drive, days and days ago. I had no idea where the thing went.

"I don't think I'll find it." I returned unsteadily, cracking open one of the tallboy cans of Tecate I'd snuck into the restaurant in a paper bag. I think I felt sad, maybe even momentarily miserable, and certainly compelled to keep drinking even when everyone else was done for the night.
"Well, ok, keep an eye out."
"Yeah, later."

Our goodbye, after traveling the country and living together for 5 weeks, went something like that. I suppose things between us had disintegrated to a point from which they could never be redeemed.


I have one pair of jeans and still have half a dozen guitar pics in the hip pocket.


I've been staying with my old friend Lynn at his friends’ house in Noe Valley where he's been dog sitting for a week. The Dog, Izzy, is a young lab of some sort, still possessing his manhood and hence wild. He never tires of humping this one pillow, which in turn never ceases to make us giggle uncomfortably. I've been spending the last few days in shock, trying to absorb the reality that this epic trip has ended, trying to digest, decompress, enjoy the beautiful place where I am. My body is screaming, yanked from an atrophied state of car riding, non-stop beer and 7 layer burrito consuming, and hurled onto the pavement of the city's majestic hills. Once again, I am attempting to quit smoking.

This morning I woke up at 5 am and climbed the spiral staircase to the bathroom, bladder heaving. On the way back down, in my half-slumbering state, I couldn't resist pausing in the kitchen and staring out the window over the city of San Francisco in the Sunrise. To the east, over the bay, the sun made its creeping entrance. The sky seemed divided in two hemispheres, as the bright pink wash of dawn appeared to sweep the dark clouds of night westward to the ocean. A thick, mysterious mist of fog hovered around me on the hills. I shivered in the beauty and the early morning chill and feeling satisfied, returned to bed for another two hours.

I'll be here in the Bay, eating burritos, riding bikes and writing poetry about pink houses and girls crying on the MUNI until the 26th of July. At that point I'll finally head back to Chicago, turn 25, make some attempts to live like an adult. For a while at least.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Divine Feminine Soaks to the Bone(r)

To see pictures from this rock n’ roll tour around the country click Here and for more: HERE


The Pacific Northwest, Olympia Washington in particular, makes sense to me. Even the strangeness of the weather-cold rain non-stop, seeing your breath in chilly July night air-didn’t strike me as any troubling anomaly. The two long sleeved shirts I’d packed had slipped, grubby and crumpled to the farthest bottom reaches of my bag. With great effort I managed to unearth them, along with a forgotten pair or two on socks. I quickly realized I’d need a piece of outerwear to manage the precipitation and invested in a neon pink and purple windbreaker at the thrift store, a loud number that earned me a “hey, bold jacket” from some dude at a bar.

Steve and Jerri welcomed us into their home in the historic Bigelow neighborhood on the east side of the city. A quick stumble in to downtown, the quiet tree-lined streets read like a little walking tour of rock n’ roll history. Our friend Tim lives around the corner in a house once occupied by Slim Moon who ran the Kill Rock Stars label out of the basement at the time. Two blocks down, one of Kurt Cobain’s former residences.

After three weeks of constant motion we suddenly found ourselves uniquely poised to settle in for a couple of days. With shows in nearby Puyallup, Seattle and Portland, we adopted Steve and Jerri’s as a home base of sorts, spending our days kicking around town, driving out an hour or two each evening to play a show, and then returning to Olympia to crash. We got to come and go as we pleased, drift off on our own, live like normal people.

I can’t speak to the Evergreen College or state government elements of the city but from all else I observed, Olympia operates on a magnificently effective, intimate micro-level. The place is teeming with twenty and thirty somethings making art, music, zines, drinking and generally delaying aging. Everyone has some kind of job at one of the local businesses at which everyone makes just enough money to live modestly and happily and channel money back into the same constellation of local businesses. Ever so modestly, the city sustains itself brilliantly. It’s cozy and familial and after just a few days there I began to recognize faces, make friends, feel part of the area.

We had some nice excursions to Seattle (Hillier than I expected, a regular cup of coffee murky and potent as an espresso anywhere else in the country) and Portland (pleasant visits with grandparents, cousins and old college friends). In my patchy tradition of reporting on venues I only give the Tractor Tavern in Seattle a mediocre rating. Nice stage, amiable enough staff but they did try to stiff us at the end of the night. Dietrich and I stood our ground, unwilling to believe that they made no money at the door when we saw at least 30 or 40 people on the floor. Finally they caved and gave us $50 dollars. The business of mendicant musicianship is a never-ending stream of humiliations. By Contrast, Berbati’s Pan in Portland (recently converted to a non-smoking venue, FYI) took good care of us. Once again, a booking mix-up and the venue wasn’t expecting us. The handsome booker was clearly seasoned and very gracious.

“Well you’re a touring band so if you don’t mind playing first, we’ll totally squeeze you in.” They hooked us up with drinks, some of the best sound of our tour, mixed by that enigmatic breed: nice sound guys, and even gave us a bit of money at the end of the night. Since the Northwest weather put a moratorium on swimming, I redirected my aquatic energies into Karaoke, doing He’s a Rebel and D-I-V-O-R-C-E (for Shelley) at Jake’s in Olympia and tearing up Chopsticks in Portland just after last call with a whiskey soaked, dance-swarmed rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

Every night in Olympia is kind of like a weekend night. I suppose it’s not that different from anywhere else, after all, didn’t we launch a campaign in Chicago this spring proclaiming Sunday night the New Thursday Night? The evenings of bars and parties kind of bleed together but involved no minor consumption of chemicals, brawls in the street (one of which Dietrich the Diplomat diffused, though he has no memory of doing so) and other minor mayhem. Sunday, our last night in town, Steve had put together a show for us at the Voyeur with his band, Fierce Perm, and two awesome heavy, psychedelic outfits, Nudity and November Witch. November Witch did something I wish bands did more often, they ended their set by honoring the crowd’s sloppy chants of Louie Louie and tore into a fittingly shambolic cover with Chris from Nudity jumping on the mike. Everyone stomped, shimmied and clapped, soaked with beer and sweat.

After the show we moved what remained of the party to this girl’s apartment, full of records and ferrets. Her place was done up all mod and swanky with a moving picture lamp in the kitchen and chenille sheets on her humongous bed. A bunch of us crowded into the candle lit bedroom to smoke pot. An older guy in sunglasses by the name of Billy matched bowls with us. Only later did I find out that I’d been smoking with Billy Karren of Bikini Kill. Not only that but Toby Vail had been in the audience at our show. Nice.

The night wore on and eventually someone had the idea to climb up a rickety ladder to the roof of the building and watched the city at night. Every apartment in the complex had a skylight and we did a really creepy thing and crept around each one and peered down. In one a fat man without a shirt sat on the sofa watching T.V eating a bag of chips in his lap, possibly masturbating himself at the same time but we couldn’t be sure. In another, a young woman sat alone on the edge of neatly made bed staring into space. The hour was late and it felt weird so I quickly stopped. The city slept quietly on its side.

There is something of a powerful, divine femininity to Olympia. Several people, both ma;e and female, remarked to me separately that it’s truly the women who rule that town. Though I’m mostly powerless to explain it, I’m inclined to agree. Women there seem to exist in an advanced stage of empowerment, one in which it is naturally, implicitly assumed that they will make rock and roll, run collectives, manage businesses. The women fuel the creative engine in Olympia. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. And besides my observations, my body knows. Before this trip I’d been curious about the corporeal effects of living in a van with 4 boys for a month. The results, I can now report, are strange. After three days in Olympia I began menstruating- a full week and a half ahead of schedule. That’s how powerful the divine feminine is in Olympia.

For as long as I can remember I’ve tended to think by the month, conceive of the trajectory of my life thusly. I do not know if this is some innate proclivity characteristic of my sex or simply the way I navigate through time. Since the age of 18, it’s been some kind of nightly ritual to read back in my journal exactly one month to the date. I heap months into seasons and organize them according to weather. With only a few days left to the tour, this bizarre interruption of my monthly cycle coincided with my first waves of panic about the impeding end of my trip.

True, I circled the entire country, but all of a sudden I find myself scrambling for a detailed account of every single inch I covered, moment I spent. A long time ago Alexis told me firmly to enjoy myself because it was going to go fast. And how right he was. It has. Clearly, I must have absorbed a good deal more than I can immediately recall because otherwise I wouldn’t be so nervous about the prospect of re-integrating into the normal world. For better or worse, these people, this van, this way of living has become my life. Suddenly the idea of returning to Chicago, going back to work and signing a lease seems so common, so banal, so slow, so small.

I try to remember what it was like to sleep in a bed that is my own bed and the memories feel strange. Abstractly I know I desperately miss cooking dinner in a kitchen full of spices, wearing clean clothes and riding my bike to parties where I know people, the peace and solace of routine and familiarity, the people I love, some arms I want to be in, that sweet, coy, uncrackable code of Chicago. I miss it all but I also feel I could go on like this for quite some time. After long enough it becomes natural. I’ve been working since I was 14 and I now know this much: People only say they’d get bored of being on vacation forever as a way of consoling themselves in the face of drudgery and predictability.

When I get home I might spend a good minute or two looking at garlic and onions, palming and considering them before picking up a knife. Then I’ll cook you dinner. It’ll be good or bad depending how my ratio of excitement to rustiness works out. And as we eat, I’m gonna be really interested in hearing about everything I missed and in talking to you about where we’re gonna go next.

Friday, July 08, 2005

I've Got Two Thumbs, Son

To see pictures from this rock n’ roll tour around the country click Here and for more: HERE


I am a proud, stubborn creature. Sometimes impulsive, usually wrong, but not always.

Things had transpired such a way on Monday night that when I woke up early Tuesday in the Spokane sun streaming in through the curtains in social hall of the Molotov room, I knew something didn’t feel right. My head throbbed and I needed water. At first I couldn’t find the boys, and then I saw them, all curled up in a row on the other side of the room like puppies or pastries; things that were designed to be stacked and rowed and kept together. I remember there had been Bar-B-Q-ing, and beer, lots of beer. There had been talks and there were fights. Yelling, strange accusatory tones, shrill and serious and I couldn’t handle it. I crept away and collapsed. I don’t know how they resolved things but to my knowledge the sun was up and nothing had been resolved at all. At least, not well.

This is all very vague but the gist of it is that somehow that night things came to a head and many factions and feelings made themselves known and for a number of reasons I woke up that morning feeling like a girl in the worst way possible. Feeling like despite everyone’s liberal education, at the end of the day, it proved magnificently elegant a solution for the boys to unite under the camaraderie of their sex, the chummy bonds of brotherhood I could never really infiltrate, and quietly displace the onus of conflict-root on to me. All of a sudden, these boys with whom I’d been living for a month, scared me. I needed to get away from them for a little while. I needed to do something my way for once.

I moved quickly, stealing out to the car and packing myself a small bag. I put on a lot of sunblock and left a note on the seat of the van saying simply: “Peace Dudes.” Some guy across the street in a PETA shirt sat in a jeep. I asked him for a ride to the highway which he said he’d be only to happy to give me as soon as he took care of some auto stuff at the license place across the street. I waited in the sun. The guy, Shannon, was about my age, very nice, a stone worker from Seattle out visiting his friends in Missoula, MO. “Shame you’re not heading back to Seattle.” I smiled as I hopped out. He offered me a cigarette and wished me luck.

I would not call myself a particularly seasoned hitchhiker but it is something I have done a bit. Mostly in the Midwest, which I have to say, is soul crushing. People love to think of the Midwest as friendly and relaxed but it’s not. Folks are very friendly to member of their insular communities but they do not look kindly on strangers. Especially drifters. I was reduced to tears a few summers ago, hitchhiking out in Wisconsin, my friend Tommy and I sitting for hours and hours trying to a ride. Not only would no one take us but they sneered at us and chided us too. People do not like people who attempt to get things for free, even if they are perfectly reasonable things to expect to get for free, like well-packed leftovers in garbage cans or rides from people with empty cars.

In my humble experience, things out in the Pacific Northwest are a little better. Hitchhikers travel route 5 heavily and people out here are different about that kind of thing. At least I’d like to think that. I stood on the corner by the exit ramp thumbing in the sun for a good 5 or ten minutes. This was the first time I’d thumbed for rides on the side of the road by myself. Dangerous, sure probably, but in the moment I saw myself more as fleeing a dangerous situation. At first I thought people would be more inclined to stop for a young woman, if only out of concern, but then it occurred to me that I might have appeared more like a prostitute at work than a mere, stubborn, plucky girl in distress. I became self-conscious, looking over my grubby t-shirt, fashionable shorts and bright orange sandals. Is this what people think a prostitute looks like? Am I holding my thumb like a prostitute? Who even knows these things? Why should it matter?

Eventually, a longhaired, corpulent guy in a terrible beater stopped. He was strange as hell, kind of a spaced out, Jerry Garcia burnout. He offered me a cigarette and only took me to the next highway exit, which didn’t disappoint me at all since that one had a gas station on the corner, dramatically improving my odds. No oned at the pumps seemed to be heading my way or have any room so again I waited and waited. I silently begged every stranger to help me out. And then one did.

Gary stopped his late model white Pontiac right in the exit ramp island, like he decided at the last possible Second to give me a ride. He shoved some Ziploc bags of muffins and cookies onto the floor to make room for me. His movements were awkward and I could tell right away he had some kind of disability.

“How far west you headed?” I asked as I climbed in.
“All the way down to Vancouver, then Vegas.”
“Why where you headed?”
“Well either, Seattle or Olympia, not sure which yet. Is it cool if I ride with you to one of them?”
“I’d be honored.”

First rule of hitchhiking is that you never know who is going to pick you up. I’ve gotten rides with the obvious truckers, drug dealers, etc. but also by timorous college students, mothers (one time with her 5 kids in the van!) and old people. Everyone has some interesting kind of story and Gary was no exception. An Ex-con, recovering drug addict, he had driven up from his home in southern California to get some temporary work and be closer to his two teenage sons on Spokane. Back in February he’d been mangled in a horrific machine accident at the poultry processing plant where he worked. This explains the trouble with his arm: permanent nerve damage, pain, loss of sensation and mobility, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from the accident on top of it all.

Gary’s attitude about all this however, was remarkable. He spoke about his incarceration and his injury with a calm, wise fortitude, nowhere a hint of malice or vindictiveness. “I’m a survivor is what it is Abbyg. And I can tell that’ you’re one too.” He said. As it turns out, his birthday is one day after mine and he wasn’t familiar with the Leo traits so I told him everything I knew about our sign.

“We’re very proud. We need a lot of attention. We are wounded easily, but on the other hand, we’re incredibly loving and generous, we have a lot to give.” As I spoke I realized the silly astrological bullshit I was spewing spoke perfectly to the crisis I had found myself in that day.

Devon had been calling and text messaging. I fired messages back and finally picked up enough reception to place a call.
“We’re on out way to Olympia, we’ll be in Seattle in an our or two. Where are you?” He needled edgily.
“ I’m halfway there.”
“How are you getting there?”
“I’ve got two thumbs, son.”

We agreed to meet up in Olympia.

Gary is also a self-taught artist who works in pastels, ink and most-recently, his new obsession, airbrushing. Making art healed him he told me, weaving bit of aesthetic rumination through his darker stories about drug dens and seeing people getting killed. I told him about my work at the NVVAM and he got excited. We talked about the Vietnam War and politics today and the imminence of natural disasters. We talked about unions and raising kids and the Grateful Dead (Gary was a big fan).

As we wound through the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge I felt completely reborn and full of peace. I thanked Gary repeatedly for stopping for me. It was just what I needed. Gary hung on my every word, he spoke kindly and respectfully. He made me feel good about myself. I suppose the feeling was mutual.

“Abbyg. This is heaven sent I tell you. Yesterday was my son’s 12th birthday and if I didn’t have you here, I’d be spending this whole drive depressed, thinking about how much I miss my boys.”

We stopped for lunch and I bought Gary and Sandwich and we had a little picnic in the scenery. Gary knew all sorts of factoids about the local geography and pointed out mountains and tree varieties by name. He also smoked a lot of pot, presumably to cope with his pain, which I accepted completely. At one point I smoked a little with him- probably a mistake because it was incredibly potent and I grew very paranoid about being in a motor vehicle with someone potentially more stoned than I, as we wound through the Cascade Mountains. We both sort of lapsed into silence, which was fine, as we’d been talking all day. Stoned, I stared out the window at the majesty of the scenery and dumbstruck, wondered with awe how it is that my life is actually my life.

When we pulled in to Olympia it was raining. Of course. Gary was in a hurry, due to pick up his sister in Vancouver that night and do some work on his van out there. He dropped me off in easy walking distance to the downtown. We smoked a little more before I left, which again I was thankful for, unsure what reconvening with my group was going to be like. Even better was when he popped the trunk in the rain to show me some artwork he was carrying around. One pastel, a desert scene, he wanted to deliver to a friend in Tacoma but didn’t’ have the time. I gave him a book of poetry I’d written and a very big hug. When we wished each other luck, I know we both meant it profoundly.

I meandered into town and found a nice bench to sit on. My feet melted into the concrete as I watched the shrugging Washington rain come down. Olympians are very adaptive to their climate as evidenced by the overhang that extends from every business downtown to cover the sidewalk outside. I thought about how the only other time I’d been in Olympia I’d hitched in as well. Peter and I came up from Portland to surprise our friend Liz. When the woman let us off by the freeway we picked a ton of blackberries and put them in Peter’s Nalgene bottle as a present for Liz.

Physically, emotionally wasted, I put in some phone calls to friends. I waited. Eventually, I saw our green van pass by two blocks down. I called Devon.
“You guys in downtown?”
“Yeah why? D’you see us.”
“Yeah, just now.”

I love towns like this. Right then I even loved the rain.

Every one seemed a little more at ease as we walked over to the burrito place where Allen and Troy’s friend Steve worked. There is a powerful importance to the art of making oneself disappear. I gambled and for the time being at least, actually got what I needed.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Cheyenne is Where Things Got Mystical.

(Should you like, you can see PICTURESfrom our trip)

The most memorable part of our show in Denver was the 1-hour pow-wow we conducted in the van after we played trying to figure out what we were going to do. The bar had promised us a $100 guarantee and then only gave us $50. They had a full kitchen but only offered us a buy out for meals. The sound guys were really into being professional sound guys and I was terrified by all the sound checking, monitor adjusting etc. In the end we didn’t sound like us at all. We sounded muddy, voluminous, and unrecognizable to ourselves. I think when all is said and done, we prefer the thin sound of basements and dives, the intimate crackle of our practice amps, all that space between the sparseness of our instruments.

I think everyone was feeling Denver as pretty forgettable and no one was thinking we’d stay there the night. The question became whether or not to drive to Twin Falls Idaho to play a tentative show at some guy’s Bar-B-Q or drive to Cheyenne, get a room for the night and then use our day off to haul all the way to our next solid show in Spokane Washington. All sorts of wrangling, debate and compromise ensued. Finally we decided on Cheyenne. Since leaving Chicago, my body had lurched into some kind of angry revolt and I’ve been a little under the weather. I spent the two-hour drive up on the loft drifting in and out of sleep, moving through strange, fitful dreams. I was vaguely aware of us stopping at motel after motel unable to find a room with two beds, a quest that seemed to go on forever. The boys finally woke me as we pulled into the parking lot of the Firebird Motel.

Groggily, I slid out of the car, shivering in the night air. Our whole trip so far had been characterized by heat, every kind of intense summer heat, and now, all of a sudden the heat had dissipated. Instinctively, I rubbed my arms and absorbed the chill. True, I was only half awake but the eeriness in the air was palpable. The air was cold, silent and hollow and the wind blew with crystal meth and cooled coyote’s breath. A mini mart twinkled across the street; two dolled up vaqueros stood suspiciously on the corner. It was about three am and the place felt not of this world.

For 50 dollars, the room was really clean and nice. We staggered in and dumped our stuff on the beds. Troy and Allen went to flirt with the Mexican hustlers; the rest of us started showering. We lay around in the coolness watching an old taping of Martin doing stand-up. And then we slept.

The drive from Cheyenne to Spokane was epic. I settled into a rhythmic rotation in the car between reading, writing and sleeping. The day and the drive went on forever. It was the third of July. I’d driven through Montana once before on a greyhound bus and I think all told, it’s my favorite state to drive through. Every moment of it is beautiful and oh how many hours of those moments you get! Just before dusk, around 70 miles outside of Butte we saw our first firework in the sky. An hour or two later when the sun had fully set we drove past the city. Butte, a depressed old industrial town twinkled like any city is wont to do from the freeway at night. But tonight the sky was extra illuminated with fireworks exploding everywhere. Fireworks are normally a private, familial sort of experience, like you sit down on a blanket or a roof top with your friends and family and watch a specific show of them. But through the wide-angle lens of travel, here we could see everyone’s party. A patriotic syncopation of accidents in orchestration.

The whole day consumed by travel, I eventually gave up on sentience and around 1 am fell asleep. When I woke up it was close to 4 and we were driving down the desolate streets of some neighborhood in Spokane looking for our venue, the Molotov Room. A couple of kids wandered the street outside the venue. We rolled down the windows.
“Hey” Devon called “You live here?”
“Were playing a show here tomorrow night…is it cool if we come in and crash?”
The whole thing was very strange.
Within moments a young guy named Travis appeared on the street in his underwear to welcome us. As it turned out, the guy who booked our show months ago no longer worked at the place and failed to convey the information. In short, there was a show scheduled for the 4th but we were nowhere on the bill. The kids remembered Devon and Allen very fondly from their tour back in March and assured us it would be no problem for us to stay for a couple nights and to play at the show.

A number of years ago I read a fascinating article in the Atlantic Monthly about the extinction of American Men’s clubs. It seems to me that back in the 50’s nearly every single Middle class WASP man belonged to some local chapter of the masons, moose or elk lodge or a VA center. This is where they went to smoke and drink and play cards and escape their families. These places were inherently sexist, racist, highly hetero-normative. They espoused the idea that men needed a place to congregate and simply be men. The most interesting thing about these places is that they are now complete anachronisms.

The Molotov room is a former Masonic Temple that closed in 1985. The building had remained vacant and remarkably preserved until this last spring when some kids managed to rent it out and turn it into a an all ages performance venue/squat house. For a mere $700 a month they get a huge performance hall, bathrooms, balcony, offices. The place definitely emitted a strange vibe. When we trudged in at that late hour a whole bunch of teenagers were up watching a movie in the shag carpeted former main office, smoking cigarettes in their pajamas. Some meth heads ran a tattoo parlor upstairs. We unrolled our sleeping bags on a carpeted area near the massive stage and slept.

In the morning Allen, Troy and I went out in search of coffee. This depressed part of Spokane was truly a place untouched by time. It was the 4th of July and the streets were completely empty. Every business was an antiques store. We sat in an Exxon station and sipped watery coffee and then rounded up the boys and obtained directions to a swimming spot nearby. A little bit past the main beach on this lake was a more secluded rocky area. Someone had rigged a rope up to a tree and this was clearly the preferred hang out spot for area teenage boys. We took turns working up our nerve and flying off the rope. Despite the sun the water was chilly and my body went into a short bout of gasping, shaky shock after plunging in.

We made all sorts of acquaintances at the swimming spot, mostly young boys who swam with their gym shoes on and tried to persuade us to come jump off their other jump-off point, a cliff that barely extended over some scary, slippery cragginess down below. We declined repeatedly.

Happily sunned and swum, we went into downtown Spokane for a bit to check out a little fair going on and then to the Safeway for bar-b-q supplies. Back at the Molotov room it became clear that the show was not going to draw a particularly large crowd. Since we had been spontaneously added to the bill, we played first, and an abbreviated set. I appreciated that the sound person was a young woman only about 18 years old. She was just learning and it didn’t sound great, but I thanked her warmly and told her how much I appreciated seeing women learning these skills.

After that we started drinking and things got very apocalyptic.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Nebraska Is For Lovers

First: You can now see PICTURES from tour...

I’ve always found the efforts of some states’ bureaus of tourism pretty comical. A lot of work goes into making these woebegone places look like the perfect vacation destinations. The ads feature sightseers, recommitting couples, river rides and fireworks all set to inspiring symphonic arrangements and oh those brilliant slogans: “Ohio…so much to offer,” “Delaware…better than you know.”

As our tour ambles back westward I find myself re-enchanted with pockets of the Midwest and I will say this: Nebraska, now Nebraska is for lovers. At least, Omaha is.

The crawl through middle America began on Wed morning with a radio performance we did in Cincinnati on WOXY. There are no call numbers because sadly, the station was pushed to extinction by clear channel and forced to reinvent itself in a web cast format. The staff was friendly and professional and we felt a little badly if they were expecting the same from us. We played a couple songs, shot a lot of pictures and stumbled awkwardly through an interview. I was wholly unaccustomed to playing with headphones and it really threw me off. A CD-R of the show exists and despite Dietrich’s embarrassed protestations to wait a week, we aired it in the van immediately on the way out of town, giggling, not sure when it will ever be played again.

From Cinci we headed up to Chicago, getting stuck in miserable traffic in the south suburbs. I fidgeted anxiously, homesick and bursting with excitement to see my friends. The Thick Records label showcase at the Bottom Lounge turned out to be by far the largest show we’d played on tour. I’m a sap but it did kind of bring tears to my eyes to see all my amazing friends who dug into their pockets for $8 to come out and see us, a band none of them had ever even heard before. Desperate to put on a good show for the people I know, I felt particularly sensitive and nervous on my home turf, and I struggled with some definite tension on stage.

The night percolated with all sorts of beer soaked drama my G-rated pledge to not write about love matters here in any real detail will not permit me to divulge. Suffice it to say that things are never easy, especially when you put your life on hold to move into a van, then pass through town for one night, ragged and wild after a week of extensive partying all along the east coast. Upon waking up Thursday morning I had all but decided to stay in Chicago and not finish tour. I received conflicting advice from two of my closest friends. One said to say, the other to go. In the end I went. I know now this was the right decision but it took me a little while to become sure of that.

On our way out of town we stopped by the Southern Records Distribution offices on Fullerton. They distribute the Fingers Cut Megamachine stuff on Thick and the staff there is very friendly. They welcomed us with coffee, internship offers and best wishes on our tour. We didn’t get on the road to Kansas City until around 2 pm. And throughout the drive Devon had to keep checking in with the kid who had booked the show, apologizing for our delay. We finally arrived around 10:30. As it turned out, the show was at the kid’s girlfriend’s apartment, which she had to vacate in the morning. A handful of teenagers sat around the bare floor, propped against boxes drinking beer and playing trivial pursuit. Ruby was a wonderful hostess, she bought us beer and after the show cooked us pasta. We sat around on the porch drinking and playing songs on the guitar until late at night. Eventually, people began staking out patches of floor and unrolling bags. I was getting drunk, but despite my weariness, not sleepy.

Somehow Devon, Dietrich and I ended up barefoot out on the sidewalk down the block at 3 am trying to work through a few issues. Dietrich is a masterful mediator, one of the most sensitive, diplomatic people I’ve known- an indispensable talent when it comes to negotiating a peace between my and Devon’s explosive, incorrigible, touchy personalities. We yelled, I cried, and eventually we reached some kind of delicate truce. In that moment I realized the awesome social experiment this type of undertaking becomes: pack 5 people, most of whom did not even know each other to begin with into a van for a month. Stir in personality conflicts, gender relationships, economic duress, a rigid timetable, alcohol, exhaustion and elation and see what happens.

Ruby had to wake us up at 8:30 so she could commence with her moving. She made us some pancakes and I fixed her leaky kitchen sink and washed all her dishes while the boys moved her sofa to her new apartment. Haggard, we got an early start on what was to be the most blissfully brief trip of our tour: Kansas City, Missouri to Omaha Nebraska- a mere three hours. This was one of the first times on the trip that we actually had the opportunity to spend a day in a new city instead of just pulling up, unloading, playing and crashing.

We parked the car near the venue in the Market District, a pleasing little tourist area of cobblestone streets, restaurants and gift shops. It was full of cheery vacationers and struck me as the kind of place that actually lived up to those bureau of tourism laudations. Truly a nice place for a modest romantic getaway. We saw lots of lovers dining, shopping, strolling hand in hand and surprisingly enough this pleased me.

Allen remembered eating in an amazing hippie restaurant there years ago and we asked some women in batik jumpers at the scented candle store for directions. It was a bit of a walk, one I didn’t quite feel up to in the heat. The buses in Omaha, I discovered, are cheap and well air-conditioned. I had a nice chat with the friendly driver who left me off right in front of McFosters Natural Kind Café, impossible to miss with its thatched roof and pride flags.

As I’m sure you know, I have a whole list of unhealthy addictions and indulgences but overall, I honestly enjoy eating well. I’m sure you also know that it is extremely hard to eat well when you are traveling. I’m no longer a strict vegetarian but I remember a few summers ago when my friend Tommy and I were hopping trains and hitching rides and we got to Minneapolis and went to the Seward café where some friends of friends worked and I almost cried into my stir-fry I was so thankful for the kind of food I loved. On this trip we eat a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, instant soups and cut up vegetables. It’s the best we can do. Allen and I have invented a game called “What’s on our salad.” Every time we play we imagine we’re building a new salad from scratch and describe with relish all the ingredients it will contain. McFosters was not cheap but since we’re all pretty much on the same page with the food dilemma, we were happy to treat ourselves. I ordered a cup of coconut milk and artichoke soup and a plate of hot curried greens on brown rice. The boys got Tempeh Reubens. Everything was delicious.

After lunch we kicked around the market district poking in and out of stores. Stores get dull, every town has them and really they all sell the same stuff. One thing Omaha has an amazing plethora of is public fountains. A few blocks off the main strip we came across a palatial structure on sprawling landscaped acreage, dotted with several huge fountains. Horse-drawn tourist buggies promenaded around the main fountain as folks pointed and snapped pictures. This Shangri-la as it turned out was the Con Agra Corporate headquarters. I’m far from politically astute but treading on the manicured base of operations for one the country’s most nepharious corporations definitely set me on edge. The day was hot; I hadn’t showered in a day or two. All things considered, it only seemed right that we take a bath in the Con Agra fountain. So stripping down to our dirty unds, that’s exactly what Devon and I did. Dancing, splashing and scrubbing we waved to the tourists on the horse buggy and then took off streaking into the lawns, whooping and turning cartwheels, in an effort to dry ourselves in the sun.

After swimming we hung out in the parked van for some time soaking up the wireless Internet connection from the Cubby’s convenience mart on the corner and resting up for the show. The show was at an ice cream parlor up the block called Ted and Wally’s. The arrangement is actually one of the most viable models for an all-ages venue space I’ve ever seen. Most all ages spaces end up folding because they can’t sustain themselves hosting rock shows and selling soda and zines to teenagers. This makes much more sense: approach a profitable, established local business and convince them to let you hold events after their business hours. Perfect. Unfortunately for us, it was a Friday night so after hours at Wally’s meant the show wouldn’t start until midnight. Again we took off walking and hung around the Gene Leahy fountain and some other fountains around the corner.

Out of all the cities we’ve been to so far, Omaha is really the first where I’ve seen teenagers out on the street at night, hanging out, jumping in fountains, flirting, skateboarding and in general being up to no good. Since that was my happy adolescence in Ann Arbor, I use it as some sort of marker by which to judge the quality of other cities. Omaha has great public spaces and people use them the way they should. It’s beautiful.

Playing in an ice cream parlor was a fun experience. We got free ice cream and the kids seemed generally receptive to our set. The show was by far not our best, I for one was exhausted, but it was decent. We even tried to hack out two bars of happy birthday for some kid in the audience who had left by the time we were able to set up. After the show, two young women who had driven 4 hours to come see us, offered to put us up at their “cabin” outside of Lincoln which they boasted had 5 bedrooms and an indoor pool. The poor kids wanted us (well, Devon) there so badly it took some time before they conceded the epic drive wouldn’t actually put us any closer to our next destination: Denver Colorado, a daunting 9 hours away.

Some boys from the other bands took us back to their place, spacious, nicely carpeted, furnished and air-conditioned with a huge kitchen, all of which they said the paid only $1000 a month for. Omaha just gets better and better.

The neighbors, a bunch of drag queens, were still awake having a party and we went over there for a little while but I could hardly keep my eyes open. I had trouble falling asleep and eventually went back there to get the car keys from Troy so I could unearth some stuff in the van. The next morning he thanked me for showing up, saying with a sly wink that he’d have gotten in way too much trouble if he’d stayed. “Anytime” I answered with a hug. There’s something nice about finding yourself in a town where people are that friendly.

Friday, July 01, 2005

American Interlude

Last winter, at the end of my first (and possible last) semester of graduate school I wrote a paper for a seminar on contemporary theory entitled: A Text Under Tread: Post-Critical Approaches to the American Travelogue. I had already begun to suspect that art school was not the right place for me and the fact that I was turning my art papers into lit papers at every opportunity only encouraged me to drop out. That course and the paper, however, were great fun. The purpose was two-fold: to demonstrate the readability of the American travel experience by comparing two radically different travelogues from the early/mid ‘80s: Jean Baudrillard’s America and Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon, and to frame my findings in a post-critical approach to discursive text.

Working off the bricolage theory of Roland Barthes and Hayden White, sample essays like Julia Kristeva’s Stabat Mata and the aesthetics of concrete poetry, I aimed to arrange evidence lifted from the texts in such a manner that the original writing would bespeak my thesis; namely that there is no America other than the ones we choose to see.

Post-criticism distrusts the objective distance typically assumed between the critical text and the text being commented upon. Just as a the modernist break with mimetic reproduction launched a new art form of collage in the early 20th century, proponents of post-criticism urge a similar approach to working with text. In some ways this became a way for me to escape the sweat inducing toil of writing a traditional 20-page paper. But don’t laugh, It actually came out kind of interesting. The paper consisted of a chart and a corresponding index of disembodied annotations. The idea being to act as little as possible upon the texts, merely to play them against one another so they did all the work.

If you are interested in seeing the paper I’m happy to email it to you. I’m only bothering to tell you about it is because as I meander through the country right now the topic is on my mind. The upshot of my findings was that Baudrillard, a French intellectual and Least Heat Moon, a Native American novelist, saw two completely different versions of the United States and the disparity between their visions is everywhere from their itineraries to their tones. Baudrillard's America is a shallow smorgasbord of hyperreality; an obscenity of surface and speed. Moon’s America is modest, intricate, and full of narrative and history. Clearly, the way the writers designed their respective travel methods influenced the way they perceived the country. Baudrillard chose an erratic survey of freeways, strip malls and tourist spots, whereas Moon eschewed major interstates in favor of quieter roads, engaging extensively with locals in small towns.

As I travel, I find myself vacillating between these two texts both in my writing and my thoughts. Is my survey of America more like one or the other? In the end I think it’s actually some perfect hybrid of the two.

So much of my life right now is consumed by the vacuity of life in a van: hours and hours of driving. I feel like we devour distance. Space and time and the endless webs of grey concrete that thread these dimensions together become things almost literally chewed up by the grill of the van, digested as the wind passes under the piping-latticed belly, and then expelled behind us, consigned literally, spatially to the past. In this mode I see Baudrillard’s America. I see a sick, unhealthy America. I see it in the banal consistency of logos, the fumes of the traffic, the preponderance of slack-jawed, overweight people lumbering through rest stops. I see an America positively bloated and grotesque in the vastness of its empire, its consumption of resources. I feel like a stranger in this America. I am scared of this America and shuddering, I gaze at it with a glassy eyed contempt. This America fills me with confusion and awe.

But then we emerge from the car. I am in the habit now of waking up in one city and falling asleep in another and although my time in each one is brief, we are usually lucky enough to have some experience of the place. Who can enumerate that precious quality of subculture that creates an invisible familial network throughout the world? Between the 4 of us, in almost every town we stop in we know someone. Or we have friends who send us to someone. Or we meet someone. These someones know their places. They show us where to get cheap beer, where the parties are, where we can go swimming late at night. They bring us into their homes and make us coffee and snacks, lend us towels and blankets. As we get to know each other, they tell us funny stories about the place, about other places they’ve been. This America inspires me with wanderlust and love.

These two completely different modes of travel existence allow me to inhabit both Americas I studied, even prompt me to attempt the creation of my own. The parallax is disorienting and I’m torn between the passion of motion and the romance of stasis. Moving through America is more like sewing stitches than weaving strands. The traveler by definition cannot become part of the fabric, only interlace and act upon it.

So here we are: sampling, moving, suturing. The more I travel the more entrenched I become in my conviction that at root, America is too big to even be one place; any more than a sprawling potluck dinner could be a Meal. Then again, dreaming that there is an America inspires us to create and undertake the very missions we imagine are needed to find it and in so doing, manage to turn up some sort of something in the end. If nothing else, this is how we create a endless bank of manifold mythologies.

Doing the worm, this hungry machine now lumbers back west. It bastes place to place, strings a continuity of knots on a thread. In awe and boredom I stare out the window and periodically stretch my legs.

Here’s to every America ever invented.

From Concrete Jungle to Backwoods Babylon

I used to live in New York and in the two yeas since I’ve only been back to visit a handful of times. Like most people, it fills me with an uncomfortable mix of awed enchantment and anxious trepidation. I will only say that out of all the many places I’ve lived, New York by far offers the lowest quality of life, the most emotional, social and economic distress. I could go on but I won’t. Rather, how about you come visit me in Chicago in August, and we’ll go ride bikes up to the lakeshore, drink some victory beers on the beach by the zoo and watch the city twinkle at night and you’ll understand what I mean.

Perhaps it’s a Fingers Cut Megamachine tradition, blasting Sparks as we emerge from the horrific traffic in the Holland Tunnel, barreling our way into the city, because I seem to recall that happening on tour last summer as well. Pete’s Candy store in Brooklyn is a lovely little neighborhood bar. The tiny performance space in the back looks like an old train car, and the cozy stage framed by big old-fashioned marquee board bulbs. Truthfully, it had always been a secret dream of mine to perform there. There was a Bar-B-Q going on the back patio and as the most affable, diplomatic and cheapest of the band, I immediately ran my usual beer and food tickets reconnaissance. We played a great show to an intimate crowd of loyal friends who showed up for the occasion. Everything was jolly until it came time to leave and I had to pay that final, awkward visit to the bartender.

“So…” I began in my sweetest, please-pay-us voice “I don’t know how you do things here but do we get tipped out from the bar at all?”
“Hmm…didn’t you pass the tip bucket?”
“The tip bucket?”
“Yeah that’s how we do it here, the bands pass a tip bucket. Whoever booked the show explained that to you right?”
“No, actually no one did.”
“Oh well, I’m sorry babe.”



Despite all the friends we brought into the bar that bought drinks and left tips, it seemed we weren’t going see a penny. I was half way to drunk, too tired and elated from the show and seeing old friends that I just kind of shrugged it off. Since I’m working on not being such a grudge holder, I will simply note, not dwell upon their unprofessional conduct: Bands, beware the elusive tip bucket at Pete’s in Brooklyn.

After this blow, we migrated to several other bars in the neighborhood, getting apocalyptically stoned outside the first and then consuming a shit ton of free pizza at the second. The drive back to Carla’s house in Bushwick was mostly a haze but I quickly recognized that I had been to a show in her loft a couple years back. In the morning when we left, I included the story for them on the reverse side of the thank-you note we tacked to the fridge:

I had just moved to Brooklyn and got directions out to this place to see my friend Jacob’s band play. As my friends and I were exiting the subway station I noticed a curious sight on the stairs: all sorts of detritus like someone’s purse had spilled out: cosmetics, gum wrappers, broken pencils. I became absorbed in making an ocular inventory as I climbed, tuning out the rest of my surroundings. The trail of junk led to a couple of crack heads copulating right there on the dank Jefferson street L train station stairs and spacey clutz that I am, I almost tripped over them.

”My bad!” I apologized, dodging right and reaching out for Derek’s shoulder. As we emerged from the station my mind swelled with one singular awesome thought: “Wow. I live in New York now.”

Radical juxtaposition only serves to heighten the power of Place. From New York we drove first to Brattleboro and then Jamaica, Vermont. We stopped in the former to visit Allen’s friends, find a new head clutch for the drums and take a quick swim. The heat was sweltering and everyone moved at a pleasant, albeit somewhat confusing, gregarious amble. Perhaps not everyone in Vermont is a stoner hippy but I’m content to think they are. It seemed I had merely to contemplate crossing the street and cars would come to a sleepy halt for me yards away. For a city pedestrian/cyclist accustomed to a mostly treacherous, often acrimonious peace with motorists, I had trouble making some sense of this. But I liked it.

Jamaica, Vermont is a small town of two thousand close to the New Hampshire Border. Our friend Troy lives right off the “main” drag in an amazing, dilapidated, shack he inherited. The peaceful, modest abode is nestled on a bit of property, which includes an armada of broken down VW buses, woods and a pen of friendly goats. Troy did an incredible job of putting together a show for us at the local coffee shop and we played for an eclectic crowd of local kids and grown ups and a van or two of teenagers who drove all the way from western mass. A sweet kid from the town played electric fiddle with us, adding a very nice if not awkwardly mixed touch.

Unlike Pete’s, the people in Vermont knew how to take care of us. They served us local micro-brews, donated generously to our gas fund and bought lots of merchandise. After the show, everyone headed back to Troy’s where he turned a giant “burn pile” into a bonfire. Drinking, impromptu jamming and all sorts of fun ensued. Firm in our conviction that every night of tour without swimming constitutes some sort of failure, we took a late night drunken dip in the freezing creek down the road. The rocks were jagged and the water so cold we could scarcely do more than wade shivering and shouting before dashing naked back to the fire to scorch ourselves dry by the flames.

I stayed up as late as I could before drifting into one of the beds troy had laid for us so nicely in his spare room/yoga studio. Earlier that afternoon I’d helped him pull out the panes and hump the moldy mattresses from the van in through the window. The sun came in bright and fierce and despite my hangover and the late hour at which I’d retired, I got up early. Stepping barefoot and bleary into the yard, I headed for the hammock. The burn pile still smoldered and the scent clung in the air. The goats had been out all night traipsing through the yard, stepping around beer cans and discarded clothing, munching, amazingly enough, on everything but Troy’s garden.

I felt like I was moving through a life wholly not my own as I lumbered through the grass in my grubby underwear and petting the goats congregating around the hammock, climbed in to sway and watch the trees overhead and wait for the day to begin. I could have stayed In Jamaica barefoot, ragged and blissful for quite some time.

We ate a delicious breakfast at Cindy’s (“A Little Easting Spot”) over the hill, left food for Troy’s pregnant kitty and piled back in the van. We had left Josh in New York and now we had Troy. The van was full and cozy again. The idea that we had to make it from Vermont to Cincinnati in one driving stretch was so mind boggling we could only joke about it. We got lost several times and around midnight entered a vicious rainstorm. Dietrich handled the driving like a hero as the rest of us sat in nervous silence, listening to nick drake and filming the lightning with our digital cameras. The distance we covered was ungodly.

We pulled in to Yellow Springs Ohio, home of Devon and Dietrich’s alma mater, Antioch College, around 5 in the morning. Our friend Dylan came out to greet us and with a little bit of wrangling managed to break into a dorm closed for the summer. Sweaty and nearly delirious with exhaustion, we corralled a bunch of mattresses in one of those classic cinderblock-walled college dorm rooms. We took much-needed showers down the hall and enjoyed the low-grade transgressive pleasure of feeling like we had the run of the place. It made me more than a little nostalgic for my own small town Ohio college years; a constellation of thoughts and memories I dwelled on only briefly before collapsing into a deep sleep, the birds chirping, the sun already stretching and yawning in the curtainless windows.