Greetings from the Days Inn in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, where I am recovering from a cold. Yeah, I went from 80 degree weather in Orlando to 20 below weather in the Upper Midwest, and I seem to have somehow caught a cold…HOW COULD GOD LET THIS HAPPEN!!!! But remember when I looked you square in the eye and told you, “I’m gonna beat this thing, Diary.” Well…I’m almost better now. Which is nice, because I will be going to Philadelphia later today, and when the reading is done, I’ll be karaokeing the Lisa Loeb classic “Stay” in some neighborhood bar. (Just tried singing it. Yeah, I’m still sick, sounding like a honking goose. AIieeee!)
But yeah…I’m on a book tour through the Midwest and the Northeast. Alone. I’ve never toured alone before. It’s ok. I miss the camaraderie of band touring, and not being the only driver, but on the other hand, it’s nice not being slowed down by people who have to use the toilet every 50 miles, and to ask “Who farted?” is entirely a rhetorical question. Also, it’s January, and the weather has been inclement, to say the least, but not so inclement (so far) that the roads are closed and the tour can’t happen. There has been lots of talk on the Weather Channel about meteorological terms like “Arctic Shitclipper” and “Polar Assrape” descending on 3/4ths of the United States. I don’t understand Weather Channel talk (What do those terms mean? Speak English, guys….), but I do understand “cold” and “snowy,” as that has been a big part of this tour thus far.
But you want to know “what happened,” as the kids say, Diary, so here you go:
Day 1: Chicago–Hamtramck
Not sad to leave Chicago. Have hardly been home in the past month. Chicago is where I will stay, but I keep “auditioning” new cities, but nothing feels quite right. I like visiting other cities and hanging out with friends, but when I seriously consider moving, the places are always too small, or too boring, or too drunk, or too weird, or too expensive, or too annoyingly pleased with themselves, or too spread out, or too claustrophobic, and so on and so forth. No, give me Chicago, where I can sit at Cole’s and listen to two women to my left complain about Really Important Drama like this:
“He’s always like asking me ‘Are you coming to my show?’ and I just wanna be like, ‘You never come to any of my shows, so why would I come to any of your shows?’ It’s not fair!”
“No, it totally isn’t. And he doesn’t come to any of my shows either! I mean: What does he expect?!”
See, this is what we talk about when we talk about the capital-C Culture of the Big City, ladies and gentlemen! OK, it’s not that bad….and I do miss my dog, my drums, Bottle Brunch, Shame That Tune, friends, bars, good food, great bands, the song “Lake Shore Drive” by Alliota, Haynes, and Jeremiah, the sensory overload inherent in the hedonistic adventure in each day, but you know what I mean. You probably don’t. I just don’t like being home right now. I enjoy using touring as an excuse to listen to people all over the place share their stories and opinions with me, as corny as that sounds.
Anyway…left Chicago in bitter cold 2 degree feels like 0 degrees Kelvin temperatures…and the traffic was almost nothing since so many business were closed because of the weather. Into Indiana, and it actually felt lonely, and I actually missed people in Chicago, to say nothing of the people missed in Florida, Seattle, Oakland, etc. Indiana is so fucking bleak. I’ve met a lot of really nice people there, but when it comes to driving…it’s always in the way. Getting out of Indiana is always a huge victory for me, so I was hesitant to listen to Mrs. Googlemaps right when I got into Michigan when she told me to switch highways because it would be 58 minutes faster to Hamtramck if I went south to I-80 instead of taking 94 the whole way. But I listened, and ended up on some unplowed county road, back in Indiana, hydroplaning with zero visibility for ten miles until I found 80, which I missed when I passed because the visibility was so bad, and had to find a place to turn around and almost got stuck in some farm driveway. Found the highway, which was slow going–hypnotic snow on the road like the dry ice of a Dio concert. Eventually, the snow stopped and traffic moved again, and all in all, the drive to Hamtramck was only one hour longer than usual. So thank you: Mrs. Googlemaps. I’m sorry I called you names.
I didn’t do any reading in Hamtramck. I just wanted to hang out at the Painted Lady and get caught up with my friend Timmy. On the way over, I was reminded of when I first met Timmy. It was at Beat Kitchen in the Summer of 2001. I was running down the stairs to use the rest room. He was running up the stairs. Bam! We ran into each other.
“Oh sorry man,” he said, then added, laughing, “Hey, are you Joey Vindictive?”
I was wearing a red sport coat, a Dead Kennedys t-shirt, and pleated plaid Dockers. “No, I’m Brian Costello!”
“I’m Timmy Vulgar.” I don’t remember what he was wearing, but I can guarangoddamntee that it was much cooler than what I was wearing that night. Anyway, that’s how we met, and over the years, as he has put out some of the most creative, manic, frenzied, avant-rocknskronk out there, we’ve had a fair amount of ridiculous drunken misadventures as my bands stayed with him or his bands stayed with me….there are too many stories and not enough time here, but right now I’m remembering how we walked from my old place by Empty Bottle to a house show my band was playing near Ashland and Grand, and how we walked down Chicago Avenue thinking it was hilarious to steal bottles of ketchup, mustard, and hot sauce from every restaurant with open windows or sidewalk seating we passed….and that’s just the beginning.
Timmy was behind the bar, and it was enough to hang out with the regulars and shoot the shit, play some pinball, drink whiskey. The guy next to me talked about how Neil Young bought the Lionel Train Company, saved it from going under, unionized the employees, because (in part) his son was obsessed with model trains. The book came up, more people showed up at the bar and wanted to know my deal. We hit that level of drunkenness where everyone is everyone’s friend, and in my experience, Hamtramck is one of the best places to hit that level. “Miss X” by the MC5 came on, and what hit me was that this is what I want from a woman. I’d rather be a eunuch than fuckaround on OK Cupid or Tinder, but if a woman can make me feel THAT WAY, the way Rob Tyner sings that fucking song….I’m hers. And then, and it was too ridiculous/perfect…”Now I Wanna Be Your Dog” came on, and it was like the goddamn national anthem in there. Sometimes, when traveling, I talk to 17-yr-old me, the kid who had already read “On the Road” 3-4 times and wanted so desperately to see what was outside of Seminole County, Florida, to tell him, “Look at this! You’re in Detroit, surrounded by people singing “Now I wanna Be Your Dog” at the top of their lungs. Pretty fucking awesome, right?!” Because it is. When it was done, I shouted “Let’s hear “We Will Fall!” My friend Chris advised against it, saying that the party goes in really weird directions if you put that song on. He has a point.
The bar closed. Timmy drove my car to the afterparty. Ten of us in a kitchen. Timmy told me the story of how in that very kitchen, John Felice of the Real Kids told him how The Piranhas “weren’t very professional.” Which is hilarious; I guess there is a certain lack of showbiz professionalism if you’re duct taping a dead rat to your chest while singing. There was a really nice piano in that apartment, looking like it had been fixed up and rehabbed with the name of the company and “Detroit” in big letters on the front. I can play a wonky version of the Stones’ “Loving Cup” on piano, and I sang as much of it as I could before my coordination gave out–it’s one of my favorite songs ever, as I’m a sucker for songs that basically say ‘I’m a total screw-up but I love you so much…’–but after that Timmy threw on “Exile on Main Street,” and it was like all the parties we all used to throw 10-12 years ago, the parties where you knew it was real when “Beggars Banquet” or “Aftermath” made it to the turntable. And as the Stones played, we made big plans–Timmy and Chris were going to go with me to Cleveland where we’d get loaded after the reading and goof off and have fun and alla that. Around 4 or 5 in the morning, the exhaustion of the long drive and the impending/long-threatening common cold hit, and I had to stretch out on the nearest couch. We left the party shortly after, where I woke up on Tim’s couch, coughing and coughing uncontrollably, finding humor in it by pretending to be Fred Sanford, gasping between coughs, “This is the big one, Elizabeth! I’m coming to join ya, honey!”
Day 2: Hamtramck–Cleveland
Stopped off at a diner in Hamtramck, then an O’Reilly’s auto store, where I bought a much-needed ice scraper, and where the ladies behind the counter debated the pros and cons of dill-flavored potato chips. It was great getting caught up with Timmy; I dropped him off, and it was back on the highways, this time to Cleveland.
Lately, on road trips, I’ve gotten into listening to a band’s complete discography (or what exists of it on Spotify) from beginning to end. So far, I did this with the Replacements and Lee Hazlewood. For this tour, I’m doing this with The Ramones. So far on the tour, I’ve made it as far as their seventh album, “Subterranean Jungle.” Thus far, it has been a worthwhile experience; the older I get, the more I love “End of the Century,” and “Pleasant Dreams” is highly underrated–but we’ll see how this goes once we get into the late 80’s and 90’s. But yeah–it was a mix of the Ramones and the songs I want to cover next month at the Hideout…the soundtrack to driving through all these factory towns between Detroit and Cleveland, and Toledo was quite beautiful that morning, crossing the bridge over the frozen river.
Into Cleveland, where I stayed at a hotel almost across the street from the ballpark. In the hotel parking lot, there was no getting around that I was sick and needed rest and recovery. It was negative 9 degrees outside. I thought about canceling the reading, but it wasn’t an option. I’m not here to look out the window from the hotel room to marvel at Cleveland’s skyline. I have a job to do, even if it’s not exactly raking in the big bux. Alone in a hotel. Sick. Not “Siiiick!,” kids. Sick, as in, snotty and coughy and glassy-eyed. I rested as much as possible before leaving to read.
Read for three people, including the other reader–Todd Kaneko, whose book “The Dead Wrestler Elegies,” based on what I heard that night, looks to be very enjoyable and I can’t wait to sit down to read it. Which was fine…I could hardly talk and my brain was awash in sickness and cold medicine. The owner of the bookstore–the bookstore was as much a space for community activism as it was for books–apologized about the turnout–which wasn’t surprising–I mean, it’s negative 9 out and it’s no shock that people aren’t coming out to a reading to see two people they’ve never heard of especially when there isn’t a local writer on the bill–but the owner said a lot of the people who might have attended were protesting the Cleveland Police and the broader issue of what’s happening with police and African-American communities. He said 40-50 people usually come out to readings. Regardless…I wish I had been healthier, but I needed to get back to the hotel, and that’s all I did…where I tried texting with friends, but everyone’s working or busy and that’s fine. I took the Nyquil and conked the hell out.
Day 3: Cleveland–Pittsburgh
Stopped off at Happy Dog long enough to eat a dog covered with a fried egg, cheddar cheese, bacon, and chipotle hollandaise before getting out of Cleveland. “The Road” felt a little delirious on the drive to Pittsburgh. Hypnotic. Tiring. Couldn’t get to the next hotel fast enough. The Days Inn in Monroeville, Pennsylvania–which is no Hilton in Cleveland across from the ballpark, but the bed is comfortable enough and there’s cable TV. Speaking of cable–it seems like now there are more shows set in Alaska than even southern California. But anyway…alone again in a hotel. But not lonely. Feeling a little better. Ordered a pizza. Watched ESPN. Whatever.
The reading in Pittsburgh was in front of six people this time. Which was great, seeing how I was the only one reading and it was only slightly less cold than it was in Cleveland. This was also an activist-based bookstore and coffee shop. They made me a tea that helped my cold. Everyone ended up buying a book when it was done. Very chill. I sat in a chair and read two excerpts then answered questions. I’d rather read in front of 6 people who care than 60 who are just there to drink beer and get laid. Signed the books, talked about Gainesville this-and-that, and left as they wished me the best of luck on the tour, and get better soon! And in the hotel, finished the pizza, watched the Bulls, and went to sleep, hoping I would feel better in the morning.
And that brings us to right now, Diary. Three more hours until checkout. All I need is for my voice to return, and I’ll be ready for the weekend, for the “second leg” of this tour: Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Boston. But that’s all I have for now. Sorry so sloppy!