suededenimfiresale

Stories and Spiels by Brian Costello

The Book of Genesis in a Creative Writing Workshop: Student Feedback

“First of all, I think you have something here. Keep going!”

“Do you really think “In the beginning” is the actual “beginning” of this? The action is flat and static, until you get to the part with the snake. Start it there, then go back to those seven days of world-building.”

“What’s at stake here for these characters?”

“I’m really intrigued by the cherubim with the flaming swords, and yet, they’re dispensed with in just a few lines. I want more cherubim! :) What would happen if you had the cherubim use those swords on Adam, Eve, and/or the snake? To paraphrase what Chekhov said: If there are cherubim with flaming swords in the first act, those cherubim with flaming swords better be used by the third.”

“This could use some tightening. Does your audience really need to know about all this ‘begating’?”

“This God character feels a bit heavyhanded and hamfisted. Eight chapters in, I felt like screaming, “OK! We get it! He’s the all-knowing and all-powerful.”

“I don’t really identify with these characters. I’ve never created a universe in seven days, so it’s hard for me to care about what’s happening.”

“I feel like I should feel more when Lot’s wife turns into a pillar of salt. Why salt, anyway? The action in that scene has so much potential to be heightened, exaggerated. Lose the salt pillar, replace it with something bigger, more dramatic, more menacing, like a zombie or vampire.”

“This has a really good flow.”

“Have you ever read the short story “A&P” by John Updike? There are parts of this that really remind me of that.”

“With the ark, I’m getting a sense of the size–although I’m not familiar with cubits–but I want MORE MORE MORE! More sights, more sounds, and–especially since we’re dealing with animals here–more smells. The audience needs to feel like they’re right there in that arc with Noah.”

“If this is set in the beginning of time, how come the narrator and all the characters talk like they’re medieval?”

“With the Cain and Abel fight scene, it’s not enough to tell us about the smoting. SHOW the smoting.”

“Abraham was a total bad-ass, and that’s really coming through.”

“What if Sodom was changed to Chicago, and Gomorrah was changed to Las Vegas? That would be cooler in a more contemporary setting, and then it would be easier for people to relate to.”

“Too much summary.”

“Concubines are sexist and gross.”

“Dude almost kills his son because God asked him to. WTF?”

“Have you attempted any of these stories in first person?”

“More Methusaleh, por favor. :)”

“You really nailed the feast scenes. It reminded me of feasts I went to in high school, only we had beer bongs instead of fatted calves.”

“Good shit.”

“This is pretty fucked up. But that’s cool. I like fucked up.”

“Get in the Ford Focus!” Tour Diary, Day 2: Athens, GA

The first day’s drive was all the band Love, and I thought the second day’s drive would be all Kris Kristofferson. Listened to his first album, and it’s a fantastic listening experience through the Tennessee hills and mountains…rolling along towards Chattanooga, knowing that I’m going to be late for the reading but hoping maybe Mrs. Google is wrong and her traffic reports and ETA aren’t accurate, but I had to turn off the Kristofferson when the album ended because “Sunday Morning Coming Down” was on it and the lyrics, “Then I crossed the empty street and caught/The Sunday smell of someone fryin’ chicken/And it took me back to something that I’d lost somewhere somehow along the way…” It made my dumb dick heart hurt to the point I wanted to rip out said dumb dick heart and throw it out onto the highway.

So I decided to forego the “listen to an artist’s complete recorded output from beginning to end” project and went for the hardcore. The Middle Class. Minor Threat. Happiness returned.

Getting into Georgia. Right around where, when I was moving to Chicago from Florida, we wrecked our U-Haul because a drunk in a van swerved out of control from the on-ramp onto the highway then hit the car in front of them and the semi in front of us stopped very fast and we did our best to stop but not before we rear ended said semi. The next 24 hours was a nightmare of rubberneckers almost sadly lamenting, “I’m surprised there weren’t any fatalities,” incompetent U-Haul customer service, racist taxi drivers, and sorting through our possessions that hadn’t been destroyed. Great times! Now, I’m always glad when I get through this part of the country without incident.

Anyway, around Dalton, Mrs. Google claimed to find a faster route by 17 minutes. This would get me to the reading ten minutes late instead of thirty. The next two and a half hours was “the scenic route,” which was a nice change from the highway scene, but it didn’t save time, and I wasn’t really in the mood to admire the flora and fauna of northern Georgia in those white-knuckled moments of trying to beat the clock through these winding roads with no guard rails and plenty of ditches if not mountain drops.

Side note: I am starting to suspect that people in Georgia fervently believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ. It’s a hunch—a crackpot theory based on all the churches.

Hungover. Gotta pee. Gotta eat. Tired. Low on gas. But I can’t stop. The reading is at 6. I am due to arrive at 6:30. There is no flexibility on the time. We’re not on rock and roll time. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Rush hour traffic. There was 50 miles to go and 52 miles of gas. When I was 19, my favorite Minor Threat song was “Little Friend.” I still think it might be. That unnameable want. Waiting for a sign. Waiting for something. Waiting. Wanting. Or in “Cashing In”: “…there’s no place like home, so where am I?” You’re in Georgia, motherfucker, and you’re late.

Got to the reading right when Mrs. Google said I’d get to the reading. There was literally two miles of gas left in my tank when I parked. In the bookstore, Tadd was already reading. I went immediately after him. Todd was also running late. I think my introduction to my reading was, “Hi. I’m hungover. I gotta pee. I’m hungry, and I’m tired. Other than that, it’s great to be here!” It was a receptive audience, from what I could gather, roadfried and such.

After, got tacos with my friend Colene and her friend Stephanie and Colene’s husband Dustin. PBR never tasted so good. We went somewhere to try and karaoke—they said it was “hip” karaoke, like they would have Joy Division but not Bob Seger. There was actually no karaoke at all…but I didn’t care. I just wanted a couple drinks, just wanted to relax. Stephanie had to leave, and the three of us talked about Orlando, and just how incredibly strange it was to grow up there. Rampant juvenile delinquency where the adults pretty much looked the other way. Skinheads. Ravers. Drug addicts. Vandals. It was great!

Went back to Colene and Dustin’s, where their son told me all about the Atlanta zoo. He named many of the animals there. He mentioned lemurs. I told him I liked lemurs. He told me there were lemurs there. I might not have been totally honest when I said that I liked lemurs. I mean, I don’t dislike lemurs, but I don’t know if even really have an opinion on lemurs. I don’t actually know much about lemurs. I’m guessing lemurs are cute and furry and might make decent pets, but maybe they’re ferocious beasts who go right for the jugular. I don’t know. Why did I say I liked lemurs? I blame The Road.

Slept in the basement. Conked right out. When I woke up, they had made a rad breakfast of eggs, bacon, and grits. Grits! Their two kids were working on a book of their own called “Angry Birds of the Galaxy.” It is a combination of the game Angry Birds and the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

And now it’s time to leave for Atlanta. Actually, I have eight hours until I need to actually be there. Not sure what to do. Not sure where I’m staying. Maybe sleep in the car. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. J

That’s all I got, Diary. See you in Atlanta. Ooooooooosh!

“Get in the Ford Focus!” Tour Diary, Day One: Nashville

I’m trying to come up with decent solutions re: driving through Indiana (aka Sweatpantagonia). There’s five hours of that fucker between Chicago and Nashville. Listened to the first five Love albums…nearly swerved off the road several times while digging the drum solo to “Doggone” on “Out There”….talked to myself in a British accent for nearly an hour, observing and remarking on the scenery… “Roight, I mean…I know it’s so bloody borrring here innit, but I mean it can’t all be a thatched hut ‘oliday in Tahiti now, cannit?….” and so on and so forth…..brooded on the lyrics to “Coyote” by Joni Mitchell…not just “No regrets, coyote,” but the thing about (c’mon memory, you know it!)… “so close to the skin and the eyes and the lips you can get and still feel so alone and still feel related like a station in a relay you’re not a hit and run driver no no you just picked up a hitcher a prisoner of the white lines of the freeway…” Tim at the Hideout said Prince said “Hejira” was the last great album anyone has ever made. Granted, I’m going to assume that Prince hasn’t heard the second Spits album or the first Piranhas album, but ya know…

I think I’m losing my mind (not really) and I’m too tired to care anymore (not exactly) and I’m also ok with that (maybe?) because I’m not losing my mind (not really) but simply evolving into something better (what?). Traveling feels more real to me than my life in Chicago right now.

But anyway—into Kentucky….Louisville a blur….Indiana also confuses my sense of time because they don’t do the time change that everybody else does so I thought I was running late for the reading in Nashville….but I did remark (not in a British accent) “Hey look: bluegrass!” and in Bowling Green, passed the world headquarters for Fruit of the Loom, and the jokes wrote themselves, hardy har har…

At the gas station about 35 miles from Nashville there was a giant fireworks store next door with Yosemite Sam holding sticks of dynamite in each hand, and when I asked the woman behind the counter for a receipt for the gas, it turned into a nice leisurely discussion about receipts—easy talk, easy laughter, all the time in the world–which made me suspect that I am no longer back home, but in the South. Hey, I’m in the South!

Made it to the reading on time. 7.5 hour drive. The rest will be cake after this except for going back to Chicago from Orlando. Todd and Tadd were already there. They wrote books too—Todd’s is a book of poems about dead wrestlers, and Tadd’s is about a failing marriage, the police state, pharmaceuticals, among other things. Stoked to be reading with these guys, as they’re both excellent writers who aren’t fucking annoying writers because most writers are fucking annoying in my stupid opinion. The café didn’t have booze nor beer but I didn’t really mind all that much and the earnestness of the event was wonderful…the sense that the people there really cared about what was happening and about writing and books and thought that events like ours was worth having.

Todd Dills and Susannah Felts were there. Todd helped get me out into the reading-in-public world at the turn of the century and Susannah (his wife) also wrote a book on featherproof (they both wrote books on featherproof, actually)…and read from a novel in progress about a band, a touring band, the singer coming back to Nashville from Chicago, and the way she described Chicago reminded me of why I live there…not that I need the reminder…people keep asking if I’m moving and I’m not moving…and the audience of a dozen or so were so receptive to everything…and as always at these events, there’s the sense that you have to let folks know that it’s ok to laugh and to enjoy yourself…so filled with the expectations of it being a “literary event” and therefore quite serious so we must cross our legs and assume thoughtful expressions while we think of insightful questions to ask the Writer who shared his Very Serious Work with us….but I think/hope such expectations dissipate when said Writer reads about a self-proclaimed modern-day warrior trying to get a dishwashing job in a pizza place. Dunno.

Enjoyable talks with the audience members after the reading, two of whom thought the book was like “A Confederacy of Dunces,” which wasn’t on my radar at all when I wrote the thing, but maybe it was in some small way. I like the one-on-one talks as opposed to audience Q&A which is almost always insufferable because the only people who ask questions in that format—as anyone who has ever attended larger literary events can tell you—are NUCKING FUTZ. But this was sweet, and like, maybe it’s worth it.

Dills and I drove back to his house and walked to Dino’s—this rad bar and grill that had great burgers and the air of what used to be a dive bar under somewhat new ownership whose owners had the good sense to not change much of anything about it except make it nonsmoking. I love the way the smell of grease permeates places like these. We got caught up over beers while D’Angelo, the Stooges, and Radiohead played out the speakers and on the TV the President made his picks for the NCAA basketball brackets. At the turn of the century, we lived two buildings away from each other in now-fashionable Logan Square, and it was difficult conveying how much it’s all changed since then…in good and bad ways. Memories, recollections…he reminded me of the time we did “Metallicaid” at the Empty Bottle—a fundraiser for Metallica in the wake of their lawsuit against Napster (ancient history, jeez)…and finally, the exhaustion of the long drive and going on four hours of sleep because King Dipshit (me) had to stay up until 3 in the morning carousing (yes, carousing) went away…and the walk back to his house, like the walk there, a sense of good fortune, good luck…sure, the book ain’t a bestseller and it’s yet another day of toiling in near-total obscurity, but it’s ok because you’re walking down these rainsoaked Nashville streets on a Wednesday night with the freedom to take all of this in and not only that but the freedom to actually get out into the US of A and see how everybody lives and thinks and acts and how it’s similar and how it’s different and the Dumb Florida Kid in me is always so excited by it all, no matter what the situation—be it karaokeeing Lisa Loeb at an Eagles lodge in Seattle or stretched out in a hotel bed in a Nyquil/sick haze in Cleveland….because I might not get to do this for much longer…The Dream Factory ain’t what it used to be….this is an America run by “money-grubbing scumfucks” who give themselves raises/six-figure salaries while cutting freelance writing budgets and teaching budgets and basically nickels-and-dimes the artists and the working people until far too many of us are “locked into survival trips.”

But in the Right Now, I’m free. “Financially dissatisfied, philosophically trying.” Roight. No regrets, coyote(s).

“Get in the Ford Focus Titanium Hatchback” Tour Diary: Day 4

Dear Diary:

Day 4: Philadelphia

To paraphrase The Hollies: The Pennsylvania Turnpike is loooooong…with maneeee a winnnnding turrrrrrrn….that leeeds us to whooooo knows wherrrrre….who knowwwwws wheeeeeeeen……..

But no complaining, as the salt-stained car rolls on. Sunshine and “Blonde on Blonde”….reminded of driving to Gainesville 4-5 years ago listening to this, and when I got to Leesburg (or as we used to call it in high school. “Sleazeburg,” heh heh), “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” had me tearing up like the Irish-American buffoon that I am…and in the moments before getting back into the car and driving back to Orlando, I wrote in one sitting a tribute of sorts to that song called “Gainesville Girls: 1996-97″ that ended up in the novel and it’s one of my favorite parts. But anyway…no getting choked up today, for this car is headed to Philadelphia.

I will say this: Whoever is in charge of the jams in the Pennsylvania Turnpike Food Court knows what they’re doing, in terms of the ol’ Dad Rock. The moment I walked in, “Renegade” by Styx played, aka “The Story of My Life.” That’s not really true, but when you’re a vagabond writer reading in anarchist bookstores in every town, you know…you’re like a badass Styx song. I guess that’s all I’m trying to say here. Sitting there surrounded by older ladies in cat sweatshirts, kids sucking down chocolate shakes, bikers, truckers, moms, dads, all your Great American Travelers, they’re playing Supertramp for us, they’re playing “Heard it in a Love Song” by the Marshall Tucker Band, they’re even getting the Led out with some deep cutz “The Wonton Song” (!!!)…all songs I love, and you combine that with some Burger King, it’s hard to resist the urge to start the classic “U!S!A!” chant. But I keep it in, because I already look messed up enough in my uncombed hair and salt-splotched pants and general road dog demeanor.

It was $31 in tolls to take the Turnpike. I had $28 in cash, and $2.90 in change.

“Need a dime,” the toll booth lady said.

“Do you take cards?”

“No. We take checks, or you can leave your license here until you pay it…”

F…U…C……Oh wait! Forgot about the quarter in my pocket. Just barely paid it off. Oosh! I mean, I’ve heard of, heh heh…”Highway Robbery,” but that was ridiculous. I don’t mean to get political here. It’s just my opinion.

Into Philadelphia. The last major city in the lower 48 I haven’t been to. Until now. I get to Alice’s. She lives in a basement apartment in the Fishtown neighborhood. And now…Philly is real. Row houses and narrow streets. Stoops and intense-looking working folks stomping down the sidewalks. I love it already. And two beers and two shots later at El Bar, it all makes sense. We meet up with her boyfriend and friends, and off we go to the reading in West “Philly.” The roads and the driving around us are very Chicago in terms of bumps and holes and aggressive stupidity and horn honking and I feel the slightest twinge of homesickness as I stare at the buildings and the streets as Dead Moon plays, and all I can think about is how much better this world would be if everyone could be as earnest and pure and intense and passionate as Fred and Toody Cole. Could I be half as good as this music tonight, reading whatever excerpt I’m going to read? No, but I’m going to fucking try.

The audience at the bookstore comprised of the people I rode with, plus the other reader, plus the bookstore owner, and a dude who came in off the street who used to live in Gainesville and wanted to talk Florida. The owner was a friendly and intelligent gentleman who told us about how this part of town was where the anarchists lived…they bought houses here in the mid-80’s when they were going for $10,000 that are now worth way-way more than that. My voice is shot…I read an excerpt that I hope gets some laffs ripplin’ around the room (I hate how everybody thinks readings have to be so serious and stuffy.) I sound like a pre-teen on the cusp of a voice change. I don’t have a cold anywhere else except in my larynx. But they laugh at the right times…and sometimes you just want to tell everyone to relax, and that it’s ok to laugh, but it’s fine.

Afterwards, we hit up an Ethiopian restaurant, then it’s back to Fishtown to karaoke. Man…what a cast of characters! There was an older lady at the bar who sang several songs over the course of the night, and her catchphrase was, and I quote, “SHUT THE FECK UP!” She would sing these nice sixties ballads, and if the patrons were too chatty for her liking, she’d shout that several times during the song. Philadelphia. I love how everyone seems to be at 11 at all times, or, as someone in our crew put it several hours later during a late-night Hot Pockets food run, “Philly is great because you can yell the most obnoxious shit on the street anytime you want to, and nobody gives a fuuuuuck.” Chicago and Philly should bone and have kids that are just like it all over the USA….just sprout right on up in all this futile-bland suburban horseshit you see everywhere else….but anyway, I sang “Beth” by Kiss, because my shattered voice has a total Peter Criss quality to it…Eddie Money even. Also did “Just a Friend” by Biz Markie and “Jackson.”

Went back to Alice’s. Kept drinking. We watched “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” In Detroit, we heard “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog.” In Brooklyn, Joel (who I’m staying with) threw on the Talking Heads. I guess I gotta return the favor; when friends visit Chicago, we’ll watch Season 5 of “According to Jim” and listen to “Chicago 17.” Up until 5, goofin’, drinking Budweiser, trying not to pass out. But finally, I made it onto the couch, where I slept until 9, when a large white cat jumped on my legs and then laid down next to me for warmth.

I couldn’t sleep, so I spent the morning fretting on how to make this “Artist Residency” thing at the Hideout not suck. Trying real hard to do better at everything. Don’t get beered up. Start there, Champ. I had a few other ideas on that old-ass couch, and I got on the phone and started emailing the people who could help, and took notes as to what I wanted to do.

By noon, we were starting to wake up. Went to get brunch, ate a pastrami omelette. My voice is Froggy from “The Little Rascals.” Back to Alice’s, it was time to go. But I had to get a picture of the book with the Rocky Statue. Said my goodbyes (and everyone I met were awesome, btw), and went to get to the statue. But Mrs. Googlemaps was trying to kill me. Twice, she sent me down roads that were one way, in the opposite directions. Fortunately, fellow drivers had no compunction about honking their horns to let me know that what i was doing was wrong. it was a pain in the ass almost of driving-in-Boston proportions, but I figured it out, took the picture, surrounded by tourists and tourist parasites selling Rocky t-shirts.

And with that…got back into the car, listened to the Television album “Adventure,” and rolled on through insanely narrow highway lanes out of Philadelphia, and into New Jersey…

“Get in the Ford Focus Titanium Hatchback!” Tour Diary: Days 1-3

Dear Diary:

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!

1/4/15 + 1/5/15

At the airport. Orlando. Slam four vodka-tonics. Wait for the flight. Buzzed. Walk around. Glare at the mickeymouseoisie eating Mc. Donald’s. Drank another vodka tonic on the plane. Take off from the swamps and the jungles and the cul-de-sacs and golf courses and into the clouds. Initial descent, two hours later. The grids of farmlands and then Cook County streets, south suburbs into the southwest side, old bungalows and baseball parks, all of it covered in snow. Temperature 20 degrees and falling. Get home. Take a cab from the airport. The driver listens to smooth jazz on satellite radio. Tasty. See the dog. Talk to S. Go out. Drink more, with members of the band. Try to make sense of it all. But there isn’t anything to figure out. It’s constant motion. No stability, and that’s fine. Too much drama. Forget it. Shots. Beer. Switch it up. Whiskey-gingers. Winter. Sucks being back. So far. Go to another bar. Accept the Oreos offered to you by the Uber driver. Meet E. for drinks. Talk. Lament everything. Malort shots. The bartender offers congratulations on the success of the book. “Not sure if you see it that way,” he adds. Don’t think about it. Close the bar. Go to a later bar. Beer. Shots. Laffs. Back in the city. “How was Florida?” How do you answer that? “How was Seattle?” And how do you answer that? Fine. It was cool. It was fun. It was rad. There/not there. 3:30am. How to really talk about what happened, as memories of Gainesville, of Orlando, of Seattle, come flooding on in. Don’t. Something for future books. Leave. Split an uber with E. Hug goodbye. Peck on the cheek. Trying to help. But only time, exercise, and travel can help, if real true love is nowhere to be found. Go home. Get into a pointless argument with S. An argument borne out of intoxication, exhaustion, ego, pride, the usual false expectations that are a constant at all times and with everyone. Go to sleep already. Nothing will be solved.

After all the fun and travel, that next day after the marathon drink sesh…I woke up to a debilitating hangover that was less about headaches and more about crippling depression. The subzero temps didn’t help. Removing the snow from the car and scraping the ice off the windows with the plastic CD case of Miles Davis’s “On the Corner” didn’t exactly boost morale. Get the eye exam over with as quickly as possible. The word “douchebag” comes back into my lexicon, now that I’m back in Chicago, driving. Go home and try to work, but I couldn’t function. It reminded me of when I was on Rick Kogan’s radio show on WGN last month, and he read a Mike Royko column from the mid-1980’s before my interview. We talked about his work ethic–writing several columns a week, for years, for decades. And he drank. I asked Kogan how he worked that way, because me, I can’t write hungover. Rarely. Kogan said Royko approached the job like he was a sheetmetal worker, someone with a job to do and you do it and when it’s done you go out and drink and do it all over again the next day. A very Chicago answer. You do the job and you do it no matter what. When I get back from this next tour…I don’t want to drink like this for a bit. It will be fun again, but now is the time to hibernate. To get shit done. To start the next book. Get the residency together. Practice guitar. Exercise. Eat right. Read. But now….meet Holland for drinks at Handlebar to talk about said residency since he’s going to play drums for it. Get it together to do this, at least. Walk there. Walk back. On the walk back, the snow is starting to fall, and it’s that fresh snow that will turn into black-gray pollution snow in just a few hours, but it’s enough now to listen to Pavement and walk through it….one day you’re in a hot tub listening to “Marquee Moon” or eating oysters outside with A., or outdoor drinking with dear old Gainesville friends, or slipping down wet Seattle streets to meet up with friends who are sitting at the bar texting each other entirely in emojis….and then you’re back home, walking west on North Avenue….and leaving again in two days. The cold is sobering, and that’s fine. Sick of being loaded, and there will be plenty of time for that, sooner than later. At home, S. has ordered pizza. Didn’t leave because of the snow. Sleeps on the couch, while I learn different songs on guitar. “I thought you hated Johnny Thunders….you were always like, ‘He was just a junkie. Who cares?'” “Nah, I’ve come around…” Strumming away, I felt content. People come and go. They keep showing up at just the right time. Then they or I disappear for x amount of time, and it’s on to the next adventures, and in reflective moments, it’s enough to throw on “Days” by The Kinks and feel blessed to even know all these weirdos–here, there, everywhere. To expect more, to want…it only hurts. When through with playing guitar, I set it down, cracked open the King James Bible I just ordered from Amazon (had never read it all the way through), and it went straight to the Book of Job. Read the first chapter, then fell asleep.

1/3/15

the last hot tub sesh

is bittersweet and all but

I got shit to do

1/2/15

Just got finished watching the documentary film “Billy Madison.” There are worse ways to end your nights.

Honestly, it was a fucking boring day…I could sit here and try to be clever with it and try to make it into something that it wasn’t… but I’m glad it was boring. It means that the holidays are OVER and DONE. Went for a run around this Central Florida suburban neighborhood, trying to enjoy the last couple days before going back to actual winter, and all the neighborhood Christmas wreaths and lights and animatronic reindeer are getting taken down. On the run, listened to the songs we’re going to cover for my “artist residency” at the Hideout in February, and I’m hoping that after the book tour, life will be like some kind of sports montage where all I’m doing is exercising, writing, reading, and practicing guitar until my fingers bleed. Oh, and not drinking.

Was interviewed for a weekly paper in Pittsburgh about the book tour, and inadvertently found out that the reading is going to be near this bar our bands went to last time we were in Pittsburgh called “Teabagz.” I saw the place out the window of the men’s room (the venue was on the second floor), and of course I thought the name was hilarious. On the front wall of the bar, there was a painting of a teabag smiling and wearing sunglasses (cuz he’s cool!)….they sold dollar jello shots in plastic syringes, and we took pictures of ourselves shooting up into our mouths….funfact: it’s impossible to look good in a picture while sticking a plastic syringe into your mouth and shooting jello shots down your throat. Oh, and the slogan of Teabagz was “Where You’re Always in Hot Water!” I can’t wait to go back there, if only because of the name (and maybe the cheap jello shotz).

Managed to get some work done, but all I wanted to do was (you guessed it) sit in the hot tub and space out looking into the jungle. After the holidays, after all the no-sleep mania of December, I’m out of thoughts and emotions…..at least as far as reflection goes. It doesn’t help, but what does help is that change in that last number in the year. 2015 now, which means it’s more about looking ahead instead of dwelling on the past. I don’t have any expectations anymore. (“I don’t know. I don’t care. And it doesn’t matter.”)  It’s all go-go-go.

Dear Diary: January 1, 2015

Dear Diary: Today, from 1-4PM, I sat in the hottub, sweating out the toxins from the night before. New Year’s Eve sure was fun. It was so fun, I wish I could remember it HA. HA. HA. (Oh, gosh, Diary: We have fun with our little jokes.) So. 2015. Off to a good start. Still in Florida, and the holidays are (finally) over. I’ve convinced myself that this will be [cue caps lock] MY YEAR. I mean, I knew from the start that 2014 was going to be, as they say in the sporting world, a “rebuilding year.” I’m rebuilt. (Almost.) I texted K. “I’m looking forward to crushing 2015. It’s going to be incredible.” I had to smile at her answer: “Dude. You have NO IDEA.” But you know…It’s easy to be ambitious and happy and optimistic when you’re in 72 degree weather while sitting in a hottub in early January. But to maintain it in Chicago…and on the book tour next week….but that’s next week. All that really mattered today was hottubbing my stupid face off, and not only is the hottub a fun spot to drink Riunite on ice (so nice!) while the warm jets massage the ol’ aches and pains away, but it’s also quite the hangover cure. In the living room, my parents watch reality shows like “Alaskan Cold Guys” and “Real Estate Flipper-Floppers.” The TV chatter is audible over the bubbling of the hottub….”But what about New Year’s Eve? What happened, dude?” GodDAMMIT, Diary! Can’t you see I’m trying to talk about hottubbing?! This is IMPORTANT! But yeah, sure, fine, ok, cool: New Year’s Eve. It was nice that it was the first NYE in five years where I wasn’t playing a show somewhere. My initial plan was to just go to the beach and not deal with all the drunken idiots who act like drunken idiots and end their nights doing something stupid like forgetting how to walk and conking their heads on their friend’s coffee tables, because–jeez–what kind of dummy would do that?! But when I was in Seattle, A. said she was going to be in Orlando for NYE, and our friends’ band was playing, so that changed my mind about having a not-rocking New Year’s. So I picked up A. at her hotel and we ate oysters and drank and drank and drank. Danced to the band. Drank. Photoboothed. Drank. Home. Orlando. It’s so weird and shitty and filled with so many d-bags, but at the end of the day…it’s where I’m from, and the kids I met thought I was “interesting” as I drunkenly (maudlin and sentimental) tried telling them about the bands that were here back in the 90’s–the good ones, anyway–and the whole night was wonderful and laughter-filled until the end of the night when we went back to our friends’ house and pretty much the moment I walked in the door, I lost the ability to walk. My legs kept buckling, and I fell backwards and slammed my head into a coffee table. I guess I fell into the Christmas tree too–that’s what my friend told me today, anyway…said it looked like “you got in a fight with the Christmas Tree.” So yeah, Diary, I was the amateur I wanted to avoid on New Year’s. Anyway, A. had to take a cab to the airport at 5AM for the long-long-long flight back to Seattle, and I barely remember getting up to say goodbye to her as she got into the cab and rode away…back to the opposite end of the continent, where I just was two weeks ago before having one night in Chicago to play in the Christmas rock and roll band and then the flight to Orlando, where I’ve been trying to process everything that has been happening here there and everywhere (with more travels to come, next week)….I woke up four hours later and drove back to my parents’, singing along to “Blonde on Blonde” songs but trying not to sound like Bob Dylan but like me instead, as people still drunk from the night before swerved around me on Interstate 4…………

51. Fifty-One Fun Things Adjunct Professors Can Do During the Month(s) of Brokeassuary!

Hey hey, fellow Adjunct Professors! Whelp, it’s that time of year. That’s right: Brokeassuary! It’s when there’s still another six weeks or so until school starts up again, and the money you saved last Spring and Fall is gone, and it’s rice and beans for lunch and dinner—today, and everyday! Aren’t you glad you busted your ass to get a Master’s Degree, and aren’t you glad your employer is all like “Benefits, schmenefits?” Yeah. Me too.
But it’s not all bad. Sure, you’re drowning in insane debt—which is the price you pay in this country for trying to better yourself if you’re not born rich—your credit score is tanking because of all the unpaid bills, and any other potential employers think you’re “overqualified” because of that goddamn Master’s Degree, but hey: Knock off alla that “stinkin’ thinkin’!” Brokeassuary can be great fun, with the right attitude.
I’m here to help, Professor Brokeass. I’m here to help you survive Brokeassuary, and not only that—I’m here to help you find some enjoyment during this difficult time. So without any further ado, here are Fifty-One Fun Things Adjunct Professors Can Do During the Month(s) of Brokeassuary. Enjoy! Smiley face emoji! Thumb’s up emoji! American flag emoji!
1. Fill your empty shampoo bottle with water so you get an extra couple-two-tree days out of it. Yay! Fun!
2. Laugh heartily at the “crusty punk” sitting outside the Food Smart who calls you a “rich yuppie” because you can’t afford to give him the change he needs in order to attain a higher level of drunkenness.
3. Sell off all your favorite records, CDs, and books. You don’t deserve them, you lazy piece of shit. What did you ever do, besides get published, tour, work hard at things that don’t pay very much? Not a goddamn thing, Professor Bitchnmoan.
4. Learn to love Ramen.
5. Patiently explain to “Patricia” from Mumbai why you fell behind on your credit card payments.
6. Train a fleet of pigeons to send your oh-so-important texts to your friends, because your phone will be turned off.
7. Be delighted that your bank charges you a “service fee” of $15 if you don’t direct deposit at least $1500 in a month.
8. Go to job interviews, get interviewed by some Millennial dork who wants the workplace to be all “quirky” and shit, because that doesn’t feel forced, and as spontaneous as the cicada mating cycle. (“What?! It’s ‘Fake Moustache Friday!’ Oh, how fun! This is nothing like my grandpa’s old fart workplace!”)
9. Smile! (Why the hell not?)
10. Lose weight! Learn to live without so much food.
11. Politely explain—when those 2 or 3 figure freelance/odd jobs checks finally arrive—that you’re drinking PBR or Hamms not because you’re “a hipster,” but rather, it’s all you can fucking afford, you yelping piece of shit.
12. Look forward to dying penniless, if this shit keeps up.
13. Dog food, with what’s left of that Sriacha sauce you still have in your fridge, ain’t that bad, really. While some adjuncts swear by the “Healthy Radiance with Real Salmon” Beneful brand dog food, others insist that good old fashioned canned Pedigree Meaty Ground Chicken and Rice Dinner is the way to go. It really depends on your budget and your personal tastes.
14. Start a band and play shows. The “play shows” part is important. That way—you get a social life of sorts. You get a couple free drinks from the bar, and maybe somebody in the audience will enjoy the music you’re playing, and will offer you a drink. Then maybe you’ll meet someone who’s attracted to you, and sees your poverty not as the result of teaching at the collegiate level, but more because you’re an “artist,” an artist way ahead of his time and therefore beyond the comprehension of contemporary society. Own that shit, Van Gogh.
15. Sleep a lot. You might have dreams about working for a place that actually values, respects, and appreciates you.
16. Laugh what’s left of your ass off when some twitty-twat douche friend of yours wants to dismiss what you’re going through as—heh heh—“first world problems.”
16a. Don’t punch them in their stupid face.
17. Remind yourself that it will get better, somehow. Brokeassuary doesn’t last forever.
18. Eat a bag of dicks. You have no right to complain. You’re an American. Nut up, dude.
19. Watch the relationships with your loved ones strain and fray.
20. Wait for the next job interview. Brokeassuary is also the time when people who hire are on vacation. That’s great fun. Enjoy that!
21. Pretend you’re under house arrest and write your “prison memoir.” You can’t afford to leave your house anyway. Why not? “Prison memoirs” are hott and marketable. (Ever heard of a little something called “Orange is the New Black?” Hmmm?)
22. Freak out and use your debit card anyway even though it only has $5.42. “YOLO!”
23. Remember when you had money, and you bought a bunch of drinks for your friends who didn’t have money? Hey, whatever happened to those friends? FUCKING FIND THEM.
24. Remind yourself that this is all your fault. There’s no one else to blame. The policies of higher education have always been sound and logical. Education and teachers are the highest priority of this country. The school didn’t do a lousy job of finding donors, and they didn’t blow their load buying up a bunch of buildings during the housing boom of the mid-aughts. IRONY IRONY IRONY IRONY IRONY.
25. Make a “gourmet dinner” out of one bean, like they used to do in the cartoons. Wear a bib, keep the bean covered and centered on fine china (or a plate-“fine china,” you don’t have that!), raise the cover, and make a dramatic production out of cutting the bean with your fork and knife.
26. Fantasize about all the things you’ll do when you actually have money. Buy groceries. Take your girlfriend to Burger King. Pay a bill. DARE TO DREAM AND DREAM BIG
27. Buy food with a lot of spare change. It’s fun to count the spare change on the counter of the corner store. Everybody loves counting change! It’s exciting! Does he, or does he not, have enough money for a can of lentils? Drum roll, please!
28. Apply your rolling pin to your nearly empty package of toothpaste. There’s still some in there, buddy. The challenge is in getting every last bit of that toothpaste out, and challenges are fun and rewarding and they bring out the best in you.
29. Don’t get sick and/or injured and have to go to the hospital. But, if you do, you’ll get three square meals a day. So there’s that.
30. Learn to juggle. Juggling is a fun and cheap hobby. Learn to juggle all the things you do that don’t pay for shit. There are so many! OH WOW DID YOU SEE WHAT I JUST DID THERE.
31. Have your friends with cable reenact the latest episodes of “your favorite shows” because of course, you can’t afford cable because you don’t deserve such a luxury you overeducated piece of shit.
32. Stand by the water faucet in your kitchen and pretend it’s the “water cooler” of an office breakroom and talk about “the big game,” or repeat incessantly the catchphrase in the latest hit comedy movie, or ape the talking point the right-wing screamy guy was all screamy about this morning…
33. Sit in the sun in the park long enough so the next time your friends see you they’ll be all like, “Hey, nice tan!”
34. Do your best to suspend your disbelief while watching “Gilligan’s Island” on MeTV.
35. Remind yourself that you’ve been through all of this before. Brokeassuary happens every year, and will continue to happen as long as you’re doing this.
36. Hang in there, buddy.
37. Accept the questionable life decisions you made, and live with the consequences.
38. Recall the good times. You’ve gotten to do a bunch of things most people never get to do, go places most people never get to go, and meet all kinds of incredible people.
39. Develop insomnia. That way, you get to experience every excruciating hour of Brokeassuary, and it will make you a stronger person. Brokeassuary builds character!
40. Take a shower and sing the Queensrhyche song “Silent Lucidity” like the cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn.
41. Porky Pig it, in terms of your dress, or lack thereof. It’s Brokeasuary! Who do you got to be profesh for?
42. Write a screenplay about a “nerdy teen girl” who is lonely and awkward and bookish who turns into a “beauty queen” when she loses those glasses. See if Zooey Deschanel (that fucking nerd) will be down to take part in this project.
43. Get together with Mary to get serious about the Chicago-themed She and Him cover band called “Dis Guy and Dat Gal.”
44. Still remain perplexed as to why they called that movie, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” Shit makes no sense.
45. Develop a witty catchphrase like, “I can’t do that because I have no money.”
46. Have an opinion on the daytime talk shows, and be unafraid to verbalize your opinions, even if no one’s around to agree or disagree with you.
47. Dance like no one’s watching! No. Don’t do that.
48. Figure your shit out, dude. Seriously. Nobody wants to read whiny crap like this. Nobody.
49. Take up stick whittling, chaw chewin’, and idle gossip. (If you live in the South.)
50. Rebrand yourself, but don’t tell anybody you’re rebranding yourself, because nobody likes that word. “Rebrand.” Barf.
51. “Have a good time, all the time.”—Sir Mick Shrimpton.

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