Stories and Spiels by Brian Costello

Baby’s 1st Rock Concert: Pink Floyd. Orlando Citrus Bowl. April 30, 1988.

“Hey, are you going to the rock concert?” That’s the way we talked back in my day. And parents scratched their heads, just as they do today, confused by all that teen lingo and how it didn’t even sound like the English language.

And if you said, “Yes, I am going to the rock concert,” you would have to prove that you attended said rock concert buy purchasing the band’s tour shirt.

The tour shirt had the band’s logo on the front and maybe something that had something to do with their latest masterwork, or some sexually charged drawing (objectification at best, or at worst, that one t-shirt Guns n’ Roses had of the girl in the alley with her panties around her ankles looking like she was the victim of an assault with the spraypainted words “Guns n’ Roses was here” or some shit…kids actually wore that to my high school and administrators didn’t do anything, and if they did, it was more about the almost nudity rather than the rape, but I digress!) or more often than not, just a bunch of pastel lines and squigglies and Mondrian squares with the rock group’s logo somewhere in this day-glo nightmare. And on the back of the tour shirt, there would be the band’s logo, with the name of the tour, and then all the names of the cities and the dates and venues in which they performed and you would look at the back of that shirt, and get just a twinge of the ol’ hometown pride when you looked and saw and exclaimed, “Hey! Orlando! Citrus Bowl! Take that, Jacksonville! No Billy Joel for you! Hahahaha!”

You should have seen my alma mater on the next school day after the rock concert. 2000 teens in a building only meant for 800, and my God! Was I the only one who didn’t make it to see Genesis?! Look at all these Genesis tour shirts worn on the backs of all my fellow teenagers stomping, shuffling, weaving through these overcrowded hallways. Black t-shirts with fluorescent green. Was it the “Invisible Touch” tour? I’m not exactly sure and it’s not worth googling. Is “Invisible Touch” even a Genesis song, or is it a composition from their hitmaking drummer, Phil Collins? Again, I’m not exactly sure, and it’s not worth googling. But there were so many of those tour shirts, and there I was, not in a tour shirt, most likely in maybe the black Zeppelin Swan Song shirt (with the runes on the back and everything) or perhaps the blue WDIZ (“Orlando’s home for quality rock and roll!”) t-shirt with the left breast pocket for to put your Marlboros (even though I didn’t smoke, didn’t hang out at “the wall,” which was where the smoking headbangery kids all hung out before and after school due to being just on the other side of Sand Lake Road from good ol’ Lake Brantley (go Patriots!) and those kids, they all had Genesis t-shrits. Why didn’t I?

I didn’t because by that point I fucking hated Genesis, and like so many rock groups who had been in existence since the 60’s and 70’s, they seemed to just exist in name only–compromised artistes deep in debt to the record labels or something and so hit songwriters were brought in to rescue their careers and/or keep them relevant in the midst of all this Madonna and Run DMC and hair metal and synthpop. It’s impossible to put into words what a horrible time the years 1986-1990 (hs years) were for music. Hardcore and punk rock and all that seemed like music for asshole bullies–I mean, there were real deal honest to Jeebus skinfuckingheads in my school (ok, not that honest, but it wasn’t for lack of trying) who sieg Heiled and everything and they even got in a huge fight with black teenagers in a nearby field around that time. And besides, I liked “real music” because I played drums in the marching band and needed to hear bands who could actually play and sing and had things to say about the world like Led Zeppelin’s earnest messages about squeezing lemons and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” (“Because that’s how I feel, Lake Brantley! You’re all just another brick in the wall.”) and, oh yes, The Doors. We looked to the past because the present was mostly garbage–and the classic rock stations like DIZ still proudly boasted that they would play “the new rock,” but the new rock would be like The Smithereens. Yeah. Great.

But the old bands would come back, and they’d put stuff out, and you’d hope it would be good, and you’d want to believe that it’s good and then you’d sit there in your dumbass knee-jerk teenage brain and go, “No. This isn’t good. ‘The Flame’ by Cheap Trick is not good. Fuck. What happened to Cheap Trick? They were one of the first bands I ever liked as a little kid, and now? What the fuck is this ‘The Flame’ bullshit?” Heart…Moody Blues…Starship….Boston…to say nothing of bands who at least had some you know heaviness to them like Def Leppard or Judas Priest or even Ozzy…everything was so damn cheeeeeezy…Rob Halford singing, “We don’t need no—no! no! no!–parental guidance here!” Yeah. Take that, Tipper! Fuck, man. What horseshit. Iggy was doing duets with Kate Pierson. Lou Reed…too young for that just then, and “New York” wasn’t exactly the proverbial gateway drug.

Enter The Pink Floyd into this MTV shitshow.

That line from the kid in line for the rock concert in “This is Spinal Tap”–“Heavy metal is deep. You can get stuff out of it.” While not heavy metal, that’s how I felt about Pink Floyd. With nothing but MTV, the radio, and trips to the Altamonte Mall or Peaches Records and Tapes (or, even more likely, the cassette selection they had at the Albertson’s supermarket on 436 in Apopka, which is where, much to the dismay of Dad, I blew all the money I earned scrapping drywall for him on all the Led Zeppelin albums on tape), Pink Floyd was the weirdest thing around. Sound effects! Recordings of people talking! Synthesizers! Gongs! Pompeii! Acid! To think about it now….these identifying with all these limeys as I reclined there in my teen Florida bedroom, and there was a swimming pool right outside and aside from that nowhere to go and nothing to do and no way to get there even if there was something to do (oh, to be 15 again…pshaw)….to identify with art schoolers who came out of the Swinging London scene, and not just Pink Floyd, but to identify with “Quadrophenia” and “Led Zeppelin II” and to even identify with anything churned out of the music industry…how did that happen? How could we possibly have anything in common except for lowest common denominator shit like the need for love and sex and acceptance and figuring your shit out and what does all of this mean, anyway? But it was more than that, it was having the imagination to try and picture a reality so different from the reality I lived. How far could I get from suburban Florida? England? Great. (Which might be our subterranean cultural exchange program, if you think of how all these bands had similar thoughts and imagingings while in their bleak 1950’s post-WWII homes listening to Little Richard or the blues of the American south.)

I loved it. Floyd. They took musical risks. They tried new things. They had so much to say. It was so complex and lush and layered and scary and unafraid to be depressing, unlike all those Top 40 odes to cold hearted snakes, and the like.

That said, as the rumors began to surface–would they? Could they?–that Pink Floyd were reuniting, it was the absolute best news. Those of us who drew spectrum triangles with the light coming in from the left and ROYGBIV shooting out of the right on our Trapper Keepers….did ya hear? A new album! A tour! No Roger Waters? Whatever!

The album was released. I got it for Christmas. It was called “A Momentary Lapse of Reason.” Ooooooooo! What a Floydian title! What do you think it means? Is this another concept album? The song premiered on DIZ–“world premiere video” on MTV–“Learning to Fly,”–“and I think those of you who really enjoy David Gilmour’s guitar work are gonna love this one” promised the Lucky Striked raspy contralto of the only/token female classic rock dj, and we heard it, and… was good! Yeah! Great! It sounded like Pink Floyd, alright. That guitar tone. Enough whooshiness and ethereality…that “space cadet glow.” It’s a hit, boys!

But deep down, we knew. This would not be a “classic” by any stretch, and like so much of this era–from the Ramones albums of that time to the last two Replacements albums to so much of the “college rock” to Van Hagar’s stabs at Lennonesque lyrical idealism–this wouldn’t last. There were the videos… “Learning to Fly,” “Dogs of War,” “On the Turning Away.” They weren’t “Astronomy Domine.” Like so much of that time…so much overproduction and excess…the kind of excess employed when one knows they are polishing the proverbial turd.

To pick up on something discussed earlier: I have friends who, when each new Rolling Stones album comes out, or have come out for the last pert near 30 years, will engage in a riff on the theme of, “It’s their best one since [“Sticky Fingers” or “Exile on Main St” or “Tattoo You” or “Some Girls”]…yeah…it’s really good…it’s not bad…you just gotta give it a few listens, and…aw, who am I kidding? Not you. It’s not that great.” That’s what so much of going to high school when I went to high school was like. C’mon, guys! You know a group like Yes would never put out anything crappy! Hahahaha….so yeah, “The Delicate Lapse of Thunder” or whatever fuck that album was called…it was better than most of what was out there, but you’d see these videos, and 3/4ths of the post-Syd Pink Floyd were there and present and accounted for, but there were all these singers and sesh musicians and the guy who was featured more prominently in these videos than Richard Wright even was this saxophone player with the stupidest mullet hair the 80’s ever wrought. I bet that dude is ashamed of that hair nowadays. As well he should be. Not to stereotype, but he just looked like one of those musicians someone like me has always been predisposed to dislike…like keyboard scarves were invented for cats like these, and they sincerely use the word “cat” to describe a fellow musician, and sincerely use the phrase “tasty lick” and this was in a time when it was cool to dress like Arsenio Hall.

But no matter! They were calling this Pink Floyd, and this was the closest our 80’s teen asses were ever going to get to Pink Floyd. What the hell do we know about law suits and counter lawsuits and song rights and whatever beefs Roger Waters had with his former bandmates?

I don’t recall buying the tickets. I know we didn’t camp out or even wait in a line that was the least bit memorable. There was a kiosk at the dear old sweet old Altamonte Mall. It would be four of us–me, Pat, John, and Lance.

Lance was probably my closest friend at the time. We played in the drumline together and were both obsessed with The Who. He was a year older, was from New Hampshire. (Everyone was from somewhere else in Florida) We’d go to his house and one of the first things he’d say to his mom was “Hey Mahhh! Weh ah thah devil dawgs?” (A New England accent…not Boston per se, but close, and my spelling ain’t doing it justice.) and she’d counter with “Laiiince. I’ll getcha moah devil dawgs when I get to the stoah….” and we were so far from what we thought were our homes–exiled in this weird place when I should have been living in Peoria!–and all of us emigres stuck together…and there was also Pat, who I got to be better friends with as Lance moved more into the burnout/hair metal clique and I “went punk,” as the after-school special classified it, and Pat inherited his family’s brown Dodge cargo van and christened it “The Battle Wagon” and it was perfect for piling in all of our friends (and girls!) to go to New Smyrna Beach and act like the idiots we were…and for a minute he had made what he called “pedestrian kill signs” on the side of his van, silhouettes of the “pedestrian xing” person in a row to resemble how World War II airplanes had mini swastikas or rising suns to tally how many enemy planes they had shot down. Pat got me into Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and gave me rides to school and to the mall, and we did goofy shit like pull into the school parking lot listening to “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees at full-blast in a scene filled with lowrider trucks with the bass booming the latest Two Live Crew masterpiece, or “Corporal Clegg” by Pink Floyd and we had some dorky dance we’d do when the kazoo part kicked in. And John was in the marching band with Lance and I but was about to quit to be a track and field runner and we parted ways sooner than later as he got to be “too cool” and razzed us for being “band buddies” instead of doing something more worthwhile with our time like running around and round on an oval track. (Decades later, I was “friends” with him on FB for a day or two until I realized he had turned into one of those Obama-hating tea party joyless ding-dongs and promptly unfriended him without any care or sentiment whatsoever.)

My parents…I was the oldest, and the “rock concert” was uncharted territory for them. They were a little concerned. This was also a time when some still saw rock and roll as something threatening rather than the soundtrack to passive consumption….news programs would seriously devote time to alleged “backwards messages” on albums, for instance. Satan was real, and was speaking through one Ozzy Osbourne. And my mom did find the Pink Floyd song “Mother” to be a bit disturbing. She was a bit dismayed on how I spent way too much time listening to “The Wall.” This is Florida! Get out in the sun! But there really was nowhere to go.

Let’s say there’s a Parents Spectrum where on one end you have the bad mom who lets her kid and her friends drink and smoke weed in his room “because that way at least I know where he is” and the severe Southern Baptist parents who forbid anything more extreme than lukewarm coca-cola. My parents were somewhere in the middle, but leaning more towards the southern Baptists. Because, you know, at the end of the day, they were 37 when this story takes place (37!), and Pink Floyd had been around for almost twenty years by that point, and even in the mid-80’s were pretty fuckin’ ubiquitous. But yeah. While other kids’ parents from that era were contending with their kids blasting “Too Drunk to Fuck” from their bedrooms, mine had to deal with the Floyd. I remember my Dad, responding to my Mom’s concerns by saying, “Well, I’ve heard they’ve won a lot of awards for audio recording.” Very clinical. It was enough to mollify Mom, but they did ask if Pat’s parents would talk to us before we left, since Pat was driving us into the ugly heart of urban danger that was Orlando, Florida. Maybe we were young enough to warrant this talk, maybe not, and I don’t even really remember what his Dad said as we stood on the driveway by the Battle Wagon…some riff on peer pressure and not drinking and driving and to make like Nancy Reagan and just say no if some unsavory characters try to sell you this crack stuff I’ve been reading about in “US News and World Report.” We were teenagers and therefore weren’t paying attention.

In the van, Citrus Bowl-bound. Lance and John are lamenting that they didn’t have any “TF for our P,” and eventually my genius mind figured out that they needed some tinfoil for the marijuana they purchased. I wanted nothing to do with it, and I’m not kidding and–spoiler!–this isn’t going to turn into a “baby’s first drug experience” story, as much as it perhaps obviously should have been–Pink Floyd and all.

And when we do get there, it starts to rain. Not a drizzle or a “steady downpour,” but like that Florida torrent of huge-dropped nonstop near-hurricane precipitation. It doesn’t faze us and the idea that the concert might be cancelled never crosses anyone’s mind. I buy a tour t-shirt, natch. Can’t wait to wear it to school! We get our seats. Upper deck. The stage is down there, way below, to our left. But we can see the circular movie screen with all the lights around it. Oh man! It’s gonna be so weird and crazy and awesome!

If memory serves, the people behind us had panchos or plastic covering of some kind, and they took pity on us and got us under their shelter. To think about that now…I get cranky and irritable if I have to wait more than two minutes to get a beer at the bar at a show, but that cold-enough Florida flash-floodesque rain didn’t bother me in the least. And what also sticks with me now is the image of Lance and John trying to smoke what was most likely the shittiest kind of dirt weed through rolled-up Reynolds Wrap, trying to keep the magyvered pipe smoking in the midst of all that rain. I don’t think it even worked for them.

Finally, Pink Floyd–aka Gilmour, Mason, and Wright, along with a whole coterie of backup singers, percussionists, and that goddamn mullety sax player–took the stage. Cue the stadium cheering—ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!–and cue the music, and cue the light show and the images of clocks and people walking in slow motion and the land and the sea and the sky and eyeballs and animation and bricks in the wall and pigs on the wing and diamonds shining on crazily and how I wish how I wish you were here, and as regards to the latter, one must ask, would they wish Syd Barrett had been there? In Orlando? In the rain? In the 1980’s music industry? I don’t mean to sound glib here in the sense that they lost their friend to drugs and we’ve all lost friends, but what I mean is: did David Gilmour even wish he was there? If the big bucks hadn’t been involved…what then? It took many years to comprehend the disconnect they felt that inspired “The Wall,” after starting out in Swinging London, playing shows, not concerts–because in shows as opposed to concerts, the energy a mutual exchange and an active experience and it isn’t the we-play-and-you-cheer fascism that really is so inherent to concerts, and “The Wall” (and David Bowie) seemed to be the first to really see that connection in terms of what’s needed to get masses of people off their feet and screaming, not so much in terms of message but in energy, in the lights, in the alternate reality created, and perhaps even in the cult of personality. An energy that, when unleashed, can bring tens of thousands of people together to take off their shirts and sing along to the songs and hit a beach ball and be happy, or used to riot and break the windows of the homes and businesses of The Other…and much much much much worse.

And Dear Lord: From our way-the-hell-up-there seats, I could recognize the mullet of that sax player.

A bed flew over the crowd from one end of the stadium to the other. And this image in the rain stuck with me: The “Animals” Pig on the Wing–flying around above the audience members who managed to get onto the football field itself. Lights from the pig’s eyes–shining down upon them, and they responded by raising their hands in triumph and screaming and waving to the pig. The Pig-on-the-Wing, by the way, had huge balls. I recall that being discussed amongst those of us who showed up to Brantley with the Pink Floyd tour t-shirt, and it was teenage crackled voice and greasy-pimpled har har funny–“Didja see the balls on that pig?”

No, even then, I had zero illusions that this version of Pink Floyd were going to uncork some vintage deep cut off of “Obscured by Clouds.” No “Nile Song” or “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk.” It was a Greatest Hits Gig, just like The Who’s would be when I saw “them” about a year later at Tampa Stadium. We wanted to see the hits, and we wanted to tip our proverbial caps to them, as raindrenched as all of us were. It felt like going through the motions, even then. They didn’t veer off from how the songs went in the studio, which made them releasing a live album from this tour really odd, because it just sounded like a more bombastic live band playing familiar songs coupled with the background of the stadium cheering.

When it was done, David Gilmour thanked us for attending the show under such wet conditions. He was very polite, like how John Cleese would say, “Thank you” in Python sketches. It was very unlike the all-too-typical, “OH YEAH! HOW THE FUCK YOU MUTHAFUCKAS DOIN’ HERE TONIGHT IN MUTHAFUCKIN’….OR-LAN-DOOOOOOOOOOOH!” on-stage spiels we had grown accustomed to.

The night’s entertainment complete, there was noplace to go but home. Home to Altamonte Springs…the mall, MTV, WDIZ, algebra, World History, flamadiddles on the snare drum, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, Cheers and Night Court. There would be other concerts–The Who, Rush, the first Lollapalooza–but the concerts gave way to the shows, and there was a huge difference and I preferred the latter, and I still do.

To think about it now is to think about a time when so much was a foregone conclusion, something that wasn’t questioned. Watching hour after hour of television, for instance. The spectacle of it all. Superstars. Sex symbols. To really have no clear conception of a reality outside of high school and the suburb surrounding said high school. To think about it now, after decades of playing literally hundreds if not thousands of shows (and only two concerts), and how nothing is a foregone conclusion and I don’t have nostalgia for that sense of certainty, but I understand why people do.




My Life (In Book Blurb Form)

“A dazzling display…shocking…incandescent…Costello’s sheer mastery of checking IDs in a bar setting is truly a wonder to behold, and we as a society are the better for it.” –Rebecca Sharp-Sandoval, author of “Period Blood of the Eisenhower Administration: A Memoir”

“Oh happy day when Brian Costello finds a way to get out of bed and actually take a shower, brew coffee, walk his dog, and watch documentaries on North Korea on Netflix. Long-awaited and much-overdue, his is the kind of day like a warm blanket and hot cocoa in the winter time mixed with the rich tapestry of a multi-faceted summertime cocktail.”–Sadie Zmith, author of “Gosh, The 21st Century Sure is Rich with Sociocultural Complications!”

“Hellllooooooooo baaaaabay! Humina humina hotsie mamma! Big Bopper boppity doo dah day (morningnoonnightynight) comin’ atcha, this adjunct perfessah professionalizin’ the Scooby dooby yabba dabba doo is livin’ and lovin’ while trynta navimagate these tricky-dicky-sicky tymes!”–some 70’s rock critic loaded on Quaaludes

“An occasionally interesting and atypical all-too-typical portrait of the Grub Hub Generation.”–Farkus Reviews

“With two worst-selling novels under his belt, Brian K. Costello has proven himself to be an able and competent ID checker at two Chicago bars. While he proclaims grandiose ambitions–write a third novel, run a half-marathon, karaoke “I Can’t Drive 55,” the hit 1984 hit song by Samuel R. Hagar–the obvious question is if Mr. Costello has the drive and determination to actually follow through with his stated goals, or if he would rather simply hang out and drink.”–The Prospect Heights Review of Books

“While not laugh-out-loud, per se, if you were to somehow imagine Holden Caulfield going out on a Tinder date with Mrs. Dalloway that led to the birth of triplets named Kilgore Trout, Alexander Portnoy, and Lady Constance Chatterley…then you still would not get an understanding of the intimately disparate desperate disconnect in this somewhat compelling and arguably unforgettable existence.” –Carmela Kraft-Redenbacher, author of “My Totebag Runneth Over: Reflections on the Art of Artistry”

“Enchanting. A lepidopterist’s sun-dappled birch-treed fever dream.” –some dick who read too much Nabokov

“I have often wondered what it would be like to be a man who lives in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois in the year 2015. I never had the chance to explore this theme in my own novels–“The Elastic Colons of Springfield,” “The Magical Charcuterie of the Sedentary Bee Keeper,” and “Alejandro’s Calamitous Journey to East Moline”–nor have I had the opportunity to explore this theme in my short fiction that has been published in the journals “Apple Sauce Quarterly,” “Peppercorn Thistlequeef,” “Bubbleforest Trailmix,” and “Scuttlebutter,”–but in this collection of days, nights, and even early afternoons, I feel as light as a feather and as free as Canadian Geese on the wing in those melancholy autumnal twilights where all one can do is simply sigh and say, “Thank you.” –H. Lloyd Blanckenship-Meadowlark, Shmerdlap-Nominated Author

“Fuck shit fuck tits ass sex condoms fuck sex dating casual sex ass tits boobs–vajayjay!–swearing swearing swearing hey look I’m yelling and swearing isn’t this so great look at meeeeee meeeee meeeee!”–some Chicago performance-writer-essayist-whathaveyou

“Two thumbs up. Not way up, but up enough?”–Siskel and Ebert from beyond the grave (via magic 8-ball)

A Brief Excerpt from the Work Journal of George Tinder:

Fall 2011

“I want to create something like OK Cupid, only shittier, and by that I mean this: What if there was a phone app that made dating in in the 21st Century an even more horribly awkward experience than it already is? How can we make people even more cynical and jaded and depressed than they are already? How can I create yet another way for men to send pictures of their penises to total strangers? I know I’m just spitballing ideas here, but what if this was an app where women could post pictures of themselves binge-drunk while wearing green Blackhawks jerseys, an app where they can quote their favorite excerpt of “Eat, Pray, Love?” The kind of app where hope goes to die? A place where people looking for long-term relationships can meet people looking to, as the kids say, ‘hook up’? God, I love crystal meth. It’s how I get all my great ideas.”

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.


the last hot tub sesh

is bittersweet and all but

I got shit to do