Thursday, May 29, 2008

Animals Don't Wear Underpants.

Yesterday, on my relatives’ suggestion, I visited Milledgeville, Georgia, where Flannery O’Connor is buried. There’s a large institution named Central State Hospital there, and they thought it would be an interesting photographic opportunity for me.

I spent about two hours walking around, taking pictures of the old brick buildings (posted on my Facebook page soon). Most of the buildings are abandoned now, and in many, almost every single window has been smashed or cracked. I would’ve loved to get inside some of the buildings and take pictures, but there were hundreds of No Trespassing signs which indicated that the buildings were no longer safe. Normally these sings wouldn’t stop me, as evidenced from my Massachusetts institution road trip (photos posted on Flickr and Facebook), but the last thing I need is to get arrested in Georgia for trespassing. I’m not even sure I was allowed to take pictures of the exteriors. At the Monson Developmental Center in Massachusetts we were nearly kicked off for walking through the campus. The security guard on duty told us we couldn’t take any pictures, not even of the “foilage.” But we managed to snap a few when she wasn’t looking.

Satisfied that I’d snapped enough Milledgeville photos, I made my way back to the van and arrived at it just as the sky opened up and started pouring.

I pulled in to the Red Top Mountain campgrounds at about 7:30 p.m. and set up my tent. I’m staying there the entire weekend and plan on doing some hiking when I’m not exploring Georgia’s cities. From the quick look around I took, the area near the camp site looks beautiful. Hopefully the weather clears up a bit. It poured for much of my first night Georgia—it has rained every single night of this road trip except for the nights I’ve spent in the houses and apartments of friends and family.

One good thing about last night, my friend called to give me the play-by-play of the last few minutes of the Celtics game. Her commentating needs some work (At one point in the last 30 seconds or so, she exclaimed, “Oh my God! He’s taking foul things!” And she also went on a short rant about how attractive Rajon Rondo is, something most sportscasters don’t do.), but she conveyed the crucial information and the Celtics won, so I was happy.

My thoughts on the East Coast (kinda)—because I know you’ve been dying to hear them.

First of all, the tiny woman inside my Garmin adopted a very slight southern accent as soon as we crossed into Georgia. She says, “Georgia 22” with a whimsical lilt. And due to the large amount of alone time we spend together, I’ve developed a slight crush on the tiny woman who lives inside my Garmin.

Second of all (and the rest of the alls), I’d like to make a note about my picture taking thus far. Those of you who’ve been checking the photos I’ve posted on Facebook or Flickr (and the Facebook pictures are much more numerous because Flickr imposes a limit on how many photos a person can post at any one time) might be noticing a sort of trend. Although the vast majority of the traveling I’ve done has been through more rural and bucolic settings, the vast majority of my photos are of urban landscapes and the downtowns of big cities. This is intentional. I don’t really feel the need to photograph the woods or the farms. I can’t defend this position well, but I can say that it’s partially due to the fact that woods and farms are harder to photograph. With no man-made structures around, my photographs of woods just look kind of green and boring. I’m not sure if this is due to my camera or my lack of skill with taking pictures (and I have almost no picture taking skill, I know), but either way, I’m not too sad about it. Contrasted with wilderness and farms, cities seem somehow much more ephemeral or mercurial to me.

On my way to the campground, I repeatedly took wrong turns (according to my Garmin) in favor of traveling roads that seemed more scenic. I have to say (and please keep in mind that my experiences in each state are very quick and limited) that Georgia has been the most pleasurable and scenic state to drive through so far. The soil is actually the color of peaches here, and I wonder if this is why peaches grow so well in Georgia. The soil is much browner in South Carolina, and maybe that’s why tobacco grows so well there. Not a day goes by that I don’t put my biology degree to good use.

I do have to mention that I passed by some real photographic gems in the rural parts of Georgia. I passed by a little store with a sign that read “Cuntry Store.” Then there was another sign for Tax Attorney/BBQ. I didn’t stop to photograph them. They’re too funny to be real. They must be traps for liberal arts boys from the North who are either trying to find themselves or rekindle the spirit of the sixties on the open road.

I’d also like to say that the East Coast, despite its population and the misleading night pictures from space, is so covered in trees that one gets a sense of encroaching and almost suffocating wilderness while driving down it.

I believe in global warming, but I just can’t seem to get myself worried about it . . . and I’ve tried. Animals and plants will continue coming up with ways of adapting to catastrophic global events (both those caused by us and the other varieties that’ve been happening forever) long after we’ve run out of fossil fuels. I believe in nature, that’s why I studied it.

And by the way, when did we stop being part of nature? Why is everything we create unnatural? Last time I checked, we do like the mammal do—or at least, those of us who were smart enough to bring a girl along on our road trips do.

Believe you me, if a magnolia had the ability to bite off and swallow your nose when you stuck your ugly face in to smell it, IT WOULD!

I drove past two dead dogs on the side of a Georgia highway yesterday. One of them, a Beagle, might’ve been hit by a car, but the other, a St. Bernard, was obviously dumped. That section of the road was flanked by Jersey barriers.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Good Times Are Killing Me

I’m in Columbia, South Carolina. This is the farthest south I have ever been. Well, it’s the farthest south I’ve ever been if you don’t count Disney World—and you really shouldn’t count Disney World.

On Saturday morning, I woke up very early (especially considering how late we stayed out in Baltimore on Friday night going to plays and experimental films) and drove to Raleigh, North Carolina for my reading at the Cameron Village Regional Library.

A good size crowd showed up to the reading and it went very well. The librarian seemed pleasantly surprised that anyone showed up. It was Memorial Day weekend after all.

After the reading I drove to Charlotte. So it was a lot of driving on very little sleep in the previous two days. I arrived at my friend Heide’s house at about 7:30 p.m. After five minutes of hellos and things (Heide and I hadn’t seen each other in over a year) we left for a party her husband’s coworkers were having. We brought her Great Dane and Bassett Hound with us. The Great Dane wasn’t happy about my presence in the car. He kept staring at me and growling in my ear from where he sat in the backseat.

On the way we stopped at a grocery store to get a case of beer. While waiting in line to pay, I told the old man in front of us that he’d forgotten to take the sticker off the back of his pants. He wore 34x34 pants.

He bent down to check and was pretty pissed when he saw that I was correct, he did indeed have a sticker on his pants.

“Damn!” he said. “I’ve been walking around with this sticker on my pants for two weeks and no one told me?”

After peeling it off and looking at the sticker more closely, he kind of half-yelled, “Maybe my goddamn daughters will buy me the right size pants for Christmas this year. Every year I have to return the pants they buy for me. They ought to know my size now—I’m sure they’ve all been laughing about this sticker for the last two weeks.”

At the party, Heide suggested we play beer pong. I hadn’t played since college, but thought it might be a good way to get to know people. We set up the table and divided into teams. Heide and I were on the same team. We won the first few games and people began referring to us as the Yankees (Heide is also from Massachusetts). I wasn’t really happy about being placed in this group, but went along with it.

Before long, jokes that I don’t feel comfortable repeating were being slung back and forth between various northerners and southerners at the party. Among the more mild jokes, there were threats to draw a Mason-Dixon line across the center of the table and I was accused of voting for Barack Obama.

After a while of this, people got tired of the kind of jokes that I consider dangerous and moved into the territory of good-natured stereotyping. This was an area in which I felt comfortable slinging a few barbs.

As the girl across the table cocked her arm to throw, I asked if I could pinch a pinch of her Skoal when she was done missing. This joke was poor judgment on my part.

Suddenly there was a bottle cocked in her arm instead of a ping pong ball. And I found myself wondering, if she did throw it, whether I should duck or try and catch it to save the sliding glass door behind me. I decided I’d duck. It was getting pretty dark.

She never did throw the bottle, and she finally did accept my apology, but that was the first and last joke I made that night.

On Sunday, after saying my goodbyes to Heide, I set up camp at Sesquicentennial State park in South Carolina. I went to sleep at 5:30 in the afternoon. I was tired and my throat was pretty sore. Heide and I hadn’t had much to drink the night before, but we’d stayed up ‘til 4:00 a.m., talking and watching Roseanne.

I woke up in the middle of the night with a very bad sore throat and decided to see a doctor in the morning as soon as the park gates opened at 7:00. I drank some NyQuil and went back to bed.

At 7:10 I left the park and headed to the doctor. I was erring on the side of caution. I haven’t seen a doctor since college for my annual track physicals, and I haven’t been sick in even more years. If I was at home, I would’ve waited to see how the sore throat developed, but being on the road, I didn’t want to get stuck in some campground with strep throat.

The doctor gave me a prescription for an antibiotic and told me I should’ve brought an antibiotic with me on such a crazy trip. I told him I didn’t know that a person who’s not a doctor could easily obtain a pre-illness antibiotic. He just nodded, signed the form, and left.

That afternoon, I met up with some family I have in Columbia, a married couple. We toured the downtown area and the state house and many monuments, most of which are related to the Civil War. The woman, originally from South Carolina, explained all these things with what I thought was a good mix of humor, skepticism, and thoughtfulness. We saw where Sherman’s cannon balls hit the state house, leaving cracks and broken chunks of granite. Each place that was struck is designated with a star.

That night we went to Maurice’s BBQ, where racially charged literature is sold alongside mustard based sauce. I was surprised to see black people working there. The husband, a teacher, explained that his students think Maurice is an asshole, but they also recognize that Maurice’s pays some of the best wages around.

I ended up staying over at their house for two nights and had a great time discussing South Carolina and Georgia issues (including local politicians, race issues, Gullah Gullah Island, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) while watching their dog catch Cheerios.

On my second day there, I did all the laundry I had and mailed a bunch of packages I’d been meaning to take care of for a long time.

That night at dinner, we discussed Stephen King’s writing and a number of random films, from The World According to Garp (I just saw John Irving speak a couple months ago) to John Cassavetes and A Child is Waiting. We also talked about school children and standardized testing, something I’ve become much more interested in lately.

Of particular interest to me, was the issue of whether children tend to stay in the academic groups they are placed in during first grade because the teachers are so good at putting kids into groups or because people have a tendency not to break out of the group into which they’ve been placed. We came to no definitive conclusion.

I was sad to leave, but it was time to get back on the road.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Tambourines and Elephants . . .

The Baltimore reading at the 1818 gallery went ridiculously well. Tons of people showed up, tons of beers were drunk, and tons of books were sold. Thank you Adam for setting it up.

I was the last of eight authors to read. Here’s the list with links to their stuff:

Blake Butler

Joseph Young

Jen Michalski

Chris Toll

Stephanie Barber

Ric Royer

Andy Divine

It was one of those nights that can trick a person into thinking the things they do actually matter.

Baltimore was such a good time that I decided to stay in town through Friday night. I wandered around the city all day on Friday, repeatedly getting lost and finding myself again.

On Friday night a group of us went to see two really sexy plays by Theresa Columbus.

The only bad part of Baltimore was the paintings in the lobby outside the theater. They were good, but all the men’s penises were huge. Adam and I stood staring at them for a few minutes while waiting for the rest of our group to exit the theater. The sense of inadequacy we both felt was palpable.

I had a reading in Raleigh on Saturday. I’ll be posting a post about that Tuesday evening because I’ve recently learned that blog traffic goes way down on the weekends when people aren’t looking for things to distract them from their office jobs.

Way to go, America’s workforce . . . way to go. Keep that productivity low.

Friday, May 23, 2008

It's Like at the Circus . . .

(I didn't have internet access when this was written, so it's a day late.)

First off I’d like to discuss a reprioritization issue. This will probably only be of interest to those of you who are curious about self-publishing. For the rest of you, sorry if this is super boring. You can skip to the next break in paragraphs if you want.

A few blog entries ago, I stated that one of my goals was to get DMR into one bookstore in every city on my itinerary. I’ve decided to change this goal somewhat.

I spent most of yesterday (Wednesday) driving around DC looking for bookstores that sell on consignment. After going to the five or six on my list (which took hours and put many rough miles on my old van), I discovered that none of them sell books on consignment. Two of them said they used to sell books on consignment, but no longer. And all the bookstores I went to seemed very weary of independent publishing. I haven’t encountered this in any of the other cities thus far, and I’m not sure what it means that Washington DC is tired of independent publishing.

You might be thinking that I could call ahead or e-mail, but I’ve had no luck with this in the past. I’ve made appointments with bookstore managers in far-off towns and cities only to get there and be told the manager went home early that day. Also, sometimes the person on the phone says they sell books on consignment, but then when I get there, another person informs me that they don’t. Or sometimes they want to see the book first, and then when I get there, for whatever reason, they don’t like the book (for example, one time a dude skimmed through the book and found too many swears for his store). I’ve had the best luck wandering around and making random inquiries at all variety of bookstore. So I’ll stick with this method for now—wrong or not.

When I see a store, I’ll ask and hope for the best, but I’m not going to let it eat up my whole day again. This trip isn’t just about getting DMR into stores—it’s not even mainly about that. This trip is about doing some book promotion, seeing the country, and doing research for a third book.

I will miss some aspects of wandering from store to store. It’s a good way to get a sense of the entire city, including the more run-down sections. I’ve been to a lot of these sections as a result of my getting lost while searching for bookstores, but I haven’t gotten out of my van to take any pictures.

That being said, I just got the book into a terribly awesome store in Baltimore, Clayton Fine Books.

Cities on the East Coast are too close together. I hop in my van, preparing for a long drive full of new sights and weird isolated thoughts, and I arrive in the next city 30 minutes later. The van seems to do better with long highway driving. It shimmies and acts grumpy after a day full of downtown driving (another reason for my reprioritizing bookstores).

DC was interesting.

I wrote yesterday’s blog entry from a Starbucks in the Northwest section of the city (I think). Although my computer’s battery wasn’t full, I had to sit outside. Starbucks really is on every corner in DC, and all of them are full of bloggers.

The woman sitting at the table next to me, who was reading a magazine and absent-mindedly petting her dog, sneezed. She gave me a dirty look when I told god to bless her. Later on, her dog wandered over and put his head on my knee. I stroked his ear until she noticed what was taking place. The woman jerked her dog’s leash so hard that he nearly fell over, and then she got up to leave. I felt bad for the dog. He was very old. His golden retriever hair had gone white all around his face.

I should say that my characterizations of places are not to be taken too seriously. I’m only in most places for less than a day and any judgments I make or qualities I notice are sure to be wrong—but I think this kind of goes without saying, and the fact that I’m probably wrong or missing 99% of the picture will not stop me from making such judgments or listing such qualities.

Aside from the tourists, and there were lots of them, people seem to smoke and drink more in DC. I felt as though I had stumbled onto the set of The Secret of My Success (I WISH!). The bars I walked past were full, even at two in the afternoon. And all the people I saw smoking were wearing business suits. None of them seemed ashamed to be smoking in public. In other cities, the people in business suits who haven’t caught on to the whole frighteningly popular anti-smoking campaign, seem ashamed to be smoking and kind of huddle next to the base of their respective skyscrapers. In DC, large men and women in powerful suits strut about while they smoke. Even in Pennsylvania, where it’s still legal to smoke inside bars (gasp!), the people in suits seem ashamed of their inability to quit cigarettes.

I wandered around for a while, looking at the buildings and monuments. But this sort of thing gets tiresome very quickly. I’m on a 14-week vacation, and just like a normal vacation, I find myself getting tired early in the day. The having to worry about what to eat, where to sleep, how to get places, how much to spend, and where I parked, really wears me out.

At some point in the afternoon I wandered into Harry’s Bar where tons of dudes of all ages and styles of dress, each with their own pitchers, were watching European soccer—Manchester United versus Chelsea (I think).

I sat at the bar and ordered a Yuengling (America’s oldest brewery I guess) and a burger. I sat there for a while after finishing the massive, kinda bloody burger and started getting into the soccer match. I happened to be sitting next to the only other guy in the bar who was flying solo. The man had a Spanish accent (I think he was Puerto Rican) and was wearing a very nice business suit. He was drinking Cape Codders at a furious rate, but looked sort of nervous and out of place despite this.

We watched as the ball was crossed in front of the net and a shot just barely sailed over the crossbar. I threw up my arms and groaned loudly. The Puerto Rican guy turned to me with a smile and asked which team was which. I suddenly understood why he looked out of place. He was the only guy, besides me, who wasn’t there for the soccer match.

I smiled back and opened my mouth to answer. It was then that I realized I had no idea which team was which. Why had I reacted so strongly to the missed shot? What the hell did I care?

My smile faded as I admitted that I didn’t know which team was which. He kind of half smiled and returned to his drinks. He was at least a tad disgusted with me. I’d been faking to fit in, something he could’ve done just as easily.

I filmed myself in front of the Washington Memorial and made my way back to the campsite.

I got up pretty late this morning and drove to Baltimore. I met my friend Adam outside of his building, the tallest in Baltimore, and we had lunch at the world famous Lexington Market. I had a pulled pork sandwich dripping with barbecue sauce and sides of collard greens and macaroni. While sitting there talking about our publishing efforts (Adam’s site:, a friend of Adam’s walked by. After hearing about my road trip, he told me he once walked from Baltimore to St. Louis. I had no response to this.

I’m currently sitting in a bar across the street from the bookstore that accepted DMR. As soon as I got here I went to the bathroom. I put my backpack and computer bag down next to the urinal, swung my fanny pack around to my hip, and stepped up to do what I’d come in to do. Another guy came in and stood right next to me. He looked down at my fanny pack (I hope that’s what he was looking at) and asked if I was backpacking across county. I said that I was, kinda, and began filling him in on the exact details. After washing his hands he reached out to shake mine. I looked at the sink to hint that I hadn’t washed my hands yet, but he left his hand hanging out there, so I shook it. I couldn’t leave him hanging.

I think bathroom handshakes mean more.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Don't Look Down!

I’m going to try and catch up here.

On Sunday night, after the Celtics game, I took a shower in the camp latrine. The latrine there is open air, and it was a pretty chilly night (my breath was showing) so I did a lot of hopping in and out of the stream of water while lathering.

On Monday I went back into Philly to hit up bookstores and make the first YouTube broadcast. I got up early and filmed myself on top of the steps of the Philadelphia art museum. It’s a very stiff and useless little video clip, but they’ll get better. I had to get the first one out of the way. The fact that there were spandex covered joggers stretching and putting themselves in really disgusting positions right next to me didn’t help. They were all staring at me while they contorted themselves.

The University of Pennsylvania (I think) was having some sort of graduation thing and traffic was incredibly awful all morning. Traveling from bookstore to bookstore was very difficult. The first two bookstores I went to didn’t sell on consignment, but the third, Robin’s Books, did. So the book is now available in Philly.

Monday was a little less exciting than Sunday. I didn’t find any festivals and there were no children’s book characters to wipe mustard on, but I did get to see some more residential parts of Philly, and they really reminded me of parts of Boston. The streets are ridiculously narrow and seem more suited for horses than SUVs.

On Monday night I drove to my campsite in Maryland, about 40 minutes outside of DC. I’ll be staying there for three nights while I visit Delaware, Maryland, and Washington DC.

It started pouring at about 3 a.m. on Monday night. At four I decided to vacate the tent. It was still dry, but I knew it was going to start getting wet soon since my tent sat at the bottom of a hill (no other option). I’d brought my computer and all my other electronic stuff into the tent with me and I didn’t want to risk them getting wet. So I packed all my stuff in the van and drove to the nearest coffee shop I could find, which was about 25 minutes away.

Still in my pajamas and slippers, I ordered a medium coffee and sat down to answer some e-mails (I think I’ve secured a Milwaukee reading which is very good).

When the rain let up, I went back to the campground to assess the damage to my tent. It was damp inside, but nothing that a couple hours of airing out wouldn’t fix.

I stripped down to my shorts and made my way to the showers. Before getting in, I entered one of the bathroom stalls. My right hand brushed up against the stall wall and smeared through something sticky. Without looking down, I knew what it was. Someone had left a long smeared streak of crap on the wall. This trip is living up to its name more and more as the days pass.

I decided to skip going to the bathroom and hopped in the shower. The water was warm, so I stayed in there a long time. I hadn’t had a good shower in a few days.

I drove to Dover and Lewes Delaware. Dover is incredibly small. None of the buildings are over a few stories tall and it felt like I was visiting a Historic Deerfield rather than a state capital.

In Lewes I had lunch at a bookstore/coffeeshop. I was the youngest person in there by about 20 years. They gave me a number for my table, so they’d know where to bring the food. And although there were only about eight tables in there, my number was somewhere in the thirties.

I was going to ask if they’d consider selling DMR, but their featured title, the one that they displayed most prominently in the middle of the tallest shelf, was a Kathie Lee Gifford Christmas book, so I decided not to ask about mine.

From there I went to Annapolis on a whim. I liked it a lot and wished I’d gone there earlier in the day. I didn’t feel self-conscious about my fanny pack at all in Annapolis. Everyone there is dressed for a Village People Video.

Last night I slept in the same campsite. My tent was relatively dry and it hasn’t rained at all since yesterday.

I’m in DC right now, about to go to some bookstores and inquire as to whether they sell books on consignment. Tonight I’ll be spending my last night in the Maryland campsite. Tomorrow I’ll be heading into Baltimore for a reading at the 1818 gallery.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

You Don't Need No Wax Job, You're Smooth Enough for Me.

Count so far: 4 live deer, 3 dead deer, 1 dead fox, 674 dead snipes. I saw all three dead deer before I saw the first live one.

I woke up late on Sunday and headed into Philadelphia thinking the city would be relatively quiet and parking easy to find. My plan was to spend most of the day in the art museum and wait until Monday to hit up the bookstores.

I got into Philly at about 10:30 and couldn’t find parking within like 20 blocks of the museum. I found a spot in some residential neighborhood near an elementary school, and after leaving the van and walking towards the museum, I realized I’d neglected to make mental note of the van’s location (more on this later).

The library was having a book fair and the streets all around it were congested with children, performers, and book vendors (the pic of me with toot from the last blog came from this festival).

In addition to the book fair, there was a pro-Israel festival and parade going on in the area directly in front of the museum. A large section of the downtown was blocked off because of this, and all the parking spots on those streets were unavailable.

So the city was very busy, which was a good thing.

I walked through both festival crowds, making sure to grab food in both places (I think I got hot dog mustard on Toot’s back), and stopped at the bottom of the steps leading up to the museum. I was considering doing the whole Rocky thing, but as I stood there deliberating, three coach buses behind me unloaded about 250 elementary school kids. Every single one of those kids blew past me, ran up the steps to the top, and jumped up and down with their arms held high in the air. When I saw how stupid they looked I decided not to follow suit, even though (despite the extra weight of my fanny pack) I coulda smoked all those ten year olds (except maybe for one sporting a Kahloesque moustache who looked like he’d been held back a couple times).

I walked up the steps like an adult and got in line for the museum. After waiting for about 30 seconds I decided against visiting the museum. The place was swarming with thousands of children, and the line, if stretched out, was about a football field long. I wandered back out into the streets and took some more pictures of the parade and festivals and downtown area. Much of Philadelphia is very similar to Boston—by design I’ve been told.

The Philadelphia library is pretty incredible. The inside is beautiful, their author lineup is packed with huge talents, and the outer doors are automatic . . . just like Wal-Mart!

After hours and hours of wandering around Philly, trying my best to avoid dwelling on the fact that I didn’t know where my wheels were, it was time to go. My feet weren’t accustomed to the work boots I was wearing. I hadn’t worn them since last summer at the farm and all the Philadelphia walking had given me a couple sizeable blisters.

I trudged up a hill in the general direction of my car, knowing I might be in for a very long search. I tried as best I could to retrace my steps, but there weren’t many landmarks in the area I’d parked. As I reached the top of the hill, I took a right to begin zigzagging my way back down, but as I neared the end of the side street, the sunshine reflecting off the lettering on the rear windshield of my Odyssey caught my eye. I’ve never been so happy to see that ugly white beast.

I took off my fanny pack and climbed in, determined to find a bar in which to watch the second half of the Celtics game—game seven of their series with Cleveland. The three or four bars I found in Philly were playing a Philadelphia hockey game on one television and a Philadelphia baseball game on the other (if they even had two televisions), so I gave up and decided to head back to the campsite. I’d have to read about the Celtics game the next day.

Just outside of Philadelphia I saw a large bar and decided to give the Celtics game one more shot. I parked the van, strapped on my fanny pack, and walked in. The place had about eight televisions. The Celtics weren’t playing on any of them.

The guy greeting people at the door noticed me surveying the televisions and asked me what I wanted to see. I told him the Celtics and he changed the channel on the television right over the bar. Then he turned down the volume on the other televisions and turned up the volume on the Celtics game. The fourth quarter had already started, Celtics up. I thanked the man profusely and told him about my arduous search for the game.

The bartender, a cute youngish woman, approached me as I sat down.

“I’m sorry in advance,” I said. “I know this is pointless, and I always make fun of people who order them, but what kinds of non-alcoholic beer do you have? I have a bit of a drive ahead of me.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said with a kind smile. “You’re being responsible. I admire that.”

She listed off three varieties of non-alcoholic beer. I’d never heard of any of them.

“Have you tried them?” I asked.

“FUCK NO!” She said, laughing. “There’s a reason I work here, honey. I’m an alcoholic. Why waste the calories?”

I picked a beer at random and she brought it over.

“I like every kind of alcohol,” she said, “except for gin. That’s how I know I’m not a true alcoholic.”

She hung around my end of the bar while I watched the Celtics and drank my big boy soda. While I watched Pierce drain a number of difficult shots, she told me about the boyfriend who’d just dumped her. She told me about the unbelievable love letters he’d written her, and how they didn’t matter since they were nothing but lies.

“He just called me up one day and said that everything he’d ever told me was a lie. As you can probably tell, I don’t handle breakups too well.”

“You handle it better than some,” I said, as I watched Lebron screw up a jump-ball play.

I liked talking to her. I hadn’t really spoken more than three words to anyone all day. And although I wasn’t that interested in her ex-boyfriend, and she wasn’t that interested in the Celtics, we got along well.

As the Celtics won, she told me how she’d once mistakenly referred to the Clemson basketball team as the Clementines.

I told her it was an understandable mistake because they’re both orange.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

When There's No Destination . . .

Early Saturday morning I left for Newark, New Jersey with my new computer and a few other things I’d forgotten to bring with the first time around.

A note: My choice of cities might seem ludicrous to some (e.g. Newark), but I picked these cities by looking at a map and choosing the largest dots that weren’t too far out of the way of my general route. I know nothing about any cities besides a few in the Northeast, hence this trip.

I wandered around Newark for a while, but leaving my van unattended didn’t seem like the best idea in the world and all the bookstores I went to were either closed or weirdly religious and full of incense, so I didn’t stay long. I did get a bunch of pictures of the buildings and parks in the downtown area, and I was there long enough to get made fun of for wearing a fanny pack.

Another note: I’m developing Fanny Pack Wearer’s Rage (yeah, it’s real, look it up). So what if I wear a fanny pack? Does every single person I walk by have to snicker at it? And just so you know, it’s the kind of fanny pack with two Nalgene bottles attached on either side, so, extra cool. You should also know that I wear my fanny pack in the front, just to prevent against fanny theft. Fanny packs are great inventions, and the fact that they’re made fun of really bothers me. How else am I supposed to drag around all the stuff I have to carry? That’s all for now, kinda.

I left Newark and headed toward Pennsylvania. At the midway point I stopped at a Starbucks off the highway to check my e-mail and things. As I walked in, I noticed the barista staring at my fanny (fronty) pack and smirking. As I approached, I caught his eyes with mine, and nodded down towards my fanny pack, as if to ask, “Do you have a problem with my fanny pack?” He got my meaning immediately and tried to play it off as though he had been admiring my fanny pack.

“Going hiking?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m going hiking.” My mood carried over into my tone. It was the tone of someone willing to jump over the counter and defend the honor of his fanny pack.

“Where are you going?”

“I don’t know,” I said, with the same level of hostility.

It was obvious that he was getting nervous now. “That’s the way to do it,” he stammered. “Just kinda head out in some direction.”

From there I drove toward my campsite in French Creek State Park in Elverson, PA. Twenty minutes before the campsite, I stopped at a restaurant labeled: Diner. It was only about 3:30 so the place was pretty deserted. Despite the emptiness of the place, there were about seven waitresses on, each more buxom than the last. All of them served me and I couldn’t figure out which one was my waitress. I must’ve had about ten cups of coffee. Every time I took a sip, one of the young women would come over and top it off. It was very difficult to regulate the amount of cream to add. The cold meatloaf sandwich was very good, and the conversation I had with one of the waitresses about whether or not the Brady Bunch theme song belongs on the radio was very entertaining.

After eating and tipping heavily, I drove to the campsite and set up my tent for the first time. It’s a small simple tent and only took a couple minutes to assemble. I built a small cooking fire, heated some soup, read the second half of Travels With Charley, and slept well despite the rain pounding on my tent.

I wish I had a dog with me—not some uppity French gentleman dog, though.

BTW, no one in the campsite looked twice at my fanny pack. They all wear the same exact thing. It’s really hard not to snicker at them.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Is it the "whip appeal," or my Babyface?

While waiting for the state police to show up on Tuesday, I read the first half of Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck. I attempted to read it one year in college, but didn’t like it much at the time. This time around I’m finding a lot more to like about it. This passage at the beginning of Section One struck me as particularly relevant.

“In this a journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand it.”

I woke up at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, in the back of my van, in a parking lot of a McDonald’s on the side of 95S in Connecticut. I didn’t sleep well, but not because the van was uncomfortable. After I figured out that I had to sleep with my head rather than my feet elevated (I woke up in the middle of the night with a stuffy nose and swollen throat), I was quite cozy. The constant sounds of shutting doors, footsteps, and the shadows of men lurking near the van, however, made my sleep rather erratic and fitful. I had anticipated this. Rest stops aren’t known for their safety or privacy late at night. But I really wanted to try it out on the first night, just in case there are other nights along this trip when it’s my only option. I really hope I don’t have to resort to this, though, and have since reserved tent sites for the entire length of the east coast.

For breakfast, I lived every ten-year old’s dream and had Chef Boyardee Ravioli with a side of cookies. After rearranging the back of my van and cleaning myself up a little in the bathroom, I headed for New Haven. I arrived in downtown New Haven a half hour later and was suddenly overcome with a sinking feeling. I knew I’d forgotten something. I turned my head to look over the back of the van and realized what it was. My computer bag was missing. I turned the van around and headed back to the rest area. As I drove, I reconstructed the events of the night in my head. After using my computer inside the McDonald’s, I walked outside at around 10:30 p.m. I opened the back door to the van and placed my computer on the pavement. I moved all the boxes over to make room for me to sleep, shut the door, and never picked the computer off the ground. I’m a very absent-minded person, but this was a dumb move, even for me. On the bright side, I'd backed up the entire hard drive the day before, so I knew I didn't lose any important information.

When I got back to the rest stop, I went into the McDonald’s and gas station to ask if anyone had turned in a computer. No one had. I called the state police and told them everything that had happened. The operator said he’d send someone over to talk to me. They would call when someone arrived.

I went inside to call all my credit card and bank people. I cancelled all the cards just to be safe and called my dad to change all my internet passwords. And then I started reading Steinbeck, where the first few pages made me feel better to some extent.

After waiting three or four hours for the police, I left and drove to New Haven. They never called, so I assume they never showed up. I don’t know why they had to meet me in person anyway. It wasn’t a very important crime (I practically thrust the computer upon the thief) and I gave the police all the description they’d need over the phone.

I talked to my sister on the ride, on my Bluetooth, since hand-held phones are illegal while driving in Connecticut. I asked her if she was surprised and she said no, not at all. In fact, she expected something like this to happen. I am, after all, the person who had to sift through the kitchen trash every couple weeks while I was in high school, every time my parents found a paper plate in the sink. A paper plate in the sink indicated that I’d mixed up my hands again—the silverware had been thrown into the trash and the paper plate had been thrown into the sink.

A few of my friends called to check in on me and I told them the news. They all laughed, with good reason, but they also expressed their concern and pity. A friend who was working at the farm where I’ve worked for years told our boss. Without my knowing, he set up a Trasky fund to help me pay for a new computer—embarrassing, but nice.

My dad and I discussed getting a new computer. There’s no way I can do this trip without one. While we discussed the bare minimum features I’d be needing, I got word from the supervisor at my previous job in Boston (they’d heard about my dilemma from my sister) that the company was going to give me one of their old laptops.

When I called to inform my friend at the farm she told me about the Trasky fund. I told her there was no need to collect any more money. With the 40 dollars they’d collected, they bought me a pair of new jeans that they gave to me yesterday. Apparently they were horrified when they read in one of my previous blogs that I had only one pair with me.

My mother’s cousin and his wife, who’ve been battling Glioblastoma Mulitiforme since he was diagnosed in ~2004, called to say they’d take me out to dinner after the reading. They also felt sorry for me. I had been planning on staying at their house for the night but decided I had to go back to Brockton a day early to begin taking care of the mess I’d gotten myself into.

After successfully getting DMR into Labyrinth Books near Yale, and taking pictures all over New Haven, I took a nap in the sun, on the green in front of the library. When I woke up in the shade of a tree that was now blocking the sun, I saw a man who looked to be about forty years old bent over, clutching at his chest. I got up and jogged over to ask if he was ok. He slowly stood up and said that he was ok. Then he said, “I have a couple slipped discs or something and I have to stop whatever I’m doing once in a while. But thanks for asking, most people don’t give a shit.”

All I said was, “Yeah, I know.” And before the words were even out of my mouth I regretted not speaking up and correcting him.

The reading at the New Haven library went well. The audience was both encouraging and insightful.

After having dinner, I drove back to Brockton.

Last night I went to Dave Daniel’s reading at the Weymouth Public Library for Reunion, his latest novel. The audience really enjoyed the reading and he ran out of books to sell.

I’ll be in Brockton until Saturday when I’ll leave very early in the morning and head to Pennsylvania. I have to wait for a few replacement cables to be delivered on Friday.

Monday, May 12, 2008

There is a road, no simple highway . . .

Today is day one of the road trip – Providence, Rhode Island.

I’m sitting in Blue State Coffee on Thayer Street, charging my ipod, phone, camera, and computer. I’ll be stealing power and internet often in the next few months.

When I last spent some time in Providence, I caught scabies while trying on overpriced retro jeans at a used clothing store on this same street—and that wasn’t even the worst part of the visit.

As far as I can tell, not much seems to have changed on Thayer street. The RISD girls’ pants are a little tighter, to the point of looking painted on, but that’s about the only difference I can see.

In the last couple weeks I’ve been trying to hang out with all my friends, and get copies of the book into stores around Brockton. DMR is now being sold in a few stores south of Boston. There’s a full list of them on One Tiny Pizza Publishing’s Web site. My Web designer (my little sister) will be updating the list every few days.

I didn’t get a chance to see all my friends and I’m not quite as prepared for this trip as I wish I was, but hopefully things will work out and I don’t catch scabies. It was nice to see the friends I was able to meet up with, and all of them were pretty positive about the road trip (one even baked me cookies!). Everyone is full of advice, and I’ve been trying to follow some of the better-sounding recommendations, but for the most part, I think I have to kinda figure this thing out on my own.

This morning, after buying a few last minute necessities, we began packing the van and didn’t finish until well into the afternoon. I left my house a few hours later than I’d planned, but it’s very difficult to pack a minivan (it seems important to stress the mini here) even if your press manager (my friend Allie) is like the best vehicle packer in the world. In addition to helping me pack, she repaired two holes in the ass of my jeans (the only jeans I’m bringing), and she agreed to send out a bunch of packages for me. I told her to make sure and take the packages, with copies of DMR inside, to the post office because they weigh over 13 ounces and can’t just be dropped into a mailbox even though they’re prepaid. It’s really gratifying to write a book that’s heavy enough to be considered a bomb threat.

After arriving here in Providence, the first bookstore I went to, Ada Books on Dean St., agreed to carry DMR. I’m happy to have the book in such a cozy and friendly store.

My goal is to get one bookstore in every city to carry the book, so my work was done early despite my late arrival. Since then, I’ve just been wandering around, checking out stores, and not spending any money because I don’t trust my budgeting skills.

I’ll be sleeping in the van tonight. It’s getting too late and windy to set up camp. Hopefully the curtains my friends and I fashioned out of sheets and Velcro will work well. I really don’t want people peeking in on me. And just in case, for protection, I have a baseball bat, a few knives, and a can of bear mace that will hopefully stop even the fattest and furriest would-be assailant.

In two days I’ll be backtracking north to Weymouth, MA (very close to Brockton) to attend a book release party for Dave Daniel, one of the writers in the writing group I belong to that meets in upstate New York every summer. His new book is called Reunion, and I’m looking forward to reading it. After that, I’ll be driving straight down the East Coast, one city at a time. So these next two days are kind of a dry run for me. I’ll be able to test out sleeping in the van and then have the option of going back home to grab anything I’ve forgotten. After that, this trip will probably feel a lot more daunting than it does right now.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

People who need people . . .

About 75 people showed up to last night's book release. 50 books were sold and signed.

Thank you to Greg and Gina for all your help, and I'm sorry I forgot to thank you publicly last night. I should've also thanked my dad, who reminded me that I'd forgotten to thank anyone. He's read DMR many too many times.

Thank you also to Noelle for hosting the event at Fuller Craft. It was a much classier affair than my first novel's release which was held at George's Cafe in Brockton. Both were a lot of fun, but this one felt more literary.

We went through two trays of little roller wrap sandwich thingies, one tray of day-old cheese and fruit (it was free), a tray of grilled vegetables, a hummus and olive and pita thing from Whole Foods (thank you Dennis for your discount and skilled hands), and a raw veggie and bread bowl dressing receptacle platter.

Dennis gathered up the leftovers at the end. He plans on making a massive amount of "tres delicious" soup (he pronounces the s on tres for some reason). According to him, using day-old grilled vegetables is the secret to really great soup. I find this hard to believe but look forward to tasting whatever he ends up with. Unfortunately, it won't really matter what I think. Dennis doesn't take my food opinions seriously—my sense of smell disappeared at some point during 2006 (no cool story behind this; it just vanished).

I read the first sixteen pages of DMR, the part where John is introduced to all the Individuals he'll be working with (yes, the capital I is intentional). People seemed to enjoy it. They laughed at the right places and applauded at the conclusion, despite the general offensiveness of the last lines I read: "Most people would pay a hundred dollars for the opportunity to watch a retard fling meat sauce into their bosses hair. I paid only two." I think the fact that I introduced John as a bad character before I read probably softened the impact.

People from just about every portion of my life attended. One of my elementary school teachers was there, friends from various periods showed up, along with employers, coworkers, family members, a Walnut Hill writing student, a dude from my writing group (who told me some cool things about Walt Whitman's marketing tactics) and a few extraordinarily kind and loyal people I met through the readings I gave for my first novel back in 2003.

I hope everyone had a great time. Thank you all for coming out and supporting DMR's Road Trip. Gas prices are very high. This is the worst summer in the history of the world for a 16,000-mile book tour. Mahhh!