Saturday, June 28, 2008

And Saran Wrap All you Can

The campground in Kansas was depressing. About 75 RVs surrounded me, and when I investigated the entire place I realized I was the only tenter. This always makes me a little nervous for some reason.

After setting up my tent, I walked to the electrical hookup (some parks have electricity, some don’t) to charge my phone. The low battery alarm had been going off for an hour and I hate having to go the whole night without a working phone. This also makes me nervous.

I lifted the lid to electrical box 13 and heard an odd noise. It was dusk, but relatively dark amongst the trees and hulking RVs. I was wearing my head lamp rather than using my handheld flashlight (it’s much easier when setting up tents and things). The noise got louder as I ducked down to look up and in—it sounded mechanical, like a small motor powering up or something. I got my face right inside and looked up, aiming my forehead at the sound. A few yellow jackets flew at me. I’d disturbed their nest. I slammed the cover, ran away, and hid behind my van for a few minutes (making sure to shut out the head lamp).

After making sure the coast was clear, I found another electrical box, plugged in my extension chord, and charged my phone that way.

The next morning, after packing up all my stuff, I met the director of the place in the parking lot out in front of his office. He had the worst farmer’s tan I’ve ever seen. He bent to put his pipe down on the gravel as I talked. “You’ve got a nest of yellow jackets in electrical box 13,” I told him.

“Did you get stung?” he asked.

I told him I didn’t, that I’d run away in time.

“Did you kill them?” he asked.

I shook my head no and kind of laughed thinking he was probably joking.

“Why not?!?!” he yelled.

I told him I didn’t have any wasp spray. He shook his head, picked up his pipe, and walked away.


At most parks, whether they’re private, state, or federal, the plates on 90% of the vehicles are in-state. This might be because of gas prices this year. I have no idea. I’ve never traveled like this before.

I haven’t seen a Massachusetts plate in a campground in many many days.

Very few people camp in tents, at least, this is the case in the parks (mostly state) that I’ve been staying in. And the people in RVs seem to spend the majority of their time in the RV. For the most part, they stay in there all day, then they come out at night to make dinner and sit around a fire, and then they go back into the camper where the lights stay on inside until pretty late. And they don’t get up that early. This is odd to me, first of all, because many of them are old or retired, and second of all, I think camping tends to make a person wake up early even if you are tired or hung over or something. The sun heats the inside of my tent to a thousand degrees by about 7:30 a.m.

RV people read A LOT! The ones who do sit outside their RVs read for like 8-11 hours a day. I’m filing this information away for future exploitation. (I’m planning out a murder/mystery set in an RV park and then I’m going to do this same exact trip again and just sell the book to campers in RV parks rather than to library patrons.)

And really, I don’t have a problem with RVs. If I had the money, I would’ve gotten one for this trip. I’m not really doing primitive camping. I have a tent, I use newspapers and a lighter (and sometimes bug spray) to start my fires, I use the campground showers, I wear clothes, and I have a propane stove that I’ve used three or four times to cook my food when I’ve been too tired to start a fire. I’ve also slept in my van on three different nights, either because of lightning or because I was too tired to set up my tent.

I don’t feel the need to camp like I’m living in the 1600s to prove to myself that I’m a man—my gender is reaffirmed every time I pee standing up.

Aside from visits with friends and family, I’ve stayed in a motel on four nights. Twice it was because of rain and twice I just felt crummy and tired and it was getting late.

I have not been sleeping that well in the tent. I admit that sleeping inside the tent does make me feel safer than if I was just sleeping under the stars (plus it keeps out bugs), but when I start thinking about it, I realize the tent offers nothing more than psychological protection. I feel safer simply because it prevents me from seeing what’s out there. I’d actually be safer sleeping in the van, but I feel more vulnerable in there because of the windows.

While slowly falling asleep every night, I keep one hand on my baseball bat and one hand on my bear spray while listening for the sound of footsteps, followed by the sound of my tent’s zipper being opened. There’s no way to lock a tent! If I was sleeping in my house in Brockton with the knowledge that the doors were unlocked, I’d be nervous. This thought is much worse when you’re alone in a tent. Even if I could lock the tent, any criminal with a dull spoon could cut right through the nylon.

In Tennessee, while camping in some really small town, I went to a local burger joint in some wooden, barn-type building. It was a Friday night and I think every person in that town was out riding in their truck, just doing circles around the center of town (which consisted of the burger joint and a gas station).

The burger took like 45 minutes to cook for some reason, and while I sat a picnic table waiting, I realized the same people were driving past me over and over again, and they were looking at me every time they passed.

This made me nervous so I decided to eat in my tent rather than in town. I got in my van and drove towards the park. A truck from town, one of the ones that that had been doing loops, followed me. This made me really nervous so I took a turn onto some little dark street to see if it would follow me. It didn’t. I made my way back to my tent, happy they wouldn’t know where I was staying.

Later that night, some animals were running around and killing each other and screaming loudly right near my tent. There was only one other camper there that night (because this park didn’t have any RV hookups). When I went outside to scare the animals off there were like a million fireflies everywhere and I kept thinking they were eyes.

I’m aware that I was overreacting. I was aware at the time, but camping alone in a deserted park in a small town where everyone has taken notice of your Massachusetts license plates can be scary.

I arrived at my campsite in Indiana after ten o’clock. I set up my tent in the dark (which is no problem now that I’ve done it so many times) at an empty site. I had no idea if it was the one I’d reserved and I didn’t care.

When I woke in the morning I crawled out of my tent and saw that I was about ten feet from a huge silent river. If I’d taken five steps in the wrong direction I would’ve fallen right in.

While camping in Alabama, I tried to start a conversation with a cute young woman who was camping with a group of people near my site. I asked her if she’d ever been camping. She gave me this crazy look and slowly said, “Yeaaaah.”

And I said, “I hear it’s in-tents.

She didn’t get it. She was staying in an RV. I might as well have made a joke about churning butter.

That night, it was so windy near the Alabama shores that I kept waking up thinking someone was trying to roll me over. It was just the wind under my tent, lifting it up. If I hadn’t been inside it, I think it would’ve blown away.

Later that night, I heard what I thought was a very young girl screaming. It sounded like someone was being murdered—I’ve never heard anyone scream like that. I grabbed my baseball bat, popped out of my tent, and kind of walk/jogged in the direction of the screaming. It continued for a few seconds after I exited the tent, so I’m pretty sure I wasn’t dreaming, but then the sound stopped and I couldn’t tell which RV it had been coming from. Hopefully it was just a little girl who'd had a bad dream. No one else came out to investigate. They probably couldn’t hear it—everyone within 50 meters of me was in an RV.

I quickly made my way back to the tent. I realized it wouldn’t look good if anyone saw me standing in my underwear in the middle of a field holding a baseball bat at midnight.

I wonder what happens inside those RVs, to the little kids who live in the ones that seem to be more permanent mobile home than recreational vehicle.

I stayed in Oklahoma last night and it was beautiful. The state park I stayed in was huge and I swam until dark. I didn't bother to put the rain fly on my tent. No one else in the park had their rain fly on, and I usually try and copy the other campers—if they're not swimming then I don't swim, if they're not drinking the water then I don't drink it, etc. I've never slept without a rain fly. You can watch the stars from inside your tent.

Friday, June 27, 2008

That A Friend Of Mine Would Get 99 Years

A few bookselling notes:

I’ve stopped putting the book up for sale on consignment in independent bookstores. It’s been selling well on Amazon and I don’t want to run out of copies while I’m on the road. Some of you may have noticed that the book has been listed as out of stock on Amazon for three weeks or so. This isn’t really true. Every week they order books and we send them in, but for a few weeks their orders have not been keeping up with the sales. This is a good thing.

Response to DMR so far:

Before my readings, I usually make a point to differentiate between myself and John, the narrator of DMR. As I’ve said before in this blog, I don’t think John is a very good person, and although he’s obviously very much based on me, there are important differences between us—or at least, I hope there are.

For the most part, people who’ve heard me make this disclaimer disagree with me—they don’t think John is that bad.

And for the most part, people who’ve written to me about the book seem to really like it. Of course, I understand that people who don’t like it are probably less likely to contact me, unless they really hate the book and feel the need to be very vocal about their feelings (this hasn’t happened . . . yet); but it’s very nice that people have been so positive so far.

I’ve heard from friends, strangers, other writers, from people with relatives who have some form of disability (or whatever it’s called), and I’ve heard from people who care for people within DMR or similar organizations. I appreciate every single one of these responses, and I’m flattered that people I’ve never met take the time to read a book I’ve written.

On the night of the release party for DMR, I arrived early with a friend to Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton. We helped with the setup of food and chairs and books and such. When we were all done, there was still a substantial amount of time before the party was scheduled to begin.

I wandered around the museum and sat down in front of a looping video about a glass artist, Josh Simpson, who works in Western, MA (in the barn where my friend’s grandfather was born, though I didn’t know this at the time).

While I sat there, four people from DMR walked (or were wheeled) into the museum and passed me. Two were caregivers and two were Individuals. I panicked for a moment and then followed them around a corner. I tapped one of the caregivers, who’d stopped to look at some piece of art, on the shoulder, and asked her if she was there for the reading. She replied, “What reading?” I said never mind, and walked back to the looping video, relieved.

For a moment, before tapping the caregiver, I thought some DMR employees had seen the ad for my reading in the local newspaper and decided to attend with a couple Individuals from some nearby group home.

I didn’t realize until then, but I was terrified of what the Individuals would think of DMR.

So anyway, at this point, I’ve gotten over this particular fear, and I’m interested in what someone who’s been labeled with mental retardation thinks of DMR. I’m interested in what this person will think of John. And I’m interested in what this person will think of how John thinks of THEM. I capitalize “them” because, to him, to John, they are a class, a group, a type of people who are separate from himself—at least, that’s my take on John.

I’m certain that at least one of the guys who I cared for while working for DMR, would be interested in having DMR read to him (and I say having DMR read to him because no one ever bothered to teach him how to read, though I have no doubt he would’ve learned rapidly), but it will be difficult for most people to understand his response. He has grievous physical disabilities and has never spoken a word.

Note: While writing this I got a call from an old DMR co-worker. He reiterated that the DMR administration is not happy about the book, but assured me that the staff will be very supportive of it. And he said that “anyone who writes from their conscience is writing from a powerful place.” I thought this was a very nice thing to say.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

So I Remember Every Face Of Every Man Who Put Me Here

I’ve been through a lot of states in the last few days. I’m in Lincoln, Nebraska right now, and as soon as I finish this blog entry I’ll be heading south to Kansas where I’m camping tonight.

So far, because of this trip, I’ve been to the following states:


Rhode Island


New Jersey




*(Washington D.C.)


*North Carolina

*South Carolina










*Illinois (just to drive through, I’ll be stopping in Chicago in August)

*Missouri (the Garmin pronounces this misery and it’s really unsettling)



And in a few hours, *Kansas

. . . I think that’s all of them.

* I’ve never been here before

I’ve gotten used to the driving, the nightly (seriously) thunderstorms, cooking on a fire, and never not being lost in big cities where everyone stares at my fanny pack. I’m keeping lots of notes, but there are so many things I don’t have time to cram into this blog.

I’m having an incredible time and have no regrets about this trip or its length. Pretty soon I’ll be meeting up with three friends in a row in California—after that, there won’t be much trip left.

On Monday, I headed into Kansas City early in the day. I walked around, took pictures, and talked to some locals in stores.

At a Christmas party for my old job, I won a $40 gift certificate to the Cheesecake Factory in a Texas Hold ’Em tournament. My supervisor (who smokes cigars in her office) suggested I use it at the Cheesecake Factory in Kansas City.

It was very difficult to save the card for so long, but I’m glad I did. I got artichoke wrap appetizer things, and steak and shrimp for the entrée. I didn’t wrap up the leftovers (and I’ve NEVER done that) since I had nowhere to put them, and this made me feel like a really important or wealthy guy. I like this feeling.

The reading at the Kansas City Public Library (which has the coolest children’s section that I’ve seen, complete with a climbing cow) went very well. And I’d like to thank Henry Fortunato (2nd coolest name ever behind Hank Scorpio) for setting it all up and helping out with the promotion. Before I began, a woman came up to me and introduced herself as someone who’d worked for a private company similar to the Department of Mental Retardation. She also told me that she rides her bike everywhere, and after talking with me, she filled up her two bike water bottles with the water that had been set out for audience members. Then she grabbed a bunch of the free bags of peanuts and almonds and put them into her bag. This pissed me off because I’d been planning on taking them.

I talked about the book and then read a short section that I’d never read to an audience before—it was a little racier than the stuff I usually read at libraries. As I finished reading, the bike lady got up and walked out. It threw me off and I kind of stuttered in the middle of what I was saying. I’d never had anyone get that mad at something I read. But ten minutes later she came back, sat down, and later bought a book. I guess she just went to the bathroom.

After the reading, Lorenzo, the pr guy at the library offered to take me out to dinner. We went to the coolest (though kind of artificial) bar and restaurant area I’ve seen in any city so far—the Kansas City Live! Pavilion in the middle of the Power and Light District. It’s an outdoor pavilion in the middle of two stories of restaurants and bars, under a huge plastic awning, with a giant television at one end for Royals and Chiefs (and other) games. For a Monday night, there were a lot of girls wearing foam domes.

We got a beer and dinner and sat outside (you can carry your drinks around the whole outdoor pavilion). He said he’d really enjoyed the program and we talked about my trip while watching the Royals game. He’s a young black man from Orlando who went to College in Texas. He told me he almost threw up when Bush was voted in the first time.

We talked about sports teams (he’s been able to tolerate the Red Sox ever since they swept the Cardinals in the playoffs). He was a sports writer before he began working for the library, so he knew much more than me about sports, even stuff regarding Boston teams.

We talked a little about the promotion for the reading. He told me he’d called the Missouri equivalent to the Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation. Apparently they did not respond in a friendly manner to the idea of my book. Perhaps they’re afraid that one of their employees will be inspired to do the same thing.

Again, this stuff worries me a little bit, and I don’t really understand it. At my training for DMR, they kept stressing how things have improved since the dark ages of institutions and sterilization, yet (if the information I’ve received about the MA DMR’s reaction to my book is correct) they act like the state employees of that era—they’re unwilling to question anything about, or even discuss, the current conditions of the people they care for. But perhaps I’m jumping the gun here, and perhaps the DMR higher-ups haven’t reacted in the way my former coworker says they have. Maybe they’ll even like the book.

I’m not naïve enough to think that my book will change things in the department, nor did I even attempt to recommend how things should change in DMR, but I do think the issues raised in the book should at least be talked about.

On Monday, in the middle of the night, I was again driven from my tent by lightning. A friend of mine got struck by lightning in Brockton, Massachusetts last week, so I’m now even more wary of it. She’s ok, other than some numbness in her fingers and burns on her feet, but still, that’s pretty frigging crazy—and now I’m heading into tornado town.

Ah well. Ah Kansas.

I LOVE driving through the cornfields of Iowa and Nebraska. So far, the fields have been smaller than I thought they would be. They’re also lumpier than I’d been led to believe, but it’s beautiful here and not boring at all, as I’d also been led to believe by some friends who’ve driven cross country. Everyone in Iowa waved like Stanley as I drove by, and every stop sign is preceded by three sets of rumble strips.

And, unlike the bible belt, there aren’t billboards on the edges of every farm. Down there, there’s a huge-floating-Jesus-face or anti-abortion billboard for every ten acres of crop. Since when is Jesus so impotent that he needs a million billboards in his own backyard? And who thinks it’s appropriate to blow up photos of human fetuses and plaster them on billboards? I can’t wait until digital billboards get more popular and they can loop film of fetuses getting vacuumed out of the womb.

But perhaps I should let these things slide. After all, one church came up with this really inspiring piece of advice that I now live by:

“Aspire to inspire before you expire.”

Not even pop star Jewel could write with more casualty.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Something in the Air

I'm very happy to announce that the first chapter of DMR has been featured as one of the monthly pdf chapbooks produced by Publishing Genius in Baltimore. You can view the book, print the book, or buy the book (very cheap).

Click here to check it out:

And while you're there, check out their other publications, including Dave Daniel's Six off 66.

In other news, an interesting review has been posted on DMR's page. The woman who wrote it, Yvonne Mason, is an author who has a mentally challenged brother. I'm not sure yet, but I'm guessing most people will disagree with her take on the Rose and Ralph relationship.

I'm looking forward to reading her book, Stan's Story as soon as my mail is delivered from Massachusetts to Albuquerque.

(And just so you know, I met Yvonne through a writer's group blog about two weeks ago.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Discard My Friends To Change The Scenery

A friend from my college years unexpectedly showed up at my Indianapolis reading. Until then, we hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in nearly two years. We worked at the Hess station in south Amherst together while I was at UMass and she was at Hampshire. She’s from Kentucky (her mother’s from the Appalachia region of Kentucky), got a perfect score on her SATs, and did better than Elle Woods on her LSATs.

After the reading we went out to dinner in Indianapolis. She poured about half a bottle of Tabasco sauce on her chili.

I asked her how she found out about my reading (since she doesn’t have an e-mail address and wouldn’t have gotten my OTPPUB newsletter). She told me she randomly Googled me a couple months ago to check on whether I’d actually followed through with my idea to write a book about the Department of Mental Retardation and do a cross-country road trip (I used to talk about this all the time). When she saw I had a reading within five hours of her (she lives in Michigan now), she decided to attend and try to recreate the episode of Sex and the City where Big flies to LA to see Carrie give a talk on her book or something. I haven’t seen this episode, so please forgive me if I’ve gotten some of the details wrong.

The reading was relatively late and my campground was only an hour away, so I asked Andrea if she’d like to camp out with me for the night, and she said yes.

In the site next to mine was a camper with a bumper sticker that read, “Monica Lewinsky’s Ex-Boyfriend’s Wife For President.” Does it get any clevererer?

Andrea volunteered to make the fire, though she was nervous about making a fire in front of an Eagle Scout (she’d been reading my blog). I said I’d put up the tent.

She had the fire going before the tent was up.

I asked if she wanted to try some of my campfire food, and she said yes.

I made a pot of macaroni and canned ham and added a lot of pepper because I didn’t have any Tabasco. After trying one bite, Andrea added much more pepper. She finished her half before I finished mine.

I asked her if my beard made me look like Spencer from The Hills (I never had any facial hair when I knew her because a person has to be clean shaven to work at Hess). She assured me the beard didn’t make me look like Spencer.

[I met Lisa Love from Teen Vogue and The Hills when I was a security guard at Walnut Hill high school in Natick, Massachusetts last year. I said hello and told her that I recognized her.

She said, “How do you recognize me?”

I said, “From The Hills,” thinking that this was kind of obvious.

And she said, “Oh does your little sister watch it?”

At this point I realized she’d think I was weird if I told her I was an avid follower of Lauren Conrad and the whole Laguna Beach gang. So I said, “Yes, my little sister watches it and I’ve seen you in passing.”

And then she asked, “How old is your sister? Is she in junior high or something?”

At this point I realized she’d think my sister, a twenty-one year old who currently interns at the State House, was weird if I admitted her real age. So I said, “Yes, she’s in seventh grade.”

Lisa Love smiled and said that was nice. Then she asked me to carry a soggy bag of garbage from her daughter’s dorm room to the dumpster.]

Andrea and I discussed my DMR job and decided that I should give one of those digital picture frames with photos from my trip to each of the two group homes I worked in. Taking the Individuals across state lines requires an act of congress—whatever that means.

In the morning I asked Andrea if she needed to get back to Michigan soon, and she said no.

She currently works for her cousin and her job basically consists of doing his errands on a four wheeler. He’s a machinist of some sort.

I asked if she wanted to go hiking, and she said yes.

We drove to a trail and walked into the woods. After about a mile of walking down the trail, we came across a cave.

I asked her if she wanted to explore the cave, and she said yes.

The opening was wide and we walked in standing up, but pretty soon the passage became very narrow. I had to take off my straw hat and rotate the fanny pack to my backside just to be able to squeeze forward. I used the little LED light on my pocket knife to light our way.

After ten minutes or so, we came to a very very narrow pass. The sticks under our feet were all small; none of the larger ones made it in this far during rainstorms and flooding.

I asked Andrea if she wanted to keep going, and she said yes.

We started talking about flash floods and earthquakes and got each other kind of nervous. Then we started wondering if the cave even had two openings. This was a possibility neither of us had considered when we entered.

We traded choice lines from Deliverance as we walked. She told me her cousin, her employer (also from Kentucky), could squeal just like a pig.

While crawling along through three or four inches of dark cave water (we were both wearing jeans) I again asked if she wanted to turn around, and she said no.

We crawled on and I noticed that we’d passed the point where graffiti covered the walls. I really started to worry that there wouldn’t be an exit and that the cave would be too narrow for us to turn around, or that the battery in my pocket knife light would die.

I’m not sure why, since the settings are pretty different, but I started thinking about that scene in Never Cry Wolf where the dude falls through the ice and can’t find the hole he fell in through. He ends up busting his way out of the ice in another section of the lake or river he’s in.

Then the cave opened up a bit and I noticed the sticks at our feet were getting larger, so I knew there was an exit.

After a while we saw light up ahead that wasn’t generated from my knife. At the exit, we decided to sit on a ledge for a moment before exiting. From where we sat, we could only see the outside world from the reflection of the trees in the water under our feet—everything else was obscured by a hanging wall of rock that we’d have to crawl (swim) under to get out.

Andrea asked me if I would’ve made it all the way through the cave if I was by myself, and I told her no, I would’ve stopped as soon as it started getting really narrow.

Just as I was about to say something about how most people probably don’t make it all the way through the cave, we both heard the sounds of other people’s voices from behind us, back in the cave.

We sat and waited for whoever was approaching. I don’t know why she wanted to sit there and wait (she actually suggested it), but I wanted to see how far away the voices really were, whether they’d make it all the way through, as we had.

About two minutes after we first heard the voices, 15 adolescent girls poured out of the cave—a high school soccer team. Andrea and I exited the cave ahead of them and watched as they all crawled out and decided they wanted to do it again. One girl came up to us and exclaimed that she was five foot nine but parts of the cave were only three feet tall! Andrea and I just looked at her and said nothing—both of us were a few inches taller than her.

Andrea and I hung out back at the camp site for a while towards the middle of the day. Every time I went to the bathroom or walked more than ten feet away from Andrea this older man would swoop into our site from the one adjacent and begin talking to her. His dog followed him wherever he went, but the dog always arrived a few seconds after the owner—he was a very old German Shepard Golden Retriever mix and had very bad hips.

The old man was never not smoking a cigar, and as it turned out, he taught at Andrea’s high school in Louisville, Kentucky about 15 years before she attended.

The man told us about coaching high school basketball (and about how high school basketball is superior to pro-basketball because high schoolers aren’t allowed to break the rules). He told us how he’d had some really good boys—how one of the boys had once returned to visit him after graduation and slipped a hundred dollar bill into his hand.

“Now that was a REALLY good boy,” the man said.

Then he asked me where I was from. After I told him, he said, “Oh, you’re a Yankee!”

And Andrea said, “And he ain’t a good boy either, so don’t expect him to hand you a hundred dollars.”

And the man said, “Oh, so that’s why you like him—’cause he’s ARMORY!” (He actually said ornery but I didn’t understand this until Andrea explained it after he’d gone back to his own site).

Andrea commented on how much she like the word ornery. I told her I’d heard three different people use the word cantankerous in Tennessee. All three times the word was used to describe a horse.

Andrea and I talked for a few hours. She told me about various jobs she’d had, including a furniture moving job in Northampton, MA where the guy she’d worked for had hidden water bottles under various city monuments because he didn’t trust tap water.

She told me that Bourbon is the only American liquor (that she knows of) that is defined by a region (Kentucky) the way that champagne is.

I asked Andrea if she'd attend my reading in Michigan, and she said yes.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Diesel—Truckers-Truckers-Truckers . . .

(Posted a day after it was written.)

I have a reading at the Indianapolis library on East St. Clair Street tonight. I’m sitting in this library right now and it is by far the nicest library I’ve seen during my travels so far. It’s a nice mix of old and new. An ultra modern glass and metal addition is attached to the back of the original stone library.

This library even has robots that little kids can play with—the future is here TODAY!

Driving for long hours has somehow become very gratifying. When my Garmin tells me I don’t have to turn for over a couple hundred miles, I sit back, sip my coffee, and feel as though I’m really doing work, son. I don’t know why I feel this way. In reality, all I’m doing is driving a ridiculous and expensive route through a ridiculously long and lengthy trip, but somehow, driving is rewarding—like the longer the leg, the more I feel I’m actually accomplishing and experiencing. I can’t really explain this phenomenon more than this at the moment. I can, however, say that I would probably feel differently if it weren’t for my mp3 player. I listen to the radio as I’m approaching cities, just to get a feel for the places I’m entering, but for the most part I don’t bother searching through stations. Driving as far as I am, the radio stations come into and go out of range rapidly. Besides, I’m pretty picky about what I listen to.

I also have some books on mp3. I’ve been listening to Roots on and off throughout the trip. It’s thirty hours long and it’s one of those books that I’ve always been interested in but probably never would’ve gotten around to reading. I’m about a third of the way through it at this point.

When I pull into truck stops (like Pilot for ten different varieties of hot dogs on rollers) I almost feel like I’m one of the guys—but I never make eye contact with the truckers. Before the end of this trip I’ll work up the courage to take a shower at one of these places—just so I can say I did it. I might postpone this until I get to Whately, MA, though. The diner there is pretty superb and there are at least twenty songs I really like in the jukebox.

I camped in Kentucky for the second night last night. The campground itself was very beautiful and had herds of bison on the grounds. I would’ve used one of their pictures for the heading of this blog entry but none of them got close enough for me to take a very good picture. When I walked up the trail to see them, no other humans were around. I sat behind a fence watching them from a distance for about twenty minutes. I’m not sure that any of them even noticed me. I think I went at a bad time of day. The sun was directly overhead and none of the bison seemed interested in moving or acknowledging my presence.

At around 8:30 p.m. I drove to the nearest sports bar. I left my fanny pack in the van and walked inside to find the bar completely empty except for the bartender.

The place was dimly lit, with a pool table, four dart boards, and a bunch of televisions. After scanning all of the televisions, I went up to the bar and asked the bartender if she’d be putting on the Celtics game at nine. She looked up the channel in the paper and put it on the main large screen behind the bar.

She asked, “Celtics—that’s basketball, right?”

I nodded.

Then she asked where they were from.

I told her they were from the same place as me, Boston (I've given up saying that I come from a city 20 minutes south of Boston). Then I asked her why she worked in a sports bar if she didn’t like sports, and she said, “Oh, I like sports.”

As the players took the floor she asked me what was at stake. I told her if the Celtics won the game then they won the whole thing.

She asked me where I was staying in the area. I told her Big Bone Lick State Park and she asked, “Isn’t that the funniest name for a park ever?” I told her yes, so far, and then I told her about my trip and handed her one of the DMR postcards that I generally carry with me.

Then she said, “You know how the park is on Beaver Road?”

I told her I did know this.

And she said, “The convenience store on that road used to be called Beaver Lick, but it’s got a different name now.”

At this point two couples came in together. One of the men ordered four drinks and four shots for the group of them. After taking the shots he ordered some “pigskins.” The bartender didn’t know what this was, so the man explained that pork rinds are called pigskins in Indiana.

Five minutes later the cook brought out the order of fried pork rinds. I’d never seen them freshly prepared; I’ve only seen them in the bag.

Another man walked in and sat down next to me at the bar. He told me about his son who has done two tours in Iraq and is now back in the states. The son recently made Major, so, according to the father, it’s unlikely he’ll have to do another tour in Iraq unless he wants to. The bar we were sitting in sponsored his son’s unit. Pictures of him and his men covered one of the walls near the entrance.

The man told me how he’d visited the Wall in Washington D.C. (even though he was stationed in Germany during Vietnam) and asked if I’d ever been. I told him a little about my trip, but said, no, I hadn’t seen the Wall. He urged me to go and said it would change my life. When I mentioned my father he told me I should bring my father if I ever have the money. I told him we’d gone to see the Moving Wall years earlier, but the man kind of dismissed this as insignificant. He went into great detail describing how the wall begins short then gets taller and then tapers off again at the other end. This represents the early years when the casualties were low, the middle years when the casualties reached their peak, and the last years of the war when the American casualties began declining to zero.

He went on to tell me more about his son’s experiences. The man told me that his son didn’t like to talk about the things he’d seen and done over there. But at one point, after his first tour, his son told him that he’d seen too many body parts for one lifetime.

The man blamed the fact that soldiers were doing so many tours on President Clinton’s decision to downsize the army. He told me that his son had changed as a result of Iraq. He was different when he came back from his first tour. I told him that my mother is a nurse at the VA.

We got off the war topics and talked about the basketball game for a while. He bought me a beer.

After four or five beers, the man left and two other people sat next to me at the bar. They were soon joined by two more. All four men were from the area.

We watched the game while they all complained about the carrying, dunking, and traveling that referees allow in pro-basketball (another man said these same things to me at my campground this morning, and I think it’s odd how often I’ve heard these same sentiments during my trip).

The bartender told the others at the bar that she was going to leave the game on the big screen because I’d been there first. I would’ve been just as happy watching it on a smaller screen but I didn’t say anything.

The men asked me where I was from. I told them I was from Boston and went to UMass, Amherst. One of them mentioned that he went to Xavier (a rival Atlantic 10 school). I asked if he’d played any sports. He said no. I told him I was on the track team and that I wasn’t very good compared to the other athletes.

Then they started talking about the Olympics.

All the men belonged to a gun club that was open 24 hours and had beer machines like soda machines instead of bars and bartenders.

One of them told me they were writing a letter to the Olympic people to complain about how they never show the rifle events on television. “Why do they show the track events?” one of the men asked me. “Why don’t they show the rifle events?”

I answered that it was the same reason they allowed the dunk in the NBA, because that’s what viewers want to see.

He asked, “Who wants to watch sprinters?” I told him that I wanted to watch sprinters.

Then I made the mistake of saying something that revealed my assumptions regarding the four men sitting next to me. “You know, a white man won the 400 meters in the last Olympics. He was the first white American man to win a sprint since the sixties I think.”

This was a very stupid and ignorant thing to say—and I’m not talking about the fact that it could’ve gotten me in some trouble in a dark Kentucky bar located in the middle of nowhere.

The man who’d been badmouthing track just stared at me.

The two guys sitting next to me began talking about their business plans. The guy two seats from mine started saying things like, “I just got this inspiration, you know? I don’t know where it came from. And yeah, I’d be happy earning $100,000 a year, but why not make more?”

He proceeded to detail his idea to the guy sitting in between us. He drew a picture on a napkin to illustrate what he was talking about. When he pushed the napkin over I snuck a peak at it. It was a picture of a shirt, a sports jersey, with the words Cleveland Steamers written across the chest. Then he said, “Who wouldn’t buy a shirt like that? It’s hilarious. And I’ve got other ideas; that’s just one.

At this point, his friend, the man sitting in between us kind of lost interest in the business proposal. I guess he wasn’t impressed with his friend’s crude t-shirt designs.

Later on, when it became clear that the Celtics were going to win the championship, the man behind the t-shirt business plan started ranting about how much he hated Boston. He went on and on about how this was going to give people from Boston another excuse to be jerks (he used another word that I won't write here), how he hated all Boston teams, and how he hated Boston in general. The man in between us told him to shut up a couple times (after all, he’d never even been to Boston), but this didn’t stop him.

I sipped my O’Doul’s and kept my eyes glued on the screen as the game came to an end. I wouldn’t have taken my eyes off that screen if the t-shirt guy had flicked the tip of my nose. Every single man in that bar was born less than twenty miles from where we sat.

The guy next to me told me he was from Indiana and was rooting for Boston. He knew Larry Bird’s family. His father pitched on a softball team with Larry Bird’s brother, who was also a pitcher. Larry Bird’s brother was so tall and his arms were so long that when he released the ball his pitching hand was almost brushing the batter’s elbow.

Just before Pierce was named MVP, the two guys next to me left. A woman down the bar from me got my attention and told me that the man who knew Larry Bird had once been on Jerry Springer. His wife had asked him to be on the show without telling him beforehand what she was going to reveal. Before the taping, the show’s producers got him all drunk on free, expensive booze and he ended up making an ass of himself on television. I guess since then he isn’t so interested in petty squabbles and fights.

I left to go back to my tent after all the interviews and awards were over, happy that the Celtics had won, but kind of sad that they and the fans began their celebration (Gatorade pouring, hugging, “Hey hey hey, goodbye”) with three minutes left in the game.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dog Will Hunt (including Self-Publishing Stuff #2)

As I headed back to my campsite from the coffee shop near the religious college, I heard a thunderstorm advisory on the radio for the county next to the one I was camping in. I figured I’d probably be safe and went right to sleep as soon as I crawled into my tent.

Two or so hours later the storm hit. I thought my entire tent was going to blow right off the small cliff it was perched on. I grabbed all my stuff and ran through the rain to my van.

From an elementary school visit to the electrical room in the Boston Museum of Science I knew I’d be safe in the Odyssey. (But not because of the tires! It’s because the electricity stays on the outside of the van or something. All us elementary school kids were blown away by that fact.). I didn’t bother packing up the tent and stowing it. It’s only a fifteen dollar K-Mart job. I’m not going to get soaked and risk my life in an electrical storm for it.

After two hours of crappy, sitting-up sleep in my van (I hadn’t cleared a section in

the back because the rain was coming in sideways and opening the door would’ve gotten all my books wet) the storm cleared. I dragged all my stuff back to the tent (which had stayed relatively dry on the inside) and went back to sleep.

Half an hour later the storm was back, but it didn’t seem quite so strong and I decided to wait it out in the tent. I counted Mississippis between lightning strikes and thunder crashes. When I got down to one Mississi- I ran to my van with all my stuff on my back and under my arms.

I spent most of the remainder of the night in the van. The rain got much worse, and by morning, the inside of my tent was soaked and the outside was covered in disgusting reddish, clayish mud.

After eating sardines and crackers for breakfast (Don’t worry, Kristen. I come from Vikings.) I cleaned up all my stuff as best I could, packed it all into the back of the van, and headed for Nashville.

Nashville is a fun city. I went into 46 different boot stores but bought no boots. I ate dinner at some bar where a country band was playing. The waitress called me darlin‘—that kind of made my millennium. She asked me where I was from and hung out with me for a while, so I gave her a 21% tip.

The band was very good and I enjoyed the music, but I didn’t recognize a single song in half an hour of listening. As I finished my pulled pork with spicy bbq sauce sandwich, they took a break. In the near silence that followed I heard the sounds of something familiar coming from a ceiling speaker in the corner of the room. I climbed off of my stool and walked over to hear better. I stood under the speaker and realized what it was—Take My Breath Away by Berlin was playing on the radio. The volume had been turned down very low for the live band, but I could hear just enough of the timeless classic to make me feel a little less out of place.

At the age of five I got punched in the arm for admitting to my best friend that Take My Breath Away was my favorite song. Apparently he thought it was a song for girls. His favorite song at the time was Thriller.

After Nashville, I hopped in my van and headed for some relatives of friends. This situation made me nervous, but I’d had enough of thunderstorms and the people I was meeting up with were rumored to be the funnest people on the planet.

I pulled into their driveway in the early evening and two dogs ran out to greet me. The fact that there were dogs involved made me feel better. I found out later that one of their names is Lucky because he was hit by a car when he was a puppy and barely survived. One of his legs is shorter than the other three. He runs a little funny because of this.

I met the uncle of my sister’s friend (she’s my friend, too, but not so much so), his partner, and their aunt and mother. The mother lives with them and the aunt was visiting from Connecticut.

The partner and I drove to Bubba’s to get some beer. We took his fully restored 1967 mustang. When I sat down in the car I automatically reached over my right shoulder for the seatbelt. He informed me that the car had no over the shoulder strap seatbelts. “Dude, it’s a 1967.” He also advised me not to wear the lap belt since they’re more dangerous than no seat belt at all.

I was instructed to say that the beer in the cup holder was mine if we were pulled over. Passengers are allowed to have open containers in Tennessee. He told me this particular law is referred to as the hillbilly law. And then he said, “Don’t worry about saying it in front of hillbillys—they call it the hillbilly law, too!”

We grabbed the beer and got back in the car. Again, I reached over my shoulder for the seatbelt, and again, I was told there was no such seatbelt. “Dude, it’s still a 1967.”

The first night we just drank Natty Ice and watched movies while getting to know each other.

The next day all the neighbors came over (the house I was staying in is the biggest house on the street complete with stables, horses, and an inground pool). The partner, a local girl, and I went four-wheeling.

I’d never been on one before, but mine was an automatic and it was easy enough to learn quickly. When I asked if I should wear a helmet I was told it was too hot for helmets. This was fine with me.

We tooled around on those things for hours and hours. Across the street from their house, three neighbors with about 100 acres of land each agreed to build interconnecting trails for four wheelers. The girl who rode with us wore a t-shirt that read, “Party Like A Southern Girl.” The country dogs (brother and sister who came with the house and refuse to go inside and hunt rabbits and birds and herd horses) who’d greeted me when I pulled in followed us every mile of the way (usually taking short cuts through the woods and meeting up with us at impasses). We rode through a creek and past a lake, saw two deer, a tobacco field, and a hay field, and the girl we were with peed in the woods. It was probably the best day of my life.

Back at the house, after taking the four wheelers over a homemade ramp a few times, we swam and had drinks by the pool with all the neighbors. That night we watched movies until we fell asleep.

If I ever get the chance, I’m visiting them again. I’m also buying a four wheeler as soon as I get home.

The fact that one of them read my entire book on the night I left and wrote me a very complimentary letter about it makes me like them even more.

Fanny pack updates:

While in Nashville, a guy in pretty dumpy clothes (but not obviously homeless) came up to me, pointed at my fanny pack, and said, “Hey, that’s one of those pouches everyone’s talking about it.” I asked him if he wanted change. He said yes, I handed him about a dollar in quarters and dimes and continued on my way. No one compliments the fanny pack unless they either want something or they’ve forgotten to take their Thorazine.

And the other day, I walked into a small town library wearing my fanny pack and a very unfortunate looking girl pointed and laughed at me. She was probably about fifteen, grossly overweight, wearing a belly shirt and daisy dukes, and sporting a chocolate milk moustache.

I don’t care what anyone says about the fanny pack. If my wearing it makes a girl like that feel like she’s not the lamest person in the room, well then that’s doing the lord’s work—like the time I wore a sweatshirt with an embroidered heart floating above two embroidered kissing brontosauruses to school in sixth grade—but with less bloody embroidery.

The other day, I got an e-mail from an old DMR coworker, another direct caregiver. She’d heard about the book and ordered a copy and seemed very enthusiastic to read it. I really hope she likes it. But at the end of her e-mail, she informed me that DMR headquarters is very worried about the book and doesn’t know what to do about it. I’m not sure exactly what to write about this at the moment, but it does worry me a little bit and I thought I should mention it here. I guess I just have to wait and see at this point. Probably nothing much will come of this.

Self-Publishing Stuff #2 – Other Self-Publishers!

Before I get into other aspects of my own method (upcoming topics such as writing, formatting, printing, getting library readings), I figured it would be fun to compile a list of other, more famous authors who’ve self-published.

This list was put together with the help of my writing group, a group that meets in upstate New York every summer to read to each other and critique.

Please keep in mind that many of these authors did not self-publish their first works, and I understand that this is a very different phenomenon from self-publishing a first work and then somehow making it into the main stream. But some of these authors did self-publish their first works, and either way, I think this list kind of helps to cast self-publishing in a more respectable and legitimate light.

Please also keep in mind that I am not comparing myself to these people.

Feel free to add other authors or information if you’re aware of it. I’m sure many people will appreciate this.

(I didn’t write much of this and a Google search was involved for some of it. My father, an English professor and member of the writing group, was also very helpful.)

Margaret Atwood, William Blake, Ken Blanchard, Robert Bly, Lord Byron, Willa Cather, Pat Conroy, Stephen Crane, E.E. Cummings, W.E.B. DuBois, Alexander Dumas, T.S. Eliot, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Benjamin Franklin, Zane Grey, Thomas Hardy, E. Lynn Harris, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, Robinson Jeffers, Spencer Johnson, Stephen King, Rudyard Kipling, Louis L'Amour, D.H. Lawrence, Rod McKuen, Marlo Morgan, John Muir, Anais Nin, Thomas Paine, Tom Peters, Edgar Allen Poe, Alexander Pope, Beatrix Potter, Ezra Pound, Marcel Proust, Irma Rombauer, Carl Sandburg, Robert Service, George Bernard Shaw, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, William Strunk, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Virginia Woolf.

Percy Bysshe Shelley self published his Gothic Romances and "The
Necessity of Atheism."
William Blake self published "Songs of Innocence" and "Songs of

The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, was originally self-published for his students. One of his students was E. B. White. It was pretty amusing before White added his touch and brought it into the 20th century.

Thoreau's first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, was published by Ticknor & Fields, but they would publish it only if he paid for it, which he did. Later, they shipped him about 700 (out of 1000) unsold books, most of them still unbound, which he stored in his family attic until the book was re-published when he died.

Whitman did everything from setting the type to writing reviews of the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass. He also sent it to prominent literary people, among them Emerson, who wrote the famous letter that Whitman promptly affixed to the back cover of the next edition, probably to Emerson's chagrin (a traditionally published author quoted parts of this letter to me at the release party for DMR).

Ben Franklin was even more of a one-man show, since he owned one of two printing presses in Philadelphia. Old Ben's list of accomplishments with this printing press are staggering. He even printed money (the original Benjamins). Thomas Paine met Ben in London, and Ben told this young man who had failed at everything he'd ever tried to go to America and gave him letters of introduction. Paine got on a ship, went to Philly, and got a job writing for a magazine. He wrote essays against slavery, for women's rights, and then, not much more than a year after he arrived, wrote Common Sense, anonymously, which called for a Declaration of "Independance." It was an immediate best-seller and went through many reprintings in its first few months.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Take Me To Another Place

This morning, after a quick survey of the campgrounds, I pulled the tent’s stakes out of the ground, picked the whole tent up (complete with poles and rain fly), and moved it to a site overlooking the lake. I arrived at Chickasaw State Park in Tennessee late last night and wasn’t able to make an accurate assessment of the various tent sites. The spot my tent is now on is awesome (like a hot dog). It overlooks a lake (the sun will set on the other side of it tonight) and a wooden pedestrian bridge which spans the width of the lake and leads to a swimming area and beach on the other side.

After getting all my stuff resettled, I built a fire and read while the wood turned into coals. When the coals were low enough so that the bricks I’d placed in the fire were resting above them, I placed a pot full of rice and a couple kinds of beans on the bricks to cook.

I finished eating my first bowl as it started to pour. I sealed up the pot, placed it back on the fire (I always put in extra water so it can simmer all day if need be), and headed to a local coffee shop with a WI-FI connection.

After ordering a coffee and setting up my computer and notes, I began checking my e-mail. In three hours I didn’t get through even one e-mail.

Henderson, where the coffee shop is located, is a Christian college town. During the regular school year it’s home to 2,000 students, but during the summer, there are only a few hundred students in town. Consequently, the coffee shop I was sitting in gets almost no business in the summer. Consequently, the man who works at the coffee shop seems to be itching for conversation. This is something I can relate to. So, although I had some work to do, I talked to him for hours and hours, until the battery in my computer died from boredom.

So, instead of writing a blog about what I was going to write about (I’ll get back to it later) I’m going to write about my conversation with the coffee shop guy (I came back a few hours after his shift ended and sat near an outlet). He was actually a very nice guy and I’m glad we got the chance to talk.

He asked me if I had any siblings. I told him I had two sisters, one younger and one older. I told him about my road trip, but I didn’t mention the book. I showed him the online map of the trip (at the bottom of this blog).

He told me about his family and his relatively new child. He has a few siblings and his family farms land that’s mostly rented. They grow winter wheat and soy beans. The soy beans go toward animal feed, but he’s hoping there will be opportunities to raise soy beans for fuel in this area soon. He’s not happy about gas prices and doesn’t understand why diesel is so much more. I told him I didn’t understand this either. In fact, no one I’ve met on my trip (and I’ve discussed gas prices with maybe 35 people since I left) understands why diesel is so much more.

I told him about some of my own experiences working on a farm.

After we’d talked for a while, he commented on my lack of a northern accent. This struck me as very odd since, to me, he had a very strong southern accent. I’d always thought there was a kind of inverse relationship regarding perception of accents—like if I think you have an accent, then you must think I have an accent, too. Right?

Since leaving the New England area I have been making an effort not to drop my Rs. People seem to understand me better when I don’t talk all Boston thuggish at them.

He asked if my family had any connection to the Civil War. I told him I didn’t think so, although in truth, I suspect we do have some connections. My father’s side of the family has been in Maine for hundreds of years and I know an inordinate number of Mainers went to the Civil War in search of something more exciting than Maine—at least, an old Mainer once said something along these lines to me when we were looking at his small town’s Civil War monument. For such a small town, it had a lot of names on it. And if I recall correctly, a few of them were much younger than 18 when they enlisted.

The coffee shop farmer guy talked a little about his family’s links to the war. I told him about the reenactor I’d met while camping. I also told him that my father fought in Vietnam and my grandfather fought in World War II. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of these facts. I whip them out whenever I’m confronted by someone who’s talking about war in a pro-war way—as if these facts somehow reflect on or speak to my own views, courage, and patriotism.

We talked about the election. I asked him who he was voting for. He said he honestly didn’t know yet. He’d been pulling for Hillary just because she already has eight years White House experience. I told him I was probably voting for Obama, though as far as republicans go, McCain doesn’t seem too bad. I generally keep my opinions about this stuff to myself since I don’t really know anything about anything when it comes to politics, but we were being pretty honest about our views, and I was the one who originally asked the question.

We both agreed that no matter who won, there were probably going to be some big changes. We both agreed that this was probably for the best.

Then we started talking about the war in Iraq.

We’re both against it, though neither of us out and said that we were against it.

He told me about people he knew who’d been over there several times. None of them had nice stories to tell, and none of them had really known what they were in for when they signed up.

Then he said, “And the price of oil isn’t even cheaper. It’s gone up!”

I really appreciated him saying this—in my experience, most people don’t have the courage.

Most pro-war people I’ve encountered only talk about the need to stop terrorists, about the need to force democracy on people, about how it’s good that we got Saddam out of there regardless of the means (“So you’re telling me you think it would be good to have Saddam back in power over there?!?!?!?”). And most anti-war people either can’t or won’t talk about the equation regarding the worth of a human life versus the worth of oil to this country. And there is such an equation. Right?

I like the coffee shop farmer guy’s views. If it’s not going to make life better for us, if it’s in fact going to make life worse for many of us (and many more of them), why do it?

I like coffee shop farmer guy calling things what they are (or at least what he perceives they are), but what I like more, is coffee shop farmer guy’s willingness to attempt equating the cost of human lives with the cost of oil. If oil prices had gone down would coffee shop farmer guy agree with this war? Maybe not, but at least he’s not afraid to talk about things in those terms.

I don’t know if any type of war is moral, but I prefer talking about wars that are fought over commodities and land. Wars fought over ideals frighten me and I have no idea how to discuss them.

When we were done talking about all this, we discussed how I swear more and speak faster than him. He’s glad to have grown up in the Bible belt where he’s learned that it’s wrong to cuss. I tried to explain that the way I swear isn’t really cussing at all—it’s more like garnish.

Coffee shop farmer guy wants nothing to do with garnish.

I told him that my grandfather is a minister. I’ve gotten a lot of miles out of this. I whip it out whenever I’m confronted with very Christian people—as if this fact somehow speaks to my own beliefs.

When we were done talking about all the things we could think of to talk about, he read me prices from the Piggly Wiggly circular in case I needed to do any shopping while in town.

He asked me if I liked veiny (this is what it sounded like to me) sausages. After having him twice repeat the food in question, I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about. He brought the circular over and pointed to a picture.

I said, “Oh, Vienna sausages. I didn’t know what the hell you were talking about.”

He said, “Oh, that’s how you guys say it? Well, I don’t care what you call ’em—three cans for a dollar is a pretty good price.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Letting the Days Go By (including Self-Publishing Stuff #1)

For whatever reason, I woke up feeling great this morning. Suddenly this trip seems like the best idea ever, and all the days I’ve spent before it seem crazy in retrospect. We’ll see how long this lasts. The water I filled my five-gallon jug with yesterday was probably tainted.

The Baton Rouge reading was on Monday. In the audience were two people, a man and a woman, who’ve worked in departments similar to DMR. I was happy to listen to their experiences working with “Individuals.” The woman told all of us the first line of the book she’s been struggling to write: “On the day I found out my daughter had spinal bifida, I got a standing ovation.”

We all told her that it was a very interesting beginning. Then I asked her how much she had completed. She said, “That’s it. I only have the first sentence.”

The next day, at Tickfaw State Park (the name did not fill me with confidence and the people working there were not nice), I cleaned out my van, packed up my stuff, and got ready to hit the road, Amelia Bedelia style. I’ve got a lot of traveling to do in the next week. I’ll be attempting to get DMR into lots of bookstores and doing a lot of writing (since I don’t have a reading until next week). I’ll also be sporadically including information about my own self-publishing experiences in some of the upcoming blogs. I know this won’t be of interest to everyone, but hopefully it helps some people.

I woke up early this morning, took some pictures of my Jackson, Mississippi campsite, and started reading Going To Extremes, a book about a man’s travels through Alaska just before the pipeline really started to affect the area. It’s very good so far and I’m glad to be reading about one of the two states I won’t be visiting.

I met a man at my Florida campsite who told me he’s driven to Alaska three times. I told him about my trip but its details didn’t impress him much. He did, however, bring me a plate of fresh fruit to share with me. I don’t think he was impressed with the six scrambled egg dinner I prepared over the fire either.

At around 8 this morning, while I was still reading, my phone rang. I looked at the number and saw that it was an unfamiliar Louisiana number. I picked up, said hello, and recognized the voice at the other end of the line almost immediately. It was Marty from the bar in New Orleans, the man who single-handedly protected an entire neighborhood from looters during Katrina. He has a pretty unique sounding voice.

It took me a while to figure out how he got my phone number, but then I remembered. I originally gave him a postcard for DMR, the last one I had on me that night, but then this cute med-student from Nicaragua asked me for one. When Marty went out for a cigarette I leaned over the bar and reached for the card I’d given him. An hour later, after she’d gone, Marty asked what’d happened to the postcard. I told him that I’d stolen it back to give to the girl from Nicaragua. He smiled and asked no questions. I handed him a business card instead. Unlike the postcards, my personal number is listed on the business cards.

He was just calling to see if I was ok. Unlike him, I don’t have an arsenal. Lots of people I meet ask if I brought a gun with me. I didn’t. I’m not even sure I’d be allowed to carry a gun across all these state lines. I don’t really know anything about that kind of stuff and I’ve never fired a handgun. I have fired a musket, though. That was kinda cool.

In the last couple weeks, I’ve encountered or been involved in a few incidents involving race. For the most part, after the first few, I’ve chosen not to write about them here. This blog isn’t meant to be an exposé (neither is DMR, though many would disagree with that) and it isn’t meant to be a holy, liberal northerner’s journey into the land of Baptist churches (it’s too bad Christian book stores won’t carry my book), awful radio DJs (even worse than MA), strip clubs, and racism.

Maybe I'm just noticing all this race stuff because I came here expecting it. It’s not like these things don’t happen in Massachusetts. I have friends who defend their attitudes by saying things like, “I don’t hate black people. I love black people. I just hate n*****s.” It’s also common to hear things like, “Gay people are hilarious.” And before DMR, I used to throw the word retard around a lot.

That being said, something bad happened in a Waffle House the other day, but I’m going to concentrate on the awesomeness of the place rather than write about the jackassiness of one of its employees.

For me, Waffle House was a revelation.

The moment I walked into Waffle House, my sense of smell came back. And thank god it did come back. Waffle House smells frigging awesome. I could feel myself gaining weight just by breathing the sweet, cholesterol-saturated air in there. Also, all the waitresses looked like the lunch ladies from my elementary school, so I immediately felt right at home. The food was cheap, it was delicious, it was cooked right in front of me, and Waffle Houses are on every corner here. They’re like the Starbucks of the South! And they are so much better than Starbucks. I don’t know why we don’t have them in the Northeast. I had my press manager look up the location of the closest Waffle House to Brockton, MA. It’s in Pennsylvania! All the employees of One Tiny Pizza Publishing are taking a road trip there as soon as I get back. I’ll post some photos of us pouring syrup on each other.

There’s also something called Huddle House down here. Aside from using Hudd in place of Waff, and the fact that the colors of the signs are different, the places look exactly alike. Huddle House serves more dinnery type foods, I guess. I haven’t been in one yet—and I don’t plan on visiting one either. My allegiance to Waffle House is very strong even though I suspect both restaurants are owned by the same people.

Self Publishing Stuff #1 – Blurbs!

In these little sections I’m going to write about my experiences with some random aspect of self-publishing. (Here’s the name dropping I was talking about a couple blog entries ago.)

For those of you who haven’t actually seen a copy of the novel, or visited the Amazon page or (shame on you), there are two blurbs on the back cover of DMR:

Daniel Trask reveals a world hidden from most of us, telling a story of individuals that most of society has chosen to forget. DMR tells a story about one man’s journey into the world of mental institutions for the severely disabled, but it is mostly a novel of human dignity, with all of its frustrations, joys, heartbreaks, and hilarity. In a media-saturated world, obsessed with banal images of self-improvement and skin-deep perfection, Trask’s novel strips away our pretensions and shows us the beauty of our imperfections.

− Harry Bruinius, author of Better for All The World

DMR is a compelling read that portrays not only the daily lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but also the joys and frustrations of the people who provide their assistance. At times funny, at times earthy, the novel suggests that ability and disability may intertwine among care-receivers and caregivers. DMR is a must read for people interested in services and policies in the field of developmental disabilities. I recommend it highly.

– James W. Trent, Jr., author of Inventing the Feeble Mind

I’m very proud of them. Most self-published books do not have blurbs on them—at least not blurbs by respected, traditionally published authors.

Both Harry Bruinius and James W. Trent are professors and experts in fields related to the Department of Mental Retardation.

In addition to getting blurbs, it’s been nice corresponding with them and I hope to meet up with both soon after this trip is completed.

I wrote to ten people I thought would be interested in DMR. The letters I sent complimented their work before getting into what I wanted from them. I got eight responses, which I thought was pretty phenomenal. The people who wrote back included Fred Wiseman (Titticut Follies) and Philip Zimbardo (Stanford Prison Experiment).

Of the eight who responded, four asked for a copy of the manuscript. In addition to Trent and Bruinius, Ted Conover and Thomas Szasz requested copies of DMR.

Thomas Szasz wrote The Myth of Mental Illness. It’s an incredible book and many many people read it in the sixties and seventies, so I’m flattered that he even read (and finished) my book. In the end he said he couldn’t blurb DMR because it was too far outside of his own area of research. He’s right, it is very outside of his field, but his book definitely influenced me (and millions of other people).

Ted Conover wrote Newjack (it won the National Book Critics Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) and lots of other really great books. Ultimately, he also decided he couldn’t give me a blurb. But I’m very happy that he read and really seemed to like DMR (especially after he told me to send him the manuscript ONLY if I didn’t mind the fact that he’d probably never get a chance to look at it).

We discussed making the book nonfiction, but I decided I couldn’t do that. We corresponded about DMR quite a bit and it was pretty thrilling for me. I admire his work a great deal. And I’m hopefully going to meet up with him in New York either during this trip or after.

Conover also introduced me (via telephone) to his friend John Thorndike who wrote Another Way Home. His book isn’t similar to mine at all, but I enjoyed it a lot and we chatted about book-promotion road trips. Thorndike did something similar to what I’m doing, but he did it in the age before GPS and modern cell phones. Like me, he spent the majority of his trip in the woods.

Advice for other self-publishers? Write to more than ten people. Do it many months (at least eight) before the publication date.