Wednesday, July 30, 2008

We Don't Have To Talk At All.

From Montana I drove to Yellowstone, the part in Wyoming. My campground was horribly overcrowded, but I didn’t spend much time there on the first night. I arrived kind of late and spent more time wandering around the park than I did sitting near my tent. I saw some deer, some bighorn sheep, a moose, some bison, and a bunch of weird small animals.

In the middle of the first night, after I’d fallen asleep, the group in the site closest to mine got back home after a day of fishing. They were a father and two sons and a few friends. They were all drunk (even though I’m pretty sure some of them were only 14 or 15), and the father was one of these guys who has to tell everyone exactly how to do everything. So for about an hour, I listened to him telling these kids how to set up their stuff and pack away their fish and brush their teeth, etc.

At one point a wolf howled and silenced them (and everyone else in the park) for about three seconds. It was a nice three seconds.

I eventually fell back asleep after listening to them arguing for 20 minutes about how to start a fire. When I woke up, they were gone, and I saw that they never did get the fire going.

That day I drove the hour and a half to Old Faithful. I got there just as one eruption was finishing up and decided to wait the hour and 45 minutes for the next one.

It was lunch time so I walked over to the gift shop/cafeteria to get some food, but there were like 600 families in line, each with 15 or 16 screaming 4-year old children.

I grabbed a can of refried beans from the back of my van and ate it with a sleeve of saltines in the parking lot (I’ve run out of quick snack foods to eat).

After eating I went into the store and asked the dude working there if there were any WiFi spots in the park. Before I finished asking he said, all rude-like, “no.” Then he said, all contemptuous-like, something about how people come to Yellowstone to escape that stuff.

As it turns out, there are wireless spots in both Yellowstone and the Tetons; you just have to sneak into one of the weird, huge hotels in the middle of the parks to access it.

I grabbed a spot in front of Old Faithful about twenty minutes before it was scheduled to erupt again. It was very hot and the children in the family next to me were complaining endlessly. Every time Old Faithful steamed or shot out a little bit of water (which it often does) the children would scream that it was over and they wanted to go. Their father joked, 13 or 28 times, that Old Faithful was nothing more than a man waiting underground with a fire hose. His 76 children thought this was a riot and it was the only thing that got them through the ordeal that is Old Faithful. Every time they started to complain he would tell this fire hose joke and they would roll in a great sweaty pile, laughing hysterically and repeating the joke over and over until they remembered they were very hot and bored.

The eruption was twenty-five or so minutes late. At the ten-minute-late mark the joke switched from firehoses to, “Old Faithful isn’t very faithful is it?” The children laughed even harder at this one, perhaps because it was only told 11 or 12 times and never got stale.

The family got fed up and left about two minutes before Old Faithful erupted.

When I got back to my campsite a new family had taken the vacant spot left by the fishermen. This family was from Utah and they had only one child, a kid named Marky.

I sat near my tent and opened up The Naked and the Dead, a book I’ve been reading since before my onslaught of visitors.

I didn’t get very far. Although Marky was a child of few words and sounds, his parents felt the need to be constantly talking at him.

Get off the coolers, Marky.


Mommy doesn’t like it when you say no to her, Marky.


If you say no to your mother one more time you’re getting a time out.



Stop hanging on that tree, Marky.


If you say no to her one more time . . .


Stop kicking the SUV, Marky.


Stop touching the grill, Marky.


Get off the coolers, Marky . . . You can’t climb on that cooler either, Marky . . . No, not that one either.


No, Marky.


Get out of that tent, Marky. We like to be able to see you.


Do you want to take a nap, Marky?

(comes running out of tent) No!

No rocks on your plate, Marky. Don’t touch that.

You have to get down, Marky . . . Get down, Marky . . . Marky! Get down now! Do you want a time out?


Did you check Marky’s diaper, honey?

You check Marky’s diaper, dear.

I did it last.

Do it again! He won’t stand still long enough for me to check it.

This went on for about an hour, until it was dark out. After getting into his pajamas Marky came out of the tent and asked his father why the fire wasn’t burning yet. His father told him the fire pit wasn’t a very good one (though it was the same exact fire pit that’s in every single park ever). Disgusted, Marky through a stick into the fire pit (it barely missed his dad’s head, unfortunately) and went back into the tent.

Getting him to go to bed was another ordeal, but I won’t list all of that. By midnight the kid complied and went to bed despite being angry about the lack of a campfire.

The father’s snoring and gassiness (and like three car alarms) kept me up for a good part of the night. The snoring wasn’t that loud, but our tents were that close.

The next day, while packing up my own site, they piled into their truck to go exploring for the day. Although the exit was clearly marked, it took the father three loops around the campground to get out.

I will never camp in the Disneyworld of wilderness that is Yellowstone again.

My campground in Grand Teton was awesome. A friend from my writing group suggested it. I had to get up at five on Sunday to get a spot, but it was worth it. The only bad thing about it was that the other campers were all way awesomer than me. They had incredible equipment and clothing and could set wood on fire just by looking at it. There were even sites reserved for people on bicycles. The people in that part of the campground had biked hundreds and thousands of miles to be there.

I’m picking up my friend Danielle in Denver tomorrow, and my next reading is in Bismarck on August 5th.

Self-Publishing Stuff #5—Writing!

Lots of people ask about my writing habits at my readings, so I will talk about them here for those of you who are interested. Many people also ask what my parents do and what economic class I am. I’m not sure why they ask this, but I will answer that first.

My mother is a nurse at the VA and my dad is an English professor at a community college. I think this makes me middle class.

When writing, I write a thousand words a day. While writing DMR I generally wrote more than this without trying to. The first draft of the book was 176,000 words (close to 700 pages double spaced Times New Roman). The final book is about 73,000 words I think. I do sometimes skip days, but I keep track of these and make up for them later. I try to write in the morning, and whenever possible, I get up to make sure it’s the first thing I do in the day.

I started off by saying “when writing” because I’m not always writing. After finishing DMR I took a couple months off. I didn’t write at all, I just read.

This summer I have been keeping up with the thousand words a day thing for the most part. And yes, I do count the blog entries in this.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Joining The World Of Missing Persons

Liz’s luggage was returned to her four days after it was lost. It ended up in Alaska somehow.

The night after Liz left I drove as far as I could and found a cheap motel (I couldn’t bear making the transition directly from 5 star to tent.

This motel (where I had to wake up the proprietor to get a room) had beds that vibrate for a quarter. I didn’t try it out because I didn’t want to shake up all the bed bugs and other grime caked into the unwashed sheets and tired mattress, but I’m glad I finally saw a vibrating bed—I was beginning to think they didn’t really exist outside of those motels with hourly rates, the kind with beds you can get pregnant from sleeping in.

The next day I drove through the upper, rectangular part of Idaho and stopped in Wallace, the silver mining capital of the world. Aside from the neon beer lights in the windows of the saloons, the main drag through town looks as though it hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years.

I went into one of the bars and got a barbecue brisket sandwich made in the barbecue on wheels out in the street.. As I was finishing up, an older couple wandered in and began chatting up the middle-aged bartender. The couple ordered beers and continued asking the bartender about the town and her own family. The bartender started talking about her husband the miner. The old woman was kind of shocked to hear that her husband was a minor, but she tried to hide her disapproval, kinda. This went on for two or three minutes before they realized they were having two different conversations.

“Oh, I thought you were saying minOR,” the old woman yelled while laughing.

After finishing my meal I drove through Montana. I passed through Missoula and over the Blackfoot River. It’s an incredibly beautiful state and the landscape varies quite a bit as you drive through—from glacier, to mountain, to grassy plain, to lake, to crops. That night I stopped at a random state park just before dark. I pulled into a camping site and was about to set up my tent when I noticed the top of a tipi sticking out over the tree tops. I wandered over to investigate and found there was a tipi available for nightly rental. It was ten bucks more than the tent sites, but I figured I’d never get the chance to sleep in a tipi again, so I rented it and threw all my stuff inside. The tipis in Montana parks are big enough for a dozen people, so I spread out all my stuff in an attempt to make the thing feel less eerily cavernous.

Despite the hole in the top, the teepee wasn’t buggy. It rained a little, but I was close enough to the edge that the water didn’t bother me or my spread out stuff.

The next day was my Helena reading. I searched the state park I was in and found there were no showers, so I drove to Helena and decided to get a room at a Motel 6 that night. I still had some internet catching up to do (from all the time I spent with visitors in the last three weeks) and I had to take a shower before the reading—I was covered in bug spray and driving grime and my hair was sticking straight out in all possible directions.

For a few hours before the reading I caught up on e-mails (almost), did some writing and facebooking and scrabulousing, and took a shower. After dressing, I had a lunch of sardines and crackers (since I feel weird cooking on my propane stove outside of motels). Eating the sardines after the shower was a very bad idea, especially with the beard. I could smell them for the rest of the night, and the fact that I could smell them is a very bad thing. I felt like one of The Twits.

At the library I introduced myself to the librarian who’d arranged the reading. She shook my hand and stared at me for a few seconds before finally saying, “Nice beard.”

The reading went very well. All the audience members were there because they were interested in DMR or the trip. Sometimes my audiences are primarily made up of potential self-publishers—this is great, but self-publishers often don’t buy each other’s books (which is of course very stupid).

Everyone had good questions and suggestions as to what I should do while in Montana.

After the reading the librarian and her roommate took me out for dinner at a small bar across the street. I tried a Blackfoot River beer and got an Indian taco. They told me bits and pieces of Helena history, mostly about the gold mining. There are still millions and millions of dollars worth of gold under the capital city, but no one can get to it now that the city has been built.

They said some things about Montana being a good place to hide, about lots of people ending up there because they were running and hiding from something in their lives or past. The Unabomber and a number of other famous criminals were mentioned. I didn’t think much about it then, but while driving through Montana the next day, I found myself imagining scenarios in which I’d have to run to Montana to hide from my life—not the most unsavory proposition in the world.

I asked about the small casinos on every Helena corner and the slot machines in every Helena bar. Apparently the taxes from these places pay teachers’ pensions. I investigated two of the casinos next to rest stops on the highway. They were both very depressing and only about the size of a large dining room. Most of the gamblers were retired people. Seeing a casino every hundred feet was very odd to me. We don’t have any in Massachusetts, and the ones in neighboring states are huge resorts.

They asked me about my trip and I described some of the more interesting moments. I also told them of my masseuse dilemmas. Their solution for the bumble bee breath girl was to think of grandmothers playing baseball naked. I will definitely try this next time I get a full-body massage in Portland, OR.

After dinner they offered to let me sleep at their place. I told them I couldn’t because I’d already gotten a room and my notes and clothes were spread all over the place.

They offered to plant cockroaches in my room so I wouldn’t have to pay for it, but again I said no.

Just before we parted in the library parking lot they asked one more time if I’d like to stay with them—there was a misunderstanding about suggesting I sleep with the dogs, which transitioned into a misunderstanding about suggesting I sleep with them, which transitioned into a misunderstanding about all of us (dogs included) sleeping in a big bed together. I was very confused, but again said no.

In retrospect, I wish I’d cleaned up my stuff at the Motel 6, planted bugs in strategic locations, and hung out with them that night.

The next morning they took me out for breakfast at a place where you’re kicked out for talking on a cell phone. The place sometimes kicks you out just for not putting your phone on silent.

It was a great breakfast and they did their best to explain the misunderstanding about suggesting I sleep with the dogs. At the very least, they said, it would be a good addition to my blog. I appreciate people who don’t mind being embarrassed in the blog.

I told them about the rest of my trip and that I’d be staying in Yellowstone next. They asked if I had bear spray and I was so excited to finally have a legitimate reason for carrying that nasty stuff everywhere I go.

When I got to the North entrance of Yellowstone, the one with the Roosevelt arch, the woman at the gate told me I was an hour and a half away from my camp site. Apparently it’s a very large park. While driving to where I’d be sleeping, some bison crossed the road right in front of me. I got out and took a few pictures while waiting for them. They can run 30 miles per hour, but they walk very slowly.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

All The Girls Standing In The Line For The Bathroom/Someone Left The Cake Out In The Rain Part Two

Just a couple quick updates:

Liz's luggage was lost.

I have a reading in Helena on Thursday.

In case you didn't notice or recognize it, that's the Fresh Prince's house in front of the Odyssey.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

All The Girls Standing In The Line For The Bathroom/Someone Left The Cake Out In the Rain

I met my friend Liz at LAX. After having a quick lunch we drove to our extremely posh hotel. At the hotel we ate fancy foods and got massages. There were a few instances when my male masseuse touched me inappropriately (after telling me that first time clients were his favorite), but it seemed like a pretty good massage.

And just in case you haven’t been following this blog from day one, in the first blog entry I mentioned my mechanic who checked out the Odyssey. That mechanic is Liz’s husband. I was in their wedding a few months back (this information will come in handy in a few).

It was decided months ago, when Liz first planned her trip to visit me, that this portion of my trip would be the most luxurious. We booked only four star and up hotels, and although I was nervous about them we planned a number of spa treatments.

Our first night in LA we went to and had a remarkably good dinner. I’d never eaten in a restaurant even close to that expensive.

The next day I got some electroshock therapy thing at the spa that is supposedly equal to 300 workouts. I wish they’d included the fact that people must wear disposable underpants in the description of the treatment. The underpants didn’t cover very much.

The woman who gave me this treatment was very beautiful in an LA way. She wore way too much makeup, I’m pretty sure she’d had breast implants, and she worried out loud about the troublesome fatty zones on her body although there really wasn’t much fat on her.

She started me out at a very low level of electric shock and asked if I wanted to go higher. I told her I did not, that the electricity was already kind of uncomfortable. She kind of scoffed at this, telling me that most of her female patients went higher, but my arms felt like they were going to explode from the very forceful involuntary contractions.

She asked me to explain why the tan/burn on my shoulders was so weird. I told her that it was a suntan lotion mishap (thank you Gina).

I asked her where she was from and she said LA. She asked me a little about myself. I told her I was from Boston and that I was on a road trip. I also mentioned that I wasn’t accustomed to the spa lifestyle.

She told me she’d never been to Boston, but that she had been to New York City on business the week before. She complained that it was too congested. I thought this was very odd. I can understand a person from the Midwest complaining that New York is too congested, but for a person from LA to suggest it is kind of ridiculous. I do think that New York is more congested than LA, but not to the point where a person from LA would be uncomfortable. But then she went on to tell me how terrified of terrorist attacks she was while in New York. She talked about how the subway system is a great terrorist target and how claustrophobic she’d felt down there, and suddenly I understood why a person from LA would describe New York as congested.

I wanted to tell her she was being silly, but I didn’t.

The next day Liz and I drove to San Francisco. A few hours into the trip, in the desert, the air conditioning in the van broke (sorry Danielle and Greg). We pulled into a gas station in Huron, California. There they told us we had a major Freon leak (which I already knew from the white mist that intermittently comes out of my vents). I asked if there was anything they could do about it and they asked me to give them a minute.

While wandering around the garage, the owner gave Liz and I cups of iced tea. We also heard what sounded like a squeeking rat. I asked Liz what she thought it was and she said, rather flatly and assuredly, a rat.

We wandered into the bay where the squeeking was coming from and found a man feeding nuts or bread or something into a box. He was laughing and yelling something in Spanish to all the other Mexican dudes working in the place. I asked Liz what they were saying (since she’s fluent in both Spanish and German), but she didn’t answer.

Liz guessed it was 105 degrees, but I told her it was only 90 or so. Then a man from the garage told us it was 107 degrees.

A few minutes after that, they told me my AC compressor was busted. When I informed them that I’d had it replaced about three months ago (Liz’s husband did this), they looked quite perplexed.

I grabbed the keys and left. We bought a bag of ice and Liz rested it on her chest and stomach as we drove. We both made sure to drink lots of water.

While driving I asked Liz about the rat. She was cooler and told me what the Mexicans had been saying.

While repairing a car, one of them had heard a weird sound. When he opened the trunk he saw a rat. The men working there weren’t sure if it was a pet or just a rat that’d wandered into the trunk, so they kept it in a box and were feeding it until the owner of the car returned.

We drove to San Francisco from LA with no air conditioning for the majority of the trip. I don’t mind the heat, but I felt very bad about this because Liz had gone to the trouble of planning a pretty fancy four nights—but she handled it like a trooper.

When we got to San Francisco we had to go straight to dinner to meet some friends for a reservation. We’d been planning on showering and changing first, but the ac fiasco caused us to arrive so late that we had were forced to go straight to dinner.

We met my friend Ronak and her boyfriend Uchenna at Ruth’s Chris (the only chain we’re eating at I think). Ronak and I grew up one town apart but didn’t meet each other until we were nearly done with college. She’s an incredibly nice and interesting person and meeting up with people like her and random family I barely remember and friends of friends has been one of the high points of this entire trip.

When we got to the hotel we were told we’d been given a crazy upgrade. Liz and I were both excited about this and saw it as redemption for a very tough and hot day. When we got upstairs we were dazzled by the room. There was a fourteen seat conference table, a nice bathroom, a kitchen, and a huge tv. But after a little investigating, we realized there were no beds. (Thank you, William Shatner.)

When we called downstairs to ask about the beds, the woman was shocked that we’d been put in a room reserved for conferences. And after about 75 minutes wait and four phone calls we discovered there were no more foldaway beds left. There was some sort of big conference in town and they’d taken all the beds.

One of the Spanish speaking dudes working for housekeeping found Liz a renegade foldaway bed that staff usually used (it was really old and weird looking), and I slept on the floor.

The room was free and we were given a coupon for a free night at any Westin in the country, so everything kinda worked out.
The next day, after a shitty night sleep (our room stuff wasn’t worked out until 1 a.m.), we embarked on our air-condition-free 11 hour journey to Portland. I drove the entire way, and I think this is the second longest distance I’ve driven in one day—but this day was much easier because I had a friend to talk to. The other time I drove this far I slipped into a dream and my van drove itself off the road and into the desert. I’m very lucky this happened in Texas and not somewhere in a more populated region. The only thing I hit was a low bush, and there wasn’t a person around to see me do it (that was the first thing I checked for). I can’t remember what the dream was about.

The hotel in Portland wasn’t as nice as we’d thought it would be (though still much nicer than the motel 6s I’ve been staying in during thunder storms). But we weren’t staying Portland for the hotel, we were staying there for the spa.

After sleeping kinda late (due to the long drive) we went to the spa. Liz was scheduled for a facial and I had a massage. I requested a girl this time.

Liz’s appointment was a few minutes after mine, so I went into the waiting area without her and met the girl who was going to give me my massage. She was probably the cutest girl I’ve ever seen, and I think about my age. She was around 5’6” with dark hair and lots of freckles, and she was incredibly nice (although it was a non-gratuity spa).

She gave me a foot bath before the massage. I apologized for my gross feet (and they are really gross at this point), but she didn’t seem too worried. I explained that I’d been camping for a couple months, and for every detail of my trip that I told her, she responded with an enigmatic smile and the words, “right on.” It’s possible that she was stoned. Liz thought every single person we met in Portland was stoned (including an older woman we met at a gas station who clamed she waits at the gas station for authors from all over the world to show up).

For the massage she told me to place a very small towel over my butt while she stepped outside. I did this, but the towel did not cover as much of my rear as I would’ve liked.

This massage was very different from the first one I got. Although her hands didn’t’ graze my privates, it was a pretty sexual experience. The massage was good, much better than the first guy, but I think if I ever get a massage in the future I’ll ask for a dude.

She massaged my butt, which was kind of shocking to me. She also massaged my beard, which I thought was kind of hilariously awesome. But at one point her lips were less than a centimeter away from mine and she was breathing right into my nose.

Don’t get me wrong—it was awesome, and her breath smelled like bumble bees, but the whole situation made me kind of nervous and uncomfortable.

From there Liz and I drove to Seattle. Our hotel room was nice and we ate at the top of the Space Needle. The view is beautiful, but the spinning is a tad nauseating.

After all my worrying about it, Liz didn’t even mind my beard. In fact, she didn’t even mind when I had a chicken wing caught in it for two days.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Be Sure You Try To Climb Before You Get Too Scared

Gina and I went to Hollywood on her last full day here. I took pictures of the stars of Patrick Stewart (for a friend), Pee-Wee Herman (for my sister), and Edison (because he has some Brockton connections). We saw the Chinese theater and visited that cemetery with all the famous dead people.

That night we went to the Griffith Observatory. It’s named after a man named Griffith J. Griffith who may or may not have shot his wife in the face (we overheard someone who works on General Hospital telling his friend about this dark Hollywood secret). We stayed until dark, and from up there, it really is like looking down on the stars (I’m a flibbertygibbit).

In the last ten days or so I’ve done a lot of touristy things. It’s fun to see landmarks like the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam and all the famous spots in the LA area, but I’ve met more foreigners than Americans at these places. At the Grand Canyon, three groups of French people were camping within 20 feet of me and Allie. And on our trip to San Francisco, Gina and I sat near more Germans than Americans. On the ride home (and I left this out of my last blog entry because it was still too fresh) I actually woke up in the middle of the night, yelled something about the bus going too fast, and grabbed and squeezed the head of the dude, a German, sitting in front of me. I don’t remember any of this since I was still half asleep, but Gina gleefully filled me in when we arrived back in LA. Luckily he wasn’t a violent German; he was more of a terrified German.

Before she left, Gina complimented my bad driving. Apparently she thought it was an intentional marketing tactic (since I have One Tiny Pizza Publishing’s web site printed on the back of my van). But if bad driving was a good marketing tactic, then I’d be a millionaire by now.

She also left me with the following advice:

Trust no man, though he may be your brother

Whose hair is one color, and beard is another.

I’ve been getting a lot of flak about my beard lately. I’m picking up my friend Liz at the LAX airport tomorrow. She called earlier tonight to tell me my beard better be shaved by the time she gets here. She also scheduled some spa treatments for me in the four star hotels we’re staying in (that I will never be able to pay her back for). I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these treatments is a facial wax or something—if they even do that.

It’s going to be tough to go back to camping and sleeping in the van after all this hoteling and moteling.

Self-Publishing Stuff #4—Map Day!

About seven months ago, my friend Dennis helped me plan the route for this trip. He’s driven cross-country a few times, spent years as a professional bus driver, is the most incredible parker I know, and seems to have an innate sense of direction.

We set aside a Saturday (I took off the day from Walnut Hill security guarding), gathered all the atlases, maps, and star wars monopoly figures we had, and prepared to plan a 62-stop, 16,000-mile trip (it’s actually going to be about 20,000 miles).

We spread my huge US map across his dining room table and placed game pieces (we had to use Trouble pieces and a couple other game pieces in addition to the Star Wars Monopoly pieces) on all of the 62 cities I planned to visit.

One of Dennis’s roommates noticed what we were doing and decided to join in. He’d been to many more parts of the country than me (a common trend in my life up until a few weeks ago) and had lots of suggestions regarding places to stop, things to see, and routes to take.

A straight-from-Italy Italian friend of Dennis’s roommate showed up a little later on in the day. The two of them were supposed to go see Rocky Balboa (I think), but they got so caught up in planning the trip that they skipped the movie.

Seven months before this thing even began, people were telling me they wanted to tag along or that they wished they could do something similar. And just about every day someone tells me they wish they could abandon their lives (at least for a little while) and join me.

I’m glad that all my friends have jobs and school, because I can’t think of a single one I’d want to spend 14 weeks with in a van. But I’m also glad so many of them are willing to spend money and time to join me for a short portion of the trip.

This isn’t one of those self-publishing tidbits that prospective self-publishers can really use, but I decided to include it because Map Day is one of those days that has really made this whole process worthwhile. I enjoy hanging out with friends more when we get something done or when we go on a small mission (like Institution Day), and these days are part of the reason I like doing this stuff on my own—and of course, I use the phrase on my own very loosely.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bustin' Makes Me Feel Good

My friend Gina (a rampant Cure fan who wore lipstick around her eyes until c. 2002) arrived at LAX about two hours after Allie left. She brought only one small bag of stuff for her entire six-day visit.

The first day we wandered around LA and went to the Museum of Jurassic Technology. I worried when I read their first plaque about antediluvian man (and thought maybe I’d wandered back into the bible belt), but my worries were unfounded and it was actually a very cool place. I think I enjoyed it more than Gina, though she was the one who suggested we go there.

We ate at a Mexican outdoor restaurant (like Corpus Christi Texas, the vast majority of restaurants near our motel in Inglewood are Mexican). Gina’s vegetarian enchiladas came packed with beef, so she went hungry because she wouldn’t let me bring the error to the attention of the woman who’d taken our order. My burrito tasted like dog food, but I finished it. We’re not going back to that restaurant.

The next day we drove down to San Diego to visit the zoo. It’s a pretty incredible place. We didn’t wait in line for the celebrity panda, but we snuck up to a fence and watched him (or her) do nothing through the cracks in the wood.

The next day we went to a party at my friend Derek’s house. I hadn’t seen him in years, and I haven’t really spoken to him since high school. We were in the same program for smart kids in fifth and sixth grade and it was there that we created the comic Spanky and Slim Jim. I think I mostly just peed my pants laughing while Derek wrote and drew all the stories—tales such as: Spanky and Slim Jim and the Great Glass Eye, Spanky and Slim Jim and the Pulsating Pelvis, Spanky and Slim Jim and Beaver Giardia, and Spanky and Slim Jim and E. Coli the Little Guy (this one was my favorite). The whole series was a complete rip-off of Ren and Stimpy, but we had a good time making them. And with the help the television studio at Massasoit Community College, we made a movie in Jr. High called How To Become a Super Spy in Three Easy Steps. It was a great success and featured some very innovative camera work. The funniest part about watching it these days is the fact that Derek’s voice had changed but mine hadn’t. If you close your eyes and watch the movie it sounds like a young man with a chipmunk sidekick. Derek is still mad that the studio wouldn't let him include the super-spy tip: being black is a plus.

In high school Derek got mono and I took over his role in the December drama production, You Can’t Take It With You. Derek quit drama after that play and I got the majority of the funny roles from that point on. I was always very thankful that Derek got mono.

Derek currently does some graphic design stuff, but he was working in the movies, doing makeup until just before the writer’s strike. We talked about all our old friends while eating some undercooked, E. Coli ridden chicken wings.

That night, Gina and I boarded a midnight bus for San Francisco (we wanted to find Danny Tanner’s house because he was a second daddy to both of us). The bus was surprisingly full and I didn’t think we were going to get a seat together for the eight hour bus ride, but then a bearded man in shabby clothes who didn’t get the memo about the sixties being over offered to move and give us his seat. He grabbed his sticker-covered hurdy gurdy (at least we think that’s what it was) and sat down next to a biker dude across the aisle. Later on, in the middle of the night and ride, the bearded man started moaning loudly and the biker dude had to get up to find a new seat.

We arrived in San Francisco at 6:30 in the morning and nothing was open, so we walked toward a big bridge. Although it was grey and not red I began taking pictures. Gina stopped me and said it wasn’t the Golden Gate, but I insisted that it must be and they were probably in the middle of repainting it. I asked a trash man picking up bags in the park we were in and he told us the Golden Gate was actually miles away. We were looking at the Bay Bridge.

We took a trolley up the road a ways and walked to the Golden Gate. The day was overcast, but the bridge is still very cool to look at. I’ll be driving over it in a few days when I take the Odyssey up the West Coast.

We didn't find Danny Tanner's house, but I'm pretty sure I saw Comet running through the Golden Gate park.

Yesterday we went to Malibu and I jumped into the Pacific for the first time. I don’t deal with chilly water very well so I didn’t stay in long, but I’m glad I can say I’ve been submerged in it. When I got out of the water, I discovered a seagull had pooped on my fanny pack and I was pretty pissed off.

Last night we had dinner with my friend Ezra, a guy who’s been very good friends with my older sister since high school. He had a book published in the fall, Cinescopes (which was featured in Parade magazine and the Early Show), and worked in Hollywood for years before that. He’s out of Hollywood now, working with Autistic kids, and hoping to get a series of children’s books published. It was nice for me to pick his brain about publishing and promotion. Although I haven't tried it yet, I am interested in learning as much as I can about traditional publishing. He said to write lots of query letters. He and his co-author wrote over a hundred before they got a response from an agent.

Gina talked a little about her own efforts in 16 millimeter animation. Ezra seemed surprised when we told him about our network of hugely unsuccessful artists (our failed gallery). He had to go to Hollywood to find a network of creative people.

BTW, Gina and I watched Be Kind Rewind on a night when we were too tired to do any more sightseeing. It is now officially the best movie ever . . . except for Ghostbusters.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sat On Their Park Bench Like Bookends

Many of my friends told me I HAD to go to Austin, TX. As I was driving into the city a couple weeks ago, a friend called and told me she’d recently read that Austin is the number one city in the country for singles. I had no idea what this meant, but it sounded promising.

In my opinion, some cities are great to visit whether or not you’re with other people, like Philadelphia and DC. Other cities are best seen with friends. Austin is one of these cities, along with Kansas City and New Orleans.

I didn’t have much fun in Austin. Being single is very different from being alone. I wouldn’t mind going back with friends sometime in the future, but if I ever take another solo road trip, I’m all set with Austin.

On my way to New Mexico, I drove to Carlsbad and did some non-metaphorical caving. It’s a very impressive place and I ate my lunch 700 feet under the earth.

After surfacing, I drove through Roswell (during the week of Alien fest), watched a July 4th parade that featured slightly fewer ride-on lawnmowers than the July 4th parades in Maine, and drove to meet my cousin Katahdin in Santa Fe.

Katahdin is a student at St. John’s, a college where all they do is read books, from Euclid’s Geometry up through some Faulkner and other modernish writers (only one of the author’s they read is still alive). Hopefully Katahdin can get DMR added to the list.

The first night we hung out on the campus where about 400 students attend classes during the regular year. Katahdin has a job that sometimes forces him to be on-call and on-campus. It’s been a few years since I’ve spent much time with him. In that period Katahdin has spent a year in Africa (where he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro), gone through two years of college, and learned way too many Borat quotes and bawdy limericks.

The next day I drove to the Albuquerque airport to pick up my friend Allie. She didn’t recognize me as she walked into the terminal (I was wearing my straw hat and fanny pack and sporting more facial hair than she’s ever seen on me).

Allie and I explored Santa Fe without Katahdin; he was still on duty. When I asked Katahdin to give us recommendations, he said he’d never really spent much time in town since he’s always reading books. This seemed like an indicator that he’s chosen a good school, but I hope he never reads Walden in the woods.

Santa Fe is a great little city, either with a friend or without. If you have money, there’s lots of art to buy, and if you don’t have money, there are plenty of nude statues and nude paintings to take pictures of yourself in front of. We visited the Georgia O’Keefe museum and saw some Ansel Adams prints. And although she’s a vegetarian, Allie bought a pair of leather cowboy boots.

That night, at Katahdin’s insistence, we watched Borat. I realized how many parallels there are between his journey and my own. My moustache isn’t nearly as full as his, but I feel a real kinship with the man. After Borat, at Allie’s insistence, we watched Two Weeks Notice. This film gave Katahdin severe diarrhea.

Towards the end of the film, a St. John’s student walked into the common room where we were watching the film (because Katahdin doesn’t have a television) and asked Allie if there was any part of her body she wouldn’t let Hugh Grant kiss. Allie told him to keep his eyes on the television. I think he’s been reading some extracurricular books.

On Monday I gave my reading at the Albuquerque public library and it was nice to have Allie and Katahdin there with me. It was also nice to have an old lady in the audience (who seemed to be tripping on cough syrup) ask me question after metaphysical question that I was unable to answer.

I don’t have another reading for a couple weeks. During this period I’ll be spending time with friends in California, Oregon, and Washington. It’ll be a nice change of pace, and I’m very grateful they're willing to spend the money to come out and join me in my rather stinky Odyssey.

Allie and I drove from Albuquerque to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We toured much of it and camped in the park that night. The next day while driving to the Hoover Dam, a red minivan going like 90 miles per hour cut us off. Two minutes later the minivan got pulled over and Allie and I both cheered. I like cops once in a while.

From the Hoover Dam we drove to Vegas where the temp was over 110 degrees. We took some pictures and lost two dollars in a slot machine—it was thrilling.

That night we drove to LA (lots of driving that day and Allie and I were forced to eat peanuts off the floor of the van since there weren’t many places to grab snacks). We drove straight to the ocean where Allie jumped in the Pacific. I just waded because I’ll be here for a few days and have opportunities to go swimming during the day when it’s much hotter.

I think the Grand Canyon and the Pacific are both best seen with friends.

I’ll be spending the next few days in LA and the surrounding area with my friend Gina, then I’m driving up Route 1 with my friend Liz.

(Added after original post was published)
John Thorndike (author of Another Way Home and other books) and I met for coffee in Santa Fe after discovering we were both spending a couple days there. He'd read my book on the bank of the Cheyenne river during a canoe trip. I had to wipe off the mud before signing his copy. He said he liked the book very much, especially the fact that the ending offers no redemption. We discussed the self-publishing process. I think I convinced him it's a legitimate method, but maybe he was just being nice.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

That’s What Keeps Your Daddy Up There So High (Including Self-Publishing Stuff #3)

Let me preface this by saying that the man I’m writing about in this blog entry told me he’d fly to Boston and kick my ass if he found himself in my third book (the book I said I might write about this trip).

The man I’m writing about is a large man, from Texas, a Vietnam veteran, with a large (at least to me) collection of guns.

He didn’t say anything about blogs, so I’m hoping he won’t buy a ticket to Boston on account of what I write here. He is, however, tentatively planning a visit to Boston in October, so if this blog entry really makes him angry, I guess he won’t even have to buy an extra ticket.

That being said—here goes.

My father e-mailed to say his friend from an online Vietnam War discussion list was interested in meeting me. I didn’t know until well into my visit with this man, but he’d been reading my blog entries.

I’d heard of him before. Despite the fact that he and my father have VERY different views on a great many things, they seem to share a mutual respect for each other. While visiting T, the man from Texas, he told me a number of times that he respected my father too much to argue with him. He described my dad as a lucid writer, a perceptive man. He also said he didn’t argue with my dad because he’s sure he’d lose.

In my father’s e-mail about T, he told me that T wanted to meet me so I could spend some time with a real Texas redneck. My father assured me that, whatever T might think about himself, he is not a redneck, but a very well-read and thoughtful man.

Neither of them was for invading Iraq. And I’m not sure about my father, but I think T might be very surprised at how similar some of their views are.

T warned me that driving from Dallas to San Antonio would be very difficult, that the traffic is bad and the drivers make it worse. I prepared for the worst as I exited Dallas (pulled my straw hat down on my forehead, put Sunrise (the fatboy slim sampling of some Jim Morrison poetry or singing or something) on repeat on my mp3 player, and stowed my fanny pack safely in the rear of the Odyssey (I don’t wear it when I drive because it pinches my paunch)).

T has never driven in Boston or New York, and I think he’d probably find that both those areas of the country are much worse than the Dallas to San Antonio stretch, but then again, maybe I just got lucky and the traffic was light on the day I was there. I did have to cut off one dude in a MASSIVE pickup truck who wouldn’t let me into his lane when an exit I needed to get over for was just a couple hundred meters ahead. I’m not sure if he saw my MA license plates, or if the words “America or Burst” painted on the back of the Odyssey pissed him off, but he was bent on not letting me into his lane.

When I finally did cut in front of him, he had to slam on his breaks and turn slightly into the breakdown lane. After this, he pulled alongside to yell obscenities (he wasn’t even turning off where I was). He didn’t bother to open his window and ended up resembling a dog frothing behind a screen door. I gave him the finger and smiled and continued slowly forward (there was a fair amount of traffic) to my turnoff. Of course, the smiling made him even madder and his window started to steam up, but nothing came of it (thank god since he was huge, his truck was huge, and he had several US Marine stickers on the thing).

In San Antonio, I met my mother’s cousin and his wife for lunch at a Mexican place. We prayed before we ate. I talked to them about the graduate program I’ll be beginning in the fall and it was very nice—I hadn’t seen them in years.

After lunch I went to the Alamo. It’s a weird place, right in the middle of the downtown across from the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and Guinness World Records museums. I’d always thought it was in the desert.

I only went to see it because T had told me, over the phone, that visiting Texas without seeing the Alamo is a sacrilege. I’m glad I went. Watching the reactions of various types of visitors to the inscriptions and plaques is quite an experience. And the Alamo is a great story, with a great monument. When viewing that stuff, being surrounded by it, it’s hard to avoid wishing your own life didn’t have some sort of great purpose (or at least end) the way those men’s did.

In addition to telling me that not visiting the Alamo was a sacrilege, T told me he had a story about a relative of mine whose demise was intertwined with the struggle that took place at the Alamo.

I arrived at Corpus Christi in the early evening. T opened the front door of his house and invited me in before I had a chance to knock. I met his wife and their small dog (a new addition) and they took me out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant.

Back at the house that night we discussed all sorts of things about the upcoming election, about the Iraq war and the Vietnam war, things about my father, and border issues. The border stuff really interested me since I hadn’t discussed these things with anyone yet on my journey. I’ve heard about the border problems on the news, but it’s not one of the issues I pay very much attention to. Of course, people in Corpus Christi pay lots of attention to this issue.

Our discussion on politics and Vietnam was kind of disjointed and I didn’t press too much for details. T was an infantry officer whose platoon suffered the sort of casualties that I can’t even imagine on more than one occasion; he was injured three times and the third time sent him home for good.

I found the border conversation very interesting. T seemed to have a great deal of respect for Mexicans, a people who he described as extremely patriotic. I was told one story (which I guess made national news though I wasn’t aware of it—not surprisingly since I don’t watch nearly as much news as I should) about an anti-abortion group that began a campaign of protesting at the funerals of fallen soldiers. Although neither of them knew for sure, both T and his wife suspected they chose this particular venue for their protests for the sole reason of drawing attention to themselves. But anyway, some biker gangs began showing up at these protests to protest the protesters. They’d rev their engines to drown out the chants and cries of the anti-abortionists.

This anti-abortion group showed up in Corpus Christi, and so did the bikers, but both were pretty ineffectual because of the Mexicans who showed up at funerals, in the thousands, to prevent any sort of protest at soldiers’ funerals. As T described it, they were there to kill anyone who disrespected a dead soldier.

T told me that Hispanics have suffered an inordinate number of casualties compared to other groups of people in Iraq. As a group, they sign up more frequently than other groups for the combat positions, the jobs and situations where they’re more likely to be injured and killed.

The next morning we went to breakfast at a Mexican restaurant. I asked if there was any Texas cuisine left down where we were. T’s wife quickly said no before kind of amending her statement and listing a few non-Mexican, more barbecue type places.

T asked if I had a gun with me for the trip, and I told him I had bear spray. He and his wife seemed to think this was a suitable alternative. Then he told me that he carries a gun with him whenever he drives south. His wife was quick to add, “But don’t worry, not all Texans drive with guns.”

And then T said, “Yeah, it’s probably only about 50 percent.”

I was about to laugh, but then his wife said, with complete seriousness, “Yeah, probably about 50 percent.”

I thought back to the man I’d flipped off.

While taking me out to eat and entertaining me in his home (with the help of his wife), T told me the story of my distant relative in Texas.

Olwyn Trask went down to Texas looking for his sister Frances (kind of a bold hussy, I guess). Somehow he got involved with the Texas military and ended up being killed in the battle of San Jacinto, a decisive battle of the Texas Revolution in which General Houston’s men defeated General Santa Anna’s men. This battle is where the phrase “Remember the Alamo” came from.

Olwyn was injured by some sort of cannon fire in the beginning of the battle and died about three weeks later.

T went on to tell me that I had another distant relative who fought for the confederates. His name was Harry Trask.

When I asked my father about all this stuff he told me he was aware of Harry (because of T). He also informed me of another one of our ancestors who fought for the confederates, W.L. Trask. I also learned from my father that my great-great-great grandfather, Charles Augustus Trask, fought in a Maine regiment for the Union in the Civil War.

One other thing T said to me that I thought was interesting—he’s pissed that the KKK ruined the image of the confederate flag, a symbol that he’s not ashamed of.

When he said this, I told him the confederate flag symbolized some bad stuff to me (and I think pretty much everyone from MA). T just nodded. I wasn’t informing him of everything new, and that’s probably true of the entire time I spent with him, other than when I described bean-hole-beans and duck-boat tours to him and his wife.

I think it’s kind of funny that I had to go to Corpus Christi to learn all this stuff about my family from especially hospitable Texans who I’d never met before—and this isn’t because my dad has neglected to tell me, I just haven’t been listening.

Another genealogical note: While doing some research in San Antonio, I learned that I’m also related to Gallowspole Trask, the man who was put in charge of digging the basement of the Alamo. For some reason, he’s largely forgotten by history.

I have a reading in Albuquerque on Monday.

Self-Publishing Stuff # 3 – Formatting and Printing!

Just some quick stuff. Feel free to e-mail if you have questions.

For My Dog The Meat Eater we originally tried Print On Demand (through Booksurge, the company now linked with Amazon). Donald Davidson of Peninsula Press helped us with the formatting (it would've cost more to have Booksurge do the formatting). But we were unhappy with the customer service and the quality of the book, so for Harry's War, after formatting the book with Cutepdf Writer, we brought the files to a short-run printer and skipped working with the On-Demand company. The results with the short run printer were far superior, so we pulled My Dog from Booksurge, and brought the files to the short run printer. The books from the second printing are much nicer and more durable.

For DMR we formatted the book with Quark. It was difficult to use, but I think the end result was much better than either of the first two books. It’s a much longer book and costs a little more to print (hence the higher price) but it’s still very affordable to print only a few hundred books at a time.

We print the books at Country Press in Massachusetts and save a lot of money on shipping by picking the books up ourselves. If you're wondering about a particular printer's quality, ask them to send you some samples.