Tour Diary: Elizabeth Ellen
I don’t want to go to NYC, I don’t want to go on this tour. This always happens. Two or three months out I plan a reading or tour and feel super excited about it and then a few days before the reading or tour is to begin, I feel the exact opposite, feel like I want to cancel it, want to crawl into a closet and refuse to come out until after the time period of the tour has passed. I become insecure. I have thoughts like: “Why am I doing this?” “Why am I putting myself through this?” “None of this matters.” “I should just stay home with my family.” “’Literature’ doesn’t matter; ‘Literary fame’ even less.” “Who do you think you are, Scott McClanahan?”
The last time I was supposed to read with Chelsea in NYC, I didn’t go. I cancelled at the last minute. I woke up in a sweat. I started sobbing. “I can’t go,” I said aloud in my bedroom. I couldn’t face NYC. I remember feeling afraid of the name “Spencer Madsen.” And “Stephen Tully Dierks.” Names like that. People like that. I had read Marie Calloway’s “Jeremy Lin” piece and couldn’t stop thinking about the part in which she’s at Jeremy Lin’s apartment after her reading and somehow ends up on his laptop, reading his g-chat with some other New York person and how they were saying she wasn’t as pretty as they thought she’d be, or as good a reader. It terrified me, the thought of standing up in front of a bunch of jaded, New York City hipsters, thinking of their post-reading g-chats, what they would say about me.
Which is exactly why I had Chelsea fly to Michigan first. So I can’t back out. So we can fly to NY together. Tomorrow. Chelsea says she has Klonopin with her. She has already taken some as a “trial run” at a reading in Portland. She said we never have to be nervous again. Except I will be because I won’t take the Klonopin. I’ll shit my pants or vomit from nerves before I take a prescription drug (because the only thing I fear more than standing up in front of jaded nyc hipsters is not being “in control” of my faculties/mind, even though I kinda won’t be in control of my faculties because fear and adrenaline will completely take over in the minutes/hours leading up to my standing in front of jaded NYC hipsters). But I won’t cancel this goddamn tour. I won’t do that again either.
The room’s not ready when we arrive at 2 pm so Chelsea and I end up eating in the hotel’s lobby restaurant. We share a club sandwich because (Chelsea says) they’re too expensive to order two and then we share a plate of red velvet cupcakes because (all of a sudden) we feel decadent. I keep thinking about this Andy Warhol quote, “Wasting money puts you in a real party mood.”
I text Dylan Nice who is reading tonight with Chelsea at KGB and who currently is walking around Manhattan with Amy Butcher killing time until our room is ready and ask him if he can pick up a bottle of Maker’s on his way because I won’t take Klonopin but I’ll drink Maker’s. Everyone is full of contradictions to his/her personal philosophy and this is mine.
At 3pm the room is ready and Chelsea showers and then I take a bath and the bath offers me both temporary relaxation as well as a sound buffer so I can shit without Chelsea hearing me.
Dylan and Amy arrive and we open the bottle of Maker’s and listen to the new Eminem album which we will listen to continuously on tour and I am less nervous than I thought I’d be, than I normally am, which may be because I’m only hosting, not reading or because Amy is here and Amy is like human Xanax for me. We joke that we should just hold the reading here, in the hotel room. Then we go outside and take a taxi to KGB because I’m in heels and don’t care about wasting money.
The first person I see, sitting on the steps outside KGB, is Kendra Grant Malone. There are two other people with her but I don’t recognize either of them.
We go inside and up the stairs with which I am familiar from watching videos of KGB readings online by way of preparing for tonight. I have worked out a speech in my head that I won’t end up giving about how 10+ years ago I was standing in a Border’s in Flint, Michigan where I then lived, studying the literary anthology section, when I saw the KGB Reader. I think I probably took it to the café and read the history of the bar, what famous literary figures had read there, while my daughter looked at picture books. I hadn’t published anything at that point, just had this fantasy in my head of being a “writer.” Now my fantasy concluded with doing a reading at KGB, which seemed as likely to happen as my fantasy of marrying Dave Eggers (which was still a year or two out). Maybe less likely.
It’s smaller than I thought it’d be, even having watched the videos. There are less people here than I thought there’d be. You make a Facebook event page and all these people say they are coming and you actually expect them to come. Where is Tao Lin? This is really all I am thinking. He promised to come. Suddenly I’m not nervous at all. Maybe it’s the lack of people. There is a decent size crowd but no one who intimidates me. No Giancarlo. No Tao. I don’t care anymore about being cool and so I don’t try to be.
After the reading half the people leave right away and the other half sit in groups and I feel torn between them so I don’t move. I stay seated and Sarah Jean Alexander and Spencer Madsen come over and sit with me and instantly I am no longer afraid of the name “Spencer Madsen” because Spencer is just a younger version of Mike Young and then Mira Gonzalez shows up. “Tao told me to tell you he’s not dead,” she says, and someone in this trio sets a box of homemade cookies on the table and I look at them but don’t eat them because I am unsure if they have pot in them or not; no one says they have pot in the them but maybe it is assumed they have pot in them. Anyway I am always assuming everything is laced or that I will be unwittingly dosed because I read those state-by-state news stories in USA Today and this is the kind of shit that happens.
At some point Kendra comes over to say goodbye and I feel momentarily sad because we haven’t even had a chance to talk yet and it’s been this way since 2010, when she and her French boyfriend spent a weekend at my house. But then I get a text from Michelle Orange, who read right after Kendra and left before her, and whom I didn’t get a chance to talk to either. “Good reading but your author seems like an asshole,” her text says. I have spent ten years trying to be Michelle’s friend, spilling my guts out to her in what were once frequent g-chats in which she never told me anything that was going on in her life. We are supposed to go see Sinead O’Connor together Friday night (her suggestion, my tickets) but after this “asshole” comment, I know we won’t go. I text back, “Dylan?” as a joke but also to force the issue and she responds, “Chelsea,” and then never responds again and I know our “friendship,” which was only ever one-sided anyway, is over. And I show the text to Chelsea and Sarah Jean and Mira and Spencer and Dylan and Amy and we all have a good laugh about it, about Chelsea being an asshole, as we walk to the subway and sit on the subway and go up the elevator to our hotel room.
We talk about ordering pizza and for half an hour Amy is on her phone trying to order pizza and Dylan is falling asleep on the couch because he drank too much before the reading and at the reading and the rest of us are drinking beer or Maker’s and shit-talking the Internet.
I keep thinking I’m surprised how much I like Mira and forgetting she’s only 21. Later I will spend a considerable amount of time thinking about age and friendship and deciding ultimately I don’t give a shit about it, about societal norms and how we’re supposed to mainly hang out with people in our age group or what might be “wrong” with you if you seem to regularly hang out with people considerably younger than yourself, how maybe you haven’t matured properly or something or whatever.
Dylan leaves before Chelsea, Amy and I are up and I feel sad Chelsea and I didn’t get to talk to him more. Today is a “free day,” no reading, and the three of us spend it walking around Central Park, going to the zoo and the pond with the sailboats mainly. It’s sunny and warm for early November and it’s the sort of day you wish you lived in NYC if you don’t. We go to get frozen hot chocolates from that John Cusack movie place and then we go back to the hotel and discuss what we are going to do tonight. Already I miss Mira. I text Brad Listi and ask him for Mira’s number which he sends me almost immediately. I text Mira and ask if she can hang out tonight even though I remember she is flying to Austin for the weekend in the morning to see her mom. Mira replies almost immediately too. She says she is unsure if she can hang out but gives me Tao’s number and tells me to text him, that he wants to hang out.
So begins a two hour text stand off in which Tao and I go back and forth about him coming to our hotel vs us going to his apartment. At some point he explains he is with some person called “Emmy, the Great” and that this person is uninterested in coming to the hotel, would rather hang out at his apartment. I am relaying all of this to Chelsea and Amy, both of whom stubbornly want Tao to come to us. I don’t really care. I want to see Tao’s apartment anyway, and going to him, we can control how long we hang out easier, anyway.
Finally we get a taxi and take it down to Tao’s. There is some misunderstanding with the door buzzer and the intercom and 15 minutes later we are finally up in Tao’s hall, being let into Tao’s tiny NY apartment. Tao sits on the couch with this Emmy, the Great person, who is British and on her phone and talking about a lost jacket. It’s really hot in Tao’s apartment and after Tao asks Chelsea to roll a joint and they smoke it, it is even hotter. I feel like I might have a panic attack or am already having one or that I will pass out but that’s probably just the panic attack talking but either way, as soon as Emmy, the Great says she needs to leave and walk around to look for her lost jacket, Tao says he will go with her, and then we all decide to go, cuz what the fuck are the three of us going to do sitting alone in Tao’s apartment and I could use the fresh air anyway and walking will calm me down.
We end up spending an hour or more walking in circles around Manhattan, looking for whatever shop Emmy, the Great left her jacket in earlier while she and Tao were shooting a music video (turns out Emmy, the Great was having trouble with dating after moving to the states and read Taipei and now thinks she understands the texting and emailing part of U.S. dating and wants Tao in her video because of this).
Chelsea and Amy are becoming increasingly pissed. They say Tao is being rude and that he is treating us like puppies, walking ahead with Emmy, the Great, while we trek along behind. I don’t mind. I feel like this is just part of the Tao experience and what else would we be doing anyway. Also, I don’t think Tao is being rude because I don’t think Tao thinks he is being rude. Occasionally, every ten minutes or so, we all stop and form a circle and talk. At one point Emmy, the Great asks me about my book and searches it on Goodreads and says it has a good rating and that she is buying it, that she will read it on the plane ride back to L.A. next week, so maybe this contributes to my being unirritated. Also, she shows me texts from some man she is “in love with” and asks my opinion on how she should handle the situation with this man after giving me a lot of background on the situation.
Eventually we find the shop Emmy, the Great has been looking for and she takes a picture so she can call in the morning about her lost jacket and then we walk her to the subway entrance and say goodbye. Now it is just the three of us and Tao, and Chelsea seems less pissed but Amy still is. We go back to Tao’s apartment and Chelsea rolls another joint and it’s still super hot and Amy says she wants to leave. We have a five minute discussion about Amy leaving and I give her cab money and tell her to text me when she’s in the cab and within five minutes she texts me so I stop worrying about Amy.
Later Chelsea will tell people she was still annoyed with Tao but in my memory she is super nice to Tao from here on out, sweeter and more patient than I’ve seen her be with anyone else, as though they are close-in-age siblings, as though they have known each other a long time. They are both super high but Tao seems less able to verbalize his thoughts and Chelsea and I have to help him find his words, which seems both funny and endearing. I keep thinking how eloquent I find Tao on the page, particularly in Taipei, and how ineloquent he is in person, but ineloquent in a charming way. I feel extremely lucky to be here in this moment, in Tao’s apartment, talking with Tao, in a way other writers I know would have felt lucky to have spent a night drinking with Barry Hannah.
I don’t know how to articulate my thoughts here in a way you will understand or not roll your eyes to so I won’t bother trying further.
I think you get a glimpse of what I’m talking about in the tour documentary. (As my daughter said when I threatened to make her boyfriend watch the tour doc the other night, “Just show him the Tao Lin parts.”)
Woke up feeling extremely anxious about our reading at Mellow Pages in Brooklyn tonight. I haven’t done a reading in over a year and I’m not particularly good at readings and I don’t know what to read. Also, I feel like I need hours to prepare mentally/emotionally, whereas Chelsea is ready to head to Brooklyn at one. I don’t tell her I almost never hang out before a reading, that I can’t eat until after I read, that I have to be near a toilet (preferably at home or in a hotel room) because my nerves make me have to shit. The cool thing about Chelsea is she doesn’t mind going out alone. We agree to meet at 7 which gives me the whole day to drink coffee and clear my system, to watch house-hunting shows and shower and figure out what I’m going to read and to practice reading it aloud.
At six I start out to find the subway. I have never taken the NYC subway alone but I am determined to take it. Or I was determined when still warm in my hotel room. But once outside it is windy and cold and I can’t think straight and three blocks in it becomes apparent that the direction Chelsea told me to go is the opposite direction I should be going so I decide, fuck the subway, I’ll get a cab. I try hailing one for fifteen minutes on my own with no luck and then I go and stand in a hotel line, which still takes almost half an hour. I realize I am probably going to be late, but I don’t care. I feel like I will have overcome enough just showing up at this point, just making it to the reading instead of canceling and going back to the hotel room, which is what I have been tempted to do since I stepped outside of the hotel forty-five minutes ago.
By the time I get to Brooklyn and find Mellow Pages, it is 7:30 or 7:45, but instead of being late, I am actually early, because it turns out the reading is at 8, “but won’t start ‘til 8:45,” so I sit on the couch with Chelsea and sip the bourbon I have brought from the mini bar, and pet the cat who has wandered in or was left here, and suddenly I’m less nervous. I don’t even feel like I have to shit or throw up. I get up and look at some books and there is one by Nelson Algren and it is dedicated to Simone de Beauvoir, which surprises me, because I didn’t know their relationship was public knowledge in their time. For some reason I feel moved by this dedication. Feel romantic and nostalgic. I make a mental note to download The Man with the Golden Arm and The Second Sex onto my Kindle when I get back to my room. (Later in the week Scott McClanahan will bring up Nelson Algren, or maybe I will, and will insinuate that The Man with the Golden Arm isn’t a very good book. I will have started The Second Sex by then instead so I will be unable to answer. I am still unable to answer. The Second Sex is taking me some time.)
The reading goes well, much better than KGB. There are more people I don’t know, and a much looser, more familial vibe. I feel like I am reading in a friend’s living room, in a good way. I like both Sarah Jean Alexander and Gabby Bess as writers and as people and it is interesting to finally see them read in person instead of just on Tumblr. Mike Bushnell reads and his reading is more like a performance, like Mike Young or Scott McClanahan, which is interesting too. He’s wearing a trench coat, which also interests me. (Everything about Brooklyn interests me. This interest used to manufacture itself as fear, when I wasn’t physically here, but now manufactures itself as …enjoyment or appreciation or something positive. Several times in the evening I will feel as though I am in an episode of Girls.)
After the reading we “all” go to a bar around the corner where we hang out in the back room under heat lamps and once again I find myself stuck to one seat, unable to figure out how to move around and talk to multiple people. Instead I stay put and wait for people to come or not come to me, which means I mostly talk to Mike Bushnell, and for a shorter time Gabby, and later James Yeh and Stephen Tully Dierks, while Chelsea is “next to me” but engaged in a different conversation with different people.
We are at this bar an hour or two, mini corn dogs are eaten, bourbon is sipped, and then whoever is still here, which is Chelsea and me, Mike Bushnell, James Yeh, Stephen Tully Dierks, Matt Nelson, and two young dudes I don’t know, one of whom I heard say he was on a lot of Xanax and who looks “fucked up”, the other who has some sort of accent or affected way of speaking and I think is named Jordan, go to another bar further away, which turns out to have a pool table and rice balls and a dance floor, on which men in drag are dancing when we enter. We order rice balls and water and sit in a booth and watch the men in drag dancing and the punks playing pool and try to hold conversations even though it is too loud to really do so.
At some point Matt Nelson requests a song and asks me if I will dance with him and I immediately go into my spiel about dancing in public (I won’t do it) and immediately feel like an asshole when I see the disappointed look on his face. I watch him run out to the dance floor alone and then Chelsea and I watch him dance and both of us are so endeared and impressed and I wish I was a freer person, that I could dance like that in the middle of a punk dive bar like I was alone in the middle of my living room.
At some point James Yeh eats too many rice balls and feels sick.
At some point Mike Bushnell says he has to go home and leaves.
At some point STD exclaims, “I’m the only person ever to be fired from Thought Catalog!”
Later Chelsea will pull me out on the dance floor with her and I will do my best to dance to a song I have never heard and hope no one notices I can’t catch the beat.
Later still, Chelsea and I will film Matt and STD and Jordan dancing to Robyn, the three of them alone on the dance floor, together. This, Chelsea and I will agree, will be the most beautiful moment of our tour (even though it is only day three of ten). And we will be right.
This morning Chelsea and I order up coffee and a basket of pastries and sit and eat it and feel like we are in Madonna’s Truth or Dare documentary. Or I do, anyway. Chelsea probably hasn’t seen it. Which is a shame.
After breakfast Chelsea has to leave to take the bus to Northampton where she’ll stay with Mike Young and read with Jamie Iredell and I have the day free (and the night now that Michelle Orange and I aren’t friends and are not going to Sinead O’Connor; in truth I never really wanted to go, so don’t go by myself or ask someone else to go with me). I want to see a play. I want to see a Broadway or off Broadway play by myself, something I would normally only read about in The New Yorker. I go downstairs to the lobby and ask the woman who is in charge of show tickets what is available for a single person, and she says what I already know, that it’s a lot easier to find one ticket to a show than two. She gives me a fold out of musicals and plays and the first thing I want to see (the play with Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz) is sold out but the second thing I want to see (“No Man’s Land”, a play by Harold Pinter, starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart and Billy Crudup) isn’t so I buy a ticket for that and head outside to walk around Manhattan.
I don’t really have any place in particular I want to go. I realized this morning I didn’t pack enough socks or underwear so I am looking for somewhere to buy those and I really want McDonald’s but there doesn’t seem to be one anywhere so I just keep walking. I walk twenty blocks and then turn around and start heading back. On one block I witness a fashion shoot. There is a very tall woman in a lot of makeup with emaciated legs standing on the corner opposite me, leaning on a much shorter, normal looking woman, whose arms are wrapped around the models thighs or hips, and ostensibly, it seems, holding her up. As soon as the light changes and the model has the Walk sign, she steps away from the woman, who is now holding the model’s coat, and walks backward into the crosswalk and then frontward toward the camera. She repeats this several times while I, and a few others, pretend not to watch. And then I lose interest or feel self-conscious or wish my daughter was with me to share this moment and walk on. I tell myself I should go into a store I wouldn’t normally go in back home to buy underwear and socks. I go in some sort of fancy department store, walk up four sets of stairs, neglect to find socks or underwear, start to feel both extremely warm and my chest tighten, and walk back out. I walk by three or four more stores I would go in if my daughter were with me but which I am too shy to enter without her. Finally I go inside Gap because Gap doesn’t intimidate me and I remember being in this Gap with my daughter on a previous trip and know right where to go to find socks and underwear. I spend too long picking out socks and underwear and then have to wait in line fifteen or twenty minutes, suddenly aware how hungry and hot I am, fighting the urge to throw the socks and underwear I am holding on the ground and run out empty handed. But I really need the socks and underwear so I stay in line and wait my turn and pay and then leave. I keep looking for a McDonald’s and keep not finding one. Finally I give up and go back to the hotel and order up another club sandwich and eat it while texting Tao.
In the weeks and months leading up to my NY trip, Tao and I have been emailing semi-regularly about …random stuff, I don’t even know what, and I feel confused as to the nature of our friendship or as to what Tao sees as the basis for our friendship. It seems or seemed unclear if Tao had any interest beyond friendship toward me and I only even consider it because I read in one of his novels that he only thinks of socializing as a way to meet potential girlfriends and seems to not have any female friends who aren’t romantic prospects. But I don’t know. I am not Tao’s type – too old, weigh too much, don’t take drugs, am not outgoing, etc. Still, I sensed a…disappointment, maybe, when hanging out with Tao two nights ago. Like either he was hoping to be attracted to me or hoping I would be attracted to him, but I’m not sure. It seems equally likely he thought nothing of the sort and that I am making all of this up in my head.
I am texting Tao to tell him I am going to the play by myself and he seems surprised Chelsea is no longer in the city and I keep thinking if Mira or Chelsea were in town, Tao and I would hang out again, with one or both of them, but on our own, hanging out seems too weird or too awkward, like neither of us what know what to say or both of us would be shy. Especially since I don’t do drugs. I feel sort of like an asshole because I won’t do drugs.
Instead I go to the play by myself. I sit in the middle of a row surrounded by mostly couples in their 80’s, who are adorable, and am endeared by both Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart and not as much by Billy Crudup, who I thought I would be most endeared by. And all the 80 year old men, both on stage and in the seats around me, remind me of my grandfather who is deceased, and I find myself greatly missing him in a way I haven’t since he died.
The play is very good, but I leave at intermission anyway. I have too much to do still tonight and I will buy the play and read it when I get home. I go back to the hotel and shower and pack and am just about to get in bed and read and fall asleep when I remember telling Chelsea I would make a video of myself dancing so she could see what I dance like when I’m alone. I spend the next hour making videos of myself dancing to Eminem’s “Rap God” and Eminem’s “Monster,” and then get in bed, sweating and exhausted, and only read the first page of The Second Sex before falling asleep.
Take a taxi to Penn Station, take a train to Philadelphia. Can’t find a place to store my oversized suitcase on the train so end up standing between cars with it for the duration of the ride, which is just over an hour, since this is the express train. In Philly I am meeting up with Chelsea and Mike Young and doing a reading with both later in the evening. Mike is supposed to be staying “with friends” in Philly but as soon as we get to our hotel and Chelsea goes into the bathroom Mike says to me, “So…I kind of have a problem…” And I agree he can stay with us and luckily I like Mike a lot, ever since he stayed a weekend with me in 2010, back when I was running my (original) reading series.
The three of us go to the Mutter Museum, which both Mike and I have been to on previous trips but Chelsea has never seen. It’s much more crowded than I remember it and there are more exhibits. There is a gift shop now, which I don’t remember before, and so many people you can barely see anything and Mike and I give up way before Chelsea and stand together in the lobby and wait for Chelsea. At some point I text Tao and tell him jokingly that if he wants the Klonopin Chelsea promised him he should take the train to Philly and he seems surprised we are no longer in NYC and not coming back before the end of our tour. “Philly is so far,” he texts back. And again I have some sort of feeling of…regret or…I don’t know what, something I can’t name or don’t have a name for yet, a feeling like I wish we had hung out more, or like I don’t know when we will hang out now, maybe never, and what does that mean for our non-defined friendship. Most likely it means it will…dissolve or wither away…because there won’t be anything to keep it moving forward. And this realization makes me sad or melancholy. In the same way I always feel sad and melancholy after getting to know a writer who doesn’t live anywhere near me, after hanging out with him or her, knowing we will have no plans to hang out again in the future or ever. Chelsea and I were discussing something like this in the taxi ride home from Brooklyn the other night: how the Internet is a wonderful thing because it brings all of us people together who wouldn’t otherwise meet because we live in different states, but then how sad it is after meeting the people and liking them, to go back home, where you have no friends or very few friends, where you are mostly lonely, and only interact with people online. When we were hanging out with Mira we said we should all move somewhere random, like Columbus, Ohio, somewhere cheap to live, instead of Brooklyn, but we all know this won’t happen. And we will just all continue to be sad and lonely, for the most part. We will all continually miss each other and speculate as to how good of friends we could be…
At the reading tonight, which is in a small dive bar, second floor, I will read sitting down from something I’ve never read before and it will go better than any reading I’ve ever done and I’ll wish I’d read from this at Mellow Pages, where my reading went “okay” but where Chelsea really killed it. And Chelsea’s reading will feel slightly off here. And we’ll have a long discussion later about readings and audiences and how you read the exact same thing in the same way to one audience who will barely react as to another audience who will laugh hysterically and there’s really nothing you can do about it. Or maybe you’ll read it slightly differently and not realize it.
Mike Young will fucking kill it at this reading.
We will go out for pizza after with Sarah Rose Etter and Chelsea will get great footage for our tour doc and then lose everything we shot in Philly.
We will go back to the hotel, the three of us, fairly early, and get in bed and play this game in the dark in which you name three writers and the other two people have to put them in order of who they would fuck first, second, third. We will probably play this a good two hours. It because less sensational and more psychological as you start basing lists off of previous answers.
I will feel like I’m at a slumber party with two of my best friends and I will be happy Mike’s plans fell through and he had to stay in our room.
We sleep in and take the express train to D.C., which is something like three hours. By the time we find room for Chelsea’s and my oversized luggage there are no seats together so we go to the food cart and sit on the floor in there. We continue to play our game only this time we write names of writers on pieces of paper and fold the paper and put them in a cup and take turns pulling three out and putting them in order. Chelsea shoots video of this even though it seems obvious we can’t use it. We are probably going to go to Hell for playing this game, but it passes the time so we keep playing.
We keep playing until we get to the D.C. reading and Mark Cugini instantly makes me feel like shit about both the game and gossiping. The reading goes great. I read from Teen Culture and get a lot of laughs and Chelsea reads from Even Though I Don’t Miss You and gets the most laughs I’ll see for her on tour. And after we sit with a bunch of people and Mark Cugini, and Mark Cugini is instantly charismatic, like a mix of Jack Black and Seth Rogen, and both Chelsea and I are drawn to him, tell him we want him to move to our town so we can drink and hang out all the time. But as soon as I get back to my hotel room (I got us separate rooms in D.C., thinking by now Chelsea and I would need a break from each other, even though now that we’re here we probably don’t and almost immediately the privacy or time alone starts fucking with my head) and get in bed I feel super shitty and sad, like I’m a bad person for playing “the game” and for gossiping. I can’t figure out what it is about Mark Cugini that makes you feel so happy when you’re talking to him and so shitty the second he is gone. I think maybe I am just tired. I try and read more of The Second Sex but read the intro to The Man with the Golden Arm instead because I want to read bio notes about Algren and de Beauvoir.
Fall asleep missing Chelsea and Mike.
Mike leaves before I am up (). It’s another free day, no reading, so Chelsea and I get dressed and go to the zoo. I want to see the pandas. I read an article in The New Yorker about them a few weeks ago and have never seen any in real life. They are as cute as you’d imagine. More interesting, however, are a set of three monkeys, the largest of which, a male, slaps a smaller, female in the face not once but twice before being chased and screeched at by a smaller male and the female he slapped, prompting a woman in front of me to say, “Do you think we should tell someone they’re not getting along?”
Later, Chelsea and I will have dinner with Mark Cugini at a mostly empty bar. They will each have a Reuben and I’ll have grilled cheese and the next morning both Chelsea and I will admit to feeling at times during the evening like a third wheel. And while I will enjoy myself, both at the bar, and later in Chelsea’s hotel room where the three of us will listen to Drake and talk a while longer, I will once again get in bed feeling melancholy. I will write a bunch of notes I don’t want to replicate here…in retrospect, maybe this had nothing to do with Mark and was just the part of tour, particularly since I was left alone to think, in which I had my “existential crisis.” Two days later, alone in Chicago, Chelsea had a similar experience/”existential crisis” (it was she who named it this). She was alone in her friend’s apartment watching the video we had shot so far and texted me it was “all unusable,” that she came off like an asshole in every scene. We later determined that being so social and hearing ourselves talk so much (more than we ever do at home where we are mostly alone writing) over the course of the tour had resulted first in social “highs” in which we loved everyone and felt loved equally in return, and then extreme “lows,” in which we felt extremely self-loathing toward ourselves and as though none of the friendships we had formed were “real.”
(Luckily it all evened out later in Columbus and Ann Arbor. Or for the most part. Enough…)
Back when we were in the beginning stages of planning the tour we said in a Tumblr post that we would read in “your local Taco Bell or your living room…” and after that this guy Andrew Squitiro in Norfolk, VA messaged us to ask if Chelsea would come read in his dining room. He had written a college paper on Chelsea’s book The Funny Thing About Apathy and was unfamiliar with my work or me, so this made sense. I was all too happy to play the role of publisher/handler for Chelsea en route to this kid’s dining room in Norfolk. (This is in contrast to how I felt when Mark Cugini numerous times told Chelsea how much he loved her books (a lot: meaning, he loved them a lot and told her a lot, in addition to telling her how much he loved her, which may or may not have played into my “existential crisis”), after mentioning having read mine but not much else about it, leading me to take serious note of times I may have/definitely have done this to other writers, complimented one in front of another, profusely or to a nauseating extent. (I should add that when I mentioned this to Chelsea – Mark’s profuse complimenting of her and her work – she didn’t see a problem with it; but I likely would have said as much were I the recipient of the compliments, as I believe I have been in the past, when another person has “complained” similarly. But I nonetheless felt “silly” at having mentioned it to Chelsea, as it seemed to exhibit a lack of maturity and a vanity/sensitivity/self-centeredness on my part I didn’t wish to admit I possessed.)) Tonight is the night Chelsea reads in Norfolk! We are both super excited because we have no idea what to expect or how it will go.
We check out of our D.C. hotel and catch a taxi to the airport where we rent a car for the drive to Virginia. We listen to the car radio and stop at a Denny’s even though what we really want is a Waffle House because Chelsea has not only never eaten at one, she’s never heard of one either.
The weather changes on our drive. I had expected Norfolk to be our warmest stop and instead it is the coldest. The temperature is…I don’t remember, but the wind is, like, thirty miles per hour so it feels thirty. It is probably more like forty or forty-five. We can barely get our suitcases into the hotel, it’s so windy. As soon as we check into our room, Chelsea falls asleep. I shit and shower and get under the covers with my towel still wrapped around me.
When we wake up, Chelsea says, “I’m so hungry. I can’t wait for our dinner.”
“I know,” I say. “I wonder what it will be.”
Earlier in the day or the day before even, Chelsea had been emailing with the Norfolk kid, Andrew. He had told her the reading would be at nine but to come by the house at eight and he’d have dinner for us. All day I have been anxious about this. I have asked Chelsea if she’s texted Andrew to confirm we are coming for dinner but she said it was all set, so there was no need to reply. I am trying not to be neurotic or controlling on this trip (haha) so I didn’t press it.
“I hope it’s spaghetti,” I say. “Spaghetti seems like an easy thing for a guy to make.”
“Yeah,” Chelsea says. And I hope she will maybe text Andrew to ask. I watch her, but she doesn’t have her phone anywhere near her.
Two hours later we arrive at Andrew’s. It is eight on the dot. The house reminds me of every house everyone lives in at some point in college: big and old, with a front porch for smoking and a hardwood staircase visible from the front door.
Andrew lets us in, introduces us to his roommate, Lucian Mattison (also a poet; also reading tonight) and Lucian’s girlfriend Shannon. They give us a tour of the house at the end of which we are standing in the kitchen. I can’t help noticing there is nothing on the stove, no smells emanating from the oven.
“We don’t have hot water right now, “ Andrew says. He tells us something about running out of whatever fuel or oil or fuel oil they need for the hot water tank to work and produce hot water.
“Doesn’t your landlord have to take care of that?” I ask. I have never heard of having to provide your own hot water oil.
“No, we have to. But I think there’s a leak,” Andrew says. “Our bill last month was double and we didn’t use double the hot water.”
Andrew offers us tea or beer. Chelsea takes the beer; Andrew makes me tea. It is painfully obvious by now we are not getting dinner. We sit in the dining room, where the reading will take place, around a space heater, which seems to be the only heat in the house. We sit here and trade questions and answers (Andrew, “Do you guys know this guy… Adam Robinson? Yeah, he read here last week with two other guys…”) until the room fills with other poets and MFA students, and Andrew finally determines, somewhere close to 9:30, he is reading to start the reading. He is tall and lanky with a mop of brown hair and an unexpected charisma and reminds me of Todd Zuniga. He reads for fifteen minutes and then announces we are taking a break. After the break Lucian reads for ten minutes and then Chelsea reads for ten more, and then the reading is over and Chelsea is in the kitchen talking and I’m in the dining room talking to Lucian and Shannon and a couple other people. At some point someone asks me what I do, other than publish Chelsea’s book, and I explain I’m an editor at Hobart as well as a fiction writer.
“Fuck, we should have had you read,” someone, I think Lucian, says. “I would have liked to hear you read.”
“Next time,” I say.
At the end of the night Andrew gives us the money he has collected in a can, in addition to the money we have made selling Chelsea’s book, and Norfolk is easily our biggest haul, monetarily. It is also one of the most interesting crowds. “No one seemed to know anyone else,” Chelsea says when we are in the car, going through the McDonald’s drive-thru, at midnight.
“Really?” I say. “The people I was talking to seemed to know each other.”
Chelsea gets a Big Mac meal and I get a burger and a cookie and we drive back to the hotel, our last night together before the Chicago/West Virginia break.
I get up and make a shitty coffee with the coffeemaker in the room, throw my clothes on, and say goodbye to Chelsea, which seems sad even though I’ll see her in three days in Columbus. It’s a preview of the goodbye that will come two days after that. Her plane doesn’t take off for a few hours. She still has time to sleep.
I get on the highway and grab a Starbucks. It’s a five and a half hour drive from Norfolk, VA to Beckley, West Virginia where Scott McClanahan lives, and it’s sunny, and a couple hours in I realize this is one of the most beautiful drives I have ever made. There was the bus ride through the countryside of Peru. There were drives through the Badlands two or three times, I forget now how many. This is right up there with both of those. I’m driving barefoot due to all of the blisters and Band-Aids on my feet from walking around NYC in new shoes and I’m listening to whatever I can find on the radio, which looks something like this and to which I am unabashedly, cinematically singing along:
James Taylor – You’ve Got a Friend
Miley Cyrus – Wrecking Ball
Filter – Hey, Man, Nice Shot
Blake Shelton – Mine Would Be You
Miranda Lambert – What a Little Girl’s Made of
Jake Owen – Barefoot Blue Jean Night
Fun! – Some Nights
Occasionally I’m also listening to religious talk radio and Rush Limbaugh because I like to hear people say things I’m not expecting sometimes. At some point while driving through the snowy hills, listening to country music, and peering down at the occasional farmhouse or small town, I start thinking about what it would have been like if I’d never left my hometown, and of the truck driver, Greg, I dated when I came home my freshman year of college. Greg and his brother, Brent (who my friend Val dated at the same time I was dating Greg), lived with their parents, but their parents had added on a room with a separate entrance, a bar, and an above ground hot tub in the middle of it where Greg and I and Val and Brent and the rest of their friends hung out. I never met Greg’s parents or saw any other part of the house beside Greg’s bedroom. The last time I went home I ran into Brent in the same bar we’d all hung out in together, the same bar my mother worked in all throughout my childhood and high school years, and he’d shaved his head and told me Greg had gotten fat but they all still lived here in town. As I drove now I pictured myself back home living with someone like Greg, hanging out on a Saturday night at the bar I’d grown up in, driving in for gas station coffee in the mornings. It didn’t seem better or worse a life, just different. And the part I was most attracted to was the guy who would be like Greg but not Greg, a guy like the ones I see when I go home and go in that bar: the tough redneck type I’m still physically attracted to but who I’d probably drive crazy and vice versa in a Rihanna/Eminem burning-down-your-house way.
I get into Beckley around five and it’s already dark and there’s snow on the ground. I find my hotel and it’s right next door to a liquor store and I contemplate buying a bottle of whiskey as I’m unexpectedly anxious about seeing Scott but I don’t want to drink around him and I’m too scared to go in the liquor store by myself anyway. Instead I go upstairs and lie on the bed and text with Mira and Juliet Escoria until it’s time to shower because the TV won’t turn on. Scott has class until eight and says he will pick me up at eight thirty and again I don’t know why I’m so anxious, why I have to shit three times before eight, why I come down when he texts me and immediately smoke a cigarette on the bench the hotel has provided for smokers.
“You wanna smoke in my car? You can smoke in my car, Julia does,” Scott says but I don’t wanna smoke in his car. I want a small hotel bottle of bourbon but I don’t have one so I try to deep breathe instead, without Scott noticing me. And it all feels sort of ironic, given that I know Scott has trouble with panic attacks and anxiety, has written about them in his books, but still I don’t want him to know, to think I’m nervous or anxious because of him, because I don’t know why I am.
I finish my cigarette and get in his car (“It’s new! Just got it.”) and immediately Scott starts giving me an oral tour of Beckley, showing me what street we would turn on to go by his old place with Sarah (“We could drive by…no, we probably shouldn’t.”), the route he takes to and from work, the liquor store where he used to buy his liquor (which just happens to be the one my hotel is next to)…We pull in back of his apartment and he’s giving me a 100 mph low down of all his neighbors and all I can remember or ascertain is something about a wrestler and a Fed Ex man, both of which have to do with the same woman who lives next door. “Wanna go inside?” Scott asks and of course I do. This is why I am here, in Beckley, West Virginia. To see the inside of Scott McClanahan’s apartment.
It’s not unlike what I may have imagined, had I ever really sat and imagined what Scott’s apartment would look like. It looks like a guys’ apartment (he shares it with his best buddy Chris who also serves as his cameraman on most of his video projects and who has also stayed in my house, the two of them having secluded themselves together with a case of beer in the basement office three or four years ago after Chris pretended to be a Frenchman…guess you had to be there.).
We stand in the kitchen and stare at photographs of Scott’s kids on the refrigerator while he tells me stories of how they are doing and how his dad likes to hold his son Sam upside down for hours while they watch TV together. Sam is about a year and a half old and was born on my birthday, April 19th, so I feel a kinship with him, even though we’ve never met.
We walk into the living room area where there is a couch and a TV and a painting by a woman who is going to do the art in Scott’s Sarah book (“I told her she draws great chicken wings and vaginas!”) and who a couple days ago posted a picture she’d done of me using dollar signs. There are also a couple things Scott says not to mention and then he points at closed doors and says, “You don’t wanna go in there, do ya?” and answers himself, “good” before I can even answer.
After that we are back in the car and Scott is telling me stories about his uncle and strippers or his aunt and cancer or a something else I have forgotten or been sworn not to tell. And through all of this I am sitting, I can’t help but notice, too quiet, too shy seeming, given that I have known Scott since 2009 when we met at a Barry Graham Dogzplot shindig in Atlantic City. And luckily Scott keeps right on talking and I really am mesmerized by everything he is saying, but I really want a shot of bourbon (has the tour turned me into a lush? An alkie? Can I not go 24 hours without a drink? oh wait, I didn’t have a drink in Norfolk because I had to drive…still…I shouldn’t drink, I should be supportive and respectful) and as soon as we get to the restaurant (“you wanna go to a nice Italian place? Sure you do.”), the first thing I do is order a shot of Maker’s, and after the first sip I begin to relax and after the second I am downright at home. Scott’s talking to the waiter who was Scott’s student and later, after I’ve eaten my spaghetti (finally got it!) and am still sipping my bourbon and realizing all of a sudden I’m pretty tipsy, in fact, I’m downright DRUUUNK, that maybe his student thought we were on a date and purposely gave me way more than a single shot, more like three, because I never get drunk on one shot, I have had a shot or more almost every night on tour (except Norfolk!) and I haven’t been anywhere close to this drunk. I am so drunk I am embarrassed. I am smiling way too much and I am saying things like, “I’m drunk. I don’t know how I got so drunk.” Luckily Scott seems amused, seems to be enjoying my inebriation. There is somehow still a few sips of bourbon in my glass and I tell Scott I can’t finish it, I can’t drink them. “Of course you can. We’re in no rush. Go ahead. You’ll sleep like a baby. That’s something I always have trouble with now. But you go ahead.” And so I sit there, grinning and sipping, and around us the restaurant workers are putting chairs on top of tables and sweeping and otherwise getting ready to close.
And the one thing I’ve noticed all night is how great Scott looks, how great he seems. Physically – his face is thinner and he has a nice seven o’clock shadow and a nice haircut – and emotionally – he seems to exude confidence, has a certain southern swagger I’ve never noticed before.
He drops me off in front of my hotel (“You don’t want me to sit with you while you smoke, do you? I would but I have an interview to do at eleven…”) and I sit outside and smoke a cigarette and call my husband and I’m warm from the bourbon and happy because Scott seems so good (This is what I tell Aaron, “Scott seems so good!”). I finish smoking and talking to Aaron and go upstairs and text Mark Cugini something I heard about Kanye on NPR because despite everything I still like Mark and want Mark to like me. And an hour later I’m still just as drunk as I was at the restaurant and pretty soon I’m asleep, sleeping like a baby. And in the morning I’ll get back in the rental car with the Miley Cyrus CD I brought but forgot to open until now and begin the seven hour drive home to Ann Arbor where I’ll have two days to rest and relax with my family before meeting back up with Chelsea in Columbus on Saturday.
It’s a three hour drive from Ann Arbor to Columbus and I meet the Megabus downtown at 4:30, right on schedule. On the drive here a text from an unknown number came through that said, “Hey, it’s Jordan Castro” and I almost did a spit-take on the windshield. Neither Chelsea nor I has ever met Jordan and we have joked we should make our tour documentary about him, to act as though we are obsessed with him in the film.
My best friend since third grade, Becky, lives in Columbus with her husband and two children and has invited Chelsea and me to stay with them tonight. Becky and I are both from a town an hour north of Columbus called Mansfield, which is known for two things, the penitentiary and Shawshank Redemption, which was filmed mostly in Mansfield, in the old penitentiary which is no longer in use, and the neighboring countryside (the tree under which Tim Robbins has buried money was recently struck by lightning and I think was cut down). Actually, we were born in Mansfield, because that’s where the closest hospital is, but we grew up in Lexington, which is a good deal smaller than Mansfield, and last I checked, still had one stoplight.
Soon as we pull in the drive at Becky’s, Becky is out on the grass next to the drive. “I’ve already had three glasses of wine,” she says.
“Becky,” I say. “It’s only five o’clock and the reading’s not until nine. You have to pace yourself.”
“The kids are staying at John’s mom’s,” Becky says, and shows us the basement where the air mattress and couch are and immediately I have to shit. I know it’s not good timing, since Becky and John and Chelsea don’t know each other but suddenly my stomach is nervous. I’m in the bathroom the next half hour. Becky comes down finally and tries the door. She always tries the door when she’s been drinking and I’m in the bathroom because when we were teenagers we went to the bathroom in front of each other. Sometimes I even sat with her while she pooped and we’d look at catalogs and magazines together. But I like a little more privacy now. “I’ll be out in a minute,” I say, and hurry to clean up.
Becky has arranged to have one of her friend’s husband drop us off downtown so we can all drink and get a taxi back. There is some confusion as to where we are eating dinner and with whom. Jordan is texting me and Lorian Long is texting Chelsea and I had promised Becky it would just be the four of us but now it seems like it’s going to be the 6 or more of us.
All of us – Becky, John, Chelsea, me, Lorian, Jordan, Jordan’s friend J.R. – meet at a small hipster restaurant with a long wait and then Lorian says she knows a good lesbian dive bar around the corner that has pizza so we go there instead. The entire back room is open and we have one long table and there are pool tables and Jordan and J.R. immediately start playing and Michael Clune shows up and sits with us too. We order two large pizzas and everyone eats but me. I sip my bourbon and listen to Lorian talk about Mira, fondly, sentimentally. And Scott texts me he is at Red Lobster with Chris, and about to have a breakdown. He was in Atlanta doing a reading last night and just flew in. He’s only had a couple hours sleep.
The reading is in an art gallery on the second floor of a downtown building. James Payne, the person who is hosting us, also lives here, I think, I am pretty sure, in the gallery, I mean. He is friends with Jordan and is about twenty-seven and has a beard and I want to say blue eyes. I lived in Columbus for a few years after I dropped out of college in Cincinnati and I was unaware there was a literary scene though I wasn’t writing then anyway, was working retail in a strip mall and living with a golfer, and that was many years ago so not sure why I’m even mentioning all that except to say Columbus is maybe our best turnout, which surprises me. It’s a huge space and it feels full when all the people are gathered into it. It is also, I think, our best overall reading. I read second because I am nervous and as soon as I finish the first person I see is Becky and she says, “You were great!” and is smiling like she really means it and this means more to me than just about anything in the world, that she and her husband came and that she thinks I did great. Of course, everyone does great. Much “greater” than me, I’m sure. But doing “great” in Becky’s eyes somehow means more to me and I realize no one in my family, including my mother, has ever seen me read, and Becky is like a sister to me, Becky is family.
After the reading Becky and John are ready to go home and go to bed. They’re used to getting up early with the kids. Becky started drinking before five.
“Are you sure you don’t mind if we stay out a little longer?” I ask. And Becky says no, they don’t mind at all, that they’ll leave the front door unlocked, they’ll get a taxi home. This means a lot to me, too. That they’re being so cool. That they understand.
The rest of us form circles outside on the sidewalk and Scott says everyone is going to the Two Dollar Radio house. Jordan and J.R. have a car and offer to drive us, and Chelsea and I say okay but I am starving. “We have to get something to eat on the way,” I say. “Just a burger. Anything.”
We get in the car, Chelsea up front with Jordan, J.R. and James and I in the back. Other people are hungry now, too, so we decide to go to a diner, we stop at a place called The Blue Danube that in the morning Becky tells me is where they ate in college. “It was horrible food,” she will say, but we don’t seem to notice. I have a grilled cheese because you can’t fuck up a grilled cheese and some of James’s fries because the waitress forgot mine. We sit and talk a while, the five of us, in no real hurry to get to the Two Dollar Radio place. There is the sense we are all only meeting temporarily, the realization we all live in different far-away cities, that we have to make the most of tonight, which is an impossible task, of course. It’s like Before Sunrise except none of us are in love with each other, not one on one, but we are all as a group into each other, I think, in a way I can’t explain but feel. I can tell Chelsea feels the same way.
After a while we get back in the car, drive to the Two Dollar Radio house. Lorian is already there. Scott is there, but the second we walk in he gets up from his chair, says he has to go out and get his stuff from the car, and we never see him again. We spend much of the next two hours out on the front porch, smoking: Jordan, J.R., Lorian and I, and later, Chelsea. We talk about Ohio, the four of us having grown up here. Jordan has the outline of Ohio tattooed on his neck. I have a love/hate relationship with the state myself, though I am always partially aware the “hate” part is all to do with me, with hating the person I was most of the years I lived here. We talk about hospitals and rehab and prison and reasons to leave and reasons to stay and drugs and sobriety. And I don’t know if it’s the commonness of Ohio, but I feel relaxed and at ease with these people, as though they are from my hometown, as though we met in the bar I grew up in, even though we are all of different generations and grew up in different cities and towns. I don’t even think about them being writers.
We’ve been sitting a while and Jordan says, “Let’s do something! I feel like…” and I can’t remember if he says something like “stirring shit up” or “causing trouble”. Probably he says something way cooler than either of those. I just can’t remember. And one of us (me?) says something about Scott’s disappearance and we all decide to go looking for Scott. “Maybe he’s sleeping in his car,” I say, because that seems like something Scott would do. So we walk up and down the street, looking in cars, looking for a West Virginia license plate, looking for Scott McClanahan. But we don’t find him. We decide to go back in the house and interrogate his buddy Chris, last seen drinking wine in the kitchen. Or maybe it was beer. And then suddenly it dawns on us, Scott is upstairs sleeping. Or maybe Chris tells one of us this. It’s so hard to remember. But we go up the stairs, Jordan first, the rest of us following. We look in two rooms and in each of the two rooms the beds are empty and then Jordan opens the door of a third room, and there is Scott McClanahan, fast asleep on his stomach, a white towel on his ass. And Jordan crawls in and spoons one side and Lorian gets in on the other. There are hugs and kisses and then there’s nothing left to do but let Scott sleep.
We go back downstairs and smoke another cigarette and it’s one or two in the morning and we have to drive to Ann Arbor in the morning. We ask Jordan and J.R. and James if they mind dropping us off in Upper Arlington and again we are all (or I am and I sense that others are also) conscious of the fleetingness of the moment, of the evening together, of parting and maybe never seeing each other again. As we approach Becky’s house I make the knee-jerk comment that they should come to Ann Arbor the next day, that Jordan should read in Michael Clune’s stead (Michael Clune had expressed extreme worry about Sunday’s weather, the high temperatures and possibility of storms, tornadoes even. “I might not come. I am terrified of tornadoes,” he told me earlier in the evening and I was unsure whether to believe him but what reason did I have not to.), and Jordan says something like, “yeah,” but in a way that seems like he actually will. And Chelsea and I go in and brush our teeth and get in bed. And it’s another magical night on tour. Another night so good you already sense missing it before it’s actually over.
Becky makes us coffee and eggs and bacon in the morning and then we have to say goodbye, to head back north to Michigan. There is a text on the way from Michael Clune confirming he can’t make it tonight and then one from Jordan saying he and J.R. are coming. We get back just in time to shower and bathe. Aaron and Jamie Iredell (who flew in an hour before we got home) are already drinking beer when we get home (have just come from drinking beer at an airport hotel with Matt Bell who was flying back to Marquette in the U.P.), are about to play pool, and my daughter is at a school play with her boyfriend but says she will meet us at the bookstore at six for the reading. Jordan and J.R. arrive at the house and by now it’s starting to storm, is raining and super windy and the lights have already flickered off and on a couple of times. We take two cars. I’m not drinking so I drive one and neither Jordan nor J.R. drink so they drive the other. My daughter is in the parking garage across the street from the bookstore. I just happen to park next to her. I don’t realize it until after I have texted her, “I’m here. Where are you?”
We are running late and there are people already in chairs in the basement when we walk in. It’s lower turn out than usual, probably due to the storm (another reader cancelled, two total), but there are a few familiar faces and a few unfamiliar ones and we decide to go ahead and start. Jamie reads and then Jordan and then Chelsea, and I can’t help but think what a shame it is more people didn’t come (especially students from University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University) because everyone who read was so good and as a group they were great. Even my daughter says so later when we talk about it and she’s the first person to say when a reader is boring or a reading is bad.
After the reading my daughter goes home to do homework and the rest of us split into two groups: the drinkers and the nondrinkers. The drinkers go next door to the pub and the rest of us – Chelsea, Jordan, J.R., Zac Zellers and I – go to the Fleetwood, a local diner a couple blocks away, where the specialty is something called “hippie hash,” which Jordan orders along with a “healthy omelette”. The five of us sit at the counter, and at some point I say, “I fucking hate Ann Arbor,” in reference to the low turn out and the woman who works there says, “thank you!” And I want to clarify that I only hate Ann Arbor when it comes to trying to put together literary events but I figure it doesn’t really matter, she doesn’t really care, and I eat my pancakes quietly and don’t say anything instead.
It isn’t raining anymore but it’s still windy and we make our way against the wind back to the pub where we left the others. I texted Aaron on the way and he replied that they were getting the check, too, and we all head back to the house, Zac Zellers in Jordan’s car, Chelsea and Jamie in mine. And on the way the three of us – Chelsea and Jamie and I – talk about tours, about how sad they can be, seeing people, friends, and leaving them again. How lonely we all are in our hometowns. How much we miss each other.
We go back to the house and people play pool and drink and Chelsea films Jordan and pretty soon half the people have gone home and it is just Chelsea and Jordan and J.R. and Jamie and Sean Kilpatrick (who has been drinking from a bottle of Wild Turkey all night and suddenly seems like maybe he shouldn’t drive home tonight) and Aaron and me. We decide to go down to the basement and play a game and Chelsea says, “Scattegories!” so we play Scattegories. None of us have played it in years. (Later both Jordan and J.R. will say they haven’t done something “like this, like playing a game – sober” since they were six or seven, and it – the admission – kind of breaks my heart in a way; this is around the same time Jordan tells Chelsea and me, “You wouldn’t have liked me if you’d met me any time up until now. Or we wouldn’t have talked. We wouldn’t have hung out like this.” And it seems so hard to believe, because Jordan is so likeable now, is so charismatic and easygoing, J.R., too. “But I like you guys, I really like both of you,” Jordan says, and we are taken aback by his forthrightness, his earnestness, and of course we tell him we like him, too. (There is so much more here, more of this conversation, but I don’t feel like it’s my story to tell so I’ll leave it out; will let someone else tell it.))
We get through six or seven rounds and Aaron is tired. He has to teach early the next morning. He has to drive Chelsea and Jamie to the airport before that. He says goodnight and goes up to bed and I can’t believe Chelsea and Jamie are still up. “We should drink energy drinks and stay up all night!” Jordan says. And I wish I could, I know it’s the awareness of time again, the lack of it, the fleetingness again, the losing moments, the losing of people. Sean is on the couch, periodically awake, but mostly asleep. We play another three or four rounds and then I have to go to bed. I am going with my daughter into her Humanities class at seven in the morning. I walk Sean upstairs; give him bread and water. We have all tried to talk him into staying. I go to bed worried I will miss out on something. “There are blankets and pillows here,” I had told Jordan and J.R. They were supposed to be sleeping on the couch. They were supposed to still be there when I woke up in the morning. I was going to give them a hug goodbye. They weren’t supposed to be gone.
And what I think about most in the morning, after everyone has gone, after Humanities, when I’m driving around listening to Bangerz in the rental car before I turn it in, is something Chelsea said midway through tour, when we were still playing “the game.” She said, “I’m not sure I understand this game anymore. I don’t know if these are people I want to have sex with or just spend time with.” It’s an interesting question.
And then I’m thinking of Mike Young and how after I told him – drunkenly? immaturely? – that I thought Mark Cugini liked Chelsea better than me, he said, “Comparison is Hell,” and then, “I wish we were all flowers.”
And I’m trying not to think about missing people – Chelsea and Mike especially, but everyone else we hung out with on tour, too – because I figure there will be infinite time for that in the future.
I’m thinking of Jordan and J.R. and how I wish we could have “game night” once a week. I’m hoping everything goes well for them. For Scott. For all of “us.”
I’m thinking of when I was in the hotel room in West Virginia, texting with Sarah Rose Etter, telling her how great Scott was doing and how she said something about feeling like we’re all one big family, all of us “Internet writers,” and we all just want each other to do well. Yeah. That’s what I’m thinking about most right now.