Yesterday the street urchin who occasionally does dirty jobs for me in exchange for a few coins informed me of a steam pipe explosion not too far away. Since I saw this news on the Internet, I know at least that my corporate masters are keeping me in a Hotel in Manhattan. Which doesn’t surprise me, since corporate masters are notoriously cheap so they wouldn’t spring to fly me anywhere.
I’ve been pondering the sad tradition of writers doing readings. After all, as a species we’re people who found our creative voice in the private, dry scratching of a pen against paper–generally speaking we’re not really meant to be performing before the public.
A few years ago I wrote some articles for my zine about the Big-Assed Famous Tour my wife and I organized around my first novel and a zine collection I’d published, so I thought I’d reprint it here for yucks, to give you a taste of what my readings are generally like. So here you go (note that some names have been changed–my wife, for instance, prefers to not have her name splashed across the Internet, so she is referred to as “The Duchess” at all times):
BIG ASSED in CHICAGO
Jeffâ€™s Book Tour Diary: Part One, Quimbys
Pigs, itâ€™s a sad fact of life that there are now so many humans in the world that simply being moderately smart and articulate no longer makes you a superstar (see the commentary â€œWhereâ€™s My Intellectual Elite?â€ elsewhere in this issue). This means that simply because I release a book unto the world doesnâ€™t mean the world notices or cares. So I have to promote the damned thing. Having had a moribund novel on the shelves for a year, and a new collection of ziney goodness coming out, I launched the Big Assed Famous Tour to promote both. First stop: Chicago, Illinois, and Quimbys Bookstore.
April 15, 2002: 7:34PM. Having transitioned from my Young River Phoenix Stage (scintillatingly beautiful with substance-abuse issues but still alive) into my Late Jim Morrison Stage (bloated, mush-mouthed, and scruffy) I avoid anything which requires effort, concentration, or sobriety. Having scheduled a trip to Chicago to read at Quimbys, and being determined to not travel by plane (flying being the worst possible way of traveling ever devised) this determination to remain parked in my easy chair was under assault, because I never learned how to drive a manual transmission, which was the only car available to drive out there.
Legal Counsel The Duchess marched into the living room three days before departure wearing a crash helmet and an umpireâ€™s vest, an inky black suicide pill clenched between her teeth. She rudely slapped me on the back of my head, waking me from a fitful, booze-haunted nap.
â€œUp, doughboy. Time to drive.â€
I cowered and whimpered in my easy chair, as is my usual reaction when The Duchess appears suddenly, demanding action.
The training was long and grueling, leaving me sweaty, drained, and bruised from The Duchess’ frequent bitchslaps. But I learned, oh, I learned.
April 19, 2002: 7:00AM. Departure Day arrived and I was able to tremulously climb behind the wheel, shift into first gear, and drive to TIS Security Chief Ken Westâ€™s abode to pick up Mr. West, who had agreed to provide protection, companionship, and donuts for the trip. I pulled up with a jerk and a stalled engine, Ken climbed in without a word, handed me a box of chocolate donuts, and we took off.
April 19, 2002: 12:45PM. Getting through Pennsylvania is always the hard part, because Pennsylvania is actually a Moebius Strip; you drive forward forward forward and end up right back where you started from. Ken and I knew this from our previous drive out to Chicago back in 1999 (see â€œJeof Vitaâ€™s Sleeping Tour of Chicago (Annotated)â€, Volume 5, Issue 3.) and were prepared, but a new threat became apparent when we pulled off the road for our first rest stop. Three years before, Ken, Jeof Vita and I pulled off the road in Pennsylvania and had breakfast at a Howard Johnsons. Pulling into a vaguely familiar parking lot, Ken and I stepped out of the car to find the same HoJos staring at us, waiting patiently.
Inside, soft seventies music was in the air, and the hostess greeted us familiarly, as if weâ€™d been regulars for some time. Ken and I ate in silence for a time, and then Ken cleared his throat uncomfortably.
â€œIsnâ€™t it weird -â€ he began
â€œDonâ€™t say it.â€
â€œBut doesnâ€™t this seem -â€
â€œDonâ€™t say it!â€
He paused, considering. â€œI guess the question is, will the Howard Johnsonâ€™s allow us to leave?â€
The eerie sense that weâ€™d stepped into the past, some sort of Twilight-Zone type place in the fabric of space/time, persisted even as we carefully drove away from HoJos. On the highway again, the radio refused to play any music produced after 1985, and as we drove onward, the release dates of the songs we were hearing were crawling backwards. 1985…1983…1980…1976…nothing from the current list of hit songs. Snippets of news on AM stations, drifting through the car on tenuous signals, seemed to be describing events from twenty years before. For some time, we sat white-knuckled and fearful, convinced that at any moment we would turn a bend and there would be Howard Johnsons, waiting patiently for us.
Found a Hardees instead at a rest stop just over the Ohio line. Will go have lunch. Feel very foolish, all of a sudden.
April 19, 2002: 1:33PM. No longer feel foolish…now feel nauseous. Neither Ken nor I know what the health code of Ohio stipulates, but there has to be something against what has been done to us. We even ate different things, though I suppose when your foodstuffs are being spat out of a single assembly line, hidden from view, managed my imbecilic submorons with fingers permanently buried in their noses â€˜differentâ€™ takes on a whole new and unsavory meaning.
I think I am beginning to hallucinate. Fear the worst. If you find this while sifting the ashes of some horrible interstate wreck, please find my house in Hoboken, locate and disassemble my shrine to Eric Estrada. No one would understand.
Purple Grapes in Tight White Underwear, eating my brains: 2:68DM. Ken is gone, taken by the highway, replaced by a bear. The bear is wearing purple shiny boxing shorts and a fez. Heâ€™s quite cute, actually.
â€œStop looking at me.â€ the bear growls. Heâ€™s sitting in the back seat, reading an issue of Maxim magazine.
â€œWhoâ€™s driving the car?â€ I ask.
â€œWho do you think? Liberace, of course.â€
I looked over at the steering wheel, expecting to see a grinning bedazzling Liberace. But there is no one. I scream. The bear screams.
April 19, 2002: 4:45PM. Ken tells me I have been screaming in my sleep. He doesnâ€™t look too good. I feel like a sweaty sock. Ken announces that he is not going to stop until we get to Chicago, not even for gas, because whenever he stops the car his skeleton attempts to exit his body through his eyes.
April 19, 2002: 10:00PM. We have finally arrived in Chicago. Weâ€™re both weak and dehydrated from the Hardees Mistake, and I have spent the last few miles raving in the back seat, making pipe bomb plans and childish, Family-Circle type diagrams showing how we will infiltrate Hardees rest stops across the midwest and burn them to the ground. Ken helps me from the car and carries me into the hotel lobby.
â€œFor godâ€™s sake,â€ he murmurs weakly, â€œwe have a room reserved.â€
Upstairs, as three burly Latino bellhops carry me into the room (commenting snidely on my odor in Spanish) I am moved to tears at its luxury. Croaking, I teeter to Ken and take him in my arms, weeping softly against his shoulder. I am so moved because I have never lived comfortably when traveling. In all my previous trips there has been slow improvement in my accommodations:
TRIP: Cross country, 1994
SLEPT IN: Car, at highway rest stops
TRIP: Seattle, 1996
SLEPT IN: YMCA room with 4 members of TISIC
TOILET?: Shared with what must have been 20 or 30 of the Dirtiest People on Earth
TRIP: Chicago, 1999
SLEPT IN: A nice one-person hotel room shared with Jeof Vita and
TOILET?: Very nice, but ruined quickly by Jeof and Ken.
After a few minutes I fell asleep. Ken didnâ€™t realize this for some time and stood there, patting my back. Then he laid me down on the couch tenderly, removed my wallet, and went out to gamble, drink, and pick up women. I awake a few hours later shivering and afraid. I crawl to the bathroom and am devastated to discover that Ken had already ruined it.
April 20, 2002: 8:00AM. Woke up feeling much revived and brewed coffee in the room to ensure my recovery. Ken and I have tickets to the Cubs game at Wrigley in the early afternoon, and although the temperature is a little low for a ballgame, weâ€™re both enthusiastic.
April 20, 2002: 10:30AM. After a breakfast of coffee and free bagels, Ken and I busily stuffed free breakfast foods into our pockets, because we had vowed never to find ourselves empty-handed in a Hardees parking lot again. Some bastard in the buffet line tipped off Hotel Security, thinking that we were indigents whoâ€™d snuck in for the free chow (I admit not showering or changing clothes was a tactical mistake). Ken told me he would cause a distraction so I could flee; when I protested he snapped â€œYouâ€™re the talent. Donâ€™t make this endless hell all for nothing, or I swear Iâ€™ll kill you.â€ Then he jumped up onto a table.
â€œYOUR ATTENTION PLEASE!â€ he boomed. I began to back away as everyone turned to look at him. â€œI HAVE URINATED IN THE COFFEE URNS. SOME OF THEM ANYWAY.â€
As the place erupted into chaos, I fled, stuffing untoasted waffles into my mouth. I hid behind some potted plants on the third floor until Ken found me some time later.
â€œCome on.â€ he said gruffly. I stood up and several uneaten bagels tumbled from my pockets. I asked him what happened but he refused to talk about it. â€œWe got a game to go to.â€
April 20, 2002: 2:00PM. So cold. Canâ€™t think. Everything…seems…so far…away.
April 20, 2002: 2:05PM. We have decided to flee Wrigley Field, which has less ambient heat than Pluto, but we have become frozen to the seats. All around us, people are wailing weakly, trying to generate heat. The players on the field have all slumped down, shivering uncontrollably. We are all doomed. Whoever finds this please go to my house in Hoboken and hide my pornography from the world.
April 20, 2002: 2:15PM. Ken and I are sitting dejectedly on an â€œElâ€ train barreling away from that black hole of heat known as Wrigley Field. Only our iron will to live, and a happy accident involving spilled hot chocolate, saved us. Iâ€™m afraid many others may not be so lucky. It is so cold in Wrigley Field you start to lose your will to live within moments of entering the place, and by the time you sit down youâ€™ve pretty much given up and are looking forward to the sleepy, empty feeling of freezing to death. We fled to the outside world where 49 degrees suddenly felt balmy.
The Duchess and my Mother are due in from Jersey in about an hour. Weâ€™re just going to go home and sit quietly, wondering if weâ€™ll ever be warm again, or if this cold is now in our bones, forever.
April 20, 2002: 3:45PM. The Duchess and Mom have arrived safely. Both are rather disturbed by my physical appearance and the state of our hotel room, which has become infested with flies. I manage to appease them by taking a shower and blaming everything else on food poisoning, and by pulling The Duchess aside and telling her that Ken has been drinking heavily and engaging in a systematic trashing of the room. The Duchess doesnâ€™t care, because she has spotted a Nordstromâ€™s department store two blocks away and has shuffled her priorities. We all go shopping.
April 20, 2002: 6:30PM. The reading is in an hour and we suddenly realize that the car is parked two blocks away, we have a ton of crap to lug over there, and we have no clear idea of where we are in relation to the store. Panic spreads amongst the group like a palpable mist. The Duchess and Ken go for the car, Mom and I begin lugging boxes of books and flyers and the full-sized cardboard cutouts of myself that I use in case no actual audience shows up down to the lobby. After forty-five minutes of waiting, the squeal of tires announces that our ride has arrived, and The Duchess’ red Sunfire squeals into the front of the hotel, knocking over several plants and garbage cans, and some people. Ken and The Duchess emerged, shouting â€œJust bill room 218! JUST BILL ROOM 218!â€ and hustled Mom, me, and all my crap into the car. We hit several other people leaving the hotel, but Ken peered out the back window and announced grimly that it didnâ€™t seem likely that anyone had taken down our plate number. And, naturally, we werenâ€™t actually in room 218. So we relaxed and proceeded to the store.
April 21, 2002: 12:35AM. The reading was a grand success. After several gulps from my trusty silver flask (filled with Pain-Be-Gone Juice, a.k.a Jack Daniels) I was feeling confident and disco-hot. Thinking that confidence and disco-hotness canâ€™t be a bad thing, I decided that one more huge swallow of sweet liquor couldnâ€™t hurt, and promptly blacked out. When I awoke I was being congratulated for having read so well, and people were actually buying my book. Reportedly I claimed to be someone named â€œMartinâ€ and spoke in a thick German accent through the whole reading, but no one was complaining because it was such an improvement over my usual sweating, stammering, and apologetic antics. To my great surprise, old friend Kieran Higgins had shown up out of the blue. I hadnâ€™t seen Kieran in years, and his appearance caused me to briefly pass out again. This time I am told I claimed to be someone named Levon and spoke in a thick east European accent. Kieran apparently fled in confusion, poor guy.
After settling things with Liz Saidel, the very cool Quimbys person who helped us set up the reading and made us feel very welcome, we spent some time avoiding police, who were apparently looking for four people in a red car causing havoc. Because we had to hide from the cops so much it took us two hours to get one block away from Quimbys to meet Kieran and his people at a pizza place called Piece. Having been delayed we didnâ€™t quite hook up so Ken and I made plans to meet Kieran for drinks the next day.
April 21, 2002: 1:34AM. Iâ€™m sitting in the dark with a pounding head, looking around at the devastation of our room, and wondering when it happened, who did it, and how Iâ€™m going to pay for it. The furniture has been destroyed, some it thrown out the windows. There is paper everywhere, half-empty glasses of liquor everywhere, uneaten and eaten and regurgitated food. Legal documents scurry by on air-conditioned breezes. Newspapers crackle when I shift my weight. The carpet is damp from a thousand spillages. The bathroom…well, the bathroom has ceased to exist. There is only nothingness in there, now. Nebraska has come to Chicago and it has taken up residence in my hotel room where the bathroom used to be. I can feel the nothingness getting larger, in pulses.
I squelch my way to where The Duchess is sleeping, fitfully, on the only clean place left: on top of one of the television sets. I wake her carefully.
â€œWe have to sneak out of here, before the cops come.â€
â€œListen, doughboy,â€ she says tenderly, â€œif I donâ€™t get my sleep youâ€™re gonna suffer. The roomâ€™s not in my name, now go make sure my stuff hasnâ€™t gotten wet.â€
April 22, 2002: 1:00AM: This is the first chance Iâ€™ve had to make an entry, but nothing much to report. Woke up early to get The Duchess a cab to the airport, had breakfast with Mom and then dropped her at the airport, hiding the condition of both myself and the room from her via many instances of spontaneous dancing and singing, which always delights her.
Then Ken and I drove to the Tower Records store on Clark street to drop off a hundred copies of The Freaks are Winning to be sent out to all corners of the country! Unbeknownst to us, Elvis Costello was appearing there and hundreds of people had converged on the store. The manager looked at us as if we â€˜d just opened our jackets to reveal dynamite and a list of demands, then instructed us to leave the boxes on the floor near a garbage can. A little too near. But what could we do?
Had drinks with Kieran, his brother-in-law, and some friends while watching games. Kieran hasnâ€™t changed and is doing well. I tried to conceal the violent trembling wracking my whole body, but everyone seemed to notice. Ken just sat silently drinking his â€˜medicineâ€™ which he made in my Motherâ€™s bathroom from a mysterious paper bag of supplies purchased somewhere. It smells like licorice and seems to calm him. Any price is worth that.
Had dinner with our friend Dwayne at Harry Caryâ€™s, which was nice, but we were all tired and eager to be rid of each other, or at least Ken and I did. Dwayne probably thought we were just crazy.
We have to drive home at 6AM tomorrow, and frankly I donâ€™t think weâ€™ll make it. If not, please find my house in Hoboken and bury all my pornographic Lego tableaus in the backyard, okay?
 Yes, Hardees has accomplished the seemingly impossible: they have secured their spot as the worst fastfood restaurant in the universe. I actually hesitate to use the term â€˜restaurantâ€™. Itâ€™s more like a pathogen research lab, testing out possible infection vectors on the poor suffering sould who wander in. Avoid Hardees!
You havenâ€™t lived until youâ€™ve washed up at 6AM in a public restroom in a highway rest stop somewhere in Nebraska. Iâ€™d be standing there in skivvies, lathered up to my armpits, and in would walk Wally Cleaver and his son Skip, and miraculously a few minutes later the State Police would show up. Believe me, though; jail is preferable to not washing up.
 We went to college with Kieran Higgins and lived on the same floor as him in the dorms for two years. This made quite an impression on us, and Iâ€™ve spent the last few years hiding from him. Seeing him walk into the store was quite a shock, and I didnâ€™t recognize him at first even though he looks exactly the same as he did back in 1996, which is probably when I last saw him.