Being my diary of the Bad Freaking Idea Book Tour
– (which was conducted in January of 2011) –
Joe and I left Baltimore on Sunday morning and arrived in the late afternoon at Benji and Sarah’s house. We ate tortilla chips with homemade salsa and stood around in the kitchen while Benji and Sarah prepared a roasted chicken that they knew. I think Benji had plucked the chicken earlier that day (perhaps not that particular chicken, though he had plucked other chickens and even a duck that afternoon. He had a bag of them). After dinner and cleaning the dishes, Benji and Joe and I went for a short walk in their small town of Bluffton, OH. Sarah stayed home with their amazing young children, Ellie and Josiah. Then the kids were asleep and we all played a couple rounds of Bid Tricks together and drank some of the apple cider Benji had messed with.
The next morning Sarah made us sausage that had been in a pig that they used to hang out with and eggs from a chicken that gives them in particular eggs. In my coffee I put cream from a jug of milk that was in their fridge. Benji scooted out for work and Joe and I hit the road for Chicago, IL, a five hour drive. We tooled up a state road for much of the trip and I thought, “Yes, this is the REAL AMERICA.” I ate a double decker taco in Indiana. When we arrived in Chicago we picked up Craig right there on Michigan Avenue and we went to the Billy Goat Tavern under the bridge downtown to wait for John Dermot Woods, who was coming in by air.
John having arrived shortly afterward, we drove up Lake Shore Drive to snatch up Bill and our Chicago gang was complete. We visited with Sarah (different Sarah) there in Sarah’s Rogers Park apartment and drank a beer and petted Bill’s very large dog, Hamlet. I think the dog is named Hamlet because it is the size of a small town — or because it’s a Great Dane. Then we went to the reading at The Whistler but it was closed so we went to the bar across the street and had a couple pitchers. Zach Dodson showed up looking nice. It was about 6 so we went to the reading.
The Whistler is a very handsome bar in Chicago’s Wicker Park. Already several shining literary luminaries were there; it was like a mini-AWP. I wonder if that is what it’s always like in Chicago? I don’t know if I would be able to handle it. The reading went well in spite of all the bars and beers — I opened up with a few poems then introduced Zach Dodson. Man, I love Zach Dodson on a stage. He knows what an audience wants and has a keen sense of what an audience is going to do; before I got on stage he said, “Don’t worry, people pay attention,” and then he owned the room. Kathryn Regina read delicate poems, one by herself and one by Chelsea Minnis. In many rooms, I think, it might have been difficult to hear a poem read as quietly as she does, but I think Kathryn could still a biker bar. I want to attend the Kathryn Regina School of Poetry Reading. Then Joe and John read and Bill heckled them. Then there was something called Movie-okey and that was amazareehing. Zach pretended he was the dog from The Neverending Story, dig?
A stranger who was just a friend we hadn’t met yet let us crash at her apartment. Sarah had arrived and Bill had taken my car back up to her place so we spent the morning (and money) trying to find it. Then we scooped up John in a nearby suburb (he had bailed early, with a friend) and spent a couple hours trying to find the way to another suburb to hang out with some more dogs and get Craig’s stuff so he could come with us on the rest of the trip. At one point Craig, who did all the driving, pulled into a parking lot to turn around and I leapt from the car and upchucked four times. That was the low point of the trip and it was out of the way early and Craig drove us on to Milwaukee where we went to Beans & Barley, an old fave where I met up with Jon Burks who made me a smoothie with Source of Life and I was healed. John had Source of Life too — he said he couldn’t turn that down.
Then we went to Fuel for coffee and then we went to a new hip restaurant called Honey Pie and I ordered Mac n’ Cheese but I could not eat it. So basically for the past 36 hours I had eaten a double decker taco and lots of beer and a smoothie with Source of Life. I was feeling about 60%. After dinner we went back to Sasa and Dimitri’s house, which was a house I had lived in from 2000 till 2001. The phone number has my name in it; I forgot about that. At Sasa’s house we played a couple rounds of Bid Tricks and looked at pictures with Sasa and it was just a great and calm place to be. It was so comfortable after the strange day trying to get out of Chicago. We went to sleep and I woke up refreshed.
We went to Comet and I ordered two eggs but could only eat a little bit. Then we went to Woodland Pattern and looked at the amazing books. They had fronted a copy of my book, and Mike Young’s and Stephanie Barber’s. It really made me happy to see that. I sold them some more and met Carl Saffron and Chuck Stebelton and felt happy. Then Craig and Joe and John and I went for a walk on Brady Street, in Milwaukee’s east side, then we went to the Uptowner for $5 pitchers. Then it started to snow lightly and we walked to some place that used to be Onopa and had microbrews. Then my old bandmate Joe Riepenhoff called and we went and checked out his art gallery studio that was down the street. I was impressed and motivated by their work; the show at the gallery was lovely and Joe’s little recording setup was an inspiring use of space.
Then I dropped Joe and John and Craig off at Riverhorse and went to pick up Toby, my old good Milwaukee friend that was meeting up with us for dinner and to go to our reading at Salacious Banter. Toby and I went back to Riverhorse and Scott, the owner, was standing rounds for us. That was a real treat and an honor. He bought all of our books. I remembered instantly why I loved Riverhorse. Also at the bar there was Bad Leave Steve, whom we met earlier at Uptowner. He was running for Alderman and kept telling anti-Catholic jokes. I challenged Bad Leave Steve to a game of pool and had a hard time letting him win and I am a bad pool player. Finally we picked up Sasa and went to a crappy diner in Bayview for gyros. The reading was nice; I was happy to see John Riepenhoff and Paul Druecke and Robert Baumann (and his girlfriend). The room was the opposite of Chicago. Well, no, not the opposite. It’s just that it was always quiet, not just when people were reading. At this reading, John and Joe and I had to carry the full weight of the show because no locals were with us. We read for a longer amount of time. No one laughed at my jokes. I am not sure they knew I was making jokes. But this was Joe’s favorite reading. We are indebted to Mike Hauser for coordinating it for us. After hanging out at the bar there for a while, we moved to Nessun Dorma where they had $2 16oz cans of Bitburger and then at bar time we retired to our hotel, which Toby had arranged for us. That was the nicest night of sleep, the only one during which all four of us had a bed. However, I dreamt that John said the pillows smelled bad and the night was restless for me because of that.
The next morning was Thursday, January 6. We left immediately for Minneapolis and arrived at Bryan’s house in the late afternoon. He showed us around the new place, a small place, and when his wife Kim came home with a six pack of beer we each had one except Bryan, who doesn’t drink. Back in the day he also didn’t drink, but he was still invaluable at parties. He always had good ideas for things to do and his laughter can get pretty loud. After we drank a beer we all went for a walk to the Mississippi River which was right there in their town. We walked Henry, their hound dog, to it. People in Minneapolis put ice rinks in their yards. It gets pretty cold and snowy there, you see.
After the walk we hurried off to meet up with the other reading people for dinner. We ended up going to 331, a very comfortable, black-painted room that did some interesting things with lamps. It was nice to meet Anne Shaw of Providence (formerly of Milwaukee) and Lightsey Darst of Minneapolis (formerly of Tallahassee, FL, if I’m not mistaken). I ate a bratwurst, some chips and two pickles; I was back on the eating thing. Then we hurried a few doors down to Rogue Buddha Gallery. MC Hyland was there already and had set up a wonderful reading in a handsome gallery space. There was a cooler of PBR’s which is the best kind of cooler. Laura Brandenberg read first and had a really fetching style. She seemed punky and was funny and danced a little when she read. Then Lightsey Darst read the heavy poems from her Coffee House Press book. She kept saying they were heavy poems, and they were, but they were not unenjoyable. She gave the audience sidelong glances. Then I read and I opened up with a bit of standup comedy. There was some laughing. I sat down and Craig made me feel like it had been my best reading, as if he was surprised with how good it was. He only drew one picture of me. All along he had been drawing pictures of me in his black book. Anne Shaw read and John read some more and so did Joe. Then we all went back to 331 and Kim brought us several beers for the table because there were no pitchers. That was great.
When we got home I fell on the floor and tried to make Henry the hound dog cuddle but he was too skittish. Then I was asleep. In the morning when I woke up I realized Craig and John and I had done that 3 Stooges thing where we slept head to toe. Bryan was awake making coffee and we talked about apps then everyone else woke up and we all talked about apps. Then we went to the Seward Cafe and I ate half of the Green Earth and after that we left for Madison. Snow had fallen during the night and there were cars all over off the road. Some were flipped over all the way. One was on its side and you could see the driver in it and I thought of the movie Weekend by Godard. It was like that for a while then it cleared up an we arrived in Madison to cows and the best homemade pizza I’ve ever eaten.
That was at Fred and Bethany’s beautiful farm house, which is heated by woodstove. The pizza was so good it bears repeating: it was the Best Homemade Pizza I’ve ever even heard of. It was also incredibly filling and I could only eat half of it but I struggled through to the crust and then ate that except I gave a little bit to Georgia the white dog and a little bit to Harper, the yellow lab I used to hang out with back in the day when Bethany and I were roommates in her palatial Kankakee home. Then we drove into Madison proper for our reading at Avol’s Bookstore. Ron, the owner, was a gracious host and conversationalist, and I picked his brain a little about operating a bookstore. Our reading there was, again, just the three of us and we all were practiced hands at it. We all read different material that night, too, and I dedicated my first three poems to Craig.
We went back to Fred and Bethany’s and played Cranium, which I don’t think anyone in the world has played since 2007. It was fun; Craig and Joe and I beat John and Fred and Bethany in a come-from-behind battle. At about 12:15am I asked John what time it is and he said 12:15am about and I said, That’s good right, and he nodded his head so I went to sleep. A few hours later Craig and Bethany, drunker now after having played darts for a while, came and put whipped cream all over my face. They tried to put my hand in warm water so I would pee but I resisted. The water was nearly scalding. The three of us climbed into Craig’s guest bed and Craig kept trying to cuddle with Bethany so she left then he and I talked about going on a cruise and he finally fell asleep. Then I fell asleep but he was snoring loudly so I woke up and took a bath. Then Fred woke up and made the most amazing pancakes known to man. They had onions and wild rice in them, and nuts. No one man or woman born has eaten better pancakes. We all drank a lot of coffee, too.
At about noon it was time to take John back to the airport in Chicago, so we did that. Then we met up with Kathryn Regina one last time on our way out of town. When we got just passed Merrilville, Indiana it was snowing terribly hard out and we couldn’t see anything so we got a motel room and watched the end of the Jets game. Then we woke up and drove back to Benji’s house and watched the Ravens kill Kansas City and Joe and I left and got home at just after midnight yesterday morning, Monday, January 10, and that is how everything went on our The Bad Freaking Idea Book Tour.