Saturday, April 4, 2009

One Hundred Things I Loved About Touring the United States with Kathleen Rooney (Part One: The First Fifty)

1. Riding the Metro from the Green Line at the airport to the Blue Line to the Red Line to Hollywood, a surprisingly fun hours-long trip that allowed us to take in a whole lot of the city, including plenty of the parts where people tell you not to go. My favorite was South Central, where people were nicer and more helpful than almost any other place in any other city in the world. Michael Moore was right about South Central Los Angeles. It's a vibrant community, not a hellhole, and I liked it plenty.

2. Not Touring the Museum of Death (a relief!)

3. Standing on Cowboy Gene Autry's Walk of Fame star.

4. Meeting a bookstore employee at L.A.'s Skylight Books, remarking upon how friendly she was, liking her intensely, learning later that she was the fiction writer and anthologist K. Kvashay-Boyle, who I had already admired on the page.

5. Kicking it with Clark Harding, screenwriter and Antarctic explorer.

6. Talking shop with Joshuah Bearman, admiring his new beard and bow tie, learning about the legend of Master Legend, the Orlando-area vigilante crimefighter.

7. Walking San Francisco.

8. Eating all the foods of the world in San Francisco, including (a first!) Taiwanese.

9. Eating said foods of the world with George Awad, host and tour guide extraordinaire.

10. In the Mission, meeting a Guatemalan man in a Mexican restaurant who was reading a library edition of Isaac Bashevis Singer's stories, translated into Spanish from an English edition translated from Yiddish. Also: having this moment with this man without either of us actually using words the other knew. Hooray for Isaac Bashevis Singer!

11. Meeting Peter Orner, buying his book, reading it later that night, wishing I had read it before I met him so I could have talked with him about it when I met him.

12. Reading with Daniel Handler.

13. Drinking with Daniel Handler.

14. Eating lots of meals with Kathleen Rooney (hereafter I'll refer to her as Kathy), whose vegetarian ways helped nudge me toward eating more healthily, and thereby feeling better than I would otherwise have felt, and also probably keeping me from falling ill while on the road. The first of many admirable things I learned, in fact, from traveling with her.

15. Bitching about the weather in Portland but sort of liking Portland anyway.

16. Bitching about the semi-creepy guys in Portland who came out on account of the idea of "Live Nude Girl," but sort of liking the semi-creepy guys in Portland anyway.

17. Meeting Jonathan Evison, the hardest working man in fiction publishing. He brought tiny hot dogs and Twinkies to our reading at the University Bookstore in Seattle. He invited everyone at the reading to the after-party. Even the bookstore employees followed us over. No debauchery followed, so far as I could tell. What did was plenty of warm conversation, jokes, talk about literature, talk about the economy. A theology professor held forth in one corner about the death of God, and a factory worker held forth in another about gaming the Washington state unemployment system. I wrote a blog post about Jonathan Evison wearing rouge, but turns out he doesn't wear any. He is gifted with the natural coloration of an Abercrombie and Fitch model. I took notes but couldn't figure out how to replicate the genetics.

18. Watching Kathy cycle through her material before settling on the crowd-pleasing piece -- the essay on photography -- that became her standard reading material. Watching her progress as a reader from good to very good to, by day six or so, world-class pro.

19. Taking a chance in Bellingham, and reading from "A Love Story," a slower story about a closeted gay man who is also a fundamentalist preacher, and connecting with several people in the audience in a way that the slicker, more thrilling work never could quite match.

20. Hanging out with Carol and Elizabeth, poets extraordinaire, in Bellingham. Sitting around their table and working, the four of us, like we were real writers, and enjoying the quiet communion of that time of work.

21. Eating Indian food and gossiping in Tacoma with Jason Skipper, author of one of the most beautiful not-yet-published novels in America.

22. Fighting with the gas station attendant outside SeaTac, and making our flight only because of Kathy's uber-organization.

23. Regarding with sheer pleasure the magenta binder of maps, directions, expenditures, and receipts that Kathy collated with a care not unlike the care she invests in making and publishing beautiful books for other people at Rose Metal Press.

24. Flying over Big Sky country, reading Amy Wilentz's grossly underrated The Rainy Season, which is the best account by anyone anywhere of the pivotal late '80's in Haiti.

25. Learning that Minneapolis is one of the best cities in the world. The people are warm there, the politics are just right, and when you read at the Book Loft, they put your name in pink letters on the streetside marquee, and send a photographer to follow you all night and give you a CD-ROM full of pictures before you leave.

26. Learning that Rebecca Kanner, our guest reader in Minneapolis, was as cool in person as she seemed to be from her work. Loving her, loving her, loving her.

27. Hanging out afterward at a dive bar with Rebecca's friends, whose stories and regalements included talk of intercontinental expeditions, detainments by Uzbekistani police officers, bribes paid, motorcycles wrecked on icy ponds, and heroin dens disrupted by the vice of virtue.

28. MegaBussing for eight dollars one way, Minneapolis to Milwaukee.

29. Watching Kathy skillfully defuse a semi-skillful MegaBus proposition, a thing of dicey sketchy beauty I hadn't known enough about the world to imagine possible.

30. Eating strips of bacon wrapped in cheese wrapped in egg rolls, deep friend, and washed down with pitchers of beer, in Milwaukee, with the poet Drew Blanchard.

31. Talking Peruvian poetry, political violence, and the Shining Path, while drinking Peruvian drinks with a Peruvian poet (in Milwaukee!)

32. Spending more less the last of a buddy's record advance while all-night carousing on Division Street, in Chicago.

33. Playing uno with my brother and sister-in-law, in Chicago.

34. Reading to a packed-out bar on the north side, in Chicago.

35. Standing three inches from three Vincent van Gogh self-portraits, in Chicago.

36. Reading with real true personal hero Roy Kesey, in Chicago, and also oversleeping in the bed next to Roy Kesey's, both of us snoring I'm told, in Chicago.

37. Talking Postevangelical Literature, comic books, the sexual lives of the ladies of the cloth, and the apocolypse, with Pinckney Benedict, David McGlynn, Scott Kaukonen, and Angela Pneuman, while a standing room only audience egged us on, in Chicago.

38. Meeting Beth Rooney, soon-to-be-famous photographer, in Chicago.

39. Dammit, I really loved Chicago.

40. Finally meeting Martin Seay, Kathy's husband and author of a manuscript for a novel whose ambition seems to me to rival William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom, and Dan Brown's the Da Vinci Code, and both at once, and maybe it will appeal to both audiences, and maybe I just got in on the ground floor -- Fanboy #1. I'm claiming it. This was also in Chicago.

41. The unexpected beauty of Boston from the vista the airplane achieves upon approach -- the buildings, the harbor, the crazy cow path road shapes.

42. Reading with Steve Almond, whose generosity extended to gifts of rarish sweet candies in a paper dime store bag.

43. A magical evening in Provincetown, among the best and smallest crowd of the tour, a crowd that interrupted the reading to cheer or praise the work, and a crowd that brought beer.

44. A magical evening in Provincetown (Part II), at the townie bar, where a drag queen regaled us with stories from his wedding and his cab company, and then bought copies of both our books.

45. Eating avocado wraps the next morning in Provincetown, while sitting on a bench in the beach sand, overlooking the bay, contemplating the Atlantic beyond, dreaming of New York City.

46. Walking Provincetown one last time, among the ghosts of summers past, all the way to the lighthouse.

47. Hearing the good news that Kathy was going to be a guest on Talk of the Nation!!!

48. Sleeping an extra hour in the car while Kate and Kathy navigated Boston's downtown one-ways and got us safely to the rental car drop-off.

49. Reading V.S. Naipaul on a Chinatown bus full with people for whom English is not language number one, and discussing politics in Chad with a woman from Chad, who said, "Would you ever like to visit Chad?" (Yes, I would!)

50. Arriving in New York! Drinking coffee in Chinatown! Hopping the subway to Brooklyn!

In our next installment: 25 Readings in One Day! Tao Lin! Tacos! Snow Falling in Memphis! Snowplows Necessary In Arkansas! A Birthday Party! Interstates! Aaron Burch!

1 comment:

Martin Seay said...

Aw, thanks for the kind words re the novel, Kyle. And I promise I didn't find them by self-Googling.

I'm hoping to keep this Wm Faulkner / Dan Brown balancing act going as long as possible . . . currently poisoning myself w/ Kentucky bourbon while wearing a twee black turtleneck . . .