The Waffle House waiter took a seat to the side of our table and began explaining the various styles of fried eggs to The Bow-Legged Gorilla like a young gentle priest who still has a touch of teenage goofiness.
"Where do you have the egg types on the menu?" the Gorilla asked.
"They aren't on there, how do you like your eggs? You like dippin' in the yolk?"
"Not real sloppy, no."
It was around 11:30 on a Sunday in Frederick and we had gotten a later start for Pittsburgh than I'd planned, but I tried not to beat myself up over it. Surely we'd still get there in time to check out some vinyl and no matter what we'd be way early for the show. There were at least eight Waffle House employees running around serving what I guessed was partially an after church crowd. Whatever that special feeling is that I'd been finding in the Tabernacle of the Smothered and Covered on me and Everly's trip to Mobile could also be found here, much closer to my Northern home.
"Do you want your egg stiff enough where you could wear it like a little flat top hat?"
The highway was nice and scenic. Lots of mountains and trees. Caught up with the Gorilla and his tales of climbing and swinging a chainsaw. Throughout the drive he kept getting third party cellphone calls where he could hear two people talking but they couldn't hear him.
Unlike some of my other recent trips this highway also had lots of Starbucks. Say what you will, but Starbucks gives their employees healthcare and their coffee will help propel your traveling. The only way I can drink Dunkin' Donuts coffee or roadstop grounds is to take it with cream and sugar and then I get gassy and irritable like Winston Churchill after a nap.
My spider senses that the Grand Plan was coming unglued started when I saw that it was already 2:30 and we'd just hit the Pennsylvania Turnpike. So I called Matt the friendly event organizer who I'd only met in person twice in three years. He had come in the store one day long ago and asked if me and Blaster wanted to read in Pittsburgh. I'll say yes to anything as long as it's not happening in the next three or four hours. Plus I'd always heard that Pittsburgh was great for cheap vinyl.
It was when Mapquest dumped us in Irwin that I knew we were screwed. It was an unending stretch of failed businesses and chain stores from twenty years ago and little squat stone bars without windows. Kind of like some patches of Belair Rd. here. There is a weird ghosty feeling there quite unlike the ghosty feeling of a lonely forrest or an urban cemetary. There are signs of life of some sort yet you can't feel that life.
Along about the fifth hour of driving and not finding the road Mapquest said should have been come across ten miles ago me and the Gorilla started working up sweats. You could still feel cool air coming from the air conditioner, but the road sun had completely baked the inside of the car
and we were getting slap happy.
I finally called Matt up and he felt we should abort the original plan of hitting his house first and instead go straight to the venue. Unfortunately he didn't seem to be much of a Galileo either and we had to keep calling back with different coordinates until he could place our location. Eventually we landed across from the Bloomfield post office on Penn St. and Matt said he'd meet us there. We swung the car doors open and began laughing hysterically when we realized the late afternoon air was cooler than the air conditioned air, or maybe it was just a refreshing difference. I began scouting a piss spot without luck and when I returned to the car the Gorilla was chatting up a young hip looking guy. I didn't think he was Matt who I'd met before, but I was now feeling dazed and thinking maybe the original Matt had passed the show onto somebody else a while ago and this young lad was who I'd been talking to. Or maybe he just got sent as an emissary. At any rate, me and the Gorilla thought he was our man and were telling him our life stories until we finally realized he'd just pulled over to ask us where I got one of my bumperstickers because he knew the guy who had designed it. Who can tell where that car would have taken us if we'd hopped in like our initial instinct told us to?
Ten minutes later the real Matt showed up and we parked across from The Shop and went on foot to look for Sir Ian Nagoski and Amanda, who were sensibly nestled in our bar somewhere. As fate would have it, as soon as we hit the first corner on foot I looked up through a cross hatching of various power lines and telephone lines and saw a huge Shepard Fairey "Obey" stencil, the first one I'd seen in about a decade.
Perhaps you remember the part in Heart of Darkness or Apocalypse Now when Marlow, after his many travails, finally meets the enigmatic and mad Colonel Kurtz? In Apocalypse Now bald and rubber-like with blotation Brando mugged and tried to will a dark and menacing anti-charisma onto the screen hinting at glimpses into the vast abyss. Well, Ian bellied up to the bar was nothing like this. In fact he was beaming and drinking a mug of beer and wolfing down calamari and chicken livers wrapped in bacon. This being past the end of the world, the bar's walls (not even that big of a place) sported four giant television screens, each one playing something different. On one a jacked up boxer was boxing a manacled robot. The production quality looked like it could either be an infomercial or a reality show, but the boxer was looking very emotional and there was text at the bottom of the screen reading "actual adrenaline 1,000" on the left hand side and "synthetic adrenaline 750" on the right hand side. On the television directly across from us a news report said that actually quite a few parents said having kids wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
Time for a show.
One connecting tissue of most struggling cities' struggling art scenes are funky performance spaces. The Shop was physically about even or better than most fledgling venues I"ve been in in Baltimore, but this particular 90 plus shimmering heat-filled day there was not even a tiny little hand operated fan to be seen. But the turnout was really good, host Matt was giddy and smart and the hosts one notch above him who were directly responsible for the space were very welcoming.
The Bow-Legged Gorilla kicked things off in his 'Dena hobo shorts with some fine shrieking beat boxing that included some throat punching that created a great electronic sound. He followed that with his long solo piece that he'd performed at the Normal's Anniversary show. It wanders through a wild and disparate emotional terrain, with many moments where it's impossible to know where the guitar/amplifier sounds and his electronic-like vocals were separated. After the long drive and the slightly easing heat due to the dropping hazy sun I laid back on the warehouse floor and felt the tension ease.
Of course the tension did not ease for long when I realized I wouldn't be going on with my poetry bit until after Sir Ian's presentation on vintage world music '78s. I do not have many theories and most of the few I have are most likely incorrect, but I do feel that once music has pierced the psychic veil of a hushed "performance" space, plain old spoken word is a come down.
Due to either my social laziness/reclusiveness or conflicting schedules I'd never caught Ian's music lectures before, but here now four hours away from our formerly shared homes (he and Amanda are now residing in Frostburg) I finally got to be blown away. It not only was an educational treat on fifty to eighty year old music, but also on world history and the slippery nature of consciousness and pleasure itself. Sprinkled throughout the talk were choice slabs of sound that proved beauty in the arts doesn't follow a linear path. The pieces we heard that night were as dynamic and evocative as when they were recorded eons ago onto thick shellac. Near the end of his presentation as the room darkened and a small overhead light was turned on Ian stepped down off the low stage to perform a slow and leisurely solo dance to a Greek song.
By the time I hit the stage everyone in the room had grown a new outer skin, one that was moist and glistening, but the mood was still good. It's always fun to read in front of a whole new audience because you don't have to worry if anyone has heard any of the pieces too many times. Afterwards I got one of the nicest compliments I've ever gotten after a reading. A gent said that normally after readings he felt like he wanted to run home and write, but after this one he felt too intimidated. It felt good to read a bunch of pieces from Whispering of Ice Cubes, a book largely inspired by a dark, but memorable, period of hardly ever leaving the house or the dread triangle of home/work/bar in front of a new crowd in a city I'd never been in before.
It being the weekend of Everly's birthday and me not having finished all the preparations for her birthday altar, the Gorilla and I, after happily moving some merch, set back out on the road. This time with directions given to us from a human. We also had four new cd-r anthologies from Ian, including an incredible collection of "Groovy Malaysian Chick" pop to keep our spirits and energy up for the long drive home. We pushed pretty hard and only made one stop in this small over-congested town about two hours or less from home that seemed like the grim Northeast version of "South of the Border". The Gorilla indulged in a quick Sheets meatball sub and I risked one of their coffees.
Everly found me on the couch at 3:3o am with fur covered eyes. Thank you Matt Wellins for persisting with your invite despite my spaciness. I will have to spend more time in Pittsburgh, which I hadn't realized was such a Polish stronghold.