By Carl Wilson, Sheila’s new husband and driver and emergency lecturer
People have their different relationships with crossing a border. It’s a bit like gin — where some people sniff only a refreshing, intoxicating taste adventure, others have gut spasms at the scent, flashing back to Grade 11 and getting hauled off to the hospital to have their stomachs pumped after some ill-thought-out makeout-party mishap. When the Trampoline Hall gang was meeting, and meeting and meeting, to plan this month’s U.S. tour, discussing the border was a big dividing line (much like the border itself). Some of us were terrified at the prospect, recalling stories we’d heard of indie bands getting turned back or having all their merchandise impounded or what have you; others (mainly Sheila) were totally bored by such worries.
Oddly, the split fell along gender lines: I had a bad experience at the border years ago, when all my possessions were methodically examined and my opinions about the Gulf War, my sexuality and my HIV status questioned, as a whole busload of people idled impatiently outside. Admittedly, I was working illegally in New York City at the time. But still. I was eventually forced to take a taxi all the way back to Toronto, a two-hour ride, in the company of a seven-foot-tall goldtoothed and dreadlocked guy who bolted when he reached home and stuck me with the entire fare. Misha comes from Canadian Jewish Communist stock and was brought up to fear and loathe men in uniforms, and to weep over the fate of the Rosenbergs (no matter how much we show him the evidence of their guilt). Sheila, meanwhile, being a slight and pretty girl with a trustworthy looking face, assumed that everything at the border would be fine.
As occurs in most conflicts, whether global or local, the most paranoid people won, and all Trampoline Hall materials were couriered physically or electronically ahead of us to Boston, at great expense, down to our 72-page tour bible and laminated Important Phone Numbers wallet cards. Misha and I spent days straightening out their identity papers, getting new birth certificates and passports that were available for pickup only on the very eve of our departure. We concocted a glamorous story of the vacation we were taking, and imaginary relationships and histories the four of us (also including our stalwart driver and stage manager Erin) were supposed to share. We worked out what we would do if we were sequestered and interrogated, probably naked, in separate chambers. Sheila just shook her head and rolled her eyes.
And it turned out she was right. The U.S. border patrol is evidently so concerned about brown-skinned likely terrorists (who in recent weeks have included, by dint of assumption, various engineers, doctors and clergy with suspect ethnic backgrounds, not to mention the famous Canadian writer Rohinton Mistry, who cancelled his own U.S. book tour this month because he was fed up with border harrassment) that a quartet of messy white kids with a rented car full of closed coolers, boxes, sleeping bags and suitcases (none of them bearing a trace of Trampoline Hall or The Middle Stories-related material) is simply waved through. The border guy didn’t even look at our hard-won passports. He didn’t even let Erin finish her elaborately constructed lie. He didn’t even ask our names. He just grunted, asked if we were importing anything and told us to be on our way. Next time we’re bringing drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.
We stopped in Buffalo and did a little dance of appreciation, saluted the flag for Veterans’ Day, then drove 10 hours till we reached Boston, where we were invited to the home of Doug, a lawyer and member of hardcore band Fat Day, who fed us port-wine cheese spread and gin and lemon soda, and showed us the Viking helmets that Fat Day had outfitted with built-in analog synthesizers and light sensors. We placed them on our heads and tootled an electronic fanfare before leaving and heading off to bed. Things were starting well.
The Boston Show at Hardcor House
By Josh Fischel, audience member
Note: At Trampoline Hall shows in Toronto, we sometimes recruit a member of the audience to act as secretary for the proceedings, given how foolish it is to expect us to retain anything. After shows, then, the tour diarists will sleep in a little late, then wake in the morning to transcribe the minutes from the previous night.
We’re in an apartment, listening to Misha. It’s unclear to me whether this is often a place where performances are held, and then the phone rings. It’s for Dan Bouche, whose cousin cannot meet him later. Dan is not here. He is missing Misha sing. He has a lovely baritone (Misha, not Dan). While Misha is singing about Miss Trampoline Hall in both English and Spanish, let me describe the room. There is a lamp by the stage and a mural with a house draped from it. There is an audience; further back, there is a bar with free drinks. Plants hang by the windows. There are three globes. People are defacing stickers.
Clive Thompson is the first speaker. He is impeccably dressed and looks a little like Miles from Murphy Brown. He played us some glass harmonica on CD. Benjamin Franklin invented it (the glass harmonica, not the CD). Imagine a lathe with glass bowls turning. The glass harmonica player “plays” it with unspeakably clean hands. When played well, the glass harmonica (the only truly American acoustic instrument) sounds (1) like the music of angels, (2) pleasing, and (3) inspiring, depending on who you talked to. Europe, in particular, was crazy about it. Of course, the backlash was swift. Rumors spread that listening to the glass harmonica would cause melancholy, fainting, spasms, etc.
The phone rings again. It is for Jason, who takes it in the other room. Here, the microphone stops working for a moment. A young woman — does she live here?! — fixes it and Clive continues.
In 1798, a young child died during a glass harmonica concert in Germany. Within 3 years, it vanished from the continent.Fast forward to the ’50s. A crazy organist named Powers Biggs wanted to bring the instrument back to America for a Mozart tribute concert. He failed — I think (Clive is talking really fast). In 1982, a German glassblower moved to West Newton — he brought the glass harmonica back with the help of Linda Ronstadt, a fan of the glass harmonica. In 1999, the glass blower went for a plane flight because he was a recreational pilot — and vanished. Thus, the last tragedy of this tragic instrument.
During Q&A, Clive says that the body count related to the glass harmonica makes it a weirder instrument than the theremin. Clive plays the guitar and the harmonica (which was named after the glass harmonica, and not vice-versa). Clive had considered telling us about the bazantar, another rare acoustic instrument from the Bay Area. It is not clear why he didn’t choose the bazantar. Clive emphasizes that neither in the making of nor in the playing of the glass harmonica can your hands be at all oily. There are a lot of physics involved, but I didn’t do well in physics in high school, so I won’t try paraphrasing Clive’s explanation. The glass harmonica is played best with the middle section of your finger. Clive cannot play the glass harmonica, but he is a Canadian national.
We take a break for drinks, knowledge absorption and jazz. Reid, sitting next to me, says admiringly of Clive, “I feel really dumb.” I talk to Aaron, who went to the same college as me. He tells me that Gabe, whose place this is, used to live near him when Aaron was five. Gabe is the one behind the bar, wearing a bright red shirt, mixing mean drinks. He also has killer sideburns. Killer.
The break is over; Sheila Heti gets up to read from her book. Misha, in introducing her, uses the words “mysterious” and “Toronto” in the same sentence, which is neat. Sheila has both a Canadian vibe and a Long Island vibe. Her first story is both profound and accessible. My favorite part is when Bobby tells the narrator that she’s miraculous. Sheila’s second story makes me think that she was disappointed when she was up in a plane and finally saw the tops of clouds. I like these stories. These stories are good. I will not ruin their surprise. Except that it is possible to look Polish in a photograph.
The next lecturer was Misha’s roommate in college. His name is Brendan Haley. He is speaking on dirigibles and he is using slides as a crutch. He has a phobia of taking the microphone out of its stand. Brendan has long hair and a laser pointer. He was first captivated by the dirigible’s size. He shows us a picture and exclaims. “How big is that? Who knows?” The length, end to end, of the Hindenberg, was a little longer than the Hancock Tower is tall. Other dirigibles are about this size, perhaps slightly smaller. A dirigible has a skeletal structure with several autonomous, gas-filled cells, whereas a blimp is more of a balloon.
Did you know that the Hindenberg was filled with hydrogen, a highly-explosive gas? It had its own smoking room — a very important place on a flying ship of explosive gas.
As part of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was supposed to give us a zeppelin, but that never panned out. We had the world monopoly on helium — signed the Helium Security Act of 1927, in fact, to keep helium away from the Nazis — which was obviously safer. Brendan posits that, had the Germans not been such assholes, they would have been really good at building stuff. Of course, that might not have been so great in this case, since three of the four American dirigibles crashed — it seems that they’re susceptible to catastrophe. The crashes happen very slowly, which perhaps makes them more spectacular. Majestic, maybe.
Ava, Ohio, site of the infamous crash of the Shenandoah (fourteen dead), is home to a monument and a museum (contained in a trailer home) and a post office. The museum curator, who also drives a tow truck, has a fathomless wealth of materials and knowledge on this.
Applause for Brendan is hearty; there are many questions. He answers ably, though he tends to second-guess his data, as he does not want to “appear the fool.” It comes out that Brendan owns a hundred thousand synthesizers. This seems like a lot. Misha reveals that Brendan has written a song about dirigibles. That’s nice.
I use the next break to go to the bathroom, which is tucked in the back of the kitchen like a napkin. There’s no lock on the door, which is terrifying, but there are refrigerator magnets on the hot water heater, which is okay.
Carolyn Johnson is the third and final lecturer. I know Carolyn, too, from college. She’s very nervous, since Brendan and Clive (and even Sheila) are hard acts to follow. Misha prefaces Carolyn’s presentation with the idea that perhaps there might be a character in Carolyn’s talk who may or may not be Saul Bellow, “a Jewish, old, old, Jewish man.” She describes the hands of this man, which have “explored the nether regions of five wives” and received several literary prizes which are conveniently shaped like medallions and scattered all over the house as coasters. Carolyn is a scullery maid for this man and his family, which includes a 3-year-old daughter who likes to call herself Buddha.
Carolyn takes us through a day. It starts in the morning, as days tend to start. Her first job is to prepare coffee (which takes half an hour) and toast and Pollander raspberry jam. The literary figure refers to Carolyn both as a serf and as a member of the bourgeoisie.
The baby does not use pronouns. She likes to dance to Raffi. There are uncomfortable references to how sexual the dancing is, made by a certain octogenarian author, and his famous literary friends. Carolyn loathes children and thinks they’re dirty, although she allows that Buddha can be sweet when she’s not throwing a tantrum.
It is amusing for Carolyn to hear the famous author read a children’s book with rather cynical-worldview footnotes. (A page that shows a picture of an artist working on a Mondrian-style painting in a park is annotated by the literary figure as, “A man is painting squares when the curvaceous and asymmetrical beauty of nature is all around him!”) She says there is madness and danger involved in her job.
Dinner usually must involve salt, chocolate and red wine, else a healthy dose of insults by the author follows. The repast is followed by helping the literary figure find something to watch on the television. During this process one night, Carolyn was told she was “as sweet and innocent” as Marilyn Monroe. Other names dropped included Ralph Ellison, Gore Vidal, and Robert Frost (“Did you know him?” he asked her. “No, but I studied in his library.” He responds, “It’s just as well; he was a self-promoter if there ever was one”). These are heady, flabbergasting days for Carolyn, who may at some point ruthlessly exploit this experience, as she is an aspiring writer and this seems rich with possibility.
Clive establishes that there is hardly a soul in the room who has read any books by Saul Bellow. Other than socializing and banjo playing, this concludes the evening.
By Sheila Heti
Second show. New York. Galapagos.
Erin and I return to Galapagos, where we left Carl and Misha and half our stuff an hour earlier. We are coming from Ben’s beautiful loft which he shares with seven good-looking young people from all around the world, none of whom are mean and vain like they would be on TV.
We have twenty minutes till the show begins. The club is packed full of people defacing stickers. Ben has come from Toronto to see our show and he hangs our set while I scurry around and forget things. Misha sits languidly on the stage. Carl stands at the door, frightened as he inks numbers on the wrists of extremely attractive, well-groomed women. Erin has ditched us for her friends.
Here follows twenty-five key points taken and twisted from several pages of transcription by David Bennhum
1. I am elected secretary!
2. Ethan Hein is going to talk about the mandola, which is not a mandolin. The mandola is a fifth lower than a mandolin. All Ethan could afford was the mandola.
3. There are 500 blues clichés.
4. The only people into jug bands after 1930 are:
- science fiction readers
- bad eaters
- those with bad hygiene
Jerry Garcia fits this profile.
5. Question: How has being in therapy affected your music? Answer: It kept me from drugs.
6. Question: Is your therapist a bluegrass fan? Answer: It is too expensive to talk about bluegrass with my therapist.
7. Question: Has you mandola gotten you laid? Answer: No.
8. Sheila Heti reads an excerpt from her book, The Middle Stories. She has lost her compact lenses and forgotten to wear her glasses.
9. The second lecture is three debates on untenable positions, defended by Jorge Just. They are all things Jorge has argued in the past. He brought experts, but has done no research at all.
10. Jorge: Dairy cows have gone through so much genetic engineering and, as such, can no longer be considered animals. They are machines. Therefore vegetarians should hold no compunctions about eating them.
11. Chris (who teaches people to run their own farms): Cows are cows. Most of them graze in pastures until they are six months. Then they are brought into feed lots. They are not genetically engineered. Their food is. They are cows, but they are compacted.
12. Jorge: Then they are RoboCows.
13. Chris: Have you ever been artificially inseminated?
14: Jorge: Not artificially.
15: Chris: Are you an animal?
16. Misha ends the debate.
17. Debate 2 is between Jorge and Harry Matthews, a NYC tour guide with a high-pitched voice and a bow tie. He rolls back and forth of his toes.
18. Jorge: Chicago is in every way superior to New York. The bridges smell like chocolate, and sometimes like brownies.
19. Harry: New York had three of the longest bridges in the world. The bridges smelled like beer.
20. Jorge: Lake Michigan is pleasant. Your ocean sucks.
21. Misha ends the lecture.
22. Jorge: The country of Canada can and should become the next superpower. It should do this by imitating the plot of Single White Female: By infiltrating our political system, getting a lock on the fresh water of the great lakes, and controlling these lakes, this will force northern states secede to Canada.
23. Question: What does this have to do with the movie Single White Female?
24. Question: How much time have you spent in Canada?
25: Question: Why would Canada want to be more like us?
By Sheila Heti
It is already Day 5. I can barely think about Day 4, as we are on the highway into Philidelphia and it is 5:25 and we’re meant to be at the venue at six. Misha is worrying beside me. “It is 5:30,” he says. “I would be very happy to get to the club first.” We were supposed to go to Jim’s first and drop off our stuff. Misha says: “I get sad if I’m at the club long after six. But I also appreciate you guys have some navigational challenges ahead of you.” Carl says: “Bascially, if we’re trying to get to the club now, we’re lost.”
We were not lost in New York. We made our way easily to the McSweeney’s Store, where One Ring Zero played the most perfect music imaginable and Samantha Hunt read the most perfect story about Buzz Aldrin, who thought that if he was a real man he would get all the astronauts together to beat up the movie stars. I read on the tiny stage after Samantha and someone tells me later, “It was like hearing a reading inside a Josph Cornell box.”
Someone honks at Erin. She says, “Answers my right on red question.” We go.
Yesterday night, after the reading, at a bar with a neon sign out front, Samantha and I agree that it is better to write about sad old men than anything else. She has been a wife for two months, I have been a wife for six days. She drinks port. I drink port. She writes every day. I gulp and look away. She goes and sits down with her friends. Misha and I try not to watch the TV.
By Sheila Heti
We arrive at La Tazza in Philadelphia. We have lost several hundred programs, and we realize this right before the show. Misha is convinced someone has stolen them from the van and left everything else. Carl finds four and keeps them tucked part-way under the cash box. I say, “Give me the programs. People can share.” Carl says, “No.” I say, “Please, give me the programs.” Carl shifts the cash box over the programs and looks away. It is our one-week wedding anniversary. I stomp across the room to Misha. “Carl won’t give me the programs.” I rush to the back room in tears. When I return, the programs have been scattered around the room. Carl looks innocent.
Mary Richardson Graham arrives. She is wearing a sexy black dress and lugs what looks like a case for a ten-foot flute. In fact, it is meant to hold the screen that she will project slides of her cervix on. But there is no screen in the case, only long pieces of metal. “I paid ten dollars for this screen,” she says. “I hope I am hungover tomorrow,” she says. Otherwise she will not be able to fight the people at the store. We decide to project it onto a wall. The lights dim. One of her friends bitterly calls out, “Hey! How can I deface with no light.” I sulk. I eat two of my dumplings and leave two of them with Carl, who is markering numbers on the wrists of well-dressed people. “No, not well-dressed,” Misha says. “Unlike in New York they were not well dressed. But they were gussied up.” Erin deadpans, “Is this the point in the tour when you turn against the audience?”
Carl: “The thing about last night’s show is it was like other shows in clubs. The people in the front were engaged, but the people in the back were not paying any attention at all.”
Misha: “They paid two dollars to come into a room to ignore other people.”
Erin: “It’s not a bad price to pay for that.”
Misha has a strongly-worded message for the people who were talking in the back.
Some notes from the show in Philadelphia
By Michael Barsanti
8:33 Misha sings the Trampoline Hall anthem (“her skin and hair are not oily at all”). Nervous tittering. The anthem concludes.
8:37 The figure of the “knowledge hydrant” introduced.
8:40 Jim Gladstone, the first lecturer, takes the stage. He’s about 5’8", closely cropped hair, tan cargo pants, red shirt with pockets, over blue t-shirt.
NOTE: Though there are pages of notes for this lecture, we have been barred from putting it on this website — at Jim’s request. Jim fears loss of job, loss of future jobs, and persecution from (we cannot say) if we disseminate the information conveyed in his lecture.
9:11 A spy is revealed in the audience.
9:12 A break begins. The break ends. Misha introduces Sheila who reads “The Girl who Planted Flowers,” then “The Princess and the Plumber.” (Notes don’t seem to suit the reading of these stories. I’d rather just listen.) Sheila Heti finishes. Misha returns to the microphone.
9:41 Nate Sellyn comes to the stage. He’s 5’8"? 5’9"? wearing dark, Banana Republic-style suit and shirt with open collar. His lecture is “My life as a Junior Magic Card Champion.”
Magic Cards were developed by Richard Garfrield. It’s like chess meets Dungeons + Dragons. Two Wizards try to reduce each other others’ life points from 20 to 0. Cards are produced by “Wizards of the Coast.” There is much tittering at this. Nate seems both very well informed and embarrassed by the whole business. He played Magic Cards from ages 11-15, but has since purged the game from his life to pursue other interests (i.e. girls). Nate has a good deadpan delivery. [NOTE: There is no magic involved in Magic Cards.]
9:49 A surprising digression on lice, lice checks, Canada.
9:51 Magic Cards are tied into Nate’s relationship with his brother, Lucas. Nate is a junior at university. He asserts that Magic Cards were once cool, and that this made him poplar. He won the First Canadian National Championship, becoming Junior Champion. He tells us that there are professional tours for this. “Worlds” are held at the Seattle headquarters, where rules include “Please bathe every day.” Nate sold his cards to pay his tuition. (One thinks of Prospero)
Q: Is there an ultimate card?
A: There are two. The Black Lotus (oooh). Nate has two. He sold them both for $1000. The Magazine World Chamption card there is only one of these. When Richard Garfield got married, he made a “Richard and Lulu got married” card.
Q: What about counterfeit Magic Cards?
A: This is not a problem at tournaments. If you are suspicious, use the fold test.
10:26 The break ends. Nate (of the Magic Cards) gets up to give a plug for Sheila’s book. “Deserving of all your best superlatives.” “Worth the price of three drinks.” The problem of finding a third speaker for Atlanta may have been solved by someone attending here.
10:31 Mary Richardson Graham is greeted with whooping. She looks stunning. Her lecture is “Cerclage and Pseudoscience.” Mary introduces the cervix “like an Entemann’s donut.” (There is a fantastic hand-drawn slide of a baby in a uterus). If the cervix doesn’t hold the baby in, it is called “incompetent.” The cerclage procedure is without general anaesthesia, and is “done like a purse-string.” No one knows why it works, and it doesn’t always work. She tells us, “Incompetent cervixes don’t like sex.”
[My friend Frank is getting very loud at this point.]
10:39 Mary’s mother had a bad doctor who was fond of fads. Mary’s mother follows directions, and lost two babies to a “starvation diet” in the mid-60s. Her doctor then put her on the pill, telling her it was “uterus strengthening medicine” because she was Catholic. (Slide of nun salt and pepper shakers.) The doctor’s solution to Mary’s mom’s problems was DES. She stopped talking it in 1971. In men, DES exposure as newborns causes slow sperm and tiny penises (funny handdrawn slide). Mary starts to worry about the doctor who performed her cerclage (great drawing of entenmann’s dnut with stitching indicated) and switches to a midwife.
[Frank loudly announces a nervous breakdown.]
Q: A question about wandering placentas.
A: Definition and discussion of wandering placentas.
Q: Was Mary always so funny abot this?
A: Mary’s sister answers that yes, she was always so cheerful.
Q: How’s your uterus now?
A: It’s fine.
By Carl Wilson
We arrive in Durham and find ourselves in Shangri-La. Not only are Nayeli and Darren great hosts, who give each of us our own room, and not only do they have a parrot named McMick which can say “Raise hell!” (which he does) and “I am the great Cornholio!” (which he never does, though Misha later has a dream about it), but they know all the best places in town. We check our messages and find out that Shawn-Marie, our “wild card” lecturer who claimed she could fly anywhere and was going to fly to Durham tomorrow to participate, has to cancel. Nayeli calls up a couple of friends and takes us out to Ringside.
Ringside is a former warehouse that the owner, Michael Penn, has rebuilt piece by piece, with his own supple hands, into an alcoholic wonderland. There are four floors, each more beautiful than the last. At the top is a library-salon that Sheila and I decide we want, no, need to move into. At the base is a performance space full of stuffed chairs, intimate booths and a big tiled dance floor. In between is the world’s greatest bar, where Michael and a few Sunday-night regulars are sipping cocktails and watching The Boys in the Band, the classic 1970s “hey, look at the gay people” movie. Michael is providing acerbic commentary. Normally on Sundays they read plays — a few weeks ago they did Macbeth — but tonight their lead actress is out because it is her birthday. After watching Michael whip up the most elaborate bourbon sour for me (including pineapple juice, because Michael can make nothing sour), Sheila brilliantly asks him to make her whatever he wants. We all follow suit.
Michael seems to treat mixology as a branch of phrenology or astrology, sizing up each of our personalities before he fires up his blender. At one point he makes me a fine blue drink that he judges inadequate and declares it on the house. Nayeli thinks this drink is great. But the high point of Michael’s art is the Frozen Cowboy Cocksucker, with extra caramel and whipped cream and other secret ingredients. He makes call out the name before we drink. We have never been so happy. At some point the fact of the tour and our exotic Canadianness leaks out and Michael is covered in shame that he never returned Misha’s calls. We could have done the show here! It makes us all weep that we cannot, though he assures us that the Basement is a fantastic place, too. “The difference is that there you descend into the ground. Here, you ascend into the heavens.” This is true. He says he will come to the show. This turns out not to be true.
We watch the climax of The Boys in the Band and Michael laments the days “when we all called each other Mary.” He says the lesson of the film is that there really are heterosexuals — “it’s a big world, and some fags just can’t get it through their heads that some of these men really are straight.” The lead actress then arrives, telling a story about going to a strip bar and being stripped by the strippers. We teeter out the door to our comfortable beds, visions of two-bit hustlers dancing in our heads.
By Sheila Heti
Once again, we find ourselves in the car. I ask Carl and Erin, “Do you feel tempted to open the car door and roll onto the highway?” They both answer yes. Erin adds, "And standing on top of bridges, or roofs, or on subway platforms. . . " I ask why this is. Carl replies, “Because it would be so easy.” “And it would solve everything,” I add. “I don’t think of it like that,” he says.
It is late at night. We are driving to Atlanta. Misha is writing in his journal. He can tell you exactly what he did on this day three years ago. Because he is taking notes about everything, I feel no need to write down a single detail of what is happening on this trip.
We left Nayeli and Darren’s this morning. We didn’t want to go. There is lots of wilderness in Durham, and there is also a parrot. I got along very well with the parrot, and I gave it cookies when it asked, and when Misha gave it a cracker, the parrot dashed it to the floor of its cage. Carl claims that he liked the parrot first. It’s true. His love for the parrot made me love the parrot.
At the show last night, at The Basement, Paul Cordillo asked me for a piece of paper and a pen. He wanted to write down the sticker-defacing rules. He said they were better than the Ten Commandments as rules to live by; he said they were like the Canadian Ten Commandments. “Don’t take the stickers?” I asked. “Yes, don’t take what isn’t yours.” These are the sticker defacing rules, rules to live by:
Use only the pens provided.
Don’t take the stickers.
Don’t be mean to the big guy.
“No words?” Carl asked him.
Real-time transcription now:
Misha: “Is this Atlanta?”
Carl: “No, gas station.”
We pass an Olive Garden. Erin explains it to Misha: “They had unlimited salad and garlic bread,” and she tells about the free-cake-on-your-birthday cake scam. “It is surprising they didn’t ask for you ID,” Misha says. “We were very crafty teenagers,” Erin explains. Indeed!
We pass by a car dealership. All the hundreds of windows are frosted. It is beautiful. We pull up to a Texaco. Erin turns to me. “Sheila, are you going to pump our gas?” I am very excited. I have never done anything so erotic before.
We are back in the car. It turns out I have only done things more erotic than pumping gas.
I say, “Does anyone have anything to say about Day 8?”
“Is this Day 8?” Misha asks.
By Misha Glouberman
I am amazed that so far no one has talked about the tour book. If you are going to go on tour you should really assemble a tour book. Our tour book is 72 pages long. I emailed it to Brendan, so we wouldn’t have it at the border, and he printed out two color copies, and even bought these great binders, made of clear plastic, so you can see the cover, which reads “The Trampoline Hall Tour Book: The Best Book Ever Written,” and has an eyeball on it, like our poster.
The tour book has all the information we could ever possibly need, and was generated by a database application I wrote myself. It has area maps of every place we need to be, and computerized driving directions for all our routes. No one uses the book enough. Instead, they buy maps at gas stations, and we get lost all the time. Carl and Sheila and Erin underappreciate the tour book, but everyone on the road who sees the tour book is impressed by its efficiency and beauty.
There are also wallet cards, maybe even more underappreciated. Everyone has one, and they all have every phone number and address and email of everyone, in small but perfectly legible type. They are laminated. Let me tell you these were not easy to make, and yet still when Sheila wants to know Nayeli’s phone number, she does not look at her wallet card, she instead yells across the gas station parking lot to me, while I am trying to enjoy the view. As with the tour books, the people we meet in bars all think the wallet cards are very, very, very cool.
That is all I have to say, for now, about the tour book and the wallet cards.
DAY TEN, ATLANTA
By Sheila Heti
I read over Misha’s account of Day 9 and am shocked and appalled. “You show the laminated wallet cards to people in bars!?”
Erin says, “Last night I showed it to someone in a bar.”
Misha cries eagerly, “And what did they say? That it was a model of efficiency and beauty?”
“They said, ‘Dude, that’s fucked up.’”
DAYS TWELVE & THIRTEEN, LOUISVILLE
By Carl Wilson
We set out for Louisville from Atlanta just a little bit on the tired and grouchy side. It was a tricky place, Atlanta. Vast and sprawling and raining and very paved. We had been put up in a hotel by a kind stranger named Pat, who we never met, and that was exquisitely comfy, but made me feel awkward in my heart. It was improved by the guest appearance of Ramon, an audience member from Philadelphia who happened to be visiting his friends’ shotgun shacks in Athens, Ga., and took the bus in to Atlanta to be our emergency fill-in lecturer, and who stowed away in our hotel room. We like his floppy hair, which is soothing but vivacious, like the rest of him.
But when we rose the next day and had the valet bring up our car (the only time on the tour we can use this sentence, and so I am), we set out on a beautiful sunny day. We chose to take the more minor and seemingly more direct highway. This turned out to be half a brilliant decision and half a terrible one we had a glorious afternoon among the Tennessee mountains and a harrowing night on the black-dark drizzle-washed twisting and turning back roads that the so-called highway turned into in Kentucky. The drive took forever and the brief redemption of our mood — which began at the Waffle House where we played Waffle House songs on the jukebox and had grits for the first time in our lives, and reached a peak at Win-Bob’s diner in Duluth, Tenn., where Misha fell in love with the waitress who he overheard saying she wanted to be anywhere but there expired again into a more characteristic urban malaise, as we sang half the Velvet Underground’s first album a capella in sexy German accents to distract Erin from her driver’s burden.
But what we reached, Mike and Trish Smith’s house in Lexington, Ky., (where, to a tipsy couple who gave us directions, we finally gave away the balloon flower that a Christian clown had given us in Atlanta after the show), was an oasis of civility and good soup. Trish runs (as far as we know) the only McSweeney’s-themed book club in America, right there in Lexington, and the next night she would give one of the best lectures of the tour, about cephalapods. In the morning, their son Ethan played us his three-note guitar songs. He is 7 and, yes, cute. Not a bad guitar player, for a month’s worth of lessons, either. Damn these talented children. Ethan is homeschooled but not in the scary way. We consider stopping the tour right there and being adopted by Mike and Trish.
It was a quick drive from Lexington to Louisville, or actually to Indiana, where Sheila was giving a talk to students at the spookily deserted satellite campus of Indiana University that they have tucked into a little corner off the highway here. She tells us that it goes well. Meanwhile, the rest of us go and meet our hosts. Tristan (a freshman in college) tells us jokes about Canada and various world religions, and plays “Wish You Were Here” on the guitar, and Jordan tells us about his friend who held a protest on campus by having an Arab friend wrap an American flag on his head like a turban and were a t-shirt that says “My Dad crashed into the World Trade Center and all I got was this lousy shirt.” We all suddenly feel 18 again, except Erin.
We venture into historic downtown Louisville and find a Courier-Journal, which includes a feature article that explains the lecture series as an exercise in planned failure, but notes that Misha and Sheila are “not actually vicious people.” We plan to have t-shirts printed up with that slogan emblazoned on them. The show that night is packed with over 80 people, and while too much of it is about pop culture for my wife’s antediluvian tastes, the people at Aslan’s How gallery are superbly gracious (more nice Christians!) and the show features an unprecedented number of Trampoline Hall firsts.
Those first include: the first lecture delivered by a man in a stocking mask and rubber yellow wig (Mickey Hess’s hip-hop lecture), the first lecture to feature an audience quiz and a top-10 list and candy thrown into the audience (Trish Smith’s spectacular cephalopods lecture), and the first lecture to be illustrated by a video montage (Tracy Heightchew’s talk about zombie movies). It’s also the first bring-your-own-booze Trampoline Hall ever, because Aslan’s How’s bar got busted a couple of weeks ago. We buy a lot of bourbon. We share it with folks after the show. Misha and I go with Tracy to a little get-together at the house of a nature conservancy manager named Claude, where it’s full of stuffed chairs and antique furniture and a hi-fi and more bourbon. Claude’s family has been in Louisville since the 18th century.
Sheila and Erin go with Mickey and his charming wife Danielle to their place and talk till five in the morning. Mickey and Danielle have been married for seven years and they are 27 and extremely nice to each other and smile a lot. We don’t know what it means that we all are so impressed and touched by this, but we are. We have breakfast with them too. We will miss everyone here, and we all now speak with a slight Kentucky accent.
DAY FOURTEEN, BLOOMINGTON
By Sheila Heti
McSweeney’s sent us to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and so the four of us pull up to a big old campus in a small, breezy town (so it seems, in the dark) with a prominent tattoo parlour and young girls touching their bellies in this vain way, as they idle at the counter and chew gum. Teenagers! We will know them well.
We are shown to our dorms Carl and I in a fancy guest-room with mini Oreo cookies and fresh towels and a coffee pot, Erin and Misha in the room of an actual pair of boys who have gone home early for Thanksgiving. They find Grateful Dead posters on the wall, a terrifying Jerry Garcia doll, no bongs and no books.
Time passes. Misha fights with a certain venue, Carl and I drive around looking for somewhere off campus to have dinner together but get lost and return in shame, late, with pizza, I change my mind a dozen times about which stories I’m going to read, Carl considers trashing the room he’s supposed to be setting up, Erin steals her dinner from a nearby cafeteria.
Pre-show begins, as always, with Misha and I studiously avoiding each other. The long, carpeted room with the little green stage begins to fill up, mostly with residents of Collins House, the free-thinking, vegan-friendly dormitory we’re playing in. Five minutes before the show starts, one of our lecturers (the only one not a student) expresses to me his fear. He doesn’t think that he (older than the others) or his lecture (a serious one) will go over with this crowd. I am in those final frantic minutes, but I try and reassure him as I have done with skittish lecturers many times before. (I admit, this was slightly more difficult than usual, having just read a story about us in the arts bi-weekly that described the Trampoline Hall concept as stomach-turning in its reckless sadism towards the lecturers who quiver helplessly at the “towering and menacing” me.)
Halfway through the first lecture (a tall, young, floppy-haired blonde named Erik who has decided to expose his roommates’ personal issues on stage while his roommates sit onstage and listen, not having expected this at all) I realize that the lecturer who had been nervous earlier has completely disappeared. This is unprecedented in Trampoline Hall history. I decide not to tell anyone, then I decide to tell Carl. I drag him outside. He pulls out a cigarette and lights it with Erin’s lighter.
“You have to do your Oulipo lecture,” I tell him. “The second lecturer has vanished.”
“I haven’t prepared my Oulipo lecture!”
“You can do it in half an hour! I’ll sit by the books table for you. You can go upstairs, and do it now.”
Carl has never looked sicker. I grow worried. And I am torn. Ruin my husband or ruin the night? I decide that I need not ruin either one. We will get people from the audience to give impromptu, 3-minute mini-lecturers. During the first break, after much commotion, I manage to wrangle three mini-lecturers and I head back outside to decide which stories to read. I settle on two, then, onstage, I change my mind and read three. People laugh and cry and I come offstage and get happy smiles from the young girls and drink the rest of my apple cider.
After the night ends, the four of us sit around with Mickey and Danielle Hess, who have come up from Louisville to see us, and we drink bourbon in the lounge and order more pizza, and Misha surprises us all with his rendition of the Mon-chee-chee song (a commercial for the popular monkey doll of the early 1980s). Our collective heart melts at this unlikely and adorable display and, as Carl might write if this was his diary entry, “we had never been happier than we were right then.”