Notes from the McSweeney’s Tours.
The Sleep and Ice Tour: Dispatch Two.
By Dustin Long,
author of Icelander
June 7, 2006
I’m pleased to say that, despite the rain, our reading in New Uruk City went at least as well as the one in D.C. Not only were Evany and I joined by McSweeney’s/Believer/Wholphin affiliates Lawrence Weschler and Rich Cohen but we were also treated to a lively lunchtime crowd who listened to us in what can only be described as reverent awe (or perhaps polite dismay). Then, after we finished, Mr. Weschler prodded them into asking questions of such profundity that I feel safe in saying we all walked away from the reading a little wiser than when we began.
Of especial interest to me was Evany’s discussion of the fact that Wood Sleepers tend to be a secretive lot. This got me thinking. If only Emily Bean had had access to Evany’s wonderful book! If she had but known the secret language of sleep, one imagines Surt would never have had even the slightest success in his various nefarious schemes. Makeup might be able to describe his face, after all, but could he ever hide the Softserve Swirl pose in which he was wont to slumber? Methinks not. Of course, then we wouldn’t have had Magnus Valison’s Memoirs of Emily Bean, or at least they wouldn’t be so interesting, but I think The Secret Language of Sleep just might be a book for the ages.
In any case, I look forward with unrestrained glee to the West Coast leg of the tour, and I think I can safely promise all who attend that it just might be a life-changing experience. Maybe! Until then, I remain
Your obedient servant,
The Sleep and Ice Tour: Dispatch One.
By Evany Thomas,
author of The Secret Language of Sleep
June 5, 2006
I’m thrilled to report that tonight’s reading at Olsson’s in D.C. was a whopping success. There were many friendly faces in the crowd, and even one rigid elderly man in a suit. There were also over 20 confirmed Classic Spoons lining the seats and aisles, and, as we well know, that’s the very best kind of majority to have at a reading, what with all the supportive glances and cake-packed stomachs far too satisfied to gurgle.
I also had the long-delayed pleasure of meeting Dustin Long, the author of Icelander, and I was well entertained by the selection he chose to read from his onion-layered mystery of a novel. He picked all my favorite parts—pedestrian crossing, ha ha!—which of course both flattered my tastes and made me admire him all the more. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say he was a Paper Dolls man, or perhaps even a Sixth Posture of the Perfumed Forester, but I may have just been blinded by his windswept smile, warm handshake, and the generous cut of his jib. But! I will reserve judgment until after this Wednesday, when we’ll meet again for our lunchtime N.Y. Bryant Park reading (a sunlit viewing being absolutely essential when it comes to carnival guessing someone’s preferred sleep style).
Sleep, sleep, hooray!
REPORT FROM ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN.
GUEST CORRESPONDENT: DAVY ROTHBART,
FOUNDER OF FOUND MAGAZINE AND AUTHOR OF
The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas
The Match Game
Tonight I went to an incredibly kick-ass pair of shows—both were completely absorbing, and both … well, the similarities pretty much end there. The first event was a McSweeney’s reading at Shaman Drum Bookstore in Ann Arbor, featuring Sal Plascencia and Paul La Farge, accompanied by Eli Horowitz. The second was a punk show at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit, featuring Rise Against, a band fronted by one of my best friends and former roommates, Tim McIlrath.
As a challenge to you, dear snooper into tour journals, I’m gonna list a bunch of things that happened at one of the events or the other—it’s up to you to figure out which. Simply guess “McSweeney’s” or “Rise Against” for each statement, check the answers below, and tabulate your score to learn your Match Game Rating.
1) On my way in, I was frisked by security.
2) On my way in, my friend and I were asked to keep our voices down.
3) Members of Eminem’s posse D-12 were in the house.
4) The editors of lit-mag Hobart were in the house.
5) Before the show, the performers got tanked at a neighborhood bar.
6) Before the show, a performer called his pregnant wife and asked her to hold the phone to her belly so he could hear his baby murmur.
7) A Harry Potter book was held up high and discussed onstage.
8) A performer spoke at length about the demise of the automobile industry and Michigan’s subsequent economic decline.
9) The performers sucked down a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon during the show.
10) The performers sipped bottled water during the show.
11) Within the first 10 seconds of the show, a crowd-surfing member of the audience gashed his head and was carried away gushing blood.
12) Within the first 10 seconds of the show, a particularly rowdy member of the audience was singled out and praised.
13) A performer described a woman who married a chair.
14) A performer screamed, “God bless America!”
15) The performers spent their afternoon before the show playing video games at an arcade.
16) The performers spent their afternoon before the show at an art museum.
17) After the show, three girls asked the performers if they wanted to go out in the alley for Jell-O shots and blowjobs.
18) After the show, three girls asked the performers if they would help stack chairs.
19) A performer signed a fan’s breast after the show but misspelled her name.
20) A performer signed a fan’s book after the show but misspelled his own name.
21) When all was said and done, the performers climbed into a Dodge Neon and headed for Cleveland for a show with Dan Chaon.
22) When all was said and done, the performers climbed into a Dodge van and headed for Toronto for a show with the Dead Kennedys.
Your Match Game Rating. Score one point for each correct match! Then write the number in Sharpie on a secret place on your body, and reveal it to the McSweeney’s crew at a future event!
1-5 points: Outlook not so good.
6-10 points: Concentrate and ask again.
11-15 points: It is decidedly so.
16-21 points: Signs point to yes.
22 points: Good job, Eli.
Ann Arbor Tour Report.
GUEST CORRESPONDENT: Aaron Burch,
Editor of Hobart
The reading went as readings go. Except better, of course. Meaning: very, very well. Eli introduced the McSweeney’s universe, Salvador introduced his books with diagrams of asterisks and semicolons, Davy Rothbart read a hilarious found list of rules from a student to a teacher for a potential affair, and Paul described the backstory behind The Facts of Winter and read a few beautiful dream excerpts.
The reading ended, leaving everyone with a lingering feeling of joy, and, after milling around, Paul found himself in a dilemma. He found a book he had been wanting to read but was debating whether he should buy it—if he did, it would surely create enjoyment on the road trip to come; however, it was a huge hardcover of a book, and buying it would mean having to carry around that much extra weight, added to his already-too-heavy backpack. It was only the first night of the tour and already he was getting ready to weigh himself down. In Paul’s hands, while its worth vs. weight was being scrutinized, it looked like the biggest book I’d ever seen. Paul kept trying to put it back on the shelf but then would start flipping through the pages again, back and forth, flipping through and moving toward the shelf. An employee came by and announced that if anyone was still going to buy anything, she was getting ready to close the register in just a couple of minutes. The pressure was on. He bought the book.
From there, we walked across town for some food, where Salvador took at least one bite from every person’s plate, but after dinner was the highlight of the night. In Ann Arbor there is this guy, Vinh, who lives downtown, and the back of his house is something of a parking lot that butts up to the back of a large wall of a building. There were lawn chairs and a movie projector set up, a handful of people hanging out, and Vinh was queuing up Big Trouble in Little China. No matter what can be said about a day, when it ends sitting on lawn chairs watching a John Carpenter movie from the ‘80s starring Kurt Russell, projected onto the backside of a building … that’s good times.
REPORT FROM LOS ANGELES.
GUEST CORRESPONDENT: J. RYAN STRADAL,
LETTUCE PICKER #2
Skull Rings and Fresh Produce
I was at a bar down the street from Skylight Books when Salvador Plascencia, Eli Horowitz, and Josh Bearman walked in. At the time, I was a lowly writer, the least significant personage of a West Side contingent led by 826LA’s Pilar Perez. The three men walked into the bar and I couldn’t see their faces for the glare of the sun reflecting off a hummus plate. The first thing I noticed about Eli was his glow-in-the-dark skull ring. I’ve only met one other man who wears that kind of ring.
Sal said that Los Angeles was his home and this reading would be different from the rest. As we entered the bookstore, I noticed at least six randomly placed and insouciant heads of lettuce, mostly romaine, with an iceberg loitering amid the historical fiction. Sal asked me if I’d be Lettuce Picker #2. I said yes without thinking.
Cryptic Hominids in the Lettuce Museum
Eli began the evening’s circuit of speakers, demonstrating the artful design and layout of McSweeney’s #16. He spoke with authority and love, like a sommelier with heels violet from his own grapes.
Josh followed with an abridged version of his yeti-researcher presentation, impressing the audience with speculative Sasquatch taxonomy and Teddy Roosevelt’s account of a cryptic hominid. McSweeney’s #17 will tell the whole story.
Sal’s reading happily coincided with the opening of the Lettuce Museum on Sixth and Main in downtown Los Angeles. The museum apparently greets visitors with a large photograph of Rita Hayworth (a renowned scorner of lettuce pickers) bearing the quote “My salad days / when I was green in judgment, cold in blood.”
Reading from The People of Paper, Sal explained the complicity of Rita Hayworth in the cultural history of lettuce, at which point I (Lettuce Picker #2) and two other readers, assuming the roles of Rita and Lettuce Picker #1, dramatized selections from the book. The Q&A session was short. People wanted to buy these books.
The Effect of Maritime Pirate Policy
on a Book Signing
The People of Paper and McSweeney’s #16 arrived stateside in the same container ship. My friend Brandon “Goldie” Lovejoy, who has spent much more of his adult life than you on such container vessels, tells me that Maersk Sea-Land safety policy in the event of pirates is one of rapid capitulation. They are to take the pirates directly to the captain, return to their rooms, and lock the doors. They are not to fight the pirates or resist their demands.
All pirates know that container ships contain enough in cash to pay the salaries of the entire crew in full (in the event of a work stoppage and/or mutiny) and millions of dollars worth of cargo. An economical combination of men, longboats, and ropes—with as little as one knife between them—can forcibly plunder the whole operation.
Therefore, we are fortunate for books, and the people know it. The bookstore sold out of The People of Paper before the line to sign it had fully formed.
Report From Seattle.
Guest Correspondent: Ryan Boudinot,
guy in crowd
Really, I felt sorry for the McSweeney’s crew as they performed in Seattle, as their thunder was stolen by that afternoon’s cataclysmic Michael Jackson verdict. Why they didn’t cancel altogether, or maybe just show an old VHS of the 20-minute mini-film of Thriller, I can’t say, but they carried on, unbowed, performing their performance art before a live audience in the bowels of Elliott Bay Books.
Eli Horowitz, recognizable from the Issue No. 11-accompanying DVD, appeared to be wearing velour, an odd choice for the weather. As he talked about the fruits of McSweeney’s labors, he happened to mention that he tries to have an outdoor nap in every city the tour passes through. This day’s outdoor nap was apparently not allowed to happen on account of someone using—Eli’s words here—"devil sticks" in the park off Western Ave., close to that market where they throw the fish. Yikes! One member of the audience quickly provided the actual name of the novelty stick-activity sticks, which I can’t remember. But they had nothing to do with the netherworld’s dark lord.
After Eli’s spiel, this guy John Roderick took to the stage with an acoustic guitar. Yep, you know what that means. Songs. The two songs Mr. Roderick performed were lovely and accomplished, having to do with someone in a coma and murder, respectively, and the singer emphatically stressed they bore no traces of metaphor. Bent on literalist interpretations of his song craft, Mr. Roderick nonetheless provided a pleasant interlude between the sessions of brain-crushing cerebral literature being parsed out in that warm brick room.
Salvador Plascencia was up next, and he can boast that he pulled a complete rock-star maneuver on everyone’s ass. He addressed us as Portland. Right on, you hard-touring mofo. We know what it’s like, leaving your old woman at home, meeting with endless promoters, the crew packing it up night after goddamn night just to bring 1,000 watts of magical realism to the heartland. For real. Sal’s piece, read from his novel The People of Paper, the maiden entry of McSweeney’s “Rectangular Series” (the books are rectangular), concerned origami surgery. I kind of wish it had gone on longer, if nothing else out of curiosity about how to pronounce a page with nothing on it but a gigantic black square.
After that there was a trivia contest, with a guy named Ryan winning the chance to comb John Roderick’s hair, which he did with great zeal. Then the authors and impresarios in attendance did something remarkable: they signed their own names in copies of books they had written or published.
Report From Portland.
Guest Correspondent: Kevin Sampsell,
bookstore employee, writer, expert on combs
The first thing I notice when Eli Horowitz and Salvador “Sal” Plascencia arrive at Powell’s is that they both have the same kind of hair. Eli’s sports more of a curl (or wave) effect, but they’re both sort of like the Welcome Back, Kotter-era John Travolta. I note this because I have some things to share about the history of combs, specifically the “straight comb,” like the one that comes inside McSweeney’s Issue 16.
First off, though, they instruct me (since I am their bookstore whipping boy) to fetch them a dry-erase board and a stand to place it on. As I search for one, they befriend a sailor who is shopping in the nearby art section.
You may think I’m joking but I’m not. This weekend (the reading’s on a Sunday) is the Portland Rose Festival, which is always scheduled to coincide with the arrival of several naval ships—huge ones—that dock in the Willamette River and unload their hundreds of sailors into our downtown area.
When I return with the dry-erase board, we have a pretty full room and we’re ready to go. My introduction serves two purposes: To say really nice things about two people who deserve nice things; and to tell people some little-known facts about the comb:
1. The top (handle) part is called a nickel.
2. The teith of the comb are spelled T-E-I-T-H.
3. The straight comb was invented by Halldis Rothheim of Norway.
Eli is the first speaker and he is quickly barraged by questions from the audience. He becomes fatigued easily and decides to introduce four sailors to the audience. Everyone is invited to ask the sailors questions, and they happily do. It is an entertaining spectacle, although the men in white are cagey when asked, “What things are you not supposed to do when you are visiting a city?”
Sal is up next. He begins by talking about origami in alarming detail. His three-minute reading from the book follows this and it is over too quickly. Still, he must have cast a spell, for there are many, many people who want him to sign their books after.
As Sal is signing, a cluster of college-y types surround Eli and give him “concept ideas” for future issues of McSweeney’s. I put away the dry-erase board. It has not been used. Still, I like the fact that it was there for them, perhaps as some sort of naval welcome for the sailors, or a cue card left up to the audience’s imagination.
Report From Washington, D.C.
Guest Correspondent: Corinna Vallianatos,
Wife / Founder, Creative Management Inc.
Did I feel like a glory-hound as I accompanied my husband, Kevin Moffett, to the Washington stop of the McSweeney’s tour? No, for there was no mention of fame, none at all. I kept waiting for Eli Horowitz to bring it up, to warn the three featured readers that henceforth their lives were going to be potentially baroque—conflicting charity events, a string of typists—but I guess it was just understood.
Everyone in Olsson’s Books, audience included, was casually triumphant. Eli was wearing a Washington Bullets jersey beneath his checked shirt, and he informed those gathered in the room that his father was among us and would be strictly evaluating his performance. Eli said that when he was growing up, he knew he was in trouble if a small riding lawnmower was placed idling outside his bedroom door, and that he sincerely hoped the precipice would be clear tonight. He displayed the new issue of McSweeney’s: comb, deck of cards, literary journal, like the contents of a learned guy’s briefcase. Then he introduced Kevin, saying he was in the rare, enviable position of being both a contributor to The Believer and McSweeney’s, and I thought, Finally I can bask—soon I’ll have him on Cribs or anything at all televised. Kevin read. His essay for The Believer was about amusement parks, up, down, fast, lots of monkey business. I don’t read a word he writes, but I am in charge of his haircuts. (Note to Jacque: Most recent job—too short, like some sort of Depression-era search for lice.) I’m sure it was all good, though.
Then Hannah Pittard read a bit of her story about dogs, a wrong kind of love, Maryland. There was a character in it named Moonie. Hannah has a low, accomplished voice, an incantatory rhythm. I learned from her bio that she’s in grad school at the University of Virginia. Hannah, I went to the University of Virginia too! But only as an undergrad. So I was sort of tainted by that fratty element, whereas you, I trust, are not.
Finally, Salvador Plascencia read from his just-published novel, The People of Paper. He duped me into thinking that Howard University had launched a display of origami and that one of its principle figures—a bewitching paper female—had disappeared. A woman made of paper on the streets of D.C.! Perhaps she’ll fold herself up into a little boat and go sailing down the Potomac.
The night ended with a trivia contest, a free McSweeney’s Issue 16 as the prize. Except two men answered correctly at the same time. (I can’t remember the question, but the answer was “lumbering megafauna.”) One of the winners got his arm hair combed.
Kevin and I attended the reading with our friend Andrew, who had just lost a button on his shirt. I kept expecting the button to show up in yet another pocket in the new issue, but it never did.
Report From Philadelphia.
Guest Correspondent: Matt Schwartz,
One night last week I finished working at midnight, got on my bike, and rode south on 11th Street. I was riding along the thin strip of asphalt between the cars and the old Pennsylvania Railroad tracks, at a decent clip. The door of a red convertible swung open and threw me into the street. I landed on my knee.
That was one police report, a few angry words, and five days ago. Sean Patrick C. Doan, if you’re reading this, the answer is no, I’m not going to drag you into court for the $5 you say you have to your name. My knee is doing fine now, or close enough. You did, at first, refuse to give me your number, so we had to call 911, and you did tell the officer who arrived that my bike and your door had never touched, but to your credit you gave me a ride home at the end of the night, so I will chalk up the rest to the accumulated strain of driving around in a red Mitsubishi Eclipse in a society as litigious as ours while listening to house music. Should I ever be in the market for a T-Mobile phone, I will be sure to pay you a visit at Store 8278 of the Plymouth Meeting Mall.
The McSweeney’s reading at Molly’s Bookstore on Sunday, June 5, had many things in common with the Doan incident. First of all, it took place near a street with railroad tracks. Second of all, the beginning was abrupt, almost violent, and, for a time, no party was entirely sure where they stood. Seeing that Philadelphia native Karl Wenclas wasn’t into my idea of showing up and signing an Agreement to Disagree (thus insuring Molly’s a spot in the next Oxford collection of American literary anecdotes), I wasn’t really sure what to expect. So I busied myself assembling the new McSweeney’s texts into small display towers like the bestsellers at Barnes and Noble, or the cans of Goya Black Beans at the Cousin’s Supermarket on Fifth at Cecil B. Moore.
The bookstore, which holds about 30, was overflowing, so we had to hold the reading “in the round,” as Eli Horowitz put it, with the audience stretching from the door, past the podium, and along the aisles to the back of the bookstore. Molly’s white cat, Precious, had nowhere to sit and so plopped herself right on top of the desk from which Molly readers read. The audience was rapt as Horowitz demonstrated the features of McSweeney’s 16, which comes with a comb and a story spread out across a deck of cards, but which can also be placed on a shelf like an ordinary book. He placed a sample 16 on one of Molly’s shelves to show how it’s done, like so, but wisely refrained from giving the comb a test drive. The way he hosts these readings reminds me of Billy Crystal at the Oscars of old.
Kevin Moffett read his story from the issue, and later shut down some know-it-all who claimed an amusement-park ride needn’t complete a loop to be a roller coaster. This is not the case, and Moffett let him know it.
Salvador Plascencia showed us the places where he’d sliced his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend’s name out of The People of Paper, “to deny him the small piece of minor literary fame.” He introduced the novel by describing the collections of an origami museum behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In fact, there is no such museum. But the audience seemed to take this disturbing hoax at face value. The question of whether his art justifies this sort of playful bending of the facts, I leave to the reader.
Report From New York City.
By Salvador Plascencia
Cloth: Pulling at Sheets
Previous to our arrival in the Big Apple, I had shared with Eli a room, sips from the same beer, and bites from the same quesadillas, but in New York our writer/editor relationship finally arrived at newlywed. Because of a mistake at the front desk, we were given a king-size bed and not the buddy doubles we had expected. I must say Eli is great in the sack. He kept to the left side of the bed, hung one arm from the cliff of the mattress, and never crossed the longitude line that divided our bed exactly in half. There was some tugging of sheets on his part, but only after I had clearly violated the Geneva Convention’s bylaws on sheet encroachment. Of all the people I have slept with, he was the fourth best in bed, surpassed only by people I have actually touched while tangled in blankets. Eli is a kind sleeper, worthy of our recommendation to the U.N.
More Textiles: Separating Boxers
After sleeping on the same bed, we decided we should share the same traveling hamper and consolidate our laundry loads and expenses into one. For those who have not done laundry in New York, you should know that they charge by the pound. After four days of accumulating dirt and breezes from our Canadian neighbors and the greater Northeast in the knits of our clothes, the scale at Super Cleaners NYC tallied our total at $18, plus a $6 surcharge for our stink.
When I picked up the laundry in the afternoon, the laundry bag was 6 pounds lighter and our undergarments and jeans were neatly folded inside. At the hotel room, I placed Eli’s witty T-shirts and not-yet-tapered jeans north of the equator and my tattered pants and fading boxers to the south.
On to Philly and Liberty Bells.
Report from Montague.
Guest Correspondent: Chris Boucher,
Audience Member / Old Friend
That night, I went out to the Montague Bookmill. You can’t get there except by car, and the best and only way to go is down the pausing Route 47, cancelled on each side by farms and graveyards and stretches of woods, then past a general store and the old grange, then a left into the Bookmill, which hides because it has to, the water rushing below it like a flight, its body filled with good food and used books and old wooden planks and beams.
I found my old friend Sal in the café. He introduced me to Eli and Paul, who were finishing up their dinner. It was great to meet them, and to see Sal again. The last time I saw him was three years ago, I guess, in Syracuse. He and myself and our friend Cheryl were moving away after years of living around the corner from one another, and we’d gone out to lunch one last time. I gave Sal a T-shirt with the name of a bar on it, the best I could do at the time, and I can still catch the way he held the shirt out in front of him, then rolled it up like old, important news.
Eli and Sal finished their sandwiches, and a few minutes later everyone refilled their beers and went upstairs. The room up there was kneeling, charged—all the seats filled, people in the aisles and lined up out the door, the space lit brown from floor lamps with shades and small bulbs strung across the rafters.
Eli began, explaining the McSweeney’s universe: the quarterly, the Believer, new books published by McSweeney’s, 826 Valencia and the development of writing centers across the country. Then he read a story from the new issue—"The Doctor of Mental Health," by Miranda Mellis, and, man, it was right there. I won’t say what it’s about, because I hope you read it, but it’s timed and tuned and features 10 pounds of meat.
Then Sal and Paul read from their work—Sal’s, for me, a new machine, unfolding and breaking and bleeding, and Paul’s something hidden that I needed to see. And both of them with takers, landing and fixing: Sal’s with hand signals from the gang of sad flower pickers in his book, Paul’s with dreams, each rich and turning, and right there.
The reading ended with a contest—a trivia question, the winner receiving a copy of the new McSweeney’s Issue 16. Did you know that it comes with a comb? It does, and the man who won had a choice—to comb or be combed. He chose to be combed, and was combed, by Sal, who combed up and out, gently and carefully, as we all watched and hoped.
Before I left—back down the black, stretched 47—a few of us had a beer and sat outside in the sold night: Eli and Sal and Paul, Matthew (who owns and runs the Lady Killigrew, the Bookmill’s café and pub), and others. Everyone wanted to hear “The Story of the Lady Killigrew,” so Matthew told it.
For me, the night was muscles and pool, right there. I’d been missing something and I was reminded of it. And so were a lot of people there, I think. It was in the dreams and the hand signals, in the water and the beer and the comb. And I will do my best now not to lose it or forget it or let it go.
Report From Providence.
Guest Correspondent: Vincent Standley,
host and editor of 3rd Bed, a fine journal deserving your support
… But Matthew Derby was sick, sick, sick, with a fever of 102, so the three came to my house and I became the surrogate host. However, since I am housesitting, we’re actually dealing with a double surrogacy. The first night, they were ruffled and tired from the madness of Boston. We talked. We slept. Sal slept some more. Paul and I had coffee. Eli and Sal apparently don’t drink coffee, which I find really hard to comprehend. Later that morning Paul went to see his grandmother. Eli and Sal left to find the life-size puppets.
That evening, Paul had not yet returned from his grandmother’s house. We ate at a taco truck. We arrived at the White Electric, where the reading was to begin at 7:00. Like any good rock show, there were only a few people there upon our arrival at 6:55, but by 7:30, when the reading actually began, every seat of every chair provided by the North Broadway Neighborhood Association was occupied.
As you can imagine, the event—both the readings and the high jinks—was totally jaw-dropping, inspired, and hilarious. Without question, it was the best reading I’d been to in a long while—no suicidal ideation or accreting misanthropy—and yet despite its greatness I became melancholic knowing Matthew wasn’t there, knowing Matthew was at home with some perverse ague, his head wrapped in gauze, his body submerged in an ice bath. We visited him after the reading and told him how everything went. He was pale and weak but, I think, glad for our visit.
Report From Boston.
By Eli Horowitz
We flew into Boston early Monday morning, rented our Pontiac Sunfire, and headed into town. Once the Sunfire was safely stowed, we decided to split up. I wandered around, sat on a bench, walked across a bridge, walked back. Ate a shwarma. Found a patch of dry grass and took a nap. Saw a statue of Abigail Adams. Touched its eyeballs.
The day continued along these lines. Oh, except at one point I got some fries at Burger King, and they came with a Star Wars scratch-off, and I chose the correct Death Star and won a free shake. That was great. The three of us eventually reunited at Trident, a bookstore on Newbury Street, and unleashed 53 minutes of wow and dazzle. We handed out postcards and everybody wrote a note to a man named Ted in Houston. A helpful young woman gave us directions to Montague. I hugged a guy.
We piled back into the Sunfire, gunned all four cylinders, and headed south, south on 95, south to Providence, south to Matthew Derby’s waiting embrace.
REPORT FROM TORONTO.
McSweeney’s has come to mean a lot of things to a lot of people. This is a sentiment generic enough to start any lame review, so I won’t use it to start mine. My review will start with retrotext, text written in retrospective ink that, when read, will seem to have been read earlier than it was in reality. McSweeney’s has captivated the minds of noblemen and commoners alike by displaying ripening talent and neuro-jazz lingui-fractalist that any mortal would be willing to dig into with two forks and a single chopstick made of breath. But how do they cope live?
If the answer were a cup, it would contain cognac and a diamond-coated golden ruby. But the answer is not a cup; it’s an adverb, and it is “awesomely.” Paul La Farge and Salvador Plascencia, who are a-tourin’, doing readings for their new livres (Canadian for books), delivered a neo-agro breakfast of literary fopaganda on a plate of onyx! The mood was high, and the crowd went feral, growing a long shaggy coat, and rutting more frequently, shifting to a scavenger’s diet, and losing domestic plumpness associated with farm life. The feral crowd then turned on one of their own, slaying and gutting a photographer named Kyrin and her common-law husband, Fabulous Trenta Trenta Bosworth, sacrificing her Samsung flip phone to their new god, Eli Horowitz, a man who, despite a dream I had, was not obese, or elderly. (Fact: I dreamt just before going that Eli couldn’t make it because he was [dream-quote] “certainly old, certainly obese, and certainly a genius.”)
While things generally rocked considerably, one tense moment occurred when Eli revealed his Chaos-Reflecting Sabre with +2 against Fire Elemental Attacks. He held the sword out toward a waitress, who froze and spontaneously changed genders in an attempt to confuse her would-be assassin. However, it was just a misunderstanding, it turned out, when it was revealed that gender is just an illusion, and that the sword was a construct of “the media,” and that we are all one under the flag.
After the fun-time night at the place where the night happened, we went to another place where the night was also happening. There, I interviewed two Canadian girls, and here are their unedited responses.
DDP: In what way did tonight resemble grass?
NATALIE (human female): Real, authentic, grounded, ethereal, ironically ethereal, bordering on celestial and mystical. (Points finger at me, turns hand into massive talon.)
DDP: On a scale of Spain to Romania, what was tonight?
CAROLYN (human female): Czech Republic.
If you didn’t get the impression that McSweeney’s is fun and cool, you did not get the right impression, or got no impression. To you I say, “Hello, friend,” because I am polite to those who are in the wrong. I had a blast: Eli + Paul + Sal = f(x)!!
LA FARGE / PLASCENCIA / ISSUE 16
Authors Paul La Farge (The Facts of Winter_) and Salvador Plascencia (_The People of Paper) are on the road with McSweeney’s managing editor Eli Horowitz to announce our new Rectangulars fiction series, as well as Issue 16 of the quarterly. Look for us reading at local bookstores, lounging at scenic rest stops, and sleeping on your couches.
We thought it might be a good idea if they discussed some ground rules prior to hitting the trail; below, find the somewhat worrisome state of affairs. (If you have any foolproof road-trip tips, please e-mail us at email@example.com.)
PAUL: So, none of us know what we’re doing.
SAL: It’ll be us in a car with a trunk full of books, right? And we’re going to drive around?
SAL: What constitutes a road trip, how many miles?
McSWYS: I don’t know, a few hours.
PAUL: Well, there’s Boston to Montague and then down to Providence and Providence to New York.
McSWYS: So, who’s going to be driving?
SAL: I have a license. Eli, too. Eli’s going to be doing a lot of work.
PAUL: We’re reading. That’s a lot of work.
SAL: Yeah. Eli’s not reading, he’s emceeing.
McSWYS: Unveiling Issue 16, which involves a comb.
SAL: I don’t even own a comb, but maybe I’ll start using one.
PAUL: For the people who don’t have combs it’s good, but …
SAL: You don’t own a comb, Paul?
PAUL: No, I don’t need one.
SAL: Do you own a brush?
PAUL: No, actually, I don’t.
SAL: Do you use your fingers as your brush?
PAUL: To the extent that I do anything, yes.
McSWYS: What are you planning on doing in the car as you’re going from place to place?
SAL: I like Sour Patch Kids. I think we should have a plentiful supply of that.
PAUL: We’ll arrive at each reading totally delirious.
McSWYS: It sounds very innocent, all of this.
PAUL: McSweeney’s is a family magazine.
SAL: So there’s no grooming rules, right? We haven’t been very good at coming up with any rules, I don’t think.
PAUL: Eli mentioned some games that I didn’t know. I wish I remembered.
SAL: How about the game where you slug somebody when you see a Volkswagen?
SAL: When you see a VW you slug your fellow traveling companion, and if there’s more than one it’s a brawl.
PAUL: When you see a specific color of it, you say, “Slugbuggy red or slugbuggy blue.”
SAL: That’s an East Coast version of it.
PAUL: That’s how we played it in high school.
SAL: There’s also the license-plates game where you hit each other when you see plates from different states. But I guess on the West Coast there’s less variation in license plates. Like if you see a Nevada one you hit them.
McSWYS: It seems odd that the games all revolve around hitting someone.
SAL: What are we eating?
PAUL: Do you have any dietary restrictions?
SAL: No. I eat everything. Is Eli a vegetarian?
PAUL: I don’t think so.
SAL: I’m really into venison.
PAUL: Have you ever had venison?
SAL: Once I was at a barbecue and my friend said it was venison, but he said he killed it himself. So I think he was lying. He probably just went to Ralph’s or to a supermarket.
PAUL: It’s very gamy.
SAL: What does gamy mean?
PAUL: Gamy just means it tastes like an animal.
SAL: But salmon’s not gamy even though it tastes like an animal?
PAUL: Beef isn’t gamy. It doesn’t taste like a kill. It’s like the taste of an animal that doesn’t wash.
SAL: Do we need assigned sleeping charts, since we’re going to be sleeping on the floor? Like whose feet are on whose face?
PAUL: We definitely need assigned sleeping.
SAL: I think I’m the shortest. I think I can fit in more corners.
PAUL: Are you shorter than Eli?
SAL: Yeah. Isn’t Eli pretty tall?
PAUL: Eli’s of medium height.
SAL: I’m either 5’4" or 5’5", depending on the day. How tall are you, Paul?
PAUL: I’m a full 6 feet.
PAUL: I’m afraid what this means is that I’m going to be the one on the floor, because all couches will be short.
SAL: I like sleeping on the floor. When I was in the fourth grade I was watching Jem and the Holograms and the big Whittier earthquake happened and for three years following that I slept on the floor because I was scared of earthquakes.
McSWYS: How would that help?
SAL: I would sleep on the floor underneath the bed.