Monthly Archives: December 2002

12/30/02 Day 9 of the


Day 9 of the Windy Swervin’ Ice-Covered Road Trip From YyusjjansdkjnalUEIH2387^&@$

Aspen, CO to Cedar City, UT

Okay, so You try driving at 4am on I-70 through southern Utah during a fog blizzard for 10 hours and then write a blog, goddammit

I have half a mind to…

i’m gonna…


12/29/02 Day VIII of the


Day VIII of the Gale-Swept Blizzard Flurry Mountain Pass Road Trip of Possible Cannibalism

North Platte, NE to Aspen, CO

The little town of North Platte is nothing like I remember it used to be a small place with cozy street corners and we’d be able to splash at the Holiday Inn pool and walk to the Country Kitchen. That part of town is no more; razed to the ground, our old Holiday Inn now abuts an 8-lane throughway with no cars, and the old diners are nothing but divots in the moat alongside Interstate 80. After six weeks, even the locals forget it happened. This is one of the few times that Buddhism aligns itself with rampant corporate commercialism: all things must pass, all memories are suspect, live for the now.

The first time you see the mountains ahead of you, it’s a very subtle majesty. Coming from Iowa, it was always an incredible thrill to see actual mountains, and the drive on I-76 towards Denver offers a vista that fills us with joy, and filled early Western settlers with dread. They must have seen that wall of mountains ahead of them, then looked to their children, wondering which of them they’d have to bury.

We made a detour into Boulder because I wanted to see Scott Brown, one of my favorite people from the University of North Carolina. Together with his comedy group Selected Hilarity, Scott provided some of the funniest moments I ever had in school. After a hard couple of years with the act, he eventually retreated to Boulder, in search of a place to be employed, spiritually full, and happy. I think he’s come close to that there, a town that is much like Chapel Hill (albeit much more visually dramatic). I always said that if I couldn’t live in New York, I’d pick an aggressively liberal college town where at least you have a snowball’s chance at seeing a symphony and perhaps a few gay men holding hands downtown.

Scott and me at a Boulder bookstore

Scott told us about the homeless shelter where he works, and the various behind-the-scenes political games he has to play to keep people fed and medicated. He’s had to develop emotional calluses thicker than steel in order to deal with the constant ambiguity of his job, saying, “I can’t have my heart broken every five minutes,” but I largely suspect it is anyway. I’m not sure how much longer he will do that dance, but he would have a large support group of fellow writers in NYC if he ever chose that direction again.

After a harrowing mountain pass near Vail, we slid Ol’ Bessie the Land Rover into Aspen, a place that begets Tessa with delight. It is an incredible town; a snowy mixture of Napa, Nantucket and Nag’s Head. Tessa grew up here in the late 70s, and fortunately, enough things were still similar enough to give her a sense of place. We talked our way into a cheap motel room in the middle of town (rates here are exorbitant usually $300 for a motel room, $2000 a month for a studio rental) and now I sit in a silence so overwhelming that I can hear the blood running through my ears. Outside, the snow has quieted all static. A hushed moment along a mountain late at night, with a waxing moon barely illuminating the white faces of a silent slope.

Never mind. Some fratboy outside just yelled “WHERE THE FUCK IS CLAY?”

12/28/02 Day VII of the


Day VII of the Mormon Manwich Trail with Chocolate Sprinkles Road Trip of Prairie Delight

Iowa City, IA to North Platte, NE

If there was ever an ancient mecca for my family, we have surely worn grooves in the interstate highway from Iowa City to North Platte; we made this trip twice a year from 1970 to 1981. Back then there were 3 to 5 screaming kids in the car and a nationwide speed limit of 55mph, which explains why we never got much farther.

Today we were limited by our own late start out of the gate (we chatted languidly with the family over noodles before leaving) and a layover at the factory outlet center, and even though the speed limit in Nebraska is now 75mph, here I find myself again in North Platte, NE.

The similarities don’t end there, however; this “Quality Inn” rests on the same spot as the Holiday Inn we frequented, although the giant, beckoning cowboy is no longer across the street, having been knocked down by a windstorm some years back. We went searching through town for it before learning the bad news. That stupid giant 3-story cowboy used to signify the point where we would leave the Midwest and truly be in the West.

I should also mention that we stopped at the outlet mall intending to stay 15 minutes, and instead gawked for two hours at the Levi’s, the Gap, the Ralph Lauren store (yuck) and then the mother lode at Nike. My favorite basketball shoe ever, the Vince Carter Shox, is being discontinued and they were trying to get rid of all of them. Needless to say I bought two more pairs for myself, and then a bunch of pairs for friends. I believe this to be their best product since the original Jordans back in 1985, and I want a pair by my side at the old folks home so I can always look fondly upon them. You know, while drooling and spewing forth communist propaganda.

the sun sets over the factory outlet mall near What Cheer, IA proof that even the most god-forsaken places can have their moments

12/27/02 Day VI of the


Day VI of the Getting’ Yer Sea Legs Back ‘n’ Achin’ fer the Highway Road Trip

Iowa City, IA

This was our last full day in Iowa City for a while, so we made sure and saw a movie (Gangs of New York, which was something of a mess), chatted with Kent and Steve at a downtown fratterie, and played Trivial Pursuit with Sean Patrick and Lucas long after the adults had gone to bed.

This is a life I could get used to, if I never had any aspirations to be a filmmaker, novelist or non-fiction writer the winters are brutally cold, and the miles of flat land can get abjectly depressing, but things are cheap and comforting here. I could play basketball with Sean Patrick any day of the week, haunt the Prairie Lights Bookstore every day, and go to Kent’s electronica feasts at Gabe’s at night. But that’s a fantasy world where Sean Patrick never grows up, a reverie where Tessa could be satisfied out here in the prairie. She is not done with New York yet, and neither am I. Besides, this place is too close to Cedar Rapids for me to ever feel like I hurtled far enough away from the gravitational pull of childhood self-loathing. I think a week or two here every six months is just about perfect.

I could see doing a lot of writing here and having nowhere to go with it. As opposed to New York, which makes writing excruciatingly difficult, but provides a hundred thousand different avenues for its fruition.

Speaking of life fruition, our printer was delivered today, a Lexmark Z22 purchased online at the Mac Warehouse for $29. When I started using Macs back in the neo-Lithic era, I had an Imagewriter II that was $500, printed a half page a minute and was so loud it kept my fraternity awake. This thing, however, is cheaper than most dinners I’ve had, and so far, is totally servicable. We can beat the shit out of it on the road, print as much as we like, and not worry if we accidentally pour a liter of NyQuil down the paper feeder. I realize how Ugly American and wasteful that sounds, but there is something very liberating about electronic stuff that is so delightfully replacable. My grandmother would be astonished (but she’d still make the stupid printer last for ten years).

their shirts are so slimming Sean, Kent and Michelle compare distended bellies

12/26/02 Day Five of the


Day Five of the Post-Partum Mixed Agenda Control Freak-a-thon Road Trip

Kalona, IA

I could have been better company this Christmas, I freely admit that. Occasionally I lapse into a bit of non-Buddhism when it comes to family gatherings; I just like having everyone together. It seems important to me after the nerve-wracking year and a half we’ve had in America (and New York in particular) that we stick together when we can. But I know even that won’t quell my anxiety attacks for long, so I lapse into more solipsism and suddenly I’m trying to be present in a situation when I’m not even emotionally there.

All of which would be fine were it not for my extreme physical discomfort. Now, I’ve read other people’s blogs. Nothing is more boring than the daily litany of physical misery most others indulge in (you know, students at NYU talking about their sniffles, etc.), but I’ve been feeling crappy enough to earn my own little laundry list of shit going on in my body right now. If you’re not into it, stop reading now.

I mean it, stop.

Okay: First off, this 3-month-old flu has driven me right to the edge of my fucking sanity. It’s one thing to feel down for a fortnight, but it was summer the last time I felt totally healthy. The sheer amount of god-damned mucous I’ve created in the last 12 weeks, if converted to energy, could power a small midwestern town. My nose has been rubbed raw and I can’t even touch it anymore except I have to, because only sociopaths let snot run down their faces.

Thus I’ve been on three different antibiotics over the last few weeks, all of which take turns raking the hell out of my large intestine, making rest stops a thing of infinite displeasure.

And in a slightly unrelated body part, I have begun to suffer these jabbing, nightmarish pains in the lowest part of my right back too low to be more kidney stones, yet too internal to be a back muscle, it’s the kind of thing you could spend $4700 at a doctor to learn they don’t know what it is any more than you do. It feels like I’m being stabbed by a terrifying knife, spasming a muscle that is attached to my kidney. It doesn’t feel like a stone; the pain vanishes almost as quickly as it comes, leaving me all knee-buckled on the floor, having just dropped the dishes. it SUCKS. AND I JUST HAD ANOTHER ATTACK WHILE WRITING THAT SENTENCE.

*five minutes deep breathing*

As my body is pissing me off, let me just say for archivism’s sake that we spent the afternoon in Kalona, IA, which is a thriving Mennonite community. We bought great cheese, wool socks, dishware and spices from ladies in plain blue dresses and white lace headgear. There seemed to be no electricity in northern Kalona; at the general store, our total was tallied on a calculator powered by a 12-volt battery and heated by oil lamps fizzing from the ceiling. It was very comforting, being in that peaceful community with no wires or power (which makes it a perfect candidate for the town I’ll power with my mucous).

It’s a sparse landscape, cold and dusty, with horses trotting by with their buggies full of Mennonite farmers shuttling errands by the last light. There are parts of Iowa I love, the vast countryside stretching into infinities of fallow corn. Winters here are serious business, where generations have taught their children how to scratch their way until spring. It is not an easy place to live, and like New York, its difficulty keeps it razor-honest.

a farm in Kalona, IA fifteen minutes outside Iowa City – at sunset

12/25/02 Day IV of our


Day IV of our Baby-Needs-Shoes Khristmas Kavalkade Road Trip of Pure Altruism

Iowa City, IA

Say what you want about my family (and many, including me, have) but we do Christmas right. Even this year, at 35, it remains a magical time for me, so you can guess the kind of ridiculous month-long fetish that built up in the years we were in our single digits. The only tradition we forgot this year was the addition of oranges in our stockings a holdover from our late 19th and early 20th century forbears, who considered oranges such a delicacy in their Utah farms that a single fruit could make Christmas a success. We mentioned the lack of oranges to Mom today, and she said “tough.” I suppose there were plenty of holidays when her great-great-great grandmothers said the same damn thing.

Sean and I kickin’ it Father Christmas-style in 1977 London

Tessa got me the best present, of course: a new Palm m515 handheld with the works. I’d been using her hand-me-down Palm V for two years and it didn’t even turn on anymore. In turn, I made it three gift-givings in a row with jewelry, as I stole her childhood emerald (slightly cloudy, but fascinating) and had it set into a gold ring with tiny diamonds on the side. Doing this was no mean adventure, especially during the talk of the transit strike. I found my way into many dungeons and labyrinths in the heart of 47th Street before one Ecuadorian hero dared take the task. He did a great job, too.

I also got a gift certificate from Smith & Hawken from Mom; a cool CD and Peanuts cartoon characters from Kent & Melissa; a croquet set and pool cues from Sean & Jordana; some monetary sustenance and a nice lambswool shirt from Dad; Gap money from Steve; a giant lobster pot from Michelle; and generally thoughtful and sweet gifts from everyone else.

For our part, we gave Mom the book “Gotham,” Dad a book on Provence cheeses, Kent a “Best Of” CD of his own work, Steve a book on prognostications for the next 50 years, Sean & Jordana an Airport wireless system, Michelle a supersize poster map of her trek across America, Lucas the new book from the Onion, and Sean Patrick a premium subscription to Salon. Tessa also knitted hats like she was the Lady of Shallot.

In all, a fine Christmas where nobody felt had. There is an old story from winters past, about how everybody in the extended family forgot to get presents for my brother Steve (he was four years old and inconsolable). Since that day, my grandmother made sure and bought Steve three or four presents every Christmas, even as he headed into his late thirties. It was kind of cool, actually. My grandma’s been gone for six years now, and I still half-expect to get another wallet with a fiver stuck in for good measure.

in front of the tree this morning

Later tonight, we went round in a circle and divulged our favorite color, favorite food, favorite book and movie, favorite toy and favorite article of clothing as a child. Nobody’s answer was surprising: it was mostly the same stuff, as we have always been particularly inspired by each other’s choices. Sure, morons at school would always try to foist their crap on us, but I think we were always affected first by the ideas our brothers and sister brought home.

Our partial cast of characters – Tessa, Michelle, Steve, Kent, Jordana, Sean Patrick, Mom, me (top), Sean (bottom), Lucas send out a Happy Holidays to you and you and you

12/24/02 Day Three of the


Day Three of the Snot-Nosed Bedazzledment Sticky Splash Road Trip of Mitochondrial Desperation

Iowa City, IA

In our family, someone is always sick at Christmas; in 1986, Steve had to be taken to the hospital, in 1990, I threw up all over Sean’s house, etc. This time, no fewer than three of us are sick, with me probably the most miserable. Like a moron, I decided to damn my own torpedoes and play hoops with the locals which was fun, but I blew a gasket and was running another fever by the time I got home. Fuck being sick. I’m tired of it. Three months with this flu and it is still kicking my ass. I’m on my third round of antibiotics to see if we can kill it for good. But y’all, seriously: get the flu shot. This one is BAD.

Covered in mucous, I accompanied Tessa to a midnight mass this evening, where much singing was sung, and much mention of Jesus was made. The songs are always a treat (especially if you try the alto parts), and as Tessa says, it’s important to be in a spiritual setting in front of people, just so you can be a part of the brotherhood for a few moments. Plus, there was this woman behind us singing with full, impassioned, teary-eyed voice (and she was singing the “fancy” version of the soprano parts), making the ne’er-do-wells in front of us snicker. One of them even drew swastikas on his program, but I think it was largely an ironic act. Either that, or he’s never met a Jew, which is entirely possible in Eastern Iowa.

My family is a little mellower this year; the dinner table was actually 35% more sincere than Yuletides before, despite my attempts at cracking wise. I expect the rancor traffic to pick up again tomorrow, as I will be sleep-deprived and Steve will have slept off three or four glasses of wine. Someone will get their feelings hurt, and someone else will want to control the social behavior of yet another someone. There will be equal parts ecstasy and irritability. In other words, another Williams Family Christmas!

12/23/02 Day Two of the


Day Two of the Super Slashin’ Extra Hot Chocolate Road Trip of Existential Slapdashery

Clearview, PA to Iowa City, IA

Our motel room last night blew. It was so forkin’ awful that I slept only three hours, mostly due to the heater vent, which blasted 16,000,000 BTUs of straight boiling air onto us all night, drying my sinuses out so bad that there was blood coming out of my nose by morning. We tried turning it off temporarily, but then the room went down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit within minutes. Oh, and the bed had a 16-inch dip in the middle. But who’s complaining? Yay for motels!

This was a very long drive, mostly spent yammering at each other and playing “20 Questions” (my favorite: my own lap) and then staring vast stretches into the void of the 4pm sunset of a sickeningly cold winter day across the forlorn Ohio and Indiana savannah. Honestly, I don’t understand how America gets a reputation for being so beautiful; if there aren’t beaches or mountains, this whole country looks like the parking lot to the KwiQ-C-Mart (actual gas station in Illinois).

Today’s Graffiti Korner:

at a truck stop near Youngstown, OH

it reads “Ryan Perry sucked my dick in here!!”

with the response “is that good or bad?”

Now, I’m sure Ryan Perry would have a witty retort to this sordid tale, but my favorite part is a bit of sad scribbling off to the side that says

“I miss my dog”

12/22/02 Day One of the


Day One of the Cap’n Fantasmigoric Krazy Road Trip

Columbia County, NY to Clearview, PA

We intended to start this road trip off with a delirious bang, but the following intervened:

a) Tessa’s temperature of 101.3

b) my temperature of 99.9

c) mounting “pod” on top of car (2 hours)

d) smashed turning signal courtesy of Park Slope parking

e) I was involved, and therefore we were going to be late anyway.

Thus we left at the ripe and early hour of 7pm, limping our way into the western stretch of Pennsylvania and into the lands of the most depressing, cold, lonely, diesel-drenched truck stops in the country. In one such place, Tessa went into the Quik-n-Stop before me, and when she passed me at the door, whispered “Two words: Twin Peaks.”

Indeed, a 90-year-old couple sitting at the Taco Bell Express cafeteria were made up like circus clowns: the woman had lipstick stretching way past normal lips and a red wig made of dryer lint; neither of them had teeth, and gummed at each other incessantly. The men’s urinal had graffiti that said “I give great head. See stall for details.” Of course, I had to go back to the stall, which read “My name is Sarah and I give the best blow job in the region” followed by her phone number. I wondered what constituted her region; maybe it was a Congressional district or something.

Due to some sort of “atmospheric skip,” a small AM radio station in Charlotte, NC bounced off the ionosphere and made its way to our car, speeding through the lonely wilds of Pennsylvania. The program? Why, my beloved Tar Heels giving Florida State a good old-fashioned shellacking, that’s what!