I’d been waiting to do a reading/book signing for a long time, and was very excited to have my first one in Berea, which is home to my alma mater, Berea College. But let me start at the beginning (Humor me, people. A writer waits his whole life to actually have an eager audience, so I’m going into every seemingly insignificant detail on at least this one reading, if for no other reason than that it will certainly be one of the most memorable I ever do).
My brother, Isaac, agreed to go with me on the six hour trip to Kentucky, and I was very pleased to have him along. It had literally been ten years since we’d been able to spend this much time together unobstructed by children (his three, my two) or the demands of work and family in general. We were like fucking Easy Rider out there on the highway, except not on choppers and with a better plotline. The countryside was beautiful as it always is in that part of the country, full of rolling hills and giant fireworks depots espousing patriotism and hundred-foot tall crosses.
We stayed at the Days Inn, which, I was later informed by a kindly supporter, is about as shitty as a Motel 6. But if nothing else this craptacular choice of sleeping quarters served to boost my starving artist credibility. And it’s not like we spent much time there anyway. It was for sleeping only. The rest of the time was spent reading, signing books, being adored by loving fans and being ignored by my so-called friends from back in the day who are still living in Berea. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We arrived in Berea around 10-ish, and immediately set out to find some of my old school chums. The one was sick and barely gave me an acknowledgement before going back inside to his wife and daughter. He informed me he wouldn’t be coming to my reading because not only was World Cup soccer on the tee-vee, but he’s also a jealous asshole. So I went to another guy’s house, where he regaled me and my brother with tales of being in the Jerry Springer Show audience when he was up in Chicago, and how they made him sign a form saying that if he said anything from the audience, they could use his comments in whatever way they chose. My friend took this to mean that they could, on some other show, have transvestites trying to pass themselves off as women, and if he had said that one of the girls at the taping he was at was a hottie (which one was, according to him), they could use the footage of him saying that and then apply said “girl, you fine” comment to the later taping of transvestites. Remember, this is Kentucky. Everybody’s either homophobic or closeted homo. Or both. Anyhoo, my paranoid Jerry Springer-observant friend also didn’t quite make it to the reading for one reason or another. I think he said something about having to attend an auction to bid on Picassos. Or maybe it was Dali.
No, I’m not making this shit up.
Oh, and just to contrast to my “sick” “friend,” the soccer lover, I want to give a quick shout-out to Tinsley Carter, who wrote a great article for the local paper up there, the Richmond Register, on my coming to Berea. She actually showed up at the reading even though she’d been in the hospital earlier that day with a bladder infection or some such horrible shit. Here’s a picture of her and her friend Joice, Tinsley mucking through the haze of pain pills to congratulate me. Note my monstrous hairstyle. (You’ll understand momentarily.)
Now, I’m not normally a bitter person. I get angry, blow of some steam, then curl back into a sobbing ball of unending anxiety and paranoia like anybody else. But the reason I bring up those two old friends of mine is because I want to juxtapose that…unique welcoming home with the reception I received from long-time FUTUREPROOF supporters, whom I’ve known only via the internet, and never met in person until this fateful (mainly awesome) day.
Oh shit, wait, I almost forgot about the old lady who said I was evil.
Let me tell you, this old lady came up to me, literally only about four and a half feet tall, and asked me how I got my hair like this. I began dutifully explaining to her how dreadlocks are installed on heads, which wasn’t that big a deal as I am frequently asked by many people of non-color how in the hell a white guy goes about doing such a terrible thing as following through in his dream to be black. Anyway, I was right at the part where I talk about backcombing and possibly using food products, as some people do in their quest for nappy head, when she interrupted me and said that I looked like a monster. I’m not paraphrasing, this little 87-year-old lady literally told me, “You look like a monster.” My brother looked at me and kind of shrugged and I didn’t know what to do, because normally this would have been the part where I say “Fuck you, asshole. Fucking redneck fuck.” But she was old and even while she was verbally kicking me in the balls she still looked all kindly and shit, like she was readying a plate of freshly baked muffins or something even as she was reminding me to wash my hands for dinner. “Am I scaring you, ma’am?” I asked. “No. I’m too old to be scared,” she said. And shuffled off. “Dude, that’s the best fucking old lady I’ve ever met,” I said to my brother. We laughed. Then I slowly began to realize that this was going to be the predominant mentality I was facing in my old college town.
My brother the great. Note one of the other authors invited to sit in with me, one Thomas Parrish, who is also, coincidentally, very old.
The lady running the book store, who for one reason or another decided to ask every other author she knew in the town to come sit at tables for my signing, dropped the bombshell on me that I probably wasn’t going to be able to actually read from FUTUREPROOF. The reason: people were milling around and talking and this was, after all, a reunion weekend at the college, so the predominantly elderly population was going to be hard to wrangle into place. They are evidently well known for not liking monsters like myself. And I hadn’t even gotten to the “fucked in the ass without the courtesy of a reacharound” sentence in the selection I’d chosen to read yet. Things were quickly sliding downhill. I took another surreptitious swig from my flask, tried to swallow the slowly building rage. Then, like an angel–or rather, a whole fucking gaggle of angels, bursting through the clouds, came my peeps.
There was Rick, who came all the way up from the ATL to hear me read (yeah, he was on his way to Ohio, but still–he didn’t have to stop, or even remember that I was doing this reading). There was Charles, who traveled down from Lexington. We’d been friends in college, he a playwright, and had shown up to support a fellow writer and friend. And there was Mel, also from Lexington, who’s been steadfastly assaulting every newspaper and bookstore in the Lexington area to carry and/or review FUTUREPROOF for the last four months. There were Vicki and Stacey, both from Ohio, who not only came all that way, but also had a kickass pen engraved with my name and presented it to me for the signing. And Mike (the good one), from West Virginia. And traveling the furthest, Joee, who flew in all the way from Arizona. All these people showed up and approached me like some kind of rock star, which was disconcerting in many ways, but was also probably one of the most flattering things that has ever happened to me. They all came to hear me read. And read I did, goddammit, old people and their archaic sensibilities be damned. Yeah. We decided to spare their ancient ears, went outside to the beautiful Berea College quad, and as I sat on an old millstone and they sat on a wall facing me, I read to my friends from FUTUREPROOF. I read in the way I’d practiced eight times on the trip up from Atlanta, measuring my words, and they laughed at all the right parts, held respectful silences at all the others. It was incredible and suddenly all the preceding darkness started to lift.
Then we went out to dinner and drinks and after that went back to their hotel (the much better, fancier, so I was told, La Quinta Inn) for more drinks. We had great conversation and sat around for two or three hours laughing and discussing matters ranging from high-literary to low-brow. Oh, and we also saw a baby possum running around the perimeter of the pool. The good Mike and I cornered it, then felt bad and let it run off into the night to be with its disgusting, giant rat-looking kind. Then, before calling it a night, three of the lovely ladies graciously granted me my misogynistic, stereotypical request to pose as literary groupies, surely the least well paid of any groupie sub-culture.
All in all, I had a great time in Kentucky. I got to spend a great time with my brother and some of the greatest supporters any artist has ever had. To them I give profuse and profound thanks. You guys make all of this teeth gnashing and hair-pulling worthwhile. Well, you and that one old lady.
Don’t forget, tomorrow night, at 9 p.m. EST, the great Hillary Carlip will be hosting a live chat at my website, http://www.futureproofbook.com