From the archives... summer 2001...
This Road Sponsored By The Can Do Club
7/30 - Portland
Ragged and worn from a summer of traveling to Las Vegas and Colorado with the family, seeing the all-girl One Railroad Circus in Santa Fe, jumping one step ahead of and then surviving the monumental Portland gathering of Hip Mamas, my first trip to Europe and the Paris Hip Mama event, I stumbled downtown and managed to purchase the one thing I said I would never buy: a Volvo station wagon.
The thing had scrapes and dents and dirty upholstery, and smelled like a half dead alcoholic, but was still- a Volvo station wagon.
We needed to stop in Seattle and buy copies of Breeder to sell on the trip in hopes of earning at least gas money, and would be staying with Ariel's friend Bill and doing a radio spot. I was worried that I would effectively be on Ariel's date and tried to think of someone to take along to hang out with; Stevie hadn't decided if she wanted to be the roadie yet and nobody else was available. My accordion-playing painter friend Gabriel mentioned in email that his kid was on vacation and he was planning to go up to Seattle for a birthday party.
Gabriel is an amiable companion, consistently out of context, with blonde skater bangs and suspenders and a cowboy hat. He paints historic Western figures naked, posed with guns. He only checks email about once per month and since I needed someone the next morning, I actually had to use the telephone. I called and offered him a ride.
7/31 - Portland to Seattle
I had never in my entire adult life gone on a trip without a small child to care for. At eleven and five years of age respectively they were certainly old enough to stay with their dad and have fun adventures, but I wasn't sure if I could function without them. I would see them part way through the tour, but I was sad as they waved from the front porch.
We loaded up the Volvo with Gabriel and his painting supplies, Maia and her Gameboy, suitcases full of shoes, boxes of merchandise, three sleeping bags and two towels.
Ariel, normally enigmatic, given to murmuring genius evaluations of life and landscape, announced that she would not be able to understand non-verbal communication on the trip and that if we wanted something we would have to say it out loud. She asked if she could smoke in the car as she lit up her American Spirit.
We were on the road.
First stop Seal Press, after we reversed the directions and followed my leftover childhood navigational hunches (not as reliable as one might think, given that Belltown is now Condotown) and parked the car on a sidewalk to run in and grab boxes.
When I was growing up this area was industrial, warehouses, artist space, with Seamen's union halls and dive bars and people who lived on the streets. Now it is a vast expanse of expensive, empty apartment complexes with the highest vacancy rate in the city and maybe on the west coast.
Our editor apologized for the fancy appearance of the office and told us the owner of the building had only just done the rehab, and the rents were going up so high Seal Press might have to move. Then she looked me up and down and said "you stand like a bodyguard." I didn't know how to interpret the statement so I laughed and replied, "posture is important" and then we were off again to find our way to Ballard.
Bill has a minivan with a mural of the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe, a full size foam mannequin of her in the living room, and a shrine festooned with feminine hygiene products. His couch is decorated with pillows knitted to look like breasts, with protruding plastic nipples.
Bill picked fresh celery out of the garden and took us down to the beach to meet some of his friends. I pointed at the inlet and forest on the opposite bank and said to Gabriel "this is like where I grew up, except happy" and then asked a nice fellow named Tracy the name of the land opposing. "Oh, the Kitsap Peninsula," he started to reply, but I startled him by waving my arms around, saying "home! My home!"
We left the beach for awhile to do a radio interview; Ariel sprawled across Bill's guest room bed picking at her thumb nail and answered most of the questions because I am a hopeless failure on the telephone. I stood with the extra phone in the dark cement floored basement and tried not to laugh. We went back to the beach at dusk.
Dozens of teenagers were standing in a loose circle as five boys played guitar and sang acoustic religious folk songs. I moved over to their group and listened. The sunset and the sand and the water and the music were beautiful beyond belief, beyond anything I had experienced growing up near this place. It was a very effective advertising campaign, god as depicted by Weiden and Kennedy. Gabriel knelt next to me in the sand and said "Jesus loves a good sing-along."
The guys in our group had a keg in their car and smuggled out 7-11 cups full of beer. We stood at the edge of a bonfire until a cop came along and said we had to downsize and I wondered whether that meant full staff reduction or just a cut in benefits; then we all piled in various cars to go bowling under assumed mad scientist names. I was Marie Curie.
This Road Sponsored By Eckankar
8/1 - Bellingham
Up in the morning to find that Bill left the entire coffee service ready, all we had to do was boil some water.
We set out for Bellingham after a lazy morning. Trying to avoid the Seafair traffic, we drove through the depths of North Seattle and I pointed out all the landmarks of my childhood amongst the hospitals.
The weather for the trip was gray and cloudy: much like the weather everywhere else I traveled all summer, except Las Vegas, so hot with money and concrete that the children were driven to sing radical protest songs like Rote Zora as we marched through the casinos.Stadt und macht und
Bellingham offered up steamed clams and salmon chowder and a bookstore astounded by the news that a band would be playing. Our comrades showed up in their flame painted New Mexico van and everyone piled out.
Sarah-Jane, a lovestruck romantic, colorfully attired and dyed, who can be picked out of any crowd in the continental United States because of her essential vibrancy. Marisa, the best guitar player in the business, compelling, with a dark pompadour, handsome in her black cowboy shirt. Amy, quiet and lithe, an arialist, her deep and full singing voice always a surprise, who shares my birthday and my Capricorn need for order. Maria Fabulosa, the bassist, a wink and a nod, slang in an Ecuadorian accent, a drink and cigarette never far from hand, relaxed in her overalls with a pin on her chest that said Leader. Stevie Ann decided to turn out as the roadie, her contained chaos a constant and rewarding danger, in ripped pants and a muscle shirt, with the brown and maroon striped leg warmers she never takes off.
I put on the outfit I would wear for each performance, a tight red tank with seams that made it look like a corset, and a circle skirt with a toreador and bull and sequins. I snapped on my bicycle inner tube Chorus bracelet and buckled the one with clanking metal rings I bought from STS at a handmade bazaar. The inside of my elbows were still bruised from botched blood tests, and my back was a solid bruise from acupuncture treatments.
Ariel flicked ash from her cigarette. "Uh, Bee, do you know what you look like?"
I looked down at my skirt. "What?"
"The bracelets with the bruises might be saying something you don't want people to think."
I thought for a minute. What would people assume? It was startling to think that people might form an impression based on bracelets and bruises. It was alarming to be reminded that people would look at me.
I wiggled my nose and sighed. I didn't have anything else to wear. "I don't care, I think it is always good to confuse people."
Yantra, with her platinum hair and mellifluous and enfolding affection, and Sal, lanky, funny, daring and patient, showed up to read. They had all of their children in tow, including Caleb, who stayed in the back of the room with his grandma and grinned and danced as his mother read the story of living with his autism diagnosis.
We rocked the crowded bookstore and delighted the surprised employees; afterwards a man followed me around pestering with questions about my essay. He didn't like the flat, affectless answer that he should buy the book. We ate burritos and piled in the car for a madcap dash down I-5 with Gabriel at the wheel; he squeaked when he realized he would be allowed to drive on the interstate.
8/2 - Seattle
Back in Seattle for a Cafe Solstice event, the Stranger picked us as the best bet for the day, which creeped me out endlessly given that all of my friends from high school could theoretically read the paper and know how to find me. Gabriel departed to spend the day with his friend Justin-- the reason he was on the trip in the first place-- and The Dolly Ranchers squeezed into my Volvo to search for good thrift stores in the bowels of Seattle. We passed the Lighthouse Uniform Company, with primitive murals of workingmen and a hand-lettered sign stating Home to the Fallen Firefighters Dress Uniform Program.
I found elaborately trimmed square dancing dresses, samba dresses, clown outfits, all professional quality and vintage, and not a single one fit me. I dragged all fifty pounds of the dresses around the store with me until I found a Rancher to try them on; they fit perfectly and prompted all the cute old ladies to ask us what we needed the outfits for. "We're in a circus," said Sarah Jane, to the delight of an old woman wearing a crocheted beret.
We parked in the U District and Stevie wandered off to steal a toothbrush. Ariel and I set up the merchandise then went across the street to hide in a bar until the last possible moment.
We started the event with the racket of the coffee machines in the background and switched back and forth with the Ranchers for our sets; in the back of the room I met Amy's extremely cute family, and admired the crazy stage diving toddlers up front, and talked to Mommacherry. I also found SuperDad, who had a new baby in hand the last time we met; her baby is now two years old and we again failed to get a mailing address or given name.
Sarah-Jane in her ultra-mini citrus-patterned dress started singing a Freakwater song that seemed like a good theme song for the trip:
I heard that your daddy was a crazy man
He left your mama standing with a dishtowel in her hand
Took out through the back way let the screen door slam
It's hard to find the words to say you don't give a damn
You said that you never saw your mama cry
Maybe she was sneaking around with another fella on the sly
I have met your mama and she's crazy too
You've got more from her than just your eyes of blue
It's not hard to have a little baby
and I won't have far to go when I go crazy
Somewhere in the middle of the event I realized with a jolt that I was in Seattle without swarms of children to form a barrier between me and my old life and threw myself on to the couch to hide under Marisa's right arm. I whispered secrets in her ear and then listened to Yantra and Sal read. We realized that merchandise sales wouldn't get us as far as the next town and passed a hat for donations to, as Ariel said, feed the kids and roadies and keep the Breedermobile gassed up.
We signed books, Stevie lost her coat, we ate a fish dinner and went back to Bill's.
Gabriel showed up with his friend and we were all talking in the kitchen. Gabriel said something about his roommate, and I said, "You mean your wife?"
This set off a chain reaction of a debate about identity, the meaning of love, marriage, and family. One of our hosts decided that I was opposed to those things, even though I was traveling down the coast performing a pro-marriage piece and most of my work focuses on true love and similar maudlin subjects. I argued that family is what you make, not what you are given, and someone else argued the opposite, and the discussion went on for hours. Most of the band members were already in bed and they giggled every time I made a scathing point.
After everyone went to sleep Stevie and I decided that even though we didn't know proper yoga, we should practice the discipline of Crackpot Yoga, and we made up our own series of moves and postures. Whispering on the kitchen floor she asked if anyone would be upset about the debate. I replied, "Probably not; they're more likely to be annoyed by my ongoing existential crisis."
8/3 - Bremerton
Seattle during Seafair is a crowded weird thing, with the flying militarized splendor of the Blue Angels and massive ships in port and the seaplane races that always offer up a splendid smashing accident. I dressed in a blue plaid skirt, tight black t-shirt, and white sweater. Stevie said I looked like a naughty Catholic schoolgirl. We all forgot to eat but did manage several visits to our favorite coffee hut / statuary shop. I particularly admired the row of headless angels but at $1,495 they seemed out of our budget. Especially since they were larger than the car. The $79 stone pineapple was tempting but I limited myself to a photograph.
Getting a group of nine people in two cars, arriving from three houses and a coffee hut moving toward a 1:20 ferry proved to be a daunting task, and much discussion and splitting up and alternate route debate occurred.
Ariel had a cigarette in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other as she drove through downtown traffic. She turned her head and blew a stream of smoke out the open window into the gloomy gray day, speeding through the city. In the end, we made it with 5 minutes to spare.
The smokers in the group enjoyed the wind on deck and I pointed out various sites of my youthful misadventures to Gabriel. Amy ate a cheeseburger. I told Marisa about the long debate and lamented that I didn't know why it happened; Gabriel offered that I was experiencing a culture clash. Marisa said it was too bad Ariel was hooked up because she
and Maria Fabulosa would be a good pair.
The ferry approached Bremerton, and I could see the cranes and cinder block buildings and rotting fences and chain link and warships. A large sign welcomed us: Puget Sound Naval Shipyard: Building on a Proud Tradition.
I felt nauseous with love of the water and dread of home.
Walking down to the car when the ferry docked, Gabriel was too close to an SUV and the strap of his bag caught the decorative hood shield. There was a sharp cracking sound and we turned to look. He had broken the thing. We looked in the car. It was full of very large, very angry Navy men. One was an officer, which would probably save us from a beating. We waved our arms and said sorry and scuttled down the ramp to the Volvo.
Driving through the abandoned downtown streets of my birthplace, I had flashes of childhood memories. I pointed out the building where my mother used to work for the bill collector, with the marble staircases; I nodded at the boarded-up JC Penney where I used to slide down the staircases for hours and once, as an toddler, fell out of the stroller on to my head with an echoing thwack.
Our host for the evening would be Mommacherry, a scandalous and funny character from the web site. She opened her home on the east side of town to all of the Hip Mama crew, plus the band, plus entourage, plus whatever strangers off the internet might like to hang out with us. The house was painted with bright colors, reds and oranges and electric blues, with kitschy knickknacks everywhere and Bettie Page style paintings by her husband.
The kitchen was a pristine assemblage of 50's memorabilia, the living room was 60's modern, and the bathroom was pure cowboy, with a horse collar mirror. Mommacherry offered refreshments and we followed her down to the basement, where we admired a super modular egg shaped stereo chair. Her tattooed husband was working on vintage motorcycles, an Indian and some others I didn't recognize. Above his workstation there was a framed porno spread of Mommacherry.
We needed to do a phone interview but I had moved from nausea to vertigo, seeing my friends juxtaposed against the raggedy town. I begged off and promised I would do the next interview alone if Ariel covered for me, then took Marisa and Gabriel and Stevie off to look around and find a liquor store.
I showed them the hospital where I was born and later had the first cancer surgery. I showed them the housing project where I lived as an infant, and the square, pink duplex where I lived when my daughter was born. I showed them the bridge that I was standing under once when a man jumped off (though his suicide was thwarted by fishermen who fished him out of the water).
I showed them the mountains, the bays and inlets, the roads and houses of my beautiful, flawed hometown.
We talked about the movie Xanadu and the opus Six Pack starring Kenny Rogers as a racecar driver and Diane Lane as the eldest in a family of orphans who adopt him. Gabriel and I discovered a mutual love of the film High Road to China.
Mommacherry had picked Psycho Betty's Cafe as the venue for the Bremerton event. Psycho Betty's is in the building that, during my childhood, housed the Dugout Tavern and a massage parlour. It was the spot to get a hookup on both hookers and heroin.
Moe and Dwayne like to drink coffee at Psycho Betty's when they are working in the county and had reported it would be a great place for our event, because you lock the bathroom door by propping a stick and rock. Volunteer tough girls and wispy boys staff the cafe and it features full-contact role playing games with foam bats, all night every night. It is the hangout for teenagers and enlisted navy personnel alike.
We set up for the event, played the jukebox, and admired the queer youth and sweaty Navy boys playing games in the cafe. My mother and aunt were there and had brought corsages and gifts for both of us. My Aunt Mary was wearing a neck brace and talking excitedly to everyone. She stood out front waving people in and smoking under the NO LIOTERING THIS MEANS YOU sign. The band loved her, and after whispered conversations we decided to have Aunt Mary MC the event.
Nausea, vertigo, and a clawing dread ruled my day and I stood out front with the smokers, staring down Callow Avenue at the pawn shops and murder sites, thinking that a cafe like this would have been an amazing thing in my adolescence, when we were unwelcome at all the area restaurants and had to drive out of the county to drink coffee late at night. Maria Fabulosa handed me a pint glass full of lemonade and whiskey and I took a long drink.
The family started to arrive: grandmother, aunts, quasi-in-laws. Aunt Mary announced that she told her class of welfare-to-work recipients they would get credit for coming to the event, and they all turned out, a beautiful group of strong, funny women and their kids. I waited for a horrible social encounter but only the good friends of my youth, Christine with her kids, and Amy with her mother, showed up to see our show.
Standing by the window with Maria Fabulosa and Yantra, Maria said "what does that man have on his head?" and she pointed at an indeterminately aged redhead walking by. Yantra laughed and said "I was just about to ask that."
"His hair," I replied. "You can go tug on it if you like."
"How do you know for sure?" asked Maria Fabulosa.
"That is my father."
My aunt took the microphone to introduce us. The venue was packed with people, and I saw Dwayne arrive with his mother. Mary told a story about her boss' reaction to the book; the boss likened the book to a thresher, to working in the fields and having grain lodged in every orifice of his body.
We went through Bad Boyfriend, and Ariel's short pieces, and the first band set, and then it was my turn. I would have rather been almost anywhere else in the world except at that microphone, reading my piece in front of some people who had long ago decided they didn't like me much.
Standing with the microphone, concentrating on enunciating each word, I couldn't hear a reaction from the crowd at all. They didn't laugh at the jokes, and they didn't shift around in boredom. The first several rows, made up of my blood kin, simply sat there, expressionless.
The band took the stage and sang:
I'm too drunk to go home
Too sober to stay
I d like to be here if you'd go away
I can't stay and I can't go
I don't know what to do
Can't decide if I'm better off with or without you
Later, Gabriel told me the rest of the room loved the piece; he said I had an Amen Chorus made up of my aunts students. But he took photographs of the family watching me, which prove that my impression was true. They actually did just sit there and stare, presumably stunned to find the things that made me a social outcast in their world were the exact things that made me interesting to an audience and book-buying public.
After we finished, the band and roadies lined up in the alley behind the cafe. They were sitting, smoking, drinking whiskey, and I stood in front of them saying goodbye to my mother. My friends watched us talk and watched my mother move to step away, and they started to chant collectively "Hug her! Hug her! Hug her!"
My mother turned her sharp blue-eyed gaze on me and said, "Have you been talking about me?"
"No! I promise!"
"Okay," she said, and then she reached out and put her arms around me and hugged me, for the first time in memory.
I was shaken and perhaps certifiable when we arrived at Mommacherry's house, where a party was in full swing. Mommacherry had invited scores of people I wanted to hang out with, Queermama and Galaxymama and others I couldn't quite place. Sal and Yantra were there, and kids were swarming around the house. I stood in the driveway looking up toward a party I wanted to attend, and realized that I needed to be alone for a while. I found Mommacherry and made my apologies, told her I needed to go to the water, then turned to leave.
Sarah-Jane was standing there and she pointed at me and said, "We're going to, uh, help Bee." The band and roadies followed me out of the house and we piled in the van to go off and find a quiet spot. The tour hadn't even really started and we were already exhausted.
Later, waiting for Gabriel to come out of a pancake house, I talked to the band about how he would leave the party within the next few days. We all agreed that he needed to stay with us. Marisa said not to worry; he would stay for sure, no problem.
In the middle of the night, three of us walked out into the neighborhoods of East Bremerton and Stevie told us sexy, scary stories and Gabriel clutched a butterfly pillow to his chest. I showed them one of the cemeteries I hung out in as a kid, and the hill where I learned to drive a stick shift out of pure terror rather than roll backwards over a biker. Some teenagers in a hot rod stopped and asked us if we had any Ecstasy.
We walked past the darkened windows of Dwayne's mothers house to Mommacherry's, where we slept on a beautiful precipice with tiki torches flickering outside the tents. I stared through the mesh window at the searchlights from the shipyard.
This Road Sponsored By The Student Pagan Alliance
The event at the ABC House was scheduled for the afternoon. The weather threatened rain and I was cold in my toreador skirt and tight red spandex tank. I touched the Yardbirds sign, explaining the significance to Gabriel. Yardbirds was the dirty old multiple purpose store on the waterfront that gave away free puppies. It was where everyone got busted shoplifting in their first semester at college. The store had huge meaning to a host of people, and it was bulldozed to make room for condominiums.
We had done the same press release, promotion, and postering, but attendance in Olympia was the lowest of the entire tour. This was a complete mystery since we all had friends in the town; only a few of our people showed up. I sat down in the middle of the event and cried silently, shielding my eyes from Ariel and Bill holding hands next to me. A little boy came over and tried to make me dance. I remembered that Trixie, our personal astrologer, had emailed that the tour would pick up after the 4th (and that Ariel's love life would be interesting).
We split with the band, planning to meet back up in Astoria. We were going to have dinner with Stella and Al, but accidentally chose the same restaurant as the band. Gabriel and Stevie sat in the middle of the table acting like teenagers.
Gabriel giggled and said to Stella "What is the milky white fluid on the menu?" and Stella recoiled.
After dinner we were standing around on a sidewalk saying our goodbyes. Gabriel shimmied under the Volvo to identify the source of a rattle; it seemed that it was probably the mud flap lying low because of the weight of the merchandise.
From his position under the car he asked for the camera and I handed it over thinking he was going to take a picture of some interesting mechanical detail, but instead he took pictures of me. Boys in an orange hot rod pulled up alongside and asked Gabriel if the view was better from down there, and I jumped with nerves and ran across the street to the band; a tattooed boy hanging out of a window shouted something at me. I ran into Marisa's arms and grabbed at Stevie for safety.
Later that night, after everyone had driven back to Portland and I dropped Ariel and Bill and Maia off, Gabriel and I tried to catch up with the Chorus singing at a punk show. We were late and missed singing but found ourselves on the corner of Division and 22nd with the Dolly Ranchers. We stood together and watched the Curse and Harum Scarum playing through the window, unwilling to abandon our group brain and go home too soon. Stevie flew by in her quicksilver way, always fast and ready in love and war, soon to have the bruises to prove it.
Gabriel said he was leaving the tour after Astoria and I hugged him goodbye and suggested he should pack for longer, just in case. Then I went home to spend the night with my own true love and sweet crazy children.
8/5 - Astoria
In Astoria we were booked for the River Theater and the whole town was plastered with posters about the event. Portland people arrived in a steady stream, my kids and husband, other friends, a whole van full of North Portland punks with dumpstered beer to share. Stevie had a black eye and bruises from some reckless encounter at the show.
We sat in the Triangle Tavern next to the theater re-writing portions of our set and Stevie chatted up the bartender, who told us we should come back later for karaoke, and advised Stevie she should get a waitress job and give up dancing at the haunted shack.
There were so many Portland people in attendance we decided to start the set with the Chorus, my daughter taking the solo spot. She sang out Wee-Wee and then the rest of our usual event unfurled, with special recognition of Marisa's impending birthday. When she got on stage to do Vista del Mar I whispered for all of the P-punks to sing on the chorus and we did, shouting the refrain together:
There ain't no ocean in Iowa
and Vista del Mar means view of the sea
Backstage before my piece, my son didn't notice that the button on his green blazer was tangled in my hair. He started to walk away, and I fell backwards and then was dragged several feet across a polished floor. The band fell about laughing at me.
We said goodbye to Bill and his belt buckle featuring the Blessed Virgin. I held the children tight and pressed my face into Byron's jacket and then they were gone. Maria Fabulosa took over the empty seat in the Volvo, and offered to give Gabriel her cowboy hat if he stayed with us. Gabriel climbed in the backseat next to me.
A kid who used to live in Portland showed up and invited us all to stay with him and his pregnant girlfriend
after the show. We celebrated Marisa's thirty-first birthday with a cake baked by Raki.
Stevie said these were the first kids she knew who left the scene to have kids of their own; I pointed to myself, then Gabriel, and said, "What do you mean? We both did."
8/6 - Corvallis
Marisa birthday continued: we met her mother for the first time. I took the mic and thanked her mother for making Marisa and we all sang Happy Birthday.
The girl who set up the event called her friends to insist they turn out; when they showed up we found we knew half from Portland.
Ariel said we should dance and she, Gabriel, Stevie and Maia took to the floor and pulled others out of the audience.
We needed a place to sleep that night so I asked Gabriel (who has superior social skills and a friendly, clean demeanor) to help. He asked the event girl nicely if she could suggest a liquor store and a cheap hotel, and she offered up her house.
We made noodles and soup and drank wine with our host, who lives in a girl house inexplicably situated in the middle of frat row. We decided that Bad Boyfriend only plays to half our audience and start to script out Bad Girlfriend with the help of our host and her friends.
-A toddler ruins your shoes; a bad girlfriend says, Those were my shoes!
-A toddler has separation anxiety; a bad girlfriend has separation anxiety.
-A toddler is distracted by the first father figure who walks into room; a bad girlfriend is distracted by the first father figure who walks into room.
-A toddler thinks life started the day you had them; a bad girlfriend thinks life started the day you had them.
-A toddler wants to suck on your tits in public; a bad girlfriend won't even do it in private.
-You want a child to call every hour when they are off with their dad; a bad girlfriend wants you to call every hour when you are on the Breeder tour.
Sitting on the lawn drinking wine, Stevie asked if Gabriel had a crush on me. I replied "no," and laughed but Ariel nodded.
"Why do you think that?" I asked, surprised.
"He takes care of you," Ariel answered.
"So? He is my friend. Besides, we are both happy and in relationships; what would be the point of a crush?"
"Crushes don't have a point," Maria Fabulosa answered.
"I've never had a crush on anyone," I said, "and Gabriel is just sweet and helpful."
"Dude, you are lying to us, or yourself," Maria Fabulosa replied.
"I'm not lying. I'm a Capricorn. I don't have standard issue emotional entanglements. I've never even flirted with anyone."
Ariel answered "What about Inga? She asked you to make out and you said no."
"I did? I don't remember that." I paused, and thought, and recalled a scene in Seattle before a reading, when Inga offered a kiss to cheer me up. "She wasn't serious. She offered sexual favors ironically in her special Inga way."
Ariel shook her head at me, and I shook my head at all of them.
Stevie and I started to sing old songs and a few of the others joined us:
Traveling down that coal town road
Listening to my rubber tires whine
Goodbye to buckeye, white sycamore
I m leaving you behind
Until the frat boys started to yell that we should shut up. We sang louder and louder:
....your ghost is gonna
Wear them rattlin chains
But when I go to sleep at night
Don't you call my name
. . .and they kept yelling, and then Stevie and I stood up and screamed an alternate rendition of a Wanda Jackson song:
With my big iron skillet in my hand
Gonna show you how a little woman
Can whip a great big frat boy
After we finished there was a sinister silence and then a voice came from a second story window across the street. "We prefer the term fraternity brother," the voice intoned.
On the way out of town the next day Stevie flipped off a random frat boy, like he stood for something, or would understand the gestures symbolic force. He probably just thought it was a hot chick he was rude to in a bar.
8/7 - Eugene
I talked to my beloved husband on the phone and he told me his cousin took off all his clothes and walked naked into the desert.
I could not quite believe the news of the suicide and pushed it to the back of my mind to deal with later, but then felt ill. I laid out on a bench while Ariel, Maia, and Maria Fabulosa walked around the town handing out fliers for the event.
The bookstore had a red eight-foot sculpture symbolizing the power of women. The owner of the store blinked at our appearance and I overheard her saying to the girl at the counter "This isn't what I expected. I thought the band was country western, but these are," she paused and tapped the counter, "girls with tattoos."
The bookstore filled with people, old friends, women from the site, musicians and writers and babies and toddlers running everywhere. We drank whiskey and lemonade and laughed together and the band sang:
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I'm begging of you please don't take my man
Please don't take him just because you can
At the end, we could tell this was a Q&A crowd and we made the band stay at the mic with us. The audience asked questions about the band, and about how the band hooked up with Hip Mama. Marisa and I looked at each other and drew a mutual blank on the answer; we forgot that we perform together in the Chorus. I said "we're neighbors."
A woman asked Ariel who her primary influence is, and she replied "Carol Channing." Everyone laughed but she continued "Really, Free to be You and Me. Alan Alda. Mel Brooks."
Someone else said our writing seems influenced by the Beats and asked what our favorite book from that era is. I had the microphone so I replied "Memoirs of a Beatnik by Diane DiPrima. You should buy it," and Marisa laughed out loud.
Stevie handed me a note from a fan that said You all rock! Stretch marks are Sexy!
Gabriel asked the girl at the counter if she could suggest a liquor store and cheap hotel, and she offered her house. This time we found ourselves in the woods, in an A frame with collages pasted on all the walls. We drank whiskey and made a fire outside and wrote a song to the tune of Frosty the Snowman, based on a true tale of youthful misadventure, to celebrate Sarah-Jane:
Scurvy the Drag Queen
Had a very shiny dick
And there was this girl named Sarah-Jane
Who liked to give a lick
Scurvy the Drag Queen
He cooked at Unitarian Camp
He served a special tofu dog
To Sarah-Jane the tramp
One day they both went parking
In front of Sarah-Jane's pad
She was giving head to the Grateful Dead
When out walked her dad
Oh! Scurvy the Drag Queen
Well he didn't get that far
Sarah-Jane's dad got mad
At the Drag Queen lad
And kicked him out of the car
We sang until we couldn't breathe through the laughter and then fell asleep around the campfire.
I woke up hours later to see a silhouette of Stevie in her underwear, holding an axe above her head, about to bring it forcefully down on a tree limb braced with her bare feet. "Stevie! That is a bad idea," I said.
She mumbled something and dragged the log further from me, and further from the dying light of the campfire, but closer to Gabriel's head.
She held the axe over her head again and then I heard Gabriel say, awake now that his skull was jeopardized, "Stevie. That is just not a good idea. Trust me, I grew up in the mountains." Stevie grumbled and then tossed the whole limb on the fire, and we all went back to sleep.
This Road Sponsored By California Women in Timber
8/8 - Arcata
We got up at dawn to drive Sarah-Jane to her date, stopping at a coffee hut, trying to stay ahead of traffic. There was a road construction delay and Sarah-Jane and Gabriel and I sat on the pavement to wait. Ariel and Maria Fabulosa wandered off to swim and had to run, dripping wet, to catch the car as the traffic started to move again.
There was a sign for mail order lamb, 1-800-ALAMB4U, and a store offering Tanning and Taxidermy. We ate at a diner and standing in the parking lot saw emus behind chain link fencing and Maria Fabulosa made friends with one of the big birds.
We drove through a depressed little town with a large caveman sculpture, Blind George's newsstand, an Alaskan Style Hair Salon, and a large metal scrollwork sign over the main road proclaiming It's the Climate.
We went in a thrift store to find pants for Ariel (who had come on tour with only one outfit) and I asked the woman at the counter where to buy cassettes. She paused and stared at my hair and glasses and said, "Did you want secular music?"
We followed signs toward Paradise Cove and passed a cop car in a ditch with its windows shot out.
Somewhere in the California Redwoods I had a panic attack. I was in the backseat and I put my head down, pressing my face into a pillow, willing my heart to stop racing, trying not to draw the attention of my traveling companions. Sarah-Jane leaned over and touched my arm.
"Bee, are you okay?" she asked, and I raised my face and looked at her. There was real concern on her face, not judgment, not irritation.
I took a deep breath. "I will be," I replied, and turned to look out at the trees. The simple expression of concern, unexpected and unprecedented in my life, had distracted me and nullified the panic.
We drove down an old WPA highway, through the unbearable choking beauty of small town coastal America. I saw rock walls, tunnels, dripping despair and gray ocean fog. I saw chainsaw art and a little house inside a hollow redwood log, with a sign saying Mocha Latte. I saw Hog Heaven and a sign pointing the way to the largest Sitka Spruce in the US of A. The last time I had been on this road was as a little kid, riding in the trunk of my dads hot rod while my uncle and grandfather drank whiskey in the back seat and my mother was sick in the front.
The only map in the Breedermobile was of the 1984 Olympic venues in Los Angeles but we made it to Arcata with plenty of time to spare. We dropped Sarah-Jane off with her date, left Gabriel painting foliage, and headed for the beach.
It was a gray, cold, windy day. Stevie and I walked down the beach to let Ariel and Maria Fabulosa have some privacy. We proceeded in a straight line as the waves came in chaotically, soaking us to the hips, and picked up seashells. When we turned around to head back we realized our friends had packed up. Stevie yanked off all of her clothes except her leg warmers and ran naked into the icy Pacific Ocean, much to the surprise of a family building a sand castle and a depressed Goth kid staring at the waves.
I caught up with Ariel, who was laughing and said "I thought I saw donkeys through the fog, and we were just about to get the car to drive down the beach and look for you, when Maria said those weren't donkeys, fool, those are our friends. But then the figures came closer and we realized they were donkeys after all."
"Lovely," I said, and then Maria Fabulosa asked "So were you off behind the dunes necking?"
I replied "That, my friend, is projection. I would be more likely to turn into a donkey than make out with Stevie Ann."
We turned to look down the beach at Stevie, romping in the waves, unconcerned with her own beauty. I was suffused with guilt for saying such a strange, mean thing. Everyone wants to make out with Stevie; I just refuse to answer those sorts of questions on principle. I felt obligated to tell Stevie all of my darkest secrets to make up for what I had said out of her earshot.
The van with the rest of the band and Maia arrived eventually and we made a rendezvous for Maia with Jennifer Savage and made plans to have breakfast in the morning before a radio interview.
Pastor P-Nut and the Bishop said we could all sleep in their house, which also serves as the ministry and sanctuary of the Elvis Underground Church. We admired their Elvis paraphernalia and took showers and made pasta and everyone settled into sleeping quarters. Gabriel and I had a back room and we fell asleep talking about summer camps and youthful anxieties.
On the way to Jennifer Savages house I told Maria Fabulosa and Gabriel my theory that everything I know about love I learned from Debra Winger movies.
"For instance, Urban Cowboy. I learned that love is like a mechanical bull ride."
"An Officer and a Gentleman; filmed partly in my hometown, offered hope for diligent and practical girls."
"Black Widow, she mates and she kills."
"Shadowlands; love is proceeded by death."
"Terms of Endearment- the only film that has made my mother cry- love is proceeded by death and includes abandoning your children to an uncertain fate."
Maria replied that Debra Winger did the voice for ET, but I didn't believe her, and I bet her Byron's decrepit VW van that it wasn't true. Sarah-Jane took a bet that the ostrich is the largest bird on the planet, but she only wagered ten dollars.
Since Ariel covered the last two radio interviews it was my turn, and I squeezed into the radio booth with the band, the Bishop, and Maia for a commercial drive-time radio interview. The host asked the band a few questions, they played a song, and then he turned to me and asked, "So, what is Breeder about?"
I stared at him and after a long pause said ". . . I don't know."
He flicked the hair out of his eyes, blinked, and said "Maybe that was a stupid question" as the band giggled. I recovered in time to say a few less deranged things to promote the event, and then went outside to hang my head in shame.
There were posters with our book cover photo all over town, and people recognized me at the supermarket. I started to get a very creepy, Stepford Wives feel about the place; this was a town clearly under the influence. Since I've never used drugs of any kind I didn't know how to relate.
Maria Fabulosa told me that I would need to learn how to act like a stoner if I wanted to survive California. She said that if conversations started to get weird for me all I had to do was open my mouth a little and stare into space. She said that if I started to get the heebie-jeebies I could just put up a hand and say "whoa" and people would understand.
Driving through the clean orderly streets of Arcata we read the nice review of our book in the paper and then read our horoscopes out loud to each other. Mine, as always, offered only the dull and practical. Other people get mad adventure and wild romance and doom, but I get tips on starting savings accounts.
My newspaper astrological chart does capture certain aspects of my personality; I am actually a practical, resourceful person, but I'm not nearly as dull or thick-skinned as I'm led to believe each week. I asked Ariel, "Why am I so sensitive but nobody knows, and people feel they can say whatever mean thing they like to me?"
She replied "Your sun sign, Capricorn, is who you are at heart. Your moon sign, Scorpio, is who you are in your daily life. Your rising, Aries, is how you appear to others and what you become as your life progresses. The Scorpio is the sensitive sign in your chart, who you are in your daily life. But you appear tough and mean, with the Aries rising, so people assume you are not going to be sensitive. Know what I mean?"
I pursed my lips and thought about it. "So if I read Scorpio that will be more accurate?"
"And since Scorpio and Capricorn are both kind of domineering, I can just change to Scorpio."
Maria Fabulosa eyed me and Ariel laughed. "Okay."
I decided that I was a Scorpio for the rest of the summer. When people argued with me that nobody can change their sign, I replied that I can so, because I am a Capricorn.
Amanda opened the show with her clown act. She would be leaving in a few days to audition for Cirque de Soleil. The venue was filled beyond capacity, with people packed in every available niche, spilling into the garden, and out on to the sidewalk.
The men who lived on the streets and beaches were hanging out behind the venue and somewhere in the middle of a band set one fellow reached through the window and shared Marisa's drink, placing it back on the ledge after a long swallow.
Jennifer Savage read Learning to Surf and Peri Escarda read The Perfect Name with tears in her eyes, and both received the applause of their friends and neighbors.
The Bishop gave me condoms stamped The King is Coming and stickers and two patches that were extra blessed since they had been on the altar. I carried Elvis in my hat for the rest of the tour.
This Road Sponsored By Nolo County Friends of NRA
8/10 - onward
We saw a sign for a white tiger display, The largest on the West Coast. We passed the Rough and Ready Botanical Wayside, Majestic Masterpiece Museum of Fine Art, and Unique Sprinklers for Sale.
After stopping to ask directions from a man in a bush we arrived at LaSara's homestead outside of Ukiah after sunset and sat out on the gravel driveway watching meteor showers and telling family secrets. We listened to death threats on the business voice mail.
I showed Gabriel a VW advertisement in Interview magazine featuring a girl with matted, dirty, long, dyed hair like mine. I developed a seething fear that my hair might become fashionable.
Yantra and Sal showed up and we sat in the moonlight talking and the next morning they lost their keys, found them again, but drove away with the pod on top of the minivan open.
Gabriel and I packed the car and while we were waiting for Ariel to engage in romantic intrigue we rummaged in the emergency storage compartment. We found an assortment of saws and WWII-era bandages. I told him about the liquor bottles I had taken out of the car earlier, and we wondered what the previous owner had done with his summer vacations.
We left LaSara to take Maria Fabulosa to the Apple Festival. The band did a set in streaky sunlight and then we sat around a picnic table watching an Elvis cover band get ready to go on stage. Elvis fell up the stairs. I tucked King is Coming condoms under the windshield wiper of his big shiny truck. We were eating gyros and Ariel asked me if I could watch Maia for a while so she and Maria Fabulosa could go on a walk.
I remembered Ariel's earlier injunction that nonverbal communication would not work; but I couldn't quite bring my new Scorpio self to second-guess their choice to disappear just as the band needed to set up for the second set. I frowned and replied "I am not good with dogs or children," hoping that an obvious lie would communicate what I was unwilling to say out loud. But Ariel just stared at me and I sighed and said okay.
Fifteen, ten, and five minutes before the set, Ariel and Maria were not back. Stevie and Gabriel went off to search for them. I said they would be back with lipstick smeared and stickers in their hair and not to worry.
Marisa walked up to me and said "Bee, tell me this isn't happening."
"It isn't happening," I said, and smiled, and smoothed down my pink gingham dress.
The band took the stage without Maria and the MC and Amy bantered about circuses and traveling and tried to keep the crowd happy and the band was just about to start without a bassist when Maria ran up on stage with stickers in her hair.
In the aftermath of the band fight, we drove Maria Fabulosa to a drugstore and she bought a pocket watch inscribed Dad. That night we were all paranoid about showing up at the gig on time and we drove past Red's Recovery Room just as I fell asleep. When I woke up I was in a foul mood and my latent anxiety bubbled into an existential crisis related to the web site, which was no longer earning enough money to cover basic bills.
Ariel had never had any interest or involvement in hipmama.com, and generally refused to listen to me talk about any aspect of the project. I tried once again to bring up the topic. Ariel said "You are taking all of the pain and sadness of your whole life and seizing it with both hands and pulling it down to smother yourself. Stop."
So I did.
We talked about funerals and our families various issues with wakes and burials and I said I was afraid that I would die with bad hair. Sarah-Jane promised that if that happens she will fix it.
We slept at Marisa's sisters house. I talked to Byron on the phone and learned that our friend Ana Helena had malaria. He said the North Portland bluff, the symbolic heart of our communal landscape, had fallen prey of a wildfire. He said the whole family was sick with a virus. My existential crisis increased in volume. I wanted to go home.
8/13 - Sacramento
We drove into heat and sun for the first time as we approached Sacramento, missed our turn, and looped back. Ariel said "Shit. Now I remember. I said I would never come back here."
The first few people we talked to at the store were hostile for reasons that were not clear to me, until I remembered that Yantra used to manage the place and her ex still works there. The man at the customer service desk told us we couldn't park in the lot because we had to leave room for customers.
We were instructed to set up our signs and merchandise in the lobby of the grocery store, where people grab shopping carts. We took turns staffing the table and getting snacks and ministering to Gabriel and Maia who were both tired after the long car ride.
A woman walked up licking an ice cream cone and slowly turned the pages of the book with a sneer. She asked if she could borrow one of the zines while she finished her cone and Ariel sighed and said okay. After the woman walked away Ariel said "she won't be back."
A skater boy blushed and smiled and said how much he loved our work. He laid out cash for a book and had me sign then went searching for Ariel in the parking lot to get her signature.
Two or three of the women who use the web site stopped by to say hello and tell us how excited they were for the event.
Several people stopped by to criticize our appearance, lifestyle, and values. A man in a tie said, "So you are women who call yourselves, what, breeders? Isn't that an insult?" Ariel tried to explain but he kept interrupting her.
Finally I said "If you would like more information, you can buy the book for $16. It's a bargain. We represent a social phenomenon. We were featured in USA Today and NPR Weekend Edition," and then willed him away by fixedly engaging Ariel in a discussion about the set for the evening.
Amanda showed up and startled me just as I started to put lipstick on. I smeared the red stick across my cheek and looked at Ariel, who was sitting in a natural foods grocery store lobby with a cigarette in her hand. "I have PTSD," I said, "for real."
Ariel left with Maria and I waved Gabriel over to watch the table. I left the artist and the clown girl in charge of the merchandise, figuring the criticisms of our appearance, lifestyle, and values wouldn't bother people who were not the targets of the insults.
I found Yantra and Sal in the cafe and sat down. "Did I ever tell you about my drill team days?" I asked.
Sal snorted. "You were on drill team, Bee?" she asked incredulously.
"No. In the eighth grade, I was the manager. Mostly I hid in the bathroom with a team member who curled her hair with a butane curling iron for hours and hours. I watched her curl her hair and watched her paint her face with heavy makeup and avoided the drill team."
They stared at me. "Why were you the manager, then?" Yantra asked.
"Because the kids on the bus tried to set my hair on fire, so I couldn't ride the bus, and I had to stay at school until my parents picked me up. But you couldn't stay on campus unless you had a reason. My English teacher took pity on me and made me the manager."
I re-arranged the napkin dispenser and small vase of plastic flowers and peeked out of the cafe to see if Ariel was back at the table yet. She wasn't, and Amanda had wandered off, but Gabriel seemed content with his sketching.
"We had a regional competition, and my job as the manager was to keep track of equipment and put on the tape when it was time for the drill. We went to the regional competition with a routine they had been working on for months, set to the song Old Time Rock and Roll. Do you remember that song?"
They both nodded, and Caleb reached out and moved the napkin dispenser and small vase of plastic flowers into his preferred order.
"They marched out in formation and they were perfect, everyone moving with crisp precision, in their white polo shirts and blue pleated skirts and white gloves. They were standing there waiting for their cue and I hit play and the Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias duet To All the Girls I've Loved Before started."
I re-arranged the napkin dispenser and small vase of plastic flowers. "To this day, I don t know if I did it on purpose or not. I think it makes a better story if it was intentional." I stood up and went into the bathroom to change for the evening.
Later in a fit of pique we decided to perform Bad Girlfriend instead Bad Boyfriend.
We started the set with a full house, and as we progressed the audience emptied out. This had never happened before (and would never happen again, for any of us). We got more and more wild and laughed into the microphone and the band writhed and sang.
And in the end, Stevie mooned the crowd.
We hit the road and got the hell out of Sacramento. Listening to the radio, the Cure came on as we saw the lights of the Bay area.
This Road Sponsored By First and Last Chance Saloon
8/14 - Oakland
We parked our stuff at Ariel's sisters place and met Jeff and Yentz. We realized that Ben from the Chicken House was staying just two blocks away. Gabriel and Jeff went to a museum. Ariel and Maria Fabulosa and I prepared for the event, and as we drove over the long bridge talked about the nature of friendship and grief until Maria wanted to change the subject.
Rachel Pepper owns Bernal Books and we admired her store and lovely child. Standing on a street corner just before the event I realized I was surrounded by most of the residents of the Chicken House, and a dozen other Portland friends.
We convened the Chorus.
After the show Ariel and Maria and Stevie and Jody wanted to go to the Lexington. Walking toward the bar I heard Ariel plan to split off for a while. Once again remembering her injunction against nonverbal communication, I said "Please don't abandon us at the dyke bar."
She replied, "you don't have anything to be afraid of, this is dirty girl central."
"I'm not afraid of anything except getting stuck waiting for you if it is a boring place."
She shrugged and blew smoke into the night air and walked away with Maria Fabulosa.
We waited in the bar until midnight, bored and disgruntled, and discussed whether we should leave them in the city. When they turned up both looked surprised that we were upset.
8/15 - East Bay
Gabriel and I went to the Legion of Honor museum before our event at the Long Haul Infoshop. On the way over to the event we looked but there were no posters for the event, and I worried that we might have low attendance.
LaSara and Kara Gall read with us, the venue was jammed to capacity, and our Chorus friends showed up again: Ben, Jeff, Gabriel, Marisa, Gabriel, me, and even the mighty Thunder Pumpkin stood in front and sang Hey Loretta for Leslie's birthday:
I'll be swinging from the chandeliers and bouncing off the walls
instead of loving just one man
I'm gonna love em all
Afterwards, the party for Leslie turned surreal. Jody from Portland drew monsters on our bodies with magic marker. The Thunder Pumpkin sat down and told me in confidence that he was leaving the klezmer band he started with Moe. Leslie said strange and potentially harmful things about my appearance and twisted emotional responses to life, which were disruptive enough I could not retain them in memory as each sentence dripped by.
I laughed and backed away, confused, then asked Ariel to interpret. She smiled and shrugged and said that people just say things.
This Road Sponsored by Snuffi's Motor Homes
8/16 - Home
I talked to Byron on the phone and he said that he had an aneurysm or something and Annapurna had to take him to the emergency room. He said I shouldn't worry, he would be fine, the family missed me but I should enjoy the last day of the tour.
I felt a flush of panic. I was supposed to eat breakfast with the band and our friends but I walked around the block, tears popping out of eyes, using Gabriel's cell phone to find someone who could tell me how sick Byron really was. I couldn't get Polly or any of the community houses on the phone. Finally I reached Per and Maja and they said Byron wouldn't die, but he was really sick, and they promised to keep an eye on him until I got home.
We went to the Musee Mechanique and then later I was walking down a street in Berkely with Gabriel and his ex-girlfriend, talking about what makes flamingos pink. I was completely involved in the conversation and oblivious to anything going on around me. Gabriel realized that a city bus had stopped and the driver was laying on his horn, trying to get our attention.
Gabriel turned to ask the man what he wanted but I continued to talk and then bus driver cupped his hand and pointed at me. "Her skirt," he said. Gabriel turned back to me and gasped. I looked down.
My messenger bag had yanked my wraparound skirt open, and I had walked several city blocks completely exposed to passerby.
I slept through the long, terrible ride home, and missed a murder and rape mannequin diorama in the restroom of an otherwise truly sinister country store. I woke on and off and at one point found myself wandering around an old-fashioned gas station somewhere in the mountains, the smell of gritty hand cleaner and oil-soaked sawdust bringing tears to my eyes as I remembered long childhood days in my grandfather's service station.
Driving into Portland we hit a speed bump just a little too fast.
"This is like a dream," I said.
"It was all only a dream," Ariel agreed.
"We really just had an exhausting dinner at a strange restaurant," Gabriel said as the muffler finally gave way.
Bee Lavender is the publisher of Hipmama.com and co-editor of BREEDER: Real Life Stories from the New Generation of Mothers. She is also the author of Lessons in Taxidermy and the online journal Foment. She would like to point out that her moon sign is actually Gemini.
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