Thursday, July 13, 2006
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, VERMONT
The story starts like this: I've known Robyn for years. We'd dated for a while a few years ago, and although it didn't work out, we still remain friends, and occasional collaborators (see: our comic in True Porn 2, out now in stores). Like many of the women I've dated over the years, she's a dear person, an artist, and something of - and I say this with nothing but affection - a lunatic.
She now is a Fellow at the Center for Cartoon Studies, a school in Vermont dedicated to teaching the art of drawing indie comics (no, she didn't have sex-change surgery, stupid. She got a fellowship to study and work there. You know, like the Fellowship of the Ring in those Star War Ring Trek Lord movies? Only, instead of travelling the world to destroy a great evil, she stays in Vermont and draws comics).
The CCS teaches indie comics, and make no mistake; if you ask the students there if "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" is on the syllabus, they'll give you a look that says, "Hey, did someone step in some X-Men and track it onto the living rug on their way in here?" Which is a shame, because no matter what your view on comic books (and I'm not a huge fan - my fave comic of all time is a nobscure hippie rag called The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers), you have to admit that the only thing that kicks more ass than Spider Man is
But of course, try telling them that.
Anyhoozle, Robyn has a zine called "Hey 4-Eyes!" which she hates me calling a "glasses fetish zine," so let's just call it - um - a, uh, "zine for people who like glasses and find other people way more desirable if they're also wearing glasses." In fact, Robyn helped me pick out my glasses as part of a pictorial for "Hey 4-Eyes!" Issue 1, and I hosted the release party for it in Brooklyn in one of the most awkward shows I've done.
See, the audience for that show was comprised almost entirely of hipster nerds. Now, I can generally do well in front of an audience of nerds, because I am one.
And I can do well in front of hipsters because I'm a mess, and they appreciate that.
But for whatever reason, the confluence of hipster-nerds generally equals awkward silence and the occasional snicker as if to say, "Oh my God, did he actually just deliver a punchline?" A particularly disastrous set at the Blu Lounge on Driggs Street in Williamsburg led me to declare a ban on performing in that neighborhood for two years.
So when Robyn asked me if I wanted to take the 7 hour train ride to Vermont to host the release party for "Hey 4-Eyes 2," my immediate reaction was "Hells motherfucking no."
Then she told me that I'd be perfoming in the Main Street Museum for students and staff at the Center for Cartooning Studies, and I thought about it and said, "I'm sorry, the connection's breaking up. I didn't hear what you said. I'll call you back later."
Because I didn't relish performing in, as is my usual experience with local museums, a stuffy old mausoleum dedicated to settlers' continued persectution of the local native American population. I've been in more than one local museum where a main component is an exhibit dedicated to the half-dozen or so treaties that local settler populations had broken, along with artifacts of the indigineous peoples who had been wiped out. it's depressing, kind of like if someone said, "Hey, there are a ton of Holocaust memorials, when is a museum going to tell the other side of the story?"
I know, I know, that's a very flip and sweeping rationalization, and there's a huge difference between the two things. For one thing, we're descended from the people who won.
And that's when she dangled the ultimate carrot in front of me and said, "Not only would you not get paid, but you'd pay your own way up here and you'd get to sleep on the world's most uncomfortable futon." Which is why I relented and said, "Alright. Take me number out of your phone. I'm not doing it."
However, after some reflection, I changed my mind and said, "Yes," and I did so for the following reasons:
1 - I'm unemployed, the Giraldo show being over and unlikely to come back. So until I get a job, I do have some spare time on my hands.
2 - I have resolved that although I am spending a lot of time looking for more work, I am not going to burn myself out and I'm going to give myself a vacation this summer. A cheap vacation, like maybe a trip up to Vermont.
3 - If this goes horribly wrong, it will be a hell of a story. And sometimes, you've got to do something crazy for the story.
Because, when all is said and done, the only things you take to the grave are your regrets and memories.
So I said yes, and I got on the Amtrak train.
I was going to make a crack here comparing Amtrak to Greyhound, but when I got to Penn Station, the first thing I saw on th big departure sign board was that another train had been cancelled because it had derailed somewhere down the line.
Which, by the way, is notan unusual ovvurence.
So I guess you can call Amtrak "Now-Let-Us-Prayhound." You're welcome.
Now, the immutable laws of physics says that when you sit on a public conveyance, such as a train, or a plane, or a bus, no matter who the person was behind you, the act of sitting down in your own seat automatically transforms them into a little child who will want to kick the back of your chair for twenty miles. And I know this, because it happened to me both ways.
Actually, I tell a lie. On my way back, she was an adorable little girl who started pushing the back of my seat with her legs, to push the back of her chair back. Wonderful. Unfortunately, the laws of "justifiable homicide" only allow you to murder the parent or guardian who gives you attitude for asking the little monster to please stop.
* * * * *
White River Junction is a historic town in old Vermont, which sits at the Junction where the Connecticut river joins with the White River. Once a hub of transportation, the decline of river and interstate rail travel, 10% of which used to stop at White River Junction, led to a decline in the town. This I learned from a local journalist named Eric, who gave me the inside scoop on many things, including the transient hobo population, the transient local population (stories I'm loathe to repeat here because he wants to write a book about it some day. One of my favorites, though, involved a naked Indonesian man wandering through the rooms of a local hotel at four in the morning. Apparently, the hotel staff's reaction to upset patrons was a bit - er - unconcerned) , and the town's resident trainspotters.
I met a lovely lady named Barbara who comes from Connecticut to hang out at the White River Junction Amtrak station and watch the trains pass. She sleeps on a cot in the station some nights, and once slept through a break-in where thieves were looking for money in the office. I observed her acting as the stations unofficial greeter, meeting passengers as they arrived to wait for their trains and giving them information.
The Center for Cartoon Studies is actually a cool up-and-coming insititution, as pictured in, what else, this cartoon representation:
They're small, but growing (for instanc; although I'm no fan of Verizon and the Verizon Family of Products, they are donating a building to the Center for students to use as studio space), and the students I met were genuinely cool, in a "going to school to study comics," way.
(By the way, if anyone thinks that in the general fun of joking around, I might be calling people into comics "nerds" or "uncool," just remember that this is the blog of a lifetime Dr. Who fan who not only knows too much about the series, but has some definite opinions about it that he'd be willing to argue for hours. Any jokes about anyone elses nerdiness are made with the understanding that I'd be the first one shoved into a locker in the Great High School In The Sky. Some people have claimed the word "nerd" as a badge of honor. Me, I just use it as a blanket explanation for why I tend to be socially awkward.)
Let's talk about Vermont.
White River Junction is -
- Amazingly beautiful. As you see in the picture at the top of this entry, it's green and gorgeous. As a lifetime New Yorker, it's always astounding for me to see a building with a dense green forest right behind it. Or a river so clean and clear that you could literally jump in any time and swim in it, or you could just look down and see straight to the bottom. Alright, so it was shallow, but the point is that the East River is dark and murky and if you ever jumped in you would end up joining a myriad of other corpses floating its dense and dirty depths.
Some of the residents tried to draw me out, as a New Yorker, to say that because the town is small and away from major metroplitan regions that I found it boring or stupid or inferior. But nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, I may never be able to live there for too long - After three days I was feeling a fatigue and general laxness that worried me until I realized that I'd actually achieved a degree of "relaxation." That's right, relaxation is such a foreign state for me, that I thought I was getting sick.
Coincidentally, the mosquito bites I thought I was suffering from turned out to be bites from aggressive mosquitos who seemed to have decided that they were going to live every day like it as their last. Which I sincerely hope it was, the miserable little bastards. Sorry, but I was raised Buddhist, not Hindu. Death to the mosquiitos.
- Resoundingly New England. Lots of fat guys in Red Sox shirts. I had the ultimate New England moment when an old man bagging my groceries at a food coop was waiting for the credit card machine, turned to me and said, "Looks like the weathaman was right. Seems there's a thundastorm a'brewin'."
Unfortunately, he failed to then fix me with his steely glare and add, "You're not from around heah, ah you? There's some things this town just don't take to," before warning me that the town contained an evil just lurking beneath the surface that occasionally rises to consume the children. Steven King is a fucking liar.
Also, there seems to be a confusion over whether customers wanted their groceries bagged, or if they wnted to just juggle them all the way home. I had more than one experience where I paid for grocery items, and the cashier had to be asked for a bag to take it away in. One time, I'd purchased some delicious consumables from a local produce stand, and not only did I, unlike the other customers, have to ask for a bag, but when I did, the young woman behind the counter gave me a dirty look and opened a paper bag, and I realized after a second that she was going to make me bag the groceries myself.
However, I got my delicious revenge when I punched her in the face.
Okay, I didn't. I left. i'm a wuss.
Speaking of Mr. Steven King, I had a real Stand By Me moment.
it started when I decided to take a walk down the railroad tracks. I'd been warned that there were hobo camps along the side of tracks, and sure enough, there they were. I didn't go down the steep incline to the river bank to bother the hobos. Although I fantasized about it, and realized that I was picturing them as 1930s Woody Guthrie/Grapes of Wrath hobos, complete with weathered fedoras, overalls, and bandannas tied around sticks, sitting around a campfire making hobo stew. In black and white.
Although Eric the Journalist did tell me later that these hobos still exist, and they still sleep in boxcars, and make their secret hobo marks on the sides of railroad cars, and every year they meet for a big hobo convention at a hobo museum. Although I'm not 100% sure he wasn't pulling my leg, I'd like to live in a world where they existed. Unfortunately, I fear that hobos would be a lot like the New York City homeless who live in the subway, and I gave them a miss.
However, there is a railroad bridge that crosses the Connecticut River, and on my way back, I decided that the thought of crossing it was so terrifying - it's pretty long, with metal walls on either side so that if a train comes there's pretty much no place to escape - that I had to do it.
Now, I'm not a fan of heights, and there's nothing like being able ot look down between the ties and see a long drop beneath to get the legs a'quivering and the stomach churning. It helped a bit that on the side there was graffiti that read, "2PAC 4Ever." Hell, if the local teen creep community could do this, so could I.
There was a point where I decided to turn back. It was the point where I heard a train whistle blowing up ahead. Luckily, my brain then decided to help my relax and focus by trying to imagine what the headlines would say if I got flattened by a train. That's when I rememered that I wasn't famous enough to really merit headlines. Maybe one of the New York comedy fanblogs would say, "Christian Finnegan's Friend Dies."
Then I checked the train rails - not vibrating. (Thank you, Stand by Me, for teaching me how to tell if a train's coming. Although, if a train was coming, I would have been obligated to yell "Train!" and then run as fast as I can.)
I got to the other side and realized that I'd just doen a very stupid thing, and the only thing I'd proved to myself was that I can be just as dumb as the next guy who needs to prove too much to himself abot how macho he can be.
However, I can be happy in knowing that this blog entry has officially upset my mother. So there's that.
- On the border of New Hampshire. In fact, I walked across the border to have breakfast at a local diner, and discovered that Ol' New Hampshire doesn't seem to have any pesky laws agains t things like smoking in restaurants. Good for you, New Hampshire! Sure, your official state motto may be "new hampshire: Live Free or Die," but we all know it should be, "new Hampshire: Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em."
I also got the chance to "eavesdrop" on a very loud conversation a woman was having about her ongoing custody battle. It involved phrases like "enrolled in a drug rehabilitation program" and "don't give a damn about them family court people."
- Weird, but in a way I like.
For instance, the museum I ended up performing in is pretty much unlike any museum I've seen. It's called the Main Street Museum, and, well, I don't get it, but I do like it.
In fact, here's a picture of me performing in it:
The "exhibits" include a case with dehydrated cats, a display of a "New England sea monster," cases filled with dusty books, and a wall of animal heads, among many other pictures.
)In fact, I was going to include a picture of me in front of the wall of animal heads, but it emphasized too much the double chin I got from stressing out at my writing job, eating and sitting behind a desk all day.)
(That's right ladies, he's unemployed and needs to lose weight. What is there about him that doesn't scream, "Oh momma, he's the man I want to marry some day"?)
(End self-deprecation sequence here.)
Anyway, to make a long story even more long and tortuous than necessary, the show went off really well. The museum was a way better place to perform than I'd feared. As someone who prefers the small bars, youth hostels, and basements of the East Village where I tend to perform here in the city, I felt quite at home. And the audience; locals, resident cartoonists, some high school girls (Robyn and I met one who was working at a local restaurant called Mai Thai. The food was pretty decent, but the most memorable aspect was the fact that the entire staff was dressed in black karate robes, like the Cobra Kai. Anyway, our server, who had just graduated high school, was really nice and ended up bringing a couple of her friends), a couple of tourists who had stumbled into the place, friends. Although it was a little awkward for me at first, seeing as how I had pretty much met the audience personally before the show, I still had a lot of fun.
Okay, this entry's officially too long now. Hopefully it makes up for the two weeks I took off.
Have a good weekend, everyone!