I left the house with a rolling suitcase filled with books. I was going for a haircut and found out the kid who’d been cutting my hair the last two years had left the barbershop for a higher end spot. It’s strange how a small thing like that can throw you off. I’d come to depend on him being there, but now he was gone. I got my hair cut by a different barber who did a perfectly fine job, but it wasn’t the same.
I got to the Hideout around 6pm. The last Soup & Bread of the year was going full blast, with children of all ages running in and out of the place, carrying drinks, bowls of soup, cake, and slices of pizza. I was supposed to meet Kelly to eat before my book-release thing, but she was running late. So I nursed a drink on the porch and tried not to eat anything before she got here. The new plan was to go eat at a restaurant down the street.
Musicians started arriving, hauling their gear in, before the soup-servers had packed up their crockpots, creating a Grand Central-type traffic situation inside. It really stressed me out because I could do nothing to help ease the congestion. Kelly texted me to meet her at the restaurant, so I walked away from the chaos, down the street.
While I waited for her to arrive I kept thinking about what was going on at the bar. I started texting her to cancel dinner, but then she was in front of me and talked me into at least going inside for a drink. Three-quarters of the way through the first glass of rye, I started to calm down. Kelly is a good friend and knows me well. She knew to keep me away from a situation I couldn’t help. We caught up a bit, ate some delicious food, then I left to go back to the bar to set up my books.
When I walked in, I saw right away that Jerry from Tortoise Books had already laid out his entire catalogue of books in the merch nook, so there was nothing for me to do other than circulate and greet people. Not a strong-suit. A roomful of strangers is much easier to deal with than a roomful of people who want to say hello to me.
The first band started and that helped a lot. Now I could just focus on the stage. They were doing an improvised thing that I was really into. I wondered from time to time whether the rest of the people here were enjoying it, but then the sounds would drown out the doubts and questions. Every band thereafter was different than the one which came before. It was a pretty fair representation of the different kinds of music I like, but I’m pretty sure it was unfamiliar or confusing to various people as the evening wore on. Typically, bills at clubs are booked to complement one another, to appeal to one kind of audience; this was all about contrasts.
I was very gratified that so many musicians I’ve long loved agreed to help celebrate the release of my book. We sold a bunch of copies too. But it’s really difficult to enjoy events where something I’ve made is being promoted. I love making art and books, but everything about marketing the stuff is like pulling teeth.
The next afternoon, I flew to Boston. I borrowed my folks’ car in the evening and drove to Providence to interview Pete Prescott for an article. I thought I’d be there an hour, but we talked for nearly three. I’m very eager to share the interview with you in the next week or two. Pete is one of my heroes and it was a blast to shoot the shit with him like we were old friends.
Thalia Zedek put me in contact with a place in Cambridge called The Lilypad to host a Boston book-release. There were a lot of rules and restrictions in dealing with the place which I didn’t have to confront at the Hideout. The worst part was the tight window we had. Doors opened at 7pm, which was also when musicians had to load in, and we had to all be cleared out of there by 10pm, because there would be another event following. We managed the best we could.
I opened the night by introducing the musicians. When I left the stage, Thalia whispered in my ear that I had called Chris Brokaw ‘Chris Connelly’ up there. I was really embarrassed and texted an apology from across the room. His answer was a threat to play all Pigface songs. But when he got up on stage, he played Chris Brokaw songs, which I was very happy about.
The audience was an interesting mix of family friends, fans of the musicians, and young Cambridge types. I was happy to see my old friend Harry and also a woman named Heather, who’d come to my last book thing in the area, five years ago at the New England Mobile Book Fair. She showed me a cellphone photo of the painting she’d commissioned from me a couple years ago, hanging in her house. She’d added post-it note eyes to a chaotic section of it. Gotta love when people customize their art!
I was glad I could pay the musicians and that I would be going back to Chicago with a lot fewer books than arrived with, but these evenings take a lot out of me. I don’t like feeling exposed and examined in the way which is inevitable when you are the focus of an event. I much prefer being in the audience. That’s one of the main themes of my book.
Still, I wish I could learn to enjoy it a little.
—The teeth which illustrate this letter were made for this. I wrote a review of Alex Kotlowitz’s powerful new book about the effects of violence on some people in Chicago. Reviewed a good play and wrote a few sentences about some movies I saw.