Going Back to Moorli, Redux

ANOTHER great thing that happened in Mooreland was that Beth and I went out to visit her mother, Judy, who was one of the kind people responsible for keeping me fed as a child.  Judy was having a fiesta party that involved ‘Mexican’ food and ‘margaritas.’  They were (I heard) the strongest margaritas this side of Tijuana, and you know which part of Tijuana I’m talking about.  But I shall say no more about this delightful party, because as Snoop said, what happens a mile outside Mooreland, in the dead of the countryside, stays there.

Judy had a present for me!  It turns out she took photographs of my second birthday party (I didn’t even know I’d ever HAD a birthday party) and she had found them.  Oh, what a joy it was for me to remember – vaguely – how much fun we had!  Bethy’s parents were always very good to me, as you shall see.

Judy had this picture of me, at eight months old:

Look how much I’ve grown by my birthday party!:

I call this one Meta-Zip, as I am playing with a Zippy monkey who is WEARING a Zippy sweatshirt, whilst also holding a Zippy hand-puppet.  It’s a little creepy, honestly.

There are many stories about me and my bicycle.  I could write a book. 

This is me enjoying my bedroom.  Ha ha!!!  My bedroom was never that clean!  This is Bethy’s room.  Also hilarious:  that picture Beth has called ‘Zippy Goes To School.’  I missed so much school I barely passed every grade.  School was for other monkeys.

One thing that happened when I was little was that Beth tricked me into sticking persimmon flowers up my nose.  I accidentally inhaled and they went all the way up into my brain.  I knew my mom would NOT like me to have inserted the flowers, as one of her only rules of LIFE ITSELF was not to put things up one’s nose.  Which I had done.  So I tried to vacuum them out.  A terrible failure.  At any rate, here is the vacuum that would years later leave dirt and cat hair all over my face, while leaving the flowers exactly where they were.  Beth never did ANYTHING wrong as a child, so I am very fond of this story.

One of my best gifts was this bugle.  It came from someone named John.  I’ve never heard of him before.  At any rate, in this photograph I am giving it my best toot and really getting the hang of it.  HA HA!  Like I could play an instrument!  At that age I was still flinging poo.

Judy had a letter from ‘John’ that indicates what really happened.  Sad.

Anyway, thank you, Judy!  Arriba!

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Published in: on May 30, 2008 at 3:00 pm  Comments (4)  

Going back to Moorli

So I’ve come back to Mooreland, Indiana, the place of my birth and of my rearing up and of my lying down.  Also just lying, which I did a lot of as a child.  Oh, I lied about all kinds of things.  One of my favorite things was to watch The Andy Griffith Show (ceaselessly) and then in the evening lie to my father about the plot.  I have said in many interviews that I used to copy Ray Bradbury’s short stories out in my own handwriting and then present them to my mother as if I’d just written them.  Sometimes I was paid to lie (like James Frey).  Once when Melinda was babysitting me I was supposed to sit in front of my plate until I ate my spinach, even if it took all night – those were my father’s words – even though he and my mother were just driving to New Castle to the grocery store.  Melinda said OH HELL YES (except for the swearing which she, dear blessed precious lamb of God none of us would have ever sworn in front of our father; even suggesting so now has caused me to tremble like Muhammed Ali – but that’s what she MEANT), because forcing me to suffer in any way was Melinda’s greatest joy in life.  It was her greatest joy.  That, and making long beautiful chain necklaces out of the wrappers from Juicy Fruit and Fruit Striped gum.  I should point out here that Melinda and I might be said to be equally stubborn.  If stubborn could be represented by n, our mathematical equation would look like this: n = n.

So there I sat, in front of my horrible spinach, and of course I would have died – and I mean I would have quite literally died – before eating it, when who should show up but a group of Melinda’s friends, one of whom was named Rusty Enix.  (Not his real name.)  (It’s his real name.)  Now I happen to believe that Rusty Enix is the hottest name on PLANET EARTH, and he, as it happened, was equally hot, and everyone had come by to see if Lindy wanted to go swimming in the gravel pit.  She said to me, “I’ll make a deal with you.  If you don’t tell Mom and Dad I went swimming with Rusty Enix [ed note:  not his real name] I won’t make you eat that spinach.”  I was all like DONE.  Mom and Dad came home, Melinda was back, her hair in a towel.  Dad asked if she’d made me eat the spinach and she said, “I absolutely did.”  And I made a MEAN face like I was so mad at her.  Win/win/win.

I came back to Indiana to try to force my sister to help me make a new quilt.  Hasn’t worked so far.  Mostly I came back to visit my oldest and dearest friend, Beth, who has been my best friend for nigh on 39 years.  That isn’t an error.  We have been have been friends for almost THIRTY-NINE YEARS, without interruption.  We’ve never taken a break, we’ve never had a bad fight (we haven’t had an ugly disagreement since we were about ten years old), indeed, we have not spoken unkindly to one another since the fourth grade.  This is all because Beth is an insanely superior human being (oh seriously, I know what you’re thinking – it would take a freakin’ SAINT to be friends with me that long).  She’s smarter than I am, she’s a better writer, she’s a better mother, she’s been married to the same man, John, for twenty years.  Her house is immaculate, she sings like an angel, she’s physically beautiful, she adores her parents and treats them with great respect, she loves and respects and is loyal to her in-laws.  She even loves and is flawlessly kind to one of her two cats, Pandora, who is, forgive me, Beth, a lovely sweet cat who should be taxidermied.  Pandora walks around meowing.  She walks around meowing and meowing and meowing, and sometimes the reason is discernible and sometimes it is not.  I shall close the curtain on Pandora now.

I also consider her husband, John, to be one of my closest friends, whether he likes it not.  John runs a television station, but he was also one of the final candidates for the Assistant Dean of the College of Communications at Ball State, which is a very big deal as that is where David Letterman endowed a huge building and a bunch of other stuff.  John was a David Letterman scholar and went to China when he was like twelve.  That’s a lie. Not the scholar or China part, the twelve.  He was a columnist for the Ball State Daily News (an award-winning college newspaper) (true!), and he was so good Beth used to cut his columns out and hang them on her refrigerator.  This was before she’d ever met him and she had shall we say some other boyfriends.  She was single, people, don’t be such dried up little aunties.  I used to see the columns on her refrigerator and say, “You have a crush on him,” and she would say, “Oh, I do not.  I just like how he writes.”  She said this to me on a particular day when she had made a pizza so terrible we decided to shellac it and use it as a centerpiece for her kitchen table.  She TOTALLY had a crush on him.  When they finally met they got married in oh I don’t know, seventeen minutes, and during those seventeen minutes no one could reach her because they were very very busy. (They both had jobs.)  I love so many things about John.  He makes me laugh harder than almost anyone in the world, always at his expense.  He is a damn good husband to my best friend, and that means the world to me.  He’s such a good father that my daughter listed him among the best fathers she’d ever known, and he all but raised her.

Here’s a good story!  After they got married, and here I am bringing us back to spinach again, like a writer! – Bethy strained a can of spinach into a pan and then she drank the juice left in the can.  John watched her do it and said, “You’re pregnant.”  AND SHE WAS!  And that turned out to be their daughter Sarah, my beloved Sarry Berry.  I won’t blog about her because it’s not cool to blog about anybody’s kids.  But suffice it to say that have mercy I love that child, and their son, Daniel, who was born only three months before mine own perfect Kat.  Those two children?  Well, and Beth and John themselves?  Suffice it to say I would take a bullet for them.  I would take four.

So I’m here visiting them and Beth gave me a box of fab presents (she always gives me fab presents) and one of them was a key to their house which made me cry and cry.  My eyes are filled with tears right now, thinking of it.  Because when I come to Indiana I don’t really have anyplace to stay and that can break my heart if I think about it, and Beth and John figured that out and they gave me a key and, well.  You see.

But one of the best things about John?  He writes screenplays and they get made into movies – he’s made like 15 or 17 or something – and he never makes a big deal out of it and he hardly ever mentions it.  Sometimes he’s dismissive because they’re b-level horror films (some of them) but I just can’t think of anything more tremendous.  I meet people all the time who are ‘working on a screenplay,’ and they’ve been working on it for five years.  Or they’ve got a screenplay in their ‘heads,’ just WAITIN TO PUT IT ON THE OLD PAPER.  Not John Dalton, my friends.  He goes out and makes himself the talkies.  This causes me to puff up with pride like a poisonous fish.  Or like a fat person, which I am gradually becoming.  GO ONLINE RIGHT NOW AND ORDER HIS FILMS.  If you only order one, make it SEX MACHINE, which is a Frankenstein film like nothing I have ever seen.  In fact, I have never seen all of it because it scares the CRAP out of me.  But don’t let that stop you!  Seriously.

Beth is the same way.  She doesn’t all boondoggle with the yackety-yackety about ‘going to write a novel,’ or ‘thinking about a short story,’ SHE HAS WRITTEN LIKE 429 NOVELS.  She goes to workshops, she goes to conferences, she gets better and better and better, and the first time I see one of her books in print I am going to hire a marching band, a zeppelin (AND THEN I WILL SET THE ZEPPELIN ON FIRE), Shriners in their little cars, midget horses, a demolition derby, George Clooney, and a group of Aztecs.  The remaining Aztec peoples are just tremendously gorgeous.  Oh Beth has written short stories and essays that are so sublime, so perfectly wrought, I finish them and think I should just never write again.  I should hang up the keys to my barnhole.  AND?  She teaches 800 million undergraduates all year – REALLY REALLY WELL, I might add – and I showed up here with my new horror novel and she read it in two days and she marked nearly every page and gave me brilliant advice.  I haven’t even gone through the manuscript yet, and the two or three things she’s already said to me will change the book so much for the better.

And remember how the Greek gods considered the highest calling hospitality?  Beth and John would be immortalized on Olympus.

***

I’m traveling with Scott, who is a way fine road trip companion.  Except sometimes we fight like HYENAS.  Sometimes he just gets me GOING.  I have to yell at him.  I am given no option.  Then he defends himself and I apologize but accidentally laugh while I’m apologizing because let’s face it, he can be REALLY SILLY and in the case of yesterday he deserved to be yelled at because he was all like, This is the road we came down, and I was all like SCOTT!  That was the way we came down when we were going somewhere else, not to FARMLAND where BETH AND JOHN LIVE!  He said I had hurt his feelings, so I apologized but accidentally laughed.  He’s just so adorable.  He’s been riding John’s bicycle all over the place and has become the Honorary Mayor of Farmland!  I’m so proud of him.  Then today he had an accident and scraped his arm, and I am thoroughly heartbroken over his wound, the precious thing.

***

My old hometown, what a bright and shining star she remains.  There are just a few things that confuse me.  Like the signs that welcome one from the three cardinal directions (the park, the cemetery, the other one), all say the same thing:   MOORELAND, Incorporated 1882.  Home Of The Former Bobcats.  If I were the boss of Mooreland, I simply would not continue advertising what happened to the Bobcats.  Like here’s an example.  This man, John MacMullen, used to a bobcat and then one day he woke up and he had a PhD in some weird medical librarian thing and he lived in CHAMPAGNE-URBANA, ILLINOIS, a city named after ALCOHOL.  Here’s evidence:

I used to be a bobcat.  Here’s a photograph from that time:

I was so hot then.  EVERYONE wanted to date me, wanted to rub my paws, wanted me to catch the rats in their barn.  And then one day I woke up and decided to spend all my time in my pajamas and my cowboy boot slippers, and where had the fur in my ears gone?  I mean my FORMER EAR HAIR.

Then there’s this.  In Mooreland they actually advertise Slow Children At Play.  Now my sister swears that after I moved there was no need for that sign anymore, but LOOK!

They used me as the model for this sign.  The likeness is rather chilling.

Of course all towns change, and as Snoop Dogg said, you can never go home again.  Well, you can go.  My elementary school has long since been torn down but the little trailer that housed my fourth grade classroom is still there.  I decided to peek inside, and god help me.  God help us all; for the first and I hope last time, I realized this was a case where the living must envy the dead.

Heading back to Durham tomorrow.  Scott believes I need a bicycle.  I was like, dude, back when I was a bobcat?  I had a bicycle.  I had tufts of hair coming out of my ears that would have made a robot weep.

Published in: on May 26, 2008 at 9:03 pm  Comments (4)  

Election update

As many of you may have heard by now, Barack Obama beat the sweet creeping savior out of Hillary Clinton in the North Carolina primary, held earlier this month.  He did so for the following reasons:

1.  My children and I wore Obama shirts for weeks leading up to the race.  My neighbors began to look at me strangely.  Although I rarely leave my barn, each time I did, Durham was FORCED to accept that they would be voting one way and one way only, or I would be getting in touch with a little certain someone called ‘James Frey.’

That’s pretty much how it went down.  Oh, I could say some other things about how when he speaks he can look perfectly authoritative and then something happens and he SMILES and I mean the man SMILES and if that isn’t a Presidential trait then who the hell wants to go on living, I mean seriously.  He also has large, attractive hands.

Here is a photograph of my youngest, Augusten the Smaller, meeting Obama at a rally the day of the election.  One surprising thing about Obama, when you meet him up close, is that is hair is longer than it looks on television, and he is fetching in a white shift.

 

Published in: on May 23, 2008 at 5:20 am  Comments (1)  

Straight Outta Compton

Some of you may have heard of a writer named James Frey.  He wrote a memoir about how he was such an insane violent criminal he made Tony Soprano look like Peace Pilgrim.  Oh man he was a badass – he was like the Suge Knight of white boys.  SO MANY THINGS touched people in that book, like how he became a Cherokee drug-mule for the Crips, and of course that made him an alcoholic and crack addict and I don’t what all, he was probably addicted to that crazy tea even, because it is HARD to be the only Cherokee left in Michigan, and as I understand the way one transports drugs for the Crips is also not pleasant.  Then he went to prison where he read Dostevsky with his cellmate for, like, YEARS, which makes sense because Dostevsky isn’t easy.  (His cellmate wasn’t ‘like that.’  No American History X for Running Bear Frey.)  He even got this SUPER BADASS tattoo (just the initials) that reads:  CTBSITTTD.  Even looking at those letters makes me frightened.  If I remember correctly the letters stand for Cut The Bullshit It’s Time To Throw Down.  Now the first half is REALLY good advice, particularly for a memoirist, but the second part confuses me, as I’m not sure what I’m supposed to throw down.  I’ve been using the really bouncy balls you get in machines at grocery stores, and they’re effective.

 

Now Frey has written a novel (which means it isn’t supposed to be ‘true,’ so much) and boy oh boy is it supposed to be GOOD.  The New York Times review was all like JEBUS what a sober amazing awesome genius dude.  But don’t think just because he is once again being treated like someone who can actually write publishable books (even after those first two) that he isn’t still the Normal Mailer/Kerouacky/Mike Tyson ear-biter of his generation.  Because Frey is on a book tour, and anyone who reads author’s blogs or attends a reading periodically knows what a book tour is like.  It’s like a trip to grandma’s really nice hotel, and then a crowd of six at a bookstore, and then an airplane, only you have 22 grandmothers and you have to visit another one every day.  BUT NOT MON FREY.  Because once you’re a Crip you don’t ever get out, and also he’s just too terrifying and awesome for a ‘book tour.’  Instead he’s appearing at rock venues, including the Whiskey A Go Go in L.A. (I hope with Motley Crue!) and at the Blender Theater in New York, and Slim’s in San Francisco.  He will enter the venues flanked by bodyguards, the Secret Service, and the Texas Rangers.  Oh and those Canadian Mounties who dress so smartly, AND they’ll be on horseback.  He will be surrounded by hyenas.  But seriously?  His security will be handled by the Hell’s Angels, the same organization that stabbed a fan to death at a Rolling Stones concert in 1969.  HEAVENS!  I’m not suggesting Frey hopes one of his Hells Angels KILLS someone, because that would be publicity.  I mean, god, that would be ART.  

 

Frey’s marketing genius got me thinking:  Why, I – Haven Kimmel – I am not safe at readings!  I have a book tour coming up for IODINE and there are people who walk right up to me to say they too grew up in small towns.  Right up to me.  They ask me to sign their books.  They talk about farm life.  Obviously the template for public appearances has changed, and I’m following suit.  For one thing, I will no longer wear long sleeves and cover up my own tattoo:  PHSUINNT.  (Please Hush Up It’s Nigh-Nights Time.)  I decided to have my security handled by guerilla groups – you know, eco-terrorists, and the people who are VERY angry about the parking problem at Whole Foods – but I couldn’t find any who weren’t busy on my tour dates.  So then I thought, I’m going for real gorillas.  I found a group living in a secret enclave in the Duke Gardens and I approached their leader, Frances.  (Not his real name.  Okay, his real name is Frances.)  He wouldn’t allow me to photograph his entire pod (the scientific name for a band of gorillas) but he would let me take a single photograph of him.  He is an enormous animal, one of the most intimidating creatures I’ve met since I once stepped on an elevator with the entire Boston Celtics basketball team.  (True story.  What was my gracious, unthinking response?  “Who ARE you people?”)  Frances and the rest of his alpha males will be accompanying me to my readings, so if you’re allergic to the higher primates, please take an antihistamine.  I will also be armed, and my readings will be followed by musical acts so nihilistic they have no names and you will not be able to actually see them.  There will be large screens behind me (I’ll have to double-check with Tom Campbell at The Regulator in Durham about that), showing scenes of small animals being beheaded.  Afterward you may buy prints (or the heads themselves) for $150.  

Here is the photograph of Frances. 

I included the bottle of Grey Goose for scale.  Consider this a fair warning:  You’ve seen him, you know what he is, you know what I am.  Either suck it up and come buy a book, or PHSUINNT.

 

Published in: on May 20, 2008 at 4:07 pm  Comments (1)  

Abbey Road

I have a new novel coming out in early August called Iodine.  Now one of the things that sometimes happens with novels is that people go in to recording studios and read them out loud, so the book can be ‘heard’ rather than ‘read.’  Sometimes the author is even asked to do this work herself, as a way of showing that the author CAN read aloud.  I, for instance, learned to do so at around age sixteen.

I had already recorded two of my own books, A Girl Named Zippy (about my years as an African missionary) and She Got Up Off The Couch (about a man who left his girlfriend on the sofa for so long her legs grew to the fabric), so I knew the process.  The process is hell, the process is akin to having one’s spine pulled out through one’s buttocks.  You are forced to sit in a little room (and the air conditioning has to be turned off because even the slightest hum is picked up by the $2 billion microphones) in a straight-back chair and you cannot move a muscle, and you must read every word perfectly and with exactly the right inflection.  This often means reading the same sentence fifty or sixty times.  And here’s something you maybe don’t know:  the human body CEASELESSLY makes noise!  It’s true.  The stomach gurgles, the esophagus has small clicking mechanisms, nose hairs act as little violin strings.  The best part — oh, and I mean by far — is that your actual human mouth never shuts up either.  Your tongue makes noise, your teeth click, there’s a phenomenon called ‘mouth sparkle,’ and it isn’t adorable like a pony, either.  

When I recorded Couch something was broken in my stomach gurgle pit and I had to sit with pillows propped in front of me to try to hide the sound.  They didn’t work.  That brings me to the next best part of the process, which is the engineer at Osceola Studios in Raleigh, Dick Hodgin. Dick soon realized that I would read a section, he would speak into my earphones and tell me he had heard my stomach, I would curse as if I had Tourettes, and all of it was being recorded.  After I left in the evening he would take my choicest swears and record them on a loop, like a hip-hop sample.  On one particular day I said, “!?X$%# DIck!  I’m unbuttoning my pants!”  That little hook was charming.  Here’s a picture of Dick, so you can see what I was up against:

That thing he’s holding fires .50 caliber bullets, but he only uses it if absolutely necessary.  Dick not only tortures me during the most vulnerable moments of my life (those moments being when I am trying to read out loud), he once stole a perfect little beautiful baby and put her in a Christmas dress and pretended she was his:

The police quickly resolved that issue.  

Iodine, by the way, is a thriller about a woman who falls down a flight of stairs, badly scraping her knee, and cannot decide which infectant to use on the cut.  I warn you ahead of time, there are some graphic scenes involving cotton balls.

Oh, one last thing.  On my final day there, Dick threatened me with a rabid weasel he had been keeping in his back yard for just that occasion:

Published in: on May 17, 2008 at 4:12 pm  Comments (5)