David Hess

Slam Diary Extra

TUESDAY, AUGUST 10

And then went down to the Dodge Shadow, set duct tape to loose fender, forth on the choppy driveway, and I put in her a full tank of gas at the Amoco station and checked the oil of that turbo chariot, bore my duffel bag aboard her and me also, heavy with lunch ... okay enough of that. With my all-venues pass to slammapalooza, deliciously priced at $30 and a schedule of the events obtained at the goddamn National Poetry Slam website, www.poetryslam.com, I hit the highway in the early afternoon and drove north for the next six hours from St. Louis to the alleged birthplace of slammologna. Not pleasurably lost in wandering thought was I during this journey, but rather on the lookout for signs of mobile law enforcement and THE UNMISTAKABLY HOODED KKK who I heard adopted or tried to adopt a section of Interstate 55 in an absurd attempt, I guess, to create a public image of civic-mindedness. I do hope they succeed in their petitioning for a stretch of roadside for it would make it a lot easier to RUN THEM OVER. The police were on my mind at this time because I had recently been thrice pulled over within the space of one week, receiving four tickets in the process. The third time I angrily argued with the cop who, having pulled me over for not staying in my lane, then handcuffed me and had me sit ... in her car. So on this day I was driving at a slower pace not to keep within the speed limit but to better spot an officer of the stronger sex. Six hours is not a trip to the grocery store, sweet sheriff.

At 6:30 p.m. I was happily gliding by Soldier Field on Lake Shore Dr. though somewhat disappointed by not experiencing another Genet-like encounter with the phantom organ of the State. From Lake Shore Dr. I could look out onto the sparkling yacht-pocked, pier-pustuled hide of Lake Michigan and what must be one of the longest jogging, biking, and rollerblading cat walks in the world, not to mention one of THE EIGHT WONDERS OF THE MIDWEST along with its vertical equivalent, the Sears Tower, plus the St. Louis Arch, Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield, Jorie Graham’s writing desk in Iowa City, the compost machine used in Fargo, Nebraska Nellie’s Homemade Recipe Roadkill Diner, and myself, all listed here respectively in increasing importance. This visual playtime soon ceased as wrath-wreathed traffic slithered by me and I realized the turn I needed to make in order to get onto the also long and curvy yet bumpy and unfeminine Sheridan Rd. was coming up. The directions containing the details of this turn which would eventually lead me to my sister’s Evanston apartment lay on the floor of the ... passenger side. Afraid I would end up in Wisconsin if I didn’t act quickly, I lunged for them and nearly plowed into the car in front of me. You guys don’t understand what I do for poetry.

In Evanston I spotted the landmark upon which sat Laura’s apartment — a pizza place rumored to be owned by the local mafia — and parked my car across the street in a two-hour limit zone. I found the apartment thankfully empty of its Northwestern University inhabitants and any gangbanging landlords and dropped my bags in relief. But before they could hit the floor of this bachelorette pad I had already sensed that I was now surrounded by WAY TOO MUCH SARAH MCLACHLAN. The traces of a sonic odor in the air bearing the dreaded plague of tepidity, the sacred art of the lukewarm, were still strong and I didn’t have to look long to find a stack of CDs on the living room table united in a lethal testosterone-repellent combo: a virtual Sarah Mclachlan box set, the Mad About You soundtrack, some Fleetwood Mac, the City of Angels soundtrack, the Il Postino soundtrack, Ben Folds Five, Peter Gabriel, the Good Will Hunting soundtrack, that Jude guy, Ani Difranco (who I wanted to save from this jaws of death), and I could have sworn there was a pinch of Natalie Merchant, a dab of Jewel, and maybe even an irrevocable Seal or two in there as well. (Not that the current boy metal bands — with names like Tool Shed, Slap Nut, Nine Lint, Machine Foot, Groin Dust, God Stain, Assparagiz, and Hard Lettuce — are any better; in the 80s we had the white leather-and-hairspray bands whose flimsy glittering facades were first SMASHED TO SEQUINS, not by Nirvana, but by the punk-goth-glam-tribal Mariachi marching band melding that was Jane’s Addiction, and now we’ve got the multi-tattoo and body piercings bands who have yet to meet their imminent exposure in the ash bin limelight of unoriginal song lyrics and chord changes). I staggered around in the midst of this wilting pastel horror cursing myself for not bringing with me some pop music immunity shots, some Bad Brains or Black Sabbath or Nashville Pussy, while futilely trying to keep Mclachlan out of my head: "I don’t know how to let you go / a glowing ember burning hot / burning slow / deep within I’m shaken by the violence / of existing for only you." I couldn’t help but wonder if these lines were addressed to her helpless fans. The onslaught advanced with inevitable self-referentiality: "We fell asleep and began to dream when / something broke the night / memories stirred inside of us / the struggle and the fight / and we could feel the heat of a / thousand voices telling us which way to go / and we cried out there is no / escape from the words that plague us so." Having brought with me just an electric shaver I was forced to begin gnawing at my shrieking apoplectic wrists: "Sunday is gloomy / my hours are slumberless / dearest, the shadows I live with are numberless / little white flowers will never awaken you // Not where the black coach of sorrow has taken you / angels have no thought of ever returning you / would they be angry if I thought of joining you / Gloomy Sunday." Oh fuck, little white flowers won’t ever be my alarm clocks! My calls for salvation continued to put on hold by A MACHINE GUNFIRE OF LYRICAL BUSY SIGNALS: "And into the fire / I’m reunited / into the fire / I am the spark / into the fire / I yearn for comfort." I felt my ears being doused with gasoline when suddenly the match was struck and I was asked to do the unthinkable: "I will remember you / will you remember me? / Don’t let life pass you by / weep not for the memories // I’m so tired but I can’t sleep / standing on the edge of something much too deep / it’s funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word / we are screaming inside, but can’t be heard." My last hope for a crucifix to shield me from these Satanic verses was to hum an AC/DC hymn I remembered from grade school: "Dizzy, drunk, and fightin’ / on tequila white lightnin’ / my glass is getting shorter / on whiskey, ice and water / so come on have a good time / and get blinded out of your mind / and don’t worry about tomorrow, take it today / and forget about the check / we’ll get hell to pay!" Getting blinded out of one’s mind must be Australian slang for de-Mclachlanization.

Aural respite was followed by optical ambush. Hanging on the living room room wall above the couch for TV-going, like a middle class twentysomething’s coat-of-arms, was the obligatory poster of such university residences: Van Gogh’s Irises. This was immediately topped by my sighting in one of the roommate’s caves of the even more hideously obligatory MONA LISA OF COLLEGE CAMPUSES, THE TERRITORIAL MARKER FOR FEMALE-OCCUPIED DORM ROOMS: that aura-farting Robert Doisneau picture of two lip-locked Frenchies in the middle of a crowd (Le Baiser de L’Hotel De Ville, Paris 1950 if you must know). On the floor a sediment of ultra-chic clothes and ultra-funky shoes, throws and shawls (probably Pashmina), books such as Beloved and Improve Your Vocabulary, Snuggle dryer sheets and old unopened mail (checks), birth control pills and stuffed animals heavily represented by the Coca Cola Polar Bears, little colored candles and little ceramic bowls of change (one for each type of coin), computer parts and laminated particle board for a semi-constructed office desk organizer, all (I forgot to mention the Stephen King audio tapes and THOSE POINTLESS SILVER ZEN BALLS you’re supposed to swirl around in your hands) had accumulated to the point that it seemed only an archaeological dig would be able to exhume the remains. Floating like virginal buoys on the surface of this fossilized lake of fashion, some expensive arty journals of various sizes — with their receipts from Barnes & Noble and Borders still in them — lay wide open, each with no more than one diary entry filled in. These singular private memos were accompanied by a divorced couple of subpar Rorschach blot-esque doodles scribbled, one could easily detect, during lapses in diplomatic telephone relations with an ex-b(u)oyfriend.

The next roommate’s cell was no different than the previous one except that it was neat, too neat. Porta-cubby-Yaffa blocks dominated the horizon organizing just about everything in sight. I hallucinated that some sweaters were beating against their stuffed quarters, wrinkling for freedom. Over the back of the closet door pairs of shoes dangled from clear plastic shoe holder nooses. Time was lynched with a Georgia O’Keefe calendar as a Degas poster of a woman brushing her hair spread its dandruff of taste everywhere. The whole place was CRAWLING WITH BOSCHIAN DOODADS, tiny puppets with tacks through their innocent hearts, movable dancing figurines with nothing but a bit of shelf for a stage, floral fabric address books and gold-framed collages from friends from camp and school, an armada of post-its in flying formation on the wall radio-piloted by a tape dispenser-ruler-scissors-paper clip office supply wheel spinning jenny command center on the desk. Also on the wall were a series of black-and-white photographs taken of the roommate gripping mud ecstatically while on a summer vacation in a rural part of an unidentifiable foreign country where one can both get back to nature and experience what poverty is like at the same time. Looking lower to the ground I was overcome by a most Nietzschean anguish and fell upon my knees to embrace a teddy bear who had torn off its own limbs and was now fixing its unchangeable stare on the trash bag conveniently secured around the exit door handle as if to say, "Please get me the hell out of here." In the corner a fuzzy cow appeared drugged from an overdose of sublimated affection. This diagnosis was corroborated by what teemed under THE CINDER BLOCK-STILLETTO HEELED BED: a pile of cold medicine and senile condoms straitjacketed in their lubricated diapers, and a cache of giant-sized maxipads circa 1980 guarded by a pink light saber curling iron. Reclining, or rather hovering, atop the mattress was the most surreal family photo I’d ever seen. Each family member was in the position of a suspended leap, their expressions levitating in some sort of anti-grav-reality chamber, their orgasmic smiles promising never to come down.

Back in the living room I took inventory of the video library and was promptly scalded by its asymptotic push to the boiling point of predictability: Pretty Woman, Braveheart, a Tae-Bo workout tape, You’ve Got Mail, Far and Away, the Star Wars trilogy, a Cindy Crawford workout tape, The Godfather trilogy, The Graduate, Lost in Space, Sphere, Scream 1 and 2, Dr. Doolittle, I Know What You Did Last Summer and too many others to give my valuable time to list. In the kitchen I caught the refrigerator door trying to shake its lifeless image with a Saturday Night Live magnet, a Mr. Rogers magnet, and a few magnets of those now unemployed homeless alcoholic Coca Cola Polar Bears. On the kitchen table lay a stack of subscriptions destined to be flipped through while in the act of throwing them out. Time, Discover, New York, and Vogue painted A STATIONARY ORGY of meaninglessness but all were outnumbered by enough Victoria’s Secret catalogues to last a seventeen year-old slammochondriac for a lifetime. During all this back-breaking snooping I had forgotten about the two-hour limit zone in which I had docked my slamship. I decided to flee to a health food store in order to stock up for the coming slammerobic slammarathon. The store was called Whole Foods (instead of Inadequate Produce) and as I drove up a ramp to the heli-padish roof garage I was amazed by the all green exterior, which at any moment might transform itself into a red carpet for a chopper cradling some exec who just had to have an aromatherapy-While U Wait-shoeshine of the mind before his big meeting with the Research & Development team working on more opiates for the asses: a breakthrough dart board-acupuncture play set for the health-conscious child and/or frat house and, hitchhiking on the fad of antidepressants for pets, a fertilizer spray laced with Prozac, a must-have for every gardening enthusiast with dejected, down-in-the-dumps plants. For a second there I was convinced there really was such a thing as ALL-NATURAL ASPHALT. And like every Occupational Health Building I’d ever seen — they’re the same as all the others! — this supermarket of organic rip-offs was full of hidden dangers (like the dumbfounding OatsCream, a non-dairy ice cream made only from oats — would horses eat this?) and labyrinthine promises bound to be broken or your money back. Afraid I was going to bump into a free prostate massage in progress — God knows I could use one though, I’m getting tired of doing it myself — or a night class on how to twirl those imperishable silver Zen balls in your hand to stimulate one’s retirement plan gland, I quickly grabbed my gluten-free items and marched to a check-out lane and right into an argument between a clerk and a customer who claimed that the clerk didn’t run her discount card through. Stressed out from this display of unhealthy slammeritus, I turned back for some B-complex vitamins, a kelp colada, and a STRAWBERRY-FLAVORED MULCH AND VANILLA SOD smoothie, taking a pass on the colonic cleanser car wash. After discovering a new parking space in a lot behind the apartment building (free at night until an undefined hour in the morning), I returned to the slammatorium and, before going to sleep, sat down for some bedtime reading and a little TV. I made my literary choice from the living room bookcase, pulling down one of those wonderful cartoon-laden "For Beginners" studies on famous philosophers, which was, in my case, the COMFY BLANKET OF DRAFT-FRIENDLY FOUCAULT (FULL OF HOLES). There’s a branch of philosophy called ‘Eau de Cardboard’ which shares a lot with the ‘Musique de Burlap’ otherwise known as Mclachlan: "I would have preferred to be enveloped in words, borne way beyond all possible beginnings. At the moment of speaking, I would like to have perceived a nameless voice, long preceding me, leaving me merely to enmesh myself in it, taking up its cadence, and to lodge myself, when no one was looking, in its interstices as if it had paused an instant, in suspense, to beckon to me" (Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, 215). Sorry to rain on your armchair, Michel, but the little white flowers of discourse will never awaken or save you. On TV the late-breaking news reminded me of why I’ve grown tired of facile, tedious theorizing and extended metaphysical jam sessions and more fond of screaming.

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