Wastelander Redux -- Book Tour Part III
This section rounds out the three Wastelander’s Notebooks I had planned for now. I’ve gotten so many great emails about them—I’m glad my sketches bring you some pleasure. If you go back in the blog archive a bit, you’ll find the Wastelander train-blog, sketching my trip to Missouri at the start of the tour. That makes four, and they seem to make a really friendly small book.

Later, That Same Day

To Duke University.

“…I was born rolling.” Wallace Stegner.

Ah. American Eagle
mini-jet terror flight
thru storm cells
heading East.

In the air,
it’s like riding in a
flying Chevette
banging down
a bumpy road.


I love
how this sketching
eats up notebooks—
makes me feel like
I’m really productive, really
gettin’ the work done,
baby, cranking it out.
Some kinda bebop runs,
some kinda haibun/boogie
Tao Jones Average
bull market
word-sling. I want
to be supple. I seek
to catch it in 3 words,
a paragraph’s worth of vision:
want it fresh
& fragrant.


Long, hot, boring.
Feels like we’re flying to China.
I fell asleep: weird dreams:
naked people I didn’t know
in a building I’d never seen
talking about things
I couldn’t understand.

Perhaps the pure definition of book tour.


We drove the rental car all over
the city looking for the hotel—rushed in,
no time for anything, changed, back out,
got lost looking for the President’s Residence.

Writers, writers
everywhere. You go from being God-toad
in one little pond
to being invisible tadpole in the next. Don’t
drink whiskey, or you’ll
believe it matters. Had fun
spying on Tom Wolfe. That suit.
Those spats.
Tom Wolfe was like
an exceptionally perceptive caricature
of Tom Wolfe!

Talked with Camille Dungy. My new pal.
Met the grand Samuel Delaney
whom everyone was calling “Chip,” but
that would be like calling Moses “Moe.”
Jayne Anne Phillips:
all hair! If I had Jayne’s hair
I could be Robert Plant.
Then Cindy snagged
Tom Perrotta.
We were amused to find out that
we were both Harvard Expos vets.
My general anguish over Perrotta’s
huge success made me go look for
my drug of choice: food.
To Hell with Little Children!
Gimme some canapés!

I went to the food line, but Tom Wolfe,
the apparently inescapable icon,
wouldn’t get out of the way.
Various literary limpets and
lampreys had attached to him and were
snorting thru their noses and
slurping cocktails, hoping somebody
would snap a picture for the alumni

The chef had apparently had enough
of the Celebrated Ice Cream Suit.
And shoved him OUT OF THE WAY!
She leaned over the table and said,
“I don’t care WHO you are, SIR,
of my
I almost fell over.
Tom Wolfe,
In a scene from a
Tom Wolfe book!
It was all too meta.

Back at the hotel, I was startled
to find myself standing beside
C.K. Williams
in the elevator.
He wasn’t startled at all,
since he no doubt took me for
an assistant football coach from a jr.
high school, attending some sort of
Kiwanis convention w/ my wife,
I was too shy to say anything.
I did manage to say hello
to his wife and shake
her hand. He was ten feet tall.
As he got off, I blurted,
“You’re one of the finest poets
in the world, sir!”

He seemed very happy.


to bed.
Day Ten

Cinderella has a cold.
I dreamed I was peeing red wine.
Slumped, exhausted shower.
Out of touch with the world.
Met a book club for breakfast, and we discussed Hummingbird.
I think.
Lost in America.


Roy Blount, Jr.
was wearing overalls.

The last time I saw him was at
The Rock Bottom Remainders gig in 1994—
he was gamely withstanding the
attentions of a drunk and adoring
young woman
but the rest of us were
too busy watching Bruce Springsteen
drink beer with Stephen King
to rescue him.


Our host, Aaron Greenwald
introduced me to his mom.
She loved Hummingbird. But Aaron
confided that Devil’s Highway
is a much better book. I have no
opinion, just feelings.
It’s a strange book-
battle-royale. All my previous books
have melted into these two
and they slug it out at every step.

People tell me one is only reportage, not art,
while other people tell me the fantastic stuff is
cute, but only the reportage is important.
All I could say was:
“They’re utterly
different from each other.”
It sounded precious, no doubt.
But how do you compare
such radically different narratives
with such different agendas?
It’s beyond me. No, wait—it is me. Duh.
I’m the denominator. I’m the decider!
(And then
you meet someone who tells you that
Across the Wire is really the great book
and the others don’t much matter after
that masterpiece.) You think—
Which book was that? Did I write that?
Maybe my cousin wrote that one.
Now, blessings all around
The Atlantic has waxed (and buffed
with a shammy) poetic about By the Lake
Of Sleeping Childremn, a book I don’t
even like, and sweet people are
telling me that one’s the Urrea classic!
Wow. Or, like they say in
Mexico City: Guáu! Give thanks
for all of it. And keep rolling.
All you can do is show up for work;
try to bring good tools with you
and, every day, set to
building a solid chair.


Big laffs and hugs w/ Kaye Gibbons.
Chatted w/ Peter Guralnick for a second.
This is more fun than
A Boy Scout camporee.


We met up with Thulani Davis, my
book session partner. It was big love
as her family and my family
basked in the Duke sun.
We adjourned to the Walt Whitman
Collection room—good company, I thought.
Walt’s dusty ghost smiling in the corner.
It was a zenlike talk. We felt related.
Friendly little crowd.
Except the woman who asked the
inevitable immigrant-invasion
unwelcome alien question.
I muttered that
the Carolinas had become a
targeted zone for the undocumented,
and she yelled: “:We noticed!”

The little accountant in
my head jots a note:
One less book sale for the day.

Outside, our signing line
though jaunty and warm
was beside Pat Conroy’s.
His line was
¼ mile long.
I signed my six fans’ books
and took my wife’s hand
and sped away to

Washington D.C.


85 North—
like small mounds
of confetti.

Roadside Ruby Tuesday’s:
I order a buffalo burger
and it is becoming evident
they sent riders all the way to Wyoming to try to
shoot one and drag
it back.

Sideways sun
flings lonesome streams
of celebratory light
thru gaps in
Virginia’s pines.

VA rest area.
Everybody here
is a bad mo-fo.
Even the guy
on crutches
wants to kick
I lock in
my wife and
run the gauntlet
to drive the

Oh my God.
I am suddenly that
awful grunting old
freak in the toilet stall
that grossed me out and inspired
my derision and
my kids’ derision
for the first 49 years
of my life!


Dinwiddie, VA!

Squirrel Level Road!


Into the unearthly glow
of Washington D.C.
City not quite
on a hill: city
in a swamp.
The great Masonic
cipher of a city.
The monuments seem to be
made of light
and hope.
They cry out
in their glowing—they
shout out whatever is in our own
hearts about America.

You can’t even see
the ghetto or the
Just eerie god-light.

Zeus is living in this ‘hood,
along with Zarathustra.
The Great Architect
is having a tea party
with the Eternals.
No wonder Al Qaeda
wants it to tumble.

In the dark,
you can’t see the eye in the pyramid
floating above us all,

The gorgeous fantasy story of the USA.
Our perfect myth.
Our American novel: America itself
is the Great American novel.
We’re more than a country, aren’t we.
We’re e text.
Not yet in final draft.

How can you not be a patriot
When you see so much
Glowing, levitating

I’ll admit, I feel like a hero of the republic
when the publisher installs me in
the snazziest hotel I’ve ever seen,
and the bathroom is bigger than my bedroom.
I’m doing my part as a True American.
I tip the room service guy
like Frank Sinatra.

Tomorrow, 3,000,000 immigrants will march, & I
will try to bumble through my commentary
on CNN. I should get drunk.


[Poem on the road, thinking about the past.]

The Rules

You had to pack Ferlinghetti
In your lunch pail. You had
To know the guitar player
In Quicksilver Messenger Service
You had to burn candles
And incense and know
A 17 year old revolutionary hippie girl
Who smoked pot and had a plank
In her bedroom some stoner
Mailed her with 49 stamps
Glued to the wood
You had to hide
A Polaroid of a naked blonde
With her hands raised over her belly
As if she had just patted herself fondly
Standing there in the open air,
Blue sky/one cloud
Over her shoulder, and her thatch
Of secret hair the same color
As her head, that relic found
Cutting class and sneaking down the alley
To 7-11, only you never got there
Once you found the Polaroid angel.
You had to hide her
From your mother.
You had to listen to It’s
A Beautiful Day because
The prettiest girls you knew thought they
Were all white birds in golden cages
Just like the song
Or wanted you to believe it. You had to
Believe it.
You had to look cool
When the Bishops street boys jumped you
On your way home after school and slugged you
13 times while you thought: aint
That bad, what was I afraid of?
You had to hide a Brautigan book in your back pocket.
You had to never let the white birds know
You would give anything for a picture of them
Dressed in sky and standing before you
In forbidden midnights, and when they did,
Naked as little clouds,
You had to
Never tell.

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