October 16, 2009

On Wednesday afternoon, we are doing a meet-and-greet at Mayhem Comics, which is across the street from Iowa State’s campus. Rob, the owner, is just about the coolest guy, a jovial sort who greets each and every person when they come in and waves them over in the direction of our table. If they’re a regular, he presents them with a stack of the titles he knows they came in for. He and a customer kibbitz about a local news stations where they both used to work: which on-camera personalities used to be a BITCH when they didn’t get their coffee, which newscasts around here have shitty lighting, etc. We end up discussing MST3K, or as he fondly calls it, “Misty.” I love it and so does just about everyone else I know but from the way Rob talks about it I get the feeling that it’s this whole other thing in the Midwest, this home-grown (Twin Cities, anyway) institution. Rob says he enjoys RiffTrax but it’s just not the same. He still holds out hope they’ll get back together and do something as Mike and the bots again someday. I say how much I loved the home-made feel of it, and how it always reminds me of my relatives from the Twin Cities and Iowa, and their sense of humor. He credits Midwestern humor to the long, cold winters: you have to laugh about stuff or you’ll go crazy, he says.

Rob reminisces over when they were shooting “Twister” here in town. He says Cary Elwes would tear the shrinkwrap off trade paperbacks and then not buy them. When he finally did buy something, he paid with a one-hundred dollar bill and then smirked at Rob as though Rob had never seen a one-hundred dollar bill before. After telling a lot of people about the movie, including a friendly Iowa State alumni who tells us about the annual Star Trek convention that’s held in the non-fictional hometown of the fictional James T. Kirk, we get in the rental car and head for Iowa City.

On the road, we see signs for a town called “Brooklyn.” We see signs for a town called “Deep Chair.” The crappy rental car is emitting a high-pitched whine and it’s tough to tell exactly where it’s coming from. I pound on the paper-thin passenger door. I grab the knob that controls the non-power window and I pull up, really hard. That stops the whine: the window, crafted with the same attention to detail as the rest of our Chevy Aveo, has a natural resting position of just a teeny tiny microscopic bit open.

In front of us for a long time are three dump trucks. On their tailgates, big signs: “Do Not Follow Into Work Area.” I am happy these signs are there, because I often become transfixed by the entrancing femininity of heavy construction equipment and follow it, like a cartoon character made to float four feet off the ground by a delicious smell, into a gravel pit.

We pass signs for a town called Williamsburg, Iowa! The borough of Brooklyn is straight-up biting Iowa! I half-expect to pass a town called Marcy Projects.

We are going to plug our movie at a screening of “Food, Inc” on Iowa University’s campus. We kill time in the student center beforehand. The wall has four TVs tuned to different channels, in case you want to feel like a low-stakes supervillain. The student center is mostly modern and clean but as I’m going to the bathroom I turn left and discover a hallway that betrays the building’s origins as a brick and mortar capital-A Academic building from the fifties or sixties. I am a sucker for buildings like this. I went to college at the wrong kind of college to spend a lot of time in them, and about fifty years too early. I am sure renovations to give your building flatscreen televisions and brand new multicolored Starbucksesque lighting is very impressive to your alumni donors, but me, I say if it’s gonna be tacky one way or the other (and it will be) better it be old and cool and tacky than new and slick and tacky.

We check into our hotel, whose slick modernism I appreciate because I will have to sleep in it. We eat dinner at a place called The Mill, which is more of a bar with food than it is a restaurant, and it’s just charming as hell. It’s wood-paneled and homey and bands are playing in the back. We’re seated out on the balcony. I ask the waitress what’s good, because she’s wearing a “The Warriors” t-shirt and can clearly be trusted, and she tells us the famous egg sandwich is back on the menu. I look, and it is. The cute menu description says that one of the egg sandwich’s ingredients is “imagination.” I clearly have to order it, so I do. Its fame is well-deserved. It’s delicious.

We overhear hipstery Iowa City chicks talking with our waitress and another waitress, while chain-smoking: “Chris (last name) applied here! Hire hiiiiiim! He’s a rad dude. He’s in (name of band) with (name of other guy in band).” At a table next to us, which to me seems like a table full of grad-student teaching assistants, even though I have no real evidence to support this, a guy is holdin’ court. As a guy who likes to hold court, I have to say: I hate me a holdin’-court-ass motherfucker. There is no real reason for this. Just, something about a smarmy dude with too-loud too-cool-for-school opinions makes my brain throb unpleasantly.

“How many times have you seen ‘The Exorcist?’” the dude asks one of his tablemates. “Is it hilarious yet?” I want to stand up and demand to see samples of his prose, like an SS officer would demand to see someone’s papers. I want to look it up and down and cluck my tongue and say, “Just as I thought. Trite and overwritten. Be on your way, sir. I will be flirting with your companions this evening.” It is unfair of me to assume he writes and it is also unfair of me to assume that what he writes sucks. I’m not a macho jock asshole about many things, just the things, like writing and mix CDs, that one doesn’t usually associate with macho jock assholery.

This testosterone will be useful later because after dinner I have to get in the rental car and drive back to Ames. I will be doing a Q&A at Iowa State on Thursday while Dom stays in Iowa City and does plugs at more student-center screenings. It’s a ninety-minute drive. The road is dark and nearly empty. I put in “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” and, I don’t know, it must be genetic: I get behind the wheel, and I get out on the highway, and suddenly all I want to do is watch that GPS estimated time of arrival get earlier and earlier. I don’t want to stop and pee. I want to make good time, whatever that means. Suddenly, I am the protagonist of every song on this album.

I pass a giant farm-equipment store. Tractors are suspended and lit from below. There’s an array of the same model of tractor in five or six different sizes, stacked one on top of the other, this profound, gigantic modern-art installation. They seem to be acknowledging the ridiculous size and power of the things they sell. If you’re a farm kid, and it’s time for your dad to buy a new piece of equipment, like a tractor or something, you must be PSYCHED! Lots of kids like trains and construction equipment, but not a lot of kids ever get to accompany their dad on a Sunday trip to buy an actual metal monster. (On the other hand, if you didn’t take after your farmer dad, and you were bored by the whole thing, it would probably be like being dragged to the hardware store times a million.)

I make EXCELLENT time. Back in Ames, I stop by the twenty-four-hour Walmart with intentions of buying toiletries and a few other things, most importantly, “Born To Run” on CD, because I have never owned it or heard it all the way through, and I will have to drive back to Iowa City at some point. In the electronics section, a large kid plays Madden on one of the display TVs, with a gallon of orange juice at his feet. Three buddies, who feel like they live in the same dorm hallway at ISU, peruse HDTVs. I know this trip. I know this trip immediately. This is the let’s-accompany-our-buddy-while-he-buys-audiovisual-equipment trip. This is one of our greatest rituals. In this way, when one of our friends gets a big TV, we all sort of get a big TV. In earlier times, we would accompany our buddy when he went to buy a new coal-stove. “Don’t get that one,” we would scold him. “It has a shitty flames-to-wrought-iron-grate ratio.”

I grab “Born To Run.” I also grab “Blueprint 3,” which I somehow haven’t yet heard all the way through. The woman at the check-out responds positively to “Born To Run.” “I know,” I say, “I don’t own it.”

“I don’t own it either,” she says, “I just know he has a cute butt.”

I get back in the car. “Born To Run” I’ll save for my trip back to Iowa City. I unwrap “Blueprint 3” and put it in. A minute into the first song, before I’m even out of the parking lot, I know I have made a grievous rookie mistake. The album is edited. All the swear words have been removed or replaced. This is why you do not buy seminal rap artists’ new works at Wal-Mart. This is why, if you have to go to Wal-Mart, you grab your orange juice and you let it get warm at your feet while you play football video games by yourself ,and then you get the hell out of there, and you don’t get fancy, no sir.

Posted by DC at October 16, 2009 10:01 PM

This one hurts. For I do love to hold me some court from time to time.

Posted by: Nick Packard

oh heavens. as a born-and-raised midwesterner from a town where the only music-buying option was wal-mart, i let out a little squeak of horror when you picked up "blueprint 3." i'm sorry the checkout gal didn't warn you of the impending regret.

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