I drove into this small, historical movie-set of an American town on Thursday morning, unable to comprehend that the stone-paved traffic circle enclosing a huge, burbling marble fountain was R.E.A.L. I found a coffee shop, naturally, and ordered a hummus-egg spinach wrap and a coffee (a far cry from the can of gas station Denty Moore I had heated on my propane stove the night before). The barista complimented my iPad and bluetooth keyboard setup — an self-admittedly clever way to naturally integrate technology during travel. Laptops seem so fucking cumbersome now.
As I scrolled through Kylie Jenner’s completely amazing Instagram, I overheard an older lady talking about a “young woman” whom she had recently observed: covered in tattoos and — as the lady put it — looking like she had stumbled into a “huge tackle box.” Translation: she had piercings (gasp!).
“Now she was such a pretty girl with these beautiful blue eyes. I wanted to ask why she would make herself look so, well, freaky. And imagine going through airport security — if it isn’t already enough of a nightmare!” She har-har cackled at her own joke and I had to bite my tongue: I wanted to tell her that most young people I know don’t base their style on whether or not it makes the metal detector an easier affair (and contrarian as I am, I would actually prefer to inconvenience the TSA!).
Ackattack! I sound like a curmudgeon being critical of a curmudgeon and like is that like a paradox or like something or like whatever??
The split between Mrs. Gettsyburg and Ms. Tackle Box is that the former expects “rational” behavior to rule all, and the former couldn’t care less: she’s gonna express her inner-self in whatever way she sees fit.
An oft-occurring theme has emerged throughout my trip thus far: that is, the split between “rationality,” and a more intuitive or personal approach towards life. Some people want other people to fit into preexisting boxes and act according to a certain set of rules and not make waves and become an understandable “type” but not an individual. And then, as a result, their world and personal reality will continue to make sense.
But others say screw that shit and do what makes them happy according to an internal set of values that is not so heavily influenced by cultural norms or expectations or meaningless and arbitrary ideas about “success.” The “gaze of rationality” — pardon my pseudo-academic term that perhaps might be a distant cousin of the “white gaze” — is irrelevant to them because it is not based in any deeper or truer or more essential reality. “Science” and cost benefit analyses and strict diets and “life optimizers” and must-dos and must-sees and must-haves and guidebooks and guidelines and calendars and budgets and books explaining how to “learn to make art” like art is something that is “learned” (haha what fucking bullshit) etc. etc. etc. all offer a woefully incomplete approach of trying to control and manage life due to our own fears and anxieties and hangups and insecurities and hyper-enlarged egos that think that we can understand the workings of things — anyways, who would want to?
Now, let me step off this comfortable soapbox before I slip and break my neck.
The Gettsyburg National Military Monument is an amazingly-curated place. You first watch an amazingly-produced documentary with a voice-over done by the amazingly-voiced Morgan Freeman (his voice is an national treasure) and then you step into an amazingly-renovated cyclorama (the fucking Imax of the 1880s except more amazing because you are actually prodded to use your imagination — gasp!) entitled the Battle of Gettsyburg, which has undergone an amazingly well-done renovation — it hasn’t looked good since it was painted in 1883 by French artist Paul Philippoteaux, who painted his resemblance into the majectic panaormic painting rather than signing his signature.
Now — amazingly, of course — the whole exhibit is careful to emphasize the complicity of the North in the whole slavery thing (I don’t use the phrase “slavery thing” to diminish it; I just am not able to write about this original, seemingly un-healable national wound without feeling self-serious and dishonest and young). There were no good guys and no bad guys and the Civil War wasn’t about ending slavery but rather the result of an argument about extending slavery to the West — now imagine if Colorado was saddled with that legacy, ugh!
The exhibit doesn’t let majestic images of battle cause any sort of indulgent catharsis because of the heroism of the Union soldiers or whatever. War is not cathartic, nor is violence: it is an amazingly sad fact of life, I suppose, and nothing more and a lot less in my opinion.
One thing that needs to be improved, though? Making the soap dispensers kid-friendly. A little blond guy with a charming speech impediment was seriously struggling. I asked him if he needed help and he nodded vigorously. I pushed the button and released a rush of foam and he said “Wow!” and I couldn’t help but agree. Foaming soap is pretty fucking awesome.
After the inside exhibit, I went out to the battlefield. The day could not have been any more perfect. This cute little house was General Mead’s hub for command and strategy and also a hospital (sorry I can’t tell you more about the history, I find it incredibly difficult to absorb anything related to strategy and battle and stuff like that but whatevs):
Someone should make a Civil War exploitation flick (Quentin Tarantino perhaps??) called “Phallic Tendencies.” This can be the poster:
Some more Gettysburg photos:
The last one is my favorite. I think this is valuable advice in any situation or circumstance: press buttons, wait, rinse and repeat.
After absorbing some serious history at Gettysburg, I found a Laundromat and watched “Young and the Restless” while my clothes got clean and dry. I also perused the rather extensive horror-themed library and scrolled through the extremely specific Instagram “Hot Dudes with Dogs,” two of my favorite things.
Afterwards, I drove to Columbia, Maryland to continue my comparative analysis of YMCAs. This one was casual in their admittance protocol, but everyone working out seemed super hardcore and professional and intelligent. The lobby also had its own smoothie bar so there’s that. I left happy and fruit-infused.
That night, I went to a meditation class in an old historical mansion called the Oakland. They certainly took a more intellectual approach than granola Denver, but I appreciated their rigorousness in achieving — essentially — a non-intellectually rigorous outlook (that is, going with the flow) on life. TBH that is actually a charming paradox when you see it in action.
2. Jack Pine
I arrived at Jack Pine around eleven A.M. on Friday. Jack Pine is the charming rural Maryland property that belongs to my second cousin Susan and her husband Tom. She was the head librarian of the National Geographic and he was a science writer for the magazine, and they are both full of fascinating stories — read badass smart individuals.
As the roofer who came to work on a miniature Dovery one morning put it: “Tom could be a consultant for Disney Land.” The two of them have created a garden worthy of television — literally, it has appeared on television — full of rock sculptures and bridges and fountains and other magical things. There’s no way words can do it justice: this is a magical place, and the two of them are impeccable hosts and fascinating people. Tom grew up right nearby on a farm, and he witnessed the Great Depression. He told me a hilarious story about bringing a barn-owl to the National Zoo on the bus when he was only nine years old, and how it hissed like a cobra and freaked everyone out. Susan is one of the founders of a longtime intellectual salon in the vein of Gerturde Steins’ 27 rude de Fleurus, where intelligent people — journalists, lawyers, doctors, artists, etc. — all come together to discuss open-ended questions and drink wine and unashamedly Be Curious. The land of milk and honey, no doubt.
Susan took me on a dreamy tour of Sandy Springs, the name of the community, which isn’t so much a physical place as a “state-of-mind.” We saw the museum and the Quaker Friends Meeting House (where I went on Sunday morning, a somber and quiet and moving affair) and the local book store. Later, we got stopped by a friend’s house and swam in their salt-water pool — more buoyant than fresh water. Betsy, the owner, came out and talked to us. I blinked in the bright sun — back resting on a purple floating noodle — telling her about my motorhome adventures, and she told me that she had done the same thing as a young woman, with a friend. “Are they being nice and letting you sleep in your motorhome?” she asked me and I said that, well, it was actually quite nice to sleep in a fluffy comfy bed, but I got what she was saying.
“We turned town a school superintendent’s offer to sleep in his house, and let me tell you, this was certainly the first time anyone had every turned him down, especially two young woman,” Betsy said, and we all laughed in delight at this.
The next night we ate dinner at the Cosmos Club, after a private tour of the National Geographic and its library. The Cosmos Club is a private Washington DC club for intellectuals and artists and scientists and philosophers and politicians — membership requires something like seven recommendations, extremely prestigious stuff (members have included Sandra Day O’Connor and President Woodrow Wilson and just like so many others that it would be indulgent to list them). Both Tom and Sue are members. We had dinner reservations for 6:15.
I quite (I mean really fucking quite) enjoyed touring the place, holding a glass of red wine and being in the same billiards room as Mark Twain, who also got his photograph captured in front of the green-velvet hehefuckinghe I smile something smug I know:
I ate grilled Atlantic salmon and had oysters for the first time — a cold shower for your mouth — as well as popovers. Delicious. A truly divine and once-in-a-lifetime experience, no doubt. I was in total hog-heaven.
I felt at home. Beauty makes my knees go weak and my eyes sparkle and my lips curl up and my soul soar.
The next day the three of us went to Baltimore to check out the totally radical and fabulous American Visions Museum — there’s a reason John Walters is so inspired by Baltimore. As I told my father in a text message:
Such an incredible place, you’ll have to have Sue and Tom take you here, it’s like an anti museum full of pieces by eccentrics and recluses and people with mental illnesses and otherwise marginalized/non-voiced individuals all in tribute to the power of intuition and art to transcend individual circumstances and tap into a greater collective consciousness for social justice. Long winded but basically it! Hahaha
Yes, I did text that. Yes, I’m that fucking serious about things. The men’s bathroom had some amusing wall-hangings:
I truly loved the museum, but unfortunately it appears that — based on a process of elimination and fruitless searches of my temporary guest room and Sue’s car and the outside deck where we had drinks last night with Sue and Tom’s friend —my wallet was snatched from my back pocket in the gift shop.
Which really fucking sucks in the most meaningful sense of the word (totally unaware of my stolen wallet in this photo — those dapper shiny red shoes were five dollar thrift-store finds can you imagine that?):
My parents are express fed-exing my passport so I have some form of ID, and since I can’t very well drive the Sunrader until I receive my temporary driver’s license, I’m going to take the train up to NYC and spend a week or so there staying in a hostel, waiting for all my necessary documents to arrive at Sue and Tom’s. A slight hiccup, no fucking doubt — more like a drunken vomit sesh over the toilet — but if I’ve learned anything in my time on the road it’s that nothing is personal, everything can be dealt with, we all have the power, and whatever happens happens and you can and should just make the best of it because why not.
So tomorrow I’ll take the metro to DC and continue my second day of touring, assured that I’m in the process of reclaiming my livelihood — strange how two plastic cards can define you so much — all the while thankful that it happened while I’m staying with family and things aren’t as bad as they could have been.
Today, I sat down at a table in the cafe of the National Museum of the American Indian with my bison burger and fries and Cherry Coke. An older woman from New Zealand asked if she could join me — of course I said yes — and told me two friends would be joining us as well. All three women — “birds” I would call them if that doesn’t sound horribly sexist or whatever because I mean it in the most positive way — wore fabulously bright pink pant suits, their accents thick and full of bright zest.
They adopted me for about an hour. We gabbed and gabbed and gabbed; they’ve been traveling together for twenty plus years now, and they all have a distinctly Kiwi sense of humor that I could totally tune into. I told them about my stolen wallet and all three expressed outrage and sorrow and contributed equally to a somewhat convoluted story about a taxi driver stealing their traveler checks in Ireland five years ago, in solidarity with me and my unfortunate circumstances.
They told me that they’d first been in the Napa Valley, and then visted Gettysburg (we all exclaimed our praise for the cyclorama) and then DC, and finally they were going to go gamble away the rest of their money in Las Vegas. Normally they stay at the MGM Grand — where I recently stayed, coincidentally — but unfortunately they were staying in a third-rate place this time a little ways off the strip. I made jokes and they laughed without any self-consiousness in huge Kiwi guffaws and I felt so much better about my stolen wallet and myself.
I daresay I loved these women for making me feel charming when previously I felt like an anxious piece of carb-hoarding shit — a stolen wallet will do that to you. “Let’s leave this poor young man to himself,” the most outgoing of the three said at the most natural of moments, and they left, and I went to go spend the rest of the day walking around DC, feeling quite viscerally the fact that this is a city built on a swamp. Our national capital is built on a swamp. Does that not seem meaningful in some way?
Stolen wallets aren’t roadblocks or life-enders. They offer an opportunity to spend a longer time in NYC than you had previously planned. They offer a chance for you to strategize and improvise and feel a tad sanctimonious about the fact that whoever stole your wallet won’t get any cash; they’ve only procured a Colorado driver’s license and a canceled debit card and an insurance card and a family photo.
Nothing gained for them. But you’ve gained a sense of calm, because everything has a solution (amirite Georgey?).
You — we — have all the power.
You — we — can make shit happen if only we allow ourselves.
You — we — aren’t shy like we’ve always grown up hearing and subsequently believing.
You — we — can talk to anyone.
You — we — make shit happen.
You — we — are powerful.
You — we — are the fucking goddamned shit.