6) Books To Send Home
– Jan. 1 – 12, 2014
There’s too many books in this trailer. Books seemed, and still seem, an important part of this life, and deciding which we would bring and which we would leave behind had not been easy. One might say we erred on the side of caution, that our Yea column ambitiously rivalled the Nay, and mechanics might say that we have too much hitch weight on this trailer as it is, and that our “Gross Vehicle Weight Rating” is “all maxed out”. To all these things… perhaps. But I can not get on side of reading a book from a computer screen or or some e-reader. To each, their own. There is some kinetic quality to any sort of physical medium that has been realized into this world and then passed through hands and hands of those who held such objects, who learned from them, and who in doing so left behind traces of themselves after transfer. There is some level of energy, whether imperative or negligible, held in the medium, which I believe that a file on a computer screen simply can not possess. Having these books gives me more reason to read them, and the convenience to do so. The spacial and weight limitations of the car and trailer are simply further motivation to finish them all.
The first book to send home will be Carpathian Castle by Jules Verne. I started it at the KOA in early November and finished it in maybe a week. A less characteristic work of Verne, with a supposed haunted castle as its backdrop. I wonder if whoever created Scooby Doo first read Carpathian Castle. Not sure.
We had ruined the brand new sway bar in the mountains of Holman NM, but were able to return it under the guise of “manufacturer’s defect” at the Mesa, AZ Camping World location. Mesa, like Scottsdale, is a surrounding suburb of Phoenix, an area which would occupy our time for the next two weeks. We had left Payson in the morning and continued down the 87 through forestland, only a couple of hours or less between us and the City of Phoenix. Along the way were many dirt road pull-offs that led invariably nowhere into mass spaces of public land. When a hobo first discovers any land at all that is not private, land that is public and free to use, there can be a kid-in-a-candy-store pressure to seek and find it all, and these dirt roads, since our crossing into New Mexico a few weeks back, were calling us. (Now, the true definition of a ‘hobo’ is one who travels and looks for work, so by a technicality we are really ‘drifters’ more than hobos – a drifter being one who travels but does not look for work – although we would look for work if we were legally allowed to accept any in this country. The continuation down the mentioned hierarchy leads us to the ‘bum’, who neither travels nor looks for work, meaning you can call me many things, but don’t call me a bum!)
We would not last long down the dirt path we chose. We had found a decent spot to pull off into the woods, and set up some things there. I had planned to finish the scrapbook that I had begun for Charlotte. This was now January 1st, the first day of the year 2014, and we did not have to be in Scottsdale till the 4th at the latest, so we figured we would stay in these woods for at least a night, to soak up some of the excitement of this still-new-to-us free land. My nemesis, the bee, arrived just as we had begun to relax. Let it go on record that I would gladly give up any tasty fruits or honey or any other benefit of the bee to see him stricken from the earth for good. I have heard the arguments, and you can make them again, but I don’t care. There is an aggression to the bee that is almost human in its fascist ideal to ruin a good time, and I would express no pity for any doom that might one day befall its kind. The bees here were what we later heard described as “Africanized”. Africanized bees are like regular bees except worse in every imaginable way. They hover like enemy helicopters, not flying like anything natural – which usually goes to and fro, back and forth – but rather they find you and they hover in place, frozen in the air, to stare you down. I could sense the bee sizing me up as he hovered there, and at first he was outnumbered, a solitary hovering alien sizing up two humans who had inadvertently settled in his space – or perhaps more sinister, perhaps he made it his space only because we had settled there. I tried to ignore his oppressive presence and his dead stare – the stare of a mind that can not feel or sympathize or emote, but only exact and calculate and act instinctively and territorially – but within minutes there was a second bee, and then a third… and then we lost count. The bees were aggressive, and dismissed our initial attempts to co-habitate in peace. Eventually I killed one. He had it coming. But we were told later that when a bee is killed it produces a pheromone that the other bees detect, and which puts them all on ATTACK MODE, a place these particular bees were never far from to begin with. Within a minute of killing one bee there were at least a dozen more surrounding us. What land man had decided to leave for public use, the bees had taken into their violent grips, and we decided under duress to leave quickly.
The book going home next will be South of the Pumphouse by Les Claypool – bassist, frontman, and songwriter most notably of the band Primus, along with other jam rock efforts such as Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains (featuring Buckethead on impossible guitar, and Parliament/Funkadelic/Talking Heads synth legend Bernie Worell), Oysterhead (featuring Phish frontman Trey Anastasio and drummer for The Police Stuart Copeland), Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade (a.k.a. The Les Claypool Frog Brigade), Sausage, Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel, and coming this February 2014, Les Claypool’s Duo De Twang. He also has two solo “Les Claypool” albums, operates Prawn Song Records, was once famously turned down as a prospect bassist for Metallica, and is the creator of Electric Apricot, a mockumentary style film about a fictitious band with the title name. This guy is pretty awesome. South of the Pumphouse is his first, and I believe only, novel, and moves at Hitchcock slow pace with a sort of Hemingway ennui about it… and yet I had a hard time getting through the thing, despite all of my love for the Colonel. I put it down more than once over the course of weeks, and ended up reading A Clockwork Orange from front to back in a matter of days before picking up Pumphouse again to finally finish it off.
The next book going home will be A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, a deeply disturbing read which surpasses dark humour and is perhaps only digestible because of the coded and abstract way in which its violence is described, offered by a made-up slang speak of the characters and narrator. In all its absurdist horror, I found I could not put it down until finished. Like watching a car crash with nervous laughter.
After forsaking the public land and its aggressive tenants, we drove straight to the Mesa Camping World, and after that, to Old Scottsdale. Old Scottsdale is made up of a small part of the suburb which is original to the town, but in fact is only about 50 years old, and can only really be called Old in relation to the rest of the city which appears basically brand new. We had dinner there, and wandered around on foot, its southwest charm abounding.
When we had walked through Old Scottsdale the night prior, most of the stores were closed because we hadn’t arrived until about 6pm, so when we woke in the morning, we came out to see all of its shops, only to find that at 9:30am they were still closed. We walked past a coffee shop and it too was closed. We finally found one place that opened at 10am, and the woman told us that “Scottsdale likes to sleep in”. Most stores here opened at 11am, and closed around 5 or 6pm. I had to wonder why this approach was so unusual. In fact, I couldn’t think of anywhere else we had ever been where businesses opened so late, and remained open for so few hours. And I couldn’t argue their reasoning.
We eventually arrived at Dave and Sandy’s house, as they knew we might be coming to town a little bit before the 4th, and they had told us to stop by when we got there. We ended up staying at their house that night on the 2nd, and again on the 3rd. Their daschunds, Daisy and Lincoln, were adorable!
Kat and I were looking for a CD to get for Tyler, my brother in-law, for Christmas. It was a bit of a gamble, but we thought he might appreciate Saul Williams, a spoken word and hip hop artist. We had driven to a mall, the name of which now escapes me, but it was dubbed “the largest shopping mall in the southwest”, and after walking through that entire mall, I am not surprised by that statement. What did surprise us, however, is that in the largest shopping mall in the southwest there was not one single music store. Not one. Not even a media store by any description: no movies or music or any media in any format whatsoever. At the risk of sounding out of touch with reality, which I have never been much concerned with anyway, I could not believe this discovery of ours. I accept that the piracy of music and film is now the norm, and that artists must now make money from either touring or selling t-shirts and other forms of merchandise – I accept the fact of it, but not the morality – but to realize that not only the Compact Disc, but the sale of music in general, was so dead and buried that it did not merit a single store in the largest shopping mall in the southwest, was a difficult thing to come to grips with. A younger generation of mine has grown up without the understanding that an album of music is itself an art form, separate and in addition to the art of each individual song. This concept has been lost on most, and will only be continued and revived to any small extent by enthusiasts of esoteric interest and defenders of nerd righteousness.
Sandy recommended we drive in to Phoenix, about half an hour away, where there was a good store called Zia Record Exchange that sold used CD’s. Zia Record Exchange in turn was a veritable museum of a time when, not so long ago, people recognized that there were real artists behind the songs they listened to, who made a separate art form on top of the songs that they wrote which was the album of songs itself – the arrangement, the direction, even the packaging – songs that they could now collect for free by theft, one at a time, in no particular order, and in the most horribly degraded qualities of audio files. We might have spent an hour in Zia’s. Maybe it was two. We found a Saul Williams album for Tyler – it was Amethyst Rock Star, as well as another of his albums for us (The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust; produced and co-written by Trent Reznor), plus about a dozen other albums from artists such as CAKE, CocoRosie, The Dresden Dolls, Bob Dylan, Talking Heads, and Radiohead (The My Iron Lung E.P., which basically completes my Radiohead collection except for Drill and Itch, a couple of very early E.P.s). I made Kat pay with the credit card while I waited at the exit so I didn’t have to know how much money we had just spent.
We spent January 4th at Dave and Sandy’s and then drove north about 30 minutes to their friends’ house, a couple named Steve and JoAnne. Steve and JoAnne happened to live five miles away from the house that had been rented for the family to stay at during their week-long visit to Scottsdale. My mom and stepdad were flying in with my daughter Charlotte; along with G.G.(Grandma Joan) and Grandpa Steve, and my sister Jessica and her husband Tyler. All of them, plus Kat and I, would stay in a large rented house with a heated pool and hot tub, for a week, so that I could see Charlotte for Christmas (a late Christmas, but Christmas nonetheless). The rented house was in a gated community where our trailer would not be allowed – in fact, no cars were allowed in driveways overnight, and there was simply no room in the garage for the trailer after our car and two other rental cars filled it up. It was told to us that within this same gated community, Britney Spears, Michael Jordan, and a player from the Toronto Maple Leafs, all owned houses, though none of them lived there year round. We dropped Emma (the trailer) off at Steve and JoAnne’s, who were very friendly.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is going home. Kat and I have both read this book of mania, an obsessive nightmare of a book in all of its unreal fascination. A Borgesian horror. A multi-layered tale of a house that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside; the family who lives there; the man who is both retelling the tale to us and losing his mind; and about a thousand bogus footnotes that weave their way throughout in spirals, some backwards or upside-down or both, all of which build to support the realness of the hallucination. This book, to me, makes many others seem lazy, linear, and simple in comparison. A really interesting approach that might have come off a bit gimmicky if it weren’t so well done.
We waited outside the gate of the neighbourhood, not knowing the key code to open the gates, until everyone arrived from the airport some time after midnight. Charlotte was sleeping of course, but it was so great to see her! We had not seen her in person since Hallowe’en, October 31st – having left for our new life the next day on November 1st. It had been two long months of “no Charlotte”, and I was so happy to see her, as was Kat! We had Skyped with her once or twice a week, however, Charlotte does not always have the patience or interest for Skype, and even for adults it’s just not the same as seeing someone in the flesh. We tucked her in to her inflatable bed, next to ours, and waited for her to wake with us in the morning.
In the morning on January 5th, we got to have a family Christmas morning. We had bought little gifts for everyone, and they for us, and it was really great to see everyone. I was able to give Charlotte the scrapbook I had made of her, for her, and I only hope that she can keep it for many years to come. It was a culmination of every picture and memento I had saved of hers over the years, plus many pages of her artwork (there were so many, I had to choose some and omit many). I did my best to cram as much content into that book as possible, and I think it turned out well.
There are some books that we’ve started, but might not have finished in time to go home with the family by the end of the week. They are: Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins (the only Robbins novel I have not yet read except for his first one, Another Roadside Attraction, and which I started way back in August when Kat and I went to Ottawa, but then never finished); Moby Dick by Herman Melville (I started reading this 160+ year-old classic aloud to Kat and myself in the mornings but I am slow reading aloud versus in my head, and we’ve only finished about a quarter of it); Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (something interesting I learned here was that this was the only book Whitman ever published, however, he re-published it several times over the course of many decades, each time adding more to it, so instead of releasing new books of poetry he would simply add to and update the original book, over and over again); and Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen (before his career in music was his career in poetry, and Beautiful Losers, though being essentially a novel, is written as a beautifully naked poem of a book, obscene and holy, sacred and profane, a jewel that even fifty years after its publication still begs the question, “What is a novel?” and just as importantly, “What is it not?”
I did not keep much track of the week that went by at the rented house. We were both incredibly grateful to have spent such time with Charlotte and for everyone who made it happen and came down to visit. For us who had not only spent Christmas away from family but also the past entire two months or more, we could not, in early January, have asked for a better Christmas. Including Dave and Sandy, all eleven of us went on a hike one day at the nearby Fraesfield Trailhead. Kat and I took Charlotte to Butterfly Wonderland – “America’s Largest Butterfly Conservatory”, though I’m certain just from having been at both places that it wasn’t as big as the conservatory in my own hometown of Cambridge, Ontario. The three of us had watched a short film afterwards on the migratory patterns of the Monarch butterfly, after which, Charlotte began to cry, saying “I actually didn’t like that movie, because they showed the butterflies dying”. It was a soft spot for all of us, but we felt better by going back into the little bio-dome to revisit the butterflies who were still living. This made us all feel a little bit better. We spent more time with Charlotte going back to Old Scottsdale with her, to wander and sight-see. I had some one-on-one time with Charlotte at a place called CrackerJax, where we played two full rounds of mini-golf (over the course of which Charlotte actually got three hole-in-one’s, and I only two…) and then she rode a kid’s go-cart all by herself!, and finally we both rode the bumper boats together. We had such a great day. Kat and Charlotte and I hiked to the top of Pinnacle Peak another day. I think it was 0.75 miles to the top before turning around and hiking it back. She did a great job with keeping up and not getting tired.
We made some crucial decisions, and cut down a few more books, books that we have not yet read, in some cases at all, in others, simply on this journey, but nonetheless are going home. We feel confident, however, that we have more than enough still in the trailer, to keep us going. All these books are going home:
The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian D. MacLaren; The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka; Stocking Up: How To Preserve the Foods You Grow, Naturally; The Urban Ideal – Conversations with Paulo Soleri; The Easy Learning Spanish Dictionary; Drive Time French; Instant French; Harrap’s Pocket French-English Dictionary; Gotlib – “Rubrique-a-brac” (a French comic book); and the French childrens’ books we were reading, “Mes Premieres Decouvertes”; “Je Decouvre Les Sons”; “Je Decouvre Les Couleurs”; et “Je Compte J’Enumere”.
On Saturday January 11th, in the morning, just barely a week after arriving, everyone left the rented house. It was an emotional morning, and the week had gone by too fast. We can only be too grateful that we got to see everyone for the time that we did, and we’ll have to keep on Skyping in the meantime before flying back in March for Charlotte’s 6th birthday. We plan to leave the car and trailer on the outskirts of San Diego, fly back home for a week or two, and then fly back to San Diego to retrieve the car and trailer and pick up where we had left off.
We slept at Dave and Sandy’s one last time that night on the 11th. I took the wheels off the trailer and re-greased the ball bearings – something I had never done before, but through the miracle of YouTube paired with a bit of common sense, I figured it out well enough. It’s always a tough transition going from living in the space of a large open house, down to the 6’x9′ trailer, in particular when that large open house is filled with family you haven’t seen in two months, but on the other hand we had missed old Emma and that stubborn car, Midge, and somehow they seemed just as ‘at home’ to us as anywhere. On January 12th we drove the 17 north, destined for more yet to come.