from the robert clay

our shack in mississippi had a three-ring journal.

Oh, what a night! Katrina blew in and shook the Robert Clay for hours. The power was gone, the rain came in sideways in torrential sheets. The tin roof flapped but held through the storm. We sat on the church pew and prayed a cyclone didn't pick us up and set us down in Munchkin Land. We drank all the booze, smoked all the cigarettes and finally went to bed. Now its morning and no signs of a storm. Was it all a dream (or nighmare)? This is the place to be. The people are friendly and the shacks can withstand the worst of storms—even us.

(Dearborn, Michigan)


[Karen Green] knew it was love when [David Foster] Wallace agreed to go to Hawaii with her early in their relationship. Hawaii represented two of many phobias: air travel, and the possibility of swimming with sharks. While Green was in the ocean, Wallace would routinely stand on the shore, yelling anecdotal statistics about shark attacks at her.

("Karen Green: 'David Foster Wallace's suicide turned him into a "celebrity writer dude", which would have made him wince'", the guardian, 09.04.11)



airbnb stays: 4

babies born to our hosts or their close friends during our stay: 2 (austin, TX; chicago, IL)

beach days: 3 (reef point, CA; sullivan's island, SC; folly beach, SC)

books finished: 2 (a clash of kings, george r.r. martin; rats: observations on the history and habitat of the city's most unwanted inhabitants, robert sullivan)

favorite stop: marfa, TX

favorite third-party observation: "your skeleton is glowing." - brielle, 7 (phoenix, AZ)

fireworks spending: $12

ghost tours: 1 (charleston, SC)

least favorite stop: austin, TX(!)

lightning storms: 5

miles driven: 4,000

movie nights: 2 (showgirls @ cinespia; me and earl and the dying girl @ alamo drafthouse)

museum visits: 4 geffen contemporary at moca, CA; chinati foundation, TX; sixth floor museum, TX; johnny cash museum, TN)

pocket squares purchased: 3

times the car has stalled: ~12 ...on the highway: ~5

uber drivers who turned off their meters and took us somewhere else they figured we'd like: 2 (nashville, TN; asheville, NC)

writing assignments filed from the road: 2

*we're still on the road, mind you; this is an anniversary tally, as we've been at it for a month.


ROAD TRIP UPDATE: VIII {11:00, nashville}

the fellow tasked with showing us around our nashville airbnb (a landing spot chosen on the fly back in marfa after our original booking turned shady—but that's a story for another time) received the news that he'd be meeting us around midnight with good cheer; he's an uber driver, and was out and about anyway. i also imagine that it's difficult to chide travelers delayed by sky-splitting lightning storms and life-splitting births, but that could vary from person to person.

we arrived in chicago with enough of saturday evening before us to join my college roommate and her husband for a pub dinner and a fireflyful walk back to their row house on the north side. ben made us lower wackers (tequila, drambuie, and malört, which i meant to pick up on the way out of town), we passed through the baby gate that separates smallcatland from largecatland (eddie, their seven-pound abyssinian, is no match for zeke, their 18-pound tabby) to use the bathroom one last time, and we all went to bed. i found ben drinking coffee in the kitchen the next morning. "here's an exciting thing," he said. "jen's water broke last night." my favorite theatre pros grabbed their go bag, swapped their afternoon baby shower for a trip to the hospital, and were gone. joe, eddie, zeke, and i blinked at each other. "prow," said zeke, who would eventually describe an entire boat.

we left town yesterday afternoon. "a person came out of your wife!" i whispered at ben. "i know, it's crazy!" he whispered back. that person is called leif, an excellent name for an early explorer. some babies love summer so much they steal an extra month of it; diminutive thief, i salute you.


ROAD TRIP UPDATE: VII {18:15, somewhere in arkansas}

we made it all the way to arkadelphia before encountering restroom sketchiness, which is impressive from several angles: we've been on the road in earnest since we left california last wednesday, we average two gas station stops each day, and we concluded joe's birthday last night with $10 death in the afternoons at a steampunk bar screening episodes of the golden girls. the swampy situation in that shell station just now made me feel, if i'm being honest, that this cross-country thing is well and truly underway.

a long-haired guy with a handlebar mustache was smoking on the steps of our dallas hotel as i carried luggage (and, okay, fireworks) from our room to the car this morning. "zat yer beemer?" "it is!" i said. he smiled: "that's so fuckin' cool."

we bought a bunch of arty cheese in marfa on saturday when it looked like we wouldn't be able to convince anyone to make us dinner; after lucking out and inheriting someone's reservation at a restaurant down the street, we packed the cheese in a little foam stripes cooler and have been chauffeuring it across texas. tonight could be cheese night, as we'll arrive at our mississippi shack long after the local barbecue we couldn't eat anyway has found a cooler of its own for the evening. this is fitting, i think: if robert clay (the father of seven who made moonshine in our shack) is to drag us back to the afterlife with him, we should go full of cambozola.


the dirty dozen {twelve plus five* excerpts from yelp reviews of the mexican free-tailed bat colony beneath austin's congress avenue bridge}

01 So, it was a slow process and just looked like a bunch of birds flying around.

02 It's neat to see a ton of bats once in your lifetime.

03 The ones in Houston come out at sunset like clockwork, even in winter.

04 Also, to people who bring children, there is a smart-ass who sells light up swords. Seriously. So be prepared for that.

05 Maybe I'll try to get in a canoe next time and see if it is a different experience.

06 The bats came out, did their show. People shrieked as they got pooped on by some.

07 I could see the little baby bats flying around the columns of the bridge and got excited for them.

08 This experience gets 5 stars because I wanted one thing only: to see A LOT of bats.

09 They just kept coming out!

10 I highly recommend the San Antonio bat population for better, more defendable viewing under the Camden St bridge!

11 No, San Antonio bats aren't anything compared to the Austin bats at their prime.

12 Perhaps there is something to be said about seeing something like that in such an urban environment, but it's nothing too incredible or remarkable. It's just nature. And I think the description, "thousands of bats flying out from under a bridge" kind of sums it up.

13 no bats

14 I like the bats, I have seen them several times, they eat a lot of bugs and they do a good job of it.

15 I would also just like to comment that I appreciated the sun going down and the view more than the bats.

16 I'm trying to figure out how anyone can give the bats anything but five stars.

17 Bats under a bridge. They fly out. End of story.

*i am a bat-comment enthusiast.


ROAD TRIP UPDATE: VI {08:45, tucson}

we staggered to the front desk at our tucson hotel something like forty minutes before they let our room go for the evening (we took our sweet time getting out of orange county, and i took my sweet time getting through the mountains between san diego and yuma when a sudden thunderstorm flashed me back to hydroplaning and totaling a car in the rain when i was 18). "i really like your shirt," said the fellow who checked us in. if you would know true and constant love, internets, adopt a shelter animal and/or find yourself an old siouxsie and the banshees tee on ebay and wear it around when you travel.

i have been up since six or so this morning, when i began to stir and worry about the article i had to send to new york by eight. i wrote most of said article in the passenger seat as the interstate unspooled behind us last night, which is either the loveliest or the most terrible thing that's happened to me since i declared myself a freelance writer last fall. a framed poster on the plaster wall behind this desk promotes DILLINGER DAYS, an annual celebration of the anniversary of john dillinger's capture by the tucson police department in 1934. i have outlived john dillinger by five years so far. there are four pairs of earplugs tucked behind the shampoo and lotion in the bathroom.


the dirty dozen {twelve notable excerpts from the decade-spanning comment thread i discovered when i turned to the internet after a melon at my father's house started hissing and foaming*}

01 If I find anything, I'll post again, I go by the pseudonym SealMan, by the way.

02 Better a $5 watermelon lost than a broken washing machine.

03 My husband is very supersticious and believes this was a super-natural incident. Thank goodness I found this blog, I was starting to believe him.

04 Am I the only one that heard theirs pop? It was a pop and then a fizzling sound. The watermelon is still fizzing four hours later and leaving a yellow bubble like liquid behind. Ewh, I'm glad I had some kind of notice before I tried to eat the thing. I was thinking today was going to be the day.

05 I bought a pack of 2 mini watermelons from the Altamonte Costco on Aug 22nd. On Aug 23rd I came home from work and exactly the same thing happened to me. It smelled like vomit on dead people all over my kitchen. I dont know how a volleyball sized mellon managed to have sprayed gallons of fluid and chunks all over my kitchen, but there was at least an 8 foot spray. All the fruit next to it rotted instantly.

06 I couldn't even talk this morning I was so horse, (and I have a bad back so I have been sleeping on the couch about 10 feet away from the watermelon all weekend)!!!

07 It was dark and I only saw something that seemed to be coming from inside the melon...and trying to get out. I swear I even saw some sort of light emanating from my melon. I was so freaked out!

08 wow! we just cut open a watermelon purchased from walmart in thornton,co tonight. Right when i cut it open it spilled about two cups of clear liquid all over the counter. But what really caught my eye was the inside of the melon. It was growing so weird, kinda spiral looking with 4 red circles inside. The rest was light pink not consistent at all. i know this was not normal this is about our 10th watermelon this year.

09 I bought a mini-watermelon from Fresh & Easy in Burbank yesterday and tonight when I came home from a party, I saw it was foaming and smelled fermented. My husband keeps telling me to cut it open to see if a bug comes out, but I have declined.

10 It's 2015 and I'll be the first to continue this discussion. We just had this in a mini watermelon, a stream of white foam coming from the end of the watermelon. I have never seen this in nearly 40 years of eating watermelons. I now have a special connection with this group of fine people.

11 I think they were honeydew, my least favorite melon. No matter how long I waited, they were never going to look like a cantaloupe.

12 I will cut new watermelon today, but am a bit apprehensive!

*it seems likely that said melon had bacterial fruit blotch.


ROAD TRIP UPDATE: V {11:45, los angeles}

in the six and a half hours it took us to get from our bungalow in phoenix to my sister and brother-in-law's new apartment in industrial los angeles, the temperature on our little car's instrument panel dropped from 45 to 19 degrees celsius; god bless california. i woke up this morning when taco (their 25-year-old box turtle) began his early-morning summertime dance in the terrarium next to our inflatable mattress. we're excited about marriage equality too, taco.

in case it takes laramie a while to get there with her monthly newsletter (sign up for her monthly newsletter), note that el atacor #11's potato tacos live up to the hype and are perhaps the best possible way to celebrate making it over chiriaco summit without breaking down on the side of the interstate (we got that out of the way in my in-laws' truck in scottsdale on thursday afternoon, when we limped to the nearest exit ramp and shopping center, where i ran into the ladymag's former fashion editor as we partook of the air conditioning at a sports authority).

i rode with my father-in-law when he took the truck back to the bungalow. "when i got this as a repo it had just my front seat, here; down in mexico these guys had gutted it and were filling it full of drugs and off-roading it across the desert."


ROAD TRIP UPDATE: IV {17:55, phoenix}

my sister-in-law brought our elfin redheaded nephew over from the other side of town last night. due to start kindergarten in the fall and gloriously pre-haircut, quentin was an occasional glimpse of ringlets behind his dad's knees for his first few hours here; he hasn't seen us since the winter before last, and we're meeting all over again. when he crept out and showed a bit of interest in an origami set we found on a shelf of board games, we racked our brains for middle-school memories: his mom made him a cootie catcher, i tried to recall the little paper balloons my best friend and i would fold and inflate, and joe half-remembered a paper airplane. the only stiff piece of standard paper we could find was a copy of joe's resume that he'd left in his carry-on bag and had been using for notes on phone calls, so wings it became. the airplane was the big winner, of course; ill-creased as it was, it swooped over the lawn like a maddened fly. quentin was instantly enchanted and shriek-giggled as he chased each wonky flight; who doesn't trust and love uncle joe the plane-chucker?

joe squinted to re-fold a busted wing in the afternoon's waning light. "this is the best response my resume has ever gotten."


ROAD TRIP UPDATE: III {13:45, phoenix)

i called my dad at nine o'clock this morning, chest-deep in an amoeba-shaped pool in the middle of a thoughtfully xeriscaped yard in downtown phoenix. by half past ten the sun had melted the glue binding my mass-market copy of a clash of kings; the chapter on tyrion's nightmares after the battle of the blackwater detached from the book's spine and fluttered to my lap. i'm now the color of the little she-cardinals in the canary island palm behind our old bungalow (they sound like ben). i don't know that i'm interested in being ben-colored, but i'm not sure i have a choice at this point.


ROAD TRIP UPDATE: II {19:55, somewhere over indiana}

i sing of the peace of mind afforded by a $50 refurbished wifi camera! it's possible that i'll end up with a $5000 cellular bill next month now that i receive a smartphone push notification every time a creature passes between the cats' food bowls and our rusty craigslist bar cart, but it's ever so lovely to have occasional proof that our shy little siamese isn't turning to dust under the bed—or turning to dust more quickly than the rest of us are, i suppose. for our next month-long road trip i think i'll buy a second camera and train it on our stove. the sleep i will sleep knowing that ghosts haven't fiddled with the knobs and burned the house down, internets! i am glad i won't have a spare motion-sensing camera, on the other hand, when we're staying in a shack on the mississippi delta in a few weeks; i don't want grainy phone footage of a spectral sharecropper stealing our souls in the moonlight.