Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Hospital Trip and The Return of the Toddler Mosh Pit - Part 1

Once again, my good friend, Steve Blunt, has shown me what it's like to be a real life, honest-to-goodness monster of rock. Or, at least, what it's like to be a real life, honest-to-goodness guy pretending to be a monster of rock.

We have been booked at a few events lately where the headlining act was Santa Claus. It's somewhat akin to being booked as the opening act for Lady Gaga or something. Sure–you're there–and you're playing; but nobody actually came to see you.

Our first Christmas gig of the year was the annual bacchanal at St. Joesph's Hospital in Nashua. We've done Christmas shows there in the past and they've always gone very well. This year, perhaps in response to how well they've gone in the past, the organizer decided to scale up.

A lot.

In the past, Steve and I have been sequestered in a sort of community room in the basement of the hospital, somewhere between the morgue and the kitchen. To locate the room, you were required to take an elevator to the basement and follow a twisting, winding series of subterranean corridors for several miles. I suspect that the difficulty of finding the room was merely an effort to limit the number of thronging fans who normally swarm to our shows.

Despite the myriad obstacles thrown in their way, there was always a decent crowd. But the rabid fans never got out of control. The proximity of the morgue and the ever-present fetor of industrial strength cream of mushroom soup worked together to keep the crowd subdued and relatively under control.

Plus, we didn't have Santa to contend with.

This year, however, everything changed. They moved the event from a small room, buried deeply in the bowels of the hospital to the large, spacious lobby of the hospital. There were gifts, a giant Christmas tree, crafts, ballerinas, toys, games, candy, snacks, face painting, and us: two sweaty guys at the back of the lobby singing some Christmas tunes.

For a magical few hours, the hospital lobby was transformed from a quiet space populated by tear-streaked people, sadly contemplating whatever calamity had brought them to the hospital to a glorious winter wonderland of Christmas joy, populated by tear-streaked people, sadly contemplating whatever calamity had brought them to the hospital and a couple hundred howling, sugar-fueled kids.

And Santa.

When we arrived at the hospital, we were immediately confronted with the very real problem of where to set up our stuff. The clusters of tear streaked people all over the place limited our options. We were shipped off to the far end of the lobby, near the gift shop.

"Don't block that door," we were told, "It's a fire exit and needs to be kept clear. And don't stand too close to the gift shop door, because people will be going in and out. And keep this pathway clear. And don't run cords or cables where people can trip over them. We don't want anybody getting hurt."

I couldn't understand that. It was a hospital, after all. You'd think they'd be used to injured people.

Steve immediately went into deep thought mode where he carefully contemplated every possible variable of every possible arrangement of our equipment. I helped by strewing cables, cords and microphones in all directions saying, "Right here is fine. Seriously. Let's just set up."

We eventually settled on a spot directly in front of the gift shop, but not blocking the fire exits and not too close to the gift shop door. After setting up the equipment, Steve decided that we were, in fact, too close to the gift shop door and he was risking bodily harm by overly enthusiastic shoppers who might plow him over on their way into the gift shop.

So we relocated. We moved much of the sturdy lobby furniture, displaced a few weeping visitors, and set up our equipment in a spot 15 feet from where we had been. "I'm not sure I like this angle," Steve said, after we were all set up. He was testing the wind and mentally calculating all the acoustical challenges that that this new location would offer. "Let's try moving down that way about ten more feet."

So we relocated. Again. We moved the furniture again, displaced the same weeping visitors that we had displaced before, and set up our equipment in another spot. We were settling into our new location when the doors behind us–which were NOT the fire exit or the gift shop doors, I must add–swung open and an officious looking hospital staffer appeared. She gave us a bewildered look and said, "There's going to be a gurney coming through here."

Steve and I have played in many places and in many situations, some more challenging than others. We are seasoned veterans capable of handling nearly any situation with professionalism.  Despite that, neither of us wished to be midway through a happy Christmas song, in front of a crowd of happy, dancing children, and have doors burst open directly behind us to admit a gurney, festively adorned with a badly injured accident victim, trailing IV bottles, spewing bodily fluids, and followed by a phalanx of tear-streaked people.

We picked up our equipment and, once again, moved it. This time, to exactly the same spot we had been in originally. "Yes," Steve said, "I really think that this is the best possible location."

After lugging all that equipment around, Steve and I were both disheveled and sweaty by the time we were scheduled to perform. Our sweat-soaked armpits and festive holiday aromas added immeasurably to the delightful atmosphere of holiday merriment.

Steve turned on the speakers and we were ready to start. He leaned over to me just before switching on his microphone. "I guess we should have figured out what we were going to play, huh?"
He laughed and strummed his guitar. His voice echoed through the hospital lobby. "Hey, everybody! Merry Christmas!"
"SANTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA" screamed the hundreds of sugar-fueled children who had congregated in the lobby while we were lugging equipment.
They descended upon us in a tidal wave of writhing, candy cane-smeared bodies.

"I'm Steve Blunt and this is..."
"WHERE IS SANTA?!?" they screamed as one voice.
"My buddy Marty Kell..."

After we explained that neither of us was, technically speaking, Santa, we still managed to retain quite a large crowd of kids. Steve has a dedicated and passionate fanbase. Not as dedicated and passionate as Santa's fanbase, but darned close.

We began playing and the response was overwhelming. Kids were twirling, dancing, running, jumping, diving, and spinning. During my college days, I attended many, many hardcore and heavy metal concerts with swirling, sweaty, angry mosh pits that were like visions from hell. Every single mosh pit in my vast experience paled in comparison to the fervent activity in the hospital lobby that afternoon.

Candy + Santa + Music = Mayhem On A Scale Never Seen Before In the History of Mankind

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and at a few points during the show, Steve had to physically restrain me from trying some stagediving into the crowd.

"They're small and weak," he said as I climbed onto my chair, preparing to dive, "You'll kill them."
"But there are so many of them," I answered, "I think this will work."

He talked me down and we continued playing.

Despite all the chaos and music and jingle bells, there were some people who didn't seem to understand that there was actually a show taking place. At one point, mid-song, as I was honking away on the harmonica, a lady walked up to me and held out one of my books, for sale on a nearby table. "Can I pay you for this now?" she asked, rooting through her purse.

She was quickly washed away by the swirling maelstrom of toddler bodies that was raging through the lobby.

A few minutes later, just as we finished really winding the kids up into a frothing frenzy, Steve announced that I was going to read a story to the kids.

Steve enjoys doing this to me, I believe.

Because toddlers who have been loaded up on candy and who have been dancing like howling dervishes are known to be especially receptive to sitting quietly while some guy reads a book to them.

Amazingly, they did sit, much to Steve's disappointment, I'm sure. It was possibly from sheer exhaustion, but I was not in a position to question motives, only results. I was about half way through the book when a kid rose from the crowd and began clambering his way through the kids seated on the floor, waving one of my books over his head. His voice rang out loud and clear.

"Excuse me? Excuse me? I have your book. I brought it from home. Will you sign this for me?"

I quietly explained that it wasn't actually the best time for me to sign a book, as there were 150 twitching, barely seated toddlers staring at me.

He turned, hung his head and was quickly subsumed by the quagmire of kids carpeting the floor.

We played a few more songs and finished our set just as the doors at the side of our stage area swung open and a gurney came wheeling out. I'm not sure who was more surprised at that point: the audience of sweaty, dancing children crowded into the lobby or the unfortunate, inadequately covered old lady strapped to the gurney and moaning discordantly.

"Merry Christmas!" Steve sang into the microphone, as the kids screamed and ran away, "And to all a good night."

Coming Next: Christmas Concert #2

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Elizabeth Yates Award Ceremony - An Afternoon of Tasty Cookies and Boogers

"I just think that you like hearing yourself say 'booger' and 'fart', and 'underpants' in public."

That was Kerri's general assessment of the talk I gave yesterday at the Concord Public Library.

"Well, duh," I replied, "I think they gave me the award because I write about farts and boogers."

"And underpants," added my daughter, Victoria.

It is true that I may have stressed the fart and booger motif a bit more than was absolutely necessary yesterday after I was awarded the Elizabeth Yates Award. It's an award given annually to a person who inspires children to read. When Karen Landsman called me a few weeks ago to tell me I had won the award, she specifically mentioned the appeal that my books have for boys. This is a delicate way of saying that I write about disgusting things.

Naturally, when she told me that I should plan on talking for about 20 minutes, I took it upon myself to elaborate on all that is gross. I assumed that this was the entire point of the afternoon.

"I'm pretty sure the library trustees didn't need to hear about puking and eating boogers," Kerri said. "At least, not a dozen times."

"It wasn't a dozen," my son, Alex said, "No more than 10."

But the entire afternoon wasn't devoted exclusively to farts, vomit, and poop.

There were snacks to go along with it.

But, and this was sheer brilliance on the part of the organizers, before they could have snacks, people had to listen to everyone talk. Including me.

There were a variety of speakers, all effusive and eloquent.
They spoke intelligently and eloquently.
They talked about me in ways that made me sound like a real, actual writer. It made me blush.
They made kissy faces at me.

 And, after all those wonderful speakers, I began speaking and really brought the tone of the entire event down.

I did wear a tie, however, and there wasn't even a dead body in the room.

Some of my friends in attendance were visibly displeased at this point. There was evidently some slight problem with the invitations that were sent out. This was the official invite.

But, somehow, all the ones I emailed to my friends arrived looking like this:

Obviously an egregious error occurred in transmission and I'll be speaking about this to whoever is in charge of the internet.

I talked and talked and talked while the audience dreamed of cookies, cider, and munchkins, tantalizingly in sight, but just out of their reach.
Karen Landsman presented me with a certificate and a plaque and, as part of the ceremony, asked me to hang the plaque up on the wall.

This was thrilling for the audience.
And it only took me about 15 minutes to find the little hook thing and get it hung.

After I finally managed to hang it, Karen thanked everyone for coming and freed them to eat snacks.
My father-in-Law used the opportunity to fix the plaque that I had just hung. It wasn't up to his exacting standards.
Once people were free to eat, much of the hostility cleared from the air.
There was music provided by the very talented 14 year old, Madeline.
And, in a brazen, flagrant violation of the rules, we feasted in the library.

It was a fun afternoon for me because I got to talk and talk and talk and nobody could interrupt me or tell me to put a sock in it. I got snacks, a certificate, and was surrounded by family and good friends. My pals, Laura and Amy even brought gifts and cards from their students at Sandown Central School. You may recall that this is the same school where a kindergartener asked me if she could have my underpants.

Despite the fact that none of the library trustees asked for my underpants, it was a great afternoon. I'm flattered and humbled to have been given the Elizabeth Yates Award and I'll do my best to carry out the duties entrusted to me by writing about boogers even more.

Monday, October 10, 2011

More Mountain Climbing. More Suffering. More Pain. And No Ice Cream.

Let me get this out there right away.
The ONLY reason I go on these ridiculous hikes with Julie is because we ALWAYS get ice cream after the hike.
(Are you reading this, Julie? ALWAYS!!!)
So when we finally braved the treacherous and outrageously difficult dual summits of Mt. Flume and Mt. Liberty last Friday, I cannot be blamed for expecting to be rewarded with an ice cream sundae the size of a 1959 Buick.
Julie insisted that she would rather have iced coffee.
Clearly, she had gone insane. There is no other explanation.
I even have photographic proof from our pre-hike photo.
All hike and no ice cream makes Julie CRAZY.
As so often happens, I failed to see the warning signs until it was way too late.
Adding to my case for Julie's advanced state of craziness is the simple fact that we climbed these mountains at all.

Mt. Liberty and Mt. Flume are described in the guidebook like this:

"Oh, the humanity. What are you thinking? DON'T, under any circumstances, EVER climb these mountains. You will regret it. Why don't you just go out and get some ice cream and SAY that you hiked them. Nobody will ever know."

But rather than following the guidebook's sensible advice, we headed off into the chilly morning air to climb two mountains and suffer needlessly. And without ice cream.

The hike began with a mile of walking along a paved bike path, just to reach the trailhead. We chatted of this and that, marveling at the fact that it could possibly be so cold here in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in October. Who would have guessed?

We turned off the pavement, into the woods and began a leisurely stroll through the woods. A leisurely stroll designed exclusively to lull us into a false sense of safety and well-being before the mountain could roar up and give us both a dope-slap.

We traipsed merrily along in the woods and soon began to get warm and decided to shed some of the hundreds of layers we had worn for the trip. At a trail junction, Julie took off her vest and the pants that she had brilliantly worn over her shorts.

I, less brilliantly, had worn some very fashionable spandex pants (pictures not included) under my regular pants. Removing them required removal of my pants first, followed by a tricky balancing act while trying to slide the spandex off and not step onto the cold wet ground. When I was about half-way through the ordeal, another hiker came striding into view from the foggy, misty woods.

I had chosen to simply change in the middle of the path, as there was obviously nobody else around for miles except Julie and she was busy looking at maps or engaging in some other useless activity. I tugged at my spandex pants, trying desperately to yank them back up so I could get my regular pants up. A simple over-balance sent me hopping across the path on one foot with my pants around my knees, directly in front of the approaching hiker.

"Nice morning," I said, assuming a nonchalant pose and smiling suavely.
"Warms up fast, doesn't it?" he asked, striding away quickly and disappearing into the misty shroud of the forest.

Julie is happy because SHE wasn't the one hopping around on one foot in her undies when the other hiker passed us.
I managed to get myself changed without any serious personal injury or charges of indecent exposure, and we started out once again, headed for the foot of the Mt. Flume slide, now a mere 2.6 miles away.

I should probably explain that a slide, when hiking, is not a delightful piece of playground equipment designed to bring joy to all who use it. A slide is a horrible slash of rock that runs nearly vertically up the side of a mountain. It is designed to kill you in painful and spectacular ways, but only after causing you unimaginable amounts of pain and suffering.

The day was warming up even more and, rather than risking more indecent exposure charges, Julie used the opportunity to take a refreshing dip in the icy mountain stream.

Nothing says "hypothermia" like a cold, wet foot at the beginning of a hike.
After her swim, we decided that a snack might be in order.

I'd like to point out that eating is an integral part of any real hike and that near the end of every single hike, the talk revolves exclusively around food. We typically each bring an assortment of goodies and share them.

Julie brought along some trail mix and commented, "I got this kind because it was cheap."

A brief view at its contents explained why it was so cheap.

"Oh my god. Is that a dehydrated heart?" I cried when Julie pulled this hideous lump from the trail mix, "Because if it is, you can have it."

Closer inspection revealed that is was actually a dried, salted strawberry, which is exactly as delicious as it sounds.

Julie attempts to eat The Strawberry of Doom and Despair
Once she tastes it, Julie can no longer remember happiness.

With a cold foot and the foul, salty taste of dehydrated strawberry scorched onto her tongue, Julie suggested that we start off again before things could get worse. As if in answer to her suggestion, we almost immediately lost the trail  and wandered aimlessly in the woods for a few minutes, lamenting the fact that we were going to die with the taste of salty strawberries in our mouths.

 We eventually found the trail again and walked for a few months before catching our first glimpse of the fabled Mt. Flume Slide.
The slide, before it gets steep. This is the trail up the mountain.

"Hey, Julie. It's been fun. I'll be going home now," I said, turning and heading back toward the car. I took off my pack to get a drink before heading home. I leaned against a tree and was rewarded with the most miraculous sight in nature:

New Hampshire's rare Toasted Marshmallow Tree

Close-up of the toasted marshmallow. They look much better than they taste.
Julie didn't like them, either. Foodwise, it was a disappointing day for her. And destined to get worse.
Enchanted by what other wonders might possibly await us at the top of the mountain, I reluctantly agreed to continue the climb, which got significantly steeper.

0.8 miles doesn't sound like far, I admit, but when it is made of slippery, wet rock jutting directly into the sky, it takes on a new sort of meaning.

Julie somehow managed to tune out my constant whimpering and whining and complaining and we found ourselves at another trail junction.

0.1 miles to LUNCH!
I am jubilant at the thought that we will soon be eating.

We finally crested the hill that opened onto the summit and were rewarded with some glorious views.

I am not actually scenery, I realize that.
We settled in for lunch and this was the view while we ate.

We will discuss my pathological fear of heights in much more depth in the following paragraphs.
After lunch, we trudged onward toward the summit of Mt. Liberty, visible in the top right of that picture of my foot. It was a mere 1.2 miles away and after the climb up the slide, we felt like we were floating. It was a lovely, deeply wooded hike that opened onto a rocky, barren summit, inhabited by a french guy who did not budge from his spot at the summit marker.

Julie poses with the immovable french guy.
A word about hiking etiquette: Everyone who climbs mountains, likes to touch the summit markers hammered into the rock. It's silly, but we do it. It makes the entire ordeal worthwhile just to touch that piece of metal. It gives you a sense of accomplishment.

"I hiked a ba-jillion miles over slippery, wet, steep rocks. I have blisters, aches and pains, poison ivy, altitude sickness, dehydration, hypothermia, and vertigo, but I got to touch that marker."

So when you do finally reach that marker, it is very poor form to squat there and eat your lunch hovering over it so nobody else can get near it without climbing around you. Yes, I'm talking to you, random french guy!

I would also like to take this opportunity to discuss the sphincter-puckering drop you see in the photo behind Julie. There are times, when hiking, when a drop appears very impressive, but actually glides gently away from the summit. This was not one of those. The drop behind Julie is exactly as terrifying as it appears to be. A rock-studded plummet to certain, splattery death.

"Go out there," Julie coaxed, "I'll take your picture."

You will notice that there are no pictures of me on that summit. I was clinging desperately to the craggy granite, explaining to Julie that I am terrified of heights.

"This probably isn't the best time to be letting me know that," Julie said, "And, anyways, it's not that bad."

"I have almost wet myself climbing a step ladder," I told her, "This is like a million step ladders piled on top of one another."

"You wet yourself?" Julie asked, missing the point entirely.

"I said 'almost'," I explained, "Just like I almost got to the summit of this mountain."

"Come on," she pleaded, prying my fingers from the rock. The french guy sat back and watched impassively.

Julie succeeded in prying my fingers from the stone and getting me out onto the exposed summit. There is no picture of the event because I was shaking so badly that I appeared only as a slight blur in the picture.

I did not wet myself.


And I managed to snap one picture of the view from the summit before I got all woozy.

And then I changed my pants and we headed down the mountain.

We passed a small but impressive pile of animal poop that I had to photograph simply because of its startling similarity to the dehydrated strawberries that Julie packed. The poor creature that left this had obviously been feasting on the strawberries thrown away by other hikers who had bought the same cheap trail mix Julie did.

Seriously. Where do these flies come from? We're over 4,000 feet in the air! Come to think of it, where did the poop come from? Probably the french guy.

It was a long walk down, but with very little chance of being dashed to bits on jagged rocks. The path wound through the woods, leading us slowly and painfully down the mountain toward the ice cream that I still assumed we would be eating. If you imagine a steep, irregular staircase made of slippery, round, loose rocks that leads sharply downward for 4 miles, you'll have a good idea of what the descent was like.

We were at the point in any hike where talk gravitates to the subject of food and stays there permanently. Things were going splendidly and we drifted easily from food group to food group. I explained my theory of carbohydrates to Julie (your brain uses glucose as fuel; carbs make glucose; therefore, carbs make you smarter). We were passing the time pleasantly until we get around to the inevitable subject of ice cream. And Julie said that she'd rather have iced coffee.

And the world shimmered and faded to black.

I have no recollection of the rest of the hike, shrouded as I was in the bleak hopelessness of a hike without ice cream. I suppose that we did make it down safely, as I have a picture that suggests a happy ending.

Notice, please, that Julie no longer looks insane.

My smile is fake. A thin veneer of joy slapped over a bottomless pit of hopelessness and despair and sore feet.

Next time, I'm packing ice cream to eat on the summit. And some dehydrated strawberries for Julie.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Crunchy Socks, Subway Fires, and Dehydrated Space Monkeys

Dehydrated Space Monkey. I call him Kirk.
There's really no other way to start this blog entry. In fact, I'm considering starting everything I ever write from now on with a dehydrated space monkey.  Surely, if it's good enough for the venerable Smithsonian Museum, it is good enough for me.

And you.

Our second day in Washington was spent walking endlessly around the city, enjoying the wonderful sights and lamenting the fact that my socks were all crunchy. It seems indelicate to mention, and I suspect that I am opening myself up to cheap potshots from my friends, but my undies were on the crunchy side as well.

You may remember, from our last episode, I had traveled to Washington D.C. with my family to attend the National Book Festival. Upon arrival, I found that I had failed to pack a single pair of clean undies or socks and was forced to wash my one set of each in the sink and dry them with the hair dryer conveniently supplied by the hotel for just such a purpose.

The downside, if you can even imagine a downside to such a system, is that the hand soap–or possibly inadequate rinsing–left my socks and undies more crunchy than I normally care for them to be. After reading about this predicament, my friend Melissa suggested that I might have purchased new socks and undies in Washington, thus alleviating my suffering. Melissa is a real-life, professional, full-time editor and should know better. If I had bought new socks and undies, I would have had nothing to write about.

Except Kirk, the Dehydrated Space Monkey.

Which, really, might have been enough now that I think about it.

So we spent our second day in Washington wandering through the truly spectacular Smithsonian Museums. Our first stop was at the Air and Space Museum, home to, among other things:

Kirk, the Dehydrated Space Monkey. Again.
I would love to tell you all about this monkey; who he was, why he is dehydrated and propped up on display, what he is thinking about; but I cannot. As soon as I saw him, I fell into paroxysms of laughter so volcanic, that I almost passed out.

I have an annual tradition of swapping horrible gifts with friends and I'd like to take this opportunity to warn ALL my friends that if the Smithsonian ever has a yard sale, you are all in BIG trouble.

Our wanderings carried us to the mock up of the space station where my imagination was captivated by the amazing possibilities of the waste collection system.

I can only tell you that it is a vast improvement over some of the more primitive models they had on display.

Say Cheese!
There was also a nifty, but completely useless thermal imaging camera on display, merrily bombarding our delicate, defenseless, touristy bodies with nuclear radiation. You will notice the cold, black spot where my heart should be. That space is there because I was unable to purchase Kirk, the Dehydrated Space Monkey. That empty void shall remain there until I am able to have Kirk for my very own.

Our next stop was the Museum of American History. On the way, we passed many tourists posing for odd, awkward photos of themselves.

I took a picture of a guy taking a picture of a lady taking a picture of a guy.   I win.

The Museum of American History is wonderful and amazing and blah, blah, blah. You can see the actual Star Spangled Banner (it is huge) or Ladybird Johnson's Inaugural Ball Gown (it is the ugliest thing in history and I am negotiating its purchase for use in the gift swap with my friends), or, if you are very patient, you can see the rare and elusive, Guy Posing Behind A Stuffed Buffalo And Fanning the Air Like The Buffalo Farted.

 This guy actually asked Kerri to take his picture posing with a buffalo butt. He stood there fanning the air and wrinkling up his nose and had Kerri take at least a half dozen pictures of him, because it took him a few tries to find the perfect pose. I was too late to actually photograph him fanning himself because I was across the hall, photographing some Chinese girls who wanted their photo taken with a genuine museum guard. They actually got this guard to dance after this picture was taken. I have no idea how, but they did.

Feeling a need to get in on some of the hilarious photo action, Kerri took this brilliant picture of the kids and me looking through a hole. HA HA HA!

Aren't we clever?

Now you know what I look like when looking through a circle.

After we had absorbed all the culture, history, and Dehydrated Space Monkeys we could tolerate, we began the long walk back to Union Station where the hotel shuttle would pick us up and return us to the hotel. There were a few stops along the way as we had already walked 2.6 million miles and were weary.

I used the break as an opportunity to practice my serious look. I will use this as an author photo if I ever write a book that is not about boogers.
We slogged along until we arrived at Union Station. Once there, we were greeted by what appeared to be the entire Washington D.C. fire department and hoards of happy, patient commuters who had been evacuated from the subway because it was, in the words of an official on the scene, "On fire."

Smoke was billowing up from the grates in the ground so, naturally, I grabbed the camera and strolled over to the subway entrance to get a few shots.

Some of the firefighters objected to my presence and expressed the opinion that I might want to relocate myself.

Kerri suggested, for the first time, that I restrict my picture taking to photos of random strangers that we don't know, posing awkwardly in front of national monuments.

But before I could take any pictures of the happy, patient people, displaced from their evening commute, the shuttle came and whisked us away to the hotel for our last night in Washington.

I spent the long drive home pondering how best to word the letter I'm going to write to the Smithsonian, asking about purchasing Kirk.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mr. Kelley Goes To Washington. His Socks Do Not. (Washington Travel Journal, Day 1)

First, I just want to say that it was an honest mistake.
I had a lot on my mind.
I was busy.
I was distracted.
That's why I forgot to pack clean socks and undies for my 4 day trip to Washington D.C.
I have found that washing socks and undies in the sink with hand soap is an effective way to get them clean, but hanging them on coat hangers, suspended over the air conditioning unit is NOT an effective way to dry them.

I had much better results with a hair dryer. Socks can simply be slipped over the business end of a hair dryer. After a few minutes, they are dry and, as an added bonus, the process infuses the entire hotel room with the delicate scent of burning fabric. Undies, especially boxers, are somewhat more problematic due to their unwieldy shape, but with patience, they can also be dried with a hair dryer.

Other than the whole undies/socks thing, we had a lovely time on our trip to Washington. We arrived Friday afternoon, just in time for me to shower quickly, change into clean clothes (except for those undies and socks) and race off to a reception at the Library of Congress. Getting into an "invitation only" reception was one of the perks of being chosen as the author to represent New Hampshire at the 2011 National Book Festival.

The other perks were, of course, the opportunity to learn how to blow dry socks, and the opportunity to discover how sweaty you can get running from Union Station to the National Mall in freshly dried socks. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After the reception, which Kerri and the kids drove me to, I wandered around near the Capitol Building, searching for a cab to take me back to my hotel. My recent adventure in New York had lead me to believe that 9 out of every 10 cars in a city are taxis. Not so in Washington. I wandered aimlessly to and fro, attracting the attention of the very highly strung police officers who stand guard at every street corner. When I finally managed to flag down a taxi, I gave the driver the address.

"Where?" he asked.

I repeated the address.

"Never heard o dat street, man. Get out."

"What?" I asked.

He slammed on the brakes. "I never heard o day street. Out my cab."

So I began my weary walk around the city, searching for a cab that might deliver me to the hotel. I got directions from a friendly police officer and was at least able to trudge in the proper direction until I finally managed to flag down a cab that delivered me to the hotel an the gourmet $50 pizza that Kerri had ordered in my absence.

Anyone who has ever met me will readily agree that:

1. I am a food snob.
2. I object, in the strongest possible fashion, to paying $50 for a pizza.

In fairness to Kerri, it was actually three "gourmet" pizzas, a bottle of Sprite and a plastic bag for $50. The plastic bag that the soda came in, our only souvenir from the trip, was itemized at $0.05 on the receipt.

The pizzas did not live up to their price tags and I'd prefer never to think about them again.

Instead, I will think about the festival itself, a literary bacchanal with many, many authors and many, many, many attendees, all seeking the same thing.

Free stuff.

I had been warned about this. Each state sent an envoy from the state library to show off the fact that people in their state could read. At least, I assume that's why they were there. They armed their representatives with free stuff to give to people. I really have no idea why the states felt obligated to give stuff away, but as it was in the name of literacy, I was all for it. Plus, I got some free stuff for myself.

"People will come through the pavilion," I was told by several librarians, "and they will grab anything that isn't nailed to the table. If you have a cell phone, DON'T put it on the table. They will take it."

The representatives from New Hampshire, in a bold effort to show just how cool we are, had color changing pencils to give away. "The kids will be all right," I was told, "but watch the adults."

Kids generally limited themselves to taking one or two pencils. And, even though they were asked politely to just take one, adults typically scooped up 10-20 pencils at a grab.

"Could you please just take one pencil?" the librarians asked politely.

The person would look the librarian in the eye, drop one of the 20 pencils back on the table, and throw the rest into her bag before running off into the crowd.

I suggested a metal yardstick to whack fingers with, and even offered to do the whacking, but my suggestions were ignored. My job, technically, was to merely stand around and be eye candy, something I am vastly experienced at. I was the author from New Hampshire, after all.

People wandered through the pavilion, traveling from state to state with a map of the US clutched in their sweaty, pencil filled hands. Each state had a sticker or a stamp that they would place on the map. Once you got all 50 states, you received the grand prize, a warm sense of satisfaction and a map with 50 stickers on it.

People raced from state to state in a fevered state of near frenzy to get the coveted stamps or stickers. I was conscripted into helping out with the stamping and took it upon myself to make sure people had an opportunity to slow down and enjoy the process. When they shoved their maps in my face and waved them back and forth, I put my stamp down and smiled.

"Hi," I'd say. "Having a good time this morning?"


"Yup," I'd respond, "I can't believe the crowds, can you? Amazing that this many people are..."


"Interested in books. I'm Marty Kelley, the featured author from..."


"New Hampshire. Do you need a stamp from New Hampshire?"


"I've got the stamp right here," I'd say, picking it up and waving it tantalizingly, "Can you find New Hampshire on that map you've got?"

The person would scan the map frantically and jab at any state that started with an N.

"Nope. That's Nevada," I'd say, "New Hampshire is a bit more toward the eastern side."

The person would then flip the map over, looking–I assume–for China. Then he would flip it back and jab randomly again.

"You're getting closer, but that's New Jersey."

Another jab.

"New York. Getting warmer."

The person would then let fly with an agonized howl and I would smile and gently stamp a New Hampshire stamp on his map. He would then plow to the other end of the table, grab a fistful of color-changing pencils and race off into the crowd.

Notice how happy the children are after they get to meet a real, live author.

I had a wonderful time and actually met lots of very cool teachers and librarians who were there for more than the free pencils.

Some states had bookmarks.

After a few hours, I bade a fond farewell to Ann, Michael, and Kelly, the brave souls guarding New Hampshire's strategic pencil reserves, and set off with my family to wander around Washington D.C. and soak up all the historic wonder of our country.

As we wandered through the National Mall, we passed a "Legalize Medical Marijuana" rally that had drawn exactly one attendee. The organizers probably should take a hint from the librarians and start giving away free stuff.

We forced our way through the Medical Marijuana crowd and gazed in awe upon the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. I can only assume that budget cuts are responsible for its current condition.

Likewise the state of security in the area.

When we arrived at the Lincoln Memorial where I noticed that visitors don't actually want pictures of the famous monuments. They want pictures of themselves, in front of famous monuments. This was to be a pervasive theme on our trip.

I found taking these pictures to be immensely satisfying. My family, especially my daughter, were unamused by this, however.

We eventually tired of all our wandering, made our way back to the hotel and stewed ourselves in the pool before heading to bed to rest up for another day of adventure and photographs of random strangers that lay ahead.