Not in Kansas, Peter Parker

Yesterday was my third day in South Dakota. I-90 is littered with billboards for tourist traps. They’re starving for people in the Black Hills. After New Orleans, all activity suddenly slowed down. Towns are growing farther apart now, and they are looking more and more similar because they have less and less history and so many are made up of chain food restaurants: a Dairy Queen here, a McDonald’s there, a Subway attached to the gas station.

I can tell my mind is ready for home, and it’s not just because of the strange dreams and daydreams I’ve been having. My friend’s father was decapitated in a car accident with a semi when I was about 16. Now I rub my neck every time I am stuck on the highway behind a trucker driving 55 in a 65, impatient but afraid to pass…

No, it’s not just the fantastic flashes of car crashes. Those are normal, and I couldn’t help but have them last month after visiting James Dean in the graveyard. He told me all about how he died, and the story kind of freaked me out. I think the visions have gotten a little less frequent. They mostly occur when I’m on the highway or boxed in on the freeway, and I’ve avoided sleeping in my car to help keep the frequency down.

I keep thinking about that sign I saw as I drove within range of Tulsa: JESUS IS COMING. The style was outdated. The color was faded. The paint was chipped, and I could see the wood peeking through the holes in the lettering.

No, it’s not the crazy car crash thing that makes me think I’m losing my mind. It’s the fact that after I watched Spider-Man in Tulsa at 10:00 AM, I had a hard time remembering who I was: Peter Parker? Jeremiah Akin? Stan Lee?

It’s the fact that I identified so deeply with the characters in the new movie.

It’s the fact that I allowed myself to be so manipulated that I walked out saying, “Wow! That’s exactly what my life was like when I was sixteen, except for the superpowers and having a girlfriend like Emma Stone’s character.”

It’s the fact that I fell in love with Gwen Stacy for a whole two hours, and then I had to remind myself that she wasn’t a real person.

It’s the fact that it now seems normal for a belligerently drunk man to come on stage with me, steal the mic, and sing all the lyrics to “Dammit” as I am playing the song. I could taste his breathe from three feet away. It tasted like burnt cigarettes, marijuana smoke, and cheap beer.

It’s the fact that it now feels weird when I play a show and no one tells me that I’m pretty. In Arkansas a man mistook me for a “friend of Dorothy.” In Kansas a girl wrote “I’m not wearing panties ;)” on my mailing list and told me I was very handsome. I’m not trying to brag, but more so trying to acknowledge how vain I’ve become. Surprisingly, I’ve managed to simultaneously cling on to my self-deprecating sense of humor. I’m not sure how that works, but I think it has something to do with the fact that self-hatred and self-love are two opposite manifestations of narcissism.

I played a gig on Thursday in a town that consisted of two bars, a library, school houses, and a post office. “Main Street” ran through the neighborhood. Train tracks crisscrossed the street with the bars, library, and post office. About two blocks from the door of the bar were infinite acres of cornfields.

Well, as boring as the Midwest can be, the Black Hills are beautiful, and Rapid City has been an adventure. Last night after my show I was invited to a strange basement apartment to play music in exchange for $40.

“How much do you charge per hour?” asked the older-looking woman in the onesie and fedora.

“Umm…what?” The context of some of the experiences I have had on tour paired with my narcissism led me to believe this woman was making a less than admirable proposition.

My soundman interrupted: “He only plays music.”

Good. At least I’m not the only one sketched out by this situation.

“Yeah. That’s what I mean. How much would it cost for you to come over and bring your guitar and play us a couple of songs? We’re having a party.”

I finished up the show at Hall Inn and walked over the this woman’s house. I made my soundman and the venue booker come with me. I played a few songs to a tightly-packed smokey room of about fifteen people sitting around on couches and talking loudly. We left at about 2:15 AM.

I stayed on the property of the venue booker, a sweet girl who works at the winery I had played the night before. She owns land that she leases to her parents. I slept in the spare bedroom of her parents’ house, and she slept outside with her pet raccoon. From what I gathered, sleeping outside is the norm for her. When I walked in the house, there was an overweight naked man on the couch watching television. I waved. He stared. I kept walking.

Raccoons are fascinating up close. This girl’s raccoon was only a pup (or was it a kitten?). His name was Max (I know. Rocky would have been perfect in the Black Hills). The fascinating thing about Max was that he moved with such fluidity. Cats and dogs are very mechanical creatures in comparison. Raccoons seem to have a far less square type of structure, and when they walk it looks like they are using every muscle in their arched little bodies.

I’m pretty excited for Colorado today. The first time I went through I had two pretty fun shows. Tonight will probably be pretty low key since it’s a Sunday. No worries. Gwen Stacy just called and told me she was going to be there.

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