Monthly Archives: September 2007

09.27.07 – Gus-tour-ism in South Dakota

Pulling into town the sign said: Welcome to Vermillion, South Dakota. Home of the Tanagers! I don’t know what a tanager is, but it makes me want to say Go! Go Tanagers! I set off on my bike in the early afternoon to see what Vermillion was all about. “University Road” sounded like it might be the-drag-that-would-have-the-pita-pit-and-the-papa-johns-and-the-noodles-and-company-on-it, so I biked in that direction. It was flat, and there wasn’t much going on. A little kid on a bicycle with training wheels yelled “hello!!” and waved eagerly. Vermillion is nothing like where I live in New York City.

Then the lawns and houses and friendly kids became farms and silos and fields of beige corn stalks. That’s when the smell hit me. Manure, pungent manure — worse than a port-o-potty at the end of a three-day music festival. Like having stepped in dog shit, only it’s not just on the bottom of your shoes — it’s everywhere. It’s in the air, on your tongue, in your hair, it’s inescapable. It’s like you’re wearing a one-piece jumpsuit made out of shoe bottoms that had all stepped in dogshit. But worse. I was beginning to think maybe a “tanager” was just a “clump of manure” (Go Tanagers!)… my original idea to break on through to the other side and keep pedaling had to be abandoned. I took a right on a dirt road between two corn fields.

The smell didn’t go away, except when I put my nose inside my shirt, and there was no way I was biking along that road with my head down (because that’s when Malachai comes for you).


So I sucked it up, held my breath, pedaled as fast as I could on sand and pea gravel, and eventually wound up at a highway that took me back to campus, where opening act Brett Dennen was soundchecking.

Brett Dennen

It was clear we’d have to make our own fun in South Dakota, like we did the day before when we drove through Badlands National Park. The Badlands is a cool place, for a little while, with majestic canyons and jagged middle-earth rock castles formed by erosion. It was a little Tolkein-y for my taste. Mostly we enjoyed playing the throw-the-cactus-until-it-sticks-to-seth game.

Throw The Cactus Until It Sticks To Seth Game

On the way back to Rapid City we stopped in Wall, SD, and like every other tourist on their way out of the Badlands we went to “world famous” Wall Drug. Scooter bought a mesh South Dakota cap with an antelope on it, which is cool because we were actually in South Dakota and it was only 3 bucks, unlike the mesh South Dakota caps with antelope on them that you can probably get at Urban Outfitters in New York for fifteen. He’s been wearing it, mostly without irony, all day today.

Seth bought gnomes.

And I spent an hour at Wall Drug staring at a window display of stuffed foxes and deer dressed up in human clothes, standing up like they’re having a tea party. I like taxodermy as much as the next guy — don’t get me wrong — I even priced out a wall-mounted “jackalope” across the street from Wall Drug ($70 for a stuffed rabbit head with fake antlers, c’mon!)… but this was just too creepy for words. Is that cowboy with the purple hankie around his neck pointing his gun directly at the deer-wearing-a-flannel, or just near the deer-wearing-a-flannel?

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Gordon spilled a pot of coffee into Joe’s laptop this morning on the bus. I think the lid fell off the coffee-pot when he tipped it, sending hot coffee flowing right into the keyboard of Joe’s powerbook. It didn’t turn on after that.

But unlike the shit-phone incident where Joe had to rely on faith, patience, and his own unique willingness to talk on a phone covered with turd-particles after it fell in the toilet, this time around Joe had legitimate reason to believe things would turn out okay. And that’s because it was Gordon, our mutant know-everything-about-everything sound engineer, who within minutes of the disaster had hatched a plan. He took the battery out, unscrewed the keyboard, removed the top panel — basically took the computer apart so it was just guts and innards — and put it in a sealed cardboard box with a hole cut out of it to fit a blow dryer. He turned a blow dryer on high and let it sit like that for three hours. Then he brought the junk-sale that Joe’s computer had become back onto the bus, re-assembled it, and turned it on. I caught the moment of truth on coolpix video:

The space bar key sticks a little bit but it works. Moving on…

In what would have otherwise been our ‘farewell arizona’ show, people came out in droves to see us in Tempe and clapped after almost every song on Monday night. We were impressed. To top it off, someone made us a sculpture out of white chocolate, featuring the doll from the cover of Parachute and the doll from the One Man Wrecking Machine video (our band has dolls). When I met the aspiring chocolatier after the show, I asked her how long it took to make and she said “only about twelve hours.”

I wouldn’t put it past us to set up a photo like this with carefully-positioned fringe elements, placed in the frame only to stir up controversy (like a bootleg copy of OJ’s “If I Did It” or the complete DVD set of the early seasons of Everybody Loves Raymond, or The Bible). But the photo was pure, snapped hastily before the hopefully-not-poison-chocolate was devoured in “only about twelve minutes.” So the clock really read 3:23, the back of a Cheerios box is really there in the window behind the chocolate sculpture, and R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet, Chapters 13-22” is really there on the table, right before we got around to watching it.

And whereas chapters 1-12 were so bad they were good — I mean, so bad they were a masterpiece — chapters 13-22 fizzled out. I really wanted it to be the epic follow-up I dreamed it’d be, and when R. Kelly sang “you crazier than a fish wit titties” in chapter 13, I thought maybe he’d done it. And then, when R. Kelly was a gospel preacher in chapter 19, I was snug as a bug in my bunk, belly full of chocolate, ready to hear about how it ended in the morning. I dunno, somehow he lost me. I needed more unintentional comedy and less intentional comedy. It’s hard to explain. I think I am a victim of my love for the first 12 chapters.

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