So I’m sleeping on a couch formerly owned by an ex-girlfriend at a mutual friend’s home in Southern Pennsylvania when it hits. The breath is shallow. Cold sweat. My head feels like it’s inside a fishbowl. There’s a peculiar fever; blood rises to the surface of my cheeks; the five o’clock shadow gets itchy beneath my chin. What is it? Did I forget to pay my phone bill? Am I worried about my Missed Connections post on Craigslist? Did I eat all the Cracklin’ Oat Bran? Taxes? Hell? Old age? Death? Unemployment? Ebay? Love? Publication? Family?
Actually, it’s just the flu and no health care.
No health care means getting creative about health. For me I choose the method actor approach. I remember the last time I was coughing up little bits of lung or feeling like my stomach was a hot wet tap of frothy distress (there’s your image, folks) and I go full on Stanislofsky into my reading.
I spent most of yesterday coughing like Val Kilmer in Tombstone. At one point I was paying for gas inside and coughed so hard I saw stars–what a wonderful and cheap buzz. I think I actually heard the opening chords to “Tales of Brave Ulysses” in that dizzied moment, which is crazy. I always figured myself something of a lighter fare for the lightheaded-crashing-headlong-into-the-power bar-display-at-Sheetz… Maybe something from Love’s “Forever Changes” or Donovan or even The Small Faces. Anyway I was given a wide birth–like Outbreak monkey wide birth.
There’s panic which comes with being sick and having no health insurance. Two years ago I drove all the way back from DC with a searing case of pneumonia and was definitely kicking myself that I had not finished my will on LegalZoom.com (enter the keyword: Henderson in the referal box at checkout for more savings. LegalZoom are not lawyers but do provide self-help services at your specific direction). Luckily I had amazing health benefits which provided me with amazing medications and access to the latest medical advances (just this side shy of a bionic lung) to get me up and running in about a month.
Today, no health insurance means I’m qualified for whatever OTC drugs I can get at CVS plus trying homeopathic cures from the internet–that’s got to be safe right? I mean I usually Google most of my health cures while I’m listening to reruns of Art Bell’s Coast to Coast program so I’m pretty sure I’ll be fine, as long as the Illuminati doesn’t trace my browser history and report the findings to the brain of J. Edgar Hoover (which is being kept alive inside a giant mechanical rottweiler affectionately named Ed Wood Jr.Jr.).
Alright, I’m pretty sure the fever is kicking into high gear…so let’s skip to some specifics of my reading last night, shall we?
Dogstar Books in Lancaster is one of the coolest bookstores I’ve seen in quite a while. It winds and meanders through a fairly large space with multiple rooms and has its own gallery space (which is where I read). What I really dug was that the place was well lit. I know what you’re thinking: “Well lit, really Jim? That’s all you got? Go take some cold medication. Don’t forget to include that in your Yelp review!” But hear me out: I think us obsessive types get pigeonholed into folks who shop in clandestine spaces where our ephemera and fetished treasures have not seen the light of day since the Carter Administration (Jimmy, not Jigga). So to come into a space which doesn’t feel like it’s somebody’s exhumed basement means a lot. Found some serious lit including a first edition Durrell–good stuff.
The reading’s curator Jeff Rath runs a pretty tight ship and kept the open mic to the three minute rule–which is always refreshing when the audience and readers get it and are Kool and Gang about it.
Read a bunch of new work, trotted out the time tested material. Dicked around, made obscure references, cused like a sailor, confused several, alienated a handful, broke hearts… the usual.
The best part: breaking out a pantoum to justify my MFA.
Second best part: surviving the reading without coughing up blood, Iggy Pop style.
Third best part: sold some books.
What’s really amazing about doing a reading on a Wednesday night in the heart of Amish country (sic) is the amount of people who came out to hear a complete stranger read. It’s a real testimony to the type of writing scene Dogstar Books and the local folks are building. To me, these are the communities which you need to be going to–a big city will always attract the big art and the big venue, but coming to Lancaster and reading to college kids and being in a community where art is not necessarily a given in the day to day life–that’s exciting. Granted, Lancaster has a surprising art scene going on in the city, but still, if I said Lancaster to you, I’m guessing the first three things you’d think of would be: Amish, Barn Raising, and the Woody Harrelson/Randy Quaid masterpiece Kingpin.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to enjoy some ELO and a Nyquil-induced coma until Saturday.
Please excuse Jim Warner from Phys. Ed. class today–he is trying to get over a severe chest cold. Jim Warner is the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared in The North American Review, PANK Magazine, Word Riot, and other journals. Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University and shops at indie bookstores such as Dog Star Books (www.dogstarbooks.com). For more medical updates and homeopathic cures, follow Jim on Twitter: @whoismisterjim.