Hand Grenade Job was on tour in the great American South and Northeast over the past two months. Over the course of the tour, HGJ’s Beck Levy chronicled her experiences on the road. After the first leg concluded, she came home for a short break before heading back on the road. Read previous entries here.
April 10, 2017: Providence, R.I. at AS220 with Gauche, Iris Creamer, and Funeral Cone
I wake up early to move my car, but it takes long enough that sleeping more isn’t an option. I’m sweaty and congested and have a series of upsetting phone calls to make.
I don’t really believe in the whole “universe giving you signs that you’re going in the right direction” thing, but a toll worker on the edge of the Bronx was listening to the radio in his booth, and when I asked him if it was the Bodega Boys he freaked out and grabbed both my hands and we screamed and held hands and talked about how strong the brand is. He says Mero is from the same block as him. The encounter clearly made both our days and as I drove away I was like “Damn should I have tried to stay in touch with this person?”
Through the windshield I can see the full moon. Tonight’s the first night of Passover. It’s my favorite Jewish holiday, with my favorite prayers, songs, and food. It’s a time for challenging other Jews to understand that under Zionism, it’s not “once we were slaves in Egypt and now we are free” because there’s an apartheid state, an imperialist occupation, an asymmetric war going on—with our complicity, in our names. Our struggle for liberation will never be complete if Palestine is occupied.
Passover is a holiday that creates a semi-public space for sadness and pain. Last year I had to get special permission to leave the hospital and attend the seder. I remember sitting around the table with my family, holding the haggadah, looking down at my arms, the hospital bracelet, the wrist monitor, my eyes burning with tears. It was so important to me to be there, at a ritual about passage through a narrow strait, during a time when I was spending hours each week in the narrow strait of an MRI machine. The feeling of restless unease permeating this leg of the tour is intensifying as I travel north, further away from where my family is gathering to do this ritual.
My mouth is yearning for the taste of horseradish, which in the seder is supposed to represent bitterness and suffering. I like to eat it by the spoonful.
When I get out of the car at AS220, I think I smell the ocean. I’ve never been to Providence before. AS220 is a complex of artist studios, a bar, and an art gallery with a stage, where the show tonight will happen. I wanted to get some special items for my set—items from the traditional seder plate—but I didn’t have any time to spare, so I just get a glass of wine. I change into a dress in the bathroom, spreading my makeup over the counter along with my wine and Rihanna playing from my phone speakers.
I hear a noise and realize I’m not in the bathroom alone. A very young looking woman comes out of a stall and washes her hands in the sink next to me. She’s wearing headphones around her neck and has a backpack, looks like a college student. It’s clear she’s been crying. Her face is miserable and strained. She is looking straight down like she wants to disappear. “Are you okay?” I ask. “Yeah,” she whispers. I’ve experienced and witnessed too much loss to let it go quite that easily. “If you want to talk to a stranger, or just have some company, I’ll be in here a while. Then in the gallery after. You’re welcome to sit with me,” I say. “Okay,” she mouths. “Open invitation,” I say. She leaves the bathroom. The world feels saturated with misery.
Sitting at my merch table I feel unable to engage in small talk or pal around with new people. The writer and photographer Jaime Lowe appears in front of the table—I haven’t seen her in probably seven years, when I did a show for The Body and Assembly of Light Choir in the sanctuary at St. Stephens. We’ve corresponded since and I admire her greatly, but I’m shaky, distracted, unable to convey anything but anxiety.
A really pleasant couple, who are either in or with the first band, tries to strike up a conversation with me. They have really strong Maine accents and I can feel my face contorting rudely out of sheer instinct. I excuse myself and go back to the bathroom and just stand in there drinking wine and staring at myself in the mirror, and there I remain all through the first band.
I return to the gallery to catch Iris Creamer, a local MC and producer. She’s in a spotlight on the floor in front of the stage, at first standing, then pacing and dancing, her calm contained energy slowly drawing everyone to stand in a circle around her. The two songs that stick with me are “Pink Pistol” and “It’s Always Sunny in Vagina.”
I do an improvised Passover incantation at the beginning of the set, holding my hand over my wine and howling. It’s one of those stage situations where the lights are set up in such a way that you can’t be fully sure what’s going on in the audience—how large it is, who is there, where they are standing. It feels small, anonymous, far. A couple people are talking loudly in the back the whole time, which worms its way under my skin and irritates me for my whole set. Why would you have your loud conversation here in the gallery when there’s an entire bar 10 feet away?
As I’m packing up, a dude in a Dystopia shirt comes and compliments me effusively, saying he had to go sit down because my music was too powerful. I’m confused by this reaction, and quickly change the subject to how much I like Dystopia. His friend says that I put Chelsea Wolfe to shame, which is also confusing because 1) No, I don’t, and 2) Why you gotta pit women against each other like that? It’s not a competition there’s room for all manner of spooky bitches in this world. In other words, I am unable to politely accept compliments.
During Gauche, I’m sitting at my table drinking what would technically be the glass of redemption when an oogle approaches. He seems drunk. I motion disinterestedly to indicate that I can’t hear him over the band. His response is to start screaming at the top of his lungs: “HELLO! HOW ARE YOU!” I’m embarrassed even though I’m the victim, not the perpetrator, of this encounter. His persistence is disconcerting. I stare at him until he leaves. As soon as they’re done playing, he’s back. I pointedly ignore him as he fumbles through my tapes and pins. Finally he blurts out, “What’s the deal with you?” He is holding two cans of PBR, tallboys. “Are those both yours?” I ask. “Yes,” he says proudly, “So what’s your deal? What are you?” Sensing this is some kind of setup or trap, I try to pivot, answering “Sun in Sagittarius, Moon in Scorpio, Virgo Rising.” He is thrown off, but recovers quickly, slurring, “What’s the deal with you because I’ve never actually met a Siren before, like in real life.” I’m a little impressed at the level of discourse on which his rambling has landed.
Someone else walks up, and grateful for the distraction, I give him all my attention. It’s a tall young man, who tells me he liked my songs a lot, then asks if he can buy my tape for just a dollar. I decline to sell him my tape at less than half their cost. Then my friend Brian from Diet Cokeheads shows up and we launch into printer talk, discussing how relief printing ruins you for screenprinting in some ways, and discussing our current studio setups. Mythology-oogle leaps into the conversation, eagerly telling us about his monoprint/image transfer system. I’m aghast at this twist. Why couldn’t this dude have led with that like a person instead of screaming at me like a toddler? Why are men so corny and dumb? How can I stop them from stealing my lifeforce?
Mary from Gauche lives in Providence currently, pretty much ever since she joined Downtown Boys. She sweetly offers me her bed for the night, and we do face masks and watch Star Trek till we are both nodding off.
April 11, 2017: Winooski, Vt. at the Monkey House with Gauche and Cringe Comedy Night
I wake up before Gauche and drive to a riverfront park. I have a phone appointment with my therapist and it’s nice to feel the sun while we talk, and there’s almost no one around, so it still feels private. A BMX dude smoking a joint rolls up and starts saying things to me, even though I’m obviously talking on the phone. “I’m on the phone,” I tell him. “Yo, do you know if it’s chill to smoke here?” He asks me. “…I’m on the phone. This is an important call,” I say. It’s 9 a.m. He ride off. A couple minutes later he’s back with the same inquiry. I have the same response. Men. Why?
I start overheating on the drive to Vermont and have to pull over to put ice on my forehead and take off most of my clothes. It’s not too bad outside, but the sun is just beating down on my car, and as I may have mentioned, no air conditioning. The gas station has dolmas which I buy and eat while I sit on the curb, practically in my underwear, attempting to absorb Gatorade through my forehead pores. About halfway into the drive the landscape becomes beautiful. There’s mountains in fog, green ice on lakes, mist falling, and as I get closer to Winooski, raging waterfalls. It looks like North Bend, Washington, if you know what I mean. When I get to the venue, it’s freezing outside and I have to dig for my coveralls in the backseat.
When I’d heard that the venue for tonight was called The Monkey House, I had a terrible feeling that it was a comedy club. Turns out it’s not exclusively a comedy club, but tonight, in lieu of an opening band, there will be a comedy night called “Cringe.” It isn’t what I’d consider comedy, more like storytelling in the vein of The Moth, really, with more participation and less preparation.
The theme tonight is “financial humiliation,” which ends up meaning something totally different than my association with that phrase. As an indication of the juiciness of this content, one of the first “humiliating” stories was about buying a house then discovering some mold in it. Maybe it really is a comedy night, though, because there is a rape joke just 15 minutes in.
To be continued…