Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kalamazoo Diaries

The Journey Begins...

It’s 7:45 am. I am bidding good bye to civilization. Good-bye to espresso. Good bye to fresh bread. Good bye to my listeria that is growing in my garden. Or is it wisteria. Who can possibly know the difference.

I have a bus to catch. The bus that will take me to Guelph, Ontario and from there into a white rental car that will carry Michelle and I to the 44th meeting of international medievalists held annually in a medieval garden in Rome close to arugala salad, homemade pasta and passion fruit gelato.

“OK, Nat. Can you map out our route to Sarnia on your Iphone.”

Sarnia, Ontario. And from there to Flint. And from Flint to Battleship or Battleford and then to the hotbead of international medievaldom: Kalamazoo. To the pros: K-zoo. And to the amateurs: The Zoo. But to me, the annual piligrimage to summer camp for medievalists can simply be referred to as Hell.

We stop at the Subway in Sarnia like we did last year, the year before, and the year before that. I order a tuna sub and something that is called soup but isn’t. My iPhone is losing battery life and with that loss goes my only connection to the 21st c. I need to do something. There is no outlet in Subway nor in the bathroom at Subway. We go the pet store and ask them to charge my iPhone. This they do. I look at the chameleons changing colours in their holding tanks and wonder if someone is going to pitch me a book idea on Medieval reptiles. Michelle says it has been done already by 231 different publishers. I breathe a sigh of relief.

On the road again. We go over the border where we are not stopped and therefore not given respite. Faster than a Michael Phelps lap, we are confronted with the worst roads in the entire galaxy complete with dead deer and discarded pieces of tire.
What’s that you ask? Discarded pieces of tire? Yes. Lots of it. I know, I don’t get it either. How does the truck keep driving if it has lost pieces of tire.

“It just sheds the tire, Natalie. The tire is still there.” Michelle sighs and keeps staring into the tree-lined highways that remind me of Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec. People tend to forget about Belzec and I feel personally responsible for always including it.

“I think if someone wanted to create a death camp, they should do it here. It really is quite perfect. You have railway lines and lots of trees and areas for mass graves.”

“Can we listen to Flight of the Conchords now.” Michelle has done this trip with me before. I don’t know why she volunteered to go again. Perhaps it is because no one else will go with me anymore.

At 3:30, we get the call.

“Hi Natalie. It’s Suzie. Suzie from the warehouse. Your books aren’t there Natalie. They aren’t there.” Suzie is our hot, young, frequently breathless Distribution coordinator. Her job it to ensure that books arrive from the warehouse to Kalamazoo. This is what she is paid to do.

“Why aren’t they there?” I ask mildly concerned but not panicked.
“I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
“I don’t know is not an answer.”
“I know. I don’t know. I just don’t. Know.”
“Let us know when you know.” I hang up.
“This is going to suck.” I said to Michelle.
“I feel you.” Said Michelle.

We drive into Kalamazoo. There is a sign for the airport that says Air Zoo. I need to leave.
“We can’t leave. We just got here.”

I see a tall roadside ad for a massage parlour called the Happy Spa. “Personalized massage available.”
“You know what that means dontcha? Says Michelle who is far hipper than I will ever be.
“Ummm. That you can design your own massage?” I respond. A true naïf.
“It means “to completion.”
“Completion of what? The massage? One would hope so. I pay serious coin for a massage. They better finish it.”
“Oh my fucking God. Do I have to explain everything to you.”
I take a minute to think about “to completion.” Nah. That’s can be it. Why would someone want that from a complete stranger.
“I don’t think you have that right. I wouldn’t want some grody guy touching me like that.”
We are at a red light. Michelle has her head on the steering wheel.
‘You have been married wayyyy too long.” She pronounces.

We drive in silence past the football stadium that is the size of Toronto, past the pond where the pelicans and storks frolic (“They’re Canadian Geese, you moron. Please write that they are Canadian Geese. Natalie, I’m going to proof this before you post it on your blog.”) and into Valley 3 of the Goldfinger Dorms at Western Michigan University.

“No books.” Tess arrived yesterday and is sitting at our empty booth in the Exhibits Hall where 4000 other publishers are busy setting up their medieval wares that include numismatists, coffee, fudge and munch made by monks, and an entire wall bedecked in amber jewellery from the former Soviet Union with uneven quality. And books. Lots and Lots of books.

“We heard.” Said Michelle.
“They’ll be here tomorrow.” Said Tess.
“Lets go to the mall.”

We leave our booth empty;the sounds of other publishers’ boxes being ripped open a reminder of how bad we are going to look tomorrow at 8:00 when the medievalists storm the Hall looking for books on lapidary formation in the 12th c and we have none. But, we are living in the moment and it is 6:00. We have an hour at the mall.

The Gap in Kalamazoo is the last place one would find a medievalist and so I treasure my time there. Michelle tries on a beautiful dress. We are blissfully transported to any Gap anywhere and for a minute, I forget where I am.

“If you buy a membership card, you can get 10% off all future purchases.”
“I don’t live here.”
“Oh, are you from out of town. Grand Rapids? Flint?
“From Toronto.”
“What state’s that in?”
And then I remember exactly where I am.

We leave the Mall and drive to the Radisson hotel which looks exactly like a spaceship.
“Fingerhut. Ha Ha. That’s a funny name.” Says the perky hotel person at the check-in desk.
I find that ironic coming from a woman named Buffy Duberman.
“Are you with that medieval conference?”
“You medievalists are some of the nicest people that we get here at the Rad. So much better than those management consultant types.
She has a point you know. I’ve worked with management consultants and they are almost without exception assholes. In fact there is an inverse relationship in management consultants between how dumb they are and their asshole quotient. But I digress. But then again, I’m at a medievalist conference. Digression is de riguer.

We drop our items off in our room and head down to the hotel bar which is capable of seating the Western Michigan football team, their coaches, groupies, cheerleaders, and water boys; the Western Michigan wrestling team, local personalities like Ben who was a finalist in American Idol and who sometimes plays the piano at the hotel bar, and 3500 medievalists.

“I’ll have a Kalamapolitan.” Says Michelle. Last year, we drank about 6 of them and then proceeded to sing the entire soundtrack of Les Miserables.
“I’ll join her.” I said.

At some point, we order dinner which like most things in the US is super sized. (The obesity problem in the US is easily understood if you spend half an hour in any American city). A little drunk and a little full, we go up to bed and watch a bit of James Bond, but just as Pussy Galore enters the room, we are already asleep.

Kalamazoo Diaries


  1. who needs prozac when you can read the funny shit that flows out of your red head

  2. this is great Natalie..I read it aloud to Adam and we were in stitches...Can't wait for more ----you have only just arrived! (Marcia)