Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

Akashic Books

||| |||

News & Features » March 2015 » Jason Carney’s Tour Diary: Dayton, OH

Jason Carney’s Tour Diary: Dayton, OH

Looking for a little adventure? Travel around the US with Starve the Vulture author Jason Carney as he tours the country’s slam poetry circuit! This week, the residents of Dayton, Ohio, give Jason a warm welcome.

Wondering where Jason’s going next? Join Jason this Saturday, March 14, at 1:00 PM at the Tucson Festival of Books in Tucson, Arizona. Click here for full event listings.

StarveTheVulture-newI Must Have Been Stoned

As a school-age child growing up in Texas, I remember at least four teachers taught us that if anyone ever broke into your house you were to shoot them. If they crawl outside and die, you were to drag them back at least halfway across the threshold of your front door and tell the police they died right there. This is the reason I never broke into homes as a teenager.

Dayton, Ohio, had a new poetry slam when we rolled through—the first February of the new millennium—with a packed house of eager poetry disciples. The slam master offered his couch for my touring partner, Tara Seth, and I to crash on for the night. This is a pretty standard practice on the slam feature circuit—roll into town, drop off your stuff, go do your show, spend the night, leave. However, Tara’s grandparents live in a big house on the other side of town. She decided to stay with her family, but first she would drop me off at the slam master’s casa.

As we slowly drove the winding street of this vast townhome community, everything seemed to shimmer and move as if it were a giant insect, earth-toned and nondescript. Even the bikes, barbecue grills, and lawn chairs matched as my eyes moved house to house in a frustrated measure of distinguishing landmarks. The long trees rooted in patches of dirt and grass on front lawns, half-covered in snow, stretched out like appendages from the body of the buildings; every aspect of each home connected to the next like the armor of a giant centipede. In the daylight this placed pulsed uniformity.

The poetry slam offered far more variety—especially at the bar, where the featured poets drank free all night. I was drunk by the time I got onstage. Those twenty minutes of my life were a blur, like so many other moments spent half-blind behind a wall of shots and weed. It must have been a good show because at the end of the night a large group of poets and audience piled into cars and zipped to another bar. Tara and I, not usually cautious, decided to show everyone exactly how this drink drank drunk thing is done. Everyone that came with us got shitfaced before they left—a few took cabs home, a couple hooked up, and Tara and I decided to play bullet with her car.

I don’t remember much about hurling through Dayton at three in the morning other than that the crispness of the bitter air kept me from throwing up, except for a little in my mouth. I do remember Tara. She appeared so drunk, but she looked sober; so lost, but she knew exactly where she was going. She even kept it together while I hung out the window and ranted about time travel. We were in our own little bubble heading through the ghetto of Dayton.

“Get out!” she said.


“Get out. We are here.”

I did not realize we had come to a stop. I half-flopped out of the car into a half-stagger of erectness. My mouth cringed dry with the metallic residue of vomit that hung on the back of my throat like a name I could not remember, even though I was staying at his house. For one fleeting sober moment I could see the whole neighborhood: still, peaceful, the perfect accord of anonymous windows and slumbering darkness. Everything was static.

“You okay?”

“I am fine,” I mumbled.

I took one step forward, and my legs fell out from beneath me. A mix between a belly flop and a front double flip with a twist. There isn’t a skateboarder alive who could have pulled off that outstanding crash into the ground, facedown in mud and snow, legs kicking the sidewalk.

“I am a paralyzed turtle.”

“Get up!” Tara screamed through the rolled-down window.

“I have fallen and can’t get up.”

“Hold on, jackass,” she muttered.

Tara made her way to me with her car still running. Her blonde hair was almost as translucent in the night as the white ski coat she was wearing. She stumbled, bending over to pick me up, and landed on top of me.

“We have to stop meeting like this . . .”

“Fuck you, Jason.” She grinned. “Get your ass up.”

We embraced as we both reached our walking altitudes. Spit and laughter rolled off our tongues, and for a moment there was a soft connection between our eyes.

“I could love you for the rest of my life,” I said. “Or at least until the morning.”

“Lucky me,” she smirked. “Get your ass moving!”

I must have been stoned when this whole thing started,” I sang off-key. “Flat broke, I’ve been smoking butts for days . . .

The first Old 97’s album was our theme music for that tour. We sang that song in twenty-five states, none louder or crisper than that night in Dayton as she shoved me in the direction of the door. Our arms were wrapped around each other’s bodies to ensure we did not fall again.

With every step our momentum built. The small porch and doorway were darker than the rest of the world; by the time we breeched its threshold, the two of us were a snowball rolling downhill, morphing into an avalanche of laughter. The only control we exhibited was the ever-increasing volume of the song. We crashed through the unlocked front door, right into the living room.

Take a letter to God, dear Sir, I’m dissatisfied . . .

We both paused in the same instant. Everything was different—the family pictures, the paintings, the television stand and the TV on top of it, the wall behind the stand that should have been on the other side of the room. The couches, chairs, and dining room that were not here before. Beyond the furnishings were two wide-eyed people sitting on the couch, clutching their pillows as if they were bulletproof vests.

Without missing a beat or an uncomfortable pause, I looked right into their eyes and asked the most obvious question.

“Who the fuck are y’all?”

They said nothing.

And with that we were gone, back out into the cold silent darkness, singing our honky-tonk theme music like star-crossed travelers who were lucky enough to not be in Texas.


JASON CARNEY, a poet, writer, and educator from Dallas, is a four-time National Poetry Slam finalist and was honored as a Legend of the Slam in 2007. He appeared on three seasons of the HBO television series Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry. Carney has performed and lectured at many colleges and universities as well as high schools and juvenile detention centers from California to Maine. Starve the Vulture is his memoir.

Posted: Mar 11, 2015

Category: Akashic Insider | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,