Since I have started ostensibly writing a travel blog of sorts, I have come to the amusing realizations that 1.) my “travel writing” is almost entirely predicated on me generally having a bad time wherever I go, and 2.) that my singular knack for that only fully flourishes when I am alone (and consequently have plenty of time to obsess over where my life went so dreadfully, dreadfully wrong and/or maliciously eavesdrop on all of the hapless people who happen to drift within earshot). Unfortunately for my writing career, my black-hearted cynicism, and my free-floating hostility, I have not been traveling alone much recently. On the bright side, I am actually enjoying my life. You just can’t have everything, I guess. Anyway, despite that highly unnatural state of affairs, I had a few experiences on recent trip to Rhode Island that seem worth chronicling here:
1.) my girlfriend Reyna hipped me to Airbnb, which is basically a website where people naively rent out a room of their house to potentially rape-y or murderous strangers. Consequently, it is much cheaper than actually staying in a hotel or a bed & breakfast (or really anyplace with properly locking doors or any kind of real privacy). Being a budget-savvy traveler, I opted to use this service for a brief segment of our trip and, being me, I chose a place that sounded weird & interesting rather than a place that was near absolutely anything we wanted to do.
What our place was near (surrounded by, in fact) was many blocks of post-apocalyptic-looking vacant lots, housing projects, and extremely poor people. There was even a couch sitting on the sidewalk at the end of our block where people sat drinking liquor out of paper bags-just like in all those gritty South Central LA-based hip-hop movies from the ’90s! However, unlike similar places that I have been (parts of Brooklyn, for example), it actually felt like a fairly happy, well-adjusted community and i suspect that i was far likelier to get abruptly invited to a Latino family’s barbeque than get repeatedly stabbed by a gang of ten-year-olds or something.
The place itself was pretty singular and amazing, as it was a giant Victorian house that was totally, comically incongruous with its surroundings. Also, it was completely filled with the bizarre and mesmerizing harvest of a lifetime of auction and estate sale scavenging (stained glass windows, claw-foot tubs, exotic art- it was like being inside a cabinet of curiosities or a house from a fairy tale). And the owner (who had just returned from a failed attempt at buying a Tiffany lamp) was just as singular and fascinating as his house, as he immediately shared a very cryptic tale about how he was an “exporter” in the Dominican Republican for ten years, but never fully addressed what he exported, how he wound up there, or why he left (other than the vaguely chilling admission that he had “some problems with the workers”). Another interesting detail is that he told us that he had decided to live there because a beautiful house was conveniently vacated by a wealthy doctor who suddenly died. It was almost exactly like sharing a roof with a living Joseph Conrad story. My favorite part of his exotic back-story was a bit illusion-shattering and contemporary though: a band of unsavory German emigres stole his solar panels.
Here are some eccentric tile-work details from our bathroom (below), since i felt weird about wandering around the rest of the house with a camera like a gawking provincial simpleton. I should note that there was absolutely no logic or consistent theme to the house’s decor. For example, our room looked like it was decorated by an elderly woman with an unhealthy bird obsession, yet our bathroom looked like a Moroccan brothel.
Notably, everyone staying at the house was fairly unique as well- we met several fellow denizens while eating a horrifying (to me) breakfast of runny Eggs Benedict. My favorites were a middle-aged university professor and his very young Eastern European wife/girlfriend. He had just published a book on an obscure, pudgy, unphotogenic weirdo from some Eastern European country who had apparently done something miraculous, but could not be canonized because he never produced a second documented miracle. It is killing me that i did not get the guy’s name. In any case, I love people who embark upon ambitious projects that absolutely no one will care about and have no chance of making any money at all. I sincerely wish more people did things just simply because they were interesting. The world would be a much better place.
2.) We splurged on an actual bed & breakfast in Newport, which is noteworthy for three reasons:
•I continued to be at the mercy of someone else’s food choices at breakfast time, so I ended up eating some more stuff that I never, ever would have eaten otherwise, like an omelette and some sort of pudding- and pecan-based breakfast pastry.
When I went to Syracuse the following week, I recounted my dazzling gastronomic exploits to my mom while my dad distractedly listened while simultaneously watching Judge Judy in the next room (at extreme volume), which led to this hilarious exchange:
Me: It was very strange to have a four-day stretch in which I kept eating food that I thought was weird and revolting just because someone had made it for me and I did not want to seem like an asshole.
Mom: Like what?
Me: Well, I had Eggs Benedict at the place in Providence, which seemed absolutely disgusting to me. The one omelette I had, however, was….
Dad: DID YOU HAVE FRENCH TOAST?!?
Me: Uh, what? No. So the omelette…
Dad: WAS THERE FRUIT?!?!?!
Me: What? Uh, yeah, there was some fruit.
Dad: GRAPES! WERE THERE GRAPES?!?
(and so on)
•Our room contained a HoMedics Sound Spa Relaxation Machine (with Six Nature Sounds!), which endlessly delighted me, as I thought it was very funny to turn on ocean sounds whenever I entered our room. I also enjoyed being able to make announcements like “I want to sleep in a fucking rain forest tonight!” and really fucking mean it.
Again, I made the grave mistake of mentioning this to my family when I was home, resulting in me getting a stack of terrible CDs of New Age piano music and rainstorms that my mom had gradually and inexplicably been accumulating for years from her thrift store excursions. She even talked me into listening to CD of “wolf sounds” with her, but she became instantly exasperated when the howling faded away to be replaced by generic light classical music (“Why would they do that?!?!?! What happened to the wolves?!?!?! No one wants to hear this!“).
•There was a guestbook in the room where people could leave messages for future travelers, which evidenced a great deal of brinkmanship in describing how delicious the breakfasts were (they were pretty fucking delicious). It vaguely reminded me of this.
In case you are curious, the breakfast description struggle was ultimately won conclusively by a family from Finland who chose to describe their joy with a cartoon picture of the sun shining. This later led to an absolutely stellar joke in the marbled foyer of a Gilded Age mansion, as Reyna glanced at a giant ornate vase depicting the sun and nonchalantly noted “man, someone really liked the breakfast here.”
3.) We attempted to do two things that should have been totally amazing only to be crushingly disappointed by both. The first was that we went to a cemetery in Providence that used to be frequented by HP Lovecraft and his circle (I am morbidly obsessed with Lovecraft, if you did not know). The cemetery was also listed on some website as one of the “creepiest cemeteries in America.” While we admittedly went there in the daytime, it was not at all spooky or particularly interesting and adjoined an even less spooky office building whose equally non-spooky employees wandered the grounds talking on their cell phones. Afterwards, however, it occurred to me that “creepy” has two meanings and that the cemetery probably is actually one of the creepiest ones in America if I extend the definition to include “a place once frequented by total fucking creeps (i.e.-the Lovecraft circle).”
Sadly, we did not make it to the cemetery where Lovecraft was actually buried (headstone pictured below), but I’d like to note that he has one of the most hilarious epitaphs that I am aware of, if you consider that he was an unemployable, reclusive, over-mothered, and spectacularly racist weirdo.
(Sidenote: in a curious confluence of events, I’ve been on a bit of a Mountain Goats bender lately and was delighted to discover that John Darnielle wrote an entire song about Lovecraft’s hilariously doomed attempt to move to NYC, where he lived in absolute terror of all of the non-white people surrounding him every single goddamn day. It isn’t a particularly good song, sadly, but i am quite fond of the line “the girl behind the counter asks me how i feel today- I FEEL LIKE LOVECRAFT IN BROOKLYN!”).
We also attempted to locate the ruins of an abandoned Enchanted Forest amusement park, which necessitated driving 40 minutes out of town. Fun fact: when I was a small child, I went to an Enchanted Forest somewhere in NY and bonked my head on the roof of a boat and hilariously fell overboard into a pond. Unfortunately, I was unable to replicate that feat on this particular trip, as we never found the ruins. I suspect they might have recently been replaced by a golf course. That really highlights something that is exasperatingly wrong with America, as the rusted, jagged metal ruins of an abandoned fairy tale-land are objectively way more fun than a golf course and require absolutely no overhead to maintain. Also, golf is fucking stupid.
4.) I bought a stuffed snowman at an antique store that looks like a depraved sex predator.