They made a cake for us at the venue. I repeat - they made a cake for us. With our names on it.

The room where we played. Trippy murals.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Budapest, HU

Good morning tour journal reader. Again I write you from the Sprinter van, seat center. Got to try the loft yesterday at the tail end of our long drive and it was pretty okay. A little bit of a breeze, the foam mattress is nicer than any of the hotels we've been at so far. Bonus points for being so insanely unsafe that the similarity to a morgue drawer prepares you for what awaits on the other side of a van flip. I got about 2 extra hours of sleep.

Rolled into Budapest and loaded into one of the wonderful European arts compounds - three different venue rooms, a couple of bars, lots of long hallways, maybe a dance club, a beer garden all in one big former ... something. The van pulled around the way back and we loaded out amps and merch and stuff. Everything good, normal. I was wheeling a hand truck with boxes of shirts when Aaron (Sumac) passed by.

"Out back - look out for the Ebay scammers." Huh?

What followed was honestly one of the top five weirdest things to happen to me in my whole life.

First let me make note that they'd already gotten Daniel (solo) and Thad. And by "they" I mean the crew our back. And by "crew out back" I mean ...

So I walk to get something from the van and am instantly greeted (sic) by a guy in his late 50s, big puffed out white hair, teal polo and cream-colored shorts, very tanned face. Big, big smile that does not extend into his eyes at all. "Zhushteen? ZHUSHTEEN!"

This guy knows my name.

Big handshake, arm on the shoulder, guiding me down the stairs to the park by the back of the club. My hand is on my wallet - really - and I'm convinced someone in a ripped-up Dora the Explorer costume is gonna to pop out, this guy will take a picture and they'll both demand the Hungarian equivalent of $13. Instead, two women - one about his age and the other maybe late thirties, heavyset with thin hair and squinted eyes - materialize and they've got... wait they've got stuff for me to sign?

The first is introduced as Agnes. Her paper says "TO AGNES" and all three are pointing at it for me to sign. So I sign. Flip to another piece of paper. "TO AGNES", sign again. I'm spun to the second woman. She has a blank sheet that Thad has already signed. I look at her. She looks at me. Her expression is both expectant and blank. We've come this far. I sign.

Spun to the dude. He's got a picture printed out of Thad and I from our most recent press packet. I sign that. They're all getting a little excited. Flip to another page. This is a picture of us playing from at least 10 years ago that I don't recognize. And next up is a blank CD-ROM. I put my name on all of them next to Thad's.

Then it's over. "THANK. THANK." Agnes retreats to a bench and just folds into quick stasis, the second woman wanders into the park and the guy bounds off to somewhere. My hand is still on my wallet; no one had gone anywhere near it.

Later on as I tried to debrief this, Tomas suggested that they weren't really Ebay scammers but more just celebrity-obsessed oddballs, where *anyone* who plays at the venue is a celebrity. They research the band for a couple of days in advance and then just collect signatures and stuff. Or maybe Aaron was right and these three are trying to monetize the least-valuable asset you could imagine - a blank CD-ROM signed by Justin Foley and Thad Calabrese. Either way, harmless.

Except - put yourself in my shoes. To wit: in the most unbelievable of circumstances, my very-niche, painful-music band slogs away at it for 20 years to show up to play a single show in the capital of Hungary. Crazy enough, right? And before I'm out of the van long enough to find the bathroom, three strangers with a capital STRANGE whip me through some cult-ritual welcome exercise that doesn't even end up with them trying to fleece me. Was everyone in the other bands pranking me? If so, how did they get David Lynch to direct it? Did I mention that Agnes only had four fingers on the hand of hers that I shook? Whatever, people are all different but everything that happened kept getting more and more "huh?".

Sorry. I'm running on about this. Let's continue.

The venue was a sweatbox but fun; we improved on the night before and by the time we were done I was feeling very satisfied. It's funny, the music is quite unfriendly and these songs in particular whip me into a genuine hostility that I want to really take out on the audience; as soon as it's over that immediately blooms into gratitude. And it was mutual; people kept applauding after the last song and I had to shoo them away. Again: "never heard you, really cool, why new record not on CD" and one or two people who were like "I cannot believe you made it, I've been a big fan." Super, super great.

The hotel was kind of a funny mess that I'll let Daniel tell you about if you ever bump into him; ask him about the shower drain. Thad and I got up early enough to take the subway (oldest in Europe!) into the heart of the old city and I want to tell you that place is really, really pretty. The central basilica was a perfect blend of muted colors, otherworldly details, and beyond-ornate gold-leaf gild. But the view across the Danube river - the fast flowing water and the utterly commanding statues and authoritative classical buildings - felt almost heart-breaking in its appeal. I was surprised at how much it affected me just standing there looking at the city. Hundreds and hundreds of years, staring quietly and deeply back at you.

Did have one moment to give myself a little pause today. We stopped for a bathroom break on the drive out and I grabbed a jump rope to quickly get some exercise. I do this at rest-stops instead of nacho-chipping because it makes a more pleasant feeling when I'm back in the car. But as I watched the rest of the squad stroll through into the automatic doors of the RoADMahRT (whatever, I'm American, sorry) I realized - "oh, maybe I'm the oddball in this group." Like, if you were reading one of their journals, it would say "then all of the normal people in our group got a bite while Justin skipped rope over by the drippy showers reserved for lonely truckers."

These are turning into really long journal entries, eh?

PS - I just offered Aaron a bite of my dollar-store trail mix that he says is sad and ancient but I don't think it even expired until early April. (Last April.) And do you know what he did? He gave my bag of snack the finger! It's even got dried pineapple but that's not enough to stop Old Man Sumac* from flipping it the bird. Jeez, give that dude a coat of green and a garbage can to hang out in and he's ready for Sesame Street.


*He's like 5 years younger than me.

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