What’s the matter here? Well, for starters in the squint-to-stop-sleeping automotive process that is the never-ending Interstate 75 trek to Atlanta, I’m burn-throating booze howls to the tune of 10,000 Maniacs’ proletarian sanctimony, that’s what.

“Who knew that Natalie Merchant could jack us up?” my friend Amy pipes over from the passenger side. “She sucks. I hate her hair.”

Way back when I had hair, Amy and I would while away our Tallahassee poverty sleeping with convicts and post-football fat men – typically the type who would pull quarters off their asses when rolling out of waterbeds – before sitting in courtrooms and complaining about our bouts with pudding butt. These days, however, she’s texting an underwear model and I’m marrying a redneck as we burn tarmac and tire on the way back to our imagined youthful sentimentality. Crowded House is playing Atlanta, see, and in each of us still exists a chunk of Vegemite that ensures that one day we’ll end up being the best rain metaphor ever trapped on Neil Finn’s dreamy lower lip. Or at least a cold sore. Either way, we’re taking the humility challenge of a nostalgia road trip and losing our voices crowing about child abuse while trying to pretend that anything matters. It doesn’t.

“I have to poop,” I fart a little. “But every time I’m on a road trip my ass gets numb.”

“Whatever! You didn’t get shampoo in your eye this morning. I have eye boogers.”

By the time we arrive at our hotel – the insanely phallic Westin Peachtree – we’re virtually covered in emotional fecal matter and intellectual mucus. We’re a can of sardonics three years past its shelf life and unable to see a bright side to anything, much less the glitz and glamour of upscale hospitality.

“Wow, where are the chalk marks?” I hopscotch over carpet bloodstains in our mahogany-touched, fuck-your-dad-in-his-office, 21st-floor room. “Does Janie have a gun?”

There’s plenty to complain about, really – notably, a $200 room that requires $15 a night for Internet service, a gracious view of the tops of all of Atlanta’s beautiful parking garages, no vibrating beds – but, as with the previous pudding-butt episodes, complaining won’t do any good. Besides, Amy’s hungry and I’m interested in pretending to be.

“Hey ladies,” a smooth voice pierces through the aggro-hour Saliva of the Hard Rock Cafe. “What can I get for you?”

“I’m not a lady,” I curt and drool a little. “But I’ll suck your dick for an appetizer.”

Half a penis-like spring roll later, we’re scouring the streets for any clue as to where the venue might be. It’s on Luckie Street, we know that much. But just the thought of asking where Luckie Street is makes us feel like bad dads on nefarious business trips.

“Where’s the Tabernacle?” I quiz a downtown ambassador, noting that this is the future of Orlando, except our downtown is basically a street.

“Go to that light,” he doesn’t look happy. Who would? “It’s a seven-minute walk to Luckie Street.”

Seven minutes to Luckie then, and there it is: a repurposed church lined with balding white people in search of their own youthful sentimentality. It’s the new Jesus.

“The worst part about going to these things is knowing that I belong there,” I fart again.

Anyway, we have a couple of hours until show time, so I call up my old friend Bobby – also from Tallahassee, although he lives here now – and invite him over to the hotel for a little nip with absolutely no tuck option. Bobby’s one of those impossibly attractive Latino queers who remains 19 forever, which is good because when he was 19 (11 years ago) I tried to cocaine–make out with him and he vodka-refused. He suggests that we go up to the Sun Dial, a rotating bar area on the hotel’s top floor, defining futility and/or Fatal Attraction Michael Douglas–style pre-sex endeavors. I have three rabbits to boil. I’m just saying.

“Are you hairier than you used to be?” he bear-cubs over a live smooth-jazz rendition of “Get Here” by Oleta Adams.

“I shave,” I demure, while pinching my nose and blowing out, trying to make hair grow.

I don’t get hair, but Bobby does agree to come along with us to the show, which is fantastic news. Unless, of course, you’re Amy.

“There will be flirting,” I hag-assure. “But no portion of my goods will be optioned. I’m (hiccup) taken!”

The remainder of the evening is a blurring of metaphor and metaphysics, my existence dangling like an infected uvula in a very deep throat. In the basement smoking area, a girl named Kaley explains that while she’s currently an accountant, she has an idea for a photo business that would allow commoners the glory of paparazzi posing, presumably of the vaginal-sag variety. Then the world ends. Upstairs, Pete Yorn opens the show with his indie-poser schtick, boosted only by the forward push of his rock-star package, while hairlines recede in appreciation. Bobby spills his drink on a lady’s leg, and I’m getting old.

“Crowded House!” crowds a hot dad at the bar. “I know all of their songs!”

“Uh, really?” I inexplicably wax confrontational. “Do you know ‘Walking on the Spot’? No? And you call yourself a fan?”

The show is an out-of-body experience with washes of heartfelt sing-along humility, all of which would be better appreciated if I weren’t a Wham! song trapped in a Crowded House show. Or a cold sore. But like most Wham! songs, I fade out too early to even notice.

The following day, hangover in check, the drill repeats itself. Natalie Merchant and her hair pose a question, and I answer it.

“What’s the matter here?”

I am.

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