Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America by John Waters, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 322 pages ($26). Even before conceiving of this literary stunt wherein he sticks out his thumb outside his Baltimore home and keeps it out until arriving at his other digs in San Francisco, Waters hitchhiked. He was expected by his parents to hitchhike home from high school in the ’60s (“All the kids did”) and still hitchhikes “in Provincetown to Longnook, my favorite beach in Truro (about 10 miles away).” So he usually asks people “to go on a thumbing date with me…we’ve never had any real trouble either.”
Waters’ attempt, at 66, to prove that the fellow called “America’s most beloved weirdo” by his own publisher and “the King of Trash Cinema” by those with eternal memories of his copraphagic movies with a 300-pound transvestite named Divine is still the renegade he always was may seem rather far out there. But that’s only if you haven’t contended adequately with exactly how rare and precious an American sensibility Waters truly is.
Broadway – and then Hollywood with John Travolta – could transform his little transgressive fantasies into stuff for cultural tourists. His books are for Waters hardcores who suspect that his absurdist irrepressibility is more redolent of bedrock American spirit than most of what we know from our contemporaries.
Yes, he really did it. But Waters being Waters, he treats us first to almost 200 pages full of two fictional versions of his trip – one of “The Best That Could Happen,” and another of “The Worst That Could Happen” (which ends with the author’s highway death in the same car as a swinish fellow named Warren who holds a baby named Tarantula outside an open window).
It’s integral to Waters’ genius that the America he discovers with outstretched thumb and sign that reads “I’m not psycho” contains people like an 81-year-old hay farmer who has no idea at all who he is and doesn’t believe he’s a film director either. He drops Waters off outside a donut shop called “The Fractured Prune” and gives him a ten spot to tide him over. We all love John Waters. Here, then, are Huck Finn, Kerouac and Preston Sturges’ wandering filmmaker John Lloyd Sullivan continued in a new century. – Jeff Simon