John Waters’ new book chronicles his random collision with everyday America. | GREG GORMAN
GARY M. KRAMER | John Waters is out to shock again. The filmmaker’s latest book, “Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America,” chronicles his recent experiences hitchhiking west along Route 70 from his home in Baltimore to his apartment in San Francisco.
But before the author describes his life “on the road,” he offers readers two novellas. One depicts the “Best That Could Happen,” the other the “Worst.” And boy, is the worst that can happen bad! Nauseatingly so, with disgusting bodily fluids and functions that remind folks why Waters has been dubbed the Prince of Puke.
(Spoiler alert: Waters does not get kidnapped or killed on his travels).
“When I was young I hitchhiked a lot,” he said. “But never that far. I drove across country five times. I thought that might be a good book, but what would that be like? So I fantasized about the good, the bad, and what I was going to do.”
The salacious, unseemly sage of Baltimore takes to the road
Waters mentioned that he often hitchhikes in Provincetown, and “got into it, even inviting dates to go hitchhiking.” He added with a laugh, “Those were my training wheels.”
His real experiences, recounted in the book, were “all good,” he effused. “It was an optimistic journey. There was not one bad person. They were all kind and helpful. One woman wouldn’t leave until she gave me money. She thought I was a homeless man.”
While many people Waters encountered on the road did not recognize the filmmaker behind “Pink Flamingos” and “Hairspray” — though some folks, like the band Here We Go Magic, did — Waters was amused that some drivers knew him only from his “Seed of Chucky” film.
“With the celebrity I have, the only ones who recognize you are the ones you want to,” he said.
Still, Waters had moments where he hoped using his fame would help him get a ride.
“As soon as I was out there not getting a ride, I was flashing my mustache,” he admitted. “You’ll do anything to get a ride. You’ll get in a car with anybody.”
Sheepishly, he added, “You do what you have to do to get to the next place.”
The non-fiction section of “Carsick” is full of fascinating encounters. Waters bonds most and best with a 20-year-old, sandy-haired straight young Republican driver he calls “the Corvette Kid,” whom he recalls fondly.
“He was just on an adventure,” he recalled. “He didn’t know who I was. We had fun. It was a bromance, and we understood what it looked like. Friends texted him: ‘Way to go! You’re in a hotel with a gay man in Reno when you were on your way to a lunch at a Subway!’ We stayed [together] for three days in San Francisco. It really looked…”
He let that thought dangle as if not daring to finish it.
While the stories of the real rides are fun, Waters’ “Best” and “Worst” novellas are equally entertaining. They play like extended riffs on Waters’ “Puff Piece (101 Things I Love)” and “Hatchet Piece (101 Things I Hate)” from his book “Crackpot.”
The fictional essays feel like short stories that could be made into films. In fact, one episode, set at a carnival, was a movie idea for Waters at one point, he explained.
“All the good/ bad chapters were like my movies,” he said. “I could picture them as movies. I could be extreme, and hopefully I wrote it like I’m just telling you the story when I got out of the car.”
FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX
Waters treats the tales’ sexual episodes with humor.
“You can’t write a hitchhiking book without sex,” he said. “I tried to have humorous fantasies about what would happen.
Still, he acknowledged, “No one will jerk off reading ‘Carsick.’”
John Waters being who he is, he supplements the book’s pleasures with some very nasty episodes.
“I take the worst that can happen seriously,” Waters insisted, but added, “I think the gross stuff is so ridiculous. The tapeworm thing — I heard that as a child. I used to tell that at summer camp. And with hitchhiking, the paranoia is: Where am I going to eliminate? You can’t say ‘pull over.’ All those things were my fears. And hopefully they can be funny, too.”
A scene involving a goiter shows off Waters’ ability to be shocking, gross, and funny all at the same time. Fans of the filmmaker’s work will likely be more amused than put off.
That’s not to say that Waters doesn’t surprise himself with all that he went through.
“Even when I read the book in proofing, when I read the real parts, I’m shocked I did them,” he said.
He is daunted that while on the trip he would wake up in a hotel only to have to go out and thumb another ride.
“Usually when I stay at a hotel there’s a car picking me up, a limo,” he said. But while he worked on “Carsick,” Waters confessed, “I felt guilty that I got a cab on my night off to go to a movie. I felt like a pussy when I took a bus.”
John Waters reads from “Carsick” on June 3 at 7 p.m. at Barnes and Noble Union Square, 3 East 17th Street. On June 4 at 7 p.m., Waters appears at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street ($25; $15 for students and seniors at showclix.com/event/3802120).
CARSICK: JOHN WATERS HITCHHIKES ACROSS AMERICA | By John Waters | Farrar, Straus and Giroux | $26 | 336 pages