Set in Saugatuck
At Least in the City Someone Would Hear
By Wade Rouse
By Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli 6/22/09
You take comedian Stephen Colbert, throw in a generous dash of the guys from Queer Eye, and what you get is Wade Rouses hilarious new memoir, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream - Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life.
Wade, and his partner, Gary, leave St. Louis to come live their dream life in the Michigan woods outside of Saugatuck, where they innocently run smack up against themselves, the culture of the north woods, and the problem of getting what they asked for and maybe not wanting it at all.
When real life gets wrapped up with a philosophy that comes straight down from Ricky and Lucy Ricardo, gets mired in the muck of Walden, then straightened out by a guy on an overpass holding a sign that asks: WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU COULD NOT FAIL? youve got the trajectory of this howl of a book, with just a little bittersweetness at its heart.
Nothing can be funnier than Wades introduction to his new home, when he begins the story of his transition from city to country with a raccoon on his head. Not a coonskin cap; not a toy raccoon, but a very much alive, very much pissed off, and very much sporting a bad stink, and a lot of painfully sharp claws raccoon.
Who would have thought of an animal in your garbage can? Evidently not this modern-day Henry David Thoreau, who also never considered being alone to write all day with nothing to say; never imagined being so far from a Starbucks, or a Whole Foods; never thought he wouldnt be able to run into an Anthropologie when he was in desperate need of a retro Froot Loop T-shirt, or that he wouldnt have a place to go for a good microdermabrasion or to have his lashes tinted. He wasnt going to the dark side of the moon, after all, was he? Only to the back woods of western Michigan.
Wade Rouse is the quintessential fish out of water; like none youve ever met before. This is a guy who, by his own admission, buys Mary Kay and swipes lotion and bronzer onto his bare legs in the supermarket while he thumps kiwi. Now put him in the back woods where a neighbor watches him through night-vision goggles; another has a yard crammed with cat imagery, even to a cat waving an American flag, with the slogan PROUD AMERICAT on it; and the neighbor next door, in the rusting single-wide, comes on to him as his first gesture of neighborliness.
So, here he is in Michigan, back in the woods, trying to write and finding he has nothing to write about. And from this angst comes a memoir based on ten lessons Wade and Gary hope to learn in order to make it in their new home. Loosely based on Thoreaus Walden, the lessons are meant to take them from their old, corporate life of friends and good restaurants, expensive clothes and parties, to a life based on the mind; a life pared to simplicity; a life where these two men can appreciate each other and what they have.
Lesson Five: PARTICIPATE IN COUNTRY CUSTOMS takes Wade out ice fishing. In his cashmere turtleneck, a $300 scarf that I bought in Chicago, and a brand-new peacoat that makes me look like I should be having hot tea with Gwyneth and Apple in a London cafe, and in his slick-footed Kenneth Cole Reaction boots with zero traction, Wades off to meet new friends out on the ice, in their fishing shanty.
Of course, he slips and slides over the ice to be picked up, unceremoniously, by one of the fishermen waiting for him. Before long, Wade, sitting on his little stool with a line down into the water, gets bored and cold and begins to whine. The whining brings shunning. But Wade perseveresas he does through all 10 of his lessons.
Another foray into local custom is a trip to a country-western bar for karaoke. Here, two of the native women (Whachoo cute young cowpokes doin here without any ladies? one slurs and the other adds Well, you fellas could use some cheerin up. And were just the gals to do it) give Wade and Gary a warm, but useless, welcome. The women discover the two men theyve set their sites on are gay, but the evening is saved by Wade singing a Kelly Clarkson song, warming up the mostly drunken crowd.
Planning to sustain themselves like Thoreau, who cultivated seven miles of beans, Wade and Gary plant an extensive, and expensive, vegetable garden. The chapter Gary and Wade Grow a Single Bean tells the story of that abortive effort.
In between the disappointments, the fun, and the snide cynicism (which Wade vows to give upin one of his rulesbut never quite overcomes), there is also buried anger and hurt. Though Wade hides nothing and fights like a tiger to be exactly who he is, there are stark hints of his difficult passage as a fat, gay boy growing up in the Ozarks to the urban gay man who has now come back to his roots. Maybe it is that past hes set out to conquer; maybe it is himselfthe man who no longer needs to hide in a city. What he and Gary have done is come to the woods, much as Thoreau did, to live as one with nature, to learn about themselves and each other, and be at peace with the world around them.
Introspective, even with a raccoon sitting on his head, Wade can see the part hes played in his own destiny. He writes: The coons tail swings over my shoulder, and, for a second, I resemble Madonna on her Blonde Ambition tour. And then I realize this is my payback. Just a couple of weeks ago in the city I was making fun of a woman with hideous hair extensions in Walgreens. I mean, I had to: The color and texture didnt even match her real hair...
Look out Michigan. Wade Rouse is here, and it looks as if he means to stay.
Buzzellis Dead Floating Lovers, second in the Emily Kincaid Northern Michigan mystery series from Midnight Ink, is in books stores now.