I’m Not Psycho

7.31.2014

By Chadwick Moore

John Waters’s 50th summer in Provincetown

Left: Carsick (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014)

“The sign of an amateur,” Waters says. “Take your rotten luggage to Bradford Street. That’s backstage.”

It’s the start of Bear Week, one of the more tolerated themed weeks. “I like it, and the town likes it, because they buy three entrées and they tip. But they’re getting fatter. It used to be chunky, but now it’s 700-pound people. Divine died because of that, so I have to say, ‘Be careful, boys.’

“Are there bear children?” Waters muses. “I’ve never seen a hairy little tyke scarfin’ honey.”

He pulls over and dashes into a gallery to drop off the day’s Journal and USA Today for his art dealer. Then it’s down to MAP, a shop owned by his friend Pauline Fisher, where he plops the tabloids onto the counter.

A few feet away, a young couple thumbing through a stack of books give Waters the side eye.

“Aren’t you...?”

“Yes. Steve Buscemi,” Waters says, nodding.

“Wow, cool!”

Until recently, every day at 1 p.m., after his paper route, Waters hitchhiked to Longnook (he now drives), sometimes bringing along friends like Patty Hearst and Kembra Pfahler to sunbathe for exactly 30 minutes. Years of this gave him the training wheels for his latest book, Carsick, a New York Times best seller, which follows his 2012 hitchhiking voyage from Baltimore to San Francisco.

It’s Friday, Waters’s night to drink. Later he’ll have dinner with his friend Michael Cunningham, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author, who also just returned from a book tour. Then it’s off to Grotta Bar, a staple for Provincetown’s local celebrities and illustrious misfits, for “Scream Along With Billy,” a weekly performance by the writer and musician Billy Hough. Here Waters also throws an annual party with his friend Frankie Rice. This year it’s called “Protective Custody.”

“Then I go to the straight bars because I think they’re funnier. And I’m for minorities.” He points to the Underground, on Commercial Street, as we pass by. “I like that place. It’s townies with a bad attitude, gay people that don’t fit in anywhere else, scary girls.”

Further down Route 6, we’ve reached the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail. The entrance is marked with a sign, CAUTION TICK INFESTED AREA. NO PETS.

“Who would come down here after seeing that sign?” says Waters. “It’s not exactly welcoming, but it is very romantic if you get past the fear of ticks.”

Down the wood plank trail, two lounging young women perk up.

“Oh, my God. John Waters,” one says.

“How’d you hear about this place?” Waters asks.

“We’re making a dance here at 3:30.”

“With ticks? Be careful!”

“When you see someone else here, it’s awkward,” Waters says to me.

Is he currently involved with someone? “Kind of, yes. But it’s a complicated question,” he says. He’s been on two real dates here — “good dates.”

“I don’t go for people who want to be famous or are in show business,” he says. “I like people who are in totally other worlds.”

We stroll through the bony forest of saltwater-scorched trees, sunlight peeking in from the branches and onto the undulating moss-covered soil. It’s very theatrical.

Waters says, “I’m really just taking you down here to kill you.”

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