When You See John Waters, Make Sure You’re Gross

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Town Hall recently hosted John Waters, the famed film director, screenwriter, author, actor, stand-up comedian, journalist, and visual artist. We invited local writer Katie Kalahan  to sit in the audience and share her thoughts…

My hands hurt while John Waters and David Schmader talked about filth and made Town Hall attendees laugh. I fell and scraped my hands right before I heard Waters christen the barely-two-weeks-new remodeled space with riffs on Hollywood money, free porn, the Democratic presidential field, art as magic, Hairspray sequels, all genres of music, graveyard graffiti, and “ample women.” 

We were a little bit late and the event was sold out. My friend and I ran towards Town Hall when I dragged my foot and let my left classic red Reebok hit an edge of uneven sidewalk and then I was face down spread full length on the sidewalk. I jumped up to save whatever face might be left. The heel of each hand was shredded. My skin had pulled back showing raw redness and it stung.

A block later, I went into the Town Hall bathroom to wash up. Remodeled Town Hall has amazing all-gender bathrooms with full-door stalls and a common sink area. I tried to wash my cuts in the sink but the water hurt. I kept yanking my hand back. I checked for gravel in the wounds and didn’t see much. I carefully laid my skin flaps back over the insides of my palms. While I was cringing in the bathroom, my friend enlisted a wonderful Town Hall representative to find a first aid kit. I promised both him and my friend that I would wash out the cuts later, when it hurt less, and covered them with Band-Aids. I felt gross and humiliated and in pain.

It was the right way to join John Waters. We entered the auditorium just before he took the stage. He wore black, cut with orange stripes on his jacket and red-patterned socks. Waters said that he knows about everything except sports and science fiction. Within twenty minutes he talked about money, fat girls, money, death, graveyards, and said the c-word four times. According to Waters, graveyard diggers must be necrophiliacs—but where else could they get a job? They just stand around waiting for people to bury, he said. Schmader makes a comment about body composting (which just passed into law in Washington State) and Waters responded that sometimes the gases from decomposing bodies will make wooden coffins explode. He likes that idea.

John Waters, aka Mr. Know-It-All, is the rightful monarch of trash, filth, and everything irreverent. My palms stung and the audience laughed and someone near me made small cooing sounds of sympathy when he said, “Only say ‘I love you’ when the person you love is sleeping.”

Schmader made comments in order to get Waters going, then Schmader giggled. Schmader said, “So, tell us about the three Hairspray sequels you’ve written,” and Waters said,”I’m going to make a porn version called Pubic Hairspray. Young people won’t come see it because they don’t have pubic hair and they won’t understand. Where do crabs go? They’re extinct now.” Schmader giggled. He mentions that there’s a chapter in Waters’ book about how to have good musical taste and in his answer Waters manages to mention classical music, country, Elvis and masturbating, Elvis and Bieber, and punk rock (“It’s all boys on the DL and big girls with attitude”). Schmader set Waters off again: “You’re really good at bashing Pope Francis,” he said. “Oh yeah, I hate that fucker,” Waters replied to raucous laughter. Waters goes on to tell the audience that Catholics are a worldwide pedophile organization and it’s just starting to come to light. But he added, “I’m glad I’m Catholic because sex will always be dirty.” Waters left the Catholic topic with this image: “If I die and you steal my head, put it under the Pope’s bed covers.” My stigmata burned. Schmader: “How are we doing on time? Oh, we have five minutes left? Okay. (Turns to Waters) What kind of porn do you like?” Waters gives some names, but then goes on a more interesting segue about porn stars whose moms handle their fan mail.

Surprisingly, Waters doesn’t like pooping, he thinks public bathrooms are a travesty, and he’s never been in an airplane bathroom. I was recently saved by a public bathroom. I was saved from bleeding all over my notebook and the Town Hall pews, and possibly crying with shame, and definitely grossing out the people around me. Perhaps Waters prefers a world where I would have bled, cried, and been gross. The bathroom and the Band-Aids gave me the option to be polite and acceptable and unoffensive. Maybe Waters would prefer a world without public bathrooms not only because no one would poop outside of the home, but because we would be filthier, trashier, and less boring.

At the end of the night, I took my busted hands home and didn’t clean them out. Waters had made me laugh and think. He created the most untraditional of families, a troupe of outcast artists—fat girls, gay men, drag queens. After Divine died, Waters and friends all bought graves in the same plot as their friend. “We call it Disgraceland,” he said. When the time comes, Waters and his friends will rot together—unless he decides to have his head cut off and left for the Pope’s unwitting feet to find at bedtime, or to explode a wooden coffin with his decomposing gases. Maybe my friend, who came to the talk of a person they’d never heard of and loved it, who found me Band-Aids, who suggested we check out one of the several hospitals in the area only half-joking, will make art with me and then rot with me. We should all be so lucky.

Until your time comes, if you need to know how to be normal, mild, polite, and traditional, look elsewhere. If you are gross, weird, crazy, and/or an artist craving success and trying to surprise the world, read John Waters.

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