Mistakes make you feel bad. Like Peter Scolari or Mario van Peebles.

Spelling is always difficult.

Spelling is always difficult.

I’ve made a mistake.

I know I’ve made, like, at least two mistakes, previously, in my whole life and this would make three, and that’s like, a holy number, so maybe I’ve come full circle, now. God, I hope.

And though I don’t make many mistakes, I know quite well what it feels like; the three I’ve made already have hurt like the Dickens. You know what the Dickens feels like, don’t you?

It feels like a headache plus a backache plus a neckache plus a stomachache, and your stomach is connected to your knee bone and your knee bone’s connected to your jaw bone, something like that, and so on. That’s why they wrote a song about it. That’s the Dickens, my friend.

Mistakes make you feel bad. Like Peter Scolari or Mario van Peebles.

However, I hope to point out to you, in the course of making this confession (albeit a couple years too late), that it was an honest mistake, made in jest. And stop right there before you even say it. I know you’re thinking it: Freud says, there’s an ounce of truth in every joke. (He did say that, didn’t he?)

At any rate, it sounds like him, and it’s certainly true, too, in my book. So, I’m not really disagreeing with you; I just didn’t want you to say it.

What I remember, about my third mistake, is this:  in an off-handed, throw-away comment I, recalling a witty retort Lincoln made once, told someone that “of their two faces, I preferred the one that smiled more.”

Laugh, laugh, laugh. (Yes, we always laugh at the first bite. It’s always funny to watch the Wasp).

I remember, too, thinking that I was at a table of beautiful people. So beautiful, in fact, that I felt the urge to applaud them. (I read that line somewhere, once, and it’s stuck with me; I have never actually met anyone beautiful enough to be applauded, though once I nearly attempted a slow clap for this one guy, but for his profile only. When he turned full face – well, it just didn’t work out, let’s leave it at that).

The laughter only lasted a few moments, and then, came the time for telling the truth. (It’s usually around 10:18 PM when truth telling time comes).

“Wait, wait a second…are you saying I’m two-faced?” We were still grinning through this part.

“No…I mean, well, OK, maybe sometimes.” Who isn’t, right?

“I am NOT two-faced.”

“No, no, I’m just saying, sometimes…you know…we, we all get that way.”

“Not me. You asshole. Not me.”

Just like that, the truth was told. And, he did not like the truth.

He also hates brussel sprouts.

He also hates brussel sprouts.

Back and forth, back and forth, we rolled: him, slinging poorly-designed epithets and coarse names at me; me, trying, as ever, to dig myself out of a diplomatic hole. I should point out that we’d been drinking.

You should know, I don’t like to holler, or scream, or yell. It’s not in my nature. Every time I’m cast in a play that requires my character to do any or all of the aforementioned, I cringe a little. I can’t abide the idea of stripping my voice, like that.

Regular stripping is fine, though.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m bringing this up today. (So am I, to be honest). I haven’t thought about it for quite some time, but it creeped into my mind this morning. I guess I should say I’m a tad ashamed that I used humor as a weapon like that. (Though, I am afraid I do it all the time). But, what really bothers me is the idea that we all use humor this way.

We diffuse with humor…I know I do, in nearly every situation. And when those situations occur, or recur, as the case may be, I stand on guard with an arsenal of spiteful comic relief at the ready.

For instance, I never forget anything. I might misplace it for awhile, as is the case with this particular dish of mea culpa, but it eventually finds its way back to the forefront of my mind. Ultimately, it slips out of my mouth in the form of a joke, or sarcasm, or satire, and sacrifices itself for the sake of “making the point.”

Ready. Aim. Fire.

It’s like we’re evil sponges that just float around town, bumping into others, hoarding in on every conversation, so we can stumble across some tidbit and absorb it, store it for later use in our arsenals, at which time, we will casually or caustically or even accidentally, let it spill forth like a pearl of wisdom (or a bullet) and onto the bar, or tableful of beautiful people.

That’s what happened to me.

The more frightening thing? I’d never really thought of this person as being two-faced, before. Not in my waking days. But, apparently, my subconscious had caught on and quickly. It was delightfully shocking to realize I’d been unwittingly categorizing this person as Mr. Two-Faced for who knows how long…and then to have it come out, like that, in front of all his most sacred friends.

I never was completely aware of what we were arguing about; all I knew was what started it, and that one of us did “protest too much.” But the more I sat there and thought about it, the more I believed it, that he was this way and always had been.

Just because you can't hear them doesn't mean they're not yelling.

Just because you can't hear them doesn't mean they're not yelling.

Slowly, I began to notice something:  humor allows the truth to be seen. When I caught hold of that, in my mind, I was embarrassed. Because the truth was this: I was sitting at a table full of people I didn’t really want to know.

I was, in fact, Mr. Two-Faced, myself.

No wonder my neck, back, head, and everything else God gave me, was aching. I was trying to be what I didn’t want to be. I was putting myself in situations rife with opportunities to get a little drunk and speak the truth about people I didn’t even care about.

How sad is that. Don’t normal people just rent “dirty movies, drink mimosas, and French kiss the pillows?” There had to be a better way for me to get my kicks than to encourage a loose tongue.

And before I realized it, I’d learned a blame moral. I can’t recall ever having learned a moral in real life, just from Dr. Seuss, and The Poky Little Puppy. But this was right in front of my face, this moral: just because you know a truth, doesn’t mean you have to be the one to share it. That’s the third mistake I made. Because I used to believe if I saw a need, I had to fill it.

I never stopped to think that first, it has to be a need worth filling.

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If you were to ask me, and I’m pretending that you are…

I have a friend, back in Indiana, who once accused someone of living of life marred by a ridiculous philosophy: that of the Bumper Sticker. I’m not entirely sure, but I feel that the credit for this sentiment really belongs to Carrie Fisher.

But since I don’t know Carrie Fisher, not really, I’m going to give it to Christian. He’s close enough to count.

This bumper sticker tells the whole truth, and nothing but.

This bumper sticker tells the whole truth, and nothing but.

I’m sure there are plenty of us who actually live a similar life, myself included, even if we’re not overly aware of it, along the trench lines of the Bumper Sticker philosophy.

I mean, who doesn’t love a well-placed pun?

I know I do.

I guess at some formative age in my adolescence, I fell into the open arms of one, and being a child so desperately seeking attention, words became my surrogate everything. I’m sure if you’ve read this blog on more than one occasion, then I have no choice but to admit to becoming a bit too fetishly attracted to the concise (if sometimes confusing) perfection of a pun: that’s what makes bumper stickers so stupid and necessary and appealing and lovely.

That’s what makes it akin to a zinger, folks.

If you were to ask me (and I’m pretending that you have), I would say that you can’t truly know a language, can’t be fully absorbed by it (Italian, German, Japanese, Swahili), until you can understand the Power of the Pun. (I’m also assuming that no language on earth exists without them).

In a slightly extrapolated sense, this is precisely what the Bumper Sticker way of life entails: concise word play; sardonic point-of-view; extreme affiliation with some highly specific social group.

In other words, high school.

You have your opinion, let’s say, and we’re at a cocktail party because God knows we all go to those in Mississippi, and some topic of general interest (though usually not of general intellect) crops into the conversation and there you go delivering your well-thought out perspective, directing its focus on me, as if I’m uneducated on this particular point, and let’s say we’re talking about the Middle East (because isn’t everybody), and you’re towing a hard line about the importance of the Democratic party over all others (i.e. Republicans, Ralph Nader, and that gym teacher you had in high school who spent an awkward week being a Libertarian).

After you finish rambling, all I’d have to say is “My parents voted Democrat and all I got was a lousy burkha.”

And if I walk away fast enough after making this pronouncement, it’d sting. If nothing else, I’d more than likely save myself from further argument.

Of course, I like to stir the pot; it’s one of the few ways I’m able to keep myself interested in any topic at all, these days. When I have the energy to stir at all. There ought to be some rebuttal cliche against “stirring the pot” that involves “pressing the timer on a microwave.” Stirring takes elbow grease; microwaves just need a sturdy finger…and a good ear, you know, so you can hear the ding when the cooking’s through.

I’m hardly a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. I’m not even sure I’m a Democrat. I like to think of myself as a voter. Period. Open to persuasion, but a bit anal on knowing the facts.

That’s how I treat the many, many bumper stickers I come across on a daily basis, during my commute – persuasive but not entirely factual. Otherwise, I’d have nothing to think about. 

Gold is not included, because gold is a mineral.

Gold is not included, because gold is a mineral.

I’ve been saving them, the bumper stickers. (On paper, I mean. I don’t want to give the impression that I tail these drivers until they stop for some reason and then peel off the actual bumper stickers themselves from their cars. Good God, I’m far too lazy for that. Besides, I’m not a very good runner…it’d never do if I got caught).

Here are a few of the gems I’ve had the pure joy of seeing on Highway 45; in addition, I’m going to tell you what type of vehicle had each of these bumper stickers emblazoned across the bumper. I really think, somehow, that that is just as important:

“My horse and I have a stable relationship.” (Shocker. This was on the back of a Tacoma truck.)

“The Witch is Back” (Hold onto your hats. I saw this lovely one, half-eroded, across the backend of rusty Tercel).

“Got Jesus?” (A silver 4-Runner. I tried to catch her to get Jesus out. She was driving over 80 mph; I was nervous for him).

“I graduated with a perfect 4.0*” (The * referred to blood alcohol level; I briefly saw it on a Corolla, taking the Mayhew exit).

“Take your kids to Sunday School this weekend. They need it and deserve it.” (A Highlander. Also, too long for any bumper).

“Homeschool Bus” (snidely placed on the back window of a grayish Sienna. Her blinker never stopped; she turned thrice).

“Man + Woman = Marriage” (An Avalon, naturally. Two women were in it, but I’m sure that was a coincidence. Just sisters).

“I love Israel” (On the ubiquitous Camry. But my bigger concern was who the hell loved Israel in Scooba?)

Did you notice anything particular about the makes of each of these vehicles? It wasn’t immediately recognizable by me either, but after I started taking note of these lovely aphorisms (because puns, in addition to being puns, are also terse formulations of some truism or assumed reality), I realized they all drove Toyotas.

Tigi, my darling Honda, I think, was embarrassed. Not at her own lack of showcasing the inner philosophical beliefs of her driver, but embarrassed because it seems in poor taste.

I’ve personally hated the idea of putting any sort of bumper sticker on my car; to me, it’s just too personal a thing.

I have potential horror stories running through my overactive imagination just thinking of What Could Happen to you or your car for so blatantly broadcasting such opinions. I’ve heard of vehicles being keyed, windshields broken, and tires slashed all because of the alleged political views that bumper stickers alert the public to, 24-7. (Again, this is probably just U.L. seeping through my consciousness).

But, I think of my wide range of friends: the gays, the Hebes, the Pro-Choicers, the Wiccans, the Southern Baptists. I’m surprised they’re still driving (with insurance, I hope).

Then again, maybe I’m not brave as they are.

Maybe I’m that awful type of individual – the one who never commits…to anything. The one who appears to stay Swiss in such instances convinced that everyone needs someone to run, to be safe, when the weight of their opinions, their views, and their beliefs become too heavy to “crank the car.”

I'll need your social, bank account number, and a big smile.

I'll need your social, bank account number, and a big smile.

But, you know, if that’s so, if that’s true, if that’s the price of cowardice, then let me tell you, I’m more than happy to write the check.

Actually, that’d make a pretty damn good bumper sticker, itself, wouldn’t it? An oversized check, signed and dated (somehow). And all it would say is this:

“Pay to the Order of YOU. Memo: For when the world is just too much.” (An Accord. Brilliant driver. Golden Boy).

Cheesy, sure.

But, deep down, I bet it’d make your whole day to drive behind me.  Even, if it were only for a little bit of your day.

Just don’t ask me to fill in an amount.

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I can’t die here, not this close to the Mennonite bakery.

I think I almost died last Friday morning, right outside of Macon, Mississippi. The weather was atrocious, as it has been for the past two solid weeks; the rain was torrential (FYI: that’s a word on My Favorite Words List, which I keep in my glove compartment), the wind was ridiculous, and the roads held pockets of watery vengeance…but that’s not what I thought was I dying from.

Because I’m a fairly safe driver. It’s one of the good qualities I inherited from my father.

I kept my cruise control right on 60 mph, stayed in the slow lane, and I’d successfully steered cleared (literally) of any MDOT lane closings and the ubiquitous trucker. No one was on the road with me. Oh, and I had my lights on, too, naturally.

No, what almost killed me was a heart attack.

This reminds me: I need to lay off sweets.

This reminds me: I need to lay off sweets.

At least, that’s what it felt like.

For nearly thirty pure and unadulterated minutes, my entire chest cavity ached unlike any pain I’ve ever encountered, and I had a bad experience when I had my wisdom teeth removed. The whole suffocating episode was very Spaceballs, I must admit, though in intensity only. No miniature alien burst forth from my stomach and started tap dancing – I would have enjoyed that.

This was the complete opposite of enjoyment. This was like a miniature alien bursting forth from my chest and lecturing on Vibrational Spectroscopy.

Now, I’ve heard a lot about heart attacks and chest pains, and the near misheard moniker of angina – U.L.’s been battling heart issues for several years – but I’ve never directly been involved with one myself. I’ve always been the one who arranged the Get Well cards and got the nurse because he wasn’t sure how the call button worked.

At first, I tried to burp this discomfort away. I always assume that any type of unease in my chest is simply gas on Va-Ca (that’s what the kids call “vacation” these days). So, I spent a good ten minutes trying to make myself burp. I’ve never been able to do that.

I just can’t burp on command.

It’s something I’ve had to come to terms with in my journey to Masculinity. (Though, trust me, it ain’t the only thing). And if by journey, you think that what I really mean is wasting half my time on color coordinating my travelwear to match my luggage, then Yes. You are correct.

I’ve not taken the first step toward any such journey. And, yes, to answer your question, I’m sure it’s far more than a thousand miles away…from where I am. So, what good’s taking the first step.

I’m hardly ashamed to say that I can’t burp on command. I think it’s rather crass, and usually, they seems to appear unannounced – at least for me. But, don’t say that in front of Matt or Mandy, about the crassness of burping. (I’m certain that between the two of them they could recite the Magna Carta, one belch at a time. If they knew the Magna Carta, that is).

Please tell me you remember the Magna Carta.

You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.

You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.

(And then, remind me what it is, when you do. I’m not sure but I think it had something to do with the Board of Alderman allowing Sunday sales of alcohol in Starkville). Of course, that only applies to restaurants, not liquor stores. The theory is it’s OK to drink if you’ve got food to eat with it. That works for me, just fine; I never drink without eating. That’s what makes dirty martinis such a perfect beverage. Besides, liquor stores don’t sale olives.

Excuse me. I’ve gotten off topic. Again.

I was talking about gas, the manmade kind. I don’t want to say that I have a problem with gastric distress, unless I’ve eaten raw broccoli. Then, it’s every man for himself. But, lately, I must admit, I’ve been having rather difficult heartburn.

I’ve become addicted to Tums. I’m dropping antacid like it’s the 60s.

And it’s not really working. Which is, I’m afraid, problematic. Let’s not discount the fact that I’m also a hypochondriac, but that aside, I could be in serious trouble.

I certainly thought I was, last Friday.

There I was, driving down the road in Tigi (I named my car after my great grandmother), barrelling through a downpour (excuse me, I mean, safely cruising at just under 60 mph, as I stated earlier and with my lights on), thinking I was having a heart attack. It reached such a pain that I did something I rarely do when traveling, I stopped driving altogether.

I pulled under a defunct gas station (God, the irony, the near-miss of a good pun when I typed that, it’s killing me), and I stopped the car. I opened the door, because when you’re in a crisis, no matter what is, you always do one of two things: you either  go outside because you “need fresh air,” or you get up and head to the sink because you need a “glass of water.” This is a learned behavior, starting in Vacation Bible School, and sometimes, the Boy Scouts.

I got out of the car and my first instinct (and thus, the root of a much deeper problem) wasn’t to call 911. It wasn’t to call anyone, not U.L., not Amanda, not an ambulance. (Amanda informed me, later – since I’m not dead, that I’d more than likely experienced a panic attack. Great, one more thing to stress about).

No, my first instinct was how should I fall on my way into death. If I fell forward, I might hit the side of the door and scratch my smooth, ageless cheek. If I fell backward, I might scrape down the side of my car and land too close to the tire. The side of my car was filthy with mud and wet from rain; the tired was caked with grease from the eroding back brakes. That’d look too messy, I thought.

I was only clear on one thing: to leave the keys in the ignition. That beeping sound was very dramatic. It’d last until the battery went dead, like me, and I’d just gotten a new battery a few months back, so no worries there.

I should probably, I also thought, tuck my shirt in. But neatly. 

This picture needs no caption.

This picture needs no caption.

“God,” I prayed throughout the whole ordeal, “if this is my time to go, then I’ll go, but why didn’t you just let me drive a little further south. I can’t die here, not this close to the Mennonite bakery.”

I consoled myself by thinking the positives: U.L. would at least be pleased that I looked neat and tidy, until the very end. And, if he got hungry, I couldn’t argue with the culinary skills of a Mennonite. Of course, I was devastated about what the rain would do to my hair. Curly hair and humidity, which I knew would follow closely behind the tail end of the rain, never worked well together.

I’d have to grab my Fedora. Give it one last hurrah.

At this point, I realized that my chest pain had stopped, mostly. In an effort to make it leave completely, I pulled a Celine Dion and hit my chest a couple of times…why I did this, I couldn’t tell you. Even though the pain had dwindled to a mild irritation, I wanted it thoroughly gone, and thought if I beat myself in the chest it would return to its place of residence: my stomach.

Eventually, it subdued enough that I felt I could keep driving. However, I still had half an hour on the road, to go.

Be prepared. Somewhat. Or, at least, mostly.

Be prepared. Somewhat. Or, at least, mostly.

I finally got to my office, and went to the restroom. I looked so pasty, I wasn’t sure I hadn’t had a heart attack. I dismissed it though; I had been recently cast as a British character in a play downtown, wasn’t I supposed to look like this?

But, it’s gotten me worried, I must say. I’m not old, not yet, but I’m not young anymore, either. Something’s got to get me, one way or the other, right? I’ll have to be prepared, as much as I can be…

And I think I am, for the most part. I mean, obviously I’ve faced my death, already, as of last Friday…but the problem…well, the problem, quite frankly, with that, is: it’s one thing to face your death.  It’s a whole other thing entirely to face your doctor.

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She was nothing short of a fire hazard.

I know this girl, we’ll call her Melanie because that’s her name…and OK, well, I don’t really know her. I just saw her on TV the other night, a special that TLC was running on psychological disorders.

Melanie had one. She’s a hoarder.

You don't want much more of the picture than this.

You don't want much more of the picture than this.

She hoards things, and I must say, I’d never even heard of such a thing before.

It’s rather disturbing, actually. My heart went out to her…but not at first.

No, at first, I thought: “Come on! Give me a break. You’ve got to be kidding me! Can’t she just clean it up?” I imagine a lot of viewers were thinking the same thing. That’s because TLC waited to show you the proof: her apartment.

And also, I am my uncle’s nephew, after all.

When she opened her front door, and the camera panned to survey the vast amount of Stuff she’d accumulated, I had no appropriate reaction other than to say, in a whispered tone: My God Above.

I had no idea people lived like that. Or, rather, didn’t live. That was more to the point of this documentary on hoarding. Her apartment was overwhelming, and that’s just me being polite. It was so stacked with odds and ends, pertinent and pointless items that I felt my throat constrict.

It was terrifying and suffocating.

And I was snuggled under a blanket on the couch irritating Lazarus-Rasputin, The Cat That Shall Not Be Tamed, with a red laser light we bought at Wal-Mart.  It’s how I amuse myself; it’s also an effective behaviorial tool, believe it or not.

Well, it was until Max, The Dog That Would Like To Be A Cat, decided it was also toy for him. Big animals (and people, too, for that matter) do that, they just take whatever they want.

Melanie only got my full attention when she showed us where she slept, each night. It was somewhere between Shelf #12, where razors and Ziploc bags were kept, and the bottom of a mini-fridge. She couldn’t even stretch all the way out.

She slept in what appeared to be a cross between kneeling in haphazard prayer and what Jell-O would do if it had legs and a definitive left side.

I cringed, I did.

And I wanted to cringe. I didn’t want to think all the obvious, nay-sayer things that U.L. would bring up, like: 1) why she invited a TV crew in her apartment in the first place, or 2) – well…one’s enough. You don’t need any other reasons when you’re U.L.  God love him, but it took him a long time to get even that compassionate about “people on the TV.”

They’re all on there to make you want to buy something, he says.

I didn’t want what Melanie was selling. Believe me.

She spent an hour discussing how difficult it was for her to find love, a job, the bathroom. (Look, I’m not saying there weren’t moments that I find disrespectfully humorous). But, I still felt for her.

The way I see it, though, it isn’t about the disability that hoarding creates in its victims…no, the maddening part for me is the length that such an illness lies dormant.

I mean, this didn’t happen on overnight.

Ironically, I didn't see even one of these. But, it was hard to look too closely.

Ironically, I didn't see even one of these. But, it was hard to look too closely.

Melanie’s been collecting this junk for years, like a squirrel. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she kept extra pairs of socks and packs of Trident in her cheeks. This woman had a serious case of collection. Her apartment was filled with multiples of everything. Eve-Ry-Thing. The landlords had warned her to clean it up, or if nothing else, to at least create a clear, walkable path from the front door to the back door, or she would be evicted.

She was nothing short of a fire hazard.

TLC wasn’t entirely heartless for exposing her detritus to the viewing public (and by the way, Thank you, TLC!); they also brought along a psychologist to talk with Melanie. Talking was fine, Melanie said. Sparks didn’t fly (or, in this case, they were tears) until the psychologist went to move a plastic box of what I think were yarn fractures and thimbles from a spot on the shelf.

Excuse me, their spot on their row of their shelf.

That’s when I realized just how deeply this problem ran. Then I understood it to be an actual disability.

What to me appeared to be a hot mess of household junk (and downtown junk, as well…ever an opportunist, Melanie did venture out-of-doors several times a week to dumpster dive), was actually a system of organization to Melanie.

You just don’t know what people waste, she said in explanation.

Moot point. Moot point. (And also, touche.) No wonder the poor woman couldn’t process the thought of having to move. This wasn’t just her apartment, it was her brain. That’s what she was living in: a fourth floor brain.

Melanie had a panic attack right there on TV. 

Then, that’s when I had my panic attack.

First, as with anything I see on TV, I began to justify to myself why I, too, am suffering from the same disease. I spent the entire week after seeing Melanie’s life in squalor believing that I was also hoarder…or in the early stages of it.

My house isn’t as filthy as her apartment; quite the opposite…but I got scared because I understood her obsession. At least, I think I did. I completely relate to the comfort that items give me. That cookbook, that broken necklace, the rusted wind chime. Things that I leave right where they are because that’s where they’re supposed to be because that’s where they’ve always been. 

Wasn’t I, that very moment, wrapped up in a blanket that I’d had for years, cocooning myself because that closeness made me feel safe and secure?

I began to stare at every single thing in the house, debating its necessity, its worth, its purpose in my life.

I didn’t really need five different sets of champagne flutes, did I? I never used that panini press, but I might. Should I keep that bill organizer…maybe. I really should make better use of it. Those magazines, the out-dated ones from The New Yorker, they could go, right? But, I hadn’t read all the cartoons, yet, had I…and I was quite capable of creating a collage at the drop of a hat, should the need arise, so I might should leave them in the corner, stacked in the shape of a slick tower.

Round and round the house, I went, my heart a mile a minute: there were so many things in the house!

I mean, why stop at small things. I didn’t really ever use the dining room table – so, out it should go. That recliner, please…company didn’t even sit on it – out. No one ever slept in my bed, except the Old Cat – out. The dryer didn’t work – out. And, the TV is the whole reason I’m having this breakdown – so, out it goes, too, but since I wasn’t about to throw the TV out, to save my life, it stayed where it was, and I finally calmed down and took a deep breath…

…and turned the channel. (I’d tell you where I turned it to, but I’m embarrassed to).

I dare you.

I dare you.

It seemed to be the only sensible thing to do, turning the channel.  So, that’s what I did…I watched some other inane, safe show that involved fictional storylines with people I could relate to without needing to love or care about during the commercial break.

It made me feel so much better, but then again, I bet  “The O’Reilly Factor” does that for a lot of people.

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Real love requires 2″ heels, at least.

That Ken Ludwig. Man.

He can’t write a play without causing serious damage to the ankles. (That’s what my feet are saying, anyway. Ah, well, there’s a price to be paid for anything, huh?)

Price check on Aisle Three.

Price check on Aisle Three.

I’m sorry if this comes across, at first, like a shameless plug for the current production of Leading Ladies that I’m in – it wouldn’t matter anyway, if it did; we’re practically sold out for the rest of this run. We’ve only got one more week, and then…it’s curtains.

Literally.

But, out of the goodness of my heart, and since I’m a Christian man (from the waist up, anyway), I’ll gladly give you the web address for Starkville Community Theatre. You can click on the link and read about the show, if nothing else. Here: the Playhouse on Main. You’re going to wish you could have seen it.

I’ll miss it, myself, to tell you the truth, but I won’t act like it.

No, it’ll be good to have my feet in a solid pair of loafers, again. (Never thought I’d ever say that). But, those heels are starting to chafe and my precious ankles, delicate though sturdy, are still in recovery, I should remind you. Well, my right ankle is. It never fully healed from the disastrous (highly embarrassing, AND alcohol-free, thank you very much) spill I took in my own front yard, as I catapulted myself over the vinca, back in May during the run of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged.

Yes, I’m referring to the infamous fall that nearly broke Amanda at the waist, with her key in hand and at the front door. She never saw me coming. Yes, dear friends, I mean the veritable somersault that “took out” the middle curlicues on the ironwork that holds up the porch awning, and was flung across the bistro table where a large glass vase sat, waiting all its life for this one moment to face death.

That one, yeah. I’m sure you remember.

The ankle still hurts, and now here I am, in another Ludwig “farce?”, running up and down stairs in 2″ heels. Black, fake leather, with an angry Mary Jane strap bridging the curve of bone across the top of my foot.

In short, my feet are killing me, each night.

(And secretly, I’m kind of OK with it). I said, kind of.

This is, I think, the very definition of true love. Because true love allows you to hate it. And I hate Theatre; therefore, I must love it. Don’t expect to understand that. It’s not a total hate; it’s a sectioned-off hate, and ironically, has less to do with Theatre, sometimes, than it does with Theatre’s Other Lovers. Jealousy is pumped through the air vents at our theatre. Trust me.

And calm down, calm down…I’m not about to bore you with some lengthy diatribe on the virtues of Theatre as the most genuine art form, or a life saver…both of which I consider it to be.  

I hope I spelled that right.

I hope I spelled that right.

To be honest, I was going to initially write a love letter, here, to Theatre; then, I stopped and thought about it…long and hard. It might be better if I wrote it a Dear John letter, instead.

Much like true love, I stay in this constant state of stress about Theatre. I obsess over the come-and-go effect it has on me. We fight almost everyday.

I want to stay; I want to leave; you get the kids; I’ll take the costumes. You know how it goes…that kind of argument.

You wouldn’t believe the way Theatre treats me, either. It’s a textbook example of the classic abusive relationship. And we’re going on twenty years, this year. Can you believe that?  We first met in 1989, during The Sound of Music.

(No one could hear my cries over the chorus, though…plus, Maria was a strong soprano. I ended up chiding myself for being paranoid).

Now, twenty years later, I’m still in this relationship. (And before you ask, No. I haven’t been faithful. Hopefully, I get some credit for coming back, as often as I have).

Because I always come back.

No matter what happens, regardless of what I’ve been put through, or what names I’ve been called: the evil swamp monster; that fat, dying Southern aristocrat; a transsexual psychic; the manipulative bank clerk; a dancing bear; a blanket-hugging 5-year-old; a singing priest; that British fop; that drag queen swindler…it doesn’t matter: I still come back.

I still find myself, many a night, knocking on the door to be let in. To be loved again. To get one more chance.

That’s why my feet hurt: from real love. And this time, to prove how much love I have, how real it is…I’ve got to wear 2″ heels and five different dresses, every night, on the stage (I must say, the Carmen-Miranda-esque dress is quite a character, in and of itself). And I do all of this, proudly.

Because this is the penance I’ve sworn to, so that Theatre knows I “really mean it this time.”

But…just like last time, I’m already sick of it. I’m desperate to finish planning my escape. I’m eagerly trying to bide my time until this Saturday night, when I can smile a lot and bat my eyes during one last curtain call (Theatre loves when I do this; I’ve fetching lashes, I know…I can’t help that), and then we’ll hug, like last time, we’ll bow a few times to each other, randomly throw well-meant kisses at each other (but not really to each other), and then, I’ll walk out the door, full of promises, as usual.

God only knows how long I’ll hold out. My record is two months. I’m going to try to make it to Christ’s birthday, this time.

If I can. I always mean to stay away for longer than I ever do. That’s what any victim does. Intentions, though, can’t resist a curtain call anymore than they can take off 2″ heels merely by pretending them away.

They always come in pairs, don't they.

They always come in pairs, don't they.

This time, however, (this coming next time, I should say), I expect will be different.

Because it isn’t just me that’s changing, now. Theatre is, too. Lately, I’ve been having this sinking feeling that I don’t really know Theatre, anymore. The magic’s fading, for me. The fun isn’t there, hanging around. I think that’s one reason I kept coming back, even with all the “name-calling.” Because even on the worst of days, we still had great fun, Me & Theatre. We were a package deal, a power couple. I expected problems to come from that; they usually do.

But, they were our problems, when they came, Mine & Theatre’s. Not someone else’s. (That’s what seems to be changing. Sigh).

Whatever it is, I’m not sure…but Something’s not the same, I know because I smell it; it has a smell to it. You don’t run around on a stage in five different dresses, every night for two weeks, and not come across a wide range of smells. Febreze usually works, but not this time.

This time, it’s a smell I can’t quite fully recognize. And, I don’t like a smell I can’t recognize.

No sir, I do not.

I do not like a smell I cannot recognize.

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The end of the world is not an excuse to be tacky.

Gosh.

All this talk about 2012, and the end of the world, has made me both hungry and excited. That’s a dangerous combination, coupled with the fact that Lil’ Wayne, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Janeane Garofalo are listed on various 2012 websites as celebrity believers in this Doomsday Prophecy. I mean, please…

That’s enough right there to make me gorge myself to near death on a jar of warm mayonnaise.

The essential southern food staple in repose.

The essential southern food staple in repose.

To be honest, I’m not sure where my depth of awe in the Apocalypse even comes from. I don’t know why it intrigues me so much. I’m sure, like most everything else I learned, it was tacked onto the underside of some Bible lesson I was taught as a child, at Tigi’s feet, which were usually planted right in front of the stove. It’s not an uncommon sight: mixing faith with a wooden spoon.

That makes it sound a little like a beating.

It wasn’t, not really. Not physically, anyway.

I recognize that faith requires a bruise, sometimes…or, a deep cut across that list of things you think, or want, or try to believe in. It was a good reminder to learn about faith while supper was being fixed. There’s a definite correlation between the two; it’s what makes cornbread soul food.

In the Christian faith there’s hardly a more anticipatory event than the marriage of Them to Rapture nee Apocalypse.  For everyone else, I suppose there’s just the anxious wait…to see if comes true or not. But, whichever way you want to spin it, it’s all getting a little out of hand, this Doomsday business.

And I’m loving every minute of it.

I’m young, but I’ve lived through a lot. And not just me, I mean my whole generation. The laundry list of events we’ve witnessed firsthand is staggering: Katrina, 9/11, the 2004 Tsunami, Y2K, William Shatner’s Roast on Comedy Central. It seems like tragic world events are happening with more and more frequency.

What's your frequency, Kenneth?

What's your frequency, Kenneth?

Either that, or I’m watching too much television.

It all makes me nervous. Then, again, it’s supposed to. We’ve been living in the Age of Anxiety since the end of World War II. I think I believe that. I need to believe it; it makes me more sympathetic to U.L.

I’ve said before that the attraction we perversely find in ourselves when drawn to such disasters is the safe and equalizing effect such disasters have over us. After 9/11, we remembered that we were a nation of peoples, different but necessary. We loved each other. Churches became important again. Faith was found, in the backs of closets and dusty, but still: there it was. So, we pulled it out and put it on the coffee table. We made pies and casseroles and invited friends over. We ran up phone bills, went over our “minutes.”

Until it felt OK to not care so much, so vividly. That’s sort of how our cycle goes: we stress into doing right, we rest into being wrong.

But, now, here we are again, thanks to the Mayans, sitting in a new testy silence ruminating on the threatening possibility of another absolute annihilation at the end of 2012 (in December, my birthday month no less).

The fear comes from our complete inability to do anything about it, if it’s true.

There’s certainly nothing I can do about it, in the next three and a half years. I mean, not about stopping the world from ending, but I can eat. I am more than capable of going broke pub-clubbing from restaurant to restaurant, in this present interim.

So, I’m thinking about that, instead. 

And that’s a lot of stress, to think about what foods I want to eat, or what dishes I want to try in the kitchen over the next 42 months. I don’t even know where Tigi’s wooden spoon is. This is not an easy task: planning will be have to planned. I’ll have to quit my job, take what meager savings I have and map out a clear, concise itinerary for my Doomsday Delectables Tour, highlighting which restaurants are truly worth stopping for, which grocers stock the finest ingredients.

It’s intense.

I liken it to the extreme pressure a death row inmate must face when he leans across the table and tells his lawyer what he wants for his last meal. There are simply too many delicious food combos to consider: do you go classic and simple and keep it all PB&J, or do you demand a choice filet with a rich peppercorn sauce and Baked Alaska for dessert?

It’s maddening to think about, and I’ve only got 1196 days left. Which I should point out is hardly fair: death row inmates get years and years to listen and understand their pallate’s sincerest needs. According to the 2012 Doomsday Clock, I won’t even have enough time to finish my doctorate before the world ends, much less commit a capitol murder offense.

Right now, you're wishing you'd taken that bite.

Right now, you're wishing you'd taken that bite.

And that’s fine by me because I just don’t have that kind of time, right now.

There’s such a huge degree of uncertainty, these days: will the world end; where will I be when it ends; is the economy permanently damaged; who keeps turning on the water hose behind my house and leaving it on all day…I mean these are the important questions.

And, I’m sorry, but I can only answer one of them. I know exactly where I’ll be when the world ends:  in the kitchen, cooking.

I always make extra, don’t worry…so feel free to drop by. And, on the way, could you stop by Wal-Mart, or somewhere, and get a few things?  Like water purifiers, wheelbarrows (with spare tires), dust masks, and vegetable seeds. We’re going to need these things if we intend to survive.

Oh, yeah, and a bottle of white, too, please. Pinot Grigio (not a dreadful Chardonnay)

I mean, the end of the world is not an excuse to be tacky, right? 

Let’s  go out as gauche as we came in…

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I would have prayed, but I had to merge.

This morning, as I made my way down the Trail of Tears to the town of Scooba, I passed a man in a reddish-shall-we-say-bleeding-into-burgundy Chevy Aveo…reading a book.

While he drove.

The Bible, children, is always spelled with a capital "B."

The Bible, children, is always spelled with a capital "B."

We were heading into that infamously, always congested section of highway right outside a town, or village, or tribe, known simply by the wooden staked sign, signaling both the start and the end of what appears to be a mostly dirt road, bearing the mysterious name of Wahalak.

For some reason, and I feel that voodoo has a large part to do with it, they simply cannot get this portion of the road stabilized. They’ve been working in this same exact spot for a solid month, at least. And by they, I don’t mean men from the county jail – that’s who they hire up the road in Macon – no, I mean bona fide employees of the state of Mississippi.

Personally, I don’t mind the decrescendo of their slow progress. I enjoy being a deliberate passer-by of Wahalak because I like to say the word “wahalak.” I do. I say it out loud every morning and afternoon when I drive past it.

Wahalak means “running water,” but that is so unoriginal and less than exciting that I’m going to have to make up a new definition.

Did you know? The name Wahalak refers to madness and amnesia, in the common Choctaw tongue of today’s tribes. During the Mississippian Epoch of the Carboniferous Period, however, the term was often used as a directional indicator signifying various geographical areas within a tribe’s property where the evil dead were buried, having been sacrificed to the gods for their wicked and abusive ways. (i.e., Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, misspelled accordingly). Also, and this part is actually true, Wahalak is best known as the temporary hideout of fugitive Kenny Wagner, who was on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list in the 1950’s.

Ahem.

I lie because I needed a hobby when I was six and that was the only thing I was good at.

What I wanted to tell you was that the man, in the Aveo, he was reading the Bible. The Book of Jeremiah, to be exact.

I’d gotten in the passing lane (which, by the way, People, is the fast lane, on the left side), and I had every intention of getting around this man so that I could lead the charge through the orange cones and the death-defying men who paint the dotted lines down the middle of the roads.  They have no patience for you or your car.

But, when I saw that he was reading, I got curious. So, I paced myself. (He never once looked up).

Then, when I saw that he was reading the Bible, I got nervous. Like, this was a sign. (Word to the wise: Anytime someone is reading the Bible in your very presence, it’s probably a warning from God that you’re sinning too much, as of late. Especially, if they’re reading the Bible while operating a vehicle – and you only know that because you’re driving alongside them).

I would have prayed about it, but I had to merge. The left lane was closing, and fast. The accompanying road sign stated that the “left lane would be closed for the Next 22 Miles.” If only I could have kept up with him, I might have gotten the whole chapter read.

Lord knows I need it.

Then, it struck me. Wasn’t Jeremiah one of the Naysaying Doomsday Prophets? (I’ll cross-reference that more, later, over wine…but yes, he was).

Good enough for Jesus, but not Southern Baptists.

Good enough for Jesus, but not Southern Baptists.

So, anyway, here’s this man, reading Jeremiah, KJV-version splayed across his steering wheel, reading glasses on high alert, maneuvering on faith, I suppose, through the treacherous Wahalak sliver of Highway 45…and then, there’s me, trying to read over his seatbelt.

I barely made it around him. A few seconds later and I would have gotten up close and personal with the man on the walkie-talkie…who I might add was also staring at this devout, if his devotion was a little misplaced, Bible Belter.

I also was rather taken with the way he was sitting behind the wheel, like a vice (i.e., the clamp not a form of immorality).

He was scooted so far up to the wheel, itself, that I’m not sure he wasn’t driving with his nipples. I’ve never in my life seen anyone sit so close to the wheel of a car.  It almost triggered my asthma. (Remember: Sucks to your ass-mar, Piggy)?

And then, for the duration of my sojourn into Scooba, all I could think about was what the way you drive a car says about you. I mean, I have no doubt in my mind at all that this man is a tightwad. Albeit, he might be a well-intentioned tightwad…but come on, you don’t drive a car frenching a steering wheel to that degree and not know how to stretch a dollar until the eagle grins.

Here, you try one.

I’ll set the scene: tinted windows, rolled down, clove cigarette, and a seat reclined to such an extent that a) it appears the car is driving itself, and b) your forehead is in the trunk. Now, characterize that driver. Or, what about this: the car is immaculately clean, spotless; hands are at 10:00 and 2:00 (two times of the day that mean nothing to you other than 10:00 is still two of the longest hours before lunch, and 2:00 is just a hateful hour, plain and simple), the shoulders are squared and the neck unable to turn. Who does this remind you of? (Aunt Lola).

I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I shifted my position a thousand times, trying to find just the right “feel” of the car against my backside. How did I look while driving? I turned the rearview mirror onto my face (not the first time, either, I assure you) and tried to picture what others see when they look at me behind the wheel.

I was more than pleased, but then again, to be fair, the rearview mirror’s on my good side.

I like to think that I look scholarly while driving. But then, I caught myself hanging my left wrist on the top of the wheel, limped ,and resting my right elbow on the arm rest. That doesn’t look scholarly, at all. That looks like how a Secret would drive, like a husband having an affair would drive…showing off the absence of a wedding ring…I was ashamed of myself.

It's OK if your finger itches, as long as you're not holding a gun.

It's OK if your finger itches, as long as you're not holding a gun.

I also weirded myself out a bit…I mean, who on earth thinks up things like this?? Whatever happened to just “driving to work?” Does everything have to be an adventure, a story, a piece of fiction, a make-believe world of comedy and tragedy, Kris??

Well, I have an answer, so listen up, because I’m rarely this sure about things…but the answer to that question is Yes.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes…everything, and I mean Every Thing, most absolutely, positively, has to be.

And if you don’t believe me, don’t worry: I drive a 4-door.

You just show up, put your seatbelt on…and above all, make sure you bring your Bible.

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